Posted by: Jerry Garrett | August 20, 2019

2019 Pebble Beach Concours: The Aroma of Home Cooking

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2019 Best of Show at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.

The winner of the prestigious, highly coveted Best of Show honor at the 2019 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was a one-of-a-kind 1931 Bentley Sports Tourer. It won because, well… of course, it did.

Let’s say this Bentley had a few things going for it: Bentley was celebrating 100 years since its founding. Bentley was also this year’s “Featured Marque” at the world renown classic car beauty contest. And, it was also interesting to note: The car’s owner is kind of a “local”.

Never mind that a Bentley had won “Best of Show”, only once – in 1965 – since the concours’ inception in 1950. Never mind that this Bentley was not among the pre-event favorites, as selected by automotive journalists in attendance. Never mind that it wasn’t even the pre-event favorite among the six special classes of Bentleys entered this year.

This long-shot selection had the aroma of home cookin’ about it.

The car is owned by The Honorable Sir Michael Kadoorie, 78, Hong Kong’s eighth richest individual, with a fortune estimated at nearly $8 billion. He owns about a sixth of the power company that supplies most of Hong Kong’s electrical needs, and a little less than half of the hotel ownership group that controls the Peninsula Hotel chain. He also owns the Quail Lodge Golf Club, in nearby Carmel, which also hosts a large car show for motorsports enthusiasts a few days before the exclusive concours on the Pebble Beach golf links. Together, the two events help act as bookends for nearly a full week of celebration of the history and heritage of classic automobiles.

Sir Michael’s Peninsula property in Hong Kong offers VIP limo service for its guests, in classic Rolls Royce cars. He himself, not surprisingly, is an avid classic car lover, with a discerning collection of unknown size. He acquired the Bentley in 2010, in the middle of an unfinished four-year restoration process, which he duly oversaw to completion.

“The Centennial of Bentley may have played a role in this award,” conceded Mr. Kadoorie, “but the 8 Litre is the ultimate W. O. Bentley–era automobile.” His particular car is fitted with a custom body by coachbuilder Gurney Nutting. Only one other similarly accoutered Bentley 8 Litre was ever made; however, its owner decided to have it re-bodied as a Rolls-Royce, for an indiscernible reason. That leaves Mr. Kadoorie’s version the only other extant.

“This is the car that represents Bentley at its finest,” he added, “and I have been very fortunate to have a car that has this elegance and finish, and that the Pebble Beach Concours feels is worthy.”

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Finalist: 1936 Mercedes-Benz

The process for selecting a couple hundred cars for entry each year in the Pebble Beach pageant is very exacting. The field “turns over” every year, as both losers and winners go home. “We generally do not allow cars to return to our show field within a ten-year period,” organizers advise. A new array of entrants is chosen for each successive year, and so the process goes, for 69 years now.

Entrants have been known to plow many hundreds of thousands of dollars into restoring their vehicles to showroom condition. So many of the competitors are keen to see a return on investment that comes with winning awards – which are given not only for overall achievement, but also in dozens of individual classes. It is not uncommon for one year’s winners to cross the block at the next year’s companion auction events here; often the prices such winners fetch carry a bit of a premium in recognition of the awards they have won.

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Finalist: 1962 Aston Martin

So, more than bragging rights are at stake. But if the losers from this year’s event had issues with the outcome being to whatever degree “fore-ordained” – thus negating a measure of their efforts – their opinions for the most part remained closely held.

“Oh well, I guess French cars can’t win every year,” muttered one, with a tinge of sarcasm.

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Finalist: 1938 Talbot-Lago

The Best of Show finalists did include a stunning French entrant: a 1938 Talbot-Lago T150C-SS Figoni & Falaschi Teardrop Cabriolet. The remaining finalists were a 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Erdmann & Rossi Special Cabriolet and a 1962 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato Coupé.

Jerry Garrett

August 20, 2019

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Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 28, 2019

How Honda Threw Away Victory In The 2019 Indianapolis 500

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The finish of the 2019 Indy 500, from the press box (Jerry Garrett Photo)

By JERRY GARRETT

INDIANAPOLIS

Okay, so Simon Pagenaud’s Chevrolet-powered racer edged out Alexander Rossi’s Honda-driven machine in the 2019 Indianapolis 500.

But it was a case of “coulda, woulda, shoulda” for Honda.

The 15 Chevrolets in the 33-car field were paced by Pagenaud, who qualified fastest and led 112 of the 200 laps in the race; but the 18 Hondas, best represented by Rossi, seemed to get slightly better fuel mileage. Rossi even managed to lead a second-best 22 laps.

This is not a tortoise-and-the-hare tale, but there are elements in this story that remind us that the race does not always go to the swiftest – although it did in this case. And the “tortoise” in this tale committed more than enough unforced errors to screw up itself out of a happy ending.

“Horsepower,” is what Rossi said it all came down to at the finish, as Pagenaud held him off by two-tenths of a second, in the seventh closest finish in the 500’s 103-year history. Pagenaud’s Chevrolet had slightly more power than Rossi’s Honda, when it came down to who could take the point and hold it for the frantic final five miles.

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How they finished.

“It’s not that the Honda has any significant disadvantage, from a horsepower standpoint,” Rossi said. “Yes, it’s an engine whose basic design is now almost ten years old, and they keep doing clever things to keep it competitive. It’s just that when it came down to the finish, Simon had the power to pass me, and I was unable to get enough of a run to re-pass him.” A series of wild blocking moves by Pagenaud complicated Rossi’s task.

But Rossi actually had the keys to victory snatched away, multiple times – by other Honda drivers!

Rossi, who scored an upset victory here in the 2016 500 as a rookie, won that race with superior fuel mileage, and a clever strategy that was slavishly adhered to – until the final lap, when he took the lead, as driver after driver ahead of him ran out of fuel.

This time around, Rossi and the other Honda drivers – 2008 Indy winner Scott Dixon, Conor Daly, 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sebastien Bourdais chief among them – had an improved fuel-stretching strategy to go with a go-fast plan to stay closer to the front as much as possible the whole race.

In 2016, Rossi had been willing to drop all the way to last at the mid-point of the race, in order to stretch his fuel to the max.

In a normal Indy race, at least six pit stops for fuel are to be expected. If you can stretch your fuel, as Rossi did in 2016, and make only five fuel stops, you’ve gained a theoretical advantage of nearly an entire 2.5-mile lap, at these speeds. That’s huge.

Many of the Honda drivers this year were mindful of that five-stop strategy, while the Chevrolet crowd was just going to go for it, running flat out all day, in hopes the chips fell their way. A sort of hare-brained strategy, if you will.

What negates the fuel mileage strategy is when there are too many crashes and yellow caution flags that slow the race during clean-up periods. Then pit stops can be made during the ensuing slow-down periods, without losing much track position.

For instance, Pagenaud led the race until lap 32, when he made his first fuel stop. Rossi didn’t pit until lap 36.

Though it didn’t take Pagenaud long to race back into the lead, he had to stop again at lap 64. Rossi, who remained among the top five during this segment, didn’t stop until lap 70. So, it was becoming clear what Rossi was up to – and it was working.

On lap 99, Pagenaud came in again for fuel – once again giving up the lead, as happened each time he pitted. Rossi managed to stay out until lap 106. So the extra laps that Rossi had “in the bank”, so to speak, over Pagenaud grew again. And they could be expected to continue growing until the last 30 laps or so, when Pagenaud would have to make a final stop, while Rossi could keep going. Game over for Chevrolet, in that case.

But here is where the plan started to unravel for Rossi, and his Honda mates. That lap 106 pit stop for Rossi was botched when his fuel man could not get his balky re-fueling rig engaged and disengaged quickly enough during the stop. So, Rossi’s stop took 8.8 seconds, while Pagenaud had received service earlier in just 7.2 seconds. That translated to at least four football fields worth of distance on the race track; Rossi had to start driving like a wild man avoid losing even more time. Rossi knew if he was bogged down behind slower traffic, the leaders could pull away quickly.

In his mad dash to the front, Rossi narrowly missed colliding with Bourdais and Oriol Servia, as they failed to move over fast enough. Rossi angrily shook his fist at them – while continuing to race on at 220 mph with one hand!

What added to Rossi’s pique at these guys was they were fellow Honda racers, and they had an obligation to give a faster “teammate” plenty of room to go by.

Behind Rossi, Honda drivers Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon were on a plan to stretch their mileage even farther, and they didn’t stop until laps 109 and 112, respectively.

At this point, Hondas occupied nine of the first 11 places in the running order. And the two Chevrolets among them – Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden – were doomed, because they would have to make one extra, hope-killing fuel stop in the last 200 miles!

Honda’s strategy was working perfectly. Until it wasn’t.

The advantage was wiped out as the race neared its 350-mile mark: Top ten Honda runner Marcus Ericsson blundered too fast onto pit road, spun around and banged the wall. This pit road blockage brought out the yellow flag. As the field slowed and bunched up behind the pace car, the backmarkers all caught back up. And everyone got to make essentially a free pit stop, without jeopardizing their positions on the race track. This was great for the Chevrolet drivers, who desperately needed this, but disastrous for the Honda guys, who definitely did not it. They had all too recently stopped for service.

So Rossi’s growing 12-lap fuel cushion – and his need for one less fuel stop than the Chevrolets – was wiped out. Same with most of the other Honda runners.

Rossi’s problems were compounded when his pesky fuel hose problem resurfaced; he lost a huge amount of time – which put him back in the running order once again – while his pit crew struggled to get fuel into his car.

When the race resumed, Rossi – furious over the pit stop debacle – drove like a man unafraid of Indy’s mortal dangers, to erase the setback he had suffered. He was soon back among the top five, but his fuel advantage was zeroed out. On lap 167, Rossi, Pagenaud and Newgarden all pitted for fuel again at the same time.

But even if the race had run to its conclusion from this point without caution, there was still a chance fuel mileage maybe – just maybe – could come into play again. Here’s how: Racing at similar speeds, Pagenaud could expect to get about 29-30 laps on of a tank of fuel, while Rossi was looking at 32-33, at least. Pagenaud might have to mitigate his horsepower advantage to conserve fuel, while Rossi could race flat-out.

So off they went again, with Rossi dogging the Chevrolets of Pagenaud, Newgarden and Ed Carpenter.

Then came what proved to be the final nail in Honda’s coffin: Rahal and Bourdais were having it out. Rahal was trying to pass, Bourdais kept cutting him off. This went on for a lap or two, until Bourdais again tried to cut Rahal off going into a turn. They bumped. Bourdais turned sideways in front of Rahal, who then collected him. They spun into the wall, while Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach crashed behind them.

The truly stupid aspect about this totally needless crash was that it was two Honda guys crashing out two other Honda guys, and again thwarting another Honda guy – Rossi – and his relentless march to the front.

The Chevrolet guys, meanwhile, emerged more than “unscathed” – they were gifted another free pit stop as a result, and more than enough fuel to run to the finish at full warp! So thanks to the dispiriting lack of Honda camaraderie, their potentially unbeatable fuel mileage strategy was pronounced dead, once and for all.

At the end, it came down to Rossi, and another determined Honda driver Takuma Sato (recovering from an early race pit foul-up) trying every trick they knew to vanquish the Chevrolets. They bravely got past Newgarden, Power and Carpenter with nail-biting passes. But then they lacked that extra dab of horsepower needed to dispatch Pagenaud. Rossi did draft into the lead with three laps to go. But that was actually Rossi’s fatal mistake, Pagenaud believes.

“When he got me [with] three laps to go, I’m like, ‘Man, you shouldn’t have done that,'” Pagenaud told Dale Earnhardt Jr. in an interview after the race. Pagenaud employed the same slip-streaming strategy to take the lead right back for the final lap.

“The actual thing I said to myself when he goes around me in Turn 1 is, ‘Perfect. Perfect.'” Pagenaud continued. “I was so worried that he was going to wait for the last lap and do it, and if he did it on the last lap, he could have won the race.”

By making his move three laps from the end, Rossi left Pagenaud too much time, and opportunity, to use the same slipstream move to get the lead back. In theory, the two combatants could have used the slipstream to leap-frog each other indefinitely.

But the checkered flag at the end of lap 200 decided the battle, although Pagenaud had to use all his wiles to block Rossi’s desperation, last-lap bid to go in front two turns from the finish.

“By the white flag, he was so far (behind), I thought I had it,” Pagenaud recalled of the frantic few seconds left in the race. “But then on the backstretch on the last lap, then he got really close. He had a good Turn 2, and I had to pull the Dale Jr. card there…

“My last card in my game was to break the draft, find a way to break the draft. And obviously, I was able to finish the corner really low to break the draft because my car was just sensational. And then he couldn’t really do the same, so that gained me a little bit. And then when he started drafting (back to me), I just moved to the high side, and he couldn’t move as quick as me, so I did it again. And that was just enough to be inside Turn 3, and I wasn’t going to lift no matter what.”

“We had the superior car, I felt,” Rossi lamented, “for most situations. But at the end, we lacked just that tiny bit of horsepower we needed to get past Simon that last time.”

May 27, 2019

(Editor’s Note: Versions of this story appeared in the May 26, 2019 editions of The New York Times.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 21, 2019

Contrarian View: McLaren At The 2019 Indy 500

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Team McLaren’s ill-fated, unsuccessful Indy 500 run (IMS)

INDIANAPOLIS

Another gimmick has failed racing.

There are 33 starting positions available for would-be qualifiers for the Indianapolis 500. It used to be that the 33 fastest qualifiers would occupy those spots.

Not anymore.

Now, there’s a gimmick. One of those little twists that organizers have added, to theoretically jazz up the proceedings – which suggests the sport’s promoters think the traditional way of qualifying for the Indy 500 was too boring.

I disagree.

There were 36 drivers and cars vying a spot in the 2019 race. Three of them weren’t going to make the starting lineup. This math exercise was easy to understand. What was less clear was that it wasn’t necessarily going to be the cream of the crop – the “fastest 33 drivers in the world,” as they used to proclaim – that would make it into this year’s “Greatest Spectacle In Racing”.

Under recently promulgated Indy rules, the first 30 starting positions are in set in a single qualifying session. The final three spots are set in a separate “last chance” qualifying session.

This year, that left six drivers on the outside looking in. These included star attractions such as two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso and former pole winner James Hinchcliffe.

Under this rule, before this last dance, these drivers are allowed to go fiddle with their cars, to try and find more speed. What can – and inevitably does – happen, as a result, is these final qualifiers end up going faster than some of those already in the field.

This also creates a ridiculous situation where faster drivers can end up starting behind slower ones. This gimmick is dangerous. Needlessly so.

In fact, this brings up another gimmick – along the same lines – that ended up back in 2011 at a Las Vegas race, leading to a 15-car crash that killed two-time Indy winner Dan Wheldon. He was starting at the back of the field, trying to earn a $1 million prize, if he could pass slower drivers in front of him and win the race.

Why does racing, especially IndyCar racing, where the cars and drivers are so evenly matched, and the racing so blood-curdlingly close anyway, need such gimmicks?

They tend to end badly.

This year, it ended badly for Alonso and Team McLaren, a new entrant that organizers were ecstatic to have. (As always, organizers are searching for ways to expand the sport’s appeal and attract new drivers, teams, sponsors and television advertisers.)

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Alonso bounced off two walls (BBC)

Earlier in practice, Alonso had an inexplicable crash that destroyed his front line car. So he was obliged to move to an unprepared backup car.

In a heroic fifth and final attempt at qualifying a car not well suited to the task, Alonso came up less than two-hundredths of a mile an hour short. Actually, he turned in the 31st fastest qualifying speed. But under the qualifying gimmick rule, the 31st qualifying position had already been locked in earlier by someone else. So, Alonso ended up being  excluded from the last row slots (Hinchcliffe was luckier), while two drivers with slower speeds were able to start instead.

How idiotic.

McLaren, the vaunted Formula 1 team with two previous Indy victories to its credit, was made to look incompetent and foolish. Alonso, who fancies himself one of the greatest drivers in racing history (and few would argue that), was mortified. The team principal apologized to its fans; its president was summarily fired. It would not commit to returning again in 2020, or anytime in the furniture.

Headlines made merciless fun of McLaren’s misfortune.

A lot of other potential Indy 500 aspirants must look at such scenarios with horror. Why would you come to Indy, as McLaren had done, as a one-shot deal (i.e., not planning on running any other IndyCar races during the rest of the season) and take a chance on missing the race? Not to mention taking a shot, like McLaren, did to its reputation and brand image. I mean, McLaren builds road cars and is hoping to sell them to the enthusiast public. What does a debacle like this do to those goals? It couldn’t have helped.

