Calistoga Picayune News

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Heap of the Week 1
1952 Flxible Motor Coach Conversion
Kurt Larrecou - Automotive Editor 
"The Flxible Bus first built in 1937, for National Park tourists was always striving for the future as they continued refining their products as shown in this 1952 model that is featured in the Picayune this week.



The post -war production model depicted was designed by savvy engineers for style and structural utility with a light weight mono coupe body that emulated speed and comfort while sitting still, on the highway's it looked flashy and fast.

The were considered to be the DC3 of Buses with a light weight low slung body mounted by shock absorbers to the frame and powered by a screaming two-stroke Detroit 471 diesel engine equipped with a supercharger and a Spicer 5 speed manual gearbox.

The rear mounted engine was on rails to service the engine by sliding out of the body.
The luggage was kept in the back compartment instead of underslung side compartments of other manufactures.

The bus featured a top rear roof air intake for engine and cooling which resembled the P51 air intake scoop which was also supercharged.

These buses have now become the "Cat's Meow" and are restored and licensed as Recreation Vehicles in many different configurations including big block V-8 power and Allison automatic trans for speed and performance.

The inside compartments are also designed to the owners needs and wishes as they may require.




The example featured here is a mancave, for consumption of various forms of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

The two stealthy stewardess's are probably mostly for look's and are not required to operate the vehicle but may help with the recreation of the owner and passengers "

Thanks' for Looking...
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Heap of the Week 2
Pictorial Essay: 26 Very Rare and Stunning American Cars

Posted on 21st December 2014 by Stucky in Economy
automobiles, rare American cars
Let’s get this out of the way, #1. Yes, this is a very long article (6,600 words) … depending on how you look at it. Instead of one long article, think of it as 26 separate articles. Just skip the cars that don’t appeal to you, and read the ones you like.
Let’s get this out of the way, #2. The information here was often very difficult to verify. That’s right, hard as it might be to believe that such a thing is possible on the Internet …. but, the data might be wrong! For example, regarding the 1970 Plymouth Superbird, one expert with good credentials says only 58 were produced with the Hemi engine … while another equally qualified expert says the number is 135. Such disparate information occurred rather frequently. So, I often take a “best guess” …. this is just a blog article and I’m not going to spend endless hours just to “be right”.

Let’s get this out of the way, #3. I left out MANY rare cars in this essay. First, there were over 1,000 auto companies in the USA between 1896-1930. Second, during WWII there was a production freeze … the auto industry says there were 139 cars built in 1943 and 610 built in 1944. So, just from those two examples, it is clear there are a LOT of rare American cars. I couldn’t possibly begin to include them all. If I missed one of your favorite vehicles, please add to the conversation and post it.
(Complete list of defunct USA automobile manufacturers) —-
By “rare” I generally mean low volume (under 500 units) production cars — cars built for consumers to buy. But, I made exceptions. For example, “prototype / concept” cars are by definition “rare”. Here also, there are very many prototypes, and I only include a few. (Concept cars are truly fascinating so, I plan on doing a separate concept-car essay in the future.)
Also, a key question hinges on how a “production” car is defined. Does it have to be an established manufacturer …. or some fledgling that did a pilot, sold a few cars and then collapsed? Should they include models that were produced in very low numbers just because they were flops … such as the Edsel? There are countless production car variants that ended up being produced in very small numbers. Is a modification (high performance engine, paint scheme, etc.) of a car of which 60,000 were made really a low-production car just because 2 were built that way? For example, does “rare” include any 1970 Mopar (many thousands built), but with the “Panther Pink” color option … a very rare option with only 414 produced (and few survivors)?
Rare …. or not rare? That is the question.
So many things to consider! So, here is my basic rationale for my choices of the rare American cars posted.

