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Monday, July 15, 2013

1963 Chevolet Sting Ray

            Chevrolet’s Corvette took off in a completely new styling direction for the 1963 season.  Based on the experimental Mitchell Sting Ray Racer that had been on the race circuit since 1957,  the new Corvette was more angular in looks than its predecessors. A 1:4 scale model of the new sports car was tested in wind tunnel experiments.  Results from those tests dictated the final shape that Corvette would take. 

Side glass with compound curves was the latest styling trend in Detroit that year.  If  Rambler was having curved glass, so was Corvette.    With the help of tiny motors, Corvette’s headlights rotated out of sight when not in use.  The pod-headlight styling trick was superb and even added to the car’s aerodynamics.  Hidden headlamps also gave a sleek, uninterrupted front profile. 

The hood sported twin full-length depressions that carried large, simulated air-intake plates. The grille, made up of thin, horizontal aluminum bars, was deeply recessed into the lower half of the front.   Bumpers were understated spaghetti straps in chrome.
1957 Q Corvette clay model.
 Lines flowed effortlessly in Corvette’s profile. Two deep indentations moulded into the trailing edge of the front wheelwell spoke of speed, even when the sports car was sitting still.   

Corvette was one of the first American automobiles to  acquire the Coke-bottle swell in its rear quarter panels.  It was the perfect look. A raised spine or dorsal fin that ran the length of the coupe gave the perfect excuse for designing a split rear window, which was Bill Mitchell’s brainchild.  The gas filler cap was centrally located in the rear, below the window.  A pair of  bumperettes was given the task of silhouetting two small, round taillights.

Inside the cabin, designers made much of the split or dual theme.  Bucket seats nestled on either side of a massive centre console.  The console in turn, set off the functional and classy dual-cowled instrument panel.   AM/FM radio was available for $174.35.  Passengers were treated to rich, deep-pile carpeting,  adding luxury to what one magazine said was “America’s most sophisticated car.”

A Corvette2+2  was developed in styling alongside the two-seater but it required an extra ten inches of length to accommodate the rear passengers.  Altered rear fenders and a higher roofline changed proportions sufficiently that the larger model never saw the light of day.

Advertising claimed that streamlining was the goal and indeed designer Zora Arkus-Duntov--working under the watchful eye of GM styling guru Billy Mitchell--created a classically elegant and graceful fastback coupe and convertible. The latter could be ordered with a hard or soft top.  Basic design for the ’63 models was locked up by September of 1960, although studio photos show that the hardtop roof for the convertible came into being in February of 1961.

            The wheelbase was cut ten centimetres (four inches) to 249 centimetres (98 inches) and the overall length was shortened by five centimetres (two inches) from the 1962 model. Chassis, frame and the rear  axle were all new to Corvette.  So was the rear suspension, which was given a three-link independent system at each wheel.  A multi-leaf transverse spring was bolted to the differential carrier and extended from one rear wheel to the other. This set up handled vertical loads.   Radius arms, axles and control rods, running from the differential to the frame, handled horizontal forces.  More of Corvette’s weight sat on the back wheels than the front.

            Engines were carried over from 1962.  The 5-3-litre (327-cubic inch) V-8 was standard with its 250 horsepower rating.  300 horses cost $54 more, 340 horses cost $108 extra and the fuel-injected 360 horsepower version added a whopping $340 to the tab.   For a short while the higher horsepower engines came with a buzzer that sounded at 6500 RPM.  The intention was  to alert the driver that he was “…approaching excessive engine speeds.”  The buzzer was dropped because no one could hear it over the engine’s roar.

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 A three-speed manual transmission was standard but a close-ratio four-speed could be had for $188 or, for $199.10 Chevrolet’s Powerglide automatic could be installed.   For the first time, power steering, power brakes and air conditioning were available in Corvettes, though archives show that only 280 buyers purchased the cool option at an equally cool $421.  Leather seats were a choice for the first time, if one had an extra $80 in his pocket.  For $202, purists could order the optional 136-litre (36- US gallon) gas tank on coupes.

            Corvette was kept ultra-secret and when it was finally shown to the public, the motoring public went wild over the sensational vehicle. Chevrolet had an imediate hit and an instant classic on its hands. 

Chief Zora Arkus-Duntov even built five Grand Sport specials to Challenge Carrol Shelby’s Cobras on the track. In its initial year 10,594 coupes were built and 10,919 convertibles in Chevrolet’s St. Louis, Missouri plant, a full third more than the previous year.

Copyright James C. Mays 2001
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

1964 Ford Aurora

The experimental Ford Aurora went on tour in 1964.
            The Ford Motor Company showed off its wares at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City and included a number of concept vehicles.  The crown jewel was a radical “luxury lounge” prototype wagon.  The bright orange Aurora station wagon rode on a 3327.4-millimetre (131-inch) wheelbase.  Its celestial name was explained to visitors as meaning “the beginning or rising light of morning.”

In showing experimental cars to millions of potential consumers, Ford intended to collect valuable feedback so that product planners, designers and engineers would be in tune with future market trends. This was of concern because Ford was a distant third in the station wagon game, well behind GM and Chrysler. Even little Rambler was snapping hard at Ford’s wagon heels.

The 1946 Willys-Overland Jeep station wagon was a pioneer in the post-war North American station wagon segment of the automotive market.
            After World War Two, the wagon market segment exploded as people migrated from cities to newly created suburbs. Independents Willys and Nash took note of the lifestyle change and introduced wagons. Detroit insiders studied the rising sales phenomenon..   In the industry, 10% was the benchmark figure that analysts used to determine significance and viability of a model trend. Soon, the Big Three circled with wagons of their own.

Ford's 1961 Country Squire station wagons offered seating for six or nine passengers. They were the largest and most expensive full-sized Fords of all, costing $3,357 and $2,437 respectively.
            The multi-purpose body style hit its high note in 1961 when it claimed a full 16.8% of all cars built. Production dropped to 13.8% in 1962 and dropped again to 13.1% in 1963.   In 1964, automakers would build 936,970 station wagons—still a healthy 11.8% of the domestic passenger car market.

The Ford Pavillion at the 19641964 World's Fair.
            Ford planners believed that the family wagon would be around for a long time to come and developed the Aurora as a “…rolling laboratory of new ideas in styling and engineering for the future.” Gene Bordinat, Vice-president and Director of Styling at Dearborn, predicted that wagons would one day have unique chassis components not drawn from other passenger car lines.

            Aurora introduced 23 new concepts. Headlights were replaced by a minibank of 12 micro-lights spanning the car’s front. Ford pointed out the safety in having a dozen headlamps, should one burn out. The lighting system was controllable, “with many stages between the dimmest and brightest extremes.”

 Two vast, recessed grille intakes  flanked the mini-bank light bar and ran upward from the bumper along the length of the hood to the cowl. Massive amounts of air entered the large openings to cool the engine and left the compartment by way of the cowl. This “Aerohead” setup allowed for use of a smaller radiator and gave the Aurora a rakish, aerodynamic front.

            Engineers neatly tackled station wagon heat and light irritants with a series of dramatic applications straight out of science and physics labs. They dressed the Aurora in a heat reflecting roof. The textured aluminum overlay, designed to deflect infa-red rays, began just behind a built-in roll bar. To the front of the roll bar, an enormous windshield wrapped upward into a polarizing sun roof.  Publicity extolled its virtues by saying, “This affords excellent overhead visibility, even when the adjustable roof is in its opaque position.”

Aurora’s sun roof was yet another space age marvel. An opaque screen made up of ¾-inch parallel strips of polarized material closed the transparent roof to exterior rays. When open, a soft green light filtered in.  A power button controlled the amount of sunlight admitted into the cabin. Air conditioned throughout, only the front windows opened.

Safety was high on the list of design ideas incorporated into Aurora. Large “Bodyside Turn Indicators” were moulded into the front and rear fenders. They flashed amber in front and red at the rear. A deep “Safety Cove” indentation stamped into the lower body panel was filled with electroluminescent lighting. The lighting system did not generate heat and illuminated the wagon’s flanks as well as lighting up the block letters AURORA on the hood and tailgate. Publicity said, “This light source suggests many new safety and product identification design ideas.”

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The Aurora’s cabin was equally space-age in execution. The driver sat in a Command Post, nestled in a plushly upholstered, countoured, high-backed,  cockpit seat complete with a neck support. The traditional steering wheel gave way to a W-shaped steering bar that required only a half turn from lock to lock. This feat was accomplished with the aid of both power steering and variable ratio steering gears.   

Seen here are the Aurora's AM/FM radio, climate control and to the extreme right, a GPS.
The instrument cluster boasted indicators that advised the driver of the safest speed in any given lane and also warn of blocked lanes ahead. The speedometer was a large, imposing strip with oversized numerals, and it ran the full width of the console. A global positioning screen and constant speed control device were on-board aids.

The front seat passenger sat in an overwide swivel armchair. That enabled the passenger to chat with as many as four people all comortably seated in the Central Lounge on a vast, curved sofa. Those who rode in the rear entered Aurora through an overwide door located on the passenger side of the wagon. There was no rear door on the driver’s side. A Communications Console boasted an AM/FM radio, and tape recorder. A TV that could play pre-recorded movies from an computer card hung from the wall. A built-in bar had a travel-safe table top and a cabinet for storing ice and snacks. There was a “thermo-electric” stove and fridge.  A dropped ceiling cove ran the roof’s spine, providing space for direct and indirect lighting units.

Entrance to the cargo area was through massive clamshell doors. The bottom one dropped low and featured a carpeted step. The top half rose up on torsion bars and slid back over the roof. A rearward facing third seat was home to the fully equipped and luxuriously appointed Children’s Compartment. Conveniently sound-isolated from the rest of the cabin by means of a power-operated glass, an AM/FM radio doubled as an intercom.  The “Romper Room” had a storage bin for toys and games and its own temperature thermostat.

Few of the Aurora’s designs ever made it into production but Ford’s wonder wagon certainly excited the imagination. 

The 1964 Ford Country Squire station wagon.
Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!
Copyright James C. Mays 2003
 All rights reserved.