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!).

The Ford Flathead V8 and the Fall of Henry Ford

The 1930s were full of fascinating experiments and exotic multicylinder Classics, but few cars of that era were more important or more influential than the humble Ford flathead V8. Cheap, pretty, and fast, it launched the American fascination with inexpensive V8 engines and spawned countless hot rods and customs. This week, we look at the 1932 Ford, its 1933–1940 successors, and the history of Ford’s famous flathead V8 — Henry Ford’s final triumph and the beginning of his downfall.

1936 Ford DeLuxe roadster hood ornament
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The Perilous Success of the 1976 Cadillac Seville

The 1976 Cadillac Seville was Detroit’s first serious response to the growing popularity of luxury imports like Mercedes. Although it was an immediate hit, earning a handsome profit and inspiring numerous imitators, the Seville marked the beginning of the end of Cadillac’s credibility as a leading luxury car brand. This week, we look at the history of the 1976-1985 Cadillac Seville and the reasons for Cadillac’s subsequent decline.

1984 Cadillac Seville mirror
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What’s a Matador? The AMC Matador, Rebel, and Classic

With its smooth curves and clean lines, this week’s subject could easily have been a prop on Space: 1999. Car and Driver called it the best-styled car of 1974, but some critics still consider it one of the ugliest designs of the seventies and it remains one of the most divisive. It was a bold move for struggling American Motors and ultimately became a financial disaster. This week, we look at the history of the AMC Matador and its midsize predecessors, the Rambler Classic and Rambler/AMC Rebel.

1974 AMC Matador coupe badge
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Yuppie Sports, Part 2: The Porsche 944 and 968

Designed as a Volkswagen and powered by an Audi engine, Porsche’s entry-level 924 rubbed many purists the wrong way. In 1982, a new look and a new engine transformed the 924 into an eighties icon, a favorite toy of affluent Yuppies on both sides of the Atlantic: the Porsche 944. This week, the history of the 944, the 944 Turbo, and its often-forgotten successor, the Porsche 968.

1987 Porsche 944 badge
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Yuppie Sports, Part 1: The Porsche 924

Although Porsche and Volkswagen hadn’t exactly set the world on fire with their first joint-venture sports car, the 914, the two companies decided to try again in the early seventies with the Porsche 924. Developed by Porsche as a Volkswagen, the new model ended up becoming Porsche’s first front-engine, water-cooled production car and launched a new line of “volks Porsches” that lasted into the nineties. Here’s the tangled history of the 924.

1978 Porsche 924 badge
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Cowboy Cadillacs: The Chevrolet El Camino and Ford Ranchero

Ford and Chevrolet prosaically described these curious hybrids of coupe and pickup truck as sedan pickups, while our Australian readers would call them coupe utilities, utilities, or simply “utes.” Never overwhelmingly popular in the U.S. market when they were new, they have become curiously iconic, presaging America’s infatuation with trucks. This week, we examine the history of the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino.

1964 Chevrolet El Camino badge
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Kill Your Darlings: The Birth and Death of the Pontiac Fiero

Launched in 1983, the Pontiac Fiero promised to be a good-looking, affordable mid-engine sports car introducing exciting new techniques in production and design. Alas, it became one of GM’s great disasters: overweight and underpowered, tarnished by alarming reports of reliability problems and engine fires. By 1988, more power, better looks, and a $30 million new suspension brought the Fiero closer to its original promise — just in time for the corporation to bring down the ax. This week, we look at the origins and history of the Fiero and the reasons for its sad fate.

1987 Pontiac Fiero badge
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Top Cat: The Jaguar E-Type

Sophisticated, glamorous, gorgeous, and fast, this car is on everybody’s short list of the greatest cars of all time. Its flaws are well documented, but there are few automobiles that still command more loyalty or more all-out lust. This week, we examine the history of that favorite sixties icon: the 1961-1975 Jaguar E-type.

1968 Jaguar E-type FHC badge
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Disco-Era Darling: The Chevrolet Monte Carlo

Certain cars become emblematic of a time and a place, perfectly encapsulating the values, priorities, and obsessions of their eras. For America of the fifties, it’s the 1955–57 Chevrolets and the 1959 Cadillac; for the sixties, the Mini, the Beetle, and the Mustang. For the seventies, we’d make a strong case for the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Generally reviled by critics, staggeringly popular with the public, and much imitated, the Monte Carlo remains as powerful a symbol of the period as disco balls, platform shoes, and The Brady Bunch. This week, we explore the history of the Monte Carlo and consider the reasons for its immense — and ultimately ephemeral — popularity.

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo badge
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Outfoxing the Fox: The Fox Mustangs and Mustang SVO

For most people, the words “Ford Mustang” evoke one of two things: the original 1964–1966 icon of sixties Americana or the boxy 1979–1993 Fox Mustangs so beloved of amateur hot–rodders. This week, we consider how one evolved into the other, examine the history of Ford’s ubiquitous Fox platform, and take a look at the most unusual of all Mustangs: the high-tech, turbocharged, four-cylinder 1984-1986 Ford Mustang SVO.

1986 Ford Mustang SVO badge
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Five by Five: The Renault 5 and the Mid-Engine Renault 5 Turbo

If you’re an American over 30, you may have some hazy, not necessarily happy memories of the Renault Le Car, sold here from 1976 through 1983. To Europeans, who will need little introduction, it was known as the Renault 5, a ubiquitous French subcompact that helped to popularize the supermini genre. Although it never sold very well in the States, Renault moved more than 5 million of these cars in other markets between 1972 and 1986, making the “Cinq” one of the best-selling French cars of all time. It also spawned a wild little rally car: the fearsome mid-engine Renault 5 Turbo.

1985 Renault 5 Turbo 2 hatch
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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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