We’re back in the mailbag this week, and here we go.
Impressive 1960 Ford Starliner and collector car mandates
Q: Greg, I have a 1960 Ford Starliner that I cruise with, and I hope the latest news out of California about the possibility of collector cars being outlawed on the highway won’t impact driving my ’60 Ford in the future. Also, a friend told me he once heard that Ralph Nader tried to change the design of the ’60 Starliner because he said the horizontal fins were too wide to be street legal. Why do you feel the fins were made so wide?
If you can provide other information about the l960 Ford Starliner, I would really appreciate it. I see your columns in online newspapers and in Auto Round-Up magazine. Thanks, Edward L., Columbia, South Carolina.
A: Edward, as for your concern about owning and driving your collector car let’s start here. There is no current evidence to suggest that California is trying to totally outlaw the collector car hobby. However, that doesn’t mean the state won’t cause problems in the future as collector cars aren’t known for clean burning attributes and California is known for zero emission initiatives.
Apart from the current info you mention about California trying to possibly curtail use or eliminating collector cars from the highway, there are no laws forbidding driving your classic, and hopefully never will be. We have excellent representation in Washington DC thanks to Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) and Performance Racing Industry (PRI), the latter a company I worked for as a contributing and then senior editor for 34 years. SEMA purchased PRI in 2012 and today are strong partners in protecting our collector car and motor racing businesses.
Specifically, SEMA said the state of California is considering instituting “zero-emissions zones” like those in London, where drivers would be fined for violations. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is gathering information about classic cars and how their owners use them in preparation for this move. To be insured as a collector car in California, the vehicle must meet certain requirements, such as being at least 35 model-years old or classified as a special interest vehicle.
To my knowledge, there is nothing on the books at this point that indicate California wants to outlaw classic car use overall. Trust me, we have the best people fighting for our rights thanks to SEMA and PRI.
As for Ralph Nader, I’ve mentioned him several times in the past about his 1960 book “Unsafe at Any Speed,” and his one chapter condemning the Chevy Corvair. However, I searched everywhere and could not find anything about Nader and the 1960 Ford Starliner. I do know that the 1960 Ford Starliner was the widest Ford ever produced at 81.5-inches and may be the widest car by a half-inch ever sold by a manufacturer. As for Nader condemning the width, I found nothing. Concerning the fins on your ’60 Ford, I would opine they were designed to mimic the 1959 and 1960 Chevy fin motifs that resemble a bird or airplane in flight.
Riding on a 119-inch wheelbase, the 1960 Starliner was extremely popular with the NASCAR teams, as its fastback bubbletop design gave it an aerodynamic advantage over previous Ford models. The late Alex Tremulis, who designed the Tucker Torpedo I also write about in this week’s column, receives credit for the 1960 Ford design as well.
Although you don’t mention your Starliner’s engine, it is most likely a V-8 as three 352-inch V-8s were available back then including a 235-horse two-barrel, a 300-horse four-barrel, and a high-performance 360-horse four-barrel. The base engine was an inline 223-inch, 145-horse 6-cylinder, but the consumers opting for the Starliner design were more apt to be of the sporty, performance V-8 fan.
In addition to the new Starliner design inside and out, notable mechanical improvements also arrived with the 1960 Ford, including extended oil drain intervals to 6,000 miles and chassis lubes extended all the way to 30,000 miles instead of the usual 1,500.
Rare by collector standards, only 68,461 Starliners were sold from the 900,000 total Ford cars built in 1960. The base price back then was $2,610 and your Starliner weighs in at 3,692 lbs.
Hope this all helps and that I am correct about SEMA and PRI protecting the collector car hobby and industry.
1948 Tucker still an amazing vehicle
Q: Greg, can you tell us about the 1948 Tucker? It seems like a great subject for you to touch on as it had its own movie. I enjoy all your nostalgia car columns that make for fun weekend reading. Mary S., retired and living in Scranton, Pa.
A: Mary I’m happy to oblige, as Tucker is still one of my favorite car movies. Preston Trucker reportedly spent millions developing his 1948 Tucker dream car but ran into numerous funding and political problems.
While most of the investment money came from the sale of stock and dealer franchise fees, it was yellow journalism, resentment by the major car companies and political problems more so than Tucker’s personal failures that stopped what would have been a great car well ahead of its time.
Speaking further on the movie, if you haven’t seen Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” starring Jeff Bridges, it is by far the best representation of Preston Tucker. Although not 100-percent accurate, it is a good chronicle that highlights Tucker’s struggles and the scandalized introduction of his special automobile. Nowadays, it’s a free selection on several of the movie sites, including the “majors” like Netflix and Prime. If you don’t mind commercials, it’s available free on many streaming sites.
A water-cooled Franklin helicopter 6-cylinder engine, located sideways in the rear and displacing 334 cubic inches, powered Tucker’s car. The interior was extremely roomy, underneath was a four-wheel independent suspension, and the steering box was behind the front axle to protect the driver in front-end accidents. Seat belts were utilized for the first time while Tucker had hoped to incorporate fuel injection and disc brakes as standard equipment, but neither came to fruition.
Tucker also offered a padded dash and a windshield designed to pop-out in a collision to protect occupants. During a test at Indianapolis Speedway, a Tucker test car experienced a blown tire and flipped over, and the windshield indeed popped out and did its job. The car then drove away under its’ own power and the driver was not injured.
Including a prototype, only 51 Tuckers were built at Tucker’s South Side Chicago plant. Not surprisingly, 47 of the 51 are accounted for and easily fetch over millions at the major auctions. Amid bankruptcy, Preston Tucker was forced to appear in court to prove he was not a fake and fight serious fraud charges. In the end Tucker and his management were acquitted on all fraud charges, but his company had already gone bankrupt. In reality, and thanks to info on the tuckerclub.org website, Preston Tucker never took the stand in the real life and just eight cars were brought to the courthouse instead of the movie’s 50.
Regardless, the 1948 Tucker became one of the most controversial and best new cars ever produced at that time. Unfortunately, Tucker succumbed to a heart attack in 1956 yet his 1948 Tuckers are still displayed as highlight attractions in museums around the world.
Thanks for your letter and truly kind comments.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist and welcomes reader questions on auto nostalgia, collector cars and motorsports at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or email him at email@example.com.)