Bearcat on Wheels – 1962 Starfire

Here is a rare and welcome sight, a 1962 Oldsmobile Starfire:

The Starfire was built on a Super Eighty-Eight frame and was available in either a convertibile or two-door hardtop. It is easily recognized by the distinctive band of brush-textured anodized aluminum trim that runs along the sides from front to back.

Standard equipment included bucket seats, leather upholstery and power everything, seats, windows, brakes and steering, as well as a four-stage Hydra-Matic Transmission.

What made this car really special was the standard equipment under the hood: a 394 cubic-inch 345hp V8 engine that featured a new combustion chamber shape and higher (10.5 to 1) compression ratios for 1962. The Starfire also came with a 4-barrel carb, dual exhaust and a tach as standard equipment. What more could you want?

The legendary Floyd Clymer took one for a thorough test drive, 2,720 miles from Indianapolis to Los Angeles, and then wrote an overwhelmingly positive review. He raved that it was the type of car that “causes automotive experts to thrill with joy when they are behind the wheel.” He also described it as a “bearcat on wheels” and said “The engine is smooth as silk and as near vibrationless as any I have ever sat behind. The operation of the automatic transmission is extremely smooth and below 60 mph when the throttle is depressed, the surge of power is nothing short of fantastic – the car literally leaps forward as if another 100 horses suddenly came into action.” Kind of makes you miss Oldsmobile, doesn’t it?


Clymer, Floyd. “Olds Starfire Road Tested.” The Baltimore Sun, 20 August 1961, p. 14.

“1962 Oldsmobile Starfire Makes Bow.” Lancaster New Era, 18 September 1961, p. 7.

“Oldsmobile Has New Style.” Verona-Cedar Grove Times, 12 October 1961, p. A-8.

“Oldsmobile Sports Car Rally at Potts’ 5 Days.” The Kosciusko, Mississippi, Star Herald, 6 May 1962, p. 6.

Oldsmobile Starfire. Advertisement. Arlington Heights Herald, 29 March 1962.

1959 Chevy Impala

The Chevrolet Impala appeared in 1958 as part of the Bel Air line-up, but for 1959 it was redesigned and introduced as its own series. The dramatic redesign included the distinctive grille shown above as well as a bat-wing trunk lid and cat’s eye tail lights:

Standard under the hood was a 235 inline-six, but a V8 was an option in either 283 or 348-cubic inches.

1959 Chevrolet Brochure

It was great timing, too. The country was coming out of recession and consumers were ready to buy. One newspaper story from November, 1958, was titled, “New Cars: They’re Selling,” and it featured many of the new cars for 1959:

Grieg, Michael. “New Cars: They’re Selling.” The San Francisco Examiner, 30 November 1958, p. 1.

It was a good year for automakers, but clearly a good year for consumers, too. My goodness, buyers must have loved their choices!

Velie Conquers Grand Canyon!

The outstanding Stuhr Museum in Grand Island, Nebraska, doesn’t have a large collection of antique cars (they are dedicated to the Prairie Pioneer after all) but they do have a few tucked away in the back of the farm implement building.  Sitting among the mostly Fords and Chevrolets you will find this jewel, a 1922 Velie Model 58 Roadster:

It is well known that Velie started as a buggy company with John Deere money.  The founder, Willard Lamb Velie, was the grandson of John Deere himself.  For a time, the Velie was even marketed through John Deere dealerships.

1913 Velie advertisement

You may not be so familiar with a man named Harry Lord of Lord Motor Car Company, a Velie dealership in Los Angeles.  Lord wanted to set a new automobile record at a time when it was all the rage to do so, and he decided to use the Velie’s ruggedness and durability to achieve it.  The year was 1921, and Lord’s goal was to conquer the Grand Canyon with a Velie by driving from the rim to the Colorado River, and then back out again, with no road and no assistance.

He rounded up a crew of three employees and grabbed a new “Velie Six” off the salesroom floor.  One paper reported that it was a Model 34, and that means it would have had a 6-cylinder, 37-hp engine and a 112″ wheelbase. They loaded the stock Velie with enough camping and camera equipment so that the total weight carried was over 1600 pounds, and set off for Arizona.  Once they arrived and announced their intentions, they were warned by both Forest Rangers and native guides that certain destruction awaited anyone foolish enough to try to drive into the canyon.

Lord was said to be “wise in the matter of publicity,” however, so turning back was not an option and they began a treacherous, twisting, 19-mile descent.  They drove through deep sand and rough terrain strewn with rocks and boulders.  According to Velie advertisements, “There were long stretches where moment by moment the life of the party hung on the dependability of the steering gear and brakes-where the slighted slip would have precipitated car and occupants into ugly, jagged chasms thousands of feet below.” That may be a bit of hyperbole, but they also reported that there were many times where two wheels of the car rested on boulders and the opposite two wheels were in the air.  In spite of all the obstacles, the team made it to the Colorado River, not stopping until the front tires were wet.  Then Lord’s crew turned around and made the trip back out, all under their own power. 

The Velie at the Colorado River

I should interject here that newspaper reports probably failed to give credit where credit was due.  I wondered if it was possible to drive into the canyon today and discovered that it is possible using the Diamond Creek Road on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.  And guess what?  It is also a 19-mile trip that starts at Peach Springs, the same place that Lord used as a starting point.  Since native guides were briefly mentioned in the papers, I think it likely that one of them pointed Lord to an existing trail on the Reservation. 

It was still quite a feat for the Velie, however, and there is no doubt that it made a great story.  That 1921 automobile endured all the punishment the trip had to offer without needing repairs of any kind and without puncturing what must have been great tires, Miller geared-to-the-road cord tires.  Lord and his crew also swore they didn’t even need to add a drop of water to the radiator before climbing back out of the canyon and driving the Velie right back to L.A.

Velie and crew overlooking Yaki Point (quite a ways from where they actually drove down).

If you want to recreate the Velie’s trip into the canyon, I am told you can do so after paying a per person fee of around $26 to the Hualapai Tribe.  It is still a dirt road with water obstacles so a modern SUV is recommended over a ’21 Velie (but I guess it all depends on what kind of story you want to be able to tell).


“Down the Grand Canyon to the Floor of the Colorado.”  The Los Angeles Times, 17 April 1921, Part VI, p. 1.

D.W. Semple, “With the Autoists.” Los Angeles Herald, 11 October 1909, p. 12.

“Makes a Daring Automobile Trip.” The Washington Post, 5 June 1921, p. 23.

“To The Floor of Grand Canyon.” San Bernadino Daily Sun, 24 April 1921, Sec. 3, p. 1.

Velie. Advertisement. Gibson City Courier, 8 August 1913, p. 2.

Velie. Advertisement. The Caledonian Record, 28 May 1921.

Velie. Advertisement. The La Crosse Republican, 2 June 1921.

Henry J Hood Ornament

I was positively ecstatic to find this hood ornament while out bird-dogging car parts the other day:

It is an extremely rare one, originally found on a 1952 Henry J Corsair (or Corsair Deluxe). The Kaiser-made Henry J was introduced in 1950, and this hood ornament was one of many appearance and mechanical changes for the economically-priced sedan in 1952. It was described as “a new lance-style chrome and plastic hood ornament” and survivors this nice are not common.

The Henry J was really quirky. It had washable vinyl upholstery in “authentic Scotch tartan plaids” in 1952. Also, to save on production costs, early versions didn’t have glove boxes or even trunk lids. The trunk was accessed by folding down the back seats!

The introduction of the Henry J was poorly timed. The war and its accompanying gas-rationing was over and the public was looking for large and luxurious automobiles, not smaller, cheaply-made ones. The last of the Henry Js were sold in 1954.

I haven’t taken any pictures of a Henry J lately, but I do have this one of an Allstate and that’s almost the same thing (but that’s a story for another day)!


“New Look For 1952 Henry J Sedans.” The West Schuykil Press and Pine Grove Herald, 29 February 1952, Sec. 2 p. 1.

Henry J. Advertisement. The Times Recorder, Zanesville, Ohio, 29 February 1952, p. 16.

New (Old) Grille

We finally found an original grille for our ’48 Dodge that didn’t have any cracks or breaks. It was heavily pitted, however, so we took it to Ace Irrigation in Kearney, Nebraska, and had them sandblast and paint it. We chose the color “nickel” to blend in with the flame job, and they did great work. We are really pleased with the finished product and happy to have a new (old) grille!