The Truth About Cars » Enthusiasm http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 03 Sep 2015 11:57:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » Enthusiasm http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/enthusiasm-editorials/ Viper Pit on Woodward – It Always Has to Be Snakes http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/viper-pit-woodward-always-snakes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/viper-pit-woodward-always-snakes/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 14:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1148121 I have a friend and colleague, for the purposes of this post we’ll name him Jack, that races cars and has an active social life with attractive women. It’s not likely that he’d be jealous of a decrepit grandfather like me, but indeed his envy was as green as his old Audi S5 when I […]

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I have a friend and colleague, for the purposes of this post we’ll name him Jack, that races cars and has an active social life with attractive women. It’s not likely that he’d be jealous of a decrepit grandfather like me, but indeed his envy was as green as his old Audi S5 when I recently got to tour the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant where FCA assembles the Viper.

That’s because Jack is an unabashed and unashamed fanboy of Dodge’s handbuilt V10 powered American supercar.

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Jack’s also about the most loyal person I know who doesn’t share some chromosomes with me (and more loyal than even some of my relatives), so if I can do him an act of kindness — or better yet, find an angle with which I can needle him — I will. After all, isn’t mockery and humiliation what friends are for? All of my friends make fun of me. Oh, yours don’t? Never mind.

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Anyhow, in conjunction with Chrysler’s extensive Woodward Dream Cruise activities (which included thrill rides and drag racing out at the old Pontiac Silverdome), Fiat Chrysler hosted a Motor City Viper Owners Club meet at their corporate display in the shopping center parking lot at 13 Mile Road and Woodward — pretty much ground zero for the Dream Cruise. I was already in the neighborhood to check out Roger Penske’s Indy 500 pace car parade and by the time that was over there were some Vipers heading down Woodward. I figured I’d check out the Viper meet and hopefully get some material for a post here at TTAC and maybe even something with which I could gibe my friend.

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Jack’s rather opinionated. Maybe you remember this post that passionately expresses how he’d own the previous Z06 version of the Vette but never a Corvette with an automatic transmission (or convertible top) because, to him, the slushbox Vettes say “soft old man”.

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As I watched the MCVO members show up, park their cars where directed, and dismount their reptilian steeds, two things about Vipers occurred to me. The first was that it is apparently de rigueur that if you own a Viper, you must get vanity plates. The other is that it looked like the average Viper owner fit the stereotype of older, bald, tanned, gold-chain-bedecked Corvette owners better than Corvette owners themselves. I think I saw maybe two owners who looked to have a prayer of being younger than Baruth’s 43. More than a few were older than me and I remember John Kennedy getting elected.

The guy on the left was about the youngest Viper owner there, and even he has a touch of grey.

The guy on the left was about the youngest Viper guy there (he was representing a Viper tuner), and even he has a touch of grey.

I even joked about the Corvette stereotype to one Viper driver and he agreed. “Well, at least you don’t have the gold chain,” I pointed out. That’s when he laughingly reached into the neck of his shirt to show me that he came complete with 14K.

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It was pretty hot that day and I was getting some shade under an umbrella where they were taking applications for credit cards. As a gift for possibly dinging your credit rating, they were giving out metal Viper and Hellcat wall plaques. “Wait,” I thought to myself, “I know someone who really likes Vipers.”

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I have more than 60 egg crates filled with automotive press kits and swag I’ve accumulated over the past 15 years, so it’s not like I really needed the wall hanging. I sent Jack a text message.

“You want this Viper wall hanging?”

“Of course I do. That’s badass”

“These Viper owners fit the Vette stereotype better than Vette owners. Seriously, driving a Viper would peg you as one of the “olds” quicker than a Corvette rag top.”

“Yeah, but I don’t care.”

Got to admire a man who will put aside his passions so he can stick to his convictions.

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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TTAC Goes Karting, And So Should You! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/ttac-goes-karting/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/ttac-goes-karting/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 16:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1140994 One of the great secrets of TTAC is how little we, the writers, know each other. I have met our fearless leader, Mark Stevenson, exactly once. I have met Sajeev exactly once — and he was wearing a judge’s robe and a headdress. I have met Murilee exactly once, and he was berating me for […]

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One of the great secrets of TTAC is how little we, the writers, know each other.

I have met our fearless leader, Mark Stevenson, exactly once. I have met Sajeev exactly once — and he was wearing a judge’s robe and a headdress. I have met Murilee exactly once, and he was berating me for driving over the blend line at Carolina Motorsports Park. I’ve met Steve Lang once, and I was mostly drunk. I’ve never met Cameron, or Aaron, or Ronnie, or Tim, or several of the other contributors.

So when the opportunity arose to go karting with noted wheelman and TTAC author W. Christian “Mental” Ward this week in Atlanta, I eagerly accepted.

Mental and I are scheduled to drive together at Gingerman Raceway in the American Endurance Racing series later this month, so I was interested to check out his mad racing skills. Also along for the evening was TTAC contributor and noted Porsche Club of America member, J. David Walton.

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We met at my home-away-from-home, Le Meridien, for a drink (or two, or perhaps three) before heading over to Andretti Karting in Alpharetta. When we arrived, we were told that we would have to wait a little over an hour to drive, at which point I pulled the “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I’M BARK M., DAMNIT!” card. Surprisingly, it worked — we were inserted into the very next race.

I won’t go into too much detail about the three races in which we participated, other than to say I dominated all.

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Karting can be an awesome way to have some competitive, adrenaline-packed fun with friends on a Tuesday night, for sure. It can also teach you a little bit about your own racecraft in a real car. Let’s take a moment to talk about what a night at the local rent-a-cart facility can teach you about real-life track driving, and what it can’t.

You can learn how to drive “the line.” Most karting tracks have a track map posted on the wall with an ideal racing line drawn on them. Some will even have braking and passing zones identified. This is not unlike most actual racetracks, which have course maps with lines as well. Following the line will likely result in a safe, fast(-ish) lap — it may not be the best line, but it’s a good one. However…

Karts don’t turn like racecars. You can dive into turns much harder with your average kart than you can with the average Lemons/Chump race car. If you turn too hard with a kart, the worst thing that will happen is that you’ll tap a wall; I probably rubbed the inside wheel of my kart on nearly every wall in every turn. Most of the time I made up on my competitors was by taking turns extra tight and shortening my distance in each corner. Do that in a car, you might put two wheels off and hit a real wall.

You can learn how to induce and control oversteer. One of the most entertaining moments of any karting session is feeling the back of the kart come around on you as you enter a corner. This normally happens when you’ve entered a corner too hot and applied too much braking while turning. Guess what? That happens in a real car, too! Most people freak out when they encounter oversteer, and they make one of two mistakes: they either dial in more steering or they brake harder. Doing either or both of those things will cause your kart to spin in the middle of the turn, and you’ll have to sit there and wait for an eighteen-year-old to get off of Snapchat and come help you. Think of how many times during the average eight-minute karting session that you’ll see a kart facing the wrong way on track. Oversteer is almost always the cause. Making small, precise movements with your hands and using smooth application of the throttle will keep you going straight. However…

Real cars are more likely to understeer. You’ll almost never see somebody straight-line a kart into a wall. Meanwhile, with the notable exception of the AP1 Honda S2000, the vast majority of mass production cars are geometrically designed to understeer. Think about it: If you are sitting in a courtroom as a juror, and the plaintiff says, “The car spun out of control,” who are you more likely to blame? The OEM or the driver? The OEM loses that argument every time. So, by the time you’ve induced oversteer in your average production car, you’re already traveling at a pretty high rate of speed. Your brain is going to go into fight-or-flight mode, and you’ll want to make big, fast movements, which is exactly the opposite of what you’ll need to do to save yourself from a big body shop bill, whether that be the body of the car or your own. Practicing this at slower speeds with less potential damage in a kart will definitely help, but there ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.

Passing, Passing, Passing. Passing people on the kart track is one of the most enjoyable things you can do for $25. Tracking down the kart ahead of you for two or three laps, setting them up, and then making your move in the turn — it’s a blast. Also, unless you’re karting with a group of people who really know what they’re doing, you’ll have to deal with off-pace traffic which drives completely unpredictable lines — not unlike driving in Lemons or Chump. Unfortunately…

You can’t bump and spin real cars like that. Many of my karting passes the other night occurred because I got so frustrated with the kart in front of me that I used the PIT maneuver on them in turns. Again, your typical eighteen-year-old karting track employee won’t really mind that so much. Race officials? They aren’t fans of it. Prepare to be black flagged. If you want to pass in real racing, you’ll need to learn to go offline and pass them.

So, while not everything may translate from the kart to the cage, you’ll still have a blast learning the things that do. And if any of you have a great karting track close by, hit me at @barkm302 on Twitter and let me know and we’ll go karting next time I’m in town.

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What’s Wrong with Buick, from a Former Buick Owner http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/whats-wrong-with-buick-from-a-former-buick-owner/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/whats-wrong-with-buick-from-a-former-buick-owner/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 17:00:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1140074 We tend to armchair quarterback what’s wrong with specific automotive brands quite a bit in the TTAC comments. Meanwhile, there are people in the real world who get caught up in what’s actually wrong with some of these brands’ products by buying them — for example: the Buick Regal GS. Jeremy writes: I owned a 2013 […]

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We tend to armchair quarterback what’s wrong with specific automotive brands quite a bit in the TTAC comments. Meanwhile, there are people in the real world who get caught up in what’s actually wrong with some of these brands’ products by buying them — for example: the Buick Regal GS.

Jeremy writes:

I owned a 2013 Regal GS manual, bought brand new in Jan 2014 and sold (at a loss) on December 31 2014.

This should be good.

The big deal for me, and maybe not other people, is I live in the City of San Francisco. Some of the reason I got rid of it was due to hills and parking issues. 

I never see Regals here in SF — occasionally a Verano or a Lacrosse, but never a Regal. Funny thing: I just spent four days in Michigan and I could not blink without seeing one. 

I’ve replaced it now with a 2012 Mustang (Automatic L).

Things I did not like:

  • The sunroof open was loud – bad wind noise. I don’t think all cars are like this
  • Fucking hill start assist is terrible. Just try parallel parking on a hill with Hill Start Assist.
  • 20 inch low profile tires = Scratch the rims every time I had to park.
  • Hard to parallel park. I can park my Mustang with my eyes closed.
  • The front greenhouse visibility sucked.
    The Buick Infotainment is useless. The navigation is not as good as what’s on my phone, I never use XM, and I could not use the voice recognition features over Bluetooth. If you were playing music over USB, Bluetooth disconnects. Ford SYNC without navigation keeps  Bluetooth connected all the time and interrupts the Now Playing with phone alerts and navigation from the iPhone.
  • The dealer experience was horrible. Maybe it was just who I bought it from, but I was not happy. I had to get a bumper cover replaced — it was hit while it was parked — and the dealer I bought it from told me to take it somewhere else. Seriously.
  • Body Roll!
  • This car was going to be stupid expensive to maintain.

But, it’s not all bad. 

Things I did like:

  • Fast/fun to drive.
  • Handles well.
  • Valets were all like “WTF?!?!” when they got in and saw the 3rd pedal.
  • Electronic parking brake.
  • Comfortable
  • There is actually a tuning community for the Regal.
  • Door locks.
  • Push button start

The Regal and the Verano are almost the same car, and there is not enough to differentiate them to the uninformed general public. The Verano even had a stick, but was at least 10k cheaper. Stuff a V6 in the Regal.

Marketing is their big problem. Why buy a Buick? That’s repeated in the comments over and over and over — but really, why?

They should celebrate the difference of the brand, market to mid-30 somethings, and highlight the stick shift options. Be different. Somehow. Why did I want one?  It was a Stick, it was fast, and no one knew what it was. A great sleeper. Capitalize on that. The Regal GS should have been a halo, and sold as one. Instead it was just expensive.

The Nevada Open Road Challenge should be done every year. It should be on TTAC, Jalopnik, and all over Reddit. You could make one hell of a commercial out of that.

Build a community. Hold track days. Encourage mods, pictures, etc.

Also, the tri-shield should be in color, like it is in China.

That’s all I got.

Jeremy

What do you think, B&B?

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Money Isn’t Everything: What an $8,500 Porsche 996 Really Costs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/money-isnt-everything-what-an-8500-porsche-996-really-costs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/money-isnt-everything-what-an-8500-porsche-996-really-costs/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 15:00:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1129177 About two months ago, I purchased my fourth new-to-me car in as many years — and I still had two of the previous three. Of those three, one was purchased for adventure (a 1977 Porsche 911S that I drove cross-country and back nine days after purchasing it), one because of nostalgia (a Honda S2000, I […]

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About two months ago, I purchased my fourth new-to-me car in as many years — and I still had two of the previous three. Of those three, one was purchased for adventure (a 1977 Porsche 911S that I drove cross-country and back nine days after purchasing it), one because of nostalgia (a Honda S2000, I bought one new and missed it), and the third due to reputation (an Acura NSX, I had never even driven one before buying this one online). Those reasons must be the foundation for some sort of automotive cardinal sins list.

However, I bought the fourth one because it represented such a good value. It was a 1999 Porsche 911 Carrera with about 146,000 miles. It hadn’t had the IMS bearing replaced, but I figured that with such high mileage it probably wouldn’t have an issue. Is this foreshadowing? The seller was a friend who had owned it for about two years but had purchased a mid-eighties 911 Targa recently and didn’t want the ’99 as a daily driver any longer.

Painted a pretty medium blue, the 996 was equipped with a beige interior and GT3 wheels. It drove well and — except for mediocre clearcoat and worn leather, a ‘check engine’ light that appeared intermittently, and a blown speaker — it was a solid performer. I certainly didn’t need the Porsche (nor did I have the space), but at $8,500, how could I go wrong?

Also, I’ve always been of the opinion that anyone who buys a new [insert shitbox automotive appliance here] is an idiot. I read “You Gotta Be Rich to Own a Cheap Car” and agreed with the article.

“Baruth,” I thought to myself, “you nailed it.” But he missed something important, too. I’ll come back to that in a bit.

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My friend and I went for a test drive and then we met up on a Sunday morning for coffee at Deus Ex Machina, in Venice, CA. He signed the title and I signed a check. $8,500 for a Porsche 911. Boom. What’s a Toyota Corolla? I just bought Zuffenhausen’s finest.

On Monday, I called my insurance agent to add the Porsche. “Hmmm. It comes up in my system as a Porsche Boxster.” I frowned. “No, it’s a 911,” I replied.

“Maybe the DMV just has it wrong. But it is a convertible, right?” she asked.

“No, it’s a coupe.”

“Could you go outside and compare the windshield VIN with your title, please?”

Now I was nervous. This was cutting into my valuable automotive journalist cereal-eating time. I walked outside under a bright, blue Los Angeles sky and almost dropped my cereal. The VIN on the title and on the car didn’t match. On closer inspection the title also had the wrong license plate number.

“Let me call you back…”

I called my friend immediately and told him what was going on. He told me that he used to have a 1999 Porsche Boxster that was totaled and that he had probably given the shop that bought it the wrong title.

“Let me call you back…”

After a quick phone call to them, he confirmed this was the case. We met again a few days later to switch titles. The Porsche was now insured, but still not registered.

That was a whole other headache because when my friend gave the shop that bought the wrecked Boxster their half of the title, he mailed his half in that stated that this shop now owned it. Except they didn’t. They owned the 911 because he had mixed them up. Now he’d have to write a letter to the DMV explaining the mix-up. He wrote it promptly and sent it over. In the meantime, I drove the Porsche around enjoying its torquey flat-six, thinking, “Yeah, it’s been a bit aggravating, but it’ll work out. And after all, I got an eighty-five hundred dollar 911!”

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A couple of days later, I went out to run some mundane errand. I jumped in the car, fired it up and lowered the windows. Except the driver-side window didn’t drop smoothly. Then, when attempting to roll it back up, it jammed and stopped — crooked, half-way up. I opened the door and tried guiding it.

“I’ll just use the air conditioning.”

(Don’t forget: This is Los Angeles. We don’t have real seasons.)

Air-con is on, let’s go! Oh. What’s this? A warning light. The check engine light came on again. I was used to that one by now, but now the airbag light was on too.

“At least the car was cheap,” I nervously muttered as I released the clutch.

Following all the registration issues, my threshold for nonsense was much decreased. I had now owned the car over three weeks, but had only driven it about a hundred miles. I called my friend again. It’s at this point that I began to suspect that he had realized that he’d sold me the car for far less than he could get from some joker in Cleveland. He offered to buy the car back for what I had paid.

I told him that I’d like to have it checked out, see what the airbag issue was, and that I’d let him know how I wanted to proceed. He graciously offered to pay for the repairs as he didn’t want me to be pissed. I took it to the shop and they called back the following morning.

“There’s an issue with the airbag wiring harness and also, ummm, the car needs a new window regulator.”

“OK… how much will that cost?”

“Well, we also put it on the rack and there are a few other issues… the clutch will need to be replaced within the next 5000 miles and the water pump is leaking pretty badly. Also, the tie-rods are damaged and there are a few cosmetic issues inside the cabin. Oh and…”

“Let me call you back…”

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My friend and I met up the following Sunday. I handed him the title and he signed a check. In total, I “owned” the 911 for twenty-six days. The IMS bearing didn’t fail during my ownership stint. There were no hard feelings on either side. He’s happy that he can make more money off of it and I’m happy to be rid of the registration issues and mechanical faults.

Which brings me to what Baruth missed. Being rich or privileged isn’t enough to own a cheap car. All those trust-fund enthusiasts — who can’t believe the masses drive around in $10-15K Camrys, Civics, and Altimas — would do well to realize how fortunate they themselves are. Not simply because they can purchase “cheap” performance cars and feel superior to the poor Versa-driving shmucks (“Man, you don’t know what you’re missing! Just get a cheap sports car…”); but because more than the pure financial cost is the amount of time you have to be able to waste attending to issues that invariably pop up.

