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Ground Hog Day for Auto Journalists
Like Phil Conner (Bill Murray) at the beginning of Groundhog Day, in August when writers for all the mainstream car magazines gather to cover the events at Monterey, they must get a bit jaded. Every year they have to come up with a fresh angle on a bunch of beautiful old cars. Fortunately, it’s not the same groundhog every year.
The Monterey Groundhog is the car that wins Best in Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This year it was a 1936 Lancia Astura, exhibited by Richard Mattei of Paradise Valley, Arizona.
In the detail above and in glimpses below viewed over the heads of scrambling photographers and between the owners and presenters, you can get an idea of what won Best in Show at Pebble Beach this year.
Ephraim Levy, our photographer (for whose work we are deeply indebted this year), was so convinced that the winner of the American Classic Open class and “Elegance in Motion” prize, the 1931 Stutz DV32 LeBaron Convertible Victoria of Joseph and Margie Cassini III of West Orange, New Jersey was going to win Best in Show, that he concentrated his lens on the car.
Stutz DV32 engines were rare technological competitors with the Duesenberg J, with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder (Thus DV for “Dual Valve”). When the Bentley Boys finished 1, 2, 3, 4, at the 1929 24 Hours of Le Mans, a supercharged Stutz DV32 took fifth.
Honored This Year
Delahaye and Chapron
Sibling Rivalry? The Petersen Museum of Los Angeles showed their long-chassis 1938 Delahaye 135 M Figoni et Falaschi Roadster (above), and Petersen Co-Chairman Peter Mullin’s entered the shorter chassis Cabriolet (below) from his Museum in Oxnard, in Class K-1 for prewar Delahayes.
There are just two of these spectacular V12 Delahaye 165 Figoni et Falaschi Rumble Seat Cabriolets. Both are red. Peter Mullen has the other one, and you can see it at the Petersen Museum and judge for yourself which is the prettier. This one, owned by the Lees of Sparks, Nevada, won the class and was selected to compete for Best in Show.
There are a few exhibitors who seem to bring some new and wonderful car to the Concours every year. John Shirley is one. He and Kim Richter won the Chapron-Bodied Delahaye class with this 1937 135 Chapron Coupé des Alps.
Elvis Presley painted his BMW 507 (this one) red to stop women from leaving lipstick messages on it. BMW returned it to its original white/black livery for their 100th anniversary, and showed it at the Concours. If you want to see the class winner (another 507), it was in the lobby of the Petersen last we saw.
The Winning Ford GT40s
We were promised every Ford GT40 that ever won a significant race. By all accounts they delivered. The first place cars that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, ’67, ’68, and ’69 were all on display. Not only that, but the three cars that placed 1, 2, 3 in 1966 were included.
Seldom has a single marque’s dominance been so well represented on the grass of the Pebble Beach Concours. Number 6 above is P/1047, Mirage M.10003, one of four GT40s displayed by Greg Miller of Sandy, Utah. It has the distinction of being the first GT40 in the famous blue and orange Gulf livery to win a race – the 1000 km of Spa in 1967.
No surprise, the class winner, entered by Robert Kauffman of Charlotte, N. C. is the first Le Mans-winning GT40. The Ken Miles/Denny Hulme car had led until the team ordered the three cars to cross together, giving Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon the victory, because it had started further back on the grid and had therefore driven the farthest in the 24 hours.
In 1967, Ford introduced the “J-Cars,” with the powerful, torquey, and reliable seven-liter NASCAR 427 V8. The smaller-engine high-revving Ferraris had no chance, and Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt finished three laps ahead, the only time American drivers, driving an American car for an American Team, won the race.
On the podium after the finish, Dan shook the celebratory bottle of Moét et Chandon and sprayed everyone, starting a tradition. The bottle was eventually returned to him and now sits in a glass case at his All American Racers in Santa Ana, California.
You know this is the Gurney/Foyt car because of the “Gurney Bump” in the roof that made room for his tall frame in a car only 40 inches high (thus the name). It raced in that one race, won it, and immediately retired undefeated to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.
1967 Ford GT40 Mk IV J-4, another GT40 owned by Greg Miller of Sandy, Utah, is the first of the so-called “J-cars” to race. It led the 1967 Sebring 12-Hour race from start to finish with Bruce McLaren and Mario Andretti driving.
Three-time World Champion and honorary judge Sir Jackie Stewart poses with dignitaries around J-4, sporting tartan cap and trousers (of no Stewart plaid I know). Ephraim asked if he should introduce us, and before we could think about it, we were shaking hands and discussing how the British don’t understand the Scots.
There were five Lamborghini Miuras to celebrate their 50th anniversary – one each in blue, red, and green, and two in orange. As so often happens, we got pictures of the red car and the blue, neither one of which won the class.
Miuras started out with a feature from the original Mini – a single sump for both engine and transmission. In the later SVs the two lubricating systems were separated to prevent damage from one from metastasizing to the other. This Miura, owned by Adam Carolla of Van Nuys, is an early SV with the longer body and wider rear track, but was produced before the sump partition was introduced.
Sumptuous “biscuit” Italian leather. Another Mini feature was the transverse engine (below), but with three times the number of cylinders, and situated behind the driver. Jerry and Ann Brubaker of Reno’s red bull was among the last non-SVs delivered.
Following the AMC Javelin’s Championships in the Trans-Am in 1971 and 1972, Dick Teague worked with Giotto Bizzarrini to create four 160 mph prototype “halo” cars, the AMX3. The cars were tested in high-speed runs on the Monza track with Trans-Am champion Mark Donahue at the wheel. This is that car, winner of the Bizzarrini class R, and the only AMC car to ever win an award at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Wedge cars, like this 1966 Manta were a popular theme in the ’60s. Underneath Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign wedge lies the third Bizzarrini P538 chassis. The louvers below the 15 degree windshield are operable, providing some forward visibility in town, and closing for aerodynamic efficiency at speed. Wikipedia image.
Taxes and fuel prices in war-ravaged Europe put big-displacement cars beyond the means of most people. Fiat built high performance small cars, and the Carrozzerias were more than happy to clothe them in handsome bodywork. Fiats so-bodied, were honored with a special class, with some really lovely results.
Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli famously mistook Ford’s “V8” moniker as a trademark, and called their two-liter 70° version the “8V” (Otto Vu in Italian). Thirty-four of the eventual production of 114 were bodied by Zagato, some of the prettiest cars of the period. One won the class, but not this 1953 example entered by Larry and Jane Solomon of Palo Alto.
The Golden Age of Sports Racing
From the first MG TCs imported by returning GIs back in the late forties until massive corporate involvement and huge sponsorship deals began to take over the sport in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, people could drive to the track and compete successfully in their own cars. The result, at least in the fog of nostalgia, was some of the best racing, and coolest cars ever.
Maserati’s A6G 2000 provided the foundation for a lot of beautiful coachwork in the ‘50s. Nineteen of the 76 were clothed in Zagato bodywork and are considered by many (ourselves included) to be the most attractive. This is the 1956 example exhibited by Bill Pope of Scottsdale, Arizona.
Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959 in Aston Martin’s DBR-1/2. That year Road & Track featured a Road Test of the Touring Superleggera DB-4 with Roy Salvadori himself driving, setting a new standard by accelerating from zero to 100 mph and then braking to a stop in what we remember as about 24 seconds. From that day, Aston Martins have had a special place in our pantheon of automotive greats.
Before the Petersen’s closed for renovation, the last exhibit in the Bruce Meyer Gallery was called The World’s Most Beautiful Sports Coupes. It featured one of our all-time favorites, an Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato. David McNeil of Hinsdale, Illinois, brought this 1962 example to the Concours. It was the only one of nineteen built to be delivered in Australia, where it won many races.
An Open and Closed Case
Most Elegant Closed Car
Steadily increasing in recognition for its significance, beauty, and value, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale was a Bertone project in 1957. Corrado Lopresto brought the prototype all the way from Milan to win Most Elegant Closed Car. Is this a trend? Are postwar cars beginning to gain acceptance for the big awards?
Most Elegant Open Car
The products of Errett Lobban Cord’s automotive operations produced some of the most sought-after cars of the Classic Era. The V12 Auburn Boattail Speedsters, with their styling by Gordon Buehrig are some of the most rakish. This one, a 1932 12-160A Boattail Speedster owned by Ted Reimel of Wayne, PA, won the award for Most Elegant Open Car.
They’ve Got Class
We have a picture of the prototype Ferrari 250 GT California Spider that won the Ferrari Grand Touring class (left above) all by itself, but where’s the fun in that? Ephraim gave up the camera so we could show you him with Ayala Or-El (“Doe, Light of The Creator” in Hebrew). She represented the maker of many of the clear plastic components on the restorations at the show, including the headlight covers on the California Spider.
The “S” in the Bugatti 57S type designation stood for Surbaissé (“Low”). Add a “C” and you get “Compressor” – supercharged. This 1937 57S from the Rare Wheels Collection in Windermere, Florida is bodied by Gangloff. It won Class J2 for European Classic, Late.
We’re always on the lookout for a nice Duesey, and you can count on Pebble Beach to bring out a rare J or two. This supercharged J (popularly called the “SJ” although Duesenberg never used the name) was originally a Murphy Convertible Coupe (the most popular style) but went back to the other Pasadena coachbuilder, Bohman & Schwartz in 1937 and was rebodied for a sleeker look. Entered by Harry Yeaggy of Cincinnati, Ohio, it won class G.
With no fastback roof or Q-installed defensive measures, this Aston Martin DB5 looks smooth in Guards Red. Only 123 convertibles were built, and only 19 were left-hand drive. This is the one that represented Aston Martin at the 1963 New York and Los Angeles Auto Shows. Shown by William H. and Cheryl Swanson of Boston Massachusetts, it won the Postwar Touring Class.
We stuck around for the awards this year and were glad we did, but after wandering the fairway and practice green for about twelve hours and climbing back up the hill, we were all the more grateful to find a seat at the Gooding & Co. tent for their Sunday evening auction, the final event of the weekend. Stay tuned for a word or two about that later.
Just as it’s difficult to bring a fresh approach to a bunch of pictures of pretty cars, it’s also hard to come up with any kind of original conclusion as to what this all means.
So this year we’ll point out to those killjoys who complain about all that money “wasted” on old cars, these events are all charitable. Over $20 million has been donated from the proceeds of the events. It is unclear whether that includes the multiples of $2,500 collected for charity by Jay Leno from those seeking a tour of his Big Dog Garage.
And it should be noted that all the money that went into the care, restoration, and preparation of these cars went to people who do that sort of thing for a living, and it puts food on their tables, clothes on their kids’ backs, and a roof over their heads.
Besides, you need some beauty in your life!
CARMA is a publication of The OM Dude Press
a service of Options in Mobility
Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist: Dick Stewart.
The author’s camera went missing somewhere between Pacific Grove and Citrus Heights – along with its memory card full of images. Credit for all these goes to Ephraim Levy, unless otherwise noted.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
About 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.
Italian Style, American Power
Fitting 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pebble 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
Los Angeles’ Museum Row Gets New Landmark Look
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Standing 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.