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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

1972 & 1973 AMC Hornet Sportabout by Gucci

Dr. Aldo Gucci customized a Hornet Sportabout for his own personal use. A new grille and wheel covers were among the touches he added to the stylish little AMC offering.
North America's fourth largest carmaker was on a roll in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Javelin, AMX, Hornet and Gremlin shot out of the corporate holding pen, every one bronco-busting winner. When the 1972 model season came along there were no new models to show off. American Motors was not about to roll over and play dead, however. They might not have any all-new cars on the dealers' showroom floors but American Motors had a savvy staff, each one knowing a dozen ways to make new bread out of old flour.

First, the company rolled out the Buyer Protection Plan which covered every mechanical defect that might possibly occur during the first twelve months of ownership. No one in the automotive industry had ever done anything like that before. The ground-breaking warranty was bold and daring. The comprehensive guarantee was written in less than 100 words--using common sense English and French--that promised to fix anything that went wrong with the car for a year. Literaly. The only item not covered was tires and they came with their own guarantee from the manufacturer.  Each car was road tested at the factory to make sure it was up to snuff and the service man who inspected it signed his name to a special report clipped onto the sun visor. That made the commitment personal.

Just to be sure, the dealer made a second inspection. Each AMC vehicle came with a toll-free phone number and a real person's name to contact if something went wrong. Quality was high and complaints were few. When there were problems, they were taken care of promptly. If the car had to be kept overnight, a loaner was given. The plan was wildly popular with the public who were tired of the poor quality of domestic automobiles.

Sales at AMC dealerships shot through the roof as consumers passed by The Big Three and the imports in favour of Gremlins, Hornets, Matadors, Javelins and Ambassadors. Canadians were impressed enough to buy 21,641 products, more than ever before.  The American periodical Motor Trend was impressed enough to create a special award for AMC's pioneering effort.

Secondly, those trend-conscious AMC designers had taken careful note of consumers' new-found obsession with cloth and fabric. Whether it was for wearing or home decorating, colour and fabric were being exploited to the max. Leisure suits and pant suits--both made of crimpoline--were all the rage. The great design houses of of Paris, London and Rome were making an impact on people's wardrobes. It was high time that cars got designer treatment, too.

Neil Brown headed AMC's interior design department and he chose Pierre Cardin to work his magic on the Javelin.

Gremlins would head to California for very hip Levi jean interiors. The Hornet Sportabout, billed early on as "the little rich car" sas sent to Dr. Aldo Gucci in Europe for an Italian style makeover.

Now, the Hornet Sportabout was a car that was not quite a wagon--according to some industry insiders--and the AMC's management was very careful not to bill it as such. Behind the scenes, the Sportabout almost never made it to market. Those who opposed it were in favour of building a Hornet-based pickup truck, known as the Cowboy. It was clear that only one of the two models would be built and even then, with factories running at capacity, the winner would have to be built outside of the US--in Brampton, Ontario. Jim Alexander worked at AMC and recalled that passions ran high between two very entrenched camps and there was some bitterness when the Cowboy was passed by.

The AMC Cowboy would have been marketed under the Jeep name.

Once the Sportabout hit the market it sold more than 3,4,00 units in 1972. Advertising referred to it as "a unique passenger/cargo car that united sedan styling with station wagon versitality." The vehicle foreshadowed the crossover. Ad copy posed the smart new hybrid in all the familiar wagon-like settings and the public got the idea very quickly.

A Sportabout was shipped to Rome for Gucci treatment. It came back wearing the sassy, broad stripes of Gucci's trademark red, ivory and green colours on Ventilaire viny reclining seats, on plush door panels and sunvisors--all colour-keyed to a special headliner finished in the fashion-famous "GG" pattern. The Gucci crest was set into the front door panels between the arm rest and the door handle. Outside, the special models were treated to the GG crest on the front fender.

Ad copy wasn't shy to pitch the Gucci Hornet to women, a rapidly growing segment of the buying market. "For any woman who's looking for a car, we suggest she take a look at herself in our compact." Available in Snow White, Hunter Green, Grasshopper Green and Yucca Tan, a total of 2,583 limited-edition Gucci Hornets was sold in during the model year.

Dr. Algo Gucci was smitten with the Sportabout. He liked its look so much that he requested one for his own personal use. AMC was more than happy to ship one with a  5-litre (304 cubic inch) V-8 engine and three-speed automatic transmission. This would be Gucci's personal car and he supervised modifications at a custom coach builder's establishment for a modest USD$10,000.

Gucci chose to have the car painted in an understated silver colour. A new grille carried the Gucci crest. The headlamps were enclosed in transparent covers. The rear was given a new trim panel with the company's traditional red and green horizontal stripes set off against a grey cloth insert into which was woven the "GG" design. The same cloth was repeated in the headliner.

Inside, a luxuriously supple black leather was mated to a high quality, tight-knit, grey Italian upholstery in a larger "GG" pattern. Leather was applied to the door panels, the cargo area as well as front and rear centre arm rests. Doors and custom-designed bucket seats received red and green striped inserts. The instrument panel, glove box and even the seat belts were given the Gucci tri-colour treatment. The tasteful cloth was used for milady's handbag and even covered the owner's manual. Carpeting was a testeful nubby grey with contrasting black leather piping.

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Gucci created a new centre console, located beneath the instrument panel. This area became home to the ash receiver, radio, the heater and the air conditioning controls. Extending upwards, the instrument panel was given a centrally located, pull-out writing desk, graced with a scribbler and a sterling silver bamboo pen. A map light at the end of a flexible arm extended from the right side of the desk, the left carried a vanity mirror, also on a flex stem.

The centre armrests doubled as nifty storage units. The front one contained a vanity kit. The one in the rear carried games in a removable box. Just like in a commercial aircrart, the back of the front seats popped open. The one on the passenger's side served as a snack table or  provided a flat surface for playing games. The compartment behind the driver concealed a miniature liquor cabinet, complete with four sterling silver tumbles and two decanters--all decorated with red and green enamel stripes.

Creator and his creation in front of the Gucci store in New York City.

The hand-crafted Gucci Hornet was loaned to AMC's designers so they might study it. When finished it was returned to Rome where Dr. Gucci drove his haute-couture Hornet all over Europe.

Keep your eyes open and your chequ books at the ready, this gorgeous one-off, designer Hornet may very well turn up on the market one day!

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2002
All rights reserved.

Monday, July 2, 2012

1959 Oldsmobile

This 1959 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight four-door sedan wears the optional Colour-Accent Wheel Discs that co-ordinated with body paint.
It was billed as “so totally new…so typically Olds!” For the second year in a row, GM’s mid-priced luxury liner was completely original; new from the ground up. Oldsmobile’s low, sleek lines were the result of a crash programme undertaken by designers. Once they had seen the breathtaking 1957 Chrysler lineup, everything currently under development in the Oldsmobile studio was immediately scrapped.

Chrysler Canada's De Soto was Oldsmobile's direct competition. The 1957 De Soto was breathtaking.

Virgil Exner, Chrysler’s design chief, had suddenly raised the bar for the entire industry with his “birds in flight” studies that translated into sweeping fins on automobiles. Oldsmobile stylists buckled down, working nights and weekends to come up with fresh designs that would compete. The final result was a long, linear look hailed as “the new phase in Oldsmobility.”

The 1959 Oldsmobile 98 Convertible.

Very widely spaced headlamps were moved from the fender into the dumbbell-shaped aluminum grille. This gave Olds a much slimmer front end. A slab sided profile carried a heavy eyebrow crease that wrapped around from the headlights and ran along the top of the front fender until it disappeared at its trailing edge. 
The 1959 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Holiday Sport Coupe was at home in snow.

Chrome jet-look ornaments were poised for takeoff on the front fenders. From their tails, highly stylized “flares’ of jet exhaust were captured in the sheet metal. They swept dramatically rearward, nearly forever, in sharply defined fins that were capped with a complex ovoid and trapezoidal taillights. 
The 1959 Oldsmobile 98 Sportsman.
 From the rear, the envelope was given a gently sloping rear deck that ended in a long, narrow concave lip. The word OLDSMOBILE was spelled out in the depression and higher lines wore finely ribbed brightwork under the lettering. The gas port was concealed in the centre of the rear bumper.

