Category Archives: ‘BACK-THEN’ Articles

Back then. . . . .1979 Ford Courier

The Ford Courier was imported from Japan. (Bud Wells photo)

(My first review of a pickup was 40 years ago, the mini-built Ford Courier, which appeared in The Denver Post on April 7, 1979. The Courier was provided by the Denver regional office of Ford Motor Co. Following are excerpts:)

Nearly 10 percent of new trucks sold in the U.S. last year were of the mini-pickup variety.

Driving about Denver in a Ford Courier puts the growing popularity and acceptance of the little units in an understandable light. Because of their small stature, the minis are easy to handle, economical and they’ll carry a somewhat respectable load.

The optional 2300-cc, 4-cylinder engine is a good runner and strong enough to handle the duties required of such a vehicle. Cold-blooded tendency is overcome with a manual choke. Mechanically-minded purchasers will be delighted withal the room beneath the hood.

Frequent downshifting is required in city driving, but the 4-speed transmission is an easy shifter. The Courier produced an average of 17.5 miles per gallon of fuel in start-and-stop town driving. The EPA rates the Courier at 22 miles per gallon.

Built for Ford by Toyo Kogyo of Japan, the Courier carries a base price of $4,861, including white-sidewall tires, power front disc brakes, 6-foot box and 4-speed transmission.

Optional items included the 2300 engine (2000 is standard) for $174.20, AM push-button radio for $78.90, tinted glass $28.30, swing-lock western mirrors $51.80 and rear step bumper $83.60. Freight charges of $110 brought the pickup’s price to $5,387.80. An unusual enclosed rear body was mounted on the Courier, pushing the vehicle’s value to $7,094.55.

The Courier, on a wheelbase of 106.9 inches, has a 1,400-pound capacity for cargo and passengers. Wing windows aid ventilation in the cab, and the unit possesses a fast, effective heater.

Back then. . . . .1979 Fiat Strada

1979 Fiat Strada

(Forty years ago this month, in January 1979, I reviewed in The Denver Post the Fiat Strada, a new front-wheel-drive model from Italy. Following are excerpts:)

Fiat’s hopes for a strong comeback against a sharp slide in U.S. sales ride squarely upon its new subcompact, the Strada. Fiat’s sales in this country skidded to 60,345 in 1978, sandwiching it between Mazda and Volvo for eighth place among importers. Only three years ago, the company was at the 100,000 sales figure.

With introduction of Strada, being shown in Denver dealerships this month, the slump is over, Fiat executives insist. In order for Fiat to climb back up the sales ladder, the Strada must be of superior quality to earlier models from the Italian car builder.

It’s jumping into some impressive competition – Volkswagen Rabbit, Dodge Omni, Subaru and other low-priced front-wheel-drive subcompacts.

A test of a sharp-looking two-door hatchback showed the Strada’s best features to be good handling characteristics, especially in the snow, comfortable seating with lots of legroom and a strong-performing engine. The 5-speed manual transmission shifted firmly, though smoothly.

The new engine is a variant of the high-performance one developed for the Fiat X1/9 sports car. It is of 1498cc (91.44 cubic inches) displacement, a single overhead-cam 4-cylinder with an aluminum cylinder head. The car ought to produce 28 miles per gallon in city driving and 41 on the highway, according to the EPA fuel estimates. My check averaged 27.8 mpg in half-town, half-highway driving.

The Strada weighs only slightly more than 2,000 pounds on a wheelbase of 96.4 inches and overall length of 161. It will turn in a 33-foot circle.

Added to the Strada Custom’s base price of $4,296 were rear window wiper and washer, tachometer, roof rack, AM/FM radio and metallic paint, raising total cost to $5,652.

Back then. . . . .’79 Plymouth Arrow pickup

The 1979 Plymouth Arrow pickup is economical. (Bud Wells photo)

The 1979 Plymouth Arrow and its look-alike Dodge D-50 are the newest of the hot-selling mini-pickups, built in Japan and imported by manufacturers in the U.S.

