Saturday, March 28, 2015

Student Paper Award in Automotive History: The SAH Scharchburg Award for 2015 -- Call for Submissions



In order to encourage research and writing effort among university students in the area of automotive history, the Society confers its annual award for the best student paper in the auto history field.  The award is named for Richard Scharchburg, the late Professor of History at Kettering University, eminent automotive historian, and past vice president of the Society of Automotive Historians. Persons submitting papers must be enrolled at educational institutions (upper-class undergraduate or graduate level) at the time of submission.  This competition is international in scope, but papers must be in the English language.  Papers already published or scheduled for publication will not be accepted.

Manuscripts should not exceed 10,000 words, and should be double-spaced.  An abstract is requested.  Judging criteria include clear statement of purpose and testable hypothesis, accuracy and thoroughness of research, originality of the research, documentation, quality and extent of bibliographic resources, and writing style.  Diagrams, graphs, or photographs may be included.  Submissions are to be electronic, in Word 1997-2003 format or pdf files only, to the e-mail address below.

Possible subjects include but are not limited to historical aspects of automobile companies and their leaders, regulation of the auto industry, financial and economic aspects of the industry, the social effects of the automobile, highway development, environmental matters, and automotive marketing, design, engineering and safety.

A cover letter should be included stating the student’s address, school, program, advisor, and stage in studies.  The student should indicate how the paper submitted will relate to his or her professional future.  Submissions must e-mail dated by June 10, 2013.  All papers submitted will be acknowledged.

Recent Previous Award Winners:
2014 – Sarah Seo, Princeton University, Amanda Johnson, Utah State University
2013 -- John Emerson Mohr, Auburn University
2012—Samuel Kling, Northwestern  University
2011 – Andrew Mabon, James Madison University
2010 – No award
2009 – Peter Cajka, Marquette University

Upon recommendation of the judges, the winning paper will considered for publication in the Society’s Automotive History Review.   The award consists of a plaque and a cash prize of $500.00.

Submissions should be sent to:      John Heitmann, Chair, Student Awards Committee
                                                Department of History
                                                University of Dayton                    Tel: 937-229-2803
                                                300 College Park                        Fax: 937-229-2816

                                                Dayton, OH 45469-1540                e-mail:

Call for Papers: Symposium on International Motor Racing History

Porsche 911 Preparations for World Endurance Championship Season Opening; Field Testing at Circuit Paul Ricard

Porsche 911 head into WEC season well prepared

Stuttgart. The Porsche teams are well equipped to tackle the season-opening of the Sports Car World Endurance Championship WEC on 12 April in Silverstone. At the official prologue on the Paul Ricard Circuit on Friday and Saturday in Le Castellet, southern France, two Porsche 911 RSR of the Porsche Manthey team as well as both 911 RSR fielded by Dempsey Proton Racing and Abu Dhabi Proton Racing completed extensive tests without any problems. Turning 433 laps on the 5.971 kilometer circuit, the two nine-eleven of the Porsche Manthey squad covered the greatest distance of all GTE-Pro vehicles.

At the final test before the season kicks off on the storied British race track, on which Porsche clinched a double victory in the GTE-Pro class last year, all six factory pilots scheduled to tackle the WEC for Porsche Manthey took part. Michael Christensen (Denmark) and Richard Lietz (Austria) share driving duties in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR with Jörg Bergmeister (Germany) who will support them as the third driver at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Frenchmen Frédéric Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet contest the season in the 911 RSR with the starting number 92, with Wolf Henzler (Germany) as their third driver for Le Mans. Also at Le Castellet was Porsche Junior Sven Müller (Germany), who turned his first laps here with the 911 RSR. As last year’s best newcomer in the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland, Müller will make his debut in the Sports Car World Endurance Championship WEC at round two of the season in Spa-Francorchamps on 2 May.

