An author and a really good guy wins a truly major accolade

If you know the world of cars, and automotive history, and appreciate a really inspired read, you probably already know about Karl Ludvigsen. And if you don’t, you really ought to change that fact. Karl, put simply, is at the zenith of the pantheon when it comes to the history of cars. A Michigan native who studied at MIT, he was a prolific magazine writer and editor before he got a position in the public relations department at Ford of Britain. Over his lifetime, Karl has collected and collated historic photos and technical data on cars, both production and racing, and on the companies that produced them. Karl is semiretired now, and most of his vast archives of the Revs Institute, the acclaimed collection in Naples, Florida. But Karl’s still writing books, really exclusive titles for true enthusiasts. One of his most recent titles received a major honor, as did Karl.

His two-volume set Reid Railton: Man of Speed, introduced to the public last year by Evro Publishing, was presented the Thomas McKean Memorial Cup by the Antique Automobile Club of America during its annual winter meeting in Philadelphia last weekend. The books tell the tale of the British sportsman, engineer, car builder (big Railton saloons were powered by brawny U.S.-built Hudson straight-sixes during the 1930s) and world Land Speed Record assailant. The set is, by far, the most exhaustive study ever written on this influential figure in U.K. motoring history. The McKean Cup is the sixth major award that the Railton biography has garnered since its publication, which may well be a record for a book of this type. In his 65-year career, Karl has written more than 60 books. I’ve gotten to know him in my career and can tell you he’s a wonderful guy who’s reached the pinnacle in his field of study. His latest four-volume edition of Porsche: Excellence was Expected is simply the most authoritative marque history ever published. Karl’s latest book, Fast Friends, about the lifetime of acquaintances he made in the auto industry, is out now and available through Delius Klasing.

Another alternative fuel, hydrogen, gets a boost from Hyundai and the feds

Nobody can say with ironclad certainty just what the future of personal transportation is going to feel like. It’s a safe bet to assume that the internal combustion engine fueled by gasoline, which has been around since Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz first got a carriage to chug along by using one, is going to be elbowed aside at some future point. Exactly whose elbow does the hardest shoving is something that remains to be seen. Obviously, electricity is going to be a major role in this. But other alternatives exist. The technology of fuel cells powered by hydrogen is one of them. And in both South Korea and the United States, Hyundai has made significant investment in moving fuel cells beyond the realm of feasibility studies.

To that end, Hyundai has entered into a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, a teaming-up that the automaker disclosed today is in for a significant expansion. The DOE has an existing research program in place to assess the viability of hydrogen as a fuel for motor vehicles. As part of that study, Hyundai delivered a NEXO hydrogen-fueled electric SUV to the DOE last year, which is now undergoing evaluation. Today, Hyundai said another five NEXO SUVs will be delivered to the DOE, and that Hyundai will build a small-scale hydrogen refueling station in the Washington, D.C., metro area, a site that could predict what a future hydrogen-oriented “gas” station might be like. Hyundai is deeply serious about the prospects for hydrogen and cars: Its declared goal is to build 700,000 vehicles powered by fuel cells annually by 2030.

Nissan's Frontier pickup gets the steroid treatment for 2020

You likely know the Nissan Frontier. Midsize pickup, four cylinders, percolates on the periphery of that crowded market. The Frontier reached a noteworthy milestone of sorts recently when Nissan announced that Brian Murphy, a deliveryman from the Chicago area, had succeeded in rolling up a million miles on his 2007 Frontier King Cab after personally setting out to do exactly that. A million miles in a little more than a decade is pretty impressive, but it turns out that Nissan had more than that accomplishment to announce.

As they say, wait, there’s more. Whatever anonymity the Frontier may have endured will be erased, now that Nissan has announced it will receive a totally new 3.8-liter V-6, with direct fuel injection, as standard equipment for the 2020 model year. The beefed-up driveline, which also includes a new standard nine-speed automatic transmission, will boosted the Frontier’s standard output by 49hp, immediately giving it class-leading horsepower. The new V-6 is produced at Nissan’s North America engine plant in Decherd, Tennessee. Expect more big news from Nissan before much more time elapses: 2020 is the final year for the current generation of the Frontier pickup.

