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.

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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.

Crucial Cars: Buick Grand National

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without. For this installment, we put the spotlight on Buick’s iconic ’80s muscle car, the Grand National.

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The year 1982 marked the slow rebirth of American performance cars. The “malaise” era, which ran roughly from 1975 through 1981 and marked a dark time when engines continually lost power, was finally ending. Thanks to new technologies, such as computerized fuel injection and ignition timing, engines could run more cleanly and efficiently while making more power than before.

Performance started its return to American car showrooms as Ford crowed “The Boss is Back” in advertisements for the ’82 Mustang GT with its “high output” 5-liter V8. General Motors was at the party, too, as Chevy and Pontiac rolled out leaner, sharper handling versions of the Camaro and Firebird, while Buick quietly brought out the Grand National.

Right about now, some of you might be thinking we’ve got the introductory year of Buick’s bruiser wrong. We can see it now: “Did you skip your morning coffee, guys? The Grand National came out in 1984, not 1982.” But serious Buick buffs may know that the Grand National debuted when “We Got the Beat” and “Eye of the Tiger” were burning up the Top 40 charts. And that the Grand National wore, for that one year, a silver/gray paint scheme.

Started out in silver

Something of a spiritual successor to Buick’s Skylark Gran Sport of the ’60s and ’70s, that first Grand National was similarly based on Buick’s midsize Regal personal luxury coupe. A 4.1-liter V6 with just 125 horsepower was the standard mill, with Buick’s turbocharged 3.8-liter V6 as an option. The turbo six made a respectable 175 hp—keep in mind these were the times that 5.0-liter V8s were making on the order of 150-165 horses.

Inspired by Buick’s success in NASCAR racing, the Grand National drew its name from the NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National race series. A number of tweaks set it apart from your aunt’s vinyl roof-topped, bench-seated Regal. The Grand National featured a sharp charcoal gray/silver two-tone paint scheme with large “Buick” decals on its rear quarters, along with turbine-style alloy wheels. Inside were bucket seats, a console and a sporty metal-spoked, leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Given that there were only 215 Grand Nationals made that first year, one might be forgiven for not knowing this car ever existed.

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Skipping a year

For 1983, the Grand National took the year off. So did the Chevy Corvette, but that’s a story for another time. Meanwhile, the Mustang, Camaro, and Firebird saw their performance variants getting stronger. Although those smaller, “pony car” segment cars aren’t direct rivals to the Grand National, it’s important to note that performance was now steadily on the rise for these American cars.

What was a direct rival came from Chevrolet, as it chose this year to debut its Monte Carlo SS. A cousin to Buick’s Regal (and Oldsmobile’s midsize Cutlass), it was built on the same platform, but rather than offering a turbo V6, the Monte SS sported a high-output 5.0-liter (305-cubic-inch) V8 making 180 horsepower.

Back in black

Returning to the Buick lineup for 1984, the Grand National took on a decidedly more sinister visage. Available only in black, with color-keyed bumpers and grille insert to further the menacing vibe, the Grand National also featured cool turbo V6 emblems on the body and inside the car.

Under the skin, the 3.8-liter turbo V6 was standard, and now fortified with sequential fuel injection and computer-controlled ignition, made 200 hp along with a healthy 300 lb-ft of torque. Running through its standard four-speed automatic (the only transmission available) and able to dash to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds and run down the quarter-mile in the high-15s, the Grand National backed up its tough looks with serious-for-the time street cred. The 1985 Grand National was essentially a repeat of 1984.

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Gotta be cool now

Things got more serious for 1986, as the Grand National received a major increase in performance. The turbo V6 saw the fitment of an intercooler, which as the name suggested cooled the air going into the engine. Cooler air is denser than warmer air, which helps to create more power. Bottom line? A walloping output of 235 hp and 330 lb-ft.

It all made for a blacked-out personal luxury coupe that, in terms of straight-line gusto, could show its tail lights to the mighty Corvette, let alone those pesky Mustang GTs, Z28s, Trans Ams, Monte Carlo SSs, and Olds 442s. You want numbers? The ’86 Grand National could blast to 60 mph in the high 5-second range and unreel the quarter-mile in the low- to mid-14s.

Sadly, 1987 would be the last year for the Grand National (as GM prepared to launch its completely redesigned, front-wheel-drive midsizers for ’88), but it wasn’t going out quietly. Instead, Buick boosted the Grand National’s firepower to 245 hp and 355 lb-ft. Performance numbers were stunning, as car mags of the day got sub-5-second 0-60s with their quarter-mile times ranging from high-13s to low-14s.

It takes a keen eye to discern the minor visual differences between an ’86 and an ’87, as the latter has a completely blacked-out grille (no chrome mustache) with thicker vertical bars inside it.

As for that not “going out quietly” statement, the limited production (just 547 produced) Buick GNX was the Grand National taken to a higher level. Built in concert with McLaren Performance Technologies and ASC, the GNX boasted an upgraded turbocharger with a ceramic impeller and bigger intercooler, along with a less restrictive exhaust system, reprogrammed engine controller, beefed-up transmission, and reworked rear suspension.

Somehow, the GNX managed to look even more menacing than a standard Grand National, fitted with 16-inch wheels with black mesh centers, front fender vents and the deletion of the Grand National’s various emblems from the body sides and hood bulge. Unique interior treatment was part of the deal, too, as the dash featured round gauges and a serial number plaque on the dash, indicating which production number of the 547 GNXs your car was.

The GNX’s more powerful 3.8-liter turbo V6 made (a very conservatively rated) 276 hp and 360 lb-ft. Performance was unbelievable — this Buick was one of the quickest cars in the world with a 0-to-60 time of around 4.6 seconds and the ability to obliterate the quarter-mile in about 13.3 seconds. Put another way, the GNX could spank most anything on four wheels apart from the top dogs from the kennels of Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini. Indeed, the Grand National could not have gone out with a bigger “bang.”

Do you have fond memories of a Grand National? Share them in the comments.

Racing 101: Your Guide to Street-Legal Rally Racing

Rally racing looks like a blast, but the costs often seem prohibitive to drivers with a casual interest. What many don’t realize is there’s a rally for everyone, from affordable local charity drives to national competitive events. They can be a great way to test your driving chops, put your car through its paces, and have some fun! Here’s a guide to (legally) experiencing competition from the driver’s seat.

Local rallies

Your local rally is a timed event covering a predetermined course. Rather than racing competitors to the finish, the rally marshal has already run the course and determined what the speed and finishing time should be. Competitors travel the course at legal speeds, using their driving and navigational skills to get as close to the official time as possible. The closest driver wins the rally, with competitors sometimes separated by seconds.

This type of rally is a time/speed/distance event. Think of it as an easy drive to a new destination, except you don’t know where it is and you have to be on time. Other rallies are set up as mobile scavenger hunts, where each point along the route requires searching for objects. Others require you to solve clues in order to figure out where to go. You should have a solid working knowledge of the area you’re in before tackling those rallies.

Regardless of the variations, this is all you need to compete:

  • A street-legal vehicle
  • A licensed driver (you!)
  • A co-driver/navigator
  • Solid teamwork

A stopwatch and GPS are likely needed to win but not required for participation. The low entrance fees—usually around $25—are often donated to a local charity or cause, so you can think of your driving time as doing a good deed. Of course, donating more than the entrance fee is always appreciated.

National events

OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car

If you need more speed on your drive, check out one of the national rally events. Endurance rallies like the new Baja 4000 are proving popular with the off-road crowd. It even has a Spirit category for “highly unsuitable vehicles,” where they encourage mutant cars, lemons, and ice cream trucks.

The street and track enthusiasts have more options, though, as Hot Rod magazine’s Power Tour cuts through different regions of the United States every year. There’s also the Ultimate Street Car Association, which hits up tracks around the country. While there are no scavenger hunts, the behind-the-wheel competition can be intense.

This event is an annual nationwide search for the ultimate street-legal vehicle. Rather than demanding maxed-out race cars with plates, USCA rules state that competing vehicles must be better in every way, not just acceleration. “Reach the highest performance on the track, contain features that allow it to be driven daily, achieve high-quality fit and finish, and involve the use of innovative and cutting edge ideas and parts.” Air conditioning and emissions equipment are mandatory here, and comfy seats and Wi-Fi earn bonus points.

Events vary but include judging in a car-show format, examining design and engineering, an autocross course, a road race, and a start-stop event testing grip and braking. USCA vehicles must be able to complete a road rally at legal speeds, up to 100 miles in length. Like your local rally, this isn’t a race, but it is still worth points in two days full of competition and speed.

A road rally is a great way to get out there and enjoy your ride while supporting a cause, or for one massively exciting weekend at a race track.

Have you ever competed in a rally ? Share your experience and tips for winning in the comments.

Our Forefixers: The Innovators Behind Brakes

Mercedes-Benz is a global luxury brand that needs little introduction. But how much do you know about Bertha Benz, the wife and business partner of founder Karl Benz, who is often credited as the inventor of the brake pad? She and a handful of other pioneers have been integral in paving the way for the contemporary automobile brake system. Let’s take a look at three of them below.

