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, 08 Nov 2014 15:41:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 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/ A Man Who Wears the Texaco Star and the Man Behind the Jingle http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/man-wears-texaco-star-man-behind-jingle/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/man-wears-texaco-star-man-behind-jingle/#comments Fri, 07 Nov 2014 14:45:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=936074 Brian Saylor has managed to combine two of his passions, old trucks and Texaco memorabilia. You can see him at Detroit area car shows with his Texaco trucks,  Texaco gasoline pump and assorted Texaco merchandise, with Saylor dressed in the uniform that Texaco service station employees would have worn a couple of generations ago. Yes, […]

The post A Man Who Wears the Texaco Star and the Man Behind the Jingle appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_0305

Full gallery here

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

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

The post A Man Who Wears the Texaco Star and the Man Behind the Jingle appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/man-wears-texaco-star-man-behind-jingle/feed/ 21
Henry Ford Paid His Workers $5 a Day So They Wouldn’t Quit, Not So They Could Afford Model Ts http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/henry-ford-paid-workers-5-day-wouldnt-quit-afford-model-ts/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/henry-ford-paid-workers-5-day-wouldnt-quit-afford-model-ts/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 15:35:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=926097 Over at Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle, in a post titled “Employees Are Not Your Customers” happens to use one of the more enduring myths of automotive history to prove her point. That myth is that Henry Ford started paying his famous $5 a day wage in 1914 so his employees could afford to buy Model […]

The post Henry Ford Paid His Workers $5 a Day So They Wouldn’t Quit, Not So They Could Afford Model Ts appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
HFM&GV

Over at Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle, in a post titled “Employees Are Not Your Customers” happens to use one of the more enduring myths of automotive history to prove her point. That myth is that Henry Ford started paying his famous $5 a day wage in 1914 so his employees could afford to buy Model Ts. She was using the story as an example to make a specific point so Ms. McArdle doesn’t tell her readers the real reason why Henry started paying a more livable wage. That gives us an excuse to learn some history.

McArdle elucidates:

The other day, I noted in passing that it is arithmetically impossible, except in some bizarre situation with little bearing on the real world, to make money by paying your employees more and thus enabling them to afford your products.

Someone asked me to show my work. So let’s run a simple model based on Henry Ford’s legendary $5-a-day wage, introduced in 1914, which more than doubled the $2.25 workers were being paid.

That’s about $700 a year, almost enough to buy a Ford car (the Model T debuted at $825). Now let’s assume, unrealistically, that the workers devoted their extra wages to buying nothing but Model Ts; as soon as they bought the first one, they started saving for the next.

Is Ford making money on this transaction? No. At best, it could break even: It pays $700 a year in wages, gets $700 back in the form of car sales. But that assumes that it doesn’t cost anything except labor to make the cars. Unfortunately, automobiles are not conjured out of the ether by sheer force of will; they require things such as steel, rubber and copper wire. Those things have to be purchased. Once you factor in the cost of inputs, Ford is losing money on every unit.

But can the company make it up in volume, as the old economist’s joke goes? Perhaps by adding the workers to its customer base, Ford can get greater production volume and generate economies of scale. But Ford sold 300,000 units in 1914; its 14,000 employees are unlikely to have provided the extra juice it needed to drive mass efficiencies.

So if Henry didn’t pay his employees more money so they could afford his automobiles, why did he pay them $5/day? Well, the answer to that question involves another one of those automotive legends.

ford-pay-five-dollars-a-day-392x500

That particular myth is that Ford invented the assembly line or, more in a more modest version, he was the first to use an assembly line to build cars.  Henry understood the value of publicity and very early on he started to put together a public relations effort that went far beyond simple advertising. Ford’s publicity machinery cranked out the image of the mechanical and business genius from Dearborn, the farm boy who made it big. I’d be surprised if Ford’s propaganda team didn’t originate the notion that Henry Ford invented the assembly line. In fact, though, Ransom E. Olds was building cars with an assembly line process a decade before Ford moved from the station assembly process to assembly lines. When Ford built the big Highland Park plant in 1910, it used station and sequential assembly processes until 1913.

That’s not to say that Henry Ford wasn’t a manufacturing innovator. Ford’s great contribution to mass production was reducing assembly to the simplest tasks, something a minimally trained person could do. It’s well known that Ford changed the automobile industry from producing luxury cars and toys for the wealthy to making mass market transportation devices. Those luxury cars were often hand-built by skilled craftsmen. In addition to changing what cars were, Henry Ford also changed who made cars, from skilled fabricators and artisans to semi-skilled industrial workers.

plant

Thousands of job seekers descended upon the Highland Park Ford plant after Henry Ford announced his $5/day wage.

Going to an assembly line process with simplified tasks allowed Ford to massively ramp up production. Production went from 94,662 in 1912 to 224,783 to 1913, the first year of the assembly line. Ford and his lieutenants first use of an assembly line was for putting together the innovative magneto that was a critical component of the Model T. By the time they initiated final assembly on a line, almost the entire Highland Park plant was using that process for subassemblies. That way they worked out the kinks in the process.

Ford’s assembly lines  along with Ford’s embrace of Taylorism (also known as Scientific Management) which included things like timing employees with stopwatches, plus the fact that Henry’s factories, modern as they were in their day, were noisy and dangerous (at the Rouge complex, started in 1916, there was an office tasked with placing employees into jobs who had hitherto been somehow disabled on the job), made working for Ford in 1913 a miserable existence. In 1913, Ford had to employ over 40,000 new hires just to keep 13,000 workers on the job. Even with only minimal training needed, that kind of employee turnover will kill a business model based on productivity, as Henry’s Model T plan was. In order to reduce his employee turnover rate, Ford made the logical decision: pay them more and they won’t quit. It worked.

It’s true, however, that Ford’s increased wages (paid as a bonus, not available to all employees and subject to having their lives spied upon by Henry’s “Social Department”) did ultimately increase the market for inexpensive automobiles. Overnight, the wage floor for automaking in Detroit, already the center of the industry, doubled. In short time $5/day was a standard wage. Still, Megan Mcardle’s point must be stressed, paying your employees enough money to afford your products is no business model. At best it’s transferring money from one pocket to the other while incurring some costs that likely will not offset profits on those sales. While many car companies do offer employee discounts today , those are only possible because of profitable retail and fleet sales.

While Henry Ford may be unfairly credited with inventing the assembly line, he usually doesn’t get any credit for an innovation of his that has made the lives of working men and women much more pleasant, the weekend. Having the weekend off from work is conventionally attributed to organized labor. The labor movement has given workers a lot of things, but not the weekend. That, too, was Henry Ford’s innovation. Originally, Ford employees worked a six day work week, with 9 hour days. That was reduced to five and a half days, with a half day on Saturday. I don’t know if it was Henry’s idea or not, but he finally figured out the math. His business model, as mentioned, was productivity. There are 24 hours in a day and running two 9 hour shifts meant that his factories were sitting idle for 6 hours a day, 2/3rds of a full shift. By going to an eight hour workday and a five day standard work week, Ford was able to run his factories with three shifts, 24 hours a day. Eliminating the half shift on Saturdays meant that, with overtime, FoMoCo plants could run 24/7/365 if he wanted.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If you think that 3D is a plot to get you to buy yet another new television set, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

The post Henry Ford Paid His Workers $5 a Day So They Wouldn’t Quit, Not So They Could Afford Model Ts appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/henry-ford-paid-workers-5-day-wouldnt-quit-afford-model-ts/feed/ 110
Model T Production Began 106 Years Ago This Month http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/model-t-production-began-116-years-ago-month/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/model-t-production-began-116-years-ago-month/#comments Sun, 12 Oct 2014 15:35:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=926113 Sorry for missing an important automotive anniversary, but ’tis the season for those of the Mosaic persuasion. On October 1, 1908,  at least according to some sources*, the first production Model T was assembled at the Ford Piquette Avenue factory, Henry Ford’s second plant for his third, finally successful, automobile company. There are lots of myths about […]

The post Model T Production Began 106 Years Ago This Month appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
piquette_img_0712

Full gallery here.

Sorry for missing an important automotive anniversary, but ’tis the season for those of the Mosaic persuasion. On October 1, 1908,  at least according to some sources*, the first production Model T was assembled at the Ford Piquette Avenue factory, Henry Ford’s second plant for his third, finally successful, automobile company. There are lots of myths about Henry Ford. Some of them are actually true, but many are the stuff of legend. For example, people think that the Model T made Henry Ford a wealthy man. Henry was a very wealthy man before he started making the Model T. He was one of the leading automobile producers in the world and he was the leading automaker in Detroit. Ford Motor Company was a success almost from the outset and when Henry hit on the idea of a simple, inexpensive car that folks who weren’t affluent could afford with the Model N and then the Model S, the Model T’s immediate precursors, he was selling thousands of cars a year.

The Ford mansion in Detroit’s Boston-Edison district, and the one up the street built by Ford’s lawyer and investor, Horace Rackham, were constructed in 1907, the year before the Model T was introduced. Henry was a successful man. That success gave him the freedom to develop the ultimate simple and inexpensive car, the Model T. Henry, though, was a big idea man who loved engines and power (in all of its meanings) but he was not the most technically proficient person.

Assembly-Piquette

Oliver Berthel, who designed Ford’s first two racers, the Sweepstakes and 999 cars that predate the Ford Motor Company, and also likely designed the nearly identical first Cadillac automobile and Ford Motor Company’s first car, the 1903 Model A, had first met Ford when the latter was teaching courses on the automobile. Berthel described Ford as an average teacher with similar mechanical skills. He had made himself into the chief operating engineer of the Edison Illuminating company of Detroit, but he had no formal engineering training. Ford’s 1896 Quadricycle was highly dependent on the work of Detroit’s first motorist, Charles Brady King.

IMG_0073

Ford Model N. Full gallery here.

While Henry Ford was no mechanical genius, he had a small number of very good ideas and, more importantly, he was indomitable. I believe that if Ford had genius, that genius was in his ability to identify and hire genuine mechanical and business geniuses with an even rarer talent, the ability to get a megalomaniac to agree with you. Ford surrounded himself with men like Farkas, Galamb, Sorensen, Martin, Wills, and Couzens and it could be argued that they were just as important to the success of the Ford Motor Company as Henry Ford was.

IMG_0324

Ford Model S, the immediate precursor to the Model T. Full gallery here.

Besides being a megalomaniac, Ford quite possibly was dyslexic. When he later sued the Chicago Tribune for libel, he was embarrassed by the jury’s $0.06 judgment in his favor, but even more so, he was humiliated as publisher Robert McCormick’s lawyer showed that not only was he not familiar with many things that had been published in his name, he could barely read. He’s also recorded as favoring wooden models to blueprints. Dyslexic or mostly illiterate, you take your pick. As Farkas, Galamb and Wills developed the Model T in the Piquette plant’s secret “experimental room” at the back of the factory’s third floor, Henry would sit in his rocking chair and his workers would bring him the models for his approval. It was “Spider” Huff, Ford’s riding mechanic in his early racing days, who developed the Model T’s innovative magneto (and likely also invented the porcelain spark plug insulator while developing one of Ford’s racers) and it was C. Harold Wills who introduced Ford to vanadium steel, one of the key ingredients to the success of the T.

IMG_0100

The Experimental Room where Ford and his associates developed the Model T. Full gallery here.

On the Model T’s birthday, I visited its birthplace, the Piquette Avenue plant that is now a museum in progress, to see what changes have taken place since my last visit. The director, Nancy Darga, graciously gave me permission to take the accompanying photos (some are from previous visits since they were setting up for an event hosted by a non-profit – the facility is available for rental so if you’re looking for a way cool venue for a wedding, benefit, or corporate event, I recommend it). Even more graciously Ms. Darga gave me access to Henry Ford’s now reconstructed corner office, which has been furnished to replicate how it looked in a historical photograph taken for the Ford Times publication just before the Model T’s introduction. The desk in the office is a reproduction made by the grandson of Peter Martin, who was Ford’s production manager.

THF101432-Henry-Ford-in-his-office-at-Piquette-ca

Unlike just about everyone mentioned above, Peter Martin stayed with Ford Motor Company for his entire career. Henry had few lifelong business associates. Even James Couzens, without whose business acumen and management skills Ford Motor Company would likely have not succeeded in the early days eventually got fed up with being spied upon and resigned, later serving as Detroit mayor and U.S. Senator. Offhand, Charlie Sorenson, Peter Martin, Harry Bennett and Ford’s son Edsel are the only people that I can think of that spent their entire careers in Ford’s employ. Gene Farkas hired in and quit twice before staying on for more than a decade and even he eventually got tired of working for Henry.

IMG_0056

Henry Ford’s restored office at the Piquette Ave plant. Full gallery here.

His employees may have tired of working for him, but Henry Ford is undoubtedly one of the more fascinating personalities in automotive history and it’s hard to get tired of writing about him, his enterprise and his associates. A piece of work for sure, he changed the world. We’d be driving automobiles today whether or not Henry Ford came along, he was just one of many pioneers, but I think the automotive world and the world in general would be a different place without him.

IMG_0101_r

In the background is a reproduction of the rocking chair where Henry Ford would sit in the experimental room and approve wooden models of proposed Model T components. In the foreground is sculptor and master clay modeler Giuliano Zuccato, who carved the first clay model of the Ford Mustang, and who was shooting a documentary the day I visited the museum.

*The Piquette Ave museum has the date of the first Model T being assembled as Sept. 27, 1908.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If you think that 3D is a conspiracy to get you to buy yet another new television set, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

 

The post Model T Production Began 106 Years Ago This Month appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/model-t-production-began-116-years-ago-month/feed/ 39
National Hudson Motor Car Company Museum Opens, Obscures History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/national-hudson-motor-car-company-museum-opens-obscures-history/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/national-hudson-motor-car-company-museum-opens-obscures-history/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 17:10:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=917570 This past weekend, the big annual Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti was augmented by the grand opening of the National Hudson Motor Car Museum, also in Ypsilanti. While I’m usually excited about the opening of new car museums, though the region is gaining what appears to be a fine, professionally run museum, the development means that you […]

The post National Hudson Motor Car Company Museum Opens, Obscures History appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
What it used to look like. Gallery of 2011 Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum photos here.

What it used to look like. Gallery of 2011 Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum photos here.

This past weekend, the big annual Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti was augmented by the grand opening of the National Hudson Motor Car Museum, also in Ypsilanti. While I’m usually excited about the opening of new car museums, though the region is gaining what appears to be a fine, professionally run museum, the development means that you can no longer see a unique display of automotive history.

What it looks like now. Full gallery here.

What it looks like now. Full gallery here.

The new museum, a project of the National Hudson Essex Terraplane Historical Society, will be located in the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum. The Ypsilanti museum is housed in the building of  what eventually became the last surviving Hudson dealership, Miller Motors. Jack Miller, the son of the founder of Miller Motors, started the YAHM in 1996, to honor both his family’s history and the history of making cars in Ypsilanti. As a result, the YAHM has been focused on Kaiser-Frazers (built at Willow Run) and Tucker (Preston Tucker lived in Ypsi and much of the design and engineering of the Tucker car was done there), in addition to the Hudson and Nash marques that the Miller’s sold as well as Corvairs and GM Hydramatic transmissions, also built in Ypsilanti. Over the years the museum has expanded beyond the original Miller Motors walls and now also occupies an adjacent former post office.

Miller Motors' repair department in as-was-in-1959 condition. Full gallery here.

Miller Motors’ repair department in as-was-in-1959 condition (2011 photo). Full gallery here.

The Miller Motors building has been used as a car dealership since it was first used to sell Dodges in 1916. In the late 1920s it switched to Hudson and in 1932 Carl Miller, Jack’s dad, and a partner bought the shop and ran it as a Hudson store until the brand died in 1957 following the creation of American Motors with the merger of Nash and Hudson. Miller eventually bought out his partner and the store sold 30-60 cars a year, a reasonable number for a single brand dealership in a small city. The Millers continued to sell AMC Nashes and Ramblers until 1959 when they were pressured by AMC to modernize the vintage showroom that only had room for one new car. Carl Miller decided to drop the franchise and concentrate on service and used car sales. Later Jack used the firm to sell parts to Hudson collectors and the dealership’s service bays were used to restore cars. Miller continued to sell at least one restored Hudson, Essex or Terraplane every year to maintain the shop’s status as “the last Hudson dealer” until he sold off his stock of parts when he started the museum.

IMG_0345

The same space today. Full gallery here.

Since the Orphan Car Show is penciled in as a must see for me every year, I used the opportunity of being in Ypsi to visit Miller Motors and the new Hudson museum and I’m sorry to say that I came away rather disappointed. The development of the new Hudson museum is related to the fact that Jack Miller retired. When Miller and his team of volunteers ran the museum it was very much a grassroots and family operation. The displays, however, although definitely worthwhile, were a bit haphazard. It was not the most sophisticated operation but it was charming. Also, the YAHM allowed you to see something that you weren’t likely to see anyplace else, what a car dealership in the 1950s looked like. The service department and the parts counter appeared pretty much as they did when the shop stopped selling new Hudsons and Nashes.

People used to be frugal and had spark plugs "serviced" with a sand blaster instead of just replacing them.

People used to be frugal and had spark plugs “serviced” with a sand blaster instead of just replacing them. Full gallery here.

Now I’m not naive. I’m sure that it wasn’t exactly as it was in 1959 and that over the years the Millers added artifacts and memorabilia but the vibe was authentic, as were the grease stains on the floor. Now everything is shiny and clean.

Preston Tucker lived in Ypsilanti and much of the engineering and design for the Tucker automobile was done there. This is one of three replica Tuckers used in the filming of the Tucker biopic. Full gallery here.

Preston Tucker lived in Ypsilanti and much of the engineering and design for the Tucker automobile was done there. This is one of three replica Tuckers used in the filming of the Tucker biopic. Full gallery here.

Unless you had an interest in the specific marques or had a thing about automatic transmissions, I thought the building itself was the best part of the museum. I try to be a bit of a booster for local museums and I’d encourage people to drive out to Ypsilanti just to see the Miller Motors service department and parts counter. Those attractions, though, no longer exist as they have for years. As part of the new Hudson museum the former parts department has been redecorated as a vintage sales office and the service department now is display space for Hudson cars. While there is still vintage repair equipment, like a spark plug refurbisher and a hand cranked ignition key grinder, it’s just not the same. It used to look like a functioning repair shop. Now it looks like a museum.

A section of the museum devoted to Kaiser-Frazer cars, which were assembled in Ypsilanti. Full gallery here.

A section of the museum devoted to Kaiser-Frazer cars, which were assembled in Ypsilanti. Full gallery here.

I don’t want to be Debbie Downer here and I understand that museums can’t be static, they have to change with the times. There are many advantages to the establishment of the Hudson sub-museum. The rest of the museum is a bit more organized and things are displayed a bit better, though it seems to me that the Tucker display is smaller and less comprehensive. Though Tucker enthusiasts have lost, Hudson enthusiasts have gained. The NHETHS is thrilled to have a museum less than an hour’s drive from where Hudsons were built in Detroit. Cars like Herb Thomas’ #92 “Fabulous Hudson Hornet” NASCAR racer (made newly popular as the Paul Newman voiced “Doc Hudson” in the animated movie Cars) are now properly displayed and there are plans to use the original one-car showroom to highlight significant Hudson cars over the years.

IMG_0342

Significant Hudsons will take turns on display in what was Miller Motors’ one-car new car showroom. Full gallery here.

I’m sure that Hudson enthusiasts are happy, but I walked away from the Ypsilanti museum, which I’ve visited regularly, disappointed for the first time. They’ve unquestionably set up an impressive museum devoted to one of the more important independent automakers. In the manner in which they set up that museum, though, I believe that the National Hudson Essex Terraplane Historical Society did a disservice to automotive history. Don’t get me wrong, the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum and the National Hudson Motor Car Company Museum are certainly worth a visit, particularly if you have an interest in American independent automakers, Corvairs or automatic transmissions, but I get the feeling that in their zeal to set up the Hudson museum organizers didn’t realize they were changing something very special.

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 National Hudson Motor Car Company Museum Opens, Obscures History appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/national-hudson-motor-car-company-museum-opens-obscures-history/feed/ 23
Does 999 Mean “Ford Performance” More Than SVT? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/does-999-mean-ford-performance-more-than-svt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/does-999-mean-ford-performance-more-than-svt/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 14:15:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=915450 Based on a market research study commissioned by Ford Motor Company rumors are circulating that FoMoCo will change the branding for its high performance vehicles from SVT (for Special Vehicle Team) to 999, the name of Henry Ford’s second race car, popularized by barnstorming driver Barney Oldfield. Marketers have seized on “authenticity” as a lever […]

The post Does 999 Mean “Ford Performance” More Than SVT? appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_0463

Full gallery here

Based on a market research study commissioned by Ford Motor Company rumors are circulating that FoMoCo will change the branding for its high performance vehicles from SVT (for Special Vehicle Team) to 999, the name of Henry Ford’s second race car, popularized by barnstorming driver Barney Oldfield. Marketers have seized on “authenticity” as a lever by which they can move consumers and I suspect that reaching back over a century for a brand name may have something to do with that. As someone who likes history I can’t complain about Ford looking into reusing a historic name, but  while its true that the name 999 has been associated with Ford racing since before the establishment of the Ford Motor Company, the name SVT means something to today’s car enthusiasts and for most of them 999 is just the number before 1,000. Today’s performance consumers are more likely to recognize the name Ken Block than Barney Oldfield.

Henry_Ford_and_Barney_Oldfield_with_Old_999,_1902

Henry Ford (standing) with Barney Oldfield and Old 999, 1902

There was a time, though, when 999 was the name of the most famous racing car(s) of the early motoring age, holder of a land speed record and winner of numerous races and exhibition matches with Oldfield at the wheel, er, rather tiller. Unlike Henry Ford’s first racer, the Sweepstakes car, which was a nifty little runabout, 999 was a relatively primitive machine that was all about “brute force” in the words of the transportation curator of the Henry Ford Museum, Matt Anderson. Both the Sweepstakes car and 999 are in the Racing in America exhibit in the Museum’s Driving America display.

It’s not known exactly who first coined the phrase, “win on Sunday, sell on Monday”, but Henry Ford understood the publicity value in winning races with his automobiles. It was his 1901 win with the Sweepstakes car against established automaker Alexander Winton that gave him credibility with investors and allowed the formation fo the Henry Ford Company. Ford almost immediately ran into difficulties with his backers. Part of it was his dream of building an inexpensive car for the masses but also part of it was that Henry wanted to race cars and his partners wanted him to focus on building and selling them.

In early 1902, he told his brother in law, Milton Bryant that his interest in racing was all about dollars and cents: “… there is a barrel of money to be made in this business.… My company will kick about me following racing but they will get the Advertising and I expect to make $ where I can’t make ¢s at Manufacturing.”

By March of that year Henry had left the company that bore his name, taking with him $900 severance and the plans for a new race cars. With financial backing from bicycle racer Tom Cooper and the technical assistance of Ed “Spider Huff and C.H. Willis (who would later persuade Ford to use vanadium steel in the Model T to great success), in May 1902 Ford began construction of two race cars with huge engines and wooden frames. One was painted red and the other yellow, named respectively, Red Devil and Arrow. The had four cylinder inline engines with 7.25 inch bores and a stroke of 7 inches for a total displacement of a massive 1,155.3 cubic inches. It put out between 70 and 100 horsepower. There was no transmission. Power was transferred to the rear wheels via a wooden block clutch on the 230 lb exposed flywheel. There were also no universal joints nor was there a differential. A solid drive shaft connected to what was literally an open rear axle, just a ring and pinion gear setup. There was no rear suspension and steering was by a primitive tiller with two upright handles and a center pivot. Not only was the flywheel exposed, so was the valve gear and the crankshaft. With a bumpy ride and oil spraying everywhere, it wasn’t a pleasant drive.

Barney Oldfield and the car that made him and Henry Ford famous.

Barney Oldfield and the car that made him and Henry Ford famous.

As primitive as 999 looks, it did have at least a couple of features that were advanced for its day like that simple drive shaft and rear axle. Most early automobiles had a chain drive for each of the driving wheels. 999’s pneumatic “balloon” tires were also novel at the time.

Though he would later *drive Arrow to a land speed recordof 91.37 mph in the flying mile, Henry was said to be a bit intimidated by the machine. Instead he hired bicycle racer Barney Oldfield to pilot 999 in the five-mile Manufacturers’ Challenge Cup race on Oct. 25, 1902, in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. In a way it was a rematch between Ford and Winton, but while the 999 became firmly associated with Henry Ford in the public mind, by the time of the actual race Ford had backed out of the venture, selling his interest to Cooper because of a poor test session a couple of weeks before the race.

olr4pe1hrdgdncs072hp

According to legend, Oldfield had never driven an automobile before the race, which he won going away, covering the five miles in 5 minutes and 28 seconds, a record for the distance on a closed course. Though he sold his interest in 999, Ford, though, retained publicity rights, which proved to be invaluable. Oldfield renamed Red Devil “999” after a famous locomotive of the day. Oldfield and Cooper took the two cars around the country, setting speed records, winning races and establishing Oldfield as the first celebrity race driver in America. Having made a name for himself driving a Ford, though, Oldfield switched to the competition, Winton, in the summer of 1903. By then Henry Ford was focusing on getting the Ford Motor Company off of the ground.

It's tempting to call that an "open differential" but there's no differential at all, just a ring & pinion gear set. Full gallery here.

It’s tempting to call that an “open differential” but there’s no differential at all, just a ring & pinion gear set. Full gallery here.

In September of that year, both the 999 and the Arrow were entered into the inaugural car race at the Wisconsin state fair. Huff was driving 999 and Frank Day piloted the Arrow. Day, though, was killed when he crashed the car. The destroyed Arrow was returned to Detroit where Ford rebuilt it, planning on a land speed record attempt that winter on frozen Lake St. Clair. On Jan. 12, 1904, Ford set a new flying mile record. Though that record would stand for less than a month, the young Ford Motor Company benefited mightily from the publicity surrounding Ford’s LSR effort.

The Detroit Tribune described the record attempt: “As Ford flashed by it was noticed he wore no goggles or other face protection. Humped over his steering tiller, the tremendous speed throwing the machine in zig-zag fashion. Ford was taking chances that no man, not even that specialist in averted suicide, Barney Oldfield, had dared to attempt.”

Henry Ford driving the "999" in an Exhibition Run against Harry Harkness in a Mercedes Simplex, at the Detroit Driving Club's 1 Mile Track in Grosse Pointe.

Henry Ford driving the “999” in an Exhibition Run against Harry Harkness in a Mercedes Simplex, at the Detroit Driving Club’s 1 Mile Track in Grosse Pointe.

Cooper sold the cars in 1904 and some years later Henry Ford would acquire it for the museum that bears his name. Shortly before his death, Henry Ford is said to have remarked to Barney Oldfield: “You made me and I made you.” Oldfield shook his head and replied “Old 999 made both of us.”

I’ll have to check with Matt Anderson to find out the current running status of “Old 999″. It was still in operating condition in 1963 when racer Dan Gurney visited the Henry Ford Museum while he was racing for Ford. Gurney would go on to win at LeMans with co-driver A.J. Foyt and as one of the leading American racers who happened to be driving for the blue oval, he was an honored guest. When the curator asked him if he’d like to drive it, Gurney jumped at the opportunity and soon afterwards the then over 60 year old race car was transported to Ford’s nearby test track where the all-American racer took it for a spin.

Dan Gurney drives Old 999 on Ford's Dearborn test track, 1963

Dan Gurney drives Old 999 on Ford’s Dearborn test track, 1963

Richard Barrett described the scene for Ford Times magazine:

It was a bone-chilling, blustery day nearly sixty years ago when Henry Ford drove his famous “999” racer over the ice at Lake St. Clair, Michigan, to set a new world’s speed mark of ninety-two miles per hour. The Detroit Tribune of January 13, 1904, headlined the event as a “wild drive against time.” The article went on to say, “As Ford flashed by it was noticed he wore no goggles or other face protection. Humped over his steering tiller, the tremendous speed throwing the machine in zig-zag fashion. Ford was taking chances that no man, not even that specialist in averted suicide, Barney Oldfield, had dared to attempt.” As fate would surely be delighted to have it, the day last March when Dan Gurney, one of today’s racing greats, drove the same old “999” at Ford Motor Company’s high-speed test track, the cold wind cut like a knife and a driving snow all but blinded the eyes. As the car was started up, and Gurney got his first close look, he whistled in wonder and said, “It’s a fire-breathing monster!” Henry Ford said exactly the same thing the first time he drove it.

Gurney, like Ford before him, proved his championship mettle that cold March day. With only a short briefing on the mechanics of the monster, a few questions asked and answered, he took the “999” out on the infield track to get the “feel” of the car. A short time later, after the high-speed test track was cleared, Gurney got his flying start and roared into the “soup bowl” (a high-speed, steeply banked turn). Here’s how Gurney later described the sensation: “It’s quite a thrill. I was looking for the exhaust pipes and then I realized there are hardly any. They’re about two inches long and I could see flame coming out. The car is vibrating and everything is twisting every time it fires; you can feel everything from one end of the car to the other.

“The car is a little bit deceiving because it’s so high geared, but you’re really covering the ground. It’s sort of like comparing a running elephant to a deer. The low revs of the engine are what do it, and those four big cylinders. You can feel them working. Until it’s going forty to fifty miles an hour it doesn’t really settle down, and then it hardly seems to be turning over at all. It’s just chug, chug, chug with a lot of popping, smoke and roar. All the while you’re sitting there, straddling that big engine high on the single seat and remembering to keep your feet out of the way of that exposed flywheel. It’s as big as a man-hole cover.”

Asked if he was concerned about controlling the flying “999” Gurney smiled and answered, “I just prayed nobody would get in front of me. There were patches of ice and snow on the track, and at the speed I was going it would take at least two hundred yards to stop. I can imagine Henry Ford driving that thing ninety-two miles an hour on ice. Very, very tricky. You’d have to be extremely delicate with the tiller and braking or you’d really be in trouble. Having good eyesight would be a help in a panic stop, although with all the engine racket they could probably hear you coming far enough so they could get out of the way.”

Gurney later recounted the experience for the Car Crazy television show.

*My recent post on the Sweepstakes car said that the 1901 race was the first and last time Henry Ford raced a car. While that’s technically true, Ford indeed never again raced in wheel to wheel competition, he did race against the clock on the ice in 999 and participated in at least one exhibition at speed in the car.

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 Does 999 Mean “Ford Performance” More Than SVT? appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/does-999-mean-ford-performance-more-than-svt/feed/ 46
Watch A Model T Get Assembled in Less Than Five Minutes and Two Historic Replicas Drive at the Old Car Festival http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/watch-model-t-get-assembled-less-five-minutes-two-historic-replicas-drive-old-car-festival/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/watch-model-t-get-assembled-less-five-minutes-two-historic-replicas-drive-old-car-festival/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 17:31:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=910618   Start the video, then click on the settings icon to select 2D or your choice of 3D formats. Every year, Greenfield Village hosts two large car shows, the Motor Muster for cars built from 1933 to 1976 and the Old Car Festival, for vehicles from the start of the motor age until the introduction […]

The post Watch A Model T Get Assembled in Less Than Five Minutes and Two Historic Replicas Drive at the Old Car Festival appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
 

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

Every year, Greenfield Village hosts two large car shows, the Motor Muster for cars built from 1933 to 1976 and the Old Car Festival, for vehicles from the start of the motor age until the introduction of the 1932 Ford. The Henry Ford institutions claim that the Old Car Festival is the longest running antique car show in America, having started in 1955. It’s a charming event, with many of the cars’ owners dressing in period clothing and since folks are encouraged to drive their cars around the Village (with traffic “cops” in period uniforms at the intersections) there’s a “back in time” look and feel to the event. There aren’t many places were you can see a parade of 90 year old cars drive through an authentic covered wooden bridge.

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

It’s a unique car event. Where else can you see a drag race between a 1909 air-cooled Franklin and a ninety year old Hupmobile?

In addition to races and field exercises on the Village parade grounds there are also demonstrations like the one put on by the Canadian Model T Assembly Team. As you can probably guess from their name, the team shows how Model Ts went together, using a 1927 chassis as an example. After some preparation laying out part was done, the clock started running and the team started putting the major assemblies together. It took them just under five minutes to everything put together and filled with fluids, ready to be crank started. Now admittedly, they didn’t mount a body, but still five minutes to assemble any kind of automotive rolling chassis is pretty impressive.

While the Model T is famous for Ford’s use of an assembly line to put it together at the Highland Park plant, the Canadian Model T Assembly Team’s process is a bit more like the “station assembly” process used a the previous Piquette Avenue factory.

Apparently, putting together a team to put together a Model T has become a bit of a thing with T enthusiasts. This group in Florida can do it in less than three minutes:

As mentioned, the Old Car Festival celebrates the earliest days of the automobile. The oldest vintage car that I saw on display, which was also driven around the Village, was a 1902 Columbus electric car. I spotted at least three curved dash Oldsmobiles puttering around and there were also a couple of original Ford Model As being driven. That was the first model produced by the Ford Motor Company when it was started up in 1903.

Two years earlier Henry Ford’s first attempt to start a car company, the Detroit Automobile Company, failed. Things were not going well for the entrepreneur. He had given up a good job as chief operating engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit to pursue his dream and instead it had the makings of a nightmare. He had a wife, Clara, and a son, Edsel. Ford himself was not a young man, already 38 years old, and he and Clara had to move in with her parents.

To gain credibility with the public but even more important, with potential investors, Henry decided to enter a motorcar race called a sweepstakes that was to be held at a Grosse Pointe horse racing track. With a team of associates including riding mechanic Edward “Spider” Huff who is said to have invented the ceramic spark plug insulator for the car using dental supplies, Ford built what he referred to as the Sweepstakes car. It’s two cylinder engine displaced over 500 cubic inches and was said to have a top speed of at least 70 mph. Though Ford would later hire professional drivers like Barney Oldfield to drive later racing specials like the 999, for the 10 laps around the one mile horse track Henry decided to take the wheel himself. Huff’s role wasn’t just to provide an extra pair of hands. He rode on the running board, shifting his weight like a sidehack rider to keep the Sweepstakes’ wheels on the ground.

download

Ford’s competition was Alexander Winton, then the most successful American automaker. Winton was an experienced racer, the best known race driver in the country. Ford had never raced a car before, nor would he ever race one again. The Winton automobile was faster and Winton took the lead but the Ford Sweepstakes was more reliable, passing to take the lead and hold it on the main straight, much to the pleasure of the local crowd.

100_03_L

While it’s tempting to say that it was a case of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday”, to begin with Ford didn’t then operate a car company so he would have had nothing to sell to potential customers. Also, the race took place on Oct. 10, 1901, a Thursday. Ford won $1,000. There are sources that say that he would later use some of that money to start Ford Motor Company in 1903, but in the short term it gave him sufficient credibility to find backers for his second venture, the Henry Ford Company. Though it was more successful than the Detroit Automobile Co., Ford would quickly butt heads with his investors and within months he was out of the company. Those investors brought in Henry Leland, Detroit’s most respected machinist and a supplier of engines and other components to Ransom Olds and other early automakers, to put a value on the assets, so they could be liquidated. Instead he convinced them that there were the makings of a going concern. That’s how Cadillac was started.

The original Sweepstakes car is in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum. For a long time it was thought by curators that it was a replica made for Henry Ford in the early 1930s but during a restoration it was proven to be the actual car.

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

The old saying said that behind every successful man there is a woman encouraging him to succeed. Had Bertha Benz not believed in her husband Karl’s invention, perhaps even more than he did, the automotive world might be a different place. Bertha (nee Ringer) was already a teenager when Henry Ford was born. As a young woman she invested money in her fiancé Karl Benz’s workshop. That money is said to have allowed him to develop what is widely considered to be the first practical automobile, a three wheeler known as the Patent Motorwagen, often called the Patentwagen.

Bertha was a savvy woman and a very smart wife as well. Without her husband’s knowledge (or at least that’s how the story goes) she took one of his newly built Patentwagens for a 66 mile trip to visit her mother, returning back home with no serious mechanical issues, or at least none that she couldn’t resolve. Though her purpose was ostensibly to take her sons to visit their grandmother, her real reasons were to prove to Karl that his invention had genuine commercial potential and to expose the vehicle to the public  so they could exploit that potential. She succeeded on both fronts.

patentwagen

Karl Benz’s 1896 patent drawings for the Motorwagen.

Apparently Bertha was a bit of a gear head. On the journey she repaired the brakes in a manner that some say invented brake linings, found a blacksmith to repair a broken chain, and used her hatpin to remove a blockage in the fuel line and her garter to insulate an exposed wire. The trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim took all the daylight hours, leaving at dawn and arriving at her destination in the evening. She sent Karl a telegram when she arrived in Pforzheim and she and the boys drove back the following day.

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

To celebrate the pioneering contributions of the Benzes and Henry Ford, replicas of the Sweepstakes car and the Patentwagen were driven past the reviewing stand. The Sweepstakes replica is one of two that Ford Motor Company had fabricated on the centennial of Henry’s race victory. It’s fairly accurate, though to keep oil from flying everywhere for the original car’s “total loss” oiling system, the engine has a sealed, recycling lubrication system. The Patentwagen is one of a run of a number of accurate replicas that John Bentley Engineering  of the UK started building to commemorate the first practical automobile’s centennial in 1986. Over the next decade they would go on to build about 100, in cooperation with Mercedes-Benz. That’s about four times as many Patent Motorwagens as Karl Benz made himself. This particular replica was assembled by Mercedes-Benz interns.

You can see a photo gallery of the Benz Patent Motorwagen at the Automotive Hall of Fame, which owns it, here. Photos of the original Ford Sweepstakes car, which is on display in the Racing in America exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum, can be seen here.

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

The post Watch A Model T Get Assembled in Less Than Five Minutes and Two Historic Replicas Drive at the Old Car Festival appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/watch-model-t-get-assembled-less-five-minutes-two-historic-replicas-drive-old-car-festival/feed/ 9
A Volkswagen With a Coat of Many Colors: 1996 Golf Harlequin http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volkswagen-coat-many-colors-1996-golf-harlequin/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volkswagen-coat-many-colors-1996-golf-harlequin/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 11:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904737 It’s not clear whether they were inspired by one of Doyle Dane Bernbach’s clever ads for the VW Beetle in the 1960s or by the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, but in the mid 1990s, Volkswagen decided to make some multicolored cars. TTAC previously looked at the Halequin Polo and […]

The post A Volkswagen With a Coat of Many Colors: 1996 Golf Harlequin appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_0606

Full gallery here.

It’s not clear whether they were inspired by one of Doyle Dane Bernbach’s clever ads for the VW Beetle in the 1960s or by the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, but in the mid 1990s, Volkswagen decided to make some multicolored cars. TTAC previously looked at the Halequin Polo and Golf and you can read more of the story at the link, but the short version is that in 1995 the German automaker decided to offer a colorful option for folks buying the Polo, VW’s hatchback slotted just below the Golf in Europe, *NAH. The car with body panels of different colors turned out to be a bit of a hit, with an initial production run of just 1,000 cars extended to 3,800 units. Probably because of that modest success, VW of America decided to introduce the Harlequin color schemes on the Mk III Golf for the following model year.

beetle_ad

I don’t know how many they planned to make. The Puebla, Mexico factory that assembled them turned out 264 Harlequins. Each car was first assembled in one of four base colors (including Pistachio Green, exclusive to the Harlequins) and then at the end of the line, panels were unbolted and swapped to different vehicles per a color chart prepared in Germany that made sure that no two adjacent panels would be the same color. Even when Germans are silly, they do it with precision.

With a total build of just 264 cars, Harlequin Golfs are rare. So rare, in fact, that our previous post on the topic used publicity photos and shots owners have posted online. They’re not cars you come across every day. When I spotted this Harlequin at the 2014 Vintage VW Show in Ypsilanti this summer, I knew it was special enough to photograph, but I had no idea that there were so few of them. A Wolfsburg Edition it’s not. I’m happy that I took the time because we can now show you some views of the car that you may have not seen before.

harlequin_ellis

This car was sold by Jim Ellis VW, in Atlanta, Georgia. Maybe it’s the same Pistachio Green Harlequin that’s second from the right in the photo above. According to the Harlequin Registry, the original owner flew from Michigan to Georgia to buy it.

That dealership had somehow been allocated an unusually large number of Harlequins. Perhaps VW thought it was a good idea to use them as promotional and courtesy vehicles during the Summer Olympics that year in Atlanta or perhaps it was a reward for Ellis having recently opened up another VW store, but either way Harlequin Golf didn’t turn out to be as popular in America as the Harlequin Polo was in Europe.

IMG_0598_r

Jim Ellis Volkswagen eventually had trouble moving the rather conspicuous cars and the dealer reportedly swapped around some panels (or, more likely, resprayed them), which explains the existence of at least one monochromatic Pistachio Green Harlequin in the Harlequin Registry.

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 A Volkswagen With a Coat of Many Colors: 1996 Golf Harlequin appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volkswagen-coat-many-colors-1996-golf-harlequin/feed/ 20
Can That Thing Schwimm? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/can-thing-schwimm/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/can-thing-schwimm/#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2014 04:25:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904713 Potential military applications of what became known as the Volkswagen Beetle were part of the earliest discussions that Ferdinand Porsche and Adolph Hitler had concerning the “people’s car” in the spring of 1934. However, it was only after what was then called the KdF-Wagen was approaching production in 1938 that Wehrmacht officials formally asked Dr. Porsche […]

The post Can That Thing Schwimm? appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_0555

Full gallery here.

Potential military applications of what became known as the Volkswagen Beetle were part of the earliest discussions that Ferdinand Porsche and Adolph Hitler had concerning the “people’s car” in the spring of 1934. However, it was only after what was then called the KdF-Wagen was approaching production in 1938 that Wehrmacht officials formally asked Dr. Porsche about designing a lightweight military transport vehicle, capable of both off and on road use in extreme conditions. The engineer and his design studio got to work quickly, producing a prototype based on the Type 1 in less than a month.

That prototype, though, proved that the vehicle would need a dedicated chassis as even a reinforced Beetle platform wasn’t up to the rigors of the military’s needs. Porsche had Trutz, a coachbuilding company with military experience, help with the body design and what became known as the Type 62 got the go-ahead for development when the two-wheel drive vehicle proved to be competitive off-road with existing Wehrmacht 4X4 trucks. A self-locking differential made by ZF and the Type 62’s light weight proved to be sufficient.

Pre-production models were battle tested during the German invasion of Poland in September of 1939. While commanders were generally pleased with the performance they told Porsche that the vehicle’s minimum speed of 8 mph was two fast to accompany marching soldiers and they wanted better off-road performance. Porsche satisfied both requests by implementing gear-reduction hubs in the rear axles. After the war those hubs made the Type II, what we know as the VW Bus, possible of carrying significant loads despite having only 36 hp. The self-locking differential was replaced with a limited slip device and a number of other changes were made so by the time what became known at the Kübelwagen was finalized it was given a new designation, Type 82.

VW Type 82 Kubelwagen

VW Type 82 Kubelwagen, Photo: Wikipedia

The name Kübelwagen means “bucket car” and actually isn’t a description of it’s rudimentary bodywork. It’s full name was “Kübelsitzwagen”, bucket seat car, the Wehrmacht’s term for cars with open or removable doors that needed bucket seats to keep the driver and passengers in the cars. Production of the Kübelwagen began as soon as the KdF-Stadt (later Wolfsburg) works were operational in early 1940 (beating the Type 1 to production by months) and the German jeeplet stayed in production for the duration of the war. Total production was just over 50,000 units.

Kubelwagen, Sicily 1943

Kubelwagen, Sicily 1943. Photo: Wikipedia

A number of variants, experimental and production, of the Type 82 were made, but the best known is the Type 166 Schwimmwagen, an amphibious vehicle that was driven on land with all four wheels and in water by a hinged propeller that dropped into place.

Kubelwagen on the eastern front.

Kubelwagen on the eastern front. Photo: Wikipedia

Since the flat platform chassis of the Type I and Kübelwagen were not exactly designed to glide through water, Erwin Komenda, Dr. Porsche’s body designer, came up with a patented unitized tub for the body, or rather hull. Mechanicals were based on the Type 87 4WD Command Car, a Kübelwagen with a Beetle body. When the Type 128 prototypes proved to be insufficiently stiff and not water tight, changes were made, including shortening the wheelbase to just 200 cm for better maneuverability. The production Schwimmwagen was named the Type 166 and eventually over 15,000 were made. While that production figure makes the Schwimmwagen the largest production amphibious vehicle ever made only 163 are listed as surviving today in the Schwimmwagen Registry and only about a dozen are in original condition.

1280px-VW_Schwimmwagen_Typ_166_-_Heck

Type 166 Schwimmwagen. Wikipedia photo.

Production Schwimmwagens had four wheel drive but only in first gear. There were ZR self-locking diffs on both the front and rear axles. In back, the Schwimmwagen used the same “portal gear” hubs that helped with getting the Kübelwagen going at low speeds and they also gave better ground clearance. A screw propeller, as mentioned, was hinged on the back of the Schwimmwagen, normally stored on the rear deck over the engine. When lowered into place, a coupling attached the prop drive to the engine’s crankshaft. There was no rear rudder, the front wheels provided steering on land and on sea they acted as rudders.

Years after British Major Ivan Hirst got the postwar Volkswagen company going, in the 1960s a number of governments in Europe started collaborating on a new military vehicle to be used by NATO called the Europa Jeep. Development stalled and the West German government decided it needed something in the meantime. When approached, though they had turned down the idea of building a military vehicle in the 1950s, by the late 1960s, VW managers recognized that such a car might make sense as a consumer vehicle in some of their markets. At the time, VW based dune buggies were popular in the U.S. and Mexican consumers living in rural areas wanted something a bit more rugged than the Beetle. The idea was to use as many off the shelf parts as possible.

The Karmann Ghia’s chassis was chosen because it was wider and stronger than that of the Type 1 Beetle, though it was further strengthened. Swing axles and the gear reduction boxes were contributed from the pre-1968 Type II transporter. For off-road travel there was over 8 inches of ground clearance, minimal overhangs front and back, and skid plates. Fenders bolted on and there were visible strengthening ribs all over the generally simple and flat body panels. Doors were interchangeable and removable, the windshield folded flat and the entire convertible roof could be removed for al fresca driving. An optional fiberglass hardtop was offered.

The inside was just as spartan as the outside. There was very little in the way of trim or upholstery. Vinyl covered bucket seats and lots of painted sheet metal. There were drain holes and perforated rubber mats so the interior could be hosed out if needed.

While there’s a great visual similarity between the Type 82 Kübelwagen and what became known as the Type 181, and while they were both used by the German military, they don’t really have that much in common, there are no shared parts.

Volkswagen-1975-Thing-ad-a1-722x1024

In addition to military sales, the Type 181 was marketed to the public in Germany as the “Kurierwagen”, in the UK as the “Trekker”, the “Safari” in Mexico, and the “Thing” in the States. I haven’t been able to determine exactly how it got the name but I suspect that the folks at Doyle Dane Bernbach, VW’s innovative and humorous U.S. ad agency, probably had something to do with it. After all, the same agency produced ads calling the Thing “ridiculous”. While production of the Type 181 continued into the 1980s, the last year for the Thing in the U.S. was 1975. One of the oddest of odd automotive ducks, the Thing wasn’t a great success in America and it wasn’t worth keeping it compliant with increasingly stringent federal motor vehicle safety standards.

The three VW Things pictured here were photographed at the 2014 Vintage VW Show, held in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The Type 166 Schwimmwagen is on display at the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy museum, in suburban St Clair Shores.

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

The post Can That Thing Schwimm? appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/can-thing-schwimm/feed/ 24
Preeminent Custom Car Builder Mike Alexander 1935-2014, R.I.P. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/preeminent-custom-car-builder-mike-alexander-1935-2014-r-p/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/preeminent-custom-car-builder-mike-alexander-1935-2014-r-p/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 11:30:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904329 Mike Alexander, the surviving member of Detroit’s preeminent custom car builders, the Alexander Brothers, passed away in July at the age of 80. Mike and his brother Larry made some of the most famous and influential customs of the 1960s and because of a new toy called Hot Wheels and a Beach Boys song & […]

The post Preeminent Custom Car Builder Mike Alexander 1935-2014, R.I.P. appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
mikeabros1

Mike Alexander, the surviving member of Detroit’s preeminent custom car builders, the Alexander Brothers, passed away in July at the age of 80. Mike and his brother Larry made some of the most famous and influential customs of the 1960s and because of a new toy called Hot Wheels and a Beach Boys song & album the “A Bros” ultimately affected American culture and how the world sees us. They were as important to the world of hot rods as Elvis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry were to rock and roll. I had the great privilege of interviewing Mike Alexander last year as part of a project I’m working on about the Dodge Deora show car, and then meet him in person at the 2013 Eyes On Design show, where I was in the right place at the right time to witness Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo hand Mike a blue ribbon for the Deora, which was on display as part of a group of Alexander Brothers’ cars at that show. Mechanical and fabricating geniuses, Mike and Larry were perhaps the most technically adept of all the builders during custom cars’ golden era.

Rather than rewrite someone else’s obituary of the man, the following has been excerpted and revised from my as yet unpublished book on the Dodge Deora.

Ever since Harley Earl came to Detroit from Los Angeles in 1927 to start GM’s “Art and Color Section”, those two cities have been the epicenters of automotive styling in North America. It was true in the 1920s and it’s still true today. The Lexus LF-LC, which is in development for production, was designed at Toyota’s Calty Design Research facility in Newport Beach, California, not far from LA. The Toyota Tundra pickup truck was designed at Toyota’s Calty Design Research facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just down the road from Detroit. What is true about production cars and trucks is also true about those who customize them. It’s tempting, with people like Dean Jeffries, Gene Winfield, George Barris, Bill Cushenberry and others having been located on the West Coast, to think of the custom scene as dominated by California car guys, and it’s undoubtedly true that a lot of car culture in many forms has come out of California, but it’s also true that the West Coast customizers eventually had to compete for magazine covers and premium displays at car shows with Motor City customizers and fabricators like the Alexander Brothers and Chuck Miller. Hot Rod magazine said that the Alexander brothers were as important to the automobile world as Elvis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry were to rock and roll (video below). Yeah, that important. In fact it can be argued that Larry and Mike Alexander created the most famous custom car ever [that wasn't in a tv show or movie], the Dodge Deora.

Larry (L) and Mike (R) Alexander working on the Deora.

Larry (L) and Mike (R) Alexander working on the Deora.

The story of the Deora goes back to 1964. In the early sixties, all three big Detroit automakers introduced cabover vans, the Dodge A100, the Ford Econoline, and the Chevy Sportvan / GMC Handi-Van (along with the Corvair vans which also had cabover driving positions). The Alexander brothers were intrigued by the possibilities of building a radical sport pickup out of one and they commissioned car designer Harry Bentley Bradley to draw what became the Deora.

The Alexanders were always on the lookout for design talent and they had spotted Bradley when he was still a student at the Pratt school of design. He had been a regular contributor to popular magazines that covered the custom scene like Rodding and Re-styling, Customs Illustrated, and Rod & Custom. After Pratt, Bradley got a job with GM design and came to Detroit in 1962, but he continued to do side work, eventually designing a total of 10 cars for the Alexander brothers. Of course that had to be kept secret from his bosses until he left GM in 1967, feeling somewhat stifled at GM Design. Bradley’s move from Detroit back to his native California to work at Mattel’s Hawthorne headquarters is probably another example of the Detroit-Los Angeles yang and yin.

The Alexanders’ plan was to use Bradley’s exciting drawings to entice one of the OEMs into ponying up a free truck for the project. The design, as radical, fresh and clean today as it was almost 50 years ago, worked because it was pretty much a clean slate approach. Bradley saw it more as a concept car than as a custom.

“What I wanted to do was get rid of that phone booth cab and integrate the upper (section of the body) with the lower. The finished truck would have no doors on either side. I didn’t want cutlines. We were always told at GM to play down cutlines. If cutlines were wonderful, Ferraris would have them running down their sides.”

Designer Harry Bentley Bradley’s original design for the Deora. The door was later split in two because the A pillars could not bear that much weight. The result, with a clamshell top and a center pivoted bottom, was much more dramatic.

This may distress Murilee Martin, but the A100 was not Bradley’s first choice, nor his second. The Alexander brothers didn’t care. They happened to approach Chrysler first. While Bradley thought the other two vans were better looking, considering what a radical custom the Deora is, I doubt the donor would have mattered. In any case, the plan worked. For the manufacturer’s cost of an A100 based pickup and about $10,000 in mid-1960s money, Dodge ended up getting publicity that still has residual value today. As it is, though it is mechanically 100% Dodge, the Alexanders actually used a few Ford and Corvair bits. The exhaust ports on the Deora’s sides are Mustang taillights turned sideways and the roof and front windshield are actually from the back of a Ford station wagon. Whether Dodge noticed or cared isn’t recorded. My guess is they knew, and laughed all the way to the bank, carrying the money Chrysler made from the production A100s that the Deora helped sell.

Harry Bradley’s 2001 account of the history of the Deora, though it was in 1967, not 1966 that the Deora won the Detroit Autorama’s Ridler Award

The Hot Wheels version of the Deora was not the only toy Deora sold. The AMT plastic model company was involved with the Deora project long before Mattel made their first little die-cast cars. Over the years the AMT brand has used the Deora molds to offer a wide variety of model kits based on the basic design.

In the AMT scale model of the Deora, the lower section of the door swings down, unlike the actual Deora’s door, which pivots in the middle. That was either a production neccesity or, more likely, the model’s design was set before the fabrication was finished on the car. AMT was involved with the Deora project very early on. Models of popular and award winning customs were and continue to be good sellers for model companies so designers have worked closely with model companies. It’s a symbiotic relationship and a major source of income for some custom designers. In fact, a number of the model kits for 1960s and 1970s era customs, besides the Deora, like Chuck Miller’s Fire Truck and Red Baron, have been reissued. In recent years, high dollar full size show car replicas of 1960s era model kits have also been made like Monogram’s Black Widow by Troy Ladd.

