To recap from Part One, I wasn’t planning on revisiting the issue of which car did Batman artist Bob Kane use as a basis for the first Batmobile, a Cord 812 or a Graham “Sharknose”. However, I was going through some photos that I took last summer and when I saw these shots that I took of the 1939 Graham Model 86 at the 2013 Concours of America at St. John’s, I thought that I’d share them and the story of the car with you. It’s such a departure from the cars of its day and its styling is so dramatic that I’m surprised that it’s not better known. I think the Sharknose is one of the coolest car designs ever and as I mentioned in Part One the Batmobile thing is as good an excuse as any to write about the Graham and the men who made it. Here’s the Sharknose’s story. (Read More…)
Posts By: Ronnie Schreiber
Note: Our colleagues at Jalopnik published a post about Canadian inventor Henry Seth Taylor’s 1867 Steam Buggy and whether he should be credited with inventing the automobile. Taylor and his invention certainly deserve mention in the history of the automobile, but there is a historical record that three years before Taylor’s steam powered Buggy hit the road another inventor, Siegfried Marcus, had already powered a vehicle with gasoline. This post about Marcus was originally published in a slightly different version at Cars In Depth.
With something as evolutionary as the automobile, it might be a fool’s errand to try and determine just who “invented” the car as we know it. Should we date and credit the automobile to Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot’s fardier à vapeur steam wagon of 1770, or should the timeline start with something more practical, more similar to the modern automobile?
There have been lots of Batmobiles since Batman first appeared in print in 1939. In addition to the comic books, starting in the 1940s there have been movie serials and feature films, as well as television shows both live action and animated. I suppose, based on the many replicas that have been made (enough for the rights to have been litigated) that the Adam West era Batmobile fabricated at the direction of George Barris is the most famous, and next in line would be the Batmobile from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns or the Tumbler from the Batman films directed by Christopher Nolan. The first Batmobile, or rather the first car called the Batmobile, is less well known. The term “Batmobile” first appeared in Detective Comics #48, in 1941 and has been attributed to writer Bob Finger. Batman’s car was described as a supercharged red roadster with a reinforced hood that could be used as a battering ram. Most online sources, including batmobilehistory.com and this popular infographic say that Batman artist Bob Kane based his drawing of that car on a 1937 Cord 812, but I’m convinced that while the Cord may have influenced Kane, so did a lesser known supercharged American car from the late 1930s, the Graham “Spirit of Motion”, also known as the Sharknose. (Read More…)
The problem with battery electric and fuel cell cars is gasoline. Petrol is genuinely a superior fuel, at least in terms of energy. It has so much energy per gallon, 116,000 btu/gal, that we can use it in an engine whose theoretical maximum efficiency is only 37%. That means that with all the gizmos a modern gasoline powered internal combustion engine has that increase fuel economy, still two thirds or more of the energy in the fuel is being turned into unusable heat, not motive force.
A flying car is one of the evergreen fantasies of car guys, and finally Chevrolet has fulfilled that fantasy, sort of. GM engineers have developed what they call “Flying Car Mode” for the Camaro Z/28, the most track-capable version of Chevy’s muscle car. While it doesn’t make the Camaro fly, it is a rather clever use of technology that’s already on board when the Z/28 does get off the ground that allows the car to do faster laps. (Read More…)
The second best part about the job of writing about cars is not getting to drive expensive cars for free or being flown to resorts with Jacuzzi tubs. No, the second best part about the gig is that I get to see and do some very cool car guy things. How many of you have watched film or video of a car being tested in a wind tunnel and thought to yourself, “that’s neat!”? Well, this week I got to observe the new 2015 Ford Mustang’s aerodynamic features demonstrated in one of those neat wind tunnels. (Read More…)
Richard Teague is probably my favorite car designer. No disrespect intended towards the many other talented people who design cars and trucks but Teague was the original silk purse from a sow’s ear guy. He’s best remembered for heading the styling department at American Motors from 1961 to 1986, where limited development budgets forced his team to be creative.
We talk a lot about brands here at TTAC. For example, Porsche comes in for a bit of criticism for moving away from their image as a maker of purist sports cars. We’ve discussed how brands can be burnished and also be diminished. Do today’s Cadillacs live up to “the standard of the world” and is the Lincoln Motor Company a dead brand walking? Back when GM was busy melting down financially and the future of brands like Pontiac were uncertain, I even checked with a businessman who specialized in bringing back old brands, to see how he would go about reviving GM’s distressed brands. Even a badly damaged brand can be revived. Which brings me to today’s topic, is the UAW’s brand damaged and if so, how can it be fixed? (Read More…)
Reading Alex Dykes’ review of the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, I was reminded of something by Alex’s description of the Accord’s drivetrain layout. Unlike the Toyota and Ford parallel hybrid systems (similar in function but arrived at independently), or the Chevy Volt’s Voltec drivetrain (a different spin, no pun intended, on the same basic idea that allows the Volt to operate mostly in pure electric or serial hybrid modes), which all connect electric motors and a gasoline engine to a planetary gearset, the Accord now uses an inline serial/parallel hybrid system, a concept that actually goes back a century to the Woods Dual Power automobile. (Read More…)
Unhappy with his team’s performance this year in general and at the 2014 winter Olympics in particular, a German bobsledder compared the team’s slow sleds to the Trabant, the primitive 2-stroke powered cars sold in the former East Germany. ABC News quoted bobsled pusher Kevin Kuske, who has won four gold medals at previous Olympics, as saying, “If in 2010 we were sitting in a Formula One car, then this time we were sitting in a Trabby.” At the same time, German bobsled enthusiasts are a bit unhappy with BMW because the German car company helped make the sleds for the America bobsledders, who so far have done well in Sochi. (Read More…)
The photo illustrating Zombie McQuestionbot’s query about what would it take to get you to buy a hybrid was of a Chevy Silverado hybrid pickup truck. I bet some of you seeing that picture didn’t know that Chevy even sold fullsize hybrid pickups and those of you who are familiar with them, may have dismissed the concept. It was called the 2-Mode hybrid system, introduced with great promise and fanfare but in the end it became the Rodney Dangerfield of hybrid drives. That’s too bad. Had the 2-Mode system been embraced by consumers on a wide scale, it might have saved more gasoline than all the Chevy Volts and Toyota Priuses put together. (Read More…)
BMW has reportedly spent billions of dollars so far on developing various aspects of its carbon fiber intensive and electric powered i series of cars. The Bavarian automaker obviously wants to get that money back and more so it is now using high profile events to launch the i subbrand in North America, including buying ads during the opening ceremony and other broadcasts from the Winter Olympics currently being held in Sochi, Russia. The first of three ads that BMW will be running during the NBC network’s coverage of the Olympic games is called “Hello Future” and uses a 1964 recording of futurist Arthur C. Clarke to promote the $136,000 i8 hybrid super car. A second ad for the i8 is called “Sighting“, showing people’s reaction to first seeing the car. The more mass market $41,300 i3 is being sold with “SHHH“, depicting a teenager using his father’s silent i3 to sneak a nighttime joyride with a girl he’s trying to impress. He gets the girl but dad has been tracking the car with BMW’s i remote app. (Read More…)
Carroll Shelby rather famously derided the original Ford Falcon-based first generation Mustang as a “secretary’s car”, and he wasn’t far from the mark. Young, single working women were one of the original target markets for the original pony car and you can see that from period advertisements for the Mustang. In 1964, as the Mustang approached its official sales date of April 17th of that year, Gail Brown was 22 years old, just graduated from the Chicago Teachers College, still living with her parents, and exactly the kind of young woman Ford wanted as their customer. In today’s hindsight, her mom’s ’57 Ford Fairlane that Gail drove to work every day was a pretty cool car, but she wanted her own wheels. She wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted, but it had to be cool and it had to be a convertible. Since the Browns were a Ford family, on April 15th, 1964 Gail went to Johnson Ford in Chicago. (Read More…)
When the word “truth” is in the title of the publication, there’s an obligation to keep things factual. Also, I have an ego and don’t like to make mistakes in public. Much of what I write about involves automotive history one way or another and it annoys me when I come across inaccurate sources. Someone may use my work as a reference, I want it to be accurate. Due to a press release from the Detroit Grand Prix that was in error, and some inattention on my part, there were some inaccuracies in my recent post about the Tudor and Shinola watch companies racing sponsorships and how they might conflict at this year’s Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. (Read More…)
Sergio Marchionne and crew surprised everybody by using the Super Bowl to premiere a long form ad (below) for the new Maserati Ghibli. One might question the wisdom of using the “big game” to promote a niche brand, but Sergio says he wants to sell 50,000 Maseratis a year and the Ghibli, which starts at ~$65,000, is a big part of that plan, so putting the entry level Maser in front of the biggest tv audience of the year makes some sense. The thing is that the ad is one of those that’s heavy on the stirring dramatic and philosophical voiceover and not quite so product intensive. You don’t get to see the actual car until more than a minute into the 90 second spot and then it flashes on screen for less than 10 seconds. The Ghibli site and configurator apparently crashed earlier under Super Bowl levels of traffic, but as of the middle of the third quarter of the game, it’s up and running. In case it crashes again, and you’d like to see what the Ghibli looks like, you’re in luck. (Read More…)