The Truth About Cars » History The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 22:57:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (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 Jet Age, Italian Style: Pinin Farina’s Lancia Aurelia PF200-C Sat, 12 Apr 2014 13:30:16 +0000 Full gallery here.

Full gallery here.

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


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

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


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

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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

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

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Car Guys and Car Gals You Should Know About: Emile Mathis and His All-Aluminum 1946 VEL 333 Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:00:58 +0000 Retromobile2008_0236

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

emile mathis

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

1904 Mathis Hermes

1904 Mathis Hermes

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


Emile Mathis and one of his early automobiles

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


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

mathis babylette

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


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

1938 Matford

1938 Matford

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


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


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


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


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


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

Mathis-Engine Mathis-Engine

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

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


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

mathis 6663

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


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


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


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

Emile Mathis was a car guy you should know about.

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

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Henry Ford: An Interpretation. Did He Make the World A Better Place, Or Not? Tue, 08 Apr 2014 12:30:04 +0000 IMG_0076

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Duesenberg Model J Murphy Body Roadster – One of These Is Not Like the Other. Can You Spot the Fake? Sun, 06 Apr 2014 13:00:24 +0000 IMG_0272img_0175

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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An Original Gulf Livery Car – 1968 & 1969 LeMans Winning Ford GT40 Fri, 04 Apr 2014 11:07:28 +0000 IMG_0052

Full gallery here.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GM Recalls 1.3 Million Additional Vehicles As Barra Heads To D.C. Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:07:19 +0000 GM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ford: Gettelfinger Should Be Credited For Saving Company Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:45:26 +0000 King + Gettlefinger - Ford + Mullaly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due, Benz or Marcus? Pre WWII Automotive Histories on Who Invented the Car Thu, 27 Mar 2014 14:22:41 +0000 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Akerson Named Vice Chairman Of Carlyle Group Board Of Directors Mon, 17 Mar 2014 12:08:38 +0000 Dan Akerson - Picture courtesy

Former General Motors CEO Dan Akerson has been named Vice Chairman to the private-equity firm Carlyle Group’s board of directors, where he will act as special adviser to the firm’s investment teams, managment and the board itself.

Bloomberg reports Akerson returned to Carlyle March 1, having headed the firm’s global buyouts and co-headed the U.S. buyouts divisions prior to steering General Motors out of bankruptcy beginning in 2009. His history with the company goes back to the 1980s when Akerson was both COO and president of MCI; one of the firm’s co-founders, William Conway, was CFO at the telecommunications company.

Carlyle board chairman and co-founder Daniel D’Aniello believes Akerson’s return will prove beneficial overall to the firm:

His remarkable depth of leadership experience will be a great asset to the board and our investment teams.

Carlyle oversees $189 billion in assets, conducting leveraged buyouts in telecommunications, transportation, and health care industries among others. The firm also oversees real estate, credit and hedge funds.

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Crazy Ads & Car Stereos: How Earl “Madman” Muntz Changed Car (and American) Culture Sun, 16 Mar 2014 14:00:47 +0000 IMG_0973

1950 Muntz Jet. Full gallery here.

When Chrysler touts its well-performing 8.4 inch UConnect touchscreen, somewhere Earl “Madman” Muntz smiles. When drivers use UConnect and other manufacturers’ infotainment systems  to play their favorite music Muntz’s smile broadens. You see it was Muntz who started the convention of measuring video screens diagonally in the early days of television. He was also an important pioneer when it came to automotive audio systems, inventing and selling the first affordable car stereo systems. Muntz could also be attributed with selling the first modern personal luxury car, or even the first American sports car (though Crosley buffs would demur). Not only did he influence the way people entertained themselves behind the wheel and at home, perhaps more importantly he influenced the way mass consumer goods, including cars, are manufactured and marketed.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Muntz was a serial entrepreneur who made and lost fortunes several times, coming up with timely ideas and riding them as long as he could. His first big success was selling used cars in southern California. Every loud, over the top television pitch for a car dealer can be traced back to the way Muntz promoted his used cars.


Billboards went up all over the region saying, ”I wanna give ‘em away, but Mrs. Muntz won’t let me – SHE’S CRAZY!” and “I buy ‘em retail, sell ‘em wholesale – IT’S MORE FUN THAT WAY!”, featuring Muntz’s logo, a caricature of himself wearing a red union suit and a black Napoleon hat, and he flooded the airwaves with radio ads.


His marketing persona may have been crazy, but in reality he was crazy like a fox. In 1947, he sold $76 million worth of cars and for a while he was the largest volume used car dealer in the world.


An inveterate and flamboyant romantic, Muntz married seven times, and in between matrimonial relationships he also had a number of girlfriends, including comedienne Phyllis Diller. That seems somewhat ironic in light of the fact that all of his wives were beauties and Diller famously effected a homely comedic persona. A bit of a celebrity himself, Muntz hung out with comedians, singers and actors, in fact a number of celebrities invested in his businesses.


Born in 1914, Earl Muntz didn’t have much in the way of a formal technical education, but he was a natural tinkerer, building his first radio receiver when he was just eight years old. In 1928, at the age of 14, he built one of the first car radios. Six years later, he started his own used car lot, having his mother sign all the legal documents since he was not yet a legal adult.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Seeking greater opportunities in the Golden State, in 1941 Muntz opened up a used car lot in Glendale with a second lot in downtown LA soon to follow. He met a young advertising genius named Mike Shore and told him to come up with whatever he thought would sell cars. The billboards blanketing southern California and as many as 170 radio commercials a day made Muntz a household name in LA. With much of American industry changed over to war production, there were no new cars being made after early 1942 so used cars were in high demand, particularly on the west coast. Muntz would buy used cars in the midwest and then pay servicemen who had to report for duty on bases in California $50 each to drive the cars cross country, making it possible to sell thousands of cars that way.


A car enthusiast, Muntz loved to drive and frequently transported cars himself, taking Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, priding himself in the fact that he could do the run in 33 hours, faster than the Santa Fe Express train. In his later years, Muntz got alot of pleasure driving his customized Lincoln Continental which featured a tv set in the dashboard.


Just like late night tv comedians today joke about commercials, guys like Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Red Skelton would tell “Madman” Muntz jokes on their radio shows. That only helped publicize Muntz’s car sales, and his car lot became a major tourist attraction, a spot on the Grey Line bus tours right along with Grauman’s Chinese and the big Hollywood sign.

Early Muntz television set

Early Muntz television set

With his personal interest in electronics and his business interest in advertising his used car lots, it was natural for Muntz to gravitate to television when the first commercial sets came on the market. In short time he not only would be advertising on television, he’d be advertising his own television sets. He bought a tv set from a major manufacturer, disassembled it to see how it worked and then put it back together, removing parts one at a time to make simpler circuits. At the time, major manufacturers like Zenith and RCA devoted considerable resources to getting better reception in fringe areas, designing more sophisticated horizontal and vertical hold circuits (I wonder how many of you under the age of 40 have ever had to adjust a television set’s controls?) and features like automatic gain control and fine tuning. Muntz realized that if he restricted his marketing to major urban areas where broadcast signals were strong, simpler, cheaper to build circuits would work just fine for those customers. Whereas the major manufacturers might put four IF circuits in their tv sets, Muntz TVs got by with just two. If more expensive sets used potentiometers to set tubes’ bias voltage, Muntz sets used fixed resistors. Cheaper to make, more expensive to fix, but customers seem to have been happy with the tradeoffs.


It was Earl Muntz who first marketed video screens based on diagonal measurements. Comedian Jerry Colonna was both an endorser and investor for Muntz. Muntz liked to socialize with entertainers and use them to promote his products.

Muntz’s zeal to simplify production led to the term “Muntzing” and stories were told how even as an executive he’d carry a pair of insulated diagonal cutters in his pocket so he could start removing individual resistors and capacitors from prototype circuits his engineers were developing. He’d keep removing components until the signal would be lost and then he’d say, “I guess you have to leave that one in.”

Factory owned Muntz TV store in Miami, Florida

Factory owned Muntz TV store in Miami, Florida

As a result, Muntz was able to sell the first television set at a retail price below $100, selling them directly to consumers from factory owned stores to eliminate distributors’ mark ups. His $99.95 black and white tv set became one of the best selling consumer items in the United States. In addition to meeting that psychologically important price point, Muntz came up with the idea of advertising screen size measured diagonally, allowing him to cite a larger number for what was really the same size screen as competitors offered. Those competitors soon made Muntz’s math an industry standard. “Madman” ended up selling over $50 million worth of televisions in just a few years. Some said that he even coined the term “TV”, supposedly so skywriting planes he bought to promote his products could use the abbreviation. He even named a daughter Tee Vee Muntz. While the term undoubtedly predates Muntz’s use, he did popularize it, and like any good self-promoter he was happy with stories adhering to the Liberty Valance rule about legends.


Like most car guys, Muntz had dreams of making his own cars. In the late 1940s, race car builder Frank Kurtis, whose roadsters’ success at the Indy 500 made him famous, designed and built about 20 aluminum bodied two seat sports cars powered by flathead Ford V8 engines. Kurtis also built a custom Buick that Muntz greatly admired. Kurtis didn’t have the resources to put the two seater into full production, so Muntz bought the manufacturing rights for $200,000 and renamed the car the Muntz Jet.

Earl Muntz and an early Muntz Jet convertible. In the foreground is the custom Buick Frank Kurtis built that inspired the Jet.

Earl Muntz and an early Muntz Jet convertible. In the foreground is the custom Buick Frank Kurtis built that inspired the Jet.

Predating the four seat “Square Bird” Thunderbird by seven years, Muntz had the wheelbase of Kurtis’ car stretched over a foot so he could add a back seat. The flathead Ford was replaced by Cadillac’s new high compression 331 cubic inch OHV V8 that put out 160 horsepower and the interior was made more luxurious, including the installation of a bar in the rear console. The Jet was not a car for shrinking violets. Muntz offered the car in a variety of loud colors and exotic skins including ostrich, alligator and leopard could be used on the interior. Even without exotic skins, one could argue that the Jet was the first modern personal luxury car. Part of the Jet’s image was as a performance car so instrumentation included a tachometer and a fuel pressure gauge. It’s thought that the safety features that Muntz added to the car, seat belts and a padded dash, were less to sell the car as safe, than they were hints that the Jet was dangerously fast. Kurtis’ simple, slab sided styling, though, was more or less retained. That simple styling has aged well, and while it’s of its time, the Jet doesn’t look quite as dated as its contemporaries. As manufactured, the Muntz Jet is an open car with a removable Carson style steel roof. Though it allowed for open air driving, the roof was very heavy and there was no place to store it in the car once removed so if it rained when you were driving without the roof, you got wet.

Frank Kurtis built about 20 two seat roadsters before Earl Muntz bought the manufacturing rights.

Frank Kurtis built about 20 two seat roadsters before Earl Muntz bought the manufacturing rights.

After building about 2 dozen Jets in Kurtis’ former facility in Glendale, Muntz moved assembly to a factory in Evanston, Illinois and made some significant changes. The easily damaged aluminum body was replaced with steel and the wheelbase was stretched another three inches, to 116″. Perhaps for supply reasons the modern Caddy engine was replaced with Lincoln’s version of the flathead V8, and Hydramatic transmissions were sourced from GM. The steel body was welded to a fully boxed perimeter chassis. The resulting structure was strong, but heavy, about 400 lbs heavier than the cars built in Glendale. In a later interview, Muntz said, “The thing was built like a tank. Had we continued, I think we’d have lightened it. If you ever had one in a demolition derby, it’d ruin everything.”


Still, performance was pretty good for the era. Road & Track tested the Muntz Jet and reported a top speed of 108+ mph. Indy 500 winner Sam Hanks recorded a verified 128 mph on the salt flats at Bonneville in a Jet that was stock except for a belly pan that reduced drag.


While Muntz’s investment was relatively minimal, $200K for the rights and about $75,000 for the tooling, the Jet turned out to be expensive to build, with a lot of handwork needed to fit and lead-in the body panels. Labor costs were about $2,000 a car, a significant sum in the early 1950s. The records were lost so it’s not known exactly how many Jets were made but Earl Muntz later estimated the total from both Glendale and Evansville was 394. About one third of those have been identified as still existing.


As with his tv sets, Muntz didn’t use distributors or dealers but rather sold the Muntz Jet directly to customers, predating Tesla’s business model by 60 years. He advertised the Jet in upscale publications like the Wall Street Journal and had some success with celebrity customers, including Clark Gable, Clara Bow, Marilyn Monroe, Mario Lanza and Gloria DeHaven. While he sold every one he could make, in a *David Brown-like manner, Muntz lost about $1,000 on every Jet he sold, about what Ford lost on every Continental Mark II they built. Ford Motor Company, however, could afford those losses. A serial entrepreneur like Muntz couldn’t.

“They cost $6,500 apiece to build,” Muntz told an interviewer, “and at that price they wouldn’t sell. At $5,500, I couldn’t make enough of ‘em, but I couldn’t afford to keep it up. But as far as the car itself was concerned, we were very fortunate. We didn’t have too many problems.”

“Today the labor in that s.o.b. would run 20 grand! I lost $400,000 on that project before we closed it down in 1954,” Muntz said.


Not only did Muntz lose money on his car venture, by the mid 1950s with color television about to hit the market and with major television set manufacturers selling more expensive console models, sales of the inexpensive black and white Muntz sets plunged. Once worth millions, Muntz’s stock in his television company was sold for just $200,000.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Ever the tinkerer, through his connection to the radio industry, Muntz had become aware of the Fidelipac 3-track recording tape cartridges used by radio stations for commercials and jingles. The developers of Fidelipac had figured out a way to pull tape off the outside of a spool and then feed it back into the center of the spool, creating an endless loop. You couldn’t reverse and fast forward was iffy, but Muntz could put an entire Long Playing 33 RPM album on one cartridge. Adapting the design and adding a fourth track so it could play in stereo, in 1962 Muntz opened up the Muntz Stereo factory in Van Nuys, California, he made some licensing deals with record companies and started selling Stereo Pak prerecorded cartridges and players. In time Muntz licensed others to make 4 track players for both home and car applications. Stockholders in Muntz Stereo included Bill Cosby, Jerry Colonna, Sammy Davis, Jr., Robert Culp, Joey Bishop, Frank Sinatra and Rudy Vallee.

The Stereo Pak was a huge hit. Customers lined up for blocks outside the Muntz factory store to get players installed in their cars. While today it’s cool to snark about eight track players in TransAms driven by guys with mullets wearing wifebeaters, in an era of $5,500 audiophile branded factory installed car stereo systems that indeed rival some very good home audio systems, it’s hard to imagine the impact tape cartridge players for cars had. For the first time the masses could have more than just an AM radio playing through one tinny sounding small speaker in the middle of the dashboard (musical trivia: Barry Gordy and the other producers at Motown’s Hitsville USA studio did their final mixes using a cheap car speaker as the monitor because that’s the way most people would end up hearing the music – oh and those late 1950s and early 1960s AM car radios used pretty sophisticated tube circuits and actually had good audio quality, even if they did take a mile or two to warm up and were played through crappy paper cone drivers).

It wasn’t just the sound quality. Perhaps even more important was the use of portable media – you could now play your choice of music in your car and not just what some disc jockey or Top 40 radio station program director chose. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but soon after tape cartridge players for cars started proliferating, so did so-called “freeform”, playlist-free FM radio stations. In addition to reflecting what was going on in the music industry in the 1960s, “underground FM” stations playing a broader variety of music, including longer cuts and extended jams may also have been the radio industry’s response to what Muntz had wrought.

Muntz’s invention of the Stereo Pak 4 track cartridge and player was a landmark event in what we call in-car infotainment today. Before then the only choice you had to play music in your car was either the radio or the completely inadequate Highway HiFi vinyl record players that offered limited content and skipped badly when going over bumps. While some automakers did offer stereo on vehicles equipped with AM-FM radios, the only place you’d find them would be in expensive Cadillacs and Lincolns. With the Stereo Pak 4 track players, for the first time drivers could have stereo audio in their cars, playing music of their choice, at an affordable price.


Muntz Stereo Pak 4 track car tape player.

Then Muntz made the mistake of selling 4 track players to Bill Lear, for installation in Lear jets. Lear, another inveterate tinkerer, realized there were shortcomings in the design of the Stereo Pak system and he put engineer Ralph Miller to the task of improving it. Like all tape players, Stereo Pak cartridges use a capstan drive to move the tape. The tape is pinched between the rotating capstan and a rubber pinch roller. In Muntz’s design, the pinch roller flips up into an opening in the cartridge.



Lear realized that putting the pinch roller inside the cartridge meant making a simpler player mechanism, reducing the cost of building them. Lear also simplified the cartridge, eliminating some components, making the mechanical part of the cartridges less expensive to make than Stereo Pak cartridges. Also, by then the Phillips corporation had already introduced the Compact Cassette tape format, which used 1/8″ wide tape, compared to the 1/4″ tape used by Muntz.


With Phillips and Sony proving that tape tracks could be even narrower, Lear realized that going to eight tracks meant he could put twice as much music on the same amount of tape as Muntz and still get audio quality that consumers were accept. Eight track players and cartridges were simply cheaper to manufacture than comparable four track components. They didn’t sound as good as four track players, and the tape cartridges weren’t as reliable. There is a reason why eight track cartridges have a reputation for self-destructing, but for the most part they worked well enough for consumers to embrace them. Also, Lear made a deal with Ford to offer 8 track players as factory equipment in 1965, starting with the 1966 model year. For a consummate salesman, that was one sales opportunity that Earl Muntz missed. In a very short time 8 track cartridges took over in the marketplace. Muntz Stereo was flooded with the return of hundreds of thousands of unsold prerecorded tapes.


Soon Stereo Paks were forgotten. Muntz tried to market variations, including miniature cartridges under the Playtape brand, and even tried to create a miniaturized player that incorporated a preamp in the tape head, which sort of anticipated the Sony Walkman, but eventually he gave up on tape cartridges and moved on to other things. In time, of course, Mr. Dolby made high fidelity Compact Cassettes possible and they in turn replaced 8 track cartridges, digital music came along with Compact Digital Discs which in turn replaced the Phillips cassettes and now our car stereos play music we store on a variety of solid state memory devices. I think Earl Muntz would appreciate a car stereo with no moving parts, though he’d probably say that today’s infotainment systems are way more complex than they need to be.

Always good at spotting the next trend, Muntz went on to be among the first people to market satellite dishes, home video recorders and big screen tvs. Some of his ventures were more successful than others, but into his 70s, Earl Muntz kept finding new things to sell. By the time of his death in 1987 he had become the biggest retailer in southern California of a new device called the cellular phone. Muntz Stereo, in Ventura, California still sells cellphones, car stereos and burglar alarms.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The 1950 Muntz Jet pictured here was photographed at the 2013 Concours of America at St. John’s. It’s owned by David and Katherine Hans. From its concours level quality, you’d never guess that David Hans rescued it from a Chicago area junkyard. It’s the second Jet that Muntz made, so it came out of the California facility, has an aluminum body and is powered by a Cadillac V8. It has the additional provenance of having been featured in a number of publicity photos for the Muntz car company, posed with Earl Muntz. If the Muntz Jet strikes your fancy, they’re not that expensive to buy. They come up fairly regularly at auction and it looks like a nice one will cost you $60,000 – $75,000, which doesn’t seem like a huge amount of money for a fairly rare and historically interesting car.

*The DB in Aston Martin model names comes from David Brown, who owned the company in the 1950s and 1960s. When a friend once asked him if he would sell him an Aston “at cost”, Brown reportedly told his friend, “but then I would have to charge you more than the retail price.”

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

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Yajnik: Loan Delinquency Increase A Return To “Norm” Thu, 13 Mar 2014 12:34:39 +0000 Sanjiv Yajnik

As fears of increasing auto loan delinquencies are giving some lenders pause, Capital One Auto Finance president of financial services Sanjiv Yajnik calls said increase a return to “norm,” with pent-up demand and greater competition will maintain availability of credit.

Automotive News interviewed Yajnik last week about the state of auto loans, beginning with a recent statement made by Capital One CEO Richard Fairbank about how lending had experienced a “once in a lifetime” period of growth prior to the start of the Great Recession. He explained the resulting downturn led to a higher quality of lending due to both lenders and consumers becoming more conservative, prompting “very low losses and good returns” that are continuing to this day for the most part:

Now as we come out of the downturn, conditions are becoming more normal. Some consumers are coming to the high side of what they should be borrowing. Private equity-funded lenders and other lenders are coming back to autos. Some lenders are developing habits in loan amounts and loan approvals that mean one has to be discerning in what loans you approve. It’s not the volume of loans; it’s the quality.

Yajnik goes on to state that while auto lending continues to increase overall, top-line growth is still in the offing. He also cautioned lenders to “be careful with maintaining the right customers with the right cars,” and to take “the high road” when lending, lest a repeat of 2008 occurs.

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GM Offers Cash Allowance, NHTSA Cites Lack Of Sufficient Data Amid Recall Fallout Thu, 13 Mar 2014 11:39:58 +0000 2007 Pontiac G5

1.37 million owners in the United States affected by the ignition switch recall issued by General Motors last month will be offered $500 toward the purchase or lease of a new vehicle just as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cites a lack of sufficient data as the reason said recall wasn’t issued sooner.

Automotive News and Bloomberg report the cash allowance offer will apply to 2013 through 2015 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac models, with the following explanation issued to dealers in a notice delivered March 4:

GM will not market or solicit owners using this allowance. We ask that you not market to or solicit these customers either. This allowance is not a sales tool; it is to be used to help customers in need of assistance.

For owners opting to have their affected vehicles repaired, a free loaner will be made available for the duration of the repair, as well as free towing to the dealership if so requested. Said repair work is scheduled to begin early next month.

Meanwhile, NHTSA acting administrator David Friedman explained that a lack of sufficient data regarding the ignition switch behind the recall prevented his organization from forcing such a recall out of GM sooner than last month:

If we had that information, if GM had provided us with timely information, we would have been able to take a different course with this. We took several efforts to look into this data.

At the end of the day, with the data we had at that time, we didn’t think that was sufficient to open up a formal investigation.

The NHTSA is facing criticism over their lack of action as of late from both Congress — who are launching their own investigation over the recall — and former employees, such as former administrator Joan Claybrook. Claybrook asked the Transportation Department’s inspector general to look into why “no one [was] evaluating why NHTSA failed to carry out the law” in regards to the issue, which had been known in some capacity to the organization since 2006 when investigators were sent to document a high-speed fatal crash in Wisconsin involving a Chevrolet Cobalt and two women resulting from the switch cutting off engine power while preventing air-bag deployment.

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Was the First Batmobile a Coffin Nosed Cord or a Graham “Sharknose”? Part Two Mon, 10 Mar 2014 12:00:29 +0000 IMG_0795

1939 Graham Model 96. Full gallery here.

To recap from Part One, I wasn’t planning on revisiting the issue of which car did Batman artist Bob Kane use as a basis for the first Batmobile, a Cord 812 or a Graham “Sharknose”. However, I was going through some photos that I took last summer and when I saw these shots that I took of the 1939 Graham Model 86 at the 2013 Concours of America at St. John’s, I thought that I’d share them and the story of the car with you. It’s such a departure from the cars of its day and its styling is so dramatic that I’m surprised that it’s not better known. I think the Sharknose is one of the coolest car designs ever and as I mentioned in Part One the Batmobile thing is as good an excuse as any to write about the Graham and the men who made it. Here’s the Sharknose’s story.


Joseph, Robert and Ray Graham were born in the 1880s on their family’s Indiana farm. In 1901, after natural gas deposits were discovered nearby, Joseph and his father invested in a glass bottle making company that planned on using the fuel as an energy source in the process. When only 19 years old, Joseph had invented a new way of mass producing blown glass bottles that produced stronger bottles and the firm thrived. They expanded horizontally and vertically and by 1916, Owens Bottle Company of Toledo, Ohio suggested a merger. Later that merged company became known as Libbey Owens Ford.

Ray Graham meanwhile graduated from the University of Illinois and started managing the family’s agricultural properties. Realizing that farmers needed light trucks, he designed a special rear axle and subframe that could be spliced into Ford Model T cars to create one ton stake or express (what we’d call a pickup) trucks. The conversion kit sold for $350 and did well enough that Ray’s two brothers sold their interest in the glass company to Owens and together the Graham brothers set up a factory in Evansville, Indiana to build truck bodies to convert automobiles to commercial vehicles. By 1920 they were assembling complete Graham Brothers trucks and buses, using a variety of engine suppliers, including Dodge. With their background making bodies, unlike most truck makers, they sold complete vehicles, offering a variety of bodies customized for particular industries.


By then the Dodge brothers had died within months of each other and the Dodge Brothers company was being managed by Fred Haynes, who had been the Dodges’ right hand man. Haynes wanted to expand Dodge’s truck business but didn’t want to disrupt car production or take on the expense of building a new factory. In 1921, an agreement was made that the Grahams would exclusively use Dodge supplied powertrains in their trucks which would then be sold through the nationwide Dodge dealer network. It was a deal too good to turn down, getting associated with one of the biggest passenger car companies and being marketed by their many dealers. It was a great deal for the Grahams, and production rose from 1,086 trucks in 1921, to over 37,000 units just five years later. Graham Brothers became the largest truck-only manufacturer in the world.


After the Dodge brothers’ widows sold their company to an investment bank, the firm was reorganized, with all three Grahams becoming vice presidents and directors of Dodge. Dodge then exercised their option to buy a controlling interest in the Grahams’ firm for $3 million plus stock options on Graham Brothers shares. The brothers invested much of that money back into Dodge stock, becoming two of the company’s largest shareholders.


Six months later, though, they parted company with Dodge and sold the remaining 49% of Graham Brothers to the automaker. It’s not known exactly why they left Dodge but it’s thought that they wanted to make their own automobiles and knew that wouldn’t be possible as long as they were affiliated with Dodge.

Between their holdings in the automotive and glass industries, the Grahams were wealthy twice over and indeed decided to get into the car industry more directly. They bought control of the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company, an independent automaker that had operated since 1909, selling as many as 43,000 cars and trucks a year under the Paige and Jewett brands. The Jewett family which controlled the company was anxious to sell because sales had started to decline in the mid 1920s. One reason why the Grahams were interested in Paige was because it had just finished building a completely new and modern factory on Warren Avenue in Dearborn. That building, by the way, still stands and houses a company that produces hummus and other Middle Eastern foods. Putting up $8 million to buy and improve the company, the Grahams renamed the firm to Graham-Paige Motors Corporation.

One reason for their success was that the Graham brothers had distinctive but complementary personalities and talents. They were well known at the time and were considered the peers of other successful automotive families like the Fishers, Dodges, Duesenbergs and Studebakers.

Though they kept making Paige automobiles, within six months they had new, Graham branded cars on the market. The new Grahams were received favorably by the motoring press, impressed by their four speed transmissions, a feature usually reserved for more expensive cars. Sales soared from 21,881 in 1927 to 73,195 the following year and 77,000 in 1929. Graham-Paiges weren’t appreciably different from other cars of that era, but they were well made and a good value for the price. The company competed in endurance runs and rallying, with some success and attendant publicity.

Then the stock market crashed. Production dropped by more than half in 1930. Paige was dropped from the company name after that model year. They tried their hand at making trucks again, but Walter Chrysler, who had acquired Dodge by then, sued, claiming that it violated their sales agreement with Dodge for their truck company so they stopped making trucks with the 1932 models.

Pressing on despite the bad financial times, the Grahams decided that the solution to their sales slump was the Blue Streak Eight. Designed by Murray Corp. chief stylist Amos Northup, with additional details by famed coachbuilder Ray Dietrich (Dietrich Inc. had been bought by the Murray body company), though it looks fairly conventional to our eyes, the Blue Streak was almost radical for the day. It was one of the most influential car designs of the era.

Click here to view the embedded video.

One of the first car bodies to be designed to appear as a whole rather than assembled parts, the Blue Streak was two inches lower than previous models, with graceful and flowing lines. The radiator grille, which hid the typically exposed radiator shell, slopes back, a theme echoed in the hood louvers and the rake of the one piece windshield. The radiator cap was hidden as well, though some owners mounted mascots, perhaps the first true hood “ornaments”, as previous mascots functioned as radiator caps. Chrome plated brightwork was kept to a minimum and the headlamp shells were painted the same color as the body, not plated. Significantly, the Blue Streak was the first prominent production car to have deeply drawn and skirted fenders, which hid the frame and the grimy undersides of the front wings. That feature became widely copied and Graham even advertised itself as the most imitated car company. The chassis of the Blue Streak, designed by Graham engineer Louis Thoms, featured “banjo” openings to contain the rear axle. This produced a much stronger frame and the outboard placement of the springs allowed for a lower, more stable car.

Considered one of the most beautiful cars of the 1930s, the Graham Blue Streak might have been an aesthetic success, but it was no match for the Depression and sales continued to drop. You have to give the Grahams credit, though, because they continued to innovate, introducing a production supercharged engine for the 1934 model year. Graham was the first automaker to offer a supercharger on a moderately priced car, blowers previously only being available on costly automobiles like Duesenbergs, Stutzes and air-cooled Franklins. As a matter of fact, Graham engineer F. F. Kishline more or less copied the Duesenberg’s centrifugal supercharger, as did the design of the supercharger used on the Cord 812′s Lycoming engine. The Graham blower, like those on Duesenbergs and Cords, was located between the carburetor and the intake manifold, driven by the engine’s accessories shaft and pressure lubricated. Graham advertised their engines as “Graham-built”, to distinguish themselves from other car companies that bought complete engines from suppliers like Continental. Graham did buy short blocks from Continental, but they were made to Graham specifications and then built up by Graham with aluminum cylinder heads of their own design and manufacture, along with the supercharger, the carburetor, accessories, and wiring.

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Graham supercharged engine. The supercharger is the round structure below the carburetor.

The supercharger did result in a substantial boost in power from 95 to 135 hp, with a concurrent 20% increase in torque, to 210 lb-ft. Top speed was above 90 mph and the UK’s The Autocar magazine published a 0-60 mph time of 15.8 seconds. The magazine said that engine performance ”is extremely good, especially considering that the engine is not a monster unit. [The Graham] is not in the least noticeable as being a supercharged car in the sense to which we are accustomed on some machines. Anyone driving this Graham without knowledge of the design would find nothing in the car’s behavior, no added noise, no fussiness of the engine-to denote any difference whatsoever from the general run of similar machines.”

If you’re reading this you’ve probably heard the name “Cannonball” Baker, most likely because of the unsanctioned coast to coast “Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash” or the related movies. Erwin “Cannonball” Baker was a motorcycle and car racer and daredevil who made a series of long distance and coast to coast record runs on two and four wheels, typically sponsored by the manufacturer of the vehicle he used (Baker promised sponsors, “no record, no money”). To promote their new supercharged engine, in 1933 Graham-Paige hired Baker to drive a supercharged Blue Streak Model 57 across the continent and he set a record, 53 hours and 30 minutes, that would stand for almost 40 years, until the team of writer Brock Yates and racer Dan Gurney inaugurated the “Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash” in 1971 with a coast to coast run of 35 hours and 54 minutes.

While it’s a notable point in American automotive history, Cannonball Baker’s record run didn’t do much to change the fortunes of the Graham company. As the Depression wore on, sales continued to slide. Company directors decided that they needed to make a car whose styling was as dramatic as its performance. For the 1938 model year, they again engaged Amos Northup and he designed a series of cars that the Graham company called “The Spirit of Motion”.

In the December 1928 issue of Autobody magazine, Northup published an essay titled ”Motor-Car Design of the Future”. In it he said, “I sincerely believe that by closer cooperation between motor-car designer and chassis engineer, our future cars will each have more of an individual appearance than at present, when at a certain distance, it is difficult to distinguish their identity.” The 1938 Graham lived up to that philosophy and certainly had an individual appearance.

The front fenders and the radiator grille were undercut, leaning forward, giving the impression that the car was moving even as it was sitting still. The forward leaning grille led to the somewhat mocking nickname of “Sharknose”, but it also made the 1938 Grahams stand out in a era that many consider to have had very conformist automotive styling.


The new bodies were exactly that, completely new. Not a single stamping die was carried over from previous Grahams. In addition to the novel sheetmetal styling, another feature that set the ’38 Grahams apart from their contemporaries were flush mounted headlight housings with square lenses, an early attempt at unique headlamp shape when designers were severely limited by round lighting elements. It would be decades before square or rectangular headlamps would reappear on motor vehicles.

A smooth line flows from the horizontal grille louvers back into the hood and along the side of the car, becoming the belt molding, which integrates the door handle in its sweep. The rear fenders had full skirts and the split windshield was peaked. The taillights were also novel, sitting just aft of the C pillars, flush mounted into the body above the integral trunk, for better visibility. For a car with such dramatic front end styling, the rear ends of the ’38 and ’39 Grahams were a bit clunky to my tastes, with the bulky trunk looking much too conventional compared to the front end, however, the high mounted taillights allowed Northup to draft a very clean looking rear end, a custom hot rod touch before there were custom hot rods.


While they never went into production, apparently a number of supercharged convertible coupes were made by Graham as design studies for a possible open top model. One of them was in the well regarded collection of the late trial lawyer, John O’Quinn. While there were some coachbuilt convertible Grahams, including an even more radical body by French custom body builder Saoutchik that had parallel opening doors like a minivan and a large tailfin, close examination reveals that the O’Quinn and similar Graham Sharknose convertibles were indeed built in house by Graham and fully engineered.


The convertible Sharknoses are great designs. There is one continuous line from the nose of the car, to the belt line to a beautifully tapered rear end, which incorporates a subtle boattail. The way the tail end of the rear fender and chrome taillight housing stand proud of the trunk look a little like proto-tailfins and remind me of the 1948 Cadillac that is usually credited with introducing fins on cars.


The radical new body sat on a new chassis. Using a hypoid rear axle gear (whose drive gear sits at the bottom of the case) eliminated the driveshaft tunnel in the back seat even though the floor was already two inches lower than on preceding models. Flipping the transmission on its side reduced its own intrusion into passenger space. Smaller frame rails allowed the body to sit lower, with an additional crossmember to keep things rigid. The Graham Gyrolator, the company’s term for an anti-sway bar, had been introduced in 1936 and was carried over. Under the hood, supercharged engines got a new carburetor with three venturi tubes, intended to eliminate blower lag.

Today, having a sharknose is not a marketing liability.
Today, having a sharknose is not a marketing liability.

Maybe the Graham Sharknose was ahead of its time. Today, looking like a shark isn’t a disadvantage for a car. I recently observed a 2015 Mustang GT getting tested in a wind tunnel and the Ford engineers and designers frequently referred to the Mustang’s forward leaning grille as its “shark nose” and consider that styling element to be a basic ingredient in what makes a Mustang a Mustang.

Perhaps the styling was too radical, like the Chrysler Airflows that came out only a few years before the Graham Sharknose. Perhaps it was the economy. By 1937, the Depression had eased a bit, but 1938 brought a deep recession (brought on, say both those on the political left and on the right,  by the economic policies of the Roosevelt administration) that hurt a lot of automakers. Pierce-Arrow stopped production. Hupp was mortally wounded. Whatever the reason, the 1938 Grahams were not a hit with consumers.

Northup, incidentally, never lived to see the Sharknose’s poor reception. In February 1937, when the design of the new Graham was almost completed, he went out for a newspaper, slipped on an icy sidewalk, fell and hit his head. He died a few days later at the age of 47, likely from a cerebral hematoma/hemorrhage.

The Graham car company had only made money in two years since the company was founded in 1927 but the failure of the radical 1938 models to find a market put the company’s future in jeopardy. In 1938 company officials, including Joe Graham, met with creditors and suppliers to arrange financing so they could produce the 1939 models. Joseph Graham personally put up $560,000 of his own money to keep the company going. Some new variants of the Sharknose body were introduced for the 1939 model year. The economy picked up slightly and production rose to 6,557 for the model year but it wasn’t enough to keep the company going and the plant was shut down in July of 1939.

Graham ended automobile production for good in November of 1940. The company survived on government defense contracts in the runup to and prosecution of the war with Germany and Japan, but after WWII it divested its industrial holdings, concentrating on real estate. For a while, Graham’s corporate heirs owned Madison Square Garden in New York City and eventually the firm became part of a large real estate conglomerate.

Once you get past the front end, you can tell that the Graham Hollywood was based on Gordon Beuhrig's Cord. Full gallery here.

Once you get past the front end, you can tell that the Graham Hollywood was based on Gordon Buehrig’s Cord. Full gallery here.

There is, by the way, another connection between Cord and Graham besides superchargers and comic book cars. Before Graham ended car production for good, they were part of a deal involving the body dies used to stamp out Cord panels. Having spent a goodly sum developing the flopped Sharknose, Graham couldn’t afford a new body to replace it. A deal was struck so that Graham would make bodies based on the out of production Cord for both themselves and for Hupp. Pioneering designer John Tjaarda was tasked with restyling the Cord’s coffin nose into something more conventional. The result was attractive in a late 1930s idiom, if not quite as nice looking as the Cord, and Hupp Skylarks and Graham Hollywoods occupy their own niche in the collecting world, even if they didn’t save Hupp or Graham as automobile manufacturers. You can read more about the Cord bodied last Hupmobiles and Grahams here.

Since the factory built Graham convertibles appear to have first surfaced publicly in the 1950s, it’s likely that Kane didn’t pattern the rear end of the first Batmobile on those cars as he probably never saw them. He could have used the back end of the Cord convertible as inspiration, or the Packard Darrin, which has a similar rear end as the Cord and Graham convertible, or any one of a number of late 1930s cars with that kind of tapered styling. The front end and headlights, though, and some of the other features of the comic book car, still look to me that they were undoubtedly inspired by the shark nosed Graham, not the coffin nosed Cord.

What do you think?


Much of the historical material on Graham-Paige in this post was drawn from an article by Jeffery I. Godshall in Automobile Quarterly Volume 13 No.1 (out of print, reproduced here).

Special thanks to Mischa Lohr, aka Zappadong, who graciously allowed us to use his photographs of the Graham Model 97 Convertible. Check out his enormous collection of photos of all kinds of cars (full size and toy) on Flickr.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS
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How the Nazis Made Daimler & Benz the Inventors of the Automobile and Wrote Siegfried Marcus Out of History Sun, 09 Mar 2014 13:00:58 +0000 Siegfried Marcus’ first motorcar circa 1870

Note: Our colleagues at Jalopnik published a post about Canadian inventor Henry Seth Taylor’s 1867 Steam Buggy and whether he should be credited with inventing the automobile. Taylor and his invention certainly deserve mention in the history of the automobile, but there is a historical record that three years before Taylor’s steam powered Buggy hit the road another inventor, Siegfried Marcus, had already powered a vehicle with gasoline. This post about Marcus was originally published in a slightly different version at Cars In Depth.

With something as evolutionary as the automobile, it might be a fool’s errand to try and determine just who “invented” the car as we know it. Should we date and credit the automobile to Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot’s fardier à vapeur steam wagon of 1770, or should the timeline start with something more practical, more similar to the modern automobile?

You have to start somewhere and most modern histories of the car credit Gotlieb Daimler and Carl Benz as being the auto’s inventors, with Benz’s Patent Motor Wagen usually cited as the first automobile, though as we shall see, that wasn’t always the case. Benz’s three-wheeler is considered to be so historically significant that even the replica Patent Wagens made by John Bentley Engineering in the UK from 1986-97 now fetch high five-figure prices at auction and many are in the collections of some of the finest automotive museums in the world including Mercedes-Benz’s own museum. It’s true that the Benz trike was the first practical automobile, and certainly was the first motorcar that went into production and was sold, but while Benz and Daimler’s achievements were indisputable, it’s likely that the honor of being considered the automobile’s inventor was given to those German engineers after being stolen by the Nazis from Siegfried Marcus. Marcus was an engineer and prolific inventor who lived and worked in Vienna and made a four wheel vehicle with a gasoline powered engine decades before Benz and Daimler made their motorcars.

Siegfried Samuel Marcus 1831 – 1898

It’s not surprising that neo-Nazis like to call themselves “historical revisionists”. The original Nazis were already rewriting history before the start of hostilities in World War II. Marcus, as mentioned, was a fecund inventor, with 131 patents granted to him in a number of countries. Most of his research was in the area of scientific instruments, electricity, lighting, telegraphs and ignition. An early technical and commercial success of Marcus’ was inventing a magneto powered igniter for explosives, a t-handled plunger device familiar from western and mining movies. Sales of his inventions funded further research. In the 1860s, Marcus became interested in fuel engines and realized that if liquid fuel was going to be used, it would have to be aerosolized, atomized and mixed with air. Based on one of his earlier fuel fired inventions, Marcus developed what was quite possibly the first carburetor. First working on atmospheric engines and later on combustion engines, no later than in 1870 Marcus mounted a benzene fueled two-stroke combustion engine on a four wheeled cart. Some sources say Marcus’ first motorcar was assembled as early as 1864, three years before Canadian inventor Henry Seth Taylor’s Steam Buggy and more than 20 years before the Benz Patent Wagen.

Early Marcus combustion engine. Dated 1870, it appears to be the same engine he used in his first motorcar.

There is a photograph of the first Marcus motorcar dated 1870 and signed by Siegfried Marcus. A number of reliable contemporary accounts describe Marcus “driving” his vehicle on and around Mariahilfer Strasse, the street in Vienna where he had his workshop. I said “driving” because the first Marcus motorcar had no clutch, used the rear wheels as flywheels for the vertically mounted engine, and could not be controlled very well due to the absence of any brakes or steering. Oh, and no seats either.

No, it was not as practical as the Benz Patent Wagen, but as a proof of concept today it’s considered to be the first gasoline powered combustion engine driven vehicle. Based on the 1864 date inscribed into the Vienna memorial to Marcus, his motorcar ran 22 years before Benz’s Patent Wagen and Daimler’s Reitwagen rolled out of their workshops, and more than 30 years before Henry Ford first drove his own Quadricycle down Bagley Ave. in Detroit.

Replica of the first Marcus motorcar in the museum of Malchin, Germany, Marcus’ hometown

Benz and Daimler, like Henry Ford and other automotive pioneers, saw a business opportunity. Marcus already had a thriving business so to him the motorcar was more of an intellectual pursuit and he never tried to manufacture or sell his motorcars, though he did, like David Buick, Henry Leland and the Dodge Brothers, sell engines for stationary and marine applications.

In the late 1880s, about the same time that Benz was developing the Patent Wagen, Marcus built a second motorcar, this one much more sophisticated than the first Marcus motorcar and in a number of ways closer to a modern car than Benz’s three wheeler. To begin with, it had four wheels, but it also had magneto powered electric ignition. Spark ignition would not become standard in automotive engines for at least 15 more years.

Siegfried Marcus’ second motorcar ~1888

If the second Marcus car ever ran, it didn’t run particularly well. An exact replica was made not long ago and it was found to just barely have enough horsepower to move under it’s own motive force.

Patent drawings for Marcus’ carburetor

Still, before WWII, Marcus was known, certainly in the Austrian and German technical and automotive communities, as the father of the automobile. There was a statue of Marcus erected in Vienna’s Karlsplatz, and a memorial plaque to him stood at the entrance of the Technical University there. Further evidence of his role in automotive history can be seen from the famous Selden patent case. A number of automakers challenged George Selden’s 1877 U.S. patent on a horseless carriage, after Selden tried to use that patent to monopolize the auto industry, or at least extract royalties from other manufacturers. Daimler’s American branch hired Ludwig Czischek, the secretary of the Austrian Automobile Club, to document the history of the Marcus motorcars, in the hope that the second Marcus car predated Selden’s patent. That turned out not to be the case, but it does show that Marcus and his motorcars were known in the automotive industries in both Europe and the United States. Czischek’s research, which has resurfaced in modern times, has cleared up some uncertainties about the Marcus car’s, particularly just when the second car was made. For a while, because of some inaccurate dating, some thought that the second Marcus car was made in the late 1870s, about a decade earlier than when it was actually fabricated. Now we know that the second Marcus car was indeed made after Daimler and Benz made their first motor vehicles. While that may earn Benz and Daimler honors for the first practical cars, it takes nothing away from the significant achievement Marcus made with his primitive first motorcar in 1870. That achievement was acknowledged. For forty years after his death in 1898, Austrian schoolchildren were taught that Marcus was the inventor of the motorcar.

Four stroke Marcus engine c. 1875

Then came the Auschluss, the unification of Austria and Germany under Nazi rule in 1938. The statue of Marcus was torn down, the memorial plaque ripped off the engineering college’s wall. The automobile, the autobahns and the Volkswagen, were important aspects of the Third Reich’s policies. In that light it would not do to have a Jew as the inventor of the automobile. So history was rewritten.

Restored memorial to Siegfried Marcus, Karlsplatz, Vienna. The inscription reads “Inventor of the Gasoline Automobile 1864″

In July of 1940, the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda, the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, sent a letter to the directors of 1Daimler-Benz-A.G. in Stuttgart. The propaganda ministry told Daimler-Benz management that the publishers of Germany’s two most important encyclopedias, the Meyers Lexikon and the Grosse Brockhaus, had been directed to remove the name of Siegfried Marcus and replace it with that of Gottlieb Damiler and Carl Benz as the inventors of the automobile. The use of the phrase “German engineers” made it clear to the publishers why Marcus’ name was to be excised.

[Google translation]

2Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda
Business signs. S 1 8100/

Berlin W8, 4 July 1940
Wilhelmsplatz 8-9

To the management of Daimler-Benz A.G. Stuttgart-Untertürkheim

Subject: true inventor of the automobile
In your letter dated 30 May 1940 Dr.Wo / Fa.

The Bibliographic Institute and the publisher F.A. Brockhaus have been advised that in future Meyers Lexikon, and the Great Brockhaus are not called to Siegfried Marcus, but the two German engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz as the creator of the modern automobile.

In order signed by Dr. Eckmann

Siegfried Marcus was literally written out of history. Nazi propagandists and German publishers were not the only ones to do so. Early instruction manuals published by Germany’s Bosch electrical component company credited Marcus with inventing the magneto, not Robert Bosch, but at some point prior to World War Two, that credit was removed from Bosch company literature.

Thanks to the efforts of good people, though, efforts have been made to successfully restore Siegfried Marcus’ rightful role in automotive history. His statue and memorial plaque in Vienna have been restored. The museum in his hometown of Malchin, Germany has extensive displays about Marcus, with a replica of the first Marcus motorcar. Students at Vienna’s Technical School for Automotive Technology also built a replica of the two stroke engine used on that first motorcar. Vienna’s Technical Museum houses a replica of the second Marcus motorcar.

Unlike the replicas of his first motorcar and its engine, which were based on photographs and Marcus’ own sketches, a replica of the second Marcus motorcar was based on the original, in the collection of the Austrian Automobile Club. The 2nd Marcus car was built, to Marcus’ specifications, by the Märky, Bromovsky & Schulz Company of Vienna, which apparently retained rights to the car. In 1898 it was part of a public exhibition about early motorcars and then sold to the automobile club. By 1938 ownership changed hand to Vienna’s Technical Museum. Fortunately for automotive history, the museum relegated the Marcus car to a storage room where it was safe from the Nazis, who surely would have destroyed it when they destroyed the memorials to Marcus. After the war, the car was returned to the Austrian Automobile Club and the memorials were rebuilt.

Restoring Marcus’ role in history won’t be quite so easy as restoring a statue or conserving an antique motorcar. The notion of Benz and Daimler as inventors of the automobile has become entrenched as common knowledge. Still, Marcus has slowly been getting his due. In 1948, his remains were re-interred in an honorary tomb in Simmering’s central cemetary. His bust, removed by the Nazis, was restored to its original stand in the Resselpark, in front of the Technical University, and another memorial bust was erected at the mechanic’s institute. A street in Vienna’s 14th district was also named for Marcus. In all there are now a half dozen memorials to Siegfried Marcus in and around Vienna.

It’s important to point out that much of the work done to restore the legacy of Siegfried Marcus was done by Austrians and Germans, eager to right the crimes against history by the Third Reich. There are German language web sites devoted to Marcus, his life and his inventions. As mentioned, his German hometown honors him with a display in the local historical museum and his second motorcar is a treasured part of the Austrian Automobile Club’s collection of historical cars.

The historical record and Marcus’ role in it is also slowly being restored. Most modern comprehensive histories of the automobile that go back to Cugnot’s steam wagons now indeed give a nod to Marcus. Those that don’t call him the father of the motorcar do say he had an important role in its development. It’s now generally accepted, with reliable certainty, that Siegfried Marcus was the first person in history to drive a four wheeled vehicle with a gasoline engine.

Otto and Diesel might have invented engines. Benz and Daimler might have sold the first (sort of) practical motor vehicles. Frederick Lanchester, Harry Ricardo, Henry Royce, David Buick and Henry Leland might have made them powerful and reliable machines (well, by the standards of the day). None of their inventiveness and industriousness would have meant much, though, without Marcus’ first motorcar. To be sure, if Marcus hadn’t done it first, someone else would have, and going back to Cugnot and earlier, the basic concept of powered motion is ancient, but as far as we can determine from the historical record, Marcus was indeed the first person to put a gasoline motor on a four wheeled vehicle.

Almost all early combustion engine development and sales was targeted at existing steam engine applications. Before Buick, Ricardo, Leland and the Dodge brothers sold motors for cars, they sold marine engines for boats and stationary engines to run pumps, farm equipment and machine shops. So did Marcus. Perhaps putting that primitive two stroke engine on a cart wasn’t quite as obvious an idea as it seems a century and a half later. Someone had to be the first to do it, and that person was Siegfried Marcus. You can call him the inventor of the car if you want, or save that honor for Carl and Gotlieb. Honoring Benz and Daimler, though, carries with it the undeniable fact that you’d be helping some very, very bad people rewrite history. On the other hand, if you remember the name Siegfried Marcus and what he accomplished you’ll be helping to keep the historical record as history actually happened.


1. It’s not clear from the propaganda ministry’s letter just what was in Daimler-Benz’s original letter of 30 May, 1940. One can assume that Daimler-Benz was eager to call their founders the inventors of the automobile. I don’t know if the automaker was also bringing Marcus’  Jewish ancestry to the knowledge of the Nazis or not, but that referenced letter does raise some questions. When the bulk of this material was first published in 2011, I sent a request to the Daimler historical archives to see if they have a copy or even a record of the May 1940 letter that Daimler-Benz initially sent to the German government. that resulted in Siegfried Marcus getting almost erased from automotive history.

2.Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda
Geschäftszeichen. S 8100/ 1

Berlin W8, den 4. Juli 1940
Wilhelmplatz 8-9

An die Direktion der Daimler-Benz-A.G. Stuttgart-Untertürkheim

Betrifft: Eigentlichen Erfinder des Automobils
Auf Ihr Schreiben vom 30. Mai 1940 Dr.Wo/Fa.

Das Bibliographische Institut und der Verlag F.A. Brockhaus sind darauf hingewiesen worden, dass in Meyers Konversations Lexikon und im Großen Brockhaus künftig nicht Siegfried Marcus, sondern die beiden deutschen Ingenieure Gottlieb Daimler und Carl Benz als Schöpfer des modernen Kraftwagens zu bezeichnen sind.

Im Auftrag gez. Dr. Eckmann

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Was the First Batmobile a Coffin Nosed Cord or a Graham “Sharknose”? Part One Thu, 06 Mar 2014 12:00:14 +0000 batmobilecordgraham

There have been lots of Batmobiles since Batman first appeared in print in 1939. In addition to the comic books, starting in the 1940s there have been movie serials and feature films, as well as television shows both live action and animated. I suppose, based on the many replicas that have been made (enough for the rights to have been litigated) that the Adam West era Batmobile fabricated at the direction of George Barris is the most famous, and next in line would be the Batmobile from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns or the Tumbler from the Batman films directed by Christopher Nolan. The first Batmobile, or rather the first car called the Batmobile, is less well known. The term “Batmobile” first appeared in Detective Comics #48, in 1941 and has been attributed to writer Bob Finger. Batman’s car was described as a supercharged red roadster with a reinforced hood that could be used as a battering ram. Most online sources, including and this popular infographic say that Batman artist Bob Kane based his drawing of that car on a 1937 Cord 812, but I’m convinced that while the Cord may have influenced Kane, so did a lesser known supercharged American car from the late 1930s, the Graham “Spirit of Motion”, also known as the Sharknose.


It’s understandable why people have thought that Kane modeled the first Batmobile after a Cord. To begin with, it’s one of the more famous prewar American cars, and for the 1937 model year you could indeed buy Errett Lobben Cord’s eponymous front wheel drive car equipped with a supercharger. It was also available in a roadster body style. The car Batman uses in Detective Comics #48 has headlights mounted into the fenders, and one of the Cord’s best known features were retractable headlights mounted in the fenders. Batman’s roadster is a fairly low slung car as is the Cord. However, what is perhaps the Cord’s most distinctive feature, the one that earned the car the nickname “coffin nosed Cord”, designer Gordon Buehrig’s distinctive prow, was not used by Kane.


Far less well known today than the ’36-’37 Cords are the 1938 and 1939 Grahams, named by the company “The Spirit of Motion” but it’s obvious why they’ve become known as the Graham “Sharknose”. I’m not sure when exactly I first became aware of those Grahams, but it’s a face that you wouldn’t forget and a couple of years ago when I saw the infographic about Batmobile history, I took one look at Kane’s drawing and said to myself, “That’s no Cord, that’s a Graham Sharknose”. I showed the drawing and photos of the Graham to a few other folks and they agreed with me, so I posted about it at Cars In Depth. Similarities between the Kane Batmobile and the Graham Sharknose include the shape of the hood and fenders, and the fact that Kane’s car, which is only pictured at night in that issue, has obviously square headlights that are flush to the fenders.


Apparently some people have a lot of emotion invested in the topic of the Batmobile and that post of mine caught the attention of the publisher of, Bill, who put together a page specifically devoted to refuting my suggestion about the first Batmobile being a Graham, not a Cord. He attributes most of the forward leaning look of the car in Kane’s drawing to the artist’s attempt to indicate motion and speed (a case of technology influencing art – the way early camera shutters worked could make moving locomotives and cars look like they were leaning forward).

Bill then lists some bullet points laying out why he thinks it was based on the Cord, not the Graham:

  • Cords had creased front fenders
  • Grahams had extra bulges on the fronts of the fenders, blending into the headlights; the Batmobile does not have these
  • Cords had very distinctive wheels (a byproduct of a poor brake design, where holes had to be drilled in the full-disc hubcaps); the Batmobile clearly sports these
  • Grahams had distinctive square-topped wheel openings, while Cord fender openings were smooth curves like the Batmobile
  • Cord front fenders tucked in at the rear bottom corners like the Batmobile, while Graham fenders had a wider skirt
  • Grahams had a boattail trunk lid that mirrored the nose; the Batmobile had a flat trunk like the Cord

To Bills list, I’ll add the fact that the Graham has full fender skirts for the rear fenders, while Kane’s Batmobile had fully exposed wheels. Contra his list, I’ll point out that he used a diecast model of the Graham convertible to make his point about the boattail. Photos of the actual Graham built convertibles show that the boattail is not nearly so pronounced as on that “scale” model. The rear end of the Cord convertible and the actual Graham convertible are not terribly dissimilar.

Supercharged Cord 812

Supercharged Cord 812

To be perfectly frank, I hadn’t planned on revisiting this topic. This kind of analysis of some drawings in a comic book is a bit silly. Kane could have based his first Batmobile on the Cord, or on the Graham, or on a combination of the two, or he might have just drawn it from scratch. He was an artist, wasn’t he?

Graham Model 97 Convertible

Graham Model 97 Convertible

Again, to be perfectly frank, I don’t really care what the first Batmobile was. I’ve never been a huge fan of the comic books or movies (I preferred the Flash and Aquaman myself), though I can appreciate the high camp of the Adam West / Burt Ward television series and its own Batmobile, notwithstanding my personal distaste for George Barris’ sense of aesthetics and ability to claim credit for others’ work. The purpose of this post is to give me an excuse to tell you about the Graham Sharknose, not debate finer points of comic book art. However, since I’m already on the topic, I might as well carry the debate forward. You can see my original points here.

1936 Cord convertible with headlights exposed

1936 Cord convertible with headlights exposed

In Detective Comics #48, there are drawings of the car from both sides and the text made a point of saying that the Batmobile was supercharged. While it’s fairly well known that the Cord was supercharged, that was an option in 1937. Stock Cord 812 (the 810 was the model designation for 1936) models were naturally aspirated. Visually, there is a difference between the regular models and the supercharged models. Cords with blowers have exposed flexible exhaust pipes coming out of the sides of the hood and running down into cutouts on the proximal side of the front fenders. Kane’s Batmobile has no such exposed exhaust pipes and neither does the Graham Sharknose.

1939 Graham Model 96

1939 Graham Model 96

Kane’s Batmobile doesn’t have exposed exhaust pipes but it does appear to have vestigial running boards, something featured on the ’38 Grahams (optional on the ’39s). Gordon Buehrig’s revolutionary Cord never had running boards.


The top of the Cord’s split windshield is one continuous curve. The split windshield on the Graham has two flat elements meeting at a center peak. Kane’s Batmobile has a peaked windshield.

As mentioned above, all of the scenes portraying the Batmobile in Detective Comics #48 are nighttime scenes. In both drawings that show the headlights, they are clearly square and  flush to the surface of the fenders. When exposed, the Cord’s round headlights were nowhere near flush with the fenders.

Finally, if you notice, in one of Kane’s drawing of the original Batmobile it appears as though the rear tires are kicking up dust, something that couldn’t have happened with the famously front wheel drive Cord.

Supercharged Cords had external exhaust pipes.

Supercharged Cords had external exhaust pipes.

As mentioned, I wasn’t planning on revisiting this topic. Analyzing comic book art reminds me of something a customer once said about a particular vanity project of mine: “graduate school level work for high school dropouts”. What happened was that I was catching up on doing 3D processing of photos I shot last summer and the 1939 Graham Model 86 pictured here was at the 2013 Concours of America at St. John’s. I think the Sharknose is one of the coolest car designs ever and the Batmobile issue is as good an excuse as any to write about the Graham and the men who made it. We’ll take a look at the Graham brothers and how they came to make the Sharknose in Part Two.


Much of the historical material on Graham-Paige in this post was drawn from an article by Jeffery I. Godshall in Automobile Quarterly Volume 13 No.1 (out of print, reproduced here).

Special thanks to Mischa Lohr, aka Zappadong, who graciously allowed us to use his photographs of the Graham Model 97 Convertible. Check out his enormous collection of photos of all kinds of cars (full size and toys) on Flickr.

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

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American Motors AMX/3 – You Can Own Designer Dick Teague’s Favorite Concept Car Thu, 27 Feb 2014 16:01:47 +0000 img_0194

Full gallery here.

Richard Teague is probably my favorite car designer. No disrespect intended towards the many other talented people who design cars and trucks but Teague was the original silk purse from a sow’s ear guy. He’s best remembered for heading the styling department at American Motors from 1961 to 1986, where limited development budgets forced his team to be creative.


The compact 1970 Hornet, itself based on Rambler mechanicals, ended up being the basis for a showroom full of cars. It got chopped into the subcompact Gremlin, upfitted into the slightly more upscale Concord and eventually lifted to make the Ur-crossover, the AMC Eagle 4X4 wagon. Teague was a master at recycling design ideas but keeping products distinct. The two-seat AMX concept was stretched to become the Javelin production car so the production AMX and the Javelin are obviously related but they are still easily distinguished from one another. Before coming to AMC, Dick Teague worked for GM and then Packard, where he was responsible for the last genuine Packards, the 1955 and 1956 models, which looked remarkably contemporary considering Teague was working with a body shell that dated to the early 1950s.

With the exception of the 1970s Matador coupe and the Pacer, both radical and polarizing designs, almost all of the cars designed under Teague at AMC were necessarily derivative. Even the Matador, which was based on an existing platform, and the Pacer, which was designed around the stillborn General Motors rotary engine, had constraints forced upon Teague and his team. Dick Teague did get the chance to do one clean sheet design while at AMC. It was called the AMX/3, a midengine Italian-American sports car that came within a hairsbreadth of production.

1956 Packard Caribbean

1956 Packard Caribbean

Teague considered the AMX/3 his masterpiece, the purest expression of his design philosophy and it’s fitting that his family still owns perhaps the finest example of the six cars that Giotto Bizzarrini fabricated for AMC in Italy before AMC management pulled the plug on the project.


Following the success of Cooper in Formula One, Lotus at the Indianapolis 500 in 1965 and the Ford GT40 and similar cars in endurance racing, in the mid 1960s makers of production sports cars started to embrace the midengine layout those race cars had proven. Lamborghini introduced the Miura, in many ways the blueprint for most of the midengine cars to follow, Lotus introduced the Europa and Alejandro DeTomaso brought out the Ford powered Mangusta. The design studios at the American automakers in Detroit took notice and midengine concepts were produced at both Chevrolet and Ford. Eventually Ford would expand their relationship with DeTomaso, importing the 351 “Cleveland” V8 powered Pantera and selling it through Lincoln-Mercury dealers.

AMX/2 concept

AMX/2 concept

Teague also took notice and in 1968 he drew a two passenger fastback coupe with what he called an “airfoil” shape.  AMC group vice-president Gerald C. Meyers and chairman Roy Chapin, Jr. saw the sketch, liked it and gave their approval to making a full sized model. AMC staff designers Fred Hudson and Bob Nixon worked under Teague’s supervision to come up with a shape that looked good to people then and still has great proportions and attractive lines. They called it the AMX/2. Theoretically based around a midengine layout, the closest the AMX/2 came to reality was as a fiberglass pushmobile show car that debuted at the 1969 Chicago Auto Show. The reaction from the public and the press was very positive, with some people offering to put deposits down. The response was so good that Meyers and Chapin authorized the design and engineering of a limited production version to go on sale in the 1970-71 model year at a price of $10,000.


Dick Teague (3rd from left), modeler Keith Goodnough, stylist Jack Kenitz and an AMC executive (wearing the suit)

Giorgetto Giugiaro had recently opened up the Italdesign studio and the AMC executives commissioned a competition between Giugiaro and their in-house design staff headed by Teague. Joining Nixon and Teague on the design were Chuck Mashigan (who had prior worked at Ford and Chrysler, including penning the Chrysler Turbine car), Vince Geraci and Jack Kenitz. The full size clay model was shaped by Keith Goodnough and Ron Martin. Molds were pulled from the clay model and a full size fiberglass pushmobile was fabricated. Italdesign sent over their own foamcore based model. Though it’s never been seen in public, Giugiaro’s entrant has been described as typical of his designs of the day, low and angular, but AMC managers thought it looked “lumpy” compared to what became known as the AMX/3.


At first glance the AMX/3 shares a general shape with the Miura and the Pantera but it’s more angular than the Miura and has more curves than the Pantera. Some have called it “voluptuous”. Chris Bangle would likely approve of the surface detailing and panel shapes. The aggressive prow, more complex than the Pantera’s simple wedge, is backed by a hood with functional air extractors. Along the side of the car is an S shaped character line that you’ll recognize from the Matador coupe, though it works much better on the AMX/3. You can see the air cleaner of the AMC 390 CI V8 through the rear side windows and the back glass, the engine has a matte black cover with louvers, and everything wraps up in a very tidy rear end that featured something rather ahead of its day, a retractable spoiler.

It was not a very large car, just 175.6 inches in overall length and a hair under 75 inches wide, sitting on a 105.3 inch wheelbase. Tracks were substantial for the day at 60.6/61.2 inches front/rear. Overall height was just 43.5 inches, just 3.5″ taller than the Ford GT40 race car (which got the numeric part of its name from its height).

AMC’s factory in Kenosha was set up to mass produce conventional American cars, not limited production, tube framed, exotic sports cars. Though they turned down an Italian designer, AMC looked to Italy for the AMX/3′s engineering and fabrication. American car companies had been using Italian design and coachbuilding companies to make concept and limited production cars since the late 1940s. To turn Teague’s dream into a real car, AMC turned to Giotto Bizzarrini.

Before we go on with how the AMX/3 came into being, it’s appropriate to give a brief look at Giotto Bizzarrini’s background, so you have a better idea of the AMC supercar’s pedigree. The son of a wealthy landowner from Livorno, and grandson of a scientist who aided Marconi, Giotto Bizzarrini got his engineering degree from the University of Pisa in 1953, using a modified Fiat Topolino as his thesis. He was hired by Alfa Romeo, where he worked as both a test driver and as an engineer in their experimental department. According to a story, in 1957 Enzo Ferrari hired Bizzarrini because he was impressed with an engineer who could drive. Eventually moving up to chief engineer for Ferrari, his most notable accomplishment there was the 250 GTO, one of the greatest cars of all time. After a palace revolt against il Commendatore’s plans to reorganize the engineering department, Bizzarrini and four other Ferrari engineers left to form the short lived ATS, to compete in F1 and produce GT cars. That effort went belly up and Bizzarrini then worked with Count Giovanni Volpi on applying the latest aerodynamic theories to a Ferrari GTO chassis. The result is a rather famous car known as the Ferrari Breadvan, because of it’s long station wagon-like roofline and cutoff Kamm tail. He then worked with Iso Rivolta, though after a dispute with them he began building cars under his own brand name. Oh, and in between the Breadvan and the founding of Bizzarrini SpA, Giotto was engaged by one Ferruccio Lamborghini, who had had his own dispute with old man Ferrari, to design the V12 engine used in the first Lamborghini, the 350GTV. Bizzarrini’s design became the basis for every Lambo V12 made until the Murcielago went out of production in 2010.

Not a bad CV, eh?

The heart of any midengine car is the transaxle. Bizzarrini used a ZF box for the first of six prototypes he would build but the others were sourced from OTO Melara of La Spezia, Italy because it better handled the torque of the AMC 390 V8 that American Motors wanted to use. That V8 was mounted longitudinally with the transmission behind it in the tube space frame. Suspension was double wishbones and coil-overs at all four corners with dual shocks in back and sway bars front and back. Germany’s Ate supplied the vented disk brakes. Fifteen inch wheels were from Campagnolo, with 6.5″ wide fronts and significantly larger 9.5″ wide rims in back, mounted with 205mm and 225mm tires respectively. With a 3.45:1 rear end and 340 horsepower, the AMX/3 had a theoretical stop speed of 160 mph and Bizzarrini did do some high speed testing at the Nurburgring but he found that there was lift at high speed, almost getting airborne at 145. After adding a chin spoiler, at Monza the Italian engineer demonstrated to AMC executives that the AMX/3 was indeed capable of reaching the calculated top speed. He reportedly turned to the executives and asked, “Will 170 MPH be satisfactory?” Collector Walter Kirtland, who collects Iso Grifo cars and other 1960s Italian exotics, currently owns the Monza test AMX/3 and he says that Giotto Bizzarrini told him that it was the best handling car that he ever built. High praise considering he built the Ferrari 250GTO.

The stated weight target was 3,100 lbs but the finished prototypes may weigh as much as 3,500. As many off the shelf AMC components that could be used, were, so items like the steering wheel and column, air conditioning controls, assorted switches and exterior door handles will look familiar to anyone who’s driven an AMC car from that era. They may also recognize the AMC engine with its distinctive air cleaner.

Bizzarrini started fabricating the first five cars with steel bodies based on the fiberglass model and BMW was contracted to get the design ready for production. The finished AMX/3 was debuted in Rome, Italy in March of 1970.  The original plan was for the AMX/3 to be a prestige building halo car, with a $10,000 retail price, a big jump up from the $4,000 production AMX two seater it was going to replace.

Teague said later, ”We were into racing at that time with Trans Am and all that, and it was really kind of a tool, but a serious one, to create an image for the company that was something other than four-door Ramblers and ‘Ma and Pa Kettle’ cars.”

Mark Donohue was then racing Javelins in Trans-Am and he liked the AMX/3. So did all the journalists who drove it. Reports from the time quote a 0-to-60 time of 5.5 seconds, and a 1/4 mile time of  13.5, credible times now, supercar times then. An unrealistic announced run of 5,000 units was scaled down to two dozen cars for 1970, with output increasing as demand called for it. However, it was not to be.


Mark Donohue with the AMX/3

Production, according to the sources, was greenlit. Tooling was designed, suppliers for purchased parts were lined up and the car was even unveiled before the Pantera. However, the AMX/3 never made it to dealer showrooms. The UAW local in Kenosha struck AMC in late 1969 for 20 days, demanding, and getting, parity with UAW workers at the Big 3 automakers. Not only did the strike cost AMC money in lost production that it couldn’t afford to lose, it delayed the introduction of the Hornet, a critical car for AMC. The financial aftermath caused the company to cancel most special projects. Also, accounting determined that they’d have to charge at least $12,000 for the AMX/3 to make a business case for it. With the Pantera introduced at the AMX/3′s original target price of $10,000, that made the AMC sports car a no-starter.

Also, the times were changing. Teague told Muscle Cars of the ’60s and ’70s, that “…the program was done on a shoestring, and we were on the verge of entering a new era. The musclecar period was ending, and industry priorities were starting to change.” Government regulations were also becoming a factor. To stay in production the AMX/3 would have needed bigger bumpers and emissions controls including catalytic converters. There was simply no money at AMC for those developments. The program was killed. According to Hemmings, Bizzarrini had already completed five cars and had begun work on a second batch of five, when AMC shelved the AMX/3. Bizzarrini’s business partner, Salvatore Diamonte, finished a sixth car from remaining parts and supposedly cut up the remaining bodies which have not yet resurfaced.

Four of the six completed prototypes ended up in private hands while the remaining two were left exposed to Michigan winters outside of AMC’s suburban Detroit headquarters.

In 2005, Teague’s son Jeff, also an automotive designer, told Motor Trend that in 1980, “Dad got tired of seeing those two cars–one silver, one silver blue–rotting away outside the AMC offices and asked company CEO Jerry Myers what could be done.” Old concept cars were worth nothing back then and Myers suggested that they would be crushed. “No way my father would let that happen, so Myers asked Dad if he wanted to buy them. He did, of course, even though they’d deteriorated over the previous decade. We also got hold of a couple dozen unused transaxles.”

Teague restored both cars. He was a big fan of primary colors, so during their restorations the silver car was painted yellow and the blue car was painted red. The AMC VP of styling sold the yellow AMX/3 during the 1980s, but he kept the red one, his favorite of the six, until the end of his life.

All six AMX/3 cars that were made still exist. Four of them have been restored. Dick Teague’s personal red AMX/3, considered the best of the six, remains in the possession of his family, a treasured heirloom if there ever was one. It’s been on display at a couple of museums including the Petersen and last year the Teague’s had it at the Chicago Auto Show where these photos were taken. Some of the other restored cars have been shown at concours level shows, so it’s not as though the AMX/3 is unknown, but I’m a bit of an AMC buff, I’ve known about the AMX/3 for a while and it was a big treat to be able to see one in person at the Chicago show.

If you’d like to own an AMX/3, you’re in luck. To begin with, Walter Kirtland is selling one of the original six cars, the same vehicle that Giotto Bizzarrini drove at 160+ mph at Monza. He put it on sale last fall for $895,000, later lowering the price to $795K. I spoke to him while preparing this post and the car is still for sale. Kirtland told me that he’s gotten a couple of serious offers, but he said but for less than the current asking price, he’d rather keep it. Besides the fact that the AMX/3 is one of my favorite cars, I think the asking price is fair. To begin with, not many high profile, fully engineered and running concept cars come to market in the first place and while there are enough for guys like Joe Bortz and Steve Juliano to have amassed specialized collections of just concept and show cars, the number of AMC concepts out there has to be very small. The last time one of the six AMX/3s was sold was 17 years ago. So Kirtland’s AMX/3 is a rare thing. While AMC cars are usually an inexpensive way to get into the car collecting hobby, there are some very serious AMC enthusiasts who can afford a near seven figure car. Add in the provenance of Giotto Bizzarrini and Richard Teague and I won’t be surprised if someone eventually meets Kirtland’s price. It would certainly be on my lottery list.

Walter Kirtland's AMX/3, which Giotto Bizzarrini test at 160+ mph, is for sale for $795,000

Walter Kirtland’s AMX/3, which Giotto Bizzarrini tested at 160+ mph, is for sale for $795,000

If  seven hundred and ninety five thousand dollars is a bit steep for you, there’s another way that you can own an AMX/3, though it’s going to involve some work. In one of those great stories, someone in 2007 saw a local classified ad and posted it in an AMC enthusiast’s forum. Tom Dulaney saw the post, realized what the car was, called and bought what he determined to be the original fiberglass pushmobile AMX/3. The pushmobile is probably the purest expression of Teague’s design, since Bizzarrini made some slight changes. Rather than retell the story about how it surfaced, I’ll let Dulaney, who has a site devoted to the AMX/3, tell it in his own words:

On Monday, April 9th 2007 in the evening I was reading the For Sale section on an amc forum website and saw a post by “AmcKidd” that read as follows.

AMX-3 !! not mine
Apr 9th, 2007, 11:39am
just looking through local rag paper, i dont do extreme Collector cars, so someone will get a DEAL if its what its advertised as !!!

1970 AMX-III-mid engine proto-type, Roller needs restored, worth 225000. when finished, as- is 22,000.00 Kelsey-hayes 20 spoke, original tires, OTO molero 4 speed transmission, Complete history, photos, & ads- Phone or Number (???? exactly as posted)
Cmon deep pockets, jump on THIS one !! LOL
Even though it had been several hours after the posting first appeared when I read it, I called the number and the line was busy, the line was busy for the next 30 minutes, but eventually Mr. Jim Jensen answered the phone and the conversation went something like this.

Jensen “Hello”.
Dulaney “Hello, I am calling about the car for sale, I know you have probably been getting a lot of calls.”
Jensen “Yea, you probably heard the busy signal.”
Dulaney “Yes Sir, I did, has the car sold yet?”
Jensen “I was talking to a guy for quite a while and he wants me to send him some pictures of the car.”
Dulaney “I have an idea, you don’t have to send pictures. I live in San Diego and I have a car trailer. I am going to take a quick shower and get in my car and drive up there right away. I will buy your car and we can put it on the trailer.”
Jensen “Well, I am not going to come down in price, I will no accept a penny less than $22,000.”
Dulaney “I would not dream of trying to negotiate with you, I will pay your full price, I bank at Union Bank of California”.
Jensen “Well the first person to show up with the money can have the car”.
Dulaney “ I will be driving up tonight and I will be there tomorrow around noon.”
Jensen “Well if you are the first one to show up, you can have it”.
Dulaney “I’ll take it, I am on my way”.
I drove straight up 600 miles and arrived a little after noon.
Jensen “My son put some pictures up on the forum. I have been getting a lot of calls and my Grandson says there a lot of e-mails about the car. Some folks have been offering considerably more for the car. But I told you that you could have it for $22,000 and here you are, so I will keep my word. Would you like to see the car?”
Dulaney “No Sir, I would like to go to the bank and get you your money”.

After our transaction at the bank and lunch, he showed me the car and parts he had and we loaded the car up. As I looked in the rear view mirror on the drive home, I felt as if I was being followed by a museum piece in primer, thanks Jim.

Since then, Dulaney has had a female mold made from the pushmobile and has made a small number of fiberglass replica bodies that he hopes to sell.


American Motors always seemed to punch above its weight, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that AMC tried to make a credible midengine sports car, or that the one it tried to make got as close to production as it did. In the case of gthe AMX/3, though, their reach exceeded their grasp. Still, it was a noble effort and the fact that all six of the cars that were built are all at least preserved is one indication that these are special cars, valued by informed enthusiasts.

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

1969_AMC_AMX_2_Concept_05 69amc_amx-2_5 repo3 fiberglass AMX-II Amx_2 img_0193 img_0191 img_0190a img_0189 img_0188 img_0187 img_0186 img_0185 img_0180a img_0178 img_0177 img_0176 img_0174 img_0173 img_0202 img_0201 img_0199 img_0197 img_0194 amx3zjfixed amx3zinn2 amx3zinn1 amx3zifixed 1969-amx-2-concept-car-and-1970-amx-3-6 1969-amx-2-concept-car-and-1970-amx-3-2 ]]> 27
Analysts: Peak Car To Arrive By 2020s Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:54:56 +0000 Ferrari 550 Pininfarina Barchetta

After a century of motoring, and with several factors rapidly changing the landscape, analysts are forecasting the peak of global automotive growth to come sometime in the 2020s.

The Detroit News reports that as more people join the exodus out of suburbia into major cities, along with other factors such as pollution, gridlock, build quality and the adoption of alternative modes of transportation — particularly among younger generations who cannot afford a car of their own — auto sales around the globe will peak somewhere around 100 million in the next decade, according to several analysts such as IHS Automotive.

Further, 44 percent of Americans surveyed by Intel said they would prefer to live in big cities with driverless cars able to keep traffic flowing smoothly, while one out of 10 households have no car at all.

The coming upheaval is prompting automakers to consider their place in the new scene, where red barchetta owners outrun silver bubble cars, and where car ownership gives way to car sharing. Tim Ryan, vice chairman of markets and strategy for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, puts the future of motoring into perspective:

The key question is: Do you sell cars or do you sell mobility? If you ignore these megatrends, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

With an expected 25 percent to 50 percent increase urban dwelling over the next decade, and 9 billion expected to live in urban areas 25 years from now, the groundwork is being prepared to meet this coming challenge. Gartner Inc. auto analyst Thilo Koslowski predicts urbanites to use ride- and car-sharing services such as Lyft and Car2Go to commute to their destination, with autonomous cars picking up their passengers, and using GPS and other communication technologies to deliver them safely.

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Plus ça Charge: 1916 Woods Dual Power, An Early Gas/Electric Hybrid of Surprising Sophistication Sat, 22 Feb 2014 17:10:05 +0000 IMG_0002

Full photo gallery here.

Reading Alex Dykes’ review of the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, I was reminded of something by Alex’s description of the Accord’s drivetrain layout. Unlike the Toyota and Ford parallel hybrid systems (similar in function but arrived at independently), or the Chevy Volt’s Voltec drivetrain (a different spin, no pun intended, on the same basic idea that allows the Volt to operate mostly in pure electric or serial hybrid modes), which all connect electric motors and a gasoline engine to a planetary gearset, the Accord now uses an inline serial/parallel hybrid system, a concept that actually goes back a century to the Woods Dual Power automobile.

Directly connected to the engine’s output shaft of the 2014 Accord Hybrid is a motor/generator whose own output shaft is in turn connected to an electronically controlled clutch. Behind the clutch is another electric motor that drives the wheels without the use of a transmission. At low to moderate speeds, when it’s not operating on battery power alone, the Accord operates as a straight serial hybrid, like a diesel-electric locomotive. The engine drives the generator, which powers the second electric motor and there is no physical connection between the engine and the driven wheels. At higher speeds, the clutch engages and the combustion engine and motor/generator start contributing mechanical power to the system via the armature shaft of the primary drive motor. The new Accord Hybrid’s drivetrain layout reminded me of a car built almost a century ago, the 1916 Woods Dual Power. I sent Alex a link to a post I’d written about the Woods car last year for Hemmings, and when he agreed that the systems were similar I thought I’d share a description of the Woods hybrid with our readers here at TTAC. In the year or so since that was published I’ve learned more about the Woods company’s history, so this is a good opportunity to update that information.


Clinton Edgar Woods, it could be said, wrote the book on electric cars, literally. Okay, so he published it in 1900 and there wasn’t as much to write about then as there is more than a 110 years later, but Woods was indeed an electric vehicle pioneer. The MIT graduate started his first electric car company, American Electric, in 1896, which two years later merged with the Indiana Bicycle company to become Waverly, a company that produced electric automobiles until 1916. In 1897, Woods started a new company under his own name in Chicago, producing five models of electric cars but the company was not profitable. A group of financiers including Chicago’s Samuel Insull, who founded Commonwealth Edison, and New Yorker August Belmont, along with a syndicate of Canadian Standard Oil investors, staged a takeover of Woods’ company to use as a vehicle to challenge the taxicab monopoly of the Electric Vehicle Company. They bought Woods’ patents and recapitalized the company at a value of $10 million, calling it the Woods Motor Vehicle Company, keeping Clinton Woods on as a consulting engineer.

1906 WOODS Elec b4

Later advertising would claim that they were the first company to sell an electric automobile. Perhaps the oil interests were hedging their energy bets but in any case they were hoping to be able to use Woods’ expertise. However, after a 1901 reorganization Woods left the firm, apparently to become a car dealer.

1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 23

Over the course of about two decades, the company would go on to sell about 13,500 passenger and commercial vehicles, including electric cars, gasoline powered cars and gasoline/electric hybrids. Long before the federal government encouraged the development of EVs, Woods was selling electric trucks to the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 24

That production figure would probably make Woods Motor one of the most successful electric car companies before the modern era. The last car they sold, the Woods Dual Power, may not have been a commercial success but it was a remarkably sophisticated machine whose features are echoed in many modern hybrids besides the obvious similarities in layout with the latest Accord Hybrid.

1910 WOODS Elec 7 p 18

By 1915, two developments sounded the death knell for the early EV industry. First, in 1912 Cadillac introduced Charles Kettering’s electric self starter, making it possible for large numbers of women (who didn’t have the upper body strength to hand crankstart a car) to drive. Women drivers were an important, perhaps primary, market for the early electric car industry. Secondly, Henry Ford moved production of the Model T to his new Highland Park plant and in 1913 started using a moving assembly line, producing over 300,000 cars that year, significantly driving down the manufacturing cost and retail price of gasoline powered automobiles. Compared to Ford, the growing General Motors, and Studebaker, makers of electric cars and trucks were boutique manufacturers, they simply couldn’t compete with volume manufacturing.

Woods had made electric cars and they had made gasoline cars. To stay in business the company decided to make a car that used both power sources. While a technically clever idea with some marketing potential, a small volume car company making a novel car that involved the cost of both an electric drivetrain and a gasoline engine just as Mssrs. Ford and Durant were making conventional automobiles even cheaper may not have been the best strategic business move, but had they not gone with the hybrid you wouldn’t be reading this, then, would you?

The drivetrain of the 1916 Woods Dual Power was the brainchild of another inventor named Roland S. Fend. Though there are differences, the Woods production cars were based on a patent of Fend’s that was assigned to the company. Fend was an acknowledged expert on EVs in his day, also consulting for early EV maker Baker, Rauch & Lang


Advertised as “a self-charging, non-stalling, two-power car with unlimited mileage [range], adequate speed, and greatest economy,” the Dual Power was said to have the advantages of both gas and electric power, with the disadvantages of neither. It was faster than most other electric cars, it was easier to operate than gasoline cars, it had no clutch or gear selectors, and it didn’t necessarily need a charging station. The Dual Power even had a great logo, though in an age when some still called automobiles horseless carriages, it surprisingly used a team of two identical horses to represent the two different power sources. It’s a fantastic period logo, but it’s still a little odd.


The concept behind the Dual Power hybrid was that gasoline powered cars, in order to have reserve power for passing or hill climbing, had to be equipped with engines that are bigger and more powerful than needed in regular driving. Electric cars needed to carry around heavy extra batteries for reserve power. Fend’s idea was that the combination of a less powerful gasoline engine and an electric drive with a smaller motor and fewer batteries would be a greater whole than the sum of its parts. Each power source could propel the car at low to moderate speeds, while they could be combined when more power was needed.

The Dual Power has a 14 horsepower, 68.7 cubic inch L-head four cylinder engine supplied by Continental. It was connected to a compound-wound electric motor. Woods Motor called it a dynamotor, what we would call a motor/generator. DC compound motors have both series and parallel (also known as shunt) windings, providing adequate starting torque while still allowing accurate speed control. It was made by General Electric and rated at 48 volts at 60 amps (~6 horsepower). The electric motor was connected to the output shaft of the engine with an electromagnetic clutch manufactured by Cutler-Hammer. A battery pack made of purpose built lead acid cells supplied by Exide was rated at 115 amp-hours at a five hour discharge rate. It was about half of the size and weight of the battery packs used by conventional EVs then. The output shaft of the electric motor was connected to a driveshaft running to the back axle. While Fend’s patent shows gearboxes in the power chain before and after the electric motor, the Woods Dual Power had no transmission. The layout in Fend’s patent with gearing before and after the electric motor is similar to GM’s recently aborted 2-Mode hybrid. It also didn’t have an Entz magnetic transmission, as used in the Owens Magnetic car from the same era, even though Wikipedia says it did. That error may be attributable to the fact that the Owens Magnetic is better known than the Woods Dual Power because well known car collector Jay Leno owns an Owens Magnetic.


There are three and a half Woods Dual Powers known to exist. The half car, coincidentally is a Woods body mounted to the chassis of another early alternative energy vehicle, a Stanley Steamer (though in the early days, electricity and gasoline were actually alternatives to steam engines). One complete Woods car, the subject of a preservation project, is owned by a Los Angeles county museum and is on loan, displayed at the Petersen Museum. Another, said to be restored and in operating condition, is owned by the  Louwman Museum in the Netherlands. The Woods Dual Power photographed here is in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum, in original, unrestored condition, with just 11,085 miles on the odometer, though the car is not currently operational.

When it was operational, how did the Woods Dual Power work? With the clutch engaged, the combustion engine would drive the car, with torque passing directly through he electric motor’s armature shaft. With the clutch disengaged and the engine not running, the electric motor powers the car.  That much was clear.


Finding out exactly how the Woods Dual Power worked, though, was a bit of a task. To begin with, with only three existing Woods powertrains, it’s not like you can find an expert on the marque at any big car show. It’s not a 1969 Camaro, or even an Isetta. Fortunately, I was able to find a sales brochure (PDF), a period guide to automotive electrical equipment for car enthusiasts, and some old trade journals that explained how the Dual Power worked and how it was operated.

Matt Anderson, the transportation curator of the Ford Museum, graciously gave me access to their car, a 1916 Woods Dual Power Model 44, for these photos. It has simple controls: a steering wheel mounted with long and short control levers, one for each of the powerplants, a brake pedal on the floorboard, and a backup pedal below where the driver sits. The dashboard contains a Stewart Warner “magnetic type” speedometer/odometer/trip meter along with a combination ammeter and charge indicator.

To operate the Dual Power, first an ignition switch on the steering column is turned on. The sources say that it’s a locking switch though the example at the Henry Ford Museum doesn’t use a key. That switch closes electrical connections in both the combustion engine’s ignition circuit and part of the circuit for the main solenoid that’s between the traction batteries and the electric motor. For safety, all high-voltage switching was done with solenoids. The longer of the two levers on the steering wheel is moved forward. That completes the main solenoid circuit, allowing electricity to power the motor, getting the car moving. Moving the lever farther forward changes the position on a shunt field control rheostat near the motor under the floorboard and as the field resistance on the motor changes, the speed increases. Moving the lever back towards its idle position decreases speed.

Once the Woods Dual Power was moving, the gasoline engine could be engaged at any time. Electric drive was generally used up to about 15 MPH. If more power was needed, just moving the shorter lever on the steering wheel to a forward position would start up the gasoline engine. That lever controlled the throttle on the carburetor. Also, moving it off the stop activated a circuit that engaged the magnetic clutch between the engine and the motor. Electricity to activate the clutch was provided either by the battery or by the motor/generator when the car was running on gasoline power.

Since the ignition circuit on the Dual Power is activated when the car is first switched on, with the relatively powerful electric traction motor already rapidly spinning, the engine on the Woods Dual Power was claimed to fire up immediately as soon as the clutch was engaged, faster than with the much weaker electric starters on conventional cars of the day. I suppose this feature would be comparable in some ways to a modern stop-start system, starting the engine when needed and shutting it off when the car was standing still. The company also claimed that the Dual Power could not be stalled. Whenever the combustion engine was driving the car, the electric motor was already spinning at engine speed even if it wasn’t energized. If the engine started to stall, power could be sent to the electric motor to assist the engine by just moving the control lever forward.

The best selling electric cars then were made by Detroit Electric and had a top speed of 20 miles per hour. With both control levers all the way forward, the Woods Dual Power had a top speed of 35 MPH, a significant improvement.

Once the car was moving forward, the gasoline engine had enough power and torque to keep it going at moderate speeds and the control lever for the electric part of the hybrid could be adjusted so that the electric motor was no longer driving the car. In those conditions, the “dynamotor” was generating more current than it was drawing, so the Woods Dual Power could theoretically recharge its own batteries while it traveled. In that aspect, the Woods Dual Power is like the extended range Chevy Volt.


Once the gasoline engine was running, the electrical system could be charged or discharged “at will” at any speed between 10 MPH and about 30 MPH, or at least that’s what the company claimed. Keeping the batteries moderately charged by the gasoline engine also extended battery life by preventing the gassing and sulphating caused by overcharging or fully depleting the charge. One could say that this was an early version of battery conditioning, an important feature of most modern electric vehicles.

Another feature of modern EVs that the Dual Power had was regenerative braking, what the company called “dynamic braking”. To slow the car, the driver would return the electric control lever to its original position, allowing the motor/generator to generate electricity and slow the car as the motor was spun by the car’s forward motion. If engine braking was needed or desired, the driver throttled back the engine with its control lever but kept the clutch engaged, then returned the engine control to it’s stop, disengaging the clutch and shutting off the engine as the car came to a full stop.

Regenerative braking was advertised as working above 6 miles per hour. To come to a complete stop the car’s mechanical brakes were activated with a foot pedal. An interesting safety feature of the car was that if the driver didn’t want to use the hand controls to slow the car, or more importantly if they didn’t have time, the brake pedal could be used by itself instead. In addition to activating the mechanical brakes, the floor pedal also closed the gasoline throttle, disengaged the clutch, and returned the field control rheostat to its minimum position, initiating regenerative braking. According to one source, the foot pedal could also be used to control the speed of the motor when operating on electricity. As with other early electric cars, advertising for the Woods Dual Power emphasized how women would find it easy to operate.

Since there was no transmission, to go backwards, the polarity of the power to the direct current electric motor was flipped so the motor spun backwards. There was also an interlock device that would not allow the operation of the reverse pedal unless the brake pedal was fully depressed. Stepping on the reversing pedal also disengages the magnetic clutch, allowing the gasoline engine to continue to run while the Dual Power is reversing.

1916 WOODS Elec 8 31 p 364

In a recent post I asked, if General Motors’ 2-Mode hybrid system for pickups and SUVs worked so well at saving fuel, how did it fail at the market, discontinued in the next product cycle? Well, just like the 2-Mode vehicles, the Woods Dual Power was relatively expensive, $2,650 in 1916 dollars. While much cheaper than the $9,000 Owens Magnetic, in 1916 you could buy almost four Ford Model Ts for the price of one Woods Dual Power. The Woods hybrid returned gas mileage that would be remarkable today, a reported 48 MPG, but economy generally has never been a big selling point with people who can afford expensive cars.

Another reason why it didn’t succeed was that the Dual Power was not as smooth, nor as reliable as advertised. For the 1917 model year, there was some reengineering in response to customer dissatisfaction, including using a larger, 95 cubic inch engine from Continental. Though faster than other electrics, the Dual Power could easily be overtaken by the far less expensive Model T, which could cruise at 40 mph, 45 if the driver was brave or stupid.

Maybe an even bigger engine or a more powerful electric drive would have made the Woods Dual Power more competitive with conventional cars. Being superior to electric cars at a time when the first generation of EVs were already in decline as the technology of gasoline engines improved and the cost of gasoline powered cars declined was not good enough. Though they planned to make between 650 and 750 Dual Power cars a year, a fraction of that number was made and Woods Motor Vehicle Company went out of business two years after introducing the hybrid.

1916 WOODS Elec 8 31 p 365

Still, the Woods Dual Power had features associated with modern hybrids and extended range hybrids like regenerative braking, stop-start, charging on the fly, and battery conditioning. It was an elegant, well thought out design whose simple operating controls belied the complexity of the electrical components, solenoids and mechanical linkages that actually operated and coordinated the machinery, gas and electric. While it may not have been superior to the conventional automobiles of the era, the Woods Dual Power’s hybrid drive system in fact did work. That Woods Motor Vehicle Co. was able to get it to do so 100 years ago, using solenoids and mechanical linkages rather than digital computer controls, was an impressive technical achievement and worthy of inclusion in a world class car museum like The Henry Ford. In that recent post about another hybrid system, the 2-Mode transmission now abandoned by its inventor, General Motors, and GM’s partners in developing the technology, Daimler, Chrysler and BMW, I said that you never know, sometime in the next century the 2-Mode system might return on passenger vehicles (the Allison truck and bus transmission the 2-Mode is based upon has been a commercial success). Perhaps 100 years from now, someone will introduce some kind of transportation device and an older person will ask a similar question as I did, “Doesn’t that operate a lot like the Accord hybrid?” and someone even older will chime in, “Or the Woods Dual Power.”

In the 1980s, General Motors tried saving fuel through cylinder deactivation. It was a pretty high tech thing and and befitting as such, GM introduced it on a Cadillac engine called the V8-6-4. Today, cylinder deactivation is commonplace across the industry and it works pretty much seamlessly. Back then, control and actuation devices weren’t so good. Cadillac buyers ended up with rather rough running engines, something that badly damaged the brand for decades, though the V8-6-4 was available for just one model year. Old ideas are indeed sometimes a bit early for their times and worth a second look when materials science and technology improve.

I’d be intrigued what would happen if someone made a modern replica of the Dual Power drivetrain. The Accord Hybrid is similar, no doubt, but it also includes a second electric motor that normally operates as a generator. The Woods car has only one motor/generator. It would be interesting to see how something directly analogous to the Woods Dual Power would work. Maybe use one of the turbocharged 3 cylinder liter motors that are proliferating in the automotive world, connected via a clutch to something smaller than the traction motor in the Tesla Model S, with a correspondingly smaller and lighter lithium-ion battery pack. Control it with a computer just like modern hybrids are controlled so you just have to step on the gas and brake pedals, not fiddle with steering wheel mounted controls, and so the batteries are maintained in a healthy state of charge without the driver’s attention needed. It might not be as quick as a Model S, but I bet it could move a compact or midsize car around safely in traffic, maybe even smartly. It would be interesting to see how it would stack up in terms of fuel and electricity consumption and range with modern hybrid designs.

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

1916 WOODS Elec 8 31 p 364 1916 WOODS Elec 8 31 p 365 1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 23 1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 24 1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 27 1906 WOODS Elec b4 1910 WOODS Elec 7 p 18 woodsdualpowerlogo 2579442558_5d24d52959_b diagram dualpowerdrivetrain electric_vehicle_advertising_1900s IMG_0002 IMG_0007 IMG_0010 IMG_0011 IMG_0015_l IMG_0017 IMG_0018-1-_r IMG_0019_l IMG_0026 IMG_0027 IMG_0028 IMG_0029 IMG_0030 IMG_0032 patents phantom planview woods1910


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A 2nd Look at the 2-Mode Hybrid – It Could Have Saved More Gas Than The Prius Thu, 20 Feb 2014 13:00:21 +0000 2011-cadillac-escalade-hybrid-4wd-4-door-side-exterior-view_100325423_l

The photo illustrating Zombie McQuestionbot’s query about what would it take to get you to buy a hybrid was of a Chevy Silverado hybrid pickup truck. I bet some of you seeing that picture didn’t know that Chevy even sold fullsize hybrid pickups and those of you who are familiar with them, may have dismissed the concept. It was called the 2-Mode hybrid system, introduced with great promise and fanfare but in the end it became the Rodney Dangerfield of hybrid drives. That’s too bad. Had the 2-Mode system been embraced by consumers on a wide scale, it might have saved more gasoline than all the Chevy Volts and Toyota Priuses put together.

Actually, the Dangerfield crack isn’t fair to Jacob Cohen, who in real life had a long and illustrious career, once he got his big break on the Ed Sullivan show. In contrast, the 2-Mode hybrid has come and pretty much gone in half a decade. Maybe part of the problem was that instead of first bringing it to the market on pickup trucks, GM introduced it as a package on it’s big body-on-frame SUVs. Perhaps the image of something that consumes combustibles as conspicuously as a Cadillac Escalade does, kitted up with four foot long “HYBRID” decals, evoked too much cognitive dissonance for critics and consumers to swallow but as contradictory as the idea sounds and looks, it made some sense.

There was a time when, unlike Mr. Cohen’s comedic persona, the 2-Mode system actually got some respect. Enough respect that in 2005 both Daimler-Chrysler and BMW joined General Motors in partnering to bring the system to production. There are vehicles from all four of those manufacturers using the 2-Mode system on the road today. Automobile magazine even named it the technology of the year in 2007.


The 2-Mode hybrid system is based around what is a sophisticated electromechanical automatic transmission. General Motors has long had a core competency in the development of automatic gearboxes. GM developed the first mass produced fully automatic transmission, Oldsmobile’s Hydramatic, and the corporation currently has two divisions devoted just to developing and building transmissions, Hydramatic, which produces gearboxes for cars and light trucks, and Allison, which makes transmissions for big commercial trucks. It was an Allison development for city buses that was the basis of the 2-Mode hybrid.

Two-Mode Full Hybrid GM-DCX Cooperation

GM 2ML70 hybrid transmission

A conventional single mode hybrid system, like Toyota and Ford developed independently, uses a planetary gear arrangement to connect both a combustion engine and one or more electric motors to a single driveshaft. Conventional hybrids can run on pure electric drive, combustion drive, or a combination of the two. That mode is known as “input split mode”. A second hybrid mode called “compound split mode” is more suitable for highway speeds, and always uses the combustion engine to drive the wheels, aided by the electric motors.

2000px-6953409graph.svg (1)

Is “sophisticated” another word for “complicated”?

In the late 1990s, Allison developed a 2-mode hybrid transmission system for transit buses, now called the H 40/50 EP Series, that by now has been installed in over 5,000 buses around the world. Their latest hybrid transmission model is the H3000, for medium and heavy duty trucks.


Allison H40 EP hybrid transmission. Note “Electric Drives” embossed on the case.

With Toyota’s Prius gaining traction in the market and giving that company some green cred, GM decided to implement a variation on the Allison design that would initially be used in fullsize rear wheel drive body on frame trucks and SUVs and later developed in FWD form suitable for passenger cars. What would become known as the GM 2ML70 transmission (in the BMW ActiveHybrid X6 and the Mercedes-Benz ML450 BlueHybrid it’s called the Allison AHS-2) added four fixed gear ratios to the mix. It has two 82 kW (110 hp peak) three phase permanent magnet AC motors, three planetary gear sets, and four selectively engaging friction clutches. A dampener replaces a conventional automatic’s torque converter.

Two-Mode Input and Compound Split Transmission

The transmission operates as two different continuously variable transmissions in one case. Electronic controls coordinate the electromechanical symphony, switching between the two modes to provide the ideal power, torque and fuel efficiency for the circumstances. One feature of the 2-Mode system making it particularly suitable for pickups and SUVs is that it allows moderate towing capabilities. Another advantage is that by locating the motor/generators where they are in the power chain, it amplifies their torque output the same way a conventional transmission amplifies the torque of an internal combustion engine, allowing the use of more compact motors, making it possible to fit it all inside the dimensions of a conventional automatic transmission. A more complete explanation, courtesy of and Wikipedia is can be downloaded here (Word doc), and one suitable for transmission mechanics can be found here.

2000px-Two-Mode_Hybrid_Transmission_Schematic.svg (1)

GM and their partners were hoping for a 50% improvement in city gas mileage, with a lesser but significant increase in highway mileage. The system was introduced on 2008 Chevy Tahoes and Cadillac Escalades. Reviews from the time uniformly praise the system as working seamlessly and smoothly, yielding a real world improvement in fuel economy of about 25%.


Despite the technical success of the system and the significant fuel savings, a lot of observers scratched their heads at GM’s strategy. What was getting headlines at the time were hybrids that were earning EPA ratings with big numbers, not SUVs that got 20 mpg. A hybrid SUV seemed like a rolling oxymoron. The thing, though, is that there was some reason to GM’s strategy if you look at the American fleet. The pickup trucks upon which those hybrid SUVs were based represent the largest segment of America’s fleet of cars and light trucks. Fullsize pickups are the best selling vehicles in America and have been for decades. They’re also the part of the fleet that gets the worst fuel economy. Improving the fuel economy of pickups from 15 mpg overall to 20 mpg saves a lot more fuel than improving the mileage of a compact car by a similar percentage. The small car is already getting better mileage so the same percentage increase is a smaller amount of saved fuel. Over 100 miles, going from 15 to 20 mpg saves 1.66 gallons of gasoline. Over the same distance, going from 30 mpg to 40 mpg saves half that amount, 0.83 gallons.

BMW's version. Note the AWD transfer case.

BMW’s version. Note the AWD transfer case.

Getting American pickups a 25% real world improvement in fuel economy would save huge amounts of fuel. Because it was pretty much a bolt in replacement for a conventional Hydramatic product (the 300 volt battery pack was mounted under the back seat), implementation was relatively simple, also allowing for the use of normal all wheel drive transfer cases.

