We return to the Turbo-Hydramatic once more today, and our third installment sees us at a critical point in the timeline of the automatic transmission. Fuel economy pressure from the government and performance demands of the consumer increased considerably in the intervening years since the THM’s debut in 1964. That meant the creation of lighter, more compact, and cheaper versions of the Turbo-Hydramatic compared to its flagship shifter, the THM400. GM branched out into the likes of the THM350, THM250, and the very problematic THM200.
In 1987, GM stepped away from the traditional THM naming scheme and switched to a new combination of letters and numbers. Number of gears, layout, and strength combined to turn the THM400 into the 3L80. But the hefty gearbox was already limited by then to heavier truck applications; passenger cars moved on to four forward gears after the dawn of the Eighties.
We resume our coverage of Stutz today and pick up in the mid-Seventies. With the reborn brand’s personal luxury Blackhawk attracting the rich and famous from across the nation, Stutz attempted to keep the car fresh through visual edits every couple of years. In addition to the marketing appeal of a new “generation” Blackhawk, management was also able to cut costs: Split windshields became one-piece, and bespoke doors were replaced with those of a Pontiac Grand Prix.
All the while, the Blackhawk’s price continued to escalate and doubled by the end of its first decade. It was by far the most expensive American car on sale. We find ourselves in 1977, as Stutz continued with Blackhawk edits after the one-off convertible version named d’Italia was scrapped.
We return to our coverage of Kia sedans today and discuss a midsize from just prior to the flagship Enterprise we discussed last time. Kia offered the first midsize car to bear its branding in 1987 when it introduced the new Concord. Concord was essentially a broughamed, front-rear clip swap take on the GC platform Mazda 626. Mazda discontinued the GC 626 that year and immediately sold the platform and tooling to Kia. A couple of years later, the Concord spawned a lesser sibling called the Capital. Capital looked very similar to the Concord but sold to a more economically-minded customer with its much lower level of equipment and low-powered engines.
When the Capital finished up its run in 1997, it was replaced by a compact car Kia had on sale for a few years already: The Sephia. Sephia wouldn’t do for Concord-level customers though, and upon the sedan’s discontinuation in 1995 they were directed to an all-new Kia. The company was ready with its new midsize to bookend the Concord, and it went on sale the same year. Though the new car was again on a donated platform, it was the first time Kia had some leeway to design a midsize of their own. It’s time to discuss Credos.
Our Abandoned History coverage of the Turbo-Hydramatic transmission series continues today. The THM was a singular solution to two different automatic transmissions in use by Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and Buick in 1963. Turbo-Hydramatic arrived at a time of modernization for the automatic, which prior to the mid-Sixties was regarded as inefficient and less than smooth.
The THM400 was the 1964 replacement for the Hydra-Matic and Buick’s Dynaflow and established itself as a smooth and reliable gearbox. It proved useful in a variety of luxury and heavy-duty applications and shrugged off weight and torque easily. In short order, it took off as the transmission of choice for various small manufacturers outside of GM. However, no matter how excellent the THM400 was, it found itself squeezed by a drive toward greater fuel efficiency. It was also a bit hefty to be of broad use in smaller or lighter passenger cars. GM needed more Turbo-Hydramatics!
We’ve reached the end of the Nineties in Kia’s midsize-or-more sedan story. It was a time of modernization across Kia’s portfolio, and 1998 and 1999 were years of expansion in particular: Kia introduced an impressive nine all-new models across those two years.
For its larger sedan lineup, the dated Potentia (a rework of the Eighties Mazda Luce) continued on in its popularity in the South Korean market. Potentia was updated from its original 1992 looks for 1998. However, that same year Kia introduced a new large luxury sedan to its lineup. The company once again relied on friendly product partner Mazda. Let’s talk about Enterprise.
The reborn Stutz brand introduced its Blackhawk in 1971. It was a mostly hand-built and Virgil Exner-styled coupe atop a late Sixties Pontiac Grand Prix platform. Despite its rather common underpinnings, the Blackhawk found an immediate clientele among the very wealthy who were of a showbiz variety. After Elvis took delivery of the first Blackhawk sold (prototype two, to be precise), celebrities of various stature placed their orders with Stutz.
This gave the Blackhawk status and immediate luxury credibility, however garish and Extra Super Seventies it all was. Thus, Stutz increased the price of the Blackhawk throughout its debut decade and effectively doubled its profits by the turn of the Eighties. By 1981 the Blackhawk’s base price was $84,500 ($279,242 adj.). But Stutz knew it would have to update its coupe to keep buyers coming back for more, and the majority of updates took the form of trim differentiation and cost-cutting. Let’s talk about the multiple generations of Blackhawk.
In Part I of our Abandoned History coverage of GM’s Turbo-Hydramatic transmission line, your author made reference to a very exclusive Nissan that made use of the hefty THM400. That extremely formal Rare Ride has been on my mind since then, so here we are. If it pleases your majesty: The 1966 Nissan Prince Royal.
A few weeks ago, we concluded Abandoned History’s two-part coverage of the Chrysler UltraDrive transmission. Within the comments was a request for more transmission coverage of an equally abandoned nature. Let it be so! Come along as we discuss the vast automatically shifted expanse that was the Turbo-Hydramatic transmission family, by General Motors.
We pick Kia’s large-car story once more today, at a point when the Korean manufacturer was in the midst of establishing itself as a proper full-line automaker, albeit with contributions from various other automotive firms. After Kia built Fiats and Peugeots via knock-down kits, it moved on to a light rework of the early Eighties Mazda 626. It made two cars out of the 626, its first midsize offerings. They were the upscale Concord and lesser (but still sort of upscale looking) Capital. But before we move on to the company’s first truly full-size car, we need to talk about the Mercury Sable for a moment.
We pick back up in the Stutz story today, at a time when (once again) all was new and promising at the luxury brand. Under the company’s new ownership, Stutz had the funding for Italian craftsmanship and hand-built goodness. The all-new Stutz Blackhawk entered production in 1971.
Nineteen feet long and full of wood, precious metals, and optional mink upholstery, the Blackhawk asked for a stunning amount of money that was far greater than domestic personal luxury coupes and more than a Rolls-Royce. At a base ask of $22,500 ($162,533 adj.) in 1971 dollars, there were few cars that actually competed with the Blackhawk’s purchasable exclusivity. And said exclusivity attracted some very wealthy people. Let’s talk celebrity status.
I got to thinking about one particular big old Kia from the late Nineties the other day, and upon searching it on The Internet, I realized the Korean manufacturer had a much longer history with large cars than I’d thought previously. Given most of them were (or are) off-limits to the North American market, it might be time for a history lesson. We begin today with Kia’s first large car. It’s one you’ve probably heard of, because it was a Peugeot.
In our last Stutz entry, we saw the once famed luxury maker resuscitated by an entrepreneurial banker. Still headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, the newly renamed Stutz Motor Car of America, Inc. built a neoclassical coupe to excite lovers of polyester, personal luxury, and a mélange of styling cues from the Twenties and Thirties. The company’s first offering was the new Blackhawk, styled in a baroque Pontiac kind of way by Virgil Exner.
We pick up the Stutz story again today, as the super luxurious American brand went off to the automotive graveyard in the sky. Troubled by braking issues, dated product, and management keen to ignore the brand’s racing heritage, Stutz poured its limited development dollars onto delivery trucks and a rather sophisticated DOHC straight-eight engine. Both those developments were finished around the time of the Great Depression.
Unfortunately for Stutz, circa 1930 there was little demand for a new type of delivery truck, and really no demand at all for six-figure (adjusted) luxury cars. The company went bankrupt in 1937 and was liquidated fully in 1939. But the legendary name was not forgotten by certain people in Indianapolis who wore wide lapel suits.
Today we reach the 22nd and final installment in the Imperial series. In our last edition, we reviewed the development and birth of the final production car to wear the Imperial name: The super-extended K-car platform known as the Y-body. Lee Iacocca was keen on the idea of a full-size luxury sedan for the elderly customer, but Chrysler had neither the resources nor the platform to do it properly. Thus the Y-body appeared, and its angular and pencil-thin shape went on sale in 1990 alongside the similarly lengthened Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue. Speaking of angles, let’s talk about that sweet money-saving clip swap action.
We find ourselves at the final two installments of the long-running Imperial series today. It’s been almost six months since the first Imperial entry, when a new model was dreamt up by Chrysler’s founder as competition for the likes of Pierce-Arrow and Studebaker. The Imperial name outlived most of the Twenties competition it was designed to beat, though along the way it drifted both nearer and further to the original mission. The concluding entrant into the Imperial lineage was definitely the weakest ever. K-car time, commence!