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Movie Stars: The McLaren P1

October 22, 2016 by Matt

Editor’s note: Content advisory (language) in the clip above.

McLaren’s P1 hypercar is featured in the music video for The Weeknd’s new single, but it’s not the only piece of high-dollar machinery name-dropped by the Canadian R&B artist.

Overlaying the insistent beat, the singer seems to simultaneously flaunt and lament his fortune and what it’s turned him into. The video mirrors this concept, showing The Weeknd at first reveling in the tokens of his fame before systematically trashing them after the first chorus. The cars escape the carnage, and it’s a good thing, too, since the singer shows excellent automotive taste. He mentions his Lamborghini Aventador SV Roadster, Bentley Mulsanne and of course, the aforementioned P1 in the song, and gives us a glimpse of the first two before a lovely nighttime montage of the McLaren driving down Mulholland Drive with The Weeknd at the wheel. The nighttime setting gives the P1 an opportunity to display its quasi-alien lines and driving light arrangement to good effect, and nicely compliments the surreal tone of the video. Billboard reports the British carmaker was unaware the singer would include the car in his video, but was pleasantly surprised at the free publicity. All-in-all, it’s a worthwhile fusion of visuals and music, with some very heavy-hitting automotive iron thrown in.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing cars which featured prominently on film or television. Read the other installments here:

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I Hate Black Wheels on Cars

October 10, 2016 by Matt


It’s over. Done. Played. The party’s over. The fad has reached its tipping point, its 15 minute of fame are up, etc etc.

Black wheels, I mean. Cannot stand them. I maintain that they were never attractive to begin with, but even allowing for the ebb and flow of popular taste, the trend is decidedly far past its expiration date.

Why the hate? Simple: When the wheels are painted black, the wheel design does not stand out and does not complement the car’s lines. Might as well be running steelies with no hubcaps. Especially complicated wheel shapes, which otherwise would harmonize with the styling of the vehicle to which they’re fitted simply disappear in a mass of black nothingness.


This epidemic is present everywhere, from expected places like wheel-and-tire ads in magazines to muscle cars even to factory fitment on $100K luxury SUVs like Jaguar’s new F-Pace (above). Visually, it does not work and has never worked. The design intent may be to make the car seem more badass and muscular, but the effect is to erase any visual gains by making the car seem like it has an egregious brake dust problem on all 4 wheels.

It’s time for a de-escalation of the wheel size arms race anyway, and a side effect of black wheels is to camouflage its true diameter. Perhaps if a car’s wheels flaunted a brighter finish, people would recoil in horror at their vehicle’s stonking rollers and demand a bit more tire sidewall. One can only hope…

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All About Airbags

October 9, 2016 by Our Sponsors


Some people were worried that they would be trapped in their vehicles when accidents occurred when car manufacturers began putting seat belt contraptions in vehicles in the 1950s. Despite early beliefs, however, most states in the United States have adopted seat belt laws today.

Like seat belts, the concept of the airbag—an inflated pillow to land against during a crash—was controversial. An airbag’s goal is simply to slow the passenger’s forward motion down as evenly as possible during a crash. The process begins with signals from motion sensors. When one of the sensors detects a large collision-level force, the car’s airbag inflation system receives an electrical pulse. Typically, that ignites a charge that produces a warm blast of nitrogen gas to drive the airbag out from its storage site.

Since auto airbags’ early days, experts have cautioned that airbags are to be utilized in conjunction with seat belts. Seat belts are still needed because airbags originally worked only in front-end collisions happening at more than 10 mph. Only seat belts could help in side swipes and crashes (although side-mounted airbags are becoming common), rear-end collisions and secondary impacts. Even as more and more technological features come about, airbags still are only effective when used with a seat belt.

It didn’t take long to learn that an airbag’s force can hurt those who are too close to it, particularly children. Experts agree that children aged twelve and under need to ride buckled up in a properly installed, age-appropriate car seat in the car cabin’s rear. This is also what the sales team at Bosak Honda Michigan City, a full-service car dealership in Michigan City, IN, recommends.

A Brief History of the Airbag

Around the same decade that seatbelts appeared patent applications for airbag devices did. As early as 1951 John Hedrick from the United States and Walter Linderer from Germany applied for some patents. Hedrick received a patent—U.S Patent #2,649.311– for a “safety cushion assembly for automotive vehicles,” while Linderer’s German patent #896312 was for a compressed air system that was released by either the driver or by bumper contact. It was in 1968 that Allen Breed invented a “sensor and safety system.” This was the first electro-mechanical automotive airbag system on the planet.

