Saturday, September 21, 2013

Why do men race automobiles?

Taken from Borgeson, The Golden Age of the American Car p.3

"Why do they do it, then?" One element, certainly not exclusive to motor racing, is the gamble for the ultimate in stakes. "Dicing with Death" is the British cliché for it, and death wins s the toss all too often. Along with this gamble is the gamble for victory against all one's competitors and the heady atmosphere of anxiety and aspiration which it creates. The delirium of victory in this esoteric form of gladiatorial combat is beyond the hopes of most of the contestants, yet they remain in avid competition. It is a strange drug, indeed. It is compounded by the emotional thrill of the whole experience -- from the completion of a design, to the drawing board, to the patterns and forgings and machine work and assembly. Then to the dynamometer and finally to the track. The clout on the back of tremendous acceleration; the exhilaration of blazing speed, hurtling through the wind crouched in an open cockpit; the thrill of the sound and the smell and of the machine's savage, and the driver hopes, exquisite response to his slightest wish or command; and much, much more. There are plenty of men who will do almost anything to get a ride in a race car, with money the farthest thing from their thoughts. A very real part of the thrill is sexual, a statement which will not come as news to most psychologists nor to most members of the racing fraternity. There are those of us who very consciously can experience degrees of orgiastic transport with a suitably inspiring mechanical companion.

Fatal Accident, Tony Bettenahusen, 1961

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Rockstar's GTA: Its History and the Controversy that Surrounds It.

As millions of fans await the release of Grand Theft Auto 5 on Sept. 17, the game remains as controversial as ever for its depiction of crime and violence.

Many have called the video game series the cause — or at least a sign — of a cultural decline in America, but an auto historian and author says society's fascination with car thieves is as old as cars themselves.

"In film, books and legend, the car thief is a mix of villain, ingenious thrill-seeker and sympathetic outlaw," said John Heitmann, University of Dayton history professor. "This fiction often follows reality, which is a cops-and-robbers arms race between theft-prevention technology and sophisticated thieves."

Heitmann is the co-author of Stealing Cars: Technology and Society from the Model T to the Gran Torino scheduled for release by Johns Hopkins University Press this coming spring. The book includes a section on the cultural phenomenon of the Grand Theft Auto video game series.

"Stealing a car in Grand Theft Auto's digital world is a discommodious combination of reality and fantasy," Heitmann writes in the book. "It is undemanding and nearly always without consequence, unencumbered by drivers, locks, The Club, alarms, On Star, security cameras or any other theft prevention system. The automobile is strangely disposable in this world, and the thief is incorrigible.

"The academic debate over the game, like the political and moral one, is conflicted. But Rockstar continues to sell millions of units of Grand Theft Auto."

Stealing Cars examines a wide range of related topics that includes motives and methods, technological deterrents, place and space, institutional responses, international borders and cultural reflections. Heitmann and co-author Rebecca H. Morales, former curator of the San Diego Automotive Museum, examine the history of car theft, the cultural and societal response, and how the thief has become as advanced as the cars themselves.

"Many people are fascinated by aspects of automobile history, but many more enjoy the topic of crime, in terms of motives, methods, escaping capture and of course solving the crime and bringing criminals to justice," Heitmann said.

Drawing on sources that include interviews, government documents, patents, sociological and psychological studies, magazines, monographs, scholarly periodicals, film, fiction, and digital gaming, Heitmann and Morales tell a story that highlights both human creativity and some of the paradoxes of American life.

Heitmann is also the author of The Automobile and American Life (2009), which looks at how the automobile transformed the American economy, arts, community life, the law and other aspects of American culture. Visit his blog at the related link.

