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.
In the greater automotive world, sedans are becoming an endangered species, sent tumbling by the tsunami of trucks and SUVs that have become the primary choice for millions when it comes to buying a “car.” Except at Cadillac. The august General Motors brand is realigning its product lineup that remains sedan-oriented, the massive Escalade notwithstanding. That process advanced with the announcement of the 2020 Cadillac CT4, its entry-level sedan, which replaces the ATS in the Cadillac lineup but still shares its platform.
Not only is the CT4 a sedan, but it rides on rear-wheel-drive architecture and boasts an all-turbocharged selection of engines. Beyond that, all-wheel drive is available on every version of the CT4. The base CT4 engine is a turbocharged inline-four that displaces 2.0 liters and produces 237hp. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Opt for the CT4 Premium Luxury version and the displacement goes to 2.7 liters, with 309hp and a 10-speed automatic. If you’re a really committed driver, you can go all the way to the CT4-V performance model, where the 2.7 rates 325hp when coupled to the 10 speed. That model also gets a limited-slip rear differential and Brembo front brakes with four-piston calipers. All the engines make use of a three-stage sliding camshaft design, active fuel management and automatic start-stop. And in calendar year 2020, you’ll be able to select Cadillac’s Super Cruise option, which allows for hands-free motoring.
We’ll bet you don’t even know about this one. Quietly, much more so than its corporate parent Hyundai, Kia has been making deep inroads into the United States market. Those who follow it know that Kia is a producer of affordable, high-content vehicles sourced in its native South Korea. But how many of us know not only that Kia operates a vibrant U.S. assembly plant, but that it also cranked out its 3 millionth vehicle just last week after only about a decade of existence?
It happened in West Point, Georgia, where Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia Inc. operates a sprawling final-assembly facility that builds the Sorento SUV, the Optima sedan and the new Telluride premium SUV. It was the latter model that achieved Kia’s production milestone, as a white 2020 Telluride SX Prestige rolled off the line and headed for Kia’s dealership network. Kia sank more than $1.1 billion into the plant, which produced its first vehicle in November 2009. That means it took Kia less than 10 years to reach the 3 million mark, a remarkable record of success. The Telluride has been finding buyers in a hurry, so by no means will the be the last one rolling out of Georgia.
We told you a little while ago about McFarland Publishing and the fascinating array of books on transportation subjects that they produce. Here’s another one, brand new, and the work of the widely respected Southern California racing historian, Art Evans. World War II Veterans in Motorsports is about men (and two women) who returned from combat and defeating tyranny to learn that the pastoral, relaxed reality of life in the unfolding Fifties wasn’t really for them. Instead, they turned to fast cars in a world of racing had exploded out of nearly nothing.
A former racer himself and a onetime production executive at Paramount Pictures, the author is responsible for innumerable books and magazine articles on early competition history. He focuses here on people who traded warfare for a whole new kind of combat: In the book’s 196 paperback pages are the stories of Dan Gurney, Steve McQueen, Rodger Ward, Bill Stroppe, Paul Newman, Johnny Von Neumann, Max Balchowsky and a gentleman I got to know well late in his life, the international racing star John Fitch. Most of them experienced the Southern California racing scene in its earliest, formative years. The book focuses on closed-circuit racing, bypassing the revolution in drag racing, which involved a lot of people who were veterans or worked in the defense industry, that was going on at the same time. No matter. Any work that salutes the lives of World War II veterans is worthy, and this one tells compelling stories. The retail price is $39.95. You can order it from the publisher or else pick it up at Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank, California, which is always worth a visit when you’re in Los Angeles.
Also in Frankfurt, Volkswagen was doing its own rollout, albeit involving a vehicle it has no current (pun intended) plans of selling in North America. Volkswagen this week debuted the ID.3 subcompact, the first vehicle to be built on its MEB platform for electrically powered vehicles. Depending on variant and optioning, the ID.3 will be able to deliver driving ranges of 330 to 420 kilometers on a single charge.
Among the car’s technological capabilities are Volkswagen’s assurance that the ID.3 can store enough energy for a 290-kilometer drive with only 30 minutes’ worth of charging. The German giant will further guarantee that the ID.3’s battery pack will last for eight years or 160,000 kilometers. With an anticipated starting price of less than 30,000 euros when it goes on sale in mid-2020, the ID.3 will attempt to replicate the original Beetle’s massive success in creating a whole new mode of personal transportation. The car is no larger externally than the conventionally powered Golf, yet boasts the largest interior dimensions in its size category. Volkswagen reckons that government subsidies for zero-carbon electric vehicles in its home market, combined with charging stations at all 4,000 Volkswagen dealerships in Europe, will assure the ID.3’s success with buyers. So, the plan goes, will be Volkswagen’s intention to establish 400 ultra-fast charging stations along major European express highways among the more than 100,000 charging points linked to Volkswagen’s WeCharge network throughout Europe. No matter what some individuals in the United States might have you believe, this is the future of driving for many of us folks.
Remember how we wrote that BMW’s shorthand designation for performance is the letter M? Well at Hyundai, the powerhouse of South Korean auto manufacturing, the corresponding letter is N, the next one in the alphabet. The N Line, as Hyundai calls it, got a new member yesterday in Germany as the Frankfurt Motor Show hosted the world premiere of its all-new i10 N Line subcompact, the fourth Hyundai model to offer an N Line package after the i30, i30 Fastback and most recently, the Tucson SUV.
As the standard wheel-and-tire package makes clear, the i10 N Line is clearly intended to imply performance in a very small package. Besides the wheels, the N Line version gets a specific bumper and grille treatment, plus N Line badging, a skidplate and a rear diffuser, along with an N-branded steering wheel and shift lever among the interior trim extras. Power comes from a standard 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine, capable of 100hp, coupled to a five-speed manual transaxle. Suspension is MacPherson struts up front with a rear torsion-beam axle, gas shocks all around. Will the i10 N Line ever to make it to North America, that bastion of the SUV and ultra-macho pickup? Stay tuned. Hyundai will offer the car in Europe, where it has a robust market presence, beginning in 2020.
You know the guy in the middle of the photo. But without the guys standing on either side of him, Roger Penske might never have reached the lofty position he occupies in the world of transportation and global motorsport. After more than 50 years of winning races and championships by the bushel, Team Penske has inducted two of the founder’s closest confidants and leaders into its own Hall of Fame. Don Miller (left in the photo) and Dan Luginbuhl (right) were enshrined yesterday in the Team Penske Hall of Fame, the induction taking place at the team’s enormous headquarters complex in Mooresville, North Carolina.
A Chicago native, Don Miller was a key player in automotive performance products at Sears and at National Engines when he joined up with Roger Penske in 1972. A former Midwest drag racer and race official, Miller worked on Penske’s IndyCar and NASCAR teams in addition to vastly growing the organization’s Goodyear race tire and motorsports promotion arms. In 1991, the Captain tapped him to establish Penske Racing South in Mooresville, where the Penske NASCAR effort was revived with Rusty Wallace as driver and team principal. Penske South went on to amass 67 NASCAR and ARCA victories under Miller’s leadership, which ended with his retirement in 2007. Miller was also Penske’s principal liaison to the team’s sponsors, led by MillerCoors. He is also responsible for setting up the Team Penske shop complex, which sprawls over more than 400,000 square feet, serving as home base for the organization’s IndyCar, NASCAR and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams under team president Tim Cindric, who succeeded Miller. He is also an acclaimed restorer and collector of vintage cars, especially performance cars from the 1950s, and is a former Bonneville record holder.
“When I first started at Team Penske there were 29 of us,” said Miller. “The population has grown significantly since then, but there is no place I’d rather be. I always tried to do the very best, not only for this team, but for Mr. Penske. When you are a member of this team, he will always have your back. I really appreciate this award. I am honored to be a part of this organization and the Team Penske Hall of Fame.”
A native of Bluffton, Ohio, Dan Luginbuhl was operating a Cleveland-based public relations firm when he joined Team Penske in 1969, the operation’s second year of existence. Luginbuhl’s tenure saw Team Penske become an innovative global leader in public relations, marketing and hospitality at the track long before other race teams were thus focused. He rose to vice president of communications for Penske Corporation, based in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, before he retired in 2002. Luginbuhl nonetheless remains active as a press strategist for the company, which operates a dozen separate business groups and now numbers more than 64,000 employees globally.
“I am very honored to receive this special honor. And I am humbled to be in the company of some amazing people,” said Luginbuhl. “It’s been my privilege to work with many a great people over the years. We have come a long way since 1969 and our team of 10 working at the four-bay truck garage in Pennsylvania. But the mission today is still the same – work together, get the job done, keep building the Penske brand worldwide and of course, ‘effort equals results.’”
On a personal note, I count both of these unique gentlemen as my friends and mentors. I authored Don Miller’s memoirs, Miller’s Time, which is an honest look at what it takes to rise to the pinnacle of American motorsports, and what it takes to stay there. Dan Luginbuhl was instrumental in sourcing the manuscript and ensuring its historical accuracy. Without these guys’ help, that project would never have come together. Miller’s Time is important reading for anyone who dreams about getting into racing at the professional level, and can be acquired at Coastal 181, my publishers. The LAT photo that accompanies this post was provided by Merrill Cain at Penske Corporation. Miller and Luginbuhl now join Roger Penske (2016), Mark Donohue (2016), Rick Mears (2017), Karl Kainhofer (2017), Rusty Wallace (2018) and Walter Czarnecki (2018) as Team Penske Hall of Fame inductees.
It goes all the way back to when BMW was fielding the M1 supercar in its own racing series and to when the likes of Dieter Quester and Hans-Joachim Stuck were slugging it out in 3.0 CSL coupes. M has always been the shorthand for power and racing at BMW, and for 2020, the Bavarian builder’s four decades of M heritage will be marked by a special, very limited run of 2020 M4 coupes, which will be produced beginning late this year.
Produced in a global run of just 750 units, the M4 coupe will be offered in the buyer’s choice of three colors that enthusiasts instantly associate with BMW performance: Laguna Seca Blue, Velvet Blue or Imola Red II, with an offset racing stripe in all three colors on each M4’s carbon-reinforced rooftop. The interiors will be capped by full-Merino Leather M Sport seats in either Silverstone or red hides, with contrasting stitching, depending on which exterior color is specified. Based on the M4 Competition Package coupes, the M4 tribute cars will have a standard turbocharged six rated at 444hp, with the cars reaching 60 MPH in 3.8 seconds when fitted with the seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. Top speed will be electronically limited to 155 MPH. New model-specific springs, shock absorbers and anti-roll bars will also be part of the package.