The Truth About Cars » fastback http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 21 Oct 2014 14:00:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » fastback http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Vellum Venom: 1970 Dodge Charger RT-SE http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/vellum-venom-1970-dodge-charger-rt-se/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/vellum-venom-1970-dodge-charger-rt-se/#comments Tue, 17 Sep 2013 13:21:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=518889 My departure from the cloistered world of automotive design was anything but pleasant: leaving the College for Creative Studies scarred changed me, possibly ensuring the inability to conform to PR-friendly autoblogging. Luckily I am not alone. While Big Boss Man rests in Chrysler’s doghouse, a remotely nice comment about their door handles perked the ears […]

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My departure from the cloistered world of automotive design was anything but pleasant: leaving the College for Creative Studies scarred changed me, possibly ensuring the inability to conform to PR-friendly autoblogging. Luckily I am not alone. While Big Boss Man rests in Chrysler’s doghouse, a remotely nice comment about their door handles perked the ears of the local Chrysler PR rep…and she tossed me a bone.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Hovas’ Hemi Hideout: so here’s a slice of Mopar history worthy of a deep dive into the Vellum. Oh, thanks for the invite, Chrysler.

1

An unforgettable face: the iconic 1968-1970 design was Chrysler’s most memorable effort to spook insurance and safety special interest groups into forcing “better” vehicles on the public. Sure, we’re better off now, but is a fragile chrome halo of a bumper really that useless?

Isn’t this bumper (and complex hidden headlights) worth the extra insurance premiums? Worth it to have a disturbingly clean and minimalist design?  Probably not…

2

But still, you can’t argue with how stunning and shocking this is.  While nothing like Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, the Charger’s front clip is a timeless work of art.  The blackout grille extends over the headlights, encased in a deep silver rim, topped with a chrome bumper…wrapped up with a name: Charger R/T.  This nose and this name made a promise to would-be new car racers of the era, and its aged phenomenally well.

That said, my favorite grille of this body style was the cleanest: the 1968 Charger was the one to have. It makes the otherwise clean 1970 Charger look downright fussy!

3

Things fall apart as you look closer, however.  Maybe the solid grilles over the headlights look cheap, and the panel gaps are too sloppy. The round signal lights look like a leftover assembly from the 1950s. Or perhaps the license plate should be located even lower as to not interfere with the bumper’s strong minimal form.

4

Even though the front end looks flat from many angles…

Note how the chrome bumper tapers in near the headlights, then pushes back out at the ends of the fenders. The silver rim accentuates this dance, ditto the fenders and hood.  But that black sheet of grille?  It peaks at the middle and nothing more.  The different high/low spots are phenomenally beautiful, it is fantastically executed on this front fascia.  5

The hood’s recesses and that strong center mohawk add a bit of excitement to an otherwise far-too-subtle design for a Mopar Muscle car. If you had a problem with Mopar Minimalism!

6

Somehow I doubt the meaty rubber trim does anything to protect the Charger’s painted body from the front bumper.  Not to mention the horrible fitment of this (replacement?) trim. I’d hate to be a broke-ass dude in the 1980s when someone slams their 5-mph bumper’d Monte Carlo into my otherwise cherry 1970 Charger.  The damage would be extensive…and would go unrepaired!

 

7

Hood pins are cool…but following their cable to this horrendous gap in the rubber trim leaves much to be desired. Damn, son!

7_1But it’s less offensive when you step back a little.

8_1

The only thing cooler than Rallye wheels and Goodyear white letter polyglass tires on this Charger would be the new-age 17″ repros with fat steel-belted rubber.  I love the proportioning of a proper 1970s muscle car with 17″ rolling stock: it’s perfection.

9

The hard bend (with a slight upward angle) at the end of the fenders just “ends” me. It’s another snapshot on vehicle design that emulates the timelessness of the infinity pool in modern architecture. Combine with the Charger’s long front end and deep fenders (i.e. the space between the hood cutline and the end of the fender) and this is simply a fantastic element.

10

The hood’s negative areas add some necessary excitement, otherwise this would be too boring for an American muscle car.  There’s just too much real estate not to do…something!

11

The signal repeaters at the beginning of the negative area’s cove are a styling element that I wish could come back.  But no, we need standard bluetooth and keyless ignitions instead…probably.

12

I’d trade all that standard technology for a hood this menacing, this modern.

Mid Century Muscle?

Mad Men Mopar?

Don Draper’s mid-life crisis machine?

All of the above. 13
The intersection of the cowl, fender, hood and door isn’t terribly elegant.  Newer cars have “hidden” cowls, an advancement that’d make the Charger shine. Because not having the fenders and hood sweep over THIS space does THAT front end a huge disservice.  Plus the panel gaps kinda suck, too.

14
At least there’s no DLO fail.  But imagine this angle with the 1980s technology of hidden cowl panels!

15

A little faster A-pillar would also be nice, it’s too static just like the cowl. But asking for such changes 40 years later is beyond idiotic. And while the R/T door scoop isn’t nearly as hideous as the afterthought scoop on the 1999 Ford Mustang, you gotta wonder how “ricey” this looked to old school hot-rodders making sleepers out of Tri-Five Chevys and boring 1960s sedans.

16

The pivot point for the vent window is an interesting bit of kit.

17

Chrome elbow sleeves, because a computer couldn’t bend/cut one piece of bling for us back then. Bummer.

18

Yeah, the R/T’s useless scoop is pretty much Muscle Car Rice.  While it kinda accentuates the genesis of the door’s muscular bulge, it’s completely superfluous. 19

Chrysler’s side view mirrors for the time were pretty cool by themselves…but they didn’t match the max wedge (get it?) demeanor of the front end.  20
I never noticed the three lines inside the R/T’s slash.  Definitely adds some excitement without today’s emblem marketing overkill.

21

Note how the R/T scoop does match the contrasting muscular wedge of the door.  Problem is, the scoop is obviously a tacked-on afterthought.  Negative area like the hood was a smarter alternative. But the interplay between doors lower wedge and the strong upper wedge coming from the fender is quite fetching.  As if the Charger is ripped from spending years a the gym.

22

Yup, toned and perfected at the gym.  Too bad the door handles belong on Grandma’s Plymouth.  Perhaps we all shamelessly raid the parts bin…22_1

The SE package was always the Super Classy Excellent model to have.  The vinyl top, these “proto-brougham” emblems and the interior upgrades are totally worth it. What’s up with the pure modern “SE” lettering with that almost malaise-y script below to explain what SE stands for? I’d cut the emblem in the middle and only use the upper half.

I’d save the lower half for the disco era, natch. I mean, obviously!

22_2

Vintage Mopar marketing sticker?  Check.

23

Classic Detroit is present in the Charger’s profile.  Long hood, long dash-to-axle ratio, long fastback roof, long quarter panels and a long deck. That’s a lotta long!

The only thing too short are those doors: the cutline should extend several inches back for maximum flow.  And from the subtle curve in the front fender to the stunning hips above the rear axle, does the Charger ever flow!

  24

Aside from the obvious problem with rearward visibility, how can you hate this buttress’d roof?  The fastback C-pillar is a long, daring and classy affair when trimmed with chrome and textured vinyl.  Keeping the roof from being too boring was the rear window’s use of a different vanishing point than the C-pillar, which translates into a different stop on the blue body.

25

To make up for the different vanishing points, more chrome and vinyl. I can dig it, but perhaps such design novelties are better off on a less mainstream product.  Or perhaps not…because how many people wanted a Charger back in 1970?  And how many people want one now?  Me thinks the number is exponentially higher today.

Yes, I know these pictures suck. But you can’t imagine how painful it was to coax a cheapie digital camera to do the right thing under the harsh lighting provided by half a million dollars worth of vintage neon lights. And now I hate neon lights.

26

Chrome and vinyl: so happy together.

26_1

The different vanishing points for the C-pillar and rear window make for a little problem: the trunk’s cutline should be much closer to the rear window.  And while that’d make a stupid-long trunk, it would look stupid cool.

26_2
Just in case you didn’t know where the new Challenger got that fuel door idea from. Too bad the new Challenger doesn’t have the Charger RT’s sense of chrome trimmings elsewhere to integrate it into the package.  That said, this is a beautiful piece of outstanding metal on a minimalistic body. Which makes it a wart…and by definition, warts must be destroyed.

Killed with fire. Or splashed with acid.  Or whatever it takes for a Dermatologist to knock ‘em off a beautiful body.

28

A part of me wishes the Charger’s back-end had the same round chrome bumper treatment as the front.  And no chrome around the red tail lights.  Actually just graft the front end entirely back here, and replace the black grille with red tail lights. A bit stupid perhaps, but it’d make a completely cohesive and eye-catching design.

29

That said, the Charger ain’t no slouch in the posterior.  The vertical bumperettes need to find lodging elsewhere, ditto the round backup lights.  But the space between the lights is the perfect location for a branding emblem, and the impossibly thin decklid looks quite sharp.

30

There’s a subtle dovetail at the end of the trunk, a nod to modern aerodynamic designs. I love it, don’t you?

31

Can’t say the same for the undefined space between the rear bumper and the quarter panel.  Yeesh, this was acceptable in 1970?

32

The trunk’s gap also leaves something to be desired. While I like the interplay between the chrome bumper and the tail light trim above the license plate area, it’s a bit too subtle.  Wait, did I actually mean what I said?

The difference in “heights” at the license plate should either be a bit more aggressive, or completely, exactly the same as the rest of the light/bumper ratio.

33

Maybe the crude black paint on the tail light’s chrome trim is the byproduct of a terrible restoration…but considering factory correct restorations elsewhere include similarly sloppy craftsmanship to mimic the factory…

Oh boy.

34

The tail lights are sunken significantly into the body, just like the grille up front.  Me likey enough to adore: such use of aggressive negative areas needs to come back in a BIG way.

35

There’s something about the chrome trim’s application around the trunk lock…

36

Even the camera-infurating action of all those neon lights can’t hide the ugliness here. Maybe my idea of having an all-encompassing chrome bumper instead of chrome around the tail light isn’t such a stupid idea after all. It’d certainly address this problem.

37

The round backup light does this design no favors. Exposed screws on the chrome bezel makes it worse. Weren’t there some square lenses Chrysler coulda parts-bin’d instead?

38 No matter: the 1970 Charger is an unforgettable machines.  I can’t imagine owning one when new, only to move on to tackier metal from the disco era.  And if a 1970 Charger owner was loyal enough to stick around during the Iaococca era and beyond, well, they’d be justified to hate everything made after 1970. Just look at that roof!

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

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Curbside Classic Fastback Week: 1969 Volkswagen 1600 Type 3 Fastback http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-fastback-week-1969-volkswagen-1600-type-3-fastback/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-fastback-week-1969-volkswagen-1600-type-3-fastback/#comments Thu, 25 Nov 2010 17:18:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=374190 Two fastbacks found in one week; now there’s something to be thankful for (not that I don’t have plenty already). The Packard Clipper Super and this Volkswagen Type 3 may not seem to share anything other than their tapering hind ends, but there is one other quality that they both have in common, and it […]

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Two fastbacks found in one week; now there’s something to be thankful for (not that I don’t have plenty already). The Packard Clipper Super and this Volkswagen Type 3 may not seem to share anything other than their tapering hind ends, but there is one other quality that they both have in common, and it makes the VW worthy to share the podium with it:

Quality. Packard was famous for their passion in perfecting and refining the highest quality cars in the first half of the 20th Century. It’s easy to forget, but taking a good look at this VW reminded me how the workmanship and material quality on these cars is absolutely superb. That alone ignited a little brief flame of lust for it, which I hadn’t ever quite felt before. It also helps explain why folks were willing to pay a premium price at the time for a car which still suffered from many of the Beetle’s shortcomings.

The Type 3 is a very polarizing car, and it was so from its very beginning in the summer of 1961. Reaction to it largely depended on one’s relationship to the Beetle: for those that thought of the Beetle as a slow poor man’s Porsche 356 (and many did in the fifties), the Type 3 narrowed the gap substantially: an affordable Porsche sedan. Buyers who bought a Beetle because it was cool or just cheap, but came to hate its many shortcomings and would really rather have had a Mustang or a Cutlass, the Type 3 was totally wasted on them. It was still all Volkswagen under its thick-gauge skin.

The Type 3 VW first appeared in the traditional notchback sedan format. It was  a highly anticipated car in Europe, as the whole continent watched and waited to see how and when Volkswagen would address the obvious shortcomings of the then 25 year old Beetle. Germans were quickly becoming more affluent, and the rest of the industry rightfully targeted their growing purchasing power with mid-level cars like the Borgward Isabella, the BMW 1500/1800, and of course the ever popular mid level Opels and German Fords. VW was late to the party, and everyone was in a high state of anticipation.

The VW 1500, as it was called, was decidedly a mixed bag. One could rightfully say it was nothing more than a Beetle wrapped in a stylish new dress: it rode on the same wheelbase and platform frame mighty similar to the Beetle. Yes, the track was widened at the rear (as was the Beetle’s a few years later), but the front suspension was fundamentally the same, and the engine was classic VW: the same basic case, with bigger bore cylinders, a longer stroke, as well as a re-arranged cooling system where the fan was on the back end of the crankshaft (pancake), allowing a drastic reduction in the engine’s height.

For those that were expecting VW to do something actually new, like FWD, water cooling, a roomy body or a modern high-rpm OHC engine were sorely disappointed, and had to wait over a decade until the Audi-based Passat came along. A whole slew of the Beetle’s biggest shortcomings were not improved, or not enough so: the heater was still inadequate, handling on long fast sweepers invariably induced oversteer, and rear seat egress and leg room was still subpar. How hard would it have been for VW to lengthen the platform by four inches, add rear doors, and make it a legitimate sedan capable of carrying four adults in comfort?

(In Brazil, VW did make a four door version of the Type 3, but still on the same wheelbase, so rear leg room wasn’t any better either.)

The answer is obvious: the Type 3 was initially built right alongside the Type 1 (Beetle) in Wolfsburg, and it was cheaper and more expedient to make it a “Super Beetle” rather than a truly new car, or even just a slightly longer one. It largely solved the problem in Europe where Beetle fatigue set in much sooner than in the US. That also explains why VW didn’t import Type 3s to the US until 1966, even though the rest of the world was worthy of them since 1962.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a busy gray market importing Type 3s from Germany to the US. Even VW dealers were doing it, to keep their loyal customers happy looking for an upgrade, although the price was stiff: about $3,000 ($21k adjusted) in 1964, when a US Beetle was going for $1595. Quite a premium for better visibility, more trunk room and twenty-five horsepower. When the Type 3s where finally imported by VW, that premium dropped substantially: this 1969 listed at $2295, vs. $1799 for a ’69 Beetle.

I happen to have an April 1964 Car and Driver in my lap, which devotes the bulk of the issue analyzing why VW wasn’t importing the Type 3, and the ins and outs of gray imports. Production constraints was one of them, since VW was building a huge new factory in Emden, where Type 3 production was eventually moved to from Wolfsburg. And as long as the Beetle was still red hot in the US, VW didn’t feel any particular need to supplant it. Another theory was that VW at the time was anxious about the huge success of the Beetle, and the impact it had on the US industry and the trade imbalance with Germany. Since gray market imports where technically “used cars”, they didn’t add to the swelling official VW sales numbers, and so VWoA did little to impede them.

