Streets of Detroit: Reborn

OOC: Having learned a lot about the world of cars in the three years since I started work on the Streets of Detroit, and having had a bunch of new ideas come up since then (the threads about Studebaker and Packard as part of American Motors were a big help and gave me a bunch of new ideas, along with other research) and my TL there had a bunch of rather big holes and omissions. Hopefully, with the rewrite I can rectify a lot of these, and perhaps get some new input and ideas. Feel free for anybody to join in if they wish. :)
Chapter 1 - The Beginnings of the Modern Auto Industry

America exited World War II as what Winston Churchill famously termed the 'Arsenal of Democracy', having proven its industrial might by simultaneously contributing heavily to the destruction of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and having mostly singlehandedly crushed Imperial Japan, doing both by proving hundreds of thousands of fighting vehicles, hundreds of millions of rounds of ammunition, thousands of naval and transport vessels, tens of thousands of aircraft and millions of fighting men, along with all of the food, fuel and supplies they needed, along with that of the allied nations. It had been a bravado performance, but the war had also changed a lot of important elements of American society, namely the war being one of the first conflicts involving hundreds of thousands of African-American soldiers, sailors and airmen, many of these having served with honor and distinction. The war had, however, brought a creation of many new facilities and conglomerates who entered into the world of American industry in the years after the war. The war had also been the final acts of many of the creators of the auto industry, among them Henry Ford (who handed off the company to his son, Henry Ford II, in 1945), Walter Chrysler (who died in 1940) and Alfred Sloan (who retired from General Motors in 1955), and the years after the war brought with them a new generation of people into all levels of the workforces of America's industrial giants.

The post-war car market found itself first rattled by the huge strikes of the immediate post-war era as the United Auto Workers and all of the major manufacturers fought over the shape of post-war American capitalism, a problem that was particularly poignant for many union bosses during the 'Red Scare' and the McCarythism era of the early 1950s. But perhaps the biggest problem was the fact that Henry Ford's management team - the 'Whiz Kids' by 1951 were ready for war, and with Ford, General Motors and Chrysler all trying to grab every ounce of market share they could, it spelled disaster for the smaller automakers, and sure enough it didn't take long before the smaller automakers were soon faced with a major problem in that they could not keep up with the price wars of the Detroit Three, even for makers of fine luxury cars like Packard or better-engineered auto manufacturers like Studebaker. Faced with these problems, Kaiser-Frazer made the decision in 1953 to bail out the car business, which they did by 1956. But, thanks to the efforts of the first of the men who would go on to be modern legends in the world of cars in George Mason and George Romney, who in 1954 did what many figured was impossible.

"American Motors was seen at first as being something somewhere between unmanageable and insane. It combined five different automakers of all levels of cars into one big auto manufacturer, meant to allow all of the smaller automakers - Nash, Hudson, Studebaker, Willys-Overland, Packard - to stay alive when faced with the car dumping both General Motors and Ford were engaging in. It turned out to be a rocky road at first, but it didn't take long for Mason, Romney and all of the other senior managers to realize the advantages involved, and it wouldn't be long before one realized just what was there to be gained. The foresight seen by Mason and Romney almost certainly was what it took for the bunch of them to survive, even if at first it didn't seem like a good idea." -- Kevin Doherty, Victory by Design, 1988

The creation of American Motors in 1955 as a result of the massive five-way merger came just as Ford and GM both began producing the first great examples of iconic cars in the 1955 Ford and Chevrolet models, both designs which would rapidly gain iconic status. It didn't take long for Chrysler and AMC to jump on it, and while AMC's re-organization proved rocky in terms of narrowing down the number of dealers the company had, both of the smaller two companies were forced to at least at first maintain the styling and design changes of the Big Three, actions that were of no help to the finances of either firm. But by 1957, that had happened, and by 1957 both GM and Ford realized that AMC and Chrysler were legitimate competitors across all categories and decided to try to fight back against them - in some cases, the fight back was more than a little underhanded, as AMC found out when they started having troubles with parts prices from outside competitors, namely as they were being shoved on by the other automakers (GM in particular was doing this) in an attempt to force them into spending more money on this most vital of automobile components. AMC in 1956 sued several tire manufacturers over this, and in 1958 joined the supposedly-pending antitrust actions against General Motors, but ultimately legal remedies proved to have little effect. What did, however, have an impact came from an unlikely source - that being the massive effort that was made in the 1950s by French automaker Michelin to enter into the North American market.

By the mid-1950s, Michelin had grabbed a vast share of the European car tire market with its revolutionary steel-belted radial tires first introduced on the Citroen 2CV in 1946, but in North America the older designs of Goodyear, B.F. Goodrich, Firestone, General and Cooper continued to hold sway, again in large part because of the cost demands of the Detroit automakers, who demanded the tires they would install on their cars be available at very low prices. Michelin knew from the start that they would need an American partner to truly get into the market, and as a result in May 1957 Uniroyal and French tiremaker Michelin came to an agreement to allow Uniroyal to make Michelin's tire designs in North America, and Michelin openly said that they wanted to find an OEM to supply - and AMC, unsurprisingly, bit big on this. The result was that Uniroyal tires were standard on all 1958 models, and by 1961 Uniroyal had completely phased out the production of its antiquated bias-ply tire designs in favor steel-belted radials of Michelin design, and it wasn't long before Uniroyal was making radial tires of its own design. The Michelin-Uniroyal alliance and its dealing with AMC did see the company pay somewhat more for tires than what General Motors, Ford and Chrysler did - but it wouldn't be long before everyone realized the better handling and fuel economy that the radials gave to any car they rode on, and it gave an AMC a particular advantage in the larger car markets, with Packard in particular advertising the "fabulous road feel that our industry-first radial tires give a Packard driver".

What also made an impact for AMC was an entry into the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans by Briggs Cunningham's race team, which raced two tiny Nash Metropolitans in the 1.5-liter class. The cars both finished the race and lots of AMC executives were there to see it (including both Mason and Romney), and Cunningham was more than open to pointing out to the AMC bosses that a key improvement for the team was the use of disc brakes on their cars, and both men noticed that Cunningham had modified the Metropolitans to use the disc brakes from their Jaguar D-Type racers in an attempt to improve their braking. Intrigued by this, AMC's engineering corps began testing cars with disc brakes in late 1956, and upon seeing both the lower complexity and improved braking of the disc brake equipped car and with Bendix openly wanting to supply AMC with such brakes, they got to work on it, and by 1959 all AMC cars were using four-wheel disc brakes and Bendix braking systems, earning the company kudos for its advancement of technology - and happy consumers who quickly realized the better braking that the disc brakes gave, particularly when combined with the better tires.

While AMC was developing radial tires and disc brakes, General Motors had a little history of its own in 1957 with the introduction of the first fuel-injected motors to Detroit, with the introduction of its Rochester Products-developed mechanical fuel injection. While they had been beaten to the punch on this system by the Bosch fuel injection introduced on the Mercedes 300SL in 1955 (and Lucas' fuel injection system for Jaguar in 1956), the fuel injection system had a number of distinct advantages over carburetors, and while it was expensive it would see a fair bit of use on several different GM models (most frequently the Chevrolet Corvette, Impala and Nomad, as well as the Cadillac DeVille), but carburetors remained a common use. Bendix also developed a fuel injection system, the Electrojet, introducing it on Packard models in 1959, but as with the General Motors system, it proved somewhat troublesome, particularly in cold weather. Regardless of that, Bendix and AMC would soon be loving the idea to such a degree that it would continue to be made well into the 1960s.

1958 saw America enter its first recession since the end of the war, which had a very notable effect on the nation and in particular its auto industry. Seeing sales take a nosedive in 1958, the four major American automakers also saw that the all-but-abandonment of small cars by three of the four American automakers had allowed AMC to have a very good market almost all to its own, as well as creating an opportunity for a foothold for Volkswagen, Renault, Fiat, Morris and by the late 1950s arrivals from Japan in Toyota and Datsun. AMC had known about this for a while and was building cars to suit, but the size of the small car market was something of a surprise for the other automakers, who to a man developed smaller cars to fight in the market, with the results being the Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon and Plymouth Valiant. The Falcon and Valiant were even by Detroit standards rather unimaginative, scaled-down variants of their larger cars powered by six-cylinder engines, though Chrysler at least developed an aluminum-block variant of its Slant Six engine for the car and discovering during testing that the car that the engine could grind the hell out of its cylinder walls, resulting in production Slant Sixes having aluminum blocks with steel cylinder liners, as well as the Valiant also gained applause for its torsion-bar front suspension and its Virgil Exner-styled bodywork. General Motors also had a similar car on the drawing board in what would become the 1962 Chevy II, but that was only as a response to their first attempt at a small car, the Chevrolet Corvair....


Promotional photo for the 1960 Chevrolet Corvair

"Cole knew he was swinging for the fences, and he also knew that he was in big trouble if the Corvair was not a serious hit, and he doubled down by making sure it was made just as well as he demanded it be. It was a totally new, unproved design, made in a totally different way to everything else the Corporation produced at the time. But it took about five seconds for the drivers of the world to discover just what was so different with the Corvair, how it drove and how much of a great little car it was. And once that word got around, the car that 'Red' Curtice had called "A piece of tinned shit" suddenly was the hottest thing the corporation made. Between that and what GM knew that AMC was up to, they got the message quick....suddenly the engineers were being asked what could be done to make the cars better. That's what made so many of GM's triumphs of the 1960s possible." -- Brock Yates, American Iron and Carbon, 2004

"Head office was, as usual, penny-pinching on the development of new cars, but Ed [Cole] and Bunkie [Kundsen] wouldn't budge. Not an inch. He made it clear that if the Corvair was going to truly seduce American car buyers, it had to be the best-designed and best-built possible. He nearly took a swing at a guy who demanded he delete the rear stabilizer bar to save costs, stating that paying the victims of Corvair crashes was cheaper than making the car right in the first place. Ed made sure everybody across the divisions heard of that story, and it pissed off enough of the board that Ed got his way. The board wanted his hide for a while, but the Corvair's success stopped that idea. By the time the story stopped circulating, one wondered if the offending accountant was still employed at General Motors." -- John DeLorean, On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors, 1984

While the Falcon and (to a lesser extent the Valiant) was designed as bare-bones transportation, both the AMC Rambler American and the Corvair were designed from the start to give its owner more than a little bit of pride in what he was driving. The Rambler had its details, but the Corvair was a different animal in this regard. Designed from the start with four-wheel independent suspension, disc brakes and with unibody construction, the Corvair was an excellent platform to start with, and the use of an all-aluminum flat-six engine, mounted in the tail, was expressly designed to kick Volkswagen in the nuts. Ed Cole and Bunkie Knudsen's demand for the car to have first-class body fabrication caused more than a few ruffles at Fisher Body (which supplied nearly all GM bodywork and platforms at the time) but proved to be effective, and the use of quicker-ratio rack-and-pinion steering (a first for GM) combined with the stiff body fabrication and excellent suspension resulted in a car that drove like nothing else, and in a good way. Road and Track said of the Corvair that it was "As fine a handling automobile as any we have driven in a long time", while also applauding the excellent body fabrication that made it possible as being more resistant to corrosion and safer in an accident than other cars. (The second point wasn't quite true, but in 1960 nobody knew better.) A whole generation of new car buyers was arriving in the market, and Corvair, particularly the sporty Monza coupe introduced in 1961 and the turbocharged versions which first hit showrooms in the summer of 1962, was aimed wholeheartedly at these drivers.

The Corvair proved beyond any doubt that good small cars worked. It cost somewhat more than the Falcon, Valiant or Rambler, but the nearly 400,000 buyers of the car in its first year couldn't have cared less, and it was quite notable that few of those Corvairs sold were bare-bones versions - most came with the optional B.F. Goodrich radial tires, nearly all came with power accessories and the manual transmission versions easily outsold automatic transmission ones, a surprise even to many dealers who had assumed the opposite. The Corvair quickly spawned not only the Monza coupe but also the Lakewood station wagon and the Greenbrier van versions of the car, which grew the sales further. GM, stunned at this success, quickly expanded its engineering efforts - AC Delco disc brakes swelled throughout the company's vehicle range, and the radial tires soon began turning up on lots of other cars as well. GM's stunning success, however, did not go unnoticed, and they in May 1962 got another surprise from AMC.


