Auto Makers: US Startups (Part 4F)

The best way to tackle Car Manufacturers in the US is to break them up by category. Let’s start with the big three, and within those we’ll take on one parent company per post. Later in this series we’ll get to some of the the start ups and those that have been phased out or gone out of business.

Tesla

Vital Stats: 2004–present, Headquartered in Austin, TX, USA (on Tesla Road, BTW).

The above statement is a tad misleading. Tesla Motors Inc. was born in July 1, 2003 in San Carlos, CA. The Tesla Motors Part lasted until February 2017 when the company was reborn as a Texan.

Noteworthy: Tesla was named after Nicola Tesla, the Romanian super genius who immigrated to America and invented the US invented the Induction Engine and A/C Generator, which were stolen from him by American Industrialist Thomas Edison. You’d think they’d make Tesla cars with 4 Induction Engines (1 per tire) wired in series, giving it 4 wheel drive, four wheel steering and auto power regeneration–but Elon doesn’t consult the Kicker before designing his cars.

Best know as a car maker, Tesla also manufactures related products like home batteries, and solar panels as well as charging stations for their vehicles. The drive behind Tesla is clean energy. While electric vehicles currently use whatever power their local grid provides–by and large fossil fuels–they have created a mode of transportation that doesn’t create emissions in and of itself, which can honestly claim to be doing a big part toward an environmentally friendly future. (If you ignore how much pollution is created mining and making batteries.)

Prototype Roadster

The world’s most valuable automaker with a market capitalization of more than US$760 billion, Tesla owns about 23% and 16% of the full EV and plug-in world market respectively.

Contrary to popular belief Tesla is not the brain child of Billionaire Elon Musk. It was actually incorporated by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, then essentially taken over by a $6.5 million investment by Musk in 2004. Musk’s true objective was to raise capital for a private space company, but Tesla is definitely the smartest $6 million he’s spent so far.

Musk, CEO since 2008, is not without controversy, wracking up lawsuits for creative accounting, workers rights violations, and technical issues in their autopilot. Still, with global sales of 936,222 cars in 2021, a 87% increase over the previous year, total Tesla’s sold tops 2.3 million. Tesla is one of the most successful car companies in the world, becoming the sixth US company history to reach a market capitalization over a trillion dollars in October of 2021.

Tesla Models began with a roadster, then the Model S (Sedan), the Model X (SUV), the Model 3 (first EV to sell a million units), and the Model Y (Crossover). Then of course the Cybertruck. An observant reader might notice that subtle name game–S.3.X.Y.

Tesla’s plans for the future? Cheaper cars for the less affluent in society. A Tesla motorcycle seems unlikely based on Musk’s 2018 statement, “we’re not going to do motorcycles.”

Lucid Motors

Vital Stats: 2007–present, Headquartered in Newark, CA. Founded by Bernard Tse and Sam Weng.

Following a model piloted by Elon Musk, Lucid heavily marketed their design ideas and financed part of their start up by selling slots on their waiting list before they even had a product. The first 20 got their cars the day before Halloween, 2021.

In the tradition Dodge and other American Car makers, Lucid first existed to make parts for other EV makers, as a company called Atieva. CEO Peter Rawlinson of Tesla, and Derek Jenkins formerly of Mazda, rebranded the company when they decided to make their own vehicles in 2016, with some investment from  Tsing CapitalMitsuiVenrockJAFCO, among others.

The Lucid Air

Lucid picked Casa Grande, AZ, as their US manufacturing base, and built a plant projected to make a maximum capacity of 380,000 cars per year. It opened 2 years late, but that’s not too bad considering red tape, pandemics and the like. Lucid was acquired by a Saudi Investment fund and has since merged with  Churchill Capital Corp IV, a publicly traded investment fund. The resulting nearly $12 billion investment will complete the factory through phase 4 and allow them to develop their Project Gravity SUV by 2023, then try to start competing with Tesla’s Model 3.

If you feel like $12 billion is a big investment for a company that’s only sold a few hundred cars, you may want to ask your financial advisor where your 401K is. In the mean time, it’ hard to get a feel for how successful this company will be, but it’s poised to make the next few billionaires.

Rivian

Vital Stats: 2009–present, Headquartered in Irvine, CA. because apparently California is the new Michigan.

Rivian’s an EV automaker with a slightly different approach. Rather than starting with a traditional modern unibody car, Rivian has gone straight to the skateboard model, which allows them to make a standardized powertrain platform, upon which they can build an SUV or a Pickup Truck.

This allows them to develop other types of vehicle in the future, or make that platform for other car makers–existing or yet to come. Given the number of semi-manufacturers out of the UK, the Kicker staff wouldn’t be surprised if a company like Caterham or David Brown Automotive, doesn’t grab an investor and build a plant somewhere in the US Land is cheap and business friendly like Texas or North Dakota, then create a Line of EV sports cars based on Rivian’s skateboard.

Rivian raised money via going IPO. Based on Tesla’s performance as a company, investors leapt at the chance to get in on the ground floor of a similar company–they raised $13.5 billion (153 million shares sold).

Rivian manufactures in 5 locations inside the US, with plans to build another factory in Georgia, as well as Canada and the UK.

Robert “RJ” Scaringe, is an American Engineer, Entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of what’s now Rivian. It started as Mainstream Motors and got renamed Avera Motors on it’s way to it’s modern incarnation. The original idea was to make a sports car, but that dream grew as investment dollars came in.

Another early stroke of luck was their purchase of the Normal, Illinois Mitsubishi plant for $16 million dollars, including everything inside it. A ready to make facility can accelerate your plans. In 2017, Rivian revealed its first two products: an electric five-passenger pickup truck (A1T) and an electric seven-passenger SUV (A1C), which it renamed in 2018 R1T and R1S, respectively.

Rivian RT1

Rivian employed 250 people in 2018 and by 2021 it employs 9,000. Although they’ve since announced a 6% reduction in workforce, siting economic downturn.

Despite a few delays, the R1T began shipping out in October 2021, making Rivian the first car company to bring an all electric truck to the US market–not GM, not Ford, not even Tesla (although Tesla has since caught up). Ford was counting on a partnership in Rivian to bring an all EV truck to market, but Rivian backed out leaving Ford with a 12% stake in the company worth around $10 billion.

Rivian made news in March of 2022 announcing a retroactive price increase of 17% for the R1T and 20% for the R1S vehicles not yet delivered, citing increased cost of goods to manufacture. Due to backlash, the company recanted their decision for folks waitlisted prior to March 1. (Only reasonable since locking in a price is one of the big advantages to ordering a new car before it even exists.)

The most recent news, aside from their new COO starting early last month, is that Time Magazine added Rivian to their List of 100 Most Influential Companies (2022).

Auto Makers: US Stelantis (Part 4C) 2nd half

The best way to tackle Car Manufacturers in the US is to break them up by category. We started with Ford and GM earlier this month. Now it’s time for the “parent company” car maker you’ve probably never heard of even though they are currently responsible for many long standing and household recognized brands.

Later in this series we’ll get to some of the the start ups and those that have been phased out or gone out of business.

StelantisRecap from 1st Half

Vital Stats: 2021-Present, Headquartered in Amsterdam.

Ever heard of Stellantis? You’ve probably heard of Chrysler and assumed that was the third spoke in the US automotive “Big Three.” Stellantis formed in 2021 as a multinational automotive manufacturing corporation. In order to understand this merger you must first know what happened to Chrysler, detailed below, but in short it became the Italian-American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

FCA joined in a 50-50 cross-border merger with the French PSA Group. Upon forming Stellantis became the fifth largest automaker in the world, behind ToyotaVolkswagenHyundai, and General Motors. At the time of the merger, Stellantis had approximately 300,000 employees, and manufactured in 30 countries. Sales are worldwide in 130 countries.

Major brands include  AbarthAlfa RomeoChryslerCitroënDodgeDSFiatFiat ProfessionalJeepLanciaMaseratiMoparOpelPeugeotRam and Vauxhall. This article will focus on the US concerns since this is a US Automaker post. Other car makers will be covered with the respective countries where the brand is most commonly associated. For example, while Vauxhall has long been thought of as Chrysler of the UK most Americans are unfamiliar and unaware the brand even exists.

The deal is estimated to save the companies $4.22 billion. While the merger is thought of as 50-50 PSA got six out of the 11 board members and retained their CEO at the helm of the newly formed company. PSA shareholders paid a fee to acquire their shares in the new company which went to FTA shareholders to compensate them for differences in valuations. It looks to us like a David ate Goliath situation purely for the glory of becoming the #4 car maker in the world.

Jeep

Vital Stats: 1941-Present, Headquartered in Toledo, OH.
Formed by Willys-Overland in 1941.
Merged with Kaiser Motors in 1953.
Acquired by AMC in 1970.
Acquired by Chrysler in 1987.

This history of jeep is fascinating. The jeep is just different from the ground up from most other passenger vehicles. Unusual for a US maker–it’s headquartered outside Michigan. It’s an iconic shape that many automobile manufacturers around the globe feel free to replicate in some fashion. There is also military use which has come back in a manor of speaking.

During the 80 years since the first jeep was built their have been luxury versions, vans and even a truck. With roughly 2400 dealerships holding franchise rights to sell Jeep-branded vehicles if Jeep were spun off into a separate company, it would be a skosh bigger than Chrysler is without it (estimated value $22 to $33 billion). Let’s clear this up some.

The origin of the name is very fitting. You may be familiar with US military terms like FUBAR and SNAFU which go all the way back to WWI. Jeep was, prior to US entering WWII a slang term referencing something General Issue like soldiers and rifles. The term General Purpose got shortened to GP to Jee-P. The vehicle itself was a work horse and quickly became associated with the European view of American Soldiers–reliable, rugged, hard working, lacking refinement but able to get the job done when all means have failed. Jeeps quickly became the light military vehicle of choice for the allies and their military use spread around the globe over the next few decades.

Ford Pygmy

Jeep is not patented and trademarked as design or a term. Therefore jeep without a capitol “J” is the name of sports utility vehicles around the globe if they look like a Jeep. During WWII, a jeep was abandoned on a Japanese Island and the Japanese car maker Toyota created their own version, which explains the Landcruiser and FJ series from them. How in the heck does that happen? Prototypes are closely held secrets, what made Jeep a type of vehicle like pickup or sedan, instead of an exclusive model from one car company?

1940’s Willys Jeep

The origin of the design is found WWII. The US government saw a need for a lightweight 4×4 vehicle that could navigate bombed out roads and ford bridgeless streams. This would be a scout vehicle, capable of shuttling brass to strategic positions, or taking secret messages to command across apocalyptic terrain. They contacted 135 auto makers to compete for a contract. Their specs were so tough and the timeline, 49 days, so tight only two companies seized the chance to go after a lucrative military contract–American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland.

Bantam’s BRC 40

American Bantam recruited a designer, Karl Probst, who turned them down, but the government was able to twist his arm. He produced the design in two days using parts that were already manufactured so factories wouldn’t have to be retooled in order to begin production. The exception was the 4-whee drive drain which could be sourced by Spicer. `With plans submitted in 5 days, including blueprints and cost sheets, Bantam built their prototype by September 1940. It was perfect, except under powered. The other problem was that the Government doubted Bantam could make enough of the vehicles fast enough.

