Category: Wheels

All I want for Christmas is …

Regular readers of this blog know about my affection for the Corvette, a vehicle I have yet to own. (Because life is unfair.)

Corvette ownership is incompatible with kids, a lack of garage, and employment in a generally poor paying profession. Corvettes are also expensive to own even beyond their usual gas mileage.

Corvsport suggests othwersie (boldface theirs):

Almost since its introduction 65 years ago, there has been a stigma in the automotive community that Corvettes are only driven by older, financially-well-off members of society.  This reputation exists because of the common belief that these are the only people that can afford them.  To the casual observer, this “stereotype,” (for lack of a better word,) tends to ring true.

When looking at the average age of active members is most Corvette clubs, or when frequenting car shows where Corvettes are on display, the owners do tend to be on the more mature side of the age spectrum.  The seemingly obvious conclusion people come to is this – Corvettes are expensive and therefore require a budget that is free from the many financial burdens that are often connected with many of the younger demographics – such as paying for college, buying a house, raising a family, etc.

Right?

While the above argument sounds reasonable, and may even prove to be true in some instances, there are a number of Corvettes in the used car market that make ownership more affordable today than ever before in the brand’s history.  While a 1963 Split-Window coupe is still going to be financially out of reach for many of us, there are whole generations of Corvettes that can be purchased today for under $20k, and some now sell for less than $10k, thereby throwing those earlier claims of “senior-level-affordability” right out the window!

To help illustrate this point, and to help potential future owners find their first Corvette, we decided to collect some pricing data on eight of the most affordable Corvette models in today’s used car market.   In each instance, we shopped for the same car in five different cities across the United States and then calculated the average price of each model to provide the prices you see listed below.  Although these dollar amounts are an average, they reflect the pricing (+/- $1,500) listed on each car we researched in each of the surveyed markets.

Here then is our list of Corvette models that can readily be purchased by just about anyone (from most-to-least expensive (on average)):

2005 Corvette

Average Price: $20,215.00

It may come as a surprise to many Corvette enthusiasts, but it is possible to find a low-mileage C6 Corvette for right around $20k.

The 2005 Corvette, which featured a 400 horsepower LS2 V8 engine and could be ordered with all sorts of cool options, has become surprisingly affordable over the past couple of years.  Some say its because the 2005 Corvette was the first model year of the new generation, making it “more prone to issues” commonly associated with the roll-out of a new production vehicle.  However, the 2005 Corvette includes a proven powerplant that promises exhilarating horsepower and performance.  Moreover, it features a re-designed exterior that many enthusiasts praise as an improvement over the outgoing C5 model.

It should be noted however that the C6 Corvette was far more than just a redesign of its predecessor.  GM engineers had approached the redesign of the Corvette with the understanding that, for the first time in the brand’s history, they were going to build an all-out sports car.  In addition to tremendous acceleration and top-end power, the 2005 Corvette also featured strong stopping power and race-car worthy cornering.  The sixth-generation Corvette provided owners with a driving experience that was far more refined than any of the earlier Corvettes that had come before it.

Still not convinced? Consider this…the 2005 Corvette was included on Car and Driver’s annual “10 Best” list and even beat out the 2005 Porsche 911 in a Car and Driver’s comparison test.  Additionally, it took first place in a 2005 Road and Track comparison of nine sports-cars, a comparison that included: the Honda S2000, the Dodge Viper, the Porsche 911, the Porsche Boxster, and the Nissan 350Z, among others.  As quoted from the article, written by Sam Mitani on February 16, 2005, the C6 had “no real weaknesses and many strengths.  It possess world class performance, a high level of comfort and dashing good looks.  And it’s available for nearly half the price of a Porsche Carrera S.”

200104 Corvette Z06

Average Price: $18,920.00

When the Z06 Corvette was introduced in 2001, it was marketed as being a true, “race-ready” Corvette.  While the C5 Corvette coupe and convertible had been praised by the automotive community as a whole, Corvette’s Chief Engineer David Hill had been dissatisfied with the power and performance aspects of the (then) current-generation car.   He believed that some drivers simply wanted to “go faster” and have the “strongest automobile on the street.”

Early (20012002) Z06 Corvettes featured a 385 horsepower LS6 engine, while later models (20032004) featured a more robust version of the engine rated at 405 horsepower.  This revised powerplant, which had been based on the LS1 engine used in the coupe and convertible models, propelled the Z06 from 0-60 in just four seconds.  Per David Hill, “We’ve enhanced Corvette’s performance persona and broken new ground with the Z06.   With 0 – 60 times of four seconds flat and more than 1g of cornering acceleration (skidpad), the Z06 truly takes Corvette performance to the next level.  In fact, the Corvette Team has begun referring to it as the C5.5, so marked are the improvements we’ve made and the optimization of the car in every dimension.”

Today, the fifth-generation Z06 Corvette is far-less powerful than the sixth- and especially the seventh-generation models that bear the same designation.  However, as the newer cars have emerged and claimed their place in the ever-changing rankings of “most-powerful Corvette,” the price of the fifth-generation C5 Corvettes have dropped considerably.  And, while 385-405 horsepower may tremble in comparison to the 650 horsepower of the current Z06, these earlier-generation Z06 Corvettes are still an absolute blast to drive.

Even by today’s standards, the 20012004 Corvette Z06 is a “race ready (sports car) right of the box” and is still considered a bargain amongst comparably equipped sports cars from Europe – such as Ferraris and Porsches – from that same era.

1999 Corvette Convertible

Average Price: $16,295.00

Considering that the 1999 Corvette convertible had a retail price that started at $45,579.00 in 1999, it is nothing short of incredible that there are many low-to-moderate mileage examples of this car on the market today for well below $20,000.00!  While this statement holds true for most of the C5 models, we selected the 1999 Corvette convertible because we felt it reflected the most value for the money of all the fifth-generation Corvettes on the used-car market today.

Elsewhere on the car, the 1999 Corvette featured a telescoping steering column, twilight sentinel headlamps and magnesium wheelsFor the 1999 model year, the engineers behind the Corvette had introduced a lot of awesome new technology into the car.  One of the most exciting new features was the introduction of the “Heads Up Display”, a sophisticated and high-tech system that projected data – from speed to engine RPM’s – on the lower left section of the car’s windshield.  The display was customizable and included a “check guages” warning light that would illuminate when the driver needed to pay attention to something on the dashboard gauge cluster that was not included as part of the heads up display.

But why recommend the convertible over the coupe?  There is no black-and-white answer to this question.  We selected the convertible over the coupe in this instance primarily because, having driven both version of this car at length, we felt that the convertible was simply more enjoyable – more fun – to drive.  Although some might argue that the addition of a convertible top adds considerable weight to the car, thereby reducing its performance capabilities, the reality is that the 1999 Corvette convertible weighed only one pound more than its coupe counterpart.  With a standing 0-60 time of just 4.9 seconds, the 1999 Corvertible was a solid performer, and still enabled consumers to drop the top without the trouble of having to store a hard top in the rear half of the car’s cabin area.

1975 Corvette Coupe

Average Price: $14,800.00

For many Corvette enthusiasts, the C3 is the very definition of what a Corvette should look like.  The large fender flares, the swept back profile and the car’s long hood are all part of the car’s iconic look.  This body design, which was the hybrid brainchild of Zora Arkus-Duntov, Bill Mitchell and Larry Shinoda, was built from 1968 to 1982, with only minor revisions to the overall look of the car during that entire duration.  It remains the longest production run of any single generation of the Corvette.

So, given the number of other third-generation model years available, why did we choose the 1975 model?

The answer is two-fold.  First, and probably the most relevant reason (as it relates to the topic of this article), is that General Motors reduced the number of available engines for the 1975 model year.  As a result, the only available choices were either the stock 165 horsepower engine, or the optional L82 engine, which produced a modestly more impressive 205 horsepower.   While neither of these powerplants offered consumers the blistering speed of the earlier third-generation Corvettes, this reduction in power has also made purchasing a C3 far more affordable in today’s used car market, providing you aren’t looking for high-output power.

