Category: Daniel Strohl

War’s “Low Rider” had much more to offer than just a catchy hook – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


For those of us into cars, it should seem obvious that War’s 1975 funk-rock-fusion masterpiece “Low Rider” referenced the rich Southern California lowriding culture. The recent release of the track’s re-mastered music video—which features plenty of panel-painted full-size GM cars and one prominent Vega station wagon on hydros—should make that sufficiently clear. And yet, there’s this persistent theory that the song’s about nothing more than getting high on drugs.

“The lowrider is a little higher,” Charles Miller’s reverb lyrics state before eventually inviting the listener to “take a little trip with me.”

Granted, even in the hazy Seventies, artists often resorted to coded language to refer to recreational drugs (“Hotel California” certainly wasn’t about the hospitality industry in the golden state), so recreational drug users were primed to hear what they wanted to hear in every popular song. Nor did it help that songs that celebrate cars have typically been relegated to the novelty bin despite the deep influence automobiles have had on American history, society, and culture.

But War was never a typical American band. Drummer Harold Brown and guitarist Howard Scott founded the band (initially as the Creators, then later as Nightshift) in the mid-Sixties and, though heavily influenced by producer Jerry Goldstein and former Animals frontman Eric Burdon, they began to chart their own path after Burdon left the band in the early Seventies, soon discussing racism, poverty, and the spirit of brotherhood in their lyrics. The band’s lineup seemed ever-changing as more members from a variety of backgrounds accreted around Brown and Scott and brought with them a wide range of musical influences—jazz, Latin, rock, r&b, reggae, and more—all plucked from the mix of Hispanics, Southerners, Blacks, Texans, and more who migrated to Los Angeles after World War II

The band also probably wouldn’t have made it as anything other than a Los Angeles cover band were it not for Brown’s day job. “I had my own business, because I didn’t want anybody telling me when I had to come to work and when I left,” Brown told Songfacts in a 2007 interview. “So I went into the body and fender auto detail business. So I always had transportation, and had money—cash flow. So then that way the band, we could go for auditions and stuff.”

Not only did Brown’s job cover the band’s expenses at the time, it also provided a crucial contact, music producer Marshall Lieb. “Well, when I had my body and fender shop and detail, he had Ferraris, and he only trusted me to take care of his Ferrari,” Brown said. Lieb did not directly influence the formation of War, but as Brown told the story, a meeting with Lieb turned into a meeting with Sonny Charles, which led to the gigs that would put the band in front of Goldstein.Nor was Brown the only band member into cars. This was Los Angeles in the Sixties, after all. In their cover band days, the band members played hot rod clubs at a time when they hot rodded and modified their own cars.

My brother KB and I had a 1953 Dodge. We’d chop our springs with torches—this would lower the car a few inches. It made for a hard ride up until homies started putting hydraulics on them. If you were driving a truck with lift gates on the rear, you’d better check to see if someone has stolen your hydraulics—it happened to me.

We would drive from Pomona California to South Los Angeles taking side streets and main drags through El Monte, Whittier, Watts, and Compton, then eventually into Long Beach/San Pedro, California. When they finally built freeways in Southern California we would cruise in the slow lane just in case we had to pull over and do some repairs. There wasn’t any AAA for us folks.

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OBS? Task Force? GMT? Squarebody? Your guide to keeping GM full-size pickup nicknames straight – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


For one of the most well-known lines of full-size light-duty trucks in America, there sure seems to be disagreement aplenty over how to differentiate the 11 various postwar generations of Chevrolet and GMC pickups and even what to call those separate generations.

Chalk that up in part to GM’s fairly consistent practice of completely revamping the trucks every several years and in part to the legions of enthusiasts who want to differentiate their favorite trucks from all the rest. So what do we call them and how do we tell the various eras apart? Let’s take a look

Art Deco: 1941-1947 Chevrolet and GMC certainly had pickups and light-duty trucks before World War II, but for the most part those trucks shared chassis and designs with passenger cars (heavy-duty trucks are another story altogether).

The Art Deco trucks, with that distinctive chrome-laden upside-down-T grille, are notable as GM’s first major effort to split its truck and car lines, though the design still took its dashboard from the cars and still shared a familial resemblance overall.

Two versions of the stovebolt six-cylinder – a 216 and a 228 – powered the AK Series.Naming Convention: Internally, GM referred to the half-tons as the AK series, the light-duty 3/4-ton trucks as the AL series, the heavy-duty 3/4-tons as the AM, and the 1-ton trucks as the AN.

Those designations don’t seem to have appeared in public-facing materials, however, so the truck soon took on the Art Deco nickname.Price Range: With many street-rodded and customized examples on the market today, it’s difficult to nail down a solid price, though the Hemmings Price Guide gives a range from the mid-teens up to $50,000, with average asking prices between $30,000 and $35,000.

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True world class distinction or, how to try to set the mid-Eighties GM A-bodies apart – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


The idea behind this week’s story about the mid-Eighties GM A-bodies and the backlash over their badge engineering wasn’t to bash the company. Yes, every car company makes mistakes, and it was instructional to see exactly how GM took that criticism to heart in an effort to avoid repeating that mistake and to build a better car company.And yes, reams could be written and business school textbooks could be filled with every misstep that brought GM to that point. Not one single factor, not one single person can be blamed for the situation. It’s easy to spout theories and it’s easy to point at the factors that we personally understand and accept, but to get the entire picture, it’s often helpful to go back to original material for the answers.So, for instance, let’s take a look at a series of dealer training films for the 1982 Chevrolet Celebrity, the 1984 Pontiac 6000, the 1985 6000, and the 1985 Celebrity.

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Over a 30-year run, the Jeep Wagoneer hardly changed and entirely transformed at the same time – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


The horizontal grille of the very last 1991 Grand Wagoneer luxury sport-utility vehicle hid some of the same sheetmetal stampings that supported the basic and utilitarian upright grille on the very first 1963 Wagoneer. That’s long led to a belief that the Wagoneer remained relatively unchanged from its Brooks Stevens origins, but over those 28 years the Wagoneer saw far more than just cosmetic changes. It moved upmarket quickly, it weathered multiple parent companies, it adapted to fuel crises, and it wore a number of different nameplates, culminating in the Grand Wagoneer name it was best known for in the latter quarter of its existence – a name that will soon be resurrected on an ultra-premium hybrid mountain of an SUV from Jeep’s current globe-spanning parent corporation. Not bad for a four-wheel-drive rig from Toledo.

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Far more complicated than just showing up and driving: What it takes to compete in La Carrera Panamericana – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


Even if this were a normal year, the race calendar would be winding down about this time anyway, so it’s a perfect time to sit back and catch up on last year’s La Carrera Panamericana via this beautifully shot and expertly produced documentary from director Jeremy Heslup

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Today I Learned: Why Ford owns a bare residential lot in a Dearborn neighborhood – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


As vacant lots in the metro Detroit area go, the one above, on a bend on the northern section of Snow Avenue in Dearborn, looks rather plain. Some nicely maintained landscaping right up beside Ford’s fenced-off Product Development Center next door, a little sidewalk cutting through a trim lawn, and most importantly, no house; otherwise, Ford’s secrets might have not remained secret for very long.

When Ford’s Product Development Center arose on an 800-acre tract of wooded land just off of Oakwood Boulevard in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it butted up against an established residential neighborhood to the northeast. Snow Avenue, which swung south off Monroe Street and then curved to the west, formed the boundary of the neighborhood and even provided overflow parking just outside the center’s back entrance.

At the time the PDC – including the styling rotunda and the adjacent courtyard – opened in 1953, vacant lots occupied much of that section of Snow Avenue (there’s another section of Snow Avenue, south of Rotunda Drive, which doesn’t figure into this story). However, at least a couple of houses did occupy that bend in the road, and one in particular would soon have to come down.

The house didn’t look like much in historic photos – just a two-story house of similar construction to its neighbors, maybe a little higher in elevation thanks to the knoll it sat on. Might have had a nice porch out front and some decent attic space for storage under that asymmetrical sloping roof.

Might have had a garage or carriage house tucked in next to it. It stood rather close to the road and thus to the entrance to the PDC, but that proximity itself didn’t seem to be an issue.Rather, as Jim and Cheryl Farrell pointed out in their book on Ford’s Design Department, the house’s second story provided a direct line of sight into the PDC’s courtyard, where Ford’s design staff and executives spent plenty of time reviewing design clays and prototypes in ambient light rather than the direct light of the studios. And it didn’t take long before somebody in Detroit figured out how to take advantage of that fact. According to the Farrells, a competitor rented out the whole house to spy on the courtyard goings-on.

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Just before the axe fell, International wanted to try Scout-based coupes, minivans, campers, and luxury trucks – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


For International Harvester enthusiasts, the 1979 Supplemental Scout Vehicle represents what might have been, a missed opportunity to grab hold of the sudden surge in small SUV popularity in the 1980s. Indeed, as two International truck historians will detail in an upcoming presentation for the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum, the SSV was just one of many proposals for new products to fit into new market segments that IH had on the drawing board at the time.”This was a company struggling for resources,” said John Glancy, one of the authors of the International Scout Encyclopedia.

“And they just weren’t making enough money on plain-jane Scouts.”In many ways, it was the Scout that advanced the small four-wheel-drive vehicle market when it debuted in 1961, not the later Ford Bronco. It offered several easily changed body styles on one platform and greater attention to creature comforts, even if it would still rattle grandpa’s dentures out of his gob both on and off road.

But International Harvester simply couldn’t put the same kind of resources behind the Scout that its competitors could put behind their four-wheel-drive vehicles.Medium- and heavy-duty trucks were International’s mainstay, according to Glancy, and the company still had divisions dedicated to agricultural equipment, to construction equipment, even to Cub Cadet lawn mowers. (It even had at least a couple of opportunities to explore the taxicab business after a proposal to merge with Checker in the Sixties and a proposal to take part in the Museum of Modern Art’s taxicab of the future exhibit.) Light trucks, on the other hand, were becoming more of a bother to the company.

It discontinued its Travelalls and pickups in 1975 in response to the 1973 oil crisis, had trouble meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy standards set to take effect in 1979, and faced a second oil crisis that year. Even worse, after the United Auto Workers began a company-wide strike against International in November 1979, then-CEO Archie McCardell tried to break the union, which caused the strike to extend all the way into April of the next year.

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The increasing complexity of electronics poses a challenge for future collectibles – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


Perhaps as we speak, there’s somebody somewhere in the world composing a future collectibles listicle, running down all the various reasons why those Hellcatted Dodges and stormtrooper Camaros and Sasquatch Broncos will inevitably break auction records at Barrett-Jackson’s 2060 Scottsdale auction, just as Z-cars and Seventies off-roaders and RADwood-era rides have become collectible today.
What that article will inevitably fail to mention is that modern electronics, by their very nature, threaten to turn all those future collectibles into very expensive pet rocks.
Those of us with a rudimentary understanding of electronics might scoff at the claims from older car enthusiasts that newer cars are too complicated, too full of gizmos, and ferpetesake what’s wrong with a good ol’ fashioned carburetor. Indeed, those of us handy with a soldering iron, multimeter, and engine tune software on a laptop can figure our way around many of the electrical and electronic issues that beleaguer cars and trucks from the Eighties, Nineties, and even into the Oughts. The same aftermarket that came to the rescue for our forebears swooped in with chips, retuned ECMs, and whatever else owners of those vehicles needed.
Take, for instance, the brake controller circuit board above. We see resistors, capacitors, at least a couple diodes: all easily identifiable and easily replaceable components. With a wiring diagram and a Digikey account, one could feasibly diagnose and repair the brake controller and put it back into service over and over again, just as one could rebuild a carburetor or distributor with access to the correct parts

“You’re racing against something that isn’t human:” a short virtual film festival focused on all things Bonneville – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


Bonneville’s one of those places where, once you see it, you can’t get it out of your head. You could travel the world and not feel that you’ve ever really left home until you set foot there. You come away from the place transformed, with your perspective on horizons and scale and time absolutely demolished. You begin to reconsider what your limitations truly are.
And, it’s been said, nobody can take a bad photo at Bonneville. So it’s little surprise that documentary makers have flocked to Bonneville over the years in search of good stories and have come away with not only the stories they’re looking for, the lingering perfect-light shots they’d hoped to get, but also contemplative pieces full of prose and humanity.
There’s probably an entire film festival worth of documentaries that we could highlight in the wake of this year’s Bonneville Speed Week. So let’s do it.

One-off Holbrook of Wolverhampton-bodied 1934 Ford could best be described as modest luxury – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


Over the years, we’ve profiled a number of Thirties Fords coachbuilt in Europe, but we—and the rest of the world, apparently—have missed this 1934 Ford bodied by Holbrook of Wolverhampton for sale on By the time Holbrook took on this project, the Depression had already forced Ford of Britain to introduce its smaller and less expensive Model Y, making the regular full-size Ford something of a luxury. The folks at Holbrook apparently thought the rich needed to go on an austerity program too, thus the leather upholstery, sliding sunroof, and bustleback added to this right-hand-drive example. It appears to have remained in use in some sort after the war, judging from the newer flathead V-8 under the hood, and it would be interesting to fill in that intermediate history between when the car appeared at the Olympia Auto Show and when it made its way to the garage where it now sits, ready for a refurbishment or a full restoration. From the seller’s description:

This is a very special one of a kind 1934 Ford was built for the “Olympia Auto Show” stand for 1934. “Olympia” was the most prestigious of the London automobile salon events. It was custom bodied by Holbrook of Wolverhampton and has a sliding sunroof and a leather four passenger true sport sedan interior. It is RHD

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