Three Great “Transitional” Models

Tim Weadock

January 14, 2014

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 1/2 Mustang

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

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 Buick

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.   

Comments

  1. Robert`Brown Michigan

    Was startled to see the author explain three "VentiPort" holes as for a six cylinder hood as no six cylinder Buicks were being produced. The three VentiPorts were used on the lesser models, Special and Super.

  2. Harry R. Radtke Sterling Heights, Mi.

    It's amazing that cars had the distinction of a1/2 year introduction. As a kid growing up in Detroit I couldn't wait to se the new models in the fall. Every year in the 50's and 60's had distinctive styling. They did it with compasses, slide rules, protractors, clay and balsa wood. Now we can't see a new design until a decade has passed. There are more examples of mid year changes in the 50's and 60's with tweeking name badges, exterior and interior options, paint colors etc. that occurred. It would be an interesting feature to explore mid year changes of other makes and models.

  3. Mel Anderson Colorado

    My fully-restored 1965 Mustang 289 V8 convertible gets a lot of positive comments, but most of them ask me what was the model year because there were only very subtle distinctions between 65 and 69 or 70 Mustangs. I get occasional offers, but up to now none that would talk me out of the car. However, I might consider selling this year. It is certainly better looking than the later Mustang II and so-called "retro" look of the bumperless more recent models.

  4. Harry R Radtke Sterling Heights, Mi

    Buick is the only company that displayed the year of the model. It was located on the trunk lid. This occurred in the 50's.

  5. Don Hilston Lighthouse Point, Fl.

    The Jaguar E-type series 1.5 went through its changes because of the US federal rules about safety. The closed headlights were made from glass and as such the US made Jaguar change. Other changes in the 1.5 over the 1967-1068year' were, three carbs to rwo carbs, toggle switches on the dash to flat rocker types, and a bunch of other stuff mandated by our own government for our safety. My 66' Series 1 has none of these changes and looks better and runs faster. Your picture is of a Series 1 by the way not a S 1.5.

  6. Arthur Andersen Sudbury, MA

    The 3 verses 4 "portholes were not done to differentiate six cylinder cars from V-8 models in 1949. 3 portholes were for the Special and Sujper models and 4 portholes were reserved for the Roadmaster. The latter was a more expensive and larger vehicle. There were no six cylinder engines and no V-8 engines as all Buicks in 1949 had Straight-Eight engines.

  7. P.Johnson Rochester Hills Michigan

    I remember the 63 1/2 Ford fastback's, WOW, a design born from racing that really took off, copied by all the Big 3

  8. Burt Harwood Longview, WA

    While at WSC, 1954, the Pullman, WA Buick dealer had a new model on the showroom floor. The right fender had three holes and the left had four holes. I asked if the car was a "Century" or a "Special". It turned out to be a "Special". The easy fix was to bore a fourth hole in the right fender & it sold to a professor who really couldn't care less anyway.

  9. jerry jones Tonasket, Washington

    I second Mr. Radtke's observation there are more examples of mid year shifting up/down??? on changing a model line. The example that I own,is the half series 1954/1955 Chev. pick-ups. From 1947 thru 1953 the work horse Chevvie pick-up truck was /is ubiquitous. Then GM wanted to move the "work horse" into the game of style. The 1/2 series "54-55"still had the tough bones.. but GM wanted to up the style. After the second series "55" they lost their way for awhile in the tough bones department.

  10. Philip de Vos Monroe VA

    No sixes is correct. First V8 was '53 avoiding the mechanical failures and recalls of the competition's early V8.

  11. Richard Reinstein Colchester, VT

    I like Harry's comment and want to ad that now, in the post "compass/slide rule/clay and balsa" era, all we get are warmed over minor changes in the transport pod design which characterizes 99.5% of all car designs today. Any variety or innovation is reserved for pick up trucks only. Nobody can distinguish a Chevy from a Toyota until one looks for the name plate. This is what aerodynamics and computer based design has brought us too. One reason why I love the fifties cars.

  12. Al Weatherly Macomb, Michigan

    I oncve was the proud owner of the FIRST "Riviera" by Buick. It was a pillarless hardtop with interior top chrome "bows" that imitated a convertible look inside. Mine was the late edition with four ventiports or "portholes". The front port hole on each side acuallly had a tube that ran imn to the engine compartment to cool the engine which was the BIG straight eight engine. My car was a late 49 and also had the rare "sweepspear" side moulding that curved gracefully down the side of the body. I am a member of the Riviera owners club and now own a beutiful white 1982 Buick "Riviera" Convertible that has only 31,000 miles on it. I have written to the "Riviera" owners club, telling them that they ARE WRONG SAYING THE FIRST "RIVIERA" WAS BUILT IN 1963. Buick first used "Riviera" in 1949 on my very limited production (545 made) and the name was so successful that they put it on everything Buick built because...IT SOLD CARS! I still have the factory brochure introducing the tne Riviera Coupe for 1949. I also hav e photos of my Riviera. I lost it in a fire in Detrtoit at the old Briggs Beauryware plant about 20 years ago. I still miss my Riviera! Thank you for saying it was a memorable year for Buick as the '49 model was a one year only body.

  13. David McGlasson United States

    The headlight change on the E-type was a US government requirement for standard sealed beam units that could not be under glass. The standard headlight was a touch bigger than the unit Jaguar had been using, and so actually didn't fit all the way into the headlight nacelle. It was a kludge, and it was typically of a poor accommodations many foreign manufacturers made for US government requirements (lighting, safety and smog) as those regulations began to proliferate in 1968. These days we do a lot better in getting real European product than we did in that era, and for that I am very grateful.

  14. Brent Toronto

    Re: "Lee Iaccoca recognized a void in the U.S. market and pitched an idea for a “small-sporty” rival to MG and Porsches." Not sure where the author got this notion from? Read Lee Iaccoca's Autobiography and you'll learn what the real source of inspiration for the Mustang was, namely the Chevrolet Corvair. From Ward's auto: "In two occasions, Henry Ford II had sent Lee Iacocca flat to the canvas when he shouted "No! No!" upon hearing his aggressive Ford Div. general manager pitch for $75 million to fund his proposed "pony car" to compete with GM's sexy Corvair/Monza in the youth market.Corvair and our Falcon both arrived as 1960 compacts. While Chevy added the sporty Monza, Mr. Iacocca was looking at re-skinning the mundane....."

  15. daryl judd spokane, washington

    It is interesting how supposed professional writers fail to do research before writing articles like this one. There were many albeit minor differences between the 64.5 and '65 Mustangs, many due to evolution of assembly practices and others to make the cars more appealing. These included chrome inside door lock knobs instead of body colored ones, making back up lights standard, the front side leading edges of the hood from vertical to horizontal, the size of the "Mustang" letters on the fenders and the addition of a bale for the often stolen Mustang gas cap. The Buick part of the article is incorrect as well since Buick did not have a V-8 in 1949, instead they used an overhead straight 8. The number of Ventiports was decided depending on the model, the longer wheelbase cars getting the 4 holes, the lesser models 3 and they were not the same shape or trim treatment.