Besides being the southernmost major city in California, San Diego is home to the largest naval base in America; the biggest comic book convention on the planet; and the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park, which features 80 cars and 80 motorbikes.
1966 Bizzarrini P538
1968 Ford Country Squire Police Ambulance
1968 Dodge Charger V10
1967 Porsche 911
1967 Datsun Fairlady Sports 1600 Roadster
1909 International Harvester Model A Auto Wagon
1974 Lamborghini Countach 5000S Walter Wolf Edition
2005 Commuter Cars Tango 600 Electric
AM General M997 Four-Litter Maximum Ambulance HHMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle)
1958 Cadillac Series 75 Fleetwood Limousine
Giotto Bizzarrini is often regarded as one of the most brilliant Italian automotive engineers of his era. He joined Enzo Ferrari’s company in the 1950s, and is credited as lead engineer on the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, arguably the most-admired racing car of all time. However, Enzo and Giotto didn’t always see eye-to-eye, and just before the GTO was launched, the two parted ways.
Giotto, along with some other former Ferrari engineers, started Automobili Turismo e Sport (ATS) in 1961, but this project was short-lived. In 1964, he instead founded Società Prototipi Bizzarrini, and got to work building a car to defeat his old boss on the track. The result was the P538, a low-slung mid-engine racing car at first propelled by a Chevrolet V8. However, to compete head-on with Ferrari, Giotto needed a V12, and got one from Lamborghini, probably irritating Enzo even more in the process.
Bizzarrini made only three examples of the P538 Spider before he filed for bankruptcy, but only one had a 4.0-litre Lamborghini V12, and you’re looking at it.
Back in the 1960s, ambulances were quite different. Apart from basic first-aid, there was not much in the way to give patients treatment on the go. Speed was seen as a life-saving measure! Hence, this 1968 Ford Country Squire Ambulance – formerly of the San Diego Police Department – was fitted with a 390-cubic-inch (6.4-litre) 265-hp V8, good for getting the rear-wheel-drive wagon to a top speed of 180 km/h (112 mph). “Extra-heavy-duty suspension” also gave it better handling.
Unlike modern ambulances, custom-made for the job, ambulances in the ’60s were mostly based on station wagons, and nicknamed “amblewagons.” In 1973, the EMS Systems Act eliminated the use of car-based ambulances, in favour of truck- or van-based bodies with raised roofs and modular compartments, carrying lots of life-saving apparatus.
The second-generation Dodge Charger, built from 1968 to 1970, was a fast car available with many different engines, from a 3.7-litre inline-six; to a 7.2-litre V8. Ask some people, however, and none of those available motors had enough capacity or cylinders. Ray Garner fell in love with the Charger when he was just 11 years old, but finally got his dream car by age 53. But he’d bought his car sight unseen, so it was riddled with issues and needed a full restoration.
Having worked as a mechanical engineer in the aeronautics industry, Garner fabricated custom parts, and even incorporated scraps from the Mars Rover project. He also updated its powertrain by dropping in a 8.0-litre V10 from a 2001 Dodge Viper RT/10, tweaked to produce 525 hp. Power is fed to the rear wheels via a Borg-Warner T-56 Tremec six-speed. While no official performance data is available, Garner claims his Charger Viper can pull from 65 mph to 130 mph (105 km/h to 209 km/h) in under six seconds—that’s quick!
Barn finds seem to be cropping up now more than ever, and here’s one of them. This 911 was rescued from a barn in 2008, where it had been resting since 1974. The new owners, John and Monique Straub, decided keep it in as-found condition, however, since it’s a numbers-matching vehicle that still has its original paint, a quality often admired by collector car hobbyists.
This car features a 2.0-litre flat-six that develops 130 hp; since this car only weighs 2,271 lbs, that should be enough to propel it at a decent pace. A number that will certainly drop some jaws is its original price: in 1967, this 911 sold for just $7,300 US. If only we could get hold of a time machine so we could travel back in time and buy as many of these as possible.
The GT-R and the 370Z may come to mind first when you think “Nissan sports cars,” but they certainly weren’t the first sports cars that came to mind for Nissan; the company’s been making fun cars since the 1930s. In 1963, under its old Datsun name, the automaker offered a little convertible called the Sports 1500; by 1965, the engine grew 100 cc, so the name changed to Sports 1600 Roadster, and this model stayed in the market until 1970. Along with the 1600, a Sports 2000 was offered in 1967, very few of which were imported to North America.
