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.
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.
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. Read More >
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. Read More >
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. Read More >
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. Read More >
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. Read More >
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. Read More >
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. Read More >
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. Read More >