The idea behind this week’s story about the mid-Eighties GM A-bodies and the backlash over their badge engineering wasn’t to bash the company. Yes, every car company makes mistakes, and it was instructional to see exactly how GM took that criticism to heart in an effort to avoid repeating that mistake and to build a better car company.And yes, reams could be written and business school textbooks could be filled with every misstep that brought GM to that point. Not one single factor, not one single person can be blamed for the situation. It’s easy to spout theories and it’s easy to point at the factors that we personally understand and accept, but to get the entire picture, it’s often helpful to go back to original material for the answers.So, for instance, let’s take a look at a series of dealer training films for the 1982 Chevrolet Celebrity, the 1984 Pontiac 6000, the 1985 6000, and the 1985 Celebrity.
From 1954 to 1994, Ford improved its engine casting process in many ways, as we can see from these two Ford-produced videos showcasing the cast-iron engine manufacturing at the Cleveland and Windsor plants, respectively. Computerization! Ergonomic work stations! Conference rooms? A gym?
But once you get past the preambles and the shiny new office furniture in the latter video, you start to see just how unchanged the process remained at its core (get it?). Molten metal still flows into molds; massive machines still bore, hone, grind, and polish raw castings; precision instruments adapted for mass production still ensure tolerances and consistency; line workers still put in long and arduous days.
The Blue Oval brand has been present in Brazil since 1904, Ford Motor Company’s second year in business. The Brazilian market became increasingly important to Ford over the years and in 1919 Dearborn founded a separate branch for the Portuguese-speaking country in South America: Ford do Brasil. An Albert Khan-designed assembly plant in São Paulo started producing Model Ts from knock-down kits in 1921.
Now, according to the Detroit Free Press, Ford will cease manufacturing in Brazil this year and instead rely on importing Fords from neighboring markets.
Perhaps Ford’s most notorious venture in Brazil was the Fordlandia project, begun in 1926. Henry Ford created Fordlandia as a part of his ongoing attempt to vertically integrate his operations. In the mind of the company’s founder, he could best control his costs by owning all of his suppliers (a philosophy shared by GM founder Billy Durant) and perhaps their suppliers, too. At its height, Ford Motor Company owned not only the mighty Rouge plant, but to feed it, hardwood forests, iron mines, a fleet of Great Lakes freighters, and a rubber plantation in Brazil.
There’s a scene in the movie Back to the Future where Michael J. Fox’s character watches a car pull up to a 1950’s gas station as a crew of bowtie-wearing uniformed attendants rushes out to fill the tank, check the oil, and clean the windshield. For those who grew up in the pump-it-yourself era, that was quite an eye-opener. Most of those older service stations have been torn down to make way for 24-pump self-serve behemoths, but enough have lived on with updated uses to give the modern classic car buff a hint of the way things used to be.
Since so many old gas stations are now considered historic structures themselves, it’s not surprising that many of them are put to use interpreting local history. In Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia, the Fairfield Foundation preservation group occupies a 1930 Texaco service station that was built in the “Denver” style. Soon to become Texaco’s first official national design, the station was built with a peaked tile roof and chimneys to look more like a house to blend into residential neighborhoods.At one time there were eight Shell Oil service stations in the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, area that were built in the shape of a giant seashell. Today, the only remaining example of these 1930s-era buildings survives at the corner of Peachtree Street and E. Sprague Street. The bright yellow structure, complete with vintage gas pumps, is managed by Preservation North Carolina as a monument to quirky service-station architecture
With the possible exceptions of Henry Ford and Mario Andretti, Carroll Shelby is America’s most famous automotive personality. That was probably true before the movie Ford v Ferrari hit it big last year, and it’s certainly the case in its wake. He’s been called America’s Enzo Ferrari. It was meant as a compliment, but the Texan hated his Italian rival and probably took it as a dig.Shelby was an accomplished race car driver and builder of great cars. His machines, many of which wore his name, have won on racetracks all over the world and commanded respect on the main streets of America for nearly 60 years. Although he accomplished great things later in his career, Carroll’s heyday was the 1960s, when he was building his original Cobras and Shelby Mustangs, and kicking Enzo’s ass with the Daytona Coupes and the GT40s. In tribute, here are 15 important Shelby Facts from that era everyone should know.
An on-track success, the Shelby Mustang GT350 would seem like a natural for the original Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, but it only appeared once. Organized by Car and Driver’s Brock Yates multiple times between 1971 and 1979, the races ran from New York City to Redondo Beach, California in Los Angeles. In the final event Rick Kopec, one of the founders of the Shelby American Automobile Club, and Robert Key, a psychologist from Southern California, entered Key’s Shelby, finishing in 38th place with a time of 48 hours and 53 minutes, a run that included a lengthy encounter with some New Jersey State Troopers. With 176,000 miles on it, the Mustang was far from new, and competed with a 3.00 rear end gear and a 32-gallon fuel tank they installed. Seven years earlier Pete Brock, the designer of the Shelby Daytona Coupe, competed with two others in a new Mercedes 280SEL sedan, finishing third in 37 hours and 33 minutes.
Small-block Cobra production
Many associate the Cobra with a monster big-block, but more were made with the smaller (and arguably better-matched) V-8. Shelby built 580 Cobras powered by the 271 horsepower High Performance 289 cubic inch small-block, the same solid-lifter engine found in 1965-1966 K-code Mustangs. Of those, one was a bare chassis. The street cars numbered 453 and about 30 got automatic transmissions. There were also 61 competition cars built included six Daytona coupes and four Dragonsnakes.
Winter’s last grip on Detroit had started to loosen. Little by little, the slush piles at the edges of parking lots and the last few pockets of white in the corners of flowerbeds had receded, replaced by shoots of life anew – buds on the trees, green on the grass, a few more minutes of sun every day.
Gregory Qualls stood in front of the garage door at his father’s house once again, this time with only the memories of his father on the other side of the door, memories wrapped up in a black unrestored Hemi-powered 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T SE that had sat for nearly 40 years.”I did get a chance to ride in it,” Gregory said. “I remember it was so loud, it’d shake the whole entire house, even inside. I asked my mom what that noise was, and she said, ‘Oh, it’s just your dad starting the car.’ He then said, ‘C’mon, let’s take a ride.’ He took off and the car pulled me back into my seat. I was so scared, but it was something I’ll never forget.”
I’m a simple man with simple tastes. I like my action movies loud, my adult beverages cold, and my Ramblers to be a curious mid-century-styled blend of panache and performance with a specific mix of functionality and technology with select modern upgrades. I mean, you can’t really ask for much less than that, right?To keep from going stir crazy these last several months—and particularly since I messed up my shoulder—I’ve started going through all the boxes full of old stuff in the attic and basement. I came across my old models, which was great fun for a femtosecond, as well as a notebook full of ideas for classic cars as I felt they should have been built or as I would have built them had I a sugar momma and a garage that didn’t constantly get filled up with other projects.
Some of those ideas actually still hold up all these years later, which either meant that I had too much time to daydream the perfect setup when I was younger or that my daydreams really haven’t changed all that much.Take, for instance, my concept for a Rambler station wagon. I’ve always wanted a 1958-1960 full-/midsize Rambler wagon. Something about that stepped roof and reverse-slanted C-pillar appealed to me even before Nissan ripped it off for the WA60/JA60 Armada/QX56.
Sure, maybe it reduced total interior space by a cubic foot or so, and maybe it was just a way for American Motors to reduce tooling costs by sharing panels and interior structure between the sedans and wagons, but I still like it. That quad-headlamp front end always reminded me of the contemporary Chevrolets and Checkers, and while I don’t necessarily have anything against the flamboyant fins or wraparound windshield of the 1958 and 1959 models (and I wouldn’t kick one of those out of the garage for leaking oil), my preference lies with the toned-down winglets and conventional windshield of the 1960 models
For International Harvester enthusiasts, the 1979 Supplemental Scout Vehicle represents what might have been, a missed opportunity to grab hold of the sudden surge in small SUV popularity in the 1980s. Indeed, as two International truck historians will detail in an upcoming presentation for the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum, the SSV was just one of many proposals for new products to fit into new market segments that IH had on the drawing board at the time.”This was a company struggling for resources,” said John Glancy, one of the authors of the International Scout Encyclopedia.
“And they just weren’t making enough money on plain-jane Scouts.”In many ways, it was the Scout that advanced the small four-wheel-drive vehicle market when it debuted in 1961, not the later Ford Bronco. It offered several easily changed body styles on one platform and greater attention to creature comforts, even if it would still rattle grandpa’s dentures out of his gob both on and off road.
But International Harvester simply couldn’t put the same kind of resources behind the Scout that its competitors could put behind their four-wheel-drive vehicles.Medium- and heavy-duty trucks were International’s mainstay, according to Glancy, and the company still had divisions dedicated to agricultural equipment, to construction equipment, even to Cub Cadet lawn mowers. (It even had at least a couple of opportunities to explore the taxicab business after a proposal to merge with Checker in the Sixties and a proposal to take part in the Museum of Modern Art’s taxicab of the future exhibit.) Light trucks, on the other hand, were becoming more of a bother to the company.
It discontinued its Travelalls and pickups in 1975 in response to the 1973 oil crisis, had trouble meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy standards set to take effect in 1979, and faced a second oil crisis that year. Even worse, after the United Auto Workers began a company-wide strike against International in November 1979, then-CEO Archie McCardell tried to break the union, which caused the strike to extend all the way into April of the next year.
Roughly 40 years ago, Chrysler stepped away from Dodge Main. The sprawling tangle of buildings in Hamtramck, Michigan, that had grown to become one of the world’s few fully integrated automobile manufacturing and assembly plants, suddenly became little more than a liability to a company only recently saved from bankruptcy. And as we can see from a set of fortuitously timed photos, the company hardly seemed to look back over its shoulder as it turned off the lights.
So much has been written about Dodge Main that it’s easy to get lost in the history of the plant. Though not the first Detroit-area plant that the Dodge brothers worked out of – they had a couple of machine shops in or near downtown Detroit in the first decade of the 20th century while supplying the nascent automotive industry – Dodge Main not only saw the launch of the Dodge automobile, it also kept the tiny community of Hamtramck from being swallowed by adjacent Detroit and remained a mainstay facility for Chrysler for more than half a century.
For a quick recap, though: The brothers built it in 1910, initially to meet the demands of their exclusive customer – Ford – for engines and drivetrains. The 30-acre site they chose in Hamtramck was, at the time, on the outskirts of town but near a significant railroad crossing, and though Albert Kahn designed some of the buildings, the brothers eventually turned to architects Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls to design the rest. With a limited amount of space, the architects built vertically with multistory factory buildings, many of them constructed from steel-reinforced concrete. Once the brothers decided to manufacture their own cars (funded largely by the early investment they made in Ford Motor Company), the former suppliers decided they needed to work toward building every component of an automobile in-house, a goal their company realized by 1925.
As noted when we posted the video on Ford’s Styling Center the other day, the advanced design that much of the first half of the video focused on is something of a mystery given how much time and energy that Ford and the video’s producers devoted to it. So let’s see if we can get to the bottom of it or at least place the design in some applicable context.Here’s what we know so far: Ford’s brass codenamed the car the Astrion. Gene Bordinat is the vice president of styling at the time the video was filmed, so it’s sometime after 1961, when he was appointed George Walker’s successor as vice president of styling at Ford. Bill Ford is pictured driving a Bullet Bird—specifically a Sports Roadster version—in the video, so the video was filmed sometime around or after the introduction of the 1962 Thunderbird models. Though the video provides mini profiles of two of the clay modelers, it makes zero mention of the Astrion’s designers. And the Astrion (or, at least, this Astrion) doesn’t appear in Jim and Cheryl Farrell’s Ford Design Department Concepts and Showcars, 1932-1961.
The Farrells could have simply not included the Astrion because it came along after their chosen era of study (or the whole thing could have been a lark, or something that Ford paraded for the cameras, and not a serious design study), but some clues to the Astrion’s identity can still be scratched out from their research. First, the rear of the Astrion—with its small fins, skegs, and ovoid taillamp housings—bears some similarity to the Lincoln Marlin, the alternative proposal for the 1961 Lincoln Continental that John Orfe and Howard Payne worked on and that Walker and Elwood Engel liked (and that Engel apparently used as inspiration for the Chrysler Turbine car’s taillamps). According to the Farrells, the Marlin’s fins and skegs “were concessions by the car’s designers to the belief that the 1961 Lincoln must show at least minimal continuity with the previous model Lincoln.” However, the Astrion and the Marlin differ in just about every other aspect.