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: 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: 1968-1982 Chevrolet Corvette

1969 Chevrolet Corvette

The third generation Chevrolet Corvette (or C3, built from 1968 to 1982) went through many changes and technological advances during the 15 years of production. Even though the USA, and the rest of the world for that matter, was experiencing the first real fuel shortage crisis and facing continually restrictive EPA regulations throughout the entire series, the sales of the first true American Sportscar continued to increase by huge numbers.

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The C3 series was a toned-down version of the popular Mako Shark II concept vehicle,easily one of the most famous and recognizable concept/show cars of all time (designed by Bill Mitchell and his team at Chevrolet, including the young Larry Shinoda). The Mako Shark II, concept/show car, was first shown at the Motorama show in 1965 to rave reviews and was a newer version of the Mako Shark I from 1957. The “Stingray” fender scripts were used from 1969 through 1976. Even though everyone referred to all 1963 through 1982 Corvettes as Stingrays, the scripts were absent from all 1968 units and from 1977-1982.

There were two body styles of the newly-designed C3 Chevrolet Corvette, which included a convertible model with a hinged hard cover to conceal the top when in the down position and the T-Top model, which was the first dual-panel, removable roof design to debut in the U.S. marketplace. In fact, the T-Top model proved to be so popular, that the convertible models were discontinued altogether after the 1975 production year and would not return until 1986. The T-Top design was unique, and actually became a secondary design choice, mainly due to the creaks and groans (due to body-flex) produced by the initially designed, single-panel removable roof ( a design flaw the engineers could not seem to quiet). The chassis and engine offerings remained unchanged from the previous C2 series Corvettes and horsepower only diminished over the years, mainly due to strict EPA restrictions. The Big-Block engines were discontinued after 1974.

Of course, the usual upgrades to creature comforts (including leather seats and “cockpit” styled dashboard) and the technological advancements were continuously made over the years through the end of C3 production. The Corvette went through a period of metamorphosis from raw-powered, street and racetrack monster to more of a mild, yet sexy, boulevard cruiser. The horsepower rating of the final year (1982) of the C3 production run was a mere 200 hp. This meager horsepower rating actually increased over the previous years 190 hp rating. This was only due to the introduction of the first fuel injected (Chevrolet’s, Cross-Fire, electronic throttle-body system) Corvette since 1965. Keeping in mind, that in 1972 General Motors (and most other automobile manufacturers), changed to the SAE “Net” horsepower rating system, as opposed to the previously used SAE “Gross” horsepower rating system (270 hp gross = approximately 200 hp net). This resulted in lower, but more realistic horsepower ratings. This horsepower rating system is still in use today, as a global standard.

Some other highlights during the C3 production run, were the introduction of rubberized front and rear bumpers after the 1973 model (which actually had the new “rubber” nose, but retained the chrome rear bumperettes) to meet government safety standards for slow speed impact. There was also the addition of catalytic converters incorporated into all exhaust systems starting in 1975 which marked the end of a true dual exhaust system as we know it (thus,1974 was last year for true dual exhaust systems). This required the installation of steel floorboards, to replace the previous fiberglass units, due to the higher heat created by the catalytic converters. In 1978, the Corvette fastback styling returned, with an elongated, unopenable, rear glass area which included a larger storage area in the rear deck. The 1980 Corvettes, lighter in weight, introduced a more aerodynamically advanced body design which reduced wind drag and improved performance. In mid-year of 1981 the new Corvette specific production facility was finally ready, and all Corvette production was moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky where it remains to this day.

Zora Arkus-Duntov, also known as the “Father of the Corvette”, officially retired in 1975 and was replaced by Dave McLellan as Corvette’s Chief Engineer. However, Mr. Duntov would always be “unofficially” involved with the Corvette until his death in 1996. He remains the most influential figure of the first true American Sportscar in history. His unwavering input and support over the years, resulted in creating and refining the American icon that is the Chevrolet Corvette.

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Vehicle Profile: 1953 Hudson Super Wasp

1953 Hudson Wasp

The Hudson Motor Car Company, “Super Wasp” models, also known as the “Series 58″, were introduced as a new model for 1952 and carried on through 1956 (actually produced under the parent company, American Motors Corporation, in Kenosha, WI for 1955 and 56).

The Hudson “Super Wasp” models were differentiated from the base “Wasp” models by featuring upgraded interior designs and materials, a more powerful 262-cid, “L-Head”, in-line, six-cylinder engine with a single, two-barrel carburetor pushing around 127hp and a chromed, “air-vent” styled, hood ornamentation with special “Super Wasp” scripts added to the front fenders, trunk lid and glove-box door. Of course, they also featured the framework that made Hudson a famous marque of the times, with a chassis design way ahead of it’s time, the “Step-Down” or “Mono-Bilt” unitized construction process, in which the frame wrapped around the outside of the vehicle, just inside the outer body panels. This design added to the success of the Hudsons, mostly the Hornet models, on the racetracks and especially in the quickly emerging NASCAR racing circuit and was actually a safer design for the occupants of the vehicle in the unfortunate event of a crash.

Marshall Teague (one of the most famous tuners and race drivers for Hudson) became synonymous with Hudson performance in the 1950’s and Hudsons’ dominated much of the 1950’s racing events, winning 12 of 13 AAA events in 1952 an almost impossible feat, in itself, for a new-comer to the racing scene. Hudson cars/teams also won 27 of the 34 NASCAR Grand National races in 1952, 22 of 37 in 1953, and 17 of 37 in 1954. The Hudson Hornet proved to be nearly invincible in all of stock-car racing and many other events. Teague finished his 1952 AAA season with a 1000-point lead over his closest rival, winning those 12 of the 13 scheduled events.

History: (as provided by the knowledgeable staff at Daniel Schmitt & Co. Inc.) in The Hudson Wasp (Series 58) was introduced for the 1952 model year as an upgraded version of the Hudson Pacemaker, replacing the Hudson Super Custom models from 1951. The Wasp was available in two- and four-door sedan, convertible, and a 2-door hardtop designated the Hollywood. The Wasp was built on Hudson’s shorter 119-inch (3,023 mm) wheelbase using the company’s unitized, “mono-bilt” step-down chassis design with an overall length of 201.5 inches (5,118 mm). Hudson’s mono-built unitized structure used a perimeter frame which provided a rigid structure, low center of gravity and side-impact protection for passengers. Hudson automobiles remain highly regarded for their advancement of automotive design, particularly the innovative “Step Down” design, introduced on the 1948 Commodore. Unlike traditional body-on-frame construction, which forced passengers to climb up to enter their vehicles, Hudson designers placed the entire passenger compartment down inside the chassis, surrounded by a sturdy perimeter frame. Hudson recognized the marketing value of racing, and engineers including Vince Piggins, who went on to Chevrolet, developed a line of “severe usage parts” which transformed the robust Hornet into the definitive stock car of the early 1950s.

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Vehicle Profile: 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle

1968 Chevrolet Chevelle

The 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle “SS396″ was the only year that the Super Sport or SS was its own separate model which can be distinguished by a VIN# starting with a 138.  The only engine available in a 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS model was the 396-cid V8 (all with a varying type of 4-barrel carburetor), which came in only three forms . . . 325 hp, 350 hp or 375hp. This is what today’s ‘Internet Bible” (Wikipedia) says a Muscle Car is: “Muscle car is a term used to refer to a variety of high performance automobiles.” The Merriam-Webster definition is more limiting, “any of a group of American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving. The term generally refers to 2-door, rear-wheel drive, family-style, 4+ passenger mid-size cars (and, by some, full-size cars) equipped with large, powerful, V8s, and sold at an affordable price for mainly street use and sometimes both formal and informal drag racing.”

Well, I guess that sums it all up. Or does it? I wonder if the people who wrote those descriptions have ever really driven a true Muscle Car? And if so, would they not have mentioned the way in which your adrenalin starts to flow as soon as that fire-breathing V8 roars to life, sits there rumbling at idle like a nervous cat getting ready to pounce on its prey. And before the car ever moves even an inch, you can just hear, smell and feel the raw horsepower just waiting to be unleashed by the mere pressing of a small pedal on the floor? And what about when you sit in the seat, drivers or passengers, it makes no difference, and you are immediately pinned into that seat the moment you mash your foot into that accelerator pedal and release the clutch, which, in turn, breaks loose those big, oversized, rear tires and you conjure every muscle in your body just to try and pull yourself out of the upholstery long enough to bang the clutch to hit second gear, just as she starts drifting a bit sideways, you again, pull every shred of power you can muster and slam her into third gear, both rear wheels still spinning (because you have “posi-traction” of course) and that big V8 just screaming to be unleashed from it’s mounts and trying to twist itself right outta that frame, which at the moment, is doing all it can to merely control the beast and by now the smoke from the tires is so thick and engulfing the whole car that you can barely see where you’re headed, the look of horror on your unwitting passengers face is priceless (today those videos would go viral on youtube) and for a split second you even wonder . . . is she gonna grab traction and launch us like a slingshot into the future or am I gonna try to pull my foot off that small pedal on the right long enough to regain control before that cop pulls a u-turn and tries to catch up to me to give me another ticket for having far too much fun. As a good old friend of mine once said (and I am sure he stole it from somewhere) “It’s a much fun as a human-being can possibly have . . . with your clothes on!”

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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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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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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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.

Copperstate contingent returns with tales from the trails

A record 94 cars participated in the 23rd annual Copperstate 1000 vintage and sports car rally, which actually turned out to be the Copperstate 1111.1 this year with a route that included not only highways and byways in Arizona but a quick crossing of part the Mohave southeastern California and even a little slice of Nevada.

The drivers and co-drivers of each of those cars have stories to share from the route, though perhaps the most dramatic of those stories is shared by John and Peg Leshinski, and it may be a poignant tale for all of you who drive open-cockpit vintage cars.

This year, the Leshinskis did the drive in their 1952 Allard K-2, a car originally purchased by Al Unser Sr., who raced it up Pikes Peak and who later won the Indianapolis 500 four times.

Because the Allard not only has on open cockpit and only a pair of very small wind deflectors instead of windshield, John wanted Peg to be as comfortable and as protected as possible, so he decided they should wear period-correct helmets on the rally. He found a French company that makes just such helmets, and with clear and full-face wind visors.

“They looked like what Phil Hill wore,” he said in reference to the only native-born American ever to win the world Grand Prix driving championship, in 1961.

It was on the northbound stretch across the Mohave that the Leshinskis encountered a southbound semi, the cab and trailer creating so much turbulence that it sucked up the Allard’s hood, breaking the leather hood strap. The hood slammed back over the passenger compartment, smacking John and Peg in their heads, or, more accurately, in their helmets.

Peg compared the impact to be “hit by a railroad tie.”

Somehow, John got the car stopped safely, neither of them was injured, and with help from others who stopped to provide assistance, they removed what remained of the hood and continued on along the route.

It was interesting that John Leshinski brought up Phil Hill’s name, because Phil Hill’s son, Derek, was on the Copperstate this year, driving a 1962 Aston Martin DB4 owned by Chris Andrews.

Also on the rally were Michael and Katharina Leventhal and their 1953 Ferrari 340 MM Le Mans Spyder, which, it turns out, is the very same car in which Phil Hill did his first race in Europe.

On the second day of the Copperstate, the Leventhals invited Derek Hill to drive their car.

“That,” Hill said later, “was very special.”