Learn all about the 1969 Rambler 440 Station Wagon—the final year for the familiar Rambler name—in his original American Motors dealer film.
The Rambler name took a number of twists and turns over the years at American Motors and its forebears. In 1950, Nash Motors introduced the Rambler, America’s first postwar compact, and soon it had a minor hit on its hands. (The Rambler name had a previous history with Jeffery, a Nash predecessor.) Nash merged with Hudson and became American Motors in 1954, and from 1958 through 1965, all American Motors passenger cars wore the popular Rambler badge. Meanwhile, the former Nash Rambler compact became the Rambler American to differentiate it from the intermediate and full-size cars in the Rambler product line.
By 1966, the company was turning away from the Rambler label, which was growing stale in the swinging ’60s, to adopt the American Motors brand identity. Then in 1969 the Rambler American was dropped as well to make room for AMC’s new compact, the Hornet. But note: In this final year, the smallest AMC product was known as simply the Rambler—no American. Evidently. “American Motors Rambler American” was deemed redundant. Between 1950 and 1969, something like 4.2 million Rambler compacts were produced.
For the final year of the Rambler name, there were four models: Rambler, Rambler 440, Rambler Rogue, and the hot rod SC/Rambler. (You can find our features on the Rogue here and on the SC/Rambler here.) Ramblers were basic machines in these final days: On the lower trim levels, vacuum-operated windshield wipers were standard. The mid-range 440 was offered in two practical body styles: a four-door sedan and a cute four-door wagon, and the wagon is the subject of the clip below, which is taken from a ’69 AMC dealer film. The pitch here is “cargo space for that family to come.” Video follows.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
Here’s the complete rundown on the Dependable Dodge line for 1954.
The advertising theme at Dodge for 1954 was “elegance in action,” though it was a tall and boxy form of elegance. Chrysler’s powerful chief executive, K.T. Keller, who had succeeded Walter P. Chrysler himself in 1935, insisted on high rooflines on all the company’s products so that passengers could ride with their hats on. No fan of the longer, lower trend in styling, he once told his designers, “We build cars to sit in, not to pee over,” or so the story goes. Chrysler’s styling trailed behind the rest of the industry through the first half of the 1950s and sales suffered as a result—until Virgil Exner’s daring Forward Look arrived in 1955.
On the plus side for ’54, Dodge could offer the advanced Red Ram hemi V8, which made its debut the year before. (Check out our feature on the Red Ram here.) And there was a new and improved Powerflite fully automatic transmission to replace the quirky Gyro-Torque semi-automatic box, and Chrysler’s pioneering power steering system, too. Dodge served as the pace car for the Indy 500 that year, so there was a $201 pace car option with Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels and continental spare, and a separate dealer kit was offered that included an Offenhauser intake manifold to boost the Red Ram’s power beyond the rated 150 hp.
Alas, no California speed equipment is mentioned in the original Dodge commercial below. Instead, the emphasis is on “the dependable Dodge,” a traditional theme in the brand’s messaging through the years. (Decades earlier, a famous Ted MacManus ad claimed, questionably, that Dodge had inspired the coinage of the word “dependability.”) In this spot, a couple is preparing for their upcoming vacation, which brings to mind the old showroom floor adage that Americans buy their cars for the vacations they never take. Hmm, that may explain all the giant SUVs on the road today. Video follows.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City.
Check out the ultra-luxurious 1963 Ford Thunderbird Landau in this original Ford Motor Company promo.
This Ford television spot from 1963 (below) takes the retrospective approach to telling the Thunderbird story. First up on the screen is the original two-seat roadster of 1955-57, then the four-place 1958 T-Bird that launched the personal luxury car category, then the dramatically styled 1961 Bullet Bird, and finally the 1963 Landau Coupe.
And all the while, we can see the Thunderbird steadily marching toward the luxury side of the sport-luxury junction. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Landau Coupe that debuted in 1962, with its optional padded vinyl roof and faux top irons. In just a few more years the four-door 1967 T-Bird would be introduced, the convertible would be dropped, and the transformation was complete. Now the Thunderbird was a full-blown luxury car in every sense, but for buyers who had no need or want for a traditional large sedan.
Back to 1963: This was the final year of the 1961-63 Bullet Bird series, distinguished by its hockey-stick character line shooting through the front fender and door, accented with three hashtag chrome gadgets. Prices ranged from $4500 to $5500, right in Buick Riviera territory and edging into the Cadillac realm. Check out the sales pitch below.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
For 1955, the DeSoto line at Chrysler Coporation recieved its boldest styling update in years. The new DeSotos were “Styled for Tomorrow,” the ad guys declared.
When the Chrysler Corporation introduced Virgil Exner’s aggressive Forward Look styling theme for 1955, each of the five Chrysler passenger car divisions got its own subhead for the new design. At DeSoto, the tagline was “Styled for Tomorrow,” which is also the title of the 1955 commercial spot featured below, naturally enough.
This is only one subjective opinion, of course, but the DeSoto is arguably the most handsome of the ’55 Forward Look cars. While the DeSoto was based on the senior Chrysler platform and sheet metal, it sports a number of distinctive touches, including a remarkably European-looking “double cockpit” instrument panel. And like all Chrysler products in ’55, the selector for the Powerflite automatic transmission was a petite panel-mounted lever—the familiar push-button control would appear in the following year.
While alas, our original commercial spot below was produced in black and white, the ’55 DeSotos were noted for their bold use of color. There were 55 available exterior paint combinations, including the flamboyant Coronado three-tone treatment, and the interiors were equally exuberant. Rapidly shedding its conservative image, DeSoto dumped the base flathead six for ’55, offering only 291 CID hemi V8s: the 185 hp Firedome and the 200 hp Fireflite with Carter four-barrel carburetor. Here’s George Fenneman, the voice of DeSoto in those days, with the rest of the story.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
Even though it was developed more than 60 years ago, the Ford 9-Inch is the rear axle of choice throughout the American high-performance world. Here’s why.
When the Ford Motor Co. unveiled its 1957 vehicle line in October of 1956, in the press materials there was only brief mention of a new rear axle assembly for its cars and light trucks. Engineered in-house and produced by the company’s Sterling Axle Plant on Mound Road, which had opened only a few months earlier, the axle proved to be a winner—beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, actually. At the time, no one could have foreseen that today, more than 60 years later, the Ford 9-Inch is ubiquitous all across the American racing and performance scene.
The exploded diagram above reveals many of the design features that made the 9-Inch so popular:
+ The carrier housing is a front-loading dropout type, also known as a “banjo” or “pig” style, which is far more mechanic-friendly than the more common Salisbury/Spicer design in which the differential carrier loads into an integral axle housing from the rear. Here, backlash and pinion-depth adjustments are quick and easy, and gear ratio changes can be accomplished in minutes.
+ The pinion-shaft assembly is carried in a separate, detachable sub-housing (a cartridge, as some describe it), which simplifies adjustments even further and allows beefy, large-diameter bearings and yoke.
+ The axle shafts are secured in the housing with sturdy retainer plates at the housing ends, rather than with C-clips inside the carrier, a setup that is not terribly safe or suitable for serious racing use.
+ The ring gear (crown wheel in the Queen’s English) is a generous 9.0 inches in diameter, which allows the axle to withstand extreme torque loads and lent the rear axle its familiar name. Ford also manufactured axles of this design with 8.0-inch and 9.38-inch ring gears for various applications, and at one time or another, the axle family has been used in virtually every U.S. car and light truck platform produced by the company between 1957 and 1986.
So by fortune or design, the 9-Inch checks a number of important boxes for high-performance use. And when we dig a little deeper, we can see even more significant advantages, starting with a property called hypoid offset, above. In the hypoid gearset, introduced by Packard and Gleason Gear Works in 1926, the pinion gear is offset from the ring gear’s centerline, rather than centered as on a conventional spiral-bevel gearset. The result is a sort of bevel/worm gear hybrid, combining both meshing and sliding action between the gear teeth, and the increased contact area produces a stronger, quieter gearset. (Hypoid axles also allow a lower driveshaft and flatter passenger floor, surely the main reason they were embraced by the American car industry.)
