Tag Archives: Car Spots

Car Spot: 2023 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost

A fitting end for the Hemi and I get to drive it!

Mark and I have gotten several great opportunities to drive really fun cars but one of two came recently at a media event at Road America. We go to this annual event, the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) Spring Rally. There the manufacturers have cars we can drive, some on Road America’s fantastic four miles. We both love this track.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost with me grinning.
Me in front of the Black Ghost. Number 7 of 300 made. Can you tell I was happy?

So we get the list of cars and on the list is the Black Ghost. Dodge has always had a knack for pounding big V8s into its cars and this one is a true classic. Besides the handling upgrades, they shoehorned an 800 hp Hemi into it. What makes this special edition so special is that it’s the final call for the Challenger and they only made 300 of them. This was number 7! I’ve never driven a car this rare and might not ever again.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost air intake
The Black Ghost has the same air intake as the Redeye.

For you Mopar fans this is a throwback to Challengers of the 70s when they offered special editions like this that rocked street racing. The 23 edition is based on the widebody SRT Hellcat Redeye model, but it boosts the supercharged 6.2-liter V-8’s output by 10 ponies to a total of 807 horsepower.

The Black Ghost appropriately comes in Pitch Black with a black faux-gator-skin roof vinyl that mimics the look of the original. It also features a chrome “Dodge” front badge, a white stripe on the rear fender, and chrome script “Challenger” badges on the grille, front fender, and rear spoiler. It rides on 20-inch Satin Carbon wheels, and stopping power comes via black six-piston Brembo brakes.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost
Big wide stripe on the rear deck similar to the original.

I know what you’re thinking, enuf yacking, what about the drive? I’m getting to it. For cars like this, we get a professional driver that rides along with us. This is fantastic because they know the track way better than we do and can give us the entry, exit, and apexes. They also know how the car brakes and where we should pour on the beans to get the best experience driving a fantastic car.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost interior
The office on my four-mile jaunt.

Ok so here’s how it works. We line up at the end of the pit road and are let go at intervals so that we don’t overtake the car ahead of us. There’s no passing on the track. We are reminded several times before we go out and reminded that this is not a race. We also want to give the car back to its manufacturer at the end of the day in one piece.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost hood pin
Hood pins flopped in the breeze on my Road America run.

So I get the green light and immediately mash the throttle down to the floor. Good Geeze! The tires screeched, engine sounds roars, and I get pinned back into my seat! My reaction was to start laughing hysterically like I was on a thrill ride. Btw, I love those. We rocket toward turn one where I put on the binders and turn in. A turn later we’re rocking down the Moraine Sweep but slowed down by a cone kink. Think I hit 125. But bleeding off the speed we picked up and then making a hard left and up under the Corvette bridge then another hard left and then a right to Hurry Downs building up speed and hitting the binders again hard and turning right into the long sweeping Carousel. Here my coach tells me to apex late in the turn. Now we blast to the kink where there’s another set of cones to slow us down. I can almost hear the car asking me why.

Such a fun and race course
2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost on the track at Road America
Me in the Black Ghost just past the Johnsonville bridge heading into the Carousel.

Our last chance to hear the engine roar is Kettle Bottoms where I get the speedo to hit 129 before another cone kink then onto Canada Corner, turn 13 and finally turn 14, up the hill and back into the Paddock area where the ride ends. Wow, what a ride, what a ride.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost with SRT branding
SRT badging throughout.

Smiling ear to ear it’s a ride I will never forget. Oh did I mention that the car I drive before that was a brand-new Corvette? Another fantastic ride but the cars couldn’t be farther apart. The Vette is more like a professional athlete, with toned muscles, and can run a 440 in 45 seconds while the Challenger had plenty of muscle but was more like a hooligan you’d find in an Irish bar. Both you’d want in your corner as one of your buddies.

RELATED Video: I drive the Dodge Durango Hellcat

Which would I buy, if money was no object, and it is? Probably would lean towards the Corvette since it’s the total package even though it costs more. It’s fast, handles like a dream, and looks so darn cool. It is a car I have lusted over since it came out in 2019. Mark and I had one out on a Sunday drive up to a local small airport I frequent and the trip was magical. It had just come out and everyone looked at it. Yup, we were the cool guys in the new Vette for one day.

2023 Corvette at Road America before my drive
Me right before my ride in the Vette.

If you’re lucky enough to have 100 grand and be one of 300 Black Ghosts, you will own a piece of history since this is the end of the line for the Challenger and the Hemi. You can thank the numbskulls in Washington for essentially making cars like this go away and try to replace them with EVs claiming that will save the planet, which it won’t. Yup, I’m wearing my feelings on my sleeve but for me once you take an internal combustion engine out of a car and replace it with an electric, it has no sole. Sure you get great acceleration but there’s no rumble at start up and roar when you punch the gas peddle. Cars like the Black Ghost will rocket in value in the coming years while a comparable EV will just fade into the sunset.

2024 Dodge Challenger Black Ghost
It comes in Pitch Black with a black faux-gator-skin roof vinyl that mimics the look of the original. It also features a chrome “Dodge” front badge, and chrome script “Challenger” badges on the grille, front fender, and rear spoiler. It rides on 20-inch Satin Carbon wheels, and stopping power comes via black six-piston Brembo brakes.

Thanks for stopping by and putting up with my politics but hey, I’m a Petrohead. Check back next Friday for another one of my spots along with some of its history. Have a great weekend.


Car Spot: Volkswagen Westfalia Camper

It’s all about the adventure

It’s summer here in Wisconsin and that means the campsites are jammed. Camping is a big deal here. I know because I used to work for a local retailer that specialized in camping gear. This week’s spot has all the gear needed on four wheels, the Volkswagen Westfalia Camper. Affectionately known as the Westy by its owners it has a cult following.

Volkswagen Westfalia Camper
Found this Westy at the golf course I work at during the summer.

Maybe part of the reason for that cult following is because it first sold in the 50’s when split-windshield Kombis were sent to Westfalia-Werke in Rheda-Wiedenbrück for conversion into the camper. Later Vanagons and Transporters were used in the conversion and sent to Dormobile, EZ Camper, ASI/Riviera, Holdsworth, Danbury Motorcaravans until production ended in 2003.

Volkswagen Westfalia Camper
Top part pops up for more space.

Westys were sold through VW dealers worldwide. They even had a cool Tourist Delivery Program. Customers could pick up their new van in Germany, drive it in Europe, then VW would ship it to the customer’s home. Many campers were purchased by American servicemen and sent home in the 1950s and 1960s.

Owner of this Westy enjoyed Wisconsin’s great state parks.

With a four-cylinder engine putting out maybe 90 horses and rear-wheel drive Westys don’t go fast but if you’re going camping, what’s the hurry anyway? They’re are iconic, but they aren’t the best vans ever made and certainly aren’t luxurious compared to what’s out there right now. Not being aerodynamic, they are loud, hard to drive, and have a rough ride. Passengers in the rear will feel a sway and on windy days, so will those in the front. Visibility is great and the radiant heat from the sunlight streaming into the van quickly heats it up. You don’t want to be riding in one on a hot day, because owners say that you’ll feel like you’re in a hot tin can rolling down the road. Air conditioning was available but few Westys come with it. Automatic transmission models are out there, but they are hard to find.

Volkswagen Westfalia Camper
This Westy was super-clean

Owners who have a Westy say its like entering a relationship, a very passionate one, like your first boyfriend or girlfriend in high school who was both super exciting and hard to read. You don’t have to be a hippie to love these old hippy vans, and that means if you own one, you get to meet all kinds of neat people who, despite differences, will assume you’re a decent person by virtue of ownership. I’m in. Sounds like fun.

Volkswagen Westfalia Camper
Owners who have a Westy say its like entering a relationship, a very passionate one.

What are they worth now? Not a lot. I found several for sale, mostly in the mid-20s all the way up to $55,000. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the camping season here in Wisconsin.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out this week’s spot. Check out my other spots and Mark’s new vehicle reviews. Come back next week for another one of my spots along with some of its history and have a great weekend.

Car Spot: Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet

A fun little drop top

Now that the weather has finally started to get decent here in Wisconsin I’m starting to see summer cars like this week’s car spot. This car just exudes fun! The Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet is the convertible version of the Volkswagen Golf, introduced in 1979. For younger readers, there was a time on American roads that convertibles were an everyday sight. They were fun and stylish. We had an 85 Chrysler LeBaron and it was a total blast. Living here in Wisconsin, where summer is sometimes short, I had that top down when it was 50 degrees out.

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet
Fount this spot at the apartment complex our daughter lives at. In the upper left you can see the 86 Kawasaki 900 Ninja I just bought nearby.

It was a tough act to follow when VW replaced the Beetle Convertible with the Rabbit Cabriolet. Hitting the U.S market as their totally new compact, affordable convertible built with safety in mind. With the slogan ‘Sun, Moon and Cabriolet’ Volkswagen introduced the Golf Cabriolet on the market at February 14, 1979. The same year that Michael Jackson released Off the Wall and ESPN debuted on cable. The roof that folded all the way back, making it a hit with teens and younger drivers looking for something fun.

Just add sun. VW print ad.

With uni-body construction, and reinforcements welded in, it was built entirely at the Karmann factory, from stamping to final assembly. VW supplied the engine, suspension, interior, etc. for Karmann to install. The Karmann badges exist on all Cabriolets to pay tribute to the company that built the cars, from top to bottom; therefore, there is no such thing as a “Karmann Edition”.

RELATED Spot: See the VW it replaced and how I became caretaker.

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet Karman logo
Karman logo located on the lower right front quarter.

For improved rollover protection, and structural integrity, it featured a permanently installed roll bar attached to the B-pillar sort of looking like the handle of a picnic basket. It was the first car in this class to have a permanently installed roll bar. Power came from h a naturally-aspirated Inline 4 cylinder engine producing 97 bhp at 5400 rpm transmitted to the road by the front wheel drive with a 5 speed Manual gearbox. It was a huge hit, overtaking the Beetle Cabriolet in sales with 388,522 units built becoming the most successful cabriolet of its time. The car went through three more generations before being discontinued in 2002, replaced by the Volkswagen New Beetle Cabriolet and the Volkswagen Eos.

RELATED Spot: Early 60s VW Convertible

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet
REd was the color of the day as it was parked by two red BMWs.

The Cabriolet was sold all over the world, and sold under several names and special editions, including Wolfsburg models in the United States. A total of 684,226 Golf Cabriolets were sold. And because of that, they are super affordable. A quick search found a bunch of them for under 5 grand. Cheap fun during the summer.

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet Houndstooth interior
Original rare Houndstooth interior.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out this spot. Go and browse my other unique spots and if you’re in the market for a new car, Mark’s reviews. Come back next week for another one of my spots along with some of its history and have a great weekend.

Car Spot: Buick Riviera

GM’s first entry into the personal luxury car market …

I remember 1963. I was in fourth grade living in Madison, Wis. Yup, remember the day when we were told that JFK was assassinated. I remember it more because it was also the year that my dad was hired by American Motors, and we moved to Milwaukee. I was a car guy before, but this made my addiction to everything automotive even bigger.

1965 and 1967 Buick Rivieras
It’s not often that you see these cars, but I found these 65 and 67s for sale.

