By on March 15, 2015
Gallery links below

Gallery links below

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

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.


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.”

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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17 Comments on “Heritage Cuts Both Ways...”

  • avatar

    I guess it all depends on perspective. I was at the Chicago auto show, I too saw big crowds around the old Alfa’s (and the model in the tight dress), but fewer people near the new Alfa 4C, which is fine because that is the car I wanted to see. Maybe because it’s because I wasn’t alive in the 60’s, and I don’t know what the Type 33 Stradale is. I love all things auto racing, but the difference I wasn’t going to fight the crowd. While it was a beautiful car and I noted the Alfa racing heritage there, I ignored the classic and focused on the red 4C, a car I was looking at ordering for myself in the launch edition variant. Not sure if it would be that much different with the Ford GT. I’ve seen GT40’s close up and had a great opportunity during a private tour at Indy to really see one close, but I was very interested in the new GT. To me, nothing is overshadowed. That linkage is important. I told numerous co-workers about the Alfa 4C and the Ford GT, and almost every time I had to explain what those cars were and google images. Typically resulting in an answer of, wow, never seen that, but it’s beautiful. Even worse if I had to explain the racing heritage of the GT40.

  • avatar

    All I can say it than you for both a good story AND taking me back to the ‘ol days in Chi Towne!. I remember the old stage well. I remember the bands and the smoke from the weed.
    I remember good old Grand Funk Railroad as well, especially them doing “I’m You Captain”, or Closer To Home…or whatever the title was.

    And I remember the days watching on TV the Ford GT tearing up the raceways. If I remember correctly, wasn’t there a race when the GT had all 3 front spots locked up when that knucklehead Italian Stallion Andretti smashed them all up???

  • avatar

    Wow, look at those lines. Look at the curves. Incredibly voluptuous.

    And then there’s the cars…they aren’t too bad either.

  • avatar

    Isn’t there a point being missed by automakers being upstaged by their past successes? The point being that the old classics are beautiful, more beautiful than current offerings, even though they don’t have the latest electronic toys, the latest styling “language”, and would fare poorly in wind tunnel tests.

    I doubt that automakers are getting the hint, just as they fail to understand the reasons the public gives for preferring SUVs, CUVs and crossovers: a desire to sit up higher and more upright, with better ease of entry/exit. That’s an indictment of car design, with low roofs, high beltlines, sunken seating, difficult entry/exit, and poor visibility.

    That’s what killed full size family sedans, and automakers are busy building new generation SUVs, CUVs, and crossovers with high beltlines, low roofs, slit windows, zero rear visibility, etc., giving families no choice but 4-door full sized pickups.

  • avatar

    I think adding a shot of the winning new GT would enhance the story. Then again, the Internet still works so I took care of it on my own. Thanks for a fantastic and insightful story on a Sunday. You are by far my favorite history professor.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the kind words. I’m hoping to have a piece with photos of the two GTs that Ford showed at Detroit and Chicago sometime soon. I’m working through processing about 3,000 image pairs that I’ve shot in the recent past.

  • avatar

    I am one of the few people willing to admit to owning a Nehru jacket. Purchased at Majestic Menswear on Clark. I was still under the spell of the lovely lass I had met at the ballroom the night before at a Little Feat show, who encouraged my questionable fashion taste. Uptown Chicago and nearby Ravenswood with the Black Hawk practice rink next to Aaron Russo’s Electric Theatre (where we saw Jefferson Airplane with Sigrid up front) are distillations of my early life of summer in Chicago. Trying to stay out of the way of Daley’s thugs at a Grant park riot when Sly Stone failed to show for a concert or only needing $4 to see a Cub’s game with a dog and a coke and fare for the El. The ramifications subsequent are fodder for either an indictment or a psychological Master’s thesis, depending on your viewpoint. Much like the dual edged sword of using a time-tested icon to call attention to your current offerings. I guess if you believe….

    • 0 avatar

      Airplane pre-Slick? Damn! Next thing you’ll be telling us is you got to see the The Great Society live.

      Closest I’ve got to match that is an Airplane concert at Gannon College, Erie, PA; where the band had to announce that Slick wouldn’t be appearing due to a cracked voice – but they were still coming to play. They offered refunds. 90% of the audience (probably pissed because they wouldn’t be hearing “White Rabbit”) took them up on the offer.

      The band still came. They still played. The 10% who stayed loyal got to hear Hot Tuna in either the first or second (I’ve heard stories both ways) time they ever played in public. I still have memories of that concert.

    • 0 avatar

      Ah…but do you remember watching The Siegel–Schwall Blues Band at the bar on Belmont?????

  • avatar

    The Aragon was a cool place to catch a band (a more intimate setting than those larger venues).

  • avatar

    Wouldn’t the original GT40 be the “older brother” to the 2005 GT?

  • avatar
    John R

    I’ve always maintained that Toyota should have made a greater effort to link the 2000GT and the LFA. Instead, they took greater pains to distance Lexus from Toyota.

    Not an inspired move.

  • avatar

    I know this is off topic, but I can’t believe you mentioned Mick Jagger and the TAMI show. I didn’t think anybody knew about that anymore. I saw it on PBS a couple of years ago and bought the DVD. That show was the last occassion on which Mick stood at the microphone and sang. And the reason for that, and his subsequent career, was that he saw James Brown in action. One of the greatest filmed concerts and damn near the first. It’s worth it just to see the Beach Boys when they were still playing as a five man group. Dennis was flailing on those drums like Keith Moon. There may be a lesson there.

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