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
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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
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The 19th Century Man: The Rise and Fall of Henry Martyn Leland

Unlike its Mercury division, Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln brand was originally a separate company, founded in 1917 by Henry Martyn Leland, the founder of Cadillac. Henry Leland was one of the best and most respected engineers of the early auto industry, an expert in mass production and precision manufacturing. His life, however, is a tragic tale of broken promises and dashed hopes, the story of a great man brought down by the pettiness and venality of a new era that no longer had any place for great men. This week, we look at the career of Henry Leland, founder of Cadillac and Lincoln.

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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