Saturday, July 31, 2010
A most unusual color on this Porsche 968.
My favorite car of the event -- Kevin from Indianapolis with a blown 911 -- terrific custom body work as well.
Hi folks -- had a great morning in Oxford, Ohio at Porsches to Oxford. Supposedly 500 Porsches were there, and the rain held off. I had to leave at noon to get friend Cliff back to the Dayton area for a birthday party, but in the meantime had four wonderful hours looking at Porsches and talking to a number of super car people. I have attached a few photos -- my apologies to the folks I cannot properly identify in these photos.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
I had an extended conversation with a reporter today about the Mercury brand, due to end this fall, and wanted to share some of my thoughts with you.
At first, I thought I might actually have little to say of substance, but after going through the topic, perhaps there is more than I initially considered.
Three Mercury products loom large in my life. The first is one of those iconic images of a car that burn into your memory early in one's life. It was my cousin Richard's 1954 maroon Mercury, first encountedered when I was about 8-10 years old, that stuck with me for a long time. In my own mind and at the time, I thought it was a very pretty car, particularly its taillights and dimensions. The next Mercury that became a part of my life was a 1974 Mercury Capri, certainly one of the worst if not the worst car that I have ever owned. I bought it new in the fall of 1973, my first new car. It had a 2800cc v-6 and a sunroof, but in the end became a source of major problems due to a clutch cable that kept on kinking on me and repeatedly was replaced. This car was never exactly right. Fianlly, my son-in-law Tony now has a 1967 Cougar that he is working on, and boy it needs plenty of work. I hope to help him get it right when I am in San Diego between January and May of 2011.
What were the great Mercury's from the past?
1) The 1940 Convertible -- an elegant upgrade over the Ford
2) The 1949, the first new post-war model and featured in Rebel without a Cause. Also the starting point of George Barris' best-known custom of the 1950s, after chopping and channeling.
3) The 1954 Sun Valley -- I thought about buying one 20 years ago, but probably my wife would have vetoed the deal.
4) 1957 Turnpike Cruiser -- loaded with gadgets
5) The 1967 Cougar, made famous by the publicity campaign "At the sign of the cat." The high point of the Mercury brand, without doubt.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Francis, Tim, and Fonty Kiss
Hi folks -- This is a great story! Plenty to still unravel here involving Curtis Turner as well. Not your typical authorized NASCAR History.
The Flocks: NASCAR's First Family, What a Bargain!
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Can Race Drivers Speak Up? Barney Oldfield and Fonty Flock. NASCAR, a Family-Owned Business Where Drivers have Little Real Say?
Fonty Flock, one of NASCAR's early greats
Apparently race drivers have little say in the racing game -- rather it is the owners of the tracks and promoters that run the sport. And when they do speak up, they are quickly squelched. Take the historical examples of Barney Oldfield and Fonty Flock, criticizing safety in their day. This is from Speed Age, January, 1958, p.47:
"The name Barney Oldfield still strikes a responsive cord among race fans although the great showman has been among the deceased since 1947. the great blusterer, who never won an international event and only one national championship race, nevertheless was the toast of the automotive world because of his flair for publicity, natural color, and ability to spend money faster than he could earn it. When Barney's name no longer had box-office appeal and when headlines became scarcer and scarcer, the former bellhop turned to driving farm tractors, sitting on flag poles and other tricks aimed to keep the black ink flowing. The complete end came when he turned on the sport,issuing charges and counter -charges following a series of facing fatalities. His by-lined (but ghosted) newspaper series "widows in waiting" is credited with turning the Heast newspaper chain against the sport.
Now comes the greatest showman of the decade, Fonty Flock, in an almost duplicate performance. The handsome bon vivant of the stock car world was once the best driver in the business. his every act, spoken word and performance earned headlines and babies were christened with hsi catchy first name (Fontello). But Flock's last major win was in 1952, and headlines were getting scarce. With only 27 laps of the Southern 500 run, the one-time great spun his Pontiac in Darlington's dangerous Number Three turn and started a chain smash that hospitalized Flock and Paul Goldsmith and took the life of Bobby Myers.
Leaving the hospital the following day wit ha fractured left arm, Flock traveled a 100 miles and call ed a press conference. He blasted the officials at Darlington, called the sport nasty names and got headlines. The following day he did the same thing in another city. All charges were denied vehemently, then ignored when they entered the ridiculous stage. But the result was apparent. two politically powerful Southern newspapers editorialized for legislation to stop stock car racing. Interpretation: Flock was miffed when his last-minute bid for a $500 appearance deal was turned down. Ironically, each of his press conferences were held in cities along the route assigned to him in his new business -- selling stock! Even Barney at his best was never more timely."
Does Flock appear in NASCAR histories? Was he marginalized? Do drivers have much of a say in racing?
Saturday, July 24, 2010
This poem was published in Speed Age, may 1958, and written be Elinor Myerfield of San Francisco. It was dedicated to Bob Sweikert.
You're far from the oil and
Gone forever -- but yet, not lost.
For where cars compete and
speed is king,
Your soul is always on the wing.
Your heart still beats in
Within each driver--you're
To guide their hands upon the
And strengthen nerves like
You whisper caution in their ear
To keep them calm and free
You wish them luck and softly
"Stay safe -- and win another
Now you sleep in a quiet place
While others continue with the race.
But our loving thoughts to every
Will bring your dauntless spirit
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
The Automobile and American Life
Class Meeting: Monday, 3:00-5:50 p.m.
Instructor: Dr. John A. Heitmann
Office: HM 435
MWF 10-10:50 a.m., or by appointment
It has been said that the automobile is the perfect technological symbol of American culture, a tangible expression of our quest to level space, time and class, and a reflection of our restless mobility, social and otherwise. In this seminar we will explore together the place of the automobile in American life, and how it transformed business, life on the farm and in the city, the nature and organization of work, leisure time, and the arts. This is a most complex transition that we will study, as the automobile transformed everyday life and the environment in which we operate. It influenced the foods we eat; music we listen to; risks we take; places we visit; errands we run; emotions we feel; movies we watch; stress we endure; and, the air we breathe.
John Heitmann, The Automobile and American Life (McFarland, 2009).
Cotton Seiler, Republic of Drivers (Chicago, 2008).
Kevin Borg, Auto Mechanics: Technology and Expertise in Twentieth Century America (Johns Hopkins, 2007).
Grades: Course work will consist of seminar lectures, discussions, presentations, films, and optional field trips to the Dayton Concurs and the Kil-Kare Drag Strip near Xenia. Grades will be based on class discussion and 2 three page book review point papers (30%), an assigned book class presentation (25%) and a research paper (45%).
In this class we will define the seminar as a shared learning experience in which one of its purposes is to create new knowledge. Therefore, the research paper is the most significant assignment of this course. It should critically explore an area of knowledge related to the automobile and American life, and ideally should be 15 pages double spaced in length, with footnotes and bibliography, and furthermore draw on minimally 15 sources, primary and secondary. I plan to meet with you individually and collectively during the semester to ensure that your topic has a proper focus and that sources are readily available for your project. A late paper will be penalized one-half letter grade per day.
Among the term paper topics are the following suggestions:
A Reassessment of the Life of Henry Ford II
Edsel Ford and Design during the 1930s
Fast Women -- Women Race Drivers (The Bugatti Queen, Denise McCluggage, and others)
American Board Tracks, 1911-1930
The Vanderbilt Cup, 1936-1937
Eight Tack Tape Players and the Automobile
Sex and the Automobile – either in terms of culture and design, or in terms of sex in cars
Women as Depicted in Automobile Advertising, 1920 - 1980 (you should narrow down the decades)
Seat Belts (or the Airbag, or Crumple Zones) and the Coming of Automobile Safety
Auto Racing Safety, post-WWII -- helmets, roll bars, fire suppression
Automobile Toys -- Ray Cox and the Thimble Drone Racers, etc.
Anti-Auto Literature in America, 1950-1980 (or 1970-2000)
Auto Theft, Organized Crime, and Theft Deterrents
The Automobile and the Environment: California Air Quality after WWII
Automation and the Post-WWII American Auto Industry
Automobile Journalists and Writers – Floyd Clymer
The Automobile and American Literature: fiction written since 1980
The Automobile and Film – Narrow down by decade or genre
Music about the Automobile or about Highways – again, narrow down by period
Drinking and Driving in the 20th Century
Car Jackings and Drive-by Shootings during the 1990s
The Big Three at War: WWII and the American Auto Industry
Industry Pioneers: Hiram Maxim, Alexander Winton, Ransom Olds, or perhaps others
Poetry and the Automobile, narrowed down by period
Buckminster Fuller and his Dymaxion Car; or, aerodynamics, streamlining and culture during the 1930s
The Automobile and Unionism -- Pattern Bargaining
Speed Traps during the 1920s
African-Americans and the Automobile -- use of newspaper databases
Ascot Raceway and the journalists who fought to close it during the 1930s
Hip-Hop and Cars – themes and artists
George Romney and American Motors
You will be required to submit point paper reviews on the books authored by Cotton Seiler and Kevin Borg. These are three page typed short essays that concisely summarize the key theme of each book and discuss how successful each writer was in conveying his or her point. These papers will serve as the starting point of in class discussions.
My book The Automobile and American Life is our key common reading in this class and the touchstone for our discussions. While you will not be tested on this reading, you will be responsible for reading this book and critically commenting on it in class.
Additionally, you must select from the syllabus a book that you will report on to the class at the scheduled time. All books listed are in the Roesch Library or in my possession ; you are to prepare a 20-30 minute presentation in which you discuss the author’s main theme(s), the subject topic of the book and its central narrative, and finally your own assessment of this book and how it enhanced(or stultified) your knowledge and interest in the history of the automobile in America.
Schedule of Assignments and Class Meetings
Week 1 — August 30
Introduction. What our cars tell us about ourselves. The automobile and its inherent contradictions. The automobile in art and as art.
Reading: Heitmann, Introduction.
Film: “Wild Wheels”
Week 2 -- Labor Day, No Class
Week 3 — September 13
Reading: Heitmann, Chapters 1.
Film: “Horatio’s Drive”
Report(s): Michael Berger, The Devil Wagon on God’s Country: The Automobile and Social Change in Rural America, 1893-1929 --; Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons (1918)--;
Week 4 — September 20
Henry Ford, Fordism, and the Model T.
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 2
Films: Mack Sennet, “Gussle’s Day of Rest( 1915).”
“California Straight Ahead,” (1925); “The Crowd Roars” (1932); “Burn ‘Em Up Barnes’”(1934)
Music: Virginia Liston, Bertha Chippie Hill, Robert Johnson
Report(s): Reynold M. Wik, Henry Ford and Grass-Roots America (Ann Arbor, 1972);
Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan, 2009).
Week 5 — September 27
The Rise of General Motors and Sloanism
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 3.
Film: “Roger and Me”
Report(s): Sally H. Clarke, Trust and Power: Consumers, the Modern Corporation, and the Making of the United States Automobile Market (Cambridge, 2007)--; Stuart W. Leslie, Boss Kettering: Wizard of General Motors (Columbia, 1983)--;
Stephen Bayley, Harley Earl (New York, 1990)--.
Short Review of Auto Mechanics is due.
Week 6 — October 4
America on the Road: The Highway and the City;
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 4
Film: “Taken for a Ride”
Reports: Jack Keroauc, On the Road; Warren James Belasco, Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-1945 (Johns Hopkins, 1997) – ; William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways (Boston, 1982);
Report(s): Ashleigh Brilliant, The Great Car Craze: How Southern California Collided with the Automobile in the 1920s (Santa Barbara, 1989) – .
Scott Bottles, Los Angeles and the Automobile (Berkeley, 1987) – .
Week 7 — October 11 Women Behind the Wheel; Religion, Sex, and the Automobile
Readings: Heitmann, Chapter 5
Reports: Virginia Scharff, Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age(New Mexico, 1992) –; Elinor Nauen, Ladies Start your Engines: Women Writers and the Road (Boston, 1996).
Films: “Thelma and Louise;”
Week 8 — October 18
Library and Consultation Day – no class
Week 9 — October 25
The Interwar Years; The Great Depression
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 6.
Reports: David Blanke, Hell on Wheels: The Promise and Peril of America’s Car Culture, 1900-1940 (Kansas, 2007)--; Peter D. Norton, Fighting Traffic: the Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City (MIT, 2008)--;
Week 10 — November 1 WWII and the Reconversion Economy
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 7.
Report: David Gartman, Auto Opium (New York, 1994);
Term Paper Proposal Due; The Completion of a Working Bibliography of no less than 15 Sources, 5 of which are articles.
Week 11 — November 8
Chrome Dreams of the 1950s
Readings: Heitmann, Chapter 8
Report(s): John Keats, The Insolent Chariots (Philadelphia, 1958) – ; Katie Mills, The Road Story and the Rebel: Moving Through Film, Fiction, and Television (Carbondale, IL, 2006) – .
Film: “Rebel Without a Cause;” “Thunder Road.”
Music: Jackie Berenson, Howlin’ Wolf, and Chuck Berry.
Review of Cotton Seiler's Book is Due
Week 12 — November 15
Muscle Cars of the 1960s; Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys
Readings: Heitmann, Chapter 9
Music: Dead Man’s Curve — Jan and Dean; Little Duce Coupe — The Beach Boys; GTO – Ronny and the Daytonas;
Reports: David Lucsko, The Business of Speed : the Hot Rod Industry in America, 1915-1990 (Johns Hopkins, 2008)--; Tom Wolfe, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (New York, 1965) – Tom Lewis, Divided Highways (Viking, 1997) – ; Lee Iacocca, with William Novak, Iacocca: An Autobiography (Bantam, 1984) --;
Film: “Bullitt;” “American Graffiti”
Week 13 — November 22
Safety and the Environment;
Reports: Ralph Nader, Unsafe at Any Speed (New York, 1965); Emma Rothchild, Paradise Lost: The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age (New York, 1973) – ; Jane Holtz Kay, Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take it Back(Crown, 1997); Brock Yates, The Critical Path (Little, Brown, 1996);
Readings: Flink, pp. 295-345.
Film: “The Vanishing”
Term Paper Progress Reports — Entire Class
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Lawrence Welk and a 1956 DeSoto
A 1963 RCA Model
Hi folks -- there is a story here that should be told in print form rather than on the web. Another one of those things in our lives that mean so much to us for a time, only later to be discarded for something better. I wonder how many teenagers during the 1950s and early 1960s worried their parents to death until they went out and bought one of these contraptions!
A reminiscence by former colleague Ed Garten:
"When I was in college, however, one of the guys in the rooming house I lived in had a 1959 Edsel -- jet black -- beautiful (yet ugly) car. He had one of those rare to see little in-car record players under the dash. Most of them would only play 45 RPM records and only one at a time. His favorite 'date night' record was "Unchained Melody." He would play it over and over again in that Edsel."
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Hi folks -- I never had an 8 track player -- maybe just too poor when they came out, or maybe not interested in tunes at the time, or maybe I went directly to the cassette, but in any case I certainly missed a major cultural event. Every once and a while you'll find 8 track tapes at the Salvation Army Thrift Store. Below is some information on the 8 track and the critical role the auto industry had in this technologies acceptance by the consumer.
The next thing Kususto decided was that Motorola would develop the playing mechanism, and that Lear Jet Stereo would develop an absolutely reliable cartridge, a more difficult job than it appears. The first design criterion they decided on was that the tape would have to have 8 channels of information, twice what the Muntz tape cartridge had. Only in this way could they get enough music in each cartridge to make the cartridge practical.
What Lear did to make the tape cartridge what it is today is something that only highly skilled engineers can really appreciate. It wasn’t simply a question of making a device that would reliably pull a continuous loop of tape at a constant speed. That was difficult enough in itself and got him involved in such things as lubricants for the tape which would make the tape just so slippery, and which would neither dry out, losing their slipperiness, or come off the tape and make things that shouldn’t be slippery – the traction wheel, for example – slippery. He also had to make a device that was inexpensiveto manufacture (so that it could compete with phonograph records, which are really nothing more than a couple of cents worth of plastic) and which could be manufactured in large quantiiites. This meant he had to design not only the cartridge itself, but the machines which would make the cartridges as well. Oscar Kusisto, while Lear was spending much time and vast amounts of money developing a reliable cartridge, was spending many engineering hours and vast amounts of Motorola’s money developing a reliable playing mechanism.
What he had to do was design a machine that (a) would turn itself on when a cartridge was inserted; (b) pull a continuous loop of tape at an absolutely precise 3.75 inches per second (otherwise the music would sound horrible); (c) detect from two thin strips on the tape (each 1/32 inch wide) information which could be amplified with fidelity almost as good as the phonograph provided; (d) shift from one set of 1/32 inch wide strips to three other sets (in turn) of strips and then back to the first set (thus providing eight channels, or four stereo programs). The machine that did that had to be rugged enough to be operated in a car, wholly immune to both mechanical vibration and to hums, buzzes, and whistles generated by other electrical equipment in the car.
Actually, because of wind and engine and other noises inside a car, the passenger can’t really hear sounds below, say, 100 or 150 Hertz, nor above about 7,000-8,00Hertz. Some 8-track cartridges and playing equipment, however, can reproduce sound from about 20 Hertz to 20,000 Hertz, which is to say both lower and higher than the human ear can detect.
By the fall of 1964, Kusisto and Lear had a new ally, RCA. RCA said that if Motorola marketed a decent 8-track tape player, RCA would make tapes available, using artists from RCA’s large stable. Then in October 1964, Lear and Kusisto went to Henry Ford II. They hoped that Ford would be impressed enough with this new gadget to order it placed in the normal production system. Both knew it took at least two years, and more often three, before a new item appeared on a new model car. It took that long to get anything new into the system. What they hoped Ford would do would order his production department to include the tape player in the 1968 Fords. Henry Ford II recognized a good thing when he saw it. And unlike his counterparts at other manufacturers, he didn’t have to bother making proposals to be put to a vote after committee deliberations.
“We’ll shoot for July 1965,” Ford said. “I want a tape player available as an option on all 1966 Ford passenger cars from the Lincoln down to the Mustang.” In 1966 8-track players were featured as an option on Ford models; 1967 Mopar and VW followed. During 1967 every record manufacturer in America went into the tape-making business.In 1972, 450,000 units were installed in cars at the factory, and 3 million units were installed by either dealers or people in the electronics equipment business.
The story of the 8-track ended rather suddenly, but not unexpectedly. The major record labels announced their decision to stop supporting the 8-track format between 1981 and 1983. However, some continued to issue top-10 pop albums for some time. Also, 8-tracks of most popular releases were available well into the 1980s via the mail order record clubs. Also, there were numerous small labels that supported the format for some years.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Taken from the Official Indy 500 Program, 1932
Though some may reckon Speedway's fame
Lies only in the flash and flame
Of roaring motors -- men with eyes
Fixed only on the golden prize;
Yet -- greater far -- the battle sends
Dawn strangers home as Speedway friends!
You're seated early -- so am I --
We watch the legions passing by;
The Pullmans from Detroit are in --
Gay treks from Baltimore begin!
Speed-clans from Yonder, Here and There
Meet multitudes from Everywhere!
I don't know you -- you don't know me--
Still, all day neighbors we must be;
We start to talking, then you say
Your home is far-off Rockaway
Queer what distance lies between--
I'm from Kentucky -- Bowling Green!
Two fellows back of us begin
Acknowledging which car will win;
My friend from Rockaway and I
Their super-judgment soon deny.
Then others argue -- pro and con--
Bombs flash the start! The race is on!
Hours wear along! The racing game
Grants no man right to chosen fame;
My favored driver had a dray --
An axle broke for Rockaway!
Our friendly crowd grows larger when
A pit-bound car gets off again!
Then- suddenly- we all forget
Our favored car, each vain regret;
A gray-haired woman shouts with joy:
"He's out in front! My baby boy!"
Say, Speedway friendships just begin
When Speedway crowds help Mother win!
Thursday, July 15, 2010
"Pilgrims to Motor Mecca" by William Herschell
Pilgrims to Motor-Mecca!--
Yonder they come4;
Grandpa and Aunt Rebecca
Abner and Lum!
Grandma conveys The Baby,
Milk in her hands;
They'll find the nephews -- maybe--
Out with the bands!
Doggone! These Speedway Races
Sure tote a Thrill;
Gates, baskets, ushers, faces,
Rune through a mill!
Rush, scurry -- not a worry--
They know they'll find
Seat Stubs, in all their hurry,
Thought left behind!
Some come in family wagon,
Some on a bike;
You'll see a Premier draggin'
Right down the pike!
Some come in lordly fashion,
None hows a peevish passion--
Throngs jam the gate!
Airplanes above are humming,
Seeking to land;
Folks knew they'd be coming--
Give welcome hand!
Bands play and flags are flying,
Men in the pits
Test nerve for duties trying--
Cars get the "jits!"
Here's joy, Old Motor-Mecca
Turn on a glow;
Grandpa and Aunt Rebecca
Must see a show;
All through the winter lonely
They've ruled the place;
One bet their object only--
Who'd win the Race?
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
When you lifted the hood of mine
To see the intimate workings underneath,
When we were bound together
By a pulse of pure energy,
When my car like the princess
In the tale woke with a start,
I thought why not ride the rest of the way together?
Thursday, July 8, 2010
However, when we think of sex and automobiles, it is usually about youth. Lynne Knight fleshes out the reality of such a youthful experience in her “There, in My Grandfather’s Old Green Buick.” Knight tells us much about parking: surprisingly, perhaps, male rather than female restraint; distracting thoughts about somehow damaging the car; memories of Catholic religious instruction; exploration and self-control; and a new sense of a more mature self. Knight later stated that the poem “Pretty much encapsulates my sexual experiences as a teenager although it probably makes me sound a little more sexually aware than I actually was. There was a fierce desire, yes, but also lots of blind fumbling.”
He was touching me where no one
had touched me before, there,
in my grandfather’s old green Buick
that wouldn’t go in reverse,
so all the while I was worrying
how he’d get the car turned around
and headed back to his school,
there as we were under the dark pines
I worried he’d scrape the paint against the pines
and then he whispered We have to stop Do you know why
we have to stop and I nodded,
and we slipped past the pines with our headlights
still out and when we got there, I slid
behind the wheel and drove down the mountain
knowing something had happened I couldn’t reverse
anymore than I could the Buick, knowing I wanted it,
no matter what the nuns said, I wanted it, I could feel
my body wet and alive as if there had been a birth.
Knight recently recalled some of the circumstances surrounding the writing of the poem: When I wrote the poem, I had returned to poetry after a 20-year hiatus. . . . when I finally got back to where I could tell the truth about my life, I was able to write poetry again. I think of this poem as one of my breakthrough poems – it showed me I could take memory and make of it something new, something that would speak to others.”