The Truth About Cars » History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 03 Sep 2015 15:50:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/history/ Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion Car – Invention Ahead of Its Time or Death Trap? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/bucky-fullers-dymaxion-car-invention-ahead-time-death-trap/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/bucky-fullers-dymaxion-car-invention-ahead-time-death-trap/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 14:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1156546 To be completely honest, I’ve never really understood all the adulation showered upon Buckminster Fuller. Yes, I know he was a visionary who popularized (but did not invent) the geodesic dome, which has some practical applications, but a lot of his innovations seem to me to be just a bit crackpotish. With the exception of […]

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To be completely honest, I’ve never really understood all the adulation showered upon Buckminster Fuller. Yes, I know he was a visionary who popularized (but did not invent) the geodesic dome, which has some practical applications, but a lot of his innovations seem to me to be just a bit crackpotish. With the exception of the aforementioned domes, few of his other projects were fully practical. Take his Dymaxion car for example.

Fuller, in fact, didn’t like to call it a car since he saw it as the first stage in developing a vehicle that could both fly like an airplane and taxi on the ground like an automobile. He originally envisioned it to have inflatable wings. However, like many other of Fuller’s concepts, those wings were strictly conceptual and required improvements in materials science and manufacturing before they could be effected. The same was true of the “jet stilts” Fuller proposed as propulsion units; the development of real jet engines wouldn’t take place for at least another decade.

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Fuller had no formal training as an engineer, which may explain the Dymaxion’s unusual layout and chassis. It’s a three wheeler in a reverse trike configuration, with the front wheels driven by a flathead Ford V8 engine mounted midship, behind the passenger compartment and in front of the rear wheel. The front wheels are just for propelling the car, they do not steer. The single rear wheel is responsible for steering the car. It has up to 90 degrees of lock so the Dymaxion could pivot on its own axis, making parking easy. For reasons unclear to me, Fuller decided to use two separate frames, one to support the body and the other to support the rear-mounted drivetrain, hinging the two frames with a pivot near the front wheels. While the rear wheel was suspended, according to the sources I found, the front wheels were fixed.

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Fuller had his drinking buddy, sculptor Isamu Noguchi, design the Dymaxion’s teardrop shape. Aerodynamics — then called streamlining — was in its infancy, but in modern wind tunnel testing the Dymaxion car has been shown to have an optimum low drag shape. The body was fabricated with aluminum skin mounted on an ash wood frame, with a large removable canvas roof.

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A total of three Dymaxion cars were completed. The initial plan was to sell them commercially and the first Dymaxion car was put on display at the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. Unfortunately, a politician trying to get a closer look at the Dymaxion as it approached the fair grounds, managed to hit it with his own car, overturning the prototype and killing its driver. Chicago politics being what it was, the politician fled the scene and his involvement was left out of the news stories, resulting in the Dymaxion car unfairly getting the reputation as a death trap. Investors abandoned the project and the company Fuller started to produce the Dymaxion car folded.

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While the reputation was not earned, it appears that the Dymaxion car still wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to drive. It was very difficult to drive in a cross wind, and its aircraft shape created lift at speed, causing the rear wheel to lose ground contact and making it impossible to steer the vehicle. Overheating was also a problem. Though there was a rooftop snorkel intended to draw in cool air, the heat in the engine compartment created positive pressure, reversing the air flow. Fuller knew of the shortcomings and stated that the Dymaxion “was an invention that could not be made available to the general public without considerable improvements.” He also only allowed trained drivers to pilot the prototypes.

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Only one of the three prototypes has survived and, until a recent restoration, it was not in operating condition. Jeff Lane of the Lane Motor Museum commissioned the fabrication of an accurate replica of the first prototype, which Lane felt was the purest expression of Fuller’s vision. Most of the work was done in the Czech Republic, with the eight year build being completed last year. To celebrate, Lane drove the replica from the museum’s home in Nashville to the concours held on Amelia Island in Florida. It took three days. “It was OK,” Mr. Lane told the Wall Street Journal. “You have to look ahead and watch the grade of the road.” Crosswinds are also a problem, with the vehicle wanting to steer into the wind.

You also have to pay attention to how the road is crowned. Both Dan Neil of the WSJ, and Autoweek, when Lane gave them access to the Dymaxion, report that driving it is a white knuckle experience. The single rear wheel wants to go downhill away from the crown of the road, making the car pivot, requiring corrective input from the driver. Because that back wheel is also suspended by what amounts to a huge swing arm, the corrections can induce oscillations, which Neil compared to the wobbling of a grocery cart’s bad caster. Autoweek said that driving the Dymaxion was “terrifying”, the scariest thing they’d ever driven.

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One can only imagine what it was like to drive as designed. Though the replica is accurate, hydraulic systems replaced cable actuated brakes and steering on the original and the steering, which Fuller designed to take an interminable 35 turns to go lock to lock, has been quickened to just six turns, making the needed constant corrections a bit easier.

I spoke with Lane when he was displaying the Dymaxion car as a featured special vehicle at the 2015 Concours of America at St. John’s. Interestingly, when I asked him how it drove, his remarks echoed those of oddball car collector Myron Vernis’ description of how the Davis Divan (another three wheeler, though with a traditional trike layout) drove: kind of scary.

Photos by the author. You can see the full gallery of photos here.

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

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Stout Scarab Returns to Detroit Historical Museum http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/stout-scarab-returns-detroit-historical-museum/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/stout-scarab-returns-detroit-historical-museum/#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2015 16:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1154145 During the city of Detroit’s recent municipal bankruptcy, the billion-dollar-plus-valued art collection of the city-owned Detroit Institute of Arts became an issue due of the possibility the art might have to be sold off to pay the city’s debts. Less generally well known, but probably of greater interest to car enthusiasts, is another collection ultimately owned […]

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During the city of Detroit’s recent municipal bankruptcy, the billion-dollar-plus-valued art collection of the city-owned Detroit Institute of Arts became an issue due of the possibility the art might have to be sold off to pay the city’s debts. Less generally well known, but probably of greater interest to car enthusiasts, is another collection ultimately owned by the city — the six dozen or so vehicles that are owned by the Detroit Historical Museum. One reason why that collection isn’t better known is that most of its more famous cars are usually on loan, displayed at other museums.

Not only are most of the DHM’s cars historically significant, their provenance is unmatched, gifted to the museum by automobile manufacturers and important automotive personages. For example, the museum owns the two Dodge brothers’ personal Dodge Brothers cars, donated by their widows. The Chrysler Turbine car on display at the Gilmore museum near Kalamazoo was given to the Detroit museum by the Chrysler Corporation.

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All of the cars are unique, but surely one of the more interesting vehicles in the collection is their Stout Scarab.

We’ve discussed the Scarab before, along with William Bushnell Stout’s contributions to aviation. Stout was the man behind Henry Ford’s Trimotor airplane, a major factor in the establishment of a viable commercial passenger and freight aviation industry.

Using aircraft construction techniques, Stout designed an automobile whose design many say was ahead of its time and predated the minivan. Unfortunately for Stout, the Scarab’s price, the equivalent of about $90,000 today, was also ahead of its time — the car was built the middle of the Great Depression — and Stout never got near the 100 cars a year production rate he pitched to investors. It’s thought that Stout assembled as many as nine Scarabs from 1934 to 1939; five are known to survive today. As you might imagine, with so few cars built over a period of years, no two are identical. One of the surviving cars was a prototype Scarab with a fiberglass monocoque that Stout made after World War II and it’s quite possibly the first car made from that composite. Since they were hard to sell, many of the Scarabs ended up in the hands of his investors. Such is the case with the Scarab owned by the Detroit Historical Museum. It donated to the institution by the family of chewing gum magnate and owner of the Chicago Cubs, Phillip K. Wrigley, who was also a board member of Stout’s company.

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Unlike the beautifully restored Scarab we’ve previously featured at TTAC, the Wrigley Scarab is in original condition as used by the Wrigley family at their summer home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The odometer shows about 10,000 miles, so the Wrigleys must have liked it, especially when you consider its limited purpose and the fact that the Wrigleys likely had their choice of luxury cars to drive while on vacation. By the mid 1950s, though, it was an old car and no doubt the family wanted something more modern. They must have known how special it was because, in 1956, the Wrigleys gave it to the Detroit museum. The car currently carries Arizona license plates from 1940, but so far I haven’t found any sources that indicate if the car was ever registered or driven there. It’s possible that they were added for display purposes sometime in the past 60 years.

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As mentioned, much of the Detroit Historical Museum’s collection of historic automobiles is usually on loan to other institutions. Though there is a section of the museum devoted to the automotive history of the Motor City, including an installation of the actual body drop section of Cadillac’s former Clark Street assembly plant, the museum’s building on Woodward Avenue in the city’s cultural center has limited space for permanent display of cars. Besides the Cadillacs in various degrees of completion in the body drop display, the museum has a replica of Ransom Olds’ workshop with a curved dash Oldsmobile, along with a replica of William King Brady’s 1896 automobile (the first made and driven in Detroit, fabricated to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brady’s historic drive).

 

In the background is the 1946 replica of Charles Brady King's 1896 automobile, Detroit's first car, which predated Henry Ford's Quadricycle by a few months.

In the background is the 1946 replica of Charles Brady King’s 1896 automobile, Detroit’s first car, which predated Henry Ford’s Quadricycle by a few months.

Perhaps spurred by less than accurate news reports saying that most of the museum’s cars were in storage bubbles in a warehouse at Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne, which is affiliated with the Historical Museum, the DHM now has a showcase for an individual car selected from their collection, with cars rotated yearly. For the past year, the display has housed a classic era Packard Six, but now it’s been replaced by the Wrigleys’ Stout Scarab, previously on exhibit for 12 years at a museum in Maine. It will go on public display starting on Saturday, August 29th. In addition to the actual Scarab, the museum is also displaying a couple of concept models of the Scarab along with a proposed “batwing” airplane model, all donated to the museum by William Stout himself. There is no admission charge to the museum or its displays.

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To move the Packard out and the Scarab in, as well as update some of the other exhibits, the Detroit Historical Museum was closed this week, but museum curator Bob Sadler graciously gave TTAC access for these photographs so we could run this post in advance of the display’s opening this weekend.

Photos by the author. You can see the full photo gallery here.

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

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Designers and Their Cars – Automotive Patent Art Revisited http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/designers-cars-automotive-patent-art-revisited/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/designers-cars-automotive-patent-art-revisited/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 12:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1146281   Aaron Cole’s post about automotive patent art gladdened my heart. Years ago, I decided to check out some of Les Paul and Leo Fender’s original patents on their electric guitars and I discovered the artistry of patent drawings. These days the United States Patent and Trademark Office, as well as patent offices around the world, […]

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A Brooks Stevens concept.

A Brooks Stevens concept.

Aaron Cole’s post about automotive patent art gladdened my heart. Years ago, I decided to check out some of Les Paul and Leo Fender’s original patents on their electric guitars and I discovered the artistry of patent drawings. These days the United States Patent and Trademark Office, as well as patent offices around the world, accept digitally produced artwork. However, before the digital age, an inventor had to hire someone skilled at technical drawing to produce the various exploded and see-through sketches needed to describe the “preferred embodiment” of a process patent.

Of course the “inventor” of a design patent — a slightly different form of intellectual property that protects the design and look of a product — is more often than not, the actual designer.

Following up on Aaron’s post, I decided to put the names of some notable automotive designers into a patent search engine to see what I could find. My hypothesis was that in the case of a design patent, particularly for a car, the artwork for the patent application was likely to have been drawn by the designer. A patent is a big deal to any engineer or designer and he’d likely want to be the one responsible for representing his own idea best.

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Clare MacKichan’s Chevy Nomad

Yes, sometimes the boss takes credit for subordinates’ work. Harley Earl, General Motors’ first head of styling, was known not to draw very well. Designers and clay modelers working for him, though, said he had a masterful way of waving his hands that communicated well to the designers the vision he had in his mind’s eye. Car design is a collaborative process, involving people you work with and work for. Guys like Earl, his successor Bill Mitchell, or carrozzeria boss Nuccio Bertone had some justification in putting their names on patents, even if they only had supervisory roles.

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Car body designed by Harley Earl in 1921 when he was still working for his father’s custom body shop in Los Angeles, before he was hired by Alfred Sloan to start GM’s styling department in 1927.

Next to lead designer Hank Haga’s name, the Chevrolet Aerovette patent carries Mitchell’s name along with that of senior designer Chuck Jordan (who succeeded Mitchell as head of GM Design) as well as GM designer Jerry Palmer. A similar situation exists with the current Mustang convertible, whose patent bears Ford design chief J Mays’ name along with those of designers Moray S. Callum, Joel Piaskowski, Darrell Behmer, and Kemal Curic.

A Ray Dietrich design.

A Ray Dietrich design.

I’m willing to guess that even if Earl, Mitchell or Mays didn’t render the patent drawings themselves, they assigned a senior designer with the task of their posterity, not some intern. Regardless of who did the actual drawings, they were very well executed.

Enjoy:

Eugene "Bob" Gregorie was Ford's first head of styling.

Eugene “Bob” Gregorie was Ford’s first head of styling.

One of Virgil Exner Sr's Chrysler-Ghia show cars.

One of Virgil Exner Sr’s Chrysler-Ghia show cars.

Harley Earl's name is on this Cadillac design from the early 1950s.

Harley Earl’s name is on this Cadillac design from the early 1950s.

This Motorama concept, called L'Universelle, was a front wheel drive passenger van designed by Chuck Jordan.

This Motorama concept, called L’Universelle, was a front wheel drive passenger van designed by Chuck Jordan.

One of Ian Callum's Jaguars

One of Ian Callum’s Jaguars

A more recent, digitally rendered Jaguar

A more recent, digitally rendered Jaguar

Marcello Gandini's Lamborghini Diablo

Marcello Gandini’s Lamborghini Diablo

Giorgietto Giugiaro's DeLorean DMC12, an update of an earlier design of his.

Giorgetto Giugiaro’s DeLorean DMC12, an update of an earlier design of his.

JB's editors at R&T might think that Paul Bracq designed the BMW M1, but it's Giugiaro's name on the design patent. Bracq did the BMW Turbo, on which the M1 was based.

JB’s editors at R&T might think that Paul Bracq designed the BMW M1, but it’s Giugiaro’s name on the design patent. Bracq did the BMW Turbo, on which the M1 was based.

Aerovette.

Aerovette.

Art Ross' Golden Cutlass Motorama car

Art Ross, who headed Cadillac and Oldsmobile’s studios, rendered the Golden Rocket Motorama car

Raymond Loewy coupe concept from the early 1960s.

Raymond Loewy coupe concept from the early 1960s.

One of Virgil Exner Sr's last cars for Chrysler.

One of Virgil Exner Sr’s last cars for Chrysler.

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A Corvair concept by Larry Shinoda.

One of Bill Mitchell's Corvette concepts, perhaps the Mako Shark.

One of Bill Mitchell’s Corvette concepts, perhaps the Mako Shark.

Camilo Pardo's Ford GT

Camilo Pardo’s Ford GT

The current Ford Mustang

The current Ford Mustang

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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Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl Phaeton http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/nothing-arrives-style-like-dual-cowl-phaeton/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/nothing-arrives-style-like-dual-cowl-phaeton/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 13:00:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1125441   As part of this gig, I see a lot of cars. Besides attending the major corporate auto shows like the North American International Auto Show here in Detroit, from spring into late fall almost every Sunday will find me at some kind of car show. Car museums are also some of my favorite places. […]

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1929 Duesenberg Model J by LeBaron

As part of this gig, I see a lot of cars. Besides attending the major corporate auto shows like the North American International Auto Show here in Detroit, from spring into late fall almost every Sunday will find me at some kind of car show. Car museums are also some of my favorite places. Having entered my teens during the 1960s, when there were E Type Jaguars, Corvettes and Mustangs, it was easy for me to dismiss cars from the ’50s as old-fashioned, let alone vehicles from the pre-war classic era. As Mark Twain pointed out, though, I’ve learned a few things since I was a young man and my perspective has changed.

 

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Lincoln Model K

No, I’m still not going to make a tri-five Chevy my daily driver, but I have gained an appreciation for older cars and I’ve decided that if I was wealthy and was looking for car to arrive in, it wouldn’t be a late model Ferrari, Lamborghini or Rolls-Royce. It’d be some kind of dual cowl phaeton from the late 1920s or early 1930s.

 

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1929 Stutz Model M Four-Passenger Speedster by LeBaron

It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a Duesenberg Model J, though its position as the ranking aristocrat of American automobiles makes it the preferred choice. I’m sure that a “senior” Packard, Chrysler Imperial or a V-12 or V-16 Cadillac, would make a similar, if slightly more restrained, statement.

 

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1931 Chrysler CG Imperial Dual-Cowl Phaeton rebodied in the style of LeBaron

It’s not because they’re the most luxurious cars. The dual cowls I’ve seen are no fancier than the coupes and sedans made by the same companies. In fact, there are fewer appointments for the rear passengers than there are in conventional limousines of the same vintage. In a lot of cases the passenger compartments in the back are even a little bit snug — somewhat of a surprise considering just how massive those cars are.

 

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The rear passenger compartment in a dual cowl phaeton can be a little bit cozy as you can see in this Murphy style Duesenberg.

So why do I think dual cowl cars are so fabulous? To begin with, the phaeton roof line is one of the masterpieces of automotive styling. There is a reason why Dean Jeffries made the Monkeemobile a phaeton, beyond the need for seating for all four band members in the back. The long roof (one reason why enthusiasts are attracted to station wagons) and the way it peaks in the back and then slopes towards the front of the car simply looks good.

 

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1935 Duesenberg Model SJ, rebodied in the style of Murphy

Then there’s the dual cowl aspect. Though they are not exactly limousines, they’re functionally equivalent, the owner rides in back, so there is that side of being able to show off your wealth by having a chauffeur. Also, the second cowl gives it the look of a parade car, whether or not the roof is up or down. It’s easy to visualize Queen Elizabeth doing her queenly wave from the back seat.

 

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1930 Packard Deluxe Eight. As impressive as “senior” Packards are, the grille and hood on a Duesenberg J are about a half foot taller.

Will we ever see a modern dual cowl car? I’m not sure that modern car shapes work with the concept, but it would be interesting to see what some of today’s talented car designers could create.

 

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1941 Chrysler Newport, a later take on the dual cowl idiom. Could a modern dual cowl work?

Technically speaking, not all of the cars pictured here are dual cowl phaetons. The Stutz company apparently preferred a different nomenclature, instead calling their dual cowl a “four passenger speedster”, perhaps because of the scalloped, cut-down door.

 

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1928 Stutz BB4 Dual Cowl Touring Car

No matter what you call them, they’re magnificent automobiles.

As the Great Depression wore on, by the late 1930s big open cars were no longer fashionable. Perhaps those who retained their wealth or managed to amass new fortunes did not want to appear to be showing off that wealth or perhaps closed limousines afforded them some level of anonymity at a time when rich folks might have wanted to keep a low profile. Either way, I don’t know of a dual cowl car made since before WWII. The original Chrysler Newport, which was used as a pace car for the 1941 Indy 500, has a second cowl, but it was primarily a concept show car and only six of them were made.

 

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Pierce Arrow 1930 Model B Sport Phaeton. Note the Pierce Arrow’s signature “Dawley” headlights that were faired into the fenders.

With the Monkeemobile, Dean Jeffries was able to successfully apply a phaeton roofline to a 1960s era car. It would be interesting to see what contemporary designers could do applying a phaeton roof and a second cowl to today’s shapes. Do you think it would even be possible to make a modern dual cowl phaeton?

If you had an unlimited budget, which car would you choose to arrive in style?

Photos by the author. You can see the complete galleries and more dual cowl phaetons here.

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

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Got Them Old NCRS Packard Blues http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/got-old-ncrs-packard-blues/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/got-old-ncrs-packard-blues/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1125585 There are a lot of things that I like about the car hobby and, at the same time, there are annoyances. As someone who writes about automotive history, I can well appreciate the need for authenticity when it comes to restorations. I also understand that humans are competitive and that car shows are often actual […]

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There are a lot of things that I like about the car hobby and, at the same time, there are annoyances. As someone who writes about automotive history, I can well appreciate the need for authenticity when it comes to restorations. I also understand that humans are competitive and that car shows are often actual competitions. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be such a thing as Best of Show. Consequently, there’s a place in this world for quibbling whether or not the wingnut on a 1958 Chevy is true to the VIN, but as I said, it can be annoying.

Once, at an auction preview, I was looking a 1954 Corvette that could either be described as an interesting survivor or a good candidate for restoration. I’ll admit to being drawn to survivor cars. It’s only original once and most of today’s restorations go well beyond the kind of quality control that existed in the car factories of previous generations.

While I was standing there, an older gentleman and his wife came up to the car. A Corvette enthusiast, he started pointed out to her all of the things that needed to be done. I thought he was kind of picky, but then I’m not an expert. His conclusion? Anyone who bought it and restored it would be upside down on its value after the restoration. My conclusion? If I could afford it, I’d keep it as is.

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That’s when the phrase “going all NCRS on it” popped into my head. That acronym stands for the National Corvette Restoration Society, perhaps the world’s most anal retentive group of car guys. NCRS certifies restored Vettes as being right — or wrong — as the case may be. When I say “going NCRS on it” to people who collect cars, they smile knowingly.

It’s one thing if a judge at a show mentions a flaw or inaccuracy. It’s another for someone just attending a show to rag on an exhibitor who’s spent time and a non-trivial amount of money to share his or her car with the public.

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The Concours of America at St. John’s was held this past weekend near Detroit. A member of the troika of world class American car shows that also include Amelia Island and Pebble Beach, the CoAaSJ started out as the Meadow Brook concours and has been operating for 37 years (tip of the hat to Don Sommer who started it all).

Probably because of the Detroit connection, this concours has always featured a lot of classic era Packards, though the marque is well represented at those other two top-shelf shows as well. I started talking to a young man, Jonathan Boyer, 20 years old and very knowledgeable about Packards, who was showing his grandfather’s dark blue 1938 Packard Super Eight 1605 convertible sedan by Dietrich Inc. By then, Ray Dietrich had left the coachbuilding firm that he’d sold to Murray, which supplied Packard with both production and coachbuilt bodies.

In 1938, at $3,970, the convertible sedan was the most expensive eight cylinder Packard with the exception of the catalog customs by Brunn and Rollston. That works out to about $67,000 in 2015 dollars. Last year, a similar car sold at auction for $137,500, so if you bought one new and kept it in good shape, you’d probably be way ahead of inflation. For sure, you can buy a decent used car for what it would cost to replace the Lalique glass eagle’s head hood ornament (it lights up in the dark) that is popular with the senior Packard set.

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The “senior” Packards of the late 1930s were almost in a class by themselves. By then Packard was making two lines: the traditional, more or less hand built, high-end luxury cars and the more affordable, mid-priced One-Twenty models. The Great Depression had taken its toll on luxury car companies. By the end of 1938, Pierce Arrow had stopped making cars, and E.L. Cord’s three brands — Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg — were all out of production. Lincoln sold just 47 Model Ks that year.

The Boyer’s Super Eight is quite an impressive car, painted in a very rich dark blue, which Jonathan told me was “Packard Blue” just as another Packard enthusiast was walking by. “That’s not Packard blue, it’s too purple,” said the passerby. It almost got heated.

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Also known as Minota Blue, Packard Blue was a signature color for that automaker in the late 1930s. Apparently, matching it has become a question, since no original Packard Blue finishes have survived. There are two modern OEM colors from the 1980s that are said to be close, but primer colors, tinting and application method are still a factor in reproducing the original topcoat’s hue.

That’s not how this Packard’s blue was formulated, though. The young man’s grandfather is Ralph Boyer. The name may not be familiar to you but you’ve seen his work. He was a designer at Ford Motor Company for 47 years, his career spanning from working on the very first Thunderbird that came out in 1955 to the last, which was introduced in 2002.

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Of the domestic automakers, Ford probably has the most expertise with paint. Unlike Chrysler and GM, Ford made at least some of their own paint until they sold their paint operations to DuPont in 1986. I worked for DuPont’s main automotive paint R&D lab myself for many years and frequently visited their Mt. Clemens, Michigan paint factory that they bought from Ford, which had acquired it from Ditzler.

When Boyer restored the multiple award winning car in the 1990s (for an older restoration, the car still shows very well, winning a ribbon at St. John’s last weekend), he took a methodical approach to getting the color correctly. Styling executives at car companies have a lot of resources available to them.

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I don’t know when the paint industry first started using actual paint chips to demonstrate their finishes, but it goes back a long way. Boyer obtained two different vintage paint chips for Packard Blue — one from Ditzler and one from Sherwin Williams — and took them to Ford’s paint lab. After delicately cleaning off any possible oxidation from the surfaces, the chips were analyzed with the tools of a modern paint lab like colorimeters and gloss meters. The two chips differed slightly so values were averaged to determine the formula. LaVine Restorations, which has worked on many show winners, was responsible for applying the paint.

It seems to me that’s more likely to produce a closer reproduction of the actual original color than starting with a modern OEM shade that’s close. Perhaps, if a fresh Packard Blue barn find emerges with an intact finish some day, we may find that Boyer’s Packard is the wrong blue, but as his son John, also a career Ford employee, later told me, “That color is as close to Packard Blue as Ford Motor Company can make it.”

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With that much effort by his grandfather put into getting the color correctly, you might understand why the young man was piqued by the passerby’s comments. After the man walked away, I said to Boyer’s grandson, “Boy, he went all NCRS on you, didn’t he?” He laughed.

Postscript: After writing the first draft of this post, I checked my photos and I found out that while I spent a fair amount of time talking to Ralph’s grandson, Jonathan, about their Packard, I’d neglected to shoot any pictures of it. When I contacted Ralph to see if I could arrange a brief photo shoot, he told me that the car was still in its trailer from the show but that they were unloading it that afternoon. Fortuitously, I already had to be on that side of town and the Boyer’s graciously let me take photos and even get some video of a rather magnificent blue automobile being driven.

Photos by the author.

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

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The Chrysler Turbine Car Started Out as a Ford http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/chrysler-turbine-car-started-ford/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/chrysler-turbine-car-started-ford/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 14:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1124337 We’ll probably never again see something like the combination real world test and publicity campaign that put 50 Chrysler Turbine cars in the hands of American families to test drive for a few months in the mid 1960s. That we’re talking about it more than 50 years later shows just how effective the PR for […]

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We’ll probably never again see something like the combination real world test and publicity campaign that put 50 Chrysler Turbine cars in the hands of American families to test drive for a few months in the mid 1960s. That we’re talking about it more than 50 years later shows just how effective the PR for the Turbine was. Consequently, the Chrysler Turbine is undoubtedly one of the best known concept cars ever. Less well known is the fact that the Chrysler Turbine as we know it started out as a Ford.

First off, I’m in no way implying that Ford had a role in developing the turbine engine that was the heart of the Turbine cars. Chrysler’s turbine program was entirely the brainchild of senior Chrysler engineer George Huebner, though Ford Motor Company and General Motors both have had significant turbine research programs. However, when you say “Chrysler Turbine car”, people don’t visualize whirring fan blades and regenerators in their minds’ eyes. If they’ve ever heard a Turbine car run, their ears might think of the whooshing sound they make, often compared to a very powerful vacuum cleaner, but the predominating mental image most folks would have would be the very sleek, copper toned bodies that Ghia built to be powered by the jet engines.

One of two Turbine cars still owned by Chrysler.

One of two Turbine cars still owned by Chrysler.

While the Turbine car’s powertrain was the result of years of research at Chrysler, its exterior design began as a concept for the Ford Thunderbird. In 1960, Chrysler chairman “Tex” Colbert brought in Lynn Townsend to run the company. Townsend wasn’t a fan of Chrysler’s chief designer, Virgil Exner Jr., and he liked even less Exner’s penchant for introducing new styling themes on lower end models. Meanwhile, across town in Dearborn, Elwood Engel had been passed over for the top executive styling position at Ford. Seeing an opportunity to change the company’s styling direction and ease Exner out of power, Townsend made Engel vice president for styling at Chrysler, making Exner a “consultant”.

When the decision was made to build a short run of semi-production Turbine cars, Engel initially assigned designer Maury Baldwin to the task. Baldwin came up with a small, two-seat, midengine sports car that on paper sounds a lot like Ford’s 1962 Mustang I concept. That proved to be at odds with management’s decision to make the Turbine a four seat family car. Engel then turned to Chuck Mashigan, another Ford expat.

The Henry Ford Museum's Chrysler Turbine Car

The Henry Ford Museum’s Chrysler Turbine Car

We recently ran a story about Larry Miller, a clay modeler at Ford who got his job after meeting Henry Ford as a teenager. Chuck Mashigan’s story is in the same vein. Already married, his wife suggested to him in 1954 that he look into a career designing cars. When he said that he had no training or experience, she pointed out the skill with which he both sketched automobiles and then carved models out of bars of soap. “You show them your work, and they’ll hire you,” she told him.

This wasn’t as unrealistic as it sounds today. Remember, this was before most of today’s professional design schools were established. The Pratt institute in New York was about the only place where you could study industrial design. General Motors set up the Fisher Body Craftman’s Guild scholarship program primarily as a means of identifying design talent.

The Chrysler Turbine car on display at the Gilmore Car Museum is actually on loan from the Detroit Historical Museum, which owns it, a gift from the Chrysler corporation.

The Chrysler Turbine car on display at the Gilmore Car Museum is actually on loan from the Detroit Historical Museum, which owns it, a gift from the Chrysler corporation.

With his wife’s encouragement Mashigan made up some drawings and applied for a position at General Motors, who indeed turned him down because of his lack of experience, as did Chrysler. When he showed his shopping bag full of drawings at Ford, however, they took him on as a 90 day probationary hire, reporting to Alex Tremulis, who headed the advanced design studio at FoMoCo. After a little more than a month of doing sketches and some clay modeling, Mashigan was called into Tremulis’ office and told that both the Ford and Lincoln-Mercury studios had requested that he be assigned to their work groups. His first position as a permanent hire was supervising the studio doing the work on the first Thunderbird.

At Elwood Engel’s request, Mashigan moved to Chrysler around the time the 50 turbine car project was just getting underway. By then Baldwin’s two seat sports car had been set aside. Mashigan recalled being summoned to his boss’ office. Engel opened up a book to show Mashigan a photo of a concept car and said, “You know that one all right, don’t you?”

