The Pontiac Star Chief Custom Safari

Every one who grew up
in the United States has
some kind of happy
memory when it comes
to automobiles.

I have lots of them,
which is one reason
I love cars so much,
I guess.

It might also explain
why I’ve owned so many
of them over the years.

The 1955 Pontiac Star
Chief Custom Safari brings
back images of a dear Aunt,
who owned the car until she
died in the 1970’s.

I remember she’d come
to visit, and I’d climb right
into the front seat of that car,
and admire the absolutely
beautiful control panel —
otherwise known as a

Hell, what did I know –
– I wanted to be a spaceman –

– and this thing was
retro-futuristic in the
coolest sorta way.

I’d make believe I was gonna
drive/fly the thing —

Houston, we are
go for launch.

Sure, I know the formula—
Pontiac = Cool.
Star Chief = Cool.
Station Wagon = Not So Cool.

But you know,
despite the math….

I’m still pretty damn
sure it was the
grooviest looking
grocery carrier
that was ever conceived
by Detroit.

Keep your Chevy Nomads –

-the Pontiac had touches that
totally outclassed it’s kissing
G.M. cousin.

In 1955, Pontiac unveiled it’s
new 180 horsepower O.H.V
287 cubic inch V-8 —
as well as a new body and
interior for the Star Chief,
including that ultra cool control
panel we talked about earlier,
which was featured in the 1955,
1956, and 1957 models.

The ride was
soft and quiet.

The interior was
plush and luxurious.

It’s exterior lines
screamed Pontiac.

And the fact that not
even 9100 of these
were even sold during
the car’s three year run
makes me wonder what
the hell what was up
with car buyers
at the time-

— but my Aunt always
did have her own
sense of style, and
wonderful taste.

!!! HOY !!!


The International Scout

Before there was a Bronco –

Before there was a Blazer –

Before there was —

there was always
a war-surplus Jeep,
I guess.

it goes back
a ways, any way –

The International Scout
was the ‘go-to’ vehicle for
folks who wanted to ‘go to’
when the weather or terrain
otherwise wouldn’t cooperate.

The SUV class of vehicle,
now rather common, was
an unheard of term in the
middle part of the
20th century….

— most vehicles made to serve
that function were tractor-like,
or truck-like.

International Harvester,
a tractor manufacturer
themselves, saw a market
for a vehicle like a Jeep
(but not a Jeep) that could go all
sorts of places without having to
train a special equipment operator –

– it would handle
like an automobile,
and have amenities
the Jeep CJ didn’t offer –

— but also have the
toughness necessary for the job.

The head of International Scout
design department once said:
the task was basically to
“design something to
replace the horse” .

In late 1960,
the first Scout 80
came off the assembly line
in Fort Wayne, Indiana –
equipped with a rather
under-powered 152 c.i slant
4 cylinder gasoline engine,
a fold down windshield,
removable windows,
either fixed or removable roof,
and was available in either
2 wheel or 4 wheel drive models.

The 4 cylinder engine utilized
was actually the right half of
a 392 V-8 “Comanche” engine
used in the International
“TravelAll” pickup truck.

Scout quickly developed a
reputation for durability
and reliability, and the
Scout 8 series
(80, 800, 810)
(with small refinements
along the way, like:
electric wipers in 1967,
a SportTop convertible
option in 1966-1968,
glam packages like the
“Champagne Series”
with headliner, door
and floor treatments,
and finally,
an offering of a 266 C.I. V-8
in 1967) continued until 1971 –
when it was ‘replaced’ by
the Scout II – which were
produced until 1980.

Following the tendency
on the part of International
Harvester’s tractor
manufacturing mentality
not to make heavy style
changes on tried
and true machines,
in particular in sheet metal,
the Scout II wasn’t all that
different from the original
Scout –

— it is easily enough distinguished
from the previous models by
horizontal bars in the grill
and SCOUT II markings,
but otherwise, it takes someone
who’s an affectionado to really
explain the differences in
each years offering.

And one of the things that
does make the whole Scout line
stand out, other than the
affection and dedication
their owners seem to have
for their vintage vehicles,
is the long list of special
versions that were offered
at one time or another —

— one might see a
‘Soft Top Safari’ ,
a ‘Traveller’ with a hatchback ,
a ‘Terra’ with a half top,
a ‘Shawnee’ with a Hurst performance package,
a ‘Midas’ camper
conversion, and any
one of
a number of others–

This was simply due to
the fact that the IH Scout
platform was so flexible,
adaptable, and dependable.

No wonder so many
folks still love them-
even 38 years after
they were last produced.

