Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Complete List of Astronomy and Space Themed Cars

For Americans, the car is a part of culture itself in that, more so than any other personal possession, the car has truly shaped how we live, work, and play.

In a way, 20th century America can be broken down into BF/AF, as in Before/After Ford. While the assembly line and standardized parts concepts had been around for decades, Henry Ford was the first automaker in the world to apply it to the production of cars. Before Ford, cars were expensive, hand-built playthings of the rich. After Ford, the car was a mass-produced commodity that, with some saving, could be afforded by most Americans. Seeing what Ford was doing, the other major American automakers were quick to copy and car sales skyrocketed.

Before the car, there were essentially two ways of life for Americans: farming in the country or factory work in crowded, often filthy cities. The pace of life was dictated by the speed and stamina of your horse or your own two feet. It was during the 1920s and the economic boom that made this decade 'the Roaring 20s' that the American landscape began to change. People with modest money bought cars and many moved to the outskirts of the big cities, giving birth to suburbia, which was a blend of city/country life that made many people happy. Clean and with enough room to roam and no hard work of the farm but close enough to city markets to supply one's needs and wants. What made this all possible? The car.

Following WWII, the growth of suburbia took off as Americans reveled in previously unimagined prosperity as we literally rebuilt the world following WWII and reaped the benefits in the form of plentiful, good-paying jobs. Life without a car for suburbanites? Impossible!

At the same time, America began to go space-crazy. The German V2 rockets of WWII were the first ballistic missiles and, for a short time, they entered space. Scientists knew that, with bigger rockets, it would be possible to launch payloads into orbit. Military planners on both sides of the Cold War saw space as a key battleground in that whoever controlled space first was at a decided advantage should war come. Space became all the rage going into the late 1950s and especially into the 1960s as President Kennedy famously declared that Americans would go to the Moon and safely return to Earth by decade's end. Space became a pop cultural phenomenon, appearing prominently in movies, TV, music, radio, books, art and design, toys, and last but not least, cars. It is no coincidence that most of the cars detailed below were initially launched in the heat of the Space Race.

So here we go, a complete (as I can think of) list of all the astromomy/space-themed American cars.


Apollo (1973-76)

When the American demand for fuel to fulfill its thirst for its large, powerful vehicles ran head-onto into the energy shortages of the early 1970s, manufacturers were sent scrambling to quickly come up with smaller, more fuel efficient cars. Named after the Greek sky god and lunar missions that landed on the Moon, the Apollo was Buick's first effort in the compact market. The modest 250ci I6 engine certainly was fuel efficient and came paired with either a 3-speed automatic or manual transmission. For those still wanting some get up and go under the hood, the Apollo offered a 350ci V8 as an option. The car could be had as a 2 door coupe, 2 door hatchback, or 4 door sedan. The Apollo was rebadged as the Skylark for 1976 and is largely forgotten today

Vega (1970-77)

Even before the energy crisis hit in the early 70s, there was a market for subcompact cars in the United States as evidenced by the success of the Volkswagen Beetle. Wanting to cash in on this market and improve on its disastrous Corvair, General Motors launched a program in the mid 60s to design a conventional subcompact (front engine, rear wheel drive) that would compete head on with the popular German import. The Vega beat out proposals by Pontiac and others within Chevrolet that focused on low weight and high fuel economy. The Vega was green-lighted in 1968 and, upon release in 1970, was much lauded, even winning Motor Trend's coveted Car of the Year Award in 1971.

That was about as good as it got.

Despite its initial good impressions, the Vega soon became known as a lemon. The car quickly gained a reputation for bad engineering, tendency to rust, poor safety, and reliability. The engine was especially troublesome. Poorly designed, oil would often seep into the combustion chambers, producing clouds of blue smoke. A popular joke of the period stated that the only time that you would see a Vega going down the road not blowing smoke was when it was on the back of a wrecker. Throughout its run, the car's reputation was tarnished by several recalls and it became an embarrassment for General Motors. Fortunately for GM, the Vega's competition was another quickly cobbled together 70s beauty: the Ford Pinto. Probably for that reason alone, the Vega soldiered and smoked on through the 1977 model year.

Today, the car is remembered not for its breaking new ground, but its practical problems.

Facts and Figures
*Styles: 2 door notchback, 2 door hatchback, 2 door station wagon, 2 door sedan delivery

*Engine: 122ci I4, 140 ci I4

*Transmission: 3, 4, and 5 speed manual, 2 and 3 speed auto

*Dimensions: 169” l, 65” w, 51” h

*Weight: 2181-2270 lbs

*Production: 2,006,661

Nova (1962-79, 85-88)
A far brighter chapter in Chevy's astro car efforts was the Nova. Like the Vega, the Nova was born of of a desire to capture the compact market. Unlike the Vega, though, the Nova was born out of a troubled economy. The United States slipped into a recession in the late 50s and the huge gas guzzlers of that era lost appeal as car buyers looked to economize on fuel. Ford launched its compact Falcon in 1960. Chevy countered with its quirky Corvair, which copied the rear engine design of the just beginning to be noticed in America Beetle. Result: the Falcon soared while the Corvair gained a reputation of being both poorly built and dangerous, taking up a large part of Ralph Nader's
Unsafe At Any Speed. Sensing their mistake, Chevy quickly launched a program to design a conventional compact (front engine, rear wheel drive) that would compete head on with the popular Ford Falcon.

First Generation (1962-65)
The Nova name first appeared as the top trim package on the compact Chevy II. In the naming phase, 'Nova' was one of the finalists but lost to Chevy II because the manufacturer wanted a name that started with a 'C.' All cars in the first 2 years stayed true to the desire for economy, coming equipped with either I4 or I6 engines, with the 283ci V8 first arriving for 1964 as a performance option at the dawn of the muscle car era. 1965 saw a mild sheet metal redesign and the 327ci V8, capable of producing 300hp. Even with a new emphasis on performance, sales still trailed the Falcon dramatically.

Second Generation (1966-67)
Going into its second incarnation that saw a much more substantial restyle that that of 1964 vs. 1965, 'Nova' was still a trim package on the Chevy II. For 1966, the emphasis came increasingly on performance as the 327 V8 was even more highly
tuned, with power now rated at 350hp. At the same time, the I4 was now only offered on the base Chevy II. 1967 saw only minor tweaks and new government-mandated safety features but the new, mid-size, openly performance-focused Camaro cannibalized Nova sales.
Third Generation (1968-74)

1968 saw another dramatic restyle and an accompanying increase in
size, with the Nova now nearly equaling the mid-size Chevelle. For 1969, 'Chevy II' was dropped and the Nova finally became a model in its own right. If one counts the 'Nova' years of the Chevy II, the Nova was the longest continually produced astro themed car on this list. In addition to becoming a nameplate in its own right, 1969 saw the addition of the 396ci V8, rated at 375hp, to the engine lineup. 1970-71 saw little changes and the I4 was dropped as the new economy car slot was now occupied by the Vega. 1972 saw the engine detuned because of government pollution regulations, which effectively ended the reign of the muscle car. 1974 featured a short-lived seat belt interlock feature that would not allow the car to start unless the belt was buckled. The public loudly complained and the feature was quickly dropped.
Fourth Generation (1975-79)

1975 brought a major redesign, downsize, and a return of the
I4 engine as the energy crisis persisted and as the Vega had quickly acquired the reputation of being a lemon. The LN (Luxury Nova) package was introduced for 1975 and was designed to rival European luxury compacts as American manufacturers, struggling to meet emission and fuel economy standards, looked for a new niche in which to market their products. The biggest engine offered was a 350ci V8, detuned to a paltry 165hp, less than half of what it was just a few years before. There were few changes from year to year with the Nova, but the same could not be said for other GM products. With the GM downsizing of 1977-8, the 'compact' Nova was now essentially midsize. Chevy canned the Nova after 1979 as the newly downsized, more modern-looking Malibu far outsold it
Fifth Generation (1985-88)

An unusual (and best forgotten) chapter in Chevrolet's history was a brief resurrection of the Nova for the 1985-88 model years. Designed
as a subcompact joint venture between GM and Toyota, the resurrected Nova was essentially a badge-engineered Toyota Corolla. Unlike its predecessors, the car was now front wheel drive. Changes during the years were minor and the cars were only offered with I4 engines that topped out at 110hp. Chevy mercifully dropped the now-sullied Nova name for 1989 and essentially rebranded it as the Geo Prizim.

Sometimes memories of glories past should be left at just that.

Facts and figures
Styles: 2 and 4 door sedan, 2 door hardtop, 2 door convertible, 3 and 5 door hatchback, 4 door wagon

* Engines: 97-153ci I4, 194-250ci I6, 283-402ci V8s. Top performer: 402 ci V8 at 375hp

* Transmissions: 2, 3, and 4 speed automatics, 3, 4, and 5 speed manuals

* Production: peaked in 1974 at 390,517

Equinox (2005-present)
A current Chevy offering i
ntroduced in 2005 as a midsize SUV, the Equinox came about as the domestic vehicle market was undergoing a change as customers became increasingly interested in 4-door trucks, SUVs, and crossovers instead of cars. The equinox came with front wheel drive as standard with all wheel drive optional. Unlike the Trailblazer or Tahoe, the Equinox was lightly built and not designed for off-roading. With the return of the Blazer for 2018, the Equinox was downsized to a compact SUV. Engines are I4 (some turbocharged) or V6 and all transmissions are automatic.
Aries (1981-89)

Unlike ford and GM, which reacted swiftly to the energy shortages of the 1970s, Chrysler was financially-strapped at the time and, as a result, was nowhere near as nimble. Narrowly avoiding bankruptcy, Chrysler was late to the game with adapting to the changing times. The Aries (with the Plymouth Reliant) replaced
the Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen. Chrysler marketed both as being the smallest American cars with a 6 passenger capacity. Initial sales were brisk, but soon thereafter slowed to around 100,000 cars/year through the remainder of the production run, which concluded after the 1989 model year.

Facts and Figures
Styles: 4 door sedan, 4 door wagon, 2 door coupe

* Engine: 135 ci I4, 158 ci I4

* Transmission: 4 and 5 speed manual, 3 speed auto

* Dimensions: 178” l, 68” w, 52” h

* Weight: 2300 lbs

* Production: 978,460

Skyliner (1957-59)

While largely unknown to the general public today, the Ford Skyliner is perhaps the coolest car ever produced for one reason alone: it was a hardtop convertible. Despite being branded as the Fairlane Skyliner for 1957-8
and the Galaxie Skyliner for 1959, the cars were essentially the same. All cars vame with V8s ranging from 272-352ci. Transmission choices were all 3-speed with one automatics and two manuals, one of which sported another innovative feature: an overdrive gear. Despite being very showy and innovative, sales were disappointing at just 48,394 cars over 3 years, with 1957 marking the peak in production at over 20,000 cars sold. By the end of the production run just two years later, not even 13,000 Skyliners found buyers. High cost (for a Ford) and limited storage space in the trunk with top down (thanks to the fact that metal can't fold like canvas) undoubtedly contributed to the lack of popularity at the time. Showing that greatness is not always appreciated in its own time, the Skyliner is highly collectible today.

Galaxie (1959-74)
Ford's full-size offering during its entire production run, the Ford Galaxie is the longest continually produced astro-themed nameplate in its own right (discounting the 'Nova' badge years of the Chevy II) on this list. It is also perhaps the most variable in options as a Galaxie could be had as anything from a stereotypical grandparents' car to a raceway terror and anything in between. The first generation of the Galaxie (1959) is effectively summarized under the Skyliner above. Technically, the Skyliner was a Galaxie trim package as standard Galaxies followed more conventional designs (fixed metal top or soft top convertible).
Second Generation (1960-64)
The Galaxie (and Ford's entire lineup) got a dramatic facelift for 1960. Sheet metal was greatly simplified compared with the 1959 and gone was the wrap-around windshield, common on American cars from the mid to late 1950s. For its first two years (1960 and '61), the Galaxie had two more sky/star-themed trim packages: the Starliner, a fastback
hardtop (no central pillar) equipped with the new 390 ci V8, rated at 401 hp. Convertibles known as 'Galaxie Sunliners.' 1962 saw the “500” (for the big NASCAR races) added to the name to emphasize performance, which was now what Ford was promoting. 1962 also saw Ford break the 400ci barrier with its new 406 V8, which added a few ponies to the 401 of the 390ci V8 already in use. The 406 came partnered with a 4-speed manual transmission. Mid year 1963 (branded 1963 ½-an industry first designation of a model as a half year) saw the fastback return and the introduction of the 427 ci V8 (essentially a more deeply bored 406) rated at 425 hp straight off the sales floor. Under the sheet metal, which now featured deeply sculpted sides and grille, the 1964 offerings were mechanically equal in every way.