A right-hand-drive 1964 Javelin at a car show in Australia

"Nobody saw the Javelin coming. Not a single damn person in this town. We were working on the Mustang at the time, but it was effectively a sporty body on a Falcon chassis. The Javelin had been made for the purpose, and it showed....GM had gotten first blood in the cars for sporty drivers and young people race, but American Motors stepped up to the plate and batted that son a bitch clean out of the ballpark. Even AMC had no idea what they had created, but boy they learned quick enough." -- Philip Caldwell, in an interview with Patrick Bedard, 1986

If the Corvair Monza had been a great car for the sporty car buyer, the 1962 AMC Javelin took everything about the idea and turned it up to eleven. Built a platform designed just for the car, it was a showcase of what AMC could do. Independent suspension, disc brakes and an all-new aluminum-block version of the AMC V8 engine, with Electrojet fuel injection as an option, matched up with sporty styling. It turned out that the long-hood / short-deck dimensions of the car had come from an idea Studebaker had had since before the American Motors merger, and it had been in development even before the Corvair hit the streets - and with both Ford and Chrysler not exactly hiding the fact they had similar cars in development, AMC's new sporty car turned out to be a stunner at just the right time for the company. Introduced at the Century 21 Exposition in Seattle, Washington, on May 12, 1962, the Javelin was for many the perfect car for AMC to show off the Century 21 Exposition. It was a throughly modern machine in the midst of the future-themed exposition, and it sent more than a few eager buyers to their local AMC dealers wanting more details or in some cases simply to order theirs on the spot. By the time the Ford Mustang made the 'Pony Car' wars real in April 1964, the Javelin had created a brand new market - and AMC at first simply couldn't keep up with demand. Over 750,000 Javelins rolled out of showrooms to enthusastic buyers in the first two years of the car's production, and the Mustang achieved only slightly less of a result than the Javelin in 1964 to 1966. GM and Chrysler had to scramble to keep up with it, resulting in the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird twins introduced in the spring of 1966 and the Dodge Challenger / Plymouth Barracuda cars, which were redesigned to a similar look for 1967.

The late 1950s sudden explosion in the design and sophistication of Detroit's cars, and their subsequent score in the marketplace, had an impact on all four automakers. AMC had proven better design could sell cars, and then GM had made the first from-the-ground-up car to prove how true that was. Chrysler was focused (in large part because of its ever-conservative management) on incremental improvements to their cars, and while Ford would spend the 1960s moving from success to success in many markets, their own propensity for conservative design and engineering would eventually come to be a real problem by the end of the 1960s, not only as their rivals passed them by but also because they found the market moving, with more drivers expecting more of the cars they were seeking to buy. GM and AMC would come to personify this by the end of the 1960s, and it was the beginning of a truly exciting time in the world of automobiles....
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TheMann said:
the threads about Studebaker and Packard as part of American Motors were a big help and gave me a bunch of new ideas :)
:) If I can claim any credit for sparking your TL, I'm so happy.;) Subscribed without reading past the first 'graph.:)

That said, I hate to start with a nitpick...
TheMann said:
It had been a bravado performance
You meant "bravura", didn't you?;) (Doubtless a slip of the keyboard.:p)

Let me add, good on *AMC for the *Jav.:cool: (I have to wonder about the name; TTL, wouldn't it be different?) That it's a big hit I like a lot, not to mention it taking sales from the 'stang & spawning an earlier 'cuda.:cool: (Wouldn't it also lead to another name for OTL's ponycar segment?)

I also like the 'vair being more successful.:cool: Except for the styling...:( I do wish it had been more like this...
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Chapter 2 - Big Tech, Big Bucks, Big Egos and Big Wins

"How is that little bugger of a car being sold in this country, anyways?"
-- GM Vice-President John F. Gordon on the Volkswagen Beetle, 1958

"The Corvair is not just a car, it is a tool for people who are just entering the car market to have something truly desirable, a car that most anyone can afford to buy but is a machine that one does not seek to hide in his garage, but drive with pride."
-- GM Vice-President James Roche to Newsweek, 1962

"How exactly AMC pulled this off I have no idea, but I'm not complaining....We were trying to sell cars on fuel economy and safety, and suddenly this beast [the Javelin] shows up in our showrooms and we get to talk about how fast it is, how fun it is to drive. We had one dealer say he had a customer who traded in a Porsche on a Javelin SST. How in God's name does that happen?" -- Ben Woodson, head of the East Coast American Motors Dealers Association, March 1964

"When our engineers first heard about the Corvair, nobody thought it serious, thinking it was some kind of a joke. It was like something that had come out of Europe, us thinking that it was incapable to work in America. But sometimes, one just has to admit that they make poor judgements at times. The Corvair was one of them, and as soon as we went to respond, out came the Chevy II, and we had a new problem before we even solved the first. Clever and infuriating all at the same time."
-- Henry Ford II, in an interview with Patrick Bedard, 1981

The Corvair was not by any means the only tech advancement of Detroit at the time, but it was the one which made the greatest impact simply because of the fact that the first generation Corvair managed to sell nearly 800,000 units in its first two years on the market. GM had brought out the first production fuel-injection engine on the Corvette in 1957, and in 1961 GM's first all-aluminum V8, the Oldsmobile F-85, entered the mix as well. Both the F-85 and Corvair spawned turbocharged versions in 1962, making both resulting cars remarkably fast, though the Corvair's problems with heat as a result of the turbocharged air-cooled engine meant that heat control was one of the biggest issues that the car's engineering faced. The Oldsmobile F-85 originally was fitted with a methanol/water injection system, but the impractical nature of this system meant that for 1963, GM tried the first intercooler system, using water in a tank mounted in the trunk of the car and piping into engine bay, which had most of the same effect as the old system. The Jetfire was also an all-aluminum V8, also a revolution. AMC's introduction of Electrojet fuel injection was not without its flaws - the system would remain somewhat troublesome in cold weather for many years - but the results in fuel efficiency and performance made it worth AMC's time to develop it. GM's efforts with the Oldsmobile F-85, though, proved somewhat fruitless as the F-85 simply didn't sell well, and it didn't do much better in Buick form either. As a result, in 1964 General Motors sold the design to the Rover Company in Britain, where it became the Rover V8....which would go on to be one of the most successful V8 engine designs of any European automaker, ever. (To be fair, Rover had not expected this success, and their deal with General Motors said that the company had to pay a fee to GM for each one sold in return for a smaller cost to buy the rights. Rover and its successor companies would come to regret this decision some.) AMC and Chrysler's aluminum-block engines forced Ford to catch up (which they did rather grudgingly), but Ford by that point was looking to go racing with its wares, and that caused a whole new bunch of technological development to come for the cars.

AMC had been first to hit the market for smaller muscle cars, but the name 'pony car' would end up coming from the Mustang, which was introduced at the New York World's Fair in April 1964. It was cheaper to buy than the Corvair or Javelin (though this was largely as a result of its being rather less sophisticated in its underpinnings than its rivals), but it too had the certain style that many smaller car buyers were looking for, and it too moved out units very snappily indeed, selling nearly a million of them in the first three years, a mark just below that of the Javelin but well ahead of the Corvair, which by that time GM was moving upmarket. Ford didn't take long to improve the Mustang, though, and some of its ways of doing so were pretty crafty - early problems with rear axle failures during aggressive driving were solved by the beefy rear axle from the full-size Ford Galaxy wagon, and the car's traction problems with the 289 cubic-inch V8 engine and the car's squatting under acceleration was solved through the use of traction bars and a torque arm which caused the car's rear suspension to rise up under hard acceleration. Comparing the two, the Javelin was better-equipped, handled rather better and stopped far better, but cost more money to buy. Both cars came out to such a response that the GM and Chrysler responses were done earlier on, and by 1967 it very much was a war on the streets, which by 1967 had also evolved into a war on drag strips and road racing courses.

The first-generation Corvair by 1963 was well-known to have handling quirks, a consequence of the swing-axle rear suspension, and ones which GM worked diligently to reduce as much as possible - the Corvair's suspension for 1963 gained an upper rear suspension assembly designed to reduce the car's axle tuck-in and the resulting major change in camber that resulted, but the real solution was the second generation Corvair, which ditched the swing-axle rear suspension design for a double A-arm fully-independent setup for 1965. GM's introduction of the Chevy II in 1963, a response to the Corvair's perception as a sporty car (and the fact that the Corvair was fairly expensive to manufacture), was a good move as there was still small car buyers looking for more pedestrian transportation. The Chevy II did take many lessons from the Corvair, however, including unibody construction, disc brakes and independent suspension. GM did not, however, produce wagons or vans based on the Chevy II, preferring to market those as the Lakewood and Greenbrier, and they remained based on the Corvair even after the car's 1965 redesign. Other portions of the GM empire were quick to jump on the smaller car trend as well - the Oldsmobile Cutlass, introduced in 1961, was a great design, but against the Corvair, Falcon (and the larger Fairlane, introduced in 1964), Valiant and Rambler, the Cutlass and the F-85 simply weren't that big sellers, and so they moved up into a larger size class at their first redesign in 1964....where the Cutlass would sell much better, allowing a major improvement for the Oldsmobile brand overall.

If GM had a single awesome technological achievement, though, it was the 1963 Corvette....


A 1963 Corvette Stingray Split-Window Coupe

"We had wondered when somebody would duplicate the E-Type, but we have figured it would be from Italy of Germany. We were wrong. The E-Type's great rival, its most serious potential challenger today, comes from America. It is the Chevrolet Corvette, which is in no uncertain terms a triumph. We have absolutely no fear in saying this - the Corvette is one of the greatest cars in the world, at any price. If Jaguar doesn't take this car seriously, they should." -- Autocar Magazine, June 1963

"You would think the Americans, with their love of style over substance, would just drop this bodywork over a chassis built from skip metal. No, they didn't do that. They instead built up underneath this fiberglass party frock a car the likes of which few had ever seen, and then powered it with a huge, fuel-injected V8 engine, as if to make sure the only look most people got of it was that gorgeous back end." -- Jeremy Clarkson's 100 Cars of the Century, 2001

"I will never forget going to Sebring in 1963, with the whole Ferrari team....they had heard of the new Corvette, but even the most hardened, nationalistic Italian mechanics were looking at the Corvettes and wondering just how Detroit was building a car like that. Even Enzo himself was more than a little impressed....he commented to me one time "I'll have to get one of those, just so every time somebody asks why Americans need to be taken seriously in racing, I can point to that car and say 'that's why'." -- Dan Gurney and David Rensin, For Power and Speed, 2003

The Corvette had been built to rival the smaller sports cars like the Triumph TR3 and MGA, but over time the Corvette had evolved into a much higher-class car than the small roadsters of the time, and after the showstopping Jaguar E-Type of 1961 and with the Corvair showing the advantages of slick design, GM's designers threw caution to the wind with the car in terms of both technology and design. Aiming high into the car category occupied by the E-Type, Ferrari 250 and Maserati Sebring, the new Corvette had the looks to match or exceed them - Larry Shimoda and Bill Mitchell's truly classic Jet-Age styling was best described as stunning and beautiful at the same time, and Zora Arkus-Duntov had taken every bit of kudos he had earned from the Corvair to the new Corvette, and it showed - the car was still a fiberglass body, but it sat on a semi-monocoque chassis with subframes at both ends, and it packed Chevrolet's aluminum-head, fuel-injected 327 V8 in the best versions. Four-wheel double-wishbone suspension was added to through the use of load-leveling hydraulic shocks to give the car flatter cornering (along with anti-roll bars on both axles), and the car used big disc brakes and fat radial tires to give better grip on the road, and power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering to give better road feel. The car was not faultless - some criticized its somewhat-cramped interior and the split-window coupes didn't have the best rear visibility - but hardly anyone found fault with how it looked or drove, and it showed.

The Corvette was quick to join the E-Type in reshaping the hierachy at the top of the world's great GT cars, and it was in no uncertain terms a triumph for General Motors, just like how the Javelin had been nine months before for AMC. It was at the beginnings of American marques entering the world's greatest sports car and touring car races, and indeed the Corvette's entry into that world came at practically the same time as the production car coming out, with the Corvette Grand Sport first entering GT racing starting in the 1963 Daytona Grand Challenge, finishing second and third to the Ferrari 250 GTO entered by the Ferrari North American Race Team. At Sebring a month later, though, the Grand Sport claimed the GT category in the 12 Hours of Sebring and finished third, fourth and sixth overall. Ford, which by that time was preparing efforts into the sport, accelerated them just as soon as it became clear that General Motors was entering the field in force. Racetrack success aside, the Corvette was rapidly one of the cars to have for many of America's more stylish people - President John F. Kennedy, Steve McQueen, Paul McCartney, Count Basie and Katharine Hepburn were among early Sting Ray owners, and indeed the Corvette even began to be a hot car for many of Europe's jet-set as well as those in North America.

The 1960s were the time when the Civil Rights Movement changed life for many Americans, the British Invasion changed music, the rise of science fiction in the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey changed music and counterculture changed many things about people's lives in general. It was an interesting time, and it was hardly after the launch of the Mustang in 1964 that another ground-breaking car hit the road in Detroit, that being the Pontiac GTO, a mid-sized Pontiac Tempest with a huge 389-cubic-inch V8 shoehorned into the car to create what many called the first "muscle car", but it had no sooner been born than rival after rival showed up from Ford, Chrysler, AMC and other divisions of General Motors. The Muscle cars of the 1960s were often big, ungainly things with huge engines, but few could deny their effectiveness in most cases, and by 1967 Detroit's famed Woodward Avenue was probably the wildest spot in the country for street racers, with more than a few young Detroit engineers brewing up creations in their engineering laboratories meant to crush their competition. Indeed, Pontiac's famed managers, Semon Emil "Bunkie" Knudsen and John DeLorean, were among those who advocated for this, loving the image that resulted. The muscle cars were seen by many in Detroit as being little more than distractions, but many of their creators were quick to point out that their cars made the images for their brands, and that as many of the muscle cars used a lot of existing components and were sold at higher prices than pedestrian counterparts, they often turned greater profits for their parent divisions. Indeed, AMC's forward-thinking management was quite happy to admit that this was indeed the state of affairs, and so pretty much all of the cars built in Detroit soon started getting some bigger engines jammed in, with the ultimate units being the likes of the Buick Regal Grand Sport, Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454, Dodge Charger Hemi and Ford Gran Torino, all of which had engines of at least 426 cubic inches and, with proper engine settings and high-octane gas, comfortably in excess of 450 horsepower. These monsters saw everyone involved in the business try for bigger and crazier things, and while nearly all of the muscle cars rapidly gained stiffer suspension and better brakes in order to compensate for their massive power, many advocates saw them as irresponsible, and by the late 1960s a backlash against them did indeed loomn large.

The advances in automotive technology in Detroit was taking huge amounts of money, but in the environment of early 1960s America this was no real problem, as the billions of dollars in profits made by GM on cars was sufficient that it was more than capable of affording paying for technological advancement. GM stockholders frequently argued that the costs of building such cars was damaging to GM's stock prices, but the counter-argument made by the likes of Cole (now the head of GM's car and truck group), Mitchell and DeLorean claimed that if General Motors didn't do it, somebody else would - and the number of advances being brought out at their crosstown rivals hammered the point home. Still, with the vast sums out there being spent, it was natural that there would be problems among the vast corporation and the egos of the people who ran it. GM by now was smack in the middle of this, with Bunkie Knudsen and John DeLorean were turning Pontiac into a performance car brand with their "wide track" slogans and designs and extensive NASCAR involvement leading the way and Chevrolet, with the new-for-1966 Camaro and Corvette Sting Ray leading a large and capable pack, following closely behind. Oldsmobile and Buick all had their own ideas and their own plans as well, not to mention the work that was planned or underway at Ford, Chrysler and American Motors. It was a situation that demanded political maneuvering, and one consequence of the political maneuvering was the departure of Bunkie Knudsen from General Motors in 1968 to become the President of Ford Motor Company, an act that clearly stung General Motors - but which they probably got something of a healthy laugh at when Knudsen was fired just eighteen months after his hiring. Knudsen, however, had the last laugh - he was hired by AMC three months later, taking over as the right-hand-man to now-legendary AMC boss George Romney.

The political infighting aside, what hurt the most was safety advocate and political aide Ralph Nader, whose famous book Unsafe At Any Speed, released in November 1965, lambasted the Detroit auto industry and the Corvair in particular. Nader's book got more than a little political attention, but General Motors' attempt to discredit him by hiring private investigators to tap his phone, harassing his family members and hiring prostitutes to entrap him caused them both a million-dollar lawsuit settlement and a public apology from GM, as well as a political firestorm - within months, Congress was hammering away at Detroit, and in the midst of the muscle car era, their polemics were made worse every time the television news got to see a gory accident involving a muscle car crash. The first committees on vehicle safety, opened by the United States Senate in 1965, exposed both the depths of Nader's issues but also the ineptitude at PR of many of Detroit's establishment, most famously when James Roche and Frederic G. Donner, then the President and Board Chairman of General Motors, were forced to admit in June 1965 that their firm had earned over one a half billion dollars in profit, and had spent next to nothing on safety research. Roche and Donner, who before then rarely saw gatherings bigger than their annual shareholders meetings, suddenly found themselves being set upon both by Congress and the Press. Unsafe At Any Speed turned the press yelling into an absolute shriek, and Detroit's head honcos suddenly found themselves in front of the media early and often. In the midst of the counterculture era, with the Press by that time making life difficult for those in government power and with the likes of Abraham Ribicoff and Robert Kennedy scoring points against the automakers, turned into a political frenzy for which Detroit's hierarchy was woefully unprepared.

As if the political situation wasn't bad enough, Nader's successful suing of General Motors included a demand that he get a public apology from General Motors for their actions against him - and he got that, with GM's then-president James Roche making the apology on television (as demanded) on June 14, 1966. The PR embarassment of the Nader case - so bad that even Henry Ford II mocked GM for it - was such that they had a major sales fall-off for the Corvair in 1965 to 1967, not helped by the muscle cars. GM worked on this by improving the car, and starting in 1968 the Corvair got new cylinder heads, the first electronic fuel injection ever sold by GM and a higher compression ratio to improve its power, and the first five-speed transaxle ever built by GM to improve the driving of the car. This helped the Corvair's sporty versions recover from the shock, but it would not be until the car's third generation arrived in 1970 that the sporty car truly shed the image put upon it (in more than a little way unfairly) by Nader, while his comments that Detroit was spending too much time focusing on styling and advancement of technology, in addition to his lawsuit and his singling out of the company, earned him a litany of enemies at GM and few friends at any of his rivals. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, enacted in August 1966, caused a major shift in responsibility for vehicle safety from the automakers and consumers to the government, and added a major new factor into the development of new cars.


Ralph Nader on the cover of Time Magazine in December 1969

"Ah, Ralph Nader. That miserable prick who thinks he knows cars better than the people who make them, who spends his time to trying to make cars into pillows so that when somebody crashes they don't get hurt. We're spending billions of dollars to make it so that somebody doesn't crash, and this man thinks we should spent that kind of money of making sure its harmless to crash." -- James Roche, to Autoweek magazine, March 1966

"GM was always open to making changes to make cars better for consumers, as indeed we all are. Nader went too far. Some of the criticisms are undoubtedly valid, but his assertion that the styling changes are unnecessary is foolish. The industry is competitive, all who work in it know that. Polemics about American automobiles being designed to kill their drivers is ridiculous, and if Nader really wants to be seen as credible, such talk should be held back. It's not like he hasn't made his point already." -- George Romney, in an interview with CBS News in Detroit, April 1966

"Mr. Nader and his friends in Washington are trying to destroy us to make a political point. Our cars now have better brakes, steering and suspension than ever, and the new radial tires are making things better still on all those fronts. Ignoring safety? Mr. Nader, customers killed in accidents aren't repeat customers." -- GM President Frederic Donner to Motor Trend, June 1966

"Nader probably never knew, as most of us didn't, that the reason the Corvair got the suspension it did as early as it did was because of safety. Ed knew what the problems could be, as did Bunkie, as did I. But it didn't matter to him....Yes, we wanted to pay more attention to style and performance, because then that was what sold cars....nobody then bought a car because it was safe in a crash, they bought it because they loved the way it looked, the way it drove, what it had to offer a buyer or the practical day-to-day realities of owing an automobile, such as what it costs, how reliable it is or how much it costs to keep its fuel tank filled. What Unsafe At Any Speed did was make it open season from every idiot that had a grudge....the decision to try to entrap him couldn't have been stupider, but if you asked a lot of people in Detroit about him, they'd say that they'd gladly shoot him for making it so much harder for us to conduct business." -- John DeLorean, On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors, 1984

Detroit's response to the new government regulations was two-pronged - comply with the laws on safety gear and improve the way cars drove. GM made disc brakes standard equipment on over half of their car lines by 1968, and by the mid-1970s such brakes would be nearly universal. GM also proposed the greater usage of supercharging and smaller engines, improving efficiency, while also working on safety issues. The muscle cars suffered badly from the safety demands, exploding insurance costs and the phaseout of leaded gasoline in the 1970s, but it was noted that as America's car fleet gained more of the cars built by Detroit in the 1960s with their better suspension design, brakes and tires, the number of accidents in America and the number of people killed in those accidents began a steep drop in the 1970s, a fact that even Nader himself was forced to admit, though he would for many years try to claim a lot of credit for this. Many of the new safety regulations were laudable ones - seatbelts being made mandatory (and subsequent improvements to the design of them), the introduction of collapsible steering columns, improved shatterproof windshields and side-impact door bars proved to make the cars safer to be in in an accident, even if it did cause additional weight in what were frequently already heavy cars. But even as this was happening, Detroit's automakers continued to work on better suspension and braking for their cars - and the introduction of anti-lock brakes on the 1967 AMC AMX and Javelin and Packard Constellation and then by GM on the 1968 Corvette and Camaro Z/28, added to the better brakes of Detroit cars. (So good was the AMC system that Dan Gurney's Eagle-Weslake Formula One car used it, along with many Can-Am, Trans-Am, Group 6 and Indycar racers installing ABS in 1968 and 1969.) The improvements did come at a considerable cost, and all four of the major American automobile manufacturers took more than a little flak from shareholders about the huge costs of complying with regulations and the expensive racing teams that three out of four companies actively supported in the 1960s.

As safety concerns and pollution problems took off, additional problems of the day with insurance spelled the end of the days of steadily improving speed and technology, but as the 1970s dawned, it was clear that while the demands of the world had changed, Detroit was not incapable of not just staying with the trend, but very much leading it. And while that cost wasn't proving to be cheap, it would soon be clear that the costs would truly end up being worth the expense, and quite a lot more....
Let me add, good on *AMC for the *Jav.:cool: (I have to wonder about the name; TTL, wouldn't it be different?) That it's a big hit I like a lot, not to mention it taking sales from the 'stang & spawning an earlier 'cuda.:cool: (Wouldn't it also lead to another name for OTL's ponycar segment?)

The 'Pony Car' comment here is attributed to George Romney, who in response to a comment by Lee Iacocca at the Mustang's launch - "This fabulous stallion is our vision of the sporty car for all." - commented of the Mustang that "It's not a mighty Stallion, it's a Falcon in a party dress, a weak little pony car compared to the Javelin." (Iacocca didn't like that comment much, it has to be said, but the calling it the 'pony car battles' stuck.) And I kept the Javelin because, honestly, its a badass name for a sporty car. :cool:

I also like the 'vair being more successful.:cool: Except for the styling...:( I do wish it had been more like this...

That's not all that different from the second-generation Corvair, which looks like this....


And the third-generation car, starting in 1970, which looks like this in proportions, but with a rather different nose:


The Corvair does rapidly shift from being the small car of choice to being the sporty compact for Chevrolet simply by the nature of the design and its costs involved.
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How did Henry Kaiser (by then, Joe Frazer was essentially out of the picture) bail out the smaller auto builders in 1953 when K-F was in trouble in its own right? At that point, Frazer no longer existed (the last were built in 1951) as a marque. Further, Kaiser was still recovering to some extent from overproduction and failing to re-trench in 1949. On top of that, Kaiser dropped ~$63MM for Willys alone to get Jeep under his umbrella. does he go about bailing out Nash, Hudson, Packard, and Studebaker as well--especially the latter?
TheMann said:
The 'Pony Car' comment here is attributed to George Romney, who in response to a comment by Lee Iacocca at the Mustang's launch - "This fabulous stallion is our vision of the sporty car for all." - commented of the Mustang that "It's not a mighty Stallion, it's a Falcon in a party dress, a weak little pony car compared to the Javelin." (Iacocca didn't like that comment much, it has to be said, but the calling it the 'pony car battles' stuck.)
I'd guessed the 'stang was the origin. That's why I object: if the Jav gets there first, it's unlikely the same quote ever gets said; it's more unlikely to stick, even if it does.
TheMann said:
I kept the Javelin because, honestly, its a badass name for a sporty car. :cool:
I don't dislike it, I just think butterflies make it less likely. That said, with the same people in charge, they might pick the same name off their list. I'd love to know what other options they had.
TheMann said:
That's not all that different from the second-generation Corvair, which looks like this....

And the third-generation car, starting in 1970, which looks like this in proportions, but with a rather different nose:
I do like the G2 & G3 better. (The G3 makes me think Vega, which maybe makes sense, considering.;))
TheMann said:
The Corvair does rapidly shift from being the small car of choice to being the sporty compact for Chevrolet simply by the nature of the design and its costs involved.
And takes sales from the Camaro & Firebird?:eek: Or is it aimed more at the Spitfire & KG class? (I'm not sure they'd ever be in its price range.)
TheMann said:
introduction of anti-lock brakes on the 1967 AMC AMX and Javelin and Packard Constellation and then by GM on the 1968 Corvette and Camaro Z/28, added to the better brakes of Detroit cars. (So good was the AMC system that Dan Gurney's Eagle-Weslake Formula One car used it, along with many Can-Am, Trans-Am, Group 6 and Indycar racers installing ABS in 1968 and 1969.)
:cool: (I wish I had something really insightful to say about the benefits, but you've said it already.:eek:) I like the spread to racing; is that going to spark a technical arms race? Ditto the appearance of FI/EFI: I'm seeing Caruburetion Day being anachronistic even sooner than OTL.

As for the '63 split, that's the second-best looking 'vette ever.:cool: (I've always liked the '58-'60 best.:cool::cool: If GM was going to replace it, I'd have loved it if they'd gone the '02 T-bird route, with a retro-look model based on the '58.:cool::cool::cool:)
How did Henry Kaiser (by then, Joe Frazer was essentially out of the picture) bail out the smaller auto builders in 1953 when K-F was in trouble in its own right? At that point, Frazer no longer existed (the last were built in 1951) as a marque. Further, Kaiser was still recovering to some extent from overproduction and failing to re-trench in 1949. On top of that, Kaiser dropped ~$63MM for Willys alone to get Jeep under his umbrella. does he go about bailing out Nash, Hudson, Packard, and Studebaker as well--especially the latter?

I meant by that that he left the car industry. He wasn't in a position to bail out anybody for all the reasons you say, though today's Kaiser Steel and Aluminum is a partner with AMC. :)
Part 3: Be Aware Of Everything, Be Afraid Of Nothing

As the 1960s ended America was a very divided society, a fact that shaped the realities within which Detroit lived. The counterculture of the 1960s, the civil rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam War and such infamous incidents as the Watts, Newark and Detroit riots, the mess of the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and the tragedy at Kent State in Ohio in 1970 all combined to make for a time that while one of some optimism, was becoming much more focused on realism, and Detroit was immune to none of these practices. Indeed, Detroit's being forced to pay far more attention to safety was largely a response to one of the many movements in the nation and its society, with many big corporations being cast as villains by portions of American society. There was little Detroit could do to totally counteract this, particularly once the muscle car era began to be snuffed out by the rise in insurance premiums that were placed on the muscle cars. The pony car battle indeed even got into some issues, as the Mustang and Javelin grew in size over the years, but their problems and the resulting problems with fuel efficiency ultimately would result in the Mustang having to be reborn as the Mustang II in 1974. It also showed that that American Motors was truly level with Chrysler and starting to catch Ford, a situation not hurt by the introduction of Detroit's new generation of compact cars with months of each other in 1970.

The counterculture movements added to problems, and sniping within companies made matters worse still in Detroit. After appearing before Congress to advocate GM be split up as a monopolistic enterprise in 1961, George Romney was called before Congress again in 1967, and Romney stuck to his guns, a fact which did not endear him to General Motors' management but other than that ultimately had little effect. GM's much bigger problems in 1970 lay its problematic workforce. GM's years of arguments with the UAW, along with the counterculture problem, erupted into a bitter four-month strike in 1970 which sapped the company's resources, which in the midst of a growing recession was bad news - and the bankruptcy of the Penn Central railroad in 1970, and the double hammers of both the loss of a major locomotive order and substantial shipping problems for all of the Detroit makers, added to the problems. 1970 was the worst year for General Motors since before WWII, and even after the bitter strike, several plants (most infamously the ones at Lordstown, Ohio and Baltimore, Maryland) suffered serious problems with workers not doing their jobs or in some cases even intentionally sabotaging the line or the cars on it. Mind you, things weren't all that much better at Ford or Chrysler - both suffered problems with industrial unrest as well, with Ford suffering its Rouge River plant in Dearborn being shut for two months as a result of a major fire in April 1970 and the Atlanta plant being shut down for seven weeks after an electrical fire and explosion in November 1970, and Chrysler's Hamtramck plant being ordered closed by OSHA in April 1971 for a variety of safety reasons. Despite strong sales, the problems were real, and by now management, happy through the 1960s to ride both technological and marketing trends, now had to confront its internal problems.

American Motors was by now the third-placed of the big four, but George Romney's skill at running the firm was proving to be its greatest strength - and perhaps most notably, AMC was not suffering the problems from labor unrest that its Detroit rivals were, largely through the good relationship between Romney and UAW leader Walter Reuther. AMC also added to the Detroit problems in 1970 through the introduction of its "compacts for the 1970s", the excellent Gremlin and brilliant Hornet.

"The Hornet is an excellent small sedan, and continues the trend of American Motors using its long history of expertise to make another car which Detroit will undoubtedly seek to chase. The Gremlin is perhaps an even better idea, as its a smaller car still and had the benefit of better-still fuel efficiency, and while the tail of the Gremlin might be controversial, to our eyes the two cars complement each other nicely, and really do work. Ford and Chrysler have rivals coming, sure, but this is AMC leading the way." -- Motor Trend, June 1970

"The Gremlin was a surprise to us, as we had the Pinto nearly done, but we didn't figure AMC had the chutzpah to invest like they did. They deserve that credit, I'll give them that. They should know that we're gunning for them now, but we should be hoping for success for them, as it will keep Volkswagen and the Japanese at the docks." -- Ford Senior Engineer Donald N. Frey, In an Interview with Motor Trend, March 1974


A 1972 AMC Gremlin X, with the supercharged I-4E 2.0 engine

Romney and AMC had bet big on a big score for the Hornet and Gremlin pair, introduced in April 1970, and they were not disappointed. Romney had sought to have their twins beat GM and Ford to the market, as well as take on the growing sales of Japanese imports such as the Datsun 510 and 1200 and the Toyota Corolla. Despite the need to get ahead, Romney had insisted in the design being good, fearing the car be a mechanical nightmare that would hurt the company's reputation. When they came out, both cars were easily as influential as the Corvair had been a decade earlier. What most set apart the AMC cars was the engine - AMC's I-4E, newly developed, was a class apart from its rivals. A twin-overhead cam four-cylinder engine, it used individual carburetors and four valves per cylinder, as well as an aluminum engine block (with iron liners) and aluminum cylinder head. The Gremlin and Hornet started with 1.7-liter and 2.0-liter versions, followed in 1972 by a supercharged version of the 2.0-liter engine. The base 1.7-liter unit made 115 horsepower - an amazing power output for a car of its day with that size engine, and the I-4E proved to be just about as nuclear bunker-tough as the AMC inline-six and V8 engines. Both cars were nearly-identical from the front to the B pillars, and here that was no real problem - four wheel independent suspension with sway bars, Bendix disc brakes and Uniroyal Tiger Claw radial tires. In addition to the cars' solid assembly quality and very reasonable price, they added up to what was sure to be a hit for American Motors - and so it was. The Gremlin's truncated tail indeed even became something of a style statement, with many owners commenting that they liked the fact that the Gremlin resembled a small muscle car with a hatchback body tacked onto it.

GM and Ford were well along in their responses when the Gremlin hit the ground running, and it showed. Chrysler, still investing in large cars, made a late response into the small car game with by importing the Simca 160 into the US Market starting in 1973, naming it the Chrysler Arrow, as well as the even-smaller Hillman Avenger, named the Plymouth Cricket. Neither were a huge success, and the combination of that and Chrysler's underlying financial problems would go on to harm them badly late in the 1970s. Ford and GM, however, had better plans in the Ford Pinto and the Chevrolet Vega. The original small Chevrolet Nova had moved up in size by the end of the 1960s, while the Corvair had largely abandoned its small car genesis and was aiming to be a small sports car more than any other (a point assured when the third-generation Corvair entered production in May 1971 as exclusively a two-door coupe, though a 'family coupe' Corvair with pickup truck-style swing out doors entered production in October 1972), which resulted in Chevrolet building its third attempt at a competitive small car in the Chevrolet Vega, introduced in September of 1970.

"I wanted the Vega to work so badly that I did everything in my power to do so, even placating those damn thugs at Lordstown. I remember the calls at Lordstown to make it hard for us to sell the Vega, and I called Reuther directly about it. He knew of the problems there, but I wanted him to know that if they made my life easier, I would do so for him, too. Nobody on the fourteenth floor wanted to give an inch to the UAW, particularly after the 1970 strike, but by now everybody had heard such stories about our cars that if we didn't hit that problem square in the face from the off, we'd have more problems down the road. By then, we could see what was going on at AMC, and saw that Romney was kicking our asses. We couldn't let that slide. Small cars had been loathed by Detroit, but in 1971, they were all anyone could talk about, because they were saving our asses." -- John DeLorean, On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors, 1984

"I couldn't forget being called by DeLorean and having him want to work with me to stop the problems at Lordstown and Baltimore. Lots of my guys, especially Doug [Douglas Fraser, Reuther's successor at the head of the UAW] and Leo [Leonard Woodcock, influential UAW leader], wanted me to drop the hammer on DeLorean, but I could see that if GM was wanting to speak to us about issues at times other than negotiations, it was probably in our interest to at least hear them out. It also didn't take me long to realize that the reason they were talking to us was because of what we were accomplishing at AMC. I didn't always see eye-to-eye with Romney, but I am well aware that without him, I would not have been able to start burying the hatchet with General Motors." -- Walter Reuther, There's an Auto Man In Us All, 1985

"John DeLorean was a man of genuine vision at General Motors, just as he is today. He's nobody's fool....I knew that sooner or later what we were able to do with our workforce was gonna break through that god-awful cocoon that the upper management at General Motors operated inside of. Reuther knew that the days of the past were dying away, and that for the UAW to prosper they had to make sure the company did as well. I think Ed knew that, too, but the rest of the fourteenth floor at General Motors was almost myopic. Most of them had sent a lifetime at the company and knew no other way of running a car company and dealing with the UAW then the one that had been doing since Alfred Sloan and William Knudsen had been in charge. AMC knew long before the others that the UAW could be our partners or they could be our enemies, and its not like the management can make all of the cars on their own." -- George Romney, Powers, Faith, Hearts and Steel, 1991

"The Americans are capable of much when they work at it, but the problem is the same as it is with so many of us, that being those who are so sure of their ways get too confident and lose sight of what lies beneath, what can either be their saviors or their destroyers. It is in the interest of the company to advance the sale of cars in America, but it is important that we remember that the men who run the makers of cars in America are not fools, and they are not to be underestimated." -- Yutaka Kamayata, President of Nissan North America, in a memo to Nissan President Katsuji Kawamata, 1972

"The Vega is a worthy rival to the Gremlin and a worthy successor to what the Corvair was born as, a handsome machine of the first order which could well be just what the doctor ordered, and a very dangerous rival to the Gremlin and the Japanese. AMC loves to talk about their success, and they have reason to do so, but they had better be aware that GM can still play the game as well as any." -- Autoweek, August 1971

The Vega was a new machine for GM in a great many ways, namely because of the fact that it was GM's first attempt at an all-new small car since the Corvair, and the Corvair had been a technological marvel with few rivals and by 1970 was something of a Detroit legend. The Vega would face the Pinto and Gremlin right from the off, as well as the Japanese and Volkswagen - and by now, VW was working on a big series of new models to replace the ancient Beetle, a fact well-known in Detroit. The Vega was designed to be a more handsome, stylish car than the Gremlin, as well as being set to take on the Gremlin's modern new engine. The Vega used an aluminum-block engine, but learning from the problems Chrysler and AMC had both suffered in testing (and GM's own problems with the early Corvairs leaking oil), GM used steel liners inside the aluminum block, and the Vega's extensive testing proved two serious problems - the cooling system was inadequate and the engine had a tendency to backfire when engine vibration loosened the screws on the carburetors. Both problems were fixed early on, but the biggest problem was that Fisher Body, responsible for making the Vega's unibody, didn't do a great job of rustproofing - a fact made worse when the finance department vetoed the usage of liners on places where the Vega was most susceptible to rust. This was soon apparent, and after replacing tens of thousands of prematurely rusted-out fenders under warranty, GM fixed the problem by 1973 by completely overhauling the rustproofing assembly for the cars, adding galvanized steel fenders and rocker panels, plastic liners between body components, expandable sealers in joints (this was done on all GM cars for 1972). Making matters worse for the Vega early on was a 1971 safety recall for a problem where an emission control component could fall into the throttle linkage, jamming it open. Nader was again one of the harshest critics of the car, and despite GM's diligent efforts to improve the Vega, the engineering issues being solved did nothing to solve the persistent problems with build quality of the cars coming off the lines at the Lordstown and South Gate plants, which was almost always abysmal, a problem that would persist for some time to come.

Despite the rusting problems and frequently-terrible build quality, the Vega got a lot right. Its buyers quite frequently liked its styling, and the Vega proved to be an excellent platform a good handling car, with strong suspension components (The Vega used a very similar front suspension as the Corvair and a very similar suspension design to the Camaro in the rear), four-wheel disc brakes (with ABS standard for 1974) and a low center of gravity, and while the original Vega 2300 engine did have some issues with coolant passages in the head, these were largely solved by 1972.


A 1973 Chevrolet Vega GT

As the Vega entered the market, another problem for Detroit emerged, one which hit the Vega, and which had an ingenious solution. The Clean Air Act, enacted into law in 1963, was significantly enhanced in terms of authority and enforcement in 1970, which GM, Ford and Chrysler responded to by taking the government to court, saying meeting the proposed laws were impossible. (AMC, quite pointedly, did not do this - they believed that they could meet the proposed laws.) GM's engineering staff, proud of their previous accomplishments, went through dozens of Vega engines as the car was being launched, as well as numerous other cars, trying to find a solution, most of their proposed fixes involving additions to the car's engine, which had the effect of reducing efficiency - no real problem for the Vega engine, which had plenty of power for its class in 1971, but which would be a real problem later on.

But in the middle of this came a solution that had to be heard to be believed. Soichiro Honda, the legendary founder of Honda Motor Company, visited Detroit dealers in August 1972, and while he was there he took his first look at what his upcoming Civic and Accord cars were up against, namely the Vega, Pinto and Gremlin. Honda was impressed by the Gremlin, but the Pinto and Vega were rather less appealing. During this time, all of the Detroit makers were struggling to meet the demanded emissions standards, and Honda's new CVCC cylinder heads could make cars pass the emissions standards - a fact known to all of the Detroit makers - but GM's CEO at the time, Richard Gerstenberg, commented about the CVCC system "Well, I have looked at this design, and while it might work on some little toy motorcycle engine…I see no potential for it on one of our big GM car engines." That statement got back to Soichiro Honda while he was visiting Detroit....and the result was Soichiro buying a Vega and an Impala and shipping them to Japan, and having his engineers design new heads for them. The Impala, which used the Chevrolet 350 engine, saw its cylinder heads, intake manifold and carburetors replaced, resulting a slight improvement in horsepower and fuel efficiency but a dramatic improvement in emissions. The Vega, however, gained a 16-valve SOHC cylinder head based on recent Honda motorcycle practice, as well as greater compression as a result of a thinner head gasket. The use of CVCC chambers in the engine made for a tall cylinder head that necessitated a bulge in the hood, a problem that quad carburetors added to. The result of the new heads and intake system was dramatic - the Honda-headed Vega 2300 produced a stunning 151 horsepower and torque to match, and it was simply a rather better unit. Honda didn't change much to the Vega outside of its engine - indeed, many Honda engineers admired its handling and brakes - but when GM saw the results of EPA and ASME testing for the re-engineered cars, they were struck stupid by it. Both cars were bought back, along with a sizable sum of money for the head designs, and when the design became a production reality in 1974, GM made a point of presenting one of the first Vega GTs with the head design to Soichiro Honda after his retirement from his company in 1974, making a point of having it rebuilt by its special operations division and shipped to Japan for Honda. Indeed, in 1980 Pete Estes made an offer to completely buy the Honda Motor Company, which was politely declined. Honda himself was by 1974 well-regarded in America as well as being a legend in his homeland, and by the end of the 1970s when he spoke, people in Detroit listened.

Ford's experience with the Pinto was a completely different story, though. The Pinto, pushed into production in 1971, was a very conventional car. The demands by Ford product boss Lee Iacocca for a low price and simple mechanical components meant that while the car came with disc brakes, it used live-axle rear suspension and older-design inline-four engines. The Pinto was the cheapest new Ford in over a decade, but the Pinto's conventional nature and design, and its uninspiring performance when compared to the Gremlin and Vega, led to it not being much of a sales success - and then came the problems with exploding fuel tanks, which was made worse with an infamous memo by Ford about the cost of paying off victims of Pinto accidents versus the cost of fixing the car's known flaws with exploding gas tanks. While this was in some ways overblown, the publicity this got, with it being run by numerous newspapers and news magazines in 1972 and 1973, damned the Pinto forever - and worse still, it also damned the Mustang II project, which would spend its four-year life tryign desperately to distance itself from the Pinto and Maverick, a particular problem with the Javelin and Camaro remaining on their bespoke platforms. Ford spent the money on an all-new Mustang for 1978, but the Pinto died in 1976.

Ford had to respond to this, as Pinto sales by 1975 had sank to under 80,000 - against 325,000 Vegas, 310,500 Gremlins and Hornets, 148,000 Corvairs and 115,000 Chrysler Arrows in the same year - and the Maverick was sinking as well. Ford decided its only real option was the European Escort Mark II, which got a restyle for the 1977 models, and Ford decided to bring the Escort, Fiesta subcompact and the Capri sports coupe to North America, making the Escort in the same plant in Edison, New Jersey, that had built the Pinto, while the Fiesta went to Ford's facility in St. Thomas, Ontario in Canada. It was a Hail Mary play to be sure, but Ford got savvy with the marketing and didn't advertise it as much - instead, the Fiesta was a car for the modern city dweller, the Capri was a sports car for the times and the Escort was advertised as "proven all over the world, and now you can buy it, too". The tactic worked, and while the Escort was a very small car, its excellent handling made it a dream for the enthusiastic driver, and both the Capri and sporty Escorts gained in America much of the love they had come to have in Europe. Indeed, the Ford Escort RS2000 would come to be one of Ford's enthusiast cars of the 1970s, and convince even somebody as hardheaded as Henry Ford II was that "world cars" were viable propositions in the United States. As for Iacocca, he was fired from Ford in 1978....and completely redeemed himself by saving Chrysler not long afterwards.


A 1979 Ford Escort RS2000 Coupe

"It took bloody long enough for the Escort to replace the Pinto, but let's just say we're happy it did. This car and the Pinto should never be compared in the same sentence, because the badge is about all that they share. The Escort is a fabulous little runabout, with all of the nippiness and agility of the Vega and Gremlin, and better street cred than either of them thanks to years of owning the world's rally stages. Welcome to America, Escort, and we're happy to have you." -- Brock Yates, writing in Car and Driver, March 1977

"Small cars like this, people say, shouldn't be sold in North America, because our families and homes and roads and people are too big and our fuel bills are too small to justify ever puttering around in cars like this. Yeah, that's what they say. And we're here to tell you that statement is complete BS. This thing came to North America with the same engines as the Escort, tougher gearboxes and better interiors than the Europeans, simply because Ford knows well who this car is being sold to, and it ain't a skinflint. This is meant for somebody who spends a lot of time braving the congestion of a major city, and around Los Angeles this little car feels so at home its almost ridiculous. It'll keep pace with highway traffic without breaking a sweat, cuts through traffic in a way most cars can't, and it feels well-built in a way the Pinto never could....This is a step up from the past, and it can't not be the very thing GM and Chrysler fear, that Ford's European cars will start making an impact stateside. Well, Detroit, get used to it. They are here now, and you will brush them off at your own peril." -- Motor Trend, in proclaiming the Ford Fiesta XR2 as its 1977 Car Of The Year


A 1978 Ford Fiesta XR2i

The oil crisis brought to a head all of the problems that Detroit was now starting to deal with. Despite advancement of their car models almost across the board, the fact that the majority of American cars were still enormous, fuel-inefficient brutes came to a head with the 1973 oil crisis. In response to President Nixon's support of Israel after it was attacked by its Arab neighbors in October 1973, The Arab members of the OPEC oil cartel embargoed the United States and jacked up the price of crude, eventually extending it to most of Western Europe, Japan, Australia and South Africa. This had the immediate effect of jacking the price of fuel by over 40% and serious shortages in the winter of 1973-74. Things were worse in Europe, but in America the hit was quite real and painful. The economic problems that this caused added to the problems in the economy in 1973 and 1974. This made matters worse for everyone.

Beyond the problems with sales and economic problems, one of the infamous events of this came down with GM at its troublesome Lordstown plant. After the sudden economic problems of 1974, GM was racked once again with problems with labor problems, which despite the demands of both the UAW leadership and Detroit's management reached a head in the summer of 1974. It blew up massively into the open after a racially-biased fight broke out at the trouble-prone Baltimore assembly plant on August 9, 1974, which blew up into a full-on battle involving over 600 workers which resulted in three dead and ten million dollars in damage to the plant. The problems simmered, blowing up again at Lordstown two weeks later on August 22.

GM's response to this was to announce that they would begin moving production of the Vega (built at Lordstown) away to another plant, GM having had about enough of the mess that Lordstown had been since it was built eight years earlier. On September 4, 1974, Lordstown workers angrily stopped work on the morning shift, refusing to do their jobs. GM angrily the next day fired the workers at Lordstown's day and evening shifts, but on the morning of September 9, 1974, all hell broke loose. GM workers came back to the Lordstown plant enraged, preventing people from coming to an information session at the plant. The fight turned into a vicious brawl, where enraged GM workers beat a jobseeker to death and hanged him from a telephone pole. Ohio State Police tried to break up the melee but wound up under attack themselves. The mess took over six hours to stop, resulting in seven people killed, serious damage to the plant and over a thousand arrests - and worst of all, the image of the hanged jobseeker was national news for days.

Both the UAW and GM were sickened by it all, and GM closed Lordstown immediately, hurriedly transferring Vega production to South Gate, California, Lansing, Michigan and Oshawa, Ontario. Walter Reuther loudly and angrily demanded the violence stop but also told GM that they wanted to work out deals so that what happened at Lordstown never happened again. GM, having made a deal with the UAW the year before, turned it down and angrily accused Reuther of instigating the riot at Lordstown. This battle got ugly fast, and worse still exploded far beyond GM, with plants for Ford and Chrysler soon appearing to be in the middle of the mess.


The aftermath of the Baltimore Riot, August 9, 1974

Into this, George Romney jumped in. On October 21, 1974, Romney went on CBS News and proposed using the contracts AMC had hammered out with the UAW as a baseline for the whole industry to use, and stating that if the companies' were willing to look at workers as part of the company's assets instead of what many UAW members said GM felt of them - "meat bags who made cars" - that Detroit would have fewer labor problems, pointing out that AMC had had little labor trouble in a decade. Detroit loudly turned down the idea, and furthermore continued to toss insults at Romney. Reuther defended him, saying that he didn't want to bankrupt Detroit but he was committed to getting the share his people deserved. Coming at a time when American public perception of the world around them was about as poor as it could get, it seemed that Detroit and its workers could end up being at it for a long time.

Ed Cole's retirement from GM was postponed in an attempt to handle this, but pressured by his board and stockholders, he took a hard line with the UAW's requests for new negotiations. Having worked as hard as he had to get Lordstown working properly and then having seen it blow up so spectacularly, Cole's hard line was the last straw for DeLorean, who resigned from GM on November 12, 1974, tossing away an almost-certain likelihood of him taking over GM's Presidency. In the middle of this, the UAW sat down with AMC to show how the whole process could work. Relations between AMC and the UAW were cordial, and the negotiations for a new four-year contract flew through and were easily ratified by AMC workers in February 1975. But Detroit still refused to budge, particularly thanks to the thought that the companies couldn't give in to thugs at their plants.

Romney made his legend here. Upon his retirement from AMC on February 28, 1975, Romney immediately began calling automaker executives and asking them what they wanted in negotiations with the UAW to end the messes, and saying that he would be the mediator if it would help end the messes that by now were doing real harm. Cole agreed to go for it, but he insisted on also speaking to Reuther himself - which Walter had no issue with. Over 1975, numerous negotiations, which ultimately resulted at one time in George Romney being hospitalized for exhaustion, led to real agreements between Detroit automakers and their workers, which included some huge changes and concessions - the most notable being a commitment to profit-sharing programs and advancement ladders, as well as more vacation days and company promises to improve the working environment in their plants. In return, the UAW had to limit absenteeism, and the companies would all shift work around to plants that showed the best quality, as well as giving up the cost of living allowance which had defined the UAW negotiations for decades. The profit sharing problems didn't work well at Chrysler for a while, but at GM and Ford it had a real, and quite positive effect. Cole's successfully singing a deal in November 1975 was hailed by the company's stockholders and narrowly approved of by the rank-and-file, but by the time the Baltimore was refurbished and the new plants at Tacoma and Bowling Green opened in 1977-78, the UAW's workers began to get a good idea of what was coming for their working conditions, and most approved.

One of the first places to get the makeover for GM was Baltimore. Baltimore Assembly was a plant built in 1935 in center city of Baltimore, which was having quite real economic problems at the time. GM's decision to go here first was a decision of Pete Estes, who took over GM's leadership when Ed Cole retired on November 30, 1975, who wanted to make a new future at a plant which had caused a massive riot. Baltimore was expanded in size and renovated, stealing many of the ideas and advances used in other industries. Re-opened in 1977, Baltimore Assembly as refurbished with painted floors, higher ceilings where possible, completely air-conditioned, natural light from skylights and the usage of covered lights to improve the natural environment. A strong showcase of what GM had in mind, Baltimore Assembly returned to work making the Corvair, with production transferred there from the overcrowded Willow Run, Michigan facility. The Corvair was produced there from 1977 until the last ones were made in the spring of 1981.

Lordstown was not returned to being a GM plant - the company decided the facility's stigma was too much to handle. GM's attempt to sell the facility never went far - Lordstown had become a buzzword for an infamous incident in the history of industrial relations in America. Unable to sell it, the plant sat vacant until 1978 - when the man who had fought hard for the plant's security took it over.

John DeLorean's dream after leaving GM had been the building of a "ethical sports car", which began to bear fruit in the late 1970s. The DeLorean DMC-12 began as John's dream, and as his dream took shape in the late 1970s, John made an audacious proposal to take over the infamous Lordstown plant was the place which would build the DMC-12s sold in North America, while ones sold in Europe and right-hand-drive would be made in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland. DeLorean loudly went to the media, seeking the guys who had lost out from the actions of the thugs, saying that he would hire them back to make the new cars - and Lordstown's huge size was such that the facility would be used for everything to do with the cars, including making some parts. This decision and his years of service to GM also meant that he could use GM parts for his car - and thanks to John Judd and a smart idea by him, the DeLorean would have its own engine, a 4.6-liter V8 made from the cylinder barrels of two Vega 2300 engines. Lordstown made its first DMC-12 in April 1980, and Lordstown would end up assembling many of the first Irish-built cars because of their rather poor build quality. Lordstown would redeem itself for DeLorean, making over 75,000 DMC-12s between 1980 and 1989, and DeLorean's company would up being a success, against most of the odds.

If anything, part of the reason the DeLorean was a success was the car's engineering. The car's chassis had been developed by Lotus, and DeLorean's company had spent a lot of resources developing ways of building the car in a way which made it work better. The heavy stainless-steel bodywork necessitated both a strong structure and a powerful engine, and the DMC-12 as a result got a forged-aluminum body spaceframe that was attached to the car's backbone chassis, and the new engine resulted in the car having a new gearbox arrangement between the seats, necessitating dry-sump oiling to lower the center of gravity. The DeLorean chassis bore many similarities to the Lotus Esprit, though with a wider track, and the car got better brakes and ingenious chassis stiffening components to handle the power, needed as the DeLorean V8 proved to be a powerful unit. The car was later getting to production than it had been hoped, but more than anything was DeLorean's insistence of the car being engineered properly and built well.

"Nobody believed that it would actually succeed, and I think most people were surprised when it did, and you know what, a large part of that has to go to the guys at Lordstown and Dunmurry. The people who work there now never were bad people, aside from the horrible thugs. Today, we are saying that when people talk about the great places of sports cars, an industrial town in Eastern Ohio is now joining the list. Even beyond the car succeeding, the people succeeding, that feels better still." -- John DeLorean, talking to Time Magazine, March 1986


A 1982 DeLorean DMC-12

Lordstown had become a place where stigma ruled, a small town in Ohio where auto workers angry that some other auto workers didn't join their wildcat strike killed seven others and hung one from a telephone pole for the TV cameras to see before attempting to torch the plant, all because GM was unwilling to continue dropping money into a facility that had produced the most shoddy workmanship of any place GM made cars at. It was worse than pathetic....When DeLorean came, he saw an empty, damaged plant that marked ashes of his old dreams, and decided it needed to be part of his new dreams. It says much about him that he did that, and I think the people in that part of the world appreciated it....the UAW did come back to Lordstown, but when they did they knew that John's dream would die if they didn't help him out, and Lordstown would die with it, so the locals did a deal, agreeing to make good cars if DeLorean would do a good job selling them, and he was good at that....It was a classic case of turning a sad past into a brilliant future." -- Denise McCluggage, writing in Car and Track's article about the DeLorean DMC-12 after the end of its production in 1989

The 1970s would start with prosperity but would struggle in the 1970s as first government concerns and then labor problems and changing consumer tastes combined to cause major issues for the four Detroit automakers, but as the UAW and Detroit began to bury the hatchet with each other, and the automotive improvement of the era would pay dividends into the future, and as the 1980s began, many signs pointed to the decade to come being one of prosperity, and the fact that General Motors set the production record for the Corvette in 1979 (selling 64,438 units), reset the record for the Corvair Monza (46,543 units sold) and the DeLorean entered the world of cars with 9,000 deposits for the cars, said much about what the future of sports cars in particular would be....
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A CVCC fuelie *Cosworth Vega standard?:cool::cool: (Tho the aluminum V8 option gets cancelled again.:()

I suppose it never occurs to Chrysler to stuff the Brazilian Simca small hemi in the Arrow/Cricket, either...:(

Good on John Z., too.:)

It's all credible--& I'm learning a lot, too. I had no idea things were so bad then.:eek: Nice work indeed.:)
Are you going to be changing the political setup in this iteration of the TL?

Yes. That's a couple chapters ahead. :)

A CVCC fuelie *Cosworth Vega standard?:cool::cool: (Tho the aluminum V8 option gets cancelled again.:()

The problem with the 215 V8 is that it doesn't sell all that well. Here, the Vega 2300 with the new head is a pretty stiff piece of hardware, and it butterflies the Cosworth Vega (to be fair, they sold fewer than 1500 Cosworth Vegas, and I've only ever seen one), though I'm debating whether I'll have a supercharged Vega or not.

I suppose it never occurs to Chrysler to stuff the Brazilian Simca small hemi in the Arrow/Cricket, either...:(

The Arrow and Cricket were sold as cheap cars, and Chrysler was at the time run entirely by bean counters. They'll be paying for that shortly.

Good on John Z., too. :)

One dream of his gets crushed by GM politics and Lordstown's thugs, only for his second dream to rise, and him having the courage to give the plant he pushed for a second chance. No thugs this time, but lots of enthusiasts, and so just like the plant in Belfast, the DeLorean is a car in which all involved in it take more than a little bit of pride. It's a big hit, gets a big second wind once the car is seen in Back To The Future, Beverly Hills Cop and Rain Man. DeLorean's success makes it clear that an American sports car maker can indeed succeed, and as a result there will be a few more in the 1980s and 1990s.... :cool:

It's all credible--& I'm learning a lot, too. I had no idea things were so bad then.:eek: Nice work indeed.:)

The Lordstown and Baltimore riots are fiction, but GM's 1970 strike, the horrible reputation of Lordstown and the abysmal state of several of the plants is not fiction at all. Most of the car problems I mentioned are real - the Vega was that bad for rust and engine problems, the Pinto's problems were real and Chrysler really as was as much a mess as I say.
TheMann said:
The problem with the 215 V8 is that it doesn't sell all that well. Here, the Vega 2300 with the new head is a pretty stiff piece of hardware, and it butterflies the Cosworth Vega (to be fair, they sold fewer than 1500 Cosworth Vegas, and I've only ever seen one), though I'm debating whether I'll have a supercharged Vega or not.
I gathered TTL's Vega was pretty hot.;) I like it.:cool: (My vote: give it the blower.:p) I understand the 215 didn't sell well; I've just been a fan. (Lighter weight trumps more hp, & I can't resist the option to bump it out to 317ci.;))
TheMann said:
The Arrow and Cricket were sold as cheap cars, and Chrysler was at the time run entirely by bean counters.
I got that, too. It just saddens me it couldn't happen... (How about a Shelby version?:p)
TheMann said:
seen in Back To The Future, Beverly Hills Cop and Rain Man
Not replacing the Skylark in "Rain Man"?:eek:
TheMann said:
The Lordstown and Baltimore riots are fiction, but GM's 1970 strike, the horrible reputation of Lordstown and the abysmal state of several of the plants is not fiction at all. Most of the car problems I mentioned are real - the Vega was that bad for rust and engine problems, the Pinto's problems were real and Chrysler really as was as much a mess as I say.
Noted. Thx for clarifying. (I still had no idea.;))
Part 4: Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday

At the beginning of the 1960s, the racing world was one of rapidly improving technology, with the advent of rear-engined cars in Grand Prix racing (the first world champion with a rear-engined car was Sterling Moss, winning the title with his Climax-powered Cooper T51 in 1959) and with the growing speeds of cars involved. From 1961 to 1966, Formula One was limited to 1.5 liters of engine displacement, which made for some fabulously high-strung race cars, but it wasn't long into the 1960s that the racing world changed forever with the growth of sports car road racing....and America started this right at the front of the pack and turned the intensity up to 11 during the 1960s.

The immediate post-war era saw numerous road races spring up around the country, and as in Europe there were almost always divided between old airport runways and race courses on closed public roads. It didn't take long for the obvious problems with safety to grow at the latter, but some of the towns who held such races raised the funds to build permanent racing circuits to host racing events near their towns, thus allowing the modern road racing facilities of the modern Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen, Road America and Bridgehampton circuits, while the famed 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race ran for the first time in 1950. Like many of the pursuits of the time, the sport began with enthusiasts racing either imported European sports cars, home-built specials or other sorts of race cars adapted for racing. It didn't take long, though, for many of the events to evolve into serious professional affairs. By 1960, though, the world of sports car racing was growing into a big business, with built-for-the-purpose cars like the Ferrari 250 Testarossa, Jaguar D-Type, Aston Martin DBR1, Porsche 718 RSK and Maserati Tipo 61 racing on the world's sports car tracks. But America's involvement in the game began in 1958....

While the AMA had banned factory involvement in sports car racing in 1957 (this ban was short-lived, for all of the obvious reasons), General Motors had developed a sports car racer for the class, the original Chevrolet Sting Ray. Designed by Bill Mitchell, Larry Shimoda and Peter Brock, the original Sting Ray racer (which was clearly an inspiration to the road car of five years later) began racing at the 1958 12 Hours of Sebring. It retired from that race, but the following year it was back and competitive, and it made its first Le Mans appearance in 1959, finishing an impressive third overall, though some distance back of the two winning Aston Martins. In 1960, though, the car claimed the 12 Hours of Sebring, and at the end of 1960, having won the SCCA National Championship for Bill Mitchell and allowed Chevrolet to score points in the World Sportscar Championship, the car was retired with honors, restored to road-going status and spending years on GM's tour circuit. But while that was the end of that challenge, it was not the end of GM's involvement in motorsport. But before then, Ford would be there to get their shots in....

"It's hard to underestimate the significance of what went on between Ford and Ferrari in 1961 and 1962. Ferrari wanted a way to fund his racing teams, but Ford wanted to run the company across all of the divisions, and both Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II were men with considerable egos. Just when it looked like Enzo might be truly game to allow the Americans to provide him with the money without the headaches, Enzo walked out on Hank The Deuce, then declared that Ford would never beat his team at their own game. Henry Ford II may well have been at times shallow, but when he was slighted by Ferrari, he declared that he'd make Enzo regret his words and his actions. And he meant every word of it." -- Steve Matchett, The Chariot Makers, 2001

"The Shelby Cobra was the first visible sign that Ford was angry at what had gone on with the Ferrari deal, and it was a combination that few could believe. A Texas-born racing driver who had conquered Le Mans and was out to be Ford's point man in their wish to destroy Ferrari's dominance at Le Mans. And from the moment the first AC Cobra with a small-block Ford V8 rumbled out of Shelby's workshops in Los Angeles, you knew things were gonna get interesting, and quickly. Both GM and Ferrari knew what was coming, and both were getting ready for it....Ferrari knew of not only Shelby's Texas hot-rodders, but he also knew of Eric Broadley and the GT40. It all added up to a feeling for him that he might just have awakened a sleeping giant." -- Alain de Cadenet, talking about the Ford vs. Ferrari battle in an episode of Legends of Motorsport on Speedvision, 2006


A 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona in the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca Raceway

The Shelby Cobra entered the racing world in the summer of 1962, and it was an instant stunner to Ferrari, which at the time owned GT racing with its beautiful and well-developed 250 GTO. Compared to the Ferrari, the Cobra was a crude brick, but on shorter racing circuits the torquey, agile Cobra could - and did - beat back Ferrari's stallions. By 1963, however, General Motors had taken the opportunity to develop the Corvette Stingray into the awesome Corvette Grand Sport, and the Grand Sport proved its worth in its very first race, that being the 1963 Sebring 12 Hours. To the surprise of few, the Corvette proved fast in a straight line but unreliable, a problem that also afflicted Shelby and allowed Ferrari to get one more GT win at Le Mans. In 1964, however, the now-developed Corvette Grand Sport and Shelby Cobra Daytona simply left Ferrari in the dust, with Enzo's new mid-engined 250LM not having the power to hustle after the Cobra Daytona or the Corvette Grand Sport. Shelby was victorious in 1964, and while the 250 LM would score a shocking overall win at Le Mans in 1965, the GT title that year went to Bob Bondurant's Corvette Grand Sport, which finished third overall in the race. Ferrari had been vanquished in the GT category, but 1964 had seen the introduction of the Ford GT40, the car that would change the world of endurance racing. The GT40s had easily led from the start of the 1965 Le Mans, but overheating had put them out of the race, allowing Ferrari one last big win. The next year, however, the GT40s accomplished what Henry Ford II had set out to do five years earlier, convincingly claiming the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans - the GT40s finished first, second and third, while Chaprarral finished fourth with the 2E Le Mans. Porsche's fleet of surprisingly-fast 906s finished fifth through eighth, the Corvettes finishing ninth and eleventh overall and finishing first and third in the GT categories....separated by the tenth-place Edelbrock Performance AMC Javelin, with two small Alpine A210s relegating the best Ferrari to a shocking fourteenth overall in a race that the company had on six times in succession. Needless to say, the guard had turned....

"Ferrari had spent 1966 looking at his efforts and knowing that while the 330 P3 was both beautiful and incredibly fast, Le Mans was a power circuit and both Ford and General Motors were coming at him with seven-liter V8s, while Porsche had built a bunch of cars meant just for Le Mans, with long tails and very little drag to make up for their smaller engines. It was a perfect storm, but even Ferrari's factory drivers had absolutely no idea that the best they could end doing was fourteenth. The game had moved on, and Ferrari had to move on to counter it. In typical Ferrari fashion, he did that, but even then he found out that Porsche was fast becoming the team to beat at La Sarthe." -- The American Invasion, Paul Frère, 1976

On one side you have Eric Broadley, Roy Lunn and John Wyer, on the other side you have Jim Hall, Hap Sharp and Kelsie Miliner. One is a closed-roof car with fairly conventional design, the other a radical one with a massive wing and open cockpit. Both could, and did, destroy the competition. To say that these cars are where America stood up and said very loudly to Ferrari, Porsche, Maserati and all of the other competitors in sports car racing 'hey, we can do that too, in fact we're gonna beat you at it' is not an exaggeration. If you ask me, racing cars don't get greater than these two, right here." -- Bob Varsha, during a television segment on the Ford GT40 Mk.II and Chaparral 2E at the 2010 Goodwood Festival of Speed


A 1966 Chaparral 2E


A 1966 Ford GT40 Mark II

GM also knew of the GT40, and in 1965 they too had decided to counter it. Their way of fighting Ford was to contact Texas oil magnate Jim Hall and his Chaparral team. Hall had been an enthusiastic racer for many years, and his Chaparral Cars team had begun entering the Can Am series in 1963 with the innovative 2A. His efforts had continued, and when GM joined with him in the spring of 1965 he was just finishing up the Chaparral 2D design and had begun work on the ground-breaking 2E. General Motors enthusiastically backed Hall's efforts, and when he entered Le Mans with the 2D in 1965, it was fast but fragile, a similar problem found at other events. Taking advantage of the 1965 merger between the Can Am Series and the United States Road Racing Championship that resulted in the awesome Can-Am cars gaining headlights and tail lights, also resulted in the Can Am racers dominating the North American sports car events, and then many of them being fitted with smaller engines to meet Le Mans rules and running there, most famously by Chaparral, who made the debut of the legendary Chaparral 2E at Le Mans in 1966, which famously led Enzo Ferrari to comment "What kind of evil magic are they doing in America, anyways?" GM was more than happy to support Chaparral, and once Allison Drivetrain built the excellent M110 gearbox specifically for the Chaparral, the car proved to be both incredibly fast and very reliable. The 1967 season proved to be the last for the big-inch American hot rods and the Al Unser / A.J. Foyt Ford GT40 MkIV came away with Ford's second win, while the three-liter limit for the mighty Group 6 prototypes for 1968 eliminated the Mark IV GT40 and the Chaparral, it did not eliminate the earlier GT40s, and despite having to run the smaller five-liter engine as a result, legendary team boss John Wyer and drivers Jacky Ickx, Jackie Oliver, Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi made sure this didn't matter, Rodriguez and Bianchi coming out victorious in 1968 and Ickx and Oliver in 1969.

GM and Ford had entered GT racing in 1963 for real, with American Motors, thanks to Dan Gurney splitting from Ferrari and the Apollo company's hookup with American Motors, entering in 1964. The Apollo company had begun in 1962, but AMC had hooked up with them as they looked for an engine supplier, and the Apollo 5000GT entered Le Mans for the first time in 1964. The Apollos would largely play a supporting role to the big GT40s and the Chaparrals during the mid-1960s, but Apollo moved into the big leagues when the company entered its first prototype effort at Le Mans in 1968, powered by the same screaming three-liter Eagle-Weslake V12 that Dan Gurney had driven to victory in the 1967 Formula One World Championship, but the AMC-supported Apollo-Weslake and the revolutionary Howmet TX turbine-powered prototypes had the pace but not the reliability to compete.

The merger of the USRRC and the Can Am Series for 1965, along with the growing number of GT racing entrants from Chevrolet, Shelby, Ferrari, Apollo, Jaguar and Porsche also met the smaller and larger prototypes, all the way up to the mighty Can Am cars. Safety concerns removed the smaller cars from the field, particularly once the Pony cars began to join the field in force, while smaller cars like the Porsche 911S and Chevrolet Corvair Monza Turbo began to appear in the fields. The Can Am cars ran on their own in shorter events, but in the longer events the GTs (of both large displacement like the Cobra Daytona, Corvette Grand Sport and Ferrari 275 GTB and smaller displacement like the Porsche 911S and Corvair Monza Turbo), pony cars and prototypes of both the mighty Group 7 Can Am cars and the smaller Group 6 cars like the Ford GT40 and Lola T70, as well as open-top smaller cars like the Porsche 908, Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 and Matra MS630, all raced together. The results at times were epic fields - Sebring in 1967 boasted no less than 93 starters - and some truly awesome cars, with the 700+ horsepower Can Am cars proving hard to beat. McLaren was victorious in 1966 and 1967, but the Chaparral 2G came out on top in 1968, Dan Gurney's Eagle Mark V in 1969, McLaren's mighty M8D taking the title back briefly in 1970, Gurney's Eagle Mark VI in 1971 (The Mark VI notable in that its chassis was almost entirely made of titanium and its bodywork was made of Kevlar) and the mighty Porsche 917/10 and 917/30 in 1972 and 1973 before the energy crisis doomed Can Am after one last hurrah for the Shadow DN4 in 1974. While the energy crisis killed Can Am, it was not before the sports car racing scene in North America grew immensely popular. While Formula One was racing with cars of roughly 400 to 450 horsepower in the late 1960s, just getting on the grid in a Can Am race required 650-plus horsepower, and among all of the GT classes the development of the cars was impressive.

When the cars were not all racing together, the big news was the SCCA Trans-Am Series, which began in 1965 primarily as a professional place for the Class A and Class B sedan cars, with over 2-liter and under 2-liter categories, with the start of the series being only semi-professional, until the All-American Racers Javelins showed up in 1966, followed rapidly by representatives from Ford, GM and Chrysler. By 1968, the All American Racers ran the AMC Javelin SS/Rs while Chaparral Cars campaigned Camaro Z/28s, Bud Moore Engineering and Holman and Moody ran the Mustang Boss 302s and both Team Penske and Autodynamics raced Dodge Challenger R/Ts, as well as lots of privateer entrants with the above as well as other cars, with Pontiac Firebirds, Ford Torinos and Chevrolet Chevelles being the most common competitors, while the 2.5-liter class from 1968 was initially slugged out between the Porsche 911 and Alfa Romeo GTA, until Datsun showed up with the Datsun 510 SSS in 1969 and dusted the both of them. Such was the pace of the muscle car era of Trans Am that it was judged that the 2.5-liter class cars were fast enough to not be unsafe with the Can Am cars and so they were allowed into the 1969 and later big races.