Following tradition, the Circuit Paul Ricard was open for spectators on Saturday. Over 10,000 fans visited the track in beautiful spring weather to watch the WEC field during testing. Again on day two, the Porsche 911 RSR clocked up consistently fast lap times. The 470 hp winning racer from Weissach, which is based on the seventh generation of the iconic 911 sports car and is characterised by a consequent lightweight design and sophisticated aerodynamics, underwent modifications over the winter months. The revamped aerodynamics at the front and the adapted chassis kinematics ensure enhanced balance and improved control at its handling limits. Thanks to minor tweaks, the reliability of the drivetrain was further improved. Single point refuelling proved effective in Le Castellet. The refuelling system utilises one hose for both filling and venting, leaving only one refueller to work on the car. This contributes significantly to additional safety in the pit lane.

For the Dempsey Racing customer team who campaign the number 77 Porsche 911 RSR in the GTE-Am class, the test days in southern France were helpful to establish their position. Only Patrick Dempsey (USA), who contests his first full WEC season with Porsche works driver Patrick Long (USA) and Marco Seefried (Germany), was missing from the test day line-up. Because of filming commitments for another episode of the hit series “Grey’s Anatomy”, the Hollywood star and race driver was unable to travel to Le Castellet. “It’s a shame. I would have liked to have taken part in the tests,” he said. “But I’m sure that Patrick and Marco worked hard with the team and did all they could so that we can tackle the season opener at Silverstone with a perfectly prepared car.” 

Taking part in the Le Castellet tests at the wheel of the 911 RSR run by Abu Dhabi Proton Racing, which also contests the GTE-Am class, were Christian Ried (Germany), Khaled Al Qubaisi (Abu Dhabi) and the former Porsche Junior Klaus Bachler (Austria).

Comments on the prologue
Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser, Porsche Head of Motorsport: “We completed all of our testing tasks. We could try out every configuration of our 911 RSR that we wanted to test and verify on the track as well as the work procedures within the team which we had changed over the winter months. The team is in an excellent condition. We’re ready for the season to start at Silverstone.” 
Marco Ujhasi, Overall Project Leader GT Works Motorsport: “These were two very good test days. We managed to tick off all the points on our list as planned. The team is already at a very high level. Our two 911 RSR have successful concluded the planned endurance programme. In doing this, we have gained valuable experience with the new parts on the car.”
Michael Christensen (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “That was an important test for me and a good chance to get to know the team and especially my pit stop crew. To contest the WEC against the best GT pilots in the world, particularly as part of such a successful team, is a challenge that I’m very much looking forward to.”
Richard Lietz (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “This test was a warm-up for Silverstone. Everything worked well. Thanks to the modifications, our 911 RSR has become more stable and hopefully consistently fast in the race over two stints. Our engineers have been working in the right direction.”
Frédéric Makowiecki (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “It was great getting together again after the winter break – drivers, mechanics, engineers. For the new season our 911 RSR has been modified in several areas and it was interesting to see the outcome of the changes on the track.” 
Patrick Pilet (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “We’re heading into the new season better prepared than ever before. The improvements on the 911 RSR are positive. The car is consistently fast and handles well and the teamwork went smoothly. That’s one of the keys to success.” 
Jörg Bergmeister (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “That was an allround positive test. The season can begin. I’m looking forward to supporting Richard and Michael at Le Mans. Le Mans is the most important race of the year and it’s always a very special experience.” 
Wolf Henzler (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “The main thing for me is to get used to the team, the people and to familiarise myself with the procedures. That worked perfectly. Everyone was very motivated and I was well received. I’m looking forward to contesting Le Mans with this team.” 
Sven Müller (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “That was a great weekend. Everything was new for me – the car, the track and the series. The WEC is a totally different world. I especially had to get used to so much traffic on the track. Everything ran well and I’m really excited for Spa.”
Patrick Long (Porsche 911 RSR #77): “These two days of testing proved very useful for us. We got closer as a team. Our 911 RSR proved very reliable. The whole package works and we’re ready for the start of the season. I’m looking forward to competing on such great race tracks as Silverstone, Spa and Nürburgring.“

