Posted in Hemmings, Henry Ford II, Transmission

Why the death of the stick shift is almost irrelevant to the classic car scene – David Conwill @Hemmings


For 1935, Ford offered customers “effortless driving.” Today, that clutch pedal is just too much work for the average new-car buyer.

I hear somebody, maybe Volkswagen, has announced the end of manual transmissions—with other manufacturers almost certain to follow suit. Honestly, I don’t care much.

Any development on new cars is only of peripheral interest to me. I’ll likely never buy a new car. If I did, it would be some kind of roomy, economical family hauler—not a sports machine (the kind my colleague Mark McCourt insists need three pedals). The manual transmission has been extinct in family vehicles for a long while now. I’d much rather spend my money on something like a 1940s De Soto Suburban anyway.

The newest car I’ve personally owned was the 1993 Ford Escort I had from 2001 to 2009. I replaced it with a ’61 Ford Falcon and have largely tried to stick with stuff of ’60s or older vintage ever since. Largely, I’ve also sought out manual transmissions in these older vehicles, though my current car (foreseeably a long-term keeper) has a Powerglide automatic.

Henry Ford II said it himself, way back in 1970: “I think the glamour of the automobile is decreasing… People are looking at it now as a machine to get from place to place to do something else.”

Manual transmissions are like every other manual item of the 20th century that has been automated: air-fuel mixture, spark advance, heck, even staying in your own lane and not tailgating people. Satisfying to those of us that enjoy extracting fine control from a machine, but mostly just an irritation to the average new-car buyer who seems to view driving itself as a major inconvenience anymore. Expecting 21st century, multinational corporations to cater to the enthusiast is a pipe dream. Why not ask for access to their proprietary software while you’re at it?

Better to stick with old cars and create your own reality. They’re not going anywhere, barring draconian legislation that bans driver-operated vehicles from the roads. Even if gasoline goes away, enthusiasts have already started exploring dozens of ways to repower old cars.

Posted in Hemmings

How Many Parts-Store Trips Does a Project Take? Road to Improvement Tries to Find Out – Mike Austin @Hemmings


We’re nearing the finale of Road to Improvement season one, and the Big Green 1981 Suburban is currently live on Hemmings Auctions in a no-reserve charity sale to benefit SEMA Cares. If there’s a theme to this arc of our road-trip/build story, it’s pushing limits—in this case, both for the Suburban’s powertrain upgrades and our hosts’ sanity. Check it out in the video above or on our YouTube page (and don’t forget to subscribe, please).

Which brings us to the headline question and upgrading Big Green with new heads, a camshaft, and associated parts. It’s the most involved change to the Road to Improvement Suburban yet. Swapping cylinder heads is far less plug and play than upgrading something like the vehicle’s electronic fuel injection, which we did in an earlier episode. Heads need to be matched to the camshaft timing, the intake and exhaust, and even the desired character of the engine. With that in mind, Mike Musto consulted Tim Torrecarion from Air Flow Research and settled on a setup with plenty of low- and midrange grunt, with the appropriate valve timing courtesy of a Comp Cams camshaft.

It turns out that was the easy step. Installing new heads was an entirely different story. Even in the best scenario, this kind of upgrade involves removing a significant number of engine parts. With a 40-year-old vehicle like Big Green, you’re bound to deal with some stubborn, rust-encrusted pieces that have been in place since Day One, several of which you might as well replace while you’re in there

Thus, you’re left to make multiple trips to the auto-parts store for engine accessories, bolts, clamps, and all the other things that come up in a project of this scope. As co-host Elana Scherr puts it, you’ll want to know where the closest store is, plus your backup store, and a third, and probably a fourth pick as well, just in case. Mike visits all of them and, well, we’ve all been in his shoes, so it’s okay to have laugh at his expense

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Posted in Hemmings, Jeep

The unibody XJ Cherokee blazed the trail for today’s popular, car-based crossover SUVs – Mark J McCourt @Hemmings


It was a gamble for American Motors Corporation’s Jeep division to introduce the “XJ” Cherokee, using a venerated nameplate on a new 4×4 that was very different from any Jeep that came before. This compact, efficient, and stylish people mover was thoroughly reimagined for the 1980s and became an immediate best seller in its first year on the market. With decades of hindsight, the XJ Cherokee proved a winning formula with incredible longevity, and 1984 was where it all began.

Images from the Hemmings Brochure Collection, courtesy of Bruce Zahor

The Cherokee and Wagoneer being sold in 1983 had their origins in the early 1960s, being large, six passenger, two- and four-door SUVs. Those “SJ”-chassis models were powered by inline-six and V-8 engines, and their traditional body-on-frame construction was rugged, if not particularly intended for daily driven on-road comfort. A clean-sheet replacement for those near 4,000-pound, 186.4-inch-long trucks had long been in the making, and the new versions of these models reached AMC/Jeep showrooms for the ’84 model year, having modernized four-wheel-drive motoring.

The crisply attractive design shared by the new Cherokee and Wagoneer variants was drastically downsized, their “UniFrame” integrated chassis-bodies measuring 21.1 inches shorter, on a 7.3-inch shorter wheelbase, and weighing in an average of 800 pounds less than the original design that stayed in production as the upmarket Grand Wagoneer. The XJ came as a basic two- or four-door Cherokee, a well-trimmed two- or four-door Cherokee Pioneer, a sporty two- or four-door Cherokee Chief, and as a plush four-door Wagoneer and premium Wagoneer Limited.

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Posted in 1950's, Cadillac, Hemmings

This Cadillac Eldorado Brougham Is a Rare Example of GM’s Ultimate in 1950s Luxury and a Dream Realized – Jim Black @Hemmings


Gliding with the “Blue Lady”

As announced in December 1956 and available by March 1957, the Cadillac Series 70 Eldorado Brougham was designed by Ed Glowacke, who was part of Harley Earl’s design studio at General Motors. Arguably the most beautiful and most sought-after Cadillac ever built, the Eldorado Brougham was Cadillac’s response to Ford Motor Company’s Continental Mark II. The prototype Brougham was a hand-built, true pillarless four-door hardtop that first debuted as a featured show car in the GM Motorama for 1955. Derived from the ultra-luxurious Park Avenue and Orleans show cars of 1953-’54, the Brougham was stunning with its brushed-stainless-steel roof. Other exterior ornamentation included polished-stainless-steel lower rear-quarter panels with full rocker sills and rectangular-shaped side body coves cut into the front and rear doors, with horizontal wind-splits set into each cove. The pillarless four-door design had the rear doors opening toward the rear of the car (“suicide” style), allowing easy access for back-seat occupants. With all four doors open you could barely see the stub B-pillar.

The Brougham was the first to offer quad headlamps that, at the time, were still illegal in some states. The air suspension also proved unreliable, and Cadillac later released a kit to convert cars to rear coil-sprung suspension. Broughams still using the factory air suspension are rarer and thus more valuable today.

At 5,315 pounds, the Eldorado Brougham was a brute and required Cadillac’s largest and most powerful overhead-valve V-8 engine. The V-8, fed via dual Carter four-barrel carburetors and backed by Cadillac’s Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic transmission, produced 325 hp at 4,800 rpm and 400 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm

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Posted in 4x4, Hemmings

For the ’70s 4×4 Craze, Automaker Ads Took a Back-to-Basics Approach – Jeff Koch @Hemmings


In the ’70s, the Big Three increasingly encouraged going off-road. Jeep, not yet part of Chrysler and ever ahead of the curve, figured this out about two seconds after it converted its lightweight military sherpa to civilian duty, and it took the rest of the industry decades to catch up.

When it did, the results appeared to catch the ad copywriters flat-footed. This potted group of mid-’70s full-size SUV ads take a strangely pedestrian approach. It’s almost as if the copywriters didn’t know how to pitch this new breed of vehicle that combined the attributes of a station wagon and a pickup without using the name of a competitive product or encouraging buyers to void the warranty against a boulder. And if the writers couldn’t wrap their heads around it, how could buyers be expected to? Even the SUV name is basic—possibly a little too basic.

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Posted in Hemmings, Tires, Tyres

That Great Old Tire Look – Dan Stoner @Hemmings


Remember those great old Firestone gold-line Indy tires? Those real wide ones that look great on GT40s and Shelbys and just about any track car, pre-1975? There’s something about the shape and style of those bias-ply tires that looked so much better than the radials that came after them, and these Indys are right up there with a piecrust slick and a pizza-cutter front runner. It’s as if a Great Being in the sky looked down upon us gearheads and said, “Look, you’ve foolishly squandered your life’s savings on these damn things, so your punishment is that you can either have tires that perform well or tires that look really great. But you can’t have both.”

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Posted in Buick, Grand National, Hemmings

Generation GNX: How One Man Built a Collection of Five GM Turbo V-6s – Barry Barry Kluczyk @Hemmings


As with music and other cultural touchstones, it’s a good bet that your automotive interests are rooted in the trends and experiences of your youth. They’re the cars on the street you started noticing before you could drive, the ones you and your buddies had in high school or shortly thereafter. Or perhaps you simply lusted after the ones that were out of reach. For most baby boomers, it was the golden age of the original muscle car movement, but for the Generation Xers who came up behind them, it was the cars of the Eighties and early Nineties. IROCs, 5-liter Mustangs, and Grand Nationals. Those were the cars that left the indelible impressions on their collective psyche.

