The Truth About Cars » A Pictorial History The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:36:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » A Pictorial History Duesenberg Model J Murphy Body Roadster – One of These Is Not Like the Other. Can You Spot the Fake? Sun, 06 Apr 2014 13:00:24 +0000 IMG_0272img_0175

One of these cars is not like the other. A while back I wrote about the replica Duesenberg Murphy Roadster that former GM designer Steve Pasteiner’s Advanced Automotive Technologies fabricated for someone who owned a real Duesenberg. The person who commissioned the replica wanted to be able to drive in that style without risking damage or deterioration to a seriously expensive classic car (though the replica undoubtedly cost into six figures to build). Before I provide a link to that post, though, I want you to agree not to link over there until you’ve finished reading this one because I’m going to give you a test.

It turns out that last summer, one of the judged classes of cars at the Concours of America was “Indianapolis Iron: Duesenberg, Marmon & Stutz”, celebrating cars from the classic era made by Indiana based firms (the Duesenberg brothers’ original shop was in Indianapolis but I believe that after E.L. Cord bought their company, production was moved to the Auburn factory in Auburn).


After you’ve made your guess, you can see the full gallery here.

Now Duesenbergs are magnificent cars, worthy of the adulation bestowed upon them, in my not always humble opinion, and I never miss the opportunity to photograph the marque. Looking over my files, I’ve taken photos of at least a dozen Duesenbergs in a variety of body styles. Still, while the Murphy company’s roadster body was a popular one back in the day, I actually got to see AAT’s replica of one before I experienced a real one.


After you’ve made your guess, you can see the full gallery here.

Fortunately, one of the cars representing Jim Nabor’s home state at the concours was indeed a Murphy bodied Duesenberg roadster, pictured here. Also pictured is Pasteiner’s pastiche and the reason why I asked you not to follow the link over to the post on the replica is that I want you to decide which one is real and which one is the fake. If you do make a guess, tell us your reasons for your decision. It shouldn’t be too hard, there are some tells that should give it away fairly quickly, but the AAT replica is very well done, so some readers might not get the correct answer. Either way, it’s a fun little game.

Oh, and here’s the link to that post about AAT’s Duesenberg replica, where you can find out more about the Model J and its history. No fair peeking, though.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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“… The Engine Sounds A Bit Agricultural” Sat, 04 Jan 2014 07:09:34 +0000 img_0066_l

1946 Ford 9N Tractor, full gallery here

I’m sure that it’s a cliche to say that as a writer I try to avoid cliches. While gearshifts often do fall readily to hand, it’s not a good idea to put that in every review. Not long ago another writer (and I wish I could remember who it was to give him credit) was describing a car’s engine that wasn’t exactly the smoothest running machine and he mocked a common automotive cliche with the phrase “insert agricultural implement metaphor here”. When you read “it runs like a tractor”, they aren’t exactly praising an engine’s durability or torque, they’re calling it primitive and uncouth. Since I like to see things first hand, when I saw that there was going to be a tractor show this fall in Ira Twp, Michigan about an hour away, I decided to see, hear and feel for myself just how roughly tractor engines run. I’m glad that I did because what started out as a lark ended up teaching me something about automotive history and also American culture.

1936 McCormick Deering Farmall F20. Full gallery here.

1936 McCormick Deering Farmall F20. Full gallery here.

Every September, Izzi Farms hosts an antique tractor and equipment show put on by a group that may have the longest name of any special interest club in America, H.P.A.T.E.E.M, the Historic Preservation of Antique Tractors and Equipment of Eastern Michigan. When I got there I saw a variety of vintage Case, John Deere, McCormick/IH and Ford tractors lined up on the grass near an empty farm field.


Most of them, it seems, were from the 1940s and 1950s. Some were as well restored as any car show trailer queen, like a pink 1946 Case being used to raise money for breast cancer research, while others still looked like they still being used, driven over from a nearby farm in between plowing duties.

Click here to view the embedded video.

To watch video in 2D click on the settings icon: Options, No Glasses, and Left Only or Right Only

In addition to the vintage tractors there were also a number of “equipment” collectors showing off their prized possessions, mostly stationary gasoline engines that were used on farms and in factories as gasoline started replacing steam power. Stationary gasoline engines, usually of the “hit and miss” type, were used to power everything from saws to hullers to even washing machines. We enthusiasts like to joke about cars that are appliances or wishing our own cars were “as reliable as a Maytag”, but most of us don’t know that Maytag made their own gasoline engines to power washing machines and other appliances where there was no electrical service.

Click here to view the embedded video.

To watch video in 2D click on the settings icon: Options, No Glasses, and Left Only or Right Only

Stationary engines had an important role in the development of the automobile for a couple of reasons. John D. Rockefeller’s first fortune was made refining petroleum into kerosene used for lighting. When people like Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and Steinmetz made the commercial production and sale of electricity possible, creating a competitor to Rockefeller’s kerosene, Rockefeller started looking at a byproduct of the refining process, a combination of napthas, that he had hitherto been discarding as waste. Some used it as a dry cleaning solvent. It was toxic, nearly explosive and over 170 years after it was first refined, they still haven’t come up with a better fuel for internal combustion engines. We know it, of course, as gasoline. At the time, the stationary engines used on farms and in factories ran on steam. Rockefeller encouraged the adoption of gasoline as a fuel by subsidizing the cost of gasoline powered stationary engines.

John Deere Model M. Full gallery here.

John Deere Model M. Full gallery here.

He may have subsidized them, but Rockefeller didn’t make engines. That was up to people  who built and sold gasoline powered engines for stationary use. Being located in Detroit, in the heart of the Great Lakes, before they started building cars David Buick’s stationary engines and those built by Leland & Falconer and Horace & John Dodge found a ready market in that region’s marine industry.


By the 1890s, inventors had been tinkering with internal combustion engines for more than two decades. In 1870, Siegfried Marcus was the first person recorded to have powered a four wheel vehicle with a gasoline fired internal combustion engine. In the early 1890s, the “hit and miss” gasoline engine was introduced (though many can run on kerosene once started). Their name come from the induction system which is controlled by a reverse governor connected to the engines’ large flywheels, which keep things spinning in between power strokes, which only happen when flywheel speed drops. The intake valve is passive, it is opened by vacuum. The exhaust valve, however, is operated by a linkage, which normally holds the valve open and there is no combustion. When speed drops, the exhaust valve is closed, creating vacuum on the down stroke, opening the intake valve and the fuel air mixture is drawn into the cylinder. The ignition is triggered and the mixture burns, causing the power stroke. There is typically one power stroke about every 10 to twelve revolutions. The engines rev so slowly that you can hear every firing stroke.

Automotive pioneers like Buick quickly realized that passive valves, irregular power strokes and low RPM were not suitable for motor cars, but stationary engines were a necessary step to get to high powered, high revving gasoline motors. They served a purpose and stayed into production into the 1930s, when rural electrification programs made them obsolete.

Click here to view the embedded video.

To watch video in 2D click on the settings icon: Options, No Glasses, and Left Only or Right Only

Besides hosting the old engines and vintage tractors, the organizers also put on an old-fashioned tractor pull. Not with fire-belching 1,200 horsepower behemoths like you’d see in a stadium, but rather the way tractor pulls used to be done, with local farmers competing with the same machines they likely used to plow their fields. Axle weights were loaded on a sledge chained to a stake in the ground. Competitors were timed on how long it took them to pull everything taught. It might not have been 80,000 people screaming in a stadium, but folks had smiles on their faces. While some of the tractors were indeed trailered to the show, not all of the restored farm implements were trailer queens. Owners of many of the beautifully restored machines lined up to take their part in the pull.

John Deere GP (General Purpose). Full gallery here.

John Deere GP (General Purpose). Full gallery here.

The next time someone says that a car engine “runs like a tractor motor”. I can assure you that the roughest running automotive engine made in the last half century runs smoother than any of the tractors at this show.

1948 John Deere BW “Wide Front”. Full Gallery here.

1948 John Deere BW “Wide Front”. Full Gallery here.

1940 John Deere Model H. Full gallery here.

1940 John Deere Model H. Full gallery here.

John Deere 820. It has a 7.7 liter two-cylinder diesel engine that needs a small four cylinder gasoline engine to start it. Full gallery here.

John Deere 820. It has a 7.7 liter two-cylinder diesel engine that needs a small four cylinder gasoline engine to start it. Full gallery here.


McCormick Deering W4. Full gallery here.

McCormick Deering W4. Full gallery here.


International Harvester Farmall 706. Full gallery here.

International Harvester Farmall 706. Full gallery here.


1947 Ford 2N. Full gallery here.

1947 Ford 2N. Full gallery here.


1946 Ford 9N. Full gallery here.

1946 Ford 9N. Full gallery here.


International McCormick Farmall Model BN. Full gallery here.

International McCormick Farmall Model BN. Full gallery here.


1951 International McCormick Farmall Model M. Full gallery here.

1951 International McCormick Farmall Model M. Full gallery here.


1949 International McCormick Farmall Model M. Full gallery here.

1949 International McCormick Farmall Model M. Full gallery here.


1946 International McCormick Farmall Model A. The offset layout improved visibility when working with smaller or delicate crops. They used the brand name of “Culti-Vision” for the feature. Full gallery here.

1946 International McCormick Farmall Model A. The offset layout improved visibility when working with smaller or delicate crops. They used the brand name of “Culti-Vision” for the feature. Full gallery here.


1952 Case VAC painted pink to raise money for breast cancer. What color do you think they'd use to raise money for prostate cancer? Full gallery here.

1952 Case VAC painted pink to raise money for breast cancer research. What color do you think they’d use to raise money for prostate cancer? Full gallery here.


1949 Case VAC. Full gallery here.

1949 Case VAC. Full gallery here.


1946 Case VAI. Full gallery here.

1946 Case VAI. Full gallery here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Automotive Wayback Machine: The Jam Handy Organization Archive Sat, 14 Dec 2013 14:00:29 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

You may never have heard of Henry Jamison “Jam” Handy, but almost a century before TV producer Matthew Weiner conjured up the fictional persona of ad man Don Draper, Jam Handy was inventing and shaping the way Americans bought and sold consumer goods, particularly cars. Along the way, he also shaped the way we learn about the world and how we see ourselves in it.

Jam Handy’s early life reads like an O’Henry story. Born in 1886 in Philadelphia, when he was five years old he moved with his family to Chicago. His father, a newspaper editor, had taken a job promoting the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Handy later claimed that the three years he spent watching the world’s fair being built and wandering its exhibits was the best education he could get. He breezed through school and was at the University of Michigan by the time he was 17.

Handy was a star athlete for the Wolverines, winning a bronze medal for swimming at the 1904 Olympics (and again in 1924 for water polo). He’s credited with introducing and popularizing the Australian crawl swimming stroke. His tenure in Ann Arbor, though, didn’t last very long. To supplement his income Handy worked as a college stringer for the Chicago Tribune and one of his stories humorously characterized his elocution professor as giving a lesson in lovemaking. The elocution professor and UofM president James Angell took exception and suspended Handy. Today, colleges offer courses for credit on masturbation and varsity athletes get out of jail and go straight to the starting lineup, but at the turn of the 20th century things were different. Handy found himself in a jam (sorry, I had to). Wherever he applied for admission, he was turned down, having been academically blackballed by Angell.

Feeling partly responsible, Tribune editor Medill McCormick offered Handy a job in the Tribune newsroom, rotating between various departments. Gaining an interest in advertising, Handy moved to an ad agency, where he was exposed to slide shows and early motion pictures and recognized their power to educate and persuade.

It was then that he decided to start his own company to produce promotional and educational movies. In 1911 he founded the Jam Handy Organization in Detroit. The rapidly growing auto industry provided a ready market for his training films. Handy also established relationships with the United States armed forces and produced training films during World War One. By the mid 1930s there were over 400 writers, directors, and trade craft workers employed by the company. At its heyday, the Jam Handy Organization even employed two full size orchestras full time just for the incidental music in its movies. Famed animator Max Fleischer worked for Handy in the 1940s and 1950s, producing the first animated version of Rudoph The Red Nosed Reindeer. Fleischer’s brother dave and cartoonist Rube Goldberg also worked for Handy.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Though his name is not well known outside the Detroit area, Handy’s influence on American culture has been profound. He’s been the subject of serious academic work by those in marketing, cultural and film studies. Handy’s educational and instructional films have also been the subject of parody on the not so serious Simpsons and MST3K tv comedy shows. Generations of Americans have been exposed to the “Imagine A World Without Zinc” style of cinema.

Click here to view the embedded video.

While the Handy organization made films on a cornucopia of subjects, of interest to the Best and Brightest is Handy’s work for the Detroit automakers, the major reason why the company was located in Michigan. Handy worked for a who’s who of American industrial firms, and a variety of government agencies, but he’s most closely associated with the car industry. The Handy company did work for Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac and GMC trucks, as well as the light truck side of Ford Motor Co., but it’s Handy’s work for Chevrolet that’s best remembered.

In the late 1930s, Handy produced over 100 newsreels, cartoons, instructional and informational films for Chevy, in their “Direct Mass Selling Series”. The films were distributed by the Paramount film organization and shown in theaters as shorts between films. Theater operators appreciated what today we’d call content. Though with our jaded eyes, the films are clearly promotional, Handy used a light hand and a soft sell. The Chevrolet Leader News newsreels mixed general interest newsreel stories with Chevy-centric features. Travelogues about tourist attractions would encourage travel by car (and also feature Chevrolet automobiles). The Handy group explained to Chevrolet salesmen how they used promotional theatrical releases in Helping You Sell.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The films were as likely to promote a corporate image as they were to promote specific car models. In the 1930s the JHO produced Master Hands, about Chevy manufacturing and in 1950s the Handy group produced a series of films like American Look and American Harvest that are ostensibly about the American way of life, though all the cars are Chevrolets. Some have referred to the cinematic style of these films as “capitalist realism”, others call them propaganda.

It was the Jam Handy Organization that produced the famous commercials with Dinah Shore singing See The USA In Your Chevrolet.

JHO also pioneered motivational films for their automotive customers, like Open Door: The Story of Foreman Jim Baxter and His Family.

During World War II, the Handy company produced over 7,000 instructional films for the military and industry. Genuinely patriotic (the Handy catalog of films is sprinkled heavily with American exceptionalism), they also produced films to motivate workers on the home front as well as propaganda for theatrical release.

The Jam Handy Organization, like many companies dependent on the domestic auto industry, eventually fell on hard times. One reference says that it was broken up in 1970, though I recall that Jam Handy studios were still active in Southfield, Michigan into the 1990s. The company’s own archives most likely have disappeared.

The company can be said in many ways to have invented audio-visual commercial advertising as we know it, so the loss of Handy archives is a historical and cultural loss. However, because the copyrights on its films have long since expired and the films have passed into the public domain, ironically that has helped preserve at least some of them for posterity. Rick Prelinger has archived and digitized hundreds of JHO films and they provide a looking glass into how car companies have crafted the images of their products and themselves.

The Jam Handy Organization archive is a rich vein to mine for a look at automobiles and their role in American culture during much of the 20th century. Too rich, I’m sure, for just one TTAC weekend piece, even with the managing editor & the B&B’s indulgence of my usual logorhea. There’s just so much there, from a 1927 silent film newsreel about General Motors to Cinderella in a 1937 Chevy to ’66 Chevys rolling off the line, the Handy archive is a veritable Automotive Wayback Machine.

I hope to return to the JHO archive, maybe even do a series if enough of the B&B like it.

First, though, let’s start with something light.

As mentioned, the Handy company didn’t scrimp. They hired first rate talent and many people got their start in the film industry working for the JHO. In addition to the Fleischer brothers, Handy also employed Frank Goldman, an animation pioneer. Two animated shorts, assumed to be the work of Goldman, promoted Chevrolet to theater audiences in 1936 and 1937.

In the first, A Coach For Cinderella, the fairy godmother has been replaced by elves who build Cinderella her coach. The do start with the traditional pumpkin, though this coach has a six cylinder engine with lightning bug spark plugs. The elves use a steam powered “modernizer” that turns the coach into a brand spanking new 1936 Chevrolet. Handy’s light touch is on display here. Were it not for the mention of Chevrolet’s sponsorship in the title screen and the last 20 seconds of the ~9 minute film, you’d never know it was an advertisement, just a 1930s vintage animated film about Cinderella.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The second film, A Ride For Cinderella, picks up the story as the wicked stepsisters are preparing for the prince’s ball. Handy’s screenwriters sort of mixed up some fairy tales because there’s a wicked witch straight out of Snow White whom the stepsisters pay to sabotage Cinderella. The demons and storms that the witch sends are to no avail because of Cinderella’s coach, a Chevrolet sedan, while the stepsisters’ own horsedrawn carriage is wrecked. Later, when the prince finds her, Cinderella despairs because she has no dowry, and the prince reassures her that her 1937 Chevrolet is dowry enough.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Cinderella series must have been popular. In 1939, JHO spun off Princess and the Pauper, an Arabian Nights sort of tale where the pauper is transported to a princess on a magic carpet, which becomes a new Chevrolet.

Click here to view the embedded video.

It’s been a long way from A Coach For Cinderella to Find New Roads.

Disclaimer. Once, when I was a child, I auditioned for a role at the Jam Handy studios. JMO was just like a Hollywood studio, with casting calls, only in Detroit. I guess the script called for a family of redheads because the audition ended up drawing hundreds of redheads, lined up down the block. As I recall, I made the first cut, my hair was red enough (family lore has it that U.S. Senator Pat McNamara, a neighbor, took me and my older sister campaigning with him in Irish neighborhoods), but I didn’t have enough freckles.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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The Automotive Photographic Art of Zoltan Glass Sat, 21 Sep 2013 16:55:32 +0000

A photograph of a driver sitting at side of the Nürburgring course, reading a newspaper, his Bugatti racer next to him. Zoltan Glass c. 1931.

Zoltan Glass was an amateur car racer and professional photographer who shot many of the major racing events in Germany in the 1930s as well as shooting commercial photography for automotive clients like Mercedes Benz, Horch and Auto Union.

Glass, however, was Jewish so things started getting difficult for him after the National Socialists came to power in 1933, though he doggedly worked on, ironically doing advertising photo shoots with cars sitting next to Nazi planes, and covering races and motoring events partially sponsored by the party. After the Nuremberg laws were passed in 1936, severely restricting the civil liberties of Jews, an associate of Glass’ from the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, Peter de Peterson, helped Glass move his base of operations to London, from where he managed his Berlin based photographic agency. Glass continued to travel to Germany to shoot advertising for his clients. After the widespread organized violence against German Jews broke out during Kristalnacht in 1938, and Jews were prohibited from running or owning businesses, Glass permanently relocated to London, taking all of his photographic negatives with him.

He struggled for a while but eventually got established working for ad agencies and magazines. Many professional photographers who would later find notable success started off using his studio in exchange for royalties on the photos they created there. He ended up mentoring a generation of British commercial photographers. His work for a risque British magazine also led to a lucrative side career in “naturist” photography. Surprisingly, Zoltan Glass never took up an interest in British motorsports and his commercial work in the UK had almost nothing to do with cars. Glass died in 1981 and left his archive of negatives to the British National Media Museum, which has digitized the photos. You can see more of his work at the Museum’s web site, but I’ve included a nice selection of his racing and automotive advertising work in the gallery below.

Zoltan Glass was a superb photographer. Looking over his photos one notices that very few of his photographs of cars were of the cars alone, nearly all of those photos include people and he had a deft touch capturing their humanity.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Beep Beep! Nash Metropolitans That Are Not Waiting for the Crusher Thu, 25 Jul 2013 12:00:22 +0000 nashmetropolitanconvertible-4_r

One of the things that makes Murilee Martin’s Junkyard Find series so engaging is not just his fine writing and photography, it’s the elegiac nature of the subjects and their settings. As with any elegy it’s hard to come away without a sense of sadness, at what was and is no longer and at what could have been and never was. I was uploading some images for a post that I was writing and I noticed that Murilee was working on another Nash Metropolitan Junkyard Find. The “little Nash Rambler” is such a cheerful, happy looking car, one that never fails to bring a smile to faces of both their drivers and those who see those drivers motoring around in their Metropolitans, that they look particularly forlorn sitting waiting to get recycled into scrap steel. I thought that some of you might enjoy seeing some Metropolitans that are treasured, not trashed.


That 1960 Metropolitan that Murilee featured back in May was a very solid looking candidate for restoration, but the truth is that while the car may be cute and while the model may be collectible enough that you see them at car shows, they just aren’t very valuable.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Right now there are 15 Metropolitans for sale listed at Hemmings, and it looks like you can have your choice of restored stock ones for somewhere between $7,000 and $15,000. It’d probably cost you more than that to restore that solid ’60 in the junkyard.


Perhaps if the Metropolitans were really small, their owners might be enjoying the current microcar bubble, no pun intended. When Bruce Weiner sold off his museum of microcars recently, they fetched really serious (or really silly from a different perspective) money.

Click here to view the embedded video.

I suppose, though, that Nash Metropolitans are in a never never land. Not small enough to be a microcar and not as hip as an early Mini Cooper or Fiat 500. Still, like I said, you see them at car shows and their owners love them.


These Nash Metropolitans were shot at the Orphan Car Show held in Ypsilanti every fall. If you want to find out more about the little Anglo-American car, Aaron Severson does his usual comprehensive job looking at the history of the Nash Metropolitan over at Ate Up With Motor.


 Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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A Walk Down The Memory Lanes Of The Japanese Car. Tour Guided By Lexus LFA Engineer, With 92 Never Before Released Pictures Wed, 01 May 2013 12:56:04 +0000


Last weekend, we were in Kuniyoshi, Chiba, the peninsula across Tokyo Bay, to check on some old cars. This is what and who we met.

TTAC’s cross-cultural adviser, Frau Schmitto-san walked by what looked just like the 360 Subaru we test-drove a year ago in Japan.

Minutes later, we saw a skinny, bespectacled man who looked very much like Chiharu Tamura, owner of said 360 Subaru, and Deputy Chief Engineer of the Lexus LFA supercar. The test drive had been a ruse to distract from my secret mission: To observe the making of the LFA.

It was him, it was his car. Tamura-san had driven Subie-san all the 250 miles from Toyotashi to Kuniyoshi to attend an event that celebrated old cars, old trains, old buses, and an old town.

The event was to help revitalize Kuniyoshi, a town that needs a revival badly. The town doesn’t even exist anymore, at least not officially. In 1955, it was merged with a few neighboring towns into Isumi. In 2005, it was merged again.

The only thing that reminds of Kuniyoshi is Kuniyoshi Station, a stop on a narrow gauge line that had been threatened with closure, many times.

This is the old train that brought us to the station.

It didn’t look much different than the old train that is now a museum piece, parked on a short piece of rail that leads to nowhere.

In front of the station, we find a rarity: A 23-window 1967 Volkswagen Bus, the DeLuxe version with sunroof and eight skylight windows. The bus is in great shape, its interior and upholstery have been restored. Later, in the evening, we’ll take it to a nice dinner by the beach and watch a big fat red moon rise over the Pacific Ocean.

The bus belongs to the station, and is driven by the station master, Daisuke Kurihara. He is a multi talent. Living with his mother in a farm, he is a trained opera singer.

At age 25, Kurihara retired from the opera, studied drawing and started producing highly detailed miniatures of old cars, old trains, old buses, and old motorcycles.

This is his rendition of a Volkswagen Beetle.


This is the original, which we find by the road around a corner. It is a 1967 Beetle 1500. The Beetle was exported to Japan in great numbers and was the foundation on which Volkswagen built its empire as the largest importer to Japan.

Naturally, Japanese cars dominated the Kuniyoshi event. This is the convertible version of the Toyota Publica, introduced in 1963. The Publica was intended as Japan’s Volkswagen: It traces back to MITI’s “national car” concept of 1955.


Before anyone makes tired jokes about Toyota and unintended acceleration, let me preempt and assure you that any intended or unintended acceleration during the event was made impossible by way of this simple device that was issued to and mandatory for all participating vehicles.

This is the 1967 Mazda Familia, aka Mazda R100, with the rotary engine, that made it a Mazda Familia Presto Rotary.

The rotary engine quickly received a reputation of being finicky and thirsty. No wonder the owner is asking for donations.

This modern-looking kei car is from the early ‘70s: A Honda Z GS. Its 354cc engine spun at a dizzying 9,000 rpm for a 36 hp output.

This is a 230 Nissan Cedric in the Deluxe trim. Built between 1971 and 1975, the Cedric was sold abroad as the Datsun 200C through 260C

I lifted the pertinent information from the all-knowing Wikipedia. Actually, the car we saw in Kunioshi is not simply the same, but identical to the car pictured in Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s PC police blanked out the bottom part of the license plate, but left the upper third, and that’s all we need for a very close match.

I could go on and on about the historically significant vehicles parked by the roadside in usually sleepy Kuniyoshi, but I am afraid this could bring the TTAC server to its knees. So here are the Japanese bookends of the event:

The three-wheeled Daihatsu Midget, introduced in 1957 with a 250 cc engine that produced a breathtaking 12 hp, quickly became the mainstay of transportation throughout Asia. There were a few of them on display in Kuniyoshi, and some of them may still be in use.

Although production officially ceased in 1972, copies of the Midget are still made in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia where they do duty as “tuk-tuks,” or motorized rickshaws. The orange one in the back is a Mazda three-wheeler, formerly used by a moving company. Its size is more than adequate to move the average Japanese apartment.

On the other side of the Nipponese spectrum is the Mitsubishi Debonair. Introduced in 1964 and built nearly unchanged through 1986, this was a big car – by Japanese standards.

Designed by former GM designer Hans S. Bretzner, the car looks a little bit like an old Lincoln Continental that was washed too hot and shrunk .

This 1975 Executive model sports the 2 liter ‘Saturn 6” engine, which makes it a rarity.

