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!

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.

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.

Crucial Cars: GMC Syclone

black GMC Syclone parked on a small-town streetImagine this: It’s summer 1991 and you’re cruising around in your new Mustang GT. You rumble up to a red light and notice a black Chevy S-10 with lower body skirts and fancy wheels roll up in the next lane. The streets are empty, and you sense the guy in the small pickup staring at you. When you catch his gaze, he grins and gives the “let’s go” sign. Really, buddy? OK.

So the light goes green and, with wide-open road ahead, you both hit it. With a couple of chirps from the rear Goodyears, the ‘Stang leaps away from the light. You take him off the line, but then something weird happens—the black pickup streaks away, hissing angrily and showing you its shrinking taillights. As you lift off the gas in defeat, you notice a tailgate decal you’d never yet seen or heard about. It says: GMC Syclone.

Defeating a Ferrari

We imagine this played out more than a few times for unsuspecting drivers—not just American performance iron, but also wheeling European purebreds such as M-edition BMWs and even the occasional Ferrari.

Car and Driver pitted a GMC Syclone against a Ferrari 348, and the lowly GMC pickup beat the Italian stallion in a quarter-mile drag race. Of course, if both drivers kept their feet in it, the 348 would’ve pulled away shortly after. It did have a top speed some 40 mph higher than the Syclone’s. But no matter. For most Americans, 0-to-60 and quarter-mile performance mean a lot more in the real world than top speed. However, exploring your car’s terminal velocity is best done at an airstrip or the Autobahn.

The Syclone’s acceleration numbers were just incredible for the time, with 0-to-60 and quarter-mile times running in the low-five-second and low-14-second range, respectively, according to Car and Driver. Since turbocharged engines like cooler, denser air, a cool day would likely have those times improving by a few tenths. That might be why GMC claimed a 13.7-second quarter. Clearly, this was a pickup with pickup.

Power-packed pickup

rear view of a black Syclone parked in a warehouse district

Source | Creative Commons

Introduced and officially produced only for the 1991 model year (there’s an unconfirmed rumor that three were produced for 1992), the GMC Syclone was a lot of truck. It was much more than a Sonoma (itself identical to the Chevy S-10) compact pickup truck with a turbocharged 4.3-liter V6 stuffed under the hood. That boosted version of the workhorse 4.3 was a force to be reckoned with, as it was conservatively rated at 280 horsepower back when the Mustang’s 5.0-liter V8 made 225.

But the Syclone also featured all-wheel drive (with a 35/65 front/rear power split). The AWD system helped turn that prodigious power into performance. The four tires dug in and hurled the truck onward when the hammer dropped, instead of sending the rear tires up in smoke while time ticked away. Completing the performance package was an efficient four-speed automatic transmission, a lowered suspension, and four-wheel anti-lock brakes.

Tasteful, not tacky

Available only in a menacing blacked-out exterior finish, as with Buick’s Grand National, the Syclone’s visual tweaks were aggressive without being overdone. They included those flared-out rocker panels, fog lights, handsome 16-inch alloy wheels and relatively discreet red “Syclone” decals.

To those who weren’t familiar with this pumped-up pickup, it looked like it was just a Chevy S-10 or GMC Sonoma with a body kit and wheels. Inside, special treatment consisted of black cloth buckets with red piping and “Syclone” headrest monograms, a full instrument package and a console with a shifter borrowed from the Corvette.a red Syclone with Marlboro decals in a parking lot

Marlboro Racing paint and decals, Source | Creative Commons

Though not production versions, there were 10 customized Syclones given away in a Marlboro Racing contest. These special Syclones were painted red with white graphics and featured a targa roof (i.e. a one-piece removable roof), custom wheels, a 3-inch lower suspension, performance chip and exhaust, Recaro sport seats, a Momo steering wheel, and a booming Sony sound system.

Seldom-seen speed demons

black typhoon SUV races alongside a steam train

Source | Creative Commons

With just under 3,000 produced, the Syclone is a rare breed indeed. The following year, 1992, the new Typhoon carried the hot-rod truck torch for GMC as the company released the speedy SUV. Essentially the same vehicle as the Syclone but with a more practical compact SUV body, the Typhoon allowed up to five people, rather than just two, to revel in the ridiculously rapid performance of this vehicular wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Do you remember the Syclone? Tell us what you thought about it.

The Awesome History of Pro-Touring

Pro-Touring Car

Source | Steve Ferrante/Flickr

Giant wheels, perfect stance, megawatt power, and excellent handling—all wrapped in timeless muscle beauty. Pro-Touring can be the ultimate expression of the muscle car, making 50-year-old rides relevant and competitive with modern exotics. Join us for a look at the tech and history behind it.

If this is your first time reading about it, Pro-Touring is a subculture of muscle-car enthusiasts that can be hard to define. It’s generally considered vintage American iron modified to accelerate, handle corners, and stop with the very best modern vehicles of any price point. Picture a classic Plymouth Roadrunner passing a Porsche 911 GT3 in a corner at Lime Rock, and that’s probably a Pro-Touring machine. Modifications must be extensive to get 50-year-old cars up to speed, and usually include engine swaps, forced induction, massively upgraded suspensions, large brakes, and even larger wheels.

Pro Street origins

Way back in the acid-washed jeans and Crystal Pepsi era, the popular trend for American muscle cars was Pro Street. Based on the NHRA Pro Stock class, the street cars mimicked the race-car look with giant hood scoops, flashy pastel exteriors, and “big ‘n’ little” drag tires. The results were sometimes all show and no go, as 1980s Pro Street was more about looks than speed. If someone did build a fast Pro Street car, it was usually too wild to be street legal and could not see action as a daily driver. As the decade ended, enthusiasts went looking for something different, as they wanted both performance and a legal and comfortable ride. Enter the road racers.

Pro-Touring Big Red Camaro on a track

Source | Big Red Camaro

Big Red steals the show

Classic road rallies like the La Carrera and Silver State Classic allowed builders the opportunity to test their mettle and their metal, with expensive European exotics taking home the trophies. That was until Dan and RJ Gottlieb stuffed a 540-inch Chevy V8 into a 1969 Camaro with a race-car suspension and created a legend.

The “Big Red” Camaro broke numerous records and was politely asked not to return. The Gottliebs had built something more than a race car for the street when they insisted the sheet-metal retain the factory look and the interior remain functional as stock. Window cranks and air conditioning? Big Red was reliable, brutally fast, with excellent handling, braking, and a reasonable ride quality. The Pro Touring style had been created.

Manufacturer performance

Enthusiasts think of the ’80s as a dark age of performance, but it’s really when auto manufacturers started to take a serious interest in handling and braking, as all-around performance started to matter more than just acceleration times. BMW wasn’t able to keep up with the pony cars in straight-line acceleration back then, but the popular E30 BMW 3 Series proved customers would line up for solid driving characteristics.

By the end of the ’90s the Corvette became the svelte C5, the fourth generation Camaro SS could pull .90g on the skidpad, and the SVT Cobra received a pony car first: independent rear suspension. The factory had pointed the way for Pro-Touring.

Pro-Touring today

Now you can build a classic any way you want, including for all-around performance. Want a six-speed manual in your ’67 Mustang or paddle shifters in your ’70 GTO? Both are available. There’s even aftermarket independent rear suspensions available as complete bolt-on kits, along with any number of big brakes, huge sway bars, and performance springs and shocks.

There’s no reason to leave your big-block classic in the garage for 90-percent of the year anymore. With the right equipment, that classic can handle the rigors of daily driving, weekend cruising, and the occasional track day, all in the same configuration. If you don’t want to go all out, Pro-Touring still shows how minor upgrades can be rewarding on your classic ride.

Tell us what you think of these auto trends. Leave your thoughts on Pro-Touring in the comments below.

Our Forefixers: Influential Women Innovators of the Automotive Industry

The automotive industry has a reputation (fairly or unfairly) for limiting women’s roles to posing for pinup calendars next to super-fast cars. But since the very beginning, women have been an important yet underrepresented force in the industry. These innovators laid the foundation for future generations, male and female, often with little recognition. In honor of Women’s History Month, here’s a look at three important female forefixers, and their modern torch-bearers.

Photo portrait of Bertha Benz as a young woman.

Bertha Benz, Source | Automuseum Dr. Carl Benz

Bertha Benz

In 1888, Bertha Benz snuck out of the house with her two sons and her husband’s invention—the world’s first automotive vehicle. Karl Benz was reluctant to release his darling to the larger world. Bertha, however, believed that what her husband needed was proof of concept and an excellent marketing plan. She was motivated by more than tough love, though. She’d poured her significant inheritance into the family business, and she was ready for a return on her investment.

When Bertha drove the Benz motorwagen around 65 miles to visit her mother that day, it was the first journey of its kind. Along the way, she invented the first brake pad when she stopped to ask a cobbler to add leather to the brakes to improve performance. Her journey captured the attention (and imagination) of the world. She also secured a place in history and the Benz company’s first sale.

