Better in theory than in likely practice

Yesterday the Facebook Coachbuilding & Concepts page had this post:

Along with the Mercedes Benz C111, for me the Chevrolet Aerovette shares the distinction of being the best automobiles never manufactured. Just LOOK at it! It defines the expression “What a concept!” The Aerovette was everything good that William Mitchell ever thought of, and none of the bad, IMO. It’s magnificent from every angle, and 40 years later it STILL looks futuristic, yet not “Buck Rogers”…just the kind of futuristic that one can imagine as something really coming down the road ahead. Ironically, it shared with the C111 the doomed-yet-so-promising Wankel engine design, which makes them both even more interesting and special.

One looks at the Aerovette and can’t help but wonder, regarding it and what it could have meant to the Corvette, and GM’s fortunes as a whole; what if?

Readers of this blog are familiar with the Corvettes that could have been, but weren’t, and this might be the most famous of them.

I saw this for the first time in the November 1973 Motor Trend magazine, which featured the more conventional-looking two-rotor concept, designed by Pininfarina …

… and the four-rotor. Both were powered by Wankel rotary engines, which GM was trying to develop (as was AMC; the rotary was supposed to power the Pacer, believe it or don’t), until GM dropped the idea due to poor fuel economy and emissions. The two-rotor, called the XP-897, was never developed further, while the four-rotor, called the XP-822, was later powered by a 400 V-8.

How Stuff Works waxes rhapsodic:

The Aerovette displayed a strongly triangulated “mound” shape, deftly balanced proportions, and artful surface detailing. “Gullwing” doors harked back to the original Mercedes 300SL coupe but were articulated for easier operation in tight parking spots.

The interior was more fully engineered than the typical concept car, another indication that the Aerovette was indeed a serious production prospect.

The process to make the Aerovette production-ready moved swiftly. A full-scale clay was ready by late 1977, and tooling orders were about to be placed. The showroom model would have had a steel frame with Duntov’s clever transverse driveline and probably a 350 V-8, which was then Corvette’s mainstay engine.

Transmissions would have likely been the usual four-speed manual and three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic, and suspension would have come off the old “Shark” per Duntov’s original cost-cutting aim.

So despite its complex gullwing doors, the Aerovette wouldn’t have cost a whole lot more to build than a front-engine Corvette. Indeed, 1980 retail price was projected in the $15,000-$18,000 range.

Best of all, the gorgeous styling would have survived completely intact. As Mitchell later confirmed: “The only difference between the Aerovette and its production derivation was an inch more headroom. Otherwise it was the same.”

But once more, the mid-engine Corvette was not to be. There were several reasons. First, the project lost its two biggest boosters when Duntov retired in 1974 and Mitchell followed suit three years later. Ed Cole was gone by then, too.

A further blow came from Duntov’s successor, David R. McLellan, who preferred the front/mid-engine concept over a rear/mid layout for reasons of packaging, manufacturing economy, even on-road performance.

But the deciding factor was sales — or rather the likely lack of same. Though Porsche, Fiat, and other import makes had all proffered midengine sports cars for several years, none had sold very well in the United States.

Datsun, meanwhile, couldn’t build enough of its admittedly cheaper front-engine 240Z — as GM bean-counters evidently observed. Simply put, the midengine design was too risky.

The Aerovette was certainly inspired by the C111 …

… of which is written:

Let’s just say that Mercedes Benz will never again reach the height of engineering and design brilliance that this line of concepts-intended-for-production attained, especially not the cheapened, devalued Mercedes Benz of today.

That is the unintended consequence of the brief Daimler-Chrysler company, in which, instead of Mercedes’ improving Chrysler’s quality, Chrysler dragged down Mercedes’ quality. (The fact Chrysler is owned by Fiat, another company not known for the quality of its products, should give pause to those contemplating new Chrysler purchases.)

Such cars as the Aerovette are called “dream cars,” because, in part, you’re dreaming to think that Chevrolet or GM could have pulled off such a technologically complex car in the 1970s, regardless of How Stuff Works’ claims. A car of $15,000 to $18,000 would have been the most expensive ever built by GM, for one thing, introduced into the weak economy of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

GM’s build quality being what it was then, it’s impossible for me to imagine that GM could have gotten those articulated doors to work correctly for volume manufacturing. Other cars of that era and beyond have gull-wing doors too, but those weren’t built in any quantity, and their price tags were deep into five digits.

The 4oo V-8, the largest of GM’s small blocks, doesn’t have a great reputation either. The most powerful Corvette of the late ’70s had the L-82 350 V-8, with 220 horsepower. The 400 V-8, when it powered full-size Chevys and pickup trucks, actually had less horsepower. (The 454 V-8, on the other hand, had 240 horsepower.) The 400s also had poor cooling due to their thin cylinder walls, since the 400 had the biggest cylinders of any small-block. (The first Corvette V-8, which was 265 cubic inches, and the 400 used the same cylinder block design. So did the 350, which in my experience is an engine you literally cannot kill.)

And that 400 V-8 was in a mid-engine car. How many mid-engine cars had GM built to that point? None. The only non-front-drive car GM had was the Chevy Corvair,  which had a rear-engine design. (A rear-engine car puts the engine behind the back wheels, while a mid-engine car has the engine somewhere between the front and rear axles.) The Corvair died thanks in large part to the libel of non-driver Ralph Nader, even though, you’ll notice, Porsche still builds rear-engine rear-drive cars four decades after the Corvair’s demise. Again, to think that GM could have gotten a mid-engine/rear-drive car right in those days is a triumph of hope over experience.

Let’s step inside for a minute:

That box in front of the steering wheel is not a TV, it’s the instrument panel. GM put digital instruments into some GM cars in the 1980s, including the C4 Corvette. Today, C4s often have their digital instrument panels die, and some people have gone so far to replace them with conventional needled dials. (Which GM did with the C5 Corvette; the two digital instrument panels of the C4 were roundly panned in the car press.) Other GM cars with digital instruments experienced LED death, while others with related gadgets, such as radio controls on steering wheels, had interesting (if it doesn’t happen to you) things happen when such unintended substances as rain water were introduced. (In one case I’m familiar with, after windows were left open before a sudden rain, the owner of the car had to drive the car with the radio at full volume, and the radio could not be shut off.)

