The 1966 Buick Skylark GS in “Mountain Country”

November 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

1966 print ad for the Buick Skylark car

“You’ve got to get out of the test lab” (click to enlarge)

Buick was traditionally considered the “gentleman’s car” division of General Motors, essentially just a step below Cadillac when it came to luxury and prestige, and as point out, “when the marque finally got around to producing genuine muscle cars, it’s little surprise they were among the most luxurious of the breed.” The ’66 Skylark Gran Sport is generally considered a “sleeper” muscle car, cheaper than, say, the comparable Chevelle SS 396. You can find more info on them at the link above, and some photos here.


The 1908 Stearns: “Cyclonic Action”

October 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Vintage 1908 advertisement for the Stearns 30-60 H.P. Model automobile

“Its action upon hills is cyclonic”

This great ad from late 1908 for the F. B. Stearns Company’s “high quality motor cars” claims both “cyclonic action” on hills, and speeds on flat ground “faster…than any one cares to travel.” Indeed, the company was one of the early manufacturers of sports cars. As points out, Stearns was known for its innovation when it came to design and technology, and “would even make sport car models that would become popular with early racing drivers” such as Al Poole and Cyrus Patschke.

For a very thorough overview of Frank Stearns and his company you can see this excellent article, which points out that he “from the beginning built powerful cars for the well-to-do sporting motorist, which could be called one of America’s first sport cars. Early Stearns cars were among the largest and most powerful cars built incorporating the latest in engineering design. As early as 1901, Stearns were successfully competing in endurance runs….Then for the 1907 season, at the age of 28, Frank Stearns introduced the superb 30-60 HP four-cylinder, which sold for $4,600.00 and the legendary 45-90 HP 800 cu. in. six, retailing for $6,250.00. In 1907 the 30-60 HP had 19 important victories, during which it set three world’s records.” Note that $6,250 in 1907 is the equivalent of about $150,000 today.

The article concludes by claiming that Stearns automobiles were for a brief moment the “King of American motor cars,” and that they “were simply too good and too important to be so utterly ignored as they have been by many historians of the American automobile industry. It is a motor car which truly deserves more attention than it has received, either in its time or ours.”

The F.B. Stearns factory building in Cleveland remained standing until 2001, when it was razed.


The 1961 Chevrolets: No-Nonsense Practicality

September 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Vintage advertisement for the 1961 Chevrolet Impala and Biscayne automobiles

New!!! (click to enlarge)

This ad pictures both the Chevy Biscayne 4-door sedan and the Impala Sport Coupe. There is a 1961 Biscayne for sale at the time of this writing — an “ultra-rare super stock survivor” — for a mere $65,900. See the listing at here.

And here is a nice shot of a 1961 Impala as used in the TV show The Saint, the 1960s UK spy thriller series that starred Roger Moore:

1961 Chevy Impala as used in the TV show The Saint, which starred Roger Moore

A 1961 Chevy Impala being driven in the UK TV show The Saint (image:

The 1942 Studebakers: Wartime Austerity

September 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Vintage 1942 advertisement for the Studebaker President, Commander and Champion models

Pursuit planes and battleships: the 1942 Studebakers in a nod to WWII

This ad for Studebaker’s 1942 President, Commander and Champion models certainly pays homage to the fact that the country was at war. As pointed out at (as well as in the ad itself), that fact also affected the production of the company’s cars. To begin with, in August of 1941 the U.S. government ordered car companies to stop offering whitewall tires, due to the Japanese having cut off access to Malaysian rubber. As shortages grew, even spare tires were eliminated, and in December of that year Studebaker started shipping cars with only four tires.

The article continues: “Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor would soon bring almost all automobile pro­duction to a government-imposed stand­still. Before taking this drastic step, however, officials sought to con­serve certain critical metals like chrom­ium, nickel, and stainless steel by requiring most brightwork to be eliminated. (The bright trim on completed cars still in stock had to be painted over.)

Consequently, all Studebaker cars built on or after January 16, 1942, were considerably altered in appearance by this regulation. Stude­baker referred to these cars as ‘series 90,’ since 1942 was the company’s 90th birthday. Today, however, they are generally referred to as ‘blackout’ models. In order to provide vehicles that would ap­proximate the beauty of their more glittery predecessors, Studebaker did much research on the use of noncritical metals like Indium silver, and utilized baked-enamel finishes in colors that would offer pleasing contrast to that of the body.”

According to the ad, this did not impair “Studebaker’s traditional standards of quality.” I also like how they elegantly phrase, in the last line, the notion that “you may use your present car as part payment.”

The First Pony Car: 1964 Barracuda

August 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

1964 advertisement for the new Plymouth Barracuda fastback

Ponies and horses: the Barracuda in the summer of 1964

Plymouth unveiled the Barracuda (nearly named, according to some sources, the Panda; thank goodness they re-thought that idea) in April of 1964, so this ad from July of that year appeared a few months into its life. The Barracuda would, of course, be vastly modified in the years to come. As a piece on says, “Though nearly all pony cars went through some pretty serious changes in the first few years of their existence, the changes which Plymouth scrambled to implement on the Barracuda are certainly the most dramatic. The first-generation Barracuda came out just two weeks before the first Mustang, and although it did have several of the elements of the pony car, it wasn’t quite what the car-buying public was looking for, and the more-powerful Mustang outsold the Barracuda by a huge margin.”

