In Episode 5, we talk the history of mid-engine ‘Vettes- you know, the NINE that came before 2020…an update on how you might want to get your kicks on Route 66 while you still can…an interesting conversation from Hotrod.com on what makes a muscle car a muscle car…Hagerty’s list of 6 classic full size cars that might work as your lower-dollar muscle alternative…and then in the second half, we’ll bring on South Dakota State Representative Larry Zikmund to talk about creating our own Collector Car Appreciation day, just like South Dakota did this year, celebrating their first one in August during Kool Deadwood Nites 2020! Nothing like cool cars to help South Dakota Tourism help the state economy shine.
A Kia dealership is selling an early-60’s, mid-engine Pontiac concept car that GM refused to build because it could have rivaled the Corvette. Back in June of 2018, the website driving.ca put out an article that listed nine mid-engine Corvette concepts they say Chevy almost built.
Cool article, with cool pics of cars I’d never seen- though Brett certainly has. Here’s the list from the driving.ca article. You should listen to the show as Brett breaks’em down…
1964 CERV II
The brutal and crude-looking CERV II was genesis for the mid-engined Corvette
What was it? As Ferrari and Ford developed the mid-engined 248 SP and the GT40, respectively, GM realized they’d have to go to the mid-engine formula if they wanted to compete on the world’s stage. Thus, the impetus was born for the radical CERV II, the genesis of the mid-engine Corvette legend.
CERV simply stands for Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle, a purposely dull name to slide it by the bean counters without them knowing. The CERV II was obviously preceded by the CERV I, but the first was a cigar-shaped, single-seater designed to compete in Indy races. And while it was mid-engined, it had no planned crossover with the Corvette.
The CERV II, however, was intended to be a separate, limited production run of Corvette designed to dominate racing. It was powered by two engines during its two-year development — initially by an advanced, all-aluminum 377 cubic-inch SOHC V8 making 490 horsepower and eventually, a hulking 427 cubic-inch V8 making 550 horsepower. That furious power was sent to the ground via an advanced all-wheel-drive system and wide racing tires.
Why didn’t they build it? The CERV II was planned to be a Ford GT40 rival. GM management put the kibosh on that plan, so the engineers changed tactics and said that it was the prototype for a mid-engine Super-vette. The accountants killed that idea, too. Just one was built, but it never competed in a single race and the mid-engined ‘Vette was put on hold.
1968 XP-880 — the Astro II
The Astro II used a peculiar rear-mounted radiator to cool its 7.0-litre V8.
What was it? The Astro II was Chevy’s first crack at a somewhat production-ready mid-engine Corvette. It was built with production in mind, using off-the-shelf parts. Power came from a mid-mounted 427 cubic-inch V8 with 390 horsepower, and that power was driven through a less-than-stellar two-speed transaxle borrowed from a Pontiac Tempest.
Interestingly, the Astro II carried its radiator in the rear of the car so it wouldn’t have to run long coolant tubes through the passenger cabin to the front. This couldn’t have helped its rearward weight bias. The gorgeous bodywork features no bumpers at all, so some revisions would have needed to be done for series production.
Why didn’t they build it? In 1968, there were very few mid-engine road cars and the ones that did exist were very expensive. Lead engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov pushed hard for it to be the C4 Corvette, but it never happened.
The 882 dazzled show-goers, but it was too space-age for reality.
What was it? The XP-882 was a design and engineering project that actually got its start in 1968, but didn’t debut until 1970. Back then, headlines hyping up three new mid-engine sports car in particular — the AMC AMX/3, Mercedes-Benz C111 and the DeTomaso Pantera. At the time, it seemed like all three were headed for production, and Chevy knew it couldn’t afford to be left out if it still wanted to be perceived as an engineering leader.
GM rushed the 882 to the 1970 New York Auto Show, where it debuted to much enthusiasm. The car was powered by a transversely mounted 400 cubic-inch V8, driving a modified three-speed Toronado automatic. The response was so good, GM authorized the funds to develop a big-block version of the car and continue development for production.
Why didn’t they build it? The sad reason why they didn’t build the XP-882 is that the response was so positive that GM decided to go and develop a more radical, rotary-powered version of the car. Once GM decided to go that route, there was no need to keep developing the V8 version, so it was chopped up and lost.
1972 XP-895 — the Reynolds Corvette
The 895 was intended to be a more production-ready version of the 882.