How much time did I squander between trying to register the Porsche, buying and selling it back, and taking it to the shop? Please don’t tell me. I’m fine spending some money on cars because you can always earn more, sell something, etc… But my time? That is a limited, decreasing asset and, as a car guy, I’d rather spend mine driving.

POSTSCRIPT: You may have noticed that the accompanying photos are not of a medium blue Porsche 996. No, they’re of a GT Silver 40th anniversary 996. That’s because my friend worried that this article might affect his ability to sell the car and hence didn’t allow me to photograph his car (and I didn’t shoot it while I still owned it). But I didn’t want the story to run with one crappy instagram shot so I turned to the forums where a good Samaritan stepped in.

You’ve got to have eye candy, right?

Yoav Gilad is the Principal and Co-Founder of Screen Cartel, a content and production agency. He also has a personal automotive site dedicated to bringing the thrill and romance of cars and travel to the enthusiast, KeepItWideOpen, which has at least two fans: his mom and his wife. His dad doesn’t care for it. He is a car designer by training and was Petrolicious’s managing editor before branching out on his own.

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TTAC Project Car: Sacrifice to The Sierra Gods! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/ttac-project-car-sacrifice-sierra-gods/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/ttac-project-car-sacrifice-sierra-gods/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 12:00:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1128273   No surprise, the auto journo that insists on everything LS-swapped is actually a big ol’ fraud. Do as he says, not as he does with TTAC’s Project Car — a 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia previously reviewed with the promise of more to come. Promises: kept. After scouring the interwebs, reading about the Sierra’s factory […]

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Merkur? ZOMG SANJEEV Y U NO LS1-FTW?

Merkur? ZOMG SANJEEV Y U NO LS1-FTW?

No surprise, the auto journo that insists on everything LS-swapped is actually a big ol’ fraud. Do as he says, not as he does with TTAC’s Project Car — a 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia previously reviewed with the promise of more to come.

Promises: kept.

After scouring the interwebs, reading about the Sierra’s factory shortcomings and applying a modicum of common sense, the ultimate in Chevrolet LS-performance was beyond my financial scope and my intentions for a Mk1 Sierra. Stuffing 10 pounds of shit into a 5-pound bag, no matter the ability to make the baddest, brown, 5-door hatch on the planet, wasn’t in the cards.

1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

Then a 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe arrived via phone call. Bought by my friend (and infamous LeMons racer) Brian Pollock as a rust-free restomod worthy of a good home, he parted it out to feed his racing addiction. True to form, he made a quick buck off me with its valuable Fox Body parts, but our conversation soon regressed to the Sierra-worthy goodies: the turbocharged 2.3-liter mill, EEC-IV fuel injection, T-5 gearbox (a la Sierra Cosworth), the largest injectors/camshaft/manifold/VAM of its breed, rear disc brakes and even a serpentine accessory belt drive. It was all mine for $700, with Brian’s commitment to be the craftsman behind this madness.

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Then another LeMons racer offered the running, restorable 1988 Merkur XR4ti (American Sierra to you noobs) seen in this article’s introduction. Sure, the motor’s hurt, but it rounds out the Sierra’s Ford-ification: a drop-in EFI wiring harness/fuel system/clutch, bigger (front) brakes, firmer springs, fatter anti-sway bars, stronger 7.5-inch differential and countless interior bits including a boost gauge.

$600? Sold! There’s even my favorite 2.3-liter aluminum cam cover with complimentary mud dauber nest:

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Shockingly, the Merkur’s hurt motor fired up on first attempt after a 2+ year slumber. Once the amazement subsided (terrible quality YouTube video remains), the notion of driving a parts car certainly beats pushing the damn thing.

For the price of an LS1 take-out motor, my path to being a complete fraud — a two-faced bastard of massive proportions — was complete. Plus, I enjoy slamming performance Ford parts in Ford products where they do not belong. It’s been my shtick with non-Mustang Fox Bodies since 1999.

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Necessary Aside: Behold the amazing parts interchangeability of (disturbingly comfortable) Turbo Coupe seats in Brian’s Ford truck. It’s also a 5-speed Fummins conversion, garnering attention from the tow-savvy among the B&B in our last article, effortlessly yanking the Merkur, T-bird and the Sierra around Texas. Aside from the color clash, this embodies everything I wanted to share in this update.

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That’s a very handy book to find in the back seat of your Merkur parts car. I bet I can get $50 for it when I’m done with the swap. So what’s next for TTAC’s Ford Sierra?

The Turbo Coupe is stripped; of no further use to anyone but China. It’ll be scrap metal by the time you read this.

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The Merkur isn’t long for this world, but the sacrificial lamb’s pain is pure pleasure to The Sierra Gods. I suspect we’re swapping subframes (for that stiffer suspension and big differential), grabbing fuel, drivetrain and EFI wiring bits in the coming months. And since its rust free, maybe I’ll sawzall off the rocker panels as the Sierra is a tad rusty-crusty after those hard UK winters.

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Most of this is on Brian’s plate, but me? I’m ensuring the Merkur’s computer accepts a tune like the (better) unit salvaged from the Turbo Coupe, with input from my SCT tuner friend. Perhaps intake, exhaust and camshaft upgrades are in the mix. You never know!

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I’m also geeking out over the Merkur’s factory boost gauge via installation into the Sierra’s cluster. Not a direct drop in, as the right-hand-drive Sierra puts the speedometer (and cable) on the wrong side of the assembly.

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Nothing I can’t handle.

What other roadblocks shall TTAC’s project encounter? Until next time!

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Got Them Old NCRS Packard Blues http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/got-old-ncrs-packard-blues/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/got-old-ncrs-packard-blues/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1125585 There are a lot of things that I like about the car hobby and, at the same time, there are annoyances. As someone who writes about automotive history, I can well appreciate the need for authenticity when it comes to restorations. I also understand that humans are competitive and that car shows are often actual […]

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There are a lot of things that I like about the car hobby and, at the same time, there are annoyances. As someone who writes about automotive history, I can well appreciate the need for authenticity when it comes to restorations. I also understand that humans are competitive and that car shows are often actual competitions. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be such a thing as Best of Show. Consequently, there’s a place in this world for quibbling whether or not the wingnut on a 1958 Chevy is true to the VIN, but as I said, it can be annoying.

Once, at an auction preview, I was looking a 1954 Corvette that could either be described as an interesting survivor or a good candidate for restoration. I’ll admit to being drawn to survivor cars. It’s only original once and most of today’s restorations go well beyond the kind of quality control that existed in the car factories of previous generations.

While I was standing there, an older gentleman and his wife came up to the car. A Corvette enthusiast, he started pointed out to her all of the things that needed to be done. I thought he was kind of picky, but then I’m not an expert. His conclusion? Anyone who bought it and restored it would be upside down on its value after the restoration. My conclusion? If I could afford it, I’d keep it as is.

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That’s when the phrase “going all NCRS on it” popped into my head. That acronym stands for the National Corvette Restoration Society, perhaps the world’s most anal retentive group of car guys. NCRS certifies restored Vettes as being right — or wrong — as the case may be. When I say “going NCRS on it” to people who collect cars, they smile knowingly.

It’s one thing if a judge at a show mentions a flaw or inaccuracy. It’s another for someone just attending a show to rag on an exhibitor who’s spent time and a non-trivial amount of money to share his or her car with the public.

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The Concours of America at St. John’s was held this past weekend near Detroit. A member of the troika of world class American car shows that also include Amelia Island and Pebble Beach, the CoAaSJ started out as the Meadow Brook concours and has been operating for 37 years (tip of the hat to Don Sommer who started it all).

Probably because of the Detroit connection, this concours has always featured a lot of classic era Packards, though the marque is well represented at those other two top-shelf shows as well. I started talking to a young man, Jonathan Boyer, 20 years old and very knowledgeable about Packards, who was showing his grandfather’s dark blue 1938 Packard Super Eight 1605 convertible sedan by Dietrich Inc. By then, Ray Dietrich had left the coachbuilding firm that he’d sold to Murray, which supplied Packard with both production and coachbuilt bodies.

In 1938, at $3,970, the convertible sedan was the most expensive eight cylinder Packard with the exception of the catalog customs by Brunn and Rollston. That works out to about $67,000 in 2015 dollars. Last year, a similar car sold at auction for $137,500, so if you bought one new and kept it in good shape, you’d probably be way ahead of inflation. For sure, you can buy a decent used car for what it would cost to replace the Lalique glass eagle’s head hood ornament (it lights up in the dark) that is popular with the senior Packard set.

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The “senior” Packards of the late 1930s were almost in a class by themselves. By then Packard was making two lines: the traditional, more or less hand built, high-end luxury cars and the more affordable, mid-priced One-Twenty models. The Great Depression had taken its toll on luxury car companies. By the end of 1938, Pierce Arrow had stopped making cars, and E.L. Cord’s three brands — Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg — were all out of production. Lincoln sold just 47 Model Ks that year.

The Boyer’s Super Eight is quite an impressive car, painted in a very rich dark blue, which Jonathan told me was “Packard Blue” just as another Packard enthusiast was walking by. “That’s not Packard blue, it’s too purple,” said the passerby. It almost got heated.

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Also known as Minota Blue, Packard Blue was a signature color for that automaker in the late 1930s. Apparently, matching it has become a question, since no original Packard Blue finishes have survived. There are two modern OEM colors from the 1980s that are said to be close, but primer colors, tinting and application method are still a factor in reproducing the original topcoat’s hue.

That’s not how this Packard’s blue was formulated, though. The young man’s grandfather is Ralph Boyer. The name may not be familiar to you but you’ve seen his work. He was a designer at Ford Motor Company for 47 years, his career spanning from working on the very first Thunderbird that came out in 1955 to the last, which was introduced in 2002.

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Of the domestic automakers, Ford probably has the most expertise with paint. Unlike Chrysler and GM, Ford made at least some of their own paint until they sold their paint operations to DuPont in 1986. I worked for DuPont’s main automotive paint R&D lab myself for many years and frequently visited their Mt. Clemens, Michigan paint factory that they bought from Ford, which had acquired it from Ditzler.

When Boyer restored the multiple award winning car in the 1990s (for an older restoration, the car still shows very well, winning a ribbon at St. John’s last weekend), he took a methodical approach to getting the color correctly. Styling executives at car companies have a lot of resources available to them.

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I don’t know when the paint industry first started using actual paint chips to demonstrate their finishes, but it goes back a long way. Boyer obtained two different vintage paint chips for Packard Blue — one from Ditzler and one from Sherwin Williams — and took them to Ford’s paint lab. After delicately cleaning off any possible oxidation from the surfaces, the chips were analyzed with the tools of a modern paint lab like colorimeters and gloss meters. The two chips differed slightly so values were averaged to determine the formula. LaVine Restorations, which has worked on many show winners, was responsible for applying the paint.

It seems to me that’s more likely to produce a closer reproduction of the actual original color than starting with a modern OEM shade that’s close. Perhaps, if a fresh Packard Blue barn find emerges with an intact finish some day, we may find that Boyer’s Packard is the wrong blue, but as his son John, also a career Ford employee, later told me, “That color is as close to Packard Blue as Ford Motor Company can make it.”

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With that much effort by his grandfather put into getting the color correctly, you might understand why the young man was piqued by the passerby’s comments. After the man walked away, I said to Boyer’s grandson, “Boy, he went all NCRS on you, didn’t he?” He laughed.

Postscript: After writing the first draft of this post, I checked my photos and I found out that while I spent a fair amount of time talking to Ralph’s grandson, Jonathan, about their Packard, I’d neglected to shoot any pictures of it. When I contacted Ralph to see if I could arrange a brief photo shoot, he told me that the car was still in its trailer from the show but that they were unloading it that afternoon. Fortuitously, I already had to be on that side of town and the Boyer’s graciously let me take photos and even get some video of a rather magnificent blue automobile being driven.

Photos by the author.

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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What A Short, Strange Truck It Was – Air-Cooled VW Pickups http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/short-strange-truck-air-cooled-vw-pickups/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/short-strange-truck-air-cooled-vw-pickups/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 14:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1114441 It’s funny how it sometimes takes a while to recognize something familiar. In the mid-1980s, when my daily driver was a slightly hi-po’d 1972 VW Type 2, I was driving a work vehicle from the Detroit area to Toledo to pick up a part. As I drove down I-75 and got closer to Ohio, I noticed one […]

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It’s funny how it sometimes takes a while to recognize something familiar. In the mid-1980s, when my daily driver was a slightly hi-po’d 1972 VW Type 2, I was driving a work vehicle from the Detroit area to Toledo to pick up a part. As I drove down I-75 and got closer to Ohio, I noticed one Volkswagen Bus traveling north in the opposite direction — and then another. “That’s unusual,” I thought. By then air-cooled Vee Dubs weren’t terribly common, and *Transporters were less common than Beetles. Then a Vanagon passed by, but, as I said, this was the 1980s and Vanagons were still being sold new and didn’t think much about it until I saw a few more Type 2s, including some older split-windows. Was there a VW club convention going on? I once drove to Cincinnati and I passed a large group of MG enthusiasts on their way to a meet.

I didn’t reach facepalm status till I’d gotten off the interstate onto a county road to my destination. That’s when I saw a wildly painted, 1950s vintage International Harvester school bus — also traveling north — festooned with big decals of roses, broken wheels and skulls. Not fast enough to keep up at highway speeds, it was using the slower two lane roads. “Ah, that’s right, we have tickets to see the Grateful Dead at Pine Knob tonight.”

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That night, when we pulled into the parking lot at the concert we parked amidst a row of Buses. Over in the part of the Dead parking lot scene called Shakin’ Street, where all the T-shirts, food and chillum vendors were, even more Type 2s were parked. I’m guessing that the guy who managed to shoehorn a propane-fired commercial pizza oven into his Bus back then may now be operating a food truck in San Francisco, or he’s retired.

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Over the Independence Day weekend just past, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead put on a series of farewell concerts at Chicago’s Soldier Field, so maybe this is an appropriate time to do a post on VW Type 2s. Say the phrase “hippie bus” to someone and they’re more likely to visualize a VW Bus than something like Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters’ Further, kin to that IH struggling to make it out of Ohio. Pixar’s animated “Cars” movie features a VW Bus named Fillmore, a hippie voiced by George Carlin. The VW Bus was so closely associated with the Grateful Dead and its fans, that when Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack (while in rehab for his longtime heroin addiction) in 1995, Volkswagen published memorial advertisements featuring a drawing of a split-window VW Bus shedding a tear.

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Jerry Garcia was still in elementary school when Dutch VW importer Ben Pon originated the idea of a van based on the Type I Beetle. Postwar Europe was rebuilding and there was a need for small commercial vehicles. The Type 2 was introduced in 1949 in both panel van and passenger “Kombi” versions. In 1952, a single cab pickup was introduced. The sides of the pickup bed were hinged, to aid in loading and also let it function as a flat-bed if needed. There was additional enclosed storage under the bed, in front of the rear mounted powertrain. In 1956 the double cab pickup was added to the lineup, later to be followed by one with a wider bed. All in all, more than 30 variants of the Type 2 were made.

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By the time members of Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions morphed into the Warlocks and then started playing in the band known as the the Grateful Dead in 1965, those commercial VW vehicles were becoming rare. Kombis and Westphalia campers were as popular as ever, but VW was scaling back on its commercial vehicle sales in the United States. That’s because in the early 1960s, to protect their domestic farmers, France and Germany enacted tariffs on chickens imported from the United States. At the time, Volkswagens were some of the more visible German imports in the States so in late 1963, President Lyndon Johnson retaliated with tariffs on brandy to get back at the French and on light commercial vehicles to get back at the Germans. Also, the UAW lobbied for the so-called “Chicken Tax” as a way of reducing competition with trucks made by their members. Within a year, VW commercial vehicle sales in the U.S. dropped by two-thirds. By the end of the decade, VW stopped importing non-passenger Type 2s entirely.

A generation of shade tree mechanics learned to wrench from How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. Here, an owner shows how easy it is to replace an exhaust gasket.

A generation of shade tree mechanics learned to wrench from How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. Here, an owner shows how easy it is to replace an exhaust gasket.

As a result, air-cooled Volkswagen panel pickup trucks are pretty rare on this side of the pond these days, particularly the pickups. The “bay window” versions introduced in 1968 are even rarer. Well, that is, unless you’re at a vintage Volkswagen show. The annual Vintage VW show held in Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park is one of those events that’s penciled in for my attendance every year, otherwise I’d lose some oddball car cred. This year, instead of checking out grey-market Mexican Beetles, I concentrated on the pickups. My intention was to write about how rare they are but in reality they were far from the rarest vehicles there. The show had only one Type 34 Karmann Ghia on display while there were about a half dozen different pickups, single and double cabs, including a 1968 double cab, which has to be very rare in the United States

Deadheads and movies like “Little Miss Sunshine” and the aforementioned “Cars” have kept the iconic vehicle, well, an icon. A 23-window, split-window Samba sold for over $200,000 at Barrett-Jackson a few years back and ever since then VW Buses have started fetching silly money. A 21-window 1960 Kombi sold for $150,000 in February in Australia.

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Even vintage commercial VW vehicles are appreciating in value. You can probably expect to pay five figures for a vintage VW pickup in nice shape. If  you’re just looking for something fun to play with you can find a driver with some rust for much less. This very rare ’74 DoKa (for DoppelKabine, double cab) on Hemmings’ site looks to be a very nice 65K survivor with a rebuilt engine, but it’s also almost $23,000. This ’68 double cab at eBaymotors with an as-yet uncompleted restoration has a buy-it-now price of $22K.

*About nomenclature. Officially it was the Type 2, the Beetle being a VW Type 1, and VW called it the Bulli when it was introduced, and that applied to both passenger and commercial versions. It seems that Kombi was used for passenger versions. Samba was a high-trim version of the 21- and 23-window Buses. Transporter was also used, though that nameplate has lived beyond the Type 2, with both the Vanagon and Eurovan wearing that designation.

(Author’s note: It’s off topic to this post, but there’s another automotive connection to the Grateful Dead. In the song Sugar Magnolia, lyricist Robert Hunter wrote the lyric, “jump like a Willys in four-wheel drive.” Bob Weir always sings it the way most people pronounce Willys, like Will-ease, but Willys founder John Willys is said to have articulated his name as Will-is.)

Photos by the author. You can see the full galleries 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.

 

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Volvo Could Be Buying Polestar To Exit Motorsport http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/volvo-buying-polestar-exit-motorsport/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/volvo-buying-polestar-exit-motorsport/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 16:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1115153 The fraternity of automotive journalism was atwitter when blue Polestar Volvos arrived at the Chicago auto show last year. While the cars delivered increased performance and looks to match, Polestar also gave the high-performance Swedish offerings credibility with racing programs in Scandinavia (STCC) and Australia (V8 Supercars). It’s no secret, though, that Volvo’s marketing head, Alain Visser, sees […]

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Polestar STCC

The fraternity of automotive journalism was atwitter when blue Polestar Volvos arrived at the Chicago auto show last year. While the cars delivered increased performance and looks to match, Polestar also gave the high-performance Swedish offerings credibility with racing programs in Scandinavia (STCC) and Australia (V8 Supercars).

It’s no secret, though, that Volvo’s marketing head, Alain Visser, sees no future for the brand in motorsport. Purchasing Polestar might be the Swedish manufacturer’s way of ending at least one of its racing contracts while still holding on to the blue-hot Polestar brand.

Speaking with Swedish media late last year, Visser plainly stated, “Motorsport does not conform with our brand, where we stand for smaller engines and safety. We are therefore pulling out of STCC, for example, as soon as the contracts permits.”

This goes along with Volvo’s official statement this morning where the only mention of Volvo’s motorsport involvement with Polestar is the automaker intention to not purchase the racing part of the Polestar organization. That’s it. Nothing is mentioned regarding the successes shared by the two parties in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship or V8 Supercars Australia.

But, what exactly is Polestar, anyway?

Polestar can be split into three distinct parts: the racing team contesting both STCC and V8 Supercars series; Polestar Performance AB, which makes go-fast aftermarket parts for Volvos; and Polestar Holding AB, the owner of all of Polestar’s trademarks.

Volvo, in their effort to exit racing, has chosen to purchase the last two, opting to leave now-former Polestar owner Christian Dahl with the racing team that will be renamed later.

This is a clever move by Volvo. It allows the company to continue its use of the Polestar name and also retain engineers and other knowledge at Polestar for future branded models while no longer having to fund the expensive endeavors of motorsport. By purchasing Polestar, Volvo can effectively end the contract it now has with itself. Christian Dahl is then free to continue his passion for racing, funded by a Viking Karve-sized load of cash from the Chinese.

Will Polestar be as successful now that its motorsport links have now become heritage? We will just have to wait and see.

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You Can Buy the Largest Corvair Ever Made http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/can-buy-largest-corvair-ever-made/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/can-buy-largest-corvair-ever-made/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 12:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1108969 With the number of people collecting “mid-century” artifacts, the stuff of middle class American life in the 1950s and early 1960s, it shouldn’t come as a surprise there are folks who collect vintage travel trailers. Actually, if you’ve gone to enough car shows, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all as owners of cars of […]

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With the number of people collecting “mid-century” artifacts, the stuff of middle class American life in the 1950s and early 1960s, it shouldn’t come as a surprise there are folks who collect vintage travel trailers. Actually, if you’ve gone to enough car shows, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all as owners of cars of that vintage sometimes bring along period trailers and make their show displays more eye-catching (though I suspect some of those trailers are indeed trailer queens and are trailered, not towed, recursively, to car shows). In the corner of Cobo Hall’s basement at this year’s Detroit Autorama, someone set up their ’50s car with a period correct travel trailer. Two years ago, the Packard Proving Grounds’ annual summer car show had vintage trailers and RVs as a featured class.

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If you have an old Airstream or a vintage Shasta trailer and you’ve been hoping to someday tow it to shows with your ’59 Mercury Colony Park station wagon, but it looks a little shabby, you’re in luck. Self-professed “Camper Man” Tony Secreto’s Ynot Camper Restoration in Jackson, Michigan can make your camper or RV look just as good as it did when it left Elkhart, Indiana.

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That’s not a joke. The recreational vehicle industry employs a large number of people in Indiana. As a matter of fact, the RV Museum and Hall of Fame is located in Elkhart. Since RV enthusiasts love the open road, I’m guessing that some even make the RVM&HoF a destination for road trips. I once did a museum tour road trip of western Michigan and northern Indiana, with stops near Kalamazoo (the Gilmore), in South Bend (Studebaker) and Auburn (the ACD and NATMUS museums). Finding myself in a motel in Elkhart waiting for the Studebaker National Museum to open at 10 AM, I checked out the RV museum and definitely found it to be worth a visit if you’re already in the area.

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Ynot’s portfolio of completed restorations includes names you might recognize like Airstream, Shasta and Gypsy, along with obscure brands like the 1955 Tiny Home they restored. Secreto is currently working on about 10 campers and also has a small inventory of vintage travel trailers for sale. Perhaps the most interesting is a restored Ultra Van, a self contained RV using a Corvair drivetrain.

The Ultra Van, at 22’x8’x8′ with a 152 inch wheelbase, is called by some “the world’s largest production Corvair” and is even considered a genuine Corvair by the Corvair Society of America (CORSA). The creation was the brainchild of California based aircraft designer David Peterson. Like an airplane, it has a monocoque construction using aluminum spars and a stressed aluminum skin, with fiberglass caps for the front and rear ends of the vehicle. Using the Corvair drivetrain, mounted low at the back of the Ultra Van, meant more usable space inside as well as a flat floor from front to back. The air-cooled Corvair engine also didn’t need a radiator, allowing for simpler construction and a smooth, aero-friendly face. Peterson cleverly used the mobile home’s four aluminum tanks — for fresh water and holding grey water and sewage — as structural members, much as some race cars of the era incorporated fuel tanks into the vehicles’ chassis.

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After building 15 Ultra Vans in California, assembly was moved to Kansas, home of Cessna and much of America’s general aviation industry. A Wichita concern bought the rights from Peterson in 1964 and by 1966 two Ultra Vans a month were rolling off an airplane hanger assembly line. Production ended in either 1969 or 1970, at least in part due to General Motors’ discontinuing their own production of the Corvair and it’s unique powertrain. About 330 Ultra Vans with Corvair drivetrains were built. Some sources say ~370, but that includes 46 second-generation Ultra Vans that used V8 Corvette power and a marine drive unit. About 200 still exist and they have their own enthusiast community that dates to the RV’s original production run, the Ultra Van Motor Coach Club.

TTAC’s Curbside Classics reviewed the history of the Ultra Van back in 2011. Paul Niedermeyer said the ultimate death knell for the Ultra Van was the introduction of Winnebago’s first mass produced truck chassis based RV, which was substantially cheaper than the UV, even after considering the Ultra Van’s significantly better fuel economy. For an even more complete look at the Ultra Van, you can check out a dedicated section of the Corvair.org website devoted specifically to the RV.

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If you’re a Corvair collector and your family has outgrown your Greenbriar van, Ynot will sell you their Ultra Van for $35,000, thought that price is a bit of any outlier. The Ultra Van website currently shows seven other motor homes for sale ranging in price and condition from $500 to $14,900. This one in Otsego, Michigan at $1,800 looks like a promising project. With aluminum and fiberglass construction, rust shouldn’t be a problem and Corvair parts are easy to find.

If you do buy one, you’ll be welcome at a variety of car, truck and RV & camper shows and gatherings. I spotted the white Ultra Van pictured here at one of the annual Orphan Car Shows held in Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park where it was parked with the fine selection of Corvairs that show always features. Coincidentally, Riverside Park was the same location where I came across Secreto’s restored Ultra Van, though it was at this year’s Vintage Volkswagen show. When I asked him “what’s a Corvair doing at a VW show?” Secreto told me that he simply told the show organizers that it was rear engined and air-cooled. Actually, back in the 1960s when the Ultra Van was in production, swapping in a Corvair engine to give a Vee Dub more power was not uncommon, and it’s still a popular topic with air-cooled VW enthusiasts (here, here, and here).

Photos by the author. The full galleries can be seen 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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With Nürburgring Records Dead, Automakers Begin Pikes Peak Chest-Thumping http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/with-nurburgring-records-dead-automakers-begin-pikes-peak-chest-thumping/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/with-nurburgring-records-dead-automakers-begin-pikes-peak-chest-thumping/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 15:15:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1104737 At the conclusion of this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Mercedes-Benz issued a release claiming a new record: the Mercedes-Benz C250d 4MATIC was the fastest production diesel to ever make it from base camp to summit. Driven by Uwe Nittel, the compression-ignition, tri-star sedan navigated the mountain’s 156 corners in 11 minutes 22 seconds. Since the manufacturer-favorite Nürburgring […]

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C 250 d 4MATIC sets record at Pikes Peak

At the conclusion of this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Mercedes-Benz issued a release claiming a new record: the Mercedes-Benz C250d 4MATIC was the fastest production diesel to ever make it from base camp to summit. Driven by Uwe Nittel, the compression-ignition, tri-star sedan navigated the mountain’s 156 corners in 11 minutes 22 seconds.

Since the manufacturer-favorite Nürburgring has imposed speed restrictions at certain high speed sections and outright banned hot lap record attempts, a new battleground is needed.

Will that frontline be in Colorado?

Like the public toll road in Germany, Pikes Peak is a public road every other weekend out of the year. However, unlike the ‘Ring, there is a speed limit and – when pushing to find the elusive 11/10ths – an increased chance of death.

This year saw loss of life with motorcycle rider Carl Sorensen and last year was marred by the death of another two-wheeled racer, Bobby Goodin. In all, including Sorensen and Goodin, six racers have succumbed to injuries as a result of crashes at the PPIHC – four of those in the last 15 years as speeds have skyrocketed and the road has transformed from gravel thoroughfare to mountain-scarring ribbon of tarmac thanks to a lawsuit by the Sierra Club.

It’s against this backdrop of danger manufacturers of two- and four-wheeled machines now find renewed interest in Pikes Peak. Recently, it was the only American thing to catch the interest of Peugeot. Piloted by 9-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb, the French brand brought their Peugeot 208 T16 race car to Pikes Peak in an effort to take the overall course record.

They succeeded.

But, it isn’t these Unlimited Class specials that will be of interest in the future at PPIHC.

The road, now completely paved, can offer conditions much more applicable to daily road car use. For their part, Mercedes-Benz has attempted to capitalize by sending a car to Colorado that fills a very small niche – diesel-powered cars – favorable to their successful record-claiming endeavor.

Other alternative drivetrains are showing up in Colorado, as well. With output decreasing for internal combustion engines as the air gets thinner, electric vehicles can show their worth as they torque their way to the top.

Conventional engines still have a future in the automotive market. However, with a shorter distance to climb and a variety of corners to navigate, Pikes Peak may become home to many new auditory delights, even if it’s interspersed with corporate chest-thumping.

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Hey, Hey, It’s the Fonz Dream Rod Monkeemobile http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/hey-hey-fonz-dream-rod-monkeemobile/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/hey-hey-fonz-dream-rod-monkeemobile/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 16:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1093961 A reader, commenting on my post about the Batmobile – arguably the most famous television car there is – mentioned the Monkeemobile, another ’60s pop culture automotive favorite. As it happens, I was already planning some posts on television cars, including one of the authentic Monkeemobiles. Both of those vehicles have connections to the auto industry, one sort […]

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A reader, commenting on my post about the Batmobile – arguably the most famous television car there is – mentioned the Monkeemobile, another ’60s pop culture automotive favorite. As it happens, I was already planning some posts on television cars, including one of the authentic Monkeemobiles.

Both of those vehicles have connections to the auto industry, one sort of incidental and the other the very opposite of coincidence.

The Batmobile was based on the 1950s Lincoln Futura concept car George Barris had purchased for $1.00, years after Ford and the Hollywood studios that used it were done with what was then a rather dated car of the future.

The Monkeemobile, on the other hand, was created from a production car with the direct involvement of a car company and one of the industry’s most legendary PR guys.

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It doesn’t surprise me that producer Bert Schneider asked Dean Jeffries to build a custom car for a television show he was making about a fictional rock band called the Monkees, what some wags called the “pre-fab four”. That uncomplimentary comparison to the Beatles wasn’t particularly fair to the actors and musicians who played the members of the band, as the Monkees weren’t quite a manufactured boy band. Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork were experienced career musicians and Davy Hones had a Tony nomination on his resume before they auditioned for the show. Mickey Dolenz had been a child star.

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Schneider and his business partner Bob Rafelson were hardly schlockmongers. The two produced a number of critically praised and commercially successful movies including Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show. They hired talented people on all of their projects, including The Monkees. While the band members eventually chafed at it, their first two albums were indeed constructed pieces, but they used Hollywood’s best session musicians, known as the Wrecking Crew. Dolenz was a passable drummer, but the recordings featured Hal Blaine, who played on over 100 Grammy winners. Glen Campbell played guitar. Carol Kaye, who played the infectious bass line on Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” (but contrary to her claims did not play bass on Motown’s big hits – that was unquestionably the late, great James Jamerson), contributed, as did Leon Russell and guitarist James Burton. Songwriters included Neil Diamond, Carole King and her then husband Gerry Goffin, as well as bubblegum rock masters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.

George Barris might have had the name and a lot of studio connections, but Dean Jeffries was a designer and fabricator on a completely different level than Barris. That explains why Schneider, who hired the best talent available, approached Jeffries about building a car for the new TV series. Apparently, Batman’s producers also asked Jeffries about making the Batmobile, and he did some initial sketches based on the ’59 Cadillac, but when they told him he had three weeks to do the job, he declined, citing his quality standards.

Today, the first call would likely not have been to a designer but to a car company about product placement opportunities with maybe a toy company in on the conference call to help explore merchandising opportunities. At the time, when Schneider asked Jeffries to build a Monkeemobile, the car was just a rough idea with no thought of which manufacturer or model car to use as a basis.

As it happens, a toy company and a car company were instrumental in the Monkeemobile’s genesis and later success. By 1966, Jeffries was a pretty big star in the hot rod and custom car world and he had a contract licensing the Model Products Corporation, a Detroit area maker of plastic scale models, to sell their versions of his cars. Jeffries gave MPC CEO George Toteff a heads up about the Monkees project. Toteff in turn told his friend Jim Wangers about it.

A Royal Pontiac "Royal Bobcat" GTO

A Royal Pontiac “Royal Bobcat” GTO. Milt Schornack, who built and tuned the Bobcats for the dealership, says Jim Wangers takes too much credit for the GTO.

Wangers is a somewhat legendary figure in the world of automotive PR, and muscle cars as well. The legend may be a bit bigger in his own mind, but then Wangers is a master of promotion, including promoting himself. Whether or not the 1964 Pontiac GTO was Wangers’ idea, he undoubtedly had a major role in its success, making sure that well known street racers and performance oriented Pontiac dealers could get special equipment. Wangers was at least partly responsible for the infamous “ringer” GTO that Car & Driver tested rather successfully against a Ferrari GTO. While C&D acknowledged that the car was “well set up”, it’s not clear if the writers knew that before the magazine picked up their “Royal Bobcat” GTO from Royal Pontiac in suburban Detroit. Wangers had the factory replace the 389 cubic inch V8 with a similar looking 421.

Model Products Corp, MPC, sold over 7 million 1:25 scale Monkeemobiles

Model Products Corp, MPC, sold over 7 million 1:25 scale Monkeemobiles

Wangers realized what a promotional opportunity the show could be for Pontiac, so a deal was made. Pontiac delivered to Jeffries two base 389 4-barrel 1966 GTO convertibles with automatic-transmissions to be converted into Monkeemobiles. MPC was in turn given exclusive rights to sell a model kit of the Monkeemobile. They would end up selling over 7 million copies of these kits, making Jeffries significant royalties. It’s still in production and you can buy the reissued kit from a revived MPC.

By the time ERTL bought MPC (and AMT), George Barris had managed to get his name on the Monkeemobile.

By the time ERTL bought MPC (and AMT), George Barris had managed to get his name on the Monkeemobile.

In one of those weird confluences of pop culture, in the 1970s, ownership of MPC had passed to ERTL, which put some of the vintage MPC models back into production. The Monkees were no longer cool then, but Henry Winkler’s Arthur Fonzarelli was a big hit on Happy Days. To rush Fonzie product to the market, ERTL chopped the Monkeemobile’s phaeton roof to make an exposed, classic style driver’s compartment, added a cheesy figurine of The Fonz and marketed the package as the Fonz Dream Rod. As far as anyone knows, the Fonz Dream Rod never appeared on Happy Days, fortunately. It is, however, a collectible highly prized by Monkeemobile completists.

Ayyyy... doesn't that car look familiar?

Ayyyy… doesn’t that car look familiar?

Corgi, Johnny Lightning, and Husky all sold diecast models of the Monkeemobile.

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It took just a month for Jeffries and his shop to build both Monkeemobiles, turning the convertible into a rather slick looking phaeton. He stretched the nose by 21 inches and added a foot and a half in the back for more passenger room. The GTO’s split Pontiac grille was exaggerated to almost comic proportions, but Jeffries made sure to keep the GTO badge in the grille. One car was intended to be used for filming and the other for promotional appearances, though they both ended up being used on the show. As first built by Jeffries, they had huge GMC 6-71 blowers, rigidly mounted rear axles, and added weight in the rear end. While those mods made popping wheelies easier, they also made driving the car used on the show rather difficult, so the supercharger impellers were removed, leaving a gold painted dummy case for show, with a carburetor hidden inside. During the first season, Monkeemobile #1 was used for principle photography and #2 made personal appearances.

According to Hot Rod Magazine, the second car retained the supercharger, primarily for exhibition runs at drag strips, much like one of the studio-commissioned Batmobile replicas. For the second season, it was also used in filming when the script called for speed, so #2 is an authentic TV car. The drag parachute on the back was apparently functional, as it can be seen billowing behind the car in publicity photos taken for Jeffries.

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There are enough differences between the two cars that Monkeemobile geeks can identify which is which, mostly involving the fake blower. Car number one has a curious history, apparently being abandoned in Australia on tour after the TV show was cancelled. It later showed up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, used by a hotel as a courtesy car, a practical use for a vehicle with rear seating for four. When the hotel went bankrupt, it was sold at a government auction for just $5,000. At some point it was restored, later appearing in the 1997 Monkees reunion TV show and at a “Cars & Guitars” exhibition at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

This video clip is from the Monkeemobile’s final appearance in The Monkees television series, in an episode called The Monkees Race Again. The clip is of a race, perhaps filmed in part on Mulholland in Los Angeles, between the Monkeemobile, driven by Davy Jones, and in a nice surprise, what looks like one of the six genuine Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes driven by a villain. That was long before anyone thought of making Cobra replicas so it was likely one of the actual Shelby Coupes. Based on the number 13 on the rear end, it’s possibly CSX2299, the second Daytona Couple built and the one with the most extensive racing record. Interestingly, rather than using an original Monkees song, the soundtrack to the race is the Surfari’s Wipe Out (or is it the Ventures’ version?).

The second Monkeemobile was eventually purchased by George Barris, and subsequently “restored”, giving it equipment like flat screen TVs that never existed in 1966. As was the case with many Barris related cars, someone else did the bodywork. The bodywork for Monkeemobile #2 was done by Advanced Restoration, as you can see in the video above, shot during the restoration. Barris would go on to have at least two replicas made, further confusing the Monkeemobile’s origins. As a result, he’s sometimes falsely attributed with designing the Monkeemobile, something he’s never gone out of his way to correct.
The flat screen video displays and subwoofers that George Barris added when he "restored" Monkeemobile #2 are not period correct.

The flat screen video displays and subwoofers that George Barris added when he “restored” Monkeemobile #2 are not period correct.

Barris had Dick Dean, who worked with Jeffries on the originals, make a replica, and then a second copy was made using some of the parts Barris removed from #2 when he “restored” it. Jeffries had nothing to do with the fabrication of those two replicas, which vary slightly from the originals, but he directed the building of an authentic third replica that was made for the Monkee’s 2011 45th anniversary tour.

George Barris with Monkeemobile #2 (or one of the two replicas he had made)

George Barris with Monkeemobile #2 (or one of the two replicas he had made)

Ever the promoter, Barris hooked up with Barrett-Jackson to sell the #2 Monkeemobile at their splashy Scottsdale auction in 2008. Mel Gutherie, a Detroit area collector whose family is in the lumber business, bought it for $360,000. He actively shows it around town, and the car is regularly driven to events, even once turning down an opportunity to have it displayed at the Henry Ford Museum (as part of a cars and rock music exhibition) because that would have interfered with its cruising schedule.

For a car that came about due to the involvement of some Detroit insiders, it’s appropriate I’ve photographed the Monkeemobile at two different car shows put on by car company employees in the Detroit area. Two or three years ago it was at the car show held by GM Design employees every year in connection with the Woodward Dream Cruise and then last year I spotted it, next to a Dukes of Hazard General Lee (soon come, mon, soon come), at the Ford Product Development Center employees’ car show.

Photos by the author. You can see more photos of the Monkeemobile here and 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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It’s Time To End The Non-Sporty Coupe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/its-time-to-end-the-non-sporty-coupe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/its-time-to-end-the-non-sporty-coupe/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 12:12:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1071410 Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to bring an end to an automotive segment that simply needs to die: the non-sporty coupe. For those of you who aren’t sure what I mean when I say “non sporty coupe,” allow me to describe the two types of coupes that currently exist today. One is the sporty coupe. […]

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2015 Honda Civic

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to bring an end to an automotive segment that simply needs to die: the non-sporty coupe.

For those of you who aren’t sure what I mean when I say “non sporty coupe,” allow me to describe the two types of coupes that currently exist today. One is the sporty coupe. This is a car with sleek styling, and a cool interior, and a lot of power, and some modicum of performance suspension, or performance brakes, or something performancey, like a faux carbon fiber door panel.

Examples of the sporty coupe include the Porsche 911, the Ford Mustang, the Subaru BRZ, and – if you ask the Germans – the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, though the rest of us just consider that to be an overpriced sedan.

And then you have the other type of coupe. The non-sporty coupe. This is a car that was a sedan, until some auto industry geniuses got ahold of it and decided they could create an entirely new segment by just throwing on a new, two-door body and marketing it as “sporty.” Examples include the Honda Civic, the Honda Accord, and, well, that’s about it.

2015 Honda Accord EX-L V-6 Coupe

There’s a reason those are the only options: because everyone else has gotten out of this segment. For years, we had the Toyota Camry coupe, later called the Camry Solara. It’s gone. The Chevy Monte Carlo. It’s gone. The Chevy Cobalt coupe, the Chevy Cavalier Coupe, the Ford Tempo coupe, the Ford Focus coupe (look it up!), the Dodge Avenger, the Chrysler Sebring coupe. Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone. All gone. The Nissan Altima Coupe. Gone. All because this segment is a massive dud; the automotive equivalent of Kevin Costner’s Waterworld.

So why is Honda still in it?

My theory is Honda has abandoned every other sporty car they’ve ever had – from the NSX and the S2000 on down to the CR-Z – so they feel like they have to offer some piece of “performance” somewhere in their lineup. So they offer the Civic in sedan and coupe varieties, even though virtually everyone else has realized the actual place to be, when it comes to compact cars, is sedans and hatchbacks.

Interestingly, it seems like Honda still doesn’t have the hatchback memo. At this year’s New York Auto Show, Honda displayed a bright green Civic intended to preview what’s to come for the compact car’s next generation. So what body style did it use? The highly popular sedan model, which accounts for more than 80 percent of all sales? A hatchback to let us know they’re finally going to take on the Ford Focus, the Mazda3, the Kia Soul, and the Volkswagen Golf?

No: they showed off a Civic Coupe, suggesting they plan to continue the non-sporty coupe even after everyone else has jumped ship.

It’s the same situation with the Accord. Every time there’s an Accord redesign, I expect Honda to finally announce that they’re doing away with the Accord Coupe. And every time there’s an Accord redesign, Honda instead surprises me and brings it back for another round.

The question I have for people who buy these cars is: WHY?????

If you really examine the Civic Coupe and the Accord Coupe, what you’ll find is that both models are really just less practical versions of the sedans. Neither one is a sports car. Neither one offers especially sleek styling. In fact, if you ask me, the Civic Coupe is actually a bit ungainly in its current form, in the sense that it appears, at any moment, that it may be blown over by a strong gust of wind.

So basically, the “non sporty coupe” is just a sedan with less practicality. Same Accord styling. Same Accord engines. Same Accord equipment, and platform, and suspension, and brakes. The only difference: in the regular Accord, you can get out of the back seat without making the front passenger get up and exit the vehicle first.

I’ve talked to a few people who own these vehicles, and I’ve come to learn they actually believe these are sports cars. “Well,” they say. “I couldn’t afford a 370Z. So I decided to get an Accord Coupe.” As if the two are equals. This would be like saying that you couldn’t afford a place overlooking Central Park, so you instead decided to get a studio apartment in downtown Newark.

So I guess the simple truth here is that Honda is going to continue to make these things as long as people keep buying them. But as the market shrinks, and as people realize they’d really rather have a sedan, and as the tens of buyers disaffected by the cancellation of the Chevy Cobalt coupe move on to something else, I hope Honda wises up and gives us hatchbacks instead. Because the days of the non-sporty coupe are coming to an end.

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Brotherly Love… For Crosleys http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/brotherly-love-crosleys/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/brotherly-love-crosleys/#comments Sun, 17 May 2015 16:10:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1057386 In 1957, Ronnie Kaczmar was 15 years old and, like most teenage boys living in Dearborn, Michigan in the 1950s, Ronnie and his younger brother Jim loved cars. Unlike most of the boys in Dearborn, though, Ronnie Kaczmar wasn’t into flathead Ford hot rods. No, he was into hot shots, as in the Crosley Hot […]

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In 1957, Ronnie Kaczmar was 15 years old and, like most teenage boys living in Dearborn, Michigan in the 1950s, Ronnie and his younger brother Jim loved cars. Unlike most of the boys in Dearborn, though, Ronnie Kaczmar wasn’t into flathead Ford hot rods. No, he was into hot shots, as in the Crosley Hot Shot and other Crosley automobiles.

 

Ronnie Kaczmar and his first Crosley in 1957

Ronnie Kaczmar and his first Crosley in 1957

In 1957, Ron Kaczmar bought his first Crosley – a 1948 station wagon – and based on the date on a photo with his brother, he soon acquired a Crosley convertible sedan that same year. His love for the tiny but technologically advanced American cars made by radio pioneer Powel Crosley lasted the rest of his life and made his family name synonymous with Crosley enthusiasm. The family still owns that ’48 Crosley wagon. Ron’s brother, Jim, bought his own Crosley, also a wagon, in 1963. While it’s clear Jim Kaczmar loves the little cars, it’s even clearer that he loved his big brother.


Start the YouTube video player. Click on the settings icon in the menu bar to select 2D or your choice of stereo 3D formats

In time, Ronnie Kaczmar became the go-to guy for Crosley information, history and parts. It’s impossible to research the brand without coming across his name sooner or later. Eventually, he started a small business selling Crosley parts and the occasional restored Crosley. While the marque may not be as known as more popular brands, it has an active community of collectors and enthusiasts, with over 1,000 people in the Crosley Auto Club. Just about everyone loves cute little cars, so there’s ongoing interest in Crosleys.

 

Ron Kaczmar and his father Walter drove this 1951 Crosley Super station wagon to all 48 contiguous United States.

Ron Kaczmar and his father Walter drove this 1951 Crosley Super station wagon to all 48 contiguous United States and it has the window decals to prove it. I believe that’s real wood veneer.

You’ll see them at car shows and at auctions, but you’re not likely to see a Crosley in one of Murilee Martin’s Junkyard Finds like you would the slightly less oddball Nash Metropolitan. While the Metropolitan is a cute little car and it had its own novelty song, the Crosley has a better story, starting with the personality of Powel Crosley and his various enterprises.

 

Ronnie (L) and Jimmy (R) with a Crosley convertible.

Ronnie (L) and Jimmy (R) with a Crosley convertible.

Prescient about the value of small, lightweight cars when Detroit was busy going longer, wider and embracing road hugging weight, Crosley’s cars were true pioneers achieving a number of notable automotive firsts. They made the Farm O Road, Crosley’s take on the jeep concept, and the COBRA engine made up of steel stampings copper brazed together. There’s plenty of history to add interest to the Crosley story. Besides, as small as the Metropolitan is, it’s still about 30% heavier than the truly tiny Crosley station wagon, making the little Nashes worth more at the crusher.


The water pump was run off of a power take off shaft on the back of the generator, which was about half the size of the engine itself.

The brothers weren’t the only family members to appreciate the brand. By 1968, Ronnie and his father Walter had driven Ronnie’s blue and white ’51 Crosley Super station wagon to almost all of the 48 contiguous United States.

 

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The Crosley wagon on a trip to Florida in 1968

In 1992, Ronnie took a 6,000 mile trip with a lady friend from Dearborn to Long Beach and back, via Seattle, to complete the list. The car also took trips to Florida with Kaczmar and his parents. As of last fall, the wagon had 38,300 original miles on the clock.

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Ronnie Kaczmar passed away a few years ago, but his brother Jim continues to operate Kaczmar Crosley. If you’re interested in a properly done Crosley, he’s the person to see. Jim also continues to show his brother’s collection of Crosleys.


The grille spinner/propeller was a Crosley factory accessory.

Jim Kaczmar’s enthusiasm for Crosley cars has probably only been exceeded by that of his brother, but in talking to him at Ypsilanti’s Orphan Car Show, it became obvious to me that, while he clearly has affection for the cars of Powel Crosley, he continues his involvement in the hobby more as a tribute to his brother than to the Crosley brand. At the Orphan Car Show last September, there was a for sale sign on the family’s wagon, listed at $9,800. Checking at Hemmings.com, that looks to be about $3,000 over market, but I don’t think you’ll find a Crosley with better provenance, or a better story.

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I can relate to Jim Kaczmar. My interest in cars was spurred by my own big brother, Jeff, whose ’63 Mini Cooper and ’66 Lotus Cortina forever turned me on to unusual little cars that make going around corners fun. Jeff’s even influenced the stories that I write here at TTAC, providing me with a lead on the history of airbags from when he worked for Eaton, along with my continuing coverage of the Elio Motors startup. One reason why I’m interested in Elio is that they’re trying to make a reverse trike.

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Years ago, when Jeffrey and I were kids designing a go-kart we were building using a scavenged two-stroke lawnmower engine (he designed the frame, I did the steering and brakes), we realized we couldn’t afford all the wheels, tires, bearings, etc to make a live axle in the back. Instead, we opted for a mid-engined reverse trike with a single rear wheel. What we didn’t know was reverse trikes need a forward weight bias to keep both front wheels on the ground when cornering. Elio’s trike is front wheel drive with the motor up front. Unlike the go-kart Jeff and I made, the Elio doesn’t lift the inside tire a foot off of the ground on a hard turn. But I still think of my brother whenever I write about Elio.

Photography by Ronnie Schreiber. For more photos of the vehicle in this post, please go to Cars In Depth.

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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Whatizit? Shoulda Known Myron Vernis Had Something to do With It http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/whatizit-shoulda-known-myron-vernis-something/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/whatizit-shoulda-known-myron-vernis-something/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1028081 But of course! While researching this post I discovered that a previous owner of its subject is actually someone that I know, Myron Vernis. I featured his Mazda Cosmo and Toyota Sports 800 in a post on last year’s Eyes On Design show. Myron owns what has to be the world’s finest collection of oddball cars so […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

But of course! While researching this post I discovered that a previous owner of its subject is actually someone that I know, Myron Vernis. I featured his Mazda Cosmo and Toyota Sports 800 in a post on last year’s Eyes On Design show. Myron owns what has to be the world’s finest collection of oddball cars so the fact that this literally unique vehicle ended up in his hands came as no surprise.

The research that ended up  with a phone call from Vernis started with a post by Jason Torchinsky over at Jalopnik, the second in a series of articles asking readers to identify relatively obscure motor vehicles simply from a photo of the drivetrain. Like many of Torch’s ideas, it’s clever and I’m not saying that just because we tend to write about similar topics. Well, maybe a little, but he’s one of the writers over there whose stuff I try not to miss.

A lot of manufacturer’s engines have ended up in smaller companies’ products so there is some challenge to the game. So far his two photographic riddles have involved the 1951 Tempo Matador commercial van and the Zamboni ice resurfacing machine. Both of those vehicles happen to be powered by air-cooled VW Beetle engines.

That reminded me of another unusual car with an air-cooled flat four, one that I’d personally photographed at the Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti a few years back. At first I was just going to email Torchinsky a photo to suggest that he’d really stump his audience with it, since this is a one of of a kind car. Then I thought to myself, why should I give Jason content for free when I can get paid for it here not entertain some of own readers here at TTAC instead of helping another site’s traffic?

So what do you think it is? The answer is after the next break.

Photo courtesy of Myron Vernis. Photo credit: Wolfgang Blaube

Photo courtesy of Myron Vernis. Photo credit: Wolfgang Blaube

It’s a Gregory, a one-off project of Ben F. Gregory, an American pioneer in front wheel drive automobiles and the creator of the Vietnam War era M-422 Mighty Mite four wheel drive mini-truck. Small and of light weight so it could be transported and dropped by aircraft, 5,000 of the aluminum intensive M-422s were made by American Motors for the U.S. Marines. Ben seems to have been a bit of a character as well.

Benjamin F. Gregory was born in Missouri in 1890 and lived most of his life in the Kansas City area where he operated one of America’s first commercial air services along with a flight training school. He took his first flight in 1913 but didn’t really gain an interest in aviation for a few years.

gregoryad

After his discharge from the Army following World War One, he began a lifelong interest in automotive design, particularly front wheel drive. Per Griff Borgeson’s The Golden Age of the American Racing Car, between 1918 and 1922 Gregory assembled ten or so front-wheel-drive automobiles, approximately contemporaneously with the development of the Citroen Traction Avant in Europe and a year or so before the first of racing pioneer Harry Miller’s FWD race cars. Apparently Gregory paid for those experimental front drive cars by barnstorming a track racer powered by a Hispano-Suiza airplane engine.

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Ben Gregory and his eponymous sports car

Attending an American Legion air show in 1920 got him interested in flying again, not as a just as a hobby, but as a business. By 1921 he was flying a three seater plane, offering passengers a seven minute flight for $5. That was a lot of money in the 1920s but then flying was a very novel experience then. He flew more than a half million passengers,  using the slogan, “Fly With Ben”.

In 1930, Gregory upgraded to the first of what would be five Ford trimotors, with a top speed of 90 mph and capable of carrying 13 passengers. I don’t know if the “mile high club” existed back then, but Gregory did perform marriage ceremonies, as captain of the ship, for at least 90 couples while aloft. Ever the promoter, Gregory mounted $15,000 worth of lights and smoke machines to do nighttime meteorite imitations, and nicknamed the plane “The Ship From Mars”.

He had a bit of luck, too, surviving seven plane crashes, including three of his Trimotors. He was too old to be a military pilot during World War II, but he contributed to the war effort flying commercially until a serious crash put him out of commercial aviation. He continued to fly as a hobby, though.

