Tag: American cars

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 an animated GIF.
1960 Chevrolet Corvair badge
Continue Reading Contrary Compact: The Life and Death of the Chevrolet Corvair

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

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
Continue Reading Wouldn’t You Really Rather: A Brief History of the Buick Gran Sport

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
Continue Reading Counting to Twelve: The Packard Twelve and Twin Six

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 Hudson’s much-maligned 1953-1954 Jet.

Hudson Jet badge on a 1953 Super Jet four-door sedan
Continue Reading Jet Crash: The Compact Hudson Jet

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

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
Continue Reading Fall from Grace: The Bathtub Packards and the Decline of America’s Most Prestigious Brand

Cammer: The Pontiac OHC Six

With all the furor surrounding Ford and Chevrolet’s new 300+ horsepower V6 Mustang and Camaro, you would think hot six-cylinder engines were a new idea, at least in America. Not so — in 1965, about a decade after the demise of the Hudson Hornet and its “Twin H-Power” straight six, Pontiac introduced a sophisticated new overhead cam six-cylinder engine that promised V8 power and six-cylinder economy. This week, we look at the short life of the 1966-1969 Pontiac OHC six, Pontiac Firebird Sprint, and Tempest Le Mans Sprint.
1967 Pontiac Firebird Sprint hood badge
(Photo © 2006 Robert Nichols; used with permission)
Continue Reading Cammer: The Pontiac OHC Six

The Once and Future Coupe: The Studebaker Hawk

Some cars are seemingly immortal, but the Studebaker Hawk had more reincarnations than the Dalai Lama. Originally developed by the design firm of Raymond Loewy as a show car, it became a highly acclaimed production model in 1953, and survived for another 11 years in a bewildering number of variations. This week, we take a look at the history of the “Loewy coupe” and its many reinventions, including the Studebaker Hawk, GT Hawk, and Super Hawk.

1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk badge
Continue Reading The Once and Future Coupe: The Studebaker Hawk

Plymouths Great and Small: The Plymouth VIP and Fury

Originally a flashy, limited-edition image leader, by 1961, the Plymouth Fury had become a bread-and-butter big car, the mainstay of the line. Starting in 1962, it began a bizarre odyssey, going from small to large and back to small again.

This week, we take a look at the strange incarnations of Plymouth’s big cars in the sixties and seventies, including the Plymouth VIP, a short-lived luxury version that the ads once dubbed the “Very Important Plymouth.”

1966 Plymouth VIP badge
Continue Reading Plymouths Great and Small: The Plymouth VIP and Fury

Born to Lose: The Story of the Edsel

Ford’s ill-fated Edsel Division was born in 1957 as part of an ambitious plan to match General Motors division for division. Edsel died only two years later, but it remained the butt of jokes for decades and its name became virtually synonymous with failure. This week, we look at the history of Edsel and the reasons it flopped.

1959 Edsel Ranger grille
Continue Reading Born to Lose: The Story of the Edsel

A Wing and a Prayer: The Dodge Charger and Charger Daytona

The Dodge Charger was born as a fancier Dodge Coronet with a fastback roof; in its later incarnations, it became a facelifted Chrysler Cordoba, a Plymouth Horizon in drag, and even a family sedan. In between, it became an American muscle car icon and one of the most fearsome stock car racers ever built. This week, we look at the history of the 1968-1978 Dodge Charger and Dodge Charger Daytona.
1973 Dodge Charger badge
Continue Reading A Wing and a Prayer: The Dodge Charger and Charger Daytona