Five automotive legends making a comeback

We know that our readers are nostalgic about cars. There’s probably not one among you that doesn’t remember the new car your dad or uncle brought home that one summer day. You remember how it smelled, how the engine and exhaust sounded and how cool it felt to get picked up or dropped off from school in it.

For many of us, that make and model is no longer being produced. And if it is, it’s probably nothing like it was in those days … but maybe that’s a good thing! Here are five automotive legends that we can’t wait to make it back onto showroom floors.

 UrQuattro1980

 

 

 

Audi Quattro

Original production run: 1980 – 1991
Estimated re-release: 2015

The original Audi Quattro was a road going rally car designed for trips to the shoppes rather than backwoods hooning.

As a Group B rally racer, the Quattro was a formidable foe. The name Quattro was derived from the Italian word for four, which indicated the presence of all wheel drive. The advantage of all four wheels driven (vs. two wheels on competing racers) meant more power could be put down to the ground. During the final year of Group B, the inline five cylinder turbocharged engine was making nearly 600 horsepower.

The production Quattro may have shared its rally cousin’s engine configuration and styling, but not it’s insanely high engine output. Power hovered around the 200 horsepower mark during its entire production run.

In the last few years, Audi has teased us (twice!) with concept versions of a new Quattro. The latest Audio Quattro teaser came in 2013 with a spectacular hybrid powertrain promising 700 horsepower delivered to all four wheels.

We’re sure we could make room for either version of this Group B legend in our garage.

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Lotus Esprit

Original production run: 1976 – 2004
Estimated re-release: Uncertain

Vivian: Man, this baby must corner like it’s on rails!
Edward: Beg your pardon?
Vivian: Well, doesn’t it blow your mind? This is only four cylinders!

Maybe Julia Roberts (Vivian) didn’t actually drive the Esprit in Pretty Woman (driving scenes with dialouge are often shot through the front glass of a car towed behind a camera truck) but her delivery of the lines above accurately describe two of the Esprit’s many charms.

The first charm – handling. The Esprit was low, wide and light. Weighing just under 2,700 lbs., the Esprit shed weight via exotic material use, including hand (and later vacuum formed) fiberglass and Kevlar (used to strengthen the roof and sides).

The second charm – power. Contributing to the Esprit’s lightness was its diminutive 4 cylinder engine, displacing 2.0 to 2.2L for much of its production run. In turbocharged engine form, the 2.2L engine produced enough power for sub-five second sprints to 60 mph. An all aluminum V8 was offered in 1996.

At the 2010 Paris Auto show, Lotus showed a concept Esprit and rumors of a 2014 production release swirled. Sadly, the Esprit project has been placed on hold for financial reasons.

Our favorite of the run? The Giugiaro designed S3. What’s yours?

Acura_NSX

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acura NSX

Original production run: 1990 – 2005
Estimated re-release: 2015

With the Ferrari 328 set squarely in its sights, Japanese automaker Acura (who was best known for their luxury cars at the time) set out to do the unthinkable – to beat Ferrari at their own game.

With a mid engine layout and an all aluminum monocoque body, Acura created a well balanced car with neutral handling and just enough power (270 to 320 horsepower depending on model and year) to force Ferrari into a response: the more powerful 348.

Unlike Ferrari whose quest to create more and more powerful cars continues to this day, Acura’s NSX changed little throughout production. Any why should it? Formula 1 legend Aryton Senna helped develop it.

The NSX concept debuted in 2012 with production scheduled to start in Marysville, OH during 2014.

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Volkswagen Scirocco

Original production run: 1974 – 1988 (United States)
Estimated re-release: Uncertain (United States)

Like the Esprit, the Scirocco was designed by Guigiaro in the 1970s. Volkswagen needed a sporty coupe to round out their product line. As a replacement for the Karmann Ghia, the Scriocco ditched convertible fun in favor of (what Volkswagen would later refer to as) Fahrvergnügen

Unlike the other cars described here, the Scirocco was no speed demon. The most powerful U.S. version (MkII) produced only 123 horsepower from a normally aspirated 1.8L 4 cylinder engine.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on which side of the pond you live on) there is a MkIII version of the Scirocco. Sold only in Europe, this version was named Top Gear’s Car of the Year upon its release.

Will the MkIII Scirocco be brought to the United States? It’s not looking good. U.S. safety requirements prevent its registration here. But there are a few track-only cars we’ve seen stateside that makes us want one even more.

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Toyota Supra

Original production run: 1978 – 2002
Estimated re-release: Uncertain

As the longest running production model here (24 years) the Supra has a long and revered history, albeit not one that is based on a factory-backed racing pedigree.

For its entire run, the Supra was powered by an inline 6 cylinder engine. Power output ranged from a modest 110 horsepower in 1978 to a tire shredding 300 horsepower produced by the twin sequential turbocharged engine (2JZ) found in the mid-90s (and beyond) models.

Unlike other twin-turbo competitors of the time, such as the Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4, the Supra drove only the rear wheels. It was also lighter than rear wheel drive competitors such as the Nissan 300ZX.

Today, finding an unmodified twin-turbo 2JZ-powered Supra might be more difficult than finding a leprechaun riding a unicorn chasing a chupacabra. But thankfully, a 2015 Supra concept is rumored to debut in Detroit.

 

Editor’s note: Remember those old cars your dad and uncles brought home when you were a kid? Which automotive legends do you wish could be re-imagined using today’s technology? Let us know in the comments below!

You never forget your first kiss…or your first car

Naeem Kahn Pontiac Flame Dresses. Photo credit: Production Plus - The Talent Shop

Naeem Kahn Pontiac Flame Dresses.
Photo credit: Production Plus – The Talent Shop

“Just like you never forget your first kiss,” says Margery Krevsky, “you will never forget your first car. Ask people about their first cars and watch their faces light up. There is such a psychological connection between cars and people. They just go together, enhancing our lives and representing our lifestyles.”

As for Margery, she has changed the face of how cars are presented at industry shows and events in a dramatic way, when she began the transformation of car models – those women who appeared next to vehicles at car shows to capture the attention of prospective customers – into product specialists who could also intelligently discuss the cars in question.

How it all got started

Detroit auto show in 1910 Photo credit: Production Plus - The Talent Shop

Detroit auto show in 1910 Photo credit: Production Plus – The Talent Shop

Let’s take a step back to the beginning of car shows which, not surprisingly, started up shortly after people could buy cars. “The earliest documented show,” Margery says, “was the Automobile Club of America’s show held in 1900 in Madison Square Garden in New York City. They had a doctor pose by a Stanhope along with his wife and little boy, sharing how much easier it was to have a car versus a horse and buggy. So, since the beginning of car shows, companies have had credible people endorsing the vehicles.”

It made sense to use a doctor in early advertising for a couple of reasons. First, doctors were “early adopters” of cars because they needed to make house calls. Plus, they could afford to buy a vehicle.

Over time, manufacturers began using attractive women in eye-catching costumes to draw the attention of car show attendees. Typically, these women simply stood by a vehicle. If they spoke at all, it was from a carefully memorized script. Why? “The answer,” Margery writes in her book, Sirens of Chrome: The Enduring Allure of Auto Show Models, “is obvious. Sex sells. Just ask any model who’s stood before a sea of bedazzled onlookers and fielded the hackneyed question: ‘Do you come with the car?’”

Toyota dresses. Photo credit: Production Plus - The Talent Shop

Toyota dresses.
Photo credit: Production Plus – The Talent Shop

A closer look at car show models

Margery’s book is fascinating, as she provides succinct information about the people who historically stood or performed next to cars at shows, and as she shares anecdotes and highlights about them on a year-by-year basis. Each topic is accompanied by an excellent photo.

Because her book provides glimpses of information about intriguing historical women (both individual women and groups of them), we took the liberty of reading more about some of them. Here’s what we found out, partly from Margery’s book and partly from additional sources:

Sirens

In early car advertising, mythological creatures – such as Sirens – often appeared in print, promoting car events. In Greek mythology, Sirens were sleekly seductive water-winged creatures, ones that could sing so sweetly that they could also lure sailors to follow them wherever they went. In these myths, the sailors became so distracted by the shimmering beauty of the Sirens and their songs that they crashed their ships into rocks and died. Then, the Sirens benefited from the bounty found on the ships.

In car advertising, of course, the crashes and the resultant pirating were never mentioned. A photo of an attractive Siren in print advertising was used simply to lure men to car shows. As an FYI, the first Siren appearing in a car-advertising poster promoted the Importers’ Automobile Salon, held at Madison Square Garden in December 1907.

Miss Hazel Jewell

In addition to print advertising, car manufacturers hired people to stand by cars at shows to garner attention. Until 1909, though, only men had been used for this purpose. That changed in 1909 when Miss Hazel Jewell joined 150 men at the Grand Central Palace in New York to show off vehicles from Ford Motor Company. As a real life Siren, Hazel’s job was basically to look so beautiful that potential shoppers were tempted into approaching the vehicles available for sale.

Print advertisements in this era showed women driving and enjoying new freedom while wearing big hats tied with scarves; still the reality was that most women were being chauffeured by men, if they rode in cars at all.

Eleanor Velasco Thornton

By this time, a symbol of status was the hood ornament – and its creation is closely tied to that of a beautiful woman with a tragic story. By 1910, Rolls Royce was being pressured to create an official hood ornament to prevent owners from putting their own, often less than stellar, pieces on their Rolls. So, Claude Johnson, managing director of Rolls Royce, asked sculptor Charles Sykes to create an ornament that captured “the spirit of the Rolls-Royce, namely, speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy and a beautiful living organism of superb grace…”

Sykes submitted a modified version of one that he had already created for Lord Montagu of Beaulieu’s Silver Ghost. Most sources say that the model for this emblem was Eleanor Velasco Thornton, who happened to be Lord Montagu’s lover. Montague had hired Eleanor in 1902 as his secretary and they fell in love. Because Lord Montagu was already married, and because Eleanor was so far below him in social status, marriage between the two of them was not a credible option. However, they purportedly had a child and they did continue to work together.

1920s flapper dress. Photo credit: Production Plus - The Talent Shop

1920s flapper dress. Photo credit: Production Plus -
The Talent Shop

Back to the Rolls Royce story: it is said that Eleanor modeled for sculptor Sykes and, from that, he created an ornament of a woman in loosely flowing robes and a finger to her lips, symbolizing the secrecy of her relationship with Lord Montagu.

This story, though, does not have a happy ending. In Agony and the Ecstasy: The Great Rolls Royce Love Story, you can read about how a grief-stricken Lord Montagu wrote, “I should have got a stronger grip on her.” But he didn’t. Because, when the SS Persia, on which both the lord and Eleanor were traveling, was hit by a German Torpedo in 1916, his grasp on his beloved was not strong enough to prevent her from being washed away in the waves. According to Lord Montagu’s son, “Theirs was a great love affair. Although when he came back home he was badly injured, he spent days looking for Thorn.”

Their story is captured, even today, in the emblem of the Rolls Royce, which became a standard fitting in the early 1920s.

Alice Snitzer Burke

Alice Snitzer was born around 1876 and, at the age of 18, she married Charles Armstrong, a college graduate who enlisted to fight in the Spanish-American War alongside Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Charles fought in key battles, but contracted typhoid fever; on August 25, 1898, he died.

After his death, Alice married a man identified as Dr. Burke. On April 6, 1916, she began traveling the country in a donated Saxon Roadster to promote the suffragist (voting for women) movement, motoring along with fellow suffragist Nell Richardson and a kitten. They traveled from New York to San Francisco, arriving in June.

Alice was photographed changing tires, repairing engines and replacing spark plugs. Her hemlines even rose to make it easier to operate the floor pedals on her car. She and Nell were also featured in a magazine advertisement titled “Two Noted Suffragists Travel 10,000 Miles in a Saxon Roadster.”

Silent and Sultry

Although Alice Snitzer Burke and Nell Richardson became well known for their beliefs and accomplishments, most women in this era who were associated with cars were not much more than mere window dressing. In 1919, for example, women were hired as “motor girls,” which meant that they stood by new cars and handed out literature about headlights, horns, windshields and other amenities. In 1927, a member of the Morgan Dancers literally posed as a hood ornament in a photo of a 1927 Packard 343 Series Eight.

Celebrities and Performances

In 1934, Hazel Forbes posed by a new Packard Super Eight Convertible Victoria wearing a swim suit. Although not well known today, Hazel was an American dancer and actress who served as Miss United States at the Paris International Beauty Pageant of 1926; danced with the famous Ziegfeld Follies; and acted in two Hollywood films: Bachelor Bait and Down to Their Last Yacht, both in 1934.

In 1936, Sonja Henie, world famous ice skater, Winter Olympics gold medalist and Hollywood star, posed by a Cord 810. That same year, nearly $1 million in furs were worn by the women posing by cars at the Chicago Auto Show.

In 1938, a car show featured a comedy skit that explored whether or not women could teach people about the Chevy engine. In 1953, Dinah Shore sang “See the USA in Your Chevrolet” on her talk show.

Margery’s book continues to provide information, year by year, about the state of the car modelling industry. But now, we’re going to fast forward to 1981.

Change is in the air

Naeem Kahn 1990s Pontiac Flame Dress. Photo credit: Len Katz

Naeem Kahn 1990s Pontiac Flame Dress. Photo credit: Len Katz

Yes, women still stand by cars at auto shows, even in 2014. But, their role has changed significantly and one woman owns the lion’s share of the credit: Margery Krevsky. Here is how all of the pieces came together.

Margery had earned a fashion degree from Tobe Coburn in New York City (now a part of the Fashion Institute of Technology) and had experience working as a Glamour magazine assistant editor and as a buyer for New York retail stores, including Macy’s and JL Hudson. She sometimes interacted with models and through that connection learned about how some of them posed by vehicles at auto shows.

“In 1981,” Margery says, giving context, “the women’s movement was really big. And, what I saw was that many women who were working at car shows were very smart. They had a fine education and credentials – and they were bored just standing by a car, eight hours a day. So, I brought up the radical idea that these people can talk. They can talk car, they can share their deep knowledge of a brand, they are a fine source to sell vehicles.”

Car manufacturers did not instantly warm up to Margery’s idea, but then Nissan let her try out her theory – that these women standing by cars were more than models; that they were, instead, product specialists – at an auto show. Soon, it became standard practice for the entire industry to have the people who were standing by cars at a show be experts on their topics. As Margery writes in her book, this change allowed the industry to “evolve out of T & A to a place of professional respect.”

“People come to auto shows to see the exhibits,” Margery says. “The cars clearly are the stars. But, product specialists play an important second banana role now that they’ve become a mouthpiece. These professionals can talk horsepower, how a particular car handles and performs and so forth.”

What about the clothing?

“They were a familiar sight at auto shows not that long ago, models clad in tight miniskirts or uncomfortable heels and gowns, smiling and posing fetchingly. They recited from scripts, if they spoke at all. Beginning with the earliest shows, the models were eye candy, there to accentuate the cars and trucks on display. Not much else was required.” (New York Times, “Car-Show Models Have Come a Long Way, Baby”)

Margery scrapped the stereotypical clothing and formulated a new approach. “Each car manufacturer,” she says, “has its own brand identity. And, when I look at someone to hire, I look at his or her lifestyle and persona to see if there is a good match for a Lexus – or a Jeep. As just one example, if someone is going to be a product specialist for a Lexus or a Cadillac, people in that demographic want the person standing next to a car to look how they see themselves. So I’d think glamor, upscale, sleek.”

Because Margery works with more than 15 brands, each with a different look, she calls choosing the right wardrobes an “interesting and challenging element. With Scion, for example, you need a hip vibe, something edgy. So I’d hire someone with visible body piercing and tattoos. I’d want that person to appeal to a younger age group – and I might dress that person in black jeans, a shirt with silk screened sayings, an asymmetrical jacket and cool body piercings.”

Before any of these decisions are made, though, Margery and her team sit in a room with auto executive and ask for words that describe a particular brand. Then these adjectives are written and hung on a wall. Beside each word, Margery and her team paste pictures from a magazine that fit each adjective. From that process, they begin envisioning the appropriate wardrobe for a particular brand.

Margery hires both men and women as product specialists. “Diversity is also important,” she says, “so I look for bilingual and even trilingual people. At least ten percent of my product specialists can speak both English and Spanish. Others can also speak Japanese. Or Chinese.”

A Few More Questions

We’d seen that a documentary was being made, based on Margery’s book, and asked her for an update. She told us that the book was well

received and stands alone as an historical piece. “The documentary,” she says, “also includes interviews with people in the automotive industry and so forth, in the style of Ken Burns.” The documentary is being created by filmmaker John Laurie and is still in progress.

And, what about famous people who were once product specialists for car shows? The list includes actor and comedian Tim Allen; Marilyn Barnett, who is now the CEO of Mars Advertising; Kathleen DuRoss, who went on to marry the chairman of Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford II; actor Pam Dauber; Brian “Kato” Kaelin, who once lived on the O.J. Simpson estate; and news anchor Rhonda Walker.

As a final question: what would the Margery of, say, 35 years ago think about where life has taken her? “In college,” she says with a laugh, “I had a VW bug and, during the winter, I would always pray that it would start. Now cars are much more reliable. And, maps? Whatever would I do now without a GPS?”

Editor’s note: Margery’s car specialists will be working at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show (February 8-17), the country’s largest and longest-running car show, with more than one million square feet of exhibit space. 

 

 

Where the cars are: Advance visits the Mecum automotive auction in Kissimmee

Some of our readers may be familiar with Dana Mecum’s spectacular car auctions held around the United States and broadcast live on television.

For those watching at home, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of possibilities causing many to wonder what if I was there? What would I bid on?

You mean I can own a low mileage C5 Corvette convertible for less than the cost of a used Honda Accord?

Advance Auto Parts decided to visit the Mecum automotive auction in Kissimmee with bidding card in hand to not only find an automotive bargain, but also to stand next to an automotive legend.

A car auction in Kissimmee? What’s Kissimmee?

If you’ve never loaded the family truckster and headed south to see Mickey, Donald and Goofy, you probably don’t know where Kissimmee, Florida is.

Kissimmee is the town closest to Walt Disney World. It’s also the home of the Silver Spurs Rodeo, a Kissimmee tradition since 1944.

The Silver Spurs Rodeo is held each year at the Osceola Heritage Park, a 120-acre entertainment complex, which includes the 10,500-seat Silver Spurs Arena and 60,000-square foot exhibition building.

120 acres for an automotive auction? That seems like overkill. But, not for a Mecum auction.

The Mecum auction in Kissimmee is one of the largest collector car auctions in the world. This year, more than 3,000 vehicles will be auctioned off to the highest bidder over the course of 10 days.

Each day has a tent (or group of tents, depending on the day) where both registered and non-registered bidders can closely examine nearly everything offered during the 10-day auction.

Even supercars?

Yep, even supercars are available for view and, in some cases, the owners allow any tire kicker who comes along to start the vehicle, pop the hood and check for leaks.

You said supercars. Now you’ve got my attention.

Supercar might be an understatement. How about automotive legend.

Our readers will remember our post covering The Lingenfelter Collection, which contained excerpts from our interview with collection owner, Ken Lingenfelter.

In that post, we said:

One car in particular that has his eye, at the time of writing this post, is the 1988 Callaway Sledgehammer Corvette that his cousin John drove to set a world record in speed for a street driven, street legal car: 254.76 miles per hour. “John put his life on the line to set that record,” Ken says, “so I’d really like it. But it may go for more at auction than I’m willing to pay. We’ll see.”

mecum-sledgehammer

It was a privilege to see this car in person. Especially considering that the next owner could potentially hide it away in his garage for a decade or more.

Something for everyone

If one-off, record-setting, blazingly-fast cars aren’t your thing, the Mecum auction has much more to offer.

In addition to collector cars, thousands of pieces of road art are also up for sale. Everything from classic license plates (from just about every state and from every year) to neon clocks are available to the highest bidder.

mecum-road-art

What if 80s mid-engine domestic 2-doors with Ferrari-esque body kits and John Deere tractors are your thing? Go to the Mecum car auction in Kissimmee.

mecum-tractor-fiero

What if supercharged rat rods are your thing?  This low-slung beast has a custom air ride suspension setup with the air tank mounted between the seats.

mecum-rat-rod

What if ’84 Nissan Datsuns are your thing? This survivor has 42,000 original miles and looks showroom fresh.

mecum-datsun

Still haven’t found what you are looking for? Here are a few more to choose from:

Hurry! There’s still time.

The 2014 Mecum car auction in Kissimmee concludes January 26. Can’t make it down to sunny Florida? Go to www.mecum.com and click the watch online link or tune in to Esquire and NBC’s television coverage (check local listings for time and channel).

Editor’s note: What’s your favorite item up for auction in Kissimmee? Let us know in the comments below.

 

A behind-the-scenes look at windshield wipers

Windshield wipers When it starts to rain, you automatically turn on your wipers, without giving it a second thought. The earliest drivers, though, couldn’t do that, because wipers didn’t yet exist. It wasn’t until November 10, 1903 that a woman from Birmingham, Alabama named Mary Anderson received a patent for a “window cleaning device for electric cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice or sleet from the windows.”

In other words, windshield wipers.

Windshield wiper history

History Channel provides more of the back story of this amazing invention.  Anderson was riding a street car in New York City, but the driver couldn’t see through his windshield. The windshield was split so that the driver could open it and manually clean off rain, sleet or snow, but passengers shivered and/or got wet in the process.

Anderson knew there had to be a better way and so she devised a set of wooden and rubber wipers operated by a lever located by the steering wheel. This activated a spring loaded arm that cleared off the windshield. These wipers could be removed and used only when necessary.

People laughed at the notion, figuring that these wipers would distract drivers and cause accidents. Anderson tried selling her creation to a manufacturing company who refused, seeing no practical value in a device that cleaned car windows. By 1913, these wipers were found on most cars, but the inventor didn’t profit.

More windshield wiper history: in 1917, Charlotte Bridgewood invented another version of wipers, but she didn’t make any money from her invention, either.

Modern day windshield wipers

It’s hard to imagine not having wipers on your car, and today’s drivers realize that they help to prevent accidents rather than causing them. When old wipers leave behind streaks or otherwise don’t clear off a windshield, they know it’s time to replace them.

Editor’s note: Purchase your windshield wipers from Advance Auto Parts and our Team Members will install them free (most vehicles, most locations). Find the store closest to you

Braking for Birds: Behold The Flying Car

Flying cars

Photo credit: Terrafugia

Okay . . . you’re driving down the smog-choked road. Not really driving, more like idling since the traffic is dreadful. You could leave the highway at the next exit–if you ever get there, that is–or you could sing along with your radio for an hour or two to help pass time. Or, if you’ve purchased one of the world’s amazing new flying cars, you could someday simply extend your wings and glide the rest of the way home.

Sounds like sci-fi, doesn’t it? Well, a company named Terrafugia recently announced the upcoming release of not one, but two, cars that can transition from ordinary road/land driving to flying: the Transition and the TF-X. The first of the two should be ready for use in–ready for this?–2015.

Terrafugia’s CEO, Carl Dietrich, believes that flying cars will benefit people in hugely significant ways, saying that the possibilities are impossible to even quantify.

The Transition

The Terrafugia website describes the Transition as a “street-legal airplane that converts between flying and driving modes in under a minute, “which brings a “new level of freedom, flexibility, and fun to personal aviation.” At this point, the Transition must be driven to an airport for takeoffs and landings; drivers will need to have a valid standard driver’s license as well as sport pilot certification.

Advantages listed include:

  • The flying vehicle can land and drive in bad weather
  • Fits into a standard single car garage; no trailer or hangar required
  • Can fly in and out of more than 5,000 public U.S. airports
  • Legal to drive on public roads and highways
  • Meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards
  • Equipped with a parachute, driver/passenger airbags and automotive crash safety features
  • Uses the same engine for driving and flying
  • Can use premium gasoline rather than the more expensive aviation fuel
  • Cargo area available

This can be yours for only $279,000, with a $10,000 deposit due upon reservation of the vehicle. Approximately 100 people have reserved this land/air vehicle to date. Check out this video of the Transition both driving and flying. And, this one.

Flying cars

Photo credit: Terrafugia

Other cars racing to be the first to command the skies include PAL-V ONE by PAL-V Europe NV and the Aeromobil by a Slovakian company led by Stefan Klein.

History of flying cars

Perhaps the Transition will become the first truly successful flying car. This definitely isn’t the first serious attempt, however. In fact, the idea of flying cars is pretty old, nearly as old as the automobile itself.

Here are some highlights:

  • Henry Ford began assembling his first auto prototype in 1892
  • Just 11 years later, on August 17, 1903, Dr. Trajan Vuia of Paris, France filed a patent for a flying car
  • On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers test flew their aircraft
  • In 1912, a car carried by a hot air balloon was imagined
  • In 1919, the Autoplane by Glenn Curtiss took a short test flight

According to Doug Hilton, the Englishman who crossed the English Channel in an Amphicar–and who is working to set up a Land, Air and Sea Museum to honor dual-purpose vehicles–more than one hundred patents already exist for flying cars. Few have reached the mock up stage, Doug says; not surprisingly, most of them have been worked on in the United States.

And, even when designers and engineers weren’t necessarily thinking about a working prototype of a flying car, they were often inspired by airplanes in their creations. For example, here is a video of film shot in 1948 that shows car prototypes that didn’t actually fly but were “streamlined as a plane” and contained multiple airplane principles and features; these prototypes include the Davis 3-wheeler. The narrator of the video often uses airplane-like lingo, including “fuselage” and “cockpit,” saying that these vehicles “only need a pair of wings to be comfortable in the sky” and were “wasting time on the ground.”

Prototypes of interest that actually flew include (but are not limited to!) the:

  • Waldo Waterman Aerobile in 1937: three-wheeled car with detachable wings and a Studebaker car engine
  • Robert Fulton Airphibian in 1947: four airplane-sized wheels with a six cylinder Franklin aircraft engine
  • Moulton B. “Molt” Taylor AEROCAR in 1956: Lycoming airplane engine with front-wheel drive; flight module included the wing, rear fuselage, draft shaft and propeller

Each of the three vehicles listed above earned certification as an aircraft but only a handful of vehicles were actually produced in each instance. Molt Taylor’s, though, nearly reached mass production.

Molt Taylor and the AEROCAR

Paraphrase of Molt’s philosophy: Airplanes never take you where you want to go. They take you to airports.

Now, who can argue with that??

Molt was born in 1912, not long after the first successful flight tests by the Wrights. When he was just 14, he got a ride in an old biplane and quickly learned to fly himself. When he became of age, he got a pilot’s license and earned degrees in aeronautical engineering and business, and also became a naval aviation cadet.

He didn’t stop there, either. He built his own plane from the remains of another and invented an inexpensive aircraft radio, forming the Taylor Airphone Products company to sell his invention. When World War II broke out, he served the U.S. as Lt. Commander in the navy, helping to invent the surface-to-surface missile, a powerful weapon with a television camera in its nose. Molt became the first person to test that someone could both fly an airplane and discharge this missile; this act of bravery earned him the Legion of Merit.

After the war ended, Molt fully deserved to return to his company and rest on his laurels. Instead, he persuaded fifty people to invest $1,000 each (equal to an investment of $9,803.92 in today’s dollars) and, in nine short months, created a workable prototype of a flying car: the AEROCAR 1.

After performing this astonishing feat of engineering, it took him a few years to raise the $750,000 ($7.4 million in today’s dollars) needed to get this vehicle certified. This was accomplished in 1956 and six vehicles were produced.

The cost to build was $25,000 each but Molt planned to find ways to get the retail price down to $15,000. A television star, Robert Cummings of Love That Bob, bought one and would land at airports to crowds of cheering fans.

Molt struggled to get the AEROCAR into production, but nearly achieved that goal in 1970, when Ford Motor Company expressed interest and committed to building 25,000 per year. Unfortunately, the Department of Transportation requirements created a financial roadblock that could not be overcome.

Of the original six AEROCARs built, five of them still existed in 1990 (and may still exist today!). The other was destroyed during testing. Plans existed for an AEROCAR 2000 but this has not yet come to fruition.

What’s Next? The TF-X

Cars that fly

The TF-X takes flight. Photo credit: Terrafugia

Terrafugia, the company that plans to bring the Transition to market in 2015, is also working to create a “four-seat, plug-in hybrid electric flying car . . . TF-X ™ will provide true door-to-door transportation combined with the freedom of vertical takeoff and landing – creating a new dimension of personal mobility.” In other words, you won’t need to drive to an airport for takeoff and landing. How cool would that be?

The TF-X is projected to include multiple safety features that should make driving one safer than a typical automobile–by automatically avoiding other traffic. Emergency features include a backup parachute system and auto-land if the pilot is unresponsive. Flight training should take a typical driver up to five hours.

Pricing has not yet been determined, although it may be comparable to “very high-end luxury cars.” The vehicle is expected to be in development for 8 to 12 more years before being released to the public.

Expert commentary

Doug Hilton, founder of the emerging Land, Air and Sea Museum in England, has this to say about the development of flying cars:

Perhaps the biggest astonishment is that it’s taken sixty years for a worthy successor to come along since Molt Taylor offered the first ever fully certified flying car to the public in the early 1950s. Molt Taylor’s Aerocar had only six variants made and some of these are amazingly still flying.”

The Terrafugia company, however, is hoping to sell many more than this of their Transition and when we see such creative and skilled engineering driven by such passion and dedication, we can only wish them the best of success.”

But why has it taken so long?

Well there are many reasons behind that lag, including the fact that at over a quarter of a million dollars each, these are likely to be a niche product. This is a lot of money to pay for any car or light plane.

Apart from fear of development costs and over potential sales, the main reason for the time lag with no public offerings is the huge amount of testing and certification required. It was almost unbearably tough when Molt Taylor produced his Aerocar in the 1950s but since then the sky seems to have poured more regulations every year than rain and the world has entered a phase whereby if someone gets it wrong, or takes a risk that fails to come off, then rather than accepting it, people instantly try to find someone to sue. This completely shut down light aircraft production in the mid-1980s, so it’s a brave manufacturer that is prepared to enter anything quite as interesting in the product field as a flying car and the world has been a poorer place for it.

The Terrafugia team have battled hard to meet current laws relating to both civil aviation aircraft construction regulations and those of road use; probably harder than anyone that has never been involved with this kind of thing can imagine as the concept of flying cars is alien to bureaucrats.

Even then, several exemptions have had to be obtained for this two person flying car including a permitted weight increase that still keeps it in the ‘Light Sport’ category under which the benefits of considerably reduced license conditions apply – and this factor will appeal to many.