The second reason that we selected this Corvette is that it marked two important milestones:

  1. It was the last time that the C3 Corvette would be offered as a convertible.
  2. It was the last time that a Corvette convertible would cost less than a coupe (when it was sold new), and is still a terrific value on the used car market today (NOTE:1975 Corvette convertibles sell (on average) for about $1800 more than the coupes, though there are still some amazing deals out there.)

Now we know what you’re probably thinking – our recommendation was for the 1975 Corvette coupe, NOT the convertible, right?  When assembling this list of cars, we discovered that the 1975 Corvette coupes are now LESS expensive than the convertibles, though both are great values for someone interested in purchasing a third-generation Corvette.  In fact,when it comes to buying a mid-generation C3 Corvette, the 1975 model year is about the perfect blend of classic design and affordability.

1979 Corvette Coupe

Average Price: $11,480.00

Known as the fastback Corvette (a re-design that was originally introduced in 1978), it is arguable that the 1979 Corvette was growing “long in the tooth” from a design standpoint.  Chevrolet had been manufacturing the third-generation Corvette for more than a decade already, and while the fastback rear-end gave the car an updated appearance, it was argued by many automotive critics from that era that Chevrolet had “worn out its welcome” with the current body design.

Despite these criticisms, Chevrolet manufactured 53,807 Corvettes in 1979, a production run which set the record for the largest number of Corvettes built in a single year (a record that still stands today.)

The 1979 Corvette came equipped with either the base L48 engine, which produced 195 horsepower, or the L82 engine, which produced 225 horsepower.  These powerplants resonated with consumers, and afforded owners a straight-line 0-60 time (when equipped with the L82) of just 6.6 seconds, a standing quarter mile time of 15.3 seconds and a top speed of 127 miles per hour.  While these numbers are tame by today’s super-car standards, the performance and value of the 1979 Corvette could not be questioned back in its day.

So how come they’re so affordable and so readily available now?

The limited market value that the 1979 Corvette has today can be correlated from those same criticisms that many made against this model year when it was new.  Namely, it was an uninspired design that had lived past its prime.  Chevrolet had manufactured a lot of these cars, and while they sold quickly, their value also depreciated quickly, especially once the fourth-generation Corvette arrived on the scene.  Moreover, while the factory engine offerings might have excited consumers back in the late 1970’s, the L48 and L82 powerplants were hardly noteworthy entries in this history of the brand.

Still, the intrinsic collectors value of the  1979 Corvette (along with the 19801982 models that would follow it) has rebounded some over the past (almost) thirty years.  Like other cars from that era, the classic nature of the 1979 Corvette adds to its mystique.  While the car may have lacked the factory power of its younger (and older) siblings, the overall aesthetic and allure of a late-model C3 is unmistakable.  More than that, the abundance of these cars makes finding parts for repairs/maintenance far more manageable, which helps keeps costs down….and let’s face it, if you are going to consider buying a decades-old car, there will be costs associated with its upkeep.

However, if you on the hunt for a classic-looking Corvette that will show well at the Saturday morning Cars & Coffee meet-up, then 1979 Corvette may be just what you are looking for!

1996 Corvette Coupe/Convertible

Average Price: $8,840.00

For anyone that’s looking for affordable fun with genuine performance, you need look no further than the 1996 Corvette.

The 1996 model year was to be the last of the fourth-generation Corvettes. While Chevrolet was already geared up to begin production of the C5 modelthe departure of the C4 was celebrated with a couple of special edition models – the 1996 Collector’s Edition Corvette and the 1996 Grand Sport Corvette – both of which were offered for just a single year.  These cars (especially the Grand Sport) still retail on the used car market for considerably more than the base model coupe and convertible referenced in this article, but both of these “special editions” have also become increasingly affordable over time.

What makes the 1996 Corvette (and the late model C4‘s in general) such an exciting buy is that this car was really the first model of the Corvette brand to feature exceptional handling and drivability, and not just straight-line performance.  The 19901995 ZR1 Corvette had catapulted the Corvette brand into supercar status, if briefly, but the base coupe and convertible had made performance driving affordable for a much broader audience than companies like Porsche or Ferrari.

Hidden under the hood of the 1996 Corvette was either an LT1 engine, rated at a very-respectable 300 horsepower or, for the 1996 model year ONLY (and then, only in those cars equipped with a manual transmission), the optional LT4 engine, which was rated (very conservatively) at 330 horsepower.  The LT4 engine, which many claim was underrated by GM for tax purposes, was a stepping-stone towards the more robust LS platform, which would prove to be transformative in the performance of future-generation Corvettes.  Still, for consumers on a budget, finding the right 1996 Corvette will provide big-dollar fun without breaking the bank.  Trust us, we’ve driven these cars, and they don’t disappoint.

1989 Corvette Coupe

Average Price: $8,140.00

These last two entries are all about fun on a budget.

The 1989 Corvette was introduced in conjunction with the Corvette ZR-1.  While the ZR-1 was unveiled in 1989its arrival would be delayed a year due to an “insufficient availability of engines caused by additional development.”  However, some of the technology developed for the ZR-1 would find its way into the 1989 Corvette, including an all-new six-speed manual transmission.

The six-speed manual transmission was developed as a replacement to the never-popular Doug Nash 4+3 transmission, which had been part of the C4 Corvette program since its introduction in 1984.  The new transmission was met with unquestioning approval, and would become a staple of the Corvette platform for the next 25 years (albeit with updates to the design).

The other big change for the 1989 Corvette was the inclusion of the Z52 suspension package on all models of the car.  While the Z52 had previously been offered as an option, its inclusion as a standard feature in 1989 was a welcome addition among Corvette enthusiasts.  The package included a combination of the Z51 handling package with a softer suspension on the base models.  It also included a radiator boost fan, Bilstein shock absorbers, an engine oil cooler, a heavy-duty radiator, a faster 13:1 steering ratio and a larger front stabilizer bar.

Powered by the L98 V8 engine (the predecessor to the LT1, which would be introduced in 1991), the car produced a respectable 245 horsepower.  This translated into a 0-60 mph time of just 5.4 seconds and a quarter mile time of 14.1 seconds, both of which were on-par with the European sports car offerings of that era.

198586 Corvette Coupe

Average Price: $5,780.00

When it comes to affordable Corvettes, you won’t find any on the market for less money than a mid-eighties C4, especially one built between 1984 and 1986.

While the 1984 Corvette tends to be the lowest price ‘Vette out there, we have excluded it from this list mostly because their actual value – even at such a low price point – is questionable at best.  The 1984 Corvette was setup with both the Doug Nash 4+3 manual transmission as well as the incredibly finicky and fairly unreliable Crossfire Fuel Injection system.  Yes, one can be had for less than $5,000.00, but the constant upkeep to keep the car on the road makes this one less desirable than its slightly more expensive younger brothers, the 1985 and 1986 Corvette.

In 1985the engineers behind the Corvette abandoned the Crossfire Injection in favor of the more conventional, and utterly more reliable Tuned Port Fuel Injection platform.  This new fuel delivery system, combined with a half-point compression increase (9.5:1) improved the 1985 Corvette‘s power output to 230 horsepower, a 25 hp gain over the 1984 Corvette.

So improved was the car’s performance that the 1985 Corvette was actually capable of performing at the same level as the Porsche 928, yet sold for approximately half the price when new.  In fact, the 1985 Corvette was named the “Fastest Car in America” after achieving a top speed of 150 miles per hour!

The big news for the 1986 model year was the return of a convertible top, an option that had been absent on the Corvette since 1975.  The 1986 Corvette also marked the second time in the brand’s history that the Corvette would serve as the official pace car of the Indianapolis 500.  While convertibles today are a popular commodity, the price point of the Corvette convertible was high enough that the car did not sell very well its first year back on the market.  Instead, the dominant – and the most readily available 1986 Corvette on the market today – is one equipped with the Z51 option.

