Shelby’s Step-child

Ford Mustang GT 350

50th Anniversary Celebration

PetersenMustang Madness 1st Notchback ssX50

The first serial-numbered Mustang was a convertible. The first Mustang notchback to carry a serial number was this car, assembled from miscellaneous sources at a pre-production facility in February 1964, and originally shipped to Vancouver, B. C. It was unaccountable diverted to Whitehorse Yukon Territory, where they had no clue what it was. They used it for a demonstrator, and it knocked around Canada and Alaska, eventually found in New Mexico by its current owner, Bob Fria.

The first Ford Mustangs appeared at dealerships in April, 1964, fifty years ago. Naturally, with what could be argued is the most valuable model name in the automotive industry, Ford is promoting the anniversary heavily and coupling it with the make or break 2015 redesign.

The Petersen Automotive Museum, always anxious to tie its themes of automotive history and Southern California to current developments, has teamed with mega-dealer Galpin Motors of North Hills, CA, to present a retrospective of Mustangs, from 1964-1/2 notchback serial number 0001, through one of three pre-production 2015 Mustangs currently existing (both since moved on), with representatives of all the generations in between and some cool specials from Galpin’s extensive collection.

Shelby – Personal Trainer for the Mustang

Most car nuts are familar with the Ford-powered Shelby Cobras of the early sixties, and how they were succesful in racing against the previously dominant Chevrolet Corvettes. Ford observed though, that as an expensive boutique two-seat sports car of low production volume, the Cobra did not lure people into Ford showrooms to buy other Fords. They wanted a car of broader appeal. They thought a racing Mustang could fill that bill.

A properly-equipped Mustang (especially one with the “K-code” high performance 289 V8) was a satisfying performance car for the street, but it was not suitable for racing against the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) B-Sports Racing Corvettes. To get a car that would provide the “halo effect” for those  Mustangs, Ford turned to the Cobra’s developer, Carroll Shelby, who reluctantly took on the task, delegating it to a team of engineers and racers, with the goal of producing enough race-capable Mustangs to qualify for production-class racing.

Carroll called on former Chevrolet engineer Chuck Cantwell, who had help from racers Bob Bondurant and Ken Miles, as well as Ford’s chief suspension engineer, Klause Arning. They modified the underpinnings, hot-rodded the engine, and came up with what we now know as the GT350.

For SCCA certification, three prototype “R” model GT350s were lined up with 110 standard Wimbledon White Mustang Fastbacks that the inspectors included in the count to meet the “production” quota specified by the SCCA that required that 100 be “constructed” by a December 1964 deadline. They fudged the numbers, giving Shelby until April, when the racing season started, to build 100. Only 34 or 35 “R” models were built (sources differ), but all the parts necessary to convert an “S” model to racing specs were available in a $1,500 package, or ala carte.

There are two stories about where the “GT350″ name comes from. One says Shelby wanted to go Ferrari’s current “250GT” one better, and the other is that he asked project supervisor Phil Remington how far it was from the office in Venice to the shops, and he said 350 feet. Make your own judgment.

Gapin's Barn Find GT-350

GT350 Registration Number SFM5S492, on display at the Petersen’s 50th Anniversary Mustang Exhibit. A rare 44,000 mile unrestored original car delivered to Galpin in 1965 with a sticker prices of $5,200, it had only two owners before Galpin bought it back at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale in 2012 for $350,000  plus commission.

GT350 Owner's Manual Mods Illustration

Above: The GT350’s Owner’s Manual includes a diagram of all the parts unique to the model. Apparently the wood-rim steering wheel was not considered a performance upgrade.
Below: A bit of humor, and a dose of early 60’s non-PC sexism, was included in a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer.


The Production GT350 was crude, for a road car, but exceedingly effective. With few concessions to comfort, it followed Road & Track editor Tony Hogg’s definition of a sports car, with nothing added that didn’t make it go faster (and corner more tenaciously).

Inside Spare Mount With Galpin Inset

The Goodyear Blue Dot Semi-racing tires on Steve Beck’s SFM5S258 have long ago been retired, but the full size spare on the five-tire rotatable Cragar wheel (chromed steel rim, alloy center) is mounted as they were when they left Shelby’s shop. A running change (There were no production drawings nor part numbers for many parts until 1966.) left the quarter vents on Steve’s car blank on the inside, unlike those in the Galpin car in the Museum’s exhibit (inset).

The most obvious change from a stock Mustang Fastback (until the engine fires up) is the absence of a rear seat, a consequence of the SCCA’s definition of a “Sports Car” as a two-seater. Ordinary Mustangs competed (successfully) in the Trans-Am Sedan Championship. Mounting the spare where the seat was removed conveyed a no-nonsense image appropriate for a racing machine.

A lightweight fiberglass hood, secured with NASCAR-style quick-release hood pins, and three-inch wide racing seat belts were further clues.

Hood, R-Bumper, Pass Seat Belt

More typical of a well-used GT350, Steve Beck’s SFM5S258 has been freshened and upgraded. He gave it a high-quality repaint (It was green when he bought it.) and removed aftermarket drag racing shackles. The hood is original, while the racing seat and fiberglass racing front valence are from the factory catalogue. The grille is from a ’66, and the headlights are high-powered Marchals. Special Order Fords carried the letters “DSO” (District Service Operation) in yellow on the differential case (present but not shown).

When the car starts, any doubt about its purpose fades. Among the engine modifications are welded tubular headers leading through minimal “glass-pack” mufflers to straight exhaust pipes exiting in front of the rear wheels, NASCAR-style. Car and Driver’s August 1965 road test states, “The sound level, from inside the car or out, had virtually no parallel in the history of touring-type automobiles.”

GT350 Right Side ExhaustI

No nonsense here. Chrome exhaust tips give way to plain sewer pipe, as the lightly muffled exhaust exits through NASCAR-style side pipes – loudly.

Other modifications were equally serious. The four-barrel carburetor (rejetted to match the freer-flowing exhaust) is mounted on a special high-rise manifold. Horsepower was rated at 306, a 35 hp increase over the already potent-for-its-day K-code “hi-po” solid lifter 289. More could be had with a little tinkering.

GT350 Engine Bay

Cast aluminum “Cobra” rocker covers, the “Monte Carlo” chassis brace in front of the air cleaner, and Koni adjustable shocks, tops visible above, are cues that this is a GT350. The SCCA allowed modifications to the suspension or engine, but not both. With up to 385 horsepower achievable, most racers just cranked the Konis up to their stiffest setting and mounted the best tires they could get. This is the “cheater” 307 cubic inch engine in Steve Beck’s SFM5S258. He showed his taillights to Petersen co-founder Bruce Meyer’s similar car, which Steve describes as a nice example.

The most radical difference between the 1965 GT350 and a stock Mustang (and later 1966 GT350s) is underneath. There you’ll find a pair of traction bars to rein in the tendency of the rear leaf springs to wind up under heavy acceleration, causing axle tramp. In drag racing practice these would be attached to the bottom of the axle, but here they are mounted over it, thus requiring the clearance of the raised rear deck.

The front suspension is lowered two inches, and the A-arm mounts are relocated to improve camber for better cornering. A “Monte Carlo” bar (after the European rally where Ford’s Falcons were successful) connects the tops of the fenders to stiffen the chassis under cornering loads, and a one-inch diameter anti-roll bar substituted for the stock 0.84″ number helps the cars corner flatter. Koni  adjustable shock absorbers are fitted all around.

To help with weight distribution, the battery was initially moved to the trunk, then back up front in response to complaints about corrosion and fumes. The front brakes had racing pads, while the rear drums were the three-quarter-inch wider units from the station wagons.

Denise McCluggage, who raced against these cars back when they were new, was used to driving (and winning in) those 250GT Ferraris, and told me she was not impressed.

The cars came from Ford with Kelsey-Hayes steel wheels that were almost always replaced with the optional Kragar “semi-mags” (steel rim, alloy center). The 1965 cars were fitted with Goodyear “Blue Dot” tires rated for a sustained speed of 130 miles per hour.

Stripe & Wheel

Cobra Daytona Coupe designer Pete Brock penned what became the car’s trademark – the American Racing Blue rocker panel and hood stripes. When I first saw SFM5S258 in 2003, it wore the obligatory aftermarket American Racing Torque-Thrust mags. These are Steve’s correct Cragars.

Reinforcing the Museum’s theme of California leading the nation (and the world) in automotive trends, all GT350s started life at the San Jose Ford plant, from which they were delivered “body in white” to Hugh Piper’s shop, which is still on Motor Avenue in Palms. Shelby’s operations were about four and a half miles away in Venice, with  offices at 1042 Princeton. Assembly was performed at 322 Carter.

All the 1965 cars were Wimbeldon White, with Pete Brock’s American Racing Blue “GT350″ stripes on the rocker panels. Reports say that only 28% of cars were delivered in 1965 with the familiar twin blue stripes on hood, roof, and rear deck, but dealers could add them at the buyer’s request. Now it is rare to see one without them.

Few other cosmetic changes were incorporated. The stock Mustang’s optional center-dash gauge package of tachometer and oil and temperature guages was standard, as was a wood-rimmed steering wheel with the “angry snake” Cobra emblem in the hub.

Steering Wheel Inset

Steve is justifiably proud of the rare three-hole-spoke steering wheel fitted to his car. All but 75 were equipped with the three-double-spoke wheel in the Galpin car (inset). He cautioned me not to use the steering wheel to lever myself into the too-tight-for-real-people racing seat (an “R” package item). It’s not built for chinning. Steve raced the car 60 or 70 times, until rich guys started showing up with multiple transporters and gourmet chefs. Note the Hurst Shifter for the Ford Top-Loader transmission that replaced the original Borg-Warner T-10 that tended to pop out of gear on the downhill at Willow Springs Raceway. He added the oil and water temperature gauges under the dash pod.

