Three Great “Transitional” Models
There’s an old country idiom that says you never change horses midstream. Throughout the decades, a number of automakers boldly challenged this notion and, in the process, created some enduring classics.
While most of us have just finished ushering in a new year, the automobile industry has been living in 2014 for months. Typically, new models arrive in showrooms during September and October. As the public evaluates features, performance and styling, manufacturers watch sales figures and quality reports with bated breath.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and when a model is successful, a competitor quickly follows. As each manufacturer attempts to cannibalize the competition, an ability to adapt to ever changing consumer demand is essential. Because of the highly competitive atmosphere, manufacturers will rush concept cars into production, reengineer existing models or introduce sub-model variations midyear.
Here we take a look at some of our favorite mid-year model classics.
1964 ½ Ford Mustang
Lee Iaccoca recognized a void in the U.S. market and pitched an idea for a “small-sporty” rival to MG and Porsches. As it turned out, he was right. The Mustang was a hit from its public unveiling at the 1964 New York World Fair. People flocked to dealers, placing 22,000 orders the first day.
The Mustang debuted as a 1965 model months ahead of the remainder of Fords 1965 lineup. Cars produced in the first six months are commonly referred to as 1964 ½ or early 65’s. There is a myriad of ways to identify 1964 ½ Mustangs from 1965. A Mustang enthusiast may point to one of several subtle physical differences, but decoding the VIN is the most effective way of distinguishing ’64 ½ from ’65. The early cars could be ordered with a “U” code, 6-cylinder 170cid/101hp, “F” code, V-8 260cid/164hp or “D” code V-8 289cid/210hp. Body styles were limited to Coupe or Convertible.
In October of 1964, an updated Mustang emerged with the rest of Ford’s 1965 class. It included four new engines, most notably the HiPo 289cid/271hp, “K” code and an additional “Fastback” body style. The sportier GT package was introduced in April of 1965, followed later by the powerful Shelby G.T.350 Mustang.
Jaguar E-Type Series 1.5
Few cars combine beauty and performance as well as the Jaguar E-Type. Jaguar initially intended to build just 250 examples, but demand was so great following its introduction at the 1961 Geneva Auto Show, that the company scrambled to increase production.
Despite its success, Jaguar continued to tinker with the E-Type. The 3.8L in-line six powered the wind-cheating sports car to top speeds around 140 mph. For the 1965 model year, engineers expanded the in-line six’s displacement to 4.2L and upgraded gearbox and brakes in addition to significant changes to the interior. To many, the 4.2 models are considered the best of all E-Types.
Shortly after the E-Type’s sixth birthday, its looks began to feel a little long in the tooth. Like an aging starlet erasing laugh lines, the E-Type was in need of a facelift. The headlight covers were first to go. And while performance took a 2-to-3 mph hit, light penetration improved. Jaguar made no distinction between the open and closed headlight cars, but they became commonly known as Series 1.5 models.
The Series 1.5 remained in production for approximately one year. Remaining true to its tinkering nature, Jaguar began introducing modifications that became standard on the Series II models.
1949 ½ Buick: The VentiPorts Models
The aerial battles of WWII captured the imagination of the nation. As auto manufacturing reemerged in post-WWII America, the cultural fascination with aircraft could be seen in the shapes and styles of new automobiles.
1949 was a banner year for Buick design. Designer Ned Nickles had built a model of a Buick adorned with a Hardtop body in 1945. Edward Ragsdale, who would become manufacturing manager in ’49, saw the model and saw it as an answer to his desire for a sporty body that resembled a convertible without functioning as one.
It seems Mrs. Ragsdale would buy convertibles for the sporty look, but refuse to recline the top for fear of messing her hair. The design was backed by Harlow “Red” Curtice, Executive VP of GM, who procured the design solely for Buick, initially. Chrysler had built a small number of Hardtop Town & Country’s in 1947, but Buick became the first to mass produce the body style on the 1949 Roadmaster Riviera.
Authoring a new body style was a significant accomplishment for Nickles, but he was far from finished. Nickels cut holes in the sides of the hood of his personal 1948 Buick Roadmaster Convertible. Amber lights were connected to the distributor and flashed giving the impression of a monstrous engine with a flaming exhaust. News of the car reached Curtice, who liked the holes so much he ordered them on 1949 models, minus the amber lights.
VentiPorts became a quick way to identify the car’s engine. Four holes were cut out of each side of a V-8 equipped Buick, while 6-cylinder hoods contained three per side.
The Roadmaster Riviera Hardtop made its public debut in January 1949; however, deliveries didn’t begin until July. Few ’48 Buick Specials were sold as 1949’s, until production ceased in December. Production resumed in summer 1949 and the car officially introduced on August 8th.
A staple of 1950’s Buick styling, VentiPorts were used on most models through 1957. They have been used intermittently from 1958 forward. This design feature has proven timeless, and continues to appear on today’s Buicks.