The Harder They Fall: The Saga of the DeLorean Motor Company

It was the automotive story for almost a decade: former GM superstar John DeLorean had set out to build his own high-tech sports car, only to end up in handcuffs. This week, we present the complete saga of the DeLorean Motor Company and the DeLorean DMC-12, a strange tale of grand ambition, political intrigue, and cocaine.

1981 DeLorean DMC-12 bumper identification

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Contrary Compact: The Life and Death of the Chevrolet Corvair

There is no American automobile more controversial than this one. It’s the car that launched the career of Ralph Nader and led directly to the passage of the first U.S. federal safety legislation. Automotive historian Michael Lamm called this car a martyr; others said it should never have been built at all. It was flawed, at least in its original iteration, but it was also one of the most daring cars GM has ever built. We’re talking about the Chevrolet Corvair.

Author’s Note: The original version of this article was written in 2007. It has been extensively revised and expanded, adding new information and correcting various factual errors. WARNING: The article contains animated GIF images.

1960 Chevrolet Corvair badge

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Wide Track: Bunkie Knudsen, Pete Estes, and the Pontiac Renaissance

In 1956, GM’s Pontiac Motor Division was close to death, its sales down, its market share declining, and its image at a low ebb. That summer, however, help arrived in the form of Bunkie Knudsen, Pete Estes, and John DeLorean. Together, they lifted Pontiac out of its mid-fifties doldrums and put it on track for its unprecedented success in the 1960s. This week, we look back at the reign of Bunkie Knudsen and the birth of the legendary Wide Track Pontiacs.
1957 Pontiac Star Chief wheelcover © 2010 Aaron Severson
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Oscar Banker, the Automatic Safety Transmission, and the Art of Research

We’re going to take a different approach for this week’s article. Instead of presenting another history, we’ve decided to give you a look at the way we approach the research for these articles, and tackle a challenging comment posed by one of our readers: did inventor Oscar Banker design the 1937-1939 Oldsmobile/Buick Automatic Safety Transmission, the predecessor of Hydra-Matic?
Important author’s note: Much of this article, originally written in 2010, was speculative and thus many things turned out to be off-base or wrong. I’ve opted to leave the article up for the time being (having removed some of the more glaring errors) until such time as I can more thoroughly revise it, but please keep in mind that this is NOT an authoritative piece on Oscar Banker. Caveat lector!
1974 Cadillac Miller Meteor ambulance Power Light
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Wouldn’t You Really Rather: A Brief History of the Buick Gran Sport

The words “sporty Buick” have never quite rolled off the tongue, but over the years, Buick has produced a surprising number of performance cars, from the speedy prewar Century to the turbocharged Grand National and GNX. From 1965 to 1975, it even offered its own entry in the burgeoning Supercar market: the Skylark Gran Sport. This week, we take a look at the history of Buick muscle and the career of the Skylark Gran National, GS400, GS455, and GSX.
1965 Buick Skylark GS yellow badge
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Counting to Twelve: The Packard Twelve and Twin Six

In January 1930, Cadillac introduced its mighty Sixteen, a bold and extravagant bid for supremacy in the luxury car field. Naturally, the Packard Motor Car Company, the reigning champion of the American luxury market, was not about to take that lying down, and launched its own 12-cylinder Twin Six in 1932. It would be easy to assume the Packard Twin Six was a hastily contrived response to the multicylinder Cadillacs, but that’s only half true. The latter-day Packard Twelve was conceived for quite a different purpose, and therein hangs a tale. This week, we look at the curious history of the legendary Packard V-12 cars with sideways glances at Cord and — the Indianapolis 500? Read on …

1936 Packard Twelve convertible coupe badge

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Jet Crash: The Compact Hudson Jet

When the Hudson Jet was first announced in 1952, company officials thought the compact sedan would be a renaissance for the venerable automaker. Today, many historians will tell you it was Hudson’s fatal mistake. This week, we look at the origins and history of the much-maligned 1953–1954 Hudson Jet.
Hudson Jet badge on a 1953 Super Jet four-door sedan
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Dynaflow, Turboglide, Roto Hydra-Matic, and Other Early GM Automatics

The Hydra-Matic, GM’s first fully automatic transmission, was a great success, inspiring a host of rivals — including some within General Motors itself. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we look at the origins of Dynaflow and Powerglide, the ambitious but ill-fated Turboglide and Flight Pitch Dynaflow (a.k.a. Triple Turbine), the later Controlled Coupling Hydra-Matic and Roto Hydra-Matic, and more.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article, originally written in 2010, has been extensively revised and expanded for 2016.

Dynaflow badge on a 1951 Buick Super Riviera © 2007 Aaron Severson

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Hydra-Matic History: GM’s First Automatic Transmission

GM’s original Hydra-Matic transmission was one of the most important innovations in the history of the automobile. It wasn’t the first automatic transmission, but it was the first one that really worked and its resounding commercial success paved the way for every subsequent auto-shifter. This week, we take a look at the origins of the Hydra-Matic and its originator, Earl Thompson, who also developed the first Synchro-Mesh gearbox back in the 1920s.

Hydra-Matic hood badge on a 1942 Oldsmobile B-44 club coupe © 2009 Aaron Severson

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Charge of the Light Brigade: The Last Stand of the Packard Motor Car Company

As the 1950s dawned, the Packard Motor Company was down, but not yet out. In 1952, a hotshot salesman from the appliance industry named Jim Nance tried to turn it around with new tactics and new technology. He came close to succeeding, but it would be the venerable automaker’s last hurrah. This week, we look at the downfall and demise of Packard.
Cormorant hood ornament on a 1955 Packard Four Hundred hardtop © 2010 Aaron Severson
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Fall from Grace: The Bathtub Packards and the Decline of America’s Most Prestigious Brand

Between 1935 and 1956, the Packard Motor Car Company went from the top of the heap among American automotive brands to just another independent, struggling to survive on the scraps of the Big Three. This week, we take a look at the Packard Clipper, the “bathtub Packards” of the late 1940s, and how the once-great automaker lost its way. We also examine one of the company’s odder experiments, the 1948 Packard Station Sedan.
1948 Packard Super Eight Victoria badge © 2010 Aaron Severson
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Tiny and Triumphant: The Morris / Austin Mini

The original Mini is one of a tiny handful of vehicles that are truly iconic, immediately recognizable even by people who know nothing about cars. It’s as enduring a symbol of sixties Britain as the Beatles and James Bond — a revolutionary little shoebox on wheels that rewrote the rules for compact cars. This week, we look at the history of BMC’s original Morris and Austin Mini.
1963 Austin Mini Cooper front 3q view
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