So the government essentially handed everything of to Willy’s who were already working on a prototype and Ford. Each produced independent prototypes and ultimately Willys married a “Go Devil” engine with the Bantam Design. It was heavier than initial specs but the government was happy with the final version. Willys granted the Government nonexclusive use of the design and the Government ordered 1500 vehicles from each of the three companies (Bantam, Willys, and Ford). After making 2600 jeeps Bantam switched to making trailers for the rest of the war.

Ford began stamping the F into many parts on the jeeps they made, so Willys-Overland followed suit. The Government eventually put an end to it, which likely lead to eventually creating a vehicle under the name Jeep in 1945–the Willys CJ-2A.

2022 Wrangler

640,000 Jeeps were produced for the war effort, and distributed to every branch of the US military, as well as the Great Britain and Russian allies.

Jeep imitations around the world include Delahaye and Hotchkiss et Cie, in France,  Mitsubishi Motors and Toyota in Japan, as well as pretty much every original Land Rover in the UK. In the Philippines abandoned jeeps were turned into taxis, often expanded to hold more passengers and later decorated with wild colors. These Jeepneys are part of the culture in the Philippines. In Iceland, the word Jeppi (derived from Jeep) is the general term for an SUV.

Eugene The Jeep

Surplus jeeps sold well in the US after WWII and Willys-Overland tried to grab the Jeep name touting their contribution to the original design and project. The Federal Trade Commission wasn’t buying it. So Willys staked their claim by being the first to market a Civilian Version, their CJ in 1945.

In the end, we can’t even be sure that the term jeep comes from GP as often claimed, as early as 1936 a comic book publisher named Popeyes pet “Eugene the Jeep” created by E. C. Segar.

Ram Trucks

Vital Stats: 2012-Present, Headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, slogan “Guts. Glory. Ram.”

If the Ram story seems suspiciously short at 12 years, it’s because Ram was a brand under the Dodge marque prior to being spun off. Ram “Classic” trucks are made at the Warren Truck Plant in Warren, Michigan and at the Saltillo plant in Saltillo, Mexico. New series Ram pickups are made at Sterling Heights Assembly in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

In 2009 Chrysler emerged from chapter 11 a restructured company with Ram, Jeep, Dodge, SRT and Chrysler divisions under their own brand identities and management.

Traditionally, Dodge kept their light truck and other vehicle divisions somewhat separately branded from their cars. For example outside the US they used “Fargo Trucks.” So the idea of individual branding for Ram trucks isn’t a new concept to the company. In this case, it reflects certain opportunities that came with Fiat’s involvement and the departure of Diamler’s involvement.

2022 Ram 2500

Specifically, Dodge car division wants to go after hip, cool, and trendy buyers, while Ram Truck is targeting “Real Truck” customers. Ram is well aware of people who by a truck for the look with functionality an after thought. Given that Fiat owns Iveco who makes powerful commercial hauling vehicles, Ram is able to cozy up to a buyer seeking a functional pickup that looks cool as a happy side effect.

Noteworthy: The 1996 film Twister used a red 1995 Dodge Ram 2500 pickup truck as the storm-chasing vehicle. 

The long history of Dodge and trucks is spoken to in our post on Dodge. The first-generation “Ram trucks” were introduced in October 1980 and featured a Ram hood ornament first used on Dodge vehicles from 1932 until 1954.

Cummins B Series engine added to the engine lineup in 1989 gave Dodge their first big commercial success as their direct fuel injection didn’t require “glow plugs” like the Ford and GM Diesel trucks did.

Ram got some bad press from their  Super Bowl LII commercial featuring a speech from MLK Jr. in which he actually disapproves of advertisers. One of many examples of marketers attempting to be edgy only to dive headlong across the line of good taste.

Dodge Ram went through 4 generations of development dabbling in a modular design, but mainly optimizing engine, axels, drive trains, transmissions and ultimately giving the entire division a facelift for a consistent and cool new look. In a way, Dodge positioned Ram for success through decades of experimenting and the only thing Dodge couldn’t do for the Ram Truck has now been done by Stelantis through some savvy cross pollinating with other existing brands under their new umbrella.

Ram Trucks likely have a bright future in a competitive US Truck market.

 

Renting a Car From Turo

AirBnB and VRBO are perhaps the most well-known property sharing/rental companies. In many cities, many people opt for renting a room or a whole house through these companies instead of a hotel. However, that leaves a potentially major problem for your trip, unaddressed.

How do you get around when your rental is not near public transit or where ride-sharing services? Enter, Turo.

What is Turo?

Like AirBnB and VRBO, Turo is a sharing service where hosts in certain cities can offer their vehicles for short-term rental to travelers looking to have complete control over their transportation while on vacation. This freedom can provide many more opportunities on the trip as you are not tied-down to public transit or ride-sharing schedules.

After signing up for an account on Turo, all you need to do is search for the availability of the car of your choice, in whatever your destination city might be. Turo even allows travelers to search for vehicles based on make and model, so you know you will get exactly what you want.

How Is This Different Than Normal Car Rental?

Car rental companies have to earn a profit, along with coverage for any business fees and overhead. Turo, on the other hand, simply deducts a small percentage of the rental fee, set by the host. This significantly reduces the overall cost of the rental and in most cases, starts at $25.

Convenience

One of the best perks of Turo is the convenience of having the car delivered where you decide, as well as allowing you to drop it off wherever works best for your vacation plans. Most hosts of Turo offer free delivery of the vehicle within a reasonable range of their location. Options such as this are all spelled out up-front before you agree to the rental.

How Does It Work For Hosts?

As easy as renting a car from Turo is hosting or offering  a vehicle for rental to travelers is just about as simple. Turo offers several plans based on several options the host chooses.

Beginning at the “60 Plan”, the host gets 60% of the rental fee paid for by the traveler. In return, Turo and their contracted insurance company offer the best accident, wear and tear, and liability coverage.

Hosts can select from several plans from there, with a max income of 90% of the total rental fee. While this plan gives the host the most money of any of the options, it also comes with the lowest accident and liability coverage and does not include any reimbursement for wear and tear.

Are Travelers Covered?

Like regular rental car companies Turo offers accident and liability insurance protection at an additional fee. While you have the option to decline tha dditional coverage, it is worth looking at the three options to see if one might fit your budget while covering you in case of an accident or collision.

Coverage Plans

The plan with the least coverage, along with the lowest fee, is the minimum plan. Depending on the total cost of your trip, this plan costs either 18% or 25% of the total cost. There is still a decent amount of coverage with this plan. And depending on what your auto insurance covers for rentals, this might be the best option for you.

From there, the Standard and Premier plans come in at 40% and 65% of the total cost of the trip. These plans are secondary to your insurance but offer great coverage. With the Standard plan, your responsibility for physical damage will not exceed $500. With the Premier plan, you would not pay anything.

Rare Auto Makers of the UK (Part 3b)

As with every nation known for making cars, the UK has quite a few small makers that are worth taking note of. Unlike most nations most of the smaller auto manufacturers seem to start their name with an “A.” Just kidding, although you’ll see it’s sort of true. We hope you enjoy this brief list of them. If you know of some we missed please comment. (PS yes, I know the picture says part 3a. Again I recycle the graphics for the rare makers.)

AC

AC Cars Ltd was one of the first car makers of Great Britain. It makes sports cars set apart by excellent dynamics and racing qualities. AC stood for Auto Carriers Ltd. in the beginning. Around 1901 the Weller brothers began tinkering with a making a car, a 20 HP touring car which they presented at the Crystal Palace motor show in 1903.

Their business manager and financial backer, John Portwine, was a butcher by trade. He didn’t want to take that full car into production. It was too big and only useful as a passenger vehicle. So they decided to crate a 3 wheeled delivery vehicle first.

In 1904 the company, now names Autocars and Accessories, debuted a very popular single seater with a cargo box behind it. Three years later they made a version available with a bench seat in place of the cargo box, called the sociable.

1927 Royal Saloon Car

The company became Auto Carriers Ltd. in 1911, adopted their round logo, and produced their first four-wheeled car in 1913. WWI put the company on hold for a bit. In 1921, Selwyn Edge (previously of Napier), pushed the John’s Weller & Portwine out of the company, renaming it to AC Cars Ltd. and began promoting the car through racing.

Sales declined and the company was bought out by the Hurlock family who had not interest in making cars. Hurlocks ran a successful haulage business and wanted the factory on High Street as a warehouse. They continued to service cars until they agreed in 1930 to start producing cars again. In 1932 they contracted with Standard to supply new chassis. The 2nd world war shut them down again, but after the war AC got a government contract to produce the odd-looking Thundersley Invacar Type 57. This crazy thing had a fibreglass-body, one seat, and a Villiers 2-stroke engines. This odd car was designed for wounded veterans, distributed for free to the disabled, and kept AC solvent for decades.

Invalid Car

Thus the company embarked on their continued journey as both an industrial/business car maker as well as a race/sports car maker.

As a race car maker they have a storied history including an early La Mans success but things really kicked into high gear when AC was approached by none other than Carol Shelby in 1961. He wanted to put a small block Ford Windsor V8 engine into an Ace chassis. The AC Ace could be a post unto itself having developed through a pattern of race team experimentation across Europe, which spawned production cars from AC based on the battlefield (racetrack) success of these modifications. (We say modification but don’t think they added a spoiler or something, we’re talking about rebuilds with new engines on an AC Chassis in some cases.)

The result of the Shelby collaboration also produced a set of cars (31 of them) that were ultimately sold to the public as Cobra 427 S/C. These cars sell for around $1.5 million if you can get your hands on one.

Arash

The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest creature on Earth and putting it’s image on the Arash emblem was a bold statement about the type of car Arash Farboud was going to make. Starting in 1999 Farbound committed to a new era of power and convenience in sports cars. Originally Farboud Limited, (name changed in ’06) Arash Motor Company makes Supercars and Hypercars based in Newmarket, Suffolk, England.

AF8

Of course it wouldn’t be a British car company without more drama than a high school cheer squad. So here is the short version. Arash’s first design, the Farboud GT, garnered a lot of attention at its debut in Birmingham NEC Autosport Show, but his second car, the Farboud GTS became a sought after design–by other designers. Chris Marsh worked for Arash (sales and marketing) and became obsessed with the car. Arash granted him licence to the shape allowing Chris to switch out he engine, stream line the doors and improve the interior, which gave the engine a link to bio-fuel. After trying to re-brand the car as “the Fangion” after deceased Argentine F1 racer, but being stopped by the family, Chris renamed it “the Farbio.”

Farbio GTS

Arash sold his shares of Farbio to Michael Simmonds, who later sold to Laurence Tomlinson of Ginetta fame, who kept the design and renamed the car the Ginetta F400.

Arash retained 100% of what is now Arash Motor Company and went on to design more fast and powerful cars–the AF10 (2009) and AF8 (2016). The AF10 is 7.0-litre V8 engine producing at least 500bhp. The AF8 is a mid-engined 7.0-litre V8 engine producing 505bhp (Brake Horsepower).

Ariel

You might think of Arial the Bicyle and later motorbike maker in Bournbrook, Birmingham, but we are talking about the tiny maker of cars in Crewkerne, in SomersetEngland, where a team of 7 to 30 people makes about 100 cars a year.

Founded by Simon Saunders in 1991, Arial makes 4 different designs.

