Monthly Archives: September 2021


Conversations With People We Value #28

A number of weeks back Drivin’ News took a look at the birth and adolescence of the printed new car brochure from 1900 up to World War II.

Mirroring the explosive advancement in automobile design and execution as the Depression ebbed, the new car brochure came of age just as the world plunged into global warfare.

The creative outpouring poised to blossom in automotive literature would stall until millions of men and women would march off to war to save the world from the greatest tyranny civilization had ever faced.

Marked by the exhilaration born of war’s end, American consumerism exploded with an insatiable appetite for things decidedly modern, exciting and innovative.

With a population exhibiting a manifest destiny-like determination to create a better future, the years following WWII ushered in the dawn of the pinnacle period for a dominant American automobile culture and the accompanying golden age of the new car brochure.

As noted in Part I, the dawn of 21st century digital delivery efficiencies would doom the high quality, brilliantly photographed, aesthetically striking and increasingly expensive print bibles of the new car sales effort.

In Part II, Drivin’ News looks back at the high point of the new car brochure genre in the latter 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Evolution of the new car brochure, Paper to Pixel –

Books that sold the American dream

(Part II 1946 to 2010)


1952 Buick brochure

Just like the postwar automobiles they featured, new car brochures in the 1950s radiated a bold vitality with vibrant colors and striking presentations. They embodied the fruits of greater graphic design sophistication, the ready availability of high quality art and the emergence of photography as a powerful creative tool. Brochures grew in size. Artistic representations of new car models grew in size and in scale when compared to the stature of their blissfully confident diminutive drivers and passengers.

Lifestyle dominated every spread with family an important theme. Images on the page in the fifties displayed greater color saturation but continued to be lacking in detail due to period limitations of the printing process.

By the mid-1950s four-color photography gathered support as a tool considered superior to high-end illustration as a source of hero imagery. Research decidedly favored photography over illustration as the superior technique for delivering visual impact.

1956 Thunderbird brochure

Post WWII America, confident, motivated and determined, embraced the automobile. The automobile empowered millions to fuel the explosive growth of suburbs where they could enjoy the fruits of their efforts and live the good life. It was a life vividly displayed throughout period new car brochures. 1950s new car brochures not only sold cars, they trumpeted the achievable rewards of pursuing the postwar American Dream.



1960s to 1974, Muscle cars to gas lines

1960s drag racing

As all those postwar babies started growing up, American culture would convulse through seismic shifts that reconfigured social, environmental and automotive values. Early on, muscle cars burst onto the scene sparking an intense love affair with power, performance and aggressive automotive design. Horsepower wars sounded a steady and loud drum beat heralding escalating competition on the track and on the street. At the same time other Americans gave their hearts and loyalty to small cars especially the Volkswagen. In many ways consensus splintered as perspectives and paths diverged. However, by decades end with environmental and safety restrictions winding down the horsepower, performance and land yacht party, the stage was set for the last nail in the coffin of the mid-century performance joy ride. Enter “The gas crisis.” For new car brochures it was, at first, the best of times and then abruptly the worst of times.

The 1960s witnessed photography supplant illustration as the dominant source of new car brochure imagery. That changing of the guard coincided with two partnerships that stood above all others as giants in the history of automotive promotional imagery.

Fitzpatrick and Kaufman Pontiac art

Illustrators Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman and Boulevard Photographic founders Jimmy Northmore and Mickey McGuire reside in the pantheon of automotive artistry. Fitzpatrick created deliciously distorted visualizations that powerfully expressed a stylized vision of a vehicle’s attributes. Kaufman, a former Disney animator, created evocative lifestyle imagery employing exotic places and attractive, active people. The two then collaborated to combine their separate creations. They did so brilliantly. Their work in creating and promoting Pontiac’s “Wide Track” promotional imagery stands as the signature representation of their artistic genius. In viewing Fitzpatrick’s and Kaufman’s work, most notably for Pontiac from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, there is no doubt who did it.

