To mark the launch of the 2019 Formula 1 series, we take a historical look at every Grand Prix champion driver, and marque since 1950
Back when the roads were ruled by two-toned, chromed, firedomed machines
Cadillac – the mere mention of the name conjures imagery of luxurious, extravagant automotive style. This despite the fact it’s been decades since the marque lost preeminence as one of the world’s great luxury cars. Yet today’s pop stars continue to make reference to Cadillac as symbols of coolness and style - as Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones did decades ago. Clearly, the mystique has survived despite the brand itself being considered second rate for much of the past forty years. When Cadillac is mentioned as a synonym for success and style, it’s implicit that what is being referred to are cars from the 1950s through to the 1970s – the years when style and road presence were as important to owners as luxury. The fact the brand has survived at all is arguably a testament to the aura that surrounds that magical name – Cadillac (named for the French explorer who founded Detroit in the early 18th century - Antoine Laumet de la Mothe de Cadillac)
Only those lucky enough to have owned a post war Cadillac from, say, 1949 through to the early seventies, can fully appreciate how good the automobiles actually were. Europeans may have scoffed at their size and soft suspension, but no European car could come close to Cadillac style. No true luxury car made anywhere could compete in terms of cost, features, power, size or numbers’ produced. During the peak years – the mid to late 1960s – Cadillac was churning out over 200,000 cars annually – an astonishing figure when you consider 98% were sold in the US alone. The real bumper year was the swansong for the 1960s, Cadillac shifting an incredible 278,000 units the same year as Woodstock and Altamont - 1969. Sales figures for the marque's only domestic rivals, Imperial and Lincoln, were less than a quarter of Cadillac’s output - combined.
What the Europeans didn’t understand was how advanced these American behemoths actually were. Without doubt, Cadillac's from the golden period were the most technologically advanced mass produced cars in the world. Not in the sense of pure engineering, for the Citroen ID19 and BMC Mini were more advanced designs that any Cadillac, but rather in the modern manufacturing methods and sheer array of factory options. American automobile production techniques were far ahead of anyone else until the Japanese & Germans caught up in the 1970s. Until then, Cadillac represented the absolute pinnacle not only of General Motors, but all Detroit.
To view these symbols of American success as nothing more than ostentatious displays of wealth is to do them a great disservice. For under the vast expanse of elaborately pressed metal, Cadillac's bristled with the sort of technology only the Americans were capable of producing en masse. Not only were the cars advanced, they were superbly engineered. Though hardly standard bearers for road holding or braking, for those were not high on the priorities of Detroit engineers, the technology fitted to these cars was thoroughly engineered and tested (a notable exception being the trouble prone air suspension of the late 1950s, Cadillac eventually withdrawing the option in 1960)
In 1949 Cadillac introduced the superb 331 cubic inch ohv V8 that gave it a performance edge over all other domestic cars bar sister division Oldsmobile (its’ own new V8 offering marginally quicker times due to the Rocket 88 sedan being lighter than the Caddie) For sheer horsepower – the Cadillac V8 was supreme, at least until the arrival of the Chrysler Hemi.
An all new V8 was released in 1963 that was lighter, easier to service and more powerful. Upped from 390 to 429 cubic inches in ’64, at 340 horsepower and a prodigious 480 lbs/ft of torque, for its weight it was the most powerful production engine in the world. A Car Life road test of the 1964 Sedan De Ville was timed at 8.4 seconds for the 0-60mph dash, covering the quarter mile in an impressive 16.4 seconds, all with a test weight of 5,230 pounds.
The list of Cadillac innovations is truly impressive, from being among the first to mass produce a V8 as far back as 1914, to building the world’s only V16 in the pre-war period. They were the first manufacturer to introduce a fully synchronised manual transmission – in 1928. If prospective buyers decided they didn’t want to shift gears, from 1941 Cadillac offered a 4 speed automatic. The automatic transmission (first offered by Oldsmobile in 1940) was hailed at the time as the biggest automotive advance since the introduction of the self starter (itself first offered commercially in 1912 by, you guessed it - Cadillac). The Hydramatic was so much better than anything else that from 1952 Rolls Royce built their own version under license (eventually deciding to purchase transmissions direct from GM shortly after the release of the Silver Shadow in 1966)
After being the first to pioneer a headlight dip switch that didn’t require a driver to get out of the car (in 1917) Cadillac was also the first, along with Oldsmobile, to offer an automatic headlight dimmer as an option on their 1952 model range. Known as the ‘Autronic Eye’ – the system was overly sensitive to light sources such as streetlamps and was replaced with a more reliable system in 1958 known as GuideMatic. The new version enabled a driver to adjust the sensitivity, or override it altogether. By the mid 1960s buyers could choose ‘Twilight Sentinel’ for fully automated headlight function – turning the lights on at dusk, and off again at dawn. It also incorporated a variable delay to allow the headlights to remain on for up to 90 seconds after the motor was switched off to see a driver safely to his or her front door.
Chrysler beat Cadillac to the punch by barely a year with the introduction in 1951 of the first commercially available (hydraulic) power steering option. In 1965 Cadillac offered variable ratio power steering on its’ crisply styled 1965 range. The new steering setup finally gave Cadillac the sort of straight line stability that gave a driver confidence to cruise at 100-plus mph. According to road tests of the time, the 5,000 pound (2,250 kilos) cars handled surprisingly well on all but the most uneven surfaces. Even if braking was not up to scratch by modern standards, safety wasn’t entirely neglected – Cadillac being the first to produce dual circuit brakes in 1963, this vital feature becoming an industry-wide standard by the 1970s.
In 1957 Cadillac introduced the very first speed control on its’ spare-no-expense, hand built Eldorado Brougham, the feature becoming an option across the Cadillac range for 1960. This now ubiquitous technology is universally known as cruise control – the name given to it by Cadillac (Chrysler called theirs Autopilot). The ’57 Eldorado was also the first car to offer power seats with a memory function – the system capable of remembering up to four separate seating positions. Within a few years this same system was offered as an option across the Cadillac range, and was standard on the higher spec models. In 1964 the company offered tilt-telescopic steering adjustment which, combined with opulently upholstered power seats and AM-FM self seeking radio, offered just about the most comfortable driving position in all autodom, provided buyers had another $500 for Cadillac’s truly impressive climate control system.
Called Comfort Control, it was the world’s first fully automated climate control system available in a mass produced automobile. For the driver it was simplicity itself – set the desired temperature, move a lever to ‘automatic’ and in theory, one needn’t alter the settings ever again. Before the days of computer chips, Cadillac relied on a complex engineering solution incorporating three thermistors to sense temperature inside, outside and at the under-dash ventilation outlets, a potentiometer, amplifier, transducer, and power servo.
A signal from any of four sources (three thermistors and the potentiometer actuated by the driver’s control dial) was fed into the amplifier where it was multiplied. Amplified voltage was then fed into a transducer – a 10 inch steel tube with a wire filament sensitive to heat. With the amplified voltage causing heat, the filament expanded or contracted depending on changes in temperature caused by the varying voltage. This action caused a needle valve at one end of the transducer to open or close. The valve controlled the amount of engine vacuum to apply to the servo, opening or closing the air door of the heater/air conditioner. The same servo controlled blower speed and shut off water flow to the heater coil when desired temperature was reached.
Whilst both Chrysler and Lincoln offered similar setups on their Imperial and Continental, the Cadillac system was more advanced, simpler to operate and more effective. The system was copied by various makes around the world, like many Cadillac innovations, and was so well engineered that many are still running today with nothing more than a regular service and a top up of gas. And if the fussiest of buyers still weren’t convinced of the system’s ability to keep them comfortable, in 1966 Cadillac offered one of the industry’s first electronic seat warmers for front passengers (and rears too in the Fleetwood 75 limousine)
Cadillac truly pampered its’ customers, not even asking of them that they break in their new purchase. All cars were thoroughly road tested prior to delivery, with engines run on a dynamometer under load for several hours while transmissions, brakes, alternators and rear drive components were run-in prior to final assembly. Before handing over the keys, all a dealer had to do was peel off the protective coating on the whitewall tyres. It was little wonder Cadillac had the highest rate of owner loyalty in the industry.
By refusing to change their styling drastically (note the slow, yearly minimising of the tail fin from the peak of 1959 to their disappearance in 1965) the resale value was kept high, so that purchasers of a new car would also get the highest resale value of any American car. Larger dealerships often had waiting lists for two and three year old trade-ins, such was the desire among Americans to be seen to be successful.
Innovation continued through the late 1960s, Cadillac introducing fiber optics for the monitoring of all external lights (as did the 1968 Corvette), magnetic shock absorbers in the rear that provided load leveling, and in the new Eldorado coupe – front wheel drive. Again, this innovation was first tried with Oldsmobile acting as a test bed, their Toronado front wheel drive coupe introduced a year earlier. When the system proved not only reliable but popular – Cadillac had no qualms about introducing their first ever front wheel drive. The all new Eldorado was an instant hit, and with no driveshaft hump was a genuine six-seater, even if head and legroom in the rear left a lot to be desired. With 472 cubic inches connected to a turbo-hydramatic transmission via a chain drive, the car was swift and stable...provided one adhered to the specified tyre pressures.
The 1967 Eldorado is arguably the most intricately styled automobile ever manufactured on a standard production line. The elaborate, razor sharp front and rear quarter panels were at the cutting edge of what was possible with standard manufacturing technologies. There is an apocryphal story about Chrysler purchasing an Eldorado to tear down, their styling team so impressed by the intricate panel pressings that they deemed some of the Eldorado had to have been made by hand. Chrysler simply did not have the technology to press such finely sculpted panels. Neither did anyone else. Cadillac was not only the ‘standard of the world’ as their ads liked to boast, it was the pinnacle of achievement for possibly the mightiest manufacturing enterprise the world had ever seen – General Motors.
To look at a Cadillac from the late forties to the early seventies is to see the finest example of American manufacturing from the years when the country was at its’ peak as a world power economically, militarily, and culturally. The sheer size, power, extravagant styling and array of Cadillac technical innovations of this era are representations of the pinnacle of achievement of the most advanced and powerful nation the world had ever seen. The Cadillac was the ultimate consumer product at a time when America could seemingly do no wrong. Like viewing the great architectural relics of Rome – to look at post-war Cadillacs is to see history, the rise and fall of the tail fin are a bar graph of American consumer confidence and taste during an era when style was king. The outrageous use of chrome and excess metal can also be viewed as an in your face to the Russians, whom the Americans knew could never hope to match them for sheer manufacturing muscle.
For all Cadillac’s visual excess and dubious styling motifs, they were nevertheless highly influential on automotive stylists the world over. Even the normally conservative Mercedes Benz dabbled with tail fins, though theirs were so watered down as to appear an afterthought. Another questionable styling innovation made popular by Cadillac was the padded vinyl roof – first offered as an option on the 1963 Coupe De Ville. Within a few years, the vinyl roof would become a ubiquitous option on cars the world over (though as with tail fins, the Europeans were reticent to adopt such styling gimmicks). Cadillac used the padded vinyl top not only as a styling ploy meant to evoke a convertible, it was also intended to muffle outside noise and act as insulation against heat and cold. Such trends as the dual in-line headlights Cadillac introduced in 1957 became almost de rigueur by the 1970s. The universal styling trend of the 1970s for safe dashboard design, where the passenger is faced with a flat expanse of plastic and ventilation outlets, while the driver has a cowled instrument panel to shield it from glare – was first introduced on the 1967 Cadillac range. It was a time when the rest of the automotive world was always looking to see what the ‘standard of the world’ would do next.
The world’s great luxury marque took their eye off the ball in the 1970s, as did the rest of Detroit. Caught out by the Arab oil embargo and subsequent fuel crisis of 1973, Cadillac scrambled to introduce their first ‘compact’ in 1976 with the entirely new Seville. The same size as the Holden Statesman, the Seville offered Cadillac’s first small block V8 in years, and for the first time – fuel injection. It was a huge success, possibly saving the company but even so, it marked the beginning of the end of American dominance of its’ own luxury car market.
Downsizing their largest models in the late 70s did little to stop potential customers flocking to Mercedes, Jaguar, BMW and Volvo showrooms. There are all manner of theories as to why Cadillac lost their market leadership so rapidly. The simple answer is that by the late 1970s the baby boomers had come of age and the more successful of their number saw Cadillac as the sort of car their fathers drove. Ostentatious displays of wealth were out in an era when economy and practicality became paramount among luxury car buyers. Consumer tastes had simply changed and though Cadillac adapted and survived it would never again be market leader, or the standard of the world. Cadillac were selling a dream, but as John Lennon sang – the dream was over.
Before that, back in the 1960s heyday - when Rolls Royce was still producing vintage cars and Mercedes’ magnificent 600 limousine had to be made by hand (for more than twice the price of a Fleetwood limo) Cadillac really was the finest, best value for money luxury car in the world. And though styling is subjective – beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all – there are few more beautiful big cars than the mid sixties range of Cadillac sedans, coupes, convertibles and limousines. If you want to own a talisman of a time when the greatest civilisation the world has known was at its’ peak, you can chip off a piece of the Empire State and probably get arrested, or you can buy yourself a 1960s Cadillac for less than twenty grand. That’s a small price to pay for one of the world’s great cars, and you need only fire up that huge V8 to transport yourself back to a time when Detroit was the Camelot of the automotive universe.
Most of us assumed that the Ltd in Ford LTD stood for Limited - as in exclusive, limited production - that sort of thing. Not so, apparently. It seems there’s no definitive answer to the question of what LTD is supposed to stand for.
Popular opinion points to Lincoln Type Design, but there are many who believe otherwise. It seems Ford has never produced a definitive statement on the matter, or if they have, I've never found mention of it.
A recent post on a Ford forum claimed to see a Ford hubcap in the 1960s with the words ‘Lincoln Thunderbird Design’.
Then there’s the book Super 60’s Fords which states LTD stands for Luxury Trim Decor.
Who really knows...who cares?
And while on the subject of names for 1970s Aussie luxo barges, what about the daftly named Chrysler By Chrysler? Who the hell else would the Chrysler be made by - Chrysler By Ford perhaps? Couldn't they have borrowed one of the tried and tested nameplates from the US Chrysler stable - Newport, Imperial, LeBaron or Cordoba? Anything but...Chrysler By Chrysler.
The Chrysler sedan was never a big seller, though it wasn’t a disaster either (whereas the hardtop version most definitely was) The first road test comparisons of the big Chrysler, Fairlane and Statesman had the Chrysler on top in terms of all round performance and features. The biggest drawback was without doubt the styling - which didn’t differentiate enough from the plain jane Valiant sedan on which it was based.
Both Ford and Holden were more successful in disguising the origins of their equivalent LWB (long wheelbase) luxo barges. Though it took Holden a couple of attempts - the earlier Brougham sedan too obviously a dressed up Kingswood with a huge boot tacked on.
As for the Statesman, what did you call more than one - Statesmans, or Statesmen? I’m still trying to figure that one out. And despite Holden putting the name to rest for six years from 1985-91, it’s the last of the local LWB luxury cars, having outlived the Chrysler by forty odd years, and the LTD/Fairlane twins by close to ten years by the time production lines closed for good in late 2017.
Names aside - from 1971 through to the final Chrysler By Chrysler of 1976, Australians had five glorious years to choose from one of three local long wheelbase prestige sedans. Luxury car buyers were spoiled for choice with the fully loaded, hidden headlight LTD, the full house Statesman Caprice, or a Chrysler by Chrysler with electric leather armchairs and the biggest of the V8s at 360 cubes. We’d never be so lucky again...
What springs to mind when the word Marauder is mentioned - Pirates? Vikings? Outlaws? The dictionary states 'to roam or go around in quest of plunder; make a raid for booty'. I don't know if the Mercury Marauder lived up to the name, or whether owners would even want to - it doesn't really matter. It just sounds purposeful. And if you're going to drive a car with a name that sounds like it wants to tear up the road - best to make it a '64 model. Take a look at that vicious front styling - ready and willing to live up to it's name - Marauder.
Who else but Cadillac would have the audacity to name a car after the mythical city of gold? The name was used for a while in the 1950s for a range of limited production, hand built beauties, but by 1967 the moniker was applied permanently to a new, sensational front wheel drive 'personal car'. With lines so sharp you could slice your hand on them while washing a fender, the Eldorado looked best in...what else but gold.
It's a pretty neat name for a muscle car, especially one as wide and low slung as the 1970 Dodge Challenger. And if equipped with 440 six pack or 426 Hemi - this is one challenger that would've taken the title.
Ford had the Cobra & Mustang, Chevy the Stingray and Impala; why not a fish the Plymouth boys asked? And not just any fish, but one with a mouthful of vicious, razor sharp teeth, one known to be a terrifying predator that punched above its' weight. And it sounded good - Barracuda. And if you want to name a car after a vicious sea creature - you might want to have a few giant killing engine options. Plymouth's high performance 340 was widely regarded as the best of the big three's hot small blocks. Just to make sure all bases were covered - Plymouth offered the biggest engine ever in a 1960s pony car - the 440 Wedge. Shoehorning a 7.4ltr monster mill under the bonnet meant no room for power steering or air conditioning - but drag racers didn't mind one bit.
Javelin - the spear used by ancient Greeks in the gymnasium and first Olympic Games. A weapon that required skill and athleticism. One could argue that the same skills had to be applied to pilot a stickshift AMC Javelin, especially when equipped with a 390 big block. A muscular looking car, it won high praise in the motoring press at the time, and forced the big three to accept AMC as a player in the muscle car stakes. Just like the javelin throwers of the ancient games - AMC proved they were willing to compete…with their own Javelin.
Was someone putting lsd in the water cooler at the Mercury styling studios in the late '50s? What else can explain the glorious, collective madness of the men who dreamed up the metal sculptures of that era. Over-the-top was the norm for a few glorious years in Detroit, and Mercury was right in the thick of it.
When it came to space age, rocket ship and ray-gun inspired tail lights, Mercury have to be the king.
Here's five examples starting with 1957 through to 1960.
Mercury sales brochures and print ads described the '57 tail lights thus:
New V-angle tail-lights: Functional, decorative. Massive red beacons finish off the rear end treatment in distinctive good taste. Tail-light visbility - from both side and rear - is increased.
A '57 hardtop sedan in two tone. Note the slide-down rear window partition - a Mercury option through to 1965.
1958 Park Lane convertible - if anything the rear styling is slightly toned down, but that wouldn't have been difficult.
1958 four door hardtop - ever seen so many tail lights on one car? By my count there'd have to be 8 individual globes at least. Stylish wraparound rear window and C pillar incorporated in to the rear doors - brilliant.
1960 two door hardtop sedan - upright, low-rider tail lights - note the wraparound rear window and overhanging roof.
1960 hardtop wagon - the last pillarless year for Mercury wagons. How low are the tail lights!?
The 1960 Comet - Mercury's version of the new Ford Falcon - with cantilevered rear lenses to differentiate from its' Falcon stablemate.
Comet side view - note the awkward, angled fins with lenses integrated in to the rear edges. They appear to be too big for the car, but certainly stand out which was clearly the designer's intention - mission accomplished.
With the recent end to local manufacture of the Ford Falcon after 57 years, it’s worth looking back at an incident that occurred at Ford in the mid 1990s that helped seal the fate of the Falcon in Australia.
The beginning of the end for the Aussie Falcon was the dreadful styling of the 1998 AU model.
What on earth was Ford thinking? Blame Jac Nasser – local boy made good.
The son of Lebanese immigrants, Nasser grew up in Melbourne where he started his career as a financial analyst at Ford in the late 1960s. He quickly impressed management with his ability to shave productions costs. In 1973 he was promoted to a position with Ford trucks in the US and never looked back, returning to Oz to become CEO before moving back to Detroit in the early 1980s. By 1993 Jac rose to become Vice President of Ford product planning worldwide, before being promoted to President in 1996.
Jac the Knife they called him – for his ruthless efforts to cut costs. Black Jac was another nickname - for his ability to keep the company above the red line on the ledger. Jac could seemingly do no wrong.
While the AU Falcon was in the planning stage in the mid 1990s, as VP of product planning Nasser visited Australia where he toured the Ford styling studio as clay mock-ups of the AU were being finalised.
At the time Ford was making its first foray into global styling. So all Ford branches were expected to fall into line with the head design teams in Detroit and Europe. Ford US/Europe was into that ugly, droopy look where everything was rounded off and made oval shaped. Think of the hideous (but admittedly successful - if only in the US) Ford Taurus, and the small car known as the Ka (major flop here in Australia)
So on his tour of Broadmeadows, the place where he started his career at Ford, Jac wandered through the styling studio and stopped to look at the AU's clay mock-ups. He waved at the models, saying to the local bosses something along the lines of “The tail is too bulky – round it off like the Taurus, same for the front…” and with that he was gone.
They didn’t know if he was serious or not, but local management felt obliged to obey the Vice President. So against their better judgement, and all the market research – the Falcon styling was radically changed at the behest of Nasser - at the last minute.
The AU was mauled by press and public alike, who made fun of the droopy tail and ugly front. Ford frantically reacted by offering a squared off rear spoiler to hide the tapering, rounded tail, but the damage was done. Potential buys who just couldn't hack the styling went to Holden showrooms and either the new Commodore, or went with the newly emerging trend toward SUV's.
Nasser was Holden’s best friend – his one thoughtless act helped the Commodore to reign supreme for the next decade.
The understandably furious Ford design team were not going to accept the blame for the styling disaster, and rightly so. Nasser ruined all their hard work and in the process, put an irreparable dent in Falcon sales. When the AU got pilloried in the motoring press the stylists decided they weren’t going to take the wrap – leaking to the press that it was Nasser who decreed the AU should have droopy front and rear styling.
During the design phase - prior to Jac’s meddling, Ford had gone to a lot of effort to get feedback from Ford fans, who all approved the designs with a higher, bulky tail as this denoted power and machismo. It also meant it was a lot easier to make performance models look tough, and didn’t hurt boot space either.
Designers had mocked up the final two designs and were even running prototypes. These two designs were shown to some twenty specially chosen Ford customers, who were made to sign non-disclosure agreements. The opinions of these select fanatics were taken very seriously, and helped to shape the designs as they progressed. It all amounted to nothing because one man’s opinion meant more than the dedicated local Falcon lovers.
Jac the Knife’s meddling damaged the Falcon's chances in a tight market, and in so doing, started the long slow slide that ended with the death of the Falcon in 2016. But local Ford management have to take some of the blame; they really should have stuck to their guns and simply pretended they never heard Jac’s comments that fateful day.
For the all new FG Falcon of 2008, Ford incorporated the international styling theme more successfully, but sales nev sweetly styled and successful EL - the model replaced by the AU. The last of the breed was further improved with crisp front and rear styling that the AU sure could have used. Vale the Falcon - a great Aussie icon.
Search for vintage South African Chevrolet images on the internet and you’ll likely find advertisements for what appear to be Holdens. Re-badged, re-named, re-grilled and expressly advertised as American cars. What was behind the decision to pass off export Holdens as American? Nothing unusual in that you might think, given that Holdens have sold in the middle east and America with Chev & Pontiac badges in more recent times. But when you factor in that even Aussie Chryslers of the 1970s were being sold in South Africa as American - something was going on.
There was nothing sinister behind the move to sell Holdens as Chevs. It was simply a consolidation exercise by GMSA (General Motors South Africa). From 1969 all GM cars sold by GMSA would henceforth be sold as Chevrolet. As the best known and most popular of all the GM nameplates sold by GMSA - it made sense to re-badge the various Opels, Vauxhalls and Holdens to bring them under one name plate. Where the obfuscation came in was in trying to convince local buyers that the re-badged Holdens were really American products. Sure, they may have had a Chev six or a small block Chev 8 under the bonnet, but print advertising really stretched the truth in pushing the American origins of Aussie cars.
When it came to Holden, Australia’s own, the change was simple - add Chevy badges, new grille and name - often an Afrikaans name. After all, Chevrolet had a long history selling cars in South Africa and had a loyal following. Dealers figured they’d trade off the back of Chevy’s excellent reputation. And the dealers knew something else too - they knew Holdens were better equipped to handle the terrible South African conditions than huge Chevy's. Holdens were damn near bullet proof - among the very toughest cars in the world. They had to be - Australia was as tough on cars as Africa. Just as importantly - Holdens were right hand drive so dealers were able to offer more options than the limited range of Chevrolet rhd export models. Long wheelbase Holden luxury cars, wagons, sedans, coupes and utes - all renamed, re-badged and sold as Chevrolets.
So their local advertising agencies and dealer networks worked out that they’d have much more success selling Australian cars as American products. Let’s face it - Aussie Ford, Chrysler and GMH were all owned by the Americans, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.
When it came to Holden, Australia’s own, the choice was simple - put Chevy badges on them and give them new names - even Afrikaans names. After all, Chevrolet had a long history selling cars in South Africa and had a loyal following. Dealers figured they’d trade off the back of Chevy’s excellent reputation. And the dealers knew something else too - they knew Holdens were far better equipped than huge Chevy's to handle the terrible South African conditions. Holdens were damn near bullet proof - among the very toughest cars in the world. They had to be - Australia was even tougher on cars than South Africa. Just as importantly - Holdens were right hand drive and so were able to offer more options than the limited range of Chevrolet rhd export models.
South African Chevrolet division went further than merely renaming Holdens and putting Chevy badges on them. To make sure the cars were differentiated from their Holden origins as much as possible - they even grafted on new frontal treatments.
So in South Africa the HT/HG Monaro sold as a Chevrolet SS - with a quad headlight treatment we never saw here. This same frontal aspect was used on the re-badged Brougham - Chevrolet Constantia, while the Premier and Kingswood sedans and wagons were named Kommando (Afrikaans spelling). Kingswood utes (HG/HQ) were given a cheap looking new grille and called El Camino - just like the Stateside Chevy pickup.
As an interesting counterpoint - Kiwis drove Aussie cars without all the silly pretense of them being American - despite the sporting rivalry. New Zealanders loved their Aussie Fords, Holdens and Valiants and accepted them as their own. I guess it would’ve been too obvious to try to palm Australian cars off as American - being such close neighbours and all.
So if you visit South Africa, don’t be surprised if you spot the occasional, familiar looking Holden...I mean Chevrolet.
In the 1965 (black and white) pilot episode of Get Smart, Max steps out of a black/dark blue Ferrari 250 PF Cabriolet, throwing his hat into the car and running downstairs to what we presume is Control headquarters. Built primarily for the US west coast, the Cabrio was a limited production, hand made work of art with the legendary Colombo V12 of 3 litres capacity. Not the sort of car the average secret agent would have driven.
When the series went into production the Ferrari was replaced by a red 1965 Sunbeam Tiger — the best known of the Get Smart cars. The ultimate Sunbeam, the Tiger was equipped with a Ford 260 cubic inch V8 - the very same engine that appeared in the first Cobra and Mustang (the old V8 in the British sports car trick hey?)
But the Tiger had a stand in for most of the shows, a rebadged four cylinder Sunbeam Alpine, with Tiger script on the side. There wasn't enough space under the bonnet of the Tiger for both a V8 and the James Bond style machine gun (missed it by that much...)
Described as a poor man's Cobra the Sunbeam Tiger was the cheapest way to have a Shelby engineered, small block, Ford-powered, two-seat British convertible in the 60s. The Tiger did 0-60mph in 7.8 seconds with top speed of 120mph, not as fast as the Cobra — but respectable.
For 1967 the V8 was upped to 289cu in. but was still the lowest powered version in Ford's stable. With a 2bbl carburetor the engine used in the Tiger was a long way short of the hottest 289 packing 271 horsepower. The Tiger II had 36bhp more than the 260 V8 series 1, but wasn't much faster as it struggled to get the additional power to the road via puny 13 inch wheels.
Max's Tiger had all the gadgets — rotating licence plate, ramming bumperettes, machine gun trapdoor, smoke screen and, would you believe...passenger ejector seat.
For the third and fourth seasons Max swapped his Sunbeam for a blue VW Karmann Ghia. It was rarely spotted in the shows except for the opening titles. Volkswagen paid ABC to use the car in an attempt to promote their new, sporty Karmann - an early example of product placement.
The Karmman Ghia convertible as driven by Max was a Type 34 (based on the Type 3 platform) equipped with a 1500cc flat four and 4 speed floorshift. Hardly quick even in its day - just as well it was reliable and had low slung good looks like every Karmann Ghia dating back to the first produced in 1955.
In one episode of season four, A Tale of Two Tails, Max is seen driving a blue Mustang Shelby GT500KR convertible. As this beauty was the Chief's, it's debatable as to whether this car should make the list. Being a GT500 as opposed to the lesser GT350, the Chief had a giant 428 cu in. V8 under the bonnet of his wheels.
In the final season, Max drove a gold 1969 Opel GT. The Opel was sold in the US through select Buick dealerships. Buick didn't have a small, sporty type car to entice younger buyers in to showrooms (unlike Chevy and Pontiac with the Camaro/Firebird twins).
The Opel GT was a short lived, relatively unsuccessful attempt by Buick to offer a sports car alongside their established line of more brutal muscle machines - the GS 340, GS 400 and GSX 455. So like the appearance of the Karmann Ghia before it, the Opel GT was another example of product placement.
Don Adams acquired the Sunbeam Tiger from the studio after the show finished and held on to it for the next decade. He used it in the Chief auto parts advertisements before passing it on to his daughters, who both reportedly crashed it.
The Get Smart Tiger is reputed to be on display at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.
It seemed kind of sacrilegious to me - putting Chevy engines in Fords, and I always wondered what made 'deuce' & ‘34 tudor owners drop Chevs in to their Ford engine bays. But there was method to their madness...
Drag racers and rodders were on a never ending quest for more power through the 1950s and in to the ‘60s. No matter how many horses resided under the bonnet, it was never enough. By the late fifites the venerable Ford flathead, even with Offenhauser heads & every performance accessory, was starting to slip behind in the horsepower stakes.
It just so happened that around the same time, the late fifties to be precise, the first Chevy small blocks were finding their way into wrecking yards across the States. The Chev small block was introduced in 1955, and when you consider Chevrolet made around five million cars from '55 through '57 - that's a lot of pre-loved small blocks for sale from '58 onward.
Rodders had done their math, and they knew it was possible to get a lot more horsepower from a small block than a flathead.
So auto junkyards across the country were scoured by horsepower freaks on a budget. Flatheads were torn out of '32 Fords in their thousands, replaced with Chev power. Marque loyalty be damned - it was all about being at the end of the quarter mile ahead of your competitor.
But why Chev engines, when Ford made small block V8s too? Blame a gentleman by the name of Zora Arkus Duntov. He of the Duntov cam, and 'fuelie' Corvette fame. No sooner had Chevy introduced their small block, than they offered a dizzying variety of go-fast bits - cams, fuelie heads, inlet manifolds and more. Within a few short years the Chev V8 was the street performance motor across the USA. Ford had nothing much in the way of go-fast bits for their small block until the mid 60s - so Chev got the jump. Drag racers could pick up a used Chevy 265 or 283 at a wrecker, buy some goodies from an aftermarket supplier or local Chevy dealer, and turn their Duece into a winner at the drag strip.
Flathead diehards aside, by the early '60s it actually became the norm to have a Chev small block in a '30s Ford rod. Drag racers lead the way as usual, their quest for quarter mile supremacy starting a whole new custom - Chev powered Fords.
When you know the reason behind it - doesn't seem so sacrilegious after all. And die-hard Ford fans can an will often drop a 289, 302 or 351 between the front wheels. That's the thing about rods and customs - there are no rules. For seriously big horsepower, true quarter mile junkies didn’t both with Chev or Ford power - they trawled wrecking yards for big block mopar hardware, namely the brutal 392 Firedome hemi. So Chrysler products worked too - it all depended on your budget, and just how fast you wanted, or needed to go…
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Even so , the 1960s have to be the high water mark for automotive styling. No other decade comes close when you factor in the sheer number of stunning cars introduced within ten short years. Everyone was throwing their hat in to the ring - the Americans, Italians, Germans, Brits, even Aussies with the beautiful HK Monaro.
With that in mind - here’s ten to whet the appetite…
Jaguar E-type (XKE in the US)
When Enzo Ferrari called the E-type/XKE the most beautiful car ever made, nothing more need be said...except that it was a blast to drive, could top 150mph, sounded great, and had a proven race heritage - inspired as it was by the legendary Le Mans-winning D-type. In the case of the E-Type - racing really did improve the breed.
Independent suspension, race-bred, inboard mounted rear disc brakes and a Le Mans winning, twin cam alloy six under a long shapely bonnet, meant the E-type was as stunning under the surface as it was on the outside.
1965 Mustang fastback & convertible
The work of Ford stylists John Najjar and Philip T Clark, the 1964 ½ Mustang was revolutionary. We should also mention Lee Iacocca - who’s long proclaimed himself the genius behind the car. It’s true the new Mustang uncovered a market no-one knew existed - an enormous market as it turned out.
The most successful car debut in history, Ford sold over 400,000 Mustangs in the first year alone. Why? Styling - folks just had to own a car that looked that good. It had to be the styling, with plain jane Falcon underpinnings - they sure as hell weren’t anything special to drive. And when rivals thought things couldn’t get any worse, Ford released the fastback body - and it was even prettier than the hardtop and convertible. The Pony Car was born - leaving GM and Chrysler floundering to catch up.
1966 Lamborghini Muira
Forget all the latest gee-whizz rich boy’s toys with their mosquito-on-steroids engine note - the ultimate supercar of all time is the first - the Muira. Stunningly beautiful, yet brutal and purposeful styling by the Italian master Marcello Gandini, with an interior that still looks ultra-cool 50 years later.
The bodywork was sublime yet simple: clamshells front and rear, two doors and a roof plus undercarriage. And it all came together around a mid engined chassis to produce the ultimate high speed road car. So what if the front wheels of the SV model tended to lift off the road at 185mph - what other car could even get close to that speed, and look so beautiful?
1967 Maserati Ghibli
Designed by the master himself - Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Ghibli was named after a famous wind - in keeping with recent Maserati tradition. And like all Maserati’s, the Ghibli went like the wind with the 450S race car heritage including a 4.7 litre quad cam alloy V8 under a long, curvaceous bonnet. With a top speed of 174mph - it had performance to match the looks.
1967 Maserati Ghibli
The Ghibli was as beautiful inside as out, with one of the truly great automotive interiors. Luxury, comfort, ergonomics and style - the perfect synthesis of form & function.
And although it’s got nothing to do with looks - the race-bred V8 has about the best note of any engine ever made.
1965 Buick Riviera
Harley Earl’s successor as head of GM design, Bill Mitchell has to be one of the great automotive artistes. And arguably his greatest achievement was the timeless 1963 Buick Rivera. It still looks modern, elegant, and graceful. The interior carries through the theme of good taste.
Take a look inside some other beautiful cars and you can’t help but be disappointed. Not so with the Riviera - perhaps only second to the mid 60s Thunderbird in terms of having the finest interior of any US car ever made.
For mine - the 1965 Riviera is even nice than the original - who can resist those headlights hidden behind shiny, revolving clamshell grilles?
1968 Corvette Stingray
Has there ever been a mass produced car that has more dramatic styling? Straight off the showroom floor, the ‘68 Corvette looked like a one-off show car. And the years haven’t diminished the drama of its design. It still looks better than any modern Italian supercar. We’re talking about the 68-72 chrome bumper models here, not the later ones with the droop snoot, polyurethane nose cone. As for innovation - the Stingray was the first ever T-top - a trend that was copied around the world as is still with us today in one form or another.
Hats off to Larry Shinoda and his team for having the talent, the vision, and the cajones to convert the Mako Shark II from show car to production car with few if any compromises to practicality.
1968 Dodge Charger
Muscle cars are all about power, right? They’re meant to look mean, powerful and fast. On that criteria, the ‘68 Dodge Charger has to be king of the muscle cars - because none look as fast, as mean, or as powerful.
