Low-end Lexus ES just keeps getting longer, wider …
The new Lexus ES 350 is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor, a formula that sounds a lot like that offered by Pontiac for years. Remember Pontiac’s wide-track marketing?
Well, even if you don’t, the Lexus ES is a substantial luxury sedan that for 2019 is infused with a sportier nature with its F Sport model. Sports sedan? Not really, but the sportiness is notched up a bit to add a bit more testosterone to its luxury leanings.
G’day mates! Travel towards the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne and as you skirt Geelong on the new bypass you’ll cross the Moorabool River on the Lewis Bandt Bridge. It’s a name with great automotive significance. Bandt is credited with inventing the ute.
The story goes that in the early 1930s Ford received a letter from a woman wondering if there could be a vehicle in which her husband could take pigs to market during the week, and her to church on Sundays. Rough and ready trucks existed but Bandt, who worked for Ford’s design department, took a two-door 1933 Ford V8 coupe and grafted on to it a cargo-carrying tray. Ford released the Coupe Utility the next year and that’s how it all started.
Ute is believed to be an abbreviation for “utility” or “coupé utility”, a term used originally in Australia and New Zealand, then also South Africa to describe passenger vehicles with a cargo tray in the rear. Well aren’t these just like pick up trucks? Close but not quite. Pick up trucks are built on a truck chassis while the Ute is built on a car chassis. Utes are gone here in the US but are huge in Australia as my daughter will find out this summer when she travels there as a Student Ambassador in the People to People Program. Traveling there for me is high on my bucket list!
Ford vs. Chevy
Ford beat Chevy to the punch with the Ford Ranchero, a coupe utility produced between 1957 and 1979. Unlike a pickup truck, the Ranchero was adapted from a two-door station wagon platform that integrated the cab and cargo bed into the body. A total of 508,355 units were produced during the model’s production run. It was adapted from full-size, compact and intermediate automobiles by the Ford Motor Company for the North American market.
Seeing the success that Ford had going Chevy jumped in with the El Camino built 1959–1960 model years. Production resumed for the 1964–1977 model years based on the Chevelle platform, and continued for the 1978–1987 model years based on the Malibu. Although based on corresponding Chevrolet car lines, the vehicle is classified and titled in North America as a truck. GMC’s badge engineered El Camino variant, the Sprint, was introduced for the 1971 model year. Renamed Caballero in 1978, it was also produced through the 1987 model year. You can get the real deal for around 20 grand. I like the later years because many were essentially muscle cars. Zoom……..
I checked around on the auction sites found the scale El Camino promotional models very affordable. Both this 79 and 82 were priced around $20. The first-generation vehicles were available from SMP and AMT as both promos and kits in 1:25 scale, which continued after 1964, when the El Camino joined the Chevelle lineup. There were no 1973-77 models were not produced in miniature but starting back up in 1978, both promos and kits were once again available from MPC. The promos were done in many popular colors, and were produced until 1983.
Tardy to the party were Chrysler’s two entries the Dodge Rampage and Plymouth Scamp which was a subcompact, unibody coupe utility based on Chrysler’s L platform and manufactured from 1982–1984. First released as a 1982 model, the Rampage was later joined by its rebadged variant, the Plymouth Scamp. The Rampage borrowed the car’s unibody construction and the front fascia from the sporty 024/Charger variant. The market for “car-trucks” was fast drying up in the mid-1980s. The Scamp lasted just one year, 1983 while the Rampage production a year later as one after another was dropped from automakers’ North American product lines. Even the El Camino was not immune and it was also withdrawn from production before the decade was through. Needless to say there were no promotional models made for the Rampage/Scamp. I did find a Matchbox model though.
What could have been
Pontiac played with the idea twice. Once in 1959 and again in 2008. in 1959 GM experimented with a Pontiac coupe-utility based on the full-size Catalina sedan, coupe and wagon platform. Legend has it that Pontiac built two of these 1959 “El Catalina” utes. One was used as a parts-hauler around the factory for many years, but the idea was never OK’d for production.
The last effort by Pontiac to build a pickup was its most serious and over the top cool. It came in 2008 when the 2010 Pontiac G8 ST was introduced to the public at the New York auto show. The G8 sport truck was based on the Holden ute from Australia, where car-based trucks have long been popular. It would have come to market with a 361-horsepower V-8. This is something that gets my heart pumping. It was killed as part of GM’s initial restructuring efforts that caused GM to kill the Pontiac brand all together. I was able to find a Holden ute in HO scale but most of them are diecast in some of the larger scales but you can only get them from Australia. Postage is a killer. Humm, another item I’m going to ask my daughter to bring back with her.