In the final analysis, McLaren had some bad luck, with its primary car being damaged in the practice crash. In the haste to make the poorly suited backup car equal to the task, a small detail was overlooked: The gearbox had the wrong ratio settings. The proper settings – a relatively easy fix – would have easily given Alonso a top speed capability of 229 mph, instead of the 227 he barely managed on his final qualifying attempt. A 229 average would have been enough to challenge for the pole position! In the race itself, 227 would have been more than competitive. Instead, he was sent packing.

And a final note: The 2019 field was the closest, in terms of speed from fastest qualifier to the slowest, in the race’s history dating back to 1911. The difference between best and worst was barely calculable: literally a matter of a few feet.

So, with a two-time World Champion and his team going home humiliated, perhaps never to return, Indy’s gimmick cost the sport, its backers and its fans dearly.

No more gimmicks, please.

Jerry Garrett

May 21, 2019

 

 

 

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This vandalized speed camera, in Corsica, has a snotty warning from the gilets jaunes for French president Macron (CNN)

NICE, France

The French government admitted this week that 75 percent of the country’s nearly 3,300 speed cameras have been vandalized. The destruction, a separate agency confirmed, has to date cost government tax collectors more than 209 million euro ($235 million).

The figures are notable, for two reasons: First, as recently as December, only a few hundreds of the cameras had been damaged, according to the government (which had been trying officially to minimize public concern over the carnage); now, it is confirmed over 2,500 of them have been attacked. Second, the government hadn’t released a monetary figure on lost revenue until now, other than to say the losses were “in the millions.”

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Arbitrarily lowering speed limits from 90 kph to 80 last year helped spur the yellow vest reactions (BBC)

Search the internet for speed camera vandalism. There’s no shortage of photos of camera boxes that have been crashed into, duct-taped blind, shrink-wrapped, spray-painted, even blown up. Near me, someone with a backhoe dug one up, and dumped it in a ravine.

Who’s responsible? The yellow vest, or gilets jaunes, protesters and their sympathizers. No question. No debate about this. Also, no shortage of suspects.

French motorists – millions of them – hate speed cameras, and the many other tricks and traps the government uses to try and extract revenue from them. They hate them even more, since the government arbitrarily lowered speed limits from 90 kph to 80 last year, in what was widely seen as a way to extract even more fines from drivers. (The government lamely cites “increasing” traffic mortality rates as a justification, and cocked-up “public opinion polls” claiming support for the lower limits.)

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Gilets jaunes aren’t shy about who is vandalizing speed cameras (The Independent)

Undaunted in their pursuit of revenue off the backs of motorists, the French government says it will start replacing the destroyed speed cameras with radar machines, which they say will be harder to destroy. We will see.

When the yellow vest protests broke out last year, official explanations were vague about the causes behind the increasingly violent protests. “Economic disparity” came to be blamed. But the trigger for such intense public anger was the French government’s war on the automobile and just about anything to do with motorized travel.

There’s a long history of vindictive persecution of the automobile, its makers and its consumers in France. During World War II and its aftermath, many of the industry’s leading players, giants such as Louis Renault and Ettore Bugatti were vilified as enemy “collaborators” jailed and allegedly tortured. Their factories were confiscated by the government, and ruinous taxes imposed. In fact, France’s once-robust automotive design and coach-building industry, featuring such vaunted names as Delahaye, Talbot-Lago, Figoni & Falaschi, Sauotchik and Voisin, was quite literally taxed to death.

Back to the present day.

What about rising fuel taxes? They are a factor, to be sure, but probably not to the extent they are given blame. Gas prices in France have long been much higher than in neighboring countries. (I always fill up in Italy.)

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World’s third largest motorway petrol plaza – in Luxembourg (Tokheim)

Tiny Luxembourg exists, wags say, as a gas station for the neighboring French; huge “petrol plazas” greet motorists at nearly every entrance to the country.

Speed limits are generally lower in France than neighboring countries (in Italy and Spain the 130 kph limits are lightly enforced in most areas). Germany’s autobahns, famously, offer sections without any speed limits at all.

Every autoroute, or “interstate”, in France is also a toll road. And tolls are constantly going up. Toll booths (usually understaffed and only partially open) are installed every few miles, it seems, negating any speed advantage that might come from paying extra to take a limited access highway.

Every city and town has its own speed cameras,  traffic radars, and traffic cops. Crosswalks are elevated (with mounds of asphalt), ostensibly to slow traffic, but they also do a fairly reliable job of damaging cars – especially luxury models that hug the ground. (A particularly nasty crosswalk/speed bump I know of in Menton warns motorists it must be taken at no more than 10 kph; there’s a speed camera mounted there, which invariably catches offenders – airborne).

Vehicle registration and licensing fees are always increasing.

Air pollution is terrible, because the French government for years misguidedly promoted diesel-powered vehicles and discounted diesel fuel, to encourage adoption. Now that “clean” diesel has been outed as a big fraud, the government wants to raise diesel fuel taxes to demand-destructive levels, and to tax diesel cars off the road. Paris, in fact, wants to ban diesel cars (and eventually all cars) from its downtown core.

French cars, as a whole, are something of an acquired taste. They sell in sufficient numbers to keep their manufacturers’ solvent, but only in France. Italians buy Italian cars, Germans buy local, even Spanish motorists favor SEAT-badged VWs over French cars. The worst cars I drove out of dozens I tested in Europe the last three years were Peugeots and Citroens (Renaults were slightly more competitive). There’s a reason French cars are no longer even sold in the United States.

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Don’t be surprised when French public transportation goes on strike (BBC)

Might public transportation be a more attractive alternative? Well, that’s a whole other mess. The government is constantly raising prices of those conveyances, and always thinking of new ways to tax users into poverty. This, while ignoring maintenance, dumbing-down schedules, and generally making the travel experience as miserable as possible. Public transportation also perpetually seems to be suffering through some kind of strike – against bus companies, against airlines, against railways, against fuel refiners. Protestors infamously chased down airline executives announcing layoffs (two years ago now) and tried to rip their clothes off, as the desperate men threw themselves over a barbed wire fence to escape.

In balmy southern France, yellow vest protesters even wintered in makeshift encampments in highway roundabouts, try to rally the sympathies of motorists to widen the revolt. Traffic, understandably, was tied in knots for months.

Compounded by the still-unrequited hatred of the gilets jaunes, the situation seems almost at an impasse.

Is there a solution? I hardly think so. My conclusion is France just hates the car.

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A notable Kickstarter campaign for two-horsepower forms of transportation.

Jerry Garrett

April 1, 2019

 

 

 

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Italy: Unforgettable to visit, but mind your wallet (Jerry Garrett Photo)

VENICE, Italy

Just finished reading a very smart blog post from the always very savvy Bianca at ItalianFix, with some suggestions to avoid getting fleeced when using a debit or credit card for travels in Italy. I recommend reading it (and following her blog).

Anyway, she offers five tips, which I would like to expand upon a bit. But first let me back up a bit: Before you go, let your ATM and credit card issuers and your bank know a) that you are going on a trip, b) what countries you are going to, and c) when you are leaving and returning. If you don’t they may put a block on your card – which is all kinds of fun to try and get un-blocked when you are in a foreign country and trying to call collect, or to an 800 number back home that won’t answer in the middle of the night there.

1. Now to her tips: Bianca suggests, “Have 50 euro in cash when you arrive.” Yes, this is a solid idea (for several reasons, which I will expand upon below), but not always as easy to do as you might think. Hopefully, if you travel to Europe often (like I do), you will have left Europe on your last trip with at least 50 euro still on you. Then you are all set when you return. So, plan ahead, if you can.

If you haven’t done this, or it was not an option, you might find it is not worth the trouble and expense to get just 50 euro from your financial institution back home. Think of getting at least 100 euro! And get it from your bank, if you can. You will be charged the best exchange rate, and pay fewer fees, as a general rule. Don’t change money at your departure airport – unless you are desperate. You will probably get fleeced out of a quarter, or more, of your transaction in fees.