But beyond the AMC stuff, I remember what a big deal it was for the automakers to introduce their new cars. Take for example this week’s spot, or actually spots, the Buick Riviera. Advertised as “Buick’s bid for a great new international classic,” the Riviera was a hit when it was introduced at the Paris Auto Salon in October 1962. The hardtop coupe won praise from three of the world’s most respected designers, Sergio Pininfarina, Raymond Loewy, and Sir William Lyons. It was a ground-up design on a new GM E platform and the automotive press loved it.

1965 Buick Riviera with hideaway headlights
This 65 came from California. I love the headlights.

Giving the Ford Thunderbird its first real competition it came with one of two monster V8 engines either 401 cu in or 425 cu in and needed everything those bad boys could put out since it weighed just over 4,000 pounds. Motor Trend tested one of the luxury personal coupes equipped with the 425 cubic inch, four-barrel engine. Time from 0–60 mph was clocked at about 8 seconds while running the standing quarter mile in about 16 seconds.

1965 Buick Riviera hood
There are a lot of ponies under that big hood.

It came loaded. Standard features included “power steering, two-speed wipers with washers, back-up lights, glare-proof inside mirror, parking brake signal light, safety buzzer, Riviera wheel covers, electric clock, foam padded seat cushions, center console (covered in a black veneer material) heater and defroster and frameless side windows. Customers could order either fabric or leather seats.

Buick Riviera interior
This interior was spotless.
1967 Buick Riviera
The 67 also had hideaway headlights but instead of a door, they are tucked up above the grill.

The second generation debuted in 1966, retaining its cruciform X-frame on a platform shared with the Oldsmobile Toronado and later, the Cadillac Eldorado, but its redesigned body was longer, wider, and 200 pounds heavier. Along with the new styling came an entirely new 430 cu in V8 putting out 360 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque which improved performance. America liked it and sales for 1966 rebounded to 45,308, a new record. A total of 1,127,261 Rivieras were produced when the last one, the eighth generation, rolled off the assembly line in Orion Township, Michigan on Nov. 25, 1998. Less than 2,000 models sold in its final year.

67 Buick Riviera rear shot with my Hayabusa in the background.
Both these Rivs were in great shape. That’s my Hayabusa in the background.

So what will one of these cars set you back? Not a lot. A 67 in Concours condition according to Hagerty is $45,000 while the 69 is slightly less. These were both priced in the mid-30s. That’s not a lot of dough for this much power and luxury to drive a landmark car from the 60s.

67 Riviera front with the 65 behind it
A bright sunny day and these Rivs were glistening in the sun.

Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to check out my other spots and Mark’s reviews of new cars. Make sure to come back next Friday when I’ll have another one of my spots with some of the history behind it. Have a great weekend.

Car Spot: 56 Lincoln Continental Mark II Custom Bubbletop

Wildness from the George Barris Kustom Shop

The 50s were a crazy time for custom cars. Builders were known for going way over the top in their creations and this week’s car spot, seen at this year’s Chicago Auto Show, is no exception.

56 Lincoln Continental Mark II Custom Bubbletop
If you look closely you can see a 56 Continental. That gold color, wow!

Created by Lee Wells, who worked for Barris, and a client who wanted to create a no-expense spared dream car. Under the hood is a Hillbourn fuel injected 368 cubic inch Lincoln V-8 with braided lines and tons of chrome, four carbs, and finned valve covers finish off the engine bay. Inside was Icelandic sheepskin floor covering, walnut dash, buckets seats all around that swivel outward, a TV, stereo tape player, electric razor (that’s a first I think in a custom car), and drink decanters.

RELATED Spot: See our coverage of the show.

56 Lincoln Continental Mark II Custom Bubbletop interior
An interior that would make most luxury cars look cheap

The Bubbletop Continental was a hit on the show circuit for decades and still attracted a decent amount of traffic at the show. Our daughter, Meg, who walked by while I was editing thought this looked like something out of The Jetsons.

56 Lincoln Continental Mark II Custom Bubbletop rear
Can you see George Jetson driving this?

Thanks for stopping by and checking out this car spot. There are lots of others. We also have a ton of car reviews so if you’re looking for a certain car, chances are we’ve reviewed it. Stop back next Friday for another one of my spots along with some of its history. Have a great weekend.

Car Spot: 1992 Mini Cooper

If ever there was an iconic British car, this is it …

I was surprised when I started writing this article that fuel shortages are nothing new. It was one in 1956 that was the push British Motor Corp. needed to develop the Mini. Introduced in 1959, it was the car’s space-saving transverse engine and front-wheel drive layout – allowing 80% of the car’s floor pan to be used for passengers and luggage, that influenced a generation of car makers.

1992 Mini Cooper
Please do not touch but please take me home.

So Sir Leonard Lord of the Morris Co. issued his top engineer, Alec Issigonis, a challenge: design and build a small, fuel-efficient car capable of carrying four adults, within the economic reach of just about everyone. As fate would have it, the challenge of fitting so much function into such a small package inspired a couple of historic innovations.

RELATED Spot: Its upscale British cousin, the Bently S1

The car and company have gone through a few owners. Originally made by BMC, thata firm becamse part of British Motor Holdings in 1966. It then merged with Leyland Motors in 1968 to form British Leyland. In the 1980s British Leyland broke up, and in 1988 Rover Group, including Mini, was acquired by British Aerospace, yup the same company that makes jets. Mini models included the Morris Mini-Minor, the Austin Seven, the Countryman, Moke, 1275GT, and Clubman. Through a partnership with British racing legend John Cooper, a number of performance models were introduced. The original Mini continued in production until 2000.

RELATED Spot: Its more famous relative.

1992 Mini Cooper logo

More changes came in 1994 when the Rover Group was acquired by BMW with BMW retaining the Mini brand. Development of a modern successor to the Mini began in 1995 and an entirely new Mini was launched in 2001 by BMW.

1992 Mini Cooper interior
Rare right-hand drive model in the US.

It remains a cult classic today. I found this 1992 example for sale at a shop that specializes in classic cars. Not a lot of miles and with a price tag of $22 grand perhaps a bit on the high side since the most expensive ’92 I found on Bring a Trailer was $19,000. Still not a lot of money for a car that is a ton of fun and sure to get noticed at any Cars and Coffee event or summer car show.

1992 Mini Cooper rear
An iconic shape from the front and back,

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check back next week for another one of my spots along with some of the history of the vehicle. Tell your friends and have a great weekend.


#Mini Cooper


Car Spot: Rare 1979 VW Convertible

UPDATE: How I was the temporary Caretaker …

This is an update of a blog post I did a year ago in February. When you think about all the cars that were made since the history of cars, there’s one that just about guarantees a smile every time you see one, the VW Beetle. I’m talking about the original Type 1 Beatle, not the most recent version that just went out of production. The subject of one in this blog entry is a 1979 Convertible.

Mint 1979 VW Convertible

The one that got away

If you’re any kind of car geek like me, you remember your first car, or one you owned very early on and wish you had it again. Mine was a 1970 AMX in this case Dan Chaudoir’s was this Beatle. Like any good dad, put his family first so had to let one like this go to put bread on the table and sold it. Flash forward to last year and Dan lets me know that he’s looking for another ’79 convertible Florida Blue just like this one. I found several of them but none were really in great shape and the one was located in Finland. Go figure, drop-top in a cold climate. Not that Wisconsin isn’t. The hunt was on.

Related: This might have been Paul’s 1970 AMX

I had kind of forgotten about the search for a while when a got a call from Dan who had found one in Florida not in Florida Blue but in Nepal Orange. Of course, there’s a story behind this. He had found it originally on Bring A Trailer but it had been sold. He left his contact information with the seller in case things didn’t work out on the sale. You guessed it, he got the call because the sale fell through. So Dan does the deal and arranges for transportation from Jacksonville to Fort Meyers.