As far as foreign cars go, it is interesting to observe what constitutes a classic car in the eyes of the Japanese collectors, what is seen as representative of an era and a car culture. The doitsu, or Germans, are well represented by their iconoclastic Volkswagens, mentioned and shown further above. The French are exemplified by a lone Citroen CX 25 GTI, parked in front of a house that is in need of revitalization.

Turkey is here, not with a car, but with Turkey’s national food, the doner kebab.

America is epitomized in Kuniyoshi by a rolling symbol of excess, a very much stretched Cadillac. According to some in Detroit, the Japanese car market is closed, but some cars appear to manage to squeeze through.

Intentionally, or by happenstance, the stretch was placed in front of a symbol of Japanese frugality and bonsai culture, the Mazda Carol, a kei car that was powered by one of the smallest 4-cylinder automobile engines in history, and that grabbed an amazing 67 percent of the kei car market in its first year in 1962.

This is the American car that made the strongest impression on Japan.

An impression so strong that the Willy’s Jeep is the only car shown in duplicate at the Kuniyoshi event.

It comes complement with a faux Cavalry Major.

There are the original Signal Corps radios, in duplicate.

Shockingly for a society where public display of weapons is rare, and where even antique swords need a license, there is a regulation M1, thankfully under lock and key.

Even more shocking: “He’s one of the very few American Army Majors who can eat rice with chopsticks,” says Frau Schmitto-san.

Around the corner, and mostly ignored, a Made-in-Japan Jeep, built under license by Mitsubishi. The Made-in-America Jeep is the most successful American import to Japan.

Meanwhile, back at the Subaru 360, Tamura-san explains a little mishap that occurred on the long way from Toyota-shi to Kuniyoshi.

The 45 year old exhaust manifold finally gave up the ghost and separated from the engine.

Something like that does not faze a leading Toyota engineer: With a field-expedient wire, a nearly invisible and mostly inaudible fix was effected.

We thanked Tamura-san, and we thank him again for this fascinating trip down memory lane and down the alleys of Kuniyoshi. Who could be a better guide through Japan’s living automotive history than one of Toyota’s leading engineers?

Ooopps, one of the leading engineers of Lexus, of course. The ID holder is made from carbon fiber, a memento of the carbon fiber LFA, a car that also is history. All members of the sadly disbanded LFA team received such a holder, and made from CFRP, car and ID holder will most likely live longer than any car we have seen in Kuniyoshi.

IMG_1270 IMG_1291 IMG_1299 IMG_1304 IMG_1308 IMG_1320 IMG_1335 IMG_1338 IMG_1386 IMG_1400 IMG_1433 IMG_1437 IMG_1446 IMG_1450 IMG_1465 IMG_1471 IMG_1478 IMG_1480 IMG_1505 IMG_1520 IMG_1529 IMG_1537 IMG_1544 IMG_1571 IMG_1598 IMG_1622 IMG_1657 IMG_1684 IMG_1716 IMG_1836 IMG_1848 IMG_1870 IMG_1901 IMG_1908 IMG_1918 IMG_1920 IMG_1949 IMG_1957 IMG_1982 IMG_1985 IMG_1994 IMG_1997 IMG_2004 IMG_2037 IMG_2107 IMG_2110 IMG_2115 IMG_2141 IMG_2154 IMG_2251 IMG_2263 Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Kuniyoshi - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 24
The Encyclopedia of Obscure Concept and Show Cars: Part Five – Pontiac to Volvo Fri, 19 Apr 2013 12:00:35 +0000 1998 Pontiac Rageous-sVl=mx=

1998 Pontiac Rageous

All good things, even obscure and maybe even not so good, must come to an end. You can see previous installments of the Encyclopedia of Obscure Concept and Show Cars hereherehere, and here.

Oldsmobile, Packard, Plymouth. Another dead brand with obscure concept cars in this part of the alphabet is Pontiac. This is their Rageous concept from 1997, another proto-CUV, and what some have called “the Aztek that should have been”. Imagine a four door Trans Am (the rear doors are suicide style like on the RX-8 Mazda) with  a hatchback and a flat load floor that will accommodate a 4X8 sheet of plywood. A ’90s vintage LT1 and a Corvette based rear suspension completed the package, which of course had Pontiac’s supernumerary nostrils from that era. Actually, the Rageous isn’t that obscure. Mattel’s Hot Wheels released their own version of it in 1999 and reissued it at least 8 times since then. Like the Jeep Jeepster concept, if you’re a Gen Y’er, or a baby boomer who collects Hot Wheels you may actually remember the Pontiac Rageous.

PontiacAztekConcept@1999Web22Speak of the devil. Not a bad idea, but much better in theory than in practice.

PontiacBanshee@1988Web22The name Banshee has graced a number of sporty Pontiac show cars starting in 1964.  You can see how GM designers were trying to come up with an integrated rear spoiler and this 1988 Banshee did have an influence on the Firebird and Camaro but I think the 4th generation Camaro, which came out in 1993, had an even better integrated spoiler.

autowp.ru_pontiac_tempest_monte_carlo_concept_car_1In the early 1960s, Pontiac made a couple of Tempest based concepts including the Monte Carlo in 1962, a two seat speedster with cut down glass and fairings on the back deck. I dig the period correct mag wheels secured with a single knock off hub nut.

PontiacFleurDeLis@63CAS_web1The following year the Pontiac Tempest went from sporty to elegant with the Fleur de Lis, though if you look at the badge in the grille, it’s got a 326 V8 under the hood. You could argue that the first muscle cars were small Pontiacs with V8 engines.

PontiacPiranhaConcept@2000Web22The Pontiac Piranha, introduced in 2000, had a logo that could be used to make an Angry Fish spinoff. It’s so obscure that it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page, though Mattel’s Matchbox brand has issued it four times since 2002 and it’s apparently still in production. Perhaps Mattel sold more Pontiacs in that brand’s last decade than General Motors did.

PontiacSalsa@1992Web22Like Ford’s Ghia Prima, Pontiac tried the Nissan Pulsar sedan/hatch/wagon idea with the Salsa show cars in 1992: “A highly versatile small sport utility vehicle with a unique expanding body configuration.” Note the surfboards, a recurring show car motif.

PontiacStingerConcept@1989Web22Did anyone put a poster of the Pontiac Stinger on their wall?

2004-Chevrolet-Nomad-Solstice-Curve-1920x1440In 2004, to demonstrate the flexibility of the then new but now abandoned Kappa platform, GM brought out three show cars, the production version of the upcoming 2006 Pontiac Solstice, the Saturn Curve concept and the Chevy Nomad concept. The Curve, a chunky, muscular design that I thought looked kinda funny, never made it to production but Saturn did get the Sky, it’s own version of the Solstice roadster. The Nomad, a modern take on GM’s legendary Corvette station wagon from the 1954 Motorama touring car show, was probably never even considered for production. Saturn and Pontiac are dead, as is the Kappa platform. As far as I can tell, since the Sky, Solstice and Sky-based Opel GT have gone out of production no current GM product is based on Kappa architecture. Of the three show cars in 2004, the Nomad was the most popular. My guess is that had Chevy made that version of the Kappa, the platform might still be alive. Somewhere a shuttered Pontiac-Saturn dealer is having Nate Altmanesque dreams of buying some tooling.

simcafulgurSome of the less obscure show cars of the late 1950s and early 1960s were ideas that seemed perfectly reasonable then but outlandish now, like the two wheeled gyroscope stabilized Ford Gyron. You may have heard of the Gyron, but have you ever seen the Simca Fulgur from Chrysler’s French subsidiary? Fulgar means “lightning” in Latin and I suppose the connection was electricity. The Fulgur was another supposedly gyrostabilized vehicle, with electric power (some references say atomic) and an “electronic brain”.

Subaru SRD1990_ _ExhibitWeb22The 1990 Subaru SRD-1 was the first concept car out of the Subaru Research and Design center in Cypress, California. Recognizing that they were selling the most popular import station wagons, Subaru went with their strengths and designed what they called “an innovative “dream wagon” concept for the ’90s and beyond”. The “beyond” part was a reference to a “family wagon” with features designed “with characteristic attention to the future needs of the mature wagon users”. The typical Subaru owner then was often rather frugal and I guess for that crowd knowing that the car would still be running after the kids move out and you start buying Depends would be a selling point.

SuzukiSea@@2006Web221The Suzuki Sea from 2005 and 2006 was one of a number of forgettable Suzuki concepts that embraced surfer culture. You’ll excuse me if I’d prefer a real woody wagon (and definitely not the Dodge Kahuna) if I was going to go surfing.

toyota pod 2002For a conservative company decried by some as producing “beigemobiles”, Toyota has made some rather odd concepts, like the Pod from 2002.

1977_Toyota_CAL-1_Concept_02I’m guessing that like the Subaru SRD-1, Toyota’s CAL-1, from the 1977-78 show circuit, celebrated that Japanese company’s then new California design center, in this case CALTY. Though it was designed in the United States, it was revealed at the 1977 Tokyo show, which may explain the right hand drive. Based on an A40 Celica Supra, the CAL-1 was a ute, with wooden decking over the pickup bed. Also reminiscent of Subaru are the BRAT style seats in the bad.

VolkswagenAAC_Concept@2000Web22The Volkswagen AAC, shown here at Chicago in 2000, was another VW pickup truck that they didn’t sell in North America.

ARVW_Riga_Motor_Museum_2008Do you remember the Volkswagon ARVW (Aerodynamic Research Volkswagen) from 1980? For a while it was the fastest diesel powered car in the world: 362.07 km/h.

volvo you_rA show car doesn’t have to be old to be obscure. The Volvo Concept You was on the show circuit last year. It’s a gorgeous car and a look at what the next Volvo S80 flagship will be like, but I think even Volvo wants to keep it obscure. They kept it behind glass at the 2012 NAIAS.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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The Encyclopedia of Obscure Concept and Show Cars: Part Four – Mitsubishi to Plymouth Thu, 18 Apr 2013 12:00:34 +0000 MitsubishiHSRIII@1992Web22

Mitsubishi HSR III from 1992

It started with a photo of a strange looking Pinto with a targa style roof and it metastasized into an encyclopedia of just about every concept car you never heard about. Part One, Acura to Chevrolet, is herePart two, Chrysler to Ford, is here. Part three, Honda to Mercury, is here.

Mitsubishi likes three letter acronyms and alphanumerics. Behold, above, the HSR III from 1992, some kind of Eclipse concept, I think.

MitsubishiRPM_concept@2001Web22And 2001′s RPM.

MitsubishiSSS_Concept@2000Web22Or the SSS from 2000.

MitsubishiSSU@1999Web22And the SSU from the year before.

NissanAlpha-T_Concept@2001Web22This is Nissan’s Alpha-T from 2001. I’m pretty sure that T stands for truck. As for being the alpha truck or not, a Ford Raptor looks like it could could drive right over the Alpha-T.

OldsmobileAnthemConcept@1992Web22After years of mismanaging the Oldsmobile brand, General Motors started giving Olds dealers some decent new product but it may have been too late to resuscitate the brand. It’s possible that new model names like Alero, Achieva and Aurora only confused their existing clientele, many of whom had been buying Cutlasses and Ninety Eights since the Kennedy administration. Someone at Olds must have liked car names starting with A because in 1992, they introduced the Anthem concept, which previewed the Aurora. I suppose they couldn’t use Aurora because GM had just used it a couple of years earlier on a Cadillac concept (see above).

OldsProfileConcept@2000Web22The Wikipedia entry on the Oldsmobile Profile from 2000 says that it’s a crossover, a CUV, I guess that’s because it had sliding doors but I still think it looks like a station wagon. Not a bad looking car either, it had show car features that have since become commonplace on production cars like keyless entry and ignition, a rotating shifter knob complemented by shifters buttons on the steering wheel, hands free phone plus internet and DVD based entertainment for rear passengers. Give it a big glass sunroof and call it a Vista Cruiser.

OldsRecon@1999Web221Olds’ Recon from the year before does have a big sunroof (though it can’t be a Vista Cruiser because it isn’t a glass roof) and it does look more like a proper CUV, albeit with suicide doors. What’s a car show without at least one concept car with suicide doors?

55packardrequestI guess we’re into the dead brand section of obscure show cars. Even Packard made concept cars, though some of them were more like personal vanity projects for Packard executives. The Panther is pretty slick, and while Dick Teague’s Predictor didn’t help Packard survive, true to its name it did influence a lot of cars in the 1960s, but neither of those cars are particularly obscure. The Packard Request, for 1955, on the other hand, is an obscure for a car that ironically came about due to popular demand. The Request was apparently the reaction to requests by Packard executives, dealers and enthusiasts for a car with a classic Packard grille. Now I happen to think that the 1955 and 1956 Packards, also Teague designs, look great. Teague gave the last real Packards a grille that looked contemporary but still echoed the distinctive arched radiator shell of classic prewar Packards. The ’55 and ’56 Packards gave away little in the looks department to the mid-’50s cars from the Big 3. However, grafting an actual upright classic grille onto Teague’s ’55 Packard gave the Request an odd, Edsel like appearance. I suppose that Teague, the original silk purse out of a sow’s ear designer, did the best he could, but I wouldn’t put it on the list of ten top Teague designs. Still, from the side view it looks almost stately and in any case it could have been worse. For instance…

plymouth_plainsman1956If they arranged the cemetery of dead car brands alphabetically, next to Packard’s grave would be Plymouth. Of course in real life, or death, Packard customers would not likely be buried next to Plymouth owners, Plymouth being one of the “low cost three”, and Packard being America’s most prestigious brand for decades. Low cost three or carriage trade, just as the Packard Request was not Richard Teague’s most attractive show cars, the Plymouth Plainsman, another western themed show car, was not one of the better Exner-Ghia Chrysler concepts. The Darth Vaderish front end is massive, which is good in a way because it distracts you from the oddly shaped B pillar and the wagon’s stepped roof that looks like they mounted it backwards. At one time the as yet unrestored (I wonder why) Plainsman was part of the Bortz collection of show cars but later ownership was transferred to Joe Bortz’s ex wife as part of the settlement of what I understand was a somewhat contentious divorce. It’s not clear if the former Mrs. Bortz wanted or didn’t want the Plainsman. That’s only part of the car’s story, which involves Chrysler avoiding customs fees, the car almost becoming one of Cuba’s old American cars, and a stay in Australia before ending up in Joe Bortz’s hands. The story is much better than the car is.

PlymouthBelmont1954WebThe Plymouth Belmont is one of two Chrysler concepts that could have competed with the Chevrolet Corvette and the original Ford Thunderbirds, sporty two seat roadsters. The other Chrysler two seat concept was the 1955 Chrysler Falcon, a personal favorite of Virgil Exner Sr., who supervised Maury Baldwin’s design of that car, which Exner used personally. He also used the Belmont as a personal car but that was not an in-house Chrysler (or Ghia) design. The Belmont, like the first two Chrysler concept cars from just before WWII, the Thunderbolt and Newport, was designed and built by Briggs, Chrysler’s body supplier. In 1954, Briggs wanted to experiment with the then new material called fiberglass and demonstrate to Chrysler that they could supply plastic bodies as well as the steel ones they’d been building for almost half a century. Working under Briggs design head Al Prance, designer Bill Robinson, who later worked directly for Chrysler and subsequently taught at Detroit’s CCS, came up with the Belmont. Since Briggs had no experience working with the new material, it is thought that they contracted the actual body making to Creative Industries or Ionia Manufacturing, two companies that did contract work for the major automakers. It’s an attractive car, though I think the design is a bit compromised by the fact that Robinson was told to use production Plymouth bumpers. The Belmont still exists and is in a private collection.


I’m not sure what relevance the Slingshot had to the rest of Plymouth’s lineup in 1988, which was mostly K-car derived. The Slingshot was made of carbon fiber and was designed with input from design students interning at Chrysler. It has a canopy opening, but then I already said it was partially designed by design students. According to Wikipedia, it was designed as part of a series of three concepts, along with the Big Shot and the Hot Shot but since I can’t find anything at all about those other two cars, and since that information has no citation, I think someone’s pulling our Wikilegs.

Continued in part 5 tomorrow, Pontiac to Volvo.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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The Encyclopedia of Obscure Concept and Show Cars: Part Three – Honda to Mercury Wed, 17 Apr 2013 12:00:33 +0000

Continuing with our look at long forgotten (and some not so long forgotten, but forgotten just the same) concept and show cars from the major automobile manufacturers. Part One, Acura to Chevrolet, is herePart two, Chrysler to Ford, is here.

Sure, once you see it, the Honda SSM (Sports Study Model), first shown at the Tokyo show in 1995 and styled by Pininfarina, was obviously the concept for what became the S2000 roadster. The question is do S2000 fans even remember the SSM?

InfinitiTriantConcept@2003Web22Try and see if you can recall the Infiniti Triant from 2003.

JeepJeepsterConcept@1998Web22Chrysler recycled the Jeepster name for this 1998 concept, which you may actually remember.

JeepsterToysQuite a number of die cast model companies and brands, including MaistoHot WheelsMatchbox,  and Tonka have produced toys and models of the Jeepster. If you’re a member of Generation Y, you may just remember the Jeepster.

JeepVarsityConcept@2000Web33Along with the Jeepster, the Varsity concept from 2000 made Hooniverse’s list of Jeep’s top 25 concept vehicles (not included on the list were the very cool Mighty FC cabover “forward control” truck and the JC-12 pickup concepts from last year). Jeep does indeed have a history of cool concepts, but I wouldn’t call the Varsity as memorable as the twin Hemi powered Hurricane that could turn on its own axis.

41914-500-0I don’t know if the 1969 Jeep XJ-001 concept is what convinced American Motors to buy Jeep from Kaiser the following year, or not. Jeep had been buying AMC engines for a while and when they decided to build their own version of a muscle car, with a custom fiberglass body on a CJ-5 chassis, they dropped in an AMC 360 cubic inch V8.

jeep_concepts_1969_wallpapers_1The XJ-001 is actually notable in Jeep history as it introduced one of the earliest full-time four wheel drive systems, which they called “Quadritrac”. That would morph into Quadra Trac when the system was first offered for sale in 1973.

KaiserSafari@1951CASI can’t imagine where ever Kaiser got the idea to name this 1951 concept the “Safari”. Seriously though, I’m pretty sure they got the idea to use fur and zebra skins from the Cadillac Debutante the year before. The car companies were lucky there was no PETA then.

Lincoln_MacheteWhen I saw this photo of this Lincoln concept from 1988, I said, “what a cool car”. Lincoln has a history of making concept cars that, years later, enthusiasts say, “now that’s a car that Lincoln should have made”.

LincolnMachete@1988Web22Then I saw what they named it. In what alternate universe is the brand Lincoln associated with the word machete? If it had gone into production, would they have gotten Danny Trejo to do their ads?

MercedesBenz_F300LifeJet@1998Web22Now that Morgan has brought back the Three Wheeler, with the blessings of Baruth, and Polaris is about to introduce the Slingshot reverse trike, perhaps Mercedes-Benz should put the F300 Life Jet leanable trike concept from 1998 into production. I wonder if they paid any royalties to Fritz Fend‘s family.

Concept Cars - Mercury MC4The Mercury brand had some exciting show cars. Perhaps if some of them had gone into production, the brand might still be here with us today. The MC4 concept was based on a 1996 Thunderbird (Sajeev take note). The car’s designer, the late John Hartnell, gave it both suicide doors and de Tomaso Mangusta style rear center-opening hatches (with integral taillights). That combination alone should have made it a memorable concept car but memory can be fickle.

srill_sw_s16_1130353456_97mercury_mc4_2When Ford sold off some of their corporate collection of concept cars in 2002 to raise money for charity and celebrate FoMoCo’s centennial, the pre-sale estimate on the MC4 was $60,000-$120,000 with no reserve. It was hammered off at $645,500, the second highest sale price at that auction You may not remember it, but someone sure did. I bet his wife remembers the auction too.

MercuryMessenger@2003Web33The Mercury Messenger wowed the critics in 2003, so it’s not really that obscure, but does anyone think that Mercury dealers would have known what to do with a sporty two seater? It was supposed to be Mercury’s new brand look, which lasted until the Messenger was retired from the show circuit.

A great looking car but is there anything about it that says “Mercury”? Part of the problem is the name. Who calls a two seat sports coupe with a V8 engine the Messenger? For gosh sakes, this was a company that made cars called the Eliminator and the Marauder. Lincoln shows a Machete and Mercury shows a Messenger? Boy, Ford really got its brands messed up before Mulally turned things around. Besides, the Messenger was based on the Mustang, they should have called it the Cougar.

MercuryMystiqueConcept@91Web22Less memorable was the Mercury Mystique, another suppository shaped minivan.

MercuryOneConcept done with mazda@1989Web223Before there was Ford One, there was the Mercury One, a joint project of Mazda and Mercury.

MercuryPalomarRear@62Web22Somehow the name Mercury Palomar isn’t quite right. I know there’s an observatory on Mount Palomar and Mercury is indeed an astronomical body, but the car brand is named after the god, not the planet, so you end up with a car that’s actually named after a god and a mountain, not a planet and and observatory as the marketers guessed. The inspiration for the Palomar’s name was obviously the retractable roof, just like an observatory has. The inspiration for the roof itself was possibly from South Bend, not outer space. Well, sort of. In 1959, Brooks Stevens, who would later design the similarly featured Wagonaire and other Studebakers, designed three concepts cars called the Scimitar for the Olin Matheson Chemical Corp. to demonstrate the functional and decorative use of aluminum. One of the Scimitars was a station wagon with a retractable roof that let you carry tall items. The retractable roofed wagon is one of those ideas that pops up from time to time on concept and production vehicles most recently with the 2004 GMC Envoy XUV.

Continued in part 4 tomorrow, Mitsubishi to Plymouth.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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The Encyclopedia of Obscure Concept and Show Cars: Part Two – Chrysler to Ford Tue, 16 Apr 2013 12:00:32 +0000 03

1954 Chrysler La Comtesse

Part One, Acura to Chevrolet, is here

Yesterday, we started are look through concept and show cars from major car companies that may have slipped your attention by being rather obscure. I delight in the obscure and the unusual, figuring that not everyone needs more pics of ’69 Camaros or ’58 Isettas. We continue with barely known Chrysler, Dodge and Ford concepts.

The 1954 Chrysler La Comtesse was was a companion car to the Le Comte. Spare me the lecture about how the La Comtesse and Dodge La Femme were sexist (see L.P. Hartley on the past). Because of three or more years of lead time in the production of a new car, it takes years for a chief stylist to make a personal imprint on a company’s styling. Virgil Exner’s “idea cars” for Chrysler, usually made by Ghia, gave consumers an idea of what future Chrysler products might look like but in the meantime, they still had to sell current production cars and by 1954, the full size Chryslers were six years old. They slapped two tone paint on the old stallion and mare and gave them clear Plexiglas roofs and put them on the show circuit to help move some metal. I’d say that it took well into the 1960s for car designers and customizers to realize that clear plastic roofs make for an uncomfortabley hot car on sunny days.


Before Chrysler made a Cordoba to suit Ricardo Montalban, the Cordoba de Oro concept in 1970 was a radical statement of the “fuselage” look then popular with cars wearing the Pentastar (and its name corrected the Dodge Deora’s bad Spanish). More than a decade after Virgil Exner’s Norseman concept went down with the Andrea Doria, Chrysler stylists working under Exner’s successor Elwood Engel reprised Exner’s cantilevered roof with minimal A pillars.


All the publicity photos of the  the Cordoba de Oro seem to have been in black and white, but this snapshot taken at the 1970 Chicago auto show explains the car’s surname. The interior featured novel adjustable pedestal bucket seats developed by Allied Chemical that had an integrated lap and shoulder belt system. The seats were trimmed in gold leather to match the car’s exterior. It’s not clear if it was of the soft Corinthian type. Another safety system tested on the Cordoba de Oro was an early airbag prototype. They even worked on a demonstration-purposes-only airbag that deployed much slower than normally, but for some reason that was never shown to the public.  The Cordoba de Oro did have a common concept car gizmo that’s become a common feature on today’s cars, a camera and tv monitor that replaced the Cordoba’s conventional rear view mirror.

Dream Cars-59 DeSoto CellaThe 1959 DeSoto Cella I is one of my favorite lesser known concept cars. Actually, it was more of a concept than a car since it never got past a 3/8ths scale model, but the model was on public display at the 1959 Chicago Auto Show and other shows that year. The personal project of DeSoto’s chief engineer, A.E. Kimberly, the Cella was supposed to be driven by an electric motor at each wheel, powered by a hydrogen/oxygen fuel cell, hence the name Cella. Yes, a fuel cell powered electric car conceived by a Detroit car company in 1959. Detroit was an innovative place in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In addition to its advanced propulsion system, the Cella concept was to have had a padded dashboard, seat belts and collapsible steering column for safety, along with a built in refrigerator, television and stereo sound system. As you buckle up and access the songs on your cellphone through your hybrid car’s infotainment system while you reach for can of chilled soda pop from the console, ponder for a second that there is a reason why car companies build concept cars.

DodgeKahunaConcept@Web22The 2003 Dodge Kahuna concept. A number of obscure show cars have had Hawaiian names or surfing themes. Mattel even added surfboards to the Alexander Brothers’ Dodge Deora show car (definitely not an obscure car) when they introduced the Hot Wheels line.

DodgeNeonAviat@1994webChrysler never gave the spunky Neon the love that the little car deserved. It was a credible competitor in a competitive segment but Chrysler let it die on the vine. I bet you never heard of the 1994 Neon Aviat concept, with its own neon parrot.

DodgeTurbine@62Web22Most car enthusiasts know about the Chrysler Turbine Car but how many of you know about the 1962 Turbo Power Giant Truck? That medium duty Dodge truck with the very Japanese domestic market sounding name was equipped with one of Chrysler’s famous turbines. Ford also experimented with turbine powered trucks.

