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Contents:
Pontiac Firebird Station Wagon?
The Class of '63
The Class of '53
Details, Details
It's the Little Things
Matchbox Malaise -NEW-


Pontiac Firebird Station Wagon?


Sort of...but not exactly. Most "car people" are aware that GM dabbled with the concept in 1977, 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 1979 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.

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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 All American Models.

 


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.

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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.

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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.

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It's the Little Things

Here's something a little unusual. How little? About 3 inches, or 1/64 scale. How 'bout a '58 Impala fuelie ? Yes, Virginia, Chevrolet did offer their "Ramjet Fuel Injection" beyond '57 in their full size cars in '58, and once again in '59. Probably a fact not too well known, and remembered even less; not that it wasn't good, but that it probably wasn't ordered a whole lot by new car buyers back then.

When the option debuted in '57, it was hyped as "1 hp per cubic inch!", and even today many "remember" the 283 horsepower (rated) 283 (cubic inch) Turbo Fire V8, as being the first to achieve that milestone. In fact it was not, as *Chrysler achieved it one year earlier.

The '57 283 "fuelie", as it came to affectionately be called, was available with a 250 horsepower rating, or with higher compression and different camshaft, 283 horsepower. In between these two, was a "dual quad" [two four barrel carburetors] 270 horsepower 283. What has any of this to do with the '58 Impala ?

In '58 Chevrolet introduced the 348 Turbo Thrust V8 (a truck engine) into its passenger car line. The 348 (and eventually the 409) was referred to as a W series engine, and became the high performance engine of the Chevrolet passenger car line in '58, with advertised ratings of 250 hp with a 4 barrel carb., and 280hp with three two barrels. And yet, the fuel injected 283 remained an option with a similar 250 hp rating. [With 10.5:1 compression, the 283 fuelie was rated at 290 hp, and with the same compression increase, the 348 was rated @ 315hp]

Which brings us to our 1/64 scale subjects pictured below. The gold and white Impala Sport Coupe is by Playing Mantis (Johnny Lightning), and under the hood, the simulated dual snorkel air filter housing and notched rocker arm covers, imply that it has the 3x2bbl. 348.

The turquoise and white Impala is by Castline (M2), and it has the simulated fuel injected 283 under the hood. Ignore the grossly ugly wheel covers, but notice the fuel injection logo on the front fender. Not that this is an earth shattering fact, but this little diecast is the only scale model representation of a fuel injected full size Chevrolet that I have seen.

*The 1956 Chrysler 300B was released some time after the other models in the Chrysler line, and it was a limited production, high performance automobile. As such, probably not many people purchased the 340 hp 354 cubic inch hemi engined vehicle. Thus it's all the more understandable that likely even fewer yet were aware of the 355 hp (more than 1 hp per cubic inch) option...which Chrysler, in their own advertising, discouraged the purchase of by the average driver.

Here's another little variation, again in 1/64 scale. In the mid fifties, two tone color combinations were very popular, and Buick and Dodge upped the ante in 1955 by offering three tone combinations. Pictured below are two Castline (M2) '55 Dodge hardtops. The three tone is a Royal Lancer. However, the two tone is the one which may be even more interesting.

In the '50s Chrysler sought to appeal to women buyers and one of the specific attempts was the 1955 Dodge La Femme, as represented by the two tone model pictured below. The cars were offered in softer colors, had special trim, and also special features, intended for, and it was hoped, potentially appealing to, women.

In '55, the colors of Heather rose and Sapphire White graced the exterior, while in the interior pink fabrics were used along with accessories such as an umbrella, a raincoat, a purse, and a compact. While this 1/64 scale model lacks these accessories, it does clearly carry the the La Femme logo on the front fenders, and it does represent the special model offered by Dodge in 1955.

In 1954 a special Chrysler concept was done with supposed feminine touches, and in 1956 Dodge again offered the La Femme. This approximately 3 and one quarter inch model by Castline is the only scale replica of this unique fifties automotive marketing venture.


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Matchbox Malaise

A recent Matchbox release elicited mixed emotions when first seen. Elation that someone - anyone - had made a scale replica of this particular vehicle, and at the same time disappointment at its inaccuracy. Why, when a company commits to replicating a vehicle, can't they make it accurate?

The subject is the Powell Sport Wagon. Never heard of it? Don't feel bad; the actual vehicle was obscure even when it was new...which it wasn't really. Instead, let's say when it was introduced. In addition to not being "new", it wasn't really a wagon either; it was a pickup.

Senior citizens among automobile enthusiasts may recall that the Powell was a reasonably priced vehicle produced by two brothers in the mid 1950s, using refurbished old Plymouth running gear, under a simple, plain appearing, steel body with a fiberglass nose piece. It was intended to be inexpensive to purchase and maintain, easy to drive, and practical to use.

One unique feature was that it had a storage compartment, which could be pulled out like a drawer, built into each of the rear fenders. It was intended that fishing poles, or possibly hunter's rifles, could be stored within the compartments which extended through the entire length of the pickup box. Hence the "sport" designation. Note that Dodge's feature of storage boxes in the pickup box sides is not a new idea.

By the way, eventually the Powell brothers did offer a station wagon type enclosed body vehicle, but their initial offering, despite being a pickup truck, was called the Powell sport wagon.

So, while pleasantly surprised to find a representation of this obscure vehicle, I was equally disappointed by the model's execution. One thing is Matchbox's recent habit of installing a plastic pickup bed interior into a die cast metal body, and they're two different colors. In this instance a greater "injustice" is the intrusion of rear wheel housings into the pickup bed. The actual Powell pickups had slightly sloping inner walls which effectively hid the wheel tubs. The model features a simulated diamond plate panel above the rear bumper, and has no tailgate. Some, if not all, of the real Powell pickups had diamond plate tailgates.

Is it expecting too much to have a replica of a vehicle be an accurate representation of the vehicle? Is it more difficult, or more costly, to do it right?

Conversely, the painted on details are excellent on this model! Taillights, rear license plate, the Powell script on the nose of the vehicle, are all well done, neat, and legible. Another plus is the molded on simulated compartment "doors" above the taillights, a Powell trademark. Even with its minor flaws, this is the only known scale model or replica of the Powell, and thus is a welcome addition to the scale model vehicle world.

Photos show the Matchbox model as produced, with its yellow body, red pickup box interior, and inaccurate wheel housings, and a modified model with a more correct bed interior.

 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          page updated 3/16/2021