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.
As with fashion, music and much of society as a whole, drag racing experienced a transformative 10 years beginning in 1960, as media coverage, corporate immersion and previously unimagined levels of performance propelled the sport into the public’s consciousness as never before. Countless magazines, and a handful of books, have told this story in a largely piecemeal fashion. Most of them have focused on event results, or personalities. Despite its relatively compact page count, this new title does something very differently. Drag Racing in the 1960s is a narrative that has the era’s blindingly fast technological evolution as the focal point of its narrative, told in 176 softcover pages. That’s not a hugely thick book, but it doesn’t matter, because the author, Doug Boyce, lived this era and has strongly demonstrated skill in compressing the welter of advancement into an easily managed – and indexed – reference work.
The book is divided into chapters by year, and further separated according to the major eliminator categories as they then existed. That ensures that attention is seriously paid here to the lower classes, the sportsmen, which many of these books ignore. The anecdotal and technical detail associated with these stories is what makes this book uniquely special. Bet you didn’t know that Jim Minnick, of later Chi-Town Hustler glory, was one of the first to run the Chrysler late Hemi in a proper dragster, campaigning it in Top Gas. Or how Wiley Cossey, a name from a current Crankshaft car feature, and recapped-slick king Bill Casler helped create Hooker Headers while running a 1966 big-block Biscayne in Junior Stock. Boyce, who’s written definitive biographies of both Grumpy Jenkins and Dyno Don Nicholson, is terrific at this kind of story. Historic photos, many from our pal Steve Reyes, illuminate the text. CarTech publishes it for a very reasonable $36.95.
When better cruiser or touring-type motorcycles are born, can the blessed event occur someplace other than Milwaukee? BMW Motorrad, as the two-wheeled element of BMW is known, believes that premium heavy motorcycles don’t necessarily have black-and-orange manufacturer logos. This isn’t the first time BMW has offered a take on an American-style heavy cruiser, but the new 2022 BMW R 18 B “Bagger” and R 18 Transcontinental are the strongest thrust yet by the Germans into the territory long claimed by Harley-Davidson, Indian and Victory. Especially in the Transcontinental’s case, this is pure, open-road cruising comfort that’s decidedly in the American idiom: The R 18 B has a tall fairing with wind deflectors, heated seats, an engine finished in metallic silver an a Marshall-developed audio system that plays in part through a TFT 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen. Take that, traditionalists!
Gotta love those deeply skirted front fenders that look right off a Duo Glide, too. BMW has its own measure of sacred technical lineage; its flat-twin is cooled by both air and water and displaces 1,802 cubic centimeters, a full 110 cubic inches, with 91 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission feeds power via BMW’s signature shaft drive. The Transcontinental, also has a 48-liter top cargo case that incorporates a passenger backrest. Both bikes are due at dealers later this month, with pricing that starts at $21,495 for the R 18 B.
“COPO.” It’s not an island in the Adriatic, a style of cooking or the name of a newly diagnosed disease. It’s instead an acronym that originally stood for Central Office Purchase Order, and which today is perhaps the most eagerly prized four-letter word in the world of specialty cars. It was a way for buyers – originally, they were usually fleets – to spec out vehicles with desired equipment that couldn’t be inputted on a basic dealer order form. Beginning in the late 1960s, it became a means to get wildly powerful engines into stripper cars with other mechanical goodies, usually for NHRA Stock and Super Stock competition. The famed Chevrolet performance boss Vince Piggins memorably used the COPO process to create the first Z/28 Camaro. The most fabled COPO car ever was the ZL-1 aluminum big-block Camaro ordered by Illinois dealer Fred Gibb, of which just 69 were produced. The program was revived in 2012 for the new-generation Camaro, with 69 COPO cars produced each year since. Which brings us to this week’s disclosure.
The 2022 Chevrolet Camaro COPO, like all the recent versions, is a pure turnkey drag car, legal as delivered for NHRA competition. The big news this year is the return of big-block power in the form of a newly offered 572-cu.in. GM Performance engine with four-bolt main bearing caps, aluminum cylinder heads, a forged steel crankshaft, forged steel connecting rods and forged aluminum pistons. Estimated output isn’t stated, but something approaching 600 horsepower is a reasonable expectation. Every COPO, regardless of engine, utilizes an ATI Racing Products Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 three-speed automatic. Barely 700 examples of COPO Camaros have been produced since production was revived, and General Motors uses a lottery – the order form is now online – to fill orders on a first-come, first-served basis, which will continue even with pricing for the big-block car set at $105,500.
