Cars A To Z: X, Y, Z

Thanks to C/2 for suggesting this topic. I never imagined it would take almost six months to write all of the relevant posts.

My sources were:

The Beaulieu Encyclopedia Of The Automobile

standard catalog of Imported Cars

standard catalog of American Cars, both the 1805-1942 and 1946-1975 volumes

The American Auto

Encyclopedia Of American Cars


Other Internet sites too numerous to mention…


Obviously, it’s very slim pickings to choose car makes whose names begin with x, y and z. I almost decided to end the Cars A To Z series with the letter w, but felt that would not be true to the intent of the project. Anyway…the three photos shown here are all from The Beaulieu Encyclopedia.



Xtra was, obviously, a cyclecar and was manufactured by Xtra Cars Ltd. in England from 1922 to 1924. It had a single cylinder, two-stroke engine mated to a 2-speed friction transmission that drove the rear wheel.



In 1912, Charles Baehni founded his company in Switzerland to build the Yaxa. According to Beaulieu, the name was derived from a French phrase that means “The only one.” Bravely or foolishly, depending on your perspective, Baehni began production of the car without building any prototypes. The car was available with two or four seats and was one of the first to have the gear lever and handbrake mounted centrally in the car. The outbreak of World War I ended production of the Yaxa.



The only Czech company in Cars A To Z, Z was a product of Ceskoslovenska Zbrojovka that was founded in 1919 and was originally an arms supplier to the Czech government. In 1924, the company began to produce small cars. For most of its history, their cars were powered by a 2-cylinder, two-stroke engine.

Z began to produce front-wheel drive cars in 1933 and finally manufactured a car with a 4-cylinder engine, the Z 5 Express shown above. The last Z car, the Z 6, was produced with a 2-cylinder engine. The company manufactured about 4,400 cars from 1924 until it ceased making automobiles in October, 1936. The business returned to its “roots” and began to supply the army with rifles and light machine guns.


The first few cars in the A To Z series received significantly more views than those that followed. The “G Car,” Graham-Paige, remains the most-viewed car in the series, by far. Fifteen of the 26 cars were built by non-US companies. If you want to read any of the posts, just type Cars A To Z in the search box/widget.





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Cars A To Z: W

The “W” make became well-known for manufacturing something that wasn’t exactly a car, but a vehicle that is still being produced today. John North Willys was a tremendously successful bicycle salesman and manufacturer, but after seeing his first automobile in 1899, he just knew they would replace the bicycle as the primary means of transportation.

Willys opened an Overland automobile dealership in Elmira, New York around 1900. From the Hemmings article about Willys:


“How one manages a defining moment in business, as in life, can plot a course to reverence or ruin. For John North Willys, an auto industry entrepreneur who made Willys-Overland a household name and built his own automotive-based empire, it was arguably, the instant that he realized his only way to avert a financial catastrophe was to take control of an ailing Overland in 1907.”


From The Automotive Hall Of Fame:


“However, Willys encountered a problem. A capable salesman, he was able to sell cars faster than the factory could build them.”


The Automotive Hall Of Fame piece paints a less bleak picture than the Hemmings article. Suffice to say that Willys bought the Overland Automotive Division of Standard Wheel Company in 1908 and in 1912 renamed it Willys-Overland Motor Company. That company finished second to Ford (albeit a distant second) in US production/sales every year from 1912 to 1918, inclusive, producing a total of 566,000 cars in that period. From Flickr, a picture of what is supposedly a 1913 Willys-Overland roadster:


See the source image


As I have written many times before, I don’t really have much interest in brass era cars. However, without those pioneers we would not have automobiles like we have today.

In 1915, Willys built a seven-story headquarters building in Toledo that was the most modern of its day. Before the end of the decade, one-third of the city of Toledo’s workforce was employed at Willys-Overland or one of its suppliers. Labor troubles emerged at the Toledo plant in 1919, resulting in a strike that shut it down for several months.

According to the Automotive Hall of Fame, John Willys hired General Motors vice-president Walter Chrysler to help right the ship, but Chrysler tried to oust Willys in an attempted takeover bid that backfired. According to the Wikipedia article about the company, after the sharp recession of 1920-21, it was outside bankers who hired Chrysler to “sort out the mess.” The Beaulieu Encyclopedia version agrees with Wikipedia and even names Chase National Bank, one of Willys-Overland’s largest creditors, as the entity that insisted on the hiring of Walter Chrysler.

Once again, from Hemmings:


“Chrysler also brought in his own engineers to develop a modern six-cylinder car line that would bear his name, be assembled at the Elizabeth, New Jersey, plant and be a new division of Willys. It was not approved for production, however.

Despite many strides during the reorganization, receivership for Willys Corp. came in late 1921 and consolidation continued, with the New Jersey plant and New Process Gear two of the more notable casualties. Chrysler unsuccessfully tried to take over the company and then left in early 1922. He ultimately started his own famed automobile company.”


John Willys was able to re-acquire Willys-Overland in 1922 with the help of Toledo businessmen and bankers. In 1928, the company reached the number three position in sales among US automobile companies behind only Chevrolet and Ford. The introduction of the low-priced Whippet in mid-1926 (as a 1927 model) boosted the company’s fortunes. A picture of a 1927 Willys-Overland Whippet:


See the source image

Whether he was astute or lucky, John North Willys sold all of his company stock for $18 million just months before the stock market crash in October, 1929. He became the first US Ambassador to Poland in 1930. He returned to try to save Willys-Overland in 1932, but the company, once again, went into receivership in 1933. Willys died from a stroke in 1935.

Of course, he was not alive when Willys became the primary contractor to build the Jeep for the US military during World War II. American Bantam had actually “invented” the Jeep, but the government did not think the small company could build enough of them so it awarded contracts to Willys and to Ford.

Immediately after the end of the war, Willys only built station wagons and the Jeepster (in addition to Jeeps), but resumed production of small cars in 1952 with the Willys Aero line. I have always been taken with the looks of this car. From Barrett-Jackson, a picture of a 1952 Willys Aero Ace.


See the source image


In 1953, Kaiser acquired Willys. Both makes ceased to be sold in the US after 1955 and the Willys name disappeared when the parent company changed its name to Kaiser Jeep in 1963, which itself ceased to exist when American Motors Corporation bought that company in 1970.

John North Willys and his company were very successful, but are forgotten today for the most part. Entrepreneurship should never be discouraged, but like every other paradigm is not optimal in excess.

This is the last post in the Cars A To Z series to feature one make by itself. The “X” “Y” and “Z” cars will be combined in one post later this week.






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Cars A To Z: V

This car make was part of General Motors for more than 90 years. However, only one model was sold in the US badged as that make. (It was sold by Pontiac dealers from 1958 to 1962.)

The parent company of Vauxhall was founded in 1857 by Scottish marine engineer Alexander Wilson and originally produced marine engines and pumps. The name of the company comes from Vauxhall Gardens, which was located near the original manufacturing plant. Vauxhall is a morph (can I use that as a noun?) of Fulk’s Hall, named after a 13th century knight, Fulk le Breant, who owned the land. When Vauxhall moved to Luton in 1907 (they began manufacturing cars in 1903) the land on which they built their new factory had also been part of his land. Vauxhall’s classic symbol, the Griffin, was le Breant’s crest.

Before its purchase by General Motors in 1925, Vauxhall built medium to large cars and wasn’t always profitable. The late Michael Sedgwick, a famous British automotive writer, wrote of the acquisition, “Between 1925 and 1937 fun went out the door and black ink appeared in the ledgers.” GM moved Vauxhall towards the middle of the British automotive market aiming to produce higher volumes of more conventional cars that, using their large engineering, design and production resources, would offer modern technology and high levels of equipment at a reasonable price with competitors being the likes of Humber and Wolseley.

Badge engineering affected General Motors’ European operations as much as it did their American operations. Starting in the mid-1970s the links between Vauxhall and the rest of the “international” GM line became much more obvious to the point where Vauxhalls became badge-engineered Opels.

Let me back up to the only Vauxhall sold in the US with that name…what would prove to be the highly successful and long-lived Victor model was introduced in 1957. General Motors didn’t have any products at that time that could compete with the rising tide of imported smaller cars. Beginning in 1958, the Victor was available in the US through Pontiac dealers. Below is a photo of a 1958 Vauxhall Victor, although I think it’s a UK, not a US, model.


See the source image


Notice the wrap-around windshield that mirrored US styling trends of the period. Even though it was a 4-door car, this iteration of Victor was not large, at all. Its wheelbase was just 98 inches and the car was just 167 inches long, identical dimensions to the second-generation BMW Z4, one of which I owned for 29 months.

The car never caught on and, as best as I can figure, only about 30,000 were sold during the four years the car was offered in the US. When GM introduced the Senior Compact line in 1961 (Pontiac’s version was the Tempest) and it was successful, the Victor was dropped in 1962 in the US although Vauxhall-badged cars continued to be sold in Canada until 1971. The US experience notwithstanding, the Victor was sold in five iterations for about 20 years with total sales of 1.34 million units.

Vauxhall has been known for prosaic family cars for most of its history. However, for a brief time the Opel Speedster, a mid-engined sports car that was built with much input from Lotus, was sold in the UK as the Vauxhall VX220. Here is a photo:


See the source image


To me, the design is sort of an amalgamation of Saturn Sky and third-generation Toyota MR2, but I like the looks of this car. Not counting the limited production VXR spec, the VX220 was powered by a 2-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produced 200 HP/197 LB-FT of torque. Since the car only weighed about 2,000 pounds, it had an excellent power-to-weight ratio.

As General Motors struggled in the 1990s and 2000s its European operation began to be a liability. Proximal to its bankruptcy period, GM negotiated a sale of Vauxhall (and Opel) to Canadian car company Magna in September, 2009. However, GM changed its mind two months later having concluded that Opel and Vauxhall Motors were crucial to their global strategy.

As the red ink continued to flow in Europe, the last time GM earned a profit from its European operations was 1999, the American automotive giant had no choice but to sell its European divisions. General Motors lost $20 billion in Europe in the last 17 years before selling Vauxhall and Opel to Groupe PSA in 2017. With the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Groupe PSA to form Stellantis in 2021, Vauxhall is now a part of the latter.

I am not even close to being an expert on Vauxhall so I apologize if this history seems haphazard. Still, I think it’s an important make with a long history including its 90-plus year tenure as part of General Motors.

The “W Car” will be the last car with its own post. As I wrote earlier this week, I am going to combine the last three cars into one post since it’s slim pickings for those three letters.







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Wandering Wednesday

I thought of a less draconian solution than unplugging the TV for our current Hulu issue of its refusing to load properly. I make sure to sign off out of the app when finished watching instead of just turning off the TV. So far, that seems to work. Why that’s only become necessary in the last couple of weeks, I have no idea.

I guess streaming TV is still having teething pains. I know people who have issues like buffering and crashing with their services. We are still having issues with our cloud-based DVR although it will soon be upgraded to unlimited storage; well, unlimited with a 9-month time limit on watching recorded shows. Saving shows indefinitely will be a thing of the past.

I would like to hear from you if you use streaming TV services and if you are experiencing any issues.


The Chinese government opposes what it calls “unilateral” sanctions, which it defines as sanctions not directly enacted by the United Nations. Well, of course they would take that position since China has veto power in the UN Security Council along with Russia.

The Chinese government is no one’s ally except Russia. The people in this country who admire Chinese “leadership” are beyond clueless.


I have decided to “cheat” regarding the Cars A To Z series. (Yes, I know I wrote I would post the “V Car” yesterday. The best-laid plans of mice and men…) The “V Car” and the “W Car” will each get their own post, but the “X” “Y” and “Z” cars will be in one post.

In this way, I still might be able to finish the series by the end of this month. If not, the series should end no later than April 4-5.


