Category archives: Commentary

How (and where) are you celebrating Collector Car Appreciation Day?

IMG_6361“Resolved, That the Senate —

  1. designates July 11, 2014, as ‘Collector Car Appreciation Day’;
  2. recognizes that the collection and restoration of historic and classic cars is an important part of preserving the technological achievements and cultural heritage of the United States; and
  3. encourages the people of the United States to engage in events and commemorations of Collector Car Appreciation Day that create opportunities for collector car owners to educate young people about the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of the United States, including through the collection and restoration of collector cars.

The words above come from U.S. Senate Resolution 493 as passed last month by the 113th Congress. So, how are you going to celebrate Collector Car Appreciation Day this weekend?

This is the fifth year in a row that the SEMA Action Network, the legislative relations arm of the Specialty Equipment Market Association, has worked with the U.S. Senate to produce such a resolution, introduced again this year — as it has been every year — by Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, and for 2014 with co-sponsorship by Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Sen. Mark Begish of Alaska.

It’s not just about the cars, it’s also about spending time with my son – who is really into them. He and I have spent hours in the garage together working on vehicles.”

— Sen. Jon Tester

As a car collector myself, I have a great appreciation for classic cars,” Sen. Tester told ClassicCars.com in an email exchange. “Not only are they are an important part of preserving technological achievements and acknowledging our heritage, they’re also a helluva lot of fun.

“But for me, it’s not just about the cars, it’s also about spending time with my son – who is really into them. He and I have spent hours in the garage together working on vehicles.”

Sen. Tester owns a Model T, Model A, 1938 Chevrolet, a Willys Jeep, a 1956 Buick Century, a 1970 Buick Electra and a 1955 step-side pickup truck.

The wording of the resolution affirms the role collector cars play in the U.S.:

  • Many people in the United States maintain classic automobiles as a pastime and do so with great passion and as a means of individual expression;
  • The Senate recognizes the effect that the more than 100-year history of the automobile has had on the economic progress of the United States and supports wholeheartedly all activities involved in the restoration and exhibition of classic automobiles;
  • The collection, restoration, and preservation of automobiles is an activity shared across generations and across all segments of society;
  • Thousands of local car clubs and related businesses have been instrumental in preserving a historic part of the heritage of the United States by encouraging the restoration and exhibition of such vintage works of art;
  • Automotive restoration provides well-paying, high-skilled jobs for people in all 50 States,
  • Automobiles have provided the inspiration for music, photography, cinema, fashion, and other artistic pursuits that have become part of the popular culture of the United States…

The above is directly quoted from the resolution, though we edited out all the Whereases.

“Unfortunately, I’ll be away from my garage,” Sen. Tester said of his duties in Washington. “But hopefully all the other car collectors across America can take their vehicles out for a spin, perhaps put the top down, rev up the engine and enjoy the open road.”

SEMA has set up a special website that lists Collector Car Appreciation Day events taking place across the country. They range from the Bear Paw Festival Classic Car Show at Eagle River, Alaska to the Key West Power Cruise in Florida and from the Atlantic Nationals Automotive Extravaganza at Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada to a gathering at the Wild West Muscle Garage and Mick’s U.S. Musclecars and Classics in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

If you know of other events not listed on the SEMA site, please list them in the “Share you comments” box below. We already have been notified of two such events:

  • Motown Automotive Professionals, a non-profit focused on automotive vocational training will stage a special “Collector Car Appreciation Day” car show Friday from 4-8 p.m. at the A&W All American Restaurant on 12 Mile Road in Berkley, Michigan,
  • Carlisle Events plans a special Collector Car Appreciation Day celebration as part of its annual Carlisle Chrysler Nationals this weekend. The focus at Carlisle will be the 100th anniversary of the Dodge brand and the 50th anniversary of both the Plymouth Barracuda and of the Hemi engine.

We also encourage you to fill out our Question of the Week poll on this subject.

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Lights. Camera. Driving. My day in front of the camera

Camera van sets the pace for filming of 'Driving America' footage | Larry Edsall photos
Camera van sets the pace for filming of ‘Driving America’ footage | Larry Edsall photos

For much of a recent day, my view through the windshield was pretty much what you see in the photo above these words: the back end of a minivan, its tailgate open and the lens of a television camera staring at me from within the van’s cargo area.