Boulevard Photographic towered as a creative force thriving on photographic challenges. Boulevard, powered by the collective visionary genius of Northmore and McGuire, literally willed photography into the forefront of automobile commercial imagery.

Printing’s ability to put ink on paper improved significantly during the 1970s as did the finishing process. Breathtaking imagery and exciting graphic design supported by exquisite typography transformed the new car brochure into a dynamic sales tool that offered a new fresh perspective.

Powerful photographic images displaying a driver’s point of view demonstrated a greater emphasis on interior design. The use of coated glossy paper stock with a richer feel became more prevalent. Full color gatefolds pulled out for more powerful presentations.

During this period American showrooms witnessed the appearance of foreign cars, predominantly European. Initially brochure work for imports reflected a conservative approach to layout with design featuring photography that offered a straight forward depiction of a product usually fairly well devoid of romance. This would change as American attitudes towards brochure imagery migrated to Europe. To quote Mickey McGuire of Boulevard Photographic, “We introduced Europeans to sex and romance…at least as far as car advertising is concerned.”

Boulevard Photographic photo for Jaguar

1975 to `1990, The thrill is gone

By the mid-1970s the execution of the traditional automobile new car brochure had reached a point of maturity in design, production and printing. Brochure production had found its groove. The automobile business, on the other hand, was anything but groovy. America’s gas crisis of 1973 and the ensuing 1975 government CAFÉ standards disoriented an automobile industry already stumbling in its response to the restrictions imposed by the creation of the NHTSA in 1966 and the Clean Air Act of 1968.  America’s automobile marketplace would, now, for the most part, offer for sale smaller, slower, often odd looking and frequently badge engineered products often at odds with the traditional interests of the new car buyer.

1982 Cadillac Cimarron

For the new car brochure, the challenge was daunting. Faced with significantly less steak to sell, new car brochures offered a double dose of sizzle with efforts that often emphasized and aggrandized the trivial. Copy sought every possible way to impart excitement to features like smaller engines, overdrive, improved efficiency, weight reduction and the mini-spare. In these dark times for automotive excitement the new car brochure served as the metaphorical “Potamkin Village” of automobile marketing.

After 1975, new car brochures grew larger as horsepower and vehicle dimensions shrank. Bold photography of boring cars filled oversized brochure pages. Striking gatefolds, improved printing, sophisticated page coatings, and perfect bindings did their best to infuse anemic products with life. For some niche brands such as Volvo, the new age of increased safety awareness and clean air concerns benefited sales.

1986 Volvo brochure touting safety cage

Volvo trumpeted its safety design and Lambda-sond emissions control with showroom brochures that were well executed but reserved, just like the brand. Others such as GM suffered from short cut attempts that resulted in underpowered and unreliable diesel engines and unadvertised brand mingling of parts that resulted in embarrassing and apologetic mea culpa copy. However, on the horizon technological advancements in materials, technology and design brought hopes for the light at the end of the dark tunnel of boring cars. However, for the traditional new car brochure, that light would be attached to a distant but onrushing train.


1990s to Today  – Evolution to Revolution

The 1990s ushered in three transformational forces that would challenge the very existence of the new car brochure.

  • Digitization of print design and production
  • Elevated environmental consciousness
  • Rise of the web



Revolutions produce casualties. Digital revolutions are no different. By the turn of the 20th century dead professions littered the field of print design and production. The old ways stood defenseless before the powerful onslaught of digital technology. Digital-based desktop publishing, PageMaker in particular, by the start of this new century would dominate print design and production. Simultaneously CGI or Computer Generated Imagery revolutionized image creation resulting in a profound change in creating product photography. By the early 2000s, CGI made it unnecessary to have the real car to produce a high quality photograph of the car.

Computer generated Image (CGI)

With CGI, brochure images, at most, only needed a background into which a CGI created car image could be placed. As well, the first decade of the 2000s witnessed the ascendance of digital photography (No film, no Polaroids, no processing, no waiting). At the same time, Photoshop revolutionized image modification. Now an already digitally produced photo could be manipulated to reflect a designer’s vision, if not reality.

