Saturday, December 17, 2011

1935 Hispano Suiza J12 (drophead coupe / convertible)

1938 Tatra type 87 4 door saloon

For more about Tatras, see

1928 Lorraine Dietrich 15CV type B3-6

The Mercer Cobra, may be ugly enough to cause eyes to bleed, dogs to cower, and designers to faint... but did you know it was built on a Shelby Chassis? CSX 2451 and a 289 went into this uggo

commissioned by the Copper Development Association from Virgil Exner’s designs in Esquire. Its design was drawn up by Virgil Exner and Virgil Exner, Jr.

Exner attempt at what a Mercer roadster would look like if they had stayed in business. The only reason the Cobra name is tied in is because they needed a frame and bought CSX2451 and a 289 Ford engine from Shelby to have this one and only Mercer built which makes it part of the Cobra history.

Although it bears a CSX number (as it should), it was born as a bare chassis at AC and had it's wheelbase stretched.
Shelby took the order from Exner, a US customer... but the finished chassis was drop-shipped from AC to Italy, where the new body was crafted.
So they didn't scrap any of Shelby's stock of Cobras and this pup never saw SoCal.

info and photos from

I posted 2 photos of it a year ago, but didn't know then about the chassis info

For a full gallery and written analysis

Frank Kurtis built this 1936 Ford into a streamlined dry lakes racer for Tommy Lee, and I just recalled what its looks reminded me of

the above is the car built for Tommy Lee, below is the other 1936 Ford he built, for the Southern California Plating Company. I knew I'd seen something like it before. I think the SC Plating Co car was featured in the Rodders Journal, I can't recall where else I would have been reading about it

Kurtis was such an amazing car builder, that his cars dominated at the Indy 500, not just winning, but dominating. Kurtis built cars won the Indy in 1950, 51, 53, 54, and 55. 15 of the top 20 finishers in the 1953 Indy were Kurtis built.

Last photo found on

New movie trailer for Ghost Rider 2

Car news, Cuba loosens up on car ownership laws, lets Cubans buy and sell cars now

For the full story:

Liberalizing car sales is one of more than 300 economic reforms the government of President Raul Castro is undertaking as part of an "updating" of its socialist system.
Since it entered into effect at the start of October, around 300 people are lining up daily to register vehicles, or buy and sell others, and the vehicle registration office has processed around 3,300 buy-sell certificates, state media reported.
In the small country of 11 million people, news of sales or potential buyers spread through word of mouth, a few informal car brokers who hang around in parks or a few websites - though occasional "For Sale" signs dot cars lining the boulevards.
"It made the buying and selling between people flexible. It recognizes vehicles as property which wasn't recognized before," said a Cuban lawyer waiting in a park outside the vehicle registration office

Don Lee, remarkable story, remarkable number of race cars with his name on them

 Above, The Alfa Romeo Tipo B or P3 Monoposto Chassis 50007, s/n 50002, was the first genuine single-seat racing car in Grand Prix racing and it dominated the competition in the 1932 season, winning almost at will. Its first appearance came at the Italian GP at Monza on June 5.

 It joined the Scuderia Ferrari-ran Alfa team in 1934 before being sold to Count De Villapadierni in Spain and later to Frank Griswold in San Francisco. After running in the 1939 and 1940 Indianapolis 500 and coming in first at the New York World's Fair in 1940, the car was sold to Tommy Lee in Los Angeles. Entered as the 'Don Lee Special' at the 1946 and 1947 Indy 500 it was driven by Hal Cole.
Above photo shows Luigi Chinetti watching the W154 getting worked on,
Below is the Mercedes-Benz W154 entered by Don Lee at the 1947 Indianapolis 500, it is chassis number 9, which after WW2 was discovered in Czechoslovakia. This was the car with which Lang had won the Coppa Ciano in 1938.

 The car was sold to Don Lee, an American racing team owner. During 1938, the rules for the Indianapolis 500 were modified to allow the European Grand Prix cars to compete, and in 1947, Tommy Lee entered the W154 with Duke Nalon as the driver.

Nalon discovered that Riley Brett, an Offenhauser mechanic, had obtained some Mercedes engine blueprints. Nalon was able to make copies and from these, the team was able to prepare the engine. The mechanics started the engine but left it running on idle which caused the fuel to condense in the engine manifold. Due to the engine being mounted at an angle, the rear cylinders filled up with fuel, breaking the conrods and one piston. A new piston was hastily sand cast in time for the race.

Although Nalon set the second fastest qualifying speed, the qualifying system meant that he would start the race from 18th position. During the race, the replacement piston failed after 119 laps and the car had to retire from the race

Photo credits, top one I took at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, from Conceptcarz, then Stefan Marjoram at the Goodwood festival, and bottom photo I was just sent by David

Now, the info... Don Lee had been a bicycle shop owner who became a protégé of Los Angeles pioneer businessman Earle C. Anthony, purchased his Los Angeles radio station KHJ from  Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler in 1927.

Don was the exclusive west coast distributor of Cadillac automobiles in the early 20th century. In 1919 Don purchased the Earl Automobile Works of Hollywood, California.

Harley Earl, the son of the company's owner, was kept on as manager. Renamed Don Lee Coach and Body Works, the company produced many custom designed Cadillacs for the rich and famous. Harley Earl left the company to become the head of General Motors styling department in 1927

Having amassed a fortune selling automobiles, Lee branched out in broadcasting in 1926, purchased or built 12 radio stations, creating his own  network, and having such a power base he put his transmitters and antennas on a hill in Griffin Park Los Angeles... now became known as "Mount Lee.".. .just above the Hollywood sign.

Don bought a 20-acre site on a mountain top at the eastern boundary of Griffith Park, widening the transmission field equipment to take in new thousands of homes in the Hollywood hills and the San Fernando Valley. The site is one and a half times higher than the top floor of the Empire State Building in New York. Mount Lee is thus the highest television location in the world. (Info circa 1937)

Part of Mount Lee was sold to Howard Hughes, who intended to erect an estate for his then current love interest, Ginger Rogers

Frank Kurtis got started working with automotive fabrication when he was hired by Willet Brown and Tommy Lee to rework Don Lee Racing Team's midget car bodies.

If you were living in California back in the nineteen-oughts, he probably watched four-cylinder Cadillac speedsters tearing through the countryside in those much ballyhooed city to city runs that often headlined the sports pages from 1905 into the WW1 era. Locally, team-Cadillac race drivers, running under the Don Lee banner (Don Lee was California's first and only Cadillac distributor), were as famous as Barney Oldfield - who they often competed against. Multiple Cadillacs regularly finished in the top five. Naturally, victory on the road racing and speedway circuit translated to enormous success in the showroom.

Cadillac and California were made for each other. Year-around motoring weather coupled with scenic attractions radiating in all directions led to extensive road building early on. Don Lee was among those who played a leadership roll in promoting State highway construction. By 1916 the roads in Southern California were being touted as the most advanced in the nation. From the sportsminded millionaires who wintered here at the turn of the century, to the subsequent flow of wealthy tourists who came to see the sights and ended up staying, Cadillac was the Southland's foremost luxury car. From the very beginning, an estimated ten percent of Cadillac production was allocated to California. Don Lee provided sales and service through a statewide network of urban master dealerships, with sub-dealers handling the suburban and rural areas.

Quite the remarkable connections, Frank Kurtis, Howard Hughes, Harvey Earl, Harry Chandler. The time and places of our lives affect a lot.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Wanderwell expedition was the way for a 16 year old Aloha Wanderwell to see the world, and be the first woman around the globe by car, and her 35mm home films and documents are ready to be made into a Hollywood feature film

this video can also be seen on youtube at
What’s blonde, blue-eyed, six-feet tall and looks like a leading actress? She’s Aloha Wanderwell – the first woman to travel around the globe in a car; she was 16. And, is dedicated to preserving her nitrate films, books and more.

 See all the badges that circle the cars belt line? Earned, not bought on E-bay

It all started when Aloha read an ad in the Riviera edition of the Paris Herald: “Brains, Beauty and Breeches – World tour offer for lucky young woman wanted to join an expedition – Asia, Africa….”

She quickly set out to convince the expedition’s leader, Captain Walter Wanderwell, that she was the one for the job.

“This true story of an incredible journey – the Wanderwell Expedition – took place in the 1920s. Over the years, it’s been buried and now needs to be preserved and retold,” says Richard Diamond, Aloha’s grandson.

During this world tour, Aloha took thousands of feet of 35-millimeter nitrate film while driving though 43 countries on four continents in nearly eight years.

“These nitrate films have to be transferred to HD,” says Diamond. “We need help now. This is a gold mine of material for any documentary or film producer. It would be a crime to let these historical films deteriorate. It’s a rich part of history.”

In addition, Diamond also possesses a 567-page manuscript written by Aloha that details the trip’s many adventures; an array of collectibles; photos; and the original auto badges.

During the expedition, Aloha and Walter married. They continued to travel, to film and lecture together. In 1932, their story tragically ended with Walter’s murder; it remains an unsolved cold case.

Aloha remarried and tended to her priceless collection of films, photos, journals and artifacts. Much of her work has been preserved in museums and educational institutions throughout the U.S. She passed away in Newport Beach, California on June 4, 1996.

“In addition to preserving these items, I believe that Ford has an amazing opportunity here,” says Diamond. “Just imagine a modern-day Aloha retracing these steps in a Ford Explorer? It would be a wonderful way to pay homage to the very first ‘Ford Challenge’ – the intrepid 1918 Model T that Aloha referred to as her, ‘Little Lizzie.’”

So, while the Model T that brought this couple together was not preserved, the story certainly can be.

Aloha Wanderwell at Wikipedia: for all about the Wanderwell Expedition, or for the condensed Car Guy version: