Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rebel with a Prom Date: 1974 AMC Matador coupe

Bathed in Hai Karate cologne and looking for a fight. You smell him before you see him. The guy taking your daughter to the prom. He drives the red AMC Matador, parked in your spot, in the driveway. Pimples, sideburns and a polyester leisure suit. Unassuming, but he's got no good intentions. He smiles, a bit too assuredly, as he thinks of the fun times ahead.
  Your face reddens and the light that glows in the back seat of that Matador is all you can think about. "My innocent daughter in that ..." 
  Get a grip, man! That flashback to 1974 was just a dream. You know that all the AMC Matadors have gone to hell, or a junkyard.

The AMC Matador coupe was produced from 1974-1978.

Defining style, sales 
  Advertisers will tell you that "newer is better." That mantra helped sell the new-for-1974 Matador coupe. The ambitious shape of the Matador did not grab buyers for the long haul. The majority of all AMC Matador coupes were sold in its first year, with 62,269 of the nearly 100,000 built during its five-year production run. The "new" wore off fast on AMC’s flagship mid-size, luxury coupe. The unmistakable styling, lured, then repulsed buyers as sales dwindled to 2,006 units during the 1978 year model. 

AMC spruced-up the dash with wood grain on the face of the gauges.

Matador parts rare, demand low 
  It was not surprising when we learned our feature car, spotted at Gibbs Salvage in Ridgeville, Alabama, was a 1974 model. The bold, Trans-Am Red AMC paint clinging to the Matador wasn’t the only thing that caught my eye. The  funky, quarter windows and round tail lights have just enough European-flavor, to make you squint, if your not familiar with the Kenosha, Wisconsin-built Matadors. 
  This junkyard bullfighter was missing its drivetrain, hood, radiator and grille. All these wear/crash items are possibly helping to complete one of the rarest and financially negligent restorations of any kind. The Matador. 

– Jody Potter,

We hope the hood, grill and engine of this Matador were sourced for project cars. No prom dates were harmed while writing this story. 

Back seat mood lighting courtesy of Matador’s forward-thinking design team. Every fathers' nightmare. A place to talk or read or...

AMC’s Matador wheels feature center caps that extend well beyond the edge of the rim. Reminds me of the wheels used in the movie "Grease." Remember the Scorpions’ Mercury had blades on the wheels? 

AMC Matador coupe production numbers.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Barn find 1941 Stovebolt Suburban served as funeral home flower truck that could "carryall"

Serving those six feet under. 
A 1941 Suburban "Carryall" has resurfaced in Alabama after decades of duty at an Atlanta, Georgia funeral home. The winding road of rescue led to Alabama, but not without a few bumps along the way. This retired, flower-hauling, pre-war SUV was headed for a bath of fluorescent paint and chrome during the 1980s, when the second owner got his hands on it. Luckily, it was forgotten and stashed in a barn for two more decades. The complete but dusty ’41 was eventually forced out of the barn and outside, under a make-shift shed. A gear head, with wandering eyes, rescued the Suburban before the rusty grip of the Grim Reaper grabbed hold.

Redesigned 1941 Chevys, like this Suburban, featured much wider, art deco-inspired grilles that created a more massive look.

Fat fender find
  Pat Doonan stumbled onto this complete, half-ton 1941 Carryall Suburban in North Alabama several years ago. It belonged to an 80-year-old hot rodder, living in North Alabama, who had bought the fat fendered Chevrolet from a funeral home in the 1980s. The truck served as flower transport to-and-from the cemetery until the funeral home took it out of service. The truck had been sitting for many years but the man drove the truck home and parked it, with plans in his mind to build a street rod out of the low-mile, original truck. After storing the truck indoors for 20 years, the man moved the Suburban outdoors to a shed, which provided minimal shelter from the elements. The thinning 40-year-old, Brewster Green paint gave way to surface rust as the front half of the 1941 Carryall was subjected to harsh sun and rain.

"Not for sale" Suburban
  Here’s where Doonan entered the picture and made his pitch to buy the Carryall. “The man didn’t want to sell any cars in his collection,” said Doonan. But Doonan was persistent and made a case that was good enough to convince the gentleman to unload the neglected Carryall. “It took a lot of negotiating but we finally made a deal.”
  Doonan hauled the truck to his brother Tim’s basement, in Odenville, Alabama, for temporary holding while he collected a few missing NOS parts and planned for a stock rebuild of what he found to be a rare ’41 Chevy. 

A three-speed manual tranny put the potent Stovebolt’s power to the wheels.

1941 Suburban Carryall production numbers, facts
  GM built 2,999 of Suburbans in 1941. Not a big number by any means but this truck has panel doors in the rear, which makes it more of an oddity. Only 880 Suburbans were equipped with panel doors at the rear in 1941. Their doors were hinged at the sides and swing outward. Chevrolet designated these as 3106 models.
  The other 2,119 Suburbans featured clam shell rear doors or tailgate doors. On these, the top half of the rear door has a one-piece, framed glass that lifts up. The bottom half of the door opens downward like a tailgate on a traditional truck. Chevrolet designated these as 3116 models.
  Most of these Suburbans were used as work trucks whose primary job was hauling laborers and tools. When World War II broke out in December 1941, civilian automobile production came to a halt. All vehicle production was limited to military use only, until the war ended in late 1945. The 1941-and-older models handled their fair share of abuse from families during wartime. The number of surviving ’41 Suburbans is few and far between. 

One brake light, mounted to one rear panel door, was standard equipment on 1941 Suburbans. 

Engine, paint, interior
  The 1941 Chevy truck was built in Atlanta according to the data plate. It wears the original coat of Brewster Green paint, which was a standard color for trucks that year. The pinstriping color used along the sides was called Green Apple. The fenders and running boards were painted black. An inline 216-cu. inch, six cylinder engine powered the four-door Carryall. Chevy had yet to build a V8 but their straight-6 engine out-muscled Henry Ford’s V8s by 5 horsepower – 90 HP to 85 HP.
  Two doors in back and one on each side limits the access to the passenger area in the middle of the Carryall. Two rows of upright seats, covered in original upholstery are stationed behind the front two driver’s and passenger’s seats. The weary headliner lost its grip on the roof at some point during the last 72 years. The gauges have been removed but otherwise the interior is intact, just as it was built by GM.
  The truck does not appear to have been abused, modified or wrecked. The damage inflicted by the elements during the years it was parked under a shed seem minimal. If kept in dry storage this Suburban is good for another 72 years.

Tim Doonan raises the hood on the ’41 Carryall Suburban.

Death, taxes and change
  Time marches on and Doonan’s ’41 Suburban has to find a new home. “I have been storing it in my garage since Pat purchased it,” said Tim Doonan, Pat’s brother. “He has been busy collecting parts to do a complete restoration, but, as we all know, things change and he has decided to sell the truck and all the NOS parts that he has collected.” Pat also has some rare accessories and hard to find NOS parts to go along with it, such as a deluxe heater, radio and electrolock just to name a few.
  Email Pat, at if you are interested in buying the truck. He wants $8,500.

– Jody Potter,

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Once pristine black fenders and running boards accent the green body on the ’41 Chevy Suburban.

The original headliner, now hanging down, lasted longer than the headliners in any modern-era Chevrolet. Modern (’80s-‘90s) foam-backed headliners collapse far too soon. I know.

The original 90 HP, Straight-6 Chevy engine chugged through Georgia graveyards for many years.

A shot of the 1941 Suburban before Doonan removed the new-for-’41 bullet-shaped headlight.

A wood floorboard remains in the half-ton ’41 Chevy.

Brewster Green paint clings to the sides of the truck. The sun devoured paint on the truck's flat surfaces.

Squint your eyes and you can see the shape of modern day SUVs in this 1941 Chevy Carryall Suburban.
One-of-880 Chevy Suburbans built in 1941 with rear panel doors!

Hidden headlights? No. Headlight buckets were removed for restoration. 

Original rear seats, in the 8-passenger Suburban, show little wear after 70-plus years of captivity inside the ’41 Chevy's shell.

Split front bench, folds to allow access to the rear seats on the 1941 Carryall. Seating for three in the front row, two on the middle row and three more in rear.

Fill-er up! Don’t spill gas on my running board though.

Gauges were removed for the ’41 Carryall would-be restoration.

Stovebolt Chevys have a huge following. Most of them cruise in traditional pick-up trucks.

The stock 216-cu.-inch, Stovebolt, straight six cylinder pumped out 90 horsepower in 1941. Think economy – 1941 style.

A crank hole and cover were designed into the grill of the 1941 Chevrolet Carryall Suburban for the sake of the old-timers who believed all vehicles needed a manual crank.

Ron Kidd, left, and Jody Potter climb aboard the 1941 Chevy Carryall Suburban. The official junkyardlife company vehicle? I like that stripe!

