Category Archive 'Automobiles'
28 Nov 2015

1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500



21 Nov 2015

“The Purgatory of Car Engines”

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My 1959 Triumph TR3A was blue, but did not have a white convertible top tonneau cover or whitewall tires.

Jack Baruth rants, in Road & Track, against the straight-4-cylinder engine.

As a design, the inline-four is both banal and inadequate. The intake hangs off one side and the exhaust off the other, so when you open the hood it looks unbalanced and cheap. ​Enlarged to modern two-liter-plus proportions, this lack of balance makes it want to shake itself to death. At idle it rattles; at full revs it moans. Instead of the dual-megaphone mufflers associated with powerful V8s, the most efficient four-cylinder exhaust is a massive coffee can hanging off one side of the bumper. With the possible exception of the famous Offenhauser, there has never been a coffee table made from a straight-four block. …

Yet the unloved inline-four plows on. It’s cheap to make, cheap to modify. It fits in everything from a small motorcycle to a 5-Series BMW. It can be turbocharged to serve as a poor replacement for a more colorful six. This strategy, employed by the high-end German manufacturers and the Koreans alike, makes it easier to pass CO2-related regulations. So what if the resulting concoction sounds like a paint shaker? You muffle it to death and then play a fake engine sound through the stereo. Nobody knows the difference.

Read the whole thing.

Sure, a 12-cylinder Ferrari or an E-type Jaguar with a straight-6 would be nice, but face reality, we all have to start somewhere, and less expensive cars, and even some very cool once-less-expensive sports cars which are highly enjoyable to drive are straight 4s. I, for instance, used to own the examples illustrated top and bottom, and they were definitely fun to drive.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

1967 Alfa Romeo Duetto Spyder

20 Nov 2015

Light Reflected from City Skyscraper Buckles Bodywork and Mirror of Businessman’s Car

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Daily Mail story

24 Oct 2015

Self-Driving Cars Will Have Ethics Programmed In

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Self-driving cars! What could be better? Instead of hundreds of millions of individuals making individual decisions moment by moment, the experts managing the administrative state could decide what lane you’re in, how fast you travel, and –in extremis– whether you live or die. The fear is that unenlightened bitter clingers might object.

Technology Review:

Imagine that in the not-too-distant future, you own a self-driving car. One day, while you are driving along, an unfortunate set of events causes the car to head toward a crowd of 10 people crossing the road. It cannot stop in time but it can avoid killing 10 people by steering into a wall. However, this collision would kill you, the owner and occupant. What should it do?

One way to approach this kind of problem is to act in a way that minimizes the loss of life. By this way of thinking, killing one person is better than killing 10.

But that approach may have other consequences. If fewer people buy self-driving cars because they are programmed to sacrifice their owners, then more people are likely to die because ordinary cars are involved in so many more accidents. The result is a Catch-22 situation.

Read the whole thing.

30 Aug 2015

Duesenberg Coupe Simone: The Car Which May or May Not Have Ever Actually Been Built

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What actually exists are 1:24 models of the car made by the Franklin Mint, by one account, from drawings found in a barn on the remote Central Pennsylvania estate of Guy de LaRouche.

The legend says that the Duesenberg Coupe Simone was created by the coachbuilding firm Emmet-Armand on the Duesenberg Type J frame in response to a special order from French cosmetics magnate Guy (or Gui) de LaRouche (or LaRoche). The coupe took three years to build and was finished after the bankruptcy of Cord and the end of Duesenberg production. The Coupe Simone was named for LaRouche’s lover and was intended to be a gift to her. It was sent to France for LaRouche’s approval, before it was to be exhibited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, but disappeared as the result of a love triangle and the outbreak of the Second World War. The Coupe Simone was either destroyed during the war, or remains forgotten today, rusting away, in a barn somewhere in rural France.

An alternative story contends that plans for the car were drawn up in the 1930s, but the car was never built, and only the Franklin Mint models made from drawing re-discovered decades later were ever actually built.

Another version contends that neither car nor drawings nor French cosmetics king ever actually existed, and the model car was invented in the late 1990s by a couple of Franklin Mint designers, who made up a romantic story to explain the Art Deco automobile they had imagined.

Diesel Punks: The Strange Case of the Midnight Ghost.

Opposite Lock: The Duesenberg Coupe Simone: A One-Off that Never Was.

Wikicars: Duesenberg Coupe Simone

Before Its News: A Duesenberg That Didn’t Get Past the Drawing and Planning Stages of a Coachbuilder.

