By on January 4, 2016

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As we enter 2016, the management here at TTAC has asked the staff writers to come up with summaries of our contributions to the site in 2015. Mark Stevenson gave us a pretty wide latitude, suggesting we could reference both posts that got lots of eyeballs and clicks and stories that didn’t get the attention we’d have preferred.

Before I get to my favorite posts of 2015, however, I need to get something off of my chest.

This may come as a shock to those who toss the “clickbait” accusation at a clever headline, but we don’t write this stuff just for our personal gratification and financial remuneration. We’d also kind of prefer that folks gather around our soapbox and bend an ear to hear our shpiel. Sometimes, though, we put a lot of effort into something, but the planets don’t align and relatively few people read it.

There was a recent post of mine about a Texas plumber suing a dealer who took his Ford Super Duty pickup truck as a trade-in on a new work truck. The dealer neglected to remove the plumber’s advertising decals and the truck got shipped overseas where it ended up on the front lines, publicized on social media, with some jihadis in Syria.

Around the same time, I posted a twopart series about Bonneville Salt Flat promoter and speed record holder Ab Jenkins and his record setting Duesenberg named the Mormon Meteor. In one of those serendipitous occurrences, while I was searching for info on the car, I came across the finding aid for a personal collection of J. Herbert Newport, who designed the Meteor’s body. The collection, which included Newport’s own original drawings of the car, happened to be at one of the University of Michigan’s libraries, about 45 minutes from my home. Now, to be honest, the Meteor piece was already long enough to split in two. I doubt very much that any of the readers would have found the piece lacking without images of those drawings, but Leonard Schreiber, DVM, taught me that I had to do the best job I could, no matter the job, so I made the drive.

Putting aside the hours of research and writing involved in the Jenkins series (including a trip to Auburn, Indiana, where I photographed the Meteor), I undoubtedly spent more time driving to and from Ann Arbor and photographing those artifacts than I did working on the entire plumbing-truck-gone-jihad post. Combined, though, the two posts on Jenkins on his Duesenberg ended up getting a fraction of the readers of the jihadi truck post — which ended up being the most read post on the site that week by a large margin.

I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t happy about a successful post that got a lot of traffic, but it’d have been nice if all that traffic was for something about which I genuinely cared.

As a result, some of my choices below are indeed posts that I think deserve more readers than they got the first time around. Some, but not all. The rest I picked by what struck my fancy. I was going to just pick a single post from each month, but since I’m making the rules, there are a few more than twelve.

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From January, I picked a post about a couple of red sports cars I found parked next to each other. “If You Could Choose Only One: Ferrari 430 or Acura NSX?” asks a hard question of knowledgeable car enthusiasts (and this post gives me the opportunity to go back and make some corrections).

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At the Detroit and Chicago auto shows, a number of manufacturers brought out vintage models to show their histories. “Heritage Cuts Both Ways” suggests that the new model a car company introduces can sometimes be overshadowed by that history.

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A news blog post, “Skeptical Environmentalist Bjørn Lomborg Says Electric Cars Kill More Than ICEs,” about maverick environmentalist Bjørn Lomborg’s provocative suggestion that internal combustion engines created fewer health issues than EVs really stirred up a hornet’s nest among our readers. I think that’s the first time one of my posts got over 300 comments.

At the New York Auto Show in April, just before introducing the new CT6 flagship sedan, Cadillac boss Johan de Nysschen had a few spare moments in between on-air interviews and graciously recorded a personal greeting to TTAC’s perpetual Cadillac gadfly, Deadweight.

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A while back, I stumbled on the fact that people — even car enthusiasts — prefer to read about people rather than machines. In May, I ran a story, “Brotherly Love… For Crosleys,” that was nominally about the little Crosley car, but was actually about the Kaczmar brothers.

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June was originally planned to be TV car month, with a trilogy on the Batmobile from the 1960s Batman series, the Monkeemobile from The Monkees, and an authentic Dukes of Hazzard “General Lee” Dodge Charger.

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However, after I tried to determine whether a displayed Batmobile was the star car or one of George Barris’ authorized replicas used promotionally by the studio in “A Real Batmobile Replica“, and found out that a scale model company recycled the Monkeemobile as The Fonz’s Dream Rod during Happy Days run in “Hey, Hey, It’s the Fonz Dream Rod Monkeemobile,” some racist lunatic (but I repeat myself) shot up a black church in Charleston and, subsequently, the Confederate battle flag on top of General Lee became problematic — so we discussed that in “How Do You Feel About The General Lee’s Confederate Flag?

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Sam Sandifer collects the scale models created in automotive styling studios. One of the prizes of his collection is the 1:10 model of the original Lincoln Continental that sat on Edsel Ford’s desk. That model was recovered from storage by FoMoCo clay modeler Larry Wilson. “‘I’m Here to See Mr. Ford’ – A Detroit Story” tells how Wilson, as a very young man, traveled to Dearborn to work designing cars and ended up being hired by Henry Ford himself.

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TTAC gives us a lot of leeway when it comes to subject matter. What happens in the City of Detroit often impacts the auto industry, even if it isn’t directly related to cars.

There has been no shortage of punditry drawing links between the rocky fortunes of the domestic auto industry over the past four decades and the decline and decay of the Motor City. As a long time area resident and someone who’s in the city on an almost daily basis, I’m confident in saying that Detroit has finally bottomed out and there are tendrils of revitalization. That botanical reference is deliberate. “Hantz Woodlands – A Tree Grows (Actually It’s More Like 20,000) In Detroit” tells of my visit to financier John Hantz’s urban tree farm that is stabilizing a salvageable residential neighborhood by planting hardwood trees in empty lots on the city’s far east side, improving the quality of life for those who live there.

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There were a couple of other posts in August I’d like to highlight. “Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl Phaeton” presents my thesis that prewar, classic, dual-cowl cars — from companies like Packard, Duesenberg and Lincoln — make a style statement like no other automobile. To honor some of the designers whose talents brought cars like those to reality, “Designers and Their Cars – Automotive Patent Art Revisited” reviews the impressive art that accompanies the design patents filed by notable car stylists.

September presented a news item similar to the jihadi plumbing truck — something more humorous than historical — and then serendipity happened and a natural follow-up story presented itself.

First, in “Along Came A Spider… Child Injured In Collision With School Bus When Arachnophobic Mom Flees Car In Gear,” an Indiana boy was injured in a collision with a school bus when his mother, frightened by a spider in the car, bolted from her Dodge Avenger with the car still in reverse and her son still in the back seat. Then, just days later in “Arachnophobia – The Sequel; Michigan Motorist Sees Spider, Sets Car & Gas Pump On Fire,” another arachnophobe, this one a Detroit area motorist, almost started a conflagration at a gas station when he used his cigarette lighter to try and kill a spider that had landed on the gasoline filler neck of his car — while he was still refueling the car.

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October brought us “Larry LaBute’s Wheelchair Accessible Lincoln Zephyr and Bentley Mk VI Restomods,” the inspirational story of Larry LaBute: a paraplegic tomato farmer from Ontario, who has considerably re-engineered his two vintage cars so he can operate them from his wheelchair. It annoys me that people will scroll past a story like this — that our managing editor and I think is appealing from a variety of perspectives — and instead read about drivers afraid of spiders. LaBute did a remarkable job. Despite the considerable modifications, including a front-wheel-drive conversion to create enough space for his chair and a hydraulic ramp/lift, the cars appear normal when going down the road.

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Also inspirational is the story of Clessie Cummins. Cummins is a familiar brand in the automotive and trucking world, but less familiar is the story of the man behind the brand. Cummins didn’t have to deal with a physical disability. However, to create the first practical diesel truck engines, he designed, built, and tested about 3,000 prototypes before coming up with a direct fuel injection system capable of delivering a precise amount of fuel at exactly the right time. In “Clessie Cummins Made Diesels the King of the Road … and Almost at Indy Too. Part One,” I went over Clessie’s biography, how he perfected diesel engines and worked hard to get them accepted by the trucking industry. In “Clessie Cummins Made Diesels the King of the Road… and Almost at Indy Too. Part Two,” I covered Cummins’ personal involvement with the 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Clessie had a lifelong love affair with the greatest spectacle in racing. He was part of the pit crew for Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp that won the first Indy 500 in 1911 and he later entered a series of diesel-powered cars, including the 1952 Cummins Diesel Special that started the race from pole.

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Another two-parter was the aforementioned series about speed record holder and Bonneville Salt Flat promoter Ab Jenkins and his Mormon Meteor endurance and speed record Duesenberg, “Ab Jenkins and His Mormon Meteor, Part One” and “Ab Jenkins and His Mormon Meteor, Part Two (With Designer’s Original Drawings).” To be honest, I didn’t drive up to Ann Arbor just because my father taught me that I have to do a good job. I get a kick out of seeing and handling original historical documents. I’ve written about the notebooks that Fred Haynes and John Dodge kept while the Dodge brothers planned the startup of their eponymous car company from 1912-1914 and I put online a digital facsimile of the correspondence course of the Ur-father of automotive styling, Andrew F. Johnson. Once I found out that Herb Newport’s own drawing of the Meteor was nearby, I had to see it with my own eyes.

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Corradino D’Ascanio spent most of his career designing aircraft for Piaggio, a diversified Italian manufacturer, yet his best known and most enduring design was earthbound: the Vespa scooter. Piaggio also briefly made a tiny Vespa car, also designed by D’Ascanio, one of a number of microcars that went on sale in postwar Europe. Compared to most of those, the 1958 Vespa 400 was pretty sophisticated, with some interesting technical features, but it came to market just as a number of larger, faster, and more practical sub-compact cars like the BMC Mini and Fiat 500 went on sale. If you’re into two-wheelers, “I Bet You Thought Vespa Only Made Scooters: The Vespa 400 Car” has plenty of Vespa history in addition to the Vespa car’s story.

So that’s 2015.

The whiteboard on the wall still has a long list of interesting and or significant motor vehicles that I’ve photographed but not gotten around to writing posts about yet. That list includes: Cars with faux wood, Lincoln Mk IV, Sterling/Sebring kit car, Rolls-Royce Camargue, a survivor Jaguar XK-120, GMC Motorhome, Canadian Acadians, Australian Chrysler Charger, Fox-body Mercury Capri, Brooks Steven’s Jeep Jeepster, Continental Mk II, Fruehauf trailers, one-owner 400,000 1964 Pontiac GTO, Mike Kleeves: Master Metal Shaper, that hideous V-12-powered Packard revival concept, Kaiser Darrin, cars from the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg Festival, the Duesenberg Thunder Run (drag racing Dueseys), the ridiculously unsafe Subaru 360 that Malcolm Bricklin imported, King Midget, Buick Reatta, TVR, neoclassics (like the Excalibur), Bruce Mohs and his amazing and weird cars, Chip Foose restomodded Bob Hope Imperial Ghia limo, carved panel hearses, and the last Panhard car.

Let me know in the comments if you have a particular interest in any of those topics.

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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28 Comments on “Forward Into the Past: Ronnie’s Favorites From 2015...”


  • avatar
    jhefner

    A great selection of articles, Ronnie, thank you.

    I know the pay probably isn’t great; but you are fortunate that you get paid to write about something you are truly interested in. I have posted free content to various groups I was involved with in the past; and learned that not everyone would have the same passion about the subject matter that I did. But there was always that core group that ate up everything I posted.

    Count me in your core group. Thank you for all the research you have done for articles; and for the kindness you have shown personally to me in the past.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    You can’t be a nudnik without a little tetchiness.

    But nobody works harder.

  • avatar
    Scout_Number_4

    The GMC Motorhome always fascinated me–what were they thinking?? Please mark down a vote for that one and also one for the Cord.

    Very pleased to see the Cummins piece make your hit list–it was one of my favorites of 2015 and I shared it with several oil-burner friends. Please keep up the good work–I read and appreciate everything you do here.

