Monday, September 12, 2011
Sports Car for Five
Text and Photos by David W. Temple
Cars of the 1950s, are noted for their dramatic and in some cases for their extreme styling – those of ‘59, especially so. The cars of the ‘50s were not only about styling, however. Horsepower and gadgets were the in thing, too. For 1957, Chevrolet merged the latter two with the introduction of fuel-injection.
The most dominant styling characteristic of the ‘59 Chevrolets was of course the deeply sculpted fins (or as some say, the “bat wings”). An early report in Popular Mechanics on the 1959 Chevrolets said of the car, “Styling is the thing with the new Chevrolet ... Its low, flaring rear end is as expansive as the deck of an aircraft carrier and looks almost as wide from the driver’s seat. Horizontal taillights squint, like giant cat’s eyes, from under chrome eyebrows. At the front, two sets of paired headlamps are set as low as the law allows to accentuate the road-hugging design.” A road test report in the January 1959, issue of Motor Trend concluded that, “All in all the Chevrolet stands out as the most unashamed proponent of the ‘bigger and wider styling school’ in its field. In performance it’s batting fairly even with the competition.”
The standard engine was the familiar Blue-Flame straight-six, although the buyer could still obtain the Turbo-Fire 283 2-bbl., or the Super Turbo-Fire 283 4-bbl. carried over from ‘57. Also, the 250hp (at 5000 rpm) Ram-Jet fuel-injected 283 was retained as was a companion 290hp (at 6,200rpm) version dubbed Ram-Jet Special. The fuel-injection equipment introduced for ‘57 soon showed it needed some “bugs” worked out of the system. It received upgrades that increased reliability on 1958 cars; further refinements were made for ‘59. Compared with the original ‘57 setup, the fuel-injected engines operated on a leaner mixture, air leaks around the nozzle anchorages were sealed, each injector nozzle received filter screens, and a simpler manifold vacuum operated valve replaced the complex arrangement involving a solenoid for cold starts and a micro-switch to bypass the solenoid for hot starts. For it’s swan song appearance on full-sized Chevys, minor mechanical changes were incorporated that included a unique air cleaner which was required due to the lower hood profile of the ‘59 Chevy. Other modifications resulted in simplified repair procedures. Those equipped with the Rochester FI setup had the fact noted with a unique fender-mounted emblem and script.
The two versions of the fuel-injection engines had significant differences. The 250hp Ramjet had cast alloy aluminum pistons with notched heads while the 290 horse Ramjet Special received pistons with slipper skirts and domed heads. Compression ratios in the respective engines were 9.5:1 and 10.5:1. The Ramjet had hydraulic lifters; the Ramjet Special got mechanical units. Valve size was 1.72 inches for the intake and 1.5 inches for the exhaust on both engines, but the tolerances differed. For the Ramjet engine a tolerance of +/- 0.005 inch was specified, but on the Ramjet special the allowed tolerance was zero. Rod and main bearings were different between the two engines, too.
Chevrolet ran an advertisement for the fuel-injected engine in the March 1959 issue of Motor Trend that featured an Impala two-door hardtop and a family of five proudly posed beside it. The large print banner at the top read, “I ‘built’ my Chevy to handle like a sports car ... for five!” The finer print mentioned the optional 290hp engine (no mention of the 250hp version, though) and the Corvette four-speed transmission as well as posi-traction. Also offered at extra-cost was a handling package consisting of metallic brake linings, stiffer springs, larger shocks, stronger wheel bearings and ball joints. The option generally appeared on Chevy police cars. One other option that was seldom ordered was the troublesome air suspension. It had been offered in ‘58, and surprisingly it was again in the options catalog for ‘59.
The big news for Chevrolet in ‘58 had been the new 348 cid V8. For ‘59, the big news remained the 348. It was offered in three states of tune during its first year – the Turbo-Thrust with four venturi induction and a pair termed Super Turbo-Thrust each with three, two barrel carburetors, but with differing compression ratios. Their respective output ratings were 250hp@4,400rpm on 9.5:1 compression, 280hp@4,800rpm with the same fuel/air mix squeeze, and 315hp at a high winding 5,600rpm and 11.1:1 compression. This series continued for the ‘59s along with new additions. Offered at the start of production was a single four-barrel version of the high compression engine rated at 300hp (also reached at 5,600 rpm). The upgraded version of the 348 became known as the Special Turbo-Thrust while the tri-carb 315hp engine took on the title of Special Super Turbo-Thrust. During January 1959, a pair of even stronger 348s was added to the list. Both featured 11.25:1 compression ratios, dual valve springs, centrifugal distributor, and scavenger exhaust headers. The four-barrel version had an output rating of 320 while the other with its three deuces pumped out 335. The single carb setup was legal for NASCAR competition where Chevrolet managed a number of Grand National victories. Fuel-injection had been banned from NASCAR tracks at the midpoint of ‘57. Most performance buffs believed in the old adage “there is no substitute for cubic inches” anyway; they got them for ‘58 when the 348 was introduced. By ‘59, the expensive fuel-injected 283 was old news. The option had gotten a reputation as being unreliable although that may not have been true. Some today say the setup is unreliable while others will say the Rochester unit performs as well or better than a carburetor. One issue that is certain is that the Ramjet option was very expensive. It added nearly $500 to the price tag while the Super Turbo Thrust was priced at under $270. Even so, fuel-injection was very exotic for the late ‘50s. It was discontinued on the big Chevys by the time the last of the ‘59s had rolled off the assembly lines, but Corvette fans could still get the “fuelie” through 1965.
