From the day the first Mercer raceabout was sold in 1910, these have been cars to be admired. The Mercer Automobile Company was founded by the Roebling and Kuser families in Mercer County, New Jersey – thus the company’s name. Both families were wealthy and prominent with extensive manufacturing experience, and they wanted to build a high-quality sporting car. Continue reading
Sometimes a picture reveals more than what first appears. What drew me to this picture is the Mercedes 710 Type SS. Looking almost new, this car was still something special a decade after its manufacture and clearly seems well cared for. Continue reading
Since its beginnings in 1909, Hudson had gone racing to prove the merits of its cars. In 1916 came the introduction of Hudson’s Super-Six and with it a significant increase in horsepower over the previous Model Six-40. The Super-Six had a number of innovations, chief among them the use of a counter-balanced crankshaft, which helped the engine achieve 76 horsepower. Continue reading
In 1936, George W. Vanderbilt III banded together with Boston Braves owner George Marshall, and Eddie Rickenbacker, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to revive a major event from the early days of motorsports, the Vanderbilt Cup. Continue reading
In the enthusiasm of the late 1920’s, Cadillac developed its trend-setting 16-cylinder engine of 452 cubic inches – developing 175 horsepower.
While it is true that Packard introduced the landmark Twin-Six, its 12-cylinder engine, in the 1916 model year, it was the Cadillac V16 that set off the American “cylinder wars” at a time when car sales were plummeting due to the escalating economic depression. Continue reading
Packard is one of the most highly regarded brands from the classic era, with roots going back to the very beginning of the 20th Century. Although the automaker is revered today for bold luxury cars, it’s not often remembered for its early days when Packard built sporting cars. Continue reading
The Kissel Motor Car Company may not be a well-recognized marque today, but it is owed a debt of gratitude from every red-blooded American car guy.
The reason is the company’s introduction in 1919 of its Speedster (later nicknamed the Gold Bug Speedster) which cemented in the American mindset the idea of the sports car. Continue reading
The 1st-gen Lamborghini “Diablo VT” was breathtaking to behold and is arguably one of the most beautiful, sexy and extremely-fast, exotic-supercars ever produced! This over-the-top, almost-as-fast-as-a-speeding-bullet, as aerodynamically perfect as anything earthbound could be, fire-breathing beast was designed by the infamous and proud Marcello Gandini, who had also designed the two predecessors in line to the “Diablo”, the Miura and the Countach. The “Diablo” moniker was drawn from Spanish history and was the name of a famously ferocious, 19th century, fighting bull, which was owned and raised by the “Duke of Veragua”, who also happened to be the grandson and heir of Christopher Columbus! The edict was sent from the top brass at the time (around June of 1985) to design a vehicle that could reach a top speed of 315km/hr (approx. 196 mph, for us metrically challenged folk) and yet meet all the new (and ever increasing) emissions standards and safety regulations of the day. Rumor has it, that after the Chrysler Corporation had taken over ownership of Lamborghini in 1987, (which was right in the midst of designing the “Diablo”) they frowned at the angular design of the new model ( maybe to much like the Countach?) and had their designers in Detroit take a hand at smoothing-out the aggressive angles by massaging the bodywork into a more curvaceous look.
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Zero to 60 mph took just over 4 seconds and handling was unbelievably well-controlled, even under the most lead-footed of handlers, due to the perfectly-balanced weight distribution of the rear-facing, mid-engine and “VT” all-wheel-drive system, which automatically/electronically (or manually, depending on how the driver had the controls set) switched traction to the front wheels in the instance the rear wheels broke loose. Even though the “Diablo” overall was larger, wider, stronger and thus heavier than the “Countach”, it was still the fastest production car in the world at the time of it’s debut in 1990. The body was uniquely designed as well, using steel, composite and aluminum panels and retained those tell-tale Lamborghini “scissor-style” doors which opened straight up and angled forward out of the way. The new Lamborghini “Diablo” was also outfitted with more creature comforts and refinements than ever before but remained an icon of all that is Italian in supercar motoring and still draws a crowd every time one is seen in public.
