How Porsche DNA is in Your Car

Porsche and the rear window wiper are forever linked in the annals of automotive history, and for good reason.

While rear window wipers were accessories as far back as the early 1940s, they never became commonplace for a variety of reasons that I’ll talk about in a bit.  Italy became slightly interested in them in the mid-1950s.  Ferrari installed a pair of them on a 1955 Ferrari 250 GT Europa by Pinin Farina.

Interest had picked up sufficiently that, in 1957, rear wipers made their next public appearance at the 1957 Salon de Genève on the new Lancia Flaminia Berlina, another Pinin Farina creation.  While they were highly praised for their functionality by the press, nobody quite caught onto the idea.  This should come as no surprise: outside mirrors, which greatly aid rear visibility were considered superfluous to Italians.

Eight years later, a wealthy German industrialist contacted Porsche with a request.  He wanted a wiper installed on the rear window.  Porsche set about developing a rear window wiper.

You can only imagine what other Porsche enthusiasts thought when they saw this fine gentleman cruising the boulevards with his fancy new car and it’s rear window wiper.  The factory began to receive an increasingly large number of requests for similar installations. The demand was so great that Porsche offered a dealer-installed or DIY retrofit kit. This wasn’t even enough – Porsche decided to make it a factory option in 1966.

The early rear wipers were rudimentary at best, but they did the job.  The early wiper arm pivot shafts had bushings angled inward and outward, which enabled it to be mounted to the edge of the air intake recess on the existing engine lid.

In 1967, as the rear wiper option gained massive popularity, engine lid pressing dies were slightly modified to incorporate integral mounting pieces for the rear wiper installation. This eliminated the need for the angled adapter bushings.  These were included on both sides of the engine lid to accommodate both left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive applications.

Volvo took note of Porsche’s little invention, and added one to the 145 in 1969.  The time for rear window wipers had finally arrived.

By the time the OPEC oil crisis arrived in the mid-1970s, rear wipers had become commonplace on hatchbacks, station wagons, and off-road machines like the Chevy Blazer and Ford Bronco.  These body styles were perfect applications for the rear window wiper: because of the lack of a rear deck (a trunk), a rear window is bound to collect more dirt and grime than a sedan or pickup truck’s.

Since 1965, Porsche has remained a devout follower of the rear window wiper, offering it on every single fixed-roof production car after the 911, with the exception of the 914, as it had a recessed rear window and long rear deck, which eliminated the necessity of a rear window wiper.

It doesn’t matter how old the Porsche is to make this option desirable.  It goes far beyond a functionality statement.  It’s a perfect visual metaphor of the classic Porsche essence and character that has carried through today.

You can still feel the original Porsche character today.  The 356 and 911 (through the 993 generation), with their air-cooled reliability (their engines were souped-up VW Beetle engines), rear-engine traction, fully-independent suspension with incredibly long travel, and generous ground clearance meant that these were not cars to be taken lightly.  They were not smooth-road sports cars like the Triumphs of the same era.  They were truly all-weather, go-anywhere-on-any-road cars.  This set them far apart from the other sports cars of the era, which generally had low ground clearance, borderline-at-best weather sealing, limited traction, horrifically unreliable everything, and marginal-at-best cooling systems.

It should come as no surprise to you that early Porsches were even better for all-weather capabilities than most standard sedans when the weather got yucky.  Those early Porsches don’t care about the meteorological conditions or terrain.  They will get a driver and their passenger to almost any destination in comfort.  They truly have the functionality of a Swiss Army knife.  The stark functionality of a rear window wiper expresses this.

Almost every Porsche that went rallying was fitted with a rear window wiper until high-speed rallying and weight reduction made them somewhat obsolete.  Anybody who has ever gone rallying or bombing up and down a fire road knows just how important a rear window wiper is, especially after a big slide.

