Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Benson Automobile

The Benson Automobile was the first automobile built in the state of Oregon. Garage Inventor Nils Benson and his teenage assistant James Chance started working on the car in 1904. Benson ordered some parts and made others at his machine shop on SE Grand Avenue in Portland. The rubber tires were shipped from Indochina.

The Benson Automobile was displayed at the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland and operated there for 3 months. Later, Benson added a crankshaft and 2 more cylinders for a total of 4 before the automobile was considered finished in 1906. Though he originally planned to build more, this was the only automobile Benson ever built.

The Benson automobile ended up being stored in a shed behind Benson's home on NE 92nd Place. It was sold to neighbor William McAllister in 1951 and then to Walter Rusk in 1973. Rusk restored to automobile in 1973-74 and donated it to the Oregon Historical Society in 1999. Today, the Benson automobile is on display at the Oregon Historical Society's Museum in Portland.

(Photography is not permitted at the OHS museum, but I took these before I was told about the rule. I am posting them so that no one else will be tempted to break the rules.)

The Cambellini

This is something special. I saw this car back in 2008 at the Northwest Car Collectors Association Car Show and Swap Meet in Portland, Oregon. It was labelled simply as a 2006 Cambellini owned by Tom and Jan Campbell. I didn't know anything else about it until I received an email a few months ago from a friend of Tom Campbell named Rick Sanders who gave me the rest of the story, which I have consolidated here in my own words.

Tom Campbell was an engineer who became the head engineer and manufacturing mamager at a compeny with over 200 employees and with his wife Jan raised two boys. Tom spent about 20 years designing and building the Cambellini from scratch in his 4,000 square foot shop. By 1991, he had built his second clay design model of the car at approximately 18" in length. From that model he used a projector to blow up slices of the model to full size using tools and jigs he designed, and from those slices built a full-size clay model. He built the entire body and chassis from scratch, only purchasing items like the engine, wheels & tires & windshield. Tom Campbell passed away in December 2009 at the age of 56.

The Cambellini absolutely looks like it could be a production car, and is a testament to one man's talent and determination to fulfill a dream.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

1963 Imperial Custom Sedan

Imperial was Chrysler's most luxurious brand from 1955 to 1975, and with Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler, originally gave Chrysler a 5-brand structure like General Motors. DeSoto's last year was 1961, but Imperial hung on. Imperial's volume was always lower than competitors Cadillac and Lincoln, making them somewhat rare today. This 1963 Imperial Custom Sedan was spotted by chance parked in a residential neighborhood.

1963 was the last year for this body style, which debuted in 1961. The most interesting styling element of the 1961-1963 Imperials is the individual freestanding bullet headlights set in recessed alcoves in the fenders. This was a unique idea meant to recall the freestanding headlights of the classic cars of the 1930s, but the way the top of the fenders extends over them kind-of defeats the point and makes washing and detailing more difficult. But it gives these rare cars a special character.

The 1963 Imperials were actually a bit more restrained than the previous two years. The 1961 model featured large tailfins, which were already going out of style at that point. For 1962, the fins were cut down significantly, but cigar-shaped variations of Imperial's trademark gunsight taillights were perched on top of them. The 1963 models abandoned the gunsight theme and had more conventional taillights incorporated in the trailing edge of what remained of the tailfins.

Imperials from this era were available with an optional tire-shaped piece of trim fastened to the trunk lid, meant to recall the days when cars carried the spare tires on the back. This trim had originated as an option in 1957 and persisted until 1963, though this model is not equipped with it. In 1964 the "fake spare" motif became standard, incorporated into the shape of the trunk in a more restrained fashion, ala Lincoln's 56-57 Continental Mark II and the later Mark III that would debut in 1968.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

1967 Cadillac Eldorado

Though Cadillac had been using the Eldorado name for years, the 1967 Eldorado was very different from the previous models. The 1967 Eldorado is based on the Oldsmobile Toronado that debuted the previous year. Like the Toronado, the Eldorado featured front wheel drive, a chain drive and Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission. The Eldorado also featured a 340-horsepower Cadillac 429 V8 and improvements over the Toronado including standard variable-ratio power steering, radially vented front disc brakes and automatic self-leveling control.

On a 120 inch wheelbase, 9 inches shorter than Cadillac's standard line, the Eldorado featured sharp, angular styling with little chrome and hidden headlights behind a full-width eggcrate grille, and still looks good today.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

1939 LaSalle Model 5019 4-Door Sedan

This 1939 LaSalle is from the marque's next-to-last year. LaSalle was a "junior Cadillac" that originated in 1927 as part of the General Motors Companion Make Program. In the 1920s, a large price gap existed between each of the General Motors brands. To close those gaps, GM has each of the the four upper brands, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac, start a "companion make." Oakland had Pontiac to fill the gap between it and Chevrolet, Oldsmobile started Viking and Buick started Marquette to handle the large gap between them, and Cadillac created LaSalle to fill the gap between it and Buick, making the new GM structure Chevrolet - Pontiac - Oakland - Oldsmobile - Viking - Marquette - Buick - LaSalle - Cadillac. Marquette lasted only for one year: 1930, while Viking lasted only from 1929 to 1931. Pontiac became so popular it quickly began far outselling its parent Oakland, and Oakland ended production in 1931. That left LaSalle.

LaSalles were stylish and featured Cadillac engines and workmanship at a lower price, and the make did quite well in its early years, carrying Cadillac through the Great Depression and outselling Cadillac 11 to 9 in 1929. In 1937, LaSalle production set a record, but a new recession in 1938 caused sales to fall dramatically. For 1939, LaSalle received new bodies, but it didn't do a lot of good. More expensive top-of-the-line Buicks and cheaper entry-level Cadillacs had also narrowed the gap that LaSalle was intended to fill, making it redundant. LaSalle would receive a minor facelift in 1940 before being dropped completely so Cadillac could focus on luxury cars.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

1969-1970 Jaguar E-Type (XKE) 4.2 2+2 Coupe

This Jaguar E-Type, or XKE, is from 1969 or 1970. It represents the last E-Type Jaguars before V12 engines were introduced and major syling changes were made.

The year can be determined by the front details. There is no clear cover over the headlight scoops, indicating a 1968 or later model, and the turn signals are below the bumper, a change made for 1969. In 1971, when V12 engines arrived, a number of styling changes were made, most noticably a large grille opening. The 1969 and 1970 models are virtually identical.

The E-Type Jaguar was available in 3 body styles: a roadster, a coupe and a 2+2 coupe with a rear seat that was introduced in 1965. The exterior styling of the 2-seat coupe and the 2+2 coupe are almost identical, but the 2+2 is distinguished by longer doors and the associated side windows, due to an additional 9 inches in wheelbase, and the chrome strip along the top of the door below the window.

Another spotting feature that identifies this as a 1969 or 1970 model is the large taillights below the rear bumper.

When the E-Type Jaguar was introduced in 1961, it was powered by a 265-horsepower 3.8-liter inline 6-cylinder Jaguar XK6 engine. In 1964, the engine displacement was increased to 4.2 liters; horsepower remained at 265 but torque increased from 260 to 283 foot-pounds. This engine was used through 1970.

The interior of the E-Type also saw some changes in 1968, primarily in the center console, where toggle switches were replaced by rocker switches and the clock was moved among the gauges from within the tachometer.

The E-Type Jaguar is one of the most collectible classic cars, and this is a fine example of one of the last before the changes that came with the V12 engine began to significantly change the design.

1936 Cord Model 810 Westchester Sedan

This is a 1936 Cord Model 810 Westchester Sedan. The Cord was one of the most ahead-of-its-time cars ever built. It was also available as a Sportsman Phaeton convertible.

The 1936 Cord 810 originated with the earlier Cord L-29, which was made from 1929-1932. The L-29 was one of the first front wheel drive cars, but was not particularly successful, and Errett Lobban Cord, who also controlled Auburn and Duesenberg, ended the Cord brand. In 1933, Gordon Buehrig designed a new car that was originally intended to fill the gap between Auburn and Duesenberg. It was originally designed as a rear wheel drive Auburn, but was modified into a Cord using the front wheel drive developed for the L-29.

The 1936 Cord 810 featured a 125-horsepower V8 engine, a four-speed pre-selector transmission, unibody construction and styling with no running boards, a rear-hinged hood, hidden headlights, hinges and fuel filler, little chrome and a wraparound "venetian-blind" grille.

Unfortunately, a late introduction and high prices kept the Cord 810 from being successful. For 1937, it became the 812, and a supercharged 170-horsepower version was offered, as was a version of the sedan on a longer wheelbase, but sales wasn't any better, and production ended after a total of 2,320 cars over the two years.

The Cord 810 and 812 are sought after by collectors, due to their low production numbers and distinctive styling. Sedans in good condition can be worth $70,000 and up, and convertibles can be worth over $100,000.

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