Italian Gems

2016 at Concorso Italiano

It may be unwise to begin a story about beautiful cars with pictures of an ugly one. Nevertheless yes, there are ugly Italian cars. There. I said it. This one was at the Concorso Italiano three years ago and at the Auction at Gooding the following year. I posted a picture of it in my coverage of the Auction, so this may be repetitious.

Drogo 330GTC

With so much Piedmontese pulchritude everywhere on the Bayonet Black Horse Country Club links, it’s good to be reminded that the other side of the “freedom to excel” coin is the freedom to fail. This 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 Speciale is a one-off (thanks be!) by Drogo. It failed to meet its reserve when offered at Gooding & Co. in 2014 (below) for an estimate of $400,000 – $600,000.

Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 Speciale

Alfas – Resurgent?

Alfa Romeo as a new car brand was absent from the US market for so long, and promises of a return were so frequently unmet that those of us who admire the marque became wary of premature anticipation.

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The Alfa Romeo 4C has been with us for a while, but we must be forgiven for withholding our sighs of relief  until a less single-focus, mainstream Alfa came along.

With the prospect of deliveries of the new Giulia previewed by the introduction last year of the 500-plus horsepower “Quadrifoglio” version, we now dare to hope.

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Only shown in rather drab gray at the Los Angeles International Auto Show last year (and under the tent at the Concorso this summer, below), the Giulia “Quad” seduced in a midnight metallic blue on the grass.  A rather generic profile is rescued by very Alfa-esque wheels and an unmistakable face. With 503 SAE net horsepower (510 DIN) from its 90° twin-turbo V6, it promises class-leading performance.
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Georgetto Giugiaro, in his early career working for Bertone, created the Alfa Romeo 105 (115 in the U. S.) in 1961, with proportions that still look perfect today. The cars have appeared in some ten variations, with four different displacement versions of the same alloy DOHC eight-valve engine. Our photographer, Mr. Ephraim Levy, is just finishing up refreshing his own 1974 2000 GT Veloce.

50th Anniversaries

The Fiata

The average Joe has a tough time justifying the luxury of a two-seat sports car. That was as true in 1966 as it is today, and as today there were few choices then that did not break the bank. British sports cars had agricultural pushrod engines sourced from staid upright sedans. An Alfa had overhead cams and a five-speed gearbox, but they were half again as expensive as an MG.

Enter the Fiat 124. With styling cues recognizable as related to the lovely Ferrari 275 GTS from the same American Tom Tjaarda, it just looked right. Powered by a dual overhead cam four driving through a five-speed gearbox, it was a delight to drive, if not to maintain. But they were priced right.

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Carrozzeria Touring, with their patented Superleggera coachwork system, was honored at the Concorso this year. We were grateful that a few Early Fiat 124 spiders snuck into the background of this shot so we could show a glimpse.

Today, with Consumer Reports and the J. D. Power rankings exposing any such shortcomings, Fiat did the smart thing. They went to an established Japanese carmaker with a proven record of making affordable roadsters that didn’t break, and partnered with Mazda on the development of their latest MX-5 Miata.

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he elongated hexagon of the grille, signature hood cam bulges, and the sensuous sweep of Italian fender line leave no doubt of the inspiration of Fiat’s new 124 Spider. Mazda underpinnings promise a level of unfamiliar reliability, while a turbo four sourced from the frisky 500 Abarth, offers a few more beans in the recipe over the naturally aspirated Miata four.

The Graduate

Even if someone knows nothing about cars, they probably know this one. A poorly documented story has a young Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin, in The Graduate) introducing his uncle, an executive with some connection with Alfa, to the director, facilitating the product placement coup of the day.

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Above, displaying their “cuttlefish” tails, Alfa Romeo Duettos crowd each other on the Concorso fairway on the 50th anniversary of the model introduction. The name was trademarked by a biscuit maker, so the factory never officially called it that, but few Alfisti care. Below, a lone Duetto punctuates a gathering of GTVs.
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Mid-engine Magic – the Miura

A little like Henry Ford before him, Enzo Ferrari was wary of change. He was late in employing disc brakes, for instance. While racing cars, including his own, were steadily adopting the rear-mid engine layout, his first excursion into road cars with the engine behind the driver involved only cars that did not bear the Ferrari name – the six-cylinder Dinos.

Ferruccio Lamborghini, on the other hand, embraced innovation. Given the freedom to experiment, three of his engineers built a transverse-mid-engine exotic chassis incorporating the Lamborghini V12. Ferrari had refused to build a mid-engine V12, but Ferruccio welcomed the idea, and they were tasked with building a show chassis for Turin in 1965. It was a smash hit.

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Many mid-engine cars are ill-proportioned, with the length of an engine between the cockpit and the rear axle line giving them the look of a kind of exotic pickup truck. Some manufacturers employ styling artifices such as sail panels and flying buttresses to reduce the effect. With its transverse-mounted 4-liter V12 mounted almost directly atop the rear axle (above), the Miura needed no such tricks. It remains to this day a paragon of Italian design and engineering. Below is a shot of one at Pebble Beach. The model was honored at both shows.
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The Miura has to be counted as the first exotic car. Nothing had been built like it for sale before. With a 170 mile per hour top speed, it was easily the top dog among sports cars.

Italian Animals

When I was discharged form the Army in 1971 my father picked me up at the Orange County Airport in his fly yellow DeTomaso Mangusta, so I have a special affection for the products of Alejandro DeTomaso’s Modena Car Company. Before that I was captivated by the sheer audacity of the Mangusta’s Giugiaro design. Extreme low-set quad headlights, butterfly engine compartment lids, and those staggered tire sizes that made it look as though it was gathered to spring gave it a menace unmatched then or since.

The attraction, of course, was all that exotic Italian flair without the angst of multiple overhead cams and carburetors that baffled your corner garage. The prototype Mangusta had the Hi-Po Ford 289 V8, but by introduction time emission controls had arrived, and it was replaced with a 302 of mild tune and low redline.

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Spectators approach the DeTomaso Mangusta display on the 50th anniversary of its introduction – or are they just headed for the temporary washrooms behind?

The Mangusta had a reputation for challenging handling characteristics, so when Ford commissioned a replacement, the transmission was inverted to lower the center of gravity, and that, along with the substitution of the 351 Cleveland V8 addressed most of the Mangusta’s concerns. Above you’ll find the Fiat 124’s design attributed to Tom Tjaarda, and he was at Ghia when they styled the Pantera. It’s a nice design, with hidden headlights that met the Federal standards that caused the Mangusta to contract a case of strabismus in 1970, but it lacked the ‘Goose’s visual impact.

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With a longer run and Mercury dealer support, Panteras far outnumber Mangustas (6,128 to 400). Owners are passionate, and not shy about dressing their cars up. They show up with regularity in large numbers at these shows, like 227HKV below, exhibited in 2013 and 2016.
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It’s no Concorso Without Ferraris

The Ferrari answer to the Miura was pretty ordinary by the new standard – the front-engine 365 GTB/4 Daytona. It was a high-performance car to be sure, but front-engines were so ’60s.

The mid-engine V12 that Enzo finally built, the 512 BB (Berlinetta Boxer) didn’t arrive until the Miura had been out of production for a year, in 1973.

The BB’s replacement was a rather strange machine. Impossibly wide, with cheese-grater side strakes, the Testarossa and subsequent 512 TR suffered briefly from its association with the TV show Miami Vice and the occasional Camaro-based imitation. Appreciation is recovering though, and the cars are now regaining some of the value lost recently. One thing is for sure – like the Miura, you don’t mistake one for anything else (except maybe one of those Camaros).

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Above: Looking like something Darth Vader might drive, a 512 TR in black is as menacing as it gets. Behind it on the right is the last of the classic front-engine V12 Ferraris, the 365 GTB/4 Daytona. Below: all that width is needed to make room for a 48-valve horizontal-opposed twelve-cylinder engine and the radiators to cool it.
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To many, the sexiest classic Ferrari is the 275 GTB with its shark-like shape. This dark shade of Rosso displays its sensuous contours well.

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During the mid-engine V12 drought at Ferrari, the gap was filled by the V6 Dino, named for Enzo’s son. Long derided for its “entry-level” market placement, these cars are now recognized by many as among the most beautiful the company produced. Eventually Ferrari relented and deigned to affix his name to cars, like this 246 GTS. A preservation class winner sold for $330,000 (including commission) at Mecum this year.

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Drum brakes and solid rear axles seem quaint these days, but they do not diminish the collector appeal of vintage Ferraris, like this 250 Tour de France.

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It’s difficult to suppress a snigger over the name, and the color (probably a “wrap”) is just out there, but the performance of the Ferrari LaFerrari cannot be so easily dismissed. Its hybrid drivetrain produces 950 total horsepower and a nice even 900 Nm (664 Lb-Ft.) of torque. Aided by an electric motor’s instantaneous torque, it is said to reach 100 mph from a stop in 3 seconds flat.

Legacy Brands

Alfa Romeo racing credentials predate Ferrari’s by some 36 years. In 1926, fifteen years later, the Maserati brothers won the Targa Florio with the first racing car carrying their name. Highlights of the marque include Wilbur Shaw’s two consecutive wins (1939 & 1940) at the Indianapolis 500 in the 8CTF.

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Tradition has the winner of the previous year’s Indianapolis 500 awarded number “1” the following year. Wilbur Shaw drove this Maserati 8CTF, displayed at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2010, to victory in 1939 and 1940. Maserati is the only Italian marque to have won the 500.

Maserati’s bread and butter cars in the late ’50s and early ’60s were the 3500GTs, powered by twelve-valve in-line sixes, as were the Jaguars and Aston Martins of the day.

Maserati competed for the World Sports Car Championship in 1957, coming in second to Ferrari with their V8-powered 450 S. A variation of that engine was adapted to road cars, including the car many consider the first high performance 4-door sedan, the Quattroporte, with elegant coachwork by Frua.

Cutting eleven inches out of the Quattroporte’s chassis, Maserati created the equally elegant Mexico 2+2, so-named because the prototype was delivered to Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos.

These two cars, with their airy greenhouses, pleasing proportions, and DOHC V8 performance, were standouts in the luxury car market of the early ’60s.

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Today we’ve become accustomed to gun-slit windows and non-existent rear visibility in our sports coupes. Maserati’s Quattroporte and Mexico (above) gave new meaning to the term “greenhouse” with there slim pillars and vast glass area.

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bout the time Lamborghini was phasing out the Miura, Maserati was bringing out its first mid-engined cars, the V6 Merak (left above) and the V8 Bora (right), named (as was Maserati’s custom then) after famous winds.

Others

Italian Style, American Power

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itting a big (by European standards) U. S. V8 into elegant Italian Coachwork was high concept in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Renzo Rivolta and Giotto Bizzarrini got together and built some lovely cars under the name Iso Rivolta, powered by Chevrolet Corvette V8s.

The Eyes!

A car has to have a “face.” Given that, you can screw up an automotive design with the wrong “eyes.” It has been an issue with cars that feature hidden headlights, and with the freedom afforded with modern technologies like LED lighting and even lasers, there are whole new ways to mess up the frontal aspect of a car.

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Impressive engineering, with a Mercedes AMG-sourced  twin-turbo V12 rated at 720 horsepower and 811 pound-feet of torque, and active aerodynamics, give the Pagani Huayra (Hoo-Wye-Rah) extreme performance. Claimed top speed is 238 mph, with lateral acceleration said to be up to 1.66 g. But you still have to look at it.

Join Us

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A little suggestion: If you are considering joining the fun next year, be sure not to ignore the non-Italian car display. There are always some interesting cars, like this Jaguar E-Type tricked out as a racing car, in British Racing Green.

 

 

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Ford, Ferrari, and Le Mans 2016

Can They Do It Again?

It’s Not Bragging If You Can Do It

There is a real risk in setting a goal and announcing it in advance. If you fall on your butt you do it in the full glare of media scrutiny. John F. Kennedy did it with the Apollo Program, and history applauds him for it, as much for the audacity as for accomplishing it.

Bringing it down to earth, Ford Motor Company has set itself the goal of reclaiming the glory days of the sixties when they beat Enzo Ferrari in his favorite venue by competing in and winning the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans, and they have not been shy about announcing that they intend to win.

Enzo at Le Mans.

Although a successful racing driver in his own right, Enzo Ferrari never drove at Le Mans himself. Instead, his legacy is founded in his management of the Alfa Romeo racing effort, until after WWII when he created his own marque, Ferrari S.p.A., in 1947.

His open-wheel racers enjoyed some success in 1948, but it was Le Mans where his road racing cars played an oversize part in establishing his racing credentials, starting in 1949.

003ChinettiLeMans166Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, 2015.
Above: The first Ferrari to win Le Mans. Expatriate Italian Luigi Chinetti ‘s Co-driver fell ill, so he drove it for all but about twenty minutes of the entire 24 hours. Enzo Ferrari rewarded him with the Ferrari franchise for the United States.
Below: The last Ferrari to win Le Mans outright, 1965 Ferrari 250LM Chassis Number 5893, driven by Jochen Rindt, Masten Gregory, and Ed Hugus.
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In 1949 the winning Barchetta chassis 0008M, was clothed in a Superleggera body by Carrozzeria Touring, and all twelve cylinders displaced a mere 2 liters. Ferrari would go on to win the event outright fourteen times, including six years in a row beginning in 1959.

Total Performance

At Ford Motor Company in the late ‘50s, Henry Ford II had promoted safety as Fords’ marketing theme. While today that’s a legitimate strategy, back then it was a dud. Legendary marketing whiz Lido A. “Lee” Iacocca convinced “The Duece” to switch to “Total Performance,” a program emphasizing special competition cars in many different racing classes.

The Snub.

What was really going through the mind of Enzo Ferrari in 1963 will never be known, but for whatever reason, he “let it be known” that he wanted to sell his company to Ford. An enthusiastic Henry Ford II dove into negotiations in earnest. He was eager to have the immense prestige of Ferrari to rub off on other Fords and he was willing to pay just about any price, provided the terms were right.

Somewhere in the negotiations the two reached an impasse. Some say it was over Ferrari’s stated intention to build cars to race at Indianapolis. Ford didn’t want the competition for their Lotus-Fords, and on that note, Ferrari walked out. Of course no Ferrari ever did run at Indy thereafter, so once again his true motivation may never be known.

Ferrari would win Le Mans two more times, but meanwhile, within two weeks of Ferrari’s cutting off negotiations, an angered Henry Ford II determined to beat Ferrari where he was most famous. By the time they were done they had won Le Mans four times and Ferrari would never win it outright again.

Ford started by engaging Aston Martin’s John Wyer to run the effort (Aston Martin had won in 1959 with Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori sharing driving duties), with Eric Broadley of Lola assigned to create a Ford capable of winning the race, based on a mid-engine racing coupe he’d been developing.

Close but no Cigar

The first Lola-designed “MKI” Ford GT40s (so-named for their 40 inch height), powered by 255 cubic inch Ford Indy 500 “stock block” pushrod V8s, were fast but suffered aerodynamic problems, and crashed out at Le Mans. An aero fix was successful, and Cobra 289 V8s were fitted, but rear suspensions proved fragile, and the cars failed to finish at the Nassau Speed Weeks.

After the 1964 Le Mans entry suffered further suspension failures, the cars had failed to finish in all nine starts. Consequentially, Ford severed its ties to Lola and moved operations to California under Carroll Shelby, who had his own grudge against Ferrari, after being deprived of a potential GT-class championship when Enzo managed to get the final race of the season cancelled with Cobras within striking distance (pun intended) in the standings.

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The fourth GT40, Chassis number 104, sold for $7,000,000 at Mecum’s Houston Auction in 2014. It used thinner-wall chassis tubing for lighter weight. Although it never won a race, with a best finish of third at the 1965 2000 km Daytona Continental, its provenance included drivers like Phil Hill, Bob Bondurant, Richie Ginther, and Jo Schlesser.

No More Mister Nice Guy

Ford chose the nuclear option in 1966, and replaced the small-block Cobra engines with a version of the proven NASCAR 427 cubic inch V8. While the 3-liter V12s in the Ferrari 250LM that won the 1965 race made a peak of 320 horsepower at 7,500 rpm, in 1966 the big Ford MKIIs were loafing along (comparatively) developing their 485 horsepower at about 5,000.

For that season Ford mounted a multi-faceted campaign, with the Shelby team, one by Holman and Moody, and one by Alan Mann in the UK. They were successful right out of the box, sweeping the podium at both Daytona and Le Mans, and finishing 1-2 at Sebring.

