There were times when General Motors led the charge.
It is an easily overlooked fact that, despite enjoying widespread publicity and -in two cases at least- being successful additions to their existing model range, the BMW 2002 Turbo, Porsche 911 Turbo and SAAB 99 Turbo were not the first roadgoing, commercially available turbocharged passenger cars(1). The USA beat even the first amongst this European trio -the BMW- by a decade and while neither of today’s two protagonists could ever be declared a true commercial success, they still deserve their place in the spotlight.
America was no stranger to forced induction: starting in the early thirties the likes of Graham, Duesenberg and Cord employed superchargers, as did Kaiser and Studebaker around two decades later. The turbocharger, however, was thus far an unapplied technique for carmakers, although the idea had already been patented in the early twentieth century(2) and turbocharged engines had seen use in airplanes during World War Two. Continue reading “U.S. Air Force”
Guiding his Oldsmobile carefully up the driveway to the garage of his house in the suburbs of a typical midwestern American town, Scott Hewitt had something planned for the evening. It was 1968, a year that would prove to be pivotal in world history as well as a bloody one. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy would not see the end of the year alive, and neither would Martin Luther King.
The war in Vietnam escalated with the fierce Tet offensive, and the awful My Lai massacre would change many people’s minds about why and if the USA should have ever been involved in it in the first place. Violence and unrest were not limited to Southeast Asia- witness student riots in Paris, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the ignition of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Significant if less deadly pointers to Continue reading “1968: A Question of Choice”
I am writing this on our flight home from Chicago after spending ten most enjoyable days exploring the city and surrounding areas. Chicago is one of the great American cities and, with so much to see and experience, it is well worth a visit. Over the past thirty-something years, I have had the opportunity to travel to the US many times for both business and pleasure. One of my abiding fascinations is the country’s automotive landscape and how it has evolved over these decades.
When I first arrived on those shores in the late 1980s, the US car market was still dramatically different to its European equivalent, thrillingly so for a car-obsessive like me. Despite the downsizing precipitated by the 1973 fuel crisis, there were still plenty of US-manufactured ‘land yachts’ traversing the streets of the big cities and the country’s broad highways. American cars retained their highly distinctive style amongst a plethora of different marques, each with its own signature design features. Continue reading “Keeping it Real”
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)”
An Italo-American curiosity receives a broad DTW brushstroke.
Some cars emerge into the world fully formed, and regardless of where one lands upon their aesthetic merits, defy the facelifter’s scalpel, or indeed much in the way of subsequent enhancement. In stating this, I must add, I am not suggesting these cars were never the subject of facelifting exercises, more that perhaps they really ought not to have been.
Design, among many things, is about attempting to control how a product will be seen by the user. Control has limits.
The other day I had the opportunity to see a 1998-1994 Lincoln Continental roaming around the city. Unfortunately for Driven to Write’s readers I could not take a photo in time, so a stock photo will have to suffice. Until that point I had not seen one of these in motion. My impression of the car differed markedly from that based on photos like the image above.
Today’s car can claim to be special by dint of its rarity. GM never sold the G6 in Europe and so this vehicle must be one of a very small handful of examples on this side of Atlantic. In Denmark it has no peers**.
Three hypotheses: it came from the US as a by-product of work secondment from the US to Denmark (“We have to bring the Pontiac, Carol”). Two, it is a very specific and personal import for someone who just happened to really like the G6 (“There is nothing like this car, I must have it”). Three: it came to Denmark via a US soldier stationed in Germany (“We have to bring the Pontiac, Nick.”). A quick call might answer that and maybe I’ll find out.
Despite the enormous size of the automotive industry and the enormous importance of aesthetics, the academic literature on the topic is sparse.
There can be found in any bookshop a shelf of ten to thirty books on marques, full of glossy images and I am not talking about these. A few books supposedly on automotive design exist and these are inadequate. This has a few nice pages on rendering. The rest is fluff, sorry to say. The same goes for this book which is mostly about drawing not design.
DTW comes to the Half Century for the Oldsmobile Toronado, a 1966 example of which was supposed to be the 100 millionth GM vehicle. Did they really keep count that carefully? What about Johnny Cash’s Cadillac?
Personal Car? That would be my Nissan Cube. However there is also a ‘Personal Luxury Car’, a US category comprising gargantuan, two door cars, such as the Sixties Ford Thunderbirds, which I suppose was shorthand for the head of the nuclear family’s gross personal indulgence. I admit to a liking for most of the personal luxury cars from that era and, looking at GM’s offerings, I would be hard pushed to choose between a ‘67 Cadillac Eldorado, the outrageous, ‘71 boat-tailed Riviera or an original Oldsmobile Toronado. Continue reading “Because They Could : The Oldsmobile Toronado.”
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.
Benchmarks come and then they go. Personal luxury coupes (PLC) occupied the hottest sector of the American car market in the late 70s and early 80s. What were they?
A personal luxury coupe is understood as a two door, four seat car with at least a V6 or ideally a V8. Whilst the advertising for these may have suggested sporting capability, the body-on-frame and bench seat reality spoke of cars whose main talent lay in getting quickly up to 65 mph and staying there from Baker, Ca. to Frederick, Md.
The image above is my idea of the archetype of this car. I don´t think European had equivalents of the PLC. Two-door Ford Granadas (such as the 1975 example owned by our stalwart contributor Myles Gorfe) don´t strike the same note. Whether with two doors or four they retain their Granada-ness (the Ghia fastback came a bit closer to the concept). The Opel Monza offered a sporty experience and isn’t Continue reading “Theme: Benchmarks – Personal Luxury Coupés”
In 1995 Oldsmobile presented their Aurora, a car that was originally intended as a two-door coupe to replace the Toronado.
The origins of the Aurora go back to a 1989 concept car known as the Tube Car, one of Oldsmobile’s numerous designs inspired by aerodynamics. Much of the feeling of the Tube car is retained though the very straight sills are far from an aerodynamic ideal. The role of the Aurora was to help alter customers’ perceptions of the brand as being staid and rather dull and to distinguish it from the upper middle class styling that Buick had made its own. Despite the aerodynamic appearance, the Aurora’s cD was only 0.32, by some margin worse than Audi’s less obviously rounded 100 of 1982 which had a cD of 0.30. Continue reading “Theme : Aerodynamics – 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora”