In 1965, the words “Japanese sports car” would have elicited unsympathetic laughter from most America consumers. Five years later, many of those same scoffers were lining up to buy a racy little GT car wearing a Datsun badge. The Datsun Z car soon became one of the most popular two-seat sports cars of all time, inspiring many generations of sporty Japanese coupes. However, for all its eventual popularity, the Z was a car for which its own manufacturer never had much enthusiasm and the fact that the car was built at all — let alone that it became such a success — is a testimony to the dedication of Yutaka Katayama, the head of Nissan’s U.S. operation, who fought a long and bitter battle to show the world what Japanese automakers were capable of. This week, the history of the Datsun 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z.
The old adage, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan,” could well have been coined for this week’s subject. Immediately embraced by everyone but sports car purists and Ford accountants, it remains among the most beloved (and most coveted) of all American cars. In the wake of its success, nearly everyone involved with its conception claimed credit for it, slighting each other and playing up their own contributions. This week, we try to sort out the origins of the 1955 Ford Thunderbird.
Even as the Ford Mustang was making its smashing debut in April 1964, Ford’s Lincoln-Mercury division began work on its own “pony car,” a stylish coupe that sought to bridge the gap between the Mustang and the Thunderbird. This week, we look at the history (and many incarnations) of the Mercury Cougar.
If you think the 1980 Audi Quattro was the world’s first all-wheel-drive sports coupe, you’re wrong: Almost 15 years before the ur-Quattro, the tiny British automaker Jensen introduced a powerful GT car featuring full-time four-wheel drive and even anti-lock brakes. This is the history of the Chrysler-powered Jensen Interceptor and its high-tech offshoot, the AWD Jensen FF.
For more than 50 years, the Chevrolet Corvette has represented a curious paradox for General Motors. The product of GM’s humblest division, it has frequently been among the corporation’s most expensive cars. Designed and engineered largely outside of the normal GM system, it has often been hamstrung by corporate politics. Despite that, it remains the car that the company’s stylists most want to design, its engineers most want to develop, and its workers take the most pride in building. It is a vision of GM as it could be. This week, we look at the model that would set the standard for all future Corvette generations: the Corvette C2, the justly legendary 1963-1967 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray.
Since its debut in 1964, the Porsche 911 has come to define the Porsche brand. The company’s periodic efforts to expand their market with new models, however worthy, have inevitably prompted grumbling from purists, who stubbornly refused to accept the arrivistes as real Porsches. That was the fate that befell the 1978-1995 Porsche 928, the company’s first V8-engine production car. Conceived as a successor for the 911, it never quite found its niche, dismissed by the faithful as a pricey German Corvette. Nonetheless, the 928 is a milestone car in its own right — a formidable GT that foreshadowed the shape of the modern sports car. This is its story.
Some cars are recognized as milestones only after the fact, dismissed and overlooked in their own times. Others, like this one, are standouts from the moment they first appear. This car stunned the world when it debuted at Earls Court Motor Show in October 1948 — one of the fastest and loveliest cars offered by any manufacturer at any price a dramatic statement of what the British auto industry was capable of achieving. This is the history of the Jaguar XK120, XK140, and XK150.
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.
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.
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…
In our recent article about the Packard One-Twenty, we talked about how not to build a brand. This week, we’ll look at the postwar rebirth of BMW and how the company built one of the world’s most successful automotive brands. We’ll also take a look at one of your author’s personal favorite cars: the 1965-1975 BMW E9 coupe, including the 2000CS, 2800CS, and the legendary BMW 3.0 CSL.
Performance car enthusiasts tend to be a somewhat humorless bunch, whether you’re talking about Ferraristes, old-school muscle car fans, or import tuners. If they have one thing in common, it’s that they’re none too keen at being laughed at. That’s why it’s remarkable that one of the premier icons of the muscle car era is one of the most irreverent of them all: a budget Supercar named after a cartoon bird — the Plymouth Road Runner. This is its story.
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