Sometime during April of 1965, long before any official announcement was made by General Motors’ Chevrolet Division, reports had begun circulating that Chevrolet was preparing to build a vehicle code-named “Panther” in the newly identified Pony/Musclecar category. This mysterious new vehicle was intended to compete directly with the highly successful Ford Mustang. The Ford Mustang was introduced in late 1964, as a “new for” 1965 model, and received rave reviews and huge sales numbers. Not to be outdone . . . GM had an ace up their sleeve to face this Ford rival, head on.
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Chevrolet sent the first of two telegrams to 200+ automotive journalists on June 21, 1966, announcing their plans for the “Panther”, using very mysterious language. The first telegram read something to the effect of: “Please save noon of June 28, 1966 for important S.E.P.A.W. meeting. Hope you can be on hand to help. Details will follow .” The telegram was signed by John L. Cutter, Chevrolet Public Relations and S.E.P.A.W. Secretary. On the following day, the same group of journalists received another telegram to the effect of: “Society for the Eradication of Panthers from the Automotive World will hold first and last meeting on June 28. The (insert city name here) chapter will meet at (insert hotel name here) joining in a national 14 city live telephone conference with Detroit based , Chevrolet General Manager, E. M. “Pete” Estes. Please R.S.V.P. by telephone, etc….”. This second telegram was also signed by John L. Cutter. Both of the telegrams left many automotive journalists puzzled at the time because none of them had ever heard of S.E.P.A.W. before the two telegrams were sent.
By June 28th, the industry was buzzing with anticipation and excitement about this big, strange meeting. Chevrolet’s General Manager, Pete Estes, would have some fun with this secretive game and make the announcement himself. Now, back in 1966, they used quite a cutting edge means of reaching more people collectively, in the Automotive Journalism society, than ever before possible. Rather than forcing all the 200+ journalists to make a trip to Detroit, GM utilized a new technological advancement by the Bell Telephone Company called two-way conference calling. It was the first time in history that 14 cities were connected together in real time for a press conference via telephone.
After a brief speech about how well things were going for General Motors and how they intended to remain the number one automotive manufacturer in the USA, Mr. Estes then said “Oh yes! I almost forgot! The purpose of this meeting! . . . Gentlemen, as much as we appreciate the tremendous publicity given “Panther” we ask you to help scratch the cat once and forever. And as such, this will be both the FIRST and the LAST meeting of S.E.P.A.W.! Chevrolet has chosen a name which is lithe, graceful, and in keeping with our other car names beginning with the letter “C”, it suggests the comradeship of good friends, as a personal car should be to its owner! Above all, it is the name of our new car line to be introduced on September 29, 1966! To us, at GM, the name means just what we think the car will do . . . GO! ….and here it is!”
At that moment, five beautiful girls came onto the stage, each holding a letter, while Mr. Estes held the sixth letter. While a narrator described to the out-of-towners, that could not see what was going on, Mr. Estes placed each girl in order and then lined up with them for all to see the word CAMARO. There was excitement and amazement and yet many were still puzzled at what it meant and what exactly was a CAMARO? The Product Managers, who fielded the many questions after the announcement about this peculiar, yet immediately likable name, only said (as smug as possible), it is “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs”.
And so, later that year, on Sept. 12, 1966 in Detroit, MI, the new Camaro was unveiled to rave reviews and an eagerly awaiting public hungry for their own GM produced pony/musclecar. And, as stated at the mysterious meeting back in June, the cars were available at Chevrolet Dealerships across the country on or about Sept. 29,1966.
Alrighty then… now for some details about the First Generation (1967 to 1969) Camaro or F-Body (a platform also shared with the new Pontiac Firebird) which was a built on a front-engined, rear-wheel drive platform and only available as a 2-door coupe or convertible. A wide variety of engines were available, ranging from the 230-cid L6 to the ultra rare optioned ZL1 (only 69 were ever made and only for the 1969 year model), drag-race ready, aluminum block 427-cid, big-block V8, or COPO 9560 (Central Office Production Orders) package, which added over $4,000 to the sticker price, which was a lot of money back then. But oh, what fun it must have been to stuff your foot into that one. There were actually over a dozen (14) different engines available during the first three years of Camaro production and some were only available to a choice few specifically for racing purposes.
Some of the available options, such as the RS, was an appearance package that included hidden headlights, revised taillights, RS badging, and exterior rocker trim. The SS, which included a 350-cid V8 engine or the optional L35 and L78 396-cid big-block V8 was also available in SS package. The SS also featured non-functional air inlets on the hood, special striping and SS badging on the grille, front fenders, gas cap, and horn button. It was even possible to order both the SS and RS packages together to make a Camaro RS/SS. In 1967, a Camaro RS/SS convertible with a 396-cid V8 engine, paced the Indianapolis 500.
The Z28 option code which was introduced in December 1966 for the 1967 model year was the brainchild of Vince Piggins. He conceived offering a virtually race-ready Camaro which could be offered for sale from any Chevrolet dealer. This option package was not mentioned in any sales literature, so it was unknown to most buyers and dealers for that matter. The Z28 option required power front disc brakes and a Muncie 4-speed manual transmission be installed on these models. It also featured a 302-cid small-block V8 engine, an aluminum intake manifold, and a 4-barrel, vacuum-secondary Holley carburetor. Only 602 Z28s were sold in 1967, along with approximately 100 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Replicas. The origin of the Z28 nameplate came from the RPO (Regular Production Option) codes – RPO Z27 was for the Super Sport package, and RPO Z28, at the time, was the code for a Special Performance Package intended to compete in the Trans Am racing series of the day. Many Camaro’s are raced, and very successfully I might add, in various forms and venues all over the world to this day.
There have been five generations in the life of the Camaro, with a brief hiatus in production from 2003 to 2009, with the awesome, retro-looking fifth generation Camaro making it’s debut in 2010. During the First Generation production run from 1967 to 1969, a total of 699,538 Camaros were made. You know what that means . . . there is a good chance that your favorite model, options and color are still out there and available for purchase .
Oh, hey, did I ever answer the question of the meaning of the Camaro name? When pressed for an answer, over a year later (sometime in 1967), as to how he came up with the name Camaro (which actually means friend, pal or comrade) from a list of over 2,000 words of which to choose, Mr. Estes laughed and casually admitted, “I locked myself in a closet and came back out with Camaro”!
One of the most successful, purpose-built race cars in American history has to be the legendary, Reventlow Automobile’s Scarab. Named America’s Finest Sports Car by the influential “Road and Track” magazine, this beautifully sculpted, aluminum bodied race car was born in the mind of an amazingly talented young man named Count Lawrence Graf von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow (or Lance Reventlow, as he preferred to be known).
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Born in 1936, he was the only child of Danish nobleman Count Kurt von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow and American socialite Barbara Hutton. He was born at Winfield House in London, which was built by his mother and named for her grandfather Frank Winfield Woolworth who created immense wealth with his chain of stores by the name of F.W. Woolworth’s Five and Dime. His parents’ marriage was a tumultuous one, filled with his father’s emotional and physical abuse of both Lance and his mother, along with his mother’s growing alcohol and drug addiction.
Barbara Hutton, who had inherited the Woolworth department store fortune and was also the daughter of the extremely successful Franklin Laws Hutton of E.F. Hutton fame, was then one of the wealthiest women in the world. The marriage to the Count, Barbara Hutton’s second of seven, did not last and young Lance became the subject of a bitter custody battle. Left to be raised by nannies and boarding schools, Lance Reventlow was six years old when his mother married the world-famous actor, Cary Grant, who took the already troubled boy under his wing. Reventlow’s mother and Grant, unfortunately, divorced on July 11, 1945 and two days later the then nine-year-old was abducted by his biological father and taken to Canada but later returned. Grant remained close to Reventlow, who spent a great deal of time in the Los Angeles area. In fact, by the age of 30, Lance’s mother had been married and divorced a total of seven times.
