Friday, August 27, 2010

Couture Cars: Designer Wheels and Special Editions of the 70’s-

by Jeff Stork

Part II of the series. For Part I, go here.

High Gear

It all broke loose in 1976. Ford took the driver’s seat with the debut of the Continental Mark IV Designer Series. Four distinctive models, each with its own color scheme, designer identification, and distinctive special features chosen by a prominent designer: the Cartier Edition in triple pearl gray, the Bill Blass in Navy Blue and Cream, the Givenchy in Pale Turquoise accented with White, and the Emilio Pucci in Maroon with a silver landau top and Pucci fabric on the sunvisors. Each included alloy wheels, landau tops, and ultra plush velour interiors as standard with leather as a delete option. And each were very pricey- $2000 with velour or $1500 with leather. Yes, probably the first time in history where leather was a credit option. Very profitable, popular and prestigious entries, they accounted for 27% of Mark IV sales that year.

Other manufacturers noticed and the popularity of special models increased. Cadillac went for the velvet rope of exclusivity and produced exactly 200 identical Eldorado Bicentennial convertibles, with identical color schemes and dash plaques, and launching a specially trimmed Eldorado Biarritz coupe at mid-year.

Sporty Pontiac released a limited edition Trans Am SE, in black with gold pinstriping and trim, which was warmly received but would later become a sensation when a certain Burt Reynolds film was released. And sadly, the company that started it all seemed to back off at this point, as the Cassini Matador was replaced by a trim level called Barcelona, and the Cardin and Gucci were long gone, although the popular Levi’s editions would remain.

Ford shifted into high gear in 1977 and never looked back. The Continental designer series were totally revamped to suit the new Mark V. Cartier retained its cool and elegant triple Dove Gray look, The Bill Blass was newly suited in Navy Blue and Chamois Orange, including a Chamois landau top and special pigskin grained chamois leather. Givenchy got a completely new look in Midnight Jade with a Chamois forward roof section and Emilio Pucci started the year with a black and white ensemble of black paint, white landau and white leather interior. Pucci was always a limited demand item, but when the Adam-12 look failed to inspire it was replaced with Navy and Dove Gray at midyear. Such is the prerogative of fashion. The new styling and the Designer Series were a smash hit together- Continental sales hit 80,000 units and a large and very profitable percentage of them were Designer Series models.

The big news at General Motors was tiny indeed. The Chevette Sandpiper, in Cream Gold with triple yellow striped reef cloth interior (including yellow dash pad, headliner and carpeting) and special Sandpiper decals on its rear fenders marked the smallest special edition out of Motown. It sold in appropriately tiny numbers and was not continued. But the Trans Am SE went stratospheric, having been featured in Smokey and The Bandit. It soon became known as the Bandit T/A.

AMC, the little car company who so often couldn't, made one more stab at the market with the Matador Barcelona II Coupe. It featured two tone paint, a padded landau roof, stand up hood ornament and even body colored bumpers. This one deserves a video- have a look

Next- Part III- Winding Down

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