What was it? The 895 used the same chassis as the 882, picking up where its predecessor left off, but the 895 had some very major differences from the 882. First, the 895 used an aluminum body, created by aluminum distributor Reynolds. It used advanced construction techniques that allowed it to be lighter than a conventional steel car and still be made on an American assembly line. Like the 882 before it, the Reynolds Corvette was powered by a 400 cubic-inch V8 through a three-speed transmission.
Why didn’t they build it? At the time, the traditional fiberglass-bodied, front-engine Corvette was selling too well to justify a total rework. GM instead decided to go for easy money, keeping the C3 fresh for a few more years.
1973 XP-897GT — the Two-Rotor Corvette
This smaller, two-rotor concept Corvette was much more tame than the Four-Rotor.
What was it? Remember the small, svelte XP-882? This was its rotary-powered brother. It was a very small car, having dimensions similar to a Porsche 914. Motivation came from a wild, 266 cubic-inch two-rotor Wankel engine producing 180 horsepower. GM was eager to showcase the Wankel, as they planned on using one in the Vega. We all know that didn’t happen, and neither did the car.
Why didn’t they build it? The 897GT had the misfortune of being launched right at the head of the U.S. oil crisis. Wankel engines are infamously thirsty, so a fuel-gulping sports car was a hard sell. The sole 897GT prototype still survives with a transplanted Mazda 13B rotary, as the original GM unit was nowhere to be found.
1973 Four-Rotor Corvette
The Four-Rotor Corvette was the wildest Corvette concept of them all. Fast, complicated, and thirsty, it was not destined to be mass produced.
What was it? Here we have the most radical mid-engine Corvette of all. Zora Arkus-Duntov, the father of the Corvette as we know him, hated this idea from the very start. But when top management forced his hand, he had no choice but to make it a reality. Duntov found the standard, 180-horsepower Wankel severely lacking in the power department.
So, engineer Gib Hufstader devised a crazy system with two separate engines. They connected rotary engines together with a V-belt, making a complex coupling to send the power rearward. The combined monster displaced a massive 585 cubic-inches and produced 360 horsepower. It was driven to 148 mph on a GM test track, and we surmise that fuel consumption must have been something impressive.
Why didn’t they build it? Quite simply, the four-rotor didn’t work too well. It never had a chance to be fully developed and while it was extremely powerful, drivers reported that it was a bear to drive. This, coupled with its monster truck-like appetite for fuel, killed its chances of production.
The Aerovette was simply a V8-powered version of the earlier Four-Rotor.
What was it? Three years after the failed four rotor, the mid-engine Corvette hit the show circuit again with a new name and a new engine. The complex and thirsty rotary setup was ditched in favour of a conventional V8, and the styling was updated. The press was dazzled with the car’s gullwing doors and futuristic styling.
Why didn’t they build it? Quite frankly, because GM didn’t have the guts. They wimped out. The press and public liked the concept, the design worked and was functional and the Nissan 280Z was devouring Corvette sales at the time. Still, GM chose not to deviate from the course and instead kept the C3 alive even longer.
1986 Corvette Indy
The Indy got its name from the Indy-derived 2.65L V8 mounted in the middle.
What was it? After a ten-year hiatus from mid-engine concepts, GM brought in a new age with the Corvette Indy. The heart of the futuristic car was a teeny 2.65-litre V8 from GM’s Indy car program at the time, and everything about the car was cutting edge. The chassis was a composite monocoque, the body was carbon-kevlar and the car employed four-wheel-drive and four-wheel-steering.
The suspension was developed by Lotus and used no conventional springs or shock absorbers. Instead, it used a complex, fully-hydraulic arrangement where microprocessors determined the exact position of each wheel based on acceleration values.
Why didn’t they build it? This one likely didn’t get built because the cost of producing a car with all that tech would have been prohibitively high. The press loved it, but the high-strung engine and advanced computer tech was a hard pill for the buying public to swallow. GM needed to tone this one down a little.
1990 CERV III
The CERV III was powered by a twin-turbo LT5 V8 making 650 horsepower
What was it? The CERV III was simply a toned-down, more production-ready version of the Indy. It had a host of modifications that made it more practical to drive and more feasible to build. The long front nose was shortened to clear speed bumps, the bumpers were raised to meet minimum height requirements, the wheel wells were opened up to allow suspension travel, and the door glass was reshaped so it could actually be rolled down into the door.
The Indy engine was also gone, and in it’s place was a quad-cam, 32-valve 5.7-litre V8 that would eventually power the 1990-95 ZR-1. As if that wasn’t special enough, GM treated the LT5 to two turbochargers, boosting output to 650 horsepower and 655 lb.-ft. of torque. Top speed was theoretically 225 miles per hour, and 0-100 km/h run was dealt with in 3.9 seconds.
Why didn’t they build it? It was expensive. The carbon fibre body, twin turbochargers and complex four-wheel-drive system meant it would have cost a whopping $300,000 to $400,000 in 1990, or about as expensive as a Ferrari F40 or Porsche 959 at the time. For the car to be feasible for production, cost would’ve had to come way down.
DESPITE END OF FEDERALLY FUNDED PROGRAM, ROUTE 66 PRESERVATION EFFORTS WILL CONTINUE FOR A LITTLE WHILE
National Park Service officials who have worked on the federal grant program dedicated to preserving what’s left of Route 66 say they will continue to support the program with limited services despite the fact that it came to an end last year. However, they warn that their efforts cannot continue indefinitely without any input from Congress.
“It’s really going to be a fiscal year by fiscal year kind of thing,” said Kaisa Barthuli, a program manager for the National Park Service who had helped administer the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. “Right now, we have some funding (under the umbrella of the National Historic Trails office) for this year, but we’re not sure about next year.”
The 10-year preservation program, which was approved in 1999 but not funded until 2001, promised matching grants for preservation projects focused on “the special places and stories of the historic highway,” according to the National Park Service’s website for the program. Congress reauthorized the program for another 10 years in 2009.
Over those 18 years, according to Barthuli, the program distributed $2,266,000 to 152 individual projects. Meanwhile, that grant money helped leverage an additional $3.5 million in funding. While a portion of that money went to national-level projects concerned with the entire stretch of Route 66, she said that most of the program’s efforts went toward local projects.
“To some extent, that was intentional. Route 66 is characterized by small businesses, mom and pop businesses: gas stations, cafes, motels. That’s literally where the rubber hits the road.”
Barthuli pointed to a couple “real fantastic examples” of what the program made possible over the years, including the restoration of the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma, and of the Palms Grill in Atlanta, Illinois.
“(The program’s grants) can lead to a domino effect, where the community sees what happens with one property, and when more people come to visit that property, then the place next door opens shop,” she said. For example, after the Palms Grill reopened, the local tax base increased by 42 percent, according to documentation submitted to the NPS.
Whether funding in any form will return is a big question. Last year, Bill Thomas, the chairman of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, said there’s been zero discussion about reauthorizing the program yet again.
That effort began in early 2017 with a bill that Illinois Representative Darin LaHood introduced that would make Route 66 the country’s 20th National Historic Trail. The bill then passed the U.S. House of Representatives and went on to the Senate in June 2018, but any hopes it would be passed vaporized with the 35-day government shutdown toward the end of 2018.
Should Congress designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail, it would then provide a number of opportunities for further preservation work along Route 66, including consistent signage along the entire 2,448-mile stretch of the road that was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985.
2020 Detroit Autorama pictures bring up great question
What is a muscle car?
The standard definition used to be that a muscle car was a midsize production car (including the smaller “pony cars” like Mustangs and Camaros) with a plus-sized engine, built during the ten years between 1964 and 1973.
Like a lot of standard definitions, that one is full of holes. The 1964 Pontiac is often cited as the first American muscle car. But what about a 1963 Ford Thunderbird with a 425-horsepower 427 engine? Wouldn’t that be considered a muscle car? Some people say the category goes all the way back to the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 with a 135-horsepower 303 engine.
The year 1973 used to be regarded as the end of the muscle car era, when emissions restrictions, the OPEC oil embargo, and changing consumer demands heralded the beginning of the economy car era. But by the mid ’80s, factory muscle cars started making a comeback, one of which seems to be permanent.
The question isn’t, “What specific cars are considered muscle cars?” Instead, the question is, “What makes a car a classic muscle car?”
There are different answers to this question, too, coming from a many types of muscle car enthusiasts. At one end, you’ve got the restoration crowd—those enthusiasts who prefer muscle cars built to original factory position or as close to it as possible. On the other end are the street machiners—those who want to modify muscle cars for as many performance and appearance upgrades as their technical skill and bank accounts will allow.
Both crowds share a love for the factory performance cars produced by Detroit during the original muscle car years of the ’60s and early ’70s, as well as cars from the modern muscle car era. They just disagree on how to build them.
There is a middle of the road in all of this. We would call them the restomodders, muscle car enthusiasts who want the best of both worlds—improvements to performance and safety without extreme changes to appearance.
6 full-size alternatives to muscle cars
These cars were often the premier models in their respective brand’s showroom. They featured a more plush interior and often prioritized a smooth ride. While their rowdier muscle car brethren featured some of the same power plants in smaller, lighter packages and dominated the drag strip, these cars were built for the highway and are still perfectly suited for weekend cruiser or road trip duty.
