Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Revenge fo the Electric Car: Tesla IPO and the Future

Behind the wheel of a Tesla at the Detroit Auto Show, 2009
Hi folks -- as many of you have heard, the Tesla IPO yesterday proved to be the one bright spot during an otherwise dismal day on Wall Street. A few years ago I was very much in to learning about Tesla, as I hosted at UD Chelsea Sexton, one of the key characters in Chris Paine's documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" And while I have not driven a Tesla -- I did sit in one at the Detroit Auto Show in 2009 -- I did see one up close at Paine's home back when.

Yes, the Tesla roadster is expensive, and has a limited market, and there are some other drawbacks as well. And to be sure, the next model, a sedan that ill cost some 50k if projections are right, is still in the distnace. But Tesla has engineering technology that no one else owns, and Tesla has all the organizational energy that is lacking in Michigan. Telsa has "Iron Man" Elon Musk at the top of its leadership, and it is doubtful that anyone at the Detroit Three has that kind of panache. Analyst Mary Ann Keller, certainly knowledgable and an industry insider at the very highest level, argues that future of Tesla is perilous, as it must compete in a tough automobile, not technology marketplace. And maybe she is right.

The issue here is really economy of scale. If the battery-powered electric can achieve high volume production, then costs and prices will come down. But can that level be reached? The auto industry has a long history, after reaching maturity, of squashing outside. Just think about Tucker, Crosley, Kaiser-Frazier, and other entrants.

What could change the entire game however is what may happen in the Middle East. One wrong move against Iran -- might bring the whole internal combustion engine/gasoline matrix down on its knees. And Tesla will be there with an alternative technology ready to fill the gap.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How can we have true financial reform if automobile dealers are excluded from the Bill that President Obama will sign on July 4!!

Hi folks -- more smoke and mirrors from the federal government! The financial reform bill hailed as a great victory by the Obama Administration and for the American consumer excludes auto dealers -- those who actually write up 80% of all loans issued to the public. The dealers have Congress in their pockets, and consequently this Bill, which is seen as placing new rules in place that will reign in the banks, does actually very little in terms of changing the lives of ordinary Americans and their most common financial dealings. So it goes back to the old question of who owns this government? Not you and me, because we haven't paid for it! It is the lobbyists and their backers that hold the purse strings, and the Obamaites wants to make us feel that we are gaining new freedoms, when in actuality we are more manipulated than ever.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Great Happy Brithday to Me! The Kettering Cruise-In, June 25! Pictures of dashes from a 1948 Ford, 1956 Corvette, 1959 Thunderbird, 1964 Riviera

The cruise-in folks who get there early!
From a 1948 Ford
From a 1956 Corvette
From a 1959 Thunderbird
From a 1964 Buick Riviera

OK, I am a little vain to wish myself a happy birthday. But it does mark another year on planet earth, and for that I am very grateful. I try to use the birthday as a way of getting out of doing work around the yard, but it did eventually catch up with me today (June 26). Boy, do I hate using the weed-wacker!
Anyway, I had the chance to get down early to the Kettering cruise-in yesterday, and I never regret making the stop, even if only for a few minutes. There was only one other Porsche that I saw there, a freshly painted 914, although it look like it had a previous hard life on the streets.

Attached are a few photos of cars that struck me as interesting. Note that I am focusing on dashes this time around, perhaps because of Dr. Garten's previous post on my blog.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A 1956 Pink Ford Victoria and a Powerful Father's Day Message from Colleague Ed Garten

Less than a year after my father brought home the "Vicky" he made the decision to abandon his family: My mother and my sister and me. He ran off with "that old hussy" as my mother typically loudly proclaimed. He did, in fact, run off with "the younger woman" and, after the divorce never made good on his obligation for child support. I grew up, went off to college and eventually graduate school, and in the spring of 1982 we were living in Tennessee when the phone rang late at night. I answered the phone and the voice on the other end said: "Edward, this is your father.........I understand that I have a grandson. I would love to come and see him............and you." A quarter of a century later my real father wants to come back into my life and being the good Christian that I try to be I said: "Sure, drive down to Tennessee..........let's get reacquainted." He did, and until his death I made attempts to understand him and tried in every way to be kind and gentle as a son. I never really totally forgave him for abandoning me, however, nor did I totally forgive him for never being there for me for those intervening twenty-five years.
I recall him holding my son on his lap now 28 years ago and crying over and over: "all those years, all those wasted years.....", the thought now occurs to me that someone once said "To have a child is to have a heart walking outside your body." With my own son, I've known that thought every moment of every day. I wish my father had known that. Perhaps he did, perhaps he never was able to tell me.
But I still have memories of me crawling into the driver's seat of that 56 "Vicky." Sometimes all we have are our memories. How many of our cherished memories are associated with one or more motor car?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day: My Father's Worst Nightmare -- a 1958 Plymouth

My father waxing the "yellow bomb," probably in 1962. He never had much luck with cars, except Chevys. The 1958 Plymouth had to be our worst, despite its flash and good looks. it burned oil to the point that my cousin used to joke that we would go to a gas station to "check the gas and fill up the oil." it was a disaster -- leaving clouds of blue smoke in the NYS Thruway as we traveled on our summer vacation to Lake Placid. Not all car memories are good memories, to say the least!

Hi folks -- got a call from my daughter from SD this morning -- sure do miss her! Also miss my own father, now long gone (October 25, 1983).

Best wishes,

Friday, June 18, 2010

An Accident With Our 1996 850 Turbo Volvo Wagon -- A not-so-pleasant experience with Carl's Towing and Body Shop from Dayton, Ohio!!

Hi folks -- it has been a long week, especially for my wife Kaye. On Monday around noon Kaye was involved in an accident that was not her fault near the corner of SR 725 and Lyons Road in Centerville/Washington Township Ohio. Essentially what happened was that an 81 year-old man ran a red light just as Kaye and another driver were moving into the intersection from the South to the North. Maybe the old man stepped on the accelerator rather than the brake, but whatever the case he struck the driver's side front of the Volvo and pushed our car into a 2009 Pontiac Vibe that was in the far right lane. Thus the black Volvo was now trapped in a kind of "V." Kaye was OK, although she did hit her head on the driver's side window, but after being checked out was declared OK by the EMTs.

The flat-bed tow trucks came, pulled apart the cars, but the story was only beginning.

I had our car towed to Carl's Body Shop on Wayne Avenue in Dayton. The next day appraisers came out to look at the car. Although the old man was clearly at fault and got a ticket, for whatever reason, our insurance company, Allstate, was chomping at the bit to get involved. And involved they became, giving us a very low-ball estimate and declaring the car a total loss! At least the old man's insurance company gave us something more fair in terms of damages. So I can't even trust our own insurance company in these matters. It seems that everyone wants to nick or cheat you.

Then the fun began with Carl's. Joe, the guy we had in charge of estimating the damages, is perhaps incompetent. Or may be they wanted the car after the decision to total so they could either fix it up or sell the car for parts -- and this car was immaculate an the damage not very severe at all. The problem with their comments was that I simply know too much -- too much about the availability of parts for the car, too much about parts costs. We still need a definitive check on body alignment, but the cost of replacing two fenders, a front bumper, a set of left lights, etc. should not be that much. In sum, there was perhaps shady deal going here and we stopped it. And so should you if you get in that situation.

The final straw with Carl's centered on the keys to the car once we decided to have the car taken to another place. Point blank I asked where the key were before the tow truck came, and it was said with the car. But, no, they were not, and thus I had another trip to make before it was all over. And I must respectfully say that I cannot recommend anyone to take their vehicle to Carl's Body Shop!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Brief Review of Miranda Seymour's Bugatti Queen

Hi folks -- Bugatti Queen is one of the best casual reads that I have experienced during the past few years. It goes to show you that a non-auto history specialist can weave together a compelling story that is far more engaging than most of the literature on auto racing or auto history currently out there. Once I opened the book there was no putting it down.

