The Truth About Cars » Heritage The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:03:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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 (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 » Heritage Feinberg: A Modest Window To File Recall-Related Claims Thu, 12 Jun 2014 13:00:30 +0000 File photo of General Motors logo outside its headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit

Bloomberg reports the compensation fund designed by attorney Kenneth Feinberg for General Motors will have “a relatively modest timetable to invite claimants to file their claims” once the claim period begins August 1. Feinberg also said by the end of June, he and his team will have a program “that will define who’s eligible to file a claim… what the dollars will look like for those who file,” as well as the obligations the plaintiffs will need to have “to prove their claim.” GM CEO Mary Barra added that her company won’t know the final cost of the fund “until the actual compensation has been run,” though an estimate may come at the end of Q2 2014.

On the other end of the scale, The Detroit News reports the automaker has come into full compliance with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the agency’s request for documentation about the recall, bringing an end to the $7,000/day fine put in place for non-compliance. The total penalty paid to the NHTSA will come to $420,000 from the time the clock began on April 4 — after the automaker failed to answer in full by the previous day the 107-question survey to sort out the recall’s handling — through June 5, the day the Valukas Report was published and distributed to all concerned parties. The fine is in addition to the $35 million maximum fine levied upon GM for the decade-plus delay prior to recalling the out-of-spec ignition switch at the heart of the matter, and is due by July 4; the $35 million fine is due this Friday.

Meanwhile, Georgia lawyers Lance Cooper and Jere Beasley claimed in a statement that GM is attempting to move the nearly reopened wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of Brooke Melton to bankruptcy court in New York in an effort to use the liability shield established in the automaker’s exit from bankruptcy in 2009 to deflect the new claim. Melton’s family had accepted a settlement in September 2013 under allegations her 2010 fatal accident behind the wheel of a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt was the result of the defective switch on-board, one of 13 total fatalities so linked thus far. Alleging GM hid evidence in bankruptcy, Cooper and Beasley filed a lawsuit last month to reopen the case and set aside the settlement.

Finally, Autoblog reports GM has filed a trademark claim with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to reserve the name Zora for “motor land vehicles, namely, automobiles.” The name is part of the automaker’s heritage, as Zora Arkus-Duntov helped take the Chevrolet Corvette from a low-powered roadster with European flair, to a fire-breathing beast on the track and in the showroom through the car’s first two generations. The publication speculates the name could be used on a special edition Corvette somewhere down the road, especially if linked to a Grand Sport model; Arkus-Duntov led the Grand Sport program that established the Corvette as a racing legend during the C2 era.

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Walter P. Chrysler Museum to Close to Public – Chrysler Buys Collection to Preserve Heritage Sat, 01 Dec 2012 14:00:22 +0000

Chrysler Thunderbolt and Newport Show Cars in the atrium of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum

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.

The museum opened in 1999 and about 35,000 people visited the facility in 2011. Chrysler Group LLC, which already owns the museum’s building, will be purchasing the 67 vehicles in the museum’s collection in order to, as Bryce Hoffman of the DetNews put it, “protect the company’s patrimony.” The museum’s diverse collection reflects the many companies and brands in Chrysler history. Chrysler will continue to use the facility for corporate events and make it available for charities and special events so it appears that the facility will continue to be maintained as a museum, albeit a private one, similar to GM’s Heritage Center. I’m not just sad, I’m frustrated because the WPC Museum’s closing to the public is symptomatic of a number of Detroit area locations and institutions that are of great interest to car enthusiasts but end up not getting the attention they deserve. I called it the Henry Ford Museum effect.

If you say “cars”, “museum”, and “Detroit”, people will mention the Henry Ford Museum. Now the Ford Museum’s recently renovated Driving America exhibit (and the accompanying Racing In America display) is indeed one of the great car collections with about 140 vehicles on display (about 40% of the museum’s vehicle collection). Besides all of the historical Fords you’d expect to be there, and an outstandingly curated collection of other brands’ vehicles representing almost 120 years of automotive history, where else can you see a Bugatti Royale, a Tucker, a Cord and a Duesenberg, all just a few steps away from Jim Clark’s Indy 500 winning Lotus? The museum bills Driving America as “The World’s Premier Automotive Exhibition” and while there might be other museums and collections that would argue the point, it’s not just hyperbole.

The Henry Ford Museum’s car collection, while by itself is worth a visit, is only one facet of the entire museum, which is one of America’s great museums, with a pretty broad scope well beyond the world of automobiles. While gearheads will also appreciate the planes, trains and powerplants (Henry Ford’s primary interest was power generation, he was the chief operating engineer of Detroit’s Edison Illuminating Company before he started tinkering with automobiles), it’s a museum dedicated to the history of America so there are artifacts like the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was shot and the “Rosa Parks bus”, in addition to a large section devoted to the development of American domestic life.

On any weekday you can drive by the Henry Ford Museum and the parking lot will be full of families’ SUVs and minivans as well as buses for groups. When the Driving America exhibit was opened last winter, there was a gala banquet attended by Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood. If I’m not mistaken, the Ford Museum is the single most popular tourist attraction in the state of Michigan. That’s a problem for all the other lesser known museums in the Detroit area. It’s the 800 lb gorilla of museums around here and car museums in particular. While everyone is looking at the magnificent silverback, there are some very interesting chimps, baboons and other simians getting ignored.

I can think of about a half dozen museums and collections open to the public that would be of interest to just about any automobile enthusiast, just in the Detroit area alone. If you include western Michigan and northern Indiana, that number just about doubles. Some are more modest, others are significant collections with many rare and valuable cars and trucks, but they are all cool places to check out if you’re a car guy visiting Detroit or Michigan.

In southeastern Michigan, in addition to the Henry Ford Museum and the Walter P. Chrysler Museum (while it’s still open to the public), there’s the Piquette Avenue Model T factory, where the Model T and Ford’s assembly line were first developed. It’s now a museum with scores of early Fords and other marques. The Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum is in what was the last surviving Hudson dealership and it’s in time capsule shape from the 1950s. The YAHM is the place to go to check out Hudsons, Nashes, and Kaiser Frazers, all cars built in Ypsi. Along with Corvairs, GM Hydramatic transmissions (also locally assembled) the museum also has a nice section devoted to Tucker and Preston Tucker, who lived and worked in Ypsilanti. Stahl’s Automotive Foundation in Chesterfield Twp has a fine collection of cars (though the curator was a jerk to me when I was there), and there’s even the small, but very cool single marque Wills Sainte Claire museum out in Marysville. The Detroit Historical Museum, which just reopened after a renovation and now has free admission, happens to own about six dozen very significant automobiles but doesn’t have room for all to be on display. Of course you can see cars at lots of museums but the DHM does have a singular installation. A two story wing of the museum has been installed with the body drop section of Cadillac’s former Clark Street assembly plant. In Livonia out at Nankin Mills, there’s a museum dedicated in part to Henry Ford’s “Village Industries” project of small, often hydro powered, factories that employed rural workers.

Those are all within an hour’s drive of Detroit. Going farther afield, in Spring Arbor, near Jackson is Ye Ole Carriage Shop, a private museum of cars, pedal cars and Coca Cola stuff owned by Lloyd Gaston. Tours are available by appointment. North of Kalamazoo, in Hickory Corners, is the Gilmore Car Museum. The Gilmore really deserves its own post. It’s a fabulous place with eight historic barns filled with cars of every era. A number of national clubs have affiliated with Gilmore so it now houses special collections of Pierce Arrows, Cadillacs & LaSalles, Franklins, and they are finishing construction on what will be a Model A museum.

Heading almost due south you get to South Bend, where the Studebaker National Museum is. Don’t forget to go down into the basement, where they keep cars in storage. As you drive from South Bend to Auburn, you might want to stop in Elkhart and visit the RV Museum and Hall of Fame to check out Mae West’s motorhome and vintage Winebagos and popup campers. Why drive to Auburn? Well, if you consider yourself a car guy and you’re near Auburn and you don’t visit the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, turn in your car guy card. Housed in the former Auburn headquarters and magnificent Art Deco factory showroom, the ACD museum has an unparalleled collection of America’s finest classic cars. It’s worth a drive to Auburn just to see the Cord E-1, but then you can probably say that about a couple dozen of the cars in the ACD museum. Next door to the ACD Museum in the former Auburn & Cord factory buildings is NATMUS, the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States, which is a bit lower rent than the collection next door, but it’s still worth a visit. To begin with, it has an outstanding museum within a museum, NATMATMUS, National Automotive & Truck Model & Toy Museum. A collection of pedal cars, scale models and other automotive toys dating to the 19th century. Their eclectic car collection ain’t bad either with the US road racing champion Essex Wire Cobra, a Curtiss-Wright Wankel powered Mustang and a Devin three wheeler. The museum has an emphasis on commercial vehicles so truck lovers will like it, particularly if they’re International Harvester fans. You will never see a more rust free Scout.

If you’re coming to Detroit next month for the 2013 NAIAS, it’ll be too late to visit the Chrysler Museum. As mentioned, that closes to the public at the end of the year, but if you do have the time I would urge you to visit any of the other museums mentioned here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can 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 for reading – RJS

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Volkswagen Goes Postal, Develops The Electric “Fridolin” Of The Future Fri, 18 Nov 2011 18:28:36 +0000 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. 

Based on a subcompact Polo-sized platform, VW’s eT Concept manages to offer nearly 144 cubic feet of storage. And because it’s aimed at the green-conscious postman of tomorrow (not to mention stop-start driving on fixed routes), it’s a purely electric concept with a 60-mile range and a 70 MPH top speed. Think of the performance as “optimized for the workplace psychology.” Speaking of which, one of the coolest features of the new concept is that it can actually be driven at speeds up to 6 km/h from the passenger seat, using something called the “drive stick.” The thing can even back itself up by remote control, using bumper-mounted sensors to avoid obstacles or stop itself. There’s no word on how soon this research vehicle will make its way into production, but because it was developed in partnership with the German Postal Service, some of its gizmology should filter into German postal vehicles. And with a very similar VW “Bulli” coming to market in 2015, not only could this actual vehicle be made, there may even be a civilian sliding-door version as well.

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“America’s Car Museum” Rises In Tacoma Sat, 22 Oct 2011 19:10:17 +0000 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.


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What’s Wrong With This Picture: This Modern Unimog Edition Wed, 05 Oct 2011 16:30:39 +0000 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]

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: An Archetype’s Progress Edition Wed, 28 Sep 2011 15:39:05 +0000

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…

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“Show Me Your Tatras”: An Argument For Automotive Preservation Sat, 17 Sep 2011 23:36:33 +0000 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.

But as we reached the area showing the roots of the Volkswagen Beetle, full of KdF cars and early Beetle prototypes, I realized something was missing. If Volkswagen were sophisticated enough to give credit where credit is due to, say, Citroen for the DS, surely there would be at least one Tatra in the joint. After all, Ferdinand Porsche has admitted to at least being inspired by Hans Ledwinka’s Tatra designs. And even if he hadn’t admitted a thing, it’s tough to deny that the Beetle design wasn’t on some level influenced by the contemporary Tatra V570. So I asked my guide, a slick young Dutchman who had probably spent half his life with the company: “are there any Tatras in the Zeithaus? Where are they?”

My guide gave me a peculiar Dutch look that didn’t betray a thing. “Tatras?” he asked. “What’s a Tatra?”

I bring this up not to shame Volkswagen, let alone my otherwise highly competent guide. After all, there’s no shame in admitting that one, or one’s company, owes some kind of intellectual debt to an inspired predecessor… but it can be difficult. My point, rather, is that history is delicate… and always written by the victors. One reason I’m less than entirely enthused about creating a National Register for historic automobiles is that many of the most important automobiles in history are well preserved. And yet the majority of preservation is done by automakers themselves, which have the resources to create whole museums depicting the evolution of the automobile… and the motivation to curate them selectively. Sure, a handful of influential automotive museums exist, but they tend to focus on assembling the most rare and beautiful vehicles ever made, rather than faithfully depicting the evolution of the automobile.

Does any of this warrant hyperventilation on a weekend evening in September? Of course not. But it’s worth considering. Just as placing a Tatra or two in the Zeithaus would be worth considering for Volkswagen’s curators. After all, history is like a rambunctious child: difficult to sanitize and resentful at the mere attempt.

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Are You Ready For: A National Register Of Historic Vehicles? Sat, 17 Sep 2011 17:55:58 +0000

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…

If my lovely life partner deems a building that’s in the way of a federally-funded project eligible for listing on the National Register, the project must seek to limit or mitigate its impact on it. Federal law requires that federally-funded projects determine the eligibility of buildings in their area of impact, but the level of protection offered to eligible buildings is actually relatively low. If the building in question is listed on the register, which can only be done voluntarily by the owner, it receives full protection. This matters for buildings, which are difficult to move and can be part of a historic district or landscape.

Though it’s possible that future legislation could seek to ban gas-guzzling historic vehicles from the road, in which case a National Register could offer effective protection, the basic protections for a car are a lot less necessary than for a structure (which can not easily be moved or stored). In short, if someone chooses to destroy their mint-condition Packard in the next Cash-for-Clunkers program, there’s nothing in the National Register model to stop them… the system supports, rather than trumps, property rights.

In other words, I don’t have a problem with people being able to register a vehicle for historic protection, but let’s not pretend that it will offer more protection than the owner’s property rights already do. And it does open a can of worms in regards to drawing the line between historic and non-historic vehicles (although most “truly historic” cars are already in museums). If legislation comes forward to ban certain cars from the road, I’m all for fighting it outright… but I’m not convinced that a National Register of Historic Cars is the way to do that. This feels more like a way for owners of Concours-level cars to feel even snootier about their garage queen.

But, as it turns out, there’s no need for a separate register. The NYT reports

Carmel Roberts, director of government relations for the [HVA], said in a telephone interview this week that the association was not pushing for any such legislation. Instead, she said that the association merely encouraged owners to list their vehicles on the National Register, the country’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.

Automobiles are already designated as structures in a National Register bulletin outlining the application process to have artifacts or structures listed, Ms. Roberts said. Little, however, has been done to explore the potential of the National Register as it related to automobiles.

“We’re just at the talking phase,” Ms. Roberts said.


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Requiem For The Last American Car Thu, 15 Sep 2011 20:12:25 +0000

[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.

Let us be clear before we go any further: increasing CAFE standards will mean that, barring a phenomenal advancement in engine technology, all large cars in their current form will be phased out before long. New realities are coming that automakers will find impossible to avoid. At the same time, without vehicles like the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car, cars so steeped in our notions of a limitless frontier and freedom from tyranny (of the mobility and engine displacement varieties), we lose a potent symbol of the domestic industry’s raison d’être.

The Ford Panther chassis is a rolling respite from traffic anxiety disorder. If your only experience with one has been riding in a taxicab, or careening through city streets, you’ve been misled. Truth is, the Panther’s driving personality is far more sedate. While some cars vie for your down payment by touting driver involvement, the big Ford goes the other way, trumpeting maximum driver isolation. It regards the world around it as uncouth, bumpy and loud, and lovingly insulates you from the indignities of crumbling roads and the frenzied pace of traffic. Only when breezing along without a care in the world do these vehicles truly come into their own, not only transporting you to your destination in isolated comfort, but under the right conditions, even taking you into view of a past that is on the brink of being irrevocably lost.

Prodigious torque, smooth power delivery and the isolation of riding on (frame) rails will now become the sole purview of those who have signed the paperwork for a truck or traditional sport utility vehicle. Those loners, those holdovers clinging to a time that has passed them by, will now have to join that swollen cohort of automobile purchasers who have savored the qualities they continue to find rewarding, from a higher perch.

But I come not to praise the body-on-frame passenger car but to bury it. Aficionados of this type of automobile have had ample time through various stays of execution and luck to sample the last vestiges of what make North American motoring a unique island unto itself for the vast majority of the 20th century. Indeed, through various twists of fate, the body-on-frame passenger car has held on longer than it would seem it had the right to, and that in of itself is reason enough to observe its passing today with pride, solemnity and recognition of a notable landmark.

After today, the remaining holdover from a completely globalized design movement led by the world’s automakers remains the pickup and traditional sport utility vehicle. Can this segment, in particular pickups, remain the top sellers? Or will they too fall victim to changing tastes and new regulations that threaten their existence?

For now, the American Truck reigns supreme. Today, we honor what once was and observe the demise of the American Car. In truth, the Panther has no peer, no competitor. It is the last vestige of the American car. Let’s not kid ourselves; pretty much everything else is international in form and function.

A part of me hopes they put the last Crown Vic or Town Car in the Smithsonian, with an inscription on the plaque reading: “Once we built cars, and we were not ashamed.” But another part of me is OK with the notion that the passing of the last traditional American sedan will go mostly unnoticed. After all, it befits the nature of this car; going about its business day in and day out, stoic and laconic, its qualities unheralded except by those who came to rely on it for the past 33 years.

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Cars Only Bob Lutz Remembers: The 1983 Ford Ghia Barchetta Concept Wed, 07 Sep 2011 18:13:50 +0000

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.

The story began, almost inevitably, when I asked Lutz if he had any regrets about the Solstice/Sky “Kappa” program. Did he ever second-guess himself on design decisions made in that program, I wondered. Was practicality unnecessarily sacrificed? Would more usability have had any effect on sales of the Solstice or Sky? After the briefest moment of reflection, Lutz answered with a fairly emphatic negative. But rather than leave it at a simple “no,” Lutz unfolded a parable about product development that began the year after I was born.

Do you remember, we did a two-seat Fiesta roadster at Ford of Europe one time? I forget what it was called… we didn’t call it a Speedster, but it was… I guess it was kind of like a Porsche Speedster. If you Google it… it had a unique body… I think we showed it at the Geneva show… 84 I think.

It was a really neat looking car with a very fast front end. It kind of reminds me of the BMW Z3 because the hood had to stay level for a while to clear the engine and then it dropped off sharply. It was a two-seat roadster with a very short back end… the wheels were all the way in the back. It was cute as all get-out… but the functionality was probably close to zero. No back seat, no trunk, nothing… just a very basic, low-cost, two-place roadster.

Lutz remembered the car, he just couldn’t remember the name. With a little Google wizardry and a lucky stumble across this blog item, I found the name: the Ford Ghia Barchetta. And he was only off by one year… apparently the Barchetta debuted in 1983. He was also right about the looks: in many ways it seems like the inspiration for Fiat’s wildly-successful (and gorgeous) front-drive Barchetta, which was built from 1995 until 2005 with only a brief pause. But now we’re getting sidetracked… back to our story, already in progress, with the first compromise made to the concept:

I wouldn’t let them change the engine placement. I said “if we have a chance of putting this into production,” (which I really badly wanted to do), “we have to keep the Fiesta underpinnings.”

So far, so good. But here’s where the story becomes a parable.

I needed some volume to make a viable program out of it, so I figured we could probably do eight or nine thousand of them in Europe, and we gave it to Ford NAO (North American Operations) and said “what can you do with it?”. They did some Supermarket parking lot surveys and they asked women coming out of the grocery store “what do you think of this?” They said “oh, it’s cute. What would it cost?”. “About eight thousand dollars.” “Oh, that’s a lot of money.” And then [the Ford NAO people] said “aaand, you can have this four-cylinder Mustang convertible for $7,800.” “Oooh,” they said, “well I’ll take that.” So they concluded there was no volume potential in the United States… and of course there was, they were just asking all the wrong people.

This encapsulates why Lutz deserves at least some grudging praise from even his toughest critics: lust is difficult to make a case for in the auto business. Simply trying to convince Ford’s US-market fiefdom that they would benefit from such an unusual vehicle in their lineup was an insurmountable task that he tackled anyway. As the romance and enthusiasm slowly drains away from the world of cars, very few executives risk their careers for exciting products that might not make immediate business sense. Sure, this risk-taking seems less laudable in the aftermath of the bailout, but it’s integral to the cultural power of the automobile. And, as the story continues, we’ll find that if you’re going to take a risk on a niche product, you better really take a risk on it.

Then Alex Troutman at [Ford Asia-Pacific] got interested in it for Asia-Pacific, and went and talked to Mazda. Mazda said “no, we don’t like that one because it’s front-wheel-drive, but we’re actually thinking of doing something like that with rear-wheel drive. And Alex said no, ours has got to be off a Ford architecture.

If Lutz had any regrets about not involving Ford in the creation of the Miata, he didn’t let them show. On the other hand, the missed opportunity had to sting at least a little. After all, if you’re taking a risk on an impractical two-seater, why not go all the way with RWD? And with the benefit of hindsight, involvement in a modern icon like the MX-5 would be a point of pride for any “product guy.”  But Lutz only had control over Ford of Europe, and by this point he had even lost control of the Barchetta project. It was about to become everything it wasn’t ever supposed to be.

When Alex went back to the states, he got [the program] going again. It was carefully researched, so it was decided that front wheel drive is OK, but we don’t like the front end. So, OK, the front end got more conventional. Then, “it’s no good with no back seat. People won’t buy a car with no back seat.” Well, OK, we can add a back seat. And then, “oh, there’s no trunk space.” Alright, add a trunk. And so it became that misbegotten little Mercury [Capri], remember that? What a horrible thing. That started out as the Fiesta.

That started out as a beautiful, slick, highly desirable little roadster that would have done well. Functionalizing it wrecked it. And I’ll tell you what: Solstice owners had no problem with that top at all. When you’re into emotional cars, it’s about appearance and how cool is it… it’s the same thing as sports motorcycles. Not necessarily comfortable, not suitable to saddlebags… but they look like track bikes and they’re fun to ride.

I know that not all of TTAC’s B&B will agree wholesale with Lutz’s vision, but the tale of the Barchetta’s transformation into the Capri is instructive. When you have a successful design, and cites Ford press releases saying the German “Barchetta Club” alone had 10k members at one point, you keep it as pure as possible or you don’t build it all. It’s easy to criticize Lutz as being too uncompromising, but in an intensely collaborative process like car development, the ability to say “no dammit, we aren’t going to compromise on this” is a rare thing. If the world were full of cars that are as practical as they are fun, his approach might be dismissible. Since that’s not the case, this is an object lesson in the trade-offs that create crap like the Capri out of a tiny jewel like the Barchetta.

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Cars Only Bob Lutz Remembers: The Dodge Dakota Convertible Tue, 06 Sep 2011 18:11:30 +0000

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.”

Given his reputation for over-the-top vehicles like the Viper and Volt, and his general fondness for drop-tops, you might think that the Dakota ‘vert was one of Bob Lutz’s “babies,” but if that were the case his enthusiasm for the truckvertible has waned considerably. And, the way he tells the story, the Dakota’s topless conversion was not a gut-call for a strong niche product, but the outgrowth of Chrysler’s brief infatuation with “brand management.” But let’s let Lutz tell the story himself, which opens sometime around 1988, when Hal Sperlich was forced out of the company and Lutz began taking over more responsibility:

Like many other companies at the time, Iacocca got himself talked into ‘brand management’ by a board member, a guy by the name of Paul Sticht who was with RJR Nabisco. And so we had the famous Jerry York running Dodge brand and they were going to dictate product priorities to us. Jeep was intelligent enough to just say ‘hey, we’re on the right track. We’ll do the V8 Grand Cherokee and all the other stuff that followed on.’ But Jerry York wanted to make a mark, so he wanted a a Dodge Shadow convertible, for which we didn’t have the money, and he wanted a Dakota pickup convertible. *laughs* There’s a few around. I think we sold like a thousand. Maybe.

I saw one the other day at an airport out in California. Slammed. I think the Dakota convertible had to be the leakiest convertible top of all time… we had it done by ASC down in Mexico. It would be fun to have one just because they’re so rare… but once Iacocca saw that brand management wasn’t working, I became the real President.

My initial curiosity about the story was based wholly in the fact that I hadn’t been aware of the existence of a convertible pickup other than the SSR. But, having reflected on the story, I realized that this anecdote actually shows an interesting side of Lutz’s character. Though best known as the father of all kinds of outlandish machinery, Lutz is not the kind of guy to champion anything that’s out of the automotive norm simply because of its unusualness. Though Lutz clearly likes the idea of a rare convertible pickup, his dismissive attitude towards the Dakota Convertible’s genesis says a lot about his  attitude towards new product development: in short, when an idea comes from “product guys” he tends to like it, but when it comes from “brand managers” he tends to be less supportive.

The problem with that attitude? By emphasizing problems in product conception rather than the product itself, Lutz opens himself to repeating mistakes that others have made, in the belief that a more product-oriented process (rather than a brand-oriented process) will have more success. The obvious example of this is the SSR truckvertible that Lutz championed into production at GM. Though it sold considerably more than a thousand units (estimated volume: 24,150 between 2003 and 2005), the SSR was still ultimately a flop. Would Lutz have pushed the SSR into production when he arrived at GM if the Dakota Convertible hadn’t been pushed on him by Jerry York’s Dodge “brand managers”? York and company certainly provided an easy scapegoat for one of the weirdest vehicles ever produced. And with the benefit of hindsight, it now seems fairly clear that drop-top pickups are a problematic proposition whether they come from “product guys” or “brand managers.”

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What Isn’t Wrong With This Picture: The Last Of The Panther Interceptors Edition Tue, 30 Aug 2011 23:58:07 +0000

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…

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: A Panda For Every Purse And Purpose Edition Tue, 30 Aug 2011 17:39:26 +0000

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?

Given its immediate predecessor’s reputation for driving delight, a Dodge-branded hot hatch should be within reach. But a Jeep-branded 4×4? Martin Schwoerer reckoned the previous Panda 4×4 could “compete with a Land Rover off-road,” but then European and American versions of “off-road” can be very different. Making a Jeep of this latest Panda could be a challenge, as nobody wants a “Sad Panda” repeat of the first-gen Compass.
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Are You Ready For: A Porsche Flat-Eight? Tue, 30 Aug 2011 15:14:12 +0000

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.

Porsche’s head of R&D Wolfgang Hatz says a flat-eight evolution of the forthcoming flat-four could be matched to “the Carrera GT’s ultra-compact transmission” for the forthcoming Ferrari-fighter. There’s just one problem…

We could develop it, of course. One of the key issues is where we put the differential, but it is a possibility

Details! The key issue is that Porsche doesn’t have a “different model” positioned in $4k increments from $200k and up. As long as you’re addressing the important issue, these little technical details will work themselves out in deference to Porsche’s “fundamental economic sense.”

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Live From Pebble Beach: The Show Goes On Fri, 19 Aug 2011 21:38:19 +0000

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.

Like many of us, Alex seems completely taken by the dramatic Cadillac Ciel concept. But he notes that the concept’s unobtainium appeal just got a little stronger, as

The Cadillac concept car supposedly drives, stops and turns. This begs my question: why the hell doesn’t GM just sell it? It’s enormous, brash and no doubt expensive to make. Sounds like the perfect Cadillac to me. ATS? Meh. give me a Ciel.

Now that he mentions it, I’d take one too. Who knows what it would cost or where I would keep it… this is a concept that tickles all my brain’s most irrational pleasure centers.

Why? Because it’s the first “real Cadillac” in such a long time, I was beginning to genuinely believe that history had passed such a thing by. And maybe it has… after all, things have changed a lot since this 1931 Caddy ruled the road. And sometimes the past just isn’t enough, as Alex explains

Augusta Little ordered it new and was the sole owner until she decided to give it back to Cadillac in 1976, no doubt as a hint to tell Caddy they were gettin it all wrong.

Obviously the message took a while to sink in. And even when Caddy has “gotten it right” since ’76, it’s been largely with concepts like the magnificent Sixteen, which went nowhere in terms of production. Now that GM has the cash to bring something similar to the Ciel to market, the presence of a classic like a ’31 on the same stand sends an encouraging message. The only fly in the ointment is the reason that GM has cash for such a project, and the PR challenges involved with building a super-luxury car on the heels of a government bailout.

Speaking of bailouts, the Saab-Spyker stand at Pebble Beach was not a cheerful enclave of money and privilege this year. Alex describes a tragic scene:

Saab’s booth was deserted, and the two Saab employees were muttering that all the press was asking was “when is Saab closing for good”? Oops.


MINI, on the other hand, was flexing its pretensions of moneyed privilege, showing its hand-trimmed, $52k base-price “MINI Inspired By Goodwood.” So rareified are these super-plush MINIs that

nobody was allowed to sit on the hallowed cow thrones or sully the lambs wool rugs. Other than the sumptuous accessories, the interior is the same as a normal Mini which makes me wonder if it wouldnt be cheaper to just get a regular mini, and have Xzibit pimp your ride.

Speaking of pimped rides, the last-ever four-cylinder Lotus Exige, the Matte Black Final Edition, was on hand in all its murdered-out glory. In accordance with its new desperately upmarket image, Lotus is giving its new Exige the Toyota V6 from the Evora, so this is the last of the stripped-out, four-pot Lotus club racers. Whether you think Lotus’s new direction will succeed or fail, you’ll probably agree that this bit of history will be back to Pebble Beach in the future, possibly worth quite a bit more than it is now.

True to form, Alex continues to be uninspired by the latest in luxury crossovers, photographing but not writing anything at all about the Range Rover Evoque. I suppose we’ll have to wait for a review…
IMG_3810 Welcome to the show! IMG_3812 IMG_3813 IMG_3814 IMG_3815 IMG_3816 IMG_3817 IMG_3818 IMG_3819 IMG_3820 IMG_3821 IMG_3822 IMG_3823 IMG_3824 IMG_3825 IMG_3826 IMG_3827 IMG_3828 IMG_3829 IMG_3832 IMG_3833 IMG_3834 IMG_3835 IMG_3836 IMG_3837 IMG_3838 IMG_3839 IMG_3840 IMG_3841 IMG_3842 IMG_3843 IMG_3844 IMG_3845 IMG_3846 IMG_3847 IMG_3848 IMG_3849 IMG_3850 IMG_3851 IMG_3852 IMG_3853 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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The American Mercedes Tue, 16 Aug 2011 20:16:54 +0000 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.

To begin with, before we get to the original 1906 text and illustrations, it’s interesting to look at the afterword and insert from the 1960s. The company distributing the booklet then was called Mercedes-Benz Sales, Inc. Just as the address of the Daimler Mfg. Co. on Steinway Avenue is significant, so is the address of M-B Sales Inc. on South Main Street in South Bend, Indiana. South Bend, of course, was the home of Studebaker. The Studebaker Museum is there, and from Earth orbit you can still see the trees that spell STUDEBAKER at the former Studebaker test track near Bendix Woods west of South Bend.

Mercedes-Benz Sales Inc. was a subsidiary of Studebaker-Packard, who had acquired the US import and distribution rights for M-B cars in 1957. Looking over the copy from the 1961 and 1964 editions, it’s truly remarkable how the Mercedes brand went from almost non-existent in the US to a leading luxury brand. The 1961 afterword discusses how there were only 32 M-B cars registered in the US in 1952, climbing to 3,446 in 1957, when Studebaker started distributing them and expanding the M-B dealer network. By 1961, sales had risen to almost 13,000 units a year. M-B Sales pointed out that number was exceeded by “only two small, inexpensive imported automobiles”, and that there were 60,000 satisfied American owners of M-B products. I’m supposing that those two cars were undoubtedly the VW Beetle and most likely the Renault Dauphine, which had some measure of success in the late ’50s and early ’60s. There were 350 dealers and a network of parts warehouses to service them. The “less than $4,000″ price for a Merc in 1961 was pitched as representing “very good value indeed”.

