Day One Brings the Muscle Car Era to Life

Day One

68 Pontiac GTO
1968 GTO Ram Air V at the Miami Dragway
Yenko Chevys
Yenko/SC 427 ’69 Camaro and Chevelle, plus a 1970 Nova 350/360 COPO Deuce

Day One Book coverIt’s great to learn about vintage cars from lavishly photographed books written by historians, restoration specialists and self proclaimed experts in their particular field of expertise.  This book, Day One: An Automotive Journalist’s Muscle-Car Memoir , breaks that mold by delivering a first-hand account from a man who witnessed and participated in the entire muscle car era first hand, Martyn L. Schorr.  Schorr is in a unique position to write on this subject. Starting in the early 1960’s, Schorr wrote for and later became editor for the iconic CARS magazine, as well as other automotive magazine titles that where owned by the same company. He was the head of a group of respected but rebellious, tell-it-how-it-is automotive writers working for an independent publisher that survived on newsstand sales, not corporate advertisers and not influenced by the major car manufacturers.

After some introductory chapters, the book’s chapters are broken down chronologically, starting with 1962 and ending in 1973-1974. In this manner, the reader follows the birth, success and ultimate demise of the muscle car era and how each manufacture responded to the public and each other in racing, styling and horsepower.  Each chapter is packed with great vintage photos, mostly shot by the CARS magazine staff, of cars being rung out on test tracks and the drag strip. Very cool.

Even cooler is the behind the wheel driving impressions of not only rare, brand new muscle cars, but factory test cars, race prepared cars and prototypes that the public would never be able to buy, much less drive.  And drive them they did! In 1964 Dodge gave Schorr the lightweight “Candymatic” Ramcharger backup drag car to use for a couple of weeks, equipped with a blue printed, race-ready, Stage lll , 12.5:1 426 Max Wedge, Torqueflight, jacked torsion bars and cheater slicks. Schorr writes: “Before returning our candy-striper, I managed to spend one Saturday running on Woodhaven/Cross Bay Boulevard in Queens. I dusted off a few 409 Chevys, 421 Pontiacs, and even a fuel-injected Sting Ray.”

The book if full of great stories about driving awesome cars from Yenko Chevrolet, Bladwin-Motion, Royal Pontiac and others. While today these cars are worth a king’s ransom, when they were new Schorr and his staff thrashed them on the street and strip without mercy, trying to squeeze as much power out of them as possible to achieve the lowest ET they get at the strip and shut down as many contenders they could on the street.

Cyclone Spolier
1969 Dan Gurney edition Mercury Cyclone Spoiler

There is a lot to like about this book, and I highly recommend it to anyone that likes muscle cars and would like to learn more about them.

Hardcover. 208 pages. Available from Motorbooks and from Autobooks-Areobooks 

Marty Schorr CARS magazine

Book Review: 100 Years of Ford Trucks

1961 Ford Trucks

100 Years of Ford TrucksFord trucks have been part of the American landscape for a century.  Early on, Model Ts where converted to delivery vehicles and the rear sections of the body could be easily removed and fitted with a variety of aftermarket pickup, flatbed, depot hack or other configuration to make them suitable for commercial use.  But the model T was a light weight car, not a heavy duty truck.   Ford answered the call to produce a dedicated truck line when it launched its one-ton commercial truck chassis, the Model TT, in July of 1917. Ford would go on to become the best selling truck in the world, and the best selling vehicle of any type in the United States with the F-Series. Today Ford sells over 700,000 F-Series trucks, and over 1.5 million trucks of all types just in the U.S. annually.1961 Ford Trucks

Ford Model A DUMP TRUCKPatrick Foster’s new book Ford Tough, 100 Years of Ford Trucks, explores the full, rich history of Ford trucks produced over the past century.  The book is comprehensive in its coverage of different models, including the Model A Roadster pick-up, 81C pick-up, the famous F-1 and F-100 pick-ups, plus the Bronco, Ranchero, Courier, Ranger and even the Econoline.  Seldom-seen images of light and heavy duty commercial vehicles from the Ford archives help bring their history to life. A well written, informative text is complemented by 100 black and white and 200 fabulous color factory photos.  There are no restored examples featured here, only Ford factory photos are presented.  The large, crisp, vintage images are worth the price of the book alone.

Patrick Foster is a respected and well known automotive writer and historian. All his books are excellent, and this one is no exception. The book is hardback, with 208 pages, and 9.25” x 10.97” in size. I highly recommend this book.  It is available at, or anywhere fine books are sold.

Ford F-100 vintage

Driving a Convertible with Style

This is the first in a series of blogs about driving and enjoying your car with style.  Today’s installment: Convertibles.  Owning a convertible immediately tells the world you have style and like to have fun.  Congratulations.  Driving a convertible, especially on a daily or semi-daily basis, proves that you value style over utility.  You are more concerned with form over function, willing to sacrifice some trunk space and deal with a little more road noise for the sake of having fun and looking stylish. Bravo to you!   How much style you present to the world while driving a convertible depends on how much attention you pay to the details.

Details, you may ask?  Oh yes.  Here are a few tips to enhance your convertible driving experience and look exceptional.

1 – Keep your car clean.  Dirty cars are not attractive.  Just as a gentleman pays attention to his hair cut and wardrobe, he must keep his car reasonably clean.  This includes the interior. The only thing that belongs in your car’s interior is you.  No water bottles, coffee cups, cell phone charging cords, etc.  Some of these things must be used while driving, but should be tucked out of sight when parked.57 Ford Skyliner

2- Windows.  When the top is down, so should all the windows.  If it is cold, and you are on the highway, you may have the windows up, but ALL the windows up.  When rolling at slower speeds, all windows should be down.  Nothing is more unsightly than seeing a nice American convertible cruising down the road with a quarter glass raised and nothing else, or just the passenger glass up and the rest down.  Disgraceful.  Simple rule: Top down, windows down.

3- Boot cover.  Some cars feature a top that is automatically fully concealed when the top is down (i.e. Thunderbirds and Corvettes), but many others use a boot cover to cover the top when in the lowered position.   Having the boot cover installed does two things.  One is that it protects the top from wind buffering and dirt, and secondly, you guessed it: style.  Having the boot cover in place makes the whole car look more finished and sleek. No one wants to see the bunched-up material, metal frame and inner panels of the top well.  No sir. Installing the boot cover shows your attention to detail, and is infinitely more stylish.

4- Music.  You are going to be more noticed when you drive with the top down.  Convertibles are sporty and turn heads.  What will turn those smiling admiring glances into looks of disgust and scorn is loud music. Turn the dam music down when you are in a parking lot or at a light.

5- Headgear. The sun can be hot and sunglasses and a hat can keep you more comfortable.  Be sure to choose a hat and sunglasses that are appropriate for the car and the era from which it comes from.  Wearing a bright baseball cap and a pair of Oakley wraparound mirrored sunglasses completely ruins the look of a 1930’s automobile.  Consider a tweed cap or Gatsby cap instead.  Sunglasses of a retro design such as a Ray-Ban Wayfarer or Persol will look for more elegant and stylish.  Remember, you are part of the car when you are behind the wheel and therefore part of the aesthetic.

1952 Pontiac convertible


I hope these tips will help you enjoy your convertible while achieving a level of taste and style that you desire, and others will admire.  Ciao!

Nova convertible
Always remember the boot cover

Enter the Kaiser Dragon

No automobiles were produced in the United States during World War Two, creating a huge demand during the post-war era for new cars.  Industrialist Henry J Kaiser (along with Joseph Frazer from the Graham-Paige automobile company) wanted to enter the car market and decided to launch the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation in 1947.  All other manufacturers went back into production with slightly face-lifted 1942 models, leaving Kaiser-Frazer with the only totally new car on the market for 1947. The cars sold well until 1949 when Ford, Chrysler and GM introduced their all-new models.  That is when things started to unravel for Kaiser.  Supply finally caught up with demand, leaving lots full of 1951 Kaisers unsold.  Joseph Frazer left the company in 1951 and the Frazer nameplate was dropped soon after.  Kaiser would produce some very interesting cars in the in 1950’s, including a fiberglass sports car called the Darrin, and an economy car bearing his name, the Henry J.

Enter the Dragon

The Dragon name had been used before by Kaiser in 1951 for some special paint and interior packaged sedans, but the 1953 model is the most coveted by collectors today.  1953 Dragon exterior styling featured a padded, thickly grained “Bambu” vinyl top, special “Dragon” fender identification, and genuine 14-carat gold plated hood ornament and emblems.  Interior appointments comprised more of the “Bambu” material, along with “Laguna” cloth.  Underneath it all was over 200 pounds of sound-deadening insulation resulting in the quietest Kaiser ever.  The Dragon interior is amazing to see and touch, if not a bit tiki-room in appearance.

With a price tag around $4000, about the cost of a new Cadillac, Kaiser found few buyers for the Dragon.  The out-dated, low powered 6-cylinder engine made the Dragon not much of a fire-breather on the highway, especially compared to Cadillac’s powerful 331 CI overhead-valve V-8.   By 1955 Kaiser would end car production completely, but not before leaving us with some memorable cars, not the least of which was the Dragon.

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Book Review: Cuba’s Car Culture

Buick in Cuba

Everyone that loves old cars is intrigued with the photos they have seen of colorful vintage cars running around the island nation of Cuba.  Although it is only 90 miles away from Florida, it seems like a distant land from the past.  In some ways this is true.  Questions about the cars in Cuba come up in car enthusiast’s conversations all of the time.  How many cars are there?  How did they get there?  How did they keep them running with no extra parts?  Are there any rare treasures hidden on that island?  Can I buy one and take it back to the United States?

All these questions, plus many more are answered in a new book entitled Cuba’s Car Culture, Celebrating the Islands Automotive Love Affair  by  well known automotive writer Tom Cotter and Bill Warner, writer, photographer, racer and founder of the prestigious Amelia Island Concours.  This is more than just a coffee table photo book.  The authors have visited Cuba multiple times and dig deep into a Cuban automotive history and culture of importing, selling, manufacturing, collecting, and racing cars from the beginning through to today.  The history of Cuba is shown through an automotive lens, giving the reader a full understanding of Cuban history and how the automobile fits into it.

One of the more interesting parts of Cuban automotive history is the Cuban Grand Prix races that were run from 1957 to 1960.  The book covers these events in detail and features many high-quality period photos of the race.  Did you know that the famous driver Juan Manuel Fangio was kidnapped just before one of the races?  It is worth the price of the book just to read the about Fangio!

As most people know, soon after Cuba fell to the rebels in 1959, the United States placed an embargo on all products coming in and out of Cuba, including cars and parts.  Many things became difficult and challenging for people in Cuba after that, and even more so for car owners wishing to keep their vehicles running.  The determination, ingenuity, and perseverance of the Cuban people is magnified and brought to the forefront in the pages of this book.

I highly recommend this book.  Cuba’s Car Culture is available from Motorbooks, Amazon and at book sellers. It is hardcover, 192 pages and features 160 color and 38 black and white photos.

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What is in Herman’s Garage

We are all familiar with The Munsters TV show, the cast, and the Munster’s house.  But what really excites car nuts is what was in Herman Munster’s garage around back.  Two of the creepiest and coolest cars ever on TV, the Munster Koach and Grandpa’s Drag-U-La are legendary in TV land.  Both cars were created by another legend, custom car builder George Barris

In 1964 TV executives gave Barris just 21 days to build the Munster Koach.  Barris was no stranger to the film industry, or short deadlines, so he took the job.  The creeped-out hot rod was powered by a 289 Ford motor bored out to 425 cid with a trick Isky cam, Bobby Bar racing headers, and topped off with ten chromed Stromberg carbs.  Three model T bodies were used to make the car, set on a handmade 133” frame with an overall length of 18 feet.   Five hundred man hours were spent to hand form the ornate rolled steel scroll work alone.  All this custom work added up to a monster build cost of $18,000.

The car was a huge hit with audiences, so they called on Barris’s shop again when Grandpa needed a car for an episode of The Munsters entitled “Hot Rod Herman”.  Grandpa’s Drag-U-La was basically a drag car with a real coffin for a body, sporting a bubble top for the driver and a tombstone in front that read :Born 1367, Died?”.  It was power by a tricked out 289 Ford motor with organ pipes used for the exhaust.  Far-out and freaky, these two cars have haunted the memories of car enthusiasts for decades.

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1959 Ford Galaxie 500

1959 was a year of American automotive styling opulence.  Large fins, tons of chrome, complicated and sometimes bizarre styling that was over the top even when the cars where new.  Ford cars of the period were styled relatively conservatively by comparison.  Take a look at Ford’s closest competitor, the bat-winged 1959 Chevrolet line up and you get the idea.  Ford never really was comfortable with the whole finned styling craze, submitting to the fad with only small fins on their cars.  The best example of a finned Ford may be the very attractive 1957 models.  In 1958 Ford styling was attractive but becoming a little more cluttered.  The 1958 Chevrolet styling was even more cluttered but had no fins.  Ford decided to offer an alternative to the large finned trend with their conservatively styled (for the time) 1959 models.

Ford proclaimed their 1959 cars “The World’s most Beautifully Proportioned Cars”.  Styling features included quad headlights housed in gull-wing headlamp brows, an aluminum “ Fashion Star” grill with floating stylized stars.  The sides of the car are flat with a high belt-line separated by moldings flaring back into a small flaring back into a small fin housing the reverse lamps at the rear.  The back panel styling consisted of a flying V and large round tail lights.  Plenty of styling eye candy, but considered by many as tasteful by 1959 standards.

Convertibles were more popular than ever in the late fifties.  American manufactures at the time offered their convertibles only in top of the line trim levels.  For Ford, that line was the Fairlane 500, and the new nameplate “Galaxie” was added to the fanciest of Fairlanes.   Chevrolet had only one convertible in 1959, the Impala.  Ford offered three convertibles, the Thunderbird, the soft-top Sunliner featured here, and the Skyliner retractable hardtop, first introduced with great fan-fair in 1957.  The soft-top out sold the retractable model by a large margin, perhaps due to the retractables $500 price premium.  Other drawbacks to the retractable were a small luggage area in the trunk, accessible only with the top up, and the complicated system of arms, brackets and electric relays adding 500 pounds of extra weight.  45,868 Sunliners were sold, compared to 12,915 Skyliners.  Chevrolet sold 72,765 Impala convertibles by comparison.

The 1959 Sunliner is often overlooked by collectors.  Retractables and Thunderbirds gather the most attention today, but they were very popular when new.  These are great looking and dependable automobiles, with interest and popularity on the rise for these cars as collectors take notice.  The Sunliner is just as deluxe as the Skyliner and Thunderbird convertible, but without the complicated top system, and has a large, usable trunk.

The car featured here is an exceptional example.  Painted from the factory in “Diamond Luster” Torch Red and Colonial White, it has had a full body-off restoration and it is a real head-turner.  This car is enhanced with factory accessories that include the Flying Ellipse hood ornament, Sunray multi-colored wheel covers, bumper guards, chrome exhaust tips, fender skirts and two-tone paint.  Power comes from a 200 hp, 292ci V-8 with Ford-O-Matic  transmission and rides on a 118 inch wheelbase weighing in at 3,578 pounds.  Other engine options were a 223 six cylinder and 332 V-8.

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