The Truth About Cars » History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 02 Aug 2014 03:20:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 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 » History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/history/ 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.

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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?

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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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GM’s First Concept Car and the Influential Result: 1936 Cadillac V16 Aerodynamic Coupe by Fleetwood http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/gms-first-concept-car-and-the-influential-result-1936-cadillac-v16-aerodynamic-coupe-by-fleetwood/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/gms-first-concept-car-and-the-influential-result-1936-cadillac-v16-aerodynamic-coupe-by-fleetwood/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=872994 This car at first may look to you a lot like any other 1930s coupe, but it was one of the most influential cars of the era, impacting both the way that cars were styled and promoted. You see, in addition to setting the pattern for the way that General Motors’ cars (and their competitors’ cars as […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

This car at first may look to you a lot like any other 1930s coupe, but it was one of the most influential cars of the era, impacting both the way that cars were styled and promoted. You see, in addition to setting the pattern for the way that General Motors’ cars (and their competitors’ cars as well) looked in the immediate prewar period, the 1936 Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe was GM’s first production car that was based on what we now call a concept car. Back then, though, they were more likely to call those concepts “show cars”, and not only was the Aerodynamic Coupe GM’s first production car derived from a show car, that show car was the giant automaker’s first attempt at creating a one-off vehicle just for promotional purposes. It also represented the solidification of Harley Earl and his styling team’s important role in General Motors’ hierarchy and not so incidentally it helped Cadillac replace Packard as America’s preeminent luxury automaker.

The fact that there was an economic depression going on didn’t stop American car companies from participating in the 1933 Century of Progress world’s fair exposition in Chicago. Ford’s pavilion featured a chandelier made of three full-size Ford cars suspended from the ceiling. Studebaker constructed a mammoth, 80 foot long wooden model of their Land Cruiser automobile. Chevrolet built and operated an actual assembly plant on the fair grounds where you could watch cars being assembled and even take delivery of a new Chevy at the fair.

A number of automakers prepared special cars for the exposition, particularly the luxury marques. Packard created the “Car of the Dome”, sometimes called “the most famous Packard”, a modified Dietrich style sedan. Pierce Arrow showed their radically styled Siver Arrow. Ford displayed an aerodynamic rear-engined prototype designed by John Tjaarda of the Briggs company called the Briggs Dream Car that was the original concept behind the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr, and Duesenberg created a Rollston bodied supercharged Model SJ Arlington Torpedo sedan designed by Gordon Buehrig and nicknamed “Twenty Grand”. That car’s named derived from it’s $20,000 price, the equivalent of over $350,000 today.

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Clay modelers working on the Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe show car for the 1933 Century of Progress world’s fair in Chicago.

With that kind of competition, GM’s newly formed Art and Colour Section took their task seriously. Previewing the fastback rooflines of the 1940s the Cadillac coupe show car had a very long 154 inch wheelbase and a sloping tail. The long and smooth lines were supposed to convey the impression of power and speed. Those lines were accentuated by the sloping rear end and by tapered horizontal accents on the sides of the hood and fenders. Unlike most cars of the day that carried exposed spare tires mounted either on the back of the car or as “side mounts” where the front fenders flowed into the running boards, the Aerodynamic Coupe stashed the spare in the trunk. Actually, that “trunk” inside the bodywork was rather advanced in an era when many luxury cars still had steamer trunks on a rack behind the car to store luggage. Even the exhaust pipes were styled, an innovation that lasts till today, and the exhaust system was tuned to give the car’s V16 engine an appropriate tone.

That V16 engine, in production since 1930 and the first production V16 used for a passenger car, was possibly the first car engine that was styled for aesthetic reasons. The motor received finishes in enamel paint, porcelain, polished aluminum and chrome. Valve covers were polished and detailed. Wiring was hidden away and special attention was paid to how and where the accessories were mounted. The V16 looked so good that Cadillac would apply the same styling to its V8 and V12 engines.

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Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe show car

A “winged goddess” Cadillac hood ornament topped things off and even that received special attention, with a polished finish on its front, while surfaces visible to the driver were dulled, so as not to create glare. Per the coachbuilding terms of the day, the interior was done in”plain style”, about as plain as British “public schools” are public. A dark dashboard is brightened with two slanted strips of chrome, continuing the V motifs that abound on the car. Windows had walnut trim and the various knobs and handles were plated in a satin gold finish. The sun visors were shaped like abstract leaves, made of fine cloth and mounted with screws that had heads of imitation pearl. Instead of metal handles, the doors were closed with rope pulls mounted below the armrests. As would be expected, the deeply cushioned and broad seats were very comfortable.

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While the V16 engine didn’t survive past 1940, features of the Aerodynamic Coupe would find their way into production cars for decades, including the all-steel “turret top” roof, a recessed and lighted license plate housing, the fuel filler hidden in the taillight housing (a feature perhaps most famous for its use in the iconic 1957 Chevrolet sedan) and the use of chrome window surrounds and beltline trim to accentuate the coupe’s lines. The Aerodynamic Coupe itself would make it to production in 1936 more or less unchanged from the concept car.

In the following video, Steve Pasteiner, who runs the AAT prototype shop and who was a long time designer at GM, discusses Harley Earl and the influence of the Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe. I apologize for the video’s audio quality, for some reason it recorded at a low level and I had to boost the gain in editing, resulting in some distortion. It’s still a worthwhile listen for Pasteiner’s insider’s look.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The resulting product was an automobile that looked much more modern to 1930s consumers when compared to the conventional automobiles of the day. Remember, automotive styling was in its infancy in those days and many manufacturers in the 1920s and even later paid virtually no attention to making their cars distinctive. Retired GM designer Dave Holls explained what set the Aerodynamic Coupe apart from its contemporaries, helping to position Cadillac at the top of the American luxury car market:

“Cadillacs were much later than 1933 in form. . . . It was fine styling — if you hold your hand over the front end and look at the car from there back, you begin to see a fair resemblance to the Cord Beverly. . . . This was a time when Cadillac began to make bold, yet careful steps toward change, while Packard hung tenaciously onto its long heritage, making only limited changes. A lot of people went along with them at the time, but the practice established a position, and they were stuck with it, later on with disastrous results.”

This particular 1936 Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe was not just on display at the 2014 Eyes On Design show, it was featured on the poster for this year’s event. It’s owned by Bill and Barbara Parfet, who are well known among classic car collectors. Mr. Parfet has been president of the foundation that supports the great Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, a bit north of Kalamazoo. The ’36 is one of just 52 V16 Cadillacs made for the 1936 model year, each of them pretty much hand built by Cadillac’s Fleetwood body division. While that number of cars may not seem very significant, that year was the first time Cadillac surpassed Packard in annual sales to become the best-selling U.S. luxury marque, a position it still holds, though its leadership in the overall U.S. luxury segment has, in modern times, been eclipsed by foreign competitors, particularly brands from Germany.

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 Die It Was Cast – A Little Bit of Little Car History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-die-it-was-cast-a-little-bit-of-little-car-history/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-die-it-was-cast-a-little-bit-of-little-car-history/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 11:30:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=868322 Perhaps it’s appropriate that the term “collectible diecast” most often refers to detailed scale models of cars and trucks. After all, the industrial process of molding metal parts by forcing liquefied low-melting point metals into a die was known as “hydrostatic moulding” before Herbert H. Franklin reportedly coined the term “die casting”. Franklin, who started […]

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Perhaps it’s appropriate that the term “collectible diecast” most often refers to detailed scale models of cars and trucks. After all, the industrial process of molding metal parts by forcing liquefied low-melting point metals into a die was known as “hydrostatic moulding” before Herbert H. Franklin reportedly coined the term “die casting”. Franklin, who started the first commercial die casting company in the world, was also the founder of the Franklin Automobile Company, the most successful American maker of cars with air-cooled engines. It was the money that Franklin made  in the metal die-casting industry that allowed him, in 1901, to engage engineer John Wilkinson, who was the technical genius behind the Franklin cars, which stayed in production into the 1930s. I’ve been working on a post about Wilkinson and the Franklin cars, but right now let’s look at a couple of other brands of cars that wouldn’t have existed were it not for Franklin’s success with die-casting. Those ‘car’ brands are TootsieToy and Matchbox. It was TootsieToy that likely first made die-cast model cars and it was Matchbox that took them from being mere toys to being accurate scale models.

Click here to view the embedded video.

It’s interesting that right around the same time that Herbert Franklin and John Wilkinson were starting up the Franklin Automobile Company, two sets of brothers were already using the process Franklin perfected and popularized (he’d bought some patents on the process, which was invented in the early 19th century by Elisha Root) to make die-cast toys, soon to make model cars.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Samuel and Charles Dowst started a trade journal for laundry operators in 1876, in Chicago. As part of their business, the brothers also sold promotional items like thimbles and sewing kits. At the Columbian Expostion of 1893, Sam Dowst watched a demonstration of the Mergenthaler Linotype machine. Though he was a publisher he was more interested in how the type was molded than in using the machine to set that type, realizing the process could be used to make small metal items besides printer’s type. The brothers adapted the machine to make thimbles, buttons and cufflinks, items they could sell to their existing customer base. A tiny iron they made for the Flat Iron Laundry along with a couple of other promotional pieces, a small thimble and a little Scottie dog would later be adopted by Parker Brothers as playing pieces for the Monopoly board game.

The first TootsieToy die-cast model car, circa 1911, and a reproduction.

The first TootsieToy die-cast model car, circa 1911, and a reproduction.

According to Toys and American Culture: An Encyclopedia, the Dowst brothers made the world’s first die-cast model car, a replica of the Ford Model T, in 1908. It was a big hit and the success of that first model car led to an extensive product line of toy trains, trucks, buses and airplanes using the TootsieToys brand. Tootsie was apparently a nickname for one of the Dowsts’ granddaughters and the brand was trademarked in 1924. However, there’s apparently some discrepancy about when Dowst made their first model car.  As mentioned, the toy encyclopedia says it was 1908 and and a Model T.  On the other hand, Tootsietoys.info, which appears to be authoritative, says that while the Dowst company made some small, charm sized miniature cars early on, their first actual model of of a car that they made was in 1911, a closed limousine, followed in 1915 with a model of the Ford Model T.

TootsieToy 1915 Model T

TootsieToy 1915 Model T

Around the same time that the Dowsts were starting to make die-cast items at the turn of the 20th century another set of brothers, the Shures, owned a firm named the Cosmo Company, which around 1901 started making a similar line of die-cast items like charms, pins and cuff links. Shure Bros. would eventually buy the Dowst company in 1926.

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In addition to their retail model cars, TootsieToys also made “dealer models”, scale models that were given out by car dealers, usually to the children of car buyers. In the mid 1930s, TootsieToy introduced the Bild-a-Car set with five chassis, coupe, sedan and roadster bodies along with wheels, tires, axles and assembly clips.

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Just as the makers of TootsieToy model cars and trucks started out publishing a magazine, the originator of the Matchbox line of accurate scale models, Lesney Products, didn’t start out as a toy company. Two men recently discharged from the British armed forces after service during World War II, Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith (no relation), used their severance pay to start a small die-casting company in the remains of a bombed out pub in Tottenham in 1947. They originally made small parts under contract for industrial purposes. One of their early employees, Jack Odell, used the down time during the Christmas holiday season to make some toys that could be sold as children’s gifts. The first models they made were a tractor and a pavement roller, about 8 inches long, and they sold well enough that the company started making fewer industrial parts and more toys. Rodney Smith didn’t think the toy business was worth pursuing and he sold his shares to Leslie Smith and Odell, who by then had become a partner.

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The company had designed a large, 12-14 inch long horse drawn ceremonial coronation coach and when King George VI died and his daughter Elizabeth was crowned queen, Odell produced copies of the carriage to sell to tourists attending her coronation. They sold out. Spurred by that success, he scaled down the coach to just four inches long, still keeping much of the detail. Lesney ended up selling a million of them, firmly establishing the company as a toy maker.

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Odell and Smith looked to miniaturize other toys when Odell had a flash of inspiration from a rule about toys at his daughter’s elementary school. Pupils were only allowed to bring toys to school that were small enough to fit inside a standard matchbox. Odell scaled down the model road roller that Lesney had designed, cast it in brass, put the finished model in a matchbox and sent his daughter off to school with it. It was a hit with her classmates, particularly the boys. Lesney registered the Matchbox brand as a trademark, launched the new toy line, starting what is now a worldwide industry that produces model cars ranging from $1 impulse items to painstakingly detailed 1:18 models with thousands of parts that cost thousands of dollars. The first official Matchbox models, though, were not cars.

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They were the company’s original road roller, a dump truck and a cement mixer. In short time, though the company started produced model road and race cars. Unlike other model companies, Lesney did not use numerical scales like 1:43 or 1:64. Instead their scale was “1:box”, as the finished products all had to fit in a standard size box.

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The Matchbox line had competitors. Dinky, Cigar Box, Husky and Corgi all made die-cast model cars and trucks but those British firms didn’t really pose a threat to Lesney. That threat would materialize from across the Atlantic Ocean.

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An American toy manufacturer named Elliot Handler was looking for a boys’ toy that would complement the success his company had with the girls’ doll his wife Ruth had named after their daughter Barbara. The doll was a smash hit, giving the Handlers considerable wealth, and they liked to travel. On a vacation to Europe, Elliot bought some Matchbox cars to bring home as souvenir gifts for their grandkids. The children liked the models’ detail but didn’t like how slowly and poorly the little cars rolled. Handler had the idea for his boys’ toy. Patented, low friction wire axles and wheels were developed that had the added benefit of giving the cars a sprung suspension, making them even more realistic. From Husky/Corgi Handler borrowed the idea of using clear plastic blister-packs to package and display the vehicles, instead of hidden in boxes as Matchbox vehicles were. Some were more or less scale models of existing production and show cars but Handler also hired a GM designer with winning show car experience to create some original designs. Handler’s little cars were an even bigger hit than the Matchbox originals. They were so successful, in fact, that the company Handler started eventually bought the Matchbox brand to complement its own after Lesney declared bankruptcy, unable to compete with the American toy giant. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Elliot is the source of the “el” in Mattel (the Handlers’ original partner, named Matt, had left the firm many years prior), and he named his own line of little cars Hot Wheels, but that’s another story.

I still have a Matchbox Lotus 33 somewhere in a drawer in my mom's house.

I still have a Matchbox Lotus 33 somewhere in a drawer in my mom’s house.

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 Stout Scarab – An Art Deco Automotive Artifact That Was Ahead of Its Time http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-stout-scarab-an-art-deco-automotive-artifact-that-was-ahead-of-its-time/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-stout-scarab-an-art-deco-automotive-artifact-that-was-ahead-of-its-time/#comments Sat, 12 Jul 2014 14:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858489 In looking at Henry Ford’s forays into the airplane and aviation industries we’ve touched on the story of William Bushnell Stout. Stout was the man behind Ford’s successful endeavor into aviation with the Ford Trimotor. Car enthusiasts, though, might be more familiar with the small run of Stout Scarab automobiles, said to be the “first […]

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Full gallery here

In looking at Henry Ford’s forays into the airplane and aviation industries we’ve touched on the story of William Bushnell Stout. Stout was the man behind Ford’s successful endeavor into aviation with the Ford Trimotor. Car enthusiasts, though, might be more familiar with the small run of Stout Scarab automobiles, said to be the “first minivans”. Stout introduced a few other other automotive firsts like air suspension and the use of composite bodies. How much of an innovator Stout was, as opposed to someone who saw value in the ideas of others and brought them to fruition, is open to debate. He was certainly respected by the engineering community, serving as president of the Society of Automotive Engineers. It’s undeniable, though, that Stout saw the promise, later fulfilled, of commercial passenger aviation, and while many of the Scarabs’ more prominent features can be called dead-ends, quite a few of the things that Stout built into his cars are probably present on the car or truck you drive.

William Bushnell Stout was born in 1880 in Quincy, Illinois, though by the time he was in high school his family was living in Minnesota as he graduated from St. Paul’s Mechanic Arts High School in 1898. He attended Hamline University and the University of Minnesota but never graduated, due to developing a problem with his eyesight that apparently improved over time. Adding aeronautics to his mechanical interest, after marriage and a move back to Illinois he founded the Model Aero Club of Illinois, experimenting with model airplanes. He must have resolved the issue with his vision because in 1907 he became Chief Engineer of the Schurmeir Motor Truck Company of Chicago.

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William B. Stout

As with a number of automotive and aviation engineers Stout also tried his hand with writing about his passions and in 1912 he was named automobile and aviation editor for the Chicago Tribune. That year also saw Stout founding Aerial Age, the first aviation magazine to be published in America. He was also a contributor to the Minneapolis Times under the clever pen name of  “Jack Kneiff”.

