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cars custom cars

The “Kustom” Cars of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth

Few names are as synonymous with hot rodding culture as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. For decades he built some of the most innovative and unique custom cars the hot rodding world had seen. However, he is probably best known for his creation of Ratfink, a cartoon rat. With Ratfink’s trademark bulging eyes, the cartoon rat adorned countless t-shirts, posters, and comic books, often sticking out of a cartoon hotrod, with his hand on the shifter. Recently, I had the chance to visit an Ed Roth exhibit (now closed) at the National Corvette Museum entitled “Car-toon Creatures, Kustom Kars and Corvettes: The Art and Influence of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.” Many of his legendary cars were on display, as well as plenty of memorabilia and some of his Equipment.

A display at the Ed Roth Exhibit at the National Corvette Museum.
The entrance of the Ed Roth Exhibit at the National Corvette Museum. His famous creation Ratfink is on the right.

“Kustom” Cars, Ratfink and More.

Ed Roth went far beyond just making wild cars. Besides his famous Rat Fink character, Roth created countless t-shirts with his iconic monster characters. To the general public, one of his best-known endeavors creating “monster t-shirts”, although he was also a pinstriping pioneer. The art of pinstriping developed rapidly in the 50s and 60s, and Roth was one of the artists at the forefront. He even went on to create two books on the subject. He helped shape the look of hot rod culture and even the sound. In the 1960s, Roth put out three surf rock albums under the name Mr. Gasser and the Weirdos.

Ratfink comic books at the Ed Roth exhibit at the Corvette Museum.
Ratfink comic books on display at the Corvette Museum.

Wild Show Cars.

In a span of about 40 years, Roth created some of the most innovative and imaginative custom cars in the show car scene. These creations ranged from the more traditional Tweedie Pie to the bubble top, hand-controlled Beatnik Bandit, both of which were on display at the Museum. Roth also went beyond the conventional power plant of the hot rodder: the V-8. He used everything from V-8s, air-cooled VW motors, Corvair motors, and Triumph motorcycle motors. He was a big fan of putting the engine behind the driver, saying in an interview that that was the best spot for it. Many of his cars had Sci-Fi influences. He made more than traditional hotrods, with wild creations like his MINI based Surfite surfboard hauler and the twin-Triumph motorcycle motor-powered hovercraft dubbed the Rotar. I had the opportunity to see the following Roth cars at the National Corvette Museum.

The Beatnik Bandit

Arguably Roth’s most famous car: The Beatnik Bandit, carries his trademark space-age bubble-top roof. Interestingly, it is controlled entirely by a central joystick type lever located in the middle of the interior. The joystick even controls braking and acceleration. There was even a “sequel” to the car Roth made in the form of the 1995 Beatnik Bandit II.

Ed Roth's custom car called "Orbitron."

The Orbitron

Another one of Roth’s cars with space-age influence the Orbitron, like the Beatnik Bandit sports a bubble top. It even comes equipped with a color TV. The driver sits far back, over the rear axle. One of its most unique features is its asymmetrical front end. The Orbitron has a story as wild as it. Lost for many years, it was discovered in rough shape outside of a store just over the Mexican border. It received a full restoration (and a new TV!)

A replica of Ed Roth's custom car "Mysterion."

The Mysterion

One of his wildest cars, unfortunately, the original was scrapped after the customized frame broke. The wild twin-engine/transmission car was recreated in painstaking detail. Like the Orbitron it also features an asymmetrical front end. It comes with a single seat.

Ed Roth's custom car Tweedie Pie.

Tweedie Pie

A more traditional custom car (at least by Roth standards!) Tweedie Pie is done in the t-bucket style. According to Ed Roth’s website, Tweedie Pie was purchased by Roth already customized and modified from there.

Ed Roth's newly restored WV-powered "Wishbone" show car.

The Wishbone

One of Roth’s many VW-powered machines, the low-slung diminutive Wishbone features skinny front tires, not unlike those found on early dragsters. Roth had intended for the Wishbone to be used as a design for the Revell car model company, but it was rejected due to its shape. Its restoration by Galpin Motors was documented on an episode of the Discovery TV show “Driven,” the post-restoration car debuted at the Exhibit.

The Outlaw

The outlaw is a unique combination of a traditional t-bucket, which was very popular in the 60s, and Roth’s boundless imagination. The result is a car that is more reserved than many of his creations and yet uniquely Roth. Amazingly, according to Roth’s website, it once utilized an actual Revolutionary war sword for its gear shifter.

A statue of Ed Roth next to his Ford shop truck.
Ed Roth’s shop truck alongside a fiberglass Ed Roth statue.

The National Corvette Museum Exhibit

The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, has an ongoing Ed Roth Exhibit entitled “The National Corvette Museum Exhibit: The Art and Influence of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth,” until April 2021. The wild bubble tops and blowers of the cars at the Ed Roth exhibit might seem out of place at first glance in a museum filled with sleek production Corvettes, however there is a unique connection Ed Roth. He was a tremendous influence on former Corvette designer Tom Peters. I recently had a chance to visit the Museum and see the Ed Roth Exhibit. Not only did the Museum feature many of his icon hot rods, but his trademark tuxedo, his t-shirt press machine, and countless Roth merchandise. The display shelves are packed with diecast cars, models, and Ratfink figures. There is even a roughly life-size Ed Roth statue, naturally made of fiberglass, his preferred material to create cars with. The Museum also hosted an Ed Roth Ratfink Reunion. Besides Ed Roth’s custom cars, several show cars were inspired in part by Roth. The Museum also played host to an Ed Roth Reunion event. The exhibit will run through April 2021.

The Ed Roth Legacy.

Some twenty years after Roth’s death, people still wear “Monster” T-shirts and have Ratfink posters in their garages. His cars still make appearances at events across the country. Every year fans embark on a hotrod pilgrimage to Manti, Utah, where the annual Ed Roth Ratfink Reunion is held. Actor John Goodman even portrayed him by voice in the 2006 documentary “Tales of the Ratfink.” If you missed my blog about the National Corvette Museum, you can read it here. You can also check out the official Ed Roth website at Ratfink.com. For information on the exhibit you can check out the page on the Corvette Museums website here.

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cars museum

The National Corvette Museum: The Cars, The Sinkhole, and Beyond.

February 12, 2014: Imagine, for a second, that you work as a security guard for the National Corvette Museum. It’s hours before opening, so nothing is going on. Suddenly, a motion sensor goes off. Someone trying to steal a ‘Vette? You head to the Skydome section of the Museum, expecting to confront would-be thieves; instead, you see that cars are missing, wait, there’s more. You see a massive hole where a floor used to be. Earthquake? No, not in Kentucky. A sinkhole! This might sound like the start of a Corvette-themed-horror film, but on that day in February, it was a reality.

The Museum


Located in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the National Corvette Museum is just across the street from the GM Bowling Green Assembly Plant, where Corvettes are made. Bowling Green is in the southern end of Kentucky, north of Nashville. Arriving at the Museum, we were greeted by a guide in a Corvette-styled golf cart who directed us where to park. Passing the “Corvette Only” parking spaces, we headed inside. The large entry hall is where Corvette buyers who opt to pick up their Corvettes at the Museum take delivery of their cars. After getting our tickets, we saw a cross-section 1953 Corvette and some early examples of sports cars, including a beautiful MG. The MG had served as an inspiration for the creation of the Corvette. Next, there was a short film tracing the history of the Corvette from its creation to the present day. The room it is in is indistinguishable from a movie theater, complete with licensed music, showing just how much went into making this a world-class museum.


The following section, called the “Nostalgia Area” of the Museum, traces the Corvette from its earliest days in the 50s into the late 60s. Not only are there some beautiful Corvettes on display (including a 1955 Thunderbird to give an example of some early competition), but it was set up like a 1950’s town, complete with a gas station with vintage gas pumps and garage. There are even a 1960s dealership showroom and a 1970s assembly line.


The next area is dedicated to Corvette’s extensive, decades-spanning racing career, from the earliest days to recent ones. There are two race cars from 1957, including the iconic 1957 Corvette SS race car. It looks like a concept car, but it competed in the 12 Hours of Sebring. There are some more recent race cars as well, such as the multiple race-winning 2015 Corvette C7.R (in as raced condition!). The section also has one of the wildest prototypes Chevy has come up with. A 1959 mid-V8 engine open-wheel car build to Indy-car Spec. It serves as proof that GM was experimenting with mid-engine design long before it becomes commonplace, even in race cars.


The mid-engine prototype works as a great segue into the next room: The mid-engine Corvette room. Starting in the 1960s, Chevy made many different mid-engine Corvettes. Interestingly, they looked more like production cars than an extreme, attention-grabbing show car made to generate buzz at an auto show. There was a pair of 1960’s era ones, who’s design reflected the aggressive late 60s-70s’ Vettes. An interesting piece of GM history intertwined with the Corvette in the form of a mid-engine Rotary powered Corvette is on display from 1973. GM had considered utilizing the Rotary-motor in their cars around this period. The section ends with the modern mid-engine Corvette. I love how the exhibit shows the mid-engine Corvette was a long-held dream.