I don’t know why, but this post from June of 2020 is receiving views today. The post, Solstice Drive, is about my annual drive early in the morning around the time of the summer solstice and of my inability/unwillingness to stop to take photos along the way. Here is a stock photo I used in the post:


See the source image


The first-generation Chevrolet Monte Carlo is not, and never will be, a contender for any Ultimate Garage of mine, but I am a big fan of the car, nevertheless. So many CARS, just one life…








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Cars A To Z: U

Age-related memory (and concentration) decline strikes again. I had something in mind with which to begin this post, but have simply forgotten what that was.


Obviously, the candidate list for the “U” car was not very long. Here is a photo of one of the cars built near the end of the tenure of the “U” make as a manufacturer of personal cars.



Georges Richard founded Unic in 1904. (The photo is a 1936 Unic U6 Sport 2-door sedan.) His effort was financed by Baron Dr. Henri de Rothschild; yes, the Rothschild family. It was on Rothschild land that Richard supervised the construction of a large factory for manufacturing cars (in Puteaux, in the western suburbs of Paris) that was completed in 1906.

The name of the company, unique in French, came from Richard’s original plan to build just one model. That model was powered by a 1.7 liter two-cylinder engine that produced 10 horsepower, had a three-speed transmission and shaft drive. However, Richard soon found a demand for larger 4-cylinder cars.

From almost the beginning, Unic automobiles were much in demand as taxicabs. Of the roughly 7,300 Unic cars built between 1906 and 1913, half were taxicabs. In both London and Paris only Renault had more taxis in operation. Below is a picture (from Pinterest) of a Unic taxi that is labeled as a 1903 model, but that has to be a mistake. I’m guessing it is of 1906-07 vintage.


See the source image


World War I changed the direction of the company as it became a manufacturer of trucks and ambulances in addition to passenger cars. Commercial vehicles became the company focus and, no doubt, that played a role in Unic falling behind other French makes in terms of innovation for passenger cars. The death of Georges Richard and his two sons–his son Raymond was killed in aerial combat in 1916, all three died between 1916 and 1923–also negatively affected the company’s ability to stay current.

Unic ended passenger car production in 1938, but continued to manufacture trucks. In 1952, Unic was acquired by Simca, a French automobile company although founded by Fiat. In 1975 a holding company called Iveco was created that “controlled” truck and bus brands such as Fiat and Unic. In 1992, the name of the company was changed from Iveco Unic to Iveco France and the Unic name was no more. Of course, Unic trucks had long been badge-engineered Fiats, anyway.


Posting for the next few days will be sporadic or non-existent. I had originally hoped to complete the Cars A To Z series by the end of this month, but the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. Thanks, Robert Burns.






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Cars A To Z: T

First and apropos to what’s happening in the world, a small bit of dialogue from one of my favorite movies, Midnight Run:


Jonathan Mardukas (played by the late Charles Grodin): There’s good and bad everywhere, Jack.

Jack Walsh (played by Robert DeNiro): There’s bad everywhere. Good I don’t know about.


I seriously considered writing about Tesla in this post. I tip my cap to Elon Musk. For a long time, I was a critic and skeptical that the company would succeed. I still think, like many automobile industry observers, that a large proportion of those in the US who buy a Tesla do so because they want that particular make and not because they necessarily want an electric vehicle.

Still, I think much or most of that company’s history has yet to be written. I decided, instead, to write about a company that–at times–has been the leading automobile manufacturer in the world, Toyota.

Quoting the standard catalog of Imported Cars, “Many an automaker began with bicycles or motorcycles, but Toyota evolved instead from a textile firm in Japan. Sakichi Toyoda formed the Toyota Automatic Loom Works in 1926.”

Automotive prototypes began to be built around 1930 with full production of cars beginning in 1936 with the AA model. The six-cylinder overhead-valve engine was patterned after Chevrolet’s; the chassis and transmission were from Chevrolet. The styling was “borrowed” from the Chrysler Airflow. Take a look:


See the source image


Of course, World War II greatly affected Toyota’s operations. After the war, the United States–which was occupying Japan–did not allow the production of cars, but did allow the production of trucks. With the escalation of the Cold War in the late 1940s, US officials felt it would be better if Japan were allowed to fully rebuild its economy with one of the manifestations being that Japanese firms were allowed to build cars beginning in 1949.

