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- Post is under moderationWhy do I suddenly like cars that I used to detest? This question occurred to me recently when, for some inexplicable reason, I bought a low-mileage two-door #1957-Imperial . To the uninitiated, Imperial was a luxury brand built by Chrysler to compete with Lincoln and Cadillac. Virgil Exner was the designer who turned Chrysler around when he joined the company in 1949. KT Keller was the president and chairman of the board at the time and, prior to Exner joining the company, Chrysler’s styling was stodgy, to say the least.
/ #1958-Imperial-Convertible / #1958 / #Imperial-Convertible / #Virgil-Exner / #Chrysler / #392ci-Hemi / #Hemi
For example, Keller liked a higher roofline on his cars because he believed men should always wear a hat while driving. Exner had other ideas and by 1955 he was able to introduce them, starting with the Forward Look. By #1957 , at the height of his powers, he had designed the Imperial.
By that time Imperial was its own brand with no Chrysler reference anywhere on the car. It was also Imperial’s best year because the Styling was so fresh and new. It even had a great slogan: ‘Suddenly It’s 1960!’ It gave everyone the impression that Imperial was three years ahead in the industry.
These cars were built at a time of unbridled optimism. Gas was 25 cents a gallon, the interstate network was opening up, the space race was starting, climate change and cigarettes causing cancer were all so far in the future that nobody even thought about them.
They were huge, too, built like tanks. I remember Imperials being banned at Demolition Derbies because Their massive frames, far stronger than anything else, were deemed an unfair advantage. Hot rodders in the ’60s cannibalised these cars for their 392ci Hemi engines. When I was a young man, these cars represented everything we hated about American automobiles. They weighed two-and-a-half tons, they got abysmal gas mileage, they couldn’t stop and could barely get around corners. While Jaguar had polished wood and Connolly leather, these American behemoths featured chrome put on with a trowel and an interior like Elvis’s coffin.
‘IT HAS A MASSIVE AIR-CONDITIONER, MORE LIKE A REFRIGERATION UNIT FROM A MEATPACKING PLANT’
By the time I was able to drive, cars from this era were already over a decade old. They were built before steel was galvanised and they rusted almost immediately. By the time the ’70s and ’80s came around, gas prices had started to rise and most of the cars from this era looked like crippled-mastodons flailing around in some tar-pit. So why the attraction now? AmI trying to regain some part of my youth? Possibly. Or is it because it’s just so different from what we think of as an automobile today?
First, let me tell you about the car I found. It’s all original and painted in Desert Sage, which is really just another name for pink. A man bought it new for his wife but it was too big for her to drive. It’s 19 feet long and it weighs just shy of 5000lb. She rarely drove the car, and it was parked sometime in 1964 with 64,000 miles on it. There it sat, indoors, for almost 55 years, so there is zero rust and the chrome is perfect. I drove it home on the tyres that were fitted in 1963.
Modern cars have almost no exterior brightwork. In contrast the Imperial looks like a Wurlitzer juke box. There’s even a massive chrome strip that runs over the roof like some sort of roll bar. The steering wheel is enormous and the gauges are the size of dinner plates. If you have to wear glasses to see the speedometer, you should not be allowed to drive.
It has push-button drive and all sorts of goofy switches; believe me, they couldn’t have cared less about ergonomics. Trying to figure out how to operate the turn signal took 10 minutes. It has a massive air-conditioner which looks more like a refrigeration unit from a meat-packing plant. You actually have to press down hard on the accelerator to compensate for the 25bhp needed to drive it.
If you like buying cars by the pound, this is the way to go. Ferraris are about $1000 per pound and cars like this are about $5 per pound. When you hit somebody in a Ferrari the damage is life-altering. Hit somebody in this thing, and you don’t even know it till you get home and find the other car crushed up under your wheelarch. I don’t think I’ve ever had another car that stops traffic like this thing. In a town like LA, where Bentleys and McLarens barely get a second look, folks jump out at stop lights to ask me what it is. One guy in a hip part of town asked if he could buy my interior so he could make a suit out of the sparkly brown-material.
It’s fun to jump between different automotive worlds. For example, last Saturday was the perfect day; I took the McLaren P1 out for a ride in the hills above LA and then took my wife out to dinner in the Imperial. After all, you need to have one sensible car to drive.
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The other Sunday morning I pulled my McLaren F1 into a Cars & Coffee meet. A young man, probably in his mid-20s, approached me. ‘What’s it like to drive a car like that, with no driver aids of any kind?’ he asked.
In his driving life, about ten years, he has probably never driven a car without them. In my driving life, which is considerably longer, most of the cars I own and drive have no driver aids at all.
A good example is my #1953-Hudson-Hornet / #Hudson-Hornet / #Hudson / #1953 , made just before the advent of power steering and power brakes so everything is nicely weighted and balanced, this was the first American post-war design that was totally fresh and new. It featured a Monobilt Step-Down design; that’s where the floor pan was not on top of the frame but on the bottom of it. this not only lowered the car but gave you more headroom. At 60in tall, the Hudson was a good 6in or so lower than its competitors, this gave it a much lower centre of gravity and made it the best-handling American car of the era. It ruled NASCAR in the early ’50s; what it couldn’t do on the straight it made up in corners.
Its Achilles’ heel was its 308ci flathead six-cylinder engine with two single-barrel carburettors, which in Hudson-speak was called Twin H-Power. In 1949, Oldsmobile revealed its new 303ci overhead-valve Rocket V8 that, with a four-barrel carburettor, gave 160bhp. Actually that was the same as the Hudson Hornet, but with those two extra cylinders and the gold valve covers it was a lot sexier.
I have a film strip that Hudson sent to dealers, to show prospective customers. It features two cars with the bonnets up: a Rocket 88 and a Hornet. Standing next to the Rocket 88, an exasperated customer yells to a mechanic in a filthy coverall, ‘Why does it take so long to tune up this car?’ ‘It’s those pesky overhead valves,’ the mechanic explains, ‘they’re just too complicated.’
then the camera pans to the Hudson mechanic who, in his clean, freshly pressed uniform, is gently closing the Hudson’s bonnet after torquing the heads, saying, ‘there you go Mr Johnson, she’s fit as a fiddle.’ As the Hudson owner beams with pride, he pulls away knowing he made the right choice with the tried and true flathead design. For a lot of people the last days of old technology were always better than the first days of new technology.
A really old-school Hudson feature was that the clutch is lined with cork and runs in oil. It’s amazing how smooth and reliable it is. Another Hudson quirk is two braking systems, in case one fails: a hydraulic system and a mechanical back-up. It’s said that Stuart Baits, the chief engineer, had a bad accident and was seriously injured while testing Hudson’s new hydraulic brake system.
Baits installed a steel rod, running from the brake pedal to the emergency brake on the rear wheels, to stop the car if the brake pedal ever went past the halfway point. As Henry Ford, who resisted hydraulic brakes up until the 1930s, said: ‘the safety of steel from pedal to wheel.’
If you ever want to talk no driver aids, look no further than the 1913 Mercer Raceabout. I consider this to be, at least in America, the first true sports car. While other manufacturers were putting a huge lump of an engine, some as big as 12 litres, into a lightweight frame, the Mercer, which also has a lightweight frame, has a five-litre, four-cylinder T-head engine, thus making an extremely well-balanced package. It also features a four-speed gearbox and is one of the fastest and best- handling cars of the era, with a top speed of 100mph.
It has a monocle windshield bolted to the steering column, no doors and minimal bodywork, the gas pedal is outside the car on the frame rail; your feet are so far apart that the women who’ve driven it say it’s akin to visiting the gynaecologist.
the brakes don’t so much stop the car as merely retard progress. You have an outside handbrake which stops the rear wheels only, here’s a foot pedal that works as a transmission brake on the propshaft. Caution: use this too often and it will catch fire.
Apart from the magneto, the Raceabout has no electrics. Even though electric lamps were popular, it has gas lamps, the advantage was that you could pop off the lamps, unbolt the fenders and go racing.
My favourite thing is the exhaust cut-out to bypass the silencer. A pedal by your left foot opens the exhaust at the bottom of the manifold, the T-head engine, in full song, sounds like four shotguns fired in unison.
If you’re a real purist about no driver aids, how about this? here’s no electric starter, so you have to hand-crank it. Take that, McLaren F1: who needs an electric starter anyway? Now we’re talking about no driver aids.
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- Post is under moderationCAR: #Chevrolet-Nomad / #GM / #1957-Chevrolet-Nomad / #Chevrolet /
Year of manufacture #1957
Recorded mileage 18,850
Asking price £37,500
Vendor Dave Caruso, Hertfordshire (private sale); tel: 07737 096073
WHEN IT WAS NEW
Max power 185bhp
Max torque 275lb ft
0-60mph 12.3 secs
Top speed 99mph
This rare wagon came to the UK two years ago, imported from California by the vendor. It’s going only because he has too many other cars vying for his time. It’s straight and apparently rot-free under an older repaint. The solid chassis has a few minor knocks, the inner wings and arches are mint. The only flaws were small bubbles at the base of the passenger door. All of the brightwork is present and undamaged, most of it likely original, and the correct Nomad rear script will be on by the time of sale. The front ‘Dagmar’ rubbers are undamaged, plus the wheeltrims are undinged, the centre badges all intact. It wears a sunvisor plus the dash-mounted ‘signal seer’ prism for reading traffic lights. All the windows (sliding at the sides) open and close as they should, and there are H4 lights, plus new exhausts. It sits on Classic radials, with plenty of tread – including the spare, near which we find new rear dampers and a repaired upper mount on the right.
