Car Design as Art, Figoni & Falaschi

Car Design as Art, Figoni & Falaschi

I have always considered the “Golden Age” of car design to be the period of the 1920’s and 30’s.  Sure, the 1950’s were great, with the introduction of the fin, huge chrome grilles and the beginning of the rocket age look, but true custom car design was at its peak during the time of the great coachbuilders, and the most flamboyant of the lot were the French.

This was a time when you purchased a rolling chassis from an automaker like Duesenberg or Hispano Suiza, and then sent it off to a designer to create the bodywork.  Designers would build cars specifically for you, like having a haute couture dress made.  The result, were some of the most fantastic shapes to ever be placed on an automobile, and my favorite of the group was Figoni & Falaschi.

After World War I, Giuseppe Figoni started a small body repair shop in Boulogne-sur-Siene, France.  His work included modifying the coachwork of touring cars, and his business prospered.  By 1925, he was building complete bodies on rolling chassis purchased from automakers including Delahaye, Bugatti, Delage, and Panhard.  By 1935, he acquired a partner, Ovidio Falaschi, and created the Figoni & Falaschi name.  Fascinated by the emerging aircraft industry, he was influenced by the shapes of airplanes, and the wind.  Figoni’s designs gave the impression of movement, even when the cars were standing still, and had an aerodynamic quality that would not be prevalent until the 1950’s.  Figoni was fascinated with teardrop shapes, and his Delahaye 135, with its elliptical shapes and enclosed teardrop pontoon fenders created a sensation at the Paris Auto Show of 1936.

Figoni had a command of color and design that was worthy of an artist, and favored two and three tone paint designs that would accentuate the shapes.  He loved to work with designers of high fashion, creating gowns, hats, gloves, and shoes that perfectly matched the design and colors of his cars.  He was also involved in designing racing bodies, creating aerodynamic bodies for cars like the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300, a car that won the 1932 Le Mans, as well as other cars.

The creations of Figoni & Falaschi were flowing masterpieces, cars that the buyer wore like fine ball gowns, and a style whose closest relative today would be the Morgan Aeromax.  Their cars were an expression of freedom and movement, with enclosed wheels, and lines that made the cars float across the ground.

Figoni was an automotive sculptor who created patented designs for disappearing soft tops and even a disappearing sunroof.  The hallmark of the brand is the Talbot-Lago T150 C, a car whose teardrop shape, flush door handles, and sloping fastback became the symbol of French coachbuilders.  These cars were from a time when car design was true art.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos courtesy of Google Images and

Top 10 Most Innovative Cars of All Time

Top 10 Most Innovative Cars of All Time

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower – Steve Jobs

The automotive world is defined by its innovation.  Unusual, boring and popular cars are plentiful, but it is the truly innovative machines that are remembered.  This list of cars not only inspire, they were quantum shifts in the development of the automobile.  These are the cars that changed the world.

1908 – Ford Model T

The Model T was the first mass-produced automobile, making it one of the most important cars in US history.  This flimsy little car created the automotive industry, urbanized a nation, and gave mobility to the masses.  The manufacturing process that created the car was even more influential.  Almost every industry or market in the world can trace its roots back to the process refined by people like Henry Ford and Frederick Winslow Taylor.  When it finally ended production in 1927 with over 15 million cars sold, half the cars in the world were Model T’s.

1908 – Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost

Dubbed “The Best car in the World” by Autocar magazine, the Silver Ghost transformed luxury motoring as well as modern warfare.  The Silver Ghost had a significant role in the Turkish wars with Laurence of Arabia, Gallipoli, the Irish Civil War, World War I, the development of India, and was still in service during World War II.  Through its combat use, the Silver Ghost ushered in the era of mechanized warfare and virtually ended the days of the horse cavalry and artillery unit.  Most examples are still on the road today, and the earliest is worth an estimated $200 million dollars.

1922 – Austin Seven

This tiny car is genesis for the modern automobile.  The Seven borrowed the driver controls from the limited production Cadillac Type 53, and mass produced it throughout the world.  It was the first “people’s car” and the first production model for many major manufacturers.  The Austin Seven and its re-bodied siblings virtually gave birth to BMW in Germany, Nissan in Japan, Holden in Australia, Rosengart in France, and Lotus and Jaguar in England.

1938 – Volkswagen Beetle

The beetle has an amazing history.  It was designed by Ferdinand Porsche based on specifications made by Adolf Hitler.  It is one of the first rear-engine cars, with one of the first air-cooled engines, designed to travel at 100kph on Germany’s new Autobahn.  The Beetle is the longest running and most manufactured car of a single design platform, worldwide.  The production lasted 65 years, ending with 21.5 million cars in 2006 for Brazil and 2003 for Mexico.  The Beetle has had books and music written for it, has become an icon and a movie star, and was an inspiration to a generation.  Its namesake the “new” Beetle is still in production to this day.

1959 – BMC Mini

The Mini is an icon of the 1960’s.  Designed as a car for the masses, it is the first to use a transverse front-wheel drive layout.  It is the genesis for all modern front-wheel drive cars and spawned the hot hatch era.  The Mini was voted “Car of the Century” and produced over 100 variants in countries all over the world.  Not only is this little people carrier a great city car, the Mini has a stellar record as a race car, rally car and movie icon.

