Can you imagine the size and power of General Motors at their peak? “What’s good for GM is good for America,” folklore suggests. And who could argue when you could see the USA in a Chevrolet or cruise in a Wide-Track Pontiac? GM was a behemoth that could operate its own countries.
Carlisle, PA was abuzz from June 22-24, 2012 with the automotive contributions of General Motors. With weather that was better than one could ask for, the Carlisle GM Nationals brought together a good chunk of America’s favorite cars – here’s a tour of what you could find.
Chevrolet is as American as Mom, baseball, and apple pie, so it shouldn’t be any wonder that America’s favorite automotive brand shows up in force. Granted, a great percentage of them are late-model Camaros and their previous-gen brethren, but there was enough old stuff to keep the wayward auto historian happy.
You may know the Chevelle as having Malibu and Super Sport sub-models, but for 1969 there also was the 300 Deluxe. As the cheapest of the Chevelles, it was available as a Coupe (with B-pillar), Sport Coupe (hardtop), and four-door sedan. This 300 Deluxe Sport Coupe must be extremely rare because it’s equipped with a 350/300 and a four-speed. The owner’s grandmother ordered it new, even though it reeks as an insurance-beater spec’d out by a snotty kid.
The Heavy Chevy was a combination of being Chevrolet’s answer to the cheapie Plymouth Road Runner as well as the evolving market for “cosmetic supercars.” Any V-8 up to the LS3 Turbo-Jet 400 (otherwise known as the 402, which was simply a bored 396 – confused?) was available with this optional package from 1971-72.
Previous to 1970, the top motor for the non-Super Sport Chevelle was the 350, as the big block was reserved for the Super Sport (aside of the special COPO 427). But in 1970, things changed as the LS3 400 became available for any non-SS Chevelle. It was rated at 330 horses.
What can be said about Pontiac? By far GM’s most interesting brand, it was run by John DeLorean in its heyday and was considered a maverick brand of sorts. In fact, the creation of the 1964 GTO was done under the radar because its equipment was in violation of GM’s rules. The 1965 GTO was an improvement in styling and power, and this Iris Mist example is about as good as it gets – convertible, Tri-Power, M21 four-speed, and 3.90 gears.
When Pontiac introduced a specially trimmed Catalina and called it the 1962 Grand Prix, it was a tasteful way to bring personal luxury with the Pontiac touch. Pontiac stylists outdid themselves for 1963, creating a clean cruiser with concave backlight and performance options up to the 421 HO putting out 370 horses. Is it any wonder that Pontiac was #3 in sales for most of the decade?
America’s oldest surviving automobile brand no longer survives, but the cars of Lansing have a proud history of pioneering developments, from the automatic transmission to the hardtop coupe and modern high compression V-8. In the twilight years, GM didn’t know how to position Oldsmobile in the modern marketplace, which is somewhat ironic considering only 20 years before Oldsmobile boasted one of the best-selling cars in America. Here’s some of Oldsmobile’s best . . . and some that you don’t see anymore.
When the 1958 Oldsmobile debuted, it was a behemoth that was nicknamed the “Chromesmobile.” It was so bad that GM went on an unprecedented crash course to redesign all their 1959 cars. The results were sleek, delicate designs that were a forceful volley to Chrysler’s Forward Look. The new Oldsmobile experienced a successful turn-around that made up for the past transgression.
“Standard of the World” was the tagline in the ads. And even before that, there was the famous “The Penalty of Leadership.” It may be a surprise to learn that Cadillac once was America’s second-favorite luxury brand, behind Packard. But with Harley Earl’s consistent designs, V-16 motors, and the most significant styling feature in the post-war era – fins – Cadillac meant you were somebody.
The LaSalle was created in 1927 to fill the gap between Buick and Cadillac. As Cadillac’s companion make, it always had style through its 1940 swan song. This 1934 LaSalle perfectly shows how Art Deco and streamlining were coming into fashion.
“When better cars are built, Buick will build them,” it was said. Buick was the car for dentists and lawyers. It was the sporty, luxurious car with class – look at this 1964 Wildcat for inspiration. Today? It’s a car for old people and the Chinese. GM’s has tried to reconfigure Buick’s image in America, especially since the brand received a stay of execution (unlike Pontiac), but what does Buick mean to you? Certainly not what it meant to millions of Americans 50 years ago.
When Buick was redesigned for 1959, its lineup was changed as well. New at the bottom was the LeSabre. Next up was the Invicta, and at the top was the Electra and Electra 225. In 1962, the Invicta was joined by a specially trimmed personal luxury hardtop called the Wildcat; this subseries ended up replacing the Invicta series for 1963, although a sole Invicta station wagon continued into 1963. This is a ’62 ragtop.
The Car Corral
Carlisle is also about finding the car of your dreams. The variety of cars ran the gamut, from a 1967 GS 400 with that funky “Star Wars” air cleaner, an LT-1 Corvette, a very rare 1990 Pontiac 6000 SE with AWD, 1985 Olds Calais 500 Pace Car, and a 1968 Impala Custom with a bench seat/4-speed combo.
The Indoor Displays
At Carlisle there are two indoor displays. One had no specific theme other than being the creme de la creme. The other was a special display of W-block Chevys.
The W-block exhibit featured 348 and 409 Chevys. The motor was first introduced in 1961 but under 150 were built; in 1962, it went up in horsepower and availability. By 1965, it was long in the tooth, and it was replaced midyear with the 396. The ’65 on the right is a rare Biscayne, as most 409s were put in Super Sports.
The Mock Dealership
For the past few years, the old John Deere dealership has been used for creative retro displays. If you’re a fan of Supercars – cars modified by dealerships like Yenko and Baldwin-Motion – then you’ll dig the stuff within, which also had some “normal” factory issues intermixed.
The Burnout Contest
The Swap Meet
Carlisle Event’s origins are with automotive flea markets. They, along with Hershey, have made central Pennsylvania the headquarters for finding that elusive part. Vendors also have a strong presence at Carlisle, demonstrating to hobbyists how their items can improve your ride, especially with the trend towards restification.
If you like the looks of this show, there are more Carlisle events throughout the summer – stay tuned for the Mopar show and more!