Consider this, there are still a good number of available mid-eighties Corvettes on the road today.  While the condition of these cars varies significantly, it is still possible to find one that has been well maintained and in good, working order.  Better still, there are a number of reputable after-market parts distributors (both online and in actual store fronts) that sell just about every part conceivable for the fourth-generation Corvette.

What does all this mean?  It means that buying a used fourth-generation Corvette is not only possible, but its an excellent way to try your hand at Corvette ownership.  Naturally, you’ll want to do some homework and make sure the car you are buying is mechanically sound – unless, of course, you are intentionally looking for a project car (believe us, there are plenty of those out there too.)  Still, with a little bit of patience and determination, it is possible to find a great Corvette for less than six-grand!

But What About That Stereotype?

You might recall at the start of this article that we discussed the stereotypes surrounding Corvette ownership.  While the argument has been made that owning a Corvette is simply too expensive for most people, we’ve proven beyond reasonable doubt that this simply isn’t true.

Why, then, does the general consensus indicate that the majority of Corvettes are owned by older individuals/couples?

First, we don’t think the older demographic makes up the majority of Corvette owners as some have suggested.  Yes, many Corvette clubs are made up of more senior members of society – but that’s largely because retirees have the time and resource to be actively involved in a club.  Like many other car clubs across the country, Corvette clubs take multiple-day trips throughout the year, and so it makes sense that the majority of the participants would be retired – the rest of us are probably at work, wishing we could be out there on the open road with them!

Second, (for the two or three people on the planet who didn’t already know this,) Corvettes are strictly two-seat automobiles.   The limited seating poses a challenge for anyone with children who need to be driven anywhere.

As both a Corvette owner and a father of three, I can tell you that I don’t get my car out on the road as often as I’d like.  It’s a “juggling act” at times – finding time to drive my car when there are dance classes, soccer tournaments and countless other kid-friendly activities to attend to.  Still, I find the time – often early on Saturday morning – where I get to hit the open road for a few hours while my wife and kids continue to sleep…but this isn’t just a Corvette-thing – my good friend, who is several years older than me, gets out during this same time to ride his Kawasaki Vulcan motorcyle – a vehicle that is commonly purchased by all age demographics both young and old!

Still, my comment proves a point.  The fact is – most Corvette owners who can routinely drive their cars are one of the following: single, a young couple who either don’t yet have children or who have either elected not to have children or have since raised their children and now live only with their significant other.  These lucky couples have the opportunity and ability to jump in their cars and go out wherever, and more importantly WHENEVER they choose.

See where I’m going with this?

Short answer – don’t let the “old men own Corvettes” stereotype prevent you from buying into your dream of Corvette ownership.  Age is not a defining characteristic of Corvette ownership…and for most of us, it’s also NOT a mid-life crisis playing itself out.

These cars are designed to enthrall, to excite, to remind us why we are alive.  If you’ve dreamed of owning one of these cars but have been waiting for the right time to buy one, let me suggest that the right time is just about NOW.

Take some time and explore the cars available to you in your own backyard, or across this beautiful nation of ours….and if you have to fly across the country to land an amazing deal, justthink of the adventure you’ll have driving your new Corvette – or at least NEW TO YOU Corvette – home.

Young or old, the feeling of driving your Corvette for the first time is priceless and it will be a memory that you’ll treasure the rest of your life.

The C3 through C5 Corvettes all meet my definition of what a Vette should have — a manual transmission (except for 1982), T-tops or.a targa top, and hidden headlights. The c$ is hampered by being the most difficult Vette to get out of, and the two hideous instrument panel displays.

Second song, same theme as the first

Not long ago Tim McGraw, who once sang about a truck …

… sang about another truck:

Before we go on: McGraw sings about “an old stick-shift dark blue F-150 in good condition.” But if you look at 45 degrees on the steering wheel …

… you will see an automatic transmission shifter. (No automaker has made a three-on-the-tree vehicle in decades.)

It turns out that there are now don’t-want-my-truck-anymore songs on the country charts, thanks to Dylan Scott:

I would suggest that McGraw and Scott trade truck, except that you’ll notice what happens to Scott’s truck at the end of the video.

It is interesting that two artists, or their writers, came up with the same song theme so close together time-wise.

One wonders who will be the artist who writes about a breakup with his truck. As someone pointed out, once trucks become self-driving a truck can initiate a breakup.

On the shooting brake

First question: What is a shooting brake, you ask?

Ask BBC’s TopGear:

Aston once built a DB5 Shooting Brake. It looks good. More so, it has reminded us just how much we like shooting brakes, which are nearly as old as the car itself (though they’ve changed a bit since their inception in the early twentieth century). Originally conceived for hunting game, shooting brakes were described by Commercial Motor magazine as having “seats for eight persons as well as the driver, whilst four guns and a large supply of cartridges, provisions baskets and a good ‘bag’ can be carried” in 1908.

James and Tracy Bond could have used this had Tracy survived “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” to produce next-generation 007s.

Nowadays, they’ve morphed into a sort of cross between an estate and a coupe. Sports car panache. Estate car space. And, more often than not, a soupcon of knee-trembling suave.

Here are some of our favourites.

You know it’s British when “favourite” is spelled with a U and when “whilst” replaces “while.”

1972 Volvo 1800ES

The all-glass rear hatch earned it the nickname Schneewittchensarg (Snow White’s coffin) in Germany, but that didn’t stop Volvo using the outline as inspiration for the 480 and C30.

1968 Reliant Scimitar

Hey, did you know Princess Anne had one? Probably. But then again, who didn’t have one?

 

The Scimitar’s production run stretched from 1968 to 1990.

 

I believe “Scimitar” means “looks like a Ford (Mercury in the U.S.) Capri wagon.”

1999 BMW Z3M Coupe

 

Is it a Shooting Brake? Possibly, though a small one.

It remains one of the better driving things in the history of the automobile, and the divisive styling’s matured well. We’ll take two.

2011 Ferrari FF

Yep, it’s the GTC4Lusso’s forebear, complete with less clunky (though less history-inspired) name.

Basics? 6.3-litre V12, mad grinning face, Ferrari’s first ever four-wheel drive system, and up to 800 litres of luggage space. …

1992 Aston Martin Virage Shooting Brake

A mess of older Astons were transformed into shooting brakes by bodyfiller sculptors in the sixties, but this one’s the real deal.

Only four were made by the company’s Works Service and it cost £165,000 back in 1992. Equivalent to £290,000 in today’s money. Crikey.

Which is around $350,000.

2005 Audi Shooting Brake concept

Unveiled at the 2005 Tokyo motor show, this design study was based on the second-gen TT and had a 3.2-litre VR6 engine hiding behind the LEDs.

It didn’t make it to production, but as Audi’s range expands to fill every conceivable niche, it’s surely only a matter of time…

2013 Callaway AeroWagon

It costs £9,100 on top of a new Corvette, it doesn’t hold much more stuff, you don’t get more seats or headroom, and there’s no performance benefit.

But hot diggidy, we still want a poor man’s FF quite a lot.

1972 Ferrari 365 GTB 4 Shooting Brake

The thing about Ferraris these days is they’re far too common; any old millionaire can have one. Far better, then, to go for something like this – a one-off 1972 Ferrari 365 GTB 4 Shooting brake, one of the most outrageous ‘brakes ever built. Starting life as the 805th Daytona off the line, it was fully rebodied by Panther Westwards in Surrey, England and has more than whiff of hearse about it.

But who cares about looking like the world’s fastest funeral carriage when you have a 352bhp 4.4-litre V12 to wring out, and enough boot space to move house?

2016 Toyota GT86 Shooting Brake

“It is a fully functioning, driveable vehicle that has been put through its paces on Toyota test tracks,” explains Tetsuya Tada, GT86 chief engineer. “The GT86’s nicely weighted and direct steering ensures the car retains the coupe’s involving driving experience with a slightly more neutral feel in tight corners.”

2016 Ferrari GTC4Lusso

Yep, the same shape as the old FF. But lots is new. The styling has had a big update while there’s a gamut of new tech, including four-wheel steering, plus an additional 30bhp, and a 208mph top speed. Yikes.

New too is the V8 Lusso T, which does without all-wheel drive and has a turbo’d V8 instead of the big V12. It’s barely any slower and looks exactly the same, but promises to be a fair bit cheaper… Click here to read our review of the V12, and here for more information on the new V8.

 

Coming to a road course near you

I normally do not follow NASCAR particularly often beyond perhaps two races — the season-opening Daytona 500 and the Memorial Day-weekend Coca~Cola (formerly World) 600.

The former is sort of NASCAR’s Super Bowl even though it starts the NASCAR season. The first live 500 …

… included this finish …

… and this fight.

(CBS’ race analyst, by the way, was David Hobbs, who will be happy to sell you a Honda in Milwaukee.)

The Coca~Cola 600 became a family tradition when it moved to the Sunday evening of Memorial Day weekend, we started going to Glen Haven for its Fire Department catfish festival, and we started listening to the race on the radio.

Before that, I have been to Road America a few times since the first time in the early 1980s. Somewhere I have pretty good photos of the track, including cars that spun out in front of me. There is also a photo of me looking as if I’m attempting to break into a Ferrari (that may have been owned by a certain Wisconsin car dealer you may have heard of). There are probably no photos of the Three Mile Island-level sunburn I got that day. (I had to peel myself out of bed the next day.)

I went to a few Road America events during my days as editor of Marketplace Magazine. In one I stood near the start/finish line and watched Vic Edelbrock fire up a 1960s Corvette race car for one vintage practice race. Shortly before or afterward I walked past a tent where Carroll Shelby was signing autographs.

The last time I went was in 2010, when I parked my car in media parking, my Subaru Outback kind of pale in comparison with the Corvettes and Porsches parked there that apparently belonged to motorsports journalists. (I should have bought a Corvette, though I’m not sure at which previous point in my life it would have made financial sense to do that.)

For some reason I have been getting NASCAR emails. That turned out to be a good thing this one time, because the most recent email says:

NASCAR officials released the 2021 Cup Series schedule Wednesday, introducing three new tracks, expanding to six road courses and placing a dirt-track race on the calendar for the first time in more than 50 years.

Next year’s Cup Series remains at 36 point-paying races, starting as it did this year with the season-opening Daytona 500 (Feb. 14) and ending with the championship finale at Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 7). In between those bookends, there are new venues and schedule shuffles as part of the dramatic changes long hinted at by NASCAR officials.

Among the shifts for 2021 are these highlights …

— July 4: Road America, a historic 4.048-mile road circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, that last hosted the Cup Series in 1956.

NASCAR has been at Road America before, though not in its top level, since the aforementioned 1956 race.

Somewhere there is a video of a NASCAR truck race with three trucks going down the two-lane track before the one-lane turn. It’s a wild sight.

I may have to go cover this in July.

 

Our shiftless (and eventually driverless) days

David L. Scott:

My first car was a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air ragtop. I was 17 and it was one of the most beautiful vehicles I had ever seen. I treasured that car and six decades later it occasionally pops up in my dreams.

But it had two shortcomings: The engine was topped with a measly two-barrel carburetor (remember those?) and, more important, it was burdened with an automatic transmission. At the time no self-respecting high-school male wanted to drive an automatic—that was for parents and grandparents. I wanted a stick shift that would make me look cool. Plus, I could burn rubber in a manual, even with a two-barrel carburetor.

The baddest car in town was George Cameron’s black 1957 fuel-injected Chevy. This was a car only God himself could have placed on earth. In my boyhood home of Rushville, Ind., George spent weekend evenings cruising Main Street at a slow creep with no need to race the engine or squeal the tires. Everyone already knew this was the fastest car in the county. His Chevy sported a three-on-the-column stick shift.

Sadly, the end of the manual transmission is near, and the unfortunate truth is few people will miss it. Most young adults don’t know how to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission, and they aren’t interested in learning. Many modern automatics offer better fuel efficiency and quicker acceleration than their manual counterparts. Porsche now delivers 75% of its 718 and 911 sports cars with automatic transmissions. The new C8 Corvette is only available with one. When the stick shift loses Porsche and Corvette buyers, you know it’s quickly heading for the rearview mirror.

But there is more bad news. In the future, cars won’t only be automatics; it appears they’ll increasingly be automated, electric vehicles. The satisfying throbbing of the exhaust and the pleasure of driving will also become victims of progress. Traveling in a personal vehicle will be as exciting as riding in an elevator with windows.

Despite impressive improvements in vehicle technology, my devotion for manually shifting gears, listening to the rumble of the exhaust, and maintaining a tight grip on the steering wheel through a sharp curve remains undiminished. Gripping the shifter knob allows a driver to become part of the vehicle rather than someone who is little more than a passenger. Manually accelerating through the gears and downshifting into a curve are two of motoring’s most satisfying experiences.

The sound, feel and thrill of driving are to be relished, not relegated to the trash heap and memories along with carburetors, fender skirts, steel wheels and hubcaps. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in a sports car with a manual transmission and you too will become a believer.

When eight was not enough

Readers know I have been, shall we say, skeptical about the C8 Corvette, a mid-engine design GM is unfamiliar with, which lacks a proper (manual) transmission and is grossly overpriced.

A quarter-century ago, though, GM had an idea for the Corvette that would have been bigger, in one sense, than anything in the C8. R&T (the upgraded Road & Track, or something) tells the story:

The original Dodge Viper was a game-changer. With its outrageous proportions and massive 8.0-liter V-10 engine, it outclassed pretty much anything else out of Detroit at the time. Except maybe this one-off V-12-powered Corvette.

Chevy built this experimental Corvette in the early Nineties as its answer to the Viper, and it’s a beast. Called the ZR-12, it uses the C4-generation ZR-1 as a base. The entire nose was stretched to accommodate the 600 cubic-inch V-12, built by Ryan Falconer Racing Engines. The all-aluminum engine was rated at 686 hp and 680 lb-ft of torque when new—far more than the then-new Viper’s output of 400 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque.

Of course, the ZR-12 never made it to production. The sole example languished at GM’s Heritage center for a number of years before being moved to the Corvette Museum, where it currently resides, according to LSX Magazine. The car used to have side-pipes and a different set of wheels, but has since been converted into a more subtle specification.

The DtRockstar1 YouTube channel was lucky enough to get insider access to the Museum while the ZR-12 was started and driven around, giving us a chance to listen to the unique engine note (above). Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t sound like your average Corvette.

This was far from GM’s first attempt at a V-12. Cadillac had one in the 1930s, along with a V-16. In World War II Rolls–Royce’s Merlin and the Allison V-1710 powered planes. Packard’s V-12 was placed (three each) in PT boats.

According to the always-accurate Wikipedia:

Each bank of a V12 engine essentially functions as a straight-six engine, which by itself has perfect primary and secondary engine balance. By using the correct V-angle, a V12 engine can therefore have perfect balance. The even firing order for a four-stroke V12 engine has an interval of 60 degrees, therefore a V12 engine can be perfectly balanced if a V-angle of 60 degrees, 120 degrees or 180 degrees is used. Many V12 engines use a V-angle of 60 degrees between the two banks of cylinders. …

At any given time, three of the cylinders in a V12 engine are in their power stroke, which increases the smoothness of the power delivery by eliminating gaps between power pulses.

The weirdest V-12, perhaps, was GMC’s, and I have seen an example of one reported by Driving.ca:

When you think of a V12 engine, your mind runs immediately to the high-tech, rev-happy, screamers made by Ferrari and Lamborghini. But did you know that between 1960 and 1965 GMC made a V12 of their own? And it was the size of two Ferrari 599 V12s combined.

It’s outrageous now to think of a gasoline-powered semi-truck but, in the 1960s when fuel was cheaper, a sizeable percentage of operators preferred gasoline power. Chevrolet offered a heavy-duty version of its famous 427 V8 to truck operators, but GMC knew they could do one better. They needed an engine with cubic inches, and lots of them. So they took the basic design from their 5.7L V6 and made a monstrous 11.5L V12.

This was not just two V6s bolted or welded together. The V12 had its own block, cam, a special oil pan that held 15L of oil, and a special crankshaft that weighed 82 kilograms. The engine was an absolute monolith. It was 1.3 metres long and weighed more than 680 kg fully assembled. Due to its inherent weight and girth, it wasn’t an engine you could simply bolt into a Chevy C10 pickup and drive around in. It was installed in full-on semi-trucks, and also as standalone power units for irrigation. It was never installed into a passenger car or truck by GMC, but many hot-rodders have shoved it into service for hot rods, and custom pickup-trucks.

For all its size and displacement, the V12 wasn’t a horsepower king, it was made for torque. It made just 275 hp at 2,400 rpm but produced a freight-train-like 625-lb.-ft. of torque at just 2,100 rpm. If those numbers aren’t enough for you, a Florida-based shop called Thunder V12 will happily sell you a rebuilt one in any specification from bone stock to tractor-pull stormer. Prices start at US$10,800 for a complete engine, so get your chequebook ready. Beat-up originals can be found on eBay for around $5,000, but buyer beware as no more spare parts are being made for these beasts.

The GMC V12 was made between 1960 and 1965 and, in that time, they made about 5,000 of them. Nobody’s sure quite how many are left but most guess that there can’t be any more than 1,500 in semi-serviceable condition. After the big V12 ran out of production the writing was on the wall for gasoline-powered trucks. At 11.5L it remains one of the largest gas engines that ever powered a road vehicle, and we’ll never see a dinosaur like it again.

Except that, according to Fox News:

Sure, you’ve got a V8 in your Chevy, but you could’ve had a V12.

At least now you can.

A new Australian outfit called V12LS has created a 12-cylinder version of the venerable General Motors LS1 V8 and is putting it on sale.

The company started out by taking two LS blocks, lopping off a couple of cylinders and melding them together to create a V12, but has now developed its own single cast block that is compatible with many LS parts. The last time GM made its own V12 was the GMC “twin six” truck engine in 1966.

V12LS is currently offering a 9.0-liter crate engine with an iron block good for 717 hp for $35,000, but is working on an aluminum version. Various kits in different states of dress run from $21,300 for a basic builder package to a dyno-tested turnkey engine for $46,200.

Those prices include shipping to the USA.

For that matter, while GMC was producing V-12s, Cadillac was contemplating a V-12 for its new front-drive Eldorado personal luxury car. Caddy never built a V-12 Eldorado, but Popular Mechanics reported in 1988 that since BMW was developing a V-12, other luxury carmakers would, including Cadillac.

Cadillac worked to develop a V-12 with Lotus for its Solitaire concept car, the two-door version of its Voyagé concept car.

The Voyagé (left), which looked similar to the 1991 Chevy Caprice, Buick Roadmaster and Cadillac Fleetwood, had a mere V-8, while the Solitaire had a proposed V-12 with 436 horsepower.

As an aficionado of big coupes, as you know, I would definitely drive that.

Not to be outdone, Cadillac proposed in 2003 the Sixteen, powered by, of course, a V-16.

Motor Trend drove one.

“Would you like to drive our 13.6-liter/1000-horsepower V-16 sedan?” asked GM’s Jeff Holland. Even though we knew there’d be extra-sticky driving rules and caveats regarding the $2 million concept’s mechanical polish, there was only one possible answer: “Duh.” Next thing we knew, we were piloting Caddy’s sexy showstopper around GM’s Milford, Michigan, Proving Ground. The Sixteen has been literally the biggest thing to roll onto the auto-show circuit this season. Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman of product development and chairman of GM North America, says it’s “a modern interpretation of everything that made Cadillac the standard of the world.” But is it merely a lavish reminder of a once-glorious past or a relevant vision of the future? Enough scene-setting. What’s it like to drive almost 19 feet and 16 cylinders of handbuilt concept car?

Remarkably sweet. Entering the Sixteen requires punching a button on the key fob or lightly squeezing a microswitch inside the top of the front door. There are no door handles to clutter the Sixteen’s lyrically curving body sides. Once inside, you’re surrounded by the rich scent of fine leather, glints from polished walnut and aluminum, and thick carpets–woven of silk, no less.

The driver’s leather bucket is large, soft, and gently contoured. It power-adjusts to a comfortable position, surprising given the lack of ergonomic work that usually goes into a turntable toy. Likewise, the leather and polished-wood steering wheel can be powered into a just-right spot, which lets you easily read the speedo/tachometer gauge in the center of the dash.

To start, step on the brake pedal and push a green button to the right of the wheel. You’ll hear a strange, aircraft-style starter whine, then the mammoth V-16 erupts in a raggedy roar that quickly settles down to a somewhat bumpy idle (virtually no tuning was done on the powertrain’s five engine mounts). As the engine starts, the instruments–including the clock–cycle and sweep their needles to calibrate themselves, emitting odd ticking and ratcheting clicks.

From inside the cabin, the engine’s sound is neither the jungle murmur of a Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG nor the near-silent thrum of a Bentley or Rolls. It’s slightly rowdy and clearly coming from something in large displacement, particularly as you blip the throttle. Asked if they’d done any exhaust tuning, one powertrain engineer shrugs and says, “Well, we had four mufflers, and we threw two away.”

Ease into the throttle, and the car moves with a quickness that belies its mass and size. The automatic transmission has four gears, but we feel only two shift surges during our drive. This huge sedan glides precisely, with a catlike balance that puts us at ease. The steering feels light, and the car drives smaller than it looks. Give it more gas, and the result is a Mississippi River’s worth of torque that surges the car forward. We back off to listen for crunching, grinding, or banging. Nothing–impressive for a machine whose primary purpose is to dazzle a show crowd. The Sixteen’s ride is a bit jiggly, which doesn’t say anything positive about the suspension, since the pavement is billiard-table smooth.

The brakes don’t feel up to the engine’s grunt. Despite six-piston calipers and 16-inch rotors, not much happens when the brake pedal is depressed. Perhaps that’s because the master cylinder is remote-mounted in the trunk and operated via a tangle of electronics. We remember that our GM support crew warned us about “green” brake pads.

There isn’t much turnaround room for us at the end of one particular Proving Ground road, but four-wheel steering comes to the rescue. Turning in opposite phase to the front wheels at low speeds, the rear wheels tighten the car’s long turning circle to approximately that of a midsize sedan.

The Sixteen isn’t as polished as a production car; understandable, as that’s not its mission. But it’s easily the most refined concept car we’ve driven, which further teases us about what sort of production potential it, or some of its componentry, might have. The car’s design represents an updated, and somewhat more elegant, variation on Cadillac’s crisp-edged design language; perhaps some of the Sixteen’s themes will show up on the upcoming Seville/STS and the next-generation DeVille.

Does anyone need 16 cylinders or 1000 horsepower? No. But the idea–like the engine itself–sounds simply wondrous.

Of course it does.

Back to the original premise: What about a V-12 Corvette?

Remember that this was right after Chevrolet debuted the King of the Road, a Corvette with a double-overhead-cam 32-valve-per-cylinder V-8 designed by Lotus and built by Mercury Marine in Stillwater, Okla.

Given GM’s history with the Northstar V-8 — an unfamiliar engine design (also DOHC, built for Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles) that became notorious for head gasket (actually head bolt) failures, which result in antifreeze in the cylinder walls and engine oil in the radiator, with really bad result (If you’re driving when it’s, say, 10 below zero and your car starts to overheat, that’s not good) — the thought GM could have successfully designed a V-12 that would have worked as designed for every Corvette is, well, optimistic. A V-12 designed by someone else, as the King of the Road V-8 was, might have made more sense.

Whether a V-12 Corvette could have performed better sales-wise than the King of the Road (whose sales slowed after the first year) is a better question. For years Corvettes have seemed to pale in comparison with more exotic Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches (even though they are powered by mere flat-sixes) in part because of interiors perceived to be subpar, despite the Corvette’s superior horsepower-per-dollar. (The mid-engine C8 is GM’s attempt to compete with more expensive supercars, though ironically the C8’s V-8 still uses pushrods, as every Corvette except for the first two years of the C1 and the King of the Road.)

It’s not clear that the wealthy snobs who apparently drive supercars would be interested in a V-12 Corvette any more than they were interested in the DOHC Corvette. People who appreciate American-made performance and value might have had a different opinion.

 

 

The vehicular hypocrite

The Detroit News reports about this ad:

In the course of “vetting” a vice presidential running mate, U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden might have accidentally spilled General Motors’ future product plans.

In an 80-second campaignspot posted on Biden’s Twitter account Wednesday, Biden surprises by not talking about politics but cars, and his love of the Corvette and the American car market. In it, he says, “They tell me” that GM is making an all-electric version of its iconic sports car that will go 200 mph.

Turns out there are plans. Someone familiar with Corvette production at its Bowling Green Assembly in Kentucky confirmed to the Free Press there is a plan for an all-electric version of the Corvette, but the timing and its maximum speed are unknown.

The electric version is likely at least two years or more out, the person said, noting it will follow GM’s performance versions of the car due to market over the next year. The person declined to be named because there was no authorization to speak to the media.

GM spokesman Jim Cain,when asked about an electric Corvette,said company policy is to decline to discuss future products.

But GM has said it will have an all-electric lineup across its brands one day, with Cadillac being the lead brand for that technology. Cadillac’s boss has said the brand lineup will be nearly all-electric by 2030. 

GM did not plant any tip about an all-electric variant of the Corvette in Biden’s ear, said Jeannine Ginivan, GM spokeswoman. 

“I don’t know who ‘they’ are who told him that, but we don’t have any news about any new electric Corvette,” Ginivan said, reiterating that GM does not discuss future product. “We are excited about the line of vehicles we have coming. We have the GMC Hummer electric pickup and tonight the Lyriq (SUV) reveal.”

And exactly who is going to be able to afford a $200,000 electric Corvette? Maybe Biden, who has, like many politicians, gotten curiously rich (at least $9 million in net worth) while he was in, then since he left, office. Not normal people, who should be reluctant to purchase one anyway given GM’s bad record with new tech:

Biden is a Corvette owner, as Fox News reports:

Joe Biden is looking to rev up his presidential campaign by getting behind the wheel of his 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray to ‘vette’ himself for office.

The presumptive Democratic nominee has released a new ad promoting American manufacturing that features the classic green convertible. …

Biden is the original owner of the car, which was a wedding gift from his father, who worked at a Chevrolet dealership. During his time as vice president, he often lamented that he wasn’t allowed to drive it due to security concerns.

Biden did manage to take the sports car for a spin for an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage just before the 2016 presidential election, but at a secure facility rather than on the road. Biden told Leno that he’d once driven it 160 mph, but his 327-cubic inch model had an official top speed closer to 130 mph.

In the new video, which appears to have been shot along the drive to his Wilmington, Del., estate, Biden says the car brings back memories of his father and his late son Beau.

He rhetorically asks, “How can American-made vehicles no longer be out there?”

According to the Automotive News Data Center, over 10 million vehicles were manufactured in the U.S. in 2019.

“I believe we can own the 21st-century market again by moving to electric vehicles,” Biden continued.

He then says that “they” tell me that they’re making an electric Corvette that can go 200 mph.

Chevrolet has not confirmed plans for such a vehicle, however Maryland-based Genovation sells a Corvette converted to run on electricity that holds the top speed record for street-legal electric cars at 210.2 mph.

The Genovation GXE costs $750,000, plus the price of the donor car it is based on.

I guess my $200,000 estimate is too low. My bad.

Biden’s ad didn’t tell you this, but Issues & Insights did:

Joe Biden’s $2 trillion climate change plan, released this week, was described by one liberal outlet as “the Green New Deal, minus the crazy.” We beg to differ. Just look at Biden’s plan to eliminate the internal combustion engine.

Biden says that on his first day in office, he will develop “rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100% of new sales for light- and medium-duty vehicles will be zero emissions.”

He hasn’t said exactly when he wants new cars to be all-electric, but House Democrats have already established a timetable. Their new climate change plan calls for mandating 100% “clean” vehicles by 2035.

Keep in mind that as of today, plug-in electrics account for 0.5% of cars on the road, and made up less than 2% of new vehicles sold in 2019. And that’s despite massive public subsidies that have cost taxpayers $5 billion in credits to — mostly wealthy — EV buyers.

Clearly, consumers are not that interested in plug-ins, which is why Biden and his fellow Democrats want to force electric cars on everyone in the name of climate change.

Aside from fuel economy mandates, Biden also wants to extend and expand the EV tax credit, pump federal money into charging stations, and create a new “cash for clunkers” program for those who trade in a gasoline-powered car for a plug-in.

The cost of all this? Who knows. Aside from the $2 trillion price tag that Biden put on his entire Green New Deal plan, he hasn’t broken down his EV mandate scheme. But Sen. Chuck Schumer has already proposed a cash-for-clunkers plan, which would cost $454 billion over a decade.

And for all this, the electric car mandate will have a negligible impact on CO2 emissions and zero impact on the climate.

For one thing, the CO2 advantage of electric cars is vastly oversold. These are not “zero emissions” vehicles. They simply change the source of the emissions from the car to power plants — most of them powered by coal and natural gas.

A study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute found that when you factor in CO2 emissions from electricity production, the average plug-in produces as much CO2 over its lifetime as a gas-powered car that gets 55 miles per gallon.

The CO2 advantage of electric cars diminishes even more when you consider the entire lifecycle of the vehicle, including the environmental impact of mining required to manufacture the batteries. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that CO2 emissions from manufacturing electric cars was 68% higher than gas-powered cars.

When you add it up, the impact on the climate is zero. A report from the Manhattan Institute notes that even if every car on the road were replaced with electric vehicles by 2050, “the resulting reduction in CO2 emissions would be less than 500 million tons per year.” That reduction, it says “will have no measurable impact on world climate.”

The rest of Biden’s environmental plan is equally untethered from reality. Take his proposal to have all the nation’s electricity produced by “clean” fuels by 2035.

Today, 20% of electricity comes from renewable sources. The Energy Information Administration says that based on current trends, that will increase to 32% by 2035 and 38% by 2050.

That’s a long way from 100%.

Plus, a fifth of today’s renewable energy comes from hydroelectric power, which has been declining as a source of energy in part because environmentalists hate dams. Another 43% comes from biomass, which environmentalists also consider dirty.

As the Natural Resources Defense Council put it, “biomass energy damages our climate and air, our forests, and our communities while the industry hides behind veils of misinformation.

That leaves solar and wind, which are massive land hogs. Proposed solar plants in Virginia would eat up 490 square miles of land — which would be like covering all of Los Angeles in solar panels. A single 50 turbine wind farm requires 23 square miles, notes Real Clear Investigations. Both energy sources are uneconomical without generous government subsidies.

Then there’s Biden’s promise that the entire U.S. economy will produce zero carbon emissions by 2050.

When the Heritage Foundation tried to calculate the economic impact of the carbon taxes needed to cut CO2 emissions by just more than half, it crashed their economic model.

The Green New Deal was never about saving the planet. It’s always been about the left’s desire to gain control of every aspect of our economy and our lives. Biden’s version might be a modestly watered-down version of the one proposed by socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but it’s hardly any less crazy.

Biden’s party believes people shouldn’t own vehicles, period, but should ride mass transit like good little communists, particularly since if Biden is elected president you will be poorer, not richer, in income and rights. So the electric Corvette convertible is a fantasy, and not just in Biden’s mind.

 

A brief history of the SUV, or, from Bronco to Bronco

Ford Motor Co.’s introduction of the Bronco, in two-door and four-door models plus the “Bronco Sport” (don’t call it an Escape), brings an opportunity for some vehicular history.

That’s after this amusing meme:

Image may contain: car, text that says 'We can't tell anyone about last night.. know! It would haunt us forever.. EVER BRON C ...9 months later'

John Leblanc provides the “begats” of the sports utility vehicle:

While everyone from teenagers to grandparents can be found behind the wheel of an SUV today, the first iterations of these functional vehicles were primarily sold to commercial users like the military, police and fire departments and forestry and mining companies. Chronologically, here 10 of those pioneering SUVs:

1935 Chevrolet Carryall Suburban

The original 1935 Chevrolet Suburban Carryall.

The granddaddy of today’s full-sized SUVs, Chevrolet introduced its Suburban Carryall in 1935, making it the longest model name in continuous use in the auto industry. Instead of getting the kids to hockey practice, the original was used primarily as a means to transport commuters to and from train stations. Just like today’s version, though, the original two-door-only Suburban was based on a contemporary Chevy half-ton pickup chassis, with an all-metal wagon body that could carry up to eight passengers.

1944 Willys Civilian Jeep

The Willys Jeep is one of the most iconic vehicles in history.

One of the most iconic vehicles in automotive history, what we know today as the Jeep Wrangler, was first sold to the public in 1944 as the Willys Civilian Jeep (or CJ) — a retail version of the Military Jeep used in the Second World War. Until the Wrangler (TJ in Canada) replaced it in 1987, the CJ-2 to CJ-8 Jeeps changed little in basic layout and functionality. Today, the Wrangler Unlimited remains the only new four-door convertible SUV you can buy.

1946 Willys Jeep Station Wagon

The Willys Jeep Station Wagon was one of the first vehicles to introduce 4WD to the masses.

While Chevy’s pioneering Suburban was perfectly adequate for well-groomed roads, the seven-passenger Jeep Station Wagon was one of the first SUVs to introduce four-wheel drive for customers in more remote or wintry locales. With more than 300,000 built, the Jeep Station Wagon was one of Willy’s most successful vehicles after the Second World War. It remained in production three years after the larger Jeep Wagoneer debuted in 1963.

1948 Land Rover Series I

The Land Rover Series 1 was directly inspired by the Willys Jeep CJ.

Directly inspired by the Willy’s CJ, Britain’s Rover introduced the Land Rover Series I as a four-wheel-drive farm and utility vehicle four years after the Jeep went on sale. While the first models were two-door convertibles, in 1956 hardtop station wagon models with seating for up to 10 passengers debuted. The ancestor to today’s Defender (currently not sold in Canada), the Land Rover Series I through III were replaced in 1986 by the Ninety and One Ten models.

1953 International Harvester Travelall

Like the Land Rover Series 1, the International Harvester Travelall drew inspiration from another SUV before it – the Chevrolet Suburban.

Before 1952, IH station wagons built on the brand’s full-sized truck chassis used primarily wooden bodies crafted by outside companies. But with the introduction of the new R line of pickups, the all-steel-bodied Travelall was born. Like the first Chevy Suburban, the original two- or three-row Travelalls only had two passenger doors. A curbside third door was added in 1956 and a fourth in 1961 — a feature the Suburban wouldn’t gain until 1973. Looking to steal some sales away from Jeep, the Travelall added 4WD as an option in 1956.
The father of a friend of mine sold International pickup trucks, Scouts and Travealls until IH stopped building them. The coolest of them (that he brought home) may have been the Scout Traveler, a longer version of the second-generation Scout (more on that later) with four bucket seats.

1954 Toyota Land Cruiser

Once again, like the Land Rover Series 1, the Toyota Land Cruiser drew inspiration from the original Willys Jeep.

Like the Land Rover that preceded it, the original Toyota Land Cruiser was inspired by Jeep’s CJ. The first retail two-door Model BJ models were conceived as purely utilitarian 4WD vehicles for police and forest workers. In 1958, Toyota introduced a hardtop version and started selling the Land Cruiser in North America. In 1960, the iconic 40 Series (the model today’s FJ Cruiser was inspired by) went on sale. It promptly became Toyota’s best-selling model between 1961 and 1965 in the U.S.

1961 International Harvester Scout

The International Scout was introduced in 1961 and lasted until 1980.

In the 1950s, IH decided to give Jeep’s CJ some much-needed competition. Until Ford introduced its similar-in-concept Bronco in 1966, the CJ, Scout and Land Cruiser were the primary offerings in the small, two-door SUV market. Although it was originally conceived to have an all-plastic body, the original Scout was eventually built with more conventional (and less expensive) steel, and had many of the attributes of the CJ, like a fold down windshield.

The Scout Traveler is pictured. This is the original (and clearly very Jeep-like) Scout …

Picture 1 of 1

… and this is the Scout II in SUV …

… pickup (with hard- and soft-top options) …

1976 International Scout Terra Suntanner

… and off-road versions:

Rare 1978 International Scout SSII

1963 Jeep Wagoneer

The Jeep Wagoneer, introduced in 1963, is arguably the first luxury SUV.

While some will argue that modern luxury SUVs take their cue from the original 1970 Land Rover Range Rover, the first true luxury SUV was the 1963 Wagoneer. The Jeep station wagon essentially established today’s SUV template: 4WD, a lot of room for passengers and their cargo, and higher levels of creature comforts. Designed as a replacement for the aforementioned Jeep Station Wagon, the Wagoneer shared its platform with the Jeep Gladiator pickup. It carried six passengers comfortably, was offered in both two- and four-door models, and was the first 4WD SUV to offer an optional independent front suspension for improved ride comfort.

1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer

The Chevrolet K5 Blazer is one of the models to pave the way for two-door SUVs.

While the Jeep CJ and original Ford Bronco were the two best-selling two-door SUVs in the 1960s, the introduction of the full-sized K5 Blazer paved the way for the popularity of larger models. Based on the short wheelbase version of Chevy’s pickup, the Blazer offered more power, room, and luxury (air conditioning!) than its smaller rivals. The popularity of the original Blazer (and its GMC Jimmy platform-mate) forced Dodge to introduce its full-size Ramcharger SUV in 1974, and Ford to move its Bronco to its larger full-size truck chassis for 1978.

1984 Jeep Cherokee

You might argue the Ford Explorer started the modern SUV craze, but the Jeep Cherokee was the real pioneer of its era.

Historians will look at the introduction of the Ford Explorer in 1990 as the spark that set off the modern SUV craze. But the Cherokee that debuted six years earlier was the real pioneer of its era, paving the way for today’s more car-like crossover-utility vehicles. The midsize Cherokee was the first Jeep with a truck-like ladder-boxed chassis combined with a car-like monocoque unit. This allowed the Jeep to be more space-efficient than larger rivals like the Blazer and Bronco. The four-door Cherokee was especially influential, inspiring not only the ’90 Explorer, but also the forcing rivals like Nissan, General Motors and Toyota to add four-door models to their midsize SUV offerings.

Actually, before the Explorer was the Bronco II, based on the Ranger compact pickup, which debuted in the early 1980s with the Chevy S-10 Blazer (and GMC Jimmy), based on the S-10 (and S-15) compact pickup. The Explorer got two more doors as well, just as the two- and four-door small Cherokees. The big Jimmy became the Yukon in 1991, and the big Blazer became the Tahoe in 1994. Each gained two doors, and now you can’t buy a new two-door Tahoe or Jimmy.

As mentioned, the Bronco started as a Jeep CJ and Scout competitor. It was slightly larger and slightly less Spartan than the CJ.

1977 Ford Bronco for sale near Powell, Ohio 43065 - Classics on ...

The sales success of the larger Blazer …

1972 Chevrolet K5 Blazer CST 4x4 for sale on BaT Auctions - sold ...

… and companion GMC Jimmy …

… and Dodge Ramcharger …

… and Cherokee and Wagoneer …

1976 Jeep Cherokee Chief Widetrack | Canyon State Classics

… prompted Ford to do what GM and Chrysler had done and create a new Bronco based on a shortened half-ton pickup chassis.

1978 Ford Bronco NEC Auction

1978 Ford Bronco Ranger XLT 4x4 for sale on BaT Auctions - sold ...

The most famous Bronco of all belongs to O.J. Simpson:

 

I’ve written an explanation before about the popularity of SUVs vs. what car magazines want (hint: cars) and the naysaying of environmentalists and others. As cars decreased in size (and therefore capability), there were the truck-based SUVs, which provided the utility of the old-style big station wagons, as well as the safety of size. In an era where gas prices were relatively low, no one cared about gas mileage of less than 20 mpg.

The zenith of the big SUV was probably in the 1990s, when Ford replaced the two-door Bronco with the four-door Expedition, based on an F-150, and then added the even-bigger Excursion, based on the Super Duty pickup. I believe writer Dave Barry noted the Excursion and wrote that Chevy was going to come up with its own super-Suburban, the Subdivision. (The Excursion and its optional diesel engine is gone, replaced by the Expedition XL, with neither a diesel nor a V-8.)

Since then, it seems as if SUVs are about all you can buy, except that the big SUVs are less common, replaced by SUVs based on non-trucks. We have a Honda Pilot, which is based on the Odyssey van, which in turn is based on the Accord sedan. The CR-V small SUV is in turn based on the Civic. The current Blazer and GMC Acadia are “crossovers,” not trucks.

Two pieces of good news for enthusiasts is that the Bronco can be purchased with two doors instead of four, and a few models have standard seven-speed manual transmissions. The bad news is the stick is only available with the weaker four-cylinder engine. There is also no V-8 option. So it only partly matches a Rezvani Tank.

 

When vans were cool

I was young in the 1970s (weren’t we all), when I first started becoming interested in cars.

I was interested in other four-wheeled vehicles too, including custom vans. No, not this van …

… which is technically a minivan, (a depiction of) our 2001 Honda Odyssey. As an appliance, it was a marvel of function and design. As a driving experience, it was like driving a Honda Accord, because it was based on an Accord, also a marvel of design and function, though if you use a synonym you can spell “function” without “fun.”

For some reason (coronavirus boredom?) Automobile Magazine found a list of van-based movies, which was the genesis for this blog:

Sometimes bad can be good—especially when we are referring to vansploitation movies of the 1970s. Like the hot-rod and biker movies of the 1950s and 1960s, the 1970s was the golden age of movies about vans. But let us be clear: This genre of celluloid includes some of the cheesiest, most sexist, and dumbest plotlines in motion picture history—think “Smokey and the Bandit” meetsPorky’s”—but it also includes some of the coolest customized vans of all-time. Chances are you’ve probably never heard of or ever watched any of these silly vansploitation flicks, so know up front that the vans usually feature wild paint jobs with suggestive graphics, shag carpeting, CB radios, waterbeds, mirrors on the ceiling, refrigerators, toasters, and much more.

Here are four essential vansploitation movies to check out.

“Blue Summer” (1973)

Blue Summer

The earliest known vansploitation movie of the ’70s is “Blue Summer,” directed by Chuck Vincent—who is known mostly for directing a number of the era’s adult films. Basically, it is the story of two beer-swilling high-school graduates who meet female hitchhikers, a preacher, a righteous biker, and other crazy locals in their groovy Dodge van with flowers all around and a butterfly up front. The beat-up gray van is named “The Meat Wagon” by its owner, and you can guess that this one isn’t exactly for the kiddos.

“Supervan” (1977)

SuperVan
This vansploitation film features one of the coolest custom vans of all time. The star of “Supervan” is named “Vandora,” and it’s a solar-powered machine with lasers that was created by George Barris. The legendary “King of Kustomizers” used a Dodge Sportsman as the base for his futuristic ride, and he also appears as a judge in the movie. Poet and writer Charles Bukowski also makes a cameo and can be seen briefly during a wet t-shirt contest. You can skip the first 20 minutes of this movie because that’s when Vandora finally enters the scene. Far out, man.

“The Van” (1977)

The Van

“Bobby couldn’t make it … till he went Fun-Truckin’!” teases the poster for this classic pile of vansploitation. “The Van” is directed by Sam Grossman and is about a kid that spends all of his money on a customized bright yellow Dodge dubbed “The Straight Arrow.” It has a huge glass window with giant phallic arrow graphics on its sides—it’s not very subtle at all. Strangely, the theme song “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns is used throughout the movie’s terrible soundtrack. Go figure. Also as a bonus, funnyman Danny DeVito co-stars in a pre-“Taxi” type of role with a slight “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” character vibe.

“Van Nuys Blvd.” (1979)

Van Nuys Blvd
This one is the best of the vansploitation bunch, as “Van Nuys Blvd.” is the culmination of the vansploitation genre. It is still cheesy but also the easiest one of these movies to watch. It is directed by William Sachs and stars Bill Adler as a small-town hayseed who heads to the bright lights of Van Nuys, California, to cruise his Ford Econoline van on the now legendary boulevard. It also stars Cynthia Wood, a former Playboy Playmate of the Year who drives and races a bad ass Dodge Tradesman van of her own. This one is definitely the “American Graffiti” of vansploitation movies, and it is more than worth a look for its footage of the Southern California car-culture scene of its day.

The 1970s was the apotheosis of van movies because the 1970s was the apotheosis of custom vans. The vehicle originally on a truck chassis with a body designed for various commercial uses could be customized from front bumper to back bumper, outside and inside, for the owner’s needs, including sleeping. (Solo or otherwise.)

As with other vehicles of the day, vans could be mechanically improved by choices of wheels and tires, additions of sidepipes, or engine upgrades. None of that changed the reality of the van as large and heavy.

Owners could augment the interior with upgraded front seats, sunroofs, tables, mini-refrigerators wired into the van’s electrical system, beds, and (inevitably shag) carpeting.

Van exteriors, specifically the vast expanse between the front doors and the back doors, were a canvas for the creativity or interests (and budget) of the owner:

In this you could rock all night and party all day in Detroit Rock City.
The Denimachine was a promotion with Ford, Coca~Cola and Levis. I think I tried to win this. I didn’t win, and I may have been ineligible due to age anyway.
This is the Dodge Santana, which demonstrates one way tall people could customize their vans — extend their height.
For those who think vans are too high, one could chop them, as happened with ’40s and ’50s cars. And there was nothing stopping anyone — except their skills and wallets — from, say, adding a rear axle.)
If you had enough money, and were tall enough to get in, you could buy this Pathfinder four-wheel-drive conversion. Imagine driving that in high winds. (For that matter, imagine a four-wheel-drive Santana in high winds. Semis with empty trailers would be more stable.)
Remember Scooby-Doo’s Mystery Machine?
This GMC van was part of the 1980s TV series “The A-Team.”

Interestingly for a manufacturer that usually was the third of the Big Four (then Big Three), Dodge built the van that seemed to get the most praise from van magazines. And then Dodge looked at what people were doing to its vans and decided to help by introducing …

… the Street Van, with factory semi-customization.

Ford saw (or learned about that), and decided to produce …

… the Cruising Van, done one better (or worse) by …

… the Pinto-based Cruising Wagon, yet another Detroit-created vehicular answer in search of a question. (Or, if you will, the love child of a Cruising Van and a 1950s-vintage sedan delivery.)

Not to be outdone, Chevrolet showed up with …

… the Van Sport (not to be confused with the Sportvan, a van with seating for up to 12 and windows).

My idea was to make a lifesize version of this Hot Wheels van, with chrome (!) paint and flames:

Hot Wheels Redline Super Van Chrome w/ Flames

(The Hot Wheels car is on sale for $100, by the way. Ponder that one.)

The custom van was a fad of the ’70s, brought to us by the Baby Boomer generation that enjoyed unprecedented (until then) prosperity, health (for those who avoided the Vietnam War) and cheap gas prices.