1955 – Citroen DS

Decades ahead of its time, the DS (Goddess) is one of the most celebrated designs in automotive history.  With its quirky scarab shape, hydraulic suspension, and turning headlights this car became a European icon that has consistently topped the “Most Beautiful” and “Most Important” lists throughout the world.  Whether it is the aerodynamic styling, the mechanical innovation or the pure space ship like design, every modern car on the road can trace its roots back to this automobile.  The DS shocked the world, and sold a record breaking 12,000 examples on its first day.  The list of its innovations to the automotive world would fill a book.  It is sculpture, art…it is a Goddess.

1961 – Jaguar E-Type

The E-Type is simply “The Most Beautiful Car Ever Created.”  The car is in the permanent design collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and has been an inspiration for everything from cars to clothes.  It is mesmerizing as a piece of art, and merely adequate as a car.

1966 – Lamborghini Miura

Designed by Marcello Gandini, this automotive icon is the world’s first supercar.  The Miura changed the conception of what a sports car could be, and introduced the world to a new level of motoring.  With its bull inspired design, its transversely mounted V12, and its lightning quick speed, this was the genesis for cars like the Pagani, the Bugatti Veyron, McLaren and the modern Ferrari.  The Miura launched Lamborghini and ushered in a period of amazing, outrageous supercar design.

1983 – Chrysler Minivan

The Dodge Caravan and its Chrysler siblings revolutionized the modern automobile.  Not only did it create the minivan market, it helped give birth to the SUV and crossover markets.  Arriving 18 months ahead of its only competitor, the Renault Espace, this vehicle became both an icon and joke to the American family.  Owning one was at first a sign of success, and a sign of “lost youth.”  The Minivan is now as much a part of the America family as the ranch home and the suburbs.

1997 – Toyota Prius

Just as the Model T and the Chrysler Minivan changed the world, so did the Toyota Prius.  The Prius was the first mass produced full hybrid electric vehicle in the world.  It became a status symbol in America when first introduced, and remains one of the cleanest vehicles sold in the US.  Like the Model T and the Volkswagen Beetle, the Prius is a major step in the evolution of the automobile.

For more motoring info, visit

Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos Courtesy of,,,,, and wikipedia

Layla – The Boat Tail Riviera

Layla – The Boat Tail Riviera


I tried to give you consolation…When your old man had let you down. Like a fool, I fell in love with you, Turned my whole world upside down. – Eric Clapton

This past week I decided to buy a new toy.  I found a beautiful 1972 Buick Riviera Boat Tail on Craigslist, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to own an iconic classic and an appreciating collector automobile.

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The Riviera is rare, with only 31,557 examples originally built, and the design was overseen by none other than Bill Mitchell (55-57 Chevy BelAir, 63 Corvette Split Window, 63-72 Buick Riviera).  .  Its flowing lines are immediately identifiable, and the boat tail design is unique in modern automotive styling.  Finding a decent one for sale is like discovering a unicorn.


Originally I was on the fence about buying a car the size of a English Channel ferry boat, but a twist of fate forced my hand.  During a conversation with my website designer/SEO guy name Brian, I discovered that the actual car I was buying was one he and his friend owned in high school.  The seller was his best friend, and the two worked on the car, made the upgrades and know every detail about the cars history.  It is a small world, and knowing that there was that connection made me believe I could be safe in taking the chance on the car.


The Riviera is beautiful, in a slightly ungainly way.  Mine is painted a Subaru WRX blue, and sports raised white lettered tires and Cragar SS rims.  Inside, the car is equipped with a front 60/40 split bench seat done in black with white leather inserts.  The previous owner had redone all of the body issues, added new carpets, and added a few cool chrome Edelbrock upgrades under the hood.  These upgrades made the engine shine and probably added a ton more horses to the stable.   It also has cherry bomb mufflers, and sounds like a true muscle car.  Once I started it up, I was hooked.

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The body is in excellent shape, with no rust or dent issues.  The paint is older, and pretty poorly done, with lots of orange peel and a few areas of dripping and waving.  The interior is also in good shape, with only the driver’s seat having issues, while the rest of the interior is un-molested.

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Driving the car is an experience.  The engine starts right up, and settles into a smooth idle after a few moments.  The cherry bombs on the exhaust give the car a mean growl, and every time you step on the gas, you expel a little more of the rear tire rubber.  Speed was never on the list of goals for the Riviera, but it still manages an impressive 0-60 in close to 8 seconds, which is not bad for a 19 foot long, two and a half ton behemoth.  With the upgrades to the engine, the car is now much faster, which means it is a challenge to drive.  The steering is like guiding a ship though a series of hard turns.  The steering feel is not only loose, it feels disconnected from the car.  When it does finally turn, the whole side dips and rolls like an aircraft carrier in high seas.  One major fault is the seats, which have no lateral support whatsoever.  On even the slightest turn, you often find yourself in the passenger seat.


