April 29, 2010

Hershey Porsche show & swap 2010

For several years now I've been attending the annual world's largest gathering of Porsches in Hershey, PA. Like many swap-meet based events, it seems that the internet, and perhaps poor economy, are killing it slowly as turnouts get smaller every year. Regardless, it's still a great event. So, here are some photos from the event:

The new Panamera: This was the first one I've seen in person. It's big, expensive ($113,000 for this one) and it's... well, "ugly" is not the word I'm necessarily looking for...

914s are always popular at the show, but finding an original, unmolested example is rare. They seem to be the basis for all too many gaudy and tasteless modifications. Here we have a nice '73 in Sunflower yellow, and a '75 in black.

One of the stars of the show was this lone Carrera GT.

This '73 911 Carrera RS 2.7 is not only a real RS, but also right hand drive.

A personal favorite of mine, the 993 series.

Several nice 356s. Closest is the early Speedster, next to the green Carrera and a '52 split window.

The famed Carrera engine alone is worth vast sums of money- this unit could be found in several models including the 550 Spyder and 904.

The 1952 split-window 356 is one of the first after the initial 356 #1 and Gmund built cars.

A right hand drive 356 imported from the UK.

The speedster interior - simple, functional, and elegant. Note reserve fuel petcock below dash.

An exceptionally nice early Targa, circa 1967. Complete with US spec side marker lights.

Not one of my personal favorites, but genuine slant-nosed 911 Turbos are rather sought after.

The rest of the photos from this even can be seen here on Facebook:

April 25, 2010

Mystery car.

This car has been parked in a field for years until two days ago when it was on a flatbed in front of the field.

Does anybody know what it is? Send your guesses to ranwhenparked -at- hotmail -dot com, the answer will be posted in a few days.

April 22, 2010

Great Automotive Failures: BMW Z1

The BMW Z1 raised a few eyebrows at it's 1986 press debut. The Bavarian company had not produced a proper roadster in decades, but the Z1 wasn't exactly ordinary. The unique (if not bizarre) styling was by Harm Lagaay, who designed some far less weird Porsches in his day. With slide-away doors and the stripped-down basic approach to design was not exactly the sort of BMWs motorists were used to seeing in the late 1980s.

Mechanically, the car borrowed much from the 3-Series like its Z3 successor. The engine was a typical 2.5 L 170 hp inline six mated to a 5-speed manual transmission as found in BMW's larger cars. The rest, however was more unique. All body panels were removable from the unibody chassis and made either from a special plastic developed by GE or fiberglass. In spite of taking aerodynamics into great consideration with a flat undertray and low hood the Z1's drag coefficient wasn't especially great at 0.36 with the roof up.

The doors slid down into the sills and the car could be run with them "open" or down for a more open-air feeling, though the car looks especially odd this way and leaves the door jamb area exposed for an oddly unfinished look. The mechanism seems rather overly complicated for what was supposed to be a back-to-basics light-weight sports roadster.

The potential for a great car was there, styling aside, but a mere 8,000 were made. One issue perhaps was the gasp inducing price tag of over $45,000. Another could have been the Z1's rather lackluster performance, particularly given all the other engineering that went into it. Acceleration wasn't too bad, but nothing to write home about at 0-60 in 9 seconds. The top speed was 140 mph. Handling was fair, though there are conflicting opinions. Perhaps due to its rather fat 2,800 lb curb weight, which in spite of all that composite bodywork, was about the same as a 3-series of the same era.

Inside the car was very spartan. Basic instrumentation, radio, leather sport seats and a heater were all you got for the princely sum you paid. Though BMW claimed to have over 30,000 orders at one point, the company lost money on the Z1. By 1991 production ceased. Most remained in Germany, and none were officially imported to the US though one or two have made it over.

Today, the Z1 is no so much lauded for its capabilities as an actual sports car, but more as a pioneer of technologies and as a rarity/oddity. The Z3 would eventually prove to be a better roadster, but they had to start somewhere.

The second, third, and fourth photos were recently taken in Koln, Germany by contributor Veronika Zubel who spotted this Z1 on the street.
The images below were taken by me at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. Possibly the only Z1 licensed in North America - note PA plate at the rear.

For more BMW content click on the "BMW" tab on the right of this page or click this link. And, have a look at our Facebook page to find photos that aren't on this site and to discuss some of the cars we feature in these pages.

April 20, 2010

A profile of the Autobianchi brand.

Autobianchi was a car company founded on January 11th, 1955, as a partnership between Bianchi (who are better known for their road bikes), Pirelli and Fiat. The agreement was that Pirelli would supply the tires, Fiat would supply the drivetrains and Bianchi would take care of the rest, including production which throughout Autobianchi’s run took place in Bianchi’s factory in Desio, near Milan. Fiat eventually bought out its partners and became the sole owner of Autobianchi and used the brand as a sort of rolling laboratory to test new ideas before applying them to their own models.

What follows is a look at the car models produced by Autobianchi, leaving out the trucks that are a different story altogether.


The first car to come out of the newly-formed Autobianchi company was the Bianchina in 1957. It was essentially a luxurious version of the Fiat 500: the drivetrain remained the same while the body was redesigned to look slightly more upscale.

Initially the Bianchina had a retractable roof made of canvas with metal arches on either side (like the Citroen 2CV) and was called the Bianchina Trasformabile. It used the Fiat 500’s 479cc (15hp) air-cooled flat two mounted in the rear; power output was pushed to 25hp for the Special and Eden Roc models. When the 500’s engine displacement was increased to 499cc that engine was made standard on the Bianchina, too. In 1960 a true convertible (called Cabriolet) and a station wagon (called Panoramica) were added to the Autobianchi catalog.

The Bianchina sedan replaced the Trasformabile in 1962. This new model was physically closer to the 500 and had a full metal roof which extended longer before sloping back, giving the rear seats much needed headroom. A Furgoncino version of the Bianchina was also available; it was based on the Panoramica but from the B pillar back had a taller and wider body without windows to allow for maximum cargo room. It only had two seats.

Production ended in 1969: the Bianchina sedan was replaced by the A112 and the Bianchina Panoramica by the Giardiniera.


The Stellina was introduced at the 1963 Turin Auto Show. Dante Giacosa, the engineer behind numerous Fiats including the 500, 600 and 128, called the Stellina a “poorly conceived auto” at that time.

Launched in 1964 the Stellina (which means “little star” in Italian) was based on the Fiat 600 D and the two shared a reliable, water-cooled 767cc four-cylinder engine mounted behind the rear wheels that was mated to a four-speed manual transmission. It had drum brakes all around. In an effort to keep weight low and have less rust-related worries the car was designed with a fiberglass body mounted on a steel frame, a novel concept in the 1960s. While this did reduce the weight, it also had the effect of making the Stellina look like a toy car to the eyes of Italian consumers and it was a commercial failure: only 502 examples had been built when production ceased in 1965.


The Primula was the first Autobianchi designed with the Morris Mini Minor in mind. It was almost 70 centimeters longer than a Mini so it did not compete against it but the inspiration was there. Fiat designer Dante Giacosa had patented a transverse, front wheel drive layout in 1947 as a potential drivetrain for the Fiat 600 he had started to develop. This setup didn’t make it to production partly because “the components of the engine and the gearbox are housed inside the same casing. This means they cannot be assembled and tested separately in different workshop.” Giacosa goes on to explain that when the engine and the transmission are mounted side by side, “a series of gear-wheels or else a chain has to be used to transmit drives from the motor to the gearbox. This means additional complications, higher noise levels, increased loss of power due to friction, heavier weight and higher costs. The Mini, with the transmission gears in the crankcase, presents these defects.”

Giacosa remedied this situation by placing the transmission behind the engine in a more conventional transverse layout. With this, the Primula was introduced in 1964 wearing an Autobianchi badge on its grille because Fiat management thought it was too different from the rest of their lineup (and from anything on the Italian car market) and therefore risky to launch, lest it fail completely and give Fiat a bad name. The reasons for the skepticism are primarily that it had a hatchback and the aforementioned front-mounted transversal engine driving the front wheels. It was a fairly modern car for its day, featuring a hydraulic clutch and four disk brakes. The hydraulic clutch was designed for practicality’s sake: to fit the drivetrain transversally without the front wheels hitting it when turned at full lock, it was necessary to reduce the space it took up. By fitting a hydraulic clutch the bellhousing could be reduced in size, making the transversal setup feasible.