By the second decade of the 21st century digital presses employing Variable Data Printing equipped a print run to personalize each individual brochure to target a different person. Digital printing quickly supplanted traditional print for short runs and variable data applications.

By 2010, technology allowed for a digitally created PDF of a brochure to be posted to a website where anyone with a web connection and a color printer could download and print the brochure. While of significantly lower quality than a professionally printed brochure, the download gave manufacturers a significantly cheaper alternative to the printed brochure.


Environmental concerns as related to printed matter first moved to the fore in middle 1990s new car brochures. Initially some new car brochures would contain copy proclaiming their efforts to be environmentally responsible.  Next, recycling Icons showed up on back covers. With the dawn of the 2010s the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) icon approached ubiquity on new car brochures. A voluntary program, The Forest Stewardship Council set standards for responsible forest management.

As we approached the third decade, “carbon footprint” has stepped to the fore in the environmental conversation with profound implications for the printed new car brochure and its important role as a messenger of history for future generations.

A peek at the future may have been provided by a columnist for the Wall Street Journal covering a recent World Economic Forum in Davos. He was informed by an aide at the registration  desk that, ”no paper maps of the town were being distributed to reduce the event’s carbon footprint.”

We will return to the implications of that mindset shortly.


Around the late 1990s web addresses began quietly appearing on new car brochure back pages. Initially, websites peacefully coexisted with 1-800 customer service numbers and Business Reply Cards. However, as a new, fertile and promising mediascape for creative applications, websites were quickly embraced and thrived. By the mid-2000s the auto industry fully embraced the power of the web. By the early teens the auto industry harnessed the web with QR codes, e-brochures, configurators and social media networks.

Mercedes-Benz social media page in 2007 brochure

Social media rapidly expanded its influence into automobile marketing. Model year 2012 saw icons for Facebook, Twitter and You Tube prominent on back covers. By 2015 social media had fully embedded itself in the new car buying experience.

Virtual reality headset

Today, analytics reign supreme like a metric tail wagging the marketing dog as manufacturers struggle to harness the potential power resident in the available flood of marketing and social media data. Tomorrow is already knocking on the door with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality applications.


Looking Ahead – The Perfect Storm

Digitization, carbon footprint and the web, Is this the perfect storm that will doom the new car brochure as the ubiquitous sales tool for enticing new car prospects. In a word, yes.

What does the future have in store for the new car brochure? At present, there appears two divergent paths.

For most mass market product lines, the print new car brochure has been replaced by the downloadable e-brochure. Alternatively, hypercar brands distinguished by their performance and exclusivity will offer premium, frequently hard cover print pieces. However, rather than traditional new car brochures, these pieces offer detailed and exciting brand profiles employing production values consistent with the superior quality of the exclusive product.


In our current world where bean counters outrank any individual concerned with quality at the cost of an extra nickel spent, the life prospects of the print brochure equate with the proverbial snow ball’s chance in hell. The wasted money from discarding outdated literature in inventory, the inability to immediately adjust to product changes and the cost of printing and shipping in the face of digital technology efficiencies ensured the rapid disappearance of the new car brochure.

As with all profound changes, the law of unintended consequences rears its head in the disappearance of the new car brochure. While not the intent of the manufacturers, its value as a meaningful record of history cannot be dismissed.

Archiving solutions may require museums and libraries to develop closer relationships with manufacturers in the hope that the OEMs can transfer files to ensure that our museums and libraries have the digital records necessary to continue the valuable role new car brochures fulfilled as messengers of future automotive history.

By |2021-09-30T11:46:13+00:00September 30th, 2021|5 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #22

What is it about a life that defines a person? I have come to believe that the world around us mimics how we define ourselves. While at a large regional classic car and hot rod event, I encountered a man showing a stunning 1912 C-Cab Ford truck hot rod. Knowledgeable, affable and friendly to all, he offered me a look at a gallery of photographs displaying vehicles he had designed and built as well as others he had modified after purchasing them for his collection. He possessed a visionary flair for bringing all types of mobile machinery to life. Clearly from his interactions and conversations with others that I observed, the world viewed him for the respected and gifted hot road visionary and fabricator that he is. Oh yeah and he was in a wheelchair. No big deal, certainly not for him. Meet Rory Sevajian.

A hot rod life defined by abundance not lack


Rory Sevajian with 1912 Ford C-Cab

When Rory Sevajian flashes his ready and welcoming smile, you find yourself drawn in and comfortable in his engaging company. The fact that regardless of the event, he has brought some stunningly unique thundering eye candy that he designed makes him and his creations a magnet for interested observers and show trophies.

His passion for building unique performance and special interest vehicles came to life in Rory’s early teen years.

Rory says, “As a little kid, I was always interested in all these things. I hung around with all the older kids that had cool cars and learned from them.” Also, Rory’s father used to take him to the New York Auto Show at the New York Coliseum in the early 196os.  Rory recalls saying, “I was really young. The cars there were nothing like you’d ever seen before. Even to this day, today when you go to auto shows, there’s no comparison to what was done in the 50s and 60s.”

As a young guy without a lot of money, Rory developed a  philosophy that continues to guide his efforts today. Quote: “Start out with junk and make it into something special.” Almost as a design principle, even Rory’s most striking creations humbly start out as “junk. Then, benefitting from the magic of his transformative vision he brings to life something very special.

So for almost 30 years Rory had transformed “junk” into spectacular vehicles and motorcycles. Then “it“ happened, the accident.

Billet cut rims for Rory’s wheelchair

Rory had, and still has, a tree service business. While on the job, one of his workers, the “saw man,” positioned himself to cut a limb leaning against a second tree. The saw man believed that the second tree was strong enough to hold the limb. It was not. The base of the second and very large tree gave way. Rory says, “The large tree got me from behind. It crushed me on top of a rock garden and exploded my body.” At the hospital doctors told him he was lucky to be alive, but that he would never walk again. As others have related the story, Rory responded saying, “That’s fine with me”. He would not dwell on his loss. It would not stop Rory from building spectacular vehicles and having cool toys.

To continue in the pursuit of his lifetime pleasure of building eye popping vehicles, Rory did have to adapt.

Rory says, “The only thing where I really have a problem is with the body work and paint.” In the old days he would do all of that himself, however with the limitations of the chair, he now sends it out to be done. He concedes that his only other limitation is faced when trying to get things down from the high shelves. As before his accident, anything he does not know how to do, he has friends who do.

When it comes to fabrication and building, Rory designs, creates and assembles most of the pieces that give his creations their unique character. Rory says, “The visual magic resides in the details and the execution.” He will spend months refining an idea to enhance a creation and then seamlessly integrate it into the design. Emblematic of Rory’s creativity and attention to detail evidences itself in his 1912 Ford C-Cab hot rod.

“I always wanted a C-Cab. I love the way they look, “Says Rory. Over the years Rory always had his eye out for a steel body not a fiber glass repro. Then about six-years ago, one surfaced in upstate New York. He could not resist the siren’s song of an available steel body C-Cab. He drove upstate. Taking one look, love filled his heart and a vision stirred his soul. Rory says, It was rough and the suspension was falling out of it.” Undaunted he negotiated a deal and trailered the truck home. Rory smiles as he repeats his mantra, “Remember, start with junk end up with something very special.” He certainly did.

Job one had Rory totally dismantle the vintage truck. With the truck apart, his vision took hold. With a chassis rebuild that included a totally new suspension completed, his attention turned to the power train.

The big block 460 cu. in. V8 that came with the truck had side pipes. “Rory says, “I chopped them off because I couldn’t get in and out of the truck with my wheelchair.” Historically Rory always liked the gasser look with headers sporting a big bell on the end. Why not on the C-Cab he thought. He had the stripped down pipes, the flanges and the bell. Rory says, “It took me five hours to heat up and bend the contour and complete welding the pipes to the Bell, but it came out perfect. I sent it out for chroming. Once back I put some motorcycle baffles in it. And that was it.”

For carburetion the name of Drivin’ News fave “Carburetor Steve” plays a significant role. Rory took off the old four-barrel and installed a rare one-of-a-kind tunnel ram designed by a NASA engineer with a manifold that accepted three Holly 550 two-barrel carburetors. Carburetor Steve played a significant role in fine tuning the system.

Throughout the completed execution, Rory’s signature jeweler’s eye for detail and visual impact is in evidence from the unique wheels to the paint and pin striping.

Looking at his creation Rory says, “I love that truck. I love the truck. It’s more of a driver than something for really racing. However, see it coming down the road, it’s spectacular. It snaps necks.” He continues, “It has that, you know. Sex appeal.” He just smiles. But for generating bystander smiles nothing outdoes Rory’s “Train.”

The Train story begins with Rory’s custom motorcycle that he transformed from a two–wheel bike to a three-wheel “trike” after his accident. The story concludes years later with a custom articulated train of four trailered vehicles and a custom tow car that Rory drives to hot rod shows.

After his accident, Rory, a died-in-the-wool motorcyclist, looked at his custom personally designed two-wheel creation and knew he must transform it into an even more outrageous three-wheel “trike.”

Rory admits his final creation is more about looks than ridability, but oh how it looks!

Rory does acknowledge that a lot of money has been spent in places no one can see. Rory says, “All the real money hides inside the engine on this trike – S&S flywheel and rods, S&S oversized barrels, a really nasty Leineweber cam, Manley tulip valves and Manley triple valve springs.” Then he decided that he wanted more juice. So he went with 80-inch heads and drilled them for four spark plugs and put a Dyna III Electronic Ignition in it. Rory says, “I’m running dual coils to deal with the four plugs. The trike also has an open belt drive and high performance clutches.

When it came time to make it a trike, Rory simply pulled out a Sawzall and cut the back off. Rory’s first attempt grafted on a servi-car rear end. Police trikes and ice cream trikes used them. However, they did not suit Rory’s three-wheeled beast. Rory says, “When I let the clutch out it was idling at 50 mph. It was not a good thing.” Rory found a good solution in mixing and matching rear axle parts and tire sizes. Now, he can cruise down the highway at 60 mph without the motor screaming. Above and beyond traditional upgrades Rory has innovated some very special adaptations so that he would be able to ride the trike since he was paralyzed from the ribs down.

Rory says, “When I got hurt, I had to figure a way to ride since I couldn’t put my foot down.” Rory‘s solution provided for a handbrake on the handlebars and his own custom made shifter and clutch on the shifter. To do this he needed to incorporate a big bore master cylinder to compensate because the hand does not have the power of the foot necessary to squeeze the dual piston brake caliper on the rear wheel. Other than that the only other adaptation required was floorboards because he has to strap his feet down. Rory says, “When you’re paralyzed like me, you have to strap your feet because if your foot falls off, you don’t know it. You then can run over it like I did with my trike. I shattered my ankle. I learned the need for that adaptation the hard way.”

Which brings the story back around to the Train. Some years back Rory brought his trike to the Waldwick New Jersey Car Show. He says, “It all started when I took the trike to the show. I didn’t even enter and they handed me a trophy. I thought that’s pretty cool.” Rory really liked the people at the show. Since he was building a hot rod that would be done next year he thought  maybe he would do something special for next year’s Waldwick Show. The following year he brought his custom 1931 Ford sedan towing the trike. After winning at that show he realized that he wanted to bring something new each year. Thus, the idea of the Train came to life. Now, for seven years he has brought something different every single year. He just keeps adding on. All vehicles share an eye grabbing red metal flake, black and chrome theme enhanced with tasteful pin striping and bold graphics.

1931 Ford sedan hot rod tow car   

Rory says, “Some years back a friend of mine says, you need a four-door car so you can put your wheelchair behind the seat.” The search began.  Soon another friend found a suitable sedan in California. It was in rough condition. Perfect! Start with junk. Rory says, “ It was a little bit twisted, a little banged up, could use a floor. Sold! It turned out to be an unusual 1931½ Murray bodied Ford sedan made in Canada. Rory especially liked some of the more refined details on the Murray body. He says, “I just loved it. I thought I gotta have this.”

An enormous amount of time and hand crafting proved well worth the effort with the end result being a unique red metal flake hand crafted sedan with sunroof, custom stitched interior and a Chevy small block with a radical cam, Sanderson headers and three deuces set up by “Carburetor Steve.”

For the rear, Rory hand shaped a custom tow hitch for the trike’s front wheel.


All elements of the TRAIN started as discards in a state of disrepair better known as “junk”. Each vehicle’s exquisitely finished form shares a red metal flake, black and chrome color scheme with pin stripe accents, bold graphics and a name.

1931 ½ Ford sedan hot rod tow car –  (DRAGIN’)

Custom trike – Assembled from pieces collected over the 45 years (MOVING VIOLATION)

1964 Chaparral go-kart – Resurrected from North Carolina junk yard (OUTCAST)

1981 Mini Bike – Rusty castoff (JUVENILE DELINQUENT)

1965 Speed boat – Battered hull found in Mays Landing, NJ (MISS BEHAVIN)

The greatest surprise for most people comes when hearing Rory explain how easy the Train is to maneuver. Rory says, “It is the most comfortable thing to drive. I could turn around in a 20-foot area.” Unlike a tractor trailer, all trailers in the train are short trailers. Each individual axle simply follows. Rory says, “You can make unbelievable, tight turns, as tight as you could turn the car.

Rory setting up the Train

Even more unbelievable? Rory can set up the whole train by himself. His sedan with a back seat for his wheelchair makes him totally self-sufficient. He can hook up all these trailers himself and with no problem because they’re all lightweight trailers. He can pick up the trailer tongue by himself and use his wheelchair like a yard tug to maneuver each trailer. Rory says, “I put it on the footrest between my legs, right? And I can actually maneuver around and roll them around. They go where I want them to go.”

In reflecting on his life as a hot rod designer and fabricator Rory says, “You got to love what you do. You got to be able to sit there and make your own parts and be resourceful. You have to seek solutions that look cool that you can transfer to enhance the vehicle that you are making.”

When it is pointed out that some people, maybe most people, would not have such a great attitude as he, Rory says, “I hear that all the time. You know, I was always a crazy kid, always doing something wild and having fun and enjoying myself. You know, okay. I got hurt. I’m still alive. I’m still breathing. I’m just going to keep having fun till I die.


The “Train” with Rory’s friend Vinny Polina watching out

At the large regional Hot Rod Show that Rory can be seen driving to in the above photo he returned with trophies for:





By |2021-09-16T12:13:34+00:00September 16th, 2021|11 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #27

Many things that were once commonplace, today, we now hold dear for their rarity. Such things as having a live and informed person respond quickly when we call customer service, or an auto parts store owned by a family not a franchise or a gas station attendant not speaking on an ear bud to a friend 10,000 miles away, all were once accepted as a given.

Now for those of us old enough to remember a time when superior craftsmanship merited respect and a plentitude of business, we sadly note the dwindling presence of those practicing craftsmen. That so few of these skilled experts at combining art and engineering exist seems incomprehensible in a way that shocks our sensibilities.

Drivin’ News believes in the importance of recognizing the remaining gifted and dedicated craftsmen who sustain our passion for the enjoyment and preservation of classic vehicles. Meet Charlie Olsen, owner of Olsen Engines.

The man they trust to rebuild history

Charlie Olsen with Ferrari Daytona engine

Disarmingly genial and engaging, Charlie Olsen resides within the sparse ranks populating the pantheon of active “go-to” machinists and classic vehicle engine rebuilders.

Charlie Olsen working on Honda 250cc engine

Though chockablock with exotic engines, parts and pieces, Charlie’s Olsen Engines shop somehow projects a reassuring sense of confident orderliness. Since opening for business in 1982 Olsen Engines, has been entrusted by some of the world’s most famous people and most respected professionals to work on some of the world’s most treasured automobile, motorcycle and inboard marine engines.

Maintaining a shockingly youthful exuberance for his passion to bring mortally wounded high performance and exotic engines back from the dead, 67-year old Charlie was born to excel at the work he loves.

Charlie says, “I always had a love for gas engines. By eight or nine-years old I was fixing all of the lawn mowers on the block.” If he found a mower that did not run, he would make it run. By the age of twelve Charlie had graduated to motorcycles. He says, “I bought some old cycles cheap and got them to run.” From then on Charlie’s budding talents for curing the ills of anything that ran on gas blossomed into full bloom.

Ferrari 4-Cylinder

In high school a stint at a local gas station exposed him to the challenges of rebuilding transmissions. He excelled. By 1976 Charlie’s employer at the time, Competition Research of Nyack, New York, closed and a Suzuki dealership took its placed. Charlie accepted the new owner’s invitation to stay and took the opportunity to work on the dealership’s motorcycles and the cars that the owner raced. The experience allowed Charlie to hone his engine rebuilding skills. When the Suzuki dealership closed in 1982, Charlie took over the facility, opened Olsen Engines and the rest is history.

When entering Charlie’s shop one never knows what museum worthy piece of motoring history will be awaiting final touches in advance of shipping. On one prior visit when I was bringing the heads for my 1961 Corvette small block to be rebuilt, I spotted three extraordinary and completed engines poised to bring to life significant examples of the mid-twentieth century’s golden age of motoring.

Glickenhaus GT40

All painted, plated and perfect, there sat a 1972 V-12 for a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona, a 331 cu. in. hemi for the first Chrysler 300 and a truly rare Aurelio Lampredi designed dual distributor 4-cylinder for a mid-fifties Ferrari 750 Monza. For Olsen, these extraordinary power plants intended for automotive royalty represented just another day. More about these gems later.

Emblematic of Charlie’s easy going self-effacing nature, he explains his philosophy saying, “I just try to do it as best as I can, maybe try to do it even better than I have done it before. Certainly I want to do it better than anyone else.”

When asked about the difficulty of working on a vintage engine that he may never have seen before, Charlie’s response innocently betrays his humility in addressing how his natural gifts,

Ferrari Daytona

years of experience and work ethic inform his approach to accurately resurrecting a piece of engineering history.

He says, “It is all about paying attention to detail.” He speaks about the existence of subtle nuances present with every engine. He says, “If you know of them it becomes mechanical. You can figure it out. After all a four-stroke engine is a four-stroke engine.”

When asked about the kind of nuances other people might miss Charlie easily rolls off a litany of subtle yet meaningful attributes. They include cylinder wall finish, honing procedures, valve guide material, valve seat material, material used in cylinder heads, fastener torque, sizing for crank bearings and roundness of main bores and rod bores.

Chrysler 300

In applying his expertise for famous restoration shops and famous people like Billy Joel, Jim Glickenhaus (Glickenhaus Collection), Craig

Jackson (Barrett-Jackson), Ralph Lauren, Michael Strahan and David Letterman among many others, Charlie has put his stamp on extraordinary milestones in automotive history.

Over its almost 40 years in business, Olsen Engines has seen a wide diversity of exotic and historically significant engines pass through the hands of Charlie. The following examples offer a taste of the performance bounty that has benefitted from Charlie’s touch.

1966 Ford GT40

In sorting out the exact provenance, it has been represented that this big block GT40 identified

Ferrari 750 Monza

as car #4 was one of the three that finished one, two, three at LeMans in 1966. Later research may have indicated that it was one that ran in 1967. At that time of the rebuild it was the only one of the GT40s that had the engine rebuilt. It had been sent to Charlie to do balance work, crank work and block work

Mid-1950s Ferrari 750 Monza

Though a 3-liter 4-cylinder, the engine was a strong performer that ran nearly as fast as the V-12 cars. Charlie says, “I just did the top end. I was getting the clearances right on the bevel drive for the whole front of the engine with the bevel drive operating the generator and both distributors. That engine had two distributors. Finally I had to set up the valve clearances.

