The Truth About Cars » History The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 30 Jun 2014 12:06:29 +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 Automotive Archaeology: Where Eaton Crash Tested the First Practical Airbags Sun, 29 Jun 2014 15:16:58 +0000 IMG_0271

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

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

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Remembering the Good Humor Truck Wed, 25 Jun 2014 12:00:46 +0000 IMG_0259

Full gallery here

It’s summertime, when ice cream trucks ply the residential streets of America, playing the same silly songs over and over and over again, or ringing their bells. There was a time when the ringing bells of Good Humor trucks could be heard across America, but now their bells are heard and the trucks are seen primarily at car shows and in museums. A vintage piece of Americana from yesteryear.

The story of the Good Humor truck, interestingly enough, starts with another brand of frozen treat. After an Iowa candy store owner figured out how to successfully coat a slab of vanilla ice cream with a thin chocolate shell and called it the Eskimo Pie in 1919, Harry Burt, who owned an ice cream parlor in Youngstown, Ohio, figured out how to reproduce the process but his daughter Ruth thought it was too messy to eat. Burt had earlier had some success with the Jolly Boy Sucker, a hard candy on a wooden stick. Harry Jr. suggested using one of the wooden sticks as a handle for the chocolate coated ice cream bar. Before deep freezing a batch in the store’s hardening room, the senior Burt inserted a wooden stick in each. They discovered that ice crystals that were formed created a strong enough bond to the wood so it could be used as a handle to eat the ice cream neatly.

Realizing that the product had potential beyond a single ice cream parlor, Burt bought a dozen Ford vending trucks, outfitted them with primitive freezers to keep the ice cream cold and bells to ring in order to attract kids. The first set of bells were from Harry Jr’s old bobsled. The ice cream bar was named Good Humor, though there are two reasons given for the name. The first was that Harry Burt was capitalizing on a the popular belief that one’s “humor”, one’s general outlook on life was affected by the foods one ate. The other is that the word humors was a synonym for flavors. That’s why some early Good Humor trucks use the plural Good Humors. The trucks were white, as were the drivers’ uniforms, to give the impression of cleanliness. Drivers also wore Sam Brown leather belts and shoes, a cap not unlike a policeman’s cap, and a sash also like a policeman’s, to give a sense of safety and authority, and a coin changer. In addition to trucks, Good Humor bars were sold from push carts and pedal carts, also in white and always with the bobsled bells.

While Burt seemed to have favored Fords, with special bodywork and freezers installed by Hackney Brothers, over the history of the company there have been local and regional Good Humor franchises, and which vehicles they used seemed to have been up to the local operators. There were a number of Chevrolet based Good Humor trucks as well as a number of independent coachbuilders who added the freezers.

Burt tried to patent his new invention but the Patent Office considered them to be too similar to Eskimo Pies. Burt traveled to Washington, D.C. and personally lobbied the Patent Office, which relented, granting him patents on the equipment and processes needed to make a frozen confection on a stick.

Harry Burt died in 1926 and his widow sold out to an investor group from Cleveland which renamed the company Good Humor Corporation of America and started selling franchises. When the owner of the Detroit franchise tried to expand to Chicago in 1929, gangsters demanded protection money. When the $5,000 was not forthcoming, the mobsters torched a number of Good Humor trucks. Ironically, the publicity about the arson got Good Humor established in Chicago. Nationally, the fact that a Good Humor bar was an inexpensive treat that just about anyone could afford grew the brand’s popularity during the Depression.

After the end of World War II, Good Humor expanded into the suburbs as the “greatest generation” proceeded to [pro]create what we call baby boomers. By the mid 1950s, truck sales accounted for 90% of the company’s sales, with more than half of their customers 12 years old or younger. The fleet grew to 2,000 trucks. The Good Humor truck became a piece of Americana. There was even a theatrical 1950 movie titled The Good Humor Man, a comedic murder mystery starring Jack Carson that includes what is probably the only car chase scene in movie history that uses a Good Humor truck.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Into the 1960s sales continued to grow but Good Humor started experiencing organized competition from the step-van based Mister Softee trucks. Also, the company had been organized fairly early on and starting in the 1950s it was repeatedly struck by the Teamsters union. By the early 1970s the Good Humor fleet was down to 1,200 trucks.

