When the Pontiac Aztek concept SUV was unveiled in 1999, it was a bit odd-looking but no more so than the Isuzu VehiCROSS. It looked angular, low, and menacing, which is just how plenty of Americans wanted their truckish vehicles. When the production Aztek appeared as a 2001 model, however, some changes had been made.
GM’s pony cars, the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, received a thorough redesign for their second generation, which debuted in 1970. The Coke-bottle styling of the first-generation cars gave way to a sleek coupe with a long hood and taut fastback rear. The shape was balanced and restrained (at first), showing a decided European influence. The redesign would prove long-lived, remaining in production until 1981.
We’re back again with more Stutz history, and our coverage of the bric-a-brac produced by the Stutz Neoclassical company as complementary offerings to two-doors like the Blackhawk, Bearcat, and Bearcat II. In our last entry, we covered the Duplex, a sedan that (unsuccessfully) wore Blackhawk styling. Based either on a Pontiac or a Cadillac, the Duplex was the ultimate production version of the Ministeriale prototype sedan built by Carrozzeria Padane.
With an astronomical ask of $32,500 ($251,312 adj.) circa 1970 and styling that hadn’t translated well into a sedan, the Duplex was a non-starter. Just one was ever made, and it was sold to a criminal in Utah. But that didn’t deter CEO James O’Donnell, who was insistent a Stutz sedan was viable. A few years later there was another Stutz sedan presented: IV-Porte.
We return to our long-running Stutz historical coverage today, with a few of the odds and ends vehicles that were never the headliners of Stutz’s brand portfolio. During the Seventies and Eighties, the Blackhawk and targa roof Bearcat funded some other fun ideas that occupied the thoughts of company CEO James O’Donnell.
In our last entry, we covered what was perhaps the strangest offering of the latter Stutz entity, a C/K era Suburban that concealed a mounted machine gun in its interior. The armored SUV was subsequently turned into a gun-free dictatorial parade sedan with targa roof, and a trunk. The be-trunked Suburban also donated its shape to an upright regular sedan and six-door funeral transport.
And while the Stutz Suburban takes were intended for foreign heads of state for security and coup d’etat purposes, the Stutz sedans were directed at the company’s more traditional American customer: Someone who feared no peasant uprising but did enjoy flashy styling and lots of elegance. Introducing the Duplex.
Last time in our tale of Stutz the company finally realized its dream of a true convertible, the Bearcat II. The original product dream of CEO James O’Donnell, the Bearcat II went on sale in 1987. Though the company’s fate was pretty much sealed by that time, Stutz had its heyday of models circa the early Eighties. Spoilers: Machine guns were involved.
We return to our coverage of the reborn and neoclassically-focused Stutz Motor Company today, at a point of considerable change in the company’s model portfolio. “Portfolio” may be a bit generous, but for a few years the company did produce a handful of different models.
Since Stutz was relaunched in 1970 its main offering was the Blackhawk coupe, in both its original 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix basis and downsized B-body Pontiac Bonneville basis. But Stutz CEO James O’Donnell always wanted a true convertible in the Stutz lineup. That wish was finally realized with the Bearcat II.
We pick up the Stutz story once again today after we reached the conclusion of the neoclassical Blackhawk coupe’s life in 1985. The coupe that sold so well in the Seventies with its exaggerated Exner styling was watered down considerably in the Eighties when it switched from its original 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix roots to those of a 1980 two-door Pontiac Bonneville.
However, even though the Blackhawk was the headline and best-known product from the Stutz neoclassical company, it was not the only car in the portfolio. First up: the Bearcat.
In our last entry in the Stutz saga, we covered the final few years of the Blackhawk that originated in 1971. Through various trim transformations and minor updates, the ’71 lived all the way through the 1979 model year. That final year it was also transformed into the very rare Bearcat targa convertible. But the winds of change were blowing: Detroit downsizing was already well underway, and Stutz was out of 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix platforms to use. The incredibly expensive Blackhawk sold roughly 350 examples in its first generation.
Because of domestic market downsizing, the contemporary G-body Grand Prix of 1980 wasn’t large enough for Blackhawk purposes. Instead, Stutz turned to the B-body platform, and specifically the Pontiac Bonneville’s two-door variant. And though it was marketed as a coupe by GM, the roofline was so formal your author would file it as a two-door sedan. In any event, the new hardpoints of the Bonneville meant considerable visual changes on the 1980 Blackhawk coupe.
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.
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!
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 started our coverage of GM’s Eighties and Nineties branding adventures last week, with the short-lived experiment that was Passport. The dealership network was an amalgamation of GM-owned or influenced brands from Japan, Sweden, and in the case of the Passport Optima, South Korea. Passport lasted from 1987 through 1991 before GM changed directions. In addition to axing an unsuccessful sales channel, Geo and Saturn cars had arrived during Passport’s tenure and made things more complicated. Let’s learn some more about GM’s Canadian dealership networks.
In the Eighties and Nineties, General Motors of Canada decided to try new distribution strategies for its imported cars. Like in the recent Dodge Colt series, General Motors had its own captive import cars and trucks that were manufactured by other brands. But because of dealership arrangements in Canada, GM took things a step further than Chrysler and established a separate distribution network for its imported wares. The efforts lead to the thrilling Passport and Asüna brands for the Canadian market. First up, Passport.