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Vehicle Profile: 1953 Corvette

The beautifully classic, original, all American sports car is surely the 1953 Corvette! Way back in 1927 a young man by the name of Harley Earl was hired by GM and at the time, who would have guessed that he would be responsible for the design of one of the great American Icons of the automobile industry? Harley (cool name) had a passion for and always loved sports cars from early on, but that passion became more intense when our proud and victorious GI’s returned home from WWII bringing with them a flotilla of Alfa Romeo’s, MG’s, Jaguars and other similar marques from Europe. These “sports cars” were vastly different from anything being produced here in America at the time. They were small, fun to drive, felt “sporty” and were even economical to operate. I mean really, who wouldn’t want one of these little gems? And so, the flame was fueled and Harley pushed the top brass at GM to let him build the sports car of his dreams. Enter: “Project Opel”, not sure where they came up with that name, but history was made that very day!

It was already late in 1951, by the time Harley Earl assembled his “special projects” crew of designers and laid-out his plans to build what would become America’s Sports Car. He rushed to complete a hand-built prototype, nicknamed EX-122, the first pre-production “Corvette”, to be ready for display at the GM Motorama Exhibition, in January of 1953 at New York City. The name “Corvette” was chosen in honor of the U.S and British naval fleet’s convoy of escort ships called Corvettes. These ships were famous for their speed and maneuverability.

The prototype was shown to the crowd at the Motorama and received rave reviews and was rushed put into production immediately. In fact, within 6 months after their debut to the world, they were pumping out hand-built units in a makeshift warehouse that used to be an old truck assembly plant in Flint, MI. They were also revolutionary, due to the fact that they were made of a new lightweight product called “Fiberglass”. Story goes that sheetmetal was scarce after the war, so they sought a suitable replacement for this special project vehicle. By the end of the first “production” run, 300 of these beauties had been produced and they all sold quickly. Even though the car was a huge hit, it may have been just a flash-in-the-pan of automotive history, if it weren’t for a guy named Zora and the Ford Motor Company!

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2nd Generation Chevrolet Camaro

1972 Chevrolet Camaro

After the dazzling debut and extreme popularity of the 1st generation (1967 through 1969) Chevrolet Camaro, GM’s Chevrolet Division’s designers and engineers (inspired by the likes of Jaguar, Ferrari and Aston-Martin designs of the day) were challenged to give the next generation Pony Car a fresh new look and some added technological upgrades. For the 2nd generation Camaro (1970 thru 1981), there were obvious body style changes made, including lower, wider and longer dimensions. Some chassis and drivetrain upgrades were made and eventual horsepower downgrades were in the works as well (mostly due to pressure from EPA to meet continually restrictive, emissions standards) throughout the model run. Even so, some enthusiasts will argue that the 2nd generation Camaros, nicknamed the “Super Hugger”, were more a true driver’s car and quite possibly, the best all-around Muscle Car ever made.

The newly redesigned Chevrolet Camaro two-door coupe (the convertible was no longer offered), complete with fastback styling, would get a late start as a 1970 model (released in February of 1970). This would eventually make it the most sought after year of the second generation Camaros, due to low production numbers (just under 125,000 units) and more powerful drivetrain offerings.

Some notable changes throughout the second generation Chevrolet Camaro series were:

1970 – Totally new, re-design of body (all of Fastback 2+2 style) and upgrades to chassis, available in base Sport Coupe, RS, SS and Z/28 models. They were approximately two inches longer, an inch lower and just less than an inch wider than the first generation Camaros, with a longer hood and shorter rear trunk/deck area with a Kamm (flat cut-off) back styling with round, inset Corvette-like tail lights. The longer doors were of a full-glass (vent-less) design and gone were the rear quarter-panel, side panel windows. The roof panel was of a new double-panel design to increase roll-over protection and deaden sound. The base models featured a full front bumper, while the rest of the models all had a more aggressive looking, extended, rubberized “Endura” material surrounding a sunken grille, with chromed bumperettes on each side of the open grille. The new instrument panel featured several round gauge clusters, placed directly in front of the driver with other controls and radio near the center. The standard interiors were offered with an all-vinyl material and the dash was finished in a matte black color. An optional upgraded vinyl/cloth interior was offered along with some woodgrain surfaces. The largest engine available was the 396-cid V8 (which actually displaced 402 c.i., but Chevrolet decided to retain the “396” badging) which was rated at 375 hp and was only available in the SS models and came with 4-spd manual transmission, also available in the SS, was the 350-cid, 300 hp V8, again, with the 4-spd manual transmission. The six cylinder engine, available in the base Sport Coupe, was increased to 250-cid, 155 hp, from the former 230-cid powerplant and an optional 307-cid, V8, 200 hp, was also available. The RS models were available with the 250-cid L6, with 155 hp or the 350-cid V8, with 250 hp depending on your option choice. The Z/28 (Special Performance Package) was only available with the new high-performance LT-1, 350-cid, V8, 360 hp, powerplant. Transmissions available were a 3-spd standard, 4-spd standard (with Hurst Shifter) or Turbo-Hydramatic 400/3-spd automatic transmission.

1971 – Minor changes were made mostly in the appearance area (colors, stripes, badging, etc.) and the standard interior was now of the vinyl/cloth design. Also in the interior was the addition of the high-back bucket seats with built-in headrests that were not adjustable. Due to tougher emissions standards imposed by the government, most horsepower ratings declined in the performance offerings. The world was beginning the change-over to unleaded fuels and all manufacturers were scrambling to meet these more restrictive emission standards. Due to a corporate-wide, GM strike in late September, 1970, (which lasted 67 days) production was down for the 1971 year models. There were even rumors at GM about the demise of the F Body cars (Camaro and “sister” Firebird) because of declining interest in the PonyCar market and high insurance rates for all performance vehicles. Also, production of Camaros was halted at the Van Nuys, CA plant and were now produced at only the Norwood, OH assembly plant.

1972 – Again, minor changes are made to a faltering model, which again, is hit by a devastating UAW strike lasting 174 days. The internal battle to continue the F body cars went on at General Motors/Chevrolet and finally the supporters of the models won out and convinced the top-brass that it was still a viable vehicle. Only some 68,000 Camaros would be built in 1972, including only about 970 SS-396 models. This was also the last year for the SS models in the second generation run and the Z/28 model would lose the “/” and now be the Z28. Horsepower ratings continued to fall and even more so because the world was changing from gross to net ratings. For instance, the LT-1, 350-cid V8 dropped from 330 hp gross (1971 rating) to 255 hp for 1972 net ratings.

1973 – Standard impact absorbing front bumpers were added due to government safety legislation and again the horsepower ratings dropped and the 396-cid V8 was dropped. A new model LT was introduced and could be ordered along with the RS and Z28 to have all combinations in one car. The LT came with a more luxurious, quieter interior, full instrumentation, Rallye styled wheels, “hidden” wipers, sport mirrors and variable-ratio steering, among other available upgrades. Power windows were again offered, which had not been available since the 1969 year models. After a rough year and recovering from the previous year’s strike, they managed to build over 96,000 units.

1974 – A forward slanting grille was added to accommodate the new aluminum front bumper, which was added to meet further government safety standards. A similar rear aluminum bumper was added for the same reasons and overall the two new bumpers increased the length of the Camaro by some seven inches. The round rear taillights were replaced by elongated, rectangular, corner-wrapped units and sales would increase to over 150,000 units (despite the fuel crisis, which was initiated by the Arab Oil Embargo). Most of the Camaro’s (and Firebird’s) traditional competition would fall by the wayside and from now through the end of its run in 1981, the Camaro would be the reigning PonyCar with no real competition.

1975 – Interiors were changed slightly with new trim patterns and you could supposedly order a leather interior in the LT models (even though none were ever produced) and the walnut trim was replaced with a Bird’s Eye Maple woodgrain. Power door locks were now available and radial tires were standard equipment on all models. The rear window area was changed to a more wrap-around fastback style and gave greater visibility. The “Camaro” nameplate was removed from the rear trunk lid and the front fender scripts were changed to block letters. The “Camaro” badge was removed from the grille and a badge was placed on the cowl above the grille area on the front nose. The Z28 was dropped and would not reappear until 1977. The catalytic converter was introduced as a more efficient means to reduce emissions, which ended the use of a true-duals, exhaust system. Sales were again pretty strong at over 145,000 units for 1975.

1976 – The sales kept climbing as Camaro/Firebird now owned 100% of the PonyCar market and over 182,000 units were produced for 1976. A few appearance updates were made and the LT models received a brushed metal insert on the rear panel. All V8 models were now supplied with standard power-brakes.

1977 – The reintroduction of the Z28 was mostly due to the extreme popularity of the Firebird Trans-Am of 1976 and was a mid-year addition for 1977 Camaros. This late addition was an immediate success and very popular with a 350-cid V8, 4-barrel carburetor and producing 185 hp. Most of the Z28’s were supplied with creature comforts, like air-conditioning and automatic transmission. The Borg-Warner Super T-10, 4-spd manual transmission was still available, as well as the new intermittent wiper system. Over 218,000 units were produced for 1977 and the first time that Camaro outsold the Ford Mustang. A stripped-down Z28, in the hands of a capable driver, could outperform the Pontiac Trans-Am and even the Corvettes on any highway or even a twisty canyon road.

1978 – The Camaro would receive new bumpers front and rear for 1978 with rubberized, body-colored covers and the hood would now contain a “scoop”. Sales again increased to over 272,000 units and make a strong statement to those who had doubted it just a few years ago.

1979 – The “LT” model would be replaced by the more luxurious “Berlinetta” model for 1979. A re-designed instrument cluster, with flatter looking fascia, would replace the aging dash area in front of the driver. The “Z28″ came with a new front spoiler and fender flares and some new decals. The rear window now had an electric “defogger”, embedded in the glass. Another record year for sales with over 282,000 units being produced, breaking all previous sales by first or second generation Camaros.

1980 – The old reliable standard 250-cid L6 motor would be replaced by the new 229-cid V6. The Z28 hood got a new rear facing, raised, functional scoop with a solenoid actuated flapper valve, which opens under a full throttle position. New, optional grey 5-spoke rims were available for the Z28 and standard on all Z28’s was a newly styled upper and lower front grille and revised, colorful graphics. All speedometers now read a maximum of only 85 mph, reduced from the previous reading of 130 mph. Total sale figures fell to just over 152,000 units for 1980.

1981 – Virtually unchanged from the 1980 models, the 1981 Camaro would be the last of the second generation Camaros and the end of an era. Changes made were mainly government mandated, in order to increase fuel efficiency, while reducing emissions. A new computerized control system was used (CCC or Computer Command Control) with an oxygen sensor, electronically controlled carburetion system including a throttle position sensor, coolant temperature sensors, barometric pressure sensors and manifold absolute pressure sensors, along with the dreaded check engine lamp. This was only the beginning of changes that would take us out of the mechanical age and into the electronic age of today. The automatic transmission was also fitted with an electronically controlled, lock-up torque converter. This modernization (emissions restrictions) reduced the output rating to 175 hp for the 350-cid V8 in the Z28 and was now only available with an automatic transmission. The RS model was dropped this year and would not reappear until 1989. Total production fell again, to just over 126,000 units.

It was a great run for the second generation Chevrolet Camaro and they not only proved themselves as daily drivers that were loved by many, but also as great racing machines that dominated many series and all sorts of racing venues all over the world. The IROC series for one was totally dominated by the Camaros of the day.

Vehicle Profile: Chevrolet Nova

1967 Chevrolet Nova

The Chevrolet Chevy II or Chevy II Nova (later just Nova), was one of the quickest, concept-to-production new vehicle projects to be produced by the General Motors Corporation. It was only 18 short months from inception to the first unit rolling off the assembly line on August 16th, 1961. It was barely in time for its release to the public in September, as a 1962 year model.