Of course, now that I own the car, I need to figure out what to do with her.  Originally I had grand ideas of transforming her into the ultimate Grand Tourer.  I wanted to repaint her in a dark gray metallic and have the top section, that includes the roof, boat tail and the center of the hood, sprayed a slightly lighter color.  The interior was to be a medium saddle color, and the carpeted rear shelf under the massive rear window was to be transformed into a mahogany wood floor, much like a classic yacht.  I wanted to lower her by 2 inches, enough to highlight the lines without making her into a slammed custom.  I also wanted to add larger lower profile tires and larger chrome mag rims that would suggest a more refined hot rod look.  Finally, I wanted to cut the middle section of the bumper to highlight the full grill and make it a split bumper car, and add a center body colored fin in the center of the rear window, á la the 1963 Corvette Stingray Split Window Coupe.


In reality, I probably won’t get a chance to do any of these things.  If I decide to flip the car for profit, then it would make sense to see if the blue paint can be salvaged, either with a light re-spray or a color sanding and clearcoat.  One thing I will keep are the blue LED lights under the front grille – the same lights I have on my motorcycle.


In the interim, I have named her “Layla”, which means ”night”, or “dark beauty”.  I will continue to pilot her through the neighborhood scaring small children and wildlife, and have the time of my life playing with my new toy.


Of course, I want to hear from you…write me a comment and let me know what you think of Layla, and share any ideas you have on how to customize her.  I am always looking for cool design tips.



Article by Chris Raymond

Photos by Chris Raymond, Google Images, and

The Rake of the Riviera

The Rake of the Riviera

In the United States, the automobile is synonymous with one name, Ford.  In the rest of the world, that name is Agnelli.  Rather than spend this week discussing the latest supercar, or who won at Pebble Beach, I am going to focus on an Italian iconoclast, Giovanni (Gianni) Agnelli.


Agnelli was the namesake to Giovanni Agnelli, the founder of Fiat S.p.A. and heir to the Fiat fortune.  Fiat is an Italian conglomerate, founded in 1899.  Besides being the carmaker who bought us the 500, the iconic Italian mini car, they are (or have been) the owners of brands like Maserati, Ferrari, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Chrysler, Autobianchi, Innocenti, Piaggio, Vespa, Simca, SEAT, and Iveco trucks.  In addition to vehicles, Fiat owns companies as diverse as Case Tractors, Alitalia, the newspaper La Stampa, Olivetti, and a slew of other companies making everything from weapons to pharmaceuticals, and from railcars to aircraft.  At one time, Fiat owned substantial shares of Edison, Rockefeller Center, Chase, and even Club Med.


Fiat, which is older than Ford by 4 years, was a major force in both European and Italian markets.  At one time Fiat employed over 500,000 people, and controlled 4.4% of Italy’s GDP, 3.1% of its industrial workforce and a massive 16.5% of its industrial investment in research.  He was the richest man in modern Italian history.  At one time, Agnelli controlled more than one-quarter of the Italian stock exchange, a control unparalleled on any world stock market.  It is amazing to me how much power can come from just making cars.


Agnelli’s life was one of finance and hedonistic fantasy, with himself as the company chairman, and the Italian playboy.  Married to a half-American, half-Neapolitan noblewoman, he was known for his pursuit of beautiful women and sports cars.  His affairs included actresses Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr, “La Dolce Vita” star Anita Eckberg, among others.  One of the more salacious stories is of an affair with Jacqueline Kennedy, before she married Aristotle Onassis.  The rumor includes the allegation that John F. Kennedy Jr. was actually his illegitimate son.

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Agnelli was also a major trendsetter in fashion.  Esquire magazine named him as one of the five best dressed men in the history of the world.  He was famous for introducing the spread collar shirt, and the loosened off-kilter tie.  He wore exquisite Italian suits with hiking boots, and had a peculiar habit of wearing his watch over his wrist cuff.  His nickname was “The Rake of the Riviera” and was popular enough to inspire a classic menswear magazine called “The Rake.”  His love of fast cars almost killed him…twice.  Once he drove his Ferrari into a tree and wrecked his legs, then he drove it into the rear of a meat truck.


Fiat and its other entities moved the world.  The company built a huge plant in the former Soviet Union which became the linchpin of Soviet auto production.  He once sold 10% of the company to Libya, making Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi a partner in the business.  This move forced Libya to spend money it would have used for weapons, and also strengthened the failing Soviet leadership with Libyan investments.


Agnelli also changed Fiat over the years.  He admired the American automakers modern methods of manufacturing, and copied them at Fiat plants.  He built better and larger cars for the European market, and overtook Volkswagen as the continent’s largest seller of cars.  He improved on quality, and reversed Fiat’s reputation of “Fix it again, Tony.”  Agnelli diversified Fiat, a move that saved the business more than once.  He linked Fiat with General Motors in 2000 with the provision that GM buy out Fiat by 2004.  It was a move eventually cost GM $2.9 billion to escape.


Over the years Agnelli developed a close group of friends that included the Kennedys, Fords and the royal houses of Europe and members of the Politburo.  Other friends were a diverse group, and included Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, the Clintons, Fidel Castro, Nixon, Reagan, de Gaulle, Onassis, and Winston Churchill.

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He also partnered on many US ventures.  He was on the board of General Electric and Chase Bank, and owned a major part of Rockefeller Center in New York.  He was also a member of the Bilderberg Group, the shadowy secret society that supposedly runs the world.  Gianni Agnelli’s life and death was like a Puccini opera.  He died in 2003 at age 81, on the same day that his family was to gather to argue about his will and legacy.  He was a symbol of Italy’s postwar renaissance, a country where the rule was “Agnelli is Fiat, Fiat is Turin; and Turin is Italy.”


What does this have to do with cars?  Everything.  The history of the automobile is not just cars; it’s also the people behind the scenes…the designers, the owners, the marketing people.  Agnelli is an icon who accomplished great things, and his life is interesting to anyone who loves history.  For the gearhead, his life story should be required reading, because of his connection to some of the greatest marques in history, and also because it shows how one little car company changed the world.


Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos Courtesy of,,,,,,,
Cars Found on eBay

Cars Found on eBay

eBay and Craigslist are the best places to look at cars you have no intention of buying.   This is a good thing, because many of the cars are hiding more problems than you could ever afford to fix, and some even have stolen VIN tags.   Occasionally, there are some interesting finds, and today we are focusing on four cars representing the life of the de Tomaso brand.

de Tomaso Automobili SpA is an Italian car company founded in 1959 by Alejandro de Tomaso and is the product of another race car driver who wanted to build cars.  Over the years, the company purchased the Ghia and Vignale design studios, the car makers Maserati and Innocenti, and the Benelli and Moto Guzzi motorcycle brands.  De Tomaso also partnered with Ford to create the popular Pantera, and Qvale for the Qvale Mangusta.

De Tomaso suffered from a long history of marriages that went bad and was responsible for more than its share of atrocious cars.  A look back over the years will bring up embarrassments like the Biturbo, a car that ruined the Maserati name, Shamal and Ghibli II, which were desperate redo’s of the Biturbo, the obscene Chrysler TC Maserati and the hideous Dodge 024 de Tomaso.

Today, however, things are much better.  Maserati is again producing cars that live up to its heritage and de Tomaso was recently purchased by a former Fiat executive with plans to bring back the marque.   So, on that happy note here are my four picks of the week:

1969 de Tomaso Mangusta

Known more for its design than its quality, this Mangusta is one of 401 made and about 200 left on the roads.  This car is completely restored and is fitted with a new 302 cubic inch racing motor.  Everything on this car looks perfect and can be yours for about $55,000.

1972 de Tomaso Longchamp

Built as a coupe version of the Deauville, which was aimed at the Jaguar XJ series, it sports another Ford V8 and is one of only 395 coupes produced from 1974 to 1989.  It was a true Grand Touring car, rare but unpopular, and styled somewhere between a Mercedes and a Lancia.

1973 de Tomaso GTS Pantera

This was the George Clooney of the family.  Anyone with money who wanted an Italian car with American muscle bought a Pantera, and for much less than a Ferrari or Lamborghini.  Ford V8 power, Ghia wedge design and sold through Ford, some 6 thousand plus were made until 1993.  Later examples started to lose their Italian looks, becoming more like Batman rejects and shark-nosed kit cars.   This was the car of rock stars and rich delinquents and eBay is loaded with both good and bad examples.  This particular one is fully restored and for sale at 65,000.

1996 de Tomaso Guara

This is the car that replaced the Pantera, and the last project of founder Alejandro de Tomaso.  One of only 50 in the world and powered by a Cobra 4.6 liter V8, this car is the last of the breed.  Based on the Maserati Barchetta, it has a true formula one Indy car suspension, the looks of a squashed Mazda, and is offered at 100,000 dollars.

Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

Style and Hollywood

Style and Hollywood

Only fashion fades, style remains the same – Coco Chanel

Steve McQueen and his Ferrari Lusso

Recently I was looking at one of those celebrity car sites, and was struck by the fact that none of the people listed were famous.  Everyone on the site was a “wanna be” rapper, a Z-list reality star, or a drugged out bad girl.  Every picture had them either standing next to a “murdered out” Bentley, that was obviously leased, or some poor Lamborghini with 24” rims.  It looked tawdry.


Why we need to see a crotch shot of Lindsey Lohan in some cheap Mercedes, or Kim Kardashian stumbling out of a Range Rover is beyond me.  The whole site was a waste of time, and while looking at it, one thought hit me like a pimp cup to the skull:  Style is dead in Hollywood…Boyee!


Hollywood has always been a place of dreams, but now those dreams seem like a bad acid trip.  It’s the home of fake breasts, bad facelifts, and now matte black cars.  There is a whole cottage industry that supplies faux stars with tacky hyped up faux cars and garish rims. What passes for style is the latest Ed Hardy shirt, Jersey Shore fashions, and Lady Gaga inspired costumes.  The cars are even worse, with Lime Green Lamborghini’s, Blinged out Hummers, and ruined Phantoms dressed in Alcantara.


charleton Heston in 66 Jag e type

Once upon a time, in the Golden Age of Hollywood, stars were icons that were the epitome of style and fashion.  Men like Cary Grant, wearing a Jack Taylor suit and driving a custom Cord could stop traffic, and women like Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo could silence a room simply by entering.  Cars were an important part of this image, and the words style and Hollywood were once synonymous.

Everything in Hollywood was created by the studio, including image, fashion, and hairstyles.  Celebrities drove cars that matched the status of their stardom.  Clark Gable had several Duesenbergs, Mae West had a custom 1932 Cadillac Series 40 V16 Town car, Marlene Dietrich had a custom Cadillac, and Al Jolson had an amazing Mercedes 500K.  Sometimes the car was so integral to the image, they became almost as famous, like Jack Benny and his Maxwell, and Jayne Mansfield and her pink Lincoln.  The list of celebrities with magnificent cars extends right up to the 1960’s, including Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra with their Facel Vega’s, Carroll O’Connor and his Maserati 3500, and my two favorites:  Steve McQueen and his Ferrari Lusso, and James Coburn with his Ferrari California Spyder.

Hollywood today has nothing to offer except a quick shot of David Beckham in some hip-hop Mercedes, or Tom Hanks in a Chevy Tahoe.  It is not the same, and even a shot of Heidi Klum in her white Bentley Continental GTC only reminds us about the style that is missing.

Alan Flusser, author and men’s clothing designer said it best: “People dress by looking at other people.  There is no style anymore, and no one to look to for guidance.”  In my opinion, stars, like those of the Golden Age will never return to Hollywood, unless true style returns first.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos courtesy of DUB Publishing and Google Images

The Best Car in the World

The Best Car in the World

Ever since I was young, I have always wanted to own a Rolls-Royce.  There was always something about the grill and mascot that made me nuts, and one day soon, I plan to make good on my promise and finally become a Rolls-Royce owner.  Here then, are two of my favorites: Silver Shadow and Corniche.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow was introduced in 1965, and produced in one form or another until 1980.  This is the most successful Rolls-Royce ever made, with over 38,000 cars built.  The line included three sister cars, Corniche, Silver Wraith, and Camargue, with the Corniche remaining in production until 1996.

The car replaced the aging Silver Cloud, and originally named the Silver Mist (until they discovered that “mist” is a German word for manure).  It was designed by John Polwhele Blatchley, who was the same man that designed the Silver Dawn, Silver Cloud, and the engine cowling on the British fighters, Hurricane and Spitfire.

The car featured a V8, first with 172hp, and then with 189hp, just enough to waft gently down the motorway.  The Rolls-Royce R engine once held the world speed record on land, in the air, and on water.  In fact, Rolls-Royce now builds nuclear reactors for Astute class nuclear submarines, which never require refueling.  One of the main features of the car was a self-leveling hydraulic suspension licensed from Citroen, which gave the Rolls-Royce its famous ride.

The Rolls-Royce is the only car foretold by Nostradamus (1548), “From Albion’s shore shall come a marvelous conveyance, a carriage silincieux (silent) bearing the arms of Rolles De Roi.”  It is said that 6 out of 10 Rolls-Royce cars built are still roadworthy, and that a Rolls-Royce never breaks down, it “fails to proceed.”  The Rolls-Royce is so quiet; sometimes the only way to tell if it is running is to feel heat on the bonnet.  It is also famous for its advertisement that stated, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock,” partly because of an excessively loud clock, and partly because of the extra sound insulation.

Of course, the grill is one of the most prominent parts of the automobile, and it takes a full day to build it, by hand and eye, without the use of measuring devices.  The mascot is technically called the “Spirit of Ecstasy” and sculpted by Charles Robinson Sykes, using the mistress of the Second Lord Montague of Beaulieu as a model.  It has changed several times over the years, including a kneeling version for the USA made, Springfield MA built cars.  No two are alike.  Affectionately known as “Nellie in her Nighty,” or the “Flying Lady,” the statue is the crown jewel on the car.

Leather inside the car is from Connelly, and chosen from mature bulls raised in areas without barbed wired fences, so there are no marks on the hides.  The animals are kept in conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible, to reduce stress.  A total of 15-18 cows must sacrifice themselves just for one interior.  The interior wood is usually burled walnut or Carpathian Elm, at least 100 years old and chosen specifically for the grain.  Veneers are from a single tree, and the grain is book matched, the right and left grain structures are mirror images of each other.

Rolls-Royce is “The Best Car in the World,” due to its attention to quality, technology, and choice of materials.  There is nothing else that even comes close to it.  Not many people in the world will ever own one, but for the price of a new Mazda 3, you can find an excellent “pre-owned” example for your collection.  No other car matches the style or class of a Rolls-Royce motorcar.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond
Photos courtesy of,,, and Google images

The President on Wheels – Part II

The President on Wheels – Part II

This is the continuation of the post “Presidents on Wheels” that I thought would be perfect for July 4th.  It seems to have gotten out of hand, and I am forced to turn it into a two part series.  This final section will start with John F. Kennedy and the beginning of the “modern age” of presidential limousines, and go right up through Barack Obama.

This first limousine is the most infamous of all.  It is named the SS-100-X, and was built for John F. Kennedy.  This 1961 Lincoln Continental stretch limousine, built by Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati, was the car the president was riding in when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963.  More information has been published about this car, than any other government or presidential vehicle in history, and because of the conspiracy theories, that interest is sure to continue for a long, long time.

The Continental was designed by Elwood Engel, and originally intended as the 1961 Ford Thunderbird.  This would mark the last time a single individual was completely responsible for the design of a production car.  The original concept was enlarged and slightly altered, before being switched to the Lincoln line by Robert S. McNamara.  McNamara, the new Ford president, wanted to kill off the Lincoln brand because the previous model years were unpopular.  He was convinced to re-invent the Lincoln line with this new model.  Within five weeks of becoming the first Ford president not from the Henry Ford family, he became the US Secretary of Defense, serving both Kennedy and Johnson.

The SS-100-X was a beautiful Navy blue color, and equipped with a slew of special equipment.  It had a removable plastic clear “bubbletop,” with leather covers, and a more formal covered removable roof.  The car sported a leather interior in light and dark blue, with lap blankets mounted on the doors.

It also had a rear seat that could be raised up to 10 inches and retractable steps for the Secret Service.  None of the important parts of the car were armored, and the bubbletop itself was only ¼” thick plastic.  It was a stunning car for the president, and had a certain clean appearance that defined the 1960’s.

Of course, all this changed after the assassination, and the car was remodeled for use up until 1977.  The remodel included fixing a permanent roof on the car, more armoring and eventually a more somber black paint job.  The car is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

On a side note, I have to say that I have always been intrigued by the assassination and associated conspiracy theories.  I was lucky to know two people that were heavily involved in the events of that day, and spent hours talking to them about the assassination.  One person was seated in a car in the motorcade.  His duties led him to act as a communications liason from Parkland Hospital that day.

The other was the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jack Anderson, known best for being the target of an assassination attempt by President Nixon’s White House.  He had investigated many theories about the Kennedy killing, and provided me with a lot of great knowledge.  It was a tragic day in history, and I doubt the actual truth will come out for many, many years.  If you are interested in this matter, feel free to contact me by email, so we can discuss it.

Moving on, we get to the Johnson administration, which used several cars for the president.  First, he had several Cadillac’s while the SS-100-X was being refurbished.  Then, according to one source, he had three 1965 Lincoln Continental limousines, which may have actually been the earlier cars refurbished with updated bodies.

LBJ also had a 1964 Buick Electra 225, and a 1964 Cadillac limousine, the latter was sold to Liberace.  At the ranch, LBJ had an odd group of cars, including a 1934 Ford Phaeton for hunting, which was equipped with a metal plate to prevent damage while going over rough terrain, and a bar with running water.

Others included a 1915 American LaFrance Fire Truck, and an Amphicar, an amphibious vehicle that he would drive into the lake while pretending to his terrified visitors that “the brakes had failed” and “the car would sink.”  Lastly, he had a tiny Fiat Jolly 500 Ghia, many golf carts, and a small cart towed by his two donkeys “Soup” and “Noodles.”

Richard Nixon used a 1969 Lincoln Continental Limousine, called the SS-800X, and created by Lehmann-Peterson.  The car had two tons of bulletproofing, and windows thicker than any used in fighter planes.  Originally delivered to Johnson, the new car was upgraded to include a clear, hinged hatch, used by Nixon to stand up during parades.

Nixon also ordered a 1972 Lincoln limousine, which arrived in 1974 and was used by Ford, Carter and Reagan.  The Lincoln, which was upgraded during its life, was the car that protected both Presidents Ford and Reagan from would-be assassins’ bullets.

During a 1975 assassination attempt by Sara Jane Moore in San Francisco, Secret Service agents pushed President Gerald Ford into this massive 13,000-pound Lincoln and to safety. Six years later, and now decorated to look like a 1978 Town Car model, the Secret Service used this car again as a safe haven after John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.

Powered by a 460-cubic inch V8, this was the last presidential limousine equipped with roof openings through which the president could stand.

President Reagan also had two 1983 Cadillac Fleetwood limousines made by Hess & Eisenhardt.  The new cars featured a raised roof to provide more visibility for the president, and created a visual profile that made the car very unique.  One of these cars was actually used in the Clint Eastwood movie “In the Line of Fire” and the other is at the Ronald Reagan Presidential library.

George H.W. Bush returned to Lincoln for his limousine, requesting a custom-built stretch 1989 Town Car.  The car came equipped with a smaller raised roof and a large rear-panel glass area, as well as the engine from an F-250 truck.

President Bill Clinton switched back to Cadillac, with his new 1993 Fleetwood version.  Again, this new car came with a raised roof and larger glass area for viewing the president, as well as touches like Zebrano wood accents, black paint, and a 454 engine designed by Roush Engineering.  Several identical vehicles were delivered to the White House for service, and one is in the Clinton Presidential Library.

That car would be the last presidential car to be retired after service, and all future models would be used in security testing and probably destroyed.  One car was never in service, though, and recently sold to a private party at a Barrett Jackson auction.

