Category archives: Vehicle Profiles

Vehicle Profile: 1933 Packard Twelve Series

1933 Packard Twelve

The 1933 Packard Twelve was the second year in a production run, from 1932 through 1939, of the awesome Twelve series (of which a total of some 35,000 vehicles were produced over that period). These expensive, powerful and reliable cars were manufactured to exacting standards by the Packard Motor Car Company in Detroit, MI.

James Ward Packard, the founder of the company, had started the company up in Warren, OH in 1899 to build the Packard vehicles, with the idea that he could build a better car than the “Winton” he had purchased. From meager beginnings with small, single-cylinder, driven motorcars, the Packard brand, would eventually become the “supreme combination of all that is fine in motor-cars” and one of the finest vehicles in the world (especially for the price). Considered one of the three “P’s” (Packard, Pierce-Arrow and Peerless) of American motoring Royalty, Packards were built to higher standards and proved to be very reliable in every aspect.

When their new 3,500,000 sq. ft. production plant opened, in Detroit in 1903, it was the most modern automotive manufacturing facility of its kind in the world. In fact, by 1929, more people owned stock in Packard than any other company, except for General Motors. Packard concentrated its efforts on building up-scale automobiles, specifically for wealthy customers both here and abroad.  This proved to make Packard, the Social Standard of the American public.

The Packard brand lasted some 59 years, from 1899 through 1958, and is still one of the most revered automobiles in the history of motoring. The Packard brand always brings the big money at auctions and are truly, a solid investment.

Some significant changes were made to the styling and chassis of the 1933 Packard Twelve series. The 142-inch chassis, was stiffened-up with the introduction of their new tapered X-Frame which included cross-member bracing and the new 17-inch wheels were smaller than those used on previous models. All Packards were rigorously tested to ensure quality, performance and reliability.

The mammoth, 445.5-cid, V12, 160 hp, side-valve engines were run for an hour by a large electric motor before being initially started. After that, they were run for another six hours under their own power before being installed in the vehicle. Then they spent another hour being run and tested on a dynamometer and finally a thorough road-test (of approximately 250 miles) was performed. A single, dry-plate, vacuum servo-boosted clutch assembly coupled to the three-speed, selective, synchromesh manual transmission, hypoid-gear rear axle, Bijir central chassis lubrication system, “Ride-Control” adjustable shocks, driver-adjustable, vacuum-assisted, freewheeling mechanical drum brakes, a new “Stromberg” downdraft carburetor which included an automatic choke mechanism and fast-idle circuit, and of course the “Packard Stabilizer”, chassis vibration dampers incorporated into the front bumpers, were featured.

The updated exterior featured the clamshell styled fenders complete with skirting and all the usual Packard finery. “V” type radiators with body-painted cowling and thermostatically-controlled shutters was standard, as well as, the new controlled body-ventilation system. The interior was also upgraded, refined and treated to a lavish looking Carpathian Elm Burlwood dashboard with American Elm accents. The speedometer now included a tachometer and the electric fuel gauge also contained an oil level read-out. Luxuriously appointed and custom interiors were the norm at Packard and the vehicles could cruise, smoothly and quietly, all day at highway speeds of 60 to 70 mph. Due to a torque rating of 322 lbs/ft, the Packard Twelves had a quick take-off from a standing stop and could effortlessly reach close to 100 mph at top speeds, making it one of the fastest cars of its day.

In fact, Maurice D. Hendry, a top authority on Classic Cars in New Zealand once stated “If you set out to design a luxury car that would have high performance, but be far quieter and smoother than a Duesenberg; that would rival the refinement of the Cadillac V16, but be mechanically simpler; you would have your work cut out for a start! . . . But, if in addition, you sought a car Europeans rated superior to the finest Old World contemporaries, you would face a monumental task. If you succeeded, you’d be able to congratulate yourself on a job uncommonly well done. Packard succeeded!” (This was printed many years ago in “The Packard Cormorant”, the magazine of the Packard Club.)

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Vehicle Profile: Porsche 356

Porshe

The 1964-1965 Porsche 356C was the last generation for the model 356 production run (with four generations during its run, model “356” from 1948 to 1955, “356A” from 1956 to 1959, “356B” from 1960 to 1963).  Spanning from 1948 to 1965, it remained basically unchanged by looks, but made dramatic evolutionary and technological changes underneath that curvy exterior.

The 356 model is also the first, full-production vehicle, offered by Porsche. The Porsche 356 model was created by Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche, the son of the founder of the company, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche. It featured flat, 4-cylinder, air-cooled, rear-mounted engine, rear-wheel drive configuration in a lightweight sporty package with quick-handling, sure-footed suspension.

It quickly became very popular on the racing scenes all around the world. The pan style chassis was attached to the body making a sturdy unitized construction design. Most of the original mechanicals were borrowed from the Volkswagen Beetle (designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche himself), and improved over the years to enhance performance and make it more Porsche-like.

Initially and throughout its 18 year run, it took some time to build enough numbers to supply the demand it had created and by the time it had run its course, the little 356 had quite a reputation for driving pleasure, quality of build and racing prowess. It is believed, that over half of the 76,000 units produced, are still in existence today.

The 356 was offered in both coupe and convertible (or cabriolet) models and were about 50/50 split as far as production numbers go. The 356C’s were built with disc brakes at all four corners, the most horsepower (1582 cc and 88 hp in stock form, 95 hp with “SC” model) of all the pushrod pancake Porsche motors and many upgrades in both suspension and creature comfort areas. The 356C, which remained almost completely and painstakingly, hand-built, was certainly the most refined and therefore most desirable of all the 356 models.

In fact, in a 2004 article, Sports Car International ranked the 356C as the 10th position of Top Sports Cars of the 1960’s. Certain limited production models, like the 356 Carrera, can bring over $300,000 at auction and almost any 356 model will bring from $20,000 to over $150,000.

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Vehicle Profile: Oldsmobile 442

Oldsmobile442

The Oldsmobile (a Division of General Motors) answer to the Musclecar craze that began in 1964, was the F-85/Cutlass “4-4-2″ mid-sized model. “4-4-2″ initially stood for a special option package of their F-85/Cutlass mid-sized models, which came equipped with a four-barrel carburetor, four-speed manual transmission (or four-on-the-floor) with dual exhaust from the factory.

For the “4-4-2″ units produced with an automatic transmission, the first “4” stood for 400-cid, V8 (which was the base engine supplied); the second “4” stood for four-barrel carburetor and again, the “2” stood for dual exhaust. By 1968, the  “4-4-2″ was flying solo as its own distinct model, which would continue through the 1971 year models. After that, it would revert back to an option of the Cutlass models and carry on through the mid-70’s.  The “4-4-2″ option/model/badging would reappear several times after that, through the 80’s and into the 90’s, but did not necessarily designate a four-barrel, four-speed with dual exhaust.

The performance specifications on the most powerful of all the “4-4-2″ models was the “Hurst/Olds 4-4-2″, with a 455-cid Big-Block V-8, producing 380 hp, and was stated to reach 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds. A 1/4-mile run was clocked at approximately 103 mph in 14.03 seconds. Not bad for a box stock, factory issued, hulk of a car that possessed pure performance, coupled with awesome handling for a vehicle of its size.

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Vehicle Profile: De Tomaso Pantera

The De Tomaso “Pantera” was a mid-engined, production “Musclecar” made and designed in Italy (with support from the Ford Motor Company, mostly for powertrain components) and destined mainly for the U.S. market. It was produced from 1971 to 1991 and evolved over it’s 20 year-run into one of the worlds most unique exotics ever produced! This was also, in-part, due it’s odd (at the time) blending of “Italian” design, handling and craftsmanship and good-ole American V8, raw musclepower! I say, odd, because the “purists” do not consider it a “real” Italian sporstcar due to it’s half-breed combination of Italian and American components. However, it has remained a cult-status vehicle in it’s own right and has stood the test of time as one of the most respected, feared (by other makes that cross it’s path) and sought after marques of it’s time! Although this car was designed in Italy at Ghia (another company owned by De Tomaso at the time) by a US-born designer, named Tom Tjaarda, it is steeped in “Italian” history and exoticar styling. The De Tomaso Car Company of Modena, Italy, was founded in 1959 by Alejandro De Tomaso, an Argentinian-born immigrant and at one time, also owned the likes of the Maserati and Moto-Guzzi brands.

The “Pantera”, meaning panther in Italian, replaced the short-lived “Mangusta” model, which was De Tomaso’s second-ever production vehicle (which also was powered by mid-engined Ford V8) introduced in 1966 and running through 1971. Their first, was the even shorter-lived, “Vallelunga” mid-engined model, which used a European Ford, Cortina 4-cyl powerplant. The “Pantera” would also be the first De Tomaso vehicle to use an updated steel “moncoque” chassis, which replaced the aluminum “backbone” chassis of earlier De Tomaso mid-engined vehicles. The V-8 supplied by Ford was the 351C (Cleveland) model and was/is considered by most, to be the best of the Ford small-block, V-8 family. It made it’s first, official public debut in Modena, Italy in March of 1970 and then made it’s U.S. debut a few weeks later at the New York Motor Show to rave reviews. Production was brisk ,at first, and from 1971 through 1973 Modena pushed out over 6,100 units (some 7,260 total production in over 20 years)! But once the big oil “crisis” reared it’s ugly head (also in 1973) and the oil embargo started, not to mention the poor fit, finish and quality control problems they were experiencing at De Tomaso, the Ford Motor Company decided to pull the plug on importing these Italian/American musclecars, which they sold through their Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. De Tomaso continued to build the “Pantera”, mostly by hand (at about 100 per year) until 1991 (some say a few models trickled out until 1993), at which time all production ended and the “era of the Pantera” was over. More than a footnote in automotive history, the “Pantera” is a legendary vehicle which seemed flawed only by it’s human “handlers” of the day.