75Ford_Flashbackford-flashbackSome of these vehicles have names that make you scratch your head and wonder, “just what were they thinking?” (see Machete, Lincoln below). In 1975 Ford owned Ghia and the Italian styling and coachbuilding company came up with the concept of a blinged out and luxurious little city car, replete with “classic” grille and faux leather straps over the bustle back trunk. Not only is the styling odd, the name “Flashback” is both a reference to drug use and LSD as well as a curious word choice considering that in 1975 Ford was right in the middle of an exploding controversy about supposedly exploding Pintos.

pinto sportiva4pinto sportiva1pinto sportiva2pinto sportiva3Speaking of Pintos, here are the rest of the publicity shots of the Pinto Sportiva. A jpeg of the press release can be seen here.

maverickestatecoupeAnd speaking of leather straps on a faux classic bustle back rear end, here’s the 1971 Ford Maverick Estate Coupe concept.

Ford maverick estate Concept@71Web22It’s so incongruous that I tracked down another photo just so you could avert your eyes twice.

FordBlackPearl@1966Web22To cleanse  your visual palette, here’s a better looking Ford show car, the 1966 Black Pearl, based on an LTD. The Chicago Auto Show site says that it’s a factory custom, but it might have been done by the Alexander Brothers or another of the era’s leading customizers, who prepared a lot of Ford’s show cars in the mid 1960s. The name comes from the black metallic paint and the pearl white satin, leather, and mouton carpeted interior.  It looks almost stock because of how subtle the custom touches are: shaved door handles and keyholes, and deeply recessed lights in the back. I think Jack Sparrow would like it.

FordConcept@79web Tuareg 78 euro fiesta basedWhat’s that you say? A Tuareg is a VW, not a Ford? Well Ford used that name for this Euro Fiesta based rallyish concept in 1979.

FordKilimanjaro@70Web22B’wana wanna a 1970 Econoline Kilimanjaro for your next safari? Leopard print was still in style 20 years after Cadillac’s Debutante.

FordIndigoConcept@1996CASThe 1996 Ford Indigo concept may be obscure but as far as I can tell, it was the first public use of the V12 engine that is now the workhorse of the Aston Martin brand. The “Aston Martin 6.0 V12″ is basically two ‘Siamesed’ Ford Duratec 3.0 L V6 engines with a common block cast by Cosworth, which developed the engine. At the time the engine was developed, Ford owned Aston Martin, though I believe it hadn’t yet owned Cosworth, though that’s kind of moot in light of the close relationship of Cosworth to Ford. It was Colin Chapman who convinced FoMoCo to invest $100,000 into what became one of the most successful racing engines ever, the Cosworth Ford DFV.

FordLa_Galaxie1958 Web22Ferrari just introduced La Ferrari, but Ford predated them with the 1958 La Galaxie (and Cadillac and Chrysler before Ford with the La Espada, La Comtesse and La Femme), one of the less extreme Ford space age show cars of the 1950s.

1967_Ford_Mach_2_04MachHeritageYou’ve heard of the Ford Mach 1. What about the Ford Mach 2? Looking a little like the love child of a Mustang and a GT40, it was built by Kar Kraft, which built many of Ford’s racing cars and other special projects. It was midengine two seater with a 289 V8 and a ZF transaxle and apparently at least one functioning example was made, since Motor Trend published test results. It’s not known if the Mach 2 still exists. It may still be in a warehouse in Dearborn, but Ford isn’t telling.

ford ghia corrida1978_11Starting in 1976, Ford had Ghia, which it owned at the time, do a series of concepts based on the Fiesta, starting with the Corrida. In case you’ve forgotten what the Corrida looks like, it’s the angular coupe with the turned up butt behind the white Pinto. Behind the Granada based Thunderbird, on the turntable beneath the Chicago Auto Show 78 sign,  is the white  Megastar II concept, also by Ghia, but based on the Ford Taunus.

1976_Ghia_Ford_Prima_Concept_Car_Pickup1976_Ghia_Ford_Prima_Concept_Car_Fastback_021976_Ghia_Ford_Prima_Concept_Car_Coupe_02Another of the Fiesta-based concepts, the Ghia Prima predated the Nissan Pulsar with its changable roof by a decade or so. The Prima had station wagon, hatchback coupe and notchback roofs that could be swapped out or left off for a pickup truck. I was able to find publicity shots of the hatchback,  notchback and pickup, but no luck for you longroof fans.

Continued in part 3 tomorrow, Honda to Mercury.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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The Encyclopedia of Obscure Concept and Show Cars: Part One – Acura to Chevrolet Mon, 15 Apr 2013 12:30:02 +0000

1973 Ford Pinto Sportiva Concept

Is it a cliche to say that as a writer I try to avoid cliches? Anyway, I do try to avoid the word legendary (see Dash Parr on being special), but some concept and show cars are, well, legendary. Not in the sense, of course, that people tell grand tales about them but because they are remembered, ending up in books and blog posts. Some concept and show cars are, if not the stuff of legends, certainly the stuff of history. Other cars, not so much. For every memorable Cadillac Evoq, Sixteen and Converj, there’s been at least one La Espada or Aurora, cars that never really caught the public or auto enthusiasts’ imagination even if they may have influenced production cars. A concept car can cost an easy million dollars to build, but once that year’s auto show season is over, it’s often forgotten.

For a long time, after they came off the show circuit many show cars were destroyed or otherwise passed out of company hands. They were of no further use to the car companies so they were discarded. Few things become as quickly dated or as passe as last year’s concept cars. After collectors like Joe Bortz and Steve Juliano started finding and restoring those cars, though, car companies have tended to regard show cars as worth saving, if only because of their pecuniary and publicity value, though I think some folks inside the companies do have a clue as to their historic and cultural value. Today I doubt many show vehicles are deliberately destroyed and when they do let concept and show cars slip the bonds of their corporation, car companies try to get maximum value out of the transaction. As part of their centennial celebration a decade ago, in 2002 Ford had Christie’s auction off 50 concept cars from FoMoCo’s corporate collection, with the proceeds going to charity. During GM’s financial crisis and bankruptcy, in 2009 the company culled out 250  prototypes, SEMA show cars, and concepts from their Heritage collection and sold them at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale. Since then, car companies have auctioned off a number of other prototypes for publicity and charitable purposes.

While researching Detroit’s legendary (if the shoe fits) Alexander brothers, who built a series of award winning custom cars and also made show cars for Ford in the 1960s, I came across a photo of the 1973 Pinto Sportiva Concept (not an Alexander brothers’ car, though I suppose it’s possible that Larry Alexander may have worked on it as by then he was working for Ford as a master metal modeler in Ford’s prototype shop). It’s a notchback take on the Pinto that presages the Mustang II which was itself based on the Pinto platform, and to make it at least somewhat interesting, Ford gave it a targa roof.

Did you know about the 1973 Ford Pinto Sportiva Concept? Neither did I. How about the 1988 Lincoln Machete? Putting aside the concept car itself for a second, how on Earth did someone at Lincoln think that “Machete” resonated with the Lincoln brand, or with its customers? Those cars got me thinking about obscure concept and show cars so I headed to one of my favorite places to find pics of cool cars from the past, the Chicago Auto Show’s website. The Chicago show has hired professional photographers to shoot the show since at least the early 1950s and they’ve graciously compiled a year by year archive on the show’s website that goes back to the turn of the 20th century. In recent years Robert Shiverts (Oscar & Associates) has been the show’s official photographer. The pics that Shiverts and the other official show photographers have shot over the years are a great historical record of American car culture.

I’ve gone through their dropdown menu of concept cars and picked a few whose names I didn’t really recognize (and a few that I think deserve more attention). Some of them did influence production cars even if they didn’t achieve fame as show cars, others are doubly obscure.

Many of the photos are from the Chicago Auto Show site, but I’ve fleshed out the gallery a bit with some publicity and other archival shots.

AcuraConceptCLX@1995Web22Acura’s alphanumeric production car names are hard enough to keep straight. Do you remember the 1995 Acura CL-X concept?

AMCRamblerCheyenneCarrousel@1964Web221964 American Motors Rambler Cheyenne Wagon. Western motifs were popular in the ’50s and ’60s, particularly with station wagons.

RamblerTarpon@1964WebAlso in 1964, AMC showed the Tarpon concept, a great looking fastback based on the compact Rambler American with an almost boattail design. Unfortunately, AMC head Roy Abernethy overruled designer Richard Teague and the roofline ended up on the midsize AMC platform as the Marlin. The proportions didn’t work quite as well. Dodge’s similarly fastback styled but better proportioned Charger outsold the Marlin by a wide margin.

buick 1959 texanBefore there was the Rambler Cheyenne, there was the 1959 Buick Texan, based on the Invicta wagon.

58_wells_fargo_pcxaAs you can see from the 1958 Buick Wells Fargo, western themes weren’t exclusive to station wagons. The Buick Wells Fargo was made especially for actor Dale Robertson, whose western tv show, Wells Fargo, Buick sponsored.

BuickQuestor@1983Web22The 1983 Buick Questor had state of the art electronics, with a laser based keyless entry and a computerized navigation system. That was just two years after IBM introduced the Intel 8088 based 5150 personal computer and the same year two guys named Steve introduced the Apple IIe. Some of the Questor’s electronic features ended up on the production Buick Reatta.

Not to be confused with Brooks Stevens’ masterful Studebaker Sceptre concept, the 1992 Buick Sceptre gave a preview of Buick’s soft curvy design language of the 1990s. It also had one of those newfangled cellular telephones.

BuickQuestor@1995Web22They wouldn’t go financially bankrupt until 2009 but General Motors’ creative bankruptcy was evident by 1995. It’s one thing to recycle a concept name, or another to keep a popular car on the show circuit for a couple of years, but reusing the same actual car a dozen years later with virtually no restyling shows that even the famed staff of GM Design didn’t have much left in the tank by the 1990s. In 1995 Buick revived not just the Questor name (companies recycle concept names all the time), it brought back the same car, only with new paint and upgraded electronic gizmos. It’s a little confusing because they recycled the car but by I believe that by 1995 the Questor had 14 micro-computers, automatic level, attitude and spoiler control, a “systems sentinel” to monitor the status of vehicle systems, heads-up display, computer based map and navigation system, automatically aimed headlamps, theft-deterrent system, road traction monitoring and control system, TV rear-view mirror (GM first put a rear facing tv camera on the Centurion Motorama car in the 1950s), and a touch-command system for entertainment, comfort and convenience functions. As a concept car in general, the Questor accurately predicted many of the features on today’s cars. As a concept car to promote the Buick brand, though, it didn’t do much.

BuickSignia@1998Web221998 Buick Signia station wagon. It’s made some ugliest cars of all time lists but I don’t think it’s that terrible. Okay, on second thought, maybe it is.

BuickCielo@1999Web221999 Buick Cielo. Remember it? Had Bill Mitchell been alive to see it, I think he would have said that it looked like a fish.

cadillac la espada1954RonaldReaganWeb21954 Cadillac La Espada. Actor Ronald Reagan was the Grand Marshall for that year’s Chicago Auto Show. Reagan later rode in Lincolns.

CadillacDebutante@1950Web2211950 Cadillac Debutante, with all unpainted interior metal plated in gold. In today’s politically correct world, would Cadillac use even fake exotic fur, let alone the Debutante’s real leopard skin?

Cadillac-Aurora1Cadillac used the Aurora name in 1990. The name would later appear at the top of Oldsmobile’s lineup.

Cadillac-Vizon-Concept-062002 Vizon Concept, a preview of the Cadillac SRX. The Vizon was an early version of Caddy’s Art & Science design theme.

1956Lately there have been rumors that Chevrolet might expand the Corvette lineup to include a four seater. Expanding the Corvette line is not a new idea. At the 1954 Motorama, Chevy showed hardtop, fastback and station wagon versions of the Corvette, introduced only a year before. For the Motorama in 1957, Chevy debuted the Corvette Impala concept which seated five. Most Motorama cars look a little bizarre to my tastes, but the Corvette Impala was damn near perfect. It’s fate is unknown, probably scrapped.

ChevroletSizigiConcept@1992Web22Did Chevrolet really use the obscure, difficult to pronounce and deliberately misspelled Sigizi in 1992 to introduce the dustbuster minivans? Just what two things are connected sygyzistically in this lozenge shaped vehicle?

Continued tomorrow in part 2, Chrysler to Ford.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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In the Year 2525 – The Best Cars of Science Fiction Mon, 01 Apr 2013 12:00:55 +0000

The best science fiction tells human stories set against a backdrop of strange worlds or futuristic cities. Because pacing and plot are more important than lengthy, accurate descriptions of the technology at work in those worlds, most sci-fi writers don’t spend a lot of time on the various machines their protagonists use. We might know that our hero traveled in a shiny aluminum air car, but the details generally are left to our imagination.

Fortunately for those of us who want a real peek into the future, film is a visual medium. The best directors know that set and prop design are critical to the tone of a movie and that machines can be as important as the action. They pay a lot of attention to getting just the right look and, even though we may not get to open the hood on that futuristic air car, we definitely get to see it at work, get a feel for its lines and even some idea of how it handles. If they do their job right, we might even believe these vehicle could be real.

The following are, in this author’s opinion, some of sci-fi’s finest.