In 2001, George W. Bush continued the Cadillac tradition with his new Deville Presidential limousine, which was then replaced with a 2005 DTS model.  These cars began the trend towards the massive rolling vaults that are today’s presidential limousine.  The vehicles are actually trucks, bodied to resemble a current Cadillac model, weighing 15,000 pounds, and powered by heavy-duty truck engines.  The glass alone is 5 inches thick, so thick it actually blocks out part of the light spectrum.  It is rumored that the rear compartment is self-contained, with its own air supply and special security features.

Finally, we come to “The Beast,” built for Barack Obama.  The new president’s car dwarfs even the massive Bush limo.  The weight is much heavier (possibly 10 tons), and the chassis is rumored to be that of a TopKick medium duty truck.  It is rumored to be diesel powered, and uses pieces from the latest version of the Cadillac Escalade SUV.

The entire car is covered in a minimum of 5 inches of steel along the sides, uses night vision technology, and carries defensive weaponry.  The rear portion of the car is sealed, and only the president has controls to lower the divider.  There is even a panic button in his seat, for him to summon help (sounds silly but true) and the car seats only four passengers, rather than the standard six.

The rear doors weighs about the same as the cabin door of a Boeing 757 jetliner, and the only window that can be opened is the drivers, by three inches, in case he needs to pay a toll (When does Obama need to stop and pay a toll?) or talk to other agents.  The body of the car is made up of a mixture of steel, titanium and ceramic for ballistic protection.  There is an oxygen system, a supply of the president’s blood, a few handy shotguns, and tear gas cannons.  The car also has a fire fighting system, and the standard Wi-Fi, 10-disk CD changer, and phone systems that make it a Cadillac.

Some rumored secrets are that the vehicle uses equipment based on the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles used in Iraq, and that it has a 5 inch steel V-shaped hull underneath.  One thing is for sure, the car is massive and almost threatening in appearance.  Check out the photo of the doors and you can see the multiple lock systems that secure the door like a bank vault.  President Obama said he originally asked for a hybrid, but was told that even the best available hybrid powertrain would never be able to move the car forward. As far as limousines go, this is one hell of a ride.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos courtesy of Google Images, Getty Images, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Dave’s Classic Limousine Pictures

The President on Wheels – Part I

The President on Wheels – Part I

In the spirit of the 4th of July, I decided to repost this look at the most famous of all government cars, the presidential limousine.  Most people have seen a presidential motorcade on television, and recognized it as a powerful symbol of the presidency.  I have been lucky enough to see many of them up close and personal, attending inaugural events dating back to Jimmy Carter.  I have always been fascinated by the changes in the president’s limousine through the years, and enjoyed watching the fight between Cadillac and Lincoln over who will make the next car.  Since this post seems to grow every time I look at it, I will print it in two sections, following up with the “modern” era.

FDR’s 1939 Lincoln “Sunshine Special”

The presidential limousine is a tradition, as well as a security necessity that can trace it roots back to the Penn coach of 1771, used by George Washington.  This coach, led by a team of six horses, was perfect for Martha, but proved too aristocratic for the next president’s tastes.  John Adams, who was the first to establish a “State Carriage” for use by the president, required something more austere, drawn by only two horses, and lacking the painted panels and coat of arms.  In spite of this, his coach cost a hefty $1,500.00, not including another $1,000.00 for the two horses named Caesar and Cleopatra.

George Washington’s coach at Mount Vernon

When Thomas Jefferson became president, he used a phaeton carriage to set the precedent of parading down Pennsylvania Avenue after the inaugural.  James Madison had two coaches built, only to have Dolly complain about the quality, thereby forcing him to return one back to the manufacturer.  President Andrew Jackson had a coach built from the timbers of “Old Ironsides,” but never used a carriage during either inaugural.

Abraham Lincoln’s Carriage

Abraham Lincoln’s carriage, used on the night he went to Ford’s Theatre, was purchased by the Studebaker Brothers, and is now part of their museum along with the carriages of Grant, Harrison, and McKinley.  Speaking of Grant, he was the only president arrested while in office.  He was stopped and arrested by a black police officer for “speeding” his horses through the streets of Washington.  He complimented the officer, paid the $20.00 fine, and was forced to walk back to the White House on foot.  Grant, whose name is Hiram Ulysses Grant (the S was given to him by an Army clerical error) was the first man ever to run for president against a woman.

Lincoln’s Funeral Cortege (That’s Teddy Roosevelt and his brother Elliott in the 2nd floor window at age 6)

In 1899, William McKinley was the first president to ride in a motorcar, a steam carriage made by F.O. Stanley.  Though Grover Cleveland was president when Frank Duryea made the first American gas powered motor vehicle, he never rode in it, and it was not until President Warren G. Harding’s inaugural that a sitting president rode in a vehicle to an important event.  Harding also liked to go camping in a custom-made Lincoln “cook” car with his pals Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford, John Burroughs and Thomas Edison, and once lost all the White House china in a single hand of cards.

President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt

William Howard Taft transformed the White House stables into a garage, allotted $25,000.00 for the purchase of vehicles, and hired George H. Robinson to be the first presidential chauffeur.  Besides becoming president, Taft was the former Governor-General of the Philippines, Secretary of War, and eventual Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.  Taft was the first president to own a car at the White House, and the first president to throw out the pitch to begin the professional baseball season.  His first purchase for the White House fleet was a White Steamer, followed by two Pierce Arrows and finally a Baker Electric Runabout, which became a favorite of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.

