Category: Family Cars

Bread-and-butter motoring, from the mass-market land yachts of the sixties to today’s Camry and Accord.

Lark and Super Lark: The Last Days of Studebaker

By 1963, Studebaker was already doomed, but its dynamic president, Sherwood Egbert, was not yet ready to admit defeat. Not only did he launch the sporty Avanti, he hired Andy Granatelli to develop a series of hot engines that transformed the humble compact Studebaker Lark into a ferocious — and unlikely — performance car. This is the story of the Lark and Super Lark.

1963 Studebaker Super Lark Lark badge
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Step-Down: The 1948-1954 Hudsons

Best known today for the “Fabulous Hudson Hornets” of 1951-1954, the Hudson Motor Car Company merged with Nash in 1954 to form the American Motors Corporation, disappearing as a separate marque in 1957. This week, we look at the history of Hudson and of their most famous models, the 1948-1954 Step Down Hudsons and the Hudson Hornet.

1951 Hudson Pacemaker 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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Mr. Average: The 1967 Chevrolet Impala

If any car deserves to be called the archetypal sixties American automobile, it’s the Chevrolet Impala. In 1965, the peak of its popularity, one in every nine new cars sold in the United States was an Impala. If we add the sales of the mechanically identical Biscayne and Bel Air models, full-size Chevrolets accounted for more than 15% of the U.S. market. By comparison, the best-selling car in the U.S. in 2008, the Toyota Camry, accounted for only about 3%. In today’s fragmentary market, the sheer ubiquity the big Chevys once enjoyed is difficult to grasp. Let’s take a closer look at the 1965-1970 Chevrolet Impala, the most average of average American cars.

1967 Chevrolet Impala rear fender badge © 2009 Aaron Severson
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The Dodge That (Almost) Ate Detroit: Chrysler’s Disastrous 1962 Downsizing

Making cars smaller (downsizing) can pay huge dividends in improved performance, better fuel economy, and lower emissions — but if the public doesn’t accept it, it can cost you dearly. To understand why Detroit has always been afraid of smaller cars, we need look no further than Chrysler’s ill-fated 1962 Dodge and Plymouth — Detroit’s first downsizing disaster (albeit one with an unexpected silver lining).
1962 Dodge Dart taillights © 2008 Aaron Severson
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Déesse Ex Machina: The Remarkable Citroen DS

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.
Citroen DS21 brakelamps
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Rocket Bomb: The Oldsmobile Rocket 88 and the Dawn of the American Horsepower Race

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.
1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 badge
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Queen of the Road: The Citroën Traction Avant

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.
1939 Citroen Light 15 grille
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Everything Olds Is New Again: The 1960-1961 Oldsmobiles and the Age of Planned Obsolescence

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.

1961 Oldsmobile Super 88 Holiday SceniCoupe badge
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One Hundred from Zero: The 1936–1942 Buick Century

While the Pontiac GTO is often considered the first muscle car, 25 years earlier it was Buick, not Pontiac, that set the pace as America’s leading purveyor of speed and style, offering the fastest production sedan in America: the 1936–1942 Buick Century. This is its story.

1937 Buick 8 grille badge
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Mercury Falling: The Mercury Breezeway Sedans

What’s a Mercury? For the past 30 years or so, the Mercury badge has generally meant a re-trimmed Ford product with slightly different styling and features, offered mostly to give Lincoln-Mercury dealers something to keep them alive between Navigator and Town Car sales. Other than the “electric shaver” grille treatment of recent cars (reminiscent of the 1967 Mercury Cougar), there’s little of substance to differentiate a Mercury from its Ford sibling. Throughout Mercury’s roller-coaster 68-year history, however, FoMoCo has made periodic stabs at giving its ill-starred middle-class division a unique product to sell — like the 1963-1968 Mercury Breezeway sedans.

1964 Mercury Montclair Breezeway hood badge and headlights © 2010 Aaron Severson
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Room at the Top: The 1954 Pontiac Star Chief and Class Consciousness in America

For more than half of its 80-year history, the Pontiac Division of General Motors has tried, with varying degrees of success, to present itself as the hotshot of the GM line-up, with an advertising tagline proclaiming, “We Build Excitement.” Once upon a time, however, Pontiac was a stolid, sensible, rather dull family car whose claim to fame was that it was “priced just above the lowest.” To see what Pontiac used to be before Bunkie Knudsen went racing and John DeLorean twisted the tail of the Tiger, let’s take a look at the 1954 Pontiac Star Chief and Chieftain — the last boring Pontiacs.
1954 Pontiac emblem
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