Cars Cum Laude: Five Famous “Graduation Cars”
Graduation season is the annual rite of passage experienced by millions of young adults every spring. It signifies the completion of one chapter in life and beginning of the next. Here are five cars that the Historic Vehicle Association recognizes as having passed through a similar type of graduation from sub-model/option package to its own unique model. You may now move your tassels to the left.
Pontiac GTO (1964-1974, 2004-2006)
The GTO debuted on October 1, 1963, as an option package on the 1964 Pontiac LeMans. Pontiac General Manager, Elliot “Pete” Estes, used the option package designation to sneak the GTO past GM executives, who had issued an edict restricting engine displacement of mid-size cars to 330-ci.
A variety of body style, transmission and engine choices allowed customers to personalize their GTO and helped to make it an immediate success. In 1966, the GTO graduated from an optional package to its own place in Pontiac’s model line. Three years later, the GTO spawned an option/package of its own—the GTO Judge.
Finally, in 1972, the GTO returned from which it came: a sub-model of the Pontiac LeMans. It remained available until 1974 when it was discontinued from the Ventura line. The GTO resurfaced in 2004, based on the Australian Holden Monaro. Production ended for good after the 2006 model year.
Chevrolet Impala (1958-1985, 1994-2012)
Chevrolet first used the Impala name in conjunction with Motorama concepts for the 1955 Biscayne and 1956 Corvette. The Impala made its official debut as the top level option for the 1958 Bel Air coupes and convertibles.
In 1959, the Impala celebrated its promotion to model status by showing off a dramatic restyling. It grew by 2-inches in length and shared bodyshells with full size Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac models. The ever popular Super Sport option followed in 1961.
The Impala left the Chevrolet model lineup after 1985. After a 9-year absence, the Impala returned in 1994 and has been running strong ever since.
Oldsmobile Cutlass (1961-1991, 1997-1999)
In the late 1950s, General Motors began to develop a series of compact cars. The Chevrolet Corvair was first to be released for the 1960 model year, and a year later Oldsmobile introduced the F-85. Most significant among Oldsmobile’s new offerings was the F-85 Cutlass Sports Coupe.
Oldsmobile was the first to respond to the cross-brand rival Pontiac GTO. For 1964, 3 inches were added to the F-85’s wheelbase and the Cutlass was designated as a mid-size model. Like Pontiac before them, Oldsmobile snuck the “4-4-2 option” past GM brass by classifying it as the “BO-9 Police Package”.
Up until its initial end of production in 1991, the Cutlass survived in a variety of body styles and trim levels. The Cutlass name last appeared in the late 1990s as an upscale Oldsmobile version of the Chevrolet Malibu.
Ford Galaxie 500 (1959-1974)
The Ford Galaxie originated as the upscale sub-series of the 1959 Fairlane 500. A Thunderbird style “C” Pillar roof distinguished the Galaxie from its Fairlane 500 brethren.
In 1960, the Galaxie stepped out on its own, leaving the Fairlane 500 trim behind. It continued to be the top trim level for full-size Fords through 1961. The Fairlane was introduced as a mid-size model in 1962, leaving the Galaxie name to the entire full-size series. Two new trim levels were introduced, the 500 and 500 XL.
The Galaxie 500 became the standard model in 1964 and remained until production ceased in 1974. In addition to the XL, the Galaxie 500 launched the LTD trim package in 1968, which would become a model in 1970.
Toyota Supra (1979-2002)
Toyota demonstrated their performance prowess with the 2000GT in the late 60s; little more than a decade later the automaker attempted to recapture that heritage with the Celica Supra. It featured a 2563cc, inline-6 engine with electronic fuel injection fitted to a modified version of Celica Liftback chassis.
The second generation Celica Supra was completely restyled with an aerodynamic coupe design and pop-up headlights. Two sub-model packages were introduced in 1982, the Luxury Type (L-Type) and Performance Type (P-Type).
Mid-year 1986 the Celica name was dropped, leaving the Supra name to stand alone. A new 3.0 liter, 200-hp engine was added; a year later a turbo charged option became available.
For 1992, the Supra received a major redesign, now entering into the realm of entry-level supercar. The model continued to build on its high performance heritage throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s. Exports to America ended in 1999, and overall production halted in 2002.
What is your favorite “model graduate” and why? Comment below or head over to the HVA’s Facebook page, clue us in, and see what other HVA members are saying.