I’m Jim Donnelly, and thanks for stopping by my new website, Jim Donnelly On Wheels. Some of you already know who I am. I was previously the senior editor of Hemmings Motor News in Bennington, Vermont, and before that, I held a bunch of positions at a daily newspaper in the Philadelphia area, including automotive and motorsport writer. I hold more than 50 journalism awards and have been in this life for more than 35 years. I’ve written books about my friend Don Miller, the former president of Penske Racing and a mega car guy; and one on the history of automotive advertising. What I hope to accomplish here is to share some of the stuff that I consider so worthy, inspiring and, really, life-changing. The automobile unhitched us all from the pieces of dirt we once called home. Going fast brought us thrills. Watching others compete in cars made us marvel at people with such limitless skills, determination and fortitude. Cars upended our whole existence totally and irreversibly, the same way that computers are doing today, so it’s entirely appropriate to marry the two of them here. What you’re going to find here is fresh info on what’s going on in the world of cars, what’s innovative, history that’s worth remembering, roads worth driving, races worth attending, books worth reading, cars worth buying, and maybe even some places to dine that are worth a stop when you’re out on the highways. No politics. I’ll leave that sordid topic to those who claim to know it. Let’s get rolling, because this is going to be a hell of a ride we’re going on together.
We’re going to be offline with this site for about a week. We’ll have some significant updates for you when we go live again. As always, thanks for reading, and keep the faith.
Speaking of great names from Merrie Olde, here was a manufacturer’s release that caught our attention. Bentley, that vaunted name of yore, isn’t under British ownership anymore but it still produces some very desirable cars, including the ones it rolled out to mark its centenary this year. One of them is the new Bentley Continental GT convertible, which is expensive, so much so that Bentley hasn’t specified a suggested price in its media materials. But it does offer nearly unlimited opportunities to make the Continental GT your very own. Allow us to explain.
The Continental GT convertible’s top – or “hood,” as they say in the king’s English – is hand-crafted from tweed. That’s right, the same two-tone woven fabric that’s the basis for so many exclusively tailored, veddy British sport jackets for bespoke gentlemen. The tweed hood can be specified along with one of 17 basic exterior colors, with up to 45 shades offered by the Bentley works in an extended color range. Bentley also offers 15 carpeting options, another 15 choices of leather interior hides, eight different veneers for interior trim, and seven “hood” colors, including the tweed option. If you can’t find a selection that suits you with a universe this big, all we can say is, you’re pretty damned picky and good luck shopping elsewhere. Your dealer will be happy to provide particulars.
Be honest: At some point during your life, maybe while watching Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion on Daktari back in the late 1960s, you fantasized about bounding across the wilds of Africa in a stripped-down Land Rover. You may have never gotten closer to Africa than The Travel Channel, and Land Rover passed way beyond British ownership and its veld-busting roots, but it’s still one of the most magical and historic nameplates in the automotive world. This book, just published, will help you to understand why.
Authored by marque specialist Dave Phillips of Norfolk, England, and in the catalog of Evro Publishing, The Land Rover Story comprises 312 hardcover pages that illuminate the story of this legend from the day the first prototype trundled out of the Solihull works in 1947. With its compact selection of images presented in signature fashion, the book isn’t a dry technical recitation, but instead tells a narrative tale of how the Wilks brothers at Rover created an eternal legend. The story follows Land Rover to the present day, and includes a chronological timeline and extensive bibliography. The world of automotive literature could do well with more concise, easily managed works like this one. It’s priced at $34.95 and is available from brick-and-mortar and online retailers everywhere.
People are already starting to notice the 2020 Hyundai Sonata, an extensively revised automobile, in a significant way. The newly introduced generation of Hyundai’s mass-market car was presented this week with the “Sedan of the Show” award at the ongoing Miami International Auto Show, the 49th running of that salon. SAMA’s panel of journalist judges selected the new Sonata over some very tough competition, namely the Cadillac CT4, a vehicle that ordinarily occupies a segment of the market that’s a full rung above the Sonata’s.
With an entry-level price of $23,400 for the basic SE model, the Sonata swings into 2020 with fresh coupe-inspired styling and a host of technical advancements. The powertrain is built around an entirely new Smartsense inline-four that displaces 2.5 liters and improves the Sonata’s horsepower rating to 191. The previous standard six-speed automatic transaxle is replaced by an eight-speed unit. The interior’s center LED monitor grows to eight inches across, and a full suite of driver aids, including collision avoidance, is standard on the 2020 Sonata. Extras include leather seating, a panoramic sunroof, a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, and new smartphone-linked digital key technology. Pricing for the turbo-powered Limited tops out at $33,300.
People have been known to swoon under, salivate over and swear at them. Hands down, they’re the most desirable and valuable American muscle cars ever concocted. We are discussing, naturally, the Chrysler Hemi, a landmark engine design that’s been part of the automotive landscape for longer than many of us may have realized. In honor of the hemispherical V-8’s seventh decade of rampaging across the landscape, historian Darwin Holmstrom has authored a Hemi history that’s easy to take in, reasonably priced and guaranteed to look good in your living room or library.
