You know what it is with some works of automotive history? They go on and on and on, like they’re eternal. Example: I’d love to have this new history of the groundbreaking French racing car, Ballot. But it runs to two volumes, costs $350 to buy, and would take a lot of time and concentration to absorb. If you’re pressed for time, like most of us, there’s a better solution. Full disclosure: The book I’m about to review is from my longtime Hemmings Motor News colleague, Pat Foster, a guy who lives and breathes the history of independent American auto manufacturers.
Pat’s an authority on non-Big Three automakers, especially including American Motors. So it’s appropriate that he’s penned a history of Jeep, the brand that, sad but true, kept the heart of AMC beating long after it would have otherwise stopped. Jeep: Eight Decades From Willys to Wrangler captures the story of the fabled automotive nameplate in a manageable 192 softcover pages, starting with the original scout car that American Bantam built for the government as World War II approached, and reaching to today’s offerings from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, including the new Gladiator pickup. Pat pays admirable attention in the book to Jeep prototypes (one was the stillborn XJ-001 sports car) and offshore variants (the Philippine “Jeepney”). If you need just one Jeep book on your shelf, this one’s a good choice. It’s $32.99 from the publisher’s website, and you can visit Pat’s website, The Olde Milford Press, to sample his other works of automotive history.
Even with all the dizzying change in the world of automotive manufacturing, the New York International Auto Show is still one of the world’s great venues for examining the latest that the global industry has to offer. The show is an institution in the Big Apple; this year’s edition takes place at the Javits Center on the lower west side of Manhattan from April 10th through 19th. The lineup of cars enjoying rollouts is still being assembled, but we know for certain that a new entry in the business, Lucid, will introduce its Air sedan to public in New York.
What, pray tell, is Lucid? It’s the new company and new car that aims to give Tesla, among others, some competition in this rapidly evolving marketplace. Lucid is a startup based in Newark, California, the heart of Silicon Valley, and the Air is the full-size, all-electric sedan – a body style that some people have buried amid the SUV and crossover craze – that the firm will introduce to the public at the NYIAS. Lucid is asserting that its proprietary EV technology will give the Air sedan a range of 400 miles between charges, a 0-60 time of 2.5 seconds, and a top speed of 200 MPH. All we can say is, we’ve got to see (and hopefully, experience) this one. No pric ing has been announced as yet but if you’re interested, you can stop by the company’s website and reserve a Lucid Air of your own.
The calendar’s about to flip from January to February, and that only means one thing: Florida is about to reawaken from what passes for winter down here and get into some serious things concerning automobiles. Really, it’s already underway. We were offline for a bit while I was covering the huge Mecum auction in Kissimmeee, which was anchored by the sale of the 1968 Ford Mustang from Bullitt, for Hemmings Motor News and Hemmings Muscle Machines. You’ll be able to check out the reportage in the next issues of both magazines. I also got to interview Sean Kiernan, whose family owned the Bullitt car for 35 years, and you can find that story on the Hemmings website. But specifically, this is about auto racing. Speedweeks gets underway officially this coming weekend with the running of the Rolex 24 for sports cars. Yesterday, there was a long line of haulers waiting to enter the garage area at Daytona International Speedway to get the week underway.
The Rolex 24 is the opening round in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. One of the top guns contesting the GTLM category will be BMW with its partner, Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing, which is probably more widely known for its efforts in IndyCar. BMW’s weapon of choice for its two-car effort is the M8 GTE, the number 24 car shared by John Edwards and Jesse Krohn, with backup driving help from Augusto Farfus and Chaz Mostert. There’s a stronger IndyCar connection with the other RLL BMW, whose drivers include Colton Herta, one of the baddest little race drivers to come down the pike in quite a while. This team, with Connor De Phillippi and Phillipp Eng as the other drivers, is the defending class winner of the Rolex 24. The race will kick off Daytona’s annual orgy of speed, with short track action dominating the next two weeks at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna, plus the USAC national Sprint and Midget tours at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. See you on the road.
No, the Ford Mustang is not the first vehicle to exploit the formula of combining off-the-shelf parts with a short-trunked body to achieve something special. That distinction more correctly lies with another Ford Motor Company product, the original Lincoln Continental of 1939. But everybody knows what a Mustang is. Short wheelbase, occasional room for four, choice of powertrains, definite performance cred, a car everyone can appreciate. It’s a formula that’s worked wonderfully since the midpoint of the 1964 model year, and it’s still going strong. Everyone knows what a Mustang is. Now, we’re getting a strong sense that more people than we reasonably expected have some firm ideas of what it could be.
The vehicle on the right is the one that’s driving this discussion. It’s officially known as the Ford Mustang Mach-E, and it’s a fully electric compact crossover that Ford is bringing to market. You can see the Mustang styling hints in the curve of its front fenders, the rear-quarter kickup, and the scoop-like scalloping along the Mach-E’s sides. It merits saying once again that electric power is the future of the global automotive industry, and for any would-be buyers who understand that internal-combustion power is a contributing factor to climate change. Especially by making it part of the storied Mustang lineup, Ford is taking a real chance with this technology. The biggest, probably, since it risked everything on the success of the first Taurus back in 1985. So far, it looks like the greater public is ready to accept it. Ford announced last year that the First Edition model of the Mach-E could be ordered through an online buyer-registration process, and this week disclosed that the reservation process is officially full, with all the pre-production Mach-Es spoken for. Thirty-eight percent of the buyers chose Carbonized Gray as their color, although 27 percent picked Rapid Red, the finish of the Mach-E in the Ford photo. More than half specified all-wheel drive, and about 30 percent picked the Mach-E GT model. More than a quarter of the reservations came from California. It’s not too late to get in the game here, as reservations for the Mach-E Premium and GT editions are still open.
If you enjoy cars, you’ve wanted to be a race driver at some point. Maybe more than once. With the stunning popularity of vintage auto racing, it can become hard to appreciate the fact that not all that long ago, old racing cars were simply discarded. They were too old, too slow, or had their competitiveness legislated away by rules changes. Hardly anybody thought of keeping them. That’s all changed now, however, and actual racing cars with documented competition histories can match the most exclusive concours lawn queen dollar for dollar when it’s auction time. That’s a fact. If you’re a person of means and more importantly, a person of ability, you may come to discover that vintage racing is a sensible hobby for you in 2020. Just bring your money and common sense, and head for the event we’re about to describe.
You can get out of the winter next month and spend it with my pal and sometimes Hemmings cohort, the acclaimed international sports car and Formula 5000 hero, Brian Redman, who now spends most of his time in Florida. His Targa Sixty Six operation will be presenting its 29th annual year of vintage motorsport gatherings at Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida from February 21 through 23. Three separate groups of vintage racers will compete on the road course during the event, which also includes a dinner and cocktail get-together. Brian is a world-class driver who won one of the final runnings of the Targa Florio aboard a works Porsche 908, and is an all-around good guy from Lancashire. He is enshrined in the Motorsports Hall of Fame in America here in Daytona Beach. If you’re interested in getting into vintage racing, going to this event is a good place to start. Check the website for details or email Brian’s son, James Redman, at James@gorace.com and let him know we sent you.
Very much in keeping with its nearly eternal existence as a landmark automobile, the Volkswagen Beetle, which can directly trace its roots to the 1930s, has enjoyed a long goodbye. Wolfsburg confirmed more than a year ago that production of the Beetle, even for offshore markets, would finally come to an end. If you were waiting for the ball to come down last night and were watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2020 – honest, that was the name of the program on ABC – you got a chance to see Volkswagen’s final farewell to what many people consider the most iconic product in automotive history.
The Johannes Leonardo advertising agency crafted an animated film tracing the life of a young boy whose experiences unfold on a parallel track to the Beetle’s becoming (for a while) the world’s most ubiquitous car. Cultural references pop up throughout the short subject, ranging from Kevin Bacon’s performance in Footloose to the art of Andy Warhol. If you didn’t stay up late enough, we’re happy to inform you that the evening ended with the Volkswagen “lollipop” logo, and various hints of the auto giant’s coming all-electric future, were projected onto the sides of buildings in Times Square as the ball prepared to fall. Let’s face it, cross-marketing and co-branding is standard procedure in modern global business, so none of this creativity should come as a shock. Right here, we choose to focus on the animated Beetle’s license plate: “70 Years.” By any measure, that’s some kind of a successful run in a profoundly challenging industry.
Never let it be said that the boys from Woking don’t know how to grab the attention of the automotive world. This past week, McLaren put on a pre-Christmas exercise on the long runways of Cape Canaveral in Florida. Its endless runways, designed to support space shuttle landings, were the site of some 30 top-speed runs for the under-development McLaren XP2 Speedtail hypercar prototype. Test driver Kenny Brack, a former Indianapolis 500 winner, assaulted the pavement of the Johnny Bohmer Proving Ground at the Kennedy Space Center on the Speedtail runs, achieving the best numbers in McLaren production car history for acceleration and top speed.
Its carbon-fiber bodywork slicing through the wind, the Speedtail arrowed along the Florida coast on consecutive runs that topped out at 250 MPH, with zero to 300 km/h (that’s 186 MPH) in 13 seconds flat. The Speedtail will use a gasoline/high-voltage electric powertrain that produces 1,055hp and 848-lbs.ft. of torque, making the copious performance a reality. Just 106 Speedtails will be built, each hand-assembled to individual customer specification, with deliveries starting in February. If you’ve got to have one, hit the website for details.