In 1914, Stout was hired to be head engineer of the Scripps-Booth Automobile Company of Detroit. Today Scripps-Booth is best known for making the one-off Bi AutoGo, which had nothing to do with being attracted to both men and women but rather was an enormous two wheeled vehicle (with little outrigger training wheels) that was the first V8 powered vehicle made in Detroit. Of perhaps greater significance to automotive history is the fact that the Scripps-Booth company was one of the firms that Billy Durant bought on his path to create General Motors. Scripps-Booth was the project of philanthropist, artist and engineer James Scripps Booth, an heir to the family that founded the Detroit News and the Cranbrook educational community. The car company he founded made conventional automobiles but also tried to capitalize on the popularity of lightweight “cyclecars” with the JB Rocket cyclecar, designed by William Stout.

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JB Rocket Cyclecar on display at the Henry Ford Museum. Full gallery here

The moderate success of the JB Rocket brought Stout to the attention of Alvan Macauley, who headed the Packard Motor Car Company. Macauley made Stout general sales manager of Packard and in 1916, when the automaker started up an aviation division Stout was named to be its chief engineer. Stout seems to have been a bit peripatetic because only three years later he left Packard to start his own company, Stout Engineering, in Dearborn.

Stout Engineering led to the creation of the Stout Metal Airplane Company, which I covered a bit in my post on the Trimotor. After Henry Ford more or less edged Wm Stout out of Stout Metal Airplane Company, which built the Trimotor, the aeronautical engineer went back to his Laboratories to apply what he’d learned from making airplanes to designing an advanced automobile. In the 1930s, a number of automotive engineers and designers including Josef Ganz, Ferdinand Porsche and Hans Ledwinka were looking into both aerodynamics and the packaging needs of inexpensive “peoples cars”. Along with those European engineers, Stout embraced the rear engine, rear wheel drive layout as a solution to both of those design issues. In an article in Scientific American, Stout extolled the virtues of moving the engine from the front of the car to the back, “When we finally ‘unhitch Old Dobbin’ from the automobile, the driver will have infinitely better vision from all angles. The automobile will be lighter and more efficient and yet safer, the ride will be easier, and the body will be more roomy without sacrificing maneuverability.”

Stout called his car the Scarab, no doubt because its envelope body shape resembled that Egyptian beetle’s shape. While Ganz had already introduced the idea of naming a car after a beetle, Stout likely arrived at the same idea independently. In any case, Ganz, who popularized the concept of a volkswagen, an inexpensive entry level automobile, and Stout were pursuing different market segments. From 1934 to 1939, Stout is believed to have built a total of 9 Scarabs with a starting price of $5,000, a price that would approach $90,000 in 2014 dollars. For their money, buyers got advanced design features like fenders incorporated into the body, no running boards, and skirted rear wheels. Not quite as obvious but still found on cars today were the Scarab’s hidden door hinges, flush mounted door handles, and flush glass, all intended to improve the Scarab’s aerodynamics.

In recent years, luxury car makers have started incorporating filters to remove dust from their cars’ ventilation systems. The Scarab featured those as well as other modern amenities like ambient lighting, thermostatic heating controls and powered door locks. One reason for being called the first minivan is the fact that while the driver had his or her own door, passengers used a single central mounted side door on the passenger side, similar to the original Chrysler minivans (and VW’s earlier Type II “Bus”). Another reason is that like some minivans, the passenger seats of the Scarab could be reconfigured around a table in the rear of the cabin. Since the seats were not secured to the floor, that might be a safety issue in the event of a collision.

It’s believed by many that the Scarab’s styling was the work of John Tjaarda, whose styling for the Briggs Dream Car, a rear engine streamlined design, would eventually turn up as the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr. Others say that the Scarab was not the work of Tjaarda, whose son Tom Tjaarda had his own successful career as a car designer, but rather was simply influenced by the senior Tjaarda’s earlier “Sterkenburg series” of streamlined monocoque car designs. In any case, the Scarab followed the streamlining style manual, adding a heavy dose of then au courant Art Deco ornamentation. From its headlight grilles and ancient Egyptian theme up front to the elaborate and delicate metal work and chrome trim in back, the Stout Scarab today is considered perhaps the finest automotive expression of the Art Deco design ethos. All nine of the Scarabs, built by a company set up by Stout, not surprisingly called Stout Motor Car, had slightly different interiors, as they were effectively custom, hand built cars.

Besides its radical styling and advanced design features, the Scarab was mechanically interesting. With Stout’s established relationship with Ford Motor Company it’s not surprising that the car featured a flathead Ford V8, but unlike in Ford cars it was mounted over the rear wheels. Output was rated at 95 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque. Driving through a three-speed manual transmission, that 94 hp was good for a 0-60 mph time of 15 seconds, per a modern day test by Special Interest Autos. By using aircraft construction techniques, the Scarab weighed just 3,300 lbs, which is impressive considering that it’s 195.5 inches long and over 6 feet tall. Stout experimented with an aluminum body featuring magnesium doors in his 1932 prototype, but he decided those materials were too expensive to use in the production Scarabs, which were made with steel bodies mounted atop a steel tubing space frame. With the engine and transmission facing towards the back of the car, Stout came up with a layout that would later be used by Lamborghini on the Countach, Diablo and Murcielago. The power of the output shaft of the transmission is transferred to a driveshaft that runs underneath the transmission and engine back to the rear axle.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Click on the settings icon to watch in 2D or your choice of 3D formats.

The suspension of the Scarab was sophisticated for its day, with all four wheels independently suspended. Actually, it might even be sophisticated for a modern car. Up front were lower control arms, coils springs and aircraft style “oleo” struts, while the rear suspension had swing axles (considered the latest thing in the ’20s and ’30s), unequal length upper and lower control arms, lower trailing arms, more “oleo struts” and a transverse leaf spring, something that the Corvette still uses, though from period build photos, the rear struts appear to be “coilover” units with coil springs (see the gallery below). Stout’s use of struts in the rear suspension of the Scarab is said to have been an influence on the development of the so-called Chapman strut, fitted by Colin Chapman to a number of Lotus cars including the Elan. Brakes were hydraulically operated with cast iron drums at all four wheels.

The Scarab was never intended to be a mass market vehicle, with production planned at no more than 100 cars a year. While some promotional materials were made, sales were by invitation only. As would expected those who bought Scarabs were well off, including family names like Firestone, Wrigley and Dow. Still, it was an expensive car and there was a depression going on. Combine a high price and styling that was radical in its day and still looks a little bit odd and you can see why sales never reached projections.

In the late 1930s, Stout started looking into the use of the Firestone Rubber Company’s experimental air springs and fitted them to his personal Scarab and they were also likely installed on Harvey S. Firestone’s Scarab as well. During World War II, Stout was a consultant with the War Production Board regarding the use of smaller industrial facilities and Stout Engineering became allied with the Consolidated Aircraft company, with Stout devoting most of his time developing the Aerocar and Helibus concepts.

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1946 Stout Scarab Experimental “Project Y”, likely the first fiberglass car. Full gallery here

After the war, Stout returned to the Scarab concept, this time constructing what he called the Stout Scarab Experimental, also called the Project Y or Y-46. The styling was much more conventional than the original Scarabs, with normal sedan styling and two conventional doors but the construction was even more radical. Not only was the Project Y likely to have been the first car built with a fiberglass composite body, Stout predated the Lotus Elite by using the material to implement monocoque frame-in-body construction. The Y-46 also featured air suspension, likely transferred from Stout’s original Scarab (after Stout put over 250,000 miles on that car), and a wraparound windshield, a feature that wouldn’t show up on production cars for almost a decade.

While fewer than a dozen Stout Scarab automobiles were produced, Stout had more success with larger vehicles. Gar Wood Industries produced about 175 transit buses based on Stout’s designs, more or less scaled up Scarabs.

Drivers, then and now, describe the Scarab’s ride as being both smooth and stable. At least five of the nine original Scarabs still exist and a number of them are in running condition including the silver Scarab pictured here. It was made in 1936 and it belongs to Larry Smith of Pontiac, Michigan. It was photographed at the 2012 Eyes On Design show. You can see another of the surviving Stout Scarabs here. The Stout Scarab Experimental Y-46 also still survives, in the collection of the Gilmore Car Museum, near Kalamazoo.

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.

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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.

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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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Rolling [Gasified] Coal: Gas Bag Vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/rolling-gasified-coal-gas-bag-vehicles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/rolling-gasified-coal-gas-bag-vehicles/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 10:27:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=862441 The autoblogosphere is abuzz with the topic of “rolling coal“, apparently the practice of some diesel pickup truck enthusiasts who fiddle with their fuel systems so as to produce voluminous clouds of dense black, sooty exhaust smoke. I have to admit that when I first saw the phrase “rolling coal” in a headline at Jalopnik […]

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The autoblogosphere is abuzz with the topic of “rolling coal“, apparently the practice of some diesel pickup truck enthusiasts who fiddle with their fuel systems so as to produce voluminous clouds of dense black, sooty exhaust smoke. I have to admit that when I first saw the phrase “rolling coal” in a headline at Jalopnik I thought it had something to do coal gasification and running cars on wood gas or syngas. After finding out that rolling coal wasn’t what I thought it was, I did look into the history of powering motor vehicles on wood gas and ended up finding out about these rather odd looking cars and trucks known as gas bag vehicles. Frankly they’re more interesting to me than whether or not pickup truck driving bros are blowing smoke in the faces of Prius drivers. I believe that you’ll find these vehicles interesting as well.

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The process of using oxygen starved combustion to turn organic material into a combustible gas has been known for 175 years. Gustav Bischof built the first wood gasifier in 1839. By the turn of the 20th century, before the use of natural gas started proliferating in the 1930s, in many municipalities syngas produced from coal was centrally produced and distributed via pipelines to homes and businesses to use for heating and cooking. In 1901, Thomas Parker made the first vehicle powered by wood gas.

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The best known use of wood gas and syngas to power vehicles, however, was in Germany during World War II.

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Germany was heavily dependent on petroleum mined outside of the country’s borders so gasoline and diesel fuel were rationed for the civilian population in order to reserve those fuels for military use. Germany may have had little petroleum but it had a lot of domestic coal.

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Considerable effort was also put into industrial scale production of synthetic fuels and lubricants using the the Fischer-Tropsch method. It’s estimated that 9% of the Reich’s liquid fuel and a quarter of the automotive fuels used during the war were synthetics made from coal.

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In addition to commercial scale synthetic fuel production, by the end of the war there were about a half million German cars, trucks, buses, tractors, motorcycles, and even marine ships and railroad locomotives that were equipped with portable wood gasifiers. Wood gas powered vehicles were also common elsewhere in wartime Europe.

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The widespread use of synthetic gas to run cars and trucks dates to another war, though, World War One. As mentioned, many cities distributed what was known as “town gas” or “street gas”, a byproduct of making coal into the cokes that are used to refine iron.

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During the first world war, some creative folks in France, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom figured out that they could run their motor vehicles, like Thomas Parker did, on that gaseous fuel rather than on gasoline, which was in short supply due to the ongoing hostilities.

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One of the barriers facing modern day gaseous fueled vehicles is that compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquified petroleum gas (LPG) have lower energy densities than gasoline so the tanks for the compressed gas end up being about twice the size of a conventional liquid fuel tank. “Town gas” has an even lower energy density than CNG or LPG. At normal atmospheric pressure, the town gas equivalent to a liter of gasoline takes up between two and three cubic meters of volume.

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While today CNG vehicle operators can buy commercial and even home gas compressors, a century ago such compressors weren’t readily available. Also, syngas is made up of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Though it was possible to compress town gas, it wasn’t practical. Carbon monoxide breaks down when compressed and the steel tanks of the day could not contain hydrogen gas without leaking.

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The solution was to store the syngas in large inflatable bags, essentially balloons, made of coated fabric, that were mounted on the roofs of the vehicles. It was obviously more practical for larger vehicles, like trucks and buses, but some automobile owners made the conversion as well. Some of the commercial conversions included fairings and bodywork to hide the bags and provide some aerodynamic improvement (back then it would have been called “streamlining”), and a place for advertising, but in most cases the vehicles looked like they were hauling around bales of cotton, well, until the bags deflated as the gas was consumed. Some owners built metal or wooden frameworks to contain and protect the fuel bladders, which were made of rubber coated silk or other fabric material. If they sprung a leak, they were repaired with a patch for a bicycle tire tube.

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Because of the lack of energy density, gas bag vehicles were strictly for short range driving. With consumption of 13 liters of gas per kilometer, the equivalent of 22 mpg with gasoline, a 13 cubic meter gas bag would give a range of about 50 km (~30 miles). It’s possible that some drivers fitted some kind of fuel gauge, but apparently most just watched their fuel tank deflate. The vehicles could be refueled wherever town gas was supplied.

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The main drawbacks to the gas bag vehicles were fire risk, bridges and the fact that your fuel tank might blow away if you went too fast. Passengers waiting at bus stops were warned not to smoke.

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“Rauchen verboten” – smoking was forbidden at bus stops due to fire risk from gas bag leaks.

Drivers had to plan for overpasses and other potential overhead obstacles and were urged not to exceed 30 mph, both to preserve range and to keep the gas bag secured to the vehicle. Sidewinds were also a problem.

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Despite their drawbacks, gas bag vehicles’ use has not been restricted to wartime. Because the fuel is an inexpensive byproduct of industrial processes the city of Chongqing, China developed gas bag buses as a cost effective public transportation solution in the 1960s and gas bag buses stayed in operation in China into the 1990s.

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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 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’s Flying Flivver: The Model T of the Air http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/henry-fords-flying-flivver-the-model-t-of-the-air/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/henry-fords-flying-flivver-the-model-t-of-the-air/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 14:53:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858449 Following the success of the Ford Trimotor, one of the first successful commercial passenger and cargo airplanes, which was introduced in 1925, Henry Ford got the aviation bug and decided to build what he called a “Model T of the air”, a small, affordable single seat airplane. He first proposed the idea to the men […]

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Full gallery here

Following the success of the Ford Trimotor, one of the first successful commercial passenger and cargo airplanes, which was introduced in 1925, Henry Ford got the aviation bug and decided to build what he called a “Model T of the air”, a small, affordable single seat airplane. He first proposed the idea to the men running his aircraft division, Trimotor designer William Bushnell Stout and William Benson Mayo but based on Henry’s design brief, neither experienced aeronautical man wanted anything to do with project. By then Henry Ford had bought out all of his investors and partners. All of Ford Motor Company stock was owned by Henry, Clara, and Edsel Ford, with Henry having the greatest share (49/3/48) so the firm was effectively Henry’s private feudal empire. Mr. Ford simply moved the project to a building in the Ford Laboratories complex.

To design the new plane, named the Ford Flivver, after one of the Model T’s nicknames, Ford turned to Otto Koppen. Koppen, a young MIT trained aeronautical engineer. After graduating from college, Koppen enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps where he served for four years under Jimmy Doolittle. After he had a harrowing emergency landing he discovered that his parachute was faulty – had he bailed out he would have fallen to his death. Koppen left the Army and got a job in Dearborn at the Ford owned Stout Metal Airplane Company. His first job there was to design the tail wheel on the Ford Trimotor. Henry Ford had complained that the tail-dragging skid originally fitted to the plane tore up the sod at his airfield, Ford Airport.

After Stout and Mayo turned their boss down, happy with the young engineer’s work on the Trimotor, Henry turned to Otto Koppen. Now some may think that because Ford’s attempt to build an everyman’s airplane ended up not being a successful venture that Koppen didn’t know what he was doing, but after working for Ford the aviation engineer returned to MIT where he had a long and distinguished career as an aeronautical engineering professor. Koppen would go on to develop the world’s first short take off and and landing (STOL) airplane, the Helio Courier. Some of the confusion may be due to the fact that two different versions and five total prototypes of the Flivver were built, with some of the planes being modified as many as three times.

Koppen would later say Ford’s instructions to him were that it had to be a single seat plane that was small enough that it could “fit in his [Ford's] office”. Ford apparently liked the idea of a plane in every garage to go with the Model T that likely was there. The target price was $500.

What Koppen came up with had a fuselage made of welded steel tubing and the wings were made of wood. The surfaces were made of fabric stretched over the frame. Since Ford didn’t like tail-draggers, the Flivver featured a tailwheel mounted to the rudder, making the plane steerable in the ground. That wheel also carried the planes only brake. A custom exhaust manifold connected the cylinders to a stock Model T muffler. Suspension function was achieved by using rubber doughnuts to mount the wheel struts to the wing. At least two different engines were used in Flivvers. The plane was 15 feet long, with a wingspan of 22 feet and it weighed just 350 lbs.

Three additional prototypes were built. Some sources say there were only three Flivvers made, some sources say four and one source says there were two prototypes of the initial design and then three prototypes of a second design, apparently because the first design wasn’t so great. The second design had a bigger wingspan, a sleeker, lower profile and this time the entire plane’s frame was made of steel tubing, covered with coated fabric. Perhaps because the wings were heavier, Flivver 2A had supportive wing struts. As there were plans to use this prototype to set distance records, a 55 gallon fuel tank was installed. Replacing the Anzani triple was a custom horizontally opposed twin made from a FoMoCo design of 143 cubic inches displacement, using Wright Whirlwind internal components, that put out 40 hp. The remaining two prototypes featured this engine. Flying magazine said in 1978 that it was the only Ford designed engine that ever flew.

The first prototype was introduced to the public on Henry Ford’s 63rd birthday, at what was billed as the 1926 Ford National Reliability Air Tour. Crowds flocked to see what some called “Ford’s Flying Car” and celebrities like political humorist Will Rogers posed with the Flivver, though Rogers, a pilot himself, never flew it.

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Humorist Will Rogers posing with the Flivver, though he never flew it.

In fact only two people ever flew any of the Flivvers, Lindbergh and Harry J. Brooks, Ford’s chief test pilot for the Trimotor. The young Brooks, who may have also acted as Henry Ford’s personal pilot, became a favorite of the aging industrialist, who let him fly the first Flivver prototype regularly home from work, storing the plane in his garage as Henry planned. Brooks would then commute to work in the morning via air. The pilot used the second prototype to travel between Ford properties and he once raced the plane against Miss America V, piloted by Gar Wood, during the Harmsworth Trophy Races on the Detroit River.

Harry J. Brooks, Ford test pilot, one of two people who flew the Flivver. Brooks died when his prototype Flivver crashed into the ocean due to fuel starvation.

Harry J. Brooks, Ford test pilot, one of two people who flew the Flivver. Brooks died when his prototype Flivver crashed into the ocean due to fuel starvation.

Brooks loved the tiny plane, telling reporters,  “Flying a plane like this is no more difficult than flying a large plane, except in this plane the pilot has to think a little faster.” For the next year and a half, Brooks performed test flights and a some publicity barnstorming with the Flivver, including flying the Flivver into Washington D.C.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The reaction from the press to “Ford’s Flying Car” was ecstatic. If you think the term flying car is inappropriate, that steerable back wheel was intended to allow pilots to drive from their garage to the nearest runway. Popular Science said it was feasible for the “average Joe” to fly, small enough to fit in a garage, with flaps designed for maximum lift for short take offs. A columnist for the New York Evening Sun waxed poetic looking into the future:

I dreamed I was an angel
And with the angels soared
But I was simply touring
The heavens in a Ford

After Charles Lindbergh’s popularity exploded following his transatlantic flight, Henry Ford invited him to visit Ford Airport and fly the Flivver in August of 1927. Lucky Lindy didn’t share Brooks’ enthusiasm for the litte plane, later describing it as ” one of the worst aircraft he ever flew”. I guess that one man’s “think a little faster” is another man’s uncontrollably dangerous.

The long wingspan planes were built to set the long distance record for planes in the 200 to 400 kilogram class. Two attempts were made in early 1928 to fly non-stop from Detroit to Miami, Florida. The first attempt, using the third prototype  ended early when Brooks had to set down in Asheville, North Carolina. A month later, flying the second prototype, Brooks landed 200 miles short in Titusville, bending the propeller but he still managed to set a record of 972 miles non-stop on just 55 gallons of fuel.

While in Titusville for the night, Brooks managed to repair the plane with the propeller from the third prototype that had made the forced landing in North Carolina. To prevent the moist oceanside air from condensing water into the fuel, Brooks stopped up the fuel cap’s vent holes with wooden toothpicks (some versions of the story say matchsticks). On February 25th, Brooks took off for Miami, circled out over the Atlantic ocean off the coast near Melbourne, Florida, where his engine died. The wrecked Flivver washed up on shore but Brooks’ body was never found. When the wreckage was examined, they found the wooden plugs still in the vent holes. In his haste, Brooks had forgotten to remove them before taking off With the gas tank unable to vent, a vacuum was formed, starving the carburetors, killing the engine, and Brooks.

Following the death of his friend and employee, Henry Ford is reported to have been distraught and for a while he stopped further development of light aircraft. Wikipedia says that in 1931 Ford’s Stout division marketed the Stout Sky Car, the first of four one-off light planes that William Stout designed to be as easy to operate and as comfortable as a car, but by 1931 William Stout had left the company he founded, and as mentioned it was a one-off so I don’t know the extent of FoMoCo’s involvement. In 1936, Ford’s Stout division did develop a two-seat flying wing named the Model 15-P. It was powered by a flathead Ford V8 mounted in the back of the plane, driving a tractor propeller through a driveshaft. The fuselage was steel tubing with an aluminum skin, while the wings were covered with fabric. Fully faired landing gear featured large landing lights in the fairings.

Ford 15-P experimental airplane.

Ford 15-P experimental airplane.

After several test flights ended in crashes, however, the 15-P never went into production. Think of it as the Tatra 87 of airplanes, though while the Tatra had a rear mounted V8 and was prone to crashing, it actually made it to production. The Ford Model 15-P was the last airplane designed by Ford Motor Company. The B-24s that Ford build during WWII were made under license from Continental.

Despite his setbacks with small planes, Henry Ford likely never gave up the dream of a flying Flivver in every garage. In 1940, he said,”Mark my words: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.”

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 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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Automotive Archaeology: Where Eaton Crash Tested the First Practical Airbags http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/automotive-archaeology-where-eaton-crash-tested-the-first-practical-airbags/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/automotive-archaeology-where-eaton-crash-tested-the-first-practical-airbags/#comments Sun, 29 Jun 2014 15:16:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=854097 One of the Best & Brightest recently asked me to write about the history of automotive safety equipment. Today’s consumers ask how many airbags a car offers as standard equipment but in the 1970s the idea had a difficult time getting accepted, by both automakers and consumers. The first modern patent on an inflatable safety […]

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IMG_0271

Full gallery here

One of the Best & Brightest recently asked me to write about the history of automotive safety equipment. Today’s consumers ask how many airbags a car offers as standard equipment but in the 1970s the idea had a difficult time getting accepted, by both automakers and consumers.

The first modern patent on an inflatable safety device to protect people in car accidents was granted in 1952 to a retired industrial designer named John Hetrick, who called it a “safety cushion”. Inspired by a wartime incident involving compressed air and a torpedo he was repairing, Hetrick’s design used a tank of compressed air and inflatable bags located in the steering wheel, the glove box and the middle of the dash as well as in the front seat backs for rear passengers. The system was actuated by a spring loaded weight that was supposed to sense rapid deceleration and then open a valve, releasing the compressed air. Hetrick unsuccessfully tried to get interest from the domestic automakers and because he didn’t have money to develop the idea, it was stillborn. In the late 1950s, when Ford and General Motors both started working on inflatable safety restraints, they determined that any system that worked would have to have a much more sensitive collision sensor and a much faster inflation system. For an airbag to work, it must inflate in the forty milliseconds between the initial collision and the secondary impact of the passengers hitting the dashboard etc.

airbag

Around the same time that Hetrick was working on his safety cushion, German inventor Walter Linderer received a German patent for a similar inflatable cushion system, triggered by the driver or activated by by an impacted bumper.

Who it was that finally made airbags practicable were two men, Allen Breed, a former RCA engineer and chemist John Pietz. Breed’s contribution was twofold. Around 1967 he developed a reliable collision sensor that cost only $5 to manufacture. Then he was granted a patent on an airbag using two layers of fabric that were folded to allow the inflating gas to escape, absorbing even more energy and reducing the impact of the passengers on the airbag. Breed marketed his system to the automakers, eventually making a deal with Chrysler. Pietz was working as a chemist for Talley Defense Systems when they were approached by General Motors looking for something that could be used to inflate the restraints quicker than compressed air. In 1968, Pietz started working with sodium azide, which when combined with a metallic oxide would release nitrogen gas explosively. It worked satisfactorily, and didn’t pose any practical danger to drivers and passengers but Pietz had a hard time getting the auto industry to accept it because sodium azide is toxic when ingested in large amounts. For a long time, though, it was the only practical solution. Since then, nitroguanidine has been substituted as a propellant.

By then, Ford had approached automotive supplier Eaton, Yale, and Towne, Inc. about working on an airbag system. Eaton executive William Carey had sold the company on doing airbag research in the mid-1960s in order to develop a safety system to protect children on school buses. He was initially budgeted $100,000 for the project, which was assigned to scientist Charles Simon. Carey’s team looks at things as diverse as diverse as popping popcorn and how party balloons were inflated. They even experimented with blasting caps supplied by a Detroit area demolition company, though the parts to that experimental bag were never all found. In time the team would grow to 100 people, funded with $35 million from Eaton and another $100 million from all three domestic and several overseas automakers.

They developed what was eventually marketed as Eaton’s “Auto-Ceptor” restraints. A sensor was mounted on the firewall which activated a detonator that released pressurized nitrogen into urethane coated nylon bags. Everything worked quickly enough to be practical but the project was not an immediate success. In 1969, Ford sent a team of engineers to Washington D.C. to demonstrate the prototype to the Dept. of Transportaion but the system failed to activate when the button was pushed. Henry Ford II was so angry when he heard about the failed demo that he temporarily cancelled the program, saying he didn’t want any “Rube Goldberg device” in “his” cars.

Eaton carried on with the research and it was decided by Ford to proceed with offering the safety system on its full-sized Ford and Mercury sedans. However, FoMoCo’s chief body engineer, Stuart Frey, sent Eaton back to the drawing board to resolve a number of issues that he felt had to be addressed before airbags went into production cars. To begin with, there were reliability and performance issues with the components. Of even greater concern was child safety. As then designed, the airbags were giving child-sized crash test dummies what would have been fatal blows. The bags were also not effective for angled crashes and Ford discovered that the deployment of airbags often resulted in broken or blown out windshields.

airbag2

Years later, in the mid-1990s, when concerns over the deaths of 52 children and petite women caused by airbags were prompting regulators to consider warning stickers or even eliminating mandated airbags, Carey, by then retired, mounted his own personal public relations campaign to defend Eaton’s invention. He said that their earliest research showed that unbelted or out of position children could be at risk, something they didn’t hide from automakers or regulators. Carey would eventually be honored by the Automotive Hall of Fame for his team’s development of the first practical airbags.

Much of that development took place at a small test site just south of Eaton’s Southfield, Michigan research center. I found out about it from my brother, who worked as a technician for the company many years ago. He told me that they had a big concrete barrier, mounted on it’s own reinforced foundation that was buried many feet into the ground, and that occasionally they’d hire professional drivers to crash into the barriers to prove their airbags’ effectiveness. That sounded a bit urban legendish, but I learned to trust my big brother a long time ago.

Since the location is just 3 or 4 miles from my house I took the Toyota Tundra Platinum Crew Max I was reviewing for the short drive over there. I found a parking lot with Eaton trucks and my first impression was that the crash facility had been disassembled. There was a concrete pad, but no barrier. Then as I was leaving, I noticed a driveway at the back of the parking lot. My original thought was that it was a private driveway, but as I drove down the ~500 foot straightaway, I spotted the large concrete barrier at the far end of the drive, and I noticed that I was driving directly over two steel tracks embedded in a concrete strip that runs down the length of the otherwise asphalt driveway.

When I got near the barrier and parked the truck, I noticed a second barrier off to the side that was apparently used for testing impacts into poles and the like. The concrete in that second barrier is shaped like a triangle so perhaps it was also used to test offset and angled crashes as Ford body engineer Stuart Frey suggested. Assorted supplemental weights were piled on the main barrier, which I’d estimate was abut 16 feet wide, 4 feet deep and about 4 feet tall, made of reinforced concrete. My guess is that the supplemental weights were used to alter the weight of test sleds. The concrete pad upon which the barrier block stands has some wide fractures, perhaps from all the impacts.

On the cinderblock wall behind the barrier were some no-longer-used electrical utility boxes, with signs of other electrical equipment being formerly located along the path of the track. It’s quite silent and peaceful there now, quite a contrast, I’m sure, to the violent collisions that took place time and again in that location more than four decades ago. In time perhaps the vegetation will encroach on the asphalt track. Some plants are already starting to grow up through the rack at the start of the embedded guides.

I took a few photographs and just for grins I shot some video from the truck as it approached the barrier. Then I went home and sent my brother, who now lives in Jerusalem, an email thanking him for such a cool tip. I’m still not sure about the story about the race drivers driving cars into the barrier. The presence of guide tracks and a small hole through the barrier lead me to believe they used sleds and cables, as are still used in crash test facilities today. Human drivers aren’t very good at uniform speeds and reproducible results. Also, as mentioned before, crash test dummies were already in use when Eaton was working on their airbags.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Click on the settings icon to watch in 2D or your choice of 3D formats. Sorry for the shaky camera work, I wasn’t expecting to shoot video and left my steadycam gizmo at home.

While Carey and Simon may have developed the first practical airbags and can be given credit for saving many lives, their employer didn’t benefit much from the way that the industry and consumers have embraced the technology. Eaton stopped selling airbags in 1975, not being able to justify development costs for the then minimal market demand.

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

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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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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

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Audi “Shocked” by Study on Slave Labor During Nazi Era that Finds Auto Union ‘Morally Responsible’ for 4,500 Deaths http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/audi-shocked-by-study-on-slave-labor-during-nazi-era-that-finds-auto-union-morally-responsible-for-4500-deaths/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/audi-shocked-by-study-on-slave-labor-during-nazi-era-that-finds-auto-union-morally-responsible-for-4500-deaths/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 21:06:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=833114 A historical study commissioned by Audi to examine its corporate predecessors’ ties to the Nazi regime has revealed that Auto Union had exploited at least 20,000 slave laborers and held “moral responsibility” for the deaths of about 4,500 inmates of the Flossenbürg concentration camp who worked at a sub-camp operated for Audi in Leitmeritz, Bavaria. They […]

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Flossenbürg concentration camp, where slave laborers for Auto Union were imprisoned and executed.

Flossenburg concentration camp, where slave laborers for Auto Union were imprisoned and executed.

A historical study commissioned by Audi to examine its corporate predecessors’ ties to the Nazi regime has revealed that Auto Union had exploited at least 20,000 slave laborers and held “moral responsibility” for the deaths of about 4,500 inmates of the Flossenbürg concentration camp who worked at a sub-camp operated for Audi in Leitmeritz, Bavaria. They died and were murdered while slaving for the German automaker. Audi expressed “shock” at the news and said that it is going to be revising company publicity materials about one of its founders, Dr. Richard Bruhn, who was revealed by the study to have close ties to the Nazi leadership. The company also said that it will consider compensating victims. Bruhn, considered the “Father of the Auto Union” was found to have exploited slave labor on a massive scale while serving the Nazi war effort.

Audi told Siegel that it would be changing online profiles of Bruhn at the company’s German website and today the company told Germany’s The Local that it has contacted its operations in other countries asking them to revise their materials on Bruhn, which describe him as having “guided the company with great competence” before the war and securing a “high reputation” post-war which “made it possible to obtain the credit needed to re-establish the Auto Union”. Audi will also be revising displays at the Audi Forum’s “museum mobile” near the company’s headquarters in Ingolstadt and at the Horch museum in Zwickau. Not only is Audi making changes to reflect Bruhn’s less savory actions, Ingolstadt’s mayor, Christian Lösel, told journalists that the municipality was considering changing the names of streets like Bruhnstraße that currently honor the Auto Union founder.

Dr. Richard Bruhn, founder of the post war Auto Union company.

Dr. Richard Bruhn, founder of the Auto Union company.

The study said that Bruhn maintained the “closest ties” to the highest ranking Nazis and that after 1942 he was personally responsible for Auto Union’s use of thousands of forced laborers. Bruhn had plans to expand the use of slaves but that was obviated by German reversals on the battlefield. He was a member of the National Socialist party and given the title of “Wehrwirtschaftsfuehrer” (military industrial leader or, more formally, Leader of the Armament Economy). This quasi-military rank was given to the executives of companies that the regime considered important to arming Germany in the 1930s and later to the war effort. Günther Quandt, whose family today controls BMW, was given a similar honor by the Nazis.

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Tank engines being assembled in an Auto Union factory, 1943.

The 500 page report, “Wartime Economy and Labour Deployment by Auto Union AG Chemnitz during World War II”, was authored by Martin Kukowski, who heads Audi’s own history department and Rudolf Boch, a University of Chemnitz historian, and published by Franz Steiner Verlag. The authors conclude that, “There can be no discussion about the closeness of Auto Union to [the Nazis].” Auto Union was “firmly ensnared in the National Socialist regime”. Bruhn was not the only Auto Union executive who was an enthusiastic Nazi. In early 1945, company managers were organizing plans to evacuate themselves to escape advancing Allied forces as they continued to use slave labor in their still operating factories.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Auto Union was created in Chemnitz, Germany in 1932 under the direction of Bruhn from the merger of four German automakers, Horch, Audi, DKW and Wanderer. Those four founding firms are symbolized by the four rings in Audi’s logo.

Auto Union was one of the companies that made the SDK FZ-11 half-track.

Auto Union was one of the companies that made the SdK FZ-11 half-track.

During the war Auto Union made military vehicles for the German war effort and was “ensnared to a scandalous degree in the complex of concentration camps,” according to Kukowski and Boch. At the end of the war, Bruhn was interned by the British occupation forces along with other German industrialists who helped the Nazis. Upon his release, in 1949 he started to get Auto Union going again. Bruhn, who died in 1964, revived the business group in Ingolstadt with funding provided by the United States’ Marshall Plan and started making DKWs. In the late 1950s, Daimler-Benz bought the company, eventually selling its shares to Volkswagen starting in the mid 1960s. After some corporate restructuring, in 1985 the Auto Union name was discontinued and VW renamed it Audi.

The authors determined that the Nazi SS built and operated seven forced labor camps specifically for Auto Union. Those camps enslaved over 3,700 prisoners, a quarter of them of Jewish descent.

Another 16,500 people were forced to work for Auto Union in the company’s factories in Zwickau and Chemnitz, in Saxony. Perhaps the strongest and most shocking charge against Auto Union and Bruhn is the authors’ claim  that Auto Union management carried “moral responsibility” for the deaths of 4,500 inmates at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria. They died while slaving for Auto Union at a forced labor camp in nearby Leitmeritz, the study said.

Conditions in the Zwickau concentration camp where many Auto Union workers were held, were “devastating” according to the historians. Prisoners lived in unheated barracks. The authors discovered that when workers at the Zwickau factory became disabled, they were shipped to the Flossenburg concentration camp where they were executed. Near the end of the war, nearly 700 Zwickau inmates were put on a forced march to Karlovy Vary in what is now the Czech Republic and barely half of them survived the death march.

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Auto Union made the chassis and running gear for the SdK FZ-222 armored vehicle.

Audi expressed shock and concern over the findings and in addition to revising how the company portrays Bruhn it said that it would look into granting compensation to any former forced laborers who are still alive. Bruhn’s name also graces a number of company projects such as pension plans. Audi board member and head of the company’s workers’ works council Peter Mosch told Wirtschaftswoche, “I’m very shocked by the scale of the involvement of the former Auto Union leadership in the system of forced and slave labour. I was not aware of the extent [of this involvement].” Audi had previously acknowledged some role in the exploitation of forced labor during the Nazi era and has paid millions of dollars into a compensation fund managed by the German government.

Audi follows Daimler, BMW and its corporate parent Volkswagen in commissioning a historical study into ties to the Nazis during 1933-45.

An extensive, five-part, German language series on the study and Audi’s history with the Nazi regime, including interviews with survivors of the forced labor, can be found at Wirtschaftswoche. This TTAC post only touches on the material covered in Kukowski and Boch’s study. Even if you don’t read German, Google’s translator works well enough to give you the gist of the material in the Wirtschaftswoche series and I encourage you to check it out.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Beautiful Loser: Preston Tucker, Henry Ford & Harry Miller’s 1935 FWD Flathead Ford Indy Racer http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/beautiful-loser-preston-tucker-henry-ford-harry-millers-1935-fwd-flathead-ford-indy-racer/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/beautiful-loser-preston-tucker-henry-ford-harry-millers-1935-fwd-flathead-ford-indy-racer/#comments Sun, 25 May 2014 11:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=829993 A couple of my recent posts on the Lotus Cortina and Ford GT40 covered cars that were part of Henry Ford II’s effort to dominate motorsports in the 1960s. Ford Motor Company’s racing history in fact predates the company. Founder Henry Ford’s “Sweepstakes” car’s 1901 victory, with Ford at the wheel, made it possible for him […]

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Full gallery here

A couple of my recent posts on the Lotus Cortina and Ford GT40 covered cars that were part of Henry Ford II’s effort to dominate motorsports in the 1960s. Ford Motor Company’s racing history in fact predates the company. Founder Henry Ford’s “Sweepstakes” car’s 1901 victory, with Ford at the wheel, made it possible for him to stay in the automobile business after the failure of the Detroit Automobile Co. Though racing helped create the foundation for the Ford company, Henry Ford II’s racing efforts in the 1960 actually represented a return to motorsports decades after his grandfather, embarrassed by a very public racing failure, withdrew FoMoCo’s official support for racing. Since that failure took place at the Indianapolis 500 race, and since “the greatest spectacle in racing” is taking place this weekend, it’s an appropriate time to take a look at the front wheel drive Miller flathead Fords of 1935. The cars’ creation involves three of the 20th century’s most fascinating automotive personages and I also happen to think they’re some of the most beautiful cars that ever raced.

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There are different accounts and all the principals are long deceased so it’s impossible to say exactly how the project got started. Some say that it was Henry Ford’s idea but it was more likely Preston Tucker who approached either Edsel Ford or Henry himself with the idea. After he married his wife Vera in 1923, Tucker worked on a Ford assembly line and then as a cop before starting to sell Studebakers. He’d spend the next decade or so in a variety of sales jobs in the auto industry, including being a regional sales manager for Pierce-Arrow. In the early 1930s, Tucker developed an interest in auto racing and started spending each May in Indianapolis, eventually taking a job there overseeing a beer distributorship’s truck fleet. In time he met Harry Miller, the most successful maker of Indy racing engines at the time.

A gifted engineer whose name appears somewhere in the history of most Indianapolis race cars that have ever competed, Miller was not a great businessman. He had to declare bankruptcy in 1933, selling his assets, including his new four cylinder engine design, to his shop foreman and chief machinist Fred Offenhauser. Offenhauser continued to develop the engine, the famed Offy motor that dominated Indy racing for decades and was used into the 1970s.

Miller and Tucker became close friends. In fact, when Harry Miller died in 1943, Preston Tucker helped his widow pay for the funeral. Ten years earlier, after Miller’s bankruptcy, Tucker suggested to him that they go into business building race cars.  “Miller and Tucker, Inc.” was formed in 1935. Their first project was to be an Indy racer powered by Ford’s flathead V8, introduced in 1932.

Regardless of whose idea it exactly was, somehow Tucker convinced the Fords to ante up $75,000 to build ten cars for the 1935 Indy 500.

It was one of those efforts that theoretically should have been successful. Talented people with sufficient funding. Not just talented people but Ford and Miller were giants in their respective endeavors and Preston Tucker was the perfect promoter for the effort. Not only was Miller one of the best engine builders of his day, he also had access to the technical resources of the Ford Motor Company.

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What he produced were undoubtedly the most technically advanced cars that had raced at Indianapolis up to that time. They had front wheel drive and independent suspension at all four wheels. It’s not readily apparent who was responsible for the shape of the cars’ bodies, who came up with the two-tone paint scheme and clever Ford V8 graphics or whose idea the asymmetrical cowl was, but it’s aesthetically beautiful and simply looks the way that a race car of the streamlined era should look. This particular Miller Ford is in the Racing in America exhibit in the Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America display. One of its neighbors in the museum is Jim Clark’s #82 Lotus 38 that won at Indy in 1965 and tolled the death knell for front engined open wheel race cars. Clark’s Lotus is a beautiful race car but the Miller Ford loses nothing to it in the looks department.

One reason why it looks so good is that it was significantly lower than contemporary cars. Miller’s front wheel drive layout had the flathead V8 flipped around with the transmission and final drive in front of it. That meant no driveshaft and allowed for a very low and sleek car. The way the Ford V8 logo on the side looks like an arrow pointing forward also gives the impression of speed.

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The Miller Ford V8s had everything they needed to be successful. Well, everything but time. Since the contracts with Ford weren’t signed until February of 1935, Miller and Tucker only had a matter of months to build they cars. Getting needed equipment further delayed the project and in the end they had just eight weeks. Though they completed all ten cars in time for qualifying, there simply was not time for the kind of development a brand new race car needs. While all the cars were completed, only four qualified for the race, in the back of the pack, no higher than 26th, with the slowest of the Miller Fords starting dead last in 33rd. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough for Henry Ford, all four cars DNF’d, placing no higher than 16th, finishing 145 of the 200 laps. The other three cars didn’t even make the halfway mark. Their fatal flaw was a steering box too close to the exhaust manifold, the heat causing the steering gear to seize, making it impossible to steer.

Wikimedia commons.

Wikimedia commons.

That’s a problem that likely would have been noticed and fixed with normal development. The chassis was sound and a number of the ten cars built continued to compete at the Indy 500 for over a decade, up through the 1947 race, with Ford, Offy and Novi engines, with the highest finish being a 4th place in 1941.

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However, Henry Ford had not just invested money in the project. FoMoCo’s PR machinery had heavily publicized the 1935 effort and even made sure that a Ford V8 production car was chosen to pace the race. Henry Ford was deeply embarrassed by the very public failure. From that point until after his death, Ford Motor Company would not officially participate in organized racing.

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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Mk I Lotus Cortina – The Original Lotus Tuned Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/mk-i-lotus-cortina-the-original-lotus-tuned-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/mk-i-lotus-cortina-the-original-lotus-tuned-car/#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 12:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=827514 TTAC contributor Abraham Drimmer has a fine piece over at Road & Track about his favorite cars that resulted from collaborations between Lotus and other, usually much larger, automobile manufacturers. Each of Abe’s five choices are worthy of note in their own way: the Isuzu Impulse, the C4 Corvette ZR-1, the Lotus Sunbeam, the Lotus […]

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Photo: Bonhams

TTAC contributor Abraham Drimmer has a fine piece over at Road & Track about his favorite cars that resulted from collaborations between Lotus and other, usually much larger, automobile manufacturers. Each of Abe’s five choices are worthy of note in their own way: the Isuzu Impulse, the C4 Corvette ZR-1, the Lotus Sunbeam, the Lotus Carlton, and the DeLorean DMC-12, but Mr. Drimmer is a relative youngun, so I wasn’t surprised that left off of his R&T list was the original ‘tuned by Lotus but sold by another company’ car. It’s the Lotus tuned car that Lotus purists are most likely consider to be a genuine Lotus and not an Isuzu, Chevy, Chrysler, Vauxhall or DeLorean. In some cases it fetches prices north of its contemporary Elans. It has a pedigree that includes some of the greatest luminaries of British motordom and it helped to establish the foundation of a relationship that would eventually revolutionize motorsports. According to Lotus’ factory nomenclature, it’s a Type 28, according to the sales brochures it was the Ford Cortina Lotus and according to just about everybody else who knows about it, it’s called the Lotus Cortina.

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The Lotus Cortina grew out of the development of the Lotus Elan, first introduced in 1962. The first Lotus developed primarily as a road car was the revolutionary Elite that featured a fiberglass monocoque and was powered by a Coventry Climax engine. Though it was a technical success, finding a vendor that could reliably supply bodies of sufficient quality made from the then new composite material drove up costs, as did the pricey all-aluminum racing engine. As a result, economies of scale were not achieved and Lotus lost money on every Elite they sold. Colin Chapman was resolved that Lotus’ next road car would cost less to make and that it would be powered by something based on a mass produced engine. The young Cosworth company had shown some success tuning Ford’s “Kent” four cylinder engine, developed for the Anglia in the late 1950s. Using modern casting techniques Ford was able to make a cast iron engine block that didn’t weigh much more than one made of aluminum, however its potential was limited by the head design. Chapman decided that giving the Kent block a double overhead cam aluminum head with hemispherical combustion chambers, like that on the Jaguar XJ engine, would make sufficient power for his new road car as well as being the basis for a racing engine. He hired Harry Mundy, who with Walter Hassan had designed that same Jaguar engine, offering him a one pound sterling per engine royalty fee or 1,000 pounds up front. Since Lotus was a bit of a hand to mouth enterprise in those days, Mundy took the money, which he would later regret as eventually about 40,000 Lotus Twin Cam engines were made.

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The cross flow Twin Cam head has two valves per cylinder set at a narrow 27 degree angle to each other. Mundy used such a narrow angle to prevent interference with less expensive, conventional (i.e. non wedge) pistons. In development it was discovered that the theoretically non-ideal valve angle fortuitously resulted in more turbulence and more complete combustion. Cast into the head were intake runners that carried the fuel/air mixture from two two-barrel sidedraft 40DCOE Weber carburetors with short velocity stacks mounted inside an airbox connected to the air cleaner. When introduced, the Twin Cam had 105 horsepower, while later versions would have as much as 140. It’s a highly tunable engine that breathes and revs freely. Race versions can have 180 hp or more, but 165 hp is usually considered the limit for a streetable car.

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By the time the Elan started production, the Kent block had been developed into the 116E version with 1,499 cc displacement and five main bearings. Chapman acquired one of the earliest 116E castings, put the DOHC head on it and sent Jim Clark out to race a Lotus 23 with it in a FIA Group 4 event. It was determined that some production blocks had thicker cylinder walls than others, allowing slightly larger bores. Those were bored out to 1,557 cc for production Elans. The most robust blocks were given another millimeter of bore, increasing displacement to 1,598 cc, perfect for the then new Group 2 production car racing rules.

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In the early 1960s the Ford Motor Company, under the slogan of “Total Performance”, embarked on a broad motorsports agenda that would eventually lead to great success at LeMans, Indianapolis and in Formula 1. Those big Ford wins would start in 1965, when Jim Clark won the Indy 500 at the wheel of a Lotus 38 powered by a Ford V8. Ford didn’t just decide to fund Lotus’ Indy effort out of thin air, the huge Dearborn automaker and the tiny British specialist already had success working together in Group 2 with a Lotus powered Cortina.

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Walter Hayes was a British journalist who went to work doing public relations for Ford and was instrumental in the Total Performance program. In time Colin Chapman would convince Hayes to commit 100,000 pounds of Ford’s money to fund the development of the landmark Cosworth Ford DFV engine that went on to great success in F1, but in 1962, it was Hayes who commissioned Chapman for Lotus to develop Ford’s Group 2 racing effort, to be based on the upcoming Cortina sedan, which was going to be launched in 1963.

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Hayes was in charge of the UK part of Ford’s 5 year plan to dominate auto racing and by mid 1962 he had heard of what Chapman and his boffins were doing with a Ford block and their own heads. Lotus has almost always existed in precarious financial circumstance, all the more so in the early days. Chapman saw the deal with Ford as a possible lifesaver for his company and in many ways it allowed the company to get established as a legitimate, albeit small, manufacturer of road cars. Ultimately, the deal with Ford made Lotus a household name among auto and racing enthusiasts.

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To go racing in Group 2, rules required 1,000 production cars to be made for homologation purposes. Final assembly was assigned to Lotus, which partly explains why the model is considered by brand enthusiasts to be a Lotus, not a Ford. It really was a deal that Chapman couldn’t refuse since the cars would be sold as Fords, by Ford dealers, with the huge automaker promoting the Lotus brand. Part of the relationship between the two companies also involved Ford supplying Lotus with components. In addition to the Ford engine block, the Elan used a Cortina based transmission and while the Elan’s differential housing is a custom aluminum Lotus casting, the internal parts are also sourced from the Cortina. That deal would incidentally benefit owners of Lotus cars and later Lotus restorers because many Lotus parts from that era also have a Ford part number, including everything that goes into making the Twin Cam engine.

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Lotus’ revisions to the Cortina were extensive and went far beyond just an engine swap. Bodies were pulled off the regular Dagenham production line to be modified on a dedicated line per Lotus designs and then installed with parts common with regular Cortinas like glass, heaters, lights and locks before they were shipped to Lotus’ factory in Cheshunt for final assembly.

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The 105 horsepower Twin Cam was given a cold air intake in the nose of the car and a larger capacity radiator than was used in the regular Cortina was installed. The Elan’s close ratio gearbox was used and it had an aluminum tailpiece and bell housing. A single piece driveshaft ran to the rear end.

The original coil spring A-frame rear suspension for the Lotus Cortina was too fragile. Custom leaf springs and radius arms proved to work just as well, and were cheaper to build.

The original coil spring A-frame rear suspension for the Lotus Cortina was too fragile. Custom leaf springs and radius arms proved to work just as well, and were cheaper to build.

Early Mk I Lotus Cortinas had a trick rear suspension that replaced the leaf springs with coils and located the solid rear axle with radius arms and a wide A frame member, similar to one of the rear suspensions used in the Lotus Seven. When that suspension proved to be fragile, Lotus reverted to leaf springs with reversed mounting eyes, along with the radius arms. The simpler suspension proved to handle just as well in competition.

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To match the lowered rear suspension, up front the springs were shortened and the McPherson struts were calibrated for stiffer damping. Longer, forged control arms were installed to eliminate wheel camber changes and a thicker anti-roll bar with longer ends was installed to reduce castor. A high geared steering box and different steering arms were used to increase the effective steering ratio while reducing the Ackermann angle.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Girling supplied the brakes with 9.5″ discs up front and 9″ drums in the back. A vacuum booster provided braking assist. The Lotus variant was the first Cortina model with power assisted disk brakes. Tires were originally bias ply, later switched to radials as they became available, and were size 6.00″ X 13″ mounted on 5.5″ wide steel wheels featuring chromed “dog dish” hubcaps (standard Cortina tires were 5.20″ X 13″ on 4″ rims).

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Inside, a 15″ wooden rim Lotus steering wheel was installed as were special seats with better lateral support, more rake and greater comfort.  A center console was installed featuring a elbow rest and a storage cubby. A custom aluminum faced cluster featured full instrumentation including a 140 mph speedo and an 8,000 rpm tach. Completing Lotus’ spec on the inside was a pear shaped wooden Lotus gear shift knob.

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The reason why the Ford factory did the body mods is that they were too extensive to be done post production. The battery tray was moved to the trunk/boot for better weight distribution. Reinforcing tubes were welded in between the top rear shock absorber mounts and the spring shackle mounts on each side of the trunk to stiffen the structure. The trunk floor was modified to restore clearance over the differential after the suspension was lowered. Early models had brackets welded in for mounting the rear suspension’s A frame, while later Lotus Cortinas had mounting brackets for the radius arms. The rear frame rails were reinforced. The hood, trunk lid and door skins were made of aluminium. Before shipment to Cheshunt, the bodies in white were in fact painted in Ermine White by Ford. Lotus added the signature Sherwood Green side stripes and rear valence. The green was presumably chosen because Lotus’ traditional racing colors were green and yellow. Lotus badges were painted on the rear flanks and a cloisonne badge was mounted on the right hand side of the front grille. The bodywork behind the grille was blacked out. The rear quarter bumpers from a Ford Anglia van were repurposed for the Lotus Cortina’s front end.

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The result was a car with an aggressive, purposeful stance, accentuated by the arrow shaped stripes. In the UK, because of the green stripe and lowered suspension, Lotus Cortinas were immediately identifiable from more mundane Cortinas. The car got rave reviews in both the UK and the United States. I haven’t been able to determine just how many of the 2,894 Mk I Lotus Cortinas made it to these shores, but Ford dealers here did sell the car in a left hand drive version.

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The well known image of Jim Clark cornering hard, lifting a wheel.

Production began in early 1963 and Chapman and the Lotus racing team spent much of the year preparing racing versions. The Lotus Cortina’s competition debut was in September 1963 at Oulton Park, where Jack Sears won his class in a works car. It was only the first win in an impressive competition career. In 1964 Jim Clark, who was used as a development driver for the car and who used a Lotus Cortina as his personal car, won the overall British Touring Car Championship for the Lotus works team. Clark cornering his Cortina on three wheels, with the inner front wheel a half foot off of the ground, a serene look on Clark’s face, has become such an iconic image that more than one artist has been inspired by it.

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Artist Chris Dugan’s rendering of Jim Clark and his Lotus Cortina

The Lotus Cortina went on to dominate the 2 liter class in saloon road racing, often competing for outright wins. Factory cars were raced by Clark, Graham Hill, Peter Arundell and Jackie Ickx to considerable success and Sir John Whitmore won the 1965 European Touring Car Championship in a privately owned Lotus Cortina. The Lotus-Ford sedan just about owned saloon racing in 1965, with Jack Sears winning the C class in the British Saloon Car Championship, Jackie Ickx winning the Belgian Saloon Car Championship, and a Lotus-Cortina winning the Gold Star Saloon Car Championship in New Zealand. Other notable wins in 1965 were at the Nuburgring Six-Hour race, the Swedish National Track Championship, and the Snetterton 500.

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Jim Clark may have gotten a wheel off of the ground but Bengt Soderstrom got all four wheels of his Lotus Cortina rally car airborne

Once the rear suspension was changed to the more durable leaf spring setup, the Lotus Cortina also proved to be a competitive rally car with factory driver Bengt Soderstrom winning the Acropolis and Royal Automobile Club rallies in 1966.

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When the second generation Cortina was introduced in 1966, a Lotus version of that car was also manufactured and sold, but it wasn’t as hardcore as the Mk I Lotus Cortina and while it has its enthusiasts today, the Mk II isn’t nearly as collectible as the original.

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What’s it like to drive? A complete blast. How do I know? Not too long after I got my driver’s license in the early 1970s, my older brother Jeff decided to replace his 1965 Buick Special convertible with a 1966 Lotus Cortina. Jeff taught me how to drive a stick shift in that car and when he spent a year servicing machinery on a kibbutz in Israel, I used the Cortina to drive home from college in Ann Arbor. Yes, it had all of the flaws of British cars of that era, we called it the “Gorktina”, the starter motors were particularly unreliable, however it jump started easily and once it was running it drove flawlessly. Fast, comfortable and it could carry your whole crew. Think of a BMW 2002, a tuned Datsun 510, or the 190E “Cosworth” Mercedes-Benz that our Editor in Chief pro tem so loves, before such cars existed. The handling was as you’d expect from Lotus, in fact it inspired a friend of our to buy an Europa and me to buy my Elan. We all knew that Jeff’s car was special. We’re not the only ones. Fifth Gear calls it a “performance car icon” and “the daddy of all super saloons”.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 

Chapman’s philosophy of soft springs and stiff shocks gave it a reasonably comfortable ride. Plus, it was quick. While 110 hp may not seem like much today, the car weighed less than 2,000 lbs and the Twin Cam pulls from idle and revs well enough that they came with governors in the distributor to keep things below 6,000 rpm.

Sir Jack Brabham, who recently passed away, leads Jim Clark's Lotus Cortina with a Mustang. Oulton Park, 1965

Sir Jack Brabham, who recently passed away, leads Jim Clark’s Lotus Cortina with a Mustang. Oulton Park, 1965. Competing in the 2 liter class, the Lotus Cortina challenged cars with much bigger engines.

Though in the UK the distinctive livery and stance made the Lotus Cortina highly visible, in the United States, particularly driving around Detroit where we lived, it was just an obscure British Ford. Since it was a small European sedan nobody driving a America muscle car with a small block or bigger V8 would think it was some kind of performance car. Of course, in the 1960s the measure of performance in Detroit’s car culture was straight line speed, measured stoplight to stoplight on Woodward or Gratiot. If things went well, and they usually did, at the next light, when the Mustang or Mopar driver would ask “Whachu got in that thing?!”, replying “A 96 cubic inch four cylinder” came with a certain amount of satisfaction (and pride in high specific output motors).

Click here to view the embedded video.

As mentioned, today Mk I Lotus Cortinas are highly collectible. With less than 3,000 made, they are far rarer than the Elans and Europas of similar vintage and while Elans have significantly appreciated, as folks like Jay Leno and Gordon Murray sing their praises, a nice Lotus Cortina can sell for more than the nicest Elan. A superb Elan today might sell for as much as $40,000. Last September at a Bonhams auction held in conjunction with the Goodwood Revival a ’66 Mk I Lotus Cortina sold for the equivalent of $73,703 and a month earlier at the Quail Lodge sale Bonhams hammered off a one owner, 6,200 mile barn find 1966 Lotus Cortina that sold for $115,000. The Lotus team car in the famous Jim Clark photo above sold in 2007 for £136,800 (US$ 230,723) including the auctioneers’ fee. Not bad for a funny looking English car with a 96 cubic inch four. If you’d like one for yourself, Bonhams will be selling a race prepped ’65 with 170 hp and a limited slip rear end this fall at Goodwood.

Modern photos courtesy of Bonhams.

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

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It’s The New Motoramic Chevrolet! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/its-the-new-motoramic-chevrolet/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/its-the-new-motoramic-chevrolet/#comments Sat, 03 May 2014 14:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=814410 Earlier this week TTAC ran an insightful post by Abraham Drimmer on the history of autonomous cars that featured a promotional film about General Motors’ Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. That film was produced by the Jam Handy Organization, the Detroit based motion picture studio famous for its educational film strips […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

Earlier this week TTAC ran an insightful post by Abraham Drimmer on the history of autonomous cars that featured a promotional film about General Motors’ Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. That film was produced by the Jam Handy Organization, the Detroit based motion picture studio famous for its educational film strips and promotional films. GM executives must have liked the “ama” suffix because a few years later in the 1950s they used it to name their annual touring display of concept and show cars the “Motorama”. Just as the Futurama gave Americans a look at the highways of the future, in its day, Motorama became synonymous with cars of the future. Perhaps that’s why Chevrolet decided to use the word “Motoramic” to describe their all new 1955 models and again hired the Jam Handy studio to promote them.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Nineteen-fifty-five was a big year for Chevy. It marked the introduction of Chevrolet’s first V8 engine, then called the “Turbofire V8″, what would become known as the “small block Chevy”. Chevy’s chief engineer, Ed Cole, led the talented team that developed the lightweight, compact and powerful motor, the first time a modern, high compression, overhead valve V8 was available in something that wasn’t a luxury car. Motoramic, according to Chevrolet meant, “More than a new car, a new concept of low cost motoring”.

Click here to view the embedded video.

It may seem quaint today, when hardly anyone in the U.S. market describes their products as economy cars, but in the 1950s Chevy, Ford and Plymouth were not embarrassed to call themselves the “low cost three”. The ’55 Chevys were landmark cars. Not only did they introduce the OHV V8 to the masses, they were some of the first popularly priced cars that were available with a wide variety of trim lines and optional features. They also had more style than one might expect in an economy car. Almost 60 years later, the ’54 Chevys still look dowdy next to the ’55s (and later ’56 and ’57 models). Advertising touted “show car styling” and “43 new interiors”. By offering a variety of body styles (convertible, two door, four door, station wagon etc.) and trim lines, GM gave Chevy dealers a showroom full of different “models”, even though they were all pretty much the same car.

Click here to view the embedded video.

As with the Futurama, GM commissioned the Jam Handy Organization, in this case to produce a series of 10 television commercials used to launch the 1955 Chevrolet line. While each has a different opening tagline, all ten of the ads use variations on the same script, to make sure that new car’s selling points, the show car styling, the three new engines, the three new transmissions, and the new Glide-Ride front suspension etc. get mentioned.

Click here to view the embedded video.

We’ve seen plenty of retro styled cars over the past couple of decade. Even the recently introduced 2015 Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger use design cues that are at least 40 years old. With the appeal of Ad Men, a show placed in the mid 1960s, and the growing interest in “mid-century” collectibles I won’t be surprised if, in a fit of hipster irony, Chevy, or another car company, reprises the look and feel of these Jam Handy produced ads.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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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Beauty All Around Us: Artists Use Industrial Bi-Product To Make Jewelry http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/beauty-all-around-us-artists-use-industrial-bi-product-to-make-jewelry/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/beauty-all-around-us-artists-use-industrial-bi-product-to-make-jewelry/#comments Fri, 02 May 2014 15:35:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=814178 Imagine Detroit at its height, enormous factories and mile-long production lines running day and night, a roiling, churning symphony of man and machine where thousands of workers joined together parts, large and small, from a myriad of sources into single, working vehicle. Although I have toured modern factories in Japan, meticulously clean facilities where technicians […]

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Imagine Detroit at its height, enormous factories and mile-long production lines running day and night, a roiling, churning symphony of man and machine where thousands of workers joined together parts, large and small, from a myriad of sources into single, working vehicle. Although I have toured modern factories in Japan, meticulously clean facilities where technicians in spotless coveralls only complete the tasks that robots cannot, I view the old factories, places like Rouge River that were built in in the first part of the last century, with a special sort of awe. The entirety of what went on there is, to me, unknowable and, like the great pyramids, all that is left of the human toil is the end product. That’s why, when some small piece of history, some bi-product of that mysterious past, catches my attention, I stop and look.

Yesterday, Reddit user “FissurePrice” posted several images in that website’s photographic sub-forum, r/pics, of something he referred to as “Fordite.” I had never heard of the material, but I was instantly captivated by its bright colors and by the way that skilled hands had taken the raw product and shaped it into jewelry. When I found out that the material, also called “Detroit Agate,” is a bi-product of the automotive manufacturing process it got my full attention.

Fordite, it turns out, is actually countless layers of baked together paint. It is created during the painting process when paint overspray falls upon the various racks and trollies that carry car bodies through a car factory’s paint booth. When the vehicles or their parts are moved into the oven to cure, they remain on the racks and so the overspray hardens and cures in exactly the same way it does on the car body. Once the car moves on, the trollies and racks return to the starting point and repeat the process again and again until the overspray builds up to the point where it must be removed. The result then, are the many layered, oven hardened, chunks of paint you see here.

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In the century since cars entered mass production, particular colors have come to the fore, lived in the limelight as the height of fashion and the retreated back into nothingness. Each block of Fordite, then, is like the rings of a petrified tree, capable of telling the story of the environment in which it was originally formed. Different eras have produced different color combinations, the somber colors of the early years, the bright pastels of the ‘50s, the bolder colors of the 60s and 70s, etc and, as a result, different varieties of the material attract different kinds of people.

Not being the kind of person who wears much jewelry, I don’t believe I will ever end up purchasing any Fordite of my own but, because of my interest in both autos and history, I’m happy to see people putting the material to such a creative use. In the same way that people have worked to form natural products into beautiful art, it’s nice to see something man made, something that is technically a waste bi-product, be used in such a way. It just goes to show that beauty and art is all around us, we just need to know where to look.

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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 Deuce’s Coupe – Henry Ford II’s Personal Prototype Mustang http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/the-deuces-coupe-henry-ford-iis-personal-prototype-mustang/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/the-deuces-coupe-henry-ford-iis-personal-prototype-mustang/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 01:56:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=804458 Fifty years ago this week, the first Ford Mustang went on sale. While Lee Iacocca is considered by many to be the father of the Mustang, the simple reality is that without the approval of Henry Ford II, the chief executive at Ford, the Mustang would never have happened. That took some doing. After American […]

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Full gallery here.

Fifty years ago this week, the first Ford Mustang went on sale. While Lee Iacocca is considered by many to be the father of the Mustang, the simple reality is that without the approval of Henry Ford II, the chief executive at Ford, the Mustang would never have happened. That took some doing. After American Motors had shown the viability of compact cars, in 1960, Ford introduced the Falcon, Chevrolet introduced the Corvair, and Pontiac brought out the original, compact, Tempest. When GM introduced the sportier Monza versions of the Corvair, Iacocca, who by then was a Ford corporate VP and general manager of the Ford division, wanted something to compete with it. Henry Ford II, aka “Hank the Deuce”, had to be convinced to spend money on the project, just a few short years after FoMoCo took a serious financial hit when the Edsel brand did not have a successful launch. Iacocca, one of the great salesmen, not only sold his boss on the concept of the Mustang, the Deuce came to love the pony car so much he had a very special one made just for himself.

 

Multiple accounts from other participants in the story affirm that HFII was reluctant to give the Mustang program a green light. By early 1962, Iacocca had already been turned down at least twice, with Ford shouting “No! No!” when Ford’s division boss asked for $75 million to go after the youth market with a reskinned Falcon. Iacocca’s unofficial “Fairlane Committee”, an advanced product planning group that met every couple of weeks at the Fairlane Motel, away from prying eyes and ears at the Glass House, Ford’s World headquarters, had been working on the Mustang idea, but the team despaired of getting HFII’s approval.

In an interview on the Mustang’s genesis, Iacocca explained his challenge:

Henry Ford II had just dealt with one of the biggest losses in Ford history with the Edsel. It was dumped just one year earlier at a loss of $250 million. Henry was not receptive to launching a new, unproven line of cars which would present further risk to the company.

I made a number of trips to his office before I gained approval to build. He told me if it wasn’t a success, it would be my ass, and I might be looking for a new job elsewhere.

Surprisingly, Iacocca got word that Ford would let him pitch the as yet unnamed sporty car one more time. With the meeting scheduled for the next morning, Iacocca convened an emergency meeting of his secret committee. Things had to be secret because in the wake of the Edsel debacle, Ford’s corporate culture had become very cautious.

According to Ford head of public relations and Iacocca’s speechwriter Walter T. Murphy, who was at the meeting, the group included: Don Frey, Ford’s chief product planner; John Bowers, advertising manager; Frank Zimmerman, Ford division head of marketing; Robert Eggert, the company’s chief market research authority; Hal Sperlich, who wore many hats as Iacocca’s right hand man (and would follow him to Chrysler): and William Laurie, senior officer of Ford’s advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson.