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

First Turbo Buick: Legend of the Buick Century that spawned Grand National, Indy Pace Car

Gary Bryson, Molly Designs and Buick Special Products Group, led by Herb Fishel, developed this 1976 Buick Century turbo. It was the first, black, V-6 turbo Buick — heir apparent to the Grand National. Just call it Darth Vader's father with attitude. 

Before black Buicks were famous, a teenager held the keys to a sinister Century. Dan Bryson was a grunt working at famed Molly Designs in Southern California when Buick decided to get back in the muscle car business. The year was 1976, when this menacing, turbo V-6 Century was a project car built by Dan Bryson's dad, Gary, a Goodyear racing tire rep and future "Car Craft" publisher.
  Buick's performance chief, Herb Fishel, provided factory support for the project in hopes of attracting younger customers to the stale Buick brand. Kenne Bell provided the turbo, the guys at Molly, including Dan, hand-built the front bumper, added a bulging hood blister and laid down the wicked black, gray and orange paint work.
Jim Bell, of Kenne-Bell, performed the lion's share of all the mechanical work on the Buick. The result was a badass, turbocharged Buick Century that foreshadowed an Indy Pace Car and blacked-out Buick Regals, known as Grand Nationals from 1982-1987. "That turbo V6 just smoked the tires, no matter how fast you were going," Dan said. Dan's dad tossed him the keys in 1979. Ten years later he sold it to a man in Costa Mesa, California for $2,500. Now, Dan wants his black Buick back.

The 1976 Buick Century’s prototype 3.8 liter engine with a Kenne Bell turbo. After the Buick was shown to the suits in Detroit, GM destroyed the engine. Bryson replaced the engine with a stock 231-V6.

Bryson's 1976 Buick Century turbo was a magazine car featured in the Jan. ’78 issue of "Popular Hot Rodding."

Automotive background
  Dan Bryson got his start at Molly Designs, near Irvine, California around 1970, when he was 13 years old. Dan's dad, Gary, got him the job. Gary was well-connected in automotive circles and had introduced painter and designer Rollin "Molly" Sanders to Yamaha in the late 1960’s. Molly built dozens of magazine project cars and was responsible for creating color schemes, body modifications and graphics for Yamaha, Kawasaki, Toyota and GM. That friendship/business relationship led to Dan’s youthful employment at Molly during its heyday.
  Dan lived cars and motorcycles. "I started working for Molly during summer break, sanding two-tone paint jobs," said Dan. "Then I began painting Yamaha bikes and helmets. I worked on and off through the years for Molly on special projects." Custom paint and graphics on motorcycles, race cars and factory-backed magazine projects were the norm at Molly.

Rollin "Molly" Sanders, left, and Gary Bryson read "Hot Rod" at magazine mogul, Robert Petersen's 400-acre ranch in 1971.

Buick's eye-catching performance plan
  Fishel, in an effort to boost his reputation at GM, gave the go-ahead for Molly to give a new Buick Century some flash. Molly didn’t disappoint. Custom hood and bumper designs were so influential, that they were seen on the 1976 Buick Century Indy Pace Car used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1976. Dan doesn’t remember the exact date of the turbo Century build, but he believes it pre-dates the Indy Pace Car. "It was the prototype for the pace car," Dan said. "The response from the Century and Pace Car were so positive, that spun off into the 1983 turbo Regal project."

  That makes Dan's car one of the most important Buick prototypes ever built.

Blacked-out Buick
  The hard work began after a new black Buick Century was delivered to Molly's shop. "Me and my partner at Molly, Tony Olshefski, reworked an aftermarket hood to get all the imperfection out," said Dan. "The bumper was made from scratch. We took the bumper off and started with 1-inch by 1-inch wood, framed the license plate and started laying fiberglass." After the body was prepped, the bumpers received the blacked-out chrome treatment. "A first at Molly."
  Distinctive striping was the next order of business. "At first we were in the shop laying down 1/4-inch lines and knocking ideas around. We thought this was way too wild for Buick." said Dan. But Herb Fishel loved it. "It put him on the map, big time at GM."
  Dan later worked on the red 1983 Street Regal, which was one-of-two T-Type Regals, one black, one red, commissioned by Herb Fishel to develop what would become the Grand National.

This Molly-designed turbo Buick Century heavily influenced the 1976 Free Spirit Indy Pace Car. Hood and bumper are exact knock-off.

What happened to the engine? 
  "After the Buick's moment in the spotlight was over, we had to ship the all-aluminum V6 turbo engine back to GM," said Dan. The engine was provided by Bill Mitchell's R&D group. Like many one-off factory freaks, this engine had to be returned to GM, where it would be destroyed. Jim Bell, founder of Kenne Bell, and Dan's dad had other ideas for the engine before it was cut in half.
  Fishel stated that the engine could be returned in any shape, just as long as it was returned. "Well my dad and Jim stuffed it in an Olds Starfire and ran it at Irwindale Speedway. They closed off the blow-off valve and gave it about 30 pounds of boost. They had some fun for a while, until it blew," said Dan. "Dad said it sounded like a bag of tin cans. Herb cut it in half and back to melting plant it went."

Gary Bryson at the wheel of the just completed Buick Century turbo in 1976.

What happened to the car? 
  The stock hood replaced the custom steel unit with the hood blister after the magazine photo shoot. A stock Buick 231-cu.-inch V6 was dropped into the Century’s vacant engine bay. The Turbo 400 transmission with a switch pitch torque converter remained.
  Dan Bryson's dad, Gary, turned the now turbo-less 1976 Buick over to him around 1979. "My Dad gave me the car just to get it out of his garage," said Dan. "He wasn’t a big fan of GM products (during that era) because the doors were so long and heavy. After you got a few miles on those cars, the hinges would sag and then the doors would drupe and hang-up on the latch."

More Grand National cues develop on the first turbo Buick after a Corvette wrecks the Century in 1980. 

Drunk driver in a Corvette changes things
  Bryson's Buick underwent a transformation after a drunk driver in a 1973 Corvette smashed into the driver's door. The Corvette owner was notorious for DUIs in Portland, Oregon, where the wreck occurred. It was his seventh DUI, all in Corvettes.
  Replicating the Molly designs on the Buick were not a priority after the accident. A solid black coat of paint, t-tops and gold Enkie wheels were added to the Century. 
  "The old man didn’t much like the t-top’s, but your a 20-year-old, living in New Port Beach, California," said Dan. "This thing was a babe magnet." Dan hauled the car, along the west coast, while he worked at several Goodyear stores. "I worked at the Hillsboro, Oregon Goodyear store. The Oregonians didn’t know what to think of me and the Buick until they saw that it was from California," said Dan.
  In 1989, Dan sold the Buick just before his family moved to Sacramento, California. "I sold the car to a guy in Costa Mesa for $2,500," said Dan.

Molly Sanders, left, and Gary Bryson in 2010. Molly died May 16, 2010, after a struggle with cancer, at 66 years old.

Memories of Buick burnouts, dad
  Dan had a blast driving the big Buick with the turbo. "I could be doing 70 MPH on the freeway and punch it," said Dan. "Smoke the tires BIG time!" The Century was motivated by a 3.8 liter Buick block with aluminum heads and a Kenne Bell turbo. To this day, Dan and his dad, Gary, reminisce about the day that the transporter pulled up to deliver the black turbo car to GM in Detroit. "Molly, my dad, Tony and I had pulled an all-nighter on it," said Dan. "The sun was just coming up and we were pulling the masking paper off the car when the truck drove up. It was a great father-son moment. I had worked on ton’s of other magazine car projects with Molly and dad, but this was one of the most memorable."

Dan Bryson is looking for this car. A 1976 Buick Century with t-tops, it played a unique role in Buick history. Last seen in the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa area in California.

Help Dan find his old 1976 Buick Century 
  Dan Bryson wants to find the car that ties him to a chapter in Buick's turbocharged history. The first black, Buick turbo. If you know where Dan Bryson can find this 1976 Buick Century or you own it yourself, send an email with the details to Dan at and
  If Dan can't locate the car, he plans to recreate it. "I’m going to do the paint, bumper and hood all over again," said Dan. "Now the kicker here is finding one with the black velour interior and bench seat." His Century was delivered to a Buick dealer in Pomona. "It also came with a factory Buick CB radio with an antennae mounted on the trunk and a wood grain dash."
  Even if Dan does or doesn’t locate his car, he may become the driving force of a back-to-the-future Grand National trend. Could we start seeing an upswing of 1976-1977 Buick A-bodies restorations? I hope so.

– Jody Potter,

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Molly designed the "Turbo-6" logo that first appeared on the 1976 Century’s flanks and continued onto the Buick Grand National models.

Molly custom blended the orange and yellow pinstripes that outlined the gun metal gray metallic design on the 1976 Buick Century turbo prototype.

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