Note: This article is reprinted from the June 2013 issue of Collectible Automobile.
Nineteen sixty-six was a facelift year for the full-size Mercury, which had been completely redesigned from the frame up in 1965 and dressed in new styling that was advertised as being “in the Lincoln Continental tradition.” Still, there was enough new to give prospective customers plenty to think about.
Naturally, as was the custom in those days, appearances were freshened while still keeping within the basic styling direction selected for ’65. The grille, hood, and fenders were changed, and wraparound taillights replaced the enveloped style used previously. Reshaped bumpers actually led to a 2-inch gain in overall vehicle length on non-station wagon models.
Inside, gauge faces were changed to white from black. This being the year that federally mandated safety equipment started showing up in abundance, Mercurys now sported a padded dashboard and sun visors, front and rear seatbelts, four-way hazard flashers, and back-up lights.
Other new engineering advancements included larger-diameter standard drum brakes, optional front disc brakes, minor suspension tuning, and adoption of a larger 25-gallon fuel tank. Station wagons came with Ford Motor Company’s new two-way tailgate that could be dropped down in the customary way for cargo loading or opened from the side for easier passenger access.
Note: This article is reprinted from the June 2013 issue of Collectible Automobile.
In the “baby boom” ’50s, Americans came to embrace the station wagon in a big way. It was just the right kind of motor vehicle for families expanding both in size and in number. But it was a friendship that took time to grow.
Prior to World War II, the station wagon was a little harder to like. Almost uniformly constructed with wood bodies, early wagons needed to be serviced as much as they served. Still, their ranks grew steadily throughout the ’30s as, one by one, automakers began adding them to their factory-cataloged rosters.
Even the smallest of manufacturers eventually felt compelled to enter the field. Among them was Willys-Overland of Toledo, Ohio. In 1940, Willys added an $830 wagon to its 440 DeLuxe line with a U.S. Body and Forging Company body manufactured in Frankfort, Indiana.
In the fiercely competitive automotive industry, sometimes innovation just isn’t enough. Here are a few examples of groundbreaking automobiles that came up short in the marketplace.
1909-12 Badger and F.W.D.
Two Wisconsin machinist brothers-in-law invented a double-Y universal joint that allowed the front wheels of a motor vehicle to be powered and steered simultaneously. They set up a company to make the pioneering 4-wheel-drive Badger touring car. When a financial backer bowed out, the founders changed the name to F.W.D. Once they started making trucks, they realized that was a better use for their 4-wheel-drive system and abandoned passenger-car manufacture.
Race driver and World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker lent his estimable name to this Detroit-produced 6-cylinder car. Twin flywheels were featured on the 219-cubic-inch engine—one at each end of the crankshaft—to improve smoothness. (Larger sixes and eights were offered from 1925.) A shift to 4-wheel brakes in mid-1923 was a first for a car in the medium price class. Sales slowed in 1925, stock trading was suspended in early ’26, and Rickenbacker himself left the firm later that year.
Whether you’re “old money” with funds that have ripened for generations or you’re “new money” and your ship has just come in, you’re faced with the same need to secure motor vehicles that reflect your ability to experience the good life. It turns out that for a portion of the “smart set,” that just-right ride is a Jeep that hasn’t been made for more than 20 years.
According to the gearheads at Vanity Fair magazine, the Jeep Wagoneer has become a fashion accessory for the well-turned-out driveway. In the conspicuously consumptive “Fanfair” section of VF’s March 2013 issue, there was a Wagoneer, pictured amid organic hair products, retro Cartier jewelry, pricey casual clothes, and a Bernese mountain dog. Stated the caption, “The first true luxury S.U.V. There’s a high rate of Internet trading for low-mileage, refurbished models. Popular markets include Nantucket, the Vineyard, and the Hamptons.”
The Wagoneer pictured in Vanity Fair was a 1990 model—by then it was known as the Grand Wagoneer—replete with old-school, station wagon pretend wood on the bodysides along with alloy wheels, the Selec-Trac four-wheel-drive system, leather upholstery, and power assists for just about anything a driver would care to adjust. By then, though, the Wagoneer was a relative old coot, with a basic design decades old. And it certainly didn’t end up where it started.
The word iconic gets thrown around fairly freely for a lot of things that are merely successful, but if there’s an automobile that truly deserves that adjective, it’s probably the Porsche 911. Going on 50 years now—the public debut of the prototype was at the September 1963 Frankfurt auto show—the shape of the 911 has stayed true to its original theme, while the sports car’s performance has risen to ever-greater heights. It is an icon in the strict dictionary sense of something whose form suggests its meaning.
Starting with a prospective late-’50s design from Albrecht Goertz, young F. A. “Butzi” Porsche transformed it into the low, taut fastback coupe (with vestigial rear seats) that became the unmistakable 911 shape. Specific dimensions may have changed over the years, but the cant of any 911’s roof, the shape of its side windows, and the slope of its nose between prominent headlights have created an enduring symbol of the automaker from Stuttgart.
