A Look Back at the Truckcar

Lots of people love pickup trucks but don’t always have the need for a full-size truck. Way back in the ’50s, manufacturers developed a solution with the car-based truck, commonly called the truckcar, or coupe utility. Whatever you call ’em, the idea is the same. Take a car chassis and drivetrain, and drop a small pickup bed out back. While they’re the automotive equivalent of the mullet (business up front, party in the back), the classic truckcar has earned a place in the hearts of many.

Full-size legends

Ford Ranchero

The Ford Ranchero

While truck-ish cars have existed almost since the beginning of the car, Ford really kicked things off with the introduction of the 1957 Ranchero. Built on the full-size Ford sedan and coupe chassis, the Ranchero obviously differed from other cars with its body-integrated pickup bed. At a little over 5 feet long, the Ranchero bed offered light work potential in an easy-to-drive, car-like package.

The ’60s saw the Ranchero transition to the compact Falcon chassis, then the larger Torino, where giant engines like the 460 V8 were common. Cargo ratings hovered just over 1,000 pounds throughout the changes, making the Ranchero a true “half-ton truck.” While it sold well, light trucks were exempt from emissions and mileage requirements, so 1979 was the Ranchero’s last year, as it was replaced by the Ford Ranger compact truck.

The El Camino

The El Camino, Source | Allen Watkin

GM noticed early surging sales of the Ranchero and quickly developed its own competitor. The ’59 El Camino was based off the full-size Chevy sedan/wagon chassis but offered a variety of engines, from a weak inline six, to the fuel-injected 283 Ramjet. The second generation switched to the smaller Chevelle platform, and the El Camino mirrored the muscle car’s options and equipment, including the 396 V8.

The ’70s weren’t a great time for most car manufacturers, but the El Camino survived better than most. With a big-block 454 V8, manual trans, and rear-wheel drive under a lightweight rear, the El Camino was a groovy burnout machine that also delivered a respectable 5,000-pound tow rating when properly optioned.

Compact and odd

Subaru BRAT

The Subaru BRAT, Source | ilikewaffles

Around the time the Ranchero was disappearing in favor of light trucks, Subaru developed this odd little competitor. The BRAT differed from the American car-trucks with its 1.6-liter inline four cylinder making all of 67 horsepower, and driving all four wheels. While the bed was small, the weirdness continued there, with the option of two rear-facing jump seats. Alongside Van Halen’s best years, the BRAT was only available from 1978 to 1985.

Dodge Rampage

The Dodge Rampage, Source | John Lloyd

Apparently the coupe utility market was hot in the early ’80s, as Dodge felt the need to jump in with the Rampage. Despite the popularity of the K chassis, this little guy was built off the L platform (think Dodge Omni) and featured a 2.2-liter inline four powering the front wheels. That’s peak 1980s right there: a FWD truck with a tape player. It was even available in “Garnet Pearl Metallic,” which is ’80s-speak for neon pink. Rad.

Want one brand new?

Holden Ute

The Holden Ute, Source | FotoSleuth

Australia has a unique place in automotive history, as it never forgot how to build a muscle car, even during the 1970s and ’80s. The Aussie version of the El Camino is the Holden Ute. Like standard versions of the truckcar, the Ute features a modern chassis, suspension, and interior, with all the useful bed space you would likely need. If a standard V6 isn’t enough power, step up to the SS version, which features a 400+ horsepower 6.2-liter V8 and 6-speed manual transmission. With a 3,500-pound tow rating, it can haul your race car to the track, and then rip off a high 12-second quarter mile. Work and play in one great-looking package.

Volkswagen Saveiro

The Volkswagen Saveiro, Source | Wikipedia

While the 1980s mostly put an end to the rear-wheel drive truckcar, the Ute has held out until 2017. Now the closest comparable vehicles are small front-wheel drive truckcars like the VW Saveiro. This subcompact coupe utility drives the front wheels with a choice of four-cylinder engines, which is plenty of power when your truck is three-feet shorter than a Toyota Tacoma. Cheap and economical, the Saveiro meets the needs of many owners. Want one? You’ll have to move outside the US, as Volkswagen has no plans to sell them here.

While the truckcar doesn’t look to be returning to the USA anytime soon, we do have a lot of options if you don’t mind buying used. From a fun muscle project to a useful truck alternative, the truckcar style has a lot to offer.

Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

Crucial Cars: Dodge Li’l Red Express

The mid- to late-1970s were rightfully regarded as the darkest days of performance. In an effort to meet ever-tightening emissions standards, engines were detuned as compression ratios were lowered and outputs were further strangled by emissions controls such as more restrictive exhausts with catalytic converters.

The mid-’80s would see a big resurgence in performance as newer technologies allowed engineers to once again tune engines for performance while still meeting emissions regulations. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

Indeed, if one was looking for something American that would accelerate with gusto during the late 1970s, the pickings were mighty slim. Sadly, a V8 of the era typically made only around 140 to 170 horses with just a handful of performance-oriented vehicles able to join the 200-horsepower club. As such, performance choices were essentially limited to Chevrolet’s Corvette with its optional L82 350 V8, Pontiac’s Trans Am with the optional “T/A 6.6” (W72) 400 V8… and Dodge’s Li’l Red Express Truck pickup. Yes, that’s right—a pickup truck.

Dodge Li'l Red Truck

Red and righteous

Dodge took advantage of less stringent emissions regulations for pickup trucks, and with a wink and a nod created the Li’l Red Express Truck for 1978. The basis for this unique vehicle was the short wheelbase, “Utiline” (stepside) version of Dodge’s D150 pickup truck. From there, the engineers and designers had a field day.

Bright red paint covered the body and real oak wood accented the bedsides and tailgate while “Li’l Red Express Truck” decals and gold striping added still more pizzazz. Even among all that eye candy, one of the most arresting features was the chromed-out, vertical exhaust system whose big-rig-style pipes would have done a Peterbilt proud.

Chilled-out cabin

Inside, the outlandish Dodge had a much more sedate styling scheme. Buyers had a choice of either a bench or optional bucket seats (with a standalone folding-center armrest) in either red or black. A sporty thick-rimmed, three-spoke “Tuff” steering wheel was initially standard, though it would be replaced by a less-stylish four-spoke wheel the following year.

Dodge Li'L Red Truck interior cabin

A V8 with vigor

With all that flash on the outside, there had to be some dash under the hood. And with a free-breathing 360 V8 dropped between the front fenders, the Li’l Red Express delivered.

Specifically, the high-output V8 was derived from the Police package 360 and sported a massive 850-CFM 4-barrel carburetor, a dual snorkel air cleaner, a performance camshaft and a real dual exhaust system with 2.5-inch pipes. It was rated at a strong-for-the-time 225 horsepower. And that was likely a conservative rating given the performance it provided for a near 2-ton truck. A chrome air cleaner and valve covers dressed things up and harkened back to the muscle-car era when car makers were proud to show off their engines.

Unfortunately, a four-speed with a Pistol-grip shifter was not an option, as the sole transmission fitted was a column-shifted, beefed-up automatic that admittedly did a fine job of sending the power to the 3.55:1 rear end. The Li’l Red Express rolled with fat, 15-inch white-lettered tires mounted on chrome wheels.

A pickup with plenty of pickup

Performance figures were impressive for the time. The Li’l Red Express could sprint to 60 mph in around 7.5 seconds and blast down the quarter mile in the mid-15-second range. In other words, in those performance tests, this big red truck would run about neck-and-neck with the aforementioned Corvette and Trans Am.

Make it a race to 100 mph, however, and the Dodge would leave those sleek sports cars behind. Gathering up the fastest American vehicles available for 1978, Car and Driver conducted such a test and ended up naming the Dodge Li’l Red Express as the fastest accelerating American vehicle from 0-to-100 mph.

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Lively yet short-lived

After testing the waters and producing just 2,188 units for 1978 but seeing strong demand for its hot rod truck, Dodge ramped up production for 1979. Total production for that second year was 5,118 units.

For 1979, the Li’l Red Express Truck saw a handful of minor changes. Round headlights gave way to a quartet of square units, the hood was flatter and catalytic converters were fitted (as emissions regulations for trucks tightened up), now requiring the use of unleaded gas. Thankfully the latter had little effect on performance, likely due to the fitment of dual converters rather than a single one and the availability of higher octane fuel.

The gas crisis of 1979 helped to seal the fate of the Li’l Red Express Truck. Units sat unsold on dealer lots while gas prices grew and gas availability shrunk. Understandably, the company pulled the plug on the pickup after the 1979 model year run. Still, there was no denying that Dodge’s shining performance star provided much-needed light during a dark time.

Forefixers: Innovations in Suspension

On the list of things we take for granted, automobile suspension is definitely up there near the top. Without it, every seemingly harmless car ride down an uneven street would have the potential to knock out your fillings. Thankfully, from the earliest coil springs to a height-adjustable air ride, we’ve come a long way. Here are three big milestones in suspension history.

Coil springs

Springs have been around for some time — we’re talking as far back as ancient Egypt, when a form of “leaf ” springs were used on chariots to increase durability and provide a more comfortable ride. But in 1763, a British patent was issued to R. Tredwell for the first coil spring. Also known as a spiral spring, it works by resisting compression and absorbing mechanical energy, like from running over a pothole or bump in the road.

The advantage over the leaf system is that it doesn’t require routine lubricating and other maintenance. Since then, coil springs have been used for everything from furniture to many types of machinery.

Shock absorbers

You might think that shock absorbers absorb, well, shock, but not really. They actually dampen the oscillation of the surrounding springs. Translated into English: After coil springs compress, they would continue to sway for a long time were it not for the shock absorbers that convert that kinetic movement into heat, which is then dissipated by hydraulic fluid inside the unit.

An inventor from France, Maurice Houdaille, is responsible for creating the first examples in the early 1900s. He started receiving requests from across the pond to use his innovation in American-made cars, including the Ford Model A in 1929. He marketed his products under the name Houdaille Shock Absorbers.

Air suspension

Go to any auto show, and you’ll see souped-up cars and trucks looking like they’re literally sitting with the frame on the ground. These hot rods are probably running an air ride suspension. Before tuners were using this type of setup, Mercedes-Benz was already implementing the technology in the 1960s.

The 300SE built on the W112 chassis used an independent cone-shaped air spring on each wheel axle, instead of the traditional coil spring. Valves feed air pressure to inflate the springs, keeping the ride height constant. Later models, such as the W109 300SEL, introduced ride-height adjustability.

The future Forefixers of suspension

Although suspension design has certainly “sprung” forward by leaps and bounds from ancient times, the fundamentals are still the same. The future brings next-level innovation such as adaptive dampening, which was once reserved for exotic sports cars and is beginning to trickle down into passenger vehicles. The Lincoln MKC Crossover, for example, offers continuously controlled damping. Utilizing a series of sensors, driver inputs and road conditions are measured up to 20 times per second, and the shock absorbers are automatically stiffened or softened depending on the setting.

Shocked by how far suspension has come? Leave us a comment.

Crucial Cars: The Datsun Z

Yutaka Katayama. You may not have heard of him, but you’ve surely seen his influence on the automotive world. Affectionately known as “Mr. K” and the “Father of the Z car,” Katayama is to many a hero and a legend.

Datsun 240z

Source | Matthew Davis

In the 1960s, Japanese cars in the United States were nothing more than disposable transportation that got decent fuel economy and were known to be more reliable and affordable than their domestic counterparts. In short, they were anything but cool. As an executive at Nissan, Katayama had some radical ideas and introduced several cars to the American market that changed the perception of Japanese cars forever. One was the Datsun 240Z.

To Japan, Nissan has been akin to one of the “Big Three” in the United States. When it first started selling cars in the U.S., it used the moniker “Datsun” instead of “Nissan,” for fear of the line failing in America and thus tarnishing the Nissan name. But when the Datsun 240Z hit showroom floors in 1969, it was such a smashing success that over the next 15 years Datsuns started to display badges that advertised “Datsun by Nissan” and, eventually, just “Nissan.”

1970 Datusn 240z

Source | Matthew Davis

There have been other vehicles, like the Datsun 510 and Toyota Celica, that helped cement the status of Japanese cars. But if David and Goliath was an allegory about Japanese car success, the stone that hit Goliath in the temple was the Z.