The Deora was no one-hit-wonder. Operating their own shop for over a decade by the time they won the prestigious Ridler Award with the Deora, the Alexander brothers also won Ridlers in 1965 with their ’56 Chevy based Venturian and in 1969 with their T-bucket pickup Top Banana. They had quickly developed a reputation with the Detroit custom and hot rod crowd but it took a while for the brothers to get some national attention. The custom and hot rod magazines were almost all based in California and more than a little bit West Coast centric in their views. Ironically, the Alexanders got their break with those magazines when George Barris’ XPAK 400 hovercraft car itself broke at the 1961 Detroit Autorama and Barris’ crew needed a competent local shop to fix the car.

Mike and Larry Alexander at their shop on Northwestern Hwy, one of two A Bros shops that had to close because of highway construction. Can you identify the car they’re working on?

Barris asked the show organizers which builders were the most competent mechanics and was told the A Bros.  The Alexanders fixed the “flying” car, George graciously put a good word in for them with the West Coast editors, and the Alexanders started getting some national press. Well, not completely graciously. According to Mike Alexander, Barris, true to form, told the editors that the A brothers were the East Coast division of Barris Industries. Whose car broke down and who fixed it should tell you something about the relative build quality at Barris Kustom City and Alexander Bros. Custom Shop.

Cars built by the Alexanders had exceptional build quality. In September of 1967, Rod & Custom editor Spence Murray test drove the Deora for a number of miles, more than the Alexanders had driven it to that point, and was impressed. “Our test drive went off without a hitch. Larry Alexander knew that (the) Deora would perform up to the standards of any mass-produced pickup truck, but I had to prove it to myself.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

The current owner of the restored Deora, Tom Abrams, who also owns Reliable Carriers, the specialty automotive transportation company, says that it’s a fully functional, perfectly operational vehicle, albeit with an awkward driving position.

The original Hot Wheels Deora from 1968

Having gotten their entre to the West Coast buff books, the Alexanders’ cars became popular. Besides having a different aesthetic sense than what was popular in California, the Alexanders also necessarily had to do things differently because of their location. In the late 1950s and early 1960s you could still find rust free ’32 Fords in arid Southern California but around Detroit (there it is again) the snowy winters and use of road salt meant that few old cars survived and many of the cars they worked on were badly rusted particularly along the lower edges.

1996 Hot Wheels Deora reissue

The Alexanders were more likely to use later model cars than their West Coast colleagues and do more radical reshaping of the sheet metal. The fact that the cars were rusted gave them a bit of freedom. If they had to make an entirely new panel, they might as well shape it to their desires, and not do a restoration. Their ’56 Chevy based Venturian is an example. Except for the windshield and doors, it’s very hard to see the Chevy underneath. By working on newer cars and doing older cars differently, Larry and Mike carved out their own niche and gained some measure of fame and success. While the name Alexander Brothers meant little outside of the custom car and modeling communities, the cars they were building were starting to percolate into the general public’s consciousness.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the Beach Boys’ song, Little Deuce Coupe, a tribute to the 1932 Ford that has gone on to inspire even more popularity for that iconic automobile. Well, the actual “Little Deuce Coupe” that inspired the song was a ’32 Ford three window coupe owned by Clarence “Chili” Catallo, who lived in Taylor, Michigan and bought the car for 75 bucks in 1955 as a teenager. He had an Oldsmobile V8 installed along with a GM Hydramatic transmission and had the Alexander brothers do the original bodywork and blue paint. They sectioned and channeled the body, created a custom fiberglass nose with four stacked headlights, rolled the rear pan, altered the frame, and covered the framework with polished-aluminum fins.

Click here to view the embedded video.

When he became a legal adult in 1958, Catallo took his car out west where he got a job as a janitor at George Barris’ shop, then located in Lynwood, California. Chili bartered his salary for work in the shop, which is where the car received a chopped top and a new paint job and became more of a show car than a drag racer. Competing on the West Coast car show circuit, Chili Catallo’s ’32 Ford with the unusual front end caught the attention of Hot Rod magazine and it was on the cover of the July 1961 issue. That brought it even more attention and two years later, when the Beach Boys released their Little Deuce Coupe album,  Catallo’s car was displayed prominently on the cover.

Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo about to award Mike Alexander (seated, signing autographs) another blue ribbon for the Deora at the 2013 Eyes On Design show.

Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo about to award Mike Alexander (seated, signing autographs) another blue ribbon for the Deora at the 2013 Eyes On Design show.

Album covers, magazine covers and awards, from 1963 to 1969, the Alexander brothers were on a roll, but despite the Alexanders’ fame and the success of their cars, making a living in the labor intensive custom car craft has never been easy, particularly if you pay more attention to quality than publicity. The pending expansion of Northwestern Hwy into an expressway meant they were soon going to have to move their shop a second time, highway construction having already forced a move from their original location on Schoolcraft. After winning three Ridler awards in five years, pretty much at the peak of the custom car game, both Alexander brothers decided to get straight jobs in the auto industry. Finding work wasn’t a problem. The Alexanders were highly respected in the industry at large, even outside custom and hot rod circles, having worked with OEMs on projects like the Deora.

Injection molds can last a long time.

In 1968 Larry Alexander went to work for Ford as a metal model maker in the body engineering department, shaping prototypes there until his retirement. Since model makers, even master MMMs, rarely get credit for the important contributions they make shaping and fine tuning car designs, I haven’t been able to yet determine which significant Fords he worked on, besides a coworkers reference to Alexander helping him with the clay model of a Fiesta subcompact. He was a modest man but his coworkers and superiors knew of his stature in the custom world and held him and his work in high regard. Larry, the older of the two brothers, passed away in 2010.

Mike Alexander kept the shop open until it was razed in 1969. When Henry Ford II hired GM executive Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen to be president of Ford Motor Company, Knudsen brought along some talent with him, including Corvette StingRay desginer Larry Shinoda. While at Ford Shinoda would design the Boss Mustangs. After the Alexander brothers closed their last shop, Shinoda hired Mike Alexander to be in charge of design at Kar Kraft, Ford’s fabrication shop for show cars and special runs. It should have been a good fit for Mike, but but by then not only had Knudsen been the target of Lee Iaccoca’s successful political infighting, resulting in The Deuce firing him in late 1969, but also Shinoda, who has been described as a bit of a character and non-conformist, had managed to wear out his welcome with the styling studio bosses and he was fired as well. With his two patrons axed, in 1970 Mike moved to American Sunroof (now ASC), where he ran the body shop operations for their newly established Custom Craft Division. To Cadillac and Lincoln dealers, ASC Custom Craft offered, “..a complete line of luxury customizing and classic automotive finery for the personalization of your customer’s cars. I am sure that you are finding that in recent years more and more car buyers are interested in adding to their cars these special touches of excitement and luxury.” Dealers could install the accessories or have Custom Craft do the installation at ASC’s Southgate, Michigan facility.

ASC Custom Craft brochure for el Deora and Cadillac Astro Estate Wagon conversions. Mike Alexander ran the ASC body shop that fabricated these conversions.

When ASC Custom Craft started up, available products included custom grilles, faux classic headlight shells and trim, custom hood ornaments, padded half landau roofs, landau irons, fender skirts, rear deck lids with continental kit styling, rear deck trim, color keyed wheelcovers, oval or diamond shaped rear windows, and a dash-mounted 3” television. In other words, Custom Craft made pimpmobiles. Now before you look askance, the song Be Thankful For What You Got, by William DeVaughn, with the lyric Diamond in the back, sunroof top, Diggin’ the scene with a gangsta lean, Gangster white walls, TV antenna in the back sold over 2 million copies in 1974 (though unlike the Alexander bros, DeVaughn in fact was a one hit wonder). The Superfly look was very popular with pimps, wannabes and drug dealers. Car dealers, on their part, have always tried to make a buck with add ons. While there aren’t many shops still doing the precise thing today, pimpmobiles do have their spiritual heirs. There is no shortage of custom and tuning shops today with more technical skill than aesthetic taste, and they will gladly bling out whatever you roll in.

Mike and Larry Alexander with their masterpiece, the Dodge Deora at the 1967 Detroit Autorama in Cobo Hall.

ASC Custom Craft even reprised the Deora name, well sort of. They offered a converted Cadillac which was called the elDeora (which further mangled the original’s botched Spanish) including making at least one stretched Eldorado version. If you think about how long the last truly full size Eldorados were, that must have been one eye-catching pimpmobile. If a stretched Eldo wasn’t a big enough Caddy for you and all of your working girls, Custom Craft also marketed the Fleetwood Talisman El Deora, which was an elongated version of Cadillac’s already stretched factory built Fleetwood limo. The brochure pictured above from the early 1970s (those are pre 1973 bumpers), offers the limousine with two, count them, two sunroofs, the elDeora DeVille (“beautiful, massive, and masculine”), the Eldorado based elDeora Coupe (“stunning individuality, taste”), the Astrella Two Door Wagon (Eldo based and “exquisite, practical”), and the Fleetwood based Astro Estate Four Door Wagon (“stunning, functional”).

After the Deora won the Ridler Award in early 1967, Chrysler leased it for two years to promote Dodge cars and trucks.

Many of the Cadillac based station wagons that come up for sale from time to time are Custom Craft products. For the original Deora, the Alexanders put the back end of a Ford wagon on the front a Dodge van. For the Cadillac wagons, ASC took the back half of full size GM station wagons and grafted them on to Cadillac front ends. Some designs were more successful than others, aesthetically and commercially, but the four door Fleetwood based cars looked good and sold fairly well. In the 1970s, ASC exported over 100 Fleetwood Brougham Astro Estate Wagons to Saudi Arabia.

The Alexander brothers could have used any of the Big 3’s cabover vans but Dodge gave them an A100 to work with. The folks at Dodge either didn’t notice or didn’t care about all the Ford parts on the finished Deora. Notice something familiar about those exhaust ports?

All of the stretched limousines and station wagon conversions made by ASC Custom Craft were done under the direct supervision of Mike Alexander. That you can still find some for sale over 40 years later and that they look good enough to pass for factory jobs are a testimony to the high standards that Mike and his brother Larry set. The same is true of all of their custom cars. They are built to concours quality and engineered well. I think that I still prefer the original Deora to an el Deora.

Mike Alexander, the shorter of the two Alexander brothers, demonstrates ingress.When they demonstrated how to get in and out of the car, it was usually Mike, who was shorter, who did the demonstration – there’s not a lot of headroom left in the Deora after the 22″ chop they did.At 57″, the Deora is more than half an inch lower than the 2013 Dodge Dart and the Dart isn’t built on a truck chassis.

I’d hate to end Mike Alexander’s tale with pimpmobiles and Cadillac station wagons used to shuttle around some sheiks’ harems. After the gaudy ASC conversions, Mike continued to influence the auto industry. While at ASC, Mike had a role in the development of the Buick GNX, the even higher performance version of the Buick Grand National. The GNX was unique from regular Grand Nationals. The GNX had very wide tires with different wheel diameters and offsets front and back. The back wheels were 16″, large for the day. For tire clearance purposes the GNX has significantly flared fenders. Those functional flares add to the car’s aggressive, almost malevolent look. The front fenders also have functional louvers to aid in brake cooling.

The Deora at the 1967 Detroit Autorama. Old time hot rodders will note the Gratiot Auto Supply banner on the wall.

ASC was contracted, along with McLaren Performance Technologies, to build the GNX at ASC’s Livonia, Michigan facility. Nearly finished cars were trucked from GM’s assembly plant in Pontiac to Livonia where the GNX bits were added including cutting the fenders and installing the louvers and flares. That was mostly hand work. Production of the 547 GNX cars took place in Livonia but according to Dave Roland, who was an important part of the team that developed the Buick Turbo V6 engines for the Grand National and the GNX, the Southgate ASC facility was involved with the build of the prototypes and some of the GNX parts. Roland said that many of the prototype GNX photos in his personal collection were shot at the Southgate facility. Mike Alexander was running the body shop at the Southgate facility when the GNX was prototyped at that facility.

Mike retired from ASC in 1995, though he continued to consult at Custom Craft, working on the retractable roof of the Cadillac Evoq show car in 1999. As a matter of fact, if your car has a retractable hardtop roof, you can probably thank Mike Alexander. While at ASC he became a bit of an expert on folding metal roof and was granted at least 19 patents on the topic.

By all accounts, Mike was a fine gentleman, a mensch. The automotive world is better because of him and he will be missed. Mike Alexander is survived by his wife Elaine and their three children. Rest in peace.

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 Preeminent Custom Car Builder Mike Alexander 1935-2014, R.I.P. appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/preeminent-custom-car-builder-mike-alexander-1935-2014-r-p/feed/ 10
Bill Mitchell’s Swan Song: The Phantom http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/bill-mitchells-swan-song-phantom/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/bill-mitchells-swan-song-phantom/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:00:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=897690 Since it was the last design of consequence that General Motors design chief Bill Mitchell oversaw, Wayne Kady’s 1980 Cadillac Seville is thought by some to be the ultimate expression of Mitchell’s design philosophy. No doubt Mitchell was a fan of what he called the “London look”, and the ’80 Seville had that in spades: a classic […]

The post Bill Mitchell’s Swan Song: The Phantom appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
pontiac-phantom_02

Since it was the last design of consequence that General Motors design chief Bill Mitchell oversaw, Wayne Kady’s 1980 Cadillac Seville is thought by some to be the ultimate expression of Mitchell’s design philosophy. No doubt Mitchell was a fan of what he called the “London look”, and the ’80 Seville had that in spades: a classic vertical grille, a bustle shaped rear end, a raked C pillar and a long hood. When accused of borrowing the bustle-back from a contemporary Lincoln, Mitchell reportedly got indignant and said that he stole it from Rolls-Royce, not the cross-town competition in Dearborn. However, while Mitchell went to bat for the controversial Seville design over the objections of Cadillac management, the Seville was not the ultimate expression of his personal taste.

That ultimate expression can instead be seen in a car that never made it to production and in fact was treated a bit like a step-child by GM brass. While the Seville’s razor sharp edges are justifiably associated with Mitchell, something that distinguished GM cars in the 1960s from what Michael Lamm calls Harley Earl’s “Rubenesque” ethos of the mid to late 1950s, the fact is that Mitchell loved the sweeping and elegant look of cars from the late 1930s. The first two cars that he oversaw at GM were the 1938 Cadillac Sixty Special and the 1941 Cadillac. Neither of those cars has a single creased edge.

1980 Cadillac Seville

1980 Cadillac Seville

His favorite cars were the custom Silver Arrow Buick Rivieras that he had personalized for his own use, and while there are some of Mitchell’s sharp edges on the Rivieras, particularly the first generation car, in profile the Rivs, most noticeably the boat-tailed versions, evoke the sweeping lines of cars from decades earlier.

Mitchell’s ultimate statement as a car designer would be the 1977 Phantom, a large, fastback two-seat coupe built atop a Pontiac Grand Prix chassis. Though the Phantom has some sharp edges, its proportions, flowing lines and exposed wheel wells  go back to the era of those Cadillacs that Mitchell designed in the late 1930s. Though some have speculated that the Phantom ended up in Mitchell’s possession as some sort of severance payment upon his retirement, while GM designers were indeed known to use one-off concept and show cars as their personal drivers, the Phantom never had a drivetrain. It still exists, but perhaps in line with its history the Phantom is almost hidden away in the corner of a museum.

This 1967 rendering by Wayne Kady of a hypothetical V16 powered Cadillac prefigures both the 1980 Seville and Bill Mitchell's Phantom of 1977.

This 1967 rendering by Wayne Kady of a hypothetical V16 powered Cadillac prefigures both the 1980 Seville and Bill Mitchell’s Phantom of 1977.

By 1977, Mitchell was a bit of an anachronism, a man with a Mad Men mentality in an era while Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinam were raising women’s consciousness, someone who could order a half dozen hookers for lunch and send out an underling to the bank to get the Benjamins to pay them. GM’s design and engineering teams had just created what would be their last masterpieces for decades, the downsized 1977 fullsize sedans, the first American cars designed from scratch to deal with more expensive gasoline, the result of the 1973 oil crisis. The new Chevy Impala, for example, was 700 lbs lighter, smaller in every exterior dimension, yet had more interior room and more cargo capacity than the land yachts it replaced. Those cars would be GM’s high point for years, as they were almost immediately followed by the disastrous X-cars, the Chevy Citation and it’s badge engineered siblings.

Bill Mitchell was not a man for downsizing. Not a small man himself, for his last personal design Mitchell opted for something that was not smaller, lighter nor more space efficient. It was his idea of a modern classic and his hope for the direction that GM design would take after his retirement. However, by 1977, Mitchell had been with the company for four decades and many of his contemporaries (and advocates) were long gone.

A styling show was planned for the GM board at the proving grounds and Mitchell had the Phantom shipped out to Milford on the sly, hoping to surprise the board of directors as well as some of the GM executives like Howard Kehrl, executive vice president in charge of the product planning and technical staffs. Kehrl wasn’t as well known and certainly not as flamboyant as Mitchell, but the engineer had risen up through the ranks and by the late 1970s, with many of Mitchell’s allies retired, Kehrl held more power in the corporation. Having been on the receiving end of Mitchell’s legendary foul mouth, Kehrl was in no mood for one of Mitchell’s power plays. He spotted the Phantom being prepared for display and ordered it off the grounds immediately. Lo, how the mighty are fallen. Mitchell reportedly fumed, but the lion was roaring in winter. Later that year Mitchell retired from GM and opened up his own design studio in suburban Detroit. He died in 1988.

Pontiac_Phantom_01

By 1977, times had changed. In a 1979 interview he told Corvette historian Michael B. Antonick, “You know,  years ago when you went into an auto styling department, you found sweeps…racks of them. Now they design [cars] with a T-square and a triangle.”

Even the designers who had risen through GM’s design studios under Mitchell to positions of power themselves realized that times had passed the designer by. Jerry Hirschberg, who later would head Nissan design, is quoted by Michael Lamm as saying, “”As the years passed, Mitchell’s rather narrow biases and hardening vision limited GM styling. He was fighting old battles and withdrawing increasingly from a world that was being redefined by consumerism, Naderism and an emerging consciousness of the environment.”

198692

George Moon, a senior interior designer at GM reflected on Mitchell at the end of his career: “Bill Mitchell ruled over GM Design Staff during its most creative, most exciting years in corporate history. No matter his mood, his manner, his style—he gave the place a verve and an excitement it never had before or since. He brought out the best creative energies from all of us, and he oversaw the design of the greatest diversity of cars ever produced.

“Bill couldn’t have survived in today’s arena: too many rules, too many handcuffs, committees and bosses. Nor could today’s corporation tolerate Mitchell’s flamboyance, impertinences, ego and lifestyle. He was his own man, flawed and gifted, crude and creative. You had to love him or hate him, but no one in America could ignore him.”

1977-gm-phantom-concept-car

Mitchell seemed to have understood that times had passed him by. Even his internal code name for the Phantom, “Madame X” evoked a bygone era. Concerning the Phantom he later said, “Realizing that with the energy crisis and other considerations, the glamour car would not be around for long. I wanted to leave a memory at General Motors of the kind of cars I love”.

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

Though his power had ebbed, Mitchell was still a legend at General Motors. Perhaps out of consideration for Mitchell’s indelible role in GM history, unlike many concepts the Phantom wasn’t destroyed, and while it’s not in a place of honor in GM’s Heritage Center, the company’s private car museum, the automaker has either donated or loaned it to Flint’s Sloan Museum where you can see it in their Buick Gallery.

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 Bill Mitchell’s Swan Song: The Phantom appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/bill-mitchells-swan-song-phantom/feed/ 38
A Son, His Father, and Mom’s Car, a 390 Cubic Inch AMX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/son-father-moms-car-390-cubic-inch-amx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/son-father-moms-car-390-cubic-inch-amx/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:54:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=899474 A while back, I stumbled upon the fact that while car enthusiasts may be entertained by talk of things like independent rear suspensions, dual overhead cams, and launch control, people in general (and that set includes the subset of car enthusiasts) like to read stories about people. I think you’ll like the story of Clovis […]

The post A Son, His Father, and Mom’s Car, a 390 Cubic Inch AMX appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_0060

Full gallery here.

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

Full gallery here.

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

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

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

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

66amc_amx_prototype_1

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

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

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

IMG_0064

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post A Son, His Father, and Mom’s Car, a 390 Cubic Inch AMX appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/son-father-moms-car-390-cubic-inch-amx/feed/ 23
There’s a Reason Why Sloan-Kettering Hospital is in Manhattan and Not Detroit http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/theres-reason-sloan-kettering-hospital-manhattan-detroit/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/theres-reason-sloan-kettering-hospital-manhattan-detroit/#comments Sun, 24 Aug 2014 13:00:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=898010 There is news, at least partially confirmed by General Motors, that the Cadillac brand may expand its operations in New York City, moving some business functions from the RenCen in Detroit. It’s thought that moving some marketing, advertising and strategy functions to the Big Apple will add luster to GM’s luxury brand by separating it […]

The post There’s a Reason Why Sloan-Kettering Hospital is in Manhattan and Not Detroit appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
1101450924_400

There is news, at least partially confirmed by General Motors, that the Cadillac brand may expand its operations in New York City, moving some business functions from the RenCen in Detroit. It’s thought that moving some marketing, advertising and strategy functions to the Big Apple will add luster to GM’s luxury brand by separating it from the city of Detroit’s tarnished image, as well as make it easier to attract talent to those positions. Some people apparently have the notion that “Detroit” is this incredibly provincial and insular place and that the only way to thrive in the highly competitive  global automobile industry is to leave the Motor City behind, both figuratively and literally. That attitude, though, is nothing new, either outside Detroit or in the region. Also, the idea that the domestic car companies have been operated in Detroit by Detroiters, insulated from the rest of the country (and world) is contrary to the historical record.

lab_large_resh

You’ve probably heard of Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York City, one of the world’s best cancer treatment centers. This is car site so some of you may recognize those two names as being associated with a business headquartered not in New York but rather in Detroit. That firm is General Motors. Sloan was Alfred P. Sloan, who ran GM from 1923 to 1956 and Kettering was Charles Kettering, the prolific inventor who was GM’s first chief engineer. As with the copper boom in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, more than a little bit of the money made by Detroit automakers made its way back east.

Alfred Sloan 3

During GM’s heyday, it’s true that the individual divisions, what we today call GM’s brands, were operated in many ways as completely different companies and most of the decisions of those companies were made somewhere near Detroit, but many of the overarching corporate decisions were made about 600 miles east of the Motor City.

681shp_AlfredSloan_01091933_lg

Alfred Sloan was no stranger to New York. Though born in Connecticut and educated at MIT near Boston (MIT’s school of business management was endowed by Sloan), he was raised in Brooklyn and he died in New York City at the age of 90. The financial community of New York and east coast investors had a major role in the way the GM was managed for much of the 20th century. GM is sort of notorious among car enthusiasts for giving the “bean counters”, the accountants and financial folks supremacy over the product people, the engineers and designers. Where do you think those bean counters work and live? It’s not southeastern Michigan. General Motors Treasurer’s Office has long been located in New York City and it’s long been recognized as holding a lot of power within the company.

Alfred Sloan 6

GM’s ties to major east coast investors goes back to Billy Durant’s days of putting the company together, and then losing control to bankers. Starting up Chevrolet to compete with GM, Durant eventually got the backing of Pierre S. DuPont to retake control of GM. One of Durant’s acquisitions for GM was the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company of New Jersey, whose president was a 26 year old Alfred Sloan. By 1918, Sloan was a GM vice president and member of the executive committee and when DuPont forced Durant out of GM for the final time, under the Delaware millionaire’s influence Sloan became first operating vice president and then CEO. Sloan took Durant’s haphazard corporation and reorganized it’s structure and corporate governance along the lines of the then more than century old source of his patron’s wealth, E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co.

A-Rare-Genius

In the young General Motors, Pierre DuPont saw a great opportunity to make money at least a couple of ways: dividends on GM stock and profits from selling the automaker DuPont products.

duco2

After World War One, the DuPont company, which had started out making gunpowder on the banks of the Brandywine River in 1802, had large amounts of capacity for cellulose chemistry because of the manufacture of guncotton, nitrocellulose. Working with Kettering’s team at GM, DuPont chemists developed Duco brand nitrocellulose lacquer, a quick drying paint available in a variety of colors.

$_35

Slow drying enamel paint that needed to be rubbed out because of all the dirt that collected as it dried, was a bottleneck in automobile production. Pierre DuPont had also moved the DuPont company into the young plastics industry through acquisitions and growing the company’s own research team. DuPont Fabrikoid Rayntite brand synthetic leather was used for roofs in an era when few cars had full steel bodies.

00paint

While the DuPont family and company didn’t own outright controlling interest in GM, for much of the automaker’s early history DuPont interests owned about 40% of GM stock, enough for effective control of the automaker. The fact that those interests were making money owning GM stock and selling GM paint and plastics eventually caught the attention of the anti-trust division of Pres. Harry Truman’s Dept. of Justice. After more than a decade of litigation, DuPont finally divested it’s GM stock in the early 1960s.

p_sloan

The two companies, though, remained close. DuPont not long ago sold off it’s automotive paint operations (now known as Axalta) because the profitable unit wasn’t making quite enough profits, but until then DuPont was still supplying GM with hundreds of millions of dollars a year worth of top coats, the color and clear coatings that give modern cars their sheen. While they no longer sell paint to GM, DuPont is still a tier one, tier two and tier three supplier because of the polymers the company manufactures.

vxjbplen706q1q

GM isn’t the only “Detroit” automaker to have been, if not managed, influenced heavily by the financial industry centered in New York City. After Horace and John Dodge died within months of each other, their widows, Anna and Matilda, sold their stock in Dodge Brothers to New York bankers, making them perhaps the richest widows in the world. Control of the Dodge car company would eventually return to Detroit when Walter Chrysler bought it in 1928 as he put together the Chrysler Corp. Chrysler himself was also no stranger to New York and its financial industry, using some clever procedures to take control of Maxwell before he actually owned the company. Walter Chrysler, it should be noted, built the Chrysler Building, one of the more distinctive skyscrapers in New York City.

Chrysler_Building_by_David_Shankbone_Retouched

The influence of the Ford family has meant that Ford Motor Company has been run from Detroit (well, Dearborn) for its entire history. However, I’ll note in passing that when FoMoCo managers mortgaged the entire company down to the blue oval logo to borrow the $23.5 billion or so they realized they’d need to both get past the upcoming rough times and revamp their product lines, they went to the New York financial community to borrow that money, not Les Gold’s pawnshop near Eight Mile Road.

513x370xSeth-Gold-Hardcore-Pawn.jpg.pagespeed.ic.C9XISN03ky

Besides the fact that at least GM and Chrysler have had pretty strong ties to New York City (and Wall Street held some serious paper on Ford as well recently), the idea that a car company has to break out of Detroit to get the pulse of the market is not exactly a new idea either. Not only does just about every car company in the world have some kind of design facility in southern California (that was once explained to me by a high ranking designer as “the talent likes to go to the beach and hang out with pretty girls too”), in 1998 Ford Motor Company made a big deal about the fact that the Lincoln brand was going to be headquartered near Los Angeles. The following year Lincoln was indeed moved out to southern California and made part of Ford’s ill-fated Premier Automotive Group, headed by Wolfgang Reitzle, formerly of BMW. Mark Fields, FoMoCo’s new CEO, was named head of PAG in 2002 and one of his first moves then was to shutter Lincoln’s California “headquarters” and move those operations back to Dearborn.

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 There’s a Reason Why Sloan-Kettering Hospital is in Manhattan and Not Detroit appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/theres-reason-sloan-kettering-hospital-manhattan-detroit/feed/ 72
New York State Outlaws Posing With Big Cats, Chauncey the Cougar Snarls Somewhere http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/new-york-state-outlaws-posing-big-cats-chauncey-cougar-snarls-somewhere/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/new-york-state-outlaws-posing-big-cats-chauncey-cougar-snarls-somewhere/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:30:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=893882 If a law recently signed into effect by New York Governor Andrew Coumo had been on the books in the 1960s, it’s possible that the Mercury Cougar might have been named something else. In that alternative universe, the law would also have likely completely changed the direction of the Mercury brand in the 1960s and […]

The post New York State Outlaws Posing With Big Cats, Chauncey the Cougar Snarls Somewhere appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
Full gallery here.

Full gallery here.

If a law recently signed into effect by New York Governor Andrew Coumo had been on the books in the 1960s, it’s possible that the Mercury Cougar might have been named something else. In that alternative universe, the law would also have likely completely changed the direction of the Mercury brand in the 1960s and 1970s. A.9004/S.6903 prohibits exhibitors of big cats, lions, tigers, jaguars/panthers, and cougars (aka mountain lions), from allowing the public to have “direct contact” with the exotic animals. For the purpose of the law, direct contact includes both physical contact like petting or posing with the animal, proximity to it, as well as allowing photography without a permanent physical barrier between them, protecting the animal and the public. The bill was sponsored in the New York Assembly by Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), an animal rights advocate. Somewhere, Chauncey the Mercury Cougar snarls.

The act is primarily aimed at roadside zoos and traveling carnivals, things that have existed for generations. Rosenthal says that she became aware of the practice before people apparently recently started posting photos of themselves posing with big cats online, tiger selfies. It’s one of more than a dozen bills the assemblywoman has introduced on the premise of protecting animals.

1969-Mercury-20

Without a doubt, had the law been in place when the Mercury Cougar was introduced in 1966, while it’s possible that Ford Motor Company might have still named the car the Cougar, the use of live animals in that model’s introduction and marketing probably wouldn’t have happened, at least the way it was implemented. Also, since the success of the Cougar car and the use of live animals in its promotion led to Mercury’s use of “The Sign of the Cat” tagline in overall brand marketing, that too would have been unlikely under New York state’s new legislation.

The name Cougar as a car model name at Ford predates its use by Mercury as it was one of the names under consideration for what became the Mustang. As a matter of fact you can see photos of a mockup of what looks very much like the Mustang II concept car from when Ford stylists were still trying out ideas in 1963 and it’s wearing badging with a big cat, not a pony.

ford-mustang-with-cougar-badge

Ford had used the name publicly on a couple of concept cars including the Cougar II, a potential Corvette competitor built on a Shelby Cobra chassis with a 289 V8 that was shown at the same 1964 New York World’s Fair where the production Mustang first debuted. Apparently, the idea for a “man’s car” to slot in below the Thunderbird in Ford’s pricing scheme had resulted in a project called the T-7, also predating the Mustang. When the pony car was introduced to huge success, the T-7 project and the Cougar name were moved over to the Mustang platform.

4613556121_c1ca549219_z

Introduced as a 1967 model by Lincoln Mercury on Sept. 30, 1966, the Cougar’s launch had been preceded by an elaborate public relations campaign to introduce the car, and it seems that a particular large cat, Chauncey the cougar, was part of that campaign from the beginning. The idea to use a live animal is attributed to Gayle Warnock, Ford’s PR director, and his assistant, Bill Peacock. Chauncey, then three years old, had been born in captivity. It’s owners had fed it dog feed and a nutritional deficiency resulted in temporary paralysis and lifelong hip problems. It’s thought that Chauncey’s trademark snarl was a defensive mechanism to compensate for his lack of leaping ability.

IMG_0367

Animal trainers Ted and Pat Derby rescued Chauncey as a four month old kitten, nursed it to health and put him to work in their California business, Animal World, that supplied exotic animals to the television and movie industry. One of Chauncey’s stablemates, Roxanne the bobcat, was used to promote the Mercury Bobcat, that brand’s version of the Ford Pinto. In later years, big cats would be used to sell another small Mercury, the Lynx, a badge engineered Ford Escort.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Chauncey’s work in Cougar commercials is well known. The big cat appeared in commercials with the likes of Farah Fawcett and won the first of multiple P.A.T.S.Y awards in 1969. That was an award that was formerly given to animal performers in Hollywood. With changing attitudes towards animal rights and animal performers, that award has since been retired.

From the Suburbanite Economist on July 31, 1974: "A television celebrity with a flair for a snarl will appear Aug. 3 at Van Dahm Lincoln Mercury Inc . 10201 S. Cicero Ave, Oak Lawn. Chauncey the H-year-old cougar star of Lincoln- Mercury division's Cougar XR 7 and Sign-of-the-Cat commercials, and Christopher -- the two-month-old cougar cub featured in Mercury Comet commercials. The cougars are two of 150 wild animals orphans who live at Ted and Pat Derb's Love is an Animal, a 300-acre farm near Buellton, California"

From the Suburbanite Economist on July 31, 1974:
“A television celebrity with a flair for a snarl will appear Aug. 3 at Van Dahm Lincoln Mercury Inc . 10201 S. Cicero Ave, Oak Lawn. Chauncey the H-year-old cougar star of Lincoln- Mercury division’s Cougar XR 7 and Sign-of-the-Cat commercials, and Christopher — the two-month-old cougar cub featured in Mercury Comet commercials. The cougars are two of 150 wild animals orphans who live at Ted and Pat Derb’s Love is an Animal, a 300-acre farm near Buellton, California”

Chauncey and Roxanne also made public appearances, which is where the Derby’s would have run afoul of the new law in New York. The animals were put on display at Mercury dealers, where the public was invited to watch them walk around, climb up on the cars and hopefully reproduce Chauncey’s famous pose on top of a Cougar. Photography was encouraged, and the public was protected from the big cats by just velvet ropes and the Derby’s training and handling of the animals. Those dealer appearances lasted at least until 1975, when Chauncey went on to big cat heaven.

Click here to view the embedded video.

It’s not clear when Lincoln-Mercury ended the dealer visits, but they continued to use live exotics into the 1980s, with cougars appearing live at the Chicago Auto Show in both 1980 and 1981.

That velvet rope used to keep the crowd from the cougar (and vice versa) at the 1980 Chicago Auto Show would not pass muster in New York State today, which now requires permanent physical barriers between the public and live big cats on display.

That velvet rope used to keep the crowd from the cougar (and vice versa) at the 1980 Chicago Auto Show would not pass muster in New York State today, which now requires permanent physical barriers between the public and live big cats on display.

The Cougar more than doubled original sales expectations, selling more than 150,000 units in the first year it was on sale. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Cougar nameplate would go on to more or less keep the Mercury brand on life support for the next four decades. When the Mustang was downsized to the Pinto platform in the mid 1970s, Chauncey eventually got a bigger Cougar to lay upon as it moved to the midsize Torino platform to become a sibling to the Thunderbird. Chauncey became the face of the brand, sitting on dealer signs in brand advertising as he had lounged on the roofs of Cougars. “The Sign of the Cat” became the brand’s overall tagline, as mentioned, other Mercury models were given feline names, and Chauncey’s snarl graced most Mercury commercials.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Despite the Cougar’s success, the bean counters in Dearborn wanted to kill the model in the 1970s. Ben Bidwell, who later was the number two executive at Chrysler, was then in charge of Lincoln-Mercury and he didn’t want to lose the model. By then, “The Sign of the Cat” was being used to promote Lincoln-Mercury dealers, with whom the tagline, and Chauncey, were popular.

signofthecat

There was a meeting in Ford’s Glass House HQ presided over by Henry Ford II. While the source doesn’t say when, I’m guessing that the time frame was when Ford was busy creating the Mustang II and trying to decide what to do with the Cougar, still based on the large 1972-73 Mustang.

73 cougar a

Bidwell was in the minority at the meeting. Most of those attending thought the current, rather bloated, Cougar wasn’t very good and that it was going to be too expensive to replace it. The Deuce went around the room, asking for opinions, which were mostly negative. Finally he turned to Bidwell and said, “We haven’t heard from you yet, Bidwell. What do you think?” Bidwell replied, “I just have one thing to say, Mr. Ford. You can’t have a cat house without a cat.” After The Deuce started to laugh, the other executives joined in and the Cougar was saved. The nameplate survived until 2002, though by then it shared a platform with the front wheel drive Ford Probe.

Pat Derby seems to have changed her thoughts over the years about the use of animal performers. A year after Chauncey died she and Ted Derby divorced, reportedly over his use of cattle prods in animal training.  She always asserted that she used kind, humane training methods. Pat Derby continued to display live cougars for Mercury for a few years but by 1984 Derby had retired her own animals and Pat and her companion Ed Stewart started PAWS, the Performing Animal Welfare Society, a sanctuary for captive wildlife. Here is their mission statement:

PAWS is dedicated to the protection of performing animals, to providing sanctuary to abused, abandoned and retired captive wildlife, to enforcing the best standards of care for all captive wildlife, to the preservation of wild species and their habitat and to promoting public education about captive wildlife issues.

Pat Derby passed away in 2013 at the age of 70. Her ex-husband Ted was killed in 1976 by a neighboring rancher upset over the alleged killing of some livestock by Derby’s animals.

cougar029

Pat Derby, Ed Stewart and Christopher, Chauncey’s replacement, at the 1979 Chicago Auto Show.

In his day Chauncey became quite the star, he even had two “doubles” to keep up with the demand for appearances. However, in a 1975 interview with a local newspaper covering a dealer appearance, Ted Derby insisted that anytime you’d see a cougar with a Mercury car, a Mercury sign or a model like Ms. Fawcett, that was Chauncey. Besides his doubles, Chauncey was also reproduced as a plush toy in  a variety of sizes, both as promotional items and for sale. If I have the story down correctly, one  life-size version came as standard equipment with the first high performance XR-7 Cougars in 1967. Those big stuffed cougars were also used as part of showroom displays, resting on top of Cougars.

To give you an idea of what the 1967 Mercury Cougar looks like with the roof down, here's a survivor from the Mid Michigan Mustang Show.

To give you an idea of what the 1967 Mercury Cougar looks like with the hood down, here’s an original condition survivor from the Mid Michigan Mustang Show. Full gallery here.

While the white Cougar with a black vinyl top pictured here apparently came with a plush Chauncey, it’s not original equipment, the car or the plush toy. The car has been restored and the owner told me that his copy of Chauncey was new old stock from a dealer’s back room. The car is an XR-7 Dan Gurney Special and the photographs are from two different events, Greenfield Village’s 2014 Motor Muster and the 2013 Mustang Memories show. Gurney won races in Cougars for FoMoCo in TransAm and he was a member of the Lincoln-Mercury Sports Panel with other notable athletes like Jesse Owens and Byron Nelson.

cougar trans am img_0017_r

Dan Gurney and Cale Yarborough raced this Bud Moore prepared Mercury Cougar successfully in the Trans Am series. Full gallery here.

I’m not sure how many people or exotic cats New York’s new law will protect. The institutions it targets, roadside attractions and carnies, are not known for treating animals to the standards of Pat Derby, and wild animals don’t have thousands of years of domestication and breeding out of aggression, so it’s probably a good idea. Still, I wasn’t able to find any record of anyone being hurt in all the years that Mercury used live big cats at dealer and other public appearances.

If you attend enough car shows you’ll see how owners like to add magazines, documentation and scale models to make their cars’ displays stand out. The live sized plush Chauncey, because it came with the cars and was used by dealers, and even more so, because the real cat and its image was so instrumental in establishing the Mercury brand’s subsequent identity, not only helps the car stand out at a car show, it also reminds show visitors of some of the now deceased nameplate’s history.

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

The post New York State Outlaws Posing With Big Cats, Chauncey the Cougar Snarls Somewhere appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/new-york-state-outlaws-posing-big-cats-chauncey-cougar-snarls-somewhere/feed/ 22
The Most Influential Sports Car Ever Made?: The Lotus Elan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/influential-sports-car-ever-made-lotus-elan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/influential-sports-car-ever-made-lotus-elan/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 12:30:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=886473 You may find the idea that relatively obscure British sports car, with fewer than 16,000 made, could be the most inspirational or influential sports car ever a bit far-fetched, but I think a compelling argument can be made in the favor of the Lotus Elan. Yes, there were two seaters going back to the MG TC and even before […]

The post The Most Influential Sports Car Ever Made?: The Lotus Elan appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
img_0238

Full gallery here

You may find the idea that relatively obscure British sports car, with fewer than 16,000 made, could be the most inspirational or influential sports car ever a bit far-fetched, but I think a compelling argument can be made in the favor of the Lotus Elan. Yes, there were two seaters going back to the MG TC and even before that there were cars like the the Jaguar SS100. In many people’s minds the MGB defined 1960s era two seat roadsters, but was the B that much different from the Austin Healeys, the MGA, and the Jaguar XKs? An argument could be made that the Elan was the first modern sports car (putting aside the E Type Jaguar for the sake of argument) and it was introduced almost simultaneously with the MGB. Its contemporaries from MG and Triumph were primitive cars compared to the Elan.

To begin with, the Elan’s welded up sheet metal backbone frame alone, even without the composite body, has more torsional stiffness than other contemporary sports cars. It was much lighter, coming in at less than 1600 lbs with a full tank of gas. It had modern components: an aluminum head with double overhead cams, a front suspension designed by people making F1 race cars with anti-dive and anti-squat geometry, true independent rear suspension with wide A arms and one of Colin Chapman’s many innovations, the Chapman strut. The Elan has disk brakes at all four wheels and if I’m not mistaken, at the time it was introduced in 1962, the Jaguar E-Type was the only other car that came standard with four wheel disk brakes. In 1962, drums were standard on the Corvette. The Elan was also kitted and trimmed out more fully than the MGs and Triumphs of its day, noticeably more finished and luxurious. I believe that radios were always standard equipment and from 1967 on, Elans had electric windows.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Then there is the Elan’s performance. Though not particularly quick by today’s standards, when Toyota Camry’s can have almost 300 HP, the Elan was fast in its day, with respectable 0-60 times. Of course straight line performance was not what the Elan was built for. It’s simply known as one of the best handling cars ever made. Today it is still the standard by which other cars’ tossability is measured. To drive the Elan on a twisting and turning road is to commune with your higher automotive power. The inputs are all almost perfectly weighted, the steering, the gearbox, the brakes and accelerator. It’s all fingers and toes and putting the car within millimeters of your line.

Watch this videos from Jay Leno’s garage and you can see how much Leno, a truly knowledgeable car guy, respects this car. Leno owns a McLaren F1 and he knows designer Gordon Murray. He says that Murray told him that the F1 was inspired by the Elan. He also said that Murray’s praise for the Elan convinced him to buy one, a nice example of a 1969 Elan, and then another, a factory lightweight 26R intended for racing (the Elan was #26 in Lotus’ model numbering system) that was the object of a no-costs-barred restomod, with a custom aluminum engine block and a sequential transmission.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Note, this is the finale of a series of over 20 videos that Leno produced on the Elan 26R project. They are highly recommended.

Well, if the Elan had only inspired the McLaren F1, it would deserve a spot on the list, but the Elan has directly inspired two other historically important sports cars, and at least a couple of others as well. One of those influences you may know about, the other is less obvious.

Toyota is not exactly known for its sports cars. Other than the MR2 and the Lexus LF-A supercar, the company is known for making transportation appliances. However, in the 1960s, Toyota wanted to show that it was a player on the world automotive scene and they introduced the 2000GT. The 2000GT is generally regarded as Toyota’s take on the Jaguar E-Type coupe because of the cars’ styling similarities and the inline DOHC 6 cyl engines. Under the 2000GTs skin, though, the car is a near copy of the Elan’s chassis.

elanframe

Lotus Elan Chassis

There is no question that the Elan’s backbone frame, Chapman strut rear suspension, and general layout was copied by the 2000GT. Other than the two extra engine cylinders, the two cars’ chassis look almost identical. Chapman’s design, of course, had cutouts in the chassis’ sheetmetal to add some lightness.

Toyota 2000GT chassis (scale model)

Toyota 2000GT chassis (scale model)

In terms of styling while I think that the similarity with the Jaguar is obvious, I also see some lines borrowed from the Elan, the front fender line and the rear end particularly. It’s particularly noticeable in the one-off 2000GT roadster made for one of the James Bond films, You Only Live Twice.

Click here to view the embedded video.

If Toyota’s copying of the Elan’s mechanical design is not widely known, the fact that Tom Matano and the other Mazda designers involved with the first Miata used the Elan as a design brief is common knowledge. A few years ago, when it was announced that Mazda had built and sold over 750,000 units of the Miata/MX-5/Eunos, I had the opportunity to ask Matano how it felt to be “the most successful sports car designer ever”. Chevy may have sold more Corvettes since 1953, but that car has gone through more radical styling changes than the Miata. Though there have been a number of Miata generations, the car’s basic styling language has remained the same. Matano told me that because the Miata was based on the Elan, he was actually prouder of the last RX-7, which was a clean sheet design.

The Elan directly influenced three of the most historically significant sports cars of the past half century, including the best selling sports car design ever, the Toyota 2000GT, the McLaren F1 and the Mazda Miata. Just on the Miata’s sales figures alone, the Elan inspired more actual cars, more units, than any other sports car. If you look at some of the other two seat roadsters and coupes that were available after the Elan came out, like the Fiat 124, and maybe even some contemporary Alfa Romeos, I think an argument can be made that the Elan influenced them as well, with their 4 cyl DOHC engines and other features (though I believe Alfa was selling DOHC roadsters before the Elan was introduced).

Maybe that’s overstating the case but Murray and Leno aren’t the only knowledgeable gearhead fans of the Elan to give it extraordinary praise. EVO magazine founder Harry Metcalfe says that it had revolutionary handling 50 years ago and when they tested it heads up in 2003 against a Mazda Miata and Toyota MR2 it had the best acceleration time and the best lap time as well. “It’s just so superb… there are so many fundamentals that are right in this car.” Watch Metcalfe describe and then drive his ’72 Elan Sprint and count how many superlatives he uses.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Leno says that the Elan is remarkable for it’s own merits, “almost the perfect sports car”, Murray says it’s his favorite car, and Metcalfe says that it’s superb. At the start I said that the Elan is relatively obscure, but with people like the above trio praising the car like that, others have started to take notice. There was a time when Elans were not regarded as well as the subsequent Lotus road car, the midengine Europe because, well, midengine, but according to the Hagerty Price Guide, today most Elans are worth more than most Europas. Hagerty says that an Elan roadster in #4 driver condition will cost you between $10,000 and $13,000 while a desirable late model Sprint SE in #1 shape is worth about $39K. Hagerty may be a bit behind the market in this case since Bring A Trailer has listed Elans whose asking prices were a bit higher than that. If you consider how influential the Elan is and how few were made, it’s easy to see them appreciating over $50,000 for very nice ones.

Elan production, from 1962 to 1974 (the two seat Elan went out of production in 1972 but the Elan +2 model survived till ’74) breaks down as follows :

  • Series 1-3 Elans:  7,895
  • Series 4 Elans: 2.976
  • Elan Sprints: 1,353
  • Elan +2 cars: 3,300
    Total: 15,524

There were over 31,000 Series 1 Jaguar E Types made and over the life of the E, over 70,000 were made. Nice E Types go for six figures and according to Hagerty, you can put yourself in a #2 or even a #1 Elan for what it costs to buy a #4 driver E Type. Admittedly, the Jaguar is more of a marquee car, certainly sexier, it will get you more attention from average folks. However, in terms of upside appreciation potential, the Elan may be a better long term bet. I don’t think that Leno’s going to lose money on that rebuilt but unaltered ’69, not that he’s selling it, and if you watch the video about his 26R restomod, that one’s not going anywhere either.

Should you buy one that’s not perfect, they’re relatively easy to restore, what components that Lotus didn’t source from other car companies are still available,  if not from Lotus, than from aftermarket vendors. You can find brand new replacement frames and probably even whole bodies if you look hard enough. Speaking of those bodies, while rusting frames are not unknown (one reason why the factory sold replacement frames, another is that they tend to be written off in colisions), Elan bodies are made of fiberglass reinforced plastic so it’s more like restoring an old Corvette than an old Mustang. Also, depending on how much work it needs, you might not end up too upside down on the restoration costs.

In any case, if you see one for sale nearby, see if you can arrange a test drive. Driving an Elan is something every car enthusiast should do at one time or another, they very may well be the best handling cars ever made. It’s not uncommon to hear owners say, “While test driving, I entered a turn a bit too fast and with those tiny pedals I couldn’t find the brake so I just cranked harder on the wheel and it simply went where I steered it. That’s when I decided to buy it.” It’s simply a great and very influential car.

Both of the Elan’s pictured here are right hand drive models, and were both coincidentally spotted in parking lots at car shows. The British Racing Green car is a Series 1 Elan, while the car in Gold Leaf tobacco (a Lotus F1 sponsor in the day) colors is a Series 3 car owned by a Japanese Toyota engineer assigned to their R&D center in Ann Arbor. Since the Series 1 and 2 cars are similar, and the Series 3 & 4 cars are alike, these two cars represent both body styles made during the Elan’s production run. The later cars have a trunk lid that extends to the back of the car, while the early cars have a panel between the trunk lid and the rear fascia. Starting with the Series 3 cars, there was also an upgraded, folding top that replaced the brackets and bows that held up the roof of the early cars, and fully framed, electrically powered windows replaced the counterweighted pull up windows of the Series 1 & 2 cars.

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

The post The Most Influential Sports Car Ever Made?: The Lotus Elan appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/influential-sports-car-ever-made-lotus-elan/feed/ 30
Days of Futurliners Past – General Motors’ Parade of Progress Buses http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/days-futurliners-past-general-motors-parade-progress-buses/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/days-futurliners-past-general-motors-parade-progress-buses/#comments Sun, 10 Aug 2014 16:34:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=884841 The way the story goes, the idea for General Motors’ Parade of Progress sprang from the mind of Charles Kettering, GM’s vice president for research and the inventor of the first practical electric self starter for automobiles, as he walked through GM’s exhibit at the 1933 Century of Progress world’s fair in Chicago. Looking at the […]

The post Days of Futurliners Past – General Motors’ Parade of Progress Buses appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_0106

Full gallery here

The way the story goes, the idea for General Motors’ Parade of Progress sprang from the mind of Charles Kettering, GM’s vice president for research and the inventor of the first practical electric self starter for automobiles, as he walked through GM’s exhibit at the 1933 Century of Progress world’s fair in Chicago. Looking at the demonstrations of the science and technology used in his company, he thought, why not put the show on the road and take the displays to towns across America?

The first Parade of Progress was in 1936, starting in Lakeland, Florida (perhaps not coincidentally, the Detroit Tigers started conducting spring training that year in Lakeland) and ending at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, stopping at  251 towns and smaller cities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and even Cuba in between, and it was seen by 12.5 million people. By comparison, less than 9 million people attended Major League Baseball games that year. If you think of how much smaller those countries’ populations were back then, you can get an idea what a major event the Parade of Progress was. That’s the equivalent of about 31 million people attending an event in the U.S. today. That’s how big of a deal the Parade of Progress was in its day.

Over the next twenty years, there’d be a total of three GM Parades of Progress, ending in 1956. There aren’t many artifacts left of those public relations campaigns, at least as far as ephemera is concerned. A quick check at eBay shows  a few brochures, and some publicity photos for sale. To automotive enthusiasts, though, some the most significant artifacts possible from the Parade of Progress still exist, the Art Deco styled Futurliner buses that carried around the displays from town to town.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Kettering ran his idea past GM chairman Alfred Sloan Jr. and Paul Garrett, the automaker’s VP in charge of public relations. They seized on the idea. Movies, fairs and other forms of inexpensive mass entertainment were popular. It was the depths of the Great Depression, people wanted distractions from the economy. The GM executives correctly reasoned that an entertaining and educational show would help promote the company and its many products, not just automobiles, particularly if there was no admission charge. Radio and newspapers were the only forms of mass communications then. By making the show mobile, GM could take it to just about every community in the country, avoiding large metropolitan areas, concentrating on places where it would get maximum attention. When the Parade of Progress came to town, people literally came from miles around, with attendance sometimes more than doubling local populations.

Click here to view the embedded video.

To transport the show, in addition to nine GMC and Chevrolet tractor-trailers, there was a fleet of eight custom red and white streamlined vans, build in Fisher Body’s Fleetwood plant, where custom Cadillacs were built. When parked and ganged next to each other, they featured walk through exhibits. The PoP was staffed by 40 to 50 young men, all college graduates from top universities. They’d drive the vehicles, set up the exhibits and then change into nicer uniforms to give lectures on the displays. They’d stay at each stop for up to four days, then pack up and go to the next town. Former participants all seem to look back fondly on the experience.

Click here to view the embedded video.

It was a sophisticated public relations operation with the route chosen a year in advance. Garrett’s staff in New York City would notify the local chamber of commerce and a few days later an advance man would show up. One of them, Bob Emerick who would would eventually retire from GM as Pontiac’s PR director, described the process:

“There were three of us advance men alternating towns – hopscotching along the route. We’d work with the chamber of commerce and city officials – find an empty lot to pitch the tents, make hotel reservations, the work with the newspapers and radio stations; also the schools, civic clubs, and local GM dealers. We had a short movie that we brought along to give these groups a teaser of the actual shows.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

When the shows arrived, they were presented live and the main tent show was about 45 minutes long. While the PoP originally used conventional circus-type tents, in 1940, a new tent with an external girder skeleton was introduced that could hold larger crowds.

A mock up of the Futurliners held an animated diorama titled Our American Crossroads. The display has been restored and is in the GM Heritage Center. Full gallery here.

A mock up of the Futurliners held an animated diorama titled Our American Crossroads. The display has been restored and is in the GM Heritage Center. Full gallery here.

 

That year the original eight streamliners were replaced by 12 new vehicles dubbed Futurliners, plus a mockup bus display that housed an elaborate animated diorama called Our American Crossroads that showed how towns developed along with the automobile. The Futurliners had clamshell sides that opened up to reveal the displays inside. A hydraulically lifted light bar would illuminate the area at night.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Futurliner name matched up nicely with GM’s Futurama exhibit then going on at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. Also, dropping the E from future meant that GM could more easily trademark the name.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Futurliners were barely on the road when they were mothballed two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The buses went into storage while most of the young men staffing the show went off to war. The Parade of Progress would not be revived until 1953, perhaps to coincide with GM’s Motorama shows, which were a bit more car-centric and staged in larger cities. While cars were displayed at the Parade of Progress shows, they weren’t the focus of the events, it was a soft sell.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Parade of Progress really seems to have been about showing GM and American technology in all of its breadth, so by 1953 there were displays about atomic power, microwave ovens, jet propulsion and stereophonic sound that joined popular holdover exhibits. However, by 1953 there was more than just radio to entertain people. People could watch entertaining and educational shows for free without leaving their homes. Television spelled the demise of the Parade of Progress. With attendance declining, the last Parade was in 1956.

The Futurliner is a singular looking vehicle. I really can’t think of anything else on the road that looks like it. Attributed to Harley Earl, as with other Earl designs he probably did some of his famous hand waves and GM’s talented team of designers did his bidding. It’s very large, 11′ 7″ tall, 8′ wide, and 33′ feet long with a 248″ wheelbase. It’s also heavy, about 16.5 tons. Unique to the Futurliner are duallies up front. There are side by side front wheels and tires, each one with it’s own drum brake. Even with a total of six brake drums, they weren’t very adequate to slow all that weight and one of the Futurliners was rear ended by another.  With all that rubber to turn, the buses had an early version of power steering but apparently the pumps frequently failed due to the load.

As built in 1939, the Futuliners were powered by front mounted four cylinder diesel engines driving through 4X4 mechanical gearboxes (I believe that means a four speed with four ranges for 16 total speeds, not four wheel drive). In 1953 the Futurliners were updated. Their clear plastic domes over the driver’s cabin had proved to be rather warm, so a more conventional roof (with a hatch) was installed.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The engines were replaced with 145 horsepower 302 cubic inch six cylinder OHV units from GMC.  A four speed hydramatic replaced the manual transmission was coupled to another two speed box, plus a third 3 speed power take off unit (though that one requires the driver to stop the vehicle and go to the back of the bus to select the appropriate range). The result was 24 gear ratios to choose from. With only 145 hp and a quarter mile time of 41 seconds or more (and a trap speed of just 28 mph), the Futurliners needed all those gears to get to all those towns. In addition to a metal roof, for driver comfort GM added air conditioning units made by its Frigidaire division. Sitting with their heads 11 feet off of the ground, however, made for some uncomfortable driving, particularly when going under overpasses.

Of the 12 Futuliners that were made, nine are known to still exist in one form or another. Seven have either been restored or are considered restorable. The two basket cases have been used to restore other Futurliners. One bus is currently being restored in Sweden, and the Futurliner that is considered to be the most original is currently being restored in Utah. That bus has been the model for other restorations, including the restoration of Futurliner #10, pictured here. The remains of Futurliner #5, which donated parts to the restoration of #10, has been converted into a rather clever flatbed car and truck hauler and is currently for sale at asking price of $1.25 million.

IMG_0009a

Coker Tires reproduced the original U.S. Royal General Motors Parade of Progress whitewalls. Full gallery here.

After GM retired the Futurliners for good in 1956 they were sold off or donated. A couple ended up with the Michigan State Police, the Peter Pan Bus Company bought and restored one, and one was used by the Oral Roberts Ministries. Number 10 was bought by the Goebel Brewing company, based in Detroit (now there’s a brand for hipsters to bring back). They called it the Goebel Land Cruiser and referred to it as “A new concept in public relations”. They drove it to fairs, picnics, parades and the like to show people how beer was made. Apparently at one point in its service to Goebel, Futurliner #10 overheated and, not having any spare coolant, the beer that was kept cool onboard for distribution to employees of the local beer distributors sponsoring the events was used instead to fill the radiator.

IMG_0236

Note the body by Fisher badge by the door. The 33,000 lb. Futurliners had duallies in front as well as in back. Full gallery here.

Financial issues that led to Goebel’s purchase by Stroh’s also caused the discontinuation of the Land Cruiser. The Pulte Construction company, also then based in Detroit, bought the Futurliner to use as a promotional vehicle for a new development in Florida. Driving the Futurliner south, somewhere near Tallahassee it threw a rod and the engine caught fire.

IMG_0150

A commanding driving position if there ever was one. The white pod to the left of the steering wheel is the sensor for the Autronic Eye automatic dimmers. Full gallery here.

Fast forward to 1998. Car enthusiast and retired GM plant manager Don Mayton saw one of the Futurliners while in Palm Springs on business. He knew he had to have one, but he also realized it would be beyond his means. Still he kept looking. Mayton lives on the west side of Michigan, not far from Grand Rapids, in Zeeland, and it turned out that he found a Futurliner not that far away. The National Automotive and Truck Museum, NATMUS, located in Auburn, Indiana, adjacent to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, had acquired Futurliner #10. It needed a restoration and Mayton and his crew of volunteers not only made arrangements through the museum’s Partner Program to raise the $200,000 or so needed for the restoration, they performed the restoration themselves, meeting every Tuesday to work on it one way or another.

As restorations go, it’s somewhere between completely original and grandfather’s axe. Much of the framework for the body had to be reproduced as did the special U.S. Royal whitewalls embossed with “General Motors Parade of Progress”. Someone still had a couple of original tires which were sent to Coker Tire for reproduction. Castings of the big GM badge up front and the General Motors Parade of Progress lettering along the flanks were taken so they too could be reproduced. One of the volunteers fabricated a completely new wiring harness. Interestingly, the keyed power switch is behind one of the outside access panels down below the driver’s compartment. Once that switch is activated, the driver can push a button to start up the GMC six. Actually, separate key switches and floor mounted starter buttons were commonplace when the Futurliners were being built.

The restoration was complete in 2006, with its first showing at the Meadow Brook concours (now the Concours of America at St. John’s). While the NATMUS museum still owns Futurliner #10, the volunteers store it in a garage near Grand Rapids from spring through fall and take it to car shows and other events, educating the public about it, which is how it came to be in Milford. Of all of the restored Futurliners, it is considered to be the most authentic, still featuring its original to 1953 drivetrain.

Click here to view the embedded video.

If you want to read more about the Futurliners in general or #10 and how it was restored, the project has an entire website devoted to it and the restoration. If you want to help pay to maintain Futurliner #10, there is an assortment of models, apparel, as well as a book and DVD on the Parade of Progress Futurliners and the restoration of #10 that you can buy to help support the project. What Mayton and his crew of volunteers have done with the Futurliner is highly praiseworthy, devoting their time and energy to restoring a piece of not just automotive history but American history as well, without any thought of recompense. Now that the Futurliner is done, Mayton and his team are restoring one of Bill Mitchell’s custom Buick styling concept cars.

Though the volunteers who restored it may need to educate members of the general public about the Futurliner and GM’s Parade of Progress, the buses are fairly well known to car enthusiasts. Every now and then one will come up for auction, like the time that super collector Ron Pratte bought a restored Futurliner for $4.1 million at Barrett-Jackson’s 2006 Scottsdale auction. That resulted in a bit of Futurliner speculation but sales since then haven’t met presales estimates. I suppose there is a limited market for big tall vintage Art Deco buses. If you are part of that market, however, Pratte is selling off his entire collection, including his Futurliner early next year at the 2015 B-J Arizona auction.

With only a handful of Futurliners  in roadable condition, the chances of seeing one in the metal are rare, so I was excited to see that #10 would be participating in a Pontiac Oakland club show out at Baker’s in Milford. However, when I got to Baker’s that Sunday there was obviously not a Pontiac show going on. I asked someone and they told me the show was on Saturday. I could have sworn that the flyer I saw said something about the 20th. When I said I was disappointed to miss the Futurliner, the guy said, “Oh, they’re over at the Proving Grounds and are coming back.”

The Futurliner as built in 1939. Note the bubble canopy over the driver. That proved to be uncomfortably hot.

The Futurliner as built in 1939. Note the bubble canopy over the driver. That proved to be uncomfortably hot.

Milford is the location of the General Motors Proving Grounds, about two miles from Baker’s. There’s no record of any Futurliners being at the Proving Grounds since before 1953. There is one photograph showing a 1939-53 Futurliner at GM’s main road testing facility so this was the first time a Futurliner was at the Proving Grounds in over 60 years. I hopped into the press Audi A3 I had that week and headed up towards the test track. On my way there, though, I could see the Futurliner coming towards me, headed back to the restaurant. It’s rather hard to miss. I quickly pulled off the road to wave as they went by and then I had to wait. The bus has a top speed of not much more than 45 mph – or at least the driver told me that he wouldn’t want to drive it much faster than that. The road they were on has a 50 or 55 mph speed limit. Traffic was piled up for about a half mile or more behind it as it trundled down the road. Finally, a guy in a BMW took some compassion on me and let me merge.

Futurliner at Night

I had some errands to run in that part of town so I ended up hanging out with the volunteers a good deal of the day, off and on. They let visitors climb up into the cabin and sit behind the wheel, donations appreciated. It has to be the weirdest driving position short of the tail steerer on a hook & ladder rig. If you think an SUV gives you a commanding seating position, think again. The Futurliner being a cab-over design, there is a rather long and complicated linkage between the steering wheel and the wheels that are being steered.

While the displays were swapped around between the vehicles, this particular Futurliner is known to have been used to promote GM’s Fisher Body Craftmen’s Guild and the display space currently features materials about the Guild along with artifacts from the Parade of Progress.

You can describe the dimensions and what a great expression of the Art Deco design ethos it is, but the Futurliner is such a singular vehicle that words fail. It’s just this big red tall thing that grabs your eyes and won’t let go. It’s one of those vehicles that you really have to see in person to appreciate.  The idea that a company like General Motors would make something this weird just boggles the mind, but then once upon a time they also made the Corvair, the rope drive Tempest and the Pontiac “cammer” OHC inline six.

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

Futurliner at Night $_57 $_57 (3) $_57 (2) $_57 (1) $_12 general-motors-futurliner-view-download-wallpaper-609x480-comments_ba8e2

The post Days of Futurliners Past – General Motors’ Parade of Progress Buses appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/days-futurliners-past-general-motors-parade-progress-buses/feed/ 26
Stereo Realists: Donald Healey, George Mason and How the 3D Craze Led to the Nash-Healey http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/stereo-realists-donald-healey-george-mason-and-how-the-3d-craze-led-to-the-nash-healey/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/stereo-realists-donald-healey-george-mason-and-how-the-3d-craze-led-to-the-nash-healey/#comments Sat, 02 Aug 2014 14:25:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=876073 Carroll Shelby wasn’t the first person who thought of putting a powerful American engine in a British sports car. Sydney Allard did it more than a decade before Shelby made his first Ford powered A.C.E. and called it a Cobra. As a matter of fact, Shelby raced an Allard J2 in the early 1950s. So […]

The post Stereo Realists: Donald Healey, George Mason and How the 3D Craze Led to the Nash-Healey appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_0661

Full gallery here

Carroll Shelby wasn’t the first person who thought of putting a powerful American engine in a British sports car. Sydney Allard did it more than a decade before Shelby made his first Ford powered A.C.E. and called it a Cobra. As a matter of fact, Shelby raced an Allard J2 in the early 1950s. So did Zora Arkus Duntov, whose ARDUN heads were equipped on the flathead Ford V8s that Allard fitted to UK domestic market J2s. Allard’s American customers generally preferred to buy cars without engines so their could fit their choice of high compression OHV V8s that were proliferating in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The most popular engine was the 331 cubic inch Cadillac V8, introduced in 1949. Actually Allard wasn’t the only British manufacturer with the idea of using American muscle in his performance cars. Donald Healey also wanted to use Cadillac engines in his sports cars and traveled to Detroit to buy them. A chance encounter while shipboard with a large man taking stereo photographs, though, changed those plans.

Due to his interest in aviation, Donald Healey’s father secured him an apprenticeship with the Sopwith Aviation Company, where he worked while continuing his engineering studies. At the age of just 16 years old, Healey volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps, earning his wings and then flying combat missions including bombing raids. After being shot down by friendly fire and having a few other crashes, he was declared medically unfit to fly and spent the duration of the war quality checking airplane components. After the war he took an automotive engineering correspondence course and opened up a repair garage, expanding into car rentals. Soon, he found motor racing and rallying more exciting than running the business, which he proceeded to use to prepare cars for competition.

Healey became an accomplished rally driver, competing in nine straight Monte Carlo Rallies, with an overall win in 1931. His success as a driver brought him some attention and in 1932 he was hired by Riley and sold off his garage. In 1933 he joined Triumph as head of experimental engineering, later serving as technical director. He was responsible for the design of a new family of four and six cylinder OHV engines along with the supercharged double overhead cam, all aluminum straight eight for the very limited production Dolomite sports car. Healey was recruited by Joseph Lucas Ltd. in 1937 but returned to Triumph shortly thereafter, rewarded with a seat on the board of directors, eventually rising to managing director.

Unfortunately, by the time he got that job, Triumph was in terrible financial shape and went into receivership in 1939. The Thomas Ward company that bought the assets sold one of Triumph’s two factories, and leased out the other, so without anything to manage, Healey looked for other work, eventually ending up at Roote’s Humber subsidiary, where he worked on armored cars during the second world war. As a member of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve he also commanded a training squadron.

Despite his obligations serving the war effort in uniform and in his day job, Healey managed to find time to give thought to reviving Triumph after the war. Perhaps it was a psychological way of coping with the war since much of Triumph’s tooling was destroyed in German air raids on Coventry in late 1940, but Healey and some coworkers at Humber, stylist Ben Bowden, engineer A.C. “Sammy” Sampietro (who later designed the Jeep “Tornado” six as chief engineer at Willys (and later Kaiser) Jeep), and another reserve pilot, James Watt, started working on an all-new Triumph they hoped to build and sell after the end of hostilities.

However, by the time Healey and his team approached Ward with their proposal in 1944, the company had already lost interest in making cars. Also, it is likely that Ward was already negotiating the deal that was concluded later that year to sell what remained of Triumph to the Standard Motor Company, which would revive the brand into how most people today remember Triumph cars. While Healey and his team would not be able to themselves return Triumph to the land of the living, the fact that they’d started with a clean sheet with their design, unrelated to any previous Triumph car, meant that they could continue to develop the project without having to pay royalties or be dependent on Triumph’s owners for components.

Healey used his connections, developed from over a decade in the industry, to find manufacturing space and a supplier, Riley Motors, for the bits they couldn’t make themselves: engines, transmissions, rear ends, and other assorted components. With money raised from family and friends, and a hard to secure manufacturing license in hand, in 1945 Healey started the Donald Healey Motor Company Ltd, with their first cars, a roadster and sedan, going into production in October 1946.

Aaron Severson described Donald Healey’s first cars in his history of the Nash-Healey at Ate Up With Motor (from which much of this post is drawn):

The early Healeys were sleek, low-slung, and surprisingly aerodynamic; with wood-framed aluminum bodies on a steel frame, they weighed around 2,500 lb (1,125 kg), depending on coachwork. They used Sampietro’s independent front suspension, with trailing arms and coil springs. The rear suspension used a Riley torque tube, carried on coil springs and located by twin radius arms and a Panhard rod. The four-speed gearbox was also provided by Riley, as was the engine, an unusual 2,443 cc (149 cu. in.) inline four with hemispherical combustion chambers and twin in-block camshafts. Rated output was 104 hp (78 kW) and 132 lb-ft (178 N-m) of torque.

They were capable of more than 100 mph as they left the works, making them among the fastest cars sold in Britain at the time. They earned class victories in the 1947 and 1948 Alpine Rallies, the 1948 Targa Florio and the 1949 Mille Miglia. Though they performed well, they also were expensive (the roadster was the equivalent of about $6,300) limiting production to just 227 cars through late 1950. Another 120 rolling chassis were sold to customers who wanted custom bodywork.

Donald Healey’s first true sports car was the Silverstone, named after the UK’s most famous race track. Though it shared its Riley mechanicals with the earlier Healeys, the chassis was different, with the engine mounted farther back for better weight distribution and it had a lightweight aluminum body. Top speed was a claimed 110 mph, and it was a better bargain than the earlier cars, starting at just £975 ($2,730) before taxes. In the U.S. they were sold for $3,995.

The Silverstone had cut-down doors, cycle-type fenders, a fold-down windshield, and just about no protection from the elements. Suspension was via coil springs at all four corners, with trailing arms in front and a rear axle located with a torque tube, radius arms and a Panhard Rod. Telescoping shock absorbers replaced the lever action dampers of early Healeys.

One of the first American customers was gentleman racer Briggs Cunningham, who in 1949 bought two Silverstones for racing. Cunningham fitted one of them with the then new Cadillac OHV V8 and a Ford transmission, yielding much better performance over the Riley equipped cars. Healey and his son Geoff, by then a graduate engineer, managed to acquire their own Cadillac engine and they discovered that not only did the V8 have 56 hp more than the Riley four cylinder, and twice as much torque, it weighed no more than the Riley and it improved weight distribution.

It wasn’t just the performance that impressed Donald Healey. He saw the use of an American engine as a way of selling more cars in the U.S. The UK and Europe were still rebuilding after the devastation of WWII while America was experiencing a postwar economic and automotive boom. Donald Healey Motor Company was by then nearly £50,000 in debt and they needed the business.

stereorealist-363x500

In December of 1949, Healey booked passage on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner and set off for the United States and a meeting with Ed Cole, Cadillac’s chief engineer, later the father of the small block Chevy V8. While on board the ship, Healey, a photography buff, noticed a tall, rather fat gentleman taking pictures with a 3D rig, most likely a Stereo Realist camera, which were popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s (coinciding with the 3D movie craze of that era). Healey approached him to talk about photography and the large man with the interesting camera turned out to be George W. Mason, president of Nash-Kelvinator, on his way back to Kenosha from the European auto show circuit. Both of them being in the automobile business, albeit on different scales, Mason invited Healey for dinner, where Healey told him of his planned meeting with Cole in Detroit. Mason cautioned Healey that Cadillac was selling every V8 powered car it could make and suggested that if things didn’t work out for him in Detroit, he should give him a call in Kenosha.

As Mason expected, at the meeting with Cole the GM engineer told Healey that they had no capacity to spare him some V8s for his Anglo-American sports car project. While Nash didn’t have a V8, they did have a 235 cubic inch six, so Healey went with plan B and a trip to Wisconsin. In Kenosha, Mason made Healey that proverbial deal he couldn’t refuse. Not only would Nash supply Healey with engines, transmissions, overdrive units, and rear axles, they would do so on credit, and, putting the cherry on top, the American company would distribute the finished cars via Nash’s dealer network.

