Monthly Archives: December 2013

El Camino: Real after 55 years

Seems as though there’s an automotive anniversary noted daily.  We told you about the 50th anniversary of the closing of Studebaker’s South Bend plant a few days ago and just  got word that 2014 is the centennial of Maserati’s founding. Today’s news is that Chevy’s El Camino was introduced 55 years ago.

Chevy's caruck

Chevy’s ‘caruck’

Chevrolet was caught blindsided when Ford launched its Ranchero in 1957.  It was a truck, carved out of a Ford station wagon, offering the utility of a pick up and the comfort and style of a car.  Chevrolet responded with the ’59 El Camino, an adaptation of the truly bizarre Chevy of that year, complete with bat wing rear fenders.  After the 1960 model year, Chevy abandoned the market but came roaring back with a Chevelle-based incarnation of the El Camino in 1964 and stayed with it for the next 23 years.

Glamor hauler

Glamor hauler

Feral Cars scout Lynda Keeler found this very glossy tourquoise ’67 with jaunty load bed tonneau cover and très cherchez California “black plates.” Sweet!

Nice and rough!

Ruff! Ruff!

Because they’re actually trucks, El Caminos aren’t necessarily babied as with this beastly SS396 from 1969.  Prepare to roll up your t-shirt sleeve and insert a pack of Luckies.

Pebble finish, not Pebble Beach

Pebble finish, not Pebble Beach

An alternative to both high gloss and beat down looks is this pebble finish treatment that is, with apologies to Ike and Tina Turner,  both nice and rough.

End of the line Elco: when it works, it works hard.

End of the line Elco: when it works, it works hard.

El Camino production ended in 1987 as standard pick up trucks, like Chevy’s own C/K, offered more amenities with interiors as plush as many upmarket passenger cars.  Production of the last generation El Caminos shifted south in 1985, as evidenced by this “Hecho En Mexico” window sticker.

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Despite the fact that El Caminos are no longer built, one can certainly find many, many used examples, in varying states of repair from which to choose such as this “pre-owned” cream puff.

"Runs Great" says it all!

“Runs Great” says it all!

OR you can build your own out of a cast off passenger car.  We especially like this nifty little green “Beameramino,” cobbled together from an early 70s BMW 2002.

Munich mover

Munich mover

Every now and then there’s a rumor that GM will start building the El Camino again and that’s because so many have fond memories of these trucklettes.  No less a light than the 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, admitted to owning an El Camino.  In a 1994 speech before an audience of GM plant workers in Shreveport, LA he famously noted,  “I owned, when I was a younger man and had a life.. an El Camino pickup in the seventies. It was a real sort of southern deal. I had Astroturf in the back. You don’t want to know why, but I did.”  Astroturf?  That must have been so he could practice his putts, right?

More recently, groovy rockers The Black Keys released an album entitled “El Camino” but, inexplicably, it featured a mid-1980s Plymouth Voyager minivan on the cover.  Yes, those nutty hipsters sure know how to blow your mind!

Country music great Tom T. Hall was El Camino’s spokesperson when the truck was downsized in the 1978 model year.  In this commercial he makes smaller seem better.  He’s the composer of many celebrated songs including  “Harper Valley P.T.A.” and “I Love,” the latter of which includes the verse “I love I little baby ducks, old pick-up trucks / Slow movin’ trains and rain.”  Our version would be “I love Babe, the Bambino and El Caminos/crazy old cars and bars.” Yes, the never-to-be-forgotten Chevy El Camino was poetry in motion.

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. Include your name, location of the car and some thoughts about the vehicle and we’ll look into getting it the attention it deserves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day Studey stopped

 Musings, ramblings and rants from FeralCars founder Bob Merlis

Remembering the day they closed the home of the Golden Hawks

Remembering the day they closed the home of the Golden Hawks

 

 This has been a year of 50th anniversaries: the founding of the Rolling Stones, the Kennedy assassination, the March on Washington.  A whole lot happened in 1963 but there’s one event from back then that has gone, mostly, unnoticed.  It was December 9th, just two week’s after JFK’s funeral, that the announcement came that, after 111 years, Studebaker would cease vehicle production in South Bend, Indiana.  Some of us took it quite personally and still do.

Loewy legacy lives

Loewy legacy lives

It was devastating for the workers and residents of that quintessential Indiana factory town but the repercussions were felt around the world and have resonated for the last half century.  While management assured its dealer network that Studebaker branded cars would still be built — in Hamilton, Ontario — it was a dark, dark day for Studeaficionados who found out that production of Studebaker trucks, GT Hawks and Avantis would soon cease with only Lark-type vehicle production continuing in Canada.  Avanti was the 4 place, Raymond Loewy-designed sports car that brought glow to Studebaker in its darkest hour.

“Too little, too late” is the conventional wisdom about why a high performance, supercharged, fiberglass grand touring car couldn’t pull Studebaker out of its death spiral but what a way to go!

From front page news to the end of line in just a few short months

From front page news to the end of line in just 18 months

Studebaker loyalists were in disbelief.  The only auto manufacturer able to trace its origin to wagon manufacturing would soon be no more.  Yes, there were ’64, ’65 and even ’66 model year Studebakers but 12/9/63 was really the end of the line; what followed over the next few years at Studebaker was, in essence, automotive rigor mortis

As a Studebaker loyalist, both then and now, I can tell you it still hurts to think about that dreadful day.  You can’t do anything about the past so let’s celebrate Studebaker’s glorious history with some examples that are still coming through in a very real way, fifty years after the beginning of the end, for Studey loyalists who’ve never stopped believing.

'60 Champ truck still delivers

’60 Champ truck still delivers

Havana-based '50 "bullet nose" with aftermarket roof treatment

Havana-based ’50 “bullet nose” with aftermarket roof treatment

This machine kills Nazis

You’re welcome, Marshal Stalin

'53 Starliner a/k/a "the most beautiful mass produced American car."

’53 Starliner, a.k.a. “the most beautiful mass produced American car.”

Bad news for Stude

Bad news for Stude crew

The introduction of Avanti had many believing that Studebaker would make it.  Thanks to our friends at King Rose Archives, you can check out the film that heralded Avanti’s introduction in the spring of 1962.

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. Include your name, location of the car and some thoughts about the vehicle and we’ll look into getting it the attention it deserves.

 

 

 

Rambler’s American ressurection

Romney's zombie

Romney’s zombie

Fortunes for American Motors, the company formed after Nash and Hudson merged in 1954, took an upturn in 1958 after AMC Chairman George Romney (b. July 7, 1907, Colonia Dublán, Mexico) was told that tooling for the Nash Rambler, last produced in 1955, hadn’t been taken out with the trash years earlier.  The company was looking for something bigger than the tiny Metropolitan and smaller than the intermediate-size Rambler to put into battle against the rising tide of imports.  The unprecedented step of reanimating a “dead” car, three model years in the grave,  paid off when the “new” Rambler American, launched in midst of an economic recession, soon found a ready market.  The domestic compact car revolution had begun with smaller offerings soon coming from Studebaker (Lark) in ’59 and GM (Corvair), Ford (Falcon) and Chrysler (Valiant) in 1960.

Station wagons represented a significant percentage of the larger Rambler’s sales so a Nomadesque two-door wagon was added to the range in ’59.  Feral Cars Merit Badge Award Winner Panagiotis “Petey” Andrews captured this turquoise and white bundle of bulbosity the other day and it is, indeed, a tidy little package.

American, the beautiful

American, the beautiful

American Motors’ Rambler American (paging the Department of Redundancy Department) continued through the decade with a full line of two and four-door sedans, station wagon, a (pillarless) hardtop and even a convertible. A third generation Rambler American, a major redesign, launched in 1964 and offered much more sophisticated, contemporary styling and continued as a staple of AMC’s offerings through the remainder of the swingin’ 60s until replaced by the Hornet. Those ’64 – ’69 Americans were designed by  Richard Teague who also is credited with the Javelin pony car and AMX sports car and, after AMC fell to Renault rule,  Jeep’s wildly successful Cherokee.

American update

American update

This ’65 wagon, finished in Barcelona Medium Taupe and Frost White, is lusterless after 48 years but not lackluster; it’s still carting home the groceries for at least one Southern California shopper.

Marketplace acceptance of the American was excellent, helping Rambler become the #3 selling domestic nameplate by 1960.  The parent company’s decision to drop “Rambler” in favor of “AMC” as a marque in 1970, foreshadowing Nissan’s ill-advised early 1980s move to dump “Datsun” and brand everything as a Nissan.

Hindsight tell us dropping the Rambler brand might not have been such a good idea

Hindsight tell us dropping the Rambler brand might not have been such a good idea

The brain trust at these two companies, obviously, cut the class when brand equity maintenance was taught. Nissan, somehow, survived and recently resurrected Datsun as a downmarket brand for developing countries.  That ship has, sadly, sailed for AMC/Rambler.

“Beep, Beep” was the title of a 1958 novelty song by The Playmates that chronicles an apocryphal inadvertent race between a (Nash) Rambler and a Cadillac. Newton’s Second Law Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 5.57.44 PM  is ignored in the narrative as the underpowered underdog overtakes the high compression luxury barge.  Listen and watch here.