I’m not complaining, well, except that the speeds we were driving were pretty pokey — much slower than most of the cars I was driving ought to be driven — and by the end of the day, it was pretty chilly driving back to town in an open car with no heat.

The town in this case was Traverse City, Michigan. The roads we drove from morning to beyond sunset were the narrow, hilly, winding, shoreline two-lanes up and down and across the Old Mission Peninsula that splits Grand Traverse Bay into its East and West Arms. Though the day was gorgeously sunny and the cherry trees were breaking out in blossoms, the air cooled suddenly and considerably as the sun set and the breeze picked up off water finally freed from a particularly cold and hard winter’s thick ice freeze-over.

While what I saw for much of that day on the road was the back end of that minivan, sometime around in late September you’ll be able to see what I was driving when the National Geographic Channel presents a two-hour special, Driving America. The program is being produced by Silent Crow Arts, the New York City-based documentary television and film production company led by Matt Bennett.

Among Silent Crow’s credits are Deadliest Catch, a special on the Large Hadron Collider (The Next Big Bang), Garbage Moguls, Barnwood Builders, Mad Scientists, NatGeo’s live coverage of the Lambrecht auction of field-found vehicles last year in Nebraska, and NBC Sports Network’s Road To Ferrari.

Videographer Daniel Mc Keown affixes a Go Pro to Thunderbird's rear quarter
Videographer Daniel Mc Keown affixes a Go Pro to Thunderbird’s rear quarter

For some reason I’ve yet to understand, Matt Bennett asked me to be involved in Driving America, which in two hours and 10 acts will document our nation’s historic road trip and our on-going affair with the automobile.

My role, other than suggesting some background reading material for writer/producer Russell Pflueger, was to spend a day driving and the ensuing day talking about cars and their influence on American culture.

The cars I drove were, in order, were:

  • A 1915 Ford Model T (yes, I crank-started the thing and in the process took some skin off my thumb but — fortunately — neither bones nor the car were broken),
  • A split-window 1963 Chevrolet Corvette,
  • A 1960 Porsche 356 Speedster,
  • A 1956 Ford Thunderbird,
  • A 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS,
  • A 1962 International pickup (with manual steering and braking only slightly better than Fred Flintstone’s cars),
  • A 1966 Jaguar E-type roadster

Thanks to McKeel Hagerty and Jonathan Klinger, those cars were made available from the Hagerty garage, which at least in part explains why we were in northern Michigan.

A few quick observations: Several of the cars triggered music in my mind — for example, I kept thinking Nelson Riddle’s Route 66 television show theme (not the traditional Get Your Kicks) while driving the split-window; In My Merry Oldsmobile while driving the Model T (I know, an Olds song in the Ford doesn’t make sense, but, hey, it was my mind and sometimes I cannot explain what happens inside there); the theme from the movie, A Man and A Woman, while in the Porsche; the theme from Laverne & Shirley in the Thunderbird.

I had no song in the Camaro; that V8 rumble was music enough.

The Speedster
The Speedster

But as nice as that sound may have been, the Jaguar produced the sweetest sound.

And while the Speedster is the car I’d want to borrow to impress a date, the T’bird is the car I’d want to for a long road trip.

Of course, much of what I drove and said (and even sang — I was having so much fun driving I forgot I was wearing a live mic) may end up on the cutting room floor. But that doesn’t really matter because I had a great day of driving some amazing vehicles and got to see some old friends and make some new ones.

 

Prediction: Someone’s about to pay $100 million for a Ferrari GTO

Three seemingly unrelated things that I think we can weave together:

  • Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer pays something like four times the franchise’s estimated value to become the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, a professional basketball team;
  • Ron Pratte, who may be a mere multi-millionaire but who has become well-known, even a celebrity, within the classic car world for his record high bids and abundant philanthropy, is selling off his entire collection of vehicles and automobilia;
  • Don Thompson, who may not have made nearly as much money as Ballmer or Pratte but who knows a lot about economics, having been an econ professor who has taught at the Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics, has just published his 11th book. This one is entitled The Supermodel and the Brillo Box, though the book apparently has nothing to do with supermodels or boxes containing scouring products.

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Do you ever do embarrassing things while driving or parking your classic car?

Would you ever forget where you parked your classic car? | Larry Edsall
Would you ever forget where you parked your classic car? | Larry Edsall

So, a news release arrives from the insurance.com website, which did a survey of 2,000 drivers — 1,000 men and 1,000 women — who were asked to share their biggest driving embarrassments or, to put it another way, their most “awkward driving flubs.”

Here are the top 10 “awkward driving flubs”:

  1. Forgot where they parked
  2. Drove over a curb in a parking lot
  3. Locked the keys in their car
  4. Drove the wrong way on a one-way street
  5. Drove away with something on the roof
  6. Tried to open a car door and realized it wasn’t their car
  7. Couldn’t back out of a parking place because other cars or objects were too close
  8. Dropped money or food at a drive-thru window
  9. Accidentally activated the car’s panic alarm and couldn’t turn it off promptly
  10. Lost a toll ticket at the pay booth.

More women admitted to making these mistakes than men, although men were more likely to lose toll tickets. And while these mistakes didn’t make the top-10, more men than women admitted they had been pulled over without their license, registration and/or insurance certificate, had been unable to operate their vehicle’s key-fob remote locking system, or had forgotten a passenger and had to go back to fetch them.  Men also were twice as likely to drive away from a gas pump with the nozzle still plugged into the filler neck.

While the results of the survey are at least interesting and perhaps even significant, I’m guessing that such things occur much less often when people are driving their classic cars.

Why? Because people driving classic cars pay more attention — to everything. Everything from making sure their car is clean and in proper running condition, to never forgetting where they parked their precious classic, and of course making sure they never, ever set anything on top of its precious painted or other surfaces.

Actually, I doubt very many people with classic cars ever use the drive-thru lane — or even eat anything inside their vehicle. Oh, and since classic cars weren’t built with alarm systems, they’re never set off by accident.

However, having said that, I’m sure many of you have done something embarrassing while driving or showing your classic car and I’m offering the “Comment” box below for you to confess your sins and foibles.

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Detroit carmakers don’t seem to care much about their heritage

Chrysler Museum was terrific, until it closed | Larry Edsall
Chrysler Museum was terrific, until it closed | Larry Edsall

Each day, I receive a Newspress email. Actually, two of them. One comes from England, the other from within the United States.

Each Newspress email is a newsletter-style compilation of the press releases produced in the previous 24 hours by automakers on those two continents, including the respective European or American branches of Asian automakers.

Having spent the last five months as editorial director of the ClassicCars.com blog, I’m struck by one major difference I see between those daily European and U.S. news feeds: The European automakers embrace their heritage; the American OEMs pretty much ignore theirs (one big exception: Ford’s celebration of the 50th birthday of its Mustang).

This attitude of seemingly historical disdain is not a new phenomenon by any means. Think of all those rare 1950s concept cars that Joe Bortz had to resurrect from salvage yards after Detroit’s automakers discarded them.

One the other hand, nearly every day at least one of the European automakers calls attention to cars it produced years ago, cars that have come to be considered classics, or to some aspect of its history in auto racing. It may be Mercedes celebrating the 125th anniversary of its racing program or BMW buying one of its old manufacturing plants to turn into a center for classic cars, or a new display at the Porsche Museum showcasing that company’s Le Mans-winning racing cars, or Porsche’s “rolling museum” that takes cars from the museum and puts them on roads and race tracks.

Oh, and not only does Porsche have a museum to display its heritage, but so does Mercedes, and for that matter so do Ferrari and Volvo and Toyota and Honda and Mazda and I’m sure there are others. And those are overseas. Toyota also has a museum in California, and Mercedes-Benz has its Classic Center there as well, and Porsche is building a museum/test track complex near Los Angeles.

Nissan is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year and has an entire website devoted to its heritage. Nissan North America has a Heritage collection of nearly 60 cars significant to the company’s history and is showcasing several of them at a big import car show.

Meanwhile, Chrysler closed its museum. But at least it had one. Ford doesn’t (although there are some cars at the Henry Ford museum and lots of Model Ts at Greenfield Village).

Once upon a time, Cadillac saluted its heritage by turning part of its old Clark Street assembly plant not far from downtown Detroit into a museum. Not anymore.

Some of the cars at the GM Heritage Center | Larry Edsall
Some of the cars at the GM Heritage Center | Larry Edsall

General Motors does have a Heritage Center with a car collection and terrific reference library, but it is not open to the general public, though car clubs and civic groups can schedule a visit.

Speaking of the public, even the car-buying public, I see a lot more — exponentially more — classic car photos being posted on Facebook than I see friends posting photos of cars they just drove home from dealership showrooms.

For years… decades, proposals have popped up from time to time been for an American car museum to be built if not in Detroit then somewhere near Motown, a place to showcase the history of American cars and those who have produced them.

You’d think it would be a no-brainer. Instead, it remains a pipe dream. And fortunately there are many private museums and car clubs that keep Detroit’s heritage alive.

But except for something along the lines of the Mustang anniversary, or the annual Woodward Dream Cruise weekend or maybe in the rare year that a Detroit vehicle is featured at the Monterey Historics (or whatever that vintage racing weekend is being called these days), Detroit automakers pretty much seem to ignore their history.

In Detroit, the focus is on the next 30-day sales report. Well, that and too frequent appearances before Congressional investigating committees.

By the way, did you know it’s the 50th anniversary of the Pontiac GTO, the car that launched the muscle car movement in America? I just did a search for “Pontiac GTO” on the General Motors media website. “Your search – ‘Pontiac GTO’ did not match any images.” was the response.

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Honda helping another drive-in theater stay in business

Project Drive-In helps fund digital projector in Pennsylvania | American Honda
Project Drive-In helps fund digital projector in Pennsylvania | American Honda

When you think “classic cars,” Honda probably isn’t one of the first automakers that pops to mind. Although, there was an immaculate mid-’70s CVCC that drew a lot of attention a few years ago when its owner proudly drove it up and down the avenue during Detroit’s annual Woodward Dream Cruise.

And someday, Honda’s S2000 and Acura’s NSX are going to be considered classics, and Soichiro Honda’s early sports cars — the S500, S600 and S800 of the 1960s — would be cherished parts of any collection.

But an Accord or Civic, not so much.

So why are we writing on the ClassicCars.com blog about Honda? Because of something the American arm of Honda has done to preserve a wonderful part of American car culture, that’s why.

Many people aren’t aware of the fact that Hollywood no longer is distributing its films on, well, film. 35mm is out. Digital is in. Theaters are getting digital versions of movies these days and the digital projection equipment needed to show them costs movie theaters about $75,000 per screen.

It’s our mission to save this decades old slice of Americana that holds such nostalgia for so many of us.”

— Alicia Jones

That is an expensive but a justifiable business expense for your local cineplex. But what if you’re the owner of an old-fashioned drive-in with only short, seasonal business? Can you justify spending that money? Can you even come up with that much money in the first place? Or do you simply have to shut down and either let your land go to weeds or sell it to some strip-mall or fast-food developer?

Well, someone at American Honda decided to do something about it. As Alicia Jones, manager of social marketing for Honda and Acura at American Honda Motor Co. told us, “Cars and drive-in theaters go hand-in-hand, and it’s our mission to save this decades old slice of Americana that holds such nostalgia for so many of us.”

It was last year that we spoke with her. At the time, someone at American Honda heard about the plight of the American drive-in theater owners and got the automaker to pledge to fund five digital projectors for America’s remaining drive-in theaters. In addition to its own pledge, Honda established Project Drive-In so others could contribute and also help to decide which drive-ins got that new equipment. The other part of Project Drive-In was letting drive-in fans vote on which theaters would get those new projectors. Some 2-million votes were cast via the Internet.

Once upon a time, there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters in the United States. A year ago, only 368 of them were still in business.

As it turned out, between Honda’s contribution and additional monies raised, not five but nine drive-ins got new digital projection equipment.  Here they are: 

  • Cherry Bowl Drive-In, Honor, Mich.
  • Graham Drive-In, Graham, Tex.
  • McHenry Outdoor Theater, McHenry, Ill.
  • Monetta Drive-In, Monetta, S.C.
  • Ocala Drive-In, Ocala, Fla.
  • Saco Drive-In, Saco, Me.
  • Starlite Drive-In, Cadet, Mo.
  • Stateline Drive-In, Elizabethton, Tenn.
  • 99W Drive-In, Newberg, Ore.

But that’s not the end of the story. It turns out that there was some money leftover and those funds, with an additional $5,000 donation from AutoTrader Group, will help Brownsville Drive-In in Grindstone, Pa., become the 10th facility to get a digital projector and thus continue showing movies to people watching from inside their vehicles.

“With the drive-in season about to begin, the timing couldn’t be better for the Grindstone community to celebrate a small business where families can share the cinema experience together under the stars,” Honda’s Alicia Jones said.

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Happy 50th, Ford Mustang

A classic Mustang convertible arrives in Phoenix on cross-country drive | Larry Edsall
A classic Mustang convertible arrives in Phoenix on cross-country drive | Larry Edsall

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang. Well, at least it’s the anniversary of the car’s official unveiling, which took place April 17, 1964, with Lee Iacocca at the podium in the Ford pavilion at the New York World’s Fair.

Actually, however, it was about a month earlier that the public got its first and very unofficial look at the stunning new Mustang.

That happened when Henry Ford II’s 20-year-old nephew, Walter Buhl Ford III, borrowed one of the super-secret pre-production pony car prototypes and drove it to lunch in downtown Detroit. Guess what: The car was spotted by a reporter for the Detroit Free Press. The next day, the newspaper published its scoop and the public got its first glimpse of Ford’s revolutionary sporty car.

And the Mustang was revolutionary. It didn’t look like the other cars on American roads, and especially not like the Ford Falcon, with which it shared much of its mechanical underpinnings. Like the Falcon, the Mustang was compact, but with its long hood and short rear deck it looked more like a European sports car than anything that might have been designed in or produced by a Detroit automaker.

To say the car was a sensation is gross understatement. Not only was it on the cover of the automotive buff books, but of Time and Newsweek, albeit sharing both of those covers with Iacocca’s mug. And the car sold like hotcakes!

Lee Iacocca introduces vinyl-roofed Mustang at World's Fair in 1964 | Ford
Lee Iacocca introduces vinyl-roofed Mustang at World’s Fair in 1964 | Ford

Pity “hot” wasn’t a term to describe its performance, although that word did describe the reaction of the engineering team responsible for the hottest of all Ford cars and for the concept car that first bore the Mustang nameplate.

That hottest of all Fords was the GT40, the car that ended Ferrari’s winning streak in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The engineering team saw its mission as two pronged: the GT40 for the track and the slightly tamer Mustang, named after the American fighter aircraft, for the road.

In the fall of 1962, they had debuted their Mustang concept, a rear-engine (Ford of Germany’s compact V4 was the powerplant) two-seat roadster, with racer Dan Gurney driving exhibition laps just before the start of the U.S. Grand Prix race at the Watkins Glen (N.Y.).

If the 90-horsepower V4 sounds less than exciting, consider that the original 1964 1/2 production Mustang came with a 101-hp inline 6. Consider also that the Mustang unveiled by Iacocca at the World’s Fair news conference had a vinyl roof.

Sure, you could get the car as a much sexier convertible, or even with its hardtop roof painted, not upholstered, and you could opt for a 164-hp 260cid V8 or even a 271-hp 289 power plant. But, basically, the Mustang was a pony, not a race horse.

Lee Iacocca called me and said, ‘You have to help me make a sports car out of the Mustang’.”

— Carroll Shelby

 

It may have been the pace car for the 1964 Indianapolis 500, but it wasn’t going to win the Kentucky Derby, let alone the Woodward Avenue stoplight drag race or anything else.

At least not until Henry the Deuce called Carroll Shelby and, as Ol’ Shel’ recounted the story to me, “Lee Iacocca called me and said, ‘You have to help me make a sports car out of the Mustang.’

“I really didn’t want to do it,” Shelby continued. “We were busy racing and building Cobras. But he talked me into it.”

So Shelby and his crew tweaked the engine, changed the suspension, enlarged the brakes and removed unnecessary weight, things such as the back seat. The result was the GT350, a succession of victories in sports car racing and, once General Motors and Chrysler and AMC did their own “pony cars,” we had the Trans-Am series and some of the best racing anyone’s ever seen.

Of course, we also had the Mustang II of the 1970s, which really wasn’t a Mustang but a gas-sipping economy car with the galloping horse badge — lipstick on a pig, I think they call it. Fortunately, we’ve also had more Shelby Mustangs and Roush Mustangs and even Saleen Mustangs.

I was at AutoWeek magazine when Steve Saleen, whom I first knew as an Indycar racer and team owner, started modifying Mustangs. One day he called and invited me out to his shop to test drive an early prototype. The car was, well, let’s say it was sort of cobbled together and as I drove down a Detroit-area expressway with Steve riding shotgun, I wondered how to respond politely when he asked me what I thought.

I don’t recall what I said, but what I thought was that I hoped the doors wouldn’t fall off right then and there, and how quickly could I drive this thing back to his shop?

Now I must add that Steve’s shop has come a long way since then. I’ve been back in Saleen Mustangs and they’re wonderful to drive, fast and safe.

I thought about that early Saleen recently when I spent part of an evening photographing the Mustangs Across America tour that was heading from California to Charlotte for one of the two big birthday parties this weekend.

Among the 550 or so Mustangs in that herd were one-owner 64 1/2s, one of those original vinyl-roofed versions, coupes and convertibles and fastbacks, Saleens and Shelbys and Roushs and their owners, owners from around the world.

I was a Mustang owner once. As sort of a graduation-from-college present to myself, I bought a brand-new 1969 Mustang — fastback, Indian Fire paint, 302cid V8, automatic, high-back bucket seats. I don’t know what tires it wore, but I remember replacing them with Goodyear’s newest Polyglas GT rubber. The tires were terrific, well, at least in the dry. Trying to maneuver on icy roads in Michigan was another story.

Those grippy tires and something Mario Andretti once told me may have saved not only my life but those of my bride and a co-worker and his wife one evening when we were going out for pizza and a guy ran a stop sign and hit us just behind the driver’s side door. We spun but kept the rubber-side down, the policeman said, probably because I was wearing a seat belt and kept control of the steering wheel.

I’d only recently started wearing my seat belt (it was optional back then). But one day I was at Michigan International Speedway watching Indy car practice when Andretti smacked the wall. As I recall, there was a small fire after the crash so the car was literally and figuratively “toast.”

I rode out to the scene with the track’s general manager and was talking with Andretti and asked him how he could walk away with nothing more than a scratch on his nose. He pointed to the safety belts in the race car. I buckled up on my way home that day.

(You can share your 50th birthday wishes for the Mustang in the comments section below. Or, if you still have that special Mustang, tell us about it via the “Share yours” box in the upper right-hand corner of the page.)

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Magazine presents classic cars in print or pixels

Richard Truesdell laments the loss of such classic car magazines as Automobile Quarterly, Motor Trend Classic and Musclecar Enthusiast. But the realities of the print-on-paper world are such that producing a glossy-surfaced, real-paper (even if it’s recycled) publication is very expensive.

And as Truesdell points out, as much as we all enjoy browsing the various titles, “the newsstand is a flawed distribution strategy where typically 60-70% of all magazines printed end up in landfills.”

But instead of writing an obituary for the classic car enthusiast magazine in the age of the Internet, Truesdell and his team at BCT Publishing are using web-based technology to launch their own brand-new classic car magazine, Automotive Traveler’s Classic Car. Truesdell has a multi-decade history in automotive writing and photography and he and his team have been producing the automotivetraveler.com website for several years.

The premiere issue of Automotive Traveler’s Classic Car includes 100 pages. Truesdell promises subsequent issues will be just as substantial.

The cover of the premiere issue features five vehicles — the 1979 Le Mans-winning Porsche 935, one of the 1969 Chevrolet Camaros that served as NASCAR pace cars, a Chrysler Turbine Car, a Fiat Abarth Ghia 2300S coupe (aka the Poor Man’s Ferrari) and the two-seat prototype for the Studebaker Avanti. Each of those cars is covered in well-researched and insightfully written stories with lushly photographed and multi-page displays.

And the magazine includes other articles as well, plus there are QR (Quick Response) Codes you can access for additional words, photos and even videos. Imagine, Truesdell writes, getting owners of, say, three mid-’60s American luxury cars — an Imperial, a Continental and a Sedan de Ville — together, let them drive each other’s cars, and then listen to their comments behind the wheel and their post-drive conversation as well.

That’s coming, but for now, the premiere edition includes such features as a piece on James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, a report on the 2014 Desert Classic concours, and more, including my personal favorite — two delightful pages of then (classic postcards) and now (recent photos) showing old car dealerships and what they look like today.

Oh, and no trees are felled in the production of this magazine — unless you demand it.

Automotive Traveler’s Classic Car is a web-based magazine that you can read on a variety of screens. Or if you prefer, you can order an ink-on-paper version produced through print-on-demand technology and available from amazon.com.

Truesdell adds that while the first couple of issues will be priced in the $15 range, as circulation increases, cover price not only can but will shrink. The goal, he says, is for ATCC to become a quarterly, priced at, say, 10 bucks an issue, about that same as you pay now for one of the British-based classic car magazines you still might find at your local bookstore (assuming, of course, you still have a local bookstore and it still has a newsstand).