Returning to his passion for automobiles and inspired by the wartime jeep, Gregory, in 1946, started work on what became the M422 Mighty Mite, a lighter, smaller version of the same concept. He incorporated MARCO, the Mid-America Research Corporation and hired a number of the engineers who worked for Bantam designing the original jeep. MARCO debuted the MM100 in 1950. It had an aluminum body, sat on a tiney 64.5 inch wheelbase and it was powered by a 52 hp, 1.5 liter flat four made by Porsche. It had a novel suspension, independent all around, using swing arms and cantilevered quarter elliptical springs at each corner. Both front and rear ends had differentials with aluminum cases as well as inboard brakes.

Helicopters came into their own during the Korean War and the Marine Corps was interested in a jeep-like vehicle that was light enough to be airlifted into battle by the rotary wing aircraft. The USMC was impressed with how well the MM100 performed in their tests and they wanted to go forward with the project, but only if the Porsche engine was replaced with something sourced in America. In 1954, Gregory turned turn the fledgling American Motors, which was working on it’s own air-cooled V4. AMC started building what was called the M422 in 1960. However, the production run was short, some say less than 4,000 and no more than 5,000 were built. What happened is that in the ten years between concept and production, helicopters got stronger and could carry a standard jeep.

In the mid 1950s, Gregory devoted himself to building a front wheel drive sports roadster with a tube space frame and a hand formed aluminum body. Road & Track tested it in 1956. Though at first glance you might think that’s air-cooled flat four is from a VW, but if you look closely it’s actually a Porsche engine, capable of 70 horsepower, roughly double the power output of a Vee Dub motor of that time. I’m guessing that the Porsche motor was left over from the MM100 project. That engine sits in front of the front axle, facing in the opposite direction that it would have been in a bathtub Porsche. A transaxle sits behind the engine and drives the front wheels. R&T reported that the 1,925 lb roadster could approach 100 mph. The steering geometry featured center point steering with a vertical pivot. Rzeppa constant velocity joints at the wheel end of the equal length drive axles were housed inside oversized wheel bearings.

Full gallery here

Myron Vernis at the wheel of the Gregory. Full gallery here

Initial plans were to build and sell 20 of the roadsters at a price of $5,000, a considerable sum of money in the mid 1950s. To compare, a 1956 Corvette had a MSRP of $3,120. It’s not clear if the high price was a factor but Gregory never put his car into production. He did, however, drive it regularly for the rest of his life, putting over 300,000 miles on it. After he died in 1974, his widow gave the sports car to his friend John Burnham of Colorado, who raced it and then sold it. When Bob Chinnery saw that the Gregory was part of a collection that was being liquidated he knew that he had to buy it. A former drag racer, he had a small collection of motorcycles and race cars. He knew about the car because Bob Gregory once approached him at his race shop, pointed to Chinnery’s Jaguar XK120 and asked him if he wanted a ride in a “real sports car”. They ended up becoming good friends.

Chinnery planned to restore the car, still in almost completely original condition, but passed away before that could be done. Myron Vernis bought the car from Chinnery’s estate. He told me that it drove well, and had no torque steer because of the equal length half shafts, but that it did steer a little oddly because of the center pivot steering.

When I photographed the car at the 2011 Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti, Michigan, it was in Vernis’ collection, but he’s since sold it to the Lane Museum, which says something about the Myron’s taste and eye as a collector.

Speaking of his collection, I suppose that the next car scheduled to join it could be described as mainstream. When I told him I’m in the middle of writing a review of Dodge’s Scat Pack Challenger, Vernis replied, “Oh, I ordered a Hellcat Charger,” rather matter of factly. Well, not quite so matter of factly. I could hear him grin over the phone. Myron has a sly grin that gives me the impression that he knows how it all works. “I wanted the Charger because it has four doors,” he explained. What could be more mainstream than a four door Dodge?

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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My First and Most Recent Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/first-recent-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/first-recent-cars/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 23:09:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1014778 Not long ago my mother moved into an assisted living facility and I’ve been cleaning through her house. After observing her, my daughters, my sisters, and my maternal aunts I’ve figured out that there’s likely an OCD gene on one of their X chromosomes. Of course, my daughters got that bit of genetic material from […]

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Not long ago my mother moved into an assisted living facility and I’ve been cleaning through her house. After observing her, my daughters, my sisters, and my maternal aunts I’ve figured out that there’s likely an OCD gene on one of their X chromosomes. Of course, my daughters got that bit of genetic material from their dear old dad. Hey, just because I have 60+ egg crates filled with about 15 years worth of automotive press kits doesn’t mean that I hoard things. Anyhow, while cleaning I came across a box that looked like it hadn’t been touched since January of 1966, when we moved to the house that I’m now going through. Most of the things in the box were detritus, stuff that could have been thrown away before the move. However, as I was rifling through the fabric scraps and what have you, something bright red caught my eye.

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It was a pressed steel toy car, looking very much like an early 1960s Rambler station wagon. Something about it seemed very familiar and then it came to me: it was my first toy car. I remembered playing with it on the living floor of our house on Ward in northwest Detroit. One wheel was bent up into the body and another was completely missing, but it was mostly intact and in pretty nice shape considering it was more than a half century old. By the time we moved from that house I was already eleven years old so I probably hadn’t played with it in years by then, but mom does save things, which explains how it survived to make the move.

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My dad had a 1961 Rambler American two door in white. I would have been about six years old at the time and I’m guessing that maybe my parents got me a toy to match one of the family cars. I also remember from that same general time the larger, very detailed plastic scale car models that my brother and I got when our parents bought a ’61 Pontiac Catalina and our grandfather got his latest Olds 98, but this wasn’t one of those dealer models, just an inexpensive pressed steel toy, perhaps made in Japan, though I can’t find any maker’s mark.

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It so happens that I also just got a new toy car at the Henry Ford Museum when I was there to do a story on their Engines Exposed exhibition. The HFM is one of the tourist attractions around the country that still has vintage Mold-A-Rama machines. Developed in the 1950s by an inventor named J.H. “Tike” Miller, working with a coin operated vending company that is now the large foodservice firm known as Aramark, Mold-A-Ramas are small *injection molding machines that produce waxy plastic souvenirs while you watch them operate. They caught on big at the 1964 New York World’s Fair where there were at least 150 of the machines making everything from Sinclair Oil dinosaurs to coin banks.

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To people jaded by 3D printers, Mold-A-Ramas may not seem like much, but in the jet age they fascinated adults and children alike. The machines must have been well engineered because a couple of family owned businesses still operate a number of the 50 year old machines at tourist attractions in Florida and the midwest. As with just about everything that predates the digital age, there are folks who collect new and vintage Mold-A-Rama toys. If, like musician Jack White, you want your very own Mold-A-Rama unit, a reconditioned one will cost you about $15,000, custom molds extra.

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At the Ford museum you can get Mold A Rama statuettes of Henry Ford and plastic busts of Abraham Lincoln along with models of some of the museum’s more notable vehicles, like the Kennedy assassination presidential limousine. While the museum is independent of the Ford Motor Company, the firm and the Ford family are important patrons of the institution. Perhaps that’s why near the museum’s entrance a couple of the molding machines made miniature Ford products, a recent F-150 and a 1965 Mustang. I’m not much of a pickup truck fan, so I opted for the pony car, which was molded in a bright red, matching my first toy car. When I retrieved it from the hopper, I noticed that one side of the base reads “Ford Rouge Factory Tour”. I took the current Rouge plant tour soon after it was restarted a few years ago and I don’t recall seeing a Mold-A-Rama machine in the reception center so that may be a vintage mold from when the tour walked right next to the assembly line and visitors watched hot steel being poured from the vantage of the steel plant’s catwalk.

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Regular readers will know that I check out ease of child car seat use in my reviews because I regularly babysit my grandson, who will be three years old in a couple of months. He makes “vroom vroom” and “pshew” noises with the “fast cars” in the box of toys I keep for him here. I guess playing with cars is something that we car guys never grow out of. I can’t think of any adult car enthusiasts that I know that don’t have at least one scale model of a car or some other kind of toy car. I bet you can remember your first toy car and I’m also willing to bet that you’ve bought some kind of toy car for yourself or for someone else in recent memory. Please tell us about them.

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*The Mold-A-Rama process seems to me to be a cross between injection and blow molding since a blast of compressed air is used to hollow out the part.

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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Henry Ford Museum Pops the Hood. Can You Identify the Engines? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/henry-ford-museum-pops-hood-can-identify-engines/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/henry-ford-museum-pops-hood-can-identify-engines/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 13:15:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1011186 This Friday I hope to cover the Detroit Autorama and the competitors for the prestigious Ridler Award for what many consider to be the best new custom car. It’s a great show but because the show was originally organized by a Detroit area hot rod club to whom go was as important as show, the […]

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Full gallery here.

Full gallery here

This Friday I hope to cover the Detroit Autorama and the competitors for the prestigious Ridler Award for what many consider to be the best new custom car. It’s a great show but because the show was originally organized by a Detroit area hot rod club to whom go was as important as show, the rules say that during judging the engines have to be exposed. That’s a pet peeve of mine because nobody has ever drawn a car with a hood up, either in junior high study hall or in an automaker’s design studio. I understand the desire to show off the cars’ motivating force, not to mention all of the chrome (or gold plated) eye candy, blowers and ancillaries, but it doesn’t make for great photography of a car as a whole.  Still, with some cars, you just gotta see what’s under the hood. For the first time in its history, the Henry Ford Museum is popping the hoods of about 40 of its historically significant cars in its Driving America display to let us do exactly that.

Note: There are about 80 photos after the jump so the page may load slowly.

Running through March 15, the museum is exhibiting what it calls Engines Exposed, and as an automotive history buff, I have to say that it’s a very rare opportunity to see some very special machinery and some truly legendary engines. With less than 400 Duesenberg Model J cars that exist, you don’t often get a chance to see the Duesenberg brothers’ masterpiece DOHC straight eight. There are only six Bugatti Royales so it’s even less likely to be able to see Ettore’s own 12.7 liter straight eight. The opportunity to view both engines in the same place won’t likely happen again (unless the Ford museum makes Engines Exposed a recurring event).

Racing in America, the section of Driving America devoted to motorsports, is also part of Engines Exposed, and cowls and clamshells have been opened so you can see motors like the V8 Ford (with its “bundle of snakes” exhaust) in Jim Clark’s 1965 Indy winning Lotus 38, the big block that powered A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney to victory at LeMans in the Ford MkIV, and the four Chrysler Hemis in the Goldenrod land speed record car.

Other historical engines on display are the small block Chevy V8 in the museum’s 1956 Bel Air, the flat six Franklin helicopter engine that Preston Tucker stuck in the back of his car, and an early 260 cubic inch version of what became the 289 and 302 Ford “Windsor” engine, in the museum’s early production ’64 1/2 Mustang. It should be noted that in addition to the motors that are part of the Engine’s Exposed exhibition, there are some other historical powerplants you can see that are part of the museum’s permanent display, including the very first flathead Ford V8 (with a hand stamped metal tag reading “HOLD FOR MR FORD”), Henry Ford’s less successful experimental engine that had an X layout, and the first gasoline motor that he built, the one that ran in Clara’s kitchen sink.

Alternative powerplants are also featured, including the jet engine in the museum’s Chrysler Turbine Car, and the hood is also popped on the 1916 Woods Dual Power gas/electric hybrid that was the subject of a post of mine here at TTAC. I have a good working relationship with Matt Anderson, the museum’s transportation curator who chose which engines were to be exposed, and he’s given me access to photograph the Woods Dual Power inside the barriers and from underneath the car, but now the general public will also be able to see the vintage hybrid’s gasoline engine and the electromagnetic clutch that couples it to the car’s electric motor, whose armatures can also be seen.

Because some engines are obscured by bodywork, a number of the cars have mirrors mounted to give visitors a better view.

For the duration of the exhibition, the museum’s Douglas Drive-in Theater will be running a daily presentation on the more important vehicles in the Henry Ford Museum’s collection and on major developments in the history of automotive powerplants. On Saturday, March 14th, at 1 PM in the theater, Matt Anderson will be giving a deeper look into the engines on display, using materials digitized from the museum’s collection. That date and the previous Saturday, the museum’s hands-on Tinker.Hack.Invent program for kids will teach them about the pros and cons of various power sources and have a chance to assemble an electric car.

To inject some fun, I cropped the photos of the powerplants to give you the chance the see how many of the engines and cars you can identify. Scroll down for the photographic answers in order below.

Answers:

Okay, trick question. That's Henry Ford's experimental X8 engine. It never worked well enough to go into production.

Okay, I started with a trick question. That’s Henry Ford’s experimental X8 engine. It never worked well enough to go into production and Henry decided to make a V8. The engine block to the right is an early casting for the flathead Ford V8 that came out of that decision. Full gallery here.

Buick Riviera. Full gallery here.

Buick Riviera. Full gallery here.

Miller-Ford V8 Indy Racer. Full gallery here.

Miller-Ford V8 Indy Racer. Full gallery here.

Offenhauser "Offy" engine in a A.J. Foyt raced, Meskowski built sprint car. Full gallery here.

Offenhauser “Offy” engine in a A.J. Foyt raced, Meskowski built sprint car. Full gallery here.

Jim Clark's Indy winning Ford V8 powered Lotus 38 that revolutionized open wheel racing in America. Full gallery here.

Jim Clark’s Indy winning Ford V8 powered Lotus 38 that revolutionized open wheel racing in America. Full gallery here.

1936 Lincoln Zephyr. Full gallery here

1936 Lincoln Zephyr. Full gallery here

1927 LaSalle. Full gallery here.

1927 LaSalle. Full gallery here.

Clara (Mrs. Henry) Ford's 1914 Detroit Electric. Full gallery here

Clara (Mrs. Henry) Ford’s 1914 Detroit Electric. Full gallery here

Duesenberg Model J. Full gallery here

Duesenberg Model J. Full gallery here

First U.S. built Honda Accord. Full gallery here

First U.S. built Honda Accord. Full gallery here

Bugatti Royale. Full gallery here

Bugatti Royale. Full gallery here

First generation Toyota Prius. Full gallery here

First generation Toyota Prius. Full gallery here

Honda Accord. Full gallery here

Honda Accord. Full gallery here

Dodge Omni. Full gallery here

Dodge Omni. Full gallery here

Mercury Cougar. Full gallery here

Mercury Cougar. Full gallery here

Chevrolet Corvair. Full gallery here

Chevrolet Corvair. Full gallery here

Volkswagen Beetle. Full gallery here.

Volkswagen Beetle. Full gallery here.

1949 Ford sedan. Full gallery here

1949 Ford sedan. Full gallery here

1943 Willys built U.S. Army jeep. Full gallery here

1943 Willys built U.S. Army jeep. Full gallery here

1924 Essex. Full gallery here

1924 Essex. Full gallery here

Roper steam carriage, circa 1863, the oldest motor vehicle in America. Full gallery here

Roper steam carriage, circa 1863, the oldest motor vehicle in America. Full gallery here

Henry Ford's 1896 Quadricycle. Full gallery here.

Henry Ford’s 1896 Quadricycle. Full gallery here.

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. Full gallery here

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. Full gallery here

1949 Studebaker. Full gallery here

1949 Studebaker. Full gallery here

Chrysler Turbine Car. Full gallery here

Chrysler Turbine Car. Full gallery here

1916 Woods Dual Power. Full gallery here

1916 Woods Dual Power hybrid. Full gallery here

1907 White steamer. Full gallery here

1907 White steamer. Full gallery here

Ford Thunderbird. Full gallery here

Ford Thunderbird. Full gallery here

1919 Ford Model T. Full gallery here

1919 Ford Model T. Full gallery here

First generation Ford Taurus. Full gallery here.

First generation Ford Taurus. Full gallery here.

1932 Ford hot rod. Full gallery here

1932 Ford hot rod. Full gallery here

1949 Mercury "lead sled", out of George Barris' shop, likely the work of his brother Sam, who invented the chopped top. Full gallery here

1949 Mercury “lead sled”, out of George Barris’ shop, likely the work of his brother Sam, who originated the chopped top. Full gallery here

Early production Ford Mustang with 260 cubic inch V8. Full gallery here

Early production Ford Mustang with 260 cubic inch V8. Full gallery here

Ford GT40 MkIV. Full gallery here

Ford GT40 MkIV. Full gallery here

Ohio George's Willys gasser. Full gallery here

Ohio George’s Willys gasser. Full gallery here

Goldentrod wheel-driven land speed record car. Full gallery here

Goldentrod wheel-driven land speed record car. 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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Missouri Law Lets Thieves Scrap Your Classics http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/missouri-law-lets-thieves-scrap-classics/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/missouri-law-lets-thieves-scrap-classics/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 17:17:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1009738 Kansas City’s KCTV reported this week on an attempt to repair a 2012 Missouri state law that has led to a dramatic increase in car thefts. The law, which allows people to sell vehicles 10 years or older without a title, was originally intended to help rural property owners dispose of derelict vehicles and outdated […]

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Kansas City’s KCTV reported this week on an attempt to repair a 2012 Missouri state law that has led to a dramatic increase in car thefts. The law, which allows people to sell vehicles 10 years or older without a title, was originally intended to help rural property owners dispose of derelict vehicles and outdated machinery that would otherwise be left to rot. Criminals, however, soon discovered that they could scoop up virtually any vehicle that met the standard and sell it to scrap yards for a tidy profit.

The primary culprits, the story asserts, are crooked tow truck drivers. Old cars behind tow trucks are such an ordinary sight that cars can be taken in broad daylight. At the scrapyard, the drivers fudge the VIN or make other paperwork “mistakes” and escape with their payout before anyone notices. In many cases the cars are shredded before the owners can even report their theft.

