Forefixers: The Innovators Who Brought Air Conditioning to Your Car

Air conditioning console in vehicle

Source | Mike/Pexels

Unless you’ve owned a car with a broken air conditioning system, it’s hard to imagine having to slog through the long, hot summer in a vehicle that’s just as hot inside as everything else is outside. We treasure our cool climate, whether in the home, the office, or somewhere in between at the wheel of our cars. But air conditioning is a relatively modern invention—about half as old as the car itself. So who were the early contributors to our freedom from summer’s brutal reign? Read on to find out.

Black and white photo of Willis Carrier in front of a large machine

Source | Carrier

Willis Carrier

The most important figure in any discussion of air conditioning in the modern sense is undoubtedly Willis Carrier. Yes, that Carrier—there’s a good chance your home’s A/C unit bears his name.

In 1902, Carrier invented the first modern electrical air conditioning unit. Carrier’s impetus for figuring out the electric-powered air conditioner was to improve the quality and uniformity of specialized printing runs for a printing plant. As a result, the systems that created the cool air were large, bulky, and had little potential for any other use.

It would take a little more than a decade for the wealthiest Americans to begin installing the first air conditioning units in their private homes. But it would be several decades before others managed to engineer a solution small enough to fit in a car, yet effective enough to be worth the hassle.

Photo portrait of Thomas Midgley Jr.

Thomas Midgley Jr. Source | Creative Commons

Thomas Midgley Jr.

Carrier’s air conditioning design used cold water in the cooling portion of the device, but that only allowed a small potential for cooling the ambient air. To get much colder air temperatures, and do it quicker, pressurized refrigerants were necessary. That’s where controversial inventor Thomas Midgley Jr. came in.

While pressurized refrigerant air conditioners had been created and used before, it was Midgley who found a way to use a nontoxic, nonflammable refrigerant to keep things cool. Previous systems had used dangerous chemicals like propane or ammonia, but Midgley’s system used Freon, or R12 as it’s also known. R12 powered the first automobile air conditioning systems, and that same refrigerant would continue in use in the U.S. until 1994, when R12 was banned and replaced with R134a, due to R12’s environmental hazards.

Edward L. Mayo

Even though the air conditioning scene for buildings and other enterprises was going gangbusters, it wasn’t until 1938 that a serious attempt to provide air conditioning for cars was patented. That year, Edward L. Mayo, working for the Bishop & Babcock Mfg. Company of Cleveland, Ohio, applied to patent the Bishop & Babcock Weather Conditioner. The system included not only an air conditioner but a heater, too.

Mayo’s design was innovative, and, for the time, very compact. Still, it took up considerable space in the vehicle’s interior, typically occupying a significant portion of the available trunk space. It was also expensive and didn’t have any temperature controls other than an on-off switch. As a result, the system never gained much widespread use and was eventually discontinued.

Vintage air conditioning ad

Nils Erik Wahlberg & Joseph F. Sladky

Another decade and a half passed before the next big advance in air conditioning arrived, by way of the Nash-Kelvinator company and its engineers, Nils Erik Wahlberg and Joseph F. Sladky. Filed in 1950, and approved in 1954, the patent showed an automobile air conditioning system that put all of the components required to manage the cabin air temperature under the hood and cowling. They were tucked away from the passenger and cargo space, meaning the system required no real compromise.

It was called the All-Weather Eye—less expensive and easier to assemble and install than previous systems. And unlike its predecessors, the All-Weather Eye didn’t drive the air conditioning compressor continuously, whether it was being used or not. Instead, it used an electrically operated clutch to engage or disengage the compressor as needed—just like on modern air conditioning systems. That innovation meant less power was diverted from driving the car, improving acceleration and gas mileage when the A/C wasn’t in use.

Future forefixers

The air conditioning system is still undergoing upgrades and changes. We’ve seen the introduction of two-, three-, and even four-zone climate control within a car’s cabin, as well as systems for electric cars and hybrids that minimize the function of the air conditioning under certain conditions to improve efficiency. There’s even an industrywide move to switch from the current refrigerant, R134a, to an even safer, more environmentally friendly alternative, due to take effect in parts of the world by 2018.

In 100 years, there’s no doubt we’ll have many more forefixers to add to this list.

Do you know of any more air conditioning forefixers? Let us know in the comments.

Crucial Cars: Chevrolet Camaro, Part Two

Back when the Chevrolet Camaro debuted, the Beatles were making albums, color TV was a new novelty and the Vietnam war was escalating. Chevy’s sleek new number, an answer to Ford’s super successful Mustang launched a few years prior, came onto the groovy scene to get its slice of the “pony car” pie. In the nearly half century since, the Camaro has stayed true to its roots by providing enthusiasts with an abundance of styling and performance at an affordable price.

We’ve already covered the first three generations of the Camaro so now with part two we pick up where we left off.

Something borrowed, something new

1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z28

1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z28

The fourth generation of the Camaro debuted for the 1993 model year. Even sleeker than before, this Camaro initially came in base and Z28 versions. The base car came with a 3.4-liter, 160-hp V6, while the Z28 borrowed the “LT1” 5.7-liter V8 from the Corvette, though in this application it made 275 hp versus 300 hp in the ‘vette. Still, it was the most powerful engine fitted to a Camaro since the early ’70s, and made

the Z28 truly quick with 0-to-60 and quarter mile times running around 5.6 and 14.0 seconds, respectively. The V8 was backed by either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Safety was also enhanced via standard antilock disc brakes. That year, the Z28 paced the Indy 500 and replicas were produced in its honor.

The following year, a convertible version returned to the Camaro lineup. For 1995, a more powerful V6 (3.8-liter,200 hp) became available on the base car and traction control became available on the Z28. More power was the battle cry for ’96, as the Z28 got 10 more horses, the base car got the 3.8-liter V6 as standard, and an SS option took the Z28’s V8 even higher, to 305 hp. The latter was known as the Z28 SS, strange considering those were separate trim levels in the past.

To celebrate the Camaro’s 30th anniversary, Chevrolet offered a special white and orange themed Z28 for 1997. One could also choose a limited edition of the SS featuring a 330-hp V8, the LT4 borrowed from the previous year’s Corvette engine roster.

A facelift for 1998 gave the Camaro a more aggressive nose with a bigger grille and headlights. But the big news—for the Z28 anyway—lay behind it. An all-aluminum LS-1 V8 (shared with the Corvette) gave the Z28 305 standard (and likely considerably underrated) horsepower, while the base car continued with the 3.8 V6. The SS boasted a functional hood scoop and 320 horsepower from its LS-1. Nothing major happened over the next few years apart from, in 2001, the Z28’s output rating being changed to a more realistic 310 horsepower.

 

2002 Chevrolet Camaro SS 35th Anniversary Edition

2002 Chevrolet Camaro SS 35th Anniversary Edition

The last year of the fourth-gen Camaro—2002—also signaled the 35th anniversary of the model, an occasion celebrated by a special edition of the SS featuring red paint and a pair of silver stripes that morphed into checkered flags as they neared the windshield.

I’m baaaack

2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS

2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS

After a seven year hiatus, the Camaro returned for 2010. With retro styling that obviously paid homage to the first-gen Camaro, it looked like a show car that rumbled right off the turntable and into the showroom. Indeed, it visually differed little from the concept car displayed at auto shows a few years earlier.

The lineup consisted of base LS, luxury LT and sporty SS. The Z28 was noticeably absent. Even V6 versions packed plenty of heat, with their 3.6-liter engine making a stout 304 hp. The SS sported no less than 426 hp (400 with automatic) from its 6.2-liter V8. Transmission choices for both included a six-speed manual and six-speed automatic. Going with the V6 still meant a seriously quick car, with 60 mph and the quarter mile taking just about 6 and 14 seconds, respectively. Springing for the SS gave you performance that could embarrass most any old muscle car; we’re talking low 5 second 0-60 blasts and a low-13 second quarter.

An independent rear end and quick steering came regardless of which Camaro you picked. The SS also featured larger Brembo brakes and a sport-tuned suspension, making it a strong performer on a twisty road as well. The chief gripe road testers had concerned the car’s poor outward visibility that was due to the thick roof pillars and high beltline. For 2011, the V6 got a boost to 312 hp, while later in the model year a convertible version debuted.

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible

Not since the 1960s had such a power war raged, and for 2012 the Camaro faced off against its top Mustang and Challenger rivals with the new ZL1. With a pavement scorching 580 horsepower from its supercharged 6.2-liter V8 the ZL1 ripped to 60 mph and through the quarter mile in the low 4-second and low 12-second ranges, respectively. An adaptive suspension and dual-mode exhaust are also part of the ZL1 deal. Less exciting but still notable for that year were more power for the V6 (now at 323 hp) and an upgraded interior. The following year saw the debut of the road-racing oriented 1LE option package for the SS.

Making a triumphant return for 2014, the Z/28 topped the lineup and returned to its roots as a no-nonsense track-ready car. As such, weight was dropped via the deletion of A/C and some sound insulation, making the Z/28 about 300 pounds lighter than the ZL1. Even more focused than the 1LE, the Z/28 features a 7.0-liter, 505-hp V8 (formerly used in the Z06 Corvette), lightweight 19-inch wheels, a race-ready suspension setup and exotic carbon ceramic brakes. The whole Camaro line benefitted from an update that featured new front- and rear-end styling, with the former showing off a larger lower grille and smaller headlights and the latter sporting rectangular taillights and a new spoiler.

For 2015, Chevy’s iconic sport coupe (and drop top) saw no changes as that year marked the end of the fifth gen Camaro.

Six generations strong

Although it didn’t look much different, the 2016 Camaro was nearly all-new, but the important attributes remained…the long standing tradition of power, performance, and unmatched aesthetics.

 

2016 Chevrolet Camaro RS

2016 Chevrolet Camaro RS

A number of Camaro enthusiast sites provide advice as well as classifieds for cars and parts for sale. You may want to check out Camaro Forums and Camaro Source. Furthermore, acceleration times can be found on zeroto60times.com.

Are you a fan of the Camaro? Tell us about your experience. 

Crucial Cars: Ford Bronco

Cream colored classic Ford Bronco

Source | Andrew Duthie/Flickr

Over the last 50 years, dozens of SUVs and off-roaders debuted only to become stuck in the ruts and mud holes of history, forgotten. There are very few legends in this arena, but the Ford Bronco name recalls off-road fun in an affordable and efficient package. For 30 years, the Bronco was a Spartan, capable vehicle that was everything the modern flabby crossover isn’t: awesome.

1966: Creating a legend

1966 Ford Bronco

1966 Ford Bronco, Source | Valder 137

Ford fans will recognize the names Lee Iacocca and Donald Frey as fathers of the massively successful Ford Mustang. Iacocca liked small vehicles and Frey was riding high after huge Mustang sales numbers, so the pair tried again with what was conceived as an off-road Mustang. Lightning struck twice.

The only real competition of the time came from the Jeep CJ, whose ancient design harked back to the WWII military Jeep. It looked great, but was cramped inside and down on power. Ford solved both issues with its 1966 Bronco. Larger inside but still compact externally, the Bronco could be fitted with the same engine as the Mustang, a 289 V8. The CJ didn’t offer any size V8. Available in truck, convertible, and wagon forms, the innovative design of the Bronco could adapt to drivers’ outdoor needs.