The Datsun 240Z entered the U.S. market at the tail end of the great muscle-car era and at the peak of popularity for British roadsters. The latter group, with models such as the Triumph TR6 and MG MGB, were directly in the crosshairs of Mr. K’s creation, and they were blown from the sky by the Z. The 240Z was a two-seater GT (grand touring) sports car with a short deck and elegant long hood. Many consider it to be the budget version of the venerable Jaguar E-Type. It certainly had a British feel to the design, sound, and feel of the car, but without the quirky, unreliable aspects.

With an MSRP of $3,500, the Datsun 240Z was priced slightly higher than the MGB GT and roughly about the same as a Porsche 914. Those who wanted something along the lines of a Chevrolet Corvette or Ford Mustang would have needed to pay over $2,500 more, nearly doubling the price of the Datsun.

The Z gave people the cool factor they wanted at a price they could afford, and it was reliable, day in and day out. As muscle cars lost potency through the 1970s, the Datsun Z increased in popularity in the U.S., while its British competitors all but ceased to exist.

The Datsun Z Straight 6

Source | Matthew Davis

Powered by a 2.4L straight six (the L24), the Datsun Z produced 151 horsepower and could hit 0-60 mph in just over eight seconds. That was quick enough to hang with the likes of the Porsche 911. Rear independent suspension enabled the Z to handle just as well as it looked, and it had great success on the racetrack as well as on the showroom floor. “What wins on Sunday sells on Monday” was a popular saying in those days.

Buy, sell, hold

When it comes to collecting cars, the nostalgic Japanese market is an interesting niche to consider. The past five years or so have truly given us a glimpse at the potential of these great vehicles. Fifteen years ago, you could pick up a clean Datsun Z for less than they sold new. Nowadays, an early 240Z will bring over $10,000 in a moderate state of disrepair. Just as with the stock market, in the auto market there are some models you should buy before they rise, some that you should probably sell because they’ve peaked, and others that you want to hold onto because they are climbing in value.

Some say that the 240Z, in particular, is climbing in value at a higher rate than almost any other car. Out of the three early-generation models of the Z (240, 260, 280) the 1970 models have almost already reached the stage where you’d want to hold. The 260Z and 280Z are where you can still pick them up for a good price. The key is finding models that haven’t been wrecked or aren’t too cankered with rust. Japanese cars of this era are notorious for rusting away.

Source | Matthew Davis

The crystal ball

We’ve all heard the stories of the people who sold a 1955 Chevrolet for peanuts and kick themselves every day for it. While there’s no crystal ball to tell you what cars will come into their own down the road, there are a few patterns to consider. The Datsun Z is becoming a collectible because not only was it an icon and a game changer in its day, but also because the people who now want to buy their first collector car remember growing up when the Z hit the showroom floor. It’s the type of car that gets comments at the gas station like, “I had one of those in high school, and it was so cool!”

Sometimes predicting the future is as simple as thinking back to the cars that influenced you when you were in your formative years.

Did you covet or own a Datsun Z? Let us know in the comments!

Car History: A Tour of Art Deco Cars From the ’30s and ’40s

The automobiles of the 1930s and ’40s were mysterious machines. They had evolved from clunky motorized carriages to comfortable, reliable forms of transportation. Yet they were still far removed from their full potential. Looking to the future for inspiration, a group of engineers from Europe and North America set out to design vehicles that would redefine the paradigm. Tapping into the Art Deco artistic movement of the era, these engineers tinkered and dreamed, producing vehicles that were both beautiful and ahead of their time.

And so the Art Deco car was born.

The Future Of Our Past

Laws were different then. Fenders could be sculpted into flowing curves of metal, with safety performance as an afterthought. Doors and their arrangement were optional; windshields could be rolled down for pure, open driving; and dorsal fins could protrude from rear windows. The engineers did keep function in mind, however, as these vehicles were extremely wind resistant and agile compared to the competition (balanced weight distribution, unibody frames, advanced handling and suspension, etc.). The 1935 Chrysler Imperial Model C-2 Airflow, for example, was designed by Carl Breer using wind tunnel testing and input from aviation founder Orville Wright.

undefinedTalbot-Lago T-150C-SS Teardrop, 1938. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Sadly, like most things ahead of their time, the majority of the Art Deco vehicles weren’t understood by the market, and sales floundered. Some never made it past the concept stage. It took the automotive industry decades to catch up to these designs. Even now, one can argue that these vehicles are more modern than what’s currently on the road. Today, automotive engineers are forced to meet the confines of safety and emissions standards, with art being secondary. This is of course a benefit to all drivers. But…there is something romantic about a vehicle free of restrictions.

undefinedBMW R7 Concept Motorcycle, 1934. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

The Art Deco period was a time when engineers had the freedom to sculpt vehicles to their wildest imagination. It was a movement that will most likely never be reproduced in our lifetime. Too modern at their inception, and tragically now too far behind, the Art Deco cars sit gleaming under museum lights. They serve as reminders of what could have been and inspiration for what can be achieved.

 

The Exhibition at North Carolina Museum of Art

To view some of these rolling sculptures in person, visit the North Carolina Museum of Art. The exhibition, “Rolling Sculpture: Art Deco Cars from the 1930s and ’40s,” curated by renowned automotive journalist Ken Gross, runs through January, 15, 2017. You can also view the full gallery of the 16 cars and three motorcycles below.

Buggati Type 57S Aerolithe, 1935. © 2016 Joe Wiecha.

Chrysler Imperial Model C-2 Airflow, 1935. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Chrysler Thunderbolt, 1941. Photo © 2016 Michael Furman.

Delahaye 135M Figoni Roadster, 1938. Photo © 2016 Scott Williamson, Photodesign Studios.

Edsel Ford’s Model 40 Speedster, 1934. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Henderson KJ Streamline, 1930. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Hispano-Suiza H6B “Xenia,” 1938. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Indian Model 441, 1941. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Packard Twelve Model 1106, 1934. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Peugeot 402

Peugeot 402 Darl’mat Coupe, 1936. Photo © 2016 Michael Furman.

Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow, 1933. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Tatra T87, 1940. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

Ruxton Model C, 1930. Photo © 2016 Peter Harholdt.

voisine_c28_clair_re__1936

Voisin C28 Clairiere, 1936. Photo © 2016 Michael Furman.

 

Crucial Cars: Toyota MR2

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without. For this installment, we put the spotlight on Toyota’s feisty sports car, the MR2.

Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seater. For you trivia buffs, that’s how Toyota came up with the name of its sports car that debuted in the mid-1980s. Encompassing three generations before bowing out 20 years later, the MR2 endeared itself to thousands of driving enthusiasts.

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The dancing doorstop

The first-generation MR2 debuted for the 1985 model year. Petite, low to the ground and weighing just around 2,300 pounds, the athletic little runabout quickly became the poster car for affordable sports-car thrills. For good reason, car magazines such as Road & Track and Car and Driver raved about the MR2. A 1.6-liter, DOHC 16-valve inline four making 112 horsepower sat behind the cockpit and ran through either a slick-shifting five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic. The buff books called the manual one of the best in the world due to its satisfying, toggle-switch-like action. The engine’s smooth, high-revving nature also made it a blast to run through the gears, and with such little mass to push around it provided sprightly acceleration. As such, 0-60 mph sprints in the 8.5 second range and quarter-mile runs of around 16.5 seconds were possible and very quick for a car powered by a 1.6-liter four.

The MR2 saw a mid-cycle refresh for 1987, with the more notable changes including a slight bump in engine output (to 115 hp), bigger brakes, restyled front bumper/taillights, a T-bar roof option (with removable glass panels) and a sportier three-spoke steering wheel.

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For 1988, those wanting more gusto saw their wish granted in the form of the MR2 Supercharged, which boasted a force-fed 1.6-liter four making a stated 145 hp. The actual output was likely considerably higher, as performance testing had the little rocket hitting 60 mph in less than seven seconds and running the quarter in the low-15-second range. The following year would see only minor changes, such as an LED-strip-style third brake light, more aerodynamic mirrors, and for the Supercharged version, a rear anti-roll bar.

The baby Ferrari follows

After taking 1990 off, the MR2 returned for the 1991 model year completely redesigned. Looking a lot like a 3/4-scale Ferrari 348 minus the cheese-grater side intakes, it boasted not only exotic car looks but increased power, comfort, and performance. It also gained around 300 pounds in curb weight, though most viewed that as a small price to pay given the aforementioned upgrades.

