The Truth About Cars » Books http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 29 Sep 2014 16:40:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 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 is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Books http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/product-reviews/books-product-reviews/ Cars I’ve Loved And Hated by Michael Lamm http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/cars-ive-loved-and-hated-by-michael-lamm/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/cars-ive-loved-and-hated-by-michael-lamm/#comments Thu, 19 Dec 2013 10:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=683498 Micheal Lamm has worn a lot of hats in the automotive media world, including stints as editor and publisher at a number of respected publications (besides siring the man who gave the world the 24 Hrs of LeMons series). In addition to wearing a lot of hats, Mike has also owned a lot of cars including […]

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Micheal Lamm has worn a lot of hats in the automotive media world, including stints as editor and publisher at a number of respected publications (besides siring the man who gave the world the 24 Hrs of LeMons series). In addition to wearing a lot of hats, Mike has also owned a lot of cars including about 80 collectible and special interest automobiles over the past 62 years. Most of them he loved, others he grew to hate.

 

Last year Michael did a 15 part series for Hemmings called Cars I’ve Loved and Hated, which he graciously allowed me to excerpt at my own site. He’s a great writer who accurately conveys what it’s like to be a car enthusiast and I think he’s one of the good guys in the autojourno biz. A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Amazon or directly from Lamm), which Lamm wrote with retired GM designer, the late Dave Holls, is encyclopediac in scope and pretty much the standard reference on the topic.

With just a week to go before Christmas and you have loved ones who love cars, or if you forgot to get your Jewish car enthusiast friends anything for Chanukah, now passed, there’s good news. Lamm decided to publish of Cars I’ve Loved and Hated on CD with the 223 pages of text and 131 photographs laid out in book format by noted automotive artist Casey Shain and though it normally costs $14.95 plus $3 shipping, Mike’s having a holiday sale and if you order it now, you can get it for just $12.95 and he’ll throw in first class postage in the U.S. for free until Christmas day. For more information, visit LammMorada.com or send your check (no credit cards accepted) to Mike at Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 9428 Hickory Ave., Stockton CA 95212. If you ask him, he’ll probably autograph it.

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Book Review: The Extraordinary Life of Josef Ganz: The Jewish Engineer Behind Hitler’s Volkswagen http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/book-review-the-extraordinary-life-of-josef-ganz-the-jewish-engineer-behind-hitler%e2%80%99s-volkswagen/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/book-review-the-extraordinary-life-of-josef-ganz-the-jewish-engineer-behind-hitler%e2%80%99s-volkswagen/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2012 21:21:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=424293 Have you heard the old joke about the three Jewish engineers and Henry Ford? This is the version at Snopes.com: It was a sweltering August day in 1937 when the 3 Cohen brothers entered the posh Dearborn, Michigan, offices of Henry Ford, the car maker. “Mr. Ford”, announced Norman Cohen, the eldest of the three. […]

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Have you heard the old joke about the three Jewish engineers and Henry Ford? This is the version at Snopes.com:

It was a sweltering August day in 1937 when the 3 Cohen brothers entered the posh Dearborn, Michigan, offices of Henry Ford, the car maker.

“Mr. Ford”, announced Norman Cohen, the eldest of the three. “We have a remarkable invention that will revolutionize the automobile industry.”

Ford looked skeptical, but their threat to offer it to the competition kept his interest piqued. “We would like to demonstrate it to you in person”, said Norman.

After a little cajoling, they brought Mr. Ford outside and asked him to enter a black automobile parked in front of the building. Hyman Cohen, the middle brother, opened the door of the car. “Please step inside, Mr. Ford.”

“What!” shouted the tycoon, “Are you crazy? It’s over a hundred degrees in that car!”

“It is”, smiled the youngest brother, Max.; but sit down Mr. Ford, and push the white button.

Intrigued, Ford pushed the button. All of a sudden a whoosh of freezing air started blowing from vents all around the car, and within seconds the automobile was not only comfortable, it was quite cool.

“This is amazing!” exclaimed Ford. “How much do you want for the patent?’

One of the brothers spoke up: “The price is One Million Dollars.” Then he paused.

“And there is something else. The name ‘Cohen Brothers Air Conditioning’ must be stamped right next to the Ford logo on the dash board!”

“Money is no problem,” retorted Ford,” but there is no way I will have a Jewish name next to my logo on my cars!”

They haggled back and forth for a while and finally they settled. Five Million Dollars, and the Cohens’ name would be left off. However, the first names of the Cohen brothers would be forever emblazoned upon the console of every Ford air conditioning system.

And that is why even today, whenever you enter a Ford vehicle, you see those three names clearly printed on the air conditioning control panel……….NORM, HI and MAX

The story isn’t even apocryphal. Except for the part about Ford’s Jew-hatred it’s complete fiction. Willis Carrier invented refrigerant air conditioning and Packard, not Ford, was the first automaker to offer it in a car.

Now, though, did you hear the one about the Jewish engineer that invented the Volkswagen? Actually, that story isn’t a joke, and it’s not fiction, or at least a persuasive case can be made that it’s true.

That case has been made by Dutch engineer, VW Beetle enthusiast and writer Paul Schilperoord in his book, The True Story of The Beetle (Het Ware Verhaal Van De Kever). The book was first published in Dutch in 2009, selling out its first printing and was subsequently translated into Portuguese. Now, RVP Publishers has just released an English edition, The Extraordinary Life of Josef Ganz: The Jewish Engineer Behind Hitler’s Volkswagen.

Ganz, consigned to historical obscurity in part due to Nazi persecution of Jews, turns out to have been an important and influential figure in German and European automotive development. Schilperoord, more than any other person, has been responsible for restoring Ganz to his deserved role in automotive history, first publishing a series of magazine articles and finally this book. Beyond the book’s central thesis, that Ganz’s concepts and designs for a car he called a “volkswagen” were appropriated by Ferdinand Porsche and Adoph Hitler as the foundation for the design of what became the VW Beetle, Ganz was a respected engineer who was considered an equal by the creme de la creme of European automobile designers. He consulted for Mercedes Benz and BMW on the development of historically significant concept and production cars like M-B’s 170 and BMW’s first in house car design, the AM1. Ganz was regarded as perhaps the expert on swing axle suspensions at the time, and he traveled in circles that included Dr. Porsche and his son Ferry, Tatra chief engineer Hans Ledwinka, and pioneering aerodynamicists Paul Jaray and Edmund Rumpler. There are photographs of Ferry Porsche and Adolph Rosenberger, Dr. Porsche’s business partner and financial backer, test driving a Ganz prototype. Ganz had a long, mutually respectful working relationship with Hans Nibel, the head of Mercedes engineering, and Ganz maintained a lifetime correspondence with Heinrich Nordhoff, who ran Volkswagen from the end of WWII into the 1960s and apparently arranged for Ganz to receive at least some token compensation for his contributions to the Beetle.

On the left is Dr. Porsche's Zundapp 12 prototype. On the right is a CGI image of Ganz's Standard Superior. Ganz consulted with Zundapp before they hired Porsche.

Ganz’s consulting work grew out of his role as editor of Motor Kritik, a German auto enthusiast magazine, what we’d call a “buff book”. A trained engineer, Ganz felt that the German auto industry was making a mistake by only producing large, heavy, expensive cars for wealthy people. In the pages of Motor Kritik, Ganz became a passionate advocate for the development of an inexpensive car that was lightweight, streamlined for aerodynamics, independently suspended at all four wheels, using swing axles in the back, with a rear mounted horizontal engine, all mounted on a platform chassis with a tube backbone. That sounds remarkably like the design brief for the Volkwagen Type I, also known as the Beetle. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Ganz actually called his design a “volkswagen” and he referred to a prototype that he built as the Mai Kaefer, or May beetle.

Click here to view the embedded video.

A number of companies expressed interest in building Ganz’s volkswagen. He built prototypes for motorcycle companies looking to expand into automobiles like Adler, and Ardie. Actually Ganz had extensive discussions with motorcycle manufacturer Zundapp about them building a car on his designs but the talks broke down and Zundapp instead hired Porsche. The prototype Zundapp 12 is widely considered to be a precursor to Porsche’s Beetle design, but Zundapp had had full access to Ganz’s designs during their discussions so it’s impossible to say how much of that prototype was original to Dr. Porsche. Ganz was also a consultant on two air-cooled rear engined Mercedes-Benz concepts, the 120h and 130h, that are also considered to have influenced the Beetle.

Finally, in 1933, the Standard Fabrik company started producing and selling the Standard Superior Volkswagen. They displayed the car and its chassis at the 1933 Berlin auto show, and news of that car was significant enough to merit coverage in the Detroit News. Ganz was at the peak of his career, though he didn’t know it as he stood on Standard’s show booth. Another visitor to the auto show that year would soon change Ganz’s life. Newly installed as Germany’s chancellor, Adolph Hitler attended the show with considerable pomp, as the dictator would make building the autobahns and developing a “people’s car” an important part of Nazi policy.

1934 Standard Superior. A few hundred were made. One survives in a private German collection.

Within a year, Ganz would find himself hounded by the Gestapo, removed from his job as Motor Kritik editor due to Nazi pressure on the publishers (who kept him on as a ghost writer) and thrown into prison on blackmail charges trumped up out of his legitimate attempt to get compensated for patents of his that were infringed upon by Tatra, the Czech company then under control of Volksdeutsch (ethnic Germans) said to have ties to the German secret police. Statements on his behalf by Han Nibel helped get him released and Ganz, now certain that there was no future for him in Germany, fled to Switzerland.

While in Switzerland, Ganz again tried to get his volkswagen made and the Rapid company indeed made a short production run of an open two seater based on his designs. Ganz later had trouble with Swiss authorities appropriating his intellectual property (a not uncommon event around the time of World War II – American Bantam got screwed out of the Jeep and the Canadian government stole Bombardier’s tracked vehicle technology) and after the war he emigrated to Australia where he worked for General Motors’ Holden subsidiary.

Only a handful of his coworkers knew of his role in the history of the Volkswagen and Ganz died in obscurity in 1967. He most likely would have stayed obscure had Paul Schilperoord, in 2004, not read a 1980 issue of Automobile Quarterly, which had a short article about Ganz. Intrigued by the story, he began a quest to document Ganz’s life story. That quest involved visiting archives and museums in Germany, tracking down a complete set of the issues of Motor Kritik, establishing contact with Ganz’s surviving relatives and associates, and finally getting access to Ganz’s personal archive in the possession of Ganz’s former attorney. The result is an important contribution to automotive history. The Extraordinary Life of Josef Ganz is meticulously researched, with hundreds of footnotes citing original documents. Because he was a working journalist in addition to his engineering consulting work, the Ganz archive included hundreds of photographs of Ganz, his cars, and other contemporary German cars and automotive events. The original Dutch edition integrated those photos with the text of the book. RVP Publishers, for the English edition, has instead decided to highlight those photographs, facsimiles of Motor Kritik, and Ganz’s patents, printing them separately on 128 insert pages of special paper, with extensive new captions contributed by the author. Schilperoord writes in an engaging and mostly entertaining style. He’s a fine storyteller and it’s a heck of a story to tell.

Schilperoord’s claims are, ain’t no bout a doubt it, controversial. Dr. Porsche has a large body of acolytes that protect his history. Hans Ledwinka has his defenders as well. It’s a controversial story and when you add in the issue of Nazis and Jews, it only gets more controversial. I’ve known about Paul’s work for a few years now and I sometimes exchange bits of historical information with him so this review is not the first time that I’ve published about the Ganz story. Whenever I bring up the topic of Ganz online there will usually be someone who will pooh pooh Schilperoord’s case for Ganz and argue in favor of Porsche. Others will take up the cause of Hans Ledwinka’s role in VW history. Nothing wrong with debating history. I prefer to assume that those who disagree with Paul do so out of a regard for historical accuracy and not because of less savory motives. Some, though, seem to have an “anyone but the Jew” approach. Almost invariably, when I write about Ganz there will also be those who say that this is a non-story and that there must be some bias on my part because of my own Jewish faith. I suppose that’s possible, though nobody has ever complained when I’ve written about Ab Jenkins and his Mormon Meteors.

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

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Book Review: Car Guys vs Bean Counters: The Battle For The Soul Of American Business http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/book-review-car-guys-vs-bean-counters-the-battle-for-the-soul-of-american-business/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/book-review-car-guys-vs-bean-counters-the-battle-for-the-soul-of-american-business/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2011 18:50:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=400059 I can’t say that I was completely surprised when, about two thirds of the way through Bob Lutz’s new book Car Guys vs Bean Counters, I caught a sideswipe at myself and The Truth About Cars, which the retired Vice-Chairman of GM describes as a Web site that often offers anything but. After all, TTAC […]

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I can’t say that I was completely surprised when, about two thirds of the way through Bob Lutz’s new book Car Guys vs Bean Counters, I caught a sideswipe at myself and The Truth About Cars, which the retired Vice-Chairman of GM describes as

a Web site that often offers anything but.

After all, TTAC and “Maximum Bob” have long been sparring partners, and were indirectly debating the fate and fortunes of General Motors well before I ever started writing about cars. What was surprising was that this passing shot at TTAC’s credibility would actually help bring us, two presumptive arch-enemies in the world of automotive ideas, to a better understanding of each other. The exchange that a single paragraph prompted taught me that, against all odds, Bob and I share a fundamental character trait: we are at our best when we’ve been goaded into action by a no-holds-barred call-out. In celebration of this shared value, let’s take off the gloves and give Car Guys the unflinching look it deserves.

Like almost everything that has ever issued from the mind of Robert Anthony Lutz, Car Guys vs Bean Counters is defined by his maximum maxim “often wrong, but never in doubt.” As you might expect, this perspective produces writing that possesses many of the same strengths and weaknesses as the cars Lutz oversaw. The prose is direct and authentic, as unmistakably the product of one man’s vision as a Viper or Volt. And like those definitive Lutz-mobiles, Car Guys offers a seductive vision that tickles every erogenous zone in the “car guy” worldview, resulting in a flood of uncritical fawning from the motor press. But, like the Volt and Viper, Car Guys is also a deeply compromised proposition, in which profound insights reside next door to excuses, misdirection and questionable self-congratulation.

Like Guts before it, Car Guys is at its best when Lutz is describing the inner workings of the companies he helped run. His ability to draw a straightforward narrative from the complexity of not only a giant multinational corporation, but its historical and economic context as well is not surprising given his well-known affinity for “cutting through the crap.” Lutz has long admitted to being something of a holdover from another era, a man who has reveled in being contemptuously out-of-step with mainstream American culture since the turmoil of 1960s. This perspective allows him to wade through the complexity of GM’s decades-long fall from grace, a topic that has inspired hundreds of “GM Deathwatch” articles here at TTAC, in fewer than 70 pages. And though the narrative slips by with disarming clarity, fueled by a writing style that is authoritative yet personal, like an after-class conversation over a stiff drink with a favorite professor, one can’t help but feel that Lutz is perhaps too talented at boiling down complexity for his own good.

After a fantastic preface and a brief introduction to his 2001 return to GM, Lutz opens his narrative with paean to The General’s post-war golden age, in which “true car guys” like Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell ran GM with inspired abandon, behaving badly while producing cars that became eternal symbols of America’s finest hour. It’s a natural subject for Lutz, who clearly identifies with this bygone era, and he blows through its good, bad and ugly aspects with insight and pith (if, perhaps, too much sympathy for those who failed to see the gathering stormclouds). But when the thunder starts rolling in the early to mid-1970s, not coincidentally around the same that Lutz began to see himself as a man apart from his times, Lutz’s unshakeable sense of certitude becomes more of a liability than an asset.

Any book with a title that includes the word “versus” can be expected to be well-stocked with villains, and certainly GM’s “bean counters” are the obvious candidate. After the excesses of the Mitchell era, in which design exercised haphazard (if successful) dominance, Lutz argues that GM’s “Empire of finance, accounting, law and order… struck back,” as design became a “link in the chain” rather than the ultimate source of GM’s success. The replacement of Mitchell with Irv Rybicki in 1977 is identified as the turning point in the balance of power between GM’s “car guys” and “bean counters,” and with that sea change, Lutz argues

Waste, arrogance and hubris are never desirable characteristics, but the company rid itself of these at a terrible price. The ebullient, seductive volcano of creation had been transformed into a quiet mountain with a gently smoking hole at the top, spewing forth mediocrity upon mediocrity. This shift to the predictable, so seductive to the bean counters, destroyed the company’s ability to compete and conquer.

It’s a compelling argument, and Lutz supports it well with insights into the accompanying shifts in culture at GM design and product development. But Car Guys‘ cast of villains isn’t limited to GM’s overly-left-brained, clueless-about-the-product finance chiefs. Or, as Lutz puts it, “not all wounds were self-inflicted.” And this is where things start to fall apart.

After devoting six pages of the chapter “The Beginning Of The End,” Lutz goes on to spend the remaining 22 pages blaming forces outside of GM’s control for the firm’s epic, slow-motion collapse. The UAW, which traditionally gets a lot of blame for not just the decline of GM but for the entire downturn of America’s auto industry, is actually let off quite easily, as Lutz argues that GM’s inability to confront the union was

a tragedy with no heroes, but also no villains.

But Lutz is not simply repeating the old maxim that success has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan. His cast of villains in GM’s decades of tragedy is legion: government regulators, Japanese currency manipulators, environmentalists, trial lawyers and above all, the media, are all attacked with vigor, leading to the distinct impression that GM was victim of the short-sighted stupidity of others. This is the ultimate contradiction of Car Guys: though the title sets up an internal conflict within GM, Lutz spends so much space blaming outsiders for GM’s woes that, by a third of the way through, it begins to feel more like apologia than clear-eyed soul-searching. And reinforcing this perception is the fact that the very first words of Car Guys are

This book is dedicated to the hard working men and women, at all levels, hourly and salaried, in the domestic US automobile industry. The problems, mostly, were not your fault!

Of course it must then be asked whether Lutz’s villains actually deserve their apportioned amount of blame, as this question of fact decides whether Lutz is a thoughtful student of GM’s (and Detroit’s) history, or an unrepentant apologist. On the issue of CAFE regulation, Lutz argues convincingly that

A programmed, gradual rise in fuel taxation, along the European model, would have caused consumers to think of the future consequences of today’s purchase and would have provided a natural incentive to move down a notch, opting for six cylinders instead of eight, midsize sedans instead of large.

Lutz goes on to explain in persuasive detail (with help from Jack Hazen) how the CAFE-inspired whiplash led to GM’s disastrous wholesale shift to front-drive and smaller cars. But his logic falls short in the sense that he fails to assign blame for GM’s inability to foresee energy constraints or to engineer competent solutions to it. The argument, in essence, is that foreign competitors hadn’t been lulled into complacency by artificially-low gas prices, and had long invested in fuel-efficient platforms and technologies. And yet no connection is ever made between GM’s “golden age” culture of style-driven excess and the erosion of engineering investments which led to GM’s desultory efforts in the 1970s and 80s. The government’s lack of foresight and and courage, rather than GM’s, is unfairly awarded the brunt of Lutz’s criticism.

Once on this trajectory, Lutz goes on to argue that Japan’s currency manipulation and “airtight protectionist umbrella,” a worn-out hobbyhorse of Detroit apologists with no strong documentation beyond vague Cold War geopolitical theory, combined with the fuel-efficiency experience of the Japanese automakers lent the foreign invaders a “teachers pet” image that was, in the words of Hazen, “eagerly snapped up by the liberal anti-US corporation media.” He only mentions Toyota’s crucial innovations in production and corporate culture only to note that they did not initially spread from NUMMI to the rest of GM with much success, but then goes on to indict Toyota-inspired “Total Quality Excellence” consultants for misleading GM’s leaders into a fog of meaningless numbers.

After defending the UAW (presumably also from the “liberal media,” despite the fact that his “solution” amounts to universal healthcare and little else), Lutz devotes much of the remaining blame to the media. I certainly sympathize with the frustration at a press crops that too often clings to convenient storylines rather than seeking a more complex truth, but what Lutz seems to miss as he rips into the media with gusto, is that his counter-narrative is no more subtle nor intrinsically true than the “import good, Detroit bad” perspective he savages. More importantly, his media-conspiracy boogeyman ignores the elephant in the room: had GM made even a few extremely good products during the 70s, 80s and 90s, its moribund reputation might well have been rehabilitated. At the end of the day, Lutz’s villains seem to be little more than glorified context, the backdrop for the real story: GM’s lack of vision, courage and competence.

Luckily, though Lutz doesn’t do enough to allocate blame where it was due, his return to GM gives him occasion to describe what decades of decline had wrought at the RenCen. Sclerotic bureaucracy, visionless leadership, enslavement to meaningless metrics and the resulting uninspired products are all on hand for Lutz’s 2001 return to GM, as if Japanese perfidy, governmental timidity and media criticism had somehow infected one of the world’s largest corporations with a cancer that had inexorably metastasized to corrupt every level of GM’s organization (except for trucks and SUVs, which magically continued to display an inexplicable immunity to these diseases). Of course these faults operate as implicit assignments of blame, but rather than dwelling on their causes (with the exception of Japanese-inspired “Total Quality Excellence experts”), Lutz uses them as his foil for the remainder of the book.

As he dissects inane corporate initiative after wasted resource in the immediate aftermath of his return to the RenCen, Lutz once again hits his stride. And yet, in an almost strange turn of consistency, his shift from apology for, to criticism of GM occurs without the sense of interpersonal conflict that one would expect in such a transition. In what is likely part insightful truth and part gentlemanly whitewash, Lutz frames his battle as being not with any one “bean counter” but a faceless (and therefore, blameless) culture in which management-by-the-numbers outweighed personal accountability. Lutz identifies individual “true believers” who he recruited in his design and product-led transformation of The General, but essentially absolves the thousands of others, including then-CEO Rick Wagoner, of any responsibility for GM’s continued decline and eventual collapse.

Luckily the portions of the book describing his efforts at turning around GM’s culture are extremely engaging, and will probably be the most insightful of the book to regular TTAC readers. As a commentator on GM’s fortunes over the last three years, I certainly wish I could have been more exposed to these internal battles over design conception, sheet metal techniques, perceptual quality, global vision and consumer-orientation as they were playing out in real time. The extent to which GM had gone down the “bean counter” rabbit hole is eye-popping, and Lutz clearly relished the challenge of working his “creative destruction” upon the staid, uncreative product development process.

The Lutz-led revolution at GM appropriately culminates in the Chevrolet Volt, a concept born wholly of the Lutzian gut and inspired by competitive pique at the Prius’s success and the conviction that Americans would not accept the limitations of pure-electric cars. The Volt’s genesis is both a tribute to the right-brained, inspiration-dependent, individual-driven culture that Lutz champions, but as I pointed out in the NY Times op-ed that Lutz disparages in the book, the single-minded pursuit of an epiphany can create serious compromises. To wit:

General Motors introduced America to the Chevrolet Volt at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show as a low-slung concept car that would someday be the future of motorized transportation. It would go 40 miles on battery power alone, promised G.M., after which it would create its own electricity with a gas engine. Three and a half years — and one government-assisted bankruptcy later — G.M. is bringing a Volt to market that makes good on those two promises. The problem is, well, everything else.