Mid-engine cars are cool; there’s no question about that. GM could theoretically get perfect 50/50 weight distribution out of the Aerovette. GM also could have screwed up the car completely, either by bad design (the Corvair turned out to be a good-handling car only when owners had the rear suspension modified to stick the bottom of the rear wheels far outboard) or by excessive part-cheapening, (GM was doing such stupid things as increasing rear-seat elbow room by taking out roll-down rear-door windows.) GM had enough trouble building mass-market cars in these days; a badly executed Aerovette could have sold so poorly that it could have killed the Corvette brand entirely.

The McLellan quote also points out the folly of fixing that which is not broken. Even though the late 1970s Vettes were weak in power compared to Vettes before or since, the best sales year for the Corvette was 1979 — 53,807. GM management must have looked at the good ’70s sales figures and asked why what was not broken should be fixed. GM also had two substantially bigger priorities, the downsized full-size cars (which were great) and then mid-sized cars (which were less so) and then compact cars (the horrid X-Bodys).

It’s fun to imagine a mid-engine Corvette. It is also a car that will remain in your imagination and not anywhere else.

The Government Motors recalls

The list of supposed accomplishments of the Obama administration includes the General Motors bailout. Remember the line from 2012 that Osama bin Laden was dead and GM was alive?

Along with bin Laden, you can add the names of 13 people, and eventually probably more. Those 13 people died in cars now being recalled by post-bailout GM — specifically, the recall for ignition switches that turn themselves off while the car is being driven.

CNN Money provides a statistic about the “new GM”:

General Motors has already recalled more cars and trucks in the U.S. this year than it has sold here in the five years since it filed for bankruptcy.

Here’s the count: Since that filing in June 2009, GM has sold 12.1 million vehicles in the United States. Total U.S. recalls: 13.8 million.

Jim Geraghty adds:

For perspective, consider that GM sold roughly 2.6 million vehicles in 2012.

Two weeks ago, GM informed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of five safety recalls covering about 2.7 million vehicles. The recalls covered:

2,440,524 previous-generation passenger cars for tail-lamp malfunctions

111,889 previous-generation Chevrolet Corvettes for loss of low-beam head lamps

140,067 Chevrolet Malibus from the model year 2014, for hydraulic-brake-booster malfunctions

19,225 Cadillac CTS 2013–14 models for windshield-wiper failures

477 full-size trucks from the model years 2014 and 2015, for a tie-rod defect that can lead to a crash

For the owners of those 477 trucks, this isn’t just a matter of driving your truck back to the dealer: “Customers are being contacted and told to have their vehicles taken by flatbed to their dealer, where the inner tie rods will be inspected for correct torque, and, if necessary, the steering gear will be replaced.”

All of the above mechanical flaws can be problematic on the road, but the recall notice for the 477 GM trucks is the biggest potential problem for the manufacturer. Trucks cost more (often more than $40,000 per vehicle) and have larger profit margins than sedans. Morgan Stanley estimated that truck sales account for two-thirds of GM’s earnings. In fact, one can easily argue that truck sales are keeping GM afloat:

Pulling off a smooth introduction for the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra big trucks is crucial, as they generate more than $12,000 per vehicle in profits. It is the most important vehicle introduction for the Detroit automaker since its bankruptcy and $50 billion U.S. taxpayer–funded bailout in 2009.

The May 15 notice of a tie-rod defect wasn’t the only recall for recently made GM trucks.

On March 31, GM recalled certain model-year 2014 Chevrolet Silverado Light Duty Regular Cab, Double Cab, and Crew Cab 1500 series and model-year 2015 Suburban and Tahoe vehicles; GMC model-year 2014 Sierra Regular Cab, Double Cab, and Crew Cab 1500 Series and model-year 2015 Yukon and Yukon XL vehicles equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission, for a transmission oil-cooler line that is not securely seated in the fitting. “If the line is not securely seated and transmission oil leaks from the fitting, the oil could contact a hot surface and cause a vehicle fire.”

On April 25, GM recalled certain model-year 2015 Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD vehicles because of improperly torqued fuel-pipe connections, which posed a risk of fuel leaks and vehicle fires.

On May 20, GM recalled certain model-year 2015 Chevy Silverado HD vehicles and 2015 GMC Sierra HD vehicles made in January and February, because of “loose retention clips that attach the fuse block to the vehicle body,” a defect that posed an electrical risk and could result in an engine-compartment fire.

Before these recent recalls, GM truck sales had been uneven. A March assessment of the auto industry at Motley Fool noted:

Typically, fresh designs of the trucks sell better, command higher transaction prices, and improve profits. The freshest pickups are easily Chevrolet’s Silverado and GMC’s Sierra, both under General Motors’ umbrella of brands. Unfortunately for GM investors, sales haven’t picked up even with the fresh redesigns. Sales of the Silverado were down 12% in February and are down 15% for the year. Sales of the GMC Sierra are also down 6% this year.

April’s numbers improved, but that came after GM announced special pricing and incentives in March, cutting into the truck’s profit margin. Some dealers are concerned that consumers are still digesting the news of the recalls.

When the government sold its final shares of GM stock — losing $11.2 billion in the process — GM’s North American president Mark Reuss said, “This has been a long, hard road with no repeat customers and the label of ‘Government Motors.’” He noted that “truck buyers are more vocal than other buyers.”

Truck buyers are “more vocal” and residing in Texas, California, Oklahoma, Florida, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska. Unsurprisingly, past consumer-data research indicates that pickup-truck buyers skew Republican by a margin five to one, according to a 2008 survey. In short, truck buyers are more likely to have strong views about a government bailout of an automaker.

So GM needs to rebuild brand loyalty — and truck purchasers are more loyal to brands than are car purchasers — among a demographic particularly bothered by its bailout and subsequent close relationship with the Obama administration.

Last autumn, the National Legal and Policy Center polled 500 consumers in Texas about their views on government bailouts of automakers; Texas is the largest truck market in the country, with more sales than the next three states combined.

Five hundred consumers in Texas were asked, “Would your decision to buy a specific brand of truck be influenced by whether that company received financial assistance from the federal government?” Forty percent answered “absolutely.” About 12 percent responded “very likely,” and 10 percent, “likely.”

Whether GM wants to admit it or not, the “Government Motors” label did serious damage to its reputation and may not wash away so quickly.

Now GM faces another problem. After the revelation of the potentially fatal defects, unprecedented recalls, the report that GM engineers knew about thedefective switch problems for years, poor reviews of the congressional testimony by GM CEO Mary Barra, and months of bad publicity, the federal government is stepping in and once again taking an expanded role in the company’s day-to-day decisions:

[The National Highway Transpiration Safety Administration] has promised “unprecedented oversight requirements” that will have the agency up in the company’s grill. NHTSA is demanding that GM change[] the way it does business when it comes to putting cars together and dealing with problems and defects. In addition to the fine, NHTSA “ordered GM to make significant and wide-ranging internal changes to its review of safety-related issues in the United States, and to improve its ability to take into account the possible consequences of potential safety-related defects.” As part of the consent order signed Friday, NHTSA will micromanage G.M.’s internal investigation and recall efforts, specifically prescribing initiatives such as “including targeted outreach to non-English speakers, maintaining up-to-date information on its website, and engaging with vehicle owners through the media.” What’s more, G.M. must “submit reports and meet with NHTSA so that the agency may monitor the progress of G.M.’s recall and other actions required by the consent order.”

The good news for taxpayers is that more far-reaching and intrusive NHTSA oversight is cheaper than purchasing GM stock and selling it at a loss. The bad news is that the expanding recalls — even of recently manufactured trucks — suggest that GM’s culture never really changed, and that car and truck buyers may have good reason to be wary when they walk into the showroom.


Wikipedia provides a definition of the cars found on today’s blog:

personal luxury car is an American car classification describing a highly styled, luxury vehicle with an emphasis on image over practicality. Accenting the comfort and satisfaction of its owner and driver above all else, the personal luxury car sometimes sacrifices passenger capacity, cargo room, and fuel economy in favor of style and perceived cachet, as well as offering a high level of features and trim Typically mass-produced by employing a two-door platform with common mechanical components beneath their distinctive exteriors, these vehicles were a lucrative segment of the post-World War II automotive marketplace.

Personal luxury cars are characteristically two-door coupés or convertibles with two-passenger or 2+2 seating. They are distinguished on the performance end from GT and sports cars by their greater emphasis on comfort and convenience. Even though they usually contain higher horsepower engines and the necessary support systems for the higher horsepower output (transmissions, tires, brakes, steering, etc.); these larger power trains usually only bring these vehicles back to the power-to-weight ratios that they would have had; if, their gross vehicle weights had not been increased to accommodate the installation of their luxury features and accessories. …

Typically, the per unit profit of the sale of a new personal luxury vehicle is measured in thousands of dollars; to both the manufacturer, and the dealer. While the sale of a new compact or intermediate sedan yields only a few hundred dollars in profit per unit. However, they have additional styling elements and sometimes “baroque” designs. They are typically equipped with as many additional features as possible, including power accessories such as windows, locks, seats, antenna, as well as special trim packages, leather upholstery, heated seats, etc.

Today’s blog could be said to be a variation on my previous work on types of cars not made anymore. By today’s definition these cars are battleship-size, but in their era there were, believe it or don’t, bigger cars on the road.

While the majority of cars have had four doors for decades, two-door cars used to signify that the owner (1) had a smallish sports car, such as a Corvette; (2) didn’t want to pay more for a four-door, including salesmen who owned business coupes, or (3) had enough status that he (or sometimes she) had a fine car, but wanted to drive it himself (or herself), and didn’t usually need the back seat for passengers.

A good starting point is 1949, when the automakers had been frantically redesigning their cars after frantically pushing new-before-World-War-II designs out the door after the end of WWII. In those days, Cadillac was the standard of the world, and not just in price, but in power. Cadillac’s 1948 cars were a new design, with its first “modern” V-8 added one year later:

The Coupe de Ville was a fancier version of Caddy’s standard car. Midway through the next decade, Chrysler took its new hemi V-8, put in a handsomely styled car, and created the Chrysler 300

… which Carl Kiekhaefer, owner of an outboard engine company, promptly raced on the stock car circuit.

(Notice the “Mercury” underneath “Outboards” under the C-pillar. So why, you ask, would someone who created the Mercury outboard brand not race Mercurys? Good question, perhaps one Kiekhaefer’s son, Fred, could answer. I don’t believe Kiekhaefer or Mercury ever had a business relationship with Ford Motor Co., though I may be wrong about that.)

One year later, Ford revived a model name it hadn’t used for several years, Continental, for briefly a new marque separate from Lincoln. The Mark II cost $10,000, five times the average car’s cost, yet Ford still lost almost $1,000 per Mark II it sold.

Not to be outdone, Studebaker introduced four Hawks in 1956, ranging from the six-cylinder Flight Hawk to the Packard V-8-powered Golden Hawk.

Either the 300 or the Hawk could be said to be the world’s first “personal luxury” car  — at least one someone could actually afford to buy, though the 300 wasn’t cheap either. The second didn’t start as a personal luxury car, but the Ford Thunderbird, which started life with two seats similar to the Corvette …

… added two seats in 1958. Sales flew upward, you might say; in fact, in the recession year of 1958, the Thunderbird was one of only two American cars that sold measuredly better than in 1957.

Over at GM, big coupes were basically just the two-door version of their model line. Pontiac debuted the Grand Prix in 1962, though it wasn’t distinctive from other Pontiacs until 1963:

The bigger GM news in 1963 was the introduction of perhaps the most beautiful car of all time …

… the Buick Riviera, though I prefer the ’65 and its hidden headlights myself.

One year after the Riviera debuted, Pontiac debuted the 2+2 option on its Catalina — two bucket seats in front, two seats in back. It was meant to be to the Catalina as the GTO was to the LeMans.

1965 Pontiac 2+2

GM took a while to make a big stand in the personal luxury market, but once the Cadillac Fleetwood of carmakers got going, the hits came quickly.

This is the Oldsmobile Toronado, the biggest car to that point powered by front-wheel drive since before World War II. The Toronado was a huge innovation, followed one year later by …

… the Cadillac Eldorado, also front-wheel-driven.

Three years later, the aforementioned Pontiac Grand Prix shrank to become …

… this beauty, still a Grand Prix, but based on a lengthened mid-sized chassis. So was, one year later …

… the Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

You may notice a design theme developing here — long hoods and, with the advent of the Riviera, shrinking trunks, or at least the part of the car behind the rear axle. The full-sized personal luxury cars — the 300 and so on — still had full-size trunks, but styling started to shrink the trunks because longer hoods looked better.

The Toronado, Riviera and Eldorado were redesigned to look either more or less conventional depending on your point of view in the early ’70s:

The Toronado looked more like the previous Eldorado by 1971.

The famous, or infamous, “boattail Riviera.”

The 1971 Eldorado still looked good, though more conventional.

Meanwhile, over at Ford Motor Co., president Lee Iacocca told his stylists to “put a Rolls–Royce grille on a Thunderbird,” and thus was created …

… the Continental Mark III, followed in 1972 by the Mark IV …

The 1976 Continental Mark IV Designer Series (from left) Pucci, Givenchy, Cartier and Bill Blass editions.

… and in 1977 by the Mark V.

Elsewhere in the Lincoln–Mercury showroom could be found Mercury’s brief answer to the Pontiac 2+2 …


… the Mercury Marauder X-100, a car so over the top (hidden headlights, fender skirts, buckets and console, and of course a 429 V-8) that I of course would love to have one. This looks like something a 1970s private eye would drive.

GM redesigned its Monte Carlo and Grand Prix, adding the companion Olds Cutlass Supreme and Buick Regal in 1973. Chrysler was selling big coupes, but not exactly anything special, until it introduced …

Most of these cars were redesigned and shrunk in the late 1970s into the 1980s. (Chrysler brought back the 300, which looked a lot like a Cordoba.) And then the market started to fizzle out, due to gas prices, their practicality, or the ephermal nature of style.

I didn’t have a personal luxury car in my early driving days, but I did have a big coupe …

… a 1975 Caprice. It wasn’t sporty, though it had Radial Tuned Suspension. But it had a certain style, and doors big enough to serve as weapons if necessary:

These cars are not and really were never practical. They had big engines but not necessarily great performance, but certainly bad fuel economy. Back-seat passengers complained about getting into and out of the back seat. Practicality was never the point; style was.

The only domestically produced personal luxury coupe that comes to mind today is the Cadillac CTS and CTS-V coupes:

On the one hand, style has certainly changed. On the other hand, with 556 horsepower under the hood, the CTS-V could run rings around any other car on this blog.



They built excitement (sort of, once in a while)

Previously on this blog I wrote about the four brands — Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Mercury and Plymouth — killed during this century by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

Of those four, the brand with the most personal experience with me is Pontiac. In rough order: My aunt once owned a 1969 LeMans, there were two gold 1970 Catalina wagons on our street during the 1970s, and a couple of times I rode in a classmate’s family’s 1974 lime green Grand Ville convertible.

And we’ve owned two, both Sunbirds. The second of the Birds was probably the most fun car we’ve ever owned. It was a 1992 SE coupe, black, with the V-6 and five-speed. It accelerated quickly (though with the second worst torque steer of any car I’ve driven), and paradoxically the faster we drove it, the better the gas mileage. (Mrs. Presteblog had a 90-mile one-way trip every day when she volunteered in the Atlanta Olympics. At an average 75 mph, she got 33 mpg.) It was, however, a car not for the tall, either in getting in and out or in sitting behind the driver’s seat.

I’ve liked Pontiacs because they built cars that were sportier — better performance and handling — than you’d expect in that kind of car. Everyone knows about the Firebird (about which more shortly, and by the way many photos here are from Pontiacs Online) …

… and GTO (ditto) …

… but in the ’60s Pontiac had a car I would have loved to own, the Catalina 2+2, because nothing says full-size luxury …

… like bucket seats and a console. Many Pontiacs, including our last Sunbird, had a full set of gauges, as opposed to other comparable GM models and their idiot lights.

GM killed Pontiac, along with Hummer and Saturn, while getting its federal bailout. Oldsmobile died a few years earlier. That undid the dream of GM chairman Alfred Sloan, whose goal was to propel buyers up GM’s food chain — from Chevrolet to Pontiac to Olds to Buick to Cadillac — as buyers became more prosperous.

Truth be told, though, Pontiac really didn’t stand out beyond being a slightly fancier Chevrolet — for instance, Pontiac’s answer to Chevy’s Nomad, the Safari …

… until GM named Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen the Pontiac general manager, and Knudsen appointed assistant Olds engineer Elliott “Pete” Estes as Pontiac’s chief engineer and hired a former Packard engineer, John Z. DeLorean.

Knudsen hit on the concept of performance to distinguish Pontiac from GM’s other brands, even if “performance” was a sometimes illusory concept. Pontiac followed Chevrolet by introducing fuel injection to increase horsepower. (The old systems were very finicky, and like Chevrolet Pontiac discovered bigger engines made horsepower easier.) Knudsen liked stylists’ drawings of the 1959 models with the wheels farther out toward the sides of the car, and hence the “Wide Track” Pontiacs were born. (The wide track did lead to slightly better handling, if that was possible given the Stone Age tires every car of those days had.)

Estes replaced Knudsen, who went to Chevrolet, and DeLorean became Pontiac’s chief engineer. Before he replaced Estes as Pontiac GM (Estes followed Knudsen to Chevrolet), DeLorean created the rear-mounted transmission of the first Pontiac Tempest, the overhead-cam straight six of that era, and hidden windshield wipers. (Really.)

As Pontiac’s chief engineer and then GM, DeLorean and his marketing people brought the world the 1964 GTO. It wasn’t the first time that a small car had a big engine, but it was the first time for a factory vehicle. In this case, the second iteration of the Tempest got a 389 V-8 and various other performance parts, and a genre, the “muscle car,” was created. (Arguably, anyway. Others claim credit.)

DeLorean was nothing if not ambitious, not to mention willing to bend GM rules as far as he could. One of those rules required upper management approval for new models. To avoid that, the first GTO was an option package. DeLorean also was told to sell no more than 5,000 so the thing would go away. When sales topped 30,000, GM management couldn’t ignore money coming in the door.

Meanwhile, Chevrolet had the Corvette. DeLorean wanted one too. So he devised the Banshee, one of which had his overhead-cam six …

… the other of which had Pontiac’s 326 V-8:

And then he came up with another Banshee:

All three were spiked by GM management, for two reasons. The Corvette was finally making decent sales numbers, and management was obviously concerned about losing sales. The GM chairman at the time also felt that two-seat cars detracted from an image of safety. (Because, you know, metal car dashboards and cars without rear seat belts didn’t.)

