C7 Corvette will debut January 13, 2013. Logo unveiled today. Hats and shirts certainly coming soon to a dealership near you.

October 18, 2012

Here’s the official seventh-gen Corvette Logo courtesy of General Motors

General Motors announced that the seventh-generation Corvette will be unveiled on January 13, 2013 in Detroit, from where according to Chrysler, cars are imported . GM also took the opportunity to release the new Corvette logo, which like the car, looks a heck of a lot like the one it replaced. Releasing the logo now ensures that the General will profit immediately from licensing rights as the logo is stiched and silk-screened on a bunch of Chinese-made swag destined for dealer parts and accessory counters and third-party catalog sales entities.

So what will we see in January? Something evolutionary, rather revolutionary. Did anyone really think that the mid-engined Corvette promised to us since 1971 would actually appear in 2013? Certainly nobody with a basic understanding of the automotive industry.

The public can also count on a lighter, more advanced car with higher test loop MPG ratings, as well as fit and finish and an interior that GM and all magazines will claim are of significant higher quality to meet the Corvette’s standing as a “world-class sports car”…but of course, those claims will evaporate a year later when all the same journalists who touted the better interior materials and fit in their first reviews on the 2013 Corvette come back and bash the cheap interior parts and flimsy seats in their head-to-head comparos against the Porsche 911 and BMW M3. Like Mitt Romney and John Kerry, journalists have a distinguished history of “being for it before they were against it” when it comes to Corvette build quality and interior materials.


The world’s first Italian hypercar, the 1905 FIAT 60-hp, to appear at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

August 7, 2012

The 1905 FIAT 60 HP was the first high performance car specifically built for the ultra-rich to drive fast on public roads. This extremely important and coveted sole surviving example of the original twenty built will be seen and driven in public for the first time in over a half-century at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

It’s not often that I get totally psyched-up to see a single specific car at a top flight collector vehicle show like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.  At the upcoming smorgasbord of automotive excellence on the 18th fairway there will be one four-wheeled masterpiece upon which I just can’t wait to lay my eyes.

Fiat is a featured marque for the 2012 event, so Olympia, Washington’s Bob “Sully” Sullivan will be bringing his 1905 FIAT 60-hp tourer.  Before the sighs of disappointment emit from the collective readership like the teacher just announced a pop quiz during the last hour of the final day of school, this car is not your average Fix-It-Again-Tony.  It’s the very best surviving road car from a time when FIAT was spelled with all capitals (it went to lower case in 1906) and the manufacturer advertised its products as “The Aristocrat of Auto Cars”.  If that isn’t enough for you, there’s this: upon hearing Sully had unearthed the car, and even though the field had already been selected for this year’s event, Pebble Beach Concours President Sandra Button personally called to ask that this Holy Grail of early motoring be exhibited.

Button has a great reason for extending her invitation.  She knows that many of the most respected collectors have laid accolades on this car, including a member of the LeMay family, who called it “the single best collector car on the planet”… including the McCaw’s recently acquired $35-million drool-worthy Ferrari GTO.  Sullivan’s 60-hp tourer is the lone survivor of the model considered to be the first Italian road-going hypercar for the ultra-rich, making it the granddaddy to the likes of the pre-war road-spec Alfa 8C, Lamborghini Miura, and Ferrari F40/F50/Enzo. This nearly entirely original example has just been woken from more than a half-century of sleep and has already cruised at modern legal highway speeds, which should also be a tip to its credentials.

Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino was founded in 1899 in Turin, four years before ITALA, and more than a decade before ALFA.  By 1904 the company’s race cars were competing and frequently winning all over world against rival Mercedes.  This translated into strong sales of its $9000 28-hp bread-and-butter customer road cars. Still, FIAT wanted to capitalize on its performance reputation, especially in America, where insanely wealthy robber barons were notorious for throwing money at expensive homes and toys.

FIAT commenced a program to match its newly-designed chassis with a 60-hp version of its race engine for customer road use. The company elected to keep high-strung 90 and 100-hp engines available only for pure racing cars.  The steel chassis, which replaced the 1904’s wood chassis, used a 5/8-inch thick aluminum scuttle and an aluminum bellypan to support a 10.6-liter T-head four-cylinder engine featuring a make-and-break ignition with revolutionary automatic advance.  Transmission, gears and nickel-steel axles were of the same specifications as used on factory racing cars until 1912. Every single part on the car was numbered, and all cast parts were hand-filed to remove every trace of imperfection.  Even the crankcase came perfectly scraped.  By 1905 only twenty chassis and engine combinations were completed.