The Sports Car World Endurance Championship WEC
Sports prototypes and GT vehicles contest the WEC (World Endurance Championship) in four classes: LMP1 (e.g. Porsche 919 Hybrid), LMP2, LMGTE-Pro (e.g. 911 RSR) and LMGTE-Am (e.g. 911 RSR in the 2014 homologation). They all compete together in one race but are classified separately

Mercedes-Benz 2.5-liter racing car W 196 R, 1954

Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps, 5. Juni 1955: Juan Manuel Fangio in a Mercedes-Benz W 196 R number 10.

In 1954 Mercedes-Benz returned to Grand Prix with a completely newly developed racing car. The W 196 R was built in accordance with the conditions of the new Grand Prix formula defined by the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale). These conditions included a displacement limit of 750 cc with supercharger or 2,500 cc without a supercharger. The fuel composition was arbitrary. The Mercedes-Benz engineers developed a 2.5-litre engine which initially produced an output of 188 kW (256 hp) at 8,260 rpm from a displacement of 2,496 cc. In 1955, the output duly rose to 213 kW (290 hp) at 8,500 rpm. The aerodynamically optimised streamlined version was the first to be built for the 1954 season, because the first race in Reims (France) allowed very high speeds. A second variant with open wheels followed in due course. The spaceframe of the W 196 R was light and sturdy; the chassis had a torsion-rod suspension and a new single-joint swing rear axle as well as huge turbo-cooled Duplex drum brakes. To power the vehicle, the engineers chose an eight-cylinder in-line engine with direct injection and desmodromic (positively opened and closed) springless valves, which made high engine speeds above 8,000 rpm possible. In the opening race, the French Grand Prix on 4 July 1954, Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling drove W 196 R streamlined racing cars to a double victory. Fangio finished the season as World Champion. In the improved version of the streamlined car, he also won the last race in which the W 196 R competed – the 1955 Italian Grand Prix. This sealed Fangio’s second world championship title driving the Silver Arrows.
Technical data – Mercedes-Benz 2.5-litre streamlined racing car W 196 R Period of use: 1954 to 1955
Cylinders: 8/in-line
Displacement: 2,497 cc
Output: 188 kW (256 hp) to 213 kW (290 hp)
Top speed: more than 300 km/h

Friday, March 27, 2015

Gangs and Automobile Theft in the U.S.

The Rise of Gangs
            As car theft decreased nationwide, and the occurrence of joy riding waned, this crime took a dark turn. Writing for Police magazine, retired Sgt. Richard Valdemar of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who spent most his 33 years on the force combating gangs, describes how the seemingly harmless indiscretions of the young Southern California joy riders became the seedbed of an underworld dealing in stolen cars and car parts:

After World War II automobiles became more plentiful in America and an attitude of tolerance for youthful GTA [Grand Theft Auto] suspects became common. The hot rod and low rider were often built from parts stripped from stolen cars. These highly modified vehicles were often neighborhood projects built by groups of several young men and teens. Sometimes these cars were built by gangs. About this time also, gangs began to specialize in Grand Theft Auto.31

            While for the middle-class and affluent youth, the hot rod era was linked to drive-in movies, drive-in diners, and drag races, for those with less discretionary income, souping up their cars revitalized a home industry for stolen parts. Sometimes it was just groups of people comprised of friends, family, and/or neighbors that hooked up, but other times gangs--or individuals with recognizable names and symbols engaging in illegal activities--were involved. In poor areas, the talents and ties of whole communities were fertile ground for engaging in lucrative ventures in stolen cars. Youths were groomed into car theft at an early age, knowing that they would get a lighter sentence. Sgt. Valdemar provides insight into how gangs engaged in auto theft:

