Category Archives: Obscure Autos

This showcases the history behind obscure or notable automobiles from various eras

1985 ZiL 41045 Limousine at the 2015 Greenwich Concours

ZiL 41045 Front Angle 3

Last year, a young man named Roman Grudinin brought with him a Lada to show at Greenwich and won the award for Best Special Interest Car. This year, yet another piece of Soviet iron took away the hardware–but this time, it did so in the lap of true Luxury (only with a capital L, for Lenin). Say hello to the ZiL 41045 limousine. ZiL was a company in the former USSR which mainly built trucks, but also made cars on the side for either the super rich or the ultimate in politicians (high ranking members of the Politburo, KGB, or the Premier himself). The 4104 series was made until the mid 1980s, and this particular model, a 41045 sedan, was the state vehicle of none other than Mikhail Gorbachev–the last General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

As a state vehicle, the ZiL had to look imposing–so it sports plenty of lights and probably the loudest siren I’ve heard in more than a decade (it nearly took my left eardrum out!). But, the engineers who worked on this car did not stop with just audio/visual cues. This thing weighs over four tons, stretches to over 20 feet long, and packs a 315hp, 7.7L V8 engine with a four-barrel carburetor. It’s not the Beast–but it looks plenty threatening. The doors are bulletproof, and the interior appointments would make a contemporary Rolls-Royce or Mercedes sweat in their moccasins–look at that thick-pile carpeting and puffy leather seats. For years, in the Communist world, all were created equal–but some were more equal than others, and for the most equal, the ZiL was the only mode of transport of the time. These cars were truly one-of-a-kind, and I do not believe that I’ll see another for quite some time. Enjoy the photos of this rarely-seen Russian state cruiser. Continue reading 1985 ZiL 41045 Limousine at the 2015 Greenwich Concours


Hypercar History (1950s-1980s)

Early Hypercar History

What is a hypercar? A hypercar is a supercar among supercars.

What is a supercar? A supercar is a faster, more extreme sports car.

What is a sports car? A sports car is a driving-focused machine in purpose with transportation being a secondary concern.

That is a very simplified rundown of the status that hypercars have in the world of automobiles. Supercars are what most people dream about, hypercars are what supercar owners dream about. They are the automobile fully turned up to eleven!

But where did it all begin, and how has this ultimate class of cars developed over time? Let’s go back to the 1950s.

Continue reading Hypercar History (1950s-1980s)

The Cadillac Mirage–it’s a real Mirage, until you see it.

Back in the mid 1970s, Cadillac was at the top of the throne in terms of American luxury, just before their kingdom crumbled to bits of rust, diesel engines, and Cimarrons. But before that, they were pretty much King Louis XIV. If you wanted a luxurious automobile with enough glitz to rival Las Vegas, Miami, and Hollywood combined, you spoke to your Cadillac guy. Here, Big Muscle host Mike Musto shows us something called the Cadillac Mirage, a converted Coupe DeVille with a pickup bed, and so much American schmaltz that I can’t help but wonder just who would buy something so insanely American. Wait a minute–I’m looking at myself. I’ll let the honorable Mr. Musto take it from here. Enjoy the video.

-Albert S. Davis

1958 Tatra 603 Aerodynamic Saloon at the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours

Tatra T603 Front

Tatras are machines of wonder and amazement, despite not being an exotic by definition. The rear-engined design dates back to the Great Depression, and they were quite radical. Eight cylinders mounted behind the rear axle, air-cooled, and styled as if in a wind tunnel, they were ahead of their time in a few ways. When the Nazis invaded the Czech Republic in the 1930s, production slowed until the war was over. Unfortunately, they were never sold in the USA–as the company produced cars from behind the Iron Curtain.

The 603 series was very popular with high-ranking officials in the USSR, and even Fidel Castro sported one (painted white, for some reason). They were sleek, had classy styling, and distinctly American motifs everywhere. Some of those motifs included contrasting roof/body color combinations (like the red and white on this particular example), lashings of chrome down the sides and around the windows, and heavy, chrome-plated bumpers. This particular car even included a bed, which could be set up by simply folding the front bench seat back. The general public was not able to purchase cars like this in the Soviet Union–these were reserved, similar to the GAZ Chaika, for high-ranking public officials and Communist Party members. This particular car hails from the Lane Motor Museum of Nashville, TN and was for exhibition only, but still looked stunning amongst its peers–as the Tatra model series was a feature at Pebble Beach last summer. Enjoy the photos. Continue reading 1958 Tatra 603 Aerodynamic Saloon at the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours

1929 Ruxton C Baker-Raulang Roadster at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

1929 Ruxton Front Angle

Ruxtons were a featured marque this year at the Pebble Beach Concours, and what a great brand to feature at a show like this. These cars were built-to-order in a shop in Philadelphia and were incredibly expensive to buy. As the first front-wheel-drive American automobile for sale, these were exclusive in their era and very innovative for the late Twenties. The brand would sadly fail in 1931, but interest in the cars has been high in the recent past as orphan marques become more noticeable at Concours events. This particular Ruxton is the fifth Roadster built and features a truly breathtaking pink paint finish, something unique and stunning on a car from the Roaring Twenties. This car now resides in the Petersen collection and was right at the front of the line of Ruxtons in the middle row at Pebble Beach–a fitting location for such an eye-catching automobile. In terms of striving for attention, it does not get any better than this Ruxton for 1929. Enjoy the photos. Continue reading 1929 Ruxton C Baker-Raulang Roadster at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

1935 Duesenberg “Mormon Meteor” at the Elegance at Hershey

Duesenberg Mormon Meteor Special Speedster at Hershey

This is the “Mormon Meteor,” a one-off Duesenberg that set a world land speed record in 1935. Based on Duesenberg’s Model J chassis, it was commissioned by famed driver Ab Jenkins for the purpose of setting a land speed record. Much to the delight of his sponsors, who funded the build of the car, Jenkins set a speed record by averaging 135.47mph over a 24 hour period at the Bonneville Salt Flats in October of 1935. The record stood all the way until 1961, which is quite impressive considering the caliber of racing cars that came out between 1935 and then (Jaguar D-Type, Ferrari Testa Rossa, etc).

After setting the speed record, Jenkins made the necessary adjustments to the car for street use and drove it another 20,000 miles around his home area in Utah. This is a very significant automobile, and a real testament to the quality of Duesenberg’s engineering, because it was based on a production car, the Model J. Now obviously it wasn’t just a standard Model J with a body kit, no, it’s 420ci (6.9L) supercharged straight-8 engine was heavily tweaked to produce a massive 400hp, a huge amount of power for the day. Most road cars on sale today can’t even reach 135mph, let alone average that for a whole day, so the Duesenberg Mormon Meteor is really an engineering marvel. As pre-war automotive technology goes, this car might just be the pinnacle.

The Elegance at Hershey was my second encounter with the Mormon Meteor. It took best in show at Pebble Beach in 2007, which, incidentally, was my inaugural  visit to the events of Monterey Car Week. Naturally, if it can win Pebble Beach, then it can win other concours events, and it did just that by taking best in show this year at The Elegance at Hershey. All Duesenbergs are special cars, certainly the pinnacle of their era, but the Mormon Meteor may well be the the king of them all. It is a mighty impressive, and very beautiful machine, with the craftsmanship and quality to withstand the ages.

I just hope my photos do it justice, enjoy!

Continue reading 1935 Duesenberg “Mormon Meteor” at the Elegance at Hershey

1982 VAZ 21033 at the 2014 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance

VAZ 21033 Front Right

In 1982, the vast majority of the USSR’s general population didn’t own a car.  An automobile was considered a genuine luxury thanks to the high cost and the waiting lists.  I’m not talking about waiting lists for something like a Mercedes, Porsche, or perhaps even a Cadillac.  I’m talking about a waiting list for just a car that one could drive to work every day.

Into this void steps this 1982 VAZ 21033.  This is a car that cost almost 5 times an average factory worker’s salary in 1982.  It can count among its features a radio (optional and very expensive to buy), an overhead valve engine, thick metal in the fenders, and even a hand starter to make sure the car would start up during Russia’s genuinely fearful winters. The VAZ wasn’t a particularly glamorous car, but this particular one has a great history. It was originally won for 1 ruble in a lottery in 1982, then spent the next thirty years under wraps, until the owner’s grandmother purchased it and helped ship it to the United States, where it lives today.

The owner, Roman, is very proud of his work (he restored this car himself) and his hard work paid off on Concours Sunday at Greenwich, when the little VAZ-21033 won the Best Special Interest Car award, beating out a Russian Volga, a rather straight Volvo 262C, and a very clean 1984 Toyota Supra. Congratulations on your award, Roman–the VAZ looked excellent in the strong June sun. Enjoy the photos.
Continue reading 1982 VAZ 21033 at the 2014 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance

1949 Chrysler Town and Country at the New Hope Auto Show

Chrysler TC Convertible Front Right Angle

In 1949, Chrysler redesigned their entire lineup for the first time since the end of World War II. The postwar era was officially in full swing, but the Town and Country would continue to sell for a few more years despite its existence as one of the last wood-bodied cars that the Big Three would sell. This was the second to last year for the Town and Country, and the sales proved that buyers weren’t swayed by its attractive wood panels since the price tag was rather high. In fact, only 993 convertibles were built last year.

List price for this car was $3,765 in 1949, which translates to a new price of just about 40 grand today. They’re worth far more than that–in fact, one sold at a Christie’s auction a few years ago for over $150,000. Someone was kind enough to bring one of these 1949 models to the New Hope Car Show last summer and I took some time out at the end of the show to photograph this green one, which is still the only 1949 model I’ve ever seen. Enjoy the photos. Continue reading 1949 Chrysler Town and Country at the New Hope Auto Show

1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham Front Left

Cadillac was pretty bold back in the 1950s. They started the craze with tail fins in 1947 and didn’t eliminate them until 1964, years after the competition. They had the mainstream luxury car market in the palm of their hands, with only Lincoln as a volume competitor (Imperial was there but sold in far fewer numbers at the time).  Even though the glory days were to fade in the future, they were still the “Standard of the World.”

They were also fully intent on capturing the ultra-luxury market in that decade by making an ultra-sumptuous sedan based off of the new Eldorado. The Eldorado Brougham was only produced until 1960 and was a genuinely expensive car when new–in fact, it cost over $13,000, more than twice the price of the Eldorado hardtop coupe and more than the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud at the time.  It had a number of never-before-seen features at the time for a General Motors product. They came fully loaded, with superb paint, interior equipment like a full set of shot glasses, tissue and cigarette dispenser (try finding one of those on a Rolls-Royce today), perfume, air conditioning, memory seats (ahead of its time in 1957), a stainless-steel finished roof, a choice of 40-plus interior colors, and a twin-quad V8. These were all hand-built–General Motors, unsurprisingly, lost money on every single one sold.

Despite the fact that it’s a Cadillac, the high price, rarity, and over-the-top equipment standard reminds me of the recently-departed Maybach.  Only 400 of these were built in 1957 and they are a very rare sight today. Seeing one is a thrill for a Fifties Cadillac nut like myself and I was not expecting to see one at a Concours, no less Amelia Island. Enjoy the photos. Continue reading 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

1934 Rolls Royce Streamline Saloon at Pebble Beach

Rolls Royce Phantom II Streamline Saloon at Pebble Beach

Back in 1934, this Rolls Royce Phantom II Streamline Saloon was the pride of Park Ward at the Olympia Motor Show in London. The car was a one-off that showcased a much more flamboyant design style, and it helped to cement Park Ward’s reputation as the premier coach builder for Rolls Royce motorcars.

An immaculate full restoration from 40 years of neglect in a barn, the Streamline Saloon took the award for third place in the Pre-War Rolls Royce class at last year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This car is known in restoration circles as “The Raccoon Rolls” because it was the home for a family of Raccoons during its four decades in the barn. In an interview with USA Today, the owner said that 80lbs of “refuse” was removed from the car prior to the onset of its restoration. So it went from raccoon den to Pebble Beach award-winner in the span of ten years, quite a story.

Continue reading 1934 Rolls Royce Streamline Saloon at Pebble Beach

1967 Sabra at the 2013 Scarsdale Concours

Sabra Front

Here’s some news for you.  At one point Israel had a short stint building cars.  No, not tanks or army Jeeps.  They had a little sports car they could call their very own.  This car, shown here at the Scarsdale Concours last fall, is called the Sabra.  This is a 1967 model.  The Sabra was named because the colloquial meaning of the phrase in Hebrew is “born in Israel” and the cactus logo is known as the “sabra”.  Israel manufactured another car before this known as the Sussita–Yitzhak Shubinksy requested Reliant Auto produce a small sports car (yes, the same Reliant Auto that produced the hilariously incompetent Reliant Robin and Reliant Regal), which they did in a scant 9 months’ time.  Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in 1967, production was cut short.  A total of just 171 were made during its life, and a scant 41 made it to the United States.  The owner was gracious enough to show it at the Scarsdale Concours this past fall.  While it isn’t the prettiest car in the world (far from it), it is certainly unique and drew a solid crowd of its own that afternoon.  Enjoy the pictures. Continue reading 1967 Sabra at the 2013 Scarsdale Concours

1958 Scarab: Best of Show, Concours d’Sport, 2014 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

The other Best of Show award at Amelia this year was designated as the Concours d’Sport, an award to go to the best racing car on the field that day.  I wasn’t sure what had the chops to sway the judges this year.  While I was taking pictures along a wall during the awards ceremony, this blue 1958 Scarab destroyed my eardrums and stole my attention for a little while.  Little did I know until I saw it waiting on the side that it was to recieve a Best of Show.  My eardrums were again destroyed, but this time, I was fine with it.  This little Scarab deserved its win and looked head and shoulders above much of the other racers in the field this year.  Enjoy the photos.

Continue reading 1958 Scarab: Best of Show, Concours d’Sport, 2014 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance