Category archives: Commentary

The 10 best cars Larry has driven, revisited

When ClassicCars.com was a fledgling collector car marketplace, I was asked to submit a news roundup/blog/commentary a couple of times each month. The idea was to provide something for people to read when they weren’t searching the classified ads for the car of their dreams. The idea proved popular enough that twice a month became more frequent, to the point that we now have a variety of reporters and editors who offer perhaps the best full-service, 24/7/365 news available about the collector car hobby.

One of those earlier pieces was written in response to a question I used to hear frequently, “What are the 10 best cars you’ve ever driven?”

Sounds like a simple enough question, except that after a dozen years at AutoWeek magazine and nearly two decades as a freelance auto writer, I’ve probably driven around 4,000 different vehicles over a distance of maybe two million miles, or more, and on four continents.

So I counted down a list of 10 cars that came quickly to mind (and, yes, there was a story that went along with each of the cars). Here’s that list, but with a postscript:

10. Nissan Skyline GT-R
 Nissan was introducing an updated version of what was then its largest sport utility vehicle and it knew none of the invited journalists was very excited by the prospect. To sweeten the attraction, it offered up one of its Skylines, then a world-class road rocket not sold in the U.S., for some laps around the company’s Arizona proving grounds. Yee-haa!

9. Ford Telstar TX Turbo
 I went to Australia for the opening of the Thunderdome, a NASCAR-style oval track, and Ford of Australia offered the use of a brand new Telstar TX Turbo, sort of a cross between a Mustang and a hot-rod Mazda. The car was, indeed, a hot rod, and so rare at the time that twice people tried to break into the car overnight and steal it out of the motel’s secure parking area.

8. Mercedes-Benz 500E prototype 
This was the prototype for the original 500E. Mercedes had contracted Porsche to soup it up and the car was amazing: Powerful, with awesome brakes, a suspension that hunkered down the faster you went, and a manual gearbox so you could extract all the power that big V8 could produce.

7. Shelby GT500
 This was the then-brand new, 2007 model, a Shelby Mustang with 500 ponies under its striped hood. Needless to say, this pony car packed a kick.

6. Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera 
I’d been writing about cars for nearly 20 years but had never driven a Lambo until this one. It was worth the wait.

5. Porsche Carrera GT
 I didn’t approach this 10-cylinder, 600-horsepower, state-of-the-art, carbon-fiber supercars 205-mph top speed potential, but I felt how wonderfully it accelerated, turned and stopped, and how much it felt like, well, like a real Porsche. At the time, it was the culmination of decades of engineering that understood the benefits of putting the engine behind the driver.

4. Ford GT
 I’d driven the supercar prototype along famed Highway One south of Pebble Beach, California, over the weekend, but on the Monday after the Monterrey Historic Races a few years ago, Ford offered an opportunity to do a couple of laps around the Laguna Seca race track. Dan Gurney was among those present that day, so rather than embarrass myself on the track, I asked Gurney if he’d drive and let me ride along while he talked about the car and about driving the original GT40 to victory at Le Mans. Gurney spent most of the first lap using the car to nudge spotter cones off the track. Why, I asked. So I can drive this thing on the ensuing laps, he said. And he did!

3. Ferrari Testarossa
 As I pulled into my driveway, so did a state police car. The trooper got out. He got into the passenger seat. In his uniform. Gun and all. He looked at me and said that we were going to take the car out and go through the gearbox to see what it could we. Obedient and law-abiding citizen that I am, we did.

2.Aston Martin DB7 Vantage 
In 1999, Aston Martin celebrated the 40th anniversary of its victory at Le Mans and offered the use of this car while I was covering the race. I even got to do some laps around the full road course as part of pre-race activities that included an Aston Martin club “parade.” We were instructed to follow the pace car for our three laps, but after the first lap the pace car driver waved us around we were free to set our own pace, even down the Mulsanne Straight.

At 175 mph, you drive very carefully
At 175 mph, you drive very carefully
We survived!

1. Porsche 911 Turbo


Date: June 27, 2000
Location: Nevada’s Black Rock Desert
Driver: Larry Edsall
Driving coach: Many-time Le Mans and Daytona 24-hour race winner Hurley Haywood.
Coach’s instructions: Be gentle. Be smooth. Keep your foot down.
Result: a U.S. Auto Club-certified top speed of 175.781 miles per hour, the fastest I’ve ever driven.

And that was my list, published a few years ago.

Reading back through it, I wonder why I didn’t include getting to drive a Mercedes-Benz 190 Evo for many laps around Hockenheim, or getting to drive BMW 1600 and other pre-3 Series cars in Spain. And since the original story was published, I’ve been back to Australia, where I drove a Holden Ute SS, the Corvette-powered, car-based pickup — think hot-rodded Aussie El Camino — along that country’s Great Ocean Road; and I also got to spend a long weekend in a friend’s Ford Model A, a car my grandchildren still consider their favorite automotive adventure.

Oh, and a Porsche 356 Speedster and a split-window Corvette and I learned to start and drive a Ford Model T. Recently I was in the new Acura NSX and the new Camaro SS and I absolutely fell in love with the new Ford F-250 Super Duty King Ranch edition, diesel-powered pickup truck and…

Having owned two, our Andy is excited about TVR’s return to the road

Never has a sports car company gone through what TVR has and somehow still continued to exist.

This is a company that since its launch in post-war England in 1947 has had five different owners, a factory fire, a weak distribution network and every other conceivable issue a car company could possibly experience. Despite this, it has consistently developed and delivered exciting cars with great performance for their eras, often with groundbreaking styling.

Meanwhile, there also has been a loyal audience of enthusiasts who simply love the company and its cars. I am among that group, and I am so pleased that TVR has returned, especially with the launch a car as amazing looking as the new Griffith.

The new car is just what TVR needs and is the most advanced car from the company in any of its incarnations over the years. To me, this new Griffith is exactly what a company known for its radical designs and amazing performance is all about.

The new Griffith was launched at recent Goodwood Revival starts by utilizing Gordon Murray Design’s iStream chassis architecture with a carbo- composite structure and body panels and weighing in at only 2755 pounds.

The new Griffith is powered by a Cosworth-enhanced 5.0-liter V8 engine rated at 400 horsepower and linked to 6-speed manual gearbox that gives the car the capability of a 0-60 time in 4 seconds and a top speed in excess of 200 mph. For TVR fans, this is just what the doctor ordered.

According to TVR chairman Les Edgar, formerly known for bringing Aston Martin back to racing, “Today’s unveiling is the culmination of nearly three years of tireless work by the team, and we’re all proud to be able to show the new TVR Griffith to the world.

“This is unmistakably a TVR, a British muscle car that’s as awesome and brutal as it is charismatic and refined. Importantly, the new TVR offers levels of technical sophistication, comfort, reliability and practicality never seen by the brand before.”

At the unveiling | Rolex photo by Nick Duncan
At the unveiling | Rolex photo by Nick Duncan

The car presented at Goodwood is the Launch Edition-spec Griffith which includes a full leather interior, custom alloy wheels, special Launch Edition paint options and a bespoke infotainment system. Starting from £90,000 ($122,000), production of the new TVR Griffith Launch Edition begins in late 2018.

According to industry scuttlebutt, there are many deposits already in for what looks and sounds to be a great comeback car for the storied company.

I personally love the TVR brand and hope that when launched I am invited to test drive one of these fantastic cars. Yes, I am a bit biased, having owned a 280i and a 2500M model.

It is great to see than even with the trend of many cars moving to hybrid-drivetrain technology, TVR has remembered it’s roots and given us a rip-snorting V8 powered supercar.

For more information and to get your deposit down, go to the TVR website.

Feature photo courtesy TVR

 

Is it time for remaining Chevrolet Confederates to go to the crusher?

Hurricanes have blown away — at least temporarily — the headlines and silenced the talking heads eager to chat about the controversies of keeping or removing statues and other tributes to the Confederate States of America and the perception of their symbolism of slavery.

While the controversy over statues was roiling in the aftermath of the protests turned tragedy at Charlottesville, Virginia, I was involved in a conversation about whether, taken to the extreme, we’d see the public destruction of the remaining Chevrolet Confederates — of which more than 300,000 were produced for the 1932 model year, and which you see from time to time at vintage car shows and collector car auctions.

The Confederate was a one-year model, replacing the Chevrolet Independence and replaced for 1933 by the Master Eagle and the Standard Mercury models.

And what of other classic vehicles with names no longer deemed acceptable? Consider the Studebaker Dictator, or the Rambler Rebel, or, for that matter, any German vehicle produced during Hitler’s reign. Should they all be driven to the crusher?

Action at last on RPM Act?

SEMA reports that the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment has a hearing scheduled September 13 aimed at reducing regulatory burdens on small businesses and that among the bills to be discussed is the RPM Act, the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2017 (H.R. 35), which would “clarify that the Clean Air Act allows motor vehicles to be converted into race vehicles used solely for competition.”

Passage of the RPM Act has been a major focus for the automotive aftermarket parts producing industry, which is concerned not only about motorsports but about bureaucratic regulation that potentially might limit other vehicle modification or restoration.

Supreme Court’s patent ruling has aftermarket implications?

According to the Auto Care Association, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this summer in the case of Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc., has major implications for those maintaining and restoring automobiles.

The case involved Lexmark’s ability to restrict purchasers from reusing printer cartridges or from providing used cartridges to anyone other than Lexmark itself.

“While the case applied to printer cartridges, the impact… would have been extensive, restricting the ability of companies to produce and sell aftermarket and remanufactured parts based on the fear of violating a car company’s patent,” Bill Hanvey, Auto Care Association president, said in a news release.

That news release quoted Chief Justice John Roberts:

“Take a shop that restores and sells used cars. The business works because the shop can rest assured that, so long as those bringing in the cars own them, the shop is free to repair and resell those vehicles. That smooth flow of commerce would sputter if companies that make the thousands of parts that go into a vehicle could keep their patent rights after the first sale. Those companies might, for instance, restrict resale rights and sue the shop owner for patent infringement.

“And even if they refrained from imposing such restrictions, the very threat of patent liability would force the shop to invest in efforts to protect itself from hidden lawsuits. Either way, extending the patent rights beyond the first sale would clog the channels of commerce, with little benefit from the extra control that the patentees retain. And advances in technology, along with increasingly complex supply chains, magnify the problem.”

Warning: Do Not Touch! | Larry Edsall photo
Warning: Do Not Touch! | Larry Edsall photo

Selfie, or just selfishly self-centered?

I’m always disappointed when I go to a car show and see “Look but don’t touch” placards on what often are nice but certainly not fragile cars. By the same token, I’m always pleased when I see a car owner inviting people, especially youngsters, to sit behind the steering wheel and imagine the joy of actually driving such a machine.

On the other hand, there was news recently of an already-damaged 800-year-old sarcophagus on exhibit in a museum in England. For some reason, a set of parents saw a photo opportunity and placed their child atop the coffin, which broke and fell to the floor, the BBC reported. The family fled, but not before having their image — photo opp, indeed! — caught by security cameras.

Sadly, it wasn’t an isolated case. Artnet News reports that in February a “selfie-taker” smashed a sculpture at the Hirshhorn Museum and in July, a woman did $200,000 in damage to sculptures while attempting to take a selfie.

Will special-edition ag trucks become collectibles?

Case IH Red is one of the color choices for the new Ram Harvest Edition trucks | Ram photo
Case IH Red is one of the color choices for the new Ram Harvest Edition trucks | Ram photo

Ram, the truck division of Fiat Chrysler, recently unveiled what it called “the first truck designed specifically for the agriculture industry.” Actually, it’s not one truck but a series of Harvest Edition pickups with special features and painted in Case IH Red or New Holland Blue — sorry, John Deere fans, there’s no green-and-yellow version yet.

“The Ram Harvest Edition truck will allow farm families to get their work done while proudly showing their agricultural brand loyalty,” Mike Manley, head of Jeep and Ram, said in a news release.

In addition to special colors, the Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 ag trucks will have a one-inch higher ride height, wheel flares, off-road tires for dealing with farm roads and crossing pastures, black tubular side steps, spray-in bedliners, fold-out bumper steps and other equipment.

How soon will we see Harvest Edition trucks crossing the block at one of Mecum’s Gone Farmin’ vintage tractor auctions?

Ag-edition truck also available in New Holland Blue
Ag-edition truck also available in New Holland Blue

 

Will electric-powered self-driving cars carry us back to the future?

You might recall that when J Mays and his teams at the VW/Audi and then the Ford design studios were creating heritage-inspired cars and concepts — the new Beetle, the Audi Avus and TT, the new Mustang, a new Thunderbird, the Ford GT, and proposals for new Cobras and Broncos and even that amazing Ford 49 concept, the overarching theme was called Retrofuturism, a look to the future inspired by a look into the rear view mirror.

It was a welcome change from the jellybean shapes that were everywhere on the highways in the late decades of 20th Century, but government-imposed crash safety and fuel-economy requirements restricted the exuberance that car designers could incorporate into what we drove.

It seemed that the flamboyant days of French and Italian studios were long gone.

Or maybe not.

Among the hundreds of cars displayed in and around the Pebble Beach Lodge during the recent Monterey Car Week were three vehicles that make me think twe might be entering an automotive design renaissance. If so, it well may be electrically powered and autonomous vehicles that carry us into a world of style and elegance.

First, the vehicles, and then the implications of the self-driving and electrified vehicle and the future of automotive design and style.

The three vehicles that inspired this essay were the elegant Mercedes-Maybach 6 cabriolet, the racy Infiniti Prototype 9 and the surprisingly large Volkswagen I.D. Buzz.

The Buzz had debuted as a concept car at the Detroit auto show back in January. I first saw it early in the morning on 17 Mile Drive, where it was posing for photographs just before VW announced that the modern version of its famed VW Microbus – though this one might best be called the Maxibus – had been approved for production, and will be available for purchase in dealerships in 2022.

The Mercedes-Maybach 6 is a long, low two-seater, with what Mercedes-Benz calls a “luxurious ‘haute couture’ interior” and art deco exterior design cues and proportions. The car is 20 feet long and would look right at home whether it was delivering Clark Gable and Bette Davis or Casey Affleck and Emma Stone to the Academy Awards ceremony.

As with the ID Buzz, propulsion comes from electric batteries, enough to generate 750 horsepower to four in-wheel motors.

Infiniti proclaims its Prototype 9 to be “a journey back in time,” imagining what Nissan’s luxury car division would have built for Grand Prix racing had it been around in the 1940s.

IMG_3019-1-524x524

The project started as an after-hours effort to sketch what might have been, but it became so popular within the design and engineering staffs that a full-fledged prototype was produced.

Again, like the Maybach 6 and Maxibus, the 9 is an electric vehicle

Have you noticed the theme? All three of these retrofuturistic vehicles have electric powertrains. That’s important, because combine an absence of combustible fuel with self-driving cars designed not to crash into each other — or into anything else, for that matter — and there’s the possibility of a new day somewhere over the horizon in which government safety regulations will be rethought — do we need crumple zones in a collision-free road system? — and where fuel economy no longer is a factor because vehicles no longer burn fuel, instead they’ll run on electricity increasingly generated by renewal sources.

The result could be an unbinding of automotive designers, finally allowed to chase their imaginations just like Figoni et Falachi, Pinin Farina, Soutchik, Michelotti and other stylists were free to do.

Of course, we’ll all be passengers, not drivers. Could it possibly be worth the trade off?

 

Can a classic car auction generate more income in a weekend than a new car dealership does in a year?

I heard a stunning statistic while visiting one of the collector car auctions taking place during the recent Monterey Car Week. So stunning, in fact, that before reporting it, I had to verify the numbers.

An official of one of the auction companies mentioned that the company would do more business in a single weekend on the Monterey Peninsula than the typical new car dealership does in an entire year.

Is that possible? Can a collector car auction generate more in total sales in a single weekend than the typical new car dealership does in 12 months?

Turns out, it is true.

I contacted an editor at Automotive News, the weekly newspaper that covers the automotive production and sale industries, and she responded that according to the latest statistics released just last week by the National Auto Dealers Association, the average new car dealership generated $59.6 million in sales in 2016.

Of the six auctions taking place during the recent Monterey Car Week, two exceeded that $59.6 figure and a third was less than $3.2 million shy. A fourth did $34 million, which in new-car terms would be about half a year’s sales.

RM Sotheby’s did sales of nearly $133 million last month at Monterey

Let’s put it another way: The average new car dealership does about $1.15 million in sales per week. So does a classic car auction each time it sells just one 300 SL or Shelby Cobra or F40 or 929 or…

The NADA’s $59.6 million dealership is based on the average store, which in 2016 sold 928 new vehicles at an average of $34,449, plus used car sales, F&I (finance and insurance) and, I presume, service operations.

Note: According to the NADA, the average dealership’s pretax profit margin was just 2.5 percent, down from the previous two years, and in large part because of increases in rent, advertising and other expenses, especially salaries for service personnel. Like classic car restoration shops, new car dealerships face a shortage of skilled technical staff.

While the average collector car auction does not sell nearly 1,000 vehicles in an typical weekend, the average transaction price for collector cars tends to be well north of $34,500. For example, at the recent Monterey sales, the average selling price for collector vehicles was nearly $440,000, and the median price was more than $90,000

One more set of stats: According to the NADA report, the average used car sold in 2016 at new-car dealerships went to its new owner for $19,866.

But with the exception of an occasional 001 VIN being sold for charity, all of the cars sold at collector car auctions are, technically, “used” vehicles. So while volume is nice at new car dealerships, for collector car auctions, those six- and especially seven-figure transaction prices add up very quickly — and very nicely, it seems.

Singing the praises of an unsung hero

Roy-Lunn-Dec-2015-Sarasota-Cafe-Racers-lunch-Gary-Jean-524x524

In August 1966, Sports Car Graphic magazine featured two men on its cover. One was Zora Arkus-Duntov, famed father of the Chevrolet Corvette. The other was Roy Lunn, who at the time — and, actually, for time to come as well — was perhaps the Ford Motor Company’s best-kept secret, even if he was the chief engineer of one of the most historic racing cars of all-time, the Le Mans-winning Ford GT40.

Recently, while we were celebrating classic cars, those for the track and the road, on the Monterey Peninsula, word came that Roy Lunn had died. He was 92.

Lunn was a native of England, studied as an aeronautical engineer, and in 1946 joined AC Cars. He helped Aston Martin create the DB2s that raced at Le Mans, and was chief designer for Jowett Cars, taking a fiberglass-bodied Javelins to Le Mans and winning class honors.

He was hired by Ford and helped establish a Ford engineering center in England in 1953, and developed the Anglia, the first truly British Ford vehicle. Impressed, he was invited to the company’s Dearborn headquarters for a visit, a visit that lasted until 1971, when he left to help American Motors produce the Eagle, the first mass-produced American car with four-wheel drive, and then create the lightweight and versatile sport utility vehicle, the 1983 Jeep Cherokee.

At Ford, Lunn oversaw the Advanced Concepts Group and worked a diverse product portfolio — the company’s first front-wheel-drive product, the Taunus, for the European market; an aerodynamic and fuel-efficient over-the-road transport truck; even a potential competitor for the Volkswagen Beetle.

