The Plymouth Barracuda

The Plymouth Barracuda

The Plymouth Barracuda was introduced on April 1, 1964 but it was no joke. It was a sporty derivative of the tried and true Valiant compact sedan. The Barracuda broke ranks with the vanilla Valiant sporting a sleek fastback roof, bucket seats, and an innovative fold-down rear seat that created a long flat cavernous cargo area. It might have been the coolest new car of 1964 had not 16 days later Ford introduced…the Mustang. 

Read More

American Microcars of the 40s, 50s and 60s

American Microcars of the 40s, 50s and 60s

It was the mid-1940s. America was emerging from a decade and a half of depression and war. The nation’s industrial might and entrepreneurial spirit were focusing themselves on something they had not done in a long time…selling stuff. For the first time in years, Americans had money to spend. With their new found wealth, they wanted new suburban houses, washing machines, refrigerators and TV sets. Most of all they wanted automobiles. They wanted new cars to replace the old ones that for years they’d been holding together with spit and bailing wire. Demand was frenzied. Anyone making cars could sell cars…lots of them. The great Seller’s Market was upon us. And like wildflowers after a spring rain, strong demand brings forth entrepreneurs blooming with ideas to sate it. 

Read More

Tail Fins on a Budget: The 1960 Plymouth Valiant

Tail Fins on a Budget: The 1960 Plymouth Valiant

Many years ago I was out on a date with an artist, a hipster before anyone had thought of the term.  I’ve long forgotten her name but not her style. Upon discovering that I knew something about cars, she announced that her current dream car was a 1960 Plymouth Valiant. Really, I asked, not expecting that pronouncement and intrigued. She liked tail fins, you see, and the Valiant was the cheapest car she knew of that had them. 

Read More

Capri: The Sexy European

Capri: The Sexy European

Was the Capri a model or a make? The car that burst on the scene at the start of the 1970s was itself gorgeously self-evident, a lively sport coupe that handled as good as it looked. Capri was a collaboration between the British and German designers of the most globally diverse of all car companies, Ford. Sport sedan aficionados across Europe knew this racy coupe wore the Blue Oval proudly on its bonnet. It was the Ford Capri and they loved it. But when it came to America, Capri’s many fans here were less clear as to what to banner this racy little coupe drove for. Was it a Ford? Ford dealers in the States already had a sporty coupe to sell. It was called the Mustang…and as rumor has it, did pretty well. Capri in America were sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealers. But was it a Mercury? No Mercury ever looked or handled like a this. Things didn’t get any clearer over Capri’s two-plus decades in America. It took different forms, spanning four iterations and as many continents. Was it a Ford or a Mercury? We can only call it Capri, the subject of our next Makes that Didn’t Make It.

Read More

Hailing the Checker

Hailing the Checker

If you grew up in or frequented any big city during second half of the 20th Century, you have seen a Checker. Probably you’ve ridden in one, most likely amid the mixed aroma of spiced meats, cleaning fluid and vomit. Drive one? Without a stint as a cabbie it’s hard to imagine. But by happenstance in the summer of 1983, this writer did have the pleasure of driving a Checker, without the need of a hack's license. In between graduating from college and starting my first “real” job, I worked as a chauffeur for a drive-your-car service in southern Connecticut. This was decades before Uber or Lyft. Then, when a driver was needed, we would go to the client’s house, and then chauffer them in their own vehicle to where ever they needed to go. Most every trip was to or from a New York area airport. Most every car was the ordinary fare of early 1980s suburbia; Oldsmobiles, Buicks, the occasional Honda. But one fine day the drive would not be to the airport, and the livery would be anything but ordinary. 

Read More

Dreams Do Come True: The Dual-Ghia

Dreams Do Come True: The Dual-Ghia

Ah, those glorious dream cars. Every big auto show features some. They rotate on their elevated stands, seductively draped in a glamorous model who enthusiastically rattles off feature after amazing feature. How often have we dreamed of ourselves behind the wheel of one of those rolling sculptures, maybe that glamourous model by our side, as we cruise the boulevard. Isn’t that why they call them dream cars? But how many of these dreams actually came true? Even if that beauty gets the go ahead for production, only a few of her amazing features make the cut. Maybe that cool grill stays, but those hand shaped lusciously curved fenders? Victims to the cruel realities of mass production. One dream did come true, however. In the end it was not a profitable dream, but it was a most delicious one.

Read More

The Subaru Baja: A Craig's List Ad says it all

The Subaru Baja: A Craig's List Ad says it all

2006 Subaru Baja Sport

When the Baja hit the scene 15 years ago there hadn’t been a vehicle like it in America in decades - not since the Chevy El Camino, the Ford Ranchero or the Subaru BRAT. Unfortunately, there was not enough interest in car-based pickup trucks in the mid 2000s to justify the cost of making a second generation Baja. A total of only 30,000 of them were built from 2003-2006. In fact, this particular Baja was one of the last 3 ever sold in the Bay Area!

Read More

King Midget

King Midget

Midget Motors of Athens, Ohio made the King Midget micro car from 1946 to 1969. It was the most successful independent car maker of the last 75 years, though few have ever heard of it. How is that possible? Well, it depends on how one defines success. The measure of Midget was certainly not volume. The well-funded Kaiser Motors – which began the same year as King Midget - built over half a million cars over 10 years – 100 times Midget’s total sales. Of course, Kaiser lost the modern equivalent of over $1000 on each car it sold. Midget Motors made money on every one of its. Is success gaged by notoriety? The drama surrounding the amazing Tucker played out loudly and tragically in period newspapers and on magazine covers. Even though Tucker’s production was 1/100th that of Midget’s, its story was so compelling that 40 years after the fact, Frances Ford Coppola made a movie about it. No one is ever going to make movie about the King Midget. The car business is not for the faint of heart. Henry J. Kaiser lost tens of millions of dollars on his Last Onslaught on Detroit. Preston Tucker lost his shirt and his reputation on his Tucker Torpedo. Midget Motors’ owners, Claud Dry and Dale Orcutt, on the other hand, carried no debt when they sold their company after two decades of profitable operations. It seems that succeeding small can be pretty dull stuff when compared to failing big.

Read More