Several transmission choices were available. A three-speed manual was standard issue with any engine while a three-speed manual with overdrive and a Powerglide two-speed automatic were optional for the carburetored 283s. The Super Turbo-Fire, the Ram-Jets, Turbo-Thrust, Super Turbo-Thrust could be had with the close-ratio four-speed and floor-mounted shifter. The latter was in great demand, but the strike by the employees of Borg-Warner, the company which supplied the units to Chevrolet, made getting a four-speed very difficult – so much so that Chevy had to give preference to the Corvette when the four-speed gear box was ordered. Many customers who ordered the four-speed on their full-size Chevy finally settled for a three-speed unit to speed delivery of the car.
Chevrolet was not the only American automobile maker to offer fuel-injection during the last years of the ‘50s. Chrysler Corporation released the option for the 1958 model year, but very few of the units were ordered. Most of the cars ordered with it were retrofitted with carburetors. Rambler allegedly offered the option for 1957, but it is unclear if any of their cars left the assembly line with the setup. Early rumors that indicated Chevrolet would offer a fuel-injected engine for ‘57 were heard by some with Ford Motor Company. They elected to respond with a Paxton supercharger, though.
The 1959 Impala convertible shown on these pages arguably represents the ultimate extreme in American cars of the ‘50s; it is one of a reported 26 full-size Chevys to receive the fuel-injected 283 that year (although another source indicates 37). The car underwent a total restoration which was completed in 2000. Other equipment on the Impala includes Powerglide transmission, power windows, power seat, power steering, power brakes, tinted windshield, continental kit, bumper guards, rocker molding, spinner wheel covers, skirts, door handle shields, Wonderbar radio, and dual aerials. “Bat wings” and gadgetry… for what more could one have asked in a car of the ‘50s?!
1959 Chevrolet Impala
Engine: 283cid V8*
Bore and Stroke: 3.875x 3.000 inches
Induction: Rochester fuel-injection
Transmission: Powerglide two-speed automatic
Top Speed: approx. 130mph
Wheelbase: 119 inches
*Two fuel-injected 283s were offered as options – a 250 horsepower version and a 290 horsepower type. Also optional were variously rated 348s ranging from 250 to 335hp.
**This estimate is based on the 1958 Daytona Speedweeks result for a fuel-injected 1958 Chevy that ran a top seed of 131.004mph which was higher than that attained by a tri-carb 348 powered Chevy –126.249mph.***One source indicates 26 full-size 1959 Chevys received a fuel-injected engine while Rochester’s records indicate 37 units were built for full-size Chevrolets. At least three FI cars – two convertibles (including the feature car) and a two-door sedan – still exist. No breakdown by model and body style is currently available. At least one four-speed FI convertible was built, but its disposition is currently unknown.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Award Winning, Front Wheel Drive Sensation
Text and Photos by David W. Temple
The automotive press was ecstatic about an all new car in the Olds camp at the beginning of the 1966 model year – the first front wheel drive (FWD) production car since the 1937 Cord called Toronado. The editors of Hot Rod said in their October 1965 issue that the Toro was “... the most technically interesting and significant car to come out of the American auto industry since the 1960 Corvair; they have scored a technical breakthrough.” This same observation was echoed by Road & Track when they noted in their January 1966 issue that “No American car has caused such a flurry of technical interest as the Toronado has since that other extreme of American car design, the Corvair.” Those who evaluated the new creation from Oldsmobile for the February 1966 issue of Car Life had mostly praise for the Toronado, but did note a few features that were not liked. More will be said on that matter later. The people at Motor Trend selected the FWD car the winner of its annual “Car of the Year” award and lauded the engineers for their achievement in overcoming numerous technical problems to make the Toronado a “truly outstanding car” and noted that “... never in the 14-year history of this award has the choice been so obvious and unanimous. The Toronado is symbolic of a resurgence of imaginative engineering and tasteful styling in the U.S. auto industry.”
The origin of the Toronado was with Old’s 1958 Advanced Design Group project dubbed XP-784. The group was basically given a blank check in terms of investigating ideas to build a better car. Numerous concepts were explored including front-engine/rear-transmission designs; even engineering prototypes of such were tested. However, within a couple of years, the FWD arrangement had emerged as the most inviting. Even so, the FWD arrangement was seen as being packaged within a car the size of Oldsmobile’s F-85 with a look very similar to that of the first Corvair. In fact, a prototype was built from production Corvair parts, but with an aluminum 215 V6 mounted crosswise using two chains with one connecting the engine and transmission and the other the transmission and differential. Testing revealed good points (like excellent directional stability and handling) as well as bad ones. Solutions for the various problems encountered (such as shudder, chain noise, etc.) were carefully evaluated and rejected. As progress continued, it became clear another setup would be desirable. Fortunately, the Olds engineers were fully capable of solving the problems encountered.
