Monday, January 27, 2014

The Silver Arrow Memos- Part II- Phases II through IV

By Jeff Stork

Note: This is Part 2

Go Here for Part 1

And Here for Part 3

In the second part of our Silver Arrow Memos, we have a very inclusive document that was written to Mr. W. L. Mitchell on October 15, 1962. By now we have gotten through Phase I and the 1963 Buick new car announcement, and it is presumed that all went well but it is worth noting that we have a new author for this document, Mr. E. C. Campbell.

 This memo outlines the steps for phases II through IV of the continuing development of XP-810, and is written to the fine standard and dignified tone of the last one. Honestly, I can imagine Audrey Hepburn reading them in her "Sabrina" voice.

 Phase II-Completion Desired as soon as possible: 

 "The car is to be picked up on or about Monday, Oct. 22 for return to the Division. The engine is to be replaced and the car returned to Styling."

Phase III- Completion Desired in Early November

"The following is being worked on now in the design, engineering, and fabrication departments and is to be completed as soon as possible in early November for evaluation before the car is returned to the shops for fabrication of the longer term items found in Phase IV.  "

I'm going to paraphrase here for the sake of brevity, but the memo describes the following changes in exquisite detail for Phase III- removal of the shields behind the headlamp covers, removal of sail panel chrome molding, refined trim for the quarter panel scoops, new rocker panel and lower rear fender moldings as per Riviera S. O. 40193 (Board of Directors Presentation Car), removal of the B U I C K lettering from the rear deck lid and creation of a Riviera script badge to replace them, and the design, engineering and installation of special low profile exterior remote controlled mirrors that will involve the coordination of Buick Exterior, Buick Interior, and Engineering.

There's plenty in store for the interior as well, starting with removing the Astra Buick Seats from a Skylark show car, S. O. 40224, retrimming them, and fitting them to this car. Along the way,  there are plans to chrome plate the windshield pillars and window garnish moldings, repaint the dash and console, fit new metal trim to the dash, create a new Riviera nameplate for the glove box door and create a wooden shift knob.

Oh, and retrim the entire interior. Seats of silver leather, new door panels, kick panels, carpeting, headliner, package shelf, and trunk. On a three month old car. And this is still Phase III- all this is being done while Phase IV is being developed.  Have you gotten the impression yet that all of GM Styling existed to please Mr. Mitchell? Of course, XP-810 was a rolling laboratory and the innovation could benefit future GM cars, but people certainly tried very hard to please Mr. Mitchell.

Phase IV- Desired by Early December.


  1. Panic stop lights are to be built into the tulip panel. This will require reworking of the backlight lower reveal molding.
  2. A new cowl vent grille, with air scoops, is to be installed. 
  1. A new wooden steering wheel and a new adjustable steering column are required. The wheel will be made new. The steering column is to be reworked from a 1963 production tilting column. A telescopic feature is to be added for fore and aft adjustment.
  2. The instrument panel cluster is to be revised to permit the addition of a tachometer. The requirements for the mechanical tachometer drive system are to be coordinated by the Interior Engineering and Mechanical Assembly Departments.
  3. An AM/FM radio is to be installed. A speaker is to be installed on the instrument panel. 
All design work will be done by the Buick Interior and Exterior Studios, and all development and engineering will be done by the Interior and Exterior Engineering Departments.

E. C Campbell
Program Planning

Below you will see the original memo along with period photography of the XP-810 Silver Arrow. And yes, there's much more to come

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Silver Arrow Memos- Part I

This is Part 1.

Go Here for Part 2

And Here for Part 3

First Silver Arrow Memo- July 11, 1962

By Jeff Stork 

No Rivieras are more famous than Bill Mitchell's Silver Arrows. Created ostensibly as show cars but in reality intended for his personal use, the Arrows are a mixture of dream car, rolling laboratory, and ultimate corporate perk. We've spoken before of Mitchell and how it is "Good to be King."

Now in a series of original GM documents, we can watch the evolution of the original Silver Arrow as it evolves into its current form via a series of Styling Staff memoranda that track the progress of each phase of the car's modifications until they arrived at the car which resides today at the Buick Gallery in Flint.  They span a period of time from Summer 1962 until almost 1965.

The memos are really more letters of understanding, on impressively logoed GM Styling Staff letterhead (how cool is that) are written to Mr. W. L. Mitchell and concern the design and construction of one 1963 Buick "E" Riviera Production Car, Special Order # 40210. The early ones are written by E.G. "Bud" Schenk, head of Program Planning. and carbon copied to everyone involved, even if only tangentially.

Schenk was the one responsible for supervising the construction of the car, coordinating all of the activities between the various styling studios and all of the tradesmen, the division staff and above all keeping Bill Mitchell in the loop. The Special Order Number (#40210) was used to keep track of all the expenses incurred on the car for the accounting department. The prototype number was XP-810 and would be how design staff would refer to it. The world would know it as Silver Arrow I.

Silver Arrow I outside the GM Styling Building

This earliest memo is dated July 11, 1962, and outlines the first round of changes to be made to the car. It's obvious that Schenk chose the language very carefully and the memo is worth reading.

"Mr. Mitchell has requested the Buick Exterior to undertake the design and study involved in making new concealed headlamps, radiator grille, and extending of front end sheet metal as an experimental proposal on a 1963 Buick 'E" Riviera Coupe production car. Present plans call for the completion of these changes on the subject  car so that it may be available to be driven on Buick's 1963 Car Announcement Date Thursday, October 4.

In general, the required changes are as follows as of this date-

  1. New Concealed rotating headlamp grilles on the front fenders. Plans are to study the using of 7" diameter seal beam lamps. These units must be operable and applicable to a road car.

  2. Radiator grille to be installed per design as proposed and released by the Buick Exterior Studio.

  3. Revisions to front end sheet metal consisting of extending the hood surface and of possible fromt fender changes.  

  4. Modeling of surface changes will be some in the Exterior Studio and information expedited so that engineering drawings can be released to permit the pre-fabrication of parts and components prior to the arrival of the car.

    It is anticipated that the car will be delivered to Styling in the early part of September."

    E. G. Schenk
    Program Planning

    In a word, wow. Buick Styling studio modeling, engineering drawings being completed, parts to be pre-fabricated prior to the first week of September so that someone very important can drive this special car on Buick's New Car Announcement Day. And as far as who the special someone was, one need look only to whom the memo was addressed - Mr. W. L. Mitchell.

    As I said, it's Good to be King.

    Saturday, January 18, 2014

    2014 Camaro ZL1- Chevy Pumps it Up

    By Jeff Stork

     I pretty much grew up in the back seat of a first generation Camaro- a ‘67 SS ragtop, and so I was pretty pleased to see the return of the Camaro back in the Spring of 2009. I thought that the sixth generation offering was attractive in a respectfully retro way that was very true to Camaro’s roots, but even in SS trim I fell short of seeing it as an out and out performance car.

    Well, like the little boy from Jerry Maguire who grew up and became a bodybuilder, things have changed. Chevy must have poured a whole lot of Muscle Milk into their pony car, because the ZL1 is like no Camaro you’ve ever seen, and muscle doesn’t even begin to describe this supercharged monster.

    It’s not just an engine- so much of the ZL1 is special to the car that it’s like a Camaro body shell was dropped on a racing chassis. In fact, over a third of all the parts are unique according to Chevy. Yes, the 6.2-liter LSA engine (borrowed from the CTS-V) is impressive- what’s not to like about an all-aluminum supercharged V8 that delivers 580 horsepower and a whopping 556 lb-ft of torque, and has an exhaust note nothing shy of heavenly? Nothing. Seriously, I’d like to make the exhaust note into an alarm clock and wake up to it every morning.

    But as I noted, ZL1 is much, much more than an engine. The test car had a six speed manual Tremec gearbox, there’s also a six speed automatic available as well- both specially modified to handle the torque of the LSA. The whole chassis is special- from the third generation magnetic ride control with three settings including “track,” 20” special wheels and tires, and monster Brembo brakes, to the front cross-tower brace and rear sway bar, this is one highly tuned Camaro.

    It’s the only Camaro with electric power steering and what Chevy calls Performance Traction Management- which ties together the ride control, launch control, traction control and electronic stability control. In fact. the whole chassis package is so special they decided to offer it on the SS as the 1LE Track Package. The result? a Camaro that sticks like glue and handles do well that you start looking for the BMW badge. And for a car that can be a balls-out screamer, it’s remarkably smooth and nimble for around town driving. It’s almost like it has two distinct personalities, and we’ve all dated someone like that.

    As any competitive bodybuilder can tell you, Muscle don’t come cheap. The ZL1’s base price including freight is $55,950, and our test car featured $1995 Recaro seats, $795 Navigation, a $600 carbon fiber hood insert, $500 worth of microfiber suede interior trim and to top it all off a $1300 gas-guzzler tax adding up to $61,140 which is serious money in anyone’s book. In fairness it should be noted that the cars offering comparable performance can cost many tens of thousands more- but it’s nonetheless a new and steep altitude for the Camaro.    

    Of course nothing is perfect. With Red Hot paint the color of lava, enormous black wheels, a giant hood scoop and that oh-so-heavenly-but-loud engine noise, the ZL1 doesn’t exactly keep a low profile. Speaking of low, the coupe’s oh-so-low roofline makes for a cramped cabin and I’ve never seen a sixty-thousand dollar car that more needed a memory seat and didn’t have one. And I guess I’ll take the hit for the less-than-10-mpg observed fuel economy.

    But at the end of the day, the most powerful Camaro ever is one hell of a well done GT. It screams when you ask it to, it sticks to the road and goes where you plant it - with no body roll and even a remarkably decent ride. It’s got that whole Ann-Margret “Kitten With a Whip” thing down pat. And while I couldn’t figure out how to fold the Recaro seats forward, there wasn’t really anyone I wanted to put in the back anyway.

    So why would anyone want a nearly-600 hp supercar that can easily exceed any speed limit in Palm Springs in first gear? Because on the right road, it’s superb.

    Oh, and the muscle boys loved it. :)

    Model is fitness instructor Chris Bates. Photos by Jeff Stork