Stupid PR Tricks

The 1966 effort at Le Mans is infamous for a PR stunt that cost rightful winners Ken Miles and Denny Hulme the victory. Fords stood 1-2-3 with an insurmountable lead when someone in Ford thought it would make a great publicity photo to have the cars cross the finish line abreast, so Miles slowed to let his teammates catch up. Unfortunately for him and his co-driver, the Le Mans winner is the car that travels the farthest in the 24 hours, so because the car of Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren started further back on the grid 24 hours before, they had traveled a few more feet at the finish and were awarded the win.

Climbing out of his car in the pits, Miles was heard to mutter, “Screw it!” He died two months later testing the Ford “J-Car.”

Let Us Spray

The J-car was developed into the factory entry for 1967. It was an entirely new design, with a honeycomb structure and a body with a “lobster-claw” nose developed in a sophisticated wind tunnel. Four were entered at Le Mans in 1967, with two wiped out in a single accident and a third coming in fourth. That left Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt.

Gurney had taken the lead early and he and Foyt were never really challenged. Gurney’s lead was so great that Ferrari sent Mike Parkes, four laps down in a 330 P4, out to harass him into doing something stupid. Gurney recognized the tactics.

“He was all over me under braking at the end of the Mulsanne straight, flicking his lights like crazy, trying to get me to drive harder,” Gurney said later. Instead, he pulled off onto the grass and stopped. Parkes stopped behind him, but after a few seconds, pulled back on the track and Gurney soon passed him. Foyt finished the race, 32 miles ahead of Parkes, averaging a record 135.48 miles per hour.

In one more historic moment, at the podium, Dan Gurney took the traditional celebratory bottle of Moet & Chandon, shook it up, and sprayed all and sundry with bubbly, creating a tradition still practiced today.

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Ford won Le Mans four times, the second time in 1967. This is the car that Dan Gurney (note the “Gurney Bump” on the roof to accommodate his long torso.) and A. J. Foyt drove to victory. It was the first win at Le Mans for an American car, driven by American drivers for an American team. It ran only in one race, won it, and retired undefeated to the Henry Ford Museum, as shown here.

Icing on the Cake

The win was so convincing that, perhaps fearing withdrawal of European teams in future races (Ferrari, you think?), organizers placed a cap of five liters on subsequent entries.

It didn’t matter. Ford came back with improved MKIs in 1968 and 1969 powered by the ubiquitous 289. With revised bottom end and the Gurney-Weslake head design that had the carburetors bolted straight onto the heads, they produced a reliable 500 plus horsepower on gasoline. They won again, entered by John Wyer as Mirages. Having slain the dragon, Ford retired just in time to avoid being steamrolled by the next juggernaut, the Porsche 917.

GT40s for the Street

Between the first successful GT40 MK IIs and the big-block MK IVs, Ford produced just seven MKIIIs for use on public roads. They were given more luxurious interior appointments, a slightly higher ride height to better negotiate driveway aprons, etc., and an engine that was essentially the Mustang GT350 289 cubic inch V8, with an identical 306 horsepower rating. It cost about $18,500 when new.

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In case you wondered if the Petersen cars are driven, this is the Petersen’s GT40 MKIII in Steve Beck’s shop in Mar Vista in 2003 for a clutch replacement. That was at the Los Angeles Chapter of the Shelby American Automobile Club’s annual Holiday Party there. Steve road-tested the new clutch with a trip to Oxnard for another Shelby club event (with the blessing of the Museum, of course).

Tribute Cars – The GT

Ford had many more racing successes, with their DFV V8 developed for Formula One becoming the winningest engine in history, but the Le Mans wins stood out in such bold relief that in 2002 Ford showed a tribute car called the GT40 Concept, to be a part of the Ford Centennial Celebration. That car reached production as the Ford GT (Someone else had picked up the rights to the GT40 name.) in 2004 with a supercharged 5.4 liter 4-valve V8 based on the Mustang SVT Cobra R’s, making 550 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque.

The last of the 4038 cars built had an MSRP of $149,995. Demand far outstripped supply, and dealers typically placed asking prices on the cars more in keeping with that of the Ferraris and Lamborghinis with which they competed well in performance.

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The Ford GT at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2004.

With the 50th anniversary of the historic wins at Le Mans approaching, Ford is celebrating by introducing a new GT with a shape that won Automobile magazine’s Design of the Year award.

Like the Jaguar XJ220, the new GT is powered by a twin-turbo 3.5 liter V6. Technology has improved in 23 years so the new engine will develop perhaps 600 horsepower versus the Jag’s 542.

A carbon fiber chassis and efficient aerodynamics should make it a good deal faster, while even at an expected price of $400,000 or so, it should be a better value than the $678,000 that Jaguar asked for the XJ220. About 250 a year are planned for the new car, with no word yet on how many years of production are envisioned.

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Ford’s latest tribute to the Le Mans-winning GT40s carries enough design cues to be recognized as a descendant of those cars, while incorporating innovative features like the tunnels that allow air to easily move around the central pod without generating lift. It is on display at the Petersen Museum now, along with the Museum’s GT40 MKIII.

The Big Gamble

This time, instead of the Deuce, It’s Edsel Ford II taking a gamble with the new GT, announcing its intention to contend in the LM GT Pro class. If the car is even marginally successful they will gain great PR for their EcoBoost technology that is taking over for big displacement V8s, V6s and even a four, in their mainstream consumer products, from the tiny 1.0 liter three-cylinder turbo available in the Fiesta and Focus to the 400 hp 2017 Lincoln MKZ version of the 3.5-liter turbo. If they fall on their faces, someone is going to fall on his (or her) sword.

So far, results have been mixed. After some teething problems at Daytona and Indianapolis (the road races, not the NASCAR and Indycar events) they held together at the tough Sebring course, and might have achieved a podium finish if not for an unfortunate shunt late in the race with minutes to go. Remember – it took two years for them to get there the first time.

2017GT00RThe new Ford GT will compete in both the FIA Endurance Racing Championship and the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship.

Changing the Game

Full-on heavily-financed factory-supported teams have become the norm at Le Mans and the associated championship series. Industry giant Volkswagen seems to allocate resources to one division or another according to some corporate marketing scheme; Porsche winning for a while, then Audi, and even a car with the Bentley name on it winning in 2003.

It’s good to remember that it all started back in the early 1960s, with Henry Ford II getting ticked off at an enigmatic Enzo Ferrari.

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Another Kind of Art of the Automobile

Another Local Resource

With all the hooplah over the reopening of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles it’s good to remember that the edifice is founded in a hobby. Robert Petersen’s fortune, and the collection that it allowed him to assemble, came from a publishing empire that started with a little special-interest magazine named Hot Rod.

Every year at this time the faithful of the Rod and Custom hobbies (Sometimes the lines between the two get blurred.) gather in Pomona for the Grand National Roadster Show, where you’ll see more sparkling chrome, shimmering clear coat, sensuous sheet metal and mouth-watering color than just about anywhere else on earth.

The 2016 AMBR Award

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Sometimes classic proportions and detailed execution win out over flash and exaggeration. Darryl and Terri Hollenbeck recruited Dan Webb and Cory Taulbert to help in the building of the Hollenbeck32, a car that might have just completed a SCTA run on a California dry lake. If you visit the Petersen, you can see the Hot Rod Magazine 5oth anniversary tribute car, built by Terri’s father, two-time AMBR winner Andy Brizio. Darryl calls the color he mixed, “rotten avocado.”
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Beauty in all Forms

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Following the passing of legendary King of Kustoms George Barris, it is only appropriate that his famous Lincoln Futura-based TV Batmobile be a featured display.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Some of the roadsters shown alongside this year’s AMBR contenders caused us to do a double take. Several award winners from the an earlier event were displayed, perhaps for a historic perspective?

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2010 multiple award-winner Magnatude (above) was back, as was Metallica’s James Hetfield’s Aquarius (below), a car that would look right at home in the Bruce Meyer Gallery’s current exhibit of Precious Metal at the Petersen.
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BlueBayouIMG_4655We appreciate a good (or bad) pun as much or more than the next guy, so Charles C. Evans’ Deuce, Blue Bayou (Blew By You – get it?), built by Charly’s Garage, Mesa Arizona, attracted our attention almost as much as its unusual sky blue hue and honkin’ Chrysler Fire Power Hemi V8.

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Another Hemi-powered (’57 401 CID) Deuce, Gary Metranga’s aero-informed creation shuns many traditional roadster cues with hidden headlights (rectangular, no less) and refrigerator white scheme.

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Hollywood Hot Rods of Burbank created this eye-rest green ’36 Ford Roadster based on a design by Eric Black for Jeff Romig, incorporating ideas from the Lincolns being built alongside them at the Ford plant on Long Beach’s Ford Avenue.

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It’s not all Deuces, and anyway who can resist a great flame job, like the one on this ’39 Ford Convertible?
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Chopped tops, lots of chrome, and wild paint characterize a pair of turn-of-the-half-century customs. Ford and Chevrolet may be bitter rivals in the market but here a Mercury and Chevy can co-exist peacefully.

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No Rod Report would be complete without at least one Little Deuce Coupe. Bob and Sherry Franklin’s Green Thump has a custom Van Gordon supercharged V8 in place of a flathead mill.

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Nancy and Buddy Jordan’s 1947 Cadillac in gorgeous “Sparkling Merlot” is CadZZilla dialed back about six notches.

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It’s all about rescuing a nice old car. Gotta love the before and after comparisons – even if it’s just approximate.

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You gotta show at least one lilac Cadillac,

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. . . one real racing sports car (Mickey Thompson’s Z06 Corvette with the 427 “Mystery Motor” driven by Junior Johnson at Daytona in 1963), 

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 . . . and one really outrageous – something.

Adding to the fun is the thought that one of these will no doubt soon show up in one of the galleries at the Petersen. Drop on by and see.

 

 

 

 

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The Petersen Re-Imagined I

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Los Angeles’ Museum Row Gets New Landmark Look

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The exterior treatment of the new Petersen is stunning, especially at night.

As media reaction to the new Petersen Automotive Museum exterior’s hot rod flame treatment rolls out it’s difficult not to be reminded of how critics panned the design of the Disney Concert Hall downtown.

Our most vivid recollection is of someone remarking that it looked as though they’d left the architectural model sitting out in the rain. A while back we had an extended opportunity to experience it on a daily basis, and it seemed everyone who passed was admiring it. Look at any rack of postcards in the area and you’re sure to find pictures of it. It’s become something of a symbol of the city.

In our opinion, the new Petersen is headed toward that kind of acceptance. It will be the southwest anchor of the Miracle Mile and Museum Row in Los Angeles, and as one critic admitted, the public will probably love it.

IMG_4175PenthouseDeck
The Penthouse Deck on the fourth floor retains the original tea room from the days of the original Seibu Department Store that constitutes the bones of the building, with the exuberant treatment of the building exterior flowing overhead.

You don’t have to pay the admission fee to see a few great cars at the Petersen. The Mullin Family Concourse is open to the public, giving access to all of Museum Row from the Petersen’s garage, and teases with a few automotive treasures to entice you in.

IMG_4156RoundDoorRolls
Walking into the concourse, one of the first cars you see now is among the most famous of the Petersen Collection, this 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I – the “Round-Door Rolls.”

Originally an open car, the Round Door Rolls was rebodied by truck builder Jonckheer of Belgium in 1934, reportedly for the sole purpose of winning concours. It worked. The car won the Prix d’Honneur at the Concours d’Elegance at Cannes in 1936. The car had a short show-biz career in a carnival, painted gold and passed off as the Prince of Wales’ ride. Found in derelict condition, it is one of the few cars in the collection actually restored under the Petersens’ care.

Big Changes

The previous Museum’s first floor consisted of a Streetscape, depicting the history of Los Angeles and the cars that facilitated its sprawl, illustrated in dioramas and exhibiting cars from the times. The second floor had an alternative fuels exhibit and several galleries for rotating exhibits based on themes. The third floor had offices and the Discovery Center where kids could learn about cars and play with automotive-themed artifacts.

The trouble with that scheme was that it severely limited how many of the over 300 cars in the Petersen Collection could be displayed at any one time, not to mention any cars loaned from other collectors and museums.

Now all three floors are chock-full of cars, arranged in three themes. They are arranged so that they are best experienced from the top down.

The Third Floor

Administrative offices went to the basement and it’s now themed as the History of the Automobile, arranged by themes rather than chronology.

It starts with one of the Museum’s Crown Jewels, the Steve McQueen 1956 Jaguar XK-SS, in front of a screen showing a film about what we like about our cars, what we do with them, and where we go with them.

On this floor there’s everything from the Collection’s 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen to one of the earliest pilot production Dodge Viper SRT8s.

There’s a row of cars associated with Hollywood, including the Volkswagen van from Little Miss Sunshine, one of Fatty Arbuckle’s cars (a Renault), Elvis Presley’s DeTomaso Pantera, complete with the bullet holes it got when he shot it for failing to start, the Magnum P.I. Ferrari, and an Aston Martin DB10 from the James Bond movie Spectre.

IMG_4436DB10
One of the James Bond Aston Martins, a DB5 FHC from Goldfinger, complete with ejector seat and tire slicers, is included in the Precious Metal exhibit. This one, a DB10 from Spectre, closes the Circle to date, and is among the Hollywood cars on exhibit, a small sample of the Museum’s extensive collection.

There are rods and customs, including two of the nine America’s Most Beautiful Roadsters (AMBR) in the Petersen’s Collection. One is the very first rod to win the AMBR award in 1950 at the Oakland Roadster Show (now the Grand National Roadster Show, held in Pomona).

CadZZilla00
We’re not alone in considering this the most beautiful custom car ever built. 26 years ago Billy Gibbons, lead guitarist for ZZ Top commissioned legendary customizer Boyd Coddington to create CadZZilla on a 1948 Cadillac Series 62 Sedanette foundation based on a concept Gibbons imagined with Cadillac designer Larry Erickson. Gibbons shows the car here and there, but usually it calls the Petersen home.

HirohataMercury01
Recently deceased George Barris partnered with his brother Sam in 1952 to create the quintessential ’49-51 Mercury “Kustom Koupe,” chopping the top and removing the “B” pillars, among other features.

Appropriate for a museum founded by the Petersens and co-chaired by prominent hot rod collector Bruce Meyer, hot rods have a significant presence, including one that pretty much set the pattern for Deuce roadsters.

IMG_4264DoanSpencerRoadsterBigger
The genesis of the Doane Spencer Roadster, currently a key component of Petersen Co-Chair Bruce Meyer’s collection, goes all the way back to 1944. It’s the first Deuce to be fitted with a DuVall windshield (Hot rodders keep track of these things.) and introduced other features later copied on other Deuces. At one time it was prepared to race in the Carrera Panamericana, receiving extra chassis bracing and exhaust was channeled through the frame rails for improved ground clearance.

AMBRNo1
The “Niekamp” Roadster, winner of the first AMBR award. Like most rods, it’s made up of pieces from four or five different cars, with some custom fabricated parts. In the Background is a mildly customized Mercury, and the largest-selling motorized vehicle in history, the 50cc Honda Cub.

PossessedWithInset00
In 2010 Scott’s Hot Rods were racing literally up to the last minute to meet the 12:00 deadline for entering “Possessed” in the AMBR competition, facing setbacks like wrong-size tires and a freeway snarl between Oxnard and Pomona 90 miles away. They arrived at the scrutineers with the trailer dragging traffic cones and chased by parking attendants, at 11:59. The story wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if they hadn’t won.

IMG_4292BiscayneXP37
General Motors didn’t want any of its concept cars to fall into private hands, and ordered them destroyed. Fortunately for us, several were discovered in pieces in a junk yard by Joe Bortz, who rescued them and restored them. This is the 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne XP37, whose lines hold up pretty well today. Sharp eyes may recognize some design elements that showed up in the Corvette and Corvair.

The Second Floor

The Second floor is dedicated to the Automotive Industry. Everything from the earliest stages of product planning to the showroom floor is explored. There’s even a studio that’s an extension of the Art Center College of Design, where design students will work on their projects.

JagLeft&Right
Car construction is illustrated with a cutaway of a Jaguar XKF.

The new Discovery Center lures the kids (of all sizes) in with interactive displays created by Pixar, using its Cars characters (with the actual actors voicing them) to demonstrate how cars work, and allowing the participants to design their own cars.

IMG_4293LightningMcQueen
Lightning McQueen, in full size, gets star billing in the new Discovery center. The movie character was actually engineered according to current NASCAR practice to insure accurate depiction of the car’s behavior on the road or track (up to a point, of course) in the movie. As a result, the interactive displays that show his inner workings are both correct and true to the character.

IMG_4265Quatroporte
There is an exhibit showing the stages of building a Maserati Quatroporte, one of the most beautiful four-door sedans available today. Here is the Final Product.

Motorsports as a driver of design and engineering is a major theme on the second floor. One large room displays significant racing cars from the Nearburg Collection, with a 180 degree wrap-around film depicting racing in all its varieties and nuances.

CarreraLancia
Road racing in the early ’50s was contested by the greats – Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, etc. Not to be forgotten is Lancia, whose D24s won both the Targa Florio and the Mille Miglia. This 1953 D24R is the car that Juan Manuel Fangio drove to victory in the 1953 Carrera Panamericana.

IMG_4255KenBlockFiesta
In the electronic age, it is not just racing that manufacturers use to convey an image of performance. Ford reaps tremendous PR from the YouTube exploits of Ken Block in his 650 horsepower all-wheel drive Ford Fiesta.

Individual Exuberance

In many cases, it was the work of back-yard mechanics and the shops that served them that pushed American manufacturers to improve performance in their cars. Young men who had learned skills in the service during WWII came home and continued a tradition begun long before, of building their own cars from pieces of others, perhaps scavenged in junk yards.

HRM50thAnniversaryRod
Robert Petersen was the first to recognize the popularity of hot rodding and put the sport in print. In January of 1948 he published Volume One Number One of Hot Rod magazine. Regg Schlemmer’s roadster graced the cover of that issue (inset), and served as the inspiration for Roy Brizio’s tribute car, commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the magazine.

Two Wheels Only

There was a short period in transportation history when the fastest form of travel was by motorcycle. The Petersen’s extremely compact motorcycle exhibit spans from a 1903 Thor to a 2015 Kawasaki supercharged  liter bike with over 300 horsepower. In between there are bikes with one, two, four, six and eight cylinders (unaccountably omitting the Triumph and BSA triples), and an example of some of the most significant motorcycles ever. The word “iconic” is grossly overused but certainly applies here.

Other motorcycles, such as Steve McQueen’s Indian Big Chief and an example of the first four-cylinder motorcycle can be found on the third floor.

IMG_4192Brough
Anyone who has seen the David Lean movie Lawrence of Arabia has seen a Brough Superior. T. E. Lawrence owned at least four of these expensive motorcycles, and it was on one of these that he crashed in 1935 as seen in the movie. This is “Old Bill” the prototype SS80 that George Brough himself raced to great success in hill climbs. The Red machine behind on the left is a Crocker, built in Los Angeles and said to outperform the Indians and Harley-Davidsons of the day.

Silver Salute

Today we seem awash in silver cars. At one time though, the combination of silver paint and lots of bright metal was a feature of the most elegant and prestigious cars, going back to AX201, the 1907 Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce. For its opening, the Museum presents ten stunning silver cars, ranging from a Ghia Fiat Supersonic two-liter V8 to the all-conquering “Silver Arrow” Mercedes Benz W196.

3BISsStanding in one place, one is within feet of three cars that have won the prestigious title of Best in Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Viewed over the starboard wing of the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger, on the right is the Nethercutt’s 1933 Duesenberg J Rolston Arlington Torpedo Sedan called the “Twenty Grand” for it’s purchase price. On the left is Jon Shirley’s 1953 Ferrari 375 MM, originally owned by film director Roberto Rosellini who had it rebodied by Scaglietti. Behind it is the 2009 Best in Show 1937 Horch 853 Cabriolet, with a few period-correct enhancements added since it won.

SaoutchickHiso
The Mullin Collection’s 1938 Hispano Suiza Dubonnet Xenia with aero bodywork by Saoutchick. There are more typical examples of French coachwork in the first floor Mullin gallery, but none more impressive than this. The doors open parallel to the car’s axis on patented parallelogram hinges, and the suspension design by the heir to the Dubonnet aperitif fortune, André Dubonnet, was bought by General Motors.

The First Floor

Art on Autos, and Vice Versa

In 1975 Hervé Poulain persuaded BMW Motorsport Director Jochen Neerpasch to supply a car for him to race at Le Mans. He then commissioned American artist Alexander Calder to unleash his creativity on the car, creating the first “Art Car.” The idea caught on, and BMW bought into the idea, commissioning 17 other artists to create their own versions. The Armand Hammer Foundation Gallery was devoted to an exhibition relating that series.

IMG_4372CalderBMW
The car that started it all. 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL Le Mans race car with decorative paint job by Alexander Calder. Behind it is the BMW 850si painted by David Hockney, and on the wall are pictures and descriptions of the other BMW Art Cars.

Car Painting
It’s one thing to paint a car, but BMW got creative and used a car to paint. This is a section of a huge “canvas” created by taking the BMW Z4 displayed and applying paint to its tires with squirters, then driving it as directed by the artist, Robin Rhode.

Cars as Sculpture

The Art Deco movement affected every aspect of design. On cars it manifested as an attempt to capture the idea of speed and motion in the design of the vehicle itself. Aerodynamics were studied and applied. The result in many cases was a car that looked as though it was moving fast while standing still.

Since the French were at the forefront of the movement, there are bound to be  mutterings that the Museum’s Board Co-Chairman Peter Mullin is turning a museum founded on hot rodding into a French car museum, but with an entire museum of his own in Oxnard devoted to that theme, there’s little to fear.

IMG_4415Bugatti57SCAtlantic
The upside of the Mullin connection is that the Petersen gets to show some of the most stunning cars ever built. The car rumored to have set a record for the private sale of a car ($35 million), the 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic above, was in the Art of the Automobile display.

With almost 100,000 square feet of display space, the reader will understand that only a tiny fraction of the experience is documented here, and no photograph can convey what you experience seeing it in person. On top of that are all the interactive features, including the Forza Racing Experience, where you can drive a simulator and compete with real racing drivers and your friends and neighbors. During the real Le Mans race in June you can actually race in real time as though you were there.

So the obvious admonition is to get down to the Petersen Automotive Museum yourself and experience it personally. Admission fees are reasonable (Adults: $15, Students and Seniors: $12, Kids: $7, Under 3 free). The first 20 minutes of parking is free if you want to dash in and buy a Holiday  gift at the store.

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 attributed otherwise.

 

 

 

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2015 LA Auto Show Faves – I

Intros & Newcomers

Some people may attend an event like the 2015 Los Angeles International Auto Show to get a chance to see all the candidates for a new car purchase in one setting. Some may just want to see the cars they’ve been reading and hearing about for a year. We go to see what’s new.

Finally! The real thing!

IMG_3457AcuraNSX2.0
Honda has been teasing us about a sequel to the 1990 – 2005 game-changing NSX mid-engine exotic, with Superbowl adds featuring Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld fighting over first delivery rights, for years. Now it’s actually here, and you’ll pardon us for being underwhelmed.

Acura’s NSX follows current exotic practice with a hybrid powertrain featuring a mid-mounted 500 horsepower twin turbo 3.5 liter V6 and three electric motors for a total power output of 573 horsepower.

This is not news. Twenty-three years ago Jaguar introduced the XJ220 with a 3.5 liter twin turbo V6 and 542 horsepower. BMW, Porsche, Ferrari and McLaren have all introduced exotic hybrid sports cars in the last year, many with specifications that far surpass the new NSX.

The car is not even built on a carbon fiber tub – nearly mandatory in order to be taken seriously these days.

So it’s a little hard to get excited over such limited progress. In point of fact, it sounds only marginally more exciting than a standard Corvette – not even a Z06. It isn’t even all that exotic looking. Maybe it would look more compelling in a brighter color.

At an estimated price around $160,000, it will have little competition among mid-engine exotics. Depending on options, perhaps an Audi R8 might qualify, and a McLaren 570S is just a bit more dear.

A Big Gamble

Fifty years ago, Ford committed huge resources in a bid to unseat Ferrari as the premier maker of endurance racing machinery. They succeeded, sweeping the podium at Le Mans with their NASCAR-engined GT40s. Since then they produced a more civilized tribute to those cars in the limited-production (and bargain-priced by exotic standards) Ford GT.

But that was a street car – sold for fast touring and showing at your local concours d’elegance. Now Ford is getting serious again. Their new exotic could bring new glory to Ford – or fall flat on its face.

IMG_3805FordGT
Ford’s new GT is another 3.5 liter twin turbo-powered exotic. Get in line quickly (only about 1,000 will be made) and you may be able to buy one – depending on how much equity you have in your house, or how deep your pockets are. Pricing is estimated at about a quarter million dollars.

IMG_3807FordGTComp
Ford is counting on the tie-in between the race version of the GT and its turbocharged small displacement consumer “EcoBoost” products to bring those power trains popular legitimacy as they move away from large displacement naturally aspirated engines.

Ford Focus – Video Game Version

With youth less interested in car culture (Many teens no longer lust after that first driver’s license.) it has become important to place automotive products where the kids will see them – in computer games where the reigning champs are Japanese and European hot hatches.

IMG_3797FordFocusRS
That EcoBoost ethic that informs and powers the new Ford GT also motivates the finally-come-to-the-US Ford Focus RS. Only 2.3 liters, but sending 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels, so those who were mesmerized by the YouTube exploits of Ken Block can now become hot hatch hooligans too, for a base MSRP of $36,605.

Return of the Italians

Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo is a brand with a racing heritage that predates Ford’s by a half century or more. They ceased selling cars in the United States in 1995. Although frequent rumors had them returning many times, it was not until the expensive high-performance 8C Competizione was offered here in 2008 that the marque reappeared.

That car had extremely limited production, but at last, in 2014 they introduced the lightweight, sharply focused 4C Coupe, making a more affordable Italian sports car available again.

But that car’s narrow focus on driver involvement (no power steering) at the expense of comfort insured that it would never sell in high volumes. For that, and for the long-term viability of the brand, they needed a sedan – one that could satisfy the high expectations of Alfa enthusiasts – the Alfisti.

The initial offering in the US is the upscale Giulia Quadrifoglio model, expected to sell in the $70,000 range. Expected later is a 2.2 liter “Multijet” turbo four that makes 197 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque in the corporate sibling Jeep Cherokee.

Alfa Guilia Quadrifoglio

When Alfa Romeo’s Giulia sport sedan came to the US, Alfa came out with all guns blazing with the highest performance version, the 505 horsepower Quadrifoglio. Alfisti expect great things, with a reported lap time at the  Nurbürgring faster than a BMW M4.  

The “Fiata”

Okay. we didn’t come up with that one. It’s what some in the press are calling Fiat’s new sports car built in collaboration with Mazda.

A little background.

In 1966 Fiat introduced a sports roadster powered by a sweet little dual overhead cam four, and priced within the reach of ordinary enthusiasts. The body was a Pininfarina design penned by Tom Tjaarda, who worked on the Chevrolet Sting Ray and DeTomaso Pantera, among others.

One of those others was the beautiful Ferrari 275 GTS, and no one could look at that car next to the Fiat 124 Spider and miss the resemblance.

66Fiat124NewFiat124&Ferrari275GTS
Top: The Fiat 124 Spider of the sixties and seventies. Middle: The “Fiata” – 2016 Fiat 124 Spider, introduced at the LA Auto Show. Bottom: The Ferrari 275 GTS.

Mazda’s MX-5 Miata has earned near-universal praise for having resisted the trend toward making succeeding versions of successful cars bigger, heavier, and more powerful. Instead they concentrated on driver satisfaction, making the cars nimble and responsive, with perfect balance.

Fiat took that chassis and clothed it in a shameless tribute to the sixties car. The result, in your correspondent’s opinion, is drop-dead gorgeous.

They sacrificed some of the Miata’s lightness in lengthening the car and giving it an unmistakable Italian flair. Instead of the Mazda’s fine 155 horsepower 2-liter four, they installed the Multiair turbo four from the 500 Abarth, which contributes a 10 horsepower bump and more significantly, 32 more pound-feet of torque.

If this car comes in at a small enough price premium over the Miata, it should sell sensationally, or there is no justice in the car universe. If they install a 200 horsepower Multijet turbo four and call it the Abarth version, even better!

Another “3-Series Fighter”

It’s been out a while, but this was our first look at Jaguar’s entry into the ongoing sweepstakes to see if anyone can unseat the BMW 3-Series as the entry level luxury Sport Sedan of choice. (See the Alfa Giulia above.)

Enthusiasts bewail the fattening-up of the 3-Series, so they may welcome the Jaguar XE that is reported to have returned to the foundations of the BMW 3-Series’ appeal. It is said to sacrifice perhaps a few inches of interior room to a lighter (thanks to a new aluminum architecture) more agile persona.

IMG_3200JaguarXE
The last vestiges of the Ford influence at Jaguar will soon pass as they replace the 2-liter turbo Ford four with a similar “Ingenium” base engine (with a turbo diesel variant) to go with the AJ V6 supercharged 3-liter.

Porsche 911 Targa

We confess that the charms of the original Porsche 911 Targa are lost on us. In our eyes the Targa bar interrupted the car’s lines, and made the rear window (when there was one) too vertical. Porsche has brought back the concept, and in so doing has, in our humble opinion, corrected that flaw.

IMG_3768Porsche911Targa
A good compromise between a coupe with a sunroof and the (IMO) hunchbacked Cabrio, the new Targa preserves the familiar profile while offering open motoring. This one had an as-equipped price around $125,000.

Car of the Year

Chevrolet made quite a haul this year, with their redesigned Volt garnering a Green Car of the Year Award, and winning both the Truck and Car divisions of Motor Trend‘s “of the Year” awards.

It’s difficult to accept for a hereditary Ford guy, but as good as the 2015 Ford Mustang is (and it is sensational), Chevrolet has come up with a serious competitor.

The previous generation Camaro was handicapped by a foundation shared with a sedan, leaving that car hundreds of pounds heavier than the Mustang, which is built on a dedicated chassis shared with no other car.

The new Chevy also shares its chassis with other cars, but it is the thoroughly modern one that underpins the Cadillac ATS, and comes in under the Mustang in weight. If you can get past the gunport slits they offer for windows, it appears that the cars compete well with the Mustang.

IMG_4071Camaro
Smaller, lighter, and more powerful than its predecessor, the Motor Trend Car of the Year Camaro is well equipped to compete in the pony car wars.

IMG_4063CamaroConvertible
Our rule for convertibles is that they have to look at least as good with the top down as the hardtop did before they took the top off. In our editorial opinion, the Camaro Convertible (not yet released) meets that criterion. In fact, without the letter-box windows, the car looks better with no top.

One note: It appears that Motor Trend has a typo in their data panel for the Camaro SS. That’s the one with the Corvette V8. They list the base price as $37,295 and the “as tested” price as $38,585 compared to their $46,380 estimate for a Mustang GT.

We went to Edmund’s and priced out a car with only performance options and came up with an MSRP for the Camaro of $48,275, and a comparably equipped Mustang Premium Coupe at $39,480. At that price, for 0nly $1,720 more you could get a stripped Mustang Shelby GT350 with its screaming flat-plane-crank V8.

Come on Down!

The Auto Show is always a challenge to reporters. There are just too many cars. We came as close as we could to getting a picture of every car at the show, taking just under a thousand pictures. Sorting through them and coming up with the ones you’ll want to see and read about is a tough job, but someone has to do it. Glad we could step up. We’ll have more in subsequent blogs.

 

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 attributed otherwise.

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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The State of the Tech

Alt Auto Expo 2015

Every year about this time, Santa Monica, California, hosts a gathering of vehicles that attempt to circumvent the mainstream tech of the gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine, and display a variety of alternative means of getting from here to there. From the beginning there was promise of White Night technology that would knock the king off his throne, or at least offer an attractive alternative. So far the conquering hero has not shown up, but there has been incremental progress.

The Big Boys Weigh In

The first Alt Auto Expo had dozens of start-up companies offering all kinds of electric vehicles and those powered by fuels other than gasoline, or combinations of different technologies. We were no doubt in good company then, wondering which, if any, would shake out in the coming years. The evidence is that there are now basically four approaches with a good chance of surviving. The evidence is that the major manufacturers are investing in each.

Volt and Its Copiers

Second Generation Volt – Plug-in Hybrids

Chevrolet is where General Motors has chosen to invest its considerable resources in the variation on the Hybrid theme. Unlike the familiar Toyota Prius, their Volt mated a gasoline-powered generator to a sophisticated battery-powered electric drive system that was said to employ more lines of code in its control software than the Space Shuttle.

In that model, the engine seldom actually drove the wheels, but mostly generated electricity to recharge the batteries that supplied electricity to the motors that drove the car. You could plug it in at night when rates were low, and if your commute was moderate, you could drive it for weeks without filling the gas tank.

