Here’s one solid candidate for the title of most garish Cadillac dream car ever conceived: the gold-trimmed, animal-skinned 1950 Cadillac Debutante.
When chrome and leather aren’t enough, how do you kick things up a notch? With 24-karat gold plating and exotic animal skins, evidently. That was the apparent strategy behind the Cadillac Debutante dream car, built for display at the 1950 Chicago Auto Show and at the General Motors Mid-Century Motorama, which was staged at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan that same year. In the company’s press materials, the Debutante was described as “the most luxurious Cadillac ever constructed,” and its value was estimated at $35,000.
A Detroit furrier was commissioned to obtain the 14 choice animal skins, described as “Somaliland Leopard from the East Coast of Africa,” that were used to cover the upper portions of the the front and rear seats and portions of the door panels, while the seat lowers were upholstered in opalescent gray nylon silk. (Today we’ve found a more practical use for leopard skins: on leopards.) Adding to the spectacle, all the interior trim including the instrument bezels, horn rings, and door handles—and even the ignition key—were plated 24-karat gold.
Based on an otherwise production-spec Series 61 convertible, the Debutante was painted a bright shade of canary yellow, which Cadillac called Tawny Yellow Buff, then prepped for show duty, as shown below. What became of the car after that is unknown, but as with so many one-off GM show cars, it is presumed to be lost and destroyed.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
The Ford Motor Company has built nearly every kind of V8 engine we can imagine over the past century, but the biggest was the 1100 CID GAA tank engine of World War II.
The GAA V8 story actually begins with a proposed Ford V12 aircraft engine (above) that was developed in the hectic days leading up to the USA’s entry into World War II. Much misinformation surrounds this engine: contrary to the campfire stories, the Ford V12 was not a copy or derivative of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, but an all-new design. And it was a particularly advanced one, with four valves per cylinder, double overhead camshafts, bucket-style valve followers, and an exhaust-driven turbo-supercharger. Additionally, unlike the Merlin, this engine was designed for high-volume production with a number of castings in its construction. (Ford did produce thousands of Rolls-Royce Merlin engines at its Trafford Park plant in England.)
The U.S. government declined to approve the Ford V12 for production, but not due to any particular fault of the engine, reportedly. Rather, the U.S. military planners, especially at the navy, were focused on air-cooled radials rather than liquid-cooled inline engines for aircraft use. But the Allied war effort was in desperate need of tank engines for the ground war, which was bound to be protracted and difficult, so the Ford V12 was hastily converted into a V8 (hence the 60-degree bank angle). With a bore and stroke of 5.402 inches by 6.0 inches, the V8 version displaced 1100 cubic inches (18 liters) and was nominally rated at 500 hp at 2600 rpm, with 1050 lb-ft of torque at 2200 rpm.
Ford produced the GAA and its variants (GAF, GAN, etc., and a V12, the GAC) at its Lincoln auto plant on Warren Avenue on the west side of Detroit, above. Historically, this brought the Lincoln facility full circle, if you will. Henry and Wilfred Leland had originally built the factory to produce Liberty aircraft engines for World War I.
By passenger car standards, the GAA was enormous: five feet long, four feet tall, and almost 1,500 lbs. But it was a perfect fit in the engine bay in the rear of the Sherman M4A3 tank, below, which weighed more than 71,000 lbs, sported a 76mm gun, and carried a crew of five. Various engines were used in the Sherman, including the strange Chrysler A57 we featured here.
Produced in vast numbers, the Sherman was instrumental to the Allied war effort, especially in infantry support. The GAA-series engines were used in other U.S. military tracked vehicles as well, and all told, more than 28,000 of the monster V8s were manufactured between 1940 and 1950. Experts estimate that somewhere between 500 and 1,000 of the engines are still in existence today.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Gragae.
For a brief five-year run, the Bonneville was replaced at the top of the Pontiac full-size line by the Grand Ville.
1973 Pontiac Grand Ville Hardtop Sedan
From its introduction in 1957, the Bonneville represented the top of the heap in Pontiac luxury and features—the flagship of the line. Initially an extension of the Star Chief Custom in ’57, the Bonneville became a stand-alone model in 1958 and a full product line in 1959 with the addition of a station wagon. And as the biggest, costliest, and most luxuriously equipped Pontiac, the Bonneville was a consistent earner for the second-largest General Motors brand.
But for reasons probably best known to the GM product planners themselves, for 1971 the Bonneville was knocked down one notch to the middle of the full-sized line, replacing the 1967-70 Executive, which was now discontinued. (The Executive, in turn, rode in the former Star Chief slot.) The new flagship at the Pontiac division for the next five model years was the Grand Ville, a less familiar name today than Bonneville, Catalina, or Star Chief.
1975 Pontiac Grand Ville Brougham
While the name Bonneville had at least implied performance, the new Grand Ville badge suggested… well, grandness. The Motor City’s full-sized cars were entering their Brougham period, and this latest Pontiac model followed right along with rich velour fabrics, deep-pile carpeting, and the full complement of power accessories and conveniences. A 455 CID V8 was standard, and while the Grand Ville rode on the standard GM B-body platform, its formal roofline was shared with the corporation’s larger C-body cars. On the 1973-75 cars, among the popular options were fender skirts, an interesting throwback to the ’50s land-yacht era.
The 1975 model year brought some significant changes to the Grand Ville. First, the standard V8 was now a 400-CID version of the familiar Pontiac V8 rather than the big 455. (See our feature on the Pontiac V8 here.) Next, the name was altered slightly from Grand Ville to Grand Ville Brougham (there was no non-Brougham Grand Ville). MY 1975 would prove to be the last for the Grand Ville name, as the Bonneville regained its flagship role at Pontiac. For 1976 there would be two Bonnevilles: Bonneville and Bonneville Brougham. As things turned out, the Bonneville name would be repurposed and repackaged several more times before it was finally retired in 2005.
1971 Pontiac Grand Ville
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage
Here’s the story at Chevrolet for 1967, when the General Motors division proudly called itself The Number One Team.
As this film throws down right from the start, in 1967 Chevrolet was the largest car brand in all the world, dwarfing all the other General Motors divisions and many entire car companies as well. Sure, it was a tall boast, but at the time it was completely true. As we know, that would change soon enough as imports took an increasingly bigger bite out of the U.S. market and meanwhile, the car market itself was evolving. Today, the best-selling vehicle in America isn’t a passenger car, it’s a pickup truck: the Ford F-150.
But in 1967 Chevy still ruled the roost, hence the familiar slogan that also serves as the title of this original factory film: The Number One Team. Starting at around the one-minute mark, there’s a surprisingly thorough and accurate five-minute history of the bow-tie brand. We would add only one fact that, understandably, was omitted from this official narrative: Chevrolet was not originally a General Motors division. It was founded independently in 1911 by William C. Durant, then combined with GM in 1917. Also included in the Jam Handy production are some great glimpses of the design, manufacturing, and sales process, along with the 1967 product line. Video follows.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage
In 1935, there were no truly automatic transmissions on the market. But Hudson made an effort to offer the next best thing with a fascinating feature called Electric Hand.
This fact has been a bit mislaid by history over the years, but in its day, the Hudson Motor Car Company was a technical innovator. While the independent Detroit car maker was a fraction of the size of Ford or General Motors, with a fraction of the resources, Hudson was often able to hold its own in engineering. Advanced features in 1935, for instance, included a one-piece, all-steel top, Baker Axleflex independent front suspension, and a fascinating automated gear-shifting feature called Electric Hand. While Electric Hand was not an automatic transmission in any true sense, it’s a clever gadget that’s worthy of a closer look.
Developed for Hudson by the Bendix Corporation of South Bend, Indiana, Electric Hand was, in simple terms, a vacuum-electric pre-selector system. The transmission itself was a conventional three-speed synchronized mechanical unit, as usual. But mounted on the steering column was an electrically operated switch module with a tiny H-gate, just like a standard-pattern three-speed shifter in miniature, that allowed gear selection with the flick of one finger.
Or pre-selection, shall we say. For example: While in first gear, the driver could move the thumb lever to the second-gear position, but the gear change was not accomplished until the driver either pushed in and released the clutch pedal, or removed his/her foot from the throttle pedal and then reapplied it, which triggered a vacuum-powered clutch servo. All upshifts and downshifts could be accomplished this way, but in a patient and deliberate manner. Speed-shifting was not part of the program.
While not nearly as simple to use as a modern automatic transmission—today, we just drop the selector in D and go—-Electric Hand required considerably less physical effort and bother than a conventional transmission of the time. Also, it allowed drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel, which Hudson smartly promoted as a safety feature. One more benefit of Electric Hand was that it got rid of the traditional shift lever in the middle of the cabin floor, allowing for real three-abreast seating in the front.
The illustration above shows the workings at the transmission end of the system. The large cylinder, powered by the engine’s intake manifold vacuum, performed the long portions of the shifting pattern, while the smaller cylinder on top pulled the shifter across the H portion of the pattern. As the drawing shows, the system worked through the transmission’s existing shifter mechanism. In fact, a conventional shift lever was furnished with the car, stowed away in the cabin, in case the Electric Hand suffered a failure.
That leads us to an amusing feature of Electric Hand: If you pull back the floor mat, install the mechanical shift lever in the transmission receiver and run the steering column control switch through the gears, you can watch Electric Hand move the big shift lever through the gears as if operated by an invisible robot hand. What fun. You can view demonstrations of this stunt on YouTube, here for example.
Electric Hand was an available option on all Hudson and Terraplane models from 1935 through 1938. However, the feature was discontinued in 1939 when Hudson, taking a lead from Buick and others, adopted a column-mounted mechanical shift lever. The column selector, which Hudson marketed as Handy Shift, negated one of Electric Hand’s key benefits—three-abreast seating. In 1942, Hudson would offer a more advanced quasi-automatic transmission called Drive Master.
The story doesn’t end quite there, however. Bendix also supplied the same basic system to Cord for use on the 810/812 front-drive models of 1936-37, where a conventional mechanical shift linkage would have been cumbersome indeed. Here the feature was marketed simply as Remote Control shifting. And since the star-crossed Tucker 48 used salvaged Cord transmissions, the Bendix system can be found there, too.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage
There’s a difference between pop-up headlights and hidden headlights. Pop-up headlights, like on some Miatas and Corvettes and Opel GTs and many other cars are more about the goal of not having to break a low nose and hoodline to accommodate headlamps; hidden headlights are more about the challenge of hiding the headlamps, just for the joy of it. American designers really went bonkers for these in the 1960s, and I think one of the most surprising light setups was on the 1966-1969 Buick Riviera. Let me show you why.
When it comes to hidden headlights on American cars, there were two schools of thought: you could just cover the lights in some ornate way, but not really hide them; their location would still be apparent, but they’d have some fussy covers over them, like these mid ’70s Thunderbirds or the Mercury Marquis:
I mean, look at the Mercury on the left there; those headlights have padded, upholstered covers. They look like they’re off some heavy-ass ornate armoire you’ll have to move from your aunt’s house when she dies. It’s ridiculous.
More interesting is the other approach: really try to hide the headlights. Normally, this is accomplished with false grille panels, like on this 1966 Dodge Charger:
...and those are fine, I guess, but the false grille panels aren’t really fooling anyone, with those big panel gaps and all that. The indicators are nicely hidden, though.
