While it’s a tremendous and important job preserving noteworthy cars—the kinds of cars that get magazine covers and that twirl on the dais at car shows—it’s perhaps equally important from an anthropological view to preserve the everyday cars that, for the most part, get driven into the ground and rarely get restored due to lack of aftermarket support. This 1976 Chevrolet Vega Kammback station wagon listed for sale on Hemmings.com falls into the latter category, kept pretty close to pristine over the years thanks to its Texas upbringing, its decades-long rest in a barn, and a couple preservationists dedicated to cleaning it up and putting it back on the road but leaving as much original equipment on the car as possible. From the seller’s description:
This 1976 Chevy Vega Kammback Estate is truly one-of-a-kind. The car has a Dura-Built 140 4 cylinder engine paired to a 5-speed manual transmission. The car has 34,790 original miles, almost all from the first owner (I have put about 500 miles). After the original owner drove it around Amarillo, Texas for about 9 years (1976-1985), it was sold to an individual who stored it in a barn where it stood untouched for 36 years (1985-2020) with little humidity and no sun light (and luckly no mice!?). I bought it from the person that rescued it in August of 2020. He proceeded to make some repairs (new battery, tires, shock absorbers, spark plugs and wires, and a new exhaust system, among other items), He also cleaned, waxed and buffed the original paint (he specializes in classic car paint), which is in excellent condition. The car has no rust.
When I bought it, it had a couple of scratches along the faux wood trim on both doors, which I repaired, and replaced the entire original factory-installed faux wood trim with the same 3M material used originally. I then proceeded to make 30+ additional repairs to bring the car to its original best. These included among others the following: New radiator, heater core, hoses, brakes, engine mounts, air filter & casing, hood release cable, valve cover gasket, outside mirrors, A/C vents, arm rests, radio & speakers, door rubber gasket seals. All fluids where changed, engine was detailed and undercarriage cleaned. Engine and carburetor were fine tuned. It passed emission tests in Colorado.
Appearance is one thing, but to take inspiration from the days of gow jobs and dry lakes racing means careful parts selection, and this 1929 Ford Model A roadster pickup listed for sale on Hemmings.com benefited from obviously intentional and thoroughly thought-out design and engineering, from the built Ford flathead four-cylinder engine to the chassis featuring un-split wishbones. With very few concessions to modernity like the chromed alternator, all it really needs to complete its mission of appearing like a Thirties dry lakes racer is a good dusting of fine silt, applied at a speed somewhere north of 100 mph. From the seller’s description
Museum quality restoration and build of a Model A hot rod as it might have appeared at the California dry lakes racing scene in the 1930’s. Engine is an H&H rebuilt engine with full pressure oil system, balanced crank, engine sleeved to stock bore. H&H recommended camshaft with dual Stromberg 97’s on new Thomas intake manifold. Thomas polished aluminum head, Mallory ignition, full length coated headers, electric fuel pump and 12v alternator. Probably makes about 100hp. Transmission is Mitchel internals with synchros and 1st and 2nd gear ratios about 15% higher (Sort of like Lincoln Zepher gears behind a flathead V8). The rear end is 3.54:1 for freeway cruising speeds. Wheels are 16in powder coated 1936 wires with Coker Firestone type “cookie cutter” tires, shaved, balanced and indexed for each axle and position. Has a cast dummy quick-change cover; looks great but non functional. Brakes are 1940 Ford hydraulics, with alloy air scoops on front wheels. Interior and tonneau cover is Mercedes style Hartz material. Feels like cloth, lasts like steel. No top (we don’t need no stinking top). Body is original with some Brookville reproduction pieces. Paint is hardened, flat black with striping and paint details by “Styles.” No disappointments, unique period hot rod with 1400 mi since built.
What would a Gremlin have been without Bob Nixon’s on-a-budget barf-bag-sketch chop back truncation? What would it have been with any other silhouette behind the B-pillars? Correct, it wouldn’t be a Gremlin at all, which is fairly obvious given the Gremlin’s successor, the Spirit, swapped the chop back for a liftback and nobody ever confused the latter for the former. But what if AMC’s designers tried to give the Gremlin more utility by turning it into, say, a station wagon?
Granted, there’s no information attached to this image of a wagon-bodied Gremlin-nosed AMC small car that the Gateway AMC club recently posted to Facebook that would suggest that was the intention behind the mockup. In fact, there’s no information attached to it at all, and AMC enthusiasts have been trying to discern whatever they can from the image since, including the location of the photo. We know, for example, that the schnozz comes from a 1977-1978 Gremlin, though those wheel covers came on 1973-1975 Hornets.
We know from Pat Foster’s “American Motors Corporation: The Rise And Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker” that AMC execs were looking to keep Gremlin sales from collapsing during the late Seventies – hence the redesigned front end, along with several other changes like a larger rear window, more standard equipment, and the newly available Audi-built 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Could the mockup above have been another proposal for juicing Gremlin sales?
Above, the Gremlin G-II. Below, the Hornet GT and the later Concept Grand Touring.
Then again, as mentioned above, the Gremlin wasn’t the Gremlin with a different profile, and AMC had already toyed with semi-wagon small-car rooflines and with the Gremlin silhouette. First, there was the circa-1973 Hornet GT, a sort of shortened two-door Hornet Sportabout on the Gremlin’s 96-inch wheelbase—a running prototype with two different rear side window treatments that eventually became the circa-1978 square-headlamp Concept Grand Touring with a different interior and an odd vinyl top. Then there was the 1974 Gremlin G-II, another show car built on the Gremlin’s wheelbase with Hornet front fenders, though this time with a Spirit-like hatchback and aggressively wide rear quarters. They all looked sharp, but unlike, say, the 1974 Gremlin XP, they had no real resemblance to the Gremlin.
There’s a lot of garage advice that gets handed down and repeated unquestioningly. Don’t put a battery on a bare concrete floor. Tire dressings help preserve the rubber in tires. Hex wrenches are better than 12-point box-end wrenches. To set the record straight on that latter bit of advice and on a number of other beliefs about commonly used tools, the Torque Test Channel – which normally focuses on power tools and as a result has developed a robust testing apparatus – recently started testing hand tools to their limits and recording the results. What we appreciate most of all is that the tester at the channel has an understanding of the technical specifications behind his tests, he tries to document everything as scientifically as possible, and he tries to gather as many examples of the tool in question to provide a fair and unbiased test.
While this 1949 Spartanette 24-foot travel trailer listed for sale on Hemmings.com has been thoroughly upgraded, the trailer’s lost none of its vintage charm as a result. Almost all of the upgrades—including new lighting, new electrical, and even a modern bathroom—remain hidden or in keeping with the trailer’s original aesthetics. Additionally, just about everything that one might see or touch while using the trailer still has either an Art Deco or a mid-century jukebox look and feel, largely due to the reuse of the original paneling and fixtures. As a result, it should be reliable and comfortable enough to take on a good long road trip this summer without hesitation. From the seller’s description:
Complete restoration. Trailer, single axle. Looks brand new, new tires, maintained very well, clean title. Approx towing weight: 3,800lbs. Replaced all interior birch paneling. Saved & restored all wood cabinets. Removed all windows, frames – complete rebuild with nickel plating finish. Polished and stored indoors. Original awning steel frame with new sunbrella fabric. New stabilizers. New LED running lights. New SS 50 amp inlet, 50 amp electrical service. New 12V and 100 amp sub panel. New LED puck lighting in cabinets. New 30/40/50/60 amp converter/charger. All new electrical wiring throughout. 50 amp power cord. New LP/CO detector. New A/C – Coleman low profile. Original stove completely restored – re-chromed, re-enameled, new interior parts. New Fantastic vent fan. New 12 gallon electric hot water heater. Restored & repainted original 1949 GM Fridgedaire refrigerator. New LP lines & regulator. New insulation installed throughout. Added a wet shower/toilet room – full stainless steel walls and floor pan. New Marmolium flooring throughout. New upholstery on original Click Clack dining seating. Restored original dining table. New wood venitian blinds
For a vehicle that only lasted a couple years on the market, Gordon Buehrig’s Cord 810 and 812 have sure had an outsize influence on car designers and enthusiasts ever since. David North, Stan Wilen, and Bill Mitchell packed the Oldsmobile Toronado with all sorts of design elements paying homage to the Toronado’s front-wheel-drive predecessor. Multiple customizers through the Fifties tried their hand at making a sports car out of the coffin-nose Cord. And on at least three occasions, entrepreneurs have resurrected or attempted to resurrect the Cord. So Marty Martino’s really just following in a grand tradition by building a modern Cord out of the bones of a fifth-generation Corvette.
