No. 1006
July 24, 2019

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. If you’ve arrived at a certain point in your life you realize that even the special moments are fleeting – they come and go when you want to hang on to them and make them last forever, but that’s not the way it works, unfortunately. Yet those living color memories stick with us and last for a lifetime. It’s our life currency, in fact. No, they’re not all we have to go on, of course, but they’re certainly the most enduring, and they continue to fuel our dreams to this day. 

Having led a charmed car life from an early age, my fleeting moments are indelible and, in some respects, almost unbelievable, but they’re as fresh and vivid as if it all happened yesterday. 

To say I had the opportunity to experience an incredible automotive life growing up is an understatement. Our father, Tony, was leader of GM Public Relations in the company's heyday, from 1957 to 1979, so many of the GM legends you've only read about – Ed Cole, Bunkie Knudsen, Zora Duntov and Bill Mitchell – just to name a very few, weren't just historical figures, but were living, breathing, larger-than-life figures who played a role in the cadence of our automotive lives. (You can read one of Peter's most-requested columns, about Bill Mitchell, here - WG) 

By the time my brother Tony got the automotive bug (he is eight years my senior), our household was crawling with the latest and fastest cars GM made. Bunkie Knudsen sent over a hot Pontiac for my mom to drive every summer, usually a red Bonneville or Catalina convertible with the highest horsepower drivetrain Pontiac offered at the time (at first 389s with 3x2s, then a series of 421s). Bill Mitchell customized a '63 Corvair for us that had the Turbo engine in it before it was even offered to the public (we, of course, took it down to the Detroit Dragway to see what it would do). And then there were the Corvettes. My, oh my. There were so many I'm not sure I can recall them all, but suffice to say, it was beyond special.

We swapped and borrowed cars and got to experience many of the legendary machines in period, which I can tell you resonates even more when I think about what's happening today. Even Shelby Cobras. (You can read more about Peter’s car life well lived in “The Glory Days” Part I and Part II -WG.)

Again, fleeting moments. The where and the when, the what and the who, and the hot machines, always the hot machines. I have recounted many of these experiences before but not all of them. Not even close. Here are a few more.

Running up and down Woodward in Ed Cole’s personal company car – a 1961 409 Chevrolet 4-speed – which we had borrowed for the weekend. The only other 409 in existence at that time was in Dyno Don Nicholson’s drag car at the U.S. Nationals. Needless to say, it made a lasting impression with the car freaks on Woodward.

Watching on a Friday afternoon in the summer as a horsepower train made up of the ’59 Corvette Sting Ray racer, the Corvette Mako Shark, the Corvette XP700 “bubble top” and the Corvair Super Spyder rumbled through the neighborhood on the way to be dropped off at Bill Mitchell’s house, who lived on the next block over from us. He liked to have driving options on the weekends and drove all of them.

Riding up to the corner drug store with Bill Mitchell in the original Sting Ray racer, the Corvette Mako Shark I, the Corvair Sebring Spyder and Super Spyder, and the Corvette XP700 “bubble top” concept. It sounds beyond comprehension, but it happened and I lived it. And loved it.

And just for good measure there was the little known but memorable Pontiac XP400 concept equipped with a blown Mickey Thompson-built 421. We were told to check the oil at every gas stop – which was often over that weekend we borrowed it – because according to the guys who dropped it off, Thompson had "put drag racing piston rings in it." The mighty XP400 used 21 quarts of oil in two-and-one-half days.

Running hard and fast down Woodward Avenue in Ed Cole’s personal 1963 Sting Ray Coupe (Silver, fuel-injected, 4-speed), before the car was officially introduced to the public. It was still one of the most memorable car debuts of all time, and that Sting Ray remains an automotive icon.

Getting our hands on a Midnight Blue 1964 Pontiac GTO before anyone knew what it was. It had dog dish hub caps and no options, but the visceral appeal was undeniable.

Driving to Watkins Glen in a fuel-injected 1964 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Coupe in Black (of course) with every high-performance option so my brother Tony could go through SCCA driver’s school. That trip was a book of experiences unto itself.