Nu Volt

There is a definite family resemblance to the original Volt, but the new shape is sleeker, less blocky. Interior space is up, with a fifth seat belt in the center of the back seat, really just giving the two back seat passengers more room. They were not offering drives.

By increasing its electric motors’ torque, reducing the weight of the batteries and increasing their power density, making the internal combustion engine both lighter and more powerful, and reducing weight (down 200 pounds), Chevrolet has pulled the neat stunt of making its new Volt roomier, quicker, and more fuel efficient when running on gas, with longer electric-only range (up to 53 miles).

The new Volt is a true hybrid now, with the gas engine powering the wheels under more circumstances. This takes a load off the batteries under cruising, and allows each power source to operate in its most efficient mode. There’s also a new menu option that allows more aggressive regeneration on deceleration, making it a one-pedal car under many conditions, freeing the gas engine from recharging duties for longer periods.

From GM’s point of view, the most important aspect of the redesign may be that the car costs less to build.

The i3 from BMW

BMW started with a cleaner sheet of paper for their i-series commuter car. They made a serious commitment to sustainable production, with the industry’s most advanced carbon fiber facility, run on hydroelectric power at Moses Lake, Washington. New techniques allow production of the i3’s lightweight carbon fiber chassis without the astronomical cost previously practical only on single-purpose racing cars and six and seven-figure exotics.

i3 Interior
Attractive optional BMW i3 interior features natural tanned leather accents and cloth made from 100% recycled polyester. The picture makes it look more dirt-vulnerable than it is. You can’t get in or out of the back seat without the complicity of a front-seat occupant. 

No rain forest hardwoods here. That’s eucalyptus on the dash, a wood that’s practically a weed in Southern California, and they harvest it sustainably. Other interior finishes include the carbon fiber composite structure itself, and scrap carbon fiber used as trim.

The i3 is first a BEV (Battery-Powered Electric Vehicle) but it’s also available as an extended-range electric, with a two-cylinder engine borrowed from BMW’s two-wheel stable. With that engine, the range is extended from 81 miles for the BEV, to 150 miles with the gas engine. Since the demise of the Fisker Karma, it’s now the only vehicle where that engine never drives the wheels. The reason for the short range is that the car’s gas-fueled range cannot exceed its electric range under California regulations, lest it lose its zero-emissions status and cost BMW valuable zero emission credits.

i3 At 2013 LA Auto Show Press Drive

Dozens of BMW i3s lined up for press drives – without chaparones – at the 2013 Los Angeles International Auto Show. The cars are terrific commuter cars, lively and nimble, changing lanes seemingly by mental telepathy. 

Audi E-Tron Plug-in Hybrid

Audi went the more traditional (if that word can be applied to such a recent trend) approach of the plug-in hybrid. It loses its California zero-emissions credit because its total range is more than double its 30 mile electric-only claim.

Audi A3 e-Tron Blue

Based on the hatchback version of the well-received A3 hatchback, Audi’s plug-in hybrid does not shout its green credentials as loudly as the graphics on the demo car. Its power port is cleverly hidden behind the four-ring Audi emblem (below).

Audi A3 e-Tron Plug

Marketing strategy for the e-Tron appears to depend on the driving experience, rather than the environmental friendliness of the cars. The 1.4 liter internal combustion four-cylinder is rated at 150 horsepower, with a boost off the line from its 102 horsepower electric motor.

Although they claim a 157 mpg capability, the circumstances where that can be achieved are probably no more likely for the average motorist than those under which most drivers will ever see its claimed top speed of 138 mph.

Audi A3 e-Tron Interior

Audi’s interiors are sometimes held up as the standard of the industry in their respective classes. Nothing in the A-3’s cockpit inspires lavish praise, but in our short drive it functioned well enough, in a kind of Teutonically efficient manner. Not much can be deduced about the car’s driving dynamics from our drive around the Civic Center block.

All-Electric

Range, performance, price – choose two.

Bolt – With a “B”

GM is planning production of a new all-electric car for 2017. A concept car was shown next to the new Volt. It is expected to be a direct competitor to the planned “affordable” Tesla.

Chevrolet Bolt Concept

All that they would say about the Bolt is that it would have a range around two hundred miles and cost about $37,500 before government incentives are applied. It will share the Sonic architecture and speculation is that it will use the same motor in the Spark EV below.

The Big Boy in the electric-only universe, Tesla, does not maintain a presence at the Expo, although this year they did loan an S85D (the dual motor car, minus the Ludicrous option that gives it a claimed acceleration from zero to 60 in 2.6 seconds) to the Petersen Automotive Museum for display under their inadequate shade pavilion.

Chevrolet

Chevy had two BEVs at the show – one to drive and one concept.

Chevy Spark EV

Most closely resembling the Honda Fit, in the Packaging Wars the Chevrolet Spark EV seduces with power and torque.

Chevrolet’s Spark, when saddled with the standard 1.2 liter four cylinder gas engine, has little to recommend it other than a low price. Substituting a 140 horsepower electric motor and 121 kWh lithium-ion battery apparently transforms the car. (We did not drive it.) The secret is 400 (yes, that’s four followed by two zeros) pound-feet of torque. An EV that’s actually fun to drive, and doesn’t cost BMW bucks!

Range anxiety is always an EV concern. GM has partnered with other manufacturers to develop a charging system similar to Tesla’s SuperCharger, that allows a Spark EV to reach a full charge in twenty minutes. Range is EPA rated at 82 miles, but we spoke with an owner who claims his Spark EV has made two (gently driven) trips to Monterey (about 100 miles) with charge to spare. He says his  lease was $500 down and $50 a month. Perhaps we misremember.

Kia Soul EV

Kia Soul EV

With a claimed 93 mile range, the Kia Soul EV beats all the other BEVs save the Tesla, has a price comparable to other commuter BEVs, and scoots about as well as the Fiat 500 e (below). Charge times are about the same as other BEVs, but the Kia hides not one but two charge ports behind a sliding cover much like the Audi’s. Each works with a specific charging system, adding flexibility to reduce range anxiety.

Fiat 500e

The appeal of the Fiat 500s, including the 500e, is partly for their cuteness. The Kia soul actively courts that perception with its giant hamster ads. You can get more stuff in the Kia.

e-Golf

e-Golf

Performance, range, and price of VW’s e-Golf are competitive, with a bit of extra sparkle from its excellent driving dynamics.

Choosing an electric-only car is a tough decision. Reputation will play a large part in many buyers’ selection process. Will news of Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions with their award-winning diesel powered products harm theirs and Audi’s? Stay tuned.

Hydrogen Power

For now, hydrogen power in cars means fuel cells. These are devices for converting fuel to electricity without burning it. Without going into detail, it’s basically exchanging ions, with hydrogen and oxygen on one side of the process and electricity and distilled water on the other.

Also for now, most of the hydrogen used in fuel cell vehicles comes from fossil fuel. Much of it was already being produced in the process of refining oil and making other products from natural gas, so it’s pretty carbon neutral at the current rate of consumption.

Getting that hydrogen to the people driving fuel cell vehicles is the issue. Several sources have come together to provide a refueling infrastructure for hydrogen-powered cars, but until those plans bear fruit, owning or leasing a Fuel Cell Vehicle remains a prospect for early adopters and the tech-obsessed.

The Toyota Mirai

Hyundai was the first major company to put a production fuel cell vehicle in the hands of consumers, but those Hyundai Tucsons are leased – and they weren’t letting us drive them. Toyota is the first to have confidence enough in their product to leave it in an owner’s hands for as long as the owner wants it, and to take their chances when they sell as used cars.

Mirai Inset

It’s one thing to say that a fuel cell produces nothing but distilled water, and quite another to watch it piddling onto the pavement behind the car (inset). Toyota’s Mirai is an electric car, motivated by electric motor like others. The difference is it makes its own electricity.

Mirai LF

Toyota says the evocation of a catamaran from the frontal aspect of the Mirai is deliberate. It comes from their desire to emphasize the “air in – water out” nature of a fuel cell. They still need a battery, and Toyota remains at least one generation behind the state of the art, with nickel-metal-hydrides instead of lithium ion or lithium polymer.  

The Mirai is about the same size as a Camry, though 2.5″ taller. They will be more than twice the price of that Camry, if it’s a hybrid, and weigh a hulking 4080 pounds. The motor produces 151 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque, roughly what Volkswagen was getting out of their 2.0 liter turbodiesel, before they were caught cheating on the emissions tests.

Our particular Mirai had no paper plate when our turn came up, so we got more ride and drive time than anyone else while we went over to Toyota of Santa Monica to get one. The result is that we observed that the car is much more solid-feeling than a BMW i3, but has a non-Toyota-like buzz on hard acceleration that is not present in other electric vehicles we’ve driven, except for a Volvo that was clearly too early in development for them to be letting us drive it. No doubt, when they first Mirais are delivered to customers, that buzz will be history.

So what’s the State of the Tech?

As stated at the start, there now appear to be four technologies that will be available to us when we go searching for a car that doesn’t just run on explosions and emit twenty-five percent of its fuel back into the atmosphere in the form of flatulence.

We predict that none of them is a real threat to replace the fossil fuel powered internal combustion engine for those who need one car for commuting, errands, and road trips, and who have average income – as long as gas stays under $6.00 a gallon.

For the next few years, expect the hybrid, and its heavier cousin the plug-in hybrid, to lead the way. The technology is mature and there’s an established market.

While installation of public charging stations accelerates, battery-powered electrics and those plug-in hybrids and extended-range electrics will gain favor.

Will private and public support remain strong enough to maintain the pace of installation of hydrogen refueling stations to tempt enough buyers/lessors to make fuel cells a viable business model?

We’re back where we were when these shows first stated that kind of question. We’ll be back next year to see if anything has changed.

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 attributed otherwise.

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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Monterey 2015 III

Chrome, Crystal and Brass – Monterey Mascots

Up until the late thirties, classic cars do not have hood ornaments. That’s partly because their “hoods” are usually huge panels connected with long piano hinges that fold upward to gain access to large complicated engines. You would have to mount a hood ornament on the top hinge, and then you couldn’t open the hood.

No. To lead the way forward and act as a statement of elegance, power, or just whimsy, many classic cars have mascots. They are mounted on top of the radiator cap, or on the top center of the radiator shell if the cap is concealed.

This year’s field of cars at Monterey was especially good for hunters of mascot images. Here are a few we encountered.

Wings

No, They’re not Wings

Probably the best-known of all radiator mascots is the Rolls-Royce “Flying Lady.” Also known as “Emily” or “Silver Lady,” her correct title is “Spirit of Ecstasy.” The original sculpture (there was a full size version, about four feet tall, at the Blackhawk Collection in Danville, California, the last time we were there) was sculpted by Charles Robinson Sykes, and modeled by Elanor Velasco Thornton.

Elanor (nicknamed “Thorn.”) was the secretary of John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu (after 1905 titled second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu), then Editor of The Car Illustrated. Although married to Lady Cecil Victoria Constance Kerr since 1889, John Walter fell in love with Elanor. As such things went in those days (See any episode of Downton Abbey.) there romance had to be clandestine. Nevertheless, in 1910 he commissioned Sykes to create a sculpture.

The first, showing her leaning forward in fluttering robes with one finger to her lips was titled “The Whisper,” a metaphoric reference to their secret love affair. That one went on Lord Montague’s own Silver Ghost.

When some owners chose “inappropriate” mascots for their Rolls, the managing director of Rolls-Royce, Claude Johnson, commissioned an “official” mascot, choosing the same sculptor and model, and the result was the familiar figure that some wags called “Ellie in her nightie.” So they’re not really “wings” but her robes.

1914 Silver Ghost Mascot

There have been several versions of the famous Rolls-Royce Flying Lady mascot. Above, a fairly accurate rendering (The earliest versions have the sculptor’s name and the date on the base.) is shown as mounted on the radiator cap of the Antique Class winner, the 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Kellner Torpedo Phaeton, which also won the trophy for Most Elegant Open Car.
Below is a later “Kneeling” version, 
mounted atop the radiator of the 1952 Phantom IV Hooper Sedanca de Ville that won Class H2 for Post-war Rolls and Bentleys.

RR Flying Lady

Lord Montagu’s affair with Elanor ended tragically. She was lost in 1915 when accompanying him to a post in India, and their ship was tropedoed off Crete. He survived the sinking after several  days on a raft.

1938 Alvis Speed 25 Mascot

Birds always convey a sense of speed and grace, like this eagle on a 1928 Alvis 25.

The Hispano Suiza Stork

In addition its the association with flight (Stork migration distances are legendary.), the stork has an ancient and distinguished place in mythology, symbolizing fidelity and steadfastness, among other qualities. All of this no doubt contributed to its selection by prestigious car maker Hispano Suiza (a French manufacturer) as their mascot after World War I, where it was the squadron emblem of French ace Georges Guynemer.

2 Storks 2

There were two “Hisos” in the field at the Concours. The literature does not explain the unusual upturned beak on the example on the right.

Packard Crane

Packards appear to have been popular cars on which to express individuality. As with the crane above.

Winged Wheel Bearer

Female figures with wings are a popular theme for mascots. This one is apparently carrying a spare wheel for the Packard she is leading.

RM Auburn Speedster Mascot

Ah! An actual “Hood Ornament.” This winged female figure adorns the supercharged Auburn Speedster offered at RM Southeby’s. Identical relief figures in profile appear on its flanks.

Gracefull Lady

Another interpretation of the flying lady, this one on a Cadillac. Another hood ornament.

2 Dueseys

Owners were free to select a different mascot for their cars. Some (like Rolls Royce) are rarely seen with mascots other than the official version. The usual mascot for a Duesenberg is a rather plain art deco interpretation of “flight” (two examples, one with color accents, above). Below is a different selection, a true “Flying Lady.” 

Duesenberg Flying Lady Mascot

duPont Pegasus Mascot

An honored marque this year was duPont. Something about these cars seemed to encourage their owners to chose a variety of mascots for their radiator caps, like this winged Pegasus bust.

Artistry in Crystal

As stated above, duPonts were popular mounts for a variety of Mascots, among them the artistic glass creations of René Lalique. Lalique produced no fewer that thirty different styles of mascot, two of which appear on duPonts at the Concours.

3 Eagle duPonts

Above: Three of the duPonts displayed, left to right, the 1929 Model G Convertible Coupe, 1931 Model H Sport Phaeton, and 1929 Model G 4-place Speedster, share the same design of Lalique Crystal Eagle’s Head. Below, the one mounted on the Petersen Museum’s 1929 Le Mans replica Speedster, unaccountably left out of the invitations to the Concours.

Petersen duPont Eagle

duPont Chanteclair Mascot

Above: The Lalique Crystal Chanteclair mascot adorned the 1928 Model G Merrimac Phaeton (below).

1928 duPont Merrimac Phaeton

Creative Expression

Back in the classic era, when a car’s manufacturer simply did not express the owner’s creativity sufficiently, what could one do? One did what car lovers still do today of course – they went to the aftermarket.

Frenchie With Context

A bulldog on a British Bentley. What could be more appropriate? But wait! Look at those ears! That’s no English bulldog. As custodians of one of these clowns of the canine world, we know that’s a French Bulldog.

Impala Mascot

Expressive and beautifully mounted, this impala mascot graced a Chrysler.

SS Jaguar R

The Swallow Sidecar company became SS Cars Limited, and branched out into four-wheeled sporting machinery. This fierce mascot is on an SS1, nicknamed the Jaguar by founder William Lyons, thus the  first “Leaper” of Jaguar fame.

duPont Deck Gun Mascot

The literature does not explain why New York artist Fred Dana Marsh, the first owner of this 1930 duPont, needed a deck gun on the prow of his Model G Merrimac Speedster.

Lincoln Greyhound

This greyhound often graced the prows of elegant Lincolns.

Fancy Free

When imagination is allowed to run free, there’s no telling what will come of it.

duPont Monkey Mascot

Reynolds duPont, Jr., owner of this 1928 Model E duPont Woonsocket Convertible Sedan (We did not ask if there was any relation.) says that he has two “Monkey with Grapes” themed mascots, but the other has the monkey hiding the grapes behind his back, and with that one mounted, he can’t get the hood open.

Top This

This is the third time this mascot has appeared in one of our blogs. There’s a reason for that.

Brass Indian On Snail Mascot

An American Indian in full headdress and cowboy boots, saddled up on a giant hornéd snail, complete with chain bridle – can we get any more fanciful?

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 attributed otherwise

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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