GTA is very profitable. Gangs run chop shops double and quadruple their profits derived from stolen rides by selling the vehicles’ parts separately. In addition, thousands of stolen vehicles worth millions of dollars are smuggled into Mexico each year.
Gang members also steal vehicles to use in other crimes. Burglaries, robberies, and drive-by shootings are often preceded by gang members stealing a car. Car customizing shops are also used by gang members to install hidden stash compartments.
Despite all this GTA activity by gangs, felony GTA charges are rarely filed against these gang members. Unless the vehicle theft can be tied to a GTA ring or a chop shop, the gang member will usually be charged with the lesser crime of “joy riding” because the “intent to permanently deprive” the victim of his or her vehicle is difficult to prove.
gang members, especially juveniles, receive little incarceration and lots of probation for car crimes.
I think that after the traditional “jump in,” carjacking for GTA is the most common gang initiation.32

            The literature on gang formation is large and beyond the scope of this research, but there is reason to believe that youths who join gangs are more likely to engage in car theft than those that don’t. For example, when comparing youth gang and non-gang criminal behavior, one study found that 44.7 percent of youth gang members engaged in auto theft as opposed to only 4.1 percent of at-risk youths not in a gang.33 Clearly, not all car thieves belong to gangs, nor do all gang members steal cars, but as anti-theft technology made it harder for the casual joy rider to take a car for the fun of it, auto theft became increasingly concentrated in the hands of more hardened elements, as reflected in arrest data that documents a decline in youth arrests and an increase in adult arrests.

The Golden Age of the Automobile in America: the 1950s

No one, I imagine, escapes the authentic involvement with this gathering symbol of our pervasive materialism. But the 50th annual Auto Show, it seems to me, gives the lie to surveys . . . and to motivation researchers who suggest that at the root of America’s disproportionate reverence for automobility there is something profoundly sexual. Few people give ultimate devotion to sex; their really ultimate devotion goes to religions like this one.1
            In his essay “The Altar of Automobility,” a young Martin Marty, later destined to be one of America’s preeminent theologians, recorded his observations after visiting the 1958 Chicago Automobile Show. Marty argued that the enthusiasm and passions surrounding the automobile had created a true, universal, and practical religion that was directed towards the “dinosaur in the driveway.” For Marty, passions for automobiles in America were fueled by more than just sex; rather, the automobile was worshiped by true believers. And during the 1950s the church of the automobile, like the Protestant Church in America, had an unprecedented number of followers. Only later would allegiances begin to wane.
            The 1950s proved to be a golden era for the automobile in America.2 Particularly after 1955, it was a time characterized by cars featuring tailfins and chrome, high horsepower V-8 engines, and numerous accessories. The car influenced culture as no other technology of the day.3 Yet was it really a golden age, or an era so complex that it defies any simple characterization?
