The VW Beetle, and how we raced it.

The year is 1985 and Brazil is facing terrible times, the mismanagement of the economy by the military government brought an imaginable inflation rate, something around 250% a year.

Stock Car Brazil, circa 1988

As one can imagine, car races wasn’t exactly a priority in this kind of scenario; only those categories backed by the automakers were surviving, like the Brazilian Stock Car, backed by General Motors.

But necessity is the mother of invention and a new hope for the amateur race teams was being conceived.

The idea couldn’t be simpler: let’s bring the VW Beetle back to the race track, after all, in the mid-80s they were still plentiful, affordable and parts could be found anywhere, even brand new since the Beetle was still in production (its last year would be 1993) and the Brazilian VW kept the faithful flat-four engine in production for another 2 decades or so, powering the VW Kombi.

The guy on the right, in the racing suit, is Expedito Marazzi, a brilliant automotive journalist and an accomplished race driver who also drove the VW Beetle on the “Division 3”.
Marazzi’s work inspired a whole bunch of people to start writing about cars, including myself.

The last time the VW Beetle was officially racing was in the 1970s, in the extinct “Division 3”, a category reserved for highly modified production cars. There, the teams had the freedom to extract the last drop of power from the air-cooled engines and to transform the Beetle with a fiberglass body kit, extra wide rims wrapped with slick tires, and 5-speed Hewland transmission. Those little monsters were adored by the fans and they affectionately called the cars “Atomic Potty”. Thanks to the oil crisis of the 70s, Division 3 had a very short life, and 1980 was its last season.

Those cars were not cheap to build but a well-balanced “Potty” in the hands of a seasoned driver would be a pain in the neck to the way more powerful Chevy Opalas and Ford Mavericks.

The “Atomic Pottys” were a crowd-pleaser, everybody loved to see the little Beetles giving a hard time to bigger cars, but they also were unpredictable on the track, mechanically unreliable, and very expensive to build.

This new category should be exactly the opposite, to make it affordable, the cars should be as close as possible to a stock VW Beetle.

Pedro “Garrafa” going  flat out at Interlagos race track, on a rainy day. Garrafa was one of the biggest Speed 1600 enthusiasts

In 1985 the “Speed 1600″ was born and the regulations were very strict:

*The cars should keep all the original steel panels and no cuts on the body were allowed, other than the one on the rear skirt to make room for the exhaust system and the other one on the front to make room for an additional oil cooler.

* Only the side windows could be replaced by plexiglass.

* Wheels should be 14″ no wider than 6”. Aftermarket alloy rims were permitted . Tires only “street use” radials, no wider than 195 and  and the profile no lower than 60.

* Front suspension: stock with lockers to lower it. Rear suspension: stock with free camber adjustments. Shocks should also be OEM.

*Engine: stock (alcohol) 1600cc. Only a little “grinding” on the heads was allowed. Dual original “Solex” carbs with a little internal polishing. Free choice of jets. Free choice of exhaust, free compression ratio.

* Transmission: stock with free choice of OEM gears.

* Brakes: stock front discs and rear drums.

As far as I remember that was it.

The “Speed 1600” begun as a regional tournament in the city of São Paulo and became an instant success. It was cheaper to race a Beetle than a Go-Kart.

The category not only brought veterans drivers and mechanics back to the race track but also opened the door to a whole new generation of gearheads. Together they made the Speed 1600 the most popular racing category in São Paulo, grids with 40-plus cars were the norm.

In June 1988, the most popular auto magazine in the country, “4 Rodas” published a 5 pages article about the “Speed 1600” and then, the rest of the country suddenly got bitten by the bug.

The southern cities in Brazil (the ones with functional race tracks) immediately started organizing similar tournaments and since they tried to copy the same rules as the ones in São Paulo, it made things easier to have interstate tournaments in the future.

In 1987, in Interlagos, Sao Paulo, the Speed 1600 set the record of the biggest grid ever in Brazil, with 63 cars. The record still holds today.

My family returns to the competition.

My family always tried to stay involved in racing as much as the budget allowed them. My grandpa worked as a mechanic for a race team in the late 50s, not much for the money but mostly for the fun of it. My dad started his “career” at local rally tournaments and so did his brother. The picture above was taken in 1975 and shows dad at the wheel of his daily driver 1972 VW Beetle, during the Rallye da Graciosa, our version of the Monte Carlo Rally.

The #44

After a long hiatus away from the competitions, both, my dad and his brother saw the “Speed 1600” as the perfect opportunity to come back. My father found the right candidate for his next race car, his brother-in-law was selling an immaculate 1976 Beetle, already stripped for the track, and he bought it on the spot. The car was born as a 1300cc and the engine was quickly replaced by a 1600cc from a VW Kombi.

It took only a month to get the “44” ready for racing but then, the 1989 season was almost over and dad only had a chance to drive his car on the two remaining races.

Mostly, the “Speed 1600” drivers were also sponsors, crew leaders, and mechanics, all at the same time. Amateur sports at its best.

The official race track in my hometown was going through some renovations at the time, for this reason, the 1989 season happened on a dirt track located on the outskirts of the city.

For the next year, our track was ready and dad raced the entire 1990 season, and even after being disqualified for two races (for having the intake manifolds out of the regulation), he finished the season in third position.

In 1993 my father sold his car and the new owner kept the same livery and number. I remember seeing it in action a couple more times but after that, we lost track of the “44”

The #12

At the same time, my uncle also got his Beetle ready, a 1972 model, but unfortunately, he was not very lucky with his car. The “12” broke down in the first two races of the 1990 season, not finishing either one.

He became very frustrated and decided to bring the car back to his garage and he never touched it again. The “12” sat dormant for 28 years.

Unfortunately, my uncle passed away in 2017, it was a shock for the whole family, he was a super nice guy, always cracking jokes and making people smile.

He left a small collection of cars to my cousin, his only son, and obviously, the “12” was part of it.

For some reason that I still don’t understand, my cousin decided not to keep the old Beetle. Selling it would be complicated since the documents were pretty messed up and the car was badly rusted. So instead of selling the car for peanuts, he offered it to my dad, for free.

Dad, at right, chatting with the tow truck driver.

My father was blown away with this gift, he and his brother had been partners in business and hobbies since the 1960s, and having his race Beetle would be more than an honor.

Father retired in 2015 and he has been looking for something to occupy his time ever since. He immediately embraced the task to restore the “12”.

My cousin Sergio, making sure the engine was still in the car.

These pictures here show the day the car was relocated from the city of Curitiba to my dad’s home in Barra Velha beach, 200 miles away.

In April 2019, my wife and I finally took a couple of weeks off and we went to visit family and friends in Brazil. We haven’t been back home since we moved to Canada, 5 years ago.

Obviously, I was dying to see the old Beetle up close.

I even brought a little present, a VDO tachometer, pretty close to the one that originally equipped the “Super Fuscão”, the sports version of the Brazilian Beetle.

The 1974 Super Fuscão.

Dad is restoring the car on an extra tight budget and he is doing the job mostly on his own. He is 70 years old and for sure he is taking his sweet time to get it done.

When we got there, the bodywork was done and even the floor pans had been replaced.

He lowered the compression ratio enough to make the engine run on gasoline and replaced the dual carb system for a single one. He says: ” I want peace of mind, I am not going to race it anyway” .

He loves to take the chassis for short test drives; for sure I had my share of fun driving it. Without the weight of the body, the chassis can be pretty brisky.

In 2020 the mission of restoring the “12” was accomplished. At this point the car is halfway to be street legal, it has all the necessary lights but dad is refusing to install the bumpers, which is mandatory in Brazil.

Some people say a vintage car will never be completely done, so I believe that old Beetle will keep my father happily busy for a long time.

In Brazil, the VW Beetle is more than just a car, it is an institution. Simple, affordable, and reliable, it was the obvious choice as the first car for generations of Brazilians (mine was a 1966 model). The Beetle thought us not only how to drive, but also how to fix it, how to modify it, and ultimately, how to race it.

For my family, the “12” is much more than just a hobby, it is a beautiful homage to my uncle, a gentle guy that will live forever in the hearts of family and friends.

The Runaway Drone

Nowadays, flying drones are such a common sight, from the harmless ones we use to shoot videos of our vacations to the deadly ones used by the military to kill enemy troops on the ground, drones are pretty much part of our daily lives.

The drone technology was born in the military and later on was granted to us, the civilians. The US Air Force has been developing it for quite a while; the first successful drones date back to WWII when adapted B17 Flying Fortress flew unmanned, “one-way ticket” missions, bombing heavily defended nazi targets.

After the end of the war, both the Navy and the Air Force converted hundreds of surplus airplanes to fly as drones, to be used as targets for weapons development programs, and that is precisely how this bizarre story begins.

A drone Hellcat getting ready for its last mission. Although it was a fully operational drone, a serviceman was required to start the engine.

The year was 1956 and the Cold War was already in full swing, at 11.34 am on August 16th, a bright red Grumman F6F Hellcat drone took off from Point Mugu Naval Air Station, in California, and according to the plan, the old fighter would fly peacefully over the Pacific Ocean before being destroyed by a missile.

The Hellcat’s baptism of fire happened in September 1st, 1943, when they left the USS Yorktown for their first combat mission in WWII.

Before we go ahead, let’s take a closer look at this plane: the Grumman F6F Hellcat was the most successful US Navy fighter of WWII, of course, it shares this reputation with the F4U Corsair, but the Hellcat was better suited to operate on carriers.

It was powered by the Pratt-Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp, air-cooled radial engine, capable to crank up 2,000 HP, more than enough to pull the plane to a top speed of 630 Km/h. The Hellcat’s armament consisted of 6 Browning 0.50 cal machine guns. The F6F finished the war with an impressive victory ratio of 19:1. Grumman produced 12,275 Hellcats and since not a lot of them were lost during the war, the US Navy had a whole bunch of them to convert to drones.

Now, back to the story: Soon after the drone took off towards an offshore missile test area, it stopped responding to the command of the ground crew. The situation wasn’t, at first, much of a big deal, the plane should fly steadily over the Pacific Ocean until it runs out of gas and ditch itself into the water, but instead, it gracefully turned southeast, towards the city of Los Angeles.

Now, the Navy had a much bigger problem: Point Mugu air station didn’t have a single fighter that could be quickly dispatched to intercept the rogue drone. They immediately called Oxnard Air Force Base, home of the 437th Fighter-Interceptor Wing. This base was 8 km north of Point Mugu.

They quickly scrambled two F-89D Scorpions and flying at full afterburner the fighters soon caught up with the drone at 30,000 feet (9,100 m), northeast of Los Angeles, and that is the point when the story goes sour, but before we move forward, let’s take a quick look at the Scorpion fighter.

The Northrop F89 Scorpion was a high altitude, all-weather interceptor, designed to protect the USA from the threat of the Soviet nuclear bombers. It was powered by two Allison J36 turbojet engines producing 7,200 lbs of thrust each in afterburner mode, able to push the fighter to a top speed of 1,035 km/h.

The Scorpion was one of the first fighters built with no machine guns or cannons, following a new Pentagon policy that attested this kind of armament was becoming obsolete in modern air combat; instead, the fighter was equipped with the “Might Mouse” unguided rockets, kept in pods, located on the tip of the wings.

The Battle

The Hellcat drone was circling Los Angeles, flying in a wide radius curve pattern, when the Scorpion pilots got the drone on visual, it was flying over Santa Paula, so they waited until it entered some unpopulated area to start the attack. As soon as the Hellcat reached the mostly inhabited Antelope Park, the first fighter got in position to shoot it down. The “D” version of the Scorpion was equipped with the state of the art Hughes E-6 fire control system, that integrates the plane’s radar and an attack-plotting computer; in other words, killing that drone should be a no brainer… Or so they thought.

First Lt. Hans Einstein was the first one to give it a try, he put his Scorpion in position, pressed the fire button and, nothing happened, he tried a couple more times until he gave up and called his wingman, First Lt. Walter Hale. Hale repeated the procedures of his colleague and again, not a single rocket was fired. The automatic fire system had jammed in both fighters.

They switched from automatic to manual and now it was time to get the job done in the old fashion way, WWII style, but there was another problem: the US Air Force had put so much faith in the electronic fire system that all the Scorpions “D” had their gun-sight removed from the cockpit. The crew’s job now was pretty much like firing a gun just pointing it to the target, but not aiming.

At this point, the drone had changed its course and it was once again flying towards LA. Lt. Einstein positioned his plane as best as he could behind the drone and fired a burst of 42 rockets, completely missing the target. The second interceptor moved into position and unleashed another salvo of 42, a couple of rockets even bounced against the drone’s fuselage but none detonating.

The artistic rendering of a Scorpion firing a salvo of Mighty Mouse rockets.

A single rocket would be enough to bring the old Hellcat into pieces but the pilots couldn’t fly too close to the target because the debris from the explosion could damage their fighters. Close to the town of Newhall the pair of jets made a second pass, launching 32 rockets each; again none found the mark. As the drone headed northeast toward Palmdale, each pilot fired a last salvo of 30 rockets at the target with no hits. Running low on fuel and out of ammunition, the Scorpion pilots had no other choice but to abandon the mission and go back to the base.

The Hellcat at this point was also running out of fuel and it crashed at a desolate section of the desert, 14 kilometers east from the Palmdale Regional Airport. Before hitting the ground, the drone severed some power lines along a rarely used road.

Military and local law enforcement personnel examine the crash site of the drone near Palmdale (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library collection

The aftermath

The “Mighty Mouse” used by the Air Force on that day was already a veteran of the American military, it is an unguided rocket, fuelled by solid propellant and its warhead is packet with High Explosive. Its dimensions are 6 ft long x 2 3/4 inch in diameter. It was named after a cartoon super-hero, very popular in the 50s, a flying mouse with superpowers, small but powerful. The two Scorpions fired a total of 208 of those rockets against the drone and if they failed to destroy it, they surely caused havoc on the ground.

The first set of rockets started brush fires 11 km northeast from the city of Castaic (northern LA) which burned 150 acres of bushes.

Some of the rockets fired on the second salvo hit oil sumps owned by the Indian Oil Co. The fires reached within 300 feet (91 m) of the Bermite Powder explosives plant. Other rockets started fires in the proximity of Soledad Canyon, near Mount Gleason, burning more than 350 acres of rough brush.

The final set of rockets were fired while the Scorpions faced Palmdale; many landed within the town. As the drone passed over Palmdale’s downtown, Mighty Mouse rockets fell like hail. A considerable amount of shrapnel damaged a few houses and cars within the city limits.

Two workers in Placerita Canyon had been eating in their utility truck; right after they left it to sit under the shade of a tree, the truck received a direct hit from a rocket and it was destroyed.

It took 500 firefighters two days to bring the brushfires under control. More than 1,000 acres were burned. Other than the pride of the US Air Force, no one got seriously hurt.

Conclusions

The incident, which became known as “The battle of Palmdale” brought even more controversies to the rivalry between the Navy and the Air Force: How come, not one but two, well trained Air Force pilots, flying modern jet fighters failed to bring down a WWII era, piston-powered Navy fighter… With NO ONE on board? Jokes aside, I believe the incident has a few points to analyze.

The US Navy can be excused for “losing” that drone, after all, this kind of technology was still in its infancy in the 1950, but then, we have to excuse the Air Force as well for the fail of the automatic fire system in both fighters, after all, the electronic guidance for missiles/rockets was also in its infancy. What is appalling is the decision of the pilots to fire the rockets while flying above a well-populated town. There is no register if the crew or the Air Force received any kind of prosecution.

Another important fact is the stubbornness of the military in ordering some fighters with no guns. It is clear if the Scorpions were equipped with a pair of the faithful Browning 0.50 machine-gun (and gun sight, of course) they would have shot down the Hellcat pretty quickly and with minimum damage to the ground.

This picture shows a Sidewinder missile being launched from an F4 Phantom. More than 80%/of the Sidewinders fired during the Vietnam War missed their targets.

This concept was pushed well into the 1960s, for example, the “superstar” fighter during the Vietnam War, the F4 Phantom, was put in combat with no guns and equipped with a very unreliable missile system.

Perhaps the real issue here is how big the American military was becoming during the Cold War and how often it would clash with the civilian population. Miraculously there were no fatalities during the ‘Battle of Palmdale”, but this incident is just one example of a series of events when mistakes made by the military brought real danger to the Americans.

The Monte Carlo Rally.

As I started to write this post, right after Christmas day, 2020, the teams and drivers were getting ready for the kick start of the 2021 season of the World Rally Championship, or simply “WRC”.

A Ford Fiesta WRT at the 2020 Monte-Carlo Rally.

As it has happened since 1973, the opening round will be the most traditional and important race of the calendar: the Monte-Carlo Rally. For this year, the “Automobile Club de Monaco” will be celebrating the 110th anniversary of the first Monte-Carlo Rally; the race, which is the oldest competition of this kind in the world, helped to immortalize the popularity of “Rallying” around the world and also helped to shape the image of the City of Monte-Carlo as a place forever connected to motorsports.

The First Edition

In the early 1900s, the automobile was considered more like a hobby than a necessity, something like a toy for the millionaires. The car owners were even considered as sportsmen and as such, they were constantly in search of new challenges and for this reason, rallies were very popular among them.

In 1909, Prince Albert I, of Monaco, came up with the idea of a rally competition that would not only promote all the technological advances of the recently created automotive industry but above all, attract wealthy car owners to the country and present Monaco as an amazing destination in the glamorous Mediterranean coast.

The First Edition

The official poster of the first edition of the Monte-Carlo.

The Automobile Club de Monaco received the task to organize the competition and to turn it into reality. They didn’t wast any time and the first edition of the Monte Carlo Rally happened in 1911. The core of the rally was very simple, 23 cars left from different cities across Europe, towards Monaco and their start was staggered according to the distance to the capital city Monte Carlo. The competitors followed the rules of the regularity rally, also called time-speed-distance or TSD rally, which is driving each segment of a course in a specified time at a specified average speed. Competitors set off from Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Vienna and Berlin, arriving in Monte Carlo on Saturday, January 28th.

The most powerful car in the competition: the double phaeton La Buire 6cyl. 
54 HP. The team finished in the 6th.

Seven cars failed to finish the rally, due to the harsh conditions of the roads during wintertime and the overall winner was the German sportsman Von Esmark, from Berlin, but thanks to a few controversial rules, he was disqualified.

Rallies in the early 1910s were quite popular among the adventurous car owners who were in pursuit of new challenges for themselves and their machines as well, but the Monte-Carlo Rally had a different approach. Since one of the main purposes of this event was to promote the city as an affluent destination in the French Riviera, some of its rules were related to the elegance of the cars and crew, and what would be considered laughable in modern times, were very important back then; important enough to push Von Esmark to the 6th place.

Points were given not only based on the skills of the driver but also based on the elegance of the car, the comfort of the passengers, and the condition in which the car arrived at the principality. At the end of the rally, the racers had to go on a parade around Monte Carlo and the machines were supposed to be clean and with the least possible amount of visible damages, and apparently, Von Esmark’s car wasn’t in “tip-top” condition.

Another participant at the 1911 Monte-Carlo Rally, Lieutenant Knapp and his Fiat 16/18 HP. He covered 1,320 km from Vienna.

Since the competitors were very wealthy people, some of them didn’t even bother to drive their cars throughout the rally, leaving the job to their chauffeurs and the comfort of the passengers was also an important aspect to collect points toward the victory.

Henri Rougier and the victorious 25HP Turcat Merey.

