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.
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…)
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…)
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.
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?
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.
Twenty years ago, BMW began building vehicles at its first North American factory in Spartanburg, S.C., a move that has paid off well for the German automaker, both against its rivals Mercedes and Audi, and as an example for the industry as a whole.
A historical study commissioned by Audi to examine its corporate predecessors’ ties to the Nazi regime has revealed that Auto Union had exploited at least 20,000 slave laborers and held “moral responsibility” for the deaths of about 4,500 inmates of the Flossenbürg concentration camp who worked at a sub-camp operated for Audi in Leitmeritz, Bavaria. They died and were murdered while slaving for the German automaker. Audi expressed “shock” at the news and said that it is going to be revising company publicity materials about one of its founders, Dr. Richard Bruhn, who was revealed by the study to have close ties to the Nazi leadership. The company also said that it will consider compensating victims. Bruhn, considered the “Father of the Auto Union” was found to have exploited slave labor on a massive scale while serving the Nazi war effort.
One of the great things about the Internet is easy access to materials that earlier would have been stored away, inaccessible in some dusty archive or in the back stacks of a library. It’s always a joy when I find that another collection of original documents, historic photos, or films whose content has been digitized and placed online. I’ve even tried to do my part by putting the Andrew F. Johnson Project online. Sure, as someone who dabbles in automotive history, it’s useful to find appropriate illustrations for my work, but the attraction that online archives hold for me is more fundamental than just pragmatic. It’s the digital equivalent to finding a stash of old National Geographic or Life magazines in your grandma’s attic. I’ve spent hours immersed at collections like the Keystone Mast Collection of vintage stereo photos at the Online Archive of California, the Smithsonian’s online archive, and the online image archive at Wayne State University’s Walter Reuther Library. Now, British Pathé, the U.K. newsreel archive company, has uploaded its entire collection of more than 85,000 historic films in high resolution format to YouTube. (Read More…)
The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky suffered major sinkhole damage yesterday. Now the fate of several important Corvettes, and perhaps the museum itself, hangs in the balance.