When we think of convertible-top body styles today, we generally think of two-door convertible coupes and roadsters. But in the Classic Era of the American automobile (the years 1925 through 1948, approximately, according to our friends at the Classic Car Club of America) there was another popular style, the convertible sedan—that is, a convertible with four doors.
Costly to manufacture and elegantly detailed, convertible sedans were typically regarded as the top of the line in the Motor City’s sales catalogs. But as times changed and tastes evolved, the body style gradually disappeared and by the 1960s, only Lincoln offered a four-door convertible among U.S. manufacturers. We don’t know this for certain, but we like to think that Bill Mitchell and his staff at the General Motors styling studios were thinking of the classic convertible sedans of days gone by when they conceived the Caribe, a four-door convertible dream car based on the Chevrolet Impala.
Green-lighted in late 1964 by the corporate brass, the Caribe (internal designation XP-834) was based on an Impala four-door sedan with 396 CID V8 and Turbo-Hydramatic transmission. The roof panel was surgically removed, a convertible windshield and A-pillar assembly were installed, and the cowl, rockers, and door posts were reinforced to stiffen the body structure as required. On paper at least, a folding convertible mechanism was nestled under the form-fitting top boot, but we don’t know if it was installed or functional.
The interior featured color-matched upholstery materials with elaborately filigreed trimming and a hybrid bench-bucket front seat arrangement that would be marketed by Chevrolet as the Strato-back option. At some point, the exterior sheet metal was updated from 1965 to 1966 spec, but reportedly, the Caribe never made it onto the show car circuit as planned and the sole example was scrapped. The name was then recycled for use on the 1968 Camaro Caribe concept, an El Camino-esque roadster pickup.
Photos courtesy of General Motors, article courtesy of Mac’s Motor City Garage.
The Studebaker Sceptre was one of a cluster of cars proposed by the famed Milwaukee industrial designer Brooks Stevens in 1962-63 to replace the automaker’s aged product line. This one, the Sceptre, was presented to CEO Sherwood Egbert and company management in April of 1963 as a 1966 replacement for the Gran Turismo Hawk, which also happened to be a Brooks Stevens design. (Read about the GT Hawk here.)
Unfortunately, the Studebaker Corporation was broke and nearly out of options by the spring of ’63, and it would be forced to suspend its operations in the U.S. before the end of the year. For us, it’s a shame the Sceptre never went into production in South Bend. We don’t know if the striking sedan could have been a success, but it sure would have made an impression.
Stevens had the lone Sceptre prototype constructed by Carrozzeria Sibona-Basano of Turin, a little-known and short-lived (only five years, 1962-66) but highly regarded Italian coachbuilder that was also responsible for Virgil Exner’s stunning Mercer Cobra. Directed by Pietro Sibona, formerly of Ghia, and the brothers Elio and Emilio Basano, the company produced the beautifully detailed prototype on a Studebaker chassis for $16,000, a remarkable bargain in those days.
The automotive designs of Brooks Stevens could range from the basic to the baroque, observers have noted. We think the Sceptre is one of the cleanest and most elegant examples of the lot, with simple visual elements that cleverly complement each other. The distinctive front end featured an electric-razor grille with a Sylvania Light Bar system to illuminate the roadway.
The rear-end styling includes an ingenious and useful clamshell trunk opening, while the broad C pillars, with panels of polarizing glass, are a stylized representation of the formal roof Stevens used on the GT Hawk and his reskinned Brazilian Aero Willys. A Sylvania light bar is also used at the rear, but hidden behind a full-width ruby plastic lens.
The cabin, below, is modern and Italianate in form, with black and gold vinyl trim and a large, airy greenhouse flooded with light. The thermometer-type speedometer and instruments are housed in plastic pods in the top of the dash, while the passenger side features a large vanity area with folding mirror.
Although the Studebaker Corporation ultimately failed to survive, the last-gasp Spectre prototype has managed to stick around, fortunately. The car resided in the Brooks Stevens Automotive Museum in Mequon, Wisconsin for many years, and these days can be seen at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
Tucker Carioca rendering by Thom Taylor, courtesy Rob Ida Concepts.
Preston Tucker viewed failure as a necessary milestone on the road to success. A year after a jury found him not guilty of charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Tucker was hard at work on a new automobile, courting potential investors in Brazil. Pneumonia, a complication of lung cancer, claimed his life before the car progressed beyond the design stage, but Rob Ida Concepts may soon be bringing the one-of-none Tucker Carioca to life.
Tucker’s initial trips to Brazil ended in disappointment. Though investors were willing to back his proposed low-cost automobile, in return they expected all design work to be carried out in Brazil. Tucker refused, a decision that was likely influenced by the instability of the Getúlio Vargas government as much as Brazil’s distance from his home in Michigan.
Determined to forge ahead with the project, Tucker enlisted the help of industrial designer Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, who penned an aerodynamic boattailed coupe reminiscent of the original Tucker Torpedo concept, but on a smaller scale. Like the earlier Tucker concept, the coupe that would later carry the Carioca name featured an air-cooled rear-mounted engine, headlamps that moved with the front wheels (supplemented by one that remained fixed), a padded dash and removable windshield for added safety, and independent suspension.
Unlike the Tucker 48, the Carioca would ride on a wheelbase similar to the smallest domestic cars of the day. Power would come from a four-cylinder engine (also horizontally opposed) instead of a six-banger, and an output of 130 hp was planned. Given a projected weight of less than 2,000 pounds, performance would have been spirited, another design goal that Tucker had in mind. Simplicity was the order of the day as well, with the Carioca’s instrumentation consisting of an oversized speedometer, surrounded by warning lamps for fuel level, oil pressure, temperature, and current.
The Tucker Carioca on the cover of Car Life, December 1955. Image courtesy Alden Jewell.
Believing that caked-on mud and dirt impeded performance and handling, the Carioca was designed to use easily removable (and hence, easily cleaned) cycle fenders. In fact, the whole car could be described as “easily removable,” since it was meant to be assembled by the buyer from supplied components. Alternatively, Tucker envisioned establishing a network of independent garages and dealers who could assemble the $1,000 coupe for a set fee of $60, and would later act as authorized service centers should repair be needed. To keep costs as low as possible, the Carioca was to use as many off-the-shelf components as possible, meaning that only body panels would require stamping or in-house production.
In January 1956, the political climate in Brazil improved significantly with the election of Juscelino Kubitschek, or “JK” as he was commonly referred. A supporter of Tucker, JK once again offered incentives if the car was built in Brazil, and Tucker reconsidered. His Ypsilanti tool company, while profitable, didn’t generate the kind of revenue needed to design and build the Carioca. Brazil, perhaps, was where Tucker needed to be for his automotive second chance to become a reality.
By that time, however, Tucker was gravely ill with lung cancer, which his doctors in Michigan had essentially deemed inoperable. Seeking alternative treatments, Tucker found a doctor in Brazil who claimed to have great success in treating cancers without surgery or the favored radium therapy of the day, so Preston and his wife Vera flew back and forth to Rio de Janeiro for his treatments. In late August 1956, and against his doctor’s wishes, the Tuckers returned to the United States. The travel weakened Tucker further, who then reportedly weighed half of his former 200 pounds, and he was admitted to Beyer Memorial Hospital in Ypsilanti. On the day after Christmas 1956, he succumbed to pneumonia, a side effect of his lung cancer, at age 53.
Tucker Carioca drawing courtesy Rob Ida.
The Carioca may have died with Preston Tucker, but for the drive and ambition of Rob Ida and his father, Bob. After completing the restoration on Howard Kroplick’s Tucker 48, chassis 1044, Rob Ida Concepts has resumed work on the Tucker Carioca, a project last referenced by the shop in 2011.
This time around, there’s another Tucker involved in the mix as well. Sean Tucker, Preston Tucker’s great-grandson and an automotive engineer by trade, will be working with Rob on the design and creation of the Carioca. Details are still being sorted, but teasers appearing on Rob Ida’s Facebook page hint that an air-cooled four-cylinder Franklin aircraft engine may be adopted for the project.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.
Car audio has worked its way through a number of music formats through the years, including 8-Track, cassette, and Compact Disc. Here’s one early effort: Chrysler’s Highway Hi-Fi record player of 1956.
Today, in-car audio is an essential part of the automotive experience, offering nearly unlimited programming choices from satellite to MP3. But until 1956, American motorists were stuck with but one choice: AM radio. That’s when Chrysler opened the door, we might say, with an in-car phonograph system called Highway Hi-Fi.
Highway Hi-Fi was developed by CBS Laboratories chief Peter Goldmark, the inventor of the 33 1/3 rpm long-playing album format. (As legend has it, Goldmark despised the rock ‘n roll then taking over the radio airwaves and decided to offer civilized motorists an alternative.) After experimenting with various mediums including magnetic tape, he devised a special hybrid record format: a seven-inch vinyl disc like the RCA 45 rpm single, but playing at the 16 2/3 rpm used in Talking Book spoken-word records. Dynamic range was limited to 3,000 Hz but on the plus side, the novel format offered 45 minutes of programming per side. A five-pin harness sent the player’s output into the car radio’s audio section, while a carefully engineered tone arm with high tracking force kept skipping and skating to a minimum.
Goldmark pitched his record player to several Chrysler engineers, then to executive Lynn Townsend (who later became company president). ChryCo liked the setup and agreed to buy 20,000 units from the CBS manufacturing division, although the order was later dialed back to 18,000. The automaker created the trade name “Highway Hi-Fi” and made the made the player optional on Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler, and Imperial models, all sharing the same under-dash unit pictured above. The CBS Columbia dvision manufactured the records, a mix of light classics, musical theater, and easy listening favorites, which were distributed through Chrysler’s dealer network and by mail. Perennial Dodge spokesman Lawrence Welk joined in on the marketing effort.
Unfortunately, we know how this comes out. While the player was offered across the Chrysler model lines from 1956 through 1959, it never caught on—due mainly to poor reliability, high warranty costs, and the limited variety and distribution of the Highway Hi-Fi record catalog. The record player was never more than a novelty, although a healthy number of the units are still around in the Chrysler collector car community.
Despite the first misfire, Chrysler revisited the auto record player concept again in 1960-1961 with a completely different unit produced by RCA and known as the AP-1 (below). Offered by both Chrysler dealers and RCA Victor retailers, it was also marketed by Sears under the Allstate brand. This player took popular RCA-style 45 rpm singles (including rock ‘n roll, hurrah) and played them upside down much like many juke boxes of the era. As each record in the changer finished, it dropped into the floor of the unit. While the RCA player was also less than ideal, it spawned a host of copies and competitors from Philips and others, and no doubt inspired new and improved in-car musical formats, including four-track and eight-track tape cartridges.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.