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

Buick Gran Sport

Buick Gran Sport 1970s American classic muscle car

The Buick Gran Sport had Pontiac to thank. The latter's GTO was the first muscle car. As such, it saw a big-block V8 fitted in a medium-sized chassis. The result was hard-punching power - at a competitive price. Not surprisingly, then, the GTO sold well. Again, not surprisingly, Pontiac's rivals picked up on the fact. The muscle car era was born.

One of those rivals was Buick. In '65, they took their 'Skylark' car - and mated it with their 401ci 'nailhead' V8. As a consequence, the Skylark's output soared to 325bhp. While the Skylark 'Gran Sport' never played in the same sales league as the GTO, it nonetheless did good business for Buick. In '66, they followed it up with a more powerful Gran Sport. It now kicked out a cool 340bhp. Sales, though, were down on its first year. Attractive as it was, a brand-new Buick did not come cheap! So - in '67 - the 'GS' 400 was launched. A 3-speed auto transmission appeared. As an alternative, Buick offered the budget GS 340. Sales started to climb again.

The Gran Sport's finest hour came in the form of the GS 455. Released in 1970 - complete with a 355ci engine - oomph was nominally upped to 360bhp. However, Buick were almost certainly underestimating it. Road testers swore it felt more like 400bhp. At any rate, it was in 'Stage One Special Package' tune. That comprised a hotter cam, larger valves, and a modified carb. With all that hooked up, the Gran Sport was good for 130mph. Exotic 'GSX' styling options went toe to toe with the performance stats. Spoilers, stripes and supersize tyres made the GS 455 look as well as it went. Sadly, all good things come to an end. As soon as '71, the Gran Sport's best days were behind it. Low-lead gas led to less power. Insurance hikes kicked in, too. One way or another, the muscle car game was up. Like its power-mad siblings from other marques, the GS simply faded away. Times change - and the world moves on. But - like everything else - progress comes at a price. In automotive terms, that meant cars like the Buick Gran Sport. For - despite all their foibles - driving has never been quite the same since!

AMC AMX

AMC AMX 1960s American classic muscle car

To all intents and purposes, the AMX was a stripped-down AMC Javelin. It was a foot shorter - and weighed a lot less. On its release - in February '68 - it was the sole US 2-seater sports car. It stayed in production until '74. If AMC stood for American Motors Corporation, AMX did the same for American Motors eXperimental.

When a car sets 106 speed records, you know you are onto something. When it does so in a month, you know you have hit pay dirt! So it was when Craig Breedlove got behind the wheel of an AMX, shortly after its launch. Unsurprisingly, AMC saw fit to mark his success - with 50 red, white and blue AMX Breedlove specials. Rewind to the real world, and top speed for the AMX roadster was 120mph. The SS version - complete with a 390ci V8 - made at least 340bhp, and probably a whole lot more. Muscle car stats at the time tended to be understated. Built with one eye on the drag strip, just 50 SSs were sold. Partly, that was because its price was supercharged, as well as its power! If you needed more muscle from a standard AMX, way to go was a Go Pack. It included a bigger 401ci V8 motor. Output duly climbed to 330bhp. The Go Pack also provided uprated brakes, suspension and wheels/tyres.

By '71, though, the AMX's hot shot days were numbered. At that point, the top-of-the-range Javelin ruled AMC's roost. Come '74 - and the end of its run - its superstar status was substantially reduced. In its day, though, the AMX was more muscular than most. And certainly more modish. Saying that, the Mustang gave it a run for its money in the stylishness stakes!

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!

Plymouth Prowler

Plymouth Prowler 1990s American sports car

The Plymouth Prowler was a hot rod for the new millennium. Tom Gale was head of design at Chrysler - Plymouth's parent company. He had long been a hot rod aficionado - and was especially enamoured of those made in the 1930s. Gale picked up his pen - and drew a modern variant on the classic theme. Fast forward to Chrysler's stand at the '93 Detroit Auto Show. Gale's sketch had been turned into 'dream car' reality. The public's response was favourable, to say the least. Chrysler's top brass immediately saw an opportunity to reinvigorate the Plymouth brand. They reckoned hot rod culture was deeply embedded in the American psyche. Lots of folk would love to own one - but did not have the time or know-how to build it. Why not build it for them? Feasibility studies duly completed, the Prowler project was given the green light.

According to Chrysler, customers were getting the best of both worlds. The Prowler provided the practical benefits of modern technology - as well as retro-style good looks. Whopping 20″ rear wheels were wrapped in 295-section rubber. The front wheels were 17″. The nose of the car was iconic hot rod - high cheek-bones, jutting jawline, and a slimline grille. Only the bumpers on some models gave the chronological game away. They were a plastic concession to modern-day safety legislation. Consummately-crafted suspension components were in plain view. Bodywork was steel and aluminium.

The Prowler was powered by the Chrysler Vision V6. The 3.5-litre engine produced an impressive 218bhp. Purists would probably have preferred it to have been a V8 - but you cannot please everyone. Top speed was 125mph. 0-60 was reached in 7.7s. Acceleration was assisted by light weight - just 2,900lb of it. 11,702 Plymouth Prowlers were sold - in a five-year run. Chrysler were proved right ... the hot rod was still an integral part of the American Dream!

Dodge Viper

Dodge Viper 1990s American sports car

Chrysler recruited Carroll Shelby as consultant for their Dodge Viper project. Previously, he had been linchpin of the AC Cobra. Shelby lavished what he had learned from the Cobra onto the Viper - in terms both of its venom-spitting power and serpentine lines. On its début - at the '89 Detroit Motor Show - the Viper mesmerised all who saw it. Such was the frenzy that the concept car created, that Chrysler hastily hatched plans to put it into production. Fast-forward two and a half years - and the Viper was sliding onto the highway. Its 8-litre V10 gave 400bhp. Top speed was 180mph. Its wheels featured wide 13″ rims - helping transfer torque to tarmac. And torque there most certainly was - a churning 450 lb ft of it.

Indeed, the Viper's motor began life in a truck. That was before Lamborghini got hold of it, though. They re-cast the iron block to aluminium. And topped that off with a bright-red cylinder-head. Even so, it was far from a cutting edge engine - comprising just two valves per cylinder, plus hydraulic lifters and pushrods. Which is when Carroll Shelby came in. Basic though the set-up was, he coaxed big numbers out of it. Thankfully, the transmission, at least, was state-of-the-art. A 6-speed 'box was still a rarity, in the early '90s.

Styling-wise, the Viper hit the spot. Its sinuous bodywork was seriously aerodynamic. 'Enthusiastic' drivers loved it. Seals of approval do not come much bigger than selection as pace car for the Indy 500. Stateside, the sports car sector had been in the doldrums. The Viper reinvigorated it. As for Carroll Shelby - the Cobra was always going to be a tough act to top. Tribute to him, then, that the Dodge Viper had 'em dancing in the aisles. Well, in the passenger seats, at any rate!

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!

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.

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!

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray 1960s American classic sports car

The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was released in '63. 'Stingray' was a fitting name. For - in careless hands - the car could indeed unleash a fearsome sting, from its sweetly-shaped fastback tail. Its avant-garde fibreglass body made the Stingray a lot lighter than it looked. Its kerb weight was just 3,362lb. Combine that with 340bhp - from a small block high compression V8 - and the result was a powertrain that required respect. Even more so for the fuel-injected 360hp version - available as a $430 optional extra.

The Stingray's free-flowing form was inspired, in part, by Chevrolet's Mako Shark 1 'dream car'. Dream cars were just that. Conceptual exercises - on display at auto shows - they were never intended to traverse highways. Rather, their brief was to work buyers up into a fever-pitch of excitement. Their acme was the '50s. During that space-obsessed decade, sci-fi was the source of many a fantasy-drenched design prototype. Another GM car key to the Stingray's development was '57's Q-Corvette - designed by Bob McLean. The Stingray Special - Bill Mitchell's racing project - was also instrumental. Those machines fed into '59's XP-720 - a GM experimental model. From that, it was a short hop to the Stingray production car.

The Stingray was dubbed the 'Coke bottle' - on account of its hour-glass shape. Andy Warhol - who knew a thing or two about coke bottles - would have loved that. Designer Larry Shinoda refined those illustrious contours into something suitable for road use. Pete Brock was an able assistant. Bill Mitchell - head stylist at GM - owned a Jaguar E-Type. And that British-made sports car, too, was a clear influence on the Stingray. The latter, though, could only have been made in the US. American to its apple-pie core, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray summed up the States. On a sunny '60s day - with the convertible version's top down - driving must have seemed like the stuff of heaven!

Ford GT

Ford GT 2000s American supercar

The Ford GT was the firm's birthday present to itself ... or, anyone with a spare $203,599 lying about! Created to mark the company's centenary, it was released in 2005. The new GT was inspired by one of the finest cars Ford had ever produced. The iconic GT40 racer was a multiple Sixties Le Mans winner. The new GT prototype débuted at the 2002 Detroit Auto Show. Feedback was fulsome! In short order, Ford confirmed that they would be putting the prototype into production. 4,038 GTs were built ... somewhat shy of the 4,500 Ford envisaged.

If the GT's styling harked back to the past, technologically, it was cutting edge. A venturi - cut into the floor-pan - provided plenty of downforce. High-speed grip was further enhanced by huge Goodyear Eagle tyres. And the GT needed every bit of that grip - as its 5.4-litre engine pushed traction to the limit. The aluminium V8 was fitted with a Lysholm supercharger. The cylinder-heads were well-fettled - including high-lift cams. When the Ford engineers finished, there was 550bhp on tap. Torque was massive - 0-60mph turning up in just 3.7s. The GT's body and space-frame chassis chipped in on the acceleration front, too - both being forged from light aluminium. Transferring torque to tarmac was independent, double-wishbone suspension.

Despite its power, this car was way more practical than its race predecessor. GT40 referenced height - all 40″ of it! The new GT was, at least, wider and longer. Performance-wise, too, the new car was more user-friendly. Those titanic torque stats translated to to-die-for acceleration. The GT, though, could mood-shift in an instant - cruising, seamlessly and effortlessly. A 6-speed transmission was there, if required. With the new GT, Ford had homed in on the ultimate all-rounder. To say the least, it took the sales fight to its rivals. A top speed of 204mph was more than competitive in supercar marketing terms. The Ford GT, then, was a nostalgia-laden celebration of speed!

AC Cobra

AC Cobra 1960s American classic sports car

Rarely has the 'special relationship' - the trans-Atlantic alliance between the UK and the US - come up with something quite as special as the AC Cobra. Texan Carroll Shelby sought out AC Cars - in Thames Ditton, England. The firm had been founded by the Weller brothers - in West Norwood, London - in 1901. How would AC feel about Shelby inserting a Ford V8 engine into his take on their sinuous bodywork? The curtain was about to be raised on one of the most memorable sports cars of all time.

The Cobra's svelte lines were clearly drawn from the AC Ace. The 'Ace' was an elegant British sports car. But the Cobra's beefcake build would be boldly all-American. Shelby was a successful racing driver. When it came to the Cobra, then, he wanted power - and plenty of it. Its 7-litre Ford mill unleashed 490 wild horses - or their automotive equivalent! And the Cobra's pushrod V8 spat out torque on tap. The AC's light-alloy body shell slimmed-down power-to-weight still further. Thankfully, disc brakes were fitted all round!

The cars were sold as both Shelby and Ford Cobras. In race trim, they were Shelby American Cobras. Only 1,000 or so cars were built. Their legacy, though, will live forever - or as long as men like Shelby feel compelled to compete. There have been Presidents with less presence than the AC Cobra. Big fun, in a big country, basically!