Among James Bond's many gadgets, his fabulous cars are remembered with the most fondness. Fans still go back and forth whether the best is his classic Aston Martin DB5 or the Lotus Esprit from 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me. The Esprit's radical look was one of the first angular "folded paper" designs from Giorgetto Giugiaro (who would go on to design the DeLorean DMC-12). In James Bond's world, Q Branch added a few options to the car not yet available from most Lotus dealers. 007's car transforms into a cozy two person submarine that fires sea-to-air missiles. Natch.
The prop submarine car is going on the auction block this September. To create the effect of the car converting into a mini sub, the film's producers used several full sized props (not miniatures!) at various stages of the transformation. The vehicle on auction is the fully functional mini submarine nicknamed "Wet Nellie" that was used in all of the underwater scenes showing the vehicle in operation. Surprisingly the vehicle was found a few years ago as part of a blind auction to buy the contents of a New York storage locker. Imagine the new owner's surprise when they pulled back the tarp and found out they'd bought an important part of Bond movie history.
It's difficult to predict what a famous prop car might go for on the auction block. Bond's Aston Martin DB5 used in Goldfinger and Thunderball got 4.3 million dollars at auction just a few years ago. The Lotus isn't quite the icon of the film series that the DB5 is, but I still think they'll do okay auctioning the world's most famous functional submarine car. After all, this submersible Lotus was expensive to start with. Perry Oceanographic in Florida made the Lotus seaworthy at a cost if $100,000 - about a half million in today's money.
So if you're a well-heeled Bond fan, you can find out first hand which is the best Bond car - though moisture may be a problem. This submersible prop isn't in fact watertight, nor does it feature much of an interior. The driver was a retired US Navy SEAL named Don Griffin who had to have full scuba gear on while operating the vehicle. Yes, you'll be cruising the coolest (non) wheels in the ocean, but it's not going back up on land like in the movie. Don't expect to make any points with the bikini ladies when you roll up on the beach and hand a kid a fish.
There is a funny bit of an emotional hiccup in the movie. Right as the car is about to plunge into the water, Roger Moore douchequips "Can you swim?" as the lovely Russian agent played by Barbara Bach panics. Underwater the spy-ette continues to worry, until a few scenes later she is completely laid back and admits to having stolen the plans for the sub two years before. Clearly being a sexy cold-war era Russian secret agent is a real emotional roller coaster.
If you like grasshoppers, you'll love the 2CV. Despite its prehistoric styling, it was famed as the Citroen that seemed destined to live forever. The original 2CV appeared in 1948 and remained on the market in various forms until 1991.
It's main claim to fame is the hideously designed roll-back roof. Apart from that, it offered a two cylinder 602 cc engine that output a whopping 28 HP. The Deux Chevaux puttered along with so much retro charisma that people didn't seem to mind its turtle-ish ways. Over 5,100,000 of these weird and wonderful creatures were produced, and many are now in the hands of collectors.
Because automotive technology has advanced so much in recent decades, vintage cars are usually much more fun to admire than to drive. Vehicles of the 60s and 70s were often underpowered, awkwardly engineered and prone to rust and electrical failure.
With that in mind, it makes sense to choose vintage wheels that are quirky, simple and dirt cheap. The 2CV fits the bill -- nobody expects it to race off the start line, and there are precious few amenities in the cockpit that will need repair (like air conditioning power windows or ABS).
These images are from 2CVs R Us, who have been painstakingly restoring 2CVs in the USA for several decades. Their stunningly retro website features dozens of photos that document the rebuild process and final result. I want one as my daily driver.
[Here's a guest post from Michael Posner - Ed.]
Most cars today are designed in a wind tunnel to be as aerodynamic as style will permit. This was not the case for cars sold in between 1950 and 1972, the heyday of American cars. With gas as cheap as 25 cent a gallon, style, chrome, fins and size were the hallmarks. This design aesthetic looks as good today as it did 50 years ago.
One of the best places to see a variety of classic and retro cars outside car museums and car shows is the cultural phenomenon known as the cruise-in. In most towns and cities these days, a local car club or group will stage weekly to monthly gatherings of cars to simply show off what you own without competition or judging. It frequently is a family event, as owners drive their classic car to the show, family in tow, to mingle and look at a variety of cars, with the most common being Chevy Bel Airs from the 50s, Vettes and Mustangs of all ages, and a few hot rods built on old Ford or Chevy chassis.
As much as I enjoyed looking and photographing these cars, I kept coming back to a need for a new perspective. What struck me were the retro car angles. Long, thin and often chrome, I knew that exaggerating these lines could produce some interesting shots. From this came my new approach, Fisheye for the Car Guy. Utilizing a 180 degree perspective, I try and capture the unique beauty of these cars from a fisheye perspective.
My favorite shot is the front grille or bumper. The large, wide chrome grills come alive in the fisheye shots. I also like the C3 Corvettes, as their long hoods and curved fiberglass bodies look fantastic at 8mm. I am also proud of my plain jane Corvair, smiling in front of the camera. For more pictures, please visit my blog, Fisheye for the Car Guy.
Lisa from Collectors Weekly writes, "Tatra is the Czechoslovakian car maker whose rear-engine, air-cooled T-87 was the 'inspiration' for Hitler and Porsche's Volkswagen Beetle. Basically, the Nazis stole the design, and Tatra got 3-million Deutschmarks in compensation after the war. Justin Pinchot supplied the photos and a short video of his aerodynamic beauty. It looks like something out of Buck Rogers."
Justin's 1950 Czechoslovakian Tatra T-600 was discovered growing moss in a Canadian barn, but the air-cooled flat 4 engine had only 19,000 miles on it and the interior was "perfect."
If you look closely at the front doors, you'll see that the handle is at the front -- they're 'suicide doors' attached to the same pillar as the ones in the rear.
My favorite feature is the turn signal, a light-up semaphore mounted between the doors. I can imagine they'd cause incredible confusion as oncoming traffic tries to figure out what the glowing appendage sticking out of the side means.
[Update: As I remark in the comments, the Volkswagen was derived from the NSU Typ 32, created by Dr Porsche in 1932. Porsche left Daimler in 1929 and started work on the Volkswagen project in 1934, two years before the release of the Mercedes-Benz 170 H and the Tatra T-87. Tatra asserted that Porsche's design infringed on a number of their patents and Porsche was apparently going to reach a settlement with them, but Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 put a halt to the legal action.]
Link: The VW Bug’s Rare and Quirky Czech Mate [Collectors Weekly]
Despite not being a car guy, this is a challenge even I'm interested in. The online show "Super Power Beat Down" brings together two Bat-fans for some gut-churningly nerdy smack talk (for example, when extolling the virtues of the '89 Batmobile, the guy talks about its armor shielding as a benefit, which was merely an optical effect *ahem*), followed by a race between the two cars.
The smack talking blurs between the reality of the two actual vehicles and their story elements a little too much (and the segment overall would benefit from a tighter edit - double *ahem*). Really what we're talking about is whether a chopped and converted Corvette from the 60s can take on a fiberglass encased Camaro-something-or-other chassis from 1989.
We have to point out that these cars are not the originals (for example the original Batmobile was a modified Ford prototype vehicle), but more recent reproductions. Nonetheless, you can guess whom we're rooting for.
The world's smallest mass-produced car is back in production. The UK's Peel P50 was born in 1962, had about enough room for a single driver and a shopping bag, and cost an unheard of £199 ( US $2200 in today's money). The ads joked that it was almost cheaper than walking. The company made 50 of the cars, 27 of which are still known to still be puttering today. In these fuel conscious times, a new company called Peel Engineering Ltd. is doing another production run of 50 units of the iconic little car.
Only 50? I feel like they're denying the next generation of Shriners their ride to work.
Before you run over to northern England with your checkbook, don't forget that there's no reverse gear - making conventional parking difficult. That's okay, just pick the car up by its rear handle and wheel it into place. It's also not quite as cheap as it was back in the 60s. You'll need to shell out upwards of $12,000 to get one today. I suppose that's cheap in the world of collectible oddball cars, but is also close to what you'd pay for a larger car with those other amenities like mirrors, a fourth wheel and a second headlight.
If you'd like to see one of the classics in action, here's a video where strapping "Top Gear" lad Jeremy Clarkson stacks his stocky 6' 5" frame into the diminutive auto.