Pontiac’s consolation prize, however, was its own version of GM’s new F-body car, the Mustang-fighter Chevy Camaro.

Meanwhile, Pontiac’s full-size offerings included the Grand Prix, whose hardtop version had a more formal roofline than the other big Pontiac two-doors. Buick had the beautiful Riviera, and Oldsmobile had the innovative Toronado, and the Grand Prix was neither of those. So Pontiac devised something new — a two-door based on a longer four-door midsize chassis, and thus was created …

… the new Grand Prix, a car that wasn’t mechanically innovative, but would you care if you got to drive one of those?

The new Grand Prix was a great finish to the ’60s, arguably Pontiac’s greatest decade. After your greatest decade, of course, things go downhill from there.

There were a few highlights, such as the 1973-75 Grand Am, an attempt at competing against European car makers, if that’s possible with a 400 V-8 …

… as well as its 1978-80 successor …

… the Firebird, iconic thanks to the TV series “The Rockford Files” …

… and the movie “Smokey and the Bandit” …

… the Pontiac Fiero, a two-seater that Pontiac killed just as it was getting good …

… the Solstice roadster …

… and the return of the GTO (actually an Australian Holden Monaro) from 2004 to 2006:

Those are the highlights. Mostly, though, Pontiac suffered because of problems that were GM’s problems, not just Pontiac’s. GM sent out into the world a series of cars for each of its four decisions that were to the untrained eye indistinguishable from each other, to wit:

  • Chevy Impala/Caprice, Pontiac Catalina/Bonneville, Olds Delta 88/98, Buick LeSabre/Electra.
  • Chevy Malibu/Monte Carlo, Pontiac LeMans/Grand Prix, Olds Cutlass/Cutlass Supreme, Buick Century/Regal.
  • Chevy Nova, then Citation, Pontiac Ventura, then Phoenix, Olds Omega, Buick Skylark.
  • Chevy Cavalier, Pontiac Sunbird/Sunfire, Olds Firenza, Buick Skyhawk.

P0ntiac also had the Astre to Chevy’s Vega and the original Sunbird to Chevy’s Monza. Pontiac even had a version of the Chevy Chevette; the T1000 was replaced by a Korean car to become the itty bitty LeMans, which was a terrible thing to do to the LeMans name.

And then came the Dustbusters. Pontiac proposed a minivan that would have stood out from any other van on the road …

… but instead got one of the Dustbusters (because it looked exactly like a rechargeable hand-operated vacuum cleaner of the time), as did Chevy (Lumina APV) and Olds (Silhouette, described in the movie “Get Shorty” as “the Cadillac of minivans”).

(Something I just noticed: The Dustbusters look quite similar to the 2000s Honda Odyssey. But there’s a huge difference: Honda has a reputation for great design and quality. GM did not, and as current owners of GM cars getting recalled for bad ignition switches would tell, should not.)

Pontiac did not have a pickup, at a time when pickups were GM’s most profitable vehicles. (This was probably less of an issue for Pontiac dealers, many of whom also sold GMCs.) The irony was that for a brand that claimed “We build excitement!”, other than the Firebird, Pontiac usually didn’t build excitement, unless you consider red instrument panel lights to be exciting.

Well, there was the Aztek, which was exciting if you consider retch-inducing ugliness to be exciting:

The Aztek supposedly was screwed up between concept …

… and actual execution. That’s a hard argument to make. Other than not having the awful gray plastic on the bottom, what’s better about the concept?

Pontiac also managed to confuse potential buyers through other ham-handed decisions. The Bonneville, arguably the best looking of the 1977 downsized B-bodies …

… suddenly became one of the less-well-done midsizes …

… until Pontiac discovered there was still demand for a big Pontiac. So Pontiac trotted out the Parisienne …

… which was absolutely indistinguishable from the same-year Chevy Caprice …

… which prompted Pontiac to redo the Parisienne to look like the previous big Bonneville.

(Side note: The Parisienne was the Bonneville in Canada. Pontiac had an odd history in Canada, with Canadian Pontiacs using Chevy bodies and engines. I have looked for why this was, and I can’t find an answer, other than possibly GM’s Canadian assembly plants, or some old quirk of Canadian law.)

Around this time, Pontiac trotted out the 6000 …

… which to many was indistinguishable from the next iteration of the Bonneville …

… though at least the Bonneville got better …

I know a few owners of the last Bonneville. It’s a nice car — better-than-decent performance with its almost bulletproof 3800 V-6 (or, after the demise of the Olds Aurora, a V-8), and well designed — except for its case of Tall-People-Should-Not-Drive-Front-Wheel-Drive-Cars Syndrome.

The last full-size Pontiac was the G8, based on the Holden Commodore:

The G8 passed away when Pontiac passed away in 2010. You might have thought that with Olds’ demise that Pontiac would have been able to bridge the gap between Chevy and Buick (which survived the brand purge because Buicks sell well in China, though no one can really explain why), but either Pontiac management made too many bad decisions, or Pontiac was too hamstrung by GM management to do more than they were able to do.

Which is too bad, because Pontiac served a niche at GM for owners who didn’t want a plain Chevrolet, but didn’t want a higher-priced Buick, or people who wanted the image of excitement in their car.



Happy about your car? Nomad.

While looking for something else, I came upon this from Curbside Classic:

OK, you say, it’s a station wagon. And it’s a Chevrolet. So?

So … this is a reasonable facsimile of the last of my parents’ station wagons, a 1969 Chevy Nomad. It’s a car I remember well from the perspective of the left back seat, where I sat on trips to Minnesota, Door County, Chicago, the Northwoods, and school, church, the grandparents and so on.

Curbside Classics says about this Nomad:

In 1955, the Nomad Wagon was the most expensive Chevrolet by a healthy margin, and marked the beginning of Chevy’s expansion into the mid-priced market. By 1968, that storied name was recycled on the lowest-trim Chevelle wagons. It’s a familiar cycle, that never seemed to end, until the name was pushed all the way off the bottom rung of the ladder. …

The Nomad stayed on as the top-line full-size Chevrolet wagon through 1961, before Chevy reverted back to the sedan-equivalent names, for a few year’s hiatus. By 1968, the wagon names were back, but now Nomad not only suddenly dropped a size, but a lot of prestige. It now denoted the lowest trim Chevelle wagons. Got to keep the GM Naming Department busy!

Having spent too much time researching this at oldcarbrochures, I’m actually more confused than ever, because the 1969 Chevelle brochure describes the Nomad as the bottom-level stripper, without any chrome trim. Our car looks like it is more of a Greenbrier level trim. Oh well.

Never mind; trying to unravel the deep thinking that came out of the Naming Department is futile. And whether this is a genuine Nomad or not, I will leave to other to unravel. I’m confused enough.

The Nomad most car buffs think of would be one of the revered Tri-5s, with, you’ll notice, two, not four, doors …

… though as noted it was applied to other Chevy wagons until 1973, and then to a Chevy van with windows and seats, as opposed to a panel van.

The family of midsized Chevy station wagons spanned from the fake-woodgrain-trimmed Concours Estate (big photo) to the red Nomad in the corner:

Our 1969 Nomad was LeMans Blue (that is, bright blue) with a medium blue interior, including clear plastic dimpled seat covers in the back seat. Said seat covers were cold in the winter and hot in the summer, with the added summertime bonus of leaving dimples on the back of your legs if you wore shorts. It was purchased from the former Chevy dealer in Oregon after a couple of Chevy Novas, the last of which was a ’66 station wagon.

I assume my parents decided they needed more room, so they upgraded to the midsized Nomad. I can list every one of our Nomad’s options:

  • 350 V-8. (Which was apparently rare; most Nomads with V-8s apparently had the 307.)
  • Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission.
  • Power steering and (front disc) brakes.
  • Whitewall tires. (Bias-ply, on 14-inch wheels.)
  • AM radio.
  • Electric rear tailgate window. (Though only the down-swinging tailgate, not the down- and right-swinging tailgate.)
  • Luggage rack.
  • A bumper hitch and accompanying trailer light wiring harness. (Not sure if the car had the trailer towing package, or if those were added on by the dealer.)

You may notice that the list does not include air conditioning. We didn’t have a car with air until our 1975 Caprice, which replaced the Nomad when evidently my parents decided they had had enough of station wagons. Today it’s nearly impossible to find a car without air conditioning standard, though not all the A/C units work, since they don’t generally cool without refrigerant. found two other ’69 Nomads:

Our Nomad was the middle of three of my acquaintance. The other two — a black ’68 and a blue ’71 — were owned by my grandparents. I remember my grandmother asking their six-year-old grandson which color their new car should be, and I of course said the blue of our wagon. And so imagine my surprise when they next visited, in their LeMans Blue Nomad.

The significance of the 1969 Nomad, by the way, was that all GM cars except the Corvair had …

… head restraints on the outboard front seats and the ignition switch moved from the dashboard to the steering column, to lock the steering wheel when the car was in Park as an anti-theft device. The federal government made those mandatory in 1970; GM made those design changes a year ahead of Ford, Chrysler and AMC, except on the Corvair, which GM was about to kill. That steering wheel, a new-for-1969 design, was used by Chevrolet (though the horn buttons were changed) until 1978, when Chevy went to the strange A-frame wheel.

In my memory, we had only one bad experience with the Nomad. It was, ironically (note to self: Do a search for the number of times “ironic” and variants thereof are used on this blog), when it was brand new. We were on a trip to visit our Polish relatives in Minnesota (which included an attempt by a peacock at the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul to enjoy my middle finger as a snack, but that’s another story) when the engine suddenly began ominously (by an easily upset four-year-old’s definition) knocking. Dad took the knocking Nomad to a Chevy dealer somewhere in central Minnesota, where he was told his brand new Nomad needed a new engine. (I don’t know whether the car was still under warranty, or if there were new-car warranties of any use in those days.) Dad’s alternative was to buy gas from a different source than the last tank (a former brand called Consolidated). Problem solved.

It should be pointed out here that the Nomad really is not the first station wagon one thinks of from the ’70s. If you were to say “think of a mid-sized GM station wagon from 1969,” the Olds Vista Cruiser (owned by two of my grade-school classmates’ families) probably would come to mind …

… thanks to the Vista roof it shared with the Buick Sport Wagon …

… but not with any Chevy or Pontiac wagon.

The comments on the Curbside Classics post includes a discussion of the styling of this Nomad. Which kind of misses the point of a station wagon — its utility. The Nomad only had two seats, while higher-level wagons offered the third seat, but we always seemed to manage to get as many people into the car as was needed. Our Springer Spaniel, Curly, rode in the back as well on occasion. Two-doors look cool, two-door wagons look cool, and the original Nomad looks really cool, but two-doors can be a pain if you have more than one passenger.

The Nomad was a midsized car for 1969. When GM downsized its full-sized cars in 1977, the B-body — Chevy Impala and Caprice, Pontiac Catalina and Bonneville, Olds Delta 88 and Buick LeSabre — became the size of the A-bodies — Cbevy Malibu (including this Nomad) and Monte Carlo, Pontiac LeMans and Grand Prix, Olds Cutlass Supreme and Buick Century and Regal. That was the size of the last GM full-size wagons, from 1977 until 1996.

Until 1988, the same V-8 in our Nomad was the top V-8 in the downsized Chevys. That same V-8, with a two-barrel carburetor instead of the Nomad’s four-barrel carburetor, powered our Caprice, adequately. (The 2-barrel was rated at only 145 horsepower, but at 250 lb-ft of torque and a 3.08 rear axle, acceleration was deceptively good. Replacing the 2-barrel with a 4-barrel would have improved performance and probably fuel economy too, assuming the driver could keep his foot off the gas to activate the secondaries. And Chevy 350s are basically impossible to kill.)

The Nomad name remains legendary at Chevrolet, evidence of which is that Chevy occasionally trots out Nomad concepts:

One of these concepts had the five-cylinder engine formerly found in the Colorado compact pickup. You may notice the cleverly disguised rear door on the first of these two concepts; it was supposed to slide, in a hybrid of a van’s sliding side door and an extended-cab pickup truck’s back doors, I suppose. That seems like yet another of GM’s answers-in-search-of-questions like the ’71–76 big wagons’ clamshell tailgate.


California, Texas and Toyota

Toyota’s announcement that it’s moving its U.S. headquarters from Torrance, Calif., to Plano, Texas, is raising interest.

As you can imagine, they’re not happy in Torrance, according to Reuters:

Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto, looking grim, said outside city hall on Monday that he had been blindsided by the move. A few feet away sat Pat Simpson, a Torrance resident for over 60 years, with her head in her hands. “Why do they want to tear this place apart?” Simpson, 72, asked. …

The two biggest employers in Torrance, which has a population of 147,000 according to city figures, are Toyota and Honda. Both have about 4,000 employees. Losing Toyota will mean an annual loss of $1.2 million in tax revenue, Scotto said, but the emotional toll and wider economic impact will be much bigger, he said. …

Whether the city can replace Toyota, and fill the 101-acre business park and headquarters it will leave behind, remains to be seen. Scotto said the city had a short list of companies similar to Toyota that are being courted to replace the Japanese car maker.

But conceding that the battle to keep Toyota was lost before it had even begun – “the train has already left the station,” Scotto said – he also said it takes the state of California, not a small city such as Torrance, to stop large manufacturers from leaving the Golden State.

Frank Portillo, a co-owner of Los Chilaquiles Mexican Grill next to the Toyota headquarters said he did not blame Toyota, although he might lose business himself. “The taxes are lower in Texas. There are fewer regulations. It’s cheaper for a company there. Why wouldn’t they leave California?”

Dale Buss sees it as a business climate issue:

For Japanese auto brands, the logic of keeping their U.S. sales and administrative arms in California is breaking down under the outsized penalties of conducting business in the Golden State and the changing dynamics of the North American automotive industry. So Toyota is leaving, according to Automotive News.

And where is Japan’s biggest automaker relocating its sales and marketing operations in America? Why, North Texas, of course. The move to Plano, Texas, will involve most of the 5,000 managers and employees at Toyota’s current Torrance, Calif., headquarters, the magazine said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry apparently didn’t even have to make a recruiting trip to southern California to get Toyota to do this, although he has helped lure plenty of companies with that gambit over the last several years.

And yet Texas has scored one of the biggest prizes so far in its very focused, state-on-state battle with the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown to get plum companies now headquartered in California to abandon the bluest state for the reddest one.

Clearly, Perry caressed a trump card in the fact that Toyota has enjoyed a deep relationship with Texas through its $2.2-billion truck-assembly complex near San Antonio.

Plus, the fact is that, as Toyota has become a more U.S.-centric company with important assets all over the country, it makes sense for the Japanese market leader to distribute its operations in a new way. Toyota’s 14 North American manufacturing facilities now build 71 percent of the vehicles the company sells in the United States, up from 55 percent in 2008.

A half-century ago, Toyota and other Japanese brands clustered in southern California when they began their assault on the U.S. market because California offered the single best market opportunity for Asian brands coming to America and because the state’s location closest to Japan made logistics easiest.

For most of the time since then, California’s justified reputation as America’s automotive, societal, cultural, and economic bellwether continued to ratify the Japanese brands’ focus there. Consider how Toyota was able to grow its Prius hybrid line into the segment’s dominant brand by starting with an emphasis in California.

But now Toyota and most of it Japanese rivals are treating North America like their domestic market — meaning that a California lens isn’t always the best one. Maybe a new headquarters in Flyover Country will be. …

Besides, California’s business climate is becoming an even bigger downer. California has become infamous with business executives and owners there not only for high tax rates and complex taxing schemes but also for overzealous regulations and regulators that have managed to stifle the entrepreneurial energy of thousands of companies.

Even Hollywood movie studios have been souring about producing flicks in California, increasingly reckoning that the sweet tax breaks and assistance packages now offered by so many other states offset the legacy advantages and ideal production climate in California.

About the only vast remaining pocket of dynamism in the California economy is Silicon Valley, where the mastery of the global digital economy by companies ranging from Google GOOG +1.31% to Hewlett-Packard HPQ +2.27% has become so complete that they have been able to succeed despite the home-state business landscape.

In the annual Chief Executive magazine “Best States / Worst States” ranking that surveys CEOs for their opinions, Texas has been holding on to the No. 1 spot for a while; California seems permanently relegated to No. 50.

As Automotive News put it, “Despite the deep, creative talent pool in greater Los Angeles, doing business in California has become more expensive for companies and their workers.” said that the cost of living for employees is 39 percent higher in Torrance than in Plano, and housing costs are 63 percent lower in Plano.

Virginia Postrel follows up on cost of living:

Employees who relocate are in for a surprise. Contrary to the image promulgated by both critics and boosters, Texas is not an alien planet populated by barbarians with big hair.

With its cheap suburban housing and good public schools, Plano in fact offers a 21st-century version of the middle-class California dream that built towns like Torrance. It’s just been updated, with more immigrants, better restaurants and a lot more marble countertops.

In contrasting Texas and California, politicians and pundits tend to emphasize taxes and business regulation. But for most people on a day-to-day basis, the biggest difference between the two is the cost of housing.

Although Plano is one of the country’s richest cities, with a highly educated population and a median income of $85,333 compared to Torrance’s $70,061, it offers a much wider range of housing options. You can pay nearly $7 million for a five-acre estate in Plano — $3 million more than the most expensive listing in Torrance — but the average home costs less than $200,000, compared to $552,000 in Torrance. A Redfin search for three-bedroom houses costing less than $400,000 turns up 149 in Plano versus four in Torrance; lowering the threshold to $300,000 cuts the Plano supply to 73, while yielding nothing in Torrance.

As I’ve written elsewhere, Plano’s combination of inexpensive real estate and excellent public schools has cultural consequences. It allows for more traditional lifestyles, since many families don’t need a second income to live a comfortable middle-class life. Many mothers choose to stay at home or to work, often part-time, for personal fulfillment and luxuries such as family vacations. For both men and women, a life oriented around work rather than family is less common than in coastal enclaves of similarly highly educated people.

Simultaneously cosmopolitan and traditional, Plano will undoubtedly turn off some Toyota transplants. The conversational assumption that everyone belongs to a religious congregation of some kind — if not Christian, then Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist — will create culture shock. But a lot of people will discover that they can have a lifestyle they thought was a vanished American dream. As long as that’s true, companies are going to keep moving to Texas.

I’ve stated here before that Wisconsin needs to follow Texas‘ policies more than California’s. Texas has economically outperformed the entire country in the Obama economy.

Getting a car company the size of Toyota to move to Wisconsin isn’t going to happen since Chrysler (formerly in Milwaukee and Kenosha) and GM (formerly in Janesville) don’t have assembly plants here anymore. But when businesses with big facilities in one state leave that state for another, there are lessons politicians paying attention should learn.


Ford’s best better idea

Ford Motor Co.’s Ford Division used to claim Fords were “a better idea.”

Thursday is the 50th anniversary what might be the best Ford idea, or maybe the best Ford idea since the Model T — the introduction of the Ford Mustang.

Unlike the Corvette, one of which I have never owned (because life is unfair), I have owned a Mustang. It was a red ’65 convertible.

And it went as fast as my legs could propel it on the sidewalk.

My other bit of Mustang affinity, I guess, comes from the fact that I toured a Ford plant on a family vacation in the summer of 1976, where Mustang IIs were being assembled.

The parents of one of my fellow Boy Scouts owned a Mustang II, so I occasionally sat in the back of that, as well as another Scouts’ parents car on which the Mustang II was based, a Pinto.

Then there’s the Mustang’s starring role in the greatest movie car chase of all time, from my favorite movie, “Bullitt”:

I’ve also driven a couple of Mustangs. My oldest son’s first ride in a convertible was in a coworker’s red Mustang. Another coworker let me drive his Mustang, a V-8 and five-speed in what might best be described as Tornado Warning Green, and every time I saw him he kept trying to sell it to me.

The Mustang is one of the few cars that can be said to have created an entire class of car. The Plymouth Barracuda came out two weeks before the Mustang, but the Mustang significantly outsold the Barracuda. (The Barracuda died in 1974, and though Dodge brought back the Challenger, Plymouth isn’t bringing back the Barracuda, since Plymouth is now in the car brand graveyard.) The two were the first of the class known as the “pony car” — a (relatively) small car with a (relatively) powerful available engine and other sporty accouterments. From the Mustang came the original Mercury Cougar. More importantly, though, the Mustang prompted the creation of (in rough chronological order) the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, AMC Javelin and AMX, and Dodge Challenger (the cousin to the Barracuda).

Unlike most cars of its kind, Ford has never attempted to do anything but sell every last Mustang someone was willing to buy. That and the fact that the Mustang has been built every year since 1964½ (unlike the Camaro, which started in 1967 and wasn’t built between 2003 and 2007), explains why there are more Mustangs still on the road than any other comparable car.

The original Mustang was built with Ford Falcon parts, which meant it had recirculating-ball steering, drum brakes and a standard six-cylinder engine. The fact the car was made from existing parts instead of a completely new design helped make it affordable. It’s not as if Ford did anything unduly cheap; the Camaro, its traditional biggest competitor, used many parts of the Chevy Nova, the Barracuda was based on the Plymouth Valiant, and the Javelin used the platform of the Rambler American (which itself later became the AMC Hornet and Gremlin). In each case, styling, engineering upgrades and more appropriate interiors turned the plebeian compacts into something sporting and desirable.

The additional genius of the Mustang is that, for most of its life, owners have been able to equip it as anything from mild-mannered (you could get a six-cylinder and automatic in 1965 and now) to snarling beast (the Boss 429 was rated at 375 horsepower but was actually closer to 500 horsepower; today’s Shelby GT 500 is rated at 550 horsepower). The Mustang was raced down the quarter-mile and on road tracks as part of the late great Trans Am series.

The Mustang has had to serve as Ford’s Camaro and Corvette since Ford hasn’t built a car like the Corvette. (The de Tomaso Pantera was sold by Lincoln–Mercury dealers from 1971 to 1975, about 5,000 of them, and the Ford GT was sold in 2005 and 2006, all 4,038 of them. Other than 1997, a partial year of production for the new C5, Chevrolet hasn’t sold that few Corvettes in one year since 1956.) It’s always had more utility than the Corvette with its back seat and either trunk or hatchback in the case of the Mustang II and the Fox-body Mustang of 1979–93.

The way the Mustang served as Ford’s Corvette, to some extent, was thanks to a Texas race car driver who had to retire due to a bad heart, Carroll Shelby. (He and I once were at the same Road America event.) Between 1965 and 1970, Shelby modified Mustang fastbacks to create the GT350 (with a 289 V-8) and the GT500 (with a police-spec 428 V-8). Shelby Mustangs returned in 2007, so that a 2013 GT500KR, with a 662-horsepower supercharged V-8, can go 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, with a claimed top speed of 202 mph.

I am told that Mustang aficionados argue whether or not a Mustang II deserves to be considered a Mustang. It replaced the 1971–73 Mustang that, like many cars, had grown fat. It would have been interesting to see Ford design the early ’70s Mustangs like its Mustang Milano show car:

Yet the early ’70s Mustangs were immortalized in two films: “Diamonds Are Forever” …

… and the original “Gone in 60 Seconds”:

What some call the “Mustang III,” the 1979–93 iteration, seems to lack respect in some enthusiast quarters too. That era Mustang (and the sister Mercury Capri of that era) are not the most exciting-looking cars, perhaps, and no one will remember ’80s cars fondly anyway. (Cars of the ’80s featured the first generation of computer controls, which Detroit sent out into the marketplace without their being fully sorted out.) And yet the Mustang III had some of the most powerful motors of their era, handled well (particularly with the Michelin TRX tire package), and, with the hatchback, actually had some utility. The sedan version had enough speed for police departments, including the Wisconsin State Patrol, to use them (as well as Camaros) as squad cars.

After nearly replacing the Mustang with the Probe (which had a turbo four with the worst torque steer I’ve ever experienced, or a V-6), Ford redesigned the Mustang in 1994 with styling cues that harkened back somewhat to the original Mustangs. That worked until 2005, when the next Mustang looked like a modernized version of the 1967–70 Mustangs.

Ford had a contest on its website to create your own Mustang (including colors and options Ford doesn’t offer). I tried to design mine to look as close as I could to the Bullitt Mustang, which lacks chrome trim.

The other one I tried to make look like my old convertible (minus the whitewalls, and I don’t remember the color of the top):

Ford also held a Twitter contest for the favorite Mustang based on these options, none of which included the Bullitt Mustangs, original or replicas:


There was great sturm und drang a year ago when reports started circulating about the next Mustang looking little like historical Mustangs. And then the truth came out. You can see it in the flesh this fall.