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Sunday, March 13, 2011

1957 Studebaker

1957 Studebaker President.
There were many dark days for the Studebaker–Packard Corporation of Canada, Limited in 1955. The US parent was in deep trouble because investors and consumers alike had lost faith in the once-mighty independent automaker. Sales and production slid.  The lines were idled in South Bend and in Hamilton, too.

 Top brass in Canada and the US would rekindle confidence in their product line. Studebaker and Fram had a relationship that reached back to 1936. Installing oil filters on vehicles was a very new concept at the time. Studebaker and Fram both heavily promoted their association and the benfits to owners in the media. The relationship had been a good one and continued on ever since.

To boost morale, an international contest was launched. In the Dominion, only the Canadian dealer principals, their sales staff and garages that sold Fram products could take part. All they had to do to win was to correctly guess how many Studebaker cars would leave the Hamilton, Ontario factory during the 1956 model year with Canadian-made Fram filters installed as original equipment. Participants got the official entry forms from the local Fram  salesmen when they dropped in to take orders and deliver filters.

It was a pretty glamorous contest with $110,000 worth of prizes to be won, including movie cameras, television sets, automatic washing machines and ironers. The grand prizes were a pair of brand spanking new Studebaker automobiles.

Model year production got under way in Hamilton in November of 1955. This year it would be passenger cars only; truck production had been shifted back to the Hoosier State. Champions and Commanders rolled out the doors of the 12-acre plant located on Ferry Street and now flagship Presidents were being domestically built, replacing the truck line. 

The new Studebaker line was a dramatic departure from the Euro-look cars offered from 1953 to 1955. The story is told that when Packard purchased Studebaker, one of the new president’s first acts was to see what was in the pipeline for Studebaker. He hated the prototypes and promptly fired Raymond Loewy, the French designer who had been responsible for styling, all the way back to the 1939 Champions.

Independent stylist Vincent Gardiner hired to create a new look. Gardiner was not only able to design vehicles but to execute them as clay models. His versatile talent was highly sought after by all the manufacturers. Gardiner squared up the existing body and made it look more conventional. By all accounts he did a beautiful job. Few would have guessed that this was a facelift, not an entirely new car.

In Hamilton, the rate of production started out at 40 units a day. Only hardtops, coupes, wagons and Hawks of all stripes (Flight, Power, Silver and Golden) were imported. Contest entrants who guessed production based on that rate would be disappointed.  In December, the rate moved upward to 1,008 units, or 48 completed vehicles a day.  Production figures stuck like glue to that number right through the model year until the factory closed down for the annual changeover in August of 1956.
1957 Studebaker Hawks were imported from the USA.

In March there could have been a nasty strike that would have shut down the lines and skewed the contest but the company and the union were able to ink a labour deal that gave workers an 18-cent increase in their pay cheques, spread over the life of the three-year contract.

1957 Studebaker Scotsman was the no-frills model that kept the company alive until it could unleash its new, compact Lark for the 1959 selling season.
Not only did production hold steady but sales were greatly improved, too. By the end of June, head office could brag that dealers had sold 6,064 of the 1956 models in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario and estimated sales of another 1,516 new Studebaker passenger cars in Western Canada.  That was well ahead of last year’s totals and the year wasn’t over yet.  Records show that sales were especially brisk for the two-door coupes and the imported hardtops. They experienced an increase of 11.5 percent over the previous year’s totals. Though the now imported truck line dropped by half from the previous year to 130 sales during the same six-month period, that loss wasn’t awful because Studebaker-Packard dealers now sold the luxurious Mercedes-Benz and the tiny DKW, both imported from West Germany.
Studebaker dealers throughout the Dominion sold Mercedes-Benz automobiles, including the 1957 300SL Gullwing Coupe.

Studebaker dealers also sold the tiny DKW, imported from West Germany.
When the last 1956 Studebaker passenger car rolled out the door at the end of the model year, 5,205 Champions, 2,472 Commanders and 455 Presidents had been built. 

History has not been kind enough to preserve the exact number of Studebakers equipped with the Fram oil filters. It is known that staff from 116 dealerships and garages across the country participated in the contest. It is also known that Mr. Kane of Kingston, Ontario guessed the exact number of Fram filters installed and won a new 1957 Studebakers. Mr. Cox, the Fram salesman who gave him the entry form won a Studebaker as well.

James Kane owned LaSalle Tire Limited. He sold Fram filters. After reading an article in the Whig-Standard about new car sales, James calculated the number of 1956 Studebakers that he thought would be equipped with Fram filters. He filled out the form and completely forgot about the contest. A year went by and when informed he had won, he was completely astonished.
The two men and their wives were honoured at a special luncheon on April 8, 1957. Studebaker-Packard’s President Gaskin, an industry legend, was on hand for the occasion. After the lunch and a few short speeches, the keys to the lovely cars were presented to the winners and their wives by Tom Pryde, S-P’s General Sales manager, along with F.A. Knight, President of Fram Canada, Limited.

The Kane’s Studebaker was a brown and white four-door sedan. Winning the Studebaker turned the Kanes into a two-car family, virtually unheard of in Canada at that time. The stately Studebaker served as Mrs. Kane’s wheels for a good decade before it was traded in for a new Rambler.

At the luncheon, Studebaker officials announced to the press that Fram Easychange filters were now being offered as standard equipment on President models and made optional on Commanders and Champions. The press release bragged just a little that this represented a Canadian automotive industry first. That got the manufacturer national press coverage and Canadians’ attention. Studebaker had not lost its edge as a pioneering independent and it was still a force to be reckoned with.

Studebaker family snapshot for 1957.

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 Copyright James C. Mays 2004
 All rights reserved.

1968-1971 Austin 1800 Mk II

The 1968 Austin 1800 Mk II came in a most distinctive package and rode on a 2 692-millimetre (106-inch) wheelbase. The cars were sold throughout Canada from 1968 to 1972 by British Motor Corporation and later British Leyland dealers.

The first generation of Austin 1800s bowed to the world in 1964. It was an ingenious size-and-space transportation package based on the runaway global success of British Motor Corporation’s micro-sized Austin and Morris Mini that debuted in 1959. 

1962 Mini.
Sir Alec Issigonis was the brains behind the Mini, the fabled 1300 that followed it and now the 1800. The trio of motor vehicle kin all made use of transversely-mounted engines coupled to front wheel drive. The cunning combo gave designers absolutely cavernous cabin space to work with while keeping the overall length to a minimum. 

1959 Austin Mini cutaway diagram shows 80% of floor space being dedicated to passengers.

On the Austin 1800 that nifty package added up to a very tidy 2 692-millimetre  (106-inch) wheelbase platform that stretched to only 4 164 millimetres (13 foot and 8 inches) in overall length.

The 1964 Austin 1800 was exported to Commonwealth countries including Australia and Canada.

To further ensure the success of the 1800, the famed Italian Pininfarina studios were engaged to create the styling. Top brass at BMC didn’t particularly like the look generated by the continental style house and in-house designers were ordered to change it significantly before production began. The final envelope boasted an exceptionally large greenhouse with curved glass riding atop straight, almost severe slab sides accentuated with angular treatments, fore and aft.

The press didn’t care for the designers’ version and promptly pronounced the cars as ungainly. The public viewed the final product as being uglier than homemade sin—and promptly gave it the unflattering nickname of “land crab.” Production would prove to be disappointing during its five-year run and the ingeniously designed if slow-selling car was revamped as the Mark II for the 1968 selling season.

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The Austin 1800 Mk II made its debut in May of 1968. It received a much needed and pleasant if very modestly restrained restyle. Revisions included larger 35-centimetre (14-inch wheels), debuted BMC’s first full synchromesh transmission, a tweaked engine and an updated instrument panel that boasted the latest fad--rocker switches. Announced as “inheriting all the famous features of the Mini and the 1300, the Austin 18000 Mk. II” and “Add to these a 90 mph (150 kph) top speed, with acceleration to match, lounge seating for five and the toughest structure ever built into a production car.”  Other accolades included “The Austin 1800 Mk II is a notable achievement in advanced automobile design” and declared its handling to be “the envy of the world.” 

 The Austin 1800 Mk II clipped along courtesy of a 1.8-litre (85.6-horsepower), four-cylinder overhead valve engine. 
Under the hood was BMC’s water-cooled, overhead valve, four-cylinder, five-main bearing engine. The mill generated 86.5 horsepower and was capable of reaching a top speed of 150 kilometres per hour ( 93 miles per hour--ancient Canadian units of velocity). This was mated to a four-speed synchromesh transmission, with final drive located in the engine sump. Power was transmitted to the front wheels by short, universally-jointed shafts. Rack-and-pinion steering promised to deliver “sensitive hairline accuracy” and servo-assisted front disc brakes (drum brakes in the rear) gave real stopping power. While it was no jet rocket—the car moved from zero to 100 kph (60 mph) in 16.3 seconds--the package gave motorists a satisfying 10.4 L/100 kilometres (27 miles to the Imperial gallon--ancient Canadian units of fluid measure).

The instrument panel of the Austin 1800 Mk II was simple in design and remained unchanged from 1968 to 1972.  A right-hand drive model is shown here. 

The Austin’s instrument panel was finished in non-glare black dressed up with simulated woodgrain panels. The warning lamps indicated low oil pressure, dirty oil filter, headlamp high beam indicator. Gauges and dials were “At-a-Glance” easy to read and included a ribbon-type speedometer, a water temperature gauge and a fuel gauge. An all-in-one stalk on the steering column controlled the headlight high-low beam, the turn signals and the horn. Below the instrument panel was a capacious parcel shelf, split in the centre by a console that held a large ashtray, radio and heater controls. The lower lip of the parcel shelf doubled as a safety crash bar.

 Front seat passengers rode in softly cushioned individual seats. Rear passengers were treated to a wide, “superbly comfortable” seat with a centre folding armrest. The interior was upholstered with a hard-wearing, washable vinyl-coated fabric with Ambla face panels on the contact surfaces for good measure. Each car destined for the Canadian market was given fitted nylon carpets with thick sound-insulation for underlay.  Generous door pockets held everything from baby’s bottle to maps (ancient GPS systems). A comfortable ride was ensured by Hydrolastic suspension with its unique float-on-fluid sealed system that had no moving parts.

Rear-seat passengers in the Austin 1800 Mk II rode in luxurious comfort. The pull-down centre armrest was standard equipment.

Extra cost items included an automatic transmission, a heater/defroster, an electrically heated rear window, power-assist steering, reclining front seats, an electric clock, a radio, a hood lock, a cigarette lighter, exhaust trim, a fire extinguisher, a radiator muff, back-up lights, roof racks of differing types, rubber mats, seat covers, supplementary instruments, travel rugs and exterior mirrors.

Despite its size and value, the Austin 1800 Mk II was not a resounding hit with Canadians. Domestic sales of Austin were added together with those of MG to equal 10,020 units for the 1968 calendar year. In 1969 BMC was reorganized into British Leyland. Sales for all BLC brands were lumped together and rang in at 12,275 units for Canada. Austin sales were broken out in 1970 when 5,861 units were delivered. Austin sales of all stripes dropped to 4,554 units in 1971 and edged up ever so slightly to 4,597 units in calendar year 1972. The marque would do considerably better in 1973.

The Austin 1800 Mk II was as equally unmistakable from the rear as it was in the front.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2007
All rights reserved.

Friday, March 11, 2011

1963 Rambler

The 1963 Rambler Ambassador 880 Cross-Country Wagon sold
 for $3,329 f.o.b. Brampton, Ontario and weighed in at 1 485 kilos (3,275 pounds).

After five long years of uphill battle against its ever-increasing foreign and domestic competitors, Rambler Canada was ready with an assault of its own for 1963. It was an unforgettable attack; one that caught the entire North American auto industry by surprise. Its shared Classic and Ambassador envelope was new from stem to stern. Like baby bear's porridge, prices were just right; all Ramblers were now domestically built, save the sassy little American 440 convertible.  Folks in the Brampton, Ontario head office rubbed their hands in the delicious anticipation of really knocking the socks off the competition.

At a special company picnic, the 1,200 employees and their families got a sneak preview of the new Ramblers, before anyone else. The event was made even more memorable with a visit by Peter the Clown, a popular television personality, and none other than the CBC's newsreader who presented The National each evening, as well as being Rambler Canada's spokesman, Earl Cameron.

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The 1963 Rambler lineup did not include the Metropolitan.
Rambler Canada's littlest soldier retired with honour  after nine years
in the Canadian marketplace.
For the first time in American Motors’ history, there was no Metropolitan on the showroom floor. Manufacture of the tiny captive import from Britain had been discontinued in 1960 but it took two more years to clear out the backlog. Consumers took home 330 of them in 1961. In 1962, Marty Fine, a Rambler dealer in Calgary, cleaned out the last of the Metropolitan stock from head office and sold the lovable little rascals to customers in Alberta. 

For some 4,000 consumers who thought that the $2,184 Rambler American was expensive, the rock bottom priced Austin Mini, the DKW, the NSU Prinz, the Simca and the Škoda were all hands-down winners in 1963. With the adorable Metropolitan gone and no replacement, American Motors simply abandoned that entire under-$2,000 segment of the market.
 For 1963 the six-cylinder Flying Scot was offered in a 92-kiloWatt (125-horsepower) form for the Rambler American convertible. Other Rambler Americans received the tried and true 67-kiloWatt (90-horsepower) L-head, first seen in the 1941 Nash 600.

The 2 540-millimetre (100-inch wheelbase) American took the honours of being the smallest Rambler this year. It was on its third-year of the style cycle. Since the basic envelope was the same, much was made of the 45 important improvements to the vehicle, including “a wide selection of colour-coordinated interiors in rich vinyls and fabrics to satisfy the most exacting taste.” The least expensive of the tribe was the plain-Jane 220 two-door sedan. With its $2,184 price tag, it undercut the most bare-boned Studebaker, Chevy II, Ford Falcon and Valiant by a country kilometre.
The only imported Rambler this year was the 440 American convertible. All other Ramblers were sourced from American Motors Canada Limited plant in Brampton, Ontario.

Of course, the real competition for the smallest Rambler came from abroad. The rise of the Pound Sterling and other European currencies along with higher tariffs imposed by Ottawa meant that the Rambler American would now do battle with a whole host of European contenders including the Austin A40, the Morris 1100, the Fiat 1100, the Hillman 1600, the Triumph 1200 and the Renault R8.
 With a list price of $2,734, the 1963 Rambler Classic 660
represented value to thousands of Canadians.

The mid-priced Rambler Classic was a completely new vehicle. The guys at Canada Track & Traffic tested a 660 four-door sedan. They described it as a “solid, functional machine” and noted that the interior dimensions were substantially larger as a result of the Scena-ramic curved side window glass. They waxed most enthusiastic about the cabin. “From a decorator’s point of view the interior of our test car was tastefully done, using a subtle combination of colours that would be easy to live with for extended periods. Long-wearing, simple to clean fabrics are used on the seats, the doors are covered with a moulded, two-tone vinyl, while the floors are covered with carpeting of exceptional beauty.”

Despite unabashed praise for the famed Weather Eye heater, the Dual-Safe brake system and the Airliner reclining seats, they deemed the Classic to be “conventional” and rated its qualities as “satisfying” while hoping for spectacular. They summed up their test experience with this remark: “After spending several enjoyable days with it, we concluded that the Rambler is the car we would like to give our Grandmother as a present. Easy to drive, completely dependable, sensibly sized and with ample interior space, Rambler suits the practical individual.”
Airliner Reclining Seats made into Twin Travel Beds, saving frugal
travellers bundles of  money as they slept in their roadside Rambler Hiltons.

Billed as the only homegrown passenger car with big-car room and comfort, combined with small-car economy and handling ease, the Classic 550 two-door sedan listed for $2,538. It competed squarely against the domestically built Corvair, Chevy II, Falcon, Valiant, and Studebaker. It stood up most solidly against the imported Austin A60, the DKW 1000, the Envoy, the Hillman Super Minx, The Morris Oxford, the Renault Caravelle, the Vauxhall, the Volkswagen 1500 and Volvo’s PV 544.

From the rear, Rambler Ambassador carried styling cues that distinguished it from the Classic.

At the very apex of the Rambler summit shone the Rambler Ambassador. Heretofore, it had always been designated as Ambassador by Rambler. The wording of the name was a subtle nuance designed to elevate the luxurious Ambassador above its more economical kin. Management decided that was no longer necessary. For the first time since the marque debuted, every car on the dealer’s showroom floor carried the Rambler emblem. Like its sister Classic, the Ambassador was fresh from the ground up. With promises of delivering more style, more luxury and more V-8 performance, the Ambassador 880 four-door sedan listed for $2,978 and the 880 Cross-Country Wagon sold for $3,329.

The Rambler Ambassador could be ordered with reclining bucket seats and
a centre console in 1963. The Twin-Stick semi-automatic transmission is shown.

Folks have always been willing to shell out a couple of bucks for extras. Popular add-ons for this year’s Ramblers included $7,50 for a block heater, $90.50 for the Weather Eye Heater,  $31.95 for the Airliner reclining seats and $30.05 for headrests, $56.95 for five seatbelts,  $11.25 for windshield washers, $13.40 for backup lights, $212.00 for the Flash-O-Matic transmission, $15 for undercoating, $32.50 for two wheel rims (for snow tires), $20 for a set of full wheel covers and $15 for whitewall tires.

Rambler executives were more than happy with Track and Traffic’s evaluation of “satisfying” rather than “spectacular”. The prestigious publication bypassed Rambler and bestowed the coveted Golden Wheel Award on the new Volkswagen 1500. In the USA, Motor Trend magazine had named Rambler as its Car of the Year. The Brampton factory had doubled in size during the year to keep up with the avalanche of orders. The company started exporting right-hand drive Ramblers to the UK in February, accounting for half of the Canadian-built automobiles imported by Britain that year.

Rambler placed sixth in the domestic automotive sales chart for the calendar year with 27,019 sales according to Canadian Automotive Trade, (Ward’s Automotive Yearbook reported 28,602 sales) right between fifth place Volkswagen and fourth place Valiant. Workers in Brampton built 30,167 Ramblers during the 1963 calendar year and a total of 27,411 units during the model year. The 1964 picture was only going to get brighter.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2004 All rights reserved.

1968 Plymouth Barracuda

 The 1968 Plymouth Barracuda Hardtop Coupe carried a list price of $3,107
when equipped with the Slant-Six engine. The V-8 added $143 to the bill.
Barracuda bowed to the Canadian public on April 1, 1964 as a sub-series of the Valiant brand. The snazzy Chryco product shared sheet metal with the Valiant below the beltline but this stylish set of wheels was topped with a glassed-in fastback roof that boasted a 14.4-square foot rear window. The carpeted trunk expanded into a large cargo area because the rear seat could be dropped flat. Barracuda's grille was borrowed from the Dodge Dart (not sold in Canada). The car was powered by the 101-horsepower Slant-Six. 
The Valiant Barracuda was intended to do battle with the Rambler Marlin and the Ford Mustang.

There were no breakouts for sales but Barracuda was one of 34,802 Valiants sold in Canada that year. It was the Number Four best selling automobile in the country—right behind the full-sized Fords and just a whisper ahead of the trend-setting Rambler.

Barracuda returned in 1965 with a 273-cubic inch V-8 engine to move it along faster.  With sales figures still part of the Valiant family, the year ended with 32,441 units delivered. 

In its third year on the market, The Barracuda was given its own sales slot. It ranked 55th among nameplates on the domestic market, with 1,381 units delivered. It was less popular than Peugeot, in 54th place, and slightly more popular than Triumph in 56th position.  Valiant would have been sixth with Barracuda figures added in but  Plymouth’s compact make dropped to ninth place with the separation of the two nameplates.

Sleek and sensual, the 1968 Plymouth Barracuda rode on a 108-inch wheelbase
and weighed in at 2,720 pounds with a Slant-Six under the hood.

For 1967 there was a major restyle for Valiant and Barracuda. That wasn't the only change chez Valiant. There were no more Canada-only Valiant Barracudas. Signed in 1965 by Canada and the United States, AutoPact meant free trade for the continental automotive industry. There was no more need for “homegrown” cars for our significantly smaller market. Plymouth Valiants and Plymouth Barracudas were now imported into Canada without tariff or tax. 

Executives also decided to cut Barracuda loose from the Valiant family in terms of body style. Whereas the Valiant was angular and almost boxy, the new sporty car was lithe and speedy looking. It flowed and curved in all the right places. A convertible and hardtop were added to the lineup. The stunning restyle caused Barracuda to leap a full ten positions into 45th place with 3,813 sales recorded.

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When it was time to roll out the red carpet for the 1968 models, there were few changes for the Barracuda. Like every other automobile on the market, it received side-markers, four-way flashers and dual-brake systems as mandated by Transport Canada. Barracuda got an optional 340 V-8 to stuff under the hood. To differentiate the 1968 lineup from previous models there were slight changes to the grille, taillights and a trim shuffle. The hardtop lost its concave glass.

Only a handful of Barracuda ragtops were sold in this country in 1968.
Records show that Newfoundlanders bought more convertibles per capita than in any other province. The convertible’s price tag was $3,620 with the V-8 engine installed.

While there might have been few physical changes, there was a Niagara of hype. Wordsmiths burnt many a 45-gallon drum of midnight oil to come up with the freshest phrases, designed to fan the flame of ownership desire. The Barracuda was pitched to the “wild crowd” with talk that went like this: “A quick pull on the stick and you’re in motion. A Plymouth kind of motion. With a new fluted grille. Torsion-bar suspension that makes you sure of yourself in the turns “ 

“Barracuda doesn’t make you pay extra to impress your friends. Chromed hood louvres. Amber rallye lights that stay on to keep the headlights company. A pit-stop gas cap for that Super Stock look. All standard.”

“Inside you’re surrounded by comfort and convenience. Loop-pile carpeting. Full instrumentation with 16 meters, gauges, lights and switches. Your choice of cushy bucket seats or the ‘sportseat’ with a flip-down centre armrest.”

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“From there, gear up with extras. Accent strips. Sports stripes. Wire wheel covers. A Vinyl roof. Console, Tachometer, Bumper guards, Radio. Stereo TorqueFlite automatic. 4-on-the-floor.”

Having said all that, ad copy was quick to cover all the bases and point out that the Barracuda was just as much at home at beach parties and deb parties as it was church socials, wedding receptions and the corner grocery store. 

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There were almost as many optional equipment items as there are Newfoundlanders living in Toronto. Extra-cost goodies included a floor-mounted stick shift, front disc brakes, Auto-speed control, power windows power brakes, head restraints, simulated wood-grain steering wheel, a stereo 8-track tape cartridge player, an AM/FM radio, rear window defogger, tinted glass, bucket seats, chrome-plated road wheels, numerous wheel covers including wire, undercoating, variable or three-speed electric windshield wipers, a Sure-Grip differential, fast ratio manual steering, an electric clock, a sports centre console, heavy-duty suspension, vinyl roof tops, bumper guards, remote outside left mirror, a right-hand side mirror, whitewall tires or wide tread Red Streak tires,  fender-mounted turn signals, a time delay ignition switch that allowed the interior lights to stay on when entering the car,

Barracudas swam off the line in Hamtramck, Michigan in a wide range of colours including Ember Gold Metallic, Mist Turquoise Metallic, Surf Turquoise Metallic, Turbine Bronze #2 Metallic, Matador Red, Electric Blue Metallic, Burgundy Metallic, Sunfire Yellow, Avocado Green Metallic, Frost Blue Metallic, Sable White, Satin Beige and Sierra Tan Metallic. 

It was a good year for Chrysler Canada's Plymouth Division in general and Barracuda in particular. It held on to 45th place with sales of 3,004 units.

 The 1968 Barracuda fastback was the most popular model with Canadian consumers, selling for $3,423 when ordered with the V-8 engine. 

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Copyright James C. Mays 2007 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

1949 Ford

George Walker was behind the 1949 Ford design but he originally intended it for Nash. 

Independent automobile stylist and industry consultant George Walker and his team were behind the groundbreaking envelope that would become the first post-war Ford. With sketches of the proposal under his arm, Walker began the rounds to sell it to one of the manufacturers. That was a common practice at the time; few of the automakers operated their own styling departments. Even those who did often sought outside designs to keep the in-house staff on its toes.

Walker made an appointment with George Mason at Nash-Kelvinator and drove out to the company’s Art Deco headquarters on Plymouth Road. Mason was enthusiastic about the design; the slippery smooth envelope was exactly the direction he envisioned for Nash. 

George Walker designed the 1939 Nash.
Walker was well known and well liked at Nash. He had designed the striking 1939 models for the company. They had captured the public’s fancy, giving Nash a very good sales year. When Walker left Mason’s mahogany paneled office, Nash’s CEO was under the impression that the design would be purchased from the talented stylist. Walker waited but no deal was ever signed. With no follow up from Nash, he finally took the sketches to Dearborn for another presentation. 

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Ford officials were impressed. They handed out the basic package criteria and ordered competing designs, one from Walker and another from in-house stylist Bob Gregorie. Walker decided to submit three proposals. Created on a shoestring, it is true that one of the three quarter-scale clay models was cured in the kitchen oven of Walker’s associate, Richard Caleal. Reportedly, the drying clay stank up the house. The four completed models were shown to the top brass on August 1, 1946, Ford executives chose Walker’s design and signed a deal. 

When George Mason learned of the foul-up, he was furious. The proposed new 1949 Nash had somehow slipped through Mason’s fingers and would now wear a Ford badge.  Mason’s response was to make sure that such a disaster never happened again. He established an in-house design team for Nash but that is another story for another day. 

The 1949 Ford Custom Tudor sold for $1,996 f.o.b. Windsor, Ontario
 and weighed in at 3,110 pounds.
With contract in hand, the Ford began to take shape. Walker worked under the direction of Harold Youngren, Ford’s Vice President of Engineering. The wheelbase stayed the same as those of the previous Fords but that was about the only similarity with the past.  The new model was three inches lower. Because of the smooth, slab-side configuration, the car appeared to be narrower. In fact, it was. It was also lighter in weight. When it was complete, the 1949 Ford was no more similar to the 1948 model than fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice is to Tang. 

The grille was understated; a simple chrome bar split at the centre by a graceful round, chrome circle. A free-floating fuselage was housed within, giving off more than a suggestion of flight. The trailing edges of that bar reached beyond the heavily chromed grille housing to hold the parking lamps.  The slab-sided look was applied to the rear of the car where it was punctuated with ovoid taillights housed in a small fin-like protrusion. 

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Interior space became simply cavernous because the engine was moved forward a full five inches. All of that gain was dedicated to expanded legroom. The fresh, squared-up design permitted front seat width to be increased by six inches. Even the three inches shaved from the height did not change the interior dimensions. A man’s fedora was still safe in this year’s Ford. The instrument panel was said to be “aircraft inspired.” 

Instrument panel was clean and sported a large, round white-on-black speedometer.
The four-door sedan was originally designed with both doors latching on the centre post. At the last minute, the “suicide door” setup was nixed for the more conventional arrangement. Promotional models had already been shipped to dealers with the discarded configuration.  

 The 1949 Ford Custom Fordor sold for $2,077
f.o.b. Windsor, Ontario. 
From drawings to production, the Ford was in gestation for only 19 months. That was an incredibly short time frame.  Normally, new car development took a full three years. The investment was heavy: an estimated 10 million man-hours and $72 million in cold, hard cash. 

Neither the six- nor eight-cylinder engines changed a great deal from the 1948 Ford offering. Engineers did make improvements to the cooling system and breathing was improved. Despite the tinkering, the horsepower remained unchanged at 100. It was more than ample; the new Fords were considerably lighter than their predecessors. Traditional torque tube drive was dropped in favor of the Hotchkiss arrangement. What was really new for the Ford was independent front suspension and longitudinal leaf springs supporting the rear axle. The all- new car was given a ladder-type chassis.

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To get a jump on competitors, the new 1949 Fords were shown off to the press on June 8, 1948 at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. Hundreds of reporters flocked to the event at the Automotive Building. They fell in love with the design and wrote glowing accounts for the public. 

Like the convertible, the Ford Custom Station Wagon was imported from the United States in 1949.
With a keen-edged hunger for anything new, consumers flooded Ford dealers’ showrooms during the first three days they were on the market. The nine glittering models were the stars of the show. Absent from the lineup was a hardtop convertible; there simply wasn’t money to tool one. Station wagons were offered in two-door configurations only. Ford did not have an automatic transmission to offer that year because the deal to purchase the self-shifting units from Studebaker fell through. Those who came out to see the Fords did seem not care. To them, the only thing that was the same as the year before was the air in the tires. Customers promptly placed orders for the sleek machines. Fleet and nimble, the new Fords were the darling of many a police department, too.

The bold, expensive gamble paid off handsomely as 1949 would turn out to be a very gratifying year for Ford. Production in Windsor for the long model year reached 38,280 units.  

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  Copyright James C. Mays 2006 All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

1960 Pontiac

 Pontiac was the second best selling car in the Dominion of Canada  in 1960. 
From St. John’s to Victoria folks were in an expansive mood as the 1950s closed. Citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador marked their tenth anniversary in Confederation. National pride swelled as the Conservative government poured money into opening up the Arctic, our own back yard. The Montreal Canadiens had won the Stanley Cup four years straight. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, came to open the St. Lawrence Seaway and join in the national festivities on Dominion Day. Prime Minister Diefenbaker went to Outlook, Saskatchewan to preside over construction ceremonies for the new $185 million South Saskatchewan River Dam project. Major General Georges Vanier was installed as the first Francophone Governor General. In 1959 we were a nation of people who was sure that we could tackle anything and do it well.  

The 1959 Pontiac Parisienne Safari.
Against this vibrant post-war backdrop, automobile owners in this country discovered a love affair with Pontiac. It continued throughout the 1950s and just wouldn’t quit. Every year consumers bought more than they had the year before. By 1958 folks were so enamoured with their value and style that Pontiac displaced Ford from its traditional number two spot. 

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Brand new for 1959, Pontiac sold very well. There was no reason to mess with success and the hot selling car was mildly facelifted for the 1960 selling season. Tucked under a heavy brow of a hood, last year’s massive split grille gave way to a series of thin, horizontal slats, vee-d outward ever so gently at the centre and divided by a simple single vertical chrome bar. This was flanked by a round parking light-turn signal and quad headlamps. The sides were elaborately sculpted. A deep ridge and valley ran nearly the entire length of the body, disappearing briefly in the front door. A midline bow was perfect for brightwork accents and a speed line emphasized the rear wheelwell opening.  

The 1960 Pontiac Laurentian two-door sedan cost $3,468 when equipped with the 4.3-litre (261-cubic inch) six-cylinder engine and weighed in at 1 873 kilos (4,130 pounds).
From the rear, Pontiac was unmistakable. Dual fuselage taillights topped the leading edge of the trunk lid that curved out gracefully to meet the large chrome bumper. Stylists added a javelin-like turn signal-backup lights and emphasized them with deeply cut curves that drew the eye to the centre of the trunk and the Pontiac insignia. 
The 1960 Pontiac Parisienne Vista four-door hardtop convertible.
The greenhouse was extremely generous; the rear window cut high into the roofline. Vista was the name given to four-door hardtop convertibles and Sport Coupe designated two-door Pontiacs without a B pillar. 

Advertising admonished Canadians to be proud of the designers who had developed and perfected the formidable lines of the 1960 Pontiac. Invited to the showroom to examine it for themselves, salesmen told consumers they would find the new Pontiac’s clean styling to be as fresh as a winter morning.

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The value leader for the Pontiac tribe was the Strato-Chief, represented by a single two-door sedan and four-door sedan with a $2,905 price tag. Modestly trimmed they might be but they were still pure Pontiac and powered by GM’s 261-cubic inch six-cylinder engine. 
The 1960 Pontiac Strato-Chief two-door sedan listed for $2,389.

For an extra $124 one could ditch the six and have the power of the 4.6-litre (283-cubic inch) V-8 under the hood. In addition to the sedans, a pair of tough and practical two-door Safari wagons was offered with six- or eight-cylinder mills. The two-door wagon sold for $3,261 when equipped with the six and $3,386 with a V-8. This body style was not seen in the US this year and it would not return to Canadian showrooms for 1961. The two-door Safaris joined a pair of six-passenger, four-door Safari wagons, again with a choice of six- or eight-cylinder power plants under the hood. They sold for $$3,344 and $3,464, respectively. 

Besides the sedans, six-passenger and eight-passenger, four-door Safari wagons were available a la Laurentian. The four-door, eight-passenger wagon listed for $3,762.
The Mid-line Laurentian family was better dressed than Strato-Chief. Laurentian boasted a two- and four-door sedan, a two-door Sport Coupe and a four-door Vista Sedan. The fancy hardtop listed for $3,555 and came equipped only with the V-8 power plant. The thrifty owner would opt for the 4.3-litre (261-cubic inch) six-banger while the hotfoot could pony up the extra pennies for the 4.6-litre (283-cubic inch) V-8 mill. 

The instrument panel of the 1960 Pontiac Parisienne was exceptionally clean.
The ooh! la! la! top-of-the-line Pontiac was the sophisticated Parisienne. Here one found the usual two- and four-door sedans, a stylish Sport Coupe for $3,375, a four-door Vista Sedan with a price of $$3,850 (the most expensive Pontiac in the lineup) and a sensuous convertible could be had for $$3,715. All Parisiennes were decked out in chrome, brightwork and upscale appointments. In addition, there was a pair of luxuriously trimmed six-passenger Safari wagons. 

If the homegrown Pontiac clan didn’t possess the necessary pizzazz, certain imported Catalina, Ventura, Star Chief and Bonneville models were available to the consumer for a premium price. If the full-sized Pontiacs were too big to own and operate, the dealer stocked the compact Envoy, a badge-engineered Vauxhall, sourced from GM in Britain. The choice was up to the buyer.
The 1960 Envoy was sold by Pontiac dealers Canadawide.

Dressing up one’s Pontiac with optional equipment was as easy as watching snow fall. One could buy an electric antenna to go with the Sportable radio or the Wonder Bar Radio. To keep toasty warm there was the Circ-L-Aire heater and defroster unit or the Direct Aire heater and defroster. Power steering, power brakes, power windows, the self-shifting SuperHydramatic Transmission all made driving more pleasant. Perhaps the most distinctive add-on for the 1960 Pontiac was the Continental spare tire and wheel cover.

General Motors of Canada celebrated a banner year. Pontiac sales amounted to 64,785 units for the calendar year. The Oshawa, Ontario-based manufacturer broke production records that it had set back in 1953. Passenger car production for 1960 gained a whopping 16.6 percent over the 1959 mark. The company was riding high and told the press that GM’s Canadian production represented a full 27 percent of all GM vehicles built outside of the United States. Oshawa boasted 13,500 employees and payroll was $73 million—a full $8 million more than the previous year. Stretched to the bursting point, a $3.5 million warehouse and office building was erected in Montreal to better serve the Quebec market. 

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 Copyright James C. Mays 2007 
All rights reserved.