No Limits Magazine from the Auto History Preservation Society
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Friday January 2, 2015
GM Personal Luxury Cars of the 1960s. Also: Tech Section, News, Period Ads, Road Tests, Brochures, & Magazines!

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1955 Olds F-88

1954 Olds F-88 Sports Car
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The first Mustang- 1965

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1965 Pontiac 2+2 and GTO Ad

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Morris 1959 Ford Fairlane

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1954 Olds F-88

1954 Olds F-88 Sports Car
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1963 Cobra Ad

The Cobra Story - a Focused View
into the 1963-67 Car

Cro-Sal Olds 455

Oldsmobile's Twin Turbo
Can-Am Aluminum 455!

From the Automotive History Preservation Society
Coming in 2015 - Olds, Pontiac, Mercury and Plymouth Orphan Brands Story!

The Society has a policy to emphasize the collection and preservation of the documentation for what are known as “orphan” brands. These are the automobile makes that are no longer with us—either because the company itself, such as Packard or Hudson, went out of business, or because a brand, such as DeSoto, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, or Plymouth, was dropped by a company that is still in business.

Starting in January we will begin with some famous brands that, for whatever reason, are no longer with us. We'll tell the story - starting after WW II on each and likely cut off - for now - by the mid-70s. We'll direct you to the original source material we have for further reading. So sit back, we're going to give you a handful to digest starting next month.

To further understand the Automotive History Preservation Society and its goals - Click Here

1954 buick skylark

The 1953-54 Buick Skylark was GM's first post-WW II
attempt at a Personal Luxury Car..

1958 Thunderbird Convertible

Ford changed the game with the introduction
of the 4-seat Thunderbird

1961 Starfire

The first new foray into personal luxury - and seen as a
competitor to the Thunderbird - was the 1961 Starfire

1963 Riviera

The Riviera became the direct competitor to the
Thunderbird - finally - in 1963.

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A Short Peek at the Early Sixties at GM.

By Society Staff – reprint with permission only

It was Ford who first capitalized on a personal luxury car for the masses – before that GM had dabbled in the market with the Buick Skylark of 1953-54 and the Oldsmobile Starfire of 1954. Of course, Cadillac had been producing the Eldorado, but all three were up in the price stratosphere, and few – even affluent middle-class families – could afford or aspire to those cars. Chrysler built a few Ghia-designed upscale sport-luxury pieces, but the numbers were so low and the prices so high that only Arab sheiks and Hollywood stars could afford them.

The Thunderbird four-seater changed all that in 1958. Suddenly many people could afford a stylish, custom-looking job that always turned heads. GM and Chrysler were caught flat-footed, and when the sales figures came in, they were stunned. Thirty-seven thousand in 1958 and 67 thousand in ’59 – these numbers were not the sale of a whimsical semi-show car but rather those of a solid marketplace winner.

Chrysler stood on its 300 letter series cars and would later offer a lower-priced version, but otherwise offered high performance mid-sized cars like the Plymouth Fury and DeSoto Adventurer as alternatives. Frankly, Chrysler never quite got it.

GM, on the other hand, saw that the market could be sizeable. Early on, it offered up the same solution as Chrysler: cars like the Chevrolet Impala and the Pontiac Bonneville, which people saw as gussied-up versions of their bread-and-butter offerings.

Few know this, but the Riviera was originally developed – all the way back in 1958-59 – as a Thunderbird competitor to be sold by Cadillac, but Cadillac did not want or need a high volume, luxury offering, settling instead on continuing the Eldorado. The concept thus languished.

Meanwhile Buick, Olds, and Pontiac worked on ideas, and all three settled on developing a four-place sport luxury car based on their short-wheelbase, full sized-cars. Olds and Buick would begin work on a direct Thunderbird competitor, but the cars were a few years away, with the Buick Riviera seeing the light in 1963 and the Olds Toronado not until 1966, ostensibly due in the case of the latter to the extended development period required for front wheel drive.

So the idea of personalizing and moving upscale with what was seen as a stopgap approach went forward. The surprise was that it was Oldsmobile who made it to market first with the 1961 Starfire. Perhaps this was because GM saw the car as a test – but more likely it was that Olds met its deadlines more quickly. Buick and Pontiac would follow in 1962 with the Wildcat and Grand Prix, respectively, and soon all three would occupy a niche just below Chrysler’s 300 letter series cars.

But why were these cars perceived as different from cars like the Impala and Bonneville? First, they were styled with just enough differences that they seemed separate from their brand's regular offerings. Second, they offered interiors that were very luxurious and personal – with few options. Third, production was kept low to add to the cars' exclusivity. This would change once the models were established, but even then, they were never intended to be high-volume models.

The 1961 Starfire was offered only as a convertible and was intended to be a 7,500 unit maximum. The car was so successful that 7,800 were actually sold. The next year, both a hardtop and convertible were made available, and production soared to almost 42,000 units. Starfire was now established.

In 1962 the Wildcat bowed. Opposite the Starfire, it was introduced mid-year as a two-door hardtop. Basically, it was an Invicta with more distinctive trim and interior, and 2,000 were sold. Buick made an interesting decision, knowing that in 1963 the Riviera would bow, and that was to expand the line to two- and four-door hardtops and a convertible. The 1963 Wildcat would become the Pontiac Bonneville equivalent and soon became just another gussied up, full-size car that, by 1965, would be on the same chassis as the Electra!

The Grand Prix, on the other hand, would stay true to the concept and remain around for the longest period. It would always be a personal luxury coupe (with the exception being 1967, when a convertible was offered) based on the shorter-wheelbase full size car. In fact, in 1969, it moved downstream and had its own chassis – actually a lengthened, mid-size car frame, where it would stay until Pontiac’s demise in 2008.

In effect, in 1969, the Grand Prix would come closer to the concept that Riviera and Toronado espoused – but at a more reasonable price. It paid off with sales exceeding 112,000 in the first year of this new body style!

But at introduction in 1962, Pontiac made the Grand Prix capable of tremendous performance by offering all of the Pontiac high-performance engines. The standard engine was the Bonneville's 303 hp 389 CID V8 with four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts. Optional were a 389 Tri-Power with three two-barrel carburetors and 318 hp and two higher-output 389s including a four-barrel version rated 333 hp and 348 hp Tri-Power. Late in the model year, a "street" version of the 421 CID engine was offered.. It was primarily the NASCAR racing engine that had been offered in 1961 and available in 1962, only in four-barrel form and rated at 320 hp.

Back in Lansing, Oldsmobile was following the Thunderbird practice of offering only its highest output engine . . .

To read more about GM's Personal Luxury Cars - Click HERE

To read more about the 1963-65 Riviera - Click HERE

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