Throughout its production run the Primula was available as a two-door, three-door or a five-door sedan, with either a 1221cc or an 1197cc four-cylinder. The top of the line Coupe S version used a 1438cc four-cylinder (75hp) borrowed from the Fiat 124 Special and was only available as a two-door. The lack of a fifth gear limited the high-end capacity of all Primula models.

Fiat saw the Primula as a potential rival for their sedans, including the 850 that had been launched only a few months prior to it, and frowned upon it. The Italian market did not receive it particularly well either, though it was fairly successful in France where the market was used to front wheel drive cars with hatchbacks.

It was phased out in 1970. Ironically its transversal engine layout made Fiat skeptical to put their name on it but ten years later most Fiats used that setup.


In 1967 Fiat purchased all the rights to Autobianchi. The following year the Fiat 500 Giardiniera became known as the Autobianchi Giardiniera and was launched with a slightly redesigned front end. Mechanically it was identical to the Fiat model: the rear mounted engine was horizontally installed to give the car a flat trunk floor. It was a 499cc (17hp) air-cooled two cylinder unit that powered the little wagon through a four-speed manual. Interestingly enough this engine also powered an experimental military vehicle called the 1120.

It was longer and wider and a 500 sedan and could seat four adults relatively comfortably, something the sedan could not easily do. The rear seats folded flat to give it more cargo space. Alternatively one could opt for the Commerciale or Furgoncino version which only had two seats and sheet metal instead of rear windows, a precursor to the fourgonettes on today’s market.

The Giardiniera line was phased out in 1977, two years after the 500 sedan, and unlike the sedan it retained its suicide doors until the end.


The A111 was introduced in 1969 to replace the Primula. It used the same mechanical layout as the Primula Coupe S, the 124’s 1438cc four-cylinder mounted transversally to spin the front wheels. If the body looks similar to a 124 it is because it was actually originally designed as a prototype for that model which was turned down in favor of a rear wheel drive version.

Italians did not take kindly to the A111 and sales were less than stellar. Even in France, where the Primula had previously been adored, the A111 did not find very many buyers. The Primula was successful there partly because at the time of its launch the French market was hungry for affordable front wheel drive vehicles; the Renault 4 (1961), the Citroen Ami 6 (1961) and 2CV (1948) were the primary ones. By contrast, when the A111 was launched the French market was nearly flooded with them: the Renault 4 and the Citroen 2CV were still in production and sales were strong; the Renault 6 and 12 were launched in 1968 and 1969 respectively, the Peugeot 204 and 304 in 1965 and 1969 respectively, the Citroen Ami 8 and GS in 1969 and 1970 respectively, the Simca 1100 in 1967, etc. On top of stiffer competition the A111 did not benefit from a hatchback. By the time the plug was pulled in 1972 only about 60,000 of them were made. Nevertheless, the A111 helped convince Fiat management that front-mounted transversal engines could work effectively and they quickly adopted that on the 127 (1971) and the 128 (1969).


The A112 is perhaps the best-known Autobianchi model. Launched at the Turin Auto Show in 1969 to replace the 12 year old Bianchina, it was a response to concern about the growing sales of the Mini across Europe. The main competitor coming out of Turin was the 500 with its rear engine/rear wheel drive setup which looked archaic compared to the Mini’s front wheel drive setup. So unlike the Primula, which was inspired by the Mini, the A112 was launched as a competitor to the Mini.

It could carry four adults more or less comfortably despite being fairly small (a little under 20 centimeters longer than a Mini). The first models used the 850 Spider and Coupe’s 903cc (44hp) water-cooled four cylinder mounted transversally in the front of the car and bolted to a four-speed manual transmission. The car went through minor redesigns throughout its production run, including larger taillights and interior upgrades. In 1977 a new engine was available, a 965cc (48hp) four-cylinder. Production ended in 1986 after over a million A112s were produced, making it the most popular Autobianchi to come out of the Desio factory.

The A112 was the first and only Autobianchi to go through the Abarth workshops. In 1971 the A112 Abarth made its appearance; the engine was bored out to 982cc (58hp) and it had a specific grille, a specific interior with a more complete instrumentation and specific rims, amongst other changes. In 1976 a version with a 1050cc (70hp) engine was available, marking the ultimate evolution of the A112. With the two Abarth models, the 982cc became known as the A112 Abarth 58hp and the 1050cc became known as the A112 Abarth 70hp.


Introduced in 1985, the Y10 was Fiat’s answer to the tough question of how to replace the Autobianchi A112. It was not a full Autobianchi model: it was sold as the Lancia Y10 in northern Europe and the Autobianchi Y10 in France and Italy.

The Y10 was based on the first Fiat Panda’s front wheel drive platform but it did not use the Panda’s much-criticized leaf spring rear suspension. Some versions of it did use the Panda’s 999cc (45hp) four-cylinder FIRE engine, a unit that’s remarkable for its reliability; for example, it is a non-interference engine, meaning the pistons and valves will not be damaged if the timing belt breaks. Fiat commissioned Pininfarina and Giugiaro to design the car but both submissions were rejected; instead it was designed in-house at Fiat. Despite its boxy shape it’s very aerodynamic.

In Italy Autobianchi continued to produce the Y10 at its Desio factory until Fiat closed the brand in 1992 in an effort to merge it with Lancia. The Y10 stayed in production until 1995, badged as a Lancia but built in Alfa Romeo’s Arese factory.

More pictures of the various Autobianchi models throughout the years, starting with a Bianchina Panoramica:

Bianchina Cabriolet:

Bianchina Trasformabile:

The more conventional Bianchina sedan that replaced the Trasformabile in 1962:

Bianchina Furgoncino:

The Stellina:

The three-door Primula:

A Primula Coupe S raced in an unknown event:

One of the first Autobianchi Giardiniera models; note the different front end compared to the earlier Fiat model:

The Furgoncino version:

An A112 in full Abarth regalia:

A cross section of the A112, scanned from the 1973-1974 edition of Quattroruote's "Tutto le Auto del Mundo".

An early A112 Abarth with the small taillights and aftermarket fog lights:

April 17, 2010

Renault 5.

Renault introduced the 5 (arguably the first car with plastic bumpers) in 1972. In an effort to market this car throughout the world they offered several versions of it that were different from the French 5.

The one that a few readers will likely be familiar with is the Le Car. It was standard Renault 5 renamed the Renault Le Car and sold in the United States from 1976 to 1984 with a 1397cc four cylinder engine and available in both three and five door variants. Differences with its French counterpart included US-specific bumpers and headlights, side reflectors on both front and rear, a different grille, decals on the side and a more generous standard equipment. It had a tendency to rust rather quickly and a poor reliability record so the AMC dealers that sold them did not need to order very many of them. How it got its reputation for being unreliable is questionable since in France these cars were considered quite reliable and they're still a common sight on today's roads.

In 1979 Renault offered the Le Car on the French market as a limited edition of 6,000 cars. The car retained French-spec bumpers and headlights:

Worth noting that French coachbuilder Heuliez made their own version of the Le Car called the Le Car Van, meant to look like an American conversion van. It's hardly surprising that very few of them were built:

A more obscure version of the 5 is the 7, a four-door Renault 5 produced by FASA-Renault in Spain for the Spanish market which prefers traditional sedans to hatchbacks. Unlike the French version the 7 had traditional metal bumpers, specific tail lights and a specific grille. Initially available only with a 1037cc in TL trim, the 7 was slightly redesigned in 1979 and from that point on one could also order it in GTL trim with a 1108cc. Both engines were four cylinders mated to four-speed manual transmissions. It was phased out when a new four-door sedan, the Renault 9 (known as the Renault Alliance in the United States), was introduced on the European market after 240,000 units were produced.

The Renault 5 stayed in production until 1984 when it was replaced by the Super 5.