At first, sales were slow because, frankly, most Japanese did not know how to drive. In 1950, Toyota established a division, ostensibly to promote sales, but one that was also intended to familiarize the Japanese people with driving. At first, progress was slow as Toyota built only 8,000 cars in 1955, but reached 141,000 by 1958. That was the year Toyotas were first sold in the US.

Toyota sales in the US grew quickly in the 1960s as shown by this chart:


Toyota US Sales Total Toyota Production US Pct
1963 1,096 128,843 0.9%
1964 2,029 181,738 1.1%
1965 6,404 236,143 2.7%
1966 20,908 316,189 6.6%
1967 38,073 476,807 8.0%
1968 71,483 659,189 10.8%
1969 130,044 964,088 13.5%
1970 208,315 1,068,321 19.5%


The popular models in the US during this period were the Corona and, later, the Corolla. Unlike Datsun/Nissan, whose demand was helped by the introduction of the 240Z sports car in 1970, Toyota’s popularity was based on reliable family cars. The 2000 GT sports car, although made famous by its appearance in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, was a limited production vehicle with only about 350 ever being produced from 1967 to 1970.

To be honest, the vast majority of Toyota products do not appeal to me. I respect the success of the company, but there are very few Toyota cars that even register on my radar. Of course, I am not counting the Lexus LFA and Lexus LC that were/are produced by Toyota’s luxury division.

If I had to pick a “pure” Toyota from the past that interests me it would be the MR2. I very much like the looks of all three generations, as shown below:


See the source image


See the source image


The MR2 was produced from 1984 to 2007 and was Japan’s first mid-engine production car. When European and other Japanese manufacturers were succumbing to the “hot hatch craze,” Toyota introduced the MR2, instead.

As best as I can figure, total MR2 sales were about 270,000 in the nearly quarter century the car was in production. The car was not sold in the US after 2005 due to rapidly falling sales, but was offered in other countries through 2007.

Of course, Toyota is also known for the Prius hybrid, which it introduced in 1997. About ten years ago, annual Prius sales in the US reached nearly a quarter of a million, but declined by 63% from 2013 to 2018. Most of that decline is due to competition in the hybrid segment, but some of the more recent decline, especially since 2018, is due to increasing sales of “pure” EVs, like Tesla.

Toyota’s North American headquarters are located in our old stomping grounds of Plano, Texas having moved there from Torrance, California last decade. In 2021, the United States remained the company’s largest market with sales of Toyota and Lexus vehicles reaching 2.33 million. About half that number were actually produced in the US.


From here on out, the Cars A To Z series grows very difficult. Of course, I will not use Volkswagen as the “V” car. It is possible, though not likely, that I will combine letters into a single post.







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Cars A To Z: R

Rolls-Royce is really just a subsidiary of BMW. Of course, that has only been the case for the last two decades; the Rolls-Royce name has existed for almost 120 years.

Upper-class Charles Rolls (son of Lord and Lady Llangattock) met workhorse engineer Frederick Royce (who had made a name for himself building cranes) in May of 1904. The latter was already building cars while the former was already selling them. Rolls was impressed with Royce’s cars and agreed to sell every one he could produce as long as the car was sold under both names. The rest is history.

The first car sold as a Rolls-Royce was the Rolls-Royce 10, as in 10 horsepower, which was unveiled in Paris in December of 1904. The cars quickly acquired a reputation as “the best car in the world” although, sadly, Charles Rolls would not see much of the company success as he died in a plane crash in 1910. He was the first Briton to die in a powered airplane accident.

Rolls-Royce began manufacturing airplane engines in World War I and began developing jet engines during World War II. Much of the company legacy stems from aircraft engines.