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Beware: Not an “ATM”; It’s a Travelex kiosk

2. Get the best exchange rate. Okay, number one: Don’t change money at the airport. We mentioned your departure airport above; but don’t change money at your arrival airport either. It’s probably even worse! There’s a reason those currency exchange booths look so lonely these days: People have, for the most part, figured out what a ripoff they are. But here’s a new trick they try: An ATM in the baggage claim or arrivals area, that looks like a regular ATM – but it is actually a currency exchange machine placed there by those same ripoff artists! They will nail you for the same rate they are trying to clip you for at their kiosk (or worse).

Before you use any ATM in Italy, especially at the airport, train station or downtown in large cities, make sure (as best you can) you understand whose ATM it is. Those specifically tied to banks are the best best. We usually see the reliable ones with a sign that says, “Bancomat”. There are also many with a kind of stylized “3” logo that accept cards affiliated with a group of Italian banks. We’ve had good success with these charging fair rates (or no fees at all, see below).

If you can, when using an ATM machine, try to figure out at least in general terms how many euro your money will net you. (Be at least generally aware of the day’s euro-to-dollar exchange rate.) We’ve been terribly shortchanged (literally) in touristy areas like Venice and Como.

3. Beware the foreign transaction fee. We have two Visa cards from Chase; one charges a foreign transaction fee, the other does not. The difference in the bills we got, when we got home, was staggering. We learned our lesson. (On larger amounts, it’s as high as a 3% commission, plus fees; on smaller amounts, we were charged a minimum fee – which when we were forced to use it for an autostrada toll, for instance, turned a tiny fee into a large one. The best we have found is the American Express Platinum which is, sadly, not as widely accepted as MasterCard and Visa. We also have a Chase Sapphire Preferred. We find people snap to attention when you use an AMEX card, because they are so hard to get in Italy (you must keep a lot of money in the bank as collateral, and so usually only rich people carry them there). Affinity cards we have with Delta and United airlines are not good ones for foreign travel, as a general rule. (All the cards I mention here do earn you frequent flier miles!)

3a. The “dynamic currency conversion fee” is another of those little tricks they’ve come up with to swindle you. Ever been asked, at a restaurant or store, to choose between being billed in euro, or your home currency? That’s them trying to get you to pay their version of a currency exchange fee. Always choose to get your bill in euro. Best to have your credit card company calculate the exchange rate and any fees when they get around to billing you.

I have also seen instances recently in which you are prompted to leave a tip on your bill, with helpful calculations for 10%, 15%, 20% or more. Remember this is another trick; tipping is not generally a thing in Italy. And if you do tip, you want to leave it in cash. And don’t tip too much: “It can send the wrong message,” a pretty waitress advised me.

4. Use a credit card, if you can, rather than burn through your cash, or carry large amounts of it around (A no no!). This is vital: This is how you have some leverage over strange charges that may (often) crop up on your bill when you get back home. Don’t hesitate to contest any such charge. I do. Always good advice. Particularly if you are going to do something like rent a car (a whole other topic!). Also know that if you use something like an AMEX Platinum to charge your rental car, it covers the ghastly “collision damage waiver” upcharge.

5. Please note that it is always a good idea to have a debit card on hand. Certain automated payment kiosks, such as at airports and train stations, may only take a debit card, regardless of what the signs say. I’ve had this problem on autostrada toll booths and for parking meters too. It’s a good backup to have when you start to panic, “None of my credit cards are working!” There’s a reason; Italians get your money faster when they force you to use a debit card.Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 10.36.46 AM

Bianca also makes some other good suggestions about using a debit card in Italy (beware of fees, and limited acceptance). I will add one of mine, but it is probably not practical, unless you are planning an extended stay. I transferred just under $3,000 (the amount above which starts getting scrutiny from the Guardia di Finanza) from my U.S. bank to an account that I opened at an Italian bank (with the help of my kind landlord). I did this back when the exchange rate was really low ($1.04 to the euro!) and this allowed me to pay my rent, pay my utilities, get cash (from any of those banks with the weird “3” logo) without a transaction fee, and pay anyone without looking like a tourist (and getting asked to opt for tricky stuff like the “foreign conversion fee”). Plus, when the exchange rate tanked in 2017 (thanks Trump), I got a lot of bang for those bucks I had exchanged six months earlier.

Pro Tip: Exchange rates are pretty low again, right now. Might be a good time to take advantage of an idea like this.

Jerry Garrett

March 23, 2019

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 22, 2019

The Car Radio Turns 90, Thanks To A Picnic

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The “Motorola” Model 5T71, the first car radio

The idea for the car radio was born 90 years ago, by some accounts. The story of how that came about, and what the idea set in motion, is a fascinating one.

It would be a few years before the idea became feasible, but today of course the car radio is as ubiquitous as the automobile itself.

Commercial radio broadcasting began in the 1920s, and the whole industry was still in its infancy when William Lear (more on him later) and Elmer Wavering wondered if they could adapt a home radio to use in an automobile.

According to a story that Lear was fond of telling, the two young men were on a picnic with their lady friends, on a promontory overlooking the Mississippi River in Quincy, Illinois, one evening in 1929. One of the women said she wished they could listen to music, as they watched the sun set.

That started the whole idea. Both men had tinkered with radios, and had enough background in the basics that they thought it was possible. (Other inventors have claimed to develop the same notion a bit earlier or around the same time, but all automotive radios trace their genealogy from this ancestor.)

But there were issues: Besides having to downsize the whole radio apparatus, which was quite large in those early days of the technology, the men had to solve problems of durability – bouncing around in cars with primitive suspensions on early roads. And then were was static. This was an issue for all radios, and a number of companies began offering solutions to static in home-based radios. But a car presented a unique set of issues with interference from its electrical equipment, such as the generator, the spark plugs, and its ignition.

Lear and Wavering eventually presented their idea to Paul Galvin, who operated a small company in Chicago that specialized in making “battery eliminators” which converted home radios to run on household current; all radios up until about 1927 ran on separate, bulky storage batteries. Galvin was eager to expand into a new product category, and so he offered the men space in his factory to tinker with their radio.

They got a prototype up and running in a Studebaker, and decided to approach a banker for a loan, to go into business mass-producing car radio kits. To show how versatile the application could be for any car, the men installed a demonstration model in the banker’s Packard. But disaster happened: The system malfunctioned and set the car on fire. Needless to say, they didn’t get the loan.

Galvin refused to give up, however. He drove the Studebaker from Chicago to a radio convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. When he arrived, he found he couldn’t afford to rent a booth at the show, so he ended up parking the car on the street outside the convention center, and blasting the radio to passersby. He managed to get enough people interested to start taking orders.

Galvin decided to call the radio “the Motorola“, a mash-up of the Victrola brand name and other popular radios of the time. The first model was designated the 5T71, for whatever reason.

The biggest problem for the young business was the cost of the unit: $110, uninstalled. That was a lot of money back then, during the depths of the Depression, when a new car cost $650 or so. Plus, it took two men several days to install the contraption and all its necessary parts, pieces and wires. The radio even needed its own source of power (i.e., a separate battery) in those early days. And it wasn’t exactly pretty, once installed.

It’s a miracle the company survived.

But the idea of putting a radio in a car was too popular to fail, it seems. Galvin said he lost money the first couple of years, until he perfected the system enough to get Ford Motor Company to begin offering them as options on its 1933 models. (Chrysler actually offered radios as options on a few 1932 models; General Motors wouldn’t join the radio craze until 1934.) Galvin got another big break – and a leg up on aggressive new rivals like Philco – when B.F. Goodrich agreed to begin selling simplified Motorola kits and installing them in existing vehicles, in their tire stores, for $55.

By 1934, a factory-installed radio could be had in a new car for $39.95 (an antenna cost extra!)

Motorola would go on to develop the first push-button radio in 1936; the company soon became an idea factory for innovations such as police cruiser radios, walkie-talkies, early home televisions and myriad other electronic marvels. Later, they even developed communications equipment for the first moon landing, pagers and early mobile phones. (Galvin’s company finally converted over to the Motorola name in 1947.)

And what happened to those enterprising young men, who originally turned the idea into reality? Wavering stayed on as an engineer with Galvin and Motorola. He was instrumental in developing the automotive alternator, which eliminated the generator; the alternator facilitated a whole new, more robust electronic architecture for the automobile, including such power-hogging amenities as air conditioning, power windows, power seats, and – yes – even better radios and stereo systems.

