Hemmings Motor News Blog

Hemmings Motor News has been around since 1954. We're proud of our heritage, but we're also more than the Hemmings full of classifieds that your father subscribed to. Aside from new editorial content every month in Hemmings, we have three monthly magazines: Hemmings Muscle Machines, Hemmings Classic Car and Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car.

While our editors traverse the country to find the best content for those magazines, we find other oddities related to the old-car hobby that we really had no place for - until now. With this blog, we're giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what we see and what we do during the course of putting out some of the finest automotive magazines you'll ever read.

New Interest in the New Edge? The Mk 1 Ford Focus Seems to Be Attracting Admirers Lately

Posted October 21, 2021 6:00 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: focus Ford

It seems British gearheads have rediscovered the first-generation Ford Focus in the past six to eight months. Perhaps the uptick in interest is because a new, super-squinty Focus is forthcoming, and those who remember the original wish to explore the evolution. Or it could be because, in Europe, the Mk 1 is just shy of turning 25 and thus has started its transition from banger to object of nostalgia. Or maybe it's because people have recently determined that Ford hit the nail on the head with the first Focus, building one of the best compact cars of its time.

At least that's the sentiment of several videos of late, which look back fondly at the Mk 1 and note how Ford's staff—specifically Richard Parry-Jones—put the same amount of care and effort into developing this compact car as they would a larger vehicle. The Focus changed how people felt about compacts, for under the exuberant Jack Telnack–led New Edge design was a quality automobile.

See more videos, including one documenting what Richard Hammond had to say about the Focus back when it was relatively new and when Hammond looked like he still had a couple of years of university to finish.

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Why Were There Field Support Buses All Over Chicago in the ’80s and ’90s?

Posted October 20, 2021 6:00 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: bus transit Chicago

On side streets and under the L, they sat like discarded props from an ’80s post-apocalyptic B-movie. Metal screens covered or entirely replaced windows. Blanking plates obscured headlamps. Rust and dents marred just about every surface, and all their original markings had been painted over and tagged with cryptic stencils. Despite having the look of burned-out hulks abandoned to squatters and street gangs, these field support buses were maintained enough to move around the city of Chicago—though for what purpose it's not immediately clear.

We came across more than a dozen photographs of field support buses in Northwestern's Ronald J. Sullivan collection not long ago while searching for images to include in our Carspotting series. Most of the Sullivan photos, taken over the span of several decades, focus on commuter rail, city buses, and coaches in and around Chicago. They capture not just people bustling about the city but also slices of traffic and less-explored streets. Many people may overlook these mundane and routine details, but historians use photos like these to glean important documentary information of how people lived.

Which brings us back to these mystery buses. Most of the photographs featuring these machines date to the 1990-’94 period (though this may be a function of Sullivan's subject selection more than the prevalence of field support buses on Chicago streets). All the buses appear to be removed from regular customer service but they once served a purpose, as shown by the power cables strung between them and nearby telephone poles, the locking doors, and even the doormat in the top photo. They've all suffered some sort of damage—not enough to render them unroadworthy, but enough to make a passenger question why they'd get on that particular bus.

Sullivan called them "field support buses," a term we don't see in widespread use, but one that seems to suggest the buses were used to service Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) infrastructure like tracks, switching equipment, transformers, and the like. A sort of inexpensive construction trailer made from the shells of retired buses. We have a request in with the CTA to see if our hunch is correct, if this was a widespread practice among transit agencies, and if these field support buses are still in the fleet. If that isn't the case, tell us in the comments below what other purposes you can imagine these buses serving.

3 comments; last comment on 10/21/2021
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That Great Old Tire Look

Posted October 19, 2021 6:00 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: advertising

Remember those great old Firestone gold-line Indy tires? Those real wide ones that look great on GT40s and Shelbys and just about any track car, pre-1975? There's something about the shape and style of those bias-ply tires that looked so much better than the radials that came after them, and these Indys are right up there with a piecrust slick and a pizza-cutter front runner. It's as if a Great Being in the sky looked down upon us gearheads and said, "Look, you've foolishly squandered your life's savings on these damn things, so your punishment is that you can either have tires that perform well or tires that look really great. But you can't have both."

Well, we've got the internet and all these great old promotional photos, so there's that. Geek on this one for a few minutes and ask yourself, "What kind of decision was made in the boardroom at Firestone that ended up in a photo quite like this one?" We'd love to have been a two-pack-a-day fly on that wall...

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Prove Me Wrong: SUVs Are the New Station Wagons and, Thus, Future Collectibles

Posted October 18, 2021 8:31 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: SUVs

Millions of American kids grew up in the back of station wagons—big full-frame long-roof machines with tailgates designed for ease of loading and ample capacity for children and cargo. Years after the folks traded the wagon in for something newer, fresher, and better, station-wagon kids began pining for them. The ones attached to the memories of youth will always be the best—and the ones they’re willing to pay handsomely for.

The American SUV is the modern equivalent of the station wagon. I'm not talking about the unibody “soft roader” brigade, which is basically a compact hatchback on tippy-toes. When we say SUV, we mean full-frame machines such as Tahoes, Navigators, Toyota 4Runners, and the like. Their function and their status are the same. In the future (say, 30-odd years from now) they’re going to blow up.

SUVs are the meat of the market now, especially as car companies are abandoning passenger cars left, right, and center. Plenty are being built, but like station wagons before them, plenty more are being driven, used up, wrecked, and crushed. The ones that remain will, in time, become special. They will fill the future collector’s needs. It’s happened before, and it will happen again.

11 comments; last comment on 10/20/2021
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Not Happy with the Death of the Manual Transmission? Swap One In!

Posted October 14, 2021 4:00 AM by dstrohl

It seems rather absurd that manual-transmission enthusiasts get vociferous every time a manufacturer announces it's dropping the stick from a model line. After all, if someone truly wants to save the manuals and if they genuinely enjoy the DIY aspect of rowing through the gears, they'd figure out how to retrofit their car with a stick shift.

That's probably a vast oversimplification of the matter, yes, but as the old saying goes, why curse the darkness when you can light a candle?

My colleagues have offered their curses on the darkness this week. The manual transmission is a reminder that machines are just that, something tangible that we can understand and operate and exert some domain over. The more the machine does for itself—be it selecting gears, turning on the headlamps, or regulating the air-fuel mixture and spark-plug timing—the more command of it we lose, and the further disconnected from it we become.

I'm under no illusion that it's easy to swap a manual transmission into a modern vehicle. For decades now, carmakers have developed many cars specifically around an automatic transmission, with zero regard for a manual option. Long gone are the days of perusing the Hollander to see which transmissions share bellhousing bolt patterns or which platform-mates could donate a pedal set with a clutch. Transmission-tunnel dimensions are specifically tailored to automatics, and transmission controllers have become further integrated into many cars' on-board diagnostic systems. If that weren't enough of a deterrent, you also have to keep in mind government regulations on emissions. Regarding transmission swaps, the California Air Resources Board notes: "Transmissions and transaxles changes alone are not legal. Transmissions and transaxles can only be changed along with their matching engine. The total engine transmission package must conform to the engine change requirements above."

But should difficulty stand in the way of desire? Manual-transmission swaps are hard but not impossible. Anything made by human hands can be unmade and remade by human hands, especially if those hands have access to a reciprocating saw and a welder. Adapters are easy enough to design and build, especially with the prevalence of CAD and plasma/waterjet/laser cutters these days. Even if it's impossible to source a set of bolt-in pedals, every car has a firewall, and online catalogs have universal clutch master cylinders and clutch pedals in a near-endless variety of configurations. Floorpans—even those with tunnels that interfere with your choice of transmission—are made of nothing more than stamped sheetmetal.

25 comments; last comment on 10/23/2021
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