That margin was, I believe, about 8:1. I have no idea how much cost played into that fact, but the base price of the Barracuda did happen to be a little more than the Mustang – about $2,5oo as compared to $2,368 for the Ford. But that translates to about $1,000 in today’s money, so it was perhaps not an entirely small matter.

As the carbuzz piece continues, “Thus began the processes of rethinking the Barracuda, one which would eventually lead it to become the legendary ‘Cuda. The original Barracuda was not without its charm. Based heavily on the Valiant, the fastback body incorporated a large wraparound rear window.At 14.4 square feet, this window was not only the Barracuda’s most distinctive design feature, but also the largest window to have been fitted to any production car in the world at the time.”

Hemmings provides the following table of estimated low, average and high values for the car today (noting that the V-8 with two-barrel carburetor is worth about 10% more):

1964 Sport Hardtop $5,000 $9,000 $13,000
1965 Sport hardtop $5,500 $9,500 $14,000
1965 Formula S $6,500 $11,500 $17,000
1966 Sport hardtop $5,500 $9,000 $13,500
1966 Formula S $6,500 $11,000 $16,000

The Barracuda looked pretty much the same until 1967, when, as says, it “finally became a true pony car” – though buyers had to wait until 1969 for Plymouth to “finally get serious about performance.”

The rest – or at least for a few years, anyway – was, as they say, history.

An orange 1970 Plymouth Barracuda in beautiful condition

The Barracuda by 1970

The 1957 DKW 3=6: Only 7 Moving Parts

April 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Vintage 1957 automobile ad for the DKW 3=6 2-stroke car

The DKW 3=6 and its "amazingly simple engine" (click to enlarge)

DKW was a German automobile and motorcycle company originally founded by Danish engineer Jorgen Skafte Rasmussen to make steam fittings. The initials actually stand for Dampf-Kraft-Wagen, which in German means “steam-driven car.” By 1919, Rasmussen had turned his attention to two-stroke engines and come up with a motorcycle he called Das Kleine Wunder – or “the little marvel.” According to Wikipedia, this was “the real beginning of the DKW brand: by the 1930s, DKW was the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer.”

According the the excellent blog Project Heinkel, at that point, despite the success it had had with motorcycle manufacturing, the Great Depression hit the company hard,  “leading DKW to join with three other Saxon auto manufacturers, Horch, Wanderer and Audi to form Auto Union, the union symbolised by the four interlocking rings that we recognise today as the Audi logo. To avoid competition, each company was given a particular market segment to focus on. Horch retained the top end of the car market, building expensive luxury cars. Wanderer built large saloon cars, while Audi built mid-range cars. DKW however took the lions share of the 1930s market – low cost cars and motorcycles.”

DKW motorcycle ad, circa 1930s

DKW RT 125: probably the most-copied motorcycle of all time (image: Project Heinkel)

The DKW 3=6 was a compact front-wheel-drive (which increased flat floor space) model produced from 1953 to 1959. As Wikipedia explains, the “3=6” name was employed “to highlight an equivalence between the car’s two-stroke three-cylinder engine and a four-stroke six-cylinder engine. The underlying logic was that with the two-stroke cycle there is engine power produced by an explosion within each cylinder for every rotation of the crankshaft: with the four-stroke cycle there is power produced by an explosion within each cylinder only for each alternate rotation of the crankshaft. Thus it was asserted that the two-stroke engine was working twice as hard per rotation of the engine.” says the 3=6 was “was quite an elegant and graceful car, the large wrap-around rear window giving good vision,” and notes that it had some success as a “sporting vehicle:” in 1954, for example, the DKW 3=6 took the first three places in the European Touring Car Championships.

Whatever the quality of their automobiles, if this ad was at all representative of their efforts in that area I think they probably should have employed a different ad agency or graphic designer. It has to be one of the poorest I’ve seen in awhile.

Here is a rather nice shot of a surviving 3=6 by Lothar Spurzem that accompanies the Wikipedia article on the car.

Photo of a DKW vintage automobile by Lothar Spurzem

A DKW 3=6 from a year or two before the ad pictured above appeared (photo: Lothar Spurzem)

The 1957 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer: A Swept-Wing Beauty

February 26, 2012 § 2 Comments

Scan of an original 1957 magazine ad for the Dodge Custom Royal Lancer car

A hurricane of power with flight-sweep styling

This ad just screams its era: life was good, people were optimistic, the jet age was here (the following year would be the first that more trans-Atlantic passengers traveled by air than by ship), satellites and rockets were being developed (the space age is usually said to have begun in 1957, with the Soviet launch of Sputnik), and cars were big and powerful. “Torsion-Aire Ride,” “Push-Button Torque-Flite Drive,” “Autodynamics,” “mastery of motion,”  “the vibration barrier,” – they didn’t spare much in their attempt to describe the ’57 Swept-wing Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. The “Realm of Silence” cushioning the passenger even sounds like something out of the later Get Smart. One of these would have set you back about $2,900, and about 55,000 were produced. Only about 2,450 convertibles were made; here is a shot of one of them:

Recent photo of a rare convertible version of 1957 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer

A 1957 Dodge Royal Lancer convertible in similar color scheme to the ad

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