Faced with competition from the Japanese n the early 1970s, American Motors (I know what you’re thinking, anyway to work AMC into the story) was planning a compact coupé utility (pickup) based on the Hornet to compete with the Japanese utes. One prototype called the Cowboy was developed. The prototype vehicle featured a modified AMC Gremlin front design and a cargo box with a Jeep logo on the tailgate. AMC’s I6 engine would be more powerful than the 4-cylinders found in the imported pickups. This is the only surviving prototype which was built using a 1971 Hornet SC360 with the 360 V8 and 4-speed manual transmission. It was used by AMC on their proving grounds for several years before being sold to an employee, who later installed a 1973 Hornet updated front end. I’ve seen this in Kenosha at the American Motors Association 100th Anniversary event. The Cowboy never made it into production because the Hornet was selling well, there wasn’t a 4WD system available at the time and in 1970 AMC bought Jeep.
Well since I had lots of promo Hornets lying around I decided to make my own Cowboy by essentially grafting a 70 Hornet, to the back of the front doors, with the back of an El Camino. I utilized the Hornet tail lights and the rear bumper. The roof line has more of a slant but I kind of like it better than the real deal. This was a fun project and it is a one of a kind promo model, well sort of.
The Pony Car market was red hot in 1967. After seeing what Ford had in the Mustang introduced three years before, the other manufactures jumped into the game big time. General Motors had two entries in the game, the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird which shared the same F-body platforms. There were differences between the two cars. The Firebirds bumpers were integrated into the design of the front end and its rear “slit” taillights were inspired by the Pontiac GTO.
For GM, the Firebird was their Plan B for Pontiac, who had initially wished to produce a two-seat sports car of its own design, based on the original Banshee concept car. However, GM feared such a vehicle would directly compete with Chevrolet’s Corvette. Whoa….can’t do that. Instead, let’s just have it compete with the Camaro. The Banshee was really a cool car and too bad some product manager had his toes stepped on.
Back to the Firebird which was not really a bad Plan B. Since Pontiac was the performance division of GM, there were two V8 engines: the 326 CID (5.3 L) with a two-barrel carburetor producing 250 hp; the “H.O.” (High Output) engine of the same displacement, but with a four-barrel carburetor and producing 285 hp or the 400 CID (6.6 L) from the GTO with 325 hp.
In 1969, it was off to the races as a $725 optional handling package called the “Trans Am Performance and Appearance Package,”, named after the Trans Am Series, which included a rear spoiler, was introduced. Of these first “Trans Ams,” only 689 hardtops and eight convertibles were made.
Of course where were some very famous Firebirds. Starting in 1977, the Firebird, and more specifically the Trans Am, received a number of roles in big movies, most of which starring Burt Reynolds. Later on a Trans Am, named KIT was he star of Knight Rider. What to take a guess on what KIT stood for? Cue the Jeopardy music….. Give up? Knight Industries Two Thousand. “Knight Rider, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in a world of criminals who operate above the law.” Sorry, I watched way too much TV.
Promo model prices are on a similar scale with the real deals in that the tougher ones to find cost more to own. The first generation 1967-1969 Firebird promos were available in coupe and convertible and generally two or three colors for the coupe and one or two colors for the convertible. Many of the first generation promos have become difficult to obtain in presentable condition. This is due to the fact they were given to small children to play with making the attrition rate very high. I can attest to this myself!
According to John M. Witzke, who writes for the Firebird Gallery website, the 1968 Firebird Convertible is one of the rarest Pontiac promotional models and is considered the most sought after of the first generation models. Value of the first generation Firebird promos in near mint condition generally range from approx. $225.00 for a ’67 coupe to $475.00 for a ’68 convertible. The first gen, 67-68 tend to command the higher prices for collectors.
When the second generation was introduced in 1970, prices dropped in about half to around $180 until 1974 where they can be found for around $50. The second gen is considered to be a good starting point at collecting.
This was, and still is, a great car. There are several factors on why the Firebird has joined the orphan class, one being simply bad management at Pontiac. Too bad since the Camaro, which was killed with the Firebird and now the Camaro is back. I think there is an after market company which is taking the new Camaro and giving it a look similar to what the real deal could have been.
I always like Pontiacs, maybe because one of my grandfathers owned a dealership. Even though I was just a kid, I remember going to visit and there was always something new in the driveway. This model though comes from my wires side of the family as they bought one in 1958 and were given the car I’ll talk about soon. Maybe it’s also because like AMC, they are now an orphan brand after GM killed the brand in 2005.
The first generation, produced in 1958, came as a coupe or a convertible and paced the Indy 500. Not only great styling but also lots of get up and go. It came with a 300 horsepower, 370 cubic inch V8 with a four-barrel carb and dual exhausts. They also offered fuel injection as an option but it wasn’t ever popular because it was a high-price option at $500. Tell me how many options you could get nowadays for that?
My promo model has seen better days. There’s only a little bit of warp in the body and all the chrome is there along with some scratches on the hood, however the big minus is that the steering rim is broken. I’ve seen much better ones on eBay going for around $110. That’s not a bad price to hold a piece of history in your hands and never have to worry about rust or engine problems.