Mechanics Corner - Mar 10
“Cars the Should Have Been Hits”
By Mike Godwin
If you had been in a popular Tacoma area Diner, located just off the North end of Sixth Avenue, in late December, you could have witnessed a gathering that only happens once a year. As each attendee entered, they immediately walked with purpose to a clearly marked Reserved Table in the back of the diner. As each one approached the table, those already present rose and shook hands, and then embraced. This friendly greeting was repeated with each member of this very select group.
Who were they? They did not dress like socialites. In fact, only one of them even had on dress slacks. If you were attuned to the social scene in the Tacoma and Seattle area, you might have recognized a Superior Court Judge and the Editor of a local Newspaper. Other than that, these gentlemen were pretty nondescript. Each was fully qualified to be described as an elder in the community, but nothing else in common.
If you listened in to their conversation, you would have determined that these eight guys are what MNW member Robin Micthell refers to as “Car People”. They were reliving the days of their youth, Bench Racing cars that have long since been removed from the road. Recalling all their accomplishments on 6th Avenue at unheard of speeds.
They took a few minutes to recall a very detailed account about how yours truly found out what a CrossRam Commando motor was. Seems a young lady by the name of Lois had her daddy’s Plymouth Sport Fury out on Friday night. Now this quite plain Jane looking white Plymouth was in no way going to be fast. After all, it was wearing the worst looking spinner hubcaps you have ever seen. As Lois boasted about how it would eat my Ranchero for a snack and spit out the horse bones, I took the challenge—Or as one of the guys pointed out to me that brisk December morning, it was more like I took the bait.
Lois pointed out that she had a CrossRam Commando under the hood and my little four barrel Ford Motor was no match for a real power plant. Yeah sure, bring that daddy mobile out to the stop light and I’ll show you what a Ford Motor can do to your white sled. Problem is, she did just that. Now I knew she could drive, so I was ready, set my rig into low, and started the power brake routine. I smiled as her RPM in the white Plymouth remained low. Oh was this ever going to be a treat, I thought to myself. The light turned green and we launched. The Ranchero was still in second and about mid intersection when it happened the first time. A whoosh roar of a white Plymouth, and Lois was gone. Next two lights were repeats of the first. Then we headed to the Narrows Bridge, and as we went down the hill past Harold Meyers Drug store, I was catching up. Then her car simply started pulling away. Finally the little Ranchero let me know it didn’t have any more to give. With the temperature gauge moving to Hot and Oil pressure, diving to Low, it was all over. We turned around at where Highway 16 returned to a two lane road and headed back to Tacoma. One of us with our head held high the other looking for a place to hide.
What I had raced with a little 289 was a 361 cubic inch MOPAR big block with two four barrels mounted at an angle atop the fire breathing monster. Not just beaten, but waxed repeatedly, and by a girl no less driving Daddy’s car. Even now, some forty years later, I have seven friends that take great pleasure in telling that story.
After this, our conversation did turn to cars in general and we discussed some of the cars that simply did not make it in the market place. The Buick Reatta for example. ,What was wrong with this little two seat car? Other manufactures have followed suit with similar vehicles and achieved acceptable sales levels. Another brand that came up was Studebaker and the Avanti. Not a bad handling car, and the power plant gave respectable performance, yet it simply did not sell.
The Oldsmobile 442 is a highly collectable car, but a Buick Wildcat is hardly even given a second look. Mustangs and Camaros rain supreme, while Firebirds and Barracudas struggle in the shadows. The MOPAR camp threw an entire field of cars at the public under the banner of Rapid Transit, but today on the show field, very few of them are to be found.
Pontiac gave notice with the GTO and then faded back into the shadows. Seems like a One Hit Wonder in many ways for this GM brand. Looking back, Pontiac never did get proper recognition. Take a look at a 1957 Chevy Nomad, then compare that car to a 1957 Pontiac Chieftain wagon. Both are two door wagons and measurement for measurement pretty close. Yet the Pontiac had leather inserts in the upholstery, unlike the Nomad, two tone cloth appointments. The Pontiac came with a three two barrel induction system stock vs. the Nomads single two barrel system. To enhance the MPG figure, the car could be ordered with an Overdrive unit—no such option over at Chevy. The Pontiac had more stainless steel pieces adorning the exterior than the competitor. On the interior of the Pontiac you will find one of the first power radios offered in an automobile. Ushered in as the Wonder Bar, this radio would seek out the next available station with the simple touch of a bar located just under the tuner dial. This was state of the art in 1957 when radios were still using vacuum tubes and crystal tuners. Despite all of the advantages of the Pontiac ,the Nomad commands a higher price and gets more “oohs and ahhs” on the show field.
One must question why the American motoring public ever struck up a love affair with such offerings as the Plymouth PT Cruiser., or even worse, the Cadillac offering of rebadged cheap Citation. Then, what on earth were the designers over at Pontiac thinking when they gave us the APEX? Ford is not clear and clean either with the marketing of the EXP as a performance offering. Performance car? What, in a race against a dead VW bug in Santa Monica.
We all agreed that some cars deserved the quick and gracious killing off that they received, but we still marveled at how some models were overlooked while others faired so well. We chuckled at the thought of a magazine titled “Collectable Fairmont” or maybe even the idea of bringing back the Edsel brand.
So if you are looking for a restoration challenge outside of the Mustang world maybe a tricked out Plymouth Aries is in your future.