Archive for July, 2010

The Durable Dodge Dart

July 30, 2010

If you were a young driver looking for an inexpensive used car in the late 1970s, your elders were invariably going to recommend that you try to find yourself an old Dodge Dart. Now these sixties-vintage Darts were not going to turn many heads or have any cheerleaders asking you for a ride home, but they were reliable, durable, economical, and easy to repair.

The Dodge Dart made its debut for the 1960 model year, and this year marked somewhat of a turning point within the industry. During the 1950s fuel economy and point-of-sale affordability were of little concern, but as the sixties rolled around the compact car with the low price tag began to emerge. Chevrolet began to offer its first compact car, the rear-engine Corvair for 1960; Ford unveiled their new compact, the Falcon, that same year; and Plymouth followed suit with the Valiant for 1960 as well.

The first wave of Dodge Darts were considered to be full-size cars, but they were smaller than typical full-size vehicles, powered by the 225 cubic inch slant-six engine as standard equipment. As the rest of the industry continued a trend toward downsizing, Dodge followed suit with the Dart. By 1962 the Dart was a mid-size, and the following year, they made the Dart a compact offered as either a four-door sedan, a four-door wagon, a two-door hardtop coupe, or a two-door convertible.

In what turned out to be a hint of things to come, in 1965 Dodge offered the Dodge Dart Charger, equipped with a four-barrel carburetor, the Commando 273 engine, and appearance upgrades. In 1966 a performance model was offered within the Dart series, called the D-Dart which came with a modified version of the 273 ci V8 that utilized an enhanced carburetor to increase the horsepower rating to 275.

The Dodge Dart Swinger 340 was introduced in 1969, and it was the only true performance version of the Dart as the decade of the 70s began. It was replaced by the Dart Demon in 1971, though a handful of 1971 Swinger 340s were said to have been made for a couple of Canadian dealerships. So, if you locate a 1971 Swinger 340, you have found yourself a rarity.

The Dodge Dart remained in production through the 1976 model year when it was ultimately discontinued and replaced with the Aspen. The Dart is a memorable vehicle that was, for the most part, short on panache but long on reliability. Indeed, many a Dart has been driven past a junkyard that was full of flashier cars.

Contributed by Fossil Cars Staff Writer


Rare Bird Sighting: The Plymouth Superbird

July 27, 2010

One of the better stories to come out of the American automobile industry during the latter portion of the 1960s is that of the Plymouth Road Runner. What’s not to like about a real muscle car that could get the quarter mile in under 14 seconds while setting you back less than three grand? Plus, as a bonus, you get a car that is named after one of your favorite cartoon characters. How can you beat that?

It was indeed a coup in retrospect when you learn that the Plymouth division of Chrysler had to fork over all of $50,000 to Warner Brothers for the rights to the name and likeness of the Road Runner. This gave the car instant name recognition, a visual image to go along with it, and a built in ad campaign. All in all, it was a very good idea, and the public responded. Plymouth would have been happy if they sold 2,000 1968 Road Runners; in fact, they were able to move about 45,000 of them.

Sales in 1969 rose to some 82,000 units, and by 1970 Plymouth was ready to develop a Road Runner for the NASCAR circuit, and this car was name the Superbird. NASCAR had a rule that is called homologation requiring cars that are built for racing be offered in street legal versions to the public. The exact amount the rule required varied according to the number of dealerships the manufacturer had relationships with. In the case of the Superbird, the required production for public consumption was 1920 units.

The Plymouth Superbird was offered with one of three different engine options. There was the 440 Commando; the 440 Super Commando; and the 426 Hemi. Of the three, collectors will want to note that the 426 Hemi is the rarest of the bunch as just 135 specimens were produced.

The fact is that the Superbird was not popular with the public, and even though they were built in such small numbers, many of them sat on lots unsold in 1970. As a result, they were only produced for that one model year. These days, anyone who decided against a Superbird back in 1970 may be kicking themselves a bit. Superbirds are generally valued at around $70,000 on average, and they have fetched as much as a quarter of a million dollars.

Contributed by Fossil Cars Staff Writer

The Oldsmobile Toronado

July 23, 2010

When you take a look at the Oldsmobile Toronado, the first fun fact to consider is the name of the vehicle itself. What is a “Toronado?” Is it a city in Spain, or a bullfighting term? Is it the translation of the word “tornado” in Portuguese? Well, the mystery is unveiled here today. The word Toronado actually references nothing at all. Someone at Chevrolet attached the name to a prototype back in 1963, and it was slapped onto the Oldsmobile division’s entry into the personal luxury car market that made its debut for the 1966 model year.

The Toronado was designed by David North, and it took seven years to get from the drawing board to the assembly line. Aside from our tongue-in-cheek look at the car’s name, a truly significant fact about the Toronado is that it was a front-wheel drive vehicle. The last time that a car with front-wheel drive was offered by a domestic automobile manufacturer was in 1937 when the Cord L-29 was being marketed.

The 1966 Toronado was powered by the Olds 425 cubic inch 385 horsepower V8 that was dubbed the “Super Rocket.” This engine produced a zero to sixty time of 7.5 seconds, and it could cover a quarter of a mile in 16.4 seconds, reaching 93 miles per hour while doing so. Largely due to the daring reintroduction of front-wheel drive and the innovative Turbo-Hydramatic transmission, the 1966 Olds Toronado received a number of honors from the automotive intelligentsia, including the Motor Trend Car of the Year award.

Sales of the 1966 Toronado reached 40,963, nothing staggering, but not a bad total for the car’s first year of production. You might think that all of the accolades would lead to a big uptick in 1967, but to the chagrin of the brain trust at Oldsmobile, that didn’t happen. They sold just about 22,000 units that sophomore season, and never surpassed 40,000 gain until the second generation of the Toronado was introduced in 1971.

The Toronado went through a third and fourth generation as well, and the model was finally discontinued after the 1992 model year, so it had a very nice run. The early specimens of the Oldsmobile Toronado are valued among collectors today. In 2009 a totally restored 1966 Olds Toronado sold at auction for $68,750.

Contributed by Fossil Cars Staff Writer

The AMC Pacer: A Blast From The Past

July 20, 2010

1975 AMC Pacer

Every once in a while you find yourself driving down the road, and all of a sudden you see a vehicle roll by that makes your head turn, and you ask yourself “What was that?” If you were around in the middle of the 1970s, you probably had the this experience the first time you encountered an AMC Pacer.

American Motors was always subject to an identity crisis, because it was difficult to impossible for them to go head to head with the Big Three niche by niche. They had to pick their spots and offer something that the others were not, and the Pacer was introduced to this end in 1975. It is said that the concept of the Pacer started with considering the space needed for the driver and passengers, and then proceeding to build around them as efficiently as possible.

The company anticipated a public outcry for smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles as lessons were learned from the oil crisis that took place a couple of year’s prior to the Pacer’s release. They were right on target, as sales of the 1975 Pacer reached a total of 145,528 units. The initial standard engine in the Pacer was the 232 cubic inch six-cylinder, and a 256 ci I-6 option was available as well, though the original plan was to use a Wankel rotary engine.

From a stylistic perspective, the Pacer was unique, virtually all glass from the body up. It was a futuristic look, but as original as it was, that out-of-the-box appearance was largely to blame for the vehicle’s demise. Richard Teague’s daring design enjoyed its “15 minutes of fame,” but the novelty wore off quickly, and the Pacer was discontinued after the 1980 model year.

That was thirty years ago, and though the Pacer did not carry a high price tag and was produced in pretty large numbers, its value among collectors is on the rise. There’s a good bit of interest in 1970s oddities that defined this fleeting era of disco and leisure suits, and a well-preserved Pacer is a sight to behold. They have been known to fetch as much as $6,000 in perfect condition, and that’s not bad considering the fact that the 1975 Pacer carried a base price tag of $3,299 when it was brand new.

Contributed by Fossil Cars Staff Writer

The 1948 Tucker “Torpedo”

July 16, 2010

There are a lot of interesting stories that dot the landscape when you look back into the history of the automobile manufacturing industry, and one of them revolves around a man who was named Preston Tucker, who was born in 1903.

Tucker could best be described as an entrepreneur who had developed a fervent interest in cars as a youngster, and he made a living as a car salesman prior to the Second World War. Upon learning of the acrimony leading up to the conflict, he designed a high speed armored car along with an associate, Harry Miller. It was originally intended for the Dutch, but the deal was never consummated. The American military wasn’t interested in the vehicle, but they were impressed by its gun turret, so the “Tucker Turret” went into production; it was used on PT boats and some aircraft.

After the war, the American public was eager to buy new cars, but the Detroit “Big Three” really had nothing fresh to offer. What they sold was more or less the same thing they were peddling prior to the war. Tucker set out to design the car of the future and bring it into the present. The result was the 1948 Tucker sedan, often referred to as the “Tucker Torpedo.”

The car featured many innovations, including a third headlight in the middle of the grille. It was a rear-wheel drive vehicle and the engine was in the back, and safety features abounded, including a padded dashboard and seat belts. This was long before the industry as a whole demonstrated any interest in safety while designing their cars. The first prototype was powered by a 589 inch flat-six engine, but that didn’t work out, so Tucker settled on the air-cooled Franklin 334 that was rated at 166 horsepower.

Tucker raised some 17 million dollars via an initial public stock offering, and he allowed buyers on the waiting list to purchase accessories before the car was actually delivered. The latter practice led to an SEC investigation and subsequent indictment. Though Tucker was eventually acquitted, the bad press surrounding the imbroglio doomed the company. Just 51 1948 Tucker sedans were built, so they are very rare and valuable today. Tucker’s fascinating story was told on the silver screen in the 1988 motion picture Tucker: The Man and His Dream.

Contributed by Fossil Cars Staff Writer