In the end, the winner was the French airplane pilot Henri Rougier, who was among the nine competitors who left Paris, to cover 1,020 Kilometres (634 mi) route. Von Esmark, who finished the rally 14 hours before Rougier, considered himself the legitimate winner and he didn’t take lightly his disqualification, he refused his prize and also didn’t parade his car around Monte-Carlo at the end of the rally.

The Second Edition.

For the next year’s edition of the rally, the number of cars increased to 60, and there were ten different cities all over Europe as starting points.

The Russian team’s car, stuck in snow.

Certainly, the most thrilling route that year was from Saint Petersburg in the Russian Empire to Monte-Carlo. It took more than 8 days for the Russian adventurous duo Andrej Platonovitsj and Vagym Mihajlov, to cover 3.257 km (2.024 mi) of treacherous winter roads.

Plaonovitsj and Mihajlov arriving at Monte Carlo.

They drove a 1911 Russo Balt model S24-55; the brand was well known for manufacturing military vehicles for the Russian Army and that might explain how the car withstood so well the punishment of the trip. The low average of 16.7 km/h (10.4 mph), and reputedly the less-than-shiny appearance of the car upon arrival and inspection by the judges, dropped them back to ninth place.

The picture above shows the winner of the 1912 Monte-Carlo Really: Julius Beutler, from Germany, and his French-built Berliet 16HP.

Female drivers were encouraged to participate in the Monte-Carlo Rally, not in the name of diversity but to bring charm and beauty to the event instead; quite sexist indeed. The picture above shows Mademoiselle Cabien, ready to start the parade, at the end of the 1912 edition. Cabien, at the wheel of her 2 cylinder Peugeot, had an admirable performance, finishing the competition with an average speed of 32Km/h. Very impressive for the 1910s standard.

The public and the media couldn’t understand how a few elitist rules, about elegance, comfort, and cleanliness, prevented the Russians to win the rally. After all, they overcame a much bigger challenge and they did it with gallantry. Just like the year before, the 1912 Monte-Carlo Rally ended in controversy.

After only two editions, the rally was failing to conquer the hearts and minds of the public. The sponsors of the event were pressuring the officials to change the rules, fearing the Rally wouldn’t have much chance to survive.

The economic uncertainties in Europe prevented the 1913 edition of the rally to happen and in 1914, WWI dragged the whole continent into 4 years of bloodshed and later on, into economic depression.

The 1920s

It would take 12 years for the next edition of the Monte-Carlo Rally to happen. For 1924, the Automobile Club de Monaco implemented some well-received changes, like eliminating most of the elegance rules and including a 90Km route throughout the Alps.

Jacques Edouard Ledure & Madame Ledure, the winners of the 1924 Monte-Carlo Rally. A friend couple traveled with them during the rally

This mountain circuit gave the unique opportunity for the public to see the cars in action in the vicinity of Monte-Carlo, helping to popularize the event. Later on, this Alpine section became the core of the rally, even if, in the beginning, the French police almost ruined it because they didn’t allow the competitors to go over 30 km/h.

Of the 30 participants, only one failed to finish the competition. That year even motorcycles were allowed to participate.

The Lancia Lambda, owned by Madame Mertens, finished second in the 1925 edition of the rally. The team started from the city of Tunis, in Northern Africa, with a direct length of 4,467 kilometers via Casablanca.

The picture above shows the winner of the Women’s Cup of the 1927 Monte-Carlo Rally, Mildred Bruce, impatiently waiting for the refuelling of her AC “six”. Mildred, who was already a reputable adventure seeker at the time, received financial support from AC (the same British maker that gave the world the AC Cobra), to drive an AC car during the competition. Another clear sign that the rally was moving towards professionalism.

During the 1920s, the Automobile Club de Monaco started to reshape the rally towards a more professional competition. New rules were implemented, regulating the power and the weight of the cars and also the maximum number of passengers.

The 1930s

The Romanians Zamfirescu and Cristea and their Ford V8, participants of the 1936 Monte-Carlo Rally.

By the 1930s the automobile had evolved quite significantly, it was faster, safer, and quite reliable. If the cars had improved, so did the highways. Crossing Europe towards Monte-Carlo was a much easier challenge now than it was 20 years ago.

Lucy Schell-O’Reilly and Laury Schell finished second in 1936, in their six-cylinder Delahaye 135 18CV Sport

The organizers implemented a series of tasks to be performed at the end of the rally, meant to evaluate the driving skills of the participants, and on top of that, the Alpine portion of the competition was increased to 160Km.

By the mid-30s, the Monte-Carlo Rally was well established as one the most popular automobile competition in the world, attracting not only wealthy car owners but also, aviators, professional race drivers, and celebrities as well. Every year thousands of tourists would flock to this “fairy tale” principality to see the drivers and their machines and most of them also enjoyed everything Monte-Carlo has to offer, like the gorgeous beaches and marinas, and also luxurious hotels, and casinos. The mission given to the Automobile Club de Monaco to open the doors of the country to the world, was fully accomplished.

 Jean Paul and M. Contet and the number 31 Delahaye 135M, the winners of the 1939 edition. Two things we notice in this picture: first is the traditional Rally Monte-Carlo plate, that helped to advertise the event around Europe and second is the elegance of the competitors was still very important.

The last Monte-Carlo Rally of the decade happened in 1939, in that same year the Germans invaded Poland and started World War II.

Europe and the rest of the world were pushed once again to the horrors of a total war and it took 10 years for the organizers to put together another edition of the Monte-Carlo Rally.

The Modern Era.

The official British Ford team: Gastsonides and Worledges and their Ford Zephir, arriving in style back to England, after the victory at the 1953 Monte-Carlo Rally.

After WWII, the rally steadily shifted to a more professional event. Since the highway part of the competition was no longer a challenge, the treacherous mountain course completely replaced it, and there was an ever-growing involvement of the automakers, with official factory teams.

Stretching the limits of the Citroen 2CV, during the 1954 edition of the rally.

During the 1950s and 60s, the rally experienced a surge in the number of small, affordable cars. Thanks to the evolution in technology, an average car was not only able to withstand the punishment of the rally but also able to fight for the first position.

The Mini-Cooper dominated the Monte-Carlo Rally in the 60s. The tiny British car won in 1964, and again in 1965, driven by the legendary Scandinavian duo Rauno Aaltonen and Timo Mäkinen.

Timo Mäkinen and Paul Easter, cutting the darkness with the “forbidden” headlights, in 1966.

For 1966, the Mini-Coopers finished the rally in a smashing 1-2-3 position, but unfortunately, the organizers had imposed a draconian new rule for that year, stating the cars must be 100% factory original.

The Automobile Club de Monaco was firmly decided to put an end to the British winning streak. After the end of the rally, the technicians spent more than 18 hours, dismantling the cars, measuring and checking every single part. Everything seemed fine when they finally found something wrong: the original headlight bulbs had been replaced with a more powerful ones, and that was enough to disqualify all three winner Mini Coopers. The drivers, the team managers, and the fans were furious, they vehemently protested against the judge’s decision and even the press joined them putting as much pressure as possible to reverse the decision, but it was all in vain. Once again the Monte-Carlo Rally ended in controversy.

The BMC team, the winners of the 1967 Monte-Carlo .Rally.

The stolen victory in 1966 was just a small set back, in the next year, Rauno Aaltonen, driving for the British Motor Company official team, brought the Mini-Cooper once again to the highest place on the podium. There is no doubt the Monte-Carlo Rally immensely contributed to the Mini’s popularity around the world.

The supremacy of the small cars in the rally was short-lived. During the 1970s the competition was dominated by sports cars like the Renault Alpine, Porsche 911, and the legendary Lancia Stratus.

Here it is, all the winners of the Monte-Carlo Rally, during the decade.

Lancia Stratus: 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979

Renault Alpine A110: 1971, 1974.

Porsche 911: 1970, 1978

Lancia Fulvia: 1972

The 1970s were amazing years, not only for Monte-Carlo but for rallying in general. The heavy participation of the automakers plus some solid sponsorship, allowed the teams to bring to the battle amazing professional drivers and the best sports cars the auto-industry had at the time.

The decade set the perfect scenario for the introduction of the infamous Group “B” cars, during the 1980s, but that might as well be the subject of a future post.

The legend of the Monte-Carlo Rally lives on, it is impossible to imagine a WRC season without it in the same way it is impossible to imagine an F1 season without the Monaco GP. The evolution of the event helped to make rallying as we know it today, so demanding for the competitors and so passionate for the fans.

Triumph Motorcycles; and a little story about passion and brotherhood.

During the year of 2014, I had the opportunity to work for a big restoration shop in Brazil. Among many different activities we performed there, one of them was selling used “premium” motorcycles.

The Studio Phoenix, showroom, during its heyday, in 2014.

This little story happened on a hot summer afternoon. I was almost asleep on my desk when I saw an old guy coming through the front door, walking slowly, a cane in his hand. I would say he was on his eighties.

He passed by the Harleys and BMWs and he didn’t pay attention to the Ducatis either, but the Triumphs caught his eyes.

I got up, walked over to him, shook his hand, and even before I could introduce myself he asked:

“Do they till make Triumphs?” 

“Yes, they  still do. Brand new if you want”, I said.

He laughed, tapped gently on the gas tank of a Daytona 675 that was between us and said:

“Oh no!!!  I don’t ride anymore”

“But I had quite a few Triumphs, long time ago. I think my first one was back in 1960.

Then he started telling me about a time when paved roads were rare and the broken bikes had to be fixed on backyards. Parts had to be adapted from other bikes or even built from the scratch.

He also told me about details of the machine that only a guy who tore them apart and put everything back together could possibly know.

He was the kind of guy who rode Triumphs not to show off, but because he loved them.

He even told me that he and his pals used to race their bikes on the back roads, outside of town.

“ We wore no helmets, no gloves… Just a bunch of reckless kids”

I tried to convince him that the bikes have changed a lot, but the kids… They haven’t changed that much.

– “Perhaps…” he said. “Perhaps…

Steve McQueen

Sometimes he would stare at the Triumph logo and be quiet. Maybe he was trying to remember more stories.

I would have gladly listened to them all.

I accompanied him to the door and before we parted, he looked at my left boot, with the leather worn out by the bike’s shifter.

“A biker  yourself ?”

“Sure”, I said.

He smiled, shook my hand as strong as he could, wished me luck and left.

Bob Dylan

No, I never had a Triumph and most likely I’ll never have one, but it doesn’t matter; we are all bikers.

That handshake is record of a brotherhood. We can find our “brothers” anywhere in the world, in different situations.

We are bikers and we’ll always be; even if the weariness of time forbids us to keep on riding.

The American V8. Part Four: The Chrysler HEMI.

For all those gearheads who, in one way or another, have been involved with American V8s, the world HEMI means something special: the one engine that stands apart from the crowd; the “king” of the pack. But what makes this engine so special? Well, great ideas are, generally speaking, simple ideas, and the “HEMI” engine is no different. “Hemi” is the short for “Hemispherical Combustion Chamber” and that is exactly where the magic happens.

Basically, the difference between a Hemi and an ordinary V8 resides on the heads, everything else is pretty much the same. The shape of the cylinder head’s combustion chamber is approximately half of a sphere. This allows the intake and the exhaust valves to be placed one in front of the other, creating a direct, straight flow of the gases (fuel and exhaust in the picture above).

Hemi Heads Make 426 the Undisputed King of Muscle • Petrolicious

Another important aspect is the position of the spark plug, located at the top-center of the chamber, which shortens the burn distance of the air/fuel mixture. Those simple solutions make the Hemi engine extremely more efficient than a conventional one. The picture above shows a “flat-top” piston, which does not happen in real life, due to the hemisphere shape, flattop pistons could not produce sufficient compression, so domed pistons were used to make up the difference.

Well, if the Hemi design is much more efficient, why not all the brands have adopted it at the time? The answer is pretty simple: the greatest advantage of the HEMI can also be its biggest inconvenience, which is its physical size. Having the valves (intake and exhaust) lined up one in front of the other requires a considerably wider cylinder head and a complex rocker arm geometry, making the engine not very practical in an assembly line, unless if installed in full-size cars.

In a regular V8, the valves are placed side-by-side, allowing the engineers to design more compact engines and fitting them into smaller cars.

Chrysler didn’t invent the Hemi engine, the design had been around since 1901 and a few European companies like Alfa-Romeo, Jaguar, and Aston Martin had produced engines with this configuration before.

 P-47 Thunderbolt powered by the first Chrysler Hemi

The first Hemi engine built by Chrysler was actually a massive 36 liter, water-cooled V-16, intended to power one of the most famous American fighters of WWII, the P-47 Thunderbolt. Later on, during the development, the Chrysler engine was replaced by a Pratt-Whitney radial engine and the Chrysler Hemi never went into production. On the other hand, the engineers who worked on the project gained valuable experience with the Hemi concept which they later applied to somewhat smaller engines.

Chrysler

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1951 Chrysler New Yorker

In 1951, Chrysler unveiled its three most luxurious models, the New Yorker, the Imperial, and the Saratoga, all of them equipped with the all-new, 180HP, 331CI Hemi V8. At this time, the badge “HEMI” was yet to be adopted and the company named the new engine “FirePower”.

DeSoto

Barrett-Jackson To Offer 1954 DeSoto Adventurer II Concept
The power of the new Hemi inspired the Mopar brands to create some stunning concept cars, like this 1954 DeSoto “Adventurer”

DeSoto, which was the second most prestigious brand in the Chrysler universe, received its Hemi in 1952 and named it “FireDome”. The DeSoto’s Hemi was a bit smaller, 276 CID, and able to crank up 160HP.

Dodge

3-1953 Dodge Hemi 098
1953 Dodge Coronet,

Dodge was the last one to receive the Hemi, in 1953. It was the smallest of the gang, with 241CID and with only 140HP. Dodge wasn’t seen as neither a performance nor a luxury brand at the time and for that reason they got the most “tamed” version of the Hemi.

Dodge Vehicle History 1950 - 1959 | Country Chrysler Dodge Ram Jeep

Oddly enough Dodge named the engines: “Red Ram” for the cars and “PowerDome” for the trucks.

Plymouth

Plymouth was the only Mopar brand that didn’t receive the Hemi at that time, but Chrysler had more daring plans for the company: in 1951, the Engine Research Division was developing a Dual Overhead Camshaft, Hemi V6, displacing 235 cubic inches.

The new engine was meant to replace the venerable Plymouth “Flathead” in-line 6 that was in production for decades.

Compact, powerful, and fuel-efficient, the new Hemi V6 was way ahead of its time; when you think about it, the Overhead Camshaft concept would only become popular during the 1980s. Unfortunately, the project was scrapped due to the unusual design and the high production costs.

Competition

The Hemi engines produced between 1951 and 1958 are generally called “First Generation” and they range from 241CID (Dodge) to 392CID (Chrysler). The race teams across the USA quickly took advantage of the qualities of the Hemi and also learned how to squeeze even more power out of them. Soon those engines became dominant on the race tracks.

NASCAR

The American automakers have always been using the Stock Car races as an advertising tool and Chrysler didn’t waste much time before offering its new engine to the teams along with all the necessary factory support.

The Chrysler 300C, driven by Tim Flock, the winners of the 55 NASCAR season.

The results came quickly, in 1955, the new Chrysler 300-C, powered by a 331CID “FirePower” engine, completely dominated the NASCAR season. It was the first American car to break the 300 HP mark, more than enough to push the car to an astounding 27 victories and to give Chrysler the Constructor Championship.

LE MANS

To homologate the “C” prototype to compete in the GT class in Le Mans, Cunningham had to build and sell 25 “street legal” units, like this gorgeous 1951 C2.

When we think about a European roadster powered by an American V8, the first car that comes to mind is the Shelby Cobra, but 11 years before the first Cobra left the assembly line, the American entrepreneur and sports car enthusiast Briggs Cunningham, built a series of European style roadsters, powered by the Chrysler Hemi engine.

1954 C4 “R”

Cunningham’s ultimate goal was to win Le Mans with a car 100% made in America and the team’s performance during those years was nothing short of a success.

In 1952 the C4-R driven by Briggs Cunningham himself and Bill Spear finished fourth overall at Le Mans.

The Cunningham Team, in front of the pits, Le Mans 1953

The best year for the team was 1953, a C4-R won the Sebring 12 Hours, and at Le Mans, the C5 R driven by Phill Walters and John Fitch finished first in the GT class and third overall. The two other Team Cunningham cars finished seventh and tenth.

The team returned to Le Mans in 1954 to its last attempt to win the race. They took third and fifth place overall. All those cars were powered by the 331CID Chrysler FirePower.

As we can see here, the American challenge to bring down the European dominance in Le Mans had started way before Ford vs Ferrari, in 1966.

DRAG RACING

Vintage Drag Racing & Hot Rods | Drag racing, Drag racing cars, Racing

At this point, the Hemi had already proven to be an amazing engine on race tracks, but, perhaps, in no other place, the engine had a greater performance than on the drag strips.

A Hemi powered 1940 Willys Coupe.

The drag teams quickly learned that the early FirePower engines had lots of room for improvement, with some internal rework they could substantially increase the already massive torque of the engine.

In 1958, Chrysler unveiled the biggest of the early Hemis, the 392CID and immediately it became the engine of choice for most of the drag race teams.

Topped with “roots” supercharger and fuelled with nitromethane, those Hemis could easily reach 1500 plus horsepower.

This picture captured the exact moment when the main caps of this 331 Hemi gave up, bringing down the whole assembly: crankshaft, connecting rods, and pistons.

The Chrysler Hemi is a very sturdy engine but it has its limitations, in the beginning of the 1960s, the teams had already reached the structural limits of the factory cast-iron block and cylinder heads of those engines. That was the opportunity for some high-performance parts companies like Keith Black and Donavan to start the production of extra reinforced aluminum engine blocks for competition purposes.

The video above shows a Top Fuel dragster, powered by a Keith Black 3000HP HEMI engine. The car belongs to Powertech, a speed shop in Brazil, which I worked as a parts consultant, for more than 8 years.

The numbers of a modern-day Top Fuel dragster are nothing less than stunning: The 500CID, all-aluminum Hemi V8 burns a mixture of 90% of nitromethane and 10% of methanol and can crank up between 7,000 and 10,000 HP.

It takes 0.84 seconds for a Top Fueler to accelerate to 160 Km/h from standstill. At launch, drivers are subjected to up to 4.75 g–more than a space-shuttle astronaut.

Brittany Force going flat out to break the Top Fuel World Record

The fastest speed achieved in a National Hot Rod Association in the Top Fuel class is 338.17 mph (544.23 km/h), by Brittany Force at the NHRA Nationals on 1 November 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Force’s record-breaking run came during qualifying. She took only 3.659 seconds to run the 1,000 ft drag strip.

In an attempt to curb the insane top speed of those cars, the length of the strip was reduced to 1,000 ft from the traditional 1/4 mile, 1,320ft.

All those crazy numbers are achieved with engines that still hold the same basic design of the 1951 Chrysler Hemi.

The Second Generation.

After only 8 years in production, Chrysler decided to pull the plug on the Hemi; it was an arguable decision indeed, the engine was efficient and powerful but it was also complicated to build and awkward to fit in the engine bay. But this hiatus didn’t last long, in the early 1960s, it was clear that the “Horsepower War” between the American automakers would be gruesome, and Chrysler decided to bring back its big gun.

Picture courtesy of Allpar.com

Initially, the idea was to build the new Hemi exclusively for competition. Once again Chrysler was aiming at the two most popular forms of motorsports in America: NASCAR and drag racing. This second-generation brought two important features: first, Chrysler finally trademarked the brand “HEMI”, making it the official name of the engine, and second, they unceremoniously increased the displacement to 426CID, well into the “Big Block” territory. The new engine became so physically big that the technicians quickly nicknamed it “Elephant”.

It is not easy to precisely tell the specs of the racing 426 engine, but it is somewhere around 500HP, with 490 ft-lbs of torque at 4000 RPM.

radracerblog: “ 1964 Plymouth Belvedere ” | Nascar cars, Vintage cars,  Muscle cars
The car that dominated the 1964 NASCAR season, proudly wearing the famous # 43 that belongs to The King, Richard Petty. Photo courtesy Hot Rod magazine.

If Plymouth was denied the opportunity to have its own Hemi back in the 50s, now Chrysler granted the brand to be the first one to receive the “Elephant”.

Richard Petty leads the pack at the 1964 Daytona 500.

The 1964 Belvedere was the chosen model to represent the “Mopar Nation” in the NASCAR season.

On the third race of the year, in Daytona, the Plymouth finished on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th positions, giving an idea of how things would be throughout the season.

The HEMI powered Plymouth crushed the competition so easily in 1964, that Ford and Chevrolet joined an effort to pressure NASCAR officials to change the rules for the next year, in an attempt to ban the new Chrysler engine. The pressure from the two biggest American automakers worked and NASCAR came up with a new rule, forbidding “purpose-built” engines. In other words, if Mopar wanted to keep the HEMI on the tracks, they need to sell to the public at least 500 “street legal” cars equipped with the 426.

For the 1965 season, Chrysler decided to withdraw its team rather than equipping the cars with some other engine. The company spend the year rearranging the assembly lines to receive the 426 HEMI.

THE '66 DODGE CHARGER | MY FIRST TRUE LOVE/WHEELS | The Selvedge Yard
1966 Dodge “HEMI” Charger add.

For 1966, a few mid-size Chrysler models were selected to receive the street HEMI: the Belvedere, the Coronet, and the much anticipated “Sports-Fastback” from Dodge: the Charger.

The HEMI-powered street Mopars were not, by any means, your average Muscle-Car: they were expensive, the customer paid extra US$ 718.00 to have the 426 under the hood, equivalent to US$ 4,700.00 today, and they were not so easy to find, since Dodge and Plymouth built, all together, only 3,300 units that year, just enough to homologate the engine to compete in NASCAR.

2013 Dodge Charger Rt Wallpaper - image #135 | Dodge charger, Charger rt, Dodge  charger rt

On top of all those “inconveniences”, the extra powerful and torquey engine made them too “rude” to be used as regular daily drivers.

Hot Rod Editor and the star of the “Roadkill” TV show, David Freiburger, warms up the tires before another pass down the drag strip. David bought his 1970 HEMI Dodge Super Bee when he was 15 years old.

The HEMI-powered cars feel more at home on the drag strips than on the streets and there is the place where most of those cars ended up.

David Pearson, the 1966 NASCAR. Champion.

What, at first, seemed to be an unfair game played by Chevy and Ford, turned out to be a blessing in disguise: the new NASCAR rule pushed Chrysler to make the new 426 HEMI available for the public, helping to perpetuate the legend of the engine.

In 1966, the 426 was again at NASCAR. Dodge failed to win the manufacturer’s title but David Pearson won the driver’s championship at the wheel of his HEMI Charger.

The 1969 Boss Mustang that once belonged to the Fast and Furious star Paul Walker.

The “Elephant” became so dominant in NASCAR and drag racing, that in 1969, Ford came up with its own version of the hemispherical heads engine: the 429 “Boss” V8. Just like Chrysler did 3 years before, Ford had to put on the streets 500 units of his new engine to homologate it for the race tracks. The chosen car for the task was the Mustang, even if the Ford engine wasn’t as successful as the HEMI, the 429 “Boss” Mustang became the “Holy Grail” for the Ford collectors around the world.

A 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, in “Plum Crazy” color. That is the kind of wet dream for any Mopar fanatic.

According to Allpar.com, only 10,904 426 Hemi-powered street Mopars left Dodge and Plymouth assembly plants from 1966–71. The engine was available for pretty much all the Mopar Muscle Cars during those years but the production was very restricted.

Not only the raw performance but also the scarcity of those cars that sealed their status as legends.

A scene from the 1971 movie, “Vanishing Point”

Perhaps no other brand captured the “badass” attitude of the Muscle-Car Movement, as well as Mopar, did, but just like everything else in life, good things don’t last long.

The Final Duel.

A scene that became too common during the 1969, 70, and 71 NASCAR season: the “Aero Mopars” neck to neck with the Torinos “Talladega”

The design of the 1968-70 Dodge Charger made them one of the most desirable Muscle Car ever produced but, aerodynamically speaking, they are a disaster. Dodge had been working hard to fix this flaw and make the car more competitive for the superspeedways of NASCAR, and after the fiasco of the 1968 Charger 500, Dodge decided to go to the extreme.

1969 Charger Daytona

For the 1969 NASCAR season, they unveiled the most unorthodox Muscle Car ever, the Charger Daytona. The car, which is a “B” body Mopar (either a Dodge Charger or a Plymouth GTX) with some radical body modifications, was designed to cut through the air more easily at high-speed. A huge 23-inch-tall (584 mm) stabilizer wing on the rear deck keeps the rear end glued to the pavement and a special sheet-metal “nose cone” that replaced the traditional receded front grille, drastically increased the aerodynamic coefficient.

Besides a good start in the season, The HEMI Charger Daytona wasn’t able to stop the Ford Torino “Talladega”, now equipped with the hemispherical 429 “Boss” V8, to win the Championship. It seemed that the Chrysler HEMI had finally met its match.

1970 Plymouth Superbird Richard Petty NASCAR | S96 | Harrisburg 2019
The Richard Petty’s 1970 Plymouth Superbird.

 For the 1970 season, Plymouth presented its own version of the “Aero car”, the Superbird. The fans called both cars, the Daytona and the Superbird “Winged Warriors”.

The feud ” Ford vs Chrysler” continued full throttle, on March 27, 1970, during the Talladega 500, Buddy Baker, driving the No. 88 “Chrysler Engineering” Dodge Charger Daytona, was the first driver in NASCAR history to break the 200 mph (322 km/h) mark.

Dodge won the constructors championship that year and the fans were pretty excited about the next season since Ford had an “aero” version of the Torino ready to join the fight.

1969 Dodge Hemi Daytona | F180 | Kissimmee 2015
A total of 503 Charger Daytona rolled off the Dodge assembly line and only 70 of them came equipped with the 426 HEMI.

But the NASCAR officials decided to put an end to this party. They were (rightfully so) concerned about the extreme speeds those cars were able to reach and in the name of safety, new rules were imposed to slow things down a little bit. First, they lowered the maximum displacement for the Aero cars to 305CID, and later on, they banned those cars for good.

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It doesn’t get much more “badass” than this: The 1971 HEMI Plymouth Road Runner.

In 1971, Richard Petty decided to drive a Big Block “regular” Plymouth instead of a small block “Aero” and he proved to be right; that was the last time the venerable HEMI 426 won a championship

After 1971, both Chrysler and Ford phased out their hemispherical V8s, it was a wild but short ride. At the same time, the whole Muscle Car Movement was slowly dying, thanks to high insurance costs and the oil crisis from the 1970s.

Th legend didn’t die completely, Mopar maniacs still can buy a brand new, crate 426 HEMI, as Chrysler keeps a small production of the engine as “performance part”.

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The Chrysler HEMI represents the peak of the Golden age of the American high-performance cars, and all this respect and admiration hasn’t faded away even after 70 years since the first one hit the streets.

Note of the editor: Although I had the intention to write about the third generation of the Chrysler HEMI, I decided to leave it out of the post. The writing had gotten already too long and I didn’t want to break the post into two parts. Maybe I will address the subject in the future.

The American V8. Part Three: The Chevy Small Block.

The popularity of the Oldsmobile 88 and the “OHV” V8, helped to push General Motors as the number one name in performance in the USA, but that wasn’t enough, GM had broader plans for those engines. The idea was to maximize the profits as much as possible, making the V8 even more affordable. GM quickly transferred the “OHV” technology to its most popular brand: Chevrolet.

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The 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible.

Chevy V8, Power to the People.

In 1955 Chevrolet unveiled its all-new automobile line up: the Model “150”, the “210” and the top of line, the Bel Air; all of them equipped with the optional 265CID “OHV” V8, cranking 160HP. Chevy also made available the “Super Power Pack” V8, with 190HP, for those who wanted a little more punch under the hood.

The combination of the sleek design and the power of the V8 made the new Chevy a smashing hit and a turning point for the company. That year alone, Chevrolet sold 250.000 more cars than Ford.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Fuel Injection Sport Coupe (2454-1037D) | Chevrolet bel  air, 1957 chevrolet, Chevrolet
The gorgeous 1957 Chevy 2 doors “hardtop”, equipped with the Rochester mechanical Fuel Injection Small Block V8. One of the best example of early days Muscle Car.

The company repeated the recipe for the next 2 years, making the Chevys from 1955, 56, and 57 instant classics and propelled the popularity of the Small Block V8 for years to come.

Saving the Corvette.

June 30, 1953: Corvette Adds Some Fiber, Flair to American Road | WIRED
Corvette assembly line, 1953

The Corvette was released in 1953 and its mission was to compete with the British roadsters that were invading the American market at the time. It was equipped with a 150 HP, in-line 6 engine and a two-speed automatic transmission, in other words, the car had the looks of a sports car, but was far from performing like one. The Corvette became a disaster in sales and Chevrolet was ready to axe the car after only 2 years of production.

1955 Corvette V8

One of the Corvette’s chief engineers, Zora Arkus-Duntov, insisted that the car deserved a second chance but with something more spicy under the hood. Duntov’s request was finally heard and in June, 1955, the 265CID V8 Corvette hit the showrooms across the USA. To make things even better, a 4-speed manual transmission was made available as well.

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Corvettes at the 1960 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Sales were picking up thanks to this new combo, but Chevy decided to go even further, in 1957 the car received a 283CID with 10,5: 1 compression ratio that could have been optionally equipped with a Rochester mechanical fuel injection. With this combination, the Corvette reached a new milestone: 1HP per cubic inch, proving how efficient the small block can be. Chevrolet also provided lots of “race-ready” components like brakes, shocks, clutch, and so on, making the little Chevy a superb sports car.

The small block V8 gave the Corvette the necessary boost in sales and also made the car unbeatable at the race tracks. It was only in the early 60s that Carol Shelby, in partnership with the British A/C and Ford, came up with a car that could face the Corvette in equal terms: the Shelby Cobra.

Sebring 1964 - Ken Miles' Cobra vs A.J. Foyt's Corvette by Nigel  Smuckatelli, via Flickr | Ken miles, Ac cobra, Sebring
Chevy Corvette vs Shelby Cobra.

The Horse Power war between the American automakers had officially began

The most popular engine in History.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro 350 4-Speed for sale on BaT Auctions - closed on May  29, 2019 (Lot #19,300) | Bring a Trailer
1969 Camaro SS, equipped with the 350 CID Small Block Chevy.

Throughout the next decades, the Chevrolet V8 engines would not only power the company’s high-performance cars but also the less glamorous cars and trucks. Those engines were also extensively used in the marine industry, powering boats and on a much smaller scale, they even powered airplanes.

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A Big Block Chevy V8 powered “racing” aircraft.

Chevrolet produced the “OHV” V8s in a variety of sizes, from the small block 265CID (4.3 liters) to big block 454 CID (7.5 liters) but was the 350CID that became legendary. Cheap, reliable, and pretty easy to squeeze lots of horsepower out of it.

A 1970 Chevy Nova, showing all the torque a 350 can provide.

The 350 Chevy became the engine of choice for the blue-collar Hot Rodders for decades, not only during the Golden Age of American High-Performance in the 1960s but also during those terrible years of the oil crisis in the 1970s/80s.

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1982 Pontiac Trans Am, powered by the 350 Chevy Small Block.

In the beginning of the 1980s, in order to optimize production, meet emission standards, and cut costs, General Motors decided for all its “satellite” brands (Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac) to stop the production of their own V8s and adopting the “corporate” Chevrolet “small block” V8 instead.

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Assembly Line | Vintage muscle cars, Chevrolet  monte carlo, Chevy muscle cars
Another V8 powered Chevrolet is almost ready to hit the road. A beautiful 2 tone, 1970 Monte Carlo.

General Motors phased out the “classic” small block from its vehicles in the late 1990s, replacing it with the “LS” V8 family, but they kept the legendary 350CID V8 in production as “replacement part” for the millions of vehicles that are still on the roads powered by this venerable engine.

A 1964 Impala receives a brand new “350”. (Photo courtesy: Hemmings.com)

Chevrolet estimates that over 100 million small blocks were produced since 1955, making it the most successful engine in the history of the auto industry.

In the last post of this series, I will talk about the most legendary of the American V8s: the Chrysler HEMI.

The American V8. Part Two: Oldsmobile Rocket.

It took 17 years for General Motors to come up with an answer to the Ford Flathead V8. Right after WW II, two different brands from GM: Cadillac and Oldsmobile, were developing the next generation of the American V8: The “Over Head Valve” or simply OHV.

File:Flathead vs OHV Gas Flow Comparison.png - Wikimedia Commons
The picture on the left shows the flow of fuel in a “OHV” engine, and the one on the right shows the same thing in a “Flathead” engine. These pictures can also be used to describe the flow of the exhaust gases, just imagine the arrows going in the opposite direction.

In this configuration, the engine valves (intake and exhaust) were placed in the heads, on top of the engine, diverting the heat of the gases away from the engine block, solving the most annoying problem of the Ford Flathead: overheating.

The OHV head provides a much better intake/exhaust flow, allowing a higher compression ratio. With a higher heat exchange and efficiency, General Motors could pack more power in a physically smaller unit. The new V8 also has the crankshaft held by 5 main bearing, making the engine extremely reliable.

1948 CADILLAC SERIES 62 CUSTOM SEDANETTE -
1948 Cadillac Series 62 “Sedanette”

Cadillac was heavily lobbying to be the only one to have access to the new engine, they even asked the top GM CEOs to shut down the Oldsmobile program. Obviously, the big guys refused Cadillac’s request and gave the green light for both brands to keep their development programs. GM wanted to see the new engine powering not only the luxury Cadillac cars but also the more affordable Oldsmobile; after all, Ford made millions of dollars selling V8s to the blue-collar customers so, why not do the same?

The Death of Oldsmobile: Already 10 Years... - 7/22

In a time dominated by the “space race” between the USA and The Soviet Union, Oldsmobile wisely named its new engine “Rocket” and after a while, the name became so popular and so attached to the brand that in 1960 Oldsmobile adopted it as its official logo.

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The new age of Hot Rod.

1949 Oldsmobile 88 Deluxe Station Wagon VIN: 498M12003 - CLASSIC.COM
1949 Oldsmobile “88” Station Wagon.

In 1949, Oldsmobile finally unveiled the much-anticipated Model “98” equipped with the new 287 CID, OHV “Rocket” engine, pumping out 135HP. Releasing the new engine in the “98” was a predictable move, after all, the car was the top of Oldsmobile line up but the company had something more interesting up its sleeve: a couple of months later Olds delivered to the dealerships a winner recipe: They put a spiced up 160 HP, 303 CID (5.0 Litter) “Rocket” V8 into the new Model “88” which was smaller and lighter (and also more affordable) than the Model “98”. The new car immediately caught the attention of the younger buyers and quickly became a smashing hit.

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“Performance” was the most attractive quality in the new Oldsmobile.
Do You Know The Real History Of Air Suspension? - Speedhunters
The Rocket 88 obliterated the competition at the recently formed NASCAR.

The “Rocket” engine, with 160HP was already a phenomenal improvement when compared to the 125HP from the latest versions of the Ford Flathead, but there was something else that the race teams quickly learned: the new engine had lots of room for improvement, a mild prepared “Rocket” could easily reach 300HP and still be considered reliable.

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The Olds #52, the winner of the 1950 “Carrera Panamericana”

Racers all over the USA started adopting the 88 model and the results came quickly: in 1949, the Rocket 88 won five of the Grand National races in the NASCAR championship. In 195I, the “88” won the first edition of “La Carrera Panamericana”, leaving Porches and Mercedes behind.

The first Rock’n Roll song.

Pin by Howard Swinford on music | Blues music poster, Memphis, Ike turner

The majority of the music researchers agree that the first Rock’n Roll song ever recorded was the 1951 single “Rocket 88” written by Ike Turner and sung by Jackie Brenston. For the first time in history, all the key ingredients that characterize the traditional Rock’n Roll were put together in one song, and yes, you guessed it, it talks about the wonders of the Oldsmobile Rocket 88. That is a good example of how popular the car was among the youngsters.

The Oldsmobile 88/98 became a huge success and for a while the brand became the number one name in performance, but GM had plans to make its V8 even more popular. In the next post of this series, I will talk about the Chevrolet Small Block V8.

The American V8. Part One: Ford Flathead

The economic prosperity that blessed the USA in the decades after the WWII, helped to consolidated the American cars as the standard for the automotive industry, they were big, elegant, powerful, reliable and above all, affordable.

The engine of choice for the American automakers, at that time, was the V8, the only machine capable provide good performance for such large cars. Thanks to the wonders of mass production and cheap gas, the V8 became extremely popular during the 1950s/60s/70s.

The raw performance, the sound, and the simplicity of this engine influenced generations of gear heads in their need for speed, and helped to create some of the most beloved car movements in the History: the Hot Rod, the Muscle-Car, and the Pony-Car. These movements conquered the hearts and minds of the aficionados all over the world and it is still going on even after more than 80 years after it started.

The Affordable Performance.

In the beginning, automobiles were seen just as an expensive toy for the riches, owning a car was more like a hobby than a necessity.

Ford Model T Assembly Line - Silodrome | Ford models, Ford motor company, Model  t
Ford Model “T” assembly line, circa 1920.

Thanks to the ingenuity of the American industry and the advent of mass production in the early 1910s, cars became affordable to the lower classes and an important part of daily life.

90-Year-Old Bentley 'Blower' Will Be Sold Again In Limited Series
1929 Bentley Supercharger. Style and performance for the wealthy people.

Later on, the companies added a very import aspect to some of their cars: Performance, and consequently created the “sports car” segment. As one can imagine, high-performance cars in the 1920s were very expensive and once again, the American creativity stepped in to bring the thrills of speed to the masses.

American high-performance cars were very simple machines, to make them affordable, the brands didn’t spend money with famous designers and with cutting edge technologies. What made them so desirable was the rough power provided by the engine under the hood.

The “Big Three” (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) created quite a few remarkable V8 and if I have decided to write about them all, I rather have written a book. Instead, I picked one engine of each brand that was pivotal to kick start the Hot Rod movement and later on, to consolidate it.

The Ford Flathead and the birth of the Hot Rodding.

Vintage Ford V8 Logo wallpaper by Bgarza1026 - 3a - Free on ZEDGE™

The Ford Motor Company is one of the oldest automakers in the world and it is better known for the creation of the assembly line in 1913, but it can also receive the credit for being the first car company to give to the average customer access to a High-Performance car.

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1932 Ford Coupe V8

In 1932 Ford created another revolution when the company unveiled its first V8 engine. The breakthrough here wasn’t the engine itself, but the manufacturing process.

Ford didn’t invent the V8, after all, this kind of engine had been around for quite some time when the “Blue Oval” guys released their own. Back in the 1920s engines in the “V” shape were very complicated to build, the automakers didn’t have the knowledge of how to cast the engine block in one single piece and the solution was to cast it in two separate “banks’ and weld them together. This was a long and costly process and for that reason, “V” engines could only be found in luxury cars. To make matters even worse, the welding technology at that time was still rudimentary and those engines could easily crack in half under severe use.

The history of Ford's iconic flathead engine — The Motorhood
Henry Ford himself, playing with his own creation: The Flathead V8

Ford was the first car maker to master the technique to cast the V8 block in a single piece and it significantly reduced the time and cost of the production, allowing the company to offer the new engine into more popular cars.

The Rise of Drag Racing
The Ford Flathead powered a whole new generation of racers.

The combination of performance and affordability made the new Ford V8 a smashing success. Soon every Ford model was offered with this engine: cars, pick-up trucks, and even heavy trucks. The engine became known around the World as “Ford Flathead” and on its first generation, it was able to produce 65HP. Nowadays it might sound like the power output of a scooter, but 88 years ago, it was pretty impressive.

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“Make it faster”. A typical Flathead powered Hot Rod, Circa 1950s

Racers quickly learned to make race cars on a budget, installing the Ford Flathead into older cars found in junkyards (usually 1910s/20s Ford model T). Soon, small companies started to develop a variety of aftermarket high-performance parts for the new V8 and that was the foundation of the Hot Rod movement; perhaps the most “grassroots” of all automobile trends in History.

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A Ford Flathead V8 powered dragster, equipped with a “roots” blower and mechanical fuel injection. This is as fast as you can go with the old “Flatty”.

The flathead engines (either V8 or any other shape) are fairly simple machines, easy to build in a mass production line, and automakers heavily relied on them during the 1930s/40s. Ford built the “Flatty” for the American market from 1932 until 1953 but kept the production going on around the world for a few more years. In the end, an estimated total number of 10 million units were built. In its latest versions, the Ford Flathead V8 was already producing 125HP and it could easily reach 200HP with a few tricks learned by the racing teams, but the little engine has some serious project flaws: the flathead concept has the intake/exhaust valves placed in the engine block, that means the hot exhaust gases have to “travel” around the combustion chamber to reach the pipes, generating excessive heat in the block. The second flaw is the crankshaft is held in place by only 3 main bearings, making the engine very fragile for anything above 200HP.

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Myself, at the wheel of a 1929 Ford Hot Rod, powered by a Flathead V8. Brazil, 2012.

All those flaws are inherent in an engine that was conceived in the early 1930s. I have been involved with Flatheads quite a bit during my professional life and I have learned to love the engine for its qualities and understand and accept its imperfections. Nevertheless, the Ford Flathead is considered to be the first pillar which the Hot Rod movement was built upon and consequently paved the way for the Muscle Car scene of the 1960s, and for that reason, the engine is adored by Hot Rodders all over the world.

The Bike of The Century

The history of the Honda CB 750, the machine that revolutionized the whole motorcycle industry.

At the end of World War II, the defeated nations started a slow and painful reconstruction process. Both Germany and Japan had their major cities wiped out by the relentlessly Allied bombing, and now friends and foes had to get together to rebuild those two countries from scratch. In Japan, the Honda facility was in rubbles and what was left of the machinery, that could still have some use, was sold to Toyota, at a bargain price.

First Versions: Honda (motorcycles): 1st model ever
Honda workers, proudly showing the 50cc motor-bicycles. Hamamatsu, Japan 1946.

With some money in his pocket, Soichiro Honda, the founder of the company, put together a small team of 12 workers and began to assemble the “Type A” motorized bicycles equipped with a two-stroke, 50cc engine, bought as war surplus, and originally designed to be used as an electricity generator for military radios.

HONDA MOTORCYCLES - IT ALL STARTED WITH A BICYCLE - The Official ...
1947 Type “A” Honda motor-bicycle

Soichiro Honda’s dream was to start producing automobiles but there was little interest in cars in the impoverished post-war Japan. What they really needed was an affordable way of transportation and the “Type A” was exactly that.

Mike Hailwood : Motorcycle World Champion. Honda 250cc : 1961 ...
Mike “The Bike” Hailwood, riding the 6 cylinder Honda 250cc, the winners of the 1966 World Championship

The hard work and good ideas paid dividends for Honda, in a matter of 15 years the company had a nice line of small motorcycles and had already won the 1961 Moto GP World Championship in the 250cc class.( htt ps://theclassicmachines.com/2020/03/08/mike-the-bike/ ). Honda was officially challenging the dominance of the European bikes, not only on sales but on the race tracks as well.

Honda goes to USA.

Honda was the first Japanese brand to try selling motorcycles in the US market, but they had a long journey before gaining the hearts and minds of the North American customers. In the early 1960s, the Japanese economy was still in the process of recovering and that means there was no place for big, fancy bikes over there. But in the USA, the bike market was completely different: in the land of “bigger is better”, the economy was doing fine and gas was cheap. The big motorcycle segment was dominated by Harley Davidson with engines as large as 1200cc and the median bike sector belonged to British brands like Norton and Triumph.

Changing the image of motorcycles

Marlon Brando in the 1953 movie: “The Wild One”.

Back in the 1950s and 60s, motorcycles were firmly associated with troublemakers and outlaws, but Honda tried a different approach: with the slogan “You meet the nicest people on a Honda”, they started targeting the “Good guys” customers, with small displacement bikes.

Elvis Presley, the epitome of the “Good Guy”, rides a Honda 350cc in the 1964 movie “Roustabout

By the mid-1960s, the American Honda dealers requested the CEOs in Japan, a new, higher class bike, that could compete “mano-a-mano” with British products. Around this time, Honda had already established itself as a winner brand in the motorcycle GP races and it was time to transfer all that expertise to a new, high-performance road bike.

1965 Honda CB 450 Black Bomber
1965 Honda CB450

In 1965, Honda unveiled the Dream CB450, intended to be sold in North America and Europe. Equipped with a state-of-art twin cylinder, double overhead camshaft engine, cranking out 45HP, able to push the new CB to a top speed of 180 Km/h and it could easily leave any 650cc British bike eating dust. Honda was pretty sure its new creation would be a huge sales success.

The CB450 sold quite well but it wasn’t the smashing hit that Honda was expecting and that was puzzling the minds of the Big Guys in Japan. After all, this new bike was high-tech, fast, affordable, and it looked good too, so what was wrong with the American customers?

To find the answer to this question, Soichiro Honda himself, accompanied with a few CEOs, traveled USA to see the American bike market with their own eyes.

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in the legendary “Easy Rider” movie, from 1969.

It didn’t take long for them to understand what was happening: the CB450 was in fact an awesome bike, but it was born with the same DNA found in the Honda racing bikes: to fully enjoy it, one must shift gears with the RPM needle well into the red line territory and that was absolutely not the way Americans like to ride their motorcycles back then. Instead of having a lightning fast motorcycle, with a screaming engine, they rather have a big and comfortable bike for long and relaxing open road rides, prioritizing torque over speed.

Triumph T150 Trident 750
1968 Triumph Trident 750. It looks like a twin cylinder, but it not.

And there is only one way to have lots of torque, which is with lots of displacement.

Mr. Soichiro was truly committed to winning the American market, and he quickly gathered a team of Honda’s best engineers to develop a “big” motorcycle. They were running out of time since Triumph was getting ready to present the all-new Trident 750cc, with a three-cylinder engine.

The new Honda had to be different from the competition, it had to stand apart from the crowd and the engineers knew exactly how to make the bike unique. Honda had a good experience with multi-cylinder engines, after all, the company was racing in the 250cc World Championship with a bike equipped with an in-line 6 cylinder engine. Ok, the market wasn’t ready yet for a 6 cylinder street bike but an in-line 4 would be perfect.

1969 Honda CB750 Four

Honda created a “state-of-art” engine, high-tech but yet simple, 2 valves per cylinder, single over-head camshaft, and air-cooled. The requirements were: good source of power, torque, and reliability (believe me, Japanese bikes, in the 1960s, were not quite as reliable as they are today). The new 750cc in-line 4 was able to crank almost 70HP @ 8500 rpm and 44.3 ft.lbs of torque, enough power to shame any other 750cc in the market; just to give an idea, the main competitor of Honda, the Triumph 750cc had only 40HP. To overcome the lack of reliability, the engineers put the engine through thousands of hours of tests and the standards of quality control were significantly raised.

This new 750cc motor was also “oil-tight”, a quality that the British bikes never had.

1969 Honda CB750 Four

The engine wasn’t only powerful and reliable, it was gorgeous: 4 chromed exhaust pipes adorned the unit, going all the way to rear of the bike (just like the racing Hondas) and to improve performance, it was fed by 4 individual carburetors. To complete the package, the bike was equipped with a “silk-smooth” 5-speed transmission and electric starter. The new Honda was also the first street bike to be equipped with a disc brake.

The final design resulted in a “badass” looking bike, something like a race-ready machine, but Honda wanted the 750 to be more like a “Touring” than a “GP” bike and for that reason, during its development, a great deal of time was dedicated to the “ergonomics” of all the components in order to make the “CB” very comfortable.

PressReader - Classic Motorcycle Mechanics: 2018-09-10 ...
Tokio Auto Show, 1968

The new Honda was presented to the public for the first time at the 1968 Tokyo Auto Show and it was an instant hit. At this point, the front disc brake wasn’t even fully operational and the system still had to go through a lot of development and testing before making the bike available for the dealers.

The Honda Dream CB750 “K” hit the American market in January 1969 and it was a nice surprise to the customers: it was faster than a Triumph 750cc (190.4 km/h vs 200 km/h) and more powerful than a 1300cc Harley-Davidson (65HP vs 67HP).

The Honda CB750 Four: A Classic for the Masses - Classic Japanese ...

In 1969, the price of a “big” bike in America was something in between $2,800 and $4,000″, and Honda started selling the CB 750 for $1,450. For the customers, it was like a dream come true, and quickly the dealers across the USA were flooded with orders. The original sales estimate of 1,500 units a year became a monthly figure and quickly it grew to 3,000 bikes/month.

Honda CB 750 Four - 50. Geburtstag einer Legende
1975 CB 750 “Four”

With the demand growing faster than the production, it didn’t take long for the dealers to cash in on this situation: in order to “leapfrog” the waiting list, some customers were willing to pay 50% or even 80% more for the bike.

Suddenly, the dominance of European bikes in the American market was shattered, Triumph, Norton, Ducati, Moto-Guzzy, BMW, neither one of them had anything close to the 750 K

1969 BMW R69S 'Riviera Blue' / FOR SALE / www.motoborgotaro.com ...
1969 BMW R69S.

The picture above is a good example of how the competitors were caught off guard: When compared to the new Honda, the 1969 BMW looks like an antique from the 1930s.

Among all bike brands racing to put something new in the market in the late 1960s, Kawasaki was the one that came the closest to ruin the Honda “Dream”, in 1968 they had the prototype of an in-line 4, 750cc ready, but Honda was faster to put its bike into production. When the CB750 came to the showrooms in 69, Kawasaki decided to go back to the drawing board and change its project.

Kawasaki Z1
1972 KKawasaki Z1

In 1972, Kawasaki unveiled the “Z1”, a 900cc, dual camshaft, in-line four beast, capable to reach 220 km/h of top speed. The “Z1” might be bigger and faster than the “CB” but it is obvious from where Kawasaki got its inspiration.

While the other brands were struggling with 2 and 3 cylinders engines (and even a “Wankel-Rotary” engine by Suzuki), Honda and Kawasaki laid down the foundations for the “Super-Bike” segment.

1979 CB 750

It was only 1975 that Honda officially adopted the name “Four” in order to emphasize the most important attribute of the bike. Between 1976 and 1978, an interesting optional was available: the automatic transmission.

The original CB 750 was produced between 1969 and 1978. In 1979, Honda unveiled the redesigned version of the bike, with the typical square-shaped gas tank that would become the signature of all bikes throughout the 1980s. But more important than the new design was the adoption of the 16 valves, dual camshaft engine, able to produce 77 HP.

In 1981 was released a more “Americanized” version, called “Custom” or “Night Hawk” in the USA.

História CBX 750 (7 Galo). A maior vedete dos anos 80 e 90, a moto ...
1988 made in Brazil CBX 750F.

The CB 750 was also a considerable success in other countries around the world, like Australia, South Africa, and Brazil.

2007 Honda CB 750
2007 CB750

After 34 years of production and a myriad of different versions and special editions, Honda decided to end the production of the CB 750 in 2003, only to bring it back again in 2007 but at this time, only for the Japanese market. Anyway, this last revival was short-lived and lasted only two years.

Some “scholars” will argue that the Brits created the first “Superbike ( and the Norton Commando is probably the chosen one), but what the CB brought to the customers was a collection of qualities in one single product: performance, reliability, style, comfort, and affordability. At that moment, the British bikes were light years behind this package. But the more important detail is the legendary transversally mounted, in-line four engine that became the signature of the Superbike segment, in the same way, the V8 engine is the signature of the Muscle car movement.

In 1969, the CB 750 revolutionized the whole bike market and the competition had to change and adapt to a new reality. It was a game-changer for motorbike consumers. From that point on this segment would receive the attention it deserved: each brand started offering its customers, products with better quality, and a wider variety of models to choose from.

*NE: The title: “Bike of the Century” was awarded in 2012 by the Motorcyclist Magazine, during its 100th anniversary celebration.

“Wings of a Dream”

A quick look at the World’s biggest private collection of vintage airplanes.

Brazil might be well known for some things like soccer and carnival but not a lot of people know the connections the country has with aviation; from the pioneers like Santos Dumont to a thriving domestic aerospace industry, we are crazy about aircraft.

It is no surprise Brazil is home to the biggest private collection of vintage aircraft in the world, with more than 100 planes. In 2006 this collection became the TAM Museum, also known as “Asas De Um Sonho” (Wings of a Dream) museum.

In fact, this endeavor started as a dream: Rolim Amaro, the founder of “TAM” (the second largest Brazilian airline) was an aviation aficionado and in 1996, he and some of the company’s mechanics, finished the restoration of a Cessna 195. The job was so well done that Rolim fell in love with the hobby and the rest is history.

A perfectly restored Chance-Vought F4U Corsair. This plane was a gift from “Pratt and Whitney” engines to the museum.

He and his brother João Francisco just kept buying and restoring old airplanes and at some point, they decided to share this passion with the public.

Lockheed Constellation com as cores da Panair do Brasil. - Foto de ...
Lockheed Constellation, wearing the colors of the Brazilian Panair.

A short lived dream.

When the museum opened its doors, in 2006, there were 32 aircrafts in permanent exhibition, 10 years later this number had spiked to 120, but even with this amazing collection of rare machines, the enterprise was facing some serious financial challenges. The museum is located in the city of São Carlos, within the same propriety where TAM keeps its technology research facility, this arrangement was very convenient for the owners since there were no renting costs, but it was very inconvenient for the public, because the location is pretty far from major cities, resulting in a very low number of visitors.

In 2016 the TAM administration decided, with a heavy heart, to shut down the museum operations. Since then the collection has been kept in pristine condition by a small army of volunteers. The airplanes are in the very same position as they were when the museum closed its doors, just as if they are expecting a grand reopening at any moment.

This P47 Thunderbolt belonged to the “First Fighter Squadron” from the Brazilian Air Force and it flew several missions during the Italian campaign, WWII

The TAM museum has received some very interesting offers to relocate the collection to a big city and the most promising one is a partnership between The City of São Paulo and the Brazilian Air Force: The oldest airport in São Paulo, “Campo de Marte” (Mars Field) will be slowly phased out and a portion of the facility will be destined to receive the new museum.

Entenda mudanças no Campo de Marte, que deve virar parque - 06/08 ...
Campo de Marte Airport

In 2012, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the TAM Museum and obviously, we took a quite a few photos of the planes, you can take a look at the picks by clicking on the YouTube video above. Enjoy it.

Porsche celebrates the 50th anniversary of its first victory at Le Mans.

June 14, 1970, on this day, for the first time in History, a Porsche received the checkered flag in front of everybody else in Le Mans. The brand debuted at this legendary race track with a class-victory (1,100 cc) in 1951, but it took almost 20 years for the team to achieve an overall victory.

The Porsche 356 SL. The 1,100cc class winner of 1951 Le Man’s.

From 1964 until 1969, the battle between Ford and Ferrari overshadowed the performance of the other competitors but Porsche was always among the favorites. Ford had officially retired from Sportscar competition in 1968 and by 1970, there wasn’t a single GT 40 among the participants in Le Mans (remembering the Ford GT 40 had swept Le Mans in 1966, 67, 68, and 69). Now, the favorites were Porsche and Ferrari, but, obviously, there were some other brands fighting for the victory.

Let’s take a look at the fastest prototypes:

Porsche

The “Gulf Oil” 917K, Winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona, in 1970.

The Stuttgart team brought to Le Mans nine Porsche 917 and most of them were the improved version called “K” (K stands kurzheck or short-tail). The 917 wasn’t exactly new, the car was ready for the 1969 season but it was beaten by the outdated Ford GT40 at Le Mans in the same year. For 1970, the Porsche Team had an obligation to win. The cars were distributed between the official factory teams and private racers. The “K” cars were not only prettier than the original 917, they also have better stability and better aerodynamic. The heart of the beast was a naturally aspirated, 5.0 L, Flat 12, air-cooled engine, capable to produce 620 HP. The total weight of the car is 1764 lbs | 800.137 kg. The fastest 917s were clocked at the Mulsanne straight at 350 plus Km/h.

Ferrari

Ferrari 512 S group 5 (1970) - Racing Cars

For the 1970 Sportscar championship, Ferrari had the all-new 512s and for Le Mans, they brought 11 of them. At this time, FIAT was already the owner of more than half of the company and that means money was not a problem. Just like Porsche, some of the cars would be racing under the official factory support and others would be driven by private teams. The 512s was a very similar car to the Porsche 917, it was equipped with a V12, liquid-cooled engine, basically the same 3.0 L engine used on the Ferrari Formula 1 cars but with displacement increased to 5.0 L and “detuned” in favor of the reliability but still able to crank up 550 horses. The 512s also had a similar performance to the Porsche 917, with max speed around 340 km/h.

Alfa – Romeo.

Factory Alfa Romeo T33/3 at Sebring 1970 | The Toine Hezeman… | Flickr
Alfa-Romeo T33 at Sebring, 1970. (Photo by Dave Kutz)

The most Italian of all Italian brands, Alfa-Romeo, with a tighter budget than Porsche and Ferrari, brought only four cars to Le Mans. The newest version of the T33 proved to be an excellent race car, powered by a 3-liter, all-aluminum V8, developing 400 HP. The “longtail” version gave it a bump of 25 km/h (15 mph), pushing the car to a top speed of 300Km/h

Matra – Simca

IMCDb.org: 1970 Matra MS650 in "Le Mans, 1971"
Matra-Simca MS660

Matra was facing some financial difficulties in 1970 and was decided to withdraw from the championship and focus exclusively to win Le Mans. The French team enrolled three cars, one brand new MS660, and two older version MS650. Extremely proud of their roots, Matra gave the new car to two French drivers, Henri Pescarolo and Jean Pierre Beltoise. Both models were equipped with a Formula-one 3 L, V12 engine, detuned back to 420 HP. The MS660 had an enormous potential and the next version, the MS670 dominated the Sportscar racing scene for the next few years, winning the championship in 1973 and 1975 and also scoring victories in Le Mans for three years in a row, 1972, 1973, and 1974.

1970 Le Mans Chevrolet Corvette Chevrolet | Chevrolet corvette ...
The #2 “Big Block” Corvette at the pits, 1970 Le Mnas.

Bellow the “Prototypes” there were the “GT” classes for production cars, divided by engine size: bigger than 3,000cc and smaller than 3,000cc, both categories were dominated by a massive number of Porsches 911 and 914. Among the “unusual” cars the most noticeable were the Chevrolet Corvettes equipped with 7L Big Block V8, cranking up 560 HP. The Corvettes were clocked at the Mulsane straight at 300 plus Km/h, but they have a hard time keeping up with the Porsches on tight corners.

Holywood Goes to Le Mans.

Jonathon Williams: Solar Productions Porsche 908/2: Le Mans 1970 ...
The Solar Team Camera-Porsche, in action.

The 1970 edition of Le Mans became famous for a variety of reasons and one of them was the presence of Solar Productions Comp. owned by the American actor (and notorious gearhead) Steve McQueen. They were at Le Mans with the purpose to record real, on track, race footage to be used in the future movie “Le Mans”. McQueen bought a Porsche 908/2 and installed three 35mm cameras on it, one in front (as seen on the picture) and two in the rear.

Post Image
Director John Sturges and Steve McQueen enjoying a break during the making of the “Le Mans” movie.

The camera car was entered as a regular competitor and McQueen wanted to be one of the drivers, after all, he was an accomplished race driver (he finished second on the 1970 edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring) but his insurance company prohibited him to compete again. During the race, the Solar’s Porsche had to stop at the pits more frequently than the other competitors in order to replace the movie rolls in the cameras. To make matters even worse, the car was plagued by a faulty starter. At the end of the race, the camera Porsche failed to qualify but the team had gathered several hours of footage to be used in the movie.

  • Note of the editor: If you are a true car guy and haven’t seen this movie yet, do yourself a favor and rent it ASAP; but here is a friendly advice: “Le Mans” was a box office flop when it was released in 1971, basically because it has no plot; the movie is just a huge collection of stunning footage (both real and staged) of the Golden Era of Sportscar Racing.

The Race.

Let the battle begin.

In 1970, the traditional start in Le Mans, when drivers run from across the track toward their cars, was abolished and the “static start” was adopted, with drivers already buckled up in their cars at the dropping of the green flag.

As it was confirmed during practice, the performance of the Porsche 917 and the Ferrari 512 were pretty similar and for the first couple of laps, the cars were clocking lap times very close to each other.

The race had barely started and bad luck struck for both teams: after only 7 laps, Vaccarella pulled his Ferrari at the pits with a broken crankshaft and after 23 laps, Pedro Rodrigues also had to quit the race when the cooling fan of his Porsche failed. Both drivers were fast and experienced and real contenders for the trophy.

It always rains in Le Mans. *(a quote from the movie “Ford vs Ferrari”)

When the race started, the weather was overcast but fine, even if there was rain and possible thunderstorms on the forecast, all the cars began with “slick” tires. At 5:30 the rain came and suddenly the hell broke loose. Remembering, we are talking about powerful and lightweight cars, with no electronic driving assistance whatsoever, no ABS, no traction-control, nothing, and that can be a deadly combination on a wet race track.

On a quick succession of accidents, Ferrari lost four prototypes, Porsche one and Alfa-Romeo one, thank God nobody was seriously hurt.

As night falls the situation did not improve, at this time there were only three surviving cars from the top 10 qualifiers. Around 10 PM all three Matra-Simca had to retire with the same problem: compression leaking through the piston rings.

Siffert/Redman Gulf Oil Porsche 917.

By midnight, the rain was pouring heavily and a couple more cars were involved in accidents. The Team Gulf-Oil Porsche #20 driven by Siffert and Redman was leading the race and another Porsche 917 driven by Elford and Ahrens in second and a distant Ferrari driven by Jack Ickx in third. Every driver was slowing down at this point, thanks to the horrible weather conditions, but the Ferrari driver saw it as an opportunity to close the gap. Ickx started to “drop the hammer”, imposing an insane pace. He was a very talented driver indeed (had won Le Mans in 1969 driving a Ford GT40) and he was using every bit of his skills to drive fast at night and in the pouring rain. After a few laps he was in fact getting dangerously close to the leaders, when Ahrens had to stop to change a flat tire, Jack Ickx assumed the second position and now he had a clear path to hunt down the leading Porsche driven by Jo Siffert.

Jacques Alain on Twitter: "Le Mans 1970 Jacky Ickx / Peter Schetty ...
The legend Jack Ickx, flat out in the rain

Ickx (who was also the official driver for the Ferrari Formula-One Team) closed the gap at 1:45 AM, and during the fight to take over the first position, the rear brakes of his #5 Ferrari failed and the chasing came to a tragic end: he lost control of the car, hit a sandbank, was launched airborne and burst into flames when it hit the ground, killing a track marshal who was nearby.

All four 512 prototypes from the official Scuderia Ferrari were out of the race and Jo Siffert, driving the remaining Gulf Oil Team Porsche 917 was leading with a comfortable 10 laps lead over the second place.

After so many hours of constant pressure and battling the elements, it’s normal for the drivers to succumb to tiredness and that was exactly what happened with Siffert. At 2:00 AM, he missed a gear change, crossing the RPM red-line and irreversibly damaging the engine.

The Salzburg Team Porsche # 23

The Austrian Porsche-Salzburg Racing Team car # 23, driven by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood jumped as the race leader. Not too bad for a car that started at 15th position.

The legendary”Hippie Car”.

In second place was taken by the Martini Racing Team “Long-Tail” Porsche 917, wearing the amazing psychedelic livery, driven by Elford/Ahrens. The car was affectionately called “Hippie Car” by the fans.

The Martini Racing Team Porsche 908.

 In third position came the Martini Racing Team Porsche 908 driven by Lins/Marko. The car was also first in its class (prototypes under 3L).

The race hasn’t reached the 12 hours point and it seemed no other team could take the trophy from Porsche. For the remaining last half of the competition, the first 3 cars didn’t change their positions, and at the end, the German cars finished Le Mans in a fantastic 1-2-3 victory. Porsche lost in one class only: the GT production above 3L, won by the Big Block Corvette #2 from the French Team “Greder”.

Ronnie Bucknum / Sam Posey, #11 Ferrari 512S (North American ...

The best qualified Ferrari came in fourth position, the 512s #11 driven by Posey/Bucknum, from the “North American Racing Team”.

The Story Behind and History of the Porsche Logo

The victory at Le Mans in 1970 was just part of the Porsche’s amazing performance during that year; the cars from Stuttgart won 9 out 10 races of the season.

Jack Ickx vs Richard Atwood

The race was a turning point in Sportscar racing, Ferrari started to focus more on the official Formula-One Team, to the point of completely quitting the Sports Prototype in 1974. The Italians would never overall win at Le Mans again while Porsche became the most successful manufacturer at this legendary race track, with 19 overall victories.

The winning Porsche Team, Le Mans 2017.

Recently, they won in 2015, 2016, and 2017 with its hybrid 919. Porsche also retains the longest winning streak with 7 consecutive victories from 1981 to 1987. It doesn’t seem that Porsche will abandon competition as advertisement tool any time soon and that means they have no intentions to let any other brand take this record away.

The History of the Jeep – Part Two – Civilian Life.

(Top photo by gearjunkie.com)

When Willys unveiled the “CJ”, in 1944, it was basically the same car the company was producing to fight in WW II. Only small changes were adopted, the most visible ones were: the tail-gate, which created the necessity to move the spare tire to the quarter-panel, the ” Sealed-Beam” headlights which were bigger than the military version, seven-slot grille ( the MB had nine slots), and obviously, the buyers had a few different colors to chose from, other than the Olive Green.

At first, Willys advertised the Jeep as a “utilitarian” vehicle, something like the perfect “farm car” and in fact, the Jeep was tough enough to plow fields but also was fast enough for shorts trips and with great “off-road” capabilities it became the perfect car for some weekend adventures like going fishing or camping in some remote location.

The “CJ” quickly became the “workhorse” of the rural North America but didn’t take long for the customers from the big cities to see it as the only option for the recreational vehicle and the “off-roading” as a form of motorsport was officially born.

A Simple Machine.

Behind the Jeep’s success, there was a fairly simple car, the construction is “body over chassis”, which was the norm on American cars until the 1960s. The CJ was equipped with “live” axles on front and rear and the suspension was the traditional “leaf springs”. The engine was the reliable 4 cylinder, 2,200cc, Willys “L-134” nicknamed “Go-Devil”, able to produce 60hp, more than enough to give the light-weigh “CJ” a decent performance, the engine is bolted to a 3-speed manual transmission. To stop the car, drum brakes on all four corners got the job done.

The real “cutting-edge” equipment was the transfer case, this device is installed alongside the transmission and gives the driver the option to engage the “4X4” mode just when it is necessary, allowing the Jeep to be a regular rear-wheel-drive car most of the time, providing fuel economy. The transfer case also gives the option of “Low Gears”, for more torque at slower speeds, designed to be used on more intense off-road situations like when crossing a swamp or climbing a steep hill and “High Gears” intended for more basic off-roading situations. Modern 4X4 pick-up trucks are still equipped with similar transfer cases, the only difference is the mechanical levers were replaced by electronic switches.

… and the SUV was born.

When Willys decided to sell the Jeep to the civilian market, in 1946, they knew the car alone wouldn’t be able to generate enough business to keep the doors open. The “CJ” was a good “tool”, either as a workhorse or as an “adventure partner”, but it was far from a regular car: it has no back seats, the trunk is too small, and the ragtop offered little protection from the elements.

1946 Jeep Willys Station Wagon 463
1946 Jeep Station Wagon

In the same year, Willys released a new car that brought together the off-road capabilities of the CJ plus all the functionality of the family Station Wagon. The new Jeep Wagon was based on the same mechanical platform of the “CJ” but in order to improve comfort, Willys adopted the independent front suspension, with coil springs.

Without knowing Willys had just created the “SUV phenomenon”, a movement that many decades later would deeply transform the auto industry. The Jeep Wagon started a tiny segment in the market in the mid-40s that grew so strong and therefore became the front runner in sales in the 2000s. The SUV will, eventually, be responsible for the extinction of the most traditional form of automobile: the sedan.

1947 Jeep pick-up. Photo by http://www.autogaleria.hu

Also in 1946, Willys started selling the pick-up truck version of the Jeep Wagon and once again the company set another standard for the industry: nowadays the absolute majority of all pick-up trucks sold every year are 4X4.

The Fancy Jeep

In 1948, Willys created a very interesting “crossover”: the Jeepster. The idea was to offer a car that could bring together the same -the spirit of adventure- from the “CJ”, plus some of the convenience of a normal passenger car. The car shared most of its parts with the Willys Wagon, which means it was equipped with the new Hurricane engine and independent front suspension. The name probably came from blending the words “Jeep” and “Roadster”.

1950 Willys Jeepster Values | Hagerty Valuation Tool®
1950 Willys Jeepster.

Since Willys didn’t have the industrial capacity to process the sheet metal into a more flowing, curvilinear forms, the Jeepster’s design was a bit rough, perhaps too rough for a family car. The new Jeep failed to please the customers and the production was terminated after two years.

The Jeep conquers the World… Again.

Dad's 1953 Willys CJ3B (With images) | Jeep, Willys, Willys jeep
1953 CJ-B3

The “CJ” Jeep was kept in production without much modifications from 1946 through 1952 but in 1953 Willys-Overland merged with Kayser Motor (we already talked about it on the first part of this post) and in the same year, the CJ received its first major update: Willys replaced the legendary “Go-Devil” engine with a modern unit called “Hurricane”. The customers were pleased with the new engine since it has 15 more HP than the old one. The only problem was: the “Hurricane” was a much taller engine and it created the necessity of higher hood. The new Jeep was called CJ-B3.

Mahindra Jeeps set to make inroads after a decade - Team-BHP
Mahindra “Brave”

The new company dropped the name “Overland” and it became Kaiser-Willys Motors and they began aggressively marketing the CJ overseas, and the World was waiting for the “Old Warrior” with open arms. Willys established factories in Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Iran, and Egypt. The CJ-B3 were produced under license by Volkswagen in South Africa, by Mahindra Motors in India until 2010 and by Mitsubishi in Japan until 1998.

The French also produced their own licensed version of the Jeep, called Hotchkiss M201. The CJ-B3 became the most exported Jeep built by Willys.

1949 Land Rover Series 1 - 3 | Classic Driver Market
1949 Land Rover Series 1-3. The car that started the company’s legacy.

The Jeep also inspired a couple of automakers to produce similar vehicles, in the UK, Rover created a prototype that was actually built on the chassis of a battered war-surplus Willys “MB”, on a Welsh farm. The model was presented at the 1948 Amsterdam Auto Show an soon after Land Rover started the production.

1965 Toyota FJ Cruiser | Classic Driver Market
1965 Toyota Land Cruiser “FJ”

In 1950, the American administration in Japan asked Toyota to build a utility vehicle based on the Willys CJ, resulting in The Toyota BJ and later the Toyota FJ which was kept in production until 1974.

The CJ 5

1955 CJ5 | Willys jeep, Jeep, Jeep cj

In 1955, Willys gave the CJ a little “facelift” and the new car was named CJ5. To the untrained eye, it looks like the same old Jeep and in fact, under the skin, all the mechanics remained unchanged, but the new design was so right, so spot on that it was kept in continuous production for 3 decades without major changes.

Fast forward to 1963, the company decided to drop the name Willys and it became Kaiser-Jeep Corp.

1968 Jeep CJ5 for Sale | ClassicCars.com | CC-963121
1968 CJ5

In the mid 60s, the “Muscle-Car” movement was in its beginning but it was clear that the customers, more than ever, were hungry for power, not only for performance cars but for any kind of car. The company decided it was high time to give the old CJ a little more “punch” under the hood. In 1965, Kaiser bought a license to produce the Buick 225 cu in (3.7 L) V6 engine, capable to produce 155 hp, doubling the power from the old Hurricane engine. By 1968, the V6 was so popular that 95% of the CJs sold that year were equipped with the new engine. 

The American Motors Years.

Jeep Grand Wagoneer.

If Kaiser-Jeep decided to freeze the CJ’s design in time, the same didn’t happen with the Wagon, from the rugged first generation, the car evolved to the elegant Grand Wagoneer. It was big, powerful, and luxurious. That was the car that created the term: Sport Utility Vehicle.

By the late 60s, the Wagoneer was all by itself in the SUV segment, none of the other American automakers had anything like it offer. The bright future of the car caught the attention of some other auto companies but the American Motors Corp. decided to go act faster than the competition. AMC started the process to acquire Kaiser-Jeep in 1968 and the deal was finalized in 1970.

American Motors is, nowadays, a forgotten brand, but it was quite popular back then. AMC was born when two small automakers: Nash-Kelvinator Corp. and Hudson Motor Car Comp. merged in 1954.

1972 Jeep Renegade.

AMC kept the Jeep vehicles pretty much unchanged for the first two years after the acquisition, it was only in 1972 that the Willys Hurricane 4 cylinder and the Buick V6 were phased out. In order to accommodate the new AMC engines, the CJ’s wheelbase was stretched by 3 in (76 mm), and the fenders and hood were stretched by 5 in (127 mm), pushing the firewall two inches closer to the rear. The base model CJ was equipped with the 3.8 L, inline 6 engine producing 140 HP. The next option was the 4.2 L, inline 6 with 150 HP output.

1972 Jeep CJ ” Golden Eagle” Edition.

By early 1970s the American “performance car” movement was pretty much dead, thanks to a severe global oil crisis, but that didn’t seem to have affected the AMC’s will to give more and more power to the Jeep lineup, by the end of 1972, a 5.0 L V8 was available for the Wagoneer and also for some special editions of the CJ, like the Golden Eagle. With 210 HP, the new V8 CJ had a power-to-weight ratio comparable to some Muscle-Cars from the 60s.

1978 Jeep Cherokee Chief - Paint Cross Reference
1978 Jeep Cherokee

In 1975 AMC unveiled the Jeep Cherokee, a 2 doors version of the Wagoneer: In the future, the name Cherokee would grow so strong among the utility vehicles to the point to overshadow the CJ’s popularity.

By the early 80s, the CJ was completely adapted for the big cities, it could be equipped with air conditioning and automatic transmission, powerful engines and comfortable seats, but it never lost its off-road capabilities.

1984 Jeep Cherokee 4WD Wagon American Motors AMC USA Origi… | Flickr
1984 advertise showing all the advantages of the Cherokee over the Chevy Blazer and Ford Bronco.

In the SUV segment, American Motors had consolidated itself as the main player with the Grand Wagoneer, but in 1984 the company gave the Cherokee its first major update in almost a decade. The car lost the “body-over-chassis” concept and received a modern unibody platform. It was a bit smaller and lighter than the previous generation and became more agile on either the urban commute and on off-road situations. On top of all that, the new design was an instant hit among the customers and the sales skyrocketed.

The Chrysler Years.

Even if the Jeep vehicles were a big success, the situation on American Motors wasn’t so good, the company was struggling with its passenger car lineup in face of fierce competition from the “Big Three” (Ford, GM, and Chrysler). Not even an alliance with the French Renault, solidified in 1977, seemed enough to save AMC from bankruptcy.

By mid-80s, Chrysler was the only American automaker with no options on the SUV segment, the solution for this situation was a no brainer: it was much easier to buy a successful line of off-road vehicles from a moribund brand than to came up with their own SUV. It didn’t take long for Jeep to change hands once again and in 1987 Chrysler became the fourth owner of the brand.

2000 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT 4x4 Club Cab 138.7 in. WB Specs and Prices
2000 Dodge 1500 Ram

Instead of imposing their own police, Chrysler wisely decided to keep the AMC’s mentality toward the Jeep lineup. Not only that but the AMC’s engineers also had the freedom to work on the Dodge pick-up trucks and they are considered responsible for bringing the “RAM” truck back to life.

The last year-production for CJ was 1986, American Motors Corp. applied a commemorative plaque on the dashboard that says: “Last of a Great Breed”. Together, Willys, Kaiser, and AMC put together around 1.5 million CJs, the car became the most successful off-road vehicle in history, a true icon.

Marty McFly, going for a ride, dragged by a 1985 CJ7.

The Wrangler.

The substitute for the “CJ” was ready even before the AMC-Chrysler deal was done, the car hit the showrooms in the summer of 1986. AMC had done a very good job of modernizing the car as a whole, suspension, chassis, and body. The “TJ” Wrangler was more enjoyable to drive and also safer than the old “CJ”.

1987 Jeep Wrangler.

The name “Wrangler” was decided after AMC had gotten permission from Goodyear -which makes a line of all-terrain tires with the same name – and obviously, Goodyear became the main supplier of tires for the new Jeep. But AMC didn’t ask permission to Wrangler Jeans, which resulted in a lawsuit that lasted several years.

The Wrangler had only two engine options: a 2.5 L, 4 cylinder and a 4.2 in-line 6, those engines were AMC products that Chrysler carried over. The V8 became an option only for the Cherokee but as a matter of pride, Chrysler replaced the AMC V8 with their own line of small-blocks, basically the 318 cid and the 360 cid. The only controversial point on the new Wrangler was the square headlights, which the most hard-core fans considered a “blasphemy” to the original design.

In 1997 came the second generation of the Wrangler and finally the round headlights were back and the in-line 6 engine came down to 4.0 liter, but the real change was the adoption of Cherokee’s coil-spring suspension.

Switching to coil springs was indeed a huge improvement, not only enhanced the Wrangler’s urban ride quality but gave to the off-roader customers a massive seven-inch increase in suspension articulation for both its front and rear axles.

Jeep® Heritage | 2003-06 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (TJ) - The Jeep Blog
2003 Rubicon Edition

For the following years, the “TJ” Wrangler didn’t change much, in 2003 it received a modern 4-speed automatic transmission and the old 2.5 AMC engine was replaced by a modern 2.4 L Dodge engine.

2007 Jeep Ratings, Pricing, Reviews and Awards | J.D. Power

In 2007 Chrysler released the Wrangler’s third generation, called “JK”, the car got wider and longer, in order to accommodate an extra pair of doors. The new 4 doors model was very well received by customers, finally, the Wrangler could be used as a real “family car”. The other change was a bit of a shock, the old faithful, bulletproof AMC in-line 6 engine was replaced with the 3.8 Dodge V6. The “new” engine wasn’t exactly new, after all, it had been around since 1991, powering the Chrysler minivans, the decision behind this swap was simply to optimize the assembly line.

For 2012, the ancient Dodge V6 was replaced by the modern Chrysler “Pentastar” V6, capable to produce 285 HP, becoming the most powerful Wrangler to date. New transmissions were also made available: a 5 speed automatic or a 6-speed manual.

How to fold down windshield Jeep Wrangler JK https://m.youtube.com ...

The latest Wrangler generation, called “JL”, came in 2017 with a few improvements like 2.0 L turbo-four engine, more spacious interior, reduced weight, massive 33 inches wheels and, of course, a throwback change that certainly touched the hearts of the more traditional fans: the foldable windshield, just like the old CJs.

The Latest Family Member.

In January 2014, the Italian automaker FIAT bought the Chrysler Corp. and became the fifth owner of the Jeep brand. The reason for this deal was once again the profitable line of utility vehicles: Jeep and Ram.

Since 2015, FIAT-Chrysler has been teasing the fans with rumors of a pick-up truck version of the Wrangler, after all, Jeep trucks have been around since forever, either from Wagoneer or from Cherokee models, but pick-up truck from the CJ/Wrangler is quite unusual.

Jeep Scrambler (CJ-8) Review: History, Features & Specifications

From 1981 to 1986, AMC produced the “Scrambler”, out of the CJ8 platform and the car became a good option among a niche market dominated by small Japanese 4×4 trucks.

Finally, in 2018 FCA unveiled the “Gladiator” and judging by the fuss among the Jeep’s aficionados, the truck will be another huge success.

A Visual History of Jeep Pickup Trucks, from 1947 to Today
1965 Jeep Gladiator

The name Gladiator was revived from the Jeep full-size pick-up truck based on the Wagoneer, built from 1962 to 1988.

Jeep 75th anniversary Logos

It is not an easy task to write about a car that has been in continuous production since 1941, well Jeep skipped the 1996 model because some issues with the engine control management software, but the car has been around for over 7 decades. I had to leave behind a myriad of variant models and “special-editions” of the CJ/Wrangler, otherwise, I better had written a book instead.

Should We Put 40s on our 2018 Jeep Wrangler JLU Rubicon?! - YouTube

The FIAT-Chrysler Auto. is doing a fantastic job in perpetuating the legacy of the Jeep. After all those years in production, the CJ/Wrangler became not only the most successful off-road vehicle ever, but it can be placed itself in a special chapter in the history of the auto industry. A CJ/Wrangler doesn’t matter which year-production, can be instantly recognized anywhere in the world, perhaps only the VW Beetle enjoys this kind of popularity.

The History of the Jeep – Part One- The Military Years.

December 2018, Jeep releases the sales numbers of its most successful year in history. In total, Jeep sold 973,227 vehicles. By the end of that year, the Wrangler became the brand’s best-selling model, with 240,032 units delivered to the customers, outselling even the Jeep Cherokee.

Jeep is, nowadays, one of the most lucrative brands among the Fiat-Chrysler conglomerate, and the Wrangler became its most iconic model.

From its roots as World War II hero to the status of the most emblematic off-road vehicle ever, the Wrangler traveled a very interesting road. Let’s remember some important facts throughout more than 7 decades of uninterrupted production.

Packard military truck 1917

World War I (1914-1918) is the event that marks the beginning of the mechanized warfare, to haul troops, guns, and supplies, horses were no longer a match to the petrol-powered trucks and tanks brought a new terror to the infantrymen on the trenches. But a soldier on horseback was still a hard to beat courier, the horse is nature’s best “off-road” vehicle, it can go up and down stony hills, travel on muddy roads, cross rivers and still can be quite fast on unpaved roads. It was only after the war that the armies around the world started to consider the idea of a light, all-wheel-drive vehicle to be used on a myriad of applications.

During the 1920s, the US Army tested several options, including motorcycles and even modified versions of the Ford Model “T”, but it was only in the early 1930s that the shape of the future Jeep started to take form.

The Marmon-Harrington – Ford truck, during trials.

The Marmon-Harrington Company came up with a very capable prototype when they adapted a 4×4 system into a 1935 Ford 1/2 ton pick up truck. The vehicle was approved by the US army and became operational not only in the States but was also exported to Belgium. This truck is considered to be the “grandfather” of the Jeep Wrangler.

The 1/2 ton. Marmon-Harrington truck was indeed a good “multi-purpose” combat vehicle but it was too heavy and insufficiently agile on certain off-road situations, the US Army needed a lighter vehicle, a 1/4 ton., 4×4, with a crew capacity of 3 soldiers and armament and able to tow a light piece of artillery.

With the war against Germany looming on the horizon, the United States Department of War formalized its requirements for this lighter reconnaissance vehicle on July 11, 1940, and submitted them to 135 U.S. automotive manufacturers.

Initially, only American Bantan (subsidiary of the British automaker “Austin) and Willys-Overland entered the competition to secured the millionaire US Army contract. Bantam had a very good advantage since most of the Army requirements (wheelbase, ground clearance, etc) were very close to the company’s compact truck already in production. The schedule was extremely tight, the government gave only 49 days to show a prototype and 75 days to start production. Willys asked for more time and was immediately disqualified.

Bantam BRC-40 – A product of the American Bantam Car Company ...
Bantam BRC 60

Using as many “off-the-shelf” parts as possible, Bantam delivered its “BRC 60” (Bantam Reconnaissance Car) prototype by September 23, 1940. The little car met all the Army’s requirements but one: the engine, with only 22HP, wasn’t powerful enough, a problem that could easily be fixed, adapting a bigger engine from another automaker.

1944-04-19-2-bantam-brc-60-1 (With images) | Willys, Willys jeep ...

The BRC 60 was the car the Army was waiting for and Bantam even delivered it on time, the only problem was: the company didn’t have the production capacity to meet the Army demands. The conflict in Europe was already in full steam and the War Department was desperate about this new vehicle; in order to increase the industrial capacity, they invited Willys-Overland and Ford to participate in the trials of the Bantam prototype. The government made clear that at this stage, the 3 participants should work as a team and not see each other as competitors. Ford and Willys were allowed to check and copy every detail of the Bantam car and transfer it into their own projects.

By November 1940, Ford and Willys delivered their prototypes to join Bantam in the Army’s trials.

Ford “Pygmy”
Jeep® History in the 1940s
Willys “Quad”

Pre-Production Trials.

In a very controversial conduct, the US military took possession of the Bantam’s blueprints and handed them freely to Ford and Willys; all in the name of the “War Effort”. No wonder all 3 prototypes, Bantan BRC 60, Ford ‘Pygmy”, and Willys “Quad” were quite similar in design and performance.

At this time the American participation in the conflict seemed inevitable and the War Department was under such pressure that all three cars were declared acceptable and orders for 1,500 units per company were given for field testing.

King George of the UK inspects the arrival of the Bantan BRC 60 to the Royal Army.

Bantam initially produced 2,605 “BRC 60” and they were mostly delivered to Allied nations under the “Land-and-Lease” program. Once again the diminutive size of American Bantam proved to be the biggest obstacle since the company would never be able to meet the Army’s demand for 75 vehicles a day.

Jeep,o herói de guerra completa 75 anos | GaúchaZH
A Willys “Quad”, resting at a testing field.

Willys renamed his official vehicle “MA”, for “Military” model “A”. Some 1,555 ” were built, many of which were exported to the Soviet Union under the “Lend-Lease” program.

From The Archives #200
An airborne Ford”GP”

The colossal industrial capacity of Ford should have played a big role in this project, but their final product was a bit of a disappointment. The car, now renamed “GP” (Government Program), was a better vehicle overall, but in order to get the “GP” done as soon as possible, the car received an “off-the-shelf” engine, the same unit used on the Model “N” tractor. The decision proved to be a mistake: the engine was underpowered and unreliable. Ford initially built about 4,458 units and the US Army decided to keep them at home. The cars were delivered to military units for more field trials, but the GP’s performance fell short of expectations.

The “Jeep” name was born.

There are a few theories about how the 1/4 ton military truck adopted the name “Jeep”. It is a fact that the name as been part of the US military vocabulary as far back as WW I, loosed used to call any kind of new vehicle still in the phase of testing, it could be trucks, airplanes, and even boats. Some historians believe the name came from the Eugene the “Jeep”, a character in the Popeye comic strip. A mysterious animal with magical or supernatural abilities.

I rather stick with the most technical theory, that the name came from the letters “GP”.

Even if the Ford GP didn’t deliver the expected performance, it was the car that American soldiers spent more time behind the wheel during the trails, since the Bantam and Willys models were mostly exported to friendly countries. During the time the car was being extensively tested, the name “GP” became famous in every Army unit around the US; naturally those two letters phonetically morphed into”Geepy” and latter on into “Jeep”.

Decades later a similar situation happened with another military vehicle: the HMMWV, which stands for high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicle. The soldiers quickly nicknamed the truck “Humvee”.

Full Production.

By July 1941, the War Department came to the obvious conclusion that it was a bad idea to have multiple automakers producing the same car. The environment of a global war can be, to say the least, chaotic, and to supply spare parts for 3 different brands of Jeep on the battlefield could be disastrous. The chosen brand to carry on the production was Willys, primarily because the “MA” easily outperformed the other o competitors. The car was equipped with the fabulous 4 cylinder, 2,200cc, “L-134” engine, capable to produce 60 HP. The trial teams nicknamed the engine “Go Devil”.

Found in crate” 1944 Willys MB Jeep to cross | Willys jeep, Willys ...
The legendary WWII “workhorse”, the Willys MB

For its final product, Willys incorporated some designs solutions from the competitors, for example: to make the headlights less vulnerable, they were moved from the top of the fenders to the grille panel, a solution copied from the Ford GP. The new car was renamed Willys “MB”.

The new “Jeep” introduced a few ingenious solutions that later became standard on all off-road vehicles: the “constant-velocity joints” on the front-driven wheels and the transfer case to control the “4X4 mode”.

Forged in War: The Birth of the Jeep in World War II - Citizen-Soldier
A great picture of a Ford GPW with a Corsair in the background. Saipan, Pacific, 1944.

By October 1941, it became clear that Willys-Overland didn’t have the capacity to keep up with the US Army’s demand, and Ford was called to once again join the program. The giant automaker was instructed to use all the Willys blueprints, drawings, specifications, and patents, including the Willys engine. The Ford car was then designated “GPW”, with the “W” referring to the “Willys” licensed design and engine. During World War II, Willys produced 363,000 Jeeps and Ford some 280,000. Approximately 51,000 were exported to the Soviet Union, under the Lend-Lease program.

Tough, reliable, agile, unstoppable, the list of attributes goes on and on. The Jeep was sent to Europe, Africa, and Asia and saw action in every single battlefront during the war.

Photo] Heavily armed and specially modified jeep of British L ...
The insanely armed Jeep from the British “Long Range Desert Group” also known as “Desert Rats”. They caused havoc on the German airfields and base camps in northern Africa, using high speed, “hit and run” attacks.

Jeeps were used in as many tasks as the GI’s could think of: towing supply trailers, carrying water, fuel, and ammo, and pulling through the most difficult terrain. They performed scout and reconnaissance duty and were also frequently used as ambulances for the wounded and did hearse service. The Jeep was perfect as a weapon platform – either with mounted machine guns or pulling small artillery pieces. The Jeep’s flat hood was used as a commander’s map table, a chaplain’s field altar, the G.I.s’ poker table, or even for field surgery. The car was considered (along with his rifle) the soldier’s best friend and many of them enjoyed driving the nimble jeep, appreciating its powerful engine, low-cut body sides, bucket seats, and manual floor-shifter. The “MB” was as close to a sports car as most GIs had ever driven. Enzo Ferrari famously called the Jeep “America’s only real sports car.” All these “sports” qualities would later be very well appreciated during the Jeep’s civilian career.

1942 FORD GPW

Pulitzer Prize-winning war journalist Ernie Pyle wrote: “It does everything. It goes everywhere. It’s as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule,, and as agile as a goat. It constantly carries twice what it was designed for, and still keeps on going.

The green-olive Jeep, with a big white star painted on the hood and a GI wearing an unstrapped helmet at the wheel, became one of the most iconic images of WW II.

Amazon.com: Tamiya Jeep Willys 1/4 Ton 4X4 Hobby Model Kit: Toys ...

President Eisenhower once calling the Jeep: “one of the decisive weapons the U.S. had during WWII”, placing the little ” 1/4 ton” truck among noble machines like the P-51 Mustang and the aircraft carrier.

General George Marshall called the car: “America’s greatest contribution to modern warfare.”  

1947 Jeep CJ

The “MB” became the crown jewel of Willys-Overland, never before a car from its lineup received so much praise and recognition. The company decided to stretch this success beyond the battlefield and in 1944 Willys unveiled the “CJ” (civilian Jeep). Two years later Willys finally registered name “Jeep”.

The original Willys MB and Ford GPW still saw a lot of action during the Korean war (1950 – 1953) before receiving some updates.

A restored 1955 M-38 Kaiser-Jeep.

In 1953, Willys merged with another small, independent American automaker: Kaiser Motors and two years later both companies phased out their passenger car lines. The idea was to focus exclusively into the military / off-road vehicles.

1955 Jeep CJ5

Understandably, Willys was afraid of deep changes on the successful “MB” and in 1955 the car received only minor design updates, bringing the Jeep closer to the modern “Wrangler” we know. The military version was renamed M38 and the civilian was called CJ 5

The Substitute.

M151 MUTT Jeep Page | Vietnam, Vietnam war, Tactical truck
A convoy of Ford “MUTT” makes the cover of Life magazine – Vietnam War.

In 1959, Ford was the winner of a massive US Army’s contract, intended o replace the old “MBs” and “GPWs”. The new project was called by the government: “MUTT” (Military Unit Tactical Truck) and received the official name Ford M151. Even if it was quite similar in design with its predecessors, this “Jeep” was a new car all together, Ford adopted some modern solutions like unibody platform and front and rear independent suspension.

1971 Ford MUTT

Remembering the old times from WW II, when the demand was too high (like during the Vietnam War) the “MUTT” was also built by other companies, like Kaiser-Jeep and AM-General. Together, the 3 companies put together more than 100.000 cars from 1959 and 1982.

The MUTT represents the end of an era, even if Kaiser-Jeep kept suppling other vehicles to the US Department of Defense, the military career of the old war hero was officially over.

In the next chapter lets talk about how Jeep consolidate the “CJ” as the most popular recreational vehicle in North America.

The Most Popular Airplane

September 2nd, 1945, the Japanese foreign affairs minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, signs the Instrument of Japanese Surrender, aboard the American warship USS Missouri, formalizing the end of the World War II.

Bott4
P-51 Mustangs, wearing the black and white strips of the Normandy Campaign.

Among many different kinds of weapons employed by the Allies, the airplane played a pivotal role to win the war. Together, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union produced several thousands of aircraft throughout the conflict and in order to fly those machines, the Allies also had to produce thousands of pilots.

wwii pilots | Us Air Force Fighter Pilot | World war, World war ...

Upon returning home, the survival pilots had many stories of bravery, honour and selfless service defending the free world from tyranny.

Naturally, a whole generation of kids were deeply influenced to pursue one dream: to became a pilot. For those who were really serious about making the dream come true there were only two options: one is to join a military academy and the other is to join a civilian flight school.

Boeing-Stearman Model 75 - Wikipedia
Boeing Steraman model 75

Either way, in the late 1940s, an aviator student had to learn his first lessons in a 1930s era biplane. Most of them were crude, heavy machines and to make matters worse the open cockpit provides plenty of wind and noise from the big radial engine. For some “true to the core” pilots, an old biplane can be a delight to fly, but for a “green” student it can be quite scary.

The Almost Perfect Trainer

A restored Cessna 170

The Cessna Aircraft Company had a good answer for this lack of a modern trainer, the Model 170. Built from 1948 until 1956, this little airplane was a nice surprise not only among student pilots but also among customers looking for an affordable and reliable aircraft. The 170 had some modern features like all-aluminum construction ( the first year of production the wings were still covered with fabric), an encapsulated engine, a closed cockpit, and the best feature for rookie pilots: high-mounted wing, which allows a perfect view of the ground while landing the aircraft. This concept was a copy of some reconnaissance aircraft from the war, like the German Henschel Hs 126.

Henschel Hs 126

The Cessna 170 is a very docile and forgiven aircraft to fly, it was the perfect choice for a trainer or as a personal plane.

  • Engine: Continental 0-300, horizontally opposed 6 cylinder, air-cooled, 302 CID (5.0 liter). 145HP.
  • Empty weight: 547 Kg.
  • Service ceiling: 15,500 ft
  • Max. speed: 230 Km/h

Military Career

The Cessna Bird Dog.

The qualities of the Cessna 170 soon caught the attention of the US Department of Defense, its low operational speed and excellent visibility made it a perfect surveillance/reconnaissance plane. A huge order of 3,200 were initially placed, the airplane was renamed L19/01 “Bird Dog” and delivered to the Marine Corps and Army, just in time to see action during the Korean War in 1950.

The Bird Dog was also extensively used during the Vietnam War, primarily for reconnaissance, target acquisition, artillery adjustment, radio relay, and convoy escort.

File:CESSNA L-19 BIRD DOG 1949.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

After 24 years of active service in the US military the CL19 Bird Dog retired, but it is not hard to spot a restored one, nowadays, at air shows around North America.

The Evolution

Why do planes always land on rear wheels instead of the nose ...

The Cessna 170 was an awesome little airplane but wasn’t perfect, just like most of the planes from the 1940s, it was born as a “taildragger” (see picture above).

The Spitfire, a perfect example of a taildragger aircraft.

This is not a problem per se, after all, most of the notable fighters of WWII (Spitfire, Mustang, BF109) were taildraggers. The biggest concern for a novice pilot flying such machine is: there is no clear view of whatever might be in front of the plane while taxiing. This is a detail that could easily be fixed, or should I say, improved.

Between 1948 and 1956, Cessna produced 5,174 model 170 (not mentioning the military production), the plane can be considered a commercial success but it was time to evolve.

Cessna model 172

In 1956 Cessna released the Skyhawk model 172 (4 seater) and model 152 (2 seater), equipped with the tricycle landing gear. The plane was an instant hit, it retained all the good qualities of the 170 but was the new arrangement of the landing gear that made the new Cessna the favorite aircraft among the flying schools around the world. The airplane is a pleasure to fly and especially easy to land, so easy that Cessna marketed it as “Land-o-Matic”.