Third Generation (1965-68)
1965 saw a redesign in both body and chassis. The Galaxie now got stacked quad headlights and slab sides. Underneath, the suspension was updated with coil springs replacing the rear leaf springs.
Top-tier, especially plush models were called the Galaxie LTD. As for engines and transmissions, offerings remained largely the same, with the 427 retaining flagship position. 1966 saw the Galaxie and 'LTD' become separate models and Ford introduced its new 428 ci V8 that was only rated at 345hp, 80 less than its predecessor, the 427. The reason: cost. The large bore of the 427 made it expensive to produce as the slightest shift during casting could make the entire block unusable. The high compression of the 427 (11.6:1) also required thicker castings. While the 428 was not as potent as the 427, the emphasis on performance was shifting to mid-size models, which meant that the 428 didn't need to move as much weight as the 427s, which had to propel full-size cars at the same blazing fast speeds. 1967 and 1968 saw only minor changes, often dictated by new government safety standards. The biggest changes in this time span was the more rounded look that arrived for 1967 and when the Galaxie switched back to more conventional horizontally mounted headlights in 1968, which had not been seen since 1964.

 Fourth Generation (1969-74)
1969 saw yet another new platform, with the Galaxie adding a few inches to its wheelbase. Also arriving in 1969 was the new 429 ci V8, rated at 360 hp, and government mandated headrests for the front seats. Sheet metal remained similar in look to the 1968 model. Another vestige of the muscle Galaxie was dropped in 1970, when the 4 speed manual transmission previously offered (but by no means standard, anymore) with the 429 was dropped. 1970 also saw the ignition move from the dash to the steering column. 1971 saw new sheet metal and a new grille featuring a prominent center section reminiscent of many contemporary Pontiacs. Underneath, the cars remained unchanged. 1971 would also mark the end of the big horsepower as new government regulations over emissions and fuel standards were forced upon Ford and all of Detroit. 1971 was also the final year Ford offered its 3-speed manual transmission with a column shift (three on the tree) with its V8 engines. Restricted to the I6 engines for 1972, the three on the tree tranny would be dropped altogether for 1973. 1973-74 Galaxies were essentially unchanged and the name was dropped for 1975, with Ford consolidating its full-size models under the LTD nameplate. Facts and Figures
Styles: 2 and 4 door sedans, 2 and 4 door hardtops, 2 door convertible, 2 door convertible

* Engine: 223-300ci I6s, V8s ranging from 272-429ci, the 427 with dual 4 barrel carburetors was the most powerful at 425hp

* Transmission: 2 and 3 speed auto, 3 and 4 speed manual

* Production: 6,543,138 with a peak of 648,010 in 1963, that's over 40,000 more than the Mustang's peak year
Galaxies in NASCAR
Many NASCAR teams ran Galaxies through the 1966 season (the era of the biggest cars getting the biggest engines) when Ford switched to the smaller, lighter Fairlane going into 1967. Highlights include:

* 1961 and 65 championships with Ned Jarrett

* 1963, 65 Daytona 500

* 1961-63, 65 Southern 500s

* 1961, 62, 65 World 600s

* In 1963, Fred Lorenzen is first to top $100,000 in season earnings

The Yellow Banana Galaxie
In astronomy, galaxies are commonly known by illustrative names that describe their appearance, such as the Sombrero, Whirlpool, Pinwheel, etc. In 1966, the racing world would be graced, albeit once, by a uniquely nicknamed Ford Galaxie, dubbed 'the Yellow Banana' by a local sports reporter.

The Yellow Banana Galaxie of 1966 has its roots in 1964, which is when Chrysler launched its potent 426ci Hemi V8 and went on to dominate at the big tracks (and thus the most prestigious races).
Ford had no answer and was clobbered by Chrysler products for the 1964 NASCAR season. Going into 1965 and citing driver safety (4 drivers died in 1964), specifically tire failure at high speed, Ford lobbyists convinced NASCAR to ban the Hemi. Result: Chrysler teams boycotted for 1965 and race attendance plummeted as many star drivers (most notably Richard Petty and David Pearson) were absent from the fields. Race attendance and revenues tumbling, NASCAR let the Hemi return late in the 1965 season.

Ford again wasn't happy and this time, they designed a tricked out version of the 427 that featured a single overhead cam (SOHC) and hemispherical cylinder heads-essentially copying the Chrysler Hemi (stands for hemispherical) design. Additionally, the new engine featured an idler (rather than a cam) shaft in the block, dual point ignition, and oversize valves. With a single 4 barrel carburetor, the engine was rated at 616hp. A pair of 4 barrels? A screaming 657hp. Ford sold the engine via the parts department and the racing world braced itself for a Ford SOHC vs. Chrysler Hemi war in 1966.

However, that wasn't to be. Chrysler protested, probably due to the fact that, while Ford produced enough engines to qualify for competition, they weren't in any cars that hit the sales floor for purchase by the general public. Result: Ford's 427 SOHC became the only 'production' engine ever banned by NASCAR and, as a result, the factory Ford teams sat out the 1966 season as Chrysler had done the year before. Seeing the writing on the wall for more lost attendance and desperate to get Ford back into the sport to prevent another financially bleak year, NASCAR became very selective in its enforcement of rules governing the 'stockness' of its stock cars, which led to the Yellow Banana.

For the 1966 Dixie 400 at Atlanta, Junior
Johnson, now retired as a driver, built Fred Lorenzen a decidedly non-stock Galaxie that featured a front end that was sloped down (and barely avoided scraping the pavement) for aerodynamics and a back end that was swept up at a decidedly non-stock angle for maximum rear downforce, and thus better handling in the turns. On top of that, the roof was chopped and slanted so much that Lorenzen had to be picked up and lowered into the car through where the rear window would have been. The only thing more audacious than the fact that a team showed up to a 'stock' car race with a car this obviously non-stock was the fact that NASCAR let it race! If that weren't enough, Smokey Yunick, already long-known for, in his own words, 'creative engineering,' showed up with a one of its kind Chevelle for the same race. While it looked perfectly normal in shape, Yunick's Chevelle was built to 7/8th scale of the production version. On top of that, it had an oversized engine, yet NASCAR allowed it to race, too.

As for the Yellow Banana, Lorenzen blew a tire while leading and wrecked it, which means that there are virtually no good photos of the actual car. The car seen here is actually a picture of a model taken from Lorenzen's website, which, apparently approved by Lorenzen himself, is probably as good a visual of the 'Yellow Banana' as we will ever see.

Taurus (1986-2007, 2010-19)
The 1970s and the s tart of the 80s weren't exactly banner years for the American auto industry. Continually burdened with ever more regulations in regards to emissions and fuel economy, automakers were devoting all their engineering abilities to meet these new government mandates. Result: style and performance suffered and, by the middle 80s, many cars still looked similar to (albeit downsized) their 70s counterparts. However, the tide was starting to turn and automakers, now getting their hands around the government's killjoy rules, could finally start looking toward styling again. Ford was no exception, as the mid-size LTD II was looking quite dated compared to the competition. That all changed in 1986 when Ford introduced the futuristic-looking Taurus. The Taurus w
as Ford's first front wheel drive car (last of the “Big Three” to launch one) and was designed to compete directly with more modern Japanese imports, which were really eating Detroit's lunch when it came to customers looking for economy models. The car was a hit as over 200,000 were sold the first year. By 1991 and the end of the first generation, over 2,000,000 were sold and the car single handedly pushed Ford to #1 car maker status (though they had held this position with trucks since the mid 70s).

Taking the cue to not fix what wasn't broken, the 1992-95 Taurus received new sheetmetal but the car retained the basic look, albeit more smoothed over for better aerodynamics. 1996 saw the car's first (and really only) major redesign and mixed reaction from the public. Still, the car sold well but 1996 also marked the final year for the Taurus as America's top-selling car. The manual transmission was also dropped for 1996. In 1998, the Taurus replaced the Thunderbird as Ford's NASCAR model and would remain so for the better part of a decade, winning the national championship in 1999 (Dale Jarrett), 2003 (Matt Kenseth), and 2004 (Kurt Busch) along with dozens of races.The 2000-2007 generation was a mild update of the previous generation and eliminated the controversial emphasis on ovals (especially in regards to the rear window) that characterized the 1996-99 generation. Overall, though, the car retained the basic look and continued to sell well to the tune of roughly 250,000 per year at worst through 2004. Unfortunately for the Taurus, the market started to change come the mid 2000s as consumers became increasingly interested in 4-door trucks, SUVs, and crossovers to the detriment of the traditional car. By 2006, citing plummeting sales (most USA sales were restricted to fleets by now), Ford canned the Taurus to much public outcry.

Result of the fuss: Ford resurrected the Taurus as a full-size model in 2008 and positioned it as a successor to the Crown Victoria, itself on an already-mapped road to cancellation thanks to, you guessed it, more government fuel economy standards. This new Taurus, like the old, initially came as front wheel drive (in contrast to the rear drive of the Crown Victoria) but was later offered with an 4 wheel drive option. Unfortunately, concurrent with the new Taurus, Dodge launched its 707hp V8 Hellcat engine and dropped it into the new 4-door Charger. In comparison, the Taurus' 365hp turbocharged V6 looked more than tame and the car never had a chance with a resurgence of power-hungry customers. In fact, the new Taurus never really took off at all, period. In its best year (2013), a paltry 69,063 found buyers, which was not even 1,000 better than the old mid-size version's worst (and last) year. Adding insult to injury, the old Taurus' last year of 2007 was not even a full year's production. In spring, 2018, Ford killed the new Taurus (in the USA), too, citing increasing demand for trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. As of now, sales continue overseas.

Facts and Figures

Styles: Four door sedan, wagon

* Engines: 152ci I6, 183-231ci V6

* Transmissions: 3, 4, and 6 speed auto, 5 speed manual

* Production: 7,519,919 for the mid-size 1986-2007 (peaked at 463,104 in 1997), 2008-2018 production peaked at 69,063 in 2013 (the worst year for the old Taurus was 68,178 in 2007)

Comet (1960-69, 1971-77)

Like its more basic cousin, the Mercury Comet was launched in response to the recession of the late 1950s, which saw people wanting smaller, more fuel efficient cars.
Designed concurrently with Ford's compact Falcon, the Comet was developed to be a mid-grade economy car. Like the competing Chevy II/Nova, starting in the mid 60s, the Comet grew to mid-size and put increased emphasis on performance only to return to its roots in its final form. First Generation (1960-63)
In its first year, the Comet (not yet branded as a Mercury) o
nly offered one engine: a 144ci I6 that produced, at best, 90hp. Transmission choices were a 3-speed column shift manual or a 2-speed automatic. While the car certainly was fuel efficient, many buyers complained about lack of power, which resulted in a slightly more potent 170ci I6. The Comet also got an optional 4-speed manual floor shift transmission in addition to the 3-speed. 1962 was status quo except for one major detail: the Comet was finally branded as a Mercury. Still undoubtedly getting complaints regarding a lack of power, 1963 saw a the 260ci V8 offered as an option, which necessitated a redesign of the chassis although everything else remained basically the same. This first generation of Comet shared much with the Ford Falcon both in and out. The easiest way to distinguish a Comet from a Falcon? The Comet had quad headlights (vs. 2 for the Falcon)

Second Generation (1964-65)
1964, the Comet saw a major sheet metal redesign and a much more squared-off look. However, the Ford Falcon received much the same treatment and, again, the easiest way to distinguish between models at a quick glance was by the headlights. Gone for 1964 was the much-maligned 144ci I6 and new for '64 were a 200ci I6 and a 289ci V8, widely regarded as Ford's best small block V8. Also dropped for 1964 were the 2-speed automatic transmission and the 3-speed column shift, with the only choices now being a 3-speed auto or a 4-speed manual on the floor. With the performance wars heating up, 1964 saw Mercury build about 50 lightweight Comets specifically for drag racing. Somehow, engineers managed to cram Ford's monster 427ci V8 with dual 4 bbl carbs into the compact Comet. 1964 also saw the performance package Cyclone, eventually to briefly become a model in its own right, offered for the first time. Aside from some new side sculpting and a switch to stacked headlights, 1965 was largely a repeat of 1964 but saw the 170ci I6 and 260ci V8 dropped as engine options. There were no Comets fitted with 427 V8s in '65

Third Generation (1966-67)
The Comet moved decidedly away from its roots (and its cousin, the Falcon) for 1966 as the car moved from compact to midsize
and was now Mercury's counterpart to the Ford Fairlane. In contrast, the Falcon stayed small. Despite the change in size, the chassis remained virtually unchanged but the mechanical options were decidedly limited when compared to the year before. All Comets shared the 390ci V8 and the only choice was a 2 or 4 barrel carburetor. Buyers could still choose an auto or manual transmission. 1967 was largely a repeat of 1966.

Fourth Generation (1968-69)
For 1968, the Comet was redesigned again to appear more like the rest of the Mercury lineup instead of a Fairlane with Mercury badges. Perhaps sensing customer complaints over lack of engine choice, the engine options were greatly expanded for 1968 and included a new 250ci I6 as well as the 289, 302, 351, and 428ci V8s. Ironically, the 390ci V8, the standard (and only) engine for 1966-67 was dropped from the lineup. The performance package Comet Cyclone, with its fastback design, made a name for itself in NASCAR. 1969 was, like as in the previous generation, a repeat of the previous year with the only exception being the Cyclone adding Ford's new 429ci V8 as an option.

Interestingly, 1970 saw the 'Comet' dropped and the Comet Cyclone became just the Cyclone, hence a 1-year gap wherein there was no official 'Comet.'

Third Generation (1971-77)
Come 1971, Mercury decided to relaunch the Comet as a compact counterpart to Ford's new Maverick, the Falcon having been canceled after the 1970 model year. Like the first generation, there was little to distinguish t he Mercury from the Ford, and this would remain so for the entire remainder of the production run. The Comets were distinguished by grille, headlights, and hood but were otherwise Mercury-branded Fords. Engine choices now topped at the 302ci V8. The only other engine offerings were 170 and 200ci I6s. The 4-speed manual transmission was also gone, with the only choices being a 3-speed auto or manual. The 'Cyclone' was dropped for the 1972 model year. This final run offered very few year-to-year changes as Mercury scrapped plans for a extensive redesign for 1975. The aging Comet was dropped after the 1977 model year in favor of the downsized Zephyr, which was a clone of the more widely-known Ford Fairmont.

Facts and Figures

* Styles: 2 and 4 door sedan, 2 door hardtop and convertible, 2 and 4 door wagons

* Engines: 144ci-250ci I6, 260-429ci V8s

* Transmissions: 2 and 3 speed automatics, 3 and 4 speed manuals

* Valuation: Not thought of as a maker of muscle cars, the Comet Cyclone is surprisingly affordable when compared to Ford's Torino Talladega and Mustangs and commonly sell for under $20,000 in “excellent” condition, a true bargain when compared to many equally-potent contemporaries

Mercury Meteor (1961-63)

Like the Comet, the Meteor was initially marketed without the 'Mercury' nameplate. Meteor was, in fact, a separate brand of cars owned by Ford's Canada Division. In 1960, Ford USA bought the rights to use the Meteor name in the States, with the hope of Meteor replacing the disastrously-received Edsel and maintaining a 4-brand lineup. If successful, the Ford brand family would have looked like this: Ford, Meteor, Mercury, and Lincoln at the top. Clearly, the plan didn't succeed and the Meteor got 'Mercury' branding for 1962

First Generation (1961)
In its first year, the Meteor was a full-sized car replacing the poorly-received Edsel, as envisioned by Ford's top brass. In appearance, the Meteor very closely resembled the Mercury Monterey and was only distinguished by trim and lights. Engines offered included the 223ci I6 as standard with 292, 352, and 390ci V8s as options. Transmissions included a 2 and 3 speed auto and 3 speed manual, which offered an optional overdrive ratio, which was very rare in its day. Unfortunately, the Meteor was poorly received in the States, due in large part to the nearly exact, widely-recognized Monterey nameplate and the popularity of the big Ford, the very popular Galaxie.

Second Generation (1962-63)
The Meteor was now, like the Comet, branded as a 'Mercury' for 1962 and downsized to a midsize car to slot in between the Comet and Monterey. This was a logical move as Mercury had no mid-size model at the time. Like the Comet, which shared much with the Falcon, the Meteor shared much with the mid-size Ford Fairlane. Engines were, along with the car, downsized with a 170ci I6 as standard equipment with 221 and 260ci V8s as options. Transmission choices were increased, with buyers being able to choose between 2 and 3 speed autos and 3 and 4 speed manuals. 1963 was unchanged and this, unfortunately, included disappointing sales and the nameplate was dropped for 1964 and is largely forgotten today.

Starfire (1961-66, 1975-80)

Like the Nova, the 'Starfire' didn't begin as a model in its own right, originally appearing as a trim package on another model: the Oldsmobile 98 Series convertibles in 1954-57. The 'Starfire' name was dropped for 1958 but would return as its own model for 1961 but now based on the '88' Series. Though, while based on another model, the Starfire would be decidedly unique and always had its own unique trim and an especially luxurious interior. In fact, for much of its run, the Starfire was the most expensive model in the Oldsmobile lineup. Additionally, the Starfire was the first US car to feature a floor-mounted automatic transmission and front bucket seats as standard equipment. Try finding a current car without this setup today-it won't be easy!

First Generation (1961-66)
For its 1961 launch as a model in its own right, the Starfire was only available as a convertible and came equipped with Oldsmobile's most powerful engine, a 394ci V8, rated at 330hp. From the start, the Starfire was the most expensive Oldsmobile. Seeking to broaden its flagship model's appeal, 1962 saw the addition of a 2 door hardtop but 1963 and 64 only got minor changes in the form of sheet metal and trim tweaks. 1965 saw a major restyle featuring a much curvier body. With the demand for performance heating up, 1965 saw an upgraded engine: a 425ci V8 offering 375 hp as well as a 4-speed manual transmission as an option. Unfortunately for the Starfire, 1966 saw the introduction of the radically-designed Oldsmobile Toronado, which upstaged the Starfire atop the Oldsmobile lineup. Luxury items previously offered as standard now became options on the Starfire but standard on the Toronado and the convertible was dropped for 1966 (how ironic for a model born as convertible-only). With the new Toronado taking the flagship role plus the performance market moving to midsize (think the Cutlass 4-4-2) models led Oldsmobile to can the Starfire for 1967.

Second Generation (1975-80)

Oldsmobile would resurrect the Starfire nameplate in 1975 but not as its flagship, but rather a base model that was essentially a subcompact Chevy Monza (similar to the Vega) wearing Oldsmobile badges. Standard engine was a 231ci Buick V6. Transmission choices were a 3-speed auto or 4-speed manual. The only change for 1976 was the addition of a 5-speed manual transmission featuring an overdrive ratio as the 5th gear, no doubt to boost fuel economy. 1977 saw the Buick V6 dropped as standard equipment and replaced with a 140ci I4. The Buick V6 became an option and, come mid year, Chevy's 305ci V8 was added as another option. 1978 saw the 140ci I4 dropped and replaced with Pontiac's “Iron Duke” 151ci I4. 1979 saw minor sheet metal changes and a switch from quad rectangular headlights to duals. 1980 was essentially unchanged and the Starfire was dropped following the model year.

Aurora (1995-2003)
Going into the mid 1990s, Oldsmobile was in a bad way as sales were not even half of what they had been a decade before. Management knew that their brand needed a major boost to stay competitive. Born out of a 1989 concept car, the Aurora was conceived from the start to be a sports sedan. How desperate was Oldsmobile to get a fresh start? So much so that the very word 'Oldsmobile' was nowhere to be found on the car save the radio and engine cover. Instead, a stylized 'A' adorned the new car.

First Generation (1995-1999)

Launched in 1995, the Aurora took its place as Oldsmobile's flagship model (though good luck finding 'Oldsmobile' anywhere on it), displacing the previously top-tier Toronado coupe and 98 Sedan. Going all-out to blend luxury and performance, the Aurora featured many luxury items as standard that were options on similarly-priced cars. These included: dual-zone climate control, dual front airbags, leather seats, walnut interior accents that were actually real wood, a six-speaker sound system, a dual cd/cassette player, and eight-way power front seats. The Aurora also featured as standard equipment a real-time display of gas consumption, a rarity in its day. Among the few options were a power sunroof, a Bose sound system, and heated seats. Transmission was a 4-speed automatic and the engine was a V8 cranking out 250hp. The car received widespread praise for its style, power, handling, and safety. Throughout its run through 1999, the Aurora received basically only minor tweaks, which was not a bad thing considering how widely well-regarded it already was. The full-size
Aurora would serve as the styling foundation for new compact and mid-size models.

Curiously, there were no Auroras for the 2000 model year as Oldsmobile was banking on a new Buick platform on which to build a 88 Series successor and then reintroduce the Aurora as an even more luxurious model for 2001, giving its 88 successor, planned to be called the Antares, a year in the Sun on its own. Unfortunately, that didn't come to pass as Buick scrapped its new platform, which forced Oldsmobile to re brand the planned Antares as the Aurora for a stop-gap solution to fill its flagship slot.

Second Generation (2001-03)

Slightly smaller than its predecessor and no longer sporting a unique look, the new Aurora never got the praise or sales that the first incarnation did, though it could more than hold its own in its market segment against the competition. Perhaps the car never got a fair chance as General Motors announced in late 2000 that it planned to shut down Oldsmobile altogether in the next few years. Clearly, this is not something to boost sales of a new generation of car just as it hits showrooms for the first time. Also, the 2001 Aurora was the first to offer a V6 as an option, though this would end early into the 2002 model year, at which point V8s became standard again. Like its predecessor incarnation, the list of luxury options as standard was long and added new features, which included: keyless entry, alarm, the OnStar system, steering wheel-mounted climate and radio controls, power trunk release, automatic front head and fog lamps, and side airbags. The few new options included a
memory for radio presets and a voice-activated, CD-ROM based navigation system. Production for 2001 was over 50,000 but fell to just over 10,000 for 2002 and barely scraped above 7,000 for 2003, which was to prove the final year for the Aurora as part of the planned shut-down of Oldsmobile itself, which would be history following the 2004 model year.

Satellite (1965-74)

The Plymouth Satellite began its run as the top-tier package of Plymouth's “B” Belvedere line. Plymouth had shrunk its B cars for the 1962 season, which essentially made for a lineup without a full-size model, which the B cars had been through 1961, with the Fury serving as the intermediate. This continued until 1965, which is when the Fury was switched to a full-size model, leaving the B cars in the mid-size slot, which is where they would remain. In 1965, the new Satellite would be the flagship of the B line.

First Generation (1965-67)
With the muscle car craze picking up, V8 engines were standard equipment for the Satellite in 1965, a rarity for a mid-size car. Available engines included a standard 273ci V8 with the 318, 361, 383 and 426ci wedge (not hemi) as options. 1965 saw only 2 door hardtops and convertibles offered as body styles. Inside, bucket seats and center consoles were standard. Transmission choices included a 3-speed automatic or 3 and 4-speed manuals. 1966 was highlighted by one major addition under the hood: the availability of the 426ci Hemi. While officially rated at 425hp, insider leaks from people at work on the engine claimed power in excess of 600hp. 1967 saw minor changes in trim and sheet metal, most notably a switch from dual to quad headlights but mechanically, the cars were the same with the exception of a new engine offering: the 440ci Magnum V8..

Second Generation (1968-70)
1968 saw the Satellite lineup expanded from 2 models to four with the addition of a 4-door sedan and wagon. The car also underwent a major stylistic revision, sporting a much curvier body but one nowhere nearly as aerodynamic as Dodge's new generation of Charger. 1968 also saw the addition of a new model to the B line: the famous Roadrunner. Engine choices remained unchanged but a new Sport Satellite was launched, with the base engine being the 318ci V8 instead of the 273. Transmission choices remained the same as did the cars themselves through the 1970 model year.

Third Generation (1971-74)
1971 saw another huge redesign of the sheet metal, resulting in an even curvier “fuselage” body. A new 2 door sedan was offered while the convertible was dropped, as was the 440ci V8. As the gas shortages were beginning to happen, Plymouth offered buyers looking for economy the 225ci Slant 6, the first time a Satellite could be had with a 6-cylinder power plant. Buyers who craved power could still order the 426 Hemi as an option for 1971, though this would prove to be the final year for Chrysler's fire breathing 'Elephant' engine as it was dropped for 1972 following new emissions/fuel economy standards mandated for 1972. For buyers looking for a touch of luxury, the wagon could be had with wood grain paneling starting in 1971. Again, transmissions were a choice between 3-speed auto or 3 and 4-speed manuals. Again, the 1972-74 models would remain little changed in the same vein as the previous generation had done following the initial restyle. Plymouth moved the Fury back to mid-size for 1975 and thus de-orbited the Satellite following the 1974 model year.

Fact sand Figures:
* Styles: 2 door hardtop, coupe, sedan, 4 door sedan and wagon

* Engines: 225ci I6, 273-440ci conventional V8s, plus the 426ci hemi

* Transmissions: 3 speed auto, 3 and 4 speed manual

* Valuation: anything with a hemi is worth a fortune today

* A 1971 hemi Cuda convertible with a 4-speed sold for over $3 ½ million in 2014

The Car That Made 'The King'
One can't help mentioning 'King' Richard Petty when discussing about mid-size Plymouths of the 1960s and 70s. Richard Petty used Plymouth's mid-size B cars starting in 1962 and continuing through 1972, with the exception of his only year at Ford in 1969. By the time he switched to Dodge in 1973, Petty had already won over 120 races in Plymouths. Of all those years, the 1967 season was nothing short of amazing and it was then that 'The Randleman Rocket' became 'The King.' Richard Petty's 1967 season was nothing short of an all-out assault on the record books. The highlights include: won 27 of 46 races run (.586 win percent), won 10 consecutive races, had the national championship won with 6 races left in season, and surpassed his father, Lee, as NASCAR's all-time win leader.

Sundance (1987-94)

Identical to the Dodge Shadow, the Plymouth Sundance was launched as an economy model for the 1987 model year. All cars had I4 engines (albeit many different ones) until a V6 became available for 1992. To keep costs down, only 2 models were offered during the entire production run: 3 and 5 door hatchbacks that were designed to look as though they had conventional trunks. The extra storage space created by the design was a major selling point advertised by manufacturers. Transmissions were a 3-speed auto or a 5-speed manual through 1992, when a 4-speed auto was offered with the new V6. Year to year changes were minor through the production run until the Sundance was replaced by the all-new Neon for 1995.

Star Chief (1954-66)

Began in 1954 as a model in its own right and was essentially an extra luxurious Pontiac Chieftain, previously Pontiac's flagship large car. Throughout its dozen year run, all years of the car are easily identified by its star emblems (shapes and configurations do vary) along the sides. Unlike a lot of cars for the time, there were few variations of the Star Chief during its run and changes took place on an almost yearly basis.

Introduced as a model in its own right as an upscale Pontiac Chieftain, the Star Chief was the first Pontiac to use a non-Chevy wheelbase (123.5 inches). To emphasize luxury, the car offered an optional air conditioner-a first in its price range and a rarity at any price in its day. The only engine was the old-style 248ci I8, a holdover from pre-WWII. As a bit of pop culture trivia, a Star Chief was featured prominently in an episode of I Love Lucy.

The Star Chief got new sheet metal and a modern 247ci V8 engine. A showy feature, the plastic Indian head hood ornament lit up when the headlights were turned on. 1955 also introduced a 2-door hardtop Safari wagon similar to the Chevy Nomad. The basic sheet metal would remain basically the same through 1957.

1956 got a 316ci V8

1957 upgraded to a 347ci V8 and saw a Bonneville trim package added

1958 saw the Bonneville become a model in its own right and take Pontiac's premier model slot. The Star Chief now was the maker's second tier car. The Star Chief saw its 4-door models dropped and was only offered as 2 door hardtops and convertibles. The Star Chief (like all Pontiacs) got a noticeably longer, lower, wider body with updated chassis. The engine was the previous year's 347ci V8, now bored out to 370ci.

1959 saw the Star Chief get even wider in keeping with Pontiac's “wide track” design. The convertible was dropped, limiting the Star Chief to sedans and hardtops as the Bonneville and new Catalina got their maker's primary attention.

1960 saw the Star Chief revert to 4 doors only thanks to the advent of the Ventura and the only new option was an electric clock.

1961. The Star Chief and the entire General Motors lineup got a much-needed, modernized makeover for 1961. Gone were wrap around windshields and tail fins as was the Star Chief's station wagon option. Hardly a unique model anymore, the Star Chief was now virtually identical to the Catalina except for Bonneville-style tail lights and the star emblems.

1962 saw the addition of a 421ci V8 with a pair of 4barrel carburetors rated at 405hp. Very few Star Chiefs got the potent power plant. 1963-64 were largely status quo.

1965 saw a major redesign featuring a much curvier body but under the metal, little was changed this year or in 1966, which would prove to be the Star Chief's final year.

Sunbird (1976-94)
Launched in 1976 to meet the need for fuel efficiency in the era of worsening fuel shortages that saw blocks-long lines to gas stations in some places, the Pontiac Sunbird spent its entire life as a subcompact, albeit in drastically-different forms.

First Generation (1976-“80”)
The 1976-80 Sunbirds were traditional rear-wheel
drive cars and were badge-engineered Chevy Monzas. In its first year, only a notchback coupe was offered and a 140ci I4 was the only engine, though Buick's 231ci V6 was quickly added as an option. Transmissions offered more choice as a 3-speed auto and 4 and 5-speed manuals were offered. The 5-speed was rated at a then astounding 28mpg city and 34mpg highway. 1977 saw the 151ci I4 “Iron Duke” become the base engine and a hatchback added to the lineup. 1978 saw the adding of a station wagon to the body styles and the availability of Chevy's 305ci V8 as an engine option. 1979 was status quo but 1980 saw the station wagon dropped along with the V8 option. Interestingly, 1980 saw an unusually-long production year as extra models were produced to carry dealers through 1981 as General Motors was busy reworking its compacts to front wheel drive, slated to debut in 1982. Officially, there were no 1981 Sunbirds though new 1980s could be bought as new through the 1981 calendar year.
Second Generation (1982-1994)

1982 saw the Sunbird switch to front wheel drive. However, unlike other GM brands, which canned the names of their mid 70s to 1980 compacts, Pontiac kept the Sunbird nameplate around for the front wheel drive platform's 1982 debut, which would also prove to be the final year for the carburetor as Sunbirds became fuel injected for 1983. All cars (coupes, sedans, wagons, hatchbacks) were equipped with various I4s until 1991 when a V6 was again offered. Transmission options remained the same as those offered on the 1976-80 models. 1983 saw the addition of a convertible. Starting in 1984, Pontiac began to tweak the I4 for performance via various configurations, which often outperformed competing models' V6s. The Sunbird underwent a major cosmetic facelift in mid 1988, hence the 1988 ½ year designation, but the mechanicals remained largely the same. The convertible was dropped following the 1989 model year. Following the 1988 ½ facelift, year to year changes were minor. As a phase-out was planned for 1994, Sunbird trim packages were dropped and the cars became increasingly alike. The 1994 models still in production were essentially 1993s sold at a lower price.
Sunfire (1995-2005)
Launched in 1995 to replace the Sunbird, the Sunfire received a dramatically updated look compared to its predecessor. The Sunfire came in 2 door convertibles/coupes or a 4 door
sedan and shared much with the Chevy Cavalier. Through its decade run, engines were all I4s and transmissions were a 3 or 4 speed auto or 5 speed manual. Convertibles were discontinued after 2002 and the car was dropped following 2005 and replaced by the Pontiac G5, which was essentially a Chevy Cobalt in Pontiac trim.

Solstice (2006-2010)
Based off a 2002 concept car, the Solstice was Pontiac's first two-seater since the quirky, mid-engine Fiero of the 1980s. Unlike the Fiero, the Solstice offered a traditional front engine, rear-wheel drive design and could be had as either a coupe or convertible. While a performance enthusiast may initially brush off the Solstice's I4 engine as too weak for a sports car, the Solstice was no slouch under the hood as the I4s were tricked out to produce 177hp
(over 1hp/cubic inch-the muscle car era's gold standard), thus giving the car a lot of get up and go. Transmission options through the production run was either a 5 speed auto or 5 speed manual. Bold styling, performance prowess, and a sub $30,000 price made the Solstice a hit with the public and the press. Pontiac initially had only planned to produce 7,000 for the 2006 model year, but public demand eventually pushed Pontiac to crank out over 10,000 units.

Come 2007, Pontiac upped its game and introduced a special GXP edition that ran through 2009, the last full year of production. The GXP came with a turbocharged I4 engine that could be tweaked via computer programming to produce up to 290hp-a whopping 2.4 horsepower per cubic inch-the best in the history of GM-even bettering Corvette's most potent power plant in the horsepower to cubic inch ratio. The advertised 260hp was no slouch, either and could propel the Solstice from 0-60 in 5.5 seconds. Unfortunately with the economic crash of 2008, it was announced late that year that Pontiac would be shut down following the 2010 model year. 2009 would be the Solstice's final full year and, Pontiac's shuttering announced, demand plummeted. Only 20 model year 2010 Solstices were produced in a 1-month span in April-May, 2009. Pontiac was shut down as planned following the 2010 model year and all plans to sell rights to the Solstice to other manufacturers fell through. While the jury is obviously still not even a decade after production stopped, some consider the Solstice a future classic.

Saturn Motor Company (1985/1991-2010)

Started as a GM project, codenamed “Saturn,” that would focus on producing small, fuel-efficient, high-quality cars to compete with Japanese imports, Saturn was never meant to be a car manufacturer in its own right. When the project began in June, 1982, Japanese imports were eating Detroit's lunch. Burdened by mountains of ever increasing regulations regarding emissions and fuel economy, the quality, reliability, and styling of American cars suffered as manufacturers went all-out to meet government dictated mandates.

The first concept car under Project Saturn was unveiled in 1983 and the company was incorporated in 1985 and billed as a private, employee-owned company. This was done in spite of GM initially planning to launch the Saturn concept under an existing brand as launching an all-new brand that shared no parts with other GM models and creating a whole new dealership network would proive very costly. However, come 1990, GM bought out Saturn and made it a brand in its own right.

The first Saturn production car was built for the 1991 model year but GM's earlier reservations of launching a whole new make of car that shared virtually nothing with the 5 existing GM brands proved true as this was a very costly endeavor come the 1990s. Setting up a whole dealership network added even more financial strain to the effort. The timing of the launch couldn't have been worse, either, as it coincided with the early 1990s recession, which saw the auto industry as a whole take a hit. However, for those who bought Saturns, the feedback was positive as the cars quickly gained a reputation for reliability and economy. The no haggle pricing policy put in place at Saturn dealerships undoubtedly helped, too. On the bad side,, Japanese automakers had begun to set up shop in the States, which allowed them to undercut Saturn by way of eliminating the import costs. Still, while they didn't sell to the (perhaps overly) high expectations, Saturn sales held steady through the 1990s, reaching 500,000 cars by 1993, 1 million by 1995, and 2 million by 1999, which translates to roughly 250,000 cars per year. Not bad for a new start-up company.

In the early 2000s, Saturn expanded its focus from compact cars, introducing its first crossover SUV in 2002 as the market started to switch away from traditional cars and toward trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. Saturn also started replacing some of its compact car 1990s models with new ones at this time. Saturn expanded its horizons again in 2005 with the launch of its first minivan, which rocketed to popularity in the mid 1990s. During this time, Saturns became increasingly similar to other GM products as supporting a manufacturer that had virtually nothing in common parts-wise with the other 4 brands under the GM umbrella was proving costly. Evidence of this came in 2007 as the Saturn Sky roadster, essentially a clone of the Pontiac Solstice, was introduced. 2007 also saw a midsize sedan and an even larger crossover and 2008 saw Saturn unveil a hybrid concept.

Just as things seemed to be looking up in regards to GM reining in the costs of supporting an upstart make, the American auto industry ran head-on into the 2008 financial meltdown. With the under/unemployment numbers skyrocketing and people struggling to avoid foreclosures on their homes, not many people were looking to buy new cars and GM was put in dire straights. Once the world's largest automaker, GM was eventually forced to take a government bailout to avoid bankruptcy. The joke then went that 'GM' now stood for 'Government Motors.' With the bailout and mandates to trim budgets, GM announced it would focus on its best selling brands: Chevy, Buick, Cadillac, and the truck/SUV-based GMC. No lifeline was extended to Saturn (or Pontiac) and all attempts to sell the brand failed. The company officially ceased to exist on Halloween, 2010