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Notes From The Road

Top 10 Classic Cars
By Debbie Murphy/

Chevrolet Nova, 1963 to 1972
The Nova SS, introduced in 1962 as the Chevy II, became the manufacturer's bid for the compact, budget, musclecar market. The Super Sport package introduced in '63 was purely aesthetics. The idea of real performance didn't come to fruition until 1964 with a V-8 option. With the low curb weight of the Nova, the bigger engine added considerably to its performance credibility. The Nova officially joined the musclecar ranks in 1966 with new styling and a 350 horsepower engine. Chevy gave this L79 engine to its new Camaro in '67. From that point on, the Nova, considered the ultimate sleeper, took a back seat to the Camaro. In '72, the SS package coughed up just 200 horsepower and, although the Nova continued through 1976, the '72 model was basically the end of the Nova as a high-performance ride.

Chevrolet Chevelle, 1966 to 1973
Do you see a trend here? Chevy dominated the musclecar era with the Chevelle representing the midsize (as compared to the budget Nova and more muscular Camaro) entry. By 1966, the 396 engine was standard in the Chevelle SS package with its distinctive simulated scoops that became its signature. In '67, politics robbed the Chevelle of 10 horsepower in its top-of-the-line L34 engine. Company policy dictated that only the Corvette would be allowed to generate more than one horsepower per 10 pounds of curb weight. The following year, the Chevelle was restyled with a longer hood and shorter deck. The Chevelle's performance topped out in 1970 with a new 454 engine, the LS5, and 360 horsepower, the highest factory rating ever. By 1971, musclecars were on the wane taking the Chevelle with it.

Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 1970 to 1978
This two-door coupe has been one of GM's biggest successes on the NASCAR stock car racing circuit. Built on Chevy's A platform, the design, executed by Elliot Estes, general manager, and Dave Holls, chief stylist, merged the Cadillac Eldorado and Chevelle. Initially, the standard engine was a 350ci small-block V-8 rated at 250 horsepower. Most styling revisions finished out the first generation of the Monte Carlo. In 1973, all GM intermediates, including the Monte Carlo, were redesigned. The Monte Carlo was now a pillared coupe rather than a hardtop, with rear opera windows, frameless door glass and dual headlights flanked by an egg-crate grille. Some of the innovations for '73 included standard radial-ply tires, Pliacell shocks and high-caster steering. For the next four years, the coupe went through modest styling changes, followed by radical downsizing in 1978 with the standard engine reduced to a V-6.

Cadillac DeVille, 1955 to 1965
The early classic years for the Cadillac included the tailfins and wraparound windshields made popular by GM styling chief Harley Earl and inspired by the twin rudders of the Lockheed P38 Lightning. The other distinctive design feature was the Cadillac's front bumper design, known as Dagmars (for the voluptuous actress of the same name), with artillery shell-shaped bumper guards. While other sedans lost the tailfins in the late 1950s, Cadillac held onto the style feature until 1964. Cadillac started out in the early 1900s and became quickly known for top-of-the-line luxury sedans.

Chevrolet Pickups, 1950-1971
Chevy went through a number of truck eras that span the years identified as classics. In 1947 the company went to truck owners to figure out what improvements were needed: This started the Advanced Design era that lasted through the mid '50s. The revisions focused on larger, more comfortable truck cabs. The Chevy half-ton trucks of the '50s were 6-cylinder, 90-horsepower vehicles and led the industry in sales. The V-8 didn't appear until the late '50s, during the Task Force era, and then only as an option. During the '60s, Chevy engineers worked on the suspension systems to smooth out the ride. The big change hit in 1967 when the pickups transitioned from utilitarian workhorses to high-style vehicles.

Mercedes Benz 450, 1975 to 1979
While other auto manufacturers were downsizing in the 1970s, Mercedes upped the ante with the 6.9-liter 450 SEL that included such lush options as a car phone, a true precursor of the future. The 450 was also available as an SE model with a shorter wheelbase. With the 6.9 engine generating 286 horsepower, the sedan was touted for its sports car performance. The '78 model introduced the anti-lock brake system to the automotive world. The SEL sold just over 7,000 units in its four-year run, with most of those in the U.S.

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