Korben Dallas’ Taxi from “The Fifth Element.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

In our mind’s eye we usually think of the future as a bright shining place free of dirt and disease. The Fifth Element gives us vision of the future in which the world is as dirty and well worn as an old shoe. The cars in the film reflect this by being futuristic flying vehicles, but with design elements taken straight from the cars of our own yesteryear.

Korben Dallas’ taxi’s huge grill, sweeping fenders and fins hark back to the late 1940s and immediately let us know that this car is old and out of date. Although the technology at work is light years ahead of where we are today, the car is obviously a tired, overworked machine that would look perfectly at home along side any of the tired, overworked machines on the bad streets of New York today. It is at once futuristic and believable, normal yet totally over the top. For the sheer audacity of its design, Korben Dallas’ taxi must be ranked high among the best cars of sci-fi.

The “Spinner” from “Blade Runner.”

Blade Runner is another vision in which the future may not be a better and brighter place. In the book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” the world is a fully fleshed out disaster in which humanity struggles relentlessly along while living amid the aftermath of World War Terminus. A lot of that back story is lost in the Ridley Scott movie and the viewer is thrown into a confusing future society complete with flying cars and robotic “replicants” almost indistinguishable from, and in some cases maybe even more human, than the people they are supposed to serve.

In his book, Philip K. Dick takes little notice of the vehicles Rick Decker and the other bounty hunters use, but the movie is a visual feast and no expense was spared. The Police “Spinners” used in the film are one of the iconic cars of sci-fi and they seem quite plausible designs. Their tires show that they would work well on the road yet they fly with equal ease. Their large glass cockpits are similar to the ones found in modern helicopters and look as though they would give their operators a good field of vision. What I like best about them is that they seem like regular workaday vehicles that could be at work on any police force in the world today. It is this touch of reality that makes me rank the “Spinner” among the best cars of sci-fi.

The “S.H.A.D.O.” cars from the TV series “U.F.O.”

Gerry Anderson had a huge effect on television sci-fi. Beginning in the 1950s his supermarionation hits including “Stingray” “Captain Scarlett and the Mysterions” and “The Thunderbirds” gave millions of kids a look at the future. By the 1970s, Gerry Anderson was producing movies and live action TV sci fi like “Space 1999” and “U.F.O” and his shows included full size working props along with the superior model-base special effects for which his shows are best known.

Two working cars, known to fans as the “Straker “ and “Foster” cars, were built out of aluminum on the chassis of the English Ford Zephyr Mk 4 and used in Anderson’s first live action movie “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun” and later in his series “U.F.O.” Angular and futuristic with gull wing doors, these cars are a very 1960’s version of the future and they have not aged particularly well. Still, because they were seen and obsessed over by millions of young sci-fi fans they must be counted among the important cars of sci-fi.

The “Cricket” from “A.I.”

The movie A.I. is not one of my favorites. Sorry, I wanted to like it but it comes off as a weird dystopian utopia and I think it sends mixed messages. Do we love technology or don’t we? What if that technology loves us? It’s gut wrenching in a way that makes me both glad and sad that I sat through it.

One thing this move does very well is give us a real vision of what our future may be. It is a better and brighter place, but it is not outside of the human condition. In the end, it is humanity’s own frailty and our inability to really understand how we should relate to the rapidly emerging computerized intelligence around us that that makes this vision of the future miserable. In short, the message is that people are jerks. Got that? Yeah, totally a chick flick.

The car, ‘The Cricket” seen in the film strikes me as the kind of car we might actually see on the road one of these days. Bright, light, futuristic and with convenient sliding doors rather than impossible to use in a parking garage gull-wings, the car looks like something you average suburban mom would drive. To be honest, I think it looks cool. Hell, paint it red and add a racing stripe and I’d drive it. It is because this car seems so realistic, without resorting to blatant product placement like some other movie cars (looking at you Lexus and Audi!) that I consider this one of the great cars of sci-fi.

Bonus – The “Landmaster” from “Damnation Alley.”

Sometimes the future sucks and when that happens you need something like the Landmaster to take you, your hippy wannabe Peacenik former subordinate and a couple of oddballs you find along the way to a better, happier place on the other side of the continent. When this movie was released in 1977, aka the middle of the cold war, wasn’t so much sci-fi as it was a vision of what might happen next week. Still, it was good fun and the Landmaster is awesome.

In the film, the Landmaster is portrayed as being constructed out of ordinary truck parts in order to facilitate repairs in the post apocalyptic world. It turns out that this is also a pretty accurate description of the real thing, too. The prop, built for the film cost of around $300K, used a Ford 427 CID industrial engine, the rear ends from two large trucks and an Allison truck transmission. The most unique feature of the vehicle, its drive wheels, are all fully functional and work shown as in the movie. The truck is said to have survived a 25 foot jump during testing with no damage. Because we are men, the Landmaster must be included in any list of the top Sci-Fi vehicles.

I know there are other vehicles out there, feel free to add your own. Just for reference, although I did select several model cars for this article, I purposely chose not to use any cartoon vehicles. If you know of other vehicles that you think need to be added, please add them. And now – to the comments!

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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日本の警察の車: The Cars of the Japanese Police Sun, 24 Feb 2013 14:19:02 +0000

They can cuff me anytime.

Hot girls in short skirts are the first things that leap into my mind whenever anyone says anything about the Japanese. The internet has not helped to change that, in fact it may have made things worse. If you add the word “Japanese” to any noun that describes a group of people and enter it into your favorite search engine, pictures of hot young girls will always appear near the top of the results. Look for Japanese tour guides, Japanese students, Japanese beach volleyball players or Japanese anything and you will see I am right. Try it, I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back, did you look for Japanese Police? I did, and despite my prior confession I was surprised at what I found. The main reason for that is because I have met a lot of Japanese police officers over the years and I can tell you from my own personal experience that they are, for the most part, nothing at all like the ones pictured above.

One of the most respected and professional police forces in the world, the Japanese “keisatsu” is a no nonsense outfit that takes its work seriously. Detectives pour over crime scenes and mark even the smallest bits of evidence with dozens of tiny red flags, rank and file officers patrol the streets on foot in groups or individually man “police boxes” in virtually every neighborhood and Japanese traffic police hone their driving and motorcycle riding skills to such perfection that only an idiot would think about running. The keisatsu is not an organization to be disrespected or trifled with and anyone who does, does so at their own peril.

Like any modern police force, the Japanese police have a tremendous amount of equipment. I could write several articles detailing armored cars, motorcycles, disaster response vehicles, buses, etc. but the most instantly recognizable vehicle in any police force is always the police car and Japan is no exception. Decked out in stunning black-and-white livery, Japanese police cars command instant attention and respect on the street. Unlike the United States, where most police cars are one of just two or three common types of sedan, the Japanese use an astonishing variety of cars, each especially suited to a specific role.

This photo is a bit dated, but I still love it.

Without a doubt, the coolest cars in the Japanese police’s motor pool are the interceptors, and well they should be because they are based on some of the baddest rides going. Some of the more famous examples have been Skyline GTRs, Mitsubishi 3000 GTs (Called the GTO in Japan), the RX-7, RX-8 and even the Fairlady Z. However, the Japanese police seldom engage in high speed chases and the rules of the road are usually maintained by speed cameras and the good old fashioned speed trap. So, while they look glorious wearing their official colors, these cars are used more as public relations tools than they are as true enforcers of public order.

One tool the keisatsu does use to great effect on the road is the unmarked car. These can be virtually any make or model and generally they hide their lights in the grill or under trap doors in the roof that pop open when they are triggered. I imagine that, like the unmarked cars used by American police forces, these cars are easily recognized by the locals but to me they were a real threat. On at least two occasions I ended up having polite conversations at the side of the road after cutting around a line of slow moving cars on the freeway to find one of these at the head of the parade. In both cases I got a firm talking to, but fortunately no tickets.

The Toyota Crown at work – check out those raised lights!

The backbone of the Japanese police fleet is the “patto-ka” and the most common patrol car on the Japanese roads today is the Toyota Crown. I have seen three versions of the Crown in action. One wears police livery but goes without the overhead lights and I presume this type of car is used by high ranking officers as a part of their duties. Actual “siren cars” as every little Japanese boy calls them, come in two flavors, those with regular, fixed red lights and those with red lights that can be raised for better visibility at accident scenes. Toyota Crowns, by the way, are also used in Japan as taxi-cabs and medium sized limos. The sheer number of them on the road makes me think they are pretty tough cars.

The Japanese police car Americans know the least about are those most often assigned to small neighborhood police stations. Because the Japanese police are committed to community policing, officers are often assigned to these small “koban” and they generally stay close to their duty station. The cars attached to these outposts are usually small econoboxes, with the cars most used being from the tiny 660cc kei class. These little cars are a great fit because they work well on narrow roads and offer the ability to carry a passenger. They are by no means fast and they would not serve as good patrol units, but they were never intended to.

A typical around town police car.

That’s because when posted to a Koban, Japanese officers are most often found on foot or on bicycles. Of course, we have bicycle patrols in the United States as well, but unlike the expensive high tech multi-speed bikes that specially outfitted and uniformed police use in our country, the Japanese approach is more mundane and makes a lot more sense.

Decked out in their regular uniforms on the same type of plain, single speed upright bikes often used by Japanese housewives, complete with handlebar mounted baskets and small cases on the cargo racks, the keisatsu are able to see and hear things that they might miss were they to patrol using motorized transport. They use the bicycle to its best advantage and their accessibility to the public makes the cop on the beat an easily approachable and welcome part of any neighborhood. How many American children know the names of the police officers who patrol our neighborhoods?

Bicycles patrols are more than just effective ways to reach the public, the are also environmentally friendly. As the sponsor of the Kyoto Convention on Climate Control, the Japanese government is especially concerned about going green wherever possible and, as a result many of the newest official vehicles are either hybrid or battery powered and police cars are no exception. As with the kei class cars, these vehicles are used in for short trips rather than day long patrols, but the fact they are relied upon at all shows that the Japanese police are constantly looking to modernize their fleet. Like the interceptors, these cars garner a great deal of public attention and often appear at public events. I expect that the numbers of these in service with the police will continue to increase as time goes on.

The Japanese police are a good organization that works hard to ensure public safety. They are serious about the job they do and the variety of vehicles they operate says a lot about their commitment. Like police forces worldwide, the Japanese police must work within a budget and one way they do so effectively is by using the right tools for specific jobs. I hope you have enjoyed this limited look at some of the cars they utilize in their effort to protect and to serve.

The average Japanese cop is more about kicking ass than he is about showing it.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

Another dated photo, but too awesome to pass up. They can cuff me anytime. These guys are the real-deal. The Toyota Crown at work - check out those raised lights! A kei class van. A neighborhood "police box." A typical police motorpool, including a crash response truck. Once upon a time, the fast cars of the Japanese Police were imports. Nissan March - not kei class, but small. Mitsubishi electric This photo is a bit dated, but I still love it. Mazda RX-8 R33 Skyline A typical unmarked Nissan Skyline A typical around town police car. The Fairlady Z On patrol with the Japanese police. Japan 13 Bicycle cops - Picture courtesy ]]> 42
A Pictorial History: The World’s First Metrosexual Car. Fair Lady At Home, Mister Z When Away Wed, 08 Aug 2012 18:15:18 +0000

In the 80’s, I took a sabbatical from marketing and propaganda, and managed a record distribution company in the U.S. My warehouse manager was Rick, a redheaded bear of a guy who also could have been Master at Arms of the local Hells Angels chapter. Come to think of it, he managed the parts department of a motorcycle store before I hired him. The love of his life were a motor cycle and his Z Car. Rick would have suffered a heart attack, would he have known that his manly Z was a ladyboy. At home in Japan, the Z had a girlie name : The Fairlady.

The first Fairlady was the Datsun SPL212. Only a few hundred were built of the 47 hp roadster from 1960 through 1962. The car received its fairy moniker from the hit musical My Fair Lady. The car was made for the export market only, and in the U.S., the Fairlady name was ignored.

The Fairlady had sisters in rapid succession. In 1962, a more serious sports car followed in form of the Fairlady 1500, a roadster with 85 horses, and a transistor radio as standard equipment. On the way to the U.S., the lady had a sex change, and went to market as the Datsun 1500.

The Fairlady 1600 underwent the same transformation from 1965 through 1070: Lady in Japan, 1600 elsewhere.

The Fairlady 2000, or its more manly pendent, the Datsun 2000, was a more serious matter. With the competition package, the 2 liter engine could produce 150 hp, and the car hit 140 mph on a good day or on the SCCA racetrack.

The car rose to worldwide stardom when the Nissan Fairlady Z was launched in 1969. Again, there was a metamorphosis on the way to the U.S., and instead of a Fairlady, a Z Car rolled off the boat. The car was made in several versions and with several engines. With over 2 million cars sold, it holds the record as the best-selling sports car of all times. It also maintained an important tradition: Fairlady at home, no lady elsewhere.

Likewise little known is the fact that the metrosexual car spawned another revolution: The female product specialist. Tokyo started to buzz when it was selected for the 1964 Summer Olympics. Japan’s post-war economic miracle went into high gear.

At the Ginza in downtown Tokyo, a tower went up, and in the tower was the Nissan gallery.