Concurrent with the engineering side of the program, a marketing survey revealed the F-85/Corvair like automobile was not the best way to go. Instead, the study showed that buyers in the personal luxury and sports car classes were much more likely to accept something different; the FWD car would certainly qualify as different since there had not been one built in the U.S. since the late thirties. Thus, a full-size car with a big V8 became the preferred vehicle to showcase the front wheel drive technology.
As the design gelled further, the problems with the technical side were being liquidated one-by-one. Torsion bars replaced the coil springs in front; these allowed for a lower silhouette. Mounting the engine in the conventional manner made the design of the cooling system easier and freed up much needed space under the hood. New solutions led to new problems, though. For instance, the oil pan had to allow the right driveshaft to pass under the center main bearing cap, but the first design was shown to provide a possible source of oil leakage. A better design dealt with that potential, but it could trap oil in the front of the pan under some circumstances leading to oil starvation for the hydraulic valve lifters. A baffle and trough system finally remedied the situation. Eventually, chain noise, reliability, cooling, oiling, handling, damping, space limitations, etc. were dealt with successfully and the Olds Toronado adapted the General Motors developed Turbo Hydra-Matic. By separating the planetary gearbox section of the transmission from its torque converter drive unit, and swinging the gearbox 180 degrees so it lay next to the converter, the two could be reconnected by a drive chain in the transfer case. This arrangement along with the spiral-bevel gearset and all-spur gear differential drove the wheels through short shafts and constant velocity universal joints. Smoothness in the drive train came via the use of chain and sprocket components manufactured by Morse Chain Company in conjunction with Oldsmobile. The high velocity chain consisted of 124 links across its overall 46.5 foot length. The sprockets had bonded- in rubber cushioning devices to enhance drive line smoothness.
Before this system was developed, many experts for various reasons said, “It couldn’t be done.” Just in case the naysayers were proven right, GM had a parallel program in the works as a backup. The naysayers were not just thinking negatively; they had known the Cord FWD setup was not entirely ideal. (For example, it suffered from considerable wheel wobble and feedback that could be felt throughout the steering system.) However, the benefits of FWD were just too good to ignore – flat floor and full-depth cushions in both front and rear seat, large trunk space potential with the elimination of the differential hump, compact drivetrain that not only saved space but reduced vibrations and eliminated the deflections characteristic of long drivelines, improved directional stability especially in a crosswind, better handling and cornering, plus a chassis layout suited to the styling trend of the time (long hood/short deck).
The program that began in 1958 was about ready to go into production six years later. A Toronado demonstrator was ready for engineering evaluation and managerial inspection in early 1964. Everyone was impressed with the car that appeared at the proving grounds; the decision to market a production version did not take long. The project was then shifted away from the Advanced Design Group and handed over to the regular engineering team who solved the problems of interchangeability, production costs, etc.
Once the new Toronado made it into public view, it created quite a stir. The first few paragraphs of the Motor Trend report were devoted to people’s reactions to seeing the car for the first time. Car Life reported that during their testing, “... everyone encountered expressed an opinion – positive or negative – or asked a question.” Car Life’s report had many very positive comments, but their evaluation noted just a few dislikes. The most notable was in regard to braking which is not too shocking since cars of this era were often noted for less than adequate braking. For the Toronado which weighed roughly 5,400 pounds fully loaded, the test car’s total swept braking area of 328.2 square inches “... demonstrated alarmingly unacceptable fade characteristics ...” Those with the magazine who gave their opinion of the Toronado also had a rather unusual complaint – the name itself; Car Life’s writer said it seemed to be a name “designed by a committee.” Regardless of the latter viewpoint or the braking inadequacy, the Toronado itself brought many customers to a stop at Oldsmobile dealerships across the country. Nearly 41,000 of the 1966 Toronados in standard and deluxe form were sold with most buyers opting for the deluxe version by a margin of nearly 5.5 to 1.
Although the new Toro was a hit, the FWD system was found to still had a few bugs that needed to be removed. The teenage kids of GM managers were the ones who found what the engineers did not. You might say they tested the FWD system more thoroughly than the engineers – on Woodward Avenue. Early examples of the model were often drag-raced along that famous stretch of pavement. At the stop light, these street racers would hold the brake while revving the engine up and then let it go! This action fatigued the universal joints and led to failure of the parts. Evidently, those testing the car at GM’s test tracks did not drive the car often enough in a similar manner. Action at GM to correct the problem was immediate. Managers at Cadillac had decided to wait for the ‘67 model year to release a nearly identical FWD Turbo-Hydramatic for their new Eldorado; thus the appropriate upgrades could be incorporated from the start.
The featured 1966 Toronado needed some upgrades when its owner, Tom Bilse, bought it shortly after a move to Kansas City, Kansas, in 1981. Within a few months after moving, Tom spotted the Toronado at a neighboring apartment complex. As he explained, “It caught my eye because it was a Toronado and because it was autumn bronze, a color that I had not personally seen Torondao's painted before. Thoughts of owning the car ‘danced in my head’, but coming from a frugal background I continually fought the desire. Eventually desire won and I placed a note under one of the car's windshield wipers. Rain fell that night, though; I took that to be an omen to not pursue the endeavor.” Tom pursued it anyway. He placed a note inside a plastic bag next time and the owner later responded by saying he had not considered selling the car, but would think about it. The owner told Tom he had been an Oldsmobile salesman and had sold the Toro to its first owner and later bought it back from him. Soon after that conversation, he called Tom again and agreed to sell the car for $1,800. Interestingly, years after Tom purchased the car, he found his original rain-spotted note in the glove compartment.
