The chariot has always been a glory machine. History depicts its use in both racing and war, being pulled my multiple steeds of great strength, an early equivalent of the modern-day, high powered sports car.
Then there are wagons, from simple buckboards to large covered land barges, sharing all of the varied, mundane duties we saddle our contemporary vehicles with, they were the useful but unglamorous transportation of their time.
Such is the dilemma of the modern gearhead. We all dream of the exotic supercar but are forced to deal with the requirements of our daily lives. Many eventually find the means to garage a second vehicle, pampering it while waiting for warm, sunny days when we can indulge ourselves. For those with abundant means (like Jay Leno) this arrangement becomes far more elaborate.
Still, the consummate gearhead cannot deny his inner force, and as much as we say otherwise, we seek to make our daily workhorses more exciting and athletic. I believe it is this sedate, subdued notion that makes some of us gravitate to the more unusual, possibly even forgotten machines.
Scientists say creative human minds tend to utilize both halves of the brain with greater interaction. While some see this as artistic connection, others regard it as more of a short circuit. History has shown that most people gifted with various artistic talents tend to be somewhat eccentric, and in some cases just plain odd. The creative gearhead is no different.
Automotive design has always been subjective, and for every machine hailed by all as breath-taking and beautiful, there are three others as exciting as vanilla and one as homely as the village humpback. Yet time has a funny way of transforming the yawner into a desirable, sought-after prize.
On a quick tangent, the Pontiac Aztek has made more “top ten ugly car” lists than any vehicle in recent memory. Shouldn’t there be an award for that? As an owner and supporter of said vehicle, I feel it has been given an unjust sentence and I’m currently compiling my own list entitled, “Top Ten Vehicles Uglier than the Pontiac Aztek.”
Stay tuned for that upcoming blog post.
Ferruccio Lamborghini was both creative and inventive. While others saw the relics of WWII combat as junk littering the European countryside, Lamborghini salvaged engines and parts to begin a thriving business making farm equipment. He loved sports cars, and after owning a few unreliable Ferraris, decided he could build a better machine himself.
Being born under the astrological sign of Taurus, Lamborghini was fascinated by a visit to the Seville ranch of renowned fighting bull breeder, Don Eduardo Miura, and chose to adopt the raging bull as the emblem for the car he sought to build.
Obviously, the raging bull logo was intended to evoke an image of superior power over that of Ferrari’s prancing horse, and the car he produced did all of that and more. The Miura is still widely proclaimed as the first supercar, utilizing a mid-engine/rear drive powertrain layout for optimum balance and handling.
The Miura was introduced in 1966, and Lamborghini sold his company shortly before his retirement in 1974. The outrageous Countach with its signature scissor doors would come a few years later followed by a herd of raging bulls named Diablo, Jalpa, Murcielago, Gallardo, Aventador, and the latest, Huracan…all named after legendary fighting bulls.
(Save for the Countach, which translates into an Italian expletive.)
In between the fearsome super bulls, there have been trucks, tractors, motorcycles, and marine engines, but the one I find most fascinating is the 2+2 hatchback coupe produced during the Ferruccio tenure. For the decade of 1968-1978, Lamborghini built this unsung, everyday driver with the heart of a raging bull, which he called the Espada.
In Spanish, espada means sword, which is the weapon the matador uses to finish his beaten adversary, but as it applies to the Lambo sports coupe, one could say it’s both sharp and edgy.
Marcello Gandini is a legendary automotive designer, and his creations include the aforementioned Miura, the outrageous Countach as well as its successor, the Diablo, and the fearsome Lancia Stratos, just to name a few. But before all of those works of art became fire-breathing road weapons, Gandini sculpted the Jaguar Pirana concept car.
While working for the design group Bertone, he borrowed heavily from his show piece to give Lamborghini its understated, four-seat touring/GT car. One has to give the Italians due credit for finding ways to build driver excitement into almost everything they produce. From their tiny economy cars to their plush sedans, the sound and feel that begs the driver’s soul is present at some level.
The Espada was the alternative to the rakish supercar by offering room for passengers, a usable amount of carry space and the symphony of a V12 engine under the hood. The Espada will never command the spotlight like its sexy siblings, but it has probably delivered more smiles to more drivers while the dream machines gather dust in garage bays.
During the same years the Espada was produced in Italy, Chrysler Corporation unleashed a fleet of rowdy musclecars on the streets of America. Names like Charger, Challenger, Cuda, Super Bee, Daytona, Roadrunner, and GTX would all become legends in their own rite while the mighty Hemi engine provided the power to dominate the asphalt.
John Herlitz may not be the epic designer on the level of Gandini, but his contribution to American performance lore is no less important. Herlitz penned the 1970 ‘Cuda, which became an instant success and today is one of the most sought-after sports coupes in the country. Hemi-powered original models have fetched prices over a million dollars, but one of his lesser designs holds lock and key on my gearhead heart.
The Roadrunner was a home-run hit for Plymouth Division, with sales running amok from 1968-70. Herlitz was given the daunting task of redesigning the popular model for 1971 in order to trim down its weight and make it more aerodynamic. The car he delivered for 1971-72 remains to this day as one of my all-time favorites, and while it may not be on the level of Camaros or Mustangs, I love it for all the things it does well.
The car is roomy and comfortable, making no apology for its size, while its rakish lines, long hood, and high rear quarters combine to form a lovely wedge shape. The design proved to be more than simple appearance, as King Richard Petty stormed the high banks of NASCAR to win the Daytona 500 and 20 other races on his way to the 1971 Winston Cup Championship. The following year in 1972 saw him win 21 races and over a million dollars in purse money, making him the first to crack that golden figure in winnings.
For the 1972 model year, a failing economy and new emissions standards forced the muscular Hemi into retirement, but a subtle change to the rear bumper and tail lights made this car even more beautiful in my eyes. Some in the automotive world refer to the look as “jet exhaust lights,” but whatever term is used to describe them, they absolutely work for me.
The next year brought a massive revamping of the coupe, and in my opinion, completely ruined the appearance. So one year model of plunging sales figures remains to this day as my everyman, unsung hero car.
The pencil and paper will always be the most basic canvas for artistic expression, but technology has gifted more of us with the means to play with dream designs. Today’s custom car builders take such ideas and revive the relics of the past into modern on-off street demons. Chip Foose is probably the most recognizable given his “Overhaulin” television series, but Illinois-based Troy Trepanier has fashioned his share of twisted steel and sex appeal.
A few years back, Rad Rides by Troy tackled the project of remaking an icon, a 1970 Hemi Cuda for comic Joe Rogan. The result was ground-pounding beast that was dubbed “Sick Fish.” I’ve seen my share of potent Cudas over the years but this one is pure awesomeness from the pavement up.
I couldn’t resist playing with an image of a 1972 Roadrunner I found online, lowering the stance and giving it the larger wheels to emulate the amazing Cuda. Such a car could still carry people in comfort, cruise the highways, and with a modern Chrysler Hemi mated to the latest eight-speed ZF auto gearbox, it could deliver not only abundant power but real world fuel mileage to boot.
Some dream cars are chariots, and some are wagons, but all are beautiful in the eye of the beholder, no matter how many horses are hitched to them.
– T. August Green