However, when the latest generation of GM fullsize pickups were introduced in late 2013, they didn’t include a hybrid variant and none is planned. GM also stopped development on a front wheel drive version of the transmission. Chrysler discontinued the few models offering the 2-mode system and in mid 2009, Daimler and BMW  withdrew from the partnership. The 2-Mode today, if it’s known at all, is known as a bit of a technological dead end, not a tour de force. Considering that the thing worked and indeed saved significant amounts of fuel, what went wrong?

Two-Mode Hybrid Transmission Display

In a word, money. Well, mostly it was money, in a variety of ways, but there were other factors. To begin with, the 2ML70/AHS-2 is possibly the most sophisticated transmission ever made for a passenger vehicle. It was expensive to develop (the operational software to coordinate all that activity can’t be very simple) and expensive to build, which is why GM solicited partners in the project. I’ve seen the figure $10,000 cited as the manufacturer’s cost for a single transmission. A hybrid Silverado started at just under $40,000, a substantial increase over a similarly equipped four door Chevy pickup with a conventional drivetrain, just as the United States was about to enter one of the deepest and longest economic recessions in its history. Also, the first 2 Mode vehicles were introduced to the market in late 2007, for the 2008 model year, as General Motors was already on its inexorable path to bankruptcy. During 2008 and then going through the bankruptcy many programs’ development budgets were slashed or, like the Cadillac V8, were eliminated altogether.

Money wasn’t the only issue. The 2-Mode system went into production the same year that GM revealed that they were working on the Chevy Volt, an extended range electric car. A lot of the public and media’s attention that the 2-Mode hybrids could have gotten went instead to the higher profile Volt project. Inside GM, resources were being shifted. As a matter of fact, some of the same engineers who developed the 2-Mode system were granted patents that are at the heart of the Volt.

In addition to the paradox of trying to market a big SUV or pickup as an environmentally conscious consumer choice, GM’s marketers faced the fact that the 2-Mode system worked well at saving fuel in real life, but didn’t show outstanding results on the EPA test cycle. The 2013 Chevy Tahoe hybrid was rated by the EPA at 20 mpg in the city and 23 highway, which doesn’t sound very impressive compared to 16/23 for the conventional Tahoe. Apparently, advertising a 25% increase in real world gas mileage isn’t as appealing as touting big empeegees. New ICE technologies like direct injection and variable valve timing have come onstream, and with 6, 8, 9 and 10- speed transmissions coming on line, V6 and even V8 powered trucks can get very impressive government ratings, without the added cost and complexity of the 2-Mode system.

Since then, hybrids of all sorts, including million dollar supercars like the McLaren P1 and the Porsche 918, have proliferated. The idea of a $40,000+ luxury hybrid SUV doesn’t seem so outlandishly contradictory these days. I was at a Toyota media ride & drive for the new Highlander that Bark M reviewed here at TTAC recently and they told us that the hybrid Highlander starts at $47,900. The idea of an Escalade or Tahoe hybrid seemed to offend some folks just a few years ago, but Toyota only offers the hybrid drivetrain on the Highlander’s most expensive, Limited, trim level. The 2013 Tahoe hybrid, in a bigger, more expensive class of vehicles, started at $53,620, not that much of a stretch from what a Highlander Hybrid costs just a year later. From behind the wheel of a new Highlander hybrid, the big GM hybrids seem less silly than they did just a few years ago. Maybe they were just ahead of their time.

I wouldn’t write the 2-Mode off as some kind of technological dead end. One thing that’s true after over a century of people making cars and trucks is that what is old often becomes new again. Technologies and designs formerly rejected can be improved and implemented as materials science and control devices improve. I won’t be surprised if we see the 2-Mode hybrid or something similar appears at some time again in the future.

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

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A Testament To The Urealized Dreams Of My Youth Wed, 12 Feb 2014 13:00:53 +0000 Nova 1

According to the clock, it would still be more than an hour before the sun slipped over the Western horizon and sank into the Pacific, but from my place behind the wheel of my 74 Nova beneath the leaden November skies and running through the steady drizzle, the dark of night was already beginning to ooze its way up and out of the hidden spaces of the great forest that lined either side of the narrow roadway. Ahead, a single mailbox loomed up and out of the mist and I checked its number against the one I had written on a small scrap of paper some hours earlier. To my satisfaction they matched and I pulled off the pavement and onto a long gravel driveway, my headlights cutting a bright swath through the increasingly murky darkness as I worked my way back into the woods.

At the top of the driveway I emerged into a broad clearing that had been hacked out of the living forest and, at the edge of a wide gravel turnaround, found myself looking at a double-wide trailer with several cars parked out front and a recently constructed metal garage. Dogs barked loudly at my arrival and, in response to their cheerful noise, the porch light flicked on and the door suddenly opened. A grizzled man in his mid-thirties man stepped out and extended his hand as he met me at the bottom of a set of roughly hewn wooden steps that led to the door of is humble abode. “I was beginning to think you weren’t going to make it.” He said with a smile.

“It was a little further than I expected.” I answered, straightening up from my typical teen-aged slouch and giving him my firmest handshake. Despite his rough looks, he seemed friendly enough and I felt instantly at ease. Looking around, I noted the different cars in the driveway and but it took another moment of to before I found the reason I had come so far up into the mountains, a forlorn looking Nova parked alongside the metal outbuilding, practically invisible in the growing dusk. Together we crunched our way across the gravel toward the old car and it was only when we drew close that I noticed the silver SS badge at the center of its blacked-out grill.

Taken aback, I paused. The classified ad had only mentioned that the man was parting out an old Nova, I hadn’t expected a super sport. When I had called, he had described the car and told be that it still had its bucket seats, a console and some other interior parts that I needed for another old Nova I was trying to fix up and so I had made the trip but now, faced with a real SS, and one that seemed to be in fairly decent shape, I was at a loss how to proceed. “Wow.” I gasped. “Would you like to just sell me the whole thing?”

The man shook his head. “No,” he answered, “I need the sub frame for a truck I’m building. I’m just parting the Nova out to get back some of the money I spent and once people stop coming I’ll cut off the parts I need and graft it onto my Ford.”


I was shocked. “You know,” I offered, “This is a pretty nice car on its own, it seems a shame to cut it up for an old truck.” The man replied with a simple shrug but it spoke volumes and I knew then that he would not be swayed from his chosen course of action. I opened the car’s door and found a beautifully preserved black and white interior, just waiting to be taken. “I can use a lot of this stuff,” I said, “But I only have $50.”

“No one else has asked about it,” he answered, “you can have everything you can carry.” It was almost too good to be true so I paid the man and went to work.

It took about an hour, but by the light of a flashlight I removed the door panels, the console and the buckets and then added a few exterior trim pieces, things like chrome rain gutter trim that I bent horrible trying to remove, in an effort to fill every bit of available space before my long return home. When nothing more would fit, I bid the man a happy farewell and headed home. I had done well, but I felt bad. Sure the car wasn’t perfect, but it was still too good to be scrapped.

My $50 had purchased quite a lot but, had been a little older and a little wiser, there are a lot of other parts I would have taken instead. In my rush to get all of the obvious bits I forgot many of the most important parts, things like the mounting plate and linkage to go with my floor mounted shift lever I had taken and all of the interior trim pieces that would have been required to complete my planned interior swap but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The next morning, in the full light of a new day, I realized that the parts I had seemed far too nice for the gutted piece of junk I was trying to repair and instead I chose to put them into the attic of one of my father’s outbuildings where I knew they would be safe while they awaited their eventual installation in the much better car I was so certain that I would eventually purchase. That purchase never happened and so I imagine that they are still there today, some thirty years later, a moldy, forgotten testament to the unrealized dreams of my youth.


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

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A Love Story: A Woman, Her Mustang, and Her Man Sat, 08 Feb 2014 16:00:01 +0000 IMG_0166

Carroll Shelby rather famously derided the original Ford Falcon-based first generation Mustang as a “secretary’s car”, and he wasn’t far from the mark. Young, single working women were one of the original target markets for the original pony car and you can see that from period advertisements for the Mustang. In 1964, as the Mustang approached its official sales date of April 17th of that year, Gail Brown was 22 years old, just graduated from the Chicago Teachers College, still living with her parents, and exactly the kind of young woman Ford wanted as their customer. In today’s hindsight, her mom’s ’57 Ford Fairlane that Gail drove to work every day was a pretty cool car, but she wanted her own wheels. She wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted, but it had to be cool and it had to be a convertible. Since the Browns were a Ford family, on April 15th, 1964 Gail went to Johnson Ford in Chicago.


Nothing in the showroom excited her, but the salesman decided to bend a couple of rules and took her to a storage area in the back lot where a car was hidden under a cover. Pulling back the cover, the salesman showed Gail a loaded powder blue 1965 Mustang, complete with Rally Pac instruments, a 260 V8 (the 260 was the first version of what in time would become the 289), and most important, a convertible top. Though the Mustang wasn’t supposed to officially go on sale until two days later on the 17th on the month, Gail loved the car so much that she persuaded the dealer to sell it to her, making her the first known retail owner of a Mustang.


Gail may have been single, but she had a college sweetheart, Tom Wise, who was serving on board a nuclear powered missile submarine during the height of the cold war. He was the envy of many of his shipmates, having a pretty girlfriend with a convertible that he could drive when he visited her on leave. He did eventually buy his own car, a base  Chevy Biscayne that he ordered before his ship left on assignment and was ready when he next got shore leave.

They married in 1966 and started their family in the suburbs of Chicago. Now if you had your choice of driving a stripper full size Chevy or a well equipped Mustang convertible with a V8, you’d understand why Tom used the Mustang as his daily driver in nice weather. Besides, they had a growing family and Gail had an easier time fitting their kids in the back seat of the the Chevy. After years of fun and  faithful service, a recalcitrant carburetor put the Mustang in their garage, where it sat for 27 years. After they retired, in 2007, Tom started what became a three year full restoration of the car. Though they paid someone to do the body and paint work, Tom did most of the assembly work, done to a very high standard, himself.


As you might expect, the Wises have a cordial relationship with Ford Motor Company. I first met them a couple of months ago when Ford revealed the all-new 2015 Mustang. The lobby of Ford’s conference center in Dearborn was filled with historic Mustangs including the Wise’s ’64 1/2 convertible. Not far away from their car was Mustang VIN #001, also a convertible, in Wimbledon white. That white Mustang was part of Ford’s display for the new Mustang at the Detroit auto show. As mentioned, the Wises live in the Chicago area, so for the vintage part of the Mustang display at the Chicago Auto Show, Ford put their blue pony car in a place of honor in Ford’s exhibit at McCormick Place.


That’s where I met them for the second time, with what they describe as a family member, their now 50  year old car. Mr. Wise told me that the car is in great demand by organizers of Mustang and Ford car shows and they take it to a lot events. It’s pretty obvious that the Wises have a lot of affection for their car and the company that made it. Tom’s current daily driver is a Ford Escape and he told me that he’s very happy with the little SUV. Even more obvious is the affection that the Wises have for each other. A fifty year old, one family car is a rarity, but these days, a marriage that has spanned five decades may be even rarer.

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

IMG_0303 IMG_0173 IMG_0166 IMG_0014 IMG_0013 IMG_0012 IMG_0011 IMG_0010 IMG_0009 IMG_0008 IMG_0006_l


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True Confessions: Revealing My Secret Crush Fri, 07 Feb 2014 13:00:32 +0000 Photo courtesy of wikipedia

Photo courtesy of wikipedia

I was about eight years old when I fell in love the first time. She was a long, lanky and curvaceous piece of work, sexy and sophisticated, and I knew the moment that I first laid eyes upon her, her and her sister for there were two parked alongside one another in the driveway, that one day I must possess her. Looking back I can tell your she was a big girl, but compared to the my father’s Oldsmobile Delta 88 she seemed impossibly lithe and trim. Her chrome nameplate told me she was called “Jaguar” and once I spied her no other car would ever be quite good enough.

It’s funny how you can use a car every day for years and years and, when it is finally gone, be unable to recall a single detail. You know the make and model, of course, and probably have a general image in your mind, but when it comes to specifics you have only the vaguest of recollections, more an emotional impression of how the car made you feel than a single, hard and fast memory you can point to. But to this day, and despite the fact that I probably only spent about ten minutes next to them, in the driveway I still can recall enough of the details of the two cars I saw that just now I was able to get on line and identify them as Mark IIs. That says something.

The Jaguar Mark II is, of course a sedan – saloons as the British call them – and because of them I have always had a thing for the manufacturer’s larger offerings. To be honest, I wouldn’t turn down on of their sports cars if it were given to me, but the only one I have ever actually imagined owning is the most sedan-like XJS. I can’t tell you what it is about the big cats, but they have always had a special appeal to me. They ooze sophistication, and the thought of finding myself ensconced on a hand stitched leather seat, surrounded by old world craftsmanship as I survey the world across a long bonnet and monitor my progress via a set of clock like gauges mounted in burled walnut makes me a giddy as an English schoolgirl.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Of course, the brand’s reputation for unreliability, especially among the older models, means I will probably never actually own one but in my mind they are still the perfect combination of power, good looks and luxury and I still find myself pausing to look whenever I find one for sale. I’m not sure why that is. Logically I know it’s a relationship that could never work, but I still I have that hope that owning a Jag could turn out to be the craziest, wildest, greatest thing that ever happened to me and so I have to pause to consider that whenever the chance presents itself.

I’m not nuts, am I? Please tell me you feel the same way about some brand or another. Tell me that there is one car that you have always admired but, for whatever reason, have never indulged in. One of those cars that you could not resist if only they sold on this side of the ocean or that specific model you would buy if you had that extra spot in the driveway. That car you swear you will get when your children get out of their car seats, or that other one you are looking forward to owning when they finally get out of the house altogether so you don’t need to worry about rear seat legroom. You cannot be a lover of all things automotive if you do not have at least one secret crush. What is it? We must know.

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

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Between the Mountain and the Moon: The Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost and the IRA Wed, 05 Feb 2014 13:00:42 +0000 Photo Courtesy

Photo Courtesy

It is late March in 1924, and a dim sun is setting over the city of Cork in the southeast of Ireland. Spring is coming, and in the patchwork of fields that surrounds this busy coastal town, green shoots are already poking up through rich, damp earth.

To the east, through the double-stomach of twinned harbours, the British destroyer Scythe lies tethered at anchor, a dull-grey line of glowering steel. Here, the smaller village of Queenstown is a treaty port, one of three deepwater harbours that remain under English rule as party of the bitterly contested Anglo-Irish Treaty. Signed three years ago, it divided Ireland in more ways than one, creating an Irish Free state at the expense of a partitioned Ulster and a subsequent bloody civil war.

Down at the pierhead, troops are landing from Spike Island, a former penal colony and current fortification that houses the British presence. The launch bringing the soldiers across has only just tied up to the jetty, when the thrum of a racing six-cylinder engine can be heard approaching.

Skittering through the narrow cobblestone streets at breakneck pace, a primrose-yellow Rolls-Royce open-topped tourer slews round a corner and races out onto the beach opposite the pier. Its four occupants are grim-faced and composed; the gaping air-cooled maw of a mounted .303 calibre Lewis gun swings towards the clustered troops.

It opens fire.

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

For many people, the Irish Republican Army is associated with the black balaclavas and bombing campaigns of the capital-t Troubles in Northern Ireland. However, these are more properly the Provisional IRA, a breakaway group, and the initial organization is nearly a century older.

Early origins can be traced to America, and the support of various ex-patriate Irishmen in efforts to disrupt British rule of Ireland by military force. The earliest IRA insignia can be found in an 19th century invasion of Canada, of all places, wherein the ragtag forces of the Fenian Brotherhood attempted to occupy and ransom parts of Ontario.

The first appearance on Irish soil was at the start of the Irish War of Independence. Fought between 1919 and 1921, it was a fierce, brutal conflict of guerrilla tactics, ambush, assassination, mob violence by both Catholics and Protestants, and reprisals against civilian targets.

Driven from rural areas by the flying columns of the IRA, who would strike and then melt back into the countryside, the British government eventually declared martial law and recruited hundreds of ex-soldiers to bolster the police forces – the infamous Black and Tans and the paramilitary Auxiliaries. Often poorly trained and lacking discipline, the additional troops found themselves targets in a strange land and developed a reputation for striking back against the population in frustration – in one notable example, Auxiliaries looted and burnt the centre of Cork in 1920 as retaliation for the killing of one of their members.

Photo Courtesy

Photo Courtesy

The IRA lacked the men and materiel to meet the British army in open battle, but could consider their campaign a partial success in forcing a stalemate. Public opinion in England wearied of the violence on both sides, and a truce was struck, to be followed by treaty negotiations.

The Anglo-Irish treaty was signed on December Sixth, 1921, and was thought either a hard-fought compromise or a total betrayal. Instead of a united independent Ireland, it allowed for the creation of a Free State still under British dominion, and it also made provision for the largely protestant, pro-British unionist movement of north-eastern Ireland to opt out, which they did. The troubled country of Northern Ireland was created and would itself roil with sectarian violence for decades.

In what would become the Irish Republic, the IRA found itself divided into pro- and anti-treaty forces. The battle-lines were drawn haphazardly based on personal loyalties as well as ideology, and initially at least, the anti-treaty republicans outnumbered the Free State forces by two-to-one. The Republicans were also better equipped, and their troops more experienced. The two sides circled each other warily, as the British pushed for the Free State Army to act against the mutinous IRA.

To support the fledgling Irish Free State, a shipment of firearms and artillery were provided by the British. Here, at long last, do we come around to the question of the titular Rolls-Royces: among the weapons the Free State received were fourteen armoured Silver Ghosts.

Photo Courtesy Wikimedia

Photo Courtesy Wikimedia

The Armoured Rolls-Royce is one of the most fascinating pieces of weaponry produced in the early twentieth century. It is at once a modern killing machine, and at the same time a sort of iron-clad warhorse for a last generation of knights.

The very earliest example of a Rolls-Royce at war can be found during early skirmishes in the Great War. Having brought over a number of personal vehicles to assist in rescue operations of Royal Navy pilots downed while battling German Zeppelins, Wing Commander Charles Rumney Samson mounted a Maxim machine-gun on the back of his open tourer and went to engage the enemy.

After strafing a German staff car, the impromptu British armoured column swept into Lille, where a few gaps in the armour were seen. Namely, Samson was hit in the face when someone threw a bottle through his windshield.

Even so, news of these exploits combined with armoured-car successes by Belgian troops convinced the British war office that an armed and armoured Rolls-Royce would be an effective tool. Over the next three decades, they would fight at Gallipoli, in the desert under Lawrence of Arabia, on protection detail in Shanghai during battles between communist and nationalist Chinese forces, and as shore patrol against a looming German invasion in WWII – essentially, in any war-torn corner of the fading British Empire, you could find an Armoured Rolls-Royce.

Photo Courtesy Wikimedia

Photo Courtesy Wikimedia

Weighing nearly five tonnes, most were powered by a tough, durable 7-7.5L straight-six engine. It only made between 50-80hp, depending on the year of production, but the engines had prodigious torque and even the heavily armoured version was capable of 70mph. Thick, boilerplate steel protected the engine and occupants, and the most-common armament was a Vickers water-cooled machine-gun mounted in an enclosed turret.

While the glutinous mud and stagnant trench warfare of WWI would soon limit the usefulness of the Armoured Rolls-Royce on the Western front, these fast, powerful juggernauts would have great success in desert warfare. In one famous exploit, the swashbuckling Duke of Westminister used a squadron of nine armoured cars to utterly destroy an enemy encampment in Northern Africa – munitions-laden camels are described exploding under machine-gun fire – and then dashed 120 miles across enemy terrain to rescue hostages from two torpedoed British ships.

Photo Courtesy

Photo Courtesy

The Armoured Rolls provided to the Irish Free State were viewed with almost totemic status. All fourteen were named, among them: The Flying Fifty, The Custom House, The Baby, Tom Keogh, The High Chief. The Irish called the ironclad Rollers “whippets”, for they were faster and quieter than any other of the makeshift armoured vehicles used in the Civil War.

Photo Courtesy

Photo Courtesy

Imagine, if you can, being a raw recruit fresh in from the countryside, holed up in a barricaded pub South of the Liffey. You and your friends are armed with little more than Mausers and Lee-Enfield rifles and carbines, and information is filtering in that the major concentration of anti-treaty IRA forces have surrendered at the Four Courts in Dublin, their defeat punctuated by a massive explosion that destroyed the central records office in a spiraling mushroom cloud.

Suddenly, a rolling steel monstrosity emerges from an alleyway between the buildings, its armoured plates shut to protect the radiator from fire. Its turret turns ponderously, training the water-cooled Vickers machine-gun on your building. A sniper’s bullet pings harmlessly off its boilerplate skin, and it responds with a roar, vomiting a hail of .303 calibre lead at the rate of 450 rounds a minute. The sustained fire shatters the building, the column is forced to flee.

Photo Courtesy

Photo Courtesy

There is little honour to be found in any civil war, and less glory. Possibly one of the better pieces of short fiction written about the Irish Civil war is, “The Sniper,” by Liam O’Flagherty; in it, the eponymous sniper is grievously wounded in a gun battle across the roofs of Dublin, killing his dimly-seen opponent only to discover, in the end, that he has murdered his own brother. During the three decades of the Troubles, 3000 people would die. The Irish Civil war claimed approximately as many lives in eleven months.

The Rolls-Royces of the Free State were present at every major battle, and while the decisive weapon of the conflict was probably light artillery, they were used with great effect. Unlike the actions of WWI commanders, and unlike the guerrilla tactics of the Irish War of Independence, mobile conventional warfare was a key factor in the civil conflict. In many ways, it presaged the motorized assaults and raids of the second world war.

Of course, while tough, the Armoured Rolls were not infallible. One, the Ballinalee, was cornered by IRA forces in 1922, and captured. It then went on numerous sorties for Republican forces, renamed as The Wild Rose of Lough Gill.

Photo Courtesy

Photo Courtesy

Another, known as Sliabh no mBan (Slievenamon) after a Tipperary mountain featured in an early rebel song, was present at the death-by-ambush of former IRA general and leader of the Free State Forces Michael Collins. Its water-cooled Vickers jammed, and in the ensuing firefight, the charismatic Collins was shot in the head.

Sliabh no mBan was stolen by the Republicans almost immediately afterwards, with the complicity of its machine-gunner, and was used in raids in the Macroom district, west of Cork. As the initial conventional warfare of the Civil War devolved into guerrilla raids and atrocities, some of the last IRA holdouts continued to operate from this area, and Macroom was originally the home base of the yellow Rolls-Royce that opened this story.

A large number of Anglo-Irish families were settled to the West of Cork, and the IRA’s guerrilla campaign included not just fighting the British army and police forces, but harassing these civilians. Eventually, most of the large estate houses were burned out, and it was during one such raid that the primose-yellow Silver Ghost tourer was stolen. It was armoured with primitive boilerplate and armed with twin Lewis machine-guns; involved almost exclusively in night-time attacks, it was dubbed “The Moon Car.”

Photo Courtesy

Photo Courtesy

The attack on the unarmed soldiers in Queenstown pier occurred a year after the anti-treaty IRA had signed a ceasefire and largely disarmed. One British soldier was killed and over twenty others wounded, including three civilians; public outrage included the posting of a £10,000 reward for information relating to the capture of the attackers. They were never identified: the Moon Car was driven to a deserted farm, burned, and buried in the bog to rot.

It was discovered in 1981 by a local historian, Liam O’Callaghan, and during the recovery process the frame was twisted and “some thievin’ little divil” made off with the radiator for scrap metal. Partially dissolved by the acidity of the bog, the Moon Car was nonetheless fully restored last year by James Black Restorations, a Rolls-Royce specialist based in Ulster, not far from Belfast.

Sliabh no mBan survives too, incredibly, having been recovered from the Republican forces and eventually preserved by the foreman of the Irish cavalry workshops (who listed it as scrap on the books). It starred in the 1959 James Cagney movie, Shake Hands With the Devil, and has recreated Collins’ fateful trip in at least two documentaries.

Photo Courtesy

Photo Courtesy

In the daylight of 2014, both machines are innocuous enough, impressive for their engineering and indeed beautiful despite a brutal, murderous past. Like hammer and anvil, the Mountain and the Moon – and once between them lay Ireland.

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65 Years Later VW, Beetle, & Bus Enthusiasts Should Thank Ben Pon Sun, 02 Feb 2014 12:00:30 +0000 Ben Pon (left) and the first VW Beetle imported to the United States

Ben Pon (left) and the first VW Beetle imported to the United States

In one of those weird coincidences, Volkswagen of America is celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Beetle in the United States just as the last VW Type 2 (aka the Volkswagen bus) ever made, which was assembled in Brazil on December 20, 2013, arrived at the vintage vehicle museum in VW Commercial Vehicles’ headquarters in Hanover, Germany. The coincidence is that importing VW Beetles to America and building the VW bus were both ideas that originated in the mind of one man, someone who didn’t even work for Volkswagen, Dutch car dealer Ben Pon.


Ben Pon Sr, the father of the VW Microbus and Volkswagens in America

Ben Pon’s father Mijndert opened up a shop in Amersfoort selling sewing machines in 1898. A few years later he added Opel bicycles, both pedal operated and motorized, to the store’s lineup and in the 1920s the firm started selling Ford and Opel automobiles along with Continental tires. In 1931, Ben and his brother Wijnand took over the shop and renamed it Pon’s Automobielhandel. After the end of World War II, in need of transportation the British occupation forces put the Volkswagen works in Wolfsburg back into production. Impressed with the quality of the VW Type 1 sedan, aka der Käfer, the Beetle, Ben Pon arranged a meeting with the British authorities running Volkswagen in April 1947, hoping to import VWs to the Netherlands. Later that year, in August, that country became VW’s first export market when the Pons were named general importer for the brand, bringing in 51 Beetles in that first year, selling the first Volkswagens to be sold outside of Germany. The following year, they also started importing Porsches.


VW “Plattenwagen” factory utility vehicle

By 1949, the postwar American economy was starting to boom and the farsighted Ben Pon decided to try his hand at selling cars in the United States. He exported the first Beetle that was shipped to the U.S. and accompanied it, hoping to make a distribution deal. Unfortunately he could not find a partner. While it cannot be proven that Pon sold the first Volkswagen in the U.S., part of VW lore is a story that he used the Beetle that he had imported as payment to cover an unpaid hotel bill. Pon returned to Holland where selling Beetles and eventually Microbuses to the Dutch made him one of the richest people in the Netherlands. Following up on Pon’s idea, New York based Max Hoffman started to import Beetles to the U.S. in earnest in 1950, being successful enough in establishing the brand that Volkswagen of America was set up, and the factory took over importing and distributing Beetles here.


Ben Pon’s original April 1947 sketch for what became the VW Microbus

Going back to that April 23, 1947 meeting with the Brits running Volkswagen at the time, while at the VW works, he noticed a “Plattenwagen”, an odd looking utility vehicle with a flatbed, based on Type 1 mechanicals. As he was negotiating an import deal, he took out his notebook and started sketching. Europe was rebuilding and there was a need for commercial vehicles. Suitable for a rebuilding economy, a small van would be perfect for companies just getting off the ground. Pon drew out a box shaped cabin over the rear engined Beetle chassis, putting the driver and passenger in a cabover position at the extreme front of the vehicle. While not a large vehicle, it could carry a large amount of cargo (or passengers) in the space in between the driver and the drivetrain. Pon specified that it should have an empty weight of 750 kilograms with an equal freight capacity. He gave the sketch to his contacts at VW. At the time it was just an idea, the Wolfsburg factory was operating at capacity building Beetles.


VW Type 2 prototype blueprint

By 1949, Heinrich Nordhoff was running Volkswagen. Nordhoff and technical director Alfred Haesner liked Pons’ idea of a Beetle based van. Development costs would be low because it would share many components with the Type 1 and they gave the project a green light. When some capacity was freed up a prototype known at the Type 29 was fabricated in just three months. It proved to be a little more expensive to make than anticipated since the stock Type 1 platform chassis was not strong enough and a new ladder chassis based unibody was developed. To allow the stock 25 horsepower VW flat four to power a 3,000 lb vehicle, VW engineers re-purposed the reduction gear used in the Type 81, the wartime Kubelwagen.

Wind tunnel testing made the first Type 2 more aerodynamic than the Beetle

Wind tunnel testing made the first Type 2 more aerodynamic than the Beetle

Though the early prototypes had terrible aerodynamics, with wind tunnel testing that resulted in body changes like the split “vee” windshield, the production Type 2 had a cd of 0.44, better than the Beetle’s 0.48. Nordhoff signed off on production in May of 1949 and the first Type 2 rolled off the assembly line on November 12, 1949, making this year also the 65th anniversary of VW’s first production small van.

The first VW Bus, the Type 29 prototype

The first VW Bus, the Type 29 prototype

Two models were initially offered, the Kombi, which had side windows and removable seats in the hold, and the Commercial, which had no side glass and was strictly a cargo van. The Microbus was added in May 1950, joined by the Deluxe Microbus and an ambulance model the following year, along with a single cab pickup version in 1952.


Early air-cooled Volkswagens have been getting serious money in recent auctions, with “barndoor” Type 2s and the 21 and 23 window Samba versions of the Microbus fetching truly silly six-figure prices. Ben Pon would probably smile at the prices the economical vehicles that he championed can demand today. He was just trying to provide simple transportation to the people and businesses of postwar Europe and later the United States. In doing so he’s justifiably credited with two of the best automotive ideas of the 20th century. Appropriately, this spring the first Barndoor Gathering & Vintage VW Show will be held in Ben Pon’s hometown of Amersvoort.


The last VW Type 2, made in Brazil, arrives at VW’s commercial vehicle museum in Hanover, 67 years after Ben Pon sketched the first.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS 1949-Volkswagen-Beetle-shipping vw-plattenwagen History_Plattenwagen Vwclass-0812 p6 History_Typ29 History_Prototype1_Typ29 History_Transporter-1949_def volkswagen-bus-microbus-kombi-last-edition-brazil-lade-1200-special-factory-collection-museum Ben_Pon_sr_1_72dpi ]]> 48
Rolling History Or Rolling Junk Pile: Which Would You Own? Tue, 28 Jan 2014 16:51:16 +0000 Photo courtesy of golden2husky

Photo courtesy of golden2husky

Last week, I wrote a short article about my impending relocation to Kansas and asked for your input on my plan to purchase some kind of an old car to play around with while I am there. I got a huge response and, thanks to so many people’s thoughtful responses, I’m already considering cars I might otherwise have passed right over. Since the move is still some months away, the article was intended to help launch my search and I was having fun reading everyone’s replies and cross checking the various suggestions on Craigslist when, about 235 comments in, I got an interesting offer…

One of TTAC’s most consistent commenters, golden2husky, wrote and asked: “How about a near flawless 1995 Probe GT 5 speed, 71K, spent its life in a heated garage and never saw salt? A Corvette will be taking its place and it needs a loving home….and in Leavenworth KS, the discreet Melissa Etheridge window sticker will be a bonus!”

I won’t lie, the second generation Probe GT was already high on the list of possibilities. They seem to regularly appear on the Kansas City Craigslist at good prices and I’ve always thought they were good looking little cars that have aged really well over the past two decades. They have a sleek, modern design that makes them look surprisingly up-to-date and, although they may not be as powerful as most of the cars being built today, the 164 horsepower that wikipedia says the V6 made is more than adequate for my purposes. With a five speed stick under your right hand, a car like that can be a lot of fun and this one sounded like a peach. Naturally, I responded right away.

The pictures I received backed up golden2husky’s claims of a low mileage, garage kept one owner car and it was clear to me that the little Probe had been affectionately cared for since the day it was purchased. It was a stunning, ruby-red jewel of a car with a grey leather interior and, although he wanted a little more than I had stated I wanted to pay, his price was not outrageous for such a fine car. I was tempted, but in the end I had to decline. The reason, however, has nothing to do with the car and everything with my state of mind.


Over the past decade or so I have owned two older cars that may have been as nice as golden2husky‘s Probe, my father’s 1984 Cutlass Supreme and my 2002 300M Special. In both of those cases I started out with the full intention of driving the car every day and, for a while, I did. It’s a lot of fun owning and driving an older car in great shape. People notice it. They see it parked on its own at the back of the supermarket parking lot. They ask about it when they see you pumping gas and sometimes they even chase you down with offers to buy it. Your heart swells with pride and you begin to think you have something really special, something that needs to be protected and preserved.

Soon, you buy into the notion and find yourself driving your “classic” car less and less. Every day becomes once-in-a-while and then, when the car enters the garage and you get it snugly secured under its cover, once-in-a-while becomes the occasional sunny day. Driving and tinkering goes by the wayside and you fall into an endless pattern of washing, waxing and self admiration. You feel good that you own such a wonderful car, but gradually it dawns on you that no one ever asks about it anymore, they don’t see it anywhere in the supermarket parking lot and it isn’t on the road enough to cause anyone to chase you down, either. The same impetus to protect and preserve your car has left it locked away in the garage, like a fairytale princess in a tower and you, the formerly happy owner, have become the dragon that protects it from all who could possible do it harm.

In my case, because I couldn’t find it within myself to turn my “classics” back into daily drivers, I ended up walking away. In the case of the Olds, I gave it to my nephew who used it for a while and then wisely sold it before he became trapped in the same untenable situation I had been, and in the case of the 300 sold it to a local man here in Buffalo who, for at least the time being I am sure, uses it on a regular basis. As I looked at the photos of Golden2husky’s Probe I realized where purchasing it would lead and, after a long hard look in the mirror, knew I had to take a pass. I just don’t have the self control it takes to use such a fine car every day but if you do, you know where to find it. For me, so long as I want to have any real fun at all, there can be only junkers.

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

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