To avoid obvious panel gaps, you could do what Oldsmobile did with their Toronado, and just move the whole damn grille up and out of the way:
I respect that commitment, sure, but it’s kind of a ham-fisted approach. Buick’s earlier 1963-1965 Rivieras had a really lovely system, with vertical stacked lights in their own housings on the leading edge of each side-pontoon:
Oh, man, that’s just fantastic. The clamshell/eyelid method of opening has such drama to it! I love it! Great as it is, though, they’re not exactly hidden in the way these others are; you know the lights are in those pods, and there’s not quite the mystery of where will they appear?
Still wonderful, though.
Okay, let’s get back to our 1966 Riviera pal here. Where do you think the lights are hiding?
That grille doesn’t seem to have any obvious panels that would be large enough to hide headlights. Those light pods at the outer edges are the parking lamps/turn indicators, so they’re not in there. Does the whole grille flip up, like the Toronado? Hmm.
Well, let’s see what’s going on here:
Oh damn! Look at that! They flip down, from above the grille, and end up hanging in front of the recessed grille! What a gleefully weird, unexpected solution! I love it!
Hold on, I want to make an animated GIF of this:
Mmmmm, yeah, that’s the stuff right there.
Screenshots: Wikimedia Commons, YouTube
Article courtesy of Jalopnik, written by Jason Torchinsky
Meet the two big new V8s for the 1958 Edsel in this original Ford Motor Company television spot.
When the Edsel was introduced by the Ford Motor Company—on E-Day, September 4, 1957— its mission included two ambitious objectives. First, the Edsel was designed to be fresh and new in every way, starting with its unusual styling (weird might be a more accurate term, some would say). Next, the Edsel attempted, as much as possible for one car make, to be all things to all car buyers. The broad product range featured four model lines, with the junior Pacer and Ranger based on the Ford passenger car platform, while the deluxe Corsair and Citation were built on the larger Mercury chassis. And there were two new V8s, each one based on an entirely different engine family. The Edsel was “the most beautiful thing that ever happened to horsepower,” the ad writers boasted.
As this original Ford spot briefly explains, the two new Edsel V8s were the E-400 and the E-475, each named for its lb-ft torque rating. The E-475 was built on FoMoCo’s MEL engine architecture (read more about the MEL V8 here). With a bore and stroke of 4.20 inches by 3.70 inches, it displaced 410 cubic inches and developed 345 hp. The E-400, a member of the more familiar FE engine family of 1958-76 (which included the famed 390 and 427 CID V8s) displaced 361 cubic inches and was rated at 303 hp. With a 4.05-in bore and 3.50-in stroke, it was essentially the Ford division’s 352 CID V8 with a .050 overbore.
But as things turned out, both engines proved to be one-year wonders. When Edsel sales sputtered and fell far short of their target in 1958, the product line was radically downsized to just two models for ’59 and the two Edsel-exclusive V8s were discontinued, alas. “To sensibly test the potential of these high-torque engines is something no man should miss,” the announcer declares. Video below.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage
Join us in the Ford Motor Company’s anechoic chamber in Dearborn as we check out the full-sized Fords for 1970.
Ford had a new tagline for its big-car line in 1970: “Take a quiet break.” The slogan was used across the board in both the print and TV materials that year, and it was a notable departure from the muscular Total Performance theme of the previous decade. But on the other hand, the new messaging recalls the memorable 1965 campaign in which Ford bragged that its cars were quieter than a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. (See the famous Ford commercial here.) Of course, the property of quietness in a car also plants two more desirable attributes in the minds of potential buyers: quality and luxury.
To sell the quiet concept in the spot below, Ford took the cameras to a “quiet room” at the company’s engineering facilities in Dearborn. A more technical name is acoustic anechoic chamber, and essentially, it’s a space designed to deaden reflected sound waves so that direct sources of noise can be identified and studied. And yes, the anechoic chamber is still an important tool for the automakers today. Featured here, naturally, is the very top of the Ford full-size line for 1970, an LTD Brougham 2-door hardtop. The LTD badge was a solid winner for Ford at the time, accounting for nearly 375,000 sales that year—close to half the full-size production in ’70, which also included the Custom, Galaxie, and XL. Video below.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage
The 1955 Chevrolet is celebrated today for its revolutionary V8 engine, but in fact, the entire car was an important leap forward for GM’s best-selling car brand.