According to the oral history of the vehicle, Manhattan-based Hollander and Tangeman, the sole FIAT agents in the United States, ordered this $13,500 special short chassis 60-hp package with upgraded 100-hp Grand Prix racing sprockets on behalf of brewing tycoon August Anheuser Busch, Sr..  It shipped from Italy to luxury coachbuilder Quinby in Newark, New Jersey.   Quinby had patented a new type of body construction, which it applied to this FIAT chassis.  The all-aluminum skin was affixed to a wood frame, then the craftsmen used brass moldings to eliminate evidence of seams. No fasteners were visible, as all were affixed from inside the cabin, then covered by hand with silver solder.   It was an amazingly labor-intensive process, which justified the $4,000 price of the five passenger touring body.

In the days when $600 bought the top-selling “Curved Dash” Oldsmobile Model R with 5-hp and a 20-mph top speed,  $17,500 for a 60-hp FIAT was simply uncharted territory in terms of price and performance.  Among the other nineteen 60-hp  clients were Kaiser Wilhelm II and one of the famed car-crazy Vanderbilts.  Needless to say, there were many ruffled feathers when those in Germany learned all three had replaced their Mercedes with Italian FIATs.

The FIAT spent thirty years with its first owner.  In 1935, Connecticut collector James Melton bought the FIAT from the estate of Busch, who had committed suicide a year earlier to end agonizing pain from ongoing medical ailments. Just six years later, Melton sold the car to a local friend, Don Miller. Mr. Miller was known to exhibit the vehicle and occasionally start the engine for amazed spectators, but he rarely drove it, if at all.  The same went for the car’s third owner, a very private Connecticut collector whose tenure with the FIAT started in 1973 and ended in 2012 when Sully and co-hort Dave Geisler acquired it and moved it out of the same seven mile radius in which it had stayed for the last 77 years.

Sully and Geisler found the car in a state not unlike an Egyptian tomb discovery.  Although it hadn’t run in decades, the car was original down to its assigned New York license plate.   Initial assessment identified only three non-factory parts: a small repainted panel section, an incorrect carburetor and non-factory magneto.  Sullivan smartly spotted the factory carburetor and magneto on the shelf near the car, making it entirely numbers-matching.

The car was sent to the rural Wisconsin shop of collector car wizard George Ktsanes.  Ktsanes set out to accomplish many tasks all with the goals of keeping the FIAT and its 107-year-old patina purely original and make it run like it did in 1905.  He carefully inspected all aspects trying to establish history, and then attended to every part of the car, carefully cleaning and addressing issues stemming from its long hibernation.  He refurbished the original carburetor and magneto to perfect operation and refit them to the car.  Ktsanes established that the fitted replacement magneto probably was the source of poor running causing the car to be removed from road use prior to WWII.  Being a traditional low-tension two-flux variety magneto running at crank speed, rather than the original’s special required four-flux cam speed, the 60-hp engine had long misfired on every other stroke.  With the proper parts rebuilt and installed, it now starts easier with the hand crank and idles nicely at a comically lazy 70 rpms.

Ktsanes told me he has already driven the car on his property, reaching speeds in the mid 50s.  If it weren’t for the value of the car and the lack of available road for the braking from higher speeds, the car would have tested its legs quite a bit more.  Speaking of brakes, Ktsanes says the pedal, which operates the two driveshaft brakes, actually works pretty well for the era.  The handbrake controls mechanical units on the rear wheels.   Luckily, even if the brakes aren’t to modern standards, at least people will hear the FIAT coming — the downward-pointing cutouts before the factory-fit mufflers blast a roaring mechanical cacophony strong enough to clear four square feet of pea-gravel with a single blip of the throttle.

There has been a lot of hubbub about other rare Fiats hitting the 18th Fairway at Pebble Beach this year, most notably Larz Anderson’s 1907 Tipo 50/60.  Not to take anything away from Mr. Anderson’s fabulous vehicle, but not only is his car a more widely produced (one of 116) non-competition-based 11-liter six-cylinder, it also doesn’t run.  So when the cars pull into Carmel on August 16th for lunch during the Tour d’Elegance, the Anderson car definitely won’t be there.  From what I hear from Bob Sullivan, the 1905 FIAT will be on the Tour.

Now if I can just get him to save a 107-year old leather seat for me!  It would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride in the car fit for a king …and a brewer, which fathered the market segment that spurred the creation of the most spectacular works of automotive art.

Carroll Shelby — Dead at 89

May 11, 2012

After over 50-plus years since doctors first started predicting his imminent death, it was announced today that auto builder, dealer, marketer, racer, team manager, deal-maker, chicken farmer, and icon Carroll Shelby took life’s checkered flag Thursday as he passed away at the age of 89. Shelby’s bad heart forced him to retire from racing in 1959, but thanks to his second career building sports and pony cars, though, over a half-century later, Shelby was still synonymous with speed.