With its 2.2-liter, DOC four making a willing 130 hp, the base MR2 was respectably quick, as it could hit 60 and run the quarter mile a few tenths quicker than its predecessor. As before, the athletic MR2 was more about providing backroads entertainment than it was about straight line thrills. Transmission choices were the same as before. Yet those with more of a need for speed had only to choose the top dog in the lineup, which was now turbocharged rather than supercharged. With its force-fed 2.0-liter four making a robust 200 horses, the new MR2 Turbo could rocket to 60 in just around six seconds flat and rip through the quarter in the mid-14-second range.

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Addressing concerns about the car’s propensity toward snap oversteer when pushed to its cornering limits, Toyota made a number of suspension changes as well as the fitment of 15-inch tires (versus the former 14s) for 1993 to make the car more forgiving of non-expert pilots. That year also saw more standard features for the Turbo (including T-tops, air conditioning and cruise control), as well as a newly optional limited-slip differential for that line-topping model.

For 1994, base versions got five more horses (for a total of 135), while all versions got a revised taillight panel (with a color-keyed center insert). Other update highlights included a one-piece (versus the previous three-piece) rear spoiler and revised power steering that provided more assist at low speeds and less at higher speeds. The following year, this MR2’s last in the U.S. market, saw no changes of note.

Along came a Spyder

After a four-year hiatus, the MR2 returned to the U.S. This third (and last) generation took a somewhat retro tack, as it morphed into a more traditionally styled, soft-top sports car. Toyota emphasized this new theme by adding “Spyder” (basically Italian for convertible sports car) to its name. Aimed squarely at Mazda’s ridiculously popular Miata, the latest MR2 traded its formerly sexy curves for a somewhat blocky body “accented” by oversize headlights and taillights. To say it lost some “eyeball” would be understating things. And there was no longer a pumped-up supercharged or turbocharged version.

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Still, there was plenty to like here. Although the sole engine choice was a 1.8-liter, DOHC, 16-valve four, it featured variable valve timing and cranked out a respectable 138 hp. A five-speed manual gearbox was the only transmission initially offered. Notably, the Spyder was very light, boasting a curb weight of just around 2,200 pounds, which translated into peppy acceleration (0-60 in around seven seconds flat). A longer wheelbase than before gave both a smoother ride over broken pavement along with greater stability when pushed hard on a twisty road. Finally, the MR2 Spyder offered a lot of bang for the buck, and with a price tag of around $24,000, it not only was a blast to drive but came nicely equipped with air conditioning, full power features and sharp alloy wheels. City dwellers or those who just didn’t like clutch pedals could, in 2002, choose the newly optional five-speed, automated clutch manual gearbox. The following year saw that transmission upgraded to six-speeds, slightly restyled front/rear fascias, revised seats and recalibrated suspension components.

For 2004, the MR2 Spyder received an optional Torsen limited-slip differential, a stronger structure (for better crash protection), and, to the chagrin of most enthusiasts, a one-inch taller ride height. To celebrate 2005, the last year for the MR2 Spyder in the U.S., Toyota added a six-disc CD changer to the standard equipment list.

With its two-decade run and massive popularity among driving enthusiasts looking for a fun, dependable, and low-running-cost ride, the Toyota MR2 is hard to beat. A few web sites catering to MR2 fans include MR2 World and International MR2 Owners Club.

Did you own a Toyota MR2? Tell us about it in the comments.

Our Forefixers: The Winter Innovators

Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stop today’s drivers from getting somewhere sunny and bright! Nope, we’re not referring to the delivery route of your friendly neighborhood USPS worker. We’re talking about cold-weather-fighting automotive inventions like winter tires and all-wheel drive, which let motorists go wherever they want regardless of the season.

But where did these inventions come from? Here are the origin stories of some of winter’s most essential features.

Tires

Source | Imthaz Ahamed/Unsplash

Winter Tires

Picture this: it’s a frosty winter’s night in Finland in 1934, and horse-drawn carts are still a common sight. The cars of the time are nowhere near as well-built as today’s, and slush and ice on the roads only make being behind the wheel even scarier.

Enter Nokian, who recognized the need for a tire suited to frozen climates. The company first designed cold-resistant rubber for delivery trucks that had no choice but to drive on the white stuff. The tires featured a never-before-seen type of asymmetrical tread pattern that went sideways to bite into snow. Two years later, it was adapted for passenger vehicles, allowing all drivers to keep cool in slippery situations.