            This complex interaction between human beings and this machine was reflected in contemporary literature, music, and film. While these cultural manifestations of automobility – or at least the ones scholars tend to focus on – often dealt with troubling matters like alienation and rebellion, the average family preferred to drive on without much thought concerning the larger issues raised by concerned observers, the Beats, and critics of the new lascivious rock and roll music. Despite the uncertainty and anxiety of the period, for many it was an era of smooth rides and good times.4 Or so our faded memories want us to believe.5
            During the 1950s, and indeed in previous decades as well, the family car was more than transportation. It was part of the family, and like children in the family, nurtured and cherished. Perhaps it was a substitute for a lover or girlfriend, as in the case of the tale Stephen King spins in Christine, where a 1957 Plymouth Fury both is loved and loves (to the death). This passion between person and machine was well expressed in Henry Gregor Felsen’s Hot Rod, published in 1950. The book’s key character is Bud Crayne, a 17-year old high school student. Crane is a loner and often alone, as his parents died long ago. Only a fickle girlfriend, approval from school mates, and especially a car he built from the ground up, keep Bud going.
            No matter what his mood or his feeling, his trouble or his joy, it made everything right and good to be guiding his car, the car he had built, that belonged to him, that owed everything it was to him. Not a day passed without Bud’s taking time for a spin. It was more than a ride; it was more than speeding; more than killing time. In some ways these daily sessions on the road were his hours of meditation, of true expression, the balm for his soul and the boast of his spirit. In these flying hours he had sought himself out, molded himself into what he was, and found his creed.
            Bud’s car, variously called his baby, hop-up, strip down, roadster, heap, hot rod, jalopy or set of wheels, was like Bud himself. In a way he had built a mechanical representation of his life, and its oddly-assorted parts could be likened to his patch-work past.6
            There were many Buds in America during the 1950s. The typical family car (perhaps like my own family’s 1954 blue and white Chevrolet Belair) often had its exterior lovingly waxed for protection with Simonize, and its interior protected with plastic seat covers. More than occasionally the car was accessorized with steering wheel spinners, fender skirts, and continental kits. Interestingly enough, when in 1958 Life featured a young man living in Wichita, Kansas, purchasing his first car, the things done after bring the 1951 “Merc” home were: 1) remove chrome on the front and hood, and 2) buy an imitation shrunken head to hang from the rear view mirror!7 Thus for a large number of young men (I have no idea how many women), this interest in care and the improvement of looks and performance became a hobby. Hot rods, sports cars, or customs captivated many who during this prosperity decade had increased leisure time and disposable incomes. In a world of increasing conformity (punch cards and time cards, for example, were prevalent) brought on by the stresses of the Cold War and competition with the Soviets, these vehicles gave their owners a distinctive individuality, and, if desired, entrance into a subculture of fellow enthusiasts. It was also a sexy hobby, unlike like that of another hobby popular during that day, stamp collecting. Cars were sex objects, and it was perceived that working and riding in cars enhanced one’s sexiness. A piece of colored paper could never be loved quite like a car. As social critic John Keats argued in 1958, “automobiles were love objects from the start. Venerated, called friends, lovingly polished and assigned the virtues of ponies, veterans, and dogs.”8

            Despite critiques concerning the automobile and its design, place, and purpose in American society, this intense love affair with the car was unparalleled. Perhaps, as David Gartman has suggested, the two-toned, V-8 powered car of the era was nothing more than an opiate for hard-working Americans during the Cold War era. According to Gartman, the automobile, no matter what model, was essentially the same. It served to lessen the rather harsh realities of a competitive capitalist system with its class structure, repetition, dehumanization, and repressive impulses. In sum, it was at the heart of a “contradictory system.”9 Therefore, during the 1950s, the car was a symbol and an expression of freedom at a time in American life when autonomy was in retreat.

Preston Tucker, the Tucker '48, and the Reconversion Economy

The Reconversion Economy and a Man’s Dream
            WWII has been labeled the physicist’s war, although chemists also made important contributions, as in the case of the Emergency Synthetic Rubber project. But we remember the physicists’ contributions more, for their work led to the Atomic Age. In August 1945, World War II ended suddenly with the dropping of two atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. American policy makers and economic planners had anticipated an allied victory beginning in mid-1944; however, and discussions concerning the reconversion of the economy to a peacetime footing began to take on more substance and significance after the Battle of the Bulge.103 For the American automobile industry, meeting the pent-up demand from consumers who had not been able to buy new cars since early 1942 was an unprecedented opportunity. And, not surprisingly perhaps, new players wanted to get in on the act. With huge wartime production plants empty and the federal government eager to assist those at the margins rather than the center of the economy, entrepreneurs, including Henry Kaiser, Joseph Frazer, J. Powell Crosley, and Preston Tucker formulated ambitious plans to enter the marketplace and challenge the Big Three.104 
            Until recently, the reconversion economy has been largely neglected by historians, although auto “buff” historians have been writing marque histories that focused on this period for some time. Of all the post-war figures, perhaps the most interesting and controversial was Preston Tucker, a name resurrected in more recent years due to the 1988 film on his life directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola’s interest in the Tucker went back to his childhood, when his father ordered but never received the car. Later, the younger Coppola would research the firm and collect Tuckers. Two of his cars, along with twenty others, were used in the film. With meticulous detail and a final script written by Arnold Schulman and approved by Tucker’s three sons after several rewrites, Tucker rescued the man and his car from the mists of time.105  
            Born in Capac Michigan in 1903, Preston Tucker had “gasoline in his blood” at an early age.106 He worked as an office boy at Cadillac, then briefly at the Ford Motor Company before selling Studebakers, Stutzs, Chryslers, and Pierce-Arrows. A visionary, by the early 1930s he had become involved in an aviation engine firm, the takeover of the bankrupt Marmon Company, and the Miller-Tucker Company, a builder of racing engines. On the eve of WWII, Tucker was living in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he designed a “tank” – a war vehicle that was capable of going over 100 mph, a design apparently rejected by the military for going too fast. However, his Plexiglas rotating gun turret was a success, and was employed on numerous military aircraft during the war. The turret gained Tucker considerable recognition. During the war, Tucker partnered for a time with another charismatic businessman, New Orleans boat builder Andrew Jackson Higgins. After the war, he moved forward with his dream to build the world’s finest performing and safest automobile.
            Initially, Tucker’s chances to succeed were good, and since the War Assets Administration made factories available first to independent entrepreneurs, Tucker acquired a wartime plant used by Dodge and located in south Chicago. But Tucker, like others who were attempting to break into the automobile business at that time, failed to realize just how much money was required to do so. To raise money, Tucker had to sell dealer franchises, and that sent him on a collision course with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). SEC investigations resulted in a decline in investor confidence, and coupled with opposition from Michigan senator Homer Ferguson and the Justice Department, by 1948 a dark cloud covered the entire effort. Despite this adversity that some have suggested was technological suppression on the part of powerful interests that included the Big Three, some 51 Tucker ‘48s were produced, and these highly innovative cars still remain one of the most sought-after collectible cars in America.
            The Tucker ’48 was designed by Alex Tremulis, who had previously worked at Auburn during the 1930s and served in the Army Air Force during the war. This innovative car had a rear engine, was streamlined with doors that curved into the roof, and capable of a top speed of more than 100 mph while getting more than 20 mpg. It was a safe car as well, with a padded dash, a “crash basement” for its front seat passenger, tubeless tires, independent suspension and a pop-out windshield. But because of the roadblocks raised in obtaining supplies like steel, SEC investigations, press leaks, and a well-orchestrated rumor campaign, the company shut down in August 1948. In his disappointment, Tucker published an open letter in June 1948 concerning the obstacles he was facing. He wrote:
But there is another group – a very powerful group – which for two years has carried on a carefully organized campaign to prevent the motoring public from ever getting their hands on the wheel of a Tucker. These people have tried to introduce spies in our plant. They have endeavored to bribe and corrupt loyal Tucker employees . . . But it hasn’t stopped there.
They even have spokesmen in high places in Washington. As a direct result of their influence, Tucker dealers all over the country – men of character and standing in their communities – have been harassed and grilled by agents of the government and Congressional Investigating Committees.
When the day comes that anyone can bend our country’s laws and lawmakers to serve selfish, competitive ends, that day democratic government dies.107
            In a publicized trial Tucker was acquitted of fraud, but the damage was already done, and all that was left for him was to go to Brazil and attempt to build his last dream vehicle, the Tucker Carioca, a kit car that supposedly could be assembled with only one wrench. Tucker may have been victim to powerful forces, or he may just have been a bad businessman. His experience may well have been reflective of life in America during the early Cold War. Whatever the case, the dream for a truly revolutionary post-war automobile was gone.
            Incremental changes coupled with annual style makeovers would lead the American automobile industry down the road that would end in the appearance of the dinosaur in the driveway by the end of the 1950s.