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.
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.
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.
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.
It sounded so promising at the time. After years of dismissing imported compacts as cars for kooks, GM was finally going to build an attractive, sophisticated subcompact featuring the latest advances in manufacturing technology. To follow that, Chevrolet was going to offer a sporty version with a racy twin-cam engine built by the legendary English firm Cosworth. It was the car that was going to save America for American cars — that is, until it all went wrong. This is the story of the 1971-1977 Chevrolet Vega and 1975-1976 Cosworth Vega.
In February 1954, Mercedes-Benz introduced its first two postwar production sports cars. One was the remarkable “Gullwing” 300SL, the street version of the race car that won Le Mans in 1952. The other was the smaller Mercedes 190SL roadster, a pretty and competent (if underpowered) tourer suggested by legendary importer Max Hoffman. This is the history of the 1955-1963 190SL.
For much of its existence, American Motors’ focus was on compact economy cars, a cause that the company once promoted with missionary zeal. How, then, do we explain this car? Not simply a Supercar, but a bona fide street racer bearing the well-known name of performance-parts guru George Hurst — and the last car to wear the Rambler nameplate. This is the story of the 1969 Hurst-AMC SC/Rambler.
Every ten years or so, the American market rediscovers the compact economy car. This “discovery” is inevitably treated as a revelation, as is the idea that a small car might not be a sluggardly automotive hair shirt. Our younger readers may therefore be surprised to know that the idea of a small, luxurious economy car goes back at least to this primordial American compact: the original Nash Rambler. This week, the story of the 1950–1963 Rambler and Rambler American.
This car, another of Lee Iacocca’s many product planning brainstorms, was one of Ford’s greatest successes in the late sixties and early seventies. A gaudy, overstuffed personal luxury car that critics aptly described as an overgrown Thunderbird, it was nonetheless a hugely profitable exercise and one of the most stylistically influential cars of its era. This week, we look at the origins and history of the 1969-1979 Lincoln Continental Mark III, Mark IV, and Mark V.
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.
Although it’s best known for building conservative middle-class sedans, GM’s Buick division has occasionally cultivated a rather racy image. In the mid-1980s, Buick took one last stab at the performance market with a ferocious turbocharged version of its popular Regal coupe, a malevolent-looking, all-black street rod that even some Buick executives nicknamed “Darth Vader.” This is the story of the turbocharged Buick Regal Grand National and the fearsome Buick GNX.
Periodically, we feel it’s worth taking the time to define some of the terms we throw around with which some readers may not be familiar. This week, we examine some of the terminology of automotive design.