Happy Hundred, Mazda

We’d be remiss, even though the news is a few days old, if we didn’t recognize Mazda on its 100th year of existence. Based in Hiroshima, Japan, Mazda was founded in 1920 as Toyo Cork Kogyo Corporation, specializing in the production of both cork and machine tools. By 1931, it was turning out tiny, three-wheeled pickup trucks and other small vehicles for its home market. Mazda’s great breakthrough as an auto manufacturer came in 1961, when it licensed the rights to build engineer Felix Wankel’s rotary-cycle engine from NSU of West Germany, and then installed the engine in its groundbreaking Cosmo sport coupe. The rotary engine gave Mazda its entree into the U.S. market in 1970s, and despite some rotary issues including reliability and emissions output, Mazda was here to stay. The rotary remained part of Mazda’s powertrain lineup until relatively recently.

Mazda now clicks along offering vehicles ranging from subcompacts to midsize SUVs, plus, naturally, the MX-5 Miata. In terms of power, Mazda’s now focusing on its SKYACTIV-G engine technology, a more orthodox 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four than the rotary represented. Mazda’s operations in North America are based in Irvine, California.

Hallelujah, it's finally Speedweeks in sultry central Florida

For a long time, the official New Year for me came the last weekend every February. That was when Lincoln Speedway in Abbottstown, Pennsylvania, annually held its season-opening race for 410 Sprint cars. It could be brutal. Bright sunlight, whipping winds, temperatures in the upper 30s and a parking lot, which is to say a farm field, that was still blanketed with about six inches of the previous week’s snowfall. At least once, I had to get towed out of the parking lot. So imagine how cool it is, no pun intended, to be able to watch an absolute battery of short-tracking in February when it’s solidly in the 70s. This is Speedweeks, the winter motorsports festival that can trace its roots to when Big Bill France first promoted the Daytona beach races during the 1930s. It’s centered on Daytona International Speedway, as everyone knows, but lots of people probably don’t realize that a galaxy of short-track action takes place across Florida’s midriff every night, straight through the Daytona 500. This is not a complete list of what’s going on – for that, you’re best bet is to hook up with Area Auto Racing News out of Trenton, New Jersey, which carries an exhaustive Speedweeks schedule in its pages – but I’ll give you some highlights.

First up is Volusia Speedway Park on State Route 40 in Barberville, due west of Ormond Beach, where the 49th DIRTcar Nationals is now underway. The DIRT Motorsports photo by my buddy Paul Arch shows last night’s action at Volusia, where 2018 Knoxville Nationals champion Brad Sweet dusted the best from Tony Stewart’s All-Star Circuit of Champions for 410 Sprints. Sweet will be back tomorrow night when the World of Outlaws traveling national Sprint tour checks into Volusia for a three-night stand. Next up are DIRTcar Late Models Monday and Tuesday. The Tuesday show will be paired with my must-see division, the DIRT big-block Modifieds that war weekly on Northeast dirt tracks from Ohio to Quebec. The Modifieds will be paired with the World of Outlaws Late Model national series from next Tuesday through Saturday, February 15th.

Asphalt racing is also prime in Florida during Speedweeks, and not just at Daytona. New Smyrna Speedway is about 10 miles southwest of Daytona Beach at State Route 44 and Tomoka Farms Road. It’s scary fast, a high-banked paved half mile, and hosts its World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing beginning tomorrow night and running right through Saturday, February 15th. The schedule varies every night but revolves around Tour-type open-wheel Modifieds, Super Late Models and Pro Late Models. The ARCA East Series is paired with the Tour Modifieds this coming Saturday, and the Tour Modifieds honor their greatest-ever star with the Richie Evans 100 on Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14th.