Toyota has been playing things very close to the vest when discussing the anticipated fall rollout of the next-generation 2022 Tundra full-size pickup. Very prudent, given the fact that throughout its existence, the Tundra has proven every bit as capable of landing blows for power and utility as the erstwhile home-team entries from Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. Aside from releasing an imposing overall view of the rig, Toyota’s been playing the tease.
The front end is somewhat reminscent of something hooked at a B.A.S.S. gathering, but anyway, nobody’s going to miss this thing when it trundles past in a few month. The few images Toyota has release promise a full plate of interior goodies, very much befitting a player in this lofty, high-profit segment. Seating choices with (apparently breathable) Toyota Racing Development branding, a multi-function control wheel for AWD, terrain and towing functions, and an integrated smartphone holder/charger next to the center consoles are among the accommodation previews we’ve seen so far. So stay tuned.
To the extent they know them at all, most Americans are most familiar with one of France’s most influential automotive designs, the Citroen DS sedan, from its brief star turn in Fred Zinneman’s 1973 suspense classic The Day of the Jackal, where one such limousine is sprayed with fire from FN automatic rifles as it ferries Charles de Gaulle toward destiny from the Elysee Palace in Paris. Built for 20 years beginning in 1955, the front-drive DS was a hugely innovative car designed in large part by the aeronautical engineer Andre Lefebvre, famed for its hydropneumatic suspension, the first car so equipped, with ride leveling and power brakes, actuated by a mushroom-looking foot button, part of the same hydraulic system. Looks-wise, the DS is timeless, which may help explain why it’s an unlikely choice for EV conversion.’
Yep, that’s an actual Citroen DS EV you’re looking at. This 1971 example, with the Robert Opron four-headlamp facelift, has been converted by Electrogenic of Oxford, England, to function on electric power, including its groundbreaking suspension system, which is now managed by an electric pump instead of the mechanical unit that Citroen provided. Also gone is the 2,175cc OHV four-cylinder ICE that powered DS models of this vintage, replaced by the Electrogenic Hyper9 brushless electric motor, which is said to deliver the equivalent of 120 horsepower, better than stock. A single 48.5kW battery gives the Citroen range of 140 miles on a charge, increasing to 200 miles when an optional battery extender is used. Electrogenic has performed this magic on other vintage vehicles ranging from a Volkswagen Beetle to a step-down Hudson Hornet.
People who own vehicles produced by Porsche are already considered to be high flyers in this world, but here’s some news that takes the concept considerably further, and potentially farther. Porsche SE is the holding company organized under German law that’s based in Zuffenhausen, is under financial control of the related Porsche and Piech families, and which oversees global operations of the Volkswagen Group. Today, Porsche SE disclosed that it’s acquiring a low single-digit ownership percentage in Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH of Munich, a major European player in the world of privately owned and financed space flight, with the goal of developing boosters and orbiters for the launch of satellite payload. According to Porsche SE, the deal is worth about $75 million in U.S. funds.
In Europe, Isar Aerospace is a key player in this emerging industry, much like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the Blue Origin effort led by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Tesla founder Elon Musk’s ongoing SpaceX venture. With financial backing from investment players such as Airbus Ventures and HV Capital, Isar Aerospace is angling toward the initial launch of its Spectrum rocket booster next year, aiming more at commercial payloads than the space tourism that Bezos and Branson have famously initiated. So why is Porsche getting involved in this? Because, like many of the vehicles it produces, space travel represents a potentially very large growth market, projected to increase to $35 billion by 2027, with small- and medium-capacity rockets like the Spectrum accounting for at least a third of that market. Consider that Musk’s SpaceX concern recently boosted 88 satellites into orbit via a single launch that took place down U.S. 1 a bit at Cape Canaveral.
Any marque, or model, work of history is certainly elevated if the person telling the story is intimately familiar with the subject matter, which regrettably isn’t always the case. This is different. Marking 50 years of Nissan’s sporting GT, a journey that began with the groundbreaking Datsun 240Z of 1970, a couple of tribute titles have emerged. This one, however, is authored by Pete Evanow, a well-known name in Nissan circles, who spent time with Nissan’s engine program in the Indy Racing League, stooged for stellar Nissan racer Steve Millen and who authored a previous history on the Z, fully updated here for the car’s golden anniversary. Nissan Z; 50 Years of Exhilarating Performance is a timely hardcover, running to 176 large-format pages, that walks the reader through all six generation of Japan’s most successful performance car.
Part of what we like about this book is its respectful attention, by someone who knows, paid to the course that the original Datsun Fairlady took in being adapted to the car-crazed U.S. market at its very zenith. Given the author’s motorsport background, it’s also gratifying to see a close focus on the racing operations of Peter Brock and Bob Sharp, which made such memorable use of the Z. Among the updates are a look at the Z Proto design study by Alfonso Albaisa, a gorgeous car that we truly hope makes it to production. It’s $45.00 from Motorbooks, the auto imprint of Quarto Knows.
A lot of people who appreciate cars and their history credit Daimler-Benz with inventing the automobile as we’ve understood it for more than 100 years. The basic template, as created in 1885 by Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz, was three wheels (four were soon accepted as more suitable) and a popping, single-cylinder internal combustion engine that burned vaporized petroleum distilliate as its power source. Amidst innumerable revisions, we’ve pretty much been in that same place ever since. That changed last week with an announcement whose enormity was only moderately tempered by the clinical language that framed it. Mercedes-Benz, the de facto creator of the car, is going all electric, and very soon.
The historic transformation gets underway later this year as Mercedes-EQ, as the manufacturer’s electric operation is now known, rolls out the EQS sedan as a 2022 EV offering. Based strongly on the gasoline-fueled S-Class, the EQS foretells a wholesale switch to EV architecture at Mercedes-Benz by 2025. That year, Mercedes-Benz will introduce three new EV-only platforms: MB.EA for luxury automobiles, AMG.EA for electric-powered performance cars, and VAN.EA for light commercial vehicles. Mercedes-Benz is also working on Vision EQXX, an electric passenger car prototype being developed with strong input from its Formula 1 powertrain team, which works extensively with F1’s KERS energy-recovery technology, and is predicting an eventual real-world range of more than 1,000km per charge. To that end, Mercedes-Benz has purchased YASA, the U.K.-based firm developing advanced axial flux electric motors. It also plans a network of eight major factories producing advanced batteries, the creation of 530,000 AC and DC charging sites in partnership with Shell, and actual EV production from seven plants on three continents beginning next year. This, folks, is the future, and the fact that Mercedes-Benz immersion is so complete is a stimulating notion.
Ever heard of the Rolling Bones? If not, I’m pleased to make the introduction, and to state clearly that we’re talking about a car club here, not the similiar-sounding rock band that’s also firmly rooted in antiquity. The Rolling Bones is a hot rod club founded outside Saratoga Springs, New York, a definitely un-hot rod kind of place, given that snow’s on the ground for about half the year. The Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop, to use the group’s formal name, was founded by Ken Schmidt and Keith Cornell, two guys who revere the hot rod in its most traditional state: As a serious chopped, no-nonsense “gow job,” that’s only just legal enough for street use. From building ultra-traditionalist rods between the Hudson River and the Adirondacks, they’ve branched out to become a full-on rodding revival that’s performed everwhere from the Bonneville Salt Flats to the esteemed outings of The Race of Gentlemen, which is how I got acquainted with the outfit at Hemmings Motor News. People have been seriously paying attention to what the Bones are all about, and not just in upstate New York.
This image by the hot rod artist Peter Vincent shows some of the Rolling Bones fleet in its most apropos setting. The scenery is about to change radically, as the Rolling Bones are getting a star turn at Salon Prive, one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious automotive gatherings, its concours being held September 1st through 5th at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, best known as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. How come? Because a Rolling Bones creation, any of them, is widely accepted as automotive art, given that these guys accept nothing less than minimalist full-race hot rods as the anointed Real Deal. The Rolling Bones are expected to make a proper entrance, rip-snorting their rods along the estate’s lanes en route to the show field. As a former upstate resident, who really appreciated the Bones ripping the hard-packed sand at TROG in Wildwood, New Jersey, this is ultra-rich. Well done, brothers.
Maybe it’s sleeting outside, or maybe you’ve downed too many rounds to drive safely. The rise of ride-hailing has given us positive outcomes for both these circumstances, which involve a driver answering your smartphone call to pick you up. Ford and its partner on autonomous driving Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based tech startup in which Ford now has a major stake, are laying the groundwork to change that ride scenario considerably. By the end of this year, Ford and Argo AI plant to create a commercial, large-scale autonomous ride-hailing service in partnership with Lyft, one of the Big Two of U.S. ride apps, the other being Uber. Ford self-driving vehicles – with onboard safety drivers as the experiment debuts – will be deployed along the Lyft network as part of a major network-access agreement.
Passenger service will get underway later this year in Miami, where testing is now underway, and in Austin, Texas, next year. You can see that the Ford Escape in the photo has grown camera and sensor appendages at both front corners. As these vehicles are put into use, Lyft customers within the self-driving service area will be able to select an autonomous-driving Ford when they hail their ride. The technology is scalable, allowing for deployment of at least 1,000 self-driving Fords across the Lyft network within five years. Under the deal, Lyft will be getting a 2.5 percent equity share in Argo AI.