(Photo credit: Tamahikari Tammas, Flickr Photostream)

For more information, contact Cameron Fullam, assistant director of media relations, at 937-229-3256 or

Monday, September 9, 2013

Only in America: Cal Worthington, TV ads, and Making Milllions selling cars

Cal Worthington, the one-of-a-kind car Dealer with dealerships in 5 western states, died at age 92 yesterday while watching a football game. He was larger than life -- a poor boy from Oklahoma, later a WWII bomber pilot who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Hudson Dealer beginning in 1949, and finally he became oneof the most successful car dealers in America.  Known for his outrageous TV ads featuring various animals ranging from apes to tigers, Worthington knew how to break the ice with his TV audience, while at the same time taking a dig at his competition. An American original, his sales techniques reflected an era when Americans loved their cars, and even some sales people and dealers. For a time at mid-century, being a car dealer was one way to become rich in America!

The Last GP European Drivers Champion before World War II -- Rudolf Caracciola

The starting line-up for the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, 11 September 1938.Three Mercedes-Benz W 154 formula racing cars in the first starting row, from the left: Hermann Lang (starting number 26), Manfred von Brauchitsch (starting number 4), Rudolf Caracciola (starting number 12)

Italian Grand Prix in Monza, 11 September 1938.Manfred von Brauchitsch shortly before the start
Following on from his successes in 1935 and 1937, Rudolf Caracciola became European Champion of the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) for the third time in 1938. One victory and two 2nd places in three meetings brought the title within reach for Mercedes-Benz’s chief driver of the time. In the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, 3rd place behind Tazio Nuvolari (Auto Union) and Giuseppe Farina (Alfa Romeo) was enough for Caracciola to take the championship in his Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow W 154.
In the spring of 1939, Caracciola was awarded the German Sports Badge in gold after the 29th International Motor Show in Berlin in recognition of his success. “I won the European championship for the fifth time,“ Caracciola noted contentedly in his memoirs. Prior to the three Grand Prix championships which he won with the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow models W 25 (1935), W 125 (1937) and W 154 (1938), he had claimed the European Hillclimbing Championship in the supercharged Mercedes-Benz SSK and SSKL sports cars back in 1930 and 1931.
A hard-won victory
In contrast to the present-day Formula 1 ranking system, under which the winner of a race is allocated the most points and the highest total score decides the championship at the end of the season, the opposite points system applied in the European Grand Prix Championship in 1938: the winner received one point and the other drivers from 2 to 7 points, according to their placings. 8 points were allocated for a no-show.
Following his victory in the third meeting, the Swiss Grand Prix on 21 August 1938, Caracciola held a clear five-point lead in the European Championship table. While his rivals from Auto Union and the other makes no longer posed a threat, his team colleagues still represented a challenge. Caracciola fought his way through the Grand Prix, although the faulty exhaust of his W 154 heated up the pedals dangerously, leaving him with painful memories of the race: “Despite asbestos insoles in my shoes, the gas pedal burnt a hole through the leather sole, the asbestos insole and the sole of my foot.”
Manfred von Brauchitsch, who had dropped out of the race, took over from Caracciola’s W 154 for several laps. The rules permitted such changes of driver, with the points going to the driver who started the race in the car concerned. Caracciola then returned to the fray and continued the race with due caution: “I climbed back on board, pressing the glowing hot gas pedal only with the very edge of my sole,” he recalled in his biography.
Rudolf Caracciola finished in 3rd place. With only 8 points, he was now well ahead of his team colleagues Manfred von Brauchitsch (15), Hermann Lang (17), and Richard Seaman (18). The Auto Union drivers shared 5th place with 20 points each. This triumph made Caracciola the last European Grand Prix Champion before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Cars and Parts Swap Meet and Car Show, Springfield, OH September 7

Some hurried photos here -- I discovered that my batteries were almost dead and thus I missed many excellent photo opportunities while at the Springfield event.  Certainly pick up trucks are hot right now as collectibles and they were everywhere on the Clark County Fairgrounds. It was a hot afternoon, and since my left knee was bothering me, I couldn't quite enjoy the swap meet the way I usually do.  Very littie foreign stuff on the tables, as always the case. And this time no great treasures found!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Mercedes Benz 180, 1953

Classic modern: "Ponton Mercedes" (120/121 series, 1953 to 1962), 190 Db model

Safety first: frame-floor system of the Mercedes-Benz W 120 series of 1952. Further development led to Béla Barényi's patented safety cell.

Mille Miglia, Brescia in Italy, 1 May 1955. Winner in the diesel class: senior engineer Helmut Retter (Daimler-Benz representative in Innsbruck) with co-driver Wolfgang Larcher in a Mercedes-Benz Type 180 D (W 120), start number 04, at a checkpoint.

The première of the Model 180 (W 120) in 1953, today lovingly referred to as the “Pontoon Mercedes” (or the “Roundie”), was a technical and aesthetic milestone in the history of the passenger cars from Mercedes-Benz. The intermediate saloon was the first car from the Stuttgart-based brand to feature a unibody and at the same time the first whose bodywork was designed in the form of a pontoon. The W 120 was a trendsetting predecessor of the E-Class, but it also put its mark on the styling and technical design of the new luxury class (model series 180/105/128, from 1954).
Already the external appearance of the Model 180 presented by Mercedes-Benz in 1953 excited industry professionals and the general public. The so-called “three-box design” with a rectangular footprint, fully integrated wings and clearly separate sections for engine, passenger compartment and boot, set benchmarks for modern design. The bodywork of the W 120 stood out sharply from the passenger cars Mercedes-Benz presented right after the Second World War. Their design idiom and technical features were still based to a large extent on the traditions of the 1930s. In contrast, the pontoon design developed in North America in the late 1940s and reinterpreted by Mercedes-Benz for the intermediate saloons appeared fresh and clean. This design lowered the aerodynamic drag of the Mercedes-Benz 180 compared with earlier models, reduced wind noise and offered a more spacious passenger compartment.
The unibody pioneer at Mercedes-Benz
The bodywork of the Model 180 also set new technical standards. For the first time a Mercedes-Benz passenger car featured a unibody which was firmly welded to the frame-floor system to create a static structural unit. Compared with conventional frame construction with mounted body, this design increased torsional rigidity while simultaneously lowering the weight.
Another innovation was the double wishbone suspension of the front wheels which was bolted to a front axle carrier instead of directly to the frame. The U-shaped axle carrier also accommodated the engine, transmission and steering. It was mounted to the front section of the frame with silent blocks for low noise levels. The rear wheels on the tried and proven swing axle were now additionally controlled by widely spaced trailing arms. All in all this resulted in handling qualities that were outstanding for the time. In his road test report published in “auto motor und sport” magazine in 1953, Werner Oswald commended that the driver in the Model 180 “can unhesitatingly push the envelope set by the engine and suspension right from the start”.
The aforementioned engine was a side-valved four-cylinder in-line engine with a displacement of 1767 cc that produced 52 hp (38 kW). The Model 180 reached a top speed of 126 km/h and took 31 seconds to accelerate from rest to 100 km/h.
Successful differentiation
The Mercedes-Benz 180 presented 60 years ago quickly evolved into an entire model family. The arguably most famous variant of the “Pontoon Mercedes” was the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL sports car, which was presented in New York in 1954 and went into production in 1955 This roadster of the 121 model series was based on the shortened frame-floor system of the Model 180 and was powered by a four-cylinder engine producing 105 hp (77 kW) from a displacement of 1897 cc.
The diesel engine variant 180 D debuted in 1954 in the pontoon body of the 120 model series, followed by the petrol engine version Mercedes-Benz 190 of the 121 model series in 1956. It featured a four-cylinder engine producing 75 hp (55 kW) from a displacement of 1897 cc. The new top-of-the-line intermediate model set itself apart from the 180 models, among other things, with more chrome trim and larger tail lights. Referred to in-house as the 180 a, the Model 180 was revised in 1957 and now also had an engine with a displacement of 1897 cc that in this case produced 65 hp (48 kW). In 1958 the Model 190 D rounded out the family of pontoon saloons as the second diesel model in the 120/121 series. Its 50-hp (37 kW) engine originated from the engine of the Model 190.
Benchmarks for the luxury class
In 1953 the Model 180 also set benchmarks for the new luxury class vehicles from Mercedes-Benz that came on the market in 1954. On the outside the 220 and 220 S (W 180) as well as the 220 SE (W 128) saloons with in-line six-cylinder engines differed from the W 120 only by a longer wheelbase (2.82 metres instead of 2.65 metres), a larger passenger compartment and a longer engine compartment. The Model 219 (W 105) with six-cylinder engine, which was available from 1956, had the smaller body, however.
The Mercedes-Benz 180 put its stamp on the automotive world even before its market launch because the W 120 was the first car ever to appear in a spy photo. “auto motor und sport” magazine published a first photo of the future Model 180 in 1952, and accompanied it with a parody of Goethe’s Erlkönig (Alder King) poem, in which the new intermediate saloon is portrayed as “Daimler’s youngest child”. This is how the German term ‘Erlkönig’ (development mule) was coined to describe a prototype or a pre-production vehicle prior to its official presentation, a term that is still in use today.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sitdown, the Coming of the United Auto Workers, and the Battle of the Overpass

Sitdown, the Coming of the United Auto Workers, and the Battle of the Overpass

            The Depression exacerbated labor woes. James Flink wrote, “Labor unrest in the automobile industry spread with massive unemployment and the deterioration of working conditions as the Depression deepened.”24 The crisis was compounded by technological stagnation, and since workers were more flexible than machines, human labor was pushed to increase productivity.25 Work on the assembly line was characterized by the “speed-up” and “stretch out” of the workforce. “Too many men competed for too few jobs and automobile manufacturers took advantage of the glut in the labor market.”26 Autoworkers of the 1930s had manifold complaints, but the foremost grievance was the speed-up. Workers argued bitterly that  the speed of the line was unbearable; that annual earnings were inadequate; methods of payment were too complicated; the seasonal unemployment created by the industry’s insistence upon an annual model change; the practice of shutting down during the model changes (at Ford) and of hiring workers, regardless of skill, at the starting rate; management ignored and refused to recognize seniority; workers over 40 found it difficult to remain employed; female labor was being substituted to replace male labor; the continued “speed-up” of the assembly line; and the espionage networks and the Bennett regime of Ford.27 Mounting complaints would give impetus to a fledgling union movement.
            Under the auspices of the New Deal, Congress passed the Wagner Act and created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The original agreement was admittedly weak; it only stipulated requirements for worker representation, and automobile companies continued to resist unionization. The promises of the Wagner Act eventually came to fruition. “In only ten years,” noted historian Richard Oestriecher, “the Wagner Act led directly to an increase in union representation from approximately one worker in ten in 1934 . . . to more than three out of 10 by 1945, and strong unions forced corporations to raise wages at roughly the same rate that the economy expanded.”28 Concurrent with the Wagner Act, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) chartered the United Automobile Workers of America (UAW).
            Even under the aegis of the Great Depression and the New Deal political climate, the “Big Three” were able to thwart worker’s attempts to organize. Unionization of the automobile industry was not concluded when the ink of the Wagner Act dried. Ford used a police regime to prevent violence; General Motors, Chrysler, and other firms embarked on campaigns of espionage. It was said at the time that one out of ten workers was a company informant. To unionize the auto industry, American politics had to be moved to the left. In Management and Managed Steven Jeffreys argued that the external political environment was crucial in shaping the limits of unionization. He observed that the Roosevelt labor coalition had left the “business community exposed.”29 Jeffreys’ thesis is also important because it recognized that “different patterns of managerial authority developed in different plants.”30 Labor unrest is a microcosm of larger political effects on the American social fabric. The historical experience of unionization was complex, and thus different in every company, and then every plant within that company. A high number of automobile strikes followed FDR’s 1932 election.
            Companies battled to maintain Detroit’s reputation as an open shop city. Historians have noted several reasons for the auto industry’s ability to resist industrialization. First, both the AFL and communist organizations bungled opportunities to organize autoworkers. A proper political mechanism was not realized until a group within the AFL created the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which intended to jettison the AFL’s craft principle to organize workers in the mass production industries. Second, the racial and ethnic composition of the workforce made organization difficult. Third, management pursued deliberate strategies to make unionization difficult. Ford’s initial benevolence was a subtle attempt to assuage unionization, and his regime of violence under thug Harry Bennett was an overt strategy to stop unions. General Motors had a spy racket. In addition, politics within the unions were brutal and divisive. Even with mounting complaints and the automobile industry’s speed-up, racial and ethnic differences proved difficult to overcome.
            Collective bargaining was made a reality by historical actors who were catalyzed by the Great Depression and energized as a part of the New Deal political coalition. Franklin Roosevelt’s charisma forged a new political bloc that embraced class-based politics and sided tentatively with labor. Workers also began to overcome their differences, and as Ronald Edsforth and Robert Asher pointed out, “no matter what their race, ethnicity, or gender, automobile workers found themselves confronting similar problems . . . between 1935 and 1941 deeply felt resentments about what these workers called “the speedup” or “the stretch out” brought diverse groups of auto workers together in the successful organizing drives of the United Automobile Workers Union.”31 Leaders such as Homer Martin, Walter and Victor Ruether, Richard “Dick” Frankensteen, George Addes, and others organized a motley gang of laborers into the United Autoworkers (UAW). In a pivotal moment at the 1935 South Bend Convention, Dick Frankensteen’s Automotive Industrial Workers Association (AIWA) joined the UAW.32 Arnold Bernstein noted, “In the summer of 1936 the now more or less “United” Automobile Workers confronted the major task of organization, which, given the extreme oligopolistic structure of the more industry, necessitated a frontal attack upon one of the big three.”33
            The opportunity for a “frontal assault” came in 1936 with the sit down strike at General Motors plants around the country. Arnold Bernstein noted that the youth of the autoworkers made the sit down strike “democracy run wild.”34 The autoworkers used the innovative sit-down strike tactic to prevent the removal of dies and to obstruct the importation of strike breakers.35 After a 44-day period of intense negotiations, the UAW gained the right to bargain with General Motors. The moment was unique in American history; both Michigan Governor Frank Murphy and President Franklin Roosevelt did not forcibly remove strikers. The UAW’s conquest of General Motors quickly exacted contracts from Hudson, Packard, and Studebaker, along with numerous parts producers. In the wake of the strike, the union had “256 locals, 400 collective bargaining agreements, and 220,000 dues-paying members.”36
            The union won several victories and had growing numbers, and in the summer of 1937 began to take on the Ford Motor Company. The assault on Ford was concomitant with vicious union factionalism. Dick Frankensteen led a progressive caucus while Walter Reuther headed up a Unity caucus. Perhaps the most dramatic moment of UAW-CIO’s campaign to unionize the automobile industry was the “Battle of the Overpass,” a brawl between Harry Bennett’s thug regime and UAW leaflet distributors led by Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen. Detroit News photographer Scotty Kilpatrick captured the beat-down, and it generated iconic images of the fight to unionize the auto industry. Arnold Bernstein described the attack:
The UAW people were attacked unmercifully. Reuther was beaten, knocked down, lifted to his feet, and beaten again. Four or five men worked over Frankensteen. They skinned his coat up his back and over his face and two men locked his arms while others slugged him. Then they knocked him to the concrete floor . . . A separate individual grabbed him by each foot and by each hand and his legs were spread apart and his body was toward the east . . . and ten other men proceeded to kick him in the crotch and in the groin, and around the head and also to gore him with their heels in the abdomen.37 

That attack, and the public revulsion that followed, ultimately forced Henry Ford to give in to union demands to organize, which occurred on the eve of World War II. After several organizers and workers were fired in the spring of 1941, a walkout occurred in the foundry, which spread to the entire plant. Unionization was called to a vote, and a majority approved of the UAW-CIO. Much to the dismay of a senile Ford, the “UAW received over 70% of the vote, won recognition in all Ford plants, and obtained a favorable collective bargaining contract.”38 The contract set limits on the arbitrary authority of management, established grievance procedures, and stopped the use of steward systems to mitigate disputes.