In 1971 the Ford vehicle brand built an airbag fleet for experimentation. A 1970s Chevrolet automobile had airbags in cars sold only for U.S. government usage. A couple decades or so later airbags—particularly ones for the driver and front passenger—became mandatory in all passenger cars. Most all controversy of the airbag wore away as time passed.

Did You Know That You Can Deactivate Airbags?

In certain cases, car owners can request the ability to deactivate their airbags. You can not usually deactivate your airbag without installing a retrofit on-off switch. However, if a retrofit on-off switch is not yet available (from the car manufacturer) for your car, the U.S government will authorize airbag deactivation on a case-by-case basis in appropriate situations.

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Local Finds: 1974 Opel Manta Rallye

October 7, 2016 by Matt

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

It’s always nice to see an example that’s obviously received some care and feeding during its lifetime. Most Spannerhead readers know I have a real soft spot for the Opel Manta, so I was pleased when this ad popped up.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The seller is asking $4,200, an entirely reasonable price for a Manta in the condition shown, especially since—by the seller’s description—there’s very little rust, and none of it structural. The color doesn’t really appeal, but the paint appears to be in good nick. If I bought it, I would consider painting the hood to match; the black hood was part of the “Rallye” trim package and doesn’t really jive with the brown.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The above really represents the Manta’s best view. The mini-pony car proportions are shown to good effect and the simple, cohesive lines draw together nicely at the rear. I don’t even mind the federally-mandated crash bumpers. Are they big? Sure. Would I prefer the thin chrome bumpers fitted to the 1970-1972 cars? Yes I would. But they’re not a dealbreaker.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

I believe the seats are aftermarket pieces, or at least not original to the Manta, although they look period and quite comfortable to boot. The aformentioned Rallye trim package includes a tachometer and additional auxiliary gauges.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The car is equipped with a 1.9l CIH 4-cylinder engine and a 3-speed automatic transmission. As much a fan as I am of rowing my own gears, I’d gladly make an exception for the Manta, since the whole point of ownership isn’t about performance so much as style and presence. When it was first released, the Manta boasted very competent handling, but nowadays an average modern family sedan could wipe the asphalt with it in the corners. Owning and driving one, then, would be about cruising and enjoying the elemental feel of a little gem of a car from the 1970s.

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Datsun 240Z Restoration: Dashless

September 8, 2016 by Matt


The dash came out a few weeks ago with little drama. After unhooking the HVAC ducting and removing (what I thought) were all the fasteners, I disconnected the cables from the heater box and tried to pull it out. No dice. Turns out there are a pair of bolts at the very corners of the dash pad up near the base of the windshield that I had missed. These removed and a little elbow grease brought the whole assembly out the passenger door without much trouble.


Once out, I took out the heater box. Many of the flappers were rusted in place; will have to go over this, free them up and recondition. I removed the firewall insulation, fresh air ducts and hooked up the steering column again. The brake and clutch pedals and a few other things are attached to the column mounting bracket. Once it’s removed they’ll come down too.

All the car’s wiring harnesses converge behind the glovebox area, so it took a fair amount of labeling with blue tape to keep everything straight. I’ve been religious about keeping fasteners in labeled bags, but it occurred to me that I’ve been neglectful in simply keeping a record of the sequence in which components have been removed from the Z. Without this, it’s going to be a real mystery come reassembly time as far as what gets reinstalled first. Beyond the remaining few bits I need to remove under the rear of the car, my task now, before too much time passes, is to go over the car and remember the order in which I removed bits. Shouldn’t been too hard, and even if I’ve forgotten a thing or two, whatever I have should be a good guideline to go by.

Editor’s note: This post is Part 24 of an ongoing series chronicling my efforts toward the restoration of my 1972 Datsun 240Z, originally my father’s. Read the other installments here:


Winged Wonder:
Plymouth Superbird

August 28, 2016 by Our Sponsors


The Plymouth Superbird came out of Detroit in the 1970s. With a massive wing mounted on the rear trunk and a wedge-shaped nose, the Superbird manufactured by the Chrysler Corporation was something to behold.  

The Superbird was built with a singular purpose in mind and it was to win NASCAR races. At the time, winning at NASCAR was a huge branding statement that could sell plenty of cars. It was a simple formula: Win at NASCAR, and sales of the model that won exploded within days. 



The 1970 NASCAR rules required “one car for each of a manufacturer’s dealers in the United States.” That meant 1,920 Superbirds needed to be manufactured and sold by the country’s entire stable of Plymouth dealers so that they could be eligible to race in NASCAR that year. So that’s what Plymouth made happen. 

The Plymouth designers added a huge aerodynamic nose-cone, smoothed out the body and added a large rear wing. In the power department, the cars could be bought with one of three engines: a 440 cu. in. Super Commando with a single four-barrel, a 440 cu. in. with a 6-pack, or the full-race 426 hemi. For people who are wondering how many of these unusual cars were made, only 135 street cars were sold with the Hemi; 665 took the option of the 440 Six Pack, and the rest were equipped with the 440 Super Commando with the four-barrel carb. The Superbird was essentially a modified Plymouth Road Runner. 

NASCAR races have been “stock car races.” That meant that in order to compete that you had to drive a vehicle that was stock meaning “available to the general public.” It also needed to be sold in huge numbers to make it a “real production model.”


How Superbirds Performed

How did they do in 1970?  According to the service team at Bosak Motor Sales, a full-service Chrysler Jeep Dodge RAM dealer in Merrillville, IN, Superbirds did well on the NASCAR tracks, winning eight big races and placing in many more. It didn’t hurt that Richard Petty, known as one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time, was behind the wheel of a Superbird during the 1970 NASCAR season.  In fact, he won many of those eight big races.  

For all the drama, Plymouth made a name for itself in the 1970s but sales of actual Superbirds were another story.  The exaggerated looks of the ‘Birds were a bit extreme for many customers and most wanted the more conventional standard Roadrunner instead.  As a result, Plymouth only made the Superbird model for one model year. Another similar car was the Dodge Charger Daytona that was only built for the 1969 model year. Yet another car like the Superbird was the Ford Torino Talladega. 


The Value of Superbirds Today

Today, these cars that represent a genuine slice of automotive history, are very, very valuable.  A nice example of a genuine Superbird with the 426 Hemi option can bring up to $500,000 at a car auction.

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The Sweet Spot: ’04-’05 Audi A8

August 27, 2016 by Matt

Audi A8 D3

As with the ’95-’97 Lexus LS400, I really like this car—but only in a very specific flavor.

In contrast to BMW and Mercedes’ practice of rolling out their most avant-garde technology (and design) with their respective top-of-the-line 7-series and S-class ranges, Audi’s flagship has charted a rather more gradual, evolutionary path since the original D2 platform’s arrival here in 1997. In the best Audi tradition, its styling has always been understated, if perfectly tasteful and proportionally spot-on.

Audi A8 D3

Unfortunately, for the mid-cycle design refresh of the 2nd-generation D3 A8 featured here, Audi decided to add its newly-minted corporate “deep grille,” intended to circumscribe the front license plate of cars so equipped. And while I understand the desire to give that bit of necessary evil some context, styling-wise, the A8’s look suffered for it—as did, admittedly, the rest of Audi’s lineup. That said, the pre-facelift D3 A8 stands out in my mind as the absolute pinnacle of the Ingolstadt automaker’s non-deep-grille look. It looks breathtakingly elegant, and in the flesh has a presence matched by few other vehicles. Every line resolves perfectly and there’s a real cohesiveness to its styling that was undone with the refresh. The pre-facelift car looks all-of-a-piece, machined from a single aluminum ingot, and has very real shades of that loveliest of Audi concept cars, the Avus quattro.

Audi A8 D3

Mechanically the D3 A8 was an upgraded carryover from the D2 platform, with 4.2l V8 and 6.0l W12 engines offered here, developing 335 and 444 horsepower, respectively. Audi’s quattro AWD system was naturally fitted to all US-bound cars, and the aluminum-intensive unibody kept weight reasonably low at around two tons.

Audi A8 D3 Interior Inside

The interior is Audi’s typical symphony in leather, wood and metal accents, ergonomically flawless and beautiful to behold and interact with. Mirroring the A8’s outside, it’s businesslike, without the fussiness or gratuitous flourishes typical of many other luxury car interiors. And best of all, the central screen is retractable into the dash.

Most range-topping luxury cars I would feel ostentatious driving; out of place, like I was behind the wheel of something that didn’t accurately reflect my income bracket. The pre-facelift D3 A8, though, in a similar way to the Mercedes W123 coupe, overwhelmingly exudes such a sense of good taste that it transcends petty concerns of class envy when it comes to cars. It’s a timelessly beautiful car, and one I could visualize with little difficulty parked in my garage.

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