Jettisoning the By-Products of Combustion, Then and Now

1966 Ford Mustang GT.

It’s hard not to notice how exhaust tips have evolved into fetish items over the past decade-and-a-half. Overly stylized and comically oversized, they have become carbuncles defacing the stern of the majority of mid and upper-range vehicles currently on offer.

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1964: Britain Conquers the Globe

by James Kraus


Goldfinger, Guy Hamilton, 1964

In 1964 the British Isles became the centre of popular culture. Beatlemania assumed international proportions with the band’s successful invasion of the United States and the release of A Hard Day’s Night. Meanwhile, cinematic MI6 Agent James Bond cemented his status as the free world’s favorite undercover operative with the debut of Goldfinger.

The Rover 2000 won European Car of the Year and the Morris Mini Cooper secured its premier victory at the Rallye Monte-Carlo, the storied event with which it would become inexorably linked. Last but not least, another sort of British mini exploded into worldwide popularity and acclaim: the miniskirt.   Continue reading

Advent of the Downforce-Inducing Aerodynamic Appendage

by James Kraus

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Ferrari 250 GTO

While aerodynamic efficiency was occasionally a consideration in the design of road cars as early as the 1920s, it was only from a perspective of achieving reduced air resistance. Interest in generating aerodynamic downforce did not manifest itself until the 1960s. Not surprisingly, experimentation and development first occurred in the competition arena.  Continue reading

Music from Modena: The Melodic Ferrari V8

by James Kraus

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Jean-Claude Andruet and Michèle “Biche” Espinosi-Petit on their way to overall victory at the 1982 Tour de France in a Ferrari 308 GTB

Why do Ferrari’s V8’s sound so delicious, almost as enticing and melodious as a V12? It comes from the use of a single-plane “flat” crankshaft in lieu of the typical cross-plane (two-plane) crankshaft. Workaday V8 engines utilize the cross-plane crank to optimize mechanical smoothness; an admittedly important consideration when transporting a hedge fund manager and his mistress to a performance of Die Walküre in a Mercedes-Benz S 450, or a load of sensitive electronic test equipment behind a MAN TGX in route to the CERN Large Hadron Collider.

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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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Gianni Agnelli: Patriarch of Fiat, King of Italy

by James Kraus

Gianni Agnelli

Gianni Agnelli, 1921-2003

I have before me a generous pour of Château Margaux 1993, a fine claret from one of the original four Premier Crus named in the Bordeaux Classification of 1885. But more on that in due course.

Many men fantasize about living the life of James Bond. I would be more than happy to have lived the life of Gianni Agnelli. But for being less physically demanding and lacking a Walther PPK as constant companion, it is quite similar. Except for the fact that Gianni had a finer wardrobe and drove more exotic automobiles. While Bond was depicted in pages and frames driving standard issue 4½-litre Bentleys (fitted with Amherest Villiers superchargers) or Aston Martin DB Mark III’s and DB5’s (suitably modified by Q Branch), Gianni drove bespoke Ferraris, built to his personal specifications. In the end, he effectively owned Ferrari.

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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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The AC Cobra: Myth and Reality

by J Kraus

AC Cobra

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”

 John F. Kennedy, Commencement Address, Yale University, 11 June, 1962

Octane recently conducted a poll of their readers to select the “Greatest Race Car Ever” (with the Maserati 250F ultimately receiving the accolade). To guide the readers toward machines with suitable pedigrees, a number of automotive luminaries were assigned the task to nominate appropriate candidates. Columnist Carroll Shelby thereupon put forth his own progeny, the AC Cobra.

Upon hearing this news, my mind drifted to years past. I was around when the Cobras were competitive and while I recall them being worthy contenders, I also remember them often struggling on rough or undulating surfaces such as one would encounter at the Nürburgring or Targa Florio. I also could not recall any major outright victories.

Thus, on a chilly evening with little on the agenda, I poured into my glass the remains of a bottle of Vin Jaune, cut some slices from a block of Compté and retrieved the appropriate volumes of Automotive Year and back issues of Autosport. I was consoled to find that my memory had not in fact deceived me.

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