Transforming the Chevrolet Impala from a midsize to a large car on a new platform for the 2014 model year brought with it the opportunity (if not the need) to completely alter the exterior styling of the brand’s flagship 4-door sedan. Toward that end, designers integrated updates of current Chevy appearance cues with a few gentle nods to the nameplate’s long history.
A deliberately “retro” car was never the plan, however, according to John Cafaro, director of North American passenger-car exterior design at General Motors. The charge to the styling staff was to appreciate the Impala’s historical significance to Chevrolet while designing a modern sedan, Cafaro said.
Frontal styling is still dominated by the twin-port grille theme that has established the Chevy look in recent years. In a departure from recent practice, though, the ’14 Impala’s upper grille opening extends fully from headlight to headlight. It’s also larger than the lower opening, a reverse of the proportions found on other Chevys that use the twin-vent concept. Thick horizontal bars within the grille cavities take the place of finer meshlike textures.
We don’t know if they’ll actually speed up delivery of your mail, but the latest offerings in the U.S. Postal Service’s “America on the Move” commemorative-stamp series sure look like they could.
The postal service has released a run of five stamps that depict tire-smoking muscle cars and ponycars from the period of 1966 to 1970. These icons of the days of classic muscle include a 1966 Pontiac GTO hardtop, a Ford Mustang-based 1967 Shelby GT500, a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS convertible, and a 1970 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda hardtop.
Featuring the work of Newbury Park, California, artist Tom Fritz, the muscle car stamps make up the third automotive-themed run in the “America on the Move” series. The previous two issues showed various cars of the 1950s drawn by Art Fitzpatrick, famed illustrator of award-winning Pontiac magazine advertisements in the ’60s.
The stamps are being issued as Forever stamps, which are individually equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce postage rate whenever used. The self-adhesive stamps come 20 to a sheet and include four copies of each of the five designs. The back of the sheet includes brief, accurate capsule descriptions of the vehicles depicted on the stamps.
If you drive enough cars, you’ll encounter your fair share of weird stuff. Overwrought control systems designed by a masochist, inconvenient storage areas suited to a contortionist, costly options that would impress an extortionist, bedeviling colors in dire need of an exorcist; sooner or later, you’ll experience all of them—and more.
Following is a short list of, um, “curiosities” that I’ve encountered in cars in recent months. A word of explanation first: This is not a dumb-options-on-which-you-should-never-waste-a-dime piece. Indeed, the features mentioned (two out of three of them at least) are quite useful in the right vehicles. Here, though, they raise an eyebrow.
Synthetic-suede package shelf in the BWM 650i Gran Coupe
A number of high-end vehicles offer cushy, rich-looking headliners, seating surfaces, steering wheel rims, etc., in this material. But the bucks-up M Sport and Individual Composition option packages for the Gran Coupe extend the plush stuff beyond the ceiling, where at least it can be easily seen and appreciated, to the ledge under the backlight, where it can’t. Is that the height of luxury—or the height of excess?
Note: This article is reprinted from the October 2012 issue of Collectible Automobile.
First impressions are always the strongest, they say. That would be one very good explanation for why Tony Garcia owns the 1962 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport pictured here.
Garcia’s first car from his high school and college days was an SS hardtop with the new-for-’62 327-cid V8 and a four-speed transmission. The Hermosa Beach, California, resident admits to a bout of seller’s remorse that led him to seek another like it. In 1991, he bought a second 327-powered ’62 Impala SS, this one with a Powerglide automatic transmission. In time, though, he says he “realized the automatic transmission was not what I wanted.” Back into the market he went.
Then, in 2005, Garcia spotted the featured car in an online auction. At first he was noncommittal: His first two Impalas had been various shades of blue and he didn’t want a Roman Red car. “However,” he says, “after closer examination over a few weeks, I realized the car appealed to me each time I scrutinized it and decided it was the right car to purchase.”
Having worked as a design sculptor in the styling departments of three American automakers, Ron Konopka values the skill and workmanship that go into creating the models that historically have been used to establish the looks of cars. That’s what motivated him to obtain and restore a deteriorating ¼-scale plaster model of the 1956 Nash Rambler—a rare artifact of the long-defunct American Motors Corporation.
The 48-inch-long scale model of a Rambler Custom four-door sedan now wears a white, black, and red paint job inspired by period advertisements for Nash’s groundbreaking 108-inch-wheelbase compact. But when Konopka brought the model to the basement of his Harper Woods, Michigan, home in October 2011, it was in stained and chipped bare plaster. “It was extensively damaged with water dripping on it,” he said.
Just about a year later—on Halloween 2012—Konopka completed work on the model. He used wood filler to smooth out the chips and pits that had blemished the surface. Then he primed and painted the piece. As a finishing touch, he applied metallic foil to simulate the ’56 Rambler’s chrome trim.