Though the Nash six was heavier than the Riley four, it had great low speed torque and it was durable. Production Nash-Healeys featured a special aluminum cylinder head, fitted with twin SU carbs, that had higher compression. Nash-Healey engines also featured a hotter cam. The improvements lifted horsepower from 115 to 125, with 210 lb-ft of torque at just 1,600 rpm. The prototype was entered at LeMans in 1950 and did fairly well, third in class and fourth overall, beating Cunningham’s Cadillac powered entry.

1953_nash_healey_brochure_features

The production car, called the Nash-Healey, was revealed at the 1950 Paris auto salon in October. It had a newly styled aluminum body that unlike the Silverstone’s cycle fenders, was an envelope design with integral fenders. It was designed by Donald Healey and Len Hodges and the body was made by Panelcraft Sheetmetal in Birmingham, England. To keep the car consistent with other Nashes, Mason demanded that bits and pieces of the Nash Ambassador, including the grille design, be incorporated. Other Nash parts included headlights, bumpers, hubcaps, and a shortened Ambassador torque tube. The Nash-Healey was also equipped with the Ambassador’s Bendix brakes (drums).

Healey was never completely happy with using the Nash grille, comparing it to comedian Joe E. Brown, known for his rather large mouth. When he revised the car for the European market as the Alvis powered Healey Sports Convertible, Healey had the front end redesigned.

1951NashHealeyWeb22

Regular production of the Nash-Healey began in December 1950, going on sale in the U.S. in the spring of 1951 after being introduced at the Chicago Auto Show. It was available in two colors, ivory and maroon, with leather upholstery, and whitewall tires. The sources say that the first Nash-Healeys had snap in Perspex (acrylic) side curtains that had to be stored in the trunk when not in use but the maroon one pictured in this post appears to have windows that slide up and down. Perhaps they’re similar to the windows on the early Lotus Elans, which were counterweighted but had no cranks. Curb weight was 2,600 lbs. Though the heavier motor ended up causing understeer, in general the Nash-Healey was regarded as having competent handling and a comfortable ride. Zero to sixty time was about 12 seconds with a top speed of 104 mph. Not as quick or as fast as the Silverstone but still very respectable speed for the early 1950s. Reviews generally praised the sports car, though they criticized the bench seat and said that the 10 inch drum brakes were not suitable for fast driving.

Though Nash dealers were enthusiastic about the car as what we’d call a halo vehicle, a showroom traffic builder, the car cost just over $4,000, more than 60% more costly than the next most expensive Nash. Just 104 1951 Nash-Healeys were made. Only 20 are known to exist today, most of them not in operating condition.

While not a huge seller for Nash, the Nash-Healey helped balance the books at Donald Healey’s company, allowing them to proceed with the development of what would become known as the Austin-Healey 100, the first of the so-called “big Healeys”.

A year after his chance shipboard encounter with Donald Healey, George Mason was once again touring the major European auto shows. He was impressed with the work of Battista “Pinin” Farina, of Turin, Italy, particularly the Lancia Aurelia B10. Upon his return to Kenosha, Mason had his protege, George Romney, hire Farina as a styling consultant. Though very little of Farina’s styling suggestions would end up on production cars, Nash promoted the association and the company’s cars bore the Pinin Farina badge.

1953_nash_healey_brochure

One car that did end up featuring Farina’s styling was the second generation Nash-Healey. Farina gave it a new grille with inset headlamps (a styling motif that would eventually show up on the 1955 Ambassador), a one piece windshield and flared rear fenders that kicked up into proto-tailfins. The 2nd gen Nash-Healey was a convertible, not a roadster, with wind-up windows, and later a coupe version was offered.  The bodies were made of steel, instead of aluminum, resulting in significantly more weight and lower performance. Donald Healey’s Joe E. Brown comments notwithstanding, I prefer the look of the original cars, which because of their low production, aren’t as likely to be seen at car shows so they’re not as well known as the later cars. Not only do I think it’s a more attractive design, there is more design continuity between the early Nash-Healeys and the Austin-Healeys than with the second generation cars. The earlier cars have a timeless quality about them. It wouldn’t surprise me if observers thought the earlier cars were actually newer.

Recently there’s been renewed interest in Nash-Healeys in general, and the early versions in particular. The Fast ‘N Loud television show on the Discovery Channel featured a first generation Nash-Healey, hyping the six-figure value of the earlier cars. One reason why that car was on the show is that show star Richard Rawlings’ business partner, Gumball rallier Dennis Collins, whose family owns a successful Jeep, is a serious Healey collector, having owned 200 or so at one time or another, including some historically significant early Healeys.

Click here to view the embedded video.

You won’t get any earlier than this particular Nash-Healey, nor will you find a car with any better provenance. It was part of a retrospective on the evolution of the sports car at the 2014 Concours of America. The little maroon roadster was not just the first Nash-Healey built, it was owned by Donald Healey and it was used for his personal transportation when in the United States. It currently belongs to John Kruse of Worldwide Auctions. The subject of a $400,000 restoration to how it was when Donald Healey drove it, the car has been a winner at a number of car shows and concourses. Kruse bought Healey chassis #N2001 when Collins put it up for auction last year. The reported sale price was half a million dollars, including the auction house’s cut.

Click here to view the embedded video.

While I was buttoning up this post, I discovered that in preparation for that sale, Collins put together a detailed history of the car. He calls it “the first purpose built American Sports Car”. I’ll excuse that little bit of hype, Collins is all about the hype (as you’ll see below). In fact, the Nash-Healey was at best only half American and never built in America (and the Crosley Hotshot was likely the first American sports car) but Collins’ history of the car does fill in a lot of the details, including the car’s competition history:

Winner from day one: the first purpose-built American Sports Car

Like many of life’s treasures, the Nash-Healey’s birth was an unlikely confluence of events. Its beginnings sprang from a chance meeting in 1949 aboard the Queen Elizabeth, between Donald Healey and George Mason, president of Nash-Kelvinator Co. Mason wanted a sports car to improve the image of his automobile company and Healey was on his way to back to England after failing to acquire Cadillac engines from GM for his new sports car. They agreed that motor racing was a necessity in the development and promotion of a sports car. Mason thought his Ambassador engine would be perfect. The rest, as they say, is history: America’s first true sports car, designed from the beginning to go toe to toe with the world’s finest. Conceived with the engineering genius of England’s master car designer and nurtured by the financial backing of a great American industrial corporation, the results were predictable – one of the great cars of the age. As soon as first prototypes were ready, they began to appear on the race tracks of the world among some very famous company.

It is June of 1950, only months after its conception, and the fledgling marque finds itself in the boiling cauldron of motorsports: Le Mans. The factory drivers Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton have driven the freshly constructed Panelcraft aluminum-bodied Nash Healey prototype to the race from the factory in England. They are surrounded by decades of tradition, hundreds of years of European and English engineering expertise and the grand marques of the world, including a first: a two-car Cadillac factory team with the full support of GM, fielded by millionaire sportsman Briggs Cunningham. Our heroes prepare to do battle .

The starting grid is formidable, including 4.5 litre Talbot-Lagos from France, looking  like overpowered lightweight sprint cars. Three Ferraris from Luigi Chinetti’s North America Racing Team, the factory Jaguar XK120s and the Aston Martin factory team are among those who clearly came to win. Two lightweight Allards, one driven by Sidney Allard himself , were now equipped with monster 5.4-liter Cadillac engines with multiple carburetion and were clearly dead serious.

The results after 24 hours: only two of  the 4.5-litre Talbot-Lagos and Sidney Allard in the 5.4-liter Allard have bested the 3.8-liter Nash- Healey. The best the Jaguars can do is 12th and 15th. The fragile Ferraris are all parked, not one of the prancing  horses is prancing at the finish. The Cadillac team can only do 10th and 11th, the beginning of several defeats at the hands of the Nash-Healey for American icon Briggs Cunningham. The Nash Healey is a monster success on the biggest stage in the world. Mason is sold, and authorizes the beginning of production. A star is born.

In the 1951 Le Mans race, Briggs Cunnigham came to play. He entered three Chrysler 5.5-liter Hemi-powered C2Rs. In spite of qualifying second, third and fourth, his best finish of the three cars was 18th as his cars were still somewhat overweight. The Panelcraft alloy bodied Rolt-Hamilton Nash-Healey was to finish a very nice sixth. This was the year of the C-type Jaguar and Dunlop disc brakes, of Jaguar,  Talbot-Lago, Aston Martin, Aston Martin, Nash-Healey and Ferarri 340. Several other Ferraris finished down the list.

But the Nash-Healey’s final factory appearance at Le Mans in 1952 would be the jewel in the crown. Nineteen-fifty two would mark the introduction to the world of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL factory team. It was the 30th running of the 24-hour race and the Germans were not to be denied. The Mercedes-Benz factory was about to conduct a clinic on how to run a professional racing team. (History shows that a young Roger Penske was present, taking careful notes.)

This was probably a world record to date for the amount of money spent by a manufacturer on a motor race (not a government – the Third Reich probably holds that record). The Mercedes-Benz team had, in addition to the requisite dozen or so engineers in the obligatory white lab coats, at least 40 technicians, five fully prepared and tested racing cars (two were spares) and, unusual at the time, two semi trailers fully outfitted as workshops.

I think we all know who was going to win this little fracas. Predictably the Mercedes team finished one-two. Score a victory to Rommel and the Panzers. Let’s list the top five since we are all sportsmen here: Mercedes, Mercedes, Nash-Healey, Cunningham C4R coupe, Ferrari 340. So Briggs Cunningham gets into the top four with his new jillion dollar car, now much lighter with 350hp, and still has to look at the back end of a Nash-Healey. Bummer.

So, is the story here that the little Nash was able to defeat all but the Panzers; or that once again no matter how many millions he spent, Briggs Cunningham could not defeat the Donald Healey design?

No, the story is that for two generations foolish American collectors and vintage racers have fought tooth and nail (and checkbook) over “European purebreds,” and have remained fundamentally ignorant about these wonderful, incredibly sophisticated cars that first took our flag into battle with such distinction.

In addition to its record at Le Mans, the Nash-Healey competed at the Mille Miglia, finishing as high as 30th (out of over 400 entries in 1951) of 173 finishers. Nash-Healeys also competed there in 1952 and 1953. A special car was prepared for the 1953 Mille Miglia driven by American ace John Fitch. This incredibly fast car was well in it until forced to retire with brake (hydraulic) failure.

Sadly, this story does not have an altogether happy ending. As in the American automobile industry in general, style was about to vanquish substance, and these lithe, lightweight alloy-bodied Panelcraft Nash-Healeys would be replaced by the steel bodied Pinin Farina cars in 1952. Longer, wider, tail finned, beauties that looked more like the road going sedans, with hundreds of pounds more “road hugging weight,” they were glamourous to a fault. With racy names like Le Mans and sexy looks, they sadly could not match the performance of the alloy Panelcraft cars, but still embarrassed the likes of Thunderbird and Corvette, sports cars in name only. One hundred four of the alloy Panelcraft production cars were built. According to the Nash-Healey registry, as of today 20 are accounted for. Of these 20, seven are in operating condition. Three can be classified as restored.

Three of these early cars have been presented as entries into the modern day Mille Miglia, one of the most prestigious and exclusive events in historic motorsports. All three cars have been accepted and have run and completed the event.

Now we come to that point in our conversation where we turn to evaluation. We would all like to have the first Gullwing, snatched from the Mercedes-Benz  museum, but that is not going to happen. I am sure, however, we are all arrogant enough to place some value on it. At least seven figures. What seven figures is where we would differ.

How about the first Ferrari? Again seven figures, but what that figures would be would be all over the room. The C4R that finished 4th at Le Mans in ’52? Let’s not be picky, I will take any Cunningham team car.

The point is this: The first 1953 Corvette was not the first American sports car. It is a nice cruiser built on a shortened 1949 Chevy frame, with a fiberglass body constructed by a boat manufacturer. It has the same chance at a sports car event as a snowball in a frying pan. The Cunninghams had their shot, but their results were wanting. They are great cars, are huge money and we all covet them, but they were not around in 1950.

So alone and unafraid we have the alloy bodied Panelcraft Nash-Healeys. Competitive with the world’s finest from the period that the sports cars we crave the most were created.

Now we present the very first Nash-Healey production car. Chassis #N2001 Engine #NHA1001, Panelcraft alloy bodied, hand built. A car that cost $8,000 delivered, when the most expensive Ferrari cost $9,500, another reason they were doomed to be replaced by the easier-to-produce steel Pinin Farina cars that were thousands less. That is why they were exclusive, and that is why there are not many around. In road trim they were 124 MPH cars; and in race trim 144 MPH cars. No other American car came close.

Let’s not quibble. This is the first among firsts. The crème de la crème. The best of the best. This automobile is eligible for the most  prestigious events in vintage motorsports. Today, as it did in the day, it will compete with, and defeat Ferrari, Maserati, Jaguar, Alfa and Mercedes, anything it comes up against. It will win on show field or track, rally or race.

Notes:

1. The white 1952 Nash-Healey was photographed at the preview to RM Auction’s 2014 Motor City auction held in conjunction with the Concours of America at St. John’s. The black 1952 Nash-Healey was photographed at the 2011 Eyes On Design show. A number of observers at the auction preview and at the concours mentioned how the white Nash-Healey was sporting wire spoked hubcaps from off of a Chrysler. Looking at historical photos, it appears that the wheel covers on the black car are also not correct.

2. Due to my own interest in stereo photography and videography I tracked down George Mason’s grandson, to see if the family had saved any of his stereo photos. I’ve found some vintage 3D photos of cars from the Keystone View company and I thought it might be cool to see some 3D pics of cars shot by a guy who ran a car company. Unfortunately, Mason’s stereophotographic oeuvre has been lost to posterity. Please digitize your family’s photos, films and videotapes.

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 Stereo Realists: Donald Healey, George Mason and How the 3D Craze Led to the Nash-Healey appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/stereo-realists-donald-healey-george-mason-and-how-the-3d-craze-led-to-the-nash-healey/feed/ 19
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 […]

The post Classic Review: 1986 Pontiac Fiero GT V6 appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
f6

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.

Fiero 2

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.

f5jpg

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

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

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

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

fiero 3

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

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

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

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

F4

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

The post Classic Review: 1986 Pontiac Fiero GT V6 appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/classic-review-1986-pontiac-fiero-gt-v6/feed/ 117
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 […]

The post GM’s First Concept Car and the Influential Result: 1936 Cadillac V16 Aerodynamic Coupe by Fleetwood appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
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.

Clay-600x365

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.

1953_Cadillac_Fleetwood_Aerodynamic_Coupe_01

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.

1953_Cadillac_Fleetwood_Aerodynamic_Coupe_02

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

The post GM’s First Concept Car and the Influential Result: 1936 Cadillac V16 Aerodynamic Coupe by Fleetwood appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/gms-first-concept-car-and-the-influential-result-1936-cadillac-v16-aerodynamic-coupe-by-fleetwood/feed/ 34
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 […]

The post The Die It Was Cast – A Little Bit of Little Car History appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
tootsietoy_display

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.

22949440_1_m

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.

bild-a-car-set-web

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.

456_l

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.

5054d

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.

7859d

 

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.

11039

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.

74

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

The post The Die It Was Cast – A Little Bit of Little Car History appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-die-it-was-cast-a-little-bit-of-little-car-history/feed/ 29
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 […]

The post The Stout Scarab – An Art Deco Automotive Artifact That Was Ahead of Its Time appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
img_0274

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.

wbstout.

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.

img_0329

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.

img_0373

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

wbstout. 6a00e54ed05fc288330134804bb5ad970c-800wi 51Bm5CqljeL._SY300_ Bi-Autogo no1937_stout_article oo1907_jack_kneiff_dredge oo1932_stout_car_4 oo1932_stout_scarab_art oo1933_stout_scarab_1 oo1935_stout_scarab_10 oo1936_gar_wood_ad_1 oo1936_stout_pat_1 oo1946_stout_y-46_0 oo1946_stout_y-46_1 oo1946_stout_y-46_2 ScarabBus_01 Stout3-600x423 stoutlucas StoutScarab Stout-Scarab-cutaway-1

The post The Stout Scarab – An Art Deco Automotive Artifact That Was Ahead of Its Time appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-stout-scarab-an-art-deco-automotive-artifact-that-was-ahead-of-its-time/feed/ 30
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 […]

The post Deliverance appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
Shelby Charger

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

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

shelby charger

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

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

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

shelby charger 1

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

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

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

The post Deliverance appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/deliverance/feed/ 85
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 […]

The post Rolling [Gasified] Coal: Gas Bag Vehicles appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
6a00e0099229e888330147e4413c14970b-500wi

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.

6a00e0099229e88833014e60e70dfb970c-500wi

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.

6a00e0099229e88833014e60e703bc970c-320wi

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

woodgascar

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.

6a00e0099229e88833014e60e7ea0a970c-500wi

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.

6a00e0099229e88833014e60e705af970c-500wi

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.

6a00e0099229e88833014e87c5d7e6970d-500wi

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.

6a00e0099229e888330147e4421673970b-500wi

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.

6a00e0099229e88833015392ff6f2a970b-500wi

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.

6a00e0099229e888330147e4421216970b-500wi

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.

6a00e0099229e888330147e4421b99970b-500wi

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.

6a00e0099229e888330147e4424895970b-500wi

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.

6a00e0099229e88833014e87c6b441970d-500wi

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.

6a00e0099229e88833014e87c6bc43970d-150wi

“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.

6a00e0099229e88833017d4051db04970c-500wi

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.

chengdu-0018

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 Rolling [Gasified] Coal: Gas Bag Vehicles appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/rolling-gasified-coal-gas-bag-vehicles/feed/ 20
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 […]

The post Henry Ford’s Flying Flivver: The Model T of the Air appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_0236

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.

Fliver3

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

The post Henry Ford’s Flying Flivver: The Model T of the Air appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/henry-fords-flying-flivver-the-model-t-of-the-air/feed/ 8
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 […]

The post The Culture Of Cars: Real Or Imagined? appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
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.

The post The Culture Of Cars: Real Or Imagined? appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-culture-of-cars-real-or-imagined/feed/ 47
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 […]

The post The Last True Packards appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
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

The post The Last True Packards appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/the-last-true-packards/feed/ 37