Nissan’s tower, left. Volkswagen’s tower, right

The gallery concept influenced flagship showrooms the world over. The tower idea found its way to Germany. When Volkswagen opened its Autostadt in 2000, it had two towers.

To attract visitors, Nissan used a tried and true technique: Beautiful women. Except this time, the ladies had to do more than just stand around and be beautiful. The ladies received product training.

A competition was held, and after several rounds of interviews, five candidates were chosen as the first class of Nissan Miss Fairladys. Were the ladies named after the car, or the car after the ladies? We’ll never know.

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Tycho’s Illustrated History Of Chinese Cars: How China Bought Off The U.S. In A Monster Fleet Deal Fri, 13 Jul 2012 11:28:34 +0000


I came across this vehicle in a parking lot in Beijing. It is a Ford Tempo GL. The Tempo was made in the US from 1984 until 1994, the white car in the parking lot was a second generation Tempo, which would put it in the 1988 the 1994 timeframe. How did it get to China? Ford never officially exported the Tempo to China. It is not the first Tempo I had seen in Beijing, I have seen many over the years. One could be a diplomat’s car, two also, but ten? There had to more to this Tempo-invasion of China, and there is…

A 1992 article from PRN sheds some light on the Tempo in China. The article quotes Mr. Robert P. Sparvero, at the time general manager of Ford’s North American Export Sales:

“We recently concluded the largest single fleet order Ford has ever received for North American-built products with the People’s Republic of China. The government ordered 3,010 Ford Tempos for use as taxis and tourist vehicles. We were pleased with the People’s Republic of China’s decision to purchase automobiles from Ford Motor Company, and we believe this is only the beginning of a long relationship.”

The Chinese government bought 3.010 1992 Ford Tempo’s for taxi’s and tourists! What a deal, but why? Some further research revealed that the Tempos were part of a much bigger deal between the United States government and the Chinese government, a deal that had to do with economic policies and … human rights.

In the very early 1990′s China wanted very much to keep its ‘most-favored-nation trading status’, meaning it could export to the US without paying too much import tax to US customs. Higher taxes would mean more expensive products and fewer sales. The political climate in the US however was not very friendly to China.

The 1989 Tiananmen protest was still a fresh memory with many politicians worrying about the human rights situation in China. On the economic front, many accused China of dumping cheap products on US soil, thereby disturbing the trade balance between the two countries. China had to make a move to make the US government happy.

China wasn’t going to do anything about human rights, but they could do something to shore up US exports. In July 1992, China announced it would buy vehicles worth $130 million from Chrysler, Ford and GM. Ford’s share was worth 32 million USD, and part of that was the Tempo-deal. Ford also sold a yet unknown number of Taurus.

Gan Ziyu, vice chairman of the mighty Chinese State Planning Commission, was quoted by NY Times in 1992:

“We believe that the U.S. is the world leader in auto manufacturing, and many of its products meet the demands of China’s users.”

Sure thing they met! The deal, and a few others including airplanes, convinced the US government. China kept the most-favored-nation trading status, and trade continued. Nobody talked about human rights anymore and anyway, Tiananmen was soon forgotten. Business is business, cars must go around the world, no matter what.

More on the 1992 deal in a later post, now some more Ford Tempo in China:

I have never seen any Tempo being used as a taxi, nor as a tourist vehicle. Most cars likely went to the government for ‘official use’ and ended up on the private market later on. Even today, many are still offered on second-hand markets, priced around 25.000 yuan ($4,000). Parts are hard to get, and new environmental regulations will ban the Tempo from most big cities in China. The white car I saw in Beijing however had a valid 2012 registration. And one other thing: all examples I have seen on the street and on the web are painted white.

Dutchman Tycho de Feyter runs, a blog about cars in China, from Beijing, China. He also collects die-cast models of Chinese cars.

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Pictorial History Of The Mercedes-Benz 320 Sat, 28 Jan 2012 20:12:52 +0000

Mercedes-Benz 320 (W 142 series, 1937 to 1942) in the Streamline Saloon version, also known as “Autobahn Kurier”, 1938.

In 1937, Mercedes-Benz had a familiar problem: It lacked a car in what we would today call the “obere Mittelklasse,” or the upper middle class, that sweet spot between medium-sized vehicles and top-of-the line. Apparently, auto managers already engaged in the art of positioning. At least, that’s what the “Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung” (AAZ or “General Automotive Magazine”) wrote when Mercedes showed its 3.2 liter Mercedes-Benz Type 320 (W 142 series) at the International Automobile and Motorcycle Exhibition (IAMA) in Berlin in February 1937.

There was ample competition. Opel showed the new Admiral, Ford fielded a 3.6-liter V8. Audi-predecessor Horch had its 930 V and 830 BL models.

Initially, the 320 was available with two wheelbases. Short (2,880 millimeters) and regular (3,300 millimeters).

The short version was offered as a bare chassis, a  Cabriolet, and a Combination coupé with removable roof that did cost 12,300 Reichsmark.

The regular version was by far the most popular. Here is the on-line version of the pre-war catalog:

Mercedes-Benz 320 in its saloon version.

Saloon with 4 doors & 4 windows 8,950.00 RM
Cabriolet B with 2 doors & 4 windows 9,800.00 RM

Mercedes-Benz 320 in its Cabriolet D version.

Cabriolet D with 4 doors & 4 windows 10,400.00 RM

Mercedes-Benz 320 in the Pullman-Saloon version, 1938.

Pullman saloon with 4 doors & 6 windows 9,800.00 RM

Mercedes-Benz 320 in the Pullman-Cabriolet F version.

Cabriolet F with 4 doors & 6 windows 12,500.00 RM
Open touring car with 4 doors & 6 windows 9,900.00 RM
Cabriolet A with 2 doors & 2 windows 13,500.00 RM
Roadster with 2 doors & 2 windows (only 1937) 13,500.00 RM
Streamline saloon (until 1938) 14,500.00 RM
Chassis 6,800.00 RM

The Mercedes-Benz 320 was developed out of the 290 model (W 18). Its anemic 68 bhp engine was re-worked using methods familiar to any greying hot-rodder. The engine received a bigger bore (78 to 82.5 millimeters,) which lifted displacement from 2.9 to 3.2 liters. The simple updraught carburetor of the W18 was replaced by a dual downdraught carburetor. All of this yielded a whopping 10 horses more.

Completely reworking the suspension of the W18 bore fruits: Testers were delighted by the driving comfort and handling,

Mercedes-Benz 320 N (W 142 series) in the combination coupé version

Among the many body styles, the short wheelbase came as a so-called “combination coupé.” It was a convertible which also had a removable hardtop. Before leaving the garage, one had to decide which roof to leave at home.

The long-wheelbase had several cabriolets (A through F.) The Pullman saloon, the Cabriolet F and the open touring car had no trunkspace. Luggage was carried on a folding luggage rack. Special containers for luggage were sold as optional extras.

At the IAMA in February 1939, Mercedes-Benz presented a revised version of the 320 model. It’s 3.4 liter engine was adapted to the increasingly inferior fuel quality with lower octane numbers – Germany switched to liquefaction of coal.

The 320 gets drafted and goes to war

In 1939, the 320 went to war as a “Wehrmachtskübelwagen.” The last Mercedes-Benz Type 320 was built in 1942. Between 1937 and 1942, a total of 6861 vehicles were made, 1764 of which were bucket seat vehicles for the German Army.

Mercedes-Benz 320 (W 142 series, 1937 to 1942) in the Streamline Saloon version, also known as “Autobahn Kurier”, 1938. Mercedes-Benz 320 in its Cabriolet D version. Mercedes-Benz 320 in its Cabriolet D version. Mercedes-Benz 320 in its Cabriolet D version. Mercedes-Benz 320 in its Cabriolet D version. Mercedes-Benz 320 in its Cabriolet D version. Mercedes-Benz 320 N (W 142 series) in the combination coupé version Mercedes-Benz 320 in the Pullman-Cabriolet F version. Pullmann-Cabriolet. Picture courtesy Daimler-Benz Mercedes-Benz 320 in the Pullman-Saloon version, 1938. Mercedes-Benz 320  in its saloon version. Mercedes-Benz 320 in the Pullman saloon version without outside trunks, 1937. Daimler-Benz AG advertisement: “Top of its class! Mercedes-Benz 320”, published in “AAZ” The 320 gets drafted and goes to war ]]> 10
Going Where No Car Has Gone Before: A Pictorial History Of The Unimog Sun, 19 Jun 2011 10:55:21 +0000

My first car was a Mercedes. It wasn’t mine. I was 8 and was not allowed to own a car, let alone drive it. It also wasn’t a car, not in the technical sense. It was a Unimog. This is its story  …

The farmer neighbor in our small village outside of Munich where I grew up had one, but he was a little shorthanded. So he put me on the truck, lowered the seat so that I could reach the pedals. My mission was to drive slowly down the meadow while that cart wheel hay rake I had in tow collected the hay into nice rows. The neighbor followed with his Lanz Bulldog and a baler. Farmer’s wife and son (and my schoolmate) loaded the bales. The whole scene took place not long after the Unimog was invented. I’m that old. And to this day, I still get hayfever.

In 1945, the war was barely over, Albert Friedrich, former chief engineer of Daimler-Benz’s aircraft engine research division, drew up plans of a special vehicle for farmers.

The short-lived Morgenthau Plan wanted to convert Germany into an agrarian society, and Friedrich wanted to build the truck for it. Ironically, the Unimog should become the workhorse of German industry – and the new German army.

In 1948, large parts of Germany were in rubble, Friedrich showed his „Universal-Motor-Gerät,“ Unimog for short, at an exhibition of the German Agricultural Association in Frankfurt/Main. It was an ingenious design.

Four equal-sized wheels, all-wheel drive with differential locks, portal axles for operation in extremely difficult terrain, power take-offs front and rear, and a small platform for the transport of loads and equipment. The track width was 1,270 millimeters, precisely the distance between two rows of potatoes. It was a tractor, a truck, you could drive it across the rubble, and you could take it to town.

At the end of the show, Friedrich had 150 orders.  Even the (for 1948) rather steep price of 11,230 Marks could not discourage the buyers. Friedrich had a prototype, but no factory. Friedrich’s team selected the Werkzeugmaschinenfabrik Boehringer factory in Göppingen for production.

By the end of 1950, 600 units of the motorized implement had come off the very limited capacity assembly line in Göppingen. The Boehringers could not keep up with the demand. In 1951, Daimler-Benz bought the operation. Their OM 636 diesel engine had already powered the first prototypes. With 25 hp.

The entire Unimog team, led by chief engineer Albert Friedrich, moved 90 miles west to Daimler’s plant in Gaggenau in the scenic Black Forest. Production could finally keep up with sales. In 1951, some 1,000 units were sold. A year later, sales nearly quadrupled to 3,799 units.

The U.S. military had its eyes on the Unimog since 1947 and was highly impressed by the capabilities of a prototype which had been demonstrated to them in Ludwigsburg.

In 1953, a milspec prototype was finished. The special needs of potatoes could be disregarded. The track width increased from the 1,284 millimeters to 1,600 millimeters and a wheelbase extended to 2,670 millimeters. The engine was the 2.2 liter gasoline engine from the 220 sedan.

After the first demonstration the French immediately demanded a prototype. Gaggenau and Daimler-Benz were in the French Zone. In June 1954, two prototypes were delivered. The French army promptly ordered a total of 1,100 vehicles. Daimler didn’t waste any time and supplied the trucks in 1955.

Military forces from countries all over the world showed great interest in the Unimog S. The most substantial interest was shown by Germany. Germany established its own army again in 1956. The German army immediately bought some 36,000 units of the total volume of 64,242 units built that year of the new Unimog S alias Unimog 404.

The German Army was short of tanks. The Kässbohrer company used Unimog S-404 chassis and bodies to build an armored personnel carrier.

With a turret, the APC could be mistaken for a Soviet T-54 Main Battle Tank. German soldiers promptly dubbed the APC “Neckermann Panzer”, in reference to a famous German discount mail-order house.

The Unimog S did not deviate much from the French army specs. 2,700 millimeters long and 2,000 millimeters wide, it was mounted on a chassis with a track width of 1,630 millimeters and a wheelbase length of initially 2,670 millimeters (2,900 millimeters from 1956).

The 82 hp six-cylinder gasoline engine from the Mercedes 220 gave the Unimog S a blitzkrieg-ready top speed of 95 km/h, almost twice as fast as its diesel-engined predecessor. In a nod to the conscript army, where 18 year olds not only learned to shoot, but also how to drive, the Unimog S received an easy-to-shift synchronized transmission, which replaced the fussy constant-mesh transmission.

In 1971, the Unimog received a 2.8 liter six-cylinder M 130 gasoline engine which developed 110 hp and gave the Unimog S a top speed of 100 km/h.

The Unimog 404 had a brilliant military career. It transported men and materiel, it pulled implements and artillery. Unimogs in uniform did duty as  mobile weather station, workshop vehicle, ambulance or mobile orderly room. Even airborne troops had their own Unimog which they could parachute in to wreak havoc behind enemy lines.

The SAS even abandoned its classic Land Rover for the Unimog in the Iraq war. Many, many years after its inception, a few Unimogs even found their ways into the American Army.

The military Unimog was available with a standard folding top (that could be stowed away under the seats complete with the side windows). It also could be ordered with an enclosed all-steel cab and a 3,000 millimeter long platform.

This version of the new Unimog was soon discovered by the civilian world. It could go anywhere, and stood its own in the right lane of the Autobahn.

The Unimog S was used in large numbers by fire brigades around the world. The Unimog S is still being used today as forest fire fighting vehicle, equipment carrier, water tender or foam tender. Decommissioned ones are popular with the go anywhere adventure travel crowd.

One of the most unique characteristics of the Unimog, which earned it an unwavering fan base both in the military and civilian field, are its fording and climbing abilities. The common Unimog can go through two and a half feet of water, and up a 100 percent incline.

Special models can ford nearly four feet of water and master a 110 percent incline.

The Unimog’s fabled ground clearance comes courtesy of its “portal axle,” a feature it had even in the 1948 model. The axle is not in the center of the wheel, but higher up. The wheels are driven through sturdy reduction gears.

Some of the most enthusiastic Unimog owners are – railroad companies. Equipped with couplers, Unimogs can move boxcars around railroad tracks. At Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train, the Unimog does shunting duty. In some Asian countries, Unimogs are used as switch engines.

In that capacity, the Unimog even sets records in Le Mans. Here, the Unimog found work as a safety car for the city’s tram system. It can tow whole trams around the yard. Equipped with a hydraulic rerailing system, it can get derailed trains back on track, apart from its daily duties of cleaning grooved tramway rails.

From 1985, Daimler-Benz replaced the entire Unimog range in several steps. A few years later, the top-of-the-range Unimog U 2450 L 6×6 was launched, a three-axle vehicle with a 240 hp engine.

After 1992, the lightweight and medium-duty 408 and 419 series, followed. They found immediate employment in the municipal field, but it also immediately went on vacation. This product range became very popular as a basis vehicle for extremely mobile off-road motorhomes.

The small UX 100, a compact implement carrier, also has high appeal with city fathers.

In 2002, production was moved to the Wörth plant near Karlsruhe. This factory now produces the U 3000, U 4000 and U 5000  series, which debuted in 2002.

In the 90′s, the whole German car industry moved upmarket. Even the Unimog caught the bug. 1994 brought the “Funmog”, just in case that black tie event was off the beaten path. Thankfully, the Funmog was limited to twelve copies. Prices started at DM150,000.

2005 saw the Über-Unimog: Tuned by Brabus, the Unimog Black Edition pandered to real and wannabe sheiks and their demanding off-road tastes.

In 2007, the Unimog came back to its blue-collar roots. Based on product range 405, the U20 serves as a universal high-performance implement carrier.

And city cars? The perfect city car is the Unimog. There is rarely a city in Germany that doesn’t have a whole fleet of them.

All pictures courtesy Daimler AG unless otherwise noted. We thank the Daimler History Department for the friendly support.

Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 1200 Unimog_prototype_1946 Unimog demo SAS_unimog_military_photos_net Public_works_fanbois_muehldorf unimog_hay Serbian-PTJ__truck_wikipedia training_lemans Both Unimog series were built on the same assembly line Unimog production moved in 2002 from Gaggenau to Woerth-2 458296_777205_3599_2419_86659978124 Unimog production moved in 2002 from Gaggenau to Woerth-1 View of complete Unimog S chassis 1956 Cutaway_U_3000_5000 U 3000 5000 mobility -1 The U 20 celebrated its premiere at the 2006 IAA as a lightweight and highly manoeuvrable implement carrier U 3000 5000 mobility -2 Unimog U 40 assembly around 1966 25 hp Unimog 401-402 series 1953 Funmog 1994 Mercedes-Benz Unimog military version Unimog chassis with diesel engine 1949 Unimog S Sauberg proving grounds near Gaggenau 1956 Unimog S proving its fording capabilities 1956 Unimog with rear twin tires and front trailer hitch Interior_Doka_U_4000 New high-mobility Unimog series U 3000 U 4000 U 5000 Unimog S used as a civilian helper in rough terrain, 1959 U20_Interior Mercedes-Benz Unimog 3000 - 5000 Traceca Caucasus Unimog S radio vehicle 1959 Mercedes-Benz Unimog S expedition vehicle with a superstructure by Voll Wuerzburg 1958 Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 3000 - U 5000 Dyno testing Woerth BlackEditionFahrbild Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 80 frontloader Mercedes-Benz Unimog 406 Mercedes-Benz Unimog 25 HP Unimog Ad U405 sweeping machine Product range 405 produced since 2000 Unimog S in difficult terrain 1955 Unimog with 65 hp 406 series 1963-1966 the bigger version of the Unimog with 35 hp -trailers Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 65 doing winter services 406 series 1963-1966 U20 for winter operations heavy Unimog model series 1300 as a fire-fighting vehicle for forest fires BlackeditionInterior From 1953 on, product ranges 401-402 also provided a closed cab Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 65 406 series, 1963-1966 - railroad U424 with loading crane U416, diesel version of the U 404 - In production until 1989 Doornkat- the U36T from product range 411 with road sweeping body U427 with double cab and crane The typical appearance of the original Unimog was retained by product range 411 manufactured from 1956-1974 U402 tractor unit From 1953 on product ranges 401-402 replaced the first Mercedes-Benz product range 2010 U404 Austrian Fire Service - Product range 404 was produced from 1955-1980 U408 motorhome manufactured from 1992-2001 U421 with front loader- range 421 was manufactured from 1966-1989 Unimog U2450L 6x6 U2450L 437 6x6 1995-2002 Mercedes-Benz Unimog chassis U406 for road-rail operations Product range 406 was manufactured from 1963-1989 Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 3000 - U 5000 U404 Metz Firetruck 8 Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 416 Mercedes-Benz Unimog 416 snow Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 100 Mercedes-Benz Unimog 401l Mercedes-Benz Unimog U34 railroad ready Mercedes-Benz Unimog 25 HP-2 Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 1500 Mercedes-Benz Unimog S Foam Mercedes-Benz Unimog 407 Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 20 snow Mercedes-Benz Unimog 421 farm Mercedes-Benz Unimog UX 100 Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 90 Mercedes-Benz Unimog Family ]]> 27
141.73 mph, 100 Years Ago: A Pictorial History Of The Blitzen-Benz Sun, 12 Jun 2011 12:09:34 +0000
100 years ago, just 25 years after the automobile was invented, a car reached the speed of 141.73 mph while the earth shook. The car could have done it a few years earlier. The pavement had to catch up first. The car was the Blitzen-Benz with a massive displacement. And this is its story.

In 1909, a car drove at the unimaginable speed of more than 200 kilometers an hour (124 mp/h). Even a hundred years later, such a speed would elicit protests of hooning. On 8 November 1909, on the Brooklands race track in England, Frenchman Victor Héméry piloted a 200 horsepower Benz.

A speed of 202.648 km/h was recorded for the kilometer, and 205.666 km/h over the half-mile, from flying starts in both cases. Héméry became the fastest man in Europe, but not in the world. That title belonged to Fred Marriott and a steam engine. In a Stanley Steamer, Marriott had exceeded a speed of 205 km/h at Daytona Beach in 1906. Soon, that record would be shattered by a new-fangled gasoline car.

Carl Benz had been experimenting with large capacity four-cylinder engines soon after the gasoline power car was invented. Development was rapid. In 1908, he had the Benz 120 hp Grand Prix car. The Benz 150 hp racing car was derived from that model.

The 150 hp racer became the basis of the car that would break all records. The cylinder bore was increased to 185 mm, yielding an engine with a massive 21.5 liter displacement. That’s 1,312 cubic inches. The engine unit produced 200 hp at a sedate 1,600 rpm.

The four-cylinder in-line engine consisted of cylinders cast together in pairs. It had overhead inlet and outlet valves as well as two spark plugs per cylinder. The engine’s power was transferred to the rear axle by a four-speed manual transmission via an idler shaft and chain.

The sound produced by the engine was described as “infernal”. The explosions in the cylinders with a capacity of more than 5 liters each literally shook the earth while the exhaust pipe ejected flames from time to time.

The Brooklands circuit was just two years old in 1909, and had been designed as a high-speed road for modern racing cars. It was the only track in Europe where 200 km/h were possible.

The car could have gone faster, but it would have gone airborne in the turns. The infernal 200hp Benz was too fast for Europe. It was put on a ship and sailed to America in January 1910.

After arrival, it turned into a record trade-in. Race event manager Ernie Moross cut a deal with the New York-based Benz importer: Moross’s 150-hp Grand Prix Benz plus 6000 dollars in exchange for the new 200 hp model.

Moross called the car the “Lightning Benz” first. Then he had a better idea: The car was called “Blitzen-Benz” and became the father of long generations of Blinkenlights and Fahrvergnügen. The car was trucked to Daytona Beach.

Moross’ driver Barney Oldfield lined up the greased lightning on the track and without any kind of specific preparation, he reached 211.4 km/h (131 mph) on 16 and 17 March 1910.

Marriott’s steam-powered record was broken, but only unofficially. The sanctioning body A.I.A.C.R. (Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus), precursor of today’s FIA, refused to recognize the record. The car had gone only one way. The rules specified the distance to be driven in the opposite direction as well, with the average from the two runs being used to determine the valid speed. Just in case someone wanted to cheat with favorable tailwinds.

Oldfield was an unconventional racer, and in late 1910, the American Automobile Association (AAA) banned him from all racing activities.

His seat for the following season was taken by the former Buick works driver Bob Burman.

On 23 April 1911, the Blitzen-Benz was back in Daytona Beach with Burmann behind the wheel. He averaged 228.1 km/h (141.73 mph) for the mile with flying start and 226.7 km/h (140.86 mph) over the kilometer with flying start.

This time, the record was certified and remained the absolute land speed record until1919 when Ralph de Palmareached 241.2 km/h (149.875 mph) over the flying mile at Daytona Beach in a Packard.

In 1911, the Blitzen-Benz was the fastest vehicle on earth. The rail vehicle record of 1903 stood at 210 km/h, an aircraft made only half that speed. In 1913, the racing career of the Blitzen-Benz was ended with the stroke of a pen. New regulations limited displacement to 7.4 liters.

In 1916, Burman was killed in action behind the wheel of a Peugeot. The “Blitzen-Benz” came back to England. Count Louis Vorow Zborowski bought it, but was unsuccessful. In 1923 he tore the car apart and used some of the powertrain components for a new project of his own, the Higham Special.

A total of six Benz 200 hp cars were built.

Two “Blitzen-Benz” went head to head on 30 September 1912 in St. Louis.The two record-breaking cars – vehicle number 2 was now also afforded the name “Blitzen-Benz” – lined up alongside each other for further record attempts on San Diego beach shortly before Christmas 1912. During the attempt one of the cars, presumably the original “Blitzen-Benz”, burst into flames, prompting the quick-thinking Burman to steer it quickly into the Pacific waters to put out the flames. Moross spent 4000 dollars on restoring the car to its former glory.

The final Blitzen-Benz was built in 2004. An American collector commissioned the construction of Blitzen-Benz #6. The Mercedes-Benz Museum loaned him its own “Blitzen-Benz” for a period of a year to serve as a template for this most extraordinary of projects. Mercedes-Benz Classic also supplied original parts still held in its stocks, including engine no. 9141 and several other essential components. Sections of an original body, still preserved in the USA, were used for the last Blitzen-Benz on earth.

226 km/h, this is when the heart starts pounding even on today’s Autobahn. At 250 km/h, even the fastest cars usually don’t go faster, courtesy of the engine computer. 300 km/h if you have a friend at the factory. It gives us new respect for what they did in the first 25 years of the automobile.

TTAC thanks the History Department of Daimler for the pictures and the authentic documentation.

The Blitzen-Benz. Picture courtesy of Daimler AG. The Blitzen-Benz. Picture courtesy of Daimler AG. Blitzen-Benz Brooklands. Picture courtesy of Daimler AG. Blitzen-Benz 1909 record version. Picture courtesy of Daimler AG. Blitzen-Benz engine 1909. Picture courtesy of Daimler AG. Blitzen-Benz engine 1911. Picture courtesy of Daimler AG. Blitzen-Benz 1909. Picture courtesy of Daimler AG. Blitzen-Benz. Picture courtesy of Daimler AG. Blitzen-Benz Record Certificiate 2004 Blitzen-Benz. Picture courtesy of Daimler AG. Blitzen-Benz. Picture courtesy Daimler Blitzen-Benz record version. Picture courtesy Daimler Blitzen-Benz Announcement 1909. Picture courtesy Daimler AG Blitzen-Benz Brooklands Hornsted. Picture courtesy Daimler AG Blitzen-Benz Indianapolis 1911. Picture courtesy Daimler AG Blitzen-Benz Indianapolis 1911. Picture courtesy Daimler AG Blitzen-Benz preparation 1913. Picture courtesy Daimler AG Blitzen-Benz record version. Picture courtesy Daimler AG Bob Burman, a month after setting the world speed record. Picture courtesy of Blitzen Benz Controls ]]> 22