MMR Blog

My Word: The Lotus-Etc I Left Behind

Posted on May 22, 2014 Comments (2)

By Denise McCluggage

There were two of them on a recent cover of the British magazine Octane. I smiled. Two mid-‘60s two-door sedans, simple and appealing, with narrow racing green stripes leaking from the side of the headlights to fill a little channel in their swelling sweep—door-handle high—aft to the taillights. Surely you’ve seen pictures. Imagine a wheel in the air, maybe two, with Jimmy Clark placidly sweeping his way to a saloon car championship (to go with his Formula 1 pair).

Jim Clark

Three names involved—Ford, Lotus, Cortina—used variously in differing order. My smile was in memory of these toothpaste-fresh cars and the fact that I walked off and left one in Yugoslavia. That was in 1963. It’s still in Titograd as far as I know except that Titograd is gone. They call it Podgorica now. As they had for centuries before.

I was one of few American drivers who got involved in rallies at the works-team level in the 1960s. Mixing rallies and races was common in Europe but American rallies were then, as the saying went, run by watchmakers and mathematicians. Racing folk were not drawn to them. European rallies were races with check points. I was to drive a number of them for BMC, Rover, Ford America, Ford of England and a few privateers.

In 1963 I was asked to share a Ford Cortina in the incredible Liege-Sofia-Liege with Anne Hall, one of England’s great rally drivers. The event really started at Spa, the race course, near Liege, aimed generally eastward over various routes including some famous rally sections and thence into the Balkans and on to Bulgaria’s capital—Sofia. There we had our first official rest stop.

En route we slept while the other driver was at the wheel or grabbed clumps of minutes if we managed to be early at a check point. But in Sofia we were each provided a hotel room in a grand but weary old hotel for a lie-down sleep of one full hour. You think Edison was a proponent of sleep-deprivation, try rallies. Then it was back toward the west, out of Iron Curtain countries, headed “home” to Belgium. Or so ran the plan.

The Cortina Lotus, Ford Cortina or even ‘Tina—call it what you will—arose out of cooperation between Colin Chapman of Lotus and Walter Hayes, a British journalist brought into the Ford public relations department to perk things up. He did. Delightful guy. The car with its assorted quirks—Chapman was involved after all—proved to be a newsworthy project and the various manifestations of the car made their mark on race courses and rally routes wherever they appeared. One of those chance happenings in car development that enliven the sidebars to history.

The rally had once been the Liege-Rome-Liege but the increasing traffic in Europe on roads straining to meet post-war demands was making it clear that open-road rallies were in for some restrictions. The destination was switched from Rome to Sofia to use the less-trafficked Eastern Europe.

Switzerland had already banned many such events from crossing its borders or imposed strictly enforced limitations. The organizers of the Liege-Sofia-Liege had placated the Swiss authorities by showing them the rules and route book which specified truly moderate average speeds in the high 20s at most. Ah, but there was a hidden catch, as we drivers were to discover. Maybe 20-something mph was the average called for on a certain leg, but not so obvious was another rule: the specification of a time range for each car in which each check point would be considered “open” for that car. As progress was made eastward those time ranges constricted like a boa until there was one “open” moment to check in. And that demanded the fastest motoring you were capable of. It was “whew” time in spades. Sorry Switzerland. (They must have caught on. The rally lasted just one more year.)

Anne and I had a great time pushing the Cortina to its max and getting a willing response. We made all the check-points in time, the car’s sides heaving appropriately as were our own. We pulled into Sofia for our lie-down rest still error-free. Maybe ten others were similarly clean.

Back across Yugoslavia. It is said when God made the universe He dumped all the leftover rocks in the mountains there. I’m sure of it. We laced our way up and over in long slightly tilted traverses with hairpins at the end. Children were at roadside selling fist-clumped flowers and waving. Many minutes later was another bunch of grinning kids. It took three such clusters before we realized they were the same damn kids! They climbed up the steep, rocky but short way and easily beat us to the next level.

Titograd, capital of Montenegro, was a major service spot for us. The station wagons loaded with parts, tires, oil and whatever else a rally car or crew might need took shorter routes when they existed or started earlier and drove like the clappers. Whatever, they were always parked and ready for us near the check point. We had a latish starting time out of Titograd and watched the service guys pack up and sweep off northward toward Dubrovnik on the Adriatic coast. We would catch up with them beyond that. Ha!

Why our start time was so late I don’t know but we began our climb out of Montenegro following the crowd and feeling great. “Anne,” I said, “We’re going to win this.” She was horrified. As though I had uttered a forbidden name in a sacred place. “Don’t say that! You’ll jinx us!” Maybe I had gone through childhood carefully avoiding putting a foot on a sidewalk crack thus protecting my mother’s back from a break, but superstitions did not plague me. I shrugged and shut up.

Was it five or fifteen minutes later that the engine quit? Not a rarity among early Cortinas particularly, but a brutal shock to this rally team. Anne, to her credit, never even cast an accusing look in my direction. I flagged down a motorcyclist heading back toward Titograd and hopped on behind in the buddy seat. Maybe a Ford service vehicle was taking a late start. I’d look. Or I’d send a tow truck for Anne and the Cortina.

Nothing is so ended as a motor competition when the car dies. It’s as if it never existed. Zap. Total erasure. Passing-through becomes stuck here. And were we ever stuck. Nothing related to Ford was left. Nothing connected to the rally was in evidence.

Yugoslavia had several religions, a handful of languages and two quite different alphabets but somehow through all this I got someone to fetch Anne and the car. I also found a place to stay the night (plus plus plus as it turned out) and started looking for a way to get out of there.

Yugoslavia had strict rules as one might expect for a Communist country, particularly for one which wasn’t trusted any more by the Soviet Union than it was by the western nations. Tito was sui generis and I admired him for that. We were allowed to come in but we were expected to get out. And we signed promises to take everything—cars, jewelry, art, fur coats—we brought in with us out with us. Everything except money. We had to leave any unspent Yugoslav currency behind.

So how do you get a disabled Cortina, struck into immobility while as far from a permissible border as possible out to the world known as free?

Hire a tow car? Put it on a boat? Order a new engine? All costly and beyond our pay level to authorize. Remember, too, the world was technologically deprived in the early ‘60s. No computers or internet. No cell phones. Even land lines were sparse, particularly where we were. The fact that we didn’t show up for the next check point was the first indication that we had met with something untoward.

I don’t remember how we communicated with the folks on their way back to Belgium. Maybe Anne did that some way. Some moments are very clear from those Stranded in Titograd days. More have eddied away outside of memory.

I recall we had only the clothes on our backs so mine were dunked in a sudsy bathroom basin nightly. Fast-drying nylon was with us and my bright blue pants, styled in the then fashionable manner of ski pants complete with elastic stirrup that hooked under one’s heel, were of that fabric. Rinsed and dripping, I hung them in my open window to hasten drying until one morning I found them whipping in the wind about to take flight at tree top height. I hated to think what the crisis of being pant-less as well as car-less would be like so I took to completing the drying cycle with body warmth.

And, happily, we did have some great good luck as well: two Brits had suffered the same fate de la route we had. Their car, a Reliant Sabre 6, had also been towed lifeless into Titograd but they did not seem as concerned as I did that our names had been scrawled on a piece of paper with a wax seal that we had come with a car and would take one with us. Their Reliant was already in someone’s home garage as he rubbed his hands in glee.

The driver of the Reliant was no less than Raymond Baxter, former RAF pilot who now had one of the best and best known voices on the BBC. I had met him several times before and liked him a lot. His co-driver was Douglass Wilson-Spratt. Can one get more British? They were delightful companions and Titograd became almost a resort. We watched the nightly courting scene around the plaza as the young men strolled in one direction and the young women in the other in that universal manner of ignoring with rapt attention. It was good theater if rather plotless.

I don’t know why the task fell to me but on the first morning I went to see a state official about the car and how we could repatriate it. I had little experience conferring with officials of Communist states in their lair. What to expect? Most certainly not what I got. Immediately as I entered the office a thought simply presented itself as the most sensible thing to do: I should stay in Titograd with the car until Ford figured out some plan. And maybe with luck they never would. This guy who stood, smiled and gestured me to a chair was the singularly most attractive man I had ever seen. I did a quick check to make sure my mouth was not hanging open, smiled, nodded and sat.

I’m not sure what language carried our ensuing conversation. Maybe the Cyrillic alphabet was involved. But I got a quick impression this lovely man was less interested in what happened to the car than I was. Or rather than I had been. We did discuss the wounded car and the important signed papers but the sub-text was airier, more important and more fun. It was charming. But it ended.

I did leave with a decision about the car which could be summed up with so what? The Brits weren’t concerned about their Reliant, and as I later discovered lots of rally cars were left behind in strange garages in distant countries. And given the cost of recovery, why not?

I can’t say for sure how the now-four-of-us stranded rally drivers left Titograd except for a brief scene in the Zagreb airport involving not enough seats. Worked itself out I suspect because we were soon in London. I was more drifting in my recently richened fantasy life than paying attention.

Cortina

No one said much about the lost Cortina. Eugen Bohringer, a Stuttgart innkeeper who really knew what roads were for and how to direct a Pagoda Mercedes 230 SL over them, won the rally. Indeed, he did it twice.

The next January—1964—Anne and I kept a Ford Falcon running (and I never uttered the word “win”) and won the Ladies Cup in the Monte Carlo. We left the Falcon in Monte Carlo but with the Ford America people.

Speaking of fantasies, which I was somewhere, I like to imagine that the darling Communist in Titograd and the Ford-Lotus-Cortina we left there somehow found each other.

Well, it’s something.


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on May 16, 2014 Comments (0)

It’s Alive! You open the garage door on a sunny warm day and suddenly your heart stirs as you see that car or bike that has been a mere sculpture for months. It’s time for the sun to warm that paint and leather and bring your friend to life. That is what May means to Motorheads. I recently drove the 308 600 miles in one day and I want to share with you my thoughts about older cars further in this post. See In Praise of Older Cars.

Michael Furman Photography, 1937 BMW 328 speedometer

Michael Furman’s image this week is the speedo of a vintage 328 BMW.

May in American motorsports has always been dominated by the pageant of the Indianapolis 500. Indy, like the Masters, the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500 dominates the sports media. In Europe the brilliant Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este shares the stage this month with F1’s crown jewel, Monaco, and the Mille Miglia. Look for stories from Sandy on Assignment in next week’s issue as our intrepid reporter Sandy Cotterman reports from the 1000 Miglia.

In Boston, as in other cities across America, car shows and dealership Open Houses abound. This weekend is the annual Waltham Auto Enthusiasts Tour at Aston Martin of New England and European Auto Solutions. Details.

F1 Spanish GP – Race Between Equals

As Grand Prix events go, this race was rather dull. The Mercedes cars ran away again and everyone else was there to measure their progress. The race between teammates however was dramatic and very entertaining. Hamilton once again bested his only competition, Nico Rosberg, who in finishing second appeared more content with his day than did the man who bested him and now has the driver’s championship points lead.

Ricciardo started from third and finished there. His teammate Vettel started from 15th place and finished fourth. This was a good race for him. He passed aggressively everywhere and showed why he is a champion. Valtteri Bottas was a brilliant fifth in a resuscitated Williams. His teammate, Massa, had problems and didn’t fare as well, again. The Williams team is really quite chuffed about the team’s turnaround. Ferrari finished sixth and seventh with Alonso once again beating Raikkonen at home GP of both Alonso and Ferrari sponsor Santander. Kimi, never a team player, appeared disgruntled that team strategies meant that Alonso had fresher tires at the end of the race and therefore passed him with ease. Romain Grosjean and Lotus were eighth and probably thrilled with that result. His teammate Maldonado was 15th. Force India took the final points in ninth and tenth with Perez and Hulkenberg. McLaren drivers Button and Magnussen took the next two spots.

Points to ponder. McLaren’s strong early season performance has faded and the Williams is now the Ferrari of England as one of the bio lines about the team stated during the TV broadcast. That must sting McLaren’s team principal, the dour Ron Dennis, who came back at the beginning of this year to take charge at McLaren Racing. Staying with “stinging” and Williams, it is rumored that Pastor Maldonado’s sponsor gave Williams $25M to release him from his 2014 contract to go to Lotus. That little windfall probably financed a good deal of the R&D on the new 2014 Williams car that is performing so well. Despite that, Maldonado’s gamble may yet come good. It is a little early to discount the Renault engine and the Lotus chassis. Renault will solve their engine issues eventually because Red Bull will hold their feet to the fire until they do, and Lotus does have a good chassis. If they put it all together, they can still salvage something this year.

IndyCar – Grand Prix of Indianapolis

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway introduced its new road course with an inaugural race entitled, rather grandly, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, from the small Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports team, emerged the winner and is now a force in the championship. Andretti team’s Ryan Hunter-Reay was second and Penske’s Castroneves was third. Penske’s Will Power continues to lead the driver standings and Pagenaud is fourth, a mere six points off the lead.

Points to Ponder. The race had plenty of action. A crash at the start took out the pole sitter and two other cars. History teaches us that the Speedway has difficulty with just about everything it does for the first time. This new road course is actually their second design. Last year, at the Indy 500, in the name of security they banned large customer coolers. When the back-ups at the entrances threatened to make patrons miss the start, they relented and let everyone and their coolers in. Also, in the name of security, they rerouted traffic and ticketholders who could not get to the track in time, turned around and went home. For this race on a new track they introduced a new starting format and in keeping with everything else they do for the first time, they screwed up.

Peter Bourassa


In Praise of Older Cars – Part 1

Posted on May 15, 2014 Comments (1)

On two consecutive weekends I drove an excessive amount of miles in two elderly cars. And loved it. Why? What made these two drives special? I wondered that myself and since on the final leg of this pilgrimage I was sitting in traffic for an inordinate amount of time I tasked myself with finding an answer.

On a recent Friday, I climbed aboard my friend Sam Hallowell’s 1972 Ferrari GTC/4 for a two day trip to the Delmarva Peninsula and the Richard Garre/Tom Yang car show in Reistertown near Baltimore. Since this story is all about cars let me take a moment to describe this one. The 365 GTC/4 was based on the 365 Daytona drivetrain with a 2+2 body weighing about 400 lbs. more. The body style is one of those love it or hate it things with an integrated front bumper that gives it a period Camaro kind of look. They made 500 between ’71 and ’73. I love the look and have from the moment I laid eyes on it. The engine is the same 4.4 liter V-12 as the Daytona only 12HP less and I think that is due to the fact that the side draft Webbers lay down on this engine (probably to fit the profile of the hood) and the downdrafts sit up in the Daytona.

In Praise of Older Cars

The GTC/4 has power steering. Sam’s car was repainted from lime green to muddy burgundy, and, while that was unquestionably a huge improvement, in my opinion it still has a way to go before people pin it up on their walls. I personally like it in black, but we have probably discussed that before.

In Praise of Older Cars

We left Sam’s home in Providence, Rhode Island, at nine in the morning and quickly climbed on I-95, the first of many such slabs (a very apt motorcycle term for superhighways) that would bring us to idyllic Oxford, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

The cockpit of this car is roomy by sports car standards but only adequate and typical of the GT cars of the period. Trunk space and rear seat room could only be charitably described as package space. This is for weekend jaunts, not let’s all visit Grandma in Omaha trips. The period seating reminds one that a bucket seat in 1970 had less in common with a bucket than it did with a park bench that had been cut in half, stuffed to bulging with horsehair, and covered in leather. The purpose of a seat, very much like the purpose of sports cars, has changed dramatically since the seventies. High end sports cars today, like the 458 Ferrari, the McLaren 12c, and the new Lambo Huracan, are more a form of personal thrill ride than transportation. Owners of these cars use SUVs or Bentleys for transportation. Sports car designers today engage occupants by heightening the cars feedback to all the senses. A quick ride becomes an exercise in aural, visual, and tactile overload. Today’s ergonomically perfect seat is an adjustable hard leather and foam receptacle that adjusts and embraces its occupant’s limbs and organs. They are visually attractive but designed not so much for comfort as for comforting. They are meant to assure the occupant that, once belted in, no matter how absurd the speed, tight the turn, or sudden the stop, the occupants will remember, if not treasure, every bit of the experience.

One more digression. All of us have either thrilled or been annoyed at the sound of a passing motorcycle. Whether you like the sound or not, all admit it can be loud. From an aural aspect, one of the biggest shocks, and to some degree disappointments, of my motorsports journey was my first motorcycle ride. As a passenger on a 250 BMW, the two sounds that dominated were the wind, (I had no helmet), and the sound of the engine clacking and whirring away just ahead of and beneath me. I hardly heard that wonderful exhaust note because the end of the exhaust pipe was two feet behind me and was lost in the wind. When I moved up to actually drive the motorcycle, I was then directly over the engine and even further away from that glorious sound. To race spectators and ordinary pedestrians, the sound of a street or a race tuned V-12 Ferrari can be music. The driver and passengers of an older front engined V12 Ferrari sports car sit directly behind the engine and are more likely to be the recipients of the sound of the clacking valve train and whirring pumps and fans than they are of the exhaust notes. To a degree this may explain the popularity of louder aftermarket mufflers which allow the driver to better hear that glorious sound which others get for free.

Sam’s GT (Grand Touring) car is 400 lbs. more than its sporty brother and suitably quieter. It was, after all intended for long comfortable drives and loud noises can be tiring. My companion is an interesting fellow and a good conversationalist. The noise level, even at highway speeds, was never intrusive. The sound of the V-12 at cruising RPM of just under 4K is actually quite pleasant. Under hard acceleration it becomes louder and is unfailingly exhilarating. It is nice to have the option.

At some point I took over the wheel and it was the first time I had driven a vintage V-12 Ferrari since it was a current Ferrari. The lack of a right side mirror required craning one’s neck to see the right rear portion of the car, but other than that, the car, equipped with hydraulic power steering was easy and pleasant to drive. At one point, on an off ramp, I got into a decreasing radius turn and a touch of the brakes and a increase steering input was called for. “It’ll lean” I heard Sam say, and indeed it did. There was never any danger of it breaking away or plowing but those 80 aspect tires did indeed roll and the comparatively soft suspension did allow the car to lean. The tires never broke away or squealed, they just took a set and we tracked through the turn. That reminded me that I was driving a 1970s car and that is what cars did in the 1970s. Today’s cars are far different and we will get into that in Part 2.

We traveled about 400 miles and arrived at Oxford in the late afternoon. It was a most enjoyable drive and having shared it neither of us was particularly tired. Our host, Brud LaMotte, is in the real estate business there and is a real car guy. He could appreciate the Ferrari and the journey. He has a very comfortable older home with an attached two car garage and several other structures housing vehicles on the property. After a casual dinner and a catching up on old friends conversation, we turned in and I thought to myself that was a very pleasant drive. Good roads, good company, and a car suited to the purpose.

Saturday was to be a busy day and we were up pretty early. Before we joined a group of local men in town for their ritual Saturday morning breakfast, our host opened his garages and we had an opportunity to appreciate his Sprint Corsa Corvair that John Fitch had prepared for him when he was in college. At some point he had sold it to Sam who also enjoyed it and passed it on. Several years ago, Brud found the car in a barn in the mid-west and restored it. He will be doing the New England 1000 with it later this month. Unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of time so we didn’t uncover the Corvair. I didn’t get any pictures of it but I expect to when the car comes though Boston later this month. Brud is an ISO fan and he pulled out his ride for the day, a 1971 ISO Grifo. This car had also been recently restored. I joined him for the ride into town in the ISO and I marveled at both the similarities and the differences of this car and the one year newer Ferrari in which I had spent the previous day.

In Praise of Older Cars

In common, they were both comfortable, though for some reason the ISO felt closer to the ground and both made you aware of the engine. Newer front engine cars have more noise insulation. Both also had similar tire and suspension roll in tight turns but the ISO’s 327 Chevy engine, though similar in HP output, seemed to be able to deliver it more quickly but less smoothly than the Ferrari. I have driven several corvettes of that period equipped with that engine and this car certainly felt a little heavier and more substantial. Brud’s habit of accelerating with power out of the turns gave the ISO’s back end an opportunity to step out but it never went beyond a slight waggle. The accompanying sound was also different from the Ferrari but equally pleasing.

Brud led Sam and me to the Reisterstown Events at Radcliffe Motors just north of Baltimore in his ISO and the two cars turned heads wherever they went. This was our second visit, we were there two years ago and although a number of the vehicles had been there before, the mix is eclectic enough to be interesting. Richard and Tom obviously put a lot of effort into getting vendors to display the products that are of interest to enthusiasts looking for do-it-yourself tips, special services and/or memorabilia. We met up here with Michael Keyser of Autosports Marketing. Michael is a good friend and supporter of MMR and his site offers excellent racing memorabilia at very reasonable prices.

In Praise of Older Cars

He also went to school with Brud and once again cars provided an opportunity for old friends to catch up.

We said our goodbyes and left at around two PM. We set some time targets to be home and Sam drove the Ferrari briskly to insure that we met them. This was different from our drive down and I was impressed by how well the car went at a steady and slightly illegal speed. It has long legs, as the expression goes, and always seemed to be happy to give a little more.

Despite the obligatory traffic delays in Connecticut, we hit our deadlines and felt that the Ferrari had served the purpose for which it has been designed very well. This was never a fragile car and a little age hasn’t changed that. Stay tuned for Part 2 and my following week’s adventure in the WASRED 308.


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on May 9, 2014 Comments (0)

Tweaking Makes the Difference

Anyone who switched on the Tudor Sports Car Racing Series mid race last weekend must have thought they were in a time warp. Tremendous racing! The race was at Laguna Seca which is a great track with all kinds of turn radii and elevation changes, and a perpetually slippery surface. Perfect. The biggest difficultly in putting the two series together was insuring that there would be competitive racing for each class in both series. The most difficult to satisfy would be the Prototypes. The American Le Mans and Daytona Prototypes are simply very different beasts. The first races were not real road race courses. Daytona with its huge banking and Mickey Mouse infield section, Sebring, the forlorn airfield that has for decades seen historic races but little resurfacing, and Long Beach, one of the more interesting street circuits but none-the-less bumpy, have all favored the Daytona Prototypes and this was expected.

At the first real race course, the ALMS Prototypes came into their own. Thanks to minor rule tweaks and a format that split the field because the pit area couldn’t accommodate all the entrants, they made it a fight and eventually beat the DP cars to win. It worked! Huge sighs all around and great for them and great for American road racing!

The sports car racing was spectacular and it was fun watching Bill Auberlen drive through the pack in his BMW to catch, bump, and pass the factory Porsche to finish second behind the Corvette of Magnussen/Garcia. Want to catch up? Check out Mr. Energy Justin Bell’s pre-race program and year-to-date summary. Instructive and entertaining. 

Alfa Addendum

Last week we wrote (cynically) about how Fiat was setting Alfa Romeo up as a stand-alone company. We further assumed that the move was made to position the company to be sold. Yesterday Fiat announced that it will spend $7 Billion dollars to produce eight new models that will be designed and built in Italy and on the market in 2018. After years of feeling like Charlie Brown, we don’t want to believe that Sergio Marchionne and Fiat will pull the football away again. And once again we will live in hope. And wait. Again.

Toyota to Texas

Last week Toyota announced they would be moving their US headquarters to Texas from California. This week Denise McCluggage writes about pickup trucks in general and Toyota pickup trucks in particular and “Texas”. Enjoy.

Michael Furman News

Michael Furman's photograph of a 1927 Bugatti 35C and is from his book The Art of Bugatti – Mullin Automotive Museum

This week’s image is of a 1927 Bugatti 35C and is from his book The Art of BugattiMullin Automotive Museum. You can learn how he does his magic this Saturday. Michael is doing a photography demo at the Trenton-Mercer Airport in Trenton, NJ, from 9:30AM to 2:30PM. Learn more at the MMR Calendar.

F1 from Spain this weekend. Have a great one.

Peter Bourassa


My Word: TRUCKS ‘N TEXAS

Posted on May 8, 2014 Comments (1)

by Denise McCluggage

Once again the best selling cars in the US are trucks. That’s the norm, much to the surprise of city folk. For a while there, fuel uncertainty and price fluctuations put the Toyota Prius, a hybrid, in the top sales position. Now according to the report I read the Prius has dropped back to 20th. Sorry, P., you’ll simply have to carry more stuff, look more macho and use more fuel to maintain your standing with real Amurrican buyers.

Other news headlining pick-ups was the word Toyota is moving its national headquarters from California to Texas. A move I wonder about but I reckon it is economically appealing to Toyota. The announcement led “The Detroit Bureau”, an automotive news site, to wonder if maybe such a move would help boost the sales of Toyota pick-ups. “Not unless they return to building the T100,” said my young friend J.P. Gonzales. We were testing the Toyota Tundra that had darkened my driveway on a recent afternoon with its huge crewcabness. Several age-20-something guys I know, like J.P., have a deep fondness for early 4Runners and early Tacoma and T100 pick-ups. The ones that either now seem small or Just Right in size, depending on your druthers.

Toyota T100

The T100 was called full-sized thanks to its 8′ bed but the compact size V6 engine and a smallish cab appealed to only sensible folk in search of economy. Not the demographic naturally drawn to pick-ups in droves. The apparent failure of the T100 left Toyota puzzled and searching for the gen-u-wine secret of building a real pick-up. They are still doing that because it still eludes them.

Early on, like in the ‘70s, the Japanese car makers sent the US under-sized pick-ups with such names as the Chevy LUV. Later when Chevy offered its S10, Isuzu, maker of the LUV, just revealed its true identity and called their product the P’Up. Remember that?

The market was bubbling with these handy critters. I described them as “useful as elves.” Mazda had a lovely one and its Ford relative, the Ranger, kept on for a long time. Even appeared in an electric version a few years ago with lots of promise but mostly question marks from Ford dealers. Great fleet trucks for plumbing businesses, heating and cooling guys, electricians, I thought. They could roll out on the job all day then come back to snuggle up to pig-mama for the night and re-juice their batteries. Those batteries were spread out under the slightly shallower bed which put weight low enough to add neat handling tricks to this trucklet. I was right excited about that Ranger. But the idea took selling and apparently no one in a Ford shirt knew how so the whole line just faded away.

Now the demand for the elfin trucks is strong again but apparently not enough to make business sense to possible manufacturers. Instead potential buyers are having compact sedans converted to compact pick-ups. Surely someone will come up with the right size at the right time and price and grace the market with what it wants. But come to think of it, don’t count on it. Chevy has a smaller truck planned for 2015 but wanna bet it will be too big?

But let’s consider Texas for a moment. Or as I think of it—“Texas”. That means it is more myth than reality and more weird than sense-making. Having lived for so many years in New Mexico, which literally sits on the lap of “Texas”, I lean more to the less-than-favorable views many states have for their neighbors. That attitude began early enough when I encountered vacationers from “Texas”, or folks from there who had a New Mexico house as well (for escaping an essentially unlivable climate and partaking of pleasures nonexistent in “Texas” such as skiing.)

Too often such people begin to think that everyone in their second-home state worked for them and didn’t do a good job of it. They showed this in haughty demeanor and, worse, in voices louder than the norm and in an accent that really never traveled well. In those early days in New Mexico my mother might be visiting me from California. We might be shopping and a crowd, yes, crowd of two of these “Texas” visitors, pink cashmere cardigans over their shoulders, might sweep in. Mom would signal with a roll of her eyes and we’d amble out the door. My mother grew up on a farm in Kansas and felt superior to no one, and she preferred not to be near anyone who did.

All this made me particularly appreciative of a bumper sticker I saw early in my New Mexico residence: “If God had meant Texans to ski He would have made bullshit white.” I can make the usual disclaimer of having good friends who live in “Texas.” They might even think of themselves as Texans but I never could.

What has this to do with Toyota moving to Texas? (Dallas, generally. Plano, specifically.) Jim Lentz, the Toyota exec in charge, says exec things like the move is to do things like consolidate their leadership in one geographical spot, have direct flights to Japan near, etc. Business climate (read anti-union policies), tax incentives, and all those lollypops that “Gov. Rick Perry” (mythical like “Texas”) hands out to businesses have nothing to do with it. Lentz still hopes to sell Toyotas in California so he’s not going to badmouth the place. He didn’t say California has an anti-business attitude. But he wasn’t polite enough to give Torrance, where Toyota headquarters have been since 1957, any hint that the company was pulling out.

Though Toyota’s standing in vehicles sales has not been permanently damaged by all its recent recall experiences and public relation stumbles it has nonetheless taken a record blow in fines for the ham-fisted way it handled the recalls. And believe it—the company is enjoying a hearty welcome from “Texas” that benefits the company’s finances. Businesses are called businesses because their main business is benefitting financially. Toyota is a successful business.

But enough about all that courting and wooing and pretending. What about the people relocating to Texas. Or maybe simply losing their jobs. Actually when Nissan pulled the leave-California stunt several years ago relocating to Nashville far fewer of the people they wanted to take with them wanted to go. Wonder if Toyota will experience that?

And how will being a “Texas” company affect their quest to discover pick-upness and build a contender for the Ford-Chevy-Ram bouts? How much did joining the world of NASCAR racing help?

Totota Tundra 2014

J.P. sort of liked the Tundra and so did I. Sort of. The interior is better than it was but still not particularly appealing to me. We kept saying “It’s big.” Yeah. This is the CrewMAX which is like a full-size SUV with a shortened pick-up bed behind. It’s a challenge to get in and out but I rather like that in a pick-up. Clamber up—well-placed handles for pulling. Sliding out with a moment of free fall is easier. The optional running board is advisable.

The latest Tundra has a choice of two engines, one a 5.7 liter V8 that will get you and its ton-ship (5872 pounds) to 60 in 6.8 seconds. Is that important in a pick-up? A sense of adequate power and confidence. I like that. But I don’t need to know numbers. Anyway our Tundra had the 4.6 liter V8 which I found perfectly adequate and offered better mileage. (Not worth mentioning. If mileage matters to you get a truck with a diesel.)

Some big pick-ups manage to drive small. This Tundra did not let you forget “it’s big.” Unnecessarily I thought. As for the driving, I liked the steering. Probably because it is hydraulic which J.P. and I both (generally) prefer over electric. Good brakes, too. And it had a rather peaceful quiet while underway. I was told the big engine is not like that.

J.P. kept wishing it was a T100. I kept wishing it was, what? A Toyota Tundra has for me, even with this new one, left a question hanging in the air. What I said as I slipped to the ground. “Well, Toyota’s made a pretty good imitation of a pick-up truck.”

I don’t see how “Texas” is going to change that, but I’ll keep watching.