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RIP A.B. Shuman – Hot Rodder, Historian, Mercedes-Benz PR Rep

May 10, 13 • by Craig Fitzgerald • Vintage Cars12 CommentsRead More »

AB Shuman LeadSad news for the hot-rodding community: East Coast hot-rodding historian A.B. Shuman has passed away.

Shuman was a long-time public relations master at Mercedes-Benz during the 1970s and 1980s, and influenced the careers of many people who still represent major car brands today. But his true passion was hot rodding, especially the hot rods of his native New England.

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“The Golden State may have been the place to which we all looked,” he wrote in his great book Cool Cars, Square Roll Bars, “but the plain fact is the majority of the hot rodding movement’s adherents lived outside the Promised Land.

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“New England cars had their own special look (low), natural enemies (a six-month going season, the conservative establishment) and challenges (distance from the aforementioned center of things, state vehicle inspections). Yet, in its report on New England’s first big drag race, the 1955 NHRA Safety Safari meet in Orange, Massachusetts, Hot Rod observed, ‘…this general area now leads California in the number of on-the-street hot rods — good equipment, too.’”

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I was lucky enough to spend time with A.B. Shuman when he and his brother Bernie were telling stories and promoting their book in 1998 at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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He was New England’s hot rodding advocate, along with the likes of Ken Gross. He’ll be missed.

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12 Responses to RIP A.B. Shuman – Hot Rodder, Historian, Mercedes-Benz PR Rep

  1. Great story. Makes me wish I had met the man. And who knew New England was so cool?

  2. Jim Donnelly says:

    Amen, Craig. I had many pleasant times with A.B., who did a lot to mentor me in my career. Dryly witty, hugely intelligent, and knowledgable beyond description. I was proud to call him a friend and I will miss him enormously.

  3. Jay HIrsch says:

    A B had one of the sharpest, wittiest minds around if not the sharpest.
    His dry sense of humor was a gift from God as was A B a gift to all of us. With his famed aviator goggles he could be seen driving his coral colored 1927 whether the temperature was 92 or 32.
    A B earned those goggles by the way as he was pilot in the Navy.

    Arnie Baer
    keep on cruisin at that big track in the sky
    your friend
    Jay Hirsch

    • Craig Fitzgerald says:

      Jay:

      Thanks for visiting and commenting. I’ve seen your name quite a few times over the years, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t met. I remember seeing photos you took of the SL John Fitch drove, right?

      Craig Fitzgerald

  4. Hank Bernstein says:

    I knew A.B. mostly from a Northern New Jersey Car Show and Cruise Night standpoint. He always had great stories to tell and shared much knowledge and wit with all he met. I loved his real hot rod and he admired my Lakes Modified Project Car, that meant a lot to me…
    We were introduced professionally years ago by my good friend and co-worker Craig Morningstar our PR Manager at ALFA Romeo Inc. where I worked for many years.
    A.B. was first and foremost a Hot Rodder with great knowledge, insight and enthusiasm. He and his ’27 ‘T’ were a very familiar sight at many events and as Jay said, the goggles (and flyers cap and ear protection) were always with him! We all will miss him and his car and wish his family and friends our deepest heartfelt condolences. CRUISE!

    • Craig Fitzgerald says:

      Great comments, Hank. Thanks for visiting.

      What did you do for Alfa Romeo?

    • Hank Bernstein says:

      Craig,
      I was there from ’78 to 91 in numerous positions such as U.S. Engineering (worked for Don Black) / Safety and Emissions Certification, Service, Service Ops., Euro Delivery, Product Training etc.Hank

  5. Woody Woodruff says:

    It is so shocking and saddening to learn that A. B. has died. He and I go WAY back in Navy times – I first met A. B. on our 2nd class midshipman “cruise” (sic) in 1960 – this one was the land-locked one where we played Marine at Little Creek VA for several weeks, then played Naval Aviator at Corpus Christi for a similar time. The latter experience must have stuck with us both, because both A. B. and I wound up in aviation, flying the same type airplane. This was the P2V Neptune, a fine old WWII vintage “patrol bomber”, much modified over the decades to become the Navy’s main antisubmarine aircraft, until it was displaced by the P3 about 50 years ago, about the time A. B. and I came into the fleet.