"Trans Am in the 1960s was truly classic muscle car racing, fabulous cars that represented what road racing in North America was like at the time. The cars were fast but raw, machines that one had to get up on the wheel and drive, and those who could do that earned their wins. The way the cars were, just about anybody could race these things, and lots of people did, but the cars were such that you had to be among the best. The drivers of them, Dan, Bob, Parnelli, George, Mario, Jim, Al, myself and all of the others, we all had such a ball doing it, and the fans loved it....We got to see that Americans truly can love road racing, and it sowed the seeds of what could be in the future. I would talk to people many years after, and so many fans said to me that their love of racing began in Trans Am, watching us drive the wheels off of pony cars." -- Mark Donohue, interviewed about his Camaro Z/28 at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races, 2005


A field of first-generation Trans Am racers, during a demonstration at Sonoma Raceway in 2012

Ford's success in the 24 Hours of Le Mans did ultimately result in Ferrari paying more and more attention to Formula One, but Ford would soon have their number there as well, thanks in large part to Harley Copp (who had been a key player in the GT40 program), Lotus boss Colin Chapman and Cosworth founders Frank Costin and Keith Duckworth, who beginning in 1966 developed the engine that would come to dominate the world of Formula One for many years, the Cosworth DFV.

1967 proved that the Cosworth DFV was a piece of engineering mastery, with only the Matra and Eagle-Weslake V12s being the equal of the Cosworth engine, and so after 1967 the engine was made available to all teams, and pretty much everyone not connected to a manufacturer quickly adopted it as the standard for Formula One engines. The DFV, a quite oversquare 32-valve DOHC fuel-injected V8, was a beautifully-designed unit, and between its introduction in 1967 and its last Formula One race in 1985 it grew from 405 horsepower to roughly 520, powering Graham Hill (1968), Jochen Rindt (1969), Jackie Stewart (1971, 1972), Francois Cevert (1973), Emerson Fittipaldi (1974), A.J. Foyt (1977) and Mario Andretti (1978) to world championship titles, while the split Formula One championships of the early 1980s also saw titles for Rick Mears (1980) and Tiff Needell (1982) in cars powered by DFV engines. The engine also powered the Le Mans wins for the Mirage GR8 of Jacky Ickx, Derek Bell and Lella Lombardi in 1975 and in the Rondeau M380 driven by Jean Rondeau, Jean-Pierre Jassaud and Lucien Bianchi in 1980. The same engine would be seen in Indycars starting in 1975, and in Formula 3000 the Cosworth DFV would be a competitive engine as late as 1994.

NASCAR, too, was no immune of the world of racing of the 1960s, as NASCAR began the decade with cars based on modified production cars, but more than anything thanks to the innovations (and many memorable antics) of the likes of John Holman and Smokey Yunick made sure that NASCAR's machines didn't stay stock for very long. (Yunick, to be fair, would leave NASCAR for Trans-Am in 1969 after multiple rounds of sparring with Bill France Sr. over safety standards, and would go on to be a founder of IMSA in 1974.) NASCAR cars evolved into built-for-the-purpose machines, and after a growing horsepower race in the 1960s.

In 1966, NASCAR approved the use of mid-sized cars for competition, causing a very rapid switch to mid-sized cars like Ford Fairlane, Chevrolet Chevelle, Plymouth Belvedere and AMC Rebel, which was then followed by the aero wars of 1969 to 1971, which resulted in the Ford Torino Talladega, Chevrolet Chevelle Z/36 and (most famously) the Plymouth Superbird and Dodge Charger Daytona. The combination of the aero-tuned cars, tube-frame chassis and huge Chrysler 426 Hemi, Ford Boss 429 and General Motors' Titan Power 427 engines resulted in some truly incredible speeds, with speeds at times of over 200 mph on the massive Daytona and Talladega superspeedways. (NASCAR banned the use of overhead-cam and fuel injection in 1966, which resulted in AMC's factory efforts leaving NASCAR after 1967.) NASCAR's demands for homologation meant that road-going examples of these monster cars were built, and homologation for the engines was also required, the latter producing the terrifying Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and Ford Mustang Boss 429. NASCAR was terrified of the speeds, though, and the supercar era of NASCAR ended when the sanctioning body began to tone back much of the excesses of the 1960s between 1970 and 1973, reducing engine displacement from 429 cubic inches to 358 cubic inches in 1971. The cars also gained better brakes and suspension in the supercar era, but NASCAR's decision to remain slow to embrace technological change ultimately cost them their manufacturer support - the 1973 energy crisis and the labor and management issues at General Motors ultimately saw manufacturer support for NASCAR cease by 1974, and while things would change again in the late 1970s for NASCAR, the cars would never again gain the truly crazy heights they reached in the supercar era.


Richard Petty at the wheel of his famous Plymouth Superbird Hemi at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, 2010

"It was one thing to be building road racers out of the pony cars, sports cars like the Corvette, Cobra and Apollo and the prototypes like the Chaparrals and the GT40, but you knew things were getting nuts when one could buy a Mustang with a 429 cubic inch engine with racing heads just so Ford could use that engine in NASCAR, and Chrysler built cars with a four-foot-tall rear wing and a fiberglass nosecone to cut through the air more easily. We look at that era today and wonder what the hell we were thinking, but when we think a little harder we know what the Torino Talladega and Superbird represented. They represented the same thing the Challenger R/T and Camaro Z/28 and Mustang Boss 302 and Javelin SSR represented, and that was the same thing the GT40 and McLaren M8 and Chaparral 2E and Shelby Cobra represented. We all pretty much at the same time said 'fuck it, let's see what this does'....We had few concerns about safety or efficiency then, it was all about going really fast, having a ball doing it and kicking a whole lotta ass at the same time. And we all did that. We laugh at ourselves for it today, but I think the question is whether we laugh at our stupidity or laugh at the memories of all the crazy stuff we did. I prefer to think of the latter, myself, just because I remember what it felt like to be at Le Mans, watching our guys on the podium. It's why today when I have to ask myself why we support the Patriot and the Lamborghini Formula One engines, I merely have to picture a GT40 next to the Patriot and a Cosworth DFV or Weslake V12 next to the Lamborghini. It puts it all in perspective, and reminds us what we loved so much about those days." -- Lee Iacocca, in an Automotive News interview, September 1993

"At a time when so many looked at the world as either a screwed up place or a fleeting hope of what could be, what we all did, beyond having a blast and learning a lot, was make racing not just about those who drove them, but also the people who built them and the companies who funded our efforts. But what Can-Am and Trans-Am and IMSA and USAC and NASCAR all got so right was that, after a while, it all got so good that everybody else in America started watching, and so people who otherwise have no concerns about cars aside from whether it started in the morning started coming to the races, experiencing the sights, sounds, smells and emotions of car racing. And long after the energy crisis had forced the manufacturers to leave, the enthusiasts found themselves able to trade the manufacturers for sponsors, and the fans began to find themselves as the people who supported racing....the whole new generation of race fans we created totally by accident today still come to me and tell me how much they think of me, just because of what I did forty years ago. I always am happy to say that I just did it because I wanted to, it was great fun and I was good at it, but then they always say to me 'Yeah, but you inspired me to love racing.' Beyond all the trophies, today I think that feels even better than the memories." -- Jim Hall to Dave Despain at the 2011 Goodwood Festival of Speed

The world of racing evolved rapidly during the 1960s, and it exposed all of the Detroit of the world that was around them. As much as the energy crisis forced General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and American Motors to rethink every bit of their racing involvement out of financial and social necessity, there was always one thing that they never forgot. It had been fun and they had learned much.

And they would be back....
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I gathered TTL's Vega was pretty hot.;) I like it.:cool: (My vote: give it the blower.:p) I understand the 215 didn't sell well; I've just been a fan. (Lighter weight trumps more hp, & I can't resist the option to bump it out to 317ci.;))

I wanted it to go to Rover as IOTL. I have a plan for the British auto industry, and Rover needs to have the Rover V8 for the plans to work well. GM is gonna have a modern four-cam small-displacement V8 by the mid-1980s, and you will see the Rover V8 swell in size in its British applications.

I'm thinking that the twin-cam Vega motor will probably live on beyond the Vega, thanks to an improved head design (the Honda head plus better cooling passage designs), and so it lasts into the Quad-Four era in some cars, until both are retired by new designs in the late 1980s. The supercharged version would be good for the higher-performance versions of the Cavalier, and then the Pontiac Fiero. :cool:

I got that, too. It just saddens me it couldn't happen... (How about a Shelby version?:p)

I'm gonna let Chrysler go largely as OTL for a while yet. Shelby is gonna be back, but it won't be for a while yet....

Not replacing the Skylark in "Rain Man"?:eek:

Hell no. (I love that car.) I'm thinking that Charlie's business is a DeLorean dealership instead of the car importing business of OTL's movie. I also had the idea that Raymond might know all about the DeLorean because of an interest in it. (Remember that the movie's first scenes are set in Cincinatti, not that far from DeLorean in Lordstown.)

Noted. Thx for clarifying. (I still had no idea.;))

You're welcome. If you have ideas, kick them in if you wish. :)
TheMann said:
I wanted it to go to Rover as IOTL. I have a plan for the British auto industry, and Rover needs to have the Rover V8 for the plans to work well. GM is gonna have a modern four-cam small-displacement V8 by the mid-1980s, and you will see the Rover V8 swell in size in its British applications.
Works for me.:cool::cool: (A Plus 8 with an EFI 318?:cool:) Also, if the 4-cam is remotely like the Northstar, & is available in (frex) the G-body or *Celebrity...:cool:
TheMann said:
I'm thinking that the twin-cam Vega motor will probably live on beyond the Vega, thanks to an improved head design (the Honda head plus better cooling passage designs), and so it lasts into the Quad-Four era in some cars, until both are retired by new designs in the late 1980s. The supercharged version would be good for the higher-performance versions of the Cavalier, and then the Pontiac Fiero.:cool:
The Cav combination sounds like a dream come true.:cool::cool: I'll take 3.:p Fiero too.;)
TheMann said:
I'm gonna let Chrysler go largely as OTL for a while yet. Shelby is gonna be back, but it won't be for a while yet....
:( Oh, well.

If that comes out even a bit like the OTL Shelby K-cars...:cool:
TheMann said:
Hell no. (I love that car.) I'm thinking that Charlie's business is a DeLorean dealership instead of the car importing business of OTL's movie. I also had the idea that Raymond might know all about the DeLorean because of an interest in it. (Remember that the movie's first scenes are set in Cincinatti, not that far from DeLorean in Lordstown.)
I had a feeling that was where you were going.;) (For the record, I suspected you wouldn't change the Skylark. You're too sensible.;)
TheMann said:
You're welcome. If you have ideas, kick them in if you wish. :)
I have. You keep rejecting them.:mad::p You've read the AMC & Packard threads, so you pretty much know what I think. It's also clear you know this better than me.;) That being true, I doubt I've got anything you haven't thought of.

That said, another fine update. (My awe-inspiring ignorance of Can Am & Trans Am forbids me to say more.:eek::p)
You wanted suggestions.;)

I think one option that should also be considered is diesel power, which has the advantage of big torque production. As modern makers have shown, turbodiesel engines can make major power and still get excellent mileage. (One Mercedes AMG diesel makes 310 horsepower and gets 40 mpg. Try THAT in a gasoline powered engine.....) overhead cams aren't a prerequisite for efficient engines - GM's LS-series V8s are amazingly efficient for engines as big as they are - and I can see two cams in the center of the block instead of one to drive a four valve per cylinder engine, or even a system where one pushrod operates two valves. If we are on this road, we could also start thinking about hydraulically or pneumatically operated valvetrains, too, and Miller-cycle engines.

Turbodiesel engines I think are the future of seriously-powerful cars, because modern technology can get them to rev higher, and well-designed turbodiesel engines can take ridiculous levels of boost and make jaw-dropping power. If people are serious about efficiency, they'll also make an effort to make better fuel, in both gasoline, diesel and anything else. It has never made sense to me why people only offer 87 octane for regular gasoline, if they made 91 octane the standard, automakers could retune engines for a bunch of extra power for those who want it, and you could use smaller engines in cases where efficiency is the primary concern.
How's that one grab you?:p I wouldn't expect diesels in hot rods, but why not make the oddballs at AMC do something really weird & cool?:cool::p