Category: History

By on August 30, 2017

AMC Eagle (public domain)

Roy Lunn passed away recently at the age of 92, not long after being named to the Automotive Hall of Fame. The name may be unfamiliar, but any one of his manifold achievements probably would have merited inclusion in that august institution.

Lunn was in charge of creating the Aston Martin DB2, progenitor to the James Bond cars. Moving to Ford, he had a seminal role in the development of the Anglia 105-E, Ford’s first postwar hit in Europe and the foundation of much of the brand’s later success on the continent. At Dearborn he engineered the first Mustang concept and was then put in charge of Ford Motor Company’s all-out assault on Ferrari at LeMans with the GT40, developments of which won that race four years in a row.

With LeMans conquered, he became chief engineer at American Motors, going from a virtually unlimited budget with Ford Racing to having to turn AMC’s pigs ears into silk purses, and come in at budget, too. At American Motors, Lunn helped make the original XJ Cherokee arguably the most durable American vehicle ever made.

Lunn didn’t know it at the time, but he also invented what we today call the crossover, or CUV — the UV standing for Utility Vehicle, not ultraviolet. In a sentence, a crossover is a vehicle based on a passenger car but with more ground clearance, a long, station wagon-like roofline, a rear hatch, and some kind of drive system that puts motive force at all four wheels. Read More >

By on August 25, 2017

lincolndavis

When considering the way some folks apply modern values to historical personages and events, I often think of two historical truths from the world of fiction. William Faulkner gave us, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” while L.P. Hartley opened his novel The Go-Between with, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

History resonates and rhymes, but things do change.

In America we are currently having a raging debate over whether or not prior remembrances of the past will be effaced because the people remembered were flawed human beings who, in some cases, embraced causes or beliefs many people today consider to be odious. Most recently, Charlottesville, Virginia, has been ground zero for the controversy, with extremists latching on to the issue — resulting in a horrific vehicular homicide.

Peripherally to the events in Chalottesville, the city council of Alexandria, Virginia, has voted to rename the section of the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway that travels through their city.

How that road got named after the president of the Confederate States of America more than a century ago — and nearly 50 years after the end of the Civil War — is an interesting exploration into culture, race, and the history of transportation in America. Read More >

By on March 22, 2017

Subaru STI bobsled

Most automotive advertising has little to nothing to do with the actual car. It’s usually about presenting an image or hawking brand identity and then loosely associating it with a vehicle — Mercedes’ current “Grow Up” campaign is a perfect, cringeworthy example. However, enthusiasts know that the best car ads feature incredible shenanigans and loads of life-or-death action.

Dave Chapelle mocked Mitsubishi for its pop-and-lock Eclipse spot, while Top Gear honored Land Rover for winching a Defender up the side of a dam. Keenly aware of this is Subaru, which, after sending Mark Higgins and a WRX STI around the Isle of Man TT course in 2014, brought both man and vehicle to the world’s oldest bobsled run in St. Moritz, Switzerland to record another automotive spectacle.

Unfortunately, Subaru is more than 50 years too late for this particular publicity stunt. Ford filmed an identical feature in the Italian Alps with the Cortina GT way back in 1964. It even named the car after the Cortina d’Ampezzo ski resort, where it later held the event. Subaru may be calling it “boxersledding” today, but it’s really just a rehash of Ford’s classic “auto-bobbing.”  Read More >

By on March 6, 2017

bullitt mustang

Steve McQueen tear-assing around the streets of San Francisco in a Highland Green 1968 Mustang GT, hoping desperately to catch the two contract killers in a stealth black Dodge Charger R/T of the same vintage, is the standout moment from the film Bullitt. Three minutes of tension-building tailing followed by seven minutes of the most enjoyable and realistic on-screen tire-smoking mayhem ever set to jazz fusion. It is still one of the best car chases in any film, if not the best.

Sadly, as with most movie cars, the Mustang that did the majority of that incredible driving and took the brunt of the abuse vanished while the one kept pristine for the camera ended up on the East Coast in someone’s private collection. The owner of that car is notoriously secretive about it and has used it off-and-on as a daily driver, which is a shame, as the stunt car was assumed to have been sent to a junkyard and destroyed.

Then it cropped up in Mexico after having languished in anonymity for decades.  Read More >

By on March 6, 2017

1989 Dodge Shelby Dakota, Image: Chrysler

Since Dodge started producing trucks way back in 1921, it has never held the crown of the best-selling pickup truck in America. Not once. Not even when Dodge was the top brand in America.

It seems from the get-go Dodge has played third-fiddle in Ford versus General Motors pickup truck wars. But being third child meant that Dodge often struggled to be recognized in the market when compared to its more famous competitors.

For enthusiasts, that has always been a good thing.

It meant Dodge always had to be different. Dodge always had to be innovative, or more enthusiastic, or just plain shout more than anyone else. The result of all that was Dodge brought us some very trick trucks along the way that were cutting-edge, that defined a market, or were just plain cool.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at 40 years of pre-Y2K Dodge truck highlights (even when they haven’t been so successful).

Read More >

By on February 16, 2017

1993 Honda Crossroad, Image: Honda

The Japanese market is notorious for being closed to the outside world. It has forced successful U.S. companies to abandon the country, as Ford did recently, and propped-up sales of niche producer Porsche to outstrip sales of corporate giant General Motors. At first glance, it would seem Japanese buyers just don’t want cars built by companies outside the Land of the Rising Sun.

On this side of the Pacific, imports are so popular that domestic manufacturers attempted to make them their own multiple times. We’ve had Opels called Pontiacs and Buicks, Mitsubishis masquerading as Dodges, Toyotas and Suzukis selling as Geos, and Isuzus branded as Chevrolets.

But has it ever gone the other way? Have Japanese brands ever tried to appropriate the automotive culture of other countries to move the metal?

Read More >

By on February 9, 2017

Citroen Traction Avant 11C, Image: Citroen

The Volkswagen Golf GTi may be what many consider the definitive “hot hatch,” and most enthusiasts credit it with popularizing the idea of a functional yet fun-to-drive and economical daily driver. From its roots have sprung countless pocket-sized performance variants, right up to today’s current Focus RS.

But the Volkswagen Golf was far from the world’s first hatchback. It wasn’t even close.

So where did the idea of a hinged-rear body panel begin? More than 40 years prior to the launch of the GTi, another innovative car introduced the world to the idea of the hatchback, among a few other new features. Are you surprised that it was French, after our Matra article last month?

Read More >

By on February 3, 2017

1960 BMW 700, Image: BMW

Following in the footsteps of last week’s Karmann Ghia article, it seemed natural to take a look at two other lesser-known German alternatives to Volkswagen’s Type 1 Beetle and the ‘Beetle-in-a-suit’ Karmann Ghia.

Like the Karmann Ghia, both were attempts to capitalize on a new and expanding market for automobiles in Germany during the postwar economic boom times. That meant that the models had to incorporate existing technology, yet also appeal to a crowd increasingly interested in performance and style. However, both had to be at least somewhat economical and practical as family cars.

The result was a series of interesting and mostly forgotten air-cooled, rear-engine, rear-drive sedans, coupes and convertibles from both BMW and NSU.

Read More >

By on January 27, 2017

1961 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Type 34, Image: Volkswagen

The Karmann Ghia is familiar to most automotive enthusiasts as a styling exercise intended to turn the Volkswagen Beetle into a slinky “sportscar” using pedestrian internals. The resulting Type 1 Ghia debuted way back in 1955 and added some (more) Porsche styling to the family sedan. Assembled by Karmann in Osnabrück, Germany, with styling from Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin, Italy, the curvy two-door offered little performance, but much style, compared to its stablemates.

However, the Type 1 Karmann Ghia wasn’t the only car to bear that German-Italian nameplate.

Read More >

By on January 13, 2017

1974 Simca-Matra Bagheera, Image: Matra Sports

The French have always had a penchant for doing things a little differently. Take Matra, for example.

The Matra R530 is a medium range air-to-air missile normally fitted to the Dassault Mirage fighter jet.

The Matra M530, on the other hand, is a mid-engine sports car. Of course, that was no coincidence, as the first real Matra sports car was named after the missile built by the same company’s weapon division.

Yet the company’s abnormal conventions didn’t end at naming a mid-engine sports car after an infrared homing missile, making Matra one of the more interesting — albeit obscure — footnotes in French automotive history. The company went from producing front-line weaponry to winning the Formula One title in five years, won Le Mans three times on the trot, and produced some of the first minivans. Yet, at the height of their power, they hung up their automotive jacket and today they produce….bicycles? Read More >

By on January 5, 2017

1998 Subaru Impreza WRC; Image: Prodrive

The name Prodrive isn’t one you’ll stumble across every day, and sounds a bit like a company that might offer teen driving courses. However, it’s one of the world’s most successful race car shops, and bests many individual manufacturer efforts.

How successful?

How does six World Rally Championships, four Le Mans wins, five World Endurance Championships, and four British Touring Car Championships victories sound for a start?

But while “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” is the parable that motivates many marques in motorsport, Prodrive sells no road cars.

How does a small, generally unheard of firm compete against the likes of Porsche, Honda, and Ford? Simple — those companies hire Prodrive to run their race programs. Read More >

By on December 29, 2016

1995 Ford Transit Supervan 3, Image: Ford

There comes a dreaded moment in many automobile enthusiasts’ lives when the reality of having a family and the need for practicality outweighs all other considerations.

Enter that dreaded “V” word.

Getting a van — especially a minivan — is for many the automotive equivalent of getting neutered. You’ve given up, capitulated. Your desires to apex corners and outrace sports cars are now parked firmly in the third-row tier of importance, and haulin’ ass has been replaced by just hauling asses.

But getting a people-hauler doesn’t have to be all bad. In fact, there are quite a few vans people claim are “good to drive.” While I’ll take their word on such things for the time being and soldier on with my wagon addiction, let’s take a look at some more inspired options for heavy-duty hauling that made the prospect of a van actually seem quite cool.

Read More >

By on December 16, 2016

1966 Sunbeam Tiger, Image: Rootes Group

Americans and Europeans had similarly themed but opposite problems after World War II.

Americans had big, rumbling V8s in big, heavy cars that were decidedly un-sporty.

Europeans had small, lightweight sportscars without the power to back up the looks.

The solution was simple: combine them. The slinky Euro shapes were stuffed full with giant American engines in many guises — and the results spoke for themselves. The AC Cobra captured hearts of enthusiasts and race victories alike around the globe.

The Cobra was neither the first nor the last of these conglomerates that took V8s from Chrysler, Ford and General Motors and popped them into all sorts of coupes, grand tourers, sedans and convertibles.

Read More >

By on December 8, 2016

1995 Lotec C1000, Image: eBay

Countless hours of development, design and construction. Exacting details wrought in boardboardrooms and wind tunnels. Exotic materials, experimental engine designs, hand crafted bodies. The goal?

Simple. Make the fastest car in the world.

But even if a designer or firm achieves that goal, they don’t necessarily have a winner on their hands. Even when the facts and figures support one supercar design over another, intangibles often decide which one will be a success.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some superlative automobiles over a few decades and see how fate played out.
Read More >

By on December 1, 2016

1971 Lamborghini LP500 Prototype, Image: Bertone

Though it may seem hard to believe, we’re only a month away from celebrating the 50th anniversary of the start of the Wedge Era in automotive designs.

To those of us who still think of the Countach as a sharp enough design to be considered cutting edge, this is a sad reality. Yet the prototype of what would become the 1980s poster child was first shown in a hard-to-conceptualize 1971.

The influence of the angle extended far beyond the Countach in the 1980s. It also started before the scissored doors opened on the stand in Geneva in 1971 and was seen in many more marques than just those wearing the Raging Bull. Even more impressive than its age is the reach of these designs, some of which are still being refined today. So, let’s take a look at some of the interesting and influential doorstop shapes and where they later found a home.

Read More >

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