Ford La Galaxie show car

Ford La Galaxie show car

Mashigan replied, “I sure do; that’s a fiberglass T-Bird model I did while I was in the Ford studio.” Mashigan had been in charge of that project, through the design process, the full size clay model, and the finished fiberglass show car.

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Engel then told the designer, “Here’s why I called you up here: I want you to design that vehicle to be a full size running car, and we’re going to put a turbine engine in it. You’ll be in complete charge of getting that vehicle designed.

Ford La Galaxie, front view

Ford La Galaxie, front view

While none of the accounts specifically identify the Thunderbird concept, it’s assumed that Engel and Mashigan were talking about the 1958 La Galaxie show car. The back end of the Turbine car is pretty much a copy of the La Galaxie, the headlights and grille are similar and, interestingly, period color photographs show the La Galaxie was also painted with copper colored paint. The La Galaxie also ended up influencing the design of the 1961 “Rocket Bird” Thunderbird, which may be why some Chrysler insiders referred to the Turbine car as the “Engelbird”.

Chrysler Typhoon Turbine Concept

Chrysler Typhoon Turbine Concept

Mashigan’s first iteration of what would become the Chrysler Turbine was a two-seater with an extended rear deck called the Typhoon that featured most of the Turbine’s signature styling elements, including its turbine inspired headlights and hubcaps. The second model Mashigan sculpted shortened the deck and lengthened the passenger compartment to add a back seat, resulting in the now familiar lines of the Turbine car.

Chrysler Typhoon, rear view

Chrysler Typhoon, rear view

The Chrysler Turbine cars pictured here are the ones on display at the Gilmore, Henry Ford and Walter P. Chrysler museums. Of the eight Turbine cars that were not destroyed, two still belong to Chrysler. For this year’s Eyes On Design car show, a charitable event put on by Detroit’s car design community, Chrysler brought one of their Turbines. Eyes On Design is held every Father’s Day on the main lawn of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford estate. To get to the reviewing stand, which is located right in front of the main house, cars exit the show field at the carriage house end and then use the quarter mile long driveway up to the mansion. That’s how I was able to shoot the video at the top of this post.

With so few Chrysler Turbine cars that exist and even fewer that are on display to the public, it’s a rare opportunity to see one. To see and hear one whoosh by as it is driven is an even rarer opportunity. Considering that what we know as the Chrysler Turbine stylistically started out as a Ford concept car, watching it drive on the grounds of the home of Edsel Ford, who started Ford’s styling department, seems completely appropriate.

Museum photos by the author.

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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“I’m Here to See Mr. Ford” – A Detroit Story http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/im-see-mr-ford-detroit-story/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/im-see-mr-ford-detroit-story/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 14:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1113881 One of my editors once described researching a topic as “falling down a rabbit hole.” Four hours later, you end up far afield from the 1963 Whizbang X500 you started with. You never know what you’ll discover that could be new to you or your readers. While tracking down details on the 1:10 scale 1939 Lincoln […]

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Henry Ford as a young man, circa 1883

Henry Ford as a young man, circa 1883

One of my editors once described researching a topic as “falling down a rabbit hole.” Four hours later, you end up far afield from the 1963 Whizbang X500 you started with. You never know what you’ll discover that could be new to you or your readers.

While tracking down details on the 1:10 scale 1939 Lincoln Continental styling model that sat on the desk of Edsel Ford —whose idea the Continental was — I heard a great story involving his father, Henry, and the clay modeler, Larry Wilson, who later discovered Edsel’s Continental clay styling model forgotten in storage.

It’s a true story about a 15-year-old boy who took a train ride to ask Henry Ford for a job and, as far as I know, it’s never been published before.

It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of Henry Ford’s fame. It’s also hard to separate fact from PR fiction that was spun in Henry’s interest by Ford Motor Company’s Publicity Department, but some of it was, at least, partially true. (For instance, it’s said the post office once delivered a letter to Henry Ford that had no address, just the industrialist’s photograph from a newspaper clipping glued to the envelope.)

FoMoCo’s PR machine cultivated the image of Henry as everyman, so the idea that a 15-year-old boy might think he could travel across the country to meet him wasn’t as silly as it might sound today. Also, a 15 year old in the mid to late 1930s likely grew up a bit faster than today’s precious little snowflakes. After a prolonged Great Depression, young people were probably a bit more self reliant then, too.

Anyhow, the way his friend, automotive historian and collector Samuel Sandifer, tells the story, Larry Wilson spent his entire career as a clay modeler for Ford Motor Company after being hired by Henry Ford himself.

Growing up far from the Motor City, Wilson desperately wanted a career in the auto industry. Using what materials and tools he had at his disposal — tin cans, hammers and tin snips — he had made two fairly realistic scale models of 1938 Ford sedans. Perhaps he had read Edward Thatcher’s 1919 do-it-yourself guide, “Making Tin Can Toys“. Those self-reliant youths of yore made a lot of their own toys. People still make model cars (and other models out of metal cans) for pleasure and for profit.

From Edward Thatcher's how to make tin toys

From Edward Thatcher’s “Making Tin Can Toys”

Wilson set off on his journey to Dearborn.

Taking a train first to Chicago and then to Dearborn, he somehow managed to talk his way into the executive offices at Ford’s headquarters and found himself in front of Henry Ford’s personal secretary.

“Who are you here to see?” she asked him.

“I’m here to see Mr. Ford,” he replied earnestly.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No.”

“Well,” his secretary told young Wilson, “Mr. Ford is a very busy and important man and he doesn’t just see people without an appointment. If you’re looking for a job, I can give you directions to the employment office.”

Dejected, Wilson departed, but as he started down the hallway, in the other direction was walking a thin, older gentleman wearing a straw hat.

The man stopped Wilson and asked  him, “Young man, what are you doing here?”

“I’m here to see Mr. Ford.”

“Henry Ford?” the older gentleman asked.

“Yes,” Larry replied, “Henry Ford.”

“Well that’s me. Why did you want to see me?” the industrialist asked.

Wilson unwrapped his two tin models and told Ford of his dream of making cars. Impressed with the quality of the work, and perhaps reminded of his own youthful enthusiasm, Ford hired him on the spot as an apprentice model maker.

Though you might think the story is apocryphal, the protagonist is identified by name and the story teller is someone with some credibility as an automotive historian. It also has a ring of truth. At the age of 16, Jack Telnack, who later headed Ford design, got an interview with Ford advanced styling head Alex Tremulis because of his interest in becoming a car designer. Tremulis told him to go to design school and then gave Telnack his first job when he graduated. A number of designers working for General Motors and other domestic automakers got their starts as teens competing in GM’s Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild model making competition.

After Henry Ford hired him, Larry Wilson would go on to spend his entire career as a clay modeler in Ford’s styling department. Once, while going through some stored materials, he came across the contents of Edsel Ford’s personal office, removed after his 1943 death. Among those artifacts was Edsel Ford’s personal 1:10 scale model of the original Lincoln Continental, sculpted by Gene Adams, the clay modeler who worked with stylist Bob Gregorie on the Continental’s design. It wasn’t quite the first model of the Continental — that one was sculpted by Gregorie and Adams over an existing Lincoln Zephyr model — but it was likely used to develop the bumpers and trim on the production car. The fact that it was the personal property of Edsel Ford gives it unmatched provenance.

Wilson eventually passed the model to Sandifer, where it is part of what is likely the largest collection of styling studio scale models anywhere.

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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You Can Buy the Largest Corvair Ever Made http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/can-buy-largest-corvair-ever-made/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/can-buy-largest-corvair-ever-made/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 12:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1108969 With the number of people collecting “mid-century” artifacts, the stuff of middle class American life in the 1950s and early 1960s, it shouldn’t come as a surprise there are folks who collect vintage travel trailers. Actually, if you’ve gone to enough car shows, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all as owners of cars of […]

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With the number of people collecting “mid-century” artifacts, the stuff of middle class American life in the 1950s and early 1960s, it shouldn’t come as a surprise there are folks who collect vintage travel trailers. Actually, if you’ve gone to enough car shows, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all as owners of cars of that vintage sometimes bring along period trailers and make their show displays more eye-catching (though I suspect some of those trailers are indeed trailer queens and are trailered, not towed, recursively, to car shows). In the corner of Cobo Hall’s basement at this year’s Detroit Autorama, someone set up their ’50s car with a period correct travel trailer. Two years ago, the Packard Proving Grounds’ annual summer car show had vintage trailers and RVs as a featured class.

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If you have an old Airstream or a vintage Shasta trailer and you’ve been hoping to someday tow it to shows with your ’59 Mercury Colony Park station wagon, but it looks a little shabby, you’re in luck. Self-professed “Camper Man” Tony Secreto’s Ynot Camper Restoration in Jackson, Michigan can make your camper or RV look just as good as it did when it left Elkhart, Indiana.

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That’s not a joke. The recreational vehicle industry employs a large number of people in Indiana. As a matter of fact, the RV Museum and Hall of Fame is located in Elkhart. Since RV enthusiasts love the open road, I’m guessing that some even make the RVM&HoF a destination for road trips. I once did a museum tour road trip of western Michigan and northern Indiana, with stops near Kalamazoo (the Gilmore), in South Bend (Studebaker) and Auburn (the ACD and NATMUS museums). Finding myself in a motel in Elkhart waiting for the Studebaker National Museum to open at 10 AM, I checked out the RV museum and definitely found it to be worth a visit if you’re already in the area.

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Ynot’s portfolio of completed restorations includes names you might recognize like Airstream, Shasta and Gypsy, along with obscure brands like the 1955 Tiny Home they restored. Secreto is currently working on about 10 campers and also has a small inventory of vintage travel trailers for sale. Perhaps the most interesting is a restored Ultra Van, a self contained RV using a Corvair drivetrain.

The Ultra Van, at 22’x8’x8′ with a 152 inch wheelbase, is called by some “the world’s largest production Corvair” and is even considered a genuine Corvair by the Corvair Society of America (CORSA). The creation was the brainchild of California based aircraft designer David Peterson. Like an airplane, it has a monocoque construction using aluminum spars and a stressed aluminum skin, with fiberglass caps for the front and rear ends of the vehicle. Using the Corvair drivetrain, mounted low at the back of the Ultra Van, meant more usable space inside as well as a flat floor from front to back. The air-cooled Corvair engine also didn’t need a radiator, allowing for simpler construction and a smooth, aero-friendly face. Peterson cleverly used the mobile home’s four aluminum tanks — for fresh water and holding grey water and sewage — as structural members, much as some race cars of the era incorporated fuel tanks into the vehicles’ chassis.

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After building 15 Ultra Vans in California, assembly was moved to Kansas, home of Cessna and much of America’s general aviation industry. A Wichita concern bought the rights from Peterson in 1964 and by 1966 two Ultra Vans a month were rolling off an airplane hanger assembly line. Production ended in either 1969 or 1970, at least in part due to General Motors’ discontinuing their own production of the Corvair and it’s unique powertrain. About 330 Ultra Vans with Corvair drivetrains were built. Some sources say ~370, but that includes 46 second-generation Ultra Vans that used V8 Corvette power and a marine drive unit. About 200 still exist and they have their own enthusiast community that dates to the RV’s original production run, the Ultra Van Motor Coach Club.

TTAC’s Curbside Classics reviewed the history of the Ultra Van back in 2011. Paul Niedermeyer said the ultimate death knell for the Ultra Van was the introduction of Winnebago’s first mass produced truck chassis based RV, which was substantially cheaper than the UV, even after considering the Ultra Van’s significantly better fuel economy. For an even more complete look at the Ultra Van, you can check out a dedicated section of the Corvair.org website devoted specifically to the RV.

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If you’re a Corvair collector and your family has outgrown your Greenbriar van, Ynot will sell you their Ultra Van for $35,000, thought that price is a bit of any outlier. The Ultra Van website currently shows seven other motor homes for sale ranging in price and condition from $500 to $14,900. This one in Otsego, Michigan at $1,800 looks like a promising project. With aluminum and fiberglass construction, rust shouldn’t be a problem and Corvair parts are easy to find.

If you do buy one, you’ll be welcome at a variety of car, truck and RV & camper shows and gatherings. I spotted the white Ultra Van pictured here at one of the annual Orphan Car Shows held in Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park where it was parked with the fine selection of Corvairs that show always features. Coincidentally, Riverside Park was the same location where I came across Secreto’s restored Ultra Van, though it was at this year’s Vintage Volkswagen show. When I asked him “what’s a Corvair doing at a VW show?” Secreto told me that he simply told the show organizers that it was rear engined and air-cooled. Actually, back in the 1960s when the Ultra Van was in production, swapping in a Corvair engine to give a Vee Dub more power was not uncommon, and it’s still a popular topic with air-cooled VW enthusiasts (here, here, and here).

Photos by the author. The full galleries can be seen here.

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

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Hey, Hey, It’s the Fonz Dream Rod Monkeemobile http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/hey-hey-fonz-dream-rod-monkeemobile/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/hey-hey-fonz-dream-rod-monkeemobile/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 16:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1093961 A reader, commenting on my post about the Batmobile – arguably the most famous television car there is – mentioned the Monkeemobile, another ’60s pop culture automotive favorite. As it happens, I was already planning some posts on television cars, including one of the authentic Monkeemobiles. Both of those vehicles have connections to the auto industry, one sort […]

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A reader, commenting on my post about the Batmobile – arguably the most famous television car there is – mentioned the Monkeemobile, another ’60s pop culture automotive favorite. As it happens, I was already planning some posts on television cars, including one of the authentic Monkeemobiles.

Both of those vehicles have connections to the auto industry, one sort of incidental and the other the very opposite of coincidence.

The Batmobile was based on the 1950s Lincoln Futura concept car George Barris had purchased for $1.00, years after Ford and the Hollywood studios that used it were done with what was then a rather dated car of the future.

The Monkeemobile, on the other hand, was created from a production car with the direct involvement of a car company and one of the industry’s most legendary PR guys.

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It doesn’t surprise me that producer Bert Schneider asked Dean Jeffries to build a custom car for a television show he was making about a fictional rock band called the Monkees, what some wags called the “pre-fab four”. That uncomplimentary comparison to the Beatles wasn’t particularly fair to the actors and musicians who played the members of the band, as the Monkees weren’t quite a manufactured boy band. Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork were experienced career musicians and Davy Hones had a Tony nomination on his resume before they auditioned for the show. Mickey Dolenz had been a child star.

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Schneider and his business partner Bob Rafelson were hardly schlockmongers. The two produced a number of critically praised and commercially successful movies including Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show. They hired talented people on all of their projects, including The Monkees. While the band members eventually chafed at it, their first two albums were indeed constructed pieces, but they used Hollywood’s best session musicians, known as the Wrecking Crew. Dolenz was a passable drummer, but the recordings featured Hal Blaine, who played on over 100 Grammy winners. Glen Campbell played guitar. Carol Kaye, who played the infectious bass line on Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” (but contrary to her claims did not play bass on Motown’s big hits – that was unquestionably the late, great James Jamerson), contributed, as did Leon Russell and guitarist James Burton. Songwriters included Neil Diamond, Carole King and her then husband Gerry Goffin, as well as bubblegum rock masters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.

George Barris might have had the name and a lot of studio connections, but Dean Jeffries was a designer and fabricator on a completely different level than Barris. That explains why Schneider, who hired the best talent available, approached Jeffries about building a car for the new TV series. Apparently, Batman’s producers also asked Jeffries about making the Batmobile, and he did some initial sketches based on the ’59 Cadillac, but when they told him he had three weeks to do the job, he declined, citing his quality standards.

