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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
In our history of the Oldsmobile 442, we mentioned that it was not exactly the leader of the pack when it came to Supercar performance. To rectify that problem, Oldsmobile joined forces with Hurst Performance Products to create the ultimate high-performance Oldsmobile: the fearsome 1968 Hurst Olds. This week, we look at that car and the subsequent H/Os, a series that ran through 1984.
The Oldsmobile 442 was Oldsmobile’s entry in the “Supercar” wars of the mid-sixties and early seventies. Although it was never as lauded or as popular as the Pontiac GTO or Dodge Charger, it outlived many of its rivals and helped pave way for Oldsmobile’s ascendancy in the 1970s.
This week, we look at the history of the Oldsmobile Cutlass and 442.
The 1976 Cadillac Seville was Detroit’s first serious response to the growing popularity of luxury imports like Mercedes. Although it was an immediate hit, earning a handsome profit and inspiring numerous imitators, the Seville marked the beginning of the end of Cadillac’s credibility as a leading luxury car brand. This week, we look at the history of the 1976-1985 Cadillac Seville and the reasons for Cadillac’s subsequent decline.
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.
Launched in 1983, the Pontiac Fiero promised to be a good-looking, affordable mid-engine sports car introducing exciting new techniques in production and design. Alas, it became one of GM’s great disasters: overweight and underpowered, tarnished by alarming reports of reliability problems and engine fires. By 1988, more power, better looks, and a $30 million new suspension brought the Fiero closer to its original promise — just in time for the corporation to bring down the ax. This week, we look at the origins and history of the Fiero and the reasons for its sad fate.
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