A Tribute to the Late Brock Yates

Brock Yates passed away a few weeks ago. If by chance the name is not familiar, he had a long career as a writer and editor for Car & Driver magazine, and wrote over a dozen books on cars, auto racing, and the automotive industry. His most infamous “accomplishment”, however, may be as the chief instigator of the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, a recurring stunt which led him to write the screenplays for the movies Smokey and the Bandit II and The Cannonball Run.

 

When I was a senior in high school, the March 1972 copy of Car & Driver magazine arrived home. In it was the story of the running of the first Cannonball race, which was held in November 1971. As an impressionable young lad who was car-crazy and had traveled no farther from my Staten Island home than the Catskills of upstate NY, the idea of hopping into a car, any car, and racing from New York to California absolutely infatuated me. I brought the magazine to school, showed it to the few buddies whom I thought might be interested, and read and re-read the story on my bus-subway-and-ferry commute. To this day, it is perhaps my favorite article ever published in a magazine.

 

Yates, with co-driver Dan Gurney (talk about a ringer), won in a Ferrari Daytona, making the trip in under 36 hours at an average speed of 80 miles per hour. (Favorite quote: “Masterful driving by Gurney negotiates the extremely dangerous stretches of Route 89 through the Prescott National Forest and the Cliffside highway at Yarnell with relative ease. Yates proves ‘Ban don’t wear off’.”) The other entrants were almost as interesting, and included a Cadillac, an AMX, and several full-size vans. Reading the story again reminds one of both Yates’ determination to change the world, and his own naiveté in thinking that this was the way to do it. (In his C&D columns, he frequently argued that driving was a quicker way to cover long distances than flying.)

 

Five years later, I completed my first coast-to-coast drive, although it was no race, and it was in a Volvo. My fascination with Ferraris reaches back to this story, and a few short years ago, the very Daytona piloted by Yates and Gurney was on display at Carlisle. It was no small thrill to see it in the metal.

 

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The entire article is scanned from my original copy, and is attached as 8 PDFs. Take a few moments to read it, then lift your glass to the memory of Brock Yates.

Back to Print: True’s Automobile Yearbook for 1960

Car magazines and books are a weakness of mine. My automotive library hold hundreds of car books, and hundreds of various magazine titles. I’ve written in the past of the Car & Driver collection which extends back to the early 1960s. Every year for the past 30+ years, when attending the Carlisle and Hershey flea markets, I am on the lookout for a hardcover or softcover treasure to take home.

Several years ago, a visit to a “$2 bargain bin” at Carlisle yielded this treasure: True magazine’s annual Automobile Yearbook, with none other than Uncle Tom McCahill on the cover. (True, also known as “True, The Man’s Magazine”, was published from 1937 to 1974 by Fawcett Publications. During the 1950s, famous automotive author Ken Purdy was its editor.)

The year 1960 was a watershed year in the U.S. car business, as the Big Three domestic manufacturers each introduced a compact car to fight the growing import car invasion. One vehicle each from GM, Ford, and Chrysler made the cover, but the only compact to do so was the Corvair. Note the picture caption: by mentioning “rear-engine”, perhaps it was seen as Detroit’s best shot to beat Volkswagen at its own game.

 

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The article “Detroit: 1960”, written by McCahill, summarizes the market-share drubbing the big boys were facing, and not just from the imports, but from Rambler and the Studebaker Lark too. As the decade was dawning, these executives were counting on the accuracy of their prediction that the compacts would account for 20% of the new car market. As we know now, it was impossible for them to see what else was in store: intermediate-sized cars, pony cars, government regulations, and further penetration by non-American makes.

 

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Uncle Tom always had a way with words. In this article, he spews out some beauties, such as “… opinions as to what percentage of the market these small cars will pull are as wild as a Third Avenue saloon on Saint Patrick’s Day”; “… good imports …. appear to be put together by guys who really liked what they were doing and not counting the days until their next strike”; and “… 1960 promises to be the wildest year since Louis Chevrolet sat on a bear trap”.

Imports were still viewed as a separate category, deserving of their own story. “The Report on the Foreign Cars” article highlights the tremendous rise in market share, which increased from 1.65% in 1956, to an anticipated 10-12% by the end of 1959.