Many people are far more qualified than I to discuss the development of Rolls-Royce automobiles and to write a 500-1,000 word history of the company. I think I first became really aware of Rolls-Royce after seeing this:



This entry from Automobiles Of The World by Albert Lewis and Walter Musciano first made Rolls-Royce something real for me as opposed to some nebulous concept. For one thing, this was the only car in the book that had a page all to itself. I purchased this book while in high school in the late 1970s to help me with my senior year History paper, The Development Of The Automobile And Its Effect on 20th-Century American Society.

Rolls-Royce has had American connections for much of its history. The expensive Camargue pictured above had a General Motors Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission. Rolls-Royce built the “spiritual” predecessor of that transmission, the original Hydra-Matic, under license from GM from 1952 to 1967 and, obviously, used the TH transmission in its cars.

What many of you may not know is that Rolls-Royce opened a factory in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1921. The company wanted to avoid customs duties levied on the cars, by this time many of their automobiles were sold in the US, as well as to provide additional manufacturing capacity. This factory built almost 3,000 cars during its ten “official” years in existence. The Great Depression was a significant factor in the cessation of production at the Springfield factory although supposedly cars were still built from the existing stock of parts after 1931.

In 1934, Brewster & Company, which had been part of Rolls-Royce of America since 1925, began building cars with Rolls-Royce type bodies on Ford chassis. The parent company in England protested so Rolls-Royce of America became the Springfield Manufacturing Company, but continued to import Rolls-Royce cars from England until it went into bankruptcy in 1935.

In 1931, Rolls-Royce acquired Bentley, which at the time was a small builder of primarily sports and race cars. (Bentley was a victim of the Great Depression.) Rolls-Royce stopped production of the new Bentley 8 Litre, which was threatening sales of their current Phantom, disposed of remaining Bentley assets and just used the Bentley name and its reputation.

After a long series of events including receivership, nationalization by the British government to save the aircraft engine business, re-privatization and merger with Vickers Limited in 1980, Rolls-Royce ended up as a division of BMW in 2003. That is an interesting story unto itself.

As I understand it, Vickers decided to sell Rolls-Royce in 1997. They reached an agreement to sell the company to BMW in 1998. However, somehow, Volkswagen persuaded Vickers to sell it Rolls-Royce by offering about 90 million more pounds than BMW. The latter was already building engines for Rolls-Royce AND had acquired the rights and license to the name and logo (but not the mascot) as part of a deal with the aircraft engine division of Rolls-Royce.

BMW threatened to exercise its right to stop building engines for Rolls-Royce and eventually came to an agreement with Volkswagen that enabled it to continue to use the Rolls-Royce name to build cars although, technically, the history and legacy of the original Rolls-Royce company now belong to Volkswagen, including the right to build cars under the Bentley name.



From The Beaulieu Encyclopedia Of The Automobile a picture of a Rolls-Royce ad. I apologize if I didn’t write enough about specific Rolls-Royce models to suit the tastes of many readers.

As a company, Rolls-Royce seems to be doing well in spite of world conditions. In 2021, the company recorded the highest sales figure in its history at 5,586 cars, up 49% from 2020. Even 2020’s figure was good by historical Rolls-Royce standards. Here is a picture of one of the modern Rolls-Royce models that is part of the recent success, a Dawn convertible:



Even if I could easily afford to buy one, I don’t think I would purchase a modern “Roller.” However, as I have often written I am not a big fan of hypotheticals because I think very few of us know how we would behave in an “out of context” situation, a scenario very far removed from our current lives.






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Cars A To Z: Q

Yes, it’s “bad protocol” to mention this, but…when the calendar flipped to February blog views dropped by 30%. That decline removes much of my motivation to write.


Anyway…obviously, finding a car make whose name begins with “Q” wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to use Chinese makes because much of their automobile industry–much of their industry, period–is based on industrial espionage and theft of intellectual property.

Qvale was founded in 2000 by Americans Bruce and Jeff Qvale (pronounced Kah-Vah-Lay), although it was an Italian company. Their father, Kjell, owned Jensen for a time in the 1970s and was the force behind the Jensen-Healey roadster.

Qvale, which built about 280 cars from 2000 to 2002, only sold one model called the Mangusta. If that name sounds familiar, Alejandro De Tomaso was involved with this project. The Qvale Mangusta was originally the De Tomaso Bigua. When De Tomaso began to experience financial difficulties he found a business partner in Bruce Qvale and the car was renamed the Mangusta, in honor of De Tomaso’s famous car built between 1967 and 1971.

Just as the project was getting off the ground, De Tomaso and Qvale had a falling out and the car was renamed the Qvale Mangusta. Here is a picture of the car, which was designed by the legendary Marcello Gandini:


See the source image


Ventures like this seldom succeed and this was no exception. In 2003 Qvale sold the rights to the Mangusta to the MG Rover Group, which used the engine (a 4.6 liter Ford V-8 that produced 320 HP/314 LB-FT of torque), transmission, suspension and chassis as the basis for the MG SV.

I don’t know if the Qvale Auto Group that has dealerships in Florida is connected to Bruce and/or Jeff Qvale. I also don’t know if the Mangusta was any good. This article on MotorBiscuit claims the Mangusta was basically an Italian Ford Mustang.

Glad to get the “Q Car” out of the way.






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Cars A To Z: P

Although I have written a lot about Packard, my history with Pontiac makes it the only choice for the “P” car in Cars A To Z. Do you want some Pontiac history first? Whether you do or not, here is some history.

Contrary to what some TV auto commentators say, the Pontiac make did not exist before General Motors. Pontiac’s “parent” make, Oakland, did exist before GM having been formed in 1907 and then being purchased by GM in 1909.

In the 1920s, General Motors’ President Alfred Sloan thought that gaps had developed in the US automobile market for which GM had no products. His motto was “A car for every purse and purpose.” Out of that axiom came the development of companion makes for existing GM brands.

LaSalle was Cadillac’s companion make, Buick had Marquette, Oldsmobile had Viking and Oakland had Pontiac. Never heard of Marquette or Viking? The Great Depression made it virtually impossible for General Motors to sustain so many brands. In the case of Pontiac, though, it became so popular that its “parent” make was discontinued after 1931.

Pontiac was introduced in January of 1926 and was an instant success, selling almost 50,000 units in its first 12 months. By 1929, Pontiac sales exceeded Oakland sales by a ratio of almost 8-to-1.

For much of its history, Pontiac was far more of a family car than it would be later. It was the last General Motors division to offer a straight-eight engine, for example. However, Pontiac’s image and fortunes changed when “Bunkie” Knudsen, son of former GM President William Knudsen, became the make’s General Manager in 1956.

A new engineering group led by Pete Estes and John DeLorean (yes, that John DeLorean) developed new cars with new engines and in 1959 the “Wide-Track” Pontiac design was introduced. By 1962, Pontiac had reached third overall in US automobile sales, a position it would hold all the way through 1969. Note that Pontiac’s tenure at number three began two years before the introduction of the GTO.

Of course, the GTO was the beginning of the muscle car era that held sway from its introduction in 1964 through its demise due to government regulations and insurance company scrutiny in the early 1970s. As everyone reading this knows, a 1967 GTO was my first car.


While I doubt I would still own the car even if it hadn’t been rear-ended one night in the summer of 1980, who knows? Maybe I would have never had the “remission” in my car sickness and, by now, would have turned this into a killer restomod.

The car I have owned the longest looked like this, except it didn’t have a spoiler and “performance” wheels:



This is a 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix. I bought one new when I moved to California that year. I wound up owning the car for nine years, selling it in 2004 after we had moved to Texas and after I bought my first Corvette.

In the year before its demise, Pontiac still ranked fourth in sales among US car companies. Of course, by this time the “Great Recession” had scrambled the US car market so much that both GM and Chrysler declared bankruptcy.

Buick survived the bankruptcy while Pontiac did not primarily because the former was very popular in China, the world’s largest automobile market. Even with its relatively good ranking in the US car market, Pontiac was not particularly profitable in its last decade, either. I have not been able to unearth the total number of vehicles Pontiac manufactured from 1926 to 2010, but I can tell you that in the 1960s alone, Pontiac produced 6.76 million cars, including the one that was my first car.

