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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

1955 Studebaker

This second series 1955 Studebaker President carries the
latest styling fad--a wraparound windshield.
Officials at Studebaker Canada Limited had wanted to return to the assembly of cars in this country when the 1939 Champion turned out to be so highly popular with consumers. World War Two intervened in September of that year and the company had to wait until the end of the global conflict to re-establish its domestic assembly goals. The company arranged the purchase of a 320,000-square foot munitions factory from the War Assets Commission in Hamilton, Ontario on March 21, 1946.
The 1939 Studebaker Champion was designed by Raymond Loewy.

Conversion to civilian manufacture was slow, taking more than two years.  Located at 349 Ferrie Street East, the pioneer automaker finally began postwar production of passenger cars on August 18, 1948. Model year production amounted to an even 3,000 cars that first year, all of them the modest, thrifty and popular Champions.

 People had to wait in line for a Studebaker but one of the first ones went to the father of Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Lincoln Alexander, a long-time CNR railroad porter and personal friend of Studebaker Canada president Denis (Gus) Gaskin. Demand was strong for Studebaker products in the heady days. Trucks were added to the mix in February of 1949.  Model year totals show 864 trucks and 6,152 cars—all Champions—were built.
1950 Studebaker Champion

 For the very long 1950 selling season a whopping 15,073 Champions rolled out the doors. The bullet-nosed bodies were extremely well accepted by consumers. Folks bought 2,121 stylish Studebaker trucks that year, too.  The passenger car envelope was only mildly facelifted for the next year. Commanders were added to the lines in 1951; a total of 1,953 of the high-priced cars were built along with 11,180 Champions and 1,824 trucks. 
1952 Studebaker Commander State four-door sedan

For the 1952 model year—Studebaker’s 100th in the transportation business—a heavily revamped passenger car was offered. It was attractive but not the most inspired design in that year’s market. Totals added up to 9,437 Champions, 1,295 Commanders and 1,021 trucks.
1953 Studebaker Commander Coupe

That was not a good sign and the 1953 model year didn’t look good either with final tallies of 8,141 of the new Euro-styled Champions and 1,298 Commanders leaving the factory. Truck production was absolutely dismal with only 699 units built. Management was optimistic, blaming the shrunken totals on 70 production days lost because of supplier strikes and the conflict in Korea rather than consumer rejection of the new look or quality control issues.
The 1955 Studebaker President rode a 120.5-inch wheelbase and weighed in at 3,080 pounds.
In Regal trim it listed for $2,707 f.o.b. Hamilton, Ontario.  
With 555 workers on payroll, the company geared up for the 1955 season in September of 1954. Studebaker announced it was the style leader with cars “of truly impressive power and superb proportions; each a masterpiece in interior elegance—carrying prestige anywhere in the world.”  What that translated to was new “butterknife” trim on the sides and a heavier chrome front end.

The Commander was billed as “another triumphant stride forward for Studebaker.” It claimed to be the most impressive looking car in its price field. Under the hood was the 140-horsepower Pace-setter V-8 mill. 
The 1955 Studebaker Champion was popular with Canadians.

Workers happily built gas-sipping Champions, too. The economical Victory Six engine was beefed up by 18 percent. It now delivered 101 horsepower and challenged the Nash Rambler for the title of thriftiest automobile in the nation. Owners were told to be proud of the “stand-out smartness” of a Champion and to be prepared for admiring attention it would draw from every quarter.
The beautiful Starlight Coupes were created for Studebaker by industrial designer Raymond Loewy. This 1955 Commander V-8 Regal Starlight Coupe listed for $2,752 f.o.b. Hamilton.
On November 24, the lines came to a screeching halt as workers laid out machinery on the factory floor to build the top-of-the-line President. A four-door sedan, a Starlight Coupe and a hardtop convertible were available in the posh series. Fanfare reached new heights. “Experts throughout the world class this Studebaker with the very finest of cars. It excels in advanced engineering, luxurious comfort, flawless handling ease and sure-footed safety.”

 One of two V-8 engine choices, the Commander Pace-setter, designed
and built by Studebaker engineers generated a thrill-packin' 140 horsepower.

The 175-horsepower Wildcat V-8 engine made the big car move along at a fast clip. “You quickly learn to watch your speedometer alertly on the open road,” advertising warned. How true it was!
 Interior of the 1955 Studebaker President was posh beyond compare.
Note the large centre armrest in rear.

Interiors of the President models were finished with gold-plated hardware, exquisitely tailored fine nylon fabric—with or without vinyl caps--placed over deep cushions. Instrument boards were padded with a resilient sponge plastic.