A test of the Arrow Sport pickup showed it to be strong in economy and of good suspension with comfortable ride. It was equipped with one of the biggest 4-cylinder engines available in a mini-pickup – a 156-cubic-inch which develops 105 horsepower.

The powerplant, with two-barrel carburetor and automatic transmission, delivered 21.4 miles per gallon of fuel in town driving. Braking was good from front discs and rear drums, and the unit’s front coils and rear leaf springs refused to bottom out on dips. A bit of understeer was felt.

The Arrow is built by Mitsubishi, which entered the U.S. market some years back with the Dodge Colt.

Base price is $5,608, with $167 added for destination charge. Total price was boosted to $6,742.55 with options of automatic transmission, low-mounted left and right mirrors, skylite sunroof, mud guards, rear step-type bumper and undercoating.

The mini-pickup field is one of the fastest-growing in sales. Besides the Arrow and D-50, it includes Chevrolet Luv, Ford Courier, Toyota, Datsun and Mazda.

The vehicle was provided for testing by Roger Mauro Chryslerville, 7200 W. Colfax.

Back then . . . . .1978 Buick LeSabre

The LeSabre was still large in ‘78. (Bud Wells photo)

(Forty years ago, in 1978, I reviewed in The Denver Post the 1978 Buick LeSabre four-door sedan. Following are excerpts:)

You can still buy a big car with a big trunk and air conditioning for about $7,000.

The car is Buick and the model is the 1978 LeSabre fur-door, which was provided by Deane Buick Co., 1080 S. Colorado Blvd.

Since downsizing a year ago, the LeSabre’s dimensions aren’t what they used to be. Those older LeSabres gave an excellent highway ride. The ’78 models give a good ride and are easier to park.

The roomy trunk has 21 cubic feet of space, making this car very suitable for a vacationing family. It was modestly equipped, which kept the price at the relatively low level..

The engine, a 350-cubic-inch V-8 with four-barrel carburetor, seemed sluggish . However, the car showed only 69 miles when John Ramstetter turned it over to me.

Its gas mileage check were below EPA estimates. Town driving averaged 11 miles per gallon, though some of the miles were under adverse conditions during a snowstorm. The highway test was 15.4; these figures should improve as the engine loosens. Standard engine is a 231-cubic-inch V-6 with two-barrel carb.

Base price of the four-door is $5,458.55, with a destination charge of $435. Among standard items were power steering and power brakes, glove box light and inside hood release.

The 350 engine added $313  and other optional items included air conditioning $581, tinted glass $76, deluxe wheel covers $38, steel-belted radial tires $46 and AM radio $96.

The LeSabre is 218 inches long on a wheelbase of 115.9 inches. Of Buick’s lineup of Skyhawk, Skylark, Riviera, LeSabre, Century, Electra and Regal, the LeSabre ranks as second-largest behind the Electra.


Back then . . . . . 1980 VW Jetta

The original VW Jetta in Colorado in 1980.(The following column, by Bud Wells, appeared in The Denver Post on Saturday, June 28, 1980. It was the introduction of the Jetta to the Volkswagen lineup. At that time, only Toyota outsold VW in the U.S. among foreign car companies. The review model was provided on a complimentary basis by Tynan Volkswagen.)

Outstanding gas mileage and a practical rear seat good enough for a 200-pounder should bring Volkswagen’s new Jetta some popularity in the subcompact field.

For the past five years, Volkswagen has had one of the most competitive front-wheel-drive hatchbacks on the market. It’s not surprising, then, that the company’s new notchback model is based on the engineering of the familiar Rabbit.

The Jetta is a better-looking product than the Rabbit, and its higher level of luxury and trim places it in the price range between the little Rabbit and the larger Dasher.

As with other VWs for many years, the Jetta’s fuel credentials are impressive (EPA-rated at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on the highway) and it has the same peppy engine and 5-speed transmission.

A new two-door model with little more than 100 miles on the odometer bettered 35 miles per gallon (35.1) on a Memorial Day drive to Yuma County in northeastern Colorado.

Legroom in the rear is okay and the rear-seat passengers sit high on firmly structured seats with adequate headroom and excellent view. The notchback style provides a large trunk area, enough for several pieces of luggage sitting upright with room to spare.

The car, built in West Germany, shows excellent craftsmanship. Rich-looking, cut-pile carpeting is widely used and velour-covered front bucket seats are fully reclining with adjustable headrests.

Air conditioning is an option which the test model didn’t have. A sunroof would aid ventilation. The only other available options are automatic transmission, tinted glass and light alloy wheels.

The test model was priced at $8,065, which included $195 for destination charge. Steel-belted radial tires and AM/FM stereo radio were among standard equipment.

The 97-cubic-inch, 4-cylinder engine with 76 horsepower produces fast acceleration for the Jetta, which weighs only 1,900 pounds. Engine and transmission are mounted transversely. Turning circle is 31 feet. Wheelbase is 94.4 inches, the same as that of a Chevrolet Chevette.

Reviewer’s one week in Lotus’ 70 years

The Lotus Esprit S2 reviewed in July 1980. (Bud Wells photo)

Lotus this month (July 2018) celebrated its 70th anniversary at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex, England.

Most of us recognize the Lotus marque, one of the most iconic in the world of sports cars and racing.

Few, though, have driven one.

It was a week in July 1980 that I got a turn, one Lotus among the more than 2,000 cars I’ve driven and written about over the years.

It was an ’80 Lotus Esprit S2, built in England, and provided to me by Bill Stewart’s Royal Carriage at My Garage, 455 Broadway, in Denver.

It was late afternoon when I walked into the garage and Stewart handed me the keys. How do you sit in a car that’s only 43 inches high? You don’t. You almost lie down in the leaned-back racing-type seat with built-in headrest. As two-seaters go, this one was tight but somewhat comfortable. The only discomfort came in getting in and rolling out of it.

I drove to Greeley, where my oldest son, Kurt, would soon begin his senior year at the University of Northern Colorado, then headed out U.S. 34 to the east. I detoured onto some country roads, on through Fort Morgan and to Sterling, where a month earlier we had returned to devote time to automobiles and book-publishing, in addition to my newspaper work.

The Lotus was a brilliant performer on the country curves. It was very fast. Its manufacturer said it would hit 35 miles per hour in 1st gear, 55 in 2nd, almost 80 in 3rd, 105 in 4th and 130 in 5th. It was the fastest I’d driven a car until some years later, when the big guys such as Bentley Arnage, Jaguar XJ Super V-8 and Cadillac CTS-V began coming my way.

I well remember, with the help of brother-in-law Dave Wagner Jr., the return trip to Denver a week later. After passing Hudson, the clutch began to fail (did I mention the car was built in England?) and we limped it in to Stewart’s Royal Carriage, where his shop would put the speedster back in running order.

Price tag on the Lotus was $30,000. The only models I drove with higher tags back then were an ’81 Maserati Merak SS at $42,637, an ’80 Porsche 928 at $39,024 and an ’81 Mercedes 300SD turbodiesel at $35,345.

The Lotus’ inline-4-cylinder engine, slanted 38 degrees, was of 120-cubic-inch-displacement with twin overhead camshafts and Zenith twin carburetors. The engine compartment was reached by lifting the rear hatch and unbuttoning a tonneau cover.

An interesting feature of the Esprit was its two fuel tanks, with filler tubes on either side of the car. A balance pipe leveled the fuel between the two tanks, and it was necessary to service both sides for an absolutely full supply. The Lotus averaged 20 to 25 miles per gallon, with capacity of 17.7 gallons.

The 2,300-pound Lotus was on a wheelbase of 96 inches; it was 168 inches in overall length, 73 inches wide and had ground clearance of 6 inches.

The interior was of custom leather, brown suede, electric windows and a Blaupunkt AM/FM radio.

The Lotus company was begun in 1948, when Colin Chapman built his first competition car in a small London garage.

In addition to 2018 marking the 70th anniversary of Lotus’ birth, it also denotes 50 years since Graham Hill took the Formula 1 championship in the Lotus Type 49 and 40 years since Mario Andretti won his world championship in the Lotus Type 79.

Back then . . .V-8, floor shift add to Pacer fun

1978 AMC Pacer Wagon. (Bud Wells photo/1978)

Forty years ago this winter, I reviewed in The Denver Post the 1978 AMC Pacer D/L Wagon two-door, provided by George Dupont of the American Motors Denver Zone Office. Excerpts follow:

The V-8 engine is new to the Pacer wagon this year and its peppier performance coupled with the car’s wide windows for excellent all-around vision make it a good one for travel on the busy Valley Highway.

Acceleration hesitation hampered its performance the first couple of days, but a carburetor adjustment by Vic Hebert’s AMC service crew put it in top running form

It’s a relatively heavy car at 3,600 pounds on a wheelbase of only 100 inches. The 304-cubic-inch V-8, automatic floor-shift transmission and rear-wheel-drive configuration produced fuel mileage of 20.1 miles per gallon on a drive to Burlington and back. It handled decent on ice and snow, with suspension of isolated coil springs in front and leaf springs at the rear.

Though base price of the Pacer was only $4,143, the addition of the V-8 $233,  automatic transmission $320, whitewall radial tires $139,  air conditioning and power steering $679, door vent windows $34, AM/FM radio $224, woodgrain sides $111 and other options pushed sticker price to $7,143.

The floor shift added to the fun of driving the sporty wagon with the V-8 power. Standard engine is a 232-cubic-inch inline-6-cylinder.

The wagon has plenty of load space, 50.4 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. The wagon is 77 inches wide, with front tread of 61.5 inches and rear 60 inches.


Back then . . . .’82 Mercury LN7

1982 Mercury LN7 sport coupe. (Bud Wells photo/1982)(Thirty-five years ago, I wrote this automotive review of the 1982 Mercury LN7 sport coupe for The Denver Post. It was borrowed by Kumpf Lincoln-Mercury, 5000 S. Broadway, for testing. Excerpts:)

A rear bubbleback door gives Mercury’s new LN7 sport coupe one of the more distinct appearances among today’s two-door automobiles. The little 2,100-pound car has sold very well since being introduced several months ago.

Front-wheel drive and independent rear suspension put it up there with the good ones in handling. Steering is extra quick, but with no oversteer tendency. The test model was equipped with power steering.

The LN7 even sounds sporty. It has been fitted with a “tuned” exhaust system, which makes it sound “throaty” and also improves performance at highway speeds.

Mercury says the two-seater has the lowest drag coefficient or wind resistance of any American car. It is only 50 inches high and has a low, sloping hood, wedge front and “fast” windshield.

The car averaged 32.6 miles per gallon in use about Denver, with lots of stop-and-go movement. EPA ratings are 29 in city driving and an amazing 46 on the highway.

The powertrain is a1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, two-barrel carburetor and four-speed manual transmission. A high-altitude emission system was added to the test car. The engine is fairly quick to 30 miles per hour, then sets a slower pace. Its 0 to 50 time is average. It works at just over 2,500 rpm at 55 miles per hour in fourth (overdrive) gear.

Base price of $7,750 swelled to a sticker price of $9,638 with the addition of air conditioning, leather trim, power steering, fingertip speed control, AM/FM cassette stereo, performance suspension with 13-inch aluminum wheels. Power  brakes and steel-belted radial tires are among standard equipment.

Wheelbase of the Mercury is 94.2 inches, with overall length of 170.3 inches and with of 66.

Back then . . . . .1981 Ford Bronco

1981 Ford Bronco. (Bud Wells/1981)
1981 Ford Bronco. (Bud Wells/1981)

Thirty-five years ago this summer, I reviewed in The Denver Post the 1981 Ford Bronco sport utility vehicle. Excerpts:

Unusually high gas-mileage figures being associated with the 1981 Ford Bronco may just be true.

A 6-cylinder-powered Bronco with 4-speed overdrive transmission averaged 18.8 miles per gallon in a highway test I made. The Bronco is geared so high that at 55 miles per hour in overdrive it runs at only 1,650 RPM. The overdrive is a cruise gear not intended for climbing, and it requires plenty of downshifting.

The engine is Ford’s 300-cubic-inch (4.9-liter) inline-6-cylinder.

The ’81 model continues a smooth, soft ride with a Twin-I-Beam front axle and coil springs in front.

A new feature this year is an automatic locking hub device in which the driver can shift the front hubs from free-wheeling to four-wheel-drive and back again at the transfer case without leaving the cab.

The model I tested was purchased in March by Dan Pivonka, an Atwood farmer, from Leon Atkins Ford of Haxtun.

Seating position is high in the front bucket seats. A key wll lower or raise the rear window, the spare tire swings away from the back and the tailgate drops down to the level of the cargo floor.

The sticker price of $13,394 included air conditioning, AM/FM 8-track stereo, tinted glass, electric rear defroster, skid plates and boat hitch.

Back then . . . . ’91 Jeep Cherokee

The 1991 Jeep Cherokee Laredo. (Bud Wells photo/1991)
The 1991 Jeep Cherokee Laredo. (Bud Wells photo/1991)

Twenty-five years ago, during an odyssey from my career in Denver newspapering, I reviewed the 1991 Jeep Cherokee Laredo four-door for the Pueblo Chieftain. Excerpts:

Fifty years ago, the Willys-Overland car company of Toledo, Ohio, delivered two boxy little four-wheel-drive vehicles to the Army at Camp Holabird near Baltimore.

The Jeep was born.

It carried Allied fighting soldiers almost everywhere during World War II. Since then, it has continued to conquer world terrain.

The wonderfully refined Cherokee, a far cry from those early “reconnaissance vehicles,” is now the “star of the show” as Jeep celebrates its 50th anniversary this model year.

I joined the spirit of the celebration with a test of the 1991 Cherokee Laredo four-door. For ’91, it has a stronger powerplant. Horsepower has been increased to 190 in the 4.0-liter Power-Tech Six engine. The Cherokee’s a climber.

Joel Martinez of Pueblo’s Vidmar Jeep, which provided the vehicle for the test, likens the 4.0-liter to American Motors’ 258-CID  engine of a few years ago. That was one of the best. It compared favorably on several occasions to Chrysler’s more renowned Slant Six and Ford’s more powerful 300-CID 6-cylinder truck engine.

The ’91 engine is deceptively quick; smooth enough and quiet enough to seem like a gradual gainer, but punch it a bit, cast a glance at the tach and speedometer, and you’ll know you’re moving out with the quicker ones of this type. I’m certain it will go from stop to 50 in under 10 seconds.

It’s a strong tower, too (that’s tow as in tug). It will pull trailer weight of up to 5,000 pounds.

Jeep’s “shift-on-the-fly” full-time four-wheel-drive system is an added bonus to the mix of the strong engine and smooth-shifting automatic transmission.

Driving 215 miles, divided equally between stop-and-go city drives and a climb to Westcliffe, resulted in fuel mileage check of 19.7 mpg.

The seats in the Cherokee sit high and vision is excellent. These are features noticed quickly and much appreciated by my 5-foot-2 traveling companion.

Access into the front seats is easy, and the tilt wheel helps even more. Don’t try quick entry or exit to the rear seats, it’s difficult. The wheel well creates somewhat of a barrier to get across, and foot fit is tight through the narrow opening at the bottom. Blame the short wheelbase for that (the short wheelbase, though, is greatly responsible for a relatively narrow turning circle.)

As a fresh-air lover, I dislike the permanently closed vent windows. And, why not put the cigarette lighter in the ash tray?  It sits right out with the rear wiper and washer controls, the heater-air  conditioner controls and the radio.

Base price of the Laredo is $16,144. Added options of the 4-liter engine, automatic transmission ($877), power seats ($416), air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, keyless entry and AM/FM cassette stereo radio pushed the sticker price to $22,580, including destination charge of $465.