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.
Continue Reading Little Sister: The Mercedes 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.
Continue Reading Step-Down: The 1948-1954 Hudsons
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.
Continue Reading From Pillar to Post: More Automotive Definitions
As many of our readers are probably aware, General Motors announced at the end of April 2009 that the venerable Pontiac division will become extinct in late 2010. This week, we take a look at the rise and fall of the car that many consider the definitive Pontiac: the 1964–1974 Pontiac GTO.
We thought we’d take a slightly different approach with this week’s subject. We’ve touched on Chrysler’s financial problems during this period. So, rather than a lengthy recap of the origins of the Imperial marque itself, we’ve decided to present you with three short stories about this 1961 Imperial LeBaron: its name, its engine, and its transmission.
Continue Reading Empire Building: Three Stories about Chrysler’s Imperial
One of the minor but contentious arguments among automotive enthusiasts and historians is the question of exactly what constitutes a muscle car. Since we’ll be talking about several cars of this breed in the coming weeks, we thought we’d give you our take on this issue.