This is a Sports 1600 SPL3IIU Roadster, and it features a 1.6-litre inline-four that makes 97 hp. Power is fed to the rear wheels via a four-speed manual gearbox. The original sticker price for this model was $2,446 US in 1967—they’ve certainly appreciated a bit now!
Car companies make cars, tractor manufacturers make tractors, and the two rarely ever mix. International Harvester started making farm equipment back in the 1830s, but in 1907, the era of the first production automobiles, they offered their first car, the Model A Auto Wagon. It truly was a horseless carriage—just look at it. It’s a horse-drawn buggy with a combustion engine.
That engine displaces 195 cubic inches (3.2 litres); has two cylinders, horizontally opposed; and produces just 15 hp. Top speed is about 32 km/h—better hold on to your hat! The Model A stayed in production until 1917, when it was replaced by the Model F.
Lamborghini is another car manufacturer that went from making tractors to cars, but it’s been quite a bit more successful at it than most. However, in the early 1970s, Lamborghini was dealing with a lot of financial issues, and was on the brink of bankruptcy. Luckily a Canadian came to its rescue, and kept the company busy through its difficult times.
Walter Wolf was a charismatic oil baron who owned a Formula One team, Walter Wolf Racing. He had a love for fast cars, and adored the spaceship-like Lamborghini Countach. His only problem? It just wasn’t fast enough for him! So he’d custom-order his Countach with more power and fatter tires shrouded in wider wheel arches, and with a massive rear wing—in a way, he was indirectly supporting Lamborghini’s R&D.
Wolf ordered a few Countach models, each with something different; one boasted a 5.0-litre V12 motor that produced 500 hp. The car sitting at the San Diego Automotive Museum is on loan from Germany, and is currently owned by the Buschmeiers. While this Countach’s state of tune is not known, Mr. Wolf is listed as its first owner.
This is the Tango, an electric car built in Spokane, Washington by Commuter Cars. Its manufacturers wanted a car narrow enough to fit two to a lane. As a bonus its short length – eight-foot-six – means it can be parked nose-in towards the curb. Its two Advanced DC FB1-4001 motors give the Tango a combined output of 805 hp and an official zero-to-96 km/h time of just 3.8 seconds, while top speed is limited to 250 km/h. Commuter Cars claims it can travel 160 km on a full charge, which takes three to four hours.
Worried about the handling on such a short, narrow, and tall vehicle? A very clever stability control system makes the Tango hard to flip on its side, but a steel roll cage keeps its two tandem-seated passengers safe just in case. Speaking of passengers, Hollywood A-lister George Clooney liked the concept so much, he bought one of the first examples made. Only 12 units were built, and the one sitting at the San Diego Automotive Museum has a custom paint job by Romero Britto, a pop artist from Brazil. Apparently, this rolling piece of art is currently worth $850,000 US, perhaps this oddball car’s most shocking statistic.
In the 2000s, the Hummer brand had become a fashion accessory that was made to look tough, but the original model was a real military vehicle that was pretty darn rugged. With bomb-proof floors and a thick steel shell, the military Hummer could make the difference between life or death on the battlefield.
Many variants of the HHMWV have been built, from wagon-style troop transports; to wheeled rocket launcher platforms. The one stationed at the museum (on loan from Camp Pendelton) is an ambulance conversion. Nicknamed the “Winnebago,” it can carry four patients plus three crew members, and is equipped with nuclear, biological, and chemical defense breathing apparatuses.
This 3,493-kg (7,700-lb) vehicle is propelled by a 6.2-litre V8 diesel motor that produces just 165 hp. Power is fed to all wheels via a three-speed automatic. With a top speed of just 105 km/h (65 mph), it sure isn’t fast, but it would be a soldier’s best chance to escape a hostile environment.
There once was a time when Cadillacs used to compete with Rolls-Royce at the very top end of the luxury car game. To this day, Cadillac is the choice brand of vehicle for a sitting US president, with William Howard Taft being the first to ride around in a Cadillac. Perhaps the most striking Cadillac limo has to be the Series 75 Fleetwood from 1958. With Jet Age styling common to many American vehicles of this era, this nine-passenger vehicle had an automatic heating system, air conditioning, air suspension, an automatic headlamp beam control, power windows, a radio with rear-mounted speakers, and a posture seat adjuster!
Most of this stuff is quite common these days, but it wasn’t in the 1950s. As you’d expect, this limo is powered by a great big 365-cubic-inch (6.0-litre) V8 good for 335 hp. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a four-speed automatic transmission. Don’t expect it to be fast, though; the thing weighs roughly 2,508 kg (5,530 lbs).
According to the museum, 802 examples of this limo were produced, but only 90 are road-worthy today, making these highly collectable.