Before the Challenger Hellcat there was the Chevelle LS6
Monday July 28, 2014
Car companies typically have one flagship performance vehicle, one halo car that far and away tops the rest of their lineup in terms of power and performance. For Toyota it’s the Lexus LFA, Nissan has the GT-R, Volkswagen has the Audi R8, Ford produced the GT and GT40 for limited periods, Chrysler has the Dodge Viper, and GM has the Corvette. Exotic cars that few will buy but many will admire.
This month, Dodge’s Viper was just usurped by with the release of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat. Developing 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft the Hellcat’s supercharged V8 easily edges out the Viper’s prodigious V-10 that produces “just” 640 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque. This got us thinking about other times this might have happened in automotive history, when a souped up muscle car was so unreasonably powerful that it surpassed even the halo car of its brand.
Perhaps most notably, this happened in Chevrolet’s 1970 lineup with the Chevelle LS6. For almost two decades, and for decades after, the Chevrolet Corvette was GM’s pinnacle performance car, with very few exceptions (like in 1983 when the Corvette wasn’t produced at all). However, in 1970 GM only put its mighty LS6 engine in the Chevelle, and for no particularly good reason left it off the Corvette’s option list.
Referred to at the time as “America’s most popular mid-size car,” the Chevelle wasn’t even GM’s second or third most “sporty” car. It was in many ways just a performance trim of the Malibu. But in 1970, none of that mattered, GM had a tuned 454 big-block and they were going to shove it in something. GM claimed it produced only 450 bhp, but most experts agree its actual output was even north of that, closer to 500 bhp. Mind-bending amounts of power could be tacked onto an affordable midsized car for a little over $1,000 in options.
On modern tires, a stock Chevelle LS6 can run the quarter mile in the 12-second range. The insanity of the LS6′s power wasn’t lost on the car critics of the day: Car Life Magazine wrote of the LS6 “Without even raising the specters of insurance and social justice, it’s fair to say that the Supercar as we know it may have gone as far as it’s going.” Which proved to be a fairly accurate forecast for the 70′s and 80′s.
The following year, Chevy returned balance to the universe and made the LS6 an option on the Corvette and quietly dropped it from the Chevelle’s option sheet, perhaps hoping no one would notice. As you can see below and from the ads of the day for the 1970 Chevelle, Chevy doesn’t even mention the LS6 option, perhaps embarrassed by just how much power they had put in it, or more likely, didn’t want to cast a shadow on their halo car, the Corvette. One thing’s for sure, though, car collectors of today have taken notice of this trim. A good-condition 1970 Chevelle LS6 convertible’s value is into the six-figure range these day.
There has been a lot of fanfare about the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang this year, but the Mustang wasn’t the only great American classic car introduced in 1964. This was also the year that the Pontiac GTO and Plymouth Barracuda were introduced. Talk about a vintage year!
Before John DeLorean got into the stainless-steel-bodied-gull-winged-kinda-sports-car business, he was Pontiac’s chief engineer and eventually became the division’s head. Perhaps his greatest achievement while he was there was the creation of the GTO, a.k.a. “The Goat,” a.k.a. “The Tiger,” a.k.a “The Judge.”
In 1963 GM completely withdrew from its involvement with auto racing, which had up until that point been a driving force behind Pontiac’s sales success. Determined to nonetheless preserve Pontiac’s performance reputation, DeLorean spearheaded the GTO (stands fo Gran Turismo Omologato in Italian, which means Grand Tourer Homologated in English) through development.
While the name didn’t entirely fit, the GTO was is a seminal figure in the world of muscle cars, and paved the way for a slew of muscle cars that would follow. It was essentially a Pontiac LeMans/Tempest, with most of its important performance bits substantially upgraded.
Very much a car of its time The GTO was only produced for 10 years. By 1974, the idea of a GTO (which could also practically mean Gasoline Total Obliterater) just wasn’t as appealing to the car buying public as it had been before the 1973 energy crisis. The GTO badge was recycled in 2004 onto a captive import from GM’s Australian Holden Division. Unfortunately Pontiac was already in its final death throws, and the modern GTO, while still popular among some enthusiast was too little too late. Based on an old but venerable Holden platform, the GTO was already essentially at the end of its life cycle by the time it made it to the US.
The Barracuda’s origins are very different from the GTO’s, but both models ended up in similar places by 1974 when they coincidentally were both discontinued. Predating the release of the Mustang by two weeks, the Barracuda wasn’t initially envisioned as a brutish muscle car, but a sporty compact car, very much what is described as a “pony car.” It was originally based on the Plymouth Valiant. 10 years of development turned a demure little fastback with a wrap-around rear window into a wide, powerful gran coupe and convertible.
In 1970 Plymouth made a radical departure from the Barracuda’s Valiant-based origins, and moved to the same platform that the Dodge Charger was using at the time (though the Charger’s wheelbase was a bit longer). Once thought of as a compact economy car, Plymouth obliterated this image in 1970 with massive V8′s and carburetors which gleefully poured gas into them.
Today, the Barracuda is a highly sought-after collector’s car, especially the ’70-’74 E-bodies. With only 11 ever built, the 1971 HemiCuda convertibles have done particularly well in auctions recently fetching as much as $2 million.
Both of these American Classics while only seeing 10 years of production, are just the same great pieces of automotive design and history. In the hullabaloo surrounding the birth of the Mustang, we’d be remiss not to mention these other great muscle cars that came from 1964.
This Friday marks the 4th official Collector Car Appreciation Day. With events happening all over the US, this Friday is a great day to take your collector car for a cruise. Heacock Classic encourages everyone who is passionate about the hobby of restoring or collecting automobiles to attend one of these events or at least take their favorite classic car out on the road for the public to enjoy.
According to the US Senate resolution that first officially recognized Collector Car Appreciation Day, the day is all about “recognizing that the collection and restoration of historic and classic cars is an important part of preserving the technological achievements and cultural heritage of the United States.” A cause that we couldn’t possibly agree more with, and one of the many reasons our classic car insurance covers pleasure use of your car.
The switch to unleaded gasoline in 1971 was a distinct turning point in the history of car design. While widely considered a very good idea to not spew lead into the atmosphere, this new regulation and the host of other efficiency and emissions restrictions that would follow, spelled the decline of the mighty land yachts that Americans had enjoyed for the previous several decades.
While many American car models needed to get smaller and less powerful to comply with the law, the Volkswagen Beetle had plenty of room to grow. 1971 saw the introduction of the VW 1301, or more commonly known as the Super Beetle. It was a bigger and more powerful car by almost every measure compared to the original Beetle.
The Super Beetle’s increased size was a product of a modernization of the original Beetle’s front end, replacing its bulky dual parallel torsion bar beam suspension in favor of a modern MacPherson strut setup. In doing this and extending the hood a bit, VW not only made a car that handled better, but boasted 80% more trunk space and a tighter turn radius despite having a longer wheelbase.
During the Super Beetle Sedan’s short 4 year lifespan it continued to introduce new technologies and conveniences to a model that had remained largely unchanged since the 1940′s. In ’72, VW made the rear window 11% larger and added a proprietary diagnostic socket. In ’73 a curved windshield was added and the Super Beetle came available in a “loaded” (for a Beetle) trim called the “1303/Big,” which is an objectively fantastic trim designation. In ’74 VW revamped the front suspension yet again. And in the final year of the Super Beetle Sedan’s production, 1975, Air Flow Control (AFC) Fuel Injection was implemented on the Super Beetle’s air-cooled four-cylinder, a system similar to Bosch’s Jetronic injection.
After 1976, only the convertible version of the the Super Beetle remained in VW’s lineup and stayed pretty much unchanged until production widely stopped a few years later (though it was still produced in some markets until as late as 2003). During this time, several special editions were made of the Super Beetle convertible, fantastic collector cars like the “Champagne Edition” and the black-on-black “Epilogue Edition” which honored the early Beetles, that come only available in this color scheme.
The Super Beetle is, by today’s standards, a diminutive and lightly-equipped vehicle, but by Beetle standards it was a leap into the future. Collectors seek them out today, because it brought the beloved Beetle into the second half of the 20th century, extending the life and relevance of one of the most influential cars of the 20th century.
The T-Top is a beautiful example of compromise. If you want the open-air fun of a convertible but don’t want to completely sacrifice structural rigidity and add the weight of a drop top, the T-Top was made for you. It’s also not a feature you’ll find in any car being manufactured today. Meaning if you want the red-jeans-wearing, mullet-having, John Cougar Mellencamp-blaring awesomeness of a T-Top, you’re more than likely going to need to buy a classic car.
While many credit GM for the T-Top, it was actually invented and patented by car designer Gordon Buehrig. It was first used in a 1948 prototype by The American Sportscar Company or “Tasco.”
While Tasco had an excellent roof, they never made more than one prototype of the car.
The T-Top wasn’t seen again until GM introduced it on the 1968 Corvette, at which point Gordon Buehrig promptly sued them. While his suit was successful, the settlement is said to be relatively small.
The Corvette’s T-Tops were so well-liked they were cited as the reason Chevy discontinued Corvette convertibles in the 1976 model year and didn’t resume production of them until 1986.
Perhaps the most iconic application of the T-Top was on the second-generation Pontiac Firebird. Offered for the first time in 1976, these T-Tops were originally provided by Hurst until 1978, when they were replaced by larger, less leaky panels manufactured by Fisher. The “Smokey and The Bandit” Trans Am, pictured above, features Hurst tops.
Eventually, all of the Big Three American car manufacturers tried their hands at making cars with T-Tops. They even made their way onto less performance-oriented models like the Chrysler Cordoba and seventh-generation Ford Thunderbird. Overseas, this roof is featured on a variety of Japanese and British automobiles, even on quirky utility vehicles like the Subaru Brat and Suzuki X-90 (you may not recognize it without a giant Red Bull can on the back).
While none of today’s car companies have the good sense to make cars with these truly awesome roofs anymore, the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird brought the T-Top into the 21st century, if only just. T-Tops went the way of Pontiac and its Firebird in 2002. Until manufacturers come to their senses, car-buyers with discriminating tastes, i.e. those who adore T-Tops, will just have to look to classic cars to get their open-air performance fix. And that’s just fine by us!