Tom soon discovered he was “totally naive about auto restoration ...there was much to do with this car. The interior (also bronze) was in great shape, but the right rear quarter panel consisted more of bondo than metal. The top undersides of the fenders were rusty, also. Someone installed a black vinyl roof on the car, an option which was not available until the '67 model. I took the car to a man who did restorations out of his garage, but was someone highly praised for his work.” When the restoration was complete, the Toronado had had its fenders, right door and quarter panel, floor pans, and trunk floor replaced. A repaint in its original color and some detailing completed the project. The Toronado now looks and drives as its designers intended – like a symbol of imaginative engineering and tasteful styling.
1966 Oldsmobile Toronado
Base Price: $4,779
Engine: 425cid V8
Bore and Stroke: 4.126x 3.975 inches
Carburetion: Rochester Quadra-Jet
Wheelbase: 119 inches
0-30mph: 3.4 seconds
0-45mph: 5.9 seconds
0-60mph: 9.5 seconds
40-60mph: 5.1 seconds
50-70mph: 5.6 seconds
Standing 1/4 mile: email@example.com seconds
30-0mph: 29.5 feet
60-0mph: 167 feet
*Source: “Motor Trend”, December 1965 (Car of the Year issue) road test report on 4,800lb. test vehicle
Monday, August 8, 2011
The Past Meets the Future
Text by David W. Temple
Photos by General Motors
Photos by General Motors
Corvette enthusiasts got a real treat in the form of the 2009 Stingray Concept, also known as the Corvette Centennial. It was unveiled to the public at the Chicago Auto Show. Unlike most concept cars, this one starred in a major motion picture, Transfomers: Revenge of the Fallen, as did another GM show car, the Camaro Bumblebee, in the earlier Transformers movie. The design of the Stingray was derived from the original 1959 Stingray race car as well as the 1963 “split window” coupe and other generations of the sports car. The end result was a car with futuristic styling; clearly that was the intent of those involved in the project. Vice president of GM Global Design, Ed Welburn, said the car “represents an exercise in exploration for the Corvette. By giving my creative team the freedom to design no-holds-barred vision concepts, it helps them push boundaries and look at projects from different perspectives.”
The Corvette Stingray Concept was developed as an internal design challenge for GM’s “Studio X” to combine classic Corvette cues with surprisingly high-tech features, modern materials, and a striking new appearance. The car is well-appointed with a clamshell hood, scissor-style doors, ergonomic seats, rear-view camera with night vision enhancement, and a high performance hybrid drive. Interactive touch controls allow the driver to customize the power and efficiency of his or her ride and share it with friends via the in-car camera system and advanced telemetrics.
Despite all the high-tech accoutrements, the Stingray is a non-runner.
Ed Welburn seemed to downplay the car’s influence on the C7 Corvette saying the Stingray was “purely a concept.” The C7 is expected to debut for the 2013 model year.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
E53F 001300 - The Last of the First Corvettes
Photography and text by David W. Temple
Chevrolet’s Corvette has been with us for nearly 60 years. Clearly this sports car has been popular for quite a while, hence its longevity. As practically all Corvette enthusiasts know, this fiberglass car almost did not survive beyond its first three years of production. Now all of those models are in demand by collectors. However, some of them are more special than others. When a ’53 Corvette is offered for sale or displayed at a car show, the question probably most asked by knowledgeable types is, “What number is it?” The oldest known surviving Corvette, number three or E53F 001003, sold for $1 million at Barrett-Jackson in 2006. Number one is evidently no longer in existence though rumors to the contrary do persist about it. Incidentally, number two was tested and rebuilt by GM – so much so it was “phased out” of existence over time piece by piece so little if any of the original car remains. Even the body of #2 was replaced. Then there is the case of the “Last Stingray.” That ’67 model sold for $600,000 at Barrett-Jackson in 2007. First, last and oldest obviously have much meaning to Corvette fans.
The creation of the phenomenal Corvette was the brainchild of GM Styling VP Harley Earl who desired to produce an American sports car. Sports cars were becoming increasingly popular, but nearly all of them were of European design such as the M.G. TD and the Jaguar XK 120. However, as popular as these cars were to American enthusiasts, only little more than a quarter of one percent of new car registrations in this country were for sports cars. To most Americans, these cars had several undesirable characteristics. Zora Arkus-Duntov told a group at an SAE meeting in 1953 statistics showed that the American public did not want a sports car, but went on to question if the statistics gave a true picture. He noted the market for such a car was an unknown quantity and that perhaps a sports car designed to American tastes and roads might have a significant following.
In September of 1951, Harley Earl drove his experimental LeSabre to the sports car races at Watkins Glen and watched the M.G.s, Allards, Ferraris, and Cunninghams speed around the track. Earl said the idea for the Corvette was born while driving the LeSabre as the pace car for this race; it was a significant turning point in automotive history.
|A 150hp “Blue Flame Special” powered all 1953 Corvettes. It was a modified version of the engine used in other Chevy passenger cars.|
Thus was born the Opel Passenger Car Development Project. Opel, incidentally, was a name borrowed from GM’s German division, so it served to conceal the true nature of the project. Amazingly, the time to bring the car from a paper proposal to the mockup stages and then finally a functional prototype was accomplished in about eight months. One of the requirements for the proposed sports car was that it be economical to build in order to for it to meet a selling price target of around $1,850. Unfortunately, the price for the production car would be twice that of the original goal. This necessity meant that as many already existing components as possible had to be incorporated into the design. One of those was the Chevrolet chassis. Other items already in use by Chevrolet were the straight-six and Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission. A Chevrolet V8 was two model years away and a manual transmission befitting a sports car was even further into the future, so the Vette would have to settle for Chevy’s 235 inline six coupled to an automatic. Basically, the Corvette became a “crash program” thus there was a certain amount of “make do” involved with the project.
|All of the 300 1953 Corvettes had a Sportsman Red interior with white accents.|
Engineers were shown a plaster mockup of the proposed Corvette in early June of 1952. Barely more than one year later, the first three production cars departed the makeshift assembly line in Flint. During that time, two prototype show cars were assembled as well as a “mule” for testing. One of the show cars debuted at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, the starting point of the 1953 General Motors Motorama multi-city tour. Many of those who waited in line to see the Corvette as well as the other show and productions cars on display there indicated a serious interest in buying Chevy’s little sports car. Because of this great interest, the go ahead was given for 250 cars (later increased to 300) to be built prior to the start of the 1954 model year.
Essentially, the first 300 cars were pilot line cars with various changes made during the run. Even the way the fiberglass body parts were made changed a couple of times. Early cars did not receive the intended wheel covers because the tooling was not quite ready and therefore they had to be equipped with the Bel Air type. Because of all the improvements made during 1953, Corvette number 1 and Corvette number 300 were not exactly alike even though at a glance they seemed very nearly so. As time went by, forming and assembly techniques improved so the last of the 300 ‘53s were no doubt better than the first ones. By ’54, the bodies were of sufficient quality that colors other than Polo White were offered.
Road test reports regarding the 1953 Corvette were generally favorable, but the first 300 cars which were all built at Flint were offered to VIPs or retained by GM for further testing. When interested members of the general public discovered that they could not simply go to the local dealership to purchase one, they began to lose interest in the car. Several of the early prospects had to be called before Chevy found a buyer for a Corvette. Moreover, the lack of roll up windows and other conveniences made the car somewhat of a disappointment to many of the VIP owners. Quality control was another problem with the cars. Panel fit was generally poor and stress cracks appeared fairly quickly. The price tag of $3,490 was certainly on the high side as well and though that was the official base price, in reality the so-called optional AM-radio and heater was mandatory equipment! In reality the base price was $3,734. At the end of the ’53 model year over 180 of the 300 Vettes assembled remained unsold. At the time this did not alarm GM because so many of the cars were being used for special dealer displays to draw people into showrooms.
Those who obtained a ’53 Corvette at least got a car with great styling and decent performance. All were Polo White with a Sportsman Red interior. The six-cylinder engine received a number of upgrades to improve its performance including a trio of Carter YF sidedraft carburetors, aluminum intake, higher lift camshaft with aluminum timing gear, increased compression ratio, and dual exhausts. Modifications pushed the output from 115hp to 150. The suspension was composed of as many standard parts as possible, but included a larger diameter stabilizer bar, special front coil springs, 16:1 steering ratio, and four-leaf springs in back. Weight distribution with driver, passenger, full fuel tank, and luggage worked out to about 50/50; empty it was 53/47. The center of gravity was low – just 18 inches above the ground. Motor Trend judged the Corvette to be “an exciting car to drive” but noted it would “barely nose out an average [Buick] Century on an unobstructed freeway.” The Vette’s top speed was found to be approximately 108 mph.
Chevrolet expected to increase production to 10,000 units per year, but for 1954 sales were slow forcing a drastic cut in production which in the end amounted to only 3,640. Of those, more than 1,100 remained unsold at the end of the model year. Intervention by engineers Ed Cole and Zora Arkus-Duntov helped save the car. Many improvements were eventually made including a V8 engine, four-speed transmission, improved suspension, and roll-up windows.
Today, the 1953 Corvette is judged on its rarity as well as its great styling as it has been for many years. The long-time popularity of the 1953 Corvette has resulted in approximately 200 of the 300 built still remaining in existence including number 300 which is shown here. It is currently owned by a collector in the Houston area.
This Corvette was originally sold to a prominent physician who reportedly loved the car, but disliked the color and immediately painted it black. After keeping it for several years he sold it to a policeman. By 1971 the car had been purchased by another owner who advertised it for sale in the 1953-55 Vintage Corvette Club of America newsletter. The car appears in the newsletter looking tidy and back in its original exterior color.
