Category Archives: Review

Chevy Classics 1955 1956 1957

Chevy Classics 1955 1956 1957 by Anthony Young – Photography by Mike Mueller
Published 2011 by Crestline
160pp., hardcover

Purchased new from a retail bookstore.

About 8 years ago I decided I wanted to amass a small library of automotive books. I already had maybe 5 or 6 titles. I acquired another 8 or 10 when a friend passed away. That’s when I started to seek out books about cars. It wasn’t long before I found Chevy Classics 1955 1956 1957 on the clearance table at my local Chapters store.

Anyone who knows classic American cars knows that the 1955-57 Chevrolets are iconic. They are featured in countless movies, all sorts of car magazines, and you’re almost bound to see one at cruise night or a car show. These cars were not rare — Chevrolet sold over 4 million Bel Airs, 210s and 150s from 1955 to 1957. But, beyond just basic transportation, the Chevrolet introduced for 1955 was all-new, revolutionary by comparison to the 1954 car. The style and power of the new car had the public’s interest. It was known as ‘The Hot One’, and this book tells the story.

Anthony Young’s book offers a fairly deep analysis of the development the new-for-’55 Chevy, and the subsequent improvements for ’56 and ’57. In fact, he begins well before the car hit showrooms, in 1952 describing the hiring of Ed Cole to be Chief Engineer of Chevrolet Division, after a career at Cadillac that began in 1929. Cole then brought Harry F. Barr over to be his assistant. Other notable names Young discusses include Al Kolbe and Don McPherson (on development of the new small block V8), Ellis Premo (coordinating Fisher Body with Chevrolet Styling) and Clare MacKichan (Chevrolet Styling Chief). This gives the background into the team who would transform Chevrolet’s automotive offerings.

Given that the author spends time introducing us to the engineering team, you’d think this book might include a great deal of technical and engineering information. And, that is the case. For example, there’s a few pages about how Chevrolet had been developing a V8 based off the Cadillac V8, later scrapped in favour of a clean sheet design. There’s information about how the engine was nitially figured to be 245 cubic inchesm but development saw benefits of punching it to 265. Also included is information about how the engines were cast and the benfits reaped both in economy and performance. A section deals with cylinder head design, and includes quotes from McPherson who was heavily involved.

Now that may all sound like a lot of heavy info to digest. But truthfully, Young writes it in a way that is interesting and easy to follow. And that’s true of all the tech info, from chassis design tweaks, to body construction processes, to a description of the Turboglide transmission’s construction, to dashboard design. Despite the level of detail, the text doesn’t bog down. One easily comes to understand the almost constant improvement to the car year after year to provide better performance and comfort.

It isn’t all technical and engineering though. Young provides a great deal of information on the differences between the trim levels, including the body adornments. He details each year’s paint and interior colour availability. There’s quite a lot about available options and Chevrolet’s philosophy of offering as much equipment as ‘optional’ as possible. In fact, Young writes scenarios featuring a young couple, husband recently promoted, and how their visit to their local dealer might go as they outfit their new Chevrolet 210 sedan. That is contrasted against another scene were an executive would opt for the Bel Air convertible, almost fully equipped with over $1500 in options! It’s easy to see how Chevy sold buyers on the idea that their good-looking hot new car was a representation of themselves.

It doesn’t end there. The author also details the company’s efforts in racing, and how that was to be translated into advertising to sell The Hot Ones. Not only that, Young offers comparisons to point out just how economically priced the Chevy was compared even to its predecessors in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

I’ve mentioned the work of Mike Mueller before. Over 30 years, he has contributed countless photos and articles about cars, and authored 30 books of his own. For Chevy Classics, Mueller photographed a number of Tri-Five Chevys owned by enthusiasts. The photos are really great, typical beauty shots of exteriors, interiors and engine bays, as well as specific detail shots of options. These are supplemented by period advertising, technical drawings and assembly line photos, many of which help highlight the engineering aspects of these cars.

Now, most of the pictures do feature Bel Airs as opposed to 210s and 150s. In a way, that is a real shame. The Bel Air did tend to be the ‘prettier’ car, but 150s and 210s were by far the cars that sold most often. It would be nice to see more of what the average guy drove everyday. Unfortunately as the captions point out, Bel Airs tended to survive more often. As happens with so many daily drivers, people rack up the miles and eventually the old car gets replaced and sent to the scrapper. One treat however is that there is a number of shots of a famous fuel injected 150 utility coupe that made its name in racing as One of the cars known as The Black Widow.

I’ll note that this edition is identical in terms of dimension to another Crestline publication I have, Fifties Flashback: The American Car, even down to the same page count. It would make sense that maybe these books were run through production at or around the same time, which would be financially prudent for the publisher.

The 1955-57 Chevy cars are revered classics. But they were also the best-selling cars of their model years. These cars were in driveways all over every neighbourhood in North America. Anthony Young and Mike Mueller put together a book that helps us understand the popularity of these cars and gives us a peek at what was driving the auto industry in the mid to late 1950s.

Pros: Filled with information direct from GM archives as well as interviews with people who were part of the development. Includes technical illustration and factory photography, as well as advertising. Technical but still easy to read.
Cons: Almost all the new photography is of Bel Air models, and none features wagons other than Nomads.
Where to get it: May still be in some new retail bookstores, otherwise Amazon, eBay, or used resale.

You might also enjoy…
Bel Air ’56
Rough 1957 Chev
Legendary Corvettes: ‘Vettes Made Famous on Track and Screen

Motoring: The Golden Years: A Pictorial Anthology

Motoring: The Golden Years: A Pictorial Anthology, compiled by Rupert Prior
Published in 1991 by H. C. Blossom Ltd.
144pp., hardcover

ISBN: 1 872532 14 4

Purchased from a used book store.

Motoring: The Golden Years: A Pictorial Anthology presents a collection of images and articles from the earliest days of motoring, spanning from about 1895 through 1939. The source for the items is the Khachadourian Gallery, a collection of automotive art. The subject matter is predominantly British in origin, and favours British and European events, though there are a number of references to happenings in America.

I have to admit, I had a hard time reading and reviewing Motoring: The Golden Years: A Pictorial Anthology. There were things I didn’t love about this book. The title threw me off a bit as it leans heavily toward racing, though some vignettes about motoring in general are found. An anthology? Yes, with a great number of items collected. But fair to say it’s 50/50 pictures to text, so to call it a pictorial anthology seems a little misleading. There are indeed a good amount images, and most of them are wonderfully colourful and interesting to look at. The images are not necessarily directly related to nearby text – that is to say that the images don’t really illustrate what they text is about specifically.

The text is dense. A number of the articles stretch over 6-7 pages, longer than a vignette or simple story. More than that though, the style of writing is obviously ‘of the time’. At times it’s overwritten, overly descriptive, and I found it tedious to chew through some of the longer pieces. That said, being contemporary to the subject matter, one does get a sense of how the general public would consume stories of motoring and racing then. There are some passages that today (and I suspect even in 1991 when this book was published) would be considered ‘unacceptable’. There’s a few pages devoted to the German auto exhibition of the 1930s, and the nationalism of the time is apparent in the writing. There’s also a passage about American racing in the 1930s which specifically refers to Joie Chitwood (of Cherokee ancestry) as ‘redskin’. There’s a 1907 article that marvels at the temerity of a letter written by a woman who was seeking employment as a chauffeur. These articles certainly reflect the era they come from.

I was pleased with other parts, as some familiar names cropped up. I reviewed an issue of Automobile Quarterly, which featured a number of articles about Rudi Caracciola. In Motoring, I found an article written by Caracciola himself. There are also articles about his contemporaries, like Hans Stuck, Tazio Nuvolari and Dick Seaman, all of whom had been referenced in AQ. Further, AQ had featured Bob Burman’s Buick Bug. Well, Motoring contains an overview of Burman’s racing career, providing more info into this driver’s life. I’ve mentioned before I do enjoy when I find a book that relates to other books I have in my collection.

I found ‘Racing Improves the Breed’ – the final section of the book – the most interesting. Here the articles focus on some of the great racing venues – Le Mans, Montlhèry, the AVUS, Bonneville, Brooklands. These seemed less of a chore to read, possibly I was simply more interested. Oddly, despite the section title, a few articles had little to do with racing. One suggested how motorists could beat police speed traps by simply retreating back up the road and awaiting the next car, passing along a warning before proceeding on their journey (the subsequent motorist remaining in place to warn the next driver, and so on). In another, a writer explains how California provided a much superior motoring experience compared to Europe, due to easier rail crossings, numerous service stations, and wonderful scenery. These were interesting anecdotes, and I had hoped there’d be a lot more of this ‘every day driver’ type of story.

The writing itself is scarce on details as to where the writings originated. None have any kind of note as to where the piece was first published. Some have dates attached, some have a name given as a by-line, but many are simply titles. That said, some are written by famous racers and people involved in the sport, such as Roland King-Farlow who (after some digging) I discovered had been the Chief Timekeeper at Brooklands track before World War II.

As expected, I found the imagery to be the best thing about the book. This a wonderful collection of racing posters, advertisements, magazine covers, paintings, even mascots and automobilia from a long ago era. Some well-known automotive artists are found, including Géo Ham and René Vincent, and glass mascots by Lalique. In contrast to the text, which seemed too dense and detailed, the posters and automobilia easily conveyed the speed, elegance and romance of motoring in those early years. Like the writing, the art is also ‘of the time’. That means Art Nouveau pieces with their organic lines, as well as the clean, bold style of Art Deco.

I thought many of the pieces were stunning and very interesting. There’s a number of Shell Oil ads, instantly recognized by the yellow and red that dominate the picture. There’s also a number of pieces featuring Bibendum, otherwise called The Michelin Man. There are models and small sculptures of race cars. One of the most interesting to me was what seems to be a 9-piece solid silver desk set, a Christmas gift “presented to principal Rolls-Royce distributors”. Each piece features the Spirit of Ecstasy and is very impressive.

Ultimately, Motoring: The Golden Years is an interesting book. Admittedly, my collection doesn’t include much in the way of pre WWII content, or much British and European content, or much racing-related content. As such I can’t say that I’m familiar with books that would present the information found here in a more palatable way. Then again, as much as I might not have enjoyed the style, I do appreciate the fact these accounts were made in real time, contemporary to the events and environment of the era.

For me, this is the kind of book that, should you find it at an inexpensive price, pick it up and you’re likely to find a couple of items that will entertain or impress you.

Pros: some really great pre-WWII items shown; some interesting accounts from the time the events occurred
Cons: I found some passages difficult; hard to understand how or why items were selected, or arranged
Where to find it: used bookstores, Amazon

You might also enjoy…
Roadsters and Runabouts: Collecting and Restoring Antique Classic and Special Interest Sports Cars
Automobile Quarterly: Volume 7, Number 1
Famous Old Cars

Corvair Style

Corvair Style by Richard Lentinello
Published in 2020 by Lentinello Publishing
196 pp., perfect-bound softcover

ISBN: 978-0-578-61910-1

Purchased new from publisher’s website.

For many, the tale of Chevrolet’s Corvair is a sad one. The daringly different car from GM’s entry-level marque actually sold quite well but was an oddball among American cars. Not only was it a small car, it had an air-cooled, flat-6 engine, and they’d gone and stuck it where the trunk ought to be! Then, 5 years after its debut, consumer advocate Ralph Nader slammed the Corvair in his book Unsafe at Any Speed, citing a dangerous suspension flaw that made the car a death trap.

But for others, the Corvair represented forward-thinking. They saw it as a stylish, fun compact that gave a pleasant driving experience in an innovative package. Today the Corvair has a devoted fanbase, including long-time owners and collectors who often have more than one of these little cars in their stable.

Lentinello Publishing’s second book Corvair Style applies the formula used in Cadillac Style, Volume 1 to the compact Corvair – a high quality publication, with great photography and first-hand accounts from collectors. There are 50 Corvairs featured, representing every year of production. There is a slight bias to the 1964 model with 11 cars shown, while no other year has more than 7 cars featured. Most of these are sedans, coupes or convertibles of the usual trim levels (500, 700, Monza, Corsa), but there’s a couple of station wagons, a Rampside pickup, a Greenbrier van, and a number of Yenko Stingers and Fitch Sprints (including the one-of-a-kind Fitch Phoenix) to round things out.

As with Cadillac Style, Volume 1, this book presents the owners’ viewpoint. You get a real sense of their pride and enthusiasm for the Corvair. Many of these people mentioned, in one way or another, that their Corvairs are really fun to drive and handle quite well. Almost everyone mentioned the styling, and some had definite feelings preferring the early cars to the late ones, and vice versa. In almost every case, the car featured was not the owner’s first Corvair or even their only Corvair. Drivers describe their cars as adequately powered — maybe not ‘pin you back in the seat’, but capable of handling highway speeds with ease. But so many of them spoke of how their Corvairs were happiest on twisty country roads up to 50mph. That may seem strange given Nader’s assertion the car’s handling made it so unsafe.

The truth is, these cars do handle very well because of the rear weight bias and the suspension. The trick is maintaining proper tire pressures and knowing a little about how to drive a car set up this way. Over the years, an understanding about the Corvair has grown. Unlike most other contemporary cars, which recommend all tires have about the same pressure, the Corvair favours a larger variance — one Monza coupe owner says he maintains his front radials at 22lbs while the rears get 32lbs, allowing good handling at speed even when exiting the highway. Proper tire inflation mitigates much of the danger of the swing arm suspension, as does a knowledge of the car’s tendencies given much of the weight is in the rear.

On a personal note, the Corvair is a special car to me. For a few years of my childhood, my mom drove a Sandalwood Tan 1966 Monza coupe with the PowerGlide. It may be her favourite among cars she’s owned. When my grandfather passed and ma inherited his LTD, the Corvair became superfluous and someone she worked with jumped at buying it. I think ma regretted letting it go, even though she got a couple grand for it (in 1977!). But it really was a great little car to ride in, and I think a great looking car.

Looking back, it was a couple of things that did the Corvair in. Absolutely, Nader’s criticism of the early car’s suspension and assertion that it was inherently unsafe took a huge toll on sales. Thing is, Nader had tested a 1963 car, and Chevrolet had actually revised the swing arm suspension by the time his book was published. In 1971, government testing revealed the Corvair was no less safe than any comparable competitor car, especially when recommended tire pressures were used.

But perhaps more importantly, competition killed the Corvair. The Chevy II, Ford’s Falcon, Dodge’s Dart and Plymouth’s Valiant crowded the compact market. Of course, Volkswagen’s Beetle and other import cars also grabbed their share. To make matters even worse, Ford’s Mustang debuted to huge numbers in 1964, offering sporty good looks that could be had as an economical commuter or as a power-packed pony car. In 1967, Chevrolet created the Camaro to go head-to-head with other pony cars, and the Corvair was essentially done. It simply didn’t make sense to roll out Chevy IIs, Novas, 6-cylinder Camaros and still try to sell Corvairs, which shared almost nothing with the rest of the line up. Chevrolet allowed the Corvair to simply fade away.

How precipitous was the decline of the Corvair? Consider that in model years 1960-1965, Chevrolet sold almost 1.7 million cars, vans and pickups of the Corvair model. From 1966 through 1969? Just under 160,000, and almost 110,000 of that was in 1966, before the Camaro debuted.

Richard Lentinello’s Corvair Style is a wonderful book that shows off these stylish little performers very well. Certainly, the owners do tend to gush a little about their cars. But there’s no denying the passion these folks have for one of the best known yet misunderstood cars of the 1960s.

Pros: good variety of Corvairs represented; very good photography; high quality publication
Cons: a few minor typos
Where to find it: Lentinello Publishing

You might also enjoy…
Cadillac Style, Volume 1
American Cars of the 1960s
Sixty Years of Chevrolet

The Packard Story: The Car and the Company

The Packard Story: The Car and the Company by Robert E. Turnquist
Published 1965 by A.S. Barnes and Company, Inc. (Third Printing 1969)
286pp., hardcover

Library of Congress No.: 65-14240

Purchased with other books from a collection posted on Kijiji.ca

It was this post on Disaffected Musings that had me selecting The Packard Story: The Car and the Company as my next read. I had recently purchased this book, along with some others. I hadn’t researched this book before I bought it (I rarely do), but the title had me excited. I somewhat naturally thought a book called The Packard Story: The Car and the Company would be a decent history, and explain the story of why Packard, healthy at the end of World War II, would exit the scene in the mid 1950s. That was the hope. I found Robert Turnquist’s book to be at times informative about Packards, at other times it wandered off onto related though maybe less relevant subjects.

So, let’s start with some obvious things. Chapter 1 is titled ‘The Second Series Eight and the Third Series Six’, and begins ‘The year is 1925…’ Considering the Packard brothers’ company was founded and produced a car in 1899, it seems an odd place to start ‘the story’ of Packard a quarter-century late. Turnquist does touch on the company’s beginnings — including the famous story of how dissatisfaction with a Winton drove the brothers to build their own car — but in truth, it’s only about 2 and a half pages of text to cover 25 years of history, and also touches on some of the company’s racing history.

The chapter continues with 5 paragraphs describing the Packard Six and Eight, followed by a couple paragraphs about the automotive landscape of 1925, and finally a description about Packard’s hallmark of releasing cars in ‘Series’ rather than by model year (at least until 1935).

Most chapters are generally like this. Chapter 2 (the Third Series Eight and Fourth Series Six) begins with a listing of the executive suite at Packard mid-1920s, and a half page about the advertising agency and in-house newsletters. There’s almost a page describing the National Auto Show, and finally 4 pages of text about the cars of the 2 series. The point is that chapters do not always limit themselves the car or the company, which means chapters get filled quickly.

The chapters are all around 10 pages, and in each, space is devoted to an overview of the National Auto Show and what competitor automakers were offering. Interspersed within chapter are topics including correct restoration tips for Packards, the details of correct paint on classic cars, the process for how fine leathers are selected and processed, and many pages about the custom coach and body builders of the era. Many coachbuilders including Dietrich, Derham, Rollston and Darrin (who was featured in this edition of Automobile Quarterly) are profiled. (For more information about the custom body builders, Coachbuilt.com is a good resource, though not a secure website.)

Chapters focus on specific series up to chapter 17 on the Twentieth Series of 1942, which was truncated by the change to wartime production. Chapter 18 is titled ‘The Postwar Packards’ and summarizes the 1946-1957 period in only 12 pages. The remaining 88 pages of the book are an appendix of charts detailing year-by-year (or rather series-by-series) production of Packards from 1899 up to the Twentieth Series before World War II production began. This includes production dates, engine bore and stroke, and a listing of body styles available with shipping weight and base price.

It turns out, Robert Turnquist was a respected automotive historian, and a Packard expert. He was a founding member of the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA), and a noted restorer. He championed car collecting and restoration. In that light, The Packard Story, as it’s written, makes a little more sense. Turnquist was certainly quite focused on ‘the Classics’, that is, Approved Classics as defiined by the CCCA. That explains why the post-WWII cars seem an afterthought, though it’s a little confusing why the pre-1925 cars were not included. It also helps explain why restoration information is included, and why so much attention is given to the custom body builders as well as Packard’s place among automakers.

Colour plate pages.

In terms of ‘the Packard story’, I found Turnquist did, to some extent, offer ideas on how the end came to be. He argues the mid-priced Packards were not a major factor in the demise of the company. To the contrary, Turnquist asserts that the high-end luxury market, and especially the custom-bodied luxury market, was always a small piece of the market as a whole, and declined as a result of the nation’s economic circumstances in the 1930s. Rather than tarnishing the Packard image, the introduction of the mid-priced Packard One Twenty provided a needed income source as fewer expensive senior Packards were built.

