The Road Show #30
Jack Mortimer May 3, 2020
Sundays 11 am on www.duggystoneradio.com
So we start today’s segment with a little bit of a survey. Now you might know that currently we are in the middle of a bit of a pandemic and on that note many of us are concerned about utilising public areas. Well AutoTrader recently conducted a survey which revealed that some people are scared of using public transport. The study found that 48% of public transport users would be less likely to use it after the current restrictions have been lifted, with particular focus on those who are aged between 18 and 24. Out of 1067 people surveyed, 74% said that they prioritise their personal space at this time and over half of those who didn’t own a car yet hold a full driver’s license said that they would be more enclined to purchase a car when it is possible. Now, I’d like to hear your opinion on this story – would you think twice about using public transport thanks to the circumstances we find ourselves in? Well, let me know over on the FaceBook group The Road Show: Duggystone Radio or over on our Instagram page which is dstoneroadshow.
Meanwhile, at the pumps many fuel stations are being pressed to reduce the cost of petrol and diesel as crude oil prices plummet. Whilst the cost of a barrel of oil is now lower than $20, the lowest it’s been for 18 years, many have noted that we are still paying on average £1.10 for a litre of petrol and £1.16 for a litre of diesel. Howard Cox, who works for FairFuelUK claimed that these figures should be as low as 98p for petrol and £1.06 for diesel, if these companies didn’t, and I quote, ‘dishonestly hold back’ savings. Meanwhile, the fuel companies have defended themselves by saying that motorists are doing far fewer miles and therefore larger profit margins are required for them to stay afloat. So, an interesting topic and one that I’ll be keeping you posted on in future editions of The Road Show.
In other news, an investigation has suggested that women are under-represented in the automotive industry where safety is concerned. The researchers from the University of Virginia found that women were 73% more likely to be severely injured or die from serious car accidents when compared to men. One reason for this, they suggested, may be due to the use of male dummies in European and American crash tests. European law currently states that a female crash test dummy is only required to feature in one test per car and even then only in the passenger seat. It will be interesting to see if car manufacturers and particularly car testers such as EuroNCap decide to take action on this issue, I certainly think they should.
In the world of vans, Vauxhall (that’s Opel to the rest of the world) have announced their first fully electric van. It’s called the Vivaro-E and logically takes a lot from the standard Vivaro model. Now, this generation of Vivaro was designed with an electric model in mind and therefore is still able to carry only slightly less than the standard model. It is, however, fitted with a 50kWh battery which is linked to a 134bhp electric motor, allowing the Vivaro-E to go for 125 miles on a single charge. You will also be able to get a 75kWh battery which will give you 188 miles. The Vivaro-E will supposedly be available soon and will be built in the Luton factory, on the same line as the standard model.
Dream Car: 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
Right then so I’ve noticed recently that when I talk about American cars here on The Road Show they often fall under the Car’s You Love To Hate segment and there were quite a few in the Biggest Automotive Flops segment a few weeks back. Well, that’s completely unintentional as America has made some absolutely fantastic cars. Of course, we are still in the middle of the Ford Mustang Story, which will continue in the next few weeks, but for now let’s go all the way back to 1957 and take a look at what has to be one of America’s most popular dream cars – the Chevrolet Bel Air.
So, from a British perspective at least, when you think of 1950s America you think of rock and roll, drive in movie theatres and those huge gas-guzzling sedans and wagons, and the ’57 Chevy was no exception. The Bel Air model of Chevrolet’s launched itself back for the 1950 model year and continued to be produced until 1981 (albeit naturally in different generations). So what makes the 1957 model in particular seen as the best?
Well, let’s find out. The ’57 model was the final year of the second generation that was launched in 1955, however it wasn’t always going to be this way. In a time when American car companies would literally release brand new models each and every year, the executives at General Motors wanted an entirely new model for this year’s production but soon decided against it. Instead, they set about heavily face-lifting the old model.
There was a new dashboard fitted, the air-ducts were moved to around the headlamps, the grille was widened and featured more chrome, tailfins were fitted and smaller 14 inch wheels were added to give the car a lower stance. The Bel Air models in particular also received gold trimming and front fender chevrons for styling.
As for engines, well from 1955 the Chevrolet was fitted with the small-block V8. This was quite a significant engine choice given that the last Chevy to feature a V8 was all the way back in 1918. The main reason why Chevrolet returned to V8’s was to get back into motorsport, in particular drag racing. At 4.3 litres, it was already incredibly powerful for the time, but for 1957 Chevrolet decided to go one step further and not only uprated it to 4.6 litres but also offered fuel injection as an option.
Now, fuel injection wasn’t a brand new idea – it was actually first patented in 1896 but it was mostly used on fighter jets to reduce the effects of G-force on the pilots. By the 1950s, various high end German cars such as the Mercedes 300SL began receiving fuel injection but even so, this wasn’t something you found on your run of the mill family saloons.
Chevrolet’s fuel injection system was also offered on the Corvette in 1957 but in the Bel Air it allowed the engine to produce a mind blowing 283bhp. Sadly these particular models were significantly more expensive than the standard Chevrolets of the time and therefore didn’t sell so well, so best of luck trying to find one today.
Now, the 1957 Chevrolet came in various different body styles to accommodate all needs… well apart from an economical compact of course. Anyway, there were two and four door sedans, a sport sedan, a sport coupe, a utility sedan (which came without the rear seat), a more upmarket Club Coupe, a station wagon, a handyman station wagon, a four door station wagon and a townsman (which seated nine people). So as you can see there was a really impressive range for just one type of car.
On the options list, you could have had such luxuries as a padded dashboard (about as safe as a car got back then), power assisted breaks, power steering, power windows, power adjustable seats, a medium wave radio with a power aerial (and all of that’s a lot of power). There was also air conditioning, another rare and very expensive feature but one that’s impressive to think could have been fitted to a car over 60 years ago.
Naturally, being an American car, you could have had it with automatic transmission. At the time Chevrolet’s system was called Turboglide – a form of continuously variable transmission that used individual turbines for low, intimidate and direct ranges and a so called switch-pitch stator. The result was an incredibly smooth operation that required no shift in-between ranges by the driver (and therefore no ability to mess up changes). The only issue was, and you can probably tell from my incredibly butchered description of it, that it was incredibly complicated and also quite unreliable.
So Chevrolet went back to the drawing board and offered Powerglide, a system which was developed in 1950 and was notably more simplistic. There were only two speeds, as opposed to Turboglide’s three and so was cheaper to build.
Anyway, usually at this point a segment I tend to explain why the car we’re talking about ended production. Well in the case of the 1957 Chevy it was because 1958 arrived. As I said earlier, American manufacturers made new cars for each year and so that was the end of the line for the ’57 model. What can be said is that the 1957 models weren’t actually as popular as Chevrolet had anticipated and they were outsold by Ford, something that hadn’t happened since 1935. The main reason for this was another new feature that could be found on the Chevy – tubeless tyres. This was something entirely new and completely untrusted by the public who believed their lives would be on the line if they were to get a puncture.
But over time, the ’57 model and all of its innovations became noted and fondly looked on. During the 1960s there were plenty going for very little on the used car market and thus it was the perfect car to mod. Many were turned into highly tuned hot rods because it was very light and the shoebox V8 engine, as it was known, left a lot of space in the engine bay. What’s more it was easy to maintain and upgrade – essentially a modders dream.
And so, the ’57 Chevy became widely known long after it’s sell by date and therefore stood the test of time. By the 1970s it was already considered a classic car and many companies were set up that specialised in reproducing new parts for that car in particular.
Over in America, there are plenty of Bel Air’s for sale but sadly they come at a cost. You’ll struggle to buy an average condition Bel Air for under $25,000 and you could spend well over $150,000 on that perfect example.
First Car: Ford KA
Right then, it’s time to leave the glamourous, chrome-filled world of 1950s America behind and take a look at a car that’s really down to earth. For many people it was the perfect first car, small, simple and incredibly cheap. But really it was more than that – when it launched it looked completely new and actually paved the way for car styling in years to come. It’s time to take a look at the Ford KA.
So let’s just start with the big debate for the KA which is how to pronounce the name. I’ve always called it the K-A but some people call it CAR. Essentially, I’m not saying I pronounce it the correct way, but it’s more a force of habit if you think it’s incorrect. So in 1996, Ford’s flagship small hatchback was the Fiesta, as it had been for the past 20 years. The current model Fiesta was the 4th generation, launched late in the previous year. It was a very popular car but one that was a little… uninspired.
You see, throughout the 1990s there was a popular view that all cars were starting to look the same. An edition of Car magazine claimed that the designer of the facelifted Citroen AX didn’t notice the first one he saw in public (initially believing it was a Rover Metro). And whilst the Fiesta was now a little shapelier and had some more unique styling cues like an oval shaped grille it certainly wasn’t as bold as it could have been.
Over in Europe, in 1993 Renault set the world of small cars on fire with the incredibly quirky Twingo, the official successor to the aged Renault 4 and the reaction was very positive – the same generation stayed in production until 2007. And so, if Renault could make an interesting and popular small car, then surely Ford could. So they turned to Claude Lobo, the designer of beautiful cars such as the Capri, who looked at many previous prototypes that never saw the light of day.
Large, single piece plastic bumpers that wrapped around to behind the wheel arches were fitted – which were easy to repair and long lasting. A modern, one box shape was also used which allowed it to stand out in the crowd. In fact on that note, the next time you see an old KA remember that it is a 24 year old design – it’s mad to think!
Anyway, when the KA was first unveiled on September the 11th 1996, reactions were mixed. The design proved to be almost too much for some buyers, but the press loved it. Motoring journalists loved driving it, particularly for its handling capabilities.
At launch, there was only one trim level with various options such as air conditioning, power steering, rear headrests, power windows, central locking and a passenger airbag. Actually saying that there’s quite a lot there that was offered on the Bel Air – interesting. Also, from 1997 there was also anti-lock brakes which really is something that we take for granted today but back then, especially in small cars, was very uncommon.
There were also two engines to choose from – a 1 litre and a 1.3 that produced 53bhp and 60bhp respectively. Both of these engines came from the Endura-E family which in itself was just a highly modified version of the Kent engines that were found in cars like the Ford Anglias of the 1950s.
By 1999, you could buy a KA with colour coded bumpers after buyers complained about the bulkier black plastic ones which admittedly were cheaper to make and meant parking damage was kept to a minimum. By 2002 there were also new engines fitted as well that proved to be more economical and efficient.
So the KA was proving to be a little more upmarket than before, something that’s quite unusual in the world of small cars as it’s much harder to turn a decent profit. Nevertheless, Ford could sustain this as they were selling so many. And so, clearly the next step was to expand the now highly reputable range.
Not only was there now a range of specifications for the KA – from the basic Studio, all the way up to the Sublime which even featured leather seats – but 2003 saw the Ford SportKA, as the name suggests a sportier model which had a body kit, and the StreetKA, a coupe. The StreetKA in particular is interesting as it had a soft top roof that could also be replaced with a detachable hard top. Whilst, neither of these supposed go-faster KAs were truly meant to be sports cars, they did give their drivers a lot of fun at a low cost. Both cars used a 1.6 8 valve petrol engine that produced 93bhp and were advertised as ‘The KA’s evil twin’ in adverts, quite a humourous selling point given its established cute design.
These cars lasted until 2006 and this generation of the KA was officially replaced in July of 2008 by the mark 2 model. Nevertheless, production of the KA actually continued to be made over in South America until 2013, where it was facelifted several times to keep up with the competition whilst continuing to cut costs.
Sadly, whilst we are talking about cost cutting one of the KA’s problems was the fact that Ford used non-galvanised steel in the construction of the car, so rust quickly became an issue many owners had to face.
Nevertheless, there are still many Ford KA’s for sale over here in Britain and for good prices too. An example with decent mileage and some MOT left on it can sell for as little as £500 whilst a pristine example can fetch up to and over £2000, so long as it has a low mileage. StreetKA’s are the more collectable versions of the KA and so you’re able to spend more still for one. A look on AutoTrader shows that they range from about £1500 for a decent model to £4,000 for a special edition pink one – believed to be one of only eight made.
On the Show
Practical Classics Magazine is produced by a team of enthusiast who share your passion for older cars. We have all bought, sold and restored more classics than we can remember and we continue to do so in the pages of the magazine – every four weeks.
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