The Best of the Best – I
All right, we’ll admit we’ve never been to Villa d’Este or Amelia Island, but we will defer to the opinions of the vast pool of automotive journalists who are paid to know this stuff by the magazines and TV shows. They all seem to agree that if you want to look at the most historic and beautiful cars, preserved, restored prepared and displayed at their very best, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is the place to see them. There are too many great cars for a single blog so we’ll give you a first taste.
Let’s Get This Over With
Robert Cumberford, the design guru at Automobile Magazine is fond of complaining that it’s always the same generic car that wins Best of Show at Pebble Beach. He harped on it in 2014 when the Roberto Rossellini Ferrari broke with the norm. I suspect he’ll have the same complaint about this year’s winner – it’s a European car from the ’30s, and it’s black.
David Sydoric is a Board member of the Petersen Automotive Museum, among other connections. Here his 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C2900 makes the turn to line up with the other candidates for Best of Show.
The same car after the winner’s traditional confetti shower, on display for the admiring public. These were supercars in their day, powered by Vittorio Jano’s mastepiece of a straight eight (really two four cylinder blocks on a common crankcase with the dual supercharger drive between them) that was the basis of Grand Prix winners.
The Alfa’s Touring Superleggera coachwork is a thin alloy skin supported by tiny metal tubes. Extreme front mid-engine layout places the mass of the engine behind the front wheel centerline for more even weight distribution.
And Now for Something Completely New
In theory, you could park at Spanish bay, ride the luxurious shuttle bus for free to the Equestrian Center, walk down the hill through Peter Hay Golf Course, sampling the free food at the sponsor’s pavilions (Infiniti’s is the best), and get a look at some newly minted automobiles on the practice green, without paying admission.
Diamond not so Rough
This year one of those was Rolls-Royce’s largest vehicle (at 2660 kilograms – just a passenger short of three tons. It’s 50 kg heavier than the long chassis Phantom VIII). Appropriately, it’s named after the 3,106.75 carat Cullinan in the Crown Jewels of England, the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found.
Like the Phantom VIII, the Cullinan is powered by the 6.75 liter (411 cubic inch) twin turbo V12 rated at 563 horsepower and 627 pound feet of torque. All that urge is transmitted to Rolls-Royce’s first all-wheel drive system through an eight-speed ZF 8HP automatic transmission. Curiously enough that’s the same one that’s in our BMW 335i and the spouse’s BMW X1. To be fair, it’s also in just about everything else these days, including Jeeps and the Iveco light delivery van.
The Rolls-Royce Cullinan on display on the Practice Green at the Lodge at Pebble Beach.
The Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrow is intended to evoke memories of the W125 Rekordwagen whose 268 mph run on the Reichs-Autobahn A5 in 1937 was the fastest run on a public road until it was broken by the Koenigsegg Agera RS with a mark of 276.9 in 2017 on a Nevada highway. Pictures utterly fail to capture the impact of the car in person.
The easternmost 14,000 foot peak in the Rockies is Pikes Peak, discovered by Zebulon Pike, who was stopped in his attempt to climb it by snow and cold weather in November 1806. It’s 12 miles west of Colorado Springs, and its 19 mile Pikes Peak Highway toll road is maintained by the city.
Until this year, cars whose turbochargers could pressurize the thin mountain air and pack it into their cylinders were unbeatable in the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The previous record holder was Sebastian Loeb in a Peugeot 208 T16.
The Volkswagen ID R Pikes Peak record breaker’s electric motors are unaffected by the altitude, but its aerodynamic aids are. Their unusual size allows them to get a bite in the thin air and keep the car pressed onto the pavement for traction in the corners. Downforce is said to equal the weight of the car, but they don’t say at what altitude that measurement was taken.
On the Fairway
Whether it’s to cater to people who want to see cars they can actually remember seeing when new, or to represent a greater breadth of the field, Pebble Beach recently has begun including more post-war American cars. This year they had a class for the ones most of us considered unobtainable when we were kids.
Your correspondent grew up in the 1950s so there was a special attraction to the cars of Class P, Eisenhower-Era Dream Convertibles. “Dream” is the word here. These were the largest and some of the most expensive (inflation-adjusted) American cars ever built. By international standards (The Rolls-Royce was “only” 215 inches long.) their size was laughable.
By 1955, the Packard Caribbean was already 218.5 inches long. The antennae on Bill and Kim Maya’s three-tone 1956 are so long they wouldn’t fit in the picture.
The fin era was in full swing in 1957 when Henry Hopkins’ 225.9 inch long Imperial Crown Convertible was built, with Virgill Exner’s Forward Look that incorporated “gunsight” tallights.
Chrysler claimed its huge fins helped with stability in crosswinds. Joe and Gail Hensler of Fair Oaks California displayed this Chrysler 300E, fifth in the “letter series” 300s. At 220.9 inches long, it was the first 300 to forego the legendary Hemi for a 413 cubic inch (6.8 liter) “wedge” of 380 horsepower.
Those who are familiar with the excesses of the fifties in the U.S. will remember the 1959 Cadillacs as the pinnacle of the trend. They were not, as many suppose, the longest standard cars from America then although at 80.2 inches wide they were the widest. This is Lawrence M. Camuso’s 225 inch-long Eldorado Biarritz that won the Class.
Dieter and Patricia Balogh of Woodland Hills, CA, brought their 1958 Lincoln Continental MKIII. It was narrower by a mere 0.1 inches, but at 229 inches it was the longest. By 1961 Lincoln had reversed the trend and introduced the widely acclaimed Elwood Engle Continental with its clean flanks, “suicide” rear doors and 212.4 inch length.
Another Dream Car
The “dream” in this case was dramatized in the Francis Ford Coppola film Tucker, The Man and his Dream, with Jeff Bridges in the Title role. Having never watched the film we cannot comment on its accuracy, but Coppola did mine the Securities and Exchange Commission files under the Freedom of Information Act for details, so it’s not entirely fictional.
The Saga of the Tucker 48
The story is pretty well known. The “Big Three“ Chrysler, Ford and GM recognized that the appetite for new cars would be huge after WWII, during which no new cars were available, and people were desperate to get their hands on anything new. So, perhaps cynically, they saved money by recycling their prewar designs almost unchanged. Only Studebaker redesigned their cars.
Preston Tucker, who’d been involved with engine genius Harry Miller before the war and developed a gun turret used by the army during it, saw an opportunity to shake things up with a radical new design, setting his cars apart from the ordinary offerings of the establishment.
Too Much Too Soon
The second prototype Tucker chassis (above) had disc brakes, eastomeric 4-wheel independent suspension, direct-drive torque converters, etc., little of which made it into production. Perhaps the most ambitious was the transverse-mounted horizontal-opposed six-cylinder 589 cubic inch (9.65 liter) engine (below). It had hemispherical combustion chambers, and there were no cams. All that red tubing transmits oil pressure to operate the valves. The production cars had a modified Franklin O335 helicopter engine mounted longitudinally.
A Different Look
Among its unique features was the center-mounted headlight that turned with the front wheels (where permitted by law). Styling of the new car was assigned to three different teams, with George S. Lawson, a five man team from J. Gordon Lippincott’s New York Design studio, and aerodynamicist Alex Tremulus, whose side view was eventually used, each taking part at one time or another.
The 1988 movie Tucker, the Man and his Dream featured many of the eleven tucker 48s displayed at the Concours, including director Francis Ford Coppola’s. The one below, owned by the movie’s producer George Lucas, won the class.
Beautiful Old Cars
The Cylinder Wars
Engine power, reduced to its basics, comes from explosions. To get more power, there are only two methods – make bigger explosions, or more of them in the same time period. The “bigger explosions” line of development reached a peak with the Fiat S76 “Beast of Turin” that had a 28 liter four cylinder engine – each cylinder displaced a volume equal to an entire modern 7-liter (427 cubic inch) V8.
