Category archives: Vehicle Profiles

Vehicle Profile: Chevrolet Camaro

Chevrolet Camaro

Sometime during April of 1965, long before any official announcement was made by General Motors’ Chevrolet Division, reports had begun circulating that Chevrolet was preparing to build a vehicle code-named “Panther” in the newly identified Pony/Musclecar category. This mysterious new vehicle was intended to compete directly with the highly successful Ford Mustang. The Ford Mustang was introduced in late 1964, as a “new for” 1965 model, and received rave reviews and huge sales numbers. Not to be outdone . . . GM had an ace up their sleeve to face this Ford rival, head on.

Chevrolet sent the first of two telegrams to 200+ automotive journalists on June 21, 1966, announcing their plans for the “Panther”, using very mysterious language. The first telegram read something to the effect of: “Please save noon of June 28, 1966 for important S.E.P.A.W. meeting. Hope you can be on hand to help. Details will follow .” The telegram was signed by John L. Cutter, Chevrolet Public Relations and S.E.P.A.W. Secretary. On the following day, the same group of journalists received another telegram to the effect of: “Society for the Eradication of Panthers from the Automotive World will hold first and last meeting on June 28. The (insert city name here) chapter will meet at (insert hotel name here) joining in a national 14 city live telephone conference with Detroit based , Chevrolet General Manager, E. M. “Pete” Estes. Please R.S.V.P. by telephone, etc….”.  This second telegram was also signed by John L. Cutter. Both of the telegrams left many automotive journalists puzzled at the time because none of them had ever heard of S.E.P.A.W. before the two telegrams were sent.

By June 28th, the industry was buzzing with anticipation and excitement about this big, strange meeting. Chevrolet’s General Manager, Pete Estes, would have some fun with this secretive game and make the announcement himself. Now, back in 1966, they used quite a cutting edge means of reaching more people collectively, in the Automotive Journalism society, than ever before possible. Rather than forcing all the 200+ journalists to make a trip to Detroit, GM utilized a new technological advancement by the Bell Telephone Company called two-way conference calling. It was the first time in history that 14 cities were connected together in real time for a press conference via telephone.

After a brief speech about how well things were going for General Motors and how they intended to remain the number one automotive manufacturer in the USA, Mr. Estes then said “Oh yes! I almost forgot! The purpose of this meeting! . . . Gentlemen, as much as we appreciate the tremendous publicity given “Panther” we ask you to help scratch the cat once and forever. And as such, this will be both the FIRST and the LAST meeting of S.E.P.A.W.! Chevrolet has chosen a name which is lithe, graceful, and in keeping with our other car names beginning with the letter “C”, it suggests the comradeship of good friends, as a personal car should be to its owner! Above all, it is the name of our new car line to be introduced on September 29, 1966! To us, at GM, the name means just what we think the car will do . . . GO! ….and here it is!”

At that moment, five beautiful girls came onto the stage, each holding a letter, while Mr. Estes held the sixth letter. While a narrator described to the out-of-towners, that could not see what was going on, Mr. Estes placed each girl in order and then lined up with them for all to see the word CAMARO. There was excitement and amazement and yet many were still puzzled at what it meant and what exactly was a CAMARO? The Product Managers, who fielded the many questions after the announcement about this peculiar, yet immediately likable name, only said (as smug as possible), it is “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs”.

And so, later that year, on Sept. 12, 1966 in Detroit, MI, the new Camaro was unveiled to rave reviews and an eagerly awaiting public hungry for their own GM produced pony/musclecar. And, as stated at the mysterious meeting back in June, the cars were available at Chevrolet Dealerships across the country on or about Sept. 29,1966.

Alrighty then… now for some details about the First Generation (1967 to 1969) Camaro or F-Body (a platform also shared with the new Pontiac Firebird) which was a built on a front-engined, rear-wheel drive platform and only available as a 2-door coupe or convertible. A wide variety of engines were available, ranging from the 230-cid L6 to the ultra rare optioned ZL1 (only 69 were ever made and only for the 1969 year model), drag-race ready, aluminum block 427-cid, big-block V8, or COPO 9560 (Central Office Production Orders) package, which added over $4,000 to the sticker price, which was a lot of money back then. But oh, what fun it must have been to stuff your foot into that one. There were actually over a dozen (14) different engines available during the first three years of Camaro production and some were only available to a choice few specifically for racing purposes.

Some of the available options, such as the RS, was an appearance package that included hidden headlights, revised taillights, RS badging, and exterior rocker trim. The SS, which included a 350-cid V8 engine or the optional L35 and L78 396-cid big-block V8 was also available in SS package. The SS also featured non-functional air inlets on the hood, special striping and SS badging on the grille, front fenders, gas cap, and horn button.  It was even possible to order both the SS and RS packages together to make a Camaro RS/SS. In 1967, a Camaro RS/SS convertible with a 396-cid V8 engine, paced the Indianapolis 500.

The Z28 option code which was introduced in December 1966 for the 1967 model year was the brainchild of Vince Piggins. He conceived offering a virtually race-ready Camaro which could be offered for sale from any Chevrolet dealer. This option package was not mentioned in any sales literature, so it was unknown to most buyers and dealers for that matter. The Z28 option required power front disc brakes and a Muncie 4-speed manual transmission be installed on these models. It also featured a 302-cid small-block V8 engine, an aluminum intake manifold, and a 4-barrel, vacuum-secondary Holley carburetor. Only 602 Z28s were sold in 1967, along with approximately 100 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Replicas. The origin of the Z28 nameplate came from the RPO (Regular Production Option) codes – RPO Z27 was for the Super Sport package, and RPO Z28, at the time, was the code for a Special Performance Package intended to compete in the Trans Am racing series of the day. Many Camaro’s are raced, and very successfully I might add, in various forms and venues all over the world to this day.

There have been five generations in the life of the Camaro, with a brief hiatus in production from 2003 to 2009, with the awesome, retro-looking fifth generation Camaro making it’s debut in 2010. During the First Generation production run from 1967 to 1969, a total of 699,538 Camaros were made. You know what that means . . . there is a good chance that your favorite model, options and color are still out there and available for purchase .

Oh, hey, did I ever answer the question of the meaning of the Camaro name? When pressed for an answer, over a year later (sometime in 1967), as to how he came up with the name Camaro (which actually means friend, pal or comrade) from a list of over 2,000 words of which to choose, Mr. Estes laughed and casually admitted, “I locked myself in a closet and came back out with Camaro”!

Vehicle Profile: The Scarab

1958 Scarab

One of the most successful, purpose-built race cars in American history has to be the legendary, Reventlow Automobile’s Scarab.  Named America’s Finest Sports Car by the influential “Road and Track” magazine, this beautifully sculpted, aluminum bodied race car was born in the mind of an amazingly talented young man named Count Lawrence Graf von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow (or Lance Reventlow, as he preferred to be known).

Born in 1936, he was the only child of Danish nobleman Count Kurt von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow and American socialite Barbara Hutton. He was born at Winfield House in London, which was built by his mother and named for her grandfather Frank Winfield Woolworth who created immense wealth with his chain of stores by the name of F.W. Woolworth’s Five and Dime. His parents’ marriage was a tumultuous one, filled with his father’s emotional and physical abuse of both Lance and his mother, along with his mother’s growing alcohol and drug addiction.

Barbara Hutton, who had inherited the Woolworth department store fortune and was also the daughter of the extremely successful Franklin Laws Hutton of E.F. Hutton fame, was then one of the wealthiest women in the world. The marriage to the Count, Barbara Hutton’s second of seven, did not last and young Lance became the subject of a bitter custody battle. Left to be raised by nannies and boarding schools, Lance Reventlow was six years old when his mother married the world-famous actor, Cary Grant, who took the already troubled boy under his wing. Reventlow’s mother and Grant, unfortunately, divorced on July 11, 1945 and two days later the then nine-year-old was abducted by his biological father and taken to Canada but later returned. Grant remained close to Reventlow, who spent a great deal of time in the Los Angeles area. In fact, by the age of 30, Lance’s mother had been married and divorced a total of seven times.

Given his tumultuous upbringing and fortunate, young Lance had a love for all things mechanical and especially fast cars, racing and airplanes. On a trip to Europe in 1957, with his friend Bruce Kessler, they enjoyed touring all the race venues, renting race cars and even entering a few events. They visited all the top European race factories, including the very successful Cunningham Team’s Lister-Jaguar headquarters. Lance, then 21 years old, saw nothing they were doing in Europe, that couldn’t be done back home in the USA. So he decided to get back to California and start his own racing company. Upon his return home, he immediately set up his company, Reventlow Automobiles, in (Venice) North Hollywood, CA and told his chief mechanic and good friend, Warren Olson, to hire a Dream Team of the best designers and builders of the time to create the race car he had envisioned in his mind, specifically with the idea to beat the big boys from Europe at their own game.

His team, which included the likes of former Kurtis fabricators Dick Troutman and Tom Barnes and engine guru’s Jim Travers and Frank Coon, who would later form TRACO. Lance also called on the help of legendary racer and designer Ken Miles to design the chassis. The final piece of the puzzle was Chuck Daigh, who was hired as both a driver and drivetrain specialist. Lance had one big advantage over the European sourced competition . . . he could build a car specifically for American style stop and go racetracks, which were quite different than their much faster European counterparts.

With this in mind, he asked for a race car that was compact, lightweight and above all, able to put its power to the ground very well. Inspired by the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, Ken Miles penned a design for a space-aged frame with enough room for Olson and his men to make their own mechanical design interpretations. The suspension was equally advanced with double wishbones at the front and DeDion axle at the rear. Making an American built race car meant he had to make a compromise and use drum brakes instead of the superior British disc brake systems. The only inconsistency, or non-American component, was the Morris sourced rack-and-pinion steering gear.

The very American Corvette V8 formed the basis for the Scarab’s powerplant. Although by the time Travers and Coon were done with the engine, it was a very different beast altogether. The first order of business was to increase displacement from the original 4.6L (283 c.i.) to 5.5L (339 c.i.) by boring and stroking the little V8. The enlarged displacement engine was even equipped with the advanced-design Hilborn FI unit and the intake manifold sported eight very stylish intake trumpets splayed at all different angles. With all these modifications in place, the V8 was good for anywhere between 360 and 385 bhp, most of which was available from very low rpm’s. The engine was then mated to a Borg-Warner 4-speed gearbox, which had a lightweight aluminum casing. An amazingly curvaceous, aluminum body was styled by then 19-year old Art Center school student Chuck Pelly, which rounded off the sexy package. The completed machine weighed in at a very competitive 1,900 pounds.

The very first prototype, dubbed the MK1, rolled out of the garage early in 1958, incredibly, only a few short months after the team had been assembled and was named Scarab. The name, chosen by Lance himself, was in reference to the Scarab dung beetle of Egypt, which was considered sacred in ancient times. Although not immediately successful, by June of 1958 and for many years after, the Scarabs dominated the racing world and even beat the previously dominant European teams, here in the USA, at some of the most famous venues and exciting races of all time. Scarabs were successfully piloted over the following years by such greats as Carroll Shelby and Augie Pabst (When Lance exited the racing scene in 1962, he leased his facility to Mr. Shelby).

Tragedy surrounded Lance much of his young life and early in his career.  He had became close friends with fellow auto enthusiast and promising actor, James Dean. They even competed in club events all around California and on September 30, 1955 Lance was one of the last people to speak to Dean, when they met on their way to an auto race in Salinas CA. Dean was killed a few hours later in his racing Porsche 550 Spyder.

In 1964, Lance married ex-Mouseketeer, Cheryl Holdridge, who was introduced to him by close friend, singer Jimmy Boyd. The couple managed to remain out of the glare of publicity for several years and attempted to carry on a somewhat normal life. An avid Alpine skier, hiker, sailor and pilot, Lance and his wife,Cheryl, maintained a home in Aspen, CO. It was there, in 1972, while looking at an area to build a ski resort with real estate brokers and an inexperienced young pilot, Lance’s promising young life of only 36 years, would be cut short. According to the NTSB report, Lance was a passenger in a Cessna 206 and unknown to him (Lance was a fully rated instrument, multi engine, commercial pilot with thousands of hours under his belt) the Cessna’s pilot was an inexperienced 27-year-old student who flew into a blind canyon and stalled the aircraft while trying to turn it around. The small plane plunged to the ground, killing Lance Reventlow and all others aboard.

Stay tuned to see “Part 2″, the future of the awesome Scarab automobile…..

Vehicle Profile: The Scarab – Part 2

Thanks to the efforts, admiration, fond memories and sheer determination of Mr. Richard Kitzmiller, president and founder of Kansas based Scarab Motorsports, LLC, (www.scarab-motorsports.com) the amazingly successful, Holy Grail of America Racing History and the original 1958 creation of young Lance Reventlow has been born again. He wanted to remain as close to the original design as possible (by making only a few safety and structural upgrades) in order to honor and maintain the integrity and historical significance of a true legend, which had been created by the vehicle’s designers some 50 years ago.

Mr. Kitzmiller, as Lance had done, assembled a group of rabid motorsports enthusiasts, engineers and designers. They collaborated to re-create, from the original specifications, a modernized continuation line of Scarab front engined race cars for your enjoyment on the street or track. He successfully revived, in true form, the very cars that dominated the racing world, tracks and teams of their hey-day.

Every aspect of the original masterpiece has been painstakingly re-created with only a few modernization updates. These minor updates (which are actually major when compared to the antiquated components used on the originals), are mainly for structural and safety reasons, as well as to utilize current technology. They are, however, difficult to detect from the original by the average admirer, but are easy to spot by a trained professional or a concours judge. These continuation Scarabs are built to exacting specifications and include a strong foundation consisting of a hand-built, tig-welded 4130 Chrom-Moly tube frame, Corvette C-6 uprights and hubs, fitted with custom upper and lower control arms, Wilwood 4-piston calipers and 12.19 inch brake discs front and rear, with a Winters Quick-Change rear differential (very similar to the original used, but much more serviceable) and independent rear suspension.

This re-creation of a legend, features a beautifully hand crafted, curvaceous body, in right or left hand drive configuration, using the most durable aircraft aluminum by skilled artisans of metallurgy in Poland and then shipped to the USA for assembly to the completed, rolling chassis. It also comes with a variety of options including leather interior, roll bar, tire upgrades, custom paint selections, and much more, up to and including a period correct Hilborn FI system. This allows you to personally design the updated Scarab most suited to your individual needs, with all the visual beauty of the original car.

The continuation SCV (Scarab Component Vehicle) from Scarab Motorsports, LLC, is offered as a rolling chassis that does not include an engine, transmission, drive shaft, exhaust system, or battery. The rolling chassis does include standard paint in a choice of two blues with traditional white scallop. Because there are many choices in the powertrain department for your Scarab, they leave that up to the individual to decide upon how they intend to use the vehicle. Many options to complete your personalized Scarab are offered by the company. By exotic car measures, the new Scarab is comparably affordable and considering the fine details, hand-craftsmanship and high-quality components included, you really get a lot for your money.

So, If you want to own a real piece of racing history for yourself, your family and your friends to enjoy and admire, or if you just want to regain your youth and enter the SVRA Racing circuit, there is no better time, nor more exciting vehicle, than the new Scarab.

Vehicle Profile: 1955 Ford Thunderbird

1955FordThunderbird

Henry Ford II’s answer to the successful launch of the Chevrolet Corvette in 1953, came in 1955 as the Ford Thunderbird (1st generation, 55 through 57 T-Bird). Backtrack a couple of short years…. after a visit to Europe in the early 50’s, Henry Ford II decided he wanted to build a 2-seater, convertible sportscar for the American public. He had also heard rumors, to the effect, that Chevrolet was working on a similar sporty concept vehicle made of a new lightweight material and so, he was further inspired to push his designers to come up with a competitive vehicle. He sought out and commissioned Vince Gardner, formerly a top designer with Cord Automobiles, to design a lightweight, 2-seat roadster for the Ford Motor Company. The result was a beautiful, yet European-looking vehicle named the Vega (also, ironically, a name used later on by Chevrolet for one of its models).

The Vega, completed in 1953, ended up a one-off, aluminum bodied, 2-seat sportscar with many styling characteristics borrowed from the Cord/Auburn automobiles including hide-away headlamps incorporated into the front fenders. Unfortunately, it proved to be much too costly to put into production and besides, Mr. Ford was looking for something more modern and American in the style department. So, back to the drawing board and a team of FoMoCo designers came up with the Thunderbird, so named, after a mythical “Bird of Prey”. Oh, and the Vega sat in the Ford Rotunda Exhibition Center for many years in Dearborn, MI, until it was eventually sold at the 2006 Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction in Scottsdale, AZ for $385,000.

The excitingly new Ford Thunderbird was quickly pushed into production and by October 1954, they began to arrive in dealerships across the country, thus, the 1955 T-Bird was born. Although inspired by and built to compete directly with the Corvette, Ford maintained that it was more a personal luxury vehicle and not just a sportscar. This must have appealed to the public, as in 1955, Ford sold a whopping 16,155 units, against the Corvette’s 700 units for the same year. Complete with its non-functional, yet stylish, hood scoop and front fender vents and borrowing many other characteristics from its Ford siblings of the era; it really took off. One of the few changes for 1956 was the addition of an extended rear bumper area to accommodate a continental kit spare tire arrangement intended to improve trunk capacity. This, however, was dropped in 1957, as it created undesirable steering issues due to the added length and weight in the rear of the vehicle.

During the entire 50 year run of the fabulous T-Bird, 1955 to 2005 (with a brief hiatus from 1998-2001), over 4.4 million units were produced. In fact, one famous racing T-Bird, driven by Bill Elliott, still holds the fastest lap speed record of 212.809 mph in a 1987 NASCAR version of the vehicle, at the Talladega SuperSpeedway . . . A record that has yet to be broken to this day.

Vehicle Profile: Volkswagen Beetle

1961 Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle

The Volkswagen “Type 1″, more affectionately (and certainly more descriptively), referred to as the “Beetle” or “Bug”, was first introduced to the American public in 1949. It was 1933 and the demand of Germany’s leader (yes, Der Furher, Hitler himself), that Germany build a state-sponsored “People’s Car” or Volkswagen. He put together his idea of what the vehicle should be capable of and how much it should cost, so the average German citizen could afford it. In fact, a “Stamp-Book” savings program called, “Five Marks a week you must save . . . if to drive your own car you crave”, which some 336,000 Europeans bought into. He wanted a vehicle that would easily carry two adults and three children at a speed of 100km/hr (approx. 62mph) and cost around 990 Reichsmark (roughly the price of a small motorcycle at the time). A tough task to achieve, many designers and manufacturers would try and fail.

Dr. Ferdinand Porsche was chosen (sometime in 1933 or 1934) as the Chief Engineer of the project and began working on the design immediately. He had in his mind the idea of a vehicle which he had been working on (for several years prior) in his own design studio. By 1938, a factory was set up near the new town of KdF-Stadt (the name was later changed to Wolfsburg), which was actually a purpose-built town, specifically for the workers and their families to live.

Prototypes of the vehicle surfaced as early as 1936 and were built at the time, in a plant in Stuttgart, Germany. Erwin Komenda, the former Chief Designer for Auto Union (now Audi), was in charge of the body design and actually used an innovative device, called a “Wind Tunnel”, to make the car aerodynamically efficient for optimum fuel economy. Unfortunately, by the time WWII started in 1939, they had only produced a handful of units, none of which were delivered to the Stamp-Book holders. Then, by orders of Hitler, all manufacturing was changed to military production to support the war efforts. However, a year earlier, they were able to present a completed “Cabriolet” to Hitler on April 20, 1938 (in celebration of his 49th birthday).

Several military versions of the distinctive round-shaped body, with the flat four-cylinder, air-cooled, rear-mounted engine and rear wheel drive were produced at the new factory in Stuttgart during the war. Just before the war ended, sometime in April of 1945, the U.S. Forces had captured the area of KdF-Stadt (renamed Wolfsburg shortly after the war) and its heavily bombed factories.

After the war, the U.S. handed it over to the British who were in control of the “occupation zone” were it was located. British Army Officer, Ivan Hirst, is considered almost solely responsible for the survival of the vehicle in the post-war era. He took one of the vehicles and painted it green (instead of the German military tan) and presented it to the British Army officials and suggested they use them for “light transport” vehicles. They were persuaded it was a good idea and placed an immediate “vital-order” for 20,000 units to be built. The first several hundred units, produced in the still severely damaged factory, went to the German Post Office and personnel of the occupying forces.

By 1955, they had produced the first million Volkswagen Beetles (Type 1’s). Quite a feat, all things considered.  Shortly after the war had ended, several automotive manufacturers from the U.S.A., Britain and France had been offered the company and its facilities, but all declined, with most stating that the little car would never sell or be popular in their markets and some even stated it was not only too ugly, but too noisy.

In fact, Henry Ford II said what they are trying to give us “is not worth a damn!”!  Major Hirst, who had fiercely protected the little car and its factory since the end of the war, would hand over control of its operation to Heinrich “Heinz” Nordhoff, a former senior manager at Opel Ag. He would run the company, keeping the “one-model” policy in effect, until shortly before his death in 1968 (there being only two successful diversions from that policy . . . the introduction in 1950 of the Type 2 van, camper and pickup models also known as the “Transporter and Microbus” and the 1955 introduction of the Karmann Ghia sportscar). In 1949, the company had been reformed as a trust and was controlled by the new West German government and the government of the State of Lower Saxony.

It wouldn’t be until August of 1967, that the Volkswagen parent company would refer to the Type 1 as a “Beetle” in their own marketing materials for the U.S.A. Worldwide production of the original air-cooled, Type 1 was over 21.5 million units making it the longest-running and most continually produced vehicle of the same design-style platform in history; eventually, surpassing the long-held record by the Ford Model T. The beloved little Beetle was sold in the U.S. through 1980 and was manufactured and sold in other areas of the world through July of 2003. The last air-cooled Beetle to be made was rolled out of the plant in Puebla, Mexico on July 30, 2003. The Beetle went through several minor transformations and upgrades, yet basically remained the same until the end of its run.

In an international poll, conducted in 1999, for the most influential car of the 20th Century, the Volkswagen Beetle came in fourth after the Ford Model T, The British “Mini” and the Citroen “DS”. The Beetle was and still is, famous today for many types of racing and even has special classes and races held in its honor. It is especially suited for the grueling Baja desert events due to its famous air-cooled reliability and great traction. The Beetle has attained “cult” status on a worldwide basis and continues to draw crowds everywhere it goes. Certainly the most famous and beloved of all Beetles is Walt Disney’s, little white “Herbie the Love Bug”, old #53 complete with racing stripes.

Vehicle Profile: 1965 Ford Mustang

The year of 1965 was a great one for the Ford Motor Company, with the introduction of a totally new vehicle in their lineup called the Ford Mustang! This beautiful, yet economically minded car, created a new class of vehicle which was dubbed the “Pony Car” (a sporty, 2-door coupe design which incorporated a long hood and a short, rear deck area). The car was introduced unusually early in the model year (on April 17, 1964 at the New York Worlds’ Fair and to rave reviews!) as a 1965 production model, with room to seat 4 people and was based on the affordable Ford Falcon chassis. Many purist’s still refer to these early production models (April thru September 1964) as 1964-1/2, but all were actually produced, titled and coded as 1965 models!

The Mustang also happened to be Ford Motor Company’s most successful new model launch since the Model “A” way back in 1927! The Mustang would become Ford’s third oldest nameplate to date, being surpassed only by the F-Series pickup models and the Falcon which is still in production in Australia. To date, there have been five generations of the Ford Mustang and it is also the longest running, uninterrupted production run of the original “Pony Car” in existence. Other Pony Cars that followed the Mustang have come and gone and some are even seeing a revival today, as new, current models being produced by General Motors and Chrysler.

Ford Motor Company originally estimated that less than 100,000 units would be produced for the 1965 year model, but due to huge sales and consumer demand, over 1 million were actually produced in the first 18 months of production. The car was well built and stylish, not to mention a great car to drive! It also didn’t hurt, that its 1st movie debut was in the hugely popular James Bond film, “Goldfinger”, released in September of 1964!

It’s funny, that there seems to be some confusion as to who actually chose the name for the Mustang but at least two arguments exist:

1.) That Ford’s Executive Stylist at the time, Pres Harris, who was a huge fan of the infamously successful WWII Mustangs of the North American Aviation Company not only chose the name but was instrumental in the design of the body.

2.) That Ford’s Division Market Research Manager of the time, Robert J. Eggert, due to his love of American Quarterhorse breeds, and after receiving a book, as a birthday gift from his wife back in 1960, named “the Mustangs” (by J. Frank Dobie) was responsible for using his influence to name the new car.

Either way, Lee Iacocca is still considered the “Father” of the Mustang project and his team of designers, stylists and all who were involved can be very proud of the little Pony Car that could and DID!

Vehicle Profile: 1955-1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

In 1950, Chevrolet introduced its first Bel Air models, but in 1955,56 and 57 (commonly referred to as the Tri-Five Chevys) they made some awe inspiring design upgrades to these full-sized beauties each and every year. The kinds of changes that created true legends, not only of their time but those that will carry on forever. The result of these individually unique, designer’s dreams, was an automobile that would change the way we Americans, and the world for that matter, would love to just jump into our vehicles and go for a ride for no reason at all but pure joy of ownership.

All the 1955 Chevrolet full-sized models received new styling details (including a Ferrari-like grille) that the media could not help but praise and even earned the “Hot-One” designation by enthusiasts as well. Unlike many other manufacturers of the day, Chevrolet’s styling was crisp, clean and new. The top-of-the-line Bel Air models came with all the features found on cars in the lower model ranges but also included: interior carpet, chrome headliner strips on hardtops, large chrome spears on the front fenders, chrome window surround moldings, fully styled wheel covers and of course, the Bel Air script in gold lettering.

They had a 265-cid V-8 engine option, which featured a modernized OHV (over-head valve), high compression design that was so well designed, it remained in production in various forms, for many decades to come and became known as the beloved Chevrolet Small-Block. The base 265-cid V-8 came standard with a two-barrel carburetor and was rated at 162 hp, but later in the year, a Super-Power-Pack option was added, including a 4 barrel carburetor, a higher compression ratio and was rated at approximately 195 hp.

The 1956 Chevrolet full-sized models even received a few styling upgrades, including a full-width grille which encompassed even the front turn indicators and reached from fender to fender. A distinctive two-tone bodyside treatment and graceful wheel openings, front and rear, complimented the restyling touches. At the rear, single housings held the taillamp, stoplamp, and backup lamp (the left taillamp housing even held the hidden gas filler opening and gas cap). Among the now, seven different Bel Air models, was a new Sport Sedan, a pillarless 4-door hardtop (no divider between the front and rear door windows from the beltline to the roof).  From the various 4-door models, the 2-door hardtops and sedans, to the awesome and rare 2-door Nomad wagons many options including seatbelts, shoulder harnesses, and even a padded dashboard were available, and you could even get the hot Corvette based, 225 hp engine.

The 1957 Chevrolet full-sized models were the cream-of-the-crop in the Tri-Five family and usually have been the most desirable of the three years run of designs. The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is among the most recognizable American cars of all time and are highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts to this day. They are stylish, roomy, fun, enjoyable and even came with tastefully subdued tail fins of the period and all that chrome. Oh, and did I mention, the 265 c.i. displacement engine was increased to 283 c.i., and when you added the Super Turbo-Fire V-8 option, you had 283 hp at your feet with the help of a continuous, closed-loop mechanical fuel-injection system. These babies were dubbed “fuelie” cars and are quite rare and bring all the money in today’s market.

Vehicle Profile: Jaguar XK150

1959 Jaguar XK150

The Jaguar XK150 sports car was an upgraded version of Jaguar’s infamous, post-war, XK120/140 models and a very desirable vehicle in the XK model bloodline. The beautifully sweeping, yet bulbous body lines were very appealing to the eye, but the hierarchy at Jaguar was not convinced that the car would be as vigorously accepted by the general public due to its more pudgy looks, as compared to the earlier XK120 and XK140 models . . . but it proved them wrong.

Today, it remains one of the most desirable, and I think beautiful, of all the early XK models. The Jaguar XK150 was introduced in 1957 and ran through the 1961 model year with various mechanical, evolutionary and technological upgrades over the 5 years of production, resulting in just fewer than 9,000 units (including some 888 units of the more powerful “S” models) being made. The Jaguar XK150 started out with only two models, the “FHC”, or Fixed-Head Coupe, and the “DHC” or Drop-Head Coupe (and all XK150’s were 2-door vehicles of course). As the Jaguar management felt the XK150 was going to be a success after its launch, they soon got to work adding a true “Roadster” to the lineup in 1958.