Corvette Cave In! The Skydome Sinkhole Experience.


The next section of the Museum, right before you get to the Skydome, the Cave-in’s fabled site, is a section that explains the cave-in that caused multiple rare and historically significant Corvettes to fall into the cave below. The exhibit tells of the geology of Kentucky and its cave systems. In fact, The Corvette Museum is not far from Mammoth Cave, the longest known cave system in the world. Like everything else in the Museum, this exhibit is incredibly well done and looks like it was taken from a natural history museum. It also deals with the world-wide media storm that followed. Something the Corvette Museum was quick to capitalize on what happened. Turning a disaster into a triumph, as webcams were set up to document the construction crew’s recovery of the cars. At the end of the section is the chance to experience what the cave in looked and sounded like from underground. Complete with falling Corvettes.


The Post Cave In Skydome.


Walking out of the darkness of the cave in experience and into the light of the Skydome, it is hard to believe anything happened here. The only clues to suggest that anything happened, are the occasional dusty, smashed-up car, the lines in the floor indicating where the cave in happened, as well as the boundaries of the cave, and the window in the manhole cover that lets you look down into the cave itself. Beyond the remnants of the cave-in, there is plenty to see in the Skydome. There are, of course, the cars that fell into the cave. These included aftermarket-modified, classic, and significant Corvettes like the 1.5 millionth Corvette made. These had received varying degrees of damage, based on how they fell. When recovered, one ‘Vette was able to start shortly after it was brought up.
One especially interesting Corvette on display in the Skydome was the only Corvette ever owned by Zora Arkus-Duntov, known as the “Godfather of the Corvette.” There is also a V-12 boat motor-powered Corvette concept car. The V-12 powered Corvette was created in response to Dodge unveiling their V-10 powered Viper. The inside of the Skydome features pictures of people who have had a significant impact on the Corvette in some way.


Car-toon Creatures, Kustom Kars and Corvettes: The Art and Influence of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.


After the Skydome was the special, limited-time (now closed) Ed “Big Daddy” Roth exhibit, Roth was the legendary custom car builder behind some of the wildest custom cars in the 1960s and artist behind the iconic “Ratfink” character. It featured many of his legendary custom cars, as well as vehicles inspired by him. Hidden throughout the Museum in various exhibits are small “Rat Fink” figures. Why here at the National Corvette Museum of all places, you are probably asking yourself. It turns out Ed Roth was a massive inspiration for former Director of Exterior Design for the Corvette Tom Peters.


The Experience


One thing about leaving the Corvette is that when you go, you will be wanting a Corvette. If you have one, you’ll probably be wanting another one. Being in production for over 60 years, you will have plenty of types to choose. It is nothing short of incredible how the National Corvette Museum could take the cave-in and the international attention generated by the cave-in and keep the public invested in the recovery of the cars. You can learn more about the National Corvette Museum on their official website here: https://www.corvettemuseum.org/. In an upcoming blog post, I’ll delve into the details of Ed Roth’s many cars, as well as the Ed Roth Exhibit. Have you been to the Corvette Museum or know of a car museum I should visit? Let me know in the comments!

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cars ford suvs

The New Ford Broncos: An Off-Road Icon Returns.

When Ford unveiled the new Bronco, years after its original discontinuation, the social media response was immense. Its angular, aggressive styling stood out among the sea of practical SUVs that had long abandoned off-road performance. Indeed, the Bronco seemed to be gunning for the off-road king itself, the Jeep. The classic Bronco was a predecessor to the modern SUV, with a truck frame, high ground clearance, four-wheel drive, and a removable hardtop roof section that included both the rear window and the side windows behind the driver door. It also was a competitor to the Jeep. What many people do not realize is just how extensive a history that Bronco has. It is a history that Ford drew heavily upon for the creation of the new Bronco. After being out of production for years, in July 2020, the new 2021 Ford Bronco was revealed to the public in three different versions, the more traditional two and four-door versions based heavily on the original, with flared fenders, removable doors, and roof and the more modern-SUV Sport model. With those, the Bronco manages to cover multiple market segments. Within those versions, there is plenty of variety as well.

The Original Broncos.

Many people might not realize that the Bronco is almost as old as the Ford Mustang, debuting just two years later, in 1966, and having an uninterrupted production run until 1996. It also pre-dated the 4×4 craze of the 1970s by several years and the SUV craze by several decades. It also comes with a strong off-road racing heritage; there was even a famous race-track version, in legendary race car driver Parnelli Jones’ Big Oly Bronco, with its distinctive sprint car style wing on the roof. It even had a movie cameo, appearing as one of the cars stolen in the original 1974 version of Gone in 60 Seconds. As a testament to the Broncos performance heritage, it even won the Baja 1000 in 1969. When the SUV came of age in the 1980s and 1990s, the Bronco saw increased competition, many of which were more refined and offered more everyday practicality, some of which had four doors. The SUV saw its main role go from off-road performance to comfortable family-hauler. The Bronco got in on the act, with an optional Eddie Bauer package, providing pinstripes and a custom interior. By the mid-90s the SUV had been standardized with four doors, and plenty of competitors had joined the market, cars like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Ford Explorer, which were far more practical for a family. When the last Bronco rolled off the line in 1996, the market had changed drastically.

The 2021 Bronco

The base model two-door Bronco starts at just under $30,000 and goes up from there. There are several different trim levels, offering things like luxury and performance. In this day and age of standardized cars with ever-increasing luxury, Ford has dared to make an enthusiast SUV, one that targets the hardcore off-roading crowd, complete with a rugged body-on-frame design. A body-on-frame is a bit of a standout nowadays when so many SUVs have abandoned their pickup truck origins and have gone with unibody construction. The 2021 Bronco merges traditional features like an optional manual transmission and a solid rear axle with cutting-edge features like driving modes for specific off-road conditions and exclusive low-speed cruise control for trails. There is even an option that provides marine-quality seats and drain plugs to help make the interior water-resistant. While many Broncos will undoubtedly become modified not long after they are bought, options like 35-inch tires make that less necessary. Like the classic Bronco, there is a removable hardtop and doors, and for a modern twist, there is a digital infotainment center in the center console and a digital screen at the center of the gauge cluster. Power is provided by either an EcoBoost four-cylinder or EcoBoost V6 motor. The V6 is expected to have 310 horsepower and an impressive 400 pounds of torque. There is an optional mode for fans of rock crawling where a single pedal controls gas and braking.

The 2021 Bronco Sport

Providing a more contemporary SUV experience is the Bronco Sport, with its fixed top, seating for five, and more reserved styling. It has a lower price too, starting at just over $25,000. Keeping with its more contemporary design, it has lower ground clearance than the Bronco models, although it still features many off-road based features, such as standard 4×4 and optional tow-hooks. It has some impressive stats as well, with 23.6 inches of water fording ability despite a lower ride than the Bronco. It is powered by either a 1.5 or 2.0 liter four-cylinder EcoBoost.

The Future

Being out of production for years means that the Bronco lags behind the Jeep in aftermarket support. However, at launch, the Bronco has hundreds of factory-approved aftermarket parts. Something vital to the off-road crowd who is always demanding that extra edge on the trail. It will not be hard to get a Bronco just the way you want it, given the many versions available. It will be interesting to see if consumers, especially off-road enthusiasts, chose the (somewhat) newcomer Bronco when it debuts in 2021, over the tried and true Jeep and the reinvented Land Rover Defender. The Bronco Sport is launching late in 2020. The Bronco manages to be a fresh face with new ideas and a tried and true nameplate familiar to automotive enthusiasts for decades. What do you think of the new Broncos? Let me know in the comments!

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Museum

It is hard to understate the impact the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its signature race: The Indianapolis 500, has had on Indiana. It has ingrained itself into Indiana culture as no other event has. For over 100 years, it has held a wide range of events, from hot air balloon races to the iconic Indianapolis […]

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cars museum travel

The National Automotive and Truck Museum

The National Automotive and Truck Museum, an impressive collection of cars and trucks, is located in Auburn, Indiana. It is an unassuming building neatly tucked away behind the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. It could easily be missed if you were not paying attention. However, not going to The National Automotive and Truck Museum would be doing yourself a major disservice if you are already at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. It is a separate building, although you can get a Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum/National Automotive and Truck Museum combo ticket if you want. It also includes one of the most valuable American vehicles ever made, but more on that later.

Dodge Tomahawk
The Dodge Tomahawk concept bike. Note the VIper V-10.

Pre-war classics and a unique “barn” find.

Once you get your ticket and leave the gift shop, you’ll come across a room chock-full of die-cast cars representing countless brands and models and a collection of pedal cars. Some of these antique pedal cars are nearly identical to their full-sized counterparts, many of which can be found in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum across the parking lot. Just pass that room; you will find yourself in a large section filled with early 20th century cars. These cars include a 1935 Cord that goes far beyond what would be considered a typical “barn find.” It was buried for years and only dug up in the 1980s. Despite the effects of about 50 years, pressure, dirt, and water, the body is surprisingly intact, given the circumstances.

A picture of a rare painted DeLorean.
A rare red DeLorean. It was part of a factory test to see how paint would work on the stainless steel body.

The Car Room

Exiting that room, you come upon the main room for the car section. It is filled with an incredible amount of variety, from the massive, iconic GM Futurliner, to the diminutive pre-war Austin 7. There’s the replica of the Essex Wire Shelby Cobra race car. There are also some interesting stories behind some of the cars. The 1981 DeLorean with a red paint job? As per the Museum, it was part of a test to see if the paint would work on the unconventional body. The red stands out as almost every DeLorean is the same unpainted stainless steel. The unassuming 1995 Ford Crown Victoria? It belonged to Hollywood Icon Katherine Hepburn. There’s also the legendary concept bike/quad, the Dodge Tomahawk. It is essentially a four-tire motorcycle powered by a Viper V-10 engine. As of writing, I’ve been to this Museum three times, and they keep the cars in rotation.

A picture of a Futurliner.
The Futurliner, notice the central position of the driver.

The Futurliner

At the far edge of the room sits a 1953 GM Futurliner, one of just a handful made. These trucks, which look like an RV mixed with a semi truck toured the country showcasing new-for-the-time technology. They are roughly the size of a full-size RV or a city bus, and the fact that they don’t have side windows them look even larger. One side of the Futurliner opens to show the display, and lights extend up out of the roof, forming a sort of wordless marque. Interestingly, the driver sits in the middle and very high up. When looking up at the Futurliner from the front, it makes you appreciate just how high up the driver is. The engine sits forward, under the driver. Surprisingly, for a vehicle of that size, it does not have two rear axles common in modern city buses and RVs. Instead, it has eight wheels, two at each corner. The front bumpers follow the round front and back of the Futurliner and blend seamlessly into the sides of it. They also have a display example of the type of straight-6 that powered it. One of these sold at an auction for 4.1 million dollars. For a while, this was the most expensive American vehicle ever sold at an auction. You can learn more about the Futurliner on the website Futurliner.org.

A horse drawn fuel tanker.
A horse drawn fuel tanker.

The Truck Room

The basement floor is the truck section, and it takes up almost every bit of space that the ground-floor car level does. It features over 100 years of personal and commercial trucks and even a land-speed record holder semi-truck that did well north of 200 mph. One of the things that immediately catch your attention is the row of fuel-haulers, in ascending order by age, starting with a horse-drawn one. The horse-drawn fuel-hauler is a perfect wordless metaphor for the transitional era of the early 20th century. Walking through the trucks, I was impressed by just how many early 20th century trucks there were, a chain final drive in place of a driveshaft is not an uncommon sight there. A cool thing about the trucks is that some of them come from the area. There is even a bus that was made in Auburn called a McIntyre. The 1911 model they have is far removed from what would constitute a modern bus: Three rows of seats and not a roof or window in sight, but it did what was made to do. Like the car floor above it, the truck section goes way beyond the Big Three, featuring brands like Studebaker and highlighting early examples of familiar truck brands like International.

An antique truck.

The Experience

One of the great things about The National Automotive and Truck Museum is that you can take as much or as little time as you want. The Museum is divided up into several large rooms, and you don’t have to walk far to see it all, despite the size of the collection. However, time permitting, you may feel like digging deeper, reading the stories of the cars and trucks on their plaques, and checking out more of the extensive Futurliner exhibit. If you find yourself at The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, the trip across the parking lot to this Museum is a worthwhile one. The Museum truly is a companion to the ACD Museum, as opposed to an afterthought. You can check out the Museum online at natmus.org. Also, you can view my blog about the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum here: https://carsandadventures.wordpress.com/2020/07/10/the-auburn-cord-duesenberg-museum/. I’ll be writing another blog about the final car museum I visited that day: The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum. Have you been to The National Automotive and Truck Museum? Let me know in the comments! As always, thanks for checking out my blog!

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Happy (Belated) Birthday to Car Customizing Icon Gene Winfield!

The Strip Star, created by Gene Winfield. Picture by Larry Stevens.

Earlier this month, on June 16th, legendary custom car builder and hot rodder Gene Winfield turned 93. He has shown no sign of slowing down. His custom cars have appeared in countless movies and TV shows. The TV shows have ranged from the original Star Trek to the classic Batman TV series. He has designed vehicles for several sci-fi movies, which means he has not only helped shape the look of the custom car scene but also the look of science fiction. Also, he worked on the hood scopes for the prototype of the 1969 Pontiac Trans Am. His custom cars range from traditional hot rods to radical, futuristic creations. It is no wonder he has been asked to create so many vehicles for sci-fi films. He even designed the Galileo shuttle used in Star Trek. He has been featured at car shows all over the world, often chopping tops with his crew.

A custom 1935 Ford Truck made by Gene. Picture by Sicnag. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

He also holds multi-day car metalworking classes. My father had the chance to attend one, and he got a lot out of it. After decades of experience, Gene has a lot of knowledge. He even created a painting technique known as the “Winfield Fade.” This is where colors gradually transition, as opposed to a sudden change, and is showcased on many of his custom cars. With his seemly boundless energy, Gene continues to be a significant force in the custom car world. You can check out his website at www.winfieldscustomshop.com.

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cars

The Cars of Elvis Presley

I recently got a chance to visit Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, the famed home of Elvis Presley. After touring the house, I checked out the Elvis Presley Car Museum across the street. It is part of Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a museum dedicated to him. It contains many of the cars the iconic singer owned throughout his life. There were three whole large rooms devoted to his cars, motorcycles, and boats. Elvis’ love of cars is well known, but it is still amazing to see the variety of vehicles on display. It is one of several large exhibits on display at Graceland.

One of Elvis’ Cadillac’s, this one has been customized.

Elvis had a wide range of cars that he liked, from a Ferrari Dino to a Stutz Blackhawk. His range of cars he was interested in was as varied as his career, which took him from music to movies and back to music.  Although his cars represent a wide variety of tastes and styles, and his love of Cadillacs was well known, he had an affinity for German cars, of which, two Mercedes Benz are on display in the Museum. The collection includes a Mercedes Benz limousine, which would have been a rare sight in the ’60s. Elvis’ interest in Germany cars makes sense, as he was stationed in Germany when he was in the Army in the ’50s; it no doubt left an impression on him. There was a beautiful 1960 MG MGA convertible. One of the most distinctive cars of his on display and one that perfectly encapsulates Elvis is his custom 1950’s Cadillac, with its hard to miss purple paint, gold rims, custom paint, and side pipes. An interesting little detail is that the side pipes are red on the inside. His famous pink Cadillac was there as well.

An MG MGA.

One of his latest and most unique cars was his Stutz Blackhawk, a luxury coupe based on a Pontiac, and powered by a Pontiac motor. The Stutz Motor Company made luxury vehicles based on mass-produced American cars in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. It was a revival of the original Stutz company. The original Stutz Motor Company dates to the early days of automotive history. What stands out about the Blackhawk is the large headlights, a call back to huge headlights found on luxury cars of the ’20s and ’30s and the chrome side pipe, which is most likely also a callback to high-end pre-war cars.

Elvis’ custom chopper. Despite the radical style the bike is surprisingly practical for a chopper, with front and rear suspension and brakes.

His motorcycle collection included countless Harley’s. Elvis was a longtime Harley fan, even appearing on the cover of the official Harley magazine early in his career. The exhibit goes beyond cars and motorcycles. Numerous boats of Elvis’ are on display as well, and even a tractor and golf cart are there. One of his most unique vehicles is no doubt Elvis’ snowmobile, modified for the Memphis climate by replacing the skies with wheels. The wheels were interestingly a factory kit.

A VW-based dune buggy.

The collection of cars would be impressive even without their connection to Elvis. The whole setup is very well done, letting you get up close to the many cars, motorcycles, and more on display. The Elvis Presley Car Museum stands out as one of the most memorable experiences from my visit to Graceland (although my love of cars may make me a little biased.) If you ever find yourself in Graceland, check out the Elvis Presley Car Museum, it is worth your time.

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The Gilmore Car Museum

Recently I had a chance to go to the Gilmore Car Museum, just northwest of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Like many towns and cities in Michigan, it has strong ties to the automotive industry, and interestingly enough was the birthplace for Gibson guitars. Located on a farm out in the hilly countryside, the museum has been around for over 50 years and features over a hundred years of automotive history. The museum also plays host to car shows throughout the year. Its made up of 100s of cars as well as rotating displays.

A Tucker Torpedo. The First one I’ve seen in person.

The first room was an exhibit dedicated to women’s impact on cars. I was greeted by a Tucker 48, a highly advanced and incredibly rare helicopter engine-powered car from the late ’40s. The next section of the museum was a Ford vs. Ferrari themed one has the movie had just come out. Naturally, there was a Ford GT and a Ferrari. The Ferrari interestingly enough had belonged to Nicolas Cage at one point. Making my way through the museum I was amazed by the variety of cars on display. 

A Ferrari once owned by actor Nicolas Cage.

 There was a large hall dedicated to muscle cars, with some very rare ones on display. These included a Shelby Mustang and a Mr. Norm Mopar. I had also come across a Honda motorcycle customized by GM to accompany its Pontiac Banshee show car as well as a real Shelby Cobra and a Corvette concept car. There was an entire section dedicated to Lincolns and a whole building devoted to Cadillacs. It was cool to see all the early cars on display, from the 20’s and older, but one of the most surprising things I came across was a Lincoln concept car that was only a few years old. I did not expect to see that at a museum not dedicated to any one particular brand.

An Oldsmobile 442 in the muscle car exhibit.

If you are a fan of cars, I would recommend the Gilmore Car Museum. It has something for everyone. They are always rotating exhibits. In 2021 they are adding a new muscle car exhibit. You can view their official website here. Check it out to see their upcoming events. Know of a car museum or car event I should go to next? Please send me a message and let me know! Don’t forget to subscribe to get an email when a new article comes out.

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An Introduction to the Barrett-Jackson Auction

              For years the name Barrett-Jackson has been synonymous with high-end collector car auctions. Established in 1971, the Barrett-Jackson Auction is one of America’s best-known collector car auctions, attracting bidders from all over the world. The Jackson part of Barrett-Jackson is baseball great Reggie Jackson, himself a classic car lover. Often associated with rare classic muscle cars that go for upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the multi-day event has a diverse array of cars from many different manufacturers, spanning decades and even a few brand new ones, although the majority tends to be classic American cars. Several charities are represented at the auctions as well, with the money raised from cars going to them. They range from custom hot rods, ultra-original classics, resto-mods, and a few late model European cars as well. Part of the excitement of the auction is wondering what will be driven across the stage next. Bidding takes place in person, online, or over the phone. There is often a lot of excitement and energy that goes along with the bidding. Although there have been many ultra high-cost cars there is a wide range in regards to price, lower prices tend to be around the $20,000 mark. There are multiple Barrett-Jackson auctions throughout the year in the U.S. They even have their own year-round classic car showroom with cars for sale. Their website also mentions there is an automotive memorabilia auction as well. You can view their official website here: https://azure.barrett-jackson.com.
A Ford GT at the Barrett Jackson Auction. Picture by Rbdesimone
                     The Classic Car Auction Goes Mainstream.
               Barrett-Jackson receives live multi-day television coverage that spans a large part of the day. It also features numerous celebrities from the car world and beyond. With expert commentators, it almost feels like a sports event. In April of 2018, the auction was held in Palm Springs, Florida. Under and above car cameras help capture the action. Viewers could learn about cars by simply watching the coverage as the commentators delved into detail about them. There have been several records set at Barrett-Jackson as well. For awhile the record for the most expensive U.S. vehicle ever sold was set at the auction. The GM Futurliner, a unique RV/Bus looking vehicle that was used on promotional tours for GM. April of 2018, at the auction’s Florida location actor Burt Reynolds, auctioned off 3 of his personal Trans Ams and appeared on stage. One of which was an ultra-low mile Indianapolis 500 Pace Car complete with lights on the roof.
A GM FuturLiner. Picture by Binelli2011
Collector Car Auction and Beyond
               Barrett Jackson is a big event, with a lot going on not even counting the auction. They have their own line of merchandise. The multi-day event extends far beyond the indoor auction house. There is a lot to see and do not even counting the auction itself. As their website shows they have a diverse array of vendors as well. You can learn more about them here: https://azure.barrett-jackson.com/Exhibitor/Home As more and more cars become collectible, it seems the Barett Jackson Auction will be as popular as ever
Site of a Barrett-Jackson auction in Florida. Picture by Brett Levin Photography.
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Guide to the NHRA’s Pro Classes.

            The NHRA or National Hot Rod Association is America’s largest drag racing sanctioning body. It was founded in 1951. Today it has several types of professional classes for cars and motorcycles. Some of which can trace their origin to the very early days of professional drag racing. Those classes have evolved and changed significantly over the years improving performance greatly.
Top Fuel Dragsters
The fastest class is the top fuel dragster. Also known as “rails” due to their long and narrow shape are capable of incredible speeds and acceleration. They have evolved over their 50 some year history, but one thing remains the same, going fast. They are characterized by their long narrow body and large back tires and skinny, almost bicycle like front wheels. The driver sits in front of the supercharged nitro-powered Hemi-V8. In place of a traditional steering wheel, there is an airplane yoke looking control. They have a single-speed system engagement. Depending on driver preference there may be a canopy covering the driver. It is common for dragsters to achieve speeds of over 320 mph.

A Top Fuel Dragster. Picture by clickphoto.

                                                              Top Fuel Funny Cars

Top fuel funny cars, easily recognizable by their lift-up bodies, share the same engine and drive system as the dragsters, although they bear more of a resemblance to a road-going car than a dragster. Their body is designed to maximize aerodynamics. The driver sits in the middle. Like dragsters, they have massive back tires to deal with the large amount of power they have.

A top fuel funny car. Picture by NaBUru38

Pro Stock
Pro Stock cars, also known as “door slammers” look more like a road-going car then funny cars. As their nickname suggests they have opening doors. They also have 5-speed manual transmissions and steering wheel that look like something similar to what is found in a road-going car. Unlike funny cars, the driver sits on the left side of the car. Until a few years ago they had large hoods scoops. They no longer have them giving them more of a production car appearance.

                                            

A pro stock car. Note the hood scoop. Picture by GSenkow.

                                              Pro Stock Motorcycle and Top Fuel Harley

One of the two main motorcycle classes in the NHRA is the pro stock motorcycles. They are powered either by a straight four or a v-twin engine. The manufacturers represented are Suzuki, Harley, and EBR. They sport a massive back tire which is the size of a car tire. Unlike the car classes, there is quite a bit of variation in the looks of the bikes. The Harleys, for example, do not have any bodywork covering their engine, much like their road-going bikes. It is common for a Pro Stock Motorcycle to reach speeds of over 195 mph. One of the most noticeable features of the bikes is their long wheelie bars.
Top Fuel Harley
A fairly new class is Top Fuel Harley. These bikes are unique in the fact that they have a parachute to help them slow down, much like other drag cars do to help deal with the higher speeds. This one-make class is modeled after Harley Davidson “baggers”, with large front fairings and they are powered by V-Twin engines using nitro.
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The 2018 PRI Show.

The 2018 PRI Show.
For my second year in a row, I attended the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show. A good way to describe the PRI show is a smaller version of SEMA, with a focus on the automotive racing and performance industry. Located in Indianapolis, Indiana it is an annual event for industry insiders and journalists. It is not open to the public. Given the size of the show, I was able to see a lot of new things this year. It takes up two large convention halls in downtown Indianapolis and stretches under a road and right up to the edge of the Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Indianapolis Colts play. Indianapolis is a natural location for the PRI Show. Indianapolis and its surrounding areas are home to many performance companies. This is due in no small part for many of them due to the proximity of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s not too far from Detroit either.

A Porsche 911 GT3 Race Car.
This year I went to a section I hadn’t been to last year. I was able to see the RV and trailer section, right on the side of Lucas Oil Stadium. On the way there the hallway that leads under the road to the stadium was lined on one side with a wide variety of race cars. One that caught my attention, in particular, was a Chevy drag car turned land speed record car. After this hallway was a room full of what was called featured products. The RV and trailer section was huge. It went right up to the endzone of the football field in the stadium. I got the chance to talk to many different vendors. By scanning the QR code on my badge, they could sign me up for an email list.

One of the many race cars on display.
The brands represented varied greatly in size. One of the largest no doubt being Ford. Their performance parts division was represented with several Mustangs and a twin turbo pickup that was styled after a race car. The Hoosier Tire company had brought its dirtbike and ATV tires. They even make tires for smaller dirt bikes. I was surprised to see they had entered that market. It’s a good looking tire, with white lettering that is popular with cars right now. Despite the size of the event, with the app, it was fairly easy to find where companies were located. There were companies from several different countries. There was also a sizable section of the show dedicated to CNC machines; several were running and giving live demonstrations. One of Parnelli Jones’ Indy cars was on display. I’m really looking forward to returning next year to see what new things are added.

An offroad racer.