Monterey Week 2015

Monterey – Good, Bad, and Ugly – I

It’s common knowledge that Monterey in mid-August is the time and place to slake your thirst for viewing, hearing and touching beautiful, exotic, fast, expensive and rare automobiles. If you have not actually attended though, you may not be prepared for some of the other aspects of the experience. One of those is –

Getting There and Back

You could probably name a number of ways to get to Monterey and back. If you don’t drive there though, whatever your travel mode you will need a way to get around when you get there.

A Word on Car Rentals

Once in Monterey, you will have to beg, borrow, or rent a car – or take a taxi, Uber, or Lyft. Public transportation is virtually non-existent. From the preponderance of late model cars in the parking lots with no license plate frame and UPC code stickers in the windows, renting is the overwhelming preference.

The guide that Sports Car Market publishes for the Monterey events starts on the Monday before the Concours at Pebble Beach. It’s worth your while to consult it when booking accommodations and transportation to make sure you don’t miss that memorabilia sale that has the Winton poster you wanted.

Watch the internet though. This year Ferrari held its gathering the following week, and there are events that precede the week itself.

You will be competing with a host of other attendees, so make your reservations well in advance. Different rental companies have different policies, so check on how far in advance they accept reservations.

In Los Angeles you can rent a Lamborghini, but the sportiest car most rental companies can fathom is a Mustang or Camaro Convertible. I don’t know how they manage it (rental companies studiously avoid promising a specific model) but somehow people ferret out every one this side of the Rockies, and they are all on the Peninsula for the week. You can always ask.

Out-of-state attendees will probably fly into the Bay area and drive a rental to the events. Day trips are possible, but if you try that, plan on leaving early and packing a big bag of patience.

Amtrack runs from Oakland to Salinas if that’s your style. That’s within 18.4 miles of the Portola Plaza Hotel in Monterey, where the RM Southeby’s auction cars are on display. “27 minutes without traffic,” Google Maps says. Right. We’ll get into that in a later blog.

For Los Angeles area residents, their Coastal Starlight train (about $56; Premium “Roomettes” for $126) from Union Station in Los Angeles also takes you to Salinas.

Regularly scheduled flights to the Monterey airport by United are about $200 round trip. Book a year in advance if possible.

You can rent a car at the airport or train station – but once again reserve it a year in advance or so. Practically every available car in a 200 mile radius is sucked up by those who don’t have the option of driving their own car to get there.

Oh, and just so you know, the Concours at Pebble Beach is on August 21st next year. Plan accordingly.

The Great Drive

If you live within driving distance, it’s only natural to go to a car extravaganza in a car. If you live as we do, in the greater Los Angeles area, there are three main routes.

Over the Grapevine onto the San Joaquin Valley via Interstate Five and coastward on State Route 156 from Los Banos is probably fastest, but also the most tedious.

Taking U. S. 101 through Ventura and Santa Barbara, north through Beullton, Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and El Paso de Los Robles to Salinas, and west on State route 68 is the other alternative to the one preferred by motoring enthusiasts.

That’s the Cabrillo Highway (U.S.1, Pacific Coast Highway, or just PCH), that follows the U. S. 101 route as far as San Luis Obispo. For those who love driving, part of the pleasure – and the frustration – of Monterey is in driving PCH.

In our blog, “The Cabrillo Highway – Worst Kept Secret” (08/21/2012), we alluded to them. What it didn’t say is that the drive home by that route serves as an event unto itself, easing the letdown of having to leave Monterey.

PCH Vista 2015August 12, 2015. The drive along the Cabrillo Highway (US1, Pacific Coast Highway, or just PCH) between about San Simeon and Carmel is acknowledged to be among the great scenic motor tours in the world – when it’s like this. What they don’t say is that it’s often fogged in, so when it clears you appreciate it.

While it’s possible to have a great experience driving the Coast, keep in mind that practically the entire automotive world has the same idea. There are both good and bad sides to that, but if you don’t plan for it, it can be ugly. So plan.

The Good

2009 Challenge Stradale Ragged PointThe real fun starts here at Ragged Point, where we met the driver of this Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale that had cleared the traffic revenuers from our path just north of San Simeon in 2009. We’d been together since he’d overtaken us near Santa Maria, driving at an entertaining pace.

On the trip up, you begin to meet some of the people and the cars that will be participating in the same events you will be attending. It’s sort of a road-going preview on the way up, and a postlude on the way back. We’ve posted these before, but they illustrate the point here.

16 Of 50 Pismo Beach
More typical weather, Pismo Beach, 2012. Lamborghini Murcielago, California vanity plate “16 OF 50.” 

Lamborghini Murcielago 16 of 50Concorso Italiano 2012. The owner (whose name is since lost) explained that this was the sixteenth of an anniversary edition of fifty examples built. For Star Trek: Voyager fans – no, it is not a Borg designation.


Your pace driving the Cabrillo Highway is up to you.

A leisurely pace allows you to glance over now and then and get a feel for where the best views are – when it’s not too foggy. There are many view points where you can stop, take your time, and get some pictures if you are so inclined. Get it out of your system and then keep your eyes on the road. Please watch your mirrors. There are plenty of turnouts, so you needn’t be a rolling road block.

Driving at competitive speeds is a bad idea. Take a hint from the owners of the exotic machinery you’ll meet, who have the sense to leave that behavior on the track where they don’t put it or themselves at risk. You’d just be frustrated by traffic anyway, and there are rock slides (one once cost me a wheel and tire) to consider. Besides, the California Highway Patrol does maintain a presence.

CHP 2012 With BenDrivers of vintage sports cars were caught by CHP Officer Ben Grasmuck at Big Sur Coast Gallery and Cafe as they headed for a rendezvous at Lucia – through the long lens of his Nikon DSLR. In our 2012 interview, while tolerant of recreational driving, he wasn’t about to endorse illegal behavior.

Anyway, cliff faces and steep drops can be unforgiving, and drifting into the oncoming lane if you take a corner too fast is not recommended.

So if someone who thinks he’s faster than you sticks his nose up your tail, don’t speed up. Pull over at one of the many turn-outs and let them by.

Driving as Meditation

The most satisfying approach, we’ve found, is to treat driving as a form of zen meditation. That is, you empty your mind of everything other than the task at hand – no thoughts about where you are going, how you look, when you will get there, or what you will see when you do. Pardon the tired expression, but the idea is for you, the car, and the road to “become one.”

It takes practice to let go of a conscious thought about when to brake, where the corner apex is, when to get on the accelerator, and how much. It’s the delicate balance between intellect and intuition – the left and right brain – that we wrote about twenty years ago when this was a printed newsletter, quoting from the late Denise McCluggage’s “The Centered Driver” in Autoweek.

If you have not tried it before, ease into the practice gradually. A moderate pace helps, as you gradually get a feel for the rhythm of the road. It’s not necessary to go very fast to enjoy it.

Another Level

Driving at a more elevated pace takes all that and raises it a notch. There are corners with advisory speeds posted from 50 mph down to 20 that are fun to exit at recreational speeds (“slow in, fast out”). In a well sorted-out car with sporting capability, you’ll soon learn how much you can exceed those suggestions comfortably, while making sure you are in the proper gear for a smooth exit, ready to transition to the next corner. In that they are useful.

A word about double yellow lines. It would be irresponsible to suggest you ignore them. On the other hand, some people drive these roads at such a slow speed (and haven’t the courtesy to pull over in a turn-out), that passing them on a stretch of road where you can see a good distance ahead, and you know your car’s capabilities, seems to us no more dangerous than driving around a rock in the road when you can see it’s safe. Use good judgment.

The Bad

Between the Route 46 cutoff to Paso Robles and Carmel, there is only one narrow, winding road connecting the Cabrillo Highway with any other route in California (Nacimiento Road, from just south of Limekiln State Park to Bradley on US 101). If you have car trouble between Ragged Point and Big Sur there are only a handful of stops with a telephone. Forget about cell phone reception. The contractors who service the road know of a few lookout points where they can make and receive calls, but most of the way you are dependent on the kindness of strangers unless you have one of those satellite-based monitors like BMW Assist or On Star.

The other consideration is traffic. At any time of year the road is crowded with people eager for a view of the pristine coastline. During Monterey Car Week they are legion. Many of them are driving rented compact sedans – slowly.

Political PromisesThe Ugly: Construction crews and service vehicles are just two inhibitions to driving enjoyment on PCH. A sense of humor helps. Note the inscription on the honey wagon – “Caution: May Contain Political Promises.”

Others will be driving motor homes, many of them rented, so the drivers are unfamiliar with them and understandably timid in their driving style. Some will pull over and let you by. Really. We’ve seen it happen.

Then there’s construction.  The road is built on a cliff for much of its length. Parts of that cliff tend to break off. When it happens below the road, the road often falls with it. If it happens above, it blocks the road, or takes part of it with it down the slope.

Both of these happened so often at a place just north of Limekiln State Park, that after years of rebuilding the highway every time it collapsed and fell into the Pacific or became blocked with fallen rock, CalTrans and the Federal Highway people created two new structures – a bridge over the slide area, and the only project of its kind in the U.S., a rock shelter.

Limekiln Bridge With Rail

Limekiln Project, 2013.  The driftwood effect on the bridge railing (inset above) and the rock texture on the Rock Shelter (below) are creative applications of castings taken from actual rock in the area, and driftwood found along the coast, then artfully dyed in the forms. It’s gratifying to know that the political will, creativity, engineering prowess, and construction skills for such impressive civil engineering projects still exist in the U.S. today.

Limekiln Rock Shelter 2013

Outside the Limekiln project, the result of all that sliding is that at any time, there are usually two or three areas where construction has narrowed the road to one lane, with traffic signals regulating traffic so that it only flows one way at a time. If you are trying to make time, this can lead to teeth-gnashing. If you have patience though, it can be an opportunity to start a conversation with the driver of an interesting car.

Beating the Crowd

So what to do if you don’t want to be stuck behind a lumbering motor home for miles of twisting road? Leave early.

Get all packed the night before. Put the camera bag (bring extra batteries – charged up – and the charger), tripod, and clothes bags in the car. Don’t hang stuff from the hooks. They’ll just block your view and fall off in the first 20 mph corner. Put all your tickets to the events and the parking tag for the mirror, the directions to get to them, and the event calendar that Sports Car Market publishes every year in a big envelope and put it in a door pocket. Don’t forget your phone charger.

Put together a bag of non-perishable snacks you’re going to need on the road. There are no fast food joints between San Simeon and Monterey and the convenience store at Ragged Point is very limited. Put it in the footwell behind the passenger seat. If there are two of you in a two-seater, we’ll trust that you’ve figured out how to pack for that.

Everything but your toiletries bag and the cooler of cold drinks (and maybe a Tupperware of cold cuts), goes in the car the night before. Empty the ice cube trays into a plastic bag every night for three nights and keep it in the freezer until departure time when you pack the cooler. You don’t want to have to visit the QuickieMart on your way out of town.

Here’s the hard part. Get to bed early. Get up one way or another at about 3:00 am. You want to get out of Los Angeles early and pass through Santa Barbara before rush hour. If you can hold off on breakfast, you can sleep in another hour or so. Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard in Buellton opens at 6:30 and it’s just over a two hour drive. Prices are reasonable, service is excellent that early, and the food is home-cooked good. Do not go to the Split Pea Palace

Mother Hubbard's BuelltonIf you leave Los Angeles at around 4:30, you should arrive at Buellton a little over two hours later, just as Mother Hubbard’s opens.

If you need a break, you’ll hit San Luis Obispo at about 8:00 (plus any time you spent at Buellton). Don’t miss the US1 exit if you don’t want to take the more boring route along US101 past El Paso de Los Robles. Roll past El Morro, Cambria and San Simeon (If you want to tour the Hearst Castle, make your reservation for the return trip.), to Ragged Point.

Stop and take a comfort break. Don’t bother checking your phone messages. There’s no cell service. Maybe have a snack, but go light on the fluids. You will want to take advantage of the few restrooms – mostly at campgrounds and picnic areas – before Bixby Bridge. There are none there.

Now is the fun part. If you have done it right, there will be few people in front of you, and those that are may be enjoying the road like you. Last time we got behind an Acura MDX (of all things) that was going at exactly the right pace for us, so we just settled back a ways and followed him.

There are just two real settlements until Big Sur – Gordo and Lucia. We’ve never stopped, but facilities appear minimal. It is to be hoped they’ll have phone service if you need it.

There is one stretch of about two and a half miles where you can safely pass a line of cars so they don’t hold you up in the next series of bends and switchbacks. It’s called Pacific Valley, and there’s a Naval station on the left going north, on top of a tall white rock hill just on the edge of the shore. You can see most of the road ahead from the top of the ridge approaching the valley from either direction, and we have explored 5th amendment speeds on that section. Once again, use good judgment.

If you do this on Thursday, you will arrive at the historic Bixby Bridge just as the cars in the Tour d’Elegance are passing on their way south. Set up your tripod on the inland side of the road and wait. If you neglected our advice about the campgrounds and picnic areas, you may have to look for a bush.

Bixby BridgeOpened in 1932 thirteen miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Bixby Bridge has become a favorite photo opportunity along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Bixby Bridge Tour Cars2010. Spectators vie for the best viewing and photo-snapping locations on the bridge as a Kissel Gold Bug (Really. I couldn’t make this up.) leads a Packard, a Rolls Royce, an unknown, and two Alfa Romeos across.

Northbound, the bulk of the recreational driving is over by Bixby Bridge, and certainly by the time the speed limit signs of Big Sur appear. Traffic steadily increases as you approach Carmel. Carmel Highlands General Store at Fern Canyon is our unofficial end of the Cabrillo Highway Scenic Route. We usually stop there to make an entry in the trip log and pick up cell phone messages. Here it’s time to come back to earth and face the other pleasures – and challenges – of Monterey in August.

(Note: This year the Ferrari people had commandeered the General Store and its parking for their hospitality events. There is no guarantee they won’t do the same in 2016. The next opportunity for a break is at Carmel Valley Road.)

The Trip Home

As mentioned above, the trip home, when it includes the reverse route down PCH, is an event in and of itself. Once again an early start is beneficial, but not too early. We planned on breakfast at one of the cozy little restaurants in Carmel, but discovered they don’t open until 7:00. We made do with coffee and a breakfast sandwich at a coffee shop off Carmel Valley Road

Feeling we’d made a good start, after Big Sur we pulled over to let the after-breakfast cobwebs dissipate. It didn’t work. No sooner had we pulled over when a roar of pipes announced the passing of a Shelby GT350, and we were wide awake. Thinking it might be our mechanic, Steve Beck, who had driven his ’65 GT350 number 258 up to the events, we took off in cautious pursuit.

We got close enough to see it was a ’66, so now we wondered whose it was. Steve would probably know, if we could get close enough to read the license number. Eventually we did: EEE TIKT – “Triple E Ticket.” We hoped he’d stop at Ragged Point where we could chat, but he kept on driving. At least we had the benefit of a nice cross-plane V8 sound track for a while. We asked Steve when we got home, if the license is familiar to him, and of course it was. Chris Bolinger is the guy’s name. We’ll look for him at the next Shelby Club Christmas party.

Traction Avant 2014Last year we followed MA DIVA, a Citroën Traction Avant, most of the way down the best part of PCH. A car built for just such a road, the Traction Avant had a combination of three features that was unique in the day, but are nearly universal now – unit body construction, four-wheel independent suspension, and front-wheel drive (thus the name).

Every year is different. Last year I posted a picture of an unfortunate Ferrari driver who found himself stuck behind a Highway Patrol SUV. Fortunately it pulled off eventually, so he could resume his own pace. What about next year?

Why not drive it yourself to find out?

A Note on Photos: A left click on your mouse blows the pictures up to full page size. If the cursor is then a plus sign in a circle, clicking again yields full resolution. Click the “back” arrow to return to the text.

All content is by CARMA; Your Automotive Advocate
A Production of The OM Dude Press
Dick Stewart
Author, Publisher, Driver, Gopher, Reporter, Editor-in-Chief
All images are by the  Author unless otherwise attributed

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All Ferraris Are Red

2015 Concorso Italiano

Bad Idea 2008

The low point in its history, back in 2008. The Concorso was held on concrete and asphalt at the airport. It moved to grass at Laguna Seca Golf Ranch in 2009 and stayed there for five years before finally settling back at Black Horse Bayonet Golf Links where we first saw it, to universal relief.

Partial Ferrari Field Attributed II

At the Concorso there are Ferraris covering the slopes of several fairways. This is just a small sample, with 550 and 575 Maranellos in front, a 458 (right foreground) and rows of 308s and 328s along the other side of the fairway. The ancient Monterey pines of the golf course form a perfect backdrop in deep green.

One Place at a Time

We’ve commented before about the frustration of having several auctions going on at one time, and only being able to attend one. The celebration of Italian culture known as the Concorso Italiano presents a similar conundrum. Do you see the cars, or watch the presentations?

2004 Award Stage Manguta

Back in 2004 we had to be there on the stage when the judges awarded a Best in Class to a DeTomaso Mangusta. (One once graced our family’s garage.)

There’s a master of ceremonies who keeps up a steady patter as he talks to the owners of selected cars staging in front of the grandstands. But that’s only a small segment of the cars on display.

On Saturday, the hilly fairways of Blackhorse Bayonet Golf Links in Seaside, California are positively crawling with seductive Italian sheet metal (and aluminum and carbon fiber). It takes all day to wander among the Alfas, Ferraris, Fiats, Lamborghinis, Maseratis and so forth, if you really look at them. It’s thirsty work, and you build up an appetite.

Alfa Hospitality ATTRIBUTED

Last year Alfa Romeo returned in force to the U. S. after what seemed to Alfisti an interminable wait. this year they celebrated with a hospitality pavilion serving espresso, cappuccino and catered snacks, all in exchange for a little information. It seemed a fair trade, given that hot dogs at the concession tents were $6.00.

Alfa Spyder Attributed

The new Spider version of Alfa’s 4C. It’s in the spirit of the lightweight, nimble cars Alfa is famous for, placing driver enjoyment foremost in priority. Car and Driver voted it number two on their list of the prettiest new cars you can buy now.

Spyders In A Row Attributed

Somewhere along the road, sporting Italian convertibles became known as spiders (sometimes “spyders”). The above are various versions of the one that even people who don’t know much about cars may recognize. It’s the one that ran out of gas with Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) driving near the end of The Graduate.


In 1967 our motorcycle touring took us to Expo ’67 in Montreal where we saw the prototype of this car, as yet unnamed, but thereafter known as the Montreal. Under-appreciated over the years, it is gaining some respect for its Marcello Gandini design for Bertone, its racing-derived, flat crank, dry-sump 2.6 liter V8, and decent road manners. This was the front-engine V8 that Ferrari never made

Petersen Little Boat ii

The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles displayed their Ferrari “Little Boat” (Barchetta in Italian), the last one built. It is one of one, built on order from Ford for Henry Ford II. The only one on the long Europa chassis, it is powered by the larger 212 V12 of 2.7 liters, with three dual carburetors. It has never been restored, riding on the original whitewalls suggested by a member of the Firestone family to go with the black and white color scheme.

275 GTB Attributed

Among the sexiest Ferraris, this 275 GTB was similar to the one being offered at Gooding & Co, with the dreaded line, “Estimate Available Upon Request.” Last summer the red one owned and driven by “King of Cool” Steve McQueen sold for $10.175 million, 2.7 times what a similar car earned at the same auction.


All kevlar, carbon and 471 horsepower 424 pound-foot turbo V8, Ferrari’s F40 “made it okay for Ferrari supercars to exist divorced from racing intent. Without it, there would be no LaFerrari” – Road & Track, 8/15. It was the first production car to surpass 200 mph – by 1.4 mph. (see below)

Enzo and LaFerrari

Evolution: An example of the perhaps infamous Ferrari Enzo (foreground) poses with its successor, the hyperexotic hybrid LaFerrari.

Aventador and Friends Attributed

All Ferraris may be red (even when painted another color) but a Lamborghini can be any color, as long as it’s not timid. Often it’s a shimmering pearl like this gnarly Aventador.

Huracans Attributed

As if to validate the above, these examples of the latest works of automotive art to wear the fighting bull, seduce us with mouth-watering flavors of iridescent lime, orange, and lemon.

Iso 01

Lesser-known Italian marques also attract the eye, like this handsome Iso Rivolta, clothed in Bertone bodywork and powered by a small-block Chevrolet V8.


Later iterations, like this Iso Grifo, were powered by  Chevy big blocks, as large as 454 cubic inches. The awkward penthouse hood bulge necessitated by the bigger engine must have caused master designer Giorgetto Giugiaro nightmares.


BMW gets lots of traction from its claim to have invented the compact sports sedan with their 2002tii, but that car was introduced in the ’70s. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Super came out in 1962, with an all-alloy dual overhead cam 1,570 cc four of up to 110 horsepower in a 1,000 kg (2,200 pound) car.

As indicated, we did not hang around the presentation stage, but the PA system is pretty powerful, so when Ephraim heard the name Dino Crescentini, we had to investigate. This is him below (in the white shirt) and his Class 105-winning 1967 Giulia. I didn’t get the other guys’ names.

Dino With Giulia

Giulia Special Dino

Here’s one of just the car. About thirty years ago Ephraim took his 1974 Alfa Romeo GTV to Dino in Burbank. That was Alfa Recambi. Dino rebuilt the engine at his Santa Monica shop, and it’s still one of the strongest injected 2000 GTVs around.

As a long standing member of the California Alfa Romeo Association, Ephraim was attending the Concorso Italiano well before we ever did. In fact, it was probably his enthusiastic description that was the push that finally made us take the leap

Anniversary Cakes Attributed

There were celebrations all around on 2009 when the Concorso moved back on the grass at Laguna Seca Golf Ranch. Serendipity reigned, as Alfa Romeo was marking its 100th year, the Concorso its 25th anniversary, and the Alfa Romeo Association its fiftieth. Ephraim got us a place at the table for the festivities.

Ferrari owners almost have to be knowledgeable about other Ferraris. One does not acquire a Ferrari lightly, and in the process of researching the purchase, one learns a lot about the various models. Moreover, the best way to learn about a car one is considering is to join the club. We had a similar experience after releasing a Porsche, briefly maintaining an “Associate Membership” while “between Porsches.”

So as a former (and presumably future) Ferrari owner, Ephraim is both our connection to the culture, and our teacher. His knowledge and insight constantly inform our experience at these events.

348 Coupe Attributed

Ferrari 348 TB (Transversale Berlinetta). Once one is bitten, you’re always looking for your next one, and a conversation with a similar car’s owner revealed that it was indeed for sale, but the wrong year. (These things matter!) Ephraim’s 348 was a”TS” (Transversale Spyder), differing from this one in its removable roof section. There was one other variation late in the model run, a true convertible simply called the 348 Spider.

 With Fiat now owning Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Ferrari, and Maserati (and a few others most of us have never heard of) it was interesting to visit the various hospitality pavilions. They were all catered by the same people. It worked out well for us. With our passes from the Alfa tent we were able to pick up some much-needed hydration at one of the Ferrari sites. Hot cars and hot sun – thank goodness for the breeze off the Bay.

All content is by CARMA; Your Automotive Advocate
A Production of The OM Dude Press
Dick Stewart
Author, Publisher, Driver, Gopher, Reporter, Editor-in-Chief
All images are by the  Author unless otherwise attributed

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Denise McCluggage – Renaissance Woman

Grande Dame of Auto Journalism 

Denise McCluggage Passed May 6, 2015

It’s altogether fitting that AutoWeek, the publication she helped start, scooped the mainstream automotive press in reporting the passing of one of the greats of the profession. They have an unfair advantage though, publishing twice as often.

Their obit says she was born in 1927 in El Dorado, Kansas, and graduated Manga Cum Laude from Mills College in Oakland, California.