This however comes with restrictions on weight and top speed, so it’s unlikely that you would purchase one of these for major cross country flying but the quoted figures of 100 mph cruise speed and 410-mile range with 30 minutes reserve are no slouches and could be ideal in the right weather for general flights to the office and back and make it a serious contender against more energy hungry, heavier planes.

Terrafugia would of course say that if the weather turns bad you simply land and go by road but this assumes a safe road to land on and the right wind direction. Pilots with skills more advanced than perhaps the average Light Sport pilot may possess could be required before just dropping into a strange highway. Any distance on the roads might also become a bit wearing on both the lightweight vehicle and the driver but time will tell.

In designing a flying car a decision normally has to be made as to if it’s going to be a car that occasionally flies in order to avoid those dreaded traffic jams, or a plane that occasionally lands and drives when the weather turns bad.

In this case the design is no secret. The Terrafugia Transition has been designed as a plane that drives a typical driving range of up to 20 miles from the landing point. This seems a spot-on design choice and will make many of those small landing strips ideal for use without having to bother with a big runway and the fees that go with it and then the car hire.

The exciting use of ultra-modern lightweight materials and engineering design flair has made possible details such as those amazing self-retracting wings and helped to reduce weight while permitting rigidity of construction.

This is a major and long overdue step to a real future for flying car design. Coming next? Well the Terrafugia TF-X could well take the flying car market well into personal helicopter car design.

Flying car

At home with the TF-X. Photo credit: Terrafugia

What Else is Next? Civilian Space Travel

The reality is that a non-astronaut has already been in space, the wealthy scientist and entrepreneur Dennis Tito from the United States who paid Russians for a ride to the International Space Station in 2001. Soon, it’s likely that Sir Richard Branson (head of Virgin Galactic) and his wife will make a suborbital trip. After that, the couple plans to offer trips to other paying customers.

A trip will, according to the website, “allow an out-of-the-seat, zero-gravity experience with astounding views of the planet from the black sky of space for tourist astronauts and a unique microgravity platform for researchers.”

Virgin Galactic President and CEO George Whitesides shares his own vision of space travel in the future. “Over the next 30 years,” Whitesides says, “I believe thousands, and perhaps even millions, of private individuals will travel to space. As we progress through the 21st century, space flight may become nearly as common for travelers as taking a plane trip became for millions across the world during the 20th. The technology that permits flights into space will also allow passengers to fly to far-flung places on Earth in record time. By traveling out of the Earth’s atmosphere for a small amount of time, a non-stop trip from New York to Sydney might take two to three hours instead of the 20-hour, multi-leg trip required today.

“Furthermore, I believe air travel will be more environmentally friendly.  Airlines ferrying passengers on regional routes will run small, short-hop planes on battery cells. Now is a fascinating time for the commercial space industry. It is inspiring to see business leaders from different sectors applying their best ideas and practices to the unique challenges of space flight. The next 30 years hold exciting, unexplored territory for the people of the world.”

To date, Virgin Galactic has received more than $70 million in deposits and have approximately 640 customers waiting at the edge of their seats for their suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise. SpaceShipTwo has already undergone two successful test flights–in April 2013 and September 2013.

“The path is now clear,” a Virgin Galactic company spokesperson says, “to a fairly small number of similar flights, which will see a rapid expansion of rocket burn time, culminating in a full space flight, which we expect to achieve during 2013. We will need to undertake a number of test space flights, and fit and flight test the interior. Our best estimate at the moment, if test flights continue as expected, is that we could see the first paying customer flights in 2014.”

Flight options currently offered by Virgin Galactic include paying the full $200,000 per seat price to become one of the first 1,000 humans to experience space travel; to pay a deposit of $20,000 to guarantee the price of $200,000 for a flight to be scheduled after paid-in-full customers travel in space; or to pay $1 million to charter an exclusive trip for yourself and five of your closest friends. (The website notes that, with the $1 million payment, a space tourist would in fact get six tickets for the price of five!)

Flying cars

Photo credit: Mark Greenberg

When asked about what types of people are signing up for the early space flights, the Virgin Galactic company spokesperson believes that they are all “passionate about this project and can’t wait to experience space for themselves. They also recognize the importance of early adopters in the successful evolution of any new industry and know they are booking a place in history. In the lead up to the flight they are a part of a unique, global, actively engaged community–in some ways the most exclusive club on Earth.”

Life in Space

As farfetched as it once seemed, a company called Bigelow Aerospace is already designing cabins that will be launched into space in 2015. Once they arrive at the International Space Station, these cabins will expand into 13 x 10 foot living spaces where astronauts can give them a try as far as practicality goes.

On January 5, 2018, a man and woman should fly past Mars in an initiative from a foundation called, appropriately enough, Inspiration Mars. Because of the planetary alignment on that date, this trip is expected to take only 501 days and will further open up possibilities for space travel.

For more information, check out this handy infographic on flying cars (double-click to grab a copy):

A History of Flying Cars [INFOGRAPHIC] - Advance Auto Parts

 

Editor’s note: What do you think? Do you plan to put down a deposit on a flying car? Hitch a suborbital ride with Virgin Galactic? Visit Mars? Let us know in the comments below! 

GPS Volume 3: finding the best navigation system for your car

 

Advance Auto PartsThe third and final installment of our ongoing series on GPS systems.

