Nov existing home sales fell 6.1% to 4.93M-the lowest level since last May (4.91M). Lack of supply continues to weigh on the #housing market
Let’s get this out of the way, #1. Yes, this is a very long article (6,600 words) … depending on how you look at it. Instead of one long article, think of it as 26 separate articles. Just skip the cars that don’t appeal to you, and read the ones you like.
Let’s get this out of the way, #2. The information here was often very difficult to verify. That’s right, hard as it might be to believe that such a thing is possible on the Internet …. but, the data might be wrong! For example, regarding the 1970 Plymouth Superbird, one expert with good credentials says only 58 were produced with the Hemi engine … while another equally qualified expert says the number is 135. Such disparate information occurred rather frequently. So, I often take a “best guess” …. this is just a blog article and I’m not going to spend endless hours just to “be right”.
Let’s get this out of the way, #3. I left out MANY rare cars in this essay. First, there were over 1,000 auto companies in the USA between 1896-1930. Second, during WWII there was a production freeze … the auto industry says there were 139 cars built in 1943 and 610 built in 1944. So, just from those two examples, it is clear there are a LOT of rare American cars. I couldn’t possibly begin to include them all. If I missed one of your favorite vehicles, please add to the conversation and post it.
(Complete list of defunct USA automobile manufacturers) —-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_defunct_automobile_manufacturers_of_the_United_States
By “rare” I generally mean low volume (under 500 units) production cars — cars built for consumers to buy. But, I made exceptions. For example, “prototype / concept” cars are by definition “rare”. Here also, there are very many prototypes, and I only include a few. (Concept cars are truly fascinating so, I plan on doing a separate concept-car essay in the future.)
Also, a key question hinges on how a “production” car is defined. Does it have to be an established manufacturer …. or some fledgling that did a pilot, sold a few cars and then collapsed? Should they include models that were produced in very low numbers just because they were flops … such as the Edsel? There are countless production car variants that ended up being produced in very small numbers. Is a modification (high performance engine, paint scheme, etc.) of a car of which 60,000 were made really a low-production car just because 2 were built that way? For example, does “rare” include any 1970 Mopar (many thousands built), but with the “Panther Pink” color option … a very rare option with only 414 produced (and few survivors)?
So many things to consider! So, here is my basic rationale for my choices of the rare American cars posted.
—- 1) Subjectively, I picked cars which are the most visually beautiful …. or just “cool”. Or,
—- 2) Objectively, I picked cars whereby there is an interesting story involved with the car’s history and impact on future cars.
The number in parenthesis is the number of units produced. The cars are listed in descending order by units produced …. with one exception; I will start this off with what is (in my humble opinion) the very coolest and most interesting car of them all …. the 1963 Chrysler Turbine!
So, let’s get started.
(55 … only 9 left) 1963 CHRYSLER TURBINE
American car manufactures had been trying to develop other car turbine engines; 1954 Plymouth Sport Coupe, 1954 GM Firebird I and 1959 GM Firebird III (NOT the same car as GM’s production Firebird), 1956 Plymouth Turbine Special, and the 1961 Chrysler Turboflite. None were released to the public. That honor belonged to a man I believe was one of the luckiest guys ever, Richard Vlaha.
Mr. Richard Vlaha of Broadview, Illinois, on October 29, 1963 would be the very first American consumer to drive the gorgeous Firefrost Bronze, Ghia-bodied coupe with black vinyl top and copper-orange leather interior. He would drive it for three months as part of Chrysler’s promotional loaner program … the experiment would include 50 cars delivered to 203 households over two years. I was eleven years old when my parents took me to the World’s Fair in Brooklyn in 1963 and I remember only exactly two things; the gigantic globe and the 1963 Chrysler Turbine. One doesn’t easily forget stunningly beautiful works of art. Chrysler would display Turbines in shopping malls and hype a 47,000-mile world tour covering 23 cities in 21 countries.
Your eyes are immediately drawn to the car’s airplane-like features. It seems American automakers had been evoking aircraft features in car design since the day after the Wright brother’s flight …. with projectile hood ornaments, swept fender-lines, and tail fins, etc. This car even has red-lens afterburners! The turbine theme continues throughout, even inside, with the rounded transmission tunnel splitting the buckets front and back. This dashboard instruments did not use bulbs. Instead, an inverter and transformer raised the battery voltage to over 100 volts AC and passed that high voltage through special plastic layers, causing the gauges to glow with a blue-green light.
