No. 972
November 14, 2018
 

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 Autoextremist.com, 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  witchhuntbook.com). 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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The Autoextremist - Rants


Wednesday
Oct172018

THINKIN’ BOUT THE TIMES I DROVE IN MY CAR, PART I.

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. I won’t deny that this is a very melancholy week here at AE, what with the passing of our friend John Thawley (please see this week’s Fumes -WG), so, it’s all I can do to muster up the energy to write my column. But it’s 3:00 a.m., so often my normal writing time, and it’s time to get it into gear.

This business is so dominated by betting on the come of the autonomous vehicle explosion, artificial intelligence and a far-off distant point of transportation nirvana, that I’m afraid this industry – and its new Valley of Silicon players and associated hangers-on – have completely lost the plot. Yes, I know, this is nothing exactly new from me, but it bears repeating. I am going to set that aside, however, since this is a drum that will need beating for years to come. 

Today I'd rather write about what got us here in the first place. I’m talking about our collective experiences with cars and the road that are all different and individually significant, but all special in their own way. The people you were with, the places you experienced along the way, and the fleeting moments in time that are indelibly seared in our memories. And they’re simply irreplaceable.

As you might imagine, I have a few car stories. I try to dribble them out now and again – people never get tired of my Bill Mitchell columns, for instance – just to keep things interesting, but today I will offer up a few more glimpses of what has amounted to be a pretty special car life.

It was late March 1966, and my brother Tony was in his last year at the University of Notre Dame. He and a friend – Gary Kohs – and others had organized the third edition of a sports car show on campus for the first three days of April. This “Sports Car Spectacular” as it was called, turned out to be spectacular, indeed. 

Because of my dad’s heavy-duty contacts throughout the industry, this little car show was a very big deal. All the manufacturers weighed-in: Ford sent Jim Clark’s 1965 Indianapolis 500-winning Lotus-Ford and several hot production and racing cars from its “Total Performance” marketing era, including one of Fred Lorenzen's cars. Chrysler was represented, too, with a plethora of hot production Hemis and a full-on NASCAR stocker from Richard Petty. But that wasn’t all, because besides several of its current Styling concepts like the Corvette Mako Shark I and II and Monza GT and SS, what GM brought to the show was a shocker and is still talked about to this day.

I will get to that in a moment, but it’s worth talking about how we traveled down to South Bend from Birmingham, Michigan, the day before the show. A remarkable collection of cars was poised in my parent’s driveway for the trip down to the Notre Dame campus, because they were going to be added to the show once we got down there. There was a bright red 1965 289 Shelby Cobra and a 1965 Shelby GT350 Mustang (white with blue stripes) borrowed from Ford. And then there was a Nassau Blue 1965 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray roadster with a removable top and white interior, complete with a 396 cu. in. V8, bulging hood and side pipes. 

This was no ordinary Corvette, however. This car was specially built for Ed Cole (one of GM’s legendary engineers who developed the small block V8, among a thousand other brilliant accomplishments) to give to his wife, Dolly. As I’ve said many times before, many of the legends of GM’s heyday were family friends we hung out with, it was just the way it was back in the day. Dolly was a memorable, fiery blonde from Texas with a razor-sharp wit who loved to drive her “Bluebird” as she called her special Corvette; and she didn’t mind letting my brother borrow it now and again. And this was one of those times.

Our Horsepower Convoy left at 4:00 a.m. with two additional chase cars (including a 396 Impala). As quiet as we meant to be, it was damn-near impossible as the Cobra, GT350 Mustang and Corvette woke the neighborhood and rumbled out into the darkness. Tony was in the “Bluebird” followed by the Cobra, and I was riding shotgun with my brother’s college roommate in the GT350. The ride was memorable in that it rained most of the time and the rawness of the GT350 - and the wonderful noise - made it even more interesting. And visibility was challenging, to put it mildly, as the wipers were a mere suggestion in the heavier bits of rain we encountered. It didn’t matter, it was a flat-out blast. I mean, how often do you get to be in a convoy of cars like that?

We had some dry road moments on the way to South Bend, where we were able to hammer the cars at will, but there were moments when we had to cool it, too, as the cops took great interest in our little convoy at times. But we made it just fine, with no tickets, which we rightly assessed was a notable achievement.

Not long after we arrived, a GM transporter showed up. Zora Arkus-Duntov had called Tony and said that he’d be sending “something special” down to the show, and he wasn’t kidding. After the back doors were opened and the ramps installed, out comes a silver metallic blue Corvette Grand Sport roadster. Not only were the Grand Sports not supposed to exist after one of GM’s annoying “no more racing” edicts, this roadster had clearly just been finished and refined down to the last detail. It was simply stunning to behold. The transporter driver fired it up and drove it into position on the show floor, and right then and there, that little “Sports Car Spectacular” became legendary. All for just a $.75 admission fee too.

(One other side note: there was a Griffith Ford on display at the show that had been painstakingly hand-painted in a Tartan Plaid. Remember, no “wraps” back then. We all agreed that whoever painted it went crazy soon after.)

The road trip back was memorable for another reason. As some of you out there may have experienced along the way, when you rode in a Cobra back then you could smell the burnt rubber from the soles of your tennis shoes because the floor got so blistering hot. That wasn't all. The Cobra developed a pinpoint fuel line leak under the car that would deposit wisps of fuel on the exhaust pipe about every 20 minutes, which would then flare up with a brief flash while we were driving. Needless to say, that wasn’t good, but we decided to press on and made it back okay.

What does it all mean? As I said, our individual and collective experiences with cars and being on the road are seared in our memories and are irreplaceable. Where we’ve been has everything to do with who we are. This nation was transformed with a wandering spirit that allowed us to roam for the sheer hell of it. And our culture was and is still defined by it. 

I’m afraid if we lose that piece of who we are, we will lose a large part of the soul of this nation. Our machines may change but our need to wander never will. That’s why this headlong rush to AV and AI leaves me cold. It may have its place in extremely limited applications in select urban centers, but any expectation that it will grow to be more than that is a dead end. 

As for the title of this week’s column, it’s an homage to the memorable Eric Clapton/George Harrison composition “Badge,” as performed by Cream. 

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

(Photo by Robert O. Craig)
Editor-in-Chief's Note: This is Corvette Grand Sport 002 restored to as it appeared at the 'Sports Car Spectacular" at Notre Dame; part of the Jim Jaeger collection.