Here are some “random” Pontiac pics:


See the source image

See the source image

See the source image


Long live Pontiac!






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Cars A To Z: O

Even if the letter “O” had been chock-a-block full of car makes, Oldsmobile would have been the only possible choice. The sadly defunct American company was, as has been chronicled here before, an outstanding innovator in the automotive industry. It was even the inspiration for a popular song, In My Merry Oldsmobile, which was introduced in 1905.

Ransom Eli Olds was born in Ohio during the Civil War. His father, Pliny F., established a mechanical workshop in 1880 in which Ransom and older brother Wallace worked, the latter having been a partner in the company.

Ransom built his first car, a three-wheeler powered by a steam engine, in 1886, but the car was a one-off. At about the same time, his father’s company began building engines. The company was incorporated in 1890 as the Olds Gasoline Engine Works with Ransom and his father each owning a little less than 50 percent of the company with Wallace owning the remainder. Despite the name of the company, they built steam engines that used boilers heated by a gasoline-fed burner.

By the mid-1890s Olds had switched to building internal combustion engines designed by him and Madison Bates. Production of a four-wheeled “car” using these engines began in 1897, by which time Ransom had become majority owner of the enterprise. In that year the Olds Motor Vehicle Company was incorporated. Ransom had two partners, Edward Sparrow and Samuel Smith. In 1899, Olds Motor Vehicle Company and Olds Gasoline Engine Works were merged to form the Olds Motor Works.

By the end of 1901, Olds had put its soon to be famous Curved Dash Runabout into production. Legend is that a fire destroyed the Olds plant and the Runabout was the only prototype to be saved, but in reality Olds and his company had already decided the Runabout would be produced. The cars were offered at a base price of $650, the equivalent of about $21,000 today.

Oldsmobile led US and world production of automobiles from 1903 to 1905, inclusive, manufacturing a total of 16,000 cars. In the middle of this success, frequent quarrels over the direction of the company between Olds and Frederic Smith (son of Samuel) led to Olds departure in 1904 (he was only a minority owner by this time). By 1906, Olds’ new company–Reo–was outselling Oldsmobile and reached third overall in US sales in 1907.

William Durant’s company, the newly formed General Motors, purchased Olds Motor Works in 1908. The company name remained until 1943 when it was renamed the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors.

Oldsmobile invented (along with Cadillac) the first successful truly automatic transmission (the Hydra-Matic), which was offered beginning in 1939 for 1940 model year cars. It could have been installed in a car like this:


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In the US today, 99 percent of new vehicles sold are equipped with an automatic transmission.

Ten years later, Oldsmobile and Cadillac introduced the first modern overhead-valve and oversquare (bore > stroke) V-8. This type of engine dominated the American marketplace for decades and led to the horsepower race of the 1950s and the original muscle car era of the 1960s.

In 1966, Oldsmobile introduced the first US “mass-produced” front-wheel drive car, the Toronado, since the Cord 812 of 1937. In time, front-wheel drive cars came to dominate the market for decades. In fact, it is only in the last year or two that AWD/4WD vehicles have passed FWD as the leading drivetrain sold in the US. Of course, most modern AWD systems are really FWD that send more power to the rear wheels only if conditions warrant. A photo of a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado:


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In 1985, Oldsmobile ranked second in US vehicle sales behind only Chevrolet. The next year, Oldsmobile saw sales exceed one million units. In the mid-1990s, however, the popularity of Oldsmobile began to decline with the make falling out of the top five in sales. In December of 2000, General Motors announced it would phase out Oldsmobile over the next few years. The last Oldsmobile, an Alero, was built on April 29, 2004 and sent to the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum. Oh, for the only car Carroll Shelby ever designed from scratch, the Shelby Series 1, the engine used was a 4-liter/244 cubic-inch V8 used in the Oldsmobile Aurora.

As I have written here on multiple occasions, Olds was the only US company to build cars in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and so it shall remain for all time. In total, Oldsmobile built more than 35 million vehicles and developed some of the automobile industry’s most important innovations. Long live Oldsmobile!


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