But, it’s what you hear with your ears which completes the illusion that you’re driving a jet on wheels …. you have that whooshy vacuum-cleaner sound during acceleration and especially when you shut off the engine and hear it whirr down. Please, take a few seconds and listen for yourself. Wonderful!!
What is a turbine? —– “A turbine engine is simple. Intake air is compressed and preheated, then burned in an open chamber, out of which the rapidly expanding gases are directed onto two turbine wheels: one to run the compressor and accessories, and one to drive the car.”
Why build it? Simple. They thought it was a better engine. This wasn’t just a quickly cobbled together engine. It was a fourth generation turbine. Chrysler had been working on turbine car engines since 1954 when it was introduced in the Plymouth Belvedere CR1. Chrysler engineers believed the turbine had the following advantages (most of them are true);
— the turbine has 80% fewer moving parts than a piston engine (60 vs about 300), lower engine weight, and virtually zero engine vibration
— no combustion contaminants enter engine oil … in fact, oil changes are not necessary
— the turbine can run on virtually anything with combustible properties … gas, diesel, kerosene, peanut oil … in fact, when the car was shipped to France it ran on Channel No. 5 !!
— no carburetor and only one spark plug … resulting in virtually eliminating tuneups and also clean emissions (the exhaust does not contain carbon monoxide, unburned carbon, or raw hydrocarbons)
— no warmup period, no liquid coolant, instant interior heat in the winter. (Instead of a water temperature, the instrument panel was fitted with a Turbine Inlet Temperature gauge with numbers 500, 1,000, 1,500, and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.)
— all this simplicity offers the potential of reduced maintenance and longer engine-life
Let’s take a closer look at reality.
The maximum speed of the second-stage turbine is an astonishing 45,700 rpm, although reduction gears lower the output speed to 5360 rpm, and it idles at 15,000rpm. Throttle lag was significant … 2-3 seconds. High altitudes caused problems for the combined starter-generator. Drivers had to learn a new start-up procedure; thinking there was no difference between a piston and turbine car they would mistakenly press the accelerator pedal to the floor BEFORE the engine had reached proper temperature. Instead of warming the engine, it would stall. The leaded gas of the era would leave debilitating deposits within the engine.
The car averaged 14 mpg and could reach 18mpg on highways … mileage was atrocious in city-driving. The engine produced only 130hp. It took 12 seconds to go from 0-60mph. So, fuel efficiency and performance weren’t any better than existing cars, and in many cases, worse. In order to get the public to “make the switch” both need to be significantly better than other available engines. Chrysler would counter that in addition to reliability, the car was built for quiet and comfort …. and, indeed, that goal was accomplished.
Engine reliability was a mixed bag of results. Other early loaner Turbine Cars had serious mechanical problems. Some people put as much as 10,000 miles on in three months with no problems, while other loaner turbine cars had serious mechanical problems. One mechanic stated; — “The turbine wheels were welded to the shaft with inertia welding. Stresses caused the wheels to break at wide-open throttle. We changed to electron-beam welding on later cars. We changed a lot of engines. The electrical system wasn’t idiot proof. People would drive them when the engine temperature got too high.”
But, problems are to be expected on prototype cars, and the overall feeling was that the cars were reliable, and that none of the issues that popped up were show-stoppers. All these “problems” may have been overstated and magnified as the car was under a microscope during testing. The bottom line is this; after more than 1.1 million test miles were accumulated by the 50 cars given to the public, the operational downtime stood at only a very respectable 4%.
The reason for the car’s failure can be found in Washington …… via impending smog regulations.
The turbine generated nitrogen oxides. Quite simply, Chrysler was never able to solve the challenge of limiting them. When it’s all said and done, turbine engines just didn’t have the emissions and fuel-economy advantages to overcome the costs of materials and production. Soooo …. Chrysler murdered (in a crusher) 46 of the 55 Turbine Cars. Damn them!!!!
Chrysler’s work with turbine engines eventually paid off in a totally different product ….. the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, developed in the late 1970s by Chrysler Defense (later sold to General Dynamics).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2A5ijU3Ivs#t=333 —- very nice interview with Jay Leno and his personally owned Chrysler Turbine. Watch Jay drive around town.