The insert from 1964 mentions the story Jack related about William Steinway’s 1888 trip to Germany and his ride in one of Gottlieb Daimler’s quadricycles and the history of the US Daimler Manufacturing Company and the cars they assembled. It talks of similarities and differences between the brass age Mercedes and the then modern 90 HP models, and of course it stresses Daimler and Benz’s roles in the invention of the automobile and Mercedes-Benz’s reputation for engineering and quality. In three years registrations increased to 90,000, which means that there was a slight downturn in annual sales from the ’61 figures.

The booklet itself is a great look at the dawn of the automobile age, early advertising and some American culture as well. The cover says The American Mercedes above the Daimler Manufacturing Company’s logo, which appears to have combined German and American eagles into a single crest. The brochure is illustrated with very nicely executed drawings of the car and major components, and stresses the high level of quality of the Steinway made American Mercedes. Of note is the fact that the brochure stresses that all critical components of the car were made from imported German ores and steel, not what they regarded as inferior American metal with less strength and greater weight. It also stresses that the car would be “an exact reproduction of the … foreign Mercedes”. It would still be a couple of years before master machinist Henry Leland would make Cadillac the standard of the world and change the reputation of American automotive engineering. Though it touted the car’s European origins, the brochure stressed that the royalty they were paying the Daimler company was less than import duties would be on the same car if imported from Germany. From the earliest days to today’s “transplant” assembly facilities, local production has often made economic sense. The text is much more technically detailed than promotional materials would be today, but then in 1906 you had to be a genuine auto enthusiast and  pretty decent mechanic just to drive a car and keep it running.

The 45 HP American Mercedes was a large car, built for seven passengers, available in two lengths, with wheelbases of 3225mm (127″) and 3279mm (129″). For comparison purposes, that’s in mid 1970s Cadillac and Lincoln territory. The larger car had a body 8″ longer than the shorter wheelbase car. Red was the standard color but the company offered custom colors.

CARS are furnished with all necessary equipment, such as tools, tire repair kit, horn, two oil sidelights, to gas head lights and one tail light, etc. There is also included an assortment of the spare parts more frequently needed, such as chain link valve and igniter springs, igniter electrodes and piston rings. Price with Standard Equipment, $7,500 F.O.B. New York City.

It’s a fascinating look at early automobile ownership and it’s worth reading the whole thing. There’s no copyright issue anymore, it’s long since passed into the public domain, so I scanned the entire booklet as well as the insert and you can see it in the gallery below.

Note: The TTAC photo gallery player doesn’t always work well. I’ve also put up a post on Cars In Depth with a Flash player that actually works and plays the images in proper order.


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VW’s Secret Weapon: Heritage Sat, 13 Aug 2011 16:44:41 +0000

With the world’s established automakers facing increased competition from ascendant Korean car brands, and with even more competition from Chinese automakers just over the horizon, the key to continued success is leveraging every single advantage that’s been accumulated in the past. Traditionally those advantages have been technical, whether in engine technology, suspension set-up know-how, or long-established relationships with suppliers. But as technical advantages fade, brands are having to cash in on their other, less tangible assets… including heritage.

Few brands have the kind of mass-appeal heritage assets that VW has, as witnessed by the profound success of the previous-gen New Beetle. But rather than limiting its advantages to a single model, VW envisions an entire range of heritage-inspired models which will leverage vast platform commonality into passion-inspiring cult cars. The next of these “cult cars,” after the new New Beetle: an electric mini-MPV based on the Bulli concept, to bebuilt in Puebla for the 2014 model-year. VW design boss Walter Da Silva tells Autocar

As a designer, I am convinced by this idea. We don’t have a space for another conventional MPV, but this one would be desirable on a different level, combining practicality with the heritage appeal.

Meanwhile, VW isn’t the only brand with this idea. Facing slack sales and an uncertain place in the European market, Citroen has bet big on its “anti-retro” DS line to revitalize its flagging fortunes. But if brands are increasingly leveraging their pasts to bolster their futures, why aren’t any American brands betting big on retro? After all, if anyone in the global car game can look to the past as being better than the present, isn’t it Detroit?

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Trekka: Skoda Meets Land Rover In New Zealand Sat, 30 Jul 2011 16:57:57 +0000

Each weekend, TTAC turns its attention to some of the more obscure news and stories from around the world, taking you from Jakarta to Haiti to Monaco… and now to New Zealand. Hungarian Skoda blog takes us to New Zealand in 1966, when Auckland-based Motor Lines were able to adapt a Jowett Bradford-based utility vehicle made by Kawerau into a Skoda Octavia-based Land Rover lookalike… and the Trekka was born!  Only 2,500 of the little runabouts were made in steel-paneled wagon and “ute” bodystyles (specs here), of which five served duty in Vietnam and one was purchased for unknown reasons by General Motors, which shipped it to Detroit in 1969. The Trekka was an “icon of the Kiwi can-do spirit” by the time it went out of production in 1973, and it was much loved in New Zealand, although it was never as capable as its Landie-alike bodywork suggested (a limited-slip differential was eventually developed for it). But the low-cost Trekka (it cost £895, less than a Morris 1100) was ultimately a product of New Zealand’s import tariffs, and as these began to fall in the 1970s, the Trekka’s day had passed. Today, fewer than 30 remaining models have been documented by

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“Ask Amy”: Why The Morris Minor? Sat, 30 Jul 2011 16:29:34 +0000

“Ask Amy” advice columnist and self-help memoir author Amy Dickinson has the late Ann Landers’ old slot on the Chicago Tribune. She also has a 1967 Morris Minor. She fell in love with the car the first time she saw one, soon after she moved to London with her then-husband, in 1986. “They are so cute, they look like ice cream cones,” she says. She loves the clatter of its engine, and the way people smile when she drives by, and she says it is her favorite material object in the world.

So after her husband embarked on an open-endedly extended business trip, in 1988, Dickinson, then a housewife, took her five week old baby, Emily, in a taxi to a dealer who restored Morrises, and made her purchase, for 1,500 pounds (roughly $5,000 in current dollars). “One advantage of driving a beautiful, quirky vintage car is that it really helped me meet people,” she says. “So many men said to me, ‘I had one of these,’ and ‘my dad had one of these,’ not to mention ‘getting rid of my Morris Minor was my biggest mistake.’”

Soon her marriage came undone, and in 1990 Dickinson returned to the US with her daughter, to become a journalist. Before she left London, she was able to have the steering wheel and controls switched from right to left, an operation that was easy by design, since British Motor Corporation sold Morris Minors all over the world. (This was the first British car to produce a million copies, the millionth rolling off the assembly line on December 22, 1960, according to the Morris Minor Owners’ Club.)

The car actually jump-started Amy’s career. Her first radio piece was a commentary on National Public Radio, where she described the Morris as “…shaped like a Volkswagen [old] Beetle with a water retention problem. It manages to seem both massive and tiny at the same time. It has kind of full-figured fenders that remind me of the Duchess of York’s hips. And the grill in front looks like a gaping, demented, laughing clown mouth, the kind that shows up in your dreams when you’re a kid.”

Those descriptions notwithstanding, Amy also has a sophisticated… uh, well, experiential appreciation for this well-regarded 20th century design by Sir Alec Issigonis, who is perhaps best known for penning the original Mini, but whose reputation extends well beyond the world of cars. “There is not a plane on the entire surface of that car,” says Amy. “You realize this when you try to put your cup of coffee down somewhere as you go to open the door.” (Amy admits to having spilled her coffee more than once.)
Amy drove the un-air conditioned and poorly heated car year-round, joyously ferrying her daughter hither and yon, despite Washington, DC’s miserably hot and humid summers. Daughter Emily says that the Morris always got lots of attention, and one of her friends used to love to ride in the car so he could get noticed doing the Presidential wave, and that when her mother let her off for preschool, a neighbor of the preschool would always let her mother park the Morris in his driveway. Unfortunately, the winter salt corroded the sheet metal, and in 1995, Amy regretfully stowed the Morris, and bought one of those rust-free, plastic Saturns.

“The Morris sat in a garage [for eight years], quite neglected, like an old boyfriend, and I got to where I felt so bad about it I couldn’t even look at it,” she says, mournfully. But remembering all the Englishmen who had told her how much they had regretted selling theirs, she hung on to hers.
Then, in 2003, the Chicago Tribune hired her, boosting her finances, enabling a resurrection. Before she and her daughter set off for the windy city, she drove the Morris to Vintage Restorations, now in Mt. Airy, Maryland, where they worked on pride and joy whenever she could send money.

“She’s an unusual kind of person,” says John Tokar, owner of Vintage Restorations, noting that the handful of owners of Morris Minors he has restored have all been endearingly eccentric.

Amy says her love for vehicles of all sorts stems from having been raised on a dairy farm. “My family’s primary vehicle for some years was a dump truck, which my mother drove like a pro,” she says. “I’m not a gearhead, but I do love cars. I always have. And I love to drive.”

In 2008, Amy moved back to her hometown, Freeville, NY, population 505, not far from that dairy farm, to help care for her elderly mother. There, the Morris gave Amy valuable cred with some important people at a critical juncture in her life. She took up with a local guy she’d known since seventh grade. Soon they were married. “He has four daughters,” she says. “Once they got a load of this car, I think that increased my mystique.”

One of the great things about the car, says Amy, is that it spreads good cheer everywhere it goes. It looks cheerful, she says. The Morris even cheered Amy after her recent bereavement. “My mom passed away in February, and I had the car in the barn [for the winter], and I couldn’t wait for spring to come so I could pull the cover off, jump in, and tool around,” she says.

In the Morris, says Amy, she thinks not about where she’s going, “but how much fun I’m having getting there. There’s no radio to distract me, the engine chugs along, the windows squeak up and down, and people smile, wave, and honk. It’s really fun to tool around in something that inspires universally positive reactions.

“You know how beautiful women get notes? My car gets mash notes. Instead of people asking me for my phone number, very frequently there will be a note on the car, addressed to the car, saying ‘if you ever want a new home, call me.’”
In fact, despite the ample cost of the restoration, Amy says that if you amortize all the money she has spent on the Morris over the 23 years she has owned it, or even just the 15 years she’s had it running, it has bought her a cornucopia of inexpensive joy.

“If I were a car, I would be this car—a little past my prime, but I still run pretty well, pretty simple, not too complicated,” says Amy. She adds that “I have always enjoyed lots of different vintage things,” including vintage clothing. “People who know me say, ‘oh, yeah, that car is you.’”
* * *

Fun fact about Morris Minors, courtesy of Amy: The Tamil Tigers, a militant separatist organization, would remove the drive shafts, and use them as rocket launchers, after which they’d reinstall them and drive off.

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After A Whole Lada Production, A Russian Classic Retires Wed, 27 Jul 2011 17:34:21 +0000


Surf over to, and click on “Автомобили” (automobiles), and you’ll find four model lines: Priora, Kalina, Samara and the classic, Putin-favored 4×4. Not pictured in the lineup, but still present in a sidebar on the site, is a link for one more model: the 2107. The first 2107 (then called the 2101), was built in April, 1970, developed off the internals of the Fiat 124, which itself was already four years old. And ever since 1970, the 2101 “Classic” has been rolling off an assembly line in Tolyatti, providing over 16.8 million sets of cheap wheels (MSRP: about $7,500)… and the model accounts for two-thirds of all Ladas ever built. But, reports Automotive News Europe [sub]‘s Luca Ciferri:

The Classic was scheduled to die at the end of 2009 when sales began fading, but the Russian government scrappage program introduced in March 2010 gave it a new lease of life. Helped by the incentive, Classic sales last year doubled to 136,006, making it Russia best-selling car by far. In the first half of this year, sales grew 35 percent to 69,500.

But the scrapping program ended in May, heralding the end for the Classic.

The Lada Classic will be replaced by the Lada Granta, which was launched inauspiciously, when, in a scene straight from “Borat,” the car refused to start for President Vladimir Putin. But perhaps, if the Granta is built for another 40 years, car writers will be looking back fondly at it someday.

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Like Cats And Dogs: An Exploration Of Automotive Mascots & Intellectual Property Sun, 17 Jul 2011 15:58:33 +0000 Statue in front of Changfeng’s Liebao “Leopard” Division (Photo: Changfeng)

China doesn’t have the world’s best reputation for respecting intellectual property (pdf). TTAC’s own old China hand Bertel might give us an on-the-ground report that could differ with the reputation, but reputations are still what they are. We’ve seen knockoffs of MINIs and smart cars (do you think that smart could borrow a capital letter from MINI?), and of course there is the notorious Chery QQ’s take on the Daewoo Matiz/Chevrolet Spark. GM was already not thrilled with “Chery” being one letter removed from “Chevy”, but the QQ was kinda overt so GM was understandably upset. Bertel can correct me if I’m wrong but I believe that Chery prevailed in both the Chinese court system and in the Chinese marketplace (apparently by offering more features/value).

Daewoo Matiz / Chevy Spark

Chery QQ



When I first saw a photo of the leaping leopard statue in front of the headquarters of *Changfeng‘s Liebao division, my first thought was the Changfeng was knocking off Jaguar’s famous “leaper” mascot. A big cat, leaping onto its prey. As a matter of fact, for a few years now Jaguar dealers have had similarly sized statues of the leaper on columns, plinths and roofs. Okay, so leibao is Chinese for leopard, and a leopard isn’t exactly the same as a jaguar, but the pose does look kind of familiar, don’t you think? It turns out though that this might be more of a case of Apple vs IBM than GM vs Chery.

Photo: Ontario Jaguar Owner’s Association

According to Jaguar lore, Jaguar started using a leaping cat in the 1930s, after William Lyons renamed the Swallow Sidecar Co. to Jaguar. Some owners had their own mascots made, as hood ornaments became known after they stopped being radiator caps. Lyons disapproved, and I can see why. Appropriately aggressive, but Jaguars are known for grace and it’s not quite graceful. Some artists have trouble capturing the big cats. Lions are a popular motif in judaica, often flanking the tablets of the Ten Commandments. I have an embroidery shop and I’ve done a few lions myself (there are tallis bags and Torah mantles that are adorned with lions that Peugeot fans would recognize). The Holy Ark that holds the Torah scrols at the synagogue where my grandparents went and my son currently attends has a couple of lions that make me think, every time I see them, that they look more like baboons than lions. So I can understand Sir Williams desire for the perfect feline mascot.

Unofficial Jaguar mascot.

Soon after, Lyons had automotive artist F. Gordon Crosby design an official mascot, which has become known simply as the “leaper”. Today it’s the symbol of the company, gracing its cars in one way or another (its profile currently adorns the rear decklid of the XF and XJ), its logo, and its buildings.

F. Gordon Crosby's original Jaguar leaper mascot, used as a display c. 1938

In those countries where safety regs prohibit hood ornaments or when a leaper wouldn’t make sense, like on the steering wheel, is the “growler”, a jaguar’s face in bas relief.

Jaguar "growler" - Jaguar publicity photo

Lyons started offering the leaper mascot as an option for the price of 2 pounds and two shillings. From the beginning, though, there have been changes to Jaguar’s famous cat. You can see that compared to Crosby’s original casting even the original hood ornaments were smoothed out and stylized in a manner befitting the art-deco era.

1938 Jaguar hood ornament - Jaguar publicity photo

In 1955, Sir William had the cat redesigned. In the 1950s Jaguar’s XK series were doing first 120, then 140 and finally 150 mph, and Coventry’s racing cars were seeing success at LeMans and other venues. The redesign fittingly changed the cat from a slightly crouching position to a leap, hind legs fully extended. Lyons also wanted to increase the leaper’s angle of attack. That basic design was used into the 1960s, with minor revisions to the mounting base.

Sleaker leaper used in the 1950s and 1960s - Jaguar photo

The most recent revision has been to give the mascot a spring loaded base, to protect pedestrians. US bound XJs had them, but no other markets allowed them. Safety and aero concerns along with Jaguar’s new styling idioms means that we’ll probably never see another Jaguar leave the factory with a leaper on its bonnet.


The last leaper mascot used on the final traditionally styled XJ. Currently, no Jaguar wears the leaper as a hood ornament, though it adorns the cars elsewhere. Jaguar photo.

Of course Jaguar was not the only company that used hood ornaments. There were Plymouths with sailing ships, Chryslers with wings, and Packards with cormorants. Figurines like Rolls-Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy or Packard’s earlier Goddess of Speed were an important way of establishing a brand identity. As he started to plot Lincoln’s brand, Edsel Ford decided to let Lincoln go to the dogs.

Ford and Lincoln hood mascots

Henry Ford bought Lincoln in part to get back at Henry Leland for his role in Ford losing his second unsuccessful automotive venture. Ford’s creditors wanted to liquidate but Leland convinced them to keep the company going using engines of his own design. That company became known as Cadillac. Leland, the best machinist in Detroit, made Cadillac the standard of the world and the company was eventually bought by Billy Durant’s General Motors. Leland and Durant had a parting of their ways over World War One. Durant was a pacifist and Leland wanted to make Liberty engines. So Leland started Lincoln for that very purpose, only to get into financial difficulties when the government canceled his contracts abruptly after the war. Ford so badly wanted to humiliate Leland that he made an offer that the bankruptcy court said was ridiculously low. After raising his offer and buying Lincoln, Ford kept Leland and his son on for a short while and then had them humiliated by having them unceremoniously walked out of the building.

So, if Henry Ford bought Lincoln in part to get back at Henry Leland, as Gene Hackman’s character says to  Rebecca Pidgeon’s in David Mamet’s Heist, what’s the rest of it? The other part is that Henry bought Lincoln to give it to Edsel. Some even called Lincoln “Edsel’s plaything”. That wasn’t quite fair. Edsel was the son of a fabulously wealthy and powerful man but he didn’t really need a plaything. He was no dilettante, but rather a competent and talented automobile executive. He was 15 years old when the Model T came out and grew up in and around the nascent automobile industry with a number of roles at Ford. Henry didn’t like accountants and wasn’t too keen on engineers either, though he ended up employing some very creative people and was lucky to have a talented son. I think that an argument can be made that without Edsel and James Couzens, Henry Ford’s personal eccentricities would have prevented Ford Motor Company from thriving. It was Edsel who got the Rouge Plant built (to build ships during WWI) and it was Edsel who convinced his father that the Model T needed to be replaced. Henry, though, generally kept his son under his thumb and resented it when the Ford heir tried to change things, particularly to his beloved Model T, the perfect car.

There is a documented story that while Henry was out of the country, Edsel had a Model T refreshed, to use a more modern automotive idiom. Henry returned to Dearborn, happened across the prototype and proceeded to physically attack it, ripping the roof, tearing the doors off. Edsel died of stomach cancer when he was about 50, but the family blamed Henry for how he mistreated his son. Edsel Ford had an art collector’s eye for style and proportion. Eventually he would bring Bob Gregorie into the company and start a real styling studio, producing masterpieces like the first Lincoln Continental, the Lincoln Zephyr and the ’39 and ’40 Fords. In the meantime, though, his father wanted something to occupy him, perhaps to keep him out of his hair. So he bought Lincoln and put Edsel in charge. While the company was never a huge success, it survived other luxury marques like Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg. As with some of those marques, and Packard as well, Lincoln in the 1920s and 1930s would often have custom coachbuilt bodies. The first Continental was Edsel Ford’s attempt to make a factory built Lincoln that would rival or surpass the custom body builders. He used Lincoln to introduce the automotive world to his own quite sophisticated sense of style. In doing so Edsel Ford helped invent what we know today as automotive styling.

Until the mid 1920s, Lincoln offered a variety of radiator caps/hood ornaments. It was a time when car owners would also fit their own mascots, like those made of glass by Lalique. As Edsel Ford got more involved with Lincoln, though the company continued to use Leland designs and engines into the 1930s, he wanted to give the company his own stamp, so he commissioned Gorham silversmiths to design Lincoln a greyhound hood ornament. Production ornaments were made using the lost wax method, just as Rolls-Royce did with their mascots, cast in brass and then chrome plated. Edsel specifically chose a greyhound because in his mind, and in many potential consumers’ minds, the breed stood for speed, stamina and beauty. It might not have the poetic ring of Jaguar’s “grace, pace and space”, but speed, stamina and beauty have sold a lot of cars.

The similarity  between Jaguar’s leaper and Lincoln’s greyhound is striking. In part, that’s because greyhounds are unusual dogs. Not just because they can accelerate to 45mph in three strides, or jump a 4 foot fence, and not just because they’re about the gentlest and kindest predator on the planet. Greyhounds, unlike almost all other breeds (outside of their fellow sighthounds, of course), run like cats. Cheetahs are the fastest ground animal because cats have long and very flexible spines. You’ve seen videos of cats twisting themselves in the air in order to land on their feet. That long flexible spine allows a running gait that has all four paws off the ground twice in the running cycle, when coiled, and when fully extended. That allows cats (and greyhounds) to have both maximum stored energy when they’re coiled and be able to fully expend that energy when they leap. Greyhounds are also big dogs. A male can grow to 75 lbs or more. About the size of some of the wild big cats. So a leaping greyhound looks a lot like a leaping Jaguar.