—- 1) Subjectively, I picked cars which are the most visually beautiful …. or just “cool”. Or,
—- 2) Objectively, I picked cars whereby there is an interesting story involved with the car’s history and impact on future cars.
The number in parenthesis is the number of units produced. The cars are listed in descending order by units produced …. with one exception; I will start this off with what is (in my humble opinion) the very coolest and most interesting car of them all …. the 1963 Chrysler Turbine!
So, let’s get started.
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(55 … only 9 left) 1963 CHRYSLER TURBINE
American car manufactures had been trying to develop other car turbine engines; 1954 Plymouth Sport Coupe, 1954 GM Firebird I and 1959 GM Firebird III (NOT the same car as GM’s production Firebird), 1956 Plymouth Turbine Special, and the 1961 Chrysler Turboflite. None were released to the public. That honor belonged to a man I believe was one of the luckiest guys ever, Richard Vlaha.

Mr. Richard Vlaha of Broadview, Illinois, on October 29, 1963 would be the very first American consumer to drive the gorgeous Firefrost Bronze, Ghia-bodied coupe with black vinyl top and copper-orange leather interior. He would drive it for three months as part of Chrysler’s promotional loaner program … the experiment would include 50 cars delivered to 203 households over two years. I was eleven years old when my parents took me to the World’s Fair in Brooklyn in 1963 and I remember only exactly two things; the gigantic globe and the 1963 Chrysler Turbine. One doesn’t easily forget stunningly beautiful works of art. Chrysler would display Turbines in shopping malls and hype a 47,000-mile world tour covering 23 cities in 21 countries.
Are those after-burners … or are you just happy to see me?
Your eyes are immediately drawn to the car’s airplane-like features. It seems American automakers had been evoking aircraft features in car design since the day after the Wright brother’s flight …. with projectile hood ornaments, swept fender-lines, and tail fins, etc. This car even has red-lens afterburners! The turbine theme continues throughout, even inside, with the rounded transmission tunnel splitting the buckets front and back. This dashboard instruments did not use bulbs. Instead, an inverter and transformer raised the battery voltage to over 100 volts AC and passed that high voltage through special plastic layers, causing the gauges to glow with a blue-green light.

But, it’s what you hear with your ears which completes the illusion that you’re driving a jet on wheels …. you have that whooshy vacuum-cleaner sound during acceleration and especially when you shut off the engine and hear it whirr down. Please, take a few seconds and listen for yourself. Wonderful!!

Audio Player

00:00 —- very nice interview with Jay Leno and his personally owned Chrysler Turbine. Watch Jay drive around town. —– Disputes the widely held idea that Chrysler destroyed the cars due to import tariffs (the body was made in Italy). —– EVERYTHING you could possibly want to know about this car!
Note: The rest of this essay will
generally feature only one picture per car, and the narratives will be much shorter.
(304) 1958 Eldorado Brougham
1958 Eldorado Brougham
This will be the only Cadillac entry … even though they made many of the most beautiful American cars ever, and an entire thread could be dedicated to that brand. The car was designed in 1954 as Cadillac’s dream car for the General Motors Motorama of 1955. The hand-built ’57 Eldorado Brougham was an extremely limited production car costing a jaw-dropping $14,000 in 1957. A top end Rolls Royce cost “just” $9,000 …. and so, this Caddy was the most expensive car in the world at the time. Car collectors are just now appreciating this vehicle. A decade ago you could pick up a nice one for $40k …. now you’ll be spending six figures, with one selling recently for $300,000.
Those aren’t hubcaps … they’re actually forged aluminum. Aluminum wheels were extremely rare in the late ‘50s because they were extremely hard (and expensive) to cast. The roof is expensive stainless steel. It was one of the very first cars to have an all transistor radio, considered high tech for the time. The car rode on air on a total four-corner complex self-leveling air ride system … the first ever for an automobile. It had a remote starter, memory seats, power door locks, power steering and windows, separate front and rear heating, and retractable mirrors. There was also an enormous range of “vanity” comforts; Comb and Mirror, Lipstick Holder, Compact and Powder Puff, Coin Holder, Compartment for loose Cigarettes, Six Drinking Cups in Plastic Container, Cigarette Package Holder, Tissue Dispenser, Atomizer Containing Perfume, Memo Book and Pencil. The interior was as luxurious as any car of its time, or before. Obviously, only the wealthy could afford this car, and no expense was spared to give the buyers the most comfortable, smooth, and quiet ride possible.
I’ll stop here, but there were many other features. This car came with NO options …. you got it all, or nothing. This Caddy was a pace-setting vehicle with styling and engineering features destined to be incorporated into lesser cars in future years.
(under 400 total … only 12 1953s left) 1953 MUNTZ JET
The Muntz Car Company was created in Glendale, California by Earl “Madman” Muntz, … a local used car dealer and electronics retailer. The first 28 cars were manufactured in Glendale before production shifted to Evanston, Illinois. The car featured aluminum side body panels (the hood, trunk, and roof were fiberglass). Engines were sourced from other manufacturers, including Ford, Cadillac and Lincoln … and then modified. Madman Muntz collaborated with Frank Curtis … the famous American race car designer (midget cars, sprint cars, Indy cars, and Formula One cars) and founder of Kurtis Kraft.
Why did Earl and Frank start a car company? Sport Cars and Hot Rods book, published in1950, stated that the Muntz Jet was —- “”
the first serious attempt in nearly a generation to manufacture an American sport car capable of measuring up to the top-flight European jobs
They mostly succeeded. With its low-slung lines, the Muntz is a beautiful machine. Performance was adequate; 0-80mph in 9 seconds and a top speed of 125mph. This was comparable to other sports cars of the era, and the Muntz Jet appeared on the cover of the September 1951 issue of
Popular Science (along with a Jaguar and an MG). Motor Trend magazine said the Muntz did everything a sports car should do; the car rides well, it’s fast, corners on rails and stops on a dime.
The company existed for just four years (1950-1954) and they produced only between 366-394 cars. Estimates are that only about 49 still exist. So, what happened? Labor costs were a monumental $2,000
per car because body panels had to be carefully fitted, then leaded-in. Muntz lost about a $1,000 on every Jet sold and eventually gave up after four years. TRIVIA: Some of you old fogies might vaguely recall the Muntz name …. that’s because he invented the 8-track tape car stereo! —— complete history of the Muntz Jet with lots of pictures
(200) 1933 FRANKLIN MODEL 17

1933 Franklin Model 17
Herbert Franklin built his first automobile on July 1, 1901. It took two months to build, and it holds the distinction of being the first four-cylinder automobile produced in the USA (most cars of the time had a single or two-cylinder motor). His company would build another 150,000 high-end luxury cars until the company declared bankruptcy on April 3, 1934.
Cadillac and Marmon had sixteen cylinder cars, and so in 1932 Franklin officially entered the cylinder wars. Franklin’s answer was the Model 17. In 1932, Franklin owed the banks close to $5 million dollars. The banks brought in their own representative to manage the Franklin Company, and the car became known as the “Banker Car”. The company went bankrupt shortly thereafter (some things never change). The reason for including it in this list is because the Model 17 holds the distinction as the only
air-cooled 12 cylinder engine ever produced in America.
1970 Plymouth Hemi Superbird
“Dear Lord, please let someone sell me their Superbird for $5,000″. That’s really the only sincere prayer request I’ve ever made. Been praying for 40+ years now … and I ain’t giving up!
Most of you know the story behind this car. It was built for racing. Some folks have speculated that the motivating factor in the production of the car was to lure Richard Petty back to Plymouth The Superbird was a highly modified version of Plymouth’s already highly successful Roadrunner line. Superbirds were known for their high mounted, wing-like spoiler ….. and a ridicules horn which mimicked the Looney Tunes’ Roadrunner character. Amazingly, the Superbird’s styling was too extreme for 1970 tastes, and most customers preferred the regular Road Runner. Many Superbirds sat unsold on the back lots of dealerships as late as 1972! Even more amazing, some were converted into 1970 Road Runners to move them off the sales lot!! By 1971, NASCAR had changed the rules to limit horsepower to cars with big wings, dooming the Superbird.
About 1,935 Superbirds were made in 1970 (the only production year), and Plymouth only produced 135 of them with the Hemi engine (the other two engine options were the 440 Super Commando with a single 4-barrel carburetor, or the 440 Super Commando Six Barrel with three two-barrel carburetors.) You’ll need to shell out a million plus bucks for a really nice Hemi. Maybe that’s why my prayer goes unanswered. TRIVIA: What was the car’s primary rival? Answer: Ford Torino Talladega.
(117 total ….. 32 still exist) 1958 DUAL GHIA
1958 Dual Ghia
Dual Motors built only 117 cars between 1956-1958. Designed by Chrysler it came with a 230 horsepower, 315 cubic-inch Hemi V-8, and the body was fabricated by the Italian Coachbuilder Ghia. It was a favorite car amongst American celebrities; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sterling Hayden, Richard Nixon, Desi Arnaz and his son Ricci, even Ronald Reagan owned one …. which he lost in a high-stakes poker game with then-President Lyndon Johnson.
I think many car designers were smoking dope in 1958. Many cars of that era were so ostentatious with their Big Chrome, fins, scoops, etc. …. as if every consumer wanted to pretend their car could take off to the moon. This car is included because of its Simple Elegant Beauty. This car is “the-girl-next-door” who doesn’t need gobs of makeup and a push-up bra to feel worthy. She’s beautiful simply because …. she IS beautiful, as is, thank you very much.
(69) 1969 CHEVY CAMARO ZL-1
1969 Chevy Camaro ZL-1
The ZL-1 was an upgrade package available only on the 1969 Camaro. Engine made of aluminum and weighed only 500 pounds. Factory specs state is was capable of 430hp … but the real number is closer to 560hp. The first 20 went immediately to the race track. The rest were offered to the public at $7,200 … quite a bit of money in 1969. Twelve were sent back to Chevrolet and refitted with a smaller engine so they would be able to sell. That means just 37 people got to buy one, and if you’re one them you are one lucky sumvabitch! And I hate you.
(55) 1967 PLYMOUTH R023 GTX
Hmmmmm …. what would happen if you took a regular GTX and tried to save as much weight as possible by removing the radio, hubcaps, heater, body insulations and even the carpet? What if you fitted it with a 426 cubic inch Hemi engine? What if you designed it with a large hood scoops in order to increase airflow to the massive engine block? Well you would wind up with a GTX R023 and you’d be able to do 0-60 in 4.8 seconds ….. a helluva feat in 1967.

1948 Tucker Torpedo
Americans were starving after WWII. Automobile production was dead in the water between 1942-1945 as those factories were cranking out bombers, tanks, and other fun military toys. There were long waiting lists for new vehicles, and consumers plunked down money, sight unseen. But models cranked out in 1946 were little more than prewar copycats … new cars that were old-and-tired before even one mile was put on the odometer. Americans were starving for a better product, and Preston Tucker just knew that he could satisfy their appetites. So, Tucker designed
“The Car Of Tomorrow”; a low-slung car with curvy lines and a bevy of design and safety innovations for a car that looked like it was moving while standing still … hurtling through space into a bright future where, as in the Star Trek series “no man has gone before”. Innovations such as;
1) 24-volt electrical system starters to turn over the massive 589-cubic-inch engine,
2) a
“safety chamber” where front passengers could dive “in case of impending collision.” (How that actually worked in reality I have no freaking clue. My paranoid mother would have thrown me under the dash every time my dad hit a pothole.)
3) a pop-out windshield designed to eject during a crash thus protecting passengers,
4) a third centered headlight which swiveled to light the way around corners,
5) interchangeable front/rear seats to even out upholstery wear,
6) a roomy six-passenger cabin with a “step-down” floor,
7) fenders that pivoted defensively when the car turned,
8) recessed or protected knobs, buttons, and levers,
9) an industry first fully sealed water-cooling system,
10) doors cut into the roof to ease entry and exit,
11) all-independent suspension,
12) a padded dashboard,
13) massive bumpers,
14) a rear engine,
15) disc brakes,
Performance was more than adequate. The Tucker could manage 0-60mph in about 10 seconds … even though it weighed a hefty 4,200 pounds. Top speed was at least 120 mph, thanks to the aerodynamic styling with an estimated drag factor of 0.30 – great numbers even today. And factory tests showed a credible 20 mpg at a steady 50-55 mph.
Why did his company fail? Most often the pundits will say Tucker was incompetent (and even corrupt) on the business side. His greatest failing, they say, was that he refused to cede creative control to businessmen who could have made the Tucker ’48 commercially viable.
Instead, he attempted to raise money through unconventional means, including selling dealership rights for a car that didn’t exist yet. The Securities and Exchange Commission conducted a three year long investigation which cost Tucker a lot of time, resources, and money. Eventually the agreements were rewritten to SEC satisfaction and the franchise sales proceeded. But, he was more short of cash than before, so he came up with another scheme to raise money. He came up with a “pre-purchase plan” for Tucker automobile accessories such as radios and seat covers … and raised $2 million in advanced payments on accessories to a car not yet in production. The SEC returned with a vengeance. Tucker faced a Grand Jury indictment on 31 counts – 25 for mail fraud, 5 for SEC regulation violation, and one on conspiracy to defraud.
In the end Tucker was completely exonerated on all counts!!
But, it is a Pyrrhic victory when you lose your company. The company assets, including the automobiles, were sold for 18 cents on the dollar. Worse still, the press had turned the consumer against the company. The end was near.
But is that REALLY what happened? Is that the WHOLE truth? I don’t think so!
Wiki states;
“There were over 1,800 automobile manufacturers in the United States from 1896 to 1930.” By 1940, the Big Three (GM, Ford, Chrysler) accounted for 90% of U.S. production (the bulk of the remaining 10% was composed of Hudson, Nash, Packard, Studebaker, and Willys-Overland). By the early 1950’s the Big Three manufactured 95% of American cars.
You can see the Big Three strategy here ….
eliminate the competition. And that’s exactly what they did to Tucker. There is good evidence that the Big Three conspired against Tucker — they were literally quite afraid of his innovations – and applied much pressure on suppliers to not let Tucker purchase key materials, such as, ……. steel. Don’t believe me? Just go to the Henry Ford Museum web page (link immediately below). They have a page dedicated to Tucker. Not too much info about the car, and plenty of ink depicting Preston Tucker in an unfair and inaccurate manner. Skewering the man, even after all these years. How pathetic is that?
Francis Ford Coppola made a movie about the man titled
“Tucker: The Man and His Dream”. Coppola owns two restored Tuckers which he says — “drives like a boat but are fun and fast”. Regarding Preston, Coppola states; — “We are a country of innovators, but we don’t always welcome them or aid them in their work.” That’s as true today as it was back then.
But, in a tremendous display of fortitude, Preston Tucker went to Brazil in 1951 to start all over from scratch, intending to build a sports car called the Carioca. Unfortunately, the project was almost underway when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died December 26, 1956 at the ripe old age of 53.
Carioca … another Tucker car that wouldn’t be built
Today, Tucker’s 475-acre Chicago production plant houses a Tootsie Roll factory and shopping center. Ha! A shopping center replacing a manufacturing facility …. a prelude of America in 2014! —- Tucker Club Of America, a wealth of information.
MUSCLE CAR BREAK! You readers need a break after that long Tucker narrative. I’ll be posting only pictures of rare muscle cars.
1970-71 Plymouth Hemi Barracuda Convertible —– 21 made
1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 —– 20 made
1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6 —– 20 made
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