Modern Trailblazer: Mary Barra, the first female CEO at a major global automaker, GM, and one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People.”

Alice Ramsey stands next to her Maxwell automobile.

Alice Ramsey, Source | Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress

Alice Ramsey

Alice Ramsey may not have had the right to vote in 1909, but that didn’t stop the 22-year-old from making history. She drove from New York City to San Francisco with three female traveling companions. Only 152 of the 3,800 miles she drove in her 30-horsepower Maxwell runabout were paved. She navigated with road maps and by following telephone wires from town to town.

During the journey, Ramsey changed flat tires, cleaned spark plugs, and fixed a broken brake pedal. She arrived in California to great fanfare—59 days later—as the first woman to drive across the U.S. Over the years, she did the trip more than 30 times, finishing her last journey in 1975 at the age of 89. Ramsey accomplished one more first for women, posthumously. In 2000, she was the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Modern Trailblazer: Emily S. Miller, founder of the Rebelle Rally, a seven-day, all-female, off-road navigational rally across more than 2,000 kilometers of California desert. No GPS here either. Just a compass and a map to get to the finish line.

Source | Motorcities.org

Suzanne Vanderbilt

Suzanne Vanderbilt got her start in automotive design as one of six women dubbed GM’s “Damsels of Design.” Yup, it was the ’50s. The female designers were GM’s attempt to appeal to an increasingly powerful female demographic. They were limited to interiors, but they developed a series of innovations still in use today, including retractable seat belts and glove boxes.

By the 1960s, only Vanderbilt remained at GM. She stayed for another 23 years, eventually advancing to chief designer for Chevrolet. She was never able to break into the all-male field of designing exteriors. But she was responsible for three patents—an inflatable seat back, a safety switch for automotive panels, and a motorcycle helmet design.

Modern Trailblazer: Michelle Christensen, Acura’s first female exterior design lead and the first woman to lead a supercar design team. She’s responsible for the design of the second-generation Honda NSX.

Know of an innovative woman who made or is making automotive history? Leave us a comment.

Crucial Cars: BMW 2002

During the late 1960s, American performance cars that could seat four or five adults comfortably were big, heavy, and fast. We’re talking midsize coupes like the Pontiac GTO, Chevelle SS, Plymouth GTX, and Ford Torino GT. Sure, there were the smaller, so-called “compacts” like the Chevy Nova SS, Ford Falcon Sprint, and Dodge Dart GT, but like their bigger brothers, they were more about blasting up through the gears in a straight line than carving up a tightly curved mountain road.

1972 BMW 2002 NY

1972 BMW 2002 NY

More agility, less acceleration

Yet on the other hand—and on the other side of the Atlantic—you had a certain boxy and unassuming German two-door sedan that could seat four adults comfortably and whose idea of performance was quite different from that of the Americans. Introduced for 1968 and based on the BMW 1602 (which debuted a few years earlier), the 2002 combined its sibling’s compact but space-efficient body and agile handling with a bigger (2.0-liter versus 1.6-liter) four-cylinder engine.

There was just 100 horsepower on tap, so the Bimmer obviously lacked ripping acceleration. But a finely tuned, fully independent suspension system along with communicative steering and a curb weight of only around 2,100 pounds meant that a 2002 could quickly make tracks on a serpentine road. A blacktop scenario that would leave those American muscle cars falling all over themselves.

The two-door sport sedan

Yes, we called the BMW 2002 a sedan, which may seem odd given it has only two doors. While the American market typically defines a car with four doors as a sedan and one with two doors as a coupe, the Europeans define a sedan as a “three box-style” (hood, passenger compartment, trunk) automobile, saving the “coupe” designation for a two-door with sleeker body styling.

With the introduction of the BMW 2002, the sport sedan—a compact, boxy, practical car that could seat four or five adults while providing entertaining and athletic performance—was born. Indeed, the 2002 was a new type of car, one that could embarrass sports cars on a twisty road while also serving as a comfortable family and commuter car.

In a road test of the 1970 BMW 2002, Car and Driver stated: “Forget about the sedan body and pretend that it’s a sports car—a transformation that’s almost automatic in your mind anyway after you’ve driven it a mile or two. With the possible exception of the new Datsun 240Z (which is not yet available for testing), the BMW will run the wheels off any of the under-$4000 sports cars without half trying. It is more powerful and it handles better.”

1972 BMW 2002

1972 BMW 2002

Fuel injection makes a buffer Bimmer

Some U.S. market enthusiasts still wished for more power under the 2002’s hood. Although Europe got to enjoy the step-up “ti” model with its stronger engine, it didn’t make it to American shores. And neither did a turbocharged 2002 that was produced later on. But those drivers’ wishes came true for 1972, when BMW introduced a more powerful version of the 2002 called the 2002 tii that was available in the states.

With mechanical fuel injection (replacing carburetion), higher compression and other engine tweaks, the 2002 tii made 140 horsepower. With 40 percent more power than the base 2002, the tii was noticeably quicker, running the 0-to-60 dash in about 9.5 seconds versus about 11 seconds for the standard 2002. Other upgrades for the tii that boosted overall performance included a beefed-up suspension, bigger brakes and a less-restrictive exhaust. Inside the car, a leather-wrapped steering wheel greeted the lucky driver.

1975 BMW 2002

1975 BMW 2002

From Roundies to Squaries

From 1968 through 1973, the BMW 2002 continued essentially unchanged as far as body styling. These vehicles are known as “Roundies,” so-called because of their simple round taillights. Those years also featured smaller, more elegant bumpers. For 1974, the slim chrome bumpers were replaced by what looked like hydraulic shock-mounted aluminum battering rams that jutted out from the car on either end.

These unfortunate blemishes were an answer to the 5-mph impact standard that took place in the States the year prior, meaning a bumper had to absorb a 5 mph hit without damage. That year also saw the taillights updated to square (actually slightly rectangular) units that seemed to tie in better to the car’s body shape than the Roundies. Second generation “Squaries” continued through 1976, which would be the model’s last year.

1971 BMW 2002 interior

1971 BMW 2002 interior

The die has been cast

The 320i replaced the 2002 in 1977, and thus the iconic “3 Series” was born. Given its rare combination of a fun-to-drive personality and everyday practicality, the 2002 served the company, and legions of driving enthusiasts, very well.

Did you own a 2002 or just dream of driving one? Tell us what you love about the 2002 in the comments.

Forefixers: Windshield Wipers

During the thick of rain-and-snow season, your windshield wipers are as important a piece of safety equipment as your brakes or headlights. But cars didn’t always have the means to ensure our vision wasn’t compromised during inclement weather. Here are three of the inventors who brought about the simple yet ingenious tool we use today.

Mary Anderson and her patented design

Mary Anderson

An Alabaman woman by the name of Mary Anderson happened to be visiting New York City in early 1902. NYC is particularly beautiful in the winter, but the views were obscured because snow was covering the trolley windows. Disturbingly, she noticed that the drivers had to periodically get out to clear off the fluffy white stuff by hand, or (yikes!) stick their heads out the side to see.

That’s when Anderson brainstormed a squeegee-inspired device that would feature a spring-loaded arm and a rubber blade attached to the outside of a vehicle, operable via a handle from the interior to move the arm and clear the glass. In other words, it was the world’s first windshield wiper. She filed a patent in 1903, although her invention was too far ahead of its time and wouldn’t see widespread adoption until more than a decade later, when automobile usage began to become widespread and companies began marketing wipers.

Charlotte Bridgwood

Fast-forward to 1917, when another woman, Charlotte Bridgwood, an engineer and president of a small manufacturing company in New York, took Anderson’s idea one step further. Rather than relying on a manual hand crank to use the wiper, Bridgwood came up with an automated design that drew power directly from the vehicle engine.

Called the Electric Storm Windshield Cleaner (what a name!), it utilized a series of rollers instead of blades to perform a similar task. Like Anderson, Bridgwood did not see commercial success with her creation.

Greg Kinnear, playing Robert Kearns | Universal Pictures

Robert Kearns

In 1953, a grisly Champagne cork accident left Robert Kearns with sight in only one eye. Afterwards, the Wayne State University engineering instructor started thinking more critically of how an eyelid works. “God doesn’t have eyelids move continuously. They blink,” he said in a newspaper interview. Kearns then set out to marry that insight with the workings of the windshield wiper.

After years of tinkering in a home laboratory, he secured several patents and then approached the neighboring Ford Motor Company with his masterpiece: an intermittent wiper that would activate at pre-set intervals. Following several meetings, Ford was eventually the initial automaker to roll out a model boasting the technology, and later many would follow. Kearns never received credit or compensation, until the 1990, after a winning a years-long lawsuit against Ford for patent infringement. Kearns had a fascinating life, and his story was turned into a movie, “Flash of Genius,” starring Greg Kinnear.

Do you know of more windshield wiper innovators? Let us know in the comments.