Although the plexiglass quarter windows of the ’66 cars look racy, the ’65s are the purist’s cars (except for the first 24, which were leftover ’65s, relabeled). In ’66 they dropped the Mustang name (warranty issues?); the traction bars were gone, allowing the fold-down rear seat as an option; and you could rent one from Hertz. You could even get a bleeping automatic.

GT35o Memories

My only GT350 memory from back in the day is of seeing one at the Ford store in Champaign, Illinois when I was in Architecture School. I had read all the reports, so I knew it had been tested at 6.5 seconds from zero to 60, about a half-second faster than the Honda CB77 Super Hawk that was my transportation at the time. Its top speed of 135 was about five miles an hour above the speed rating on the tires, and ‘way faster than I had ever driven. I didn’t have the chuzpah to ask for a test drive but a buddy was not so timid. He reported that those traction bars did not completely tame the rear axle hop under a drag-racing start.

My brother Duncan’s Shelby involvement started in spring 1966 when he was just entering Air Force Pilot Training. Shelby people refer  to their cars by registration number and he had two, a fairly early car – SFM5S204 –  and another later  one – SFM5S413. He recalls on first driving 204, he thought, “I must be in heaven,” a thought echoed by my friend Ephraim, who test drove a one-owner car in 1974, which he just missed buying for all the cash he could scrape up – $936. They were just old used cars then.

Dunc’s 204 was later completely restored by two Cobra and Shelby legends, Mike McCluskey of Torrance, and the engine specialist Dave Dralle, who works out of Rosemond, near Willow Springs Raceway. Duncan hasn’t seen that car since.

He reports the transmission, an alloy-case Borg-Warner T-10, while adequate on the street, was subject to tailshaft and synchromesh failure in racing. The usual remedy came from Ford’s parts bin – their excellent tough and versatile top-loader gearbox.

Dunc’s old number SFM5S413 appeared as consignment 103 at Gooding & Co.’s Pebble beach Auction in 2010, and sold for $165,000, a bargain you’d only dream of today.

Gooding GT350 SFM5S413

At Monterey in August, 2010,  GT350s, GT500s, GT500KRs and assorted fakes were as common as weeds, so when one appeared in Gooding & Co.’s auction preview I didn’t bother getting a picture. Fortunately I did get a wide-angle shot of the red Jaguar XK-120 in front of it, so later as I was thumbing through their slick two-volume catalogue, I had an image to go with the exerpt that showed it was  my brother’s old SFM5S413, all detailed and ready to gavel at a cool $165,000.

SFM5S258 Profile

Steve Beck’s BMW specialty shop, Check Point Automotive, is where the Los Angeles Shelby American Automobile Club holds their annual Christmas party, “just up the road from where it all began” (less than 2 miles). It was there in 2003 that I first saw his SFM5S258, the car he’d bought on his 18th birthday in 1974 for $900. This particular car once spent three months duty in the Shelby High Performance Driving School, which gives the car what collectors call “provenance.” That means it adds value.


There have been some great Mustangs in the last 50 years. They’ve appeared in many movies, and starred in some. A couple of non-stock models have spawned replicas, like the highland green 1967 930 Fastback Steve McQueen and stunt drivers Bud Ekins and Loren James drove in the famous chase scene in Bullitt, or Eleanor, the customized 1968 GT500 that frustrates the Nicholas Cage character in the remake of Gone in 60 Seconds.

Carroll Shelby reportedly took little interest in the GT350 – until they began winning races. GT350s won the SCCA Road Racing Championship three years running, easily justifying Ford’s experiment. So now when the best Mustangs are recalled, only two stock-based cars have the series-racing credentials  to qualify for legendary status, and one could argue that the second, the Boss 302, would never have happened if not for the first, the GT350.

That they have “arrived” at collector car status was remarked on by none other than the original development team leader, Chuck Cantwell, who in Road & Track’s 50th anniversary article, pointed out that while all the high-end collectors at Pebble beach may have their Duesenbergs and Ferraris, they also have GT 350s.

Finally, it is ironic that Ford’s argument for a more “affordable” Corvette-beater as an alternative to the Cobra kind of loses strength when you note that a race-ready GT35o with the $1,500 “R” package cost $5,995, while a base Cobra listed at $5,595.

CARMA is a publication of The OM Dude Press
a service of Options in Mobility

Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.

All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

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Los Angeles Auto Show – Is Lincoln on Life Support?

The Lincoln MXZ

Whither the Hot Rod Lincoln?

You’ve probably heard some cover version of the late Charlie Ryan’s “Hot Rod Lincoln,” maybe by Commander Cody, or George Thorogood. Johnny Cash and Roger Miller also recorded versions. In the song, a guy driving a hot rod with a Ford model A body and a Lincoln V12 (a V8 in the later versions) chases and overtakes a Cadillac sedan up the Grapevine Hill, the pass that connects the Los Angeles Basin with the Central Valley.

The story ends with a punch line, but in case you’ve never heard it, I won’t spoil it. You can look it up on YouTube.

The song had a sequel of sorts. Back in 1952, 1953 and 1954, Lincolns won the stock car class in the Carrera Panamericana, commonly called the “Mexican Road Race.”

An 8mm film of one of those races convinced my dad to drive the family from Grand Rapids to Detroit, where Mom took us kids to the Detroit Zoo while he negotiated the purchase of a slightly used 1953 Cosmopolitan Coupe. I was ten, but I still remember the sound of chirping rubber as the guy who earlier had provided the film took it for a test drive, once we got it home.

1952 Lincoln Cosmopolitan

The 1953 Lincoln we had (ours was two-tone brown and beige) was little changed from the 1952, as shown above, from a contemporary ad.

In that context, what is Lincoln doing at the 2013 Los Angeles International Auto Show, introducing the MKC, a compact SUV concept, whose signature feature is a system that senses the approach of the owner (or whoever has the key I suppose) and lays down a “welcome mat” of light at the doors?

Meanwhile Cadillac is showing the new CTS with 420 horsepower, more than twice that of Dad’s Carrera Panamericana replica coupe. The largest engine available in the similar-size Lincoln MKZ is a 231 hp turbo four. Sorry, Lincoln, 400 horsepower is the new 200.

Lincoln MKC

The MKC compact SUV. Its 2.3 liter turbo four puts out 275 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. This is Lincoln’s idea of an exciting vehicle to boost its image in the luxury car market? Nice try, but . .

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

The MKZ, Lincoln’s latest sedan (above) features a hybrid drivetrain with 188 horsepower (EPA 45/45 mpg) at no premium over a 231 horsepower turbo four-cylinder gasoline engine, but Cadillac’s base CTS sedan (below) boasts 272 and the top “V” version offers 420, while braking from 60 miles per hour in under 100 feet.

Cadillac CTS

The Market

Historically, luxury cars have typically had big powerful engines. One of their attractions has always been their ability to carry the occupants long distances at high average speeds in safety and serene comfort. For too long American luxury car manufacturers put their emphasis on comfort, exemplified by the ubiquitous airport limo Lincoln Town Car, and  lost sight of the performance side of the luxury equation.

Meanwhile, the European luxury makes emphasized precision handling and outright speed. In-house tuners like those at BMW (“M” Division) and Mercedes (AMG) captured the imagination of those who wanted their expensive cars to go, turn, and stop, as well as look good and cosset them, honing the road manners of their cars on Germany’s famous Nurburgring road race venue.

Cadillac finally embraced that lesson, and began engineering their cars to compete with the best of the Germans. Today they routinely test their cars on the same Nordschleife section of the “Ring,” turning lap times the equal of Europe’s best.

Without Jaguar (sold to the Indian group Tata in 2008, along with Land Rover) to shore up the high-profit luxury end of their market share, Ford may be shooting itself in the foot by leaving Lincoln (now The Lincoln Motor Company) to fight for a dwindling number of old buyers lured by the name.

Lincoln needs more than a prestigious history and electronic gimmicks to sell expensive cars. Ford has a turbo V6 in the Taurus that makes 368 horsepower and 350 pound feet of torque – way down at 1500 rpm! Why are they fiddling with the grille on an SUV when they should be massaging that engine to make a new Hot Rod Lincoln? How about joining two turbo v6s for a 736 horsepower V12?

CARMA is a publication of The OM Dude Press
a service of Options in Mobility

Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.

All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

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Exotic (or not) Rides at 2013 L A Auto Show

On the Road

One of the features of the Los Angeles International Auto Show Press Days that we look forward to every year is the opportunity to drive or be driven in, however briefly, some of the latest in new green technology. This year provided some especially good choices to sample.

A Few Surprises


Volkswagen’s XL-1 looks like something out of a science fiction film. Its availability at the Ride and Drive  caught many journalists (your correspondent included) by surprise. Built to meet the European economy challenge of under 1 liter of fuel consumed per 100 kilometers, 250 examples of this 800 kilo (1760 pound) streamliner are expected to cost about $150,000. No, they did not let us drive it, but the ride confirmed its “not ready for prime time” nature, with its clattery turbodiesel range extender right behind the passenger’s ear.

The Very Latest Thing


BMW has demonstrated a rare commitment to sustainable transportation, bringing out the first mainstream car with a carbon-fiber frame (inset), the all-electric i3. There were twenty-five or thirty of these on hand for the press to drive. Perhaps more amazing, they let us loose on our own, trusting us not to take off for Pechanga for a day of casino carousing. It’s apparent though that there is still some work to be done before we all embrace such a car. The rear doors won’t open without the cooperation of the front seat occupants, the rear windows don’t open at all, and there is a faint thrum in the chassis on every pavement bump. But it’s quiet and very peppy, zipping into any opening in traffic with gleeful alacrity. For those uncomfortable with the range anxiety of a pure electric, a range-extending internal combustion engine option, sourced from BMW’s motorcycles, is planned.

BMW i3 Interior

i3’s staid interior contrasts to more exuberant expression available in the Fiat 500e (below).

Fiat 500e

The opposite of BMW’s “scratch-built” approach to an electric is the more common, to replace the internal combustion engine and gas tank in an existing car with batteries and an electric motor, like the Fiat 500e above.  The trade-offs for that approach showed up in the drive, with a good deal less kick off the line, and a softer go-pedal response all up the range. Still, for about three quarters of the sticker price, it’s worth a look as a commuter.

Fiat 500e Interior

Like the Mini Cooper’s, the Fiat 500e’s interior is very self consciously styled. The danger in that approach is that people may love it or hate it.


The BMW 328d Sportwagon is the descendant of our family car, a ten year old BMW 325iT that we love, so it was practically mandatory that I give this one a try. With the added weight of BMW’s “X-Drive” all-wheel drive system, one might expect some sluggishness in its handling, but in our short drive no such faults appeared. It is entertaining though, to mash the throttle and have the 8-speed transmission upshift at such low rpm, taking advantage of the high torque of the new four cylinder turbo diesel, rather than letting the engine rev to a musical peak like most BMWs. That agreeable shove in the back will have many drivers changing their minds about diesel power.

Not So Exotic Anymore 

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

After the exotica of the turbo-diesel hybrid VW XL1 and the carbon fiber BMW i3 the Hundai Sonata Hybrid felt solidly mainstream. Performance is automotive-ordinary, and the EPA credits it with 36 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway. That puts it well behind Honda’s new Accord Hybrid though. That car is this year’s Green Car of the Year, with 50 and 45.

CARMA is a publication of The OM Dude Press
a service of Options in Mobility

Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.

All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

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2013 Los Angeles International Auto Show


McQueen XK-SS and Jaguar XK-F at LA Auto Show 2013

The first exhibit you would see as you enter the 2013 Los Angeles Intenational Auto Show is the Petersen Automotive Museum’s Information Booth, where Jaguar and the Museum have partnered to display the Museum’s 1956 Jaguar XK-SS formerly owned by Steve McQueen, and the XK-F, Jaguar’s first open two-seater since the legendary E-Type.


2014 XK-F Coupe 2 Views

At the Jaguar/Land Rover exhibit they introduced the coupe version of the roadster shown in the Petersen display. It’s difficult to argue against the opinion heard often at the event, that this is the prettiest car at the show.

Porsche Macan 2 Views

Once again, Porsche chose to introduce an important new model at the LA Auto Show. The compact sport utility segment is growing faster than the rest of the market and Porsche’s powerful Macan is well placed to attract enthusiasts seeking such a car. As Porsche’s lowest priced offering, it should also appeal to those looking to buy their first new Porsche.

2014 MiniCooper S

The third generation modern Mini Coopers (Mini Cooper S Shown) were also debuted at the LA Show. The base model continues a budding trend, featuring a turbocharged three-cylinder engine, while the S model benefits from a  turbocharged four. The specifications for the car are sketchy, but it’s getting less “mini.” Length grows by a bit over five inches, width by 1.7, and they are a fraction taller. The strategy these days is to use more high strength steel and aluminum to prevent such growth from adding to mileage-sapping weight, but the new Minis’ specs are mute on the subject.

Escalade   Harking back to the bad old days of behemoth “FUVs” the new Cadillac Escalade, at 202.5 inches long, will surely be a favorite among rappers.

Fiesta ST at LA Auto Show

Following up on the critical acclaim showered on their Focus ST, Ford introduced the even more affordable Fiesta ST, which came within a whisker of snatching Road & Track‘s Performance Car of the Year honors from the Corvette. Packing 197 hp in a 2762 pound package of finely tuned hot hatch, and  fully optioned at $25,580 on the sticker, what’s not to like?

Corvette Convertible 2Views

The car that did win Road & Track‘s PCOTY award now has a convertible version. It showed here for the first time at the LA Auto Show (above). In person these cars are easily the best looking Corvettes since the original Sting Rays. Among detractors, those taillights have been the main focus of criticism. Why aren’t they round?

BMW i8 WithInset Corrected

At the 2009 Los Angeles International Auto Show, BMW showed the Vision Dynamics Concept, a Hybrid sports car with stunning styling (inset, above). In 2011 a more developed version (currently on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum) appeared in Mission Impossible, Ghost Protocol. At last, the production version had its American debut at this year’s show (above). Available in spring 2014, it will boast 368 hp and up to 94 mpg, and cost about $140,000.

Below, the fully electric BMW i3, weighing just under 2,000 pounds and powered by a 125 kW motor with 250 pound-feet of torque, provides zippy performance in a city car, for about $40,000. A version is coming with a variation on the Mini’s turbo three-cylinder to extend its range beyond commuting.


Stay tuned for our report on the Ride and Drives.

CARMA is a publication of The OM Dude Press
a service of Options in Mobility

Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.

All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

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On the Road with the Petersen Automotive Museum

Getting the Word Out

Monterey – Car Nut Nirvana

Red DB5 In Parking Lot

If you can get to the Monterey peninsula during the August Automotive Extravaganza (not its official title) and perhaps more important, find parking there, you don’t have to pay to see cool cars. Just walk down the street and you’ll see exotics and classics everywhere you look, like this handsome guards red Aston Martin DB-5 captured gracing a bank parking lot on Friday.

Any museum needs to get its face out there where it can be seen by its target constituency. For Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum, in August that means the Monterey Peninsula, where anyone who aspires to the title “motorhead” simply has to attend at least once. There are a lot of car events held around the country and around the world, but if you doubt the Monterey events draw the biggest crowds, just try getting around or finding parking there.

There are dozens of events, most of which charge admission, but all you really have to do is grab a sidewalk-side chair at one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating, or just stand on a street corner. In seconds something interesting will purr, putter, snarl, roar or bellow past, and another, and another . . .

Maintaining a Presence

This year as part of my mission as a contributor to the Museum Pit Crew’s newsletter, Pit Stop, I wanted to cover one of the five cars submitted for display by the Museum at the various events. They brought one for the Concorso Italiano, three for the Quail Motorsports Gathering, and one for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and Tour d’Elegance.

The Museum’s Mercer Raceabout was celebrating its centennial, so they showed it in the two Pebble Beach events.

In other years the dreaded Monterey Peninsula fog would have had me heavily dependent on my camera’s image stabilization in the dim morning light of the Tour start, and wiping the mist off the lens at frequent intervals, but this year, by the time Curator Leslie Kendall and Collections Manager Paul Daniels wheeled the hardy old sportster out of the transporter park, the day had dawned brilliantly.

Staging Mercer 4 Tour

Curator Leslie Kendall and Collections Manager Paul Daniels wheel the Petersen’s 1913 Mercer Raceabout out of the transporter park in preparation for the start of the 2013 Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance.

The Mercer Raceabout

Designed and built during the heart of what has become known as the “Brass Era” of automobile design (roughly between 1905 and 1915), Mercer’s sports car took a different path to performance from many of its competition. While many racing cars of the time were huge brutes with monster engines, the Raceabout was a relative lightweight, tipping the scales at a mere 2,300 pounds.

1913 Fiat Speedcar

The explanatory sign says this 1913 Fiat “Speedcar” at the 2009 Best of France and Italy concours in Van Nuys was “America’s fastest prewar (WWI) luxury automobile.” Perhaps the leather “doors” made it a “luxury car” and allowed it to make that claim. The people in the picture lend scale, so you can judge how much bigger it was than the Mercer, whose four cylinder engine is rated by the Petersen at 60 horsepower, the same as the Fiat’s 80% larger nine-liter. You can guess which was the quicker accelerator. I wonder which wore the the monocle windshield first.

The Mercer Raceabout was built around a T-head four-cylinder engine designed in 1910 by self-taught engineer Finley Robertson Porter. At  five liters it’s about 300 cubic inches, or roughly the displacement of the Ford Boss 302 V8. A “Goldilocks” size, it’s big and torquey enough to propel the light car with alacrity, with acceleration reportedly  superior to any contemporary road car, but it’s neither as thirsty nor as heavy as the behemoths with which it raced.

Automobile Quarterly (Vol. 10, No. 1) reports the car capable of a top speed of 75 miles per hour, 100 in racing trim. The engine is good for 1,800 rpm “on occasions when it becomes necessary to obtain maximum speed quickly.” Idle is a relaxed 200 rpm.

In the first year of production, factory team cars won five of the six races they entered. During the fifth, the Indianapolis 500, the bonnets of neither of the two competing cars was opened, and after finishing the 500 miles, their headlights, fenders and running boards were re-installed (a 15 minute operation), and the cars driven home.

The success of the factory cars soon had owners competing and winning on everything from dirt tracks to hill climbs to board tracks, while briefly holding the road racing world record. Those familiar with the racers of the day will recognize the name of the factory team leader, Ralph DePalma, and flamboyant cigar-chomping Barney Oldfield. Others, like Caleb Bragg, Spencer Wishart and are Billy Knipper are less well known but in their day were as famous as the Mark Donahues and Peter Revsons of a few years ago.

At $2,600 fully equipped, the Racebout was not a car for everyone, but if, as a character in the Little Orphan Annie comic strip once explained, you liked to be able to “choose the people who pass you,” this was your car. Original owner Mrs. Gray is described as enjoying taunting the test drivers of the big chain-drive Simplex on the Long Island Parkway.

Petersen 1913 Mercer Raceabouut After 2013 Tour

Praised for its pleasing proportions, and competitive in motorsports right out of the box The Mercer Raceabout has been called “one of the finest sports cars ever built.”

The Petersen’s Mercer Raceabout

In the Petersen literature they say their example is the closest to original of any Type 35-J in existence. Seeing the car, with paint peeling off the wheel spokes and rust showing through the paint on the undercarriage, one’s first thought is that it belongs in the “Preservation Class.” It does not, having been repainted forty or fifty years ago.

The car was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. John F. Gray in 1913 and it remained in their possession until 1943. During their ownership, the Grays had occasion (A young Gray experienced a piston seizure while chasing an airplane.) to trust repairs to a young Venice, California, mechanic you may have heard of – Harry A Miller – who installed the dry-sump lubrication system that remains in the car today.

