Category: Model Histories

Overviews of specific models, including the story behind their development, how they performed, and whether they were success or failures (and why!).

Reconsidering the 1972 NHTSA Report on the Corvair

If you’re at all familiar with the Corvair, Chevrolet’s air-cooled, rear-engined six-cylinder compact, you’re almost certainly aware that consumer advocate Ralph Nader famously lambasted it as a “‘one-car’ accident” in his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed: The designed-in dangers of the American automobile, whose first chapter is devoted to the Corvair. You may also have heard that an investigation conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the early 1970s refuted Nader’s charges, declaring that the early Corvair’s handling was perfectly safe. However, the facts aren’t so clear cut — and neither is the ostensible exoneration of the Corvair.

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Turbos for the Turnpike: The Turbocharged Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire

In 1962, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile introduced the world’s first turbocharged production cars, the Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire and Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we’ll discuss the origins of turbocharging, the development of the Oldsmobile Jetfire, and the turbocharged Corvair that nearly stole its thunder.

1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder 'Turbocharged' fender badge by Aaron Severson

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Magnificent Kludge: The ‘Rope-Drive’ 1961–1963 Pontiac Tempest

What price novelty? If you walked into a Pontiac dealer in November 1960, the answer was $2,167, the list price of one of the most unusual American cars of its era: the all-new 1961 Pontiac Tempest. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we’ll take a look at the short career of the “rope-drive” 1961–1963 Pontiac Tempest and the hows and whys of its peculiar front-engine/rear-transaxle powertrain.

1963 Pontiac Tempest Le Mans convertible (red) grille closeup by AlfvanBeem (CC0 1.0 - AS recrop)
(Photo: “1963 Pontiac 2217 DR-90-46 p3” by AlfvanBeem, which was dedicated to the public domain by the photographer under a CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication; this version was recropped and resized 2022 by Aaron Severson)

Continue Reading Magnificent Kludge: The ‘Rope-Drive’ 1961–1963 Pontiac Tempest

Glamor Truck From Planet 8: The 1955 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier

Hard as it is now to envision, there was a time, still within living memory, when trucks were not readily accepted in American polite society. One of the most significant harbingers of the transition to our modern era of pampered, luxurious utility vehicles was this rare truck: the 1955 to 1958 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier (and its even rarer brother, the GMC Suburban Pickup).
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Celestial Pony: Toyota’s First-Generation Celica

The first-generation Toyota Celica is one of those cars that used to be everywhere, only to fade into an undeserved obscurity. Often ignored or dismissed by English-language automotive histories, the original Celica was a popular and significant automobile with many interesting permutations, only a few of which ever made it to America and other export markets. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we take a look at the complicated saga of the original A20/A30 Celica, Japan’s first “pony car.”

1974 Toyota Celica hardtop (RA21) fender badge © 2011 dave_7 (with permission)
(Photo: “1974 Toyota Celica badge” © 2011 dave_7; used with permission)

Continue Reading Celestial Pony: Toyota’s First-Generation Celica

Pillarless Under the Rising Sun: Japan’s Four-Door Hardtops

Most English-language automotive histories will tell you that the four-door hardtop became extinct in the late seventies, a victim of American safety regulations. That may have been true in the U.S., but Japan’s love affair with hardtops continued well into the nineties, including some models you probably didn’t know you knew. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we present a brief survey of the Japanese four-door hardtop.

1992 Nissan Laurel Extra Diesel four-door hardtop (Q-SC33) open doors © 2001 Scott McPherson (used with permission)

(Photo © 2001 Scott McPherson; used with permission)

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Bridging the Gap: The Honda / Acura Legend and Rover 800

Japanese cars have a reputation for appliance-like reliability, but are often criticized (fairly or not) for lacking character. Character is a quality of which British cars have rarely been short, but dependability is quite another matter. In the early eighties, Honda and Rover decided to collaborate on two shared-platform luxury cars that promised to bridge that gap: the 1986–1990 Honda / Acura Legend and 1986–1999 Rover 800 (a.k.a. Sterling 800). The long and complicated story of how that project came about and what became of it is our subject in this installment of Ate Up With Motor.

1989 Sterling 827SLi five-door Rover decklid badge © 2014 Aaron Severson

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High-Tech High Roller: 1981–2001 Toyota Soarer Z10, Z20, and Z30

Before it became a Lexus in 1991, the Toyota Soarer enjoyed a decade of success in Japan through two successive generations, becoming the favored choice of Japanese yuppies. A cousin of the Toyota Supra, the Soarer was a sporty, sophisticated personal luxury coupe boasting an array of high-tech features that have only recently become commonplace on high-end cars. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we look at the complete history of the Soarer, including the 1981–1985 Z10, 1986–1991 Z20, and 1992–2000 Z30, with a brief look at the final 2001–2005 Z40.

1983 Toyota Soarer 2800GT-Limited (MZ11) decklid badge © 2011 Aaron Severson

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Thunder and Lightning, Part 2: The AE86 Toyota Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno

In the eighties, the Toyota Corolla and its Japanese-market Toyota Sprinter sibling switched to FWD, but not without one last fling for the sporty rear-drive coupes. In the second part of our story, we look at the origins and history of the final RWD Corolla — the 1983–1987 AE86 Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno — and consider the later history and fate of the Levin and Trueno coupes.

1986 Toyota Corolla Sport SR5 (AE86) - Corolla decklid decal © 2014 Aaron Severson

Continue Reading Thunder and Lightning, Part 2: The AE86 Toyota Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno

Thunder and Lightning, Part 1: The Toyota Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno

Although the Toyota Corolla is one of the world’s bestselling automotive nameplates, it’s not one that generally arouses much enthusiast interest. Twenty years ago, however, the Corolla Levin coupe and its near-twin, the Sprinter Trueno, were sporty rear-wheel-drive cars that are still coveted by street racers today. We’ll get to the legendary AE86 in part two. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we examine the history of the early DOHC Corolla and Sprinter coupes, their Yamaha-developed 2T-G engine, and the more mundane cars on which they were based.

1976 Toyota Corolla SR5 hardtop (TE37) rear fender badge © 2011 Aaron Severson

Continue Reading Thunder and Lightning, Part 1: The Toyota Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno

Compact Cult Classic: The 1984-1991 Honda CRX

Recipe for a cult hit, Honda-style: Take one competent C-segment hatchback, lop a few inches out of the wheelbase, tidy up the suspension tuning and aerodynamics, and repackage the results as a pint-size sports coupe. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we examine the history of the 1984–1991 Honda CRX (née Honda Ballade Sports CR-X) and its erstwhile successors, the del Sol and CR-Z.

1987 Honda CRX tail badge © 2011 Aaron Severson

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