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/the-truth-about-why-chrysler-destroyed-the-turbine-cars/ —– Disputes the widely held idea that Chrysler destroyed the cars due to import tariffs (the body was made in Italy).
http://turbinecar.com/turbine.html —– EVERYTHING you could possibly want to know about this car!
Note: The rest of this essay will generally feature only one picture per car, and the narratives will be much shorter.
(304) 1958 Eldorado Brougham
This will be the only Cadillac entry … even though they made many of the most beautiful American cars ever, and an entire thread could be dedicated to that brand. The car was designed in 1954 as Cadillac’s dream car for the General Motors Motorama of 1955. The hand-built ’57 Eldorado Brougham was an extremely limited production car costing a jaw-dropping $14,000 in 1957. A top end Rolls Royce cost “just” $9,000 …. and so, this Caddy was the most expensive car in the world at the time. Car collectors are just now appreciating this vehicle. A decade ago you could pick up a nice one for $40k …. now you’ll be spending six figures, with one selling recently for $300,000.
Those aren’t hubcaps … they’re actually forged aluminum. Aluminum wheels were extremely rare in the late ‘50s because they were extremely hard (and expensive) to cast. The roof is expensive stainless steel. It was one of the very first cars to have an all transistor radio, considered high tech for the time. The car rode on air on a total four-corner complex self-leveling air ride system … the first ever for an automobile. It had a remote starter, memory seats, power door locks, power steering and windows, separate front and rear heating, and retractable mirrors. There was also an enormous range of “vanity” comforts; Comb and Mirror, Lipstick Holder, Compact and Powder Puff, Coin Holder, Compartment for loose Cigarettes, Six Drinking Cups in Plastic Container, Cigarette Package Holder, Tissue Dispenser, Atomizer Containing Perfume, Memo Book and Pencil. The interior was as luxurious as any car of its time, or before. Obviously, only the wealthy could afford this car, and no expense was spared to give the buyers the most comfortable, smooth, and quiet ride possible.
I’ll stop here, but there were many other features. This car came with NO options …. you got it all, or nothing. This Caddy was a pace-setting vehicle with styling and engineering features destined to be incorporated into lesser cars in future years.
(under 400 total … only 12 1953s left) 1953 MUNTZ JET
The Muntz Car Company was created in Glendale, California by Earl “Madman” Muntz, … a local used car dealer and electronics retailer. The first 28 cars were manufactured in Glendale before production shifted to Evanston, Illinois. The car featured aluminum side body panels (the hood, trunk, and roof were fiberglass). Engines were sourced from other manufacturers, including Ford, Cadillac and Lincoln … and then modified. Madman Muntz collaborated with Frank Curtis … the famous American race car designer (midget cars, sprint cars, Indy cars, and Formula One cars) and founder of Kurtis Kraft.
Why did Earl and Frank start a car company? Sport Cars and Hot Rods book, published in1950, stated that the Muntz Jet was —- “”the first serious attempt in nearly a generation to manufacture an American sport car capable of measuring up to the top-flight European jobs“
They mostly succeeded. With its low-slung lines, the Muntz is a beautiful machine. Performance was adequate; 0-80mph in 9 seconds and a top speed of 125mph. This was comparable to other sports cars of the era, and the Muntz Jet appeared on the cover of the September 1951 issue of Popular Science (along with a Jaguar and an MG). Motor Trend magazine said the Muntz did everything a sports car should do; the car rides well, it’s fast, corners on rails and stops on a dime.
The company existed for just four years (1950-1954) and they produced only between 366-394 cars. Estimates are that only about 49 still exist. So, what happened? Labor costs were a monumental $2,000 per car because body panels had to be carefully fitted, then leaded-in. Muntz lost about a $1,000 on every Jet sold and eventually gave up after four years. TRIVIA: Some of you old fogies might vaguely recall the Muntz name …. that’s because he invented the 8-track tape car stereo!
http://www.gatsbyonline.com/main.aspx?page=text&id=260&cat=auto —— complete history of the Muntz Jet with lots of pictures
(200) 1933 FRANKLIN MODEL 17
Herbert Franklin built his first automobile on July 1, 1901. It took two months to build, and it holds the distinction of being the first four-cylinder automobile produced in the USA (most cars of the time had a single or two-cylinder motor). His company would build another 150,000 high-end luxury cars until the company declared bankruptcy on April 3, 1934.
