Unlike a lot of car nuts, I am not necessarily enthralled by superlative performance or exotic brands. A Bugatti Veyron, for example, leaves me pretty cold despite its admittedly staggering speed. I’ve previously confessed my ambivalence about Porsches; I recently took some pictures of a mid-eighties 928, a worthy car in many respects, and struggled to think of a way to write about it that wouldn’t bore me. Nor does the absurd horsepower inflation of modern supercars do much for me. I’m not 12 years old, and things no longer fascinate me simply because they’re fast or unusually phallic.
I also have the curmudgeon’s inherent suspicion of ubiquity. I am profoundly disinterested in Cobras, for example, and you’re unlikely to see an article on the “Tri-Five” (1955-57) Chevrolets here because while I have nothing against them (I rather like their styling, in fact), I am numbed by their sheer familiarity. At this point, I’m far more likely to be intrigued by an obscure oddball than by recognized Classics.
Fascination shouldn’t be assumed to connote approval, or even fondness. It’s difficult for me to defend a big-block Corvette, for instance, on any rational grounds and it’s not the kind of car I would care to own, but it’s certainly interesting. Just as historians are intrigued by notable monsters like Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin, though, I am often interested in cars whose various sins far outweigh their virtues. I’ve written previously about my support for the regulation of fuel economy and emissions, but the fact that I don’t consider gas guzzlers and gross polluters to be right or appropriate in a political or even moral sense doesn’t mean I think such vehicles should be categorically dismissed as objects of historical or sociological import.
On a more practical level, the articles I write here are generally shaped by the photographs I have available. That means that, for the foreseeable future, you’ll be stuck with whatever photos I have, that others graciously permit me to use for free, or that are in the public domain. I would love to write about certain vehicles for which I have no usable photos.
So, all that said, what kinds of cars am I likely to write about?
Cars of particular historical significance
Many of my articles focus on cars that began (or at least exemplify) particular trends: the four-seat Ford Thunderbird, for example, or the Datsun 510 — or aspects of the automotive business. Certain cars provide a vehicle (if you’ll pardon the pun) for discussing issues like branding or leaded gasoline. Others reveal some of the fascinating and mercurial personalities behind the cars, people like André Citroën, Bill Mitchell, and John Z. DeLorean.
Novel or noteworthy technology
In the automotive business, it’s always difficult to state with an authority that a particular car is really the *first* to do anything, despite the enthusiastic claims of marketing departments and fans. Some Saab fans, for instance, and at times, even the company’s PR people, have claimed that the Saab Turbo of the late 1970s were the first turbocharged production car, which is nonsense (the Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire and Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder beat it by more than 15 years). BMC’s Mini may have popularized front-wheel drive for small cars, but FWD was essayed well before World War One. Still, at least for the sake of discussion, we must start somewhere. Oldsmobile’s 1949 Rocket V8, for instance, certainly didn’t originate overhead valves or 90-degree V8s, but it certainly popularized that configuration for American cars for the next 35 years.
Some cars also represent interesting technological dead ends. The Oldsmobile Toronado, for example, introduced an extremely clever variation on the usual front-wheel-drive layout, although it was used only in a few models for a comparatively brief span. And although Citroën continues to keep the faith with its semi-active hydropneumatic suspension, it remains rare and controversial.
And of course some things are just plain bad ideas. The Pontiac Trans Am Turbo comes close and we’ll talk about some other, really terrible concepts in the future. (If I do talk about the ’57 Chevy, it will be to discuss the Turboglide transmission, a fascinating but disastrous attempt to make something like a continuously variable transmission using a torque converter.)
Rarities and oddballs
Cars like the AMC Pacer fall into this category. A Pacer can’t be considered a particularly good car by any objective standard, but as a conversation piece, it has few rivals. Much the same can be said of the original Plymouth Barracuda, the <Avanti, or the Dino 308GT4. And let me assure you, if I can ever get some decent photos of the Checker Marathon, it will be on the list, as well.
Cars that appeal to my sense of whimsy
This is a broad category indeed, encompassing cars like the AMC SC/Rambler, the Plymouth Road Runner, or the disastrously ugly ’58 Packard Hawk, a car that resembles an unfortunate mating between a Studebaker and a catfish.
Naturally, there are also cars that fall into multiple categories. The Mini, for one — the original Mini is a car of great historical significance, certainly, but it’s hard to look at one (or to drive one) without the urge to giggle. I recently got some photos of a 1960 Dodge Polara D-500 convertible, which is not only spectacularly gaudy, but also has the rare “Cross Ram” 383 engine, a fascinating piece of technology.
I am asked from time to time if I take requests. The answer is “maybe.” If I can think of something interesting to say about it, and if I have pictures, I probably will. In any case, it doesn’t hurt to ask.