The Jaguar XK150 was actually the first production automobile in the world to come with four-wheel, “Dunlop” designed, disc brakes, which helped make it a great performer not only on the street, but also at the racetrack. The two-seater (the FHC and DHC models did have a very small jump-seat behind the front seats) sports cars were steel bodied on a boxed, sectioned steel frame and came with an aluminum hood (or bonnet). The Jaguar XK150 models were front-engine, rear-wheel drive vehicles with the standard engine being an in-line, six-cylinder, DOHC (double over-head camshafts) with 3.4L/210 c.i. displacement producing some 180 hp.  A “performance-tuned” or “S” engine option was made available, starting in 1958, boasting three, 51mm (2″) bore, “SU” brand HD8 model carburetors, pushing out 220 to 250hp.

In 1959, a larger displacement engine was also available on the “SE” (“Special Equipment”) and the now, most rare, XK150 “S” models, which displaced 3.8L/231 c.i. and could be tuned to produce at least 265hp. This latest version was capable of an impressive 0 to 60 mph time of just under 7 seconds (out of a straight six) and top speed of 135+ mph, while maintaining an 18 to 20 mpg fuel efficiency.

The new Jaguar XK150 came with a one piece, curved windshield glass, thinner doors, which made for a more spacious interior and a more comfy, leather-wrapped dashboard. The new, top-of-the-fender, front parking lamps had a small, red pilot light, which reminded the driver that the lights were on and steering was handled by a rack-n-pinion gear. The wheelbase of the Jaguar XK150 was 102 inches, overall width of 62.2 inches and overall length of 177 inches, while the car weighed in at around 3,000 pounds. Over its entire production run, the Jaguar XK150 was available in over a dozen different colors including my favorite . . . British Racing Green.

Vehicle Profile: Sunbeam Tiger

1966 Sunbeam Tiger

The 1964 through 1967 Sunbeam Tiger, of the Rootes Group from England, was considered by some to be a mini Shelby Cobra because of its similar power-to-weight ratio, as well as the involvement of none other than, the now-infamous, Carroll Shelby himself. Actually, several key players were involved with its concept, design and eventual addition to the small Sunbeam lineup of vehicle models.

Ian Garrad (U.S. West Coast Sales Manager for the Rootes Group), Walter McKenzie (U.S. Western Region Service Manager for Rootes Group), a young, but already proven, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles (a successful race driver and fabricator who would end up working for Carroll Shelby) were just some of the people involved in the project to make a better, faster, more powerful driving machine out of the already existing, but docile Sunbeam Alpine 2-seater convertible sports car. It was equipped with a barely adequate, but dependable, small displacement four-cylinder engine.

Carroll Shelby (and his team) quickly went to work on the redesign of the little Alpine (code named the “Thunderbolt” project).  With the installation of the 4.3L, 260-cid, 164hp V8 engine, borrowed from Ford Motor Company’s popular Falcon model, they had modified an Alpine into what would be an exhilarating-to-drive, great-looking little sports car. Shelby and his team set the 260-cid Ford V8 as far back as possible in the engine compartment (by slightly modifying the firewall) for better weight distribution and modified the transmission tunnel to accept the four-speed manual transmission. They also used a more responsive, and favorable, rack-and-pinion steering gear in place of the recirculating-ball type used on the Alpine models. The chassis was strengthened and tweaked to accommodate the nearly twice as powerful V8 engine and of course, to improve the overall handling of the little beast.

This prototype was tested and refined extensively. It was sent to England where further exhaustive testing was performed and it passed with flying colors. It was rushed into production to be introduced as a new model for 1964 (this original Shelby prototype, as well as the one done by Ken Miles both still exist, intact today). The Sunbeam Tiger (and even the Alpine model) was a bit more refined than its contemporaries from the other, more famous British marks and sold well in the U.S. due to the more powerful and “American-made” V8.

Unfortunately, however, just as it was gaining popularity in every marketplace, trouble was brewing inside the Rootes group.  The Chrysler Corporation ended up buying a majority stake in the struggling firm. Since Chrysler had no V8 engine that would readily fit the small 2-seater it was unceremoniously cancelled in 1967 with just over 7,000 units being produced in the four years it was offered. Such a shame, as the little Tiger was progressing along each year with upgrades and modernization which had set it apart from other British competition and was even considered a poor man’s alternative to the Chevrolet Corvette.

The Sunbeam Tiger was a two-door, two-seat, convertible roadster (sport scar), with an all-steel uni-body, weighing just over 2,600 pounds with an 86-inch wheelbase. Its overall length was a short 158 inches, overall height of 51.5 inches and 60.5 inches wide with a front-engine, rear-wheel drive and four-speed manual transmission. It had disc brakes in front and drums in the rear with independent front suspension set on coil springs while the rear was semi-elliptical dual leaf springs. They performed well while driving but made the car suffer a bit from wheel-hop, which resulted in poor of-the-line traction.

It was a great little car to drive.  The Sunbeam was always turning heads whenever it made an appearance, especially when driven (actually an Alpine) by James Bond in Dr. No (as the first-ever “Bond” car) in 1962 and later (a 1964 Sunbeam Tiger) by the hilariously bungling, secret agent Maxwell Smart (Agent 86) on the 60’s hit TV series “Get Smart”.

Find a classic Sunbeam Tiger that you love!

Vehicle Profile: MG MGB

1972 MG MGB

MG is the moniker for “Morris Garages” of Oxford, England, which began in 1924 or 1925 at a dealer of Morris brand vehicles. The discrepancy regarding the actual year that MG was established varies according to which historical records about the company one refers to. MG modified different Morris brand vehicles into various special sports car style bodies.  The emblem for MG was created in March 1928, officially establishing the brand.

Sir William Morris, an engineer and Cecil Kimber, a designer, co-founded MG. The MG brand lasted for more than 50 years, surviving a number of changes in ownership, as well as a number of mergers between 1924 to 1980. The brand continually produced vehicles during its lifetime, with the exception of the WWII era, when all manufacturing efforts were focused on the war.  The MG brand also survived the loss of one its co-founding members, when Kimber died in an obscure railway accident in 1945.

MG released the first, of their last series of sports cars to be made in 1962, the venerable MGB models. The first MGBs, referred to as MkIs (1962 to 1967), were all 2-door roadsters with convertible soft-tops and 1798cc, 4-cylinder engines and rear-wheel drive.  In 1966, MG released a 2-door hatchback coupe with 2+2 seating, called the MGB-GT. This model also featured the 1798cc 4-cylinder engine, a trend that lasted through 1974 in the U.S. market and continued through 1980 in Europe.

The MGB-GT soon spawned another vehicle in the MG line-up, the MGB-GT V8. This vehicle was designed to compete with the more powerful vehicles of the day. It featured a shoe-horned version of the Buick/Rover designed, 215-cid, V8 engine. This model was only produced for 3 years, from 1973 to 1976,  with very few units actually crossing the “pond” and landing in the states. MG also went so far as to release a version of the roadster called the MGC for a short period of time (1967 to 1969). The MGC featured a 2912 cc, in-line 6-cylinder engine, which was an ill-fated design that offered lackluster performance and handling due to the added weight of a V6 engine.

The MkII MGBs were produced from 1967 to 1971 with the 1798cc, receiving several upgrades along the way, including: dual master-cylinder brakes, negative earth (ground) electrics, an alternator instead of a generator, a fully synchronized transmission and an automatic transmission option (mainly in the European market).

The MkIII MGBs were produced from 1971 to 1980, remaining basically unchanged, with the exception of several minor upgrades to creature comforts, which were for the most part considered detractors for an otherwise nice looking little sports car. For instance, in 1974 a large, rubberized front and rear bumper fascia was added to comply with new safety laws that were imposed, which dramatically diminished the sleek look that previously existed when chrome components were still being used for the bumper assemblies.

The MGBs were innovative at their time of inception with their unique monocoque chassis design, making them lighter, stronger and even less expensive to manufacture. Most other vehicles of the time were based on the tried-and-true body assembly bolted to a chassis/frame assembly. They had plenty of legroom and were actually quite comfortable, even for taller people. Performance was snappy with a 0 to 60 mph rating of just over 11 seconds and handling was superb with good, balanced weight distribution.

Front braking chores were handled by more than adequate 11-inch disc brakes, with Girling dual piston calipers, rear were standard drums. Electrical system components were mainly supplied by the Lucas Electric Company (affectionately referred to as the “Prince of Darkness” by those of us who have had a love affair with these great little cars over the years). In terms of safety, the MGBs were some of the first production cars to incorporate “crumple-zones” into their body design in order to protect passengers in the event of an impact with an immovable object at 30 mph.

The last MGB units rolled out of the Abingdon Factory in 1980, after which the company closed its doors forever. Overall units manufactured in the entire run of the combined MGB models was 523,836 in just over 18 years. The U.S. market was largely responsible for the demise of the MGB. Our ever changing safety laws and emissions regulations were forced on all manufacturers, which many times reduced horsepower ratings and added weight; two things that don’t bode well with sports cars.

MGBs were (and still are) raced very successfully in many events, venues and series including the Monte Carlo Rally, winning the GT category at Sebring in 1964. MGBs also won in 1963, 1964 and 1965 at the grueling LeMans 24 Hour endurance race while beating many more powerful vehicles at the same time. These affordable classic cars are readily available on the market today and are a big bang-for-the-buck.