Lear leveraged his one-third ownership interest in the radio venture to strike out on his own as an inventor. In his lifetime, he would be issued more than 150 patents. He came up with tape players (remember four-track and eight-track?), helped develop radio direction finders for airplanes, played a key role in the development of aviation auto-pilot systems. And of course, his most famous invention: The Lear Jet, the world’s first mass-produced and (somewhat) affordable business jet.

Kind of makes you wonder how differently history might have been written without that sunset picnic?

Jerry Garrett

March 22, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 16, 2019

Bugatti Doesn’t Need You, Or Your Measly Millions

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“La Voiture Noire” Photos by Jerry Garrett

GENEVA, Switzerland

The showstopper of the 2019 version of the Geneva International Motor Show was “La Voiture Noire,” a one-of-a-kind offering from Bugatti that was sold for $19 million – before the show even opened. It was reputed to be the highest price ever paid for a new car.

And the new owner had never even seen the car. Only a sketch.

The car itself is two to two-and-a-half years away from being built, revealed its designer, Achim Anscheidt, Bugatti’s styling chief. By our calculation, it would be a 2022 model.

“It is one of one,” said Stephan Winkelmann, the luxury carmaker’s chief executive. “There will never be another. I am pleased to tell you that it has sold for 16.7 million euro.”

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Stephan Winkelmann introduces La Voiture Noire

Was that price obscenely high?

Perhaps so, if one thinks of it as a car, concedes Anscheidt, “but perhaps not, if one considers it as a work of art: Something you might see, in some years, in a gallery, or collection, or at a major concours d’elegance such as Pebble Beach.”

Anschiedt’s point is well taken. “There has never been a one-of-a-kind Bugatti. Ettore Bugatti himself couldn’t do it. Not even his son Jean could manage it. What is the value of such a thing?” he asked. “Is it truly like fine art, or sculpture?”

Anscheidt certainly considers it so.

Certainly other collectible, less exclusive Bugattis from the brand’s storied 110-year past have sold for more; for a time, a Bugatti Royale, one of a handful ever made, held the record for a price paid at auction. And particular types of vintage Ferrari sports cars have sold more than twice as much. But “La Voiture Noire” represented a record for a new car, Winkelmann said.

The details of the sale were not announced, but some sort of auction among the brand’s faithful was a good bet.

“We are lucky to have loyal owners,” Anscheidt said. “We have an ownership group of about 380 people who buy everything we make.”

What sort of a person owns a Bugatti? They are classified as “ultra high net worth individuals” (UHNWI).  They are some rarefied fraction of “the 1%.” They each own an average of 42 cars, a company spokesman said.

Bugatti does virtually no advertising. It has only a handful of dealerships – and those mostly exist, to the extent they do, to conduct the occasional service the cars might need. (An oil change can run as much as $25,000.) A performance footnote: At top speed, a Bugatti will run out of gas in less than seven minutes.

As a form of transportation, a Bugatti is not meant to make sense.

So, Bugatti does not need you, prospective car buyers. Each $3 million-plus Chiron, the only model Bugatti has in production, is spoken for as soon a new one rolls out of the factory. (The Chiron, successor to the iconic Veyron, is reportedly the first Bugatti model to turn a profit for the company.)

Occasionally, Bugatti will commission a special vehicle, or series of vehicles, just to create a bit of additional interest in the marque. The Divo, a run of 40 special Chiron derivatives announced a few months ago, the company announced here, is also sold out – despite an asking price twice that of the Chiron: nearly $6 million.

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La Voiture Noire, rear view

Anscheidt said Bugatti’s creme de la creme, La Voiture Noire, was meant to aspire to even greater flights of fancy: To capture the spirit of the marque’s famous designer, Jean Bugatti, and his personal, jet-black Type 57C Atlantic Coupe. Legend has it that after Bugatti was killed in a 1939 testing accident, his Atlantic – one of four built – disappeared in 1940 while being transported by rail to Bordeaux to spare it from the advance of the Nazis.

La Voiture Noire has a similar roofline to what is known of that rather mysterious Atlantic, including a dorsal fin running down the center of the car from nose to tail, the horse collar grille, and the signature swoop of the passenger compartment’s side windows.

“It evokes the past, but it is not retro,” Anschiedt noted. “As my former professor from the Art Center College of Design said, ‘There is nowhere to go with retro.’ So, yes, I can go where I want with design, to the past for inspiration if I wish. But in the end, I must also look forward; I must coordinate with the engineers, to achieve what is technically possible.”

For instance, because the Divo is meant to have a lower profile than the Chiron, to facilitate tighter handling for race track use, there was a slight compromise in the Divo’s top speed. Both cars are capable of 230-236 m.p.h., the company said.

The top speed of La Voiture Noire has not been calculated yet, Anscheidt noted. But something near 250 m.p.h. (400 kilometers per hour) is desired. To achieve that last burst of speed between 380 and 400 k.p.h. is where the black magic is needed, he added.

“Everything on the car must be perfection,” he said.

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Is this a 400 k.p.h. car?

La Voiture Noire’s design is “something that’s been in the bottom of my desk drawer for 10 years,” he said. It had to be reworked countless times to become something that was also aerodynamically and technically feasible, for a car that will have such unprecedented specifications. The engineers must also work their considerable magic for function, as well as form, to realize the car’s intended top speed.

From a technical standpoint, Anscheidt’s design is said to be powered by a 16-cylinder engine similar to the 16-cylinder, 1,500-horsepower monster in the current Chiron.

The vehicle shown, of course, here is powered by nothing, since it’s merely a mock-up of what the finished La Voiture Noire is expected to look like. There is no interior, no mechanical internals.

“What was shown here was put together in 16 weeks,” Anschiedt said. “I don’t even know if I would call it a concept, at this point.” He said the owner was given the option of making changes in the design, should any have been requested.

“He requested only one thing,” Anscheidt said. “He wanted six tailpipes. Do you know how many tailpipes the Atlantic had? No? It had five.”

So “La Voiture Noire”, as seen here, is but a “representation” of what the car ultimately will be. The actual car remains something of a mirage, much as Jean Bugatti’s storied creation. The company currently has no plans to display the finished model.

“Take a good look at what you see here; I doubt if it will be seen again,” Anscheidt said. He expects the finished version of “La Voiture Noire” to largely disappear – into the owner’s private collection, which is said to be “vast”. “Perhaps his son will drive it someday. Perhaps one day you will see it on the lawn at Pebble Beach.”

Jerry Garrett

March 16, 2019

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 29, 2019

ROMA: What’s That Massive Car?

Early in the 2018 movie Roma, there’s a scene where the family’s father tries to wedge a huge sedan into a garage space made for a Volkswagen Beetle.

What’s that car?

Though it’s a bit dark, and the movie’s in black and white, it appears to be a 1970 Ford Galaxie 500.

There’s not much worth remembering about the 1970 Galaxie, except that it was part of the top-range line of full-size Fords. The Galaxie nameplate was introduced in 1958, and it lingered on until the 1974 model year.

The car was a performance dog, at least by today’s standards: Rear-wheel driver, three-speed automatic transmission, with a base 240-cubic-inch engine that produced just 150 horsepower (about what a Toyota Corolla’s output is today).

Despite being marketed as a high-performance model, it’s zero to 60 m.p.h. acceleration was a woeful 13.1 seconds. It’s top speed? Don’t let the 120 m.p.h. speedometer fool you: It’s couldn’t even top out at 100.

Its 3,717-pound curb weight didn’t help.

A sedan with a few popular options could be purchased for around $3,000 in the U.S. No idea what it might have cost in pesos, as the movie is set in Mexico City. But it would have been a rare ride indeed in that city in 1970.

This Detroit dinosaur was an apt metaphor, especially in retrospect, for the father’s impracticality and extravagance.

Without knowing much more than the first few minutes of the movie conveyed about the car, it already seemed like a car you could love to hate. It was enough of a first impression for the audience in the theater I saw in it to applaud when the dad ran it over some dog shit.

Jerry Garrett

January 29, 2019

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 22, 2019

The Rise And Fall Of The Detroit Auto Show

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An auto show is supposed to be all about glitz and glamor. (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Back in 1982, someone gave me tickets to my first Detroit Auto Show. It was right across the street from where I worked. I decided it wasn’t worth it.

A colleague later confirmed it wasn’t worth walking across the snowy, unplowed street for. Back then, it was mostly a dealer show, trying to interest locals in buying a car. In recent years, I don’t know what you would call it.

Although there has been a Detroit auto show since 1899, in some form or fashion, the Detroit show re-branded itself in 1989 as the high-falutin’ sounding “North American International Auto Show”.

In so doing, the organizers (again, local dealers) tried to fashion it into an international confab, meant to equal the likes of the posh Paris Motor Show (the world’s oldest). Civic boosters demanded the Detroit show be held in the dead of winter (it had originally been held in the fall, when new American cars were traditionally introduced), in an effort to fill downtown hotel rooms that would otherwise be empty.

The “Big Three” Detroit automakers tried their best to pump the show up with glamorous concept cars, fanciful design studies, and their shiniest new cars. They showcased them in lavish displays – some of which, like Ford’s legendary “Bridge to Tomorrow” in 1999 – cost tens of millions of dollars to construct.

For a time, it seemed to be working. The auto industry was humming along. Local politicians, like eccentric mayors Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick (now jailed), promised to revitalize Detroit’s notoriously moribund downtown, and improvements were promised for the shabby Cobo Center where the show was held.

The weather was a constant enemy. In 1999, a notorious blizzard shut down the city for several days. One group of Australians claimed they were stranded in Las Vegas the whole time – which they decided would be a much more favorable host city for the show.

A well-established show in Los Angeles, which had its date more or less appropriated by Detroit, refused to die; it proved popular for Japanese manufacturers who were based there (and often made to feel unwelcome in Detroit).

Suggestions – much less criticisms – offered to the Detroit organizers received chilly receptions; I was hassled over credentials for twenty years, after I dared to pen a critique.

It was very clubby. “They had, generally, an ‘our-shit-don’t-stink’ attitude,” a well-known auto industry analyst once told me. “After awhile I, and some of my colleagues in the financial world, decided we didn’t need that.” Attendees often complained of being ripped off for hotel rooms, restaurant meals, and cab rides. Stories circulated of outrageous fees to set up display booths (like $100 per chair to place them for a press conference).

I am aware of an instance where a Mitsubishi executive, trying to lobby for a coveted main floor display location, was told by an organizer the request might receive more favor if he were to be awarded a Mitsubishi dealership (he didn’t get it, but I wished he had; he would have deserved what was coming).

The promised improvements to the Cobo Center never really materialized. Plumbing broke, backed up and overflowed with some regularity. The heating system was hit-and-miss. The electrical system was a nightmare; the place actually caught on fire during one show. It was dirty, dingy and unsafe (a serious, dangerous and largely unaddressed problem for the entire downtown area; many attendees complained of being robbed). Display items disappeared; I have heard stories of cars vanishing. This year, a water main break caused brown water to flow out of taps; a “boil water” directive included all the downtown hotels as well as the Cobo complex.

Manufacturers have threatened to pull out, if changes weren’t forthcoming. They weren’t; and many manufacturers have made good on threats to leave.

The show’s fortunes really sagged with those of the Detroit auto industry; in 2007-2008 when General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all flirted with bankruptcy, the show barely survived. It’s been a tough road to try and bring the show back from that low ebb.

The final straw may have come with the 2019 edition, which just closed. Public attendance was still fairly strong, but there was little to see; more major manufacturers than ever stayed away. The vaunted press previews, which in the show’s heydays ran several days, were over in little more than a morning.

In desperation, organizers announced a shift to June for the 2020 edition, to showcase the city’s more salubrious summer weather. But it may be too little, too late.

The calendar is now quite full. Los Angeles show was successfully located to a well-received period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Two trade shows in Las Vegas, the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s week-long gathering after Halloween, and the Consumer Electronics Show just after New Year’s, have garnered burgeoning interest from the auto industry.

And frankly, auto shows worldwide are in decline, as manufacturers question the wisdom of trying to compete for interest and floor space with dozens of competitors in the same cavernous convention centers. Why not hold your own special event, at a glitzy venue, and showcase your product to an exclusive audience?

Meanwhile, what is the audience for the Detroit Three anymore? GM and Ford seem to be cutting back on operations in the Midwest, and just over the border in Canada. The hurt feelings of once-loyal customers and employees can’t be minimized.

And does the new, projected June date for the 2020 “North American International Auto Show” really coincide with any established cycle for new products?

I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing was called off. Who would really care if it was? But the Detroit show’s tenaciousness has surprised me before; I didn’t think it would last much beyond that 1982 show I skipped.

Jerry Garrett

January 22, 2019

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 12, 2019

TEN GREATEST Western Movie Horses: Part 2 Topper, Silver & More

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Wonder Horses, like Tony, sometimes shared top billing with their stars (Old Lobby Card)

(TEN GREATEST Western Movie Horses – Continued from Part 1)

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William Boyd on Topper

TOPPER

Hopalong Cassidy was an itinerant cowboy hero, originally created for dime novels in 1904, who grew into an enduring draw in western movies and early television programs. Hoppy, who originally got his nickname from having a wooden leg, was portrayed on screen from 1935 to 1954 by the venerable William Boyd. Through nearly all of it – more than 140 films and TV shows – he was accompanied by his trusty mount, Topper.

Boyd acquired Topper, a two-year-old white stallion, in 1937. He was originally a stunt double for another horse named King Nappy. When that horse was injured, Topper moved into a leading role. He got his name from Boyd’s wife Grace, whose favorite book series was “Topper”.

Topper was renowned for his gentle demeanor, willingness to follow commands, and to patiently put up with fans petting him, stroking his mane and even pulling his tail.

Boyd’s fortunes faded through the 1940s, but in 1949 when television was just entering American homes, he gambled everything, offering the fledgling NBC network the rights to show Hopalong Cassidy episodes. It paid off, as NBC gave him a weekly slot as to produce the pioneering western series. Early episodes got such high ratings, NBC couldn’t wait for new episodes to be filmed; so they started editing down the 1930s feature films to TV lengths.

The handsome white Topper and the black-clad Hoppy made an iconic pair. So iconic, in fact, they were the first western stars immortalized on school lunch boxes (of which millions were sold). At one time in the mid 1950s, more than 100 companies were making Hoppy and Topper merchandise.

But by 1954, the phenomenon had begun to wear off; Topper and Hoppy (and Boyd) retired. Topper died in 1961 and is buried in a pet cemetery in Calabasas, California, near the areas where most of their films were made.

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Clayton Moore on White Cloud

SILVER

“Hi-yo Silver! Away!”

Who can forget those thrilling words of yesteryear, belted out by the Lone Ranger, at the start of nearly episode of the long-running serial. But who remembers the actual horse?

In a 1938 episode of the original Lone Ranger radio serial, Silver was formally introduced; the Lone Ranger had saved him from an enraged buffalo, and thus earned undying loyalty and companionship. But Silver had been a fixture of the earliest episodes, which began airing on a Detroit radio station in 1933. Their popularity was such that they were in demand for public appearances; a white horse, named “Hero”, was rented for his mount (Another white horse, Silver’s Pride, also made public appearances as “Silver”.); his trainer was the masked ranger.

But, was there a real “Silver”? It’s complicated.

In 15 Lone Ranger movie serials produced by Republic, 1938-40, a ranger on a white horse was featured; in fact, Episode 1 was entitled “Heigh-Yo Silver”, and the horse is given top billing, along with Chief Thunder-Cloud (Tonto); the actor who played the “man of mystery”, the Lone Ranger himself, is not credited – and not revealed until Episode 15. The horse in that serial was actually a white stallion named Silver Chief, which was also ridden by Thomas Mitchell’s character in Gone With The Wind. (Another well-known movie horse, Silver King, is sometimes – erroneously I believe – given credit for the role.)

But Clayton Moore, the actor most associated with the Lone Ranger role, chose a different horse when he revived the dormant franchise in 1949.

Moore selected a gentle 12-year-old stallion originally named White Cloud from the Hooker Ranch in California’s San Fernando Valley. Moore liked that the horse was a commanding 17+ hands high. He became known as Silver #1 and appeared in all but the third season of the show’s seven-season, 221-episode run, when Moore was replaced. Moore’s replacement, John Hart, didn’t (or wasn’t allowed to) ride Silver; so the horse also got a replacement, in the form of Hi-Yo Silver, his former stunt double. This horse became known as Silver #2, a temperamental stallion who had to share screen time when Moore returned in 1953 along with Silver #1.

Silver #1 is the horse most often depicted as rearing up on his hind legs, with Moore aboard, in publicity materials. Silver #1 was retired due to old age in 1956, died in 1959, and is buried in North Hollywood; Silver #2 also retired to quiet ranch life after that, and died in 1974. Actor Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto, once said neither Silver was not particularly fast afoot; his trusty mount, Scout, could easily out-gallop them both.

In retrospect, “Silver” might not be as worthy a choice here as many other “movie” horses, because a) “Silver” was actually a whole host of horses, and b) the entire collection of them didn’t appear in that many feature films. But it’s tough to top Silver in name recognition.

(Footnote: One of Silver’s stunt doubles, Traveler, became the famous mascot of the University of Southern California’s football team.)

screen shot 2019-01-12 at 10.57.45 amSTARDUST

My vote for the most beautiful horse in the movies goes to Stardust, the gorgeous dark palomino ridden by Randolph Scott in at least a dozen (by my count) of his western films, 1948-1960. (Pretty sure Alan Ladd also rode this horse in “The Iron Mistress” in 1952.)

The horse’s distinctive mane almost covered its neck; its golden tail touched the ground. It had a broad white face and four white stockings.

In Comanche Station (1960), Scott rode a final time on Stardust (a young Hal Needham was Scott’s riding stunt double) in what was supposed to be Scott’s last film, which completed his series of “Ranown” westerns with director Budd Boetticher. (He came out of retirement in 1962 to make Ride The High Country, but used a dark buckskin.)

A lot of people apparently agree about Stardust, because there are dozens of video tributes on YouTube, featuring this horse. But the sad thing is there seems to be very little information available about this horse, where it came from, where it ended up after Scott retired. Almost zip. (Gene Barry rode a horse named “Stardust” for most of the 108 episodes of the Bat Masterson TV series, 1958-61, but old clips show a bay with white-stockinged rear legs.)

Scott confirmed in interviews that Stardust was his favorite horse. He apparently did not own the horse, but it was made available for him to ride in almost all of his many cowboy movies, particularly those made in the Alabama Hills area near Lone Pine, California.

Any additional information on Stardust that readers might provide would be most welcome.

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Pie, a beautiful and fractious little chestnut gelding, was Jimmy Stewart‘s favorite mount, starring with him in 18 or more movies, starting with Winchester ’73 in 1950.

Before that, Audie Murphy and Glenn Ford had tried, largely unsuccessfully, to ride Pie. “He was a maverick,” Stewart said in a 1972 interview. “He hurt a lot of other people who tried to ride him.” The horse crashed into a tree with Ford aboard and nearly caused him serious injuries.

“The horse was amazing to me; I rode him for 22 years,” Stewart noted. “I got to know him like a friend.”

Stewart added that he could give the horse complex verbal directions, that the horse could understand and execute on the set. “I actually believed he understood about making pictures,” he continued. “I ran at a full gallop, straight towards the camera, pulled him up and then did a lot of dialogue, and he stood absolutely still.. He never moved. He knew when the camera would start rolling, and when they did the slates; his ears would come up.”

In one scene for The Far Country (1954), the horse needed to amble along – riderless – down a dark side street, make a right turn down main street, and walk slowly out of the shot, while a small bell jingled on his saddle. The director asked if Pie could do it, and Stewart said, “I’ll talk to him.”

“Pie did it in one take,” he remembered proudly. “The director couldn’t believe it.”

Stewart said he offered many times to buy the horse, but it was owned by “a little girl named Stevie Myers, who is the daughter of an old wrangler for Tom Mix and W.S. Hart. When he retired, he gave this horse to her.” Pie retired in 1968 after appearing with Stewart in Bandolero.

When Pie died in 1970, Stewart arranged for him to be buried on his ranch.

(Footnote: “The Pie” in National Velvet (1948) was another horse, named King Charles, a descendant of War Admiral and Seabiscuit.)

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John Wayne, riding Dollor, into movie history

DOLLOR

Surprisingly little is known about the many horses John Wayne rode during his nearly 50 years of making over 250 cowboy movies. There is even speculation the Duke didn’t care all that much for horses. But he did have a couple of favorites: Steel, at the height of his career, 1948-54, and Dollor at the end of it.

Wayne rode Dollor (sic) in both of his, arguably, most memorable scenes on horseback, the fateful shootout in True Grit (1969) and the fence jumping scene at the end of the movie.

Dollor was owned by Dick Webb Movie Productions, but the Duke got to like the big sorrel gelding so much that he negotiated exclusive movie rights for him. They appeared together in True Grit, Chisum (1970), Big Jake (1971), The Cowboys (1972), The Train Robbers (1973), Rooster Cogburn (1975) and The Shootist (1976). “Ol’ Dollor” was even mentioned by name a couple of times in that script.

After the actor’s death in 1979, his beloved horse was sold to a couple in Dallas, who claimed they used to play John Wayne movies for him, because the Duke’s voice calmed him. Dollor died in 1995, and was reportedly stuffed like Trigger.

I prefer to remember both of them like this:

Sadly, I can’t think of another memorable western movie horse that’s come along in the past 50 years. Cowboy movies are rarely made anymore, as the fabled American West fades further and further into history.

Wonder horses of the silver screen really are relics of a bygone era.

Jerry Garrett

January 12, 2019

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HOLLYWOOD

If you watch enough old cowboy and western movies, you might find yourself asking, “Haven’t I seen that horse somewhere before?”

Your eyes are not deceiving you. A few notable horses became bona fide movie stars, with fan clubs, merchandise lines, and long, illustrious careers.

Providing horses for the entertainment industry was a big business, back in the day; hundreds of horses might be needed for a single film, and there were often dozens of cowboy movies made a year – not to mention scores more when television came along later.

Film buffs have counted as many as 50 stars who identified with specific horses, and with whom they appeared in multiple films. A few owned their horses; most others worked with a specific stable, trainer or ranch to have ongoing access to their favorite mounts.

I’d say 99 percent of the horses used would be almost impossible to pick out, one from another, as most were relatively indistinguishable bays. But here are the standouts:

screen shot 2019-01-10 at 4.32.29 pmTRIGGER

There is little argument that Trigger was the greatest movie horse of all time, even if the 81 films and 101 television shows that the palomino stallion appeared in were not the greatest.

Trigger achieved the zenith of his fame as Roy Rogers‘ faithful mount, from 1943 when Rogers bought him to 1965 when the horse finally died. Trigger was already nine years old when Rogers entered the picture; he had been born on the Fourth of July in 1934, in San Diego on a ranch partially owned by Bing Crosby. He was originally named Golden Cloud, and it was Rogers who renamed him – reputedly because of his quickness, in both body and mind.

His movie debut came in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, when he was ridden by Maid Marian, played by Olivia de Havilland. Old movie posters occasionally billed Trigger as the “world’s fastest horse”, which wasn’t true, but there was no doubt Trigger was the smartest; he could perform more than 150 tricks, walk only on his back legs for long distances, sit in a chair, crawl into a regular bed and cover himself with a blanket, and even “sign” his name with an X. Most notably, Rogers claimed Trigger was potty-trained.

Although there was a well-known horse Rogers owned named Trigger Jr., Trigger was never bred.

Even after his death, Trigger lived on in popular culture; Rogers had him stuffed and preserved in his museum. And the Denver pro Football team used Trigger’s likeness for the bucking Bronco statue at its stadium. Trigger’s hoof prints, as well as Rogers’ hand and boot prints, are preserved in cement in front of old Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

screen shot 2019-01-10 at 3.52.50 pmBUTTERMILK

Less well known, but in perhaps more movies was the distinctive buckskin quarter horse known as Buttermilk, the preferred ride of Dale Evans, Roy Rogers’ third wife and longtime on-screen sweetheart.

Buttermilk, born as Taffy in 1941 in Wyoming, was abused as a young colt, developed a surly disposition as a result, and was consigned to a slaughterhouse – from which he was barely rescued. Another little known fact about Buttermilk was that he was faster out of the gate than Trigger, which put the lie to the “world’s fastest horse” moniker; in fact, Rogers became annoyed that Buttermilk caused so many re-takes because Trigger was slower to respond.

Ms. Evans, ironically, chose Buttermilk to ride because she felt he had a gentler demeanor than a horse originally designated for her to ride.

Buttermilk, who died in 1972 was, like Trigger stuffed and preserved at the Roy Rogers Museum in Apple Valley, California. (The museum has closed; it was moved to Branson, Missouri for a time before closing again; a collector who plans to open another museum in Apple Valley now owns them.)

Anybody out there have a Roy Rogers/Dale Evans lunch box, featuring Trigger and Buttermilk? I know I did. (Wish I still did, mom!)

screen shot 2019-01-10 at 5.44.49 pmTONY

Before there was Trigger, there was Tony. Or, more popularly, Tony the Wonder Horse.

Tony, a big bay with a white blaze face, was the constant on-screen companion of the original King of the Cowboys, Tom Mix. They appeared in 34 films together, from 1922 to 1932. In three of those films, Tony got his name in the title. He was listed as a co-star. And when Mix was asked to leave his hand and boot prints in the cement out front of Grauman’s, he took Tony along to leave his hoof prints. Mix even rode Tony at Wyatt Earp‘s funeral in 1929 in Los Angeles.

Like Trigger, who came along a decade later, Tony was known for his intelligence: he could un-tie Mix’s hands, open gates, and even follow complex voice commands and hand signals. But he was also known for his bravery. Mix jumped him over the highest fences, rode him through fiery buildings, urged him to leap between two cliffs, and chased down moving trains.

Although Tony was retired in 1932, at age 22, after suffering an injury during filming, his career continued in new directions with public appearances, marketing exhibitions (he had his own souvenir lines), the circus, and even rodeo events. He out-lived Mix, who died in a 1940 car crash, by two years – to the day.

screen shot 2019-01-11 at 11.42.48 amCHAMPION

Gene Autry, the “Singing Cowboy”, would not be out-done by another singing cowboy like Roy Rogers. So it’s probably not too surprising that Autry had his own talented horse – or more correctly a line of horses – named Champion. There were three “official” Champions, four specialized Champions, and an untold number of stand-ins, stunt doubles and personal appearance Champions.

The original Champion was born as Lindy, a big sorrel with a blaze face, three white “stocking” legs and distinctive blond mane and tail, in 1927 in California. Autry acquired the horse from Tom Mix in 1934 for work on The Phantom Empire western series that helped burnish his fame as a singing cowboy.

Champion had been trained for rodeo work and western shows, but adapted well to movies. He was a star in his own right, spawning a comic book series of his own, advertising and endorsements. But while Autry was away flying cargo planes in World War II, Champion died (about age 17). So when Autry returned and wanted to revive his western movie career, he debuted another sorrel, a bit lighter called Champion Jr., the “Wonder Horse of the West”. There was also Little Champ, Television Champion, and Touring Champion, who joined Autry for cement prints at Grauman’s. The last Champion to appear on screen with Autry – Champion Three – reportedly died in 1990 at his Melody Ranch near Newhall, California.

The collection of Champions were said to have been capable of the greatest array of tricks of any movie horse (or horses) in history – including dancing the Charleston, jitterbug and the hula. Lindy Champion was the first horse to fly cross-country; Touring Champion even took high tea at the Savoy Hotel in London.

screen shot 2019-01-11 at 1.23.30 pmFRITZ

William S. Hart, a native New Yorker and Shakespearean-trained actor, was one of the fledgling movie industry’s first stars. When he began his film career in 1914, the cowboys that he preferred to play were not nostalgic characters from a distant past, but contemporary characters in a Wild West still alive. He was friends with western legends Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, a devotee of authentic western dress, and he rode a quintessential Indian-style brown-and-white pinto pony, named Fritz.

Fritz, born in 1907 at movie producer Thomas Ince’s ranch in southern California, was the silver screen’s first true equine star. Though he could be spirited and surly, Fritz starred with Hart in 74 films, 1914-1924, when Hart’s brand of dark, brooding tales of a now-fading West began to fall out of favor.

Hart once claimed he and the horse were so close, he was sure Fritz had actually spoken to him. Together, performing perilous stunts like trying to escape from a whirlpool, they nearly died – on an off screen. Hart said Fritz could “do anything and everything asked of him.” Hart, who never used a stunt double and was often hurt more than his mount, once rode Fritz some 100 feet across a fallen log above a canyon. Another time he coaxed him out of a dark, water-filled cave. He even jumped Fritz off a precipitous cliff – a stunt that earned him a summons from censors, who were sure the horse had been killed in the scene.

Hart retired the horse after 1924, because he said his “friend” was too valuable to do any more risky movie work. Fritz lived out the rest of his life peacefully with his beloved pals (who sometimes appeared on screen with him) – Lizabeth, a large pack mule, and  a bucking mare called Cactus Kate – at Hart’s ranch in Newhall, where he died in 1938.

Next – Part 2 of the TEN GREATEST Western Movie Horses

Jerry Garrett

January 11, 2019

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | December 30, 2018

SCHITT’S CREEK: What’s That Car?

Two faded icons: Johnny Rose and his luxo-barge (Schitt’s Creek PR Photo)

SCHITT’S CREEK, Canada

The Rose family, the protagonists on the hilarious Schitt’s Creek television series, entered their latest season with a distinctive new car. Well, it’s not new, it’s actually 40 years old.

What is it?

It’s a 1979 Lincoln Continental Town Car.

It’s a worthy choice. And like a lot of what goes on in the series, full of symbolism and deeper meaning. It’s also littered with “Easter Eggs” – as the automotive press likes to call them – little surprises meant to delight.

Take, for instance, the official-looking license plate. It reads along the top margin: “Township of Elmdale” – the fictional Schitt’s Creek’s upscale and equally imaginary neighbor. The bottom line says, “Pine Beetle Capital”. If you know anything at all about forest management, the pine, or bark, beetle is the scourge of the backwoods – devouring millions of square miles of choice timber.

But I digress (as usual).

What are the cues that give away the Rose’s coveted luxo-barge?

Mostly notably, I’d say, is the distinctive, faux Rolls-Royce waterfall grille, the peek-a-boo headlights, dog dish-style hubcaps, and rococo vinyl Landau-style half-roof (with “opera window”). All those features appeared on different models, different years and even different makes of cars, but all of them together? Only the 1979 Continental Town Car.

Speaking of mash-ups, that 1979 model was also the last year of the “Continental Town Car” nameplate combo platter. The Continental and Town Car went their separate ways into the annals of automotive history after that.

That year, 1979, also marked the end of the true land yacht; the Continental Town Car, at 233 inches in length, was the last big American car ever produced. Everyone else, including arch-rival Cadillac, had already downsized. Lincoln would follow suit, starting with the stubbier – by 14 inches – 1980 models. (The 1974-75 Cadillac Fleetwood 75, at 252 inches, is reputedly the longest American production car ever.)

From a performance standpoint, the ’79 Continental Town Car almost ranks as tragic. Despite a 400-cubic-inch V8 engine, it only produced 159 horsepower (about what a Toyota four-cylinder can pump out today). And it got barely 13 miles per gallon (highway) fuel economy. That probably had something to do with its morbidly obese 4,649-pound curb weight. One wonders how the impoverished Rose family can afford to keep putting premium gas in it.

Amenities were classic for the day: Rich leather or plush velour seating (the Rose family model sports the tuck-and-roll fabric option), AM and FM radio with a state-of-the-art 8-track tape player, vinyl grab handles and other touch points, at least five ashtrays, an equal number of whitewall tires, and much, much more. (Loaded “Williamsburg” special editions offered full vinyl roofs, and two-tone paint; rare “Collector’s Series” models also were available with primitive anti-lock brakes, moonroofs and CB radios.)

Other Lincoln models that year offered fancy trim lines inspired by famous, albeit now largely forgotten designers of the day – Bill Blass, Cartier, Givenchy, even Emilio Pucci (a personal favorite) – but sadly those touches were not available on the Continental Town Car (even though today’s casual observer might be hard-pressed to spot the differences).

According to the NADA guide, the original sticker price was something north of $12,000 (add 50 percent for the special editions mentioned above) – which seems like a real car-load of character for the money, by today’s standards.

How much is one worth today? Good question. It’s certainly possible to find beater-caliber examples for $4,000 or even less. A concours-quality Williamsburg or Collector’s Series model might even command something near $20,000. But the average ’79 Continental Town Car is worth, today, about what it was 40 years ago when it was new, in terms of dollars. But, the rub is, $12,000 then is worth about $41,500 in today’s dollars.

So, like the Rose family, in Schitt’s Creek, 1979 Lincoln Continental Town Cars still cut a rakish, classic profile, but they are probably best remembered as just another example of faded American icons.

Jerry Garrett

December 30, 2018

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