I’m an unabashed booster of Detroit area institutions so it was with some sadness that I read that the Walter P. Chrysler Museum on the Chrysler campus in Auburn Hills will be closing to the public at the end of the year. Apparently admission fees and facility rentals were not sufficient to sustain continued operations.
Are you familiar with the Fridolin? If so, hit the jump. If not, here’s the brief version of its history. Unhappy with its adorable but inadequate, two-cylinder Goggomobil Transporters, the German Postal Service approached Volkswagen and Westfalia in the early 60s, looking for a new interpretation of what it was looking for, namely “arbeitspsychologisch optimaler Ausstattung zu einem günstigen Anschaffungspreis.” This is a tough phrase to translate, but essentially it means “equipment optimized for the workplace psychology, at an affordable price,” and in 1963 that’s what the VW-Westalia team delivered. A mixture of Type 1 (Beetle), Type 2 (Bus) and Type 3 (Fastback/Squareback), the Type 147 was first shown to the German Post in 1963, and was quickly nicknamed “Fridolin” (an uncommon German boy’s name) apparently because workers said “it looks like a Fridolin.” Only 6,126 were built between 1964 and 1973, and they continue to enjoy a strong collector’s cachet (primarily as slammed campers, apparently). And now, Volkswagen wants to re-create the classic… for the future.
The LeMay Museum in Tacoma, WA won’t be completed until June, but the NY Times reports that it aims to become on of the premiere automotive museums in the country, rivaling collections like the Peterson and Harrah museums. And at 165,000 square feet, the building that is rising in Tacoma needs to be huge: though “only” 750 vehicles will be exhibited at a time when the building is done, the LeMay collection is far larger than that. Although even curator David Madeira isn’t sure how many vehicles actually belong to the collection.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Madeira said recently in an interview at The Times, when asked how many vehicles were in the possession of Harold LeMay, the garbage-disposal magnate whose collection of American automobiles would comprise the majority of the museum’s holdings. Mr. LeMay, who died in 2000, was prone to buying a barn or even a field containing old automobiles just to prevent their contents from landing in a junkyard. “He was not a connoisseur; he was a true collector,” Mr. Madeira said.
Once holding at least 3,500 vehicles, the collection has been cut to “north of a thousand” aimed at representing the sweep of American automotive history. And those will be joined by vehicles from the collection of watchmaker Nicolai Bulgari in order to create an automotive museum that founders hope lives up to the name “America’s Car Museum.” Since it’s right up I-5 from me, I’ll be sure to report on the collection and whether it reaches that lofty goal when it opens to the public next Summer.
How much do things change in 60 years? Sometimes the best answer to that kind of question is a picture. Here you can see an original Unimog (right), built sometime between the start of production in 1948 and 1951, when Mercedes bought the operation in order to expand it enough to keep up with demand. On the left is a “60th Anniversary” Unimog design concept, celebrating not the actual birth of the Unimog, but its purchase by Mercedes. Needless to say, the contrast between the two is… breathtaking. And if you’re curious about the evolution of this hugely influential vehicle, if you can’t help wondering how it grew from a (relatively) tiny, spartan utility vehicle to a garish, Mercedes-starred behemoth, be sure to check out Bertel’s illustrated history of the Unimog. It makes you wonder what the next 60 years have in store for vehicles like this… [images courtesy: Autobild]
I’m no fan of tuned cars, particularly the garish, over-the-top bodykit jobs that seem to curse the high end of the European sportscar market. And yet, when I saw these pictures of the new Porsche 991, as tuned by the Russian house TopCar, something strange occurred to me: this was the first picture of the new 991 that I could instantly recognize as the new model. And then I read, over at Pistonheads, that the 991 will be sold with only minor design changes through 2025, a 14-year lifespan for a model that’s barely distinguishable from its predecessor. And all of a sudden, this garish Russian tune-job started looking a lot better. It may not be subtly tasteful, but there’s an undeniable hunger to its flared-and-scooped styling. It’s trying to be something different, while Porsche’s design evolution has ground to halt. We hear that Ford, which has enjoyed great success working a retro groove with the last couple of Mustangs, is “moving on” to craft an entirely new, non-retro Mustang for the next generation. It seems that we’re going to have to wait about 14 more years for Porsche to similarly realize the benefits of making its flagship a “living document.” In the meantime, if you want a 991 that looks like it has moved with the times, you may just have to look at the aftermarket…
The question of automotive preservation jogged an unblogged memory loose today, from earlier in this chaotic summer when I was in Wolfsburg, Germany. I was touring the Zeithaus, or “House of Time,” in Volkswagen’s sprawling Autostadt, taking in the remarkably well-curated exhibit of some of the most influential and important cars of all time. Unlike the GM Heritage Center, for example, the Zeithaus is not reserved for VWs alone, but includes fine examples of undeniably iconic cars from various marques. Organizing VW’s official museum in this way gives the brand a sense of sophistication, sending the message that VW knows quality even when it’s not the one producing it. And the Zeithaus’s curators use this well, offering up such flattering (if ultimately apt) comparisons as an Audi A2 poised alongside a Citroen DS.