The car was sold to Herbert Royston in 1943, who recommissioned it, driving it extensively in vintage events. It was acquired at his estate auction by the famous race car driver, collector and restorer, Phil Hill, in the mid-seventies, sold to a dealer, and subsequently auctioned by Christies in 1999. The literature does not state how the Petersens acquired it.

Kendall Pumping Up Mercer Fuel Pressure

Leslie pumps up fuel pressure in preparation for starting the car. With Paul and assistance from Chris Brown and Erik Dipper, they installed the monocle windscreen and spotlight for display in Carmel.

Mercer On The Way To Display In Carmel

Paul pulls her away from the curb on  the way to displaying the Petersen Mercer on Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The eager little sports car started on the third crank.

In answer to my question, Leslie describes driving the car as “fun” but always with the knowledge that it is a seven figure piece of automotive history. That, and the respect accorded to a car with practically all its century-old pieces still in place are among the factors (along with a cryptic comment from Paul about the “fuel system”) led them to forego the full Tour route. Leslie echoed  the Automobile Quarterly’s report that in the context of its contemporaries, the car is lower and handles more “lithely” than say, a Stutz.

The engine feels torquey, and the steering firm but not heavy, both impressions aided no doubt by the car’s light weight. Legendary motoring journalist and Racebout owner Ken Purdy wrote about the car, “You can see the ground under the the right front wheel. You can gauge a corner literally to one inch, and the merest twitch of the steering wheel will pull you around the car ahead of you.

What a privilege to get to watch this great old machine in action, and what a privilege it must be to drive it!

CARMA is a publication of The OM Dude Press
a service of Options in Mobility

Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.

All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

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A welcome complement to my blog on “Record Prices” –

Originally posted on Simanaitis Says:

A FABULOUS car, the 1954 Ex-Juan Manuel Fangio Mercedes-Benz W196 Grand Prix machine, recently changed hands for a fabulous price—$29.7 million. This Bonhams sale, at Goodwood Festival of Speed on July 12, 2013, set a record for a car at auction.

Indeed, a little more than a month later, on August 17, 2013, a Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S Spyder with North American Racing Team heritage approached this price in an auction sale of $27.5 million. And, while we’re talking money, I note that private transactions of $30 million have been reported for exchanges of Ferrari 250 GTOs.


The Mercedes-Benz W196 Grand Prix car at Bonhams, Goodwood Festival of Speed. Image from Bonhams.

But it isn’t the money that interests me here. It’s the technical wizardry of the Mercedes-Benz W196, something this car will retain despite any future auction exuberances.

The World Drivers’ Championship started in 1950, with varied displacements of cars…

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Monterey in August – The Big Show

The Best of the Best

l934 Packard 1108 Twelve Dietrich Convertible VictoriaThree days before the Big Event, Joseph & Margie Cassini’s 1934 Packard 1108 Twelve Dietrich Convertible Victoria stages in perfect weather for the start of the Tour d’Elegance at Monterey. It went on to win its class, and thence to join the ranks of great cars awarded the distinction “Best in Show” at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Taking Your Chances – or Not?

Competition for the Pebble Beach Concours’ Best in Show award is fierce. A flake of dust on a tool kit once cost a Jaguar the coveted 100 point rating, so just in case, the tie-breaker margin of running in the pre-concours Tour d’Elegance offers a small relief from the anxiety of wondering if all that work and money will pay off.

Of course, driving a multi-million dollar work of automotive art on public roads, and exposing it to the hands and belt buckles of a sometimes careless public at the street display in Carmel-by-the-Sea carries its own angst.

Such are the trade-offs the owners of the Best on Show-winning Packard had to balance when deciding to drive the Tour. No one will ever know whether it was the margin of victory, but the hoards of spectators who lined the Tour route, which this year included a circuit of the race track at Laguna Seca, certainly got their money’s worth. Watching (and listening to) the cars motor past costs nothing.

You be the Judge

Everyone who attends the Tour or the Concours has a favorite. The one that caught my eye was a big Duesenberg Phaeton in cream and black. I’ll post a few others so you can pick your own favorite.

1929 Duesenberg J LeBaron Phaeton

Chrome sparkling in rare early morning sunshine, the 1929 Duesenberg J LeBaron Phaeton of John and Linda Muckel, from Rancho Palos Verdes, California, moves into position for the start of the Tour d’Elegance on Thursday. I commented to John that if it didn’t win something, there is no justice in the world, and sure enough, it placed third in the Duesenberg class.

1929 Duesenberg J LeBaron Phaeton

This is the class winner, the 1929 Duesenberg J LeBaron Phaeton displayed by Tony & Jonna Ficco of Wheatridge, Colorado. Must have been the red paint that did it – and whitewall tires are so ’20s

1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR CoupeI suppose it’s unrealistic to expect a racing car based on a common road car to win a prize for “elegance,” especially when its exhaust note is anything but. Still, hearing sounds like the bark of this 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR as it drove through the streets of Carmel is one of the best reasons to set up camp somewhere along the route of the Tour.

