Category: History

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.

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By on November 25, 2016

1979 Mercedes-Benz 450SLC 5.0 (C107), Image: Daimler

In 1978, Mercedes-Benz made the decision to expand its efforts in rally competition. But its choice of platform to enter into the World Rally Championship was, to say the least, unique.

At the time, the WRC was dominated by small sedans like the Fiat 131 Abarth and Ford Escort RS1800 — cars that finished first and second in the championship that year. Mercedes-Benz took a decidedly different route, as it had no small sporty sedan.

What it did have was a large, heavy and expensive personal luxury coupe in the C107 SLC. While the choice would seem unnatural, under the direction of Erich Waxenberger the premier 450SLC was prepared and developed over the next few seasons into a rally winner. Read More >

By on November 14, 2016

1990 Opel Lotus Omega, Image: Lotus Cars

While in recent months TTAC has reported on the declining popularity of the four door, there are still a plethora of fast sedans in the marketplace.

In fact, the performance extracted from them was unfathomable even a generation ago. How did we end up at a 500-horsepower Audi, a 640-horsepower Cadillac and 707-horse Dodge? What were once numbers reserved for otherworldly exotics now are found in a pedestrian nameplate.

But this is no new trend, for while the current power war we’re experiencing has generated outlandish performance numbers for a mere average Joe, the recipe of sticking the most punch possible into a sedan for the masses goes back a long way.

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By on November 9, 2016

Robert_S._McNamara_and_General_Westmoreland_in_Vietnam_1965

November 9, 1960: Robert McNamara becomes president of Ford Motor Company just one day after John F. Kennedy is elected President of the United States.

He may have only held automotive office for a handful of weeks before becoming JFK’s Secretary of Defense, but McNamara’s legacy at Ford is everlasting. However, after saving the company from its own ill-planned and cannibalistic Edsel division, he later created an Edsel of his own in the Vietnam War.

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By on November 4, 2016

1978 BMW M1 (E26), Image: BMW

It should come as no surprise that some of the most iconic automobile designs have interesting associations in their geneses. Where those associations come from, though, can sometimes be surprising, as companies leapfrog the globe trying to find the talent, technical expertise, and productive capacity to build a new or unique model.

These stories seem to pop up more often when there’s a shift in a company’s priorities or an attempted to redefine its direction or mission. Large organizations can be slow to adjust to these changes, and so often these major manufacturers turned to small teams to produce what have often become standout models from already legendary lineups.

Often, but not always, as we see in this montage of odd couples.

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By on October 28, 2016

1990 Shelby CSX (P), Image: Shelby Automobiles

It was impossible to escape the word “Turbo” in the 1980s.

There were Turbo Aviators and Turbo Hoover vacuums. Turbo was a character on American Gladiators. There was even Turbo chewing gum, which came with a cool mini car poster wrapper. Turbo was a helluva drug in the 1980s, and Chrysler took note.

BMW offered one turbocharged gasoline model. Porsche offered three. But Chrysler? Over a 10 year span, the Pentastar turbocharged its entire car lineup, bringing us some 20 turbocharged models powered by no less than six different variations of the 2.2- and 2.5-liter inline-fours.

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By on October 21, 2016

1992 Mazda Cosmo, Image: Mazda

Since the 1980s, draconian federal importation laws have meant enthusiasts in the United States must wait a full 25 years before some of their favorite brand’s models are legal on these shores. And every year, groups of enthusiasts take to the internet to contemplate what cars will be available for importation with the turn of the new year. The arrival of each new calendar year then becomes a celebration of the past, a revisit of forsaken models, a festival of other-market obscurity.

The Land of the Rising Sun is becoming more than just a source for tuners looking for their next drift car. That’s right, Japanese cars are now collectible.
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By on October 14, 2016

1988 Audi 90 Quattro Treser Hunter (B3), Image: Image: Treser-Audi.de

Who built the first 250-horsepower Quattro? The first turbocharged German wagon? The first long-wheelbase Audi with all-wheel drive? The first all-wheel-drive convertible? The first off-road-inspired Audi? The first aluminum space-frame car? The first mid-engine car with Volkswagen’s Audi Group underpinnings?

Not Audi.

They all came from the mind of one incredible engineer named Walter Treser.

It’s not that Treser was without connection to the company, though, as he was intimately involved with developing the legendary Quattro and other models, then later headed up Audi’s rally program. Sure, Ferdinand Piëch gets all the credit for being the visionary that made all-wheel drive possible, but Treser is the engineer that actually turned that vision into reality.

But he didn’t rest on his laurels for long.

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By on October 10, 2016

Auto Polo - Bain's New York

People do strange, dangerous things to entertain themselves and others. Real lawn darts were once sold as children’s toys. Almost as soon as automobiles became somewhat practical, people were figuring out dangerous and fun things to do with them.

The earliest automobiles were typically rich folks’ novelties, which may explain why, in 1902, Joshua Crane, Jr., a polo enthusiast active with the Dedham Polo Club of Boston, decided to put on an exhibition polo match wherein Mobile Runabouts replaced horses.

That it might not have been the safest endeavor can be seen from a surviving photograph of the match catching one of the drivers/mallet men doing a header into the ground, about to be run over by his own steed.

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By on October 3, 2016

2006 Dodge Magnum SRT8, Image: FCA

If you were to take a moment to ponder the death of the wagon in America and had to put a timeline on when it all started, quite a few people would wager it arrived in the 1990s. That timeline makes a lot of sense, since that’s when the SUV craze really started to take off. But there isn’t a specific date when it all came crashing down, and that’s frustrating as a historian.

We can nail down the end of the Roman Empire to the year that Odoacer overthrew Romulus Augustus (476, if you were concerned), but there was never an “okay, no more wagons starting now” moment in our country.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the longroof market in the Naughts.

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