Hemi Muscle: 70 Years isn’t what you’d really call a technical history, but it does hit all the high spots in describing the engine’s evolution, including the fact that Walter P. Chrysler’s team of engineers were experimenting with hemispherical combustion chambers almost from the day the company was founded in 1924. This is an image-intensive work of history, the photos being supplied by such luminaries as David Gooley, David Newhardt, Randy Leffingwell and my longtime pal Marty Schorr, who operates the always rewarding Car Guy Chronicles website. The photography is uniformly beautiful and unquestionably makes the book. You can acquire it for $40 from its publisher, Quarto Knows, which offers a whole slew of transportation books on a variety of topics.
When Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chieftain Sergio Marchionne was still alive, there was boundless speculation that he wanted to make a really, really big partnership with another global automotive giant as part of the industry-wide trend toward such mega-partnerships as the definition of personal transportation continues its onrushing evolution. It’s not grossly wrong to guess that he was a potential suitor of Groupe PSA in France, which produces Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall and Opel, the latter two being onetime General Motors nameplates. Last week’s announcement that FCA and PSA have effectively agreed to merge into a new global entity, which would make it the world’s fourth-largest automaker, leaves us with a firm that produces everything from Ram trucks to Ferraris. The announced rationale behind the agreement was a streamlining of research into autonomous vehicles, while leveraging FCA’s marketing strength in the Americas with PSA’s similar achievements in Europe.
For our reaction to all this, we present the above PSA image of one of its most famous heritage vehicles. If you don’t recognize it, the car is a Citroen DS 21 from the 1970s, a fabled French luxury limousine with some hugely innovative engineering, including a complex hydraulic system that operated the brakes, steering and height-adjustable suspension. In this country, it’s likely best known as the vehicle carrying Charles de Gaulle that was machine-gunned by terrorists in Fred Zinnemann’s terrific 1973 film, The Day of the Jackal. I posted it to underscore the fact that Peugeot and Citroen both produce some profoundly neat vehicles, which I got to check out during several weeks in France last year, that have never made it our shores. These include some rally-bred hot hatches that would give even the most tricked-out, barrel-chested Subaru WRX STI a run for its money. The deal will almost certainly result in some accelerated platform sharing between FCA and PSA; it’d be way cool to see some of the French home-market cars eventually make their way here for the first time in decades. Another factor here is that the lash-up includes Jeep, a perennial profit powerhouse, which figured heavily into the last French overture that involved Chrysler, however indirectly: When the late Lee Iacocca led Chrysler to buy out Renault’s share of the erstwhile American Motors in 1987, acquiring the Jeep juggernaut drove the deal. The remaining Renault-based cars, such as the unfortunate little Alliance, were summarily dumped. I do think FCA’s move will have more of a Francophone ring to it over forthcoming years.
There are numerous questions swirling since the bombshell news broke this morning that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its associated IndyCar series have been purchased from the Hulman-George family by the ancient track’s most storied team owner, transportation magnate Roger Penske. There were rumors for years that Penske had an interest in acquiring this most sacred of all automobile racing facilities, but it all seemed too good to be true. Put plainly, Penske has squeezed boundless success out of virtually everything he’s ever touched. From a single Chevrolet dealership in Philadelphia, the company he founded more than a half-century ago has grown into a global transportation conglomerate with annual revenues of some $32 billion and more than 64,000 employees worldwide. He is arguably the most successful team owner in the history of American motorsport, with 18 victories in the Indianapolis 500 plus championships galore in both IndyCar and NASCAR. He’s also successfully operated race tracks, starting with Michigan International Speedway in 1972. He is the longtime promoter of the Detroit Grand Prix, and has been an under-the-radar hero in trying to reverse years of unrelenting blight and official malfeasance in his adopted home city. Recently, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifetime of achievement.
If you’re even remotely familiar with racing, you’re aware of the Effort Equals Results mantra upon which Penske has built has built his empire. All of today’s developments grew out of a morning news conference at the speedway, and a lot of questions are yet to be answered. Perhaps the biggest is why Penske, who will turn 83 in three months, is doing this at all. And yet that’s the easiest one to answer. His unwavering commitment of money and talent to the track’s most fabled race underscores his deeply held affection for both the event and its historic venue. Another issue is, what of his three full-time IndyCar teams (Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud, plus an Indy-only effort for three-time winner Helio Castroneves)? Will he continue to personally operate those teams once he takes the keys to IMS? Will there be a new influx of capital investment in the speedway? What about a boost in a purse for the 500, which has remained largely stagnant for years? What about building the sport’s anemic TV ratings and remedying its longtime dearth of effective promotion? And will the management of IndyCar shift from Indianapolis to Penske’s sprawling team facility in Mooresville, North Carolina? Speaking personally, I’m exuding nothing but confidence and gratitude from this quarter. In one fell swoop, the future of American open-wheel racing has been secured. It’s going to be all good. Roger Penske has never failed at anything in his life, and he sure as hell isn’t about to start now.