Despite the fact that, in the wake of the law’s enactment, many Missouri police agencies noted an almost immediate rise in the number old cars being stolen, “Show-me” State leaders have allowed the situation to persist. Local Leaders, however, did act. Kansas City, for example, enacted a local ordinance directing scrapyards to hold vehicles for three days prior to disposal, but many of these laws can be avoided simply by taking vehicles to recycling centers outside of those jurisdictions.

The story ends on a hopeful note with news that one Missouri State representative, State Senator Jason Holsman, is looking to correct what he calls these “unintended consequences of the law.” But my personal experience is that the wheels of government often grind slowly and, until the situation is finally corrected, owners of old cars in Missouri need to watch their backs.

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Jerry Gordon’s Car Kippah http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/jerry-gordons-car-kippah/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/jerry-gordons-car-kippah/#comments Mon, 29 Dec 2014 16:23:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=968801 If you have any kind of tribal affiliation, you probably have the experience of spotting signs of others who might have the same affiliation. Deadheads will spot a dancing bear decal on a VW bus and car enthusiasts, no different, will note a track decal on a coworker’s bumper. That’s how I found out about […]

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If you have any kind of tribal affiliation, you probably have the experience of spotting signs of others who might have the same affiliation. Deadheads will spot a dancing bear decal on a VW bus and car enthusiasts, no different, will note a track decal on a coworker’s bumper. That’s how I found out about Jerry Gordon’s car kippah.

A kippah, also known as a yarmulke or a skull cap, is the small head covering religious Jewish men wear to showtheir respect for God’s omnipresence. While it’s not a biblical commandment and as far as I can determine it has no basis in scripture, a man covering his head is one of a number of Jewish traditions that was embraced so long ago that it epitomizes the rabbinic idiom, minhag Yisrael k’dat hu, a tradition of Israel is like religious law. Tevye wasn’t kidding about Jews and tradition. We take that stuff seriously. I may fight with God on a regular basis, another old Jewish tradition, but I’ve worn some kind of head covering, a Kangol style cap, a baseball cap or a fedora since I was a teen.

I suppose “men who wear hats” is another one of those tribes. As someone who owns two Stetson Sovereign Temples in black (my opinion is that Stetsons are every bit as good as the twice as expensive Borsalinos) and a recently acquired grey Selentino made in the Czech Republic that’s just a little more casual than my black hats, I’ll compliment someone on their haberdashery.

I’ll get back to hats in a second but let me digress. Have you ever known, or even done business with a professional career car salesman? Sure, they’re rare, but the ones who are good are really good. Joe Girard was a legend around Detroit and ended up in the Guinness Book of records after selling 13,001 cars in just 15 years. A guy or gal has to know what they’re doing to do that. Ask our reader Buickman. I get the impression that the best car salesman stay at the same store for years.s. The two times that I bought brand new cars were both from older, experienced car salesmen. No bullshit guys who knew that getting you the best deal was the route to making them the most money.

Jerry Gordon was one of those pros. A lifelong salesman who eventually gravitated to car, he ended up retiring from the Grossinger group of car dealers in the Chicago area. Maybe I liked him because he reminded me of my father. People who knew my dad would tell me, after he died, how much they loved him. I recently asked Jerry’s widow, Arlene, if she ever gets tired of hearing how people loved her husband, and she said, “Never!” I know exactly how she feels.

Speaking of never, I never bought a car from Jerry. I don’t live in Chicago and never have, but my cousin Gary went to podiatry school there, met and married Jerry’s daughter Cheryl there, and they settled down in Skokie. I use a lot of words but I can’t say enough about what wonderful people Gary and Cheryl are. Most of the times I’ve worked the Chicago Auto Show, I’ve stayed with them, not in a hotel. Sweet and generous people who go out of their way to be nice. Jerry was like that too. He died much too young.

Gary and Cheryl’s youngest child, Scott, is getting married this weekend to a girl from New Jersey and the wedding is in Teaneck. It’s an orthodox Jewish wedding and since it’s being held on Sunday, with lots of out of town guests from both Chicago and Detroit, logistics meant that many of the folks from the groom’s side came in on Thursday or Friday and then spent the Sabbath in a hotel in Fort Lee.. With that many observant Jews, it made sense to hold religious services in one of the hotel halls.

Showing up on time has never been one of my strong suits and as I found a seat in the back row after Friday evening services had already begun, I noticed that the slightly grey haired gentleman sitting in front of me was wearing a black leather kippah that had been embellished with colorful cars hand painted around the border, along with the word Zaida, one of the Yiddish variants for grandfather. Remember what I said about indicators of tribal affiliation? I know what it means when a guy has a dancing bear on his kippah and the same is true of cars. I thought to myself, “Cool, a car guy. We have something in common.”

Isn’t it amazing how the human mind works? I’m sitting in a makeshift synagogue in a room filled with Jews like myself,  people that know many of  the same people that I know, attending the same wedding, many of whom are related either by blood or by marriage and I’m thinking that the fact that the guy has cars on his hat gives us something in common? Go figure.

During the short break between the afternoon and evening liturgies, I tapped him on the shoulder and asked about the kippah. It turns out that it was Cheryl’s brother Lee and that we had something else in common. He’s a writer and editor in the sports department of the Chicago Tribune, responsible for all their published stats.

Lee told me that the kippah was originally his father’s, a gift from Arlene 36 years ago after the birth of their first grandchild. Cars weren’t just Jerry’s way to make a living, he was a genuine car guy. I remember talking cars with him at family celebrations. Lee told me that his mom gave him his dad’s yarmulke, but only after he himself had become a grandfather. Call me sentimental but I think that’s charming.

The car hobby has its clones and replicas of significant automobiles. Lee told me that the kippah he was wearing was actually a ‘clone’ car kippah, a reproduction that he had had made after he thought he’d lost the original. I can understand just a little how he must have felt. One year when working the NAIAS, I thought, for about 20 minutes, that I’d lost the famous autographed bag. It turned out that my son had left it in the car but I was already going through the stages of grief by the time he told me. The same was true with Lee and his dad’s beanie, though, obviously, a family artifact is more important then Carroll Shelby and Richard Petty’s autographs. Lee Gordon already had commissioned the reproduction when, a week after losing it, he found it between some couch cushions. Appropriately it had fallen there when he’d been playing with his grandkids. The image at the top of this post is of the original.

To preserve that original, he usually wears the reproduction, saving Jerry’s actual car kippah for special events, like his nephew’s wedding. Lee was wearing another piece of family art during the weekend, a necktie dye sublimated with photographs of his grandchildren. I told him that some day one of his descendants will be wearing both his tie and his father’s kippah and he smiled. Cue Tevye.

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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This Is Why Alfa Romeo Matters: Alfa Romeo Montreal http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/alfa-romeo-matters-alfa-romeo-montreal/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/alfa-romeo-matters-alfa-romeo-montreal/#comments Sat, 27 Dec 2014 16:42:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=949777   Alfa Romeo is an automotive brand that’s so poorly known in America that some folks think it’s named after a guy named Alfred Romero, so to a casual observer it probably seems odd that Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne keeps insisting that he wants to revive the brand in the United States. The passion that car […]

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Alfa Romeo is an automotive brand that’s so poorly known in America that some folks think it’s named after a guy named Alfred Romero, so to a casual observer it probably seems odd that Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne keeps insisting that he wants to revive the brand in the United States. The passion that car enthusiasts have for a brand that has had, at best, minimal market penetration in North America, seems out of proportion. If you want to know why the Alfa brand evokes such passion, however, look no further than the Alfa Romeo Montreal. Even if  you’re not into Italian cars in general or Alfa Romeos in particular, if your heart doesn’t start beating just a little bit faster when you see a Montreal, you’re not a car enthusiast at all. The Montreal is sexy on wheels.

The Montreal is one of the few concept cars that made it to production mostly intact. Introduced at Expo 67, the world’s fair held in Montreal, and given the name of the host city, the Montreal had great lineage. The 2+2 body design was led by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, and the Montreal shares some of the lines of the Lamborghini Miura, Gandini’s chef-d’oeuvre. It’s four-cam 2,600 cc V8 engine was designed by famed Ferrari engineer Carlo Chiti, who headed Autodelta, Alfa’s racing division, at the time.

The Montreal looks just right. While mid-engine configurations rule the supercar roost, there’s something about the classic long hood / short deck that is just perfect for a grand touring coupe. That’s been true since the classic era. It was true about the 1956 Continental Mark II, it was true about the Ferrari Daytona and it was certainly true about the Alfa Romeo Montreal.

The Montreal doesn’t just have good lines. Gandini put in all sorts of flourishes and fillips. That long hood overhangs and slightly conceals the headlamps, not entirely unlike a lover’s lidded and sexy eyes. Fitting the relatively large (well, compared to the Alfa fours) engine in a car with such a low slung hood required both dry sumping the lubrication system and putting a power bulge on the hood. To make that bulge visually interesting Gandini and his team added one simple, elegant and purposeful looking NACA duct for the engine’s air intake. Though it looks purposeful, the sources say it was cosmetic. The series of slots carved into the C pillar also looked good but were actually functional, drawing ventilated air out of the cabin. They give that part of the Montreal some visual pop and the look might have been imitated by the 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner’s “strobe” stripe that ran up the C pillar and across the roof.

Alfa and Bertone, which was in the business of building bodies as well as designing them, considered putting the Montreal into production even before it went on public display at Expo 67. While public reaction was promising, the concept cars that were on display in Montreal were based on the Giulia Sprint GT and its 1.6 liter twin cam inline four and Alfa knew that would not be sufficient for a relatively large touring car.

Fortuitously, Autodelta was just then introducing the Tipo 33 racer and its road car sibling, the Type 33 Stradale, powered by an all-new two liter V8 engine Chiti had designed. A 90 degree design with double overhead cams for each cylinder bank, when bored out to 2.6 liters, with Spica mechanical fuel injection and twin electronic ignition, the Montreal’s engine was good for 230 hp at 6,500 rpm. At 1.25 horsepower per cubic inch it had to have been one of the highest specific output street production engines ever, even though it was detuned from the racing version, with a significantly reduced compression ratio. Performance was brisk, for the era, with a top speed of 137 mph and a 0-62 mph time of 7.1 seconds. To slow the car from that speed, vacuum assisted disc brakes were fitted at all four wheels. The Montreal braking system also featured two hydraulic circuits, a safety feature that became fairly standard as the 1960s went on.

Most of the 3,700 or so Montreals had recirculating ball steering boxes while the 180 right hand drive models had worm and roller steering units. Intended for long drives on the autostrada, not for ten tenths handling, the Montreal has a live axle in back while the front suspension features lower A arms with upper transverse and longitudinal links. Wheels were 14 inch Turbina made by Campagnolo out of their proprietary Elektron aluminum and magnesium alloy. They were so popular that Alfa would later use the same style wheel on Alfettas and Spiders.

It took four years for the Montreal to reach production, which started in 1971. Though it was expensive, about $10,000 (4,200 pounds in the UK), about $1,000 more than the Porsche 911E, it sold fairly well until the oil crisis of 1973.

Full gallery here

The Montreal’s interior has a classic Italian configuration for drivers with long arms and short legs. Note the canted steering wheel. Full gallery here

Despite being named after a city in the New World, the Montreal was never officially marketed in North America. As a result it’s estimated that there are only about 100 examples in the U.S. As mentioned, less than 5% of Montreals built had the steering wheel on the right hand side. That makes this 1974 RHD Montreal particularly rare to see on this side of the pond. For a car with just 20,000 miles on the odometer, it’s been particularly well traveled. Originally delivered in Australia, this Montreal now calls the Detroit area its home, owned by Karl and Vivienne Robinson of Bloomfield Hills. Mr. and Mrs. Robinson’s Alfa Romeo (sorry, but I couldn’t resist, Katherine Ross’s enigmatic smile on the bus in the final scene sticks in my mind) was photographed this past summer at the Ford Product Development Center employees’ car show.

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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Saturn on the Down Low, a Progress Report http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/saturn-low-progress-report/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/saturn-low-progress-report/#comments Sun, 21 Dec 2014 15:26:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=963042 It’s taken a while to get started on the project to make my daily driver Saturn SL1 into a better handling car. I had the parts but it took a few weeks to be able to get the work scheduled at a shop that was willing to install my own components. Now that the work […]

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20141218_142829It’s taken a while to get started on the project to make my daily driver Saturn SL1 into a better handling car. I had the parts but it took a few weeks to be able to get the work scheduled at a shop that was willing to install my own components. Now that the work has been done and I’ve been able to drive the car in varying conditions, it’s time for a progress report. The short version is that I’m pleased with the results. For the long version, continue reading after the break.

With 100,000 miles on the odometer, it turned out that there was more work needed than I thought, though I wasn’t surprised. In addition to the struts, shocks and CV joint that needed replacement, and a perforated flexpipe in the exhaust system, I asked them to check on a noise that I thought was a groaning power steering pump but turned out to be a worn left front wheel bearing, which makes a lot more sense than a pump that made noise only when turning left. The work was done well, as far as I can tell, but my opinion of the shop went down after I took the car to an alignment specialist.

In addition to replacing the worn components, I also had H&R “sport” springs installed on the car. The fronts are about 50% stiffer than the stock springs, while the backs are about twice as stiff as the OEM ones. The are lower, too, but it’s a modest drop of 1.3″ in the back and 1.4″ in the front. Because of the lowered suspension, care has to be taken to keep the wheels aligned. The KYB GR2/Excell G struts are designed with an oval mounting hole that allows the suspension to be adjusted to within factory camber settings, but when I got the car back it obviously needed aligning. The steering wheel was about 15 degrees from center when traveling in a straight line.

Fortunately, there’s an alignment specialist shop, Wetmore’s, just a few minutes from my house. I’ve written about Wetmore’s before, or more properly, about their building, which was originally a Packard dealership and features a car sticking out from a second story balcony. There are repairs and modifications that I’d do myself, and stuff that I can do but is too much of a PITA, like brakes and exhaust work, so I go to a general mechanic for that work,  but I’ve always left alignment to the experts (electrical work, too).

Wetmore’s reported that not only was the front end off kilter, the car also needed a full four-wheel alignment because apparently lowering the car messed up the rear geometry. That didn’t bother me, since I figured the car would need to be aligned after the initial work, but when they went to align the front end, there was a worn left lower ball joint (possibly related to the worn bearing or vice versa). That was disappointing. Not just because this project is about a better handling car, but mostly because I had specifically asked the first shop to check for any and all worn suspension parts. They found the bad wheel bearing but didn’t notice a ball joint that Wetmore’s said you could feel just by grabbing the tire. Oh well, my work is rarely perfect either (and I apologize for any superfluous apostrophes in some of the the “it’s” in this post – I know the rules about apostrophes but homonyms are stored in adjacent locations on my bio hard drive).

I’ve been picking the brains of my colleagues and when I asked Jack Baruth about alternate suspension settings for quicker steering response, he cautioned against it, citing the dangers of a darting car on icy Michigan roads. It turned out that they gave the car two or three degrees more negative camber than is the exact factory setting, but it was “still in the green”, i.e. within acceptable tolerances, on their equipment.

Speaking of my colleagues, Sajeev Mehta didn’t think the lowered and stiffened suspension was a great idea. Michigan roads aren’t just icy in winter, they’re in terrible shape year round. The state legislature just passed a measure to put a sales tax increase on the ballot to fund over a billion dollars in highway reconstruction in the state. Sajeev thought that the stiffer suspension would be punishing. My conclusion after a couple of weeks of driving on a variety of surfaces, including some of the worst roads that I drive on, is that ride quality is a wash or maybe even improved a little.

While the ride is unquestionably firmer, with the old shocks being worn, the springs weren’t being dampened and the car bounced a lot. I’ll trade an occasional jarring hit from a pothole in exchange for getting rid of the pogo effect. If you asked me to provide some kind of benchmark, without driving them back to back it’s not conclusive but my subjective impression based on memory is that the Dodge Dart GT that I reviewed earlier this year had a stiffer ride overall than how the lowered Saturn is. Overall, the suspension feels more controlled. On the freeway it smooths out nicely.

This wasn’t about ride quality, though. It’s about handling and the difference is significant, though I have to say that there have been a lot of variables changed, including swapping out the all-season Cooper tires for some Bridgestone Blizzaks. Blizzaks are pretty high performance for winter tires, though, so my guess is that if anything, they handle better even in dry conditions than the Coopers. When spring comes, I’ll have a followup report on when the Dunlop Direzzas mounted on 15″ wheels (the stock rims are 14s) go on the car.

For right now, the car handles much better. There’s much less body roll, it’s minimal now. The car turns in a little bit faster, but it holds its line much better than before. I’m finding that I have to dial in less steering – previously all of that lean made the car’s understeer worse. There is slightly less self-centering and I want to see if that changes with the Direzzas or if it’s a question of settings. The improvements are noticeable in most driving conditions. Lane changes on the freeway are now fun and now I can even dive bomb that slightly banked corner near my house.

I also like how the car looks. It’s got a little bit more rake and around the tires there’s less of a pants-up-around-your-ankles look, but for the most part it still looks very stock. You have to put it side by side (or back to back as in the photo above) with a stock SL1 to notice that it sits lower (mine is the blue one on the left). From the wheel it’s only slightly noticeable that you’re sitting closer to the ground. If I was six inches taller, I’d be a six-footer so I’m rather used to looking up at things.  I do, however, notice it when getting into the car. We get use to particular perspectives, like the relationship between the floor, the height of the porcelain rim, and the resulting angle, at least for the half of humanity that micturates in an upright position. When about to sit in the car, it does appear to be lower.

What next? Well, there are those aforementioned Dunlop summer tires, and since starting the project I’ve found out that the Saturn S series cars with the twin cam engines were spec’d with a rear sway bar and a front bar that’s thicker than in the SOHC equipped cars. I checked at the nearest pull & pick auto salvage yard and the parts are available there, along with the rear disc brake setup that was available on some models. That will probably have to wait until spring because the idea of pulling parts in sub-freezing weather doesn’t sound very appealing.

I’ll probably start with the rear sway bar. Speaking of which, if you have a Saturn S with a rear bar, check the links. About half of the cars I spotted at the junkyard that had a rear sway bar also had at least one broken link that was supposed to be connecting it to the suspension. If adding a rear sway bar doesn’t make the car too stiff, I’ll swap out the front for the thicker DOHC one. I’m still not convinced that the disc brake swap is worth it, though. It’s a straightforward swap and I don’t have to worry about brake bias since neither the rear drum equipped cars nor the four wheel disc Saturn S cars came with brake proportioning valves. They have the same hydraulics, the only difference are wheel cylinders vs calipers. If I don’t go with the disc brake mod, I’ll look into performance brake pads and shoes (though I’m guessing that nobody makes performance brake shoes today).

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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A Car So Personal Virgil Exner Named It After Himself, the Plymouth XNR http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/car-personal-virgil-exner-named-plymouth-xnr/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/car-personal-virgil-exner-named-plymouth-xnr/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=949705 In the late 1950s, when Chrysler executives asked Virgil Exner Sr to show them what could be done with a highly personalized future car for the popularly priced Plymouth brand, the Chrysler design chief took them at their word and came up with something so personal that he named it XNR, after himself. One of a […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

In the late 1950s, when Chrysler executives asked Virgil Exner Sr to show them what could be done with a highly personalized future car for the popularly priced Plymouth brand, the Chrysler design chief took them at their word and came up with something so personal that he named it XNR, after himself. One of a series of Chrysler Corp show cars built by Ghia in Italy, the XNR was based on the compact Valiant chassis. Unlike many of the other Exner-Ghia concepts that featured Mopar’s marquee motor, the Hemi, the XNR is powered by a souped up version of what would in time become venerable but what was then a new engine, the Slant Six. With its asymmetrical and quirky styling, the little speedster is quite an interesting car, but its provenance, which includes being both Exner’s and the Shah of Iran’s personal vehicles and surviving a Mideast civil war, is even more interesting.

As with Harley Earl’s Buick Y-Job and Bill Mitchell’s Stingray, two concept cars that were also their designer’s personal rides, Exner designed himself a sporty open car. Some call it a roadster but speedster seems more appropriate since as far as the sources indicate, it never had any kind of roof, hardtop or soft.

Sports cars are generally not as big as sedans so the XNR was fabricated on an altered Valiant chassis with a 106.5″ wheelbase and it’s torsion bar suspension up front.  The relatively high-revving Slant Six, in its original 170 cubic inch displacement, earned its name because it lays 30 degrees from upright. One of the XNR’s inspirations were the “lay-down” Watson Indy racers whose Offenhauser engines were also canted over. The Slant Six allowed for the XNR’s sleek hood. With a four barrel carburetor, the 170 CI engine was good for 250 horsepower and as assembled with a manual 3 speed transmission with a floor shifter, the XNR saw 146 mph on the Chrysler test track. Eager to see the 150 mph mark, Exner had engineer Dick Burke design and build a “shark nose” mouth for the front end with a shrouded radiator cooled by electric fans. The modified XNR reached 153 mph at the company proving grounds. The Slant Six’s 6 into 1 exhaust manifold was replaced by a custom cast header with two outlets, one for each of the visible side pipes, both of them mounted, again asymmetrically, on the driver’s side. In addition to the bigger carb and special tuned exhaust system, the Slant Six in the XNR was fitted with a Hyperpak tuned ram intake manifold, a ported cylinder head, special cam and special pistons.

Polarizing in its day and still a bit radical, the XNR has an asymmetrical design. A chrome bumper flush to the sheet metal surrounds a drilled grille inset with quad headlamps, a touch that seems to me to be inspired by trends in the custom car world at the time. An offset scoop, with its own matching drilled grille, dominates the hood and the lines of that scoop fair into the cowl and driver’s windshield and then flow elegantly into a single offset fin that Virgil Exner Jr. a successful car designer in his own right, said was inspired by the Jaguar D-Type. Nominally a two-seater, the passenger was protected by a flat, Brooklands style windshield. When not carrying two, that screen folded down and an aerodynamic and snug fitting steel tonneau was installed to cover the passenger seat. In keeping with the asymmetry theme, and perhaps as a nod towards aerodynamics, the passenger seat sits four inches lower than the driver’s seat. The shape of the wheel wells and winglet fenders would later show up on the production Valiant. Exner neatly tucked possibly aircraft-inspired running lights under the front winglets.

An elegant styling touch is the way the bladed rear bumper incorporates a vertical element that is integrated into the car’s monofin. That vertical element is mirrored by one that drops below the bumper line. The resulting star shape is eye catching to say the least.

After Exner and his team did sketches in 1958 and the following year, a 3/8ths scale clay model was sculpted in Detroit. That model and the modified Valiant unibody was shipped to Ghia in Turin. Ghia and Chrysler had a very successful relationship in the 1950s, with the Italian coachbuilder fabricating most of the company’s high profile concept cars. As was Ghia’s practice with those Chrysler “idea cars”, the XNR’s body was made of hand formed steel.

While Chrysler hype that the car might see production was typical of the day, the XNR was fully engineered and featured a complete black leather interior. While there was a small trunk lid in back, it was easier to access storage for luggage from behind the seats. Instrumentation reflected Exner’s passion for photography, with dial covers that mimic camera lenses.

Once built, the XNR was shipped to the United States where it went on the show circuit, appearing on Road & Track’s cover. Exner drove it as much as he could but after it was no longer needed as a show car prohibitive customs tariffs meant that it had to either be crushed or returned to Italy to Carrozzeria Ghia. “My dad wanted to buy it,” Exner Jr. says, “but if it had stayed in the U.S., it would have to have been destroyed.”

That’s where the story gets interesting. A man from Switzerland, variously identified by the sources as either a businessman or a butcher, bought the XNR from Ghia. He sold it to a man named Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, a Persian collector of rare automobiles better known as the Shah of Iran. The Shah was still ensconced on the Peacock Throne when he sold it to a Kuwaiti, as evidenced by a May 1969 issue of National Geographic magazine that had a photograph of the XNR representing Kuwait’s affluence. It was sold again in the early 1970s to a Lebanese collector. To protect the one of a kind vehicle, the owner hid it in an underground garage for the duration of the Lebanese Civil War that raged from 1975 to 1991.

Karim Edde is a personable Lebanese man who started collecting cars when he was just 15 years old, in 1977,  inheriting the hobby from his father. Trying to find classic sports during a civil war proved to be a challenge. By the ’80s Edde was paying local teenagers in Beirut “…go on their scooters to search the underground garages in the upscale areas—I was looking for Ferraris—and one day, they were all excited about a ‘weird’ car they’d found in a garage just 200 meters from my home. I recognized the XNR from a Swiss book I owned called Dream Cars.”

Though there was a war raging, Edde immediately bought the XNR. That presented him with another challenge: how to keep it safe during the conflict. “I hid the XNR in an underground warehouse,” he told RM Auctions, “that seemed safe at the time, but when the conflict became more global, I had to move it to a different location. In fact, the last two years of the war were so bad, I had to move the car many times to save it from destruction. We had no flat bed trucks, so we used long arm tow trucks to lift the car and put it on a truck and move it around. It was a delicate operation, but we had no choice, we had to move the car to safer locations. After the war ended, the car waited patiently for me to find a restorer that could bring back its past glory.”

Eventually, Edde decided on using RM’s restoration subsidiary in Ontario, Canada, which started work on a two year restoration in the spring of 2009. The car was finished in time for the 2011 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, where it won best in class.

Restoring a one-off car can be harder than doing a similar quality job on a production vehicle. Mario Van Raay, general manager of RM Restoration says, “When we received the XNR in 2008, the body shell was intact and, considering its history, in surprisingly good condition. Many original parts accompanied the XNR, but our greatest challenge was the re-creation of the missing components. Considering that this was a concept car, there was incredible attention to detail, right down to the fine leather interior, beautiful instrument cluster, and custom built hubcaps. Each hubcap was comprised of 35 individual metal pieces. We had to completely scratch-build those hubcaps. Because of the extensive information and many high quality photos available, we could not take any liberties when re-manufacturing all these components. They had to be exact.”

The restoration was aided immensely by access to Virgil Exner Sr’s archive of documentation for the XNR, provided by his son.

Edde put the XNR up for auction in 2012 (again through the RM organization) where it sold for $935,000 to Paul Gould, a New York investment banker. Gould also owns another Exner/Ghia concept car, the Dart Diablo. Both cars were on display at the 2014 Concours of America at St. John’s, which was honoring Virgil Exner Sr as the show’s “featured designer”. In addition to the two concepts an entire class at the concours was devoted to Exner era Mopars.

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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Forward Look Fargo (and Sweptside Dodge): Trucks With Fins http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/forward-look-fargo-sweptside-dodge-trucks-fins/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/forward-look-fargo-sweptside-dodge-trucks-fins/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 15:17:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=958945 By 1957, not only had Ford and Chevy brought modern styling to their traditional pickup truck lines but Ford had also introduced the Ranchero car based pickup and Chevy featured the Cameo Carrier, a conventional pickup that sported many automobile styling trends. Dodge’s trucks, in comparison, were starting to look a bit dowdy. The solution […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

By 1957, not only had Ford and Chevy brought modern styling to their traditional pickup truck lines but Ford had also introduced the Ranchero car based pickup and Chevy featured the Cameo Carrier, a conventional pickup that sported many automobile styling trends. Dodge’s trucks, in comparison, were starting to look a bit dowdy. The solution was to create the Sweptside pickup, with tailfins that emulated Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner Sr’s “Forward Look”, which fully flowered in the ’57 model year. One could be forgiven for assuming that the Sweptside Dodge and the nearly identical Fargo trucks sold in Canada were the product of Exner’s design studio. That wasn’t the case. Supposedly “Ex” wasn’t even interested in restyling the  trucks. In fact the Sweptside pickups had nothing to do with Chrysler’s design team. They were the result of a parts-bin project of Joe Berr, the head of Dodge’s Special Equipment Group.

The Special Equipment Group was something akin to General Motor’s Central Office Production Order, or COPO system that resulted in some legendary limited production muscle cars. Dodge’s group was tasked with modifying production trucks for fleet customers or even individual customers, and the SEG had the power to make whatever changes in a vehicle it wanted to, even going over the heads of factory engineers. The only condition was that operator or passenger safety could not be compromised.

When Chrysler brass wanted Dodge, then ranked #5 in pickup sales with just 7% of the market, to sell a more stylish truck, Berr came up with a clever plan. He procured the finned quarter panels from a 1957 Dodge two door station wagon and had them welded to the fenders of  a cargo bed for the recently designed long wheelbase half ton pickup. The wagon’s rear bumper was also used, and they modified the truck tailgate so it wouldn’t interfere with the new fenders. Unique chrome trim was added to tie it all together and the result was spiffed up with a contemporary two tone paint job and whitewall tires.

When the prototypes were shown to Dodge dealers they demanded the Sweptside go into production but it never sold well. The conversions were essentially done by hand, not on an assembly line. For 1958, the feature was made available in Fargo trim. About 2,000 D100 Sweptside Dodges and Fargos were made during the 1957, 1958 and 1959 model years, though the number of Canadian models produced was miniscule, reportedly only 11 trucks. The Sweptsides were not particularly practical work trucks since the beds were narrower than on non Sweptside models. Production ended in January of 1959

The fins weren’t the only way the Forward Look was applied to pickups. The front fenders were reshaped to duplicate the hooded headlamps on the Forward Look cars and chrome trim was added to accentuate that look. The old fashioned two piece center hinged hood was replaced with a contemporary one piece hood. To go with the more modern look, Dodge trucks also offered an automatic transmission for the first time in 1957.

While conventional 1950s Dodge pickups are a relative bargain when compared to the escalating prices on ’50s Ford and Chevy trucks, that’s not true of the Sweptside models. Also, with only a couple thousand that were made, there are few survivors today. Sweptside enthusiasts estimate that about 165 still exist, about half of them 1957 models. Their rarity and visual distinction has made them very collectible so if you want a truck with fins, be prepared to peel off quite a few “fins” from your bankroll.

DM1002

If you love the Sweptside look but can’t afford a full size example, Danbury Mint made a model of the 1957 Dodge. They’re usually red and white, the most popular color combination on the 1957-59 Sweptline, but Danbury also issued them in green and white as well. You might also be able to find the Christmas tree ornament that Hallmark released a few years ago that features a Dodge Sweptline with a tree in the bed. The Hallmark truck is small enough that if you want to, you could display it in the bed of the Danbury edition. Then you’d have something really meta to put on the air cleaner at auto shows should you buy a real Sweptside.

$_35

These two trucks, both of them from the 1958 model year, were photographed at the Concours of America at St. John’s, as part of that show’s Jet Age Pickup Trucks class.

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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TTAC Readers Call it: Town & Country Troubles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/ttac-readers-call-town-country-troubles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/ttac-readers-call-town-country-troubles/#comments Sat, 06 Dec 2014 20:28:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=955890 Way back on August 13, 2013, just two comments into the discussion in which I trumpeted to the world the selection of the Chrysler Town and Country S as the chariot of choice for the mid-size Kreutzer family, user “Infinitime” wrote: The only hesitation I have about buying a Caravan when the time comes, is […]

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Way back on August 13, 2013, just two comments into the discussion in which I trumpeted to the world the selection of the Chrysler Town and Country S as the chariot of choice for the mid-size Kreutzer family, user “Infinitime” wrote: The only hesitation I have about buying a Caravan when the time comes, is their propensity to use the most fragile components for the automatic transmission. Hopefully, the design of the new six-speed has finally addressed this concern. Well, here we are just a year and three months later and I am forced to acknowledge the wisdom of the best and the brightest and ponder, once again, why it is that transmissions always seem to grenade on rainy, crappy days.

Over the past few months I have been off pursuing a master’s degree and have been unable to contribute to our favorite website. Recent events, however, have demanded that I break my self-imposed hiatus to bring you news that, as several astute readers predicted, the transmission in my Town & Country did, in fact, give up the ghost with less than 12K easy miles on the clock. While checking on the repairs a couple of days later, I was shown the transmission oil pan and snapped a photo of what appears to be a dead sea-urchin. How that creature found its way into my transmission is a mystery at this point, but the effects of its arrival were catastrophic.

Transmission urchin

It started a few weeks ago. I noticed that the van hesitated when I was backing up a small slope. It went, but it acted almost like I had forgotten to release the emergency brake. After that we went on our merry way without any difficulties. Then, a day or two before the transmission decided to leave us stranded, I backed out of the garage, made a full stop, and shifted into drive. The transmission gave a mighty metallic thump and went into gear. I probably should have had it looked at then, but since there seemed to be no follow-on effects, we continued to drive the vehicle for another week.

The day the transmission died involved a trip to our local mall. We left home and made the 30 minute drive without trouble, but after a brief stop at Target we were greeted by a high pitched whine, similar to what your power steering pump might do when the fluid gets low, when I restarted the engine. We ran a couple of blocks up the street to have lunch and when we came back out the whine began again as we made our way out to the street. As we turned onto the main road the van struggled forward and then all momentum dropped off while the RPMs went up. After a couple of minutes of fiddling with the gear selector and revving the engine, I was able to get enough momentum to get us off the street and into a parking spot from which I called Chrysler roadside assistance.

If there is a good side to this story, it’s that Chrysler roadside assistance got us a tow truck in short order. Because there are five of us, including three in booster seats, we weren’t able to get a large taxi right away but, after making a few calls, I was able to summon a friend who could come and take the family home while I waited for the tow truck. After dropping me at home the driver, who told me he makes a lot of money hauling around late model Dodge and Chrysler minivans, took it to the dealer and left it on their lot.

T&C Back

Ten days later, after a full transmission rebuild, the van came home. Since its return, we’ve used it for errands around town and taken a couple of trips out onto faster roads in the country just to make sure things are normal. To my local Chrysler shop’s credit, the van seems like it runs better than ever and shifts so smoothly you can’t even feel the gear changes. Chrysler, of course, picked up the entire bill under their 5 year/100,000 mile warranty program but I am hoping that this is the last of it.

It’s no secret to regular readers that I am a Mopar guy. Over the past 25 years I have owned several used Dodge and Chrysler products and this van is the second Chrysler product I have purchased new. I can tell you from personal experience that the quality of Chrysler products has definitely climbed over the past two decades but this latest experience, especially when I consider the fact that TTAC’s readers expressed this exact concern at the time of my purchase, takes away some of my warm and fuzzies. I wrote when I purchased it that I intend to have this vehicle a long, long time and that it will likely follow me around the world and home again. Reliability is important to me and despite the fact that Chrysler’s quality is improving, it seems to me that they still have some work to do.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Leavenworth, Kansas 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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Bugatti Royale: The Most Magnificent Car In The World? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/bugatti-royale-magnificent-car-world/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/bugatti-royale-magnificent-car-world/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 18:30:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=951737 Our friends over at Jalopnik ran a post on cars so important to you that you’d make a pilgrimage to see them. I really can’t quibble with the ten *cars that made their final cut, mostly because I’ve seen and photographed three of them myself, a Chrysler Turbine Car, the Gulf Oil liveried Ford GT40 that twice […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

Our friends over at Jalopnik ran a post on cars so important to you that you’d make a pilgrimage to see them. I really can’t quibble with the ten *cars that made their final cut, mostly because I’ve seen and photographed three of them myself, a Chrysler Turbine Car, the Gulf Oil liveried Ford GT40 that twice won at LeMans, and a Bugatti Royale. Now fortunately for me, my pilgrimage to see those cars didn’t involve crossing an ocean or getting on an airplane. It was more like getting on the Southfield freeway and driving 20 minutes to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearbon, Michigan. The museum is surely pilgrimage-worthy as it owns one of the eight extant Chrysler Turbines, one of the six Bugatti Royales that were made, and for a while the 1968-69 LeMans winner was in the museum’s Racing In America exhibit while the 1967 LeMans winning Ford Mk IV was being repaired. We recently looked at the Mk IV and not long ago featured the Gulf colored GT40, plus the Chrysler Turbine cars are pretty well known, so this is a good opportunity to talk about the Bugatti Royale.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Start the video and click on the settings icon to select 2D or your choice of 3D formats

There are cars that are special. If you get a chance to see a Duesenberg Model J with your own eyes, you immediately understand why “It’s a Duesey!” became an idiom for supreme excellence. Likewise, a Cord 810, so low slung and radical for its day, will grab your eyes when sitting a midst the Packards and Cadillacs of that era. The same is true of the 1956 Continental Mark II, considered one of the most beautiful cars ever made, hand assembled with visible build quality. Any one of those cars could be the centerpiece of a magnificent car collection, so it takes a superbly magnificent automobile to make a Duesenberg, a Cord and a Continental look almost ordinary, a little less special. The Ford museum’s Bugatti Royale sits right next to those illustrious automobiles and it does exactly that. Duesenbergs are large, impressive cars, but it’s possible that when the word massive was coined, it was waiting for the Royale to illustrate its dictionary entry. It’s not just big, it is a beautiful and stunning piece of human creation.

Ferraris have a prancing horse. Bugattis have a prancing elephant, sculpted by Ettore Bugatti's brother, Rembrandt Bugatti. Full gallery here.

Ferraris have a prancing horse. Bugattis have a dancing elephant, sculpted by Ettore Bugatti’s brother, Rembrandt Bugatti. Full gallery here.

Ettore Bugatti planned to build 25 Royales, also known as the Type 41, hoping to sell them, as the name indicated, to royalty. Unfortunately for Bugatti, the Great Depression had depressed the market for $30,000 automobiles, a bit more than a half million 2014 U.S. dollars. By comparison, when the Ford V8 was introduced in 1932 it’s starting price was $495. Henry Ford sold over 300,000 cars in 1932. Ettore Bugatti ended up making only 6 Royales and while ’32 Fords are indeed some of the most collectible cars you’ll find, the Bugatti Royale takes collectible a few quantum leaps higher.

Of those six Royales, two of them are in the French national automobile museum, the confiscated Schlumpf brothers’ collection. Volkswagen, which owns the Bugatti brand, owns a third. A fourth is in a private collection in Switzerland and the fifth is part of the Blackhawk collection. So if you want to see a Bugatti Royale, you’re going to have to go to either Europe or California… or Detroit. Well, properly speaking Dearborn. As mentioned, the Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America exhibit contains a number of great and historically significant cars, but the jewel in the collection has to be Bugatti chassis no. 41-121, known as the Cabriolet Weinberger. 41-121 has a colorful history, traveling all around the world before ending up in Dearborn.

Ordered for his personal use by Dr. Joseph Fuchs, a German who was successful at both his vocation, medicine, and his avocation, racing cars. Delivered in 1931, Dr. Fuchs contracted with the Weinberger coachbuilding company of Munich to body the the 169.3-inch wheelbase chassis. He took delivery the following year.

Soon after Adolph Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany and the Nazis came to power in 1933, Fuchs first went to Switzerland before traveling on to Shanghai, China, then a pretty wide open city. When considering refugees from the Nazis and their connection to Shanghai, one might conclude that Dr. Fuchs may have been Jewish, but none of my research indicates that he was other than a German who didn’t like the Nazis.

Fuchs had the massive car shipped to China but in 1937, with imperial Japanese soldiers advancing in the south of China he left Asia for North America, first moving to Canada and then to New York City. The winter of 1937-38 was a cold one in the Big Apple and the block for the model J’s 12.7 liter straight eight engine froze up and cracked. After unsuccessfully trying to sell it the car was sold for scrap to a junkyard in the Bronx.

One of the things that made Bugattis advanced for their day was the extensive use of aluminum. Amazingly, the aluminum intensive car survived early World War II era scrap drives.

In 1943, Charles Chayne, the chief engineer for Buick and one of the pioneers of the car collecting hobby, found out about the junkyard Bugatti and bought it, shipping it back to Detroit. Following the end of hostilities, in 1946 he started to repair the engine and restore the Bugatti in general, finishing it the following year.

Today we’d call it a restomod because Chayne wanted it to be a driver, not a museum piece. He replaced the original single carburetor with four Stromberg units mounted on a custom intake manifold (possibly of his own design). For all of his advanced ideas, Ettore Bugatti was set in his ways and he never stopped using mechanically activated brakes (Henry Ford also was a fan of mechanical brakes). To drive the car safely Chayne had the braking system swtiched to hydraulics. The car’s original black finish was repainted in oyster white, with a contrasting dark character stripe featuring Chayne’s monogram on the door. A tall man, Chayne also modified the interior to fit him better.

Charles and Esther Chayne donated the Bugatti Royale Weinberger Cabriolet to the Henry Ford Museum in late 1950s. For most of the time since then it’s been on static display but seven years ago the museum hired Classic & Exotic Services, a high end Detroit area restoration shop to get it running so it could be driven onto the show field at the Meadow Brook Concours (now the Concours of America at St. John’s).

Many people who have never visited the Henry Ford Museum are under the mistaken impression that its transportation collection must focus on Ford automobiles. While there certainly are many historically significant Fords, it’s a well curated museum that gives credit wherever it is due. If you make an automtive pilgrimage to the Dearborn museum, you’ll see marques from around the world of cars and trucks, so it shouldn’t surprise you that one of biggest stars of Henry Ford’s museum’s collection is a French masterpiece with Buick connections.

*The top ten pilgrimage cars post at Jalopnik lists a Type 57 Bugatti as being at the Henry Ford Museum, but something must have gotten lost in translation because the commenter credited with making that suggestion actually mentioned the Bugatti Royale at the Ford museum, not a Type 57 (you can see a Type 57 Bugatti that was a best-of-show winner at Amelia Island in 2012 here). As far as I’ve been able to determine, the Henry Ford Museum does not have a Type 57 in its collection. Also, the Jalopnik article says that you can see the 1968-69 LeMans winning Gulf livery Ford GT40 at the Henry Ford Museum but, as was pointed out in a recent TTAC post and mentioned above, that car was on temporary loan to the Henry Ford while the museum’s own 1967 LeMans winning Gurney/Foyt Ford Mk IV was being repaired and preserved. Now that the Mk IV has been fixed, the Gulf liveried car has been returned to its owner.

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 Gurney Bubble and Gurney’s Bubbly http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/gurney-bubble-gurneys-bubbly/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/gurney-bubble-gurneys-bubbly/#comments Sat, 15 Nov 2014 17:02:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=945265 A while back we ran a post on the Gulf Oil liveried 1968 & 1969 LeMans winning Ford GT40 that was temporarily on loan for display at the Racing in America exhibit of The Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America section. The reason for that loan was that the car that normally occupies that corner of […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

A while back we ran a post on the Gulf Oil liveried 1968 & 1969 LeMans winning Ford GT40 that was temporarily on loan for display at the Racing in America exhibit of The Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America section. The reason for that loan was that the car that normally occupies that corner of the exhibit, the Ford Mk IV that won LeMans in 1967, was at Dan Gurney’s All American Racers shop in California getting a sensitive repair and conservation. That job has now been completed and the Mk IV is now back on display at the Dearborn, Michigan museum, just in time to be rejoined by Mr. Gurney.

Click here to view the embedded video.

It was appropriate that Gurney’s company was contracted to work on the car. It was Gurney who drove it to victory at LeMans with co-driver A.J. Foyt. It was also appropriate that the company is named “All American”. Henry Ford II was determined to, as Carroll Shelby put it, “kick Ferrari’s ass”. Enzo Ferrari had strung the Deuce along when the Dearborn automaker wanted to buy the Italian sports and car manufacturer in the early 1960s. When Henry Ford’s grandson realized that Enzo had no intention of selling, certainly not to an American, Ford II vowed to humiliate Ferrari on the race track. It took a while but eventually Ford won at LeMans four years running, eclipsing Ferrari’s star in that form of racing for a while.

Though Ford’s “total performance” marketing effort included a variety of racing formats, Ford didn’t make sports cars, or at least nothing that would do at LeMans, an important race to Ferrari, the man and the company.To kick start Ford’s LeMans effort, Ford contracted with Eric Broadley and his Lola company to start developing a midengine sports racer. While the GT40 as it turned out to be, was not, in fact, a rebadged Lola, the GT40 project was based in the UK and that’s where the cars were built.

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After some embarrassing fits and starts, it all came together in 1966 for an iconic (and staged) 1,2, 3 finish for Ford at LeMans. Henry Ford II, though, was not satisfied. The winning car was piloted by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, Kiwis from New Zealand. Ford wanted an all-American effort. By then, the next generation racer, known internally as the “J Car” was being developed, in Dearborn. One of the first race cars in the 1960s to bear the fruits of wind tunnel testing, what became known as the Mk IV (contemporary records indicate that Ford avoided calling it the GT40 Mk IV, simply the Mk IV) would go on to compete in only two races as rules and corporate interests changed, but it had a perfect record, first winning the 12 hour race at Sebring, Florida and then the summer round the clock race in France. Though it’s shape was refined aerodynamically, it was built just before external wings and other aero devices became commonplace, so while there are NACA ducts, a spoiler and other devices to manage air flow, it’s still a very attractive racing car.

Gurney was having quite possibly the best week of his illustrious racing career. Before winning with Foyt in a Ford at LeMans, Gurney won the Formula 1 race at Spa in Belgium in one of his own Eagles. Not only was it the only time in history that an American won a F1 race in an American car, it is also still the only time in F1 history that a driver has won a race that he constructed. Then he won at LeMans, so he was understandably happy. On the podium, Gurney says that he was “so stoked” that he started to spray the Deuce and other dignitaries with the winners’ champagne, starting a racing tradition that continues, like Gurney’s record in F1, until today.

Spray-It-Again-Dan-Gurney-Poster

One note, though. I’ve sometimes seen it said that Gurney’s spraying of the bubbly started a tradition for sports championships in general. While Gurney introduced the practice to motorsports, he was likely familiar with it from how American baseball teams celebrated winning the pennant and the World Series. North American professional sports teams have been celebrating with champagne for a long time. I’m sure that Lord Stanley’s cup saw at least its share of champagne before the summer of 1967, and I don’t know how many Detroit Tigers were racing fans who saw Gurney’s celebration the year before, but their locker room celebration after winning the American League pennant in 1968 featured plenty of champagne being poured on team members and being sprayed around the room.

Full gallery here

You can see the Gurney bubble on the driver’s side of the roof. Full gallery here

Speaking of bubbles, the 1967 Mk IV is notable for the “Gurney bubble” in its roof. Unlike the “Gurney flap”, which dramatically increased speeds at Indianapolis, the Gurney bubble was not an aerodynamic aid, but rather an accommodation for Gurney’s tall, lanky frame. If you go to any top shelf racing events, you’ll notice that professional race car drivers tend to be a bit like thoroughbred horse jockeys, short and thin. Gurney was an exception (I once asked racing journalist Robin Miller if there were any other tall guys racing besides Michael Waltrip and he replied, “I thought we were talking about racers”).

Dan Gurney taking the checkered flag at LeMans, 1967.

Dan Gurney taking the checkered flag at LeMans, 1967.

When they were developing the prototype and Gurney tried the cockpit on for size, he had to tilt his head just to fit, so the fabricators at Kar Kraft, Ford’s protofab shop in Dearborn, gave that chassis’ roof a bump. The Gurney bubble (not to be confused with a Zagato bubble) is actually pretty complex, going together from contours on the roof panel, the door, and the engine cowl. You may notice that the steering wheel is on the right hand side of the car, which explains why the bubble is on that side of the roof. Though the Mk IV has right hand drive, it was indeed made in the USA.

The LeMans winning Mk IV was back on display at the Ford museum in time for a gala affair honoring Dan Gurney, now 83, on the occasion of being awarded the Edison-Ford medal for his status as a racing innovator.

Henry Ford and his friend, mentor and former employer, Thomas Alva Edison at Greenfield Village.

Henry Ford and his friend, mentor and former employer, Thomas Alva Edison, at Greenfield Village.

Now if you’re under the age of 30 and someone mentions the name Tom Edison, you may be partly excused for associating the inventor-industrialist with the word “douchebag” and the electrocution of elephants as a PR stunt to convince the public that Tesla’s alternating current was dangerous. Edison and his backers were heavily invested in supplying direct current electricity. Yes, Edison was a businessman who did what he could to make himself more powerful. Yes, Nikola Tesla was a brilliant man. Both of those things are true. It’s also true that Edison and his employees in many ways helped invent the modern world and that Mr. Tesla, brilliant though he was, was also bat-guano crazy.

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Henry Ford didn’t think Thomas Edison was a douchebag. Henry virtually worshiped the inventor. Edison’s lab at Menlo Park was moved to what is now Greenfield Village. Before it was called The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, Henry Ford first named it The Edison Institute in honor of his friend, mentor and onetime employer at the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit. Henry even spent about a million and a half 1914 era dollars on trying to perfect an electric car powered by Edison’s then new nickel-iron batteries.

Irving Bacon's rendition of the Light's Golden Jubilee banquet in 1929 honoring Thomas Edison. Image courtesy of The Henry Ford.

Irving Bacon’s rendition of the Light’s Golden Jubilee banquet in 1929 honoring Thomas Edison. Image courtesy of The Henry Ford.

A couple of years before Dan Gurney was born, in 1929, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Edison’s electric light bulb Henry Ford held a “Light’s Golden Jubilee” celebration at the opening of the Edison Institute, and invited just about every notable industrialist and scientist to the banquet at his museum honoring Edison. Nine years later, Ford commissioned painter Irving Bacon to memorialize the event with a large oil painting featuring all of the honored guests. It took Bacon seven years to complete the 17′ by 7′ painting that now hangs in the museum’s concourse. Say what you will about Henry Ford and Thomas Edison as human beings, it must have been a remarkable event, with so many of the actual innovators from the “age of invention” all in one place at one time.

Per LeMans rules, the car had to carry a spare tire. The tail lights are from a Chevy Corvair. The fabricators sent someone to the parts store with instructions to buy the lightest tail lights he could get. Full gallery here.

Per LeMans rules, the car had to carry a spare tire. The tail lights are from a Chevy Corvair. The fabricators sent someone to the parts store with instructions to buy the lightest tail lights he could get. Full gallery here.

The repair and conservation of the Mk IV were undertaken because the car had been damaged while in the UK for the Goodwood events. While I’m sure that everything is documented at the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford institutions’ archive, the museum has been a bit coy about what actually happened to the car. Apparently the car, either by itself or more likely while still in its shipping container, was dropped. It must have been quite a drop because it damaged a car that survived 36 hours of intense racing competition with the only visible damage being a windshield crack and stress cracks in the bodywork from when the celebrating team hopped on the car for a victory lap. Based on what the museum has said, the left side sill panel was crunched and engine mounts were broken. It’s possible that the then innovative aluminum honeycomb based chassis was also damaged.

Carroll Shelby managed Ford's LeMans effort. The lanky Texan probably needed the Gurney bubble too. Shelby said that he had the car repainted after the 1967 race and it's a good guess that he also took it for a post-race spin or two, so not all the grime on the car today is necessarily French.

Carroll Shelby managed Ford’s LeMans effort and was the titular car owner for the race. The lanky Texan probably also needed the Gurney bubble to fit in the cockpit. Shelby said that he had the car repainted after the 1967 race for the show circuit and it’s a good guess that he also took it for a post-race spin or two, so not all the grime on the car today is necessarily French.

The museum has stressed that it was a conservation to how the car was when it came off the la Sarthe circuit in 1967. According to what Carroll Shelby said a few decades ago though, that may not strictly be true. Now ‘Ol Shel was not adverse to stretching some truths so take it with a grain of salt, but the car was entered in the LeMans race by Shelby American, which managed Ford’s LeMans effort. Theoretically Shelby owned the car and when it got back to his shop in California, he said that he pulled the big block V8 engine out to dyno test it and discovered that it had actually gained 5 horsepower from before the race. Racing at full throttle for 24 hours had done a great job of breaking in the engine. Shelby also said that the car was resprayed for the show circuit, so some of the grime on the car today may not have actually come from France.

Shelby eventually returned the car to Ford Motor Company, which in turn donated it to the museum, where it sat largely untouched until it was damaged in England.

Dan Gurney and his LeMans winning Ford Mk IV at the Henry Ford Museum, 2014. Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford.

Dan Gurney and his LeMans winning Ford Mk IV at the Henry Ford Museum, 2014. Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford.

The car is still very original. During the conservation, retired Ford LeMans team engineer Mose Newland was brought in to consult and he identified a number of ancillaries on the engine being color coded indicating that they were original equipment. He also said that the unique way that safety wires were twisted said to him that the engine and car was original, as raced at LeMans.

Bent aluminum panels were left untouched in the conservation. Full gallery here.

Bent aluminum panels and stress cracks from the LeMans race were left untouched in the conservation. Full gallery here.

A couple of things that weren’t repaired were the panel cracks from the victory lap and the cracked windshield, along with some bent panels in the aero duct in the car’s hood. In 1967, the racing team had a problem with windshields repeatedly cracking and apparently they had to have some emergency air freighted to France from Dearborn, no small or inexpensive task in 1967. Though a replacement windshield was fabricated during the conservation, it was decided to leave the car’s racing scars intact. Like with the Liberty Bell, once a crack starts, it’s hard to stop it and should the Mk IV’s original windshield completely break, the museum has a replacement ready.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Click in the setting icon in the YouTube player menu bar to select 2D or 3D formats.

In an era when almost every car that is restored is rebuilt to a standard well beyond how it departed the factory, it’s nice to see folks treat a piece of history like a piece of history.

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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