What Do You Remember?

Of course, it was on this day in 1963 that President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Although I was quite young, not even old enough to attend kindergarten, I remember the day.

I was with my mother while she was watching television, one of her soap operas, when she started screaming. I looked at the TV and heard the news that the President had been shot. She calmed down after a few seconds, but when the news broke later that he died (I can’t remember the exact interval, but think it was a half-hour) she screamed again. Obviously, I can’t blame her.

I also remember watching Lee Harvey Oswald being shot on TV two days later. Although I think interest in the Kennedy assassination has waned a bit in the past few years, it spawned quite a cottage industry in books and movies about various assassination theories and conspiracies. So, what do I think? Well, read Mortal Error by Bonar Menninger, which is based on the work of Howard Donahue who was a Baltimore ballistics expert. I can’t really summarize the book in a couple of sentences, but in my opinion, while Oswald did fire shots at President Kennedy, the President died as a result of an accident when a Secret Service agent (whom I shall not name, but whose identity is “known”) grabbed a weapon upon hearing the first shot. The weapon accidentally fired and that bullet killed Kennedy. The subsequent cover-up of events was executed so the Secret Service, in a position to cover up the facts, would not be the subject of intense scrutiny and, possibly, be dismantled.

By the way, I first became aware of this theory in Bill James’ excellent book, Popular Crime, which was published in 2011. In my copy the Kennedy assassination is discussed on pages 253-265. As Bill writes, Menninger’s book is “stupefyingly dense…and for that reason has little power to persuade.”

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So, is it disrespectful to note that on this day in 1893 legendary automobile designer Harley Earl was born? Although Zora Arkus-Duntov is called “The Father Of The Corvette” it was Earl who really “invented” the Vette. His inspiration came from seeing a large number of foreign sports cars parked along the parade route at Watkins Glen, New York in 1951 before a race. When he returned to Detroit after the race, Earl began to talk to his designers about a sports car for General Motors. The project, code-named “Opel” or the EX-122, became the Corvette.

 

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From classiccars.com a picture of a 1953 Chevrolet Corvette in Polo White over Red, as were all 300 ’53 Vettes.

Harley Earl began working for GM in 1927 and eventually became the first Vice-President at a major automobile company whose background was in styling. GM was the first car company to have a department devoted to styling. At the beginning of the auto industry, the looks of a car were secondary to the engineering. Earl, with the blessing of GM President/CEO/Chairman of the Board Alfred Sloan, changed that dynamic.

Wandering a bit…I think that for the 70th anniversary of the Corvette in 2023 Chevrolet/GM will introduce a hypercar version of the Corvette. The car will have a twin-turbo V-8 engine, possibly with a flat-plane crankshaft, augmented by electric motors in the manner of the Ferrari LaFerrari or McLaren P1. This car will have 1,000+ HP and will probably be called the Zora in honor of Arkus-Duntov. It’s too bad that Chevrolet/GM can’t recognize Harley Earl in some way in conjunction with the Corvette, besides having his picture in the Skydome at the National Corvette Museum. Yes, Earl is in the Corvette “Hall of Fame,” but I think more should be done.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Fins!

Sixty car model years ago (1959 for those of you who are mathematically challenged) the trend of fins on American cars reached its zenith. (Speaking of Zenith does anyone remember the radios and TVs manufactured by the company with that name? “The quality goes in before the name goes on.” They were the first company to develop High-Definition TV in North America.)

 

 

No car epitomized tail fins more than the Cadillac. These pictures are from the 2004 edition of History of the American Auto by the Auto Editors of Consumer GuideĀ®. It is not my intent to blatantly and wantonly violate copyright laws. It’s just that this page is perfect for this post. (To the book publisher: When/if I get paid for this blog let me know how much I need to compensate you. Seriously, a company that would hound me for showing part of one page from an almost 700-page book is out of its mind.) How about this photo of a car that is not a Cadillac:

 

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From pinterest a picture of a 1959 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. By the way, I have been informed—and am always grateful when I learn something new—that the “Custom” is just part of the name of this car.

The beginning of the “fin era” as it is now known began with the 1948 Cadillac. Whether it was Harley Earl or Frank Hershey who actually had “the light bulb” is not important, in my opinion, but little doubt exists that the fins were inspired by the twin rudders of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning aircraft.