“Pencil thin” was the watchword for the rooflines. Oldsmobile boasted 40 percent more glass in its greenhouse. The Vista-Panoramic windshield cut high into the roof and wrapped ever so gently into the door. Advertising bragged, “There’s nothing but tinted, heat resistant glass between you and the sky.”
Consumers could choose from a full half-dozen Rocket Engines for their 1959 Oldsmobiles.

Owners could choose engines with six different horsepower ratings: 270, 300, 315, 394, 410 and 435. All were derived from the 90-degree, high compression V-8 mill whipped up by Oldsmobile’s engineers. For 1959, engines were given a new Free-Flow intake manifold, larger intake valves and a redesigned automatic choke created especially for buyers concerned with pinching the beavers on their nickels at the filling station.

This is one Oldsmobile styling exercise that was scrapped.

While a Synchro-Mesh manual transmission was standard equipment on Dynamic 88 and Super 88 series, there was the self-shifting Jetaway Hydra-Matic transmission for ease in driving.
Wheelbases grew longer. The junior Oldsmobiles were now 3 124 millimetres (123 inches), sharing their B-bodies with Buick. Senior Olds were assigned to a 3 200-millimetre (126-inch) wheelbase, sharing C-bodies with Buick and Cadillac. Trunk space was now a whopping 64 percent larger than before.

The 1959 Edsel, from Ford, competed against Oldsmobile.

The 1959 Olds was blessed with a new Guard-Beam chassis. Consumers were told they would enjoy gliding along on the strongest, most stable frame in the company’s history. U-channel and box-member side rails were mated to a huge centre x-member. It promised to reduce vibration and deliver an unforgettable “Glide” ride. The chassis couldn’t take all the credit, a wider stance and a new king pin angle improved roadability, too.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

An Oldsmobile could be ordered in sixteen different Magic-Mirror colours, of which many were “hi-metallic.” There was a proliferation of trendy two-tone variations for those who desired them. All of the paints were of a space-age, durable acrylic-base finish.
Ford of Canada brought back the Monarch in 1959 to  compete with Oldsmobile when its Edsel failed to live up to sales expectations.
Four series filled out the Oldsmobile range: The top-of-the-line Ninety-Eight Holiday was available as a swanky two-door hardtop called the SceniCoupe, a posh four-door sedan and a very ritzy convertible. The Super 88 Holiday cost a little less and offered a SceniCoupe hardtop, a four-door Sport Sedan and a Fiesta four-door station wagon. A pair of lesser trimmed Super 88s were available, too; a four-door sedan and a convertible. For the budget minded, there was a quintet of Dynamic 88 Holiday offerings including a SceniCoupe two-door hardtop, two and four-door sedans, a Fiesta four-door wagon, and a low-bucks convertible.

Oldsmobile’s Twin-Contour Instrument Panel was high style for 1959. The Vista-Panoramic Windshield was 46 percent larger than in the 1958 models.
Designers gave great attention to the cabins. Passengers sat in a newly enlarged “margin of comfort.” A Twin-Contour Instrument Panel gave owners a larger glove box and placed controls and gauges in front of the driver. A Safety-Spectrum Speedometer used “a new colour bar to replace the old speedometer needle.” From 0-35 miles per hour (ancient Canadian units of measure) the colour bar was green. From 35 to 65 miles (60 to 100 kilometres) per hour, the bar turned amber and at speeds above 65 miles (100 kilometres) per hour the colour bar turned red.
Upholstery in the 1959 Oldsmobile Super 88 SceniCoupe exuded luxury.
Fashion-Firm seats were “ruggedly upholstered” in the Dynamic series, upgraded to “special upholstery and rich trim” a.k.a. Morocceen and given padded twist carpeting in the Super 88 series. The flagship 98s were upholstered in hand-buffed leathers and promised to be in “good taste” for those who required elegance. Safety reflectors were built into the arm rests so that an oncoming driver could spot an open door at night. 

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

There were as many options for Oldsmobiles as there were Diefenbaker Tories sitting in the House of Commons in 1959. Roto-Matic power steering, Pedal-Ease power brakes, a power convertible top, a Six-Way power seat and an electrically controlled radio antenna were a good start. Then there was Air conditioning, a Dual-Range Power Heater, Colour–Accent Wheel Discs, trim rings, electrically operated Wide-Arc Wipers, an adjustable dome light and a De Luxe five-tube radio with Wonder Bar Station Selector and a convenient foot-operated pedal for changing stations. For high quality listening pleasure, there was the Bi-Phonic Speaker System.

The 1959 Oldsmobile Super 88 Fiesta wagon offered eight more inches of cargo space than previously and featured a new electric rear window.
Power Window Lifts were optional and--on Fiesta wagons, convertibles and all Ninety-Eights--two extra buttons could be installed to operate the Venti-Pane windows as well. Advertising called it “the ultimate in power assists.” Wagons could be had with a novel, new, extra cost, power rear window that operated by a key from the rear or with a button on the instrument panel by the driver.

Other neat “advanced accessories” included a dash-mounted Autronic-Eye that automatically dimmed headlights for oncoming traffic and the Safety Sentinel, an orange light built into the speedometer that flashed annoyingly should the driver exceeded the pre-set speed limit. 

The Trans-Porter all-transistor radio was a unique Oldsmobile option.

The ultimate option had to be the Oldsmobile Trans-Portable Radio, a completely transistorized, light, compact radio that operated on the car’s electrical system or on its own 160-hour battery. When not in use, the radio stored neatly on a lockable tray in the glove box and was said to be“double locked” for safekeeping. Sales brochures made no mention of the New-Matic air suspension ride for Canadians, though it was available on American Oldsmobiles.

General Motors of Canada started the model year with 1,280 dealerships for its six divisions. Its payroll was $93 million and 21,000 people were in its direct employ. On December 12, 1958 the company marked a milestone as the 3,500,000th passenger car rolled out the doors of the Oshawa plant.

This is the view of a 1959 Oldsmobile most often seen by other drivers.
Production records show that 16,270 Oldsmobiles were built in Oshawa during the 1959 model year. That was a healthy increase over the 13,124 units produced in the 1958 model year; a year of economic recession. Records show that the climb was long term, too. In 1957, a total of 14,177 Oldsmobiles were built by workers at GM Canada. As a result of a 114-day strike, only 7,986 units produced in 1956.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2004
 All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

1941 Pontiac Torpedo Fleetleader

At war with the Germany since September 10, 1939, all 11 million Canadians quickly became aware of the sacrifices that would be required of them if they were not going to live in an Occupied Canada and speak German to their conquerors. 

Tens of thousands flocked to recruiting stations, signing up to serve King and Country. Six months into the war, rationing took effect in April of 1940. Automobiles, butter and typewriters were just a few of the consumer goods that Canadians would stand in line for or do without altogether during the next six years for the sake of victory.

Almost immediately tires and inner tubes were rationed. The armed forces needed them desperately. Drives to collect them took place in every part of the country from Cape Breton to Vancouver Island. General Motors did its part by deleting spare tires and tubes from all of its new vehicles and reducing the retail price of its passenger cars by $5.

It was a time of rumour and dread. The government hurriedly threw up defense installations along the coastline of British Columbia in preparation of what it feared would be an imminent invasion by Imperial Japan. Mussolini pledged Italy’s resources to the Third Reich early in 1940. The Royal Canadian Army announced that June that it would recruit 21,000 women to serve King and Country. The RCAF and the Royal Canadian Navy followed shortly with similar announcements of their own. News from the war came in loud and clear as the CBC launched its first news department and hired reporters. Parliament ordered that pro-German or anti-war magazines and newspapers and magazines be banned.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King and American President Roosevelt signed a mutual defense treaty on August 18, 1940. Virtually all of Europe was draped in swastikas and the Luftwaffe was attempting to bomb Britain into surrender. Thousands of Canadians who were born in Germany and Italy and had been naturalized after 1923 were stripped of their citizenship on August 23 and required to register with the police as enemy aliens.
The 1941 Auto Show at the CNE.

The 1941 National Automobile Show took place in October of 1940, in the Automotive Building, on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, as usual. What was different this year was that the automakers’ displays were centred on military vehicles and war materiel being produced for the Canadian and various Empire governments. The RCAF took over the entire northern section of the building and showed off six kinds of aircraft, several different types of guns, as well as Rolls-Royce and Pratt and Whitney engines.

Domestic automakers were ordered to reduce their 1941 manufacturing output to 80 percent of their 1940 output in order to make room on the factory floors for the fabrication of war machines. Rumours spread like wildfire throughout the country that any civilian production of automobiles was hampering the war effort. The myth was so widely believed that the Honourable C.D. Howe, Minister of Munitions and Supply addressed the rumour publicly and gave assurances that it was definitely not true. He pointed out that the manufacture and sale of automobiles to civilians-even on a restricted basis-was helping to finance the war.

The Minister of War appointed a national Vehicle Controller on February 18, 1941. Regulations for the purchase of new cars grew even tighter. Only citizens who could prove that the purchase of a new vehicle gave “essentiality” to the war effort could requisition one from the federal government pool. The Vehicle Controller had the final say on each request.

The lowest priced Pontiac in 1941 was this Fleetleader Business Coupe, listing for $1,306.
In Oshawa and Regina, Pontiac production was limited to the 2 946-millimetre (116-inch) wheelbase Fleetleader Torpedo Special, Torpedo and the 3 022-millimetre (119-inch) wheelbase Deluxe Torpedo. That accounted for an even dozen models. A handful of Deluxe Torpedo models, Streamliners and Super Streamliners-the latter two on their (3 098-millimetre )122-inch wheelbase-were imported from the United States. They accounted for another nine Pontiac models.

In March of 1941, GM Canada issued a new full-colour line folder featuring the Fleetleader family. Dealers mailed them out to prospective customers. The theme reflected the war, now in progress for nearly eighteen months. The cover of the sales brochure did not even show automobiles, rather a convoy of ships, presumably filled with soldiers and supplies for Britain was featured. Inside its pages, one found drawings of young women, dressed in sailor-like outfits alongside the new Pontiacs.

The 1941 Pontiac DeLuxe Torpedo Four-door Sedan rode on a trim 3 022-millimetre (119-inch) wheelbase.
The brochure was nautical. “Ahoy there! The Fleet’s in—and you’re in luck for 1941. We’ve hoisted a signal that means real money for you. Get the inside story—come to see the sensation new Fleetleader-cross the gangplank to new cruising satisfaction and great new values.”

Billed as “the Aristocrat of the Road” and “a Symphony in Steel,” the Pontiac was a looker with a quintet of silver streaks running down the hood of the Torpedo body. New for this year from the styling department were concealed running boards. Hiding the running boards brought a promise of safety. The “safety steps” would “not collect mud that will be tracked into the car. Nor can ice or snow freeze on them to cause a bad fall.”

Opening the hood alligator style, one found Pontiac’s famous L-head motor. Advertising bragged that the new, permanent, built-in oil filter was three times more efficient than ordinary cleaners and that one never had to buy a filter cartridge. Attention was drawn to the fact that the battery was located in the engine compartment as well.

Interiors were vast and upholstered “with the elegance of a fine living room and appointments are in perfect harmony.” Carpets and head linings formed a “pleasant contrast with the upholstery and side wall trim.”
Pontiac’s instrument panel carried simulated woodgrain on more luxurious models.

While 7,747 Pontiacs were built domestically during the year, only 3,372 of the new vehicles were sold in Quebec, Ontario and the Maritime Provinces in 1941. Officials estimated that an additional 843 new Pontiacs were sold on the Prairies and in British Columbia. The balance of Pontiac production went into government-designated storage, as part of the pool of vehicles designated for “essential home front and Empire needs.”

There were 1,277,608 passenger cars registered throughout the Dominion at the end of 1941. That was a decrease of nearly three percent from the previous year. More than 30,000 unroadworthy vehicles had been scrapped. Many patriotic citizens, like GM President Colonel Sam McLaughlin, withdrew their cars from the road until victory came.

The Pontiac engine was the 3.9-litre (239.2-cubic inch), L-head, six-cylinder engine with a 90-horsepower rating. 

There were options to be had. An under-seat heater added an additional $13.86 to the final bill. A heater was doubtless far more practical than the 58 x72-inch “distinctive all-wool, plaid motor rugs” that GM offered for warmth at $8 each as an alternative. A pair of fog lamps cost the owner an additional $9.90. A pair of armrests sold for $3.60.

  1. A centre-mounted ashtray was standard on all Pontiacs for 1941. Every lady smokes while wearing gloves, eh?
Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2004
 All rights reserved.