1968 Chicago Auto Show, Part 1

01 AMX

AMC Week all over again


(first posted 2/24/2014)    It hardly seems that 46 years have gone by since the 1968 Chicago Auto Show opened its doors on February 24, 1968. Almost five decades after attending the show, there are a number of cars I still remember very clearly, including this AMX. AMC chose Chicago to debut its new AMX, and it was one of the cars I remember most clearly, almost five decades after attending the show. Of course, it wasn’t just any AMX; it was the car that Lee Breedlove and her husband Craig Breedlove set 90 new speed records at a five-mile circular, banked track in San Angelo, Texas.

03 AMX

#2 Car ran a 304 cu in in V8 FIA Class C


AMC had Breedlove prepare two cars: Car #1 with a red nose and blue butt, had a 390 bored out to 397 cu in. It set 16 new records over 12 hours (FIA Class B) before its transmission blew; Car #2 ran a 290 bored out to 304 cu in (FIA Class C) and set 90 international records. As seen here, it sported a blue nose and a red butt.

Both engines were prepared by the legendary firm of Travis and Coon, better known as TRACO, and were hardly stock, but as verified by USAC, who sanctioned the speed trials, they met FIA regs.

04 AMX

After 46 years the TorqThrust Ds are still beautiful


What could be more iconic than American Torq Thrust Ds and Goodyear Blue Streak Sports Car Specials?  It doesn’t get more ‘60s than that.

The records that each car set can be found on the interweb for those of you who are interested.

05 Ford Mk IV

1967 LeMans winner


I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the Buick Deuce and a Quarters or Ford LTDs at the show, so I didn’t photograph them. As a sophomore in design school, I had raging testosterone and was drawn to the macho hot stuff and concept cars, like this Ford MK IV that had won LeMans in 1967 driven by Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt, after Mario Andretti took out most of the Ford team at 3:30 am in the esses due to green brakes that locked up.

I had been standing at the very spot where this occurred but had decided to return to my Simca 1000 to sleep at 3:25 am. Great timing!

Foyt, a dirt-tracking USAC stud, had little regard for European “wine sipping” drivers (his words), so the next morning, while enjoying a multi-lap lead, he chose to race the second place Ferrari 330P4 that was trying to get back a lap. The Ford pits went apoplectic. That included Henry Ford II who was there and wanted to drive a second stake in Ferrari’s heart. The Ford team manager finally convinced Foyt that his manhood would remain intact if he let the Ferrari pass, which he finally did. Ford won by three laps.

05b Ford Mk IV

Photo stolen from Road & Track


Dan Gurney, who co-drove with Foyt, mentioned that in order to get the car to handle properly, they had to shim the suspension to pass the tech inspector’s ride height gauge. Once on the track, these shim mysteriously disappeared lowering the car to a proper road-hugging stance. Gurney used a NASCAR term to describe this tactic, “You had to cheat to eat.”

As an aside, Dan Gurney initiated a racing tradition that is still strong today–spraying the winner’s circle with champagne. Even the Deuce loved it.

08 Toyota 2000 GT

Toyota 2000 GT


Toyota was still a minor league player in the US in 1968. You weren’t going to draw crowds to your display with gray Corollas or Coronas. But the 2000 GT even grabbed my attention. Pretty sexy.

I think at the latest round of auctions one of these went for $750k+.

07 Toyota 2000 GT

Toyota 2000 GT


Do “halo” cars sell econo boxes? Three years later, after frustrating weeks of test driving Vegas, 510s, Pintos, and OMG-Gremlins for my sister, none of which–except for the 510–were worth a shit, I stopped in at the Toyota dealer in Westport, CT on a dark, rainy, Friday night. Figured that I had nothing to lose. The lone salesman asked me if I had been given the “pitch.” I enjoyed his honesty and said no, let me have it, and he did. My sister bought her first new car, a 1971 Corolla, the next day. Try that at a Toyota dealership today without sustaining a major bodily violation.

09 Can Am Racer

Can-Am Beauty


OK. This is for the Commentariat–what is this? The title on my slides simply state “Can Am Racer.” I couldn’t find anything on the net that showed this distinctive front end.

But there are some clues in this photo. On the back wall is a sign that reads “Meister-” which could be nothing but “Meister Brau,” a beer that was made in Chicago by the Peter Hand Brewing Co. Meister Brau was an enthusiastic sponsor of racing cars, particularly the Lance Reventlow Scarabs driven by Augie Pabst (yes, of Blue Ribbon fame). Or it could be a car that Nickey Chevrolet, the biggest Chevy dealer in the US (which made it the biggest dealer, period) was sponsoring. Who knows? I took pictures, not notes. I was only 20. Just thinkin’, Nickey Chevrolet, which became Keystone Chevy, would be an interesting CC Classic study. Imagine being able to walk into Nickey, see a cute little Camaro with a 230 six Glide, and have it replaced with a rip-snorting 427 backed by a rock crushing Muncie. Yes, life was better then, if you had a healthy checkbook.

10 Can Am Racer

Can Am Racer


Sorry for the camera shake, every photo I took at the show was hand-held. I didn’t own a strobe. Some of these shots were taken on Kodachrome, some on Ektachrome. Didn’t make much difference, got shake either way. But the Chevy small block with Hillborns is in evidence here. I can still hear it…

12 Torino GT

1968 Torino Cobra


Another job for the Commentariat. This is a 1968 Ford Torino set up for NASCAR.

13 Torino GT

1968 Torino Cobra


It looks like it has a “long nose” used on super speedways, which I didn’t know was available in ‘68 (I was paying far more attention to my girlfriend’s bod than Ford’s racing efforts). But come to think it, I remember both warmly.

16 Torino GT

1968 Torino Cobra


But here’s the deal. 98 was LeeRoy Yarbrough’s number, back in the day when a driver could carry a number with him from car-to-car. But in 1968 Yarbrough drove for Junior Johnson in the #26 Ford, winning two races. Plus I can’t find any evidence that Jim Robbins sponsored any of Junior’s cars.

Jim Robbins was longtime Indy car sponsor from 1951 through 1970 (all cars built and owned by Rolla Vollstedt of Portland, OR from ‘65-’70). He owned the Jim Robbins Seat Belt Co. of Troy, MI and sponsored Yarbrough at Indy in ‘69 and ‘70 where he finished 23rd and 19th.

OK Commentariat, set my mind straight.

17 Torino GT

1968 Torino Cobra


At the time NASCAR stockers were required to state the size of their engines on the hood. For those of you afflicted with L.J.K. Setright syndrome (pedantic pomposity) that would be the bonnet. But we all know that the fabled Ford 427 was actually a 425. Do the math.

19 Torino GT

1968 Torino Cobra


The Torino Cobra would become the Torino Talladega in 1969. Not known by many is that the Talladega was more successful than the Superbirds and Daytonas from Plymouth and Dodge.

18 Torino GT

Love them wheels


Love the steelies.

Yarbrough went on to win seven races in 1969 with Junior Johnson in the 26. So what’s with the 98?

More great stuff from the ‘68 Chicago Auto Show to follow.