It really does look like he's driving around in a snow blower. He takes the P50 on the road with BBC camera crew in tow. He points out in the video that their production vehicle is a hybrid SUV that actually measures in at friendlier to the environment than the Peel. Not only does Jeremy take the car to the office, he drives it around in the office! This is a great clip, even if you're not a huge car buff.
Wouldn't we all like to do that on our last Friday at a job? I'd love to strap a plow to the front of a little car like this and rearrange some cubicles someday. Let's see those vindictive clowns from H.R. just try and catch me... but I digress...
In those halcyon 80s summers, it was important to show all your neighbors how great your car stereo was. Wait... "great" isn't the word... Oh yeah: "Bowel-rattlingly loud" is what I meant to say. Not much has changed, I guess. The people in my neighborhood now welcome summertime by dropping the car windows and pumping out anti-social women-hating music (except the guy who blasts 70s Joni Mitchell - I still hope to meet that guy).
Back to suburban 80s Chicago, and showing off your car stereo. The sheer amplitude made it easy to notify the neighborhood that your car stereo could pump out some serious decibels. That's what bums me out about this amazing car stereo with a built-in 1" black & white CRT television. No one is going to know that you have the coolest car stereo ever unless they shove their head into your car and squint really hard to make out the picture.
I'm amazed at how nice this stereo looks. Back then, off-brand gear usually betrayed its cheaper pedigree by taking shortcuts in quality. Check out this interior shot to see just how the engineers at Yoko were able to cram in a fully functional tape deck and a mini CRT - they even thoughtfully included a magnifier for the tiny screen! I think it goes without saying that this would have always been an illegal device, but it would have been nice to be able to at least monitor the soundtrack of your favorite TV broadcasts (especially live local sports) while you drive.
If I had a car this could fit in, I'd absolutely rig it up and risk the wrath of the local police. Of course the analog tuner wouldn't get anything except our one remaining low power broadcast TV station. Not to worry - check out the jack marked "VCR" on the front. That's an aux in so you can plug in a portable video deck (oh, murder!), your camcorder, or how about a DTV converter (powered through you cigarette lighter, of course) with an antenna? Better still - hook up an old black and white Pong console, many of which ran off of batteries anyway.
Today it's easy to be unimpressed about car video. We've all seen a disturbing number of mini-vans outfitted with seat-back DVD players (just can't get those kids into reading a book, eh?), and of course anyone can whip out a phone or laptop to watch video on the go. The desire has always been there, it was just so much harder to achieve back in the 80s. There are probably a LOT of reasons this never became a standard car add-on.
Oh, and to close with possibly the retro-nerdiest thing I've ever said here, You know what I really wish? I wish that deck were compatible with the strange video format of Pixel Vision (the toy camera that recorded video on regular audio cassettes). The Fisher-Price lo-fi camera's grainy output would look pretty sweet on a 1" screen.
Thanks to the guys at the audiokarma.org forums for digging up these photos.
Here's a guest post from Michael Posner:
"This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Chevrolet brand. Many models are being feted as part of the celebration, but one model that is often overlooked in the hoopla is the Chevrolet Corvair, the first and only air cooled, rear engined mass produced car made in America. Produced from 1960 to 1969, the Corvair was the subject, in part, of Ralph Nader's seminal work, Unsafe at Any Speed, which claimed that the original 1960 car was prone to violent unpredictable oversteer. While somewhat true, handling improved after 1960, and by 1965 in the guise of a second generation car, became one if the best handling cars made at the time (with a new corvette-based independent rear suspension).
Initially, the Corvair was sold in a plethora of models including coupe, sedan, wagon, and van, but most were abandoned by 1966 as sales dropped 50% due to the publication of Nader's Book and the introduction of the Mustang. GM carried on with the coupe and convertible until 1969, mostly to spite Nader, despite ever-declining sales.
The Corvair was GM's response to the small car import threat, especially from VW. Fuel economy was over 20 mpg, and due to the engine layout the interior was as roomy as many larger cars with a wide, flat floor and a folding rear seat for added luggage. Despite its economy car roots, the Corvair was soon adopted by.the sporting crowd as a poor man's Porsche. GM responded by up horsepower from 80 to 180 by turbocharging the car.
The engine was a unique design, a horizontally opposed six cylinder boxer engine with aluminum heads displacing 2.3 to 2.7 liters, supported by two or four one barrel carburettors producing 80 to 140 horsepower and a single side barrel carb feeding the dual intake turbo. Three and four speed manual transmission were available, along with a powerglide two speed autobox.
Since the Corvair was an economy car, it lacked power steering or brakes, but options included bucket seats, air conditioning, am-fm stereo and full gauges. Prices started in the low $2,000s up to a fully loaded model that barely topped $3,000. Two specialty versions were also available, the race-bred Yenko Stinger and the sport luxury Fitch Sprint, both of which are highly sought in the collector market.
Over nine years, GM sold 1.75 million Corvairs, but the stigma of being unsafe made the car less desirable than other 60's collectibles. Today the Corvair is part of a vibrant collector car community and has earned the title of the most affordable collectible. As a new owner of a 1966 Corvair coupe, I have found it to be easy to drive, easy to work on, with a ready supply of parts availability and online and local support. For those looking for a cheap fun collector car, the Corvair cannot be beat. -- Michael Posner"
The much maligned second generation Chevy Camaro just might be cool again. It was introduced in 1970 and remained in production for a bone-jarring 11 years. While some possessed angry 396 cubic inch V-8 big blocks, the Camaro's weight gradually increased over the years and its engine displacement shrank -- just like many of us.
As the 1980s wore on, old Camaros increasingly became the butt of jokes until they were handed over to a final generation of grunge kids before vanishing from the road at alarming speed. And now, 27 years since they ceased production, they're suddenly desirable again.
Mister Jalopy of Dinosaurs & Robots fame bought this particular 30 year-old car in 2007 with the intent of doing a little work and flipping it.
I can only imagine the looks of contempt this chunk of automotive history gets as it pulls up beside a foofy gas-sipping hybrid at a traffic light. And -- sadly -- it's probably the greener option, since the environmental damage done through its manufacture is long forgotten in the mists of time. Besides, I doubt they make fuzzy leopard skin print seat covers for a Prius (please don't prove me wrong, dear readers).
It makes me wonder. Thirty years from now, which of today's mass market cars will be sought after by nostalgic backyard mechanics?
Some Expenses Spared [Hoopty Rides]
It's been 15 years since the Lada Niva was last imported into the UK, but that's suddenly changed with the introduction of two new versions of this classic Russian 4x4. The first, a utilitarian van, sells for £8695 and features delightfully stark metal panels where the rear windows should be, while its fancier family friendly stablemate retails for £10,974 and actually has rear seats and portholes for your darling sprogs to gaze out of.
Both feature a 1.7L 4-cylinder engine -- now mercifully equipped with Bosch fuel injection -- and the same delightful rubber interior flooring that almost dares you to clean it with a garden hose. Apart from that, not much has changed.
With zero to 60 times in the 16 second range, this isn't the ideal motorway cruiser. But that's OK, because carrying on a conversation over the road noise would be a definite challenge at 70 mph, anyway. One last minor detail: they're all left-hand drive.
I know it's crazy, but I want one. In bright orange.
Autocar's First Drive of the Niva 1.7 [thanks, Peter!]
You just missed a chance to own a 1971 Triumph 2000 that once served with the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary. Upon learning its history, the seller set about dressing the car in 1970s police livery. The result is guaranteed to draw a crowd (and perhaps a few laughs).
He installed a vintage magnetic police roof box and explains, "This has an operational light that works with a remote switch and battery. The box also lights up in the dark through the same switching independently. There are also roof spot lights and an aerial which are for show only. All the roof equipment has magnetic fixings which means there are NO holes drilled or re drilled in the roof.
The car is drivable with all the roof gear connected, but only up to 50mph. Not too sure at what speed it would start to get shifted, I haven’t been brave enough to try!! As I said before though, its very easy to take off, place in the back and fix at the show."
The 1,998 cc 6-cylinder won't get you anywhere in a hurry, but with less than 60,000 miles on the odometer there's a fairly good chance you'll reach your destination sooner or later.
Honestly, if I were an eccentric millionaire I'd be hard pressed to choose between this and a vintage ice cream van. It was recently listed on eBay starting at £1,500, but looks like it sold privately. I wouldn't be surprised to see it in a period police drama sometime in the near future...
The pickup truck has been a fixture in North America ever since the days of the Ford Model T. Back in the early 1980s, skyrocketing interest rates and a dodgy economy led to massive popularity of compact trucks such as the Ford Ranger and Chevy S-10. They were inexpensive, fuel efficient and big enough to haul bikes, tools and construction material. Their low box height and reasonably compact frames made them easy to load and ensured that they fit standard garages.
Jump forward three decades, and Ford has announced that 2011 is the last year for the Ranger in North America, while General Motors hasn't offered the S-10 compact since 2004. Even former compact car giants like Toyota and Nissan are pushing bewilderingly massive trucks in the USA.
The dearth of small trucks is especially strange when you consider that all of the major auto manufacturers have recently introduced affordable and very fuel efficient sub-compacts in North America -- the Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2 and Toyota Yaris, to name a few. They seem to recognize that small and affordable vehicles will be the cornerstone of their product lines in years to come. So why hasn't that thinking impacted the truck segment?
My guess is that the marketing teams at Chevrolet, GM and Chrysler crunched the numbers and concluded that full-sized pickups are far more profitable in the short-to medium term than spending billions on new compact platforms.
After all, a new compact truck would be priced lower, offering a reduced profit margin. New compacts might even trigger a costly price war as the manufacturers jockey for market share. And there's a very real risk that a good compact truck lineup would decimate full-size truck sales.
However, this is a woefully short-sighted strategy. If fuel prices continue to rise and disposable income continues to fall, many tradespeople and truck enthusiasts are going to find themselves unable to afford a massive 6.7 L-equipped 4x4 stump-puller. The only option will be something smaller and more efficient -- a product that no longer exists.
An empty market segment offers a massive opportunity, and I fear that foreign manufacturers may be the ones to fill the gap. Back in 2007, Kia Motors president Cho Nam-Hong remarked, "Isn't it time for Kia Motors to make inroads into the pickup truck market?" As the photo above attests, it probably is.
I spent the morning assembling synthesizer kits. After 50 or 60 packages, my consciousness began to wander down seldom visited neural pathways. I remembered a car mag article from the 1990s that listed a few "bargain" sports cars.
Bargain cars are often cheap for a reason -- dubious reliability, bankrupt manufacturers, odd paint jobs and so on. But one stood out. It was the 365 GT4 2+2, AKA the ugliest Ferrari I've ever seen. The article harped on about its performance, quad exhaust and sub-$25,000 price tag. But I couldn't get past its decidedly docile appearance.
Just over 500 of these angular 2+2s were produced between 1972 and 1976. Beneath the hood lurked an utterly impressive 12 cylinder engine that put out 340 bhp -- enough to push it from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds. It was also strikingly fast, with a top speed of 155 mph. In the pre-SUV sport wagon era, this was probably the only way you could take the kids along for a Sunday afternoon jaunt. But you just know they were snickering in their leather rear seats.
It is interesting to note that this wasn't the only weird Ferrari design to wear the 365 badge. The 365 GT4 Croisette was a peculiar estate wagon prototype. Mercifully, it was led behind the barn and shot before reaching production.
1972-1976 Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2 [TopSpeed]
Just over 100 Porsche 904s were manufactured under the Carrera GTS name, starting in 1963. The car was never intended for mass production and was built only to satisfy GT race requirements. Not surprisingly, demand for this futuristic supercar far outstripped supply.
It was Porsche's first fibreglass body, and the combination of a sleek lightweight chassis and mid-engine power plant proved formidable on the racetrack.
Alas, owning one of the originals is a prohibitively expensive proposition. Chuck Beck has a long history of manufacturing quality reproductions of the Porsche 356 and 500, and he stepped up to the plate to bring a 911-powered replica of the 904 to the masses.
The Beck 904's air-cooled 3.164 L six-cylinder puts out 250 hp (net) mated to a 5-spd transaxle. A curb weight of only 1,740 lbs ensures ferocious performance, with a very respectable 0-60 mph time of 3.6 seconds.
The Beck 904 doesn't come with niceties such as satnav or air conditioning, but it offers a chance to drive a surprisingly authentic remake of a classic Porsche at a cost of around $50,000 + drivetrain.
Incidentally, Peugeot complained about Porsche's use of a zero in the middle of their model numbers, arguing that this was a hallmark of the Peugeot naming scheme. As a result, the Porsche 901 was rebadged the 911 and only Porsche race cars carried a zero from that point on.
Classic Retro Thing