Showing posts with label American Classic Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American Classic Cars. Show all posts

Cord 810

Cord 810 1930s American classic car

Errett Cord was a man on a mission. To get rich - or die trying! Maverick to his core, cars were one of several saucers he was spinning. Cord may not have loved cars unconditionally - but he sure as heck loved selling them. Cars like the Cord 810, in fact.

By '29, Cord had already acquired Auburn and Duesenberg. In due course, he returned both of them to profitability. Time, then, for him to start up his own company. The first model off the line was the Cord L-29. It featured a Lycoming engine and front wheel drive. The motor was not much to write home about. But the FWD most certainly was. Indeed, Miller racing cars were fitted with it. As a result, they were leaving rivals languishing in their wake. Cord decided he could use some of that. Sadly, its FWD was not sufficient to make the L-29 a commercial success. It was held back by its high price and transmission issues. As well as the mediocre motor!

The Cord 810 was launched at the NY show - in December '35. Its unique selling point - FWD - had been upgraded. More to the point, powering it was a new V8. With the optional supercharger, it produced 190bhp. That gave a top speed of 110mph. Gear changes were electric - literally. A small lever activated cog-shifting solenoids. The 810's innovative engineering allowed for radical styling. Its unitary construction - with no separate chassis - let Gordon Buehrig design a 'low rider' profile. Headlights blended in with the fenders - enhancing the car's clean lines still further. Inside, too, the Cord cut a dash. Its instrument panel looked as aeronautical as it did automotive. A convertible, phaeton - and two sedans - were on offer. But - even with so much going for it - the 810 did not overburden the showroom tills. To be fair, the Great Depression was not the ideal time to launch a new car. Plus, Errett Cord had other things on his mind. His ‘creative’ business practices attracted attention – some of it from financial regulators. As a result - in ’34 - Cord sought a safe haven in England. With its erstwhile captain no longer at the helm, the good ship Cord was cut adrift. In ’37, it sank without trace. For all that, the Cord 810 – and its 812 successor – had well and truly made their mark. In the annals of avant garde design, that is. Alas, not at the cash registers!

Excalibur SS

Excalibur SS 1960s American classic sports car

The Excalibur SS was styled by Brooks Stevens - one of the great industrial designers. Stevens was prolific, to say the least. In the course of his 61 years in the profession, he amassed 550 clients - and thousands of designs. Thankfully for gearheads, some of them were for cars. Probably the best-known was the Jeep Jeepster ... the first cool 4x4!

Arguably even cooler than the Jeep was the Excalibur J sports-racer. It first appeared in '52. But, Stevens really hit the jackpot - at least in publicity terms - with the Excalibur SS concept car. Unveiled in '63, it catered to the increasingly popular trend for all things 'retro'. The SS wowed the NY Auto Show. Stevens was inundated with orders. With its Studebaker Lark chassis - and supercharged V8 engine - the SS was an intriguing mix of old and new. Dyed-in-the-wool vintage fans did not like it. Everyone else loved it!

Concept car complete, Stevens' next step was to render the SS roadworthy. A Chevrolet Corvette engine was duly inserted into the rear of a modified chassis. In true vintage style, there were flexible metal exhaust pipes and an aluminium radiator shell. The retro body panels were, in fact, glassfibre. Stevens' two sons were tasked with marketing the SS. Roadster and Phaeton models were available. Peak power was 300bhp. Top speed was 140mph. To be fair, the Excalibur SS was never going to satisfy every taste. Just 359 cars were built. But surely - even the most fastidious vintage car aficionado can find something to like about it? Oh, well - perhaps not!

Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz

Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz 1950s American classic car

The Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz was one outrageous roadster. Launched in '59, it looked like a Saturn space-rocket. Certainly, you could have seen it coming from a mile away. Not that it would have arrived as quickly as a rocket - its top speed being 115mph. It would have helped, too, had said mile been a smooth stretch of freeway. The Biarritz's springy suspension might have got the jitters, otherwise. But - given the right road - the Biarritz was a car like no other. The epitome of OTT styling, it took Fifties sci-fi mania to another level. Rear fins had never been higher - up to a skyscraper-like 42″. Jutting out of them was a ray-gun of indicators and brake-lights. And - were they tail-lights or after-burners? A cosmetic rear grille inspired further flights of spaced-out fancy.

Powering the plot was a 6.3-litre V8. It made a more than respectable 345bhp. Much of that, though, was soaked up by the Biarritz's two-ton weight problem. It did not do the fuel economy any favours, either. A measly 8mpg were available. There again, petrol in '50s America was cheap as chips. Holding it all together was a perimeter frame chassis. Drum brakes were fitted all round. Not exactly space-age, technically. But, then, that had been sorted by the design department!

The Biarritz was off-the-clock comfortable. Zero-gravity, you might say! That was due, mainly, to its super-soft suspension settings. All six seats were power-adjustable. The boot-lid opened electrically. Headlight-dipping was automatic. Of course, there was power-steering. The hood and windows were also electrically-operated. Transmission was via a 3-speed auto. The car was named after a mythical city, made out of gold - and a sophisticated French seaside resort. Cadillac's Eldorado Biarritz was everything you would expect from a machine so dubbed. Oh - space-walks were an extra!

Edsel

Edsel 1950s American classic car

In brand-name terms, the Edsel and Mercury were peas from the same pod. In reality, the Edsel was made by Ford. Technically, though, Edsel was a marque in its own right. Certainly, it was sold as such - from '58 to '60. Ford forecast that - in the first year alone - it would sell 200,000 Edsels. As it turned out, a mere 62,000 shunted through the showrooms - in the whole of its two-year run. The Edsel had cost Ford $250,000,000 to develop - so, the mediocre sales figures were not good! To say the Edsel was a white elephant would be an understatement. Which was a shame, actually - because it was a car that could have had a lot going for it. Sadly, though, Ford's timing was out. Not that it was really the Blue Oval's fault. Ford's sales team had targeted lower-middle demographics - lodged somewhere between their up-market models and the cut-price Mercury. When the Edsel went into production, however, the automotive industry was depressed. Customers were looking to buy cheap. The Edsel was stuck in marketing no man's land.

As with the Mercury, there were echoes of the Ferrari Dino in the Edsel. At least, insofar as both were presented as stand-alone marques. Both, too, were named after prematurely deceased sons. Dino Ferrari - and Edsel Ford - passed before their time. The cars were fathers' tributes - from Enzo and Henry, respectively. It was especially sad, then, that in the case of the Edsel, sales were so poor. A front-end feature that definitely did not help was the vertically-shaped grille. American buyers simply did not take to it. Ironically, the rest of the car was quite conservatively styled. As compared with its Fifties rivals, at any rate. The Edsel 'brand' comprised 15 models - including saloons, convertibles and station-wagons. The one part they had in common was the floor-pan!

The Edsel's engine came in one of two flavours - straight-six or V8. Peak power was 350bhp. Top speed, 108mph. Manual and auto 'boxes were both 3-speed. Biggest capacity was 6,719cc. Edsels are now highly sought-after. In different economic circumstances, the Edsel may well have been a success. As it is, it has to settle for an impressively high 'one that got away' rating!

Chevrolet Corvair

Chevrolet Corvair 1960s American classic car

Sadly, the Chevrolet Corvair did not deliver on its potential. That was down to the fact that it garnered a reputation for oversteer. Pro motoring whistle-blower Ralph Nader pounced all over the Corvair's alleged defects. They lay, he said, mainly in the handling department. Nader duly detailed them in his book Unsafe At Any Speed. This was a tract devoted to automotive health and safety. His words were diligently read by American drivers - and the Corvair's fate was sealed. A '64 revamp - with revised rear suspension - was a last-ditch attempt to rid the Chevy of its wild child image. It did not work.

Certainly, though, the Corvair got a tick in the box marked technical innovation. For a start, it featured a rear-mounted flat-six engine. Also, its suspension was fully independent. Throughout the Sixties, several versions of the Corvair were released. As well as a sporty coupé and stylish convertible, there was a turbo-charged model. The latter produced 180bhp. Which gave a top speed of 105mph.

Chevrolet designed the Corvair to take the fight to cheap European cars, flooding into US showrooms, at the time. It was marketed as 'compact' - though that was more by American than European metrics. Size-wise, it was similar to the British-made Ford Zephyr. Styling-wise, though, the Corvair's restrained lines were cut from distinctly European cloth. More so than most of its American siblings, anyway. Indeed, Chevrolet went so far as to dub the coupé version, the Monza. And, the Corvair would go on to influence the Hillman Imp and NSU Prinz. Over a million Corvairs were built. It should have been more. Those misgivings about handling never quite subsided. As a result, '64's Ford Mustang galloped ahead, in sales terms. So far as American automobiles were concerned, however, the Chevrolet Corvair blazed a perfectly-formed trail for European-style sophistication.

Hudson Commodore

Hudson Commodore 1940s American classic car

Founded in 1909, Hudson was a middling motor car manufacturer. Up until '48, that is. Which is when their Step Down models were launched. Overnight, Hudson became a byword for 'cool'. Even the bottom-of-the-range Pacemaker was sought-after. The Commodore was coveted!

Hudson's design department had worked overtime. Either that, or something had suddenly clicked. The curves of the Commodore's bodywork revealed a new set of shapes. They would dominate car styling through the Fifties. In particular, the Commodore's 'low-rider' profile was ahead of the game. It was enabled by Monobilt - a unitary-construction process Hudson had developed. The Commodore's floor-pan was beneath the chassis. So, occupants literally 'stepped down' into the cabin. But, Monobilt was more than merely pleasing on the eye. It was safer, too. Passengers were surrounded - and, indeed, protected - by a robust perimeter frame.

As 6-seater saloon cars go, the Commodore was pretty quick. The 8-cylinder engine version produced 128bhp. That made it good for 93mph. Half a million Commodores were duly sold. But - sadly for small car companies - the automotive sharks were circling. Firms like Hudson were small fry, compared to the bigger fish in Detroit's pool. With Ford, GM and Chrysler as rivals, it had always been on the back foot. In '54, Hudson bowed to the inevitable and merged with Nash - simply to stay afloat. By then, though, it had had its day in the sun. Hudson's Step Down cars - most notably, the Commodore - were stylish, functional, fast and safe. What was not to like?

Lincoln Continental

Lincoln Continental 1960s American classic car

It is not often that a car plays its part in history. Sadly, though, that was the case for the Lincoln Continental. For, it was while riding in the stretched Presidential version - through Dallas, Texas, in '63 - that John F Kennedy was fatally shot. The Continental was tailor-made for affairs of state. The MkII Continental - released in '56 - came with virtually every 'mod con' going. Naturally, it was graced with a price tag to match. What distinguished it was its pristine lines and sober styling. Chrome and fins were in evidence. But nothing like so much as on most other highway exotica, of the time. The Continental packed serious gravitas. In short, it had class!

'61 ushered in the most iconic Continental of all. That was the legendary 'clap-door' model. It acquired the tag on account of its rear-hinged back door. To say the least, it needed to be opened with care. Backwards-looking visibility was not its strong suit. Beware passing motorcycles! The second the new Lincoln was launched, celebrities' minders strong-armed their way to the showrooms. Before long, everyone who was anyone had gone Continental. The new car had the lot! Shapely elegance, lashings of luxury - and, courtesy of Ford - a rorty V8. The Continental's top speed was 125mph. Its 3-speed automatic gearbox made it a breeze to drive - especially if you were in the 'power-top' convertible version. The Continental saloon ate straightaways for breakfast. Corners - it has to be said - were slightly less to its taste. 7.0- and 7.5-litre engines were fitted. Maximum output was 365bhp. So - performance-wise - the Continental was no slouch. And that was with 5,215lb of body mass to move.

The Continental was a crowd-puller from the get-go. With its bulbous nose - and 'egg-crate' grille - it was a magnet for passers-by. Subsequent models, though, were less charismatic. The MkIII Continental, for example, had all of the size - but less of the charm - of its spotlessly-styled predecessor. So meticulously built was the original that Lincoln lost money on it. Into the '60s - and the Continental continued to pick up plaudits. It comprised, after all, the best of both worlds - American scale and European refinement. Brawn mixed with chic, so to speak. All in all, the Lincoln Continental was one of a kind. A fitting backcloth, then, for that doom-laden day in Dallas - when the whole of the world held its breath!

Pontiac Firebird

Pontiac Firebird 1970s American classic sports car

The Pontiac Firebird flew onto the American car scene in February, '67. Released at the same time as GM's Chevrolet Camaro, they were two peas from the same 'pony car' pod. The most iconic early 'Bird was the '69 Trans Am. The 'Trans-American' was a road race - organised by The Sports Car Club of America. The Pontiac Trans Am was a star turn. Complete with rear spoiler, beefed-up chassis and Ram Air power delivery, it was a muscle car par excellence. Blue and white livery set it off to a tee. Its split-grille nose became the stuff of legend. Indeed, the Firebird would be a flagship for the Pontiac brand for years to come.

The Firebird entered its second phase in 1970. Restyled for the new decade, it was in the Seventies that the car came into its own. In '78 alone, Pontiac sold more than 93,000 Trans Ams. Customers could choose one of three models - standard, luxury Esprit or Formula. For sure, the Firebird was spreading its wings. In fact, it was lucky to have fledged at all. GM considered pulling the plug on the Firebird in '72. They were not convinced that performance cars were the way to go. Thankfully, the Firebird was given the benefit of the doubt. As things turned out, GM would be well-rewarded for their faith in the Firebird.

A third generation of Firebirds arrived in the Eighties. Its charismatic, but time-worn nose had had plastic surgery. It was now more finely-chiselled - and sported cowled headlamps. '87's GTA version featured a 350 cu in V8 engine. Top-of-the-range as it was, the GTA was good for 125mph. It hit 60 in just 5.4s. Design-wise, though, the Firebird was starting to look its age - especially parked next to hot foreign competition. As a result, sales suffered. So, Nineties Firebirds were given a stylistic face-lift. No ravages of time, though, could detract from the glamour of the early years. One of the all-time great American automobiles, the Pontiac Firebird blazed a phoenix-like trail. Whatever automotive fashion dished out, it somehow always rose from the ashes!

Studebaker Avanti

Studebaker Avanti 1960s American classic car

The Avanti was supposed to resurrect the Studebaker brand. Company president Sherwood Egbert dreamed up the car - as a means to inject some much-needed vitality into Studebaker's corporate veins. Egbert's choice of designer for the Avanti was astute. Raymond Loewy - who had previously penned the Coca-Cola bottle - was hired as stylist. Loewy went the minimalist route ... at least, as compared with many of his contemporaries. Typically, Detroit-built cars of the time were mainly comprised of chrome and fins. The Avanti, though, exuded 'European' restraint. Its glassfibre-forged lines were smart - but unshowy. On the inside, too, things were similarly sophisticated. Neat instrumentation - and leather bucket seats - were fully imbued with Italianate finesse.

But - just two years after the Avanti's release - Studebaker was no more. The firm went into receivership in '64. And that seemed like that for the new car. At the last, though, automotive saviours stepped in - in the form of Studebaker dealers Nate Altman and Leo Newman. In no mood to see the Avanti die, they bought the rights to it - and set about re-starting production. With Studebaker motors no longer around, Chevrolet Corvette units were sourced. The car was re-christened the Avanti II. The original had already received rave reviews. Now, it acquired 'sought-after' status, too. Altman and Newman's faith was rewarded. The Avanti Motor Corporation thrived ... right up until '82.

Technically, the Avanti impressed. Its V8 engine made 335bhp. That took it to a top speed of 145mph. The power was controlled from a comfortable cabin. 4,643 Avanti IIs were sold. In subsequent years, there would be further attempts to keep the car going. Like Loewy's coke bottle, certain products seem destined to be around forever. And - while not, perhaps, quite in Coca-Cola's league - the Studebaker Avanti is still being built somewhere. Last line seen somewhere in Mexico, it is said!

Dodge Charger Daytona 500

Dodge Charger Daytona 500 1960s American classic sports car

The Charger Daytona 500 was Dodge's response to Ford dominance. Specifically, in the form of NASCAR racing. The Charger car had been competitive in terms of outright power. But, it had been held back by an excess of speed-sapping drag. The Charger '500' version was an attempt to redress the balance. The Charger's nose was duly enclosed. Its rear window fitment now sat flush with its surrounds. Those two changes alone made a big difference. In the '69 season, the 500 won 18 races. Unfortunately for Dodge, its biggest rival - the Ford Torino - won 30! More was clearly needed. In short order, the 500's nose grew 18″. Most noticeably, the car sprouted a huge rear wing. The updated model was 20% more aerodynamically efficient. It was duly dubbed the Daytona. NASCAR's tables had turned!

505 Daytona road cars were built. Racing homologation rules required it. Sadly - from a Dodge point of view - they did not sell well. But - just as the showroom dust was starting to settle - TV rode to the rescue. The Dukes of Hazzard series turned the Charger tide. Indeed, for many - in the guise of the General Lee - the Charger was the star of the show. Week after nerve-racking week, the Sheriff seemed in perpetual pursuit of the Dodge-borne Dukes. Though, thanks to its GM Magnum V8 engine - and the 375bhp it provided - the good ol' boys were able to stay out ahead! For real-life drivers, there was the choice of a 4-speed manual - or 3-speed TorqueFlite - gearbox. Suspension was by torsion bars, upfront - and leaf springs, at the rear. Respectively, they were connected to disc brakes and boosted drums.

Ironically, the new nose and rear wing - game-changing for the Daytona racer - hindered the roadster. The added weight slowed it down. And it was not travelling fast enough for the aerodynamic package to really kick in. That said - if performance took a tumble - turned heads and double-takes turned up by the shedload. But, it was on the oval banking that the Charger truly came into its own. Buddy Baker, for instance, drove a Daytona to NASCAR's first 200mph lap. That was in 1970 - at Talladega, Alabama. The car was, after all, named after one of the most iconic of race-tracks. The Dodge Charger Daytona 500, though, fully lived up to the legend!

Oldsmobile Toronado

Oldsmobile Toronado 1960s American classic car

Of all the cars to have been made in Detroit, the Oldsmobile Toronado must be one of the biggest. This two-ton leviathan hit the road in '65. The Toronado was the first mass-produced American car with front-wheel drive. As a result, it handled better than its rivals. 60% of the Toronado's weight was over the front wheels. Torsion-bar suspension sealed the deal, stability-wise. Plus, two of the four tyres Firestone made especially for the Toronado. They featured stiffer sidewalls - and extra grip. The wheels were slotted - to cool the finned brake drums.

Power was provided by a 7-litre V8. Dubbed the 'Rocket', the engine produced 385bhp. That gave the Toronado a top speed of 130mph. The motor was mated with a 3-speed Hydra-Matic gearbox. Rubber insulation smoothed the V8 vibes. The mill sat in a solid, perimeter-framed chassis.

The Toronado was ahead of the game in its looks, too. Clean and vibrant lines set it apart. Its headlights' electric flaps were a sweet styling touch. Alec Issigonis - designer of the Mini - said large engines could never be successfully twinned with FWD. Automotive giant though he was - the Oldsmobile Toronado proved him wrong!

Ford Shelby GT350

Ford Shelby GT350 1960s American classic sports car

As automotive luminaries go, they do not shine much brighter than Carroll Shelby. So - in '65 - when the erstwhile racer trained his tuning sights on the Ford Mustang, the sports car community sat up. The first-model Mustang had been released the previous year - to great acclaim. It had impressed in every area ... except one. In performance terms, the Mustang underwhelmed. Enter Carroll Shelby!

Styling-wise, the Mustang was fine. So, that was left alone - apart from new side-exhausts and stripes. Shelby headed straight for the engine - a Cobra 4.7-litre V8. He already knew a thing or two about it. He had, after all, been the catalyst for the AC Cobra. When Shelby picked up his spanners, the Mustang's V8 made 271bhp. Ford had already uprated the original spec. Shelby, though, was sure there was more. He was right. By the time he put down his spanners, output had risen to 306bhp. That came, in the main, by modifying the manifolds. Though a Holley carburettor certainly helped. Top speed had risen to 149mph ... with a 0-60 stat of 6.5s. Ensconced in their LA workshops, Shelby and his team had turned a meek and mild Mustang into a muscle car!

But, it would not have been a 'Shelby' without racing attached. It came in the form of the SCCA B-Production road-race series. The Shelby GT350R duly hit the grid. And went on to take the '65, '66 and '67 titles. The R dished out 360bhp. While the roadster was not quite in that league, it was no slouch. Koni suspension was suitably solid. The chassis was well up to taking the strain. Front discs - and rear drums - provided safe and assured braking. Transmission was 4-speed. Carroll Shelby had done it again. Cut from the same cloth as the AC Cobra, Ford's GT350 was already a thoroughbred sports car. And when a class act like Shelby got a hold of it, sparks were always going to fly. In a perfect trajectory, of course!

Dodge Charger

Dodge Charger 1960s American classic sports car

There have been few cars as iconic as the Dodge Charger! Since Steve McQueen found himself followed by one - in the movie Bullitt - it has been the stuff of legend. The Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger squared up to each other in the showrooms, too. Between the pair of them - in their battle for muscle car pre-eminence - they put Detroit on the world map. Before that, some Stateside cars were getting just a tad gaudy. There is a limit to how much chrome - and how many fins - a car can take, before it starts to become borderline kitsch. Cars like the Charger stripped things back to basics. Simple lines defined a new, no-nonsense approach to styling. The Charger was built to, well, charge - and not much more. Its only concession to design décor was the buttressed rear window.

There could be only one engine for this masterclass in American machismo. A V8 was a shoo-in for the Charger's powerplant. All that 'grunt', though - piledriving rear wheels into the tarmac - meant handling could be hairy. That was best illustrated by the R/T - Road and Track - model. Released in '68, it was the most uncompromising version of the Charger. Delivering 375bhp - and 150mph - the R/T was a heady brew of torque and speed. 0-60 arrived in 6s. This time round, rock-solid suspension - and anti-roll bars - enabled the R/T to handle as well as it went. It came with a 4-speed Hurst 'box. Powerful front disc brakes were optional. Well, according to the spec list, anyway!

The Charger would be one of the last of the muscle car breed. It was produced until '78. After that, the automotive industry took a more leisurely, safety-oriented tack. Never again would the roads of America echo with such ear-splitting gear-driven crescendos. Of course - in Bullitt - the Dodge Charger was driven by the bad guys. Certainly, it is among the most dramatic cars ever to have turned a wheel. And anyway ... we all secretly love a good baddie, don't we?

Chevrolet Camaro

Chevrolet Camaro 1970s American classic sports car

The Chevrolet Camaro was born out of necessity. Sales of the Ford Mustang were going through the roof. GM needed a fix for that - and fast! Rolling to the rescue came the Camaro. Key to its success was its 'Coke bottle' styling - by Bill Mitchell. The Z28, especially - with its duck-tail rear spoiler - rivalled the Mustang for glamour. GM was back on track. 220,000 Camaros were shifted - in the first year alone. Buyers had a choice of V6 or V8 engine - as well as a variety of tuning options. The most uncompromising package was the SS (Super Sport). Less extreme - and more popular - was the RS (Rallye Sport). These are now the most collectible Camaros.

The Seventies ushered in an all-new Camaro. It featured monocoque construction. The new model's looks may not have been as exotic as the original - but it still stacked up as a cohesive design. Crucially, it was slimmer than the new Mustangs. Sales of '70s Camaros peaked at close to 2,000,000. GM were happy bunnies again. Though down on power compared to the '60s versions, it was clear that Stateside motorists had taken the Camaro to their hearts. When a car starts to symbolise 'the American dream', things are definitely on the up!

They say competition improves the breed. The Camaro was a case in point. Had it not had the Mustang as a rival, it is unlikely the Camaro would have soared to the heights it did. In the end, it became a car which was difficult to fault. With a top-spec speed of 125mph, performance was sorted. Design-wise, it was out of the top drawer. In short, it got just about everything right. The Mustang, not so much. It rather lost its automotive mojo, over time. While the pony car developed a paunch, the Camaro kept a solid six-pack. Ultimately, of course, both were great American automobiles. Stone-cold classics of their muscle car kind. Some say the Chevrolet Camaro got it on points. If so, it was because it had more styling stamina in its tank, as the years went by.

Buick Riviera

Buick Riviera 1960s American classic car

Its name alone told you all you needed to know about the Buick Riviera. It was a classy automobile! Built at a time when in your face fins and chrome were ubiquitous, the Riviera oozed cool sophistication. Automotive haute couture, so to speak. Spotlessly clean, in design terms, its shape was especially powerful in profile. The Riviera's elegantly-drawn body was along the lines of, say, a Jaguar or Bentley. So European were its looks that it might almost have been described as the Rolls-Royce of American cars! Interior décor, too, was in the continental style - complete with rounded dashboard dials and floor-mounted gear-shift. Electric windows and power steering came as standard, naturally!

But, the Riviera's charms were more than skin-deep. In highest-spec 7.0-litre guise, its V8 engine produced no less than 365bhp. Top speed was a cool 130mph ... pretty good going for a five-seater saloon car. A two-speed automatic gearbox kept it all on an even keel. Not that the Riviera was perfect, of course. Handling was average - not helped by the live rear axle. And its drum brakes were prone to high-speed fade.

The Riviera, then, was a satisfying blend of American and European. The best of both worlds, Buick hoped. For all its cosmopolitan chic, there was still more than a hint of muscle-bound machismo. Straddling the 'pond', you might say. At the time, it was the bee's knees in transatlantic travel. Indeed, many a Mediterranean tourist would not be seen in anything else. Would they, chéri?

Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang 1960s American classic sports car

When the Ford Mustang muscle car was first unveiled - at '64's New York World Fair - it triggered a tidal wave of excitement. Thereafter, it became one of the fastest-selling cars in history. It took the Mustang just two years to pass the million sales mark. Lee Iacocca was the whizz-kid Ford executive who conceived the car. It had Sixties all-American looks, straight out of the crate. But, the real beauty of the Mustang - at least, for aficionados - was its long list of extras. Everything, from the engine and gearbox - to suspension and braking - was ripe for user input. Trim options were legion!

And if all you wanted was to cut a dash in your new Mustang, the straight-six motor was more than sufficient. However, if performance was more up your street, a V8 was available. Power outputs went from 195 to 390bhp. If your Mustang was towards the top end of that range, the optional front disc brakes were a wise choice. Standard suspension suited most drivers. It comprised coil-spring and wishbone up front - and a beam axle on leaf springs at the rear. Naturally, a stiffer set-up was there, if needed. Gearbox options were a 3-speed auto, or a 3/4-speed manual.

At full gallop, the Mustang made 130mph. If you wanted more, there was the Carroll Shelby model - with added muscle! A road/race hybrid, it was based on the GT350 fastback. Subsequently, it grew into the 7-litre GT500. By then, it was pummelling out 425bhp. The most iconic Shelby Mustang of all has to be the GT390. It was Steve McQueen's co-star in the '68 film Bullitt. Thanks to that iconic movie, 'pony cars' were hot to trot. Rival manufacturers fell over themselves to build their own take on the trend. But, nothing cut the Mustang mustard quite like the original. And that included Ford's own updates. Later versions - with added flab - lacked the simple, strong styling of their predecessors. For many an owner, the Ford Mustang was their entrée into the American Dream. Waking up was not an option!

Ford Thunderbird

Ford Thunderbird 1950s American classic car

The ultimate classic car? Impossible to say - though the Ford Thunderbird must be right up there! Visually stunning, of course … full-gloss Americana, as it was. But, there was always more to the Thunderbird than met the eye. Its no-nonsense V8 motor made sure of that. In 5.1-litre format, the 'Bird was good for 120mph. The engine was borrowed from the Ford Mercury.

Next to some of its rivals, the visual design of early 'Birds was reserved. There is little that is excessive in the clean, bold lines of the first models. All pedal to the metal sports car styling. That said, it helped if you were travelling in a straight line. 'Birds tended to wade through bends - due to their super-soft suspension set-up.

The Thunderbird was Fifties, through and through. As the decade wore on, though, time took its toll. Like Elvis, it started out in life lithe and agile - with ebullience and looks all its own. In later versions, some of that grace faded. But, nothing can detract from the original. A proud day it was, when the first Thunderbird - pristine and powerful - flew the Ford coop.

Tucker Torpedo

Tucker Torpedo 1940s American classic car

The Tucker Torpedo came out of left field. Its designer - Preston T Tucker - was a confirmed maverick. Cars were in his blood. He started out at Cadillac - as an office boy. After a stint as a car salesman, he became a partner in an Indianapolis motor racing business. In '45 - with the War over - Tucker determined to create the ultimate car. Style and speed would come as standard. But, there would be more.

When it came to 'health and safety' - especially of the automotive kind - Tucker was an evangelist. Maybe it was a war thing. In the last few years, an ocean of blood had been shed. Perhaps Tucker had seen enough - and decided to redress the balance a bit. To that end, the Torpedo would have seat-belts. A padded dashboard and pop-out windscreen, too. Where accident prevention was concerned, Tucker dreamed big. But - as the Torpedo entered production - the real world kicked in. As in the 'bottom line'. Customers were concerned about seat-belts. Why did the car need them, they asked. The marketing men got jitters. Seat-belts were subsequently binned. Along with swivelling headlights, disc brakes and the central driving position. In the end, Tucker settled for independent suspension. Oh, and the padded dashboard!

To be fair to Tucker, he was right to be anxious. After all, the Torpedo could certainly shift. Its flat-6-cylinder engine gave 166bhp. Top speed was 121mph. Rear-mounted - and water-cooled - the motor was bleeding edge. '47 saw the launch of the Torpedo's final model. Just a year before, Tucker had bought the world's biggest factory. The new premises - in Chicago - had been an aircraft plant. But, a problem was looming. Tucker was accused of fraud. He had - it was alleged - tampered with the Torpedo's design. Having already signed contracts. Tucker pleaded with the industry - categorically denying the claims. But - though he was cleared in court - mud stuck. Shortly thereafter, The Tucker Corporation filed for bankruptcy. It was a sad finale to so much idealism. Preston T Tucker's Torpedo was built to save lives - not end them!

Chrysler Airflow

Chrysler Airflow 1930s American classic car

The Chrysler Airflow was where Art met Science! Its body lines were aerodynamic - at a time when that craft was a mere glint in a boffin's eye. Indeed, the Airflow was the first production car to feature the fledgeling craft. A wind tunnel was duly constructed. Today, such systems are considered arcane ... in the early '30s, they were a black art! The Airflow wizards of engineering were Carl Breer, Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton. Breer had been first to be smitten by the new-fangled science. Zeder and Skelton soon followed suit. And it did no harm at all when pioneer pilot Orville Wright's input was added. Over 50 test cars were subsequently built. So - by a process of painstaking refinement - the Chrysler Airflow gradually took shape.

The Airflow, though, was not just aerodynamics. Weight-saving, too, was part of its brief. Its svelte frame was made from light metal - rather than heavy timber. Perched on that frame was a monocoque body. That reduced weight still further. What mass was left was optimally placed. The engine was over the front wheels - with ride and handling in mind. The seats sat neatly within the wheelbase - in the interests of balance. Thanks to all the wind-cheating work, the Airflow was well-placed to 'turn up the wick', when required. A top speed of 88mph was not to be sniffed at, in '34.

The Airflow's sales, though, were lacklustre. Walter Chrysler showed courage and commitment, in commissioning the car. But, the Airflow was the future. Buyers were not yet ready for its 'free-flowing' lines. On top of that, there were rumours of build quality faults ... on account of new welding techniques. Ultimately, though, cars like the Airflow are not about sales. Rather, they are about the legacy they leave - and the visions they engender. The Chrysler Airflow influenced automotive design for decades!

Cadillac Eldorado Brougham

Cadillac Eldorado Brougham 1950s American classic car

As '50s cars go, the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was understated. Next to its sibling, the Eldorado Biarritz, for example, the Brougham's tail fins were positively petite. Such delicacies were to be found on other parts of the car, too. The aluminium roof - minus pillars - was a shining example. And the narrow, whitewall tyres were a stylish delight. From a design history point of view, the Brougham was the first car to feature twin headlights. It was based on a 'dream car' prototype - first shown at '54's Motorama. The 'Park Avenue' was a four-door sedan. It made serious waves when exhibited on GM's stand. As a result, Harley Earl - General Motors' head of design - hinted it might go into production. It duly did. The Eldorado Brougham was released in '57.

The Brougham's brand of elegance was more than skin-deep. The interior accessories list was a long one. It comprised items more associated with fashion than automobiles. Female passengers were particularly pampered. How about polarised sun visors, magnetised tumblers - and cigarette and tissue dispensers? Lipstick and cologne, a compact and powder puff, and a mirror and comb were thoughtfully provided. There was even an Arpege atomiser - with Lanvin perfume. And carpeting was in karakul - or lambskin. Hey, any lady who complained about that little lot might be asked to exit at the next set of lights!

But, the Brougham's litany of luxuries did not stop there. It was only right that more masculine tastes be catered to, too. Like a 6.3-litre V8 - dishing up 325bhp. It was hitched up to GM's 'Hydramatic' transmission. The chassis was 'X-frame' - held up by air-assisted suspension. There were both power brakes and steering. Plus, electrically-operated seats and windows. The cabin was wired for pretty much everything - given that this was still the Fifties. Gadgets and gizmos abounded. The Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was one of the most exotic cars ever to have come out of Detroit. A skilfully contrived cocktail of restrained glamour. And on top of all that, it could be customised. With 44 trim combinations available, your dream Caddy was a cinch!