Jan. 29, 2014 (Milwaukee, Wis.) — The year was 1964. The Beatles had invaded North America. Lyndon Johnson was the U.S. President. A first-class stamp cost a nickel. The U.S. economy was growing, with unemployment under 6%. Early baby boomers were crazy about cars, especially high-performance models. It was the perfect time for the introduction of two of America’s most-loved muscle cars — the Pontiac GTO and the Mustang. The year also marked the development of the Excalibur by Milwaukee’s own Brooks Stevens.
“It’s fitting that we feature the GTO, Mustang and Excalibur at the 2014 Milwaukee Masterpiece,” said Leon Flagg, chairman. “Each of these cars is an icon worthy of the spotlight.”
In 1964, Pontiac was about to introduce a new mid-size car with rear wheel drive, front engine and transmission to replace the rear-mounted transmission 1963 model. They were testing the new car sporting a 326-cubic-inch V-8 on the company’s private track in suburban Detroit. At the test site were John de Lorean, division president, and Jim Wangers from GM’s marketing and advertising agency.
Wangers was convinced that the youth crowd wanted a mid-size lower-priced performance car versus the full-size performance cars of the day.
He proposed to de Lorean that they drop a 389 in the 1964 Tempest as an option. De Lorean named the GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato) after the Ferrari and the muscle car era was born. Pontiac sold 33,000 GTOs in 1964. They more than doubled that number in 1965 and nearly touched on 100,000 units in 1966, the pinnacle year for volume.
In total, between 1964 and 1970 — 1970 marked the true end of muscle cars — a total of nearly 500,000 GTOs found their way into performance-oriented drivers’ hands. Meanwhile, the option had become a model series and the engine packages had gone from a single 4-barrel 389 to tri-power units and on to Ram Air juggernauts. The rarest and quickest was the Ram Air IV of which there were but 1,500 produced between 1969 and 1970.
Introduced early on April 17, 1964, and thus dubbed a “1964½” model by Mustang fans, the 1965 Mustang was the automaker’s most successful launch since the Model A. The Mustang has undergone several transformations to its current fifth generation.
The Mustang created the “pony car” class of American automobiles—sports car-like coupes with long hoods and short rear decks—and gave rise to competitors such as the Chevrolet Camaro, and Pontiac Firebird, AMC Javelin, as well as Chrysler’s revamped Plymouth Barracuda and the first generation Dodge Challenger. It is named after the P51 Mustang fighter plane from World War II.
In 1965, the Shelby GT350 was introduced; followed in 1967 with the 355 h.p. Shelby GT500. By March 1966 Mustang sales topped 1 million units. By 2008 that number would climb to 9 million.
The 1967 Mustang gained consensus as the high water mark for pony car design in the 1960s. The 2+2 model went from a semi-notchback to a sweeping full fastback roof line.
The Excalibur automobile story began in 1963 at Studebaker where Milwaukee native Brooks Stevens was employed as a design consultant. The company president asked Stevens to develop a car that would be a “real eye catcher” at the national car shows.
Stevens styled his car after the 1928 Mercedes-Benz SSK. His prototype premiered at the New York City car show fitted on a Studebaker chassis and using a 290-horsepower Studebaker 289 V-8. Studebaker subsequently ceased its operations, ending the availability of its 289 V-8.
General Motors friends Ed Cole and “Bunkie” Knudsen agreed to provide Stevens with a Chevrolet 327-inch, 300-bhp Corvette power plant, making the 2,100 lb. Excalibur a strong performer. With the standard 3.31:1 rear axle, acceleration from 0-60 mph took less than five seconds. Projected top speed was 160 mph. Stevens subsequently formed a company to manufacture and market the cars. Production ended in 1986.
In its 10th year, The Milwaukee Masterpiece will showcase 125 of the most significant vehicles from years past, as well as 125 new participants to Sunday’s Concours d’Elegance at The Milwaukee Masterpiece. “Each one is a work of automotive art,” Flagg said.
The Milwaukee Masterpiece presents two separate collections of collector vehicles over two days, Aug. 23 – 24, at Veterans Park on Milwaukee’s lakefront.
Both days, with unique collections, are open to the public. Events include:
• Club Saturday At The M, Aug. 23 – A gathering of local and regional car club members who display their favored vehicles. Club Day will begin with a Parade of Club Saturday vehicles from the Harley-Davidson Museum to the show grounds on Aug. 23.
• The Style & Speed Social, Aug. 23 – A social event in which Milwaukee Masterpiece participants and guests enjoy an evening of food, beverage and camaraderie in a unique setting.
• The Masterpiece Concours d’Elegance, Aug. 24 – More than 250 stunning vehicles selected by the concours committee take over the show grounds to compete for senior awards including Best of Show, Chairman’s Cup and Chief Judge’s Cup as well as first-in-class distinction.
The Milwaukee Masterpiece is organized and operated by The Masterpiece Ltd., a non-profit organization. The Masterpiece Ltd. is organized and operated exclusively to support other public charities including but not limited to those operating in southeastern Wisconsin which provide medical and social service care and relief to underprivileged children and families through various motor vehicle-related fundraising events.