Category archives: Features

Vehicle Profile: 1968-1969 Ford Torino

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In 1968, Ford Motor Company forged ahead with their intermediate sized (116-inch wheelbase) muscle car selections.  They added the Torino name to the upper end offerings of their redesigned Fairlane model lineup. The Fairlane badging was discontinued after 1970, when all models would be badged as Torino (with various option/package levels through 1976).

The new larger and heavier Ford Fairlane/Torino was available in a 2-door coupe, fastback (or SportsRoof as they called it) and convertible (very rare, due to minimal production numbers). It was also available as a 4-door sedan and a 4-door station wagon, which was the only model in the lineup which actually had a shorter (113-inch) wheelbase.

The 1968/69 Fairlane/Torino again had 4-headlamps. Two each, placed side-by-side, at each end of the recessed grille opening, as opposed to earlier models where they were stacked vertically on top of each other at either end of the grille area. Parking/turn signal lamps were located in the front fenders at each corner just above the chromed bumper and wrapped around to incorporate the side marker lamp as well (to keep in step with Federal mandates for side-marker lamps).  Similar to previous models, the taillights were a squared style with the backup lamp located across the center of each lamp (either vertically or horizontally, depending on specific model). Keeping with the advantages of vehicular rigidity, safety and lower production costs, the unitized construction style of build was used.

Engines ranged in displacement from 200-cid L6-cyl in base model Fairlanes and 302-cid V8 with 2-barrel carburetor in all base model Torino GTs, to late addition (April 1968) of a 428-cid V8 Cobra Jet big-block motor (with supposed underrated hp of 335) in the rarely seen Cobra Jet optioned models. Also available, in various models, were the 289-cid V8 with 2-barrel carburetor, 390-cid, V8 big-block with either 2 or 4-barrel carburetor and the even more rare (like ghostly rare) 427-cid V8 big-block. The 427-cid V8 big-block was an initial offering but no records of a car actually being produced with this engine seem to exist.

All Fairlanes/Torinos came standard with the 3-speed manual transmission, with an available 4-speed manual (which also had staggered rear shocks to help eliminate inherent wheel-hop, while performing burnouts) and C-6 “Cruise-O-Matic”, automatic transmissions as options. There was an exclusive, Torino GT only, handling-suspension option available which gave you heavy-duty springs, shocks and larger front sway bar. However, any V8-equipped model, could be ordered with a heavy-duty suspension which also gave you heavier springs and shocks. All cars came with drum brakes, but could be upgraded to front discs and even power assist. Suspension was carried over from previous models and had rear, solid-axle, dual semi-elliptical leaf springs, with independent front coil springs and upper/lower control arms.

On the interior front, we saw a new cockpit area with four cylindrical gauge openings placed in front of the driver.  The cockpit area included the fuel gauge and engine temperature warning lamp in the far left pod. The second pod had a 120 mph speedometer (situated directly above the steering column). The third pod had an “idiot” light for charging system and low oil pressure warning (also available was an optional tachometer) and the fourth pod was empty but would house the optional clock when ordered.

The more breathable “Comfortweave” upholstery was available in place of the standard vinyl upholstery. The Torinos came with color-coordinated carpets, additional interior trim and exterior enhancements (including fancy crests on the rear, side-roof areas). The Torino GTs came standard with bucket seats, center console, courtesy lamps on inside door panels, special badging and exterior trim and hub caps. The Torino GTs are quite rare in today’s market, as only 98,000 coupes and fastbacks were produced and only 5,300 convertibles for 1968.  This is due to several factors, including low production numbers, deterioration problems of sheet metal and chassis components and abnormally low resale values. The factors caused many units to end up in junkyards.

