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Monday, October 31, 2016

Forgotten Classic: Austin Healey 3000 by Pio Manzu out of Pininfarina

L'Année Automobile, the Swiss automobile yearbook founded in 1953 and later published in English as Automobile Year, decided in 1962 to celebrate its upcoming tenth anniversary by sponsoring a car design contest.  The winning designer would get the design built by legendary coach builder Pininfarina on the chosen chassis (most cars still had separate chassis back then).  The winning design, a GT coupe on the aging Austin Healey 3000 chassis by 23-year old Pio Manzù, seemed to reflect the influence of earlier Pininfarina designs, but also to have influenced the MGB-GT which followed it...

The overhead view shows off the glassy, tidy form aimed at maximizing interior space and practicality over fashion.  It also demonstrates something not apparent in the side views; while Manzù's Healey GT seemed to pioneer the "sports wagon" form seen later on countless models in the 1970s and especially the 80s, it featured a conventional trunk rather than a wagon-like hatch.

The tall greenhouse and curved side glass anticipated European design trends, and while the greenhouse and squared-off rear roofline seemed to find an echo in Pininfarina's work on the MGB-GT which appeared during the 1965 model year, the proportions may have taken a cue from PF's "two-box" shape for the Austin A40 in 1958.  In any case, the popularity of that B-GT, pictured below the contest-winning Healey, proved the commercial appeal of the sports wagon concept, and opened the door to competing GT wagons like the Volvo 1800ES, England's Reliant Scimitar GT, and Lancia's Beta HPE.


The contest-winning Healey for Automobile Year remained unique, as the minions of BMC already had plans for a sports wagon in the B-GT, and Donald Healey rejected an Austin-Healey variant closely based on that car.  Along with a couple of special Austin Healey 100-4 coupes built in the 1950s, it's one of a handful of closed Big Healeys.  About 3 years after it appeared, Superleggera Touring launched Flying Star II, a show car that seemed a late entry in the Automobile Year contest.  It was based on a shortened Lamborghini 400 GT chassis, and deleted the two rear seats featured in the Healey (and 400GT) for a cargo deck accessed by a glassy hatch.  Like the Manzù / PF Healey , it attracted a lot of attention on the show circuit, but failed to secure a production contract.  While the Flying Star II has been displayed at car shows, the present location of the Healey GT is unknown.

Flying Star II

Photo Credits:
First 3 photos:  Manzù / PF Healey from carstyling.ru
4th:  MGB-Gt from honestjohn.co.uk
5th:  Flying Star II from oldconceptcars.com

Monday, October 24, 2016

Roadside Attraction: Wisconsin Automotive Museum & Cars from Dairyland (Part 1)

Engineer and Formula Vee racer Paul Anderson wrote about a recent visit to the Wisconsin Automive Museum, and his quest to find a car this humble scribe had never heard of.... 

Paul needn't have worried about that quest for the unknown.  His first photo (below) shows something completely unfamiliar to this writer.  The 1921 Briggs and Stratton Flyer, a wooden plank buckboard with wheels and tires fit for a bicycle, seems like minimalism on a rampage except for that odd 5th wheel, which is where power (well, 2 hp anyway) is applied, thus avoiding a differential.  I'm guessing the brake (there must be one, right?) applies to the 5th wheel as well, as there is no obvious sign of conventional brakes on the other four.  Allegedly the cheapest car ever offered in America ($200), it parallels the spindly "cyclecars" popular in England and France in the 1920s, like the chain-drive Frazer Nash, the Morgan trike, and the Amilcar…but compared with the flimsiness of the Briggs, those cars might as well have been Bentleys.  One wonders why Briggs & Stratton didn't try the 3-wheel approach favored by Morgan.  They could have applied the money saved on those 2 extra wheels to amenities like more (or at least some) brakes, a suspension system, and maybe a body...

The museum is located in the renovated structure that once served as the Kissel factory.  The Kissel was one of Wisconsin's more important makes, with about 35,000 "Kissel Kars" produced between 1906 and 1931, of which no more than 200 are estimated to remain. The collection includes the 1921 Gold Bug below, the most famous Kissel by far, and favored by the likes of Amelia Earhart, Greta Garbo and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  The engine was an L-head inline six.

