Tuesday, May 15, 2018

1976 AMC Gremlin - April Fool

Some automobiles like 1966 Chevelles and 1969 Camaros get better looking with the passage of time. In the case of cars like the Ford Motor Company's "Edsel" from 1957-1960 and Chrysler Airflows from the 1930's, the passage of time has a way of making us wonder what the big deal was about. Then you have cars like the AMC Gremlin that the passage of time brings to light just how  awful they were in first place and actually look worse now than they did when they were new. Our subject is a 1976 Gremlin. 

As with most things in life that appear odd or unusual, there's more to the story than what meets the eye. However, assuming best intentions as always, forgive us if we wonder about what the hell AMC was thinking when they came up with this car.   

Quite simply, the Gremlin was nothing more and certainly a whole lot less than AMC's answer to the Volkswagen Beetle. AMC's answer though was obvious to economy car buyers that AMC either didn't understand the question or just couldn't do any better.

In fairness and hindsight being 20-20, AMC probably did understand the question and being as cash strapped as they always were, couldn't do any better. With VW Beetle sales swelling to more than 500,000 a year at the end of the 1960's, AMC had to do something. After all, small cars had been AMC's bread and butter and VW was eating AMC's breakfast, lunch and dinner. The problem was, not only did they not have a sub compact chassis, they didn't even have a four-cylinder engine. That in mind, their decision to hack off the back of their compact "Hornet" and create the subcompact "Gremlin", styling aside, makes sense.  It's what they did with the gaping hole created by sawing the rear end of the Hornet off that we have so much of an issue with.

While it might be an oversimplification to say that's all they did to the Hornet to make the Gremlin, the reality was, yeah - that's all they did. Said hacking also came with the reduction of the Hornet's wheelbase and revisions to the rear suspension. Revisions that made the Gremlin's performance as bad if not worse than the way the car looked. 

Performance issues stemmed from the Gremlin's horrendous front to rear weight bias. The damn thing even looks like it's going to fall on its front bumper and in reality, that's what starts to happens in anything other than a short jaunt to Sunday services. What's more, the rear leaf springs had to be shortened making for a rear axle that would hop up an down under heavy braking. 

AMC bragged that the Gremlin had more powerful engines than VW did but their use of their heavy in lines sixes, and a V-8 if you can imagine, made the homely, ill-performing Gremlin a relative gas guzzler. If the Gremlin had a four-cylinder, which, again, AMC did not have, and it was good on gas, you could almost understand why someone would look past goofy styling in the interest of mileage. After all, why buy an economy car if it's not going to be good on gas? Certainly one as unusual looking as the Gremlin was. 

Much like the Pacer and the 1974-1978 Matador, we've always wondered if the styling of the Gremlin was deliberately offbeat. If it wasn't, then the Gremlin and other AMC oddities were deeper into the woods than anyone could imagine. Then again, why would they deliberately draw up a car that was this unusual looking? One that quickly became the butt of so many jokes and adored by only who wanted to be perceived as off beat and outside the norm. To make matters worse, AMC launched the Gremlin on April Fool's Day, 1970.  Har-dee-har-har.

A gremlin is a folkloric mischievous creature that causes malfunctions in aircraft and other machinery. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

2005 Lincoln Town Car - At Your Service

I can't imagine executives at Ford where doing chest bumps when they realized they had the "service" industry all to themselves after 1996 but with GM out of the business, they had a fleet car for almost any purpose; with no real competition. Limousines, taxi, police departments, rentals. Hearses. Our subject is a  2005 Lincoln Town car - one of three Ford sedans that lived on for while, actually, quite a while, after GM moved on.
Like its General Motors counterpart, of which I always though superior both in design and performance, the Lincoln Town car was a robust automobile that while certainly no track star, was a vehicle perfect for the service industry. What with it's body on frame design, when damaged in an accident, they were much more reasonable to repair compared to a unit body automobile. And when you had a lot of them on hand, you bang up one and you can pull parts from another one. Even across model lines in the case of the Mercury Grand Marquis and the Town Car which were all but the same except for badging and front grills after 2003. The Ford Crown Victoria became exclusively a fleet automobile after 2008.
As to who would buy one of these for personal use, well, that's a different story. Even when the platform or chassis the Town Car was first introduced back in 1979, something that was code named, "Panther", the Lincoln name meant "old". Only the most stalwart of folks who could care less about what people thought would spring for one these - or they were holding onto the age old belief that a "Lincoln"  actually meant something.
Ford's updates to the Town Car over the years did little to shift any paradigms and if anything exasperated the oldster image; as much as they changed it, remarkably it stayed the same. Rather quickly, and in particular after GM left Ford alone to the market, these cars came to be nothing more than "service". Nice, comfortable, reassuring service but service nonetheless. 

What could, would, should they have done? It's easy to arm chair quarterback but the cold hard reality of what Lincoln, and Cadillac for that matter, faced and still face to a great degree can't. Be. Fixed. And they know it too. For certain, the instant brands like Lexus came ashore and BMW and Mercedes somehow were able to push out a myriad of less expensive makes and models that helped bolster their brand, there was no way Lincoln stood a chance. And they tried for years and failed every time. Had they been producing what the imports brought ashore beforehand would it have made a difference? Probably? But we'll never know for sure.
Eventually, even the fleet industry changed moving away cars towards far more practical cross over utility vehicles and minivans. That pushed grand dad here back into a corner with literally no place to go. Ford pulled the plug not only on the Lincoln Town Car but the platform it was based on after 2011.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

1981 Pontiac Trans Am Convertbie - Live and Let Live

Back in the mid 1970's, amidst governmental concerns over roll over crash worthiness and the fact that they just weren't selling very well, the Big Three stopped producing convertibles. For safety's sake they also stopped making hard tops that emulated the styling of convertibles. That didn't stop folks who really wanted a convertible from having customizers sawzall off the roofs of cars and turn whatever into one. Our subject here, a 1981 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am, was one of those, umm, conversions.  
Just a little surprising to see, though, that instead of being hacked into a drop top years ago, it was done as recently as October of 2013. Interesting. Our surprisingly handsome subject, wait, let me qualify that - handsome subject with the top down, was chopped up by Newport Specialty Cars of Placentia, California.  "NSC" appears to be a legitimate operation and from the looks of vehicles featured on their website, they'll convert just about anything into a convertible. Including old stuff like our Turbo T/A here. Some of the customization works while others...well...see for yourself. Here's a link to their website.

Why someone would go through the expense of this is beyond me but it does look much better than I would think it would. And it being a relatively low dollar 1981 Turbo Trans Am, there's no harm in it. Now, if they torched a perfectly good 6.6 T/A that would be a different story.
Personally, I'd have put the ten to fifteen grand spent on the conversion into a LS-1 swap but that's just me. For more on these funky Pontiac 4.9 liter turbocharged V-8 Trans Am's, click here for my blog I recently did on them.
It has to be because I've never seen a convertible T/A before that has me stuck between liking this and feeling as though it looks like a car that's been in an accident were the roof had to be removed to get the passengers out. I can only imagine how jiggly this contraption is too; even with a roof these weren't the most rock solid of automobiles. Can't imagine this thing wouldn't crunch up like a tin can in an accident too.

However, put the top up and things get California weird AF. What was once a fairly interesting looking car with the top down looks like someone with a bad toupee with it up. Ouch. Something's wrong here.

Things look somewhat better from back here but it might just be the camera angle. Those are some pretty nasty blind spots too. Imagine changing lanes in this thing with the top up.
But, oh this profile. Pretty harsh. The original lines of the car, of which I've always believed were wonderful, are completely ruined.  Sorry. This don't work - then again, while the car is for sale in Tampa, Florida, it was customized in car crazy SoCal so consider where it came from.

To each their own and live and let live. This isn't my cup of tea but perhaps it's yours. Here's the listing. Have fun.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

1971 GMC Sprint - This Ain't No El Camino

This is ain't no Chevrolet El Camino. Well, it is in every way but in what they called it. It's GMC's version of Chevrolet's car/truck/wagon (whatever the hell it was) that they called "Sprint". You can tell GM's marketing honchos labored for hours over that moniker. Our subject is a 1971 Sprint haling from the bucolic Cleveland Ohio area and is for sale for a not unreasonable asking price of $16,500. The nice owner is even willing to take a best offer or trade. 

What exactly was a GMC Sprint aside from the obvious? GMC, which stands for "General Motors Coach", certainly made no bones about it being nothing more and certainly nothing less than a badge-engineered El Camino; so give them some credit for that. The head scratcher is, though, why'd they even bother with this when Chevrolet was selling virtually the same thing already?

Well, long story short, GMC sold the Sprint because General Motors wanted to expand GMC's customer base. It would have made no sense to sell a rebadged Impala or Bonneville under a nameplate best known for trucks so the best thing to do was rebadge the car-truck El Camino as a GMC.

