Improving the Breed

A man on a mission.

Image: caranddriver.com

The old adage of racing improving the breed was taken to another level when engineer, designer and talented race car pilot Zora Arkus-Duntov took up the development of the 1959 CERV – the first Chevrolet Experimental Racing Vehicle.

A Belgian-born naturalised US citizen, Arkus-Duntov is rightly regarded as the Father of the Corvette. Beguiled by Harley Earl’s beautiful styling but disappointed by the Corvette’s indifferent performance and handling, Arkus-Duntov wrote to Chevrolet Chief Engineer Ed Cole, offering his services to Continue reading “Improving the Breed”

Open One Eye when you Sell, and Both Eyes when you Buy

Recalling General Motors’ Middle Eastern misadventures.

Image: gbodyforum.com

The title of this tale is a Middle Eastern proverb, somewhat similar to our adage ‘Buyer beware’, but it expands on this in the sense that it also cautions sellers to keep an eye on proceedings at all times. On two separate occasions involving different Middle East countries, General Motors found to its cost what can happen if this advice is not heeded, dragging it into controversy and a hostile environment when the political winds changed direction.

A trade dispute between Japan and Iraq was the improbable cause of trouble for GM Canada. In 1980, Toyota was the number-one selling car in Iraq, and had been for some years. That same year, the Japanese manufacturer initiated talks with Ford about a possible joint venture. The fact that Ford operated an important assembly plant in Israel, however, did not go down well with the Iraqis, who in consequence started looking for a different supplier for the country’s official cars and taxi cabs. Continue reading “Open One Eye when you Sell, and Both Eyes when you Buy”

The Splendour of the Empire He Took With Him Away

Five short years. Not long for such a long car.

1991-1996 Chevrolet Caprice. All images: the author

It was launched 1991. By 1996, GM had given up on their RWD, body-on-frame sedans, a mere five summers later. The last North American market(1) Caprice served really as a stop-gap. Underneath the deceitfully aero-looking body lurked technology dating back to the Carter era. The engine and underbody could be largely swapped between the 1977 Caprice and the 1991 model.

That is not necessarily a criticism. It reflected the fact that the demands placed on big, comfy sedans simply had not changed that much. It also reflected the fact that more and more American drivers wanted to Continue reading “The Splendour of the Empire He Took With Him Away”

Ashes to Ashes (Part One)

Awaiting the inevitable.

Two 1965 or 1966 Ford Mustangs, a 1953 Cadillac and a 1963 Ford Thunderbird. All images: the author.

Apart from huge metropolises such as New York or Los Angeles, most of the United States’ land area is quite sparsely inhabited, with large areas of undeveloped land. A consequence of this abundance of space was the many salvage yards(1) where cars were simply parked at their presumed final resting place instead of being stacked on top of each other, disassembled, flattened or crushed.

While not necessarily the most environmentally-friendly storage method, salvage yards do provide an invaluable source of spare-parts for those restoring a piece of classic Detroit iron. For those with an interest in classic cars in general and who, like your author, appreciate the peculiar air of nostalgia and romance one feels while walking amongst discarded vehicles in varying stages of decay, these yards are also irresistible. In truth, I should probably use the past tense these days as the vast majority of these salvage yards have now disappeared due to ever more stringent environmental laws and policies that started to take effect, especially since the turn of the millennium. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes (Part One)”

Blowing Up the Mould

No more Mr. Stingray. 

All images: Author’s collection

As the Corvette became a more serious proposition after the commercially successful but softer by the year C3 Stingray, its publicity material followed suit…

When introduced for the 1968 model year, the voluptuous Corvette Stingray did not meet with the universal praise from the press that GM had hoped for. Of course, the C3 had big shoes to fill after its much loved predecessor, but embarrassing initial quality glitches as well as a perceived of loss of focus as far as the sportscar aspect was concerned did not help its plight either.

The buying public thought otherwise however, and as the seventies unfolded sales of the C3 actually went up year-on-year culminating in its best sales performance (for this particular model) in 1979. Nevertheless, those responsible for all things Corvette within Chevrolet division decided to Continue reading “Blowing Up the Mould”

New York State of Mind

Remembering the city’s iconic yellow taxicabs.

Image: cityandstateny.com

I love New York. Since my first visit over thirty years ago, the city has always entranced and beguiled me with its energy, ambition, self-confidence and irrepressible optimism. It is so much more than mere steel and stone: it is a living organism powered by human endeavour and entrepreneurship. Even though I am very familiar with the city, having visited on many occasions and worked there for a time, I am still irrationally excited on the ride in from JFK airport, waiting to catch my first glimpse of that unique and unmistakable skyline. Continue reading “New York State of Mind”

(Not So) Background Distractions

Andrew Miles is watching the detectives. 

(c) Imcdb.org

Watching television was once a simple act. As youngsters, the choice was scant, yet memory suggests programs containing both interest and drama. With modern day 24 hour, on-demand supply, choices of what and when to be entertained with often raise anomalies when one is forced to observe a production that might not be one’s first choice.

Attempting to Continue reading “(Not So) Background Distractions”

The Italian Swallow

Andrew Miles recalls an Italian-American design highlight from the creative heyday of the Latin carrozzeiri.

All images (c) Carstyling.ru

The late and prolific Tom Tjaarda left behind an amazing legacy of work; take at look at Richard Herriott’s obituary to him from June 2017, but for me there is one unusual, yet standout design I knew nothing about. That is until Matteo Licatta and his Roadster-Life website introduced a conceptual one-off from the hand of Michigan born, but Italian based sculptor, the Rondine.

Pronounce it Ron-deen -ay and to these eyes, this car is as pretty as a peach, as distinctive as any Ferrari whilst offering a symphony of speed that only the Hirundinidae can deliver. For the Rondine is underneath a Chevrolet Corvette C2. And here’s an unusual twist; General Motors’ Bill Mitchell commissioning Pininfarina to give the bodywork a good scrub up and tailor a new suit which made its Paris Motor Show debut in 1963.

As if the Corvette requires any form of introduction, but the Rondine, with that sharp suit of fibreglass adds a divine lightness to the form. Whereas the Corvette might Continue reading “The Italian Swallow”

Subcompact and Substandard (Part One)

Fifty years ago, Ford and General Motors introduced their first subcompact models to challenge the rising tide of Japanese and European imports. One was underdeveloped and riddled with faults. The other would become an infamous cause célèbre for US safety campaigners.

(c) wheelsage

In the late 1960’s US auto makers were becoming concerned about the growing popularity of small Japanese and European imports. These tended to be basic and unsophisticated, but were also cheap, economical and reliable, particularly when compared to the alternative of a second-hand domestic model. Ford and GM needed to fight back, so set to work developing what would become known as subcompacts.

The Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega were launched within a day of each other in September 1970. Conceptually, they were identical: conventionally engineered front-engined RWD cars that would be available in saloon, hatchback and estate versions. The Vega was slightly larger, with a 3” (75mm) longer wheelbase, although rear seat space in both was occasional at best for adult passengers.

The development of the Vega was highly unusual in that it was controlled, not by Chevrolet, but by an independent team of fifty engineers led by Lloyd Reuss, who reported directly to GM President, Ed Cole. Reuss would himself go on to Continue reading “Subcompact and Substandard (Part One)”

Beans Under Toast

We seem to be having an unplanned American car theme at present. Today we take a closer look at an example of the third generation Chevrolet Camaro, in rare convertible guise.

Chevrolet Camaro, third generation (1982-1992) in convertible form (1987)

I saw this one in what I consider to be its natural habitat, a vast suburban car park, surrounded by big box retail units and convenience food outlets. It fits right in, I think. And in so doing corresponds to my prejudices about a certain type of American-market American car.

You can’t accuse the Camaro of being over-styled or chrome-laden. This one has no brightwork and the surface treatment is extremely straightforward. If you Continue reading “Beans Under Toast”

We Will Certainly Be At Your Wedding, Brian

A single black and white photo of a 1982-1992 F-body Chevrolet Camaro or Pontiac Firebird, seen in my district. But what does it portend?

