If you think Cadillac’s legendary status is solely related to the fabulous, outrageous behemoths of the 1950s and ‘60s - think again. Whilst chrome and fins helped fuel the Cadillac legend, they didn’t start it. The marque was already established well prior to the 1950s as the shining light of the Detroit motor industry. Why, you may well ask? Sure, they were big, powerful and luxurious - but so were other makes. So what set Cadillac apart? It was a combination of those things…and a longstanding tradition of innovation going back to the early years of the 20th century. To find out more - read the full article here
Exhaust tips. Exhaust outlets. Both have become big ticket items in the styling stakes over the past decade. Seems like just about every new car has to have a fancy exhaust outlet or at the very least – a chromed exhaust tip…or four.
Once was a time when the only cars with fancy exhaust outlets were Italian exotics and American muscle cars of the 1960s. They’ve become so de rigueur that designers are putting highly styled, chrome finish (plastic) exhaust outlets on even the most mundane economy cars.
Purists are rightly crying foul because as often as not, they aren’t even functional. Take a look under the rear of some of these cars and you’ll see the real exhaust pipe, unadorned and hidden from the world.
The idea of fancy exhaust tips & outlets has been around a lot longer than people might think. Take the 1965 Mustang GT dress-up kit with fancy trumpet tips protruding from chrome edged outelts in the rear valance. Though very cool and undoubtedly trend-setters - they were not the first.
You have to go back to Detroit in the mid-1950s to see the first fancy exhaust designs. Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Ford Thunderbird and others sported very cool exhaust outlets incorporated in to the rear bumper bar.
Although great to look at, the early designs weren’t always practical – some causing fume blowback which left nasty black marks on the rear duco. A worse problem was exhaust fumes making their way in to the cabin on convertibles such as the original 1955-57 T-birds.
Then there’s the current high end models. Even when they don’t need multiple exhausts…even when multiple exhausts ad nothing in power, add weight and complexity, and are nothing but a styling gimmick - designers insist on them. What often happens is a performance model may have four outlets that are, technically, true exhausts - but they’re funneled from a single (or twin) pipes that branch out and often crossover from one side to the other. When that happens - you know things are starting to get ridiculous….
While it’s great to see designers finally paying attention to the humble exhaust outlet, surely things have gone just a little overboard…haven’t they?. Now almost every new car has to have fancy exhaust tips, in order to stand out he real performance cars have to raise decibel levels to be heard above the din (so to speak)
Now if all these late model high powered cars sounded like a 1960s big block muscle car - I’d be okay with it. Knock yourselves out. But many of the new exotics sound like mosquitoes on steroids - all high and whiny and seemingly designed to annoy people. Mission accomplished. Which begs the question- what are the boy racers going to do when everything becomes electric?
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
LTD - debate has raged for decades over what it stood for - here’s some theories.
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…)