16 Jun 2015

1938 Packard 12

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Old Cars Weekly profiles a car built to fit a specific customer’s taste back in the days when an individual automobile buyer could make decisions of his own and all of an automobile’s features, equipment, and design were not dictated by a Washington bureaucracy working in cahoots with giant corporations to limit competition and choice.

[A] particular style of car came to be: the “Philadelphia car.” These cars were usually painted black or very dark colors, were fitted with blackwall tires, had some or all of the chrome removed or painted and had logos and emblems removed or painted over. In general, they were understated and rather reserved, and even blacked out to the point of being eccentric and almost sinister. Status was downplayed and there was to be no free advertising of the brand of the car. This even affected the mainstream designs of the luxury automakers; on the very exclusive 1934-1937 Cadillac V-16 models, the Cadillac name can be found nowhere on the outside of the car.

Daniel Bertsch Wentz Jr. of Rydal, Pa., was an executive of the Stonega Coke and Coal Co. and a member of the elite North Philadelphia Family (Wentz, Bertsch, and Leisenring) that controlled extensive coal mining operations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia from the 1860s to the 1960s. In short, he was old money high society and he could afford any car, even in hard times. In 1937 and 1938, the United States was in a recession following the depression, yet Packard had restyled its entire senior line to attract more buyers. Daniel Wentz saw one of the new Packards just after they came out and liked them, but he had his own vision. He went to his local coachbuilder, with whom he had worked before, and discussed his ideas with Enos Derham, owner of Derham Custom Body Corp. of Rosemont, Pa. He asked Enos to design a special convertible victoria on the new Packard Twelve chassis. …

The design retained the Packard front fenders and hood, running boards and rear fenders with modifications. From the cowl back, the body was completely different. The windshield was built with multiple bronze castings with a delicate chrome frame for the glass only, and was raked and veed more than the standard factory Packard windshield, making it lower and sportier.

Indeed, from the cowl back, his convertible bore no resemblance to the cataloged Packard convertible victoria. The entire body was aluminum skin over ash structural wood, and the body lines were formed into the aluminum, not separate pieces. In fact, the rear tub of the car was formed in one piece of aluminum, including the continuous beltline. The doors alone were amazingly designed and built with multiple compound curves from front to back and top to bottom. The beltline tapered through the length of the 4-foot doors, and the upper line, which dropped dramatically from the windshield to the rear quarter made the windshield look even lower. These curves and drops gave the car a sleek and sporty look unlike that of any production cars from 1938.

Derham straightened the front edge of the doors where Packard had curved them, then curved the lower edge and angled the rear edge forward to break up the side of the car with an attractive curve that accentuated the slope of the rear deck. Overall, the design of the doors was very complex and extremely well thought out and executed both in function and in style; the more you look at the doors, the more you appreciate them. This is one of the features that sets this car as a one-off Full Custom body apart from production cars. This intense level of craftsmanship simply couldn’t be achieved within the corporate cost restrictions.

The design utilized the Packard long-wheelbase chassis which allowed a full and comfortable rear seat with plenty of leg room with enough room for a long, sloping rear deck treatment that was quite striking. The other very unusual feature of the design was that of the top and windows. The door windows had no vent windows and the sides were angled to match the rake of the windshield in front and the quarter windows in the rear. Having quarter windows at all was a departure from Packard four-passenger convertibles and made sitting in the rear seat much more pleasant. With the windows down, the car looked longer, lower and much sportier.

Read the whole thing.


07 Jun 2015

1908 Sears Motor Buggy: Still in the Original Family and Still Running


1908 Sears Motor Buggy runabout

Jon Mertes of Onawa, Iowa bought the Sears Motor Buggy 107 years ago. It has outlived two generations of owners and now belongs to the grandson of its original purchaser. The Motor Buggy still runs, and apart from an engine repair and a new set of tires, is in completely original condition. When Ken Mertes drives it, he is using 107-year-old brakes!

Old Cars Report

05 May 2015

Some People Prefer Old Cars


1992 Toyota Land Cruiser. The paint on ours is a little rougher, and I’ve mounted a 1920s Alvis Hare hood ornament on it.

Sam Smith, in Wired, explains why many enthusiasts are collecting old pieces of crap, instead of buying new cars.

[A]s far as I can tell, this affliction is rooted in what we’ve lost. Call it simplicity or purity, maybe even character, born not of wear or time, but of freedom of design. And an obsession with the fundamental quirks that give a car personality. Things like floor-hinged pedals, gated shifters, or doors whose latches feel deeply mechanical, like the cocking of a gun. And if you drive a lot of new cars, you realize that stuff is growing rarer by the minute.

It is a byproduct of progress. On paper, a new BMW M3 is superior to any before it. The modern car accelerates harder, stops quicker, and is quieter and more comfortable than an M3 built in the 1990s. Any engineer will point to it as a less compromised product. But compromise is character. The older car is simpler and smaller. It was built to less aggressive crash standards, so it has thinner pillars and weighs less. You can see out of it easily, and the lack of weight helps the car give you feedback, so it’s more fun to drive at legal speed. The new one feels like a city bus by comparison.

Modern can be better, but it isn’t necessarily.

This isn’t a unique opinion, and these aren’t new arguments. Twenty years ago, people were looking to the vehicles of decades prior and bemoaning the increase in weight and complexity. In the late 1800s, the first automobiles were viewed as atrocities, far less civilized and romantic than horses. Rose-tinting the past while moving forward is human nature.

But looking back still has value. Many analysts, for example, now believe that the recent boom in classic-car values is due to the arc of new-vehicle development. Take the current Porsche 911 GT3: a fantastic car, but complex by the standards of even ten years ago. The electrically assisted power steering is distant. The car’s newly elongated wheelbase improves stability and ride, but at the expense of a cozy cabin and compact footprint. It’s also available only with an automatic transmission—a piece of equipment that takes an engaging job out of the driver’s hands.

Previous GT3s were deeply involving to drive and only available with manuals. When the new car was announced, older examples—even relatively recent models—saw a noticeable increase in value.

What have we gained? Everyone knows that restrictive legislation killed the grossly unsafe or heavily polluting car. That is inarguably good. As is the glut of durable, crashable and recyclable vehicles filling showrooms. We are living in something of a golden age of automobiles—more performance and relative fuel economy than ever before. And while new cars still break, statistically, they’re more reliable and efficient than at any point in history. The inevitable march toward perfection has given us direct-injected, turbocharged engines with fantastic performance and wonderful fuel economy, dual-clutch transmissions that deliver shifts in the blink of an eye, and electric cars virtually free of excuses.

Part of this is simply time. Computer-controlled engines have been common for over 30 years. Crash safety has been a science for longer than NASA’s Apollo program existed. Even the simple rubber tire is over a century old. Those are just three pieces of a complex machine, but cumulatively speaking, each has received more development hours than the Manhattan Project. Given similar time and engineering attention, anything would evolve to be good.

But if humanity is an assemblage of flaws, we’re slowly engineering the human out of the automobile. And the more new cars I drive, the more I find myself drawn to the “bad” old ones.

We bought the faster, most loaded 3-series BMW a few years back. The bloody thing actually came without a spare tire. BMW was cooperating with Big Brother and saving energy. The driver, you see, was supposed to not need a spare anyway, because BMW thoughtfully provided original equipment run-flat tires.

Those tires, mind you, were noisy and had an extremely bad grip on wet roads and dirt roads, and wore out after 10,000 miles, and cost a fortune to replace (I bought non-run-flat replacements), but you’re supposed to be happy that you’re saving the planet.

The car is fast as hell, but it has a lousy first gear. You really have to crank the revs up, or you will stall out. BMW included a new sort of turn signal switch as well. Move it left or right, and you don’t get a positive setting. You get a mushy sort of feel, and it blinks a few times and then goes back to off. You have to move it again to get it completely on. This, too, is supposed to be an improvement.

The radio, of course, was designed by some 13-year-old Oriental. You poke your finger at various illuminated bits, all of which do multiple things potentially.

What really torched me off was going out to check the oil, and finding that this car was built without a dipstick. The owner is intended to rely on his computer, the same computer (which if the battery ever get a little low) warns him emphatically that the car is dying and will momentarily blow up, the same computer which issues constantly all sorts of emoji symbols telling you that a bulb is out somewhere or your tire pressure is under 25 lbs.

My reaction was to swear a great oath that I’ll never buy a new BMW again. But, really, I don’t like being told what to do, and I’m coming to the conclusion that I may never buy a new car, period, again.

In the good old days, before we were born, a chap could go to Morris Garages in Oxford, England, and tell the nice men what sort of car he wanted: what kind of engine, supercharged or not, what kind of body style, what color, and he could specify all the little conveniences and accessories he desired. “I’ll have Brooklands windscreens, please!”

Today, federal cabinet departments conspire with enormous car manufacturing corporations to make all our decisions for us, for our own good.

Who would voluntarily pay several thousand dollars to put explosive airbags all over his car, knowing that there is an inevitable hazard that one of them might go off and knowing that one of those infernal devices might injure you or kill a kid? Possibly some mental defective living in California, but not you or me. But we have no choice. Some bureaucratic committee in Washington decided for us, and we get to pay. Next, we will be getting a grand or so worth of rear video camera and backing-up-to-park assistance.

And, that’s why a decent new car today costs $40,000-$50,000. My father used to go out, circa 1960, and get a shiny new car for $2000.

Karen had an unfortunate encounter with an oak tree atop the Blue Ridge, trying to come home in a howling blizzard a few years ago, and she totalled our SUV. I thought about it and bought an ancient (1992) Toyota Land Cruiser off of Ebay for $4000. That Land Cruiser was precisely what Sam Smith would describe as “a piece of crap.” Just about everything that could be wrong with a car was wrong with it, except for the body and the engine which were both just fine. Naturally, I had to drop a few more thousand into it immediately, but it runs, and it is spectacular at lumbering its way through mud and snow. I’m basically planning to keep it forever.

07 Apr 2015

More Beast of Turin Photos

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The Beast of Turin belches smoke and fire from a 4-cylinder engine the size of an apartment building boiler. Built in 1910 the Fiat S76 successfully stole the land speed record from the Blitzen Benz doing 116 mph in 1911.

The Fiat followed up its success with a posted speed of 132.27 mph in a one-way run, driven by American Arthur Duray at Ostend, Belgium. However, the Fiat was denied a new record as it was unable to complete a return run within the specified one hour.

06 Apr 2015

The Beast of Turin

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The FIAT S76, nicknamed “The Beast of Turin”, was a car built in 1911 by FIAT specifically to beat the land speed record held at the time by Blitzen Benz. It has an engine displacement of 28,353 cm3 (1,730.2 in3) producing 290 hp (216.3 kW).


Duncan Pittaway finally realised the incredible achievement of firing-up the monstrous 104-year old Fiat S76 for the first time in more than a century.

Despite its vintage, the motor boasts four valve-per-cylinder, multi-spark, overhead cam technology to go with its Spitfire-eclipsing displacement of 28.5 litres.

Frankly it looks scary. With no exhaust as such we’re treated to the sight of the aftermath of internal combustion shooting straight out of the exhaust ports while the whole car shakes violently. Bear in mind that in its day the S76 was reputed to be putting out around 300bhp and that all that power was transmitted to the axle by way of chains.

Via Ratak Monodosico.

That certainly looks like fun!

05 Apr 2015

1938 Talbot Lago


1938 Talbot Lago T150C Figoni et Falaschi

01 Feb 2015

Some French Marque of the Late 1930s, Right?

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Wrong. It’s a Devaux Coupe, made in Australia in 2001, though obviously inspired by the great French coach builders of the ’30s.


More photos.

Devaux web-site:

Every now and then a car is launched that makes people stop in their tracks, draw breath and contemplate the ability of man to stretch the boundaries of automotive design. The Devaux coupe is such a car.

The design cues are unashamedly 1930s France. For this classic European grand tourer, with its abundance of sporting character, emanates from an era when stylish design, refinement and comfort were just as important as performance.

Indeed, the Devaux captures the essence of some of the world’s finest cars and those who know their automotive history can readily identify elements of the famous coupés of the late 1930s – like the Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic, the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Lungo or the Bentley 41/4 litre Streamline.

The Devaux’s inspiration rests in an era when cars were designed by artists and built by craftsmen – an era when providing everlasting beauty in the ‘coachwork’ was paramount.

Yet for all its inspirations the Devaux is an original.

A unique car of beautiful proportions, it has been developed by Devaux Cars to provide the automotive connoisseur with real aesthetic and emotional pleasure.

Unique Cars tells us that back in 2009, the price was $195,000 AUD ($151,510 US).

From Madame Scherzo via Karen L. Myers.

20 Jan 2015

Clean, Precise, Serene: Porsche 911 Engine Plant, Assembly Line Zuffenhausen

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Those Nibelungs make both wonderful toys and terrific weapons of war.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

16 Oct 2014

Fast Eddie Rickenbacker

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Eddie Rickenbacker (who would just a few years later shoot down thirteen Fokker D.VIIs, four other German fighters, five highly defended observation balloons, and four two-seated reconnaissance planes) beats Barney Oldfield at the Sioux City Speedway, July 4, 1914. Rickenbacker is probably driving a Peugeot; Oldfield either a Fiat or a Stutz.

Commenter Pico knows the correct answers: “Rickenbacker won driving a Duesenberg, Oldfield a Stutz, which dropped out due to a cracked cylinder.”

From Iowahawk via Karen L. Myers.

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