Category: History

By on December 17, 2015

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The email had all the stopping power of a fart at an office Christmas party.

“TEAM JAPSPEED DRIFT TEAM TO RETURN TO AUTOSPORT INTERNATIONAL”

“Were they returning from 1943?” I wondered. How could any team be named “Jap” anything in 2015?

As it turns out, there are a lot of automotive-related companies and events with the prefix Jap. JapFest, JapAuto, JapSpeed. JustJap. Uh, huh.

I mean, “Jap” is still a bad word, right?

Read More >

By on December 4, 2015

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We’re currently going through a period where conventional sedans and sports cars are losing favor with consumers relative to higher-riding SUVs and crossovers. That’s true from entry level brands to the top shelf. Ultra luxury and exotic car companies have noticed the kind of success that Porsche has had with the Cayenne and just about all the high end companies — with the exception of McLaren and Ferrari — are working on some kind of utility vehicles.

Lamborghini showed the Urus concept in 2012 and earlier this year said they’d be doubling the capacity at their Sant’Agata, Italy factory to put a SUV into production, starting in 2017. Bentley, like Lamborghini a part of the Volkswagen group, is coming out with the dubiously styled Bentayga, whose platform will be shared by the Lambo SUV and new generations of the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne.

The Urus, or whatever Lamborghini decides to call it, however, won’t be the first SUV to wear the Lamborghini brand. Read More >

By on December 1, 2015

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On Nov. 29, 1995, having lost Congress to the Republicans in the 1994 midterm elections, President Bill Clinton reluctantly signed a transportation bill that repealed the National Maximum Speed Limit of 55 miles per hour. The NMSL was made law in 1973, during the Nixon administration, in response to the oil embargo and energy crisis that followed in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. While it didn’t precisely mandate a national 55 mph limit, the law allowed the federal government to withhold highway funds from states that didn’t lower expressway speed limits to 55, the so-called “double nickel.”

It just so happened that the next day was the 30th anniversary of the publication of Ralph Nader’s highly influential book about car safety, “Unsafe At Any Speed.” Read More >

By on December 1, 2015

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In Part One, we saw how Ab Jenkins started his speed record career in a Studebaker, then moving to Pierce-Arrow. His greatest success, though, would be at the wheel of a Duesenberg.

Because its name is German, a lot of people are mistaken in thinking that Duesenbergs — as other magnificent classic-era cars like Hispano-Suizas — came from the European continent. Fred and Augie Duesenberg though, were from the heartland of America, based in Indiana, with a factory in Indianapolis. While the name Duesenberg is most often associated with the great Model J, before E.L. Cord bought their company and tasked the brothers with building the best automobile in the world, Duesenberg made its name in racing. In fact, nearly half of all competitors in the 1931 Indy 500 qualified with either a Duesenberg chassis or engine — or both. Read More >

By on November 30, 2015

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GMC just announced an Ultimate trim level for the Sierra pickup truck. That follows Ford’s success with Platinum-level F-150s that can cost up to $80,000. It seems that nowadays you can’t charge too much money for an American pickup or make it so luxurious that it won’t find an eager market.

It’s tempting to say that wasn’t the case in the early Noughts as a means to explain the failure of the Lincoln Blackwood. In production for barely a year, the Blackwood was the automotive equivalent of a TV sitcom getting cancelled after just the first episode. Ford hoped to sell 10,000 Blackwoods a year, but managed to move only 3,356 for its entire production run. Read More >

By on November 24, 2015

 

Left to right: Augie Duesenberg, Ab Jenkins (seated in Mormon Meteor), Harvey Firestone, Unknown

Left to right: Augie Duesenberg, Ab Jenkins (seated in Mormon Meteor), Harvey Firestone, Unknown

Does the name Ab Jenkins mean anything to you? He was once famous as the fastest man on land. What about the name Bonneville? If you’re a car enthusiast, you might associate it with Pontiac, as Bonneville was the nameplate of the now-deceased brand’s flagship sedan. Alternatively, you might think of the Bonneville Salt Flats, where many land-speed records have been set.

As a matter of fact, if you know the name Bonneville in either of those cases, it’s likely due to the efforts of Ab Jenkins, with supporting roles played by Augie Duesenberg and Herb Newport. Read More >

By on November 19, 2015

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From the late 1940s into the 1960s, Chrysler had most of its high profile concept and show cars fabricated by Ghia in Italy. Chrysler liked how the Italians did high quality work at prices far below what union labor would have cost them in Detroit, and Ghia liked the work and the revenue as Italy was rebuilding after World War II.

The relationship was mutually beneficial in more ways than just financial. Styling and technical ideas flowed in both directions between Highland Park and Turin. Giovanni Savonuzzi scaled down Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner Sr.’s Chrysler D’Elegance concept into Volkswagen’s Karmann Ghia. Exner, for his part, was perfectly happy to put Chrysler corporation nameplates on concepts that originated at Ghia. Read More >

By on October 30, 2015

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In Part One we looked at Clessie Cummins’ development of the first practical and reliable diesel truck engines and his earliest attempts to race diesels in the Indy 500. Though he had succeeded in developing the technology, he still hadn’t achieved the ultimate proof of concept that market success brings. Read More >

By on October 30, 2015

(Note to readers: This was the piece on Clessie Cummins that should have appeared first. Unfortunately, Part 2 of the series ran first and will be rerun later this afternoon — Aaron.)

clessie-cumminsDiesel engines have been in the news lately, and not for good things. The admission by Volkswagen that it has been using a software device to cheat on government emissions testing of at least some of its diesels may taint compression ignition, oil-fired engines in the passenger car market. The trucking industry, however, will continue to use diesels. That’s mostly because of a guy named Clessie Lyle Cummins.

If you’re an automobile or truck enthusiast you likely know his last name, but just as likely know nothing about him.

His accomplishments date to building a working steam engine for his family’s Indiana farm as an 11 year old in 1899, casting the engine parts from molten iron poured into hand-carved molds. As a teenager, he started to take odd jobs including fixing machinery, which led to a job at the maker of Marmon automobiles — Nordyke and Marmon. He was also member of the pit crew of Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp that was the winner of the very first Indianapolis 500 race in 1911, and offered suggestions that made the car faster. Cummin’s loved the Indy 500 and his engines would eventually run there, with some measure of success. Read More >

By on October 1, 2015

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How do you feel about Hitler’s cars? No, I’m not talking about the KdF Wagen, aka VW Beetle, or its wartime variants like the Kübelwagen and Schwimmwagen. I’m talking about the cars more personally associated with the dictator and mass murderer, like his parade and armored cars that find their way into collections and museums.

I’ll get to der Fuhrer’s automobiles in a paragraph or two, but on the way there, I’m first going to discuss someone very stupid. Read More >

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