Production of the 1987 Grand National nearly quadrupled over the previous year, to 20,193, as customers rushed for the last of GM’s rear-drive G-body models and clamored for the increased performance that came with the intercooled Turbo V-6 that debuted in 1986.

The older Gen Xers are now solidly in their 50s and they’re collecting the cars of the MTV era. They’d rather add a 1993 Mustang Cobra to their garage than a ’69 Boss 302, while the Buick “Twisted 6” logo evokes as much awe as a Stage 1 emblem. Count Matt Murphy among them. He’s an unabashed fan of just about all Eighties’ cars, but it’s those GM Turbo V-6 models that burned into him like a cattle rancher’s branding iron — or perhaps a weekend-long Miami Vice marathon.

He has five turbocharged vehicles: a 1987 Buick Grand National, a pair of 1989 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am models, a 1987 Buick GNX, and a 1991 GMC Syclone. It’s a collection any performance enthusiast can appreciate, regardless of his or her generational proclivities.

The engine was rated at 235 hp in ’86 and upped to 245 in ’87.

It all started with Matt’s father, a GM employee tasked with the otherwise innocuous job of window moldings. It doesn’t sound as sexy as developing a Super Duty engine, but all of those snap-on windshield and rear-window moldings had some serious engineering behind them, with an entire department for their design and manufacturing. They were produced at a dedicated plant in downtown Detroit.

“In the early Eighties, he got a call about an upcoming production model that would require blacked out window trim,” says Matt. “The twist was they didn’t want the trim simply painted, because it would flake off pretty easily. They needed something else.

”Cutting to the chase, Matt’s father delivered the durable black trim for what would be the 1984 Grand National. A little while after the car went into production, the senior Murphy received a surprise at his Troy, Michigan, office. It was a GM car hauler with a Grand National on it. The development team was so appreciative of his efforts on the project, they dropped off the car for him to enjoy for the weekend

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Posted in 1950's, Classic Cars, Hemmings

12 Motoring Classics From the 1950s Under $25,000 – @Hemmings


The period following World War II was an amazing time of optimism and prosperity in the U.S., with industry booming and technology advancing rapidly. Meanwhile, Americans were feeling good about life in the free world and many were flush with cash thanks to the strong job market. This all meshed to create a perfect storm of consumer demand that was advancing beyond the need to obtain products that hadn’t been readily available during the war—now, people were buying to satisfy desire as much as need.

The domestic automakers were perfectly poised to satisfy that demand, coming off of war contracts that had been followed by frenzied car sales after years of halted automobile production. The war had also pushed the development of technology, and style was once again a primary criterion for car shoppers. Detroit spent the decade trying to outdo itself, yielding some of the most ornately styled and trimmed cars of all time, while also recognizing that even truck buyers thought about aesthetics. Meanwhile, European automakers were pursuing their own versions of performance and style, creating some landmark designs as the decade unfolded.

This period would shine brightly, but relatively briefly, as trends continued to evolve rapidly and the 1960s would see its own characteristic features. By the 1970s, cars of the ’50s seemed like artifacts of a long-gone era, and nostalgia for that time kicked in with substantial force, driving collectors and restorers to latch onto the remaining examples to keep the memories alive. That drive hasn’t ever fully subsided, and cars and trucks of the 1950s are still very popular with car enthusiasts and collectors, including many who hadn’t even been born when those models were new.

Yet, ’50s cars still make for an excellent enthusiast ownership experience. In many cases, parts are available, and if not, strong networks of fans and specialists are ready to help locate spares to facilitate restorations or even just to keep these models on the road. Speaking of the road, cars of this period tend to be decent drivers, as the highway system was coming online and the ability to cruise smoothly at 60-plus mph became more the norm.

We wanted to illustrate that there are models from the 1950s that are also still attainable by gathering a selection of examples that are enjoyable to own, fun to drive, and still affordable. In this case, we’re considering anything costing $25,000 or less in good, presentable, and driveable condition to be affordable—that seems to be what the market thinks, too. Ponder these examples from a fantastic period in automotive design and let us know what else you think ought to have been included

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Posted in 1968, Buick, Hemmings, Riviera

For sporting style, power, and capacity, it’s hard to beat this 1968 Buick Riviera – David Conwill @Hemmings


It has a 7.0-liter V-8, hideaway headlamps, and exclusive, swoopy styling. If we’re talking late-1960s General Motors products, that sounds a lot like a third-generation Corvette. Not everyone can daily drive a two-seater, and if you were going to drop $4,600 on personal transportation back in 1968, there was another option. It came not from Chevrolet, however, but from GM’s founding division: Buick.

“The automobile you drive must be more than a machine that takes you from one place to another,” Buick said in Riviera promotional materials. “It must be as exciting to drive as it is to look at and as exciting to look at as is reliable to drive. Obviously, Riviera is your automobile

.”That may have been obvious five decades ago, but the second-generation Riviera is often overlooked these days. That’s a mistake. You see, if you wanted a big-block, A/C-equipped vintage ’Vette with an automatic transmission now, you’d best be prepared to spend around $60,000. A similarly optioned Riv, meanwhile, can be had in like condition for about a quarter of that.

We drove this example not long ago and can tell you: Unless you want to attend track days on the regular, you’ll have just as much fun in the Buick. Maybe more if you have some friends you’d like to bring along, or just prefer some extra room to stretch out

The Ivy Gold Mist example on these pages belongs to John Scheib (no relation to Earl, in case you were wondering) of West Hartford, Connecticut. Just to look at his car, you immediately realize a Riviera of this era was more than mere transportation. Take that curvaceous styling, for instance. It’s a clear departure from the sharper, more vertically oriented, Ferrari-meets-Rolls Royce looks of the 1963-’65 first-generation Riviera. At first glance, you could be forgiven if you mistook the Buick for an Oldsmobile Toronado, but look closer and it’s a more conservatively styled car.

That conservatism extends to the chassis. While the Toronado and the Riviera, along with the Cadillac Eldorado, shared GM’s E-body platform, only the Riviera adheres to the traditional American approach of a front engine and rear-wheel drive. The decision to retain what was tried and proven good not only means it’s a more straightforward car for the modern owner to service and find parts for, but its driving manners are familiar and predictable.

In the Buick’s cruciform X-frame chassis are nestled such well-respected parts as a division-specific differential, Super Turbine 400 transmission (that’s a TH-400 with a Switch Pitch torque convertor, in case you don’t speak Buick), and V-8.

The 430 was only in its second year in 1968, having recently replaced the “nailhead” engine found in earlier Rivieras. It shares its stroke with the later V-8, but uses a slightly smaller bore. The engine in John’s base-model Riviera was rated for 360 hp at 5,000 rpm and 475 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm, thanks to 10.25:1 compression and a Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor

.Standard rear gearing was a long-legged 3.07:1, perfect for road tripping like John’s visit to the GM centennial in Flint, Michigan, back in 2008. Along on that trip was his wife, Bea, with whom he was celebrating 40 years of marriage—a perfect coincidence with the age of the Riviera. Back in ’68, leadfoots also had the option of more aggressive 3.42:1 gears with a limited-slip differential as a part of the Riviera GS package.

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Posted in 1978, Hemmings, Pontiac, Pontiac V8, station wagon

The Pontiac Grand Safari was a flagship station wagon hauling on in an era of downsizing – Matt Litwin @Hemmings


By 1974, 5,000-plus-pound family cars were suddenly as impractical as the ol’ muscle car had been to newlyweds holding a freshly printed mortgage and a newborn baby just a few years earlier. Detuned as they were, the large-displacement—still a prevalent means of motivation within the market segment-remained incredibly thirsty. As a result, Pontiac’s full-size output fell to just under 145,500 cars in 1975, and only 137,216 were sold a year later.

Suffice it to say, Detroit needed a diet, and the automakers knew it well in advance thanks in large part to looming federal mandates. At GM, the first to be first slimmed down were the 1977 model-year full-size cars. Among them was Pontiac’s flagship station wagon—the Grand Safari.

The downsized wagon’s chassis was reduced from 127 inches to a svelte 115.9 inches. Much of the basic architecture, however, carried over from the previous generation: independent coil spring front suspension, rear leaf-sprung suspension, power steering, and power front disc brakes. Also included as a standard were FR78-15 radial tires that provided sure-footed control in all driving conditions.

The redesigned chassis cradled an equally new 5.0-liter ( V-8 engine. It was more than the division’s new “economy” powerplant; rated for a rather capable 135 horsepower, the block, crankshaft, cylinder heads, and intake manifold—collectively—weighed 136 pounds less than the V-8. Factory literature touted the availability of a “new 6.6 litre (400/403 CID) V-8” on the Grand Safari’s option chart—technically a carryover engine revamped for ’77—that was rated for 180 or 200 hp. Californians could have opted for the 170-hp 350. A Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic was the only transmission available.

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