Ferdinand Porsche

Ferdinand Porsche

 

All-Wheel Drive

He created the Volkswagen Beetle, the world’s first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, as well as the first mid-engine, rear-wheel drive race car—so, we have to ask, was there anything Ferdinand Porsche couldn’t do?

Apparently not! While working for pioneering car manufacturer Jacob Lohner & Co., Porsche also invented the first automobile powered by all four wheels. Did we forget to tell you that the aforementioned hybrid had individual electric hub motors on each wheel, driven by an onboard engine-powered generator? This unique model was debuted at the Paris Auto Salon in 1900. Now, Porsche offers all-wheel drive on everything from Cayennes to 911s.

Saab

Source | Saab

Heated Seats

Keeping your tush toasty in the middle of February is as easy as flicking a switch, thanks to heated seats. This wasn’t the case until 1972, when the feature was made standard on a few of the models, like the 95, 96, and 99 sedans, offered by now sadly defunct Swedish automaker Saab. (According to one legend, the innovation came about in an attempt to alleviate a Saab executive’s back pain.) Unfortunately for the owners of those first vehicles, sitting in the hot seat wasn’t optional, because the function turned on automatically when the interior dipped below a certain predetermined temperature whether they liked it or not.

Do you know of any forefixers who changed the way we drive in winter? Share what you know below.

I didn’t know they sold that!

Advance Auto Parts opened its doors in 1932 in Roanoke, Virginia, back when driving was still in its early days and you could buy parts for just a quarter. Our stores have changed over the years, but did you know we used to sell quirky items like pickles, chocolate covered cashews, and toys during the holidays? In the spirit of our upcoming 85th anniversary, we invite you to look through our fine inventory below.

Yes, those are lucky fox tails hanging on a string for sale.

Hello, welcome to Advance. Yes, those are indeed fox tails hanging on a string for sale.

Advance’s Unique Items

Step inside and take a gander. Would a lucky fox tail to hang on your radio aerial interest you? How about a new, state-of-the-art washer and dryer to make laundry a breeze? Does your little one enjoy toys? We carry remote control cars and trucks that “Santa” would be proud to deliver. We also have handcrafted dolls and tea sets for more sophisticated play time.

Toys for all ages. Did your child make the

Toys for all ages. Did your child make the “nice list” this year?

For drivers, we have everything you need to make your road trips more enjoyable. Choose from one of our many highly-regarded brands of cigarettes for a relaxing smoke. Hungry? Try our proprietary chocolate covered cashews—they are delicious! Not a sweets person? No problem. Snack on our tasty beef jerky, perfect for those late-night trips when the service stations are closed.

You will be amazed of the savings you will realize here, and at all times you are assured of courteous, intelligent service.

You will be amazed by how much you will save here, and at all times you are assured of courteous, intelligent service.

Make sure you bring back something for the home as well! How can you pass up on our highly modern kitchen appliances? We stock refrigerators, ice chests, dish washers (a miracle of an invention), gas and electric cook tops, and much more. Stop in any time. Remember, you must be satisfied or your money is cheerfully refunded.

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Was there anything on this list that you wished we still carried? Did you ever receive a toy from Advance as a child? Share your comment below!

Road Trip: The 5 Biggest Holiday Light Displays in America

‘Tis the season for holiday light tours, where you can view thousands of twinkling lights and giant, animated reindeer from the comfort of your automobile. Whether you find these roadside displays beautiful or as tacky as a plastic leg lamp, they’ve become a much-loved tradition. Here’s a look at five of the biggest, most festive, holiday light events from across the country.

lights-photo

1. Oglebay Festival of Lights – Wheeling, WV

Hosted by the Oglebay Resort, the Festival of Lights is one of the biggest holiday lights displays in the country. The six-mile drive boasts more than a million LED lights across 300 acres. Cruise beneath the 300-foot Rainbow Tunnel, view a Peanuts display donated by the family of Charles Schulz, and wonder at the 60-foot-tall candles set in a poinsettia wreath.

2. Bright Nights at Forest Park – Springfield, MA

The number of cars that have visited Bright Nights at Forest Park since its inception in 1995 could stretch from Springfield, Massachusetts to California. But don’t let that discourage you from visiting! Enjoy three miles of lights, featuring a Victorian village, Jurassic Park, and Seussland, along with displays for Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.

3. East Peoria Festival of Lights – East Peoria, IL

The East Peoria Festival of Lights kicks off with a parade of eye-popping floats in late November. The lighted floats are then on drive-through display, along with other animated scenes, in nearby Folepi’s Winter Wonderland. The largest float is a 160-foot steam engine featuring 65,000 lights. Other favorites include a steam-breathing Chinese dragon, the Star Trek “Enterprise,” and a larger-than life team of clydesdale horses pulling a wagon.

4. Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park – Spanaway, WA

Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park is a cooperative effort between local schools and the county’s parks and recreation department. The annual display is in its 22nd year and is one of the largest displays of its kind in the northwest. Visitors will “ooh” and “aah” at nearly 300 light displays as they wind their way along the two-mile drive. Scenes with a giant dog and a ship sailed by a crew of elves will delight all ages.

5. Christmas in the Smokies – Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN

(Update: Some of this area is currently suffering from damage from wildfires. Please hope the best for the people who are rebuilding there and make sure to visit their website for updates on recovery efforts.)

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are well-known for their bright lights and attractions, not to mention stellar views of the Great Smoky Mountains. They also spend November through February, draped in mile-after-mile of twinkling holiday lights. Gatlinburg recently spent more than $1.6 million to enhance their holiday displays and convert to LED lights. (The city now powers the full 120-day celebration with what it previously cost for three days.) Expect displays evoking winter romance and nature with Gatlinburg’s Winter Magic, and don’t miss the centerpiece of Pigeon Forge’s Winterfest, the aptly named Patriot Park.

What to know

  • Take a moment to review each festival’s posted guidelines, which may include requests to dim your headlights so visitors can fully appreciate the displays.
  • If you want to linger at a display, pull to the side to allow others to pass.
  • To avoid the long lines, visit during weeknights and earlier or later in the evening.
  • Watch for discounted tickets and special events associated with each festival.

Does your area host a drive-through, holiday lights festival that would make Clark Griswold salivate? Leave us a comment with all the details.

 

 

Our Forefixers: The Lighting Innovators

Just as TV is enjoying a unrivaled era of quality programming, the automotive industry is experiencing a golden age of lighting. Today, manufacturers use everything from halogen to LED technology in order to illuminate the road, brighten the cabin, and make vehicles more visible to other drivers. But early in their history, headlamps were little more than acetylene lanterns (like those used in the early days of mining). Brake lights didn’t even exist.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane and learn more about three people who were instrumental in getting auto lighting to where it is now.

James Allison

This American entrepreneur invented the first headlight assembly. Allison was a co-founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Prest-O-Lite, a company originally specializing in concentrated acetylene gas. The chemical compound was used to fuel portable lamps popular with miners because of its resistance to wind and rain, and for the same reason was adapted for use on vehicles in the late 1880s. A pressurized acetylene-filled canister would feed out to an opening in front of a reflecting mirror, similar to a modern headlight lens housing. Activating a switch inside the cabin caused a spark to ignite the brightly burning gas. Before that, such as on the world’s first production automobile, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, there was simply no formal lighting hardware available.

John Voevodsky

It turns out a psychologist, not an engineer, was responsible for inventing the Center High Mount Stop Lamp—otherwise known as the third brake light—in 1974. Californian John Voevodsky was researching car accidents and set up a study in which a portion of a group of San Francisco city taxis was outfitted with an additional brake light at the base of the back window. At the end of 10 months, they discovered that the cabs sporting the extra bit of equipment had 60.6 percent fewer rear-end collisions than those without. The third brake light was born.

HID headlight

Robert Reiling

While high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights didn’t appear in North America until 1991 via the BMW 7 Series full-size luxury sedan, the first successful example was actually developed in 1962 by a man named Robert Reiling. He improved upon earlier designs and created a reliable gas-discharge lighting system that formed the basis for contemporary HIDs. Two tungsten electrodes inside a bulb produce a powerful electric charge, which interacts with xenon gas and metal salts present to produce plasma, together creating the signature intense light.

Did we miss any vehicle lighting Forefixers? Share what you know in the comments.