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Corvette Museum’s Sinkhole Exhibit

December 2, 2016 by Our Sponsors

Corvette Museum Sinkhole

In case you didn’t hear about the collapse of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky just a few years ago, here’s what happened. In the early morning hours of February 12, 2014, the floor under museum’s main display dome gave way and eight very special Corvettes fell into a deep subterranean sinkhole. Just like that, the Earth swallowed up eight irreplaceable Corvettes. When the museum’s own security footage of the disaster made its way to news organizations, it became an international event. Though the owners of the museum quickly removed the undamaged cars from the museum and rescued the mangled ones, the buzz from the story turned the museum into a major tourist destination virtually overnight.

After the disaster, the museum’s board of directors wanted to rebuild the museum and repair and display the damaged Corvettes as soon as possible. After all, the National Corvette Museum is a source of national pride for many stakeholders. There was no question that this needed to occur as soon as possible. However, the museum had immediately become an attraction because of the cave-in. The museum attendance had more than doubled and this was important because more paying customers allowed the museum to pursue its goals easier. After much discussion, then, several members of the board suggested that the cave-in incident become part of the museum’s new displays. And that’s exactly what happened.

Today, the Corvette Cave In, as the museum is now called, features both aspects of its history. First, the Corvettes that fell into the sinkhole have been fully restored. This was a major task, since they were heavily damaged during the disaster. Now, all the original Corvettes that were present, damaged and undamaged, are back on display for enthusiasts to see. In addition to the Corvettes, the museum now includes a primer on Kentucky’s karst landscape of underground caves, the sort that gave in to create the sinkhole in the first place. Who would have thought that a museum dedicated to American automobile technology would become a major science exhibit too?

So if you are in Bowling Green any time, the folks at Wolf Chase Chrysler in Memphis, TN, just a short drive away from Bowling Green, encourage you to visit this new, unusual museum. Not only will you be able to view some of America’s most famous and significant Corvettes, you will be treated to a first-rate geology lesson concerning Kentucky’s landscape of underground caves.

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Boring or Brilliant? Ferrari 456

November 20, 2016 by Matt

Ferrari 456

Is it an understated study in minimalism and proportion, or an overly-timid effort by a design house whose visual currency is Italian passion? The Ferrari 456, produced from 1992-1997, and from 1998 to 2003 in upgraded 456M guise, was the automaker’s top-of-the-line grand tourer, designed to convey two occupants (and their small children in the occasional rear seats) across continents in peerless style at breathtaking speed. Capable of cruising effortlessly for hours at triple-digit speeds, Ferrari equipped the 456 with its most powerful non-supercar mill, a 5.5l, 442-hp V12, and the car could be specified with either a 6-speed gated manual or a 4-speed automatic. The cabin is supremely comfortable and the chassis brilliantly capable, especially considering the car’s two-ton curb weight.

Ferrari 456

All that said, is it exciting enough to warrant a place alongside Ferrari’s greatest? There’s little dispute the car the 456 replaced in the automaker’s lineup, the unlamented yet underrated 412, is generally considered a sub-par effort, so the 456 arrived unburdened by the expectations inherent in following a truly outstanding Ferrari. Also, the market niche the 456 occupies is slightly different than that targeted by Ferrari’s bread-and-butter models like the contemporary F355, with a prospective buyer a bit more reserved, perhaps less interested in a hair-raising joyride than drivers of the smaller Ferraris.

Ferrari 456

Still, the idea of a Ferrari means something to enthusiast community, and given the strength of the brand, to the wider public as well: Speed, passion, excitement and a touch of flamboyance. Does the 456 live up to that preconception? I think it does, but it takes patience to extract those qualities from its shape and demeanor. The dramatic side cuts on the flanks of the car, for instance, and the way the character lines on its flanks change from concave to convex as they move back toward the rear—these elements admirably bridge the design gap between Ferrari’s outré ’80s and more restrained ’90s visual vocabulary. I love the way the 456’s proportions are allowed to come to the fore, accented with touches like the fender-top vents (sadly eliminated for the 456M) and the very obviously staggered 5-spoke wheels.

Ferrari 456

Above all, the 456 looks timeless and tailored, like an Armani suit, a shape with far more longevity than either the 412 that preceded it or its successor, the truly awful 612 Scaglietti. Would it look out of place in Ferrari’s current lineup? Perhaps—but the 456’s owners can rest easy knowing they have the pleasure of driving one of Ferrari’s truly classic shapes. And given my penchant for big GTs, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a bit jealous.

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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:

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