Low numbers prompted company officials to suspend truck assembly. Haulers were imported from the United States though it was announced that truck production would begin again in March.
The 1955 Studebaker Conestoga station wagon in Regal trim rode
a 116-.5-inch wheelbase and weighed in at 3,275 pounds. 
On December 31 of 1954 Studebaker formally merged with old-line automaker Packard in a bid to survive shifting markets and tastes. The new entity was known as Studebaker-Packard of Canada Limited, though all Packards would be imported from the US. When the lines started up again in Hamilton on January 4, 1955 the Studebaker passenger cars now wore the Ultra-View wraparound windshield. The new glass configuration promised “advanced visibility.” A total of 6,741 cars would carry the wrapped windshield and 1,424 arrived without.

 The 1955 Studebaker Victory Six engine offered plenty of pep with its 101 horsepower rating.

Options for Studebaker were carefully tailored to the desires of the public. Power Steering and power brakes and turn signals made driving easier. New at midyear were power seats and windows. The Stratoline eight–tube push-button radio or the Starline six-tube radio with manual tuner allowed one to tune in to The Dominion or Trans-Canada networks of the CBC and made driving downright enjoyable. Fog lights and fender skirts were among the popular dress-up items, too.

Exterior colours on this season’s palette for Studebakers built in Hamilton were Black, Encino Cream, Saginaw Green, Pima Red, Cascade Green, Tilden Grey, Alpena Blue, Windsor Blue, Shoeshone Red, Rancho Red, Sonara Beige, Sheridan Green, Shasta White and Coral Tone. There were 22 two-tone combinations available and those were no-cost extras for the President State and all hardtop models.

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Studebaker liked to remind consumers that it had been part of the motor scene in the Dominion since 1911 and the rock-solid employer boasted many father-and-son teams.  The multi-generational theme was part of the campaign of pride that kept people coming back to buy more and more Studebakers.

The 1955 model year ended for Studebaker Canada with a total of 455 Presidents, 2,272 Commanders and 5,438 Champions being built. It wasn’t the banner year the company hoped for but it would turn out to be better than the upcoming 1956 that was a-waiting in the wings.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2005 All rights reserved.

Monday, May 30, 2011

1932 Plymouth

The 1932 Plymouth PB seven-passenger four-door sedan rode a 121-inch
wheelbase and listed for $975 f.o.b. Windsor, Ontario.
Walter P. Chrysler finally got a car with his own name on the radiator in 1924. Chrysler was an instant success, selling 429 units throughout the Dominion while the smaller Maxwell companion car sold 773 units. For 1925, the Maxwell was re-christened as the Chrysler 58 and a very posh, majestic Imperial series was added to the Chrysler line. Sales were very good for Chrysler Canada: the 1926 tally shows 5,815 units built in Windsor, Ontario including 88 units in the massive Chrysler Imperial 80 series.

  In 1928 Walter performed a hat trick. He bought Dodge Brothers. Then he added the mid-range, mid-priced DeSoto. Because he also wanted to have a presence in the low-priced field, he introduced the Plymouth. Walter was so proud of the first one he drove it off the line himself, motored over to Henry Ford’s house and gave it to him. 

From Cape Breton to Vancouver Island, Canadians liked what the Plymouth offered and rewarded dealers with purchases of 4,371 Plymouth passenger cars. The next year company records show domestic deliveries nearly doubled to 7,939 units. It was a dizzying number for the fledgling marque. Despite the stock market crash Plymouth mustered 5,172 domestic sales in 1930 and as the business troubles deepened, that number slid to 3,222 units in 1931 despite the introduction of ingenious rubber mountings for the engine dubbed “Floating Power.”
The 1932 Plymouth Convertible Coupe with Rumble Seat could be had for $880, f.o.b. Windsor. 
As was the custom, the carmakers introduced their new models around Christmastime. The 1932 Plymouth lineup was a holdover from last year and consisted of Standard and DeLuxe Sedans, a Business Coupe, a Convertible Coupe, a DeLuxe Coupe and a Roadster. They ranged in price from $655 for the latter to $825 for the enclosed sedan with the Safety Steel body.  In April of 1932 ten new models bowed for the public—including the biggest Plymouth to date—an elegant seven-passenger enclosed Sedan riding on a $121-inch wheelbase.

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With more than a quarter of the domestic workforce on the dole there was little for Plymouth dealers to do but hope for sales. This year’s sales story was told in a sober black-and-white line folder (sales brochure). It bragged, “The new finer Plymouth is actually a longer car than has been available among the lowest price automobiles” and “Roominess is unquestionably an important item of comfort. The Plymouth is a large car and a big value. Your dollars can now buy more—in this ‘More-for-the-Dollar’ Car.”
 The 1east expensive Plymouth one could purchase in 1932
was the two-door Roadster listing for $695 f.o.b. Windsor. 
The look was rakish and low. Engineers made good use of the Rigid-X Double-Drop frame to lower the envelope’s overall height. While 18-inch wheels were standard, even smaller 17-inch wheels could be had in wood or wire at extra cost. The car boasted a one-piece fender. Prospective owners were invited to grab hold of the massive fender and pull to note how rigid and strong the heavy gauge steel member actually was. To emphasize this, folks were shown that the fenders were fastened into place with two braces instead of one.

Interiors were most thoughtful including tailored upholstery, a braided robe support cord and assist cords made of genuine silk. Armrests gave a “touch of luxury and comfort” to sedans. Chromium and walnut smoking sets were part of the base price as was tapestry carpeting with deep underpadding and “charming” metalware for the doors and windows. Instrument panels were set in a turned aluminum facing and included a full compliment of dials and gauges—all indirectly lit.

Under the 44-inch long hood of the 1932 Plymouth loafed the
four-cylinder Silver Dome engine with Floating Power, rated at 65 horsepower.

The little four-cylinder Silver Dome L-head Plymouth motor cranked out 65 earnest horsepower. It promised to deliver the “smoothness of an eight—economy of a four!”  Despite its modest price, Plymouth was loaded in value and frankly dripped with standard equipment that was optional on other low-priced cars. Plymouth included Free Wheeling, Easy-Shift three-speed manual transmission—complete with Silent Second gear—shock absorbers, hydraulic brakes weatherproof (!) brakes with centrifuse brake drums, moulded non-burning brake facings. The engine came with a carburetor air cleaner, a fuel filter a fuel pump, an oil filter, a heat indicator on the instrument panel, bandit-proof door locks, steel running boards with moulded running board covers, a built-in radio antenna and a full set of tools.

Extra cost items included Duplate Safety Glass, 17-inch wheels with 5.50-inch tires, a radio and an Automatic Clutch.

The most expensive Plymouth in the 1932 ChryCo stable was the Convertible Sedan.
It carried a hefty $1,070 price tag.

To keep dealers afloat all Chrysler dealers across Canada automatically became Plymouth vendors in 1932. Certain dealers were authorized to carry Dodge and DeSoto models in addition. Despite the market revamp the sales story was a grim one. From Sydney to Victoria, only 156 of the warmed-over PA models sold in 1932. The last one came off the line in June. Fortunately company records show manufacture of the larger PB series began in the Lynch Road plant in February. Workers in Windsor, Ontario built a total of 2,702 PB units that year by workers. Records further show that two PB models were imported from the USA and 91 were exported outside of the Dominion of Canada.
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Copyright James C. Mays 2007 All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

1960 Edsel

 Now in its third and final year on the market, the 1960 Edsel Ranger two-door hardtop sold for $2,991 f.o.b. Oakville when equipped with the Economy Six and $3,087 with the eight-cylinder engine.
It was a car that seemed like a good idea at the time. Named for Henry Ford’s only son, the need for an automobile brand to fit between the Ford and Mercury marques in the American corporate family lineup had been identified as early as 1948. Its creation would complete a lockstep, cradle-to-grave, life-long range of Dearborn products for consumers. Young owners would buy Ford, move up to the new brand with time, as they grew more affluent, then they would move up the ladder to Mercury territory and when wealthy, they would pilot the pinnacle of Dearborn’s success, the lovely Lincoln.
A 1953 stylist's rendering of the Edsel.

            Work began on the Edsel in 1952. It would take five years to bring it to market. Code named the “E” car (for Experimental); it was slated to debut in the fall of 1957 as a 1958 model. Expectations for this project were high during these years; automobiles were selling in fantastic numbers. In November of 1956, the Edsel was even given its own division.
1955 Edsel mockup is close to the final production model.

            Now, this was very welcome news for our good friends and neighbours to the south of the border but here at home, Ford had long offered a complete lineup. The last rung in the corporate ladder was completed by Ford of Canada in April of 1948, with the introduction of the 1949 Meteor. Based on the Ford shell, it joined the homegrown Monarch, derived from Mercury, back in 1946. The Canadian corporate stable ran thusly: Ford, Meteor, Mercury, Monarch and Lincoln. It was a solid family of cars, one that Canadians approved of year after year.

1949 Meteor 

            Edsel would change all that. It had been determined that Ford Canada's Oakville, Ontario would produce lower priced Edsel models for the domestic market. Clearly there would need to be some changes in the corporate lineup. Just as the Governor General is supposed to leave the country when the Queen is here, Monarch was deleted to make room for the newcomer. The first Edsels rolled down the line of the Oakville plant in August 1957.
1958 Edsel

            The 1958 Ford, Meteor and Mercury lines were all unveiled to the public on November 7, 1957 but anticipation mounted as Canadians eagerly awaited the newest member of the blue oval family Edsel was finally unveiled on September 2nd to those attending the CNE in Toronto but for average folk, “E” Day, as the introduction of Edsel was nationally hyped, was a special event that took place at the new Ford-Edsel dealerships on September 11, 1957.

            Edsel sold 3,632 units by the end of the calendar year, a goodly number to be sure, but warning bells went off as the economy faltered.  Projections called for a total of 400 Edsel units to be produced during December, but only 184 of the mid-priced beauties were built.

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            Economists had never seen a business recession like this one. There was no major dip in factory production, no huge layoffs in the workforce. In fact, the Dominion Bureau of Statistics would record that the Gross National Production figures for 1958 would actually rise 2 percent over 1957.  Still, without consumer confidence, markets for durable goods of all kinds softened considerably.

            Sales were poor for all the automakers in the first nine months of 1958. At Ford, new passenger car registrations were off by a whopping 11.3 percent and production plummeted by 18.8 percent from 1957. The only bright spots for Oakville were tractors and the British Fords, which were selling as fast as hotcakes at a Shrove Tuesday dinner.
1959 Ford Prefect 100E was popular with frugal Canadians.

`Edsel production crept along, 113 units in January, 156 units in February, 101 units in March, 235 units in April, 257 units in May, 146 in June, 217 in July and 172 in August when Job One wound down and the changeover for the 1959 models took place.

Final figures for Edsel were not good this time around. Model year production for its maiden year added up to 3,738 units. Worse, two thirds of those had been produced in calendar year 1957. Edsel had earned less than half of the market that Monarch had vacated. Canadians simply had not warmed up to the new brand. In November of 1958 the Monarch Mark II was returned to the lineup as a 1959 model to shore up those small but valuable mid-priced sales figures.

Edsel production got underway for the 1959 model year in October of 1958 with 223 units produced. Another 288 were built in November, but Monarch production got rolling that month too, with 357 units built. A total of 383 Edsels rolled out the doors in December and 453 Monarchs did likewise.
1959 Monarch Sceptre four-door hardtop

Edsel model year production for 1959 peaked at 2,504 units. Monarch’s model year total was close to double that, at 4,571 units.  For calendar year 1959, Monarch sold 4,801 units, taking 1.13 percent of the domestic market. Edsel sold 2,352 units, capturing only .55 percent of the market. No matter how it was sliced, Edsel was in trouble. Canadian production ceased in July, after only 39 units were produced.
1960 Edsel Comet was intended to be a compact companion to full-sized Edsels.

Ford had seen the future and it was small. A new small companion model, called the Comet, was readied for Edsel. Stylists were careful to give the new compact a strong family resemblance to the senior Edsels. Sales would surely rise appreciably with its introduction. But fate would see the Comet handed off to Mercury because dissatisfied management decided to pull the plug on Edsel brand completely. Edsel would be allowed to die and the company would chase Rambler’s taillights up the pike. Edsel would only be a memory when the Mercury Comet burst upon the 1961 season.

The least expensive Edsel in 1960 was the two-door sedan. 
It sold for $2,923 with the six-banger and $3,019 with the Ranger V-8 engine.

Oakville would field a 1960 Edsel for the domestic market but would be imported from Ford’s plant in Louisville, Kentucky. Pared to a single series, the Ranger was offered in six- or eight-cylinder configurations along with a pair of six-passenger Villager station wagons. It was a half-hearted effort on Oakville’s part; even the sales brochures were imported.
Adding glitz and glamour to the line was the Edsel Convertible.
 It listed for $3,427, making it the most expensive model in the Edsel family.

For the third year in a row, Edsel was significantly revised. This year a split, concave grille graced the front. Bullet-shaped turn signals pierced the outer edges. It was billed as “new in looks, nifty in action and thrifty to own and drive.” While touting its fresh, youthful styling ad copy promised that there was ample room for people with hips and hats.
 The 1960 Edsel Villager station wagon cost $3,415 with the eight-cylinder engine.
It could hold 100 cubic feet of cargo or a lot of Girl Guides.

Under the hood was the Super Express, 352-cubic inch V-8 mill with a 4-barrel carb and dual exhaust. It could be mated to Dual-Power Drive or the Mile-O-Matic self shifter. Owners could opt the more modest Ranger V-8 with 185 horsepower or Edsel’s 145-horsepower Economy Six. Both came with manual shift transmissions but Mile-O-Matic was an extra cost option.
One of the Personality Design Interior selections for the 1960 Edsel
 was a handcrafted combination of Pebblecloth stitched to Moroccan Vinyl. 
It was still a very stylish and upscale ride, dressed in smart upholstery combinations of elegant Pebblecloth, Champagne Cloth, Ivy Stripe Ribcloth or Moroccan Vinyl. There were extra cost Deluxe trim upgrades if desired. Standard on each Edsel was wall-to-wall carpeting, an electric clock, arm rests, foam padded front seats and the Power Boost windshield wipers.
   Edsel made liberal use of Ford’s instrument panel for the 1960 season
but carried its own unique badging on the steering wheel.

