Along with Packard, Buick was one of the two leading proponents of the straight-eight engine in America.
Introduced in 1931, Buick’s straight eight engine replaced the automaker’s trusty inline six and then took its place as an essential part of the Buick brand identity for more than 20 years. Buick chief engineer F.A. “Dutch” Bower and crew were responsible for the design, which that first year was produced in three sizes: 220.7, 272.6, and 344.8 cubic inches, for the four Buick car lines. With eight firing impulses per cycle—twice as many as a four, and 50 percent more than a six—the engines quickly asserted themselves as smooth, silent, and powerful, elevating Buick’s reputation as a maker of high-quality automobiles.
Arguably, Buick’s eight was even more advanced than its General Motors stablemate, the Cadillac V8, boasting overhead valves and compact combustion chambers rather than the Cadillac’s traditional L-head layout. Buick advertising campaigns sang the praises of the straight eight’s high-turbulence “Fireball” combustion chamber design: “Every spark sets off a cyclone!” Marketing labels for the inline eight over the years included Silent Oil Cushioned, Valve-in-Head, Fireball, and Dynaflash.
While the Buick eight was continually developed and produced in a number of displacements over the years, its basic layout remained fairly constant, with the intake and exhaust systems on the left (driver) side and the distributor, camshaft, and fuel pump on the opposite side of the block. For the first few years, an updraft Marvel twin-venturi carburetor was employed along with an elaborate, driver-adjustable manifold-heating system (above).
In 1934 a modern downdraft carburetor was adopted, and in 1941-42 the senior models were equipped with Compound Carburetion using a pair of two-barrel carbs and progressive linkage (lead photo at top of page). In 1952, as the inline eight neared the end of its production life, a four-barrel was added, which Buick marketed as the Airpower carburetor. With 320.2 cubic inches, this big eight was rated at 170 horsepower.
In 1948 the straight eight was coupled to Buick’s new Dynaflow automatic transmission, which was specifically engineered to capitalize on the engine’s muscular torque curve and utter smoothness. (See our feature on Dynaflow here.) Along with Packard, Buick was one of the two great proponents of the straight eight engine in America. But nothing is forever, and in 1953 the Buick division joined the growing crowd and adopted an up-to-date high-compression V8. For its final year in 1953, the straight eight was offered only in the Series 40 Special, the junior model in the Buick line.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage
There’s a lot to be said for clean and simple. Let’s take a quick look back at the Biscayne, the unadorned base model of the Chevrolet full-sized line.
Here’s an interesting little secret of the Motor City’s styling studios: Car designers tend to prefer the base models of their creations over the fancier deluxe versions. In their view, the relative lack of ornamentation allows a more unobstructed look at their work. Hmm, we see where they’re coming from. Plain and simple works. Yards of chrome trim won’t make a car run any faster or handle any better. Maybe that’s one key to the gearhead community’s fascination with the Biscayne, the plainest and cheapest full-size car in the Chevy lineup for more than a decade.
The Biscayne name was first applied to the 1955 Motorama show car above. A four-door, four-passenger hardtop with a luxurious cabin and European proportions, the Biscayne dream car (internal designation XP-37) was billed as “an exploration in elegance” and didn’t foreshadow the eventual production Biscayne in any serious way. The name was possibly inspired by the Key Biscayne Hotel in Florida, a favorite haunt of Harley Earl and other General Motors executives.
The first use of the Biscayne name on a production car came in 1958, but oddly enough, not at the bottom of the Chevrolet model line that year. That honor, as it were, went to the Delray, not shown, which featured less chrome trim, a plainer interior, and a $2155 base price, $135 less than the Biscayne. Two body styles were offered on the Biscayne: a two-door sedan and a four-door sedan. There were station wagons at the Biscayne trim level in ’58, but they wore a Brookwood emblem.
In 1959, the Delray was dropped and Chevrolet arrived at the familiar Biscayne formula: Little or no bright-metal side trim, rubber floor mats in lieu of carpets, dog-dish hubcaps, inexpensive plastic upholstery fabrics, and minimal standard equipment overall. The leaner content allowed Chevrolet to list the ’59 Biscayne at $2301, more than 10 percent less than a comparable Impala. Dealers, in turn, trumpeted the low pricing in their newspaper ads to lure customers to their showrooms—and, they hoped, upsell them to the more profitable deluxe models. The Biscayne was a boon to the Chevrolet marketing strategy at multiple levels.
With its low cost and spartan equipment, the Biscayne was a natural favorite with fleet operators, including cab companies and law enforcement agencies—for example, this ’61 two-door operated by the Ohio Highway Patrol. In volume, fleet buyers could order vehicles with a nearly unlimited variety of powertrain combinations and heavy-duty hardware. Available body styles were often limited to two-door and four-door sedans, but in some model years wagons were produced with the Biscayne emblem. For a few selling seasons, Chevy also offered a Utility Sedan, a two-door with a package shelf instead of a rear seat, and the Fleetmaster, an unbadged variant of the Biscayne that was stripped down even further, lacking even arm rests and a cigarette lighter.
Just like the fleet operators, hot rodders and racers were quick to recognize the Biscayne’s virtues. Cheaper, and best of all lighter, than the deluxe models but available with all the same performance options, Biscaynes were drag strip favorites in the ’60s. Baldwin-Motion Performance of New York, above, seized on the trend, offering its SS-427 Street Racer’s Special, which in 1968 featured a 425-horsepower L72 V8, a Muncie four-speed gearbox, and heavy-duty equipment for only $2998. What a deal.
By 1970, as buying habits changed and GM product platforms proliferated, it became difficult to find the Biscayne in the Chevrolet division’s marketing materials. For ’71 and ’72, the Biscayne was officially available only to fleet operators, and now the Bel Air was holding down the bottom of the Chevrolet full-size line. (1971 Biscayne taxi shown below.) There was a Chevrolet Biscayne in ’73 through ’75, but it was available only as a four-door sedan or wagon and only in Canada.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
In an effort to make an indelible impression on potential customers as to how new, exciting, and desirable an automaker’s cars were, dealer brochures of the 1960s could vary significantly in style and content. Some focused on pretty pictures and flowery text to convey how each model would make buyers feel when they experienced it, but the descriptions could be light on specifics.
Others kept the daydreamer content to a minimum and got right to the point, while still including high-quality art. Literature for muscle cars and low-priced models tended to lean in that direction. Manufacturers that catered to those prospects recognized the importance of describing the equipment provided for the money spent. Just about every company pushed “value” in one form or another, however. Numerous brochures of the era also created extraordinary visual presentations through their photographs and/or renderings.
For its 1965 full-line catalog, Pontiac ticked important boxes that would appeal to its customer base, since at the time, the division seemed to be keenly aware of what the public desired in its cars. The new full-size models wore exceptional styling—the personal/luxury Grand Prix included. GTO sales were taking off like a rocket, and Motor Trend would choose Pontiac (all its models) for its 1965 Car of the Year award.
The dealer brochure, which I acquired several years ago, measures a little larger than 11 x 14 inches and features a thick and textured cover. Inside are 48 pages of art and information. There are even renderings by the famous duo of Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman that depict low, long, and Wide-Track Pontiacs in exotic locales. Large body and interior pictures are also provided for each model.
The copy is fortified with useful facts, and at the back of the book there’s a thorough breakdown of engine offerings with small photos of each one, so you can even see the types of air cleaner housings and rocker covers (painted or chrome) used. Charts for transmission gear ratios, rear axle ratios, and powertrains are also included. Printed recreations of exterior color chips and a breakdown of interior choices that best match them for each model cover a full two-page spread. General specifications, options, and vehicle dimensions are found on the final page. There’s also a suggestion to pick up the 1965 2+2/GTO performance catalog to get even more in-depth specs on those muscle cars.
Pontiac went the extra mile in creating this detailed brochure that served to educate potential buyers and enable them to make wise choices when purchasing a car.
My copy has some wear and tear on it, but better (and worse) examples are still available. Currently, you can find the 1965 full-line Pontiac brochure for sale online, ranging from about $7 to $32, with the condition of the cover often playing a key role in the price. If its content is important to you, but you don’t need to hold the item in your hands to enjoy perusing it, you can search online for a free download of the brochure.
Article courtesy of Hemmings, written by Thomas A. DeMauro
It may not be totally obvious today, but the one car that inspired the 1965 Ford Mustang more than any other was the first-generation Corvair Monza of 1960-64.
This is the sort of thing you’ll almost never hear an auto executive admit out loud, but in his 1984 memoir, Iacocca: An Autobiography, former Ford boss Lee Iacocca frankly declared that the basic concept for probably his most famous car, the 1965 Mustang, actually came from a competitor’s product: namely, the Chevrolet Corvair.
“General Motors,” Iaococca wrote, “had taken the Corvair, an economy car, and transformed it into the hot-selling Corvair Monza simply by adding a few sporty accessories such as bucket seats, stick shift and fancy interior trim. We at Ford had nothing to offer to the people who were considering a Monza, but it was clear to us that they represented a growing market.”
In just a few words, Iacocca nailed both the Corvair Monza’s content and its appeal. Introduced in May of 1960, the Monza included a full vinyl interior with sporty front bucket seats, deep-pile carpeting, a special steering wheel with chrome horn ring, and other deluxe extras. Although sales were a little slow the partial first year, the volume shot straight up in 1961 to more than 140,000 units—better than half the Corvair’s total deliveries. For 1962 a convertible and a wagon were added to the Monza line, and at mid-year in ’62 the Monza Spyder Coupe and Convertible arrived, offering a 150-hp turbocharged version of the air-cooled flat six and other performance enhancements.
This may seem like a stretch to enthusiasts of today, but as car buyers of the early ’60s checked out the Monza in the showrooms, with its bucket seats, vinyl cockpit, and four-speed floor shifter—complete with white cue-ball gearshift knob—they could see some Corvette flavor in the Chevy compact. (GM interior stylist Blaine Jenkins was credited with the Monza’s compelling cabin design.) And just to make sure shoppers didn’t miss the connection, the Chevy ad people included the Corvette in the Monza’s print campaign.
All this was carefully studied by Iacocca and the Fairlane Committee, his hand-picked task force assembled to identify emerging market opportunities. (Members included Hal Sperlich and Don Frey.) They could see that the 18-to-34 age bracket was set to blow up, that soon it would account for more than half the new car market. And clearly, the Monza had qualities that spoke to these buyers. For 1961, Ford introduced the Futura, a bucket-seat version of the Falcon, but it was merely a stopgap. On April 17, 1964, the company launched its full-scale engagement of the youth market: the 1965 Mustang.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage
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