The Truth About Cars » History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 30 Jul 2015 11:06:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com “I’m Here to See Mr. Ford” – A Detroit Story http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/im-see-mr-ford-detroit-story/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/im-see-mr-ford-detroit-story/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 14:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1113881 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 […]

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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.

It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of Henry Ford’s fame. It’s also hard to separate fact from PR fiction that was spun in Henry’s interest by Ford Motor Company’s Publicity Department, but some of it was, at least, partially true. (For instance, it’s said the post office once delivered a letter to Henry Ford that had no address, just the industrialist’s photograph from a newspaper clipping glued to the envelope.)

FoMoCo’s PR machine cultivated the image of Henry as everyman, so the idea that a 15-year-old boy might think he could travel across the country to meet him wasn’t as silly as it might sound today. Also, a 15 year old in the mid to late 1930s likely grew up a bit faster than today’s precious little snowflakes. After a prolonged Great Depression, young people were probably a bit more self reliant then, too.

Anyhow, the way his friend, automotive historian and collector Samuel Sandifer, tells the story, Larry Wilson spent his entire career as a clay modeler for Ford Motor Company after being hired by Henry Ford himself.

Growing up far from the Motor City, Wilson desperately wanted a career in the auto industry. Using what materials and tools he had at his disposal — tin cans, hammers and tin snips — he had made two fairly realistic scale models of 1938 Ford sedans. Perhaps he had read Edward Thatcher’s 1919 do-it-yourself guide, “Making Tin Can Toys“. Those self-reliant youths of yore made a lot of their own toys. People still make model cars (and other models out of metal cans) for pleasure and for profit.

From Edward Thatcher's how to make tin toys

From Edward Thatcher’s “Making Tin Can Toys”

Wilson set off on his journey to Dearborn.

Taking a train first to Chicago and then to Dearborn, he somehow managed to talk his way into the executive offices at Ford’s headquarters and found himself in front of Henry Ford’s personal secretary.

“Who are you here to see?” she asked him.

“I’m here to see Mr. Ford,” he replied earnestly.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No.”

“Well,” his secretary told young Wilson, “Mr. Ford is a very busy and important man and he doesn’t just see people without an appointment. If you’re looking for a job, I can give you directions to the employment office.”

Dejected, Wilson departed, but as he started down the hallway, in the other direction was walking a thin, older gentleman wearing a straw hat.

The man stopped Wilson and asked  him, “Young man, what are you doing here?”

“I’m here to see Mr. Ford.”

“Henry Ford?” the older gentleman asked.

“Yes,” Larry replied, “Henry Ford.”

“Well that’s me. Why did you want to see me?” the industrialist asked.

Wilson unwrapped his two tin models and told Ford of his dream of making cars. Impressed with the quality of the work, and perhaps reminded of his own youthful enthusiasm, Ford hired him on the spot as an apprentice model maker.

Though you might think the story is apocryphal, the protagonist is identified by name and the story teller is someone with some credibility as an automotive historian. It also has a ring of truth. At the age of 16, Jack Telnack, who later headed Ford design, got an interview with Ford advanced styling head Alex Tremulis because of his interest in becoming a car designer. Tremulis told him to go to design school and then gave Telnack his first job when he graduated. A number of designers working for General Motors and other domestic automakers got their starts as teens competing in GM’s Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild model making competition.

After Henry Ford hired him, Larry Wilson would go on to spend his entire career as a clay modeler in Ford’s styling department. Once, while going through some stored materials, he came across the contents of Edsel Ford’s personal office, removed after his 1943 death. Among those artifacts was Edsel Ford’s personal 1:10 scale model of the original Lincoln Continental, sculpted by Gene Adams, the clay modeler who worked with stylist Bob Gregorie on the Continental’s design. It wasn’t quite the first model of the Continental — that one was sculpted by Gregorie and Adams over an existing Lincoln Zephyr model — but it was likely used to develop the bumpers and trim on the production car. The fact that it was the personal property of Edsel Ford gives it unmatched provenance.

Wilson eventually passed the model to Sandifer, where it is part of what is likely the largest collection of styling studio scale models anywhere.

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 get a parallax view 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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The End of Italy http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/end-italy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/end-italy/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1058586 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 […]

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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.

Italy gave birth to names recognized worldwide in the automotive industry for their design and sophistication, engineering and fury. It also gave rise to many a brand focused on the simpler side, using a more utilitarian design that nonetheless spawned classics dear to any automotive enthusiast. As to the former, any car lover recognizes names like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati; while examples of the former also abound, Vespa, Iso, Innocenti and of course Fiat.

1899 FIAT 4 HP

It didn’t start out this way. Società Anonima Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino – or F.I.A.T. for short – was founded in 1899 by a group of noble landholders. These people were witness to the growing industrialization in their country and used their resources to slowly control and direct the process. From among these men, Giovanni Agnelli surged as the leader and soon started buying and crowding his partners out. In due course, his family controlled Fiat and do so to this day.

Initially involved in motor racing, Fiat was one of the leaders in the auto world, producing cars for the wealthy. Fiat was the spearhead into the world for the Italian automotive industry and soon set up shop in other countries, licensing their products to be made by local partners (such as in Germany) and even crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1908 building a factory of their own in New York. Some even say Henry Ford got some of his inspiration for the assembly line watching the processes carried out by Fiat.

FS Class E626 locomotive

As time progressed, Fiat expanded and starting building locomotives, marine and airplane engines. In World War I, Fiat was a major supplier for the Allied forces. The War followed by the New York stock market crash impoverished Italy and the Italian industry changed its focus. The first Fiat 500 – better known as Topolino due to it looking like Mickey Mouse – came out. Designed by Dante Giacosa, it was one of the first people’s car and started to motorize Italy and other countries in Europe.

With the ascension of Benito Mussolini, Fiat was forced to recede back into Italy. It was rewarded by being given large government contracts and produced everything from planes to machine guns for the fascist hordes. Then Europe’s largest maker, it basically stopped production outside of Italy, though Fiat products were still built under license in other European countries.

Fiat’s success led to the development of other Italian brands. Vicenzo Lancia and Enzo Ferrari were Fiat race car drivers who of course went on to establish their own companies. Lancia in particular was very innovative building the first monococque car (the Lambda) among scores of other innovations. Those companies then spawned others. Everyone knows the story of Lamborghini. Ferruccio Lamborghini was a successful tractor maker. He bought a Ferrari and was so unsatisfied with the car (he thought its controls too heavy and a chore to drive) he went to complain to Enzo Ferrari. Enzo told him that if he, Ferruccio, thought he could build a better car, he should. And thus Lamborghini was born.

Alfa SZ AutoItalia Brooklands

Fiat’s success also birthed Alfa Romeo in a roundabout way. Jealous of Turin’s success, Italy’s most industrialized city Milan gave rise to that famous marque. It soon went on its way and became successful, establishing itself in racing (Juan Manuel Fangio started in Formula 1 with Alfa Romeo, with whom he won his first titles, then went on to Maserati, Ferrari and Mercedes Benz, winning championships with all) and gracing the garages of people of means. It also worked closely with the famous carrozzieri that were the origins of the famous Italian design houses. Zagato was a preferred partner. Many Alfa Romeo cars carry a Zagato body. So do Lancias and even Fiats. They also sit under other famous names like Bertone, Alemano, Fissore, among others. This is one of the reasons sales of those Italian cars seem unimpressive today. Besides the lower market volumes of the times, Italian cars splinter off into thousands of variations, all wearing carrozzieri’s names and not necessarily that of the makes.

Of course, to supply this budding industry, many suppliers were born. Magnetti Marelli, Comau, Pirelli, Brembo and many countless other recognizable names exist. Like most of the other Italian car makers, many of these suppliers would be incorporated into Fiat in a long drawn out process starting after World War II.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, Pirelli was sold off to the Chinese. That was a shock to many in Italy. Pirelli was an early partner of Ferrari and their stories are intimately linked. 7 billion euros (not to mention the 1 billion euro debt) overcame any inhibitions however.

Pininfarina Nuova Stratos

Other emerging nations are also looking to buy into Italian know-how. Mahindra is negotiating to buy Pininfarina (also closely associated to Ferrari and Fiat). Year after year of losses, debt (160 million euros) is high and the Indians could possibly soon see better looking cars on their streets. Pininfarina would have a lot of work as Mahindras are not exactly known for their stunning design.

It’s not just emerging market companies taking away Italy’s industry piece by piece. Local European vultures, or rather, partners, are also eating up the Italian industry slowly. Volkswagen has been a major profiteer or investor, depending on your point of view. It now owns Italdesign, former company of Giorgetto Giugiaro. Audi has raided Lamborghini and Ducati. Mercedes Benz has a large stake in MV Augusta. Even PSA has carved out a chunk of Bimota. In the case of the motorcycles, it’s been said the Germans are mostly interested in the light welding techniques the Italian companies use for engines and transmissions.

American companies have also taken chunks out of Italy. In 1970, Ford bought the Ghia design house, famous for VW’s Karmann Ghia, the Volvo P1800, quite a few Chryslers, and countless Fiats, Alfas and Lancias. Sadly, at Ford, Carrozzeria Ghia became a trim line and has since been forgotten in the group, being replaced with the rather more pedestrian sounding Titanium.

Ford-vs-Ferrari-Redux-placement

Ford’s interest in Italy is historic. In the mid part of the last century the Americans had a showdown with Ferrari. Interested in buying Ferrari, Enzo and Henry Ford II played power games which led to entertaining one upmanship like the famous Ford GT40 LeMan victories. On the business side, the potential loss of Ferrari led the Italian government to softly nudge it into the all-encompassing embrace of Fiat. The Italian government’s goal at the time was to strengthen the country’s auto industry.

The current piecemeal parting of Italy’s home auto industry is partly the result of recent governments’ lack of interest. At least Luca Ciferri over at Automotive News Europe thinks so. He cites the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler as examples of a government protecting its industry. He also mentions France’s recently increased 14% stake in PSA to help it ride out the current crisis. Germany fights tooth and nail whenever the EU makes moves that the Germans perceive as threatening to their makes. The British have set up a highly successful action plan, government backed, that has the UK again as one of the largest European car producers.

Meanwhile Ciferri asks, what has the Italian government done? In 2007, they had a sort of clash for clunkers scheme. Due to that program the Italian market peaked at 2.5 million units and has since been halved.

Government action or inaction isn’t the only culprit. Bertone, the reputed carrozziere and design house of Marcello Gandini fame – Miura and Countach, among many others – went bankrupt without even being taken over. Fiat’s ongoing challenging market perception and Magnetti Marelli electronics’ reputation have also been a problem. However, larger trends and currents are at play. Surely part of the problem for the Italian automotive industry is Italy’s economy itself. Recently one the “I’s” in the infamous PIIGS club, many analysts claim Italy’s economy is much larger than officially measured as a heavy government hand drives many businesses into the informal market. The adoption of the euro has not done Italy many favors. In the past, the country could hide inefficiencies behind successive lira devaluations. This is not possible any more. At the turn of the century, Italy was the fourth largest car market in the world. Today it is not even in the Top 10.

As the annual general meeting unfolds in Amsterdam and FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne again beats on his consolidation drum aiming to strike that one last deal, the halls in Turin will be dark. Ghosts of the past walk those halls reminding us of a certain flair, a peculiar lifestyle, a particular way of doing things. Around the world, other people will be using the names of the brands that promised and offered this Italian style to consumers. Ideas will be discussed in other languages, not the original. Documents will be drawn up and plans presented in foreign tongues. If those companies keep the promise of the dolce far niente lifestyle the creators of those marques created, it could strengthen that ideal. However, much is always lost in any translation. A Lamborghini dreamed in German is not the same as one imagined in Italian.

A part of the variation in the auto world is being lost. A peculiar taste and flavor will be lost. And we will all be the poorer for it.

[Image credits: Przemysław Jahr via Wikimedia Commons, Icarus83 via Wikimedia Commons, Tony Harrison (Flickr: AutoItalia Brooklands May 2012 THP_7123) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

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How Detroit Invented Traffic Cops, Traffic Lights, No Parking Zones & Towing Your Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/detroit-invented-traffic-cops-traffic-lights-no-parking-zones-towing-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/detroit-invented-traffic-cops-traffic-lights-no-parking-zones-towing-car/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 14:30:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1054681 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 […]

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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.

Things we take for granted had to be implemented in the first place; even things as mundane as lane markings. The first centerline on a U.S. road was painted in Michigan in 1911. Before that, people would drive wherever they cared. Cars started to clog cities that weren’t designed with parking in mind, so people would park wherever they wanted to as well, sometimes in the middle of intersections or in front of fire hydrants. The city of Detroit started to use equipment designed to mark lines on tennis courts to paint lane dividers, crossings, safety zones and no parking zones, issuing citations to violators.

Ferndale crow's nest

The Ferndale crow’s nest when it was operational. Note the warning to pedestrians to “walk right”. Pedestrians made up about 75% of early traffic fatalities.

Traffic control devices, called Street Semaphores, were first implemented in Detroit. Developed by Cleveland inventor Garrett Morgan (who also invented the gas mask), they were manually operated red and green signs, later fitted with with red and green lights, controlled by a traffic patrolman in a crow’s next above the street. In the 1920s, the Street Semaphores were replaced with automatically operating stop lights, with the first automated traffic light being installed at the intersection of John R. St. and East Grand Blvd. in 1922. Around that time, a yellow light was added to the mix to alert drivers of an impending red light. (By the way, the motivation for switching to traffic lights wasn’t so much safety as saving money. The automated lights cost 10% of what it cost to man a Street Semaphore crow’s nest.)

crowsnest133

A different view of the same crow’s nest. Note the street car lines on Woodward Ave.

To commemorate the Street Semaphores, Ferndale, Michigan installed a sculpture of one of the traffic crow’s nests near where one had been installed in 1920 at the intersection of Woodward Ave and Nine Mile Road. When Woodward was widened in 1928, that crow’s nest was replaced with an automated traffic light, but it was fondly remembered in Ferndale. Artist Shan Sutherland, who received his MFA in metalsmithing from the Detroit area Cranbrook Academy of Art, based his reproduction on historic photographs. The traffic signal is “manned” by a bust of a Ferndale police officer sculpted by Anne Sutherland, the artist’s mother.

78688

A traffic control crow’s nest on Detroit’s West Grand Blvd, with the General Motors Building in the background. By the 1920s, automated electric traffic lights had replaced semaphores, but traffic cops, another Detroit innovation, were still needed.

Traffic lights weren’t the only traffic control device invented in Detroit. In 1911, the city was the first to implement one-way streets as a way of improving traffic flow and making commercial deliveries easier. The first stop sign in the United States was installed in Detroit a century ago in 1915. It had black letters against a white background. In the 1920s, the familiar octagon shape was standardized by national committees (though for decades stop signs were yellow, not changing to red until the 1950s).

Today, some states and cities have traffic lanes restricted to high occupancy vehicles or hybrid cars. That concept was presaged in the Motor City with an idea called “channelizing” streets, allowing only particular kinds of vehicles, like delivery vans or taxi cabs, on particular streets.

Detroit was the first city to have specific traffic cops, with a quarter of 1914’s thousand member Detroit Police Dept being assigned to traffic duty, and it was the second municipality, after New York City, to establish traffic courts.

Even with traffic cops and traffic courts, illegal parking continued to plague Detroit. James Couzens had been the business manager of the Ford Motor Company from its founding until he got sick and tired of working for Henry Ford in 1913. For a $10,000 investment in FoMoCo, Couzens was eventually paid $38 million. After he retired from Ford, he went into politics, first becoming Detroit mayor and then a U.S. senator. As mayor in 1917, Couzens proposed dealing with illegal parking with what he called “intensive disciplinary training”. Within half a year, the newly organized Detroit Towing Squad had towed almost 11,000 cars to a city owned vacant lot. Couzens, a pretty smart guy later said, “This proved to be something of a shock to the thoughtless and careless, but it proved effective.”

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 get a parallax view 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

Pic-HistoryCrowsNest 78688 crows_nest_early crowsnest133 crowsnest IMG_0319 IMG_0320 IMG_0321 IMG_0322 IMG_0323 IMG_0324 IMG_0325

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Heritage Cuts Both Ways http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/heritage-cuts-ways/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/heritage-cuts-ways/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 13:00:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1015466 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 […]

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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.

Car companies like to bask in the reflected glory of previous accomplishments of their firms, even if those accomplishments might have been a generation, or a century, ago. That explains why automakers will bring out historical examples of their nameplates to auto shows. At the Detroit show, the new Alfa Romeo 4C Spyder at its official world introduction shared the stage with two prewar Alfa racers and a Tipo 33 Stradale. Also at the NAIAS, Honda had their first car to win in Formula One, their RA272, which won the Mexican Grand Prix in 1965 with R. Ginther at the wheel. A month later, at the Chicago auto show, the wall behind the Toyota display had archival photos of historic vehicles from the company and on the show floor there was a 2000GT. The Stradale, F1 Honda and 2000GT are great examples of what their makers have done in the past, but the problem with bringing them out for an auto show is that people may benchmark what you currently sell against them, if not literally, than certainly emotionally. Also, they can overshadow and distract from the new products that are being revealed.

While the Alfa Romeo 4C seems to charm most who drive it, the Type 33 Stradale is one of the great Alfas. The Stradale has a sensual shape that was one of the major contributors to its era’s automotive aesthetic sensibilities and it’s considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cars ever. Not a few think it’s the most beautiful car ever made. It’s also one of the rarer cars around. A quick check says that only 18 of the roadgoing Stradales were made, each by hand and only 10 are known to still exist.

Not only did FCA and their folks running Alfa in North America risk overshadowing their new product with the Stradale, they compounded the problem by hiring a distractingly beautiful Italian-American model to stand near the 4C coupe and the new Spyder. At both the Detroit and Chicago shows, when I was at the Alfa booth I noticed that photographers were taking photos of her and the Stradale more than of the new Alfa Romeos.

beautifulitalians_l_r

Soichiro Honda was a racer by heart and when it was still generally regarded as the maker of 50-90cc motorbikes, the Honda company raced and succeeded at the highest level of automotive motorsports, demonstrating to themselves an to anyone who bothered noticing that Honda was an engineering force to be reckoned with. 2015 is the 50th anniversary of that racing success, which explains why Honda had the F1 car on display.

Dario Franchitti, who drove Honda powered Indycars before his retirement had the opportunity to drive the RA272 at the Motegi circuit in Japan. He says that the transversely mounted 48 valve 1.5 liter V12 “probably has the best sound of any car I’ve even driven, or heard.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

That F1 car up on the Honda stand may have been too distracting. Even though I spent time in the Honda display taking more than a dozen photos of the Ginther race car (and as you can see in the photos, I wasn’t the only one shooting the F1 car) I can’t tell you, offhand, exactly what vehicles Honda introduced at the Detroit show (it was the FCV fuel cell car).

At the Chicago Auto Show, Toyota’s press conference was mostly about special editions of the Avalon, Camry and Corolla, said to be influenced by Toyota’s sportier S trim lines. Our editors here have discussed how a post on the Camry will get substantially more traffic and comments than one on a desired-by-enthusiasts performance car. Also, my friend Mr. Baruth has pointed out that a properly equipped Camry can scoot pretty good on the road and on the track. Those things may be so, but you’ll have to excuse me if I believe that all of your reading this post who aren’t currently in the market for an Avalon, Camry or Corolla or one of their competitors would walk right past those special editions to get a look at the 2000GT. Again, you can see in the photos that there were photographers, whose job it was to take photos of new products, hanging around the heritage car, not the new reveals.

The headline says that heritage cuts both ways, so I suppose I should give an example of heritage done right at an auto show. One of the unqualified hits of the Detroit show was the new Ford GT. At the 2015 NAIAS in Detroit, the Ford stand was laid out so that before you saw that new GT on it’s turntable, you walked past examples of Ford’s and the GT’s heritage, a 2005 Ford GT and the car that inspired both that and the new GT, a roadgoing 1965 version of the LeMans winning Ford GT40.

When you talk about automotive rock stars, the GT40 is right up there. In the long run it’s even a more important and better known car than the Alfa Stradale, certainly among North American car enthusiasts, so I suppose that Ford was taking a greater risk of overshadowing their new car than Alfa was. However, people poured right past the GT40 and the new GT’s 2005 older brother as they thronged around Ford’s new sail-paneled supercar at the NAIAS. A month later, the new GT was one of the hits of the Chicago Auto Show, a relatively rare occurrence for a car that already had debuted elsewhere. I guess I could say that means that the new Ford GT is indeed inspired.

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 get a parallax view 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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Honda Heritage Center Captures Triumphs, Challenges http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/honda-heritage-center-captures-triumphs-challenges/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/honda-heritage-center-captures-triumphs-challenges/#comments Sat, 10 Jan 2015 14:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=974505 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 […]

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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.

HondaMuseum 009 (Large)

            We had an appropriate steed for this jaunt, still rock solid after 18,000 miles in ten months. That layer of salt didn’t do it any favors, but it still looked appropriately aero-modern next to the Heritage Center’s steel and glass façade. The building itself isn’t terribly adventurous in its design, but it is eminently practical. The gallery area is flooded with natural light, thus avoiding one of my biggest pet peeves as a historian: dimly lit museums. I’d venture so far as to say that it captures a little bit of the design ethos of the company that funded it.

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            The Center is free to attend, but currently requires that you phone ahead and make a reservation. Exactly why is unclear. On the phone, the company rep indicated that we could take a guided tour at nine or noon, so I signed us up for a noon timeslot. Upon arrival, however, we were told to show ourselves around. I asked the polite front-desk worker if there were brochures available, and was informed that there weren’t any yet. No matter, as everything in the museum is presented alongside an abundance of information.

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            Before entering the gallery proper, you can peruse a couple landmark bikes and cars. There’s an example of the scooters that first brought the Honda corporate name to the States, as well as one of the dirt bikes that became the first Honda product manufactured in America. The two cars in the forecourt echo the same idea: the diminutive N600, followed by the historic 1983 Accord. The first provided the consumer beachhead, and the other put Marysville on the map as the new headquarters of American automotive manufacturing excellence.

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            That Accord is worth ruminating over a little more; that unassuming, three box sedan that changed everything. This was the make-it-or-break-it product for Honda’s American manufacturing operation. If the U.S.-built Accord had tanked, Marysville would have gone the way of Volkswagen Westmoreland. To that end, it’s easy to understand why Honda played it safe with the exterior. Accord customers in 1983 got a few straight-line body creases, and that’s it. The lack of embellishment one-ups even the unrelenting blandness of the Fox platform Ford sedans of the era. But the blandness was part of the sublime genius of it. It was an economy car in a positive sense: it was economical in size and weight, economical in consumption, economical in price (minus the dealer mark-ups) and economical in style. The second-generation Accord wouldn’t make sense in today’s market, but it was the right product at the right time in a way that few other models have matched.

