Baggy Paragraphs

Posts Tagged ‘automobiles

In second NASCAR Nationwide race, Dakoda Armstrong comes home 15th, but not unfettered, at Auto Club Speedway

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Dakoda Armstrong after the Royal Purple 300 at Auto Club Speedway.

Dakoda Armstrong after the Royal Purple 300 at Auto Club Speedway.

On March 23, 2013, making his second-ever start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Dakoda Armstrong finished 15th in the Royal Purple 300 at Auto Club Speedway.

Q. Fifteenth position—pretty good for your second race.

A. Yeah, I mean, we were better than that, but we were struggling on restarts there. I think we restarted ninth on that last one. Those people that had new tires behind us—you get stuck three-wide between everybody, and it’s really hard to get this thing to handle right. You get spread out. We just lost too much ground there to make up. We were hoping another caution was going to come out so we could come back in and use our last set of tires. Everyone else that took them was going to be sitting ducks. Didn’t work out that way.

Q. Overall was it fun or frustrating?

A. For a while there it was fun. I thought we were getting it, and I thought we were going to have a good finish. I’ve just got to get my restarts down and figure out what it needs on those.

Q. Your boss, Richard Childress, has to be fairly impressed.

A. Well, at least we brought it home in one piece. That’s one good thing.

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March 24, 2013 at 11:33 am

Sam Hornish smokes the field, then the finish line, at Las Vegas

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How to celebrate after winning the Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway?

A burnout at the finish line by Sam Hornish, who then climbs out to catch the checkered flag.

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March 9, 2013 at 4:25 pm

How should I file this story about a wooden-bodied ’68 Scout postal vehicle?

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Scan

Whenever I clean out my clip files, there’s the problem of what to do with this story from the Omaha World-Herald.

I don’t have a file for wooden-bodied cars. Nor one for auto bodymen-versus-carpenters.

Maybe “Puns” would be appropriate. But I’ll hold my tongue-in-groove.

Dean Haden built the custom wooden body after his wife Marlys complained about their rusty 1968 International Scout. The former postal vehicle had been in the family ten or twelve years.

“Now Haden’s portable sundeck (with matching aerodynamics) is saluted by Weber grills and patios everywhere,” the Associated Press reported, adopting an unusually waggish tone.

“But there are worries. Like termite insurance. And you’ll note a unique vulnerability to penknives and young love.”

Maybe so. The vulnerability I see is in stopping the thing. With such a heavy body, you’d better hold brake the pedal to the floorboard.

Only a sap would push past 50 mph on the open road.

Oh well, no telling where the Redwood Runabout is now. The number I had for the Haden residence is out of service.

Maybe it’s on an errand at a nice lumberyard somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm

More Corvettes at the Pete: the 60th anniversary, some special cars, and other men who raced them

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The Petersen Automotive Museum hosted a gala to celebrate the Corvette’s 60th anniversary, and Kirk Bennion, exterior design manager, presented the new C7 ’Vette, making its West Coast debut. Beforehand, a panel of important figures in Corvette racing history told battle stories and signed autographs. And the museum opened an exhibit of significant examples.

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The first Corvette in 1953 excited some people with its advanced styling but disappointed others with its weak six-cylinder engine and Powerglide transmission. In any event, it was a remarkable product offering from a conservative corporation. The ’60 ‘Vette in the background is known as Big Tank.

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“The American kid was out there racing that car,” Dick Guldstrand said. “You had to take your lunch money and do it yourself.” He drove his own ’56 Corvette to the track at Santa Barbara, taped off the headlights, stuck in a roll hoop, qualified for the race and won it.

Doug Hooper, left, remembered the early bias against Corvettes. “That was not the true sports car,” he recalled people saying. Only European makes qualified as such. “Thank God for [Zora Arkus-] Duntov. If it weren’t for him, there would’ve been no Corvette.” The engineer kept introducing new parts and features each year. “He kept it alive.”

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Corvettes at the Petersen Museum: the 60-year anniversary, some singular cars, and the men who raced them

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The Petersen Automotive Museum hosted a gala to celebrate the Corvette’s 60th anniversary, and Kirk Bennion, exterior design manager, presented the new C7 ‘Vette, making its West Coast debut. Beforehand, a panel of important figures in Corvette racing history told battle stories and signed autographs. And the museum opened an exhibit of significant examples.

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Chevrolet’s Kirk Bennion, exterior design manager for the 2014 Corvette: “We wanted to play up the premium finishes and details.”

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Doug Fehan, program manager for Corvette racing, makes a point about the car’s success in road racing. Joe Freitas, left, remembered seeing Phil Hill excel in a Ferrari at March Air Force Base. Road racing “got in my blood real early,” he said. “Those early Corvettes were a hell of a lot of fun going sideways.”

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Zora Arkus-Duntov, the engineer credited by racing panel members with keeping the Corvette alive, understood the trend toward mid-engine single-seaters and led the creation of the Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle. First in an intermittent series, it’s known as CERV I. Bosses at General Motors didn’t want the company involved in racing, so the concept went nowhere fast. Stock-block Ford V-8 engines later ended up in Lotus cars, a combination that captured the glory at Indy.

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Paul Reinhart, an early driver, remembered kissing trophy girl Jayne Mansfield after a victory. Bill Krause, right, got his start in Offy-powered midgets.

Jason Hill on the future of design education and three good current vehicles from Detroit

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IMG_1512Jason Hill worked in Mercedes-Benz and Porsche design studios before forming his own company, Eleven LLC, an “eco-friendly design studio,” in 2003. Along with some major automakers, Mr. Hill’s clients have included the producers of airplanes, motorcoaches, and toys. His designs for solar-electric boats portend a type of watercraft that eliminates the noisy engine. Besides this work, he teaches transportation design at Art Center College of Design. On January 17, we had lunch in the school’s faculty dining room and he answered a few questions, some serious and others for fun.

Q. How many automotive design programs does the world have room for? A technical university in Michigan is starting a new program to emphasize the integration of engineering with design. They’re saying design students don’t have enough engineering.

A. That’s an interesting statement. The counter question is: How much do you need versus how much understanding and ability to relate with engineers do you need? So instead of being an engineer who can design, the designer, in my estimation, should be able to have the right respect and the ability to communicate as a team. This is design, that’s your thing. And this is engineering, that’s your thing. And together the sum is even better, instead of the traditional friction.

Q. You’re not predicting failure?

A. No, there’s an absolute need [not only] for that kind of curriculum but also for that product. Their product, as an institution, is a designer, and there’s a need for that.

Q. A sort of related question–I just saw that Ralph Gilles is saying ten years down the road there won’t be enough students applying for automotive design programs because they’re not interested in cars any more and there’s this measurable decline among young people who aren’t getting drivers’ licenses–they’d rather take public transit, and everything’s about their mobile device.

A. Kids are not stupid. They are interested in design. Every time you think, “Oh, cars are going away!” or this, you’ve got a boatload of students lined up to get into this school, to get into the transportation design program. A very creative student, recent graduate, grew up without a car. He’s a little bit older than your average student, but his experience was: Did not relate to automobiles. It was bicycles and public transportation. He came to learn how to design a car. Now he’s back to bicycles. But you see what I’m saying? He didn’t think he was interested in cars, but he was interested in design. He was able to do vehicles and then go back to his roots. So I think Art Center will have no problem attracting students to do automotive and transportation design.

Q. Would you say that evolving federal requirements for safety and efficiency standards are causing the automobile to be redesigned in a good way or is it a detrimental thing?

A. In general it’s a good way. You always need enough parameters so you don’t go completely crazy and end up with, for lack of a better term, an ugly or stupid product. Are there some instances, some rules that are a little bit like, this is not going to help? Yeah. But the majority are like, OK, that’s the hand you’re dealt. These are the ingredients. So each company is given the same parameters, those ingredients. Who can cook the best? That’s what it comes down to. And the chefs–including engineers, designers, and the marketing side–it’s a little bit like a competition. The rules are the same. What’s your best way to get there? As the FMVSS rules get stacked higher and higher, amazingly, we get more diversity in the product offerings. Right? Crossovers. You still have sports cars, still have sedans, minivans, pickups, SUVs. Now we have crossovers. You have to look at it that way–at least, I look at it that way: optimistically.