Bubba Raceway Park is a 3/8th-mile dirt oval located on N.W. Gainesville Road in Ocala, about 70 miles west of Daytona Beach. It’s named for the track’s owner, the radio personality known as Bubba the Love Sponge, whose then-wife infamously made a certain videotape with Hulk Hogan. The track’s Winter Dirt Games are headlined by the USAC National Midget series tomorrow night and Saturday, and the USAC National Sprint car tour from Wednesday, February 12th through Saturday, February 15th.

The Daytona 500 is February 16th, but I’m thinking seriously about heading over to the Tampa area on Thursday, February 20th for the Dave Steele World Non-Wing Championship for asphalt Sprint cars – a niche breed that has a stronghold in Florida – at Showtime Speedway on 126th Avenue in Clearwater. Dave Steele was a Hall of Fame specialist in blacktop open-wheel racing who owned two USAC Silver Crown championships when he was fatally injured in 2017 at Bradenton, Florida. The track is a 1/4-mile paved oval and the program will pit Sprint cars in a 125-lapper, plus TQ Midgets.

The starter’s got the green in his hand. Let’s go racing!

Greenwich Concours announces eight classes for 2020 gathering

It’s a relatively late bloomer, but the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance in Connecticut is rapidly being accepted as one of the nation’s marquee events for historic automobiles. This year’s edition, the 25th anniversary of the gathering, will be held May 29th through 31st at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park in Greenwich, overlooking Long Island Sound. The two lead categories will be Shelby vs. General Motors, and the 100th anniversary of the greatest American car ever, Duesenberg. But there’s more.

This image by Kobus Reyneke, courtesy of the concours, provides an idea of the quality of what’s on display at Greenwich; the car in the image is a postwar OSCA sports racer, designed by the three Maserati brothers. The additional classes for 2020 will cover 70 Years of Allard, Right Coast Rods (I wish my late friend A.B. Shuman, who co-wrote the acclaimed history of New England hot rodding, Cool Cars, Square Roll Bars, was alive to see this), Lancia, Vintage Off-Road, vehicles from the first edition of the Greenwich concours, and Four Or More Cylinders (motorcycles). But perhaps the biggest news is that on the concours’ Saturday date, a new Concours de Sport category for racing cars will debut. We love it. Vintage race cars should be a part of every concours, a practice that the Amelia Island concours in Florida pioneered. Founded in 1996 by the late Bruce and Genia Wennerstrom, the Greenwich was acquired last fall by McKeel Hagerty, the collector-vehicle insurance magnate. It’s definitely worth the price of admission.

Lincoln partnering with Rivian to produce new luxury EV models

General Motors isn’t the only company making noise with its non-ICE product plans. Late this week, Lincoln announced that it’s partnering with Rivian to create an all-new luxury electric vehicle. If you’re a regular reader, you may remember that we reported about Rivian’s startup efforts. Founded in 2009, Rivian has acquired the former Chrysler-Mitsubishi assembly plant in Normal, Illinois, and is planning to build its own R1T electric pickup and R1S electric SUV using a shared “skateboard” platform. Rivian has been attracting major investment of late, including a $700 million infusion from Amazon and another half-billion from Ford, both revealed last year.

Ford is clearly very serious about remaking itself for a world after hydrocarbons. The Lincoln-rivian lashup will produce Lincoln’s first fully electric vehicle, using the shared Rivian platform, which will join plug-in versions of the Aviator and Corsair Grand Touring SUVs. All are the products of Ford’s $11.5 billion investment in electric technology. As part of the transition, production of the Taurus-based Lincoln MKZ sedan will end this year at Hermosillo, Mexico, as that plant transitions to a new generation of Ford vehicles. Combined with the coming electric Mustang Mach-E and full-battery version of the F-150 pickup, this is big news, very much appropriate for celebrating Lincoln’s 100th birthday in 2020. Speaking of which, look for my history of Lincoln’s first century coming soon in Hemmings Classic Car.