Today, the first call would likely not have been to a designer but to a car company about product placement opportunities with maybe a toy company in on the conference call to help explore merchandising opportunities. At the time, when Schneider asked Jeffries to build a Monkeemobile, the car was just a rough idea with no thought of which manufacturer or model car to use as a basis.

As it happens, a toy company and a car company were instrumental in the Monkeemobile’s genesis and later success. By 1966, Jeffries was a pretty big star in the hot rod and custom car world and he had a contract licensing the Model Products Corporation, a Detroit area maker of plastic scale models, to sell their versions of his cars. Jeffries gave MPC CEO George Toteff a heads up about the Monkees project. Toteff in turn told his friend Jim Wangers about it.

A Royal Pontiac "Royal Bobcat" GTO

A Royal Pontiac “Royal Bobcat” GTO. Milt Schornack, who built and tuned the Bobcats for the dealership, says Jim Wangers takes too much credit for the GTO.

Wangers is a somewhat legendary figure in the world of automotive PR, and muscle cars as well. The legend may be a bit bigger in his own mind, but then Wangers is a master of promotion, including promoting himself. Whether or not the 1964 Pontiac GTO was Wangers’ idea, he undoubtedly had a major role in its success, making sure that well known street racers and performance oriented Pontiac dealers could get special equipment. Wangers was at least partly responsible for the infamous “ringer” GTO that Car & Driver tested rather successfully against a Ferrari GTO. While C&D acknowledged that the car was “well set up”, it’s not clear if the writers knew that before the magazine picked up their “Royal Bobcat” GTO from Royal Pontiac in suburban Detroit. Wangers had the factory replace the 389 cubic inch V8 with a similar looking 421.

Model Products Corp, MPC, sold over 7 million 1:25 scale Monkeemobiles

Model Products Corp, MPC, sold over 7 million 1:25 scale Monkeemobiles

Wangers realized what a promotional opportunity the show could be for Pontiac, so a deal was made. Pontiac delivered to Jeffries two base 389 4-barrel 1966 GTO convertibles with automatic-transmissions to be converted into Monkeemobiles. MPC was in turn given exclusive rights to sell a model kit of the Monkeemobile. They would end up selling over 7 million copies of these kits, making Jeffries significant royalties. It’s still in production and you can buy the reissued kit from a revived MPC.

By the time ERTL bought MPC (and AMT), George Barris had managed to get his name on the Monkeemobile.

By the time ERTL bought MPC (and AMT), George Barris had managed to get his name on the Monkeemobile.

In one of those weird confluences of pop culture, in the 1970s, ownership of MPC had passed to ERTL, which put some of the vintage MPC models back into production. The Monkees were no longer cool then, but Henry Winkler’s Arthur Fonzarelli was a big hit on Happy Days. To rush Fonzie product to the market, ERTL chopped the Monkeemobile’s phaeton roof to make an exposed, classic style driver’s compartment, added a cheesy figurine of The Fonz and marketed the package as the Fonz Dream Rod. As far as anyone knows, the Fonz Dream Rod never appeared on Happy Days, fortunately. It is, however, a collectible highly prized by Monkeemobile completists.

Ayyyy... doesn't that car look familiar?

Ayyyy… doesn’t that car look familiar?

Corgi, Johnny Lightning, and Husky all sold diecast models of the Monkeemobile.

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It took just a month for Jeffries and his shop to build both Monkeemobiles, turning the convertible into a rather slick looking phaeton. He stretched the nose by 21 inches and added a foot and a half in the back for more passenger room. The GTO’s split Pontiac grille was exaggerated to almost comic proportions, but Jeffries made sure to keep the GTO badge in the grille. One car was intended to be used for filming and the other for promotional appearances, though they both ended up being used on the show. As first built by Jeffries, they had huge GMC 6-71 blowers, rigidly mounted rear axles, and added weight in the rear end. While those mods made popping wheelies easier, they also made driving the car used on the show rather difficult, so the supercharger impellers were removed, leaving a gold painted dummy case for show, with a carburetor hidden inside. During the first season, Monkeemobile #1 was used for principle photography and #2 made personal appearances.

According to Hot Rod Magazine, the second car retained the supercharger, primarily for exhibition runs at drag strips, much like one of the studio-commissioned Batmobile replicas. For the second season, it was also used in filming when the script called for speed, so #2 is an authentic TV car. The drag parachute on the back was apparently functional, as it can be seen billowing behind the car in publicity photos taken for Jeffries.

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There are enough differences between the two cars that Monkeemobile geeks can identify which is which, mostly involving the fake blower. Car number one has a curious history, apparently being abandoned in Australia on tour after the TV show was cancelled. It later showed up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, used by a hotel as a courtesy car, a practical use for a vehicle with rear seating for four. When the hotel went bankrupt, it was sold at a government auction for just $5,000. At some point it was restored, later appearing in the 1997 Monkees reunion TV show and at a “Cars & Guitars” exhibition at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

This video clip is from the Monkeemobile’s final appearance in The Monkees television series, in an episode called The Monkees Race Again. The clip is of a race, perhaps filmed in part on Mulholland in Los Angeles, between the Monkeemobile, driven by Davy Jones, and in a nice surprise, what looks like one of the six genuine Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes driven by a villain. That was long before anyone thought of making Cobra replicas so it was likely one of the actual Shelby Coupes. Based on the number 13 on the rear end, it’s possibly CSX2299, the second Daytona Couple built and the one with the most extensive racing record. Interestingly, rather than using an original Monkees song, the soundtrack to the race is the Surfari’s Wipe Out (or is it the Ventures’ version?).

The second Monkeemobile was eventually purchased by George Barris, and subsequently “restored”, giving it equipment like flat screen TVs that never existed in 1966. As was the case with many Barris related cars, someone else did the bodywork. The bodywork for Monkeemobile #2 was done by Advanced Restoration, as you can see in the video above, shot during the restoration. Barris would go on to have at least two replicas made, further confusing the Monkeemobile’s origins. As a result, he’s sometimes falsely attributed with designing the Monkeemobile, something he’s never gone out of his way to correct.
The flat screen video displays and subwoofers that George Barris added when he "restored" Monkeemobile #2 are not period correct.

The flat screen video displays and subwoofers that George Barris added when he “restored” Monkeemobile #2 are not period correct.

Barris had Dick Dean, who worked with Jeffries on the originals, make a replica, and then a second copy was made using some of the parts Barris removed from #2 when he “restored” it. Jeffries had nothing to do with the fabrication of those two replicas, which vary slightly from the originals, but he directed the building of an authentic third replica that was made for the Monkee’s 2011 45th anniversary tour.

George Barris with Monkeemobile #2 (or one of the two replicas he had made)

George Barris with Monkeemobile #2 (or one of the two replicas he had made)

Ever the promoter, Barris hooked up with Barrett-Jackson to sell the #2 Monkeemobile at their splashy Scottsdale auction in 2008. Mel Gutherie, a Detroit area collector whose family is in the lumber business, bought it for $360,000. He actively shows it around town, and the car is regularly driven to events, even once turning down an opportunity to have it displayed at the Henry Ford Museum (as part of a cars and rock music exhibition) because that would have interfered with its cruising schedule.

For a car that came about due to the involvement of some Detroit insiders, it’s appropriate I’ve photographed the Monkeemobile at two different car shows put on by car company employees in the Detroit area. Two or three years ago it was at the car show held by GM Design employees every year in connection with the Woodward Dream Cruise and then last year I spotted it, next to a Dukes of Hazard General Lee (soon come, mon, soon come), at the Ford Product Development Center employees’ car show.

Photos by the author. You can see more photos of the Monkeemobile here and here.

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

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A Real Batmobile Replica http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/real-batmobile-replica/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/real-batmobile-replica/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 15:00:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1086289 Collectors are often categorized into completists, generalists, and specialists. Actually, I don’t think the dividing line is that clear when you consider someone who tries to collect one of each model year air-cooled Porsche is simultaneously a completist and a specialist. One of the things that keeps writing about cars interesting is how multifaceted the car hobby is. […]

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Collectors are often categorized into completists, generalists, and specialists. Actually, I don’t think the dividing line is that clear when you consider someone who tries to collect one of each model year air-cooled Porsche is simultaneously a completist and a specialist. One of the things that keeps writing about cars interesting is how multifaceted the car hobby is. Some folks collect air-cooled Porsches. Others collect TV and movie cars – vehicles that have had prominent roles in television series or notable motion pictures.

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Even the topic “TV and movie cars” might be a bit too generalist, since there are three or four different levels of collectible show biz cars.

There are the actual vehicles used on camera for principle photography – those are the rarest, the star cars so to speak. Then there are cars prepped to look like the star cars but used for stunts. Because of the nature of stunt driving, few of those cars survive. It’s said the Dukes of Hazzard series went through about 200 Dodge Chargers, but there are only a handful of real General Lees that survived the stunt driving and an even smaller number in restored, show condition. If the series or movie and the car was popular enough, some show cars might have been prepared for the producers, replicas of the star cars, to satisfy demand for public appearances. The fourth category of TV and movie cars are replicas, but privately made – the automotive equivalent, perhaps, of fan fiction. The annual emergency vehicle show in Ferndale, Michigan held in conjunction with the Woodward Dream Cruise usually has a few fan-made Adam 12 and Andy of Mayberry replicas.

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Which brings me to the subject of this post: the Batmobile Covisnt had on display at the recent TU Automotive telematics conference and trade show held in Novi, near Detroit. Either someone at Covisnt is a fan of TV and movie cars, or someone there figured out those vehicles are a good way of attracting people to your booth. At last year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Covisnt had the “Mr. Fusion” powered DeLorean time machine from the second Back To The Future movie.

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As there are so many replica BTTF DeLoreans made that you can buy a ready built Flux Capacitor at O’Reilly Auto Parts, I wasn’t sure if it was the real deal. Consequently, I sent some of my photos to Matt Farah of The Smoking Tire. Matt isn’t just a DeLorean owner and enthusiast, he’s an obsessive BTTF fan. His opinion was the car had the wrong tires – but Covisnt insisted it was authentic and on loan from the Universal Studios Museum.

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In advance of the TU expo, Covisnt sent me PR materials that said they were going to display the actual Batmobile from the 1960s television show. I was a little surprised, as the real Lincoln Futura based Batmobile that came out of George Barris’ shop (most of the work on that car was jobbed out to guys like Bill Cushenberry) was sold by Barris at a Jackson-Barrett auction not long ago. A private collector paid over $4 million for it, and I wasn’t sure if he was renting out the car.

George Barris and 1966 Batmobile #1

George Barris and 1966 Batmobile #1

When I got to the Covisnt booth, though, the Batmobile looked authentic. On the front fenders were badges with Barris’ coat of arms and George had autographed the steering wheel hub, which houses the speedometer, just like on the Futura show car. Everything looked Barris level kitschy, so I figured it was the real deal. When I started writing this post, however, it became clear after comparing photos that it wasn’t the exact car that crossed Jackson-Barrett’s auction block.

That car has prop “Bat Ray” and “Gas” emitters on the front end, as well as some kind of antenna or wind speed indicator just in front of the Batmobile’s cowl (see what I did there?). The Batmobile that Covisnt was showing had none of those things. So why did they say it was the authentic Batmobile?

Well, while it may not be the authentic Batmobile, it is a real Batmobile made by George Barris’ shop for 20th Century Fox Television and Greenway Productions, the studio and production team that made the Adam West/Burt Ward TV series.

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Though there were as many as 200 “General Lees” used to film Dukes of Hazzard, there was only one Batmobile used in the TV series*. However, when the midsummer replacement show turned out to be a surprise hit – and a huge one at that – demand for public appearances caused the studio to contract with Barris to make three replicas. The Barris shop pulled molds off the original and made three fiberglass copies that were then mounted on full-size Ford sedan chassis. The original Batmobile and the first replica were powered by 390 V8s, while #3 used a 352. The first two replicas were exclusively show cars, but Batmobile #4 was given a big block 427 V8 and drag slicks and toured the country, doing exhibition racing at drag strips with “Wild” Bill Shrewsberry at the wheel. The parachutes, dummies on the TV car and other two replicas, were operational, as was the flamethrower for the “turbine” exhaust.

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George Barris autographed the steering wheel hub / speedometer. Note how Barris’ shop “customized” the wheel by just hacking off the top third.

The Bat-Dragster is currently being restored, so I’m pretty sure the car pictured here is either #2 or #3. There’s a website, of course, devoted to the 1966 Batmobile, including the 3 replicas that Barris built. Each of the four Barris Batmobiles has slight differences, but I can’t figure out which one this is, other than the fact that it isn’t #1 and probably isn’t #4, the dragster.

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So which Batmobile do you think this is?

By the way, if you’d like to roleplay (or is it cosplay?) as the Caped Crusader, you can buy your own, officially licensed by DC Comics, Batmobile starting at $80,000 and going up to $220,000 from Fiberglass Freaks. Hammacher-Schlemmer will also sell you one for $200,000. It’s quite possible they’re better built than anything actually made by Barris.

George is a master of self-promotion and the car hobby wouldn’t be the same without him, but he’s a schlockmeister of the highest order and the cars he actually designed or built are generally tacky as can be. Customizers like Dean Jeffries and the Alexander brothers had far better taste, design sense and fabrication skills than Barris ever did. It was the ’49 Mercury “lead sled” that George’s brother Sam built that got Barris Kustoms noticed in the first place. That the Batmobile looks good has more to do with it’s Futura heritage and Bill Cushenberry’s metal working skills than George Barris’ aesthetic vision.

The Alexander Bros’ Dodge Deora and Dean Jeffries’ Mantaray are well beyond anything Barris himself could do in terms of actual innovation, good design, and quality fabrication. There is a true story about Barris showing up at the Detroit Autorama with a non-functioning vehicle, only being able to show the car later after Mike and Larry Alexander fixed it. Still, George cultivated his connections with the movie and television industry and, in doing so, he became a star bigger than the relatively small world of custom cars. You see that when a Barris car comes up for auction. No matter the tacky styling (paint trays as hood scoops?), the indifferent construction and near complete lack of taste, a Barris custom brings big money.

The Dodge Deora has won numerous awards on the show circuit both when it was introduced and more recently when it returned to the show circuit. It was one of the original 16 Hot Wheels cars from Mattel and a popular scale model kit that’s still in production 50 years after the Deora debuted. It may be the most famous custom car or truck not in a TV show or movie. In many ways, it’s a far more significant custom car than the Batmobile. It didn’t, however, star in a TV show and it didn’t have George Barris to promote it. When the Deora most recently changed hands, it’s selling price was $324,500. The Batmobile sold for $4.6 million.

*Part of the drag car appears in the background of one scene in one episode of the TV show.

Photos by the author. You can see the complete photo gallery here.

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

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Did Sputnik Doom the Edsel? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/sputnik-doom-edsel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/sputnik-doom-edsel/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1086329 When I noticed Michael Beschloss did a piece on the failure of the Edsel, I thought it was pretty cool that a historian of his reputation would write about cars. Beschloss is better known for writing about U.S. presidents than automobiles. After reading his piece in the New York Times, Hubris, and Sputnik, Doomed the […]

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When I noticed Michael Beschloss did a piece on the failure of the Edsel, I thought it was pretty cool that a historian of his reputation would write about cars. Beschloss is better known for writing about U.S. presidents than automobiles.

After reading his piece in the New York Times, Hubris, and Sputnik, Doomed the Edsel, I’m less impressed with his reputation.

 

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Note the push-button automatic transmission controls in the steering wheel hub.

As you can tell from the headline at the NYT, Beschloss’ thesis is that the USSR’s Oct. 4, 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite, exactly one month after Ford’s more terrestrial “E Day” launch of the Edsel brand, doomed the new car line by making its gimmicky features seem frivolous in a more serious age.

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Far be it from a mere automotive scrivener like your humble servant to challenge a noted presidential historian, but not only do I think Beschloss’ point about the Soviet satellite is way overstated, he doesn’t even credit the Ford marketing executive who first attributed the Edsel’s failure to Sputnik’s success. Instead, he rather unfairly uses that same executive as an object lesson on the domestic auto industry’s hubris.

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To his credit, Beschloss does refer to other factors that contributed to the Edsel’s market failure and Ford Motor Company’s decision to shutter the brand after only three model years.

The car was introduced just as the United States was entering a deep recession, one that would coincidentally be aggravated by a long strike at General Motors by the United Auto Workers. The styling of the Edsel was odd enough to be the butt of jokes. Initial quality was abysmal, with poorly fitted body panels and problems with the push-button automatic transmission controls located on the steering wheel hub. The Edsel became enmeshed in a power struggle at Ford, long considered a bit of a vipers’ pit of office politics. Once the car went on sale, industry, enthusiast and consumer publications were highly critical.

 

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The 1959 Edsels had less controversial styling.

The basic idea of the Edsel, when it was conceived in 1955, was to carve out space in the mid-priced segment to allow Mercury to go upmarket. What Beschloss doesn’t say is, by the middle of 1957, Ford knew the mid-priced segment had declined 40% since 1955’s banner sales year, against a 16% overall decline in the market for new cars in general. Even before the Edsel went on sale, people within Ford questioned its potential for success.

 

By the 1960 model year, Edsel styling had been considerably toned down...

By the 1960 model year, Edsel styling had been considerably toned down…

Just prior to the Edsel’s launch, Ford put on a gala dinner dance in Dearborn for the various teams involved in the Edsel project to celebrate, including their ad agency – Foote, Cone & Belding. At the dinner was Robert S. McNamara, later to be U.S. Defense Secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, then general manager for Ford’s car and truck divisions. Beschloss, citing Thomas E. Bonsall’s book Disaster in Dearborn, relates how McNamara, gestured at the guests from FCB, and

told Fairfax M. Cone, “Of course, you realize you’re going to have to let all of these people go,” adding that he was planning to “phase out” the Edsel.

Those quotation marks around “phase out” are a little bit troubling. The actual quote in Bonsall’s book makes it clear that McNamara’s wording was slightly different and was a bit more emphatic:

“Of course, you realize you’re going to have to let all of these people go. We’ve decided to discontinue the Edsel.”

The Edsel was actually doomed before either it or the Sputnik was launched.

... at least on the front end. Ford saved plenty of weird for the '60 Edsel rear end.

… at least on the front end. Ford saved plenty of weird for the ’60 Edsel rear end.

Those quotation marks aren’t the only problem I have with Beschloss’ article. Beschloss uses a 1960 quote by David Wallace, then Ford’s planning director for special projects market research, to show that lessons weren’t learned from the Edsel’s failure.

Mr. Wallace went on, “There’s some irrational factor in people that makes them want one kind of car rather than another — something that has nothing to do with the mechanism at all, but with the car’s personality, as the customer imagines it.”

Even in hindsight, Mr. Wallace seems not to have learned the overwhelming lesson of the Edsel fiasco: While consumers of the time may have been momentarily intrigued by the car’s much ballyhooed “personality,” they were shrewd enough, especially as Cold War and economic anxieties descended, to quickly see through Ford’s claims that the Edsel was something “entirely new.”

It’s interesting, and perhaps a bit unfair, that Beschloss uses Wallace as an object lesson in failing to learn lessons from failure, because it seems likely to me that the historian got his Sputnik thesis from the very same David Wallace, though without attributing it to him.

From page 143 of Thomas Bonsall’s book on the Edsel imbroglio (emphasis added):

After the fact, in their personal postmortems, Edsel Division executives were widely divergent in recalling when they decided the Edsel was in trouble. Warnock [C. Gayle Warnock, Ford PR chief] claimed to have sensed it as early as a couple of weeks after E-Day. Krafve [Richard E. Krafve, General Manager of the Edsel Division], got cold feet toward the end of October, while Doyle [J. C. (Larry) Doyle, General Sales and Marketing Manager Edsel Division] held out until mid-November. Wallace insisted years later that the turning point was October 4th – the day the Soviet Sputnik space craft went into orbit, and Americans suddenly began to question the validity of the American Dream itself.

The date of September 5th – the day of McNamara’s ascension – stands out, though. It would be unfair to say he hated the Edsel per se, for it went deeper than that. He hated complexity…

In light of the fact that Beschloss thought Wallace’s blaming of the Edsel’s failure on the Sputnik was worthy enough to repeat, albeit without crediting the source, one might think he’d consider that the Ford executive’s comments on consumers’ irrationality and cars’ personalities were also well informed, even if the Edsel is indeed a synonym for hubris and failure.

Photos by the author.

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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Why Does the Packard Plant Have a Bridge Anyhow? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/packard-plant-bridge-anyhow/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/packard-plant-bridge-anyhow/#comments Sat, 06 Jun 2015 14:32:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1076514   You may have seen the news that the developer who hopes to renovate the decrepit Packard plant site on Detroit’s east side has covered the factory’s signature bridge over East Grand Blvd in a scrim that reproduces the look of the bridge during the plant’s heyday in the 1930s. I’m sure that you’ve seen […]

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The Packard bridge today.

You may have seen the news that the developer who hopes to renovate the decrepit Packard plant site on Detroit’s east side has covered the factory’s signature bridge over East Grand Blvd in a scrim that reproduces the look of the bridge during the plant’s heyday in the 1930s. I’m sure that you’ve seen dozens of photos of one of Detroit’s more notorious landmarks, but have you ever wondered just why a car factory had a bridge?

That bridge was actually part of Packard’s assembly line.

 

The Packard bridge in the early 1950s

The Packard bridge in the early 1950s

Even though the company is closely associated with Detroit and was named Packard, it was started in Ohio by the Packard brothers who had little to do with its ultimate success. The credit for that success, becoming America’s preeminent luxury automobile brand, goes instead to a man named Henry Bourne Joy.

 

The Packard bridge in the summer of 2014.

The Packard bridge in the summer of 2014.

Henry Joy was born in Detroit in 1864 and, I suppose, today we’d say that he had connections. His father was the president of the Michigan Central Railroad and the Detroit Union Railroad Station and Depot Co. Before Henry was born, the senior Joy hired a lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, experienced in railroad law, to work on his business mergers. After attending local schools in Michigan, Henry Joy was sent east to complete his education at elite schools including Andover and Yale. Starting out as an office boy in another company controlled by his father, Joy eventually worked his way up at the DURS&DC, becoming president after his father’s death. He was also an executive of the Peninsular Sugar Refining Company, part of the then new sugar beet industry in Michigan.

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Joy’s resume included military service in two wars – in the U.S. Navy auxiliary during the Spanish-American War and in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I – leaving the service as a lieutenant colonel.

 

Henry B. Joy

Henry B. Joy

Though a native Detroiter, Joy’s interest in automobiles started while on a 1902 trip to New York City. After watching two Packard automobiles start up and chase down a horse-drawn fire wagon, Joy bought the only Packard for sale in the city. He was so impressed by the car’s reliability that he traveled to Warren, Ohio to meet with James and William Packard of the Ohio Automobile Company. The Packards told him they needed capital and he readily put together a group of nine wealthy Grosse Pointers who took a majority ownership in the newly formed Packard Motor Car Company.

 

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Packard plant on East Grand Blvd at Concord in Detroit in the Nineteen teens. Note that the bridge over East Grand Blvd hadn’t yet been built.

When the city council of Warren wouldn’t approve the factory’s expansion, Joy moved the company to Detroit, where a Packard factory was first established in 1903 on East Grand Boulevard. Two years later, Joy hired a young architect with some revolutionary ideas to design Building #10. Hitherto, most American factories were built in what’s known as the “mill style”. Henry Ford’s Piquette Avenue factory where the Model T was first made is an example. It has wooden post and beam construction with brick walls. The factory floors are long and narrow, with wood plank floors. The construction method also limited how many stories up they could build. All that wood was a fire hazard, and early Detroit factories of both Cadillac and Oldsmobile burned to the ground. That’s how Oldsmobile ended up making cars in Lansing.

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Kahn had the novel idea of using steel reinforced concrete as a construction method for both the building’s framework and the flooring. That allowed him to build factory floors with much greater square footage than could be done with mill style construction, allowing for more efficient factory layout. It was also less of a fire hazard. To make factory work more bearable, Kahn put in large windows to let in light and ventilation. One distinguishing feature of Kahn’s industrial designs is that on the outside they weren’t plain buildings. Limestone and brick were combined aesthetically and decorative elements were also included.

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As the first use of reinforced concrete for a factory building, Packard Building #10 is considered a significant location in industrial history. Kahn would go on to design other buildings for the site (as well as for other automakers like Henry Ford). By 1910, it was the biggest car factory in America. Eventually, the Packard campus grew to 35 acres, with 47 buildings enclosing 3.5 million square feet of space. At its peak, Packard employed over 40,000 of the world’s most skilled auto workers at the site.

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As the factory expanded, bridges were built to connect the various buildings. Most of the spans were to transport people and parts but in time; bodies were assembled in the building on the south side of East Grand Blvd while matching chassis were put together across the street, necessitating the assembly line to traverse the Boulevard – hence the famous Packard bridge.

 

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The Packard bridge on the inside. From the look of the cars, the date is either late 1930s or immediately postwar.

A conveyor chain pulled dollies carrying bodies up to the second floor and across the bridge over East Grand Blvd. They were then transported to the drop point on the second floor of Building #12. Final assembly was on the first floor of Building #16, further up Concord Street.

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It’s been 60 years since the last Packard body was dropped at that factory in 1954. The last two years real Packards were made (to distinguish them from “Packardbakers”), 1955 and 1956, saw production moved to a plant on Conner Avenue. In recent years, the decaying industrial facility has become an editor’s cliche about Detroit’s decline – notwithstanding the fact the death of the Packard Motor Car Company is effectively ancient history. Developer Fernando Palazuelo and his Arte Express company have finally taken up the mantle to redevelop the site, starting with the four story administration building on the north side of East Grand Blvd and the bridge.

Exterior work on the bridge is said by Palazuelo to be done within the next year, at which point the drape will be removed.

Non-archival photo credit: Ronnie Schreiber

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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Brotherly Love… For Crosleys http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/brotherly-love-crosleys/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/brotherly-love-crosleys/#comments Sun, 17 May 2015 16:10:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1057386 In 1957, Ronnie Kaczmar was 15 years old and, like most teenage boys living in Dearborn, Michigan in the 1950s, Ronnie and his younger brother Jim loved cars. Unlike most of the boys in Dearborn, though, Ronnie Kaczmar wasn’t into flathead Ford hot rods. No, he was into hot shots, as in the Crosley Hot […]

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In 1957, Ronnie Kaczmar was 15 years old and, like most teenage boys living in Dearborn, Michigan in the 1950s, Ronnie and his younger brother Jim loved cars. Unlike most of the boys in Dearborn, though, Ronnie Kaczmar wasn’t into flathead Ford hot rods. No, he was into hot shots, as in the Crosley Hot Shot and other Crosley automobiles.

 

Ronnie Kaczmar and his first Crosley in 1957

Ronnie Kaczmar and his first Crosley in 1957

In 1957, Ron Kaczmar bought his first Crosley – a 1948 station wagon – and based on the date on a photo with his brother, he soon acquired a Crosley convertible sedan that same year. His love for the tiny but technologically advanced American cars made by radio pioneer Powel Crosley lasted the rest of his life and made his family name synonymous with Crosley enthusiasm. The family still owns that ’48 Crosley wagon. Ron’s brother, Jim, bought his own Crosley, also a wagon, in 1963. While it’s clear Jim Kaczmar loves the little cars, it’s even clearer that he loved his big brother.


Start the YouTube video player. Click on the settings icon in the menu bar to select 2D or your choice of stereo 3D formats

In time, Ronnie Kaczmar became the go-to guy for Crosley information, history and parts. It’s impossible to research the brand without coming across his name sooner or later. Eventually, he started a small business selling Crosley parts and the occasional restored Crosley. While the marque may not be as known as more popular brands, it has an active community of collectors and enthusiasts, with over 1,000 people in the Crosley Auto Club. Just about everyone loves cute little cars, so there’s ongoing interest in Crosleys.

 

Ron Kaczmar and his father Walter drove this 1951 Crosley Super station wagon to all 48 contiguous United States.

Ron Kaczmar and his father Walter drove this 1951 Crosley Super station wagon to all 48 contiguous United States and it has the window decals to prove it. I believe that’s real wood veneer.

You’ll see them at car shows and at auctions, but you’re not likely to see a Crosley in one of Murilee Martin’s Junkyard Finds like you would the slightly less oddball Nash Metropolitan. While the Metropolitan is a cute little car and it had its own novelty song, the Crosley has a better story, starting with the personality of Powel Crosley and his various enterprises.

 

Ronnie (L) and Jimmy (R) with a Crosley convertible.

Ronnie (L) and Jimmy (R) with a Crosley convertible.

Prescient about the value of small, lightweight cars when Detroit was busy going longer, wider and embracing road hugging weight, Crosley’s cars were true pioneers achieving a number of notable automotive firsts. They made the Farm O Road, Crosley’s take on the jeep concept, and the COBRA engine made up of steel stampings copper brazed together. There’s plenty of history to add interest to the Crosley story. Besides, as small as the Metropolitan is, it’s still about 30% heavier than the truly tiny Crosley station wagon, making the little Nashes worth more at the crusher.


The water pump was run off of a power take off shaft on the back of the generator, which was about half the size of the engine itself.

The brothers weren’t the only family members to appreciate the brand. By 1968, Ronnie and his father Walter had driven Ronnie’s blue and white ’51 Crosley Super station wagon to almost all of the 48 contiguous United States.

 

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The Crosley wagon on a trip to Florida in 1968

In 1992, Ronnie took a 6,000 mile trip with a lady friend from Dearborn to Long Beach and back, via Seattle, to complete the list. The car also took trips to Florida with Kaczmar and his parents. As of last fall, the wagon had 38,300 original miles on the clock.

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Ronnie Kaczmar passed away a few years ago, but his brother Jim continues to operate Kaczmar Crosley. If you’re interested in a properly done Crosley, he’s the person to see. Jim also continues to show his brother’s collection of Crosleys.


The grille spinner/propeller was a Crosley factory accessory.

Jim Kaczmar’s enthusiasm for Crosley cars has probably only been exceeded by that of his brother, but in talking to him at Ypsilanti’s Orphan Car Show, it became obvious to me that, while he clearly has affection for the cars of Powel Crosley, he continues his involvement in the hobby more as a tribute to his brother than to the Crosley brand. At the Orphan Car Show last September, there was a for sale sign on the family’s wagon, listed at $9,800. Checking at Hemmings.com, that looks to be about $3,000 over market, but I don’t think you’ll find a Crosley with better provenance, or a better story.

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I can relate to Jim Kaczmar. My interest in cars was spurred by my own big brother, Jeff, whose ’63 Mini Cooper and ’66 Lotus Cortina forever turned me on to unusual little cars that make going around corners fun. Jeff’s even influenced the stories that I write here at TTAC, providing me with a lead on the history of airbags from when he worked for Eaton, along with my continuing coverage of the Elio Motors startup. One reason why I’m interested in Elio is that they’re trying to make a reverse trike.

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Years ago, when Jeffrey and I were kids designing a go-kart we were building using a scavenged two-stroke lawnmower engine (he designed the frame, I did the steering and brakes), we realized we couldn’t afford all the wheels, tires, bearings, etc to make a live axle in the back. Instead, we opted for a mid-engined reverse trike with a single rear wheel. What we didn’t know was reverse trikes need a forward weight bias to keep both front wheels on the ground when cornering. Elio’s trike is front wheel drive with the motor up front. Unlike the go-kart Jeff and I made, the Elio doesn’t lift the inside tire a foot off of the ground on a hard turn. But I still think of my brother whenever I write about Elio.

Photography by Ronnie Schreiber. For more photos of the vehicle in this post, please go to Cars In Depth.

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

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How Detroit Invented Traffic Cops, Traffic Lights, No Parking Zones & Towing Your Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/detroit-invented-traffic-cops-traffic-lights-no-parking-zones-towing-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/detroit-invented-traffic-cops-traffic-lights-no-parking-zones-towing-car/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 14:30:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1054681 Due to advancements such as air bags, driving is much safer than it was when I first got my driver’s license in the early 1970s. Even then, because of seat belts and crush zones, cars were much safer than they had been in the early automotive age. The first decades of the automobile resulted in chaotic […]

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Woodward Avenue: "Drive Safely, Walk Right"

Due to advancements such as air bags, driving is much safer than it was when I first got my driver’s license in the early 1970s. Even then, because of seat belts and crush zones, cars were much safer than they had been in the early automotive age. The first decades of the automobile resulted in chaotic and unsafe driving conditions. Not only were the vehicles themselves dangerous to passengers and pedestrians (three quarters of early motoring related fatalities were pedestrians, often children), in the early days it was a free for all, with the first proposed traffic laws being instituted only after about a decade after the first automobiles. Author Bill Loomis is working on a book on Detroit history and in an extensive article in the Detroit News he discusses just how unsafe driving was a century ago, as well as the role that the Motor City had in making driving safer and less chaotic. Some of those innovations continue to make drivers safe, while others continue to annoy us.

Things we take for granted had to be implemented in the first place; even things as mundane as lane markings. The first centerline on a U.S. road was painted in Michigan in 1911. Before that, people would drive wherever they cared. Cars started to clog cities that weren’t designed with parking in mind, so people would park wherever they wanted to as well, sometimes in the middle of intersections or in front of fire hydrants. The city of Detroit started to use equipment designed to mark lines on tennis courts to paint lane dividers, crossings, safety zones and no parking zones, issuing citations to violators.

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The Ferndale crow’s nest when it was operational. Note the warning to pedestrians to “walk right”. Pedestrians made up about 75% of early traffic fatalities.

Traffic control devices, called Street Semaphores, were first implemented in Detroit. Developed by Cleveland inventor Garrett Morgan (who also invented the gas mask), they were manually operated red and green signs, later fitted with with red and green lights, controlled by a traffic patrolman in a crow’s next above the street. In the 1920s, the Street Semaphores were replaced with automatically operating stop lights, with the first automated traffic light being installed at the intersection of John R. St. and East Grand Blvd. in 1922. Around that time, a yellow light was added to the mix to alert drivers of an impending red light. (By the way, the motivation for switching to traffic lights wasn’t so much safety as saving money. The automated lights cost 10% of what it cost to man a Street Semaphore crow’s nest.)

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A different view of the same crow’s nest. Note the street car lines on Woodward Ave.

To commemorate the Street Semaphores, Ferndale, Michigan installed a sculpture of one of the traffic crow’s nests near where one had been installed in 1920 at the intersection of Woodward Ave and Nine Mile Road. When Woodward was widened in 1928, that crow’s nest was replaced with an automated traffic light, but it was fondly remembered in Ferndale. Artist Shan Sutherland, who received his MFA in metalsmithing from the Detroit area Cranbrook Academy of Art, based his reproduction on historic photographs. The traffic signal is “manned” by a bust of a Ferndale police officer sculpted by Anne Sutherland, the artist’s mother.

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A traffic control crow’s nest on Detroit’s West Grand Blvd, with the General Motors Building in the background. By the 1920s, automated electric traffic lights had replaced semaphores, but traffic cops, another Detroit innovation, were still needed.

Traffic lights weren’t the only traffic control device invented in Detroit. In 1911, the city was the first to implement one-way streets as a way of improving traffic flow and making commercial deliveries easier. The first stop sign in the United States was installed in Detroit a century ago in 1915. It had black letters against a white background. In the 1920s, the familiar octagon shape was standardized by national committees (though for decades stop signs were yellow, not changing to red until the 1950s).

Today, some states and cities have traffic lanes restricted to high occupancy vehicles or hybrid cars. That concept was presaged in the Motor City with an idea called “channelizing” streets, allowing only particular kinds of vehicles, like delivery vans or taxi cabs, on particular streets.

Detroit was the first city to have specific traffic cops, with a quarter of 1914’s thousand member Detroit Police Dept being assigned to traffic duty, and it was the second municipality, after New York City, to establish traffic courts.

Even with traffic cops and traffic courts, illegal parking continued to plague Detroit. James Couzens had been the business manager of the Ford Motor Company from its founding until he got sick and tired of working for Henry Ford in 1913. For a $10,000 investment in FoMoCo, Couzens was eventually paid $38 million. After he retired from Ford, he went into politics, first becoming Detroit mayor and then a U.S. senator. As mayor in 1917, Couzens proposed dealing with illegal parking with what he called “intensive disciplinary training”. Within half a year, the newly organized Detroit Towing Squad had towed almost 11,000 cars to a city owned vacant lot. Couzens, a pretty smart guy later said, “This proved to be something of a shock to the thoughtless and careless, but it proved effective.”

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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Whatizit? Shoulda Known Myron Vernis Had Something to do With It http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/whatizit-shoulda-known-myron-vernis-something/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/whatizit-shoulda-known-myron-vernis-something/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1028081 But of course! While researching this post I discovered that a previous owner of its subject is actually someone that I know, Myron Vernis. I featured his Mazda Cosmo and Toyota Sports 800 in a post on last year’s Eyes On Design show. Myron owns what has to be the world’s finest collection of oddball cars so […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

But of course! While researching this post I discovered that a previous owner of its subject is actually someone that I know, Myron Vernis. I featured his Mazda Cosmo and Toyota Sports 800 in a post on last year’s Eyes On Design show. Myron owns what has to be the world’s finest collection of oddball cars so the fact that this literally unique vehicle ended up in his hands came as no surprise.

The research that ended up  with a phone call from Vernis started with a post by Jason Torchinsky over at Jalopnik, the second in a series of articles asking readers to identify relatively obscure motor vehicles simply from a photo of the drivetrain. Like many of Torch’s ideas, it’s clever and I’m not saying that just because we tend to write about similar topics. Well, maybe a little, but he’s one of the writers over there whose stuff I try not to miss.

A lot of manufacturer’s engines have ended up in smaller companies’ products so there is some challenge to the game. So far his two photographic riddles have involved the 1951 Tempo Matador commercial van and the Zamboni ice resurfacing machine. Both of those vehicles happen to be powered by air-cooled VW Beetle engines.

That reminded me of another unusual car with an air-cooled flat four, one that I’d personally photographed at the Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti a few years back. At first I was just going to email Torchinsky a photo to suggest that he’d really stump his audience with it, since this is a one of of a kind car. Then I thought to myself, why should I give Jason content for free when I can get paid for it here not entertain some of own readers here at TTAC instead of helping another site’s traffic?

So what do you think it is? The answer is after the next break.

Photo courtesy of Myron Vernis. Photo credit: Wolfgang Blaube

Photo courtesy of Myron Vernis. Photo credit: Wolfgang Blaube

It’s a Gregory, a one-off project of Ben F. Gregory, an American pioneer in front wheel drive automobiles and the creator of the Vietnam War era M-422 Mighty Mite four wheel drive mini-truck. Small and of light weight so it could be transported and dropped by aircraft, 5,000 of the aluminum intensive M-422s were made by American Motors for the U.S. Marines. Ben seems to have been a bit of a character as well.

Benjamin F. Gregory was born in Missouri in 1890 and lived most of his life in the Kansas City area where he operated one of America’s first commercial air services along with a flight training school. He took his first flight in 1913 but didn’t really gain an interest in aviation for a few years.

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After his discharge from the Army following World War One, he began a lifelong interest in automotive design, particularly front wheel drive. Per Griff Borgeson’s The Golden Age of the American Racing Car, between 1918 and 1922 Gregory assembled ten or so front-wheel-drive automobiles, approximately contemporaneously with the development of the Citroen Traction Avant in Europe and a year or so before the first of racing pioneer Harry Miller’s FWD race cars. Apparently Gregory paid for those experimental front drive cars by barnstorming a track racer powered by a Hispano-Suiza airplane engine.

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Ben Gregory and his eponymous sports car

Attending an American Legion air show in 1920 got him interested in flying again, not as a just as a hobby, but as a business. By 1921 he was flying a three seater plane, offering passengers a seven minute flight for $5. That was a lot of money in the 1920s but then flying was a very novel experience then. He flew more than a half million passengers,  using the slogan, “Fly With Ben”.

In 1930, Gregory upgraded to the first of what would be five Ford trimotors, with a top speed of 90 mph and capable of carrying 13 passengers. I don’t know if the “mile high club” existed back then, but Gregory did perform marriage ceremonies, as captain of the ship, for at least 90 couples while aloft. Ever the promoter, Gregory mounted $15,000 worth of lights and smoke machines to do nighttime meteorite imitations, and nicknamed the plane “The Ship From Mars”.

He had a bit of luck, too, surviving seven plane crashes, including three of his Trimotors. He was too old to be a military pilot during World War II, but he contributed to the war effort flying commercially until a serious crash put him out of commercial aviation. He continued to fly as a hobby, though.

Returning to his passion for automobiles and inspired by the wartime jeep, Gregory, in 1946, started work on what became the M422 Mighty Mite, a lighter, smaller version of the same concept. He incorporated MARCO, the Mid-America Research Corporation and hired a number of the engineers who worked for Bantam designing the original jeep. MARCO debuted the MM100 in 1950. It had an aluminum body, sat on a tiney 64.5 inch wheelbase and it was powered by a 52 hp, 1.5 liter flat four made by Porsche. It had a novel suspension, independent all around, using swing arms and cantilevered quarter elliptical springs at each corner. Both front and rear ends had differentials with aluminum cases as well as inboard brakes.

Helicopters came into their own during the Korean War and the Marine Corps was interested in a jeep-like vehicle that was light enough to be airlifted into battle by the rotary wing aircraft. The USMC was impressed with how well the MM100 performed in their tests and they wanted to go forward with the project, but only if the Porsche engine was replaced with something sourced in America. In 1954, Gregory turned turn the fledgling American Motors, which was working on it’s own air-cooled V4. AMC started building what was called the M422 in 1960. However, the production run was short, some say less than 4,000 and no more than 5,000 were built. What happened is that in the ten years between concept and production, helicopters got stronger and could carry a standard jeep.

In the mid 1950s, Gregory devoted himself to building a front wheel drive sports roadster with a tube space frame and a hand formed aluminum body. Road & Track tested it in 1956. Though at first glance you might think that’s air-cooled flat four is from a VW, but if you look closely it’s actually a Porsche engine, capable of 70 horsepower, roughly double the power output of a Vee Dub motor of that time. I’m guessing that the Porsche motor was left over from the MM100 project. That engine sits in front of the front axle, facing in the opposite direction that it would have been in a bathtub Porsche. A transaxle sits behind the engine and drives the front wheels. R&T reported that the 1,925 lb roadster could approach 100 mph. The steering geometry featured center point steering with a vertical pivot. Rzeppa constant velocity joints at the wheel end of the equal length drive axles were housed inside oversized wheel bearings.

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Myron Vernis at the wheel of the Gregory. Full gallery here

Initial plans were to build and sell 20 of the roadsters at a price of $5,000, a considerable sum of money in the mid 1950s. To compare, a 1956 Corvette had a MSRP of $3,120. It’s not clear if the high price was a factor but Gregory never put his car into production. He did, however, drive it regularly for the rest of his life, putting over 300,000 miles on it. After he died in 1974, his widow gave the sports car to his friend John Burnham of Colorado, who raced it and then sold it. When Bob Chinnery saw that the Gregory was part of a collection that was being liquidated he knew that he had to buy it. A former drag racer, he had a small collection of motorcycles and race cars. He knew about the car because Bob Gregory once approached him at his race shop, pointed to Chinnery’s Jaguar XK120 and asked him if he wanted a ride in a “real sports car”. They ended up becoming good friends.

Chinnery planned to restore the car, still in almost completely original condition, but passed away before that could be done. Myron Vernis bought the car from Chinnery’s estate. He told me that it drove well, and had no torque steer because of the equal length half shafts, but that it did steer a little oddly because of the center pivot steering.

When I photographed the car at the 2011 Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti, Michigan, it was in Vernis’ collection, but he’s since sold it to the Lane Museum, which says something about the Myron’s taste and eye as a collector.

Speaking of his collection, I suppose that the next car scheduled to join it could be described as mainstream. When I told him I’m in the middle of writing a review of Dodge’s Scat Pack Challenger, Vernis replied, “Oh, I ordered a Hellcat Charger,” rather matter of factly. Well, not quite so matter of factly. I could hear him grin over the phone. Myron has a sly grin that gives me the impression that he knows how it all works. “I wanted the Charger because it has four doors,” he explained. What could be more mainstream than a four door Dodge?

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

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The Last Emperor: 1983 Chrysler Imperial http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/last-emperor-1983-chrysler-imperial/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/last-emperor-1983-chrysler-imperial/#comments Sun, 22 Mar 2015 14:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1026785 It was the late 1970s. Following the oil crisis in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Japanese automakers were able to go from having a foothold on the west coast to being major players in the domestic American market. In 1976, Honda introduced the first generation Accord, a revolutionary package that combined outstanding […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

It was the late 1970s. Following the oil crisis in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Japanese automakers were able to go from having a foothold on the west coast to being major players in the domestic American market. In 1976, Honda introduced the first generation Accord, a revolutionary package that combined outstanding fuel economy, front wheel drive, reliability, practicality, sprightly performance and a standard equipment list that included a stereo and air conditioning. At the time, Chrysler was headed by Lee Iacocca and in a changing automotive world, for some reason Iacocca decided that what Chrysler needed was a large personal luxury car. Burton Bouwkamp, who was director of body engineering for Chrysler at the time, recalled his boss barking “Where the hell is our Cadillac/Lincoln entry?” The result was the 1981-83 Chrysler Imperial, the last V8 powered Imperial to be produced.

The decision was made to use the company’s B-body platform, originally developed for the Plymouth Belvedere and Dodge Coronet. That what was formerly an intermediate sized mass market middle class car was turned into a luxury car indicates the kind of wrenching upheavals the auto industry went through in the 1970s. By then the B-body had morphed into the Chrysler Cordoba (itself originally planned as a Plymouth) and Dodge Mirada. A design by Steven N. Bollinger from 1977 for a Chrysler with a formal grille and bustle back rear end named the La Scala was pulled down from the shelf and that became the 1981 Imperial. Bustle backed personal luxury cars were big in Detroit in the mid to late 1970s, with Cadillac and Lincoln both offering cars with that styling feature.

Though it was based on the Cordoba, the Imperial was not a case of badge engineering, having unique sheet metal and it’s own interior and instrument panel, an early Detroit experiment with electronic dashboards. Heavier gauge steel was used for some panels and the Imperial got more sound proofing than the Cordoba. Another use of electronics was the fact that the 318 cubic inch V8 powering the Imperial had Chrysler’s first modern electronic fuel injection system (the company experimented with fuel injection back in the 1950s, making it available as an option). Each Imperial, when assembled, also underwent a rigid post-production inspection and quality control check that included a five and a half mile test drive. Other QC checks done on every Imperial also included  a high pressure leak test, electronics check, underbody bolt torque inspection, hot engine testing and front end alignment. The Imperial also came with Chrysler’s best warranty, bumper to bumper for 30,000 miles or two years. They were warrantied against rust for three years. Those short terms seem quaint today when low cost Korean cars come with 100,000 mile warranties but consumers had lower expectations then.

Each imperial also came with a Mark Cross gift set including an umbrella, leather bound folder, a gold and leather key fob and a spare uncut ignition key made with Cartier crystal. A power moonroof was the only option, though customers could choose from wire spoke hubcaps or cast aluminum wheels, and between a cassette player, 8-track unit, or a CB radio. Standard equipment included thermostatic climate control, a built in garage door opener, electrically heated and adjusted rear view mirrors, the aforementioned electronic instrument cluster, power trunk release, 500 amp battery, rear window defroster, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-beam map/dome lights, cruise control, power windows and locks, the extra sound insulation, and a 30-watt stereo.

The electronic dash was Chrysler’s own, designed in their Hunstville, Alabama plant that dated to Chrysler’s participation in the U.S. space program. While the display used some fluorescent tubes, the indicators for washer fluid, oil pressure, engine temperature, door ajar, alternator and brake problems were normal incandescent light bulbs, so the system also included a test for bad bulbs.

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The 1991-93 Imperial also featured an early example of a range indicator and microprocessors controlled displays for speed, time, distance, fuel level and transmission gear. Moving past mere buzzers as warnings, the Imperial featured a spectrum of chimes, beeps and tones to remind drivers about seat belts, or headlights and ignition keys left on.

At a MSRP of $20,988, it was the most expensive production car offered by an American automaker in 1981. However, even at that price, it was a money loser. Some say that each Imperial sold ended up costing Chrysler $10,000 in warranty costs. As was the case with a lot of 1980s vintage electronics, the fuel injection system was not reliable. Complaints and lawsuits followed. Eventually Chrysler supplied dealers with a carburetor kit to replace the EFI. One complainant was apparently Iacocca’s buddy Frank Sinatra, for whom a signature model of the Imperial was made. The way the story goes, Sinatra was driving, perhaps to Vegas, in the car and high voltage transmission lines running next to the highway started to interfere with the fuel injection system. Just 278 of the Frank Sinatra Edition Imperials were made, reflective of the regular model’s lack of success, with less than 13,000 sold over the three years it was offered.

Our colleague Murilee Martin spotted one of the FS Imperials at a San Francisco area junkyard not long ago. While it still had its Glacier Blue paint (to match Ol’ Blue Eyes’ blue eyes), platinum colored carpet, sky blue upholstery, Frank Sinatra emblems, and a custom console for holding the 10 Frank Sinatra audio cassettes that came with the car, the cassettes and their bespoke leather carrying case were gone.

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In time, Iacocca would disclaim that the last real Imperial was his idea, having hired in at Chrysler in 1979, only 18 months before the model’s introduction. He said the car was former CEO John Riccardo’s idea. Iacocca, though, midwifed the Imperial and linked his and his buddy Frank Sinatra’s reputations to the car. J.P. Cavanaugh over at Curbside Classics thinks the embarrassing failure of the last RWD Imperial is the reason why Iacocca and Chrysler spent much of the next two decades churning out low risk variants of the K-car, including the 1990-93 Imperial. They even made a stretch limo on the K platform.

The 1983 Chrysler Imperial pictured here was photographed at the 2014 Sloan Museum Auto Fair in Flint, Michigan. The owner wasn’t near the car so I couldn’t check on it’s originality, but based on the dealer stickers that are still on the rear valence, my guess is that it’s a pristine survivor, not a restoration. It’s a great looking car (well, for the era) that didn’t give up anything to Cadillac and Lincoln in the looks department, even if its iffy electronics make it a poster child for the malaise era.

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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Heritage Cuts Both Ways http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/heritage-cuts-ways/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/heritage-cuts-ways/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 13:00:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1015466 An old friend ran the Aragon Ballroom back in the days when it was Chicago’s version of Bill Graham’s Fillmores. He told me that contemporary rock bands that didn’t know any better would insist on being higher on the bill than Sha-Na-Na. After all, Sha-Na-Na was an oldies act, with gold lame suits and greaser […]

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Gallery links below

Gallery links below

An old friend ran the Aragon Ballroom back in the days when it was Chicago’s version of Bill Graham’s Fillmores. He told me that contemporary rock bands that didn’t know any better would insist on being higher on the bill than Sha-Na-Na. After all, Sha-Na-Na was an oldies act, with gold lame suits and greaser shtick. Sha-Na-Na, however, were great entertainers and they would kill the audience. Bowser would come to the edge of the stage, spit something out about “f’in hippies” and by the end of the set the hippies would be dancing in the aisles. The musicians who insisted on higher billing would afterwards insist on never following Sha-Na-Na again. Sometimes, though, following a great act can inspire greatness too, as when Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones reluctantly followed James Brown on the TAMI Show. Performing music or introducing new cars, you don’t want to be upstaged and if you do happen to follow your inspirations, you had better be inspired.

Car companies like to bask in the reflected glory of previous accomplishments of their firms, even if those accomplishments might have been a generation, or a century, ago. That explains why automakers will bring out historical examples of their nameplates to auto shows. At the Detroit show, the new Alfa Romeo 4C Spyder at its official world introduction shared the stage with two prewar Alfa racers and a Tipo 33 Stradale. Also at the NAIAS, Honda had their first car to win in Formula One, their RA272, which won the Mexican Grand Prix in 1965 with R. Ginther at the wheel. A month later, at the Chicago auto show, the wall behind the Toyota display had archival photos of historic vehicles from the company and on the show floor there was a 2000GT. The Stradale, F1 Honda and 2000GT are great examples of what their makers have done in the past, but the problem with bringing them out for an auto show is that people may benchmark what you currently sell against them, if not literally, than certainly emotionally. Also, they can overshadow and distract from the new products that are being revealed.

While the Alfa Romeo 4C seems to charm most who drive it, the Type 33 Stradale is one of the great Alfas. The Stradale has a sensual shape that was one of the major contributors to its era’s automotive aesthetic sensibilities and it’s considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cars ever. Not a few think it’s the most beautiful car ever made. It’s also one of the rarer cars around. A quick check says that only 18 of the roadgoing Stradales were made, each by hand and only 10 are known to still exist.

Not only did FCA and their folks running Alfa in North America risk overshadowing their new product with the Stradale, they compounded the problem by hiring a distractingly beautiful Italian-American model to stand near the 4C coupe and the new Spyder. At both the Detroit and Chicago shows, when I was at the Alfa booth I noticed that photographers were taking photos of her and the Stradale more than of the new Alfa Romeos.

beautifulitalians_l_r

Soichiro Honda was a racer by heart and when it was still generally regarded as the maker of 50-90cc motorbikes, the Honda company raced and succeeded at the highest level of automotive motorsports, demonstrating to themselves an to anyone who bothered noticing that Honda was an engineering force to be reckoned with. 2015 is the 50th anniversary of that racing success, which explains why Honda had the F1 car on display.

Dario Franchitti, who drove Honda powered Indycars before his retirement had the opportunity to drive the RA272 at the Motegi circuit in Japan. He says that the transversely mounted 48 valve 1.5 liter V12 “probably has the best sound of any car I’ve even driven, or heard.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

That F1 car up on the Honda stand may have been too distracting. Even though I spent time in the Honda display taking more than a dozen photos of the Ginther race car (and as you can see in the photos, I wasn’t the only one shooting the F1 car) I can’t tell you, offhand, exactly what vehicles Honda introduced at the Detroit show (it was the FCV fuel cell car).

At the Chicago Auto Show, Toyota’s press conference was mostly about special editions of the Avalon, Camry and Corolla, said to be influenced by Toyota’s sportier S trim lines. Our editors here have discussed how a post on the Camry will get substantially more traffic and comments than one on a desired-by-enthusiasts performance car. Also, my friend Mr. Baruth has pointed out that a properly equipped Camry can scoot pretty good on the road and on the track. Those things may be so, but you’ll have to excuse me if I believe that all of your reading this post who aren’t currently in the market for an Avalon, Camry or Corolla or one of their competitors would walk right past those special editions to get a look at the 2000GT. Again, you can see in the photos that there were photographers, whose job it was to take photos of new products, hanging around the heritage car, not the new reveals.

The headline says that heritage cuts both ways, so I suppose I should give an example of heritage done right at an auto show. One of the unqualified hits of the Detroit show was the new Ford GT. At the 2015 NAIAS in Detroit, the Ford stand was laid out so that before you saw that new GT on it’s turntable, you walked past examples of Ford’s and the GT’s heritage, a 2005 Ford GT and the car that inspired both that and the new GT, a roadgoing 1965 version of the LeMans winning Ford GT40.

When you talk about automotive rock stars, the GT40 is right up there. In the long run it’s even a more important and better known car than the Alfa Stradale, certainly among North American car enthusiasts, so I suppose that Ford was taking a greater risk of overshadowing their new car than Alfa was. However, people poured right past the GT40 and the new GT’s 2005 older brother as they thronged around Ford’s new sail-paneled supercar at the NAIAS. A month later, the new GT was one of the hits of the Chicago Auto Show, a relatively rare occurrence for a car that already had debuted elsewhere. I guess I could say that means that the new Ford GT is indeed inspired.

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

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A Car So Personal Virgil Exner Named It After Himself, the Plymouth XNR http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/car-personal-virgil-exner-named-plymouth-xnr/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/car-personal-virgil-exner-named-plymouth-xnr/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=949705 In the late 1950s, when Chrysler executives asked Virgil Exner Sr to show them what could be done with a highly personalized future car for the popularly priced Plymouth brand, the Chrysler design chief took them at their word and came up with something so personal that he named it XNR, after himself. One of a […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

In the late 1950s, when Chrysler executives asked Virgil Exner Sr to show them what could be done with a highly personalized future car for the popularly priced Plymouth brand, the Chrysler design chief took them at their word and came up with something so personal that he named it XNR, after himself. One of a series of Chrysler Corp show cars built by Ghia in Italy, the XNR was based on the compact Valiant chassis. Unlike many of the other Exner-Ghia concepts that featured Mopar’s marquee motor, the Hemi, the XNR is powered by a souped up version of what would in time become venerable but what was then a new engine, the Slant Six. With its asymmetrical and quirky styling, the little speedster is quite an interesting car, but its provenance, which includes being both Exner’s and the Shah of Iran’s personal vehicles and surviving a Mideast civil war, is even more interesting.

As with Harley Earl’s Buick Y-Job and Bill Mitchell’s Stingray, two concept cars that were also their designer’s personal rides, Exner designed himself a sporty open car. Some call it a roadster but speedster seems more appropriate since as far as the sources indicate, it never had any kind of roof, hardtop or soft.

Sports cars are generally not as big as sedans so the XNR was fabricated on an altered Valiant chassis with a 106.5″ wheelbase and it’s torsion bar suspension up front.  The relatively high-revving Slant Six, in its original 170 cubic inch displacement, earned its name because it lays 30 degrees from upright. One of the XNR’s inspirations were the “lay-down” Watson Indy racers whose Offenhauser engines were also canted over. The Slant Six allowed for the XNR’s sleek hood. With a four barrel carburetor, the 170 CI engine was good for 250 horsepower and as assembled with a manual 3 speed transmission with a floor shifter, the XNR saw 146 mph on the Chrysler test track. Eager to see the 150 mph mark, Exner had engineer Dick Burke design and build a “shark nose” mouth for the front end with a shrouded radiator cooled by electric fans. The modified XNR reached 153 mph at the company proving grounds. The Slant Six’s 6 into 1 exhaust manifold was replaced by a custom cast header with two outlets, one for each of the visible side pipes, both of them mounted, again asymmetrically, on the driver’s side. In addition to the bigger carb and special tuned exhaust system, the Slant Six in the XNR was fitted with a Hyperpak tuned ram intake manifold, a ported cylinder head, special cam and special pistons.

Polarizing in its day and still a bit radical, the XNR has an asymmetrical design. A chrome bumper flush to the sheet metal surrounds a drilled grille inset with quad headlamps, a touch that seems to me to be inspired by trends in the custom car world at the time. An offset scoop, with its own matching drilled grille, dominates the hood and the lines of that scoop fair into the cowl and driver’s windshield and then flow elegantly into a single offset fin that Virgil Exner Jr. a successful car designer in his own right, said was inspired by the Jaguar D-Type. Nominally a two-seater, the passenger was protected by a flat, Brooklands style windshield. When not carrying two, that screen folded down and an aerodynamic and snug fitting steel tonneau was installed to cover the passenger seat. In keeping with the asymmetry theme, and perhaps as a nod towards aerodynamics, the passenger seat sits four inches lower than the driver’s seat. The shape of the wheel wells and winglet fenders would later show up on the production Valiant. Exner neatly tucked possibly aircraft-inspired running lights under the front winglets.

An elegant styling touch is the way the bladed rear bumper incorporates a vertical element that is integrated into the car’s monofin. That vertical element is mirrored by one that drops below the bumper line. The resulting star shape is eye catching to say the least.

After Exner and his team did sketches in 1958 and the following year, a 3/8ths scale clay model was sculpted in Detroit. That model and the modified Valiant unibody was shipped to Ghia in Turin. Ghia and Chrysler had a very successful relationship in the 1950s, with the Italian coachbuilder fabricating most of the company’s high profile concept cars. As was Ghia’s practice with those Chrysler “idea cars”, the XNR’s body was made of hand formed steel.

While Chrysler hype that the car might see production was typical of the day, the XNR was fully engineered and featured a complete black leather interior. While there was a small trunk lid in back, it was easier to access storage for luggage from behind the seats. Instrumentation reflected Exner’s passion for photography, with dial covers that mimic camera lenses.

Once built, the XNR was shipped to the United States where it went on the show circuit, appearing on Road & Track’s cover. Exner drove it as much as he could but after it was no longer needed as a show car prohibitive customs tariffs meant that it had to either be crushed or returned to Italy to Carrozzeria Ghia. “My dad wanted to buy it,” Exner Jr. says, “but if it had stayed in the U.S., it would have to have been destroyed.”

That’s where the story gets interesting. A man from Switzerland, variously identified by the sources as either a businessman or a butcher, bought the XNR from Ghia. He sold it to a man named Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, a Persian collector of rare automobiles better known as the Shah of Iran. The Shah was still ensconced on the Peacock Throne when he sold it to a Kuwaiti, as evidenced by a May 1969 issue of National Geographic magazine that had a photograph of the XNR representing Kuwait’s affluence. It was sold again in the early 1970s to a Lebanese collector. To protect the one of a kind vehicle, the owner hid it in an underground garage for the duration of the Lebanese Civil War that raged from 1975 to 1991.

Karim Edde is a personable Lebanese man who started collecting cars when he was just 15 years old, in 1977,  inheriting the hobby from his father. Trying to find classic sports during a civil war proved to be a challenge. By the ’80s Edde was paying local teenagers in Beirut “…go on their scooters to search the underground garages in the upscale areas—I was looking for Ferraris—and one day, they were all excited about a ‘weird’ car they’d found in a garage just 200 meters from my home. I recognized the XNR from a Swiss book I owned called Dream Cars.”

Though there was a war raging, Edde immediately bought the XNR. That presented him with another challenge: how to keep it safe during the conflict. “I hid the XNR in an underground warehouse,” he told RM Auctions, “that seemed safe at the time, but when the conflict became more global, I had to move it to a different location. In fact, the last two years of the war were so bad, I had to move the car many times to save it from destruction. We had no flat bed trucks, so we used long arm tow trucks to lift the car and put it on a truck and move it around. It was a delicate operation, but we had no choice, we had to move the car to safer locations. After the war ended, the car waited patiently for me to find a restorer that could bring back its past glory.”

Eventually, Edde decided on using RM’s restoration subsidiary in Ontario, Canada, which started work on a two year restoration in the spring of 2009. The car was finished in time for the 2011 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, where it won best in class.

Restoring a one-off car can be harder than doing a similar quality job on a production vehicle. Mario Van Raay, general manager of RM Restoration says, “When we received the XNR in 2008, the body shell was intact and, considering its history, in surprisingly good condition. Many original parts accompanied the XNR, but our greatest challenge was the re-creation of the missing components. Considering that this was a concept car, there was incredible attention to detail, right down to the fine leather interior, beautiful instrument cluster, and custom built hubcaps. Each hubcap was comprised of 35 individual metal pieces. We had to completely scratch-build those hubcaps. Because of the extensive information and many high quality photos available, we could not take any liberties when re-manufacturing all these components. They had to be exact.”

The restoration was aided immensely by access to Virgil Exner Sr’s archive of documentation for the XNR, provided by his son.

Edde put the XNR up for auction in 2012 (again through the RM organization) where it sold for $935,000 to Paul Gould, a New York investment banker. Gould also owns another Exner/Ghia concept car, the Dart Diablo. Both cars were on display at the 2014 Concours of America at St. John’s, which was honoring Virgil Exner Sr as the show’s “featured designer”. In addition to the two concepts an entire class at the concours was devoted to Exner era Mopars.

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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Forward Look Fargo (and Sweptside Dodge): Trucks With Fins http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/forward-look-fargo-sweptside-dodge-trucks-fins/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/forward-look-fargo-sweptside-dodge-trucks-fins/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 15:17:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=958945 By 1957, not only had Ford and Chevy brought modern styling to their traditional pickup truck lines but Ford had also introduced the Ranchero car based pickup and Chevy featured the Cameo Carrier, a conventional pickup that sported many automobile styling trends. Dodge’s trucks, in comparison, were starting to look a bit dowdy. The solution […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

By 1957, not only had Ford and Chevy brought modern styling to their traditional pickup truck lines but Ford had also introduced the Ranchero car based pickup and Chevy featured the Cameo Carrier, a conventional pickup that sported many automobile styling trends. Dodge’s trucks, in comparison, were starting to look a bit dowdy. The solution was to create the Sweptside pickup, with tailfins that emulated Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner Sr’s “Forward Look”, which fully flowered in the ’57 model year. One could be forgiven for assuming that the Sweptside Dodge and the nearly identical Fargo trucks sold in Canada were the product of Exner’s design studio. That wasn’t the case. Supposedly “Ex” wasn’t even interested in restyling the  trucks. In fact the Sweptside pickups had nothing to do with Chrysler’s design team. They were the result of a parts-bin project of Joe Berr, the head of Dodge’s Special Equipment Group.

The Special Equipment Group was something akin to General Motor’s Central Office Production Order, or COPO system that resulted in some legendary limited production muscle cars. Dodge’s group was tasked with modifying production trucks for fleet customers or even individual customers, and the SEG had the power to make whatever changes in a vehicle it wanted to, even going over the heads of factory engineers. The only condition was that operator or passenger safety could not be compromised.

When Chrysler brass wanted Dodge, then ranked #5 in pickup sales with just 7% of the market, to sell a more stylish truck, Berr came up with a clever plan. He procured the finned quarter panels from a 1957 Dodge two door station wagon and had them welded to the fenders of  a cargo bed for the recently designed long wheelbase half ton pickup. The wagon’s rear bumper was also used, and they modified the truck tailgate so it wouldn’t interfere with the new fenders. Unique chrome trim was added to tie it all together and the result was spiffed up with a contemporary two tone paint job and whitewall tires.

When the prototypes were shown to Dodge dealers they demanded the Sweptside go into production but it never sold well. The conversions were essentially done by hand, not on an assembly line. For 1958, the feature was made available in Fargo trim. About 2,000 D100 Sweptside Dodges and Fargos were made during the 1957, 1958 and 1959 model years, though the number of Canadian models produced was miniscule, reportedly only 11 trucks. The Sweptsides were not particularly practical work trucks since the beds were narrower than on non Sweptside models. Production ended in January of 1959

The fins weren’t the only way the Forward Look was applied to pickups. The front fenders were reshaped to duplicate the hooded headlamps on the Forward Look cars and chrome trim was added to accentuate that look. The old fashioned two piece center hinged hood was replaced with a contemporary one piece hood. To go with the more modern look, Dodge trucks also offered an automatic transmission for the first time in 1957.

While conventional 1950s Dodge pickups are a relative bargain when compared to the escalating prices on ’50s Ford and Chevy trucks, that’s not true of the Sweptside models. Also, with only a couple thousand that were made, there are few survivors today. Sweptside enthusiasts estimate that about 165 still exist, about half of them 1957 models. Their rarity and visual distinction has made them very collectible so if you want a truck with fins, be prepared to peel off quite a few “fins” from your bankroll.

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If you love the Sweptside look but can’t afford a full size example, Danbury Mint made a model of the 1957 Dodge. They’re usually red and white, the most popular color combination on the 1957-59 Sweptline, but Danbury also issued them in green and white as well. You might also be able to find the Christmas tree ornament that Hallmark released a few years ago that features a Dodge Sweptline with a tree in the bed. The Hallmark truck is small enough that if you want to, you could display it in the bed of the Danbury edition. Then you’d have something really meta to put on the air cleaner at auto shows should you buy a real Sweptside.

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These two trucks, both of them from the 1958 model year, were photographed at the Concours of America at St. John’s, as part of that show’s Jet Age Pickup Trucks class.

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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Bugatti Royale: The Most Magnificent Car In The World? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/bugatti-royale-magnificent-car-world/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/bugatti-royale-magnificent-car-world/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 18:30:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=951737 Our friends over at Jalopnik ran a post on cars so important to you that you’d make a pilgrimage to see them. I really can’t quibble with the ten *cars that made their final cut, mostly because I’ve seen and photographed three of them myself, a Chrysler Turbine Car, the Gulf Oil liveried Ford GT40 that twice […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

Our friends over at Jalopnik ran a post on cars so important to you that you’d make a pilgrimage to see them. I really can’t quibble with the ten *cars that made their final cut, mostly because I’ve seen and photographed three of them myself, a Chrysler Turbine Car, the Gulf Oil liveried Ford GT40 that twice won at LeMans, and a Bugatti Royale. Now fortunately for me, my pilgrimage to see those cars didn’t involve crossing an ocean or getting on an airplane. It was more like getting on the Southfield freeway and driving 20 minutes to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearbon, Michigan. The museum is surely pilgrimage-worthy as it owns one of the eight extant Chrysler Turbines, one of the six Bugatti Royales that were made, and for a while the 1968-69 LeMans winner was in the museum’s Racing In America exhibit while the 1967 LeMans winning Ford Mk IV was being repaired. We recently looked at the Mk IV and not long ago featured the Gulf colored GT40, plus the Chrysler Turbine cars are pretty well known, so this is a good opportunity to talk about the Bugatti Royale.

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

There are cars that are special. If you get a chance to see a Duesenberg Model J with your own eyes, you immediately understand why “It’s a Duesey!” became an idiom for supreme excellence. Likewise, a Cord 810, so low slung and radical for its day, will grab your eyes when sitting a midst the Packards and Cadillacs of that era. The same is true of the 1956 Continental Mark II, considered one of the most beautiful cars ever made, hand assembled with visible build quality. Any one of those cars could be the centerpiece of a magnificent car collection, so it takes a superbly magnificent automobile to make a Duesenberg, a Cord and a Continental look almost ordinary, a little less special. The Ford museum’s Bugatti Royale sits right next to those illustrious automobiles and it does exactly that. Duesenbergs are large, impressive cars, but it’s possible that when the word massive was coined, it was waiting for the Royale to illustrate its dictionary entry. It’s not just big, it is a beautiful and stunning piece of human creation.

Ferraris have a prancing horse. Bugattis have a prancing elephant, sculpted by Ettore Bugatti's brother, Rembrandt Bugatti. Full gallery here.

Ferraris have a prancing horse. Bugattis have a dancing elephant, sculpted by Ettore Bugatti’s brother, Rembrandt Bugatti. Full gallery here.

Ettore Bugatti planned to build 25 Royales, also known as the Type 41, hoping to sell them, as the name indicated, to royalty. Unfortunately for Bugatti, the Great Depression had depressed the market for $30,000 automobiles, a bit more than a half million 2014 U.S. dollars. By comparison, when the Ford V8 was introduced in 1932 it’s starting price was $495. Henry Ford sold over 300,000 cars in 1932. Ettore Bugatti ended up making only 6 Royales and while ’32 Fords are indeed some of the most collectible cars you’ll find, the Bugatti Royale takes collectible a few quantum leaps higher.

Of those six Royales, two of them are in the French national automobile museum, the confiscated Schlumpf brothers’ collection. Volkswagen, which owns the Bugatti brand, owns a third. A fourth is in a private collection in Switzerland and the fifth is part of the Blackhawk collection. So if you want to see a Bugatti Royale, you’re going to have to go to either Europe or California… or Detroit. Well, properly speaking Dearborn. As mentioned, the Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America exhibit contains a number of great and historically significant cars, but the jewel in the collection has to be Bugatti chassis no. 41-121, known as the Cabriolet Weinberger. 41-121 has a colorful history, traveling all around the world before ending up in Dearborn.

Ordered for his personal use by Dr. Joseph Fuchs, a German who was successful at both his vocation, medicine, and his avocation, racing cars. Delivered in 1931, Dr. Fuchs contracted with the Weinberger coachbuilding company of Munich to body the the 169.3-inch wheelbase chassis. He took delivery the following year.

Soon after Adolph Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany and the Nazis came to power in 1933, Fuchs first went to Switzerland before traveling on to Shanghai, China, then a pretty wide open city. When considering refugees from the Nazis and their connection to Shanghai, one might conclude that Dr. Fuchs may have been Jewish, but none of my research indicates that he was other than a German who didn’t like the Nazis.

Fuchs had the massive car shipped to China but in 1937, with imperial Japanese soldiers advancing in the south of China he left Asia for North America, first moving to Canada and then to New York City. The winter of 1937-38 was a cold one in the Big Apple and the block for the model J’s 12.7 liter straight eight engine froze up and cracked. After unsuccessfully trying to sell it the car was sold for scrap to a junkyard in the Bronx.

One of the things that made Bugattis advanced for their day was the extensive use of aluminum. Amazingly, the aluminum intensive car survived early World War II era scrap drives.

In 1943, Charles Chayne, the chief engineer for Buick and one of the pioneers of the car collecting hobby, found out about the junkyard Bugatti and bought it, shipping it back to Detroit. Following the end of hostilities, in 1946 he started to repair the engine and restore the Bugatti in general, finishing it the following year.

Today we’d call it a restomod because Chayne wanted it to be a driver, not a museum piece. He replaced the original single carburetor with four Stromberg units mounted on a custom intake manifold (possibly of his own design). For all of his advanced ideas, Ettore Bugatti was set in his ways and he never stopped using mechanically activated brakes (Henry Ford also was a fan of mechanical brakes). To drive the car safely Chayne had the braking system swtiched to hydraulics. The car’s original black finish was repainted in oyster white, with a contrasting dark character stripe featuring Chayne’s monogram on the door. A tall man, Chayne also modified the interior to fit him better.

Charles and Esther Chayne donated the Bugatti Royale Weinberger Cabriolet to the Henry Ford Museum in late 1950s. For most of the time since then it’s been on static display but seven years ago the museum hired Classic & Exotic Services, a high end Detroit area restoration shop to get it running so it could be driven onto the show field at the Meadow Brook Concours (now the Concours of America at St. John’s).

Many people who have never visited the Henry Ford Museum are under the mistaken impression that its transportation collection must focus on Ford automobiles. While there certainly are many historically significant Fords, it’s a well curated museum that gives credit wherever it is due. If you make an automtive pilgrimage to the Dearborn museum, you’ll see marques from around the world of cars and trucks, so it shouldn’t surprise you that one of biggest stars of Henry Ford’s museum’s collection is a French masterpiece with Buick connections.

*The top ten pilgrimage cars post at Jalopnik lists a Type 57 Bugatti as being at the Henry Ford Museum, but something must have gotten lost in translation because the commenter credited with making that suggestion actually mentioned the Bugatti Royale at the Ford museum, not a Type 57 (you can see a Type 57 Bugatti that was a best-of-show winner at Amelia Island in 2012 here). As far as I’ve been able to determine, the Henry Ford Museum does not have a Type 57 in its collection. Also, the Jalopnik article says that you can see the 1968-69 LeMans winning Gulf livery Ford GT40 at the Henry Ford Museum but, as was pointed out in a recent TTAC post and mentioned above, that car was on temporary loan to the Henry Ford while the museum’s own 1967 LeMans winning Gurney/Foyt Ford Mk IV was being repaired and preserved. Now that the Mk IV has been fixed, the Gulf liveried car has been returned to its owner.

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

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

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Full gallery here

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

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

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

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

McArdle elucidates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Full gallery here.

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

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

Assembly-Piquette

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

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Ford Model N. Full gallery here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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National Hudson Motor Car Company Museum Opens, Obscures History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/national-hudson-motor-car-company-museum-opens-obscures-history/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/national-hudson-motor-car-company-museum-opens-obscures-history/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 17:10:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=917570 This past weekend, the big annual Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti was augmented by the grand opening of the National Hudson Motor Car Museum, also in Ypsilanti. While I’m usually excited about the opening of new car museums, though the region is gaining what appears to be a fine, professionally run museum, the development means that you […]

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

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

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

What it looks like now. Full gallery here.

What it looks like now. Full gallery here.

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

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

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

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

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The same space today. Full gallery here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Full gallery here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Barrett described the scene for Ford Times magazine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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