Steve’s ultimate GM garage

Car and Driver had a fun piece back in December, asking General Motors President Mark Reuss what he’d build if he had the chance to build a car strictly from available GM parts.

I don’t know if building cars specifically for GM executives is possible anymore simply due to production techniques. (One way the  Japanese demonstrated to improve quality on cars is to limit variations, as in options — make more equipment standard and fewer options available.) Government Motors’ ownership by you and me would make revelations of cars personally built for GM executives a public relations disaster. (And Reuss’ inclusion of the Volt’s motor makes you think GM employees are required to publicly shill for the sales disaster that is the Volt, although using the Volt motor as auxiliary power might be OK.) But back in GM’s glory days, such executives as Harley Earl and William Mitchell did have their own personally built cars.

Still, despite how poorly the company is being run now, and how wrong the bailout is, and how much money taxpayers will lose through the bailout, I still feel some affinity toward Chevrolet as a former owner, and I’m a fan of Cadillac. And you know how I feel about the Corvette, whether or not I will ever be able to afford one.

LSX TV picked up the Car and Driver piece and concluded with:

Perhaps one day, Mr. Reuss will get a chance to build his ultimate car. If you had access to GM’s parts bin, what would you build?

My first answer would be: You mean I can design only one? I have a wife and children, and I’m going to have to take them with me to various places. Sometimes I’ll just be with my wife (recalling our happy, quiet pre-child days), and that would indicate a two-passenger car. Pickup trucks have utility at certain times. Convertibles are great when the weather’s perfect, and not so great otherwise.

Whatever kind of vehicles I’d design would have common characteristics. Each would have enough gauges (beyond the current speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge and temperature gauge) for the driver to be able to tell if something bad was going on before the idiot light went off. Every single one of them would be equipped with a manual transmission, due to their superior driver control. (The fact that dual-clutch transmissions shift tenths of a second faster than humans ever could is meaningless given that I don’t drag-race.)

I’m a bit disturbed that Reuss, a second-generation GM executive, would eschew the nearly six decades of development of what started as the Chevrolet small-block V-8 and now is used corporation-wide in favor of a high-horsepower but low-torque V-6. As far as I’m concerned, 440 horsepower is not enough. And while it may not seem like a big thing, GM’s Daytime Running Lights — that is, those based on the headlights that therefore burn out the headlights prematurely — would be gone, gone, gone, because DRLs decrease gas mileage but increase your need to replace headlights.

Because I lack drawing skills regardless of the medium, the photos you’ll see are from actual cars within the GM family, or someone else’s depictions thereof.

Let’s start with a simple four-door sedan:

This is the HSV 427, briefly built by the performance subsidiary of GM’s Holden in Australia. The 427 has the 7-liter V-8 from the Corvette ZR1, which means it has, depending on the car, around 600 horsepower,  along with various suspension and brake parts to allow a driver to handle that much power without killing himself or herself on his or her first drive.

Holden’s Caprice, which is being offered to American police departments, is the basis for the 427.  (The 427 certainly looks better than the Caprice, which in police trim looks like an overstuffed Impala.) Holden supplied Pontiac two cars, the GTO (which I would have loved to own had it not had one fewer back seat than this family needs) and the G8, before GM pulled the plug on Pontiac.

I would assume the Steve Sedan would be tuned to have slightly less horsepower than the Cadillac CTS-V, and it certainly has more conventional styling than Caddy’s current “Art and Science” design. It should also have a smaller price tag than the CTS, which would make it something you can’t buy from Ford, and something you can’t buy from Chrysler (which has the 300 with available Hemi V-8) for that price.

Of course, you know I own a station wagon, so I wouldn’t be that interested in a sedan.

This is the HSV Clubsport R8 Tourer, which HSV still sells. HSV also used to sell (and still sells used) the all-wheel-drive version, called the Avalanche:

The Avalanche (obviously unrelated to Chevy’s four-door pickup truck, which GM announced last month is heading to the Great Parking Lot in the Sky) could be thought of as a Subaru Outback with twice the horsepower. Unfortunately the HSV Avalanche came only with an automatic. We’d have to fix that.

The real Avalanche is a pickup truck, sort of — it’s more accurately described as an SUV-based pickup truck. If you saw it parked next to a Chevy Silverado, you’d notice the box is shorter than the 6½-foot or 8-fo0t box of a Silverado. (If you saw an Avalanche parked next to a Chevy Tahoe, or a Honda Ridgeline parked next to a Honda Pilot, you’d see their similar length, whereas the Avalanche is shorter than the Silverado.) Trust me on this, because if I had to describe the difference between a truck-based SUV and a car-based SUV, I’d confuse readers further. (The Ridgeline and Pilot are based on the Odyssey minivan, which in turn is based on the Accord sedan. The Suburban and Tahoe are based on the Silverado, but the Suburban and Tahoe is not precisely the same as the Silverado.)

On the occasions where I have pondered getting a pickup truck, I’ve always been torn between having the extra space behind the back window of a pickup, and having the extra space behind the back seats of an SUV. The former is larger (in fact, theoretically vertically unlimited); the latter is more protected from the elements. Studebaker first addressed this conundrum in its early 1960s Lark Wagonaire, which had a sliding roof over the cargo area. GMC briefly sold a similar vehicle, the Envoy XUV, which didn’t sell either.

My thought is perhaps the Envoy was too small a vehicle on which to base a sliding-roof wagon. (You know what happened to Studebaker.) It would seem to make more sense to base it on a Tahoe, or even a Suburban, either of which would get you your choice of four-door pickup or SUV in the same vehicle. And if I had any drawing skills, I would insert the photo of the Suburban Wagonaire or whatever it would be called here.

On other occasions where I have pondered getting a pickup truck, Holden and HSV provide what the Aussies call a Ute, and Americans have usually called by their brand name — in Chevrolet’s case, an El Camino:

To this point I haven’t mentioned coupes, the stylish sibling of the sedan. Two-doors now seem limited to economy cars and sporty cars. The staple of the two-door version of a four-door car — on which NASCAR race cars are fictitiously based — seems to have faded with the sunset since Chevy got rid of its Monte Carlo and Pontiac got rid of its (imported from Australia) GTO.

One person pined for the days of the old Chevelle so much that he actually built one, based on the last GTO:

The Aussies bail us out again with their Holden Coupe 60 concept, which is more modern looking, though not as distinctive as the aforementioned “Chevelle SS.” It’s interesting (at least to me) to observe that today’s Camaro is nearly the same size as the 1970s Chevelle, when that era’s Camaro was smaller than a Chevelle.

I’ve written about Cadillac before, and certainly if we’re going to create interesting cars for Chevy, we should create them for (and as) the Standard of the World too, including …

… a really-high-priced sedan (this is the Sixteen concept, which was supposed to have, yes, a V-16) …

… a car to meet the world’s need for four-door convertibles …

… the return of the Coupe de Ville …

… and Sedan de Ville …

… and Eldorado, in this case a V-12 to compete with the Bentley Continental. (All of the aforementioned, by the way, were designed by someone who can actually design.)

You didn’t think I was going to finish this without bringing up America’s Sports Car, did you? The car magazines, as they always do, have been busy ferreting out what they believe will be the C7 Corvette, due as a 2014 model within the next year.

Since the C4 came out in the 1984 model year, the Corvette has gotten progressively more capable. It is arguably the greatest car for its price on the road today. And yet its appearance has become, well, meh, if it’s possible for a car that can exceed speed limits a multiple number of times to look nondescript.

To demonstrate another amazing thing technology can do, boutique carmakers have been taking the extraordinarily performing C6 and putting bodies styled in the manner of the first two generations of Corvettes, resulting in a car with the classic styling of the first two generations of Corvettes without the classic (if that’s what you want to call it) nose-heavy bias-ply-tired drum-braked driving adventures.

This is a Rossi SixtySix, built by, according to the company, “designers who choose to make cars we fall in love with.”

I admit to being a bit dubious about the split-window of the much-loved 1963 Corvette … much loved, that is, among people who didn’t need to back up in them. There are reasons such styling touches disappear. I also think the hatchback of the last C3 and succeeding models provides much more utility than the nonexistent trunks of the C2 and C3. (How do you get the overnight bags in for your weekend trip with your fabulous babe?)

GM’s C7 Corvette is already in the works. But similar to Ford’s last two Mustangs, GM would be on to something if they could build a Corvette that would bring to mind the positives of the styling of the first two generations, with the performance of the current generation, or better.

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