Q. Who are the greatest American racing drivers? Everyone I know automatically says “Mario Andretti,” but was he the best? — F.K. (via Internet)
A. The answer depends on a variety of things. They include the time period in which racers competed, design of their cars, etc. Many say Mario Andretti was the best because he won the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship and Indianapolis 500. But Andretti was born in Italy. Juan Fangio, from Argentina, won the championship five times in the 1950s, but few Americans have heard of him.The late Phil Hill was the first American to win that title in the 1960s, years before Andretti did. I’d pick A.J. Foyt as the best, all things considered. Foyt won numerous races in a wide variety of cars. Last I looked, he’s still the only racer to win the Indianapolis 500 (four times), the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. The 78-year-old Foyt currently operates big league auto racing teams.

Q. Have you driven the brand-new Chevrolet Corvette? — J.A., (Via Internet)

A. Yes, but too briefly to give it a review. I did notice, however, that the brake pedal didn’t have a linear action, and that wasn’t because the brakes were cold. 

Q. What in heaven’s name is a Tatra? A friend showed me a picture of one and it looks as if it came from Outer Space. — K.S., New York City

A. It’s an innovative, wild-looking six-passenger Czech car and was the first auto produced in central Europe. The Tatra was reserved for top Communist party members, industrial plant managers and the state security forces before the Iron Curtain fell. (Fidel Castro even owned one.) By 1934, the trend-setting Tatra had an aerodynamic body, rear-mounted air-cooled engine (eventually an advanced V-8), unit body, swing axles and four-wheel independent suspension. You likely saw a picture of the second-series Tatra 603, which has four close-set headlights. Behind the Tatra’s groundbreaking design was genius engineer Hans Ledwinka. He was a contemporary of Ferdinand Porsche, who developed the first Volkswagen “Beetle” before World War II. In fact, Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine said Tatra claimed that Ferdinand Porsche stole the ideas for a vehicle called the KdF-Wagen “from Ledwinka’s remarkably similar T97 of 1936, eventually resulting in a payment of 3 million deutschmarks from Volkswagen to Tatra after World War II.” The Tatra wasn’t sold in America, but some have found their way here. In fact, Chicago-area resident, car collector and nationally known Chevrolet Corvair whiz Larry Claypool owns a Tatra.

Q. What’s the best thing you can do to keep a collectible/classic car in decent shape if you live during winter in cold, snowy northern parts of the country? — E.H. (via Internet)

A. Inflate the tires to 5-10 pounds above recommended pressures, fill the gas tank to at least the three-quarters mark and drive it twice a month, but not on wet, salted roads.

Q. Is it true that Enzo Ferrari said that the first Jaguar E-Type (called the XK-E in America) was the most beautiful sports car ever built, although I’ve read that Ferrari didn’t praise any cars except his Ferraris. — J.A. (via Internet)

A. I’ve read the same thing in publications, and it’s possible Enzo Ferrari said that. But keep in mind that the E-Type looked positively sensational (and still does) and that Enzo Ferrari only really cared about his road cars because they helped finance his race car operation. He was just interested in his competition cars and their success. The E-Type never was much of a threat on race tracks, and Ferrari’s few road cars were at least twice as expensive as that Jaguar and much harder to get.

Q. Was Henry Ford I or his son, Edsel, the real “car guy?”— P.W. (Via Internet)

A. Edsel was the real car guy—by a long shot. He loved and encouraged great auto designs and mechanical advances. His stubborn father would have been happy building the Model T forever if it weren’t for competition from Chevrolet and other Ford rivals. Edsel also gave his father good advice, which the old man often ignored. Henry Ford I essentially was a farmer at heart who enjoyed camping trips with friends. Edsel was a man of the world. As for Henry Ford II, he wasn’t a car guy either, but had the good sense to hire talented ones.

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