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            The main gallery area is a big, airy room centered on an engine display. In the middle, there’s an exploded V6 of the type found in Jack’s Accord. Other powertrains can be found in a ring around the edge of the exhibit, including many built in Anna. The rest of the exhibits are organized in a loose chronological format. There’s a copious display dedicated to bikes, as well as a memorial to the end of motorcycle production in 2009. Sadly, there was no Rune on display- my favorite 2-wheeled Marysville product. Even so, there was plenty for Honda motorcycle enthusiasts to appreciate, with a lot of handy background information included.

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            The car selection is eclectic, with a number of Marysville-built products on display. There’s an ’88 Accord Coupe, the milestone car that became the first Honda product exported from the United States to Japan. There’s a gift to wagon fans, in the form of a fifth-generation Accord AeroDeck in right-hand-drive with a manual transmission. Other highlights include a CRX Si, a Civic CVCC, a first-generation Legend, a first-generation CL, the One Lap of America Odyssey, and NSX Rolex Cup car, and the new NSX prototype. Those hoping for oodles of rare Hondas are going to be disappointed; there’s the single first-generation NSX and no Type R’s or other factory specials. The large display on Hondajet is a reminder that ambition is not always an asset. There’s an exhibit with an Asimo robot prototype that is supposed to be able to mimic human movements, but he was broken when we visited. In general, the historical parts of the exhibit are far more interesting than the contemporary ones; those feel more like platitudinous corporate sloganeering than the promise of a great tomorrow.

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            It’s not a large space, and one gets the feel that it’s meant to be more of an educational experience than a warehouse of exotic treasures. In the end, that’s what this museum does best: provide a nice narrative of the Honda story in America, with some neat cars and interactive exhibits thrown in for good measure. It’s certainly worth a visit, if not  necessarily a pilgrimage. As it stands, the Heritage Center is just fine for its intended purpose; much like that ’83 Accord in the forecourt.

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Piston Slap: Why So Uncool Minivan? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/piston-slap-uncool-minivan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/piston-slap-uncool-minivan/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 12:07:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=908561   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 […]

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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?

Sajeev answers:

What’s the deal with minivans? From public perception, CUV popularity, fleet usage, etc. the “uncool minivan” is indeed a sad reality.  But there is plenty to love here on TTAC, from the Farago era to something brilliantly Baruthian.  My second favorite rental vehicle was the 3.6L Pentastar Caravan: it was quick and comfortable with chassis/suspension/steering components ready to play. No surprise, my fav rental was a white 2011 Crown Vic. But I digress…

Isn’t a minivan just a super-sized wagon?  Not really, even if they (kinda) ended the station wagon era. Uncool minivans are a radical rethink: eschewing the traditional notions of the family wagon and the creepster’s van with the adoption of a modern front-wheel drive layout (Aerostar and Astro notwithstanding) for maximum utilization of a traditional two box design, while adding the styling of a family sedan/wagon for curb appeal. Supposedly the Chrysler minivan’s early concepts were lifted from Ford’s work in the early 1970s: possible since Lee Iacocca famously left FoMoCo after butting heads with Henry II far too many times, and took some design staffers with him…though that’s the subject of some controversy.

Will minivans ever be cool to own? Keep in mind the Minivan was and remains an enlightened design: that will attract people. Just like so many Pistonheads go nuts over vintage wagons these days (especially with wheels you’d expect on a restomod ’69 Camaro), the uncool minivan will come back to win our hearts.

Until then, who gives a crap what people think? Go buy one and brush off the haters, no matter what they say!

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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One Man, One Brand, Five Decades: The Bob McDorman Automotive Museum http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/one-man-one-brand-five-decades-the-bob-mcdorman-automotive-museum/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/one-man-one-brand-five-decades-the-bob-mcdorman-automotive-museum/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 12:00:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=869698 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 […]

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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.

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Located in the village of Canal Winchester, the Museum is a monument to the legacy of one of area’s most well-known Chevrolet dealers. Bob McDorman, 82 years young, began his career in car sales in 1953 when he was hired by a Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealer in London, Ohio. The first Corvette was also released that year, sparking McDorman’s lifelong fascination with America’s sports car. After he became a Chevrolet dealer in his own right in 1965, Corvettes formed the backbone of his own car collections. He was inducted into the National Corvette Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2012, in recognition of his contributions to both collecting and promoting the Corvette brand. McDorman has been in Canal Winchester since 1968, and his dealership is still a going concern.

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The word “collections” isn’t a typo. Over the years McDorman accumulated three successive collections of GM cars, Corvettes, and memorabilia, which were then auctioned off. McDorman describes the thrill of the chase as his favorite aspect of collecting; the Museum represents his fourth collection of cars. Some of them were sold new by McDorman and were tracked down many years later. Others were cars that McDorman previously owned, but bought back when he decided to open the Museum. The Museum is in the process of adding more memorabilia to the walls, including vintage Chevrolet signs and other automobilia. Many of the light-up signs aren’t hung yet, but will be in place within the next few months.

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The Museum isn’t enormous, but it has plenty of rarities and mint-condition originals. The 1957 Cameo you see above is one of one, the only truck produced in that color combination for that model year. My personal favorite is the 1960 Corvair Monza Club Coupe on display. A 10,000 mile unrestored original, the car is also one of McDorman’s favorites. There are several other mint 50s Chevrolets nearby. They might be the finest unrestored originals of their kind, including a delivery-mileage ’53 Corvette. McDorman states that the goal is to fill up the permanent display spots in the museum, while also having a few consignment cars for sale in the middle. McDorman sold a majority stake in his dealership to megadealer Jeff Wyler in 2011, and plans to retire fully in 2015 after fifty years with GM. Even so, he’ll keep his dealer’s license so that he can sell cars within the museum.

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Although there are plenty of fantastic cars in the museum, they aren’t the reason that you should go to it; McDorman himself is the most compelling part of the exhibit. He’s seated at the desk in the first picture, flanked by the third and last production 1978 Corvette Pace Cars. He plans to be there, ready to talk to any visitor, whenever the museum is open (usually Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 10 am to 5 pm). This is the part where I admit I was more than a little overawed; he’s had more than twice my lifetime worth of experience in the car biz and he’s still sharp as a knife. Even so, he has a genuine approachability and affable disposition that must account for some of the endless number of customer satisfaction and GM dealer awards that carpet the walls. As a kid I went every year to the massive car show he would throw on his huge lot on the outskirts of Columbus. He’d have a large part of his own collection on display, and street rodders and Corvette people would come from near and far to take it in. Now he entertains a steady stream of visitors in his own museum. How many car dealers can claim that level of community rapport? Even dealership skeptics like me should enjoy chatting with McDorman, who is a genuine enthusiast and still quite knowledgeable about industry goings-on. It’s an opportunity you simply won’t get in most other car museums. As an experiment in living history, the Museum excels.

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BMW’s Southern Strategy Pays Off For All Involved http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/bmws-southern-strategy-pays-off-for-all-involved/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/bmws-southern-strategy-pays-off-for-all-involved/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 11:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=865729 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. Bloomberg reports the factory is the largest exporter of U.S.-made vehicles […]

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BMW Spartanburg

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.

Bloomberg reports the factory is the largest exporter of U.S.-made vehicles to global markets outside of North America, besting the Detroit Three and the state of Michigan’s collective automotive production efforts as its capacity prepares to jump 50 percent to 450,000 annually as the latest member of the X Series, the full-size seven-passenger X7, comes into production.

The success of the Spartanburg facility is built upon lower labor costs — U.S. labor is 47 percent cheaper than German labor — its work flexibility, and its access to the port of Charleston, I-85 and GSP International Airport. An additional inland port in Greer, S.C., new production techniques — such as using robots and humans on the same assembly step — and massive export increases as the result of an upcoming free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union will likely add more fuel to the plant’s continued success.

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Audi “Shocked” by Study on Slave Labor During Nazi Era that Finds Auto Union ‘Morally Responsible’ for 4,500 Deaths http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/audi-shocked-by-study-on-slave-labor-during-nazi-era-that-finds-auto-union-morally-responsible-for-4500-deaths/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/audi-shocked-by-study-on-slave-labor-during-nazi-era-that-finds-auto-union-morally-responsible-for-4500-deaths/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 21:06:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=833114 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 […]

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Flossenbürg concentration camp, where slave laborers for Auto Union were imprisoned and executed.

Flossenburg concentration camp, where slave laborers for Auto Union were imprisoned and executed.

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.

Audi told Siegel that it would be changing online profiles of Bruhn at the company’s German website and today the company told Germany’s The Local that it has contacted its operations in other countries asking them to revise their materials on Bruhn, which describe him as having “guided the company with great competence” before the war and securing a “high reputation” post-war which “made it possible to obtain the credit needed to re-establish the Auto Union”. Audi will also be revising displays at the Audi Forum’s “museum mobile” near the company’s headquarters in Ingolstadt and at the Horch museum in Zwickau. Not only is Audi making changes to reflect Bruhn’s less savory actions, Ingolstadt’s mayor, Christian Lösel, told journalists that the municipality was considering changing the names of streets like Bruhnstraße that currently honor the Auto Union founder.

Dr. Richard Bruhn, founder of the post war Auto Union company.

Dr. Richard Bruhn, founder of the Auto Union company.

The study said that Bruhn maintained the “closest ties” to the highest ranking Nazis and that after 1942 he was personally responsible for Auto Union’s use of thousands of forced laborers. Bruhn had plans to expand the use of slaves but that was obviated by German reversals on the battlefield. He was a member of the National Socialist party and given the title of “Wehrwirtschaftsfuehrer” (military industrial leader or, more formally, Leader of the Armament Economy). This quasi-military rank was given to the executives of companies that the regime considered important to arming Germany in the 1930s and later to the war effort. Günther Quandt, whose family today controls BMW, was given a similar honor by the Nazis.

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Tank engines being assembled in an Auto Union factory, 1943.

The 500 page report, “Wartime Economy and Labour Deployment by Auto Union AG Chemnitz during World War II”, was authored by Martin Kukowski, who heads Audi’s own history department and Rudolf Boch, a University of Chemnitz historian, and published by Franz Steiner Verlag. The authors conclude that, “There can be no discussion about the closeness of Auto Union to [the Nazis].” Auto Union was “firmly ensnared in the National Socialist regime”. Bruhn was not the only Auto Union executive who was an enthusiastic Nazi. In early 1945, company managers were organizing plans to evacuate themselves to escape advancing Allied forces as they continued to use slave labor in their still operating factories.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Auto Union was created in Chemnitz, Germany in 1932 under the direction of Bruhn from the merger of four German automakers, Horch, Audi, DKW and Wanderer. Those four founding firms are symbolized by the four rings in Audi’s logo.

Auto Union was one of the companies that made the SDK FZ-11 half-track.

Auto Union was one of the companies that made the SdK FZ-11 half-track.

During the war Auto Union made military vehicles for the German war effort and was “ensnared to a scandalous degree in the complex of concentration camps,” according to Kukowski and Boch. At the end of the war, Bruhn was interned by the British occupation forces along with other German industrialists who helped the Nazis. Upon his release, in 1949 he started to get Auto Union going again. Bruhn, who died in 1964, revived the business group in Ingolstadt with funding provided by the United States’ Marshall Plan and started making DKWs. In the late 1950s, Daimler-Benz bought the company, eventually selling its shares to Volkswagen starting in the mid 1960s. After some corporate restructuring, in 1985 the Auto Union name was discontinued and VW renamed it Audi.

The authors determined that the Nazi SS built and operated seven forced labor camps specifically for Auto Union. Those camps enslaved over 3,700 prisoners, a quarter of them of Jewish descent.

Another 16,500 people were forced to work for Auto Union in the company’s factories in Zwickau and Chemnitz, in Saxony. Perhaps the strongest and most shocking charge against Auto Union and Bruhn is the authors’ claim  that Auto Union management carried “moral responsibility” for the deaths of 4,500 inmates at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria. They died while slaving for Auto Union at a forced labor camp in nearby Leitmeritz, the study said.

Conditions in the Zwickau concentration camp where many Auto Union workers were held, were “devastating” according to the historians. Prisoners lived in unheated barracks. The authors discovered that when workers at the Zwickau factory became disabled, they were shipped to the Flossenburg concentration camp where they were executed. Near the end of the war, nearly 700 Zwickau inmates were put on a forced march to Karlovy Vary in what is now the Czech Republic and barely half of them survived the death march.

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Auto Union made the chassis and running gear for the SdK FZ-222 armored vehicle.

Audi expressed shock and concern over the findings and in addition to revising how the company portrays Bruhn it said that it would look into granting compensation to any former forced laborers who are still alive. Bruhn’s name also graces a number of company projects such as pension plans. Audi board member and head of the company’s workers’ works council Peter Mosch told Wirtschaftswoche, “I’m very shocked by the scale of the involvement of the former Auto Union leadership in the system of forced and slave labour. I was not aware of the extent [of this involvement].” Audi had previously acknowledged some role in the exploitation of forced labor during the Nazi era and has paid millions of dollars into a compensation fund managed by the German government.

Audi follows Daimler, BMW and its corporate parent Volkswagen in commissioning a historical study into ties to the Nazis during 1933-45.

An extensive, five-part, German language series on the study and Audi’s history with the Nazi regime, including interviews with survivors of the forced labor, can be found at Wirtschaftswoche. This TTAC post only touches on the material covered in Kukowski and Boch’s study. Even if you don’t read German, Google’s translator works well enough to give you the gist of the material in the Wirtschaftswoche series and I encourage you to check it out.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. Thanks for reading – RJS

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British Pathe Helps Waste Our Time By Putting 85,000 Archived Newsreels Online http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/british-pathe-helps-waste-our-time-by-putting-85000-archived-newsreels-online/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/british-pathe-helps-waste-our-time-by-putting-85000-archived-newsreels-online/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:36:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=806554 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 […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

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.

The archive’s films date back to 1896, with the most recent being produced in 1976, and they comprise about 3,500 hours of footage of major historical events, notable personages, fashion, travel, sports and culture as well as extensive footage from both World Wars. In addition to the finished, narrated newsreels, the archive also includes quite a bit of original footage, outtakes and rushes. Included in the archive are many films of interest to automobile enthusiasts. The archive is searchable so all you have to do is search for topics like “motor show“, “automobile“, “Jaguar“, “Lotus” or “Stirling Moss” and you’ll immediately have enough material to put off more productive work for just about as long as you wish. I’ve included a few examples after the break.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Warning: This video of the 1955 LeMans disaster includes scenes of death:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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 get a parallax view 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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Disaster at National Corvette Museum: Can History Be Saved? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/disaster-at-national-corvette-museum-can-history-be-saved/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/disaster-at-national-corvette-museum-can-history-be-saved/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 17:12:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=740705 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. No one was hurt in the cave-in, which occurred overnight in the “Skydome” section of the museum. Eight Corvettes were sucked into the hole, including two […]

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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.

No one was hurt in the cave-in, which occurred overnight in the “Skydome” section of the museum. Eight Corvettes were sucked into the hole, including two on loan from GM: a ’93 ZR-1 convertible and an ’09 ZR1 hardtop. The remaining six are owned by the museum: a black ’62, the ’84 PPG Pace Car, the 1 Millionth Corvette (a white ’92 convertible), a ruby red ’93 40th Anniversary Edition, an ’01 Mallet Z06, and the 1.5 Millionth Corvette (a white ’09 convertible). Video from the site is pretty grim. The video below, taken from an aerial drone with a camera attached, is a fairly complete survey of the devastation:

Click here to view the embedded video.

The black ’62 and the ’09 ZR1 landed near the top of the pile, bruised but hopefully still intact. The ’93 40th Anniversary looks pretty trashed though, as does the 1 Millionth Corvette. Both have tumbled end over end at least once, with the 1 Millionth landing behind the slab on which the ’62 precariously lies. What looks like the ’84 Pace Car is almost completely buried, and the 1.5 Millionth Corvette appears to have been squished underneath the slab on which the ’09 ZR1 sits. The Mallet Z06 is nowhere to be seen.

From a historical perspective, the loss of the 1 Millionth and 1.5 Millionth Corvettes is the worst part of the accident. Both represent irreplaceable milestones in Corvette history, as does the ’84 Pace Car to a lesser extent. Time will tell if they can be resurrected, but for now the museum faces bigger worries. The Bowling Green Fire Department estimates the hole to be about forty feet across and up to thirty feet deep, based on the drone video. The Museum has stated that the Skydome is a separate unit from the other facilities, and that hopefully the structural damage can be contained. However, the nature of the disaster raises troubling questions about the viability of the rest of the Museum.

Bowling Green is only about ten miles away from Mammoth Cave National Park. Much of Kentucky lies in what is known as a karst region: an area where easily eroded limestone forms the bedrock. Acidic water and other weathering create natural caverns below the soil, which range widely in size. Some of them have formed tourist attractions like Mammoth Cave, but many others are undiscovered booby traps for human development. Once they collapse in, they are difficult to work around. The Museum’s sinkhole formed from the collapse of one of these caverns. Depending on the engineering report, the integrity of the entire site may be called into question. In any case, there will be tough times ahead for one of America’s best known auto museums.

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Maroon Velour, Coupes Galore, And An Important Four-Door for 1984 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/maroon-velour-coupes-galore-and-an-important-four-door-for-1984/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/maroon-velour-coupes-galore-and-an-important-four-door-for-1984/#comments Mon, 30 Dec 2013 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=688930 Haven’t you heard the exciting news? There’s a new Corvette out this year! Cadillac is building convertibles again! The VW Vanagon has a water-cooled engine! Oldsmobile is offering some kind of voice warning doohickey and the FIRENZA HAS NEW TRIM OPTIONS!1!!11! All with interest rates hovering just under 13%! It’s 1984, and I just can’t […]

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DSC_0405Haven’t you heard the exciting news? There’s a new Corvette out this year! Cadillac is building convertibles again! The VW Vanagon has a water-cooled engine! Oldsmobile is offering some kind of voice warning doohickey and the FIRENZA HAS NEW TRIM OPTIONS!1!!11! All with interest rates hovering just under 13%! It’s 1984, and I just can’t wait to check out the goods at the auto show.

 

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My mother volunteers at a local charity that provides needy families with household items. Her job involves separating and sorting useful donations from not-so-useful ones: broken glass, dead appliances, and in this case, old newspapers. She gifted me a piece of the long-defunct Columbus Citizen-Journal which previewed the upcoming attractions at the city’s 1984 auto show. I eagerly awaited page after page of achingly desirable machines, available for a pittance, indicative of a prosperity and degree of freedom that my Internet-addled generation could never hope to know.

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Olds, Pontiac, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Ford, Dodge, and Honda products are all given the puff treatment here, alongside a plethora of ads. Curiously, no Buick, VW, Toyota, Subaru, or any other import marque is included in the paper’s formal writeups. Limited column space, perhaps? On the front page, there’s a marketshare breakdown for 1983: Ford had 17.1 percent, GM had 44.4 Chrysler had 10.3, and AMC 2.5. Imports made up a combined 25.7 percent, with the Japanese holding more than four-fifths of that total. In the whole American market, things have changed dramatically. In the Midwest? Maybe not so much. But hey, check out those conversion vans!

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 A four-cylinder, turbocharged Mustang! How oddly familiar. The EXP serves as a reminder that in the 80s, there was still a market for inexpensive 2-seater coupes. Will they ever come back? Considering that two-door coupes not called Camaro or Mustang barely exist anymore, I’m guessing no.

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Pontiac’s new “showpiece of engineering” won the sales race in the aforementioned market, but changing tastes ultimately doomed it. Perhaps the Solstice would have sold better under the Fiero nameplate.

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  The Civic lineup was all-new in 1984, with seven different models sold under the nameplate. You could get the gas-sipping CRX, the sporty Si hatch, a five-door wagon, and several others. The EPA rating of 67 on the highway for the CRX was undoubtedly optimistic, but real-world mileage still proved stellar. Before the pointless economy-car horsepower wars, you got 60 horsepower out of the 1.3 liter base engine in the Civic. If you were feeling adventurous, you could get the 1.5 liter with its awesome 76 horsepower. Slow? Yes. Tuned for actually saving gas? Absolutely. Tongues will wag and say that safety regs killed light, simple cars like the CRX, but in a world where the Fiat 500 and the Chevy Spark both exist, I’m not buying it. Size creep was already making its presence felt in the mid-80s. As the column points out, the 1984 Civic sedan was 5.2 inches longer than the ’83. Check out the Subaru ad too. In the current era of pseudo-premium everything, would any car company ever dare to describe their product as “inexpensive?”

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 The most important new car of the 1984 season was the Plymouth Voyager/Dodge Grand Caravan. Like it or not, this is the vehicle that truly spawned the SUV/CUV revolution. It showed millions of middle-class families that they could have the kind of voluminous, carry-all interior space previously considered the exclusive domain of commercial vehicles. Their relative cheapness and ease of use made consumers unwilling to tolerate the compromises inherent in traditional sedan-based wagons. True truck-based SUVs didn’t take off until the early 90s, but minivans paved the way long before huge fake dinosaurs were eating people out of Ford Explorers.

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 A BMW sold on its residual value? Your eyes do not deceive you. Exacting build quality, careful engineering, the latest in technological wizardry (Service warning lights! An MPG computer!) all help you “not only hold onto a significant portion of your wealth- the portion that you keep in the form of a car- but to enjoy yourself tremendously in the process.” Is this even on the same planet as the modern-day lease extravanganza? You needed the retained value if you were going to be paying 12.95% APR on a new car loan, though.

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 Here’s another bank ad. It might have been morning in America, but credit was still quite tight in 1984. 11.95% sounds like buy-here pay-here level financing today, but in the mid-eighties one needed to have great credit to get these kinds of rates. Apparently 60 month terms weren’t that uncommon thirty years ago.

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  There aren’t a lot of prices in these ads, but the few that are there are revealing. $9999 for a 1984 Marquis Brougham is $22,430 in today’s money, according to the handy Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. For that, you got a front-drive, midsize sedan powered by a  carbeurated 120 horsepower V6, an automatic transmission, and air conditioning. You also got one power seat (part of a split bench), steel wheels with covers, no cassette player, zero airbags,  and no ABS. Don’t forget the interest rate.

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Maybe used is more your style. Then as now, Budget has plenty of no doubt gently-driven rental cars to offer you. How about an ’83 Sentra for $15,227 in today’s dollars? Hey, at least it has a stereo, four wheels, and “air conditioning!” You could get a Citation for a little less. A V6, automatic ’83 Camaro or a Mercury Cougar would set you back $21,284. Deals! There are more than a few cars from 1984 that I wouldn’t mind owning. The G-body Cutlasses and Regals are still among the best designs of the latter half of the twentieth century. I’d love to have a Civic Si and a Prelude, as well as a Fiero and Shelby Charger. I will own another E30 some day. But 1980s new car prices stir no longing for times gone by in my heart.

 

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Piston Slap: Bennie Bucks on the Winter Beater? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/piston-slap-bennie-bucks-on-the-winter-beater/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/piston-slap-bennie-bucks-on-the-winter-beater/#comments Wed, 27 Nov 2013 13:16:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=662242 TTAC Commentator 28-Cars-Later writes: Sajeev, I’ve got a small conundrum for Piston Slap.  Winter is fast approaching and for those of us in the mid-Atlantic states this is a serious affair. My winter beater has been my trusty (but not rusty) ’98 Saturn SL/auto/164K, which in the spring started showing its age and developed transmission […]

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TTAC Commentator 28-Cars-Later writes:

Sajeev,

I’ve got a small conundrum for Piston Slap.  Winter is fast approaching and for those of us in the mid-Atlantic states this is a serious affair. My winter beater has been my trusty (but not rusty) ’98 Saturn SL/auto/164K, which in the spring started showing its age and developed transmission issues after seven years (and roughly 80K) of ownership. I’ve let her sit most of the summer save starting her up and driving her around the parking lot every 7-12 days but I’ve been trying to put off the inevitable investment of Bennie bucks. This evening I was offered an ’00 Subaru Outback/auto/186K to replace it for $2500 inc four new cheap tires and inspection.

The prospects of an actual [built in Japan] Japanese wagon are intriguing, the Subaru is 7/10 in terms of condition with some dings and several rust spots, it had no issue starting up and is throwing no codes. The catch is I have zero documentation on the car (was a recent trade) and personally I am leery of all AWD systems regardless of make and model, especially without documentation/receipts. Panning over the engine bay I noticed a newer alternator and a battery stickered 3/12 (with old acid all over the cradle) so somebody (sort of) attempted to take care of the car. Oil was a down 1/4 a quart, coolant was dirty but not caked on or anything, but the kicker was the trans fluid is getting to be brown. I figure whomever recently owned this attempted to take care of it to some degree, but neglected all of the fluid changes, which leads to me to suspect none of the Subie specific maint (diff fluid, sensors, etc) has been done either by this owner (and who knows about the head gaskets). I have two days to make up my mind on the Subie before he sends it to auction.

(NOTE: because of my time delay in publishing, this car is already bought or auctioned off – SM)

So I figure my choices are as such:

  1. Spend $1200-1400 to install a used transmission in my Saturn and risk more expensive stuff breaking down the line.
  2. Spend $2500 and buy the Subaru, which for my purposes will probably get me through at least this winter without fireworks, but risk later expensive Subie specific repairs, or total loss if something big breaks.
  3. Not spend any money, junk my Saturn, and just drive one of my other two cars in the winter that I currently baby to some degree.

Sajeev answers:

Well…I guess it kinda depends on your other two vehicles.

#2 is not a sure thing: with zero service history and tired fluids, expecting this Subaru to work all winter is a rather huge leap of faith.  Perhaps if it was something more robust (truck) with less unique parts that are painfully hard to reach, perhaps if it wasn’t a vehicle known for its fragility (bad head gaskets) especially when neglected/abused…

Install a junkyard transmission in the Saturn, coming from a yard that offers a warranty.  Or research to see if a local shop rebuilds these units with quality parts and labor (not always easy to find) for a fair price.  Why?  Because it’s almost always easier to keep the problems you know, not the gigantic rolling question mark that could be even more of a horrid money pit.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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The 1973 Oil Crisis: 40 Years Later http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/the-1973-oil-crisis-40-years-later/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/the-1973-oil-crisis-40-years-later/#comments Mon, 21 Oct 2013 16:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=630010 Forty years ago this month, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (consisting of OPEC’s Arab members plus Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) began an oil embargo that would last through March of 1974. The cause of the embargo: Intervention. During the Yom Kippur War between Egypt and Syria versus Israel, other Arab nations had lent […]

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Forty years ago this month, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (consisting of OPEC’s Arab members plus Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) began an oil embargo that would last through March of 1974.

The cause of the embargo: Intervention. During the Yom Kippur War between Egypt and Syria versus Israel, other Arab nations had lent their support to their brothers in northern Africa (as well as the Soviet Union, who supplied weapons). In turn, the United States helped their ally (who had gone on full nuclear alert) by supplying arms and other goods through President Richard Nixon’s authorization of Operation Nickle Grass. This prompted OAPEC to respond by beginning an oil embargo whose effects still linger to this day.

In the United States — the main target of the embargo –this led to long lines at the pumps during the weekdays (after a suggestion by Nixon that gas station owners voluntarily not sell fuel on Saturday night and Sunday; 90 percent complied with the suggestion), odd-even fuel rationing, three-color flag systems denoting availability (or lack thereof) of any fuel, and the passing of the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, better known as the act that would set the national speed limit at 55 mph for the next two decades.

Though the first oil crisis would end when OAPEC accepted the promise of a settlement negotiated between Syria and Israel through the United States, the effects of the five-month-long embargo would linger for the rest of the decade and beyond.

Prior to the embargo, the most popular cars sold were large and in charge with big V8s to pull them along the highway. After the shock, however, most motorists sought out smaller, more fuel efficient offerings from Europe and Japan. The shock also gave birth to compact trucks, such as the Chevrolet LUV and Toyota Hilux, and prompted the Big Three to offer their own import fighters prior to downsizing their entire lineup of cars by the end of the 1970s, and the switch to front-wheel drive that would come to dominate the 1980s.

The shock also affected motorsports, with the cancellation of both the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1974, and NASCAR reducing all race distances by 10 percent.

And of course, the 1973 oil crisis set off the movement to find as many energy sources as possible (and ways to conserve said energy) to reduce if not outright eliminate dependence on foreign oil, as any Albertan or North Dakotan could explain in detail today to anyone who will listen.

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Piston Slap: Modern Sleeper, Future Classic? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/piston-slap-modern-sleeper-future-classic/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/piston-slap-modern-sleeper-future-classic/#comments Tue, 25 Dec 2012 11:46:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=471473 TTAC Commentator Halftruth writes: Hey Sajeev, While watching the Mecum auto auctions recently, a beautiful Plymouth GTX came thru on the auction block. It got me thinking about the rash of brand-icide we’ve seen these past ten or so years. As they pass, others come in. So my question is, are the newbies up to the […]

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TTAC Commentator Halftruth writes:

Hey Sajeev,

While watching the Mecum auto auctions recently, a beautiful Plymouth GTX came thru on the auction block. It got me thinking about the rash of brand-icide we’ve seen these past ten or so years. As they pass, others come in.

So my question is, are the newbies up to the task? I know Olds, Pontiac and Plymouth kind of slid into oblivion after the glory days but will there be a newly minted brand that you think will have staying power and be a “classic”? Or perhaps an already existing one?

Sajeev answers:

History is a bizarre thing: when my 1988 Cougar was new, it was quite the head turner.  One person tangentially connected to our family was enamored with it.  But, 10 years ago, nobody understood why I was pumping thousands into its resto-modification treatment. Why not do it to a Fox Mustang? It’s easier! Why not get an LT-1 Camaro instead?  That’s a waaay better car, right?

But these days I drive the Cougar on the highway and necks snap to witness its sleek, quasi-aero 1980s monochrome red coachwork. Drunk guys at local bars yell out “COOOUGAR” when it rumbles out of the parking lot: as if somehow it knows Courtney Cox, etc. I like my damn car for my reasons…but I see how cars become moderately-desirable classics with inherent, unexpected future value.

Am I expecting the Cougar to be somewhat valuable 20 years from now?  No, and I don’t care either. Ferrari, Corvette, Lamborghini, Mustang, Ford GT, Camaro, Viper, etc.  They are the obvious future classics.

So here are some forgotten models from modern brands that I think will, unlike my Cougar, be hot auction fodder:

  1. Acura Integra: A fantastic machine in every respect, with a cult following.  Definitely a car that will shine on in the auctions of the future.  And if it’s a Type R?  LOOK OUT!
  2. Subaru WRX/Mitsubishi EVO:  these turbo-beasties will be great collector car fodder, and rare too!  How often do you see a 5+ year old model that’s clean, low mile, UNMODIFIED in the used car market right now?
  3. V-series Cadillacs:  they are the spiritual successor to the performance Pontiacs from the 60s and 70s. While an STS-V may be valuable like those Gran Prixs with the 8-lug wheels, the CTS-V is most certainly the next GTO Judge.
  4. Lexus Coupes, V8 sedans: See above, except change the Pontiac reference to Cadillac. The SC ad LS have a loyal following both in new and used car markets for their top drawer appointments and reputation for being the best of the best. That won’t change in the future, especially for the SC 300/400.
  5. Anything Hyundai Genesis: they look decent, are RWD, and have a chance to really make an impact to those displaced by Pontiac, Olds, Plymouth, Mercury, Lincoln, Cadillac, etc. Like Apple products’ mass appeal these days, they will get better as time marches on.
  6. Scion xB (first-gen) and FR-S: even if it doesn’t live up to the hype for you, these will be a hot commodity.
  7. Teslas, Fiskers:  these proto-mainstream hybrid playtoys for rich people point to a future when Hybrids are more than just a trim job on a Lexus, or a boring Prius.  Think about the star-crossed DeLorean’s appeal these days.
  8. Honda Civic CRX, Si: while all CRXs are cool, I’m referring only to the Si’s from 1990s. It’s hard to argue with their mass appeal and silly amounts of driving fun. Everyone loves them, and we never forgot their awesomeness.
  9. Any SRT/SVT product:  collectors tend to wet themselves at the sight of a bone-stock, low mile, HEMI from the 70s these days.  Expect the same from the SRT brand in the future. Ford’s SVT group will do the same, Focus and Contour aside.
  10. Toyota Supra, Mk IV: the positively heroic amounts of power made from tweaked Turbo Supras made this machine a God among men. Even clean non-turbo models fetch good money these days, and that will continue.
  11. 2013 Lincoln MKZ:  just kidding. The Kia Optima has a better chance at being a collector’s item!
  12. Nissan GT-R: this will be the matching numbers, L-88 Corvette for the next generation.
  13. Lexus LFA: see above, except change L-88 to ZL-l.
  14. Anything HUMMER: yes, it’s already a dead brand, but SUVs will do well in the collector car market of our future.  And there’s no better SUV statement than the Hummer H2 Alpha, especially in douchebag yellow.
  15. Any BMW M product:  Most every M3 will command a high dollar in tommorow’s import centric collector car market.  Who hasn’t loved driving one?  Who wouldn’t want one when they have more disposable income? My favorite will be the E39 M5.
  16. Anything AMG: see above.
  17. Anything AMG Black Series: see above, and multiply by 5.
  18. Porsche Boxster/Cayman:  they sell many more Porkers these days…which makes for a bigger following. Maybe not muscle car big, but you get the point. And with a more accessible market today comes a hotter collector market in the future.
  19. Mercury Marauder, anything Panther:  okay, this is total bullshit. But if I say “PANTHER LOVE” enough for the next 30 years…right???
Food for thought.  Have a great Christmas Day!

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Hammer Time: Futuramic Oldsmobile! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/hammer-time-futuramic-oldsmobile/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/hammer-time-futuramic-oldsmobile/#comments Sat, 15 Dec 2012 19:56:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=468676 I have very little love for nostalgia because, to be frank, the auto auctions I visit every week are overflowing with it. As the Rivethead, Ben Hamper, was fond of saying, “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence until you start cutting that shit down.” For me that fecal threshing consists […]

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I have very little love for nostalgia because, to be frank, the auto auctions I visit every week are overflowing with it.

As the Rivethead, Ben Hamper, was fond of saying, “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence until you start cutting that shit down.”

For me that fecal threshing consists of repairs, recon work, and getting a car from yesteryear in the hands of someone who loves it far more than yours truly.

But I do have one tender spot in my heart when it comes to true automotive works of art.  Especially when they’re loaded with old school kitsch and delusional fantasies.

I recently found three original Oldsmobile dealer promos from the glory days of the late 60’s.

Now keep in mind we’re not talking about the type of retro art that makes most folks “oooohh” and “aaahhh” with wondrous amazement at one’s buying prowess. No, this was just typical kinda cool kitsch that I found at the nearby Blue Chicken Auction in Dallas, GA on a Friday night.

For some reason these classic Oldsmobile posters and hang-ups appealed to me in a way no Roger Smith era wall art ever could.

 

Elementary school arts and craft designs intermingled with the promise and potential of space age technology and powerful thrusts of American made glory. All for your joy Mr. Customer!

An outer circle, an inner circle, and a golden rocket taking us ever upwards to the glories of future Oldsmobiles.

There was one other thing I bought in that grouping which may have indeed given ol’ Roger a little inspiration for his demonic Saturn spawn.

That other, other, other import fighting division in GM’s seven headed monster that ended up cannibalizing itself.

“FUTURAMIC OLDSMOBILE!”

There is just something “awe shucks!” inspiring in that classical space age, paperboard, mega sized poster that spoke to me at the Blue Chicken Auction that evening. For once, I had to give in to my frugal nature. If for nothing else, than the sheer joy of owning what once was an American icon.

The bidding started at 5 dollars from yours truly.

About five seconds grinded by, the auctioneer was within a hair whisk of the hammer going down..  when all of a sudden…

6! Damn!

I popped back in at 7. A brief bidding war with the shadows came and went, and I soon became the new owner of all three Oldsmobile Futuramics for 11 dollars, times the money.

11 times three came to 33. Add the 7% buyers premium and 7% tax, and the final real total came to 37.55.

Did I get a good deal? Well, who knows. For now it is occupying my man cave next to the last known skinny picture of John Travolta and an old play called “Hair: the American Tribal Love Rock Musical.” The only two things I still have in my life which date all the way back to the Reagan era and my 16th birthday.

I can’t recall a time when I ever bought a piece of automotive art that didn’t have an engine attached to it. But the Futuramic Oldsmobile artwork just seemed so simple, so hokey, and so well aligned with the neighboring art at my office, that I just couldn’t resist the seduction of that moment.

Besides if I get the urge to drive my only Oldsmobile on the lot. The Cadillac of minivans no less. What better way to memorialize that experience than by leaving behind three more pieces of Oldsmobile history to keep the skinny Travolta and super-afro hallucinogenic man company.

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Tycho’s Illustrated History Of Chinese Cars: The Benz-like Vehicles Of Bamin Auto http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/tychos-illustrated-history-of-chinese-cars-the-benz-like-vehicles-of-bamin-auto/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/tychos-illustrated-history-of-chinese-cars-the-benz-like-vehicles-of-bamin-auto/#comments Fri, 12 Oct 2012 14:57:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=463562 The Chinese Army was a great admirer of Benzes, so much that they built their own. Bamin State Automobile Works, or Bamin Automobile for short, was based in Minhou in Fujian Province. The company was owned by the Chinese army, it was also called the ‘PLA 7427 Works’. Bamin Automobile started business in the late […]

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The Chinese Army was a great admirer of Benzes, so much that they built their own. Bamin State Automobile Works, or Bamin Automobile for short, was based in Minhou in Fujian Province. The company was owned by the Chinese army, it was also called the ‘PLA 7427 Works’. Bamin Automobile started business in the late 1980′s with a local licensed variant of the Beijing 212; the Bamin BM212A/BM213A.

The design of Bamins was very much inspired by the Mercedes-Benz W123 that was made from 1975 until 1975. But Bamin also liked heartier fare,as evidenced by the Bamin variant of the Russian-style Beijing BJ212:

The five-door variant was called Bamin BM212A, the three-door variant was called the BM213A. On this picture, a BM212A is parked next to an original Beijing BJ212. Bamin made quite a few changes. The soft top from the Beijing was replaced with a hard top and the front window was completely redesigned. Putting personal touches on Russian army jeeps was not enough for Bamin, they wanted more, and that’s when the Benz-like vehicles came in…

The vehicles looked a little jacked-up, and that is because they are based on… the very same BJ212 chassis! Bamin made two variants: a pickup truck and a wagon. They might look like sedans, but they were pickup trucks, made to look like the W123 Mercedes-Benz sedan. The names are even more confusing. The base versions of the pickup and wagon were both called Bamin BM2022A. The more luxurious version of the pickup was called Bamin 1020 KHA (first pic), the more luxurious version of the wagon was called Bamin BM6480. And then there was something in the middle, the vehicle on this photo, called the Bamin BM1020KH.

A Bamin BM2022A, seen by Dutch journalist Jan van der Made in 1994 in Chengdu.

This story would not have been possible without his picture and the incredible archive and memory of the Great Automotive Explorer Erik from ChineseCars.net who provided all the pictures of the old Bamins in this article.

Build quality was so so, but not that bad for the times. The Benz-Bamins and Bamin BM212A/BM213A were all powered by a locally produced variant of the engine that powered the Beijing BJ212; a 2.4 liter four-cylinder with 73hp and 172nm.

Sadly, we don’t know who designed these beauties, and neither do we know how many were made. The Chinese auto industry was a very colorful mess in those days with factories producing whatever they wanted without much regulations in place. In the late 1980′s, there were over 200 ‘car makers’ making cars in China, most didn’t make more than a a few hundred vehicles a year at best. These were the really crazy days that are basically forgotten by now, not only abroad but in China as well. We will make sure at least some vehicles will be remembered.

Production of the Bamin-Benzes ended sometime in the early 1990′s. As far as we know none survived but we might have to go to Fujian to be sure. At the time, most auto makers didn’t sell many cars outside their own province. This is also one of the reasons why knowledge about this period is so limited.

Bamin continued in the late 1990′s with the BM213A, a rather cool looking vehicle based yet again on the BJ212, which was by then renamed to BJ2022. The engine was still the same 2.4 four-cylinder.

The last Bamin ever made was the CJY6420E, based on the BM213A. A much rounder design with a Pajero-inspired front, but in the end it was still the good old BJ212 underneath, powered again by the same 2.4 four-cylinder. The CJY6420E continued all the way until the early 2000′s.

Bamin Automobile survived until 2010 when the company was declared bankrupt. Too bad! Bamin was a great example of the automotive dreamland China once was, but just like so many other small players, Bamin just didn’t have the cash to develop something really new. No government bailout for PLA Works 7427.

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Question: What Was the First Car You Remember Riding In? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/question-what-was-the-first-car-you-remember-riding-in/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/question-what-was-the-first-car-you-remember-riding-in/#comments Fri, 18 May 2012 16:32:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=445072 Mother’s Day last weekend got me to thinking about the first car ride I ever took: a cruise home from the hospital in my parents’ 1956 Olds 88. Thing is, that car got destroyed by a combination of Minnesota rust and Minnesota deer a few months later and I don’t remember it. My first identifiable […]

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Mother’s Day last weekend got me to thinking about the first car ride I ever took: a cruise home from the hospital in my parents’ 1956 Olds 88. Thing is, that car got destroyed by a combination of Minnesota rust and Minnesota deer a few months later and I don’t remember it. My first identifiable car memory involves crawling around on the slippery blue vinyl back seat (without benefit of baby seat or even seat belts) of my dad’s late-60s company car: a 1967 Ford Custom 500 sedan with three-on-the-floor and overdrive. What’s yours?
I recall the intoxicating deep vroom of the big Ford’s 289 and the vast space for squabbling with my sisters in the back seat and Vietnam War news on the AM radio, but most of all I remember being fascinated by the action of that tall Rat Fink-style floor shift. It made me want to drive! Some of the credit or blame for my current career path certainly belongs with this Dearborn product. Your turn now, and I’m really hoping we have some readers who grew up in the ex-USSR and have GAZ-21 Volga memories!

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Neil Armstrong’s 1967 Chevrolet Corvette 427 For Sale http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/neil-armstrongs-1967-chevrolet-corvette-427-for-sale/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/neil-armstrongs-1967-chevrolet-corvette-427-for-sale/#comments Wed, 02 May 2012 17:44:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=442487 As a teenager, I idolized Tom Wolfe after reading Bonfire of the Vanities. By the end of high school, I had read every single book read by him, and his too-brief description of the muscle cars of American astronauts in The Right Stuff instantly came back to me (along with the smells of my high […]

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As a teenager, I idolized Tom Wolfe after reading Bonfire of the Vanities. By the end of high school, I had read every single book read by him, and his too-brief description of the muscle cars of American astronauts in The Right Stuff instantly came back to me (along with the smells of my high school cafeteria) upon seeing this ad.

Wolfe recounts a story of the astronauts befriending car dealer and 1960 Indy 500 winner Jim Rathmann. Rathmann was also friends with Chevrolet head Ed Cole. The two of them made sure that the astronauts got behind the wheel of Cole’s products

Eventually, Gus and Gordo had Corvettes like Al Shepard’s; Wally moved up from an Austin-Healy to a Maserati; and Scott Carpenter got a Shelby Cobra, a true racing vehicle. Al was continually coming by Rathmann’s to have his gear ratios changed. Gus wanted flared fenders and magnesium wheels. The fever gripped them all, but Gus and Gordo especially. They were determined to show the champ, Rathmann, and each other that they could handle these things. Gus would go out rat-racing at night at the Cape, racing full-bore for the next curve, dealing with the oncoming headlights by psychokinesis, spinning off the shoulders and then scrambling back up on the highway for more of it. It made you cover up your eyes and chuckle at the same time. The boys were fearless in an automobile, they were determined to hang their hides right out over the edge—and they had no idea what mediocre drivers they actually were, at least by the standards of professional racing.

Like Gus Grissom and Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong evidently had a Corvette at some point in his life. This example, now owned by a private citizen who apparently bought it from a NASA employee after Armstrong’s use, isn’t in the best condition. British classic car fanciers would tout its “lovely patina” and “provenance”.

Just what type of restoration the car would need is up for debate. I’m of the opinion that cars should be driven and enjoyed, not garaged and gawked at, but it’s important to strike a balance between keeping the car’s history intact, and bringing it up to an appropriate condition.

Thanks to Bring a Trailer for the link

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When A Nissan Won The Daytona 24 Hours http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/when-a-nissan-won-the-daytona-24-hours/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/when-a-nissan-won-the-daytona-24-hours/#comments Sat, 18 Feb 2012 16:59:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=431479 The early 90s were tough times. Stock markets had crashed, real estate bubbles had popped, budgets were slashed.  The fabled  Daytona 24 hours endurance race survived (barely) with Rolex as a sponsor. In 1992, the field was down to 49 cars, one of them a newcomer from Japan, Number 23, fielded by Nissan’s Nismo (Nissan […]

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The early 90s were tough times. Stock markets had crashed, real estate bubbles had popped, budgets were slashed.  The fabled  Daytona 24 hours endurance race survived (barely) with Rolex as a sponsor.

In 1992, the field was down to 49 cars, one of them a newcomer from Japan, Number 23, fielded by Nissan’s Nismo (Nissan Motorsports International) factory team.

Nismo brought its prototype R91CP car, with Masahiro Hasemi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino, and Toshio Suzuki as drivers. Only Hasemi had U.S. driving experience.

After the second lap, number 23 took the lead, and never surrendered it. The only car that came close to being a challenge, the Porsche, broke down in the morning of the second day.

The team credited most of its wins not to engine or driving, but to its headlights. Technical Chief Kunihiko Kakimoto remembers:

“These HID headlights contributed greatly to the victory. We co-developed these with our supplier Ichikoh, which had very good technology. There were many competitors and other suppliers developing HID headlights, but Ichikoh had one of the best in terms of performance and reliability.”

After the race, Nissan was approached by second-placed Jaguar. They wanted to buy the HID headlights, and were ready to pay as much as Nissan wanted.

The Daytona beach nearly did cost Nissan the victory. Sand had clogged up the radiator and the engine was overheating. Washing off the sand did not do it. Nissan had so much of a lead time that someone could be dispatched to the store, detergent was bought, and the sand was removed.

When the checkered flag came down, Nissan No.23 was nine laps ahead of the Jaguar XJR-12, it had done a record 762 laps at an average speed of nearly 113 miles per hour and over 2,700 miles. Never again in the history of the Rolex 24 had a winning team completed as many laps.

R91CP Specifications

Overall length / width / height: 4,800/1,990/1,100mm

Wheelbase: 2,795mm

Tread (front/rear): 1,600/1,560mm

Curb weight: Over 930kg

Engine: VRH35Z (V8, DOHC), 3,496cc

Engine Max. power: Over 500kW (680PS)/7,200rpm

Engine Max. torque: Over 784Nm (80.0kgm)/5,200rpm

Engine Turbocharger: IHI twin turbo

Transmission: VGC (5-speed)

Suspension: Double wishbone (front & rear)

Brakes: 14in. carbon (front & rear)

Tires (wheels)(front): 25.5×12.0x17 (13Jx17)

Tires(wheels)(rear): 28.5×14.5×18 (15Jx18)

Tires by Goodyear

Nissan R91CP. Picture courtesy Nissan Nissan R91CP. Picture courtesy Nissan #23 Nissan R91CP in action during 1992 Rolex 24 at Daytona, FL. Picture courtesy Nissan Nissan R91CP. Picture courtesy Nissan #23 Nissan R91CP in the pits during 1992 Rolex 24 at Daytona, FL. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP.  Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP.  Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP.  Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP, rear view, displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP, cockpit,  displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP, cockpit,  displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP.  Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP, driver's side door raised, on display at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Return Of Sakura And Fuji: The Dogged Datsuns Run Again http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/return-of-sakura-and-fuji-the-dogged-datsuns-run-again/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/return-of-sakura-and-fuji-the-dogged-datsuns-run-again/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2011 17:10:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=423576 Remember Sakura and Fuji, the two tiny Datsun 210s that went to “The World’s Cruelest Rally” and came home with a trophy? This story has a sequel. In 1958, two Datsuns, named “Fujii” and “Sakura”  entered  the Mobilgas Trial, 10,000 miles all around Australia. Surprisingly, “Fuji” won its class title. “Sakura” finished fourth. Half a […]

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Remember Sakura and Fuji, the two tiny Datsun 210s that went to “The World’s Cruelest Rally” and came home with a trophy? This story has a sequel.

In 1958, two Datsuns, named “Fujii” and “Sakura”  entered  the Mobilgas Trial, 10,000 miles all around Australia. Surprisingly, “Fuji” won its class title. “Sakura” finished fourth.

Half a century later, the cars were found in a warehouse in Japan.  A team of Nissan  volunteers set out to restore the cars. The restoration took place at the Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, 28 miles southwest of Tokyo.

With the resources of Nissan’s engineering center, the restoration should go smoothly, you think? The team ran into the same problems any restorer has to contend with: Parts.

No car company stocks parts for cars made half a century ago.  Help came with James Haupt, usually based at Nissan Technical Center North America. He found some critical parts, for instance a very old ’50s British car speedometer that had been used in the original Datsuns.

“Sakura” was the easier job. “Fuji” had suffered significant wear and tear and was in bad shape. Finally, Fuji was like nw. Well, not quite: The dent in the front fender that came courtesy of a tree that was in the way during the 1958 race, was also faithfully restored.

Finally, in December, the cars were in running condition again. They were shown to 30,000 fans that cam to the annual Nismo Festival at Fuji Speedway. Half a century later, the cars that made Datsun famous and a country proud, were on  a racetrack again. This time, it was smooth and nicely paved, unlike the 10,000 miles of dust and dirt all around Australia.

Sakura. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Fuji's dented fender was preserved. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Fuji gets fuel. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Fuji (front) and Sakura at the NISMO Festival. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Fuj  and Sakura just before the start of their parade lap during the NISMO Festival. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Fuji restoration. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Sakura and Fuji at the NISMO Festival. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Will it start? Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom

 

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Saab: The Eulogy http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/saab-the-eulogy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/saab-the-eulogy/#comments Wed, 21 Dec 2011 22:48:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=422979 Brethren, we are once again gathered together to mourn the passing of another automobile company. Saab was of that rare breed of car that always had a band of devoted, aye, fanatical followers. In her prime, Saab could not fail to ignite the after-burners of anyone with a predilection to genuine character, speed, innovation, intelligence, […]

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Brethren, we are once again gathered together to mourn the passing of another automobile company. Saab was of that rare breed of car that always had a band of devoted, aye, fanatical followers. In her prime, Saab could not fail to ignite the after-burners of anyone with a predilection to genuine character, speed, innovation, intelligence, and even sexy good looks (at times). Not bad for a company that never once designed a clean-sheet new engine and borrowed more platforms than Heidi Klum. But when you’re small and from Sweden, resourcefulness is essential: Saab finagled an existence in this brutal industry far longer than might have been expected.  But now she joins an august group of other fallen automotive heroes in Valhalla: Borgward, Panhard, Tatra, Kaiser, Glas, TVR, Jowett, etc…better that then whoring herself to another rich benefactor. But Saab’s story is worth retelling.

Forget the “Born From Jets” tag line; it was propellers anyway. And in actuality, Saab was born out of necessity, as so much else at the end of the war. We built the factory, now what do we do? Do what everyone else was doing: build a car. And how? Easier said than done. Contrary to endless attempts to prove otherwise, there’s hardly anything in common between the two. So where to start?

How about with this? Saab wouldn’t be the only ones looking to DKW for inspiration. And what a brilliant car DKW’s F9 prototype was, especially in 1939. A highly aerodynamic body and a two stroke engine driving the front wheels. The car of the postwar future. What’s not to like?

Initially, the sixteen Saab aviation engineers (of which only two had a driver’s license) assigned to the task  came up with something a bit more radical and avaition-like, as in all the openings in the car being stressed members, like airplane hatches. Not practical. So they scoured junkyards, and bought some new cars, including a DKW. The more functional end result, the 92001, or Ursaab, certainly pays homage to the F9 as well as their relentless pursuit of an even lower coefficient of drag.

The prototype was powered by an actual DKW engine and transmission, a two-stroke twin producing 18 hp. With an (ac)claimed Cd of 0.30, the 92001 undoubtedly made the most of that modest power. Or at least looked like it. And rarely has an automobile company (save VW) had a more iconic birth-mobile.

And like the VW, it was hardly original. But what car is? Originality is largely overvalued anyway. As with any birth, what counts is  the harmonious convergence of genes. And although the Ursaab was more fetus than progeny, it embodied the qualities that would hence define (real) Saabs: feminine, creative, intelligent, feline, eccentric, distinctive, progressive.

No wonder Saabs came to be embraced by those attracted to its inherent qualities, to the extent of being stereotyped as a college professor’s car. As limited as any such generalization ever is, that expression did mean something more once than today. Or did it? Is the Prius a college professor’s car?

Maybe it’s easier to define Saab’s intrinsic personality by contrasting it to that other Swedish car company, Volvo. The two are almost perfect complements. Volvo dates back to 1927, and its cars have traditionally been, well, traditional. Firmly embraced by the more conservative set, there is a saying that captures its place in the Swedish mindset perfectly: Volvo, villa, vovve (Volvo, house, dog). No wonder Volvo came to be famous for their wagons, like the legendary Duett.

Volvo’s all-new car for the post war era, the PV444, may have adopted a bit of hump-backed aero-pretense, but it was fundamentally a brick compared to the Saab. And built like one too: tough, masculine, conventional in configuration and execution.  A solid and reliable burgher.

Of course, it was a bit different in the States, where Volvo was one of dozens of import brands, and also came to be associated with college professors as well as engineers and parents with kids in Waldorf schools. But that’s all relative; and even in the US, Saabs were always one or two steps to the quirky side of Volvo. And which company is still around, even if owned by the Chinese?

After a few years of refinement and the deft hand of the gifted industrial designer Sixten Sason, the Saab 92 entered production in 1949. The DKW engine gave way to Saab’s own interpretation of it: 746 cc, 25 hp, thermo-syphon cooling, and a three-speed transmission with column shift.  Top speed: 64 mph (105 kmh). Time to get there: indeterminate.

The nattering two-stroke spewed a plume of blue smoke on acceleration, and blubbered on over-run. A bit ironic then, that the stinky,smoky Saabs were so favored by the progressive set. But the idea of two stroke was enthralling to certain minds. Only seven moving engine parts! Just the thing to brag about over chianti while listening to a jazz combo. Smugness is born from (ram)jets: No moving parts at all!

But two-strokes are very receptive to tuning. By 1952, a Saab 92 (now with 35 hp) brought home the first of many victories at Monte Carlo, copping the Coupe des Dames there, with Greta Molander at the wheel. A delicate foreshadowing of greater things to come.

The skirts were really lifted for the Sonett I, Saabs first tentative foray into genuine sports cars. Developed in a barn by a few enthusiasts, the Sonett had a 57.5 hp version of Saab’s new three-cylinder two-stroke. Weighing some 1300 lbs, this was a brisk little barchetta good for 100 mph, nothing to sneeze at in 1955. Racing would have been its purpose in life, had the rules not suddenly changed. Although only a handful were built, it was not forgotten. How could it be?

The Saab was thoroughly re-engineered for 1955, now called 93. The new three-cylinder yielded 33 hp, still feeding through a three-speed, with over-run. The first Saab to be exported, it arrived in the US just as the great fifties import boom was really getting under way. Yes, these are what I used to see as a kid blowing smoke around the University of Iowa campus, confirming their stereotype.

And one of the kids in my grade school class rode in one of these. His Mom was at least as good looking as this one. Although the Type 95 had a perfectly functional rear-facing third seat despite its compact dimensions, I preferred to sit in the second seat, directly behind her. The back of her neck smelled much better than the exhaust sucked in from the open rear window.

The definitive first-generation Saab was the 96, built for some twenty years, until 1980. A more in-depth write-up can be found here, but  let’s just say Saab was doing a VW during all those years, with the biggest change coming in 1967, when impending emission regs killed the two-stroke once and for all. Ironic too, that an American-designed engine would be the only thing to fit under the hood in front of the axle line.

The little 60 degree V4 was originally intended for Ford’s VW fighter in the late fifties, the aborted Cardinal. The car and engine were shipped off to Cologne, Germany, where the V4 and its six cylinder offshoot powered millions of Euro-Fords, before finding its way back home into millions of Explorers and such. And of course Saab 96s, where it was embraced with welcome engine mounts. A number of other engines had been tried, but the Ford was right-sized and right-priced. Just not right-sounding, as it’s nigh-near impossible to make a V4 sound like its not missing a cylinder or two. But for the 96, it just was just another continuation of its eccentricities: from engine blubbering to engine stuttering.

Saab carved out an impressive corner in the world of racing by sticking mostly to rallying, if not all four wheels. The high-performance GT 850 Monte Carlo two-stroke, and the later V4s racked up repeat wins at Monte Carlo and elsewhere, especially in the hands of the legendary Erik Carlsson.

The Sonett re-emerged in 1966, this time as a coupe and production-ready, with the US as the prime intended market. Making room for the V4 only challenged its intrinsically compromised lines further. It was one of the most eccentric sports cars ever, at least from a mass-producer of automobiles. There were plenty of British limited-production plastic-bodied weirdos then, but who ever actually saw a Fairthorpe or Berkeley Sport? Sonetts, yes. Better to be inside it than the other way around.

The attempt to smooth out its bulbous nose on the Sonett III was somewhat successful. But with arrivals like the cheaper and infinitely more powerful and handsome Datsun 240Z, the Sonett’s few buyers were serious Saabistas, especially since it had all of 65 hp. A Karman Ghia without the Italian styling. But this was no damensportwagen; it was a gnarly little troll, and its buyers were certainly not needing for public expressions of their virility.

By the mid sixties, Saab was now twenty years old, and ready to make its mark in the automotive world. It was an ambitious act, and the most defining one. As well as the last truly all-new all-Saab. The 99 arrived in 1967, ready to take up battle with the likes of the small BMW, Alfa Romeo Giulia, and of course Volvo’s also-new 140 Series.

Despite reflecting a more rectilinear world-view of the times, the 99 still cut through the air with a very respectable Cd of 0.37. It was roomy, handled well, had fine brakes, was comfortable, offered excellent traction, and was powered by…well, nobody’s perfect (except BMW, of course).

The engineering firm Ricardo had assisted Saab in developing its own four stroke engine, but it was going to be too expensive to finalize and put into production. So Ricardo put Saab in touch with another client, Triumph, that was just about to put its own new SOHC “Slant Four” engine in production. Saab once again did the (seemingly) expedient thing, and had engines shipped from England. It won’t come as a surprise to hear that this didn’t work out so well. By 1972, Saab started building its own improved version of the engine, now known as the B engine.

As is fairly obvious, Saab 99 and 900 engines were mounted “backwards”, with the output and clutch at the front, then feeding power to the transaxle mounted underneath the engine, although with its own oil supply. Mustn’t be too conventional.

In 1974, Saab added a sloping rear hatchback to both its two and four door 99s, creating the combi coupé, or Wagon Back, in Americanese. This became a defining aspect to most Saabs hence, or it least it seems that way. And it was remarkably roomy back there, thanks to the low floor height. It was the closest Saab got to building an actual wagon in a long time. Meanwhile,Volvo was churning out wagons by the boatload.

 

During the seventies, when American cars lost their mojo, Saab’s was very well intact, and growing. The 99 started out reasonably powered by European standards of the time, but that was just a starting point. Increases in displacement, fuel injection, and the sporty EMS model countered the trend convincingly. But the real kicker was the 99 Turbo, which blew a fresh and stiff new breeze upon the automotive landscape. And made indelible impressions on those who ever got behind its wheel.

At a time when Detroit V8s were making as little as 110 hp, the two-liter turbo four packed all of 145 hp. Sounds ridiculous now, but in 1978, it was a revelation. Especially compared to the BMW 320i, which had all of 105 hp. It’s all relative, and the Saab Turbo helped spark the whole turbo revolution. Soon Dodge Caravans would be proudly sporting turbo badges. The Saab 99 Turbo was a prophet of the eighties, as malaise gave way to yuppiedom.

The short-nosed Turbo 99 had a brief life, and is hard to find in the wild anymore. Replaced in 1979 by the 900 series, which featured a longer sloping hood to help meet US front impact standards. The (original) 900 probably defines the “Classic” Saab better than any other. Certainly more so than the Vectra-based neo-900.

Convertibles, and higher performance models, along with an ever-greater refinement in technology, 16 valve heads, electronic engine controls, and minor body tweaks kept the 900 going all the way to 1993. A remarkable 25 year run for the definitive Saab.

Well before the 900’s protracted demise, Saab knew it had to be replaced. But the complexities and costs of developing a brand new car was too much, so Saab joined hands with Fiat on the Type Four platform, that would constitute the Saab 9000 of 1984, as well as the very similar Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema, and the better disguised Alfa 164. A competent and roomy car, it was a bit more challenged in taking on the deeply entrenched and successful mid-sized premium cars like the Mercedes E-Series and BMW 5-Series. Buyers in this class were not so readily moved by the inherent advantages of fwd and a hatchback. A sedan version soon followed, but obviously the fwd was here to stay.

The usual progression of styling tweaks and performance updates tried to keep the 9000 relevant and attractive. The reality was that the 9000 was not a hit, and Saab was in a pickle. The 900 was aging quickly, and the 9000 was not producing the profits necessary to even contemplate successor cars for either of them. Saab’s ambitious push into the premium sector was stalled, and the nose was pointing earthward, precariously so. Time to bail out, or be bailed out. Where are the parachutes?

That GM would be the one to buy Saab was not a good omen. It was obviously a case of Jaguar envy, after Ford snapped up that equally desperate automaker. Undoubtedly, GM would have preferred BMW, but it kept saying nein danke! Everyone was getting into the Euro premium car game, and never being one to be left out, GM bit where it could. Who would have thought?

Thinking didn’t appear to be the primary factor; more like fear of getting left behind. That’s one of the most powerful decision drivers ever, usually for the worse. And how exactly was GM going to successfully manage another weak brand? At the end of the worst decade of its existence, when its own market share was imploding? In the usual way, by platform sharing.

Ok, but execution is the key, and Saab’s (unfortunately named) neo 900, riding on an Opel Vectra platform, was quickly seen for what it was: the future of Saab, for better and for worse. Saab now had access to capital, technology, and GM’s euro-V6 engine, but quality and genuine Saab-ness were sorely missing.

After five years of GM’s involvement and sanitizing, Saab finally showed an operating profit for 1995. It was not to be a regularly recurring feature. Not that it kept GM from buying the rest of the company in 2000; they were too committed by then not to. Welcome to the growing GM orphanage!

GM’s versatile 2900 platform was duly enlarged a bit to accommodate the long-overdue 9000 replacement, the awkwardly named 9-5. Like the 900, soon to be called 9-3, these cars had their virtues and vices, lovers and haters. You can duke that out yourselves, but what can’t be argued is that they failed to save the brand, in more ways than one. GM had the answer to that problem too: brand extension, the formula that also worked so well at Saturn.

Have we almost forgotten (or repressed) the Saaburu? Graft a Saab nose on the Subaru WRX, and it’s…just about the best Saab made in ages! Here was the true successor to the spirit of the real old Saab. Too bad Subaru had co-opted that decades earlier. Subaru probably mopped up more ex-Saab and Volvo drivers than any other brand.

And as appealing as the 9-2x might have been with GM’s crazy discount prices at the time, the ruse was seen for what it was: another pathetic joke in GM badge-engineering’s comedy club. Also known as the Improv.

That was just the warm-up act. The headliner was the 9-7. An Saab born from truck frames and V8s. Probably the best SUV of its kind GM ever built; what more can be said? Poor Saab, now a sex change operation in its old age. What next?

Nothing. Our Eulogy ends here, because if the true Saab was still alive to some extent then, the 9-7 was the final straw. Everything that happened since are the twitches and jerks of a zombie. And we’ve been well inundated with the antics surrounding it.

Many may well have enjoyed a genuinely positive experience with their 9-5s and 9-3s and such, but the level of Saab fanaticism in these recent months is remarkable. It seems to be a reflection of the times: I’m entitled to have Saab, because I’ve pinned my self-identification to it. I’m owed Saab.

I’d have been much happier to see Saab go to its inevitable grave twenty years ago, without the GM years and recent histrionics. Death is never a pretty thing, car companies included. We might have spent the past twenty years arm-chairing endless “what -ifs” and “could-have” scenarios. But its hard to imagine anyone coming up with a more bizarre outcome.

So will we spend the next twenty years debating alternative outcomes? Not me. Saab was an iffy proposition from the get-go, and there’s really no room left in the market for what Saab once embodied. Others have long plucked its remaining useful attributes and made them their own.

If there really was to be a true Saab born from airplanes today, it might look something more like this. And we all know how that turned out. Everything has a season, and Saab’s is well over.

 Thanks to Ingvar Hallstrom for the insights

 Paul Niedermeyer is the Editor of Curbside Classic, where every car has a story

 

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That Took Guts: How A Funky Little Datsun Won The World’s Cruelest Rally http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/that-took-guts-how-a-funky-little-datsun-won-the-world%e2%80%99s-cruelest-rally/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/that-took-guts-how-a-funky-little-datsun-won-the-world%e2%80%99s-cruelest-rally/#comments Sun, 18 Dec 2011 15:18:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=422740 It was known as “The World’s Cruelest Rally:” The Mobilgas Trial, 10,000 miles all around Australia. In 1958, there were two entries, regarded as a joke by the burly Aussies: A pair of tiny Datsun 210s, named “Fuji” and “Sakura”. The suicidal idea was had by marketing manager Yutaka Katayama. Aged 102 years, he is […]

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It was known as “The World’s Cruelest Rally:” The Mobilgas Trial, 10,000 miles all around Australia. In 1958, there were two entries, regarded as a joke by the burly Aussies: A pair of tiny Datsun 210s, named “Fuji” and “Sakura”.

The suicidal idea was had by marketing manager Yutaka Katayama. Aged 102 years, he is still alive to tell the story:

“We didn’t think we would win – we would probably lose. But it wouldn’t matter if we won or lost, as long as we completed the race.”

“Fuji” and “Sakura” rounded Australia for 19 days. Only 36 out of 67 cars managed to complete the rally. Surprisingly, the two Datsuns were amongst the survivors.

Even more surprisingly “Fuji” won its class title. “Sakura” finished fourth.

Back home in Japan, the cars had to hit the road again. This time on a celebratory tour around Japan. The unexpected win helped pave the way for Nissan’s exports to the United States, led by Katayama as president of Nissan Motor Corp U.S.A.

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“America’s Car Museum” Rises In Tacoma http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/americas-car-museum-rises-in-tacoma/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/americas-car-museum-rises-in-tacoma/#comments Sat, 22 Oct 2011 19:10:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=415612 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 […]

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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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ZAP Still Alive, Alias Still Coming (Or Not) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/zap-still-alive/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/zap-still-alive/#comments Sat, 22 Oct 2011 18:52:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=415613 One of the earliest iterations of the “Low Speed Vehicle Today, World EV Domination Tomorrow” business model to emerge at the dawn of the electric car era was ZAP. But after being exposed on numerous occasions for its poor product quality, vaporware hype and stock manipulation (most infamously in this Wired story), ZAP disappeared from the EV […]

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One of the earliest iterations of the “Low Speed Vehicle Today, World EV Domination Tomorrow” business model to emerge at the dawn of the electric car era was ZAP. But after being exposed on numerous occasions for its poor product quality, vaporware hype and stock manipulation (most infamously in this Wired story), ZAP disappeared from the EV scene in the US (the company’s official (read: sanitized) history can be found here). Last we heard, ZAP was hyping a venture with the Korean optics firm Samyang, but it seems the firm has spending the last year or so putting down roots in the Chinese market. Having merged with Jonway, the Chinese maker of scooters, ATVs and a CUV that looks suspiciously like the Toyota RAV4, ZAP came back to the US for the Automotive X-Prize, which it contested in a ZAP Alias, the three-wheeled, $38k vehicle that has not been produced in volume although the company is still accepting deposits for it. The Alias failed to finish in the X-Prize, but ZAP says that revenue from Jonway is funding the vehicle’s continued development (including a four-wheeled version)… which was supposed to debut way back in 2009.

Now Consumer Reports says the firm is focusing on selling electric RAV4 knockoffs produced by Jonway as it continues to work on the Alias. But the firm seems to have burnt too many bridges in the US, as it says it will focus on selling the EVs in China and other world markets… despite the fact that developing market EV sales are going nowhere.  But ZAP has left something of a legacy in the US: Senator Mitch McConnell, a critic of government loans for Solyndra, apparently pushed for a quarter-billion dollar federal loan to ZAP, opening him to charges of hypocrisy. Now, as ever, ZAP remains a fascinating fixture at the margins of the EV scene. And though it’s an interesting company to watch, it’s best when viewed from a safe distance…

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