Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Martin Special ’31 Ford is America’s Most Beautiful Roadster for 2018

David Martin’s 1931 Ford Roadster, AMBR winner for 2018. Photos courtesy Grand National Roadster Show.
Most show cars lead pampered lives, having been built for the singular purpose of amassing trophies and prize money. Dave Martin’s 1931 Ford, winner of the 2018 America’s Most Beautiful Roadster Award at last weekend’s Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, California, was built to drive. Last September, in bare metal and fitted with a roll cage, Martin ran his car in the 2017 Silver State Classic, averaging 101.5 MPH over the 90 mile course stretching from Lund to Hiko, Nevada.
1931 Ford Martin Special roadster
Martin, an architect by trade, knows a few things about design aesthetics. He also knows a thing or two about hot rods, having been immersed in the culture much of his adult life. Since acquiring this particular ’31 Ford roadster in the early 1980s, it’s gone through a series of revisions – evolutions, perhaps – that brought it to the stage in Pomona last weekend.
1931 Ford Martin Special roadster
Not content to own a hot rod that went fast in a straight line, Martin and Scott Bonowski of builder Hot Rods & Hobbies, in Signal Hill, California, turned to the Indy roadsters of Frank Kurtis for inspiration. The car’s front track was widened for improved handling, and Moal Coachbuilders provided a torsion bar front suspension that fit the hot-rod vibe, yet still delivered excellent handling. Running the Silver State Classic last September was the car’s “proof of concept,” in Martin’s own words.
1931 Ford Martin Special roadster
The annual open-road race (which takes place on a temporarily closed-to-traffic Highway 318) isn’t one to be taken lightly. Since the event began in 1988, there have been five fatalities, the most recent in 2014. Rules have gotten more restrictive over the years, mandating additional safety equipment and driver training, and each contestant runs in a selected or appointed bracket, depending upon vehicle and experience. Course marshals are stationed at checkpoints throughout the course, but the fact remains: Should something go wrong, help isn’t coming quickly.
Tom Malloy at Ed Pink Racing Engines gets credit for building the roadster’s all-aluminum, fuel-injected small-block Chevy V-8, which reportedly makes around 500 horsepower from That’s more than enough to put the lightweight car into a faster bracket than the 100-mph class entered, but for Martin, running the Silver State Classic was never about setting a record or even winning the class. Instead, it was about proving that his Martin Special was more than just a show car, and perhaps even more than just a traditional hot rod.
1929 Ford
The Mariani brothers’ 1929 Ford Model A, built by Rad Rides, which took home the Al Slonaker Memorial Award.
Per the car’s placard, the chassis features original 1932 rails with a modified center section and the aforementioned Moal torsion bar front suspension. The body is described as “original-ish,” with the current upholstery credited to Elegance Auto Interiors. The visually stunning stainless-steel exhaust was fabricated by Jerome Rodella and Rodella Specialty Fabrication, and the paint was laid down by Bonowski at Hot Rods & Hobbies. In beating out the 14 other finalists, Martin took home a substantial trophy (nearly 10-feet tall) plus a check for $10,000, a sum that’s more than enough to cover entry fees for the 2018 Silver State Classic.
1937 Lincoln
Fred and Diane Bowden’s 1937 Lincoln coupe, winner of the Blackie Gejeian Award.
1950 Mercury
Mike Garner’s 1950 Mercury, winner of the George Barris Kustom d’Elegance Award.
Other winners of note included the 1929 Ford Model A owned by brothers Mark and Dennis Mariani and built by Rad Rides, which took home the Al Slonaker Memorial Award; the 1937 Lincoln coupe owned by Fred and Diane Bowden, which took home the Blackie Gejeian Award; and the 1950 Mercury owned by Mike Garner, which took home the George Barris Kustom d’Elegance Award.

1954 Chevrolet COE Tourliner

1957 Chevrolet El Camino Prototype???

1950 Plymouth Woodie Wagon

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Sunday, August 20, 2017

D-E-A-D dead: The most significant cars that definitively no longer exist

Image courtesy Chrysler.

Historically significant cars resurface all the time—found in barns, fields, subterranean caverns, even behind brick walls—quite often making news when they do. After all, their continued existence either confirms or denies decades’ worth of speculation about their continued existence and fills in those gaps in the historical record, of which there are plenty.
It’s for that reason that we automotive journalists tend to hedge our language when discussing cars that haven’t been seen for awhile. They’re often described as “missing,” “lost,” or “vanished,” vague words that simply mean we don’t have a royal clue as to their whereabouts, oftentimes because they’ve been squirreled away, because insufficient documentation of their fates exist, or because intrepid car hunters just haven’t turned over the right rock yet.
That vagueness can, in turn, lead to serious issues. How many times has a significant missing car suddenly turned up with a fuzzy provenance that the incomplete historical record can neither confirm nor deny? Disputes about the true identities of previously lost cars routinely turn into high-profile lawsuits and embarrassing situations for less-than-careful collectors.
Some cars, however, without a doubt no longer exist, returned to their constituent elements, far beyond restoration or resurrection. The historical record is unequivocal on their fates. So, let’s run down some of the most significant cars documented to have departed us.

Image courtesy Chrysler.

We’ll start with perhaps the most well-documented of them, the Chrysler Norseman. Designed in Virgil Exner’s studio and built by Ghia in 1956, the show car featured a Hemi and an A-pillarless cantilevered roof. Ghia loaded the crated car on the Andrea Doria to ship it to Chrysler, but in July of that year, the Andrea Doria sank after a collision with another ship, as detailed by David LaChance in the August 2009 issue of Hemmings Classic Car. While other artifacts from the shipwreck have since been retrieved, the Norseman remains at the bottom of the Atlantic and will never again see daylight.
According to David Bright, a diver who visited the Andrea Doria and the Norseman sometime before the mid-1990s,
The crate had disintegrated and the car was in very, very poor condition. The ocean’s salt water invaded the Norseman’s metal and most of the car is rust, corrosion and a heap of indistinguishable junk. The tires are still there and have assisted to [sic] its identification.
I have been back to the cargo area several times (it is pretty scary in the cargo hold because the ship is lying on its starboard side) and visited the Norseman on a couple other occasions…. I have not been back to this cargo site since 1994 and with all the decay that the wreck has had over the past 10 years, it is doubtful if I will (or anyone else) ever get a chance to see the remains of the Norseman again.
One footnote of import to the story of the Norseman: Several other cars—sources say eight—also accompanied the Norseman on that last voyage of the Andrea Doria. Rumors abound as to their identities, but to date no automotive historian has produced a manifest identifying those other cars.

Photo courtesy Bob Lichty.

Speaking of significant sunken vehicles, let’s take a moment to mention the one-of-a-kind gas-electric hybrid Snow Cruiser built by the Armour Institute for Technology for Admiral Richard Byrd’s third Antarctic expedition in 1939. As Bob Lichty wrote in the June 1985 issue of Special Interest Autos, the Snow Cruiser—nicknamed “Big Bertha”—made it to Antarctica with the expedition and remained behind when the expedition wrapped up.
Unfortunately, it remained behind in an ice garage on the East Ross Ice Shelf, specifically on a section of ice that broke away from the ice shelf in about late 1961. According to a survey published in the Journal of Polar Geography in 2005—based on maps, satellite photos, and aerial photos—those calvings from the ice shelf tend to break up in the Bay of Whales and thus “a number of artifacts from the bases, such as the 1939–1941 Snow Cruiser, are likely strewn along the seabed.”
There’s a slim chance the ice garage remained on the ice shelf and didn’t float away to sea in 1961, which would make the Snow Cruiser the ultimate garage find. Good luck getting it back to civilization, though.

A twin Renault Type CB Coupe de Ville. Photo courtesy RM Auctions.

One more drowned car, this one from the most famous shipwreck of them all. Reportedly the only automobile to go down with the Titanic in 1912 was a new Renault Type CB Coupe de Ville, and we know quite a bit about it, thanks to the $5,000 insurance claim that owner William Carter of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, filed with Lloyd’s of London after the shipwreck. We even know more or less where the Renault currently resides—in a cargo hold in the forward section of the ship—though, apparently, in all the trips to the Titanic nobody has entered that hold to document the current condition of the car.

Photo courtesy Ford archives.

From watery graves to fiery ends. Ford’s Rotunda, originally built for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934, later relocated to Dearborn and became one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions. That is, until the November 1962 fire that destroyed the building and nearly everything inside (Ford’s archives escaped destruction, thanks to a fire-suppression system).
While a number of production models were on display in the Rotunda at the time of the fire, at least a couple concept cars were inside as well. The Ford Gyron, designed in part by Alex Tremulis and Syd Mead, used gyroscopes to remain stable on its two wheels, while the Levacar Mach 1 dispensed with wheels altogether to ride on a cushion of air. Both went up in flames with the Rotunda.

Photo courtesy USC Libraries.

A much more devastating fire took place in March 1929 when the entire Los Angeles Auto Show—then held in a series of large tents—went up in flames, causing as much as $1.25 million (in 1929 dollars) in damage. The 320 cars that the fire destroyed likely made up the vast majority of that figure.
Of those 320 cars, perhaps the most significant was the Auburn Cabin Speedster, a one-off boattail two-door coupe that had already toured the East Coast auto shows and, according to The Old Motor, caused a sensation wherever it went due to its extreme styling. While other carmakers likely displayed what passed for prototypes at the time, the aviation-themed Cabin Speedster was a true show car built long before the Buick Y-Job and other concept cars. Whatever was left of the Cabin Speedster likely got towed to a nearby scrapyard and was written off. A replica of it has since been built.

Photo courtesy GM.

While we’re on the topic of concept cars, we can’t ignore the various Motorama and XP-numbered cars that GM scrapped over the years. Or, at least, was supposed to scrap. We know that some of those cars avoided their dates with the crusher, thanks to sympathetic junkyard owners, and others slipped out the GM styling studio’s back doors, making GM’s records on the Motorama concept cars—if they were ever to surface—suspect at best.
So, while thorough research has turned up a number of Motorama cars as “presumed scrapped”—among them the 1954 Chevrolet Corvette Nomad, the 1955 Buick Wildcat III, the 1955 Pontiac Strato-Star, and the 1958/1959 Oldsmobile F-88 Mk III—one of the few Motorama vehicles we can say with relative certainty no longer exists is the 1955 GMC L’Universelle, an unusual front-wheel-drive cargo van. Despite extensive tooling and engineering to create the XP-39 L’Universelle’s jackknife doors and behind-the-driver transverse Pontiac V-8 powertrain, SIA writers Dave Newell and Robert L. Hauser and Motorama researcher David Temple have listed the L’Universelle as scrapped.

Photo courtesy Chrysler.

True, a number of Chrysler Turbine cars still exist. Of the 50-car fleet sent around the country to gauge customer reactions to a turbine-powered car and the five prototypes that Chrysler built, nine remain in the hands of museums and collectors, according to Turbine car researcher Steve Lehto.
Exactly why the 46 cars were scrapped has become a topic of controversy, but we can at least prove they were scrapped—there’s video of the cars going into the crusher.

Photos courtesy Tucker Automobile Club of America.

Finally, much like the Turbine cars, there’re only so many Tuckers to track down, and Tucker enthusiasts can tell you where they all have ended up and exactly how many haven’t survived the decades. Of course, it isn’t quite fair to label Tuckers 1018, 1023, 1027, and 1042 as completely destroyed, given that parts from each of those cars have since been used to restore other Tuckers or to help create new Tuckers from whole cloth.
By all means, this is far from an exhaustive list—after all, even the most notable cars are subject to rust, neglect, crashes, and other acts of destruction—so we’d like to hear of other significant cars you know for sure are no longer around. Share your additions to this list (along with convincing documentation to support) in the comments below.