This detail shot shows Kissel's odd alternative to the rumble seat, justly called a "suicide seat", which put the passengers out in the air (and traffic) stream, without benefit of seat belts.  An option for those who enjoyed the adrenaline rush of living dangerously...

The 1928 Kissel sedan brought all passengers out of the elements...

The 1930 Kissel 8-95 offered styling comparable to the Packards and Buicks of the era, and featured an L-head Lycoming inline 8.  The wooden "artillery" wheels seem a bit retrograde compared with the wire wheels of the '28 model above...

The Great Depression put an end to Kissel after 1931, but there was a scheme for a streamlined Royale model for 1933, with tooling costs to be shared with Reo.  Apparently only a clay model was built, and Reo (for Ransom E. Olds, as in Oldsmobile) stopped making cars after 1936, but survived as a truck maker until 1975...

Another Wisconsin car maker, Nash, occupies a chunk of the museum's territory.  Unlike Kissel, the bigger Kenosha-based firm managed to survive the Depression, partly by supplementing the big Ambassador Eights with smaller cars like the streamlined 6-cylinder Nash Lafayette from 1936.  The lowest-priced Nash, it nonetheless offered the option of "bed in a car" reclining seats that transformed the Art Deco interior into a mobile boudoir.  It was a feature that made Nash famous during the boom in drive-in movies after World War II...

When the new Airflyte style made its appearance for 1949, it offered the convertible car bed along with another new feature, seat belts.  This bulbous fastback with skirted wheel openings became known as the "bathtub Nash." 

The museum exhibits cover the bathtub Nash period, and include a rare '48 Ambassador Custom cabriolet and also Nash trucks.   The one-year only cabrio was the only  postwar Nash convertible, unless you count the Rambler.  It hides behind the column in the photo below.  The green car next to the cabrio is a '51, last year for the bathtub style.

The bathtubs were replaced by Pinin Farina's designs for the big Nashes in 1952; these notchbacks still featured the skirted wheels.  The Rambler at right in the photo below was introduced as a convertible and then a wagon early in 1950, and the pillarless hardtop introduced in '51 previewed the PF design for the senior Nash.

Like most museums, the W.A.M. is missing a 1940 Nash Ambassador Eight Special Cabriolet, but with only 2 confirmed survivors out of 11 built, the Special Cabrio has become the Holy Grail of Nashdom.   Designed by Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky (shown driving below), the car is more a roadster than a true cabriolet, as it features side curtains rather than roll-up windows to go with the cut-down doors.  It also features a twin-ignition inline 8-cylinder engine, independent front suspension, and the great fresh-air heater Nash made famous.  One hopes that someday one of the nine missing Sakhnoffsky Nashes emerges from slumbers in a Wisconsin dairy barn, so the museum can complete its collection.
Otherwise, maybe the museum will be able to offer a permanent home to one of the wood-bodied Suburban fastbacks Nash made from '46 through '48.   With just under a thousand built, it's as rare as the museum's '48 cabrio.

Some of the orphan makes are not of Wisconsin origin, but add to the museum's flavor.  Two of these are the Kaiser Virginian hardtop and Kaiser Traveler, a precursor to the hatchback, both from 1949-50.

There's also a 1930 American Austin, a version of the British Austin Seven.   Like  the 1940 Ambassador Special cabrio, the body was designed by Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, but made in Pennsylvania.  

No matter, it's historically important, because American Austin (from 1935 it was renamed American Bantam) designed and produced the prototype of what became the
Jeep.  And indirectly, there's a Nash connection too...

In the postwar era, Nash decided that a shortcut to offering a small "city" car would be to base it on the Austin A40.  The body design from 1950 was by Bill Flajole in Kenosha, but the cars were produced in England for the 1954 through 1962 model years.  After the Nash merger with Hudson, some of these cars were re-badged as Hudsons.  Like the Pininfarina-styled Nashes, they presaged some freewheeling transatlantic partnerships for the American auto industry.  But the sports cars that resulted are another story...

Wisconsin Automotive Museum:  147 North Rural Street, Hartford, WI 53027
wisconsinautomotivemuseum.com    tel. 262-673-7999

Photo credits:
Top through 5th from top:  Paul Anderson
6th from top:  Wisconsin Auto Museum
7th thru 9th from top:  Paul Anderson
10th:  Wisconsin Auto Museum
11th:  Nash Kelvinator, reprinted on chuckstoyland.com
12th:  hemmings.com
13th:  wikimedia
14th:  Wisconsin Auto Museum
15th:  Paul Anderson
16th:  wikimedia

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Forgotten Classics------The Other Arnolts: MG, Bentley and Aston Martin

Stanley H. Arnolt, otherwise known as Wacky Arnolt, was a Chicago importer that brought MG as well as more arcane makes to the American Midwest.  The Arnolt Bristol story and its eccentric (possibly wacky) sculptural form are featured in our 9/22/16 post, but there were Arnolt Aston Martins, Arnolt MGs, and even an Arnolt Bentley in the same era.  The MGs came first, and were the result of Arnolt encountering Nuccio Bertone at the Turin Auto Show in 1952, where Bertone was displaying two rebodied MG TDs,  a coupe and convertible.  Along with creature comforts not available on the average TD including real weather protection and wind-up windows, both cars featured featured long-hood, short-deck styling by Giovanni Michelotti.  Arnolt immediately ordered 100 of each car, simultaneously saving Bertone's struggling firm and giving American buyers a bargain-priced ticket into the world of custom Italian coachwork.  MG was having trouble meeting orders for its standard production cars, so only 103 Arnolt MGs were actually completed in 1953 and '54.  Wacky Arnolt, already selling MG, Riley and Morris cars through his Chicago dealership, expanded his search for a suitable chassis. 

The photo below shows Arnolt at his Indiana headquarters with an Arnolt MG coupe and the Arnolt Bristol roadster that came not long after.  Most sources indicate that Arnolt moved to Bristol as a chassis source because he had already committed Bertone (a company in which he had invested) to building 200 cars.

But first he persuaded Aston Martin to supply 7 or 8 chassis; Aston Martin Owners Club records indicate that eight DB2-4 chassis were supplied, and that the first to be completed by  Bertone in 1953 was the red cabriolet below with full weather equipment including wind-up windows. Styling, as for the earlier MG, was by Giovanni Michelotti.  Some critics, including this writer, did not feel it represented any real improvement over the "standard" Aston.  Two cars in this style would be built.

Around the same time Arnolt commissioned a special body on a Bentley R-Type Continental chassis for his wife.  The car was unusual among Continentals in that it was a close-coupled 4 door notchback.  Here Michelotti essentially scaled up his MG design to a bigger car, keeping the tall flanks and low greenhouse of the Arnolt MG, and attempting to break up the slab sides by articulating the curve of the rear fender, which changes direction in the center of the rear door door to form a horizontal line.  This effort at reducing the visual height is contradicted by the special radiator grille, which is narrower than the standard Bentley grille and thus seems taller.  The lines are clean but the proportions need some work...

This cannot be said of the "true" Arnolt Aston Martins, which are styled by Franco Scaglione, Bertone's new chief aerodynamicist.  As he will do on his bodies for the Bristol chassis, Scaglione deals with the tall engine by placing a air scoop in the center of a peaked hood and forming similar creases into the fender tops.  These fender creases are less obvious than on the Arnolt Bristol (2nd photo from top on right) because here they fade into the circular headlight forms.

Three of the Scaglione-styled roadsters would be built, none with the wind-up windows of the Michelotti design, but one would have bumpers and creature comforts.  Only one car would originally feature an "Arnolt Aston Martin" badge, as David Brown's firm objected to rebranding their product in this way.  

At the rear, elliptical wheel arches, and (again) peaked fenders whose forms extend beyond the trunk surface serve Scaglione's goal of reducing the visual height…

 …and this effect is shown on both of the red roadsters shown above, while the rear fender forms of Scaglione's later Arnolt Bristol design flow around the tapered rear into the trunk volume, as shown in the photo below.

After Aston's cancellation, Arnolt proceeded with the order for 142 Arnolt Bristols, including the prototype and 6 coupes.  But that left 2 or 3 Aston Martin chassis to body, and this effort, from 1955, shows Scaglione reflecting his work on contemporary Alfa Romeo chassis, including the familiar Giulietta Sprint and the 2000 Sportiva prototypes. 

This is evident in the proportions and spare handling of trim (unlike the earlier Michelotti effort) and in details like the rear fender extensions which pop the tail lights beyond the gentle curve of the trunk.  The curved side glass is advanced for 1955, and the panoramic windshield seems aimed at Americans.

There was also a closed notchback coupe by Scaglione, here with an even more Alfa-like treatment of the windshield and greenhouse.  The taller center section of the grille refers to the Aston DB2, and the indented line curving back from the front wheel opening also seems a DB-2 reference.  Only one was supposed to have been built, but the fact that 8 chassis were supplied, and that one car was allegedly lost in a fire at Arnolt's warehouse, makes one wonder.  Note that in period photos the car appears both as white and as gun metal gray.  And more interesting (as show cars were often repainted), the more recent photo of the red coupe at the bottom lacks the dropped bumper of the white car.  Evidence of the lost car, or of a repair job?  Perhaps Aston experts or Bertone veterans will know...

Photo credits:
Top:  wikimedia
2nd:  Griff Borgeson, in hemmings.com
3rd:  noticias.coches.com
4th:  prewarcar.com
5th:  Gruppo Bertone
6th:  superstreetonline.com
7th:  James Mann, In carstyling.ru
8th:  bringatrailer.com
9th & 10th:  Gruppo Bertone
11th through 13th:  carstyling.ru

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Prancing Elephants: Lancia's D Series in the Heroic Days of Road Racing

Lancia's reputation for engineering innovation began under founder Vincenzo Lancia; he released the Lambda in 1922, pioneering unit body construction and independent front suspension with a unique V4 engine design, all firsts in series production, and 13,000 of these landmark cars would be built.  Just after Vincenzo's untimely death in 1937 Lancia introduced the Aprilia, a compact unit-construction V4 with four-wheel independent suspension.  In between there were the Dilambda and Astura V8s, and in 1950 young Gianni Lancia marshaled the engineering team assembled by his dad to release the classic Aurelia, the first V6 production car, also featuring a rear-mounted transaxle for 50-50 weight distribution.  The Aurelia soon acquired a reputation for superior handling, and in 1951 a 2-  liter Aurelia B-20 coupe called attention to this by finishing 2nd in the Mille Miglia thousand mile road race, just behind a 4 liter Ferrari.  Around this time, the galloping elephant insignia began to appear on privately-entered Lancia cars in competition.  One explanation for this prancing pachyderm (first seen in blue and later in red) is that the running elephant was a good luck charm in the Far East; another was that Lancia intended to poke fun at Ferrari's prancing horse.  Lancia, encouraged by the success of amateurs running a relatively docile touring car, would soon enough irritate Ferrari by introducing a series of cars more narrowly focused on road racing; the D Series.  The first of these was the D 20 coupe with tubular chassis, and engine and transaxle design adapted from the Aurelia.  But the V6, in light alloy like the Aurelia, substituted 4 overhead cams for that car's cam in block with pushrods. Lancia tested at least three different configurations on the 7 cars built beginning in 1952.  These included engine sizes just inside 2.5 liter and 3 liter limits, as well as a supercharged 2.7 liter; the latter raced at the '53 Le Mans but suffered a breakdown.  Shapely and slender coupe coachwork was provided by Pinin Farina, with the shield-shaped Lancia grille, prominent air intake, and tapered rear fenders providing contrast with the Ferrari coupes which were about to come from PF.

     D 20 coupe

By 1953 Lancia had settled on an unsupercharged 3.0 liter V6 with 3 Weber carbs for the D 23.   The relatively long wheelbase (102 inches) was the same as the D 20, but Pinin Farina now provided spider bodies for the 4 cars built.