I could bemoan the proportions. That´s pointless. Maybe a potted model history? No, thanks. The photo could lead us down a rabbit hole regarding General Motors’ body nomenclature. Considering the depth, breadth and sheer squiggliness of that byzantine horror, I am not sure if I can force myself to Continue reading “We Will Certainly Be At Your Wedding, Brian”

Notes and Curiosities: GM in Britain in the early 80s.

In 1981 GM went to all the trouble required to get type approval for a range of their US-market cars, on the expectation that customers might want to buy them.

1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo: source
1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo: source

GM picked a small range of cars to lure customers: two Cadillacs, one Buick and three Chevrolets. At the top of the list sat the 6 litre V8 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. The Sedan de Ville d’Elegance cost a little less for a little less length. From Buick´s list of cars, GM chose the Century Limited with a 3.8 litre V6, for just under £10,000.  Upsetting the hierarchy, the Chevrolet Caprice came (as saloon and estate) with a 5.0 V8 and cost more than the Buick, a few hundred pounds. Finally, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo with the same engine as the Buick but had two fewer doors and cost a shade more. All quite baffling.
Continue reading “Notes and Curiosities: GM in Britain in the early 80s.”

The Long and the Short

The contrast between the Caprice and Mini coupe caught my eye.

1991 Chevrolet Caprice and 2012 Mini coupe.
1991 Chevrolet Caprice and 2012 Mini coupe.

The Caprice is a car I’ve wanted to photograph for a long while. It’s thrillingly basic. The loadbay might be long and wide yet it’s also quite shallow. I don’t know what’s under the high floor: fuel tank and transmission I suppose.  Continue reading “The Long and the Short”

Some More Gestalt Theory: 2008 Chevrolet Cruze

The headlamps of this car never appealed to me. Gestalt theory explains why.

2008 Chevrolet Cruze: source
2008 Chevrolet Cruze: source

For a quick resume, Gestalt Theory is about how the mind is disposed to try to make sense of visual data. Your mind is inclined to fill in gaps to make whole outlines, and turn collections of individuals into groups and to pick exceptions from ordered arrays. The mind wants to sort out moving objects from a stable background. In short, it’s the equipment a mind would need to distinguish a moving thing in a complex background. Continue reading “Some More Gestalt Theory: 2008 Chevrolet Cruze”

On the Move: 1965 Chevrolet Impala

The 1965 Chevrolet Impala shown here waits outside Frederiksborg castle, Hillerød, Denmark. From a distance the style suggested an Opel Admiral.

1965 Chevrolet Impala - the sun landed at the wrong angle.
1965 Chevrolet Impala – the sun landed at the wrong angle.

As I got closer the florid Chevrolet script corrected my misapprehension. The driver filled me in on the year. This is another GM car to add to the network of influences cross-crissing and cut-jumping between Germany and the US. Up to now my idea has been to compare Opels and Buicks.

The Impala adds another strand to the weave. Continue reading “On the Move: 1965 Chevrolet Impala”

1977 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28 roadtest

This brief article, written for the short-lived “Sports Driver & Road Monthly”, is what looks like a transcription of Archie Vicar’s impressions of the 1977-and-a-half Chevrolet Camaro Z-28.

1978 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28: source
1978 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28: wikipedia.org

During the late 1970s the motoring correspondent Archie Vicar was in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. He would fly from Heathrow to New York on Concorde, do a test drive and fly back to his next assignment in the Midlands, six times a month. Photos by Karl Olsensen. Due the poor quality of the original images stock photos have been used.

What is this then? A sporty Camaro? It sounds like a contradiction in terms but somehow Chevrolet have decided to have a go at making a Camaro that can negotiate bends in the road. It still looks brash and crudely assembled in the American style. There is nothing here to scare even the most careless assembly-line workers at British Leyland. The nose cone evidently comes from a different car and the rear bumper is made of a plastic as convincing as an amputee’s orthosis. Is it a kind of American XJ-S? Continue reading “1977 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28 roadtest”

Driven to Write’s Best Cars Ever Top 50: Number 9

We return to our countdown of the all-time best cars ever. We’re now in the Top Ten so we’ll slow the pace and increase the tension! In at number nine, a car everyone rented, drove, saw, bought or sold in the 80s…

