1969 Trans Am Convertible Display Headlines the 2012 MCACN
Those musclecar fans who made it to the fourth annual Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals, held this past November at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, were treated to a truly once-in-a-lifetime event. In addition to a display of more than 600 of the highest-quality examples of ’60s and ’70 vintage performance cars available in North America, those lucky individuals who passed through the gates witnessed the assemblage of six of the eight ’69 Trans Am convertibles produced. It was the first display seen when entering the show, and was nothing short of breathtaking.
Bob Ashton, a Detroit-area car enthusiast, conceived this invitation-only indoor event and launched it in 2009. It is held on the weekend before Thanksgiving every year and is a fantastic finale to the show car season. The idea for bringing the Trans Am droptops together this year was a natural.
“Since we knew where several of the originals were, we thought it would not only be fun, but a real challenge to find the others and extend the invitation,” Ashton said. “MCACN Member Charley Lillard started making calls, and before long, we had six confirmed with leads on the other two ...”
Of the other two cars, one was located in California and the owner was unable to send it out. The other is the infamous “missing” car, which had been reputed to be in Canada, though some enthusiasts believe it has since been destroyed.
Looking over the display of these rare machines was fascinating, as there are many subtle differences between the cars, like interior options, top and upholstery colors, as well as some between the original survivors and the restored examples. All four of the automatic versions were displayed, while two of the four-speeds were present, one of which was midway through a restoration.
The 2013 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals will be held this coming November 23-24, again at the Donald E. Stephens Center in Rosemont, Illinois. Updates on the show are available online at the event website, www.mcacn.com.
Automotive Visionary John Fitch Remembered
John Fitch is shown here in October 2008 with automotive-author Chuck Koch.
Throughout his life, John Fitch proved to be one of the most driven renaissance men in the automobile industry. After serving the US as a pilot in World War II, he raced MGs, Mercedes, Porsches, Ferraris, and Corvettes; developed the Fitch Sprint Corvair, his own Corvair-based Fitch Phoenix, the Fitch Firebird, and the Toronado Phantom; was the first general manager of Lime Rock Park; and invented numerous highway safety systems still in use today, including the ubiquitous yellow, sand-filled crash-cushion barrels known as Fitch barriers, which are commonly seen in front of bridge abutments and other potential roadside hazards.
In 1998, he received the Kenneth Stonex Award from the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences for his lifelong contributions to road-traffic safety. In 2003 and 2005, at the ages of 87 and 89 respectively, he attempted to break a class land-speed record in a ’50s-era Mercedes 300 SLR.
Along with numerous books, at least two films were produced about Fitch in his lifetime, Gullwing at Twilight: The Bonneville Ride of John Fitch and The Quest, which documents Fitch’s return to the scene of his 24 Hour of Le Mans win in a ’60 Corvette to celebrate the event’s 50th anniversary.
Fitch was 95 years old when he passed away on October 31, 2012.
The world needs more people like John Fitch. Let’s try to find them and turn ’em loose.
Here are Pontiac Special Projects Engineer Herb Adams’ recollections of Fitch: “When I first met John over 40 years ago, I didn’t know anything about his significant contributions to the war effort or automobile design and development. At the time, we were developing the Pontiac Firebird Sprint Turismo (PFST) at Pontiac; John was also working on a specialty version of the Firebird. He invited us to compare our prototype cars at Lime Rock. He even arranged to have Sam Posey do the test-driving.
“This test and others showed that our approach to handling was better, so the Trans Am ended up using the package we engineered and developed at Pontiac.
But what impressed me about John was his attitude. He was a true gentleman. Instead of being bitter or hostile, he encouraged us to keep improving the Trans Am’s handling. We did, and he always supported our work, so long as we advanced the state of the art in automotive design and development. “As you go through life, there are certain people who motivate and encourage you to work toward progress in your field of endeavor. John was such a person to me.
“After our Fitchbird/PSFT shootout, we continued to compare notes and ideas. Even much later, when I was trying to decide if I should go ahead with the Contessa, John told me to do it. When I described the advances we had made on its chassis design, he asked if it could be used on a body design he was thinking about. He even hired me to do the initial work to see how his body design could be adapted to our chassis. He didn’t go ahead with the project, but for me it was terrific encouragement. If John could see the benefits, we knew we were on the right track.
Norwood Assembly Employees Reassemble to Remember the Good Old Days
Just mention the name GM Norwood Assembly in Pontiac circles today and visions of the halcyon ’70s performance era is immediate. For hardcore Pontiac fans, this is the magical place where the majority of the Firebirds and Trans Ams were born.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and what do we have? The answer is: An automotive renaissance of sorts going on right in the city of Norwood, Ohio. As improbable as it would seem—the union and the managers of the famous Norwood Assembly Plant let bygones be bygones and reunited as a group over 1,000 strong this past August. That’s a first for any closed GM factory.
With a select grouping of Norwood-built survivor and show car owners, including Trans Ams and Formulas, as a backdrop, the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) retired and salaried alumni group came together for a two-day celebration of the plant’s history, its people, and its products. The highlight of the reunion was a one-day party on August 25, 2012, on an old plant parking deck, which was not demolished in 1989 when the remainder of the plant was torn down to make way for redevelopment.
The next Norwood Assembly Plant reunion is tentatively scheduled for August 2013, and a book on Norwood Assembly Plant’s history is in the works. For more information, visit www.norwoodassemblyplant.com. —Phillip Borris
Celebrate Hurst Page by Page
Hurst Shifters tips a hat to its own storied history with a limited-edition version of Hurst Equipped: More Than 50 Years of High Performance.
Authored by Mark Fletcher and veteran magazine editor Richard Truesdell, Hurst Equipped gives the full story of the company that George Hurst built from the groundfloor into the world’s best-known name in shifters.
As High Performance Pontiac readers should expect, the book features a plethora of Pontiacs and the stories behind them, including Royal Pontiac’s ’61 Catalina Bobcat race car which Hurst named The White Goddess, Hurst’s ’62 Grand Prix Fireball Roberts Edition, ’67 Grand Prix convertible, prototype ’78 GTO coupe, the ’70-’72 Grand Prix SSJs, and performance and specialty vehicles for Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Chrysler, Chevrolet, and even AMC.
Hurst Equipped is available in a limited edition version that features a leather-bound cover with gold foil logos. All 500 available commemorative copies are numbered to make each and every one of them a one-of-a-kind collector’s piece.
The price is $49.95. (Standard hardcover copies are available for $39.95 from CarTech at www.cartechbooks.com.) For more infomation, visit www.hurst-shifters.com.