 

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More telling is this list of the “25 Best Selling Imports as of Jan. 1, 1959”. Number One is no surprise. But the 2nd best-selling car in America was French?

To those who may be seeing data like this from the late ‘50s for the first time (or for those who have not seen this in a while), there are two surprises: one, the relatively low positions of future German giants such as Mercedes-Benz (14th), BMW (19th) and Porsche (22nd); and two, the complete lack of any Asian brands in the top 25 positions.

Indeed, the vehicular landscape would change again (and again). No one would have predicted that England, which held FIVE of the top ten positions, would all but disappear from the ranks. Borgward outsold Jaguar AND Saab AND Alfa Romeo? Really?

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No car magazine from this time period would be considered complete without an article on safety. This excerpt is surprisingly accurate in listing energy-absorbing bumpers, headrests, safety belts, roll bars, and crash-absorbing front structures as features which would save lives. But it would take an act of Congress (the 1966 Motor Vehicle Safety Act) to get many of these features installed. I’ll leave it out of the discussion whether that was because consumers wouldn’t pay for them, or because the car makers preferred to emphasize styling and horsepower.

 

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AND, no car magazine from this time period would be complete without an article about… flying cars! (There was an obvious lack of articles from the 1960s about the Internet.) Perhaps it’s best these never came to pass – imagine the issues if pilots were distracted by their cell phones.

 

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EPILOGUE: The Milesmaster Fuel Pressure Regulator, only $6.95, guaranteed.

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Scans are from “TRUE’S Automobile Yearbook for 1960”, which is in the author’s personal collection.

Back to print: the March 1964 issue of Car and Driver magazine

In an earlier blog entry, I shared some scans from the March 1967 issue of Car and Driver magazine, my first issue after my father had gifted me with a subscription. However, this is not the oldest issue of C&D in my possession. All during the ‘80s and ‘90s, while attending automotive flea markets, I added to the collection by purchasing older issues.

The cover illustration from March of '64 is pure fantasy
The cover illustration from March of ’64 is pure fantasy

For this posting, I pulled out one of the more infamous issues, from March of 1964. Note that the cover illustration is a painting, not a photo. That is because the acts it depicts, a Ferrari GTO racing a Pontiac GTO, is a work of fiction. But that, combined with the headline, created quite a stir among performance car fans. How can you not appreciate the audacity of this subtitle: “Ferrari never built enough GTOs to earn the name anyway – just to be on the safe side, though, Pontiac built a faster one”.

GTO road test page 1
GTO road test page 1

The complete road test is reprinted here for your reading pleasure. It is interesting how the editors did not shy away from some truths, first, that they did indeed make concerted efforts to arrange a side-by-side comparison of these iconic automobiles, but were unable to coordinate it; and an outright admission that their test cars had been “modified” by a Michigan dealer, Royal Pontiac, who made changes to carburetion, compression, and ignition timing. Still, a published 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds for an American car in 1964 is impressive.

 

GTO road test page 2
GTO road test page 2

 

GTO road test page 3
GTO road test page 3

 

GTO road test page 4
GTO road test page 4

 

GTO road test page 5
GTO road test page 5

Other highlights from the March ’64 issue:

  • Letters to the Editor including missives from a Mr. Moss and a Mr. Purdy:
Stirling and Ken weigh in
Stirling and Ken weigh in
  • A Chevrolet Corvette ad in which the copy takes up more space than the single photo, with the text a defense of the Corvette as a true sports car as compared to its European competition:
This B&W Corvette ad has more space devoted to text than to photos
This B&W Corvette ad has more space devoted to text than to photos
  • A Chrysler ad featuring the Airflow as an argument in favor of the corporation’s advanced engineering:
A 1964 Chrysler ad featuring a 1934 Airflow
A 1964 Chrysler ad featuring a 30-year-old Airflow

 

  • The back cover is an ad for the Volvo 1800-S (note the bull horn front bumper, and a sticker price of $3995, while the GTO has an as-tested price of $3377)
The Volvo ad, in full color on the back cover, must have been pricey
The Volvo ad, in full color on the back cover, must have been pricey

 

Scans are from the March 1964 edition of Car and Driver magazine which is in the author’s personal collection.

