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.
Remember how you felt the first time you saw a Nash Metropolitan? Well of course you do — it would be almost impossible not to. Tiny, quirky… the little car seemed like a joke, right? But that’s not how it was viewed when it first arrived on the market. When it debuted in March of 1954, it was well-received by the motoring press, which praised its design, ride, and fuel economy, as well as its styling. It was also well-received by the public, who flocked to Nash showrooms and bought up every Met in stock. After May of that same year, the little Met was also available in a Hudson version, becoming the first Hudson model to be created from a rebadged Nash.
By the end of the year, the newly formed American Motors realized it had a minor hit on its hands (the company never expected it to be a major hit) and asked Austin in the U.K. to increase production to meet demand. In mid-1956, the debut of a new two-tone “zig/zag” paint job and larger 1,500-cc engine sparked renewed interest. In fact, that year the little Nash was America’s number-two selling imported car!
So, what happened? How did a car that was doing so well become a failure? Its best sales year was 1959, when 14,959 were retailed in the U.S. But sales turned downward in 1960 and from there dropped like a stone. The final model year was 1962 and many (probably most) of the units sold were leftovers from 1961 or earlier.
American Motors had an unusual system for determining the Metropolitan’s model year. On whatever date the new models were announced each year, any new, unsold Mets still in stock at dealerships or in factory inventory automatically became the new year’s model. That’s why you sometimes find Metropolitans that are registered as, say “1961” models with a lower serial number than a 1959 or 1960 model, simply because that particular car sat on a dealer’s lot for a while, a couple of years or more in some cases. The situation does cause some confusion with collectors, but it was designed to avoid having to discount the prior year’s inventory. This policy was maintained even when fairly significant product changes took place, such as 1956 when the new two-tone color scheme and large engine debuted, and 1959 when the vent windows and opening trunk first appeared
Editor’s Note: We recently heard from Dennis Kazmerowski, who has decided to resurrect a never-finished fiberglass body based on Strother MacMinn’s concept for an American coupe to compete at Le Mans. He’s making headway and wanted to share with us exactly how he got started with the project in the first place.]
It started in August 2021, still in COVID-19 lockdown with much time to think about the past, present and future. I was talking with my good friend Geoff Hacker (founder of Undiscovered Classics and auto archaeologist) and shared with him a dream of my youth: the car on the August 1960 cover of Road & Track, the LeMans Coupe. While the car may have been beautifully designed and was ahead of its time in styling (that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it back in 1960), the LeMans Coupe is far more than a design study. The original project was the brainchild of John Bond, the publisher of Road & Track magazine.
Bond was not just a publisher, he was also a designer and engineer. For years he penned a column in his own magazine, Sports Car Design, where he talked about independent and production sports car development. It was toward the late 1950s where he challenged himself and his readers to design and build a car that would win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, something his friend Briggs Cunningham had nearly done in the early 1950s. Bond pulled together a team which specialized in design and engineering, and over a series of articles in 1957 and 1958, the LeMans Coupe project emerged. The lead designer of the shape of the car was the legendary teacher, mentor, and stylist from the Art Center in California, Strother MacMinn. Looking back in history, this makes the LeMans Coupe one of the talked about and recognized “specials” back in the 1950s.
While the design and history of the car is significant, it was always the visual impact that the car made on those seeing it that, too, caused me to remember the car for nearly 60 years. Sadly, Geoff, who has tracked down the surviving coupes built from MacMinn’s design, shared that the car shown on the cover of Road & Track magazine had been destroyed early on in an accident. But he knew where a virgin body was that was produced from the original molds. He shared the contact information with me and the wheels started to turn. I talked with the owner and after a few phone calls we agreed on a price, and my project began. Little did I know what I would be getting into.
So the project began when the body arrived at my New Jersey home in July 2021. I immediately re-read the Road & Track LeMans coupe articles, and I noted that one of the articles shared that production bodies were made very thin to keep weight down for racing purposes. This may have been good 60 years ago but over the years, with no inner structure, the sun had taken its toll and weakened the body. What I started with was a body shell with no doors, windows, wheelwells, or hood cut out. Just a shell. This project was and is going to take a lot of work
As I read the articles, I tried to hold true to the original chassis ideas but even they changed by the time I read the last article, so I went with the original dimensions and worked around what I had. It’s a long, thin car built for a V-8 engine. Could it have won at LeMans? That’s the subject for a different story. With Geoff’s guidance and my persistence, the car started to come together. Everything has to be made for it and when you think you have a problem solved – it’s not. The car is a work in progress and should be very fulfilling in the end, and I imagine that’s how Alton Johnson felt when he was building the first LeMans Coupe at Victress in North Hollywood, California.