Created in 1912 as a builder of commercial grade trucks, GMC backed into the light truck business in the late 1950's and early 1960's cashing in on the GMC nameplate as a way to stay solvent. John Deere, known for their heavy, commercial grade farm equipment sells lawn mowers and garden tractors to consumers for the same reason.

Our super clean subject here has a rebuilt Chevrolet 454 and comes with an automatic transmission, bucket seats, power steering, and brakes.

The column shifter makes me think the engine is not original - for 1971, these came equipped with the usual gamut of the Chevrolet 250 cubic inch inline six, 307 and 350 cubic inch small block V-8's, as well as the big block 402 and 454 V-8's, so who knows what it was originally built with. With an asking price as reasonable as it is, there are going to be some compromises and a compromise that comes with professionally rebuilt 454, numbers matching or not, is not a bad thing.

If you're into these things, here's the listing. Would seem you could do a lot worse. Have fun!

GMC built the Sprint from 1971-1977 replacing it with the "Caballero" in 1978-1987.

Monday, May 7, 2018

1961 Chrysler Newport - Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time Chrysler produced and sold five different makes of automobiles. At the top of their very General Motors like pricing ladder line was Imperial, which, at least in theory, competed with GM's Cadillac and to some extent, Ford's Lincoln. At the bottom was Plymouth which competed with Chevrolet and Ford. Their three middle brands were Chrysler, Desoto and Dodge that were, again in theory, targeted at, respectively, Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac.

Of Chrysler's middle children, the middle-middle kid, Desoto, created in 1928 at first to be a step up brand from Plymouth, which had also been created in 1928, had the toughest go of it. Unlike General Motor's middle three which had all been independent brands before becoming part of GM, Desoto never really had an identity of its own above and beyond being a less expensive Dodge or Chrysler. Chrysler's 1933 flip flop of Dodge and Desoto on their pricing ladder  didn't help Desoto to develop any brand identity either.  Desoto's inglorious end came halfway through the 1961 model year when Chrysler finally pulled the plug.

Desoto's demise coming not before Chrysler introduced a new-for-1961, lower cost Chrysler model they called, "Newport". Which, oddly enough, looked very similar to the outgoing Desoto. Then again back then, all Chrysler's looked so similar, save, arguably for Imperial, it was hard to make out a Chrysler New Yorker from a Plymouth Fury. Named after a concept car from the 1940's so fantastic that it paced the Indianapolis 500 in 1941, what could possibly go wrong with rebadging Desoto's and putting them in Chrysler showrooms?

While the Newport sold relatively well, at least in comparison to how Desoto had been selling, Chrysler's overall sales didn't increase appreciably. That was because brand loyalty being what it is, sales of the Newport came out of buyers trading in their Chrysler New Yorkers rather than owners of GM or Ford cars; also known as conquest sales.

Had Chrysler been able to market the Newport as step up from the New Yorker, similar to what Cadillac did in 1975 positioning the Seville as their most prestigious model, things may have been different. May have. We're talking about the automobile industry here so nothing's a given.

Then again, Cadillac's 1975 Seville was a completely different automobile than anything else they were selling at the time whereas the Newport was obviously what it was. Chrysler kept the Newport in its stable through 1981 updating it as it did the New Yorker never giving it it's own styling motif that had it looking anything more than a stripped down New Yorker. 

Many study success stories seeking to find the secrets to winning. I'm of the opinion that a more solid path to success is to study failure and learn from someone else's mistakes and misgivings. All to often success stories are chock full of hubris and pay little heed to luck and momentum. For more on that, please google "General Motors". Could/would/should Chrysler have been better off doing something other than trying to be General Motors years ago? Easy to say that now seeing how they failed at doing such but the point is a valid one. Despite flashy marketing and cars that were, subjective as it is, very attractive, Chrysler never really put a dent in GM back then. From five makes and models, actually six if you count the 1960 Valiant as a separate marquee, today, Chrysler, which is owned and operated by Fiat, has but two automobile divisions, Chrysler and Dodge. So much for making the switch to America's styling leaders.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

1980 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am - "Turbo" Is Supposed To Mean Fast

If you didn't know better, you'd think Pontiac created the Trans Am specifically for the 1977 Burt Reynolds star vehicle, "Smokey and the Bandit". Whiles sales of Pontiac's flamboyant 2+2 more than doubled after the premiere of the movie, Pontiac had been making a "Trans Am" since 1969. Ironically, the car was named after a short lived road race series that had a stipulation that no car in the race could have an engine displacing more than five liters or 305 cubic inches. Pontiac Trans Am's, if anything, were famous for having engines as large as 7.4 liters or 455 cubic inches. I wonder, though, where it not for sales of the T/A after "Smokey and The Bandit" came out, would Pontiac have continued to make the Trans Am come 1980 when said large and powerful engines were no longer available?


Of course, we'll never know the answer to that and sadly, Pontiac did. With their downsized Firebird not ready for prime time by 1980 and the 6.6 liter Trans Am engines having been dropped after 1979 because they couldn't meet government-mandated fuel economy standards, Pontiac bolted a turbocharger onto the small V-8 they were still building and created the Turbo Trans Am. Why they didn't use a version of the engine Chevrolet used in their Corvette or Camaro Z28 or even Buick's turbo V-6 is a head scratcher for the ages. Who knows.

Keep in mind that General Motor's myriad divisions were still fairly autonomous as recently as the late 1970's. Therefore it's fairly safe to assume then that the idea of Pontiac using a Chevrolet V-8 engine in the image conscious Trans Am was verboten. Chevrolet could have said no too for all it matters. Anyway, the reality was whether the hamstringing was self-inflicted or not, Pontiac's engineers went back to the lab to do what was deemed virtually impossible at the time - bake up a high performance, fuel-efficient engine that could pass ever more stringent federal fresh air regulations.

What they come up with was the "Turbo 4.9". Using an AiResearch turbocharger on top of a beefed up version of their 301 cubic inch V-8, Pontiac claimed it made 210 horsepower and 345 pound-feet of torque. Quite impressive considering the Oldsmobile 403 that powered 1979 T/A's made just 185 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Quite impressive - on paper. 

Despite higher horsepower and torque ratings, published year-to-year drag tests indicate a 0-60 time a full second slower and quarter mile time 10 miles per hour lower. Might not sound like much of a drop but to the seat of your pants, those drops were enormous especially in a car that had sporting pretension. There's no way "The Bandit" was too happy with his 1980 Turbo T/A in "Smokey and the Bandit II". If you're wondering, "I" was the one with the beer while "II" was the one with the elephant. Yes. An elephant.

The problem with the "Turbo 4.9" was in the real world it just didn't work very well. The little AirResearch turbo made just 9 pounds of boost and the charge it made was forced through tortuous plumbing upstream into the carburetor. The literal heavy lifting that the engine did, these cars were quite hefty, came primarily from modifications done to the engine above and beyond the turbocharger. To increase air flow, Pontiac used an over sized Quadrajet on a high rise, offset (note the hood bulge) aluminum intake manifold. To make the most of the twist, they used a 3.08 rear axle. Pontiac would probably been better off just hopping up the 4.9 sans the turbo, again if the Corvette or Camaro engine was not available, but selling a car with a new engine that was 102 cubic inches smaller than what it replaced was a long enough putt. "Turbo", implies power and speed even if, in the case of the 1980-1981 Turbo Trans Am, it's little more than a sticker. after  At least the Turbo Trans Am got this lovely nose job and oh, those rims. To die for.

Notoriously difficult to modify, most Turbo 4.9's were yanked in favor of torquier, more powerful and reliable 400s and 455s. Which makes any remaining running Turbo Trans Ams very rare, ahem, birds. Sorry. Pontiac, wisely, charged only $350 for the turbo option above and beyond "base" Trans Am's and Formula Firebirds, yes, the turbo was available on the Formula Firebird (Turbo Formula), with non turbocharged 301 engines.

About the only thing more disappointing than the performance of the Turbo Trans Am was the dreadful "Smokey and the Bandit II". Panned by critics and a box office dud, Pontiac didn't see anywhere near the sales increase for the T/A they had when "I" burst onto the scene. So, that's the impetus for my wondering if the T/A would have gone on as long as it did without the success of the first "Smokey". Let's not even go there about "Smokey III" - yes, there was one featuring a 1983 "little" T/A where Snowman was Bandit and...oh. Never mind. Not that the "Smokey" trilogy was really about Pontiac, but with Pontiac dead and buried, I wouldn't hold my breath for a fourth installment. That's probably a good thing.

Monday, April 30, 2018

1981 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 - The Exception To The Rule

I'm of the opinion that the second generation, Chevrolet Camaro, especially the Z28, actually got better looking as Chevrolet dragged its inexplicably long production cycle out over twelve model years. Our subject is a well preserved '81 Z28.
That would make these cars, built between 1970 and 1981, an exception to my rule that cars rarely get better looking with nipping and tucking of their original design. Designers attempts at freshening things up almost always resulting in botch up's akin to plastic surgeons did to Meg Ryan's once angelic face.


The baubles, the bits, the stripe jobs ad nauseam - somehow, someway they worked on the Camaro. Now, this stuff wasn't for everyone and the definition of "cool" is as broad as it gets, but if you "get this", it didn't get much better. Please, no jokes about mullets. And to hell with the fact that these weren't very good cars.
The Camaro benefited indirectly from the government's 5 mile per hour safety bumper regulations that started in 1973. General Motors, for the most part, did a great job of complying with the federal requirements as they deftly blended the bumpers into the design of their cars. However, they went one step farther with the Camaro's bumpers - they covered them up with these plasticized, rubber-like flexible bumper covers. Voila. Instant classic. It not only updated the look of the car tenfold, it made it look, dare I say, better. It was also a harbinger of automotive designs of the future - I mean, when was the last time you saw a chrome bumper on a car?

Another rule these cars are the exception of is they're the rare automobile built after 1972 that's appreciating. It's telling their values are, in general for cars in similar condition, better than that of Corvettes of the same vintage. What's more, owners of Camaros stand a much better chance of selling their car quickly compared to someone trying to sell a Corvette. Trust me on that one. I found this car over the weekend on Autotrader.com, downloaded pictures of it and when I wanted to hyper link the ad for it to this blog, it was gone by late Monday morning.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

1967 Chevrolet Chevelle - Beware of Clones

Thirty or so years ago, "clones", which is any lesser model of a car that appears to be a more expensive one, were verboten; you didn't make them let alone buy them. In the last ten, fifteen if not twenty years or so, they've become more acceptable as affordable desirable classics have become harder and harder to come by. Clones are harmless but only to a point. They become troublesome when people start asking the same amount of money for them as the "real" cars they're emulating. Like this 1967 Chevelle SS clone hailing from bucolic Dayton, Ohio. Here's the listing.

Looks to me like someone spent a freaking boatload on restoring this car and is looking to recoup a large part of their investment. Good luck with that, buddy. At least they had the decency to disclose it's a clone - not that they're going to get this "SS" past any self-respecting Chevelle cognoscenti. They might be worse than Corvette people - and we know how anal those people can be.

Up through 1965, Chevrolet was putting "SS" and "Super Sport" badges on everything from Chevy II's to Impala wagons and it meant next to nothing. Yes, there was a 396 engine available on  "Z16" '65 Chevelles but they're rarer than unicorns. "SS" was little more than a trim level akin to "Caprice" being a trim level of Impala and "Malibu" and "300" being levels of the Chevelle. That all changed when Chevrolet made the 396 the exclusive engine of the Chevelle Super Sport starting in 1966.

Available on 1966 and 1967 Chevelles in two states of tune - 325 and 360 (gross) horsepower, those very large and heavy engines gave the Chevelle SS straight line performance akin to its muscle car cousin, the Pontiac GTO. However, the engine here in our '67 Chevelle SS clone is not a 396 - it's not even a 327 - it's a handsomely dressed up 283. Tells me our car here may have been born as a low ball Chevelle 300. So, out my windshield, I see this car as not even a "real clone". Even if this 283 has been hopped up to be as strong if not stronger performer than any 396 could be, quite possible, it's still a Chevelle clone with a 283. 

A 283 car with its original two speed "Power Glide" - ad claims 3 speed Power Glide - sorry - Power Glides were two-speed automatics. There's something to be said for numbers matching but sometimes it's best to package the original running gear with the sale of the car and replace it all with something at least more robust if not modern. An LS1 swap and a modern four or six-speed automatic might make this "SS" worth the asking price. Especially with as nice a restoration job as this thing has gone through. Then again, an LS1 swap would mean this car was actually something more akin to a "resto-mod". Those cars are becoming even more envouge than clones and those are many times worth what folks are asking for them. 

Again, clones are dicey propositions. Had the engine and transmission been upgraded on this SS clone would it make a difference? To me, somewhat - especially if the original engine and transmission come along as part of the package but I still think this car is way over priced and it  makes no sense since it's not even a "real clone" (if that makes sense). It's also historically incorrect as it sits now and the owner wants Chevelle SS concours condition money for it. You can do better. Look the other way.