The Bronco wasn’t just more powerful; it was all-around better. Instead of harsh-riding solid axles and leaf springs up front, the first-generation Bronco had coil springs and a three-link-style suspension for better on-road handling, but was still capable and durable when mudding. Later, the truck gained the 302 V8 and an automatic.

With just minor changes over the 11-year first generation, the Bronco gradually lost sales to bigger competition. Still, collectors consider the last ’76–’77 trucks some of the most sought-after Broncos. These years gained factory options like heavy-duty Dana 44 axles, power steering, and power disc brakes, all making the late first-gens comfortable on-road and durable off-road. The early Bronco was one steed that wouldn’t let you down.

1978: A full-size workhorse

1978_ford_bronco_front

Source | Magley64

The second generation was brief, at only two years. Why a full redesign for such a short time? The original Bronco was uncompetitive by the time it left the market, outgunned by vehicles like the Chevrolet Blazer and International Harvester Scout II. A larger, more powerful, and heavier-duty Bronco was in the works but had been delayed due to the ’70s gas crunch. Ford didn’t want to look irresponsible debuting a monster truck when gas was at a shocking dollar per gallon.

Once the supply crunch passed, the 1978 Bronco hit the streets and dirt trails. Essentially a half-ton F-100 truck with a shortened frame and a removable hardtop canopy over the bed, the Bronco was larger than its predecessor in every way, including under the hood. The base engine was a 351M, which was cool and all, but wrong for those penny-pinching times. The 400 V8 was available for extra cash, as the biggest engine available in any generation Bronco. It didn’t have to stop there, though—since Ford dumped the huge 460 V8 into all kinds of cars and trucks in the late ’70s, a 460 would drop right in. As is, the second-generation Bronco was an ogre on the street but could overpower hills, mud, and rocks when off-roading.

1980: Downsized and upscale

The 1980s were a different time and saw economy introduced across the range of models, including large cars, SUVs, and trucks. The third-generation Bronco was built on the new seventh-generation F-150 chassis, and parts sharing continued. Downsized in external dimensions and available engines, the Bronco gained an inline six as the base engine. It was somewhat fuel efficient but lacked the ponies for towing. The 302 and 351M were optional for the V8 crowd. The independent front suspension helped road manners, and the interior was quieter and almost civil. The removable hardtop continued, as did seating for six, but competitors with four doors were starting to gain ground, and the Bronco was a bit softer than previous versions.

 

1987: Continued refinement

1987-91_Ford_Bronco

1987 Ford Bronco, Source | IFCAR

In 1987, another new truck meant another generation of Bronco. This time underpinned by the F-150, the Bronco gained subtle front-end aerodynamic tricks and a complete redesign of the interior. Unfortunately, the same cubic-inch options continued, with a straight six, 302, and 351W. These were the digital Broncos, offering fuel injection. Enthusiasts cheered when transmissions gained a gear, getting to four speeds in the automatic and a five speed for the manual. The 1991 25th anniversary showed the Bronco getting old and Ford not caring. Rather than going hardcore on a retro 4×4 with monster capability, Ford offered red paint and leather. A flashy and comfy steed, but mainly marginalized.

1992 practicality and out to pasture

1992-96_Ford_Bronco

1992 Ford Bronco, Source | IFCAR

The 1992 Bronco was handsome, if tame looking. With buyers less interested in gas mileage, model bloat was not an issue, and the Bronco porked it on up to 4,600 pounds. Still, there were some standouts in the fifth generation. 1996 is the winner here, as it had OBD2 for easy tuning and troubleshooting, and cool mirrors with turn indicators in the side mirror glass. The 351W was the choice for solid towing, with manual hubs, quad shocks, and tow package for possibly the best ’90s all-around SUV.

While a great rig, the Bronco lost ground to the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, and their reliable and quiet all-metal construction. The Bronco’s removable roof was awesome fun, but NVH suffered with wind noise, squeaks, and rattles. Power was adequate from the aging V8s, but gas mileage was terrible, seeing 20 MPG downhill. The two-door design looked great, but proved less popular than four-doors like Grand Wagoneer and Suburban. Buyers wanted looks but bought convenience. Outclassed as an on-roader, Ford dropped the Bronco for the clean-sheet four-door Expedition in 1997.

Rumors and Return

So if it was outclassed and inconvenient, why did the Bronco matter and why are its competitors mostly forgotten? It was a cheap and simplistic vehicle that was ready to take you on an adventure, any time you wanted to go. The idea of a fun, affordable off-roader is what people remember, rather than the rattles and poor gas mileage. Add some nostalgia, great stories, and experiences from owners, and it’s no wonder the Bronco is still talked about today.

After years of rumors, internet claims, and even a couple of concept trucks and infamous renderings, Ford confirmed at the 2017 North American International Auto Show that the Bronco will return in 2020. We do know it will be built on the same platform as the new Ford Ranger, but details are still under wraps as of this writing.

Enthusiasts hope for a capable compact that can take on the modern CJ, the Jeep Wrangler. Corporate bean counters want the cheapest vehicle with readily available parts, so it may end up looking like a new Ranger with seats in back. Or it could be a mix of something in between, capable and corporate, like Toyota’s FJ Cruiser. Ford just has to remember the original idea: simple, charismatic, honest, and fun. It worked before, and the Bronco just might be a hit again.

Ever driven a Bronco? Did it weasel its way into your heart? Tell us why in the comments!

How Big Trucks Got Better Fuel Economy

2011 Ford F-150. Source | Creative Commons

It’s no secret that we Americans love our trucks, and that love is unlikely to dwindle any time soon. This love story has had its ups and downs though, with its intensity mostly affected by fluctuating gas prices. (See: 2005, when truck sales took a nosedive in light of spiking gas prices and many truck owners turned to more compact, fuel-efficient cars to save some money.)