Nearly half a hundred extra-cost accessories could be had for one’s Edsel including backup lights, the Lever-temp heater and defroster unit, rear antennae, a wide range of power options for everything from seats to windows to brakes and a remote control deck lid opener.

Edsels could be ordered in Diamond Lustre finishes: Alaskan Gold Metallic, Black Velvet, Bronze Rose Metallic, Buttercup Yellow, Cadet Blue Metallic, Cloud Silver Metallic, Hawaiian Blue, Lilac Metallic, Polar White, Regal Red, Sahara beige, Sea Foam Green, Sherwood Green Metallic, Turquoise and Turquoise Metallic. In addition, there were twenty two-tone colour combinations and they were reversible, too.

Officials announced that the last Edsel would be built on November 19, 1959. It was a curt end for a car that was never well accepted. Only 1,232 Edsels were sold throughout the Dominion during the 1960 calendar year.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2004 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

1962 Vauxhall

            For more than a decade Vauxhall had been General Motors' captive import, sourced from the United Kingdom. Since it first arrived in our fair domain in 1948, Vauxhall had done very well for itself. Consumers had plenty of confidence in the sturdy and very economical little cars because they were backed by the vast resources of General Motors of Canada, Limited.

            For the 1962 selling season, Vauxhall fielded three models in the Dominion through Pontiac-Buick dealers. The upscale Cresta and its lower-priced stable mate, the Velox, covered the luxury and economy six-cylinder segments of the compact market. The smaller, four-cylinder Victor, offered in three trim series, did battle with other imports on behalf of GM Canada. All were of unitized construction, like Rambler.

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            Cresta was Vauxhall’s flagship. This particular body shell had been first introduced in1958, making it five years old. Consumers were familiar with its look. Nonetheless, the original styling, inspired by Vauxhall designer David Jones, was classic and each year’s updates were attractive.

            The Cresta was “distinguished by an outstandingly generous array of extra refinements, extra luxury and extra equipment at an unusually modest price.” Its wheels were given polished aluminum trim rings to make the hubcaps look like full wheel covers. Whitewall tires were standard equipment on Canadian Crestas. Interestingly enough they were not available even as an option in Britain. Receiving brightwork in all the places a flagship should, the inclusion of arm rests, deep pile carpets with thick underlays, a wide, centre armrest for the rear seat, windshield washer, electric clock, a trunk light and a cigarette lighter in the base price all added up to one posh vehicle.

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It was offered in no less than fifteen different solid body colours and another fifteen very striking two-tone colour paint jobs with high-lustre finishes. One could choose between nylon patterned cloth or genuine two-tone leather for the interiors. If one wished to shell out a few extra dollars, Cresta could be had with split-bench seats up front or a fold-down centre arm rest.

A Vauxhall Cresta four-door sedan started at $2,791. It fit very neatly into GM Canada’s overall compact lineup.  An Oldsmobile F-85 four-door sedan sold for $3,200; Chev’s new Chevy II sold for $2,470; the Corvair Monza four-door Coupe started at $2,701 and the compact Buick Special listed for $3,218. It was in the ballpark with non-GM competition, too: A Simca Vedette sold for $2,805; A Valiant 200 four-door sedan listed for $2,571 and a Studebaker Lark V-8 Regal for $2,685.
The 1962 Vauxhall Velox rode a 105-inch wheelbase and weighed in at 2,630 pounds.

Velox was positioned downwind of Cresta by more than $300. Blackwall tires, less trim and fewer standard features made it attractive as a six-cylinder value purchase for many. Velox was available in fourteen solid colours and interior fabric choices were either Vynide or the Tygan-Rayon cloth. Velox owners still got carpeting and a padded instrument panel finished in “a quality walnut-grain finish.” Split-bench seats or the centre armrest for front passengers were optional on Velox. Delivery price for a Velox was $2,468.

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Both Cresta and Velox shared the 162 cubic-inch, 113-horsepower, six-cylinder engine. The engine had proven itself well since its 1952 introduction. It was capable of pushing the big Vauxhalls to 90 miles per hour, well above the posted speed limit anywhere in the Dominion.  A three-speed, manual synchromesh transmission was standard but GM’s Hydra-Matic was available for a price.

The Victor Estate Wagon bowed for 1962.
It was the heaviest Victor with a weight of 2,200 pounds.
Victor was considerably smaller, used a four-cylinder power plant and took the lion’s share of sales in Canada. It was all new for 1962. Victor was not alone, either. Chevrolet-Pontiac dealers sold a badged version called Envoy. Advertising claimed that the little car had “fresh, new aerodynamic styling.” The editor of Track & Traffic was more guarded with his words, calling the new look “sober and unadorned.” Victor was offered in De Luxe, Super and Standard trim.

The De Luxe Victor offered optional, extra cost, two-tone colour treatments outside and sported two-tone, leather upholstery on bucket seats as standard equipment inside the cabin. The De Luxe started at $2,156. Competition included the Hillman Super Minx, which sold for $2,195.

For the 1962 selling season, the 100-inch wheelbase Vauxhall Victor was all new.
The De Luxe sedan weighed in at 2,125 pounds

There was less trim and fewer goodies found on the Super. Rear passengers sank their feet on thick pile carpeting while front passengers had   to make do with durable rubber floor mats. Super owners still got a two-spoke steering wheel, two sun visors, a padded instrument panel and a full circle horn ring. There were thirteen two-tone colour combinations available on Super models. Bucket seats were optional equipment but were upholstered only in Vynide or Tygan-Rayon cloth. The opening price on the Vauxhall Victor in Super trim was $2,053.

At the bottom of the Victor barrel was the Standard. It came without chrome on the body and was devoid of extras. The solid colour choices were limited to Black, Alaska White, Smoke Grey, Mist Blue, Bermuda Blue, Midnight Blue, Alpine Green, Glade Green, Honey Gold and Primrose. A heater, specially designed for Canadian winters, was still among the items listed as standard equipment. It carried a three-spoke steering wheel with a modest horn button at its centre. There was no deep pile carpeting; rubber flooring was used throughout.

1962 Volkswagen
It appeared to be difficult to write much about the stripper though wordsmiths did manage this: “When you buy it-when you drive it-the new Victor Standard gives you the most for your car dollar.” The owner paid $1,947 for his purchase. As basic as it was, Victor still cost a good $600 more than a Volkswagen Beetle.

All of the new Victors used Vauxhall’s 92-cubic inch, four-cylinder engine. It was rated at 56.3 horsepower. While a three-speed, column mounted manual transmission was standard equipment, a new floor mounted, four-speed manual was offered this year at extra cost.

Options for Victors included a radio and aerial, windshield washers, fog lights, a cigarette lighter, seat covers, a spare wheel cover, exterior mirrors and plastic floor mats.

Vauxhall sold well enough in 1962. The new Victor racked up 7,386 sales for the calendar year and big brothers Cresta and Velox added 817 more sales to that figure. It was still the Number Two best-selling import in the country. Only Volkswagen sold more cars in the import category.  The 8,203-unit finish was surprisingly strong in light of the devaluation of the dollar by the Conservative government and new federal government surcharges on imported automobiles.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2005 All rights reserved.

Friday, May 6, 2011

1965 Fiat

1965 Fiat 1100
Records indicate that it was in 1959 that Fiat of Italy joined the swell of European automobiles arriving on Canadian shores. FIAT is an acronym for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino. Dealers sold the 600 in sedan and convertible (Sunroof) versions, the Multipla station wagon, the 1100 in four-door sedan and two-door wagon form as well as the Spyder convertible. Calendar year sales that first year added up nicely to 1,716 units.

Fiat sales dropped to 1,056 units delivered in 1960 and dropped again to 984 units sold in 1961. Sales of all imports tumbled in 1962 with the introduction of stiff new tariffs from Ottawa. Designed to protect the domestic players in the auto industry, the hefty duty meant that only 558 Fiats went home with consumers that year. The final figure in 1963 was only 337 units sold and that dwindled to a paltry 32 saucy Italian cars being unloaded at docks in Halifax, Montreal and Toronto in 1964.

Fiat adverts used VW-style humour.

 For the 1965 season the familiar 600 was replaced by the restyled 750. Popular as a police car in Italy, the tiny, 2 000-milimetre (78.75-inch) wheelbased, two-door sedan listed for $1,850. Advertising was minimal, what little there was showed the 750 in the company of larger, more expensive Fiats. Sometimes Fiat jet fighters were shown, too. “Come and have fun in a Fiat,” was the watchword.

1964 Fiat 600
Last year’s 1100 gave way to the pleasantly updated 1100D. The versatile Sedan/Station Wagon carried a modest sticker price of $2,040. The boys at  Canada Track and Traffic took an 1100D out for extensive road testing. Styling was described as “jaunty” and the interior “surprisingly roomy.” Staff made particular note of a manual choke and hand throttle mounted under the centre of the dashboard that could be set to “give the old foot a rest on highway travels.”

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The truly novel feature in the 1100D was a rear seat back that folded flat to create a 1.37-metre (4.5-foo) long rubber-matted cargo area accessible through the trunk. Staffers at Track and Traffic said the clever arrangement turned the family sedan into a “semi-station wagon.” That was good news for Canadians, because the new 1100D Station Wagon launched in Italy and exported to the United States was not offered here.

If it was Italian, it was sexy and stylish. It was considered vulgar
to haggle over the price of an automobile as beautiful as the 1965 Fiat 1100D.

As the company’s bread-and-butter line, the 1100D included many thoughtful touches. The soft contoured, leatherette front bucket seats reclined fully to 180 degrees. Armrests all around were included in the base price. So was an anti-glare rearview mirror with its nifty built-in light map. Two-speed electric wipers, heater and defroster, undercoating, rubber coated bumperettes and a tool kit were all thrown into the deal at no extra charge.

The bigger and improved 1221-cc overhead valve engine fit nicely into the 1100D. Generating a most respectable 52 horsepower, the sedan was capable of hitting 130 kilometres (80 miles) per hour (ancient Canadian units of velocity), though most folks would prefer speeds considerably lower.  Power was delivered by a four-speed, manual transmission with ratios of 3.86:1; 2.38:1; 1.47:1 and 1:1. In typical European fashion, first gear was not synchromesh. Advertising promised that the 1100D would deliver more than 9.4 litres per 100 kilomtres (30 miles) to the Imperial gallon (ancient Canadian units of liquid volume).

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Advertising for the 1100D was a page torn straight out of the “If-it’s-Italian-it’s-chic” school of thought.  Long a centre of world culture, Fiat bestowed classic art status upon its chrome and steel beauties. “Fiat is the work of wily, warm-blooded Italians, who make art of everything they do—even when they create things that cost little.” Purchasing a Fiat 1100D was proof of a love of life. “Why kill the romance with ugly talk of lira?” was the question asked.

The most expensive Fiat money could buy in 1965 was the 1500 Cabriolet. It weighed in at 2,116 pounds.  Advertising noted that Canadians had seen the first beautiful form in films and could see the second in person at Fiat dealers.

The 1200 Spyder was retired and the sleek 1500 Spyder took its place. Designed by Pinin Farina—best known to Canadians for his Nash designs—the sporty convertible zipped along courtesy of a powerful 1480-cc mill and a five-speed, manual transmission. The Spyder was as stylish as it was substantial, the two-bucket seated passengers made quite a statement in the $3,100 convertible.

The 1500 merited its own advertising campaign. The sharp convertible was shown next to a beautiful young woman in a polka-dot bikini. The headline read, “The second best shape in Italy.” It wasn’t shy to brag that it was for sale “at the hottest little price in Canada.”  The ad boasted, “The Italians did it the way they do most things. With style, With flair. With flourish” Taking a not-so-gentle poke at Volkswagen, it continued, “And there’s no Germanic thrift showing.” Finally, “And speaking of figures, you can’t even come close to a shape like this at a price so trim and appealing.”

The Fiat 850 was added to the Canadian lineup in mid-1965 as a 1966 model. Riding a 2 026-millimetre (79.8-inch) wheelbase, it weighed in at 680 kilos (1,500 pounds).
By summer, dealers from St. John's to Victoria made room on the showroom floor for the new Fiat 850 that debuted early as a 1966 model. It featured a rear-mounted, 883-cc water-cooled engine that generated 42 horsepower and listed for a modest $1,695 f.o.b. Montreal and Toronto.

“Every family should have at least one Fiat,” was the slogan that folks clearly heeded; the final tally showed  618 sales rung up during the 1965 calendar year. Top brass in the head office of Fiat Canada would have even more to feel good about in 1966; dealers would be able to report 1,908 units sold.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2005
 All rights reserved.

Monday, May 2, 2011

1970 1/2 AMC Gremlin

April Fool’s Day 1970 was picked as the launch date for
American Motors’ subcompact car.
 Gremlin listed for $2,398 f.o.b Brampton, Ontario.
"What would you do if you had to compete with GM, Ford and Chrysler?" was the question burning everyone’s lips at American Motors in 1968. Like little Suzie, the last of the independent automakers was in trouble deep. Its Rambler line had tumbled from a dizzying 35,273 cars produced in 1965, holding a full 5.3 percent of the market, making it one of the most popular automobiles in the Canada to land somewhere near the bottom of the heap. Things were bad enough that when Studebaker folded its tent in 1966 in Hamilton, Ontario, pundits and industry analysts alike predicted American Motors would follow in short order, joining Studebaker in that great Scrapyard in the Sky.

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American Motors top brass vowed to the public it was here to stay and the company was committed to building automobiles. It could reach back to an automotive heritage that began with the construction of the first Rambler in 1902. Top brass acknowledged that the company had been most successful when it reached for and claimed the title of economy king and publicly pledged to return to those small, economy roots. In order to stay afloat, AMC divested itself of its profitable Kelvinator appliance business--after 33 years--and then sold REDISCO, the corporate finance arm.

Weighing in at 2,633 pounds, the 1970 ½ Gremlin
was the first subcompact built by a Big Four automaker.
In order to stay competitive, the team had to deliver products that were exciting to the public—and those products had better arrive quickly—one right after the other. The new head of the firm, Roy Chapin, announced there would be a new model from AMC every six months. The pace was dizzying—even for the auto industry. The luxurious fastback Marlin was unceremoniously dumped and replaced with a sizzling pony car, the Javelin. Javelin was hot and it was followed by the stunning two-seat AMX sports car.

With scarcely enough time to catch their collective breaths, dealers took down the old Rambler signs and hung out the new corporate logo. They saida final ‘goodbye’ to the faithful Rambler and popped the champagne corks for a smartly styled, all-new compact called Hornet.

Three home runs in a row weren’t enough for American Motors. There were more steel beauties on their way up to bat. Ever the pioneer, AMC was the first of the Big Four automakers to enter the subcompact market with a domestically built vehicle. It is absolutely true that head stylist Richard (Dick) Teague designed the tiny car on the back of a Northwest air sickness bag.

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The look was brilliant—Teague sawed off the back of the Hornet and added massive reverse-slant C-pillars that gave the design an unforgettable wedge-shaped profile. A wide, wrap-around grille and oversized flares at the wheel wells added to the sassy looks. Tooling added up to a mere $8 million, chump change around Motor City.

Just to be on the safe side, the Gremlin’s overall design was subjected to a probability study. Marketing invited 1,000 owners of compact and imported cars to view small cars and included the yet unnamed Gremlin among the groupings. The reaction was overwhelmingly favourable. The public had no idea who the maker of this cute little car was but they wanted to buy it.

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Gremlin was AMC's foot soldier, off to battle
 the mighty Volkswagen.
 On April Fool’s Day of 1970, the adorable Gremlin bowed to the public. Highly unique from stem to stern, this subcompact boasted a generous six-cylinder engine. Advertising took on Volkswagen head-to-head. Designed to win back a good percentage of the market being gobbled up by imports--primarily Datsun, Toyota and VW--Gremlins were displayed on university campuses throughout Canada to create awareness and drum up interest among young buyers.

At only $2,398, the car was billed, tongue-in-cheek as the first domestically-built import, “the kind this country has needed for a long time.” Gremlin offered twice the power and double the fun of Volkswagen’s 57-horsepower engine; claimed to be a regular gas grouch delivering 495 miles on a tank of regular fuel and boasted a smaller turning circle than a Beetle. A Gremlin was only 2.5 inches longer than a VW, too.

The entry-level price got one a basic, two-seat runabout. There were no frills whatsoever. The flooring was rubber and the rear window was fixed into place. Only a handful of people bought the unadorned stripper. Buyers could upgrade to the four-passenger version and lots of Canadians did exactly that. 

Whether one bought the two- or four-passenger Gremlin, under that long, bubble-blistered hood lurked AMC’s tried and true 199-cubic inch, six-cylinder engine that scuffed up the asphalt faster than snow melts in April. With a seven main-bearing crankshaft, the mill was virtually indestructible. All 128 horses were mated to a three-speed manual transmission or an optional automatic shifter.

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Gremlin interiors were smart and stylish.
 The bucket seats were optional.
Like Mattel’s Barbie, Gremlin could be had with an tasteful extra-cost accessories tailored to drivers' needs. AMC’s frisky little fellow was given 30 carefully selected optional equipment items including a very fast 145-horsepower motor, power steering, power brakes, a remote control mirror, electric windshield wipers and washers, air conditioning, tinted glass, an AM push-button all-transistor radio, a block heater, a roof rack, rally stripes, full wheel discs, bucket seats and a twin-grip differential. In addition, there were seven complete option packages available. 

American Motors workers caught Gremlins in the factory anddeep-dipped them in rustproofing before triple-painting the little rascals in any of 13 colours, including Classic Black, Frost White, Matador Red, Hialeah Yellow Bittersweet Orange, Bayshore Blue, Sea Foam Aqua, Mosport Green, Tijuana Tan and Sonic Silver. If those weren’t enough, the ultimate hues were borrowed from cousin AMX and left the factory floor wearing Big Bad Blue, Big Bad Green and Big Bad Orange.

The 1970 1/2 AMC Gremlin was 161 
inches long—only 2.5 inches longer 
than a VW Beetle—
and rode on a 96-inch wheelbase.

The smallest AMC offering got off to a good start in an abbreviated model year, racking up 12,618 builds in Brampton, many of them headed south to the United States. Things would get even hotter in 1971 as 26,348 Gremlins scampered out the doors of the Brampton, Ontario factory, scooting all over the continent for fun and frolic with their new owners.

The subcompact that looked like a sports car, loaded like a wagon and turned on a dime turned out to be the single best-selling model AMC ever built. Though it has been more than three decades since the last Gremlin rolled out the factory doors, they’re still occasionally seen on the nation's highways and byways. This writer spotted one yesterday and that made him grin from ear to ear. “Long live Gremlin!” he was heard to shout as he waved and honked from behind the wheel of his Ambassador wagon. 

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Copyright James C. Mays 2006 All rights reserved.