Category archives: Vehicle Profiles

Vehicle Profile: 1955 Ford Thunderbird


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: Mercedes-Benz 350SL

1980 MercedesBenz 350SL

The Mercedes-Benz SL series began its production run way back in 1954 (actually the series began in 1952, but as a racing version only) and continues through today. The period we are concentrating on here, was produced from April 1971 (1972 introduction in the U.S.) through mid year 1989, which was the longest run in the series to remain basically unchanged throughout the length of its production.

The SL stood for “Sport Leicht” in German, which translated to “Sport Light” in English. Although the original versions were actually, relatively light in weight, that was not necessarily true when they introduced the sporty and luxurious new SL version for 1972. It put on over 300 extra pounds in comparison to it’s predecessor and added many innovations including a new 3.5L, V8 (4.5L for U.S.) powerplant and all the creature comforts of a luxury car.

For 1972, Mercedes-Benz’s SL series would jump from a 2.8L straight, six cylinder engine and into a 4.5L, V8 engine (at least here in the U.S., mainly due to stricter U.S. emissions laws, in order that the car would have enough power to satisfy the American buyers). In fact, from 1972 to 1989 the SLs would have eight different engines (six V8’s, only three of which were used in U.S. models and 2 in-line six’s, none of which were used in U.S. models) available throughout the production run.

The U.S. version of the 350SL actually had a 4.5L, V8 (rated between 180 hp to 190 hp) but was labeled 350SL for 1972 models only and was changed to 450SL badging for 1973 models. This model/engine carried through to 1980 when Mercedes-Benz changed to the 380SL with the 3.8L, V8 (rated at 155 hp) for 1981 through 1985. The final run of the series, 1986 through 1989, had once again, increased displacement to 5.6L, V8 (rated at 227 hp) and a 560SL badge was used. They all came with a three-speed automatic transmission through 1979 and from 1980 through 1989, had a four-speed automatic transmission. All years and models were equipped with a type of Bosch, fuel Injection and all were rear-wheel drive.

While the earliest versions of SL bodies were made of aluminum, all the 1972 through 1989 models were made of sheet metal and were comprised of a unibody construction. They were all a two-seater, soft-top convertible, with removable hardtop and optional rear foldable, “jump” seats. They also had disc brakes all the way around (and in 1980 they introduced the first car with electronic ABS brakes in the USA) and re-circulating ball type steering gears.

In 1982, Mercedes also introduced a driver-side, front airbag system. The front suspension was handled by double wishbone arms, coil springs with added rubber spring buffers and stabilizer bar. The rear suspension was handled by the strange, but effective, diagonal type, trailing-arm, swing-axle, supported by coil springs and a stabilizer bar. Wheelbase was 96.9 inches, front track was 57.2 inches and rear track was 56.7 inches up to 1985 and 57.6 inches (front) and 57.7 inches (rear) after that, through 1989. Overall length was 172.5 inches for 1972 through 1980 models, 182.3 inches for 1981 through 1985 models and 180.3 inches through 1989. Overall width was 70.5 inches and overall height was 50.8 inches for all 1972 through 1989 models. Dry weight was 3,597 pounds for 1972 through 1980 models, 3,460 pounds for 1981 through 1985 models and 3,650 pounds for 1986 through 1989 models.

When it was introduced to the USA in 1972, the Mercedes-Benz SL models were very advanced, luxurious, sportscars directed at a specific upper-class market and they more than filled that niche and some 237,000 units were produced worldwide during the years of 1971 through 1989. It seemed, by the end of it’s run however, that the now 18 year old SL had lost it’s luster and was long overdue for a change. That dramatic change would come in a big way in 1990.