“Can this plan be successful, editorially, as well as financially?” Truesdell’s column asks.

“I believe it can,” he answers, “as ATCC won’t be supporting a huge publishing infrastructure overhead. It will be a magazine produced by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts.”

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Bookshelf: Big cars + big engines = big passions

 Classic Car Bookshelf

Cummings cover

Cadillac V-16s Lost and Found: Tracing the Histories of the 1930s Classics by Christopher W. Cummings

Published2014
PublisherMcFarland & Co.
FormatSoft cover
Pages284
ISBN9780786475704
PurchaseAmazon

 

Christopher Cummings writes that, “Almost as soon as the Cadillac V-16s came to market, economic, technological and cultural forces conspired to make them obsolete. A severe and tumultuous depression knocked the wind out of the sales prospects for fine, custom-built luxury cars. Improvements in metallurgy, engine design and fuel chemistry soon meant that a V-8 engine could be made to run every bit as smoothly and powerfully as a sixteen. And the classic styling of the late twenties and early thirties was shouldered roughly aside by the onrushing ‘streamlining’ craze.”

But not only did Cadillac continue to produce such engines and the cars that carried them — nearly 4,000 between 1930 and 1937 — it developed and built a radically different (the V widened from 45 to 185 degrees) second-generation V16 power plant and put nearly 500 of them into much more aerodynamically designed vehicles between 1938 and 1940.

Cummings is an attorney by profession and a Cadillac V16 owner by lifelong affection. In 2006, he wrote The Cadillac That Followed Me Home: Memoir of a V-16 Dream Realized. Now, he follows up with Cadillac V-16s Lost and Found: Tracing the Histories of the 1930s Classics, which tells the stories of nearly 70 of the nearly 4,400 classic Cadillacs and their 16-cylinder engines.

But these are not just the stories of the cars and their engines, but of their owners and their passion for such vehicles.

Talk about passion:

  • Lawrence “Baron” Dorcy, whose great-grandfather James J. Hill was the inspiration for characters in Atlas Shrugged and The Great Gatsby, owned his V-16 Cadillac three different times;
  • Jim Pearson owned so many Cadillacs — including several V16s — that he became known simply as “Cadillac Jim;”
  • Henry W. Struck not only was able to close a public road so he could prove his V16 roadster could achieve its advertised 120 miles per hour, but afterward he set out to make modifications to make the car safer and more convenient, including a drinking water dispenser and what may have been the first on-board navigation system — a map that scrolled between rollers as you drove, complete with lighting for finding your way at night.

Other V16 owners included, Bill Harrah, Jack Nethercutt, Eugene Zimmerman (whose car collection rivaled Harrah’s, but was based on the East Coast and wasn’t nearly as well known), Frederick Vanderbilt, a 21-year-old Emily DuPont, actor Richard Arlen, Seabiscuit-owner Charles Howard, concept car-collector Joe Bortz, Barrett-Jackson auction company co-founder Tom Barrett, former President Herbert Hoover, even rival Rolls-Royce, which bought a V16 to study; among those studying it was Walter O. Bentley who wrote that, “The word ‘torque’ also took on a new meaning with this V 16.”

Other owners included Judge Rutherford, who gave Jehovah’s Witnesses their name, and Dr. John R. Brinkley, whom Cummings describes as a “medical huckster… who used radio to promote goat glands as a spurious remedy for male reproductive problems.”

To find a build sheet with only the car’s chassis number requires examining all 3,251 sheets until the one with that chassis number turns up.”

— Christopher Cummings

 

Cummings writes that doing research on V16 Cadillacs, whether you’re writing about them or trying to restore one, can be difficult.

For one thing, a 21-year-old who bought a car in 1940 is now in his or her 90s, if alive at all.

For another, while copies of early build sheets are available, they are sorted by engine number. “To find a build sheet with only the car’s chassis number requires examining all 3,251 sheets until the one with that chassis number turns up.”

But Cummings and other V16 Cadillac enthusiasts and restorers are undaunted in their pursuit, and there’s much to be learned and enjoyed in this book, which is thoroughly illustrated with photos, most of them black and white but a few in color.

And you’ll learn more than just about V16 Cadillacs as you read. You’ll learn about Cadillac, about the world in the 1930s, about Fleetwood and its move from Pennsylvania to Detroit, and about the fate of cars once affordable only to the rich and famous.