In most U.S. passenger car drive axles, hypoid offset is generally in the 1.25-in. range (top left gearset). But on the Ford 9-inch (lower left gearset) the offset is much greater: 2.38 inches. This provides an even longer, deeper tooth contact (yellow arrow). The increased contact area does come at some cost: greater friction, more heat (often requiring a differential cooler), and a small but significant increase in mechanical loss— around two percent. In most applications, racers find the sacrifice is more than worth it. But it’s surely no coincidence that the 9-Inch was discontinued on production cars when fuel efficiency became a prime concern.
One more advantage of the 9-inch worth mentioning, as indicated by the red arrow above: Unlike most every other unit of its class, the Ford carrier includes an extra journal on the nose of the pinion to support a bearing set deep in the case, which stabilizes the gearset against deflection and allows a shorter, more compact pinion shaft.
With all these valuable attributes, the Ford 9-inch is far and away the favorite of the American high-performance scene, from street rodding to NASCAR, and it has been for decades—despite the fact that Ford hasn’t offered the unit in a production vehicle since 1986. Every component, down to the last spacer and seal, is now available in the performance aftermarket. Like a small-block Chevy V8 or a Fender guitar, an entire 9-inch axle can be assembled without a single original factory part. Specialist suppliers including Strange, Mark Williams, and Moser Engineering (shown above) offer a complete range of components and assemblies for every conceivable purpose.
It may seem a little odd that one of the top racing series in the world depends on a major component that was developed more than 60 years ago, but it’s true: Every car that runs in NASCAR Cup today has a Ford 9-Inch rear end under it—yes, even the non-Ford entries. As a result, the NASCAR teams have amassed vast inventories of 9-Inch assemblies, as shown below, in every gear ratio you can imagine, for tracks from Martinsville to Talladega.
But the way we hear it, that may be changing soon. Reportedly, NASCAR will ditch the venerable 9-Inch on the next-generation Cup car due in 2022 and adopt a sequential transaxle similar to those used in the Australia Supercars Championship. Still, we know that the Ford 9-Inch will be around the performance world for decades to come.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City.
Meet the new Oldsmobiles for 1958, now with an exciting high-tech feature: the Trans-Portable Radio.
The special focus of this 1958 Oldsmobile spot is a short-lived General Motors feature called the Trans-Portable Radio. (Note GM’s distinctive rendering of an ordinary word, “transportable.”) This optional gadget was essentially a 10-transistor portable radio that nested within the car’s in-dash radio. The removable sub-unit included its own tuner, battery pack, and 3-inch speaker, allowing it to be operated separately from the car—for entertainment at picnics, at the beach, and so on. (Pontiac and Buick offered versions as well.) Trans-Portable Radio lasted only two years, ’58 and ’59, overrun almost overnight by the rapid advances in semiconductor technology. Soon, personal transistor radios of shirt-pocket size were everywhere, and they sold for far less than the expensive ($146) Delco in-car unit.
At Oldsmobile, 1958 will forever be known as the year of chrome. All five GM brands for ’58 were lavishly decked out with bright metal, Oldsmobile more than most. It was said that longtime Olds general manager Jack Wolfram, who ran the division from 1951 to 1964, had a special love of the stuff. From the base-model Dynamic 88 to the deluxe Ninety-Eight, all ’58 Oldsmobiles featured multiple chrome side spears running in both directions. And as we can see here, most of the instrument panel was dressed in shiny chrome as well. Grab your sunglasses and check out the video below.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
One of numerous innovations from the Pontiac Motor Division in the 1960s was the hood-mounted tachometer, which was conceived by GM designer Ron Hill as a charismatic cure for the overly congested instrument panel of the full-size cars. In The Definitive Firebird and Trans Am Guide 1967-1969 by Rocky Rotella, Hill stated, "While I was in the Pontiac studio, I came up with the idea of placing it outside the vehicle on the hood and designed its shape. The GM patent was issued in my name."
The hood tach was first offered as a dealer-installed accessory in 1967, before its availability expanded to a factory-installed option during the model year. It featured a smooth, rounded housing, and the face had a 180-degree needle sweep, an 8,000-rpm limit, and marks at 200-rpm increments. "Pontiac" lettering and "RPM X 100" were also present, as was a redline that began at 5,100 rpm with V-8s or 6,500 rpm with the OHC-6 engine. According to the GTO Recognition Guide by Paul Zazarine, the GTOs and full-size Pontiacs used a steel-blue background with white characters, but the Firebird employed a black background with green characters. The unit was lit by a single bulb, making it somewhat dim.
A main selling point was that the tach was positioned right in the driver's line of vision, so there would be less eye movement required to read it—and, of course, it just looked cool. Detractors pointed out that the delicate electronic instrument was mounted outside in the elements and would be subjected to additional shocks each time the hood was closed. Another concern was theft, but by using pop rivets for two of the four fasteners (the other two were studs and nuts) the unit was more difficult to steal.
The redesigned 1968 hood tach had a lower profile and slightly shorter housing length than the 1967 model, and it mounted with two studs and nuts and one pop rivet. Its reshaped face also had different fonts, the 200-rpm-increment hashmarks and redline moved to the inside of the numbers, "RPM X 100" was removed from the face, and "RPM" was added to the needle's base cover.
According to the Pontiac GTO Restoration Guide 1964-1972 by Paul Zazarine and Chuck Roberts, a few tach face designs were used in 1968. On the early version, "The characters were [laid out in a] circular shape and the sweep needle was approximately ¼-inch shorter than other 1968 needles. Redline started at 5,100 rpm."
The next design featured the more commonly seen wider-spaced character layout and longer needle, and it retained the 5,100-rpm redline. Another was visually the same but had a higher 5,500-rpm redline for the OHC-6 engines. It was later set up for a V-8 and used with the Ram Air II 400 that arrived in the spring of 1968. A steel-blue face with white characters was retained for 1968, but for 1969 the background changed to black. The 1968-and-newer hood tachs used two bulbs, making them easier to read at night.
Though Pontiac sealed the unit from the elements, fogging issues led to the addition of a hose during the 1970 model year; this line ran from the heater box to the tach to clear its lens. Sometime that same year, the redline color changed to orange.
The hood tach remained available through 1972, but from the dealer only in its last year. Reproductions of the tall 1967 and the shorter 1968-and-up versions are currently available and generally feature upgrades over the originals. Pontiac's unique take on this tachometer's design and placement helped advance its performance image, and it remains a venerated option from the muscle car era.
Article courtesy of Hemmings, written by Thomas A DeMauro.
Although the Studebaker company was around for over a century, they may be best known for a model they produced for only eighteen months. The South Bend, Indiana factory stopped manufacturing cars and trucks in 1963, but the Avanti lives on.
During the 1940’s, Studebaker was the fourth largest car company in America. After the Second World War ended, they were the first to offer freshly-styled cars to the American public, while their competitors could only re-hash prewar models.
Throughout the early Fifties Studebaker produced some beautiful and innovative cars, such as the Starlight and the Starliner models. 1950 was the company’s best year, but soon after started falling into the red. This led to an acquisition/merge with Packard in 1954. In another two years, however, Studebaker recorded a loss of 43 million dollars, partially due to poor marketing decisions. The new Lark model brought Studebaker hope in 1959, but was merely temporary.
As the Sixties began, the Big Three (Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Chrysler Corporation) started dominating American car sales and the smaller independent companies could not compete. In February of 1961, new Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert proposed designing and building a sports car to help boost the company’s image and attract younger buyers. He contacted industrial designer Raymond Loewy.
French-born Loewy was already established as a great designer by this time. To his credit were such diverse items as steam locomotives, jukeboxes, cigarette packs and refrigerators (he would go on to design the Zippo lighter, the Shell logo, the interior of the Nasa Skylab, and others). Loewy had worked with Studebaker previously; the Starlight and Starliner models were his designs. Egbert asked Loewy if he could create a new sporty car, and have a full-scale clay model ready within a six week period. A design team was assembled in quick order and the scale model car was completed on schedule.
The budget for the Avanti project allowed for a new body only; the frame and suspension were taken from the existing Lark convertible. To get the car produced quickly, fiberglass body panels were chosen over conventional sheet metal. There were two main reasons for this. First, there would not be enough time for the tooling process required for steel panels. Second, a fiberglass car would be lighter (Loewy has been quoted as saying, "Weight is the enemy"). After debate of whether or not to mold the fiberglass panels in their own factory, Studebaker contracted them out to Molded Fiberglass Products Company, the outfit that had been making the Corvette bodies for Chevrolet. This would prove to be a bad decision.
After great initial reception and an encouraging amount of pre-orders, the factory ran into serious production issues. The tolerances of the hundred-plus fiberglass body parts and panels were off, and the cars could not be assembled. There were reports of the rear window glass popping out at high speeds due to air pressure. Months rolled on and production backed up.
On a positive note, a specially-prepared Avanti established numerous speed records at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. The aerodynamic shape was well-suited for high-speed runs, and set a flying mile record of 168.15 mph.
Several engine options were available, top-rated was the 289 cubic-inch Paxton-supercharged engine, whose horsepower rating was also 289. Front disc-brakes were standard; a first for an American-made production car. There is a roll-bar built into the roof; T-tops were suggested but would not fit in the budget. The dash panel was padded for safety as well as aesthetics. As to the curious bulge on the left side of the hood, Loewy made this analogy: as a marksman looks down the sight of a rifle, the driver points and aims the car down the road.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the Avanti is its smooth nose; Loewy considered front grilles far too commonplace. To ensure proper cooling, he and his team came up with a special radiator which used a bottom air dam.
Studebaker’s financial situation got worse. They tried diversifying to stay afloat, and started to manufacture home appliances, aircraft missile parts, and farm tractors. The South Bend, Indiana factory closed its doors in December 1963. Originally intending to sell tens of thousands of these beautiful cars, the final total for its 18 months in production was 4,643. Several other Studebaker models continued to be built at their Ontario, Canada plant until March of 1966, when the company finally dissolved.
Two local Indiana Studebaker dealers, who knew there was still a great deal of interest in the car, bought the rights to the Avanti, as well as the tooling and space in the former factory. The car was re-named the Avanti Two, and released as a 1965 model. The cars were now hand-built, and the powerplant upgraded to the lighter, more powerful small-block Chevy engine. Power steering, air conditioning, electric windows, and an AM/FM radio were some of the options added. Production continued through the Sixties and Seventies, with nearly 200 cars being produced annually.
In 1982 the rights were sold again to another independent company. A convertible was introduced in the mid-Eighties, as well as a Twentieth-Anniversary edition. Starting in 1987, Avanti used a GM G-body (Monte-Carlo) chassis. Around this time, designer Tom Kellogg (a member of the original Raymond Loewy team) was asked to re-design the car. This car, often called the second-generation Avanti, was perched upon GM’s Camaro/Firebird chassis. Company ownership changed hands several other times. In 2005, rumors surfaced of a third-generation Avanti built with Ford Mustang running gear.
Before his death in 1986, Raymond Loewy called the Avanti “one of the most wonderful events of my career.” Throughout its years, the succession of small independent companies mark this car’s jagged history. No other model has survived so many builders, which seems to make the Avanti immortal.
Article courtesy of Old Car Trader written by Mark V. Trotta.
With only 241 cubic inches, the Dodge Red Ram was the Chrysler Corporation’s smallest hemi V8 in the 1950s, but it was an able performer in its own right.
In a display of corporate extravagance we seldom see from an automaker today, the Chrysler Corporation produced three separate and distinct hemi V8 engine families in the 1950s. The senior Chrysler division came first with its 331 CID hemi V8 in 1951, followed by DeSoto’s 276 CID V8 one year later. In 1953, Dodge unveiled its own V8, the Red Ram, and it was the smallest of the three at introduction with just 241 cubic inches. (Plymouth would get a V8 in 1955 as well, but it wasn’t a hemi.) While the three hemi engines were very similar in design, each one boasted its own unique architecture and they shared no major internal components. As the tiniest of the three V8s, the Dodge featured a compact bore spacing of only 4.1875 inches. To provide scale, we note that the familiar small-block Chevy V8 is constructed on 4.40-in. bore centers.
