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.
Continue Reading Rock-Solid Snob Appeal: The Mercedes-Benz W111 and W112
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).
Continue Reading The Dodge That (Almost) Ate Detroit: Chrysler’s Disastrous 1962 Downsizing
We said in the conclusion of our article on the multicylinder Cadillacs that the era of custom bodywork was fading away by 1940, but that wasn’t exactly true. The era of bespoke bodies for elite luxury cars was ending, but a new age of customized cars was only beginning. By the mid-1950s, the trend had spread back to Detroit, leading to a curious array of “factory customs” like this one: the 1953-1954 Buick Skylark.
Continue Reading The Kalifornia Kustom Comes to Detroit: The 1953-1954 Buick Skylark
As we saw in our first installment, in January 1930, a few weeks after the stock market crash of October 1929, Cadillac introduced its fabulous V-16. After a few months of strong sales, its popularity suddenly dipped sharply. The cause was not yet the economic crisis, but the introduction of a new internal rival, the Cadillac V-12. This week, the story of the 1931-1937 Cadillac V-12 and the 1938-1940 Cadillac V-16.
Continue Reading King of the Highway, Part 2: The Cadillac V-12
The 1920s were a time of unprecedented prosperity in the United States, with fortunes made practically overnight by means both legitimate and otherwise. By the end of the decade, many automakers were preparing a new breed of ultra-luxury cars aimed at that rich new market — not realizing that the Great Depression was about to bring the party to screeching halt. This week, we examine one of the most famous of those elite cars: the 1930-1937 Cadillac V-16.
Continue Reading King of the Highway, Part 1: The Cadillac V-16
It will not have escaped even the casual observer that the companies formerly known as the Big Three automakers — GM, Ford, and Chrysler — are in bad, bad shape. GM lost $37 billion in 2007. Ford’s operating losses were $2.7 billion overall, but they lost $5 billion on their automotive operations. Chrysler, which is now owned by Cerberus Capital Management, is not obliged to share their annual results (not being publicly held), but they aren’t doing a lot better. As of this writing, the three companies are asking for at least $34 billion in federally guaranteed loans, a new bailout. In this last installment of our series, we weigh in on the state of Detroit.
Continue Reading Falling Empires Part 3: Wither Detroit?
In 1981, Chrysler had $1.2 billion in federally backed loans and an array of new products. Problem solved? Not exactly. In the third installment of our series on the Chrysler bailout, we examine the corporation’s rocky road back to solvency — and how it ended up on the ropes again less than a decade later.
Continue Reading Falling Empires Part 2: The Road Back
While there is a popular misconception in some sectors of the auto industry that you can become profitable simply by cutting your operating costs to the bone, the truth is that a car company lives or dies by the strength of its products. That was the hard truth that Chrysler faced in 1981, as it trepidatiously introduced the models that would determine its fate: the K-cars and the 1981 Imperial.
Continue Reading It’s (Not) Time for Imperial: Chrysler’s 1981-1983 Imperial Coupe
Throughout its 85-year history, the Chrysler Corporation has often found itself engaged in a coquettish flirtation with doom. Although Chrysler sometimes led the American industry in engineering innovation, a combination of ill-considered product choices, quality problems, and misguided management have put it on the ropes more than a few times. The list of disasters is long: the brilliant but commercially moribund Airflow of the 1930s; the catastrophic quality-control issues of the late 1950s; the ill-fated “downsizing” of 1962. The one on everyone’s mind of late, however, is the late-seventies financial crisis that sent ostensible free-market conservative Lee Iacocca to Washington, hat in hand — looking for a bailout.
Continue Reading Falling Empires Part 1: The Chrysler Bailout
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.
Continue Reading From Bavaria with Love: The BMW E9 Coupes
In Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the narrator, Raoul Duke, and his attorney, Doctor Gonzo, set out from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in a rented red convertible they dub the Great Red Shark, blazing across the desert, hopped up on enough controlled substances to fill a shopping cart, in search of the American Dream. The novel’s Great Red Shark was a Chevrolet, not a Dodge, but there would be few better choices for a fast run from L.A. to Las Vegas than this week’s subject: the rare and rocket-like 1960 Dodge Polara D-500.
Continue Reading Great Red Shark: The 1960 Dodge Polara D-500
In late 1959, Ford Motor Company released the smallest car it had sold in the U.S. since the 1930s: the 1960 Ford Falcon. The Falcon proved to be the most successful of Detroit’s new breed of compact cars and it gave birth to many spin-offs and derivatives, from the Ford Mustang to the plush Granada. More significantly, though, the Falcon marked the flash point of a conflict between two different philosophies of management and two very different men: Lido Anthony Iacocca and Robert Strange McNamara. This week, the history of the 1960-1970 American Ford Falcon.
Continue Reading The Salesman and the Statistician: Robert McNamara, Lee Iacocca, and the Ford Falcon