home
 
Uptown Automotive Hobby Shop
The Biggest Little New and Used Car Showroom in Central New York
   

Contents:
Pontiac Firebird Station Wagon? -NEW-
The Class of '63
The Class of '53
Details, Details


Pontiac Firebird Station Wagon?


Sort of...but not exactly. Most "car people" are aware that GM dabbled with the concept in 1978, and actually created two prototypes, which they called the Firebird Type K Sportwagon.

Later the front clip of one of the two was replaced by 1980 pieces. Memory would have me believe that one car was silver, and one was gold. Also that one car was ordered destroyed, and that the other still remains...somewhere.

From time to time in recent years, ads and photos surface purporting to be "the" Type K Sportwagon, but they turn out to be more recent custom jobs, rather than the factory built original.

There was a 1/24 scale plastic scale model kit made of the Type K around 1980, by USAirfix, and was one of a series of eight American cars. They were simplified assembly kits, and the series was called Snap Fix. Airfix was a British model company, and while their prior kits had been sporadically available here in the 'states, this may have been the first time the company, or an arm of the company, offered models of American vehicles, to and for, American modelers.

The kit was molded in silver plastic, and had the 1979 Firebird style front end, with four rectangular headlights set into the protruding nose. Kit number was 8041.


In 1984, the Firebird type K Sportwagen kit was reissued by Lindberg, as kit #6507, incorporating as did the previous kit, an opening hood, and functional side windows offering access to the load area. The Gold model in the photos below was assembled from the Lindberg kit.


Also in 1984 Lindberg offered a similar model kit in the guise of a Z28 Camaro, and called it appropriately "Camaro Kammback". It, like the Firebird Type K (which stood for Kammback), employed a design created by a German engineer Wunibald Kamm, and which enhances the aerodynamics of a vehicle.

Like the Firebird scale model, the Camaro included an opening hood, and functional side windows. But, did Chevrolet actually make the real vehicle which this model depicts?

Not likely, due to the expense involved (the Firebird body was actually made in Italy), and the fact that despite being fully operational cars, the Pontiac type Ks never progressed to production vehicles.

Interestingly, besides going to auto shows, and being featured in auto magazines of the period, one of the Type Ks appeared in an episode of the TV program The Rockford Files.

To be sure, wagon version concepts of both Camaro and Firebird were generated by GM stylists on later generations of both cars, but it is unknown if any progressed very far.

The Camaro Kammback model pictured here, was acquired as a "used car" and is missing mirrors and taillights.

Back to top


THE CLASS OF '63

Buick Riviera, Studebaker Avanti, Chevrolet Corvette


Includes Corvette Stingray convertible (AMT plastic kit)

 

Back in the days when we looked to the fall season in anticipation of the annual new car introductions, every year was a treat, with styling changes, or models deleted, or new models added to existing product lines. 1963 was one of the more memorable years, as we saw three new models introduced, including two new car lines.

Corvette, having survived its shaky beginnings and uncertain future, was now in its tenth year of production, and was radically restyled, as the 1963 Corvette Stingray. We had seen clues of the new styling in 1961 with the Mako Shark concept car, and some hints in the taillights and rear end of the '61 Corvette's body, but had to wait two more years to see production 'Vettes incorporate more of the styling. '63 was the first year for what the Brits would call a "fixed head coupe".

For many years prior, Corvette had offered a removable, "lift off" coupe top for the only Corvette body style, the convertible or roadster. This year, however, there were two separate body types: the traditional convertible, available with folding soft top, and optional "add on" (removable) hard top, which transformed it into a coupe. In addition there was also a new fastback roofline coupe. with doors which opened into the roof to ease entry, and a divided backlight which came to be referred to as the "split window". By now most are familiar with the car, which had a "spine" running down from the roof to the rear deck, separating the rear window down the center. This controversial treatment was a one year only offering. Bill Mitchell, the stylist who designed the Stingray, liked the feature. Zora Arkus Duntov did not. Some Corvette owners later removed the separation, and replaced the two piece back light with the one piece unit from the '64 - '67 Corvette.

With the "split window" being the first year only, I'd bet many, if not all who did that, regret having done so. In addition to the radical change in physical appearance, the '63 'Vette also introduced independent rear suspension. The top engine choice was the fuel injected 327, rated @ 360hp.


1961 Mako Shark concept car, a retro promo from AMT; (R) production 1963 Corvette Stingray convertible, a more recent model from Revell.

 


Similarity of rear end styling (L) original 1961 annual kit from AMT; (R) recent issue 1963 kit from Revell.

 

Bill Mitchell, chief stylist for GM, was a busy man in 1963. He is credited with not only the Corvette Stingray but also with the creation of the Riviera, a new and distinct model added to the Buick line. Some clarification here. Harley Earl, who preceded Bill Mitchell, did the first Buick Riviera. When GM *pioneered the pillarless 2 door hardtop body style in 1949, Buick Division called their offering a Riviera. Then in 1955 GM introduced the 4 door hardtop, and Buick called theirs a 4 door Riviera. So, for many years Buick hardtops, in which ever line they were offered, were called Rivieras. For example, "Roadmaster Riviera", or "Century Riviera", etc.

Here, however, we refer to not a body style, but to a new model; a new car line. The 1963 Buick Riviera was designed to be a unique automobile, perhaps a "personal luxury car" - nomenclature which I believe was applied to the Ford Thunderbird. In fact, one magazine in referring to the '63 Riviera said that Mitchell had created "an anti-Thunderbird". Interestingly, the Riviera almost wasn't a Buick. Apparently the car - not the name - was considered for Cadillac, before it was designated for Buick. While it was a new car for GM, there were already cars of similar character on the market in '63. The previously mentioned Ford Thunderbird, and the Studebaker Hawk. But the Riviera was successful in carving it's own niche. Eventually that niche became somewhat crowded with Grand Prix, El Dorado, Toronado, Monte Carlo, Cordoba, and others, each with its own following. However, the '63 - '65 Rivieras are still considered among the most attractive of the genre. 


(L) 1963 Thunderbird promotional model from AMT (R) Studebaker GT Hawk cast resin kit from the late Sam Miller.

 


1963 Buick Riviera plastic kit from AMT

*Though GM is generally credited with offering the first hardtops in 1949, Chrysler was actually first; they produced a handful of Town & Country hardtops in 1946

 

The other new kid on the block was the Studebaker Avanti, actually introduced in 1962, we were teased by it until offered for sale in 1963. Intended to save struggling Studebaker, which at the time had been the longest continuous manufacturer of transportation conveyances in America, having begun producing horse drawn wagons a Century before. Sadly, the Avanti, advanced as it was, was said to be too little, too late. Studebaker moved to Canada in '65, and went out of business in '66.

The car was hatched in secrecy. So much so that the Studebaker president threatened instant dismissal if anyone leaked word about the project. So much so that the design team worked in California, in and near the home of the chief designer, not in the Studebaker factory in South Bend.

It was a polarizing design either liked or disliked, without a straight line anywhere on the car, virtually no front grille (there was one below the bumper), and tunneled round headlights. The body was fiberglass, made by the same company that produced bodies for corvettes. It had a built in roll bar, and was one of the first modern American cars to have disc brakes. (Crosley, and Chrysler on its Imperial, tried various forms of disc brakes in the early '50s). The Avanti used spot disc brakes designed by Bendix. Avanti could be had with a supercharger, as Studebaker continued a tradition begun in 1957. Three other engine options were offered as well. Studebaker and the Granatelli Brothers went to Bonneville in '63 and set several records. The Avanti was made by Studebaker again in 1964, with the only visible difference being square headlight bezels.


Supercharged 289 (R2) Studebaker engine.

 


Red AMT Avanti plastic kit (could be built as either '63 or '64).
Gold Aurora plastic kit.

 


(L) AMT '64, (R) Aurora '63
The Aurora kit, released in 1963, was molded in light tan plastic, and had opening doors, hood, and trunk lid; the only engine was the supercharged 289. The AMT kit, released some time later, was molded in white plastic, had opening doors and hood, and could be built as either a '63 or a '64. It also offered carbureted or supercharged engine options.

Back to top




THE CLASS OF '53

There was always much excitement years ago when the annual "new" cars came out each year, but 1953 was a most interesting year for automotive enthusiasts. In addition to the annual changes within the established and well known car lines, there were new categories of cars introduced by several manufacturers.

GM's Chevrolet division presented the Corvette, which in comparison to the Chevrolet passenger cars, as well as every other car from every other manufacturer, was quite radical. The Corvette, like the European cars which inspired it, was a "sports car".

Radical though it was, the Corvette was not the only unusual offering from the auto manufacturers in 1953, and in fact, some had the audacity to suggest that their special model was a sports car. No so in actuality however, as the Cadillac El Dorado, Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile Fiesta, and Packard Caribbean - all convertibles - were sized more like luxury liners than sports cars.

Each of the four mentioned differed from its regular production siblings in various areas which distinguished it from its (with all due respect) more mundane counterparts.

