Category Archives: Chrysler

K-car saves Mopar

Orange you glad they paid back the loans?

Orange you glad they paid back the loans?

Chrysler’s recent emergence from bankruptcy to become a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brings to mind an earlier time when the company’s continued existence was in doubt.  Thirty-five years ago Congress debated a measure that would reassure lenders who were hesitant about extending credit to keep Chrysler’s sinking ship afloat.   At the urging of President Carter,  the Chrysler Loan Guarantee Act was passed — over the objections of General Motors Chairman Thomas Murphy who called the measure “a basic challenge to the philosophy of America.” Speaking of “basic challenges to the philosophy of America,” the Chevette was introduced during Chairman Murphy’s tenure at GM. 

Playing all the angles

Playing all the angles

But we digress.  Over at Chrysler, once Public Law 86-185 was enacted resources were poured into marketing the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, the legendary K-cars, so named for the company’s internal code for the front wheel drive platform shared by both.  We can’t get over this 1980 commercial for the Aries in which no less a light than the real Chairman, a certain Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra declares, “America’s not gonna be pushed around any more!” Give ’em hell, Frankie!

Pentastar star car

Pentastar car

The cars were well made, comparatively reliable (Reliant — get it?) but were, essentially, dull as dishwater.  Styling was straightforward in a way that recalls a child’s typical depiction of a car as one box atop another — with windows and doors.  Nonetheless, the K-car twins were smash hits, giving Chrysler Chairman Lee Iococca, the company’s onscreen pitchman (“If  you can find a better car, buy it!”), a tremendous public profile that obliterated thoughts about the role he had played in the Pinto disaster back when he ran Ford.  The loans that the government had guaranteed were paid off ahead of schedule and, as a result, the U.S. Treasury got a $350 million bonus, though it was probably all frittered away in the Iran-Contra deal.

MoPar goes topless!

MoPar goes topless!

Chrysler, cleverly, used the K-car platform as a kind of automotive Hamburger Helper, creating new products from the same basic components.  The Chrysler brand launched its tarted up LeBaron derivative which became the basis for the first new American convertible since the demise of Cadillac’s much vaunted “last” one back in 1976.  Dodge gave the Aries an upscale treatment (and a convertible) and, inexplicably, named the result “400.”

Dodge drop top

400 of what?

Sign of the olden times

Sign of the (olden) times

Chairman Lee seemed to be enamored of fake wood and, in short order, launched the LeBaron Town & Country station wagon and convertible, both festooned with gobs of grainy goodness. An early LeBaron convertible, slathered with bogus timber, is for sale for under $7,000 here in nearby Woodland Hills, CA.  One of these went for almost twice that much at a recent auction so we’re thinking this could be the buy of the century, if not the millennium.

The answer to the deforestation crisis

The answer to the deforestation crisis

The platform was stretched, like so much pizza dough, for longer models including Chrysler’s New Yorker and the Dodge 600, though, again the Dodge’s model number seems to be a reference to nothing in particular. The K-platform underpinned the wildly successful Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager minivans and even the seldom seen (or purchased) Imperial, Chrysler’s line topper that had come back from vehicular purgatory for a short run beginning in 1990.

Up with U.S. Imperialism!

Up with U.S. Imperialism!

My how you've grown

Imperial cruiser

That Imperial looks like two or three cars were grafted together to make one strange, billowy barge. Profit margins on these rococo K cars were higher than bare bones Aries and Reliants so they found clever ways to squeeze some additional dollars out of a dumbstruck nation.

Behold: the top of the K line

Behold: the top of the K line

The K-car marched into the next decade under a variety of names.  This Plymouth Sundance gives some indication of the abuse these stout machines could take.

Undercover K

Undercover K

That’s not just a festering dent on the right rear of this ’87 LeBaron; it’s a mark of character.

Le K

Le K

We really like the profile of this ’89 Dodge Shadow as seen on the mean streets of lower Manhattan.  A tip of the hat to Feral Cars Field Scout and self-proclaimed “car guy” Jim Bessman for this stunner!

Still life

Still life

Oh K!

Oh K!

Dig this archetypal Chrysler commercial with Chairman Lee closing the deal.  “Buy it!”

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting consideration please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com OR through our Facebook page.

Postwarriors: “the greatest generation” revisited

After having been so rudely interrupted by Pearl Harbor, domestic auto production resumed in 1946. GM, Ford, Chrysler and the independents — Packard, Studebaker, Nash, Hudson — had spent the war years building tanks, planes and whatever was needed to ensure victory over the Axis powers. This United Auto Workers song gives an encapsulated history of the union’s efforts to organize Ford Motor and to rally behind the war effort.  It really speaks volumes about that extraordinary time.

Delightfullly delovely

Delightfullly delovely and, yes, that’s an AMC Hornet aft of its stern

Initial postwar cars were, essentially, carry overs from the 1942 model year as was this ’47 or ’48 DeSoto sedan we found the other day  mouldering away and dragging its tail a bit.  It’s impressive in terms of sheer mass and presence — the roof being more than 5′ 6″ above the road) and that front grill is straight out of the deco age.

Bulbosity

Bulbosity sans filler cap

We think it just hangs around the eastern fringe of Hollywood hoping to be cast in a remake of a  film noir of the era like Dead Reckoning starring George Clooney in the Bogart role and Scarlett Johansson in the part Lizabeth Scott (born Emma Matzo — no kidding!)  created.  Hard core hip-hopper culture devotees should check on this “grill.” Surely, it will soon be the envy of L’il Wayne.

Thrill grill

Thrill grill

DeSoto was an object of middle class aspirations to move up a notch from lower class Dodge but stopping short of the old money subtext underpinning the upmarket Chrysler.  The back end on this one seems to have given way though it may have been intentionally lowered. Tough guys know that a few stiffs in the trunk tend to make a car ride on the low side and draw suspicion which some might think a “dead giveaway.”

Sophie Tucker, your Uber is here.

“Sophie Tucker, your Uber car has arrived.”

In an earlier post we covered this ’49 Packard Custom 8, photographed by Feral Cars Field Scout Davin Seay.  It, too, seems to have been designed by adherents of the  pontoon school of styling back in New Deal days.  Packard was a car for patricians, Cadillac being for the nouveau riche as well as for prosperous, yet showy, ethnic types. While a DeSoto could be had for far less than a Packard, Chevrolet was very much an entry level play.

Heavy Chevy

Heavy Chevy

We’re just nuts about the patina on this, apparently, untouched mid-line ’48 Chevrolet Fleetmaster sedan. It’s noteworthy that all the trim pieces, both bright and body-colored, are right where they should be and all are in undamaged, original condition.  We do think those whitewalls and the chrome wheel trim rings are un peu de trop for a car with such unassuming working class roots.  Then, again, maybe they’re a reflection of hopes for upward mobility during that ever so optimistic post war era.

Medicaremobile

Qualifies for Medicare

The origins of the brand names of these three cars bear addressing.  Packard, the oldest marque here, was founded in Warren, Ohio in 1899 by brothers  James Ward Packard and William Doud Packard.  Chevrolet came next, founded next in 1911. The car was initially a partnership between former Fiat and Buick race car driver Louis Chevrolet (b.1878 in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel) and GM founder Billy Durant, then on the outs with the company, to build a low priced Ford competitor.

DeSoto is, strictly, the product of marketing.  The name on Chrysler’s one-step-down (from Chrysler, itself) and two-steps-up (from Plymouth and Dodge) marque was derived from Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. This was an obvious attempt to mimic Cadillac, named in 1902 after the French explorer who 200 years earlier, founded Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit.  While he’s credited for being the first Westerner to see the Mississippi River back in 1541, de Soto’s resume also includes the destruction of the Inca civilization, introducing plagues of fatal diseases to the New World, not to mention the wholesale massacre of indigenous people.  And you thought Jeep’s Cherokee is an example of corporate insensitivity!

Hernando's ride away

Hernando’s rideaway

Badging on our ’48 DeSoto is a mid-century vamp on Hernanado de Soto’s family coat of arms.  That’s a profile of the fun-loving conquistador, himself, above a stylized representation of his crest.  Class! See?

DeSoto, Packard, Chevrolet and lots of other makes are chronicled in this Noire Car video guide with a very ‘cool school’ vibe.

We sincerely urge you to purchase this extended wheelbase 1946 DeSoto Custom that has only 76,000 miles.  You’ll make the $19K asking price back in a few weeks by renting out this 7-passenger party van of its day for weddings, bar mitzvahs and bank robberies.

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com.  Include your name, location of the car and some thoughts about the vehicle and we’ll look into getting it posted

 

 

Keha’s Plymouth Horizon never sets

The Blue Horizon never ends

The Blue Horizon never ends

We were delighted and amazed to meet lovely Keha McIlwaine the other day as she lounged behind the wheel of her 1986 Plymouth Horizon.  She told us she had driven the car out to California from New York a few months back and encountered no difficulties despite the fact that the odometer is closing in on 150,000 miles.  We especially like the duct tape around the parking light.  This kind of ingenuity worked for Apollo 13, so it would seem  a logical solution for a terrestrial vehicle with certain needs.

Plymouth pride will out

Plymouth pride will out (NOTE: ultra feral ’68 Chevy Caprice just ahead)

Plymouth Horizon and corporate twin Dodge Omni were introduced in 1978 and the same basic car stayed in production for 12 years.  They were fielded by Chrysler to compete with Volkswagen’s Rabbit and, like that bunny, were powered by a transverse mounted 4-cylinder motor via front wheel drive. Most mass-produced cars these days are configured this way but the “Omnirizon” twins were the first American cars of this kind and were jointly named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1978.   We salute Keha who, paradoxically, pronounces her name like a certain Korean car spelled with three letters.

Hop-a-long VW

Hop-a-long VW

Volkswagen Rabbits of this general vintage are much more plentiful than their Plymouth and Dodge counterparts so we offer two such here to underscore the point.  Both of these are diesel-powered which may provide a clue to their preternatural longevity.

Oil-burning sweaty Rabbit

Oil-burning sweaty Rabbit

Diesel-powered VW = Sooty Rabbit

Diesel-powered VW = Sooty Rabbit

For quite a few model years, the Horizon co-existed with its ultimate replacement, Plymouth Sundance.  We’re not sure we’d exhibit the kind of loyalty Keha has for her Horizon if we had to tango with something like this over the long haul.

Unbutch: Plymouth's Sundance

Unbutch

Dappled Sundance

Dappled Sundance

Chrysler touted Horizon with lots of red, white and blue advertising such as this “The Pride Is Back” commercial that has a distinct Springsteenian undertone. The truth is that Simca, its French subsidiary, later offloaded to Peugeot, did the initial development work on this car.  Let’s keep that notre petit secret, d’accord?

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com.  Include your name, location of the car and some thoughts about the vehicle and we’ll look into getting it posted

Stars, Strikes and the Grandest of Prix

As we noted earlier, when reporting on a cream puffy ’76 Ford Elite, we’re big fans of Dan Epstein’s baseball cum-cultural cypher Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76.

Bicentennial Pon-ton

Bicentennial Pon-ton

Yes, 38 years after Sparky Anderson’s Cincinnati Reds swept the World Series in four straight games, demolishing the Yankees, in the third year of the reign of Steinbrenner with Billy Martin at the helm, there’s a book that puts it all into funky perspective.  So does this stellar, “as is” 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix.  It’s one of the era’s “personal luxury coupes,” on par with Chrysler’s Cordoba, that Ford Elite and Chevy’s Monte Carlo. They all had long hoods, short rear decks for that bicentennial “eleganza” air.  Grand Prix shared its GM A body architecture with Monte Carlo and, in fact,  it was the same platform used to underpin Buick’s Century and Olds Cutlass Supreme.

What a difference a dozen years makes

What a difference a dozen years make

The pillar free hardtop, the most sought-after body style of the ’50’s and ’60’s, as seen in this breathtaking ’64 Grand Prix, was swept into the dustbin of automotive design history. That breezy look was replaced by cars with a fortress-like aspect; the rear windows, etched with decorative scroll work, were fixed in place. GM described the look, set off by frameless side windows and a thick pillar aft the front doors, as  “Colonnade” styling. It’s as much of the (Gerald) Ford era as was Oscar Gamble’s outtasite ‘fro.

“They Don’t Think It Be Like It Is, But It Do”  - Oscar Gamble

“They don’t think It be like it is, but It do” – Oscar Gamble

Feds to lead: get out!

Feds to lead: get out!

This Grand Prix carries a reminder that lead was on the way out of gasoline at that time.  New cars, from ’75 forward, were equipped with catalytic converters, incompatible with that toxic additive that had been poisoining us for decades. ’76: the year we began to breathe easier.

Collonade coupe

Colonnade coupe

Speaking of no-lead, this ’62 Pontiac, badged “Grand Prix,” was caught tanking up the other day but it’s not what it appears to be. Note that Pontiac didn’t offer a Grand Prix convertible in ’62, the first model year for the most sporting full-size Pontiac.  Huh?

Faux Prix

Faux Prix

It’s really a Catalina convertible to which every possible Grand Prix-specific piece of trim, inside and out, has been appended.  It’s a masterful creation, filling a perceived gap in Pontiac’s model line more than a half century after the fact.

We found a ’76 Grand Prix in very impressive condition here for under $10K.  You can’t go wrong with this kind of true personal luxury at a low price like this. I’s the biggest bargain we’ve seen since the Kansas City Royals shelled out a measly $126,000 to pay George Brett’s salary in 1976.  His batting average was .333 the year American celebrated its second century.

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting consideration please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com OR through our Facebook page.

 

 

 

Bicentennial FoMoCo boogie

Elite all reet

Elite all reet!

Right after we encountered a 1976 Ford Elite we got in touch with Dan Epstein, author of Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76. The book is out in a few weeks to coincide with the ramp up of this year’s MLB season.  Stars and Strikes chronicles such performers as Mike Schmidt, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych and George Brett in the context of a remarkable time in sports and cultural history but Dan suggests that a car like this would be driven by a journeyman player from the days before the era of free agency.  He thinks it would be a good fit for Mets’ outfielder John “The Hammer” Milner who hit 10 grand slam home runs over the course of his career but, due to hamstring issues, never achieved superstar status.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 6.47.10 PM

Elite was Ford’s answer to Chevy’s Monte Carlo and Chrysler’s Cordoba and followed the same basic formula of those “personal luxury” coupes: long hood, short deck, rococo interior and de rigueur vinyl top.  Opera windows were all the rage back then and Ford upped the ante with a bifurcated two pane affair that virtually screams “class.”  While the car was based on the mid-size Torino, it was its own model and predicted the direction for the downsized Thunderbird that debuted the following year.

Opera window double down

Opera window double down: let the sun trickle in

No Torino

Torino? NO!

While we’re on the subject of baseball and 1976, check out this Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon of that vintage.  With three rows of seats and easy loading thanks to the “clamshell” glide-away tailgate, it offers room for the starting nine and lots of cargo carrying capacity. By the way, this Olds is, arguably, the very last American car with tail fins, minimal though they were.

Team player

Team player

Speaking of “rich Corinthian leather,” David Less, our Feral Cars man in Memphis, shot this raging red Cordoba just the other day.  That vinyl-topped half roof is the embodiment of “swank” to these bulging eyes.

Rich Corinthian, etc.

Rich Corinthian, etc.

Let’s add another ’76 opera windowed coupe to our Stars and Strikes overview. This Lincoln Continental Mark IV, shot by Feral Cars scout Amy Treco, sports an oval opera window with etched glass plus vinyl roof top corona.  We bet Pete Rose had one just like it.

Mark IV for LXXVI

Mark IV for LXXVI

Dan points out that one of the touchstones of the magic year was the release of The Bad News Bears, starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. Matthau’s character was Morris Buttermaker,  a boozy ex-minor leaguer turned pool man.  We found a still of his pool equipment-laden ’64 Cadillac convertible, the implication is that driving a twelve year old car back in ’76 branded you as a loser.   A vintage Cadillac makes you a loser?  We beg to differ!

Bad News Cad

Bad News Cad

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting consideration please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com OR through our Facebook page.