Saturday Car Post: The Changing Of The Guard?

The 1970’s was a rough time for the automobile business in the United States and Canada-

— it represented a fundamental and permanent shake-up not only in what kinds of domestic cars consumers were willing to buy, but also in the penetration of the market by imports, particularly of Japanese origin.

The big domestic car makers
had been reticent to commit the necessary resources to improve build quality and
fuel efficiency – and North American buyers started to look elsewhere – and they
haven’t looked back since,
it seems.

While in 1975, almost 90% of
the cars on the road were
American (or Canadian) made,
the sad and hard reality of
today’s situation is much different:

“There are no purely American
vehicles,” said Michelle Krebs,
senior analyst at AutoTrader.

“These are global automakers
who use global sources for
all types of parts.”

Which, perhaps, goes a long way to explain why the new cars appear so similar to each other.

Several of my favorite vintage
models were built in the 1970’s, and the whole question of ‘style’ as it relates to current automobile models seems somehow no longer germane.

That notwithstanding,
one can’t help but wonder
whether such dependency
on foreign products,
especially one as iconic and
essential to the American
lifestyle, is a good thing
or not –

– and about how
long policies about such
things should be left in the hands of multi-national corporations that care, not about North American security,
economies, or jobs,
but only about profit.



The 1960 Plymouth XNR


This is the
1960 Plymouth XNR .

It is a one-of-a-kind
concept car designed
by Virgil Exner, Sr,
who was Chrysler’s V.P.
for styling at the time.

(He also developed the
legendary Dodge Fire Arrow,
and the Plymouth
Explorer Coupe.)

The XNR was builtaxnr2
on a Plymouth
Valiant chassis,
with a steel body
by Carrozzeria Ghia
( of Karmann Ghia fame )

and utilized a fiberglass nose.

It used a 170 cubic inch slant-six
power plant making about 260 HP,
with a four barrel carb and high performance cam.

axnr3It could handle sharp corners
at speed with ease, and was
capable of just over 150 MPH.

After several years on the show car circuit,

it somehow ended up in the
hands of the Shah of Iran,

….and then spent the rest
of the century in Beirut,
surviving the Lebanese
Civil War in a secret

Amazing, but true.

It was brought back to the United States
for restoration in 2009, and was shown
at the Amelia Island Concours
d’Elegance in 2012.

It sold that year for
just under 1 million dollars –
– $935,000 .

Looking at the styling of
this beautiful car
makes me ask one
simple question —-

Why can’t today’s
automotive designers
come up with cutting edge
ideas like this today ??

Why does every car
on the road lookaxnr
like every other car on the road?

Has automotive styling gone
the way of the dinosaurs?


if so,
what’s next ?





Vintage Uninformative Car Ads

Here’s the thing
about auto ads ….

It might look
great in print
or in a TV
but there’s no
way you can tell
if the car
is worth a
damn if
you don’t
drive it.

The auto manufacturers
have always known this –
– and depending how
good the car really is,
(in value and build quality)
will determine to a
large extent how they’ll
present it to the consumer.

In a TV ad, they may
go the long way
around to put you
off the scent,
by giving you a lot
of snob appeal ,
or emotional soft-soap –
– trying to convince you
that you’ve just got have
it, regardless of how
many gallons of gas per
mile the thing burns,
how sluggishly it
responds in traffic,
or to what degree you
get burned by the
sticker price.

They flash words on
the bottom of the screen,
of course, and these are
exactly the words you
should be paying attention
to, but it’s impossible,
and they know it —
even a giant screen TV
won’t help you if it only
stays on the screen for
a second and a half.

A print ad has to work
much harder to get the
same effect, because
even though the
small-print might indeed
be small, it is there for
you to read it at your
leisure (even if takes
a magnifying glass to do it).

If a manufacturer really
wants people to take
their car seriously,
they have it reviewed
in a car magazine.

And although
I’ve always
liked Road and Track ,
for years now
I’ve been using
the Consumer Reports reviews
as my primary buying guide.

They’re not car specialists,
but they do provide an
excellent breakdown of
features and flaws-
and since they don’t
accept advertising,
they’ve got no reason
not to tell it all.

Truthfully, I buy very
little these days
without consulting
the yearly Buyers Guide.

It’s not a plug-
just plain truth,
like the magazine itself.

Anyhoo, today
we’ve given you a couple of vintage print ads of
interest, for cars
that you probably woulda have wanted to avoid choosing,
if all things
were equal,
that is.

We’ll call it
‘Spotting The Spin’ ,
if you will.

!!! HOY !!

The 1960 Imperial

Sometimes deciding on a
vintage car project comes
down to figuring out if you
really want to end up
driving a car that every
other car enthusiast else
has/wants, or one that’s
a little more unique,
and downright cool.

After all –
coolness isn’t a virtue
that’s usually found in
mundane or everyday
stuff –
one of the factors that
distinguishes ‘cool’ is

Consider the domestic-made
luxury offerings on offer from
1960:  mostly Lincolns, and

I certainly wouldn’t argue
with a fully restored 1960
Lincoln Continental,
although it’s a bit stodgy
looking and murder to
get parts for – (the later
1960’s models are better)
or much better yet, a 1960
Cadillac Eldorado Brougham
— BUT –
you’ll see a lot more
of these cars than you will
our chosen 1960 coolest car
– the 1960 Imperial
(made by Chrysler).

The corporate geniuses at
Chrysler, who had marketing
an Imperial since 1926,
decided in 1956 to make
“Imperial” it’s own line –
sorta like Cadillac is to
General Motors, or Lincoln
is to Ford.

This had little to do with
making the car better,
although for a while,
Imperial actually was
built on a different platform
and had other distinctive
qualities –
and it was advertised
“America’s Most Carefully-
Built Car”.

1960 was it’s best year
for styling and quality-
yet, it was outsold by
Cadillacs by a staggering
8 to 1.


But that means:
if you have one –
you have one of only
17,500 or so manufactured.

Yes, so,
the makings of cool,

Engine-wise, alas, no hemi’s
were available in Imperial
that year.

However, the virtual bulletproof
413 Wedge with a four barrel
carb was the engine of choice –
(the ONLY choice, actually)
making 350 horsepower with
the also mandatory/also
bulletproof three-speed
A-466 Torque-Flight automatic
transmission with push button
control on the left side dash.

( I personally love those
push button automatics )

The torsion bar suspension
doesn’t wear quite as well,
rust between the rear quarter
panels is common, and the
drum brakes weren’t all that
wonderful, of course.

Still, a very pretty car, and
a predictable rebuild for
the most part – remembering
that there are several
year-specific features like
the nose and grill- and the
limited availability of
reproduction parts.


The Kaiser Aluminum “Idea” Cars

Not being a rich
tycoon myself,
I dunno for sure,
but I would think that
for a big business man,
it would seem natural
enough, I guess, to try
and find a way to expand
the market for your
product in anyway possible.

Such was Henry J. Kaiser,
of the Kaiser Aluminum Company –

starting in the late 1940’s,
Kaiser had challenged his
engineers and designers
to come up with automotive
concepts that were built
with almost 100% aluminum.

These were called “Idea Cars”,
and were intended to bring
Kaiser’s flagging Automotive
Division back from the brink,
despite a sense of real world
practicality that pervaded
this particular project.

Interestingly, Kaiser had
visited Hawaii in the late
1940’s, and bought a large
amount of property there-
he then chose to use
Hawaiian names for several
project cars – including 
“Heleakala”, “Panole”,
“Pele ” and “Waimea” .

Other concepts were called
“Golden Gate” ,” Grenada”,
“Piedmont” and “Del Mar”.

Although none of the
“Idea Cars” were ever
produced, their designs
certainly have a special
retro-futuristic look that
makes one wonder
what they really would
have been like to drive….

One inventor, named
Blake Larson, was so
inspired by a design
created by Kaiser engineer
Rhys Miller, the
” Waimea “, that he took
a 1960 Corvair Lakewood
Station Wagon and
converted it into ….

.. well, let’s just say his
idea of what one of these
idea cars would have
been like.

It’s builder called it a
” Corvair Futura ” —
and it was recently acquired
by a rich gleep car collector
who had very little nice to
say about it once he
actually had it in his garage.

Oh well…

as Mister Spock once
informed a fellow
After a time, you may find,
that having is not so pleasing
a thing as wanting

Man, I think you got
words to live by, there.

!! HOY !!


The Ford Gyron

Motorcycles are my thing.

And I can tell you one thing:
just because something
has two wheels and a motor
does not make it a motorcycle.

The first motorcycle was
developed in 1894-
the first car
(it had three wheels) in 1885 –
and there’s been a lot of cross-over development since then, of course.

Certain automotive concepts
along with the way have
attempted to combine
the efficiency and handling
of a two wheeled vehicle
with the all weather comfort,
capacity and safety of a car —

The first ones were:
The Bi-Autogo  —->>
in 1908,
the Wolseley Gyrocar,
way back in 1914.

One of my favorite attempts
at the two wheeled car
was the Ford Gyron.

Introduced at the 1961 Detroit
Auto Show, it was Ford’s look
into one possible automotive
future –

– filled with dramatic aerodynamic
designs and gyroscopic

Two passengers would, theoretically,
sit side by side, under
a rear hinged poly-plastic
canopy , as the driver
used a pad that looked very much
like a computer game controller to
drive the car –

— molded plastic seats that
kinda reminds me of my Mom’s
short-lasting ‘mod’ furniture craze
completes the interior.

The body was fiberglass
and plastic,
with motorcycle type stands that
would support the vehicle when
it wasn’t moving —

–but, since it was just a prototype,
it didn’t actually have to function –
( and the technology to do that
was still many years off — )
so, small wheels were put
in their place to hold it up.

The prototype’s main function
was simply to produce
a wow factor in the folks
who got a glimpse of it.

And in that aspect,
it worked great.

Today, several vehicles use
a similar concept but are still
very experimental —
like the Lit Motors
C-1 Electric Car.

Just don’t call it a motorcycle.

!! HOY !!

The Lincoln Futura

Several times over
the years, folks have
asked me about the
original “Batmobile” —

was it based
on a real car,
or was it built
from the ground up ?

But, just one look at the 1955
Lincoln Futura would answer
those questions right away.

The thing is —
– there was only 1 ever built –

but, unlike many prototypes
produced at the time for the
car show circuit, it was fully

Ford designers Bill Schmidt
and John Najjar came up
with the concept from an
idea Schmidt had in 1945-

and the Italian auto coachmaker
Ghia was finally chosen to
build it in 1954, (for $250,000)
on a modified Lincoln chassis.

Equipped with a large 368
Y-Block OHV V-8, making
about 330 horsepower with
a 4 barrel carb, and a
three speed ‘Turbo-Drive’
automatic transmission,
it was first unveiled at the
Chicago Auto Show in
January, 1955.

High points of the body
included a double,
clear-plastic canopy top,
a dramatic grill and hood
with deep inset headlights,
and large tail fins.

Futura’s high tech looking
design was quite popular
on the mid-1950’s car show
rounds – and it’s advanced
styling influenced designs
for future models like the
Ford Galaxie and Lincoln Capri.

It even appeared in a
Hollywood movie in 1959
with Glenn Ford and
Debbie Reynolds
“It Started With A Kiss”.
(it was repainted red)

Soon enough, though, the
car wasn’t being used much
anymore, and Ford sold the
prototype to auto customizer
George Barris –
(also known for his
“Munster’s” car)
who had it sitting unused
and unloved behind one of
his storage barns for
several years.

Then, in 1965, (20 years after
it was first conceived as the
“Futura”) the producers of
“Batman” approached Barris
for a car for the TV series –
Barris had minor alterations
to the body made, and the legend
of the original “Batmobile” was born.

That car still exists today –
as do copies made at the time
of the TV series and after –
in a collection on the
West Coast.

You won’t see it being
driven on the highways,
however —
it never was titled,
had no VIN number,
and is un-insurable
as a motor vehicle.

But as a generational
culture momento,|
boy howdy is it.

!!! HOY !!!

PS: For one of my favorite reader’s personal experience with a Batmobile at the NY Historical Society, click HERE.