Four of a Kind: The Alfa Romeo 164 and the “Type Four” Cars

Fast, luxurious, and stylish, with a thoroughly modern platform shared with Saab, Fiat, and Lancia, the 1988-1997 Alfa Romeo 164 could have been the hit to resuscitate Alfa’s flailing business and put the company on the map in the German-dominated executive car market. Unfortunately, it was the last model Alfa developed before falling into the arms of Fiat and it had the dubious distinction of being the last Alfa sold in the U.S. This week, we look at the 164 and its “Type Four” siblings: the Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema, and Saab 9000.

1991 Alfa Romeo 164S grille
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Fast Forerunner: The Jensen Interceptor and FF

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.

1976 Jensen Interceptor Convertible 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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Red Rover: The Remarkable Rover P6

When the Citroën DS debuted in 1955, it was indisputably the most advanced family sedan in the world. Naturally, the proud British auto industry was not about to take such a challenge lying down, but it took almost eight years to field a British contender: the remarkable Rover 2000. This week, we examine the history of the 1964-1977 Rover P6 from its abortive turbine engine to the calamity of the British Leyland merger and the V-8-powered Rover 3500.

Rover badge on the nose of a 1968 Rover 2000TC © 2009 Aaron Severson
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Bucking the System: The 1963-1967 Corvette Sting Ray (C2)

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.

1967 Chevrolet Corvette convertible badge
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Everybody’s Kid Brother: Chrysler’s Compact Valiant

Advertised as “Nobody’s Kid Brother,” Chrysler’s compact Valiant was originally intended to be its own marque. The story of how it became the Plymouth Valiant is a complicated one, going back to the origins of the Plymouth brand and its relationship with other Chrysler divisions. This is the story of the original Valiant, its little-known Dodge twin, the Lancer, and the long and contentious relationship between Plymouth and its sister divisions.

1960 Valiant badge
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Raising the Roof: The Ford Skyliner ‘Retrac’

As enjoyable as convertibles can be on beautiful, sunny summer days, they can be a terrible burden any other time, when they are too often drafty, noisy, and vulnerable. We suspect that anyone who’s ever owned a convertible has occasionally wished they could magically transform it into a regular coupe on days when the sun is too hot or the wind too cold. Fifty years ago, the Ford Motor Company offered a car that could do exactly that, creating a piece of mechanical showmanship that has only recently been surpassed: the 1957-1959 Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop.

1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner badge
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Porsche Before Its Time: The Porsche 928

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.

1986 Porsche 928 lettering
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Grace in Motion: The Jaguar XK120

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.

1953 Jaguar XK120-FHC badge
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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
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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
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