!!! HOY !!!


The Cadillac Cimarron

A friend of mine
( a big Cadillac fan )
recalled a visit to Detroit
in the 1990’s by telling me
about a sign that the Chief
Project Director for the
Cadillac Division had in
his office —

it was a picture of a
Cadillac Cimarron,
with the caption :
Lest We Forget “.

Talk about duds —
the Cadillac Cimarron
was one of Detroit’s
worst corporate gaffs
since the Edsel.

And it shared at least
one serious issue with
the Edsel , namely
bad “badge engineering” –

but, in the case of the
Cimarron, it was the number
one reason for it’s demise.

Because Cimarron was,
for all practical purposes,
nothing but a thinly disguised
Chevrolet Cavalier –
at almost double the price.

In 1982, it came standard
with a grossly under-powered
transverse mounted 1.8 liter
4 cylinder engine, (88 HP)
and a manual shift transmission –

— an automatic transmission
was expensive, optional but
almost requisite for anything
calling itself a Cadillac –
(it had been standard equipment
in every other Caddy since 1953)

— and a more powerful 6 cylinder
engine wasn’t even offered
until 1985.

Of course, it still had
all sorts of Cadillac trim
and window dressings as
standard equipment —

Air Conditioning, Stereo,
Intermittent Wipers and
the like –

but even the most snob-appeal
motivated buyers had a hard
time bringing themselves
to buy one —

barely 26,000 were sold
in the first year —

— and that was it’s best
selling year !

They reworked the dubious
J-Body suspension in 1983,
changed the grill and wheels,
but it was already a car
with a rep- a bad one.

G.M’s advertising department
didn’t help –

with laughable themes like:

” Cimarron Responds ” 
(the car went from 0 to 60
in about 18 seconds – with
the A/C off. )


” Cimarron –
An Extraordinary Value ”

stretched the truth to a point
that hardly anyone could ignore.

Car expert Dan Neil named the
Cimarron in his list of
Worst Cars of all Time,
saying: “everything that was
wrong, venal, lazy, and
mendacious about GM in the
1980s was crystallized in
this flagrant insult to the
good name and fine
customers of Cadillac.”

After 6 years, in 1988,
the Cimarron finally gave
up the ghost.

And good riddance.

!!! HOY !!!

The 1st Three Generations of Ford Thunderbird


One of my favorite automotive
name-plates .

Made by the Ford
Motor Company
for fifty years-
from 1955 – 2005.

The fact that Ford
doesn’t make
Thunderbird any more
has more to do with
corporate disassociation
with the tastes of their
buyers than any
other consideration —

A well designed ,
well thought out
Thunderbird would
indeed be hefty
competition for the
cars in the current

My two cents worth.

Now, let’s look at the
first three generations
of the car Ford called it’s
“Personal Luxury Car” .

Generation One:

The first Thunderbird, a rear wheel drive,
two-seater with a detachable
hard-top, and powered
by a 292 c.i. V-8 ,
was unveiled at the
1954 Detroit Auto Show –
and was an instant hit.

(Outselling it’s nearest
competitor Corvette 23 to 1
it’s first year of production)

That year it was available in five colors :

Torch Red.
Raven Black.
Thunderbird Blue.
Snowshoe White
and Goldenrod Yellow.

Revisions for 1956, included:

a continental kit for
the spare tire (which caused
car handling issues because
of uneven weight distribution) –

the either loved or detested
‘porthole’ (I hate it)
was added to the top for visibility
(most chose it, but it could
be ordered ‘without’ )

an optional 312 c.i.
225 horsepower V-8 …

4 more paint colors including
a medium dark gray metallic ,

– and a 12 volt electrical system.

In 1957:
the front fender was
modified, given larger
tail lights, a new front grill
and tailfins.

The rear of the car was lengthened
to accommodate the spare tire
without the continental kit, and
14 paint colors were available.

A supercharged 300 HP V-8
was one of the optional engines
offered in that model.

Generation Two : 

Ford designers had been concerned
that the two-seater layout of the
Thunderbird in it’s first generation
limited it’s sales appeal…

So in 1958,
the first four seater was produced –
and was offered in both hardtop
and convertible models.

It had been a choice between two
outstanding designs –
the winning
one done by Joe Oros, and the
losing one eventually
becoming the basis for the 1961
Lincoln Continental.

New in the second generation
Thunderbird was the 352 c.i. 300 HP
V-8 engine, uni-body construction,
and the much larger size and weight
of the car, which helped with improved
handling characteristics.

It actually was the car that won the
first Motor Trend ‘Car of The Year’ award.

16 paint colors were
available in 1958;
and in 1959, a more refined
but limited palette.

1959 also brought a new
front grill, leaf spring
suspension, and a more
powerful 350 HP engine
option – a Lincoln made
430 c.i. V-8.

1960 was the last year for
the 2nd generation T Birds –
as well as one of the best selling-selling over 92,00
of them that year.

Maybe it was the third taillight
on each side that did it,
who knows.

Generation Three : 

The third generation has
been affectionately nicknamed
the ‘ bullet bird ‘ from the
side profile of the car  –
it was made between 1961
and 1963.

The ‘swing away’ steering column
was a cutting edge innovation
included in the third generation
Bird – and one of the it’s most
distinctive interior features .

The car also came with many
standard features that were
pretty expensive options
in other brands-
including :
Bucket Seats
Power Steering
Power Brakes
and a 390 c.i.V-8 (only) .

but it also could be ordered
with just about any other
desired option —

except for a manual shift
transmission, which was
not available on the 3rd
generation T-Bird….

— the Cruise-O-Matic MX
automatic transmission
was standard.

About 1 in 7 was ordered
as a convertible, and there
were 26 paint colors offered
in 1961. 

Several ‘special production’
models appeared during the
three years of the third gen
T-Birds, including a
“Sports Roadster”
featuring 48 spoke wire wheels
that proved to be problematic,
and a “Landau” model with
vinyl top and a “S” ‘coach’ bars.

But in general, the Thunderbirds
built in this period varied only
in minor trim details .

Certainly, the third generation 
had the most fans among
‘baby boomer’ car enthusiasts as
daily driver/collectibles
but the earlier ones, particularly
the first generation, have a
following and popularity that belies
the small number of cars that were
actually produced.


Which one is your favorite ?

!!! HOY !!!

Turbine Powered Cars

If you’re a vintage
car-a-holic like me,
you may have
heard a rumbling
or two about vintage
concept cars…..

And the truth of the
matter is that ,
over the years,
the idea has been
tried out more than once –
in the United States
and elsewhere.

The British brand “Rover”
made a turbine car that ran
in the 1965 Le Mans,
for instance.

General Motors originally
used the name plate
of “Firebird
( later used, of course,
for an un-related Pontiac
pony car sharing the
“Camaro” platform)
on their 4 designs of
concept cars –

Starting with their
XP-21 in 1953-
which was little more than a
rocket shaped one-seater-
more like a jet airplane on
wheels than a car –
(it even used flaps
for added braking) –
and with a 370 HP turbine
that ran hot as Hades.

But, 1956 brought the
development of the
Firebird II, (XP-43) which
was much closer to a conventional family car  —
though it used
a very exotic (and expensive)
titanium outer hull,
a plexiglass roof,
and a vertical tail fin.

It featured a 200 HP (150 KW)
output turbine engine, which
used a system to recycle the
exhaust (similar to ‘bleed-air’
in aircraft), in order to allow
it to run cooler and power
the accessories.

Kerosene was the most
commonly used fuel on
the Firebird II, which
also had disc brakes
and independent
suspension system.

Firebird III (XP-73) returned to the two-seater format in 1959, and channeled even more
aircraft developments, using a
joystick controller for steering,
and air-drag braking-
along with some spiffy
automotive tech 
like cruise control,
air conditioning,
and push button door controls.

It featured a durable 225 hp
(168 kW) ‘Whirlfire’ GT-305
gas turbine.

The final version,
the Firebird IV
(XP-790), debuted at
the 1964 World’s Fair,
but was a frame
and body only, intended to
demonstrate how technology
would eventually automate
highway driving with navigational
and guidance systems,
— and it is no longer extant.

But there’s no question that
the Big Four automaker with
the most time and energy
invested in the turbine-powered
car was Chrysler …

— between 1962 and 1964 alone,
they produced 55 cars in total,
with the turbines all made in
the U.S., and the bodies by the
Italian builder Ghia.  They were
then finally assembled in Detroit.

Chrysler had began their
research on the subject early –
– starting in the 1930’s –
and began testing their designs
in the 1950’s:

— with a stock 1954 Plymouth
Belvedere equipped with a
small turbine – and they
continued to adapt existing
models right up until the
release of the 1962 prototype.

All of the 1962-1964
” Turbine Cars ” 
they produced were
2 door hardtop
coupes, with 130 HP
(97 KW) engines
capable of a top speed near 120 MPH.

They were equipped with
power brakes and steering,
and painted in a color
Chrysler called
“turbine bronze” –
a sort of root beer
metallic brown
that is indeed quite
and distinctive.

And despite the build costs,
you could, if you were a
licensed driver at the time,
actually get to drive one
of these cars…

50 of them were placed into
a free public ‘user’ program
to gauge their functionality
and marketability, and did
remarkably well overall.

The lucky drivers selected
would have the car for three
months, after which, they would
turn the car back in, and give
an extended debriefing about
the car’s performance.

One of the major
problems/advantages for
consumers was the fuel required:
one could easily use diesel or kerosene -but leaded gasoline
(the fuel most easily obtainable at commercial gas stations of the era) was not recommended and
would even foul the turbine.

Other issues reported included:
slow acceleration, complicated
starting procedures, low fuel
economy, and high noise level –

Performance positives included
smooth acceleration, easy
maintenance, and a very cool
jet-sounding engine.

The user program ended in
1966, at which time, the
majority of the cars were
crushed –

It is thought that only 9
have survived to the present day.

6 of them are accounted for
in museums like the Smithsonian,
The Henry Ford in Dearborn,
and the Peterson in Los Angeles –
although the turbines have been
disabled in all of these 6.

Private collectors like Jay Leno
own the remaining examples
which are, as of this writing,
thought to be fully operational.

And the experimentation with
automotive turbines is far from over –
there are car customizers that have
put them on motorcycles, sports cars,
SUV’s — just about anything —
although the Big Three disavow any
major future research on the subject.

!! HOY !!!!

Reining-In Horsepower For Christmas

As I was thinking about
how to approach this week’s
Saturday Car post, I got
to wondering what kinda car
Santa would have if he didn’t
have the advantages of
reindeer-provided horse-power.

And exactly what is the
conversion rate from
‘RP’ to ‘HP’,
for that matter ?

The Canadians and Scandinavians
will tell you that a reindeer
has about twice the pulling
power of the average horse
(which is theoretically
considered to be “1 HP” ) –
– and we’d still need to
consider traction, torque
and wheel slip when
getting back to car terms.

Of course, if we’re talking
about Caribou versus Clydesdale, who knows
just how that’d turn out.

Still, the below-average Yugo
should still beat em both.

Just don’t tell them
reindeers that, though —

they’ve got a pretty
bad temper, apparently.

How their temperament
would improve horsepower
ratings is also anyone’s guess.

But you gotta assume extra
rutting hormones will certainly
convert to higher power to
the ground.

And that brings up a
supplemental problem
when dealing with this
whole issue —

Since reindeer,
at least the ones Santa
employs, are dealing more
with air speed
than ground speed.

In other words-
(always a good thing)
and of course,
Lift — .
(also very helpful)

I’m not really sure
that galloping motion
you always see them
making with their hooves
while they’re flying
develops any real thrust
at all.

And since the average reindeer
weighs 350 pounds —
lift might be something
very tricky to achieve
considering the
non-aerodynamic shapes
in question.

You add Santa, a sleigh,
a shitload of presents,
and a heavy thermos of
mocha Java
( his favorite )
and you might
as well ask
an Abrams Tank
to take wing.

this is suddenly getting
very, very complex indeed.


Getting back to the car post
for just a mo, tho —

Here’s a mildly interesting
and lesser known trivia
question for you –

How many cars were
actually named
after Santa’s reindeers ?

(uhh– don’t take the
‘named after’ thing
too seriously)


1: The original 1974
Volkswagen ‘Passat’
was called the ‘Dasher ‘
in the U.S.


2: Ford/Lincoln-Mercury
made the ‘Comet’
between 1960 and 1977.


3: Between 1986 and 1989, the
‘Vixen’ , an American R-V
made in Pontiac, Michigan
and powered by a BMW 2.4
liter in-line 6 cylinder turbo
charged diesel engine–
which is to be best
remembered for it’s
spaciousness despite having an
extremely low center of gravity.


4: In 1909, Benz and Cie
of Mannheim, Germany
created the ‘Blitzen Benz ‘ —
which broke the world land
speed record in 1911 at Daytona
– with an impressive 141 miles
per hour.


And in the new remake of National Lampoon’s
“Vacation”, the producers have created
a new fictional automotive legend capable
of shaming both the Yugo and the Family
Truckster —

— an Albanian made
minivan called a
‘Tartan Prancer’ .

So… ,
not counting the
movie one, and
granting only a
generous half a point
for the RV —
the answer is:
3 and a half. 


Oh, you say you
wanna check me?

There was:

Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet,
Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen .

You find a car manufacturer
making a Renault Rudolph
or a Diahatsu Dancer and I’ll
concede defeat.

!!!!!! HOY !!!!!!!!!