“I never thought of this project as a ‘sport custom’ in the traditional way, but being that it’s a one-off Cord-inspired design, I now see it as a continuation of the genre,” Marty said after reading our recent story on Fifties-era sport-custom Cords.
The roots of the project date back to the late Eighties, when Automobile Quarterly ran a design contest asking for its readers to envision the Cord 810, Tucker 48, or Packard Caribbean as they would have appeared in 1990. “What really made the contest exciting to me was that it was to be judged by Alex Tremulis, Frank Hershey, Dick Teague, Bill Mitchell, Chuck Jordan, Jack Telnack, and Dave Holls, many of my automotive heroes!” Marty said.
Marty selected the 810, and while the phone-dial wheels, wraparound indent, and jellybean taillamps all reflect the era in which he re-envisioned the Cord, the coupe managed to blend the original’s subtly stepped fastback, haunches, hidden headlamps in winglike fenders, and speed line grille in with contemporary shape and proportions. The entry made it into print as one of four runner-up designs that the judges chose. Not bad, Marty thought, considering “most of the entrants were accomplished illustrator/designers, students at Art Center, and so on,” he said.
The rendering got filed away until about a decade ago, when Marty’s younger brother, Robert, expressed an interest in building a modern Cord using a Corvette as the donor car. Robert, according to Marty, “had long held 1936 and 1937 Cords as his favorite prewar car design… and considers the Cord Sportsman the Corvette of its day.”
They figured the fifth-generation Corvette would work best for this project given that Marty had already built the PsyClone Motorama tribute car from a C5 and that both the C5 and the Cord had hideaway headlamps. Robert wanted a convertible, so the brothers found a profile shot of a C5 Corvette, laid it on a lightbox, then drafted the CordVette’s design on a blank piece of paper above the profile shot using many of the same elements and lines that Marty had incorporated into his Automobile Quarterly rendering. Marty also did a little Bondo sculpting on a 1/25-scale model of a C5 to see his alterations in three dimensions.
The mid-Fifties weren’t much of a boom time for electric vehicles here in the United States. Gas was cheap, the chrome was thick, and conformity was high. Despite all the advancements in aerospace and pushbutton gizmos, the state of electric drivetrains at the time wasn’t that much more advanced than 25 years prior, when the first wave of electric vehicles sparked their last. Of the half-dozen or so American EVs that one can count from that time, one stood out partly for making the effort in the first place and partly for proposing a novel means of propulsion that has otherwise dwelt only in the realm of myth.
When the Electronic debuted in June 1955, it brought along with it a bevy of dubious claims. F.B. Malouf, president of the Salt Lake City-based Electronic Motor Car Corporation, boasted that it was a multimillion-dollar company with two manufacturing facilities already in operation (in Detroit and in Oxford, Michigan) and a third forthcoming in the Utah capital city with production expected to reach 400 cars per day within the year. The car itself Malouf described in terms bordering on technobabble: It had a “turbo-electric” drivetrain with a “dual-torque” electric motor capable of propelling it to 100 miles per hour. If the press release didn’t come with a photo, it would’ve been simple to write the Electronic off as a pipe dream
The press release did come with a photo, though, and from that photo it’s plain to see that the Electronic was merely a LaSaetta selling under a different name. As an August 1955 Motor Life article reported, the LaSaetta was the fiberglass sports car dream of two brothers, Cesare and Gino Testaguzza, who relocated from Italy to the Detroit area – specifically Oxford, Michigan – and worked for multiple carmakers before setting out to build their own car. Not a kit car, the LaSaetta was instead meant to be tailored to each customer’s specifications. Most had altered Ford chassis with Oldsmobile V-8 engines, though Motor Life reported on one that had a Hudson six-cylinder, and then there was the Electronic.
Only a handful of photographs depicting Leopold Garcia’s El Chicito are known to exist. Even fewer of his other car, known only as the City Car. Garcia himself remains something of an enigma to automotive historians, and the whereabouts of his vehicles were kept so secret that some supposed the cars no longer existed. Yet all of that stands to change later this year when a Route 66 Visitors Center and museum in Albuquerque, not far from where Garcia built his cars, will open with the two cars on display.