The car looked like it was doing 105 through the traps when it was parked. Ok, so the interior was a bit of a letdown - but the sensational exterior more than made up. And if equipped with a 440 or 426 Hemi - these big muthas were as fast as they looked. The Charger has to be number one for styling when it comes to the muscle cars. The rest can fight it out for second place
1967 Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird twins
Bill Mitchell makes another appearance here - with these gorgeous twins. Ok, so the Pontiac version was just a madeover Camaro - but they did such a great job with that elongated nose that people came to love the Firebird as much as the Camaro.
Walk around either one of the twins at a car show and you’re witnessing styling perfection - you just can’t find a line that needs improving. Beautiful and muscular - mission accomplished Mr Mitchell.
1967 Ferrari 206/246 GT ‘Dino’
Surely the most beautiful mid-engined car ever made. And the later Spyder version - with removable roof section and no rear side glass - is even prettier. The ‘Dino’ may not have been especially quick, but they were a blast to drive, and ushered in the era of the mid engined Ferrari. Few rear engined cars made since have come close to matching the Pinin Farina-styled Dino for sheer beauty.
1963 Studebaker Avanti
Ok - so the looks are not to everyone’s taste, but no-one can say this car isn’t a true original. Not a straight line anywhere, classic aircraft-inspired instruments, sweet small block V8 power, four seats and fibreglass body - there was nothing else like the Avanti. You could even order one with a supercharger making it a match for the new Stingrays. With its muscular looks and coke bottle hips, the Avanti was a precursor to the Mustang.
When Studebaker ceased operations in the mid 60s, two Studie dealers bought the tooling and continued to produce the Avanti - with Chevy small block power. There was no shortage of willing buyers - the Avanti remaining in production for well over 40 years.
1963 C2 Corvette
1967 Cadillac Eldorado
1966 Pontiac GTO
1963 Porsche 911
1968 HK Monaro
1965 Chevrolet Impala
1963 Alfa 105/115 coupe
1967 Ford Mustang fastback
“Eddie Grace’s Buick...got four bullet holes in the side” (opening lines of Tom Waits' 'Kentucky Avenue' - from the 1977 Blue Valentines album)
What’s the story behind the iconic front fender bullet holes? We have to go back to 1948 when Joe Funk, a modeler for Buick, got the okay from Buick’s head of design, Ned Nickles, to cut four holes in each front fender of Nickles’ Roadmaster convertible. The holes were fitted with lights that were then hooked up to the distributor. The lights glowed amber when a cylinder fired, like the fire-spitting exhaust of a WW2 P-51 Mustang.
Manufacturing manager Edward Ragsdale chided Nickles for ruining his new car, but Buick general manager Harlow Curtice loved the look. In fact, he ordered the holes added to the ’49 model Roadmasters despite the release date being only months away.
Due to expense and complexity, the portholes - branded ‘Cruiser-Line Ventiports’ by GM marketing - didn’t come with amber lights like Nickles’ car, but they did purportedly act as heat extractors on the 1949 models.
The next year the port holes were moved from the fenders to the hood’s sides, but no longer functioned as vents - closed up after owners complained kids were putting cigarette butts in their cars’ engine compartments.
Buick HQ heard about the cigarette butts in the form of negative owner feedback passed on by their dealer network. The best known feedback was from a boys’ school headmaster who complained to his dealer that students were pissing in his port holes!
Other owners complained that snow got in the ventiports and as the car warmed up, would melt and slosh around inside the fender liner leading to premature rusting.
The portholes were altered year-to-year: from big, round openings to flattened ovals on the ‘57s. The number of portholes showed where the car fit in the model hierarchy: a “four-holer” was a top-trim car, a “three-holer” an entry-level model.
After a two-year hiatus, the portholes were back for 1960, but were now squared-off and no longer actual holes, but die cast badges. Most Buicks wore them in some form or another through the 1960s (except the flagship Riviera) but after 1971 only certain models came with Ventiports. By the early 80s they were a thing of the past.
Article from "Model Car Science" magazine - April 1965
Barris in Hollywoodland
by Stephen D. Urette
What happens when a normal family of ghouls like the Munsters decide to they have to have a twentieth-century luxury car? This was the problem faced by Universal-TV when planning the television series THE MUNSTERS. After weeks of searching for a suitable vehicle, the producers decided the only way to obtain the necessary car would be to build it. It is at this point that the producers contacted George Barris to design and build an appropriate machine.
To accommodate the five members of the Munster family and meet their specific requirements Barris used a 133 inch frame. Each member wanted a compartment so a fiberglassed 1927 model "T" body was grafted into a six-door touring roadster with three compartments including a laboratory for Grandpa Munster and a hansom cab rumble seat for Eddie.
Herman Munster was extremely critical about the Koach’s performance. This led Barris to use a Ford Cobra engine that is bored and stroked utilizing Jahns high dome pistons. To feed all those hungry cubic inches, Ansens Automotive engineered a Mickey Thompson ram thrust log manifold supporting ten chrome carburetors. Breathing is well taken care of by the Isky cam and Bobby Barr’s funnel racing headers. Unfortunately, the mileage isn’t as economical as Herman had hoped for – three miles to a gallon of embalming fluid.
Herman also indicated that he wanted a good handling, sporty type car that could easily take the winding cemetery roads. Barris used an Ansen posi-shift 30 inch stick with four on the floor coupled to a 4:11 rear end for the sporty drive train. A front dago dropped axle and split radius bars held by T springs, and the read "ZD" frame with model A springs and traction master stabilizers competently takes care of any road condition. The wild new M. T. 11 inch racing slicks, mounted on wide dumped Astro chrome spoke wheels give the Koach plenty of bite off the line.
The spoke wheels are finished off with A.I. knock-off hub and walnut casket wood inserts. To complete Herman’s requirements swing pedals with hydraulic clutch and brakes, and direct vertical steering with Ansen’s metal flaked wheel give the car excellent handling to match it’s power.
Lily Munster met with Mrs. George Barris to plan the interior and exterior colors. For the exterior black spyder pearl with gold leaf trim was chosen. It was decided that 40 hand rubbed coats would be sufficient. The interior was done in diamond tuffs and buttons with royal red velvet coffin liner. Exterior trim is hand polished wolfskin. Roy Gilbreath finished off his interior work with ermine fur rugs. Optional goodies that were added to the interior for the Munster’s pleasure included, a Muntz stereo tape recorded, Sony TV, and two antique French telephones. A special Autolite electrical system was needed to make these extras operative.
Grandpa felt because the family "blood line" ran back nearly four hundred years the exterior trim should be very traditional. First he wanted a gold plated grave stone radiator and casket handle hood compartment with an ornamental gold temperature gauge. Grandpa also had Barris gold plate any removable exterior parts. To stay with the traditional look Barris used gas side lanterns, spider web headlights, a four-way tail light and floating hand formed fenders. To top this all off Barris spent nearly 500 hours hand forming ornate rolled steel scrolls for the final royal touch.
Project engineers Les Tompkins and Bud Kuns finished the Munster Koach in less than 30 days at a total cost of over $18,000. The Munsters are happy with their new Koach...The producers are still trying to find a way to justify the expenditure. . .That’s show biz!
(from "Model Car Science" magazine April 1965)
I don't know who wrote it, but I do know it was released on Decca records as part of a Munsters themed album, performed by ‘The Newest Teen-Age Singing Group’ - whoever they were. Anyway here it is Munster fans - the lyrics to the Munster Koach song. Though a few other sites have posted the lyrics more recently, Tunnel Ram was the first - even the Munster website couldn’t help. Due to poor recording quality and obscure lyrics, I had to listen to the song dozens of times to get the lyrics down - but some jobs you just gotta do yourself, right?
Some translation may be required for those not well versed in sixties American hot rod lingo.
A ‘Cobra mill’ refers to a Ford high performance 289 small block V8. ‘MT manifold’ is a Mickey Thompson after-market part that enabled the mounting of multiple carburetors. Scavenger pipes are straight through exhausts that resemble shotgun barrels.
Though dated, the song is a great example of how insanely popular hot rodding was in 1960s USA. A song created to promote a custom car from a kid's tv show, that name drops a ‘Cobra mill’ and other go fast bits - how can hot rod fans not love it!? Have a listen, sing along and remember to add it to your playlist at the next Halloween.
The Munster Koach Song
All you little children better jump in bed
Under the pillow better hide your head
Here it comes now…
Here comes the Munster Koach
Here comes the Munster Koach
Out of the night with its Cobra mill
And scavenger pipes
The first thing that you see
Here comes the Munster Koach
It’s got an M-T manifold and four on the floor
Ermine rugs from door to door
And there’s a Munster Man
Sitting at the wheel
Here comes the Munster Koach
Close all the windows and lock your doors
Get inside and hide because
Here it comes now
Here comes the Munster Koach
And when its’ gravestone radiator comes into sight
You’ll see thirty coats of lacquer
Black as the night
Shining with spider dust
It’s a Munster koach
It’s got a clearglass body that you can see through
And you can see a Munster mixing a brew
It’s a Munster Koach
And it’s coming for you
For one year only, you could get a Corvette Stingray with four wheel disc brakes and fuel injection. Because 1965 was the first year of the disc brakes, and the last for fuel injection.
What other car in the world offered a futuristic fibreglass body, all independent suspension, four wheel disc brakes, and fuel injection? None. Zip.
If you wanted all of the above, you had to go to your Chevy dealer.
Not many did mind you - not when the ‘fuelie’ option cost around a thousand bucks. That was a lot of dough in 1965. Cheaper was the new big block option - the 396 porcupine head ‘rat’ motor.
A well sorted 396 was probably quicker in a straight line than the 327 fuelie, but it didn’t handle or stop as well. And it could suffer fuel starvation during hard cornering, and at high altitude it suffered the same fuel-mix issues as any other carburetted car. Not so the fuelie.
The 1950s developed Chevy fuel injection system used WW2 aircraft technology. In order for USAF bombers to be able to fly at ultra high altitude to stay out of the range of flak - they required fuel injection. A fully mechanical throttle body design, Chevy’s solution is basic by today’s standards, but was very advanced for it’s time. And it was reliable. It gave a massive performance boost, so was only used on the hottest small blocks. Those with the famous Duntov ‘fuelie heads’ that were also made available on other, non-fuelie small blocks.
With a walloping 375 horsepower and the ability to rev past 6500rpm, the ‘65 327 fuelie was a force to be reckoned with. It blew the doors off every other sports car in the world including the legendary Jaguar XKE. Ferrari and Aston Martin? Forget it - at least in a straight line, the Corvette was king.
The writing was on the wall when the Chevy boys looked at the performance stats going back to the first fuelie Corvette from 1957. Though more powerful - the ‘63 to ‘65 fuelies weren’t any quicker than earlier ones due to yearly weight increases. And at $1000 - it didn’t make much sense to buyers when they could get as much performance out of the 396.
Later big block C2 and C3 Stingray’s were quicker again, but they didn’t have the poise or the handling crispness of the small block. And the ultimate small block Stingray of all time has to be a ‘65 fuelie...or maybe an LT1 equipped C3 - hmmm...
Try this question on your friends who think they know their car facts: “What car am I describing - it’s over 40 years old, has an aluminium, air cooled flat 6 behind the rear axle, IRS, 4 speed stickshift, turbocharger, 4 seats and 2 doors?”
Most will either have no clue, or answer “An early Porsche 930 turbo, right?”
And they’d be wrong. The answer is the Corvair Monza GT coupe/convertible of 1965. Porsche didn’t even make a turbo until the early 1970s. Chevy was there a decade earlier with the first turbocharged Corvair offered in 1963.
And Porsche 930s didn’t have IRS - you can’t call veedbub style rear swing axles truly independent. Yes - the Corvair started out with the same setup, but moved to a Corvette inspired true IRS with the 1965 model.
People still talk of the Corvair as a huge failure - a lemon. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 1965-69 Corvairs was arguably the best cars made in America during those years. They out handled anything - even a Stingray with twice the power had to work hard to beat one on a tight, twisting road. They were economical, good looking, had excellent braking, a large front mounted boot (trunk), plenty of room for 4, even 5 at a pinch. They were cheap to run and fun to drive. No other American car offered all this during the 1960s - none came close.
Customisers knew how good the Corvair was. A whole industry sprung up around the car almost from its' release in 1959. Companies like IECO and EMPI offered a complete package - owners either took their Corvair in, or they could buy one new with all the additions: handling options, custom manifolds and carburetors, shift linkages, exhausts, wheels, body and suspension kits.
In short, people who loved to drive, loved the Corvair. They didn't listen to the nonsense in the press about them being death traps, or read Ralph Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed beat up (years later, even Nader expressed regret at the impact his book had on the Corvair)
Sure, the early swing axle cars oversteered at the limit, but car journo after car journo tested car after car and all came to the same conclusion - you’d have to be an idiot to drive a Corvair so fast on a curve that the rear would slide out on you.
The reality is, bad publicity killed the car - and it was grossly unfair. It was the best handling car made in Detroit and yet it was pilloried mercilessly - go figure.
Chevrolet quietly killed off the Corvair in 1969. Interestingly - Ford also killed off their Corvair competitor the same year - the Falcon. But the much less interesting, poor handling Falcon never got the bad publicity of the Corvair.
Kudos to Chevy’s GM Ed Cole for having the guts to back the rear-engined compact in the first place. To this day - the most daring car ever made by an American manufacturer. Even if he did back the wrong horse: it was another radical new design that would lead the way to the future - but it wasn’t designed or made in Detroit. The same year the Corvair was released, across the pond in Great Britain - BMC released the first viable, mass selling compact front wheel drive - the Mini. But that’s another story.
Did you know the original Batmobile was based on a 1955 Lincoln showcar?
The Batmobile-to-be was the brainchild of Lincoln Mercury chief stylist Bill Schmidt. Inspired by an encounter with a shark while scuba-diving, Schmidt sketched his futuristic concept car with a chrome shrouded full width grille that resembled a marine predator, especially when combined with hooded headlights and outlandish, canted tail fins. The duco was one of the first pearlescent color treatments, using paint infused with powdered pearl. At a cool $250,000 (over $2 million today) the fighter jet-inspired twin cockpit experimental car would serve as a mobile test bench for new engineering and design concepts. Unlike many show cars of the era, it was fully driveable.
To save on development time, the Futura used the chassis and running gear from the exclusive, yet to be released 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II, sharing the same 368 cubic inch V8 and automatic transmission. As a result, it took just three months to ready the concept car for its debut at the Chicago Auto Show in January 1955, from where it was driven to a car show in Detroit.
The Futura was a big success for Ford, generating favorable publicity while providing valuable public feedback on styling and features. Released as a model kit and toy, in watered-down form the lidded headlights and canted fins would appear on production Lincolns for 1956 and 1957. The concave grille inspired the design on the '60 Mercury Monterey and '61 Ford Galaxies - released more than half a decade after the Futura debuted.
In 1959, the Futura starred in the MGM movie It Started With A Kiss starring Debbie Reynolds & Glenn Ford. Because the pearl duco didn’t show up well on film, the Futura was painted red for the movie, and treated to a matching red interior. After that, the car might well have been forgotten or worse - destroyed, as was the fate of many show cars. However, FoMoCo later sold it to customiser George Barris...for one dollar. As the car was never titled and therefore uninsurable, it sat behind Barris’ North Hollywood shop where it deteriorated for several years.
Fast forward to 1966 when Barris was asked to design a theme car for the Batman television series – at very short notice. Not having enough time to build from scratch, Barris remembered the Futura sitting forlorn in the rear car park. He hired Bill Cushenberry of famed Cushenberry Custom Shop to do the metal modifications to the car required to turn it in to the iconic Batmobile. Barris went on to build three fiberglass replicas using the frames and running gear from 1966 Ford Galaxies for the show circuit.
After its conversion to the Batmobile, Barris retained ownership of the car, leasing it to the TV studio for filming. After production of the TV series ended, Barris displayed the car in his own museum in California.
The car was eventually sold to Rick Champagne at the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in 2013 in Scottsdale, Arizona - for a cool $4.6 million. When we consider Barris bought the car for a buck - that’s not a bad return on investment.
The Boss has copped criticism from car nuts for decades for the opening lines to Racing In the Street, Springsteen's ode to petrol heads everywhere:
I got a ’69 Chevy with a 396, fuelie heads and a hurst on the floor
Yep - the Chevy boys are right: you can’t get fuelie heads for a 396. Fuelie heads were developed for the injected small blocks that came in two sizes – 283 and 327, and were used later on non fuelie small blocks. .
Chevy fuel injection setup, early 60s Stingray - fuelie heads and all
Any street racer wanting to get the most from a Chevy small block knew he had to get a set of fuelie heads.
So what gives, Bruce?
The trueth goes back to the Boss forever tinkering with his lyrics so there’d often end up being several versions of the same song.
The original lyrics mention a 383, not a 396.
We have to assume this 383 Bruce mentions was a stroked 327 or 350 (not the 383 Magnum Mopar big block). You could buy a stroker kit from hot rod shops that stretched Chev small block capacity to 383 cubes. And yes, fuelie heads would fit.
So originally the lyrics made sense, then somewhere down the track Bruce changed it from ‘383’ to ‘396’. Who knows why - he probably just liked the sound better. Does it really matter?
Hunt around on youtube and you can even find audio of the Boss performing an early version of the song live. You’ll hear him sing
I got a 32 Ford she’s a 383
Fuelie heads and a hurst on the floor
The Boss knows his cars. And he name drops them more than any other songwriter I can think of - Cadillac, Buick, Ford, Dodge Challenger, Trans Am, even Olds 442. But that's grist for another article - so I'll leave it there and cut loose like a Deuce...
The famous Conestoga covered wagon is to blame. Named for their place of manufacture - Conestoga, Pennsylvania.
Despite popular belief, these were not the wagons used by pioneers during the westward expansion – much lighter, standard farming wagons were used. The Conestoga wagons were huge, heavy duty constructions designed to haul heavy goods. Think of them as the semi-trailers of the 18th & 19th century.
On Conestoga wagons the handbrake lever was on the left, so drivers sat on that side, centering the wagon on the often heavily cambered, mostly unpaved roads. Even with a huge team of horses or bullocks, average speed was walking pace, so drivers often walked alongside, or rode on a pull-out board known as a lazyboard. So whether standing, walking or sitting - the left mounted handbrake had to be accessible.
The Conestoga wagons were so popular it soon became the standard to sit at the left and drive on the right. So when automobiles came on the scene - they simply followed existing practice.
The town of Conestoga has one other claim to fame - according to author Bill Bryson it's where a popular brand of cheap cigar was made that became known as Stogies (short for Conestoga of course…)
BY: Susan Encinas
Where were you in 1968? You might have opened up the movie section of the newspaper and read a review about the newly released movie BULLITT. One such review, by the National Observer, said, “Whatever you have heard about the auto chase scene in BULLITT is probably true…a terrifying, deafening shocker.” Life magazine wrote, “… a crime flick with a taste of genius…an action sequence that must be compared to the best in film history.”
With reviews like that, and sharing double billing with the hit BONNIE AND CLYDE, BULLITT devastated audiences with incredible scenes of leaping, screaming automobiles that seemed to fly off the screen. Among all of Hollywood’s road movies, BULLITT unquestionably made film history with its original car chase sequences. There may have been chase scenes before, but nothing before or since has equalled the intensity and impact of BULLITT. The scenes, which were novelty then but classic now, were brilliantly executed. Over the years, fans have asked questions about the two cars used in the movie, a 1968 Dodge Charger and a 1968 Mustang GT. Of all the musclecars offered in the late sixties, why were these two cars chosen, and how were they modified to survive the torturous driving?
It’s been 19 years since BULLITT was filmed, however the magic of this special movie has not diminished. We questioned some of the crew who participated in the filming, and asked them how the chase was coordinated and shot, who was involved in the chase scenes and what happened during the filming. Steve McQueen and director Peter Yates brought in some of the best names in the business in preparation for the filming of BULLITT’s chase scenes, and we were able to track some of them down. We interviewed Carey Loftin, stunt coordinator for BULLITT and occasional driver of the BULLITT Mustang; Bud Ekins, the main stunt driver of the Mustang, aside from McQueen; and Loren Janes, who had doubled for McQueen for nearly 20 years and stunted for McQueen during the airport sequence at the end of the film. We also interviewed Max Balchowsky, the man responsible for maintaining the Mustang GT and the Charger throughout the filming. Finally, we spoke with Ron Riner, who acted as transportation coordinator for Warner Brothers on the BULLITT set.
We set out to learn what the recipe is for such a successful chase sequence. What we found out was that there is none; it was pretty much a hit and miss thing and, as Ron Riner put it, “other people have tried to put the same combination together to get the same results and haven’t really done it. Before we’d shoot a scene, everyone, the location people, the police department, the stuntmen, the director and Steve, would get into discussions. We realized we didn’t know what to do because no one had ever done this before.” What hadn’t been done before was a chase scene, done “at speed”(up to 110 miles per hour) through the city streets and not on a movie studio back lot. Bud Elkins said, “I think it was the first time they did a complete car chase at normal camera speed. What you saw is what really happened. It was real!”
McQueen was determined to have “the best car chase ever done,” recalls Carey Loftin. “I told Steve I knew a lot about camera angles and speeds to make it look fast. You can undercrank the camera so you can control everything in the scene. Then when it’s run, it’ll look like high speed and the car will appear to be handling real well.” McQueen refused to hear of it, and advised Loftin that money was no object. “Fine,” Loftin replied. “Until you run out of money, you’ve got to stop me!”
In an interview with Motor Trend magazine, Steve McQueen related his desire to bring a high speed chase to the screen. “I always felt a motor racing sequence in the street, a chase in the street, could be very exciting because you have the reality objects to work with, like bouncing off a parked car. An audience digs sitting there watching somebody do something that I’m sure almost all of them would like to do.”
BULLITT was also the first picture done with live sound (some of which was added later as needed). For example, additional sound was needed because on occasion a tire squeal was not picked up by the microphones. Bud Elkins remembers blowing the rear end of the Mustang at Willow Springs winding the gears for engine noise to be added to the soundtrack.
To prepare himself, his crew and the cars for the movie sequence, McQueen and company went to the Cotati race course near San Francisco. “Steve handled the Mustang real well,” recalled Riner. “He flowed well with the car.” Also on hand was the late Bill Hickman, the fantastic stunt driver who would handle the menacing Dodge Charger in BULLITT. “Bill came in with the Charger,” Riner said. “And he flipped it around and he slid in backwards. He was excellent.”
The BULLITT chase scenes were shot around Easter of 1968. When city officials were first approached about shooting in the streets of San Francisco, they balked at the proposed high speeds and the idea of filming part of the chase on the Golden Gate Bridge. Eventually, it was agreed to keep the chase within only a few city blocks. McQueen was the prime motivator behind the chase sequence, and then director Peter Yates and Carey Loftin worked out logistics behind the scenes.
McQueen hadn’t planned on having a stunt driver. Relates Carey Loftin:”The first thing Steve said was, he was going to do his own driving. Well, I wasn’t going to argue, so I said, ‘okay, fine’.” McQueen’s stint as a stunt driver didn’t last long, however. “He overshot a turn, smoked the tires and everything. It’s in the film,” said Bud Elkins. “When Steve did that, it wasn’t on purpose. He goofed up, and they said, ‘that’s it, get him out of the car’. The next morning they were spraying my hair down and cutting it. Consequently, it was Elkins who drove the car down hilly Chestnut Avenue. Also, according to the book entitled The Films of Steve McQueen by Casey St. Charnaz, the other reason for McQueen’s removal from the Mustang was that McQueen’s wife at the time found out that he wanted to do all his own driving and apparently SHE had some input into the decision not to have him do all the driving.
As director Peter Yates prepared to begin filming the chase scenes, there were four drivers, McQueen, Bud Ekins, Bill Hickman, and in a few scenes, Carey Loftin. Loren Janes tells up, “Carey Loftin was easily the best car man in the business. He brought in Bill Hickman to play a part and drive the other car.” Loftin recalls: “I asked (the studio) what kind of guy were they looking for? And they described Bill Hickman, who was working on the LOVE BUG at the same time. Well, I said, he’s sitting right here. They really described Bill Hickman.”
The screenplay of the movie was written by Alan Trustman, based on the novel, Mute Witness by Robert L. Pike. But the story, according to Ron Riner was not the key element to the success of the movie. Riner says, “I think basically the story was long and confusing, so when the chase came along it was so good it gave more substance to the movie. I think it really saved the film, because most people don’t remember the story, they remember the chase. You couldn’t really remember the complete story, if somebody asked you, unless you read the script, because the script was much better and made more sense.”
As filming of the chase progressed, Loftin wanted to see the daily work (rushes). He was told that Mr. McQueen wouldn’t like that. Loftin insisted, and threatened to quit unless he could view the daily work. “It worked out really good,” Loftin said with a smile. “Because as we watched the rushes, you could hear a pin drop. I was sitting 3 or 4 rows in front of him (McQueen) and when it was over, he came down, stuck out his hand, and said, ‘Mr. Loftin, when you need me for a closeup you WILL let me know, won’t you?”
As for the cars, Max Balchowsky tells us, “I suggested they get a 390 GT. I had suggested using a Mustang, and a Dodge Charger, or else there would be too may Fords in the picture. I thought we’d mix up the cars.” The two 1968, four-speed Mustang GT fastbacks were purchased primarily because, promotionally, they were the best deal at the time. As far as Bud Ekins can recall, he feels the reason they used the Mustang was because “they wanted it to look like a cop car. This was his personal car and he wasn’t a rich guy, he didn’t have a real nice car. And it was Steve’s idea to put the big dent in the fender, to show that it got banged up and he didn’t have enough money or the time to fix it.”
Warner Brothers purchased two four-speed Dodge Chargers… “at a Chrysler dealership in Glendale California,” recalls Ron Riner. He also said the Dodge Chargers had to be purchased without promotional consideration, but after the success of the movie and the increase in Charger sales, Chrysler was more than willing to be generous with their vehicles to Warner Brothers for future projects. Mr. Riner posed an interesting premise: “did you realize that there wouldn’t be an 01 car (the General Lee in Dukes of Hazzard) if we hadn’t done BULLITT and Dodge hadn’t sold so many Chargers?”
Before the filming could be done, the Charger and the Mustang required preparation. One of the best wrenchmen in the movie business, Max Balchowsky, recalls the Mustang in particular needed considerable modifications so it could hold up during the relentless beatings it would take during the filming. “Carey said they were gonna do a lot of jumping with it, and he said it had to be strong. So I was a little hesitant. I didn’t know if they wanted to go over 50 foot cliffs. I had no idea what they wanted to do until I got there.” To beef up the Mustang, Balchowsky started with the suspension, reinforcing the shock towers, adding crossmembers and reinforcements, exchanging the springs for replacements with higher deflection rates and replacing the stock shocks with Konis. All suspension parts were magnafluxed and replaced where nescessary. The engine also came in for some modifications, including milling the heads, adding an aftermarket high performance ignition system and reworking the the carburetor and adding headers.
