Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rides for Retirees -- Tricked Out Out Wheels -- Hot Golf Carts!

Since we have Carolyn Ludwig now almost retired, I thought I would give her some ideas on what her next wheels might look like.

Driving empowers us. Our vehicles, no matter what they might be, provide us with both real and imagined opportunities in life. Mobility gives us freedom, and at every stage of life technologies give us that. it might be a stroller when we are infants, a tricycle and then bicycle in early adolescence, and it might be a golf cart or a Jazzy when we get old.

In retirement communities from Florida to Arizona, and planned communities like Peachtree City in Atlanta, tricked out golf carts are the rage. The can serve as second vehicles, and take their owners shopping, to the mall, and of course around the golf course. They are modified both internally as well as in terms of external design. Speed cut offs can be shunted, larger tires and wheels added, 1400 watt stereos attached -- all to keep folks in places like Sun City in Arizona happy and healthy. They can cost upwards of $20,000 or more, but why scrimp?
The electric car is not just in our future as highway drivers, but also as those us us about to retire and enjoy the good life. The good life with an attitude!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thank you, Carolyn Ludwig! -- 1936 Chevrolet

On Friday, October 2, we are celebrating the retirement of Carolyn Ludwig, my assistant while I was Alumni Chair in Humanities. Carolyn's time at the University of Dayton spanned some 49 years. During that time she held numerous positions, and positively touched the lives of many faculty students and staff with her kind and gentle manner. She began in 1960, fresh out of high school, and worked for Brother Mann in College of Arts and Sciences office. Dwight Esinehower was president of the United States then, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series (perhaps the best game 7 in history!), Chubby Checker topped the pop charts with "The Twist," and I was in the 6th grade.

Later she moved on to the Athletic Department, where she briefly got to know Harry Bajuan, "The Blond Beast," and where she worked directly under Tom Frericks. She was there when the UD arena was constructed, and when Elvis performed in concert there. After a stint in the College of Arts and Sciences again, she became the first and to date only administrative assistant for the Alumni Chair in Humanities, working with Professors Gene August, Michale Barnes, Richard Benedum, and lucky me. Carolyn kept the trains running on time, the symposia organized, the materials ordered, and much, much more. She also assisted Graul Chairs Eric Street and Sean Wilkinson. Carolyn knew who to see and where to go, no matter what the problem.

The inserted photo is that of Carolyn on the hood of a mid-1930s Chevrolet. For several generations Americans had their photographs taken with their cars -- it was that important to them. And like Carolyn today, she seems to have everything under control. This time it was with rope over the hood ornament! A pretty serious little girl!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

VW Porsche Reunion, Cincinnati, September 27

Hi folks -- another rainy and gloomy morning in Ohioland, but that didn't keep VW and Porsche owners from coming out with their cars to Mark Schlacter's annual VW/Porsche reunion, held at GE Park. The morning started out dark, cold (for September) and drizzly. It seems we have had this weather almost non-stop for a week, with just enough breaks to cut the grass before the next rain event comes. How I ever decided to come to Ohio 25 years ago is now beyond my comprehension, although I can explain it away as a thought disorder.

There were plenty of VWs of all kinds, although I did not see many Karmann-Ghias. And these shows brings out all kinds of nuts, like the Kuebelwagen guy with his guns mounted on the vehicle and ready to go. Actually, I took great offense at his SS sticker on the car, and should have told him so. Only now as I think back to it and that sticker have I concluded that I was morally weak. I wonder if this owner ever was shot at or killed someone in combat. Some historical artifacts need not be brought back to us so faithfully. And indeed, I don't know if Kuebelwagens were actually marked with SS designations. Third Reich nuts!

The Porsches shown -- there were about 27 or so -- were uneven in terms of quality and historical merit. I wonder about these folks who want a concours prize for their 2008 vehicles. It seems to me to be a lame attempt at some sort of psychological gratification. And I have to say that Porsche owners are a strange breed. Some are so self-centered I certainly don't want to be around them. They have missed the point.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Clean, Green, Diesels -- Will they find an American Market?

Gasoline carbon content per gallon: 2,421 grams
Diesel carbon content per gallon: 2,778 grams

Clean Diesel as the “green alternative”

When I was in Germany earlier this year I rented two clean Diesel automobiles. In fact, it seemed that in the moderate car rental price range the only cars I could rent were Diesel-powered vehicles. In Germany about 40% of autos sold are diesels, and they get 30%+ more miles per gallon. I drove an Audi A4 Diesel over 1000 km, and found it to be a comfortable and economical vehicle. Since these German cars are turbo-charged, performance was more than adequate. Although once I got the car over 200 km/hr on the autobahn, it felt like I was leaving the envelope of safety and total control. Noise, always an issue with the Diesels that previously came to the U.S. (mostly M-B or VW), was only noticeable at idle. Once the car got going, it was as quiet as any ICE-powered car.

The other factor that was different in Germany than currently in the U.S. was the price differential for Diesel fuel, as in Germany Diesel was less than regular gasoline, whereas in the U.S. due to environmental measures, the cost comparison is the other way around. The drop in sulfur content in refined Diesel had upped the price of the fuel, but made it far more environmentally friendly. However, NOX emissions remain an engineering problem, one that M-B solved with their urea injection system. Honda, however, has accomplished this just a effectively with an elegant system of their own.

The second Diesel that I rented, a VW Golf, was not as positive experience, as I was involved in a crash with it that my have been partially attributed to a lack of punch (and of course my driver judgment). Diesels are simply not that quick from standing start, and I wonder if American drivers will accept these cars because of this. The fact that electrics have such high torque and are so fast from standing start may make them the long-term favorite in the American market. We are a 0-60 nation of drivers.

Another shortcoming of the older Diesels was their difficulties in starting in cold temperatures. European climates are more moderate that that of the most northerly states. However, since the migration of some many Americans to the Sun Belt, I doubt that will be a major issue in marketing these cars. Additionally, Americans still have the memory of Diesel buses and large trucks with their dirty exhaust fumes, and so the German car makers are going to have to overcome a historical legacy. We all remember getting behind a dirty bus.

There is no doubt that since the first auto Diesel was marketed by M-B in 1935 – and especially the importation M-B and VW Diesels beginning in the late 1960s, that there were great advantages to these cars. Above all, they are incredibly rugged engines, and are durable well beyond a comparable ICE. They are relatively simple. But because of the need for thicker cylinder walls, and expensive injection pump mechanisms, they are also more expensive to make.

Finally, for some Americans green means getting away from any fuel combustion system. Even though electricity is a product of fossil fuel burning, electric cars are one step beyond the sight of a consumer. If the pollution is out of sight, perhaps it is also out of mind.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Brian Ladd's Autophobia -- a cultural and intellectual history of anti-car arguments

Hi folks -- I keep up with the literature whenever I can, and also try to review auto history books if the opportunity affords it. While I can not tip off too much concerning a future review, I did want to alert readers to this book and to suggest that they consider reading it for themselves. As the title suggests, Ladd examines the various arguments that were made against the automobile during the twentieth century. In so doing, it is a loose ideological history interfaced with an urban context, as cities and roadways are secondary and tertiary loci of study.
A few off-the cuff remarks. First, it was somewhat surprising to find both a good bit of well-worn material in this book, but on the other hand there are also many interesting sources and topics that have not been thoroughly studied prior to this work. Strong points include car culture literature and film, particularly with origins from the recent past. Additionally, this author is very comfortable with the European scene and foreign language sources, and thus brings in material from Great Britain, France and Germany in virtually every thematic case study. So Bravo, Mr. Ladd for refusing to focus on just one country as so many scholars have done in the past.
Secondly, even after reading the book, this reader still does not clearly understand why the automobile became ascendant in Western Civilization. Ladd fails to bring in the phenomenon of demographics, and thus his analysis comes up short when discussing the mass transit automobile debate. City populations exploded not only because of the car, as in the case of Phoenix, but also for other reasons not directly related to automobility. Could any mass transit system keep up with the increases in population after WWII, without increasing density to a point of unbearable proportions?
Finally, does the freedom associated with the car mean far more than mere self satisfying convenience and economic self-reliance. Could it possibly be that the rise of democracies around the globe are somehow tied to a modernizing populace that simply cannot be controlled?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

1949 B.R.M. Grand Prix Racer and Raymond Mays-- Photos

Two photos from the National Archives. BRM was founded by Raymond Mays, who was associated with ERA before WWII. Mays' pre-war successes (and access to German pre-war M-B and Auto Union design documents) led him to build an all-British Grand Prix car for the post-war era as a project that was to reflect a renewal of national prestige in the wake of WWII. With financial and industrial backing from the British motor industry and its suppliers, a trust fund was organized in 1947 -- the British Racing Research Trust.

On December 15, 1949, the new B.R.M. race car was unveiled. It was powered by a 1.5 liter, V- 16 engine, and had a top speed of 200 m.p.h. This engine was supercharged by a Rolls-Royce system that had been developed primarily for aviation applications. consequently, the engine was powerful, but useful only within a limited range of speeds.

The car, driven by Reg Parnell, won the GP at Goodwood in 1950, but the power plant had serious limitations in terms of reliability which limited its future use. Indeed, this version of the B.R.M. would not win again, and a string of embarrassing failures followed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Art Cars -- Individuality and Mass Production

hi folks -- above are some photos taken by my sister-in-law in Houston of a recent art car parade. In my book The Automobile and American Life, I discuss the paradox of our love of the automobile and its reflection of our individuality verses the fact that the automobile is an inanimate, mass produced thing, the consequence of uniform machining processes and economies of scale. Yet, we often see ourselves as persons tied to this technological system, and modern advertising plays up to this primal emotion.
From the introduction to my book:
To begin with, the automobile is far more than a means of transportation; it is manufactured in all kinds of sizes, shapes and colors so that people can choose that which is best suited to them and best expresses their status, lifestyle and personality.6 It is the job of the automotive stylist and the advertising people to induce those personal feelings inside of us, so that we cannot live without the car of our dreams. Cars are also one measure of our identities. They provide hints to the world concerning our values, aspirations, and our present-day economic situation. Who among us has not felt the effects of depersonalization born out of the bureaucracy of the modern age, with its reliance on badges, identification numbers and cards, form letters, blanket e-mails, and all the rest? And yet there are means for us to assert individuality within a hostile, competitive environment that wants to reduce us and make us faceless. Certainly our automobiles are one rather powerful means to make us feel more important than we really are. Yet they are made of interchangeable parts by largely interchangeable workers.
Styling is an important attribute of the automobile in a way that is certainly unique in American life. Thus, the car is an expression of our individuality as we live in a Machine Age; it is very much like fashionable clothing that moves. Once an accessory market developed in the wake of the uniformly produced and black Model T, cars could be changed to suit personal taste. Therefore, the common citizen could distinguish himself from others. Beginning in the mid-1920s, this trend was accelerated with the development of flexible mass production, so that the range of colors, engine and transmission options, and accessory choices seemed nearly limitless. For example, in 1965, the Chevrolet division of General Motors offered 46 models, 32 engines, 20 transmissions, 21 colors plus 9 two-tone options and more than 400 accessories.7 Designer cars and sport utility vehicles bearing the names Bill Blass and Eddie Bauer have taken this desire for individual expression to the next level. But it is more than simply style. A Hyundai Tiburon has a serious style to it. It is Brand as well. And the badge that represents that Brand has enormous significance.
The owner of a Mercedes possesses refined elegance. Similarly, a Lexus driver is a person who has wealth often coupled with a sense of economic stability. Audi owners are well-off and like to think of themselves as a bit different. Can anyone behind the wheel of a Porsche be a loser?8
Brands must be protected by their manufacturers at all costs. A C-30 Volvo with a problem of unintended acceleration must be dealt with by the organization immediately and conclusively, for above all Volvos are equated with safety. Some would argue that the Depression-era decision to broaden the Packard market base beyond its elite niche to the middle classes might have temporarily saved the company, but in the long run weakened the Brand.
Psychologists have asserted that the colors of our vehicles tell much about the owners. Supposedly, cars are usually painted in bright colors and primary tones like yellows, light blues and reds during economic boom times. On the other hand, when the economy cools, so do the colors to include gray, brown, and dark blue. On one website the following is listed about colors and who you are:
Black: First choice of ambitious drivers who want to project an image of success.
Red: You’re outgoing and impulsive with a youthful attitude, but easily bored.
Silver: You have great style and are often successful, but tend to be pompous.
White: The first choice of doctors and drivers who are reliable and methodical.
Gray: expresses understated good taste and indicates a safe, cautious driver.
Blue: A team player who’s sociable and friendly, yet lacks imagination.9
To further individualize our cars, in more recent times we have resorted to “identity bracelets,” or vanity car tags that allow us to get in a final word about ourselves. These vanity tags may be official state license plates or custom tags that are especially popular in states where is only one tag is required on the rear of the automobile. Of course names are important, proper or otherwise, including: “Parrot Head,” “High Roller,” “Country Boy,” and “Pork Chop.” So too are religious inscriptions, like “Meet Me in Church on Sunday,” “Galatians 2:20,” “Happy Christians,” “Prayer Changes Things,” or the sign of the fish, a fish encircling the name of Darwin, or cross. Then there are business names, patriotic license plates, and names and inscriptions about sweethearts.10
We often have a relationship with this mass-produced machine, right or wrong, demented or healthy. As in a more primitive society where one has a relationship with animals where both partners profit from it – say the North American Indians who once relied on the buffalo for their existence – we live in a largely urban, third wave industrialized post-modern society, where we identify and depend on the car.11 We repay it with a passion often bordering on obsession. It is that affinity, or love, that results in our naming these machines Lulu, Lazarus (because it was raised from the dead), Betsy, Bessie, Freddy, Nellie, Pumpkin, Little Willy, White Pony, and so on. We talk to these machines as if they have a mind of their own, pleading with them to go another mile in a violent rainstorm, or in extreme hot or cold temperatures. We also pray for them, no different than for an afflicted relative, as we drive through a storm or sense a faltering motor as we drive down a lonely stretch of highway.
For my generation, and the two generations before it, the automobile was at the center of our family life. It was so important that many of my photographs that include my mother, father, relatives and me feature an automobile at the center of the photograph. For a family whose fortunes were ravaged by the rise of Nazism and World War II, the progression of our family photos reflected our annual increased fortunes, as well as the well-dressed children who were growing up.
If we think about it, this behavior of attachment to a thing is rather silly, but it is one reflection of an attachment to more than an object. One such relationship is mentioned in the thoughtful book Driving Obsession. It is the case of multimillionaire oil heiress Sandra West, who stipulated in her will that upon her death she be buried in a lace nightgown in her baby-blue 1964 Ferrari, with the seat comfortably slanted. In 1977, with West dead, her executor, eager to comply with instructions because only then would he inherit $5 million, precisely followed instructions and buried her in a 9-foot deep concrete tomb at the wheel of her beloved car.12 Communities also bury cars. In 1957, the citizens of Tulsa, Oklahoma buried a 1957 Plymouth, using it as a 50-year time capsule. Oil, gasoline, and a case of Schlitz beer were put in the trunk, just in case these commodities would not be available in 2007.13 Unfortunately, 1957 Plymouths were prone to rust even without being buried, and thus when the car was unearthed during the summer of 2007 it was a near blob of rust, although its elegant Virgil Exner designed fins remained clearly recognizable.
For many Americans the automobile – the apex of twentieth century mass production technology – is also at the heart of an internal contradiction concerning individuality. Out of a drive for sameness and regularity, born on an assembly line so ably but comically depicted in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times or Ben Hamper’s Rivethead, we achieve the ultimate expression of self and personal freedom. At the extreme of expressions of individuality we have art cars. Harrod Blank, who wrote a book and made a video on the topic, has perhaps done more than anyone to publicize these very funny examples of artistic desire, like that of Volkswagen with a television mounted on top, a car covered with glued buttons, or a vehicle possessing scales imitative of a fish.14
Indeed, it can be said that cars are an art form, as Le Corbusier commented in 1928 when he claimed that the car was as powerful a symbol of the Machine Age as the Gothic Cathedral was to the Middle Ages. They can be very beautiful – or ugly – things, but whatever the case, we worshiped them at mid-twentieth century and for some, our obsession with them continues to this day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Marmon Automobiles at the Dayton Concours, September 20, 2009

Hi folks, yesterday, under threatening and then rainy skies, the Dayton Concours was held at Carillon Park. this years' featured marques were Marmon, Mini, and Morgan. I was a member of the team of three that judged the Marmons pre-1927. The above photos are all of Marmons, with the most prominent car being the "Wasp" that won the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911.
When I think of Marmons, I think of the Marmon Meteor that Ab Jenkins set a speed record in 1936, or the 16 cylinder Marmons of the early 1930s.
400 Marmon Sixteens were produced in just three years. The engine displaced 491 cubic inches and produced 200 hp. It was an all-aluminum design with steel cylinder liners and a 45° bank angle. Marmon discontinued automobile production in 1933. But included in its legacy was the introduction of the rear-view mirror as well as pioneering both the V16 engine and the use of aluminum in auto manufacturing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Frankfurt Auto Show -- Some Early History

Hi folks -- Currently the big auto news centers on the International Motor Show or Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA) held in Frankfurt , Germany. This biennial event showcases many new models and concept cars. It is especially important this year because of the massive technological, design and organizational /structural changes that have been recently experienced on a global scale. Yet, there is no history of this event outside of a few web page posts that are very incomplete and superficial. Why was the event held in Frankfurt rather than Berlin? To what degree did Cold War mentalities figure in the event? How is the German industry organized and what is the function of the trade association (VDA) who represents the German auto industry? We need to know more about the related politics both within and outside Germany.
The Germans held numerous important car shows in Berlin during the 1930s, as the Nazi government used the event to showcase new models, including the VW Beetle. After the war, between 1947-49, Hannover's Messe Hall was used for automobile and auto accessory manufacturers to showcase their products to the public.
In April of 1951 a public auto show open to the public took place in Frankfurt, and 570,000 visitors came to the event. Six months later, the first IAA took place in Frankfurt. That same month 290,000 car hungry people attended a similar event in Berlin, labeled an Auto Salon. These two gatherings reflected the rebirth of the German auto industry.

The brochure above is in my possession and is an important bit of ephemeral material on the 1951 show.

History of the Mobilgas Economy Runs, Part I

Hi folks -- below is the first part of a paper that I delivered at the last biennial conference of he Society of Automotive Historians, held in Nashville in 2008. I urge all of you who are interested in automobile history to join the SAH (see their website for information) and to consider presenting a paper at the next conference, to be held in Tupelo, MS (not too far from Memphis) in March of 2010. If you have questions that I can answer about the SAH or the conference, do not hesitate to contact me.
If you grew up in the 1950s or early 1960s and were interested in cars, you undoubtedly remember the Mobilgas Economy runs. What follows is to my knoweldge the only scholarly history of an event that was the largest single public relations effort of any corporation during the immediate post-WWII era.

Your Mileage May Differ: The Mobilgas Economy Runs, 1936-1968

John A. Heitmann
Alumni Chair in Humanities and Professor of History
University of Dayton
300 College Park
Dayton, Ohio 45469-1549

On April 22, 1953, Les Viland, piloting a Ford Mainline 6, arrived at Sun Valley, Idaho and won the Mobilgas Economy Run Sweepstakes Trophy, averaging 27.0335 miles per gallon.[1] Viland covered 1206.1 miles over a course that varied in altitude from 19 feet above sea level to 7383 feet. A Ford engineer with previous experience in the Mexican Pan America road races, Viland, his relief driver, and two observers from the American Automobile Association (AAA), wound their way from Los Angeles through Bakersfield, Fresno, Stockton, Carson City, Reno, Boise, and Twin Falls, before arriving at the final resort destination. For his efforts, Les collected a bonus of $500 from his employer. Yet, in retrospectively reviewing this accomplishment and drawing on documents for the Ford Archives, it appears that Viland’s victory was tainted, for Ford executives working in Dearborn deliberately broke contest rules.
Prior to the Run, Detroit News automobile editor Ralph Watts had reassured readers that despite charges that previous winners were not driving stock vehicles, “cars are chosen without advance warning from factories, dealers’ showrooms, and even boxcars by the American Automobile Association….”[2] Thus, according to Watts, Viland’s forthcoming victory was based on driving skill, not the particular vehicle that he drove.
.Indeed, the mileage achieved by an ordinary customer driving an ordinary car probably differed from that of Viland’s, not only due to the factor of driving ability, but also as a result of mechanical issues.[3] As it turned out, a large number of cars were specially prepared and shipped to Southern California in anticipation of the event. Some fifty specially readied cars, with engine tolerances modified and engines balanced, were sent to Los Angeles showrooms and the Long Beach factory in anticipation of the AAA Contest Board vehicle selection. At Ford factories, even production schedules and tire sizes were changed so that more economical versions could be homologated. While one cannot be sure that Viland actually drove one of these special cars, certainly his results must be called into question.
To single out Ford, however, would be wrong. To the firm’s credit, it appears that Ford Motor Company left the only records that illustrate what perhaps took place on a broader scale.
Given this story, were the Mobilgas Economy Runs merely a sham? What can be salvaged from what was considered as one of the most important automobile competitions of the era? Clearly Ford executives valued the competition so highly that they were willing to subvert the rules to gain a victory. Finally, what can be learned from this study at the intersection of Big Oil with the Big Three?
Ask anyone who read automobile magazines during the 1950s or 1960s, or who paid attention to auto advertising during that “car crazy” era, and they will immediately, but usually only vaguely, remember the Mobilgas Economy Runs. During the 1950s and 1960s, these annual competitions were the most publicized of all corporate promotions. However, unlike “authentic” racing events that have been the topic of numerous histories, these tests of machines and drivers have seemingly been lost in time.[4]
Given our historical sense of the 1950s and 1960s, the Mobilgas Economy Runs seem curious anomalies. The post-WWII Runs were held during a time of stable and relatively inexpensive petroleum prices coupled with rising levels of per capita real wages. Furthermore, as the decade of the 1950s unfolded, this wave of prosperity enabled consumers to demand more powerful engines and accessorized vehicles. And Detroit made them. “Affluenza,” not thrift, characterized the economic lives of most Americans after 1950. Given this social and economic context, why did so many Americans care about a competition that calculated miles per gallon to the second decimal point? What is the deeper meaning of this event beyond a superficial recounting of routes, winners, cars, and corporate history? As an avenue to explore the complex post-WWII American experience, what did the Runs suggest about Americans and their priorities? Apparently, until collective memories of the Great Depression faded, Americans continued to place a high value on thrift.
Between 1936 and 1968 the Run evolved in scale and scope, and ended as a coast-to-coast event. Statistically, the Run left some impressive numbers. Between the years 1936 and 1967 (it was not held between 1942 and 1949), a total of 815 entrants traveled 1,504,117.8 miles, averaging 21.5019 miles per gallon. Even by today’s standards, its winners had remarkable fuel economy numbers; for 4-cylinder vehicles, a 1936 Willys finished with 33.21 mpg; a 6-cylinder 1961 Ford Falcon 32.68 mpg; an 8-cylinder 1938 Ford V-8 28.85 mpg; and finally, a 12-cylinder 1938 Lincoln Zephyr, 23.47 mpg[5] As the 1953 Ford victory suggests, were these numbers a total distortion?
Early Economy Runs and the Gilmore Years, 1906-1941
The Run’s origins were modest and grassroots, but they were often tied to automobile manufacturers. They celebrated the American ideals of utility and economy, held even among the upper classes. For example, in 1906, the Automobile Club of America sponsored a two gallon fuel contest in an effort to see how far each competing car could go. And while a 4-cylinder Franklin won, the criteria for the event involved multiplying weight by distance, and thus an unfair advantage was given to heavier vehicles, a pattern that would be followed in many of these events in the years to come with the ton-mile often used.[6] A second run took place in 1912 between Philadelphia and Atlantic City, and included such marques as American, Lenox, Columbia, Flanders, Moon, Michigan and Krit. Fuel averages ranged from 10 to 22 mpg[7]
Mobil first became involved in these competitions in 1916, when King and Pathfinder cars used Mobil oils in what was labeled “high gear and fuel economy runs.”[8] More significantly, 1916 marked the beginning of the Camp Curry Runs, an annual promotion held until 1926 that was created to show the motoring public how easy and inexpensive it was to drive from Los Angeles to Yosemite. The Camp Curry Runs were small-scale competitions featuring “amateur” participants. In 1926, for example, two of the 12 amateur pilots were women who asserted that “feminine drivers are more careful than men.” [9]
Other examples of early events included the Dallas, Texas Times-Herald Durability and Economy Tour of 1920, where the ton-mile as opposed to the miles per gallon was used as the key performance criterion. Taken from previous Glidden Tour competitions, the ton-mile supposedly leveled the playing field, but in fact conferred a distinct advantage to heavier vehicles. It would be the key statistic used to determine sweepstakes winners in the Mobilgas Runs until 1959, and certainly was a factor in public suspicions about the legitimacy or believability of the event.[10]
Texas was also the scene of similar economy run competitions sponsored by Ford dealers during the 1920s. Local events culminated in a state-wide run that determined an overall winner.[11] These and many other economy runs of the 1920s made sense for the times. They reflected widespread concerns throughout the decade that petroleum reserves were limited and that gasoline might become scarce, quite suddenly.[12] Indeed this fear of running out of oil prompted Charles Kettering and his GM researchers not only to develop the copper-cooled engine but also anti-knock additive tetraethyl lead during the 1920s.[13]
Economy Runs also made sense during the Depression-era years.[14] It was then that developments took place foundational to the first Mobil Economy Runs – or at least Runs sponsored by a West Coast Oil Company that was eventually absorbed into the Mobil corporate structure. The sponsor was Gilmore Oil, and by the 1930s Gilmore was a flourishing firm with numerous branch plants and distributors in California, Oregon, and Washington State. Gilmore also had strong brands, including “Red Lion,” “Blu-Green,” “Roadamite,” “Smacko,” and “Lion Head.”[15] Gilmore’s strength was marketing, and one of its key executives, Clarence Bessemeyer, was responsible for the early Gilmore Runs that officially started in 1936.
Gilmore’s economy run promotions began as early as 1930, and even then women were one focal point of these promotions. For example, in June, 1930 at a 185 mile AAA-sanctioned event that started and ended in Seattle, it was proclaimed that the “Fair Sex Will Test Skill as Motor Misers.”[16] By the mid-1930s Gilmore had hired professional driver Austin Elmore, who quickly distinguished himself as the economy driver in America. Elmore not only gained great publicity for Gilmore with his record-setting 1935 run from Los Angeles to Reno via San Francisco – 34.04 mpg in a V-8 car – but as the firm’s troubleshooter. Elmore handled complaints by demonstrating to owners that one could get 11 to 41% better mileage by practicing “good driving habits.” Using a “mileage vizometer,” consisting of two visible reservoirs mounted to the windshield, Elmore effectively demonstrated that smooth acceleration, maintaining a steady speed, shifting into higher gears whenever feasible, avoiding brakes unless necessary, and always thinking ahead saved substantial amounts of gas.[17]
The first Gilmore Yosemite Economy Run, also publicized as the Gilmore Yosemite Mileage Run, took place in 1936.[18] A Willys 4 led the field by getting 33.21 mpg, but the sweepstakes winners were all heavier automobiles with high ton-miles-per-gallon figures – a Graham Supercharged Six (55.47), Chrysler Airflow 8 (53.35) and Studebaker Dictator 6 (50.98). By comparison, the Willys 4 only achieved 49.48 ton-miles-per-gallon, despite its high mpg The Graham Supercharger 6 would repeat as sweepstakes winner in 1937 and 1938, and a Studebaker Commander 6 took the honors in 1939 and 1940. In 1941 the Gilmore Run’s route was lengthened to include San Bernardino, Barstow, Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, and Kingman, ending at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Again, while a Willys Plainsman earned top honors in mpg with an average of 29.06, heavy Lincolns placed first and second in the sweepstakes. Obviously, the emphasis on ton-miles perpetuated a distortion of true economy, yet assuaged American automobile manufacturers who profited handsomely with every large car coming off the assembly line.