Perhaps because of the car’s real world inability to beat a 2+ ton, V8-powered Cadillac in a road race, Rambler Americans are among the more modestly priced collector cars.  We found a 55,000 mile bottom-of-the-line ’66 for only $3800. Idea: Buy It Now.

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.

 

Uncommon Volvo you don’t know

Dutch-built Stockhomie

Dutch-built Stockhomie

We’re often tempted to post shots of older Volvos but usually resist the impulse because they’re so commonplace and they do seem to last as long as Cher’s career.  Finding vintage Volvos is like shooting fish in a barrel but a recent visit to Stockholm brought us in close proximity of a Volvo 340DL, a very rare herring, indeed.  While it wears Volvo badging, it’s an early example of corporate multinational cooperation.  The car was built in the Netherlands by DAF, the company that had earlier developed the continuously variable transmission (CVT). Volvo bought controlling interest in DAF’s passenger car division and fitted the hatchback, smaller than anything in Volvo’s Swedish-made line up, with a motor produced in France by Renault.  The transmission, d’après the 1961 Pontiac Tempest, was mounted over the rear axle, making for optimal weight distribution.

Plug-in, yes.  Hybrid, no

Plug-in, yes. Hybrid, no

Need we remind that it gets, excuse the use of a technical term,  friggin’ cold in Northern Europe?   In light of that inevitability, this 340, which dates from the middle 1980s, has been fitted with an engine block heater to cope with Nordic winters.  It’s similar to a dorm room immersion heater; you keep plugged in overnight and in the morning, rather than helping yourself to a steaming cup of ramen, you just might be able to get the motor to turn over.

Volvo 340s were never imported to North American markets so don’t expect to find one listed in your local AutoTrader.

Hatch with a hitch

Hatch with a hitch

Despite the mixed parentage, these are Volvos and safety was a selling point.  Check out this creepy UK commercial in which a suicidal crash test dummy comes to life and proceeds to demolish one.  We’re pretty sure that the voice over artist is Michael Caine or a very convincing sound alike. What do you think?

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.

And best of all it’s a Cadillac.. no, really, it is…

A Nova by any other name?

A Nova by any other name?

ELR, Cadillac’s forthcoming ERV (extended range vehicle) or PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle), will retail for a whopping $76,000. Not really all that much for a Cadillac encroaching on Tesla’s territory but one must question if it will be worthy of carrying the mantle of the marque known as “The Standard of the World.”  Truth be known, the ELR is a slick version of Chevy’s Volt at twice the price.  It’s built in the same factory from the same basic parts as the Volt but, somehow, it’s a Cadillac. That’s mainly because GM says it is and, on a certain level, the price proves the assertion.

A Chevrolet masquerading as a Cadillac is not a new phenomenon.  Back in 1975, Cadillac designers and engineers transformed the lowly Chevy Nova into the lordly Cadillac Seville. Yes, the original Seville, angular challenger to Mercedes Benz’s ongoing luxury car blitzkreig is, at its heart, a Nova with a 350 V8, borrowed from Oldsmobile.  The compact — at least by mid-1970s standards — Seville was built on a modified X-body platform on which the Chevy Nova was based.  Yet, Seville was accepted on its own merits.  It was introduced in the wake of the ’73 – ’74 oil embargo and its smaller size conveyed the impression that it was more economical than its bigger Caddy brethren. This was despite the fact that it was priced higher ($12,500 in 1975 dollars = $54,260 in 2013 dollars) than any of them, save the Fleetwood limousine.

Charge more and get less was a winning formula for the “internationally-sized” Seville, a smashing sales success.  First generation Sevilles, before they were subjected to “bustle back” styling, are still appealing in a very upright, formal way,  offering a crisp, dignified presentation from any angle, all of which, except the wheel arches, are right angles.  In essence,  it’s a rectangle on top of a rectangle but is elegant in its own rectitude.

Damn the aerodynamics!

Damn the aerodynamics!

We encountered two well preserved Sevilles, one rendered in “Amberlite Firemist” (gold) and the other “Firethorn Metallic” (maroon), at rest and in motion.  Underneath the gloss and tufting lurk two Novas but these Chevys have been convincingly transformed, Cinderella-style, into belles of the ball.

Padded roof?  Check.  Opera lights?  Check. 1970s "eleganza" accessories present and accounted for!

Padded roof? Check. Opera lights? Check. 1970s “eleganza” accessories present and accounted for!

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It remains to be seen if the ELR will ever be able to shake its humble Volt origins but history says it’s a distinct possibility.

This promo film from the King Rose archive tells the whole story in 7 minutes with nary a mention of Nova underpinnings but “epoxy encapsulated bolts” are certainly highlighted.

Seville’s dignified design is timeless so adding one to your fleet, such as this 1976 with only 40,000 miles, is certainly worthy of serious consideration.

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.