That engine was pretty different because it’s a roller cam. It was something I had never come across before.”


1955 Chrysler 300

Charlie has done a number of early hemis. He says, “They have their idiosyncrasies, a couple of little oiling issues and strength issues.” For the most part the ones he has done were rebuilt for stock performance.

Ferrari 166M

Powering a very rare Ferrari, this engine comes from a late 1940’s model produced before Enzo Ferrari got into the street car business. With a 2-liter Colombo V-12, It’s intention was for racing in events such as the Mille Miglia. Charlie says, “The small bore, small stroke Colombo engine was quite interesting.”

The old Colombo style valve springs on it offered a very unusual “mousetrap” design.

Ferrari 166M

It differs from your usual coil because the spring has two arms that come around to hold the valve up.

1990s Vector

Currently Charlie has turned his attention to the engine of a very interesting rare supercar from the early 1990s, a Vector. The 358 fuel injected Chevrolet power plant features a twin-turbocharged design. Charlie says, “ I think there may only be 10 or so of these cars in existence.”

Honda 250cc motorcycle engine

This six cylinder motorcycle engine represents one of only three made and the only one not in the Honda museum.

Raced in 250cc class and GP motorcycle racing during the early 1970s, it is a 250cc, 6-cylinder, four-valves per cylinder engine with a 7-speed transmission. It idles at about 11,000 RPM and will run up to seventeen or eighteen thousand RPMs.

Big Block Grenades

Charlie has done his part for outrageous engines with four figure horsepower builds. He built a number of 2,000 HP turbocharged and blown race engines for Camaros and Mustangs. However, his most vivid description of work he did he describes as “Big Block Grenades.”

Reasons for a rebuild

Charlie recalls in the 1990s how clients for really high horsepower drag race engines wanted to have 4 to 6 thousandths of main clearance. Charlie recalls, “The customers wanted to have a bit more freedom to allow things to move around inside the engine.” Charlie continues, “ I would take these engines apart and you could just see how hard the engines had been working.” At the most these engines stood to hold up for 10 to maximum 20 runs.

Often in engine building the topic of balancing and blueprinting comes up. Charlie certainly shared some interesting insights. He says, “Back in the 1980s when I was running in the IMSA Fire Hawk series I could go through blue printing processes on a 305 cu. in. 200 HP Chevy small block and get an additional 125 HP without changing any parts.” It simply stood as a matter of maximizing compression within the rules and getting all cylinders equal. He did a lot of flow test work to achieve that balance.

Balancing called for individually balancing all rotating and reciprocating parts both statically and dynamically for the smoothest possible operation. Blueprinting called for rebuilding an engine to the precise OEM specs by re-machining each component to the precise measurement in the factory blueprint.

In discussing engine rebuilding for 21st century modern engines Charlie says, He does not recommend rebuilding an engine for a stock production vehicle. He recommends simply buying a new engine.” Interestingly Charlie says that OEM production techniques have improved so much that modern engines are close to blueprint quality due to the superior production and inspection technology used today.

In reflecting on the his ongoing goals Charlie says, “I hope I never stop learning. I hope that I can always keep trying to improve so that my engine work reflects the pinnacle of my capabilities.” Smiling and showing a sliver of self-satisfaction Charlie says, “I just love it. It’s a passion.”

In reflecting on his future Charlie says, “I’m thinking about slowing down a little bit and maybe just taking on, you know, a couple of projects a year. However, I don’t think I’m gonna ever stop as long as I am capable of doing the work.” Flashing a big grateful smile He says, “I just love the diversity of all the different engines that I get to work on. Almost every day I get something unique come through the door.”

While Charlie acknowledges that what he does can be taught, he clearly believes that, like the art of great musicians, much of the magic he brings to his work is realized through gifts with which he was born.

Undeniably, audiences of classic car owners and drivers revere the tune that an engine rebuilt by Charlie Olsen sings on open roads and closed tracks alike.


By |2021-09-02T12:45:22+00:00September 2nd, 2021|5 Comments