    A. B. and I were not in the same squadron, nor even in very close locations. He was in VP-23 in Brunswick Maine, and I was in VP-7 in Jacksonville Florida. But we managed to run into one another many times over the Navy years – in flight training in Pensacola and Corpus Christi, in training schools in Norfolk, during happenstance detachments like when A. B. and others from VP-23 came through Jacksonville in 1966, on deployment in Sigonella, Sicily and Rota, Spain, and other times. I always looked forward to running into A. B. His wry (you might say, somewhat twisted) sense of humor was something I valued greatly. We shared an interest in cars, although A. B. made it a profession and I was only a dabbler. And we both had a certain, ah, skepticism about authority. This didn’t always stand us in good stead with the Navy, as you might imagine. In that regard, the following is a story that A. B. shared with me back in ’07. It is vintage A. B., and it speaks for itself:

    “Woody,

    One dark time at the Drag and Eat pad….Ooops. Wrong story.

    We had a three-plane detachment at KWEST, with one a/c per day tasked
    (wow!) with patrolling the waters around Cuba (north side only) and
    shipping lanes inward. Anyway, those of us not flying were by the pool
    getting a brief from the OinC on special trust and confidence one
    afternoon. A couple of F4′s in formation came into view overhead,
    thence each executed snap-roll break. Wow, we all thought. A bit later
    our brothers in a Neptune came in and lazily executed what looked like
    a 2-degree-bank break. “How pathetic,” I said to my PPC (I was the
    CoP). “We can do better.”

    “Tomorrow’s your turn to fly,” he said. (He was very good about
    alternating time in the left seat.) “How about 45-deg. of bank?” I
    asked. We agreed the speed into the break would have to be higher than
    the NATOPS-stipulated 150 kts to avoid getting too close abeam the r/w
    on the d/w leg. At 210, max. for 10-deg. flaps as I recall, we figured
    things would balance out. That was about all the planning we did
    beforehand.

    Coming back to KWEST, westbound at 1500 feet and 210 kts, jets flaming,
    sun glaring thru the caked salt obscuring the windscreen, we got an
    unrequested clearance for a straight-in approach. “Request a break,”
    said my PPC, determined to see how this would play out. It was OK’d,
    and we made a big 180 around the area. Just as we were approaching end
    of the runway, peeps asked, “Want to try the spoilers?” I had never
    even been a P2 when the spoilers were used, let alone used them.
    “Sure,” I said, and he flipped them on. A couple of seconds of seconds
    later I chopped the throttles, the jets went to idle, did a fast roll
    left, at 45 deg. in one smooth motion, quickly rolling wings level as
    the Neptune executed a perfect 180. We were a little high, 1200 feet I
    think, and the speed was way above the 155 kts for gear down, but
    distance abeam the r/w was right on. I continued with the throttles
    off, making a rolling turn onto final, (adding more flaps as each lower
    limit was reached) but speed still too high for putting the gear down.
    Until very short final. The gear locked into place as we crossed the
    start of the pavement. The LSO was standing, legs apart, hands on hips,
    mouth open, in front of his little phone booth. We touched down on the
    picket fence, in a greaser of a landing.

    Neither of us mentioned it again….until now.

    A.B.”

    That was A. B. – in an airplane or a race car. After the Navy I lost track of A. B. for many decades. Then the internet made it possible to locate old friends. A. B. and I got in touch on the early ’00′s and exchanged email stories, lies, music arcaneia, and trivia taunts over the last 10 years and more. Our last email exchange was 20 days ago. We both expected to get together before long. You never know.

  6. I first knew A.B. via his position at Mercedes-Benz of North America (as it was then known). I was then practically an amateur automotive magazine editor/publisher, but I soon realized that he was The Ultimate Professional PR Guy. Later, as I got to know him, I realized that his broad range of talents covered writing, hot-rodding, gentle persuasion, and the most subtle form of humor that you could imagine. He wrote letters on the self-created letterheads of the most amazing imaginary companies. His puns were instant yet priceless.

    A.B.’s wit matched his integrity, and his professionalism was matched by his modesty. Once I made a stupid faux-pas in the magazine, and he had the job of officially calling me out on it. He did so with grace and skill, and afterward we remained friends and respected each other even more. No other PR guy had his subtle skills, and he was the man who did the grunt work that created the golden image that Mercedes-Benz enjoyed with the automotive press.

    After he was unfairly dumped by some hot-shot newcomer boss at MBNA. we stayed in touch and had some fun, even ran the Colorado Grand together. His book, Cool Cars and Square Rollbars, is now a collector’s item. If only he could have written a similar book about Mercedes-Benz; he knew all the stories, but he was too much of a gentleman to air them.

    His MBNA compatriot Maryalice Ritzmann said it best: “Look up ‘integrity’ in the dictionary, and there’s a picture of A.B”

    An amazing man, the finest professional I’ve ever known.

  7. Bernie Shuman says:

    Thanks for all the fond remembrances of my brother.

    Bernie Shuman