All posts by Bob Golfen

Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle.He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs.A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

Pick of the Week: Mazda RX-7

This 1980 Mazda XR-7 is all-original with just over 27,000 miles on its odometer
This 1980 Mazda XR-7 is all-original with just over 27,000 miles on its odometer

Some Japanese sports cars are gaining leverage with car collectors, but others, not so much. Production models such as Datsun 240Z and Toyota Supra are rising in value and appreciation, and the limited-production Toyota 2000GT regularly hits a million dollars at auction. Mazda also has an entry in that game, the rare Cosmo that’s currently valued in the $200,000-plus range.

But there is another Mazda sports car, the rotary-engine-powered RX-7 coupe, which thus far has failed to reach any sort of recognition as a collector car. These continue to dwell in the just-a-used-car category because they were popular and common, mostly used and abused and run into the ground, or else chewed up as amateur-racing cars.

And unlike the classic design of the 240Z, the RX-7 styling does not quite hit the spot.

The hatchback rear glass adds versatility to the sports coupe
The hatchback rear glass adds versatility to the sports coupe

RX-7s do have a strong following among hobbyists, however, with a number of clubs, websites, events and parts suppliers supporting them. If nothing else, they are cool little cars that perform and handle well, and they remain affordable.

The Pick of the Week is a rarity, an ultra-low-mileage 1980 Mazda RX-7 in apparently pristine condition that comes up for sale from its original owner. With just 27,265 miles showing on its odometer, the Metallic Orange car looks showroom fresh in the photos supplied by the seller, a Syosset, New York, classic-car dealer.

“This is truly a great opportunity to own an exceptional low-mileage example, one that would make any Mazda enthusiast very proud to drive or show,” the seller states in the ClassicCars.com advertisement.

The asking price of $17,900 is a bit aggressive, even with the car’s strong attributes; the Hagerty Price Guide pegs the average price for a 1980 RX-7 in excellent condition at $10,000. The NADA guide is less generous, putting the value of a top-condition car at a paltry $5,400, which seems way low.

But still, this Mazda is rare and unusual, and as they say in the collector-car biz, try to find another one.

Ernie Hemmings, founder of collector-car ‘bible,’ dies

Ernest Hemmings started his magazine to support his antique Ford parts business | Hemmings Motor News

To help gain customer support for the antique Ford parts business that he inherited from his father, Ernest Robert Hemmings started 60 years ago with a hand-typed mimeographed newsletter that he distributed to about 500 people who paid subscriptions priced at 50 cents per year.

He considered his publication to be a magazine and he even drew a logo that read: “Hemmings Motor News.” His newsletter catered to the specific interests of collectors of obsolete Fords, primarily the Model T and Model A.

Just a few years later, Hemmings Motor News had become a general-interest old-car forum and advertising vehicle for classic-car buyers and sellers, and Ernie Hemmings had transitioned into the role of chief editor and writer.

The founder of what eventually became known as “the bible” of the collector-car hobby, Hemmings died Thursday at the age of 89 in his hometown of Quincy, Illinois.

Hemmings ran his publishing enterprise through the 1960s, when the subscriptions soared to 40,000 and the page count grew with ads and features, many of them written by Hemmings. By the end of the decade, Hemmings realized that it had become too much for one man to handle and he sold Hemmings Motor News in 1969 to Terry Ehrich, a classic-car enthusiast in Bennington, Vermont. Ehrich operated the magazine until his death in 2002.

Hemmings Motor News and its three associated titles – Hemmings Classic Car, Hemmings Muscle Machines and Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car – with a combined readership of more than a half-million, are based in Bennington though now are owned and published by American City Business Journals of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Motostalgia partners with SVRA for Brickyard auction

Chevys battle for the lead during last year’s SVRA Brickyard Racing Invitational | Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Chevys battle for the lead during last year’s SVRA Brickyard Racing Invitational | Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Motostalgia has launched a partnership with the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) to become the official collector-car auction company for the national vintage-racing group.

The joint venture starts with a Motostalgia sale during SVRA’s Brickyard Racing Invitational at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on June 12. About 100 premium cars are planned for the auction, Motostalgia said in a news release.

Motostalgia, based in Austin, Texas, and Monte Carlo, Monaco, holds two other auctions in the U.S., one during the Austin grand prix race week in November and the other during the Keels and Wheels Concours d’Elegance in Seabrook, Texas, in May, according to the company website.

An old timer runs on the track at Indy | Indianapolis Motor Speedway
An old timer runs on the track at Indy | Indianapolis Motor Speedway

It was unclear Wednesday whether Motostalgia would stage auctions during other SVRA meets, which take place on race tracks around the country. Motostalgia did not respond to messages placed to its Austin office.

“SVRA’s schedule is a perfect fit for us,” Antonio Brunet, founder and chairman of Motostalgia, said in the news release. “This leading racing organization offers us access to world-class cars. With the scale of SVRA’s customer base, over 5,000 racing entrants for their events in 2015, it was only natural to align with them…”

SVRA is one of the premier vintage-racing organizations in the U.S., hosting events for a wide range of historic race cars at such venues as Watkins Glen, Sonoma Raceway, The Circuit of the Americas, and Portland International Raceway.

“Working with Motostalgia Auction Company was the next logical step for SVRA, given our demographics and national footprint,” said Tony Parella, president and chief executive of SVRA. “Adding a car auction to the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational will make this an even more special event.”

Details of the Indy auction will be rolled out soon, Motostalgia said, adding that the Friday sale will be preceded by a charity gala and preview Thursday evening. Potential car consigners can get more information on the Motostalgia website.

Navigation-audio system designed for classic Porsches

Earlier 911s can now be outfitted with built-in navigation from Porsche | Porsche Classic photos
Earlier 911s can now be outfitted with built-in navigation from Porsche | Porsche Classic photos

Even classic Porsche drivers get lost, though they would be the last to admit it. So to help them avoid having to ask for directions, Porsche has developed a thoroughly modern update for its vintage cars, and designed it to look like it was supposed to be there all along.

The Porsche Classic division of the Stuttgart automaker has created a combination audio and navigation system using a 3.5-inch screen that installs in the dashboard of air-cooled 911s from 1964 through the mid-‘90s, in all 914s and in early front-engine cars. The unit replaces the standard radio.

“Thanks to the appearance of the black surface and the shape of the knobs, which are supplied in two authentically styled versions as standard, the navigation radio blends harmoniously into the dashboard of classic Porsche models,” Porsche says in a news release.

The navigation radio fits directly into the dashboard
The navigation radio fits directly into the dashboard

Porsche, which said it designed the system in response to “the growing demand for a built-in device for classic sports cars,” noted that the navigation radio is equipped with the key features of modern systems.

“In addition to low-interference radio reception and precise navigation, it has interfaces for a variety of external music sources that can be controlled from the display,” according to Porsche. “A smartphone can be connected via Bluetooth. In addition, the classic radio not only has a built-in microphone but also comes with an external microphone.”

For the navigation system, the news release says, “Drivers have a choice of arrows and two-dimensional or three-dimensional maps to display the route. The maps are stored on a micro SD card with eight gigabytes of memory and are updated regularly.”

The Porsche Classic navigation radio, which is available in Germany, is undergoing testing for the U.S. market. Availability and pricing will be determined upon completion of testing, Porsche said.

More information about Porsche Classic is available on the automaker’s website.

Lane Motor Museum re-creates visionary Dymaxion Car, will debut at Amelia Island Concours

 A replica of Buckminster Fuller’s unique vehicle was built by Lane museum staff | Lane Motor Museum
A replica of Buckminster Fuller’s unique vehicle was built by Lane museum staff | Lane Motor Museum

When Buckminster Fuller, one of the most creative and visionary minds of the 20th Century, directed his vast intellect toward the design of an automobile, the result was an utterly unique expression of mobility the likes of which the world had not seen before, or since.

The futuristic Dymaxion Car that appeared in 1933 defied all notions of convention or even normalcy. It was distinctively shaped like a raindrop for maximum aerodynamics at a time when boxy cars with upright windshields, flared fenders and running boards were the standard. The cantilevered chassis carried two fixed wheels in front and one in the back that steered like the tiller of a boat.

Fuller shows Dymaxion Car at 1933 Chicago World’s Fair | Buckminster Fuller Institute
Dymaxion Car at 1933 Chicago World’s Fair | Buckminster Fuller Institute

Although the Ford V8 engine was mounted in the rear, the car had front-wheel drive. The steering position was placed ahead of the front wheels, with the driver’s inputs directed back to the single rear wheel. The car could pull a U turn in the smallest of confines.

How odd the Dymaxion Car must have seemed to people back then, and how odd it still seems today. But it was a paragon of efficiency: The car could carry 11 people, and it could achieve 30 miles per gallon and a top speed of 90 miles per hour.

