Monday, February 15, 2010

Random Photo Surprise

While waiting for Liv to finish the shopping I usually wander into the mag aisle at the supermarket. I flip through Hemmings and Hot Rod and see what's up in the world of cars I can't afford, but I was happily surprised to find Vintage Motorsport in stock last summer. The Javelin cover story didn't light my fire, but I did a double take when I flipped past this pic in the middle of the book...
Ernie McAfee was one of the original California hot rodders- he ran modified Fords at the dry lakes in the thirties and developed into quite a mechanical engineer. Either poor eyesight or his aviation industry work kept him out of the army in WWII- he was busy developing his speed technology while a lot of his buddies had to take a few years off. Post-war he got involved in road racing, engineering a modified MG that became his calling card for bigger and better (and faster) things. He and John Edgar kept tinkering with the car, including adding a cool custom body. (Sadly the car was wrecked for the racing scene in the 1959 film On the Beach -which you need to see if you haven't already!)
Until I saw that photo I hadn't realized that McAfee was ever affiliated with Crosleys. I knew that he raced and sold Siatas, (above he's ready to take off in one in the Carrera Panamericana) but he specifically ordered non-Crosley engined cars. He was getting the largest motors available in those tiny beasts, making what were in essence micro-Cobras now that I think of it. The article doesn't go into any detail about the HotShot other than that the photo was taken at Palm Springs in 1951. McAfee was at one time affiliated with Bill Devin (who got his start racing Crosleys) so that may have been the connection. In any case, it was a happy surprise to find- especially in the grocery store. The bummer part of the story is McAfee's death at age 37 in a nasty wreck at Pebble Beach in 1956.

VM keeps a backstock of most of their back issues- you can order a copy online if you're interested in getting the full story...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Winter 2010 TBT at the Printer

New issue of TBT is at the printer!

A little late (OK, a lot late) but a fine design by Richard Hansen and interesting content covering the 25th Anniversary West Coast Meet and Clan Liebherr's assault of the salt. And for those of you who are NOT members of the West Coast Club, here's a teaser of the classified ads you're missing:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Pride of Mr De Giorgi

I recently stumbled across this picture, labeled 'pride of Mr De Giorgi', on my friend Davide De Giorgi's Facebook page.

The photo stopped me in my tracks, not only because it's a tremendous shot, but also 'cause I love Volvo P1800 models- I might well have bought one instead of the Savoy had an 1800 been able to hold four sets of buttcheeks. There were a few more pics showing Davide with the car on a European roadtrip. I admit it, I was jealous.

Davide is, like me, a car nerd. But where I feel compelled to own one of everything (especially if it hasn't run in decades), he has so far refined the art of appreciating someone else's car. This is how Davide lives comfortably in the heart of London with his bicycle, and why my house looks like the Joad family microcar farm. I knew he was on the verge of getting married, that he was a not-quite-starving architect, and that London is not an easy place to park a car every day; I really wondered how he'd managed to swing this....
I met Davide in Sicily on the first day of an Italian tour that had been booked for my rock and roll band. The promoter had booked us with an Italian group so that we could share equipment, and he assured us they were great. They were. The Introducers turned out to be four college kids from Turin- Davide was one of the guitarists. We spent two weeks traversing Italy with 8 band members, a promoter, 2 pals and a ridiculous amount of vintage guitars, amps and drums crammed into three cars. It was one of the best times in my life.
Davide and I hit it off right away. All of the Introducers soon became extended family, but Davide and I had the car thing in common. I think we figured it out when he and I both went apeshit at the sight of a Siata sedan sitting seemingly abandoned near the docks when we took the ferry from Sicily to mainland Italy. It was surprisingly solid for a car sitting that close to the ocean (actually all of Sicily is pretty close to the ocean), and I was fascinated- I'd never known that there were non-racing Siatas! Davide knew about Siata's racing heritage, but was surprised to learn that some had been built with US made Crosley motors. I took some pics (Davide's the guy in front- my pal/bassist/AMC Marlin-owner Stan's in the back) in a hurry since we were supposed to be getting on the ferry.
It wasn't long before I helped the Introducers come stateside for a tour of the West Coast. My house was tour HQ and we often travelled in my then-daily driver, a '62 Plymouth Valiant wagon, which Davide always referred to as 'she'. He enthusiastically pitched in when I had to do an emergency brake job before leaving for a San Francisco gig- the other guys were pretty nervous, but we got 'er done. One day we were driving around Sacto in the Valiant when a street rodded 50s panel truck pulled up next to us at a light. 'The motor sounds great,' Davide said admiringly. 'Probably a 350 Chevy,' I said. 'How do you know this?' Davide said, skeptical. 'Ask him,' I said. Davide rolled the window down and asked what kind of motor it had. 'Chevy 350,' the guy says. '350 tranny behind it?' I leaned over and asked. 'Yup.' Light changed, he drove off and the guys looked at me in total wonder. I never told them that pretty much any car the color of an Easter Egg has a 350 under the hood.

I emailed Davide immediately when I saw the Volvo. I couldn't believe he'd been holding out on me! Turned out he hadn't... not really. He had bought the Volvo in England- and driven it to Italy- but not for himself. He'd simply facilitated everything for his brother Mauro, who is an even bigger car nut than Davide. It was Mauro's very clean MGB-GT that had changed my mind on those cars- they look awkward in pictures, but are oh-so-cool in person- especially when you're tooling around Italy in one. Here's Mauro at the wheel of the MG:
The De Giorgis' hometown is Torino- the Detroit of Italy. That everyone in Turin isn't a car nut is sort of astonishing to me given that it's the home of both Fiat and Carlo Mollino- one of those amazing 20th century industrial designers who drew up everything from lounge chairs to Le Mans racers. I got to see Mollino's bizarro asymmetrical racecar, the Bisiluro, in a museum show of his work when Liv and I visited Turin on our honeymoon. It's an amazing car, with the engine on the right side of the car, and the driver on the left. It was apparently hell to drive due to the weird offset, and retired fairly early in the 1955 Le Mans. Still- an amazing concept.
Looking at the Bisiluro's small motor got me thinking, of course. I can't find it now, but I did turn up an early design for the car with an engine that looks an awful lot like a Crosley. At the time Mollino initially started the project, a Crosley-based powerplant (maybe with a snazzy etceterini dual cam set up and the billet crank) would have been a very logical engine choice. The Crosley motor would certainly match up with a driver's weight better than most others, even Italian iron.
Davide still doesn't have any vintage tin of his own. But, he surfs Bring a Trailer daily, and often sends me odd automotive tidbits that he turns up in his other webtravels. It's funny to me that he and I have bonded over car stuff when we met halfway around the world for a completely different reason. Given the bad rap that car guys often get as knuckle-dragging morons, it's great to find the Davide De Giorgis of the world to keep the record straight. A salute to you and yours, my friend!