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Monday, March 26, 2012

1961 Rambler

For 1961, Ambassador by Rambler was American Motors' flagship. The luxurious four-door Custom was imported from the US and sold for $3,388, taxes included.

Rambler might have been a new brand of automobile when it bowed to the public for the 1958 selling season but its heritage was drawn directly from the grand Nash and Hudson marques. Both of these automotive legends were highly prized by consumers for their upscale image and the ritzy, compact Rambler clipped right along that same glorious road. It represented value and economy to Canadians because it was priced right, sized right and carried all of the elegance and class of its predecessors.

Homegrown in 1961, the Rambler Classic 6 Super four-door sedan sold for $2,833 and the Classic 8 Super four-door sedan cost $2,995, fob Brampton, Ontario.
Consumers were delighted with the compact Ramblers but frustration reigned in the head office in Toronto. Just as sales began to explode throughout the Dominion, American Motors Canada, Limited had been obliged to close its Toronto assembly facility as a cost-cutting measure in the young corporation’s dark days of 1957. Studies showed that an assembly operation could be profitable if 10,000 units were built. As sales grew nearer and nearer to that point, the company was eager to get back into the game.

With great fanfare, officials launched its new, ultra-modern factory in Brampton on January 26, 1961. The doors were thrown open for a three-day gala and the nation was invited. Rambler’s return to the domestic automobile manufacturing scene was national news, generating excitement right across the country. Truth be told, the first car, a light blue four-door sedan, had been completed on Christmas Eve of 1960 but operations got underway in earnest in the New Year.

The smallest offering from American Motors in 1961 was the Metropolitan. Imported from the UK, the hardtop sold for $1,885. The 2 159-millimetre (85-inch) wheelbased cutie weighed in at  836 kilos (1,843 pounds).
The British-built Metropolitan kicked things off for the nation’s 321 Rambler dealers. Though it never carried the Rambler name, the captive import, built by Austin, was exclusive to American Motors on this continent and was offered as a two-door hardtop at $1,885 and a convertible with a list price of $1,925. 

These Mets were reserialed 1960 models because manufacture had been discontinued in 1960. The phenomenal rise of the Pound Sterling meant that the little car had lost its punch as an import fighter. Cuteness alone was its strong point, now. There had been no mechanical changes to the Met since it had been revamped for the 1959 selling season. Only the price tag had changed. Consumers were still charmed and 533 of them fell in love with the Met enough to purchase the tiny, adorable imports during the calendar year. Despite the low numbers, the Metropolitan still sold better than the Imperial, Ford’s Taunus and West Germany's diminutive DKW.
VW would have been the perfect addition to American Motors. A 1960 Beetle is seen here.

American Motors’ farsighted president, George Romney, had gone to Britain in 1957 and offered to purchase Austin but was politely rebuffed. Looking at prototypes of Austin’s 850 sedan, a.k.a. the Mini, with its $1,377 price tag, he knew small was the right trend. When The Austin arrived in 1959 it was the least expensive new car on the market. With sales of 4,034 of the micro-cars to Canadians, Romney could but wish that he had been successful in enticing the Longbridge concern into the AM family.

The 1959 Mini was a smashing success for Austin.
Romney had then travelled on to West Germany and offered to merge American Motors with Volkswagen but no one in Wolfsburg was interested in his offer. Volkswagen’s humble Beetle listed for $1,645 in Custom trim and $1,875 for the DeLuxe upgrade. With 29,754 sales, VW was the third best-selling car on the domestic market after the full-sized Chevs and the full-sized Pontiacs. 

The 2 540-millimetre (100-inch) wheelbased Rambler American was heavily facelifted for 1961. The Custom four-door sedan sold for $2,764 and weighed in at 1 169 kilos (2,578 pounds).
Necessity being the mother of invention, frugal American Motors took on the competition by dusting off the dies of the 1955 Nash Rambler and having designers freshen it up. Introduced as the Rambler American as a mid-year offering in 1958, the modestly appointed stripper was a huge hit.

Heavily reskinned for 1961, the highly stylish Rambler American was comprised of thirteen models spread over the Deluxe, Super and Custom Series. The company was justifiably proud in inviting the public to “meet the new American beauty.” In tackling the imports, American offered “the shortest and most maneuverable of any (Canadian) car” and reminded prospective owners that with American they got “50 percent more luggage space; high, wide doors for easy entrance and exit.” 

Mobilgas began sponsoring its annual Economy Run in 1936.

It didn’t hurt any that Rambler Americans won the Mobil Gas Economy Run year after year, either. Prices ranged from $2,334 to $3,001 for the ragtop, pitting the series squarely against the Chevrolet Corvair, Ford’s Falcon, the Mercury Comet, Chrysler Corporation’s Valiant and Studebaker’s Lark. 

Ragtops in the 1961 AM family were limited to Metropolitans and Americans. Tipping the scales at 1 239 kilos (2,732 pounds), the Rambler American Custom convertible listed for $3,001.
Only Classics were built domestically that first year but there were a lot of them; workers turned out 4,168 units of the fourteen (!) different six and eight-cylinder versions of the highly popular compact series for the 1961 model year. Advertising promised that the 1961 offerings were “a still more beautiful version of the car that gives the best of both: big car room and compact car economy.” Classics started at $2,681 for the DeLuxe four-door sedan in six-cylinder form and topped the chart at $3,718 for the Classic 8 Custom four-door, nine-passenger station wagon.

Four Cross-Country station wagons graced the Ambassador series in 1961. The Custom four-door (left) had a list price of $3,771 and the Super (right) carried a price tag of $3,204. Nine-passenger versions were available, as well.
Not quite a full-sized car and certainly not a compact, Ambassadors were a breed unto themselves on their 2 971.8-millimetre (117-inch) wheelbases and their 327-cubic inch V-8 mills. No two-door Ambassadors were offered in 1961. The elegant flagship with the European styling was available here in five models in either the Super or more sumptuous Custom series. Advertising predicted that Rambler’s “original compact luxury car will be the most imitated of 1961.”

Compact did not mean cheap at Rambler. The least expensive Ambassador was the Super four-door sedan listing for $3,204 while the absolutely posh Custom four-door hardtop, nine-passenger station wagon listed for $3,927—more than any Chev, Plymouth, Dodge, Ford, Meteor or Mercury on the market.

Every Rambler rolled out of the factory doors with Unit Construction, Deep-Dip Rustproofing, a Ceramic-Armoured Muffler and a Dual-Safe braking system. Classics and Ambassadors carried fireproof and waterproof Acoustical Moulded Fibre-Glass Headliners. 

The ultimate upholstery upgrade for the Rambler Classic cabin in 1961 was the Custom 400 interior with tasteful pleating on the split-bench, reclining seats. Headrests were another extra-cost option.
Popular options included the die-cast aluminum six-cylinder engine, the Flash-O-Matic transmission or overdrive, power steering, power brakes, Lock-O-Matic vacuum-powered door locks, Twin Travel Beds, Airliner Reclining Seats, a twin-grip differential, padding for the instrument panel and sun visors, a transistor-powered radio, power-lift windows, Solex glass, All-Season air conditioning and the unparalled Weather Eye heater and ventilation system.

With Arliner seats that folded flat, the Ramblulance was a life-saving vehicle in many small towns and villages across Canada, including Hudson, Quebec.

Cracking the Top Ten with 12,834 sales for the calendar year and 10,835 units for the model year, Rambler Canada celebrated a glorious 1961. It was but a harbinger of things to come; sales and production would more than double in 1962.

Rambler was perfect for rugged duty required of a taxi cab.
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Copyright James C. Mays 2004
 All rights reserved.

Friday, March 9, 2012

1931 Plymouth

President and company founder Walter P. Chrysler poses with the first 1931 Plymouth in the PA series.
The gloom and doom that settled over the nation in 1931 was every bit as thick as the dirt left behind after one of those horrific Prairie dust storms. From coast to coast, millions of Canadians eked out a pitiful existence because the nation’s economy had been crippled by a worldwide business depression. No sector of the economy was exempt. Wheat prices collapsed, the value of pulp and paper plummeted, fish prices sank, companies went bust and factories fettered their doors.

So many Manitobans were unemployed and homeless that in January of 1931 the Premier was forced to turn, hat in hand, to Ottawa in hopes that the federal government would pick up the tab for 80 percent of that province’s relief. The Keystone Province's coffers were empty. As the ranks of the unemployed swelled, relief (welfare) applicants mushroomed to numbers that reached the stratosphere. The provincial treasurer could not even cover Manitoba's commitment to Ottawa for its part of the Old Age Pension. The Keystone Province was headed for bankruptcy when the federal government finally intervened.

The 1931 Plymouth PA Four-door Sedan sold for $795 f.o.b. Windsor, Ontario. A total of 3,292 Plymouths sold throughout the Dominion that year.
Thousands of jobless men in British Columbia were organized and loud in their demands for work and relief assistance. Politicians feared these desperate citizens might embrace Communism or worse, commit acts of violence. Emergency loans from the chartered banks covered relief cheques to BC's unemployed added up to a a stunning $2 million in 1931.

  The most expensive Plymouth PA in the 1931 lineup was the Convertible Coupe, listing for $825.
Unemployment in Ontario spiraled dangerously upward toward the 10 percent mark in 1931. While the treasury at Queen’s Park was still in the black, revenues were down by shocking $8 million in 1930 and would fall another $3 million by the end of 1931.

If things were bad across Canada, they were positively bleak in the Dominion of Newfoundland where the public debt had skyrocketed to $110 million. Britain, to whom Newfoundland was closely tied, abandoned the gold standard that year. Newfoundland’s economy was based primarily on its fisheries. Fish products were priced in Pounds Sterling and without gold to back the currency, competitors opted for catch from Canada’s Maritime Provinces. The House of Assembly in St. John’s scrambled to stay afloat. Desperate to shore up the economy, legislators voted to borrow $8 million but no financial institution would loan the government any money. The handwriting was on the wall for the island nation as it skated on thinner and thinner ice and would soon plunge into the black and icy waters of  bankruptcy.

Against this stark backdrop, the automakers soldiered on. Canadian passenger car production had been 125,442 units in 1930 but as the depression deepened daily, orders for new cars and trucks dwindled. Still, motorized vehicles were a necessity and as long as there were any buyers out there, the manufacturers would beat the bushes for customers. Sales would be far and few between, the domestic output would drop by nearly half to 65,093 units at year’s end and would tumble even further in 1932.
Plymouth started 1931 with the warmed-over Model U. The Four-door Sedan weighed in at 1,238 kilos (2,730 pounds).
Chrysler Canada started out the year by selling off last year's Plymouth 30-U models. Records indicate that when the last of the 802 units of the “Finer U” was shipped from its Windsor, Ontario plant, the Division then fielded an all-new Plymouth PA in six body styles. As the first cars came down the assembly lines in May, salesmen were taught how to sell the finer points of the new Plymouth. 

The svelte automobiles created  excitement within the industry and with the public as well, because the PA represented the first restyle for Plymouth since its debut in 1928. Salesmen soon learned that the car's beauty would play second fiddle to engineering, economy and national pride. The twin battle cries were, “The Smoothness of an Eight--The Economy of a Four” and “Canadian-built for Canadians!” 

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This year’s Plymouth was not just another pretty face. The low-bucks beauty, intended to duke it out with Chevrolet and Ford, bristled with innovation. Engineers blessed the Plymouth’s four-cylinder engine with an innovative pair of  three-centimetre thick (one-inch) thick, live rubber mountings that “allowed the engine to rock or oscillate on this natural axis, this dissipating the power impulses.” The cushion between the engine and the frame was dubbed Floating Power. This engineering breakthrough promised to deliver the “smoothness of an Eight with the simplicity of design and the economy of operation that are the birthright of the Four.”

The 56-horsepower mill delivered smooth acceleration. It “whisks you to stop-watch speeds of 65 (110 kilometres) to 70 miles (120 kilometres) an hour (ancient Canadian units of measurement).” Drivers were invited to take their foot off the accelerator at top speed and note the quiet deceleration in comparison to the “noise of other fours, and even of inferior sixes.”

The most expensive Plymouth PA in the 1931 lineup was the Convertible Coupe, listing for $825.
The car featured a Double Drop chassis and a 2768-millimetre (109-inch) wheelbase. Other standard equipment included Free Wheeling, “which permits quick and noiseless shifting of gears in all forward speeds without declutching. Easy-Shift transmission, permitted drivers to go from “second to high and back again at speeds of 25 (40 km) and 45 (80 km) miles an hour without clashing or grinding gears” Safety-Steel Bodies made the structure more rigid and more quiet. Plymouth salesmen could brag that this was the only car in its price class to offer internal hydraulic brakes.

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The Business Roadster listed for $655, while the Roaster with a rumble seat carried a price tag of $760. The Business Coupe sold for $775, the Four-door Sedan could be had for $825 and the snazzy Convertible Coupe cost $825. All prices were f.o.b. Windsor, Ontario and included five wire wheels with freight and taxes tacked on. A total of 2,576 units of the Plymouth PA were shipped during 1931.

A 1931 Dodge Brothers truck.
Making bold moves in a miserable market, Chrysler Canada aggressively added Dodge Brothers trucks to its list of domestically build products and then began producing the luxurious Chrysler Imperials in its Windsor plant, too.
A 1931 Chrysler Imperial dual cowl Phaeton.
To keep the dealer body solvent, executives in Windsor wisely made Plymouth available through all of Chrysler Canada’s dealerships. Every Chrysler, Dodge and DeSoto dealer in the Dominion carried the stylish, inexpensive Plymouth. Those folks who still had a few bucks didn’t need crystal balls to see the value in Plymouth and snapped them up. 

Records show that 3,222 units were built domestically and 14 Model U and 46 of the Model PA were imported from the USA for domestic sale. Another long-ago entry indicates that 3,378 Plymouth passenger cars were shipped from Windsor in 1931. The latter figure included vehicles built outside of Canada for trans-shipment to customers in other parts of the British Empire.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2005
All rights reserved

Monday, March 5, 2012

1972 Lincoln Mark IV

The Lincoln Mark IV was all new in 1972.

Lincoln had been the Blue Oval flagship since Henry Ford purchased the floundering luxury make in 1922. Edsel Ford made the car unforgettable with his design magic.

The 1961 Lincoln.
 Its creators rescued it from a dowdy fate and made Lincoln stately in 1961. The classic body style carried the prestige marque for more than a decade. Lee Iococca was the man who been responsible for the revival-look Mark III and its success. He stood behind the refined Mark IV that bowed for the 1972 selling season.

From the boldly elegant radiator-inspired Rolls-Royce grille--with its stand-up hood ornament to the whisper of the spare tire outlined on the rear deck sheet metal, to the genuinely inspired opera window in the sail panel--one replete with an etched silver leaf star at its centre--this motor vehicle radiated discrete priveledge on an elevated plane. 

The 1972 Lincoln Mark IV was a revival model. Stylists paid homage to an era when spare tires were carried on the rear of the car.

Available only as a two-door hardtop coupe, the Mark IV’s side envelope was seamless and breathtaking. The design carried front fenders tapering inward every so subtly, flaunted a massive bodyside “blade” in the rear quarter panel and a sharp and shapely crease in the lower third of the panel. It shared a roof with Thunderbird. 

The Lincoln Mark IV sold for $10,613 f.o.b. Oakville, Ontario.
Powering this majestic maharaja of the motorways was the magnificent 460-cubic inch overhead-valve V-8 engine that ran on 91-octane gasoline. The mill generated 212 horsepower at 4400 RPM. Transmission of power to the road was by use of the three-speed Select-Shift automatic with a 12-inch hydraulic torque converter.

Surprisingly, the Mark IV’s frame was a lengthened version of the Mercury Montego’s undercarriage. It did have wider front and rear treads, a STABUL rear suspension, a linkless brake booster and a centre-fill fuel tank with a capacity of 18.7 Imperial gallons.

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The launch of the Mark IV was tasteful. “It stands alone in a world where individuality has all be disappeared.” Advertising spoke of the “graceful sweep of the roofline,” the subtle refinement of a contemporary classic” and a 120.4-inch wheelbased personal luxury car kissed with the hallmarks of concealed headlamps and Michelin steel-belted radial ply tires.

Interiors were surprisingly large for such a sleek envelope and were upholstered in Dark Blue, Black, Dark Red, Dark Green or Light Grey Gold Lamont tricot biscuit-pattern cloth. An appropriate upgrade was white, Black Dark Blue, Dark Red, Medium Ginger, Dark Green, Light Grey Gold or Dark Tobacco leather. Seats were six-way electric Twin Comfort loungers operated from consoles built into the door armrests.
The instrument panel of the Lincoln Mark IV was placed in a rectangular console for the operator’s convenience and passengers’ safety.

The instrument panel was finished in a combination Kashmir Walnut Woodgrain Matina and Baby Burl Walnut Woodgrain appliqué. All instruments were placed in rectangular, silver faced pods in a console, positioned directly in front of the driver, including the Cartier timepiece—a clock crafted by one of the world’s most famous jewellers—and exclusive to Lincoln Mark IV. 

No less of a company than Cartier the jeweller provided the Mark IV with a chronometer.

Auto historian Gregory Von Dare tells of early quality control problems at the Wixham, Michigan plant where Continentals, Mark IVs and Thunderbirds were assembled. The two cars’ interiors were very similar in look. More than one Lincoln-Mercury-Meteor dealer received Mark IVs with Thunderbird logos on the instrument panel. Similarly, not a few Ford dealers discovered Thunderbirds that proclaimed themselves Lincolns! Auto historian Tom Bonsall notes with humour that Thunderbird owners didn’t seem to mind the mix up.

The optional AM/FM stereo radio came with ten pre-set button positions.

These Lincoln Mark IV passenger cars were born with power steering, power disc brakes front and power drum in the rear, an Automatic Temperature Control (heater and air conditioner to ordinary Canadians), power windows, power seats, an AM radio and 100-percent long-shear, cut-pile carpeting—colour-keyed in the cabin and black in the luggage compartment. Other standard features included electric wipers and washer, a three-spoke rim-blow steering wheel, folding centre armrests—fore and aft—keyless door locking and a reversible key, triple-note horns, trip odometer, door assist straps, cornering lights and curb mouldings.

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Acrylic enamel exterior finishes included 15 standard colour choices: Black, Maroon, Dark Green Metallic, White, Yellow, Pastel Lime, Light Blue, Light Grey Metallic, Medium Green metallic, Medium Blue Metallic, Dark Brown Metallic, Grey Gold Metallic, Green Gold Metallic, Dark Blue Metallic and Light Yellow Metallic. In addition there were eight optional “Moondust” metallic colours consisting of Gold, Light Ginger, Ginger, Blue, Light Ivy, Ivy, Red and Copper. To top things off, at no extra cost, padded roof colours were Black, White, Dark Green, Dark Brown or Dark Blue.
The 1972 Mark IV was the first Lincoln to carry opera windows.
One could invest further in one’s Lincoln Continental Mark IV with such convenient lifestyle add-ons as front bumper guards, a rear window defroster, automatic headlight dimmers, a stereo tape player, reclining seats and a tilt steering wheel.

From St. John’s to Victoria and from Windsor to Tuktoyaktuk, Lincoln racked up 2,498 sales for calendar year 1972. That made folks in Oakville very happy, as this was a very healthy increase over the 1,777 units delivered in 1971—making Ford’s most luxurious offering less popular that year than AMC’s Javelin. Even more Lincolns would sell in 1973, no doubt helped along by the beautiful lines of the Mark IV.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2004
All rights reserved.