On the Mustang, Mr. Balchowsky recalls, “everybody suggested I put a Holley on the Mustang, it was better than the Ford carburetor. I’ve always had good luck with Fords, and didn’t want to spend money if i didn’t have to putting a Holley on. It ran good, needed just a few little adjustments. I changed the distributor and all, but basically never had the engine apart on the Ford.” Ron Riner remembers “the stock Mustang had undercarriage modifications, not only for the movie, but for Steve McQueen. Steve liked the sound of the car and he wanted mags. We hopped it up because Steve wanted the car hopped up. He was still a kid.”
Balchowsky remembers “I hardly had to anything to the Dodge’s engine, but what I was worried about was the strength of the front end.” To shore up the front, Balchowsky revised the torsion bars, beefed up the control arms and added heavy duty shocks. As with the Mustang, all parts were ‘fluxed. For the rear end, Balchowsky told us, “I got some special rear springs, what you call a high spring rate, a flat without any arch in it, and using that spring the car would stay low. It’s similar to the same springs they use in police cars, which makes a good combination. When the police specify a package, they have more spring here, a little bigger brake there, a little bit more happening in the shocks, and it makes a good car. But the director of BULLITT wanted a brand new car instead of an ex-police car, so I got the springs from a friend at Chrysler. We had to weld reinforcements under the arms and stuff on the Dodge. We did lose a lot of hubcaps on the Charger. We’d put the hubcaps back on, but I suppose it probably would have been better if we had lest them off.”
“I’ll tell you this,” said Max Balchowsky, “I was really impressed with the Mustang after I got done with it. I didn’t think it’d make that much difference beefing it up. Later, we took both cars out and went playing around with them over by Griffith Park (near Los Angeles). The Dodge, which was practically stock, just left the Mustang like you wouldn’t believe.” Ron Riner has similar recollections. “The Charger ran rings around the Mustang. We trimmed the tires down (on the Charger), we practically made them down to bicycle tires to try and handicap Hickman, and Bill just run them.” Carey Loftin also recalls,” we test ran the car at Griffith Park near the Observatory, up a long hill. and if you can run a car real hard up and down that hill it’s working pretty good.”
“The day before the chase scenes were to be filmed, we went up to Santa Rosa and rented the track,”said Balchowsky. “Steve wanted to test the car. A production manager would have cut your throat if you wanted to do something like that. An accident would have ruined the cars, and we were slated for Monday morning, 6:00 a.m. to start shooting. Hickman and Steve were buzzing around the tracks, and it was pretty even. McQueen and Hickman were both tickled with the cars. So, fortunately everything worked out.”
Generally everyone seemed to agree that the chase went smoothly, although filming went a “little bit slow,” Bud Ekins recalls. “Yates and Steve were particular. You would rehearse it once- it’s got to be choreographed- then you would rehearse it again, and if it looked good, they shot it. You rehearsed at about 1/4 speed or 1/2 speed, then you went in to film it at full speed.”
For the in-car scenes, two camers were mounted in the cars and painted black. The jarring landings after the cars were airborne are the result of the cameras being tightly secured and not cushion mounted. The effect was more than McQueen had bargained for. “It’s a funny thing,” he told Motor Trend. “That was what shocked me and I didn’t expect it, because we were using a 185 frame which is a very small frame. We weren’t even using a big super Panavision or anything. Even on the 185, they (the audience) jumped out of their seats. I didn’t do the shots going down the hill, they pulled me out of the car. Bud Ekins did that.”
In the Motor Trend interview, McQueen recalled there were some close calls and incidents that looked good on film but weren’t exactly planned to happen, some of which occured in the memorable downhill sequences. “Remember that banging going down? That was about 100 mph. I was bangin’ into Bill. My car was disintegrating. Like, the door handles came off, both the shocks in the front broke, the steering armature on the right front side broke and my slack was about a foot and a half. The Mustang was really just starting to fall apart.”
There was an incident which alerted the crew to take extra precautions while doing the car chase. “A child,” Riner told us, “maybe five years old, came out of a building and stepped out on to the street. We stopped and brought in more stunt people and more cars and I think the theory was if anybody had a problem, they’d make a barricade out of the vehicles. The problem never came up again, or I never saw a problem.” Incredible, considering there were only two policemen on the scene as compared to the 40 policemen utilized for the chase in MAD MAD WORLD. Carey Loftin says, “the extras were a big help. If there was an alley or any place that wasn’t covered, they’d come and tell me. They were real good.”
Because some of the stunts were so well orchestrated, they did not look like stunts at all. Recalls Carey Loftin: “Several years after BULLITT, an extra (on another set) was talking about BULLITT, and he was saying how it was amazing how accidents get into films and he said that the best one he ever saw was the scene where Bud Elkins did the spill off the motorcycle. I let him go ahead and tell it. He said ‘the cops were watching the action and weren’t watching the traffic and this motorcycle guy slipped through, and got into the scene and ended up in the picture.’ I said, ‘you really think that’s what happened?’ The extra said, ‘ I know, I saw it, I was there.’ And I said that’s the way it’s supposed to look, because it wasn’t supposed to look like a stunt.” Ron Riner comments on the scene, “I didn’t know about the stunt and I was supposed to get the information!”
There were THREE cars racing wildly through the streets of San Francisco, making car chase history, although only two are seen in the movie. The third vehicle, a camera car, was driven by Pat Houstis, while cinematographer Bill Fraker manned the camera. Said Ron Riner, “Pat Houstis was excellent and he was in his prime at the time.” Carey Loftin has nothing but praise for Mr. Houstis and an amusing recollection. “Pat Houstis, a terrific driver, had just built the camera car, and he showed it to me. He did a real good job on it. It was a Corvette chassis, and he had stripped all the stuff off and built a good suspension, good engine and everything. But it looked like hell.”
His confidence in Mr. Houstis is evident as he relates another incident. ” We had one scene where Pat was following Steve on Guadalupe Canyon Highway, a beautiful road. We wanted some shots of the Mustang really burning the corners. We did it several times. The operator of the first camera said, ‘Steve’s not getting his foot into it, he’s a better driver than that.’ I went to Steve and said, ‘you know Pat Houstis is a terrific driver.’ Steve said ‘yeah, yeah he is.’ I said, ‘he knows responsibility too. You know what that man would do if I was driving the car in front of him and anything would happen? He’d run into a parked car or hit a tree just to miss me. Now think what he’d do for the star? Now get into that car and get your foot into it!’ We got the shot on the next take.”
One particular scene that impressed Max Balchowsky was the gunman in the Dodge firing a shotgun blast at the pursuing Mustang that shatters the right front of the windshield. “The guy who did special effects devised the chain balls that bust the Mustang windshield. I thought it was terrific when the guy whips the shotgun out and the way the special effects fellow devised how those pebbles cracked the windshield and it made it so realistic like he really shot the windshield. It sure made Ford glass look good.”
The gentleman in the car, playing Bill Hickman’s partner in crime, was actor Paul Genge. According to Ron Riner, Mr. Genge, who played a very realistic tough guy, “seemed like he had hardly ever seen a gun before. They scared the hell out of him. In the scenes in the Charger with Hickman, he was scared to death. After two or three time we almost had to bodily put tranquilizers in him, and put him in the car. Mr. Hickman was one of the coolest drivers I’ve ever met.” Max Balchowsky tells us, “there was a scene where the Charger passed a truck, and they only wanted to leave so much room on one side, and Hickman did it perfectly when he came by and took the bumper off the truck. That was a super shot. Throughout the chase sequences, some of them were accidents but, they looked fantastic- Hickman was terrific.”
To achieve the stunning conclusion to the chase in which the Charger loses control, leaps an Armco fence and plows into a gasoline station, Loftin rigged up a tow and release set up hidden from the camera’s view between the Mustang and the Charger. Dressed to double McQueen, Loftin laterally towed the Charger at 90 mph with its two dummy passengers and at the right moment released the Charger into the nitro-loaded gas station. Unfortunately, the Charger missed the station, but the charges were set off and the explosion, thanks to some deft film editing, had the desired effect and was added to the movie.
There seemed to be a general atmosphere of professionalism and mutual admiration on the set. Loren Janes tells us, ” I loved to see a lot of the little things in Steve’s films. The best teeny things came up in it, the best stuff was Steve’s ideas. Like when they’re (Hickman and Genge) going up the hill and they’re after Steve and all of a sudden he disappears and they can’t see him and the guy (Hickman) looks up and Steve appears in his rear view mirror. In other words, he changed it, now he’s chasing them. Well that was a great turn of events. It was fantastic. It was WILD reckless driving, but it was planned and coordinated. There was class to the BULLITT chase, there was a reason for it, and that’s one of the key things people forget: the greatest stunt in the world is worthless if there isn’t a reason or story to it and BULLITT had a story point all the way through and a reason.
The enduring scenes of the forboding Charger and the powerful Mustang have etched themselves in film making history. The sequences were the brainchild of Steve McQueen; He knew what he wanted and how he wanted it to appear on film. No one has duplicated the electricity or the savage ferocity that manifested itself in BULLITT chase scenes, and it’s doubtful anyone ever will.
Susan Encinas - Muscle Car Review, March 1987