Monday, April 23, 2018

The Future of the SUV -- Why are they so popular today?

The SUV (along with unitized body Crossover) is quickly becoming the vehicle of choice not only in the U.S. but China, Europe, and elsewhere in the world. No longer are passenger cars dominant in the marketplace, particularly if you also consider pick-up truck sales within the confines of the U.S. Last year about 1/3 of all vehicle sales were due to SUVs and Crossovers, and there are projections that more than 50% of all sales will be SUVs within the next five years.  It seems that all age groups are embracing this latest trend, and with it the love affair with the passenger car has been replaced with a sort of quirky attraction to a boxy, high and heavy “utilitarian tool” for enhanced mobility. Unlike passenger cars from the past, the SUV is much harder to love.  Many look pretty much alike, boxes with some edges. Aerodynamics has dictated general styles.  So distinctiveness is relegated to the brand symbol stamped into the front grill.

The SUV is popular to many Americans because it is so handy. It can carry dogs, people, lumber and home repair items, and golf clubs with relative comfort.  For older folks it is high off the ground and easier to get in and out. With all the new engine and transmission technologies these vehicles get acceptably good gas mileage, and usually are quite affordable when purchased. With interior quality now far better than it was 10 years ago, the SUV can be not only comfortable but aesthetically pleasing while sitting in the passenger seat or behind the wheel.  

Note that even German luxury makers BMW, Mercedes and Porsche thrive in terms of SUV sales. A decade ago who would have taught that these auto companies (and VW!) would have a substantial part of their business not in passenger cars but in SUVs or Crossovers!

In the U.S. size does matter.  We are generally a big people.  And now a high percentage of us are obese! So SUVs fit us physically. And we are growing older.

These cars are increasingly connected to the internet, and other wireless services, and so appeal to younger buyers. They do impart an aggressive stance, and that appeals to some people.  And at the top end of the price scale vehicles like Porsche Cayennes, Mecans, Escalades, convey status, although not on the level of a Ferrari, Maserati or Porsche 911.

I own a new Subaru Outback, and thus have joined the club. But I am not sold on these vehicles. As someone who was a child during the Golden Age of motor cars in the 1950s and 1960s, I still prefer lighter, smaller rides. With all the SUVs on the road I often have my field of vision blocked while driving my Porsche 911 by their ride height. Thus I can be frustrated. One can feel safer while driving SUVs, but that is often an illusion. They are prone to roll over, and an SUV driver can take additional risks because of the perception of being in a safer vehicle.

Will the SUV be here for the long run?  With electric vehicles on the horizon by 2030 as a significant market niche, I would say no, not in terms of current numbers. Once energy prices increase substantially, a correction will occur. Station wagons were once very popular items, and rarely do you see them on the road today. So were convertibles! 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The 1937 Packard 120 -- the Perfect Car for a Woman's Personal Use

"One Day a Week I'm a Lady"

"Our Chauffeur Wears Skirts"

"Love, Honor and ...Jitney"

"Three Reasons Women Leave Home"

"Four Problems of the Modern Woman"

Steve McQueen, 1977: I want my "Bullitt" Car Back

At the HVA "Driving History" Conference last week this letter was on display, accompanying the actual "Bullitt" car that we learned so much about.  Thanks to Ed Garten for providing me with this image.  The car has an interesting history, including family history. The story tells us much about the importance of the automobile in individuals' lives and connections between father and son.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Rough and Rusty ABC Rally -- 1920s French Light Car

Fred Simeone is pictured with this car during a discussion as to whether this vehicle should be restored or left as is. As I recall, it was stated that it was a 1923 model.

The company was founded in 1921 by engineer  Eugène Affovard Asnière. His first product was a classic cyclecar equipped with a 989 cc Harley-Davidson V-twin engine. As is typical of most producers in this category, subsequent automobiles (beginning in 1922) used proprietary engines (usually of about 1.1 litres) and transmissions from producers like Chapuis-Dornier, CIME, Ruby, or S.C.A.P.] The early Rallys were long, sleek, and light and seated two. On early cars the passenger seat was mounted slightly farther back than the driver's seat, although this was later changed so as to improve comfort.
1931 Salmson-engined Rally NC
At the 1926 Paris Salon the underslung Grand Sport was shown, with a supercharged 1,093 cc Chapuis-Dornier engine of 70 PS (51 kW). This enabled a top speed of circa 180 km/h (110 mph). 14 to 16 Grand Sports were built, beginning in 1927. Three still exist. In 1928 a Grand Sport cost FF 42.900. Mechanical drum brakes and a three-speed manual transmission was the norm for Rally's cars of the twenties.
1933 Rally NCP, one of the last built
In 1927 the Rally ABC, was available with three inline-four engine options of 1,093, 1,170, or 1,494 cc. Roots superchargers were also available for some of the engines. Wheelbases ranged between 2.3 and 2.5 m (91 and 98 in), while a 31 PS (23 kW) "1100" could reach about 135 km/h (84 mph). "ABC" signified abaissée, or lowered, reflecting its underslung chassis. The ABC series was retired in 1930. From 1931 the 1,300 cc (65 x 98 mm) twin-cam Salmson S4 unit was used in the new N-series, a slightly sturdier model which replaced the delicate ABC. The Salmson-engined cars also received a four-speed gearbox and often carried a "Salmson" as well as a "Rally" logo on the grille. Salmson had stopped their competition programme and were happy to allow Rally to advertise their wares. The N was also available in a more sporting short wheelbase model, the NC (for court) and also as the more powerful NCP (court puissée, or "short and powerful"). An R-series was also briefly offered with an all-new 1,480 cc straight-eight from S.C.A.P., but this may have remained a prototype. In 1932, for Rally's last appearance at the Paris Motor Show, the new RS model was shown - it received the new 1,466 cc S4C engine, although the smaller N series remained available.
Rally ABC's were also entered into the 1932 and 1933 Mille Miglia road races,] and finished third and fourth at the San Sebastián Grand Prix. Another ABC finished third at the 1929 "Double Twelve" (a 24-hour race broken into two parts, as nighttime racing was not permitted there) at Brooklands.
Rally was not strong enough to survive the economic depression of the early thirties, and the company was shuttered in 1933 (or 1934) after having spent perhaps a little too much on competition efforts. A significant proportion of the limited production of Rally cars have been carefully conserved and see use in classic events.


Sorry for the delay in getting this out.  last week I attended the 2nd annual "Driving History" Conference in Allentown at the NB Collection and the HVA Laboratory. In attendance was the original Bullitt Mustang and the owner, who gave a long story of the car and his family history.

The film set the bar for the many chase scene films that followed, including
"The French Connection," the original "Gone in Sixty Seconds" (1974), and many many more leading up to the "Bourne Identity" and "Fast and Furious" franchises.

Though Bond films are considered to be the true pioneers of the action film and chase scene, the film that truly set the stage for all future Hollywood chase sequences was the much celebrated scene from the film Bullitt. This chase featured all of the essential components that would become a necessity for all future chases: high speeds, fast turns, and of course, plenty of destruction. The cars involved in this classic were McQueen's 1967 Ford Mustang GT390 fastback (the Mustang was among the most popular of cars to be featured in films of this era, and this has probably contributed to the “icon” status that these original Mustangs carry) and a 1968 Dodge Charger 440. McQueen, playing the character of a San Francisco detective in a plot that is far from clear at times, senses that the Charger, carrying two bad guys, is following him. He quickly turns left while the Charger is caught in traffic, doubles back, and he closes in on the Charger from behind. Realizing this, the driver of the Charger tries to outrun Bullitt. What followed were two cars flying through the streets of San Francisco at speeds upwards of 110 mph, leaving hubcaps, wrecked cars, and an injured motorcyclist in their wake (the stuntman who drove the motorcycle in the scene was actually the same person who performed most of the driving of the Charger). The Mustang eventually caught the Charger, shotgun blasts follow, and finally McQueen rams the Charger off of the road, where it explodes spectacularly. McQueen, who had earlier received accolades for his motorcycle driving in The Great Escapeand did his own driving in the chase, set the standard for all similar scenes that followed. 
            The cinematography in Bullittwas unique, since it was the first film to use a new Arriflex camera design exclusively during production.42Specific camera placement resulted in unprecedented realism. A Chevrolet camera car, named the “Bullittmobile,” took close-up shots of the actors and stunt men at high speeds. Additionally, a camera mounted on the Mustang resulted in the perception of high speeds without having to break away to a speedometer shot. Cameras were also placed on the sides of the cars, as well as on the street.
            McQueen’s love affair with automobiles went back to his childhood.43At age 13, along with a friend, he built a dragster using a Ford flathead V-8 and a Model A frame. Once he became established as a leading actor, his interest in automobiles turned to sports car racing, and between 1959 and 1970 he participated in at least twenty races in all classes and on all types of tracks, including Sebring. Invited by Sports Illustrated in 1966 to test eight exotic sports cars, McQueen said of himself that “I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races or a racer who acts.”44His car collection included a 1961 Austin Mini Cooper S, a 1963 Ferrari Lusso Berlina and a 512, a Jaguar D-Type XKSS, and three Porsches – a 356 Speedster, a 917, and a 908. 
            McQueen followed Bullitt with the Le Mansin 1971, a remarkable film in its own right, but only popular with a small group of racing and Porsche devotees who appreciated the film’s attention to detail. Cast as Michael Delaney, an American driver who was severely injured in a racing accident at Le Mans the year before, McQueen is drawn to Lisa Belgetti (played by Elga Andersen), widow of a Ferrari driver, who was killed in the same accident. Delaney’s chief racing rival is Erich Stahler (Siegfried Rauch), who is driving a Ferrari. With spectacular cinematography and a sensitive portrayal of the French countryside and fans, Le Mans was undoubtedly the best film depiction of European racing of that era. For McQueen, it proved to be an obsession that never paid off. Essentially  a docudrama, Le Mans failed to resonate with American audiences since it had no dialogue during the first forty minutes, character development was poor, and the stilted dialogue deadening. But for McQueen, it was the ultimate racing film that he always wanted to make.