Greyhound radiator cap on a 1929 Lincoln. Photo courtesy of Cars In Depth

The two hood ornaments look so much alike that even Jaguar enthusiasts sometimes can’t tell the difference. As you know, some cars, like obsolete American iron Ford’s Panther platforms, or German clown shoe cars BMW shooting brakes  have some fan boys on the TTAC staff. The timeless styling and manners of the olde and unreliable English crappe mid 1980s Jaguar XJ has its aficionados as well. Baruth has owed one. So have I. Mine was the former daily driver of the Jaguar Club of North America, so it was mechanically (albeit not electrically) sorted out, and a fun car to drive, particularly out on the highway.

Did you know that Jaguar XJ’s had the speedometer and tachometer sweeps calibrated so that above 35 mph they are perfectly parallel to each other?

Anyway, I had an old, tired Jag with over 200K miles, but it was still a Jag. The car was fairly solid, not much rust, but it had lived in the Carolinas and the grey paint was matte finished long before matte finishes were stylish. The chrome leaper, though, was still shiny. Things weren’t great already with my ex and the Jaguar was one of the final straws but I’d always loved the XJ so I bought it. I needed a car, and I still had decent credit then. Around then we had adopted a retired racing greyhound. I’d gotten knocked down on my bicycle by an SUV, broke my knee and was gimpy and depressed. My ex figured I could use a dog. Good in theory, not so good in practice. I really like dogs but it took a while for Annie, the greyhound, to warm up to me. You save a beautiful dog’s life and it walks out of the room when you walk in. That really helped with the depression. Eventually she grew to like me, while the ex was growing to dislike me even more. I always used tasty treats to train her. The dog, not my ex. Maybe that was the problem. One day I noticed that the grey car had a hood ornament that looked like a grey hound. I remembered something about Fords and Lincolns having greyhound hood ornaments, found a site online that sold inexpensive replicas, and made a custom bracket so I could mount it on the Jaguar without damaging the sheet metal. The leaper got put away in a box. I still have it. Don’t have the car. Don’t have the wife. But I still have the hood ornament in a box someplace here.

So I swapped out my leaper for a dog. The funny thing is that a lot of Jaguar enthusiasts would ask me about the car. It had the look of a survivor, plus there was all that advertising on the sides. We’d talk old Jaguars, about how attractive the XJ was, how stupid it is to swap out the most reliable part of a Jaguar, the engine, and replace it with a small block Chevy, how to get your car started when Lucas, the Prince of Darkness, strikes. You know, Jaguar owner stuff. Nobody, though, would ever notice that the cat on the hood was really a dog. Sometimes they couldn’t notice the difference even after I asked them if there was something odd about the car. What was cool, though, is that once they noticed it, they didn’t get offended, they enjoyed the joke. Jaguars may be elegant British sporting cars but I’ve never met a stuffy Jaguar fan. Other than the Americans who insist on pronouncing it Jag-u-ar, that is.

So what’s this about IBM and Apple instead of GM and Chery. Well, it’s quite possible that Sir. William and Mr. Crosby got their inspiration from that earlier mascot, the leaping greyhound that Edsel Ford picked out for Lincoln. Lyons didn’t start putting cats on the bonnets of his cars until almost a decade after Ford put dogs on their Lincolns. Lincoln started using greyhounds on their radiator caps in the 1920s and Fords would wear them in the early 1930s, also before Jaguar’s leaper. In the early days of personal computers (correct me if I’m remembering the specific case wrong but this is already >2,000 words and I don’t feel like looking up the details), Apple was the first to the market with a GUI, a graphical user interface that did not require line commands, like DOS machines. When IBM came out with their own operating system (remember IBM OS2?) with a GUI, Apple sued. IBM pointed out that the idea had actually originated at Xerox’ Palo Alto facility. Apple’s argument boiled down to “but we stole it first”. I don’t think there’s any question if Changfeng is ripping off Jaguar, the question is, did Sir William Lyons steal it from Edsel Ford first?

*Link to suck up to Ash Sutcliffe so Bertel doesn’t have to buy him breakfast again.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original stereographic 3D car culture site. Don’t be put off by 3D, all the graphics and video can be seen in mono too, though they look great in stereo. Besides, in the case of cars, S3D makes a lot of sense, not just hype. If you’ve read this post to the bottom, you’ll probably like the editorial content there as well.












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Look At What I Found!: My Continental Summer Fri, 15 Jul 2011 17:08:23 +0000 Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth

Jack Baruth called the 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special Talisman that he delivered to Sajeev’s brother “majestic”. While Jack and Sajeev have been playing with a big Caddy, lately I’ve been seeing a lot of Dearborn’s favorite luxury brand and it’s given me a lot of opportunity to think about Lincoln’s past and future. Today, Cadillac, buoyed by the success of the CTS and its variants, along with profitable sales of the SRX (and Escalade too) seems strong compared to Lincoln. As has been the case since Henry Leland’s day Lincoln has almost always been Detroit’s weaker sister when it’s come to luxury cars. Almost always…

While the truth is that Cadillac has always outsold Lincoln, there was a time when the two American luxury car makers went toe to toe, when Lincoln was a contender. That was the 1970s, when Lincoln started eating up some of Cadillac’s market share, when buyers who formerly would have only considered a Cadillac could be seen shopping and even buying one of Ford’s luxury cars, when that Talisman was the best that Cadillac could offer. Were it not for the success of Lincoln in the 1970s, the Panther based Town Cars so beloved of the TTAC staff might never have been built. TTAC is home to many Panther enthusiasts who will tell you that their beloved Fords are the ultimate expression of the traditional rear wheel drive body on frame big American sedan. While the Panther is worthy of all the showered love, it seems to me that if you’re looking for the ultimate big body on frame Ford, you have go back another generation, to the 1971-79 Lincoln Continental. The Panther was the first downsized full size sedan platform from Ford. It came about, in part, due to fuel mileage requirements that called for a smaller Lincoln (and LTD and Grand Marquis) and was a response to GM’s downsized ’77 sedans. So if big, bold and smooth is your ticket, the 1970s Continental is right up your alley, or suburban driveway in this case.

Though it carried on most of the styling language developed for the classic 1961 model, the classic suicide door Lincolns had unitized construction. Ford went to a separate body and frame with their big sedans in 1971. Ford was all about smoothness in the ’70s and there is nothing like BOF construction to be able to isolate the car’s passengers from the turbulence of real life. This Town Coupé’s ‘green sofa’ vanity plates sum up the car’s distinction pretty well. There has probably never been a car with a smoother ride than the big 1970s Continentals.

As with the Panthers, in the 1970s the large Fords, Mercurys and Lincolns shared variations of the same platform. The Lincoln rode on the version with the longest wheelbase, ~127″, used for both two door and four door models. We’ll be looking primarily at the two door model in this edition of LAWIF! The ’70s vintage Lincolns were the second biggest modern American cars made, exceeded in length only by the Fleetwood Cadillacs, which were about three inches longer. The notion of a two door coupé on such a long wheelbase is almost too absurd to contemplate.

LAWIF! is based on the luck of the draw. I first started thinking about doing a piece on the big Lincolns when I saw a four door in a bright yellow driving out of an apartment complex near my home. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera rig with me but it planted the idea. Then, while riding my Litespeed to my credit union in Lathrup Village I saw the green late 1970s Continental Town Coupé you see here. Again, I didn’t have my camera bag, but I made a mental note to return and shoot the big Lincoln.

Last month, Hot Rod magazine’s Power Tour’s terminal point was in suburban Detroit, and with about 3,500 special interest cars participating, I went over to Metro Beach to see what unusual finds there were amidst the Camaros and Mustangs. When I saw this very clean and mild custom light metallic blue and black 1971 two door Continental (the ‘sportier’ Lincoln received the Town Coupé designation, a padded landau vinyl roof, large squarish opera windows, coach lights, and trim wheel arch inserts instead of full fender skirts in 1975), I knew I had to go back and get pics of the green one.

The earlier Continentals without the 5mph bumpers have a trim and tailored look for such a large car.

I decided that the following weekend, on my way to the Cars & Stars car show at the Packard Proving Grounds, I’d detour over to Lathrup. Unfortunately, just as I was about to turn into the subdivision where the Lincoln was, I saw it going out for a Sunday drive. Oh well, it would have to wait until another time.

It’s a bit of a schlep out to Shelby Twp, where the Packard Proving Grounds are, and while driving up Van Dyke, I noticed coming in the opposite direction was, yep, another big Town Coupé, this one in canary yellow. I don’t think that I’m usually worthy of getting signs from above, but this was getting silly. The first chance I got, I went back to Lathrup Village and got the pics you see here of the green Town Coupé.

From the Mark IV style chrome grille,and the big 5mph bumpers this appears to be either a ’77, ’78 or 1979 model. Over the decade, the Continental grew from 225″ to 233″, mostly due to those bumpers, though there was also a modest bump up in wheelbase. This example is in very nice original shape, with original paint that’s started to wear in only a couple of places. There’s a spot of rust near one rear wheel arch, and some of the chrome and other trim had a few dings. Other than that, it appears to be in great shape for a survivor. The original dealer’s sticker is still on the trunk lid.

Though Lincoln never seriously challenged Cadillac’s sale figures, it was in the 1970s that Lincoln started to chip away at Cadillac market share. Though it had some record sales years in the ’70s, as Jack pointed out in his piece on the Talisman by the middle of the decade Cadillac was beginning to lose its mojo, a decline that would be halted by the downsized 1977 models, only to accelerate as GM embraced mediocrity in the 1980s. In the early to mid 1970s, though, Cadillacs were beginning to seem more bloated than big. Luxury car buyers started considering first Lincoln, and then the high end Benzes.

The ’61 Continental is highly treasured today but that body style was never a big seller. While the ’61 made Continental a credible player in the mass luxury market, the next generation Continental had much better sales.  Lincoln was putting a lot of effort into reducing NVH, as well as giving the cars a glass smooth ride. One of the tricks was to use rubber body mounting bushings that had a lot of fore/aft play. Though not particularly effective in terms of cornering and handling, those trick body mounts helped create the living room on wheels ride that the big Lincolns and Mercurys were famous for. A befits a rolling living room, this Continental came with crushed velour upholstery.

The association of a smooth ride with the Lincoln brand was emphasized with Lincoln even running commercials with a diamond cutter splitting a raw stone while riding in the back seat, proclaiming success with the tag line “perfect!”. The ad was so popular, and Lincoln’s reputation for a smooth ride so well known, that Saturday Night Live did a parody with a mohel performing a bris in the back seat, “Poi-fect… a beautiful baby and a beautiful car.”

Lincoln also started offering more features as standard equipment than Cadillac, like power front vent windows. The vent wing window is an artifact of the pre flow through ventilation age. It’s utility survived into the air conditioned age, and Lincoln’s power version is perhaps the ultimate development of that feature beloved of smokers and their passengers.

After the big GMs were downsized in 1977, for two years the Lincoln Continental was the biggest car for sale in the US, perhaps the biggest mass produced car for sale then in the world. Most of the big Lincolns came equipped with the 460 cubic inch version of Ford’s 429. Though it started out with 365HP, by the middle of the decade, emissions controls would cut that power output by a third. The big block engine’s torque, though, remained sufficient with 356 lb/ft @ 2,000rpm, perfectly adequate to get the two and a half ton luxury barge moving.

This four door Town Car is part of Barry Wolk’s collection of Continentals. I think the sedan has cleaner lines than the coupé, but big two doors obviously have their fans.

By the time the big Lincolns finally went out of production to make way for the Panther based Town Cars, they would be not only the largest car for sale in North America, they would have the largest displacement engines then available too (the big Cadillac 500ci V8s having been discontinued in 1976).

It just so happened that at the Hot Rod Power Tour and the Cars & Stars show there were some other classic Lincolns, a couple of prewar Continentals (a black convertible and a gorgeous yellow hardtop), and two Continental Mark IIs.

The black Mark II is an original condition, single family third generation car. The original owner was a friend of Wm Clay Ford Sr., one of his drinking buddies before he went on the wagon.

The car is no longer numbers matching because according to family lore the Mark II’s owner complained to his friend Mr. Ford, about some kind of driveability issue with the car. Apparently while he and Ford were having an extended and well lubricated lunch,  Wm Clay Ford had the entire drivetrain replaced for his friend. Unlike Wm Clay Ford’s personal Mark II (in Detroit Lions’ Honolulu blue and silver), which had an upgrade to the 460 V8 performed by the fab shop in Dearborn, this car’s engine swap was not documented. It doesn’t really matter because the car will never leave the family.

After seeing those Mark IIs at the Power Tour and Cars “R” Stars, I saw even more of them when the three Ford family Mark IIs, now owned by the family that owns National Parts Depot, were on display at the Eyes On Design show benefiting the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology.

The black Mark II was made for Mrs. Henry Ford II, the metallic sea foam green Continental was Benson Ford’s and the Honolulu blue and silver car belonged to Wm Clay Ford, whose Detroit Lions wear the same colors.

Researching those cars led to the photo shoot of Barry Wolk’s convertible Continental Mark II. Barry has a collection of fabulous Continentals, made by Lincoln and others. He invited me to see his 1933 Lincoln when it’s on display at the upcoming Concours d’Elegance of America at St John’s and also stop by the national meet of the Lincoln Continental Owners Club, held in conjunction with the concours. Though I didn’t get over to Europe this year, it looks like I’m going to have a very continental summer.

One of two “official” Continental Mark II convertibles

Ford is trying to revive Lincoln. Lincoln has no brand identity, and if there is one thing that all the Continentals on this page have it’s a strong visual identity. In an era when people have difficulty distinguishing a Lexus from a Jaguar, each one of these cars is instantly identifiable, and identifiable as a Lincoln. I think the smartest thing that Ford could do is to lock its Jaguar design and brand management teams in a room with these cars and not let them out until they come up with a car that makes that same instantaneous impact, a car with the kind of visual presence all these cars have.


Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, which features great writers and 3D to give a realistic perspective on cars and car culture. If you poke around the site there, you can see many more photos of these cars (Schreiber’s too lazy to give you the links, there’s a search function there, you’re not stupid), in 2D or your choice of 3D formats. Cars In Depth is (we’re pretty sure) the largest archive of real stereographic 3D images of real cars anywhere, with over 5,000 photos and videos and more published daily. We have what are most likely the only 3D images of some very rare cars, historic and contemporary.

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Look At What I Found!: 1956 Continental Mark II Convertible by Hess & Eisenhardt Thu, 30 Jun 2011 20:17:50 +0000 Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth. TTAC thanks Mr. Barry Wolk for graciously making his car available for this photo shoot.

You can divide collectors into two main groups, generalists and specialists. In my taxonomy Barney Pollard and the Sultan of Brunei would be generalists and Joe Bortz would be a specialist. Some people collect Chevys. Others collect just “tri-five” mid 1950s Chevrolets. Of course for every specialty there’s a subspecialty, so some people collect only ’57 two-door Chevy pillarless hardtops with fuel injection and factory two tone paint.

Barry Wolk is a specialist. He collects Continentals. There’s his big black 1977 Lincoln Continental Town Car along with his 1956 Chris Craft Continental wood boat. He’s even got a Porsche Continental. In the mid 1950s, importer Max Hoffman convinced the headquarters in Stuttgart that Americans bought cars with names, not numbers, and the 356A with the 1500cc engine was briefly marketed in the US in 1955 and 1956 as the Continental. Ford, having established prior use for that model name in the late 1930s, complained and Porsche changed the badging from “Continental” to “European” before reverting to alphanumerics. One reason why Ford was concerned is that in 1955 they were about to relaunch the Continental brand with the Continental Mark II. Barry has one of those Continentals too, but as you might expect from a specialist collector, Wolk has a very unique Mark II, a Mark II convertible. Even more unique than that, it’s one of only two Mark IIs made into convertibles by Ford Motor Company.

The Mark II was designed with an open top in mind. One of the five original styling models was a convertible and the body and frame were designed to deal with the additional stresses an open car experiences. Ford’s short lived Continental Division, though, never made any production convertibles. Over the years a number of conversion companies have tried their hands at making convertible Mark IIs. While the results have been attractive, some Continental enthusiasts are ambivalent about them. There are two custom convertible Mark IIs extant, however, that the Lincoln Continental Owners Club considers to be authentic Ford Motor Company products. There is usually only one way that a customized car will be accepted as authentic by the kind of car clubs that are devoted to 100 point restorations. That’s if the customization has been done by the manufacturer, as with show cars and concept vehicles. Correspondingly, vehicles that start out as engineering and executive special builds (like the one of a kind 1968 Z-28 convertible built so that ragtop fanatic Pete Estes would sign off on the Z28 program) and end up in private hands are also accorded authenticity once their provenance has been established. So in the case of William Clay Ford’s personal Mark II, which had a 460 V8 drivetrain retrofitted into the car by Ford’s Dearborn fab shop in the late 1960s, the LCOC considers it to be 100% Ford.

The Mark II was in development when Chevrolet introduced the Corvette. To make a small two-seater in a hurry, the Mark II’s design was scaled down to make the 1955 Thunderbird. Later, the T-Bird would return the favor as Elwood Engel’s proposal for the 1961 Thunderbird had two doors added to make it into the classic ’61 Lincoln Continental

Barry Wolk’s Mark II convertible falls into that category. For a long time, it was thought that there was just one “official” Mark II convertible, commissioned by the Dearborn headquarters and built by the Derham Custom Body Company. Apparently there were supposed to be three Derham Mark IIs but there is no record of any others existing. Originally used as a show car, it was later given to Mrs. William Clay Ford for her personal use. Mrs. Ford subsequently sold it to a Ford executive who was a member of the LCOC. In time it passed into the possession of another LCOC member, Walter Goeppinger. Based on communications he had had with Wm Clay Ford, Goeppinger was convinced that he had that rare automotive bird, a one of one, and that his Mark II convertible was the only legitimate one of that one. Based mostly on Goeppinger’s claims, the car that Wolk ended up owning was said to be a counterfeit, not authorized by FoMoCo. The Derham Mark II car currently is owned by the Gilmore Museum.

So when Barry Wolk bought his Mark II, he was more interested in it as a thing of beauty, “rolling sculpture”, than its authenticity. Then, when he was invited to join the LCOC he started to research his own car’s provenance. It turned out that his car was indeed commissioned by Ford Motor Company in 1955, only by the automaker’s Chicago sales division, and that it was actually the first Mark II convertible made, before Dearborn started working with Derham. According to the Benson Ford Research Center in Dearborn, Wolk’s car was the 137th Mark II made, and it was built and shipped to the Chicago Ford distributor as an “introductory unit”, to be used on showroom floors to attract traffic but still owned by Ford Motor Company. Ford’s Chicago distributor, though, shipped the unit soon after to Hess & Eisenhardt, known for their limousine and hearse conversions. The intention was to show the car to gauge interest from potential customers in the Chicago area. There was apparently some thought given to producing a retractable hardtop version of the Mark II and work was begun on development. That would take time, so using a company like Hess & Eisenhardt was a quick way to get an open body Mark II in front of the public, though development on the retractable hardtop continued. When the Mark II was discontinued, Ford shifted development of the hardtop convertible to it’s more mainstream cars, resulting in the legendary Ford Fairlane and Galaxie Skyliner coupes of the late 1950s.

Though the Mark II had indeed been designed from scratch to accommodate an open body, Hess & Eisenhardt didn’t take anything for granted. In addition to adding a folding soft roof (based on Mercedes Benz mechanicals), a steel hoop was added to the body for reinforcement, and 1/8″ steel plates were welded to the top of the car’s frame rails.

Note the exhaust pipe running between the rocker panel and frame so the car could ride as low as possible.

The Mark II was designed with a “cow belly” ladder frame that retained foot room while allowing the car to be lowered. Additionally, special exhaust manifolds were designed to route the exhaust horizontally out of the engine compartment, then down inside the fender and back towards the rear end through a space between the rocker panels and the frame. Normally the exhaust would have been routed under the frame. To maintain proper body to frame clearance on the convertible, Hess & Eisenhardt shaved the rubber body mounting bushings by the thickness of the steel reinforcing plates. Early air conditioned luxury cars carried a lot of the equipment under the parcel shelf behind the rear seat. Because of the folding top’s mechanism, the a/c components were moved into the trunk, so between that and the “continental” spare tire location, there’s not much trunk space.

Next to the cast aluminum valve covers with Lincoln stars, are the darker grey exhaust manifolds routing the exhaust pipe into the fender and out to the back of the car.

But this isn’t a car to be filled with luggage for a long trip, it’s a car to be seen in. Still, Wolk says that it’s the best riding car he’s ever driven, stable well over 80 mph on the highway. He insisted that the Mark II’s massive drum brakes stop as well as modern discs stop. As a man of some means it’s not like he hasn’t driven contemporary luxury cars, so his opinion carries some weight. Mrs. Wolk drives a BMW Z3 roadster so I’m sure that when they’ve taken it in for routine service a BMW salesman or two has tried to sell them a sedan.

As mentioned, when he first bought the car, Wolk was interested in its styling, not its history. While the car was on display at the Ford headquarters in connection with their ’03 centennial, an older gentleman approached Wolk and told him that the workmanship was Hess & Eisenhardts. That piqued his curiosity and Wolk started looking into his car’s background. Eventually a long retired shop manager for the conversion company was located and he remembered the processes involved in making the car, down to markings on the modifications that verified that Wolk’s car was the same vehicle. Other former H&E employees have concurred that Wolk’s car is the first Mark II convertible.

Like with many 1950s cars, Ford got clever with the exhaust tips and fuel filler. Those are Wolk’s blue jeans reflecting in the chrome’s shinier-than-mirrored finish.

Since then Barry Wolk has become a bit of an expert on the Continental Mark II. You can read his account of the car’s history here, with some additional materials here. Or you can just search for [continental wolk]. Barry’s rather proud of his cars.

It’s tasteful but the Mark II brings the bling. That ashtray (remember ashtrays?) is for rear passengers. Front passengers had their own lighters but used an ashtray mounted on the dash. Today they’d say the car has 5 power ports.

Wolk’s car is beautifully restored and a show winner. Of course with two frame off restorations in less than 80,000 miles, it should look good. Flawless doesn’t do the car justice. The beautiful not-quite-dark-blue paint shows off the car’s contours exceptionally well and looks like it’s about a quarter of an inch thick. The fit and finish is the equivalent of any of today’s ultra luxury marques, not surprisingly because the Mark II indeed cost as much as a Rolls-Royce when new (about the cost of two Cadillacs or three Thunderbirds). The brightwork on the car is jewellike. The combined effect of the blue paint and silvery chrome is visually arresting. No gold plated blingmobile ever looked this good. The quality of the car’s finishes is such that in processing the photos for here and for the more extensive gallery at Cars In Depth I had to leave out some photos because the paint and chrome picked up clear reflections of some chubby redheaded dork in shorts, white socks and black loafers wearing a TTAC cap. Actually, you can see Wolk’s own blue jeans in a couple of the shots.

The owner of the three Ford family Mark IIs joked on My Classic Car that the car has 150 lbs of chrome in the plating. That may not be an exaggeration. To begin with, though brightwork is used tastefully on the car, it’s all over the place. The door jams have chrome plated panels on both the door and the striker plate. All the hardware for the door, including the latch mechanism, is chromed. Ford even had stainless steel trim polished and then chrome plated. The grille with tiny egg crating is also chrome plated, as are rings inside the frenched headllamps. The only exterior brightwork that isn’t chromed are the satin finished aluminum hubcaps, the matte finish being set off from the chrome and having some contrast from all that shiny stuff that looks just right. If the paint looks 1/4″ thick, the chrome on the grille and bumpers must be 1/2″ thick. All that blue and chrome is set off by an interior in blue and white leather upholstery.

All the door hardware was chrome plated from the factory.

I didn’t want to be rude and ask how much his own car is worth but Wolk said that Mark IIs are surprisingly affordable, that $80,000 will buy you a show winner and for the cost of a modern family sedan you can get a nice driver. One reason for their relatively low cost is that they aren’t that rare. Though Ford only made about 4,000, about half still exist, about the same percentage of Corvettes made, and most Corvettes weren’t made 55 years ago nor do their fiberglass bodies rust. The surviving Mark IIs’ longevity has to be at least in part due to the care with which the Continentals were assembled. The cars, including the drivetrains, were pretty much hand made. Something like seven coats of topcoat paint were used. The engines were essentially blueprinted, with hand picked and balanced parts. The brake drums were carefully balanced in sets. All that care resulted in cars that were pretty durable. As rare and as perfect as it is, it’s no trailer queen. Wolk drives it to car events and meets, putting about 2,000 miles a year on it. Wolk said that the car has only stranded him once, when an a/c compressor failed, seized and melted a fan belt. Another factor in their affordable collector value (well, for hardtop Mark IIs) is that restoration costs are kept in check by the Mark II’s use of mechanical components from the bigger selling Lincolns. That may also explain why so many of the Mark IIs are drivers, not museum pieces.

The a/c components had to be moved for the roof mechanism, so between that and the “continental” spare tire, there’s just enough room for a car show’s worth of folding chairs and car care products.

Getting paid to write about cars is a cool gig, no doubt. You get media access to things not open to the general public, you get to meet top shelf car guys, you get to drive a variety of cool cars for free, and you rarely pay to get into any car related event. Sometimes, though, the sense that you are being privileged is palpable. It’s trite to use it for an inanimate object like a car, but while taking these photos I had the feeling of being in the presence of greatness, like seeing the Hope Diamond. The Mark II may be an inanimate object but it sprang from the imaginations of some pretty creative people, with one objective, to make the best with no compromises. Though they met that objective, the Mark II wasn’t a commercial success. After initial sales that were far far better than expected, the big recession of 1957 cut sales by almost 90% and after only two years the Mark II ws discontinued and the new Continental Division, started just for the Mark II (though planned for more models like a four door version), was shuttered. The short line on the Continental Mark II is that Ford Motor Co. lost $1,000 on every $10,000 Mark II. Actually, that would have been less than half a million dollars, not a huge sum even back in 1957. After all, Ford was about to lose something like $200 million on the Edsel. Most likely that $1,000 doesn’t include the costs of setting up an entirely new division. At the very least, the Mark II was successful in baiting General Motors into selling an even more extravagantly priced Cadillac, the $13,074 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham.  Still, the Mark II was a landmark design and the convertible version is a concrete example of what could have been.

The Mark II sits next to another of Barry Wolk’s Continentals

A note about Look At What I Found! I’m not sure if there’s a rulebook and I haven’t asked Murilee or Paul N. about what’s proper, but unlike other cars in this series I didn’t just happen upon the H&E Mark II convertible. I had written another LAWIF! about a late 1970s Lincoln Continental Town Coupe and have recently posted, on Cars In Depth, some classic prewar Lincolns and Mark IIs that I’d seen at local car shows, and had been researching the Mark II when I found out about the car.

Another Continental. Porsche importer Max Hoffman didn’t think Americans would buy cars without names so for about a year, the 356 was sold in the US as the Porsche Continental… until Ford complained because they were about to revive the name for the Mark II.

When I realized this car was located in the Detroit area I started to search to see if I could find a contact email address for Mr. Wolk. It’s a small world. On his Facebook page it said that we had a Facebook friend in common, my younger sister. My nephew is getting married next weekend and I did some embroidery for the chuppah, so I’ve been on the phone a bit with my sister. I asked her how she knew Barry and she told me that he’s a cousin by marriage. The world is smaller yet. It so happens that his wife and my mom are second cousins. Normally I’d be a little reluctant to just call a private collector up and ask to shoot his or her car, but how could mishpacha refuse? Besides, to say that Barry is proud of his car would be to grossly underestimate his affection for the car. When I asked, he told me that he loved having the car photographed, and a moment’s searching on the internet will show that he’s made the car available for both photo and video shoots. When I got to their home, the Wolks had already put the car on the drive. Their garden and landscaping was in full midsummer bloom and Barry had suggested that it made a great backdrop. It was a beautiful Michigan day and he was right. I’m hardly a skilled photographer, but with a subject like Wolk’s Mark II convertible, it’s hard to take a bad shot. The car simply has no bad angles.

Yet another Continental, this one a near original ’56 Chris Craft. Wolk bought it as a “prop” for his Mark II but now is getting into wooden boats. Even when the garden isn’t in bloom, the Continental looks great.

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Bring Out Your Dead: HearseCon Decay-’N-Shine 2011 Thu, 30 Jun 2011 17:42:52 +0000
Did you know that Colorado has more hearse enthusiasts than any other region in America? Neither did I, until I checked out HearseCon 2011, which took place a few miles from Chez Murilee last weekend. Hearses, ambulances, and flower cars! Coffins, goths, rodders, and— of course— Hearse Girls!

I shot all my HearseCon photos in stereo, so those of you with any variety of 3D glasses should head over to Cars In Depth to see the icy fingers of death reaching out for you.

Most of the 50 or so hearses at the HearseCon were Cadillacs, but the Olds contingent had some seriously great machines as well.

The crowd was a weird mix of inked-up hot-rodders discussing Stromberg 97 rebuilds, hyper-mascara’d goths sweating in the 95-degree Denver heat, and single-interest hearse freaks debating the merits of various coffin-to-ice-chest conversion techniques.

Donk hearses, slammed hearses, showroom-condition restored hearses, and this hearse for funerals in Unreachable Wilderness National Park.

My favorite (well, tied with the purple Olds) was this super-patina’d ’54 Cadillac.

Check out this weathered, rat-rod-style coffin. Now that’s attention to detail!

It was nice to be at a car show that didn’t have the eleventy-billionth repetition of “Hot Rod Lincoln” playing on scratchy PA speakers, although an organist playing Chopin’s Funeral March would have been nice.

Only at HearseCon!

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Good Night Sweet Six-Seat Sedan Sun, 26 Jun 2011 15:30:40 +0000

The Freep’s Mark Phelan identifies yet another vanishing automotive phenomenon: the six-seater sedan. He notes

The Chevrolet Impala is the only six-person sedan you can buy. Other sedans — regardless of how big they are — have front bucket seats rather than the three-person front bench seat that was once common…

Chevrolet is weighing whether to build a six-seat version of the next Impala. Weighing against it, the car will probably be narrower than the current model. It’s based on GM’s Epsilon II global platform. It’s roomy, but probably not enough to fit three comfortably across up front.

About a quarter of Impalas sold last year were six-seaters…It probably makes sense for Chevrolet to concentrate on giving the next Impala a comfortable and attractive front seat that appeals to the other 75% of its buyers and wins some new customers.

I’m sure that front benches bring back a host of memories for TTAC’s Best and Brightest (mine is of grabbing the Hurst floor shifter in my dad’s 1966 F-100 with both hands and clunking from gear to gear on the way to the dump), and yet somehow I’m guessing that not many will agitate for its return. Like tape decks and carburetor tune-ups, the nostalgia of sitting between two other people in front seat might have a certain appeal in reminiscences, but anyone who actually transports six people regularly these days just buys a crossover. And guess what: the kids might be robbed of valuable future nostalgia (replaced by reruns of Spongebob Squarepants on the rear-seat entertainment system), but neither they nor their parents are likely to choose to go back. And so, we march onward, into an unfamiliar future…

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