It’s hard to wrap your head around the size and complexity of the gearhead Mecca, the Nürburgring. Made by the people at Carbuzz UK, this is all the info you need to prepare yourself for your next Bridge-to-Gantry Hajj.
When an English journalist visited the track for its opening race in 1928 he remarked, “it seemed as if a reeling, drunken giant had been sent out to determine the route.” If that alone doesn’t make you want to get out to the longest permanent racetrack in the world, then this visual breakdown of all of its narrow, twisting, deadly glory will.
I first started reading biographies of men of great accomplishments in high school; the first was that of Eddie Rickenbacker. I haven’t stopped, either; the most recent was that of Steve Jobs. Sometime after I’d started my career in the automotive industry, I took to reading books about the men who had created that industry. One thing you learn quickly about these individuals is that most had suffered serious financial setbacks before they finally succeeded. In fact the setbacks they encountered would have stopped the average individual in his tracks; but those who finally succeeded to greatness seemed to brush off defeat even faster than they accepted their ultimate success.
The other fact one notices in reading great car guys’ biographies is that many of the greatest names in business history actually started in the absolute worst of economic times. Others, such as GM’s Alfred Sloan, made their reputations in periods of horrendous economic activity.
2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet. During these 100 years the company developed over a hundred different types of cars, vans and trucks. All of those cars, vans and trucks have something in common: they all contain speedometers.
Speedometers are those kind of items you look at thousands of times during your live, without ever really noticing. You notice the speed, not the meter. And if you do notice the meter chances are you don’t realize someone actually designed it. The company probably even did some research beforehand. Research regarding the readability of typefaces, the right size of the numbers and the space between them.
Cruising through Berlin in a 1959 VW 1200
The perceived contrast between the cream vintage Volkswagen Beetle and the New Beetle MkII is as extreme as the difference between candle and LED, typewriter and PC, DC3 and A380. The rear-engined original, built in various forms and generations between 1949 and 2003, was an early personal mobility assistant: more spacious and less susceptible to bad weather than a motorcycle, more independent than a tram, more flexible than a train, more grown up than the Lloyd, Gutbrod and Fiat microcars it competed against.
Over time, VW sold more than 21.5 million units of its air-cooled icon: European Beetle production ceased in 1979 when the Cabriolet was phased out at Karmann, but the Mexican-made Bug continued to thrive until 2003 when crash and emission regs finally squashed it. Contrary to common belief, the Ur-Beetle was not at all about cult, image, even driving pleasure. It was a totally pragmatic A-to-B connector, virtually indestructible, totally affordable, utterly practical. The people’s car made history because it became the official personal transportation appliance of the Wirtschaftswunder generation (the hippie movement) and, eventually, if only as 1303 Cabriolet, for the nouveau riche who were not quite rich enough to obtain an MG or a Porsche.
It doesn’t seem like it’s been four years since the last time Detroit automakers and the United Autoworkers Union negotiated a new contract. You may remember the discussions and agreements that, from the date of that contract, gave the automakers the right to hire many categories of workers and pay them $14 an hour, plus lesser benefits. Of course, the auto companies were facing the same issues as any other major industry in America; the issue squeezing their corporate bottom lines most painfully was the incredible rise in the cost of workers’ health care.
Then many national media outlets were reporting that Detroit was paying their workers more than $73 an hour for their labor. Yet not only did an influx of autoworkers not buy new homes in Westover Hills or Monticello, but that simplistic look at the net cost of factory work ignored more pertinent realities of car production and corporate accounting.
Well worth reading.
“Many analysts, dealers and executives believe the industry is actually healthier selling far fewer cars.” — Auto Industry Adjusts to New Normal: Low Sales, NPR, June 24, 2011
Everyone, it seems, wants to comment on the country’s new car sales lately. Among last week’s plethora of opinions, many argued that the auto industry is better off today selling fewer cars. Some comments explained how consumer spending fell back for the first time in nearly 18 months in May – partly because new car sales dropped. Certainly everyone reflected that just a decade ago Americans purchased 17.3 million new vehicles, but last year struggled to produce and sell just 11.5 million.
What was truly stunning about NPR’s reporting on the subject was that their expert was Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of Edmunds.com. True, Edmunds.com has become an extremely popular car-shopping Web site. With traffic estimated at 6.6 million unique individuals per month, no one can question its Internet credentials. But what Mr. Anwyl said does seem problematical, because it reveals that he lacks grounding in the industry’s historical trend. Moreover, in that NPR story Mr. Anwyl suggested that our new car market just wasn’t normal at 16 to 17 million sales a year; with population growth, he thought, we might someday see 16 million sales again.
Sometimes, as with the Continental Mark II convertible, you track down a car. Other times, you walk out your front door and you see a caravan of two families of Norwegians driving Renault R4s (plus an RV) on their way from Oslo to Los Angeles via New York (and back). How they ended up on a residential street in a quiet Detroit suburb is due to the vagaries of navigation systems, but I don’t believe in coincidences. After all, if the Creator could be concerned with the Brownian motion of a mote of dust, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that He wants you to see these cars.
I remember riding in a R4 many years ago from Spain to France…
General Motors CEO Dan Akerson set off something of a firestorm a few weeks ago, when he said, in response to a question about forthcoming CAFE increases:
You know what I’d rather have them do — this will make my Republican friends puke — as gas is going to go down here now, we ought to just slap a 50-cent or a dollar tax on a gallon of gas.
Predictably, populists and economic alarmists of all stripes took great umbrage at Akerson’s candor, questioning his leadership of GM as well as his perspective on the shaky US economy. But Akerson is not alone in his support of some form of gas-tax increase. Bob Lutz and Tom Friedman (an odd couple right there, if ever there was one) agree with him. Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl defended Akerson and even suggested a $2/gallon tax earlier this year. Bill Ford and AutoNation’s Mike Jackson are of the same mind as now-retired Republican Senator George Voinovich on the issue. And yet, inside the Beltway, the subject tends to draw a chuckle and a roll of the eyes. Everyone wants it, but nobody wants it.
My Cool Campervan. By Jane Field-Lewis and Chris Haddon with photography by Tina Hiller. Pavilion; 160 pages; £14.99.
THE classic VW camper van is a venerable vehicle on which rides–usually rather slowly–a carefree image of life on the open road. They can often be found in the narrow British lanes leading to the surfing beaches in Cornwall in the summertime. But as old ones in good nick can cost £20,000 ($33,000) or more, many of their owners are more likely to be trying to recapture their lost youth than hanging ten.
There are many variations of the VW camper van, not least because until 2005 Volkswagen never made a camper itself, but produced vans for transporting people and goods which others converted with the addition of caravan-style living accommodation. And it was not just VWs which received such attention, as “My Cool Campervan” shows in a collection of photo essays.
Every generation seems to produce some high-profile individual who mourns to the masses that there was once a simpler and better time in America. You know the drill: People knew their neighbors, morality reigned and most everyone knew right from wrong. These elegies always end with the premise that somehow we as a nation have lost our way. Of course the simpler times that everyone seems to think we’ve gotten away from are nothing more than our childhood memories. As children, we perceived and remembered everything far more simplistically – without the freight of context surrounding situations we encounter as adults.
Still, it’s those wistful thoughts of innocent bygone days that drive the automotive styling designs we know today as retro-cars. The BMW-designed and British-built Mini is a perfect example. This modern automobile seems made to bring back fond memories of the British Invasion and the Swinging 60s. It seems to exemplify the days when Carnaby Street, the Stones, Donovan, the Beatles, Twiggy, white plastic go-go boots and all other things British were new and groovy.
Of course the original Mini was far more and much less than that. Introduced in 1959, the Mini was the British Motor Corporation’s answer to the long and successful sales career of the Volkswagen Beetle.
What is less well remembered is that the Mini’s creation in the late 50s was a direct response to a major oil crisis for the Brits. What caused it? England’s foolish war against Egypt’s Gamal Nasser, in which England tried and failed to regain control of the Suez Canal.