But as soon as oil prices started to drop sharply, truck sales picked right back up. Still, automakers are well aware that gas won’t stay cheap forever, and that the minute it becomes substantially more expensive, they’ll see a new sales slump.

That realization, along with tightening federal fuel economy standards, has motivated manufacturers to produce pickup trucks that have much better gas mileage than they used to. So how are they managing to build more fuel-efficient trucks without sacrificing their size, strength, and performance? Here’s a look at the solutions they’ve put in place.

Turbocharging

One of the most effective measures has been the addition of turbocharged engines. Usually used in high-performance sports cars up until a few years ago, turbochargers can now be found in many pickup trucks and SUVs. Ford’s turbocharged EcoBoost engine in the F-150 is one of the most notable instances. When Ford first introduced the EcoBoost technology in the 2011 F-150, it brought the truck’s combined mpg from 16 mpg to 18, surpassing practically all of its competitors.

Turbochargers use the waste-exhaust energy from an engine to feed additional pressurized air into the engine’s combustion chambers, helping it burn more fuel. This means that turbochargers allow automakers to design an engine that will provide the same amount of power, or even more than naturally aspirated engines, without having to increase the engine’s size—the usual method for achieving a large power boost. Research shows that using a smaller, turbocharged engine to deliver the same performance as an engine without one cuts fuel consumption by up to six percent. (Here’s more about how turbos work.)

Start-stop systems

Another nifty piece of technology making it possible for people to drive large SUVs and pickup trucks without spending a fortune at the pump are start-stop systems. When manufacturers first introduced the technology, it was mainly used in hybrids. It’s now a common feature in internal combustion engine vehicles, including trucks.

Start-stop systems save fuel by automatically shutting a vehicle’s engine down when coming to a complete stop, such as at a red light. The system shuts off the engine when drivers release the gas pedal and fully depress the brake, and restarts it when drivers take their foot off the brake and press the gas pedal. The Ram 1500, for example, has this tech. Some estimates show that auto start-stop systems can boost fuel savings by three to five percent.

Variable valve timing and variable pumps

We expect manufacturers to continue exploring all sorts of technologies to improve the fuel economy of trucks, probably increasingly relying on variable valve timing, variable pumps, and, possibly, cylinder deactivation.

Whatever the solutions manufacturers opt for, those who love trucks can rest assured that their beloved large vehicles are only going to get more efficient.

Do you own a truck with some of these technologies? Let us know if they really help improve gas mileage in the comments below.

The 5 Coolest Classic Shifter Designs

Interior and steering wheel of a classic car

Source | Rich Helmer, Unsplash

Modern interior designs often deliver shifters that aren’t very memorable. That’s not the case with classic shifters. Those look incredibly different from today’s models but are still affordable and practical upgrades. Here are five of the most innovative, interesting, and sometimes wild shifter designs of yesteryear.

1. Ford Model T direct connection

Cars that are a century old found clever—and sometimes complicated—solutions to engineering problems. Old-timers like the Ford Model T were equipped with oddities like a two-speed planetary gear transmission. Modern manual transmission drivers will recognize the three pedals on the floor, but that’s where the similarities end. The large stick left of the driver is called a clutch lever, with the handle actuating the hand brake. The rear position is neutral with the parking brake on, while the vertical position is neutral with no brake, and forward is drive.

Confused yet? It gets worse, as the stick doesn’t select gears. The pedal on the left controls gear selection, with all the way down being first gear and all the way up being second. Need reverse? That’s the middle pedal. Yikes! Let’s move on before we cause any more headaches.

2. Cord pre-select

The last Cords were gorgeous machines and proved years ahead of their time. Late ’30s models were equipped with front-wheel drive and an automatic transmission, which sounds more like a description of a car from the ’80s. With the extreme complexity for the time, a mechanical connection from the shifter to the transmission was simply impossible.

Cord solved this problem with its pre-selector lever available on the 810. Instead of a direct link to the transmission, moving the shift lever into each gear triggers different electrical switches. These control a pneumatic system that changes gears when the clutch pedal is pressed. It looked great, and it worked even better.

3. Chrysler PowerFlite pushbutton controls

Ever really look at your modern auto shifter? Safety standards are the reason automatic transmission gear selection is ordered PRNDL in a $93,000 BMW 7 Series and a $13,000 Mitsubishi Mirage. Back in the 1950s, fewer standards to meet meant designers had free rein on design. One of those interior innovations was the pushbutton auto. With further refinement of automobile electronics in the ’50s, buttons could be mounted anywhere to remotely control the transmission.

Chrysler introduced pushbutton controls in 1956 to initial acclaim—and skepticism. While the buttons worked effectively, Chrysler left out the park button. Drivers hit the N button for neutral, then hit the parking brake to park.

4. Edsel Teletouch steering-wheel controls

Edsel was a different breed. Aside from the unusual exterior styling, the Ford-based cars used some inventive new ideas. The Teletouch was a pushbutton-operated automatic transmission with the controls in the center of the steering wheel. The idea was to get the controls closer to the driver’s hands, and while a noble thought, it probably caused confusion. Horn buttons had been mounted in the center of the steering wheel since the 1920s, so more than a few drivers probably had unfortunate reactions when they went for the horn and instead changed gears.

Ads of the era stated, “It puts shifting where it belongs.” That’s not far from the truth, but it would be another 40 years before paddle-shift controls showed up behind steering wheels and gained mainstream acceptance.

