Tag: History

By on November 24, 2015

I was having a conversation with a female friend a few weeks ago and she admitted to having “fooled around” in no fewer than four different brands of minitrucks during the Nineties and Oughties. I suppose in her case that would be the Noughties — but that’s besides the point. I should also mention that the fourth “minitruck” was really a Colorado, and the incident in question happened fairly recently.

“There’s always some kind of stick shift in the way, in those little trucks, you know?” she said.

“Those are the little crosses that empowered young women have to bear,” was my response.

The conversation could have gone in any number of directions from there, but where it actually went was to A Brief Discussion Of Mini-Trucks In America, 1970-2010. I thought it might be a conversation worth having with all of you, as well, because it showcases a rather unique phenomenon in American automotive history. (Read More…)

By on October 27, 2015

1984 Saturn Concept CarIn a 1992 op-ed that appeared in the Indianapolis Star and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, I expounded on the predictions of the MIT-based authors of “The Machine That Changed the World”, and lean production. I cited that book, and Consumer Reports’ glowing review of the Saturn as evidence that real competition could make the U.S. auto industry great once again. Subsequently, I bought a Saturn, which ultimately proved inferior in durability to the car I had shopped it against, the Integra. Looking back more than two decades, how have we succeeded, and how have we failed, and how did the MIT authors’ predictions hold up?

Few experts would have predicted that an all new American car could have matched the first year reliability of the Toyotas and Hondas, the best of the Japanese. Yet General Motors’ Saturn did just that, according to the April Consumer Reports.

On top of that, the car has all the practical appeal of the old Volkswagen Beetle. The plastic body panels are built to take parking lot abuse without denting or scratching. But damaged panels can be replaced easily and inexpensively. How many people does it take to change a headlight on a Saturn? Just one, and it’s as easy as changing a lightbulb.

(Read More…)

By on October 6, 2015

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-0051

A Volkswagen of America spokesman said Tuesday that electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid cars would be a “key part” of the automaker’s research and development strategy after CEO Matthias Müller told 20,000 workers in Wolfsburg that it would postpone or cancel other projects that weren’t critical to sales.

“Electrification, whether full EV, PHEV, or HEV, is a key part of our strategy long term in order to meet worldwide (greenhouse gas) targets,” a Volkswagen spokesman told TTAC on Tuesday.

In 2014, Volkswagen spent $13.5 billion on research and development — more than any other company in all sectors. However, that budget could be severely restricted as the automaker prepares to pay billions for software that cheated emissions tests.

Volkswagen could be looking for ways to not repeat history, when a 1960s lawsuit from Tatra crippled development well into the 1980s.

(Read More…)

By on July 20, 2015
Henry Ford as a young man, circa 1883

Henry Ford as a young man, circa 1883

One of my editors once described researching a topic as “falling down a rabbit hole.” Four hours later, you end up far afield from the 1963 Whizbang X500 you started with. You never know what you’ll discover that could be new to you or your readers.

While tracking down details on the 1:10 scale 1939 Lincoln Continental styling model that sat on the desk of Edsel Ford —whose idea the Continental was — I heard a great story involving his father, Henry, and the clay modeler, Larry Wilson, who later discovered Edsel’s Continental clay styling model forgotten in storage.

It’s a true story about a 15-year-old boy who took a train ride to ask Henry Ford for a job and, as far as I know, it’s never been published before. (Read More…)

By on May 7, 2015

Fiat 500 "Topolino"

As FCA holds their first annual general shareholders meeting in Amsterdam (after 114 such meetings in Turin), Pirelli has been sold to the Chinese. Pininfarina negotiates its sale to Mahindra. The Italian automotive industry as a whole is in a sad state. The reasons for this are many, but the process of “de-Italianization” of the country’s auto industry continues. In the end, all there could be left is a memory and many homeless ghosts.

(Read More…)

By on April 28, 2015

Woodward Avenue: "Drive Safely, Walk Right"

Due to advancements such as air bags, driving is much safer than it was when I first got my driver’s license in the early 1970s. Even then, because of seat belts and crush zones, cars were much safer than they had been in the early automotive age. The first decades of the automobile resulted in chaotic and unsafe driving conditions. Not only were the vehicles themselves dangerous to passengers and pedestrians (three quarters of early motoring related fatalities were pedestrians, often children), in the early days it was a free for all, with the first proposed traffic laws being instituted only after about a decade after the first automobiles. Author Bill Loomis is working on a book on Detroit history and in an extensive article in the Detroit News he discusses just how unsafe driving was a century ago, as well as the role that the Motor City had in making driving safer and less chaotic. Some of those innovations continue to make drivers safe, while others continue to annoy us. (Read More…)

By on March 15, 2015
Gallery links below

Gallery links below

An old friend ran the Aragon Ballroom back in the days when it was Chicago’s version of Bill Graham’s Fillmores. He told me that contemporary rock bands that didn’t know any better would insist on being higher on the bill than Sha-Na-Na. After all, Sha-Na-Na was an oldies act, with gold lame suits and greaser shtick. Sha-Na-Na, however, were great entertainers and they would kill the audience. Bowser would come to the edge of the stage, spit something out about “f’in hippies” and by the end of the set the hippies would be dancing in the aisles. The musicians who insisted on higher billing would afterwards insist on never following Sha-Na-Na again. Sometimes, though, following a great act can inspire greatness too, as when Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones reluctantly followed James Brown on the TAMI Show. Performing music or introducing new cars, you don’t want to be upstaged and if you do happen to follow your inspirations, you had better be inspired. (Read More…)

By on January 10, 2015

HondaMuseum 046 (Large) (2)

Honda’s brand-new, $35 million dollar Heritage Center opened across the street from its Marysville auto factory on January 5th. A recent return to Ohio let me reunite with my mentor, a man recently known for his acquisition of an Accord Coupe, to test Honda’s curatorial abilities. How many company rarities and wall placards filled with corporate agitprop can one get for eight figures these days? Hit the jump to find out.

(Read More…)

By on September 10, 2014


1972 Ford Carousel (photo courtesy: forum.chryslerminivan.net)

Josh writes:

What is the deal with minivans? I was thinking the other day that as an outdoor person, minivan’s are perfect. They have lots of room for people and gear, AWD (in some cases), lots of roof space, and better MPG’s than an SUV. But apparently I can’t own one because they’re not cool. I could get a wagon though. Isn’t a minivan just a super-sized wagon?

Will minivans ever be cool to own?

(Read More…)

By on July 21, 2014


Our current age is one of multistate megadealers, Carmax, Ebay, and an ever-growing number of other depersonalized ways to buy a car. In these giddy times of direct sales experiments and apps for online vehicle purchases, it’s easy to forget that local franchise car dealers were pillars of American community life for decades. At the Bob McDorman Automotive Museum in central Ohio, however, the days when car dealers were more than just a place to buy a shiny new consumer product are alive and well.

(Read More…)

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