 

The 1967 Jaguar XK-E New Car Sales Brochure

My parents certainly were tolerant of my boyhood fascination with automobiles. It was bad enough that instead of watching TV, I was building 1/25 scale models; and instead of studying, I was sketching tomorrow’s designs. My appetite for reading, which began when my dad took me at age 6 to the New York Public Library, was fed by devouring every car magazine that came into the house.

Perhaps the greatest display of parental tolerance occurred every year around September. My extremely patient mother would drive me to the local new-car dealers, where I would collect all the new car brochures I could. (In retrospect, I have a much better appreciation of how difficult it was for my mom to constantly fight off salesmen with the line “it’s for my son; he loves cars; we’re just looking”).

The annual New York Auto Show, held during the 1960s and ‘70s in the NY Coliseum at Columbus Circle, was another opportunity to add to the pile. My father loved going to the show anyway, so it was a natural for him to take me. I would sit in bed at night and pour through the pages of the sales literature, memorizing models, colors, and engines.

This, uh, obsession of collecting new car brochures continued as an adult; eventually, there were boxes and boxes of it, hardly touched by me. When I moved for the umpteenth time in the late 1990s, I cried uncle, called a good friend whom I knew would appreciate the horde, and gave it all away (Steve H., is it still in your good care?)

Well, I gave almost all of it away. There were a few, very few, pieces which were too precious to let go. This Jaguar XK-E brochure from 1967 fascinated me from the moment I picked it up. Forty-nine years later, it is just as fascinating, maybe more so. First, let us acknowledge that the Jaguar E-Type (funny to see proof here that the U.S. market did indeed call it “XK-E”) is one of the most beautiful cars ever; it consistently makes Top Ten lists when votes are tallied for best designs. (Enzo Ferrari allegedly called it “the most beautiful car ever made”). The brochure is a beautiful piece of artwork on its own, displaying this magnificent automobile.

There were no Jaguar dealers on Staten Island where I grew up, so although I have no direct recollection, I must have picked up this piece at the New York Auto Show. I’m certain I’ve had it since it was new. Compared to the typical American car sales brochure, the photography, imagery, and colors were like nothing my teenage eyes had seen before.

The brochure cover, featuring a primrose yellow 2+2
The brochure cover, featuring a primrose yellow 2+2

Start with the cover photo, showing the new 2+2 sitting on a dirt-strewn pier, surrounded by dock workers. Who were these guys? Models hired by the ad agency? I doubt it. Unlike every other car in this brochure, the primrose yellow car is RHD, so this one was likely taken in the mother country.

 

The red coupe and black roadster, showing the roadster's red interior
The red coupe and black roadster, showing the roadster’s red interior
This time, coupe in foreground, roadster in back
This time, coupe in foreground, roadster in back

Opening up the booklet (it’s six pages, three on each side, folded twice), there are two photos of a red coupe and black roadster. Your eye is drawn to the wood steering wheel, chrome wires, whitewall tires, and “JAGUAR” license plates. It is impossible not to swoon over these cars. The page between these two is devoted to the 2+2 model; pictures highlight the rear seat, automatic transmission, and ample luggage space. The text provides the line for husband to deliver to his spouse: “The XK-E 2+2 thus becomes the Jaguar family coupe.”

"It's a sports car!" "It's a family car!" "It's both!"
“It’s a sports car!” “It’s a family car!” “It’s both!”

The award for most-interesting-photo-ever-in-a-car-brochure may go to the red roadster, what, on safari? What photographer was brave enough to stand behind the lens, while several dozen bulls loitered in the background? Was it the job of the two guys on horseback to drive away the herd should they decide to charge? (I would have chosen another color for my vest.) At least the Jag, with its dirty blackwalls, looks like it was driven, not trailered, to the location.

Good thing that Jaguars can outrun bulls
Good thing that Jaguars can outrun bulls

The back page provides all the specs you could wish for. My young brain could not pronounce “monocoque”, and didn’t know its true meaning for years. And the list of optional equipment, taking up four lines of text, sharply contrasted with the typical American car brochure, which needed several pages to describe all the add-ons.

Specifications to your heart's content
Specifications to your heart’s content

 

I’ve always wanted an E-Type; like many other collector cars, their affordability always seems to be just beyond reach, as their values continually climb. In the meantime, I’ll happily stare at my 1967 XK-E brochure (make mine the red coupe please).