In June of 1963, he presented Ford executives a proposal for a racing car that could exceed 200 mph and would be capable of averaging 130 mph over the course of 24 hours. That proposal would produce the GT40.

By the way, a part of the Lunn’s plan was to produce not only racing cars, but a road-going high-performance sports car as well. Drawings were done and a clay model produced. Sure, some road-going Ford GT40s were built but, basically, they were street-legal racers, not the sleek and compact sports model Lunn had envisioned. The prototype for that vehicle was unveiled at the 1962 U.S. Grand Prix, where Dan Gurney drove it for a lap or two around the Watkins Glen racing circuit.

In the course of writing a book about the development of the GT40-inspired 2005 Ford GT, I talked and corresponded with Lunn at his Florida home. One of the things he emphasized in our letters back and forth was that his team had a name selected for the Ford sports car. They wanted to call it Mustang, after the famed fighter aircraft, and they were irate when Ford put that badge on a sporty but sedate Falcon-based four-seater.

After retiring in 1985, Lunn returned to his aerodynamic and fuel-efficient roots, produced several books about the unsustainability of a fossil-fueled world industrial economy, and worked on a three-wheeled electric vehicle project. In 2015, he moved to California, at age 90, started meeting weekly as a mentor to engineering students at the University of Santa Barbara.

“Roy Lunn is one of the industry’s original disrupters, the product of an enquiring mind and relentless ability to utilize it,” said Martyn Schorr, longtime automotive industry observer. “His goals throughout his career were visionary, with a clear eye to the future.”

Worm in tequila bottle? Ha! This gin has Harley engine parts

Each gin bottles contains a Harley-Davidson motorcycle engine part | The Archeologist photo
Each gin bottles contains a Harley-Davidson motorcycle engine part | The Archeologist photo

Uwe Ehinger is a German who builds custom motorcycles, often recycling parts he has collected on his pilgrimages around the world to “remote garages, dilapidated scrapyards and dusty backyards for legendary lost two-wheeled relics.”

“Every time I make a find of rare bikes, I wonder how to use every single part — because they deserve to be preserved,” he says on a website that takes its name from Ehinger’s nickname, “The Archeologist.” Continue reading

Will there be room for our cars in an autonomous future?

A Chevrolet Bolt drives itself past the GM Design dome | GM photo
A Chevrolet Bolt drives itself past the GM Design dome | GM photo

It used to be that people asked me which car they should buy. Now, the question I’m frequently hearing is how soon can they buy a car that drives itself?

My response has been that the technology is progressing rapidly, but the big issues yet to be determined will be legislative and legal. Who will be liable when there is no person actually driving the car? The automaker/assembler? The sensor producers (and this includes the companies making the cameras that are used)? The software providers? Or the car owner, sitting there in the passenger’s seat, checking texts, or perhaps even sleeping in the back seat? Continue reading

Movie documents a motorsports career that ended too soon

Bruce McLaren in one of his dominating Can-Am racers | McLaren movie images
Bruce McLaren in one of his dominating Can-Am racers | McLaren movie images

In mid-June, I shared my experience as a young sportswriter on the day Bruce McLaren died at the age of 32. He’d been the youngest driver ever to win a Grand Prix race, and later only the second to win an F1 event in a car he’d built. He had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He built the cars that dominated the Can-Am series.

Not long after his death, McLaren’s team won Indy, and also the F1 championship, and then they did it again. He’d also begun work on a sports car not for the race track but for public roadways. Continue reading

Thank the one who inspired your passion for cars

Passions come together when Copperstate vintage rally parks its cars on a baseball field in Tempe, Arizona | Larry Edsall photos
Passions come together when Copperstate vintage rally parks its cars on a baseball field in Tempe, Arizona | Larry Edsall photos

Author’s note to readers: Though it may not seem like it at first, this story really is about cars, not baseball.

Unlike so many young boys of my generation, I didn’t grow up wanting to be a big-league baseball player. I wanted to be a big-league umpire.

Baseball truly was the American pastime in those days, the “Happy Days” of the late 1950s. Continue reading