In 1984 the car was purchased by a doctor in Florida who had a body-off-frame restoration performed on it by Corvette Specialists Sara Blake and Joe Meyer. Upon completion of the restoration, the car was shown around the country and it won virtually every award that could be attained. In 1998 the 300th production Corvette was sold to its current owner and soon thereafter it was freshened by Corvette Specialist Naber’s Motors of Houston. Finally, due to some crazing of the exterior paint the car was completely redone in 2006 by 1953-55 Master Judge and Restorer, Steve Newsome. The car has had an incredibly fortunate history with not one panel on the body ever being damaged. It was a two-time “Bloomington Gold Special Collection” car as well as a Bloomington Gold Hall of Fame Inductee – both uncommon honors. Furthermore, it was part of the General Motors “World of Motion” exhibit at Disney World.
Perhaps the last ’53 Corvette was and still is the best of its kind.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Reputation for Performance
Text and Photography by David W. Temple
When Oldsmobile put its new 303 Rocket V8 into its 88s and 98s for 1949, they showed the direction the division would pursue in coming decades. Performance became a high priority in the early post-war years and would, for the most part, remain so through the early 70s. The Rocket 88 was the first step in changing the image of Oldsmobile so as to appeal to the emerging youth market. Racing was the next step. Stock car racing got a significant following and with the creation of NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing), Oldsmobile had a fabulous opportunity for displaying just what a Rocket V8 could do.
Olds dominated NASCAR competition by winning over half the races during the racing body’s first three years. Winning races was good publicity and it translated into sales. After the ‘51 season, Olds did not do as well on the track. However, they did at least capture prestigious victories at Darlington and Daytona for ‘53. Interestingly, their racing parts were not manufactured in house, but rather obtained through aftermarket suppliers. NASCAR instituted a rule change in the mid-fifties that disallowed that practice; all racing parts had to be available to the general public and carry a factory part number. The new rule meant Oldsmobile would need to develop a racing parts program, but that was something their budget would not allow. Also, General Motors really wanted only one division to carry the performance image and Chevrolet was emerging as the hot rod by that time although Pontiac would soon manage to carry the hot rod image, too, which would eventually have an impact at Oldsmobile.
Oldsmobile was forced to drop its performance efforts after ‘58. By this time, NASCAR had outlawed the use of multiple carburetion (as well as supercharging and fuel-injection) in its events and an economic recession prevented many from spending the extra dollars needed to buy a factory hot rod. There was talk within the U.S. Congress of looking into the way cars were made due to statistics that indicated a rising highway death toll. There was even talk of breaking up GM into other companies due to their large market share. Furthermore, the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) banned factory-backed racing. The big three auto makers agreed to comply although some divisions did not in actual practice. Pontiac brazenly ignored the ban while Chevrolet thinly disguised their racing equipment with the banner “for police use only.” Olds was out of the performance game without more financial support from GM which was not going to happen. The lull in performance cars at Olds was temporary, though. A few maverick types would change the situation.
A market existed for smaller cars and by 1960, the big three had them. They were economy type cars, but within a few years the relatively light weight cars would serve another purpose. One of the smaller cars was the F-85 which appeared in ‘61. For ‘62, a Cutlass in coupe and convertible form was added to the F-85 line. The new model was quite different than the first Cutlass from Olds which was a fiberglass Motorama show car displayed across the country in 1954. Although very different, the old and new version had one thing in common -- they were both sporty. Standard equipment for the new Cutlass included a 185 horsepower aluminum block V8. Only the F-85 Jetfire provided more power via a turbocharged version of the aluminum engine.
The events of the preceding years led to GM’s philosophy of placing the smaller displacement engines in the compact and intermediate sized cars and using the larger V8s for the full-size models. John DeLorean changed that thinking at Pontiac. He was brought in from Packard to work as director of advanced engineering for Pontiac. DeLorean soon began work on compact cars like the Tempest. The second generation version is the one most remembered today because it became the basis for the GTO which put an end to the small car/small engine thinking. DeLorean pushed hard for the 389 V8 to be installed as standard equipment for the ‘64 Tempest GTO. The success of the GTO option sent a clear message and some at Oldsmobile clearly heard it. John Beltz, chief engineer for Olds, as well as other team members such as Dale Smith (who was instrumental in Olds NASCAR successes) turned the intermediate size Olds into a performance machine.
By the middle of the ‘64 model year, the Olds team fought for and won the chance to put a 310 horsepower version of the 330 V8 into the redesigned F-85 body. The 330 was topped with a four-barrel carb and coupled to a four-speed manual transmission; dual exhausts carried the burned fuel/air mix away. The combo was dubbed 4-4-2. Other standard equipment for the limited production 4-4-2 included items previously found only on Olds police cars like heavy-duty frame, shocks, springs, wheels, as well as a 0.937-inch front and rear stabilizer bars. Nearly 3,000 were sold during the short model run.
The ‘65 model got more horsepower and was no longer a limited production car. The standard 345hp 400 cubic inch displacement engine more than matched Pontiac’s 389. Torque output of the 400 was an impressive 440ft.-lbs. The 4-4-2 option was ordered on over 25,000 F-85s and Cutlasses. By now, the 4-4-2 was recognized as an important part of Oldsmobile’s future.
A major restyle of the F-85/Cutlass body followed for the next model year; it was little changed for ‘67. More performance options helped keep the 4-4-2 in demand. The past had not been forgotten, though; advertising for the ‘66 models reminded 4-4-2 owners to drive safely and mentioned the safety features the government mandated.
The next generation got yet another major restyle with a more rounded look. This one featured curved, sleek lines, thus making the name Cutlass as appropriate as ever for the 112-inch wheelbase car; the term is defined as a short sword with a curved blade. The rear side windows were shaped like a backward facing bullet. The narrow C-pillars of the fastback roof possessed a subtle concavity that neatly blended into the bulging rear quarters. The rear panels were sharply peaked on top and terminated in a quarter arch which in turn blended into the quarter arch profile of the rear bumper. The nose had a similar rounded profile while the front fenders mimicked the quarter panel bulge. The 4-4-2 was upgraded to series status for ‘68, thus the cars no longer carried the Cutlass script anywhere on the sheet metal. The new body came in three styles - two-door hardtop, two-door post, and convertible. The 400 V8 produced 325hp when attached to the optional Turbo Hydramatic and 350hp with the four-speed manual. A 360hp variant could be ordered, however. This more potent version benefited from a ram-air setup and carried the option code W-30. (Interestingly, there was yet another 400, but this one was detuned for improved economy.) The editors of Cars Magazine were impressed with the 4-4-2; they selected it as the “Top Performance Car of the Year.”
The 1969 models were little changed; parking lights were located from the grille to the bumper and a split grille clearly distinguished the ‘69 from the ‘68 as did the revised tail lights and rear bumper. The divided grille, though modified, continued for ‘70; new tail lights also freshened the look of the car. More important to those interested in owning a 4-4-2 was the new 455 V8. The 455 weighed less than the previous 400 and provided more power as one would expect. This engine delivered 365hp and 500ft.-lbs. of torque -- more than enough to get the adrenaline pumping for 4-4-2 owners. Optional equipment like the ram air hood (option W-25), aluminum rear axle carrier (W-27), and the rear deck spoiler (W-35) made the 4-4-2 even more interesting. Despite these improvements and the additional publicity gained from the 4-4-2 being chosen to pace that year’s Indy 500, sales fell. Only 19,330 of the cars were ordered equaling a drop of over twenty-five percent from the previous year’s total. The end of the musclecar era was nearing. Rising insurance premiums hurt sales of high performance cars and would continue to do so until exhaust emission regulations finally terminated the musclecar era.
Shown here is one of the 14,709 two-door hardtop 4-4-2s built for 1970. At the time of the photo shoot, it was owned by a resident of Tyler, Texas. The car was sold soon thereafter to a Killeen, Texas resident. The California-built car is mostly original having only been maintained as needed over the years. The 4-4-2 received a repaint and an engine rebuild approximately 20 years ago. Though assembled at a California plant, the car was sold new in Ft. Worth. The car later went to Austin, then Corpus Christi before coming to East Texas. It is a matching numbers car equipped with the four-speed Muncie transmission and air conditioning, a rare combination in a 4-4-2. Other options on the featured car include power brakes, power steering, console, Rocket Rally Pac, and AM/FM radio.
The 4-4-2 model continued onward for many years, though later it was mostly an appearance package like many sporty cars of the '70s and '80s. The 1968-70 4-4-2s were some of the most popular Oldsmobiles when new and are extremely popular with collectors today. Though the end of Oldsmobile is upon us, their reputation for performance will survive for many years to come thanks to 4-4-2 enthusiasts.
1970 Oldsmobile 442 Holiday Hardtop
Base Price: $3,376
Engine: 455cid V8
Bore and Stroke: 4.125x 4.25 inches
Carburetion: Rochester four-barrel
Transmission: Muncie four-speed
0-60mph: 6.6 seconds
1/4 mile: 13.70 seconds @ 105mph
Production: 19,330 (includes 14,709 two-door hardtops)
Wheelbase: 112 inches*Source: “Supercar 70 1/2” road test on a W-30 equipped car
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Exiting the '50s
Text and Photography by David W. Temple
The story of the 1960 Chevys cannot be completely told without exploring the ’59s. How the ’60 model came to be was the result of General Motors’ management making the decision to share bodies among its divisions for ‘59, thus the ‘58s were a one-year-only design. The most dominant styling characteristics of the redesigned cars were of course the deeply sculpted fins and “cat’s eye” tail lamps. In retrospect, these features did not exactly represent the typical approach of GM of moderate change from model year to model year.