Few changes to the 1969 Fairlane/Torino were evident, but quite a few performance upgrades were made. Subtle changes were made to the grille area and the taillights were more squared looking. Two new Cobra specific models, a 2-door hardtop and a 2-door SportsRoof, were added to the lineup in 1969.  The Torino Talladega was added to specifically reach the NASCAR market and participate in races. It afforded Ford a total of 26 victories during the 1969 Grand National season and a total of 750 (including prototypes) of these were produced.

Ford’s Torino (which is Italian for Turin, a city in Italy) name was chosen because Turin has been compared to Detroit, MI, in respect to being an automobile manufacturing Mecca.

Find a classic Ford Torino that you love!

Vehicle Profile: Mercury “Lead Sled”

One of the most significant and easily recognized vehicles to emerge from the post WWII era of prosperity had to be the awesome looking 1949 Mercury, also known as the original “Lead Sled”! The coupe was the most sought after of the offerings, but the 4 door sedan, complete with “suicide rear doors” and even the convertible models weren’t too rough on the eyes either.

This car (built 49 to 51) was the dream of Ford’s, then design guru and styling chief, Bob Gregorie and his team. He fought hard against the “powers that be” at Ford management and its bean counters to gain approval to ready his cutting edge, factory customized behemoth and beloved brainchild for production.

When they constantly refused to have any part of it, mainly due to costs of bringing it to realization as a profitable production vehicle for the masses, he turned to the Mercury Division of FoMoCo and pitched his concept to them. Once gaining the approval of Mercury’s management and getting the green light for the project sometime in 1947, he pushed to have it ready for the 1949 year model production run. The beloved “Merc” was born!

His “dreamy design” was complete with styling cues he gleaned from some of the early west coast customizers of the time and included such things as a much lower, wider stance, longer sleeker lines, low roof lines, “fade-away” styled fenders and blended quarters, huge chrome grille and mammoth bumpers and actually, a car that looked fast just sitting still! He is many times credited with creating the first “factory customized” production vehicle and I for one am not going to dispute that credit.

Who can forget the Bob Hirohata ‘51’ Merc and the rage it created? A genuine original, which I believe, was the first fully customized (post-factory that is) “Merc” out there. This awesome looking monster of a vehicle was completed in 1952 by the artisans and craftsmen at the now infamous Barris Kustoms Garage in southern California! It still carries on thru time as one of the greatest, all-time, bad-ass lead sleds out there! This is definitely one car that I would love to own someday!

Click here to view all 1951 Mercury “Lead Sled’s” for sale on ClassicCars.com

The Classic Cars of Perry Mason

Decades before modern day Law and Order, Perry Mason ruled the TV court room and the roadways too. Airing from 1957 to 1966, the show followed a ruthless Los Angeles defense attorney commanding the court room with crafty cross-examinations, often revealing unexplored evidence and solving murder mysteries in his client’s favor during the proceedings. Perry was just as notable on the highway as he was in the courtroom. Perry and company drive from episode to episode in some of the most coveted classic cars in the collector’s world.

Although Perry drives a myriad of automobiles during the shows nearly ten year run time, he’s most often seen in classic Ford and General Motors models in the early episodes. Take a look back through time at some of Perry’s retro rides.

Cadillac Series 62
Throughout the first few years of the series, Perry seems to favor the Cadillac Series 62, which is no surprise considering General Motors was a major advertiser for the program and network. Perry cruises from crime scene to court room in the convertible model known for its unique tail design. He is seen in the 1957-1959 models most. The body featured iconic bullet shaped tail lights embedded in a fin shaped bumper, a departure from the more rounded shape of prior models.

The Cadillac Series 62 was a fairly diverse model. It was available as a 2-door and a 4-door, and also as a coupe model. Production of the Series 62 continued into the mid 1960’s, until it was eventually replaced by the Cadillac Calais.

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A 1958 Cadillac Series 62 featured in Perry Mason

Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner
Perry also favored the Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner. Produced from 1957 to 1959, the Skyliner might seem like a standard convertible to the laymen. But classic car lovers can agree that the Skyliner was an innovative model for the 1950’s: featuring a unique a retractable hardtop, the first of its kind at the time of production. Perry is seen in the model both at work and at play. He is seen driving around town with the top up, and charming ladies on night time cruises with the top down.

The retractable roof fueled sales for the only three years of production. But aside from the novelty of the roof, consumers were relatively unimpressed with the build and performance compared to other Ford models of the time. Especially because of the price. The Fairlane 500 Skyliner was priced a lofty $400-$500 above similar convertible models. Production plummeted from over 20,000 models in 1957, to a little over 12,000 in 1959. But because of the unique hardtop function, it’s still a favorite for classic car collectors.

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A Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner featured in Perry Mason

Check out more of Perry Mason’s favorite cars at the internet movie cars database.

Vehicle Profile: Black Panther Camaro

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While Ford was fighting off the early successes of the Chevrolet Corvair and Chevy II with their introduction of the Mustang in August of 1964, GM began work on a counter-punch experimental project named XP-836. The XP-836 project directly targeted the Ford Mustang mystique and the new youth market that emerged from almost nowhere in the eyes of GM marketers. The surprising popularly of Ford’s Mustang framed the XP-836 project from the very start and incorporated the “Mustang formula” in the early years of production.

In the winter of 1965, the XP-836 project turned out a prototype car based on some cobbled-up Chevy IIs. While crude, the new Chevrolet was shaping up to run well along side Ford’s Pony car. Now named the “Panther”, the project and the proto-types were written about in great length by the automotive press with all the excitement of a pending rivalry with the Mustang.

img-article-1Given a name that the public could latch onto, the “Panther” was quickly being promoted as GM’s Mustang-fighter. Sometimes called “Chevy’s Mustang” the “Panther” evolved conceptually using much of the Mustang marketing formula.

Now branded with the “Panther” script and leaping-cat emblems similar to that used by Jaguar, the proto-types advanced with an outward confidence that Chevrolet’s sleek new cat would be chasing down the Mustang. By early 1966, Ralph Nader was doing a hatchet job on the Corvair, and GM management sought to tone-down the image of their new car in hopes of not drawing the attention of safety crusaders with the aggressive “Panther” name.

Seeking a “clammier” image for the new car, the marketing department looked to their current line of Chevrolet monikers, the Corvair, Corvette, Chevelle, and Chevy II for inspiration. Desiring another “C” name brand, merchandising manager Bob Lund and GM Car & Truck Group vice-president Ed Rollert poured through French and Spanish dictionaries and came up with “Camaro”. Meaning, “warm friend”, the new name offered GM an excellent label to compliment the current Chevrolet line and introduce their new car with a much tamer image. Though the “Camaro” name was replacing the various project names the car had been developed under, outside the company some controversy over the meaning of the new name was causing a potential image problem for the new car. In an unprecedented national conference call with some 200 journalists, GM released the ” warm & friendly” Camaro name to the public ahead of the cars introduction to dealer showrooms. The effort was successful in quashing any “image killing” interpretations of the new Camaro moniker.

In 1967, amidst the phenomenal success of the Ford Mustang, General Motors pulled off a sensational introduction of the Chevrolet Camaro by delivering over 212,000 units to dealer showrooms that year. Keeping in fashion with the Mustang formula, the Camaro was offered with a laundry list of options at both the factory and dealer level. Camaro customers could custom build their own car with a host of options previously only available on Chevrolet’s higher-line models.

Desiring the same custom performance treatments being offered by Shelby America for the Mustang, Camaro enthusiasts looked to the dealerships in hopes of finding these performance options. Happily, the folks at Toronto-based Gorries Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealership answered the call to incorporate their race knowledge into the new Camaro. The result was the “Black Panther” Camaro.

Vehicle Profiles: Jeep Willys

1946 Jeep Willys

The versatile “JEEP” (or was it “GP”, short for general purpose vehicle or maybe even a nickname borrowed from Popeye’s sidekick of the same era), was the nickname given for the launch of the 4X4 vehicle which was designed and built by several of the WWII era automobile manufacturers of the time.  A venerable little vehicle, requested by the U.S. military leaders of the time, specifically for the troops to use during WWII. Dwight D. Eisenhower once said “it was one of three decisive weapons the U.S. had during WWII”, which he also credited with being a big part of the allied victory as a whole. In fact, even the Russians were so inspired by the useful small vehicle that they designed several variations of it shortly after the war, as did many other countries and manufacturers worldwide. No other vehicle in history has spawned so many descendants than, the little “Jeep” that could, of WWII history.

As convoluted a story as to who really gave it, its true beginnings, is the origin of the name JEEP. Several versions of where the now infamous name came from, range from a cartoon character named Popeye, who had a strange, yet clever little sidekick named Eugene the Jeep, who was small, jungle like, character who could maneuver quickly about and had the ability to solve the most difficult problems with ease. Or, possibly from sound of the U.S. Military designation of “GP”, which referred to general purpose or government purposes use. Or, was it the slang term, “Jeep”, which was commonly used by soldiers for any untried or untested piece of personnel or equipment, such as a new recruit, a new weapon or new field gear, etc. Whatever it was, it stuck and history has been made ever since the introduction of the 4WD “Jeep”. The world over has also recognized it as a symbol of rugged individualism, born by necessity, in the good old U.S. of A.

Back in July of 1940, the war in Europe was well under way when, the U.S. Army reached out to some 135 U.S. automobile manufacturers and challenged them to create, design and build a vehicle to some pretty daunting specifications. It had to be four wheel drive, be able to carry a crew of three, have a wheelbase of 75 inches (this was later changed to 80 inches) and a width (or track) of 47 inches, powered by an engine of at least 85 ft.lbf. of torque, have a fold-down windshield and able to carry a payload of at least 660 pounds.  Also requested, and possibly the most difficult criteria to meet, was the empty G.V.W. of 1,300 pounds.  Only three of the 135 companies felt they were up to this challenge and supplied bids to the U.S./ Army, they were Willys-Overland Motors, Ford Motor Company and American Bantam Car Company. Even though Bantam won the bid, all three companies actually manufactured their similar, yet individual designs of the vehicle for the Army, mainly due to the quantities they demanded and the extremely short time-frame in which they required finished products, in order to supply our troops and allies overseas.

By July of 1941, however, the U.S. War Department had decided to standardize the vehicle for ease of production, logistics and mainly for parts replacement out in the field. They ultimately chose the Willys model “MA” (Military Model A, mainly due to it’s more powerful 60 hp, 105 ft.lbf., “Go-Devil” engine) but had them incorporate the best design features of the three manufacturers into one new model, which they designated as the “MB” (for Military Model B). The rest, as they say, is history and over 647,000 of these “JEEP” type vehicles were produced during WWII by the three different companies. Most every 4WD vehicle of today can credit the innovations and versatility of the “JEEP” for their existence. And that’s the way we do it here in the good old U.S. of A.

Find a classic Jeep Willys that you love!

Vehicle Profile: Shelby GT500: Mustang at Full Gallop

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The Shelby GT500 more than lives up to its name.

Let’s start with its first name: Shelby. As in Carroll Shelby. As in bib overall-wearing, chili-cooking, Le Mans race-winning, Ford GT40 team-managing, Shelby Cobra-creating, Corvette-beating, Ferrari-beating, Viper-inspiring, Ford GT- godfathering, heart transplant-receiving, Barrett-Jackson auction feeding frenzy-causing Carroll Shelby himself.

Though the Shelby GT500 is built in a Ford Motor Company assembly plant and is not tweaked in Shelby’s own shop, Shelby was involved in the vehicle’s design and development and this pony deserves the Shelby name that’s branded across its rear flanks. Even Ford engineers will tell you that the reason this pony puts its power to the pavement is because of Shelby’s personal involvement in the project. In fact, the only place on the car where it says “Ford” is on the faux 1960s-style gas cap mounted between the rear tail lamps.

Middle name: GT. As in Ford Mustang GT, which is the donor chassis for this car. Though like Shelby himself, this chassis has undergone a heart transplant, which in the case of the car meant inserting a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 engine where the normally aspirated 4.6-liter V8 would have gone.

And now for the 500. As in five hundred horsepower! That’s right. This Shelbyized and supercharged version of the Mustang GT pumps out 200 more horsepower than the standard breed of this pony car platform.

And that’s not all. The Shelby GT500 also is equipped with 14-inch Brembo brakes – basically the same setup as the 200-mph Ford GT supercar – as well as track-tuned suspension pieces, some altered steering gear, traction control, a special front fascia, larger radiator, intercooler, front “splitter” and larger rear wing, white Le Mans stripes, 18-inch wheels with asymmetric tires – the rears put more rubber on the road so those 500 horses can be used more effectively.

There are changes to the interior, too, most notably — at least for driving enthusiasts — the swap of the locations of the speedometer and tachometer, so you can hold the wheel with your left hand and shift with your right and still see the tach.

Audio enthusiasts also will be delighted because the car comes with a 500-watt “Shaker” system with six-CD player and MP3 jack.

Oh, yes, the Shelby GT500 also comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. If you can’t drive a stick, you can’t drive this car. And this definitely is a car that enthusiasts will want to drive.

Although I have to admit, just driving it around town and cruising down the highway, I wondered if the car really did have 500 horsepower to offer. Why, I averaged 17 miles per gallon overall and was getting 21 on the highway.

Trust me, this car really does make 500 horsepower, and you feel it when you downshift to pass, or when you come off the line like a lightning bolt.

Work on the Shelby GT500 was done by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (many of the same people who had just finished crafting the Ford GT supercar), with Shelby participating in the design and engineering tweaks. Much of the on-track testing was done on the road course and drag strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Shelby’s shops are located.

Shelby himself took part in regular test drives and debriefs.

Shelby, of course, was responsible for the famed GT350 and GT500 Mustangs of the 1960s. The Shelby GT500 celebrates the 40th anniversary of those cars and marks his reunion with Ford, a reunion that also results in the Shelby GT and Shelby GT-H and soon will result in the beginning of production of the Shelby GT500KR, the King of the Road version of the GT500.

The Shelby GT, GT-H and KR all are or will be modified within Shelby’s own facility, and all are or will be available in limited numbers. On the other hand, the Shelby GT500 is produced in the same factory that builds all new Mustangs, and thus some 10,000 copies are available for the 2007 model year, with around 9000 planned for 2008 and another 9000 for 2009.

The car can be as docile to drive as a base Mustang V6, or as delightful as you’d expect a 500-horsepower pony car to be.

One thing I really liked about the car was that on those occasions when you’re simply cruising around town, you never have to worry about the stupid first-to-fourth transmission lockout that comes with another manually shifted American icon, the Chevrolet Corvette.

Another thing about the car that I appreciated was its seats, nicely bolstered for ripping around an autocross course but also very comfortable for long periods of freeway driving.

The rear seatback is split so either side or both can be folded down to expand the cargo floor. But even with the seat in its upright and locked position, the trunk has plenty of room for a couple of suitcases. Sure, no adult is ever going to want to sit in that back seat, but it’s there if you have children, pets or simply need a place to put a briefcase or gym bag.

Base price on the Shelby GT500 is in the low $40,000-range. Even with the unconscionable markup dealers are getting, this 500-horsepower pony represents a real bargain compared to the more than $69K it takes to get a 505-hp Corvette Z06 or the more than 80 grand it costs for a 510-hp Dodge Viper.

And did I mention that it lives up to its first, middle and last names?