    D20 coupe and D23 spiders

Only one D 23 is known to survive; this is in the Louwman Museum in the Netherlands…

                                       D23 spider

Racing in Italy, here a D23 is flanked by PF-bodied Ferrari (left) and Vignale Ferrari (right), with two more Prancing Horses following and a lone Gordini (see "The Etceterini Files Part 6" in these posts for 3-27-16) in the second row at right...
                                 D23, center front row, at the Autodromo

But it was with the D-24 released late in 1953 that the engineering team led by ex-Alfa (and future Ferrari) designer Vittorio Jano put Lancia on the map in road racing.  Bodies were again provided by PF, and hand-hammered out of magnesium alloy.  The slight ripples this created, along with the exposed rivets, gave the cars a brutal, no-nonsense air.  Reducing the wheelbase to 94.5 inches and increasing engine size to 3.3 liters, Jano found the sweet spot of power (265 hp), speed (162 mph) and reliability.  Proving the latter, D 24s finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the 1953 Carrera Panamericana, the epic Mexican cross-country race.  Lead drivers of the first three two-man teams were Fangio, Taruffi and Castellotti.  It would likely have been 1-2-3-4 for Lancia, but the D 24 piloted by Felice Bonetto went airborne on a village street and his head struck a wooden shutter which had been opened by spectators, killing him instantly.  Stunned by the loss of Bonetto but encouraged by the reliability of the cars, Gianni Lancia pressed ahead with plans for the '54 race season, when his cars won the Mille Miglia (26 minutes ahead of the 2nd place Ferrari) as well as the Targa Florio, finishing second at the Sebring 12 Hours.

                                D 24 spider 

For the D 25 readied in the late summer of 1954, Lancia became the first Italian competitor (and the second anywhere after Jaguar) to adopt disc brakes, expanded the V6 to 3.75 liters and 305 hp, and shortened the wheelbase.  Two cars were built, both with smoother, more aerodynamic bodywork shown on the single surviving car.  

                                D 25 spider 

But the D 25s only contested the Tourist Trophy race in the UK during 1954, as Lancia's slender resources were now concentrated on readying the D 50 Grand Prix single-seater for battle.  On this design, a 4-cam 2.5 liter V8, Jano adopted the novel idea of placing the engine and driveshaft at an angle to the car's centerline so that the driver could sit lower in the chassis.  Later in the decade, low center of gravity would be achieved in Grand Prix cars by following the lead of Cooper and Porsche, and adopting mid-mounted engines behind the driver.  But in 1954, the D 50 was state of the art, with its low profile, rear-mounted transmission and side-mounted fuel tanks, which combined to maintain predictable, balanced handling as the car used up fuel...

     D 50 in plan

The cars were not ready until late in the '54 season, where the two D 50s failed to complete the GP of Spain.  But in 1955 the team contested 4 championship races, with Alberto Ascari making a promising start by winning the first non-championship races at Turin and Naples, where his Lancia beat the Mercedes for the first time.  The most dramatic (but not the happiest) result was at Monaco, where the Lancias finished 2nd, 5th and 6th.  The Mercedes W196 racers of Fangio and Moss held the first two places untll mid-race, but then Fangio retired and Ascari, dueling with Moss right up until Moss suffered engine implosion, drove his D 50 into the harbor and had to swim for the rescue boat, allowing Maurice Trintignant to take the checkered flag in a Ferrari 625. Just a few days later, Ascari died testing a Ferrari Monza* sports car at its namesake track. Gianni Lancia, deeply affected by the loss of another great friend, and faced with the mounting costs of competing against the Mercedes corporate juggernaut, decided to retire from racing. Lancia scrapped all but two of the six D24s and one D 25.  The Lancia team donated all the D 50 racers and the related spares to the Ferrari team.  The following year, Juan Manuel Fangio won the World Championship driving a Lancia-Ferrari D 50.   

                                 D50 Grand Prix car with Ascari at the wheel, 1954

In 1960 the High Fidelity club of Lancia loyalists was formed.  They adopted the red elephant insignia for their group, because an elephant never forgets...

*Footnote:  Ironically, Ascari was not even scheduled to share test duties with Castellotti on that day, but decided to try a few practice laps.  Ascari had been cleared by Lancia to drive Ferrari sports cars as Lancia was by then concentrating on single-seaters.

Photo credits:
Red elephant insignia:  Mayo Motor Library
Lancia D 20 (black & white shot):  junglekey.it
Lancia D 20, D 23 & D 24 (color shots):  wikimedia
Lancia D 50 Plan view:  hemmings.com
Lancia D 50 with Alberto Ascari:  wikimedia
HF insignia: capricorn1.co.uk

Monday, October 3, 2016

Hi-Fi: Racing Red Elephants from Lancia

It's probably not a coincidence that the Italian auto industry, having produced the double entendre Fiat TV series, also presented the world with a car named "Hi-Fi".   Except that implying that the car was intended for  "the world" is probably overstating the case, because when Lancia named its HF series for High Fidelity, they were referring to the loyalty of individual Lancia customers who had each, over the years, purchased several new Lancias.  These were the people who got priority on the waiting list for the HF series of cars, which included the rally champion Fulvia HF, the smooth 2000HF road car, and (after the Fiat takeover) the immortal Stratos HF and Delta Integrale HF, also rally champions.  The HF story starts in 1965, when Lancia introduced a sporty notchback coupe version of its square-rigged, front-drive Fulvia sedan.  The coupe shared the narrow angle V4 with its intake and exhaust valves operated by twin cams in the single head casting.  The Fulvia coupe did for the Fulvia's image what the Alfa GTV coupe did for the Giulia…or in the States, what the Mustang did to update (and upstage) the stodgy Falcon.  In late 1965 the first HF appeared with an uprated version of the 1.2 liter engine, joining a Zagato-bodied Fulvia coupe in the sports department at Lancia.  Soon there would be 1.3 and 1.6 liter versions of the HF, and Lancias were winning road rallies all over the place.  The HiFi badge on these cars featured a cheerful red elephant, sometimes a whole row of them.

It's worth mentioning that Lancia never gave up on improving the Fulvia; they even changed the angle between the cylinder banks twice during the car's life span, necessitating expensive tooling changes.  This incessant fiddling was one thing which kept Lancia on top in rally competition, winning the Italian Rally Championship in 1965 through '69 and '71 through '73, and the World Rally Championship in 1972.  It was maybe also a reason the company kept losing money, and was taken over by Fiat in 1969.  The Fulvia coupe stayed in production until 1976, after which it was replaced by the rust-prone, Fiat-engined Beta   coupe.  Even under Fiat management, Lancia made some memorable cars, including the Zagato 1600 HF from 1971-'72, the fastest and most powerful Fulvia ever…

And the Fulvia 1600 Competizione Coupe, penned by Tom Tjaarda for Ghia in the year of the Fiat takeover, 1969…

This car, which sadly remained only a one-off, avoided surface decoration in favor of emphasis on careful proportions and sharp detailing.  The retractable airfoil and the cast rollover hoop, drilled for lightness (also featured in Tjaarda's Serenissima Ghia; see "One of One: A Brief History of Singular Cars" in our 9-7-15 post) are examples.

I often thought that this design could have extended the life of the sound Fulvia mechanicals into the 1980s.  Instead, Fiat gave us the rust-bucket Lancia Beta.  But there were moments of inspiration too, and in one of them, Fiat adopted Marcello Gandini's wild 1971 prototype, the Bertone-bodied Stratos HF, for limited production.  The fluorescent orange prototype featured matte-finish paint, and the production car below it shares the wrap-around cockpit glazing (allegedly inspired by a racing helmet) while it adds boundary layer air control over the hood for the mid-mounted engine.

In 1973, production began on the car after Enzo Ferrari grudgingly granted Lancia access to the 500 Dino Ferrari V6 engines they would need for a World Rally Championship contender.  The Lancia Stratos won that Championship in 1974, '75 and '76, and the Monte Carlo Rally in 1975, '76, '77 and '79.   Ferrari's attitude has always seemed a little ungrateful, because Lancia, bankrupted by its own racing program in 1955, had given him a whole team's worth of Formula One racing cars and spare parts at the end of that season.  Juan Manuel Fangio had, after all, won a World Championship driving for Ferrari with the Lancia D50 in 1956.  But that story will be told in another chapter, the creation myth of the racing red elephants...

Photo credits:

Top:  Fulvia HF coupe (iedei.files.wordpress.com)
2nd:  Zagato 1600HF (car-from-um.com)
3rd & 4th:  Lancia Fulvia 1600 Ghia (Ghia Studios, reprinted in carstyling.ru)
5th and 6th:  Lancia Stratos HF (wikimedia)
7th:  HF insignia (ebay.com)