Tag: American cars

How Big Is Too Big? The Midsize Ford Fairlane and Mercury Comet

One of our biggest challenges in writing these articles is that we sometimes become fascinated by something for reasons that aren’t easy to articulate. Some of our subjects have obvious interest, like the Ford Skyliner or the Jaguar XK120, but others may be puzzling to the casual observer. That is certainly the case with this week’s subjects, which are thoroughly unexceptional in engineering and design and have styling that could charitably be described as ordinary. However, they were at the forefront of an emerging debate that is still going on: the question of exactly how big an American sedan ought to be. This week, the history of the 1960-1965 Mercury Comet and 1962-1965 Ford Fairlane.

1965 Ford Fairlane badge
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Bucking the System: The 1963-1967 Corvette Sting Ray (C2)

For more than 50 years, the Chevrolet Corvette has represented a curious paradox for General Motors. The product of GM’s humblest division, it has frequently been among the corporation’s most expensive cars. Designed and engineered largely outside of the normal GM system, it has often been hamstrung by corporate politics. Despite that, it remains the car that the company’s stylists most want to design, its engineers most want to develop, and its workers take the most pride in building. It is a vision of GM as it could be. This week, we look at the model that would set the standard for all future Corvette generations: the Corvette C2, the justly legendary 1963-1967 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray.

1967 Chevrolet Corvette convertible badge
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Everybody’s Kid Brother: Chrysler’s Compact Valiant

Advertised as “Nobody’s Kid Brother,” Chrysler’s compact Valiant was originally intended to be its own marque. The story of how it became the Plymouth Valiant is a complicated one, going back to the origins of the Plymouth brand and its relationship with other Chrysler divisions. This is the story of the original Valiant, its little-known Dodge twin, the Lancer, and the long and contentious relationship between Plymouth and its sister divisions.

1960 Valiant badge
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Raising the Roof: The Ford Skyliner ‘Retrac’

As enjoyable as convertibles can be on beautiful, sunny summer days, they can be a terrible burden any other time, when they are too often drafty, noisy, and vulnerable. We suspect that anyone who’s ever owned a convertible has occasionally wished they could magically transform it into a regular coupe on days when the sun is too hot or the wind too cold. Fifty years ago, the Ford Motor Company offered a car that could do exactly that, creating a piece of mechanical showmanship that has only recently been surpassed: the 1957-1959 Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop.

1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner badge
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All Fall Down: The Cadillac Allante, The Buick Reatta, and How GM Lost Its Styling Mojo

The short-lived Buick Reatta two-seater may seem like the most innocuous of cars (indeed, that was part of its problem). Behind the Reatta’s placid exterior, however, lay a ferocious internal battle that also gave birth to the Cadillac Allanté, ended the four-decade dominance of the once-mighty GM Design Staff — and set the stage for the decline of GM itself.

1990 Buick Reatta badge
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Fork-Tailed Devil: The P-38 Lightning and the Birth of Cadillac’s Famous Fins

Conceived in a farmhouse and inspired by a World War Two fighter plane, Cadillac’s famous tailfins are still virtually synonymous with the brand. This week, we look at the 1948-1949 Cadillac and the birth of the tailfin.

1949 Cadillac Series 62 tailfin
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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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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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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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The Kalifornia Kustom Comes to Detroit: The 1953-1954 Buick Skylark

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.

1954 Buick Skylark badge
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