Driving from Birmingham, Michigan, to Notre Dame, Indiana, in a caravan of cars in 1965 that included a red ’65 Shelby Cobra; a White (with blues stripes) 1966 Shelby Mustang GT350; and Dolly Cole’s (Ed’s wife) personal driver: a 1965 Nassau Blue (with White interior) Corvette Sting Ray roadster (with hardtop attached). Her “Bluebird” as she called it had a pre-production 396-cu. in. V8 in it with side pipes and a 4-speed gearbox. Things were decidedly different back then…

Learning to drive a stick in a Shelby Mustang GT 350 in a shopping mall parking lot. I still shake my head at that one.

Tearing around in an early 260-cu. in. Shelby Cobra that we borrowed from Pontiac Engineering almost every weekend in the summer of ‘63. In fact, I was taught how to wash a car the right way on that Cobra.

Tony running the 1966 Marlboro (Maryland) 12-Hour in our “A Sedan” Corvair with Don Eichstaedt as his co-driver. We struggled throughout the race with our pit stops, even splashing so much fuel everywhere on one pit stop – including all over me – that I ended up dumping an entire bucket of water on my head to get some of the fuel off. Comical, but we did finish a rousing 23rd overall. We flat-towed that Corvair all over the country, but it worked out.

Riding out to the test track from the Chevrolet Engineering Lobby at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan, in an Engineering toy – a Chevelle with a race-prepared big block 427 V8 in it with open headers – in order to meet up with Zora Arkus-Duntov. Zora had completely gone through the 1967 Corvette 427 L88 that my brother had ordered through Hanley Dawson Chevrolet and was preparing to race, but in true understated Zora fashion he only acknowledged that he had made “a few tweaks.”  

Being at Road America in 1967 with that same 427 L88-powered Corvette, the first of a total of 20 built that year. Then back again in ’68 when Tony dominated “A” Production in the SCCA June sprints. That car and that livery - Black with Blue stripe - is still my favorite of all of our racing Corvettes (see below). 

June 1968. The biggest SCCA National race at the time was the June Sprints at Elkhart Lake's Road America. Tony won "A" Production going away in his 1968 427 L88 Corvette.

Leaning over the pit wall to give pit signals to my brother at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1968, as the ultra-low factory Porsche 907s blew by under my pit board at 140 mph.

Borrowing a Red/Black 1968 Z28 Camaro for the weekend and enthralling my high-school buddies with it. To me it was the Camaro that was the most fun to drive, and my all-time favorite Camaro design.

Taking our Black/Black 1969 Corvette L88 427 roadster with open side pipes out on Woodward Avenue and on the area freeways to keep it “exercised” while my brother was out of town. Talk about a bad-ass machine – that beast garnered unwavering respect out on the street. It was eventually converted to a race car and sold to a Lufthansa pilot friend of Tony’s who raced it in Europe.

Leaving at 9:00 p.m. in a 1969 Corvette 427/390 roadster from Detroit – with the top down – to deliver some parts to a friend who was racing a Corvair Yenko Stinger at Mid-Ohio. We – our friend Gary Cooper and I – roared down there, stopped to chat for fifteen minutes, handed over the parts, and then raced right back so Gary could get to work in the morning. 

Making a run from East Lansing to Ann Arbor in my 1975 Porsche 911S Coupe – in 32 minutes flat – in June of ‘76. With the late afternoon sun behind me and extremely light traffic, I never dropped below 100 mph and went flat-out (140 mph +) for several minutes at a time. It was still the purest piece of high-performance street driving I have ever experienced. And it remains wonderfully vivid to this day. Editor's Note: This incredible event deserves a full telling. If you want to read the entire story go to "Reader Mail." -WG

As I said, these fleeting moments have stuck with me forever. And I have many, many more too. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not a wallowing in nostalgia exercise for me. Not at all. These fleeting moments have all contributed to the picture of who I am today. And every single one of you has a kaleidoscope of fleeting car moments of your own. 

It’s okay to fuel our imaginations with these moments. It’s part of who we are.

And besides, we can’t know where we want to go unless we understand where we’ve been.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.