CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 14. . . .December 7, 2012
For car buffs, the “Superstar Cars” series is a dream come true. Pre-teen boys will gravitate to the books’ appealing covers, each of which showcases a flashy, beautifully designed vehicle. The books consist of six chapters (the exception is Lamborghini which has seven) that highlight the featured car’s history, design features, performance, sales and awards. History includes information about the founders of the company, the various car models and the modifications made to the original design, the race car drivers associated with the company, and the influence on the auto industry of world events and issues, such as the Second World War, the baby boomer generation, recessions, and the focus on the environment. The authors approach the topic of challenges within each automobile company with both candor and a balanced viewpoint. Some of the text pertaining to the design features is rather technical, but this will not detract from the reader’s enjoyment of the books. It is interesting to note that all but one of the car companies have an animal as its emblem, and three, Ferrari, Mustang and Porsche, have horses as part of their logos.
There are several fact boxes which provide additional information. One of these is “Vital Statistics” which lists a specific model’s production years, the number of vehicles built, top speed, engine type and size, number of cylinders, transmission type, carbon dioxide emissions, EPA fuel economy ratings and price.
The text is targeted at middle school-aged males, but younger students will want to look at the books just for the stunning photographs. (Even dads will want to have a peek at these books because they will be able to relate to much of the information.) A table of contents, a glossary, an index and a timeline are provided as well as a list of books and web sites for further study. The web sites are all current and well chosen. They include the companies’ official web sites, car museums and clubs, and the Formula 1 racing site. There are black and white archival photos as well as vibrant full colour photos, but the cars, themselves, shot against bright backgrounds, are the real scene stealers. One very minor flaw in the series is the lack of diagrams indicating some of the specialized parts of each car (e.g. the targa top and the flying buttress of the Ferrari).
Often referred to as the Great American Sports Car, the Corvette has one of the most easily recognized profiles. Compared to its European counterparts, it is one of the most affordable high performance cars. The Corvette was named after a small World War II escort ship and is mentioned in many song lyrics. In Corvette, readers will learn about the six generations of the car, beginning with the original vehicles which were all white with red interiors. The evolution of the car’s design includes a low slung chassis, wrap around windshield, a split rear window (this feature lasted only a year due to its effect on the driver’s visibility) and the C6’s (sixth generation) electronic touch pad to replace the traditional door handles. It was also the first production car made of fiberglass. This title also features one-of-a kind concept cars. In 1978, the 25th anniversary Corvette served as the official pace car of the Indianapolis 500.
The Ferrari has been in more Formula 1 races than any car ever made. Regarded by some as a work of art, the Ferrari is synonymous with style, speed, elegance and sleek design. Its low, lightweight aerodynamic body is almost always red. In fact, a particular pigment of red is still known in the auto manufacturing industry as “Ferrari red”. Enzo Ferrari founded his automobile company in northern Italy in 1947. A racing car enthusiast, Ferrari sold only enough vehicles to support his company’s racing expenses, building fewer than 100 cars in the first four years, but soon realized that his cars had to appeal to a wider range of customers. Ferrari discusses the changes in design elements over the years, one example being the scissor doors which open upward instead of outward, as well as lists some of the famous race car drivers associated with the company. This title also includes information about Cavallino magazine, the largest and oldest Ferrari publication in the world, Ferraris in television and movies, an example of which is Thomas Magnum’s red Ferrari in Magnum, P.I., and how to interpret the model names (e.g. Ferrari 348TS means that the vehicle has a 3.4 litre V8 engine, a transversely mounted transmission, and a Spyder, or targa top), To honour Enzo Ferrari, an engineering faculty at the University of Modena Reggio Emilia was named after him, the same faculty from which he recruited many graduates.
Sleek and powerful like its namesake, the Jaguar has as its company motto, “Grace, Space and Pace”. Originally begun in Blackpool, England, in 1922, as a producer of sidecars for motorcycles, the Jaguar company later focused on the manufacture of sports cars, sedans and racing cars. One of the partners, William Lyons, later knighted for his contribution to automobile design, bought out his partner and devoted his life to designing nearly every model produced. The Jaguar has made an appearance in several movies, including Austin Powers, Memento and Vertigo. A favourite of the Queen Mother, the 1955 Jaguar Mark VII was her vehicle of choice for almost 20 years. The XJ model, with its large spacious interior and optional rear business trays, rear side window blinds and panoramic glass roof with electronic blinds, is not only the epitome of luxury, but it also has been the company’s flagship sedan for more than 40 years. Readers of Jaguar will also learn about the company’s decisions with respect to making its cars more environmentally friendly, a new hybrid car, and the Jaguar Heritage Museum, with more than 150 exhibits, located in Coventry, England.
Lamborghinis are some of the most expensive cars in the world. With their powerful engines, capable of 670 horsepower, they can travel 211 miles per hour and go from 0 to 60 mph in only 2.8 seconds. Company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini first built tractors in 1948, but in 1963 he changed the focus of his company to producing automobiles. This idea stemmed from his desire to build the perfect car. Legend has it that the wealthy Ferruccio, who owned several fast cars, used tractor parts to modify a Ferrari and took his concerns to Enzo Ferrari. An argument ensued, prompting Ferruccio to design his own car and challenge the giants in the automobile industry. Both a skilled mechanic and a shrewd businessman, Lamborghini assembled a team of the best and brightest engineers and mechanics. Over the years, his company faced many challenges, perhaps more than were faced by any other car manufacturing company featured in this series of books. Under new ownership, the company declared bankruptcy, and when yet another group took over at the helm, the Lamborghini Countach was born, the most successful model until the 1980s. Lee Iacocca bought the company outright in 1987, but the cultures of his former employer, Chrylser, and the Italians were vastly different, and eventually the company changed hands once again, selling to Volkwagen. It is now owned by Audi. Interestingly, the car’s charging bull emblem was chosen to reflect Ferruccio Lamborghini’s fascination with bullfights, and many of the company’s models were named after bulls. This includes the Lamborghini Murciélago, named after a bull that survived 28 sword strikes in a bullfight. Other topics in Lamborghini include the various design engineering details that, according to the company founder’s original mandate, put the driver in complete control.
The award-winning Ford Mustang made its debut in 1964. It was small, dependable, and “could run like the wind”, just like its namesake. Mustangs belong to a group of cars known as “pony cars”, small, affordable, sporty, two-door cars that can seat up to four people. They have long front ends and shorter rear ends than most other cars. More people have purchased a Mustang than any other pony car available, and one million Mustangs were sold in less than two years. In its inaugural year, the Ford Mustang set a record for the highest car sales ever. The car’s logo, a galloping mustang, has undergone a few subtle changes over the years, but still remains on today’s models. Readers of Mustang will learn that the Mustang was the brainchild of Lee Iacocca who realized that the first baby boomers would be turning 18 and in the market for a new car. The vehicle not only had to be sporty to suit the target consumer, but it also had to fit a family as Iacocca thought that the 18-year-old buyer would likely marry and start a family within a few years. In order to keep costs down, Ford’s engineers used many of the same parts that they used in other Ford models, but most of the design was specific to the Mustang, itself. Today’s Mustang buyers can choose from hardtop coupe, notchback and hatchback models. J. Mays, Ford’s Vice-President of global design, created a style known as “retrofuturism” which refers to Mays’ new designs that resulted from giving older designs a futuristic twist. The Mustang made its first movie appearance in Goldfinger, a James Bond thriller.
Porsche is synonymous with the highest level of excellence for both racing and touring (or road) cars. Almost 60-years-old, the Porsche company was started in a family garage by Ferdinand Porsche, Sr. who had worked for Mercedes-Benz and was also the creator of the Volkswagen. Several generations of Porsche men worked for the family company. The founder’s son, “Ferry”, claimed that he “couldn’t find the sports car of my dreams, so I built it myself” and his grandson, “Butzi”, helped to create the 911 model. Porsche’s logo shows a prancing horse as well as the coat-of-arms of Stuttgart, Germany, where the company’s main base is located. The first road tests were done on an uphill climb of a steep mountain route. That practice continues to this day. In Porsche, readers will find out that the company dedicates more time, money and manpower to research and development than any other car manufacturer and almost 20 percent of its employees work at the testing grounds. From 1954-1956 alone, Porsche had over 400 racing victories from all over the world. The company’s models, like those of other companies, have undergone several changes, and Porsche “Americanized” its designs when it started selling its vehicles to the United States. Like other fast cars, Porsches have been seen in many movies, including Risky Business and Le Mans. Today, the company also makes diesel tractors.
Car aficionados will find these titles highly engaging. Readers, start your engines!
Gail Hamilton, a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB, drives a rusting Dodge Avenger.
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