That issue of C/D also tested a 1500 S (65 hp twin carb) Notchback, and put its finger on its pros and cons. It certainly was nippier than the 40 hp Beetle, especially in the first two gears. And it could hit alofty 88 mph, eventually. But 0-60 took still eighteen seconds, glacially slow for today’s standards. They loved the superb visibility instead of sitting in a cave. And the build quality, down to every little piece of heavily chromed interior trim, was absolutely world class. But it still handled like a Beetle, jacking up on its rear swing axles on fast curves. The revised trailing arm rear suspension was still a few years away.

By 1966, the Emden plant was in full swing and Americans were finally worthy of Type 3s, even though they were already looking pretty out of date by then. But the notchback sedan was replaced by this new fastback body style, along with the very versatile Variant wagon (Squareback). Was VW influenced by the resurgence of  fastbacks in the US during the mid-sixties? The Barracuda and Mustang fastback ignited a new fad for the swoopy tails, and soon all of Detroit got in the act. It seems kind of ironic that ultra-conservative VW would fall for such a fad.

But there were some compensations, including a rear trunk somewhat bigger than the notchback. Combined with the front trunk,

the Fastback was a bit of a Swiss Army knife, and made good use of the low and flat pancake motor, as a young Dustin Hoffman points out in this famous “where’s the engine?” ad for the Fastback:

Presumably, he got the job because his short stature makes the Fastback look larger than life; an old Detroit ad trick.

Undoubtedly, the Squareback was even more practical: it offered a front trunk in addition to a tall rear cargo area. It deserves its own CC, so we’ll honor it then. But let’s talk about one of the more remarkable features that both Type 3s came with starting in 1968: electronic fuel injection.

This was a very big deal at the time. Sure, the much more expensive Mercedes could be had with Einspritzer, but these were pricey mechanical units. The Bosch D-Jetronic was the mother of all modern electronic fuel injection systems, employing a vacuum sensor in the intake manifold to measure air mass, as well as several other sensors to determine temperature, engine speed and a few other parameters. An analog ECU made all the requisite calculations. And it worked like a charm: easy starting, no stalling, stumbling or flat spots. The same basic characteristics that were going to make fuel injection the next big thing in Detroit in the late fifties on luxury and performance cars was now standard, on a Volkswagen. And it would take over two more decades before proper port injection finally became common on American cars.

Ironically, Bosch’s Jetronic system was based heavily on the Bendix FI system patents, which was briefly optional on some American cars in the late fifties before teething problems and high prices quickly had Detroit spending the money on taller fins instead.

VW did give the Type 3 a nose job in 1970, pushing it forward and squaring it off to increase the trunk space as well as improve safety a wee bit, presumably. I’ve had one of the later ones in the can for ages (lower in photo above), but I prefer the original, and I’m glad I held out. They’re getting pretty hard to find anymore too.

This particular car, which its brand new owner proudly showed off to me, was a one-owner car that was obviously well kept, including a long period of little use. He was thrilled to find it in a newspaper ad (what’s that?). And it still runs like a sewing machine with its fuel injection intact. Sadly, or foolishly, many Type 3 owners tore out the Bosch and replaced it with a retrograde twin carb set-up, being intimidated by repairing it. In reality, these are quite rugged and fairly simple to fix, at least for someone inducted into the school of Jetronic.

The Fastback was a bit of an oddity: was it supposed to be sporty, or luxurious, or just a high-priced VW? Its appeal and sales were undoubtedly to those upgrading from a Beetle; it’s hard to imagine someone trading in a Cutlass for one. But for some, its familiar qualities, and just the quality of a Volkswagen were a habit hard to break, except with a Mercedes perhaps. And even today, its Germanic charms are seductive, but it would have to be without the automatic, thank you, even if it is spelled out in letters of such obvious high quality.

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