Vehicle Profile: Pontiac GTO

The First true “Muscle Car”? Many will argue it to be the 1964 Pontiac Tempest LeMans “GTO” (the 2nd generation Tempest, 1964 thru 1967 models)! Even Pontiac itself warned: “To be perfectly honest, the Tempest “GTO” is not everyone’s cup of tea. … It’s suspension is firm, tuned more to the open road than to wafting gently over bumpy city streets. It’s dual exhausts won’t win any prizes for whispering. And, unless you order it with our lazy 3.08 low-ratio rear axle, its gas economy won’t be anything to write home about.” Well, apparently, one man’s warning is another’s ringing endorsement. Pontiac had hoped to sell approximately 5,000 of the 1964 Tempest GTO’s and was overwhelmed when they actually sold 32,450 of them! 18,422 2-Door Hardtops (no pillar), 7,384 Sport Coupes (had a pillar to divide front/rear windows) and 6,644 Convertibles were produced in 1964. The “GOAT”, as it was affectionately referred to, generated a cult following and surprised all of it’s competition!

The design of this second generation Pontiac Tempest LeMans “GTO”, was made possible only by ignoring a General Motors’ mandate that all intermediate-sized cars would not have engines larger than 330 c.i V-8’s. In a grand scheme, which circumvented GM’s “parental approval”, Pontiac’s top-brass made its 389 c.i. V-8, part of a special package only for the new Pontiac Tempest LeMans “GTO”. The name, “GTO” (short for Gran Turismo Omologato) which was begged, borrowed or possibly even stolen from Ferrari, became a special performance model for the new 2nd generation Tempest LeMans line-up.

This new intermediate-sized vehicle from GM was designated the “A” body platform and had a 115″ wheelbase, was 203″ in length, was 73.3″ wide and had a front and rear track of 58″.

To create an engine to power this original “musclecar”, Pontiac built the 389 c.i. V-8 with a special high-lift cam, borrowed the 421 c.i. V-8’s high-output heads and were able to produce 325 hp with the standard Carter four-barrel. The optional “Tri-Power” (three Rochester two-barrel carburetors in a row) with progressive linkage was ordered in 8,250 of the GTO’s (for a small up charge) and were rated at 348 hp. Both versions had 10.75:1 compression ratio and 428 lb-ft of torque. Chrome valve covers, oil filler cap and air cleaners were standard as well as declutching fan, high-capacity radiator and battery. Transmissions offered, were the standard three-speed manual, optional four-speed, both of which used Hurst shift linkages and all came with heavy-duty clutches. A two-speed automatic transmission was also available.

A thicker front sway bar, heavy-duty shocks, stiffer springs all the way around and high-speed 14-inch Red-Line tires were included as standard equipment and 15 body colors were available. An optional “Roadability Group” added sintered-metallic brake linings and a limited-slip differential. All GTO’s came standard with bucket seats and an engine-turned aluminum instrument surround, non-functional hood “scoops” and dual exhaust.

A woodgrain steering wheel, a locking center console and simulated wire wheel covers were among the GTO’s factory options.

Only slight cosmetic changes were made over the next few years (thru 1967), most notably for 1965 and on, the front grille area was changed and “split” to emulate the full-sized Pontiacs and the headlights were changed to an over/under configuration. The rear tail lights also underwent a facelift along with a more slanted rear deck area.

Oh, and the four-barrel GTO’s typically ran from 0-60 mph in about 7.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 92 mph, while the “Tri-Power” GTO’s were consistently quicker and added a ton of mystique to the car’s overall street-cred! What a great time to be alive and grab ahold of that wheel and stuff your foot into that quick lil’ Goat!!! HOOOOOOHAAAAAAA!!!

Vehicle Profile: 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird

1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird

The 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird is hailed as the “holy grail” of Plymouths and the most sought after of their line of raw-powered Muscle Cars and have sold for several hundred thousand dollars. The Superbird actually exists, largely due to the strong requests (actually demands) of then NASCAR champion, national hero, racing celebrity and multi-talented winning driver/owner, Richard Petty, honorably dubbed “The King”, by his peers.

Petty had always been a staunch Plymouth man, but in 1969, after being denied a Plymouth version of the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona “winged” production race-car, he left Plymouth and defected to Ford’s Racing Team (a move which was devastating to Plymouth’s Racing Team at the time). The Plymouth Racing Team would take this act to heart and scrambled to provide “The King” with what he wanted, and at the time needed, to win in the NASCAR series for 1970. Even though NASCAR changed the rules for competition in 1970, from 500 production units for 1969, to one unit for each manufacturer’s dealership in the U.S.A., this would mean that they would now have to build 1920 units (records show that some 1,935 units were actually produced, give or take). Plymouth wanted Mr. Petty back and pulled out all the stops to make that happen in 1970 . . . they did and it worked.

“The King” and his new winged-warrior, the Plymouth Road Runner Superbird, were a force to be reckoned with on the circuit for 1970 winning 8 races during the season and placing highly all year. Unfortunately, due to excessively high speeds achieved and for safety reasons, the powers-that-be at NASCAR were forced to make a decision and this would be the first and last year that these winged vehicles would be allowed to race (with the large displacement engines) in the series. Even though the cars were still eligible and even legal to race body-wise, they were forced to reduce engine displacement to no more than 305 c.i. This rule change, pretty much rendered them non-competitive due to poor power-to-weight ratios that were, well, sickly at best.

But, for that one glorious season, the engineers at Plymouth put their heads together and came up with a design utilizing the front-end of their Coronet models with a huge, yet aerodynamic sheet-metal “beak” attached to it and grafted to the “B-body” of a Road Runner chassis. Also, after redesigning the rear-window and body area (note: all Superbirds came with a vinyl roof to cover the metal-working “scars” left from the installation of the flush-mounted rear glass) and by adding over 40% more surface area (than the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona) to the stabilizer portion of the aluminum wing and tilting it farther to the rear of the trunk area, they were able to achieve the desired aerodynamic results. The wing was also made a bit taller to aid in clearance of the trunk lid, when opened. However, the huge, rear wing was basically useless at speeds under 90 mph, and other than the love-it or hate-it relationship that the general public had with the winged look, it was rarely ever functional at legally posted speed limits.

The 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird (all were 2-Door Coupes) was very similar to their line of high-end GTXs and its drivetrains were similar in offerings.  The standard package included the 375 hp, 440-cid Super Commando V8 with a single 4-barrel Carter carburetor (approximately 1,084 units were made).  Upgrades were either the 390 hp, 440-cid Plus-Six Super Commando Six-Pack V8 with three 2-barrel Holley carburetors (approximately 716 units were made) or the amazing 425 hp, 426-cid “Hemi” V8 with dual-quads, two 4-barrel Carter carburetors (of which only 135 some-odd units were made, again, record keeping in those days was a bit sketchy at best).

That’s a lot of power for a production vehicle, which could be bought right off the lot at your local Plymouth Dealership. These powerhouses were coupled to either a four-speed manual transmission complete with a super-cool pistol-grip shift knob or a TorqueFlite 727 automatic transmission with either column mounted or floor-console shifter. (note: the above production totals are per Chrysler Historical records of street vehicles produced, but are again, sketchy at best and in constant debate as to their validity).

The Superbird used the Road Runner’s “Rallye” style dashboard with full instrumentation, a 150 MPH speedometer, a tachometer and even a clock. However, no air-conditioning, rear window defogger or Ram-Air hood option was available. They did come standard with power-assisted front disc-brakes, rear-facing front fender scoops (which were mounted on the top of the fenders and were there to evacuate air that may get trapped in the wheel wells, as well as, to aid in cooling of the brakes), split over/under tail lights and of course all those cool “Road Runner” cartoon-character decals. They showed the famous bird holding a racing helmet within a circular “Road Runner Superbird” lettering surrounding it (one small decal on the left front headlamp door and a substantial sized one on each side of the rear wing) and a huge “PLYMOUTH” decal on each of the rear 1/4 panels. The car weighed 3700+/- pounds and was 221 inches in length (over 18 feet), 76.4 inches wide, 61.4 inches high and had a 115.8-inch wheelbase.

The Superbird’s winged styling seemed to be a bit much for the general public, not to mention their $4,298 base price tag.  As awesome as the car was on the track or to the people who absolutely loved them, they did not sell well and many dealers were left holding onto them for as long as two years later. It is rumored that some of them were even changed back into standard looking Road Runners and sold sans beak and winged tail-section.

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.