Miranda Seymour's Bugatti Queen: In Search of A French Racing Legend (New York: Random House, 2004) centers on the life and times of Helle Nice (1900-1984). A postmaster's daughter, born with the name Helene Delangle, she lived a checkered life at best -- dancer, automobile racer of the first rank, racing accident victim, accused Gestapo informer, and obscure old woman owning a Simca and living on charity. But what a character! I will leave it to you to pick up this book and won't spoil the story by giving you details. That said, a fascinating, sexy woman whose life reflected the best and worst of her milieu. With one summer and fall in the U.S. in 1930, Seymour's account of that experience fills an interesting gap in a social and cultural history on a broader topic that remains to be written.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Suicide by Automobile, Part II: the Overlooked Connection between Suicides and Motor Vehicle Fatalities

Porterfield’s work was followed up beginning in the 1970s by the most important of all researchers on the topic of motor vehicle suicides, David P. Phillips. Phillips break through article, entitled “Motor Vehicle Fatalities increase Just after Publicized Suicide Stories,” was published in 1977 in Science. Phillips discovered that after a well-publicized suicide car fatalities increased measurably. Indeed, the more a suicide received media attention, the greater the number of automobile fatalities. Phillips began his investigation by examining closely the data from California. Studying the archives of the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, Phillips based his method on one particular case study, that of Yukio Mishima, a Japanese author.
Mishima killed himself on Tuesday, November 24, 1970. In the experimental period of one week that followed, there were 117 motor vehicle fatalities. This week, then was compared to control weeks (taken from data generated between 1966 and 1973), that is weeks that did not experience any suicide. In sum, the number of motor vehicle deaths from the week of the Mishima case was significantly higher (117 compared to 98.88, or 9.12%).
Phillips extended his examination to the periods immediately before and after a suicide. Reasoning tht if a direct connection did exist between suicides and motor vehicle fatalities, then it would only be after the suicide hit the news that a motor vehicle suicide would occur. Therefore he studied data beginning two days before the suicide, the day of the suicide, and eleven days after the suicide. He then compared this data to his control years, focusing on exactly the same days. The pattern that he uncovered was rather surprising. Phillips found that there was only a slight difference between the week under consideration and the control week two days before the vent, and that the day of the event only a small increase followed. The same was true for the second day after the suicide, but then the third day brought with it an enormous increase in fatalities, some 31.29 % when compared to the control weeks. After the third day the rate of vehicular fatalities decreased precipitously and thus the key finding was that there was a “third day spike.” Further, the rate of subsequent fatalities was also linked to the amount of publicity the initial suicide garnered. If publicity of the event took place in one of the five largest of the California newspapers, then there was a 18.84 % increase in fatalities.
Phillips work was most revealing, but also would come under significant criticism in the years that followed.

To be continued….

David P. Phillips, “Motor Vehicle Fatalities Increase Just After Publicized Suicide Stories,” Science, (1977): 1464ff.
David P. Phillips, “Suicide, Motor Vehicle Fatalities, and the Mass Media: Evidence Toward a theory of Suggestion,” The American Journal of Sociology (1979): 1150ff.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Suicide by Automobile: the Overlooked Connection between Suicides and Motor Vehicle Fatalities

A car sits smashed outside Marina Towers after an apparent suicide jumper landed on it. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune)

Suicide by Automobile: the Overlooked Connection between Suicides and Motor Vehicle Fatalities

Hi folks, while suicide by carbon monoxide in a garage is a well known action, the use of automobile as a weapon upon self was not understood for quite a long time. Of course the news is filled with stories of suicide bombers, but this is a very different kind of act, not directed intentionally towards others. Here is the beginning of a study on the history of the subject.

Draft copyrighted 2010

John Heitmann

Department of History

University of Dayton

Dayton, Ohio 45469

While research on suicide has a long history, the motor vehicle’s complicity in suicides was not studied until the second half of the 20th century. It remained until the 1980s before this specific area was closely examined, theories proposed, and controversy followed.

During the late 19th century Emile Durkheim emerged as the first significant scholar in studying when, where, and why suicides took place and his work along with those who immediately followed pointed to some important “truths.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, it was found that more suicides happened in the spring than in winter, although more suicides did occur around the coming of the New Year and were more prevalent at the beginning of a month rather than the end. Yet, this body of work was totally divorced from any considerations about how the automobile might serve as a tool in a suicide attempt. It remained until the 1960s before researchers began to tie in automobile use or misuse with the self-termination of life. Until then fatal accidents were normally attributed to three main causes: speed, incompetence, or alcohol.

In 1960, Austin L. Porterfield published a seminal study "Traffic Fatalities, Suicide, and Homicide" in the American Sociological Review. Porterfield argued that there was a direct correlation between the rate of suicides and homicides in a given geographical area and motor vehicle deaths. Consequently, drivers living in a specific locus shared a mentality similar to those associated with suicidal and homicidal elements in the population. Porterfield concluded that "it may be predicted that drivers who have little regard for their own lives or the lives o others…will have higher rates of accidents than drivers who place a high value on human life." Basing his work on some sixty metropolitan areas within the U.S., Porterfield drew on previous studies on comparative mortality and uniform crime reports. Yet, self admittedly his work marked only a beginning, as he concluded that "further research…will need to incorporate case studies in accident prone drivers…class, educational, and vocational backgrounds." Put another way, the author ended by says that "if this comparison of suicide-homicide rates of death from traffic accidents stimulated further research, it will have served its purpose."

Austin L. Porterfield, "Traffic Fatalities, Suicide, and Homicide." American Sociological Review (1960): 897.

To be continued….

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Photos of One of the Greats of Early Automobile Racing in the U.S., "Wild" Bob Burman.

Bob Burman, race car driver

[Race car driver Bob Burman and his "Blitzen Benz"]
Photo shows race car driver Bob Burman and his "Blitzen Benz."
Photo shows race car driver Bob Burman and his "Blitzen Benz."
Photo shows race car drivers Bob Burman, Louis Disbrow, Jack Tower, and Joe Grennon

Burman & De Palma

Bob Burman's car after accident - Indianapolis

all photos from the Library of Congress

Bob Burman (23 April 1884 Imlay City, Michigan – 18 April 1916 Corona, California) was an active in the formative years of auto racing. He competed at the Indianapolis 500 in 1911, and was the winner of the first feature race at the track in 1909.

Burman was killed in a road race in Corona, California, when he rolled over in his open-cockpit Puegot. Three spectators were also killed, and five others were seriously injured. His death led Barney Oldfield and Harry Miller to design an construct a race car that incorporated a roll cage inside a streamlined driver's compartment that completely enclosed the driver (called the "Golden Submarine").

Monday, June 7, 2010

Additional Bibliographical Material on the Early History of Automobile Racing in America, Pre-WWII

Poster, 1909

Additional Bibliographic Material on Auto Racing Pre-WWII

Illustrated Speedway News, May 1938-

National Auto Racing News, November, 1934-

Quattlebaum, Julian. The Great Savannah Races. 1957. Rpr. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1983.

Radbruch, Don. Dirt Track Auto Racing, 1919-1941. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004.

Rose, Buz. "Show Biz" Auto Racing: A Pictorial and Written History of IMCA Big Car Racing, 1915-1977. Glendale, AZ: Rose Racing Publications, 2001.

Russell, Jim and Ed Watson. Safe at Any Speed. Marshall, IN: Witness Productions, 1992.