You may not have heard of the Historical Vehicle Association before, but it’s a 30,000-member advocacy group that actually emerged from a special insurance plan for historic cars offered by Hagerty Insurance. Now ratified by the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens, the HVA offers commissions on History, Skills and Trades, Technical Issues and Legislative Affairs, as it seeks to fulfill its mission of “Keeping Yesterday’s Vehicles on Tomorrow’s Roads.” One of its more laudable legislative tasks of late has been raising awareness about the damage caused by ethanol-blended gasoline and seeking to ban mandatory blending. But now it’s got another goal, as reported by Automotive News [sub]
The federal government has national registries for historic buildings, boats, airplanes, railways — you name it. But not for cars. And the Historic Vehicle Association is trying to change that…
A concern among enthusiasts is that government initiatives — such as the 2009 federal cash-for-clunkers incentive — could send many vintage cars to the crusher. Legislation might prevent cars from being destroyed. Or it could allow gas guzzlers to remain on the road if other laws preclude them.
As it so happens, my significant other is an Architectural Historian who spends her days evaluating buildings that could be impacted by federally-funded projects… so I hear about this issue (in terms of the Register of Historic Places) more often than you can even imagine. And it’s not as simple as it might seem…
[Editor's note: Today, at 12:25 pm, the very last Panther-platform Crown Victoria rolled off the line at St. Thomas Assembly Plant. Ryan Paradis, a.k.a. "86er," has the honor of eulogizing the beloved beast in his first-ever contribution to TTAC]
It has become beyond trite by this point to say that, with the end of the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car, an era comes to an end. And yet it is thus: the last of the body-on-frame, rear wheel drive and eight cylinder engine passenger cars, once a species unique to North America, have now reached the end of an 80 year span that commenced with the advent of the 1932 Ford V-8.
Having transported generations of Americans through some of the nation’s finest decades, full-size cars like the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Town Car are now an anomaly. While large V8-powered sedans made a comeback in the 21st century, the Ford Panther chassis was one of the very few full-size, rear-drive sedans that never left. And today we bid it farewell.
Bob Lutz admitted in his book Guts that he “possesses a certain duality of mind,” and he ain’t kidding. After all, how could someone spend a career in an industry built on “the industrial logic of scale” (to borrow a phrase from Sergio Marchionne) while trying to connect new vehicles with the lust centers of the human brain without developing a certain amount of creative schizophrenia? But, as anyone who has ever driven a Pontiac Solstice knows, sometimes compromises are made between the conflicting pulls of lust and practicality… and when those compromises must be made, Lutz tends to err on the side of lust. I confronted him about this tendency in our recent conversation, and rather than accept the criticism, he doubled down on his premise that lust-worthy design is more important than practicality. And he illustrated his point by telling the tale of a long-forgotten concept and its troubled path to production.
Welcome to Bob Lutz week at TTAC! I spent several hours recently with the auto industry’s most notorious executive, and elements of that interview will be the basis for much of my writing this week. We’ll also be capping the whole thing off by voting on the 2010-2011 Lutzie award for most unfortunate quote by an auto exec. And rather than jumping right into the meat of the interview, I want to kick off Lutz week by looking at a few cars that came up in our meandering conversation. After all, these are not just vehicles… when Lutz brings them up in an interview, they become stories, little encapsulations of his philosophy or the state of the company that made them. Let’s start with a car that I literally had never heard of before he mentioned it almost in passing: the Dodge Dakota Convertible. Eat your heart out, Murano CrossCabriolet… the Dakota was the original “WTF-vertible.”
Panther lovers will be sad to hear that this, the last of the black-and-white Crown Vic Interceptors, has gone down the line according to the Ford St Thomas Assembly Plant’s Facebook page. The last Panther (reportedly a Town Car) is scheduled to be built on Monday, and the plant’s “about 1,500″ workers will be laid off on the 12th of September. If you know someone who loves the Panther chassis, please be sensitive to their needs in this difficult time. Remind them that there’s always the used market, and that someday their beloved brutes will tear ass across a post-apocalyptic landscape, and be known as “the last of the V8 Interceptors.” This is going to be OK…
Meet the new Fiat Panda, which is set to debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show. The ur-Panda, nicknamed the “tolle kiste” (crazy/cool box) for its Giugiaro-designed looks and available Puch-designed 4×4 system, was built with only evolutionary changes from 1980 to 2003. Not a bad accomplishment for what was supposed to be a “peasant’s car.” The new (3rd Gen) Panda, based on the Fiat 500/Ford Ka platform, has an even tougher task ahead of it: not only must it pick up sales for Fiat in Europe, but it must also form the basis of Dodge and Jeep B-segment models, aimed at the US market. Is it up to the task?
Well, are ya… punk? As part of its “why does Ferrari get all of the €250,000-€750,000 fun” fit of pique, Porsche says its considering a flat-eight engined beast to take on the Italian foe. Autocar reports that
Porsche engineers have long been frustrated by the fact that the company’s iconic flat-six engine cannot be extended much beyond 4.0-litres. It’s also felt that in the Ferrari-dominated market, eight cylinders are a pre-requisite.
Moving to a larger engine would also differentiate the new model from the new 911 and next-generation Cayman range. It’s thought that the creation of such an engine has been made easier by the engineering working currently being done on the new turbocharged flat-four engine, which will be offered in Porsche’s planned entry-level roadster. This all-new motor is thought to be modular, allowing it to be extended into the next-generation flat-6 and a flat-8.
In the interests of timeliness, we’ve been posting press shots of the latest unveils from Pebble Beach as they happen, but our man on the ground, Alex Dykes, is updating us with his own photos and commentary as well. In his latest update: live shots of the Cadillac Ciel, a 1931 ‘llac, the last of the four-cylinder Lotus Exiges, a $52k Rolls-Royce-trimmed MINI, a Spyker and the Landie Evoque. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Pebble Beach.
No, I’m not talking about the cars and SUVs that Mercedes assembles in Alabama. Yesterday, Jack Baruth told us about the relationship between the American Steinway and German Daimler companies and the cars that Steinway started assembling under license from Mercedes in 1905. When I read Jack’s article I remembered that I had something in my collection of press kits, sales brochures, images and and assorted swag (with apologies to Mr. Zimmerman) that I’ve been accumulating for the past decade or so of working the press previews for the Detroit, Chicago and Toronto auto shows. In 2006 Mercedes Benz distributed a reproduction of a reproduction. It’s actually a very cool little piece of automobilia and a nice facsimile of a historical artifact, in a couple of ways.
It’s a small booklet, less than 40 pages, called The American Mercedes. It was originally distributed in 1906 by the Daimler Mfg. Company, on Steinway Ave. in Long Island City, and promotes the 1906 45 horsepower “American Mercedes”. It was reproduced in the early 1960s, and the copy M-B gave out in 2006 had a 1961 afterword and an insert from 1964. The whole package is chock full of historically interesting aspects.