 

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A Barrett-Jackson photo of a 1948 Cadillac Fleetwood Convertible with the tail fins visible. Obviously they are quite modest compared to what fins would look like a decade later. Chrysler chief designer Virgil Exner played a large role in fins becoming more popular with his “Forward Look” design.

 

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A Wikimedia picture of a 1959 Chrysler Windsor. Note the body line rising from front to back, which was a key element in the Forward Look design.

After 1959 fins were phased out rapidly and were “extinct” by 1963 except at Cadillac, which retained the element in its designs into the mid-1960s although in a much less obvious way. From classiccardb.com a rear view of a 1965 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special Brougham:

 

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In my opinion the ’59 Cadillac tail fins are garish (almost no paradigm of excess is successful), but I like the design of many cars from that era with fins. Here is an example of such a car:

 

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From myclassicgarage.com a picture of a 1957 Oldsmobile 98. I don’t usually like four-door cars, but this one speaks to me in part because of the look of the rear including the fins.

Would any of you like to share pictures/experiences relating to “fin cars?” (No relation to fin tech…)

 

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Sad Saturday

I am sad today. My wonderful wife has left for a week-long business/pleasure trip. I am always unhappy when she leaves, which thankfully is not too often since she was promoted two years ago.

I abhor “macho” behavior, which I distinguish from heroic behavior. Men who trash their wives to other men, who engage in foolhardy activities because “we’re men” are simpletons in my opinion. If you are always complaining about your wife then why did you marry her? I love my wife and very much enjoy her company. That’s what marriage is supposed to be, right?

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BillBabowsky commented on Ferrari or Lamborghini? by asking for my opinion on his father’s two favorite cars, the 1955 Chevrolet and the 1960 Ford Falcon. I replied that I like the ’55 the most of the Tri-Five Chevys (1955-57) and while all Mustang fans should appreciate the Falcon because the first Mustangs were built on a Falcon chassis, to me the ’60 Falcon is just a car.

In Fins, William Knoedelseder’s book about Harley Earl and General Motors, designer Bernie Smith is quoted as saying, “The ’55 Chevy was a real designer’s car; we all loved it.” Chuck Jordan, later the vice president of design for all of General Motors, said, “As designers, we didn’t like the ’57.” I am no designer, but I concur. I think the ’57 Chevys are overdone.

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From curbsideclassic.com a picture of a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air. At that time the Bel Air was the top of the line model; the 150 was at “the bottom” and the 210 was in between. That hierarchy changed in 1958 with the introduction of the Impala, a model that became extraordinarily successful.

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On this day in 1916 General Motors was incorporated in the state of Delaware. (Of course, since the 2009 bankruptcy that company no longer exists technically.) This iteration of the company was organized by the man who started GM in the first place, William C. Durant. General Motors was initially founded in 1908, but Durant was ousted in 1910 due to the large debt burden incurred as a result of the numerous acquisitions that formed GM. Durant then founded Chevrolet in 1911 and after a huge proxy fight (Durant, an almost obsessive player in the stock market, had secretly acquired a large block of GM shares since founding Chevrolet) he regained control of GM. He then merged Chevrolet with GM and incorporated on October 13, 1916. Durant was ousted for good in 1920; he had a great mind for big concepts, but could not execute the day-to-day details needed to run a company of any size, let alone one as large as GM. General Motors was the world’s largest automobile manufacturer for roughly three-quarters of a century, from the early 1930s until just before the “Great Recession.”

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Seems like I should stick to GM today…what do you think of this car?

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From momentcar.com a photo of a 1963 Buick Wildcat. I can’t really tell from this perspective, but on many pictures of the same car the badging on the hood reads “Wildcat” and not “Buick.” I think these cars are very sharp. The Wildcat was powered by the famous “Nailhead” Buick V-8; this year the displacement was 401 cubic inches. This engine was rated at 325 HP, but 445 LB-FT of torque. Increased torque was the intent of the “Nailhead” design.

I am still dreaming that General Motors will wake up and let Buick sell an improved version of the Solstice/Sky as a halo car. I can dream, can’t I?

 

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