President Taft in 1908 Cadillac

Wilson used the cars left over by Taft during his time as president.  After leaving office, he was given a Rolls Royce for his use, complete with the Princeton colors (Orange and Black) and a Princeton tiger radiator cap.

Woodrow Wilson’s “Princeton” Rolls Royce

Calvin Coolidge was an odd duck.  He had only five cars assigned to the White House garage, all Pierce Arrows, and never allowed any to travel faster than 16 miles per hour.  His oath of office was performed twice, the first in his father’s house, by his own father, who was a Justice of the Peace.  He refused to use a telephone while in the White House, and was famous for being a quiet man.  Once at a dinner party, a young woman said to him “I bet I can get three words out of you before the night is through.”  His response was a simple “You Lose.”

President Wilson’s Pierce Arrow

Herbert Hoover was strange in a different way from Coolidge.  He was the only president to have a non-white Vice President (Kaw Indian) and was a prominent humanitarian.  He and his wife spoke fluent Chinese, often, and he was one of two presidents to donate his salary to charity.  Hoover allowed his son to keep two pet alligators that had a tendency to wander the White House rooms, and after he left office, Hoover took a four month road trip across the west.

President Hoover’s 1932 Cadillac V16 Fleetwood Imperial

Franklin Roosevelt’s first limousine was actually owned by Al Capone, who lost it during his tax evasion trial.  His first “purpose built” limousine was dubbed the “Sunshine Special” due to the top always being in the down position.  This 1939 Lincoln was a V12, and fully armored by the Brunn Company of Buffalo NY.

FDR’s Limousine

The Secret Service required the armoring due to an assassination attempt on Roosevelt in 1933, which killed the Mayor of Chicago.  Roosevelt also used several armored Packard Limousines and two V16 Cadillac Limousines dubbed Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Franklin, who was forced to wear a dress by his mother until 5 years old, was related to 11 other presidents, and the only president to serve four terms.

“Sunshine Special”

Harry S Truman disliked GM, so when it came time to replace the old Sunshine Special, he went to Ford.  Ford delivered ten specially built 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitans to the White House, all armored, one a convertible, and all with added headroom for “high silk hats.”  The passenger compartment had gold plated metal fixtures, and the three and a half ton cars were powered by only 152 meager horses.

1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan “Bubbletop” limousine (Queen Elizabeth II, President Eisenhower, Prince Phillip)

Dwight D. Eisenhower increased the White House garage to 37 vehicles, and converted the Lincoln convertible into a bubbletop by adding a plastic roof over the rear portion of the car. Eisenhower, who once hurt himself trying to tackle Jim Thorpe in football, was the only president to be a private pilot, the first to travel in a helicopter, and the first to submerge in a nuclear submarine.

1952 Chrysler Imperial Presidential Parade Limousine

For most, the “modern” era of presidential motoring begins with John F. Kennedy.  I will continue on with this list in my next post.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos courtesy of searching through Google Images for hours

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard

“I am big, it’s the pictures that got small.” – Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard

Recently, while spending a rainy day watching old movies, I was reminded of a great automotive icon that is rarely spoken of today.

Classic Wood

Classic Wood

What type of car do you think is a Woody Is it the Wagon Queen Family Truckster from the movies with its “metallic pea” paint and its sheets of fake wood? A beach buggy complete with surfboard? Something that can’t be discussed on a family website? For me, a New Englander, the Woodie brings to mind a great 1930’s station wagon driving up a quiet road in Vermont, the brightly colored leaves reflecting off the golden wood beams.

Woodies are known throughout the world by many different names, such Woody, Woodie, Beachwagon, Estate Car, Shooting Brake, or Brake de Chasse. They’re basically wagons with the rear section of the car made of woods like Ash and Mahogany. The beauty of each detail in these cars are amazing. Finger Joints on boards that are wrapped around the shape of a door, or the sanding and varnish work on the inside roof are as magnificent as any work by Stradivarius. The color of the wood varies with each individual make or restorer. Creating the finished product is an art, and restoring pieces of wood to match the originals is almost a miracle.

Woodies have been around since the dawn of the automobile when many bodies were created using aluminum and steel with wood bolted onto the frame. Railroads used these cars for the transport of customers and luggage because they were inexpensive, giving the cars the name “station wagon.”

Woodies were usually base cars with few options, but as the popularity grew, many luxury car brands created their own versions. In Europe, classic coachbuilders like Franay and Henri Labourdette worked in wood creating “skiff” and “torpedo cars” with boat-like lines on the chassis made by companies like Rolls-Royce, Renault, Panhard and Delahaye.

By the end of the 50’s, most Woodies were discontinued, with the remaining being created by third-party coachbuilders. New automobile regulations and improved body designs forced the end of the true Woodies, and replaced them with “faux” cars with plastic beams and sheeting. Except for a brief period during the “retro” phase recently, the days of the Woodie are over. People who really need to have the look can still buy kits for everything from a PT Cruiser to a Smart car, but I don’t think there are many cars today that would benefit from 1930’s-style wood paneling.

Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

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