Also, beginning in 1968, the company had started losing money. Since Good Humor was owned by a conglomerate, Unilever, the loses weren’t fatal but after the first oil crisis in 1973 gasoline prices made truck sales impracticable. The owner of the 1973 Ford F-250 Good Humor truck pictured here told me that it was one of only two made by Hackney that year. When I spoke to Good Humor historian Richard Box, though, he insisted that it couldn’t have been made by Hackney because they stopped making pickup truck based Good Humor trucks in 1969, switching to step-vans. Since the freezers lasted a long time, some were transferred to new chassis and Box suggested that perhaps this was that kind of conversion. However, checking with the owners, they say that while Hackney indeed stopped using pickups to build their Good Humor trucks in 1969, Good Humor did have two 1973 F-250 trucks converted by Hackney on special order for the use of a Florida Good Humor distributor. That means that this is one of the last two traditional Good Humor trucks ever made. Switching to step-vans didn’t change the tide. After a decade of unprofitability, in 1978 Good Humor sold off the remaining fleet for $1,000 to $3,000 jper truck, many of them to former Good Humor vendors who started running their own businesses.

As I mentioned, nowadays if you see a Good Humor truck it’s likely to be at some kind of car event. Good Humor truck collectors and restorers have figured out a way to make their hobby help pay for itself, by either renting out their trucks to special events, or by using it to sell ice cream at car shows and the like. Some report grossing $1,000 a day. That’s how I happened across the Mike and Sue Berardi’s 1973 Ford F-250 Good Humor truck (with a freezer box by Hackney) at the Mustang Memories show last summer. A vendor with a display at that show hired the Berardis and “Cream Puff”, as they call their truck, to hand out free ice cream bars. In real life Mike is director of service engineering for a small family owned enterprise named Ford Motor Company. Mike’s connection to Ford may explain why he and Sue were also slinging Good Humor bars at the recent Motor Muster held on the grounds of Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village.

Not far from where the Berardis were selling Good Humors out of their Good Humor truck at the Motor Muster was the show’s display of vintage bicycles, set up adjacent to the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop. Sitting out front was a Good Humor bike, or actually a trike, with a cooler made by Milkey, circa 1948, resplendent in Good Humor white and replete with the Burts’ bobsled bells. It’s obviously been restored and from the modern ice cream stickers on it, my guess is that its owners also are at least in the ice cream selling biz part time.

It was fortuitous that there were a Good Humor truck and pedal cart at the Motor Muster. I’d already decided to write about Good Humor trucks after seeing Joe Hornacek’s restored 1931 Ford Good Humor truck on display the week before at the Packard Proving Grounds’ 2014 Cars R Stars show. The featured category at this year’s show was commercial vehicles, and if I recall correctly, this was the first time Hornacek has shown the car since the restoration was completed. He hasn’t even considered using the truck to sell ice cream, though he was giving out free samples to kids.

Hornacek acquired his 1931 Ford Model A Roadster Pickup based Good Humor truck as a literal barn find. It was in pieces in a barn near Port Huron, Michigan. At first he thought it was too far gone to restore but having second thoughts he asked the seller to lay out all the parts on the ground. Hornacek realized there was enough there, particularly from the freezer box, to be able to start a restoration.

The first thing he discovered was that in eight decades of use the truck and freezer had been repaired a number of times, in non-standard ways. He decided to completely reframe the body, using ash wood, as Ford Motor Company did for their bodies. However, once Hornacek got the body frame assembled, he discovered that parts of the original handmade body were out of square by more than an inch. The freezer had been fabricated by an unknown independent coachbuilder. As a result, while most of the truck is original, the sheet metal for the freezer sides had to be reproduced. Once he got the body fabbed, the rest of the restoration was relatively easy because Model A parts, NOS and repros, are readily available today. Some of Hornacek’s build photos are in the gallery below.


Danbury Mint model of a Model A based Good Humor truck.

The truck’s graphics are based on a 1930 Ford Good Humor truck whose photograph is in the collection of the Smithsonian. That truck has the lettering as “Good Humors” and also has a disclaimer “Mfd under the Burt patents”, no doubt an assurance of quality by a local franchisee. Hornacek’s Ford is a great looking vehicle, which may explain why the Danbury Mint once issued a die cast model of a Model A Good Humor truck that looks very much like his. While the Berardi’s truck has a full cab, Hornacek’s truck has the classic open roof “half cab” that many of us associate with Good Humor trucks.

A Chevrolet based Good Humor truck in the collection of the Smithsonian institutions.

A Chevrolet based Good Humor truck in the collection of the Smithsonian institutions.

If you’d like to have your own Good Humor truck, get ready to spend some money and maybe some elbow grease like Joe Hornacek. In 2012, a 1965 Ford Good Humor truck with a concours level restoration sold at auction for $66,000. If you want to do a little restoration work, this 1966 Ford/Hackney Good Humor truck on eBaymotors has a Buy It Now price of $24,500. A previous owner painted it black to use as a promotional vehicle for a radio station. A Darth Vader Good Humor truck is sort of a cool idea, though I doubt Harry Burt would have approved. Actually those Hackney freezers typically have porcelain enameled body panels so you can probably use some kind of chemical stripper to expose the white porcelain below.

You know, owning a vintage Good Humor truck is not exactly an unappealing idea. Those old Ford and Chevy trucks are already collectible and you get to enjoy a special version of a cool vintage truck that makes people smile. If you decide you want to dress up like a Good Humor man and sell a few ice cream bars, how many other ideas can you think of that allow you to make money while hanging out at car shows?

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

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Audi “Shocked” by Study on Slave Labor During Nazi Era that Finds Auto Union ‘Morally Responsible’ for 4,500 Deaths Wed, 28 May 2014 21:06:40 +0000 Flossenbürg concentration camp, where slave laborers for Auto Union were imprisoned and executed.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Beautiful Loser: Preston Tucker, Henry Ford & Harry Miller’s 1935 FWD Flathead Ford Indy Racer Sun, 25 May 2014 11:00:32 +0000 img_0445

Full gallery here

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Wikimedia commons.

Wikimedia commons.

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


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

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

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Mk I Lotus Cortina – The Original Lotus Tuned Car Fri, 23 May 2014 12:00:19 +0000 image (16)

Photo: Bonhams

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

elan twin cam

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

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

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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Modern photos courtesy of Bonhams.

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

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It’s The New Motoramic Chevrolet! Sat, 03 May 2014 14:00:45 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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Beauty All Around Us: Artists Use Industrial Bi-Product To Make Jewelry Fri, 02 May 2014 15:35:04 +0000 fordite 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Deuce’s Coupe – Henry Ford II’s Personal Prototype Mustang Sat, 19 Apr 2014 01:56:20 +0000 IMG_0600

Full gallery here.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

lee-iacocca- deuce bordinat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mump_0607_11z+1964_ford_mustang+rear_seat_tag mump_0607_10z+1964_ford_mustang+part_number mump_0607_09z+1964_ford_mustang+passengers_side_door mump_0607_08z+1964_ford_mustang+radiator mump_0607_07z+1964_ford_mustang+engine_view mump_0607_06z+1964_ford_mustang+rear_view mump_0607_05z+1964_ford_mustang+rear_view mump_0607_12z+1964_ford_mustang+rear_speaker IMG_0583a 1964-Ford-Mustang-with-Henry-Ford-II mump_0505_26_+art_cairo_289_high_performance_engine+_cylinder_head lee-iacocca- deuce bordinat ]]> 22
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

IMG_0277 IMG_0273 IMG_0272 IMG_0271 IMG_0274 img_0175 img_0178 img_0157 img_0177 img_0174 ]]> 32
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

MuntzJet_19B MuntzJet_19A MuntzJet_18B MuntzJet_18A MuntzJet_17B MuntzJet_17A MuntzJet_12B MuntzJet_12A MuntzJet_10 ]]> 33
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.

graham engine
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
IMG_0804 IMG_0803 IMG_0801 IMG_0800 IMG_0822 IMG_0799 IMG_0819 IMG_0795 IMG_0820

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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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