This is not my story. I read a lot of it in Peter Drucker’s book, Adventures of a Bystander. It’s the story of Nicholas Dreystadt, and I consider Dreystadt’s life interesting and inspiring enough to pass along. But I’ll do it in my own words, because I think Mr. Drucker might be upset if I plagiarized him directly.
I should explain that Peter Drucker, who passed away in 2005, studied and wrote about business management. Business Week called him “the founding father” of that discipline. Before Drucker formalized management, business managers didn’t think much about the subject. And in the course of his 95-year life, Drucker advised international leaders, including three of our presidents. He studied the workings of major industry leaders, taught at Bennington College, Sarah Lawrence, Claremont, and NYU. He wrote 81 books and received 10 honorary degrees from universities around the world.
What caught my eye in Adventures of a Bystander was the chapter in which he talked about General Motors. Mr. Drucker wanted to study GM to discover how it was organized and how it ran itself. In doing so, he contrasted the management styles of two divisional “presidents,” what we now call general managers: Marvin Coyle of Chevrolet and Nicholas Dreystadt of Cadillac. Both names were familiar to me, but I hadn’t known much about either man.
According to Drucker, Marvin Coyle ran Chevrolet with a heavy hand. His people were generally afraid of him, and he was very much the off-putting autocrat. Dreystadt represented the opposite: easygoing, friendly, good-natured, casual, with a good sense of humor. Coyle, though, had built Chevrolet into GM’s powerhouse—the corporation’s main source of income—and despite being dictatorial, Marvin Coyle earned the respect of his peers.
Pretty much every history of automotive tailfins establishes the Harley Earl-led field trip of GM designers in 1940 to see the then-secret P-38, then jumps right on ahead to 1948, when the newly restyled Cadillac debuted, tailfins and all. Franklin Q. Hershey often gets a nod, and that’s about all most people care to dig into it.
Were they to dig a little further, though, they might discover a more meandering development path for the tailfin, one that nearly placed the feature onto Vauxhall’s postwar cars instead of Cadillac’s.
The story of the tailfin—at least, as it appeared on postwar production American automobiles and not on the odd custom car or land-speed racer—does indeed begin with that field trip to Selfridge Field near Detroit, where Earl pulled some strings to get his studio chiefs a good look at the twin-boom Lockheed P-38 Lightning, a plane designed specifically as an interceptor. And indeed, as Michael Lamm and Dave Holls noted in A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design, the P-38 proved plenty inspiring.
Pretty much every history of automotive tailfins establishes the Harley Earl-led field trip of GM designers in 1940 to see the then-secret P-38, then jumps right on ahead to 1948, when the newly restyled Cadillac debuted, tailfins and all.
The designers got all excited about the P-38, especially since they could see its twin tails as extensions of a car’s rear fenders. They went back to their studios and started doing sketches of cars with tailfins. The P-38 also prompted other aircraft motifs: Plexiglas canopies, various types of air intakes, grille spinners and bumper bullets.
Among those who Earl invited: Bill Mitchell; Ned Nickles; and Hershey, who returned from a stint in Europe the year before to head the Cadillac advanced studio. Hershey reportedly became fascinated with the tailfin idea before moving on to other projects and, eventually, going back overseas to serve in the Navy during the war.As William Knoedelseder wrote in FINS: Harley Earl, the Rise of General Motors, and the Glory Days of Detroit, Hershey saw nature and poetry in those fins.
Joe Merola of Braddock, PA entered the Tucker in the 1951 Memorial Day race
One of the things you learn very quickly here is that there’s never any telling what the Hemmings Nation can uncover, especially on this blog. In that spirit, we present this photo, furnished by Ron Pollock of Niles, Ohio. If the name’s familiar, that’s because we recently posted a photo from Ron’s sold-out 50-year history of Sharon Speedway in northeastern Ohio, which depicted a 1961 Chevrolet bubbletop turned into an uncommonly good-looking pavement Late Model.
Ron checked in again this week. The photo above depicts what may be the only Tucker Torpedo ever used in a racing event. He used the image in another book he authored, a history of Canfield Speedway,Â a half-mile dirt track that operated between 1946 and 1973 at the Mahoning County Fairgrounds, outside Youngstown. Ron was trying to respond to an earlier question on the Hemmings blog about whether a Tucker had ever been raced in NASCAR. The date on the photo suggests it ran at Canfield over Memorial Day in 1951.
The open-wheel single seater is said to be ready for vintage racing or man-cave décor
Midget racers were big in the mid-20th Century, scaled-down versions of Indy 500 cars that skittered around oval tracks with full-size performance.
Chief among them were the Kurtis-Kraft Midgets created by iconic race car designer Frank Kurtis to bring high-performance competition within reach of teams and drivers on a budget. They also were gorgeous pieces of kinetic art.
The Pick of the Day is a Midget racer built in the late ’40s, although the manufacturer is unknown, according to the Macedonia, Ohio, dealer advertising the car on ClassicCars.com. The little critter runs and drives well and has competed in historic racing in recent years, the seller says in the ad.
I’ve long maintained that the best driving early Fords were made between 1936 and 1940. They ride fine, they handle great, and they stop predictably. Add a little power to the flathead and you’ve got everything you need for a daily driver that is pretty reliable and really easy to fix when shit does do what it does – break.
By contrast, the shoebox Ford doesn’t steer or stop nearly as well and later 50’s Fords don’t really handle at all. So, in my book… the sweet spot is that four or five years that ended the 1940’s.
This morning I was thinking about all of this when “32csr” posted an add in the classifieds for a 1940 Deluxe Convertible. It’s a survivor off the west coast and it ticks every damned box. The beauty of an untouched car is that no one has screwed it up yet and you get the honors all to yourself. Simply take that near perfect early Ford engineering and do your best not to confuse things while you:
The History of Custom Car Literature, When Did It Start, What Did They Publish, and Why It Was Researched
In The Beginning…
Dan Post was the first to document in great detail how to build a custom car in postwar America. Being “first” is an impressive thing to say – especially when the field of customizing a car was a fledgling enterprise in the mid 1940s and cars to customize were few and far in between. Remember…during the wartime years new cars weren’t produced and those that were new before the war were treasured commodities.
Cars in the prewar era were mostly designed with open fenders. Only in the early 1940s and then in the postwar years were the designs “modern” enough to consider customizing cars in many of the ways we think of today. And it was during this time when Dan Post was there to capture, document and share what he was seeing with America at large. Dan Post was there at the beginning – writing and learning about what he saw – and sharing it across the country.
Fuel injection isn’t new. Inventors of the internal combustion engine began toying with the concept in the late 1890s, and by the 1920s fuel injection had become common in diesel truck engines. During WW1 and WWII, aircraft engines employed mechanical fuel injection, as it was less sensitive to g-forces and changes in altitude.
That said, early hot rodders – the pre-WWII lakes runners, circle-track racers, and Indy 500 machines – relied exclusively on carburetor-fed power plants. It’s not that fuel injection was unknown, but there wasn’t a proven injection system that could usurp the traditional float-bowl, venturi-jet devices.
The Ford V8-60 engine holds a special place in the history midget auto racing. Known as the “poor man’s offy’, the V8-60 offered a reliable power plant for cash-strapped young men with a passion to race. Ironically, the small size that made it ideal for midgets doomed the V8-60 as a passenger car engine and it was discontinued after only a few years. Still, V8-60s were in competition from 1937 until the 1950’s.
Read Al Blixt’s excellent article on both the V8-60 and his Dad’s succesful racing history with the poweplant here
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