And Fuller’s unique car still fascinates. The Lane Motor Museum in Nashville announced Tuesday that after eight years of effort, the museum’s restorers and technicians had succeeded in creating a replica of the first Dymaxion Car, which will be put on display starting Thursday.

Schematic drawings of Dymaxion Car | Buckminster Fuller Institute
Schematic drawings of Dymaxion Car | Buckminster Fuller Institute

Fuller succeeded in building three prototypes of the Dymaxion Car, just one of which survives today at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.

“The Dymaxion just makes sense for us to have at the (Lane Motor Museum),” said Jeff Lane, director of the museum that uses the slogan, “Unique Cars from A to Z.”

“The design is well ahead of its time and its looks definitely fit the uniquely different philosophy we build our collection around,” Lane said.  “After doing lots of research, we decided that Dymaxion #1 was the best fit for the museum, and now it’s here.”

In honor of Fuller’s dynamic contribution to automotive history, Jeff Lane will drive the Dymaxion Car replica from the museum in Nashville to northern Florida to make its debut March 15 at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

Fuller used the invented word “dymaxion” for a number of projects to describe his design philosophy of “doing more with less.” The futurist is best remembered outside of scientific circles for his groundbreaking geodesic dome that became an architectural staple.

Preserved 1930 Cord L-29 Town Car joins Bonhams’ Amelia Island auction

The 1930 Cord L-29 is in remarkable condition for an 86-year-old unrestored survivor | Bonhams photos
The 1930 Cord L-29 is in remarkable condition for an 85-year-old unrestored survivor | Bonhams photos

Bonhams has landed an exceptional true classic for its inaugural auction in March at Amelia Island, Florida: A rare 1930 Cord L-29 Town Car that recently was rediscovered after more than 55 years of private ownership, during which it only rarely was seen in public.

The Cord is in all-original, unrestored condition, according to Bonhams, and is one of just four known survivors that were bodied as chauffeur-driven town cars. This one with dramatic coachwork by Murphy and Company of California is the sole short-wheelbase version.

The Cord also has apparent Hollywood provenance, believed to have been owned by early film star Dolores Del Rio, a Mexican-born actress who appeared in major motion pictures alongside such legends as Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis, Sophia Loren, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Orson Welles and Elvis Presley. The car is known as the Dolores del Rio Cord, although the connection has never been definitively determined.

The Cord boasts a reputed Hollywood connection
The Cord boasts a reputed Hollywood connection

Bonhams’ first auction held in conjunction with the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance takes place March 12 at the nearby Fernandina Beach Golf Club in Fernandina Beach, Florida. The 20th annual Amelia Island Concours will be held on Sunday, March 15.

The Cord L-29 was introduced in 1929 as the brand’s first production automobile, a highly innovative luxury machine boasting the first front-wheel-drive system in a U.S. passenger car, just beating front-drive rival Ruxton to market.

Long and low, the L-29 created a sensation when it debuted in June, but the timing for a pricey luxury car was unfortunate as the stock-market crash that would usher in the Great Depression happened just five months later. Production of the L-29 ceased at the end of 1931, with a total of around 5,000 cars sold in a number of configurations, including the small number with coachbuilt bodies.

Cord is best-remembered today for its later revival effort that produced the groundbreaking 810 and 812 models of the late 1930s, with strikingly modernistic styling that included concealed headlights and so-called “coffin-nose” hood and grille. The Cord Corporation, which included the iconic Auburn and Duesenberg brands, did not survive the Depression years.

Only four Cord L-29s were bodied as custom town cars
Only four Cord L-29s were bodied as custom town cars

But in its day, the L-29 reigned as one of the era’s most glamorous and forward-looking American cars, and the Murphy-bodied Town Car at Bonhams is among the most special of Cords.

The Cord comes from the estate of Jay Hyde, a Pacific Northwest collector who obtained the car in 1959, then carefully preserved it and only sparingly took it out of the garage. Its most well-known appearance was at the 1987 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it was shown in a featured class of custom-bodied Cords.

Hyde died in 2014, after which the Cord was consigned to Bonhams for its Amelia Island sale. The Cord L-29 Town Car, expected to achieve a seven-figure sale, is among the premier offerings at Bonhams’ Florida auction.

Among the other top Bonhams cars are:

A 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Transformable Phaeton originally owned by actress Marlene Dietrich.

A 1911 EMF Model 30 Factory Racer.

A 1908 American Underslung 50HP Roadster.

A 1934 Mercedes-Benz 500K four-passenger tourer.

A 1936 Wanderer W25K Roadster.

A 1932 Stutz DV32 Super Bearcat Convertible.