  • avatar
    Big Wheel

    Excellent stuff, Ronnie. Keep it coming!

    I’ll take anything on Duesenbergs.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    That’s interesting. Of all the things your wrote last year, the piece on Ab Jenkins was my favorite, and the Lomborg piece was my least, mainly because you said so little.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Given your track record, I’m sure that I would enjoy one of your posts on any of those topics you’re considering.

    You shouldn’t be too disappointed by the disparity in traffic between your historical pieces like the Mormon Meteor and latest news driven pieces like the jihadi plimber’s truck. Current events are guaranteed to provoke more comments, and thus more traffic as people repeatedly come and go. I’m certain that your historical perspectives create more lasting interest in TTAC than anything about today’s latest automotive mishap.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Fake wood interests me.
    Also Reatta.
    The Excalibur and the Camargue could almost fit into the same article “Why’d they do it?”

  • avatar
    Dan

    TTAC may not be what it used to but Ronnie’s pieces are always fascinating and well done. I hope that you can keep them coming.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    I should have commented more often about your pieces Ronnie, but I believe I read every one of them. In fact out of all the TTAC contributors I can say I find your pieces consistently to be the most interesting (not that I don’t enjoy most of the other contributors), and I greatly appreciate the historic research that you do on so many of them such as the Mormon Meteor and the Cummins Indy specials. Out of your list of potential new topics, all I can say is they all sound interesting and I will be appreciative of any that you get around to posting.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I want a ’70s Lincoln retrospective. Not just the Mark IV, but the Mark V and various Continentals as well. There’s something about the Mark V in particular that just rings my bell, even though it’s not the type of car I like at all. Once in a while an American manufacturer got the land-yacht formula truly right. I’d put both the Mark V and the last box Cadillac Brougham on that list.

    I know you’ve been discouraged by the lack of comments on some of these pieces. Don’t be. They’re great, and I think people are reading even if they aren’t commenting.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      “last box Cadillac Brougham on that list.”

      Hmm, while I think the last Brougham is -OK-, it’s not anywhere near the Mark V IMO. It was pretty out of touch by the end in 92. Didn’t really have all that much styling – just a rectangle with festoonery.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      “I want a ’70s Lincoln retrospective.”

      Me, too, with a slideshow entitled “Things That Can Fit on a Mk V’s Hood”, like dumpsters, elephants, rooftop HVAC units…etc.

      Or the Mk III’s as I just read that was longer?

  • avatar
    olddavid

    The fastest 0-60 car I have ever driven was a built 389 tri-power ’64 GTO. It idled like a dying tractor and had 4.88 rear end gears. I swear my eyeballs stuck to the back of my skull when the clutch was dropped. 10.54 at 122. Felt like 200. I cannot imagine what a top fuel or funny car would feel like. I would guess a kidney belt would be in order. In the early 1960’s, Automotive News would rate the horsepower to the rear wheels and my memory is that Pontiac always came out on top. Ronnie, the doctor would tell you that your own satisfaction is sufficient when writing as I would guess you are your own worst critic. It is reflected in your work. Aaron at AUWM, Lamm and you are the resident historians. Too bad someone couldn’t fund a chair for you guys at the Library of Congress.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I too try to read anything with R.S. as Author , many times I don’t comment but good writing is always just that .

    Don’t *ever* quit .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    The Ab Jenkins piece was a highlight for Me, one of the best things I read all year.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    As the former owner of three Fox body Mercury Capris, I will be highly interested to see the post on those cars.

    thanks for all you do!

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Love your articles.
    Don’t like commenting very much.
    Happy that TTAC allows one to lurk without commenting.
    I follow your articles and appreciate the work you put into them.
    Keep it up.

  • avatar
    outback_ute

    I’m glad to see this list as my TTAC reading is sporadic, and I have only enjoyed some of the articles thus far, in particular those on Ab Jenkins.

    I gather you must have found a Chrysler Charger in or around Michigan, not many over there. I met one of the design team a while back, also wrote about Australian Variants on Curbside Classic so if you have any questions or need any photographs I will help if I can.

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