Given his tumultuous upbringing and fortunate, young Lance had a love for all things mechanical and especially fast cars, racing and airplanes. On a trip to Europe in 1957, with his friend Bruce Kessler, they enjoyed touring all the race venues, renting race cars and even entering a few events. They visited all the top European race factories, including the very successful Cunningham Team’s Lister-Jaguar headquarters. Lance, then 21 years old, saw nothing they were doing in Europe, that couldn’t be done back home in the USA. So he decided to get back to California and start his own racing company. Upon his return home, he immediately set up his company, Reventlow Automobiles, in (Venice) North Hollywood, CA and told his chief mechanic and good friend, Warren Olson, to hire a Dream Team of the best designers and builders of the time to create the race car he had envisioned in his mind, specifically with the idea to beat the big boys from Europe at their own game.
His team, which included the likes of former Kurtis fabricators Dick Troutman and Tom Barnes and engine guru’s Jim Travers and Frank Coon, who would later form TRACO. Lance also called on the help of legendary racer and designer Ken Miles to design the chassis. The final piece of the puzzle was Chuck Daigh, who was hired as both a driver and drivetrain specialist. Lance had one big advantage over the European sourced competition . . . he could build a car specifically for American style stop and go racetracks, which were quite different than their much faster European counterparts.
With this in mind, he asked for a race car that was compact, lightweight and above all, able to put its power to the ground very well. Inspired by the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, Ken Miles penned a design for a space-aged frame with enough room for Olson and his men to make their own mechanical design interpretations. The suspension was equally advanced with double wishbones at the front and DeDion axle at the rear. Making an American built race car meant he had to make a compromise and use drum brakes instead of the superior British disc brake systems. The only inconsistency, or non-American component, was the Morris sourced rack-and-pinion steering gear.
The very American Corvette V8 formed the basis for the Scarab’s powerplant. Although by the time Travers and Coon were done with the engine, it was a very different beast altogether. The first order of business was to increase displacement from the original 4.6L (283 c.i.) to 5.5L (339 c.i.) by boring and stroking the little V8. The enlarged displacement engine was even equipped with the advanced-design Hilborn FI unit and the intake manifold sported eight very stylish intake trumpets splayed at all different angles. With all these modifications in place, the V8 was good for anywhere between 360 and 385 bhp, most of which was available from very low rpm’s. The engine was then mated to a Borg-Warner 4-speed gearbox, which had a lightweight aluminum casing. An amazingly curvaceous, aluminum body was styled by then 19-year old Art Center school student Chuck Pelly, which rounded off the sexy package. The completed machine weighed in at a very competitive 1,900 pounds.
The very first prototype, dubbed the MK1, rolled out of the garage early in 1958, incredibly, only a few short months after the team had been assembled and was named Scarab. The name, chosen by Lance himself, was in reference to the Scarab dung beetle of Egypt, which was considered sacred in ancient times. Although not immediately successful, by June of 1958 and for many years after, the Scarabs dominated the racing world and even beat the previously dominant European teams, here in the USA, at some of the most famous venues and exciting races of all time. Scarabs were successfully piloted over the following years by such greats as Carroll Shelby and Augie Pabst (When Lance exited the racing scene in 1962, he leased his facility to Mr. Shelby).
Tragedy surrounded Lance much of his young life and early in his career. He had became close friends with fellow auto enthusiast and promising actor, James Dean. They even competed in club events all around California and on September 30, 1955 Lance was one of the last people to speak to Dean, when they met on their way to an auto race in Salinas CA. Dean was killed a few hours later in his racing Porsche 550 Spyder.
In 1964, Lance married ex-Mouseketeer, Cheryl Holdridge, who was introduced to him by close friend, singer Jimmy Boyd. The couple managed to remain out of the glare of publicity for several years and attempted to carry on a somewhat normal life. An avid Alpine skier, hiker, sailor and pilot, Lance and his wife,Cheryl, maintained a home in Aspen, CO. It was there, in 1972, while looking at an area to build a ski resort with real estate brokers and an inexperienced young pilot, Lance’s promising young life of only 36 years, would be cut short. According to the NTSB report, Lance was a passenger in a Cessna 206 and unknown to him (Lance was a fully rated instrument, multi engine, commercial pilot with thousands of hours under his belt) the Cessna’s pilot was an inexperienced 27-year-old student who flew into a blind canyon and stalled the aircraft while trying to turn it around. The small plane plunged to the ground, killing Lance Reventlow and all others aboard.
Stay tuned to see “Part 2″, the future of the awesome Scarab automobile…..