A 1962 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL roadster.

A 1992 Ferrari F40, the last U.S.-spec F40 built.

Bonhams announced in July that it would establish a new auction during the events preceding the famed Amelia Island Concours. The British auction house joins RM-Sotheby’s on March 14 at the Ritz Carlton resort and Gooding & Company on March 13 at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation in presenting an upscale selection of collector cars for sale.

Hollywood Wheels holds its second Amelia Island auction March 13-14 at the Omni Plantation, with an all-Porsche sale on the first day.

‘Unsafe at Any Speed’ hits 50 years; targeted Corvair dangers, sparked consumerism and cost me a ride

The 1960 Chevy Corvair was innovative but unsafe, according to Ralph Nader | ClassicCars.com photos
The 1960 Chevy Corvair was innovative but unsafe, according to Ralph Nader | ClassicCars.com photos

As the book Unsafe at Any Speed, Ralph Nader’s seminal assault on the Chevrolet Corvair and a complacent U.S. auto industry, marks its 50th anniversary this year, I can’t help but recall how it not only had a profound effect on the future of automobiles but also on my own automotive aspirations.

Like most teenage boys, my favorite part of the newspaper was the used-car classified ads (that was before they pretty much all went online), which I would scan intently every afternoon, looking for great, cheap heaps that I possibly could afford.

I soon discovered that just a few years after Nader’s attack, used Corvairs had hit bottom in values. I thought they were cool so I began saving up for one.

But no. When mom got wind of my plan, she had a fit and absolutely forbade me from having anything to do with those rear-engine death traps. She was a voracious reader and quite familiar with Unsafe at Any Speed. Arguing was futile, so I moved on to other heaps.

The redesigned second-gen Corvair addressed handling concerns
The redesigned second-gen Corvair addressed handling concerns

Nader’s book was a revelation for most people when it hit the shelves with a bang in 1965. Although the activist lawyer targeted Corvair for its safety failings – mainly regarding its swing-axle rear suspension that created deadly handling deficiencies – Unsafe at Any Speed took the entire industry to task for what Nader considered a total disregard for passenger safety.

Automotive styling and performance were the big draws for new cars while safety ranked low among consumer concerns. A steady annual death rate of 10s of thousands of people did not seem to have much of an impact.

This was when interiors had chromed steel handles and protruding buttons that would gouge and tear in a crash, hard-surface dashboards that would bash heads, and stiff steering columns aimed directly at the driver’s sternum. Modest drum brakes would fade when hot and slip when wet, roofs would collapse in a rollover, and there was a blasé attitude toward such basic safety features as seat belts. Crumple zones? Ha.

Corvair convertibles are popular collector cars
Corvair convertibles are popular collector cars

Many people felt the innovative Corvair was unfairly targeted by Nader, that they were no more dangerous than plenty of other cars on the road. And after all, Volkswagen Beetles had swing axles (eventually changed to add universal joints). As did the Porsche 356 sports cars, which experienced so much success on the race track. So, too, did another racing stalwart, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing.

But Corvair was different because of the heavy six-cylinder engine nestled behind its rear axle. Designed to emulate the VWs and Porsches, Corvair sought to boost performance by upping the size of its air-cooled powerplant. But the extreme rear weight bias combined with the swing axles proved to be a bad combination; the outside rear wheel could tuck under during hard cornering, resulting in possible loss of control.

There were other complaints that targeted Corvair’s general handling because of the heavy rear and lightly loaded front wheels. There was talk about the car’s heat exchangers that provided warm air to the interior; they could rust and perforate, allowing engine exhaust to enter the passenger compartment.

The Corvair pickup was built on the same chassis as the passemger car
The Corvair pickup was built on the same chassis as the passemger car

Chevrolet redesigned Corvair for 1965 with fully independent rear suspension that was a vast improvement over the swing axles, as well as making other fixes. That came perhaps in reaction to the Nader complaints or just as part of product development. But despite the new car’s advancement and lauds from the press and public, sales never recovered and Corvair was axed after the 1969 model year.

Nader’s book had a huge effect, launching a major safety push for automobiles that continues today with all kinds of advanced testing of every production vehicle to mitigate the dangers of traveling in them. Multiple airbags, three-point seatbelts, hardened passenger compartments and electronic controls have helped raise the survivability rate in even the worst crashes.

Unsafe at Any Speed also sparked a movement we know as consumerism, exemplified by such publications as Consumer Reports, and a pervasive awareness of safety and reliability in all sorts of products, from washing machines to baby food.

Corvairs these days are recognized as collector cars, maybe not terribly valuable but they do have a strong following. Performance models such as the Monza and turbocharged Corsa, as well as the funky station wagon and the van and pickup versions, are gaining interest among collectors who appreciate their inherent value as uniquely styled and fun-driving cars, even if they’re not the safest cars on the road.

 

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Pick of the Week: 1959 Chevrolet El Camino

The 1959 Chevy El Camino is a survivor with just over 36,000 miles showing on its odometer
The 1959 Chevy El Camino is a survivor with just over 36,000 miles showing on its odometer

“A car is just a car, but an El Camino is a lifestyle.”

That’s the word from urbandictionary.com as it boosts the Chevy El Camino as a super-cool ride for stylin’ and profilin.’

The 1959 model has to be considered the greatest El Camino because of its pure chutzpah. The gaudy space-age styling of the ’59 Chevy sedan goes a long way when translated into a car-based pickup with tailfins. And as they might have said at mid-century: Dig that crazy roofline.

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Exotic Lancia rally racers star at Amelia Island Concours

The 1983 Lancia 037 was one of the hottest entries in World Rally Championship | Campion Collection photos
The 1983 Lancia 037 was one of the hottest entries in World Rally Championship | Campion Collection photos

A group of four significant Lancia rally cars that raced in the grueling World Rally Championship will headline a featured class at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in March.

The exotic Italian racers, all from the Campion Collection in Jacksonville, Florida, exemplify the extreme WRC creations from the 1970s through the 1990s. Such cars competed in high-speed runs against the clock in any kind of weather, on paved and unpaved public roads, and during the day and night.

The 1988 Lancia Delta Integrale racing in Portugal
The 1988 Lancia Delta Integrale racing in Portugal

The Lancia Rally Cars Class at the 20th annual Amelia Island Concours will be featured among more than 300 classic cars at the event March 15 at The Golf Club of Amelia Island at the Ritz-Carlton. The concours weekend starts March 13 with special events, shows and collector-car auctions.

“Rallying is extraordinarily popular across Europe,” said Bill Warner, founder and chairman of the concours. “Today, American motorsport fans are seeing the appeal of rallying. A big part of that is because rally cars are spectacular. They’re the triathletes of motorsport.”

The four WRC cars being showcased from the Campion Collection are:

An elegant 1969 Lancia Fulvia, which launched Lancia’s reign of WRC domination during the final decades of the 20th Century.

The 1975 Lancia Stratos was designed especially for WRC
The 1975 Lancia Stratos was designed specifically for WRC

A 1975 Lancia Stratos, a top competitor from the group of 1970s rally cars specially designed to win World Rally Championships, which Stratos racers accomplished three times.

A 1983 Lancia 037, a multiple rally-winning example of the supercharged champions from the infamous, flame-spitting Group B era of the 1980s. A 037 was the last rear-wheel-drive car to win the World Rally Championship.

A 1988 Lancia Delta Integrale, designed after Group B was outlawed to become the Italian marque’s most-successful WRC cars, winning six manufacturers championships and 46 rally victories, a record that still stands.

The attractive 1969 Fulvia began Lancia’s WRC domination
The attractive 1969 Fulvia began Lancia’s WRC domination

In true World Rally tradition, the four eye-catching Lancia race cars will be driven in convoy March 12 from John Campion’s Jacksonville collection to Amelia Island, where they will be on display before and during the concours d’elegance.

Stirling Moss, who was the first honored guest for the inaugural Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 1996, returns as honored guest for the 20th anniversary concours, which includes a class titled Sir Stirling Moss’ Famous Racers. His history of rally racing also will be highlighted: Moss finished second in the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally, his international rally debut, and he won a coveted Coupe des Alpes that summer with a perfect score in the 2,057-mile Alpine Rally.

The Florida concours is famous for its creative featured classes. This year, beside the classes for Lancia rally cars and cars raced by Moss, it will include classes for Cars of the Cowboys, with custom cars once owned by well-known classic Western film stars; Orphan Concept Cars from now-defunct marques; pre-war BMW 328 sports cars; Chrysler Town and Country woodies; Porsche 914 and its variations;  Hot Rods – East Meets West; and Mercedes-Benz SL 500 Rally, featuring one of the cars prepared by the German automaker for WRC but which never ran in competition.

 

A Lancia Stratos rounds a dusty corner during 1970s nighttime competition
The Lancia Stratos rounds a dusty corner during 1970s nighttime competition