While the automobile companies capitalized on the competition results in their own advertising and promotional campaigns, Gilmore Oil profited most on these events. Gilmore marketing executives asserted that using its “Red Lion” gasoline resulted in more power and more thrift.[19] Put simply, it was claimed that Gilmore gasoline was the best, and as Clay Moore, the driver of the 1938 sweepstakes winner observed, “I get more miles per gallon from Red Lion than any other gasoline.”[20]
[1] “Mobil Economy Run – General Information – 1936 through 1967,” p.3.Box 2.207/F20, File Marketing Advertising Proofs of Performance, Exxon-Mobil Collection, Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
[2] Clipping, Ralph Watts, “Auto Economy Run Test Drivers’ Skill,” Detroit News, April 18, 1953. National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library, Vertical File, “Contests – Economy #1.”
[3] See “1953 Mobilgas Economy Run Proposed Organization and Planning;” G.P. Montagnet to C.T. Dorman, February 5, 1953; C.E. Bowie to E.B. Richard, “Special Awards – Mobilgas Economy Run,” May 13, 1953; C.E. Bowie to G.A. Moss, February 24, 1953. All in Accession 568, File 1953 Mobilgas Economy Run & 1953 Indy Pace Car, C.H. Donohue Records, Car Sales (1950-53), Box 3, Benson Ford Research Center.
[4] To my knowledge, there are three very brief commentaries of the history of the Mobilgas Economy Runs in the literature. See Bryant, David; “The Mobil Economy Run,” Car and Driver, Feb. 1981, pp. 45-6; “Tech Tidbits,” Road and Track, Sept. 2003; Knoll, Bob; “Coast to Coast in the Pursuit of Economy,” New York Times, December 24, 2006. Leo Levine, in his important Ford: The Dust and the Glory: A Racing History (New York: Macmillan, 1968), mentions the Run on three occasions in passing, although he infers that Ford allocated considerable resources to this event.
[5] “Mobil Economy Run – General Information – 1936 through 1967,” Exxon-Mobil Collection.
[6] Clipping, “Mechanical Features of Some Winning Cars in the Automobile Club of America’s Two-Gallon Fuel Contest,” Scientific American Supplement, No. 1585, May 19, 1906, in Vertical File “Contests – Economy #1,” National Automotive History Collection.
[7] “Economy Run History,” news release, March 23, 1958, in Accession 1930, Ford Motorsports Records, Box 2, file Mobilgas Economy Run, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1965, Benson Ford Research Center.
[8] “The King Car Test,” Gargoyle, July 1916, p. 5; “Best Entire Runs: Gargoyle Mobiloils Efficiency Helps Pathfinder and King Cars Break Records on High Gear an Fuel Economy Runs,” Gargoyle, Nov. 1916, p. 3.
[9] Bluvett, Hershel; “25 Years Ago…Along Auto Row,” Los Angeles Evening Herald & Express, Tuesday, March 20, 1951, reprinted in Clymer, Floyd; The 1951 Grand Canyon Economy Run (Los Angeles: Floyd Clymer, 1951), p.56.
[10] “Times Herald Durability and Economy Tour,” Magnolia Oil News, Nov. 1920. A ton mile per gallon is determined by taking the weight of car and passengers in tons, multiplying by miles traveled and then dividing the result by gallons of gasoline consumed.
[11] The Ford Motor Company sponsored events were called Ford Economy Mileage Test Runs. Magnolia Oil News, Feb. 1927, p. 9.
[12] For example, see “Gasoline and Alcohol as Fuels of the Future,” Scientific American, June 1923, p. 381; “Stretching the Gasoline Supply,” and “Doubling the Automobile Mileage Per Gallon,” Scientific American, March 1926, p. 185; Shepard, William G.; “300 Miles to the Gallon!,” Collier’s, Oct.5, 1929, pp. 10-12, 59-60.
[13] Leslie, Stuart W.; Boss Kettering (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), pp.123-180.
[14] Studies conducted during the early 1930s definitively connected speed with gasoline consumption and that pegged 30-40 mph as the most efficient speed in which fuel was conserved. See "Motor Test Shows How Speed Affects Fuel Use," Business Week, February 16, 1932, pp. 16-17.
[15] File, Basic Training Text 500, March 1956, Box 2.207/E213, Exxon Mobil Collection, Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin; Alan Darr, “The Gilmore Oil Company, 1900-1945,”, accessed 10/22/2007.
[16] Clipping, “Northwest Women Drivers to Make Economy Run,” Seattle Sunday Times, June 1, 1930, Exxon Mobil Collection, 2.207/H90, Center For American History, University of Texas at Austin.
[17] Clipping, “Austin Elmore Smashes All Previous Economy Records with New Red Lion!,” Tacoma Times, March 20, 1935, in file 2.207/H90, Exxon Mobil Collection; “Secrets of More Miles Per Gallon,” Popular Mechanics, Feb. 1935), pp. 222-223.
[18] For a cursory history of the Gilmore Runs, see E.J. Sanders, “The History of the Economy Runs 1936 to 1950,” in Clymer, Floyd; The 1951 Grand Canyon Economy Run (Los Angeles, Clymer, 1951), pp. 53-5.
[19] See for example, “Extra Power of Speed Gives Red Lion Thrift,” Gilmore Graphic, March 1935), p. 2; “How Much Gas Did You Use?,” Gilmore Graphic, Aug. 1935), 2; Clipping, “Vote for Red Lion,” The Tacoma Times, October 23, 1936; Clipping, “No Blackout of Mileage in Gilmore-Yosemite Run,” Seattle Daily Times; Clipping, “It’s Mileage Proved,” The Seattle Star, May 18, 1937, all in Exxon Mobil Collection, Box 2.207/H90.
[20] Clipping, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 19, 1938, Mobil Exxon Collection, 2.207/H90.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review of Thus Spake David E

Hi folks,

One of the great things about doing automobile history is that it is never boring. And I never cease to learn more about the topic. During the past week I was in California visiting my daughter and son-in-law, and had the opportunity to stop by the bookshop at one of my favorite public libraries, this one located in Poway, California. Every time I stop there, I find books for sale at very low prices that I have not seen anywhere else in my bookstore meanderings. This time I found a collection of writings by longtime magazine editor David E. Davis, formerly of Car and Driver and later the founder of Automobile. It seems now Davis, in advanced age but possessing the energy of a much younger man, has gone on to publish Winding Road, an electronic magazine that again reflects his creativity and enthusiasm for all things automotive. I am a world apart from him in terms of demeanor and background, but we seemingly share our love for this inanimate object -- the car. And especially sports cars.

This book is one important source that can be used to study the history of the automobile industry, roughly beginning in the 1950s but especially strong in analysis of the 1970s, 80s, and with a touch from the 90s. Davis is a free market, get the government out-of-my-face kind of guy. He writes well, can be very funny at times, and provides insights on many of the key figures involved in the auto business from both sides of the Atlantic. His writing can be brutally honest, as for example when he talks about the character of importer Max Hoffmann. His discussions of the cars he drove make me envious. But what stands out is his sheer love of life -- a no-holds-bar taking on of living and loving, both of cars and women. From the adversity of a disfiguring accident early in his adult life he seeming gained the strength and resolve not only to go on, but to live life to the utmost. Perhaps a bit self centered -- I was surprised he did not include photos of either of his wives in the book -- nevertheless the book celebrates doing things with confidence. Repetitive at times -- and understandably so, since this is a compilation of editor's remarks -- I found this book to be a gem stashed on the back shelf of the Poway library. While the book has been out for a decade, it seems that only now am I catching up.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Eva Peron and her 1949 Ferarri. Where is this car now?

The photo was taken in October of 1949 at the Paris Auto show. On the right is Eva Peron of Argentina with her Superleggera ( light alloy) Ferarri. Can anyone help me with this car in terms of specific model? Anyone know where this car is now?

Rocket Cars from the 1920s and 1930s! Lou Moore and Altons Pietsch

The above photo is that of Lou Moore, a well known auto racer from Santa Monica, CA and his assistants working on a "rocket car." The date is December 31, 1928. Lou Moore (1904-56), most known during his career for qualifying for the pole positionof the 1932 Indianapolis 500. After his driving career, Moore became a legendary car owner. Moore-owned entries won Indy four times, with the final three, from 1947-1949, being the first of to-date two occasions to see three consecutive victories by an owner.

Below are three photos of the world's largest rocket car, and liquid-fueled rocket engine, as of 1931. The chief engineer was Altons Pietsch, the vehicle weighed 4,000 lbs. and the public trial took place at Berlin's Templehof airport on May 3, 1931.
I know very little about the history of these vehicles. After WWII there were several cars powered by jet turbine engines that were built to set land speed records. Yet, the above and below seem to have eluded the work of historians.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tony's 2006 Pontiac GTO: Are the Newer GTOs Faithful to the Mystique?

Hi folks -- a bit different post today. I am in San Diego visiting my daughter Lisa and son-in-law, Tony. Tony is quite the car enthusiast, and not too long ago bought this 2006 Pontiac GTO. It is stock, with the exception of a cold-air intake and Flowmaster exhaust. I had the opportunity to drive the car today, and I must say it has the feel and sounds of of a muscle car from the past. With a six speed and LS-2 engine the car is very quick and agile. How did GM come to the conclusion to end the Pontiac product line with its cars and loyal following, and keep Buick with an aging consumer base? How can people so smart make such dumb decisions? Am I missing something?

Is this version of the GTO the muscle car for the younger generation? Can a car with an Australian DNA genuinely be a part of American car culture? Does Ronny and the Daytonas "Little GTO" echo a spirit that calls forth this car as well as those of the now rather distant past?

Juan Manuel Fangio Photo, Winner of Grand Prix at Pau in a Maserati, 1949

Juan Manuel Fangio ( 24 June 1911 - 17 July 1995), nicknamed "El Chueco" ("knock-kneed") or "El Maestro" ("The Master"), was an Argentinean race car driver who dominated the first decade of post WWII Formula 1 racing. The winner of five F1 championships, many still consider him to be the greatest driver of all time. Born in Argentina in 1911, he began his racing career in Argentina in 1934, driving a rebuilt Ford Model A. Later he drove Chevrolets and became Argentine National Champion in 1940 and 1941. He first came to Europe to race in 1948, funded by the Argentine Automobile Club and the Argentine government.
Unlike most Formula One drivers then and now, Fangio started his racing career at a mature age and was the oldest driver in many of his races. During his career, drivers raced almost without protective equipment. He had no compunction about leaving a team, even after a successful year or even during a season, if he thought he would have a better chance with a better car. As was common at the time, several of his race results were shared with team-mates after he took over their cars during races w8hen his own had technical problems.
Fangio's first entry into Formula One came in the in the French Formula 1 race at Reims where he started from 11th on the grid but retired. He did not drive in F1 again until the following year at but having upgraded to a Maserati 4CLT/48 sponsored by the Automobile Club of Argentina he dominated the event, winning both heats to take the aggregate win by almost a minute over Prince Bira. Fangio entered a further six F1 races in 1949, winning four of them against top-level opposition.

Designer: Ernesto Maserati
Technical specifications
Light alloy ladder
Front Suspension: Independent, torsion springs and friction dampers
Rear Suspension: Live axle, leaf springs and friction dampers
Track-width F: 1,250 mm (49.2 in) R: 1,276 mm (50.2 in)
Wheelbase:2,500 mm (98.4 in)
Engine: Maserati 1,491 cc (91 cu in) straight-4, single-stage supercharger, front mounted
Maserati 4-speed manual
Tires: Pirelli
The Grand Prix de Pau is located in Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiquess, southwestern Francee. The race was first held in 1901, and started running regularly in 1933, with a race being held more-or-less every year since, excluding the years during WWII. The race is run around a street circuitt laid out on the French town, and is in many ways similar to the more famous Formula One Monaco Grand Prix. The race cars are set up with plenty of suspension travel to minimize the effect of running on the typical undulating tarmac of the street circuit.