In a 1989 account that he wrote for Ward’s Auto, Murphy described the scene:

“What I need are some fresh grabbers for my meeting tomorrow morning with Henry at the Glass House,” Mr. Iacocca told his committee (Note: we always called him Henry at meetings when Mr. Ford was not present), Bob Eggert, the researcher, was first at bat: “Lee, let’s lead off with the name of the car we’ve decided on.”

The feeling was that Henry didn’t know we were picking the Mustang name and he’d be entranced. Mr. Frey supported Mr. Eggert. “That’s a good way to go, but emphasize that this stylish pony car will kick GM’s Monza square in the balls.” Henry should love that! “I’ve got it,” Mr. Iacocca responded as he snapped shut the little car research binder that Mr. Eggert had slipped in front of him. “Murphy, put together some notes for me by early tomorrow morning. Thank you. The meeting is adjourned.”

The following morning Mr. Ford stretched out in his leather chair, fingers clasped atop his expanding belly. Mr. Iacocca stood holding a few index cards. He was not smoking or fingering a cigar, as he usually did. Mr. Ford asked “What have you got, Lee?”

Lee launched into his pitch on the market for the youthful low-cost cars that Ford once dominated but had surrendered to GM along with a bushel of profit/penetration points. “Now this new little pony car, the Mustang, would give an orgasm to anyone under 30,” he said. Henry sat upright as if he had been jabbed with a needle. “What was that you said, Lee?” asked Mr. Ford.

Lee began to repeat his orgasm line but Mr. Ford interrupted. “No not that crap, what did you call the car?” “It’s the Mustang, Mr. Ford, a name that will sell like hell.” “Sounds good; have Frey take it to the product planning committee and get it approved. And as of now, you’ve got $75 million to fund your Mustang.”

In the end, Henry Ford II’s approval of the Mustang came down to the name. I’ll note that Walker’s recollection is slightly different than that of Iacocca, who says that Ford initially committed just $45 million for the project.

The Mustang team first developed the four cylinder midengine Mustang (now known as Mustang I) concept for the 1962 show circuit, gauging interest in a sporty car targeted at young people. Because of cost concerns, they were likely to never build such a car (the Edsel failure guaranteed that the car would have to be based on an existing Ford car), but the reaction was positive, leading to the Falcon based Mustang II concept (not to be confused with the 1974 Mustang II production car). The Mustang II was based on a very early preproduction Mustang body shell, first used for a styling study with stretched front end (with “Cougar” badging – the name that convinced HFII was chosen very late in the process)  and then taken out on the ’63 auto show circuit to drum up interest in the new car. The Mustang II is owned by the Detroit Historical Museum and it would be hard to put a dollar value on such a rare and historically significant Mustang.

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Henry Ford II with the Mustang at Ford’s pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where the Mustang was first introduced to the public. Above and behind him you can see one of the convertibles used in the Walt Disney Co. designed Magic Skyway that carried visitors through Ford’s exhibit.

Before the official start of Mustang production on March 9, 1964, in February Ford started to build actual preproduction prototypes of the Mustang, about 180 of them in all. The bodies-in-white were pilot plant units built off of body bucks by Ford Body & Assembly in Allen Park, which explains the leaded seams. The bodies were then trucked to the nearby Dearborn assembly plant where they were assembled as part of the validation process.

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From left to right: Lee Iacocca, Henry Ford II, and Gene Bordinat

One of of those preproduction prototypes was set aside for special treatment by Ford Design. Ten years later, it was just another old Mustang when Art Cairo spotted a classified ad in a Detroit newspaper that read, “1965 Mustang once owned by the Ford family.” The asking price was a very reasonable $1,000 so Cairo went to look at the car. He found what appeared to be a Hi-Po 289 hardtop in black. It had some unusual parts, though. The vinyl roof was leather, not vinyl, as was the interior upholstery and dashpad. The brightwork on the wheel arch lips was die-cast, not anodized aluminum as on production cars. Door jams and trunk openings had fully leaded seams, and there were features like GT foglights in the grille, exhaust tips and styled steel wheels that were not available on early production Mustangs. Under the hood, there was an alternator instead of a generator, which was what ran the electrical system of early Mustangs. The only Ford products that offered alternators in mid 1964 were Lincolns.

On the interior, in addition to leather seats there was real teakwood, molded leather door panels with pistol-grip door handles, and a factory reverb unit and rear speaker under the package shelf. Door strikers and latches were chrome plated. In addition to what appeared to be an authentic High Performance 289, the car had disc brakes up front, a “top loader” four speed manual transmission and a 9 inch rear end with a 3.50:1 final drive ratio.

When Art read the VIN, 5F07K100148, and realized that it was a genuine “K code” Mustang, an early production “1964 1/2″ model, with a real Hi-Po 289 and lots of oddball parts, he recognized that it was a special car and that he needed to buy it (it would turn out later that Cairo’s Mustang was the very first K-code Mustang built). In the glovebox he found an owner’s manual for a ’65 Mustang written with the name “Edsel B. Ford II” and a Grosse Pointe address. The VIN in the manual, however, was for a fastback and didn’t match the one in the car.

Edsel, Henry Ford II’s son, would have been in high school when the car was new so Cairo figured it was an authentic Ford family car and bought it, assuming it was the younger Ford’s personal car. In 1983, when Art was interviewing Edsel for the Mustang Monthly magazine, Edsel revealed to him that the hardtop was not his, but his father’s and that somehow the owner’s manual for his fastback ’65 ended up with his dad’s car. Since the car’s restoration, Edsel autographed the teakwood glovebox door.

It turns out that while the cars were built for Ford family members to use, they were not titled to the Ford’s but rather remained the possession of the Ford company. After Henry and Edsel were done with their Mustangs, they were returned to FoMoCo and sold. The story that Cairo had heard was that the Deuce gave his Mustang to his chauffeur, who then sold it to the person who sold it to Cairo.

In addition to the changes mentioned above, other modifications were discovered when the car was finally restored. The alternator meant that the car had a custom wiring harness. A steel scatter shield was welded into the transmission tunnel in case of a failure of the clutch or flywheel. The engine was a real Hi-Po 289, but it had experimental cylinder heads, and even the steering box was not a production unit. The original headliner was leather, to match the roof and upholstery and in addition to all the real wood and chrome plating, a custom AM radio with die-cast knobs and buttons was installed.

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“X” stands for experimental. The Hi-Po 289 V8 in Henry Ford II’s personal Mustang had experimental heads.

The fog lamps, exhaust trumpets and die-cast moldings were developmental parts planned to be introduced the following year, installed by Ford Design.

As mentioned, when Cairo bought the car, he knew it was special, being an early K-code car, but he didn’t take the Ford family provenance that seriously. He loaned the car to his brother, who beat on it pretty hard until something broke in the 289′s valvetrain. Art retrieved the keys, overhauled the heads and did a mild restoration and respray.

He didn’t drive it much because his job involving new vehicle launches at Ford kept him on the road a lot, moving from assembly plant to assembly plant. Though he drove 5F07K100148 sparingly, for the most part the car was unknown to the Mustang community.

In 2002, Cairo started getting worried about the long term effects of inactivity and humidity and a deep inspection found significant decay, rust and rodent damage. Rustbusters, a restoration shop in Redford, Michigan was entrusted with the car.

This was going to be a complicated job. Some parts, like the headliner and upholstery are so original they cannot be “restored”. How do you restore a one off with a replica?

The car was carefully taken apart, with copious notes and photographs taken. Once disassembled, they discovered that the rust had eaten through body panels, floors, frame-rails, wheelhouses, quarter-panels, inner fenders, doors, and the cowl vent. Had this been a run of the mill ’65 Mustang, most owners would have removed the VIN and bought a replacement body from Dynacorn.

Instead, with the help of reproduction company National Parts Depot, Rustbusters used a body jig custom designed for vintage Mustangs and repaired all of the sheet metal. A modern self-etching primer sealer was used as was polymer seam sealer, but Cairo was able to locate some vintage Ford Raven Black enamel, and after spraying, the Mustang was color sanded and hand rubbed old school style to replicate a 1964 era paint job. Unfortunately, the die-cast prototype wheel-lip moldings were too corroded to use.

Early production Mustangs came with an unimproved hood that had sharp edges, replaced in 1965 with a hood that had a rolled lip. Since all preproduction and Indy Pace Car Mustangs (Ford provided the pace car for the 1964 race) that have surfaced so far feature the later style hood, Art decided to go with the “1965″ hood, which is how he found the car when he bought it.

The engine was rebuilt to factory specs, other than a .030 overbore, but inspections revealed that both the transmission and rear end just needed new seals and gaskets.

The car was finished just in time for Ford’s centennial in 2003 and Art was invited to display his car in front of Ford World Headquarters as part of the 100th anniversary celebration. This month it’s appropriately back in the lobby of the “Glass House”, whose official name is the Henry Ford II World Center, along with some other historic Mustangs, to celebrate the Mustang’s semicentennial.

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Jet Age, Italian Style: Pinin Farina’s Lancia Aurelia PF200-C http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/jet-age-italian-style-pinin-farinas-lancia-aurelia-pf200-c/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/jet-age-italian-style-pinin-farinas-lancia-aurelia-pf200-c/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 13:30:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793930 Just as “mid century” furnishings have become marketable antiques, you can be sure that “jet age” artifacts will also soon become collectible, if they aren’t already so. They certainly are in the car community. The Concours of America featured jet age station wagons in 2012 and jet age convertibles last year. The influence of aircraft […]

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Full gallery here.

Full gallery here.

Just as “mid century” furnishings have become marketable antiques, you can be sure that “jet age” artifacts will also soon become collectible, if they aren’t already so. They certainly are in the car community. The Concours of America featured jet age station wagons in 2012 and jet age convertibles last year. The influence of aircraft design on American automotive styling is well known, dating to before the actual jet age. Part of automotive lore is the fact that the 1948 Cadillac’s tail fins were inspired by the P-38 fighter, and before that Hudson used the Terraplane brand, no doubt a nod to aviation. However, airplane influenced automotive design really took off (sorry, had to do it) with the advent of high speed jet aircraft, culminating, I suppose, in the Chrysler Turbine car of the early 1960s. American designers weren’t the only car stylists to evoke the look of jet aircraft. Italian designers were almost more overt in borrowing shapes from what then were primarily military aircraft. Bertone’s B.A.T. series, shaped with the use of wind tunnels, perforce had to look a bit like aircraft, what with form following aerodynamic function, but with cars with names like Ghia’s limited series of coachbuilt Supersonic cars, it was clear that the influence was more than just functional. Battista “Pinin” Farina’s contribution to jet age styling was the Lancia Aurelia PF200.

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1956 Aston Martin DB2/4 Ghia Supersonic. Full gallery here.

Before Pinin Farina remade the family name into a portmanteau containing his own nickname, he made a name for himself as an automotive designer with the landmark 1948 Cisitalia 202. Car-writing convention dictates that I now tell you that the Cisitalia was so revolutionary and such an elegant design that it was chosen to be on permanent display in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (convention also dictates that I refer to that institution as MOMA). I think it’s more important to tell you that Pinin Farina’s design for the Cisitalia has been arguably the single most influential postwar car design, at least when it comes to performance cars. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that the 427 Shelby’s body is that of a mesomorphic, steroid enhanced Cisitalia.

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Cisitalia roadster. Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. Full gallery here.

When he decided to make a jet inspired car to show for the 1952 Turin Motor Show, Farina must have looked to contemporary military aircraft, because the round grille on what he dubbed the PF200 (need we guess what PF stood for?), accentuated by a wide chrome plated surround, looks like it was borrowed from a F86 Sabre. The pontoon front fenders also evoke aviation shapes and what jet age car would be complete without prominent tail fins? The PF200′s fins extend back past the rear deck of the car. If those weren’t enough styling cues from planes, particularly military ones, the fact that the twin set of triple exhaust tips that poke through the rear valence look like machine guns is probably not coincidental.

If you ask me, I think that rear end is the least original part of the PF200, borrowing a lot from Harley Earl’s personal jet age show car, the LeSabre. Earl’s team may have returned the favor because the Oldsmobile Cutlass show car from 1954′s GM Motorama has a roofline that makes me think of the PF200 coupe, introduced a year earlier.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Pinin Farina used a Lancia Aurelia B52 chassis, one of the few chassis that coachbuilders could then buy from large Italian manufacturers without a body. Based on the production B20, it had a 2 liter V6 90 hp engine designed by Vittorio Jano, who designed successful engines for Alfa Romeo before the war and then after he left Lancia, he went on to Ferrari where he did the engine for the original Dino and where his work continues to influence every Ferrari engine made to this day. The B52 also had a four speed transmission, integrated with its clutch into a rear transaxle riding on a de Dion suspension. Front suspension is sliding pillar. Inside the grille are louvers that can be opened or closed to allow more air to flow through the radiator, a feature that actually dates to the classic era and can be found on prewar Packards and Rolls-Royces.

This particular PF200-C was on display at the 2013 Concours of America at St. John’s.  It’s been in owner William Borrusch’s possession since 1968 and it has undergone a complete “nut and bolt” restoration. Several body panels and the floorboards had to be refabricated due to corrosion, but it looks great now. There’s some question in my mind as to the car’s proper nomenclature. According to some sources, the PF200-C designation was for the coupes. However, the owner says that his Lancia is an Aurelia PF200-C and my guess is that he knows more about the car than those sources.

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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Car Guys and Car Gals You Should Know About: Emile Mathis and His All-Aluminum 1946 VEL 333 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/car-guys-and-car-gals-you-should-know-about-emile-mathis-and-his-all-aluminum-1946-vel-333/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/car-guys-and-car-gals-you-should-know-about-emile-mathis-and-his-all-aluminum-1946-vel-333/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:00:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=785577 For a man who once ran the fourth biggest car company in France, behind Citroën, Renault and Peugeot, an automobile manufacturer who produced motorcars designed by Ettore Bugatti and others in partnership with Henry Ford, Emile Mathis is relatively unknown today. Though he made many thousands of cars, ironically he’s better known today because of […]

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For a man who once ran the fourth biggest car company in France, behind Citroën, Renault and Peugeot, an automobile manufacturer who produced motorcars designed by Ettore Bugatti and others in partnership with Henry Ford, Emile Mathis is relatively unknown today. Though he made many thousands of cars, ironically he’s better known today because of a car of his that never got to production.

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Born in the Alsace region of German nationality in 1880, Emile Mathis was said to have built his first automobile by the turn of the 20th century. Having been formally trained in business, with his interest in cars it was probably natural for him to become a car dealer. The Auto-Mathis-Palace in Strasbourg sold, among others, brands like Fiat, De Dietrich, and Panhard-Levassor, making it one of the leading dealerships in the city. By 1904, he was manufacturing cars under the Hermes brand, building two models designed by Ettore Bugatti. He also had automobiles built with a license from Stoewer.

1904 Mathis Hermes

1904 Mathis Hermes

The first car that he sold under his own brand name, the 8/20 PS, went on sale in 1910 and by the start of World War One two small Mathis cars, the 1.3 liter Baby and the even smaller 1.1 liter Babylette had achieved some measure of success. It was after the war, though, that Mathis started making and selling cars in quantity. By 1927 Mathis was making more than 20,000 cars a year, making the firm the 4th largest automaker in France.

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Emile Mathis and one of his early automobiles

It seems that Emile Mathis was attracted to the United States and American cars. Though sales were strong through the end of the 1920s, with the start of the Depression they started to decline and Mathis looked west. Today, joint ventures between car companies on different continents are commonplace, but then it was a fairly novel idea.

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In 1930 Mathis made his first attempt to forge an alliance with an American automaker. He and William C. Durant made plans to form a partnership. By then Durant had been forced out at General Motors and had started building cars under his own brand. Mathis wanted the American entrepreneur to build cars for the European market in Durant’s Lansing, Michigan factory. They thought they’d be able to sell up to 100,000 cars a year but Durant couldn’t get the project funded and went out of business the following year.

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Staying in France, Mathis expanded his own firm’s lineup. 1932′s Mathis EMY 8 Deauville was a large, eight cylinder car that was likely modeled after the American Packards. In 1934, he introduced the EMY 4, a 1,445cc-powered car with a synchromesh transmission, hydraulic brakes and eventually fully independent suspension, giving him three different car lines and four different trucks. Though Mathis introduced advanced features like those on the EMY lines before his competitors, sales continued to deteriorate.

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Not giving up on his plan of a partnership with an American car company, in 1934 Mathis seemingly hit the jackpot when he negotiated an agreement with Henry Ford. Ford Motor Company wanted to expand production of the Ford Model Y designed for the European market and Mathis’ Strasbourg factory was underutilized. The joint venture with Ford was called SA Française Matford Strasbourg. Ford owned 60% and Mathis the rest. Ford invested a substantial amount of money in the plant which at first produced copies of British and American Fords but by 1936 it was assembling localized vehicles under the Matford Alsace brand. While Matfords are obviously mid to late 1930s Fords, they did have features that distinguished them from non-French Fords, including Mathis’ independent front suspension on some models.