My favorite stories are about the less-than-elegant fate of many of the big cars, how several of the V16 engines were used to power hot rods and racing cars — my favorite story is about the car called “Helen,” — and how a couple of the cars even survived participation in demolition derbies.

When restorations lose touch with historic reality

Would you preserve or restore this Bugatti? | Larry Edsall photo
Would you preserve or restore this Bugatti? | Larry Edsall photo

What does the resurrection of the wooly mammoth, the passenger pigeon and other extinct animal species have to do with the restoration of classic cars, be they Duesenbergs , DeSotos or Datsuns? Maybe nothing. Or maybe something.

The New York Times Magazine recently published Nathaniel Rich’s 7,500-word article, “The New Origin of the Species,” about efforts to use modern science to bring back animals that no longer exist on their own. In the course of discussing the pros and cons of such efforts, he wrote about Theseus’ Paradox.

I’d never heard of Theseus or its (turns out it’s a his) paradox, so I’ll let Rich explain it, which he does by first talking about the restoration of da Vinci’s famed fresco, The Last Supper, and then by quoting Plutarch:

“If you visit ‘The Last Supper’ in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, you won’t see a single speck of paint from the brush of Leonardo da Vinci,” Rich writes. “You will see a mural with the same proportions and design as the original, and you may feel the same sense of awe as the refectory’s parishioners felt in 1498, but the original artwork disappeared centuries ago.

“Philosophers call this Theseus’ Paradox, a reference to the ship that Theseus sailed back to Athens from Crete after he had slain the Minotaur. The ship, Plutarch writes, was preserved by the Athenians, who ‘took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place.’ Theseus’ ship, therefore, ‘became a standing example among the philosophers… one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same’.”

So, is an animal produced by injecting the DNA from the wooly mammoth into the egg of an Indian elephant really anything more than a hairy elephant, albeit one that might tolerate cold weather?

Likewise, is a rusted, falling-apart 1938 Chevy body shell salvaged from a weedy salvage yard and rebuilt with newly shaped sheetmetal, a new interior and a period-correct powertrain really still a 1938 Chevy? Or, like Theseus’ ship or a painted-over da Vinci, is it something else?

How do we decide whether to preserve that old Chevy as an historic artifact or restore it so we can once again enjoy seeing it driving down the boulevard?

We see some fairly brutal restorations. The sense of historicity has been removed. The car loses its connection to history.”

— Miles Collier

 

Even Miles Collier, champion of the preservation movement, has said that “A car is a machine for moving.”

Speaking at RM Auctions’ Art of the Automobile symposium late last year in New York City, Collier noted that the automobile “is a mechanical device that needs to move, needs to operate.”

That, he said, puts “a great deal of pressure on collectors to make sure automobiles are mechanically perfect, ready to go.” As a result, he said, “We see some fairly brutal restorations. The sense of historicity has been removed. The car loses its connection to history. Knowledgeable custodians want to respect that historicity.”

Perhaps it’s time to update the language of classic car restoration, adding to “rotisserie restoration” and “sympathetic restoration” what Collier might call an “archival restoration.”

Collier also explored this theme when he wrote the opening chapter to Fred Simeone’s book, The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles:

For an historical object to lose its history is to lose its reality, the only thing of any great value in the first place.”

— Miles Collier

 

“What do we do when we erase patina, when we cover over the historic evidence of the object’s trail through time to the present day?” Collier asked. “What do we do when we eliminate the very fingerprints of the past by restoring cars to ‘original,’ or ‘improving’ them to make them better drivers or more successful racers?

“Once the evidence of an object’s travel through time disappears, history disappears. For an historical object to lose its history is to lose its reality, the only thing of any great value in the first place.”

So, by restoring a car, even at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, it may become not more but less valuable?

Collier suggests that perhaps that money might better be spent in producing what he calls a perfectly executed replica.

But, he adds, “The conventional response to his statement is that people, owners and spectators alike, don’t want to see modern copies, they want cars that are ‘real’.”

At the seminar in New York, Collier noted that most restorations are not “original” restorations, but “re-restorations of cars already restored once, twice, three times.”

What does that really produce other than a series of interns’ scrawlings over the master’s brush strokes or the automotive equivalent of a modern elephant with a hairy coat to keep it warm?

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