The Golden Years

by James Kraus

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1960 Ford Starliner. A touch of gold lends a lustrous sparkle of Jet Age swank

Since the dawn of the first horseless carriages, automobiles have been accented by shimmering metallic highlights. The earliest period of motoring is in fact popularly known as the Brass Era due to early radiators, acetylene headlamps and other accoutrements being constructed of brass, or protected by brass plating to resist high temperatures and corrosion. Brass was largely superseded by polished nickel plating in the early 1920s, producing a more durable surface and increased tarnish resistance. Finally, nickel was replaced by chromium which offered the advantages of being nearly tarnish and maintenance free.  Continue reading

The Wankel Motor: 1960’s Engine of the Future

by James Kraus

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World’s first Wankel-powered production car: the NSU Spider, 1964

Automobiles can trace their reciprocating-piston engines back to the early days of steam power. As internal combustion replaced steam as the preferred method of powering transport, the concept of using reciprocating pistons to convert energy into motion was carried over.

As the automobile matured, the efficiency and operating smoothness of the reciprocating piston engine gradually improved through the use of a multiplicity of smaller cylinders, shorter piston strokes, counterbalanced crankshafts and other refinements. By the dawn of the 1960s however; the automobile was seemingly falling behind aviation, which had switched to smooth continuous-combustion jet engines. A number of auto manufacturers experimented with gas turbine engines, but none entered mass production.

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The Allure of Period Colours

by James Kraus

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Lord Brett Sinclair’s Bahama Yellow Aston Martin DBS in The Persuaders!, 1971

Ancient wisdom once held that in the vintage car market, red, white and black were the best colours for resale. However, as Bob Dylan once declared; The times they are a-changin’.

Early Porsche 911 collectors for example often seek out and pay a premium for the colours that made those cars unique to their time period: Signal Orange, Viper Green, Aubergine, Tangerine; even the more esoteric shades of Olive and Golden Green. Continue reading

Citroën U55 Currus Cityrama Revisited

by James Kraus

Citroën U55 Currus Cityrama

Fans of the iconic Citroën Cityrama tour bus have reason to rejoice. The Criterion Collection is releasing the 1960 Louis Malle fim, Zazie dans le Métro on 28 June in Region 1 NTSC DVD and Blu-Ray. The French comedy was only the third full-length film directed by Malle, who went on to helm Murmur of the Heart, Pretty Baby and Atlantic City. The futuristic Citroën U55 Currus Cityrama, featured at Auto Universum in March of 2009, is a prominent presence in the film.

The Sixties at Fifty: 1961

by James Kraus

1961 Porsche poster celebrating competition victories of the prior season

By 1961 the last vestiges of the fifties were ebbing and the currents of the sixties starting to more strongly assert themselves. The second year of the decade witnessed the first manned space flight, construction of the Berlin Wall and the first season of The Avengers.

It was a banner year for British sports car enthusiasts. Jaguar unleashed its dramatic new feline, the ‘E’ Type, dubbing it The Most Advanced Sports Car in the World.

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The Amazing Technicolor Citroëns

by James Kraus

Citroën DS in Vert Printemps (Spring Green) with Champagne (Ivory) roof

Citroën dropped a bombshell when it unveiled the DS 19 at the Paris Salon in October of 1955. It was so futuristic in style that it appeared to have beamed-in from another planet. Even better, the car had the technical specification that fully justified the space-age exterior: self-leveling hydropneumatic suspension, adjustable ride-height, disc brakes, radial tires, powered steering, brakes, clutch and gearchange, aluminium and fibreglass body panels and active load-proportional braking. Never before or since has a new car been introduced with such an advanced specification and so many new technical innovations.

Apparently, Citroën wished to further advance the futuristic aura of the new DS via an advanced, fashion-forward colour palette.

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The Godfathers of Automotive Propulsion

by James Kraus

Prototype Lamborghini V12, with chief designer Giotto Bizzarrini, Ferrucio Lamborghini and chassis designer Gian Paolo Dallara. Sant’Agata, Italy, 1963

Please join me in saluting twelve automobile engines that conquered time and defied obsolescence. Engines with staying power. All have all been offered for sale in the world’s most competitive markets for over 40 years. They represent a full range, from inline and opposed twins to V12’s in sizes ranging from 0.4 litre to 6.8 litres. Some were conceived as cost-no-object exercises; others, humble workhorse engines of the people. Still others were robust mainstream powerplants that attained immortality in the crucible of competition. A few are still available. Read the rest of this entry ››

Alan Clark: The Thinking Man’s Enthusiast

by J Kraus

Back Fire: A Passion for Cars and Motoring by Alan Clark

I just recently finished reading Alan Clark’s Back Fire. It is a very refreshing book as he was a true connoisseur of automobiles and motoring; one of the few among enthusiasts that sought something special from his vehicles beyond performance and prestige.

In short; a man after my own heart. Alan could have as much fun behind the wheel of his 2CV, Beetle or 1950 Chevrolet as he would driving his Silver Ghost, Bentley Continental or 550 Spyder. As long as the car was imaginatively designed, well executed and entertaining to drive – that is what mattered.

Unlike the majority of enthusiasts and collectors, Alan was not so concerned with the bragging rights and bravado that come with high top speeds, low 0-60 figures and impressive lap times. These are the purview of those who evaluate cars as amusement park rides rather than automobiles. He was much more interested in the driving experience and character of his cars. To him, power and speed were subservient to soul.

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A Concise History of the Alloy Wheel

by James Kraus

1968 BMW 2800CS riding on unusually elegant alloy wheels featuring a polished chrome centre cap discreetly concealing the mounting lugs. Visible fasteners on a contemporary automobile are generally considered to represent a lack of refinement, yet seem to be embraced when they appear on otherwise highly stylized wheels. These were produced for BMW in Italy by FPS (Foundry Pedrini Siena).

Today, alloy wheels are all but ubiquitous and are used by automobile manufacturers as a key styling feature, often used to differentiate model ranges and equipment specification. They started becoming popular with the general public in the 1980’s, but were in fact offered sporadically since 1924.

Previous to the development of the alloy wheel, wheels were formed of two pieces of pressed steel, the rim and the disc, either welded or riveted into a single unit. Or, they were fabricated of a steel or aluminium rim, connected to a centre hub by metal spokes. A transitional design was a hybrid utilizing a steel disc for strength and an aluminium rim for weight saving. Such a design was used by Porsche and Jaguar in the 1950’s. Another example was the Borrani Bimetal, used on several Italian sporting models.

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The Gentleman’s Conveyance: NLA (No Longer Available)

by James Kraus

Lancia Aurelia 2.5 Gran Tourismo

There are few gentlemen left in the world today and that has unfortunately led to the demise of the Gentleman’s Express. A true gentleman eschews common ostentation and can normally be outwardly recognized in public solely by the fit of his shirt or the cut of his suit.

Such a man for example, would have been unlikely to dangle his Rolex Submariner or Breitling Super Ocean on his wrist whilst driving to dinner at Lucas Carton. Rather, lurking beneath his Turnbull & Asser Cocktail Cuff one would more likely find his Breguet Classique or Patek Philippe Calatrava.

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A History of Automobiles and Colour before the Age of Chromophobia

by James Kraus

Peacock

NBC Peacock, designed by John J. Graham, 1956

There is a distinct lack of coloration in today’s automobiles, with the majority seemingly finished in a shade that could be found on a greyscale chart. Things are no better in the interior; nearly always black, beige or grey, colours that architectural and couture designers refer to as neutrals. To make matters worse, these shades are all too often matched to the exterior pigment (i.e. black with black, silver with grey) to create insidious and mind-numbing monochrome vehicles that appear to have simply been dipped whole into a large vat of colourant.

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Classic Vehicles of the Tour de France Publicity Caravan

by James Kraus

Le Nain Gourmand

Le Nain Gourmand

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, a number of firms built specialized vehicles to be run in the Tour de France publicity caravan that rolls though France ahead of the peloton. Since the three-week event routinely attracted over 10 million spectators, it was an ideal venue for advertisers to reach a broad audience. This practice continues today.

One of the most distinctive and enduring of these vehicles was the Le Nain Gourmand Renault, which debuted on the 1952 Tour to promote the products of the popular confectioner. The front featured a giant replica of the founder and the rear incorporated a depiction of his wife. In between were displayed oversized candies, chocolates and bon-bons.

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End of an Era: The Last Air-Cooled Automobile Engines

by James Kraus

Air-Cooled Engine

Air-cooled horizontally opposed 12-cylinder powerplant

I have always been a fan of air-cooled engines. I even enjoy the mechanical noises that emanate from their insides, unmuffled by water jacketing and walls of cast metal. It serves as a reminder that the car is powered by an engine containing many precision parts moving in high-speed synchronization, akin to an Audemars Piguet running on high octane fuel.

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Ten for Twenty: 10 Automotive Designs that Withstood the Test of Time

James Kraus

VW 1200 and BMC Mini

VW 1200 and BMC Mini

The test of time may well be the harshest test of all. Styles change and the public’s tastes and requirements change. Yet a cohesive, intelligent and functional design can sometimes overcome these obstacles. I have assembled a list of ten cars that enjoyed a lifespan of twenty years or more. The requirements were fairly simple; a candidate had to be mass-produced and sold as a passenger car for at least two decades by its original manufacturer in basically the same design configuration with no more than superficial changes.

In order of decreasing longevity, here are the survivors: Read the rest of this entry ››

It Came From Outer Space: Citroën U55 Currus Cityrama

by J Kraus

Citroën U55 Currus Cityrama behind a Mercedes 170 V and a Panhard Dyna Z in the 1960 film "Zanzie dans le Métro"

Citroën U55 Currus Cityrama behind a Mercedes 170 V and a Panhard Dyna Z in the 1960 film “Zanzie dans le Métro”

No; this is not a mirage, nor a frame from an old science fiction film.

Parisians in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s were routinely treated to the sight of these space age double-decker Citroëns ferrying tourists along the Champs Élysées and Quai Voltaire. Seeing one stopped in the 18th century setting of the Place de la Concorde, was as if a spaceship from the future had landed.

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Automotive Logos: History and Revisionism

by J Kraus

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Newly revised Citroën logo

Word has recently reached me here at Auto Universum world headquarters that Citroën and Lancia both have announced that they were revising their classic logos. This only a year after Fiat found it necessary to “revise” the storied Abarth badge.

The Citroën logo managed to survive 90 years before suffering the current debasement. The classic badge was a representation of the double helical cut gears that were the original product of André Citroën. The dual pattern allowed the silent meshing of normal single bevel gears without generating side thrust. They had been very difficult and time-consuming to manufacture until André obtained patents and licensing rights for new processes that would allow the gears to be machined cheaper and more accurately. When Citroën began building cars in 1919, the logo followed. It adorned all their ground-breaking designs: the Traction Avant, the 2CV, the DS, the GS, and the SM.

Removing the old sharply defined points leaves the new logo appearing very little like gear teeth and a bit flaccid. It in fact calls to mind a pair of boomerangs. I am aware that things are changing quickly, but last I looked, Citroën was still domiciled in France, not Australia.

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