The 241 cubic-inch displacement—very nearly 4.0 liters—was obtained with a bore if 3.4375 in. (87.3 mm) and a stroke of 3.25 in (82.6 mm). By the standards of the day, the Red Ram was considered a short-stroke layout, offering reduced piston speeds and longer engine life. And like many American V8s of the period, the Red Ram received periodic boosts in displacement as the cars grew in size and weight: 270 CID in 1955, 315 CID in 1956, and ultimately 325 CID in 1957, the final year. There were non-hemi variants with polyspherical combustion chambers that shared their basic architecture with the Red Ram V8, but we will set those aside for now.
While the Red Ram stood alone as an engine family, it shared many high-value attributes with its Chrysler and DeSoto big sisters, including a dual breaker-point distributor, and on cars that featured the early Gyro-Torque automatic transmission, the engine, transmission, and torque converter shared a common 12-quart oil supply. One distinct feature of the Red Ram was its conservative 7.1:1 compression ratio, which allowed the engine to run on regular gas. So while the marketing message for the Chrysler and DeSoto hemi V8s emphasized performance, Dodge’s advertising focused on economy and efficiency.
The ultimate versions of the Red Ram, from the horsepower angle anyway, were the 500-1 engines of 1956 (315 CID) and 1957 (325 CID). Known as the “Dash-One” hemi V8s among ’50s Mopar buffs, these engine packages, available in very small numbers, featured dual four-barrel Carter carburetors and other speed tricks. (A 1956 Dash-One with 296 hp is shown in the lead photo above.) The little Dodge hemi shared much the same fate as its bigger Chrysler and DeSoto siblings. With their dual rocker shafts per bank and heavy, complicated cylinder head castings, all three hemi V8s were expensive engines to produce, and they were replaced in 1957-58 by wedge-head V8s of more conventional design.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
The most expensive car in the Buick lineup for 1979, the Riviera was the brand’s first production vehicle to offer front-wheel-drive.
For 1979, the Buick Riviera joined its E-body siblings at General Motors, the Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado, and adopted front wheel-drive. The three E-body vehicles at GM already shared internal structure and components, but for reasons of its own, the Buick division at first rejected the Toronado front-drive system introduced in ’66, sticking with its tried-and-true rear-drive hardware. When the Riviera finally embraced fwd for ’79, it became the first front-drive Buick production model in the company’s (then) 76-year history. Many more would soon follow, of course.
The RIviera arrived in the midst of an aggressive downsizing program at GM. The company’s full-size B and C-bodied cars (Chevy Impala et al) were the first to go under the knife in the ’77 model year, followed by the A-body intermediates in ’78. When the E-body personal luxury platform got the shrinking treatment for ’79, the longitudinal-V8 front-drive system pioneered on the ’66 Toronado was retained, but with a smaller. lighter transaxle unit, the THM 325.
On the RIviera, the L-form front-drive module was paired with a choice of two engines: an Olds-sourced 350 CID V8 with 170 hp, or Buick’s 231 CID turbocharged V6. With 175 hp, the turbo V6 (then equipped with a carburetor and no intercooler) was one of the most powerful cars produced in America that year, odd as that may seem today.
There were two basic models for ’79, the standard Riviera Coupe (Z57) and the mildly sport-flavored Riviera S Type (Y57), in which the Turbo V6 and some blacked-out exterior trim pieces were standard. As befitting a personal-luxury coupe of the period, each was fitted out with lush interior appointments (above) in the buyer’s choice of rich velour or leather. (Read our feature on the velour era, “Life In a Trombone Case,” here.) Priced at $10,664 for the standard coupe and $10,960 for the S Type, the Rivieras were by far the most expensive cars in the ’79 Buick lineup, topping the big Park Avenue sedan by nearly a thousand bucks.
At more than 50,000 units in MY 1979, the sixth-generation Riviera was a respectable seller for Buick, and the basic package was carried forward with regular changes and additions (including GM’s ill-starred 5.7-liter diesel V8) through 1985. The Riviera badge would continue through two more design generations before it was finally retired in 1999. A bold Riviera concept car, complete with gullwing doors, was unveiled at the Shanghai Auto Show in 2007, and if the Riviera name does reappear, it will probably be in China, where Buick now sells far more cars than it does in the USA.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.