Turnquist then summarizes his beliefs about the company’s failure, mostly in the post-war chapter. Firstly, Turnquist says that following the Twentieth Series, the dies for the 160 and 180 cars were sold cheaply to Russia at the urging of the US Government. This left Packard with only the Clipper series to sell as the Twenty-First Series when the war ended. Secondly, despite winning accolades for design, the automotive press reacted very negatively to the Twenty-Second Series Packard, the ‘upside down bathtubs/pregnant elephants’, which did not help public opinion. Thirdly, while sales of Packards were very good in 1949, Turnquist suggests many of those sales were to people of lower income levels who used post-war bonus money to buy better cars. This meant few of them would become repeat buyers as their income simply wouldn’t allow for another new car in the same range. Finally, Turnquist lays much of the blame on James Nance, who became president of Packard in 1952. It’s Turnquist’s belief that Nance embarked on a far-too ambitious diversification and expansion program. Nance revamped management, forcing many long-term employees into retirement. He apparently also introduced a program to break with the past, destroying many historic corporate files as well as the store of obsolete parts Packard had on hand to sell to owners of older models. At the same time, Nance committed the company to debuting a completely new car by 1954 (which was ultimately pushed to 1955), as well as building a new engine plant in Michigan. Not only was capital stretched very thin at this point, but a plan to supply AMC with engines backfired. Packard was to purchase parts made by AMC, but when Packard didn’t actually purchase much, AMC stopped buying Packard-made engines, leaving the brand new engine plant operating at a much reduced capacity. The final blow was the merger with Studebaker. In that alliance, Packard was actually more sound financially, and Studebaker was in much worse shape. When the 1955 Packards came out, they soon developed quality issues in large part because the all-new chassis had not been thoroughly tested. While sales of the 55s were good, the quality issues seriously hurt sales the next year. Due to crippling financial issues, and that Studebaker management had more control, much of Packard’s production was moved to Studebaker’s facilities. A deal with Curtiss-Wright also hurt badly, as Curtiss used Packard-Studebaker as a tax loss vehicle, selling off assets or converting them to Curtiss-Wright production. In the end, the Packard name was grafted onto Studebaker shells as the company focused on the small car market, and eventually faded from the landscape.

So, ultimately The Packard Story: The Car and The Company is an interesting if somewhat wide-ranging book that tells at least a decent portion of the Packard history. Turnquist does provide a good amount of information about the Packard series he does cover. The extra info, about competitors and coachbuilding and restoration work, is useful in helping one understand where Packard fit in the automotive landscape. While I would have preferred more ‘inside baseball’ info, such as how and why corporate decisions were made, this book provides a sense of Packard and what the brand stood for. That is important when one considers that the last Packards were built over 65 years ago, and many have little to no firsthand memory of the marque. And while chapter covering the final years is greatly abbreviated, there is some very good information and pictures of Packard prototype cars and what might have been future production.

Notable in this book is the inclusion of 8 colour plates. Long time readers will know that every ‘older’ book I’ve reviewed has contained only black and white images. There are numerous black and whites throughout, but these 8 pages provide a great look at some classic Packards in their period correct colour schemes. In face one of the plates is the Eight Color Combination offer ring from what seems to be the Sixth (or possibly Eighth) Series.

Packard predictions, the Request and the Predictor.

Pros: A good deal of information about the classic Packards, written by an acknowledged expert on the marque, and written relatively soon after the company collapsed
Cons: wide-ranging information means less space devoted to full, detailed exploration of the cars and the company
Where to find it: Amazon, used bookstores, private collections

You might also enjoy…
1955 Packard Caribbean
Fifties Flashback: The American Car
American Motors Corporation: The Rise and Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker

Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide

Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide by Paul Zazarine
Published 1994, by Motorbooks International Publications
128pp., softcover

ISBN: 0-87938-839-0

Purchased used from a collector ad on kijiji.ca

I try to vary my blog offerings, as much as I can based on the books in my collection. I mean, I acquire what I like from what I see offered, so there’s often some overlap and repetition. That is the case with a recent acquisition, the Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide.

The second book I reviewed for this blog was the Illustrated Camaro Buyer’s Guide, also published by Motorbooks International. And it wasn’t very long ago that I had reviewed both GTO: A Source Book and GTO Volume II: A Source Book. You see how this review might seem like rehashing stuff I’ve read already. But, there actually is some value here, because this book isn’t just a copy of either of those previous books.

Let’s take the Illustrated Camaro Buyer’s Guide first. These books are pretty identical in physical dimensions, save that the Camaro book is 32 pages longer. Both are written by known experts on the car in question – in this case, the late Paul Zazarine who specialized in Pontiacs and was a leading authority on the GTO. The general layout is the same in these books – chapters cover a few years of the model, with cars rated in terms of desirability at the chapter start. Both books have many pictures, all in black and white. But, there are certainly differences between the 2 books.

The Camaro book features a single production number for the complete year (all Camaro production), describes significant points for each model year such as engines and options, and includes a box detailing options and colours, and another that gives overall specs for the year, including base engine specs and dimensions. However, the GTO book breaks each year’s production numbers out by body style, engine and transmission. Compared to the Camaro book, there’s significantly more detailed info on the various GTO offerings.

While there are no option code charts, Zazarine provided charts denoting engine and transmission codes, as well as paint, convertible and vinyl roof colours, and interior codes. The GTO book is quite a bit more detailed in terms of how to spot real (versus cloned) GTOs as well as drilling down into the more rare engine and transmission combinations. Also, where the Camaro book had appendices with some valuations, the GTO book avoids this, which makes sense as those valuations can quickly become irrelevant as time passes.

Similar to the Camaro guide, there is a significant amount of detail on each year of GTO. Each model year section goes over things such as engine revisions, tape stripe differences, body design updates, changes to interior panels, upholstery, and other year-to-year revisions. Details such as the fact that 1971 GTOs have plain round front turn signals, while 1972 has the same signals but with added crosshairs design, help the potential buyer figure out what they’re looking at. Also important, Zazarine provided examples of cars that can’t be figured out by looking at the car alone. For example, some The Judge models have no identifier in their VIN, and while the presence of some items may suggest a true Judge, the only way to determine authenticity is through order forms and other paperwork.

Unfortunately this little book is not without a few minor flaws. These are mostly minor, generally confined to production charts in terms of inconsistent line spacing and in the instance of 1973, a duplicate production number chart. I did not find any numbers that seemed out of whack, it really came down to formatting issues.

In some respects, the Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide is very much of its era. Compared to the Camaro guide, it seems much more geared towards the person looking at an old car as part investment. The Camaro guide does this too, but my copy was published in 1985. The GTO book is from 1994, when the muscle car investment craze was a little more heated up, and cloning of rare models from more common cars presented itself as an issue. As such the GTO book shows itself as a decent resource when it comes to explaining how to go about identifying true GTOs, and the difficulties involved for years when GTO was merely an option on the Lemans.

Really, this GTO Buyer’s Guide is a great companion book. Certainly it’s a good stand-alone that can introduce one to the GTO. This Buyer’s Guide fills a niche within a collection of books. I reviewed The Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002, which gives an overview of each year’s offerings from Pontiac. It features specifics, but is not detailed enough in terms of the GTO itself. The GTO Source Books that were reviewed provide some great period-correct literature in terms of ads and brochures, though they do not provide any analysis or explanation in context of the later collector car market. But, when adding the Buyer’s Guide to the Standard Catalog and the GTO Source Books, one starts to build a library that can lead to being a learned individual where it comes to GTOs (of course this method works with whatever cars you fancy).

It should be noted that this edition of this GTO book is complete for the 1964-74 run of production. It does not include any reference to the reborn GTO which debuted some 8 years after this book was published.

So, was adding the Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide worthwhile? I think so. It’s a great fact-filled reference about one of the most revered muscle cars. It’s the book you grab when that guy at cruise night says your ‘71 Goat never came with those Honeycomb wheels or that no GTO ever came with a 2 barrel carb. If Pontiacs are your thing, it’s a great one to pick up.

Pros: a significant resource on a key muscle car; extensive and detailed information one each model year
Cons: as always, coloured pictures would have been nice
Where to find it: Amazon, used bookstores, private sales

You might also enjoy…
Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002
GTO: A Source Book/GTO Volume II: A Source Book
The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars

Mustang Classics

Mustang Classics by Randy Leffingwell, with photography by David Newhardt
Published 2014 by Crestline
384 pp., hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0-7858-3139-6

Purchased new from a retail bookstore.

I have always been a Mustang fan. Growing up, a neighbour I hardly knew had a 1972 coupe, and a 1968 coupe briefly occupied our garage while dad did some repairs for a friend. My cousin had a 1969 coupe but traded it on a new 1972 Charger when I was a toddler. Yet, somehow I became enamoured of Ford’s ponycar. Years later, Dad saw an ad from a now defunct Ford dealer, saying they had about 100 new 1988 Mustang LX notchbacks equipped with the 5.0L and 5 speed, all at the same low price. He bought one, and after a few months he told me it was killing him on gas, and I should drive the Mustang while he took back his Honda Civic. I was one very lucky teen.

Given my admiration for Mustangs it’s no surprise Randy Leffingwell’s Mustang Classics is a favourite in my library. It hits many of the sweet spots I tend to look for in books on cars. It’s well-written, and packed with great photos. And there’s a wealth of info not just about the cars, but about management decisions and product development surrounding the generations of Mustang. I’ve reviewed another of Leffingwell’s books, Legendary Corvettes, and I found it enjoyable and very informative. This is also true of Mustang Classics.

The story begins in the immediate post-WWII years. GIs returned from the service, jobs were plentiful, and families became more prosperous. As explained in Fifties Flashback: The American Car, people began driving for pleasure, taking long road trips as their vacation. Some returning soldiers had brought British and European sports cars back home, and American manufacturers took notice there was a market for cars that weren’t simply ‘transportation’.

At the same time, Henry Ford II took over at Ford Motor Company, an organization in dire straits. Hiring Ernie Breech, an experienced auto man from GM, as well as a group of former military men who came to be known as the Whiz Kids, Henry Ford II managed to transform company. Ford was now better managed and started producing better products.

Leffingwell then documents the pre-Mustang years. Included is information about the Ford Total Performance program, designed to put Ford at the forefront of auto racing worldwide. There’s coverage of the Mustang I concept, the corporate decision to create a smaller Thunderbird-like vehicle, and the company’s partnership with Carroll Shelby, both in support of the Cobra cars and his role in Ford’s GT40 program. There’s so much background on what led to the Mustang, it’s 68 pages into the book before we see the debut of the car that would set sales records beginning April 17, 1964.

The chapters break out the Mustang into groupings by years: 1964.5-1966, 1967-1968.5, 1969-70 and so on through to 2003-present (being 2005, when first published). The early years are interspersed with the Shelby cars getting their own chapters (1965-66, 1967-68, 1969-70). The mid-1980s SVO Mustang also has its own chapter. Most of the focus is, as the title suggests, on ‘classics’. The featured vehicles tend to be of the high-performance variety. There are California Specials, Mach 1s, and Boss Mustangs. There are some rarely seen models, such as the 1969 Shelby de Mexico (306 produced), the 1970 Twister Special (a regional variant, 96 made) and the Monroe Handler, a Mustang built as a promotional vehicle for Monroe shock absorbers (1 originally built, 6 others built afterwards). I appreciate the inclusion of these uncommon Mustangs, especially as they’re photographed beautifully.

Throughout this book, Leffingwell drops info of all kinds. The SVO chapter is an example. After describing how Special Vehicle Operations developed the SVO Mustang differently from the 5.0L GT to create more of a driver’s car, the author moves to how SVO’s success as a small group influenced decision-making throughout Ford at the corporate level. Similarly there’s paragraphs about Lee Iacocca‘s Fairlane Committee, the reign of Bunkie Knudsen at Ford, the re-entry to racing in the late 1970s. There’s mention of John Coletti’s Skunk Works that designed the 1994 Mustang. In fact, many people are named including designers such as Gene Bordinat, Larry Shinoda and Jack Telnack, engineers like Bob Negstad who spent over 20 years working on the Mustang. All of these speak to the culture of the company, and ties in to the Mustang’s development.

Now, as good as this book is, I still found a couple minor things to mention.

Firstly, it’s important to note that this book is a reprint from another publisher. The first edition was published around 2005, and though this edition is from 2014, it’s not been updated. That is disappointing, as the chapter ‘2003 and Beyond’ only deals with the Mustang GT design proposal. That’s the show car that hinted strongly at the retro-themed Mustang that hit the market for 2005. It’s a shame that the 2014 edition was not updated, as by 2014 the Mustang had seen a redesign in 2010, was about to debut another redesign in 2014, had reunited with Shelby to offer special models, had seen the introduction of the 5.0 Coyote engine, as well as the rebirth of the Cobra Jet drag car.

Secondly, there are minor quibbles. I have mentioned (in a previous review) the use of the term ‘big block’ referring to the FE engines. These engines are not truly big blocks but rather medium blocks, as they are lighter than Ford’s MEL and 385-series families. I suppose, as it’s cropped up again, perhaps the matter is not agreed upon by all. The other quibble is that the author referred to ‘Ford Galaxy’ more than once. As the Galaxy is a van sold by Ford internationally, there is no doubt he meant ‘Galaxie’, the correct spelling for the full-size car sold from 1959-74. And sadly there’s a few other typos here and there.

Thirdly, I found the period of 1994-2003 was somewhat abbreviated. There are few pictures or references to the 1994-98 cars which include the last of the pushrod 5.0L GTs. There’s more emphasis on the 1999-2004 cars, and while the Mach 1 appears, there’s no pictures of the Bullitt edition. The SVT Cobra does show up. Actually it’s somewhat strange that the SVT Cobras aren’t broken out to their own chapter. These cars, built from 1993 through 2004, were the ultimate Mustangs available. That they are not treated similarly to the Shelby cars seems the wrong choice.

These things aside, Mustang Classics is a great automotive coffee table book. David Newhardt’s photos are fantastic, showing off the classic Mustang lines that have captured the hearts of so many. And Randy Leffingwell has packed the pages with stories of the Mustang that will interest history buffs as well as car nuts. There isn’t a lot in the way of pedestrian Mustangs, but what is presented is quite stunning visually and really details much of the Mustang’s high performance story. This is one book Ford fans should own.

Pros: fabulous photos; great information on the cars and company; high quality book
Cons: somewhat dated, having not been updated since 2005
Where to get it: Amazon, bookstores

The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars

The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars (no writer credit)
Published 2013 by Chartwell Books Inc.
432 pp., hardcover.

ISBN-13: 978-0-7858-3030-6

Purchased new from a retail bookstore.

File this one under ‘Disappointing’.

I had high hopes for The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars. I mean, 400 pages of the best American factory-built hot rods, over 120 cars profiled. That’s a book I could really get into.

I’ll admit, it is a difficult task to compile such a directory. Even just a few pages on every muscle car would fill volumes. Just defining ‘muscle car’ is not an easy task. Many would agree it’s an intermediate-size car with a powerful engine in, for the purpose of increased performance. Yet, people call the Impala SS a muscle car despite it being a full-size car. Mustangs and Camaros are too small to be intermediates, and Novas and Darts are compact cars (such as they were in the 1960s). Still they get called muscle cars. No 4-door could have been called muscle car back in the heyday, yet today, the Charger sedan is a modern muscle car.

People don’t even agree what the first muscle car was. Was it born in 1964 when Pontiac dropped a 389 engine in its Tempest Lemans coupe and named it GTO? Maybe it was Chrysler, who took their 1955 New Yorker, added some Imperial touches and placed its Firepower Hemi between the fenders to create the C300. How about the famed Rocket 88, Oldsmobile’s 1949 80-series coupe with the screaming new overhead valve V8 underhood. Or was it the first V8 Ford coupe with its flathead engine?

The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars does indeed include all the cars mentioned above, and many more. I can’t argue with any of the cars included in this volume. As such it gets points for going beyond the typical roster. Of course there are GTOs and Chevelles, Mustangs and Fairlanes, Challengers and Road Runners. There’s a number of full-size coupes, like the aforementioned Impala SS and the 7-Liter Ford Galaxie. But it’s nice to see cars like the Dodge Polara D500, M-code Thunderbird, Mercury Comet, and AMC’s SC/Rambler, Rebel Machine and AMX. These cars get a lot less ink than the Camaros, Firebirds and Cudas, and their inclusion does help to fill out the book.

But… the errors. So many errors. Typos. Improper formatting of tabs. Misplaced paragraph breaks. Widows and orphans. Incorrectly captioned photos. It’s a very sloppy book. When a 1969 Camaro photo shows up in the profile of the 1970 AMX, that’s an issue that’s hard to overlook.

That red Camaro shouldn’t be here.

There’s also the inconsistencies. Each car profile gets a chart, kind of an overview that mentions things like engine displacement, horsepower etc. Some of them list a dozen stats, some list 5 or 6. Some list the car’s base price, or quarter-mile performance, many don’t have the kind of information. Only 1 engine is listed per car, though some are the base V8 while others list an optional engine. If the object is to create a directory, then it shouldn’t be hard to determine criteria you intend to include and then make sure you include it for each car.

And some profiles are just confusing – such as the 1969 Cuda 383, which is titled such and features pictures of a 383 Cuda, but doesn’t really mention the 383 anywhere in the text. Instead the 273 base V8 of previous years is referenced. Actually a great number of profiles are filled with information about the manufacturer or the history of the model featured but little about the actual year and model of the feature.

Finally, there are still many omissions from this collection. The Golden Age of Muscle Cars did fade out by the mid-1970s, but there were a few highlights. There’s no mention of cars like the Monte Carlo 454, or 1973 Stage 1 Buick GS. And, the muscle car rebirth began in the mid-1980s. Yet, there are no 1980s cars found at all – no Grand Nationals, 442s, Monte Carlo SSs, or Fox-body Mustangs. Further, there are profiles on the 1994 Impala SS, 2005 Chrysler 300C and 2012 Dodge Charger SRT-8, but no mention of the early 2000s Mercury Marauder (except a sentence in a 1969 Cougar profile). And you really can’t call a directory complete when you include the Dodge Viper but cars like the SVT Cobra Mustang or ZR-1 Corvette are missing.

It’s a shame. There was real potential for a great book, a directory that would be a great introduction to the wide range of muscle car offerings. In spots, there is some good information here. And honestly, there’s a lot of good photography. The coffee-table size and quality paper have the feel of a book you want to read. There’s pieces of a great book here. It just isn’t executed well.

If you can find this book cheap, and really need to get some muscle car info on your shelf, then sure, pick it up. But if you’re looking for a serious overview of muscle cars, give this one a miss.

Pros: a good number of models profiled; some little-known cars get some ink; great pictures in a coffee-table book format.
Cons: far too many errors; some significant models and eras are lacking coverage.
Where to find it: retail bookstores, Amazon

You might also enjoy…
The Complete Book of Dodge and Plymouth Muscle: Every Model from 1960 to 1974
Ford Muscle: Street, Stock and Strip
Illustrated Camaro Buyer’s Guide

Oldsmobile: The First Seventy-Five Years

Oldsmobile: The First Seventy-Five Years by Beverly Rae Kimes
Published 1972, by Automobile Quarterly Publications
72 pp., hardcover

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 78-189491

Acquired from a private seller on kijiji.ca

My automotive book collection is far from complete, and a glaring omission was that I had nothing specifically Oldsmobile. I rectified that when I found an ad for a number of used books at a decent price. Among them was Oldsmobile: The First Seventy-Five Years, which was published by Automobile Quarterly.

This is a book that I’d call ‘nice to have’ but far from an essential for an automotive library. To be frank, it’s not hard to see that a 72 page book that covers a 75-year history is probably not going to be comprehensive. It is however a decent, if brief, history of what once was a major marque on the automotive landscape.

I felt this little book could easily be divided into 2 halves. The first half, composed of chapters I through IV, covers the years from about 1880 to 1915. In 1880, Ransom Eli Olds was 16 and his family had just moved to Lansing, Michigan. It was there that Ransom finished his schooling and began his career in his family’s machine and repair shop. By 1885 he had bought his brother’s half-interest in the company. By 1887, he was developing his first automobile. Olds experimented with steam, electric and gas powered autos, eventually transforming the company into Olds Motor Works. In 1901, the plant was destroyed by fire, and only one vehicle, a gas-powered Curved Dash model, was saved. At that point, the company continued as a producer of gas-powered vehicles.

The early chapters of this book read like many stories about the early years in auto manufacturing. The Curved Dash Olds is forefront of course, the car that really established Oldsmobile. The Curved Dash was the first mass-produced gasoline vehicle thanks to Olds’ innovating the stationary assembly line for auto manufacture in 1901 (Henry Ford would create the moving assembly line years later). There’s stories of endurance, such as Roy Chapin Sr.’s drive from Detroit to New York, heralding the durability of Olds’ vehicle. There’s stripped down racing cars and cross-country journeys to further promote Oldsmobile. And there’s the arrival of Billy Durant and his addition of Olds Motor Works to General Motors. These chapters do include information about the actual cars, including the short-lived Viking series, but they really tell more a story of a company in its early years.

Why does 1915 seem important? A couple of events and milestones make it seem so. William Durant returned to GM after his banishment. Charles Nash left GM. And Oldsmobile sales went from under 2,000 in 1914 to over 7,600 in 1915, topping 10,000 in 1916. But, I found that the book’s author took a different tack in the second half of the book, focused less on personalities more on the actual cars, the company’s performance in terms of production, and the innovation Oldsmobile became known for. Granted this book does not track every year-to-year model change. Most of the pages are dedicated to Olds’ introduction of the Hydramatic transmission, the overhead valve Rocket engine, the use of turbocharging in the early 1960s, and the development of the front-drive Toronado. True, Oldsmobile was not the only or even necessarily first to use these technologies. But in many ways, Olds was a leader in popularizing them and making them mainstream.

I enjoyed the brief chapter on Oldsmobile’s NASCAR success from 1949 through the early 1950s. The chapter describes some of the Rocket engine development, and Oldsmobile’s idea to take its new, powerful overhead valve V8 which powered the heavy, top-of-the-line 98 model, and install it in the lighter 80-series chassis to create what would be known as the Rocket 88. The car was a great performer in the early days of NASCAR. Much of is mentioned of Buck Baker’s number 87 Oldsmobile, which was a long-lived car in the series. The Rocket 88 would get a song written about it, and some argue it is the first muscle car to be created.

One great chapter in this book is focused on the prototype dream cars from Oldsmobile of the 1950s and 1960s. Among them, the 1953 98 Fiesta convertible which along with the Cadillac Eldorado and Buick Skylark were limited production models and highly valuable today. Also featured is the F-88 Dream Car, a vehicle that was never put into production but according to many, surpassed even the Corvette in performance. In fact, the reason the F-88 wasn’t produced was because it would compete so fiercely with Chevrolet’s sports car. Some say the F-88 would likely have meant the end of the Vette.

The rest of the book shows the development of cars like the F-85/Cutlass line and the Toronado, as well as the other 1960s Oldsmobiles. There is also includes a detailed production tally for Oldsmobile and Viking models from 1897 through to 1971, which is a great bit of trivia information to have.

This volume is authoritative, as any book from Automobile Quarterly can be trusted to contain good accurate information. It is certainly not an exhaustive history, but it’s a quick read and contains a number of very good images that may be hard to find elsewhere. All in all, it’s a nice little book that an Olds enthusiast will love and will nicely round out a general collection.

Pros: a good general history of Oldsmobile; great archival photos; index of production numbers through 1971
Cons: quite brief; skips over a number of individual years
Where to find it: used bookstores, Amazon, private collections

You might also enjoy…
Automobile Quarterly, Volume 7 Number 1
Road Hogs: Detroit’s Big Beautiful Luxury Performance Cars of the 1960s and 1970s

The Complete Book of Classic Ford F-Series Pickups: Every Model from 1948-1976

The Complete Book of Classic Ford F-Series Pickups: Every Model from 1948-1976 by Daniel Sanchez
Published 2014 by Motorbooks
240 pp., hardcover

ISBN: 978-0-7603-4431-6

Purchased new from a close out sale.

Pickup trucks are everywhere today. They’re very popular, and together with SUVs they’ve almost completely replaced station wagons and sedans on the roads. I’ve had 3 pickups myself, and I muse on the idea of getting a classic pickup if I ever was going to have a ‘collection’. So, as I enjoy pickups, and I love books that detail model histories, I grabbed The Complete Book of Classic Ford F-Series Pickups: Every Model from 1948-1976 when I found it at the bookstore.

The book itself is large and a little heavy, despite being only 240 pages. That’s because the pages are almost a cover stock, they have a high-quality feel to them and dimensionally it’s the largest book I’ve reviewed thus far. The type borders on large, though it doesn’t feel like it’s compensating for lack of content. There’s quite a lot of photographs, lots of corporate photos and official advertising, both in black-and-white and colour. Overall, it’s a visually appealing book.

The central theme of this book seems to be how Ford made a corporate decision to develop a new truck that would be car-like in terms of comfort, ride and economy while offering all the utility of a truck. The goal was to turn the pickup into a viable option as a second vehicle for families and a more desirable vehicle for farmers, tradesmen and anyone who’d use a truck. This idea comes up frequently through the book.

The chapters are (generally) divided by generations of the truck – 1948-52, 1953-56, 1957-60, 1961-66, 1967-71 and 1972-76. After a short introduction, each year is explained and there are info boxes detailing engine and transmission specs and production numbers for the 1/2 ton and 3/4 ton versions, as well as a separate option list. The text does a good job of detailing the design revisions for each model year, as well as mechanical options, horsepower and torque, trim levels, major engineering changes and pricing and production. In this respect, there’s some great information here.

Ford did innovate a number of changes that we see in the modern pickup. The all-steel Styleside (that is, non-fendered) bed, steel bed floor, the modern overhead valve V8 in pickups, as well as various ‘special’ models for contractors and campers. And this book illuminates well the year-to-year development of the F-Series.

I am, however, a little disappointed. For one, I encountered some production errors – typos, images with incorrect captions, a 1973 ad appearing in the 1967-71 chapter, that sort of thing. There’s also a somewhat common misconception repeated in the book. The author refers to Ford’s 390 cubic inch FE engine as a ‘big block’, more than once. Ford offered a number of FE engines in the F-Series, but despite a relatively large displacement, the FE, even at 390 cubic inches, is a medium-block.

I didn’t quite understand how or why the author made some decisions. I suppose that the word ‘Classic’ in the title is a qualifier, and the author arbitrarily established that 1976 was the cut off. But, there’s no explanation as the why 1976 is the last year for the ‘classic’ F-series. In fact, the 1977 model appears very similar to the 1976, and the 1978-79 trucks seem to be of the same generation. My own research shows the only major change between 1976 and 1977 was the end of the FE engines in favour of the 351/400 engines of the 335/Cleveland family, which doesn’t qualify as a real model update. Further, the 1972 model F-Series is obviously a 1971 with minor styling updates. Yet, the author broke out the chapters as 1967-71 and 1972-76, rather than starting the last chapter with the redesigned 1973. I’m not sure what criteria the author used to group them this way.

I enjoyed this book but I also feel it was lacking in other ways. I may have been spoiled by other books, but I noticed there are no pictures of any design proposals or mock-ups. There are no quotes from any engineers, designers or executives – in fact, no person was mentioned by name anywhere. Who were the people who drove the decision to make the F-Series more car-like? Who created Ford’s famous Twin I Beam suspension, or the Camper Special, or the Ranger and Explorer models? This information would have been interesting to know.

Further, it is fact that the Ford F-Series eventually claimed the top sales spot (and has held it for decades), but there’s no good explanation other than the author’s assertion that the increased comfort and wide range of options and models drove sales. There’s no in-depth analysis of what Ford offered versus Chevy/GMC or Dodge, so it’s hard to know what Ford did better than its competitors – better options? more models? better pricing? The author never says.

Finally, the focus here is squarely on the 1/2 and 3/4 ton versions of the F-Series. In the early chapters there’s mention of the larger trucks, the Big Job series. But there’s not much information on how the larger trucks eventually diverged from the F-Series line. I understand that really, the book is about light-duty trucks. It’s just that the early chapters make mention and then the subject is never revisited. Funny enough, I did learn about some lower GVRW models, such as the F-110 and F-260, which I’d never even heard of (this contradicts information on the internet that claims F-110 and F-260 denote the 4×4 version).

Despite my seemingly numerous criticisms, I did enjoy reading this history of the early F-Series trucks. I am a fan of these old pickups, especially the post-1967 versions. I found so much good info on options and trim levels, and lots of great pictures of these trucks. If you’re a fan of pickup trucks, specifically Fords, this won’t be the ultimate book in your collection, but it is definitely one you’ll enjoy having on the shelf.

Pros: good, straightforward historical account of almost 30 years of F-Series trucks; many great pictures from Ford’s corporate files
Cons: lacks in-depth information in terms of who was directing development; no comparative analysis of competitor offerings
Where to get it: Amazon, retail bookstores

You may also enjoy…
The Big Job
Ford Muscle: Street, Stock, Strip
Mustang 5.0 Performance Projects

Barracuda Muscle Portfolio 1964-1974

Barracuda Muscle Portfolio 1964-1974 compiled by R.M. Clarke
Published 1995, by Brooklands Books Ltd.
140 pp., paperback

ISBN: 1 85520 259X

Acquired from private seller on kijiji.ca

I grew to love musclecars reading Car Craft and Musclecar Classics magazines, and I enjoyed reading about new cars in Car and Driver, Road & Track and Motor Trend. I wasn’t around to read about musclecars when they were new, so I missed those reviews in C/D, R&T and MT. Nowadays, it’s possible to find old magazines on the internet. But in the 1990s, Brooklands Books set about collecting and preserving articles on a huge variety of makes and models. They compiled them into over 700 titles across a number of series. Recently I was able to acquire one such title, Barracuda Muscle Portfolio 1964-74, which includes 34 articles about Plymouth’s pony car, lifted from over a dozen contemporary sources.

Most are aware of the story of Ford’s Mustang. Introduced April 17, 1964, it was an instant hit. What some may not know is that Plymouth launched the Barracuda about 2 weeks before the Mustang debuted. Word got out Ford was about to bring a new car to market based on its Falcon. Plymouth grafted a fastback onto their compact Valiant to create a what they hoped would be a sporty car to compete. The Barracuda wasn’t a bad car, but it got left in the dust as Mustang set sales records.

The fact Barracuda faced stiff competition from Mustang is hinted at in the first reprinted article, a loose recounting of a 1964 phone conversation between a C/D writer and a Chrysler employee. The company man wants to know why the magazine didn’t completely love the Barracuda. When the writer explains they expected a little more, the man responds that Chrysler feels the Barracuda has ‘broad appeal’, despite Mustang’s extensive options list and popular styling. That broad appeal didn’t quite materialize (Mustang outsold Barracuda by 5 to 1 in model year 1964). But make no mistake, while the Plymouth didn’t sell like hot cakes, the reviews bear out that for the most part Barracuda was a very credible car that improved as Chrysler played catch up.

The articles follow chronologically, the first 10 or so covering the 1964-66 series, the next dozen covering 1967-69, another dozen covering the E-body 1970-74. The final 3 reprints are from the 1980s – reviews by Special Interest Autos on the 1965 and 1970 (a car owned by Richard Carpenter), and a one page feature from Car Craft on the 1970 Hemi Cuda.

I found the reviews seemed to fit a pattern. The 1964-66 cars are generally praised for their roominess, utility of the rear storage/fold down seat and the great handling of the Formula S package (introduced 1965), but the lack of power from the 273 engine is notable. The resemblance to the Valiant line is also noted, which was in contrast to the Mustang’s all-new bodywork. The 1967-69 cars get good marks for a restyled body, the addition of coupe and convertible models, and high praise for the 340 engine, introduced in 1968. The availability of the 383 engine was also good, though reviewers noted that this Cuda did not handle very well with the 383 or 440, largely due to the heavier engines’ distributing so much weight to the front and precluding the offer of power steering, power brakes or air conditioning. The 1970-74 reviews begin positively, as styling caught up to the popular long hood/short deck aesthetic of the competitors, and there was a well-rounded range of options available. The lament however was that while the car was good, the muscle car craze had begun a steep decline. By 1974, the high performance 340, 383, 426 and 440 engines were gone, as was the convertible. The Barracuda would not survive in to 1975.

Reviews from these magazines are often quite detailed. There’s a significant amount of information explaining the design and equipment revisions, as well as how that translates to the handling and performance numbers. As I read, I realized having these articles would come in handy if I were contemplating buying a Cuda. To be able to read about not only options such as the Formula S package, but also having multi-year reviews, would likely be a great help in deciding what car would be right for me. It’s great to be able to compare the full range of model years, giving a great overview of Barracuda.

Among the articles is a 1967 R&T comparison test included, pitting a 273 Barracuda against a 289 Mustang and a 327 Camaro which was interesting to read as a direct comparison. There’s a neat article from Car Life featuring Swede Savage and his SCCA Trans Am Cuda. But I think my favourite reprint was a two-page MT Guide laying out all the engine and performance options for the 1971 Barracuda, including a list of racing parts available from Chrysler. I love that kind of information which now could be used to identify how a car may have originally been configured.

In 11 model years, Plymouth sold almost 400,000 Barracudas. Having read the reviews, it’s clear the Barracuda wasn’t a bad car. In fact, many reviews picked out traits such as handling (in the Formula S and later models) and the 340 motor as among the best in the pony car arena. Yet, by comparison, Chevy sold 1.25 million Camaros (in only 8 model years), while Ford managed to find homes for almost 3.5 million Mustangs between 1964 and 1974. On the other hand, this makes the Cuda rare by comparison, surely a factor as the Plymouth commands higher prices as a collector car today.

For owners and fans of Plymouth‘s musclecar, this portfolio is a great read. the articles give an honest contemporary assessment of the pros and cons of the Barracuda. And, it took me back to those days as a kid, reading about the hot cars I longed to drive.

Pros: great collection of hard-to-find comteporary articles about the Barracuda; good, fairly detailed info documenting year-to-year changes to the car
Cons: completely back-and-white (likely the articles were originally printed this way)
Where to find it: maybe eBay and Amazon, private collections