Seymour, Miranda. The Bugatti Queen: In Search of a Motor-racing Legend. London: Simon and Schuster, 2004.

Simone, Daniel John. "Drivers, Dust and Dirt: The History of Auto Racing in Fargo, North Dakota (1903-1969)." MA Thesis, North Dakota State University, 2002.

Taylor, Sec. "Gus Schrader: Auto Racing Champion." Annals of Iowa, 3rd series, 38 (Spring, 1966), 304-8.

Wagner, Fred. The Saga of the Roaring Road. 2nd ed. Boston: Meador, 1938.

White, Gordon Elliot. Kurtis-Kraft: Masterworks of Speed and Style. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing, 2001.

________________. Lost Race Tracks: Treasures of Automobile Racing. Hudson, WI: Iconographix, 2002.

________________. Offenhauser: The Legendary Racing Engine and the Men Who Built it. Osceola, WI: MBI, 1996.

Wilkinson, Sylvia. Dirt Tracks to Glory: The Early Days of Stock Car Racing as Told by the Participants. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 1983.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Some Photographic Images of the Vanderbilt Cup Races

Start of Vanderbilt Race, October 1, 1910

Start of Vanderbilt Cup Race, n.d.

Tracey finishing in the Vanderbilt cup race, for racing cars sponsored by W.K. Vanderbilt, Jr.

Scoreboard at the Vanderbilt cup race, for racing cars sponsored by W.K. Vanderbilt, Jr.

Auto Racing and Women -- some fast and not so fast early women automobile racers

Duchess of Marlborough (Balsan, Consuelo Vanderbilt) leaving Vanderbilt Cup races in auto, amid crowd. Westbury, L.I. Oct. 14, 1905

Woman drives at world's record speed of 109 miles an hour. Mrs. Gwenda Stewart, ... at wheel of her ... bantam car ... in which she seat a world's small-car speed record ... at Montlhery Track, near Paris

Katherine Drexel Dahlgren in her racing auto

[Woman putting water in radiator of Stutz Weightman Special no 26. on Benning race track, Washington, D.C., area]

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bibliography of recent articles on the history of automobile racing in the U.S.

Ahlgren, Carol and Anthone, David. “Bad Roads and Big hearts: Nebraska and the Great Race of 1908.” Nebraska History, 73 (March, 1992), 12-17.

Casey, Robert. “The Vanderbilt Cup.” Technology and Culture, 40 (April, 1999), 358-363.

Chisum, Emmett D. “Crossing Wyoming by Car in 190-8: New York to Paris Automobile Race.” Annals of Wyoming: the Wyoming History Journal, 52 (January, 1980), 34-9.

Clark, George Stephens. “Gasoline and Sand: the Birth of Automobile Speed Racing.” Mankind: the Magazine of Popular History, 3 no. 4 (1971), 14-24.

Cole, Terrence M. “Ocean to Ocean by Model T: Henry Ford and the 1909 Transcontinental Auto Contest.” Journal of Sport History, 18 (Summer, 1991), 224-240.

Dill, Mark. “Barney Oldfield and the Quest of the Louisiana Purchase Trophy.” Gateway, 25 (Summer, 2004), 50-55.

Duncan, John D. “The Great Savannah Races.” Georgia Historical Quarterly, 68 (Summer, 1984), 305-6.

Dunkelberger, Steve. “Ten years on the Auto Racing Circuit.” Columbia: the Magazine of Northwest History, 22 (Summer, 2008), 6-8.

Earl, Phillip I. “New York to Paris via Nevada: the Great Auto Race of ’08.” Nevada Historical Quarterly, 19 (June, 1976), 104-7.

Featherstone, Ray. “The King of Speed: Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker.” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, 15 (January, 2003), 30-39.

Fenseter, J.M. “Indy,” American Heritage, 43 (May/June, 1992), 66-79.