Cadillac and Marmon had sixteen cylinder cars, and so in 1932 Franklin officially entered the cylinder wars. Franklin’s answer was the Model 17. In 1932, Franklin owed the banks close to $5 million dollars. The banks brought in their own representative to manage the Franklin Company, and the car became known as the “Banker Car”. The company went bankrupt shortly thereafter (some things never change). The reason for including it in this list is because the Model 17 holds the distinction as the only air-cooled 12 cylinder engine ever produced in America.
(135) 1970 PLYMOUTH HEMI SUPERBIRD
“Dear Lord, please let someone sell me their Superbird for $5,000″. That’s really the only sincere prayer request I’ve ever made. Been praying for 40+ years now … and I ain’t giving up!
Most of you know the story behind this car. It was built for racing. Some folks have speculated that the motivating factor in the production of the car was to lure Richard Petty back to Plymouth The Superbird was a highly modified version of Plymouth’s already highly successful Roadrunner line. Superbirds were known for their high mounted, wing-like spoiler ….. and a ridicules horn which mimicked the Looney Tunes’ Roadrunner character. Amazingly, the Superbird’s styling was too extreme for 1970 tastes, and most customers preferred the regular Road Runner. Many Superbirds sat unsold on the back lots of dealerships as late as 1972! Even more amazing, some were converted into 1970 Road Runners to move them off the sales lot!! By 1971, NASCAR had changed the rules to limit horsepower to cars with big wings, dooming the Superbird.
About 1,935 Superbirds were made in 1970 (the only production year), and Plymouth only produced 135 of them with the Hemi engine (the other two engine options were the 440 Super Commando with a single 4-barrel carburetor, or the 440 Super Commando Six Barrel with three two-barrel carburetors.) You’ll need to shell out a million plus bucks for a really nice Hemi. Maybe that’s why my prayer goes unanswered. TRIVIA: What was the car’s primary rival? Answer: Ford Torino Talladega.
(117 total ….. 32 still exist) 1958 DUAL GHIA
Dual Motors built only 117 cars between 1956-1958. Designed by Chrysler it came with a 230 horsepower, 315 cubic-inch Hemi V-8, and the body was fabricated by the Italian Coachbuilder Ghia. It was a favorite car amongst American celebrities; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sterling Hayden, Richard Nixon, Desi Arnaz and his son Ricci, even Ronald Reagan owned one …. which he lost in a high-stakes poker game with then-President Lyndon Johnson.
I think many car designers were smoking dope in 1958. Many cars of that era were so ostentatious with their Big Chrome, fins, scoops, etc. …. as if every consumer wanted to pretend their car could take off to the moon. This car is included because of its Simple Elegant Beauty. This car is “the-girl-next-door” who doesn’t need gobs of makeup and a push-up bra to feel worthy. She’s beautiful simply because …. she IS beautiful, as is, thank you very much.
(69) 1969 CHEVY CAMARO ZL-1
The ZL-1 was an upgrade package available only on the 1969 Camaro. Engine made of aluminum and weighed only 500 pounds. Factory specs state is was capable of 430hp … but the real number is closer to 560hp. The first 20 went immediately to the race track. The rest were offered to the public at $7,200 … quite a bit of money in 1969. Twelve were sent back to Chevrolet and refitted with a smaller engine so they would be able to sell. That means just 37 people got to buy one, and if you’re one them you are one lucky sumvabitch! And I hate you.
(55) 1967 PLYMOUTH R023 GTX
Hmmmmm …. what would happen if you took a regular GTX and tried to save as much weight as possible by removing the radio, hubcaps, heater, body insulations and even the carpet? What if you fitted it with a 426 cubic inch Hemi engine? What if you designed it with a large hood scoops in order to increase airflow to the massive engine block? Well you would wind up with a GTX R023 and you’d be able to do 0-60 in 4.8 seconds ….. a helluva feat in 1967.
(50) 1948 TUCKER TORPEDO
Americans were starving after WWII. Automobile production was dead in the water between 1942-1945 as those factories were cranking out bombers, tanks, and other fun military toys. There were long waiting lists for new vehicles, and consumers plunked down money, sight unseen. But models cranked out in 1946 were little more than prewar copycats … new cars that were old-and-tired before even one mile was put on the odometer. Americans were starving for a better product, and Preston Tucker just knew that he could satisfy their appetites. So, Tucker designed “The Car Of Tomorrow”; a low-slung car with curvy lines and a bevy of design and safety innovations for a car that looked like it was moving while standing still … hurtling through space into a bright future where, as in the Star Trek series “no man has gone before”. Innovations such as;
1) 24-volt electrical system starters to turn over the massive 589-cubic-inch engine,
2) a “safety chamber” where front passengers could dive “in case of impending collision.” (How that actually worked in reality I have no freaking clue. My paranoid mother would have thrown me under the dash every time my dad hit a pothole.)
3) a pop-out windshield designed to eject during a crash thus protecting passengers,
4) a third centered headlight which swiveled to light the way around corners,
5) interchangeable front/rear seats to even out upholstery wear,
6) a roomy six-passenger cabin with a “step-down” floor,
7) fenders that pivoted defensively when the car turned,
8) recessed or protected knobs, buttons, and levers,
9) an industry first fully sealed water-cooling system,
10) doors cut into the roof to ease entry and exit,
11) all-independent suspension,
12) a padded dashboard,
13) massive bumpers,
14) a rear engine,
15) disc brakes,
Performance was more than adequate. The Tucker could manage 0-60mph in about 10 seconds … even though it weighed a hefty 4,200 pounds. Top speed was at least 120 mph, thanks to the aerodynamic styling with an estimated drag factor of 0.30 – great numbers even today. And factory tests showed a credible 20 mpg at a steady 50-55 mph.
Why did his company fail? Most often the pundits will say Tucker was incompetent (and even corrupt) on the business side. His greatest failing, they say, was that he refused to cede creative control to businessmen who could have made the Tucker ’48 commercially viable.
Instead, he attempted to raise money through unconventional means, including selling dealership rights for a car that didn’t exist yet. The Securities and Exchange Commission conducted a three year long investigation which cost Tucker a lot of time, resources, and money. Eventually the agreements were rewritten to SEC satisfaction and the franchise sales proceeded. But, he was more short of cash than before, so he came up with another scheme to raise money. He came up with a “pre-purchase plan” for Tucker automobile accessories such as radios and seat covers … and raised $2 million in advanced payments on accessories to a car not yet in production. The SEC returned with a vengeance. Tucker faced a Grand Jury indictment on 31 counts – 25 for mail fraud, 5 for SEC regulation violation, and one on conspiracy to defraud. In the end Tucker was completely exonerated on all counts!!
But, it is a Pyrrhic victory when you lose your company. The company assets, including the automobiles, were sold for 18 cents on the dollar. Worse still, the press had turned the consumer against the company. The end was near.
But is that REALLY what happened? Is that the WHOLE truth? I don’t think so!
Wiki states; “There were over 1,800 automobile manufacturers in the United States from 1896 to 1930.” By 1940, the Big Three (GM, Ford, Chrysler) accounted for 90% of U.S. production (the bulk of the remaining 10% was composed of Hudson, Nash, Packard, Studebaker, and Willys-Overland). By the early 1950’s the Big Three manufactured 95% of American cars.
You can see the Big Three strategy here …. eliminate the competition. And that’s exactly what they did to Tucker. There is good evidence that the Big Three conspired against Tucker — they were literally quite afraid of his innovations – and applied much pressure on suppliers to not let Tucker purchase key materials, such as, ……. steel. Don’t believe me? Just go to the Henry Ford Museum web page (link immediately below). They have a page dedicated to Tucker. Not too much info about the car, and plenty of ink depicting Preston Tucker in an unfair and inaccurate manner. Skewering the man, even after all these years. How pathetic is that?
Francis Ford Coppola made a movie about the man titled “Tucker: The Man and His Dream”. Coppola owns two restored Tuckers which he says — “drives like a boat but are fun and fast”. Regarding Preston, Coppola states; — “We are a country of innovators, but we don’t always welcome them or aid them in their work.” That’s as true today as it was back then.
But, in a tremendous display of fortitude, Preston Tucker went to Brazil in 1951 to start all over from scratch, intending to build a sports car called the Carioca. Unfortunately, the project was almost underway when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died December 26, 1956 at the ripe old age of 53.
Today, Tucker’s 475-acre Chicago production plant houses a Tootsie Roll factory and shopping center. Ha! A shopping center replacing a manufacturing facility …. a prelude of America in 2014!
http://www.tuckerclub.org/ —- Tucker Club Of America, a wealth of information.
MUSCLE CAR BREAK! You readers need a break after that long Tucker narrative. I’ll be posting only pictures of rare muscle cars.
End of Break!
(38) 1935 DUESENBERG MODEL SJN
The great American dream. Two German boys, Fred and August Duesenberg, self-taught engineers who never built an automobile in their lives, immigrate to Des Moines (production later moved to Auburn, IN), and build what becomes arguably the most gorgeous cars ever made. Why can’t the current crop of immigrants be like that??
Duesenberg built only 1,145 cars between 1921-1927, so they are all rare; 650 of Model A, 12 of Model X, 1 prototype Model Y, and 481 of Model J.
The above car is a “JN” series. Of the 38 SJN’s built, only four were convertibles …. the very first one belonging to Hollywood legend Clark Gable. The car pictured is the ONLY factory-equipped supercharged Duesenberg Model JN ever produced.
I lived about 10 miles from the Duesenberg museum in Auburn, Indiana. In you live within a four hour drive from Auburn do yourself a favor and go visit! You’ll see some of the most beautiful cars on the plant, and you won’t be disappointed. I guarantee it.
(25) 1953 CUNNINGHAM C3
Briggs Swift Cunningham, born into a wealthy family, raced automobiles and yachts. He also built and drove very fast race cars. He was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame in 1993, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1997, and named to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2003.
Wow. So, perhaps believing “there ain’t a damn thing I can’t do!” Cunningham decided to build a production car … the Continental C3.
The car was built in West Palm Beach where mechanics installed a 331-cubic-inch Chrysler hemi V-8 in his own designed Cunningham C-2R racing chassis. The chassis was shipped to Italy to be fitted with aluminum and steel bodies by coachbuilder Vignale. There were 25 Continental C3s produced (20 coupes and 5 convertibles). They sold for $8,000 to $12,000 … a hefty sum in 1952, but not to notable owners such as Nelson Rockefeller and a member of the Du Pont family. Of these 25 cars, 24 still exist.
(17) 1949 KURTIS KRAFT SPORT
This vehicle gets my Cutest Car Award! It looks like it belongs in the Disney Carz movie.
But, don’t be fooled by its “cuteness”. At the 1949 Bonneville trials that darling-looking car hit an average of 143mph! Frank Kurtis wanted everyone to know that his car was faster than a Jaguar XK120.
Recall the Muntz Jet from above? Well, in 1950, Frank Kurtis sold the tooling for this very car to Earl ‘Madman’ Muntz.
(15) 1948 DAVIS DIVA
America’s only 3-wheeler …. or, is that a Bumper Car? Yet another Kurtis Kraft connection. Founder Glenn Gordon Davis acquired a prototype called “The Californian” from designer Frank Kurtis, who built it for millionaire race-car driver Joel Thorne. The company would build 17 units between 1947-1948. The game plan was to eventually build as many as 1,000 per day. But, the owner, Gary Davis was convicted on 20 of 28 counts of theft and fraud, and was sentenced to eight months to two years in jail. It was difficult to find investors after he was released from jail.
Why build it? Ummmm …. I have no idea. Perhaps it was to take advantage of lower safety regulations, since these were usually classified as motorcycles. Or, perhaps because it was more economical – the car weighed under 1,000 pounds, was powered by a 47 horsepower Hercules 4-cylinder engine, had a top speed of 85mph, and its fuel economy was 35-50 mpg. Another unusual aspect was that it featured 4-across seating (Americans weren’t nearly as fat back then).
Regardless, I wouldn’t be caught dead driving one. I’d rather drive a green 1970 Ford Falcon (inside joke).
(9) 1936 STOUT SCARAB
This great-grandfather of the minivan looks like a rolling toaster, doesn’t it? The 1936 Stout Scarab came about in the early 1930s because William B. Stout — head of the Stout Engineering Laboratories and inventor of the famed Ford Tri-Motor airplane engine — dreamed of rear-engine / rear-wheel drive. He wrote in Scientific American, “the driver will have infinitely better vision from all angles. The automobile will be lighter and more efficient and yet safer, the ride will be easier, and the body will be more roomy without sacrificing maneuverability.“
The Scarab looks long, but the overall length of just over 16 feet is about the same as a 1936 Pontiac, and it averages 19mpg with its 85hp flathead Ford V8. That seems to be a reliable engine as William Stout’s personal Scarab was driven for over 250,000 miles before it conked out. The Scarab dispensed with a separate chassis and body, opting instead for a unitized body structure … a first for an American automobile (it first appeared in the 1930s on some Citroen automobiles).