Bertha Benz: Brake Pads

In 1888, Bertha went on an unprecedented road trip in her husband’s three-wheeled Patent Motorwagen, a direct ancestor of the gasoline-powered cars of today. During her journey, the brakes, then consisting of wooden blocks that pressed up against the rear wheels to slow down and stop the vehicle, became worn down and failed. Ever the innovator, Bertha had a local shoemaker in the next town affix leather onto the blocks, thus effectively designing the world’s first brake pad in the process.

Louis Renault: Drum Brakes

Another admirer of the horseless carriage, Frenchman and engineer Louis Renault applied for a patent in 1902 for an internal shoe drum brake that would eventually become the industry standard. Rather than earlier drum-brake versions, which relied on a steel cable wrapped outside of a brake drum mounted on a wheel to apply pressure and bring the wheel to a halt, Renault’s setup used shoes installed inside the drums that would press up against the inner surface to generate friction and achieve a similar result. This is the same technology used in some models today.

Fred Duesenberg, with his brother, August.

Fred Duesenberg: Hydraulic Brakes

A born tinkerer, German-American Fred Duesenberg, along with brother August, would build everything from motorcycles and race cars to luxury vehicles. In 1921, the pair introduced the first passenger car with hydraulic brakes, which use fluid pressure to push the shoes up against the brake drums—a technique originally dreamed up by a young man named Malcolm Lockheed.

Fun fact: Many once believed the expression “It’s a Doozy” is in reference to Duesenberg, but, according to Merriam-Webster, etymologists trace it to a variation of “daisy.”

Do you know of any braking trailblazers throughout history? Let us know!

Never Been to an Auto Auction? Here’s Why You’re Missing Out.

With high-stakes competitiveness and quick action, auto auctions are the most fun you can have outside your vehicle. They can be a unique way to score an incredible deal on a used car, and they’re a lot more local than you might think. Read on as we cover how to find a great ride for an even greater price.

The Local Scene

Depending on your location, there may be towing and government vehicle auctions nearby. Towing impound auctions are where seized vehicles are sold off to recoup costs. Government auto auctions are typically used vehicles that have aged out of their service life after serving your local city or county. They often sell with no reserve, so those who can do a little bit of tune-up work and don’t mind cosmetic imperfections can score a huge discount.

Almost all local auction vehicles are running and able to pass emissions or safety inspections.

The variety of vehicles covers pretty much everything made in the last 30 years, with the average age being roughly 10 to 15 years old. Conditions are all over the place, from the pristine and needs no work to the well-worn vehicle needing attention, and everything in between. Most vehicles have some slight wear and tear from the daily grind, and could stand a tune-up.

Local Auction Tips

  1. To get started, visit your local classifieds online and look in the automotive and auction sections. You should see a few auctions for the coming week, usually with website addresses listed. The websites are useful for getting a look at the vehicles before the auction. Most of them offer one picture per vehicle, but others offer more and go into detail on features and condition. If you find one you’re interested in, check the value to see what it’s worth. You should be getting a deal here, so do the research to make sure you don’t overpay.
  2. On the day of the auction, show up early. Sometimes the early bird gets free doughnuts and coffee.
  3. Oh, and you will want to survey the vehicles. Like buying any used car, carefully examine the vehicle for issues, and ask questions if staff is available. Every auction will start the vehicles before bidding begins so buyers can hear how they sound.
  4. Don’t worry about sneezing and accidentally purchasing a Ferrari. This isn’t a sitcom, and the auctioneers are used to first timers. You’ll need to be obvious with your intent to bid.
  5. Finally, have cash and a plan. Almost every site requires cash or card payment same day and the vehicle removed within 24 hours. Be ready to win.

Large International Auctions

Local car auctions are great if you’re looking for a daily driver but not so great for finding a weekend show car or special project. For a higher-end vehicle, you need to visit a more upscale auction. Barrett-Jackson is internationally known for selling beautiful machines of staggering variety, covering the entire breadth of automotive production. Past events have included a million-dollar Duesenberg, the General Lee, and a sixth-generation COPO Camaro with VIN 001. There’s even wild custom cars, like the Ringbrothers’ 1972 Pantera, and this insane GMC V12-powered roadster.

By now you’ve noticed that looking through sold lots on the Barrett-Jackson website is an amazing way to kill time at work. It’s also great in-person. These auctions operate similar to your local auctions, but on a much larger scale. Tickets are reasonably priced for the hours of eye candy you’ll get to ogle, and if you’re still looking for that cheap daily driver, Barrett-Jackson has you covered there, too.

Upcoming auctions include Arizona, Florida, Connecticut, and Nevada. Check out the event page to see schedules and get tickets. If you want to view the action from your couch, Barrett-Jackson auctions are internationally broadcast on Discovery or Velocity, depending on locale.

Maybe you’ll stumble upon a moment like this:

Have you ever bought an auction vehicle or hit up Barrett-Jackson? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.