For example, the Cadillac El Dorado had a wrap around "panoramic" windshield, and a hard boot to cover the folded top, rather than a cloth boot with multiple snaps. The Buick Skylark lacked the portholes which its siblings had on their fenders, the windshield frame was "chopped" (lowered), the belt line dipped lower, the rear wheel openings were radiused, the inner fenders were painted a contrasting color, and the Skylark wore Kelsey Hayes wire wheels. The Oldsmobile Fiesta is the rarest of the class of '53, with less than 500 said to have been made. It too had the wrap around windshield, and may have been the hot rod of the group with its 303 cubic inch overhead valve V8, 4 barrel carburetor, and 4 speed hydramatic transmission.

Outside the GM clan, Packard offered the Caribbean convertible. Like the Buick Skylark, the Caribbean lacked chrome side trim which its brethren wore, and it also had radiused rear wheel openings.

The aforementioned were not, however, the only radical departures from conventional automobiles in 1953. Though not billed as a specialty car, and with little or no fanfare, Studebaker shocked the automotive world with their low and sleek 1953 coupes and hardtops.

There were examples of some of the class of '53 in various scales and materials throughout the years, but only in 1/43 scale, as seen in the accompanying photos, could all of them be obtained.

Back to top





DETAILS, DETAILS

Sometimes scale model cars may have little details which go unnoticed, or differ between two models of the same car. Personally, I have at times just happened upon these little details, while other times I have actively sought them. But in order to seek them, one has to first know they exist. Here a few which may pass unnoticed.

As diehard car enthusiasts may recall, some of the auto manufacturers dabbled (unsuccessfully, it turned out) with air suspension the 1950s. Among others, both Chevrolet and Ford in 1958, offered air suspension. Ford called their system "Ford Aire", and it was available only on Fairlanes and wagons. Few cars were actually made with the problematic system, and by 1959 it was no longer available.

Chevrolet called their system "Level Air", and continued to offer it as an option into the 1959 model year. From the Chevrolet sales literature I have seen it is believed that the option was available across the entire line.

The 1/25 scale PMC Promotional model of the 1959 Ford Country Sedan station wagon has "Ford Aire" in raised letters on the lower right hand corner of the tailgate. When I first saw it I thought it referred to air conditioning. Later I learned that it referred to Ford's air suspension. While I have seen some reference to the system listed as 1959, as stated previously it is believed the system was discontinued in 1958.




So, is this an error on the '59 promo? Maybe. But...when I was younger, and there was a discrepancy between a scale model and the real vehicle (like the '68 AMC Ambassador convertible, and the '76 Corvette convertible scale models), I thought that the model company made a mistake. This was confusing, as the model manufacturers worked hand in hand with the auto manufacturers to make the scale models. As knowledge of the hobby increased, it became known that it was more likely that the auto manufacturer had made a change to the actual vehicle(s) after the scale model designs had been completed, and production begun. This happened because "in the old days" the auto manufacturers wanted the promotional scale models in their showrooms when the actual new cars arrived there.





The 1958 Impala die cast model, labeled as 1/24 scale, has "Level Air" printed on the panel above the bumper. This model was offered by Classic Metal Works. While it's possible that there are others, these are the only two models which I am aware of, that indicate that they have the option of air suspension.

The early Pontiac GTOs were not yet actually specific models themselves; instead one could order a LeMans with the GTO option. While there are various scale models of Pontiac GTOs, we'll discuss some of them at another time; our focus here (is not a Ford) is on a '65 GTO, labeled as a 1/24 scale model, but actually closer to 1/26 or 1/27 actual size, and which is a "Hurst GTO". It has a decal - virtually impossible to read, but believed to say "Hurst Equipped" - on the trunk lid, Hurst mag wheels, and a Hurst "Dual Gate" shifter in the interior. This GTO model is made by Welly.





Classic Metal Works offered the '66 GTOs pictured below, and listed as 1/24, but actually are 1/25 scale. Both have Pontiac Rally II wheels, and look virtually identical, but the black one replicates a "Royal Bobcat", a GTO fine tuned by Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac, Royal Oak, Michigan, a dealership which in the '60s was a high performance Pontiac specialist, sponsoring (and campaigning themselves) some potent Pontiacs. The model has a "bobcat" decal on the sail panel or C pillar.


'66 GTO:






Lastly, here's one anyone can do with plastic models of the '55 Corvette. As most know, '55 was the first year for a V8 being available in the Corvette, at Zora's insistence. Legend has it that more six cylinder Corvettes were sold in 1955 than V8s. The only visible external difference was an oversized, gold "V" in the middle of the chrome "Chevrolet" logo on the front fenders. (See red Corvette in photos below)





The red '55, pictured above, sports a representation of an aftermarket removable hard top. It is unknown how popular this would have been in the early '50s, or even in what specific year it became available... and if the aftermarket offering the product may have influenced GM to offer such an option on the '56 'Vette. Remember, during the first three years of production the Corvette lacked roll up windows, and came only with a soft top.

Back to top



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          page updated 4/14/2020