All scans of the “Jaguar 4.2 XK-E Coupe, Roadster & 2+2 Family Coupe” brochure are from the copy in the author’s collection.

 

 

 

 

The Fiat 124 Sport Coupe: An Abbreviated History

Last week’s blog entry on the 1970 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe which I owned for two and a half years reminded me of the lasting impact that car had on my automotive psyche. As my first European car, first Italian, and first stick-shift vehicle, it’s something I recall with fondness. Through the years, I’ve collected various publications on the 124 Sport, and piecing together last week’s posting had me referencing this printed material. So, as an epilogue of sorts, here is a short history of the three generations of this coupe with which not everyone may be very familiar!

Early print ads were stark, showing nothing more than part of the exterior, and the price
Early print ads (this from 1968) were stark, showing only part of the exterior and the price

The Sport Coupe’s mechanically-identical sister, the 124 Spider (later known as the Spider 2000), is much better known in the States for several reasons. The Coupe’s production run ended in 1975 but the Spider’s continued until 1985. Ironically, the Coupe’s production numbers far exceeded the Spider’s (278,000 vs. 210,000 worldwide), but from 1975 to 1981, the Spider was built exclusively for the U.S. market. The Fiat Spider was also part of a “last gasp” of affordable European sporty convertibles, most of which withered and died away by the end of the ‘70s (think MG B and Midget, and Triumph Spitfire, TR7, and TR8.) The typical buff book review gave high praise to the Fiat when compared to the British iron, much of which was rooted in the Sixties. Unfortunately, various mechanical ills, aided by the tin worm, resulted in many Fiat owners deciding not to repeat the ownership experience.

 

The 124 Coupe, for those requiring four seats under all-weather protection, was the more attractive offering compared to the Spider. The car was built in 3 series, internally known as AC, BC, and CC (“A” Coupe, “B” Coupe, and “C” Coupe). The basic body shell and greenhouse carried over; front and rear styling was tweaked with each succeeding generation. The wonderful Lampredi-designed DOHC inline-4 grew from 1438cc to 1608cc, and finally to 1756cc.

 

The first-gen coupe (AC) was officially built from 1967 to 1969 (U.S. sales began in 1968). Preferred by many for its clean design, the front end had dual headlights and a sharply sloping hood. Tail lights were simple horizontal affairs on a vertical back panel. The airy greenhouse was distinguished by rear quarter glass larger than the door glass. The instrument panel centered two large round dials in front of the driver, with smaller round gauges to the side.

The first generation "AC" 124 Coupe is considered the best-looking by many
The first generation “AC” 124 Coupe is considered the best-looking by many

In 1970, the BC model saw a significantly revised front end, now with quad headlights. The car’s front bore more than a passing resemblance to the Fiat Dino Coupe. The tail lights were larger, but the sheetmetal to which they attached did not change. Minor refinements to the interior were noticeable only if one parked the old model next to the new one.

Straight-on front and rear shots of the 2nd gen "BC" model
Straight-on front and rear shots of the 2nd gen “BC” model

Model year 1973 Coupes, the “CC” models, again brought front and rear styling changes. The headlights were set into their own panels, and the grille was recessed, with a dual-step front bumper below it all. To most eyes, the front end was too “busy” compared to the clean predecessors. The trunk lid opening extended down to the bumper, greatly reducing liftover height, but this required the tail lights to become vertical elements, moved to the outer edges of the quarter panels. Convenience was gained at the expense of looks. While many felt that the changes were necessary to keep this aging model looking “current”, 1975 was the end of the line for the Sport Coupe.

The 124 Coupe CC model; the book agrees that it's not the most attractive version
The 124 Coupe CC model; the book agrees that it’s not the most attractive version

This 124 Full-Line brochure from 1972 includes the 124 sedan and wagon, both of which used the OHV-4 engine. By grouping them together, Fiat was undoubtedly trying to allow some of the sportiness of their Coupe and Spider to rub off on the more pedestrian offerings.

Today, it’s rather easy to find a 124 Spider/Spider 2000 for sale; amazingly, the survival rate is high enough that eBay or Craigslist will put one up on your mobile screen in a matter of moments. (Condition of said find is another matter.) You’ll have no such luck with the Coupe version. Yes, they’re out there, but so is a small and rabid contingent of collectors who see the goodness in these little cars. Those who own one tend to hold onto it. Values aren’t going anywhere; but it’s nice to know that Fiat’s long-lost classic Coupe has its admirers.

 

Stats and photos for this blog entry taken from "Essential Fiat 124 Spider & Coupe" by Martin Buckley (in the author's collection)
Stats and photos for this blog entry taken from “Essential Fiat 124 Spider & Coupe” by Martin Buckley (in the author’s collection)

Back To Print: Car and Driver, March 1967

In March of 1967, for my 13th birthday, I was given a subscription to CAR and DRIVER magazine. I already had been reading everything I could on the topic of automobiles. Up until this point, the majority of that had been my dad’s Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines. While their automotive articles were good, they encompassed but a fraction of those magazines’ editorial content.

 
It was my father who selected C&D among the then-available buff books; it was a decision which profoundly affected and still influences the way I think about automobiles. CAR and DRIVER, in 1967 under the helm of David E. Davis Jr., was already displaying a slant toward European machinery and away from American iron. They were also several years into embracing a tone of irreverence, in part fed by 1960s counter-culture, that would grow stronger in the decade of the 1970s.

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My first issue of CAR and DRIVER magazine, March 1967. Mailing label still attached. 

I recently plucked that March of ’67 issue from the bookshelf for a revisit. Their preference may have been sporty European cars, but they were also in the business of selling magazines (at 60 cents per copy), so the newly-announced 1967 Pontiac Firebird graced the cover. The statistics page at the end of the Firebird road test swings between factual calculations (0-60 in 5.8 sec.), and a “Check List” which uses “excellent”, “very good”, “good”, “fair”, and “poor” for its subjective ratings. Nice to know that the “synchro action” was excellent, while the “trunk space” was poor.

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This says there were 3,450 Pontiac dealers in the U.S. in 1967.

C&D regularly featured articles on personalities and/or topics related to, but not necessarily directly about, cars. Case in point was this article about the photographer Pete Biro. The sharpness of the color photos I find especially enthralling.

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Pete Biro: One Man Show
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Jim Hall and Don Garlits
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Rodriguez in the Ferrari, and Hill in the BRM

Some of the real fun in browsing through an almost-50-year-old magazine is re-reading the advertising. The Volvo ad for the 122 uses the “Stronger Than Dirt” tag line which Volvo aficionados know well. But look at the fine print: “Stronger than dirt copyright Colgate Palmolive, used with permission”. The Porsche ad, like Volvo’s, quotes a 3rd party source for credibility. With prices ranging from $4790 to $6990, these German sports machines were expensive cars, especially compared to other cars featured in ads in this issue such as the Renault 10 for $1647, the Fiat 124 for $1798, and the MGB/GT for $3095.

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Volvo print ad from 1967
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Porsche print ad from 1967

By contrast, note that these two ads from domestic manufacturers are in color. Bigger ad budget perhaps? The Camaro ad pointedly attacks the perceived discomfort and unreliability of other (unnamed European) sports cars, finishing off with “… and go show those purists”. The biggest surprise in the magazine for me is this ad: “Mercury, the Man’s Car”. Really? Try that today. Nevertheless, they still attempt a tie-in with the overseas competition by informing you that “European elegance comes to Cougar Country in Mercury’s Car of the Year”.

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Camaro print ad from 1967

scan337cccCougar print ad from 1967

Bringing up the rear is “The Classified Marketplace”. While Road & Track magazine’s classified section was probably better-known (and more likely to contain exotic sports cars), there are still interesting tidbits here at CAR and DRIVER. Among them are a Lancia Flaminia for $1100, a ’63 Porsche 90 coupe for best offer over $3000, and a 1934 Rolls-Royce for $1450 FOB England. My favorite is the picture ad which ran in C&D for years: “A Playboy’s Dream”, the Volvo 1800 convertible. With all my years around the product, I’ve rarely seen one in the metal, which makes me wonder how many were made, and how many survive?

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The Classified Marketplace

This glance back to March of 1967 was fun, and I think we’ll do this again with other ancient periodicals that may be in the collection.

 

All scans are from the March 1967 issue of CAR and DRIVER magazine; the copy of the magazine is from the author’s collection.