Giamturco, Michael. “The Infinite Straightaway.” American Heritage of Invention and Technology, 8 (1992), 34-41.

Gerber, Timothy. “Built for Speed: the Checkered Career of Race Car Designer Harry A. Miller.” Wisconsin Magazine of History, 85 (March, 2002), 32-41.

Hall Randal L. “Beach Racers: Daytona before NASCAR.” Florida Historical Quarterly, 87 (Summer, 2008), 128-130.

__________. “Before NASCAR: The Corporate and Civic promotion of Automobile Racing in the American South, 1903-1927.” Journal of Southern History, 68 (August 2002), 629-669.

__________. “Carnival of Speed: the Auto Racing Business in the Emerging South, 1930-1950.” North Carolina Historical Review, 84 (July, 2007), 245-275.

__________. “Silent Speedways of the Carolinas: The Grand National Histories of 29 Former Tracks.” North Carolina Historical Review, 84 (July, 2007), 329-330. Review of book by Perry Wood.

Herbst, Keith S. “Engineering for Speed: A Man for All Seasons.” Western New York Heritage, 11 (Fall, 2008), 54-65.

Holan, Mark. “On the Road Again: the Great Auto Endurance Race.” History Magazine, 11 (December, 2009), 20-1.

Kimes, Beverly Rae. “The Dawn of Speed.” American Heritage, 38(November, 1987), 92-99.

Leavengood, Betty. “The Legendary Pennsboro Speedway: Fast Times in Ritchie County.” Goldenseal, 33 (September, 2007), 46-51.

Lewis, W. David. “Divergent Cultures: The American Response to European Dominance in Automobile Racing, 1895-1917.” Icon: Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology, 7 (2001), 1-34.

_____________. “Eddie Rickenbacker: Racetrack Entrepreneur.” Essays in Economic & Business History, 18 (2000), 85-100.

McLaughlin, Jack. “Seattle or Bust.” American History, 38(June, 2003), 18-25.

Messer-Kruse, Timothy. “You Know Me.” Timeline, 19 (May/June, 2002), 2-19.

Nolan, William F. “First to the phoenix Line.” Westways, 71, no. 6 (1979), 51-4.

Nott, Rick. “The Jack Johnson v. Barney Oldfield match Race3 of 1910: What it Says about Race in America.” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History (29 (January, 2005), 39-53.

Manchester, Alan V. “The Great Auto Race: Buffalo and the New York to Paris 1908 Automobile Race.” Western New York Heritage, 10 (2008), 26-40.

Peterson, Walter F. “Barney Oldfied Turns a Plowhorse into a Race Horse.” Northwest Ohio Quarterly, 35 no. 3 (1963), 122-8.

Pierce, Dan. “For Gold and Glory.” Journal of Sport History, 31 (Spring, 2004), 111-113.

Rossano, Geoffrey L. “Long Island Goes to the auto Races: the Great Vanderbilt Cup controversy of 1904.” Long Island Historical Journal, 3 (March, 1991), 231-244.

Scott, Cord. “The Race of the Century – 1895 Chicago.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 96 (March, 2003), 37-48.

Scott, Roy V. “the Great Savannah Races.” Journal of Mississippi History, 46(September, 1984), 260-262.

Seward, Bill. “103 Miles an hour in 1915.” Annals of Iowa, 36 (Winter, 1962), 215-217.

Simone, Daniel J. “Horsepower and Horse Tracks: The Fargo Auto Races of 1915.” North Dakota History, 74 (2007), 36-43.

Waters, Alvin W. “The Twin City Motor Speedway.” Minnesota History, 60 (December, 2007), 304-311.

Yanik, Anthony J. “Detroit’s First Automobile Extravaganza: the Glidden Tour of 1909.” Chronicle: the Bi-Monthly Magazine of the Historical Society of Michigan, 23 (1987), 14-15.