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.
Although it’s best known for building conservative middle-class sedans, GM’s Buick division has occasionally cultivated a rather racy image. In the mid-1980s, Buick took one last stab at the performance market with a ferocious turbocharged version of its popular Regal coupe, a malevolent-looking, all-black street rod that even some Buick executives nicknamed “Darth Vader.” This is the story of the turbocharged Buick Regal Grand National and the fearsome Buick GNX.
As many of our readers are probably aware, General Motors announced at the end of April 2009 that the venerable Pontiac division will become extinct in late 2010. This week, we take a look at the rise and fall of the car that many consider the definitive Pontiac: the 1964–1974 Pontiac GTO.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Continue Reading The 19th Century Man: The Rise and Fall of Henry Martyn Leland
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.
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.
Continue Reading The Kalifornia Kustom Comes to Detroit: The 1953-1954 Buick Skylark
As we saw in our first installment, in January 1930, a few weeks after the stock market crash of October 1929, Cadillac introduced its fabulous V-16. After a few months of strong sales, its popularity suddenly dipped sharply. The cause was not yet the economic crisis, but the introduction of a new internal rival, the Cadillac V-12. This week, the story of the 1931-1937 Cadillac V-12 and the 1938-1940 Cadillac V-16.
Continue Reading King of the Highway, Part 2: The Cadillac V-12
The 1920s were a time of unprecedented prosperity in the United States, with fortunes made practically overnight by means both legitimate and otherwise. By the end of the decade, many automakers were preparing a new breed of ultra-luxury cars aimed at that rich new market — not realizing that the Great Depression was about to bring the party to screeching halt. This week, we examine one of the most famous of those elite cars: the 1930-1937 Cadillac V-16.
It will not have escaped even the casual observer that the companies formerly known as the Big Three automakers — GM, Ford, and Chrysler — are in bad, bad shape. GM lost $37 billion in 2007. Ford’s operating losses were $2.7 billion overall, but they lost $5 billion on their automotive operations. Chrysler, which is now owned by Cerberus Capital Management, is not obliged to share their annual results (not being publicly held), but they aren’t doing a lot better. As of this writing, the three companies are asking for at least $34 billion in federally guaranteed loans, a new bailout. In this last installment of our series, we weigh in on the state of Detroit.