Although frequently misunderstood and often misspelled, MacPherson struts are one of the most common suspension systems used on modern cars, found on everything from the Proton Savvy to the most formidable Porsche 911 Turbo. In this newly revised and updated installment of Ate Up With Motor, we’ll take a look at the origins and workings of the MacPherson strut, including modern variations like the Toyota Super Strut, GM HiPer Strut, and Ford RevoKnuckle.
Continue Reading The MacPherson Strut
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.
Continue Reading Contrary Compact: The Life and Death of the Chevrolet Corvair
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.
Continue Reading Dynaflow, Turboglide, Roto Hydra-Matic, and Other Early GM Automatics
Ford and Chevrolet prosaically described these curious hybrids of coupe and pickup truck as sedan pickups, while our Australian readers would call them coupe utilities, utilities, or simply “utes.” Never overwhelmingly popular in the U.S. market when they were new, they have become curiously iconic, presaging America’s infatuation with trucks. This week, we examine the history of the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino.
Continue Reading Cowboy Cadillacs: The Chevrolet El Camino and Ford Ranchero
Certain cars become emblematic of a time and a place, perfectly encapsulating the values, priorities, and obsessions of their eras. For America of the fifties, it’s the 1955–57 Chevrolets and the 1959 Cadillac; for the sixties, the Mini, the Beetle, and the Mustang. For the seventies, we’d make a strong case for the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Generally reviled by critics, staggeringly popular with the public, and much imitated, the Monte Carlo remains as powerful a symbol of the period as disco balls, platform shoes, and The Brady Bunch. This week, we explore the history of the Monte Carlo and consider the reasons for its immense — and ultimately ephemeral — popularity.
Continue Reading Disco-Era Darling: The Chevrolet Monte Carlo
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.
Continue Reading Falling Star: The Checkered History of the Chevrolet Vega
The old adage, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan,” could well have been coined for this week’s subject. Immediately embraced by everyone but sports car purists and Ford accountants, it remains among the most beloved (and most coveted) of all American cars. In the wake of its success, nearly everyone involved with its conception claimed credit for it, slighting each other and playing up their own contributions. This week, we try to sort out the origins of the 1955 Ford Thunderbird.
Continue Reading Little Bird: The 1955-1957 Ford Thunderbird
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.
Continue Reading Bucking the System: The 1963-1967 Corvette Sting Ray (C2)
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.
Continue Reading Mr. Average: The 1967 Chevrolet Impala
Thirty years ago, the watchword of the auto industry was downsizing. Driven by high oil prices and ever-increasing emission standards, American automakers were forced to dramatically reduce the size and weight of their cars. Today, with spiraling oil prices and concerns about global warming, a new wave of downsizing can’t be far off. However, downsizing can be risky. Customers have been indoctrinated for decades in the idea that bigger is better, and you have to be careful that smaller size isn’t perceived as poorer value. Do it wrong, and you can end up with a sales disaster that could put you out of business. This week, we take a look at an early example of downsizing that succeeded. This is the history of the 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix
Continue Reading More from Less: The Pontiac Grand Prix and the Politics of Downsizing
Pity the second-generation Chevrolet Camaro. Born late — a delivery fraught with complications — it was nearly snuffed out in adolescence. Although it survived to a ripe old age, the second-gen Camaro has never inspired the same nostalgia as its beloved 1967-1969 predecessor, perhaps because it arrived in the fray of one of the most contentious public debates of the 20th century: the battle over automotive emissions and the use of lead as a gasoline additive. This is the story of the 1970-1981 Chevrolet Camaro and the rise and fall of leaded gasoline.
Continue Reading Getting the Lead Out: The 1970-1981 Chevrolet Camaro and the Rise and Fall of Leaded Gasoline
This car’s engine has been much maligned and its muscular styling still conjures up bad memories of gold chains and exposed chest hair, a last gasp of disco-era glory. It was Pontiac’s first turbocharged production car, but it also brought down the curtain on a storied era of unique Pontiac engines. This is the story of the little-loved, often-forgotten Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Turbo.
Continue Reading The Infamous 1980–1981 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo