For a car that was rushed into production in a matter of months, the Chevy II enjoyed a long and successful life.
Introduced on July 7, 1959, the 1960 Corvair was a fairly solid seller for General Motors with more than 250,000 units shipped that first year. But due to its innovative air-cooled, rear-engine design, the Corvair was an expensive car to manufacture, constantly struggling to meet its cost targets and generate a reasonable profit margin.
Meanwhile, Ford took a very different approach with its entry in the compact class, the Falcon. With its extremely simple and conventional design, it was cheap and profitable to build, and the public liked it just fine. More than 435,000 Falcons were sent out the door in its first model year, outselling not only the Corvair but the Rambler American and Volkswagen Beetle in the USA. By December of 1959, the GM brass had seen enough. Chevrolet would take direct aim at the Falcon with a second entry in the compact class, the car we know as the Chevy II.
The Chevy II’s development program ran at an emergency-room pace—barely 18 months from the first blank sheet of paper to the start of production in August of 1961. And while it’s not quite a clone of the Falcon, the similarities are remarkable. The Chevy II’s wheelbase was 110 inches and overall length was 183 inches—same as the Falcon, give or take an inch or two. The front suspension (above) was strikingly familiar as well, with a strut-rod lower control arms and coil springs perched atop the upper wishbones. This basic platform, known as the X-body inside the company, was not shared with any other GM product in its first generation.
But there were some differences, and a few innovations, too. The Chevy II used a novel monoleaf rear suspension, and for ease of manufacturing, the unit-construction chassis was constructed in two halves that bolted together at the firewall with 14 fasteners. The new compact was also the first product to feature the Chevrolet division’s totally redesigned Powerglide automatic transmission, which the full-size cars would adopt the following year. (Read our Powerglide feature here.) There were two available Chevy II powerplants the first year: a 153 CID inline four and a `194 CID inline six. Both were variants of the third-generation Chevrolet straight six introduced on the bow-tie division’s big cars in ’63. (This inline engine family shared parts and tooling with the Chevy small-block V8.) The six found far more popularity than the four in the Chevy II, accounting for more than 80 percent of the deliveries in ’62.
The Chevy II lineup for the inaugural year included three trim levels, starting with the bare-bones 100 series, above. At $2003, the base price was eight bucks more than the Corvair and $18 more than the Falcon. Next up was the 300 series, which added a little more chrome trim and upgraded interior fabrics. The top of the line was the 400 Nova, which boasted real carpeting inside and the inline six as standard. All three trim levels were available in two-door sedan, four-door sedan, and station wagon body styles; on the 400 Nova wagon, a third seat was available. The 400 Nova line also included a snazzy two-door hardtop sport coupe (top photo) and a convertible (below).
For 1962, there was no Super Sport in the Chevy II lineup, no V8 engines or four-speed transmissions, either. All that would come a few years later as eventually, even big-block V8s became available in the platform’s third generation (1969-74). The Chevy II badge was retired for 1969, but the Nova name continued on for decades. It was last seen in the USA on a front-drive subcompact produced by the GM/Toyota NUMMI joint venture from 1985 through 1988.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
Not all the fiberglass sports cars in the GM Motorama fleet were two-seaters. The Oldsmobile Starfire boasted room for four.
For the 1953 auto show season, Harley Earl’s design team at General Motors prepared a veritable fleet of fiberglass-bodied Motorama dream roadsters that included, among others, the Cadillac Le Mans, Pontiac Bonneville, and Chevrolet Corvette. Of the bunch, the Corvette was the only one that would eventually make it into volume production, but the Oldsmobile Starfire distinguished itself in another way: It boasted a rear seat. Named after the Lockheed F-94 Starfire, a 640-mph U.S. Air Force jet interceptor, the Olds featured seating for four passengers, but we’re not totally sure about its weather protection. As far as we know, the car was never displayed with a top in place.
Also known as the X-P Rocket in some of the Motorama handouts, the Starfire carried the GM internal designation SO 1621. Like its two-seater sibling, the Olds F-88 show car, the Starfire wore bullet-shaped plastic covers over its headlamps and a wraparound windshield, a pet Harley Earl development that first saw limited production on the Cadillac Eldorado and Oldsmobile Fiesta. Mounted on a shortened Olds production car chassis, the Starfire’s glass-fiber reinforced plastic body displayed a number of current and future Oldsmobile styling cues, including a pair of familiar rocket-inspired tail lamps. According to GM, the Starfire’s 303 CID Olds Rocket V8, usually rated at 165 hp, was souped up to 300 hp.
The Starfire made its debut in the first Motorama show of 1953 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York along with a number of now-famous GM show cars, including the Pontiac La Parisienne and the original Corvette prototype. Speaking of Corvettes, we note that the Starfire’s instrument panel (above) bears a passing resemblance to the ’53 Corvette dash. For its part, the Starfire also featured a padded insert between the front bucket seats—folding, we presume—and the aforementioned rear seat with room for two more passengers, all upholstered in two-tone leather.
We don’t know if there was ever any specific production intent for the one-of-one Starfire show car, but we do note that the Starfire name was quickly adopted for a whole series of Oldsmobile production models that spanned several decades. For 1954 through 1956, all 98 convertibles wore the Starfire name, and in 1957 all the 98 body styles shared the designation. The Starfire name was dropped for 1958, only to return in 1961-67 as an upmarket sports-luxury model on the GM B-Body platform. The name then returned one final time on the 1975-80 Olds Starfire, a rebadged and mildly facelifted version of the Chevy Monza three-door hatchback.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
Google Street View image.
As vacant lots in the metro Detroit area go, the one above, on a bend on the northern section of Snow Avenue in Dearborn, looks rather plain. Some nicely maintained landscaping right up beside Ford's fenced-off Product Development Center next door, a little sidewalk cutting through a trim lawn, and most importantly, no house; otherwise, Ford's secrets might have not remained secret for very long.
When Ford's Product Development Center arose on an 800-acre tract of wooded land just off of Oakwood Boulevard in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it butted up against an established residential neighborhood to the northeast. Snow Avenue, which swung south off Monroe Street and then curved to the west, formed the boundary of the neighborhood and even provided overflow parking just outside the center's back entrance. At the time the PDC - including the styling rotunda and the adjacent courtyard - opened in 1953, vacant lots occupied much of that section of Snow Avenue (there's another section of Snow Avenue, south of Rotunda Drive, which doesn't figure into this story). However, at least a couple of houses did occupy that bend in the road, and one in particular would soon have to come down.
The house in question is marked with number 6 in this photo of the PDC around the time it opened.
Image courtesy Ford Media, via Jim and Cheryl Farrell.
The house didn't look like much in historic photos - just a two-story house of similar construction to its neighbors, maybe a little higher in elevation thanks to the knoll it sat on. Might have had a nice porch out front and some decent attic space for storage under that asymmetrical sloping roof. Might have had a garage or carriage house tucked in next to it. It stood rather close to the road and thus to the entrance to the PDC, but that proximity itself didn't seem to be an issue.
Rather, as Jim and Cheryl Farrell pointed out in their book on Ford's Design Department, the house's second story provided a direct line of sight into the PDC's courtyard, where Ford's design staff and executives spent plenty of time reviewing design clays and prototypes in ambient light rather than the direct light of the studios. And it didn't take long before somebody in Detroit figured out how to take advantage of that fact. According to the Farrells, a competitor rented out the whole house to spy on the courtyard goings-on.
Which competitor exactly, the Farrells didn't say. A comprehensive comparison of Ford's mid-1950s advanced designs and similar designs from the other Detroit-based automakers might pinpoint who took inspiration from that second-story view, or it might be a wild goose chase. Everybody in Detroit at the time looked for some edge over their competition in the race to look as modern and technologically/stylistically superior as possible, whether through spying, poaching talent, or just keeping a keen ear out at the bars.
Property lines for Ford's PDC near Snow Avenue. Image via LandGrid.com.
Ford's brass certainly knew the stakes, and once they discovered the spying from the neighboring house, they took no chances. As the Farrells wrote, Ford subsequently bought the house and immediately tore it down. The Wayne County Assessor's list doesn't appear to break out that parcel as a separate plot from the PDC, so without a trip to the assessor's office, it's difficult to determine exactly when Ford bought the house. However, from historic aerial photos, it appears the house (along with the two adjacent buildings) was demolished sometime before 1957. By 1964, Ford built an addition that blocked the northwest side of the courtyard, and by the early Seventies more additional buildings completely enclosed the courtyard.
Today, a row of duplexes fills many of the formerly vacant plots on Snow Avenue, but their march comes just short of that corner lot. They don't appear to be in any danger of coming down to make way for the proposed redevelopment of the PDC, but if somebody in those houses happens to figure out some Ford WiFi passwords, perhaps Ford might be inclined to snap up a few more Snow Avenue properties.
Article courtesy of Hemings, written by Daniel Strohl.