Ford, Argo AI and Walmart team on autonomous delivery service

The world’s largest retailer is beginning to make deliveries to people’s homes without the proverbial delivery person. The Ford Motor Company and its autonomous-driving technology partner Argo AI are joining forces with Walmart on a pilot program for home retail deliveries around Miami, Austin, Texas; and Washington, D.C. using Ford-produced driverless delivery vehicles. Argo AI, based in Pittsburgh, will supply the software and related infrastructure allowing the delivery vehicles to operate on their own.

It’s known internally by the partners as a “last-mile” delivery service, with the initial startup slated for later this year. Walmart customers will be able to place online orders for groceries and other goods from home, with the delivery process commencing from that point. The last-mile program will start out in limited areas within the Miami, Austin and D.C. markets before expanding more broadly within those metropolitan areas. The partnership is designed to jointly address growing consumer demand for same-day or next-day delivery of everyday items, a practice that was already growing considerably before the pandemic upended everybody’s shopping strategies.

U.S. State Department planning on very special Suburbans

A lot of what the new contract between the U.S. Department of State, the sprawling agency that conducts American diplomacy, and GM Defense LLC, a General Motors subsidiary, is necessarily out of public view. Even routine transportation for an ambassador or other ranking State Department dignitary can be a very dangerous proposition in some parts of the world. The State Department has awarded GM Defense a $36.4 million contract to create a new Heavy Duty version of the Suburban, aptly named the Suburban HD, with an initial package of 10 such vehicles to be delivered within two years.

The agreement calls for GM Defense to deliver up to 200 copies of the Suburban HD to the Diplomatic Security Service, the State Department’s protective arm, through 2023. Why does the government need to spend more than 35 million bucks on big Chevrolet SUVs? Because if you’re attentive about such matters, you already know that the Suburban, with its nearly bulletproof powertrain and chassis – sorry, that may not have been the absolutely best description – has long been a world leader in the realm of specialized dignitary and VIP transport. You’ll notice that a whole row of law enforcement Suburbans typically tag along in the wake of the presidential limousine, for instance. Armoring, weaponry and communications systems can be laded aboard its expansive, go-anywhere platform in just about any configuration your unclassified intellect can imagine.

Big boost, new GT trim trademark Subaru’s all-new 2022 WRX

You may have the desire to channel your inner Erik Carlsson but Saab’s long gone and it’s been eons, practically, since a Mini Cooper tamed the Monte Carlo Rally. But it’s still possible to do the bared-teeth-in-the-boonies boogie by visiting your Subaru store, especially early next year when its entirely new, fifth-generation line of compact WRX offerings storm the showrooms. With a very few notable exceptions in the global marketplace, the WRX is one of the very few mass-produced automobiles that can put you within credible striking distance of an all-out rally car’s performance capabilities, simply by passing the necessary credit check. Subaru has long been a dominating force on both the international and North America rally scenes, and that lineage clearly passes on to WRX buyers, no matter which model they select.

That scoop on the hood isn’t just for decoration. On the contrary, it slams cold air into the intake of the WRX’s standard 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-four, with 271 horsepower on tap. A six-speed manual transmission is standard but for 2022, an entirely new automatic transmission that promises to quicken upshifts and downshifts by 30 and 50 percent, respectively, with adaptive shift control. The 2022 model will also roll out a first for the WRX line, electronically controlled dampers with three driver-selectable modes, plus Drive Mode Select that will allow up to 430 combinations of kinetic personalization, such as feedback levels for Subaru’s dual-pinion electric power steering, which we can personally attest is laser-accurate and nearly effortless. No mention, at least yet, of the full-potency WRX STI variant that everybody’s hoping for, but stay tuned, because a new, premium WRX GT trim level with standard Recaro seating has already been announced. Built on the Subaru Global Platform, the new WRX arrives in early 2022.

ZR2 tops Chevrolet’s 2022 Silverado pickup choices

We still live in a world where the introduction of a new American-branded full-size pickup is a news event equal in proportions to the vehicle itself. That reality has manifested itself at Chevrolet, which had the dazzle-burst debut of its 2022 Silverado line last week. This is a big vehicle with a comparatively big MSRP with baked-in big profits, so this rollout is hugely important to General Motors. As you might have expected, there’s a variety of trim levels in the Silverado range but the biggest news here in the addition of a new ZR2 to the lineup, standing as Chevrolet’s premier off-road truck offering.

In this context, “off road” stands for a pickup with a factory-developed suspension lift, essentially presenting buyers with a seriously tricked truck straight from the showroom, the same thing that Jeep and to a lesser extent, Ford, is recently carrying off with marked success. The Silverado ZR2 is based around Chevrolet’s 6.2-liter truck V-8, with 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, linked to a standard 10-speed automatic transmission. The ZR2 will also mark the first Silverado usage of Multimatic 40mm DSSV spool-valve dampers, with three separate spool valves for damping management and three connected chambers for fluid flow control. The package also includes model-specific 33-inch MT tires, a model-specific skidplate package and high-approach front bumper. A fully redesigned cab interior goes into all Silverado models, including a color touchscreen and configurable instrument display.

What a really good race driver does in his retirement years

It’s been a long time since Bob Cicconi strapped on a race car but people still haven’t stopped talking about what happened when he was still doing it. He is the eldest son of a racing dynasty formed outside Philadelphia by his father, Lou Cicconi Sr., who I helped vote into the Eastern Motorsport Press Association‘s Hall of Fame in 2013. Lou Sr. was the patriarch of a clan that has stood tall and proudly in American open-wheel auto racing via the exploits of sons Bob, “Liquid Lou” and Guy. Bob Cicconi, shown here in the potent Jim Rieder-owned Midget with Gaerte horsepower at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, owns wins in USAC (both Sprint and Midget), a podium finish at the Little 500 for Sprint cars in Anderson, Indiana; was a formidable competitor in the USAC Mini Indy series for Super Vee formula cars, has amassed Midget trophies from ARDC and NEMA, holds a USAC Silver Crown victory, and has performed on stages including the Chili Bowl Nationals, the Hoosier Hundred and the Oswego International Classic for Supermodifieds. The guy, like his brothers, is a racer. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that with a few favorable breaks, Bob Cicconi could easily have punched his ticket to the Brickyard.

I was talking to Bob this week for a forthcoming Speed Sport feature and asked what he’s been up to. You may be as surprised by his answer as I was. Since stepping out of the cockpit, he’s become a competitive builder of scale models, a terrifically cool pastime, specializing in replicas of historic warships but also dabbling in, you guessed it, racing cars of the past. Like yours truly, Bob’s a member in good standing of the International Plastic Modelers Society/USA, the United States offshoot of a modelers’ group first founded in Britain during the 1960s. IPMS/USA is a huge organization, encompassing 220 chapters in the United States plus affiliates in Canada and the Philippines. Its biggest event is the annual IPMS National Contest, which attracts hundreds of modelers’ precision replicas. To people who create miniatures in scale, winning it is akin to standing atop the Knoxville Nationals podium, and Bob’s accomplished that.

Here’s one example. Bob’s speciality is the dreadnought era of combat ships, here embodied by this waterline replica of the U.S.S. Arkansas, a battlewagon that saw duty in the World War I years. Modeled in 1/700th scale, this earned Bob second in class at the IPMS/USA Nationals.

Here’s more. Also in 1/700th scale, this is the U.S.S. Phelps, a Porter-class destroyer from World War II that served with distinction at Midway, Coral Sea and in the Aleutians campaign before being decommissioned and scrapped in Philadelphia. Note the intricate, well-executed maritime camouflage finish on the hull. This won Bob first in class at the Nationals.

Naturally, model cars are another outlet for Bob’s creativity. The first replicas is the Miller 122 that the great Frank Lockhart used to win the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in 1926. Based on the 1/25th scale kit from Etzell’s Speed Classics, Bob added intricate aftermarket wire wheels and wired the supercharged straight-eight engine. The second car, looking to be based on the famous Monogram kit, is the Hinkle Special, the Kurtis-Kraft 500C roadster, with Offy power, that the California hot rod and Midget hero Jack McGrath raced in the 1955 Indianapolis 500 until the engine failed, just months before his death on the Phoenix dirt. If nothing else, Bob’s work makes it clear that at their core, racers are determined, competitive people in virtually any undertaking they choose to pursue.

The world’s most influential custom car goes to auction

Full disclosure: I occasionally contribute to Mecum Auctions and have a longstanding, strong relationship with Hemmings Motor News. That’s why it was doubly stunning, and satisfying, to receive the Hemmings Daily last week – if you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for free at the site – and learn from Daniel Strohl, the web-content editor at Hemmings, that the landmark full custom known as the Hirohata Mercury is headed to auction next January at Mecum’s huge sale in Kissimmee, Florida, which is fast gaining a reputation for megastar sales like this one. If you don’t immediately recognize the name, the photo, courtesy Mecum, surely ought to help you.

Bob Hirohata was a Navy veteran from Southern California who was deeply fascinated by the region’s exploding car culture and wanted a radical custom created by the very best. After leaving the service in 1952, Hirohata found a very clean 1951 Mercury coupe on a used car lot in the San Fernando Valley and grabbed it. Like everyone else, he wanted a chopped top, but Hirohata also wanted the hardtop look that trademarked the pioneering 1940 Mercury coupe owned by Nick Matranga, whose conventional B-pillars were eliminated in favor of a hardtop treatment with hand-formed, curved window frames. So Hirohata went to the guys who built the Matranga car, George and Sam Barris. What you see is the result. Dramatically lowered and with its rear quarters extended, the Mercury also received Buick Riviera side trim, functional rear brake scoops, a raked windshield, a full interior from the Carson Top Shop and a dashboard mural painted by Von Dutch himself. Despite being a daily driver – in 1953, Hirohata swapped the original Mercury flathead for a Cadillac OHV V-8 and drove it from California to the Indianapolis 500 – the Mercury was the subject of innumerable magazine covers and feature stories, and won at least 26 trophies at major auto shows, in addition to a star turn in the 1953 Mamie Von Dohren potboiler Running Wild, before selling the car. It passed through several owners, and redone appearances, before 16-year-old Jim McNiel bought it for $500 in 1959. McNiel, who died in 1998, drove the Hirohata Merc for five years before hiding it away in his garage. The hot rod and custom historian Pat Ganahl, who calls this the first 1951 Mercury to have its roof chopped, located the car and persuaded McNiel to let Rod and Custom magazine, which Pat was editing, pay for the car’s restoration to its 1952 appearance. The result was a new starring role in 2015 when the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance featured historic customs as a judged class for the first time. According to Daniel, Mecum expects this car to command a million dollars at auction. Given what the clapped-out Mustang from Bullitt delivered at Mecum’s 2020 sale in Kissimmee, we bet that estimate will prove to be on the light side.

U.S. classics proudly roll in Italy

It’s never easy to promote an event 5,000 miles away a week before it happens, but this one is too good to pass up. You will notice that the pink, fin-bedecked 1959 Cadillac in the photo has something most of these cars don’t: a license plate issued by the European Union. That’s because a reunion of American cars forms one element of the festivities at the 35th annual Biker Fest, set for September 16 through 19 in the metropolis of Lignano Sabbiadoro. Happily, there’s an English-language tool on the event website that makes all the action decipherable.

Note that the next cars in line include a recent Shelby G.T. 500 and a fuselage-body Dodge Charger from the early 1970s with a decidedly arrogant stance. The organizers of Biker Fest predict that up to 300 individuals and clubs focusing on U.S. iron will be in attendance, along with a big contingent of biker brethren. This is all very interesting, especially when you consider that both Harley-Davidson and Indian operate opulent showrooms on the Champs d’Elysee in Paris. American culture is still considered worthy of celebration. The Biker Fest website also outlines COVID-19 protocols that will be observed. Bellisimo!

Volta Trucks links up with Steyr

With offices already located in Sweden, France and the United Kingdom, Volta Trucks is gearing up, if you will, to produce the world’s first fully electric, 16-ton truck engineered specifically for making deliveries to volume customers in urban areas, such as your grocery store, with a predicted range of 95 to 125 miles per charge. That’s a potentially big market, even if you’re only counting the EU. Accordingly, Volta has announced this week that it’s reached an understanding under which Steyr Automotive, based in the eponymous city in Austria, will assemble four Volta rigs ranging from 7.5 to 19 tons in capacity, with the potential to produce up to 27,000 new trucks per year by 2025.

With its declarative appearance and central driver’s position, the Volta Zero will be tapping into a deep well of automotive history by linking up with Steyr. Founded during the U.S. Civil War as a rifle manufacturer, Steyr followed interchangeable-parts practices into the world of building motor vehicles, the best known of which globally were arguably its trucks, first introduced in 1920. As Steyr-Daimler-Puch, the company built vehicles following World War II ranging from heavy MAN trucks assembled under licenses to the famed Pinzgauer off-road and the line of Puch scooters that Sears used to sell in the United States. More recently, the U.S. Army’s FMTV transporters – it stands for Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles – have included a heavy highway tractor based on a Steyr design. An offshoot of Steyr-Daimler-Puch, which was gradually dissolved, continues to manufacture firearms in Austria.

Rare Ferraris storm Chattanooga

When rare vehicles are discussed in the connotation of Chattanooga, Tennesssee, it’s usually a discussion of the steam locomotives that struggled to ship the materiel of combat during the Civil War. That’s beginning to change, in large part because next month will mark the second time the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival is held, the dates being October 15 through 17. That’s big news standing alone, but it’s been augumented this week with word that Ferrari of Atlanta has signed on as the festival’s signature Ferrari dealership, and has organized a presentation of 14 historic Ferraris, some of them being shown publicly for the first time, in honor of Maranello’s 75th birthday as an independent automaker. They’re all exotic, but let’s focus here on just one of those cars, because it looms so large in the marque’s heritage.

The car is a 1948 Ferrari 166 Spider Corsa, one of the first competition cars that Enzo Ferrari produced under his own name. It’s part of the Miles Collier Collections of historic automobiles maintained by the Revs Institute of Naples, Florida, which furnished this image of the car. This Tipo 166, as the tifosi would dub it, is powered by a Gioacchino Colombo-designed SOHC V-12 that displaced only 1,992 cubic centimeters and produced 130 horsepower. In September 1948, the prancing horse legend Luigi Chinetti, who later became Ferrari’s distributor in the United States, used this car to win the 12 Hours of Montlhéry in France, later settting speed records at distances of 100 miles and 200 kilometers, both in excess of 120 MPH average. The American meatpacking heir and sportsman Briggs Swift Cunningham then bought the Tipo 166, driving it to its first U.S. victory on a Long Island airport in May 1950. The Ferrari was retired from competition after its second driver, Sam Collier, fatally crashed it on the street circuit through Watkins Glen, New York. If you’re along the Gulf coast of Florida, the Revs Institute is a must if you really appreciate very significant cars.

4Runner adds TRD Sport model

You may not have caught it initially but while we were all dealing with other matters, the Toyota 4Runner, a fixture in the SUV sales wars, has made it to its fifth generation of existence. Among the newest model’s upgrades for 2022 are blind-spot and cross-traffic protection, plus a move to LED exterior lighting across most appointment levels. What’s equally important, given what this universe is frequently all about, is a new 4Runner that makes a very noticeable visual statement. It’s the 2022 4Runner TRD Sport, an offering that combines solid manners on pavement, its designated primary home, with the kind of aggressive looks that typify most stuff stylized or otherwise breathed upon by Toyota Racing Development.

The tread pattern of the tires give away that is primarily a pavement runner, rather than dirt, the highly visible front skidplate notwithstanding. The TRD will share its Cross-Linked Relative Absorber System, known as X-REAS for short, with the 4Runner Limited. It’s a controlled-damping system that connects the rear shock absorbers’ rates through the use of a centering link. Rear-wheel or AWD powertrains are offered, which combine its 4.0-liter V-6, producing 270 horsepower, with a five-speed automatic transmission. Maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds with a maximum 500-pound tongue weight. SoftTex-trimmed seating, heated up front, is standard. The new TRD Sport color, incidentally, is known as Lime Rush.