The Atom is an extremely light, high performance car, with unique “exoskeleton” design, (no bodywork or roof) its built entirely around the tube chassis, making it weigh less than 500 kg (1,102 lb). If you want to look like you’re driving an F1 Racer on the street, the Atom is your only choice as there are no other street legal cars of this design. Powered by a Honda Civic Type-R engine and gearbox the 3.5R supercharged model will get you around 700 bhp per ton!

The Ace is Ariel’s attempt at a bike, which could be confusing given the historic bike maker mentioned above. It’s powered by a Honda 1237cc V4 engine and gearbox.

The Nomad can be thought of as an off-road version of the Atom. This road-legal buggy only produces 235bhp.

In August 2017, Ariel announced their electric sports car, called HIPERCAR (High Performance Carbon Reduction), APM200 electric motors, supplied by a Norfolk-based electric bus maker.

Ascari

Ascari Cars Ltd. is a producer of sports cars based in Banberi, UK. The company was founded by Dutch millionaire Klaas Zwart. The company is named after two-time F1 world champion Alberto Ascari (1918—1955).

Very little is known about Ascari. They established in Dorset originally, in 1994. In 2000 they built their new facility in Banbury in northern Oxfordshire.

Its first limited-edition car, the Ascari Ecosse, (1998). Ascari’s second car, the Ascari KZ1, was developed at Banbury, which also housed Team Ascari’s racing assets. The premises are now occupied by Haas F1 Team, of Newman Hass fame. We wouldn’t mention them at all if they stuck to race cars, but they did have a 2005 road-going version called the Ascari KZ1-R version of the A410 race car.

A full list of their cars and versions can be found at this link. Very pretty web surfing for folks like us.

Bristol

Bristol Cars is technically defunct in our opinion, though you could see some of their cars on the road if you get lucky. The manufactured a very small number of “deluxe” class cars by hand until March of 2011 when they suspended manufacture, changed their board members and fired 22 employees.

Bristol Cars was born out of the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1945 when the war effort would no longer be buying warplanes. Much of Bristol was bombed during WWII so the entire area was being remade and modernized.

Bristol Bullet

Interestingly, a new company was formed in 2011 to sell off components of the old one. The new company is owned by  Kamkorp Group, and mainly operated to service units it had previously sold. In 2018 they began talking about a new flagship cars design called the “Bullet” a two-seat, open-top sports car  which commemorated their 70th year as a company. Power is sourced from a naturally aspirated 4.8-litre BMW V8 producing 400 bhp, an tribute to their the Bristol 405 Drophead coupé. At least 8 completed chassis with BMW V8 before the company again dissolved without going into full production.

The Worst Disaster in Racing History

June 11, 1955…Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France…

Context

Shown above is the modern track, not the 1955 track.

Le Mans is a famous endurance race that takes place over 24 straight hours. It began in 1923 and is the world’s oldest active endurance racing event. This years event will begin Saturday, June 11th and end Sunday, June 12th.

Most races are fixed distance and the car that arrives first wins. In endurance racing the time is set and the car that drives the longest distance in that time is the winner. The Triple Crown of Motorsports is comprised of the La Mans, the Indie 500, and the Monaco Grand Prix. Unlike the pure speed priority of most races, endurance racing calls on teams to consider both speed and a strategy that avoids mechanical breakdown.

The Background of the 55′ Disaster

Since the Le Mans began in 1923 the track had been shortened a bit and widened a bit, and they’d resurfaced it after WWII. The grandstands and pits had been rebuilt and they’d added a 4 foot wide earthen bank between the track and the stands. That was it. In 1923 the top speed of race cars was 60 MPH. In 1955 it was 170 MPH.

Ferrari, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz had all won before and all brought new cars specially designed for this race. The teams also brought the best drivers of the time, including Pierre Levegh a Frenchman who’d tried to do the Le Mans solo in 52′ but failed in hour 23. Also in the field were Eugenio Castellotti for Ferrari, Mike Hawthorn for Jaguar, and Juan Manuel Fangio for for Mercedes-Benz.

The race began at 4 pm local time with the three favorites building a quick lead while the rest of the teams played more conservatively to preserve their cars. By 5pm Castellotti had dropped back a bit to let team Jag and Merc battle each other for lead–setting new lap records each time around. By lap 35 it was time for the lead cars to take their first pit stop.

The First 3 Things to Go Wrong

If the first problem is that the racers are highly competitive and willing to take risks. This is also what makes racing exciting and is inherent to the nature of the sport. What can be done is making the sport as safe as possible without making it lose its excitement. The only reason to mention it as the first thing to go wrong is that these drivers were particularly keyed up and actively battling for lead.

This matters because one might expect things like driver error late in a 24 hour race when fatigue impairs judgement, but this accident happened early when focus was high–aside from needed to win.

The second issue, as mentioned is that track wasn’t modernized to handle the current speed of racing. The third issue, which is somewhat inseparable from a race like this is advanced technology on cars. Usually tech advantages cause problems like part failure causing a team to lose the race. In this case advanced disc brakes on the Jaguar worked a bit too well.

As Hawthorn rounded the last big corner before the pit he lapped two competitors in rapid succession, Levegh in his Merc and Lance Macklin in his Austin Healey. Macklin moved over to let Hawthorn by putting him directly behind where Hawthorn needed to go to make the pit row.

Problem #4

As Hawthorn jammed in front of Macklin to exit he applied his disk breaks. There wasn’t a designated deceleration lane prior to the pit, in fact their was a bit of a right-hand kink. Hawthorn had to brake hard, Macklin dodged left while braking hard.

Meanwhile Fangio was in process of lapping Levegh. Macklins dodge left connected with Levegh’s front right panel causing both cars to break loose of their tires grip on the road. Levegh, being a veteran of the sport was able to throw his arm up in warning to Fangio, before his car ran up on the back of Macklins car, launching it into the air. Fangio closed his eyes and sailed through the carnage unscathed.

Problem #5

None of the drivers at the time wore seat belts, believing they’d rather be thrown clear of an accident than be burned alive inside should the unthinkable happen. Levegh was thrown clear of the car as it flipped end over end, 260 feet toward and over the crowd. Levegh’s skull was crushed on impact. The car crashed into the stairs for the grandstand and blew apart sending debris out like shrapnel into the stands.

The heavier parts like the engine, radiator, and front suspension continued forward another 330 feet crushing all in the path. The hood spun forward decapitating tightly packed spectators before they could flinch.

Problem #7

What remained of the Levegh’s car landed on the embankment upside down and the gas tank burst into flames. The heat from the fire ignited the composite alloy of the car’s body–which had a high magnesium content. The resulting explosion showered the audience and the track with flaming magnesium which can’t be put out by water. Unfortunately early responders didn’t know that, and the car burned as a fireball for many more hours before it could be put out.

Macklins car, rebounded off the left side wall of the track and veered back across the track and through the pit lane wall, almost scraping down the side of every car and crew that was already in the pit. It did hit a police man, a photographer and two race officials seriously injuring all.

The Fallout

Hawthorn overshot his pit so he stopped his Jag and got out, his crew demanded he get back in for another lap, trying to get him away from the chaos. When he pulled in on the next lap he was devastated and taking responsibility. Although track layout was ultimately blamed for the disaster.

John Michael Hawthorn

American driver John Fitch was suited up and ready to take Levegh’s place when they pitted in, he watched the accident with Levegh’s wife. After half an hour he realized he should call his family to tell them he wasn’t one of 84 dead or 120 injured.

They Kept Racing

Surprisingly they continued the race. Director Charles Faroux didn’t stop the race. He later justified his decision saying that the crowds leaving all at once would only clog up roads needed for emergency vehicles. He also didn’t want to get sued by every major car company involved for breach of contract. Sadly, there was reason to believe that might happen based on similar tragedies.

Team Mercedes-Benz fought to pull out of the race, but it took until midnight to get team owners in Germany to agree to it. At 1:45 AM they quietly pulled their cars into the pit, and packed up. The were running 1st and 3rd.

With the Merc’s out of the race and the Ferrari’s all destroyed of broken, team Jag won by five laps. There was no victory celebration, partly due to rain, but they got a picture of Hawthorn on his car sipping his victory Champaign. That didn’t play well in the French press. Although it should be noted that when several countries suspended Motorsports, including France, the lifted the ban prior to the next running of Le Mans.

Enough countries did’t ban motorsports, (America for one) or lifted the ban later in the year, that the world sportscar championship season could finish and crown Mercedes-Benz ultimate victor. Merc then withdrew from racing until the 80’s. A number of drivers retired as well, some at the end of the season. Macklin after another fatal crash later that year.

Modern Pits in daylight

Hawthorn took a lot of blame from the press, claiming he’d cut in front of Macklin and slammed on his brakes. Team Jag tried to question Levegh and Macklin’s reflexes. It took until 1975 for Road & Track Magazine and Paul Fre’re (second place finisher at the 55 Le Mans) to clear up what had happened. By converting still pics of the carnage into video it was clear that the last minute jog in the track before the straight away lined the drivers up with the stands and gave little room to exit to the pit lane at 120 plus miles per hour. Hawthorn would have had to wait to lap any of the cars well before the pits were visible in order to go slow enough to exit without hard breaking. He knew what his car could do, but not what the other cars could do in response.

As it turns out the government inquiry cleared all the drivers, and the teams, but found that the track design caused the spectator death.

A Sad Footnote

In publishing his autobiography, Challenge Me the Race, Hawthorn took no responsibility for the accident on himself or his equipment, leaving Macklin feeling blamed as the only other principle involved. He sued for libel. The action went unresolved when Macklin died in a non-racing car accident on the Guildford bypass (1959) while overtaking a Merc in his Jag.

The Track, who’s problems had been pointed out by drivers since 1953, was fixed.

DIY Detail vs. Paying a Professional

Second to purchasing an entirely different or new car, there is not much that can replace a detailed cleaning to reinvigorate the bond with your car. Above just driving through an automatic carwash and simple vacuum, a detail will have your car looking just about as clean as when it rolled off the assembly line.

But whether to do it yourself is a decision that you will have to make. Both certainly have their pros and cons. Depending on how much time you have and what specifically you are looking for the detail may sway your decision one way or the other.

Here are some areas to consider when deciding whether to do a DIY detail or have it done by a professional service.

Cost

This is likely one of the major areas most people think of when deciding whether or not to get a professional detail. There might be a bit of a sticker shock when you are quoted for a detail by a professional company. This is especially true with either a larger vehicle or a deeper overall cleaning.

However, when you consider the specialized cleaning solutions and tools you would need to buy to achieve similar results, may make the professional detailing more appealing. That said, if you plan on detailing your car often, the initial cost of the supplies and cleaning solutions can be considered an investment.

There is a chance the initial costs could be made up for, but it would take several cleanings.

Winner: Professional (initially)

Time

Along with the high cost of a quality detail, a good one will also take more time. Professional companies often charge a premium for their services as their experienced employees know how to efficiently flow through the interior and exterior of a car, as well as what order things they should clean in.

Even if you are a “seasoned vet” with cleaning your car and know it like the back of your hand, nothing can match the teamwork and experience of a professional detailing crew.

If you enjoy the work and you get a sense of pride looking at the results of your own hard work, you might consider a DIY detail.

Winner: Professional

Convenience

This is very similar to time but belongs almost on its own. The time actually spent on detailing your car might be significantly less than if you did it yourself. However, if you factor in getting to and from the detailing location, as well as any other transportation while the car is being cleaned, the total time might be closer. It is the ability to find an opening in the schedule, as well as coordinate supporting rides that make the convenience of the DIY detail edge out.

Winner: DIY

How Dirty the Car is

There is only so much, even a professional detailing crew can accomplish and clean in a certain amount of time. If your car is incredibly dirty or filled with odds and ends from a recent car trip, it might be worth taking some time to remove all of the straw wrappers, empty water bottles or anything else that might make whoever will do the detailing easier.

Not unlike giving food-covered dishes a quick rinse before adding them to the dishwasher, this initial cleaning will only help in the end.

It is the specific type of dirt and grime you are trying to get up that may move your decision to a professional service, vs. DIY. If it will take just throwing away any refuse that has built up with little grime left over, it might not make sense to pay for someone else to do that.

However, if you are looking to clean up spills or remove built-up pet hair, a professional service can save a lot of money, time, and frustration.

Winner: DIY (for the most part)

7 Things Every New Car Owner Needs

Taking a set of keys from a dealer or seller and stepping into a new car is an exciting moment. That first time you start the engine, the bond is set, and the car is now yours. You drive it home and that’s it, right?

It very well could be. But many things would not only make your car more personalized but can be essential in providing a much better driving or riding experience in the years ahead.

Roadside Emergency Kit

The last thing that someone wants to think about when driving away in a new car is dealing with a roadside breakdown. They might be uncommon, but they happen. One of the best ways to help keep some peace of mind and reduce the worry is to be prepared with a roadside assistance kit or a car-specific. Most of these are no larger than a small backpack and, sometimes, can be stored with your spare tire.

Car First Aid Kit

Chances are, you have some sort of first aid kit somewhere in your house or your outdoor equipment. If you don’t, you need to. Just like the roadside kit, this small pouch can be stored out of the way. However, if you ever need any of its contents, it might be the only place it’s available. Plus, keeping one specifically for the car means the inventory of band-aids and supplies won’t be out when you need them since they were used at home.

Jumper Cables

The modern batteries in cars, especially with new cars, are incredibly reliable. Most times, if you are mindful of not using your climate controls and radio with the engine off, you may go years without needing a replacement or jump. However, when you do, having your own set of jumper cables will help switch your search for help from who has cables to just someone who would be willing to help.

Window Tinting

For some, this can be a controversial one. But if your car did not come with any tinting on the windows, it will not take long for the sun to heat the inside of the car when it’s parked or even while driving. This may make the difference between having a cool interior without needing to have the fan on high. Be sure to check local laws on window tinting and be aware that going too dark (even within the legal limit), may make night driving difficult. Why suffer waiting for your car to cool down when you can reduce the heat before it starts. Tinting also reduces the fading on the interior and by reducing the heat issue, it saves on gas.

“Climate” Bag

Depending on where you live, this might involve some modification throughout the year, but consider the general climate you live in, and what sorts of things you at some point wished you had, but forgot to bring with you. Having a bag set aside for just such conditions can make the difference between staying happy and dry, or wet and miserable. This can be as simple as a packable rain poncho and towels for rainy seasons, or sunglasses and a few bottles of water for the summertime.

Car Wash Membership

One of the most often neglected parts of a car is the exterior and specifically, the paint. It is easy to believe the paint and clearcoat add some force field to keep dirt and grime from damaging the body. However, keeping the car clean and waxing it often, will keep the road particles from penetrating through the clear coat and potentially causing issues down the road. A membership to a car wash will likely save you money if you plan to keep your car in its pristine condition. If you go too long, you might need a deeper and more expensive clean, such as a clay bar wash, to get out all of the grit and grime. 

Sunshade

Regardless of the season outside, a sunshade can make a world of difference in keeping the temperature inside your car at a reasonable level when parked. Even in the winter, the sunlight can make the inside of your car stifling and create quite a temperature shock when you step in. Without a sunshade in the summer, you may be at your destination by the time you can cool off the interior to a comfortable level.

Honda Confirms Small Electric and Hybrid Compact SUVs for 2023

Looking at the prices shown on nearly all gas stations has undoubtedly made you think about the fuel efficiency of your vehicle (s). Especially if you are in the market for a new vehicle, there is an increasing number of options that will not only help you save money by burning less fuel but will still provide you with the capabilities you need.

One of the most popular names in smaller automobiles has just announced two great options for fuel-efficient or electric SUVs for 2023. The all-new Honda e:Ny1 and the next-generation CR-V look to provide you a range that rivals other all-electric vehicles, while keeping the familiar capabilities and space of the long-standing CR-V.

The e:Ny1

At this point, there is not a lot we know about this all-electric prototype. What we do know is extremely promising and is worth looking at. From initial looks, this small crossover looks remarkably similar to the HR-V.

The Looks

There are a few differences that set the e:Ny1 apart from its relatives. The front-end is shaped more like the CR-V with the grille-less form seen on most electric vehicles. The rear carries forward the sporty styling of the HR-V. The body sits atop Honda’s e:N Architecture F chassis, which is specifically designed for electric front-wheel drive vehicles.

What’s Inside

Under the hood is a new battery pack that is estimated to give a range of just over 300 miles while supplying a potent 201-horsepower. This is a significant improvement to the “e:” family that started off 2020 with a limited 137 miles.

Next Generation CR:V

Honda’s stalwart in the small-SUV category, the CR-V, will receive a near-total make-over with the addition of a few proven components from other models. The all-new CR-V still has ample size and capabilities. It is also expected to be available with seating for 5 or 7.

The Looks

Outside, the CR-V seemed to trade in more of its utilitarian and purpose-built looks for some class and refinement. The front grille is opened up and is bordered by contrastingly thinner LED headlights. Looking at the profile, it is clear the design has spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel with previously sharp corners being smoothed into gentle curves. The hood is blended into the teardrop shape of the body.

Under the Hood

The 2023 CR-V will borrow several newer, but proven power-train components that come from the recent update to the Civic family of cars. The non-hybrid version is powered with a 1.5-liter turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder motor with a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated I-4 in the hybrid. Both of these motors have been well tested were given a few minor tweaks to make them fit in CR-V’s hood, and improve reliability.

Plug-In vs. Hybrid only

To bridge the gap between hybrid gasoline and all-electric vehicles, many automakers have come out with “Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles” (PHEV) and Honda is no exception. As there is more and more pressure for all-electric vehicles, it might be worth considering this move sooner than later.

While it remains to be seen just how available the PHEV version of the new CR-V will be in the American market, it certainly has a lot to offer and may help take the plunge into driving an electric vehicle, while maintaining the familiarity of a gasoline-powered engine. Actual fuel efficiency numbers have yet to be released, but some other PHEVs from other makers have reported in the triple-digits for miles per gallon. Plus, there is the added “safety-net” of being able to drive up to 50 miles on solely electric power.

America On Wheels

Andy Bunch

Who doesn’t love a museum? Well, it probably depends on what the museum is dedicated to. If what leaps to mind is modern art, you either got really excited or really not. Well there are a ton of car museums out there. If there’s one in your town, no matter how small, let us know in the comment section or send us a message. Until then, here is one of the big ones…

America on Wheels 

Located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, America on Wheels pays homage to everything transportation. Offering guided tours every Wednesday and Friday of their state of the art restoration center, as well as being open daily to view their regular galleries and rotating displays. The museum is currently displaying the Gary Hiller Collection. They also offer student camps and field trips to inspire the next generation of car enthusiasts. 

With all three galleries, the restoration center, artist spaces, and the Hubcap Cafe the campus is 43,000 square feet. 

You can view a huge variety of  bicycles, motorcycles, automobiles and trucks from carriages to cars of the future. 

Where it Came From

The museum is that gem of the “Lehigh Landing redevelopment project which started in 1989. The goal was to turn the Arbogast & Bastian meat packing plant and its surrounding areas into a tourist attraction with a brewery, walking trails, a footbridge across the river, and a promenade for festivals.

Express-Times Photo | BILL ADAMS

The project wasn’t complete until 2008 and came in at a little over $17 million. (Remember when you could build something for just $17 million?) 

What NOT to Miss

The 1889 Nadig Gas-Powered Carriage was found rusting out in an old garage. It turns out to have been one of the first gas-powered vehicles driven in the US. Owned and operated by Henry Nadig, a German-born mechanic native to Allentown, who was ordered by police to drive at night to avoid scaring horses. 

The Hubcap Cafe is a 1950s style diner brought back to life by a $200,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. The dinner is a complete experience with malted shakes, soda jerks, and waitresses on roller skates. You need to try it. 

Best Road Course Tracks Open To The Public

Road Atlanta Track

Road course tracks are meant for people who love to use their vehicles for sports. If you love driving around a track, you might be interested in learning which road courses are open to the public. You will find many courses closed to the public, leaving you feeling discouraged. However, there are a few around the U.S. that may be worth the trip just to test them out. Take a look at the best road course tracks open to the public for use.

Lime Rock Park

You may have heard of Lakeville, Connecticut, but if you haven’t, you should be aware that this town has America’s longest track. This is known as Lime Rock Park, and it is open to the public. It was built in the mid-50s and what makes this track so unique is that it was built with the natural terrain in mind. This construction makes it a more challenging track for racers.

Homestead Miami Speedway

Miami is one of the places most of us love to vacation. The beaches are lovely, the sun is hot, but on top of the fantastic weather is a massive speedway open to the public. In the south of Miami, you will notice a large track with a standard setup. This track hosts professional races and has days where anyone can use the track with their cars. It’s time you check out this road course in Miami.

Watkins Glen

You may have heard of “The Glen if you love racing.” It is one of the oldest race tracks in America. What you may not have known is that they host days where the track is open for the public to use. No matter who is driving, this track provides a good show because of the variety of elevations and straights on the track. It’s time to drive to Watkins Glen, New York, to view this amazing track.

Virginia International Raceway

This is a fun and budget-friendly track for the public to use in Virginia. It is also surrounded by beautiful vegetation. The broad fields and lofty trees are reminiscent of parts of the United Kingdom. Coincidentally, the track, with its narrow lanes and sharp curves, seems to reflect that. Therefore, if you find yourself in Alton, Virginia, with nothing to do, pay a visit to this fantastic road course.

Road Atlanta Track

Atlanta is known for being a city full of fun activities, but if you love cars and racing, there is a track waiting for you right outside the city. In the past, Road Atlanta has hosted several illustrious racing series and featured some of the sport’s greatest drivers. High-speed bends and straights are interspersed throughout the course to truly put a vehicle to the test. Use their rental service to receive a competent automobile, no matter what you drive.

Sonoma Raceway

Even though its road course is challenging, the oval course is also open to the public. Before going into Sonoma, California, it’s best to practice first. Although this is for all drivers, it is a challenging track to start with. If you are experienced, it can be fun, but this is not the course to practice on if you are inexperienced.

Circuit of The Americas

Everything’s bigger in Texas, right? Well, in this case, that statement may be right. Circuit of The Americas, also known as COTA, is one of the most well-built tracks in America and is occasionally open for the public to use. Austin, Texas, is one of the best places to go as a tourist and has a lot to offer anyone who loves to race.