Aston Martin Centennial 01Those who know Aston Martin only from the James Bond  films may be unaware that the name goes back a hundred years this year. Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin won the Aston Clinton Hill Climb in 1914 with a car they modified, thus the name. Early Astons were light cars compared to the monsters often seen on the tracks then, and they won oftem, including a class win at LeMans.  There were five pre-war Aston Martins included in the event. This is the 1939 15/98 Abbey Coachworks SWB Sports.

1934 Hispano-Suiza J12 Van Vooren Cabriolet

Although not eligible for an award, I could not resist including this stunning Hispano-Suiza. It’s the 1934 J12 Van Vooren Cabriolet of Robert M. Lee of Reno, Nevada. 

1955 Ferrari 250 GT Pinin Farina Berlinetta Special

Count the louvers. This 1955 Ferrari Pinin Farina Berlinetta Special shown by Lee and Joan Harrington of Bow, New Hampshire predates by two years the 14-louver Berlinetta that drew a winning bid of $8.6 million at Gooding & Co, the night before. It  won the Strother MacMinn Most Elegant Sports Car Award.

1914 American Underslung 642 Roadster RF

The first diorama you see on entering the Streetscape at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles features an American Underslung. Note that the chassis is hung below the springs rather than sitting atop them, giving the car its name. This is a cousin to the museum’s car, the 642 Roadster of Sam & Emily Mann, of Englewood, New Jersey. They won the Charles A. Chayne Trophy for their car.

1938 Talbot-Lago150C SS Figoni & Falashi Cabriolet

Talbot Lago is famous for their “teardrop” coupes. Figoni & Falaschi are famous for their flamboyant open sports cars. They combined efforts to create this lovely 1938 150C SS Cabriolet.

1966 Ford GT-40 Mk I Right Profile

Mid-engine sports cars are difficult to design so that they look good. One of the handsomest is the Ford GT40 (“40″ for the height of the car in inches). Ford beat Ferrari on their own turf with 427 cubic inch versions of this car, but this is a 1966 Mark I GT40 with the small block V8. It won the Award for Henry A. Davis of Omaha, Nebraska in the Postwar Sports Racing class on the 50th anniversary of the GT40.

1965 Porsche 911 Coupe

With their flared fenders, pavement roller-width tires, triple the horsepower and American-style weight gain, modern Porsches have only a profile and an odd engine location in common with the original 911. The 1965 911 of custodians Richard & Allison Roeder and Reed & Nan Harmon of Los Angeles is a time capsule, looking almost unused after 48 years, and winning the Postwar Preservation Class.

1950 Jaguar XK-120 Alloy Body Roadster Tour 01The Phil Hill Trophy, presumeably awarded for a car that Phil would have raced in (or against) when the Concours was accompanied by a road race on (if you can believe it!) 17-Mile Drive, went to Karl Englehorn of Maldon, England for his purposeful-looking, record-setting, and multiple venue race-pedigreed 1950 Jaguar XK-120 Alloy Roadster.

1938 Buick Series 40 Lancefield Drophead Coupe

1938 Buick Series 40 Lancefield Drophead Coupe Cockpit

John & Christiane Beebe, of  Osprey, Florida brought their 1938 Buick Lancefield Drophead Coupe. What I want to know is, how did a right-hand drive car win the American Classic Open Class?

Petersen 1913 Mercer

As a loyal member of the Petersen Automotive Museum’s Pit Crew, I really couldn’t blog about the Concours without posting a picture of their entry in the Antique Class. The Museum’s 1913 Mercer Raceabout, with its signature monocle windshield was the Corvette of its day, with superior handling to go with its torquey 5-liter T-head four. 

1956 Continental Mark II Coupe

The 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II of Rick & Elain Schmidt from Ocala, Florida, won the Lincoln Custom Coachwork Postwar class award – but is that a canvas roof?

Black Bear Mercedes

The “Black Bear” Mercedes shown here preparing for the Tour d’Elegance does not appear in any Pebble Beach literature, but it is so interesting I had to include it. Research leads us to believe that it is an SSK built in 1930.

1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Von Kreiger Special Roadster

If the 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K at the tour and on the Fairway at Pebble Beach looks familiar it’s because it’s the Von Kreiger Special Roadster that warrented a separate hard-cover catalogue supplement at the Monterey Gooding & Co. auction last year. That weekend it set a record for a Mercedes at auction of $10,700,000, in part no doubt because the new owners knew they were virtually guaranteed an invitation to this very event. It won it’s class as expected, but missed out on a Best in Show nomination.

Deja Vu

That last example, a car that was bid up to a record level one year and shows up on the fairway the next is among the reasons we keep coming back. It’s exciting to anticipate. As I say every year, it’s not just the cars. It’s the stories behind them and the people who tell them.

CARMA is a publication of The OM Dude Press,
a service of Options in Mobility
Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.

All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

To enlarge the images, just click on them. If the cursor becomes a circle with a “+” in it, click again to see them full size.

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