Cars

On the Road: 1957 Jeep FC-150 Wrecker

Jeep FC-150 Wrecker. Photo: Fourwheeler Network.

Jeep FC-150 Wrecker. Photo: Fourwheeler Network.

How cute is this mini-tow truck?!

The 1957 Jeep FC-150 was one of the first light-duty forward control (FC) trucks manufactured in the United States. “Forward control” means that the cab sits all the way up front, over the engine. At only 147″ in length, and 71″ in width, this FC-150 shares the same wheelbase as the classic Jeep CJ-5 and is only ten inches longer. Tiny! Jeep sold the FC-150 in several body styles: pickup; cab and chassis; stakebed (what I think of as a panel truck); stripped chassis (just a frame and engine); and flat-faced cowl (stripped chassis plus front fenders and hood, ready to be customized into a school bus or special delivery van). The cab came in Standard or Deluxe versions. Deluxe treated the driver to dual sun visors, dual armrests, rear quarter windows, a better padded seat, and other fancy touches.  A heater and defroster were extra! And no radio! There were several engine sizes to choose from. This FC-150 is powered by the smaller, 134 I4 four-cylinder, which delivered about 75 hp to haul loads up to 1730 lbs in a tight 18′ turning circle. Jeep FC models were in production from 1956 to 1964 and went through several upgrades and revamps. When the first models rolled out, Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated quipped, “It’s rugged as an Olympic weight-lifter and as able as a three-armed Irishman in a bar fight.”

This particular FC-150 has an amazing story. Look close at those tires. They are original! FC collector and expert Craig Brockhaus found this little wrecker in 1989 just miles from his home in Missouri. Jim Allen at Fourwheeler Network reports that the wrecker

“was only showing 2,817 miles but had been sitting a very long time. It started life as a service station truck in Des Peres, Missouri, and the original owner installed a dealer-accessory dual-rear-wheel kit as well as a Towboy wrecker. He didn’t use the truck very long. In the mid-’60s, the land upon which his service station was built was purchased to build a mall. The truck went to his home and sat for about 25 years before Craig came along. The truck now has 2,892 miles on it.”

Watson Towboy Ad. Image: The FC Connection.

Watson Towboy Ad. Image: The FC Connection.

So, what’s a Towboy, you ask? Craig Brockhaus explains on his website, The FC Connection.

“The Watson ‘Towboy’ is a bolt-in, hand crank wrecker unit that was produced to help garage owners move vehicles easily around the shop without tying up the big wrecker that was used mainly for emergency vehicle retrieval. The Towboy unit was easily installed or removed in about 5 minutes from any vehicle and proved invaluable to many an automotive shop owner.”

More pictures of this great little slice of 1957 Americana can be viewed using the Fourwheeler or FC Connection links. Check out the fully restored interior, which also includes the original seats!

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October 13, 1957 – The Edsel Show Broadcast

Louis Armstrong; Frank Sinatra; Rosemary Clooney; Bing Crosby. Photo: CBS

On October 13, 1957, CBS aired a live (on the East Coast) broadcast of The Edsel Show, essentially a one hour “infomercial” promoting the recently released-but-doomed new Ford Motor Company brand.  The broadcast is now primarily famous not for the car, and not for the impressive list of musical talent involved, but for the fact that it is the oldest surviving television show on videotape (made for the three-hour air delay on the West Coast).

Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra hosted the star-studded evening which included musical performances by Louis Armstrong, Rosemary Clooney, “mystery guest” Bob Hope, and the Norman Luboff Choir.  The Edsel Show, a one-time special, replaced CBS’s usual Sunday night powerhouse, The Ed Sullivan Show.  “Edsel: The Show”, as opposed to “Edsel: The Car”, was ironically one of the year’s most successful and popular broadcasts.  The show served as Bing Crosby’s television breakthrough, after which he signed a two-special-a-year, highly-compensated contract with ABC.

The real star – the car! Photo: CBS

Rosemary Clooney reported in her autobiography, Girl Singer, an amusing (or embarrassing) moment on the day of the show.  “The only Edsel I ever saw was one they gave me to drive while I was rehearsing.  I came out of the CBS Building, up those little steps to the street where my purple Edsel was waiting, like the Normandie in drydock.  Mr. Ford was right behind me, heading for his Edsel.  I opened the door of my car and the handle came off.  I turned to him, holding it out to him.  “About your car . . . .”

October 6, 1957 – Chrysler’s “Forward Look”

1957 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. Photo: Motortrend

1957 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. Photo: Motortrend

On October 6, 1957, Chrysler Corporation was busy rolling out its 1958 model year and promoting its successful “Forward Look” designs.  The “high-finned, flying-wedge” Look had helped Chrysler up its auto market share from 15% to nearly 21% and President Lester “Tex” Colbert would not be in a hurry to make significant changes.  Innovations were being made to the Look for 1958, however, and included a wrap-around-and-up “control tower” windshield, a rear-view mirror on the left front fender that could be remotely controlled from the dashboard, and a defroster to keep condensation off the rear window.

The advertising campaign for the Forward Look stressed six keys selling points:

  1. The rightness of style – the dart shape of motion: cuts steering corrections in cross-winds by as much as 20%!
  2. Wonderful Torsion-Aire Ride: suspension so right it prevents starting squat, braking dip, lean on curves.
  3. Pushbutton Torqueflite: control buttons for full control of automatic transmission with two extra buttons for muddy or snowy conditions, downhill engine braking, or flexibility in traffic or up steep hills
  4. Constant-Control Power Steering: works the right way – full-time, not part-time, takes the work out of steering, with a wonderful new “feel” of the road
  5. Total-Contact Braking: your toe does less, the brakes do more, quicker straight-line stops with up to 25% less pedal pressure, longer lining life
  6. Control Tower Windshields: see 50% better, windshield sweeps back into the roofline to let you see up as well as out, with safety glass, of course, and the “all outdoors” feeling comes true again in the roominess inside

The purple prose of this great advertising age continued: “But the rightness goes further!  In every great engineering achievement, in every fine detail of styling, in the total design and total value of these cars.  It’s simply a matter of giving you more for what you pay.  But don’t just look at a great ’58 of the ‘Forward Look’ – drive around and discover the rightness for yourself!”

September 1957 – The Edsel

1958 Edsel 2-door Citation Convertible. Photo: Carpedia

 

In September, 1957, Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel.  Named for founder Henry Ford’s son, Edsel B. Ford, the Edsel started life as the E-car, which stood for “experimental car”.  The Edsel, placed between the Ford and Mercury brands, was intended to compete with intermediate General Motors lines, such as the Oldsmobile, while the company took the Lincoln brand upmarket.  But it was not to be.  The Edsel, after years of development, was manufactured for only three years, never appealed to the buying and driving public, lost millions of dollars for Ford Motors, and has since become a catchword for failure.

Edsels were produced for the 1958, 1959, and 1960 model years.  The 1958 models introduced in September 1957 included the Citation and Corsair, based on Mercury designs and manufactured in Mercury plants, and the smaller, Ford-based Pacer and Ranger models, manufactured in Ford plants.  All models were available as two-door or four-door hardtops.  The Citation and the Pacer also had two-door convertible versions.  Edsel innovations included its “rolling dome” speedometer and center-of-the-steering-wheel, Push-button Teletouch transmission shifting system.  Ergonomically-designed driver controls and self-adjusting brakes (earlier pioneered by Studebaker) were other special features.

1958 Edsel Pacer 2-door Hardtop

 

The first model year for Edsel sold 63,110 cars in the United States; the second-year sales topped out at 44,891; for the 1960 model year only 2,846 units were produced.

Why did the Edsel fail?  Speculators cite primary problems with marketing philosophy and strategy, quality control, design appeal, and competition within a car market heading into recession.  Marketing failed to sufficiently research and place the Edsel within the Ford Motor product line for the buying public; switching from Ford or Mercury to Edsel (and back) on the same assembly lines led to manufacturing mistakes; the “horsecollar” (or toilet seat!) grille and confusing rear taillights and steering wheel buttons were unattractive to buyers; and increasing consumer interest in fuel-efficient vehicles also added to Edsel’s demise.  Robert McNamara, part of upper-level management at Ford in 1957 and later the first non-Ford family member to serve as company president until President John F. Kennedy recruited him to be Secretary of Defense, never liked having separate brands within the Ford line.  He progressively reduced and then eliminated the Edsel advertising budget and finally convinced fellow managers to shut down production in the fall of 1959.

September 17, 1957 – Kansas State Fairgrounds Hosts Sprint Car Races

Dale Reed, Heat #2 Winner. Photo: L.A. Wood, from the book “Big Car Thunder” by Bob Mays, courtesy of Kansas Racing History website.

 

On September 17, 1957, the historic half-mile racetrack at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas, hosted six sprint car races contested by nineteen excited drivers and crew.  Five thousand fans were in attendance for three qualifying heats of seven laps, a fast car dash of four laps, a six-lap consolation race, and the featured final race of fifteen laps.  Drivers from nine states – Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, Florida, California, and Minnesota – gathered for the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) event.  Winners of the qualifying heats were Pete Folse of Tampa, Florida, Dale Reed of Wichita, Kansas, and Al “Cotton” Farmer of Ft. Worth, Texas.  Farmer also came in first in the fast car dash and featured final race; Johnny Pouelson of Gardena, California won the consolation event.

Sprint cars are small, powerful race cars with high power-to-weight ratios designed to run on short oval or circular tracks.  Sprint car racing began shortly after World War I, and by the ’50s some sprint cars racers were using larger flathead V8 Ford or Mercury engines, rather than the pre-World War II vintage 4-cylinders of the ’40s.  Featured race champion Farmer was driving a Les Vaughn Offy, #24.  Les Vaughn owned many frontrunning midget, sprint, and stock racecars from 1948 to 1960.  Young A.J. Foyt got his big break in an Offy, winning his first sprint car race in Minot, North Dakota in 1956.

Final-winning racer Al “Cotton” Farmer was 29 on this warm, sunny day in Hutchinson.  His nickname came from the full white head of hair he sported from boyhood until his death in 2004 in his hometown of Ft. Worth.  He was an automobile chemical salesman, active in local professional and charitable organizations throughout his life, the father of four and grandfather of ten.

Mid-Century Modern – Fiat 500

Original 1957 Fiat 500, left, faces the new Fiat 500 1957 Edition, right: Photo Source Fiat

Original 1957 Fiat 500, left, faces the new Fiat 500 1957 Edition, right. Photo source: Fiat

Everything old is new again. Fiat Motors has announced the return of their iconic 1957 Fiat 500, resurrected with only slight modifications for 2014. Fiat points out the double significance of the occasion: 1957 was 57 years ago, after all! It’s a small point to bring up, but the “new” 1957 Fiat 500 won’t be available until 2015 (1957 plus 58!).

The 2015 500 (1957 Edition) will be available in very-50s shades of pastel blue and green, with ivory interior, brown leather seats, and 16-inch wheels. Upgrades will include a deluxe stereo and 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder engine, with five-speed manual (my choice!) or six-speed automatic transmission.

The original Fiat 500 was a game-changer for the Italian automaker in the fifties. It was a fun, affordable car which proved enduringly popular. During its production years, from 1957 to 1975, Fiat sold almost 3,900,000 sporty little “Nuova Cinquecentos”.

1957 and 1975 – so many 5s and 7s! Let’s fast-forward to 1975. I was once the proud but frequently-stranded owner of a 1975 Fiat 124 Sport Spider convertible. Red paint, tan leather seats, five-speed stickshift, wood dashboard. Acceleration. Wind in my hair. Totally unreliable (yes, Fiat does stand for “Fix It Again, Tony”). I was in my twenties and loved every minute I spent driving it, when it actually ran. I learned how to make small repairs so that I wouldn’t get stranded far from home. Finally, it threw a rod and I sold it for salvage. The thrill, and the Spider, are gone.

Fun, fun, fun till the salvage truck towed it away: 1975 Fiat 124 Sport Spider: Photo Source Autotrader Classics

Fun, fun, fun till the salvage truck towed it away: 1975 Fiat 124 Sport Spider. Photo source: Autotrader Classics

On The Road – 1957 Flxible Starliner

1957 Flxible Starliner: Photo Source Hemmings

1957 Flxible Starliner: Photo Source Hemmings

I think I’m in love. Road trip!

The beauty on wheels above is a 1957 Flxible Starliner, gloriously restored on the outside and fully updated on the inside for modern-day glamping.

The Flxible Company cornered the market on excitement from its very beginning. Chartered in 1914 at the Flexible Sidecar Company, the Loudonville, Ohio assembly line began turning out motorcycle-sidecar combinations for civilian and military use in World War I. Flexible jettisoned the “e” in 1919 in order to copyright their brand. Bigger changes were necessary in the early 1920s when Henry Ford began cranking out inexpensive Roadsters, undercutting the motorcycle-sidecar market. Flxible adapted by flexing into custom bus, hearse, and ambulance manufacturing. Touring companies’ investments in Flxible buses paid off when they were able to comfortably carry sightseeing parties in style over long distances. One quality-built coach racked up over 275,000 miles from 1925 to 1928.

Flxible developed the Clipper, a 29-passenger bus, in the late 1930s. Cities, airports, National Parks, resorts, and movie studios maintained fleets of dependable, economical Clippers. During World War II, Flxible retooled their factories to make tank, fighter plane, and ship parts for the war effort. Touring coach production returned in 1946 with the introduction of a redesigned Clipper, displaying a trademarked front “smiley face”. In 1950, the Flxible fleet expanded with the addition of Visicoach – a Clipper-based model with extra head- and engine-room.

The Starliner was introduced in 1957. It featured a new and innovative suspension system including torsion bars, which savvy 1950s Mad Men named the Flxilastic suspension system. Early Starliners sported eyebrow windows on the roof and under floor storage bays. A total of only 276 Starliners were manufactured between 1957 and 1967, when Clipper-based model production was discontinued. Many surviving vintage Starliners – similar to the better-known vintage Airstream trailers – have been revamped and converted into motor homes. The immaculately restored Starliner motorhome above is currently on the market for – drum roll, please – $235,000.