But Lutz remains convinced “Volt is the future,” and attacks “the lunatic left and the vocal right” along with “inveterate GM haters” who doubt the Volt’s promise (I wonder where I fit there). He blames much of the anti-Volt sentiment on the bailout, which, like GM’s initial fall from grace in the 1970s, he blames more on external forces than any fundamental failing on GM’s part. He concludes with optimism for GM’s post-bailout future, but waxes pessimistic about the state of American culture and business. His lessons here are valuable, and build to an inspiring call to substitute pride of product for short-term profit-seeking, a vision I certainly relate to as I seek to guide TTAC around the soulless, PR and SEO-driven “path to success” that so many blogs and websites follow and are well-rewarded for. At the end of the day (or in this case, the book), it’s good to know that intrinsic quality has a noisy advocate in the corporate world.

But with Lutz’s ultimate legacy at GM still undecided (as his goal was to create a sustainable culture of excellence that is not yet undeniable), it’s hard not to take much of his work with a grain of salt. After all, the Solstice/Sky may have defied most perceptions of GM at the time with its rapid, design-forward development, but couldn’t it have benefitted from some measured, left-brain analysis of such trifling metrics as interior ergonomics, and roof operation? Again, Lutz’s choice of title is instructive: in his “pre-complexity” perspective, the way forward was a war between two extremes… a reflection perhaps of what he describes in Guts as “a certain duality of mind.” Hopefully future generations can learn from the struggle that he frames, but with the recognition that his struggle is not eternal. After nearly 100 years spent under the spell of either out-of-control “car guys” or unimaginative “bean counters” one hopes the new GM (and, indeed, the entire business community) understands that sustainable success requires both sides working in harmony towards a common cause.

Car Guys vs Bean Counters is available at Amazon.com, and other fine book retailers.

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Book Review: Can-Am Cars In Detail http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/book-review-can-am-cars-in-detail/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/book-review-can-am-cars-in-detail/#comments Tue, 05 Oct 2010 23:34:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=367600 Handed out to undeserved recipients and devalued by lazy writers alike, few words are as hackneyed as iconic or legendary. If everything is an iconic legend, nothing is. Sometimes, though, the words are exactly appropriate. The Canadian American Challenge Cup racing series which ran from 1966 to 1974, more popularly known simply as Can-Am, included […]

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Handed out to undeserved recipients and devalued by lazy writers alike, few words are as hackneyed as iconic or legendary. If everything is an iconic legend, nothing is. Sometimes, though, the words are exactly appropriate. The Canadian American Challenge Cup racing series which ran from 1966 to 1974, more popularly known simply as Can-Am, included cars and drivers that are truly iconic and the series was genuinely the stuff of legend. Though the big block V8 engines of Can-Am last roared over 35 years ago, even today the name Can-Am resonates strongly with car enthusiasts.

Attracted by an almost unlimited technical formula and some of the era’s richest purses, the world’s most innovative constructors and talented drivers flocked to the series. Team owners that have since succeeded in other series like Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Paul Newman and Carl Haas, were active in Can-Am. This was when drivers were not specialists who only raced in this or that series, and many of the Can-Am drivers also raced in Formula One. Not only were some of the drivers the same in both F1 and Can-Am, the two series also raced on some of the same tracks. The Can-Am cars were so technologically advanced, so powerful and so fast that the F1 drivers typically set faster times with their Can-Am cars than with their F1 rides. The series produced technical advancements that still impact racing. Can-Am was so larger than life, that it eventually produced the most powerful car ever designed to race on a closed course, a car which so dominated the series, it is said to have killed that very racing series that spawned it. As I said, the stuff of legend.

Befitting such a larger than life subject, one of the truly golden ages of 20th century auto racing, David Bull Publishing has released Can-Am Cars In Detail: Machines And Minds Racing Unrestrained, with photos by Peter Harholdt and text by respected racing journalist Pete Lyons. It’s a large format book, ~ 11″X11″, hardcover, 244 pages, with a slip case. Noted in passing is that this is yet another graphically rich book printed in China. Apparently the publishing industry is outsourcing to China too.

Because of the large format I’m tempted to call CACID a coffee table book but that would be doing Lyons and Harholdt and their publisher a huge disservice. Yes the book has gorgeous, large photographs of 22 of the coolest cars ever built, all either restored, as-raced or in one case, recreated, but it’s much more than a picture book. CACID gives a vivid sense of what Can-Am was like, showing the variety of cars raced (with their achievements or lack thereof), and their chronological development. What makes CACID different than more cursory looks at Can-Am is that in addition to the legendary Can-Am cars that everyone recognizes, like the Chaparral 2E, Lola T70, McLaren 6 and 8 models, and Porsche 917s, there are lesser remembered marques like Genie, Caldwell, McKee and Honker. Honker? There are cars that won races and championships, cars that were innovative but not very successful, and some backmarkers as well. Lyons and Harholdt’s selection of cars gives a comprehensive view of the series. The “In Detail” part is no brag, just fact. Harholdt’s photographs are visually arresting, the framing and lighting present the cars like the mechanical art that they are, and Lyons’ text treats each car’s racing history in a manner that gives a very complete history of the individual cars, their constructors and the series overall.

You get a visual taste of what’s inside before you even start to read. The slip case is wrapped with a large photo of Denny Hulme’s McLaren M8F, while the book’s jacket cover has a cropped photo of the unequal length and canted velocity stacks of the McLaren M20′s 565 cubic inch (9.26L) Chevy V8 (I told you they were big blocks). Framed by the car’s back wing (one of Can-Am’s many innovations), the brushed aluminum stacks look like sculpture. Inside the book on the page facing the table of contents is a full page photo of the all aluminum Holman-Moody Ford V8 from the Ford 429′er, one of the lesser known cars covered in the book. Based, somehow, on the cast iron production 429, this engine actually displaced 494CI. I hate to be trite and keep using words like stunning and arresting, but Harholdt’s photographs are top shelf car porn. The photographs appear to have been studio shot and the book could not have been possible without the cooperation of the owners of some irreplaceable cars.

The book is arranged chronologically, starting with 1966′s Chaparral 2E and ending with the Shadow DN4 that raced in the half-finished 1974 season. Thanks to owners’ foresight, vintage racing and the recognized value of vintage race cars to collectors’, a representative example of the racing hardware used in the Can-Am series still exists today, making the authors’ task a bit easier. Jim Hall’s race shop restored examples of all of his Chaparrals, which are represented in CACID by the 2E, (of which you can buy Hall-built exact replicas), the radical slipstream 2H, and the vacuum downforce and ultimately banned 2J. The Chaparrals were so innovative that some of their best known advancements contain fascinating subdetails. The 2E is usually noted for introducing high mounted wings to racing cars. Many also know that the 2E’s wing was under driver control, with high downforce in corners and trimmed for low drag on the straights. Driver control with a foot pedal was possible because the Chaparrals had torque converters, not clutches. A detail that is not as well known is the fact that the 2E’s wing struts were not mounted on the body, but rather to the wheel hubs, so the wing didn’t affect spring loading, it applied downforce directly to the tires. Wheel manufacturers and car companies alike imitated the 2E’s cast spoke wheel design. Hall has joked that if he’d bothered to copyright the design, he’d have made more money in royalties from BBS alone than he made racing cars.

Hall’s white cars were innovative, yet weren’t terribly successful in Can-Am, and he constantly butted heads with scrutineers as the series became increasingly concerned with rules. Bruce McLaren’s orange cars were more conventional (though just as beautiful), and they dominated the series, winning many races, often finishing 1-2 with McLaren and Hulme trading podium spots back and forth, and multiple championships. The book includes the M6A, and M8B McLarens in addition to the aforementioned M8F, and M20.

The relatively loose rules in Can-Am meant competitors were always looking for out of the box ideas for more speed. Based on the idea that minimal frontal area and a low profile meant maximum straightline speed, the AVS Shadow Mk 1, from 1969-70, used so-called “tiny tires”, about 30% less tall than other tires then used in Can-Am. The Shadow probably influenced the Tyrell six-wheeler raced later in F1.

There are three of Eric Broadley’s Lolas including the definition-of-automotive-beauty T70, and Ferrari is represented by the 612P, in unrestored condition as Chris Amon last raced it in 1971.

Porsche is represented by three iterations of the 917, the 917PA, the 917/10K, and the uber Porsche, the Mark Donohue / Roger Penske 917/30. The 917/30, at 1,100 horsepower, is acknowledged to be the most powerful closed course race car ever. Chew on that for a second. In almost 40 years, a more powerful race car, at least not one that had to turn right or left, has not been made. There has simply been nothing like the 917/30, then or now. Donohue was closely involved in the development of the car. The 917/30 had a driver controlled waste gate on the turbos that would give him about 1500 HP on demand and a driver adjustable rear sway bar that gave oversteer on demand. Donohue called it the “perfect race car”, and a “monument” to his career, already much accomplished.

To say that the 917/30 dominated Can-Am in 1973 is to state the obvious. Called by some “the car that killed Can-Am”, the 917/30 was so unlimited that it made a mockery not just of the car’s competition but of the concept of competition itself. More dominant than Ferrari in Schumacher’s time. Eight races, eight poles, six victories, one championship. The particular 917/30 in CACID was built for Donohue to use in the 1974 season and is finished in the Penske team’s blue and yellow Sunoco livery. He never drove this car, though. After winning the Can-Am championship in 1973 with the 917/30 and a remarkable 38% of the races that he entered in his career, Donohue retired from driving (he later came back to race in F1 for Penske, a decision that was ultimately and sadly fatal).

This 917/30 was formerly owned by the Porsche factory museum. Current owner Matt Drendel thinks he’s the luckiest man in the world. “What’s it like to drive? I get asked that a lot. It’s like a LearJet on takeoff. It feels like it’s never running out of power, and it feels like that in every gear. It feels like you’re being pushed by the hand of God. One time I floored it in second gear and the front wheels came off the ground!” The 917/30 is not an economy car but Drendel makes it sound like spending $1,000 on racing fuel for 90 minutes on the track with the 917/30 is more cost effective in terms of mental health than a year’s worth of 50 minute sessions with a shrink.

Can-Am wasn’t just about the cars. The drivers were among the greatest ever. The starting grid of just abut any race in the series’ history reads like a motorsports hall of fame roster. Represented in the book along with Hall (he’d previously won a US road racing championship) and McLaren, are Denny Hulme, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, John Surtees, Mario Andretti (who drove a couple of the cars in the book, including a Honker owned by Paul Newman), Sam Posey (he still owns the Caldwell D7 he raced in Can-Am), Chris Amon, Vic Elford, George Follmer, Pedro Rodriguez, David Hobbs, Jody Scheckter, Brian Redman and of course the aforementioned Mark Donohue. Again, the stuff of legends.

At $100, Can-Am Cars In Detail is not cheap but it’s exceptionally well written, with first rate photography and the book is a good value if you’re at all interested in auto racing history. It seems that most contemporary racing series are infected with ennui or malaise. Formula One, NASCAR, IndyCar, all are targets of substantial and substantive criticism. Bernie Ecclestone, Brian France and Randy Bernard can all easily afford to spend a hundred bucks. If they want to get an idea what an exciting racing series looked like, and more importantly felt like, they could do much worse than pop for a copy of Lyons and Harholdt’s book.

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Book Review: Sixty To Zero [Part II] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/book-review-sixty-to-zero-part-ii/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/book-review-sixty-to-zero-part-ii/#comments Thu, 19 Aug 2010 18:06:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=363320 Editor’s Note: Part One of Michael Karesh’s review of Sixty To Zero can be found here. Journalists write stories. A coherent story is a partial truth at best. If it’s portrayed as the whole story, it’s a lie. In Sixty to Zero, veteran auto industry journalist Alex Taylor III provides an unusual level of insight […]

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Editor’s Note: Part One of Michael Karesh’s review of Sixty To Zero can be found here.

Journalists write stories. A coherent story is a partial truth at best. If it’s portrayed as the whole story, it’s a lie.

In Sixty to Zero, veteran auto industry journalist Alex Taylor III provides an unusual level of insight into the relationships between top auto industry journalists and the executives they cover. He acknowledges getting too close to these executives more than once, and blames this for several embarrassingly off-base articles. But even in his most self-reflective moments, Taylor fails to recognize an even larger source of distortion.

Taylor’s explanation for the collapse of GM is simple: the company’s senior executives were removed from reality, wedded to the past, and unwilling to act quickly and decisively to fix their firms’ mounting problems. Ford’s Mulally, according to Taylor, indicates the path Wagoner should have taken at GM. Though true to a point, this explanation doesn’t nearly go far enough. It’s not only simple, it’s too simple.

In Taylor’s view, “the history of nearly every auto company revolves around the CEO.” He has sought and received far less contact with people lower in the auto company organizations—even Bob Lutz, since he was merely a vice chairman, is a “lesser executive” who normally would not have received frequent press attention.

Why such a strong focus on the CEO? For starters, Taylor is clearly moved by status and prestige, the qualities embodied by the CEO position. Taylor’s approach to journalism is also strongly influenced by the desire to tell a good story and sell magazines. Individuals are easier to understand and more enjoyable to write and read about than teams or organizations. Just as Taylor was most interested in talking to CEOs, readers tend to be most interested in reading about CEOs.

Taylor does note in passing that the role of the CEO has been exaggerated: “When a company is performing well, there is an understandable impulse to attribute the success to the CEO and to examine his actions in light of that.” He also notes that “projecting the capabilities of the CEO onto an entire management is especially problematic for a company as large and complex as GM.” Despite these realizations, however, Taylor continued to do both.

Most of all, Taylor never seems to fully grasp that CEOs—even the good ones—have a severely limited and distorted view of what goes on inside their companies. The ideal access he describes, to shadow the CEO as he goes about his daily work, is a step in the right direction. With such access, he might see what a CEO actually says and does, and not have to rely on what the CEO claims, in interviews, to be saying and doing. But even if the CEO does and says what he would normally do and say while being shadowed, this assumes that all of the important activities inside these companies involve the CEO, or at least occur with the CEO in the room.

I must admit to an unfair advantage. Back in the late 1990s I spent 18 months practically living inside various parts of General Motors while conducting field research for my Ph.D. thesis. I attended over 400 working-level meetings within program management, design, marketing, and engineering, and spent entire days as a fly on the wall inside the Design Center. I rarely saw a senior executive. I never saw the CEO.

In one instance, Taylor shadowed Wagoner during a meeting with design executives. But did the real design work happen with Wagoner in the room? Should it have? During the days I spent inside GM, real work only happened when executives were not in the room. When the executives arrived, the real work stopped and the “dog and pony show” began. Beyond this, it quickly became apparent that within GM, and I later learned within just about any organization of any size, scant information makes it up even two levels, much less all the way from the product development teams to the CEO. Whatever information does make it has been heavily massaged. By continuously relying on CEOs as his predominant source of information, Taylor has been fated to keep repeating the same mistakes.

Compounding the problem, Taylor and his colleagues influence the industry that they cover. Executives want to have positive articles written about them, and so further exaggerate how much they can personally know and do. No one gets positive press by acknowledging their limits. After one debacle, GM’s Jack Smith continued to assert that he was well-informed about what was going throughout the organization, as if this were really possible, and tht he was not “out of the loop.” Wagoner convinced Taylor that “he was no forty-thousand-foot manager; he was intimately involved in key areas of the business” and comfortably interacting with everyone from engineers to dealers. Taylor never appears to have tested such claims by actually talking with people lower in the organization.

This exaggeration of the CEO’s role and the CEO’s abilities has been repeatedly validated by the resulting magazine articles. Cults of the CEO have been born and sustained. Encouraged by the press, auto companies concentrate decision-making (or a lack thereof) at the top of the organization even more than they might otherwise.

What both the journalists and most CEOs miss: the best senior executives develop teams of experts much lower in the organization, enable these teams to do their jobs well, then let them do their jobs. Mulally has made some tough decisions at Ford, but he has also focused on eliminating infighting and building teamwork within the organization. Mulally isn’t a car guy, and he knows he’s not a car guy. If he’s as smart as he’s reputed to be, he lets the car guys lower in the organization do their jobs without even pretending to be intimately involved in what they do.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the story one is likely to hear while interviewing a senior executive. Even if the executive does talk about “the organization,” such an account cannot compete with the portrayal of an individual executive for color and doesn’t make for a dramatic article the way killing a brand, publicly taking on the UAW, or a “ritual firing” does. Taylor repeatedly wishes for more “ritual firings”—his term, not mine.

The unrecognized problem with ritual firings: at best they assume that the individual fired was responsible for the mistake, and that other individuals would not have made the same mistake. At worst, they realize this, but don’t care. It’s just fun to watch heads roll. Taylor notes that executive firings were historically much more common at Ford, and that Mulally’s suppression of political infighting improved the company’s performance. Strangely, Taylor does not seem to learn from this that ritual firings don’t improve company performance.

Taylor also calls for auto company CEOs to take more risks, but this seems more than a little cliché. What sort of risks would he have them take? Jack Smith and Rick Wagoner get little credit for GM’s big bet on China. Don Peterson gets labeled an odd “iconoclast” for taking Ford in unusual directions. Roger Smith took many risks while CEO of GM, and gets severely criticized for each of them. Lutz receives mild praise for having some minor successes while avoiding disasters. Taylor wants risks without failures. But the real possibility of failure is what makes a risk a risk.

Taylor’s suggestions that executives should both take more risks and fire more people for mistakes comprise a recipe for firing lots of people. The “ritual firings” he wishes for would discourage the risk-taking he also wishes for. These are contradictory recommendations.

In reality, while there are some bad executives, all too often there are good executives placed within social systems that make it virtually impossible to make good decisions. Unless senior executives fix the underlying problem, which is the organization, not the individuals within it, they’ll just keep firing executive after executive.

Auto industry journalists like Taylor, by celebrating CEOs and largely ignoring the rest of the large organizations they lead, and by repeatedly focusing on the symptoms rather than the underlying problem, have themselves been part of the problem.

By focusing so intently on CEOs, and relying on interviews with them as his primary sources of information, Taylor has, without ever realizing it, spent decades building overly close relationships with the wrong people. Assuming, of course, that the goal was to accurately report what was going on inside these companies, and not making friends with important people in the process of selling more magazines.

I’d like to learn what’s really going on inside these companies, and how and how well they’re actually operating. Such a story makes it into the automotive press perhaps once every five to ten years. We have had insiders share bits of their knowledge, insights, and perspective here at TTAC from time to time. But true investigative journalism, where a writer builds relationships with people throughout these large organizations, and is able to report what’s really going on as a result? There are a number of reasons this still hasn’t happened—among them the very real possibility of “witch hunts” like the one Taylor describes—but I’m still hoping.

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Book Review: Sixty To Zero http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/book-review-sixty-to-zero/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/book-review-sixty-to-zero/#comments Tue, 17 Aug 2010 17:45:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=363128 With Sixty to Zero, leading auto industry journalist Alex Taylor III claims to provide “an inside look at the collapse of General Motors – and the Detroit auto industry.” The book is well worth reading, but not because it actually provides this inside look. Instead, this book, atypically as much personal memoir as history, lets […]

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With Sixty to Zero, leading auto industry journalist Alex Taylor III claims to provide “an inside look at the collapse of General Motors – and the Detroit auto industry.” The book is well worth reading, but not because it actually provides this inside look. Instead, this book, atypically as much personal memoir as history, lets us peer inside the life and mind of a top auto journalist. A close read suggests why such journalists provide little insight into what really goes on inside the auto companies.

Taylor’s coverage of the auto industry for the past three decades (like much of business journalism) has been based heavily on interviews with senior executives, and especially with CEOs. In his book, he describes how journalists seek to build close relationships with executives, and avoid jeopardizing these relationships. Admiring articles written to build relationships with executives even have an insider label: “beat sweeteners.” Smart executives work this desire to build relationships to their advantage. As Taylor notes, “There’s nothing like a little personal attention from a top executive to win over a journalist.”

These relationships between journalists and executives come across as intensely personal. In describing each executive, Taylor focuses on their mannerisms, how they dressed, and whether he personally liked them. Roger Smith had a “high, squeaky voice and jittery mannerisms.” Lee Iacocca: “an insecure man who wore his neuroses on his sleeve.” Bob Stempel: “a big, beefy man [who] would become visibly angry, his face turning red, when he became irked” and “the classroom grind who gets ahead not by virtue of his smarts or quick wit but because he works harder than everyone else.” Lloyd Reuss: “dressed like a riverboat gambler…but underneath he was another GM suit who always saw good times just around the corner.” Bob Eaton: “a peculiar personality that put some people off…his usual expression was of vague stomach upset.” Jürgen Schrempp: “Iacocca’s ego and ambition and none of his insecurity…an imposing man with enormous energy and an irresistible personality.” Dieter Zetsche: “an intense intelligence with an instinctive flair for personal relations…[I] never failed to be charmed by his candor, wit, and the literal twinkle in his eye…he said all the right things.” Rick Wagoner: “smart, personable, and thoughtful.” Mulally: “the personality of an Eagle Scout who had memorized How to Win Friends and Influence People and dressed like a scoutmaster.”

Bob Lutz is a special case. The lusty personal description, too lengthy to reproduce here, includes “the body of a gymnast,” “übermale,” and Savile Row suits “to show off his physique.” Summing up: “Favored with exceptional physical equipment and a psyche that allowed him to give it full expression, Lutz became the center of attention wherever he went in automotive circles. It was a role that he enjoyed and played to the hilt.”

With Iacocca and Lutz in particular these relationships formed “a special club in which [the executive] controlled the membership.” Taylor further describes the relationship between the press and Lutz as “a longtime romance that Lutz cleverly exploited…he pretended we were equal partners in his five-star world of fast cars and international travel.” Taylor guarded a special relationship with Iacocca but ultimately opted not to join “the Lutz club.” As he candidly explains, “I was intimidated by his überness,” “I found his need for attention to be exhausting,” and “hordes of other writers were enamored of Lutz; I didn’t want to get in line.”

These relationships were not always smooth ones. Those times when Taylor did write a critical article he often received a vigorous response from the covered executive. In the most colorful example, Taylor described how Stempel “once forced me to sit and listen while he read one of my articles aloud, correcting me on every point he disputed.” He then notes that this performance in conjunction with Stempel’s physical size and CEO position “created the unmistakable impression that he was bullying me.” Later on, GM’s status as a major advertiser led the magazine to arrange a “sit-down” among Taylor, two other editors, and six of the auto makers’ top executives. In another case, Ford CEO Trotman first tried to use personal connections to kill a story, and when this failed began a “great witch hunt” in search of the leak. Taylor does not acknowledge any way in which these responses shaped his writing, but could they have had no effect?

Most unusually, Taylor acknowledges how often he has been wrong. With both Jack Smith and Rick Wagoner he was acutely embarrassed by incorrectly reporting that GM had turned a corner; another Fortune contributor had to write that the company might go bankrupt. He was sold on Zetsche’s plans for Chrysler. Though he was usually unduly optimistic, this wasn’t always the case. Taylor thought Mulally would fail at Ford because he was an outsider who didn’t dress or talk the way a CEO ought to (in Taylor’s personal view).

Taylor attempts to explain these errors. Blame generally goes to personal attachment to the CEO in question—getting too close—and a desire to write a positive story. He acknowledges “gulping” the “GM Kool-Aid” and allowing his personal feelings for a CEO to influence his opinions about the company. With hindsight he realizes that “executives almost always look relaxed and confident; that’s part of their job,” and so he should not have read much into GM’s CEO appearing relaxed and confident. He recognizes that executives like Lutz are acting out roles—but still seems to have accepted much of what they said at face value.

In the end, we are left wondering how much of the mainstream media’s coverage has been distorted by personal relationships and personal feelings. It seems to be a very small, tight club, where people cannot help but become friends with many of the executives they are reporting on. Does anyone who gets close enough to gather inside information necessarily end up too close? Can people write appropriately critical stories about their friends? To his credit, Taylor seems quite aware how these factors have affected his coverage, and assigns them much of the blame for his missteps.

But this isn’t the whole story. The second part of this review explores other, perhaps more serious limitations inherent in Taylor’s methods—which he doesn’t seem to recognize.

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Book Review Go Faster – The Graphic Design of Racing Cars by Sven Voelker http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/book-review-go-faster-the-graphic-design-of-racing-cars-by-sven-voelker/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/book-review-go-faster-the-graphic-design-of-racing-cars-by-sven-voelker/#comments Sat, 07 Aug 2010 19:08:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=362366 Gestalten, a German publishing house specializing in books on design, has published an intriguing book on a subject that surprisingly has previously only been addressed tangentially but is sure to appeal to most auto enthusiasts: the graphic designs of race cars. While the shape of racing cars has been the subject of endless technical and […]

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Gestalten, a German publishing house specializing in books on design, has published an intriguing book on a subject that surprisingly has previously only been addressed tangentially but is sure to appeal to most auto enthusiasts: the graphic designs of race cars.

While the shape of racing cars has been the subject of endless technical and aesthetic discussion, Voelker points out that the history of the colors and liveries that have been applied over those shapes has not been particularly well documented. Considering the emotional and aesthetic impact of the colors and graphics used, this is surprising. As Voelker says, who would want to watch a plain white Ferrari race?

Documenting the development and history of racing cars’ graphic design presents a challenge to historians. Manufacturer and team archives are relatively bare of original drawings or concepts, the liveries being the usual province of engineers, the cars’ actual designers’ whims, and more often as the years went by, sponsors.

This lack of attention to the background of graphic design in racing is somewhat ironic in light of how iconic the graphic designs of some race cars have been. The light blue and orange Gulf sponsored Ford GT40s immediately come to mind as do the black and gold John Player Special sponsored Lotus F1 cars, or the Camaro and other racers carrying #6 and Sunoco’s blue and yellow livery. As iconic as those cars’ graphic designs continue to be, and Go Faster features examples of all of them, Voelker stresses how many famous race car liveries were almost accidental afterthoughts.

Tony Lapine, who headed Porsche design in the 1970s, was responsible for some of the greatest racing cars in history, like the legendary 917 variants. Though the shapes of the cars were meticulously crafted, the liveries were effected in a casual manner. The famous “Hippie” 917LH had its psychedelic purple and green swirls applied by Lapine in the pits just prior to its first race. Sometimes the teams’ casual senses of humor were not appreciated at the corporate level. Martini, the spirits company, has been a long time sponsor of auto racing. When Count Rossi, the head of Martini, saw how the Porsche team had painted a 917/20 in pink, with the dotted lines of a butcher’s diagram of a pig, he insisted that if they didn’t repaint the car, they must remove the Martini logos immediately.

In the early days, at least in international racing, cars wore national colors. That’s why Ferrari race cars are painted in rosso corsa, and Jaguars are still offered in British Racing Green. German race cars were silver like the famous Mercedes and Auto Union racers. Nowadays white with two blue racing stripes is a color scheme associated with Mustangs and Shelbys (as is the reverse white over blue layout). The blue and white combination was America’s original national racing colors and before it was used on Mustangs, Briggs Cunningham used that color scheme as did the Grand Sport Corvettes in the early 1960s.
Though American racing cars had long featured stickers and logos of sponsoring companies, Lotus’ Colin Chapman is generally credited with bringing corporate liveries to Formula One. Perhaps Chapman’s exposure to American racing at Indianapolis and related marketing was a factor, but in any case, the Lotus Gold Leaf cars were the first F1 cars to feature a sponsor’s color schemes. As mentioned, the later JPS Loti are among the most famous graphic designs in racing history. The Player sponsorship would start a long involvement of the tobacco industry with racing. Marlboro continues to sponsor Ferrari F1 team  – though without any logos because of the anti-smoking nannies, and Winston had a long time series sponsorship in NASCAR that pretty much grew that series into a  major force.

Still, in the 1970s, F1 cars were small and fairly cigar shaped. Sports cars racing at circuits like LeMans had larger bodies and the greater billboard space attracted sponsors. As John Wyer’s team moved from racing Fords to Porsches, the Gulf livery followed, and cemented in enthusiasts’ minds that if a car wore blue and orange, it was fast.

Voelker does cite BMW as an exception in that the Bavarian company has not treated the graphic design of its race cars as an afterthought. The book includes photos of Andy Warhol and David Hockney painting their respective M1 and 850 Csi cars that were part of BMW’s well known Art Car project.

Other historical photos go back to the earliest days of auto racing, to Baron Pierre de Caters’ 1904 90HP Mercedes. The heart of the book, though, is not historical photos.  This is a book about graphic design and Voelker uses a novel graphic method of showing the impact of the liveries of race cars. Starting with his own extensive collection of toy and model race cars, Voelker painted each of the cars with a blanking coat of white chalk and had Daniel Schludi take hundreds of detailed close-up photos both before and after painting. It’s absolutely fascinating to look at the ghostly images of famous historic race cars whose shapes are deeply etched into our brains and see just how much the overlaying graphic designs have affected our perceptions of those shapes.

Since Voelker, like everyone, has his own tastes, there are some cars well represented with varying body styles and liveries, particularly the 917, 911, and 908 Porsches. Those multiples allow you to see just how the differing liveries look on the same basic underlying shapes. Also, there are examples of the same livery on different cars, like the aforementioned Wyer Gulf racers, and the Martini colors (red, dark blue, light blue and white) on Porsches, a Lancia and even a VW Type II Transporter.

The photography is beautifully done and in addition to over 100 pages of large scale photographs, some double spreads, of the cars both nude and painted, are 25 pages of thumbnail images of all 131 of Voelker’s scale models used in this book in full liveries.

His use of scale models allowed Voelker to look at race cars in a way not really possible in real life. Though it’s possible to see race cars sometimes test without liveries, and while you might actually find a tifosi who would watch a white Ferrari race, you’re definitely not going to get the owner of an irreplaceable historic racer to let you repaint it matte white. What are the chances that one could even find, in presentable condition, a VW bus in team colors? So using toys and scale models is a clever solution to an interesting question.

The use of models, though, is also the books only real drawback. Not all models are really made to scale. In design, some features scale well, and some don’t, and not all model companies make true scale models. They want the final product to look good, and if that means slightly larger than scale wheels or the like, oh well. Sometimes the fact that they are models is a bit too obvious. Also, Voelker’s been collecting model cars since he was a boy. These are not obsessed Hot Wheels collectors who won’t let his kids open the blister packs model cars. They’ve been played with. Though many of them are obviously high end, high detail models that I’m sure Voelker treasures, a number of the models are a bit worse for wear, with chipped paint and obvious signs of hard play.

Though the scale and scratches sometimes get intrusive, the overall effect of Voelker’s ‘white out’ is literally illustrative. It will give you a new perspective on scores of your favorite historic race cars.

Go Faster – The Graphic Design of Racing Cars by Sven Voelker
Gestalten ISBN 978-3-89955-279-9
144 pages

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Book Review: Colin Chapman: Inside The Innovator http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/book-review-colin-chapman-inside-the-innovator/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/book-review-colin-chapman-inside-the-innovator/#comments Wed, 23 Jun 2010 17:57:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=359418 At the start of the 21st century, Motor Sport, the UK racing magazine, looked back and asked an expert panel to rank the most important people in Formula One history. Behind F1 majordomo Bernie Ecclestone and Enzo Ferrari, third on the list of 99 was Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman, aka Chunky, founder of Lotus (that’s […]

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At the start of the 21st century, Motor Sport, the UK racing magazine, looked back and asked an expert panel to rank the most important people in Formula One history. Behind F1 majordomo Bernie Ecclestone and Enzo Ferrari, third on the list of 99 was Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman, aka Chunky, founder of Lotus (that’s where the ACBC on the Lotus logo comes from – where the name Lotus comes from is somewhat shrouded in legend and myth).

Of the remaining 96 people, at least 7 were employees or close associates of Chapman. Graham Hill started out building transmissions at Lotus. Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth (i.e. Cosworth) were also early employees. Along with Hill, the drivers who raced for Chapman make up a veritable Hall of Fame: The aforementioned Hill, Jimmy Clark, Mario Andretti, Jochen Rindt, Ronnie Petersen, and Nigel Mansell are just a few. Sir Jackie Stewart drove for him in Formula 2.

Chapman’s racing influence extended well beyond international formula racing. Ideas he either originated or championed have become standard techniques in auto racing. Though he was not the first to race a midengine car at Indy, he was the first to win the 500 with one. Jim Hall’s landmark Chaparrals used suspensions pretty much copied from Lotus F1 cars (Hall had raced F1 in Lotus cars as a privateer).

The Lotus 25 was the first successful modern monocoque racecar design and Chapman was one of the first constructors to use the engine as a structural component of the race car. Well experienced with composites from their road cars, Lotus was arguably the first to build a race car around a carbon fiber tub. Ironically, because the technology wasn’t proven, the safety of the early carbon tubs was suspect, though of course we now know how much safer those tubs have made open wheel racing. With the possible exception of Jim Hall, nobody did as much to make the racing world understand the need for aerodynamic advantage.

It was Chapman, however, who took it a step further and introduced the concept of ground effects generated downforce, created with side pods containing airfoils, underbody contouring and side skirts. Besides the win at Indy, under Chapman Lotus won seven Formula One constructors’ championships and six drivers’ championships. Lotus was successful in Formula Two, giving Chapman a heads up on new talent, and the Lotus Components division sold many Formula Fords, Formula Juniors and Lotus 7s to amateur racers.

Lotus also did well in sports car racing. Lotus won class and index of performance titles at LeMans with the beautiful and aerodynamic Lotus 11, and later won class titles with race prepared Elites (actually they were a bit more than “race prepared” since they had thinner and lighter fiberglass monocoques). In production based racing Lotus also successfully campaigned the Lotus 26R (Elan), and the Lotus Cortina in both the UK and the US. If you search around the net it’s easy to find photos of Graham Hill or Jim Clark at the wheel of a Lotus Cortina, usually going around a corner, often with the inside front wheel a bit off the ground.

Chapman changed the business of auto racing. The deal he arranged with with Ford for the development of the Cosworth DFV was an early version of branding race car engines with big company names, like Ilmor engines carrying first the Chevy and then the Mercedes brands. It can be said that Colin Chapman brought modern corporate sponsorship to Formula One, entering the first car to wear a sponsor’s livery. Not only did the Red Leaf sponsored cars wear the cigarette brand’s colors, Lotus also offered a Red Leaf edition of the Elan. Europas would later wear the colors of John Player Specials. His deals with John Player tobacco and the iconic black & gold JPS Lotus racers that sponsorship funded, may have been a factor in convincing Winston to sponsor NASCAR.

Before the Firebird TransAm wore black and gold, Lotus race and road cars were painted in that distinctive color scheme.

Chapman’s influence on road cars went far beyond paint schemes and race prepping some English Fords. The Lotus Cortina deal didn’t just involve prepping and racing cars. Lotus did considerable modifications and final assembly in-house, establishing a pattern for later boutique shops like Shelby, Roush and Saleen, producing high performance versions sold at factory dealers with factory warrantees.

Though there have been more powerful and faster cars, since the early 1960s Lotus has been the standard by which performance cars’ handling and cornering abilities are measured. Ask anyone who has ever driven a Lotus and they will tell you that nothing, not Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis or anything else, handles like a Lotus. A Lotus simply goes where you put it, giving you precise tactile feedback all the while. They are cars that you drive with your fingers and toes, not brute force. With their light weight, sensitive handling and small displacement engines, there’s an almost feminine character to Lotus road cars, but maybe not too feminine. Like the pretty girl next door who’s got a tat and a piercing that you can’t see with her clothes on.

Chapman was a superb suspension tuner. His earliest racing cars were Austin Seven “specials” used for trials racing, a peculiarly English motorsport akin to hill climbing or mountain biking. Chapman learned early on about the importance of suspension design in traction and maneuverability. When he switched to track racing, Chapman couldn’t afford exotic engines so he knew that he had to make up time in the corners. The skills he learned helped give Lotus production cars superior cornering and handling and a surprisingly supple ride for cars with that amount of grip. Using tires only 4.5″ wide, the Elan was capable of generating over .9g on the skid pad in 1964, a figure that wouldn’t be embarrassed among today’s sports cars.

One could argue that the Europa was the car that brought mid-engine layout from the race track to the street. Sure, there were Ferraris and Lamborghinis with engines in the middle, but Chapman sold almost 10,000 Europas, and while the Europa wasn’t cheap, it also wasn’t exotic expensive so it was accessible to other than the wealthy. It was also pretty quick for its day. At only 1400-1500 lbs even the original S1 and S2 versions with the Renault Gordini engine are fun to drive with 0-60 times under 10 seconds. The Twin Cam Europas were significantly quicker. From the factory, Euro spec Twin Cam equipped Europas had a top speed of 123 mph with 0–60 mph in 7.0 seconds, and a 1/4 mile time of 14.9. Now 14 second cars are nothing to brag about at the drag strip, but remember, that’s from just 96 cubic inches, naturally aspirated.

By comparison, when Road & Track tested the 1967 Shelby GT-500 Mustang, they recorded a 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds. Small wonder that Lotus won the index of performance at LeMans. Chapman’s dedication to efficiency and adding lightness only becomes more influential as time goes on. Though federalized smogified versions with the Stromberg carbs didn’t make all the power that engine could, with the big valve head and Webers, you can build a streetable Twin Cam with 160-180 hp. That’s plenty for a car that weighs less only 3/4 of a ton. Even without those modifications, I’ve been in a very slightly modified federalized Stromberg equipped Europa at an indicated 125, with plenty of RPM left below the red line, and that engine breathes and revs so well that they came standard with a centrifugal rev limiter in the distribolator. Despite their small engine displacements, Loti have always been credible and creditable performance cars.

Toyota copied the Elan’s backbone frame and suspension for their 2000GT, and Mazda did the same with the Elan’s styling for the Miata. The Lotus 7, a car first sold in the 1950s, is still in production by Caterham. Every Lotus road car built has had a composite body and the company is an acknowledged expert with composite materials (and now also the place to go for aluminum chassis tech). The original Elite had a fiberglass monocoque (with some metal stiffeners) in the 1950s! Lotus developed the process for applying paint to molds before laying up the composite, and under Chapman Lotus developed and patented the VARI (vacuum assisted resin injection) process for molding large body panels with uniform distribution of resin. Today every maker of high performance road cars uses splitters, spoilers, winglets, underbody diffusers and other aerodynamic tools developed and popularized by Lotus first on their race cars and then on their road cars.

Lotus built fewer than 40,000 cars during Chapman’s lifetime but his influence transcends those relatively small numbers. Chapman’s obsessions about small, light, efficient cars, advanced composites and lightweight alloys, and lightweight engines with high specific output will only make his influence grow as the world moves towards more fuel efficient vehicles. That the company he founded currently does contract engineering work for just about every car company on the planet (okay, an exaggeration, but their list of clients is long and filled with impressive names) is also a data point for charting Chapman’s influence. Lotus just announced that in cooperation with a Spanish automotive supplier they will be manufacturing a small displacement 3 cylinder engine purpose built for range extended serial hybrid cars, for sale to OEMs.

So Colin Chapman’s role in automotive history is undisputed. What is a bit more disputed is the quality of his character. He’s been accused of taking undue credit for others’ innovations, was described as ruthless and lacking scruples, called a “cheat” by Fleet Street, and questioned for caring more about speed than driver safety. Sterling Moss raced Lotus cars for privateers and respected Chapman but he would not do business with him unless it was in writing. His financial machinations to keep a poorly funded company afloat are legendary. Some of those machinations may have gone over the legal limit. Chapman set up multiple corporate structures for various aspects of Lotus’ business, sometimes obscuring his own involvement.

Former Lotus sales manager and Lotus historian Graham Arnold has been compiling a dossier of Chapman’s patents, but he says that task has been stymied by Chapman’s penchant for filing in a manner designed to reduce his tax liabilities, so many of “Chapman’s” patents don’t carry his name. Fred Bushell, Lotus accountant and Chapman’s right hand man, served 3 years in prison over the Delorean affair. That case involved the diversion of millions in government funding for the Delorean project for which Lotus did most of the engineering and design, not to be confused with Johnny Z D’s cocaine deal. Chapman died just before the scandal broke and Bushell’s trial judge said that if Chapman was alive he’d get ten years. Bushell kept his mouth shut and until his death was close to Hazel and her family, serving as a director of Historic Team Lotus, which maintains, displays and vintage races historic Lotus competition cars, as well as supplies spares and technical support for owners of vintage Lotus racers.

Though Chapman could and did inspire tremendous loyalty from members of his team, he was not beloved by all of his employees. He was not the world’s most sensitive boss. He was driven and demanding and always convinced that he was right, until he changed his own mind. Keith Duckworth fled Lotus to start up Cosworth (though Mike Costin stayed on for a few more years). Duckworth would continue to work with Chapman, but on his own terms as a supplier and Costin’s partner and not as an employee on Chapman’s terms. The development of the Ford Cosworth DFV V8 was pretty much Chapman’s idea but it was soon made available to other constructors, eventually becoming the powerplant of choice for F1 (and other racing series in different form). Chapman didn’t really mind as he was convinced of the technical superiority of the Lotus chassis, just as he had been when he shared Coventry Climax engines with other Formula constructors. Frank Costin, Mike’s brother, was an aerodynamicist for deHavilland and Chapman’s first aero guru (Peter Wright would later fill that role with the ground effects cars), but Frank Costin never was a Lotus employee, preferring to work either for consultant fees or gratis just to see his ideas tested.

Ron Hickman, an important early Lotus employee credited with styling the Elan, also left the company, said to be burned out from dealing with Chapman. He started playing around with some Elan suspension pieces to make a utility clamp for his woodshop, licensed the design to Black & Decker and made something like $47 million in royalties from the Workmate, much more than he ever would have made at Lotus. Chapman was much too frugal for that. When he offered Harry Mundy his choice of either £1,000 or a royalty of one pound per engine for his Twin Cam design, Mundy took the money up front, much to his later chagrin since over 30,000 Twin Cam heads were eventually built. Of course with Lotus’ precarious financials, and Chapman’s business reputation, the up front money was most definitely the safe bet “He could be quite devious – he could think round ahead of you” was Sterling Moss’ assessment of Chapman’s business ethics.

Though he paid the race team bonuses when they won, he could be less than generous with his employees. When Graham Arnold, wrote a speech for a shareholders’ meeting that included thanks to Lotus employees, Chapman refused to deliver the line. When Arnold complained, Chapman replied, “They get paid, don’t they?” After noticing how full the employee parking lot was at the Hethel factory when Chapman arrived there for a Christmas party (at the time he was based at Ketteringham Hall, with Team Lotus) he decided that the payroll was too large. On Christmas Eve that year some workers got a pink slip along with their free holiday turkey. He was a millionaire at age 40 when he took Lotus public, and in time became used to the good life, particularly after the race team landed big sponsorship contracts, though Lotus Cars never really made a lot of money during his lifetime. After his death, many Lotus related assets like Ketteringham Hall, a large manor, stayed in family hands, separate from Lotus Cars.

Still, Chapman was so charismatic, talented and successful, that in the early years people would literally work for him for free, voluntarily like Frank Costin. Others felt that their gratis contributions were not so voluntary. For most concerned, even those who eventually fell out with Chapman, it seems to have been a worthwhile apprenticeship, based on their later successes. He was articulate and persuasive, almost to a fault. One year when the F1 constructors wanted a new 2.0 liter formula, they decided to ask for 3.0 liters, figuring that having just used a 2.5 liter limit, the organizers would counter-offer with 2.0l. They chose Chapman to argue the case and he was successful, too successful. The organizers said 3.0 it was.

It turned out to Chapman’s advantage after he convinced Ford to pony up £100,000 to pay Cosworth to develop the DFV. Duckworth said that Chapman was so persuasive that he could give you 10 reasons why he was right and convince you even though he was wrong. It was also said that he built Lotus road cars with “contempt” for the ultimate customer who had to deal with Chapman’s zeal for low cost and fragile parts. “A man not to be trusted with your wallet or your wife” was how one friend of his characterized the man. In the case of his own wife, Hazel, he got her to put up the original 25 quid to start Lotus Cars in her father’s garage, and later, when some early associates grew tired of being volunteers, her family helped him buy out their interest in the company. Despite allegations of her husband’s impropriety, Hazel has been an indefatigable defender of Colin’s legacy and their son Clive runs Historic Team Lotus. Chapman was a charming rogue who made incredible, but flawed, cars. Charming cars made by an incredible, but flawed, man.

Chapman’s influence can be seen from the large number of books written about Lotus and about him personally. A search at Amazon.com for “Lotus cars” turns up 244 results. Though some are not specific to the man or the marque, being more generally about Formula One, racing, or cars in general, many are dedicated to Lotus cars, and the fact that they appear in so many more general automotive books, says something about Chapman’s role in automotive history. There are at least two extensive personal biographies of Chapman, Colin Chapman, the Man and His Cars: The Authorized Biography by Gerard Crombac, a longtime Chapman associate, and Colin Chapman Wayward Genius by Mike Lawrence. Crombac had the cooperation of Hazel Chapman and other family members. As would be expected from an “authorized” biography, it avoids the less savory aspects of Chapman’s life and career. Lawrence’s book doesn’t avoid the warts, including the amphetamines and barbiturates that Chapman used to maintain an insanely hectic schedule. In the mid 1960s, Chapman was simultaneously running the Formula One team, the Lotus-Ford Indianapolis 500 program, and the car company, all while the company was moving its factory from Cheshunt to the aerodrome at Hethel, and while he was swinging the deal for the Lotus Cortina. Though Ford was pleased with the results at Indy and with the Lotus Cortina project, they decided to not give Lotus the GT40 project because of fears that the small company and Chapman were already overextended.

Now comes the dean of automotive writers, Karl Ludvigsen, to give us an accurate measure of the man’s impact on the automotive world, Colin Chapman Inside the Innovator, from Haynes Publishing. Ludvigsen could have written a standard biography, having first met Chapman in 1958 at the Italian Grand Prix. However, not wanting to tread on ground already covered by Crombac, Lawrence, and others, Ludvigsen’s 49th book, is more of a technical biography than a chronological one. In his introduction (the book has a foreword by Emerson Fittipaldi) the author says that the thematic approach “allowed me to follow Colin Chapman through specific disciplines to see how he coped with them through the years, how his thinking evolved – or didn’t – with time and experience. I found this adventure enlightening and hope you will too.”

One aim of Ludvigsen was to look at Chapman’s innovations and fairly assess whether or not credit was due. As a ruthless self-promoter, Chapman was not adverse to offering a revisionist autobiography, so one can’t exactly trust his accounts, and some of his critics or those who felt used by him may have shaded their own accounts in the other direction for their own reasons. Ludvigsen gets to the heart of the matter. He’s unsparing when Chapman took credit for others’ work and he’s full of praise when Chapman was truly an innovator. He also makes the point that though Chapman may not have actually turned the first shovel of dirt for some of his groundbreaking innovations, it was Chapman who championed them and brought them to wide acceptance.

An amateur shrink might say that Chapman was a narcissist who used people to achieve his ends. He was close to some of his drivers and could be dismissive of others – though if they had a Lotus ride it clearly meant that they were talented. His talent as a manager and ability to field competitive rides can be seen from the number of successful two-driver teams like Andretti/Petersen that he fielded. Even though he always told one driver that he was #1 I don’t believe that Chapman ever gave his drivers “team orders” to determine outcomes in favor of the #1. Running teams with two top drivers could be detrimental to winning drivers championships as his own drivers split points. Lotus won 7 constructors’ titles but only 6 drivers championships, losing that title in a season when Petersen and Andretti won more races between them than the eventual winner. After Jim Clark’s death in an F2 race at Hockenheim, he swore to never get so close to his drivers, yet both Fittipaldi and Andretti considered him a close friend. Nigel Mansell saw him as a second father and stayed with the team out of loyalty after Chapman’s death. Andretti clearly admired Chapman, “A very special man. One of a kind”, he told this writer, but his admiration had its limits.

As Ludvigsen relates, “When we first got together, Colin said, ‘Mario, I always want to make a car as light as possible.’ I said, ‘Well, Colin, I want to live as long as possible. I guess we need to talk.”

Though he could be an original thinker, one of his greatest talents was assessing others’ talent. He had two modes of innovation. One was a structured approach from first principles to final design. Chapman was fond of lists, dossiers, specs and design briefs. In the other mode he’d “water ski” over an idea, giving his subordinates the basic idea and then checking and correcting their work. When one looks at who he worked with, it’s easy to see why that approach also had its successes. Many of the people Chapman employed, did business with, or used as suppliers are a who’s who of the production and racing automotive worlds. Others never recreated their success at Lotus after they left the company – Chapman could be a strong motivator. Like some others of great accomplishment, Bob Dylan comes to mind, Chapman is frequently described as a “magpie”, seeing potential in ideas whose own originators did not realize. When his in-house “queerbox” transaxle designs proved unreliable, he convinced ZF to build him one, asking them to modify one of their designs. The ZF transaxle became one of two widely used for racing in the 1960s and 1970s – the other being the Hewland. Perhaps not just coincidentally Mike Hewland was one of the few people not taken in by Chapman’s charms, and Lotus rarely used a Hewland gearbox. When Renault introduced the 16,with its inline FWD layout, he immediately recognized the drivetrain’s potential for a midengine sports car – which became the Europa.

Designers and engineers who worked for him said that he could look at a drawing and then suggest a number of improvements – some they’d already considered and others very novel. Chapman’s respect within the racing world (along with his ability to seemingly talk people into just about anything) was such that individuals and companies routinely supplied Lotus with prototype, modified or custom parts. This had its origins in Lotus’ early days when Chapman would get vendors to send him raw castings he couldn’t afford to produce for Lotus to then custom machine. Almost all Lotus production cars used parts scavenged from other automakers, from switchgear and lamps to complete engines and transmissions, a tradition the modern Lotus company keeps alive by using Toyota engines in the Elise, Exige and Evora. Much of the front suspension and steering for the Elan and +2 uses components sourced from Triumph, virtually identical to parts used on the Spitfire. With Lotus, the sum was always greater than the parts. After being sprinkled with some Chapman suspension magic (the Lotus formula was soft springs and stiff shock absorbers), though, the Elan could literally run rings around the Spit.

A musician once told me, “Hacks copy, artists steal.” Colin Chapman was no hack. While he may have taken credit for ideas not his own, the automotive world is the better for his popularizing those ideas. It’s up to the historians like Ludvigsen to give credit where it’s due.

Ludvigsen’s fairness extends to an unvarnished look at Chapman’s failures, his undeveloped or aborted ideas, abandoned ideas that may yet show promise like active suspension, as well as his fruitful ideas that could have been even more successful. Since Chapman’s obsession with weight extended to halving the number of rivets holding a chassis together, and calculating out precisely how much fuel to carry, Lotus racing cars didn’t always finish races and were justifiably characterized as fragile and sometimes lacking reliability – a characterization also applied to Lotus production cars. Winning, though, wasn’t Chapman’s goal, speed was. He would rather lead a race, proving a new idea, than win with something conventional. Mario Andretti said that as revolutionary and fast as the championship winning 72 and 79 cars were, they would have been even faster had they been stiffer and sturdier. The sound of welds breaking, rivets popping and chassises groaning was not exactly music to Lotus racers ears but a common refrain, nonetheless. One reason why F1 banned high wings after Chaparral and then Lotus proved their effectiveness was the many structural failures Lotus experienced with their wing struts. Jim Hall has often said that he and other CanAm constructors using high wings were unfairly tarred due to flimsy construction used in F1.

At 400 large format pages, the book is encyclopaediac, lavishly illustrated with historical photos from Ludvigsen’s own library as well as the historic Team Lotus archives at Ketteringham Hall. Included are facsimiles of Chapman’s own work lists, design briefs and component sketches, as well as a timeline of his life, plus an extensive bibliography and a fairly comprehensive index.

Ludvigsen even goes into the origins of an aphorism attributed to Chapman, “simplicate and add lightness”, finding that the phrase was originally coined by engineering and aviation pioneer William Stout. Chapman, who started flying while in engineering school and later served with the RAF, and briefly worked for British Aluminium, had a lifelong interest in aviation and may have picked up the phrase through that interest. While Chapman is famous for his dedication to lightness, he also simplicated, often using a single component to serve two functions (engine as structural component, airfoil radiator pods).

It’s not a surprise that a person with Chapman’s ego had issues with authority, though in his own domain he was fairly despotic. He ran his racing teams and companies like a dictator, shareholders and directors be damned (though directors were more often than not associates of his). After moveable aero devices were banned in F1, he had the rear wing of the Lotus 72 shock mounted with rubber, effectively allowing the wing to passively trim at high speed for lower drag, at least until the scrutineers discovered why Chapman was using the flexible mount. When French scrutineers would not let the Lotus 23 compete in the 1963 LeMans race (supposedly protecting French entrants with other small displacement racers), Chapman, who by then had won a number of class titles at LeMans, vowed to never race there again, and he didn’t, despite how publicity from his wins there helped sales of the road cars. Towards the end of his career, the radical twin-chassis 88 was designed to the letter of F1 regulations specifically to get around restrictions on aero devices. When F1 disqualified the car, Chapman noticeably lost interest in racing.

The book, as mentioned, is divided into chapters that individually address different technical areas, though the first and the last are a bit more general as they try to give a broader perspective on Chapman’s career. The alliterative chapter titles give a good idea of the topics covered: Conceiving Concepts, Engine Enterprise, Transmission Topics, Suspension Sagas, Structure Stories, Whittling Weight, Aerodynamic Adventures, Discovering Downforce, Man Managing, Driver Dealings, Racing Realities, Coda to Chapman.

I’m a confirmed Lotus fan, having owned an Elan since the mid 1970s, this is hardly the first Lotus book that I’ve read, and on almost every page, nearly every paragraph, I learned something new about the company and the man.

The book isn’t perfect. I spotted a couple of editing mistakes, and one is often idiomatically reminded that the writer is based in England. I’ve owned British cars, I know the difference between a hood and a bonnet, and I find the Britishisms to be charming but some might find them offputting. Of course, those that do wouldn’t likely be reading a book about a quintessentially British car guy. The format Ludvigsen decided to use sometimes gets chronologically confusing, with the author both jumping forward and back within the chapters and covering different aspects of the same chronological events in different chapters. Also, while Lotus road cars are not ignored, it seems to me that Ludvigsen’s main emphasis is Chapman’s racing innovations. Of course that partly reflects Chapman’s own interests, as he was much more intimately involved in the design and development of the race cars, tending to delegate more matters to others for the road cars.

If there’s a single Lotus production model that most accurately reflects Chapman, Ludvigsen says that it’s the Esprit. One of the few Lotus models equipped with an engine designed and built by Lotus, it “exemplified its creator’s dedication to lightness, functionality and agility”.

Ludvigsen’s assessment is that regardless of how many of “his” ideas were truly the product of Colin Chapman, and regardless of his lack of scruples in getting his ideas made concrete, Chapman was a true innovator. He was eager to embrace new ideas and eager to discard old ones (sometimes too quickly), even some of his own. In addition to his own creativity, he had a great eye for talent and technology.

He may not have been a saint, but the automotive world is the better for there having been a Colin Chapman. Colin Chapman Inside The Innovator is a masterful accounting of Chapman’s influence on that world. In his introduction Ludvigsen expressed the hope that readers would find the book enlightening and in that task I’d say that he succeeded. As with his biographies of Ferdinand Porsche and Enzo Ferrari, this will become a standard reference on Chapman and his career.

Disclaimer: Haynes Publishing sent me a review copy of the book. The book is comprehensive but not all the Lotus factoids in this review are in the book. Yeah, the review is long, but so’s the book. Besides, you’re not paying anything to read it.

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Book Review: Carjacked: The Culture of Automobiles And Its Effects On Our Lives http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/02/book-review-carjacked-the-culture-of-automobiles-and-its-effects-on-our-lives/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/02/book-review-carjacked-the-culture-of-automobiles-and-its-effects-on-our-lives/#comments Fri, 26 Feb 2010 16:19:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=346811 [Editor's note: Please join us today at 3pm Eastern (noon Pacific) for a livechat with the authors of Carjacked: The Culture Of The Automobile And Its Effects On Our Lives] Over the last several weeks, the Toyota recall scandal has reopened the national discussion about car ownership, raising new questions about the role of personal […]

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[Editor's note: Please join us today at 3pm Eastern (noon Pacific) for a livechat with the authors of Carjacked: The Culture Of The Automobile And Its Effects On Our Lives]

Over the last several weeks, the Toyota recall scandal has reopened the national discussion about car ownership, raising new questions about the role of personal responsibility in our relationships with automobiles. Here at TTAC, we’ve argued passionately that a major lesson of the Toyota recall is that consumers can not rely on brand reputation or the assumption that cars will always work as we expect them to in order to protect ourselves and our families. But responsible car ownership doesn’t end there. To maintain a functioning relationship with our cars, it’s important that motorists understand that the vehicles we cherish come with high costs. And anyone who thinks that the awesome power of the private automobile doesn’t come with great responsibilities would do well to read through the relentless documentation of these costs that makes up the book Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect On Our Lives.

A number of our readers will doubtless interpret Carjacked as an explicitly anti-car text, and from the cover image of a man straining under the weight of an SUV to the conclusion’s exhortations to support public transportation, there’s little to disabuse the reader of that impression. Indeed, upon a first reading, the car-loving reader might be tempted to dismiss the authors as irrationally car-hating ideologues. But at the end of the introduction to Carjacked, its authors offer an insight that should give pause to those who would discard the book as a mere screed:

asking individual Americans to take a close look at the problems caused by the automobiles can elicit a defensive gut response. Just as suggesting that a loved one sit down with a marriage counselor or a nutrition advisor can evoke fears of divorce or draconian diet restrictions, asking a driver to examine the full impact of the car on his life can prompt deep anxiety that he will be forced to give up his car. But for most of us, the choice is not between the car and no car. It is about whether it is possible to drive less and pay less for it; it is about recognizing the powerful lure of car advertising ad educating ourselves about the schemes of the dealership; it is about making careful choices about where to live when we move…

This sensibility alone prevents Carjacked from descending completely into the politically-driven, auto-hatred of the far left. The authors, anthropologist Catherine Lutz and marketer/investment banker Anne Lutz Fernandez, do indulge in a certain amount of utopian anti-car-ism, but their approach is more rooted in the problems of our daily life than garden-variety political demagoguery. And what red-blooded pistonhead can’t admit that the fantasy of our love for automobiles is rarely echoed in reality?

Car lovers having a hard time dealing with their “defensive gut reactions” to Carjacked‘s frontal assault would be well advised to start with Chapter Seven, which addresses the problem of traffic. While many of the book’s beefs with the automobile involve broader social challenges like economic inequality, poor health and the dire results of effective marketing, the section on traffic, sprawl and road rage help illustrate how car obsession hurts car lovers as much or more than anyone else. “Sartre’s much repeated line, ‘Hell is other people,’ may hold as a truism more on the nation’s highways than anywhere else in the public sphere,” write the authors. “Americans tend to treat traffic and its related hassles as a problem caused by others, failing to recognize our own role as drivers.”

It’s a pity, then, that the authors force readers through 150 pages of comprehensive and relentless criticism of all things car-related before giving motorists such an approachable example of the problems of car culture. Despite having admitted that “for most of us, the choice is not between the car and no car,” the authors blame car marketing for perpetuating the myth that cars equal freedom before ever getting to the infinitely more common sense critique that our actual, day-to-day freedom is more dependent on the number of other cars on the road than the ground clearance of our SUV, or the amount of horsepower under our hoods.

This is emblematic of the fundamental problem with Carjacked: it falls into the convenient trap of blaming everyone from oil and auto companies, to government policy and the entertainment industry for the automobile’s ills, reducing individuals to mere pawns of these malignant forces. Not only does this approach confuse the symptom (the negative effects of automobiles) with the disease (the broader social values and historical legacies of modern America) but it also alienates the authors from the average reader who, according to the statistics, are more likely to own two or three automobiles than none at all.

This is a shame, because the authors do wrap up the book with some solid advice for individual motorists who struggle with the all-too-common reality of feeling like their car owns them instead of the other way around. But it’s also telling that, once the authors are done dishing out advice to help Americans take charge in their personal relationship with the automobile and help address the larger issues around auto-dependence, it urges the reader to “get political” by lobbying for improved public transit, less car-friendly land-use policies and higher fuel efficiency standards.

Though its fair to include political advocacy at the end of Carjacked, most readers who make it through to the conclusion probably agreed with the book’s politics before they picked it up. Motorists who want to better understand the impacts of their personal relationship with the automobile (let alone the multiplied impacts of our national relationship with cars) without distracting wedge issues (Anthropogenic global warming and a section titled “why Rush Limbaugh likes sprawl” come to mind) will have to look elsewhere.

Ultimately, Carjacked is packed with perspectives that car lovers typically avoid, and unfortunately it gives them plenty of reasons to avoid it. Carjacked seems to have been written for people who already dislike and fear automobiles, rather than those who appreciate and use them most. Which is a minor tragedy, considering that the book is understandably unable to plot a clear course away from our dependence on private automobiles. Since even Carjacked‘s authors seem to admit that the automobile is here to stay, they probably should have focused their book more on the people who do love, appreciate and regularly use automobiles. Because love can be blind, but functional relationships are based on truly understanding the impacts of our own actions.

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Review: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/09/review-why-we-drive-the-way-we-do-and-what-it-says-about-us/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/09/review-why-we-drive-the-way-we-do-and-what-it-says-about-us/#comments Sat, 26 Sep 2009 17:33:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=330630 It’s not that people are unpredictable. They are predictable. But they frequently behave counterintuitively, a phenomenon that has given rise to the field of behavioral economics. Like economists, engineers have traditionally ignored psychology. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), is a 300-odd page romp into what scientists […]

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Math. (courtesy 2.bp.blogspot.com)

It’s not that people are unpredictable. They are predictable. But they frequently behave counterintuitively, a phenomenon that has given rise to the field of behavioral economics. Like economists, engineers have traditionally ignored psychology. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), is a 300-odd page romp into what scientists are learning about how traffic really works now that they are accounting for the human element. Take “passive safety.” It’s long been the philosophy behind efforts to make driving safer. Reduce driver demands by simplifying the driving environment, and protect people from getting hurt in crashes—rather than teaching skillful driving. After all, it’s easier to engineer safety than change behavior. But too much safety lulls the driver into complacency.


Driving down Orlando’s US Highway 50 with author Tom Vanderbilt, Dan Burden, a traffic eminence, notes that trees have been eliminated, and the sidewalk pushed so far back from the street as to be in “another world,” all to relieve drivers of hazards and distractions. Nonetheless, this stretch is the 12th deadliest road in America.

Yet, nearby on 50, where lanes and clear zones are narrower, and dangerous “fixed objects”–poles and trees–remain, but where traffic is otherwise completely comparable, a fatality hasn’t occurred in five years. “The hazards [are] the safety device,” Vanderbilt writes. “Drivers left with little room for error seemed quite capable of not making errors.”

That concept extends to rotaries, which not only move traffic considerably more quickly than standard stoplight intersections, but are safer, even though–or rather because–drivers have to compensate for uncertainty by driving more carefully. This is the rationale behind the famous Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman’s counterintuitively safe blending of the worlds of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists on narrow streets.

Oddly, Vanderbilt ignores this logic for highway speeds, an issue that has arisen as politicians use safety as an additional excuse to promote a new double nickel to address skyrocketing oil prices and climate change. Vanderbilt marshals considerable evidence to argue that slower is always safer, but he doesn’t dig into special cases.

Boosting the speed limit on Indiana interstates from 65-70 mph, which raised average speeds by more than 3 mph, did not lead to more injuries or deaths, according to a recent study. Investigator Fred Mannering of Purdue University largely credits reduced speed variance, and adds that greater alertness may also have played a role.

The take-the-human-out-of-the-equation approach combined with labor saving devices–slushboxes, radar cruise control, etc–leads yuppies to think they can multitask safely behind the wheel. Vanderbilt cites various studies to explain why they won’t get away with it. Attention capacity is limited, and easily breached. One of several examples: “pedestrians using mobile devices walked more slowly and were less able to interact with the device, pausing occasionally to “sample the environment”,” Vanderbilt writes. And stuff happens so quickly in traffic that more than two seconds’ inattention boosts the risk of collision 19-fold.

There’s much more. Vanderbilt dissects the frustrations of getting stuck in slow traffic. Anxiety, uncertainty, and boredom all slow time, as does the sense–oft illusory–that other lanes are moving quicker. He reports that driving is safest in the least corrupt countries. And he explains why adding more highways or lanes has diminishing returns, and why traffic increases to fill new capacity, through “latent demand.”

When a strike removed 9,000 trucks from the roads near Los Angeles, within a few days the traffic was as bad as ever. (Nonetheless, more than several years after completion of the Big Dig, it still takes me only 25-30 minutes–reliably–to drive to Boston’s Logan Airport, as compared to 45 minutes to an hour in the old days.)

There is no easy way to ease traffic, short of moving to the Great Plains or the Great Basin. But understanding its flows may make it slightly less intolerable.

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Book Review: Zoom: The Race to Fuel the Car of the Future http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/01/book-review-zoom-the-race-to-fuel-the-car-of-the-future/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/01/book-review-zoom-the-race-to-fuel-the-car-of-the-future/#comments Thu, 08 Jan 2009 16:19:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=210602 When new acquaintances find out that I cover the automotive industry, the response is often a flood of pent-up questions on the topic. Though much of the interest converges on the future of the American automakers, the future of cars, fuel and mobility in general attract a lot of curiosity. Facile blogger that I am, I usually cop out by saying that telecommuting is the true future of mobility. In reality, the interplay of energy, economics, politics, technology and the environment that defines the cars and fuels of the future is a topic of near infinite complexity. Luckily, two correspondents for The Economist have tackled the issues in a new book entitled Zoom: The Global Race To Fuel The Car Of The Future.

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When new acquaintances find out that I cover the automotive industry, the response is often a flood of pent-up questions on the topic. Though much of the interest converges on the future of the American automakers, the future of cars, fuel and mobility in general attract a lot of curiosity. Facile blogger that I am, I usually cop out by saying that telecommuting is the true future of mobility. In reality, the interplay of energy, economics, politics, technology and the environment that defines the cars and fuels of the future is a topic of near infinite complexity. Luckily, two correspondents for the Economist have tackled the issues in a new book entitled Zoom: The Global Race To Fuel The Car Of The Future.

One major advantage that Zoom enjoys over other titles in its genre: its authors tackle the subject with the methodical pragmatism of their day-job employers, the Economist. Iain Carson and Vijay Vaitheeswaran’s global perspective and big-time access pervade the prose. And though they work from a solidly market- and enterprise-oriented framework, they give both environmental alarmists and government interventionists a chance to present their ideas.

The first chapter’s entitled “The Terrible Twins.” But don’t worry: the oil- and auto-industry bashing is not an exercise in political point-scoring. In fact, the authors treat this history of the industries’ unique challenges and tortured symbiosis with sensitivity. From FDR and OPEC to NOCs and CAFE, Zoom hurtles towards the present (copyright 2007), and the looming question that lends Zoom‘s second section its name: “Can The Dinosaurs Dance?”

In “The Parable Of The Prius,” the authors compare Toyota’s debut of its new Camry at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show to Tommy LaSorda driving a Grand Cherokee through a plate-glass window. And the point isn’t just that Toyota is a fossil fuel-addicted “dinosaur” that is dancing to a tune that will only get louder over time. Toyota’s ability to dance at all is the product of aggressive and foresighted business practices. Meanwhile, Chrysler is, well, Chrysler. Though climate concerns are discussed, the focus is clearly on the economic impacts of oil addiction: price shocks, the oil curse and inefficiency. These factors, argue the authors, are creating new business paradigms for big oil and auto which are far more meaningful and effective than global warming hysteria.

Whether discussing the geopolitical entanglements of ever-draining oil reserves or the myriad pretenders to petroleum’s crown, Zoom manages an admirable balance between factual accuracy and narrative flow. From any fixed ideological standpoint, there are elements to both love and hate. In between, a wealth of information will tempt you to embrace the complexity and ambiguity inherent in the book’s subject matter.

Unfortunately, such committed even-handedness can cause some editorial frustration. Nearly every compelling argument and prediction in Zoom is quickly followed by a flurry of equally convincing equivocations. Accordingly, the lessons you do take away from Zoom tend to be of the simplicity-amidst-chaos nature. Understanding and embracing the reality that no single energy source will replace petroleum is one such deceptively straightforward “lesson.”

The importance of a moderate approach is another of the authors’ valuable insights—that’s both obvious and widely ignored in discourse on the topic. In the words of Amory Lovins, whose Defense Department-funded efficiency studies define much of Zoom‘s approach, “optimism and pessimism are two sides of the same coin—both dangerous!” Carson and Vaitheeswaran’s limited editorializing clearly pursues Lovins’ goal of “efficiency, not a hair shirt.”

Contrary to their own advice though, optimism gets Zoom‘s authors run into trouble. Though they quickly denounce US corn ethanol subsidies, both ethanol and vigorous government energy policy receive qualified praise. They never explain how we can enjoy the latter two without ending up with the former.

Similarly, many pages of speculation are devoted to the promise of hydrogen fuel cells. And though the caveat that fuel cells have been “the future” for a good 30 years is dutifully mentioned, descriptions of micropower- and hydrogen-based futures tend to be glimpsed through a futurist’s rose-colored glasses.

In fact, hydrogen hype infects the book’s introduction. “The Great Awakening” is bad enough to make the reader contemplate giving up on Zoom after the first five pages. Stanford Ovshinsky of Energy Conversion Devices (“no hydrogen hypester,” insist the authors) is quickly given free reign to declare a dawning “Hydrogen Age.” How did I miss it?

Then again, I don’t license technology to the likes of Sony, Samsung and BYD. Ovshinsky does. As a blogger, though, I do know that enough has changed since Zoom’s 2007 copyright date to take some shine off of its predictions. Political, economic and technological changes are coming so fast, no book could possibly keep up. Instead of reading Zoom for some repeatable, comprehensive take on “the future of mobility,” skip the introduction and read it as an admirably even-handed history of hydrocarbons and their discontents.

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