Three Deuces, Four Speeds: The Rise and Fall of the Pontiac GTO

As many of our readers are probably aware, General Motors announced at the end of April 2009 that the venerable Pontiac division will become extinct in late 2010. This week, we take a look at the rise and fall of the car that many consider the definitive Pontiac: the 1964–1974 Pontiac GTO.

1964 Pontiac GTO headlights
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Empire Building: Three Stories about Chrysler’s Imperial

We thought we’d take a slightly different approach with this week’s subject. We’ve touched on Chrysler’s financial problems during this period. So, rather than a lengthy recap of the origins of the Imperial marque itself, we’ve decided to present you with three short stories about this 1961 Imperial LeBaron: its name, its engine, and its transmission.

1961 Imperial LeBaron headlights
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Soaring High: The Lexus SC and Toyota Soarer Coupes

The arrival of the Lexus LS400 in 1990 was evidence that the Japanese could build a serious luxury sedan, but stylish coupes were another matter entirely. In 1991, Toyota tried to challenge all preconceptions with a sleek new 2+2 coupe intended to face BMW, Jaguar, and Mercedes on their own terms. It didn’t quite succeed, but it was a unique and memorable design with an unusual story behind it. This is the history of the 1992-2000 Lexus SC and Toyota Soarer.

1992 Lexus SC400 headlight
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Upwardly Mobile: The Lexus LS400 and the Birth of the Japanese Luxury Brands

If the idea of a Japanese sports car would have been laughable in 1965, the thought that a Japanese company might one day take on the finest European luxury sedans would have seemed utterly mad. The idea that it might actually succeed would have been too outlandish to contemplate — yet that’s exactly what happened in 1989. This week, we look at the origins of the 1990-2000 Lexus LS400.

1996 Lexus LS400 emblem
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The Original Datsun Z-Car

In 1965, the words “Japanese sports car” would have elicited unsympathetic laughter from most America consumers. Five years later, many of those same scoffers were lining up to buy a racy little GT car wearing a Datsun badge. The Datsun Z car soon became one of the most popular two-seat sports cars of all time, inspiring many generations of sporty Japanese coupes. However, for all its eventual popularity, the Z was a car for which its own manufacturer never had much enthusiasm and the fact that the car was built at all — let alone that it became such a success — is a testimony to the dedication of Yutaka Katayama, the head of Nissan’s U.S. operation, who fought a long and bitter battle to show the world what Japanese automakers were capable of. This week, the history of the Datsun 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z.

1978 Datsun 280Z Z-badge
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Little Bird: The 1955-1957 Ford Thunderbird

The old adage, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan,” could well have been coined for this week’s subject. Immediately embraced by everyone but sports car purists and Ford accountants, it remains among the most beloved (and most coveted) of all American cars. In the wake of its success, nearly everyone involved with its conception claimed credit for it, slighting each other and playing up their own contributions. This week, we try to sort out the origins of the 1955 Ford Thunderbird.

1955 Ford Thunderbird fin
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Cool Cat: The History of the Mercury Cougar

Even as the Ford Mustang was making its smashing debut in April 1964, Ford’s Lincoln-Mercury division began work on its own “pony car,” a stylish coupe that sought to bridge the gap between the Mustang and the Thunderbird. This week, we look at the history (and many incarnations) of the Mercury Cougar.

1970 Mercury Cougar badge
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Four of a Kind: The Alfa Romeo 164 and the “Type Four” Cars

Fast, luxurious, and stylish, with a thoroughly modern platform shared with Saab, Fiat, and Lancia, the 1988-1997 Alfa Romeo 164 could have been the hit to resuscitate Alfa’s flailing business and put the company on the map in the German-dominated executive car market. Unfortunately, it was the last model Alfa developed before falling into the arms of Fiat and it had the dubious distinction of being the last Alfa sold in the U.S. This week, we look at the 164 and its “Type Four” siblings: the Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema, and Saab 9000.

1991 Alfa Romeo 164S grille
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Fast Forerunner: The Jensen Interceptor and FF

If you think the 1980 Audi Quattro was the world’s first all-wheel-drive sports coupe, you’re wrong: Almost 15 years before the ur-Quattro, the tiny British automaker Jensen introduced a powerful GT car featuring full-time four-wheel drive and even anti-lock brakes. This is the history of the Chrysler-powered Jensen Interceptor and its high-tech offshoot, the AWD Jensen FF.

1976 Jensen Interceptor Convertible badge
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How Big Is Too Big? The Midsize Ford Fairlane and Mercury Comet

One of our biggest challenges in writing these articles is that we sometimes become fascinated by something for reasons that aren’t easy to articulate. Some of our subjects have obvious interest, like the Ford Skyliner or the Jaguar XK120, but others may be puzzling to the casual observer. That is certainly the case with this week’s subjects, which are thoroughly unexceptional in engineering and design and have styling that could charitably be described as ordinary. However, they were at the forefront of an emerging debate that is still going on: the question of exactly how big an American sedan ought to be. This week, the history of the 1960-1965 Mercury Comet and 1962-1965 Ford Fairlane.

1965 Ford Fairlane badge
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