Dan’s VW in Door County

The Beetle led a very charmed life. It was part of a collection in a museum in South Carolina for 13 years and then sold to the collector that Dan bought it from. It had just over 12,000 miles. This bug is cherry and all original. The body has no dents or scratches and the paint looks like it just came off the showroom floor. The chrome and other brightwork are also in excellent shape. The interior has no rips or tears and the rubber isn’t even cracked.

A pristine interior

Mechanically it is sound. All U.S. Beetle Convertibles in 1979 featured a 1,584-cc horizontally opposed, OHV four-cylinder engine. With Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection, the air-cooled engine was rated at 48 horsepower at 4,200 rpm when new. The engine looks new. The four-speed manual is in great shape too. I remember Dan taking me for a ride in it and warning me of the neck-bending acceleration. I’m kidding. It goes 0-60 when it’s ready.

Like new engine.

1979 was the last full year for the VW Beetle in the U.S. and VW built 1,156,455 vehicles in 1979 but only 10,681 were Super Beetle cabriolets sold in the U.S. Production. It listed at $6800 and today has become a fairly collectible car. According to Hagerty prices range from #4 Fair: $9900, #3 Good: $17,200, #2 Excellent: $44,500, and #1 Concours: $62,000. Hagerty defines Concours as “the best in the world. The visual image is of the best vehicle, in the right colors, driving onto the lawn at the finest Concours. Perfectly clean, the vehicle has been groomed down to the tire treads. Painted and chromed surfaces are mirror-like. Dust and dirt are banned, and the materials used are correct and superbly fitted. The one-word description for a #1 vehicle is “Concours.” With very little effort this big could fall into that category. Dan even kept the original tires although it rides on new ones now. This Florida Blue Convertible with just 94 miles (that is not a typo) sold for$65,625 on Hemmings.

Photo: Hemmings

How I became Caretaker

Dan took delivery of the car in mid-July and drove it around his summer home in Sturgeon Bay, WI but unfortunately did not get much time to enjoy it as he passed away in October of 2021.

Dan with the top down at his place in Florida

I’m not exactly why his wife Jody chose me to be the caretaker but am happy to do it. Maybe it’s because I Iove classic cars or maybe I’m the only one she knows that can drive a manual transmission.

Related: Read about the VW fleet in Oshkosh

I drove it down from Sturgeon Bay to Jody’s home in Grafton with my daughter Meg last Fall abiding by Dan’s wish, taking the scenic route, and not going over 60 mph. In some ways, this car is like Jeep Wranglers and older CJ’s because there was always a smile when I stopped for gas or was passed on the highway.

Grandpa meets one of the kids at a pit stop along the way home

Here’s the big update to the story. Jody decided that the bug should have a new home and it was just recently sold to a new owner in France. We’ve already said our goodbyes and hope to someday go visit the VW. Thanks for stopping by and check back next week for another spot along with some of its history. Have a great weekend.

Car Spot: Aston Martin V12 Vanquish

A James Bond car

I’m always on the lookout for my next good spot but the other day, out for a ride on my bike, I spot “The Spot” this Aston Martin Vanquish

Boy did I make a quick U-turn after seeing it drive by. I was lucky that traffic was light on Easter Sunday, and just by chance, the owner had to grab some paperwork at a local title loan place.

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish
Out for a drive on a nice day. The weather is warming up here in Wisconsin so I’ll see a lot more cars like this out now.

Pretty sure this is a V12 Vanquish and not an S version because it would have had the badging on the trunk just to the right of the license plate holder, or boots as they call it in England. This, I’m going to call it an icon car, was introduced in 2001 as the successor to the Aston Martin Vantage at the 2001 Geneva Motor Show and was produced from 2001 to 2007 as the flagship of the marque and was built to display the company’s vision for a future sports car.