To get an idea of her stature, know that she’s the only journalist in the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame, and received both the Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism and the Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award.

She raced fender-to-fender – successfully – with the greats of professional road racing, like Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney and Juan Manuel Fangio, in the golden age of the sport, at least on the occasions when sexism did not relegate her to the “ladies races” or ban her altogether. Although she was nominated to race at Le Mans by none other than Luigi Chinetti himself, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest never allowed her (or any other woman) to compete there.

Among her credits, on her own merits she won the GT class at Sebring in 1962 co-driving her own Ferrari 250GT SWB Berlinetta, and the touring car class at the Monte Carlo Rally driving a Ford Falcon.

She won 2nd in the GT class at Sebring in 1967, driving the same Ferrari 275GTB 4/S NART Spyder that Faye Dunaway appeared in as Viki Anderson in the polo scene in the original Steve McQueen Thomas Crown Affair.

Ferrari 275 GTB 4/S NART Spyder

In the movie, Thomas Crown (her pre-fame boyfriend Steve McQueen) describes it as “One of those red Italian things.” One of ten built, this one bid up to a record  $25 million at the RM Monterey Auction in 2013. It’s the sister to the one Denise co-drove (with Marianne “Pinkie” Rollo) to 2nd in the GT class at the 12 hours of Sebring in 1967. The first built, it was yellow then, and while the catalog quotes her praise of the car’s street manners, she told me that in the race it “plowed like a John Deere.”

I wish I had been there in 2011 when she was among the speakers at the Petersen Automotive Museum who paid tribute to her friend and fellow Ferrari driver Phil Hill on his passing.

Now as the magazine lead times play out, the tributes are pouring in from her surviving competitors, media colleagues, and a host of others, most of whom knew her better than I did.

It’s impossible to sum up a life in a sentence, but she was a mystic; multi-talented, erudite, funny, engaging, and a terrific writer and storyteller, with a wealth of experience to draw from.

Mark Vaughn, in that AutoWeek obit says, “She was, of course, a racer – polka-dot helmet and all. As such she understood racers and could write about them far better than a sportswriter who saw it as just another sport.”

So You Want to Write About Cars.

Denise and I have a connection, since I write about cars too, though I should blush when I say it in such company. I would probably not still be doing it if she had not actually read an issue of my “Automotive Commentary,” CAR-MA, back in 1995.

I had sent her a copy after quoting from her article on “The Centered Driver” in AutoWeek. Then I learned that she had written about me in her syndicated column “Drive” She said. I had returned from a Holiday weekend in Crestline to find my mailbox full of requests for a copy of CAR-MA, all from Houston, Texas, where I knew no one. It was a mystery until one correspondent included a clipping of her December 21, 1995 column from the Houston Chronicle.

I sent every one of those correspondents a copy of the latest issue of CAR-MA, with an invitation to subscribe. Eventually I was sending copies to people in twelve states. Thanks to her, I was a professional writer.

Drive She Said Column

Scan of the clipping from the Houston Chronicle, December 21, 1995. She covered a lot in  one page but most important, included my address (It’s changed, so don’t try to reach me there.) so readers could request a copy of CAR-MA. If I have written one sentence worthy of her praise it’s more than I’d have ever hoped for.

CAR-MA went through several iterations before settling on this blog. I kept sending her copies, and when I published my book, Car-Ma; Why Bad Cars Happen to Good People in 2008, she offered to exchange an autographed copy for one of her own By Brooks Too Broad For Leaping (out of print at the time), at her Tuesday Car Table in Santa Fe in June of 2008.

Santa Fe 6/2008

When she wasn’t traveling, Denise hosted a gathering called the Tuesday Car Table in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I flew out to Albuquerque, rented a Mustang GT350 Convertible and joined the group. Unimpressed by my ride (as I was), she commented that Shelbys had lousy brakes. I am sure it had nothing to do with the fact that it was a GT350 that beat her and Pinkie for the GT class win at Sebring in 1967.

For those of her acquaintances who never graced the masthead of a big car magazine, or the grid of the great road races of the sixties, it is her generosity that is appreciated.

One example was at the Los Angeles International Auto Show in 2009. I had arrived early and was delighted to find her there. She greeted me warmly and then, after I had filled my plate, followed me to a table and sat with me there, joined in turn by Car and Driver technical Director Don Sherman and a cohort of other Real Motoring Journalists, basking in her wisdom and wit. At the keynote address, she sat next to me again, making me feel for a moment that I really belonged there among the Big Dogs.

We corresponded intermittently whenever I had a question into which she might have insight. She was always available, responsive, and helpful.

We saw each other often at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where she was an honorary judge and sometimes helped out judging the cars she drove. I found her a valuable source of information about them.

Denise McCluggage At Pebble Beach 2011

Never at a loss for a historical detail, an insight, or an anecdote, Denise had the automotive cognoscenti hanging on her every word, like these fellow judges as she scrutinizes the Ferrari GTOs at Pebble Beach in 2011.

Once, when reporting on the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours, I quoted the specs of a Ferrari 250GT like the one she owned and raced, not having noticed the car in my picture had three carburetors while the program said all the SEFAC Hot Rods had six. I later asked her if she knew why there was such a discrepancy.

In her usual forthright manner she responded that she did not know for a fact why it deviated from the norm but agreed the likely answer lay in the fact that the car had been restored to the configuration it was in when it won the Tour de France. She explained that the three-carburetor cars were more tractable and thus more suitable for the multi-venue format of the TdF.

In support of that theory, from her store of anecdotes she cited a conversation with Le Mans winner and US Ferrari distributor Luigi Chinetti in which he complained that while driving a six-carburetor car in the Alps, he had to back down and “re-attack” when he approached an uphill switchback too slowly, because the oversize carbs would load up and the engine would stall.


The plaque in front of the Class M-3 winning 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB Berlinetta says “The Comp/61s, often referred to as SEFAC Hot Rods, were built using a competition-prepared Tipo 168 B/61 engine that had 250 TR heads with revised cam timing, larger intake ports and bigger manifolds, and six twin choke Weber 46 DCF/3 Carburetors replacing the 36s or 40s fitted normally.”

SEFAC Hot Rod Engine

Under the hood, one can count only three carburetors. Denise had an anecdote to explain the discrepancy.


Denise delighted in questioning conventional wisdom and was fascinated by the new and innovative.

We shared a dislike of the use of horsepower as the primary performance parameter in advertising and reporting. In speed-limited America, we agreed, a high top speed is of little use, and getting away from a stop light is the primary source of recreational driving thrills. So here, torque is the more important spec, as reflected in the large displacement, slow revving engines favored by American drivers and manufacturers.

I have long championed the sum of horsepower and torque divided by vehicle weight as a measure of the predicted performance of a car. It logically yields a number that increases with performance potential, whereas “power to weight” varies the wrong way. We corresponded on the subject, and she agreed, suggesting that the index needed a catchier name than my (h+t)/T, but we gave up trying to invent one. Eventually she invited me to participate in a video panel discussion on the subject for her blog, but it never got off the ground.

Naturally, she had a fondness for diesels, with their high torque, impressive fuel economy and resulting extraordinary range. To my argument that it was one’s bladder capacity that limited range, not the vehicle’s fuel tank, she responded that she wanted her own fancy to be what decided when to stop, not the car’s fuel gauge or battery condition meter.

The Denise I knew was never content with the status quo, seeking to explore alternatives. Typically, in her last column for AutoWeek she wrote about an innovative method of restoring accessibility to rural areas cut off when rain turned dirt roads into bogs.

My one regret is that I did not get to know the Zen Denise – the mystic, the seeker, the questioner. It’s the first thing she notes about me in her “Drive!” She Said column, and I am sure we’d have had a lot to talk about if cars hadn’t gotten in the way.

Wherever she is now, no doubt she knows a lot more about such things.

We’re going to miss you, Denise. Godspeed. I hope there are manual gearboxes in heaven.

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Exotic Bargain Caveat – Aston Martin Vantage

So You Want an Exotic

1961 Jaguar Fixed-Head Coupe at Stert of Tour d'Elegance 2011

This is the exact Jaguar XK-E Coupe that was first shown in 1961 in advance of the auto show in Geneva. It had Ferrari performance at half the price. Depreciation brought the purchase price within range of ordinary mortals, but not its maintenance.

Potential Catastrophes

In our blog celebrating the Jaguar E-Type’s 50th anniversary, we quoted a Peter Egan aphorism, “All XK-Es have bald tires.” It was a comment on the financial bind buyers of used E-Types found themselves in when they discovered that for instance, you had to remove the entire engine to replace the clutch.

A good buddy who has a small collection of vintage cars once pointed to a Ferrari 308 GT4 at the Concorso Italiano in Monterey and observed, “You could get a nice one of those now at a really good price, but it costs $1,500 a corner to service the suspension.”

I learned recently that there’s a more modern seductive exotic car out there that can be a relative bargain, but if you are tempted, you need to keep in mind the maintenance cost to keep it on the road.

In the Eye of the Beholder

In our humble opinion, the ’60s were a kind of zenith for car design. The Jaguar E-Type and XJ-6 showed the Brits could do it, Italians like Pininfarina, Giugiarro and Gandini produced beautiful Alfas, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis, while Zagato created the gorgeous Aston Martin DB4 GTZ. The Germans introduced the timeless Porsche 911, and even American car companies got into the act with the Mustang (We prefer the 1967.), the masterful Bill Mitchell-era GM cars like the Buick Riviera, and the “Bullit” version of the Dodge Charger.

But as they say, what have you done for me lately? Is there a car of the new millennium that deserves the label “beautiful?” Certainly there are some handsome cars now, but beautiful? One could count the cars that fit the description on one hand, and if you did, many would agree that a disproportionate number came from the pen of Sir Ian Callum. The others are from Henrik Fisker.

DB9 Auto Show 2009If we had our way, all British Sports and GT cars would be deep lustrous green with the luscious warm light brown leather they call “biscuit,” like this beautiful Henrik Fisker-designed 2008 Aston Martin DB9.

The Aston Martin Vantage

With base 2016 Mustang GTs packing 435 horsepower, it may be difficult to recall that your choices were more limited ten years ago. Back then the Ford’s three-valve 4.6 liter V8 made 300 horsepower. Aston Martin got 380 out the flat-plane crank, dry sump, 32-valve 4.3 liter V8 in their Vantage.

Take that sweet V8 and stuff it in the two-place Aston Martin in the Henrik Fisker idiom (We had originally attributed it to Ian Callum – mea culpa.) and you get a car to lust after. Of course the base price at the time was about $110,000. Today you could get one for the price of a well equipped BMW 3-series.

LA Show 2006 Aston Vantage CoupeShrink-wrapped around a two-seat package, the Henrik Fisker lines looked all the more athletic on the Vantage V8 Coupe when it appeared at the 2006 Los Angeles International Auto Show.

That buddy with the small collection has had many nice cars in the nearly 25 years we’ve known him. Although I admired and appreciated all of them, until recently we have never actually coveted any of them. Then one day he called to tell us he’d picked up a 2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage at auction.

2006 Aston Martin Vantage Vantage 02 Vantage 03
Our friend (who asked to remain anonymous) has specialized in Alfa Romeos for decades, with a Jaguar and a few others thrown in, and one dip into the Ferrari pool. His latest is the only car he’s had that inspired envy in your correspondent, an Aston Martin Vantage V8.

One of the benefits of having a collection of cars that you actually drive is that none of your cars racks up a lot of miles. It also means that you always have a choice of ride whenever you want to go somewhere, and if one of your cars is due for some maintenance, you can schedule it for when you have the time and the money.

You need to plan carefully though.

Minor Service

If you paid $40 for an oil change on your Ford Focus you’d probably feel ripped off. What about a 50,000 mile checkup (basically an oil and filter change and fluid replacement) for $2,300?

That was the quote our friend got from the local Aston Martin Agent. There are not very many of those so you don’t have a lot of alternatives.

Fortunately he is used to performing a lot of his own maintenance, has a lot of resources, and these days you can find out how to do almost anything through websites and specialty car forums.

That’s how he found out why that service is so expensive.

First of all, that dry sump lubrication means there are three oil filters, and two of them are precision machined stainless steel and they have to be removed and cleaned.

To remove the two air filters, you have to remove both wheels, the fender liners and the entire aerodynamic belly pan, which is attached with about 20 precision machine screws. This is a procedure that is almost guaranteed to end up with at least one screw missing. It did.

The manual specifies BMW’s proprietary synthetic oil, and that plus two air filters, an oil filter and the cabin pollen filter were a bargain online for $520.

Don’t Even Go There

Our friend is nothing if not thorough. He’s the only person I know who stands by the mechanic when he drains the oil from his daily driver and has him crank the engine over while he pours oil into the engine, and watches until the oil coming out is clear.

So naturally he checks the other fluids. Everything looked good except the power steering fluid, which had turned from green to dirty black.

Remember what we said about the internet? This is where the “almost” comes in. He could not find a drain plug for the power steering fluid. He checked on the internet – nothing.

As a last resort, he managed to suck as much of the old bad stuff as possible out through the filler neck, and refill it. The issue bugged him so much that he finally talked to a mechanic at the Aston Martin service department.

If you are like us, the answer will sound like an urban legend.

The mechanic told him they never drain it. They just keep topping it off until it fails and replace the entire steering rack!

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Duesenberg; Pinnacle of the Classic Era

The Art of Performance

By 1928, Fred and Augie Duesenberg had already established themselves as a force in racing. The only Americans to win the French Grand Prix in their own car, they had set a land speed record on the beach at Daytona, along with 66 other records set on the Sheepshead board track on Manhattan Island, and won the Indianapolis 500 three times.

The First Dueseys Weren’t

the Duesenberg brothers introduced their Model A at the New York Salon in 1920, the first American straight eight and the first car to be fitted with four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes, with a base price of $6,500 and a top speed of 85 miles per hour. While a solid performer, the car was handicapped by three factors.

1922 Model A Duesey

Ronald and Sandra Hansen’s 1922 Duesenberg Model A Fleetwood Dual Cowl Phaeton on the 18th Fairway at Pebble Beach in 2013.

The first was what some thought to be uninspired styling. At a distance of 95 years it is difficult to evaluate such a subjective factor, so we’ll leave that to the judgment of history. The second, though, is understandable.

So near to the Armistice, many could not look beyond the car’s  German name to find that the cars were solid Midwestern American, out of Auburn, Indiana.

Last, while there is always a passionate portion of prospective purchasers for whom performance is paramount, those who can afford luxury cars ($6,500 was a lot of money in 1920.) expected luxury. While the cars themselves gave nothing away to the competition in terms of comfort, finish and serenity, the mere association with racing held connotations of smoke, dust, noise and grease-stained clothing.

So it was that fewer than 500 cars were sold between 1920 and 1926 when Errett Lobban Cord took over the company. He was well-known for his sense of style, and the first factor was dealt with by assigning master designer Gordon Buehrig as chief stylist.

The third factor had to wait until 1928 to be dealt with.

The State of the Art, 1928

In 1928, the popular Ford Model A offered forty horsepower.

Among the many cars competing for the prestige market, Cadillac (90 hp), Chrysler (112 hp), Jordan (80 hp), Lincoln L-series (100 hp), Packard 526 (82 hp), Peerless (80 hp) and Pierce-Arrow (100 hp), employed engines with their valves in the block – flatheads. All but the Pierce-Arrow’s cross-flow T-head were L-heads.

1926 Lincoln V8

In the mid-twenties, many prestige manufacturers engines were strangled with the inefficient L-head design commonly referred to as a “flathead,” like on this 1926 Lincoln L-series V8. Note the exhaust pipe coming out of the back of the engine, rather than the more direct exit out the side as it would with a cross-flow T-head or OHV design.

DuPont (75 hp), Marmon (75 hp), the larger Packard 443 (109 hp), and the Rolls-Royce Phantom (famously listing its horsepower as “Sufficient”) had the more efficient overhead valves.

Alone among these cars was Stutz who, like the Duesenbergs, had a racing reputation. They used a single overhead cam, allowing better breathing, and making 110 hp at a higher 3,600 rpm from its 4.9 liter straight eight. One of these placed second to Bentley Boys Bernard Rubin and Woolf Bernato at LeMans that year.

While the Stutz’ SOHC gave it a superior specific output, the Chrysler Imperial 80 made up for it with a small advantage in displacement, nudging the Stutz for the highest advertised horsepower – 112 to 110.

One wonders if they had a clue what Duesenberg had in store.

Internal Combustion 101

As any gearhead knows, internal combustion engines make their power from explosions. The expanding gasses from the explosion push the piston down, driving the car. In an Otto cycle engine (nearly all of them), if the ratio of air to fuel is perfect (called stoichiometric), there are only two ways to get more power – bigger explosions or packing more of them into a given time interval.

Early in the automotive age, many designers got more power by simply making engines bigger. In 1911 Fiat built a 28 liter land speed record car, “The Beast of Turin,” with four cylinders each individually the size of an entire Corvette 427.

As metallurgy, ignition system, fuel formulation, and carburetion improved, the idea of having more explosions instead of bigger ones began to find favor.

One way to do this was with more, smaller cylinders. Six cylinders in line can be timed for perfect primary balance, allowing higher rpm, for more explosions per minute. But that means getting more fuel/air through a smaller valve opening.

Some wag once stated that the problems of engine design involved curing adenoids, indigestion and constipation; in other words, getting the fuel mixture in, burning it completely, and getting the products of combustion out with the least obstruction.

The first and last of those requirements are the job of valves. They have to open and close in milliseconds, and even at idle a typical engine’s valves open and close about 400 times a second – in a modern racing engine at speed, more than twenty times that often.

In order to make use of more rpm, the valves have to be light, so that they close completely after the cam opens them. More, smaller cylinders could be fed by smaller, lighter valves.

Or you could put more valves on each cylinder. Peugeot pioneered the use of four valves per cylinder in 1912, parlaying them into an Indy 500 win in 1913.

Enter the J

Fred and Augie had already tried three valves per cylinder in their land speed record car. For the New York Auto Show in December of 1928, they introduced the most sophisticated engine yet offered in a passenger car.

Duesenberg J Engine On Stand

The Duesenberg Model J engine. Eight cylinders, 419.8 cubic inches (6,878 cc); dual overhead cams, and four valves per cylinder. It made 265 advertised horsepower when the 6,308 cc Lincoln L-series V8 made 100.

The late Ken Purdy was considered the dean of automotive writers. Of the Duesenberg, he wrote, “It is, I think, the finest motorcar yet built in the United States . . . I mean that its margin of superiority over its contemporaries was greater than any other domestic automobile has known.”

When you consider that no domestic automobile achieved half the horsepower of the Duesenberg J when it was introduced, that statement still holds today, when the admittedly impressive 707 horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat has less than a nine percent advantage over its next most powerful competitor, the 650 horsepower Corvette Z06.

By 1930, competitors from Cadillac, Lincoln, Marmon and Packard had begun upping the cylinder ante, with first V12s, and then Marmon and Cadillac producing V16s. The latter was introduced in 1930 with 175 hp, and topped out at 185 hp in 1936.

Cadillac 452 V16

Cadillac offered the series 452 V16 starting in 1930. With overhead valves and 7.4 liters, it was a marvel, but still lagged behind the J’s straight eight in power production.

Whether they were the impetus or not, in 1932 Duesenberg began offering a centrifugal supercharger on the J, maintaining its edge over the competition. A total of 36 cars were thus equipped at the factory.

Ad men make their living writing overblown prose about the products they praise, but there is a ring of truth in the claim that “A Duesenberg driver can only be passed by another Duesenberg, and then only if he allows it.”

Just J Engine Exhaust

Twenty Grand SJ Engine

The J’s eight individual exhausts left no room for the supercharger’s vertical quill shaft, so they doubled them up, feeding four chrome-plated flex pipes. The cosmetic effect proved popular, and some customers ordered their unsupercharged engines with the feature.

The J’s four valves per cylinder; five-bearing nickle/chromium, mercury-damped crankshaft; alloy pistons and connecting rods (firsts, both); and dual overhead cams allowed it to produce its 265 hp at an unheard-of 4,250 rpm. With the quill-shaft-driven centrifugal supercharger packing in five pounds per square inch of pressure at 21,250 rpm, the peak of 320 hp was reached at 4,000 rpm.

Ram's Horn Manifold

Toward the end of the J’s production run, four supercharged engines were equipped with dual carburetors, with each intake manifold split into a pair of “ram’s horn” branches. Two of these 400 horsepower engines were supplied to Ab Jenkins for his Mormon Meteor endurance record car. This is the Petersen Museum’s car, whose supercharger and manifolds, like as many as 20 Js’, were added later.

The engine wasn’t the J’s only trick. Duesenberg’s four-wheel hydraulic brakes introduced on the Model A were continued on the Model J. They were servo-assisted – what we’d call “power brakes” later.

Is It Real or Advertising Hype?

A few cynics have suggested that the figures quoted for the Duesenberg’s engines were exaggerated. There is certainly a natural production variation in any product, and running changes may have resulted in differences between specific engines. Exhaust configurations did change, with some exiting straight out the side (as in the illustration) and some turning down to allow them to be contained within the bonnet.

In answer to the question, the late editor of Road & Track, John R. Bond, obtained a dynamometer readout for a pre-production J engine that showed 208 horsepower at 3500 rpm. The peak horsepower rating was quoted at 4,250 rpm, so he extrapolated the curve and estimated that engine produced at least 250 horsepower.

That engine, however, was not a production unit, and was later destroyed. (One wonders – for its failure to meet spec?) Certainly a figure of 250 seems justified, and the advertised 265 is reasonable based on performance achieved by production cars, which could reach 100 miles per hour in 17 seconds.

The other quibble has to do with the sourcing of the engines from Lycoming. This is silly. The engines are a design of Augie Duesenberg, and Lycoming was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg. Such an objection has less traction than a complaint that the engines in BMW M, Mercedes AMG, and Cadillac V series cars are not their own.

Finally, the official timing of Ab Jenkins’ Mormon Meteor on the salt flats of Bonneville, including a trap speed of 160 miles per hour at the end of one lap, and a 24 hour record (including pit stops) of 135.57 mph that stood until 1961, seems to validate the power of the twin carburetor version.

Mormon Meteor PB 2007

Easily the most significant individual Duesenberg, Ab Jenkins’ special-bodied endurance record Mormon Meteor, shown here at Pebble Beach in 2007, is undoubtedly the ugliest car ever to win the coveted “Best in Show” at the event.

For Us It’s Personal

The Sophomore year of Architecture school at the University of Illinois in the sixties was the first year of design classes. Students went home for Spring Break not for beach revelries but to seek summer employment in an architect’s office. Living in the suburbs of Chicago, historical for greats like Louis Henry Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, there was a wealth of opportunities for an aspiring young student such as your correspondent.

As it turned out, firms were not really impressed by schoolwork. What got the attention of the interviewers (and the others they brought in to see it) was a color rendering in casein of a Duesenberg, whipped up between exams on a scrap of illustration board. It was copied from a black and white photo in Road & Track. What they were looking for was people with a little fire. They found it in a work done on his own time by someone with a passion for something.

Green Tourster Inset Illustration

This 1933 Duesenberg Dual-cowl Phaeton is one of eight “Toursters” bodied by Derham, the only coachbuilder still in business in the ’50s. Inset is an image from a scan of a Kodak Instamatic slide of the illustration that won your correspondent his first job in Architecture.

Green Tourster Rear Compartment

The signature feature of Derham’s Toursters was a crank-operated second windscreen.

When You See These, You Will Know

Bow Tie Stop & Flight

There were a few features that were common to most Duesenbergs, and while later JNs and a few mavericks strayed from the norm, if you see a double spring steel “bow tie” bumper with a shield escutcheon at the center, then look closer and see the “S-T-O-P” taillight (sometimes two), then you are pretty sure you’ll find the art deco “flight” radiator mascot above the brass winged “Duesenberg” on the radiator cowl.

A Sampler of Dueseys

Nethercutt 20 Grand

This is the Nethercutt Museum’s supercharged Arlington Torpedo Sedan, popularly called the “Twenty Grand” (note vanity plate) for it’s cost in 1933. A Duesenberg Chassis (There were no “stock” Duesenbergs.) cost $9,500 in 1930 when a Ford could be had for $385.

The Question of Style

33 Boat Tail Speedster PB 2007

Errett Lobban Cord took over Duesenberg in 1926. Two of his shrewd personnel decisions were to retain Augie as Chief Engineer, and to hire Gordon Buehrig as lead stylist. The latter choice resulted in George Whittell Jr.’s beautiful long-wheelbase Weymann “fishtail” Speedster shown at at Pebble Beach in 2007.

No Two Alike

The most popular body style by far was a two-seater with roll-up windows, folding top, and rumble seat, called a convertible coupe. Many of these were built by one of the two local coachworks popular with the Hollywood set, Murphy and Bohman & Scwartz, both of Pasadena.

1929 Murphy Conv Cp Prototype at Tour 2011

It’s rare to see a Duesenberg on the road – except in Monterey in mid-August. Here the first Murphy J Convertible Coupe built motors into Carmel at the finish of the annual Tour d’Elegance in 2011.

2012 PV Black Murphy Convertible Coupe

Another Murphy Convertible Coupe, heading for the Winners’ Circle to accept an award at the Palos Verdes Concours in 2012. The original owner of this one specified mirrors mounted on chrome rings on the hard covered dual side mounts, one of hundreds of choices available.

33 Murphy Conv Coupe at Pebble Beach 2013

A popular option on convertible coupes was a compartment for golf clubs, seen here just ahead of the rear frnder on this ’33 Murphy-bodied J. Although this Duesenberg is not supercharged, like many, it features the external Monel flex pipes.

1930 Murphy Conv Cpe at 2005 Pebble Beach

This 1930 J Murphy Convertible Coupe was brought to the 2005 Pebble Beach Concours from the LeMay Museum in Tacoma Washington. Note the “knot” in the bow tie bumper on this one is body color.

Petersen Duesy At PV 2013

The Petersen Museum’s 1933 Murphy Convertible Coupe is one of an estimated 20 Js that were retrofitted with the highly accurate reproduction supercharger that became available in the ’50s. It also has the dual carburetors for a 400 horsepower rating. Note the dual carburetor’s “ram’s horn” manifolds.

Just Add Doors

31 Murph yCS Pa;os Verdes 2013

Take a Convertible Coupe, put it on the longer wheelbase, add two more doors and you get a convertible sedan. Just staged in the morning fog of the 2013 Palos Verdes Concours d’Elegance, this 1931 Murphy example benefits from the convenience of roll-up windows and four doors, plus the sportiness of open touring typical of the type.

Cars of the Stars

A Duesenberg became a symbol of success and style among cinema personalities, such that a few cars became identified with their Hollywood owners, like the “Gary Cooper Duesenberg.”

E. L. Cord lived next to prominent Hollywood agent Phil Berg,who owned the only single cowl LeBaron Phaeton. Zeppo and Chico Marx saw it parked at Al Jolson’s house on Wilshire Boulevard and challenged Berg to a race against their 1928 Mercedes S Boattail speedster. The side bet eventually escalated to $25,000, about $2.5 Million today.

Phil Berg Lebaron Phaeton

A considerable crowd of Hollywood notables turned out to watch Phil Berg’s 1931 Duesenberg LeBaron Phaeton (Photo courtesy RM Auctions) race Chico and Zeppo Marx’ 1928 Mercedes Speedster (each stripped down for racing at the time). Although the lower, lighter supercharged Mercedes was favored the Duesenberg eventually won. In October of 2012 the Berg car sold for $1,175,000.

Both Gary Cooper and Clark Gable drove JN Duesenbergs. When Gable was courting Carol Lombard, he pulled up to the Bevery Wilshire where he was staying and asked her if she’d like to “come on up.” Her famous reply: “Who do you think you are, Gary Cooper?”

Gable Duesy

Clark Gable courted Carol Lombard in this 1935 Duesenberg JN. It leaked on her in a rainstorm so he had it rebodied by Bohman and Shwartz. At the Gooding & Co. Auction in 2012 it failed to sell at $6.4 Million, perhaps because he never actually owned the car.

Mae West Duesey 01

Larger than life personalities gravitate toward larger than life accessories. Mae West certainly qualifies for the former title, so a Duesenberg was a near-necessity. This is her 1932 J Convertible coupe, bodied by the other popular Pasadena coachbuilder, Bohman and Shwartz.

Only in Hollywood?

Bojangles Duesey

There is little positive for minorities in the sociology of the depression years, but one African American tap dancer managed to achieve such success that he bought a $17,500 Duesenberg. This is Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s 1935 J Rollston Berline (sedan).

Cars and Characters

Father Devine Duesey

Another larger-than-life character whose Duesenberg was instantly recognizable was evangelist M. J. “Father” Devine. (No, that’s not him in the picture.) As if the long wheelbase Duesenberg’s nearly thirteen foot wheelbase (two feet longer than a modern Chevy Suburban’s) were not long enough, the chassis of his 7,000 pound “Throne Car” was stretched another two feet. It is so ponderous that it regularly broke wheels.

George Whittell Jr. was a millionaire playboy with eccentric tastes, who owned no less than six Duesenbergs. One was the “fishtail speedster” that sat in the Harrah’s Collection in Reno with an initial odometer reading of 1,342. Another set a record for an American car at Pebble Beach in 2011.

Whittell Coupe

The record-setting 1931 Murphy-bodied special “Whittell Coupe,” whose alloy roof mimics a convertible top right down to the wooden bows, sold for $9.4 Million, plus fees. Its details are stunning, but its proportions come off a but chunky.

Von Krieger Special 540K Roadster

While the Mercedes-Benz 540K’s supercharged straight eight produced less than half a supercharged J’s horsepower, their proportions and lines make them the more admired cars. This 1936 Von Krieger Special Roadster had its own hard back catalog, and sold at the Gooding & Co. Auction at Pebble Beach for $10,700,000 (plus fees) in 2012.

What Royalty Drives

Bugatti called its magnificent Type 41 the “Royale” but in the end no royalty ever bought one. On the other hand, the Duke of Windsor, King Alphonso XIII of Spain, King Victor Emmanuel of Italy, Queen Marie of Yugoslavia and Prince Nicholas of Romania all owned Duesenbergs.

Maharajah Hokor Of Indore Roadster

 Our research indicates this is the last Duesenberg chassis (another car was later assembled from parts). Commissioned by Majarajah Yeshwant Rao Holkor of Indore, it sports a “roadster speedster” body by J. Gurney Nutting of England (their only Duesenberg), on the longer 153.5 inch wheelbase. Some sources indicate it was the second of two cars (other than the Mormon Meteor) to receive the 400 horsepower engine from the factory.

Certified Open Elegance

Graber Convertible

Winner of the “Most Elegant Open Car” award in 2010 at Pebble Beach, the 1934 Graber Convertible may owe it’s grace to dispensing with many of the usual Duesenberg styling cues, like the upright radiator.

Size Matters

Red 29 LeBaron DC Phaeton PB 2013

1929 Dual Cowl Phaeton by LeBaron, Duesenberg’s in-house coachworks, at Pebble Beach in 2013. Only 13 LeBaron Duesenbergs are thought to survive out of 25 built. This is the sixth. The longer 153.5 inch wheelbase helped give the relatively tall cars decent proportions.

29 Murphy DC Phaeton PB2013 3 Views

The other ’29 LeBaron Dual Cowl Phaeton at Pebble Beach in 2013. While the red example only had five owners, this one had at least 36, and like many veteran classics, was once just an old used car, selling for $500 after WWII. The whitewall tires really dress the car up compared to the red car.

29 LeBaron Sport Phaeton

Another handsome LeBaron Dual Cowl Phaeton – this one called a “Sport Phaeton” in the literature. Perhaps the exposed exhaust is the difference.

Freedom to Fail

Lest we be accused of overstating our case, there’s evidence that when given a clean sheet of paper and no budget restrictions, the results are not always pretty.

34 Murphy Custom Beverly Sedan at Tour 2014

Awkward windshield pillars and squared-off side windows seem to clash with the sweeping fenders on this 1934 J Murphy Custom Beverly Sedan as it leads the 1937 Tom Mix Cord 812 in the Tour d’Elegance. Contrast it’s lines with the more pleasing lines of the Rollston Torpedo Sedan from the Nethercutt above.

If Duesenberg Made an SUV

34 Rollston J Limousine Pebble Beach 2014

They call it the 1934 SJ Rollston Limousine, since the term “closed touring car” is an oxymoron, but if there were such a thing, this would be it. Shown on the 18th Fairway at the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours, Chief Curator of the Petersen Museum confirmed that this is one of the three supercharged cars that received the dual carburetors from the factory. Traveling in style!

Myths Rebutted

The Duesenberg legacy includes some misinformation, like the idea that the four flex exhausts is a reliable indication that the J is supercharged.

It is common to call the supercharged Js “SJs” and the 400 horsepower cars “SSJs,” but this is a journalistic invention. These designations were never applied to the cars by the manufacturer.

Then there is the statement I read in one report that they were the most expensive cars of their day. That distinction belongs to the Bugatti Type 41 “Royale,” whose chassis alone cost $30,000 (about $3,000,000 today).

Bugatti Type 41 PB 2009

Not a Duesenberg. Apparently there finally was a limit to how much even the superwealthy were willing to devote to a mere car. Bugatti’s Type 41 “Royale” had a wheelbase sixteen inches longer than a long-wheelbase Duesenberg, and the chassis alone cost $30,000. Only six were made, of which only three were bought. This is the 1932 Coupe d’Ville (Town Car) that now wears a body by Henry Binder, its second.

Lastly, we are sad to report that whatever you may have heard, the term “doozie” (or doozy, Duesy, or Duesie. Spelling varies.), as in “Wow, that’s a real doozie!” was in use before the brothers built their first car. It was not coined in response to the impressive presence, performance and specifications of the Duesenberg. We have to be content that those attributes served to cement the expression in the popular lexicon.

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Grand National Roadster Show – Choices

The Other Candidates

How Do You Predict?

There have been so many different kinds of vehicles that have earned the title America’s Most Beautiful Roadster that one has to wonder how a judge fairly compares the merits of such diverse contenders.


The 2014 AMBR was a Chevrolet Cabriolet – a four-door!


A few past AMBRs. Clockwise from top left, 1951, 2010, 2011, and 2013. See? It’s not all Deuces.


“Red Hot Attraction,” with a custom chassis by American Stamping and hand-built body, is in the style of a ’32 Ford rod, but really springs from the imagination of Robert Hoffman from Haninge, Sweden. Engine is built up on an aluminum Hemi block with Hilborn fuel injection.


Mike Gordon’s ’32 Ford doesn’t look like a “Deuce” with that Packard grille, but with those turbo scrolls and exhaust trumpets (below) drawing the eye and pumping its Ford Windsor 428 V8 up to 1,500  hp, who’s arguing?

MikeGordonDeuceTurbo 1926ModelTWInset

At the other end of the scale from Mike Gordon’s mighty Deuce is Dawn and Dustin Smith’s “Mint T,” entirely owner-built. The body is said to be completely stock, but I don’t think you can say the same about a chrome-plated carburetor

Steve Lykken Deuce Pickup

There were two Deuce Pickup Roadsters entered. Steve Lykken’s Brookville is the pearl gray one above with panel beating and chassis work by Henry Wehr and 350 Chevy. Below is Ted Davis’ version, running a replica Model A block in alloy, with reproduction Riley head. The frame is a real Model A, boxed.

Ted Davis Deuce Pickup

Willy Stryker 28-29 Roadster

It’s just my ignorance of hot rod nomenclature that I cannot figure out why Willy Stryker’s Roadster’s ’32 Ford frame makes it a “1928/29 Ford Roadster.” In traditional hot rod fashion it’s powered by a flathead Ford, but in this case it’s French, and has a pair of twin-choke Italian Weber carburetors

4 Deuces

What a poker hand! Four Deuces! Clockwise from upper left are – Larry Christensen’s with a 392 Hemi, Ted Davis’ with an alloy model A block by Donovan, a replica Riley head, and a Pepsco blower, Per Martinsen’s with its blown flathead, and Gene Hetland’s, powered by what is claimed to be one of only three overhead cam Ford Cleveland 351 V8s made.

Since I wrote that, Mike Markovich (Thanks Mike) has indicated my source was mistaken. This is apparently not an OHC engine, but the only pushrod 302 with four valves per cylinder, one  pushrod operating two valves.

Dale Fode '34 Ford

Hardly a panel on Dale Fode’s ’34 Ford went unaltered. Mark Willis and Bob Stewart (no relation) built it around a blown Chevy LS7.

Grasshopper T

Beau Boekmann and Megadealer Galpin Ford collaborated on “Grasshopper T,” a recreation of the November, 1960 Hot Rod cover car. Its 1949 Oldsmobile 303 V8, enlarged to 461 CID, is blown by a modified GMC 4/71 supercharger.

Burt Diehl T Roadster

Burt Diehl’s T roadster has a genuine T body (like “Grasshopper T” above) and a Ford Model B four with a replica Miller overhead valve conversion. S&S carburetors are said to be what you’d see on a Harley.

Meyers '36 Ford

Someone counted the louvers on Beth and Ross Meyers’ ’38 Ford and came up with 251. The engine is a Lincoln 430 (A Hot Rod Lincoln!) with a McCullouch Supercharger. Seats are from a Porsche Speedster.

Urban Hirsch T Roadster

Nick Chopit of Chopit Customs, in Stanton, CA, built this small bock Chevy-powered T roaster for Urban Hirsch of Beverly Hills. Proving not all AMBR contenders are trailer queens, this puppy had already racked up 765 miles at show time.

Urban Hirsch T Roadster Nose

There is only one AMBR every year, but you’d never characterize these works of rolling art as “losers.” Come out to Pomona next year and see for yourself what great variety these rods and customs represent.

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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AMBR Award Winner 2015

What a Surprise! Another Ford  Wins AMBR

A Pretty Good Bet

There are two reliable predictions you can make about hot rod shows. There will be a lot of Fords, and a lot of small-block Chevys. This year’s AMBR followed half the trend.


Many of the most graceful AMBR winners have been based on the 1933-34 Ford. Larry Olsen of Sioux Falls, SD, carries on the trend with his flamed black ’33 built by previous AMBR-winning fabricator Bobby Alloway.


Simplicity reigns in the Roadster’s Cockpit. Contenders have to be virgins – never having been shown elsewhere – so odometers typically have a lot of zeros on them. Instruments are from a 1933 Nash, steering wheel from a ’62 Corvette, and the Vintage aftermarket Motorola radio plays through a ’57 Cadillac speaker.


The winner is powered by a Mopar engine. They call it a 1955 Dodge Red Ram 241, although most sources say that engine (a Hemi) was enlarged to 270 CID after 1954. An odd quirk: Three Stromberg carburetors sit on top, but they are hiding a fuel injection system.


Daryl Wolfwinkel’s 34 Ford AMBR was displayed without the headlights mounted in 2011, lending a majestic sweep to the fenders. The flames on the fenders of this year’s car did not lend themselves to such an effect. We’re of two minds. We thought the 2011 car was magnificent, but we’re a sucker for flames.


Now that’s a Hot Rod Roadster! Aggressive stance, low windscreen, fat rear tires, a graceful sweep of fender – and those flames, fading from hot yellow to purple to cool blue! What’s not to like?

We’ll post the rest of the contenders (the 15 of 17 we photographed, that is) in the next blog.

As we are wont to say, stay tuned. 

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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