Jason Wenig and his team at The Creative Workshop are known for restoring and, on occasion, for mechanically updating classic sports cars. Their skills are considerable. Consider, for example, that they created -- from scratch -- the BLS1 Sport Speciale, a modernized tribute to the famed Ferrari TR60, or that they currently are getting a rare 1955 Ghia-Aigle Alfa Romeo 1900 CSS ready to roll onto the fairway this summer at Pebble Beach.
But for all Wenig's expertise with post-war sports cars, " ‘this' is the coolest project I've done," he said.
"This" (see photo of the model) is a brand new interpretation of the brass-era electric car. Wenig and the workshop are working on the prototype for what would become a fleet of around 70 such vehicles to carry passengers through and around New York's Central Park.
"I want people to have the feeling I got the first time I walked up to a 1910 Pierce Arrow at Amelia Island and got goose bumps," says Wenig, a native New Yorker who moved to southern Florida to open his automotive restoration workshop.
"Personally, this era, cars of the brass era, the turn of the [19th] century, is my favorite era of car, hands down," Wenig said.
"The main reason why it tugs at me so much is the forensic aspect of recreating a car that doesn't exist anymore," he explained. "The day before these cars, people are on horses. The day after, they have a car. It's not really that anyone knew this was going to work. At the time, this was a crazy idea."
And once that idea was established, Wenig added, everything else was and basically ever since has been just a matter of adding "bells and whistles."
"This was the era of trial and error, to see if this idea would work," he said, adding that it also was an era of creative craftsmanship.
"You can see the hammer marks on the metal."
The "21st Century Horseless Carriage" project is being backed by New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NY-Class), a non-profit, animal-rights and political-action group which has been working since 2008 to find a way to replace the horse-drawn carriages as New York tourist attractions.
"It is cruel to have animals working in midtown traffic and then go back to stalls," said Allie Seldman, NY-Class director. "People think they live in Central Park. But they actually live in a worn-down tenement building by the West Side Highway, and have to turn onto the highway to get back to those stables."
The horses' working conditions include exhaust-polluted air and a surprising number of carriage-car collisions. Even after they are finished pulling carriages, "many end up going to slaughter plants," she added.
Activists have been trying to halt the horse-drawn carriages for at least two decades, she said. What makes NY-Class different is that it has worked with, not against, the carriage drivers. The plan is to retire the horses, but to keep the drivers employed, just trading reins for a steering wheel.
"I'm a native New York and I happen to be an animal lover," Wenig said, adding that he and his wife have two dogs they rescued from the pound. "But," he added, "I'm trying to focus on the car aspect of it."
And there's plenty of that to consume Wenig's focus. Not only does he have to create a vehicle that looks like it was built a century ago, he has to make sure that vehicle meets Dept. of Transportation and NHTSA regulations and is sturdy enough to carry as many as nine people and survive the abuse of New York streets and traffic (see CAD image).
Both are reasons why Wenig needs to build new vehicles rather than try to find and restore old ones, which, he notes, were built to carry only a couple of people, people who were much smaller than people tend to be today.
In the process, Wenig has become something of an expert on electric propulsion systems.
"I'm not trying to impress that I'm the smartest guy or an MIT electrical engineer," he said. "I'm just trying to deliver a car that works."
He's not trying to re-invent the wheel, or to develop new electric vehicle technology. He notes that his vehicles only need to be able to cruise the park at 5 miles per hour and reach a top speed of around 35 on regular roads.
"Golf carts, mining carts and fork lifts work every single day," he said. "They don't catch fire. They do their job. That's the theory behind the technology we want to use," albeit with lithium-ion-phosphate batteries rather than lead acid cells.
As in the olden days, the wooden floor of The Creative Workshop will serve as a surface plate for the prototype build (see photo). The outline of the frame and the position of some major components already have been laid out on the floor. Wenig anticipates having a prototype ready for dynamic testing sometime next spring.
Historic Model T plant open for tours
Henry Ford's Piquette Avenue Plant, the birthplace of the Model T, has reopened as a museum and education center. Built in 1904, the plant is the only early American auto plant open to the public.
Of special interest is the third floor -- virtually unchanged from a century ago -- where visitors can see where the first 12,000 Model Ts were assembled. Also open are Henry Ford's "secret room," his original office. Several early automobiles are on display, including a Piquette-built Model T.
"The museum provides a rare insight into Detroit's early automobile history," said Nancy Darga, executive director of the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. "Staffed by volunteers, the museum complex is open to the public from April through October."
The museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.; Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., and Sundays from noon until 4:00 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. For information, visit www.tplex.org.
Auctions America tops $2.2 million at Carlisle
With a fuel-injected and "big-brake" 1959 Chevrolet Corvette bringing $148,500, Auction America's auction held in conjunction with Carlisle Events Spring collector car swap meet and corral did more than $2.2 million in sales.
More than 53 percent of lots sold, and more than a third of bidders were first-timers.
Chevrolets were responsible for the top three sales: the '59 big-brake, a 1963 split-window Corvette ($96,250) and a 1962 Bel Air 409 ($85,800). Other top sales included $74,250 for a 2007 Shelby GT500 Super Snake and $70,500 for a 1999 Bentley Azure.
Garage-found E-type tops Bonhams at RAF Museum
A 1961 Jaguar E-type roadster that had been hidden away in a garage for more than 30 years sold for $171,000 -- triple its pre-auction estimate -- at the Bonhams' sale at the RAF Museum in England.
The Jag was a very early-production example and among the oldest surviving roadsters with right-hand steering. The odometer showed only 65,000 miles.
Next on the agenda...
May 9-11 -- Auctions America at Auburn (Indiana) Auction Park
May 14-19 -- Mecum Spring at Indiana State Fairgrounds
May 18 -- Bonhams at Aston Martin
May 24-26 -- RM auction at Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este
Click here for event calendar.
Click here for more articles by Larry Edsall.