The Eighties were when American automakers affected European accents. A new generation of consumers appreciated the understated styling, buttoned-down road manners, and real or imagined prestige that vehicles from Germany, England, Sweden, Italy, and France offered. Even true-blue American icons like Ford’s personal luxury car, the Thunderbird, looked overseas for inspiration, the result being the Turbo Coupe that the company hailed as “A World Class Touring Car.” This popular flagship forever changed buyers’ perceptions of the Thunderbird, and nearly 40 years later, its surprisingly contemporary driving characteristics make it a modern classic worth owning.
The ninth-generation Thunderbird, which still shared Fairmont-derived Fox-platform underpinnings with the Mustang, rocked the market upon its 1983 debut. Adding fuel to the fire was the unprecedented Turbo Coupe. Introduced midyear, this top-of-the-line, forced-induction variant attracted well-heeled enthusiast buyers, those to whom its advanced appearance and technical innovations strongly appealed, to Ford showrooms.
While the 1983 Mustang looked trim, even the hatchback version of that pony car was a brick (0.44 Cd) against the new Thunderbird. Surprisingly, its smooth lines were a development of a Lincoln design proposal from Ford’s Luxury and Intermediate Studio. Gone were the 1980-’82 model’s formal lines, padded vinyl roofs, opera windows, and stand-up hood ornaments. Now we had a downsized two-door whose careful detailing resulted in a 0.35 coefficient of drag, in Turbo Coupe form accented with Euro-style blackout trim and sporting a thrifty four-cylinder making more horsepower on demand than the traditional V-8 more than double its displacement.
While it would retain exposed quad sealed-beam headlamps through 1986, the Thunderbird featured hidden windshield wipers and wrap-over doors concealing the rain gutters, these working in concert with the high rear deck and subtle lip that managed the wind. Turbo Coupes were further distinguished with dark headlamp housings, a front bumper with integral Marchal fog lamps and deep chin spoiler, and bold 14-inch alloy wheels. Inside, special fascia finishes, comprehensive gauges and diagnostic lamps, articulated front sport seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob set the high-performance variant apart.
The Thunderbird Turbo Coupe evolved steadily, gaining an available automatic transmission in 1984 and a color-keyed grille, redesigned instrument panel, larger wheels, and a more powerful engine in 1985. This model took a major leap for 1987, when Motor Trend named it Car of the Year. A planned mid-cycle facelift ended up much more, the Turbo Coupe gaining flush-mounted window glass, a ducted hood, composite front lighting, a “bottom-breather” front bumper, and a smoother rear end. Mechanical updates included an intercooled engine, Programmed Ride Control electronic suspension, anti-lock brakes, 16-inch wheels, and more. A 22-gallon fuel tank ensured impressive high-speed-cruising range.
Ford’s premium two-door was a hot property in its ninth generation, selling nearly 884,000 examples. The North American Turbocoupe Organization (“NATO,” online at turbotbird.com) distills the Turbo Coupe from that total, suggesting 128,533 units were built over six model years, the final two selling the most copies. This Thunderbird benefits from its mechanical relationship to the Fox Mustang, but its unique body and sophisticated electronics pose more challenges for today’s restorers. Thankfully, these well-engineered sports-luxury cars are notably tough and enjoy a passionate, engaged enthusiast following that help each other with parts and information. Values are starting to tick up, with classic.com listing average sale prices nearing $12,500 and rising, so if you’ve always wanted a Turbo Coupe, now is your time to soar.
Even though Cadillac’s lineup was all new for 1971, it remained distinctively Cadillac. The generous proportions, the toothy grille, the clean flanks, the subtle fins —you could never mistake it for anything else. The Calais (available as a two-door or four-door hardtop) was the entry-level ’71 Cadillac; from there you stepped up to the de Ville (Coupe or hardtop Sedan, depending on the number of doors you choose). The two-door Calais had a unique roofline but both Calais and De Ville rode a 130-inch wheelbase. The Fleetwood Sixty Special Brougham, at 133 inches between the wheel centers, was a pillared-sedan-only proposition. The Fleetwood 75, with its 151.5-inch wheelbase, was a full-on limousine, with strictly limited production. The lineup held until 1975, when the Fleetwood Sixty Special was renamed the Fleetwood Brougham, and the Fleetwood 75 limousine became, simply, Fleetwood.
Despite power and torque numbers dropping, and a fuel crisis that made single-digit thirst resolutely unfashionable, Cadillac had some record-breaking sales years in the first half of the ’70s. For 1971, sales were down 21 percent overall from ’70, and Cadillac sat in 11th place in Detroit’s annual tally of who sold what. Non-Eldorado Cadillacs accounted for 159,155 copies. But a year later, customers returned in droves: Cadillac shot up 42 percent and straight into 9th place with 225,291 rear-drivers sold that year, with hardly a change made to the cars themselves. Sales jumped again for ’73, with Cadillac topping 300,000 units, 251,103 of which were rear-drivers. Alas, it was a strong year for Detroit overall, so despite its favorable sales performance, Cadillac slipped into 10th place.
You might imagine the fuel crisis, arriving in late ’73 as it did, would pummel Cadillac for 1974, but the division still sold 199,543 Calais, De Ville, and Fleetwood models, and remained in 10th place. Cadillac sold 218,651 full-size rear-drivers in ’75 and remained 10th during a strong bounce-back year for the industry. Finally, Cadillac stormed into 9th place for 1976, with 274,801 Calais, Deville, and Fleetwood models sold (and a healthy 3.74 percent of the overall market).What all this means is that there are plenty of these big C bodies available. Consider: More than 611,000 Coupe de Villes were sold from ’71 to ’76. But how can you tell if you’re getting a good one? We spoke to Mike Steiner of Palm Springs, California; we feel that the two-dozen-plus ’71-’76 rear-drive Caddys he’s owned and restored over time, including the dozen currently with his name on the title, qualify him as an expert worth talking to.
Lower fenders, front and rear, as well as rockers, and what lies beneath the vinyl top are all places to look for rot. Front fenders can be swapped out, and quarters can be patched, but it’s what’s lurking beneath the elk-grain roof cover that’s the scariest. “Rainwater and dirt seep in under the chrome molding at the edge of the vinyl covering,” Mike says. “The dirt that gets in there stays —and stays wet. By the time you see a hint of it beneath the roof on the rear quarters, it’s a huge issue.
“”If the car spent any time in snow country, check beneath the doors, where the outer skin folds over the inner stamping; if there’s any rust, you can’t fix that. The metal is thin and if you try to take the doors apart you won’t get them back together.” Speaking of doors: “Door strikers had a plastic sleeve starting in 1973; if these break, the door won’t close properly, and you have to slam it.” The sleeves are not reproduced, but Mike has a solution: “The sleeve is the same size as a half-inch copper pipe coupling. Cut some to the appropriate length, remove the bolt from the door, wrap electrical tape four times around the bolt, then slide the copper sleeve over and you’re done.
“But the toughest part of making the body look right? “The ’74-’76 back bumper fillers are the worst! GM used a rubber that disintegrated in the atmosphere. Something about the formulation just saw them dissolve over about a dozen years. Olds and Buick had the same issue. Several aftermarket companies make replacements but none of them fit well. With originals, you could make them fit; the aftermarket ones are fiberglass or hard plastic and will shatter on impact.”
Cadillac’s 472-cubic-inch V-8 lasted through 1974. It was rated at 345 gross horsepower in 1971 and 220 net horsepower in 1972, with 8.5:1 compression both years. By 1974, the 472 was rated at 205 horsepower. Starting in 1975, Cadillac pivoted to its 8.2-liter (500-cu.in.) V-8, essentially a stroked 472, for all of its C-body models. Power dropped to 190 horsepower, while torque stayed the same as the previous few seasons, 360 lb-ft at just 2,000 rpm. Electronic fuel injection became optional in 1975, while new open-chamber heads were standard.”That Cadillac V-8 is indestructible if you don’t run it out of oil or water,” Mike reports. “I’ve pulled desert parts cars out of the yard, thrown a battery and gas in, and had them start up and drive.” Occasionally, “the diaphragm in the fuel pump can go bad.” Carburetors are GM Quadrajets and are infinitely rebuildable. Ignitions ran breaker points until GM’s popular and durable HEI ignition, with its integral coil, arrived on some models for 1974; all Cadillacs had HEI for 1975. “I’ve seen coils burn up on HEI ignitions,” Mike reports, “but it’s not a normal occurrence.”
Like a kid in a candy store, we’re zipping our way around a vast, virtual car market that is the Hemmings Classifieds. In our latest edition of This or That, we’re circling around to a specific asking price point between $10,000 and $20,000, this time rounding up four-door hardtops and sedans from the 1970s that are currently available in the Hemmings classifieds. We’ve mentioned this plenty of times before, but for those new to this game, the good news about a $20k cap is that it offers options in good condition (even in our inflated market). So, given the money and space, which one would you take home?
1973 OLDSMOBILE NINETY-EIGHT LUXURY SEDAN
With exception of the Toronado, Oldsmobile’s Ninety-Eight (or, 98) continued its reign as the division’s top-of-the-line series for 1973, now offered in five body styles, including this four-door Ninety-Eight Luxury Sedan. Bested in fine accoutrements by only the Ninety-Eight Regency, the hardtop’s lengthy listed of standard features included – but were not limited to – a 275-hp 455-cu.in. engine, Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission, power steering, power front disc brakes, power windows, bench seats finished in “luxurious Bravo cloth with Morocceen trim” upholstery, windshield antenna, and more, all strapped to a 127-inch wheelbase chassis that cost $5,234 (or $34,335 in today’s currency). Olds built 21,896 four-door Luxury Sedans that year, making it the second most popular car within the Ninety-Eight series. From the seller’s description:
Talk about Old School Cool, once you see it, you won’t be able to walk away. Often turned into low-riders, or used for cruising or hopping, this car has the potential for it all. However, it’s perfect as is… a car that your Father drove and swore it was the best car ever. Finished in Honey Beige with Black 60/40 cloth upholstery, the looks are sure to get the town talking. Drive this one home now, it’s ready to go, in close to perfect condition. Solid body, chassis and drive train. Everything works and was a central part of an estate collection. Do you want to win car show trophies or just take the family out for an ice cream? Pile em’ and go. This car is an amazing drive that you don’t want to miss out on.
Price$18,500LocationCampbellsville, KYAvailability Available
1974 CHRYSLER NEW YORKER BROUGHAM SEDAN
Like the Olds Ninety-Eight, Chrysler’s New Yorker Brougham was bested only by the Imperial in terms of divisional luxury hierarchy by the time our featured 1974 four-door Brougham sedan was sold to its first owner. The Brougham’s mechanical DNA was identical to that of its base New Yorker sibling, meaning it was fitted with a 230-hp 440-cu.in. engine, TorqueFlite automatic transmission, torsion bar front suspension, power disc brakes, power steering, and 15-inch wheels, yet the Brougham also benefitted from the installation of power windows, plusher 50/50 front bench seat with additional arm rests, upscale trim, and a few other bits, all for a standard base price of $6,479 (or $39,099 in today’s currency). While pillared four-door sedans sold exceptionally well in the entry-level Newport and Newport Custom series, the pillared four-door New Yorker Brougham flopped: just 4,533 examples were built. From the seller’s description:
This highly desirable top of the line 1974 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham has only 50,500 miles! Highly optioned with the iconic big-block 440 four-barrel V-8, three-speed 727 TorqueFlite automatic, power steering, power disc brakes, working air conditioning, power windows, locks, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, vinyl top, factory AM/FM stereo, 50/50 power bench seat with dual armrests, etc. The body’s finished in Lucerne Blue Iridium, and is super straight rust free both top and bottom. All lights are in working order, the trunk trunk and engine compartment look like new. This car drives as good as it looks, and is guaranteed to draw attention. The 1974 models were the last full-size models Chrysler designed from the ground up, and one of the last to receive the big dog 440 V-8. Here’s your chance to own one at a very affordable price!
Price$12,950LocationMaple Lake, MNAvailability Available
Back in November, we were excited to learn that Dave Shuten, of Galpin Speed Shop, will be restoring the X-Sonic Corvette to its 1960s appearance. The X-Sonic was a groundbreaking custom car in the late-1950s that not only inspired Ed Roth to begin crafting his famous bubble tops, but also helped introduce the custom-car world to hydraulics.
Hydraulic suspension (and its spiritual descendent, airbags) on custom and lowrider cars is commonly known today. But where and when did hydraulics make the leap from being aircraft parts to automotive suspension pieces? The answer, of course, is in post-World War II California, where two enthusiasts—seemingly separately and unbeknownst to one another—used parts found in military surplus stores to create the first suspension systems that could be impracticably low for car shows but raised for driving
One of those men was Jim Logue, a North American Aviation employee who lived in Long Beach in 1957 and took inspiration from Citroen’s factory hydropneumatic suspension to modify his 1954 Ford. The other was Ron Aguirre, a resident of Rialto, who around the same time saw a hydraulic ram being used for dent removal and thought he might use something similar to avoid future violations for the lowness of his 1956 Corvette. Today, Logue and his Fabulous X54 have faded from popular memory, but Aguirre’s bubble-topped X-Sonic persists as the poster child for “the first” hydraulics-equipped custom car.
As a successful contender on the indoor-car-show circuit of the 1960s, the X-Sonic went through a few iterations and wound up heavily modified, including the aforementioned bubble top, substitution of a Turboglide transmission for the original three-speed, and even the elimination of a conventional steering wheel in favor of an electric motor controlled by toggle switches! The bubbletop and unconventional steering marked the transition of the car from street custom to all-out show car.
All eras come to an end, right? The highs and lows of one era might go on to help shape successive eras, but if we can sort out the tangles and messes of history to put a definitive start date on a certain time period, we should be able to mark its conclusion as well.
If so, then just try to pin down the end of the automotive retro design era that started way back in the Nineties.
Pinning down the start of that trend, though not exactly clear cut, is rather simple. While the Concept One/New Beetle gets credit for opening the floodgates, we can trace the beginnings back to the production Miata and the concept Viper in 1989 and, before that, to the 1987 Nissan Be-1 and its pike program brethren. Then, from the late Nineties until the mid-Oughts, it was one heritage-inspired nameplate or body shape or design ethos or concept car after another. You couldn’t swing an automaker executive by his necktie at a car show without him crashing into some sort of retro paint and graphics liveries, retro wheels, retro logos, retro special editions, retro headlamp and taillamp designs, or an actual vintage car trotted out to support the relaunch of its name after 40-something years.
Whatever the retro stuff did for the automakers’ bottom lines, it seemed to have universal appeal. Carmakers around the globe launched their own retro designs and kept mining their back catalogs for material suitable to bring forward a few decades. It became evident that they’d ride the wave as long as they could, despite a chorus of critics growing weary of the trend and wondering if all this retro was just a cover for a bankruptcy of fresh design ideas.
Logically, it would have to come to an end at some point, right? Not all the old designs were icons and trendsetters, so modern designers ultimately had a finite pool of material to draw from. And even if they really committed to replicating older vehicles’ design graduations – as Dodge did with the Charger, for instance – they’d eventually circle back around to the modern designs they had just abandoned.
More than that, the steady march of improving safety standards and increasing fuel mileage requirements made it ever more difficult to incorporate designs from eras in which neither safety nor mileage were much of a concern. Note that dagmars, sparrow strainers, sky-high tailfins, and chrome bumpers never appeared during the retro era; similarly, note that the big round headlamps that pretty much defined any car mimicking its predecessors’ sealed-beams eventually gave way to today’s squinty angry headlamps with far less frontal surface area.
So with logic and legislation poised against the permanence of retro design, exactly what was its sell-by date? That all depends on how we characterize the end of an era. Did it come with introduction of the last retro vehicle? If so, then it’d be sometime in the late Oughts when the Chevrolet HHR (2006), Fiat 500 (2007), Dodge Challenger (2008), and the fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro (2010) all debuted.
In our latest edition of This or That, we’re continuing our recent theme of cars with an asking price between $5,000 and $10,000, this time rounding up examples from the 1970s that are currently available in the Hemmings classifieds. As has been the case with previous installments having a $10k cap, moving up in price comes with a commensurate increase in condition, meaning these dream-garage opportunities need far less attention than our past $5,000 surveys. Will one of these varied gems tug at your heart strings?
1974 CHRYSLER NEWPORT SEDAN
As the Seventies marched on, the Newport continued its long tradition of capturing the majority of Chrysler’s divisional sales. In 1974, for example, Chrysler built a combined total of 8,194 Town & Country wagons, 25,678 New Yorker Broughams, and 6,138 base-series New Yorkers. Newport’s combined output numbered 49,696 units, which was complemented by another 27,667 upscale Newport Customs. The best-selling car of the entire panoply: our featured base Newport four-door sedan, at 26,944 examples. When new, they cost $5,225 each (or $29,458 in today’s currency) and were furnished with a 400-cu.in. V-8 and automatic transmission standard, along with power front disc brakes, electronic ignition, and more. The Newport had also been subtly redesigned in that it sat one inch lower and was five inches shorter than the ’73 version. From the seller’s description:
This beautiful 1974 Chrysler Newport is painted in Chrysler burnished red iridescent with a complementing full vinyl roof. Under the hood is a powerful 400 cubic inch V-8 attached to a three-speed automatic transmission. Odometer shows 63K; that?s less than 1200 miles a year ! The Light Gold geometric patterned cloth interior looks like new, and is the highlight of this Newport. The trunk is overly large and fully carpeted. Comfort features include power steering, power brakes, working air conditioning, cruise, and the original radio. This is a factory original zero rust car. All lights are in working order. At 226.6 inches long, this 1974 Chrysler Newport will certainly turn heads wherever it goes!
1977 AMC PACER STATION WAGON
The Seventies encompassed a staggering number of market shifts from what was once the norm for Detroit. Some were expected, others were not, and a few – like AMC’s subcompact Pacer – were, well, simply surprising. The rolling fish bowl snagged many a buyer in its first year and a half of production, fulfilling the expectations of the AMC board but perhaps surprising a few automotive executives in Detroit. Shockingly roomy, certainly economical to operate, and stylistically unlike anything else on the road, AMC followed up on the Pacer’s early success by adding a station wagon version for 1977, such as this one we found for sale. With just a skosh more cargo room, the wagon outsold the hatch sedan 37,999 to 20,265 during the year, despite its modestly loftier $3,799 price tag (or $17,002 in today’s currency). From the seller’s description:
Rare find, well kept original car, nice freshened up interior, factory roof rack and original wheels covers, 6-cylinder engine, automatic transmission, power steering, cool car, runs and drives
In This ArticleCategory: Hemmings Classic CarDuring the 2018 AACA Fall Meet, I had the unexpected pleasure of spending some time with retired Ford stylist Gale Halderman, who has since sadly passed away. If you’re not familiar with the name, Gale began his employment at Ford Motor Company in 1954, but within a decade the otherwise unassuming employee was thrust into a path of what would prove to be automotive greatness, at least in the eyes of today’s classic car enthusiasts. It started when Gale submitted his early sports car concept sketch — one of what turned out to be a field of 24 such renderings — to project planners for review. Gale’s drawing struck a chord, and he was subsequently selected by Lee Iacocca, special projects manager Hal Sperlich, and Ford studio chief Joe Oros to oversee the design of a new car that was eventually named Mustang.
Gale’s time with the Mustang didn’t stop with the smashing success of its first year on the market. He was destined to serve as the car’s design chief for another eight years, and his advances led to the development of the 1965 2+2 fastback and 1967 SportsRoof. In 1968, Gale was promoted to director of the Lincoln-Mercury design studio, a stint in the luxury divisions that lasted less than a decade. Why? Who better to oversee the development of the Fox-platform Mustang — introduced in 1979 — than the designer responsible for “the original” pony car?
Despite creating a legacy of automotive design that should register with old car enthusiasts as easily as Darrin, Earl, and a host of others, Gale, it seemed to me, hovered below the radar and remained a humble Ford employee who was simply proud of being in the right place at the right time, throughout his career. You could hear it in his voice that fall afternoon, as he thoughtfully reflected on his time at Ford