Choosing a GPS device can be confusing. When it comes to cars, there are four main GPS navigation system options. There are:

• factory-installed systems on new cars
• dealer-installed systems on new or used cars
• add-on in-dash GPS navigation systems that replace current equipment
• portable GPS devices that are relatively cheap and easy to move from car to car

As with most technology, the best GPS navigation systems keep improving and having more bells and whistles added. Features available now include convenient touch-screen options, street maps that are three dimensional and in full color, hands-free operation, long-life battery backups and much more.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the GPS systems.

1)   Let’s look first at GPS navigation systems that are offered as standard or optional equipment on new cars. These tend to look the nicest, as they are built into the dash, typically with larger screens, which helps with convenience and visibility.

Disadvantages include the fact that these dealer-installed systems can be more expensive and, when ready to upgrade, you must purchase the upgrades from the dealer rather than downloading them by computer. (On the other hand, upgrades are typically part of the car’s warranty and so they are covered for a longer period.) Finally, you can’t take the GPS system from one car and use it in another.

2)   You can also have your local dealer install a system purchased from the auto maker. With this option, you can basically expect the same advantages and disadvantages as a factory-installed system. However, since they aren’t factory original equipment, the components may not look as pristine in the dashboard and the warranty by the dealer probably will be shorter than the factory warranty.

3)   You can also have a GPS navigation system added to your vehicle in place of the original radio. These are nice for RVs, as you can choose a large screen and include a radio, CD player, DVD player and more in the system. These are not easy to install, though, and typically require an outside antenna.

4)   Portable GPS systems are more affordable than the other three options, and can be easily moved from car to car. This is the system of choice if you tend to rent or lease cars (leased cars typically can’t be modified).  It’s also great if you want to share one unit among family members owning different vehicles.

These units don’t typically offer advanced features. They are generally not as sharp looking as the factory systems are, as they are designed to stick on the dash or the windshield. Because they are powered from the car’s power outlet or cigarette lighter, you’ll have a cord hanging loose. In addition, the screens will be smaller and they will also be more prone to theft.

Brands of GPS Systems

Five brands of systems command the most market share; here are a few details about each:

Garmin

This brand boasts the largest presence, with 50%-plus of market share. In addition to automotive units, the company makes marine and aviation units.

Magellan

Magellan is one of the pioneers in the field, creating one of the first commercially viable systems. Plus, this California company provides Hertz with the system used in their rental cars.

 Mio

This brand offers both budget and full-featured, full-price units.

Nextar

Nextar is newer than the other brands but is steadily carving its own niche in the GPS industry.

TomTom

TomTom positions itself as the biggest supplier of GPS units, selling them in 30 nations plus on the Internet.

Editor’s note: Discover more about the history of GPS devices and find out more about what GPS devices can do for you.

Happy New Year from Advance

Happy New Year
Cheers to a healthy and happy 2014.

Now, let’s get those DIY projects done!

(Let us know what you plan to work on.)

—The Advance Team

New Year. New Gear.

Advance Auto PartsIf your New Year’s resolutions include getting those delayed car projects done, now is the perfect time to gear up.

Check out the Advance Auto Parts site for great savings, plus a bonus deal if your order qualifies, now through January 11, 2014.

To get your order even faster, buy online and pick it up at your local Advance store.

Cheers,

The Advance Team

 

GPS Volume 2: How features benefit you…and more

Garmin NuviPeople typically use a GPS to determine the best route to their destinations. If you hate busy highways, you can request a route that relies more heavily on local roads, and vice versa. It can help you find the nearest restaurant, gas station and the like and typically offers spoken directions (“turn right at the next intersection”) to help you switch into the proper lane and otherwise make your trip more smooth and problem free.

Once the door is opened, so to speak, GPS technology can provide a slew of information that the driver didn’t know was available.

GPS devices can also:

• Monitor your vehicle mileage
• Keep track of how many miles you drove on your latest vacation or business trip
• Watch your speed for you

If you loan your car to your teenager, you might appreciate that it can record:

• Each destination and the streets driven to arrive there
• How long the vehicle remained at a particular location
• Speed warnings

GPS technology can also come to the rescue if someone steals your vehicle, once it is integrated with your anti-theft system. You can request that the GPS either email you or call you to let you know that your car alarm went off, and to share where the vehicle is currently located.

Worried about car maintenance? Some GPS units can let you know when it’s time to recharge or replace your car battery or to change your oil. If your locks freeze, you can contact your device through your cell phone and unlock your car.

Though GPS technology is gaining popularity in cars, one problem still exists.

Signals can get blocked. If you’re driving through a mountain range, as just one example, GPS devices may not work. The same can happen when you’re traveling through a national state park full of trees or through tunnels. Give the experts time, though, and they’ll most likely improve upon this challenge.

 

Editor’s note: Discover more about the history of GPS devices and stay tuned for more info about GPS for cars, including the leading brands.

Merry Christmas from Advance

Advance Auto PartsWe wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season.

Accelerate the spirit by donating to organizations in need of an extra helping hand this season:

To help find a cure for Type 1 diabetes: www.jdrf.org

To help defeat cancer: www.cancer.org

To honor the memory of Paul Walker and help provide relief to victims of natural disasters: www.roww.org

All the best,

Jim Kazliner

Editor • DIY’er