Whether left totally stock, lightly resto-modded, or fully customized, here are six full-size coupes that are overdue for some adulation. That just means that when you can find them, these fantastic full-size coupes are often a bargain.
How have these cars flown under the radar for so long? From the front three-quarter view they look long and low, with a jutting grille that resembles the mid-size Mercury Cyclone. However, its rear three-quarter view is among the best of any car built during the decade. The roof is so low it looks chopped, and the taillights frame the car perfectly.
Barrett-Jackson sold a customized 1970 Thunderbird at their 2019 Las Vegas sale—the purple car you see above—that had the front of a 1967 Thunderbird seamlessly grafted on. The hidden headlights were a fantastic addition, but even in stock form they look amazing. The custom version, absolutely regal in metallic purple, went for $55,000. A well-preserved model will cost much less.
Power came from a 360 hp 429 V-8, but a Boss 429 would be killer. The Thunderbird’s engine bay should be a bit more accommodating of the massive engine than the Mustang’s.
We’ve sung the praises of the Buick Wildcat before, but here’s the chorus one more time: The Wildcat offers up a lot of the performance of the Impala SS without the premium price that comes with the collectibility of the “SS” badge. It brings fantastic looks, solid big-block power plants, and smooth cruising. The only problem is that they don’t come up for sale as often as their more popular B-body platform mates.
Wildcats have the benefit of riding on GM’s long-lived B-body chassis, so OEM brake and suspension upgrades are simple and affordable. Spindles and calipers for big disc brakes can be found on junkyard ‘90s Caprice cop cars or Impalas. Rear axle brake upgrades are just as simple.
The Pontiac Bonneville could be ordered with a more formal roofline, like the one found on the Grand Prix, but with the more traditional lines of the LeMans. The result is an upscale car without the polarizing nose of the Grand Prix. (That look would come to Bonneville the following year.) I also love the rear view of the Bonneville, with taillights that almost drape over the rear of the car, as they would a year later with the Thunderbird.
Pretty much everything I mentioned about the Wildcat applies to the Bonneville, as it also rides on GM’s B-body chassis. The difference is that the Bonneville got Pontiac’s potent, 390-hp 428 V-8. What’s not to love about this pavement-pounding full-size?
Mercury’s take on the personal luxury coupe for 1970 seemed a bit more forward-thinking than its Ford Thunderbird counterpart. Its squared of leading-edge was more formal and anticipated the look of future American cars yet it boasted a sporty fastback roofline. The overall package is a perfect amalgam of luxury and sportiness. Bonus points for hidden headlights.
Under the hood was Ford’s familiar 429, again in 360-hp trim. That’s modest power by today’s metrics, but even full-size cars of that era weren’t terribly heavy. Bump the displacement to 460 cubes or more, add a roller cam, massage the cylinder heads a bit, and you’d have all the makings of a sleeper.
Mopar’s C-bodies adopted “fuselage styling” in 1969. Dozens of unique Plymouth, Dodge, and Chrysler coupes, sedans, and wagons adopted this look, with varying success. Overall, my view is that that the 1969-1973 C-bodies have aged nicely. The Chrysler 300, particularly the 1970 Hurst variant, is a standout. Unfortunately, its 375-hp 440 big-block comes with a premium. They’re rare and pricey.
In contrast, the 1972 Plymouth Gran Fury is a relative bargain. Its massive, full-width chrome bumper was divided into two openings. It looks like it could eat a 1970 Coronet and spit out its Slant Six in disgust. Not subtle or understated—exactly why the Gran Fury rules.
1968 AMC Ambassador
Last but not least, we have the AMC Ambassador. Perhaps the most overlooked full-size on this list, the Ambassador has gorgeous lines and offers up a 390-cu-in V-8 engine. I just love the bulges in the fenders and quarter panels, that match the bumpers, and the stacked taillights that almost mirror the headlights. The next-generation Ambassador, with its beautiful roofline, deserves an honorable mention, as well. It too had 390 power initially, giving way for the 401.
You won’t have trouble rebuilding or hot-rodding an AMC V-8 to keep up with any of the other V-8s on this list, but an Ambassador might prove trickier to restore. It still sounds like a worthwhile endeavor, especially for an AMC loyalist.
In our second segment, South Dakota Representative Larry Zikmund joined Road Muscle Radio to talk about creating our own Collector Car Appreciaton day, just like South Dakota did, celebrating their first one in August.