Most Ferraris, Jaguars, and Corvettes are taken out when the weather is nice.  It’s always been that way.  Porsche owners have never been afraid of taking their Porsche out when it’s rainy or snowing.  A rear window wiper, in addition to it’s functionality, signals to the casual observer that they are gazing upon a car that earns it’s keep.  While it’s great to have a car that wins trophies, how often is that car driven?

To the uninitiated Porsche enthusiast, a rear window wiper would seemingly ruin the looks of the car.  Let me explain it this way: a Porsche with a rear window wiper is like seeing Sean Connery as James Bond in black tie slipping a steel Rolex Submariner onto his wrist.  It’s a seemingly incongruous functional instrument that seems out of place, but it hints at capabilities at his beck and call.

1955 Ferrari 250 GT Europa

 

1957 Lancia Flaminia Berlina

1965 Porsche 911

1967 Porsche 911

 

1969 Volvo 145

 

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

1976 Chevy Blazer

 

Porsche 914-6

James Bond

The Crash That Changed NASCAR Forever

At Talladega International Superspeedway in 1973, Bobby Isaac heard voices telling him to pull over.  It wasn’t his crew chief, it wasn’t his spotter, but he said that it was a supernatural voice.  Nothing at all was wrong with his car.  But, he got spooked by the voices and quit racing on the spot.  He pulled into pit row, turned the car off, got out, and never set foot in a race car again.

Odd things happen at Talladega all the time.  Fans and drivers joke around casually about the “Talladega Jinx.”  The Jinx itself is standard issue – every track has it in some form or another.  People say that Talladega was once a Native American burial ground and the spirits haunt the track to this day.  As silly as those stories may seem, Talladega has been a haven for mishaps since Day 1.  Larry Smith lost his life there because of a minor-yet-deadly accident.  Davey Allison lost his life there in a helicopter crash.  Side-view mirrors have killed drivers there.  There have been so many infield accidents that I can’t even count how many there are.

But, it was Bobby Allison’s near-fatal crash there in a Grand National-series Buick LeSabre in 1987 that changed NASCAR superspeedway racing forever.  There were no murderous mirrors or supernatural voices.  Instead, a blown tire at 200+ mph sent Allison’s number 22 Buick LeSabre stock car into the air.

The result was sickening.  His car was moving with such momentum that it literally vaporized the catch fence and sprayed the crowd with debris.  Thankfully, two well-placed and tightly-wound cables kept most of the car from landing in the crowd.  The only serious injury was a spectator who lost an eye – sad but not deadly.  Bobby Allison continued to race after the crash at Talladega until the next year, when a career-ending crash at Pocono Speedway in 1988 caused him to hang his helmet up for good.  However, Jinx conspiracy theorists will happily point out to you that his family didn’t escape the Talladega Jinx until 1993, when Bobby’s eldest son, Davey Allison, lost his life in a helicopter crash there, just 11 months after Bobby’s youngest son, Clifford, perished in a massive crash at Michigan International Superspeedway.

In Bobby Allison’s crash, speed was what nearly killed him.  Just a day prior to the race, Junior Johnson, a notoriously reckless driver back in his day, voiced his concerns to NASCAR officials.  They should have listened to him.  Junior Johnson is still one of the most respected figures in NASCAR public circles.  NASCAR executives put on the headphones to ignore the thundering engine of Junior Johnson.  Why?  Because Bill Elliott had just put his car in first place at a screaming 212.8 mph.  Big numbers look good in newspapers.  To put that into perspective, the fastest speed at the Indy 500 the next week was 216.6 mph.  Indy cars are light, small, and maneuverable.  Stock cars are like automotive battleships.  When Bobby Allison hit the fence, NASCAR officials could have faced an accident that could have played out like the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans disaster.  Crazy speeds or not, something had to be done quickly.

To reduce top speeds, the stopgap measure was to implement smaller carburetors.  Teams hated it, not only speed-wise, but because it also hindered the car’s performance in many other ways.  It took a full season to reach an agreement, but when the green flag dropped at the 1988 Daytona 500, each car in the field had a restrictor plate bolted to the intake manifold.  The restrictor plate is still mandatory at superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, as it greatly restricts the airflow going into the engine.  The result is a significant reduction in top speed.  A restrictor plate is simply a piece of metal with four holes in the center for the air to go through.

Restrictor plates didn’t cure the jinx.  Crowd injuries at Talladega are still far too common.  In that case, why install a restrictor plate at all?  Until his death, NASCAR CEO Bill France, Jr. always said that the restrictor plates were bolted on to improve the show.  To this day, it’s hard to find something more spectacular than NASCAR.  The restrictor plate greatly reduces the airflow going into the engine, so, if there is an accident, the car will not be traveling over 200 mph.  Superspeedways are the only NASCAR tracks that allow the cars to get up to speeds like that.  Plus, there’s no denying the spectator appeal of “The Big One,” the gigantic crashes at restrictor plate events that fans have come to expect and see as for-granted.

Is the Talladega Jinx real?  Um, no.  There’s no supernatural entity plotting over what will happen next at Talladega.  But, the Jinx is well-planted into the minds of drivers and fans.  Either way, restrictor plates are still for this world for a while – superstition or not.

 

 

The Top Movie/TV Show Cars

Many movies have cars that we love.  Famous cars with famous actors – it goes together.  Le Mans had a Porsche 917 and a Ferrari 512LM with Steve McQueen doing all of the driving in the 917.  It also had a Porsche 911 Carrera S that went for $1.75 Million dollars at auction last year.  The Ronin remake had Robert De Niro, a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, a BMW M5, and a nitrous-huffing Audi S8.  Vanishing Point had Barry Newman, a 440-powered Dodge Challenger R/T Magnum, and a Jaguar E-Type V12 Convertible.  Well, you get the idea.

While I know that last weekend was Oscars weekend, I still thought that the cars from famous movies deserve a proper recognition.  Enjoy my list.  I have also attached videos of the cars in the movies that they were in.  I hope you enjoy the list and the videos!

  1. 1968 Dodge Charger “Bullitt”:  While it’s a shame that I haven’t seen Bullitt yet (one of these days!), I’ve seen the epic car chase scene on YouTube countless times.  I know.  It’s not the same.  The 1968 Dodge Charger from Bullitt is undeniably one of the most iconic cars ever to be used in a movie.  Anybody, I repeat, ANYBODY, can watch the chase scene and then see a 1968 Charger in real life, and say, “I saw a car that looks similar to that one in Bullitt!”  The two cars that really defined the words “muscle car” tore up the streets of San Francisco for real (no CGI, just a couple of sped-up shots).  Both the Ford Mustang GT with the 390 cubic-inch V8 and the Dodge Charger R/T with the 440 cubic-inch V8 needed some modifications for the chase scene.  Ex race-car builder Max Balchowsky modified both cars for film use.  The Highland Green Mustang needed a TON of mods for the chase scene.  The Charger, however, only needed heavy-duty shocks and springs to cope with the jumps.  Both cars used prototype Firestone tires, but it’s possible to see different width tires multiple times on the Charger.  According to Balchowsky, the Charger with it’s big 375-horsepower 440 cubic-inch V8 outgunned the 325-horse 390 cubic-inch V8 Mustang (pun not intended) so much that it required the stunt driver to slow down the car so that McQueen’s ‘Stang could keep up.  Score for Mopar!  While (spoiler alert!) one of the cars met a fiery demise at the end of the movie and was subsequently scrapped, some say that the other Charger is still around…somewhere.  I’d sure like to think so!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Lbs_nYW3-o
  2. 1955 Chevrolet 150 “American Graffiti”:  Arguably one of the most iconic cars for hot rodding, let alone movies, the 1955 Chevrolet 150 from American Graffiti remains the benchmark for modified ’55 Chevy’s.  Three 1955 Chevrolet 150’s were used for the filming of the movie.  Two of said cars were used in 1971’s Two Lane Blacktop.  Transportation supervisor Henry Travers picked the two cars up from the Universal Studios lot and painted them black.  One car was a fiberglass shell, and it was used to film exterior shots and the actors inside the car.  The other car, the stunt car, was used for the climatic drag race crash.  Travers, who drove the car stunt Chevy for the Paradise Road finale couldn’t roll the car as directed by George Lucas – the car had to be heaved onto it’s roof by the crew.  A third, non-running 1955 Chevy was picked up, spray-painted black, and a fake B-pillar was welded on to resemble to other two cars.  It was burned to film the crash’s aftermath.  The burn car was returned to the junkyard – it would have been impossible to get the car in running condition!  Only the main camera car remains today.  It has traded hands a few times and some dubious modifications have been made to it.  In 2012, it was sold privately to a private buyer who plans to restore the car to it’s original American Graffiti appearance.  Prior to the deal, the buyer apparently barely avoided acquiring his own burn car, built by George Barris.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOgqUHk-zDY
  3. 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 “Ronin”:  While the chase scene from Bullitt deserves lots of ink, the multiple chase scenes from the 1998 remake of Ronin make the leaping American stallions chase scene look about as exciting as a segway tour of Los Angeles.  John Frankenheimer, the same speed junkie who directed the 1966 movie Grand Prix, directed Ronin.  He hired a gaggle of stunt drivers, including F1 champion Jean-Pierre Jarier and sports car champion Jean-Claude Lagniez, and let them loose throwing muscular German sedans around Paris, Monaco, and parts of Souther France at opposite lock drift angles and mind-blowing speeds – on closed-off public roads.  An Audi S8 and BMW rightfully grab a lot of attention in the movie, with Frankenheimer cleverly using right-hand-drive cars with fake left-side steering wheels so that the actors including Robert De Niro and Natascha McElhone could “drive” while one of the Frenchmen terrified them just a couple of feet away.  Not to be outdone are the guys from Mercedes-Benz who sent a 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, arguably the first German muscle car.  Robert De Niro “drives” for a while, while French actor Jean Reno actually drove.  The absolute mayhem begins with a Rockford pulled off in the Benz, and then De Niro and Reno chase down the bad boys who happen to be driving a Peugeot 406.  The Peugeot and and Benz hurtle through the French countryside at speeds well over 100 mph, and then De Niro stands up in the sunroof and blows the 406 to smithereens.  Post-explosion, the 450SEL 6.9 hurtles into the seaside village of Villefranche-sur-Mer, an outskirt of Monaco, where a good half of the movie was filmed, where it hurtles through tiny city streets trashing market stalls and cafe tables in search of whatever is locked inside of that mysterious locked case everybody wants.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMaG5WAmHvY
  4. 1980 Lamborghini Countach “The Cannonball Run”:  If you can, keep your eyes ON the car, not IN the car!  It sounds easy, but Tara Buckman and Adrienne Barbeau are inside.  When Hal Needham and Brock Yates (arguably one of the most iconic auto journalists ever) thought up the plot for The Cannonball Run, a highly fictionalized version of the illegal cross-country Cannonball Run races of the 1970s, they knew that only one car could keep a teenager’s eyes off of Buckman and Barbeau – a 1980 Lamborghini Countach.  The entire opening sequence of the movie focuses entirely on the Countach.  The V12 shrieks up and down through the gearbox, and the two ladies stopping just long enough paint an “X” across a 55 mph speed limit sign before the car screams off onto the American prairie highway again.  The car taunts a police cruiser by coming up extremely close in the rear view mirror, pulling alongside, and then disappearing into the horizon.  No wonder this movie, which Yates himself calls “a pretty lousy picture!” grossed more than $72 million dollars – in the U.S. alone!  Of course, Burt Reynolds and Victor Prinzim are the official stars of the movie with their fake ambulance, but don’t tell that to any teenage boy who saw the movie in the 1980’s.  After filming, the car was used by Hawaiian Tropic as a promotional vehicle for 28 years.  Then, a private collector in Florida bought the car in 2009, and restored the car to factory condition.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh9L6LrpmTQ
  5. 1970 Porsche 911S “Le Mans”:  Most of Le Mans focuses on a frenzy of screaming prototypes, howling sports cars, furious air wrenches, and cheering crowds of adoring fans.  Not for the opening sequence, though.  Before reaching the Le Mans circuit, McQueen’s character, troubled racer Michael Delaney, gently pushes his 911S across the French countryside and a quiet village.  Soon, he will strap into a howling Porsche 917 for 24 hours of 240+ mph battle against a Ferrari 512LM.  But, for now, it’s just the man and his steed.  The Slate Gray 911S stands out in it’s timeless, understated elegance.  Kind of like McQueen himself.  It’s no wonder that he took the machine back with him to California to join his rapidly growing sports car and motorcycle collection.  Since he owned a nearly identical 1969 model, the 1970 911S was soon sold to a Los Angeles-based attorney who kept the car hidden away for the better part of 30 years.  The car changed hands two more times before going up for auction at RM Auctions Monterey, where it fetched a tidy $1.375 Million dollars, the most EVER paid for a 911 at auction.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JlyQsWXrqA
  6. 1966 Jaguar XKE V12 Convertible “Vanishing Point”:  Most people my age today probably wouldn’t understand the tagline from Vanishing Point: “Tighten your seatbelt.  You never had a trip like this before.”  But in 1971, the phrase fell on plenty of knowing ears and cars.  Enter Barry Newman as Kowalski, Congressional Medal of Honor Winner, ex-cop, ex-istentialist, as well as ex-race-driver.  His mission is the stuff of any Hollywood movie legend, or any car buff’s legend – drive the car from Denver to San Francisco in record time.  Hollywood being Hollywood, Kowalski encounters everything from rattlesnakes to sun-hardened old-timers, pre-“Bette Davis Eyes” Kim Carnes music, and deranged religious prophets.  But, his most memorable meeting was against a goggles-wearing, giggling desert rat hell-bent on some hoonage in his Jaguar XK-E V12 Convertible.  Said Jag driver literally begs for it – he even bangs his car into the Challenger to get Kowalski’s attention.  Since this is Hollywood, Kowalski takes the bait.  Big time.  It’s wire rims against mag wheels, Dover Sole versus Alaska Salmon, tea cakes versus beefcake.  A one-lane bridge looms ahead.  Kowalski gives the big 440 full throttle, fender swipes the Jag, and the Jag flies off the road in a splendid, um, horrifying fashion.  After several barrel rolls and a gigantic drop, the Jag ends up on it’s side in a mud-caked riverbed.  Since the driver of the Jag was a stunt driver, he’s OK.  Kowalski gives him a quick check, and is back on his way.  I can’t say the same for the Jag – it ended up as a total write-off.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBTup5WH0a0
  7. 1963 Apollo 3500 GT Thorndyke Special “The Love Bug”:  When was the last time you saw The Love Bug?  It’s a cute movie, and the support vehicles are, well, spectacular.  In any given racing scene, cute little Herbie the Love Bug is surrounded by all sorts of cars you’d expect to see at a period SCCA road race, from Triumph TR6’s to Shelby Cobra’s to MG TC’s.  The most memorable supporting vehicle is the black and yellow car driven by that crook Peter Thorndyke in the final El Dorado race.  Thorndyke drives everything from a Jaguar E-Type to a Ferrari 250GT (a replica car that long ago disappeared) Tour de France on his way to campaigning the Thorndyke Special.  The Thorndyke Special is, for all of it’s Italian looks, is an Apollo 3500GT.  It may have Italian styling, but it was made in Oakland California.  The Apollo cars started life in Italy, where the bodies and chassis’ were made by Intermeccanica.  They would then be shipped to Oakland, where the engines and transmissions would be installed.  Most of the engines were 350 cubic-inch Buick V8’s mated to either a Muncie M-22 “Rock Crusher” transmission or a Buick three-speed automatic.  42 cars were built between 1962 and 1964, when the company ran out of money and closed.  Max Balchowsky specifically modified two cars for the movie with their well-known paint scheme.  At least one car still exists today, with the restoration in Toronto, Canada started many years ago.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCmUQo2r33g
  8. 1969 Lamborghini Muira “The Italian Job (1969)”:  For us car lovers, the opening scene of the 1969 The Italian Job starring legendary British actor Michael Caine is beautiful and haunting.  An orange 1969 Lamborghini Muira P400 is making its way through the beautiful Swiss Alps with the actor Rossano Brazzi behind the wheel, cigarette dangling like they are in commercials.  He’s wearing driving gloves, a perfect suit, and designer sunglasses.  Matt Monro crooning “On Days Like These” accompanies the scream of the 3.9-liter V12 of the Muira.  What could go wrong?  Everything, as the Muira enters the tunnel at high speed, and comes out crumpled in the bucket of an earth mover at the other end.  A roadblock set up by the bad guys takes the blame.  And, the once-raging Muira is dropped over 100 feet into a river.  Was the orange Lambo actually destroyed?  Yes and no.  Two Muira’s were used for the scene.  The running and driving one was not wrecked, as it was a press car for Lamborghini; that honor goes to a crash-damaged frame of a Muira with new bodywork and no engine.  Rumor has it that when the crew came down to the river the next morning, not a single piece of the wrecked Muira was to be found.  Creepy.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQIRbV_noi8
  9. 1964.5 Ford Mustang GT Convertible “Goldfinger”:  While the Aston Martin DB5 seems to get all of the credit (rightfully so – it’s AWESOME!), the first Ford Mustang ever in a movie co-starred with the Brit.  Tilly Masterson’s gold 1964.5 Ford Mustang GT Convertible was a preproduction model, and was run off of a Swiss mountain after Bond’s tire slicing hubcap sticks out.  Ford REALLY wanted the Mustang to be part of Goldfinger, and had originally specified for a fastback to be used in the film.  Unfortunately, the fastback Mustang would start production too late in 1964 for filming purposes.  Ultimately, the Goldfinger Mustang fastback was built with special gold metallic paint, and it featured a roof panel with 007-inspired switches.  It was used as a promotional vehicle for both Bond and Ford for many years, and it still survives in private ownership.  As for the Mustang GT Convertible used in the film, it is believed but unknown by either Ford or anybody that it was sold after the film and repainted and currently with somebody.  Who that somebody is beats Ford and everybody else.  I’d sure like to know.  Other Ford vehicles were used in Goldfinger:  A 1957 Ford Thunderbird was used by Secret Service agents, a 1964 Lincoln Continental was driven to the junkyard and crushed by Oddjob, Goldfinger’s lethal assistant, and a 1964 Ford Ranchero was used for Oddjob to drive away from the junkyard with the crushed Continental in the bed.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLuNstLjP1c
  10. 1967 Ford Mustang GT500 “Gone in 60 Seconds”:  The menacing-looking 1967 silver-grey Ford Mustang GT500 from the 2005 remake of Gone in 60 Seconds is a 1967 Ford Mustang GT Fastback.  It has body panels and GT500 badges to make it look like a GT500.  It had a hopped-up 390 cubic-inch V8 made up to perform and sound like the 428 cubic inch Cobra Jet V8 found in the GT500.  Three cars were made for filming, and one was scrapped.  The other two survive in private ownership.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMv-X0tG2KQ