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Last Update: 02-19-2017
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May 1975

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How to raise automotive trivia to an art form.



Did you ever get the feeling that your head is filled to overflowing with totally useless garbage? I once spent an agonizing semester digesting everything ever recorded about the Punic Wars. I even racked up a B + on the final exam, but no one has asked me, not even once, about the Punic Wars since. Naturally, I realize I am not atone in this. Each one of us, however badly educated and cloddish our minds, has our own little storehouse of extraneous knowledge. I suppose it all goes to make up a richer you. bot golly Ned. why do I know so many useless things and so damn few pertinent, relevant, dynamic facts? I'll give you an example. I'm probably the only guy you ever heard of who knows the name of the only car ever built on a production basis that had an all-leather body. I'm not kidding. It had a genuine cowhide body. Now you tell me who else knows the name of that exquisite misadventure in design? Not only that, but I am also the weirdo who knows the name of one of the very few automobiles ever built that had an all-wood body. It came with a selection of stained mahogany, bird's-eye maple a< knurled oak finishes. Tres Elegant, but not too good during a plague of locusts. Also, the doors warped. After a drink or two I can also provide you with the information as to what manufacturer produced cars featuring woven-wicker bodies. That one looked a little like a funeral par1or settee on wheels. Why I can remember the names of these defunct companies when I have trouble with my phone number totally eludes me. I actually did forget my phone number last week, right In the middle of a chat with a department-store manager about okaying my personal check. He gave me a sharp look and told me to wait while he hurried off to call the office." I got out of there fast, because I knew damn well he was calling a store flatfoot to put the make on me. I suspect that this curious behavioral development is becoming more and more common and probably has something to do with our heads being battered night and day by millions of media messages - commercials, editorials, Walter Cronkite's eyelid, $100,000 tennis matches, Superbowls, world crises, oil embargos, tax rebates, Howard Cosell - night and day, until finally your head is as numb as a bag of chicken feathers shot full of Novocain. I'm continually going to films with the message "Unforgettable" on the marquee, and damn it, I've forgotten the plot by the time I get to the McDonald's on my way home. Do others remember this stuff for all time, the way the marquee says? Or are they, like me, equipped with instantly erasable minds? Okay. Here's another one. There was once a car built with a complete mother-of-pearl four-door body. Mother-of-pearl, that's what I said. It had lapis lazuli set in the door handles, which were of 14-carat gold. It didn't get much mileage, but then it was only driven two Sundays a year while its owner languished on the ostrich-feather rear seat, smoking opium while his subjects cheered. Not even Brock Yates knows about that one. Who was that pursuer of the good life? Who built the machine and where is it today? Only I know the answers to all these questions. There was also a magnificent machine once assembled that had a body constructed entirely of magnesium. It was In the shape of a dirigible, complete with fins. It did not have a steering wheel; instead it used a classic tiller. Who built these monsters? Do any still exist? I alone know the answers to these totally useless facts. This is only the beginning, a ripple on the surface of the vast bilge-load I have neatly stored away in-my bat-infested mind. Here's another. There was once an automobile that had a startlingly lifelike wooden horse mounted up front between two fake wagon shafts complete with bogus reins. I am not kidding. The idea, of course, was that such a conveyance would not "scare the horses"- a cardinal sin of the period. The trouble was that the first honest working horse that saw the moon-eyed phony pony go by with a two-cylinder gasoline engine sticking out of Its rump took off for the next county and hasn't been heard from since. Why am I the only one for miles around who can tell you the name, model number and even the cost of a Detroit automobile that was available with an accessory kit that would convert it into an airplane? Search me. Are you aware there was at one time an automobile that was advertised and probably even sold that came equipped with a folding mahogany mast, a set of sails with associated pulleys, lines, cleats and other hardware "for use when out of fuel or otherwise In need of emergency power''? Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea these days. Can you imagine the Pennsylvania Turnpike covered with a great sea of wind-driven Pintos and Vegas, their canvas snapping in the spanking breeze, their skippers tacking and jibing into the Howard Johnson's? If you'd care to casually ask me the brand name of this rarity, when it was built and how much horsepower it packed, I'd lay it on you quicker than you could say ''two Heinekens, please, barman." Try this one on for size: A manufacturer of true luxurious machines designed and built for several very affluent clients a "rail-mobile." It operated on railroad tracks. A brochure, which still exists, really lays It on: "For that rare individual who finds traveling on common highways with crowds of ordinary men too confining and undignified, our rail-mobile provides the perfect answer. Such men of influence would find it simple to arrange with the local rail officials for 'right of way' on conventional rails, and a smooth, trouble-free, no-stop ride across the nation is assured." What was its name? Who built it? Ha, I know. Walter Winchell once conducted a nationwide contest on his famous radio broadcast to select the name of a new automobile, the winner to get a new car and a free trip around the world. What was the name of that car? I'll give you a clue: It wasn't the Edsel. The car was built and was very popular for a couple of years, and you still see a few around. Why do I know a thing like this totally useless piece of dribble? Because, like Mount Everest, that nutty fact is there and I've got to know it. Okay, here's another. What U.S. car company made one of their cars totally out of glass, except for the powerplant? I mean windowpane glass, in spectacular colors, and then toured It around the country to show you how their car was built? You could see right through the bastard, and it actually drove. I am ashamed to admit I know who did it. I also know what company offered as an accessory one-way see-through mirrors for all the windows, Including the windshield. No one could be seen inside the car from the outside - nothing but blank, staring, brilliant mirrors. Their claim was: "At last, total privacy on the road." Five minutes after the first one hit the highway and seven guys had knocked down telephone poles because they were blinded by the reflection of the oncoming mystery-car, it was declared illegal and another great idea went into the ash bin of history-which meant, of course, into Shepherd's mind as well. At one of the big World's Fairs, a complete automobile assembly tine was a star exhibit, actually working with assembly-line workers and the whole business, putting together cars just like in Detroit. Millions filed by and watched the cars being built. They were actually sold at the Fair. If you wanted to order one right there on the assembly line, you could see it built and drive it home. They came with a special bronze plaque on the dashboard, beautifully engraved, that testified forever that your car was an official World's Fair model. A hell of a promotion. What company did this and do any of them still exist? If you really need to know, you have come to the right man. I'll tell you one thing, though. My vast store of inconsequentia is about as useful to me as my knowledge of the Punic Wars.


Copyright: 1975 Car and Driver