1982 Chevrolet Celebrity: howstuffworks.com
1982 Chevrolet Celebrity: howstuffworks.com

Throughout the 70s more and more Americans noticed the allure of European cars like the sharply-styled BMW 5-series and peerless Mercedes W-123 series. GM fought back with the Chevrolet Celebrity. And it worked. Using the flexible architecture of the renowned GM A-body (made in this case by Fisher Bodies), the Celebrity provided a compact but spacious vehicle which turned heads and won customers. The Celebrity was an important car for Chevrolet as it had to at least draw more customers than the outgoing Malibu. It is important to Continue reading “Driven to Write’s Best Cars Ever Top 50: Number 9”

C-pillars, C-pillars, C-pillars

Car and Driver published a spy shot of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt. It has a zany C-pillar. 

2017 Chevrolet Bolt spy shot: carandriver.com
2017 Chevrolet Bolt spy shot: carandriver.com

It’s hard to tell if this is one of the good ones. Plainly, to my eyes, this feature has become a cliché very quickly. You can view the full spy shot image at the Car and Driver website and we recommend you do because it’s a good magazine.

Continue reading “C-pillars, C-pillars, C-pillars”

Theme : Hybrids – GM Pushes The Definition

Was GM’s EV ever a contender? And is it a Parallel Hybrid? This is a revised version of a post published last October following the Opel Ampera’s withdrawal from sale. 

Ampera Owners

We laugh at giants at our peril. General Motors has made many mistakes in its existence, but it has scored lots of hits, and it’s still around. So, when they started taking EVs seriously, for the second time around after the controversial EV1 of the mid 90s, we needed to take GM seriously.

However giants take the small people for granted at their peril. GM’s very size means that it has little affection or goodwill going for it, so it will often be harshly judged. When the Chevrolet Volt, whose technology underlies the Ampera, first appeared critics were quick to accuse it of not being a pure EV, claiming that it was no more that a smoke-and-mirrors version of a Prius. Continue reading “Theme : Hybrids – GM Pushes The Definition”

Sightings: 2006 Chevrolet Impala

An evening walk in central Copenhagen led to the discovery of this: a Chevrolet Impala.

2006 Chevrolet Impala in Copenhagen
2006 Chevrolet Impala in Copenhagen

I missed it as I walked within 5 metres of it but caught it as I walked back on the opposite side of the road. Chevrolet launched this version of the Impala in 2006 and it is still in production. It is based on the W-body which dates to 1986 though that platform has been revised a few times since then. It’s made in Canada and features a 3.5 litre V6 driving the front wheels. The grille is determinedly Continue reading “Sightings: 2006 Chevrolet Impala”

Bodge Engineering and the International Market for Dogs

Between 1999 and 2002 GM sold the Oldsmobile Alero as the Chevrolet Alero in Europe. Not many found customers: 18 are advertised for sale in Europe compared to 119 Aston Martin DB9s  and 261 Lamborghini Gallardos. From €450 you can share in the American dream.

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The Alero replaced the Oldsmobile Achieva which was a cousin of the last Buick Skylark and the 1990-1998 Cutlass Supreme. We featured the Cutlass a while back. Around this time GM had turned to brandscape to try to distinguish its middle market brands. The Alero and the Intrigue had the job of Continue reading “Bodge Engineering and the International Market for Dogs”

Electric Dreams – Farewell Ampera

Was GM’s EV ever a contender?

Ampera Tunnel

Various things have recently caused me to think of things electric, though I admit that none of them involves me saving this or other planets. I had a mail the other week announcing a blanket 20mph limit in much of the area where I live, a process that is happening in many boroughs of London. Much of my driving in London is carried out in an old Audi S6, that burns both rubber and fuel with abandon, but gets me there no faster than anyone else. I dislike tube journeys. I can’t ride a pedal bike long distances without hurting my back. If I ride my motorcycle in wet weather I drip over people’s floors. I like silence. I want a new motoring experience. All these and more reasons make me think it would be nice to drive an electric car, or at least a part electric car.

Continue reading “Electric Dreams – Farewell Ampera”