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. Tue, 21 Apr 2015 20:00:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Enthusiasm http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/enthusiasm-editorials/ 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.

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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.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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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Priceless Mustang I Concept Almost Damaged in Car Show Incident http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/priceless-mustang-concept-almost-damaged-car-show-incident/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/priceless-mustang-concept-almost-damaged-car-show-incident/#comments Sat, 08 Nov 2014 15:41:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=942129 If you go to enough museums and car shows around Detroit, sooner or later you’ll get to see the Mustang I concept of 1962, normally on display at the Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America exhibit, and the Mustang II concept of 1963, which is owned by the Detroit Historical Museum. For example, the Mustang I […]

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Full gallery here

If you go to enough museums and car shows around Detroit, sooner or later you’ll get to see the Mustang I concept of 1962, normally on display at the Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America exhibit, and the Mustang II concept of 1963, which is owned by the Detroit Historical Museum. For example, the Mustang I was part of Ford’s display at the 2014 North American International Auto Show. Though the Historical Museum’s building doesn’t have much space for car displays, its own proto-Mustang is frequently loaned out and just a few weeks before these photos were taken, the car was on display in Flint at the Sloan Museum’s Auto Fair. Since I’ve shot the Mustang II concept a couple of times before, when I was at the Sloan show, I didn’t bother taking any photos of it that day. However, because the two cars are owned by different institutions, getting a chance to see and photograph both of the first two Mustang concept cars together is a rare thing. Getting to see both of those cars together, along with an early short wheelbase two seat Mustang show car that Ford adopted and renamed the Mustang III, may have been a unique experience.  The “shorty” Mustang III only started being shown again, after almost a half century, in 2013, so this may well have been the first time these three cars were displayed together.

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1962 Mustang I concept car. Full gallery here

All three Mustang concepts were on display at the Ford Product Development Center Employees’ Car Show held on the grounds of the PDC in Dearborn. Babysitting the Mustang I was Matt Anderson, who is the transportation curator at the Henry Ford Museum and a representative of the Detroit Historical Museum was there to keep an eye on the Mustang II. The Mustang III has been in private hands ever since the original owner bought if from Ford’s insurance company after the car had been stolen by its designer to save it from the crusher and was later recovered.

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Mustang III (AKA Shorty) concept car. Full gallery here

That’s a great story, but it will have to keep for another day because this post is about how my grandson almost damaged a priceless piece of automotive history.

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1963 Mustang II concept car. Full gallery here

Anderson wasn’t the only babysitter there that day. I typically watch my grandson Aryeh at least once a week. He’ll be three years old next spring and sometimes schedules conflict and I end up having to take him to some kind of car event like the battery and EV expo last year or the PDC car show, which is held on a weekday. It usually works out. I use his stroller as a camera cart and since he’s a fairly well mannered child, he usually doesn’t fuss much. Besides, he likes cars and trucks. As cute and charming as he is, owners of cars on display will often let him sit behind the steering wheel. As a result, I have a series of photos of Aryeh in the drivers’ seats of a variety of cars, some of them fairly exotic. When he’s old enough to drive, he can tell his friends that he was once behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo Montreal.

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The Montreal was just one of the vehicles at the PDC that Aryeh got to sit in. There was a 1955 Ford four door that had had the roof removed in a conversion to a Coca Cola themed soda shop and a couple of vintage tractors. Aryeh even got to sit in the tub of a Formula SAE racer. Like I said, he’s a charming kid.

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“But how will you hydrate during the race with that thing in your mouth?”

He’s also a quick leaner, though in this case, he learned the wrong thing, that it’s okay to touch cars at a car show.

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Matt Anderson and I have a very cordial working relationship and I make it a point to greet him when I notice that he’s at an event that I’m attending. At the corral of historic Mustangs I started to talk with Anderson and then had a discussion with the historical museum’s representative about the status of the city of Detroit owned museum’s car collection vis a vis the city’s financial bankruptcy. One of the issues of that bankruptcy has been the status and disposition of the Detroit Institute of Arts billion dollar plus collection, also owned by the city. I’ve written about the possibility that the six dozen or so historically significant cars that the DHM owns, cars with unparalleled provenance, might have to be sold off to satisfy the city’s creditors and I wanted to know his opinion. While we were engaged in conversation, Aryeh  walked over towards the cars and it wasn’t until he got past the rope barrier and started to climb up onto the Mustang I that we noticed where he was headed.

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Very little of the Mustang I concept made it to the production car. The Mustang I was a mid-engine two-seat sports car with a V4 engine, not a “secretary’s car” as many of the first generation production Mustangs were, nor a V8 powered muscle car, into which the Mustang developed. However, one styling feature on the first Mustang concept made it to the production car and it continues to be found on the latest Mustangs, the coving on the car’s flanks. The Mustang I’s coves, though are much deeper than on the actual Mustangs, there’s about a 4 inch wide shelf in the fiberglass.

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Just as we spotted him, Aryeh put one foot on the cove shelf and, using the frameless window glass of the speedster styled roadster as a grab handle, he hoisted himself up onto the car. We could see the one-off window start to flex. Matt and I dashed towards the car and I gently lifted my grandson from it before he managed to damage anything. It’s a good thing that the Mustang I was a fully engineered, operational automobile, built to at least withstand the rigors of test track driving, because the door and window appear to be a bit more substantial than what you’d find on a “pushmobile” concept.

To be honest, I know that Anderson is a nice man but I was surprised at his equanimity. The car may not belong to him but he was responsible for it and I’m sure that if it got damaged while under his supervision there’d be consequences. He took his handkerchief out and wiped some smudges off of the window glass.

A couple of weeks later I ran into Matt while he was the reviewing stand’s master of ceremonies at Greenfield Village’s Old Car Festival. I thanked him for being so kind to my grandson, saying that I could see the owner of some mundane 1964 1/2 Mustang screaming at Aryeh and going off on me for a toddler just touching their car. The museum curator laughed and said that the only damage was some “tiny fingerprints”.

Thus my grandson avoided becoming a footnote in automotive history and I got a story to tell you.

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 Man Who Wears the Texaco Star and the Man Behind the Jingle http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/man-wears-texaco-star-man-behind-jingle/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/man-wears-texaco-star-man-behind-jingle/#comments Fri, 07 Nov 2014 14:45:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=936074 Brian Saylor has managed to combine two of his passions, old trucks and Texaco memorabilia. You can see him at Detroit area car shows with his Texaco trucks,  Texaco gasoline pump and assorted Texaco merchandise, with Saylor dressed in the uniform that Texaco service station employees would have worn a couple of generations ago. Yes, […]

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Brian Saylor has managed to combine two of his passions, old trucks and Texaco memorabilia. You can see him at Detroit area car shows with his Texaco trucks,  Texaco gasoline pump and assorted Texaco merchandise, with Saylor dressed in the uniform that Texaco service station employees would have worn a couple of generations ago. Yes, Virginia, there was a time when gas station employees wore uniforms and they actually serviced your car.  They even sang songs about them. Okay, so they were advertising jingles, but I bet most Americans over the age of 50 recognize, “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, the big bright Texaco star.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

About ten years ago Saylor  bought a 1937 Ford dump truck that had been sitting in a Nebraska field for more than a quarter century. It was pretty rough, the engine was seized, but the body was in decent shape and it still had the power-take-off unit that ran the hydraulics for the dump bed. He stripped it down to the frame, which he had sandblasted and powder coated. The truck is a bit of a resto-mod. He was planning on it being a driver, not a trailer queen so he replaced the mechanical brakes (Henry Ford wasn’t a fan of hydraulic brakes so Ford used mechanical linkages for their stoppers well into the 1930s) with a hydraulic system. What was supposed to be a freshly rebuilt flathead V8 turned out to indeed rebuilt but with the rear main bearing installed backwards resulting in another seized engine.

Once that engine was rebuilt again the project picked up steam. On a trip to the big vintage car meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania Saylor saw an old tank truck and got the idea to turn his ’37 Ford into a Texaco fuel oil delivery truck. After some initial testing yielded a top speed of just 40 mph due to the the truck’s 1:6.67 final drive ratio, Saylor retrofitted a full floating rear axle from a 1983 Ford F-350 Super Duty pickup with 3.54 gears.  “Now I can go faster without the engine turning 10,000 rpm,” Sayler quips, though I doubt a Flathead Ford V8 has ever turned 10,000 rpm.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Of course a proper service station back then would have actually done service and repairs and if they did repairs they needed a “parts truck”, something to run to the auto parts store. Towards that role playing end, Saylor’s also restored a 1967 Ford Econoline pickup.

In real life Saylor manages the engineering laboratory of Gabriel shock absorbers, is married to Angie and they have a teenaged son. The Saylors make car shows a family affair, setting up their traveling service station and talking to folks waxing nostalgic.

That hospitality reflects Brian’s roots as a self-professed “southern boy”. Saylor lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida before moving to Michigan in the late 1990s. He told the Ford & Mercury Restorers’ Club bulletin,  “I haven’t lost nor want to lose my southern ways,” though for someone who describes himself as “addicted” to restoring Ford trucks, the move has had its benefits.

A lot cuter than those creepy "Cry baby" dolls people lean on bumpers at car shows.

Whoever’s exceptionally cute and charming child this is*, he’s a lot cuter than those creepy “Cry baby” dolls people lean on bumpers at car shows. Full gallery here

As expected, when they see Saylor, his trucks and his display, a lot of folks mention that old advertising slogan. Many remember the jingle, but few know who created it. Roy Eaton, first at the Young & Rubicam ad agency and later at Benton & Bowles, helped shape mid-century American popular culture and he was responsible for the slogan and the melody of the jingle that accompanied it. The first black man to have a creative role at a major U.S. ad agency, Eaton was also one of the first in the ad business to use jazz music in commercials. In addition to his memorable and catchy jingle for Texaco, he also coined the phrase “Can’t get enough o’ that Sugar Crisp” and it was his idea to have the Sugar Bear character that promoted the cereal effect a Dean Martin persona.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Born in Harlem, Eaton’s father was a mechanic and his mother was a domestic worker who had immigrated from Jamaica. Though he lost part of a finger in an accident when he was three years old, he took up classical piano at the age of six. By his teens he had played Carnegie Hall. Graduating from New York City’s High School of Music and Art, he then completed, simultaneously, degrees from CCNY and the Manhattan School of Music. He won a scholarship to study in Switzerland and upon his return he won a Chopin Award and was awarded a musicology fellowship at Yale.

Click here to view the embedded video.

While in the Army during the Korean War, he wrote and produced programs for Armed Forces Radio. After his discharge, he hired in to Young and Rubicam as a copywriter and composer for jingles. He’s reported to have been responsible for 75% of the music produced at Y&R during the first two years he was at the agency. The companies whose accounts that he worked on are a veritable who’s who of the business world, including Jello, Cheer detergent, Johnson & Johnson, Post cereals, General Electric. Spic and Span and Beech Nut Gum. He didn’t just write the music, he wrote the taglines as well. The music he wrote was contemporary and innovative for the ad business, incorporating themes and sounds from what at the time was considered the modern jazz of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk.

Click here to view the embedded video.

In the  late 1950s, after barely surviving an automobile accident killed his new bride and left him seriously injured, Eaton took the job of music director at the Benton & Bowles agency. It was there that he wrote the Sugar Crisp jingle, music for toys like GI Joe and Mr. Potato Head, Yuban coffee and, “Hardee’s, Best Eatin’ in Town”. After staying with that agency for more than three decades, in 1980 he opened his own music production company and returned to the concert stage. An enthsusiast of meditation, his 1986 solo concert, The Meditative Chopin, at Lincoln Center was praised by the New York Times, “The cumulative effect was deeply satisfying. One came much closer to the heart of Chopin—and by extension, to music itself”. He’s performed internationally and recorded albums of the compositions of Chopin, George Gershwin, Scott Joplin and others. His own compositions have been on the soundtracks of feature films. On the faculty of his alma mater, the Manhattan School of Music, in 2010 he’s was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Eaton credits his success to a lesson taught by his mother. She told him that in order to succeed in the face of the racial prejudice that was unfortunately common in his youth, he ““needed to do 200% to get credit for 100%”. “So,” Roy says, “that became my lifetime mantra.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

Roy Eaton’s talent for crafting jingles continues to resonate today. A black man from Harlem and a southern boy share a common chord. If it hadn’t been for Eaton’s jingle more than 50 years ago I’m not sure that Brian Saylor would be dressing up as “the man who wears the star” today.

*Photo taken with parents’ permission given in exchange for providing Zayde services.

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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Taking The Plunge, A Modest Lowering of and Expectations http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/taking-plunge-modest-lowering-expectations/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/taking-plunge-modest-lowering-expectations/#comments Sun, 02 Nov 2014 14:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=939065 Just about all of my daily drivers have been stock, more or less. I did some engine, transmission and overdrive swaps on Volvos back in the 1980s, but everything was factory, if not on that particular vehicle when it left Goteborg. Also, there was a 1972 VW bus for which I built a high-performance Beetle […]

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Just about all of my daily drivers have been stock, more or less. I did some engine, transmission and overdrive swaps on Volvos back in the 1980s, but everything was factory, if not on that particular vehicle when it left Goteborg. Also, there was a 1972 VW bus for which I built a high-performance Beetle *engine so it could cruise at fast enough speeds to be safe on the interstates. Other than those, I haven’t done any mechanical modifications to cars that I’ve driven regularly, at least not to the chassis, but now I’m taking the plunge.

My mom just turned 90, may she live to 120, and as is often the case with older folks, she stopped driving when she could no longer do so without endangering herself or others. The car she stopped driving is a 2002 Saturn SL, pretty much a base car with a 1.9 liter OHC engine and a three speed automatic transmission. Mom never drove it much, usually for short trips to go shopping or to her part-time job serving lunches to other seniors at the JCC. Over the years it transitioned from the car she drove, to the car she was driven in. Now it’s the car I take my grandson, Aryeh, to visit her at her new apartment.

Though GM is rightly slagged for not giving Saturn products the incremental improvements they deserved, with the same basic design of the S series coupes, sedans and wagons, staying in production for a long time. The Saturn project was a big deal for GM in the beginning. The company devoted a lot of resources to the Saturn project and the cars seem to be engineered well, even if interior QC and general refinement is lacking. They’re honest little cars.  With plastic body panels, rust, at least the visible kind, isn’t a problem, and they’re relatively durable. If you look around, there are plenty of ten to twenty year old Saturns providing fairly reliable daily transportation to folks.

Yeah, the engine is a bit agricultural in tone and weak in traffic (though the DOHC versions aren’t slow) and that archaic transmission is closer, in terms of available ratios, to a 1950s era Powerglide 2-speed, than to even the six speed automatics that enthusiasts today consider obsolete as manufacturers roll out DCTs and eight or nine speed automatics.

However, I’ve grown to regard what Aryeh calls “Zayde’s blue car” with affection. Other than a serpentine belt tensioner going bad while returning from the recent 24 Hours of Lemons race at Gingerman Raceway, it’s never let me down. Even that breakdown wasn’t really a breakdown, since the alternator light came on about three miles from a populated exit on the interstate. Though the car was overheating by the time I got to the hotel just off of the freeway, nothing was permanently damaged and I still had enough juice in the battery to be able to start it in the morning and drive to the Chevy dealer that I passed on my way to the Holiday Inn.

I should mention that the Saturn S series cars, while not highly regarded by enthusiasts at large, have their fans. They’re light, about 2,600 lbs, they have real independent rear suspension, not an inexpensive torsion beam setup, you can equip them with disc brakes at all four corners, and the twin cam engine can be tuned with good results. There were at least a couple of Saturns in the Lemons race.

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With close to 100,000 miles on the odometer, the tensioner and belt repair was a reminder that there were lot of OEM parts that probably should be attended to. Over the past year or so I’ve noticed that the left front strut was beginning to creak while turning at low speeds and there’s also the telltale clattering when turning left that indicates a constant velocity joint on one of the axle shafts of the front wheel drive car. It doesn’t make sense to change just one strut and since much of the labor of replacing the axle is disassembling the front suspension I decided to replace both axles and both struts. With the rear shocks as old and worn out as the struts, they needed to be replaces as well.

I like cars that can handle and while the Saturn SL isn’t a bad handling car, and the steering is weighted pretty well, it’s not what I’d call sporting in character. Turn in could be quicker and there’s way more body roll than I’d like. I’ve had real good results from KYB shock absorbers going back to those Volvos. According to the Saturn enthusiast fora, KYB GR2 struts are about 30% stiffer than the OEM units for which they’re supposed to be direct replacements. To be honest, there aren’t many choices. Bilstein doesn’t make anything that fits the Saturn and I wasn’t going to spend the money to get Koni coilover inserts set in the OEM struts, so KYB it was. By the way, KYB is moving from the GR2 brand familiar to North American enthusiasts, to the Excel-G brand sold elsewhere. They’re the same shocks and struts, they’ll just be painted black instead of silver.

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To compliment the stiffer shocks, I’m also going to put some H&R Sport springs on the car to lower it. Now I’m not joining Stance Nation. This isn’t for looks, though the car will look less like a guy wearing his trouser cuffs above his ankles. There’s a modest 1.4″ drop in front, nothing you wouldn’t see that distinguishes an “S” model from a less sporting version of the same car. The back will go down a little bit less, 1.3″, so there will be a tiny bit more rake. The springs are also stiffer than stock, 205/195 front to rear vs 126/129. One nice thing about the KYB struts is that they have an oval hole that allows for stock alignment specs without having to use a special camber bolt.

Those springs may be a bit too stiff for the bad road surfaces here in Michigan, or at least that’s what Sajeev Mehta suggested when I circulated my plans with the TTAC staff. He thinks stiffer shocks on new OEM springs would freshen the suspension enough for my needs. He may be correct, but the springs were less than $200 and I’m already going to be paying for R&Ring the springs because I’m replacing the struts. What do you think? Will Michigan’s scarred roads, a lowered suspension and stiffer shocks and springs loosen the fillings in my few remaining teeth, or will I actually have a better ride compared to worn out OEM shocks and springs?

Since I’m concerned about getting too stiff (no cracks from the peanut gallery, please) I asked my colleagues about wheel sizes. Jack Baruth suggested that I’m still going to have to go to a bigger wheel if I want to get performance tires, that there just aren’t a lot of choices in 14″ sizes. For a performance tire he suggested Dunlop Direzzas or Yokohama Advan Rs. I don’t know what owners of old Brit roadsters are doing, but Jack is correct, checking the tire warehouses, there aren’t that many performance tires for 13s and 14s. I was able, however, to find some Direzza DZ102 tires, an update to the original DZ101, for $82 ea at Tire Rack. It’s a directional, summer tire.  The widest tire that will fit on the car is a 205, so I’m going with a 205 55 r15. That gives me about 0.8″ more tread width and it’s close enough to the original tire circumference to keep the speedometer within 1 mph accuracy in most driving conditions. Tire Size Conversion is a useful site, by the way, to check compatibility and things like speedo calibrations.

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Two of the car’s current 14″ OEM steel wheels had to be knocked back into shape by yours truly and a baby sledge after mom clipped some curbs. Detroit area potholes are deservedly notorious, so I’m not about to spend money on aluminum wheels. Steelies are cheaper and, as mentioned, you don’t need special tools to straighten them. Every set of used alloy rims that I saw advertised on Craigslist had some kind of cosmetic damage or worse. Discount Tire, a local chain, had some U.S. made 15×6″ steel wheels by Unique for $55 a piece. They’re pretty much OEM replacements, only bigger and wider. I think they’ll look just fine with chrome lug nuts. Discount Tire’s software simulation of what the car will look like with the steelies heads this post. Buying the wheels there gets me a discount on mounting and balancing.

I have to say that as a consumer I’ve been pleased so far. When I ordered the springs, I got a followup call from Tire Rack explaining that I should anticipate possible accelerated wear on the shock absorbers and other suspension components. When I called a local repair shop to get a price on labor, the guy asked me why I was lowering the car and said he’d had customers who regretted it. I explained that it wasn’t about looks, but rather handling and that I was going with a fairly modest drop so I didn’t expect to start scraping driveway aprons.

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The parts are in.

So the adventure has started. The parts are all in. I can’t get the car into the shop until next week, but in the meantime this weekend, if there’s no precipitation, I’m going to take the car over to a parking lot and get some baseline data. I’ll shoot video to record body lean and I downloaded a lateral acceleration app for my smartphone. After I get cornering data as is, I’ll do it again after replacing the suspension parts, and if the snow holds off longer, I’ll do it yet again with the new tires, reporting back after each step. If I’m happy with the results, I’ll upgrade the base rear drum brakes with discs I can pull off a higher spec Saturn at the junkyard. That’s a bolt on conversion. Long term, I’ll keep my eye out for a DOHC/5-speed drivetrain I can get cheap.

Per my colleagues’ suggestions, I’ll be keeping the alignment at the OEM settings. As Jack pointed out, I don’t need a darty car on icy Michigan roads.

Speaking of icy roads, I’ll be keeping the old rims and tires for winter use. The OEM wheels are mounted with some Cooper all-season tires with plenty of tread life remaining that should suffice in the cold. I know how Baruth feels about all-seasons in the winter and having test driven Bridgestone Blizzaks in a blizzard, I’m a fan of sticky winter tires, but I grew up learning to drive in big rear wheel drive American sedans with bias ply tires and since I haven’t managed to get stuck or plow into someone so far, the all-seasons will do for winter driving for now.

So what do the Best & Brightest have to say? Am I on a fool’s errand trying to make this rather unexciting car more sporting? Will the stiffer, lower springs and stiffer shocks ride worse than the OEM setup with 100K miles on the components? Either way I’ll keep you informed.

* For you air-cooled VeeDub enthusiasts, it was an AE crankcase with 1648cc barrels, dual port heads (slightly milled), a street cam, 009 mechanical distributor and a Holley/Weber two barrel carb, plus a high pressure Melling oil pump and an external oil filter and auxiliary oil cooler (and homebrew interior heater using that hot oil).

** It surprises me that the Saturn station wagons don’t get more love from enthusiasts. A small wagon that could be gotten with a DOHC engine, a 5 speed manual transmission and 4 wheel disc brakes checks a lot of boxes. I think they look pretty good too.

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 Gathering of the Automotive Tribes. The Last Car Show of the Season. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/gathering-automotive-tribes-last-car-show-season/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/gathering-automotive-tribes-last-car-show-season/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 16:02:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=927425 In my day job I happen to do work for a number of car and motorcycle clubs. Some of the officers have become friends and they know about my side gig writing about cars and car culture. Last year, in the early spring, my buddy Tony, who’s the prez of the Motor City Camaro and Firebird […]

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Full gallery here

In my day job I happen to do work for a number of car and motorcycle clubs. Some of the officers have become friends and they know about my side gig writing about cars and car culture. Last year, in the early spring, my buddy Tony, who’s the prez of the Motor City Camaro and Firebird Car Club, told me that the first car show of the year was being held at a Kmart parking lot near Eight Mile and Telegraph. It ended up being a worthwhile visit. There were some interesting cars and I even got a TTAC post about donks and low riders out of it. When Tony recently told me about the last car show of the year, being held in another shopping center parking lot, also near Eight Mile Road, this one by Van Dyke, I figured that he hasn’t steered me wrong yet, so I drove over to the east side of town.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

However, when I got there, at the supposed appointed time, it was just an empty parking lot.  I thought I might be in the wrong place, but then I saw a line of late model Chevy Impalas driving across the lot. Now one or two Chevy Impalas is nothing to notice, a couple of nondescript automotive appliances (though they could be had with 300+ hp), but a line of ten 9th generation Chevy Impalas in a row is a car club. Which it was, the Impala Boyz (along with a few Impala girlz too).

These Impala girls came out to support the Impala Boyz car club. Full gallery here.

These Impala girls came out to support the Impala Boyz car club. Full gallery here.

Apparently, this was to be the final gathering of the tribes, an assortment of model specific car clubs showing up to represent. There were a lot of hugs, handshakes, fist bumps and maybe even a beer or two poured out in memory of department members. There were Impalas, Dodge Chargers, a big contingent of Pontiac Grand Prixs, representing a few clubs but most from the Grand Prix Family,  a couple of local Corvette clubs, and arriving almost as late as my friends in their Camaros was a parade of panthers, the local chapter of the CVB, the national Crown Vic Boys club,  in a variety of Grand Marquises, Town Cars and Crown Vics in both civilian and P71 police interceptor trim.

The Crown Vic Boys show up with their panthers en masse. Full gallery here.

The Crown Vic Boys show up with their panthers en masse. Full gallery here.

What I liked about this show, unlike just about every other car show I’ve attended this year, is that these were virtually all daily drivers. Just because someone may not be able to afford a special weekend car doesn’t mean that they don’t love their ride just as much as someone with one or more pampered special use automobiles. It was a run what you brung event and while most of the cars were in nice shape, there were some that showed the scars of being a daily driver in Detroit. Just because it’s got some dents and rust or a missing bumper doesn’t mean that you don’t love it and want to hang out with others who share that love.

I’d categorize the show as semi-official. While it had the cooperation of the shopping center, there wasn’t any judging or official competitions for trophies. There were some burnouts over to the side and some folks were hooning around the periphery.  As a matter of fact, that activity was in the backstory of a little vignette I witnessed. I was talking to someone in the Camaro club, mentioning how I think the integrated spoiler on the back deck of the 4th generation Camaro is a masterful piece of design when a Dodge Neon SRT4 parked right in the middle of the Camaros.

Full gallery here

A bit of a non-conformist, the only Neon in the show. Full gallery here

When the owner of the Neon got out of his car, the Camaro club members started giving him a hard time about parking there, telling him he should park down the row, near the end of the aisle. He explained rather articulately, emphasizing  his comments with words that began with the sixth and fourteenth letters of the English alphabet, that he didn’t want to risk getting his car or his person injured by the people who were hot-rodding.

I immediately took a liking to the chap as a fellow noncomformist. Like me, he wasn’t there with a club and while there were other Dodges at the event, it was the only Neon.

Whatever differences people had, a good time seemed to be had by all, apparently contrary to what some had predicted. A couple of weeks after the show, while leaving my credit union, I thought the lettering on the back window of a Dodge Charger in the parking lot looked familiar. The owner was standing next to his car, talking with someone in an adjacent parking spot. “Were you at a car show at 8 Mile and Van Dyke?” I asked him. “Yeah. They said we couldn’t do it in the D, that there’d be fights and trouble, but we proved them wrong.” The closest thing to trouble that I saw was the jawing between the Neon ACR guy and the members of the Camaro club and that was a mostly friendly display of male faux aggression.

I go to lots of car shows. It’s a job, but someone has to do it. Seriously, though, I get to attend a lot of top shelf events. The Concours of America is right up there with Pebble Beach and Amelia Island, and the Detroit Autorama is arguably the most prestigious  custom car show in the world. I think it’s a safe guess to say that none of the cars at the Concours or in the front part of Cobo Hall where the Autorama organizers put the best cars at their show are daily drivers. Most of the cars on display at those events are rarely driven objects of cost-no-object builds or restorations. It’s also a safe guess to say that the folks who enter the Concours or the Autorama don’t love their trailer queens any more than the folks at an impromptu shopping center parking lot car show love their daily drivers.

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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Give That Man Starting His Lada Niva A Big Hand http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/give-man-starting-lada-niva-big-hand/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/give-man-starting-lada-niva-big-hand/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 15:35:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=927522 Click on the settings icon in the menu bar to select 2D or your choice of stereo 3D formats Last year in a post about Ypsilanti’s Orphan Car Show I had noticed that some of the 1960s vintage Citroens still had access holes so that, if needed, the cars could be started with a hand crank. […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.


Click on the settings icon in the menu bar to select 2D or your choice of stereo 3D formats

Last year in a post about Ypsilanti’s Orphan Car Show I had noticed that some of the 1960s vintage Citroens still had access holes so that, if needed, the cars could be started with a hand crank. I asked our readers what the last model car was sold with a hand crank and the immediate answer was “Lada”. As if to prove a point, at this year’s OCS, parked just outside the show entrance was a fairly late model Lada Niva in great shape, with a hand crank inserted through holes in the bumper and front fascia. There is a Niva that is in the show just about every year but that one’s about in the condition you’d expect from an Eastern Bloc 4X4 based on Fiat mechanicals subsequently exposed to Canadian winters and North American road salt. Except for the CHMSL that appeared to have come loose from its moorings, the blue Niva looks like it could almost be part of a Lada CPO program (to our Russian readers, does Lada have a CPO program in their home market).

It wasn’t officially part of the show as it hadn’t been preregistered, but when the show organizers spotted the Niva, they asked the owner if he would park it so that attendees would be able to enjoy it. The OCS is held every fall here in Michigan, about the same time that yellow jackets are most active and I got to the Lada just after one of the aggressive hornets had stung the owner’s young son and got trapped in his clothing. Unlike bees, hornets can sting more than once and in addition to being in some pain from the sting, the boy was freaking out just a bit. While dad tried to chill out his son, I managed to crush the stinging insect between two folds of the boy’s shirt.

I guess that established some rapport between me and dad, so while I was taking my usual sequence of photos of cars at car shows, I asked him if he’d ever hand started it and if he would mind trying to crank it later when I was ready to leave so I could get some video. Just coincidentally, this is the second video of a car being hand cranked that I’ve posted here this fall, since the Canadian Model T Assembly Team that performed at Greenfield Village’s Old Car Festival also started up their car by hand, once assembled.

When the time came, it took him a few cranks and a little bit of fiddling with the choke, but he got it running. It wasn’t what I’d say an easy task but it looked to me that the Lada was easier to hand start than the Model T.  Of course, the Model T’s 2.5 liter inline four engine had at least 50% more displacement than the Lada’s 1.6 liters. After he started it, though, I was able to offer the owner some important safety information. The Canadian Model T wasn’t the first that I’ve seen hand cranked, so I was familiar with the special grip to hold the crank back in the days before Charles Kettering liberated women and saved many men from injuries by inventing a practical electric self-starter for gasoline powered automobiles.

Hand-cranking a car was dangerous enough that some people suffered fatal head injuries from the crank kicking back because of a backfire. While those kinds of head injuries were relatively rare, hand injuries were common, most often being broken thumbs. Early motorists learned to use a special grip to hold the crank, cupping the crank in their hand while keeping their thumbs on the safe, palm side of the crank, to protect their prehensile digits.

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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 you think that 3D is a plot to get you to buy yet another new television set, 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 Son, His Father, and Mom’s Car, a 390 Cubic Inch AMX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/son-father-moms-car-390-cubic-inch-amx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/son-father-moms-car-390-cubic-inch-amx/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:54:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=899474 A while back, I stumbled upon the fact that while car enthusiasts may be entertained by talk of things like independent rear suspensions, dual overhead cams, and launch control, people in general (and that set includes the subset of car enthusiasts) like to read stories about people. I think you’ll like the story of Clovis […]

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Full gallery here.

A while back, I stumbled upon the fact that while car enthusiasts may be entertained by talk of things like independent rear suspensions, dual overhead cams, and launch control, people in general (and that set includes the subset of car enthusiasts) like to read stories about people. I think you’ll like the story of Clovis “Mickey” Nadeau, his wife Betty and her 1968 American Motors AMX.

Full gallery here.

Full gallery here. Note: each AMX pictured in this post has a separate gallery.

Being that I’m attracted to the oddball and the unique, the regional American Motors Owners club meet held in Livonia on the Sunday immediately following the huge Woodward Dream Cruse is penciled in every year. This year because I was planning on photographing the original Boss 302 prototype at the big Mustang Memories show at Ford’s Product Development Center I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the AMC meet. I wanted to take photos of a ’62 Rambler American convertible that I knew would be at the show, using my father’s Argus camera that he used when he himself owned a ’61 Rambler American. In addition to those photos, with my digital rig I decided to concentrate on the collection of first generation AMX cars at the show. That proved to be a fortuitous decision because I got to meet the Nadeau family and find out about Betty Nadeau’s muscle car.

While I’m a fan of most things AMC, I was a young teenager when the Javelin and AMX came out and they’ve appealed to me ever since then. Maybe it’s the non-conformist in me, but the Javelin was my favorite of the pony cars, and the shorter wheelbase, two seat AMX is the distilled essence of the Javelin’s shape. In the mid 1960s, AMC chairman Roy Chapin Jr., and president Robert Evans wanted to change the company’s image from being the staid manufacturer of Ramblers, competent and economical but not very exciting compact cars. In late 1965 AMC design head Richard A. Teague was given the assignment of coming up with four show cars that would demonstrate that the little car company that could, could indeed build exciting cars.

The most exciting of the four “Project IV” non-running “pushmobiles” was the AMX, for American Motors Experimental. It was a fastback coupe that had already been in progress in Chuck Mashigan’s advanced styling studio before AMC executives came up with the idea of putting their ideas on tour. Mashigan had a notable design career, including being the primary stylist of the Chrysler Turbine cars. A mockup of the AMX was built on the chassis of a trashed Rambler American. Besides the overall shape, familiar to us as the production AMX, the most distinctive feature of the car was the “Rambleseat” an updated version of the rumble seat. The trunk lid flipped back to reveal a third seat (the concept had a small conventional rear seat), while the rear glass flipped up to provide Rambleseat passengers with a windscreen. Teague referred to the seating arrangement as a 2 + 2 + 2.

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The response from the public to the AMX was so strong that the Vignale coachbuilding firm in Italy was hired to build a running model. Since the original AMX pushmobile and two running Vignale prototypes exist, it appears that Vignale built more than one.

I don’t know if Betty Nadeau’s 1968 AMX still exists or not. She and her husband Clovis, known as Mickey to his friends and family, were married in Ohio, where they grew up, in 1941. They moved to Detroit where Mickey found work and in 1949 moved to what then was a far suburb, Farmington, where they raised three kids including their youngest son, Mickeal. They must have done a good job because Mickeal and his wife Mary had brought his dad to the AMC meet to reminisce, which is how I happened upon them, walking a midst the AMXs. Mickey and Betty must have liked fast cars because in 1962, he bought her a baby blue Thunderbird, one of the “rocket birds”. It might have been too fast, though, because Betty found it hard to control, once doing an unintentional 360 degree spin. Also, her younger son kept borrowing it to impress the girls.

In 1968, Mickey took Betty to an AMC dealership to pick out a new car to replace the T-Bird. By then, the four-seat Javelin had been introduced, followed by more-true-to-the-concept AMX. In mid 1965, AMC had introduced a modern thin-wall “mid block” V8, originally in 290 CI displacement form. With boring and stroking, the same basic engine would eventually be stretched to 402 cubic inches (sold as the 401 to avoid branding conflicts with a Ford motor). In the AMX it had 390 cubic inches, good for 315 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. Since the AMC V8 weighed less than the big block engines of similar displacement from the Big 3, AMCs could be surprisingly quick. Car and Driver measured a 0-60 mph time of 6.6 seconds.

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This 40,000 mile original condition survivor was formerly owned by AMC design chief Richard Teague. Full gallery here.

Clovis wanted to buy Betty a Hialeah Yellow AMX. She liked the black racing stripe but thought that with the bright yellow paint the car ended up looking like a bumble bee. I guess she wasn’t a Mopar fan. Instead she picked one out in Scarab Gold, with the requisite black racing stripes. According to her daughter in law, Mary “drove it and loved it”. Apparently it was some kind of limited edition because the family recalls there being a numbered plaque on the dashboard.

Fashions change though, so a few years later Betty wanted a new look and Mickey had the AMX painted candy apple red with a double black stripe. Betty looked great in it. She drove the AMX for 16 years, until 1984, when Mickey retired, and they sold the car. After spending a few years on the road as snow birds, though found desert living to their liking and settled in Tucson.

Betty has since passed away and Mickey was visiting his kids in the Detroit area when Mickeal and Mary decided to take him to the AMC meet to bring back some fond memories. Clovis has a very good son and daughter in law. It was very sweet of them to bring him to the car show.

I happened upon them as they were working their way down the row of stock 1968-1970 AMX cars. Mickey was pointing out to his son various features as he remembered them. As they got to the last car in the category, Mickey beamed. It was a near identical AMX to Betty’s in the same Scarab Gold with black stripes, though it was  a 1970 model, not a ’68. That color was a shade of light metallic green that was very *popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

When the owner of the AMX, Dennis Maljak, found out why the Nadeau’s were at the show, his grin was even wider than Mickey’s as he offered the older gentleman a chance to sit behind the wheel of an AMX like his wife had, once again. Mickey pointed out to the owner that the steering wheel wasn’t original. He knew because Betty always kept a $20 bill folded up and tucked behind the horn ring on her AMX’s steering wheel, just in case, for emergencies. The owner then retrieved the original steering wheel that he’s planning on restoring, from his trunk, and checked it for currency, just in case.

If you’re reading this and own a 1968 AMX that was originally painted Scarab Gold, check underneath the horn ring on your steering wheel. If there’s a twenty there, I can introduce you to the original owner who has some great stories about your (and his wife’s) car.

*I was talking to retired GM designer Jerry Brochstein and was relating the Nadeaus’ story and when I said the AMX was painted “baby shit green”, he laughed knowingly.

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

AMXcolor2@1966Web221 amxclaypr 2975226216 1966amxg1 1966amxc1 1966amxa1 1966 AMC AMX Vignale Concept Car w-290HP Engine Rr Qtr BW 66amx1e 66amx1d1 66amx1a1 66amc_amx_prototype_1 projectIV_02_1500 kreig_sm dom7 dom2a c4986 amxrumble1 AMXprot1a amxpro1 amxpro4

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Don’t Crush That Bug, Hand Me The Pliers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/dont-crush-bug-hand-pliers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/dont-crush-bug-hand-pliers/#comments Sun, 03 Aug 2014 16:11:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=879938 I’m pretty sure that everyone reading this has interests beyond the world of automobiles. As both an observer of and participant in the news and information biz, it’s fascinating for me to see how a story in the automotive media will sometimes percolate into general news outlets, showing up on the front page, print or digital, […]

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Full gallery here

I’m pretty sure that everyone reading this has interests beyond the world of automobiles. As both an observer of and participant in the news and information biz, it’s fascinating for me to see how a story in the automotive media will sometimes percolate into general news outlets, showing up on the front page, print or digital, of your local newspaper (if it’s still in business) weeks after you’ve read about it here at TTAC or at another car enthusiast or news site.

Although automotive blogs have covered this story in the past, news of  Homeland Security raids on private individuals to seize 40 Land Rover Defenders that were suspected of not complying with relevant Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards have only just started showing up at regional and national news outlets. The Feds claim that the trucks were illegally imported into the United States and then passed off as older than they really were so as to appear to be exempt as being 25 years old or older. Paperwork is alleged to have been falsified and numbers on engine blocks changed. At the same time some owners claim that their Landies are obviously more than 25 years old and claim that their vehicles’ VINs back them up. Owners have about a month to appeal.

This spring I attended the Vintage VW Show in Ypsilanti, Michigan. While there are car shows and events, big and small, that I try to attend every year, serendipity and spontaneity make for good stories, so one year I might go to Camaro Fest and another a VW show. I have to admit, though, that while I’ve never owned a Camaro, I have owned a couple of air-cooled Volkswagen Type IIs, aka Buses, building a slightly hi-po’d engine for the second, so I’m sure many of the people at the VVWS were kindred spirits to me.

There were plenty of rare and interesting cars, photo worthy for sure, ranging from VW Things (including their Opa, an actual Kubelwagen), to split-window Type II Kombi pickups, to Type 34 Karmann Ghias, to a Harlequin edition Golf, but the two cars that really caught my eye appeared to be simple VW Beetles. What got my attention was the fact that they looked so shiny and new compared to most of the cars in the show, and most of their trim that should have been chromed was body color,with some black hardware. When I looked at the placards on their flat glass windshields, I saw that they were both listed as 1998 Mexican Beetles.

When I saw the cars I had the same thought that most of us do when we see a car or truck not made for the U.S. market that’s less than 25 years old: “How did they manage to get it registered?” One car, sort of a dark green-blue, was wearing Michigan license plates. The other MexiBeetle was driven up from Toledo.

At the time, I thought about doing a post on the cars and started looking into how Mexican VW Beetles made it into the U.S. legally or otherwise, but stuff happens and that post never got written. Now that the Feds are seizing grey market vehicles, it seemed like a good time to return to those Hecho en Mexico Vee Dubs.

Now before anyone accuses me of snitching, creating publicity that might result in these cars’ seizure, by now I’ve spoken to both owners and they’re confident that their cars are 100% legal. Also, it’s not like they’re trying to hide them. The cars were on display at a car show open to the public, and you can be sure that if Homeland Security was concerned about black market Beetles from south of the border, down Mexico way, a vintage Volkswagen show is exactly the place they’d be looking for them.

According to the owners, both cars are fully Mexican spec, though supposedly only one of them was actually Hecho en Mexico. Patrick, the Dodge salesman who owns the green-blue car, told me that in fact his car was Hecho en Michigan, one of 13 assembled by a shop in Waterford from all new Mexican parts, including swing axles. Think about that for a second or two. It made economic sense for Volkswagen to save a few pesos using swing axles, something U.S. market Beetles abandoned in 1967 if I’m not mistaken. The car is titled not as a Volkswagen, but rather as an assembled vehicle. It has a Mexican spec fuel injected engine with a catalytic converter and an aftermarket air conditioner.

Apparently there were plans to make many more than just a dozen or so Mexican Beetles in Michigan, with talk of a small assembly plant in the Upper Peninsula, but VW’s decision to kill the Beetle finally in 2003 killed those plans as well. It’s not clear if those plans were related to Nostalgia Motorcars, an Arizona company that announced in 2000 that they were going to sell 10,000 brand new classic Beetles made in Mexico, modified to comply with all DOT and EPA standards.

It’s perfectly legal as far as the state of Michigan is concerned since all the requirements of an assembled vehicle title have been met. None of those requirements say anything at all about emissions or safety standards beyond required on-road equipment, typically regarding lights. However, I suppose to be fully compliant with federal regulations, it would have to have some kind of major component that comes from a Beetle that was imported to the U.S. before those regulations applied.

The owner of the silver car had a different story. He’s the second American owner and he said with certainty that the car was assembled in Puebla, Mexico. He wasn’t sure of the details, but he said that the previous owner spent $8,000 beyond the purchase price to get it legally registered in the United States. Some states, I’ve heard that Maine is one of them, are fairly lax in their vehicle registration processes.

If you’d like air-cooled vintage VWs and you’d like to take a gamble on your house getting raided by the Feds, Patrick had a For Sale sign on his car at the Vintage VW Show. I checked with him and it’s still for sale, sort of. Patrick is more of an American car guy so the Beetle isn’t the only car in his collection, but he’s rather fond of it. He says that it’s a ball to drive. The price would have to be right, but if the offer was close enough, he wouldn’t dicker over $100. Give him a call at 258-701-5581 (yes, he gave me permission to post his phone #). For less than the price of a Yaris, you can drive something that will put a smile on your face, even if it doesn’t make the folks at the DOT or EPA happy.

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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Classic Review: 1986 Pontiac Fiero GT V6 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/classic-review-1986-pontiac-fiero-gt-v6/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/classic-review-1986-pontiac-fiero-gt-v6/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:07:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=876441 The Pontiac Fiero is one of those cars that is forever showing up on lists. A simple on-line search finds that it’s one of the 100 worst cars ever built, one of the ten cars that should be avoided by tall people, one of the worst ever Indy 500 Pace Cars and, because of its […]

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The Pontiac Fiero is one of those cars that is forever showing up on lists. A simple on-line search finds that it’s one of the 100 worst cars ever built, one of the ten cars that should be avoided by tall people, one of the worst ever Indy 500 Pace Cars and, because of its poor sales, one of the 10 greatest automotive financial disasters of all time. Other lists, however, rate the little two-seater as one of the best sports cars of the 1980s, call it one of the ten unexpectedly best cars for tall people and even rank it as one of the best choices for future collectability. Oddly enough, the Pontiac Fiero also appeared on my own personal list of potential purchases a few months ago and, despite the fact that I ended up choosing one of its contemporaries, when I recently found a wonderful, low-mileage example at KC Classic Autos in near-by Kansas city, I knew I must see it.

The history of the Pontiac Fiero is an open book. Originally conceived as a two seat, mid-engine sports car with an advanced, all-new suspension and a powerful V6 engine, the Fiero was castrated prior to its birth by GM’s bean counters who worried that the proposed car might end up stealing sales numbers from the Corvette. As a result, the new car was toned down. The powerful V6 was replaced with GM’s 2.5 liter “Iron Duke” four-cylinder, a slow-revving long-stroke iron block engine intended for economy cars, and the advanced suspension was dropped in favor of a parts bin approach that used existing bits and pieces from the Citation and Chevette. The result was rather lackluster and the media received it with mixed reactions. Motor Trend gave the Fiero a decent review in 1984 but other magazines felt that, as an aggressively styled mid-engine car, it needed to have more performance. Whatever the case, the public loved what they saw and bought almost 187,000 units in 1984.

For 1985 Pontiac addressed the critics’ need for more power by adding an optional 140 HP V6 to the line-up but sales dropped to around 74,000. In 1986, the – in my opinion – much better looking fastback Fiero GT was added beginning mid-year and sales climbed to almost 84,000 units. 1987 brought general improvements and more power to the four cylinder model but sales were definitely trending downward and only 45,851 cars left the showroom that year. In 1988, Pontiac introduced a more sophisticated suspension, based on the original design the bean counters had initially kept out of the car, and this model year is said to be the most desirable among collectors. But alas, only 26,402 were sold before Pontiac discontinued the model and today they are a might thin on the ground. All totaled, 370,168 Fieros of all types were sold over the course of five years.

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Like so many GM products before it, the Fiero is one of those cars that was killed just about the time its full potential was being realized. Initially the cars suffered from quality issues and design problems. The 1984 model year also experienced a number of well publicized fires and despite the fact that, according to Wikipedia, only 148 reports were made to the NHTSA detailing just six injuries, the Fiero, much like the Ford Pinto, has an enduring reputation for combustability. The truth is that within a couple years of the Fiero’s introduction, the car was well sorted and the 1986 model I was able to ride in is a great example of just how far the design had come.

I appeared unannounced at KC Classic Autos late in the afternoon and, after paying my $1 entrance fee to the “museum” and introducing myself, was given the run of the place. I have had the opportunity to visit a few classic car dealers over the years and this one stacks up rather well with a clean facility and plenty of interesting cars on hand that I could get up close and personal with. After spending far too much time looking at a stunning 1969 Nova SS and several other classic American muscle cars, I finally decided to ask if I could get a ride in the 1986 Fiero they had parked close to the front door. I had two reasons for choosing this particular car, first I hope to be invited back to ride in and report on more of the classic machines that were further back in the showroom and second, because I wanted to compare my little Shelby to the much better preserved Pontiac.

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I’ve already spent some time talking about my Dodge in other articles but it’s important to do so again so I can do a little comparing and contrasting. At 31 years old, the Shelby is a well presented little car that recently had a great deal of work done to it. Despite its lumpy idle and its slightly rich smelling exhaust, it runs like a top and moves out just fine when I get on the gas. Thanks to the work that has been done, on the outside it looks almost new, but the inside is another story and the car’s threadbare interior shows almost every one of its three decades plus one year of existence.

I’ll write more on it in detail in an upcoming article, but suffice to say that my little Dodge really is an old car. It buzzes, it rattles and it has strange smells, but at a time when this Pontiac was sitting safe and secure in a temperature controlled garage, the Shelby was out living its life, running errands, hauling kids and generally being enjoyed by its owner. Every scar, every tear and every rattle inside the car has a story that goes with it and although as a second owner I can never really know what happened, I can respect the fact that this car was a valued member of someone else’s family for many years. It has, I think, a real sense of having been used, enjoyed and loved.

At 28 years old, the 1986 Pontiac Fiero GT I saw yesterday is still very much a new car. With right around 20,500 miles on the clock, it still looks new inside. The carpets are unworn and the seats are still firm and flawless. The internal plastics have been unaffected by the sun and the gauge faces were are still as bright and clear as the day the car came off the line. The two-seater started instantly at the first turn of a key and burbled happily as it rolled out of the show room. It was simply stunning in the light of the afternoon sun.

Like I would do with any new car I am reviewing, I spent a lot of time circling the Fiero and looking for flaws. Although it’s used, I had no complaints about anything I saw. Panel gaps were good, the interior pieces fit together well. Of course the switchgear is clearly 1980s GM but it still looked modern and good in the car. Overall, I found it to be a pleasant, clean little Pontiac and I was eager for a chance to ride in it.

fiero 3

Why this car would appear on a list of vehicles that should be avoided by tall people is a mystery to me. In the mid ‘80s, I am sure this low slung, high belted design would have felt like sitting in an old fashioned bath tub, but compared to modern muscle cars I found the Fiero roomy, easy to see out of and I had no problems getting my sizeable corn-fed All American ass into and out of the passenger seat. Although my driver, KC Classic’s president, Kim Eldred, took it a little easy on the first leg of our drive I thought the car picked up and ran along the city streets without problems. Unlike my Shelby, there were zero rattles or strange smells and it is simply so clean that my mind cannot comprehend the fact that this is an “old” car.

As we made our turn-around on an empty back street, Kim jumped on the gas and I got a chance to see just a little of what the V6 could do. Hampered by an automatic transmission, initial acceleration was sluggish in first gear but second gear, however, was downright surprising. As it made the shift, I felt myself pushed back into the seat with enough force to put a lasting smile on my face and, although the car was not blindingly fast, it was pleasantly snappy. Overall, it was a good ride.

In the weeks since my Shelby arrived I have had to take a good long look in the mirror. I remember the 1980s with some fondness, and in my mind’s eye the colors remain neon bright, the tunes fun and happy and the cars as solid, modern machines. The idea that they, like the man who looks back at me from across the bathroom sink, have gone soft over the years and are not capable of the things that they once did so easily makes me wonder if they ever could. Were the ‘80s, I ask myself, really the way I remember them or were they simply an illusion of youth? This Pontiac, so well preserved, has put those doubts to rest. The 1980s really were good times and I know now without a doubt that the cars, even one with such a mixed reputation as the Pontiac Fiero, really were capable of the things I remember.

If my purchase of the Shelby Charger was an attempt to regain a piece of my youth by marrying the prom queen that eluded me back in 1984 now that she is now the divorced grandmother of three, this Pontiac is a true piece of history recently removed suspended animation and put on sale for the relatively reasonable price of $12,900. All it needs now is a new owner to use it, enjoy it and to love it. You perhaps?

F4

My thanks to KC Classic Auto for allowing me to wander around their show room and for their willingness to take me out in one of their cars for this review.

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Lo, How the Mighty are Fallen. Porsche For Sale, Will Trade for Golf Cart http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/lo-how-the-mighty-are-fallen-porsche-for-sale-will-trade-for-golf-cart/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/lo-how-the-mighty-are-fallen-porsche-for-sale-will-trade-for-golf-cart/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:25:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=868834 I was doing some legwork on a Reader’s Ride sort of thing that I’m hoping I’ll get to do with a Porsche 968. Time hasn’t treated the four cylinder front engined Porsches quite as well as it has the 928, and that, too, is kind of dismissed by Dr. P’s acolytes of the rear engined […]

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porsche9242

I was doing some legwork on a Reader’s Ride sort of thing that I’m hoping I’ll get to do with a Porsche 968. Time hasn’t treated the four cylinder front engined Porsches quite as well as it has the 928, and that, too, is kind of dismissed by Dr. P’s acolytes of the rear engined faith. You can buy a 968, the ultimate development of the 944 and a very nicely performing, exceptionally handling car, for less than a new Yaris or Versa will cost you and you can get a decent runner 944 for just a few thousand dollars. As for the 924, like the 914, it’s considered eine halbe Porsche.

porsche924

The faithful reject it as a “true Porsche” not just because the engine’s in the wrong end of the car, but also because it was a joint VW/Porsche project intended originally to be a high end coupe for the VW brand in Europe and sold as an Audi in North America. It wasn’t originally even going to be a Porsche, though Porsche did much of the initial development work. However, when Volkswagen decided that the Scirocco met their coupe needs and backed out of the project, Porsche bought the rights, deciding to use the car as a replacement for the discontinued four cylinder 914 and 912 models.

porsche9243

When it arrived in showrooms, the front engine, rear transaxle layout and Porsche’s suspension prowess made it a great handling car. The smog control enfeebled Audi engine, shared with some AMC models including Jeep postal trucks, though, was a dog. The chassis didn’t find its promise until the Turbo, 924S, and 944 models. As a result, the 924 cars that have survived are cheap enough to be considered for 24 Hrs of LeMons use without having to sell off many parts to get under the $500 limit. Heck, some are already at or below the $500 limit as you can buy them. Well, people would consider using them as LeMons entries if they were reliable enough to last in a crapcan enduro, which they aren’t. You can get a running 924 for less than it will cost to put a used engine in a 10 year old Saturn. If that’s too rich for your blood, and you happen to have a spare golf cart laying about and are still jonesing for an affordable front engined Porsche, well, you’re in luck as someone in Hart, Michigan with a 924 is willing to make a trade:

Posted: 

 1977 Porsche 924 – $500 (Hart, MI )

image 1image 2image 3

1977 porsche 924

1977 924 Porschegreat for parts
no title/not running
will trade for golf cart
call or text 616-xxx- three to six three
  • do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers
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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Deliverance http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/deliverance/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/deliverance/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:02:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=863361 An old car is a feast for the senses. The gentle curve of a fender or the sharply drawn body line pleases the eye while the clatter of valves and the whine of spinning belts combine to make mechanical music. The exhaust gasses, which smell just a tad too rich, blend with the odors of […]

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Shelby Charger

An old car is a feast for the senses. The gentle curve of a fender or the sharply drawn body line pleases the eye while the clatter of valves and the whine of spinning belts combine to make mechanical music. The exhaust gasses, which smell just a tad too rich, blend with the odors of old motor oil, decaying rubber and that musty smell that wafts from the car’s interior to fill your olfactory, while the mixture of gasoline, oil and grease that makes your hands feel so slippery even finds its way onto your tongue when you bring the fingertip you burned on a hot manifold to your mouth. You see it, hear it, smell it, feel it and can even taste it, all five senses touched by one malodorous, malevolent little mechanical beast. Yes friends, if you hadn’t guessed by now, my ’83 Shelby Charger is here at last.

I had, I am ashamed to say, forgotten the physicality of old cars. As someone who lives with two fairly new, almost totally drama free vehicles, it’s easy to forget that all cars are anything but appliances. Like the washing machine I have running in the other room right now, my cars are competent, clean and perform flawlessly at the turn of the key. I could jump into either of them and drive from one coast to the other just as easily as I could drop another load of laundry into the tub of my washer and know with utter and absolute confidence that I will, in short order, have a load of clean clothes. The Shelby, on the other hand, more closely resembles the antique clock that graces my mantelpiece. It is a magical assembly of whirring gears that human ingenuity has brought together into one marvelous machine and, while it does the job, it requires almost daily adjustment to perform as intended.

shelby charger

Some of our readers may recall that, a few months ago, I posted a plaintive cry for help in choosing an older car. I set down a rather strict set of criteria: it needed to be older, not too nice lest I succumb to the desire to preserve it rather than use it, and it needed to have a manual transmission. I got a lot of great suggestions and a couple of tantalizing offers that I had to pass on but as luck would have it, one of our website’s erstwhile readers in Maryland, a gentleman named Terry, reached out and made an offer almost too good to refuse.

The photos showed a stunning little car and I was instantly smitten. In the flurry of emails that followed, Terry let slip that he was the car’s original owner but that, because like me he often works at jobsites outside of the United States, the car had spent a lot of time sitting. Eventually, it had ended up in a friend’s barn in West Virginia where time, the elements and a family of mice had worked their magic.

But Terry isn’t the kind of man who let’s things slide and although it might have been out of sight the little car was never out of mind. From the far side of the planet Terry plotted and waited and then, on a short trip home, he brought the car back over the Appalachians to Maryland where he dropped it at a local speed shop before heading back overseas. The list of things done was extensive and can’t hope to recount all of it here, I do know that the old transmission was swapped out for a stouter unit from a later model turbo Dodge, the top end of the engine was rebuilt and the car’s rust issues, which sounded extensive, were resolved by cutting out the cancer and welding in new steel. Finally, the car was repainted in its factory colors, set on a set of good looking OZ wheels shod with sticky, performance rubber and returned to its owner.

shelby charger 1

Terry enjoyed the car for a few years but, with an SRT8 Challenger, a 71 Charger and two jeeps in the garage, the little Shelby ended up under a cover in the driveway next to the daily driven Neon RT. While it didn’t exactly languish there it spent more time sitting than Terry liked and so, after reading of my undying love for 80s Dodges on these hallowed pages, Terry decided to shoot me an email. Naturally, I responded immediately and on my recent trip to DC I swung through Frederick. After a brief test drive through the rolling hills I decided that the car needed just a bit of sorting to be perfect for my purposes, but that it really was as Terry had represented a solid, original little car. At this point, because I am still working on a few of the things I think need to be addressed and because my impressions are still a bit muddled by the excitement of having so recently taken delivery, I won’t write a full review, but know now that you will soon hear so much about my adventures with this little car that you will grow to hate it.

Although I only got the car the day before yesterday, I can already tell you that it gets all kinds of attention. The cable guy and the garbage man both asked about it while it sat in the driveway before I got it registered. People asked about it at the inspection station and, once I got the plates on, it drew a small crowd when I took it to the gas station for its first fill-up. The guys in the auto parts store I stopped at all had to go out and see it and I even got asked about it from the passenger of a neighboring car while I paused at a stop light. Everyone, it seems, is excited to see my little Shelby Charger and they all have a question that they must ask or a story to share. It is a strange, visceral reaction that only the most special, elemental machine can inspire and if I cannot jump into it and drive to the far side of the country on a moment’s notice I’m OK with that. No one ever asks about my washing machine.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Leavenworth, KS 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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The Culture Of Cars: Real Or Imagined? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-culture-of-cars-real-or-imagined/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-culture-of-cars-real-or-imagined/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 14:16:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=857417 I’ve been on the road for the last few weeks and one of the places I was able to visit was the Smithsonian Institution’s Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport located just outside of Washington DC. Unlike the National Air and Space Museum located on the national mall close to the capitol building, the Udvar-Hazy […]

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Citroen Ami 6. Picture courtesy Citroen

I’ve been on the road for the last few weeks and one of the places I was able to visit was the Smithsonian Institution’s Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport located just outside of Washington DC. Unlike the National Air and Space Museum located on the national mall close to the capitol building, the Udvar-Hazy Center is an enormous facility and although I have visited other aircraft museums that have had larger collections on display, I think it is safe to say that the Smithsonian’s collection is second to none. The aircraft on display span the history of flight and include both military and civilian examples. More importantly, at least for the sake of this discussion, they come from every corner of the globe and as they sit there, lined up beside one another, it’s easy to compare the craftsmanship of one nation’s products against the next.

Years ago I read an interview with one of the men responsible for the restoration of the aircraft I so recently saw and one of his comments leaped out at me. The national characteristics of each nation, he asserted, was represented in the design and construction of their aircraft. British planes, he said, were complex with many small parts while Italian planes were beautifully constructed but relatively fragile. German planes he continued, were generally well designed with large robust parts, Japanese planes were tinny and lightly constructed while American aircraft were solid and almost agricultural in nature. Of course that article is lost to history and I am left paraphrasing a dim memory, but as I stood there looking over the Smithsonian’s collection that statement rang true and I began to wonder if the same thing could be said of cars.

As auto enthusiasts we spend a lot of time talking about the soul of certain cars, Italians they say have it in spades while the Japanese have traded it away for sewing machine-like reliability. We say that German cars exude a feeling of solidity and technological competence while the best British cars, replete with thick leather seats and burled walnut panels, seem to lack that technological prowess but have instead the comfortable feel of an English gentleman’s club. American cars, and to a certain extent Australian cars, are traditionally agricultural, simple and rough but reliable, and in line with those nation’s connection to the land while French cars are stylish, quirky and unique much like the French people who have always had their own, unique worldview.

But I wonder of those days aren’t gone. National and international standards have forced the homogenization of vehicles over the years while the nature of large multinational companies, which consume one another like a school of voracious fish, constantly ingesting and occasionally regurgitating one another with surprising ferocity, has allowed for an amazing amount of cross fertilization. In house design and development, especially of subsystems like fuel injection and electrical systems, is frequently farmed out to subcontractors and it is common to see cars across several companies sharing similar systems so what then has happened to the national character of our cars? Does it still exist? Did it ever? I wonder…

02 - 1962 Cadillac Sedan DeVille Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin

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

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The Last True Packards http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-last-true-packards/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-last-true-packards/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:48:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=854657 Last week* was the 58th anniversary of the date that the last true Packard that was built in Detroit by the storied automaker. If you follow the conventional wisdom about Packard, one of the great American luxury car makers, two things are taken as truisms. One is that offering the so-called “junior” Packards in the […]

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1956 Packard Caribbean Convertible. Full gallery here.

1956 Packard Caribbean Convertible. Full gallery here.

Last week* was the 58th anniversary of the date that the last true Packard that was built in Detroit by the storied automaker. If you follow the conventional wisdom about Packard, one of the great American luxury car makers, two things are taken as truisms. One is that offering the so-called “junior” Packards in the 1930s, something like Buicks were to Cadillac and Mercurys were to Lincoln, what we might today call entry level luxury, fatally tainted the prestige of the brand, ultimately leading to its demise. The other is that Jim Nance, who ran Packard in its last years as an independent automaker, mismanaged the company into oblivion. Contrarian that yours truly is, I’m not sure either of those things are quite accurate.

1956 Packard Caribbean hardtop. Full gallery here.

1956 Packard Caribbean hardtop. Full gallery here.

The entry level Packards kept the company afloat until military contracts during World War II put it on good enough financial footing to have produced one of the first true postwar cars, Packard’s 1948 “bathtub” models, which sold very well that year. As for Nance, historians say that his ego prevented the merger of four independent automakers, Packard, Hudson, Nash and Studebaker that George Mason at Nash proposed, a conglomerate that could have competed with the Big 3. Also, he later agreed to a futile merger with Studebaker in 1954, a company whose financial situation by then turned out to be more dire than Packard’s. Packard wasn’t profitable but its balance sheet was still sound. Studebaker also wasn’t making money but it was in much worse financial shape.

1956 Packard 400. Full gallery here.

1956 Packard Four Hundred. Full gallery here.

After the merger, in fact an acquisition of Packard by Studebaker, while the 1955 and 1956 models were genuine Packards, made by the company in Detroit, by 1957, Packards were just rebadged and restyled (hideously so, in my opinion) Studebakers. Piscine looking contraptions that are actually collectible as “Packardbakers”. Hence the 1955 and 1956 Packards were the last true Packards and it was Nance who was responsible for them. They’re remarkable cars in a number of ways, worthy of the brand’s name, with advanced engineering features. Considering the company’s limited financial resources by then, Nance and his team did a great job. Frankly, considering their historical significance, their technical features and what I believe was a masterful styling job by Dick Teague, later to head AMC’s styling department, I’m shocked that with the exception of the Caribbean models, particularly the convertibles, 1955 and 1956 Packards sell for relatively low prices.

For the price of an unrestorable tri-five Chevy you can own real history.

For the price of an unrestorable tri-five Chevy you can own real history.

I know of a 100% complete barn find 1956 Packard Patrician, the top of the line for them that year, with just about all the available options including air conditioning and Packard’s Twin Ultramatic automatic gearbox. It’s a solid car with 100% of the parts that I could buy tomorrow if I had a spare $5,000. Five grand won’t even get you a restorable 1957 Chevy these days.

1955 Packard Caribbean convertible. Full gallery here.

1955 Packard Caribbean convertible. Full gallery here.

It’s true that following the introduction of the 1935 One Twenty models, which sold well, Packard’s managers neglected their true luxury line, allowing Cadillac to dominate the luxury market in the 1940s and early 1950s. Nance’s plan was to restore Packard’s prestige by splitting the company’s products into two lines, Packards and Clippers, reviving the latter brand name which had originally been used for a 1941 model. Though the cars were basically the same, Packards sat on longer wheelbases, had some unique features as standard equipment as well as unique options, and they had more elaborate exterior treatments with two and three tone paint jobs and lots of chrome and stainless steel trim.

1955 Packard 400, Full gallery here.

1955 Packard 400, Full gallery here.

Starting in 1949, when Cadillac introduced the first mass-produced high compression overhead valve V8 engine, every automaker tried to come up with a modern V8 to stay in the game. In 1953, Nance convinced the Packard board of directors to invest $20 million in a new motor. It wasn’t an easy task. For all their engineering prowess, Packard was a conservative company and it’s straight eight engines were outstanding designs. As good as the Packard straight eights were, they couldn’t compete in terms of power or prestige with Cadillac’s OHV V8. Bill Graves, Packards head engineer, was in charge of the V8 team, made of J.R. Ferguson, Bill Schwieder, and E.A. Weiss. The design of the V8 was conventional, following the practices at Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Studebaker, but it had industry leading power, with the 352 cubic inch version in the senior Packards producing 260 hp and 275 in the dual-carb Caribbeans.

1955 Clipper. When the Clipper was introduced it was not branded a Packard, to distinguish the more expensive cars. Full gallery here.

1955 Clipper. When the Clipper was introduced it was not branded a Packard, to distinguish the more expensive cars. Full gallery here.

To back up the new engine, Forest MacFarland and Herb Misch were in charge of the latest development of Packard’s own automatic transmission. Automatics were about as important for prestige cars as V8 engines were and it’s a tribute to Packard that they, among all of the independent automakers, were the only ones to develop their own automatic gearbox. Originally called the Ultramatic, the ’55 Packards were to get a new “Twin Ultramatic”. MacFarland was respected enough in his field that the SAE gives out an award named in his honor and Misch later had a distinguished career at Ford where before becoming head of engineering, he had a major role in the development of the first Mustang. Oh, and a guy named John Delorean also had a hand in the Ultramatic.

Clippers had "slipper" taillights. Full gallery here.

Clippers had substantially different taillights than Packards in 1955. Full gallery here.

The ’55 Packards were to have a modern powertrain, so that put them in the game. To make them stand proud of the competition, so to speak, Nance embraced a radical idea for the suspension, something branded as Torsion Level Suspension. It was originally invented by William Allison when at Hudson, but that company didn’t have the resources to fully develop it. Allison moved on to Packard and Nance gave the go-ahead to put the novel torsion bar based suspension on the 1955 senior Packards. I’ve been reading about the Torsion Level Suspension for years now, and I’m still not completely sure how it works, though both contemporary reports and today’s collectors say it indeed works, providing both a smooth ride over things like potholes and railroad tracks and better handling than the other cars of the day. In addition to all of the torsion bars, the system also was self-leveling, actuated by a solenoid activated electric motor. People would sit on the back bumper and be amazed as the car leveled itself. Though it had a seven second delay, one could call it an early example of active suspension.

For 1956, the Clipper got taillights similar to the Packards' "cathedral" style lamps. Full gallery here.

For 1956, the Clipper got taillights similar to the Packards’ “cathedral” style lamps. Full gallery here.

Rather than confuse you by trying to explain something I don’t understand, I’ll let Aaron Severson, the best online automotive historian there is, tell you how Torsion Level Suspension works. You can read his full history of the last Packards over at Ate Up With Motor.

Its main springs were a pair of long torsion bars, anchored at one end to the front suspension’s lower control arms, at the other to the rear suspension’s trailing arms. A second, shorter set of bars ran parallel to the main springs, anchored at one end to the rear suspension arms (sharing the same pivot axis as the main springs) and at the other to an electric compensator motor mounted on the frame’s central X member. There was also a front anti-roll bar, while the rear suspension used two stabilizing links for lateral location.

The interconnection of the front and rear suspension meant that bumps affecting the front wheels were transmitted to the rear axle and vice versa. Since the springs were not anchored directly to the frame, the ride had an odd, floaty quality, but unlike softly sprung conventional suspensions, it sacrificed little body control. Even with Torsion-Level, no Packard could really be called nimble, but cars with Allison’s suspension handled with admirable composure, not nearly as nautically as the ride motions implied.

The electric motor had two functions. First, it kept the body on an even keel; since the springs were not anchored to the frame, the body would come to rest in any position that balanced the preloading of the springs, rather than returning naturally to a level attitude. Second, the compensator provided automatic load leveling. If a heavy load were added to the trunk, for instance, the motor would crank the torsion bars until the car was again level. There was a seven-second delay to keep the system from overreacting to bumpy pavement and a cut-off switch was provided under the dash so that the compensator would not drain the battery with the engine off.

Packard Torsion-Level diagram

A simplified diagram of the Packard Torsion-Level suspension. The main springs (red) are long torsion bars connecting the front A-arms to the rear trailing arms; a set of compensator springs (green) share the same pivot axis (purple), connecting the rear trailing arms to the compensator motor (yellow). The rear does not have an anti-roll bar, but there are two lateral links to locate the rear axle. (diagram, Aaron Severson, referencing 1955 Packard press illustrations)

Packard even offered a limited slip differential. The company was so proud of the engineering features they even manufactured a number of fully assembled chassis without bodies for use as dealer showroom displays. All of that technology, though, wasn’t going to overcome a somewhat stodgy image. While the ’48s were innovative, that novelty wore off quickly and the new bodies designed for 1951 weren’t terribly well received by consumers, one reason for Packard’s financial situation. For the “all new” 1955 models, with so much money devoted to the new engine, transmission and suspension, Bill Schmidt’s design team was going to have to make do with the old body shell. What lead stylist Dick Teague came up with was so good that it’s hard to tell that they recycled. Not only that, but the design was contemporary and modern looking, not at all out of place with 1955-1957 cars from GM, Ford and Chrysler.

1953 Packard Balboa. Full gallery here

They had wraparound windshields, eggcrate grilles, hooded headlamps, “cathedral taillights” (Clippers had smaller “slipper” lights in back), and a continuous fender line running from front to back, elevating as it reaches the rather tall tail lamps, achieving the look of tail fins. By 1955 cars were getting lower so to make the tall 1951 body appear less so, ribbed chrome side moldings along the flanks visually lowered them. Also, by 1955 two door hardtop sedans were gaining popularity and for the first time the Patrician got a  true hardtop companion, the Four Hundred.

"Cathedral" taillights on a 1955 Packard Caribbean. Full gallery here.

“Cathedral” taillights on a 1955 Packard Caribbean. Full gallery here.

Sales nearly doubled from 1954, so the board approved a modest redesign for 1956. Most noticeable are longer “eyelids” over the headlights. There were also some mechanical improvements, and the board also approved the introduction of a Packard Executive model, above the Clippers but below the Patrician, Four Hundred and Caribbean. Engine displacements increased, as did power. The Patrician got a 374 CI engine that put out 290 hp. Again Packard led the industry with 310 horsepower in the Caribbean. The Twin Ultramatic got a optional push button control, a popular feature in the 1950s, now returning at some brands.

1956 Packard Executive. It combined a Packard front end with a Clipper rear end. Full gallery here.

1956 Packard Executive. It combined a Packard front end with a Clipper rear end. Full gallery here.

On paper the new Packards should have been great. Unfortunately they were compromised by quality control, mostly a result of moving production out of the old plant on East Grand Blvd, the one that’s featured in most ruin porn you see from Detroit, to a factory on Conner Ave where the company had started building their own bodies after their body supplier, Briggs, was bought out by Chrysler. Packard’s shrinking dealer network contributed to the quality issue. The Twin Ultramatic isn’t a great transmission, by TurboHydramatic standards, but it works well enough if it is maintained properly. The same is true about all the switches and solenoids used in the Torsion Level Suspension. Cars back then needed a lot of regular maintenance, with some tasks performed every 1,000 or 2,000 miles. Independent repair shops simply didn’t see enough Packards to learn how to maintain and repair them properly. The brand’s reputation suffered. By 1956, the word got out about quality and sales dropped to only 7,568 Packards and about 21,000 Clippers. It should be noted that ’55-’56 Packard enthusiasts point out that when properly maintained, their cars’ transmissions and suspensions work just fine.

1956 Packard dealer showroom display chassis. Full gallery here.

1956 Packard dealer showroom display chassis. Full gallery here.

In the summer of 1956 the Studebaker board stepped in and ended Packard production in Detroit. The death of Packard has been covered numerous times, from numerous angles, since 1958, but I didn’t want to dwell on the death of a great car company in this piece. Rather I wanted to show that while Packard went out of existence as a Detroit automaker, they went out on a high note. James Nance may have made some mistakes, but it was no mistake to make the last Packards automobiles worthy of the marque.

A nameplate after our Editor in Chief pro tem's own heart. "The Patrician".

A nameplate after our Editor in Chief pro tem’s own heart. “The Patrician”.

The cars pictured here were photographed at various Detroit area shows, including the Concours of America, the Orphan Car Show, Eyes On Design and shows at the Packard Proving Grounds.

*The History Channel says that the last Packard built in Detroit was assembled on June 25, 1956. Old Cars Weekly says that it was a few weeks later, August 15th.

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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Remembering the Good Humor Truck http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/remembering-the-good-humor-truck/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/remembering-the-good-humor-truck/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 12:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=844761 It’s summertime, when ice cream trucks ply the residential streets of America, playing the same silly songs over and over and over again, or ringing their bells. There was a time when the ringing bells of Good Humor trucks could be heard across America, but now their bells are heard and the trucks are seen […]

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Full gallery here

It’s summertime, when ice cream trucks ply the residential streets of America, playing the same silly songs over and over and over again, or ringing their bells. There was a time when the ringing bells of Good Humor trucks could be heard across America, but now their bells are heard and the trucks are seen primarily at car shows and in museums. A vintage piece of Americana from yesteryear.

The story of the Good Humor truck, interestingly enough, starts with another brand of frozen treat. After an Iowa candy store owner figured out how to successfully coat a slab of vanilla ice cream with a thin chocolate shell and called it the Eskimo Pie in 1919, Harry Burt, who owned an ice cream parlor in Youngstown, Ohio, figured out how to reproduce the process but his daughter Ruth thought it was too messy to eat. Burt had earlier had some success with the Jolly Boy Sucker, a hard candy on a wooden stick. Harry Jr. suggested using one of the wooden sticks as a handle for the chocolate coated ice cream bar. Before deep freezing a batch in the store’s hardening room, the senior Burt inserted a wooden stick in each. They discovered that ice crystals that were formed created a strong enough bond to the wood so it could be used as a handle to eat the ice cream neatly.

Realizing that the product had potential beyond a single ice cream parlor, Burt bought a dozen Ford vending trucks, outfitted them with primitive freezers to keep the ice cream cold and bells to ring in order to attract kids. The first set of bells were from Harry Jr’s old bobsled. The ice cream bar was named Good Humor, though there are two reasons given for the name. The first was that Harry Burt was capitalizing on a the popular belief that one’s “humor”, one’s general outlook on life was affected by the foods one ate. The other is that the word humors was a synonym for flavors. That’s why some early Good Humor trucks use the plural Good Humors. The trucks were white, as were the drivers’ uniforms, to give the impression of cleanliness. Drivers also wore Sam Brown leather belts and shoes, a cap not unlike a policeman’s cap, and a sash also like a policeman’s, to give a sense of safety and authority, and a coin changer. In addition to trucks, Good Humor bars were sold from push carts and pedal carts, also in white and always with the bobsled bells.

While Burt seemed to have favored Fords, with special bodywork and freezers installed by Hackney Brothers, over the history of the company there have been local and regional Good Humor franchises, and which vehicles they used seemed to have been up to the local operators. There were a number of Chevrolet based Good Humor trucks as well as a number of independent coachbuilders who added the freezers.

Burt tried to patent his new invention but the Patent Office considered them to be too similar to Eskimo Pies. Burt traveled to Washington, D.C. and personally lobbied the Patent Office, which relented, granting him patents on the equipment and processes needed to make a frozen confection on a stick.

Harry Burt died in 1926 and his widow sold out to an investor group from Cleveland which renamed the company Good Humor Corporation of America and started selling franchises. When the owner of the Detroit franchise tried to expand to Chicago in 1929, gangsters demanded protection money. When the $5,000 was not forthcoming, the mobsters torched a number of Good Humor trucks. Ironically, the publicity about the arson got Good Humor established in Chicago. Nationally, the fact that a Good Humor bar was an inexpensive treat that just about anyone could afford grew the brand’s popularity during the Depression.

After the end of World War II, Good Humor expanded into the suburbs as the “greatest generation” proceeded to [pro]create what we call baby boomers. By the mid 1950s, truck sales accounted for 90% of the company’s sales, with more than half of their customers 12 years old or younger. The fleet grew to 2,000 trucks. The Good Humor truck became a piece of Americana. There was even a theatrical 1950 movie titled The Good Humor Man, a comedic murder mystery starring Jack Carson that includes what is probably the only car chase scene in movie history that uses a Good Humor truck.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Into the 1960s sales continued to grow but Good Humor started experiencing organized competition from the step-van based Mister Softee trucks. Also, the company had been organized fairly early on and starting in the 1950s it was repeatedly struck by the Teamsters union. By the early 1970s the Good Humor fleet was down to 1,200 trucks.

Also, beginning in 1968, the company had started losing money. Since Good Humor was owned by a conglomerate, Unilever, the loses weren’t fatal but after the first oil crisis in 1973 gasoline prices made truck sales impracticable. The owner of the 1973 Ford F-250 Good Humor truck pictured here told me that it was one of only two made by Hackney that year. When I spoke to Good Humor historian Richard Box, though, he insisted that it couldn’t have been made by Hackney because they stopped making pickup truck based Good Humor trucks in 1969, switching to step-vans. Since the freezers lasted a long time, some were transferred to new chassis and Box suggested that perhaps this was that kind of conversion. However, checking with the owners, they say that while Hackney indeed stopped using pickups to build their Good Humor trucks in 1969, Good Humor did have two 1973 F-250 trucks converted by Hackney on special order for the use of a Florida Good Humor distributor. That means that this is one of the last two traditional Good Humor trucks ever made. Switching to step-vans didn’t change the tide. After a decade of unprofitability, in 1978 Good Humor sold off the remaining fleet for $1,000 to $3,000 jper truck, many of them to former Good Humor vendors who started running their own businesses.

As I mentioned, nowadays if you see a Good Humor truck it’s likely to be at some kind of car event. Good Humor truck collectors and restorers have figured out a way to make their hobby help pay for itself, by either renting out their trucks to special events, or by using it to sell ice cream at car shows and the like. Some report grossing $1,000 a day. That’s how I happened across the Mike and Sue Berardi’s 1973 Ford F-250 Good Humor truck (with a freezer box by Hackney) at the Mustang Memories show last summer. A vendor with a display at that show hired the Berardis and “Cream Puff”, as they call their truck, to hand out free ice cream bars. In real life Mike is director of service engineering for a small family owned enterprise named Ford Motor Company. Mike’s connection to Ford may explain why he and Sue were also slinging Good Humor bars at the recent Motor Muster held on the grounds of Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village.

Not far from where the Berardis were selling Good Humors out of their Good Humor truck at the Motor Muster was the show’s display of vintage bicycles, set up adjacent to the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop. Sitting out front was a Good Humor bike, or actually a trike, with a cooler made by Milkey, circa 1948, resplendent in Good Humor white and replete with the Burts’ bobsled bells. It’s obviously been restored and from the modern ice cream stickers on it, my guess is that its owners also are at least in the ice cream selling biz part time.

It was fortuitous that there were a Good Humor truck and pedal cart at the Motor Muster. I’d already decided to write about Good Humor trucks after seeing Joe Hornacek’s restored 1931 Ford Good Humor truck on display the week before at the Packard Proving Grounds’ 2014 Cars R Stars show. The featured category at this year’s show was commercial vehicles, and if I recall correctly, this was the first time Hornacek has shown the car since the restoration was completed. He hasn’t even considered using the truck to sell ice cream, though he was giving out free samples to kids.

Hornacek acquired his 1931 Ford Model A Roadster Pickup based Good Humor truck as a literal barn find. It was in pieces in a barn near Port Huron, Michigan. At first he thought it was too far gone to restore but having second thoughts he asked the seller to lay out all the parts on the ground. Hornacek realized there was enough there, particularly from the freezer box, to be able to start a restoration.

The first thing he discovered was that in eight decades of use the truck and freezer had been repaired a number of times, in non-standard ways. He decided to completely reframe the body, using ash wood, as Ford Motor Company did for their bodies. However, once Hornacek got the body frame assembled, he discovered that parts of the original handmade body were out of square by more than an inch. The freezer had been fabricated by an unknown independent coachbuilder. As a result, while most of the truck is original, the sheet metal for the freezer sides had to be reproduced. Once he got the body fabbed, the rest of the restoration was relatively easy because Model A parts, NOS and repros, are readily available today. Some of Hornacek’s build photos are in the gallery below.

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Danbury Mint model of a Model A based Good Humor truck.

The truck’s graphics are based on a 1930 Ford Good Humor truck whose photograph is in the collection of the Smithsonian. That truck has the lettering as “Good Humors” and also has a disclaimer “Mfd under the Burt patents”, no doubt an assurance of quality by a local franchisee. Hornacek’s Ford is a great looking vehicle, which may explain why the Danbury Mint once issued a die cast model of a Model A Good Humor truck that looks very much like his. While the Berardi’s truck has a full cab, Hornacek’s truck has the classic open roof “half cab” that many of us associate with Good Humor trucks.

A Chevrolet based Good Humor truck in the collection of the Smithsonian institutions.

A Chevrolet based Good Humor truck in the collection of the Smithsonian institutions.

If you’d like to have your own Good Humor truck, get ready to spend some money and maybe some elbow grease like Joe Hornacek. In 2012, a 1965 Ford Good Humor truck with a concours level restoration sold at auction for $66,000. If you want to do a little restoration work, this 1966 Ford/Hackney Good Humor truck on eBaymotors has a Buy It Now price of $24,500. A previous owner painted it black to use as a promotional vehicle for a radio station. A Darth Vader Good Humor truck is sort of a cool idea, though I doubt Harry Burt would have approved. Actually those Hackney freezers typically have porcelain enameled body panels so you can probably use some kind of chemical stripper to expose the white porcelain below.

You know, owning a vintage Good Humor truck is not exactly an unappealing idea. Those old Ford and Chevy trucks are already collectible and you get to enjoy a special version of a cool vintage truck that makes people smile. If you decide you want to dress up like a Good Humor man and sell a few ice cream bars, how many other ideas can you think of that allow you to make money while hanging out at car shows?

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

hornacek1 hornacek2 hornacek3 hornacek4 hornacek5

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