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!).

All Fall Down: The Cadillac Allante, The Buick Reatta, and How GM Lost Its Styling Mojo

The short-lived Buick Reatta two-seater may seem like the most innocuous of cars (indeed, that was part of its problem). Behind the Reatta’s placid exterior, however, lay a ferocious internal battle that also gave birth to the Cadillac Allanté, ended the four-decade dominance of the once-mighty GM Design Staff — and set the stage for the decline of GM itself.

1990 Buick Reatta badge
(Read more … )

Cafe Society Racer: The BMW E30 M3

Even drivers who don’t consider themselves car nuts (or enthusiasts, if you will) often love the idea of owning a car that feels like a real race car, whether for the bragging rights or just to pretend that the freeway ramp is really a turn at the Nürburgring. Of course, real race cars are usually rough, noisy, temperamental, and fussy in a way few would care to tolerate on a day-to-day basis, but many buyers happily lay out serious money to indulge their Walter Mitty fantasies.

By those standards, there are few cars more desirable than the E30 version of the BMW M3. Not only does it look like a track car, it’s a hardcore “homologation special” whose track-bound brothers dominated touring car racing throughout the late eighties and early nineties. It’s not the fastest of its kind, but there are still those who will swear to you that it is the best. This is its story.

1989 BMW E30 M3 tail badge
(Read more … )

Supermini: The Autobianchi A112 Abarth

Many of our articles are inspired by the cars we spot in and around Los Angeles. Your author has encountered cars as diverse as a Bugatti Veyron, a Jaguar XJ12C, and a Fiat Multipla — not at car shows or museums, but parked on the street or driving in traffic. Every so often, we run across something exotic enough that even we can’t immediately identify it — something like this Autobianchi A112 Abarth.

1972 Autobianchi A112 Abarth badge
(Read more … )

In the Continental Style: The 1961-1963 Lincoln Continental

Although Lincoln’s earliest cars were dismissed as homely, in the decades to come, it would spawn some of the most respected and memorable designs in the automotive industry. This week, we take a look at one of Lincoln’s finest stylistic achievements, the elegant and understated 1961-1963 Lincoln Continental.

1963 Lincoln Continental hood ornament
(Read more … )

Beetle in a Cocktail Dress: The Volkswagen Karmann Ghia

The Karmann Ghia, the most glamorous of Volkswagens, is an automotive drag queen: a rugged and humble economy-car chassis dressed up in the finest haute couture. It is also a car of many nations: engineered and built in Germany, designed in Italy … and styled in Detroit? Read on…

1973 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia badge
(Read more … )

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
(Read more … )

From Small Things: The Nash Metropolitan and the Birth of American Motors

Diminutive size, clown-car looks, and Fifties-style two-tone paint — it could only be the Nash Metropolitan. Designed in Wisconsin and built in England, the “Met” was one of America’s first subcompact cars. More than that, it helped to make the career of a former Mormon missionary named George Romney and to transform Nash Motors into the American Motors Corporation (AMC).

1957 Nash Metropolitan side
(Read more … )

Rock-Solid Snob Appeal: The Mercedes-Benz W111 and W112

For all Mercedes’ reputation for engineering perfectionism and its storied racing heritage, the real appeal of the three-pointed star — immortalized in song by Janis Joplin and many others — has always been snob appeal, a cachet to match all but the most elite luxury cars. Not all Benzs are created equal, however, and few are quite as exclusive or as snobby as the big coupes and cabriolets. This week, we look at the 1963-1971 Mercedes W111 and W112 S-Class coupes and cabriolet.

1966 Mercedes 250SE coupe hood ornament
(Read more … )

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
(Read more … )

The Kalifornia Kustom Comes to Detroit: The 1953-1954 Buick Skylark

We said in the conclusion of our article on the multicylinder Cadillacs that the era of custom bodywork was fading away by 1940, but that wasn’t exactly true. The era of bespoke bodies for elite luxury cars was ending, but a new age of customized cars was only beginning. By the mid-1950s, the trend had spread back to Detroit, leading to a curious array of “factory customs” like this one: the 1953-1954 Buick Skylark.

1954 Buick Skylark badge
(Read more … )

King of the Highway, Part 2: The Cadillac V-12

As we saw in our first installment, in January 1930, a few weeks after the stock market crash of October 1929, Cadillac introduced its fabulous V-16. After a few months of strong sales, its popularity suddenly dipped sharply. The cause was not yet the economic crisis, but the introduction of a new internal rival, the Cadillac V-12. This week, the story of the 1931-1937 Cadillac V-12 and the 1938-1940 Cadillac V-16.

1936 Cadillac V-12 convertible coupe badge
(Read more … )