A few years ago, I spoke at my son’s fifth-grade class about all the wonderful things that we have today in our great country that weren’t around 100 years ago, including cars. A ponytailed girl in the front of the room raised her hand and, with a solemn look on her face, scolded me: “Cars are bad. They cause pollution.”
Wow. These were 11-year-olds! It was one of my first encounters with the green indoctrination that goes on in public schools starting in the first grade.
There wasn’t time to explain to her that when Henry Ford started rolling his black Model T’s off the assembly lines in Michigan, the mass production of automobiles was heralded as one of the greatest environmental and health advances in history. It replaced one of the prodigious polluters: the horse. The average 1,000-pound horse dumps 30 pounds of feces and 2 gallons of urine a day. Can anyone imagine what Washington, D.C., or Pittsburgh or New Orleans smelled like on a hot, sweltering summer day or what all that feces did to our water supply? Oh, and watch your step!
Yet, many liberals still seem to agree with Al Gore, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who says that the combustible engine is one of the worst inventions of all time.
This explains why the ascendant green movement in America has for decades been trying to force Americans out of their cars. They think like that fifth-grader despite being supposedly rational adults.
The war on driving includes calls for carbon and gas taxes, tens of billions of gas tax money diverted to inefficient and little-used mass transit projects, and opposition to building new roads and highways. One of the most nefarious initiatives has been the Obama administration’s draconian increases to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards — a giant and hidden tax on American drivers.
Donald Trump announced last week he wants to ease those regulations. Under the Obama mandates, CAFE requirements would rise from about 35 mpg today to 54 mpg by 2025. This would raise the cost of many new cars by almost $3,000, and the hit to the economy from these rules is expected to reach a cool $500 billion over the next 50 years.
Under Trump’s proposed changes, mileage requirements would still rise every year to 42 mpg by 2025 (way too high for my liking). And yet the left is seething in protest, complaining this means the end of our planet. The difference between the Trump and the Obama standards will mean a 31-hundredth degree higher global temperature in 80 years.
The Department of Transportation has found that the best way to get cleaner air is to incentivize families to buy new cars and get the older and higher polluting gas-guzzlers off the road. But CAFE standards raise car prices. So families delay the purchase of new cars, which increases pollution levels.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the new Trump standards is that they are expected to save about 1,000 lives a year due to lower highway deaths. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has found that CAFE standards kill people for two reasons: first, they induce the car companies to build lighter cars in order to meet the fuel standards. Second, because the regulations keep old cars on the road longer, Americans are more likely to be driving in less safe vehicles. The Trump administration has science firmly on its side here.
Not so long ago liberals opposed military intervention in the Middle East by chanting “no blood for oil.” But with higher CAFE standards, they willingly tolerate more blood on the highways to save on oil.
Hearty congratulations to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler for a new rule that can save lives, reduce pollution, grow the economy, and let people buy the cars they want — including SUVs, minivans and sports cars. This is a great victory for common sense and a windshield against the left’s war on cars. As for those misguided fifth-graders, they will figure out the virtues of cars once they are old enough to get their driver’s licenses. But when will liberals grow up?
WBAY-TV in Green Bay reports:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has asked state lawmakers to pass a bill naming a new interchange after a late state senator from Neenah.
The newly constructed 1-41/US 10/WIS 441 Interchange would be named in honor of Michael G. Ellis.
“Mike Ellis was a larger-than-life personality who loved Wisconsin and passionately served the people for more than 45 years,” Governor Walker said. “Today, as we gather in Neenah to celebrate Mike’s life, I am announcing that I will include in our budget, or will sign a bill drafted by the Legislature, naming the brand new I-41/U.S. 10/WIS 441 Interchange in his honor—whichever comes first. It would be a fitting tribute for a man who contributed so much to his community and his state.”
Ellis passed away July 20 at the age of 77. Flags in Wisconsin are flying half-staff Tuesday in his honor.
Ellis made a name for himself on the Neenah Common Council in the late 1960s and 1970s. He was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1970.
Ellis was elected to the State Senate in 1982. He was named President of the State Senate in 2011. He’d serve in that role until his final days in office in 2015.
Ellis told us he was most proud of his work to get Wisconsin public schools more than $400 million in funding, and the transformation of Highway 41 in the Fox Cities. He called it the “Main Street” of the Valley.
That was what Ellis and former U.S Rep. Tom Petri (R–Fond du Lac) were doing while Wisconsin’s two Democratic U.S. senators of the time, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, were accomplishing nothing for the state.
There is, however, an irony to this. When that interchange opened in it’s original design, it was known locally as the Polish Connection, ostensibly because of all the Polish people who lived in Menasha, but more likely because of the interchange’s original design, which included an off-ramp and an on-ramp using the same pavement, one part of the interchange leading to a dead end since U.S. 10 wasn’t extended west of 41 (10 used to be Wisconsin Avenue in Appleton), and even after 10 opened west of 41, drivers could not go from northbound 41 to westbound 10 from that interchange.
The other thing is that, as far as I know, Ellis wasn’t Polish. “Michal” is “Michael” in Polish, for those who care.
The correct definition of “muscle car” is a mid-sized or compact car with a more-powerful-than-stock engine.
Muscle cars arrived in the early 1960s as U.S. automakers started selling cars that were smaller, and therefore less powerful, than the cars they’d been selling since the end of World War II. Therefore, most cars on Motor Junkie‘s list cannot properly be called “Classic Full-Sized Muscle Cars” because that term is an oxymoron.
Which doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile cars:
Over the years, the American car industry has introduced many cars people consider full-fledged muscle machines. However, some of them came in different packaging. Back in the 60’s and early 70’s, full-size models were family sedans or luxury cars. Despite the fact they had optional big block engines with high horsepower ratings, nobody considered them performance cars. Their heavy bodies, soft suspension and slow-shifting automatic transmissions had limitations when it came to driving dynamics.
However, not all full-size coupes were slow and boring to drive. During the muscle car heyday, Detroit produced a dozen capable, powerful and fast full-size muscle cars. In fact, they could run with the best of them and still look elegant. Most of those cars were luxury cruisers or personal luxury cars yet they performed and sounded like true muscle cars. Read on to find out what exactly makes those models so special and desirable.
Mercury Marauder X100
Today, the Mercury brand is defunct as a cost-cutting measure Ford made. But back in the 60’s, it was a well-respected luxury division, above the working-class Fords and just below the patrician Lincolns. With Cougars and Cyclones, Mercury was well into the muscle car segment. However, luxury performance models were scarce until 1969 when they introduced a new generation of the Marauder.
Mercury envisioned it as a luxury coupe. The Marauder had a fresh design with some interesting features like concealed headlights, a massive front end, and a sloping rear end with concave rear glass. It was a big, heavy car they intended for cruising rather than street racing. However, Mercury needed something to fight the Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Riviera GS.
They knew they needed to upgrade the Marauder to higher spec if they wanted a piece of the action. So, they presented the Marauder X100. Behind the strange name was a regular 1969 Marauder. However, it came with a 429 V8 engine delivering 360 HP and a heavy-duty suspension. It also had bucket seats, blackout rear trim and fender skirts.
The performance was respectable, but it was still a large, weighty car, so compared to some barebones smaller, lighter muscle models, it was significantly slower. The Marauder line was relatively popular, but the X100 didn’t become a bestseller, And in its two years of production, Mercury made just over 8,000 of them.
Just look at this. Fender skirts? Check. Hidden headlights? Check. Sport wheels? Check. Bucket seats on a full-size car? Check. The only thing this lacks is a manual transmission.
Pontiac Grand Prix SJ
Back in the 60’s, Pontiac was GM’s performance brand, so it is no coincidence when Pontiac conceived the GTO. The allure of powerful engines and aggressive design was Pontiac’s trademark. But the management wanted to widen its appeal and go beyond regular muscle cars like the GTO and the Firebird. To enter the world of luxury muscle cars, Pontiac had a perfect candidate in form of the Grand Prix.
The Grand Prix was a personal luxury coupe they introduced in 1962 in a coupe body style. It also came with powerful engines and a long list of options. They put this model against the Ford Thunderbird and Oldsmobile 98, as a so-called “gentleman’s express.” However, with the restyling of the Grand Prix for 1969 model year, there was a chance to introduce trim packages to transform this comfy cruiser into a real muscle car. And Pontiac jumped at the opportunity.
First, there was a new design with a long hood and short rear end and a driver-oriented dashboard. The 1969 Grand Prix stood apart from its competitors so sales immediately jumped. Second, there was a trim option called the SJ featuring a high output 428 V8 engine. It delivered 390 HP and a host of other performance options. Pontiac borrowed the moniker, “SJ,” from the legendary Duesenberg brand.
The SJ insignia was on the most powerful Duesenberg cars, so Pontiac wanted to get a piece of that legend with the Grand Prix SJ. The automotive press and car fans received this luxury muscle car well, so the Grand Prix sold in large numbers. The powerful V8 propelled this big coupe to some respectable acceleration times. Although Pontiac conceived it as an executive transport, the Grand Prix SJ was a respectable street machine.
Buick introduced the Wildcat in 1962. It was one of the first personal luxury coupes featuring a performance-tuned engine and other go-fast options. Since it was a Buick product, they guaranteed their luxury appointments and upscale options. Even before the Rivera GS or the start of the muscle car craze, Buick noticed there was a market for full-size coupes with the performance of a sports car.
Young, successful people wanted an upscale product that looked expensive. But they also wanted enough power and driving dynamics to make driving fun. In those days, luxury coupes like Thunderbirds or Eldorados were all big, heavy cruisers with soft handling. That is why Buick introduced the Wildcat. Available as a regular four-door hardtop, two-door coupe or convertible, the Wildcat was a separate model.
Under the hood was a powerful V8 from the top of Buick’s engine lineup. One popular year was 1967 when they offered the Wildcat with the mighty 430 V8 engine producing 360 HP. This kind of power in an unassuming sedan or coupe was unheard of at the time. The Wildcat provided great performance, but also exclusivity to the owners.
Mustangs and Thunderbirds were the most famous, recognizable Fords of the 60’s, so the Ford 7-Litre is a forgotten luxury muscle model. In fact, most people are not even aware of its existence, but this is an interesting, powerful car. Unfortunately, it has a short history. The story starts in the mid-60’s when Ford introduced a new engine with 428 CID; an evolution of their venerable FE block.
They designed this engine to be a powerful street engine with lots of horsepower and torque. At the same time, Chevrolet had a successful Impala SS model featuring the 427 V8 engine, so Ford wanted to compete with it. But, Ford had a different vision. If Chevrolet produced the Impala SS as a mundane car, Ford would produce its model as an upscale coupe or convertible with an emphasis on luxury and exclusivity.
So, using a full-size Galaxie two-door hardtop or convertible platform, Ford introduced a new model for 1966 they called the 7-Litre. The 7 stood for displacement and the Litre spelling gave more European charm to the otherwise ordinary Galaxie. Under the hood was the 428 V8 with respectable 345 HP, which delivered a convincing performance. However, the 7-Litre’s equipment was also interesting since Ford put everything they had into this car. Buyers could get air conditioning and bucket seats were standard.
There was also a heavy-duty suspension, power everything, a choice of special colors and the 7-Litre badges on the sides to identify this model. This was a one-year only model so in 1967, the 428 was back, but only as an option on the Galaxie. In muscle car history, the 7-Litre was forgotten for quite a while. But, in recent years, its popularity has grown.
So now these big coupes and convertibles are of high value on the classic car market. In 1966, they produced a little over 11,000 7-Litres, so it can be hard to find one.
Chevrolet Impala SS
The legendary Super Sport or SS has its place in muscle car history as a model that promoted performance to the public. This was one of the first high-performance automobiles that were relatively affordable yet fast. Everything started when Chevrolet decided to transform its 409 truck engine for use in passenger cars. They found out that the unit was so powerful, it could outrun all other cars on the road.
With some modifications to the engine, it could produce up to 409 HP. This was enough to propel the Impala from a standstill to 60 mph in six seconds flat. At the time that was Corvette territory. So, as a mid-year introduction, Chevrolet presented the SS package featuring bucket seats and a sports trim. It also came with the 348 V8 engine producing 350 HP. However, another option was the 409 V8 with up to 409 HP if you got the dual quad intake system.
Although Chevrolet sold over a million of its full-size models, they only made 456 Impalas SS that year. And out of those only 142 Impalas came with 409 engines. This started the SS sub-model for Impala lineup. So from 1961 to 1969, Chevrolet offered the biggest, most powerful engines in the prestigious SS package for its two-door coupes and convertibles. They turned a regular family car into a fire breathing full-size muscle car.
Chrysler 300 Hurst
Everybody knows about the legendary Chrysler 300 “Letter Cars.” They were a series of high powered coupes and convertibles Chrysler built from 1955 to 1965. Chrysler called them “Letter Cars,” since they marked each model year with a letter starting with “C” and finishing with “L” in 1965. With low production numbers, bespoke interiors, leather upholstery and powerful engines, the “Letter Cars” were true Gran Turismo coupes of their era.
However, when production stopped in 1965, everybody thought that a true 300 Series car would never be available again. But, in 1970, they produced a special limited edition 300 Hurst. Chrysler built just 500 with the help of the famous transmission company, Hurst. The Hurst featured a special white and gold paint job. It also had a similarly styled interior and rear spoiler integrated into the rear deck lid.
Under the hood was a mighty 440 V8 engine with 395 HP that could propel the two-ton beast to respectful acceleration times. They offered this model for one year only, so people soon forgot it. But true Mopar aficionados will always remember those gold and white behemoths with Hurst emblems. And dedicated Chrysler historians place this special version as a continuation of the “Letter Cars” lineup.
Pontiac Catalina 2+2
In the mid-60’s, the Pontiac GTO was the car to have since it was on the forefront of the exciting new muscle car movement. With its performance, powerful engine and great Pontiac styling, the GTO was the perfect car for the moment. But, it wasn’t the only stellar performance machine coming from Pontiac. In 1965, there was another pure muscle car icon in form of the Catalina 2+2. Behind this strange name hides a full-size Catalina model available as a coupe or a convertible but with a performance twist.
The regular Catalina was a great looking, decent selling model. However, in 2+2 form, it transformed into a true Gran Turismo with a luxury interior and fire-breathing engine. Since the Catalina was a full-size model, it was eligible for engines over 400 CID, according to the GM rules of the time. This meant that the Catalina 2+2 came with the famous 421 V8.
But, if you wanted, you could get the Tri-Power intake system like on the GTO. This boosted your car’s power to 376 HP. Car buyers could also order limited slip differentials, heavy duty steering and brakes. This made the Catalina 2+2 well appointed, but expensive, too.
The top of the line 2+2 cost over $4,000. This was a hefty sum and much more than the similarly equipped GTO, for example. However, Pontiac produced around 11,000 of these fine machines in 1965, but only around 200 convertibles.
Plymouth Fury GT
Despite being an economy brand for the Chrysler Corporation, the Plymouth had a surprisingly large number of muscle cars during the 60’s and 70’s, as well as numerous special versions. Their luxury muscle car was the GTX, but in 1970, the Fury GT debuted as the biggest model on offer. The Fury GT was a two-door coupe version of the Fury sedan. But in the GT guise, it was a full-size muscle car with a perfect combination of looks and power.
Under the hood was a well-known 440 V8 with a three-carburetor setup and 375 HP on tap. Buyers could choose between the 727 Torqueflite automatic and the four-speed manual. But, if you wanted real performance, you could choose the manual.
However, despite the power and looks, the Fury GT wasn’t a big performer since it was still a heavy car. In combination with a relatively high price tag, it proved to be a slow seller. So, after just one year in production, Plymouth discontinued the GT model.
Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Back in the late 60’s, Chevrolet’s product planners decided to enter the personal luxury segment with a new model. Since Chevrolet was famous as a mid-priced car brand, moving up the ladder was a big deal. Chevy knew that they needed a fresh design, name and powerful engine. So, in 1970, the presented the Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
Chevy built it on the modified Chevelle platform. The Monte Carlo was a handsome coupe-only car with V8 engines, a nice interior and decent performance. Although most Monte Carlos came with small V8 engines, there was one crazy muscle option in the form of the SS 454 package. This version was a true full-size muscle beast with a monstrous 7.4-liter V8 engine.
It pumped 360 HP and propelled the heavy Monte Carlo to amazing 0 to 60 mph times. For just $420 above the base price, buyers could get this trim level to transform this coupe from a lazy cruiser to a quarter mile beast. However, only around 3,800 people decided to do that, so the Monte Carlo SS 454 remains one of the rarest luxury muscle cars they ever produced.
The reason is that Chevrolet had a few muscle cars in their model lineup already. So, most car enthusiasts turned to the Chevelle, Camaro or Corvette for performance and looks. The typical Monte Carlo buyers preferred comfort and luxury. So, the SS 454 option fell somewhere in the middle, contributing to the low sales numbers.
Buick Riviera GS
In the early 60’s, Detroit was aware of luxury Gran Turismo European coupes coming to America and selling in significant numbers. Performance-oriented buyers didn’t want big, heavy domestic coupes. This is because they had the power, but didn’t provide the handling or the feel of a sports car. So, instead, they turned to Ferraris, Maseratis, and Jaguars for that performance car excitement and prestige.
GM decided to capitalize on this trend by introducing a new luxury model with great styling, a cool name and enough power to put all those European coupes to shame. So, in 1963, they presented the Buick Riviera. It immediately became one of the most interesting cars on the American market back then. A combination of sleek and elegant styling, modern interior and powerful Buick’s Nailhead engine made the Riviera an instant bestseller.
It was also the first real competitor to the famous Ford Thunderbird. But Buick wanted more, so the company introduced the legendary Riviera Grand Sport or GS in 1965. The car featured a revised suspension, a bigger 425 engine, and a host of other performance upgrades. In this version, the Rivera was a true world class automobile with 360 HP and acceleration times of 7.9 seconds.
This was better than most of the sports cars of the period. The Riviera as a model stayed in production until 1993. But the first three generations, especially the GS models remained the most sought after as some of the best full-size muscle cars Detroit ever produced.
The fastest, most powerful American production model for 1955 and the car that shook the car scene was the mighty Chrysler C-300. The car got its name from the 331 V8 Hemi engine which they equipped with 8.5:1 compression. Chrysler added a race camshaft and twin four-barrel carburetors to produce 300 HP, which was a magical figure for the mid-50s.
The performance was outstanding with nine seconds 0 to 60 mph times and 130 mph top speeds. The car was expensive and full of luxury items, but it proved successful in racing, winning 37 stock car events. …
Even though Oldsmobile started the muscle car segment, it wasn’t active until 1961. This was when the rest of Detroit’s manufacturers introduced more powerful models, gaining respect on the streets and on the strips. Oldsmobile saw the potential and introduced the Starfire, its top of the line model which featured engine from the bigger models.
All big Oldsmobiles used a 394 V8 with 325 HP ratings. But in the Starfire, the engine delivered 330 HP and gave the 1961 model some performance credentials. These models weren’t true muscle cars since they were more luxury machines. However, they still had the power, performance and looks.
As the muscle car era came to an end, Chevrolet discontinued the Impala SS, only to resurrect it in 1994 as an option on the seventh generation of this legendary model. Since the early ’90s marked the return to performance, Chevrolet installed the famous 5.7-liter LT1 V8 engine in this full-size rear wheel drive sedan.
Then they equipped it with a heavy-duty suspension and components, creating a modern-day muscle legend. The engine delivered 260 HP and propelled the big sedan to 0 to 60 mph times of seven seconds. Although not exactly spectacular numbers, for the mid-90s, those were quite good results.
Despite the fact they never intended the Grand Marquis to be a performance car, Mercury decided to turn it into one. So, they installed a highly tuned 4.6-liter V8 with 302 HP and added a revised suspension, gearbox and brakes. All those changes turned this sleepy and comfy sedan into a sharp muscle car.
The black paint, which was one of three colors available, gave the Marauder menacing looks and an aggressive stance. This clearly differentiated it from its more sedate cousins. The performance was good for a big, heavy sedan with 0 to 60 mph time in around seven seconds.
The legendary Roadmaster name returned to the Buick lineup in 1991 after a 33-year long hiatus as a freshly styled luxurious sedan and station wagon model. The car was basically the same as other offerings from General Motors in the same class. However, the Roadmaster had some more luxury options.
Also, it had one interesting engine that turned this comfy cruiser into a muscle car. Buick engineers found a way to install a Corvette LT1 5.7-liter V8 engine into the Roadmaster’s engine bay. The LT1 produced 300 HP in the Corvette, but in the Buick, it delivered 260 HP, which was more than enough.
Cadillac Coupe DeVille 1949
The ’49 Cadillac was an important model for the company since introduced a new design element that sparked the trend of big chrome fins. The raised rear fenders near the rear lights started a revolution in American design during the ’50s.
And with the new 331 CID V8, the ’49 Cadillac produced 160 HP, which was powerful for the standards of the day. Equipped with a manual transmission, the pillarless Coupe De Ville could accelerate to 60 mph in just 12 seconds. This was fast for the late ’40s and transformed this luxury coupe into a muscle machine.
The reasons muscle cars muscled out these speed yachts is (1) they were less expensive and (2) therefore purchased by younger buyers.
Apparently this is Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. (No, I’m not watching.)
Andy Bolig writes about different kinds of sharks:
It’s easy to look at something and say whether or not you like it and why, but to create something from nothing that will have lasting, world-wide appeal is a gift given to a rare few. When speaking about Corvettes, there are several names that constantly rise to the surface as undoubtedly having that gift.
In the late-50s and early 60s, designing a car was laid squarely on the shoulders of those who wielded a pen and paper. Their thoughts and souls flowed upon the canvas, and without any assistance from computers or electronics, they fostered designs that inspired generations. Gentlemen such as Bill Mitchell and Larry Shinoda came together to bear prototypes that would lead Corvette for generations and capture the hearts and minds of enthusiasts to this day.
Two cars that exemplify this are the “Mako Sharks”, a duo of forward-looking vehicles that used technologies of the day to inspire and captivate enthusiasts with their futuristic design and styling. The basis for these cars, of which they both were dutifully named, has its roots in Bill Mitchell’s love for deep sea fishing, and the shark that he reportedly caught while on one such endeavor.
In The Beginning
Larry Shinoda reported in an interview on more than one occasion how Mr. Mitchell caught a shark and was so enthralled in the color and shape of the animal that he used it as the design basis for the cars. He wanted to create a car that had the same appearance of speed and agility, as well as the ability. Of course, no other platform provided such a solid starting point as Corvette.
In an interview with Wayne Ellwood, Corvette Designer Larry Shinoda once explained how the Mako Shark came about. The design work for the new-for-1963 Corvette was completed by 1962, and Chevrolet wanted something to help promote the new car. Larry was ordered to do some sketches that would build excitement for the new offering using cues from the new car, as well as taking some styling license with the design. After several designs, the final result was XP-755, the Mako Shark as we know it.
Even if anyone had seen the new 1963 Sting Ray Corvettes, they hadn’t seen anything like the Mako Shark! It’s pointy nose, flowing lines and a paint scheme that flowed from shark-skin blue to silver underneath were undeniable cues to the feared predator that shared its name.
Most Corvette fans acknowledge that the C2, inspired by the Mako Shark, was a better car than the C1. Corvette fans have been split on the C3, inspired by Mako Shark II, given that it was bigger outside but smaller inside than the C2 it replaced, and had rather useless storage space. (Not that the C2’s was better, since it was not a hatchback either.)
I’ve never mentioned this before now, but I once owned a Mako Shark.
It went as fast as I could push it.
Esquire swerves away from overpriced men’s fashion to cars:
In 1955, at the age of 24, and fresh from the success of East of Eden, actor James Dean popped down to John von Neumann’s Competition Motors in Hollywood, California to in a MG TD for a new Porsche 356 1500 Super Speedster. The sports car purveyor to the stars obliged. Weeks later, Dean entered a race in Palm Springs, and placed first in the under-1500 class. The following month he headed up to Bakersfield and won again. The Speedster threw a rod in Santa Barbara shortly thereafter. Back at Competition Motors Dean traded it in for Porsche’s latest race car, the 550 Spyder, got Von Dutch to paint “Lil’ Bastard” across the tail, and made a beautiful car iconic. After wrapping up filming of the movie Giant, Dean drove up the Central Valley toward Salinas in the 550 for another race. But he never made it.
And, yet. The glamor of racing didn’t end with Dean—in fact, it only strengthened from there, becoming part of the legend, the doomed romanticism. He died doing what he loved, and what could be more pure than that? Dean became among the first of a tradition: the actor turned gentleman driver, handsome and domineering, possessing not just the means to race but a level of dedication that transcended their stardom. He may have never driven one onscreen, but he cemented the legend: Porsche and the Hollywood connection, intertwined.
The racing image sealed it, but in the early years, Porsche’s 356 appeal was palpable—small European sports cars were hot, exactly the car to see and be seen in. James Bond may have never driven a Porsche (at least, not yet), but Sean Connery sure looked good in his 356. Janis Joplin’s 356 took on psychedelic colors (and in 2015 fetched $1.76 million at auction). In the film Bullitt, it’s McQueen’s Highland Green Mustang that gets all the glory, but Jacqueline Bisset’s Canary Yellow 356C convertible lends some balance to the film’s heavy-laden grit.
When the 911 came out in 1964, Porsche’s true potential as a sports car builder evolved: honed even further with a replacement that was faster, sharper, and more practical. Robert Redford put skis atop a 1968 Porsche 911T for the film Downhill Racer, a combination of cool made up of Alpine skiing, one of the earliest 911s, and Redford’s square-jawed magnetism. Can’t argue with that math.
Gary Smith reviews a book:
“I don’t think You’re man enough to take on a car like this.” Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) has just walked into Pete’s Dependable Used Cars somewhere in Idaho. He eyes up a Cameo White ’73 Trans Am with a red “shaker.” “It’s a repo. Three thousand and change,” says Pete. Seconds later, the Trans Am is flying through the western countryside, stolen. Movies made the Trans Am an American legend.
Tom Glatch tells the inside story of the Trans Am’s impact on the culture (and sales) through it’s starring role in several motion pictures and TV shows. Clint Eastwood in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot drove a Cameo white ’73; John Wayne’s Brewster Green ’73 in McQ; and David Carradine’s red ’73 in Cannonball. 1977 introduced Burt Reynolds drove a black TA “Bullet” in Smokey and the Bandit, along with Hooper. “Ain’t nobody can fly a car like Hooper.” Steve McQueen drove a ’80 TA in Hunter. Steve died four months after the film was released. In the early ’80s David Hasselhoff starred in the TV series Knight Rider that featured KITT, the talking Trans Am. Tom reveals many inside details about the making of the films, how the cars were procured, and what became of them.
The book quotes many designers and engineers who had something to do with the Trans Am. Norm Inouye drew the famous flaming bird graphic based on a sketch by Pontiac Studio Chief Bill Porter. After a flaming initial rejection by Bill Michell, it finally became an option beginning in 1973. Porter recently commented, “I think it may have saved the car. In the mid-seventies, everything was going against the Firebird, and I’ll put he case forward that the Trans Am bird saved it.”
Enzo Ferrari gave Bill Mitchell a 347 horsepower V-12 from a Ferrari Daytona 365 GT/B4 for his customized Firebird, Pegasus. The motor was a tight fit, and the author states that the firewall was moved back nine inches to accommodate the longer engine. However, you can clearly see that there were no modifications made to the interior or the wheelbase of the Pegasus. The V-12 was shoehorned in by taking up the space occupied by the stock fan and fan shroud.
1989 Turbo Trans Am
As an added bonus the author devotes several pages to the development of the 1989 Turbo Trans Am, the fastest four-seat American car of the 1980s. Pontiac built two Trans Ams in 1986 with the Buick Turbo 3.8-liter engine. But for the engine package to fit, the passenger-side fame rail was modified to make room for the exhaust downpipe. Production was not feasible, because the car would have to be re-certified at great expense to meet government crash standards. Using the standard Trans Am transmissions was also a certification issue.
The PAS team was brought in to see if production would be possible by other means. Bill Owen of Buick, the primary engineer behind the Turbo V-6 engine, came up with the idea of using the cylinder heads from the front-wheel-drive 3300 V-6 to narrow the width of the engine and make room for the transmission bracket so that the entire Grand National engine/transmission package would fit, along with the different heads. With this, the first production-ready Turbo Trans Am was born. Lloyd Reuss, executive vice president for GM’s passenger car group at the time, drove the gray-on-gray prototype and decided he wanted it to be the 30th Anniversary Trans Am.
Pretty interesting stuff. There are a lot of similar insights in the book.
By the way, in the gallery there is a shot of five ’77 TAs and a GMC motorhome that was part of the Trans Am Territory promotion. It is included in Michael Lamm’s great book, The Fabulous Firebird. One day at GM Design they picked out several TAs in the parking lot for the shot. The yellow TA was my car.
The Trans Am was named for a racing series of the same name, which included such pony cars as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger and AMC Javelin, each of which was limited to a 5-liter V-8 engine.
We owned very mild versions of two of these. Our first new second car was a brown 1973 Javelin with the 304 V-8 and automatic. It was the first car I, uh, legally drove. It had bucket seats and console, which was cool. It did not have power brakes, which one could get used to; it also didn’t have a parking brake indicator light, which led to a few interesting moments when one tried to drive without releasing the parking brake. It was fun to sit in the front seats of that car, but not so much in the back.
Twelve years later, my mother got a red 1985 Camaro, because her oldest son kept using the 1975 Caprice, about which I have previously written. The Camaro had the 2.8 liter V-6 and automatic. It was an unusually reliable car for a GM product of the day; the only problem I recall with it was that the shifter knob kept coming apart until a recall. The problem that fit in the category of Feature, Not Bug was that that Camaro was so low that I had to put my hand on the ground first to get out.
Between Javelin and Camaro ownership, the motorheads at my middle school (none of whom of course could legally drive) there was an ongoing argument about the Trans Am and the Corvette. The late ’70s C3 had the L-48 350 V-8 engine standard, with the L-82 350 V-8, with 40 more horsepower, optional. The standard Trans Am had a 400 V-8 with the same horsepower as the L-48, with the “T/A 6.6” V-8 adding 20 more horsepower.
Both cars are an example of 1970s taste, such as it was:
You could logically guess that I pined for the Corvette. I was a subscriber to Motor Trend magazine (motto: Every Car’s Great!), and when it reviewed the ’77 I pored over every word, including the red bubble on top of the antenna for the AM/FM/CB radio. (Don’t ask me how I remember that, good buddy.)
The reason the Trans Am became so popular in the late ’70s wasn’t just “Smokey and the Bandit” (starring ’70s icon Burt Reynolds), but because there were few other choices for a hot car. (“Hot” as in high performance, such as it was in the day, not “hot” for stolen.) Besides the Corvette (which was more expensive and lacked any back seat, as opposed to pony cars’ Back Seat in Name Only) … well, AMC killed the Javelin, and Chrysler killed the Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger. Chevy killed the Camaro Z-28 in 1975, only to bring it back in late 1977 after noticing Trans Am sales. Ford’s Mustang II was based on the Pinto, and without a V-8 until 1975, one year before Ford introduced the Cobra II package powered by a 140-horsepower V-8.
The ultimate Trans Am is the Special Edition T/A, available in black with gold bird thing on the hood or gold with black thing on the hood. According to this site, the correct combination — the T/A 6.6, 4-speed manual and T-tops — was chosen by 2,699 buyers.
I’ve written before here about the most superior engine design, the V-8 engine.
Along that line, Hotcars has 20 potential V-8 car purchases for $10,000 or less, including …
Even though it seems like Americans have a monopoly on producing this epic piece of machinery, the rest of the world has an appreciation for it as well, using it only for their finest models.
However, it’s not cheap to purchase something with eight thumping pistons under the hood. Even work trucks and base trim muscle cars can be rather pricey. For cheap V8 power, one must look at the used market. While a new vehicle with such a powerplant will likely start above $30k, it’s fairly easy to find a used model with similar power at a third of the price. With that being said, it’s worth remembering how much more it will cost to insure and fuel a vehicle with eight thirsty cylinders. Although, there’s nothing else that moves a car quite like a V8, especially when such an experience can cost less than $10k.
20 CHEVROLET CORVETTE C4
The formula for building a competent sports car is rather simple. Use a strong powerplant in combination with buttoned-down suspension and a lightweight design. One of the few American offerings that follows this philosophy is the Chevy Corvette. Its body doesn’t weigh much thanks to the fiberglass panels, which pair well with its unique leaf spring suspension design. When put together, it makes for an excellent sports car. However, the most important part of a Corvette is its motor. Powered almost exclusively by Chevy small block V8s, the best Corvettes accelerate as well as they corner.
The model’s strength heavily depends on which motor resides under the hood. The C4 Corvette launched in 1984 came equipped with only 205 limp horsepower. While that V8 was later revised to produce up to 245 horsepower, the LT1, the predecessor to the legendary LS, is the engine to seek out. This motor’s 300 horsepower rating means this aging Corvette can still tear up the street. While the newer LT1 models will cost more, it’s well worth the extra cash.
The C4 is not my favorite Corvette, in large part due to the ridiculous instrument panels …
… but that can be fixed, for a price. (As with everything else.)
18 FORD MUSTANG GT
What American muscle car is more iconic than the Ford Mustang? It has been in continuous production since it was introduced in 1965. As a result, there are many Mustangs that can be had for well under $10k. For those who want some classic V8 muscle, there are many original Mustangs that are surprisingly cheap, if a bit rough around the edges. And that kind of money can also buy a very clean Fox-Body Mustang with the iconic 5.0-liter V8. However, if a buyer is willing to purchase something that’s a little less clean, they can opt for a cheaper Fox-body and use the left-over money to turn it into a track destroying monster thanks to the model’s huge aftermarket selection. While newer SN95 Mustangs are definitely cheaper, they aren’t as modifiable as the older Fox bodies or as attractive as the newer 2005 through 2009 cars.
It doesn’t hurt that these models also have a wide selection of modifications available. While Coyote 5.0-liter ‘Stangs are out of this price range, there’s still a lot of fun to be had with older examples.
17 CHEVROLET CAMARO
With the exception of the Ford Mustang, the longest running muscle car is the Camaro, having been produced uninterrupted from 1969 to 2002. The model did return once again in 2010, now sporting a retro look. However, these newer examples have yet to depreciate into affordable territory and, obviously, the classic models can get quite expensive. If there is anyone who still wants a Camaro that offers Corvette power, strong acceleration, and impressive handling for under $10k, then the fourth-generation model is a perfect choice.
This version entered production in 1993, but the one to look out for is the 1998 to 2002 model. Originally, this Camaro came with the C4 Corvette’s LT1 V8, but the way the engine was crammed under the hood made it difficult to work on and it was not as powerful, nor as fuel efficient as the motor that came after. For 1998, Chevy decided to throw in its new LS1 V8 that was more powerful, being rated at 335 horsepower and being capable of achieving decent highway fuel economy with its efficient, computer-controlled motor in conjunction with its slippery body design. While the four-speed automatic is capable of delivering powerful acceleration, it’s the six-speed manual that will really unlock this car’s performance.
16 DODGE RAM 1500
Out of the American Big Three, Ram tends to be the lowest volume seller when it comes to trucks. With Ford being the most established brand, Chevy providing a more traditional truck experience, and Toyota offering its usual undying, if outdated, experience that it’s known for, Ram has a tough time competing. On the surface, the Ram’s main appeal is its unique looks. Starting with its 1994 redesign, the Ram’s styling shifted towards its now iconic semi-truck inspired look with low headlights and a tall crosshair grille. It was further refined in 2002, and, a year later, the model received Chrysler’s new 5.7-liter Hemi V8. This new motor was good for 345 horsepower, which put the Ram’s new optional V8 shockingly close to the other brands’ performance trucks of the time. That powertrain combined with the truck’s tough looks gave the Ram 1500 a very muscular presence, and Dodge saw an opportunity.
To capitalize on its redesigned truck’s new powerplant, Dodge released a few special edition models, such as the Rumble Bee, Daytona, and GTX, all referencing classic Mopar muscle cars. As most of these were less desirable single cab models and are getting a little old, it’s easy to find such Rams for under $10k.
15 BMW 5 SERIES
If there’s one thing that BMW is known for, it’s for producing high-quality sports cars that are surprisingly practical. Despite the company generally building performance vehicles, it manages to keep its models’ styling fairly subdued while retaining an instantly recognizable look. Perhaps the company’s best combination of performance and practicality is the 5 series. For many years, it has provided owners with a driver-oriented experience with the practicality and comfort of a luxury sedan, with the M5 being the quickest option. Unfortunately, M-power is not within our budget, but there are still plenty of V8-powered 5 series available for under $10k, as long as the model is more than a decade old.
Although the 5 Series never came standard with eight cylinders, there were plenty of buyers willing to shell out the money for the extra oomph. Power was dependent on which V8 was equipped.
While any of these motors make for a quick sedan, it’s still worth remembering that this is a premium German luxury sedan and that repairs may be quite expensive should they come up, but the experience may be worth it.I drove a 1994 540 once, with, as a bonus, a six-speed. It was fast, but smooth, but fast. I recall ripping down a suburban street at 73 mph in a 35-mph zone due to my not noticing how fast I was going.
14 DODGE CHARGER R/T
I drove a Genesis once. I was surprised at how nice it was, and how much like the V-8 sedans U.S. automakers used to built it was.
As you know, I am a connoisseur of both Corvettes and movies where cars play prominent roles.
For whatever reason, a New York Times book excerpt popped up about probably the first Corvette made famous in entertainment, from the TV series “Route 66”:
Actor Martin Milner was one of those celebrities at whom Chevrolet aimed the 1953 Corvette. Herbert B. “Bert” Leonard was an even bigger target. Leonard had risen through television’s ranks to become an executive producer, the man who developed and ran successful and popular series shows. In late 1953 he introduced a drama starring a German shepherd and a young boy, called The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. Milner had appeared in television’s Dragnet, and other series and films through the early and mid-1950s. Neither of them, however, was impressed enough to pay much attention to the car until they had to.
In writing schools, instructors teach young talents to “write what you know.” A slice of Leonard’s life, of what he knew from his youth, grew into a very popular series. In a 1982 interview in Emmy magazine with film writer Richard Maynard, Bert recalled a lunch with his friend, Naked City writer Stirling Silliphant in 1959 while that show was in production. As a child in New York, Leonard had a much wealthier friend who was a prep school student. Over lunch he and Silliphant imagined what it might have been like to hit the roads in his friend’s sports car. An idea gelled immediately and by the time lunch was over, they had their show name, The Searchers, and a pilot story roughed out. Leonard and Silliphant had created an idea that took another popular TV series of the mid-1950s Wagon Train into the next decade. In their proposal, they wrote:
The theme – search, unrest, uncertainty, seeking answers, looking for a way of life.
The people – are young enough to appeal to the youthful audience, old enough to be involved in adult situations.
The stories – will be about something, [Italics were Silliphant’s] will be honest, and will face up to life, look for and suggest meanings, things people can identify with, and yet there will be the romance and escape of young people with wanderlust.
The locales – the whole width and breadth of the U.S., with stories shot in the actual locations, a la Naked City. What we did for one city, we now propose to do for a country and for many of its industries and businesses.
In late 1959, Leonard and Silliphant pitched this idea to Columbia-Screen Gems. They were an acknowledged success; Naked City had established new standards for storytelling and cinematography in television. This idea, however, was different. As Screen Gems executives explained when they rejected the series initially, this was “about two bums on the road.”
The Searchers verged on late 1950s European Existentialism, a philosophy that questioned why humans exist. Because he suspected this was a bit too deep for television executives at the time, Silliphant brought it back to more comfortable territory. He concluded their pitch by promising that each episode would be “packed with at least two or three top-staged brawls (built into the character of Buz).” To demonstrate his faith in the idea, Leonard funded the pilot himself. In exchange, if Columbia bought the show, he would own 80 percent of the series.
Screen Gems execs reminded Leonard and Silliphant that New York’s Broadway had recently staged a play titled The Searchers, so the pair adopted the name of America’s emotionally-laden “mother road,” Route 66.
Regular viewers know that the 115 episodes over four years rarely found stories along U.S. Highway 66. That mattered only to those obsessed with detail. Leonard’s crew shot the pilot, called “The Wolf Tree,” in Concord, Kentucky, calling it the fictional Garth, Alabama, in February 1960. The show debuted on a Friday night, October 7, 1960, with the episode renamed “Black November.” By then the production crew was leapfrogging across the country. Leonard, Silliphant, and a production assistant scouted areas that gave them several nearby towns around which to craft two or three episodes. Four weeks later, the production caravan arrived and began filming. Silliphant sometimes wrote from hotel rooms near the locations, delivering script pages that day to the waiting cast, each story faithfully adhering to his promise to show America, its industries and its businesses, and a fist fight or two thrown in for good measure.
The premise of the show was that Tod Stiles, played by Martin Milner, had just lost his father, a New York City shipping company owner. Stiles, a junior at Yale, educated and thoughtful, well-bred and polite, came home for the funeral to discover a bankrupt business and a legacy that included nothing more than a new 1960 Corvette convertible.
“I’ve been seriously wrong about a lot of things in my life,” Milner admitted in an interview in 1998. “And I said to Bert Leonard, ‘A Corvette isn’t that exciting a car. Why don’t we do this in a Ferrari?’” Milner laughed.
“‘Well,’ Bert said to me, ‘we’ve got a pretty good chance of getting sponsorship from Chevrolet. And there’s a pretty good chance of not getting anything from Ferrari.’”
Milner related this story to documentary producer John Paget while they were completing a retrospective two-hour show tracing the actual route of Route 66. For that production Milner drove a 1960 Roman Red convertible (with white coves), which gave rise to yet another of the countless myths about the television series.
An actor Leonard had used and liked on Naked City, George Maharis, was hired even before Milner to play a dockside employee named Buz Murdoch. Maharis’ character Buz was a native of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, streetwise and cynical, equally quick to react or to joke. Now Buz was jobless. Suddenly uprooted in every sense, the two clean-cut handsome young men, friends from summers working on Stiles’ docks, took off to find themselves.
“Tod says,” Maharis announced in that first episode, written by Silliphant, “if we keep moving we’ll find a place to plant roots . . .. But with me, it’s fine just moving.”
Screen Gems and CBS picked up the series, and listings in publications such as TV Guide identified Milner and Maharis as the principal players. But there were four stars apparent to those who watched the show carefully: Maharis, Milner, the Corvette (often written in to Silliphant’s scripts as a character itself), and The Road Across America. As television historian Mark Alvey wrote in The Road Movie Book, “Route 66 is a tale both of search and flight, and as a serial narrative characteristic of American commercial television, its central meaning lies not in some finite goal at the end of the road, but in the discoveries made along the way.”
The show’s travels rooted much of America to their television sets every Friday for four seasons. The audience’s vicarious restlessness brought Chevrolet back year after year as principal sponsor. “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet,” was more than an advertising jingle for this show—it was close as existentialism was to being the show’s philosophical foundation.
Chevrolet’s advertising agency’s Los Angeles office provided Leonard a pair of Tasco Turquoise blue convertibles. As Leonard and Silliphant had promised, the show hit the road and travelled . . . and travelled. Maharis recalled recently that they covered 40,000 miles each year. Production manager Sam Manners ran a road train, as he explained to show historian James Rosin. A transporter carried the two Corvettes as well as a Chapman Crane, a truck with an arm capable of lifting the camera nearly 50 feet in the air. A station wagon supported the camera for moving front shots; a Corvair missing its front trunk lid served as camera car for rear views. Another dozen vehicles made up the convoy with portable dressing rooms, costumes, and the camera equipment, lenses, lighting gear, and generators cinematographer Jack Marta needed to get each episode on film.
For Chevrolet, it was the natural “vehicle” to promote their sports car. Similar motives attracted GM executives and viewers: There was no need to wait for a vacation to see the country in the family station wagon—hopefully a Chevy. Every week millions of individuals went on an adventure, imagining themselves as the third (or fourth or fifth) rider stuffed into the Corvette between Buz and Tod.
The show provided adventure, with Tod, Buz, and the Corvette as tour guides. Events, tumultuous and timely, befell the two young men just as they arrived in one locale or another. Silliphant, a writer profoundly in sync with America’s psyche, steered them to women’s rights, racial inequality, corporate malfeasance, land and water rights, international espionage, murder, theft, assault, marital and familial discord, war crimes, revolutionary terrorists, drug addiction and abuse, the role of the government in an individual’s rights, and the responsibilities of an individual to a town or nation. The episodes were self-contained, an anthology type of storytelling that introduced conflicts involving guest stars outside the Corvette. By the time the sleek luggage-encumbered convertible left town, all was right with the world and it was time to move on.
In an interview in Time magazine in August 1963, Silliphant said, “The meaning of Route 66 has to do with ‘a search for identity in contemporary America. It is a show about a statement of existence. If anything, it is closer to Sartre and Kafka than to anything else. We are terribly serious, and we feel that life contains a certain amount of pain.’”
The show caused some pain for cinematographer Marta, who worked hard to illuminate actors’ faces in bright sunlight against a pale blue car that reflected so much light. For the 1961–1962 season, the Campbell-Ewald agency provided the show with Fawn Beige convertibles. That darker color choice remained through 1964, when the series ended.
Some viewers picked up the difference between the tones of the cars, even filmed in black-and-white. They noticed that each year the seemingly penniless Stiles and Murdock (who often said they took jobs just for gas money) travelled in a current model Corvette. That question fit right in with, “How can they be in Maine if the show is called Route 66?”
As a title, The Searchers was not “catchy,” just as a Ferrari convertible would have been unbelievable—why wouldn’t Tod sell a car like that and go back to Yale? But Dad’s two-seat American-made Corvette enticed the two young men onto the road, letting Stiles search for roots and Murdock keep moving without taking much baggage or other passengers.
Chevrolet’s design studio began planning updates to the Corvette’s first-generation body even before introduction in 1953. Poor sales slipped the redesign back from the 1956 to 1958, when quad headlights appeared. Stylists Peter Brock, Chuck Pohlman, and others slaved away on the “next” Corvette, first called the “Q” and then nicknamed just “the next one.” In 1961 the car received a new rear end that hinted at The Next One. Quad headlights stayed through 1962 season and subsequent generations. The Sting Ray showed up for the 1962–1963 season and a new one carried on for the 1963–1964 programs.
About every 3,000 miles, Campbell-Ewald replaced the show’s cars, reconditioning them and sending them off to friendly dealers to sell as “executive” vehicles. Sam Manners remembered running though three or four cars per season. With each season’s renewal, new models arrived in time for the caravan to leave L.A. By 1963, that road show had grown to fifty vehicles on the road covering 40,000 miles each year. By then Chevrolet provided Corvettes to Milner and Maharis, Manners, and others for personal use as well.
The car shown here is not a vehicle from the show. Its white coves betray it, as does its unrestored survivor status. Pennsylvania owner Mike Nardo and his father know the history of the car and it did not include television stardom. But Nardo’s car is a survivor with 37,000 miles, a four-speed transmission, and the same factory steel wheels and wheel covers that Tod ended up with after Episode 22. In that show, “Eleven, The Hard Way,” the two men helped a small town confront the risks of gambling in order to save itself. To stake a loan to the town’s auditor in a make-or-break game of dice, Tod sold the wire wheels that drove the car through two-thirds of the premiere season.
The show itself was a gamble. There are reports that CBS didn’t care for it. Network president Jim Aubrey complained to Leonard that the show was “too downbeat,” and that he wanted more “broads, bosoms, and fun.” But, as Leonard told Mark Alvey, Chevrolet “liked the hard hitting show they bought . . . They wanted the reality, the drama, and the movement; not the sexy women and cliché characters.” GM’s marketing studies revealed that the show attracted huge audiences of young people between the age of 10 and 14, a prime target then and now. The show ran for four seasons, surviving the disappearance of co-star Maharis who was suffering with hepatitis brought on by the exhausting pace of travel and six-day shooting weeks. Milner drove on, searching for roots and meaning. The show finally slowed to a halt months after Glenn Corbett, playing Lincoln Case, replaced a still-ailing Maharis. “Linc” was more like Tod than Buz and the interplay and counterpoint that worked so well with Maharis and Milner never reappeared.
Critics have analyzed the show’s writing, its acting, and its stories. Some have compared it to beatnik author Jack Kerouac’s seminal travel story On the Road. Kerouac sued Silliphant and Leonard, accusing them of plagiarism. But as Paul Goodman explained in his book Growing up Absurd, “The entire action of On the Road is the avoidance of interpersonal conflict.” Route 66 was precisely the opposite, and viewer surveys commissioned in 1961 by Chevrolet and other sponsors learned that the audience understood the role of the stars as knights in shining armor, riding in week after week to save damsels—or entire towns—in distress. It is their co-star in this noble pursuit, their trusty steed, their white charger—well, first blue and then beige—that is the subject of this chapter.
The book is …
… Legendary Corvettes: ’Vettes Made Famous On Track And Screen, which I have not read, and apparently is not available through the local library system. It appears from the Amazon preview that there is only one other movie/TV Corvette in the book …
… this abomination.
My blog last week about the Chevrolet Caprice (a French word meaning “behemoth,” I believe) may somehow cosmically have gotten me to see this:
What the what, you ask? This is (apparently because I can’t see if the headlights are rectangular or round) a 1976 Caprice Landau, to which has been added … T-tops.
A T-top, according to Heacock Classic, is …
… a beautiful example of compromise. If you want the open-air fun of a convertible but don’t want to completely sacrifice structural rigidity and add the weight of a drop top, the T-Top was made for you. It’s also not a feature you’ll find in any car being manufactured today. Meaning if you want the red-jeans-wearing, mullet-having, John Cougar Mellencamp-blaring awesomeness of a T-Top, you’re more than likely going to need to buy a classic car.
While many credit GM for the T-Top, it was actually invented and patented by car designer Gordon Buehrig. It was first used in a 1948 prototype by The American Sportscar Company or “Tasco.”
While Tasco had an excellent roof, they never made more than one prototype of the car.
The T-Top wasn’t seen again until GM introduced it on the 1968 Corvette, at which point Gordon Buehrig promptly sued them. While his suit was successful, the settlement is said to be relatively small.
The Corvette’s T-Tops were so well-liked they were cited as the reason Chevy discontinued Corvette convertibles in the 1976 model year and didn’t resume production of them until 1986.
Perhaps the most iconic application of the T-Top was on the second-generation Pontiac Firebird. Offered for the first time in 1976, these T-Tops were originally provided by Hurst until 1978, when they were replaced by larger, less leaky panels manufactured by Fisher. The “Smokey and The Bandit” Trans Am, pictured above, features Hurst tops.
Eventually, all of the Big Three American car manufacturers tried their hands at making cars with T-Tops. They even made their way onto less performance-oriented models like the Chrysler Cordoba and seventh-generation Ford Thunderbird. Overseas, this roof is featured on a variety of Japanese and British automobiles, even on quirky utility vehicles like the Subaru Brat and Suzuki X-90 (you may not recognize it without a giant Red Bull can on the back).
While none of today’s car companies have the good sense to make cars with these truly awesome roofs anymore, the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird brought the T-Top into the 21st century, if only just. T-Tops went the way of Pontiac and its Firebird in 2002. Until manufacturers come to their senses, car-buyers with discriminating tastes, i.e. those who adore T-Tops, will just have to look to classic cars to get their open-air performance fix. And that’s just fine by us!
The T-top was only on the C3 Corvette, replaced on C4s thereafter by a targa top, which covers between the top of the windshield and the B-pillar. The bar between hatch panels was because merely cutting off the roof would have made the car unstable. Stiffening from the C4 onward (the C5 was designed as a convertible to which the roof was added) helped deal with that problem.
There is one other GM T-top not mentioned …
… the 1977 Olds Toronado XSR, one of which was built with not just a T-top, but …
… a power T-top. This is the only one American Sunroof Corp. built for Olds, because they couldn’t get the power top mechanism to work. (Imagine GM rejecting new technology because it didn’t work right.) Olds instead sold the Toronado XS, which had merely a sunroof.
I once owned a car with a dealer-installed sunroof. It leaked somewhat, but that was the least of the problems with that car. Sunroofs designed with the vehicle generally don’t leak, but the downside is that power sunroofs reduce headroom, which is an issue for us tall drivers. We have a Honda Pilot that came with a sunroof as standard equipment. It’s cool to drive it with the roof open, assuming it’s not too cold or windy. (The former can be dealt with by, obviously, turning up the heat; the latter is dealt with somewhat with an air deflector that deploys when the roof is open, but it’s best to not have any windows open in that case. The other downside is if your hair is a little bit, uh, light on top.)
The most desirable of the big Chevrolet B-bodies (the Chevy Impala and Caprice, Pontiac Bonneville and Grand Ville, Olds Delta 88 and Buick LeSabre) are the convertibles. (As are the pre-1971 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and the post-’70 Eldorados.) Targa tops and T-tops are the next best thing. Convertibles today are either sports cars (ranging from the Corvette to the Mazda Miata) or otherwise small cars (the late Chrysler Sebring). Detroit doesn’t make big cars anymore, so Detroit doesn’t make big two-doors, let alone big convertibles.
This photo came from this web page, which claimed that the owner had also modified the car’s axles to put on 14-inch wheels (one inch smaller than the originals) for the reprehensible practice of “donking.” (Usually “donking” involves installing much larger wheels, not smaller, as in the case of this Caprice.) If you were going to put different wheels on the Caprice, the logical choice would not be 14-inch wheels, but reproductions of the old Chevrolet Rally wheels. Ironically, Rally wheels were not offered on the ’71–76 Chevy B-bodies, while they were available on everything from Malibus to Corvettes. (The B-body bolt circle was too large. I found that out the hard way.)
So for reasons known only to GM, one could not get Impala or Caprice Rally wheels, even though you could get sport wheels on your big Pontiac …
… or Buick, though not, for some reason, the big Olds.
The B-bodies (built at Chevy’s late Janesville plant, by the way) were designed thusly for 1971. (The C-bodies — the Olds 98, Buick Electra and Cadillac Coupe and Sedan de Ville — were even bigger; “C” probably stood for “colossal.”) The ’71–76 Chevys model offerings did not include the Impala SS, combining both size and horsepower from 1961 to 1969. The Impala SS’ death is too bad given that Chevy could have put together a ’71–76 Impala SS from its own parts bin, using, for instance, its 454 V-8 and the swivel bucket seats and console of the mid-’70s Monte Carlo and Laguna S-3. Of course, someone “restomodding” a big Chevy could do that too, as long as you’ve already departed from originality with your T-top.