The reciprocating mass of such large pistons limits rpm and causes problems of balance and bearing life, so methods of achieving more explosions per minute were explored. De Dion-Bouton did it with higher rpm, achieving 3,500 rpm in 1895.
By this time Daimler was making an in-line two-cylinder. In a cursory search we found no information on the first automotive four-cylinder, although the Finnish FN Motorcycle of 1905 was the first motorcycle to have one.
In 1903, Spyker installed the first six-cylinder engine in an automobile. Seven years later, De Dion-Bouton created the first automotive V8 while Isotta Fraschini had introduced the first straight eight in their Tippo 8 in 1919. The following year Sunbeam entered a V12-powered car in the Brooklands races, but the 1916 Packard Twin Six is considered the first application of a V12 too a passenger car.
Packard’s “Twin Six” V12s had been the gold standard for smoothness since 1916, but their efficiency was handicapped by their L-head design that required the intake and exhaust to share the Vee between cylinder banks. By 1930, overhead valves and even dual overhead cams in four valve heads (Duesenberg and Stutz) were setting new standards. 1933 Packard V12 Image from 2009 Concours.
Duesenberg put the first American straight eight in their Model A in 1921, and they applied their racing experience to the Model J straight eight in 1928. That engine was rated at 265 horsepower, twice as much as the next most powerful American engine, and challenging other makers of premium automobiles to step up.
In the ’20s Cadillac was already developing a V16 to counter Packard’s V12, spreading the red herring rumor that they were working on a similar configuration. The mathematics of engineering a counter-weighted crankshaft for a 45 degree V16 were a challenge in the slide rule era, and while the Duesenberg’s dual overhead cams and lighter valves (four per cylinder) allowed higher revs than Cadillac’s pushrods, its half liter more displacement helped compensate.
Cadillac was the first on the Market with a V16 engine, introduced in January 1930. An overhead valve design when many prestige cars were driven by L-heads. It displaced 452 cubic inches (7.4 liters) and was variously rated at 161 to 175 horsepower. Image from the 2009 Concours.
Classic car insurance CEO McKeel Hagerty & VP Soon Hagerty of Traverse City, Michigan brought their 1931 Cadillac 452A “All Weather Phaeton.” Why it’s not a “Convertible Sedan” with its roll-up windows, is not explained. The mascot is “The Godess” and the unusual windshield is called a “Pennsylvania” Vee.
Details below show the level of design expected of coachbuilders like Fleetwood. Both Fleetwood and Fisher were owned by General Motors.
A Twelve for the Price of an Eight.
Errett Loban Cord’s 12-160 Auburns were gorgeous cars, styled in-house by Alan Leamy. At introduction, it was already a bargain at $1,795 when a Packard V12 started at $3,650. ($150,000 inflation-adjusted.) The tight market for expensive cars had them lowering the price to $1,250, a little less than a Studebaker eight. Still, there was stiff competition in a smaller market during the depression, and Cord had no affordable entry-level car too build volume. They ceased production in 1937.
Beautiful 1932 Auburn V12-160A Phaeton owned by Davis and Lorraine McCann competed in Class C1; American Classic Open.
Few coachbuilders remained after the Depression and WWII, but Derham of Rosemont, PA survived, doing what we now call customizing. Their 1931 Packard 845 Convertible Coupe, displayed by Elizabeth Ghareeb and Michael Petty of Birmingham, Alabama won the Packard Class.
Not the car we would have chosen to win the Duesenberg class, but perhaps that’s why we’re not a judge. Seen here rolling into Carmel after completing the Tour d’Elegance, the 1929 J Town Limousine by Murphy came from the Lehrman Collection in Palm Beach, Florida.
Another Tour participant, the 1934 Duesenberg SJ Rollston Convertible Victoria entered by Bob, Sandy, and Gary Bahre of Paris, Maine, is more our style. It won the Rollston Coachwork class. The “S” designates the supercharged version of the model J straight eight, rated at 320 hp.
Y’all Come Back
As stated in the first paragraph, there are simply too many great cars at Pebble Beach to cover them in one blog. Check back soon to this site and we’ll offer some of the others.