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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Jet Cars Part 3: Chrysler Turbine Epilogue

After releasing 50 examples of its Turbine Car to selected drivers and offering rides at the 1964 New York World's Fair (photo below), Chrysler continued Turbine development through the 1970s, endeavoring to improve the engine's performance in key areas like throttle lag, high fuel consumption at idle, and compensating for lack of the engine braking effect which is familiar to drivers who lift off the accelerator on a piston engine.

They managed to do quite well, improving EPA-tested mpg to the mid-20s for the 7th generation turbines which arrived in 1977.  While this figure in itself was not impressive when compared with the imports, especially Japanese ones, which were then taking greater market share in post-Fuel Crisis America, the figure becomes more interesting when one considers that the turbine could run on cheaper, non-fossil fuel, such as vegetable oil.  Engineers even learned how to curb the engine's nitrous oxide emissions, which had been a weak point of the turbines compared to piston engines.  By the use of improved regenerators, which extracted heat from the exhaust for re-use in compression and combustion, engineers reduced the exhaust temperature at the tail pipe to less than that of a piston engine car.  Throughout this period, it seemed a worthwhile effort because of the inherent advantages of the gas turbines, which are their high power-to-weight and power-to-size ratios, and the reduction in the number of moving parts…the turbine having 80% fewer than a comparably-performing V8.  And then there was the fact that the turbine had no radiator, no cooling system in the conventional sense, a single spark plug, and no need for oil changes…

Despite these advantages, Chrysler discontinued the automotive turbine program in the 1980s. Three factors spelled the end of the road for the gas turbine car.  One was the tightening EPA emissions regulations.  Gas turbines and jets are happiest running at a constant speed,  and are less efficient in stop-and-go driving.  So it was harder for turbines to deliver clean emissions in urban cycle testing. Another factor was the manufacturing cost of the engines; because of their high operating speeds and temperatures, the engines required exotic and expensive metals.  If the 1964 Turbine Car had been offered for sale that year, the price would have been around $13,500…around twice the cost of a Chrysler Imperial.  And the third, most compelling reason was economic as well.  A condition of the Federal Chrysler Loan Guarantee Act which bailed out the company when Jimmy Carter signed it into law in early 1980 was the abandonment of the turbine program.  Chrysler turbine engines did go into the Abrams tank, however.  Those tanks would get attention from specially trained jet mechanics unavailable at the average Chrysler dealer, and that was one reason Chrysler decided to keep only 9 of the original 50 Turbine Cars from the 1963-66 test program, and scrapped the rest.  Of those, 2 cars are in private collections and the rest are in Chrysler's museum or on loan to other museums.  For a drive in Jay Leno's Chrysler Turbine, along with a look at turbine engine basics as well as rare footage of the cars being assembled, you should Google "1963 Chrysler Turbine:   Ultimate Edition-Jay Leno's Garage-You Tube".

Photo credits:  wikimedia

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Jet Cars Part 2: Chrysler Turbine Car

Adolfo Lopez Mateos ran his Chrysler Turbine Car (a loaner; they all were) on tequila for awhile. He did this because:
1.)  Chrysler had claimed the turbine would run happily on it, as well as peanut oil, vegetable oil, jet fuel, or even Chanel No. 5.  
2.)  As President of Mexico, he could afford to run his car on tequila.  Chanel No. 5 would have been affordable, but possibly a little showy…

You didn't need to be a president to get your hands on one of Chrysler's 50 loaners, however. During the heady days of their public test program (1963-66) Chrysler asked licensed drivers to send in letters describing their driving patterns, and why they would like to try the new turbine. Chrysler, which had been building and testing turbines since 1954, built 5 prototypes of the new Turbine Car prior to commissioning Italian coach builder Ghia* to build 50 bodies for the "production" version in 1963-64. Chrysler then chose 203 American motorists (23 were women), and gave each of them a new Turbine Car for 3 months. The public test program (we'd call it crowd-sourced research today) logged 1.1 million miles, with only 4% of the test logs reporting any mechanical repairs, a low number for such a new machine.  It is not recorded how many problems may have been caused by the one fuel Chrysler engineers advised against using: gasoline, all of which was leaded then. 

Elwood Engel had come over from Ford (see "When the Sixties Really Began" in these pages for Nov. 15, 2015) just in time to design the new '64 Imperial and work on the Turbine Car.  He delivered a design which reflected his experience at Ford, something we could call conservatively futuristic. There are shades of the '61-'63 Thunderbird in the windshield and roof line, in the chrome outlining the unbroken top fender line from front to rear, and also in the format of the car…it's a four-seater sports coupe of about the same size. The big circular headlight housings have decorative grilles evoking turbine blades, while at the rear what look like jet exhausts are really just the backup lights.  The theme is repeated in the leather-lined interior, with more circles and blade motifs to remind you of the smooth, busy turbine in front, which would spin happily up to 44,500 rpm.  Power was transmitted through a Torqueflite automatic transmission to the rear wheels; what looks like a Buck Rogers housing for the drive shaft is just a poetic evocation of it; the console mounts the shifter and auxiliary controls close to the driver's right hand, and divides the back seats as well. You couldn't buy a Chrysler Turbine Car (though many would-be buyers sent in blank checks which Chrysler returned), but if you were lucky Chrysler would lend you one in any color you liked, as long as that color was Turbine Bronze.  In Part 3, we'll see how the Turbine Cars worked, what we learned from them, and what happened to the jet car in yesterday's future.

*Ghia also built the Imperial limousines from 1957-66 and is featured on our posts for March 14, 2016 (the Chrysler-powered Ghia 450SS) and August 29, 2015 (the Dodge Fire Arrow and the Dual Ghia).

Photo credits:
Chrysler Turbine Car #27 exteriors:  wikimedia
Turbine Car interior:  carstyling.ru

Jet Cars, Part 1: Real & Not So Real

Our last feature on the Pinin Farina Cadillacs referred to the jet-themed PF200 designs built on several Lancia (and one Cadillac) chassis.  Seven or eight were built; below we see a coupe and a roadster…

Note the same jet-like air intake as on the Cadillac, the wraparound glass cabin on the coupe, and a raised and tapered center section of the trunk which breaks up what would otherwise be a rather long, flat panel.  As on PF's 1953-4 Cadillac, this feature may also be a reference to the boat tails on PF designs from the 1930s, like the Caddy V16 featured in the last post.  In 1951, GM released its Le Sabre concept car which was replete with jet references, like an oval air intake at the front, prominent fins, and a giant circular (and completely fake) jet exhaust at the rear...

But none of these cars were powered by turbine engines; they all had conventional internal combustion piston engines.  That said, the Lancias had very advanced light-alloy V6s in front, with rear-mounted transmissions for balanced weight distribution, and the glitzy Le Sabre had a high compression V8*.  Early experiments with real jet cars were made first by Rover in England, which built Jet One in 1949 and made steady improvements in turbine technology, running a turbine racer at LeMans in the 1960s.  Below is Jet One.

The next research car comes from Fiat in 1954, which tested a car with prominent fins, jet intake and exhaust hinting at the real turbine power, doors that curved into the roof, and the hand-formed light alloy compound curves by then associated with Italian road racers.

And in 1956, Renault's Etoile Filante (Shooting Star) appeared.  While the faux jet cars had all adapted styling cues from aircraft, the Shooting Star looked for all the world like the speed record streamliners that showed up every year at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and the French factory sent it there for tests.

But of all the manufacturers who looked at gas turbine power plants for road cars, it was Chrysler Corporation which came closest to a production car, and which actually delivered test cars into the eager hands of a jet-loving public.  That story will be told in Part 2 of Jet Cars.

*Footnote:  The Le Sabre featured a supercharged aluminum V8 of 215 cubic inches, and paralleled the Lancia in featuring a transaxle.  In this case, though, it was a Dynaflow (nobody's favorite transmission) which was later traded for a Hydramatic unit by the engineers at GM.  Under the skin, then, the car was a precursor of the 1961 Pontiac Tempest (at least the V8 version), except for that supercharger.

Photo Credits:
Lancia PF 200 coupe, top black & white shots:  Pinin Farina 
Lancia PF 200, 2nd from top:  the author
GM Le Sabre:  oldconceptcars.com
Rover Jet One:  bbc.co.uk
Fiat Turbino:  autoconcept-reviews.com
Renault Etoile Filante:  group.renault.com

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Jets vs. Sharks: Pinin Farina Cadillacs

The phrase "Italian Cadillacs" may conjure visions of some hapless gangland underling from a Mario Puzo novel going to the lake in the trunk of a 50s or 60s Fleetwood, but here we are considering bodies bestowed upon Cadillacs by Italians, not bodies stowed in Cadillacs by Italians.  The two Ghia Cadillacs from 1953 were featured in our post from May 9, 2016, and we promised to discuss the Pinin Farina efforts in a future story.  Well, here it is…

The first Pinin Farina body on a Cadillac was this spectacular boat-tailed roadster on a V16 chassis in 1931.  It was built for a maharajah.  The streamlined era had not yet begun at PF (indeed, it had barely started anywhere), so what we have here is a confident restatement of classic 1920s themes, with elegant articulation of distinct elements: vertical radiator grille, conical headlight and spotlight units, outrigger fenders standing proud of torpedo fuselage, and those spare tires with the rear-view mirrors on top.  The contrasting red swage connecting the prow to the tight cockpit, and the covered rear seats forward of the boat tail, are jaunty touches.  Here car design is still referring to the horseless carriage era, but exudes character.  Apparently it didn't exude enough, however, to lead to any other commissions for Cadillacs before war put a stop to the whole business.

In 1954, Pinin Farina built a convertible on a new '53 Cadillac chassis for jazz record producer Norman Granz.  PF had entered the jet age in 1952 with a series of special bodies on Lancia Aurelia chassis designated PF 200, and these all featured round or oval air intakes recalling the era's fighter planes.  The PF design for this car was essentially that of the "jet" Lancia, with the addition of Cadillac bumper bullets, the near-vertical fender projection (a GM Cadillac reference) kicking up over the rear wheel, and size.  Lots of the latter...

This "jet" Cadillac proved to be a one-off until a quartet of designs which Pinin Farina built on Cadillac chassis starting early in 1958.  The first was the Skylight coupe, which was followed by a Skylight convertible later in the same year.  This was, even in Italy, a period of square-rigged, sometimes over-chromed design, and in that these first two Caddies resemble the Michelotti Corvette from the same period; see "The Italian Jobs" in these pages for 2-24-16.  Also the sheer scale seems to have flummoxed PF; on the coupe in particular the proportions suffer from the vast acreage of sheet metal…Still, for anyone who can remember the mainstream GM cars from 1958, these two efforts are a model of restraint.

But the PF design staff found more focus on the next attempt, the Starlight coupe from 1959.  By this time Studebaker had abandoned that name, and it likely seemed appropriate for a car with a vast plexiglass roof. Here two divergent lines frame a shallow indent running along the car's flanks, and reduce the apparent mass as well as the apparent height. The rear resembles a scaled-up version of the then-new Fiat 1200 spyders, also from PF.  

GM, possibly impressed with this effort, gave PF the production contract for the 1959-60 Cadillac Eldorado Broughams.  But the design came from David Holls and Chuck Jordan at GM, so the '59 (black car below) managed to look like a preview of the 1960 production Caddy (but with a 1963 roofline) and the 1960 version introduced a timid preview of the sharklike fins that appeared on the bottom of the 1961 car.  Like the World of Tomorrow at Disneyland, these cars did not age well. They never looked different enough from standard Caddies to justify their $13k price tags, and somehow that Jetsons world of private helipads and atomic home heat never quite materialized. What did materialize in fall of 1960 was Elwood Engel's new Lincoln Continental (see "When the Sixties Really Began" in these posts for Nov. 15, 2015), and it immediately made the shark fin Caddies, and also the grotesquely be-finned 1961 Imperial, look like cartoons.    

Only 200 Broughams were made over 2 years, and so PF went back to the drawing board...

On PF's final attempt during this era, the Jacqueline (named for the new First Lady) from 1961, the wraparound grille is gone, and the shallow indents along the flanks lead to a horizontal ledge over wraparound tail lights.  By 1965, Pininfarina (by then with compound name), who never discarded a good idea, had transferred most of these compositional elements to the pint-sized Peugeot 204. This huge, non-running, 2 passenger show car was only outfitted with running gear decades later. By then, Pininfarina would finally have gotten a contract to design and produce a Cadillac, also a 2 seater, the Allante.  And while the team at PF had changed, the team at GM hadn't changed enough to make the car a real success.

Footnote:  If you enjoyed reading about the Pininfarina Cadillacs, you may also want to have a look at our 4-part series on Italian-bodied Corvettes, by Pininfarina as well as Vignale, Ghia Aigle and Scaglietti.  The series began with "The Italian Jobs: Corvettes in Italian Suits" on 2/24/16 and ended with "Saved from the Crusher" on 3/13/16...

Photo credits:

1931 Cadillac V16: pinterest.com
1959 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham:  gminsidernews.com
1960 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham:  auctionsamerica.com
All others:  carstyling.ru

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Roadside Attractions: Little Man and Big Dog in Denver

Denver's Highlands was one of those Edward Hopper neighborhoods until not so long ago, a place defined by corner stores, brick bungalows and the sleeping hulks of old warehouses. One of those places where it stayed 1940 for half a century, valued mostly for its old Italian restaurants and cheap rents for starving artists.  In recent years it's become hip, but stayed eccentric.  Little Man Ice Cream, around the corner from a restaurant called Linger which occupies the old Olinger Mortuary building (they saved on signage by turning off one neon letter…but that's a story we'll save for later), is a pilgrimage site for sweet tooths in the Highlands.  Actually, it's in Lower Highlands, otherwise known as LoHi.  Confused?  Perhaps a chocolatey, frosty dose of butterfat will help…

The shop opened in 2008 and specializes in small-batch blends with local ingredients (we mentioned butterfat, right?) and a changing menu of flavors.  Sorbet, malts and shakes as well as vegan ice cream are available, but I chose to sample the ice cream, which is dense and smooth… Little Man claims their process results in trapping less air in the mix.  Their ice cream may be on the dense side, but their building, a 28 foot tall metal cream can, is a lightweight at only 14,000 pounds.  Buckminster Fuller would be proud.  He, too, would likely have chosen the butterfat option over vegan.  Little Man is at 2620 Sixteenth Street, Denver, CO 80211 and is open year-round except for Christmas Day.

Fortified with artisan ice cream, you may decide it's time to adopt a dog.  A visit to Denver Animal Shelter at 1241 West Bayaud Avenue is in order; traveling south from the Highlands on I-25, you may glimpse a glittering sequinned pooch in the distance.    

As you get closer your sense of scale kicks in, and you realize that this dog is about 20 feet tall...

…and that those sequins are really dog tags, over 90,000 of them.  The big pup named Sun Spot was designed by artists Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan, and fabricated by Demiurge Design.  In the lobby of the shelter, a huge dog collar sized for Sun Spot hangs from the ceiling, with a growing collection of dog tags commemorating adopted pets new and old.  If you do happen to adopt a dog and decide to return to Little Man to celebrate, you'll want to stick to vanilla or butter pecan, as chocolate is bad for dogs.

Photo credits:

Little Man Ice Cream:  the author
Sun Spot:  Ben Lochridge

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lovely Rita: Cadillac Ghia

One reader sent the photo below with no message other than a caption that just read "Rita."  This is another one of those cars where the back story is more interesting than the mechanicals; it's a 1953 Cadillac Series 62 specially bodied by Ghia to the order of Prince Aly Khan as a gift for actress Rita Hayworth.  It was originally white with gold anodized trim, and the Hayworth-Ghia relationship appears to have lasted longer than the Hayworth-Khan one.

You'd think, just looking at this thing, that it would have to be a one-off, but you'd be wrong.
There was a sister car ordered around the same time by John Perona, the owner of New York's El Morocco night club.  Note that in its original form, this car featured a contrasting light blue color in the recessed cove delineated by the bright metal streaks.  The quad headlight arrangement was also a harbinger of things to come.  The design of the Caddy twins has been credited to Ghia design chief Luigi Segre...

But Segre's design shares the rigorous horizontal emphasis, notchback low-roof proportions, and large round tail lights of Giovanni Savonuzzi's Ghia Supersonics, a limited series of coupe bodies which appeared on a variety of different makes (Fiat 8V, Jaguar, Aston Martin) also starting in 1953.  Below is the first one, on a Conrero Alfa 1900 with a unique plexiglass roof, getting ready to crash in the Mille Miglia...

Both Segre and Ghia designer Savonuzzi collaborated on the 1954 Desoto Adventurer II show car with Chysler design chief Virgil Exner.  This car, much more on the Cadillac scale than the compact Supersonic, nonetheless shares the Supersonic's flattened oval profile and horizontal ridge running right over the wheels from head to tail lights.  Here, however, the plexiglass roof has been traded for a glass window that retracts into the trunk area...

The Ghia Caddy's split rear window may owe something to Mario Boano, who explored the split window theme during his ownership of Ghia and afterwards at his namesake firm, on cars like the Alfa Romeo 1900 below.  Together, the three designers established a kind of "Ghia look", and Ghia attempted to interest major league manufacturers in it, hitting the big time once with VW's Karmann-built Ghia, and attaining small-scale production of the Dodge Fire Arrow as the Dual Ghia (both featured in these pages for August 29, 2015).  Ghia also produced a run of Imperial limousines for Chrysler from 1957 through '65, but never got any GM production contracts as a result of those two '53 Cadillacs.  It would be Pininfarina that would  eventually get those jobs, but the cars that emerged are a story for another day.

Photo Credits:
Top:  '53 Ghia Cadillac (santafeconcorso.com)
2nd:  '53 Ghia Cadillac (carstyling.ru)
3rd:   '53 Ghia Supersonic Alfa Romeo (coachbuild.com reproduced in fabwheelsdigest)
4th:   '54 Ghia Desoto Adventurer II (hemmings.com)
5th:   '55 Boano Alfa Romeo 1900 (Riga Master Workshop @ rmw.lv)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Max Hoffman: An Eye for Cars, and the Studebaker Porsche

Max Hoffman had an eye for cars, and he knew what would sell to Americans.  Born in Vienna, he founded his car showroom in New York City in 1947, beginning with the display of a single car.  Of course, because of his eye for form, the car was a Delahaye coupe with body by Figoni and Falaschi.  He soon took on the distributorship for Volkswagen (1950-53) and Jaguar, inviting Frank Lloyd Wright to design a New York Showroom for the latter, then moving Mercedes-Benz and Porsche into the space.  He'd imported 3 Porsches in 1950, and by the time he persuaded Porsche to build the Speedster as their stripped-down, entry level car in 1954, he was selling 11 Porsches a week, 30 percent of their total production…

That Speedster wasn't the first time he'd suggested a new model.  He'd also persuaded Mercedes to make a road-going version of its 300SL racers from 1952, and the iconic Gullwing became the first Mercedes to sell more units outside the German market than in, with 80 percent coming to America after appearing in 1954.  Hoffman's salesmanship was as good as his eye for form, and after commissioning the showroom design from Wright, he convinced the octogenarian architect that a red 300SL would make a great daily driver…

He also persuaded BMW to produce the model 507 designed by Albrecht Goertz, but not in large enough numbers so that they could avoid losing money on each car.  Still, Hoffman was right in the long run; the 507, like the 300SL, is now highly prized by collectors.  

Hoffman also urged Lancia to make a version of their Aurelia for the American market, and they only turned out about 240 of the Pinin Farina-styled America Spider.  Like the 300SL and the 507, it now sells at auction for seven figures.  

Hoffman had better luck getting Alfa Romeo to tool up for large scale production of the Giulietta, especially the Pinin Farina Spider, and it put the make on the map in the USA...  

One American car maker commissioned a prototype as the result of a Hoffman suggestion. In 1952, Hoffman had introduced Ferry Porsche to his friends at Studebaker, and suggested that there might be some engineering consulting to do.  Studebaker, which had purchased a Lancia Aurelia for studies, liked the V6 engine, and asked for a front-engined V6.  What they got instead was a unit-bodied, rear-engined prototype and two prototype 3.5 liter V6 engines with 120 degrees between cylinder banks; one engine was air-cooled and one was water-cooled.  By the time the prototype car and engines were delivered near the end of 1954, Studebaker had merged with Packard and there was no budget to develop the new compact car.  The test car was pronounced solid and well-engineered by Studebaker's engineers, but it seems clear that Raymond Loewy, who had designed the beautiful (and expensive to build) 1953 Starliners, had not been consulted on the body design.  Nor had Max Hoffman.  One Packard engineer named John DeLorean tested Studebaker's Porsche Type 542 and pronounced it responsive, but unsuited to American tastes because of its tendency to oversteer.  He'd soon move on to GM, where he would have a chance to experience the somewhat similar Corvair.  Max Hoffman would go on to concentrate on BMW as his sole distributorship after 1965, prodding the Bavarian factory to mass-produce the 2002 and the Bavaria sedan, both examples of the bigger engine in smaller package approach.  In the ten years he spent exclusively on BMW, Max Hoffman would do much to transform the brand (for better or worse) from an obscure cult car into a familiar lifestyle accessory.

Photo Credits:
Hoffman Wright Showroom:  core77.com
Wright with 300SL and 300 sedan:  steinerag.com
BMW 507:  Wikimedia
Lancia B24:  aureliaspider.com
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider:  Wikimedia
Porsche Studebaker Type 542:  forums.pelicanparts.com