Scarab interiors were as unique as their bodies. Only the driver’s seat was fixed. All the others could be moved around the big, flat floor – even positioned around a fold-down table if desired. Combined with ambient lighting and thermostatic heating controls, this made the Scarab a rolling living room.
The price started at $5,000 (or $90,000 today) and nearly all of them went to Stout board members. And that’s why the car failed to catch on with the public. $90,000? In the midst of the Great Depression??? Duh!
In my humble opinion, this is the second most interesting and innovative car in this list (after the Chrysler Turbine). The car was well ahead of it time and, is actually quite attractive. You really need to watch this 7-minute video to appreciate it.
(4) 1954 PACKARD PANTHER
This stunning car reveals the death of a company … a story of Packard’s valiant efforts to restore its position at the pinnacle of American luxury cars.
Packard began producing cars in 1899. Within 15 years, Packard earned a reputation for building high quality luxury cars. Business was splendid …. until WWII. Most auto companies converted to building war equipment. Not Packard. Packard’s role was to encourage good relations with our ally, the Soviet Union. Packard sold its body dies to them (which the Soviets used to produce the ZIS-110 in 1945). This left Packard without a source of well-styled bodies for the postwar market. In fact, 1948 Packards were nicknamed ‘Pregnant Elephants’ by a now not-as-adoring public.
In an attempt to reignite public excitement, Packard introduced a concept car in 1954, the Packard Panther. Unlike most concept cars, this one was a fully functional automobile capable of high performance and sheathed in an incredible fiberglass skin … one inch thick! Four Panthers were made, and the car in the above picture is the only Panther made with a removable hardtop.
Packard installed the biggest engine they had — a 359ci straight eight. One of them was jacked up to 275 horsepower via a McCulloch centrifugal supercharger. It zoomed through the measured mile on the sands of Daytona Beach at the highest speed ever attained by a car in its class … 131.1 mph … a remarkable achievement unmatched by any rival, including Corvette.
But, the Panther couldn’t save an already struggling company. In 1954 Packard made one of the worst acquisitions in automobile history. They bought …….. Studebaker. That proved to be more than the manufacturer could handle, and Studebaker dragged Packard to its death in 1958.
(3) 1969 CHEVROLET “ASTROVETTE”
Quick … tell me … who was the 4th man to walk on the moon? Well, as a member of the Apollo 12 mission, it was Alan L. Bean (lunar module pilot). And that was his personal Corvette you’re looking at ….a perfect 100 point car.
The other two members of the crew —- Pete Conrad (mission commander) and Dick Gordon (command module pilot) —- also received identical GM custom painted gold-and-black Corvettes, but those cars are long gone. Automotive designer Alex Tremulis, the stylist behind the iconic Tucker Torpedo, devised the paint scheme. Otherwise, it was a standard Corvette (390hp 427 Turbo-Jet V-8).
Alan Shepard was the first astronaut to get a surprise gift from General Motors — a dazzling white 1962 Chevrolet Corvette. It was the beginning of a long marketing relationship between GM and NASA.
“In the 1960s, astronauts were the American heroes that every child idolized and every adult respected. That so many of them drove Corvettes really helped establish the Corvette as America’s sports car.”———- Jerry Burton (Corvette historian)
Eventually, the association with Corvettes began to concern NASA officials. They believed the public might construe the purchases as official endorsements by the astronauts, which was forbidden at the time, according to GM. By 1971, the astronaut’s sweetheart deal for new Corvettes had all but ended.
But this gorgeously preserved Corvette serves as a reminder of the glory days in space.
(1) 1954 DESOTO ADVENTURER II
Chevrolet introduced their Corvette in 1953. Soooo, DeSoto decided to create their own eye-catching sports car, and this sleek beauty is the result … a fully functioning (it has 15,000 miles on it) one-only concept car. Yet another body designed by Ghia of Italy, and powered by a FireDome Hemi V-8.
(1) 1954 OLDSMOBILE F-88
$3,240,000. That’s what this car fetched in a 2007 auction … sold to John Hendricks, founder and chairman of Discovery Communications (Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet). Craig Jackson, CEO of the classic car auction company Barrett-Jackson (which sold the car) says of this car —- “Many automobile historians consider the F-88 roadster to be one of the greatest expressions of automotive design to ever come from North America.” You can see this car today at the Gateway Colorado Automobile Museum.
In 1954, the F-88 was a Motorama Dream Car, and was one of only two, or an unconfirmed possible three, ever created. The golden Oldsmobile F-88 contained a complete powertrain, but didn’t run during its time on the Motorama circuit.
After a show car had completed its Motorama duties, it was usually turned over to its sponsoring division. The division’s top executives were then free to do with it what they wished. They were encouraged to eventually destroy it. Although they couldn’t sell such vehicles, they could and often did give them away — usually to favored dealers, business friends, or relatives. That’s how a lot of the survivors got out of GM. The crusher mandate was often ignored because America was a less litigious place in the early Fifties. This much we know.
The rest of the history behind the F-88 is shrouded in mystery, rumor, and even conspiracy. There’s a story of one F-88 catching fire. Another story of a GM engineer who was so distraught at the gold F-88 being destroyed that he ordered an identical model to be built, only in red. Another story claims that the surviving Oldsmobile F-88 escaped the crusher by being disassembled, crated, and shipped off to E.L. Cord’s mansion in California …. yes, the same E.L. Cord who simultaneously ran Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg. You can read a detailed account surrounding the mystery of the F-88 here: —- http://auto.howstuffworks.com/1954-oldsmobile-f88.htm
Here is the $64,000 dollar question; Why wasn’t this phenomenal car, which received overwhelming positive approval from the public, never put into production? Simple answer: it probably would have killed the Corvette.
The first-generation Chevy Corvette C1 was introduced in 1953. It was powered by a rather measly 150hp inline-6 cylinder engine along with a 2-speed “Powerglide” transmission and …. side curtains, Meanwhile, the F-88 was cradled a 324 cubic-inch Oldsmobile Rocket V8 making a brawny 250 horses. And, it had power windows! As the legend goes, Chevy campaigned within GM against bringing the F-88 to market due to concerns that the Olds would hurt sales of the Corvette. GM conceded. And, as they say, the rest is history.
(1) 1938 PHANTOM CORSAIR
$10,000,000. That’s what experts feel this car will bring if it ever goes to auction. (You can see it in the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.)
Designed by Rust Heinz …. yes, the son of the Ketchup Kingdom King. Heinz collaborated with coachbuilders Bohman & Schwartz to construct the car. His vision was to produce America’s first supercar. Plans to place the Phantom Corsair into small-scale production ended when Rust Heinz died in a car crash in 1939 — he was only 25 years old. Even so, it is doubtful the car would have succeeded. A brochure had been prepared and the price was set at $14,700 (or, the cost of about 135,000 bottles of ketchup in 1939)…. and nearly triple the price of a Cadillac V-16 sedan.
The boy-with-the-rich-daddy (who pretty much financed the entire endeavor) used his Hollywood and media contacts to promote the machine and, the July 1937 issue of Esquire ran a full-page color drawing. None of it worked. So, Heinz agreed to the Phantom being used in the 1938 film “The Young in Heart”, starring Douglas Fairbanks. In the movie the car was re-christened “The Flying Wombat”. That didn’t bring in any orders either.
This car was ahead of its time;
— extremely small windows (even for its time), a louvered nose, fully skirted wheels, totally flush fenders, no running boards, unique headlights, hydraulic bumpers, complex front-wheel drive, green-tinted safety glass, a thick layer of cork/rubber insulation for the cockpit, and there were no door handles as entry was via electric push buttons
— instrumentation came from the Cord 812, but supplemented by a full row of end-to-end gauges across the width of the dashboard, including a compass and altimeter
— body panels were made of hand-beaten aluminum and fitted over a tubular frame
— 6-passengers (four in the front, only two in the back due to the liquor cabinet)
— chassis and engine came from a donor Cord 812
— 19.75 feet long — 4,600 pounds — 120mph
Well, that’s it folks. Forgive me for keeping this article so brief.