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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.

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Bel Air ’56
Rough 1957 Chev
Legendary Corvettes: ‘Vettes Made Famous on Track and Screen

Bel Air ’56

Recently I featured a detail shot from the front of a rough 1957 Chevy Bel Air, an icon of American motoring. Today the feature is on the tail end of the 1956 Bel Air in much better shape.

The 1956 edition of Chevrolet cars is sometimes overlooked – classic ‘middle child’ syndrome. The 1955 was a complete departure from previous Chevs. The 1957 was more ornate in design, and many argue it’s the prettiest of the 3 years. The 1956… well, some see it as less special, a warmed over 55 holding place until the 57 arrived.

That’s really not true, as we’ll see in an upcoming book review. The 1956 actually incorporated a number of upgrades and revisions over the 1955 car. Styling-wise the 1956 is distinct from its siblings, longer and some say cleaner. On distinctive feature was these one-year-only taillights, a bullet style that resembled those from Oldsmobile and predates the exaggerated 1959 Cadillac bullets.

This car was shot in Syracuse at the Nationals in 2014. I used my Nikon D3200, 18-55 Nikkor zoom lens, set at ƒ/9.0, shutter speed of 1/250 second and ISO 100. Compareed to the original (below) it can be seen there was a good amount of processing the image, which was done in Topaz Adjust, to warm up the colour as well as reveal the details of the image.

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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

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Reflection II

Buick has always been among the more luxurious car marques, second only to Cadillac in terms of prestige in GM’s hierarchy, and some would say the equal of other makes such as Lincoln and Chrysler.

But there was also a performance bent to Buick, and in the mid-1960s, the tri-shield brand created the Skylark Gran Sport, equipped with the famous 401 Nailhead. The Skylark GS was the equivalent of Pontiac’s GTO and Chevy’s Chevelle SS, an intermediate coupe with a big motor under the hood. But, being a Buick, the GS was more upscale, better equipped, and of course, more costly. It became known to some as ‘The Banker’s Hot Rod‘.

By the late 1960s, the musclecar wars had really heated up. Buick offered the GS as a separate model, with a 340 (later 350), a new (non-Nailhead) 400, and eventually a 455. In 1970, they went full-tilt with the ultimate GS – the GSX, complete with a rear wing, chin spoiler, Rally wheels, Positraction, sport mirrors and hood-mounted tach, and available in Apollo White or Saturn Yellow with wide black stripes. Also available, was the Stage 1 engine package – including re-worked heads, a more aggressive cam, and some other goodies which boosted horsepower from a 350 rating to 360. Hemmings Muscle Machines noted that ‘the contemporary motoring press, specifically Motor Trend, which tested a Stage 1 to a 13.38-second ET at 105.50 MPH (January 1970), was quick to quip that the factory rating was “some kind of understatement of the year.” ‘

I found this GS Stage 1 car at the Syracuse Nationals in 2014. The glossy black paint on this car was great for not only helping the simple, somewhat elegant GS badge stand out, but also for catching the reflection of the surrounding at the show. I shot it with my Nikon D3200, Nikkor 18-55 lens, at ƒ/5.0, 1/100 second exposure and an ISO of 100. As usual, the file was cropped in Photoshop and Topaz Adjust was used to help bring up some of the colour. The original shot is below.

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1932 Buick Series 57S Special Sedan

Rotten and Forgotten

Not long after I’d shot 7:16, a good friend tipped me off to a derelict old car near his house, not far from where I’d lived about 5 years earlier. He said it has been there pretty much when he’d bought his house, and hadn’t moved in probably 35 years. It was in an industrial area — actually on Industry Street — just parked in front of a building. Sure enough, I grabbed a camera one sunny day and headed to my old neighbourhood and there it was… a late 1970s Ford LTD Landau.

The LTD nameplate debuted as the top trim level for the full-size Galaxie line in 1965, touted as quieter than a Rolls-Royce. In 1974, the Galaxie name was retired, and LTD remained with 3 trim levels — LTD, LTD Brougham and LTD Landau, the latter added in 1975. As the top Ford, the Landau offered the buyer many luxury appointments, and was powered by a choice of Ford’s 351, 400 or 460 cubic inch engines, all backed by the smooth Cruise-O-Matic transmission. This LTD Landau is from model years 1975-78, the final years before the downsized Panther platform debuted.

The decay on this car was obvious. Certainly it seemed my friend was right, the car had been sitting a long time. The Ontario license plate would seem to be correct for a mid-1970s issue date. I took quite a few shots, and decided I liked the detail of the front end best. The combination of the rusted bumper, the rusted hole through the hood, and the way the plastic grille no longer had any hint of its chrome plating, all spoke to how neglected this old boat was.

The featured image was shot with the Nikon D3200, 18-55mm Nikkor zoom, at ƒ/9.0, 1/640 second exposure using ISO 100, and processed using Topaz Adjust, and then a border added in Photoshop. The original shot is included below. Also included is a full 3/4 front shot of the car as it sat then. It’s a while since I’ve been by Industry St., but it may still be there today.

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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

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Cadillac Style, Volume 1
American Cars of the 1960s
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1936 Ford

This 1936 Ford hot rod was yet another car shot at the 2016 Fleetwood Country Cruize-In. This would be considered more of an ‘old school’ rod, as the engine used is a Ford flathead, as opposed to one of the more modern 1950s OHV engines. As Autoweek noted…

“hot rodders loved this relatively simple engine. Hundreds of manufacturers offered speed equipment for flatheads. Bored and stroked, with wilder camshafts and multiple carburetors, hot flatheads ruled street and strip until the mid-’50s, even holding their own against bigger, heavier Cadillac and Chrysler overhead-valve designs”

Autoweek

With the engine compartment open, the red flathead drew you to the car. The flathead engine was introduced in 1932 and offered consumers V8 power but at an affordable price. The first version was 221 cubic inches and is identified by it’s 21 studs that hold the head to the block. This version, however, would be the later 24-stud model, introduced in 1939 for the Mercury line (and factory-installed in Ford beginning in 1946). The chrome nuts on the studs is a popular hot-rod style, as is the aftermarket Offenhauser heads. These finned-aluminum heads helped performance in different ways, not the least of which was the fins which allowed for slightly better cooling to alleviate the flatty’s notorious penchant for overheating. Of course, the chromed air cleaner assembly and ignition coil are also popular ‘bright parts’, and keen viewers will notice the addition of a modern electric fan ahead of the radiator to further aid cooling.

The Ford itself featured a piano-like mirror finish in black, with pinstripes in red to match those heads and engine.

As with all photos taken that day at Fleetwood, this was shot with my Nikon D3200, and my 18-55mm lens. The settings were ƒ4.5, 1/80 sec exposure and ISO 400. Topaz Adjust was instrumental in the post-processing to bring up the details in this image. The original shot is below.

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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

1937 Dodge

The final 1930s Dodge I was able to shoot over the years was this 1937 Dodge hot rod. It was actually shot a few yards away from the 1931 and 1934 Dodges, at the 2015 Fleetwood Country Cruize In.

Compare the 1937 ornament to the previous years. It’s easy to see how much more streamlined the ram has become. The ridges in the horns are gone, everything from the head to the forelegs through the body has been stylized. This is much more ‘ornamental’ rather than a realistic portrayal of a charging ram. Notice also how the figure seems to lean further forward – there is more movement through the body by comparison.

We can also see the refinement in the Dodge Brothers logo. The wings are now yellow to match the center crest, and the overall shape is refined slightly.

The 1930s were a time of great transition in automotive design. The ability to create more complex curves in metal allowed manufacturers to design more aerodynamic profiles. Cars were becoming less square and upright, fenders were incorporated into the car’s body as they become wider and lower. In every way, automotive design was being modernized, including mascots such as the Dodge ram.

This photo was shot with a Nikon D3200, 18-55 mm lens at 24mm, set to ƒ/6.3, 1/160 sec shutter and ISO 100. Editing was done in Photoshop and Topaz Adjust. The original image is below.