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Vehicle Profile: 1954 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith

The Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith models were part of the post WWII era resurrection and rebuilding of the automobile industry in Europe and were produced by Rolls-Royce, LTD at their “Bentley-Crewe” plant located in Crewe, Cheshire, England. The “Silver Wraith” moniker was first introduced in 1946, as new for 1947 models and would last through the 1959 model year. The 1954 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith was one of only a handful of the long wheelbase (133 inch) models built over the 13 year production run, where only about 1880 total vehicles were produced, of which around 639 were of the long wheelbase version (approx. 1/3 of the total production run).

The large displacement, in-line, 6-cylinder engine was increased to 4,887cc for 1954 and was coupled with a General Motors designed, four-speed automatic transmission, and had a live-axle, rear-wheel drive setup with semi-elliptic springs. Hydraulic brakes were now used on all four wheels and the front suspension was of the independent type with coil springs. All the press was continually impressed with whatever came from the Rolls-Royce factory and one even stated the following in trying to sum it all up: “All the world knows that Rolls-Royce carry on an unremitting search for engineering perfection in everything they undertake. The qualities which made their aircraft engines famous, and their cars the finest procurable, are the result of scientifically conducted engineering research and of painstaking attention to detail.”  And now a new range of cars is about to appear it is believed that the new cars are the best that Rolls-Royce have ever built.” Brilliantly said, Ol’ Chap! “Rolls-Royce Motor Cars” also boasted . . . “In common with all Rolls-Royce cars, the Silver Wraith has an indefinable something about it, a delicacy of behaviour, which escapes definition in written words. It is a car for the connoisseur in cars”!

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Vehicle Profile: 1956 Morgan Plus 4

MorganPlus4

The 1956 Morgan Plus Four (or +4) model, was produced in Worcestershire, England.  It was powered by Triumph’s TR3 (and later TR4) based, in-line 4-cylinder engine displacing 1991cc’s and producing nearly 100hp. Harry Frederick Stanley Morgan (known by his friends as “HFS”) started his company back in 1910, with the idea to produce a light weight, economical, but sporty vehicle for himself to drive.

The original Morgan vehicles were of a three-wheeled configuration. The two wheels up front were outboard, steered, sliding-pillar design and independently sprung, and the rear had a single, driven wheel. They were powered by a 2-cylinder, V-twin style engine. The Morgan Plus Fours were light weight, agile, spirited and most of all . . . just plain fun to drive. The first Morgan 4-4 (4-wheels, 4-cylinders) cars were produced in 1935/6. The updated Morgan 4-4 or Plus Four, four-wheeled models made their debut after WWII and were an instant hit with sports car enthusiasts from around the world, but mostly in the good ole U.S. of A.

The Morgan Plus Four was first introduced to the world in 1951, but it looked nearly the same as it had since 1935/6. It wasn’t until 1954 that the body got a facelift. It became more streamlined and curvaceous upfront with a distinct sloped back rear body. The grill changed from the outward protruding, flat-front, radiator/cowl configuration to a concealed radiator with formed grille and smooth front cowl area. The frame and chassis of the Morgans were light but sturdy units of stamped steel. They supported ash-framed, steel-over-wood designed bodies of various light weight materials (even an all-aluminium body, as the Brits would call it, was available) and are completely hand-built even to this day. It had such upgrades as four-wheel hydraulic brakes, a longer wider stance ( a bit more hefty all-around) and upgraded interior amenities over previous models.

Early competition events were commonplace for the “Moggies” (affectionately nicknamed by their owners and admirers) and they always fared pretty well, even winning the 1913 French Cyclecar Grand Prix at Amiens, France. Morgans, old and new, are entered in competition all around the world even today and always perform quite well. As they have been for over 50 years, Morgans are always in high demand, with waiting lists for new vehicles ranging from 2 to 5 years and were sometimes as long as a 10 year wait.

Vehicle Profile: 1957 Chevrolet Corvette

Visually, the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette remained nearly unchanged from the 1956 version. However, underneath that sexy fiberglass body, changes were brewing that would further solidify the Corvette as a true American sports car and icon that was here to stay.

Some of the new additions for 1957 were a long awaited, four-speed manual transmission (the soon to be infamous, nearly bullet-proof, Borg-Warner T-10), a Rochester Ramjet mechanical fuel-injection unit and the small-block V8 engine displacement was increased to 283-c.i.. This mighty little small-block was now capable of producing a walloping 283hp (actually produced closer to 290hp with fuel injection and special tuning).  This was heavily promoted by Chevrolet, as a first in mass-production engines, to have a one-horsepower per cubic-inch displacement rating (they were, actually, a year behind Chrysler Corporations release of their 354-cid, 355 hp, Hemi V8 engine). Base price for the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette was only $3,176.32.

As far as the exterior goes, Inca Silver was added to the previously available body color choices of Onyx Black, Polo White, Arctic Blue, Aztec Copper, Cascade Green and Venetian Red, which combined, equals 6,336 units, but actual production total posted by Chevrolet was 6,339 (which again, shows how lax the bookkeeping was way back then). This may sound like a small number of total vehicles produced, but it is about twice as many as were produced in 1956. This is due to the marketing of the performance and handling advancements and results of racing victories of 1956 and 1957 combined.

The two-tone exterior paint option was still available. The same three colors were available for the convertible soft-top, White, Beige and Black. Aside from opening the hood, one of the easiest ways to visually identify a 1957 Corvette from a 1956 is the means of adjustment method of the inside rear view mirror. The 1956 is adjusted by means of a thumbscrew, while the 1957 version requires a small wrench to adjust it. The optional removable hardtop and power operated folding convertible top were still available.

Interior Updates were minimal as well for 1957 and Beige and Red were the only color choices available. Options still available were the fresh-air type heater system, Signal-Seeking AM radio, parking brake alarm, interior courtesy lamps, windshield washers and power windows. The main dashboard area was unchanged and the passenger area was left alone as well.

Major changes were made to the chassis and drivetrain in the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette. These areas were mainly focused on by Zora Arkus-Duntov and his team of Corvette engineers to answer the shortcomings of power, performance and handling of the previous models, by all the critics of the day. In the engine bay, the Corvette was now powered by a base 283-cid, 220 hp, single 4-barrel carburetor, small-block, V8 engine. The transmission duties were handled by the standard, three-speed manual unit or optional Powerglide automatic unit until about April, when finally, the Borg-Warner T10 four-speed manual transmission became available.

Also, a first for 1957, was the availability of Chevrolet’s new Posi-Traction (or limited-slip) rear axle, which was available as an option in different ratios. The front suspension was still handled by independent, unequal length A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar and tubular hydraulic shock absorbers. The rear suspension was again, comprised of a rigid, live-axle, supported by semi-elliptic leaf springs, an anti-roll bar and tubular hydraulic shock absorbers and the rear axle ratio of 3.70:1 was still the standard offering. Tires remained of the 6.70 inch x 15 inch size and rims were 5.5 inches wide. Wide-Whitewalls were still an available and popular option. The 11-inch Bendix drum brakes were carried over and used front and rear.

Several optional versions of the 283-cid, V8 were also made available, from a 245 hp, dual 4-barrel carburetor to a 270 hp dual 4-barrel carburetor. In the new fuel-injected, equipped versions, were several different configurations of the new 283-cid, V8 engine, including: a 250 hp FI or a 283 hp FI and a special “for race only” version also rated at 283 hp (but actually closer to 290hp). The race version also came with a steering column mounted tachometer and cold air induction system. Chevrolet informed all interested customers that these special, VIN coded EN, “for racing only”, models were indeed for racing purposes only and would not be supplied with a heater system. The other “racing only” option was a “special heavy duty” racing suspension, which included such things as heavy duty springs, quicker steering ratio (reducing lock-to-lock turns from 3.6 to 2.9), thicker front anti-sway bar, enlarged piston shock absorbers with firmer valving, and finned/ventilated brake drums with ceramic/metallic compound brake linings for better stopping power. Combine these two factory race options and you have yourself an off-the-lot, race ready and truly competitive machine.

So, no matter what configuration you purchased the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette with, it was truly an awesome performance machine that would only get better over the years to come and today is one of the most desirable C-1’s ever produced.

Vehicle Profile: Chevrolet Nova

1967 Chevrolet Nova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vehicle Profile: 1953 Corvette

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

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

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

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Vehicle Profile: Pontiac Firebird

1967PontiacFirebird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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