5. Oldsmobile Hurst Lightning Rods

We thought shifters were all figured out and standardized by the 1980s. We were wrong. The 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme offered a heritage package celebrating 15 years of collaboration with Hurst. Famous for its shifters, Hurst continued its legacy with the Lightning Rods. Sprouting three sticks from the center console, this shifter offered the driver the choice to operate the 200R4 automatic like a regular overdrive auto or deliver full manual control of gear selection. The left stick operates with the familiar PRNDL order, so just use this one for cruising. For manual control, push all three sticks all the way back, and you are in first gear. Push the button and shift up on the right stick, and it’ll go into second. Push button, move middle stick up, and you get third. Overdrive is engaged by the left stick. Want one? Check eBay, but be prepared to pay what could have been a nice vacation.

Need a sweet shifter for your own ride? There are a lot of aftermarket performance shifters available for classic and modern vehicles, with manual or automatic transmissions. These might be chromed show pieces, or they can offer real driving enhancements like shorter handle throws. Installation takes 30 minutes to a couple of hours but can be handled by a novice with some time on their hands.

Are you ready to upgrade your shifter, or would you rather have one of the classics above? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Crucial Cars: Continental Mark II

A blue 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II f34

Lincoln Continental Mark II f34. Source | Wikimedia Commons

To fully appreciate the Continental Mark II, you have to look at what the automotive scene in mid-1950s America was like. The economy was booming, and with flashy styling complete with jet-aircraft-inspired shapes and plenty of chrome, the luxury cars of the era were nothing if not flamboyant symbols of the mighty USA. GM’s Cadillac was far and away the No. 1 luxury brand, with Chrysler’s Imperial and Ford’s Lincoln brands trailing behind. It was high time for Ford to step up its game.

So for 1956, Ford brought out its new “Continental” division, which was slotted above the Lincoln brand and intended to beat not just Lincoln’s age-old rivals, but to battle the best from Europe, as well. Yes, that means Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz. Although there was previously a Lincoln Continental model, Ford decided to repurpose the evocative Continental moniker for this new super-premium brand.

The rear of a 1956 Mark II r34

1956 Mark II r34. Source | Wikimedia Commons

Running counter to the status quo

The first model out of the new Continental factory was the 1956 Mark II, which had Cadillac’s prestigious Eldorado series squarely in the crosshairs of its iconic hood ornament. Although the Eldo, introduced three years earlier, was available in both coupe and convertible body styles, the Mark II was offered as a coupe only.

Compared to the rocket tail-finned and chrome-bedecked Eldorado, the Mark II was an exercise in tasteful restraint, with simply elegant, flowing lines and, compared to the Caddy, a minimal use of chrome. Indeed, with its low sleek body, smoothly integrated bumpers and turn signals, the Mark II looked more like a car from the late-1960s than one from the mid-1950s.

Measuring 218.4 inches long over a 126-inch wheelbase and tipping the scales at around 5,000 pounds, this was a seriously big car. Yet the Mark II’s timeless styling managed to mask the car’s massive bulk.

The steering wheel of a 1956 Mark II

1956 Mark II interior cabin. Source | Wikimedia Commons

Classy cabin

Inside it was the same story, with biscuit-style upholstery (available in a choice of fabrics or Scottish leather) and a clean dash and door panel design. Two-tone interior color schemes were available, and as with the overall styling, were subdued rather than ostentatious.

One concession to the aviation-influenced themes dominating the era was the set of controls for the heater and optional air conditioner. These looked like miniature jet-engine throttle controls. Pretty much everything anyone could want in a luxury car, apart from A/C, was standard on the Mark II, including power windows, power seat, even power vent windows.

Horsepower and heft

Although it wasn’t a jet turbine, the Mark II’s 368-cubic-inch V8 cranked out 285 horsepower (300 for 1957). Running through a three-speed automatic and charged with propelling 2.5 tons of top-of-the-line American luxury, the Continental’s V8 quietly moved the Mark II with grace, if not a lot of gusto.

Although the engine was the same one used in Lincoln’s of the day, those used in the Mark II were blueprinted—that is, assembled with the parts that had the most precise tolerances. The engines were also subjected to six hours of testing before installation in the car.

A baby blue 1956 CadillacEldorado

1956 Cadillac Eldorado. Source | Creative Commons

Profits lost but prestige gained

Make no mistake: The Continental Mark II had it all—neatly tailored styling, a plush interior, all the latest luxury gizmos, and a very smooth powertrain. It also had a price tag of around $10,000 (around $90,000 today), which was some 50 percent higher than a comparable Eldorado coupe. And Ford reportedly still lost money on each one it built due to the cost of the high-quality materials and the extensive amount of man hours involved, the latter being double that required of a Lincoln.

That first year, 2,556 units left the factory. For 1957, changes were limited to increased engine output (as stated earlier) and the relocation of the air-conditioning air intakes from the top of the rear fenders to hidden behind the grille. Production for 1957 totaled just 444 units.

As it didn’t make much business sense to build a product that cost the company money, Ford dropped the Continental Mark II after just those two years in production. Although the Mark II didn’t contribute to Ford’s bottom line, it did give the company something arguably more valuable: the prestige of having produced a modern classic.

What do you think of the Continental Mark II? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The Story of Grip Clean: How Bryce Hudson Made a Product We Love

Bryce Hudson standing behind his motorcycle

Bryce Hudson

Need to get your hands clean after working in the lawn and garden? Or worse, that nasty grease from working on the rear differential? If only there were an effective product that didn’t dry out your hands. Actually, there is one: Grip Clean hand soap, created by a pro motocross rider, using dirt as a primary ingredient. And, no, this is not an ad. I first saw it on “Shark Tank” and had ordered it before the segment ended. The stuff works.