The 283 is stock apart from a four-barrel Holley, but the original twin-choke Rochester is included. Its coolant is full and green, the oil darkish and mid marks, while the transmission fluid is pink and sweet-smelling. Inside, it’s superb with all the dash trim intact, though the instrument bezels and the steering column shroud are chromed. The seat covers are probably repro items; the driver’s seat base velour is worn threadbare and a tear in the back was due to be fixed. The headlining is excellent and all of the chrome strips are in place. There are electric wipers, auxiliary gauges under the dash, and it has a modern digital radio in the original slot.
It starts easily, and drives really well for a 60 year old, suggesting that it’s never been significantly apart. There’s plenty of grunt from the V8 and smooth changes from the three-speed Turboglide, though it’s quite lowgeared. It tracks straight, with no clonks from the suspension, and the re-lined brakes are sharp, but they pull slightly to the right. It’s easy to manage and the compact turning circle comes as a surprise. Oil pressure is over 50psi warm when driving, and coolant steady at about 85ºC. The Chevy will be sold UK-registered – its NOVA paperwork is already done.
EXTERIOR Straight; repainted; good trim
INTERIOR All there and all works; some wear to the driver’s seat
MECHANICALS In rude health; performs well
For Standard and super-cool, with desirable options
Against Bubbles on offside door
SHOULD I BUY IT? Well priced compared to similar cars in the US, it’s deceptively usable on UK roads, being about the size of today’s large European carsStream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationCar #Chevrolet-Master-Deluxe / #Chevrolet-Special-Rally-Car / #1941-Chevrolet-Master-Deluxe / #Chevrolet-Master / #Chevrolet / #GM /
Year of manufacture #1941
Recorded mileage 6347
Asking price £60,000
Vendor RPS, Witney, Oxfordshire; tel: 01993 358009; www.rps.com
WHEN IT WAS NEW
Max power 123bhp
Max torque 170lb ft
Top speed c85mph
This Chevy was prepared for rallying by RPS after it had spent some time in the Haynes International Motor Museum. It features RPS’ suspension mods – big telescopic dampers with travel-limiting straps, front anti-roll bar – and its comprehensive rewire and replumb with double fuel lines. It also has comfy Corbeau seats and harnesses, but retains the standard transmission and doesn’t run a roll-cage, though a sump guard is included.
It’s nice and straight, with factory paint flaking in a couple of places, the doors having been resprayed. All of the bright trim is present, the grille lightly corroded and the rear wings slightly bent, and it’s a bit unfinished where the running boards have been removed, but it’s a working rally car. It also runs RPS’ lightweight vinyl-skinned bootlid, beneath which is a load of costly aluminium work. There are two spares, both unused. Incredibly, the matching Fulda commercial tyres on the car, mounted on new van wheels, have done a Peking-Paris and a Flying Scotsman yet retain plenty of tread. The motor is tidy, rebuilt before the P-P. It wears twin Daytona carbs on a Kenton manifold, plus an electric fan and lightweight high-torque starter, and has lots of extra relays on the bulkhead, plus an electric fuel pump and big filter lurking. Coolant is fullish and blue; oil topped-up but dark.
Inside, the door trims and headlining are fine, just coming adrift about the right pillar. Fake veneer paint is tidy on the door tops, flaking on the dash, and there are extra auxiliary gauges as well as a Monit tripmeter. The 235cu in ‘six’ (3.9-litre, optional over the standard 216) fires easily and it’s a pleasant drive with lots of torque, a decent column shift and the ride well controlled by the big dampers. The speedo doesn’t work (GPS is more accurate) but the wind-up clock does. Oil pressure is just under 3bar, which is healthy for one of these, and temperature stays at the lower end of the gauge. The all-round drums have uprated friction material and pull up adequately for the performance, which is quite sprightly; great fun. It’s being sold for less than it cost to build, but to take it to the next level, with five-speed Tremec and Ford 9in rear axle, would cost c£20k.
EXTERIOR Tidy; decent paint; all trim there
INTERIOR What’s original is mostly good
MECHANICALS Completely rebuilt; feels as if it would go to the moon and back
For Easy to drive; on the button
Against Transmission is the weak item for rallies
SHOULD I BUY IT?
If you want a good basis for a longdistance rally car, built by the best, then worth a serious look – either to drive as is or feed more steroids.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
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The Kicker Studebaker. A thoroughly retro demo car from one of the undisputed kings of American audio. With all that Kicker gear it’s as loud as it is low too! When Kicker Audio decide to build a showcase for their latest speakers, they don’t mess about. This 1950 Studebaker is testament to the passion of a bunch of enthusiasts who didn’t want to just screw some speakers into yet another minivan…Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationART’S ART / Pontiac’s in-house artist made the cars coolly covetable / Words Giles Chapman / #Pontiac-Firebird / #Pontiac / Catalina / #Arthur-Fitzpatrick / #Art-Fitzpatrick / #Van-Kaufman / #Pontiac-Catalina-Safari / #Pontiac-Catalina /
There’s plenty to remember about Pontiac. The GTO that fashioned the muscle car fad, or the early Firebirds taking the battle to the Ford Mustang. ‘We Build Excitement’, went the Pontiac jingle, and car buyers felt it with every advert featuring the work of Art Fitzpatrick. The crisp, clear, rich West Coast ambience, and the low, wide stance of the cars he depicted in his illustrations, subconsciously swayed millions into becoming Pontiac owners.
Fitzpatrick died last year, aged 96, shortly after opening a major exhibition of his work at the Gilmore Museum in Michigan. Onlookers got up close to 70 originals previously seen only in National Geographic or Life magazines, and Bill Krzastek, a 64-year-old classic car collector, was in a total reverie.
‘It was highly influential to many a young automotive enthusiast such as myself,’ he says. Not only did he draw the cars superbly but just look at the settings he surrounded them in: beaches, surfboards, dune buggies, beautiful women. It was a fiction you could be part of if only you owned one of these fine automobiles!’
‘Fitz’ was only part of the story. He was the ‘car guy’ in a legendary advertising industry duo, for it was former Disney animator Van Kaufman who created the backgrounds. The two painters’ work became so intertwined that once they even composed an advert over the phone, sight unseen. ‘I did the car and it fitted on Van’s background perfectly. We were that much in tune with each other,’ Fitzpatrick recalled in a 2012 interview.
After attending the lofty Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts in 1936, aged 18, Fitzpatrick’s working life began as an apprentice designer at Briggs Body Co. Within four years he’d styled a complete car, the 1940 Packard 180.
By 1959 Fitzpatrick and Kaufman were contracted to General Motors’ Pontiac division. Pontiac was about to embark on a decade-long image overhaul with its ‘wide track’ styling. In truth, the cars’ dimensions differed little from the Detroit norm, but Fitzpatrick’s renditions put clever emphasis on their width, shallow height and tapering length so that, to the public, Pontiacs were just a touch slicker than rivals. His work was key to changing perceptions.
While other advertising campaigns shifted to photography, Pontiac stuck with illustration, exploiting Fitz’s subtle exaggerations and Van’s imaginative, aspirational settings. Pontiac general manager John De Lorean was so alert to their power that he personally banned all photos from the marque’s advertising.
‘A picture of a car moving doesn’t mean a thing,’ Fitzpatrick declared in a 2007 Motor Trend interview. ‘They all move. You have to convey something about the car psychologically. ‘The Pontiac front end was the greatest thing they ever did. It was so different and distinctive.
It allowed me to push the visual to the limits, making seven-eighth front views instead of seven-eighth side views, the old standard. That enlarged the image of the car to 60% of the page.’ The side view had only taken 15%.
The campaign lasted until 1972. After 285 images it had run out of finely air-brushed road. Legislation to ensure ‘truth in advertising’ was closing in. And wide though Pontiacs of the era were, Fitz had made them appear wider still. The pair then had a stint working their craft for Opel, so we Europeans could enjoy Fitz’s style too. Later on, Fitzpatrick interrupted his retirement (Kaufman passed away in 1995) to produce two sets of commemorative postage stamps for the US Mail in 2005 and 2008, featuring 1950s American classics. He was also a revered consultant to Pixar’s worldwide animated hit movie Cars.
In that 2012 interview, 94-year old Fitz laughed when he recalled that photographers told him they’d tried to copy his style. ‘In 1968, our ads were the only art in magazines for automobile advertising. Every other campaign was done in photography.’
He had plenty of favourites. One featured a green ’1969 GTO convertible near a cove, with a just-emerged masked diver. Another showed a Catalina in the moonlight, with a couple enjoying themselves out on a raft. ‘At the time, you couldn’t find a Pontiac in a yacht club or golf club parking lot anywhere. Just a year later, you could find them everywhere. That was the point.’
Left and below. You could ache for a Firebird that looks like this, imagining après-ski powerslides in the snow; poolside Catalina wagon looks even longer, wider and lower than the real one. #1971 / #1959Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
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