This was all done in order to compete directly with the now popular, Ford Falcon, a compact car which had become a major success for the Ford Motor Company shortly after its debut in 1960. The Nova quickly became a fierce compact car competitor with four-door sedans, station wagons and they even offered a two-door hardtop and convertible, ahead of the Falcon’s release of those same models. According to Ed Cole, GM’s General Manager of the time, the Chevy II’s mission was to be a back-to-the-basics, simple and affordable vehicle for the masses. He described it to the press as offering the buying public “maximum functionalism with thrift!”.

The name, Nova, was (internally, at Chevrolet, anyhow) a popular choice to represent the new model (but at first, Nova, was only used on their top-of-the-line models), but again, with keeping its new models tied only to names beginning with the letter “C”, it was last minute, when they finally settled on the “Chevy II” name. There would be five generations of the Chevy II or Nova models, ranging from 1962 through 1988, with a brief hiatus from 1980 to 1985. The fifth generation Nova, made from 1986 through 1988, was actually a sub-compact, re-modeled, re-badged, front-wheel-drive vehicle produced as a joint effort between GM and Toyota, and based on their Sprinter model. The Chevy II name was dropped after the 1968 year model and was afterwards, known as the Chevrolet Nova through the end of its run.

The base of the Nova’s through 1979 (the end of the fourth generation run) was a rear-wheel-drive vehicle of unibody construction. Over the years, you could have ordered your Nova with anything from a 153-cid in-line, 4-cylinder (later models, 1975 to 1979, carried the Iron Duke 151-cid in-line, 4-cylinder) to a 402-cid Big-Block, V8 and pretty much everything in-between. What a gas these sleeper cars could be with a little creative “tuning”.

The first generation Chevrolet Chevy II (Nova) ran from 1962 through 1965 and saw the first V8 powerplant available from the factory in 1964, a 283-cid unit, producing 195 hp. It was, however, commonplace in 1962 and 1963 to have a dealer installed V8, placed under the hood. The 1965 received a bit of a facelift and some more ponies, due to various engine options now available, including the SS models, 300 hp, 327-cid Small-Block V8 making the little compact a real musclecar contender. The standard transmission was the 3-speed, on-the-tree manual, an optional 4-speed manual transmission (sometimes dealer-installed) and 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission.

The second generation Chevrolet Chevy II (Nova) experienced the shortest run of all five generations and ran from 1966 to 1967. They came with a more modern, angular looking body shape (including a semi-fastback roofline) and squared-up styling than the previous models. However, most other features, as offered on earlier models, changed very little and basic dimensions were about the same. The 1967 NovaSS, option package, was the first model of the line to drop all “Chevy II” badging, even though the model was still referred to as the Chevrolet Chevy II.

The third generation Chevrolet Chevy II (Nova, X-Body) enjoyed the longest production run of all the generations and stayed around from 1968 through 1974. A complete, extensive, frame-up re-design came for 1968 and carried-on, basically unchanged, through the end of the series in 1974. The front end housed the newly designed GM sub-frame assembly (similar to that, which was used, on the new Chevrolet Camaro for 1967) comprised of both the front suspension and powertrain, which was then bolted to the chassis of the vehicle. The station wagon (due mainly to lack of interest) and hardtop sport coupe models were discontinued and would not return. Some available options included power steering and brakes, rear shoulder safety belts and head restraints, and Four-Season air-conditioning.

For 1969, Chevrolet finally decided to drop the “Chevy II” nameplates and badging and now their compact car was officially known as, simply, the Chevrolet “Nova”. The four cylinder powertrain was dropped from the lineup for 1971 due to lack of sales and the 250-cid, L6, became the base powerplant. The 3-speed manual transmission and 2-speed Powerglide were still offered standard, but the 3-speed Turbo-Hydromatic automatic and 4-speed manual transmissions were available on most V8’s.

1970 would be the last year for the venerable “SS396″ Nova’s, while they were actually increased to 402 c.i. displacement to help meet emissions standards, but due to its strong “SS396″ name recognition and to downplay power output to relieve pressure from governmental scrutiny and insurance companies ever increasing premiums, Chevrolet chose to keep the “SS396″ badging. A Rally Sport package was offered for 1971 and 1972 which included suspension upgrades, some Rally wheels, special striping and trim options and the largest engine available was now the 350-cid V8.

For 1972 an optional sunroof could now be ordered as well as Strato style bucket seats with built-in headrests. 1973 saw a minor facelift with a hatchback rear glass area, and once again, to conform to the government mandates to have energy-absorbing, 5-mph bumpers front and rear. For the first time, since 1962, a multi-leaf rear spring (like those used on the new Camaros) would replace the single-leaf type. We would also say goodbye to the long-running, 2-speed, Powerglide automatic transmission. For 1974 the Chevrolet Nova would receive some minor exterior upgrades including larger parking lights and even larger, impact-absorbing bumpers for safety sake (actually adding over two inches of length to the vehicle). The 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission was now replaced by the 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission.

The fourth generation Chevrolet Nova (X-Body) would last from 1975 through 1979 and would be the makers most-changed model in its lineup for 1975. With all new sheetmetal “refined along the lines of elegant European sedans” stated in the brochure, but keeping some of the third generations rear suspension components and the same 111-inch wheelbase. The front suspension was similar to that used on the second generation Camaro, with larger diameter stabilizer bar, front disc brakes now came standard and radial tires were used all the way around. Windshields had larger glass area, while coupes and hatchbacks had fixed rear-quarter glass or optional swing-out hinged glass. The new LN (Luxury) models featured creature comforts never before seen on a Chevrolet compact car.

For 1976 the “LN” model was re-badged as the “Concours” to compete with other brands more elegant sounding names (i.e.: Monarch, Granada, etc.) and boasted such lavish appointments as Rosewood vinyl woodgrain interior trim, the first Chevrolet coupe to offer fold-down front, center armrest and it even had an upright, sprung, hood ornament. All other changes throughout the end of the run were merely cosmetic and or diminishing in power and performance. The 1979 Chevrolet Nova would bow to the age of front-wheel drive vehicles and the likes of the Chevrolet Citation.

The fifth generation Chevrolet Nova (1986 to 1988) just one word . . . Forgettaboutit. That’s a story for another generation (no pun intended).

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Vehicle Profile: Pontiac Firebird

1967PontiacFirebird

The first generation Pontiac Firebird (1967 to 1969) offered two different design options to consumers: a 2-door hardtop coupe and a convertible model. This new vehicle made by Pontiac, shared the new General Motors “F-Body” chassis with its also new for 1967 sibling, the Chevrolet Camaro. The debut of the Firebird marked Pontiac’s entry into the popular Pony Car arena.

The new Pontiac Firebird had a 108.1-inch wheelbase, weighed in the area of 3,000 pounds and showed up on the scene some five months after the Camaro made its debut. This short delay helped John DeLorean (who was, at the time, the youngest head of a division in GM’s long history) and his team of Pontiac designers and engineers, put some distinguishing touches on a vehicle who’s design closely mirrored that of the Chevrolet Camaro.

Apparently, John DeLorean was somewhat annoyed that the Camaro was released first, because the new Firebird was one of his pet projects that he hoped would be as popular as the 1964 Pontiac GTO that he also engineered, which is often referred to as the first Muscle Car.

There were five different engines available (engine displacement also identified each model) for 1967 Firebirds, which Pontiac referred to as their “Magnificent 5″.  You could start with the base model which had an innovative “overhead cam” (or “OHC”) 230-cid, in-line 6-cylinder, with a 1-barrel carburetor that produced about 165 hp.  The next step up was the “Sprint” model that offered a 230-cid, in-line 6-cylinder, with a 4-barrel carburetor that produced about 215 hp. Both 6-cylinder models were available with a 3 or 4-speed manual transmission or a 2-speed, automatic transmission.

The 326-cid V8 model with a two-barrel carburetor capable of producing about 250 hp, was also an option. Next in line was the Firebird V8-H.O. (High Output) model which also featured a 326-cid V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor rated at 285 hp.  At the top of the heap was the 400-cid V8 (borrowed from the GTO) with a 4-barrel carburetor that was capable of producing at least 325 hp.  Another option was the 400-cid, “Ram Air” engine which contained a tuned camshaft with heavier valve springs, making the otherwise non-functional hood scoops, functional. This engine design modification was not reflective of any additional horsepower output in any of the marketing brochures for the Firebird at the time. Subsequently, this option was rarely ordered, also making it an ultra rare option to find in today’s classic car buyer’s market. Ultimately, all V8’s came standard with the heavy-duty 3-speed manual transmission, with an optional 4-speed manual transmission and 2 or 3-speed automatic transmission.

The unique and definitive Pontiac styling on the Pontiac Firebird included a split chrome grille with embedded quad-headlamps, “beaked” hood, rear quarter panel “split-gills” and slotted , “slit-style” tail lights (also borrowed from the GTO). All of these details made the Firebird stand-out in a crowd of new Pony Cars. Many performance options and creature comforts were also available including several different rear axle ratios, front disc brakes, power steering, full gages, floor consoles and the first-ever, hood-mounted tachometer.

The 1968 Pontiac Firebirds saw little change from the 1967 models. Some noticeable differences were the loss of door vent-windows and some minor interior revisions that were made. Pontiac “Arrowhead” side-marker lights were added to the rear 1/4 panels and the front turn signal/parking lamps were revised to curve around to the sides of the vehicle for the 1968 Pontiac Firebird, new federal vehicle laws that were implemented in 1968.  The rear shocks were also staggered  on the 1968 Pontiac Firebird, with one mounted to the front side of the axle and the other to the rear side of the axle, in an effort to increase ride quality.  The rear leaf-springs were also changed to the “multi-leaf” design, in order to reduce annoying “wheel-hop” upon quick acceleration. Most of the other changes, were in the available drivetrains, such as the “OHC” 6-cylinder, that grew from 230 to 250-cid and the 326-cid V8 that grew to 350-cid, both producing increases in horsepower production.

The Pontiac Firebird had a major facelift in 1969 (similar to the new GTO), with a new front end design. The rear-end area was changed slightly, while the interior was again revised and an exciting new Trans Am performance and appearance package was introduced in March of 1969. The Trans Am name, which was borrowed from the SCCA racing series, also meant that Pontiac had to pay the SCCA a license fee of $5.00 for every car sold, in order to use the Trans Am name. All the Trans Am optioned vehicles produced in 1969 (only some 689 coupes and only 8 convertibles, again super rare) were polar white with blue racing stripes. A 5 foot long trunk-lid mounted low-profile spoiler, special decals and the exclusive hood with driver operated, functional intake scoops, were included in the package. Also exclusive to the Trans Am, were the front fender scoops or vents, which were intended to help evacuate captured, engine-bay air.

Vehicle Profile: 1952 Studebaker Champion

1952 Studebaker

It’s quite a shame that one of the oldest automobile manufacturers (at the time of their demise) couldn’t have withstood the stiff competition of the day, because many believe they would have been an interesting addition to the future of the motoring world. The “Studebaker Automobile Company” (originally called the “Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company”) began existence in 1852 as a company which produced high-quality wagons and carts which became known as one of the heartiest, innovative and well-made variety of wagons to ever roam the wide-open lands.

Oddly enough, the first automobiles produced by Studebaker Motor Company were of the electric variety and made their debut in 1902. Their first gasoline driven cars were produced in 1904, with some components purchased from various other suppliers, while the first completely proprietary “Studebaker’s” came off the assembly line in South Bend, Indiana in the year 1912. The next 50 years (right up to and including their 100th anniversary) would prove beyond a shadow of doubt that Studebaker automobiles were not only innovative and sometimes years ahead of the competition, but very well built and completely reliable vehicles. Due to internal issues, some management blunders and the stiff competition of the day, Studebaker, like many other venerable marques over the years, would disappear by 1966.

For their 100th Anniversary in 1952, Studebaker Automobile Company planned to build a totally new vehicle, but due to complications and time constraints, some of which stemmed from the end of WWII and the more current Korean conflict, they settled instead for a facelift of the current models they offered since 1947. The striking looks of the bullet-nosed (or torpedo) designed front end was massaged into a more smooth-looking “clamdigger” design with a lower profile and six-toothed grille. The rear end kept the unique wrap-around or starlight glass effect (which is also the last year this design was used) and boat-tail rear trunk styling while the interior was updated, but most other areas of the 100th anniversary vehicles were left as they had been since the late forties. Studebakers came standard with their venerable in-line, six-cylinder engine with an optional small-block V8 offered and standard manual-transmission with an optional automatic transmission.

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Vehicle Profile: Chevrolet El Camino

1967 Chevrolet El Camino

The full-sized, Chevrolet El Camino was first launched as a new model in 1959 in response to Ford’s full-sized Ranchero model (launched in 1957). The El Camino was continued (and discontinued) in 1960, and would only compete head-to-head (and win with 22,246 units sold to Ranchero’s 14,169 units sold) with the full-sized Ranchero in 1959. Ford decided to downsize the Ranchero for 1960 and base it on their new, smaller, Falcon chassis.

Chevrolet would drop the full-sized El Camino from their line-up for 1961 to 1963.  It re-emerged in 1964 based on a new, mid-sized Chevelle chassis and remain in production until 1987. GM’s Chief Designer, Harley Earl, actually suggested a “coupe-pickup” designed vehicle as early as 1952, but GM’s top brass did not act on that idea until Ford came out with the Ranchero in 1957. The El Camino name is of Spanish origin meaning “the road”.

Since the “First Generation” Chevrolet El Camino was based on a car chassis (as opposed to a truck chassis) all the trim options available in the corresponding model, Impala, Bel Air, Brookwood, Biscayne, etc. (and later on SS) were available. These creature comforts and more plush interiors were not yet available on the full-sized truck models of the day (other than the short-lived, 1955 through 1958 Chevrolet “Cameo Carrier” full-sized pick-up models) and were very well received by the public.

The El Caminos also featured the first Chevrolet built pick-up, with an all-steel (sheet metal, instead of wood) corrugated bed floor. A 235-cid L6, 283-cid V8 (in several variations and hp ratings) and even a 348-cid V8 (also a few variations) were available and all were offered with either a manual (3 or 4 speed) or 2-speed, Powerglide, automatic transmission. Initially, sales were good, then fell off by nearly 1/3 for 1960 (producing just over 14,000 units), possibly due to the fact that the cab only held up to 3 persons (at a time when the country was experiencing a major growth spurt due to the baby-boomer era). Maybe, a concept ahead of its time (as a crossover type vehicle), the Chevrolet El Camino would leave the scene for a few short years and re-emerge in 1964 based on the new, mid-sized Chevelle platform.

The “Second Generation” Chevrolet El Camino was produced from 1964 through 1967 and, as mentioned, was based on the all new Chevrolet Chevelle chassis as a mid-sized, coupe/pickup, type vehicle. Available engines were a 194-cid L6 with 120 hp, a 230-cid L6 with 155 hp and a 283-cid V8 with 2-barrel carburetor and rated at 195 hp, and a 4-barrel version (complete with dual exhaust) rated at 220 hp. Later in the production run for 1964 was a 327-cid V8 rated at either 250 hp or 300 hp depending on option package and again, coupled to manual (3 or 4 speed) and automatic transmissions.

For 1965, a minor facelift was given to the front end (with a V’d grille shape similar to the newly designed, full-sized Chevrolets).  An even more powerful 327-cid V8 rated at 350 hp was an option as well as all the engine offerings for 1964.

The 1966 El Camino received another minor facelift with some massaged sheet metal and slant-cut front fenders where they mated, at the more aggressively angled, grille area. The interior was freshened-up, including a horizontally sweeping speedometer and instrument cluster. And finally, an optional 396-cid V8 (big-block) was offered, in several variations from 325 to 375 hp.

For 1967, the El Camino again carried the features of the Chevelle forward of the B pillars and was given a more pronounced grille area, front bumper and available trim work (an optional vinyl roof was even offered). Air-shocks were still standard equipment in order to compensate for load weight and disc brakes were now an available option.  A new TH400, 3-speed Turbo-Hydromatic, automatic transmission for the 396-cid engines was also available. An energy-absorbing steering column and dual-reservoir, brake master-cylinder were now standard equipment due to federal mandates.

The “Third Generation” Chevrolet El Camino was produced from 1968 through 1972 and featured a completely new, longer, Chevelle-based chassis and body re-design. All new sheet metal and more aggressive looking, forward-styling, enhanced the performance look and sporty feel of the new models. Again, power front disc-brakes and now, a posi-traction rear axle were available as options. The interior was totally re-designed with cloth/vinyl or full-vinyl bench seat or optional full-vinyl Strato bucket seats and center console. Deep-twist carpeting was standard and interior trim was shared with the Chevelle/Malibu models.

For 1969 the El Camino front grille area and surrounding body area was more rounded in appearance and kept the quad headlamps (now with a single-bar divider). The parking lamps were located in the slotted bumper. This is the first time a 350-cid V8 would be available in the El Camino. A revised instrument panel with round instrument design replaced the previous horizontal look and power windows and door locks were an option. The Super Sport package, including various versions of the 396-cid V8, now featured a blacked-out grille with “SS” emblem in the center and double, raised bulges running front to rear (from the mid to rear) of the hood, leading to a chromed grate.

The 1970 El Camino saw some interior redesigns and new exterior sheet metal that gave the bodywork a more squared-off look. The 396 badging was kept, even though the displacement was increased to 402-cid and the LS6, 454-cid big-block V8 with some 450 hp was now available.

For 1971, the El Camino received a new front end redesign, with single-unit, Power-Beam, headlamps like the Chevelle now used and integral park/turn/side-marker lamps. As the Feds were cracking down on those air-polluting emissions, GM was forced to add the dreaded smog pumps to their engines and reduce compression and horsepower at the same time.

The 1972 El Camino came with a front fender safety, side-marker/parking lamps and a re-vamped, twin-bar grille. Again, due to global standardization and ever tightening emissions mandates, all vehicles would now use net instead of gross horsepower ratings and the power decrease was across the board. The SS models would become diluted and now any V8 engine could be ordered with this option.

The “Fourth Generation” Chevrolet El Camino was produced from 1973 through 1977 and again, was based on the Chevelle, (A-body) station wagon chassis. It was the largest and heaviest vehicle of the entire series and featured the government mandated, safety, impact-absorbing bumpers front and rear. Two trim packages were offered, the base model and the SS. Front disc-brakes were now standard and the wheel track, front and rear, was increased by one inch for better stability. Coil springs at all four wheels were computer-selected by weight of added options to make for smoother ride and handling properties. Several new features included a double-panel acoustical roof, sturdier designed side-door guard beams for structural integrity, flush-style outer door handles, better fitting glass seals for wind-sound reduction, full, flow-through power vent system, inside hood release and contour-molded foam seats and backs. Visibility was increased by thinning out the front glass pillars and longer trips between fuel stops with a new 22 gallon fuel tank.

The engines available for 1973 were the (base) 307-cid V8 with 2-barrel carburetor and 115 hp, the optional 350-cid V8 with 2-barrel carburetor and 145 hp, the optional 350-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor and 175 hp and lastly the 454-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor and 245 hp. The 3 or 4-speed manual transmission and the Turbo-Hydromatic, 3-speed automatic transmission were available. The SS was now reduced to a mere trim option and included a blacked-out grille with “SS” center emblem, special instrumentation and interior badging, body-side striping, bright roof-drip moldings, body-colored outside sport-mirrors, front and rear anti-roll bars, rallye rims with special, raised white-letter 70-series tires, and was only available with the 350 or 454 V8’s.

For 1974, the El Camino had a revised (Mercedes-style) grille, a new trim package called the Classic was available.  It offered a more luxurious interior with cloth or vinyl upholstery and carpeted door panels and woodgrained panels on dashboard. The 350-cid V8 was now the base and a 400-cid V8 was introduced and the 454-cid V8 was still an available option.

The 1975 El Camino saw another new grille design, dual remote-operated outside mirrors and radial tires with refined suspension for a smoother, quieter ride. Creature comforts such as intermittent wipers, “Econominder” instrument package complete with vacuum gauge (to monitor fuel consumption) and cruise-control were offered, along with some standard features like H.E.I. ignition, which improved performance and minimized maintenance. The 250-cid L6 with 105 hp was offered as the base engine and this would be the last year for the 454-cid V8 which was now reduced to 215 hp due to emission standards choking the life outta that big-bore monster.

The 1976 El Camino remained unchanged for the base models and only a cosmetic change of new “stacked” rectangular headlamps was evident on the Classic models. The 1977 El Camino again remained visually unchanged from the previous year but lost the availability of the 400-cid V8.

The “Fifth Generation” Chevrolet El Camino was produced from 1978 through 1987, which was the last year for the series. The El Camino, once again, shared some suspension components and front-end sheet metal with the Chevelle Malibu, but this time, had its very own specifically designed chassis. Four models were available through the final run of the “coupe/pickup” including the El Camino, Royal Knight, Conquista and Super Sport. A totally new, slimmer, angled and chiseled looking body style emerged for the final 10 year run with a one-inch longer (117-inch) wheelbase. The doors were borrowed from the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and the tailgate and rear bumper were shared with the Malibu Station Wagon. The slightly protruding, grille area included new larger, single rectangular headlamps. As downsizing was now the norm, the base engine was a 200-cid V6 with 94 hp, with optional powerplants of 231-cid V6 (Buick manufactured) with 105 hp, 305-cid V8 with 145 hp and the 350-cid V8 with 170 meager hp.

For 1979 El Caminos, very little was changed, aside from the visibly divided grille panel and under the hood was a new 267-cid V8 with 125 hp. For 1980, the El Camino remained nearly identical cosmetically, but again, under the hood the 200-cid V6 was bumped to 229-cid and hp rating increased to 115, the 305-cid V8 now with 155 hp and the 350-cid V8 was discontinued. Most vehicles now came with the automatic transmission but the 3-on-the-tree was standard.

For 1981, the El Camino sported a new vertical designed grille and under the hood a new GM “Computer Command Control” system to help reduce emissions even further and again, horsepower ratings were down across the board. The automatic transmission also received a lock-up type torque-converter for better highway mileage.

The 1982 through 1987 El Caminos remained basically the same and were treated to a quad-rectangular (side-by-side) headlamp arrangement and cross-hatched grille pattern. A dismal performing, dog of a diesel motor (350-cid V8 with 105 noisy hp) was an option for 1982 through 1984. In 1983, the 267-cid V8 was dropped and from 1984 to 1987 the SS model borrowed the front end of the Monte Carlo SS and offered the 305-cid V8 with 190 hp. In 1985, Chevrolet transferred production of all El Camino models to their plant in Mexico and through 1987 the 262-cid V6 was the standard engine. Somehow ironic, the long running El Camino model would end its life south of the border at a plant in Mexico.

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Vehicle Profile: 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix

1969 Pontiac Grand Prix

The 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix was a totally re-designed version based on the new mid-sized 118-inch wheelbase (some 3 inches shorter than the 1968 model and exclusive only to the Grand Prix for 1969) “G” body platform from General Motors. John DeLorean, then general manager for GM’s Pontiac Division (who would later become infamous for other reasons), instructed his designers and engineers to build a fresh new vehicle for the 1969 model year release. They started development in April of 1967 and ended up with what many believe to be a perfect combination of great looks, high-performance and good handling (for a car of its size), all wrapped up in a luxurious package.

The new Grand Prix would only be offered in a 2-door, semi-fastback, hardtop coupe (no convertible) and would have the longest hood (approximately 6 feet long) to appear on a Pontiac to date. The hood had a large, pointed “beak” at the front and finished off the protruding, “V” shaped grille which split the dual, same-sized, side-by-side, square trimmed, round headlamps. In fact, Pontiac claimed, in its sales brochures, its new Grand Prix had the “longest hood in the industry”. The taillights were two long, horizontal, rectangular units, set into the chrome rear bumper.

By massaging the current “A” body platform to create the new “G” body, they shaved off critical development time and major costs for most of the expense on the chassis, but the body and interior was entirely brand new. New and stylish, exterior “lift-to-open” door handles replaced the old, standard grab handle with push-button door handles. The base price for a new 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix started out at around $3,866 and went to over $6,000 fully optioned.

Of the nearly 112,500 Pontiac Grand Prixs built for 1969, the bulk of them, almost 99 percent, were ordered with the 3-speed, Turbo-Hydramatic, automatic transmission (a $227 option). The heavy-duty 3-speed manual transmission came standard (only approximately 338 were produced) and the optional 4-speed, wide or close ratio, manual transmission was only a $185 option (approximately 676 were produced), after all, this was mostly a luxury/performance vehicle, so why would you want to waste effort on all that shifting of gears?

Only two engine sizes and four powertrain choices were available for the 1969 Grand Prix. The base 400-cid V8 with 2-barrel carburetor, producing approx. 265 hp, the optional 400-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor, producing approximately 350 hp, the optional 428-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor, producing approx. 370 hp and the optional big, bad, “high-output” 428-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor, producing approximately 390 hp.

The Grand Prix “J” models were considered the base models and the “SJ” models were the top-of-the-line only using the 428-cid power plants. The “J” and “SJ” model designations were rumored to have been borrowed, by DeLorean, from Duesenbergs of the past, as well as, the long hood and short rear deck areas. However, the “S” did not stand for Supercharger as it had with Duesenberg.  The “SJ” (identified by the special badging located on each front fender) also came standard with high-performance suspension components and rear axle, 8.25×14 inch wide-oval, low-profile tires on “Rallye II” styled rims, dual-exhaust, automatic leveling-control with dual-stage, vacuum activated compressor, power-brakes with front disc/rear drum, chromed valve covers, air cleaner and oil filler cap. Other options were air-conditioning and power steering of course.

On the interior of the, new for ’69 Pontiac Grand Prix, you were surrounded by an aircraft, cockpit-style cluster of “Rallye” style gauges. Once in the drivers or “Command” seat, you were enveloped with all sorts of switches and controls, conveniently located within easy reach. The “Strato-Style” bucket seats were comfortably wrapped in fully expanded “Morrokide” vinyl, fine leather upholstery or vinyl/fabric combinations with “Morrokide” were options. Also an option, at no extra charge, was a split-bench seat with center armrest. A vinyl “Carpathian Elm” burlwood appliqué was used on the dashboard keeping with the luxury “look and feel.”  All cars had a floor console, slanted towards the driver, which also contained the shifter, ashtray and a storage compartment. An integral “anti-theft” steering/ignition lock was now used on the tilt-wheel column and “pulse-action” intermittent dual-speed windshield wipers with the arms/blades “hidden” from sight (which they promoted as an industry first, which is arguable) by the back edge of that extra-long hood. Another “first” was the nearly-invisible, “hidden” antenna, which was embedded in the center of the front windshield (which frustrated owners due to poor radio reception), power windows were optional, as was a sporty, hood-mounted tachometer. A vinyl “Cordova” style roof was an available option as well as an embedded wire, electrical rear window defroster.

This Poncho “gunboat” of a luxury/performance car was no slouch, just because it weighed in at about 3,900 pounds, it handled well even in corners and best of all . . . it would still go from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds or run the 1/4 mile in about 14.1 seconds at around 97 mph. (Estimated with the 390 hp, 428-cid V8). “Car Life Magazine” actually awarded the new for 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix the prestigious “Engineering Excellence Award”.  The new Grand Prix also helped Pontiac hold onto third place in the industry for model-year production, which it had held since 1962.

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Vehicle Profile: 1964-1967 Pontiac Catalina 2+2

1964 Pontiac Catalina 2+2

For 1964, in keeping with their quest to remain a major force in the performance genre, Pontiac introduced a Catalina based, 2+2 (taken from the European style, sport touring models with seating for 4, even though you could easily seat 5 or more in the Pontiac 2+2 version) optioned, full-sized, performance, driving machine for the family. While Pontiac held onto the number 3 position in the USA for vehicle sales from 1962 through 1969, nobody could dispute the dominance of the Pontiac brand for performance.

It was an impressive run for Pontiac, a company that helped launch the Musclecar Era. The Pontiac 2+2 model was a performance upgrade option to the full-size Catalina for 1964 and 1965, a stand-alone model for 1966 and again, an option to the 1967 Catalina. Unfortunately, due to lackluster sales, 1967 was the last year it would be available. Production numbers for the 2+2 were small (less than 3 percent of total production for 1964) in comparison to Pontiac’s total unit production . . . 1964 = 7,998, 1965 = 11,519, 1966 = 6,383, 1967 = 1,768.

The 1964 Pontiac Catalina 2+2 was only available in a 2-door hardtop-coupe or convertible configuration and had a 119-inch wheelbase. They were all front engine and rear wheel drive vehicles. The standard engine was the 389-cid V8, with 2-barrel carburetor producing some 283 hp and a manual 3-speed transmission with a floor shifter mounted in the center console. The optional engines were the 389-cid V8 with 3-2barrel carburetors (Pontiac’s infamous Tri-Power setup) producing some 330 hp and the 421-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor producing some 320 hp (plus a few specially tuned 421’s with up to 370 hp were rumored to be produced as well) and an optional Hydramatic, automatic transmission or 4-speed manual transmission were available. Since 1964 was the first year, the 2+2 was basically a trim option with special badging including “2+2″ on the front fenders, hood and interior. Also some interior upgrades like special door panels, Morrokide bucket seats up front and center floor console with vacuum gauge were standard or available options.

For 1965, the Pontiac Catalina 2+2 had a facelift and its wheelbase increased to 121 inches, which improved handling characteristics. It would also become the most popular and sought after version of all the 2+2’s made. The front fenders capped and were cut-back just below the upper headlamp and now contained vertical louvers or “gills” situated behind the front wheel openings. The interior upgrades for the 2+2 again included the bucket seats, full carpeting, floor console and special badging.  Outside had custom pinstriping and special hood and rear deck “2+2″ badging and under the hood they had chromed valve covers and air-filter housing.

The chassis still came standard with the heavy-duty suspension components like shocks, springs, performance geared rear axle, anti-sway bars and dual-exhaust. To put all that power, from the now standard 421-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor (producing some 338 hp), to the ground, a new 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission was optional. Still standard was the heavy-duty, full synchro-mesh; 3-speed manual transmission with Hurst shifter and the option of a 4-speed manual transmission with Hurst shifter was also available. A Safe-T-Track limited-slip differential was an option, as well as two other versions of yet, even more powerful 421-cid V8’s, with 356 hp or 376 hp depending on your desire. The latter was stated to achieve 0-60 mph in just 3.9 seconds (however, rumor has it that, this Poncho was specially tuned when tested).

For 1966 the Pontiac 2+2 (which was its own model for this year only and dropped the Catalina badging altogether) was not much different than the 1965 . The easily identified, 2+2 only, louvers or “gills” were now located in the rear quarter panels near the door’s trailing edge, the “2+2″ badging on the rear decklid and quarter panels, “421” badging on the front fenders and the dual-lens rear taillights were also an easy way to identify the 2+2. Still standard were chrome valve covers and air-filter housing, heavy-duty suspension components and a new bucket seat design. Engine and transmission choices remained the same as 1965 models, but a new-fangled, two-stage, low restriction exhaust system was standard, which used dual mufflers with dual resonators (which were located at the rear of the vehicle). Some of the other available options were front seat headrests, tachometer, Superlift air shocks and transistorized electronic ignition.

For 1967, the last year of the Pontiac Catalina 2+2, the vehicle received yet another, more significant facelift and body enhancements and was now only available with the 428-cid V8, with 4-barrel carburetor, producing some 360 hp as standard or a factory tuned 428-cid, Hi-Output V8 with Quadra-Power 4-barrel carburetor and tuned to produce about 376 hp. Some of the new body features were outboard; wedge shaped front fender tips and integral bumper and grille area, hidden wiper blades, a protruding beltline or mid-body crease running the length of the vehicle and dual lens, rear tail lights that curved downwards at each outer corner to meet the bumper. Unfortunately, due to lackluster sales, the 2+2 would become a dinosaur and not return after 1967, but would be a fabulous memory of the days when the largest, most behemoth Musclecars, roamed freely about and tore-up the pavements of the world.

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Touring Mexico in a Classic VW Beetle

Photo: Jorge

A travel operator is offering people the chance to see Mexico from the unique perspective of a classic VW Beetle.

While the Beetle was first built in the late 1930s, it was actually still in production in its vintage form until 2003 at factories in Mexico, which is why you can still sometimes find classic cars of this kind that are in pristine condition.

The tour operator’s Travelling Beetle service allows you to explore many different areas of Mexico, from the central spine of the country to the gorgeous coastlines.

At the moment, you will have to be able to handle a stick shift car in order to take part in a tour, although the operator is planning to source some automatic models for the 2013 season.

Twelve people can hire six cars for large group stints, although there are of course smaller packages for two or more people.

Spokesperson, Nicolas Caillens, said that he was aware that some people would be concerned about the safety of travelling on the roads of Mexico, but pointed out that the tour specifically avoided the small number of states in which drug-related violence is prevalent, giving tourists plenty of harmless fun behind the wheel.

Vehicle Profile: 1932 Ford 5-Window Coupe

1932 Ford 5 window Coupe

The 1932 Ford Coupe (more commonly known as the “Deuce Coupe”) is the epitome of the true, original American Hot Rod. The 1932 Ford Coupe is one of several 2-door models, of the new Model B series from Ford.  The car that started it all was born at the end of the Ford Model A run. It was a one-year model that transitioned the Model A series into the upgraded 1934 Ford model lineup (the 1934 and 1935 B models were significantly changed from the stand-alone 1932’s).

As our boys returned home from the theatre of WWII in the early 1940s, they found an outlet in hot rodding old cars (if you consider a 1932 “old” in the 40s).  They were expressing themselves with new energy, restlessness and maybe a bit of rebellion. The older cars to hot rod were readily available in large numbers and the 1932s were even more desirable than Model As, or even Model Ts, due to their more powerful Flathead V8 drivetrains (the Flathead V8s were actually marketed as the Model 18, in their day).

The 1932 Fords were produced in many variations of both 2 and 4-door models but the 2-door models seemed to make the best Hot Rods and Street Rods. There were also many different styles in which to modify these cars, like the Highboy, Lowboy, Lake, Bobbed, Gasser and Rat Rod, just to name a few. Each one became an individual expression of the owner’s (or creator’s) idea of what he thought a Hot Rod or Street Rod was meant to be.

There was a lot of part, component and drivetrain swapping going on and some people got very creative with fabrications.  Many businesses sprang up as a result of these early pioneers, builders and dreamers, and still exist to this day in what has become known as the enormous automotive aftermarket. In fact, many of the innovations born from the Hot Rodding and Street Rodding world, have been adopted by and installed on production vehicles from all the major automobile manufacturers in the world.  If it wasn’t for the early pioneers of the Hot Rodding and Street Rodding cultures, I doubt we would have all the beloved and prized muscle cars running around out there.