First, Foremost: The First-Generation Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

Nobody, least of all Ford, expected General Motors to take the success of the Ford Mustang lying down. Still, it took two and a half years for the General to field its challenger, the Chevrolet Camaro, and despite the Camaro’s fresh styling, a broad selection of engines, and a blinding array of options, the Mustang outsold it two to one.

If they couldn’t beat the Mustang on the showroom floor, Chevrolet decided, they would at least beat it at the track. GM was not officially in racing, but that didn’t stop Chevrolet engineers from concocting a fearsome homologation special to qualify their new baby for Trans Am competition: the Camaro Z/28. This is the story of the 1967-1969 Chevrolet Camaro and Z/28.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro badge
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Primordial Pony: The 1965 Ford Mustang

Do we even need to talk about the original 1965 Ford Mustang? It’s one of the best-known of all postwar American cars and there have been dozens of books about it, some of them quite sycophantic. Still, the Mustang is certainly important and hugely influential — not just in the automotive world. So, once more into the breach, dear friends, with the history of the original pony car, the 1965 Ford Mustang.

1965 Ford Mustang gas cap
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High, Wide, and Handsome: The AMC Pacer

Even when the compact Gremlin bowed in 1970, AMC knew it would not be enough to stem the tide of imported subcompact cars. By the beginning of 1971, the company was already at work on a follow-up. When it finally appeared in 1975, it was hailed as a revolution. When it died four and a half years later, it was already becoming the butt of jokes. We’re referring, of course, to the unmistakable 1975-1980 AMC Pacer.

197 AMC Pacer badge
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Do Not Feed After Midnight: The AMC Gremlin

By the late 1960s, the demand for small, compact imports, temporarily sated by Detroit compacts like the Ford Falcon, was on the rise again and Detroit was getting scared. Each American automaker fielded its own response, but American Motors, which had built its market position with economy cars, came up with two. The first was a clever improvisation, the second was a brave attempt to do something genuinely new. Some people call them the ugliest cars of the 1970s — a title for which there are many contenders — but nobody would ever mistake them for anything else. We’re referring of course, to the Gremlin and Pacer.

We begin with the 1970-1978 AMC Gremlin.

1976 AMC Gremlin badge
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A Tale of the Shark and the Rat: The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (C3)

When the original Chevrolet Corvette was introduced in 1953, it was a somewhat Pyrrhic effort to create something approximating a Jaguar XK120 using a fiberglass body and a lot of off-the-shelf passenger-car parts. It had neither scorching performance nor roll-up side windows and it sold poorly. It was nearly canceled in 1955 before salvation arrived in the form of Chevy’s new V8 engine, which gave its performance a much-needed shot in the arm. The Corvette also acquired a new chief engineer, a bright and mercurial Russian immigrant named Zora Arkus-Duntov, who did his level best to make it into a genuine sports car.

In 1958, legendary styling chief Harley Earl retired and his longtime deputy, Bill Mitchell, took over GM’s styling department. Mitchell was a car guy, fond of sporting iron and motorcycles. He loved the Corvette, although his vision for what it should be was sharply removed from Duntov’s notions of serious performance. The battle of wills between these two men in the normally stratified and reactionary corporate culture of General Motors would produce many clashes before both Duntov and Mitchell retired in the 1970s, but it also produced the classic Sting Ray and the fearsome third-generation Corvette, known to its fans as simply “C3” — a car of immodest looks and immodest performance. This car:

1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray 427
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