Paul Newman Takes Life’s Final Checkered Flag

September 27, 2008

Word just came across the wire that Paul Newman has died of cancer at the age of 83. The morning news programs are all detailing his acting, food business and charity, but here at The Four Wheel Drift, we’re going to remind people that Mr. Newman was a class-act racer.

Newman’s interest in racing was tickled after acting in the 1968 movie “Winning”. Unlike other actors before and after, Newman didn’t just dive into a fleeting passion with cars and then move on. Instead, he brought the same dedication and professionalism to his racing as to his acting.

Newman first won a road race in 1972 while driving a Lotus Elan at Thompson, CT. Over the next two decades he would capture four SCCA National Titles — including D Production in 1976, C Production in ’79 and two consecutive GT-1 trophies (1985 and 1986). He also took two Trans Am Series wins, one in 1982 and one in 1986.

Newman’s endurance racing record made him a legend among actor/racers. In 1977 he placed 5th in 24 Hours of Daytona. In 1979 he piloted a tricky Porsche 935 to second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His crowning achievement, though, might be the IMSA GTS Class victory at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona at the young age of 70. Newman last competed at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2004.

Along the way, Newman was known as a tough competitor, but a true gentleman. As a team owner, driver, enthusiast, and spectator, he was admired for his abilities, insight and complete lack of ego.

Other actors will come and go from driving, but chances are that there will never be another guy as great on the screen as he was behind the wheel and in the pits.

Though most of the world will probably remember him from one of his movie, forgive us here if our memories of Paul Newman are those of him sawing the wheels of Datsun/Nissans, Triumphs and Porsches in his role as professional racer.


It’s Going To Get Ugly: GM Had “Supercars” Before Setright’s Miura

September 24, 2008

It is considered automotive historical fact that British auto journalist L.J.K Setright coined the word “supercar” in his review of the Lamborghini Miura. Even I have referenced this piece of trivia.

There’s one huge problem, though! It’s wrong.

One of the benefits of having a huge collection of old automotive magazines is that you learn something new every single time your colon comes a-calling. For my morning constitutional today, I picked up the May 1966 edition of Car Life.

On page 28, Car Life’s road test of the ’66 Chevy II 327/350 V-8 uses the subtitle “Who Needs 400 Inches for Supercar Status?”. The last paragraph uses the word three times. (“More intriguing, however, is the fact that the Chevy II 327 relates more to the present proliferation of Supercars than it does to a counter-Mustang. And in that context, it is well worth a close examination. Unlike some samples from the Supercar spectrum, it maintains a gentleness along with its fierce performance potential; its power/weight ratio is second to none and it is definitely better balanced than most. While admittedly giving a cubic inch advantage away to the more established models, the Corvette engine manages to be just as competitive in pure output. On the basis of specific bhp/cu. in. ratios, as a matter of fact, it stands heads about the Supercar level.”

Gulp…did Car Life indirecly call the Chevy II a Supercar? And did they do it in a magazine that hit the mail before the May 1st opening day of the 1966 Geneva Motor Show, where the Miura was unveiled to the public and press?

But wait…there’s more!

This wasn’t a passing thing in this issue of Car Life. We now turn to page 51. In the comparison test of Pontiac’s Tempest Sprint (with OHC Six) and GTO, there is a caption for a picture of the GTO. “GTO CONTINUES to be a pace-setter in the Supercar crowd.”

Indeed, a little research shows that Car Life had been using the Supercar word to describe the cars in its pages for over a year. In March 1966, a review of the Plymouth Satellite has a picture with caption as follows: “PLYMOUTH 383-cu. in. engine has just enough space around it for easy tuning accessibility, is big enough to give the Satellite “Supercar” status and action. (By the way this was the same issue that covered the Lamborghini’s frame and V12 engine unveiling that would later become the Miura).

It seems Car Life started using “supercar” instead of “muscle cars”. The first use of supercar seems to be in its article on the 1965 Pontiac GTO. Fingering through earlier articles on 409 Impalas, 426 Mopars and even August 1964 articles on the 1965 Corvette and Cobra, there are no mentions of the word anywhere.

Car Life certainly didn’t invent the word, either. Supercar was first used conversation in England in the 1920s, or least that’s what I’ve been told. Since I wasn’t there, I have to believe that, like most elements of automotive history, someone somewhere else used it earlier, but we believe the legend.


The Stock and Credit Crunches..And How It Relates To Cars

September 16, 2008

Unless you have been under a rock for the last year, you know that there’s an ongoing credit crunch, which in turn has caused the stock market to plummet like the neckline on a Grammy-evening dress. Here are some interesting concepts in terms of how credit affects the world of cars.

1) Dealers cannot get credit to buy cars: This applies to both new and used car dealers. Fewer new car dealers mean less sales by manufacturers. Usually sales are reported as deliveries to dealers. If new and used car dealers cannot get lines of credit, they have to pay cash for the cars they floor. With the exception of the long-running dealers, most use credit to floor cars.

2) Manufacturers have less cash with which to work: When the stock plummets and there’s no available credit, companies like Ford and GM have less money for R+D, operations and changing production to more profitable products.

3) Less money for advertising: This means fewer sponsorship dollars for racing, which translates to a scary future for every series from SCCA and Grand Am to American Le Mans and NASCAR.

4)Higher prices for cars: Even though the Fed just announced no change for the interest rate, the rate is still low enough to devalue the dollar. Since most automotive components come from other markets (China, Germany etc…), it costs more to build cars. That cost must be passed on to consumers.

5) Say goodbye to halos: No money…no supercars that make no money for the corporations. Even the Viper is in peril!

6) It’s buying time: If you have cash, it’s time to start looking for your dream car — be it classic or new. In times like this, it’s a buying opportunity for those who are savvy. It might seem heartless to take advantage of other’s misfortunes, but isn’t that the American way?

No matter how one looks at it or what the Presidential/VP candidates might claim, the near-term economy looks really grim, especially for fans of automobiles…but again, if you have stockpiles of cash, it won’t be all too bad!