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? (Read More…)
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.
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. (Read More…)
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. (Read More…)
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. (Read More…)
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: (Read More…)
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.
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…
Axle and transfer case-maker Marmon-Herrington is still around, supplying OEMs and the aftermarket alike with up-rated drivetrain components. But back in the ’40s and ’50s, the firm designed its own vehicles as well, from an air-droppable tank, to a South African armored car, to monocoque electric trolley buses. Its predecessor company, Marmon Motor Car Company, even built the first car to win the Indy 500, the Marmon Wasp. Sadly this beast, an experimental amphibious off-road (on-marsh) vehicle called the Rhino (more here), was never produced. Otherwise, the Marmon name might have been exhumed during the ’90s SUV boom by a bespoke coachbuilding firm, offering specially-bodied medium-duty truck chassis bearing the brand name that won the first Indy 500 and parachuted into Nazi Germany. Imagine the possibilities…
Remember the video of Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn testing the quality of the new Hyundai i30? Thanks to Autobild, we’ve found a companion video from the Frankfurt Show, in which Winterkorn, along with VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech, gives the once-over to the new European-market Honda Civic. According to Autobild, Piech kept his nickname “Fugen-Ferdi” (Gap-Ferdi) relevant by checking the new Civic’s panel gaps. And, in contrast to the Hyundai video, the intelligible portions of Winterkorn’s commentary were less than entirely complimentary. The German magazine reports
A member of the VW entourage says that “(Honda) has had good role models.” But the big boss played down the praise for VW with a smile, and responded generously “they were once a role model for us.”
Note the use of the past tense, then contrast with Winterkorn’s reaction to the Hyundai. In just two videos you can see the balance of automotive power shifting…