GM Styling Engineer Harley Earl knew the public did not respond well to too much change too soon, but he knew people could, and would, regard change as desirable if done in moderation. He spent most of his automotive career with General Motors and brought the art of styling to the mass-produced automobile. His sense of styling gave GM leadership status throughout the forties and fifties. However, by early 1957 when the 1959 models were on the drawing boards, some stylists under Earl began to wonder if their boss still had his inherent ability to style cars. Chuck Jordan, who joined GM in 1949 and was interviewed for the author’s book, “GM’s Motorama,” said he and a number of others were left wondering if Earl had “lost it.” Jordan got an early look at the new 1957 Chrysler Corporation cars one day and was amazed by their styling. He knew his boss had GM headed in the wrong direction and brought Bill Mitchell, the number two man in charge, and others to take a look at the Chrysler products. Still, Earl was in charge and no one could go against him. Fortunately, the boss was scheduled to take his yearly trip to the European auto shows and while away, Mitchell ordered a complete overhaul of all the ’59 proposals which included such garish features as stacked centrally mounted headlights and a large, singular rear deck fin. When Harley returned he saw a coup had occurred and had little to say for some time. Eventually, he came to agree that the new ideas were better. As radical as the 1959 GM cars seem today, they were far less so than the original ideas for ‘59 modeled in clay. Earl retired at the end of 1958. Perhaps after three decades of success his time had finally passed. However, GM was not convinced he had truly “lost it;” his retirement contract did not allow him to go to work for the competition. Given a little time, Earl might have gotten “it” back.
The 1959 Chevrolets were not as well received by the public as some other “bowtie” cars of previous years, but that is not meant to suggest they were not popular; the sport coupe accounted for 165,000 sales alone. However, Ford just managed to outsell Chevy that year by several thousand units. Since another major redesign was not affordable especially since one was already scheduled for ‘61, Chevy stylists did the best they could with the situation – that being to moderate the styling and concentrate on mechanical upgrades. Styling alterations effected nearly all of the sheet metal along with the grille, tail lights, and side trim. The latter item on the Impala had the look of a typical ‘50s sci-fi movie rocket trailing a long exhaust. Roof design was carried forward from ‘59, but the simulated air extractor exclusive to the Impala was relocated from above the back light to beneath it. Mechanical changes introduced for the ’60 models included new cylinder heads on the 283, lower height driveshaft tunnel, better brakes, a new power steering pump driven through a crankshaft pulley, and an additional cross member for the frame to give support to the rear axle upper control arm. Furthermore, new options and accessories were offered such as four-way power seat, cruise control, rear window defogger, and a vacuum-operated trunk lid release.
Despite higher sales of the more utilitarian, economical sedan models for ’60, overall production of their full-size cars dropped by over 87,000 units compared to ’59. Still, it was a good year for Chevy which surged ahead of Ford and grabbed approximately 28 percent of the automobile market in the U.S. Their new economical and compact Corvair helped put them in that position.
The 1960 Impala two-door hardtop pictured here is one of 204,467 built and is owned by Longview, Texas resident, Merritt Johnson. Merritt acquired the car some years ago after a lengthy search for a good, restorable one. Many he ran across were “junk” as he put it.
Johnson’s car is equipped with the Turbo-Fire 283 2-bbl. and Powerglide transmission along with two-tone paint; Ermine White with Roman Red was one of ten two-tone combinations offered that year. To make his Impala a bit more pleasant to drive, he added an aftermarket air conditioner and a stereo. Otherwise, his car is virtually factory stock.
The ’60 Chevrolets like our featured Impala represent the end of an era in automotive styling – an era some have described as “automotive excess” though others would argue that it was a time of the golden age of the automobile. Love it or hate it, Merritt’s Impala serves as a memento of a unique time in American history when stylists were certainly bold!
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Obscure, One-Off, Full-Sized Buick Convertibles
Text by David W. Temple
Photos from author’s collection
|1961 Buick Flamingo with swiveling passenger seat|
After General Motors terminated building dream cars for the auto show circuit in the 1950s, they continued to dress-up production cars for various exhibitions across the country. Among them, of course, were Buicks.
Presented here are photos of virtually forgotten Buick show cars from 1961-64 with the omission of 1962; nothing from ’62 has yet been found by the author though undoubtedly something unique was shown for this year.
The most well-known from this group of years is the 1961 Buick Flamingo, a car shown on the final tour of the GM Motorama hence the reason it is the most well-known of the era. It was a modified Electra 225 convertible featuring pearlescent orange paint (probably made by DuPont) and paisley upholstered bucket seats. Its passenger side front seat could be swiveled to face the rear bench seat. Pearlescent paints at that time were quite impractical for production cars as they were subject to rapid oxidation and yellowing. Consequently, about three decades would pass before the paint industry perfected this pigment to the point that GM would offer such a finish.
|Flamingo at the 1961 GM Motorama at the Waldorf-Astoria|
The Flamingo was probably crushed after the show circuit due to its special features, though perhaps it could have somehow escaped that fate.
|1963 Buick Wildcat show car|
For 1963, a Wildcat convertible received a makeover featuring pearlescent white paint and a special interior with red, white, and blue accents.
A popular display in the 1963 Buick exhibit was the full-size four-door hardtop that automatically split itself down the middle, exposing the inner components of the engine bay, drivetrain, six-passenger interior and large trunk.
Another big Buick drop-top was altered into the Wildcat Sprint for ’64. It, too, was equipped with rectangular headlights. What other modifications the Sprint had are unknown to the author at this time, though undoubtedly it was given a special paint color and interior upgrades.
|1964 Buick Wildcat Sprint show car|
Can any reader offer anything further on these unique cars? If so, use the “comments” option at the end of this posting to do so.