Monday, November 28, 2011

Fiat 500 Gucci: Putting the Cute in Couture

There's a wonderful old tale of Queen Mary's visit to the Ocean liner that bore her name. She spent a full afternoon poking around Cunard's Art Deco flagship and then, upon returning home to Windsor, wrote in her diary "Toured the new Queen Mary today. Not as bad as I expected."

Now I'm not going to pick on Fiat, the Marketplace has done that for me. Projecting sales of 50-60,000 units and actually retailing 12,000 is a problem. Enough of a problem to get leader Laura Soave unceremoniously sacked. Actually I liked Laura, but from our first interview didn't think her plan- promising customization without the production capabilities to match- would work. And when I first heard of the upcoming Gucci edition, which made no reference to interior upgrades, I was skeptical.

But since it was this little car that caused the nice folks at Automobile to make me globally famous and put my cell phone number on the speed dial lists of designer car crazed supermodels, it occurred to me that I should at least take a look at the damn thing. And just like the Queen Mary, it's not bad.

The exterior comes in black or white (shades of the 1979 Gucci Seville) with two different stripe configurations, interlocking G wheel centers and a decklid badge. The interior has contrasting seat panels with the legendary seat stripe. Hardly earth shattering, but nicely tailored. And then the whimsical touch- Red and green Gucci seat belts. Take my gold card, I MUST HAVE IT! Well, no, but I smiled (and I never actually do that.) Clever and charming- I approve. Besides, my car chick friend Rockit dug the Gucci accessories. Now I'm ready to tour the Queen Mary. We'll see what I think of that.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chevy Centennial: "My Dad's Car"- Part II

A familiar 1965 Impala Super Sport

Fresh from the "My Dad's Car" Commercial
Herb Younger and his baby, the 1965 Impala SS

The Chevy, Herb and I

In my last post, we discussed the phenomenal Chevy commercial "My Dad's Car", about the sons that tracked down their Dad's much loved 1965 Impala Super Sport and bought it back for him almost three decades later. I haven't met anyone that didn't tear up watching that spot.

Last week was the Press Preview for the Los Angeles Auto Show. I was there with my sidekick Rockit and as we walked over to Chevrolet, I remarked to her that if Chevrolet were smart, they'd have that Crocus Yellow Super Sport on a platform and would be running that commercial behind it all week.

Well, they didn't, but during their press conference, they showed the "My Dad's Car" commercial, and we all teared up a bit. Then the curtain opened and the Chevy drove onto the stage to applause. Herb Younger and his sons were inside, smiling widely. The boys didn't realize that the commercial was making them all into rock stars.

Afterward, I went up and talked to Herb and Derek. Nice guys, super nice actually and just as cool as they seem in the commercial. Herb had a bit of back story, he was still in college when he bought the Super Sport, his first new car. Derek recalled how his Mom used to drive the boys to school in the four-speed Super Sport. Herb told me how he was asking $3000 for the car in 1985 and someone came along and offered an envelope with $2700 in it. He needed the money for his family and took it.

I think I dig this story so much because it's the opposite of O'Henry- the Father does the right thing and sells his toy to raise money for his family. His boys grow up and see an opportunity to say thank you to their Father. The car waited patiently to come home to all of them. Isn't that what families are all about?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chevy Centennial- "My Dad's Car"

Chevrolet released a new ad in their Centennial piece this week. Called "My Dad's Car', it tells the story of a man named Herb Younger who bought a new 1965 Impala Super Sport coupe and kept it twenty years. His sons Jared and Derek grew up in the back seat and all have fond memories of it.

Herb was forced to sell it to pay for his son's education during hard times in the eighties. So thirty year later, his sons began to search for it and literally chased it across North America for five years before locating it on line at a dealer in Montreal. They bought it online, shipped it home to California, and gave it back to their amazed and delighted father. Watch Herb take the wheel of the very same car he bought new forty-six years ago- he drives it like they've never been apart.

This five minute version adds depth to the backstory and allows the brothers to describe their quest to find their father's car and return it to him. "It's not just the car- it's all of the memories and the feelings- it brings it all back."

Chevrolet does a compelling job of weaving themselves into the tapestry of family heritage. I think this clip says everything about why I love classic cars. Well done, Jared and Derek. Well done, Chevrolet.

Now pass the Kleenex.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Project Driveway

The December iPad edition of Automobile Magazine launched this week, featuring a piece on the Gucci Fiat 500 for whom your humble servant was interviewed. Guess my forty year obsession with designer cars has finally paid off. So for those who are iPad bereft, here are the screen caps:
For those of you dying for more background, here is my three part series on the Evolution of the Designer Editions. Pay attention as there will be a quiz afterwards.

Part I 

Part II

Part III 

Have a Gucci day, everyone!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chevy Centennial Part 4: Growing Up With Chevy

Chevrolet Centennial week continues with an album of random family photographs. Not even sure who everyone is- but guess who is in the background of each photo?

We grew up with Chevy. I think America did too.
1949 Chevrolet Deluxe
1955 Two-Ten
1956 Bel Air Convertible
1964 Bel Air
1956 Two-Ten
1957 Two-Ten
1963 Impala Sport Coupe
1964 C-20 Camper Special
1967 Camaro SS/RS 350 Convertible
Another shot of the 1967 Camaro.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chevy Centennial Part 3: Ten Chevrolets

On this 100th Anniversary of the incorporation of Chevrolet, I thought I would recognize the occasion by taking a look back at some of the truly significant models on the Chevy timeline. I'm not prioritizing them, just listing them in chronological order. And I'm NOT claiming that these are the ten best, or the ten worst- just Ten Significant Chevrolets as my way of saying Happy Hundredth to an old friend.

1916 Chevrolet 490- Chevrolet entered the marketplace with large, high priced six cylinder cars and struggle. The 490 represents the first low priced Chevrolet and an instant hit. Four cylinders, three forward gears and a more substantial car feel than a Model T for $490.00. This one put the Bowtie on the map and positioned Chevrolet as a volume producer.

The 1929 Chevrolet Six introduced the venerable "Stovebolt Six" engine which powered Chevy for a generation to come. It was marketed as "A Six for the Price of a Four" and allowed Chevrolet to displace Ford as the number one automaker, a position that Chevrolet held on to for the next twenty eight years.

The first Corvette in 1953 sold only a few hundred units but started the long line of a legend. Originally a fiberglass roadster with side curtains, the sole powertrain was a six Cylinder with Powerglide. It is more significant for where it led than what it was- the first "sports car" by an American Manufacturer, and the glory days would come.

Chevy bet it all on the 1955 models and won big- a fully new car - frame, suspension and body and - and with a brand new engine. That 265 small block V8 was a brilliant engine that moved Chevrolet into the modern era. The 1955 is a masterpiece of restraint in an era of excess. Shown is the Golden Jubilee- the Fifty Millionth GM car, produced during the 1955 model year. It was the star of shows and parades across the country.

The Corvair was a revolution for Chevrolet- a fully modern compact car. The success of the Monza paved the way for the pony cars to come and the second generation was one of the finest engineered compacts in Chevrolet history. A sporty and much liked car, although the first generation- like other sporting cars- required an attentive driver.

The beautifully styled full sized 1965 Chevrolet was totally new and rode on a brand new frame as well. Many consider this to the the height of Bill Mitchell's styling success. Hugely successful and well loved, the 1965 model saw the introduction of the big block 396 engine, Turbo-Hydramatic Automatic Transmission and at mid year, the elegant Caprice Hardtop Sedan. The Caprice was a big hit and became its own series the following year.

The Camaro was Chevrolet's response to the Mustang, and was introduced for the 1967 model year. It was a hit from the start, combining oustanding styling with a wide range of power- from a sensible Secretary six all the way up to an SS396. The Z/28 option appeared at mid-year. Camaro did more to put performance at an affordable price point than probably any other car in their line up.

The 1976 Chevette was the smallest Chevrolet since the model 490. It was based on a European design, and represented Chevy's first real attempt to enter the real of the subcompact. Launched with a 1.4 litre base engine and a full range of options, Chevette was a cross between a European minicar and fully equipped Chevrolet. Certainly a more serious attempt than the seriously flawed Vega, Chevette sold very well and earned a reputation as a reliable- albeit unrefined- method of transportation.

Another risky move was the downsized Caprice and Impala of 1977. Almost 12 inches shorter and some 800 pounds lighter than their predecessors, and with fresh new styling, the gamble paid off and the cars were a smash hit. "The New Chevrolet" as they were called, were introduced to a theme song that sang "Now that's more like it." Beautifully in tune with the times, the New Chevrolet won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award in 1977.

And that brings us to the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. A Hybrid Electric Car with a back-up Generator, the Volt represents Chevrolet's greatest Engineering Gamble since the 265 V8 of 1955. The Volt has experienced serious production delays and is only offered in a handful of markets, so combined with the high price has been unable to rack up impressive sales, but the reviews are phenomenal and the owners are ecstatic. The recipient of Motor Trend's 2011 Car of the Year Award, Volt has been criticized in the media but like teh first Corvette, I wouldn't call this one out. Volt is defining Chevrolet as a technology brand to be reckoned with.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

La Belle L'Universelle- Workhorse at the Waldorf

There was certainly a lot to talk about in the 1955 General Motors Motorama. That annual convention of glitter, girls, and gladiolas, the celebration of the superiority of General Motors products was at its zenith in 1955. The show opened at the Waldorf in New York in January, as was its tradition, and then moved on to Miami in February, Los Angeles and then San Francisco in March, and on to a final stop in Boston in April.

In addition to showcasing the "Golden Jubilee" Chevrolet- representing the 50 Millionth GM vehicle- there were a host of concept cars on the stage for 1955. Chevrolet showed its Biscayne pillarless sport sedan, Oldsmobile unveiled a low slung coupe called the Delta. Pontiac showed its futuristic Strato-Star Coupe, and Buick its red Wildcat III sport convertible. Cadillac showed its futuristic La Salle II in sport sedan and roadster forms, and the fabulous Eldorado Brougham which would lead to a production car in 1957.

Oh, and GMC showed a panel truck.

Stop the presses. Yes, GMC did show a panel truck in 1955, but that is about one-hundredth of the story. GMC created their only Motorama concept vehicle for the 1955 show, and it was far from any ordinary truck. Named L'Universelle, the truck was a long, low, sleek vehicle with 13 inch wheels. a mid mounted V-8 engine, and a revolutionary front wheel drive system.

It was drawn by legendary GM designer Chuck Jordan and represented the most stylish and though provoking cargo hauler GM had ever imagined. A wrap around windshield and streamlined side glass, unique bi-folding cargo doors on the side and the rear, and an extremely roomy cargo area were some of the special features. And lowness- extraordinary lowness resulting from the chassis design which incorporated front wheel drive and 13 inch wheels.

Finished in copper metallic with a copper leather driver's compartment, it was the most exciting and glamorous GMC truck ever conceived, which is why the story did not end after the Motorama. The public loved it. GMC dealers were clamoring for it. And so by late 1955, GM announced plans to produce it. Almost as soon as the glamour girl made its debut at the Waldorf, chassis engineers in Detroit began building a running prototype chassis out of a Buick Roadmaster. With the fiberglass nose of a L'Universelle attached to the body of a Roadmaster, the beast was hideous to look at but before long they had the chassis dialed in and the ride and handling were nothing shy of impressive.

Unfortunately, by that point they had realized that the production projections would not pay for the unique driveline they had created, so the lovely L'Universelle was quietly shelved. Many of the styling cues appeared a few years later in the Corvair based Corvan in 1961, and it was a popular and well liked little van.

But imagine what the L'Universelle could have been...

L'Universelle in the ballroom of the Waldorf for the 1955 New York Motorama
L'Universelle in Golden Gate Park
Cutaway drawing showing the unique FWD driveline of L'Universelle
Overview of the 1955 Los Angeles Motorama. Golden Jubilee 50 Millionth Car on Lower Right.
(Originally created for the Reynolds Buick GMC Blog)