If you ask the average person to name an American sporty car of the late sixties, you probably won’t hear “Plymouth Barracuda” unless the person is a dedicated Mopar fan. In a way, that’s curious, because the Barracuda was the first of the so-called pony cars to hit the market (even before the Ford Mustang) and in some areas it was arguably superior to its Ford rival. So, why was the Barracuda doomed to be a perennial also-ran? This is the sad story of the 1964-1969 Plymouth Barracuda.
There’s been a lot of talk in the U.S. in the past year or two about the prospect of raising the requirements for average fuel economy. Current plans call for raising that average from 27.5 to 35.7 mpg by 2015, which has caused considerable alarm in some quarters. To make sense of all this, let’s talk about how the corporate average fuel economy rules work, where they came from, and what they’re designed to do. Also, your author weighs in on the merits of these regulations.
Author’s Note: This article was written in 2009 and is now out of date — it has not yet been updated to reflect subsequent regulatory changes. Reader beware!
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This week’s subject may be the most obscure of all Ferrari road cars. In fact, a fair number of histories of the marque omit it entirely — which is odd, because it was one of the best-selling cars Ferrari S.p.A. ever built. On the other hand, for the first few years of its existence, it was not officially a Ferrari at all. We’re talking about the often-overlooked Dino 308 GT4.
Some of you may be waiting for part two of our article on power and torque, but in the meantime, let’s examine another frequently confused automotive term: the word coupe.
One of the most confusing (and frequently contentious) questions in the automotive realm is the difference between horsepower and torque. You may have heard any number of pithy expressions, like “horsepower sells cars, but torque wins races,” or fans of big-engine muscle cars complaining that 200-horsepower four-cylinder engines are “gutless.” Surprisingly few of the worthies who throw around comments like that, though, are actually able to define the difference. What IS the difference between horsepower and torque, and what effect do they have on how a car performs?
Our more cosmopolitan readers are no doubt aware that “S/M” can be shorthand for sadomasochism (the enjoyment of inflicting and receiving pain). That alternate meaning makes the designation of the Citroen SM all the more piquant, for although the goal of this ne plus ultra of Citroens was high-speed comfort, its design was every bit as adventuresome (and as kinky) as the name implies. And, as we’ll see, it also involved more than a little pain for everyone involved.
The word “new” is much abused in the automotive business. If you believe the ad writers and press releases, cars are all-new almost every fall, but the reality is that most cars are the product of a gradual evolution stretching back decades. Well into the 1960s, there was little on the average car that would seriously puzzle a mechanic from before World War I. Every so often, though, an automaker takes the plunge on a design that really breaks the mold, a car like the Mini, the Corvair, or this one: the startling 1955-1975 Citroen DS.
The bread and butter of most modern luxury car companies is their “near-luxury” models, moderately priced but still expensive cars aimed at buyers who are enticed by the badge, but can’t afford the company’s real luxury cars. It’s big business today, but it’s not a new idea. Back in the mid-thirties, beleaguered Packard jumped into the mid-priced fray with its affordable One Twenty — the car that saved Packard and set the stage for its eventual demise.
In the mid-1950s, American automakers were engaged in a ferocious horsepower race. By the time the battle reached a temporary ceasefire at decade’s end, the average power of the typical passenger car had (at least on paper) more than doubled. The starting gun of that race was sounded by Oldsmobile, with its advanced new overhead-valve V8 and the new mid-size model that shared its name: the 1949-1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88.
If you make a list of the most noteworthy, technically innovative, and memorable cars of the 20th Century, many of them have one thing in common: the twin-chevron emblem of Automobiles Citroën SA. Founded by an inveterate gambler, Citroën developed a reputation for bold engineering that beggared almost every other automaker in the world, building cars that were decades ahead of their time. Let’s look at the first great Citroën, the car known in France as “La Reine de la Route” (queen of the road): the 1934-1957 Citroen Traction Avant.
We recently happened upon a pair of nicely restored, early-sixties Oldsmobile hardtops. Oldsmobiles of this vintage aren’t necessarily rare or unusual, but what intrigued us was the fact that one was a 1960 and the other a 1961, giving us a rare opportunity to compare the 1960 and 1961 Oldsmobile years side by side and to consider that long-standing automotive custom, the annual model change.
Like its younger sibling, the Ford Mustang, the Ford Thunderbird enjoys an impressive and loyal fan base whose adulation is somewhat out of proportion to the car’s tangible virtues. Admittedly, any model that survives for 50 years and 13 distinct generations has to have something going for it, but the T-Bird lacks many of the qualities that tend to make a car a classic. Particularly in their later, four-seat incarnations, Thunderbirds never had blazing performance, they’re hardly rare, and as for their styling, let us just say that they often flirted with the ragged edges of good taste. Still, people loved them and these cars inspired a host of imitators, so they were doing something right. Let’s take a look at the tumultuous and occasionally tacky history of the 1958-1966 Ford Thunderbird.