RELATED Spot: See its cousin the Bentley S1

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish
Vanquish S logo would have appeared right by the Wisconsin license plate.

The naturally aspirated V12 engine produced 460 hp at 6,500 rpm. controlled by a drive-by-wire throttle and driven by a 6-speed automated manual transmission. With all that power, extra attention was taken to stopping it. The Vanquish featured 14.0-inch drilled and ventilated disc brakes with four-piston calipers, and ABS, with electronic brake distribution. Inside was full instrumentation, advanced electronics, and a choice of leather upholstery with metallic details.

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish brakes
4-piston calipers front and rear help stop the Vanquish.

The automotive media loved this car that was driven by James Bond in the 2002 film Die Another Day. In addition to delivering impressive figures including an acceleration of 0–60 mph in under 5 seconds and a top speed exceeding 190 mph. Road tests they loved its powertrain, chassis, advanced engineering, and design. The V12 Vanquish was described without caveat as “The ultimate Grand Tourer” by Road & Track magazine. Car and Driver described the V12 Vanquish as “worthy of the marque’s heritage and a serious alternative to the top Ferrari.” Wow, big, big words.

RELATED Spot: Not even close to being as cool, the Rolls Royce Cullinan

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish logo
I made sure that I didn’t leave any drool after taking this picture.

Of course with all this fun comes a price tag. A 2023 will set you back $173,086. And unlike cars like the Bentley Continental, which values drop like a rock later on, this car doesn’t. The lowest price one for sale I could find was a 2019 at just under 94 grand.

Thanks for stopping by and reading about this spot. Be sure to check out my others along with new car reviews Mark does. Check back next Friday for another spot and have a great weekend.

Car Spot: 1980 Briggs & Stratton Six-Wheel Hybrid Concept

Yup, the people known for making great small engines came up with this.

This spot is sort of special to me because Briggs & Stratton is located right here in Milwaukee, and has been manufacturing small engines since 1908. If you have a lawn tractor, chances are it has an engine they manufacture. It also turns out that one of my flying buddies, Mike Dorna, works as Manager-Rapid Prototyping Center there. So we were talking one night over some beers about hybrid cars and the conversation turned to Briggs & Stratton developing a hybrid way back in 1980, 17 years before the Toyota Prius hit the market.

Briggs & Stratton Hybrid still looks good today.

This was a strictly one-off concept designed to be a technology demonstrator. It was put together using Ford Pinto front end and Volkswagen Scirocco doors, along with custom panels created by Brooks Stevens who lived in Milwaukee and was also a designer of the 60s era Jeeps. If you squint, you can sort of see elements of a 1980s L-Body Dodge Charger.

Concept are designed by Brooks Stevens from Milwaukee. Briggs & Stratton photo
A perfect vehicle for the early adapters. Briggs & Stratton photo

The idea behind this unusual hybrid was to showcase a more efficient way of travel and, in style. In theory, the electric motor and its instant torque would be used to get the car up to speed, then the gasoline engine would be used to maintain highway speeds. The top speed was just over 60 mph, but in 1980 the U.S. national speed limit was 55 mph so, in theory, this car could easily run within the limits of the law.

RELATED VIDEO: Learn more about the car and see it drive

Engine compartment with electronics towards the rear.
Batteries in the rear. Disconnected since it’s not in use.

Briggs & Stratton built this six-wheeler concept, giving the 12 Globe Union 6-volt batteries their own driven axle. With this additional 72-volt system at the rear, the company’s parallel hybrid was capable of 68 mph on its combined power and they hired Richard Petty to prove it. The 6-volt lead-acid batteries would also grant Briggs & Stratton’s 3200-pound hybrid a pure electric range of at least 45 miles. and giving it a combined mileage of around 30 mpg. Think about that. Doesn’t seem like a lot but the majority of hybrids we test can only go 20 miles on more powerful and lighter batteries. It also featured disc brakes at the front to handle the mass, a Recaro interior and had the unmistakable sound of an air-cooled industrial flat-two.

An interior right out of the 80s complete with Recaro seats and manual transmission

The car toured the country, taken to events in a special trailer sharing with the public what Briggs & Stratton could do. The last time it was on the road was in March of 2020 when on the streets of California, Jay Leno and a Briggs & Stratton Engineering Technician achieved 60 mph. Keep in mind that this was with just an 18-horsepower air-cooled twin-cylinder Briggs engine under the hood. An electric motor is connected to the engine, which then connects to a four-speed manual transmission sending power to the first set of rear wheels. The second set was just there to handle the extra weight of the batteries.

Jay Leno with the Briggs & Stratton Hybrid. YouTube screenbgrab

The Briggs & Stratton Hybrid concept cost a quarter of a million dollars to build, and when it was unveiled in 1980 there was no clear path forward for the vehicle. The company had no plans to put it into production and is the only one of its kind but it displays a shocking amount of hybrid technology that was far ahead of its time. Today this one-time star sits quietly in the museum located at the company’s headquarters in Milwaukee along with Briggs & Stratton’s other historical accomplishments.

Almost looks like a fastback.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out our blog. Have a great Easter! Check back next week for another spot along with some of its history and have a super weekend.

Car Spot: Rolls-Royce Cullinan

How can an SUV be ugly and extremely expensive at the same time?

“From urban adventures to journeys into the wilderness” from the description on their website. Really? So you mean to tell me that I might see owners of this vehicle, which can cost close to half a million bucks, on the same trails as Jeeps, Broncos, and other SUVs? Not buying it.

Spotted this Cullinan while down at this year’s Chicago Auto Show.

In 2018, reluctantly followed Bentley and Lamborghini venturing into the SUV business with the Bentayga and the Urus which has become globally its best seller. A huge departure for the luxury British carmaker, which has a long history of producing luxurious passenger cars. It gets its name from the world’s largest uncut diamond. It sort of looks like a Rolls Royce Phantom that has been making too many stops at fast-food restaurants. It is a sure head-turner on the road but its enormous grille, flat sides, and boxy roofline won’t appeal to everyone. Yup, got that one right.

The Spirit of Ecstasy, also called Eleanor, Silver Lady, or Flying Lady adorns this Rolls-Royce.

The Cullinan comes with just one engine, a 6.75-liter V12 that produces 571hp and drives all four wheels through an automatic gearbox. This absolute beast of a vehicle can do 0-60mph in just 5.0sec. Its top speed is electronically limited to 155mph. It’s rated at 12 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway which isn’t that bad considering its size and engine.

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Inside the spacious cabin is lined in box-grain leather, lambs-wool carpeting, beautiful wood trim, and milled aluminum accents. The vehicle’s liftgate configuration allows the brand to fit the cargo area with an optional Viewing Suite consisting of a pair of leather-wrapped seats and a small table that pop out of the floor. This is by far the most luxurious way to take in a polo match at the country estate. Yup, not seeing it at any off-road events.

Opulence doesn’t begin to describe this interior.

The Cullinan’s arrival in showrooms in 2019 quickly translated into an order bank that was full through July and showed no signs of stopping. So much so that it added workers at its lone production plant in Goodwood, England. This was Rolls-Royce’s best-selling model last year although the company won’t provide exact numbers for each model. Keep in mind that this is a high-profit vehicle so they don’t have to sell a lot of them. With a base price of $355,000, they can be optioned all the way up to 600 grand! This one was $460,000. Wow that’s about what our house is worth. Just for grins I had some fun with numbers. On a zero-interest 48-month loan, monthly payments would be $9,583! With no interest! Wowy wow wow!

It’s Rolls-Royce’s best-selling vehicle.

Thanks for stopping by and checking us out. Be sure to hop back next Friday for another one of my car spots along with some it its history. Have a great weekend.

This one at Chicago Auto Show, $468,750