When the 1955 Chevrolet was introduced to the assembled press at the General Motors Milford Proving Ground on October 12, 1954, it was described (yawn) as “all new,” but in this case, for once, the public relations people weren’t stretching the truth even a little. This car truly was all new. The fact was that Chevrolet’s engineering had grown dated by the early ’50s, and the updates were a welcome change. As hard as this would be to imagine a few years later, Chevrolets before 1955 were not known for their performance or advanced design.
The numerous improvements included a new box-section frame, redesigned front and rear suspension, tubeless tires, and a 12-volt ignition system—a necessary upgrade to support the high-compression 265 CID V8. As we know, it was the exciting new V8 that came to dominate the Chevrolet story for 1955. But actually, there were a number of interesting developments that are worth a closer look.
This view of the undercarriage above shows off the new ladder frame, which used sturdy box-section rails from front to rear. Meanwhile, a set of 14 carefully calibrated rubber body mounts tied the chassis and body together while isolating the passenger compartment from road shocks and noise. But if you look more closely at the illustration, you may notice something unusual: The frame has no crossmembers between the front and rear. Where did they go?
In this new Chevy, the cowl and firewall assembly doubled as the center frame crossmember, as shown above. A heavy-gauge stamping of double-wall steel construction that formed a natural arch, the cowl assembly added rigidity to the frame and to the front of the body structure as well. Chevy engineers called this piece a “plenum” because it also housed an integrated heater and air-conditioning unit, a feature introduced at GM by Pontiac in 1954. The unitized packaging allowed Chevrolet to offer optional air-conditioning at a more realistic price ($565) for a car in the low-priced field. Previous factory A/C systems used a bulky and costly trunk-mounted evaporator unit.
There was no transmission crossmember, either. Instead, the engine and transmission were supported by a tuned rubber mounting system at the front of the block and the sides of the bell housing (above). This allowed the engine to roll on its natural axis of rotation a limited amount rather than transmitting the rough motions into the chassis structure. In this regard it was similar to Chrysler’s Floating Power system of the 1930s. And with the transmission supported at the bell housing and free at the tail housing, its noise and vibration were isolated from the passenger cabin as well. All ’55-’57 Chevrolets used this mounting system in all engine and transmission combinations, six and V8. Convertible models employed a familiar X-member in the frame for added chassis rigidity.
In another major departure from traditional Chevrolet practice, the ’55 chassis abandoned the tried-and-true torque-tube driveline, adopting Hotchkiss drive with an open propeller shaft and Hooke’s joints front and rear. The modernized setup offered improved wheel control and reduced driveline noise. Meanwhile, the rear leaf springs were moved outboard from the frame rails and the shock absorbers were splayed out as far as possible as well. This design, which the Chevy marketing folks branded “Outrigger Suspension,” offered increased roll resistance but without stiffening the spring rates and thus making the ride suffer.
The front suspension was thoroughly overhauled as well, with upper and lower ball joints replacing the previous kingpin setup and the addition of a new recirculating-ball steering gear. Chevy engineers also took the opportunity at this point to dial a sizable amount of anti-dive into the front suspension geometry (above) to improve driver control under deceleration and braking. While seemingly subtle, these details front and rear provided a major improvement in the car’s handling. (And they may help to explain how the ’55-’57 Chevy chassis became a favorite on the short-track stock-car scene for decades.) While the new ’55 Chevy V8 engine was a hot performer, the new chassis was a performer, too. And it didn’t take long for the news to spread that Chevrolet was now in the performance car business.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage