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Four-Links – astronauts and Corvettes, Landliner, Chernobyl or bust, the other First Overland

Published in blog.hemmings.com

The Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine this week looked into why Corvettes and astronauts from the Right Stuff era are forever linked.

After Shepard joined NASA, he struck up a friendship with General Motors engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, and soon after Shepard became a sensation as the first American in space, Arkus-Duntov persuaded the carmaker to give him a brand new 1962 Corvette. GM ordinarily didn’t give away cars, but in the case of Shepard, the company recognized a terrific publicity opportunity.

Then Jim Rathmann, the owner of a Chevrolet/Cadillac dealership in Melbourne, Florida, took things further. A former Indianapolis 500 winner, Rathmann was as savvy at business as he was behind the wheel. In coordination with GM, he offered the Mercury astronauts a top-of-the-line car at a very reasonable lease—$1 per year. After the lease was up, the spacemen could buy the car outright, should they want, also at an astoundingly favorable price. Rathmann found he had no trouble selling a Corvette formerly owned by an astronaut.

* The above image has been making the rounds online this week and thanks to the Bus and Coach Society of Victoria, we’ve got some context to go with it.

In 1945, Roy Weber from PBL and Laurie Hardiman from Fowler Constructions designed and built the “Landliner”. This was a 30 passenger luxury touring coach which had airline style reclining seats, carpeted floors, refrigeration, tea servery, toilet, an observation cabin and hostess. It could also be seated for up to 60 for metro work. The front dolly housed the mechanical units, just like a conventional prime mover. Motive power was provided by two Ford side valve V8 engines mounted on either side of the dolly.

The engines, which ran in tandem, were operated in the same way as those fitted to the Fageol Twin Coach vehicles made in the U.S.A. in the 1930s. Steering was performed by hydraulics and the driver sat in the middle front of the passenger compartment. A large pole was mounted at the centre of the dolly, which extended in front of the passenger compartment. This allowed the driver to see which way the dolly was facing, a visual check as it were. The Melbourne “Herald” newspaper featured the “Landliner” on show to the public and politicians on the steps of Parliament House at its launch on 28th November 1945.

* Chernobyl’s also been in the zeitgeist a lot lately, so Keith Adams dug up his 2005 trek to Chernobyl in a £100 Lada.

Back in November 2005, it seemed like a great idea – buy a Lada Riva and drive it across Europe to the site of the world’s largest peacetime nuclear disaster – Chernobyl. Say it quickly, and it doesn’t seem like a big deal at all. Fast forward three months and masses of preparation later, and I’m just about to head eastwards. All I am worrying about is whether my Lada Riva 1200L will actually make it to Dover, let alone the Wild East of Europe.

* Speaking of treks, David at eWillys pointed out that, shortly after the Cambridge and Oxford expedition we mentioned earlier this week wrapped up in Singapore, another expedition – also later described as the “first overland,” but in a Jeep – set out in the opposite direction.

It is 1957 and you are stuck in Singapore fighting on behalf of the British government. You are ready to leave. You want to get home. How do you get there? Maybe you should buy yourself a junked MB and drive home? It’s only 13,000 miles …..

To add to the fun, with the exception of a school wall map, you have no maps of any kind (though you do have a compass and protractor), let alone mileage markers or directions. And, it’s likely that gas stations will be few and far between. Finally, you will likely encounter various factions of people not so friendly to you and your buddy. Now, that sounds like an adventure!

* Finally, The Henry Ford this week showed us the process of bringing a well-conserved car out of storage, and that car just happens to be the Budd XR-400 that will make an appearance at this weekend’s Motor Muster.

The Budd XR-400 Concept Car has been in artifact storage for 10 years, and conservator Cuong Nguyen shows us what it takes to get it back in running condition and other necessary conservation maintenance practices. The Budd Company approached American Motors Corporation in 1962 with this concept car, which placed a sporty body and a powerful V-8 on an inexpensive Rambler Ambassador chassis. Fearing it would fail, AMC decided against putting the car into production. Two years later, Ford’s Mustang became a massive hit using the same idea of a sporty body on an existing chassis.