Tough and more stubborn than a Texas bull in his negotiations and business ventures, Shelby was the quite the opposite with his adoring fans, who often were surprised by his willingness to pose for photos and sign autographs (frequently happily doing so on the dashboards and within engine bays of the cars bearing his name or influence.) The cars in which he was involved reads like a list of bucket-list drives, such as the AC Cobras (in original 260, then 289, 427 and Daytona Coupe forms), GT 350 and GT 500,Toyota 2000GT SCCA racer,  Sunbeam Tiger, Dodge Viper, and Shelby Series One.  His hi-po Shelbyized versions of front wheel drive Chrysler products like the Omni GLH/GLH-S, Lancer and Daytona are acknowledged by experts as helping to get the import tuner craze rolling.

There were racers turned car builders before Carroll Shelby, and there certainly will be many after him…but nobody will likely have the success and recognition of this American legend.  While his Cobra has been the most widely replicated car in automotive history, Carroll will forever remain one-of-a-kind.

Craigslist Post of the Day: A Rare Restored Porch With A Trans

March 12, 2012

Craigslist offers automotive journalists a never-ending supply of absolutely frightening ads.  CL is the web site that single-handedly illustrates the need for better public education in the United States.

It should be a simple thing to list a car for sale, really.   All one needs to do is get the registration out of the glove box and list the information along with the current mileage on the odometer.  Type it into Word or an email to check for little red underlines indicating a misspelling.

This clown really prewed the scooch on the following Craigslist ad.  It seems to have all of the great goofs, including misspelling Porsche and not listing the model (pictures show it as a 924, which means at $5950, it’s at least $2500 too high to be “priced to sell”).  It does have the important “trans” option… although, to be fair, 924s are worth so little as the least desirable Porsches ever made that many of them are sitting in garages, driveways and yards without transmissions (or engines, windows or interiors, for that matter.)

If there’s one giveaway why this advertisement is so classically bad, all one needs to do is look at the last line to see where the owner lives and keeps the car.  I’m sure the folks shopping for Sudafed in bulk are amazed by the purple exotic.

1977 Porch – restored – Great condition! OBO – $5950 (Lynnwood)

1977 Porch – Purple – Priced to sell!
has nice stereo
108k original miles
new tires for speed
sun roof
hatch back
leather seats
Call xxx-xxx-xxx For More Info and to come check it out! Located in Lynnwood by Walmart.

Why The Chevrolet Volt Is A Game Changer

March 18, 2011

I have written plenty of articles on the subject of electric cars, hybrids and related technologies. Today’s press release from Chevrolet provides even more to support my long-held feelings that the Chevy Volt is the first big game changer — far beyond any Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf, Tesla, or others.

Unlike the 55ish-mpg of the Prius (similar to compacts in the 1950s) or the limited range (just like those made in the late 1800s) pure electric Leaf, Tesla or limited production tin cans made by small-volume electric car companies, the Volt is actually delivering anywhere from 60 to around 1500 mpg, while granting the flexibility required by the real-world driving masses.

The Volt isn’t the world’s best or prettiest car…but it certainly is proof of GM’s concept, which will allow the technology to expand to all of its front wheel drive/automatic transmission-equipped vehicles within five years.

And it’s more proof why the Volt is a game changer.

Chevy Volt Owners Write Their Own Fuel Economy Stories
Gas or no gas makes huge difference in determining miles per gallon equivalency
WARREN, Mich. – Since he took delivery of his 2011 Chevrolet Volt electric car with extended-range capability in December, Mike DiPisa is averaging 231 miles per gallon of gasoline. It’s because his 26-mile daily commute allows him to run almost gas free.

“I haven’t filled up my Volt since I took delivery,” the Lyndhhurst, N.J. resident said. Of the 1,485 miles DiPisa put on his Volt, 1,391 have used using grid electricity.

DiPisa’s fuel economy is on the high end of real-life experiences of early Volt owners, but it isn’t that unusual.

Matt Stehouwer of Lansing, Mich., says he’s getting 62 MPG after putting more than 1,500 miles on his Volt, including a drive from New York, where he took delivery of his car. He commutes about 32 miles daily from his home to his job as Technical Manager at Michigan State University’s College of Natural Science.

Mike McCarver, a retiree from Los Altos, Calif., has traveled nearly 800 miles since he bought his Volt on Jan. 28, and he’s averaging 93 mpg. McCarver uses his Volt to travel around town, to the local country club, and occasionally to his vacation home in Carmel about 80 miles away.

Three Volts. Three distinct fuel economy stories. Unlike most cars, where mileage differences vary slightly from driver to driver, the Volt defies conventional MPG measures because it runs approximately 35 miles on a single charge of electricity to its 16 kWh battery, and then can travel another 344 miles on an onboard gasoline-powered electric generator that seamlessly kicks in when the battery is drained.

By recharging their Volt regularly, owners are easily surpassing the 93 miles per gallon equivalence, or MPGe, on full electric operation and an overall 60 MPGe composite fuel economy during extended-range operation. The EPA ratings make the Volt the most energy efficient compact car on the market today.

“I really believe that over the long-term we have to have technology that is going to get us off fossil fuels and the Volt does that – I have the option of never buying gas again,” McCarver said.

Said Volt marketing director Cristi Landy: “The Volt is great for any lifestyle and can handle the driving demands of daily life. The majority of Volt customers are finding that by recharging their cars daily they are seeing exceptional real-world fuel economy. ”

Vehicle Buying and Selling Lesson #223: What Is A One-Owner Car?

February 1, 2011

People have a tendency to oversell their vehicles in online listings. Seeing words like “beautiful” or “rare” for something ugly and mass-produced is roughly as common as a Charlie Sheen rehab stint.

What gets me, though, is when sellers exhibit a total disregard for accepted terminology. Even worse, most tend to advertise the improper use of said terms by immediately following with conflicting explanations or caveats, leading prospective buyers to wonder why it’s worth dealing with the seller at all.

For instance, here’s an eBay listing I recently read:

You are bidding on what is essentially a one owner Triumph TR 2 short door. Original engine with O/D transmission upgraded back in the 50’s. I purchased it from the owner who had the car from 56 to 2003, he bought it next to new, so there was brief ownership by either dealer or private owner for less then a year. I have all the mechanical maintenance notes from the owner from 56 to the late 90’s, at which time due to age, he slowed down on maintaining the vehicle himself.

This description is laughable. The seller claims this is “essentially a one owner Triumph”, then immediately details that it’s had three owners. The seller doesn’t count himself as an owner, despite having the car for nearly eight years, which eclipses the national averages for both new and used car retention.

Defining “One Owner Vehicle”: A car, truck, motorcycle, or similar vehicle that has been in the same family user group since it was purchased brand new. A car does not need its original title, because moving from state-to-state requires a new title.

When a car is purchased — by a private party, broker or dealer, the car is no longer a one-owner vehicle. Even if it is a curbstoner (an unlicensed dealer or broker) who buys the car then chooses not to change the title before finding a person to whom they can resell, they still count as an owner. Additionally, most states consider this tax evasion.

Where the definition gets into a gray area is when it comes to cars passed between family members. While some might claim that a car has to be in the same name as originally titled, others allow a one-owner car to extend to inclusion of one that has been passed from original buyer to children or grandchildren, especially if they were among the original users of the car when new. For instance, my father bought a new ’86 Dodge 600ES Turbo Convertible as 50th birthday present to himself. I drove it from new on weekends, as did my brother, who got the car when he graduated college in 1991. When he replaced the Dodge with a new car in 1999, I took the car. It has been titled in two states under three names, but all by people who drove it when it still had the new car smell. Furthermore, the car has never sold — rather transferred under state family-gift allowances for the purposes of identifying primary insurance responsibilities. Is it a one-owner car? Probably not by the strictest definition, but it certainly falls under one-family-owned car.

The description of one-owner is intended to increase value. At the end of the day, though, it shouldn’t… and usually doesn’t. After all, why pay a premium for something that is immediately lost once it is paid for? (Creepy sex addicts need not write in with their arguments on this question.)

It is far more important that previous owners, no matter how many there were, took care of the vehicle.

The Defendants Left The Sack-O-Suds In A Surf Green, Not Metallic Mint Green ’64 Buick Skylark Convertible!

December 20, 2010

Paint color names were still top-of-mind as I was watching “My Cousin Vinny” over the weekend. Even though it was the umpteenth time I had watched it, something new struck me: with so much emphasis placed on automotive details in the film’s climax, why didn’t the screenwriter go the extra distance with the actual paint color names?  Neither the 1964 Buick Skylark Convertible driven by the defendants or the stolen 1963 Pontiac Tempest driven by the actual perpetrators were ever offered in a paint color called Metallic Mint Green.

The 1964 Buick in the movie was painted Surf Green Poly.  In 1963, one could order a Pontiac Tempest in a shade called Silverleaf Green Poly.

I admit that the movie wouldn’t have changed at all utilizing the correct color names.  Actually, I might even say that it would be more far-fetched than Marisa Tomei asking me out on a date (and my wife saying it’s okay to accept) for any general mechanic to know offhand the names of low-production paint options from cars sold a quarter-century earlier.