The 152 owned by “Aeroclube do Paraná”, a flying school in my hometown in Brazil.

During the 1960s and 70s, the sales of the 172 skyrocketed as it became the primary learning tool around the world. The plane isn’t just easy to fly, it is also extremely robust, it can withstand hundreds of taking off and landings on the hands of inexperienced students before going through some maintenance.

T-41 Mascalero, Fuerza Aérea Colombiana

Just like its predecessor, the 172 also had a military version. In 1964, the company unveiled a new version specifically for the U.S. military dubbed the T-41 Mescalero. At this time the aircraft was not used as reconnaissance but as a trainer instead. Since military pilots are, in most cases, trained to fly high-performance aircraft, Cessna decided to replace the original 145HP Continental engine for a “spiced-up” version with 220HP. Aside from the engine, the new training aircraft for the Air Force and Army was nearly identical to the platforms civilian students were already flying. The plane was very successful and stayed in service with the US military for over 30 years. The Mescalero was also exported to several Air Forces around the world.

10 Facts You Didn't Know About The Cessna 172 Skyhawk | Boldmethod

The Cessna 172, is not fast, is not pretty but it is reliable and affordable. As a friend of mine used to say: “Think of the Skyhawk as a flying VW Beetle. Back in 1966 you could buy a brand new, basic 172 for US$ 12,450.00; just to give an idea, a Fastback Mustang of the same year had the tag price of US$ 2,713.00.

Justiça antecipa leilão de aviões e carros de chefão do tráfico de ...
Two Cessna 172 and one 170, waiting to be actioned. The planes were seized by the Brazilian Federal Police from the drug cartels.

The capacity of the 172 to operate on short, improvised runaways attracted some less than honourable customers: the drug lords of South America adopted the airplane to transport their “stuff”, easily crossing the borders of different countries, while flying over the Amazon Jungle.

During its career, the Cessna 172 was involved in some unusual adventures.

A world record of reliability.

image

In December of 1958, the pilots Robert Timm and John Cook decided to take advantage of the 172’s reliability to break a world record and stay airborne on the aircraft for 50 straight days.

One airplane, two pilots, 65 days of nonstop flight - AOPA

They dubbed their Cessna “Hacienda” (farm in Spanish) and installed an extra 95-gallon fuel tank to the belly of the aircraft with an electric pump that could transfer fuel to the internal tanks in the wings. They also replaced the co-pilot’s door with a special accordion-style setup that allowed them to hoist fuel and food from a truck.

After 50 days of keeping the 172 in constant flight, they secured the record, but they decided to push it a little bit further. After 64 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes, the two men finally brought their little plane in for a landing. Their record, which stands to this day, is a testament to the reliability of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk.

Flying against the Soviet Empire.

At the peak of the Cold War tensions, during the 1980s, Mathias Rust, a German teenager and amateur pilot with only 50 hours of flying experience, made one of the most incredible stunts in the name of the World Peace. On May 28, 1987, he climbed aboard of a rented 172 in Helsinki, Finland, and at some point he drifted away from his pre-planned flight course and headed straight toward the capital of the USSR.

The world thought the air space over Moscow was, at the time, was impenetrable, but Mathias proved it otherwise. His Cessna was repeatedly mistaken for a friendly aircraft and by the time the Soviet Air Force finally scrambled a pair of interceptors it was too late since the “enemy” Cessna was too close to a populated area, the fighters were not given permission to fire.

Mathias landed his Skyhawk on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge right next to the world-famous Red Square in Moscow, he had fooled one of the most advanced air defences in the world and lived to tell the tale.

Remembering Mathias Rust's Flight to Red Square | Public Radio ...
Mathias Rust (leaning on the plane), after he had parked his Cessna closed to the Red Square.

It was a tremendous embarrassment for the Soviet Union and as a result a few top military leaders were immediately fired.

Mathias was arrested and charged in multiples accounts of violating air regulations and illegally crossing the Soviet border. He received a sentence of 4 years but was pardoned after 14 months in jail.

It seems Rust’s intentions to promote world peace was indeed very successful, according to William E. Odom, former director of the U.S. National Security Agency and author of The Collapse of the Soviet Military, says that Rust’s flight irreparably damaged the reputation of the Soviet military. This enabled Gorbachev to remove many of the strongest opponents to his reforms. Minister of Defense Sergei Sokolov and the head of the Soviet Air Defence Forces Alexander Koldunov were dismissed along with hundreds of other officers. This was the biggest turnover in the Soviet military since Stalin’s purges 50 years earlier. Two months later, Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to sign a treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe.

File:Cessna 172 D-ECJB of Mathias Rust.jpg

Mathias Rust’s Cessna 172 Skyhawk is in a permanent display at the German Museum of Technology, in Berlin.

Final considerations.

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The production of the 172 was interrupted 1986 as the result of the rising cost of insurance for personal airplanes but eleven years later Cessna restarted the assembly line and they don’t have plans to stop it any time soon. More than 44,000 model 172 were produced and sold since 1956, making it the most successful aircraft in history. Several variants were released throughout the years in order to keep the plane up to date with new technologies, while the basic design remained pretty much unchanged.

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A Skyhawk retrofitted with floaters.

Most of the pilots crossing the skies around the world today had their first lessons on a 172 and the future of the little Cessna continues to look bright, as it is still considered to be the perfect trainer. If you have the desire to become a pilot, just spend some time flying a 172, and the plane itself will tell if you have what it takes.

Collector’s Day

In July 2015, my wife and I moved from our hometown in Brazil to Winnipeg, Canada and one of the first things we noticed was the number of classic cars on the streets on any given day. Perhaps because the cars are kept in storage for the whole winter, which here is extremely harsh and way too long, so when the springtime finally arrives the owners don’t miss any opportunity to drive them. It is not unusual to see classic cars being used as daily drivers, going back and forth to work and to grocery shopping.

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Naturally, on weekends, classic car meetings happen all over town and just like any other city in North America, those gatherings happen mostly on the parking lots of shopping malls.

A 1955 Buick going for a cruise on Portage Avenue.

No worries if you miss a meeting, you can catch the cars parading up and down on Portage Avenue on a “Sunday Night Cruise”. You must get there early to find a good parking spot since it gets pretty crowded alongside the road with families having a nice tailgate party while watching the cars.

In 2016 we had the opportunity to attend a very interesting meeting called “Collector’s Day”; the organizers closed a couple of streets around a square, right in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building, for the event. The place proved to be perfect since there were lots of parking spots for the cars and even for some food trucks and the square is a very nice place to seat and take a break from walking around and enjoy an ice cream. The only thing I didn’t understand was it happened on a Friday, from 5 pm to 8 pm. Why not on a Saturday???? Anyway, here you can check some photos of the meeting (The pics were edited by my wife Estela).

1965 Dodge Dart

1950 Ford Custom Deluxe

1968 Chevy Chevelle

1964 Impala Coupe

1969 “Plum Crazy” Dodge Challenger

Something impossible to resist: The magic of the “Big Blocks”

1951 Chevy 2 doors

1932 Ford Tudor

I am not sure about this one, I would say a 1934 Dodge…

1968 Camaro SS

1960 Plymouth Fury

1955 Chevy Bel Air with a really cool “Flames” graphics.

1956 Chevy Truck.

1960 Chevy El Camino

Vintage Busses are also cool.

Another one I couldn’t figure out. Maybe a 1956 Packard.

1969 American Motors “AMX”

1956 Chevy (blue) and a 1957 Chevy (white)

One of my “faves”: 1963 Chevy Nova “Gasser”.
By the time this guy was leaving the meeting, I was right beside him, clapping my hands and saying: “burnout, burnout”, but he just ignored me.

The Red Baron

World War I, the conflict that dragged pretty much all the major powers in Europe, Asia and the Americas into a total war. The carnage lasted from July 1914 to November 1918 and an estimate of nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a direct result of the war.

Aviation Art - Big WW I Bombers - YouTube
Gotha G.V., German heavy bomber, 1917

For the first time in history nations were capable to inflict mass destruction against their enemies. Weaponries such as machine guns, tanks, submarines, and airplanes were readily available. The gallantry of armies riding on horses and holding swords gave way to the unimaginable terrors of chemical and biological warfare and aerial bombardment.

At the beginning of the war, the airplane was a fairly new invention, it was on December 17, 1903, that the Wright Brothers, in the USA, managed the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft.

SPAD XII, René Fonck WWI Fighter Aircraft | First World War (WWI ...
René Fonck, French ace and his Spad XII

The airplane, as a weapon of war, initially faced some opposition from the top military leaders around the world; they thought those flimsy machines were nothing more than a novelty with little use in battle. Their point of view was easily understandable: the first generation of airplanes was very fragile, the frame was made of wood and covered with fabric, the engines were underpowered and quite unreliable, their payload for bombs and ammunition was very limited.

Nieuport 17 French fighter

On the other hand, some open-minded younger officers saw the airplane as an effective weapon and all those limitations would soon be overcome by the ingenuity of the engineers.

Airplanes and pilots have always been subject of great fascination in all of us, we tend to see pilots as some kind of special people, and of course, in some aspects they really are. As a former Air Force personnel myself (not a pilot!) I can assure you, they are seen and revered as an elite group. In the case of war, we mortals will have to fight on the ground but, they will fight in Heavens.

During WW I this fascination was way more intense. Airplanes had this magic Aura and the men who were in command of those machines we’re seeing as superheroes.

Naturally, the pilots flew high on this blind admiration (well, they still do), it didn’t only feed their egos but also fed their imagination. Pilots during WW I saw themselves as a higher breed of warriors, some sort of reincarnation of the medieval Knights, full of military honor and bravery, and this thought was passed on, years later, to the pilots of World War II.

Based on this code, they had a different understanding of the aerial combat: for them, the real purpose was not to kill the opponent, but simply to defeat him, to show your superior skills. There are numerous accounts of pilots who, after shooting down an enemy airplane, were very pleased to see the other pilot bailing out safely from the crippled machine.

A fighter pilot needs to score at least five victories to bear the title of “Ace” and the World War I produced quite a few of them, on both sides of the conflict. Those men were feared by their foes and admired by the people they were fighting for. Their stories of courage and honor are the result of a mixture of facts and a little dose of fantasy. More than a century has passed after the end of the war and the names of those aces have vanished from the memory of their people and became nothing more than random names written on History books. All of them but one: Manfred von Richthofen, the German fighter pilot considered to be the “Ace-of the Aces”; most famously known as “The Red Baron”.

Manfred von Richthofen - Wikipedia

Richthofen was the most victorious ace of the WW I with 80 victories. He became a legend not only because of his talent as a pilot but also because of his controversial personality. His popularity transcended beyond the war, and even after more than a century after his death his name is still around us.

Snoopy fighting his imaginary enemy:
The Red Baron.

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We don’t even know if the Baron liked pizza…

Manfred Albrecht “Freiherr” von Richthofen (Freiherr stands for Baron) was born in Kleinburg, near Breslau, a region that was part of Germany but now a days belongs to Poland, on May 2, 1892. His family was part of the Prussian aristocracy and had deep military tradition. His father was an Army Cavalry Major and so was his grandfather. He was an average student and truly enjoyed hunting and sports, especially gymnastics. He excelled at parallel bars and won a number of awards at school.

At the age of 11, his father enrolled him at the Imperial Army Academy in order to continue the family tradition, but Manfred didn’t like the idea of his father deciding his future without asking any opinion. As a personal vendetta, Manfred decided to dedicate himself as little as possible to his new military career, and as result he became a mediocre cadet, giving no reasons whatsoever for his family to be proud of him.

The Death of a Legend: Baron Manfred von Richthofen & the Vickers ...

What kept Manfred in good terms with his superiors at the academy was his talents in sports, but he had another talent that was constantly putting him in trouble: he was a daredevil, not afraid to perform stunts like climbing the town’s church tower with his bare hands. Later in life, he would find out that the daring side of his personality was an essential part of being a fighter pilot.

German Cavalry soldiers (and this horses) wearing gas masks.

Richthofen was 22 years old when he was sent to the front lines as Cavalry Lieutenant. He served at a Reconnaissance Regiment of the Imperial Army and saw action in Russia, France, and Belgium. The warfare in the mid-1910s had already shifted from horseback to mechanized vehicles and the Army decided to dissolve Manfred’s unit. He was reassigned far away from the front lines, serving as dispatch runners and field telephone operators and after that he was once again transferred, this time to the army’s supply branch, helping with the food logistics. He grew extremely frustrated for not being able to fight in the front lines and soon he found out the “Fliegertruppen des Deutschen Kaiserreiches” (Imperial German Army Air Service) was looking for volunteers to become pilots. He immediately wrote a letter to his commandant asking for a transfer and once again he wasn’t afraid o show him in; in his letter he wrote: “I have not gone to war in order to collect cheese and eggs, but for another purpose.” In spite of this unmilitary attitude, and to his own surprise, his request was granted. Manfred joined the flying service at the end of May 1915.

Albatross BII German reconnaissance airplane.

From June to August 1915, Richthofen served as an observer on reconnaissance missions over the Eastern Front with “Feldflieger Abteilung” 69 (69th Flying Squadron). On being transferred to the Champagne front, he is believed to have shot down an attacking French aircraft with his observer’s machine gun in a tense battle over French lines; he was not credited with the kill since it fell behind Allied lines and therefore could not be confirmed.

Manfred started his flight training as in October 1915 and in the beginning his instructors were not very impressed, he was considered to be a below-average pilot. On his first solo flight, Manfred lost control of the aircraft during the landing and the machine flipped over.

Albatros C.III.jpg
Manfred von Richthofen in front of his Albatros C III light bomber.

Eventually Richthofen graduated as a pilot in March, 1916 and was assigned to the “2nd Bomber Squadron”, flying a two-seater light bomber Albatros C III. A month earlier he had convinced his brother Lothar von Richthofen to quit the Army Infantry and join the Air Service. Later on the two brothers ended up flying in the same squadron. Despite a disappointing start, Manfred rapidly became a fine pilot and soon his stunts made him quite popular among his peers, for example, he once completely ignored the advice of more experienced pilots and flew his bomber through a thunderstorm, just for the thrill of it. To his superiors Manfred was just an inconsequent rookie pilot that sooner than later would get himself killed but instead his boldness paved the way for a more exciting role as a pilot.

Escadrille Jasta 2 ( allemande) - Blog de guerre-musique
Manfred von Richthofen (with the binoculars) finally found his purpose in life as a fighter pilot.

The Father of Air Combat

By August 1916, the German Ace Oswald Boelcke was touring the airbases looking for talented pilots for his newly formed “Jasta 2” (“Jagdstaffel 2” or Fighter Squadron #2) and Manfred was chosen on the spot.

The Oswald Boelcke documentary 2019 - Home | Facebook
Oswald Boelcke

Oswald Boelcke was an extremely talented fighter pilot, during the war he developed a series of tactics and maneuvers and published them as a study called “Dicta Boelcke”. Some of those rules are still relevant nowadays. As the Squadron Leader of the “Jasta 2” Boelcke passed on his expertise to all his pilots and the guys revered him as some kind of god. Oswald was a national hero and considered to be the best pilot not only in Germany but in the World. According to Manfred own words: “Whatever Boelcke told us was taken as Gospel.”

Flying for the Jasta 2 Manfred finally found his real purpose in the war, he became an accomplished fighter pilot and started to accumulate victories.

After some time Richthofen earned a superstar status in the squadron and naturally, he acquired some rather weird traditions. For example, for every plane he shot down, he had a Berlin jeweler make him a small silver cup. However, after 60 of these, the jeweler was forced to tell him he could no longer make them due to a silver shortage. He also had the habit of following his victims down when possible and collecting some sort of souvenir from their totaled plane or lifeless body. But following the “Medieval Knight” tradition, all the enemy pilots shot down over German territory received full military funerals.

The Baron’s Machines

The name Red Baron is immediately associated with the bright red triplane, that is the image we have logged in our memories, but Manfred von Richthofen actually flew a variety of fighter planes.

Albatros “D” Series

Albatros D.V - Wikipedia
Albatros DV, 1917

The fighter Manfred flew the most was the Albatros “D” series (from DII to DV). This plane was the main German fighter from 1914 until 1917, it was fast, well-armed and quite reliable.

  • Engine: Mercedes-Benz, 6 cylinder in-line, 9,400cc, 200HP
  • Gross weight: 987Kg.
  • Max. speed: 188Km/h (117Miles/h)
  • Service ceiling: 18,000 ft
  • Armament: Pair of Schwarzlose 8mm machine guns, mounted on top of the engine hood, firing in synchronicity through the propeller. 500 rounds each.

After the death of Qswald Boelcke in October 1916, Manfred became the top German Ace and just like his mentor, he also became a national hero.

Airco D.H.2 ExCC.jpg
Airco DH 2 British fighter.

On 23 November 1916, Richthofen flew against his most formidable foe, British Ace Major Lance Hawker, described by Richthofen as “the British Boelcke”. After a long dogfight, Hawker was shot in the back of the head as he attempted to escape back to his own lines.  After the combat, Richthofen flew back to his base victorious but he knew one thing: Hawker fought in disadvantage, he was flying an older version of the DH 2 (picture above), far inferior to the Albatros DII, Manfred was convinced that he needed a fighter aircraft with more agility, even if would come with a loss of speed. In the following months he switched to the newer versions of the Albatros fighter and he even tried the Halberstadt DII.

Halberstadt D.II (Aviatik) no. 605/16 | Biplane, Wwi, Ww1 aircraft
1917 Halberstadt DII

The Imperial Army Air Service decided it was the right time to make Manfred a Squadron Leader, on January 16, 1917, Captain Von Richthofen was promoted as Commanding Officer of the “Jasta 11”. Once again his flamboyant persona played a big role in his career, to commemorate his promotion he ordered his Albatros to be painted in red and without knowing that was his first step toward immortality.

Sopwith Camel, attacked by a fighter Albatros DV “red Baron” Manfred von richtofen, 1917.
The Red Baron makes another victim, this time a British Sopwith Camel

In no time the red Albatros made Manfred even more famous, the French called him “Le Petit Rouge” (The Little Red) and at home, in Germany, he was known as “Der Rote Pilot” (The Red Pilot). Since his title as Baron was legit, it was just a meter of time for him to became The red Baron.

All this new notoriety was good for the German war propaganda and a boost to Manfred’s ego but also made him a prized target, the allied anti-aircraft gunners naturally concentrated their fire on the little red fighter and the allied pilots also gave a special treatment in pursuit to Manfred. The pilots at the “Jasta 11” tried to convince him to go back to the standard livery but he refused. In an effort to divert the attention from Manfred’s plane some pilots also painted their machines in red. Some other bright colors were adopted as well such as yellow, purple and orange.

Some of the members the Jasta 11. Lothar Richthofen is sitting on the ground and his brother Manfred in the cockpit.

On 6 March 1917, Manfred’s brother Lothar joined “Jasta 11” and by that time Manfred had become a true leader, a cool, calculating pilot, in contrast with his brother, an impulsive and aggressive pilot. The German high command appreciated the propaganda value of two Richthofen’s fighting together in the same “Jasta”.

The Flying Circus.

On June 24, 1917, the Imperial Air Command created the “Jagdgeschwader I” or in short “JG I”, it was a fighter wing composed by four “Jastas” (4, 6, 10 and 11) and Manfred was promoted as commanding officer of the new unit. He was only 24 years old.

The “JG I” was highly mobile, planes could rapidly be disassembled and loaded into trains with spare parts, fuel, and ammunition and then sent to different battlefronts and upon arrival, the soldiers would set the base with tents. All that resembles the same logistics used by traveling circus and that is the reason the unit became known as “The Flying Circus” or “The Richthofen’s Circus”. Of course the bight colors of the aircraft helped to consolidate name.

A Close Call.

Richthofen sustained a serious head wound on 6 July 1917; during a combat, a bullet grazed his head causing instant disorientation and temporary partial blindness. He regained his vision in time to ease the aircraft out of a spin and execute a forced landing in a field in friendly territory. The injury required multiple operations to remove bone splinters from the impact area.

During his time in convalescing he wrote his autobiography “Der Rote Kampfflieger”  (The Red Fighter Pilot, 1917) but scholars believe the manuscript was heavily altered by the German military and therefore it is not a reliable source of information.

At this time Manfred von Richthofen was already a legend and his superiors feared that losing him in battle would be a big blow to the morale of the German people. The Air Service offered him a desk job, which he obviously refused.

The Red Baron returned to active service against doctor’s orders on 25 July 1917, his wound is thought to have caused lasting damage; he later often suffered from post-flight nausea and headaches, as well as a change in temperament. There is a linking of this injury with his eventual death.

Fokker “Dr” Series

Fokker DR.1 Triplane - [THE RED BARON] - Virtual Pilot 3D™ [2020]

In September 1917 all the German fighter units started receiving the new Fokker DR I Triplane, the machine that would forever be attached to the image of the “Red Baron”.

The plane was a nice surprise for all the German pilots, even if it was slower and less powerful than the Albatros, the Fokker was way more maneuverable.

  • Engine: Oberursel 9 cylinder radial-rotary, 16,300cc, air-cooled, 110HP. *(see note)
  • Gross weight: 586kg.
  • Max. speed: 160Km/h (99Miles/h)
  • Sevice ceiling: 20,0000ft.
  • Armament: 2x Spandau 8mm machine guns, 500 rounds each.
  • *Note: The radial-rotary engine (not to be confused with the Wankel rotary engine) is an interesting concept in which the crankshaft is attached to the airframe and the whole engine spins with the propeller. To better understand how it works please check the video: https://youtu.be/W3elogQimk4
Manfred’s Fokker ] Serial 152/17, in which he obtained three victories, was displayed at the Zeughaus museum in Berlin. This aircraft was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid during World War II

Most of the pilots fell in love with the agility of the new fighter, but the plane had some serious flaws. It was rushed into production and the quality control at the Fokker assembly line was really poor and quite a few triplanes were delivered with structural weaknesses. The Air Service reported multiple accidents as a result of broken wings and in some cases the whole fuselage folded in half. Fokker eventually fixed the problems in the later models of the “Dr”. Out of the Manfred’s 80 victories, only 3 were achieved while flying Fokker triplane.

The End

The Jagdgeschwader I was the most effective fighter wing in the WWI, from June 1917 until November 1918, JG I claimed 644 Allied aircraft destroyed, while losing 52 pilots killed in action and 67 wounded. But was during the time Richthofen was in command that the JG I became truly legendary.

Richthofen’s final battle happened on 21 April 1918 while flying over Morland Ridge near the Somme River, in France, while engaging a few Royal Air Force fighters flown by Canadian Airmen.

The Australians proudly showing parts of the Red Baron’s Fokker.

During a fierce dogfight, Manfred and his cousin Wolfran von Richthofen pushed a couple of Canadian pilots to a field near the village of Vaux-sur-Somme, France, in a sector defended by the Australian Imperial Force. Since the aircraft were flying in low altitude, the Australian infantry open fire against the Germans and a few minutes later they witnessed the red triplane landing on the field.

The autopsy revealed that a single .303 bullet hit Richthofen, damaging his heart and lungs so severely that it must have caused a quick death. In the last seconds of his life, he managed to retain sufficient control to make a rough landing.

The Royal Air Force credited the flight commander, Canadian Captain Arthur “Roy” Brown with shooting down the Red Baron, but it is now generally agreed that the bullet which hit Richthofen was fired from the Australian soldiers on the ground.

The Unknown Warriors on Twitter: "Australian Flying Corp fire a ...

The nearest Allied air unit was the No 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps and assumed responsibility for the Baron’s remains.

21 April 1918 | Manfred von richthofen, World war one

Manfred von Richthofen was buried in the cemetery at the village of Bertangles, near Amiens, France, on April 22, 1918. Six Australian airmen with the rank of Captain — the same rank as Richthofen — served as pallbearers, and a guard of honor from the squadron’s other ranks fired a salute.

He was later moved to a cemetery in Berlin. By 1930s, the Nazi government placed a huge monument to honor the notorious German pilot. After the war, the grave fell on the Soviet side of Berlin and the communist government tore down the monument. In the early 1970s the family moved the Baron one last time to the family plot in Wiesbaden. Each year there is a memorial service around the anniversary of when he was shot down. 

The Renault Alpine

Le Mans, 1952; besides all the financial hardship of the “post-war” era in Europe, a good gathering of the most significant sports-car brands were there: Ferrari, Jaguar, Lancia, Aston-Martin, Talbot, Cunningham and perhaps the most coveted presence that year was the return of the Mercedes-Benz to Le Mans after 22 years of absence. The Germans brought three “W-194”, the gorgeous prototype that later became the iconic 300-SL “Gullwing”, but this might be the subject for another post here at TCM.

The 1-2 Mercedes-Benz victory at Le Mans, 1952

Going down to the smaller engine classes we would see some French brands like Gordini, Peugeot and Renault and among them there was a tiny Renault 4CV, driven by a guy named Jean Rédélé, who would finish the race in 17th overall, a very good result by the way.

The 1952 Le Mans was only one more chapter in Rédélé’s career, throughout his life he had competed all over Europe, from the Dieppe Rally to the Monte Carlo Rally; from the Mille Miglia in Italy to Le Mans in France. After a short period of time he became a truly accomplished driver and a good team manager, always behind the wheel of a Renault.

All this loyalty to the brand is easily explained: his father Emile had served as a mechanic for the Renault first ‘factory’ racing efforts and was subsequently granted a dealership in the seaside town of Dieppe.

In 1946, after graduating in business, Jean got a job at Renault where he distinguished himself with his hard work, catching the eye of CEO Pierre Dreyfus. As a result, he was appointed Renault’s official dealer in Dieppe, at the young age of 24.

Rédélé at Monte Carlo Rally, 1951

Rédélé truly believed that whatever wins on Sunday will sell on Monday and for him, as a passionate race driver, it was an easy job to promote his dealership at the race track.

His car of choice was the 750cc rear-engined Renault 4CV, one of the most popular French cars during the 50s. He not only had the support of his own dealership but Renault itself was providing him with some “race-ready” engines. The displacement was getting bigger, from the original 748cc to 845cc, the package would be complete with aluminum head, twin carbs, a spiced up valve cam, and higher compression ratio, the peak power of those engines was around 45HP. The Rédélé’s team was at this point facing an interesting problem: the original 3-speed gearbox from the 4CV wasn’t enough to handle all the power and torque of the new engines; the solution came when Rédélé and his race partner Louis Pons (also a Renault dealership owner) prepared his cars with a five-speed gearbox licensed from André-Georges Claude.

The little beast.

Now the little machine was ready to face even bigger opponents. Jean Rédélé won the first edition of the Dieppe Rally and after that his team started to collect good results all over Europe, not only in rallies but also in endurance races as well.

The team came to the point where there wasn’t much left to modify on the 4CV to make it faster, they came to the conclusion the only thing that was holding up the car’s performance was the car itself.

Designed for the modern European family.

The 4CV had the typical design of the European cars from the 50s, tinny but “bulky”, not exactly the kind of car you would expect to see on a race track. It was light but of course it could be even lighter and definitely more aerodynamic.

The Beginning of Alpine.

What Rédélé needed was a sports-car and since Renault had nothing like that in his catalog at the time, he went to the right people looking for help: the Italians. He got a deal with the emerging stylist Giovanni Michelotti and from this endeavor was born the Renault Spéciale.

1953 Renault Spéciale at Ruen.

The aluminum body was built by coachbuilder Allemano, in Turin, Italy and the cars were put together by Rédélé’s team in Dieppe. The car’s debut was at the 1953 Dieppe Rally and it score a overall win, leaving behind the more powerful Porsches and Jaguars.

Mille Miglia, 1953

Renault was overseeing the production of the Spéciale to the public but they just couldn’t keep up with the demand.

During the 50s, America was in love with the European Sports-Cars and Renault tried to cash in. They realized it would be too costly to import the whole car, so they came up with this idea: to produce the body in fiberglass in the USA and bring only the chassis and power-train from France. They even renamed the car “Marquis” to be more appealing to the English speaker customers. Above is a piece of advertisement giving emphasis on the three major victories of the car in 53/54: Dieppe Rally, Rouen Cup, and Lisbon Circuit. Unfortunately the enterprise never went further than the advertisement and not a single Marquis was produced in North America.

In 1954, Rédélé was once again at the wheel of a Renault 4CV and he won the Mille Miglia and the Critérium des Alpes. He had a special predilection for competing in the Alps and that passion would play a big role in the future when he had to choose a name for his new car.

1955 Alpine A106

Also in 1954 Rédélé’s father-in-law Charles Escoffier, another Renault dealer (yes, it was just like a big family), had commissioned his own sports coupe based on the 4CV. The body, this time in fiberglass, was the work of French coachbuilder Chappe et Gessalin.

The original Michelloti’s design was way more beautiful and refined but the new one was cheaper and had the patriotic factor that it was a creation of a French company. On top of that there was family pressure. Finally, Rédélé gave up and on July 6, 1955, he formalized a partnership with his father-in-law and the “Societé des Automobiles Alpine” was born. He didn’t choose the body design but at least he chose the name.

To prove the intentions of this new company were serious, the very first three A106 produced were sent to the courtyard of Renault’s Boulogne Billancourt headquarters. The cars were painted in the colors of the French flag, the CEOs were pleased with the display and also impressed with the quality of the cars. The big bosses gave Rédélé green light to start the production of the A106.

The Mille Miles

The most desired A106 was the coach “Mile Miles”, the car was equipped with a stronger suspension (4 shocks in the rear), competition engine and 5-speed gearbox. The “5 speed” A106 was not a very popular choice since the gearbox alone cost as much as a brand new 4CV.

In 1956 Renault had released the successor of the 4CV, the Dauphine. As expected the new car was a huge improvement compared with the 4CV, it has better brakes, better handling, the 760cc engine was replaced by an 830cc with an improved cooling system. Renault kept the same concept of rear-engine/rear-wheel drive of the 4CV, but the new car was structurally stronger.

Suddenly, Alpine had a better platform for its coupes and naturally, that was the perfect time for an update on the A106. The project for the new car sparked a little battle of egos between the top CEOs: Rédélé wanted to bring “Michelloti” back to the drawing table, his father-in-law wanted to keep “Chappe et Gessalin” working for Alpine and the top guys at Renault wanted to give the job to the “Studio Ghia” in Italy.

As the battle progressed, a few prototypes from all 3 coach-builders were produced, but in the end, Rédélé won the war and Michelotti had the opportunity to draw the new Alpine.

The 1956 Alpine A106

Michelotti’s first official prototype was a gorgeous cabriolet version and the car proved the Jean Rédélé’s choice was the best one.

1958 Renault Floride

The Ghia prototype wasn’t that bad either and the design eventually saw the production line, not as an Alpine but as the Renault Floride/Caravelle.

The new Alpine was named A108 and the production car was a bit different from the prototype, the front facia became more aerodynamic. The car lost a bit of its original elegance but gained an aura of “race ready” sports-car. The 108 was produced from 1958 to 1962 in France and from 1962 to 1967 in South America.

The A108 was offered in 3 different versions:

The convertible

The coupe

And the Fastback officially called “Berlinette”.

Throughout the A108 life, the Berlinette was the most popular version, not only among regular customers but especially among the race teams.

The Renault Dauphine was a huge success, between 1956 and 1967, more than 2 million units were sold. The car was produced all over Europe, Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania; it was a global car even before the term was created, but the brand Alpine wasn’t as easy to sell: the car was expensive and not practical for a family, just like any other sports car in the World. The A108 was exported to all over Europe but just a few landed in North America since we aren’t actually very fond of French cars, but there was another market that was waiting for a European sports car: South America.

Both models, the Dauphine and the A108 were produced in Brazil from 1962 to 1967 through a very unusual partnership with the American automaker Willys Overland.

The Dauphine was renamed Willys “Gordini”, a name deeply related to Renault as we will see later on.

A108 being built at Willys Overland assembly line. Sāo Paulo – Brazil – 1962

The A108 was renamed: Willys “Interlagos”, to honor the most famous race track in South America.

The Interlagos had a very successful racing career in Brazil, especially the ones that competed for the official Willys race team. The cars were painted in a very patriotic yellow and green livery, the same colors of the Brazilian flag.

Performance

The A108/ Interlagos was powered by the 830cc, 4 cylinder Renault engine called “Ventoux”, attached to a really good 4-speed transmission. The engine was capable to produce 40hp for the street version, it might not sound much nowadays but was pretty impressive at the time, just to give an idea, at that time, the Germans only got 36hp out of the 1200cc Beetle engine. But the little “Ventoux” has some serious limitations and the worst of them was the crankshaft was supported by only 3 main bearings, which means the engine is prone to failure under severe abuse.

The little French car could go from 0 to 100 km/h in 26 seconds and reach the max. speed of 160 km/h. The real trick here wasn’t much the power but lightweight, the A108 weighs only 575 kg.

1962 Renault R8

In 1962 Renault unveiled the Dauphine’s substitute: the R8. The car would be the last one built on the concept of rear-engine/rear wheel by the French automaker. The R8 was equipped with a completely new 1100cc engine with 60 hp output and the crankshaft now sits on 5 main bearings. This new engine, called “Cléon-Fonte”, proved to be tough as nail, being able to withstand some severe punishment.

The R8 also brought some innovations to the market, it was the first car in Europe to offer a full sealed coolant system, and for a car intended to the economy class, the customers had some interesting options like 4 wheels disc brakes and automatic transmission.

Alpine had now some really good equipment to create a killer substitute for the A108.

The Legend.

In 1961 the Alpine A110 prototype was already done. Jean Rédélé tried to keep as much as possible of the original A108 design for the new car.

Besides the addition of fog lamps, the other visible difference with the A108 was restyled rear bodywork. Done to accommodate the A110’s larger engine.

The Wizard.

The new 1100cc engine wasn’t only larger in displacement, it was larger in its dimensions too. The engine block is really robust, with thick walls between the cylinders. It seems Renault had one thing in mind when designed this engine: to make race teams able to machine the block to increase displacement, and that was good news to one guy in special: Amédée Gordini.

Gordini was an Italian born race-driver/engine-technician that worked as a mechanic for Maserati in the early 1920s. In 1926 he moved to Paris where he proved to be a more talented mechanic than race-driver. He worked tunning race engines for the French FIAT and SIMCA and became so good that the teams called him the “Wizard”.

Dauphine-Gordini

But only when Gordini was working for Renaut that he reached the peak of his career. His team was responsible to prepare specially tuned street engines for the A106, A108 and A110 and also race engines for both brands, Renault and Alpine.

Gordini became the performance brand for Renault, something like what AMG does for Mercedes-Benz.

The A110 at Monte Carlo Rally, 1971

The “Wizard” didn’t waste time when he received the new 1100cc R8 engine, quickly he increased the displacement to 1300cc and with a few more tricks the engine was pumping out 120 hp, more than enough to push the A110 to a top speed of 190 Km/h and from 0 to 100 Km/h in less than 12 secs. Rédélé and Gordini had one target for all this firepower: Porsche; the Alpine A110 was capable to leave a Porsche 356 eating dust on any given day.

Team Alpine at Le Mans, 1968

The A110 excellent performance became well known at the race tracks around the world but was at rally racing the car proved to be a real warrior.

The engines didn’t stop getting bigger, from 1300cc they grew to 1500cc, 1600cc and 1800cc. The 1800cc Gordini engines were able to produce 220 hp.

San Remo Rally, 1973

The A110 started to collect local rally victories all over Europe, and Alpine won the World Rally Manufacturer Championship in 1971 and 1973. Alpine was the last “production” car to win the WRC. In 1974 Lancia won the Championship with the mid-engine Stratos which was the first car designed specifically for rally racing.

1977 A110 at the showroom

Alpine kept the production of the A110 until 1977 with few changes from the original. The car was also produced in Mexico, Bulgaria, Spain. In total 1,782 A110 were sold all over the world.

The Replacement

1979 Alpine A310

Since 1971 Alpine was producing the A310, the car supposed to carry on the heritage of its predecessors. From 1971 to 1976 it was equipped with the same 1800cc four-cylinder engine of the A110. Being larger, heavier, and no more powerful than its predecessor, the A310 was generally considered underpowered and the customers showed little interest in the car.

In 1977 a new A310 model hit the showrooms across Europe, equipped with 150 hp, 2.9-liter V6 engine. The performance improved and so did the sales but still wasn’t enough to recreate the magic of the A110.

In 1984, the last year of production, only 500 A310 were sold across Europe while Porsche sold 1,600 units of the 911 model.

The End

The oil crisis of the 1970s made a number of victims and Alpine almost became one of them, in order to save the brand, Renault acquired 70% of the company in 1973.

The new owner immediately dissolved the Alpine’s competition department which was one of the financial wounds of the company. Racing would no longer be a priority for the future Alpine cars.

2018 Renault RS 18

But the lessons learned by Renault during decades of competition resulted in the powerhouse Formula 1 team that we know now today.

1990 Renault Alpine GTA.

Renault tried to keep the Alpine name alive as much as possible and some models like the 1990s GTA, equipped with a twin-turbo V6 was actually a decent sports car but it failed to bring back the customers. By 1995 the name Alpine vanished from the market.

The Resurrection.

Past and present.

At the 2017 Geneva Auto Show, Renault presented to the world a modern interpretation of the legendary A110.

The new Alpine is a gorgeous sports coupé with the right combination of modern design and styling cues from the original Michelotti’s masterpiece.

Following the Jean Rédélé’s recipe for speed, the new Alpine weighs only 1,100 kg, thanks to a platform and body made of aluminum.

As expected, Renault abandoned the rear-engine layout of the original A108/A110 for the mid-engine concept instead, drastically improving the car’s driving dynamic. The new A110 is powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 250 horses and 236 lb-ft of torque, the little French coupe will zip from 0-100 Km/h in just 4.5 seconds. The engine is attached to a 7-speed dual-clutch, pedal-shift transmission.

2018 Alpine GT4

Renault is wisely using competition once again to boost sales, in 2018 the company released the track version GT4, powered by a specially tuned 1800cc turbo engine pumping out 300 hp.

Reviving the long-dormant brand was a gamble for Renault in an era of declining sports-car sales, but the retro-styled A110 has proved to be a hit since being unveiled in March 2017.

This demand has created a backlog stretching 14 months, in response Alpine has increased the production from 15 to 20 cars a day and they are ready to create another shift at the Dieppe assembly line if the high demand continues.

Renault has done a terrific job bringing the Alpine brand back. The new A110 lives up to the original models, it has the style, the personality, and the performance to carry on the Alpine heritage to the next generation of customers.