Hard work = filthy hands

Bryce Hudson knows a thing or two about being dirty. Riding any kind of motorcycle off-road will get you filthy, but ripping around a motocross course at the X Games makes for award-winning grime. Hudson took gold in his first X Games and was the youngest competitor in his class for all four of his appearances. It’s not all trophies and medals, though. In 2013, he missed a landing in competition and suffered multiple fractures to his left tibia. He missed eight weeks of competition but was still able to wrench.

“Throughout my career of being a professional motocross athlete, I always had to do my own mechanic work on my machines,” says Hudson. “And that led to having constantly dirty, greasy, sticky—you name it—kind of hands. I have always used the products that are on the market, but they would cause my skin to dry and crack or even break out in rashes.”

Hudson wanted a heavy-duty but all-natural product, but he couldn’t find one in stores. While working with chemicals all day, the last thing he wanted to put on his hands was more harsh chemicals and abrasive detergents. Synthetic cleaners were not the answer. Then he noticed something about dirt.

Bottle of Grip Clean in a garage

The big idea

“I used to use handfuls of dirt to spread onto oil spills in my garage when I made a mess. It always absorbed all the oils with ease.” Dirt is a natural exfoliant, which is why high-end salons use mud masks and baths to get their clients clean. Hudson used this same approach to develop Grip Clean as a vegetable-based blend with a dirt additive. But don’t look to your backyard for effective soap, as Grip Clean’s “dirt” is a cosmetic-grade pumice.

“This allows the dirt to go deep into the cracks of your hand to latch on hard to remove grease that would normally remain. I tried this theory in many of our test batches, and lo and behold, the product worked better at removing grease than any chemical soap on the market.”

Hudson says he tested small batches for two years to get the formulation right. “And then I gave some samples out to some fellow race teams I knew. The feedback I got back from everyone was phenomenal and everyone wanted more of the product. Suddenly I became known as the ‘soap boy,’ and the rest is history!”

Well, not quite history, as Hudson still had to learn how to do everything, from getting the formula right in larger batches to making labels and proper packaging. Initially, he made batches in his garage with a 5-gallon bucket. A Kickstarter campaign found 195 backers and proved the marketability. But it was still mainly a one-man operation at home. Since Hudson didn’t yet have the capacity to sell on a national level, he had to find an investor.

Bryce Hudson on the set of Shark Tank

Bryce Hudson appearing on Shark Tank

Shark bait

“Getting onto the TV show ‘Shark Tank’ was hands-down one of the most fun, hardest, and scariest things I’ve done in my life.” Hudson stood in line before dawn with 4,000 other people to pitch their creations to the producers. He thought his odds of being picked were low, but a few months later, Hudson was pitching Grip Clean to a nationwide audience.

“I rode my motorcycle in with my helmet on. I took my helmet off and began to give my sales pitch. Suddenly, Mark Cuban and the Sharks were laughing and interrupted me mid-speech. Little did I know I had a serious case of “helmet hair,” where my hair was completely messed up and sticking straight up.” The hair and makeup crew helped him out, and then the pitch went as planned.

Besides that quick fix, he says the pitch went pretty much as aired. Shark Lori Greiner said that the product should really be sold in stores but believed in its product enough to invest. Grip Clean took off from there.

Hitting it big

“We got a ton of orders the night of airing and sold out of product within minutes,” says Hudson. “I was ecstatic but also bummed I didn’t have more product to sell! We were approached by many large retailers all interested in carrying the product, Advance Auto Parts being one of them.

“Partnering with Advance Auto Parts is truly a dream come true. Anyone starting a company or product always has their sights set on getting it into big box retailers and stores. Little did I know how much work it takes to be ready for that moment. Advance believes in our product.”

Freestyle motocross still has Hudson’s heart, but he says he’s found a new passion in his company. Grip Clean is industrial strength but won’t dry out your hands. It’s all-natural, biodegradable, doesn’t leave a smelly residue, and it’s made in the USA. In short, it’s a gold-medal winner.

Have you used Grip Clean? Share what you think about it in the comments.

Race Fans Road Trip: Charlotte Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Hall of Fame

Aerial view of downtown Charlotte, NC.

Charlotte, NC, Source | Erick Lee Hodge/Unsplash

There’s nothing quite like a road trip to Charlotte, NC, to get immersed in the world of NASCAR and racing. Right off the line, the majority of NASCAR race teams are based in the area. Then you have the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For race fans, the Queen City is hard to beat. So tune up the car and drive on down (within the legal speed limit, mind you) to check out these unforgettable experiences.

Charlotte Motor Speedway

NASA Firecracker Run at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Source | James Willamor/Wikimedia Commons

May is a popular time to visit the Charlotte Motor Speedway, thanks to spring weather and big races like the Coca-Cola 600 over Memorial Day weekend and the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star. Located in Concord, just north of the big city, Charlotte Motor Speedway (formerly Lowe’s Motor Speedway) is a 1.5-mile quad-oval track. Race fans are ensured a great view from anywhere in the 89,000-seat stadium, thanks to a massive, nearly 16,000-square-foot HDTV. For a different kind of race experience, jaunt across the street to watch drivers tear it up at the four-lane zMax Dragway or get a taste of North Carolina red clay at the Dirt Track.

NASCAR Hall of Fame

Classic NASCAR car

Source | Flickr

At the NASCAR Hall of Fame, there’s more to see than famous cars like the Fabulous Hudson Hornet and Lee Petty’s Oldsmobile Super 88 (#42). You can retrace the history of NASCAR on a 64-foot-wide projection screen in the High Octane Theater. Then try out for the pit crew, and sit in the driver’s seat. With the Hall of Fame’s interactive, loud-as-life exhibits, visitors get a front-row seat to the best NASCAR has to offer.

Richard Petty Driving Experience

NASCAR Petty Driving Experience. Dodge Charger

Richard Petty Driving Experience, Source | Wikimedia Commons

Along with parachuting out of a plane and bungee jumping off a bridge, the Richard Petty Driving Experience is on the bucket list of every adrenaline junkie. Roar along the Charlotte Motor Speedway in a stock car at up to 160 mph. Just watching the in-car video is enough to make your palms sweat. Of course, this experience doesn’t come cheap. A little more than a hundred bucks will get you a shotgun ride in a stock car for three laps. If you want to take the wheel like a rookie, and race eight heart-pounding laps, it’ll cost you around $450. Bring friends and family to watch. And maybe a change of pants.

Race shops

Richard_Childress

Richard Childress, Source | Wikimedia Commons

Some of the biggest names in NASCAR call the Charlotte area home, including Richard Petty Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt Inc. The racing shops feature a variety of tours, museums, showrooms, retail stores, and fan experiences. Visitors to Richard Childress Racing, based in aptly named Welcome, NC, can visit the RCR Cup and XFINITY shops. They can also tour a 47,000-square-foot museum housing nearly 50 race vehicles.

Childress Vineyards

two wine glasses

Childress Vineyards, Source | Courtesy Childress Vineyards

If you’ve been to a race during your visit to North Carolina, chances are you’ve gorged yourself on a foot-long hotdog and cheese fries, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if your ears are still ringing from the track and your palette needs cleansing from the grit and exhaust, then check out Childress Vineyards. Owned by NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, the 72-acre vineyard and winery is located in Lexington, 10 minutes from RCR’s shop and museum. Tour the vineyard and taste a selection of the winery’s 30 award-winning varietals. Then settle back on the covered bistro patio with lunch and a glass of Cabernet, and toast to the checkered flag at the end of your trip.

Have you visited any of these Charlotte race venues? Tell us about your experience in the comments.


Heads up: You can win a VIP trip to the Coca-Cola 600 in May! Enter now for a chance to win:

  • Air travel and hotel for each grand prize winner and their guest
  • VIP access to track, hospitality suite, and paddock over race weekend
  • VIP access to the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert and a meet & greet with the band

Our Top 3 Vehicle Evolutions in Hollywood Reboots and Remakes

Whenever Hollywood experiences a box-office hit, a sequel is almost inevitable. As fun as it is to see our favorite characters change and mature, it’s almost equally as exciting to see their iconic vehicles grow up. From then-and-now Camaros in Michael Bay’s “Transformers” to the evolution of the Mitsubishi Lancer, erm, Evolution within the “Fast and Furious” franchise, these are three of our favorites.

Chevrolet Camaro: “Transformers”

chevrolet-transformers-bumblebee

Source | DreamWorks

When a live-action version of “Transformers” hit big screens in 2007 (there was also an animated feature in 1986), the iconic Bumblebee took a couple of vehicular forms. However, it’s most remembered for turning into a fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro—of sorts. The car we saw was actually a concept unveiled in 2006.

For the film, Chevy placed body panels made from molds used for the concept on the chassis of a Holden Monaro. It was a precursor to the Gen 5 Camaro (topped by an SS trim boasting an LS3 6.2-liter V8 with 426 horsepower), which was only sold two years later.

A yellow 2017 Chevrolet Camaro

The sixth-generation Camaro, the basis for Bumblebee’s transformation in the upcoming “Transformers.” Source | Courtesy of Chevrolet

Fast-forward to summer 2017 and installment five of the series, “Transformers: The Last Knight.” In this chapter, Bumblebee will take on yet another form, this time a sixth-gen Camaro wearing some exterior aero modifications, including a more aggressive front fascia, hood cooling vents, and large spoilers all around. A trio of engines are available for the platform—which was revealed a year and a half ago—most interesting of which is the LT1 V8 churning out an impressive 455 horsepower.

Ford Mustang: “Gone in 60 Seconds”

Younger viewers who watched the 2000 version of “Gone in 60 Seconds,” starring Nicolas Cage, may not realize it was actually a loose remake of an identically titled 1974 release. Sharing more than just a name, the main automobile in both iterations was a classic Ford Mustang. The original featured a 1971 Mustang partially modified to look like an optioned-out 1973 using a newer grille, as well as black accenting on the hood and lower paneling reminiscent of the Mach 1 special edition.

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Source | Touchstone Pictures

In the reboot, the creative team decided to go with a slightly older pony car: a 1967 Mustang fastback, gussied up to resemble a Shelby GT500. A total of 12 ‘Stangs were sourced, and all were built for various purposes such as chase scenes and stunts. The vehicles were truly a hodgepodge of parts, utilizing aftermarket PIAA auxiliary lighting, Chevy Astro van billet grille components, 17-inch Schmidt wheels designed after Ford GT40 units, Lincoln Versailles rear ends, and a plethora of custom-fabricated fiberglass pieces.

Of the 12 Eleanors, only seven survived after shooting wrapped up, according to Mustang Monthly. It breaks our hearts that even a single one was damaged.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution: “The Fast and the Furious”

Arguably Mitsubishi Motor’s biggest fan-favorite product, the Lancer Evo, is prominently featured in two of the biggest underdog F&F follow-ups: “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” The former is where we get the first sighting, when the feds give Paul Walker’s character a tracking-device-equipped 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII to drive to an undercover drug cartel meeting. It’s the scene that made us love the Evo.

The all-wheel drive sedan had a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder mill, equipped with nitrous tanks, of course (hey, it was the early 2000s), and sported a Japanese-spec DAMD body kit, ARC trunk wing, and Motegi Racing alloys.

In the third F&F movie, the race-ready Lancer skipped a generation and returned as a 2006 Evo IX GSR, given to protagonist Sean Boswell after he totals his mentor Han’s Nissan Silvia while learning how to drift around corners. Like the VII, the IX employs a boosted 2.0-liter powerplant that in stock form makes 276 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, here benefiting from the addition of a Rhys Millen Racing air intake and exhaust downpipe. Aesthetically, it was fitted with an Alabama-based APR Performance body kit, spoiler and side mirrors, along with massive 19-inch RAYS G-Games rims. It looked—and was—fast.

There are too many reboots and remakes with great vehicles, and we’re guessing we missed some of your favorites. Share your picks in the comments.

Hidden Auto History Is Everywhere, Including Oklahoma City

America’s automotive past is all around us, but it’s usually hidden under decades of change. There were a lot more auto manufacturers back in the day, and many more car factories and dealerships. Usually, the buildings they occupied were abandoned and eventually torn down. Fortunately for us, some are still standing and tell a fascinating tale. So let’s examine the hidden automotive history in the architecture of Oklahoma City.

Why Oklahoma City? OKC is a comparatively young city not as well known for its automotive contributions as, say, Detroit. But, as evidenced in neighborhoods like the now-trendy Automobile Alley district, it played quite an important role in manufacturing. Here’s what Oklahoma City’s past looks like in the present.

Packard building in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Packard, 201 NW 10th St.

Packard built some of the most attractive cars in its day, and used ingenuity to compete with the giants of General Motors and Ford. Built in 1925 as a large dealership with indoor showrooms, its display area was big enough for a dynamometer to measure a new car’s horsepower. After Packard ceased operation in the ’50s, the building became a warehouse and, later, a bar.

Today, the early 20th-century brick architecture blends with modern windows the size of garage doors. Blueknight Energy now occupies the office space upstairs, while a large restaurant takes up most of the ground floor. Packard’s New American Kitchen echoes not only the former car company’s name but its ethos as well, with inspired yet affordable food.

Ford building in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Ford, 900 W. Main St.

Henry Ford was always looking for ways to decrease costs and mass-produce more cars. He found his answer in the 1909 Model T. Ford built this factory in 1916 as part of its expansion plans to supply cars to the people. Within a few years, the company built 24 more factories across the country to help meet demand for the Model T. At its peak, this particular factory cranked out 200 cars a day.

The Great Depression stopped car production, but Ford continued to use the space as a regional parts warehouse until 1967. The factory that got America on the road deserved a 21st-century makeover, and it got one in 2016. The 21c Museum Hotel is a boutique hotel and contemporary art museum worthy of its building’s historical importance.

Pontiac building in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Pontiac, 1100 N. Broadway

During Pontiac’s nearly 85 years making cars, the arrowhead logo fit legends like the GTO, Grand Prix, and Firebird, and later oddities like the Trans Sport and Aztek. Built in 1928, this 14,000-square-foot dealership likely featured cars like the 40-horsepower 6-28 coupe.

It’s now home to contemporary office space housing British Petroleum’s Lower 48 operations. While the workplace is entirely modern, the soul of the dealership is evident. Wooden floors are still spattered with paint, evidence of old-time bodywork. The break room features a garage door that opens to the sky. The ramp for loading vehicles onto the turntable display is still there. It’s some kind of irony that a dealership servicing petroleum-burning cars would later house offices of one of the world’s largest oil companies.

Hupmobile building in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Hupmobile, 824 N. Broadway

Hupmobile started building cars in Detroit, Mich., in 1909. It innovated one of the first steel car bodies but couldn’t last through the Great Depression and stopped production in 1940. This restored building housed the Shelburne Motor Company, which was really more of a new and used dealer with full-service mechanics and even parts reconditioning.

After Hupp fell apart, the building went through an industrial period before falling into disrepair, along with the rest of downtown OKC, in the ’70s. After a few decades of neglect, a full restoration created an attractive storefront and office space. The tall windows now provide an excellent showcase for fine-wine, spirits, and beer purveyor Broadway Wine Merchants. Even if you don’t have a Hupp—stop by for a visit.

GM factory in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

GM, 7125 S. Air Depot Blvd.

Modern factories are also hiding in plain sight. Completed in the late 1970s, this GM Assembly built the unfortunate X-body and the slightly-less-terrible A-body. It shifted with the times through various other cars before finally hitting it big with SUVs. A tornado strike severely damaged it in 2003, but GM spent the money to get the plant operational just 53 days later. The Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy, and Oldsmobile Bravada rolled out the doors until 2006, when they shuttered and sold the plant.

Today, the 2.5-million-square-foot facility is home to the local Air Force base and still produces engines. This old factory may not make cars anymore, and the office spaces are the least fancy of the ones listed here, but the F-35’s 29,000-horsepower engines are pretty sweet.

Buick showroom in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Buick, 1101 N. Broadway

This is your grandfather’s Buick. Built in 1927, the four-story Buick building was one of the first indoor showrooms in OKC, and currently anchors the Midtown district. The brick and limestone exterior was meticulously restored in 2014 and topped by a new vintage-style neon sign. Dramatic high ceilings befitting a warehouse now look great with updated halogen and LED lighting. The turntable and car elevator are both intact and operable. Mixing old and new themes is the ground-floor restaurant, Broadway 10.

Buick dealership in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Buick, again, 504 N. Broadway

The Okies from a hundred years ago must have really liked Buicks. This is a smaller Buick dealership, as it was built in 1911 and earned the title of first showroom in the city. It was unique for being a direct sales showroom owned by Buick, rather than the dealer model we have today. There’s a trendy event room upstairs called “The Showroom” which is available for $3,000 an evening—roughly twice the price of a late 1920’s Buick. The building displays art from Ghost Gallery, and the street front is Red Prime Steakhouse.

Take a closer look at some old buildings, and you might catch a glimpse of America’s automotive history. This was just a brief look at one city—let us know if you’d like to see more. And tell us what’s hiding in your town.