Q. In automobiles, where is the borderline between advanced design and overwrought styling?

A. The line between advanced and overwrought is one decided upon reflection. There is always good intention to advance or bring forward an automobile design. For me in particular, design is about what you leave out, now what you put into something. It is all about the “implied” line and form.

A. Name three products from Detroit that you really like.

A. The four-door Jeep Wrangler. It makes the two-door look cartoonish. The Lincoln MKZ as a step in the right direction (distinguished). I have to say the Lincoln MKT from purely a design perspective, but not sure how the marketplace is taking that vehicle. The MKT has a distinctive front and rear, as well as unique side glass profile, and it is a big step away from badge-engineering.

Q. Is the AMC Pacer beautiful or ugly?

A. It’s beautifully ugly. If you see one, you’re going to take notice. That’s kind of cool! And I’ll give you another one that has a little bit of that. I saw a Pinto the other day. Especially in today’s context, that thing looks kind of cool. It had a little bit of style, and it had this fastback. Not bad! Because you don’t remember a four-door sedan from that year.


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February 20, 2013 at 4:00 am

GM squandered our good will, setting off years of licks for corporate America

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GM general counsel Aloysius Power, center, admits to a Senate subcommittee that he damn well did order the spying on Ralph Nader, although he said Eileen Murphy, right, looking bored, who was the company’s first female lawyer when she was hired in 1959, directed the operation. Assistant general counsel Louis Bridenstine, left, grimaces at the news.

By Ronald Ahrens

Throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, General Motors was the most admired corporation in America. The company had received credit for single-handedly saving the national economy in 1955, when chairman and chief executive Red Curtice decided, despite the forecast of a recession, to go ahead with plant expansion worth $1 billion. Curtice was subsequently named Time’s man of the year; GM executive Ed Cole, the father of the Corvair, would appear on the cover of that magazine in 1959, and Curtice’s replacement Fred Donner also got a cover in 1962.

But all that good will was thrown away. On November 30, 1965, Ralph Nader, the son of Lebanese-immigrant parents, published Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. While Nader’s book is a sweeping exposé in the tradition of The Jungle, it might have made no mark whatsoever; some 20,000 copies were sold in the first three months. Not bad, but not quite a blockbuster. GM’s legal department assured otherwise, though. Led by chief counsel Aloysius Power and egged on by Eileen Murphy, GM’s first female attorney who was the department’s librarian, the company started spying on Nader. He received harassing calls at his unlisted number in northwest Washington, D.C., and was tailed as he traveled to TV appearances in February of 1966. One investigator interviewed Nader’s acquaintances to learn his political beliefs, whether he was anti-Semitic, and whether he was gay.

English: Head-and-shoulders portrait of Ralph ...

GM put the tail on Ralph Nader (and tried to get him some, too).

Standing at a drugstore newsstand on February 20, Nader was “leafing through an auto magazine when a woman apologized for being forward but asked if he would like to participate in a ‘foreign affairs discussion’ at her apartment,” according to the New York Times.

Three days later, Nader was choosing a package of cookies in a supermarket when “a young woman asked him for help in moving some heavy articles at her residence.” After he said no, the woman didn’t ask any of the other men in the store.

By March 10, the spying story had broken. Bunkie Knudsen, GM’s new executive vice president for overseas operations, was with Donner in Honolulu at the beginning of an around-the-world tour of company facilities. In the early 1960s Knudsen devoted some effort to critiquing Donner’s policies and his personal style, which was imperious, and his emphasis on long meetings that mired everybody in minutiae. Donner was also too involved in determining the particulars of individual car models. Nevertheless, Knudsen was clearly on the boss’s side, now, perhaps not in the least because he hoped his next promotion would be to GM president. He recorded the reaction to the Nader bust in his diary:

“Fred found out we—through our Legal Dept.—had been investigating Nader. We had to admit it after first denying it. Fred is very upset as he should be. I can’t understand why they would do such a thing.”

At a cocktail party the next evening, Knudsen found Donner feeling “blue” and questioning his own leadership ability. But he also said the legal department “got their just due since they have been continually lecturing on the need to be Simon Pure.”

Shock from Across the Dateline

On Saturday, March 19, the men were in Adelaide, South Australia, where the fall festival was in progress. Donner took a call from Roche and learned the “accusations relative to [the] investigation were true and Jim’s statement is one of eating crow. This whole thing will hurt us badly both with the public and with our competition.”

The next week, company president Jim Roche and the legal department were in Washington, separately appearing before Congress. Roche sweated out his auto-da-fé before Senator Abe Ribicoff’s traffic safety subcommittee, admitting guilt and accepting blame. But Power, making a basket with his fingers, Murphy, looking desperately bored, and Louis Bridenstine, assistant general counsel, frowning and reflecting great solemnity, also appeared before the subcommittee. Power said it was he who’d authorized the investigation of Nader—but not to harass him. And Power said Murphy handled the details.

In a WASP-y outfit like GM, it didn’t go unnoticed that the three guilty parties—Roche, Power, and Murphy—all happened to be Roman Catholics.

That Saturday, now in Sydney, Knudsen wrote, “It appears Fred has some questions in his mind vis-à-vis Jim. He can’t say. He keeps on feeling sorry for Jim. The Nader investigation has hurt Jim and Fred can’t be blamed in any way. Jim who is the most detailed man got caught with Power on the investigation—his buddy and a fellow churchman. This hurts Fred deeply and brings out the religious affiliation. Fred has never said this but it is very obvious.

Two weeks later, after stops in Singapore and Bangkok, they made their way to Beirut. After meeting with dealers and distributors, Donner and Knudsen went on an excursion to see the ruins of the Baalbek Valley. It was a “nerve-wracking” trip, Knudsen reported. “They pass on curves and going uphill and they drive very fast. They are reckless and have many accidents. I would suggest that Ralph Nader come to his hometown and see how they drive.”

In the Aftermath, Scorn for Corporations

Knudsen was right in predicting the incident would hurt GM.

“General Motors had been marked as arrogant and mendacious,” wrote Ed Cray in Chrome Colossus: General Motors and Its Times. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was passed later that year, and Congress wasn’t inclined to cut Detroit any slack on complying with new regulations.

Roche succeeded Donner as chairman and big cheese in 1967, and the next interval saw GM involved in a huge recall of Chevrolets with faulty engine mounts that could cause sticking throttles. The company showed additional insensitivity when Roche’s successor as president—not Knudsen, after all, but Ed Cole—was quoted in the New York Times saying, “There is no real danger and no reason a person shouldn’t drive the car in a normal manner. A person driving a car should be a skilled driver, and if he can’t manage a car under 25 miles per hour, he shouldn’t be driving.”

Cole—along with influential automotive editors like David E. Davis, Jr.—never quit defending the Corvair, either.

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July 20, 2012 at 7:00 am

How I met former Shelby American employee William Jean, Jr.

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William Jean, Jr. was sitting on a bench outside the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum on April 21, the day of the Ford-Cobra-Shelby Reunion, when I noticed him. It was the regalia: a Hawaiian shirt with Carroll Shelby’s autograph, for one thing. A name tag hanging from a lanyard marked Mr. Jean as an original Shelby American employee.

When he was just out of Venice High School, he went to work for the company at 1042 Princeton Avenue, in L.A.’s Venice neighborhood. His father was a fabricator there—the man, according to his son, who welded the fender flares onto 427 Cobras.

The younger Mr. Jean worked as a detailer, preparing cars going on the transporter, a six-car trailer pulled by an old Ford cab-over tractor.

Now sixty-seven years old, he said he viewed the celebration as “a little bit of history.” I had him repeat the line when I took the picture. It didn’t make the cut with my report for the New York Times, so I thought I’d post it here.

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April 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Isky’s Good Karma

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After today’s Motor Press Guild‘s luncheon in Los Angeles, I went for a short ride in the Fisker Karma with hot rod culture’s legendary Ed Iskenderian and two others.

It was the 90-year-old Isky’s first-ever ride in a hybrid. 

So I made a video.

The video is only 2:23 long and ends with a laugh as Isky thoughtfully (and revealingly) fields the last of my questions.

I promise this will be worth your time, and I invite you to share or Tweet the link: http://youtu.be/A24sOclfZtI

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February 28, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Audi e-Tron Spyder & I

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November 25, 2011 at 2:06 pm

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