1938 Matford

1938 Matford

Matfords were produced until 1939, but Mathis was both disappointed by lower than expected sales and not comfortable being second in the relationship to Henry Ford so in 1938 he sold his shares in the joint venture. Most of Henry Ford’s business associates eventually parted ways with him. To my knowledge, only a handful of high level Ford employees stayed with the man and his company for their entire careers. Few people maintained relationships with Henry Ford for very long. Mathis was no different.

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Again looking to America, after leaving Matford, Emile Mathis moved to the United States and started making marine engines using the Matam brand. After World War II broke out, he stayed in the U.S. for the duration of the war.

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Before the outbreak of hostilities, Emile Mathis had reasserted control of his factory in Strasbourg but as war approached the region was likely to be contested so he stayed an absentee landlord. Also, as a German Alsatian, Mathis had been drafted in the German army during WWI, but in 1916, while on a mission to Switzerland to buy truck, he deserted, taking the cash he was given for the trucks’ purchase. He also enlisted in the French army. Once Germany overran France in 1940, his return from America was mooted, and in any case since the Germans considered him to be a traitor and embezzler and had him on a wanted list he wasn’t going back to France under the Vichy government.

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In 1946, Mathis returned to France to find his factory in Strasbourg had been mostly destroyed by Allied bombing as it was used by the Germans to make munitions and engines for military vehicles. Well, actually it wasn’t much of a surprise since he had supplied the Allies with the plans to the plants so they could more accurately bomb the production facilities. Before he could build cars he needed to rebuild the factory, which took two years and a substantial amount of money. Once his factory was rebuilt, he tried rebuilding his car company but he ended up being stymied by post war French governmental policies. A book should be written on how trying to structure the French automobile industry per the wishes of politicians and bureaucrats ended up killing off many French car companies. Those policies may also have indirectly led to the death of Emile Mathis himself.

Mathis-Moncoque

In addition to dealing with the policies enacted under what became known as the Pons Plan, Mathis had been out of the country for 7 years and had few connections with holdovers from the Vichy regime and other bureaucrats in positions of power when he returned to France. You can go over to Wikipedia and read about the Pons Plan (named after Paul Marie Pons, a senior French bureaucrat) in more detail but briefly, starting in 1946 the French government basically decided which of the 22 car and 28 truck manufacturers would survive. Since the government controlled permits and, more importantly, which companies got access to raw materials like steel that were in high demand in the postwar reconstruction period, even companies that didn’t go along with the Pons Plan had to comply with it. The net result in the French car industry was that the large manufacturers, Citroën, Renault, Peugeot and Simca were favored while the second tier and luxury car makers were starved of supplies. Engine displacement based taxes also negatively impacted French coachbuilders and luxury marques.

Mathis-Motor

Getting back to Mathis, with his factory rebuilt he needed a car to build in it, something suitable for a continent rebuilding after war. What he came up with was quite advanced from an engineering standpoint, and while it never got beyond prototype stage, with only 10 examples being built, it was novel enough to give Mathis a place in automotive history that his more successful pre-war endeavors have not quite secured. Considered the first all-aluminum car, it’s also, in a number of ways, very similar to a modern car planned by a new automotive startup.

Mathis-Engine Mathis-Engine

What Mathis came up with was the VEL 333. The name stood for Voiture Economique Légere, a light economical vehicle, that consumed three liters of fuel for every 100 kilometers (78.41 mpg), with three wheels and three seats. It had unibody architecture, with the aluminum monocoque being electrically welded. Though steel was in very short supply in 1946, aluminum was abundant. Demand for the metal from the aircraft industry had declined with the end of the war, plus there was ample surplus from planes being taken out of commission, and scrap from planes shot down in combat.

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The two door body was designed by noted aerodynamicist and designer Jean Andreau. Andreau also was an exponent of adding lightness, known for his slogan, “weight is the biggest enemy”. The three wheels were laid out in reverse trike fashion with two wheels up front and one in the back, packaged in a sporty looking and very modern envelope body. Passengers also sat two in the front with the rear passenger sitting sidesaddle. Power was supplied to the front wheels by a water cooled 707 cc horizontally opposed twin putting out 15 horsepower. It appears that the entire drivetrain and front suspension mounted to a subframe that bolted to the unibody. Top speed was said to be 70 mph, aided by the car’s aerodynamics. Total weight was only 386 kilograms (851 lbs) with the body itself weighing only 78 kg (172 lbs). The VEL 333 also had a novel twin radiator setup, with each cylinder having its own radiator (it’s not clear if each cylinder had its own water pump).

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Though he was unable to persuade the French government to let him produce the VEL 333, Mathis didn’t give up. In 1947 he introduced the Mathis 666, this time standing for six cylinders, six seats and a six-speed transmission, which may have been another first and in any case was an early application of such a multi-speed gear box. The engine was again a flat, horizontally opposed motor, displacing 2.2 liters and again Mathis used front wheel drive. It’s possible that the Mathis 666 was the first FWD car with a flat six, decades before Subaru would build one. The 666 had angular styling that still looks almost contemporary, and it featured a wraparound windscreen. Panoramic windshields were a big thing on show cars in the late ’40s and early 1950s. Fully independent suspension, which the 666 also featured, was less common then. A year later Mathis increased displacement to 2.8 liters and the car was shown at the Paris Auto Salon of 1949 but it was to no avail. It’s not clear how many 666 cars were made by Mathis, but a prototype has survived and has been exhibited at the big French old car show, Retromobile.

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For the 1949-1950 model year, Mathis published a 16 page sales brochure that reiterated Emile Mathis’ affection for the United States: “Fast, economical and silent! The Mathis six cyl. car combines the American qualities of endurance and acceleration with the French features of economy and elegance.” That brochure included three alternate body styles of the 666 that likely never got beyond the designers’ sketches, a berline sedan, a roadster with a body by Saoutchik, and the Mathis Dandy, a landau roofed open car by Henri Chapron.

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Emile Mathis’ final car was a Jeep-like vehicle that used the 2.8 liter engine from the 666, introduced in 1951 but just three were built. Emile Mathis kept his factory going by making engines for light aircraft and components for Renault but in 1954 he sold the Strasbourg factory to Citroën. In 1956 Mathis died after a fall from a hotel window. While some have suspected suicide motivated by desperation over not being able to revise his car company, by then he was 76 years old and elderly people do have falls. His death is still unexplained.

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Starting next year, Elio Motors says that it will start making and selling a reverse trike with an aerodynamic enclosed body and a sub 1.0 liter engine powering the front wheels that will get 84 mpg. In the case of the Elio, it’s  a tandem two-seater with a steel tube space frame, not a three seater with an aluminum unibody, still, the specifications aren’t too far apart from the VEL 333. I’m sure that the folks at Elio hope to have more success with their three-wheeler than Mathis did with their own.

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Though his postwar efforts to revive his car company did not end in success, Emile Mathis had an important role in the development of the French auto industry. Perhaps even more important was his role as a pioneer in how cars are made on a global scale. His cars were technologically advanced for their eras and his efforts to forge alliances with American automakers presaged the many international joint ventures in the car industry today.

Emile Mathis was a car guy you should know about.

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: An Interpretation. Did He Make the World A Better Place, Or Not? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/henry-ford-an-interpretation-did-he-make-the-world-a-better-place-or-not/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/henry-ford-an-interpretation-did-he-make-the-world-a-better-place-or-not/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 12:30:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=789329 Just like yesterday night, April 7th, it was raining in Detroit on the night of April 7,1947. There was extensive flooding on the Rouge River and 83 year old Henry Ford had spent part of the day at he beloved Greenfield Village, making sure that it was not damaged. The next day he was planning […]

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Just like yesterday night, April 7th, it was raining in Detroit on the night of April 7,1947. There was extensive flooding on the Rouge River and 83 year old Henry Ford had spent part of the day at he beloved Greenfield Village, making sure that it was not damaged. The next day he was planning on touring Ford facilities in southeastern Michigan to see how the flood had affected his factories. After returning to Fair Lane, the estate that Henry and Clara built on the Rouge, the two had dinner by candlelight, as the flood had also knocked out the estate’s powerhouse. That must have been a disappointment to Henry, as his primary interest seems to have been power. Before his automotive ventures, Ford was chief operating engineer of the Edison Illuminating Co. of Detroit.

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At dinner, Henry and Clara discussed the 100 mile trip he was planning for the next day. As was his custom, he retired to his bedroom at 9 p.m. A little bit after 11, Henry called Clara to his bedside. He complained of a bad headache and said that his throat was dry. He was having a stroke, though Clara did not know that. She gave him a glass of water. Clara then sent her maid, Rosa Buhler, to wake Robert Rankin, the Fords’ chauffeur who had an apartment above the estate’s garage, to tell him to fetch a doctor. The phone lines were out from the flood and Rankin had to drive over to the Ford Engineering Laboratories, about a half mile from Fair Line find a working phone. Rankin called Dr. John Mateer of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

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Clara Ford also sent for two other people to come to Henry’s deathbead. Her grandson, Henry Ford II, and Evangeline Dahlinger. Henry the second lived at his parents’ estate on Lake Ste Claire, north of Grosse Pointe. It’s probably not coincidental that Edsel and Eleanor built their home about as far away from Fair Lane as they could and still be somewhere in the Detroit area. Henry alternately doted on Edsel and, afraid that he’d be the effete and soft son of a rich man, Ford would embarrass his son in front of others, supposedly to toughen him up.

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Henry was a bit more consistent with the way he treated Evangeline Dahlinger. Unlike Edsel and Eleanor, Evangeline, lived close by to Henry in a stately home just up the Rouge from Fair Lane, a home that Henry built for her and her husband Ray, Ford’s former driver. She first met Henry, 30 years her senior, when she got a job in 1909 as a 16 year old stenographer in Ford’s Highland Park factory. After the Dahlinger’s marriage, Ray was given the job of traveling the world scouting out locations for Ford factories. That made it convenient for Henry’s nocturnal cruises up the Rouge in the quiet little electric boat he had made for Clara. A private staircase led from the Dahlinger’s boat well to Mrs. Dahlinger’s separate bedroom.

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It’s said that the only time Clara ever stood up to Henry, an indomitable man if there ever was one, was after the death of their only son Edsel in 1943. Years earlier, after buying out his partners and investors following the huge success of the Model T, Henry distributed Ford stuck thusly: 49% for himself, 48% for Edsel, and the remaining 3% for Clara. After Edsel died in 1943 and Henry reasserted operational control of Ford Motor Company, Clara and Eleanor threatened Henry that they would sell the 51% of Ford that they owned if he would not abdicate and let his grandson and namesake run the company. Though she stood up for her grandson, Clara was more tolerant of her husband’s behavior when it came to Evangeline Dahlinger, Henry’s longtime mistress and likely mother of a second Ford son. By his death, Clara obviously had made her peace with the role Evangeline played in Henry’s life.

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After waking the chauffeur, the maid returned to Henry’s bedroom where she heard Clara say, “Henry, speak to me.” He seemed to have stopped breathing and Mrs. Ford asked Buhler, “What do you think of it?” Rosa replied, “I think Mr. Ford will be leaving us.” By the time Dr. Mateer got to Fair Lane, the man who put the world on wheels was dead.

Unlike the Egyptian style tomb, complete with sphinxes were the Dodge brothers’ widows interred them, Clara buried Henry in a simple grave in the still well-kept private cemetery that had been used by her adoptive family, the Aherns (also spelled O’Hern) since before William Ford, Henry’s father, immigrated from Ireland. It’s on the south side of Joy Road (named after another automotive pioneer, Henry Joy, who made Packard a great marque), just west of Greenfield Road. The oldest date on a stone there that I could find was 1821. Before her death Clara left an endowment for an Episcopal church to be built next to the small cemetery. It’s called St. Martha’s and it’s still consecrated, and maintained, though it looks inactive and I haven’t been able to determine if it ever functioned with a congregation. Clara looks to have been the last person buried there. Most people assume the wrought iron above and around Clara and Henry’s final resting places is not for decoration but rather to prevent vandalism. The truth, though, is that only a relative handful of people who drive by have any clue who’s buried there.

When I visited Ford’s grave site yesterday, at least one other person remembered the date. Someone had left some kind of makeshift memorial at the foot of Henry’s grave consisting of two cups each of two different liquids, and four small pieces of what looked like bread. I’m not sure of the significance but I didn’t want to disturb it. I’m not sure if any Ford family members came to pay their respects, or if any have been there in years. Eleanor and her children are said to have blamed Henry at least in part for Edsel’s death.

As if to put an exclamation point on the location she and Edsel chose for their home, though it was a certainty that Henry would rest with his ancestors, Eleanor decided to bury Edsel at Woodlawn Cemetery on Woodward, near the grave of his good friend Hudson chief Roy Chapin. None of Henry’s five grandchildren are buried with him.

Henry, who had some backwards notions regarding ethnicity and religion, might show some surprise at his current neighbors. Across the street from the cemetery there’s an Obama branded gas station whose owners have named it after the first black president of the United State. From Henry’s grave site you can also see the green dome and minaret of the mosque next door to the church. On the other hand, if Henry’s spinning, it’s more likely because one great grandkid married a Jew and another married a black man.

Edsel, chief thug Harry Bennett and production whiz Peter Martin were about the only people who worked closely with Ford and didn’t eventually come to a parting of the ways with the man. Perhaps Henry’s most significant talent was surrounding himself with some people who were not just exceptionally talented but that could also work with a megalomaniac and get him to see things their way. One of my favorite books about Henry Ford was written by Samuel Marquis, an Episcopal clergyman who was the Ford family pastor. Ford eventually put his pastor on his payroll, heading Ford’s Sociology Department, but that didn’t prevent Marquis from seeing the truth about his parishioner and boss. Eventually, after Ford felt that Marquis spoke out of turn concerning Ford business he fired him. Bitter from his dismissal, Marquis published a book, Henry Ford: An Interpretation. It’s a nuanced but almost unvarnished look at the man. That’s undoubtedly why the Ford company and family actively suppressed it for decades. I say almost unvarnished because Marquis is uncharacteristically reticent when it came to Ford’s Jew-hatred. Still, it was the only critical book about Ford written by a close associate of his that was published during Ford’s lifetime.

Henry Ford undoubtedly changed the world. Pastor Marquis had his own interpretation of the man’s life. What’s yours? Did Henry Ford make the world a better place, or would we all have been better off if he’d stayed at Edison instead of tinkering around with his Quadricycle?

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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Duesenberg Model J Murphy Body Roadster – One of These Is Not Like the Other. Can You Spot the Fake? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/duesenberg-model-j-murphy-body-roadster-one-of-these-is-not-like-the-other-can-you-spot-the-fake/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/duesenberg-model-j-murphy-body-roadster-one-of-these-is-not-like-the-other-can-you-spot-the-fake/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788073 One of these cars is not like the other. A while back I wrote about the replica Duesenberg Murphy Roadster that former GM designer Steve Pasteiner’s Advanced Automotive Technologies fabricated for someone who owned a real Duesenberg. The person who commissioned the replica wanted to be able to drive in that style without risking damage […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Original Gulf Livery Car – 1968 & 1969 LeMans Winning Ford GT40 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/an-original-gulf-livery-car-1968-1969-lemans-winning-ford-gt40/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/an-original-gulf-livery-car-1968-1969-lemans-winning-ford-gt40/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 11:07:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=778369 Today you can see the powder blue and marigold Gulf Oil racing colors on just about anything with wheels. A quick image search produces photos of bicycles, Mazda Miatas, DeLoreans, smart cars and even a Tata Nano wearing the livery. Gulf Oil itself has sponsored a number of widely varying race cars that have carried […]

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Full gallery here.

Today you can see the powder blue and marigold Gulf Oil racing colors on just about anything with wheels. A quick image search produces photos of bicycles, Mazda Miatas, DeLoreans, smart cars and even a Tata Nano wearing the livery. Gulf Oil itself has sponsored a number of widely varying race cars that have carried the paint scheme. With so many cars having worn Gulf’s iconic colors it’s easy to forget that there was a time when those colors were worn by a single racing team, running Ford GT40s. As it happens, though, the first Gulf livery GT40 that raced was actually painted a different shade of blue.

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The original Ford GT40 that wore Gulf corporate colors was raced by Gulf VP Grady Davis.

The original race car painted in Gulf Oil colors was a Ford GT40 (chassis #1049) that was raced at Daytona and Sebring in 1967 as an independent entry by Gulf Oil executive vice president Grady Davis. It carried Gulf’s corporate colors of dark blue and orange. In 1967, for the upcoming season the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale, the sporting arm of the FIA) reduced allowable engine displacement in Group 6 prototype endurance cars to 3.0 liters. That meant that the car that won LeMans in 1967, the Ford GT40 Mk IV with its 7 liter, 427 cubic inch engine, would not be able to defend its title. Having won at LeMans two years running, Henry Ford II had nothing else to prove and shuttered their endurance racing effort. John Wyer, who had an important role in the development of the GT40, realized that the platform could compete at LeMans as a Group 4 sports car, so J.W. Automotive Engineering took over management of the team and arranged for sponsorship from Gulf Oil, renaming the cars Mirages.

Three Mirages were built and they were painted in the now familiar powder blue, not Gulf’s indigo. The colors were specified by Davis, who thought the lighter color was more exciting. Gulf had earlier acquired the Wilshire Oil Company of California, whose corporate colors were powder blue and orange and Davis wanted to use those colors. He may have been on to something. The lighter blue and that shade of orange are considered “equiluminant” colors. The human eye has a hard time perceiving the edges of objects when the objects and their background colors have similar luminance. That makes the edges seem to vibrate which give this particular color combination a lot of visual pop. The final livery actually includes a dark blue hairline border around the orange, which reduces the optical illusion and any visual discomfort while maintaining most of the visual impact.

Graphic designer Wade Johnson has an interesting post about why the Gulf livery works so well on race cars, particularly endurance sports cars like those that race at LeMans:

For me, when I think about what is from a design perspective that makes Gulf racing cars work, it is a combination of things; First there is the intense color pallet which was different from any other at the time it was introduced. Then there are the classic sweeping lines of the Le Mans cars. Long low to the ground, sinuous sweeping arcs that visually scream speed. Then There is a consistent shape that is used across all the cars in the livery. Oh, and that three prong stripe that runs along the bottom edges of the car, gathers at the nose and sweeps backward to the rear of the car. The stripe might vary slightly in shape, but it is always recognizable across all of the cars throughout Gulf’s racing heritage starting in the mid 1960′s. No matter what car this color and graphic scheme is applied to, it always reads Gulf Racing. It is an unmistakable color and design combination even almost 40 years after being introduced.

Only one of the original three Mirages has survived. Of the other two, one was wrecked and destroyed and the other was rebuilt into GT40 #1074. A new Mirage tub was used to build #1075, and a standard GT40 Mk I tub was used to build up #1076. Two more cars were built up by JWAE as spares. The cars featured something relatively new then, carbon fiber reinforced body panels. Those panels were shaped slightly different than the GT40 Mk IIs, with a wider rear clamshell that could accommodate the deeply offset wide BRM magnesium wheels, painted in matching orange.

Cars #1074, 1075 and 1076 went on to great racing success, with #1075 doing the near impossible, back to back overall wins at LeMans using a car generally considered to be obsolete. It was the first time at LeMans that the same chassis had won twice. Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi drove 1075 to its first Le Mans win in 1968 and Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver won with it in 1969. In 1968, the same car won the BOAC International 500, the Spa 1000-kilometer race, and the Watkins Glen 6-hour endurance race, while in 1969 it also won the Sebring 12-hour race. Any one of those victories would give a race car unique provenance, but you’d be hard pressed to think of another single racing car with victories at so many marquee races. Though I agree with Johnson about how well the Gulf livery works visually, the fact that the car won so many important races, including the repeat at LeMans, is undoubtedly a factor in how iconic the livery has become.

Ford GT40s aren't the only shapes that look good in Gulf livery.

Ford GT40s aren’t the only shapes that look good in Gulf livery.

Ironically, it was because another LeMans winner, the GT40 Mk IV that won in 1967, was damaged that I was able to get these photographs. The ’68 & ’69 winner is currently on display in the Racing In America section of the Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America exhibit, apparently on loan. The GT40 Mk IV driven at victory by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt that’s normally in that spot in the museum is now at Gurney’s All American Racers shop in California where it is undergoing a “sensitive restoration” and preservation after getting damaged in transit for the Goodwood Revival. One assumes the intent is to preserve some of that car’s racing scars, like the less than concours level repairs to racing damage that you can see on #1075′s rocker panels.

If you’d like to read more about the Gulf livery Mirages and GT40s, there’s a website devoted to the five original cars and the Ford museum’s transportation curator, Matt Anderson has put together a history of chassis #1075. If you’d like to reproduce the Gulf racing livery on your own ride (or whatever else you think would look cool in those colors), the Llewellyn Rylands pigments are 3707 Zenith Blue, and 3957 Tangerine, with corresponding Dulux color codes of Powder Blue #P030-8013, and Marigold #P030-3393.

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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GM Recalls 1.3 Million Additional Vehicles As Barra Heads To D.C. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/gm-recalls-1-3-million-additional-vehicles-as-barra-heads-to-d-c/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/gm-recalls-1-3-million-additional-vehicles-as-barra-heads-to-d-c/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:07:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=785569 The Detroit News reports General Motors CEO Mary Barra boarded a commercial flight from Detroit to Washington, D.C. Sunday in order to prepare for two separate hearings before Congress regarding her company’s handling of the ongoing 2014 recall crisis. While in the nation’s capital, she also met with 25 family members whose relatives were killed […]

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The Detroit News reports General Motors CEO Mary Barra boarded a commercial flight from Detroit to Washington, D.C. Sunday in order to prepare for two separate hearings before Congress regarding her company’s handling of the ongoing 2014 recall crisis. While in the nation’s capital, she also met with 25 family members whose relatives were killed in crashes linked to the ignition switch behind the recall.

CNN Money adds GM is about to reveal the names of the 13 people who lost their lives due to catastrophic failure linked to the defective part. The information will be made available to the public, with sensitive information — corporate secrets and personal data — redacted prior to publication. The information is part of a request by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration due April 3.

As for what Barra and NHTSA acting administrator David Friedman plan to say before the House and Senate hearings, Automotive News reports Friedman is standing firm on his agency’s effort to “properly carry out its safety mission based on the data available to it and the process it followed” in prepared remarks to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Barra reiterates her position on the events leading up to the recall and subsequent actions moving forward:

When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators and with our customers.

Automotive News also put forth four key issues Barra and Friedman will have to explain before Congress and the general public:

  • How GM’s multiple internal investigations failed to lead to a recall sooner
  • Why NHTSA failed to launch an investigation, despite signs that a faulty switch might be causing airbags not to deploy
  • Whether and how GM’s vehicle-safety protocols have changed
  • Whether GM’s internal processes were violated or laws were broken

Tying into the fourth issue, House Democrats have found and named the engineer behind the 2006 ignition redesign as Ray DeGiorgio, who denied in a 2013 court deposition having knowledge that the part was changed. They also penned a letter to Barra stating the redesigned switch still didn’t meet spec, based on information provided by supplier Delphi confirming the switches meant for 2008 – 2011 models tested poorly alongside the switch approved in 2002 now linked to 13 fatalities and 33 crashes.

Automotive News also posits the reason behind the NHTSA not pushing forward on a recall sooner was due to a heavy focus on child deaths linked to airbags. When GM introduced a smart airbag system in their vehicles in the 2000s, the agency focused on whether or not the airbags were doing their job to protect children placed in the front seat, with the goal of assessing “real world” performance while spotting “unusual circumstances” — such as the flawed ignition switch behind the recall — that would allow for “early identification of potential problems,” according to a 2004 statement by former agency boss Chip Chidester.

In new recall news, GM recalled 1.3 million vehicles made between 2004 and 2010 whose power steering could suddenly lose electric power, with the automaker aware of “some crashes and injuries” tied to the steering. Vehicles affected include: Chevrolet Malibu, Malibu Maxx, non-turbo HHR and Cobalt; Saturn Aura and Ion; and Pontiac G6.

As for reporting issues that could lead to a recall, GM leads the way in filing early-warning reports to the NHTSA with 6,493 reports between 2005 and 2007; Chrysler and Toyota filed around 1,300 in the same period, while Honda filed 290. However, the cause behind the numbers is in how each automaker follows the 2000 TREAD Act, with GM setting an extremely low threshold for reporting in comparison to other automakers.

Finally, a number of lawsuits are being aimed directly at dismantling the liability protection GM’s 2009 bankruptcy provided to “New GM.” The tactics range from securities fraud and loss of resale value, to wrongful death.

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Ford: Gettelfinger Should Be Credited For Saving Company http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/ford-gettelfinger-should-be-credited-for-saving-company/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/ford-gettelfinger-should-be-credited-for-saving-company/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:45:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=782865 Ford’s executive chairman Bill Ford, Jr. told CNBC this week that former United Auto Workers president Ron Gettelfinger “doesn’t get enough credit for helping save Ford.” Automotive News reports the UAW worked closely with the Blue Oval to avoid the fates that befell Chrysler and General Motors in the run-up to the Great Recession, as […]

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Ford’s executive chairman Bill Ford, Jr. told CNBC this week that former United Auto Workers president Ron Gettelfinger “doesn’t get enough credit for helping save Ford.

Automotive News reports the UAW worked closely with the Blue Oval to avoid the fates that befell Chrysler and General Motors in the run-up to the Great Recession, as Ford Jr. explained in a live interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box”:

When our times were darkest in the ’07, ’08, ’09 time frame, the UAW helped our industry get back on its feet, helped Ford get back on its feet. Ron Gettelfinger, the former president of the United Auto Workers, doesn’t get enough credit for helping save Ford.

The chairman went on to say that in the automaker’s darkest hour, he turned to Gettelfinger to “save the Ford Motor Co.” For Ford, this meant concessions by the union, including two-tier wages, overtime pay after 40 hours of work, and giving up vacation time. In turn, the Blue Oval lowered labor cost to $58/hour per employee.

When asked why the UAW was turned away from the South — specifically the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. — Ford, Jr. noted the region’s attitude toward organized labor in general, as well as how the automaker views its workers in comparison:

Surprised? No, because there’s a long history of organizing that didn’t go well in the South. I would say this. We’ve had a great relationship with our workforce. I don’t look at them as union and nonunion but as Ford workers. … We have a lot of second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and even sixth-generation workers at Ford in our company.

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Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due, Benz or Marcus? Pre WWII Automotive Histories on Who Invented the Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/giving-credit-where-credit-is-due-benz-or-marcus-pre-wwii-automotive-histories-on-who-invented-the-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/giving-credit-where-credit-is-due-benz-or-marcus-pre-wwii-automotive-histories-on-who-invented-the-car/#comments Thu, 27 Mar 2014 14:22:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=780137 In response to my post about how the Nazis tried to write Austrian inventor Siegfried Marcus (who was Jewish) out of history by ordering German encyclopedia publishers to replace Marcus’ name and credit Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz as the inventors of the automobile, some of our readers felt that I was unfairly diminishing Daimler […]

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In response to my post about how the Nazis tried to write Austrian inventor Siegfried Marcus (who was Jewish) out of history by ordering German encyclopedia publishers to replace Marcus’ name and credit Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz as the inventors of the automobile, some of our readers felt that I was unfairly diminishing Daimler and Benz’s contributions to automotive history. My point that in pre-1938 Austria Marcus was considered the inventor of the gasoline powered automobile was dismissed as the result of Austrian chauvinism – as if Germans haven’t been eager to accord their own countrymen the same honor.

 

How to resolve the matter? Well, since there was a documented attempt to rewrite history in 1940, we’d have to look at what the historical record said before 1940. Fortunately, the world’s biggest public automotive history archive is about 20 minutes from where I’m sitting now, and while some of the early automotive histories in their collection credited Daimler or Benz, the oldest source they have, dating to 1912, says that Daimler’s contribution was even by then overstated and that author made a point of crediting Marcus with making the first gasoline powered auto.

First off, it’s obvious that Benz made and sold the first practical motorcar and that Marcus regarded it as an intellectual curiosity, not an invention with practical use. However, the fact remains that what we now know says that Marcus powered a four wheeled vehicle with a gasoline fired internal combustion engine at least a decade and a half before Daimler made his motorcycle and Benz his own three wheeler. What we know today, however, isn’t as important to the topic as what was known or thought about the origins of the motorcar before the Nazis tried to diminish Marcus’ role.

To see what early automotive historians had to say about the relative roles that early automotive pioneers had in the history of the car, to get a perspective on the pre-WWII draft of automotive history, I visited the National Automotive History Collection, which is housed at the Detroit Public Library’s Skillman branch in downtown Detroit. If you’re a car enthusiast and you find yourself in the Detroit area, I cannot urge you strongly enough to visit the NAHC, which has everything from the minutes of the boards of directors of long dead car companies to service manuals for just about every automobile that’s every been made. The NAHC doesn’t just have musty old Chilton’s books, it also has a sufficient budget for new acquisitions. If there’s a book about cars, there’s a good chance the NAHC will have it in their collection.

The NAHC has a dedicated reference librarian who is very helpful with research requests and she managed to find three histories of the automobile that were published before 1940. Well, two of them actually. The third was published in early 1941, not likely to have been affected by what publishers in Germany had only recently done (the Reich’s Ministry for Propaganda issued it’s directive in mid 1940) and we’ll start with that first, going in reverse chronological order.

The Automobile Industry: The Coming of Age of Capitalism’s Favorite Child, by E.D. Kennedy, was published in January, 1941 by Reynal & Hitchcock in New York. Therein Kennedy makes the simple assertion that, “the world’s first automobile was a German automobile which Benz had completed in 1886.”

Going back to 1917, the A. J. Munson company of Chicago published The Story of the Automobile, Its History and Development from 1760 to 1917. Munson includes many early developments going back to Cugnot and various steam powered vehicles, but like Kennedy he fails to mention Marcus. Also, like Kennedy, he credits Benz. In the book’s index, the entry under Benz reads “builder of first internal combustion road vehicle” and in the text of the work Munson says, “…in 1885, Benz, a German, built the first road vehicle to run by the internal combustion, hydro-carbon motor”.

Now that would seem to settle things, but perhaps due to geography, or possibly spelling, American automotive historians may not have been aware of the role that Marcus played.

The oldest history of the automobile that the NAHC has in its collection is Motor-Cars and their Story, by Frederick A. Talbot, published in London in 1912 by Cassell and Company, Ltd. Unlike the the authors writing later, Talbot seems to go out of his way to credit Marcus, or as he spelled it Siegfried Markus, almost from the outset. In the front of the book, the list of illustrations describes one plate as “The Siegfried Markus motor-car completed in 1875, and said to be the first petrol-driven car” and the caption for that illustration goes on to say, “This is claimed to be the first petrol motor-car: it was completed by Siegfried Markus in 1875″. In the index, under Siegfried Markus it simply says, “Inventor of the automobile, 13″.

Now it must be said that we know today that Talbot got some facts wrong. To begin with, the vehicle shown in the photograph supplied by the Automobile Club of Vienna that owned it, was the second motorcar that Marcus built, and it was likely built closer to the time that Benz and Daimler were working on their first vehicle. We also know that the 1875 date is likely too late for Marcus’ first “car”, which is shown in a photograph dated 1870 and may actually have run even earlier, in the mid 1860s.

As with what we know today, the issue isn’t whether Talbot got his timeline correctly, it’s what early automotive historians felt about Marcus’ role and Talbot clearly thought that role was highly significant. From page 13 of his book:

“Who invented the automobile? This question has provoked considerable diversity of opinion. Each country would appear to bestow the wreath upon its native claimant. Thus in Germany Gottlieb Daimler secures the honour, Selden in the united States, and so on. One above all, however, would appear to be entitled to the distinction, if it should be awarded, inasmuch as he drove a petrol-driven car in Vienna in 1875. It was a four-wheeled vehicle, with the mechanism placed centrally and driven by belting over a large pulley mounted on the back axle, with front-wheel steering controlled from a pillar and hand-wheel.”

Again, Talbot seems to be describing the second Marcus car, which was much closer to late 19th and early 20th century motorcars than the primitive cart with a motor that he prior built. However, he clearly credits Marcus “above all” with being the first. Almost as if to prove his point about nationalism affecting the historical record, Talbot devotes a significant amount of ink to the story of the UK’s Edward Butler and his 1883 “tri-car” and then goes on to say, “it has been stated that Daimler produced, in 1886, the first practical petrol motor-car, but this face seems scarcely reconcilable, as I have already shown. While Daimler’s work was of far-reaching value, there is a tendency to overrate it.”

Talbot’s comments about Marcus carry a lot of wisdom about who invented the car and if that distinction really should be awarded. As I said in my original post, there are so many contributors to the idea of the automobile that it’s hard to credit a single individual. Undoubtedly Benz and Daimler were two of the earliest contributors to that idea. However, as you can see from 1912′s Motor-Cars and their Story, at least one early automotive historian, based outside of Austria, felt that Marcus deserved more credit than the German pair for originating the gasoline powered automobile.

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

The post Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due, Benz or Marcus? Pre WWII Automotive Histories on Who Invented the Car appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

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