“It’s an honor to have these cars showcased at the Route 66 Visitor’s Center,” said Klarissa Peña, an Albuquerque city councilor whose district includes the visitors center. “Leopoldo Garcia lived in New Mexico, so it’s a fitting tribute to honor his innovative work here along Route 66.”
Garcia, according to researcher Robert Cunningham, studied engineering and sculpture at the University of New Mexico before apparently coming to own a salvage yard in El Llanito, a tiny settlement just north of Bernalillo, which in turn is just north of Albuquerque. Cunningham noted that Garcia built a small three-wheeled electric vehicle able to “be operated by a person with only one good limb” before he set out to put his own stamp on contemporary auto design.
According to an April 1957 Motor Life article on his El Chicito, Garcia “looked at the current boxy styles from Detroit and concluded that he would create something not so square.” He started with a 1940 Ford chassis that he cut down to a wheelbase of just 80 inches. (The AMC Gremlin, for comparison’s sake, rode on a 96-inch wheelbase.) The Motor Life article reported that Garcia worked out his design on paper and in clay before roaming his junkyard in search of “curved sections which came closest to approximating the pre-conceived form.” Garcia apparently characterized that form as “fleshy,” Motor Life described it as “organic rather than geometric,” and in that vein Garcia later rechristened El Chicito as Bubbles.
Once he had all his pieces, he then started to weld them together, adding a couple late Thirties Ford taillamps, a Continental-style spare tire cover, headlamps in the shape of eyes, and a homebuilt convertible top. The design essentially precluded doors, so Garcia decided to make entry easier by hinging the windshield to tilt forward.
For power, the Motor Life article claims an unspecified Ford V-8 engine, but Cunningham wrote that Garcia used a 1954 Mercury V-8, which would make it a 161-hp, four-barrel, 256-cu.in., overhead-valve Y-block. No details on the transmission, but Garcia apparently decided that the exhaust pipes could double as rear bumpers. In total, he claimed to have spent just $800 building the 2,200-pound car and displayed it as far afield as Sioux Falls, Minneapolis, Des Moines, and Indianapolis
Just as the original Ed Cole-design Chevrolet small-block V-8 launched an era of American performance upon its introduction in the mid-Fifties, so did the LS-series third-generation small-block Chevrolet V-8 when it launched a quarter-century ago. And just as the original SBC spawned dozens of variants over its decades-long lifespan, so did the LS – enough to bewilder all but the most dedicated of enginespotters without a comprehensive reference guide to the engine family’s various displacements, codes, and ratings. So let’s dive into it
What Sets The LS V-8 Apart
Every history of the LS calls it a clean-sheet design – that is, a design that carries nothing over from its predecessor, the Generation II LT-1. Indeed, engineers Tom Stephens and Ed Koerner retained only two parts from the LT-1 when designing the LS series: the rod bearings and the lifters. It’s a thoroughly modernized small-block, with deep side skirts, cross-bolted six-bolt main bearing caps, no provision for a distributor, no coolant passages in the composite intake manifold, cathedral-port heads, and perhaps most important, all-aluminum construction.
Yet, it’s no cutting-edge engine. Even at its introduction, critics derided its overhead-valve design – complete with the single camshaft located in the block, just two valves per cylinder, and pushrods and rocker arms in between – as antiquated. Overhead-camshaft and dual-overhead-camshaft designs had long become the standard for performance engines, after all.
As Will Handzel related in his book, How to Build High-Performance Chevy LS1/LS6 V-8s, GM engineers did have the option to continue development of the Lotus-derived LT5 dual overhead-camshaft derivative of the Generation II small-block. However, consensus at the time – and Koerner’s long and successful background in NHRA drag racing – led them to choose the pushrod design for its simplicity, its dependability, its inexpensive construction, and its compactness. Those attributes not only set the new LS engine apart from its competition, they also (in conjunction with the standard SBC bell housing pattern) led to its widespread adoption by hot-rodders in the ensuing years.
Despite those criticisms of the LS engine’s design, it has proven adaptable to use in high-performance cars (developing as much as 638 hp from the factory), front-wheel-drive cars, police cars, trucks, and SUVs. With a mid-2000s refresh – which GM dubbed Generation IV – the LS was also able to incorporate more advanced technologies such as cylinder shutdown (in GM’s nomenclature, either Displacement on Demand or Active Fuel Management) and variable valve timing and operate as a flex-fuel engine or even in mild hybrid applications.
The LS story starts with the 1997 model year C5 Corvette, in which the LS1 debuted. Like the outgoing small-block (which remained in production through 2003 in full-size vans and which GM still builds for aftermarket sales), the LS1 displaced 5.7 liters, though a smaller bore and longer stroke meant the engine now displaced 345.7 cubic inches. In the one-horsepower-per-cubic-inch tradition, it surpassed both the previous generation’s LT1 and LT4 with 345 horsepower.
As the standard-bearer for the Generation III small-block family, the LS1 provided power for the entire C5 Corvette run, made its way under the hood of the Camaro and Pontiac Firebird from 1998 through 2002, and came back for a curtain call in the 2004 Pontiac GTO. It also provided the basis for the hairier LS6.
Another 5.7-liter V-8, the LS6 came along in the 2001 Corvette Z06, boasting 385 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque. A year later, GM cranked that up to 405 horsepower and 400 pound-feet. The added power in the LS6 largely came from old-fashioned hot-rodding know-how – a higher compression ratio, more camshaft duration and lift, freer-flowing D-shaped exhaust port heads (stamped 243 next to the rocker cover, replacing the 241 oval-shaped exhaust port heads on the LS1) and a higher-flow mass-airflow sensor – though the LS6 also benefited from sodium-filled valves and engine block and oil system improvements. After wrapping up the C5 run, the LS6 went on to power the 2004-2005 Cadillac CTS-V.
Just as the C5 Corvette ushered in a new engine, so did the C6 with the LS2 – the first of the Generation IV small-blocks – in 2005. For the LS2, GM enlarged the engine to the 6.0-liter displacement previously used by the Generation III LS truck engines (see below), bumped the compression ratio to 10.9:1, and added the LS6’s 243 heads (albeit without the sodium-filled valves) to crank output to 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet. Compared to the LS1 and LS6, the LS2 powered a much wider variety of vehicles: It remained in the Corvette through 2007, it finished out the Pontiac GTO’s run in 2005 and 2006, it went under the hood of the 2006-2007 CTS-V, and it served in the 2005-2006 SSR, the 2006-2009 TrailBlazer SS, and the 2008-2009 Saab 9-7x Aero.
Ell-oh-hell. Nobody likes a curmudgeon, especially on April Fools Day. It’s a day to laugh at yourself, join in on friendly jokes, and try to take things a little less seriously. On the other hand, jokes can be taken too far, and there is such a thing as too much merriment. As of late, the automakers and their advertising agencies’ approach to April Fools Day is akin to that class clown who needs approval from his peers so much, he keeps trotting out lamer and lamer jokes until it becomes annoying.
The problem, in part, comes down to self-styled comedians somehow getting the green light to play jester by auto execs who wouldn’t know fun if it magically appeared before them in a spreadsheet. In part, it arises from PR firms’ need to fill ever-demanding social media calendars. It also stems from corporations trying to make themselves seem relatable. In a 2019 Vox article criticizing major brands for their “feebler and more exhausting” April Fools Day pranks, Kaitlyn Tiffany argued that the trend is just another attempt to separate consumers from their money:
“Asked why April Fool’s Day is important to brands, (Vice creative director and advertising expert Alex Holder) said, “It’s a chance for them to prove to their customers that they can be funny and human.” (Note: Brands are not funny and human, they are attempting to stand out and capture human attention in order to capture your dollars.) “It’s also the only time of a year some brands feel safe telling a joke,” she added. “How sad is that? Waiting all year to be funny? It’s like only telling your husband you love him on Valentine’s Day.” (Note: It’s not sad. No matter how smart and funny the person hired to tweet in the first person from a brand’s Twitter account, a brand is not a person.)”
So, as the photochops-that-pass-for-pranks from carmakers and others in the auto industry start flooding your inbox and news feed this morning (and at the risk of being seen as curmudgeons ourselves), let’s run down some of the worst April Fools Day jokes that automakers have tried to pass off as fun.