Massive Tour Of The 2012 Carlisle GM Nationals

Can you imagine the size and power of General Motors at their peak? “What’s good for GM is good for America,” folklore suggests. And who could argue when you could see the USA in a Chevrolet or cruise in a Wide-Track Pontiac? GM was a behemoth that could operate its own countries.

Carlisle, PA was abuzz from June 22-24, 2012 with the automotive contributions of General Motors. With weather that was better than one could ask for, the Carlisle GM Nationals brought together a good chunk of America’s favorite cars – here’s a tour of what you could find.

Chevrolet is as American as Mom, baseball, and apple pie, so it shouldn’t be any wonder that America’s favorite automotive brand shows up in force. Granted, a great percentage of them are late-model Camaros and their previous-gen brethren, but there was enough old stuff to keep the wayward auto historian happy.

You may know the Chevelle as having Malibu and Super Sport sub-models, but for 1969 there also was the 300 Deluxe. As the cheapest of the Chevelles, it was available as a Coupe (with B-pillar), Sport Coupe (hardtop), and four-door sedan. This 300 Deluxe Sport Coupe must be extremely rare because it’s equipped with a 350/300 and a four-speed. The owner’s grandmother ordered it new, even though it reeks as an insurance-beater spec’d out by a snotty kid.

This early-1950s Chevy pickup was given a unique leather-esque treatment.

The Heavy Chevy was a combination of being Chevrolet’s answer to the cheapie Plymouth Road Runner as well as the evolving market for “cosmetic supercars.” Any V-8 up to the LS3 Turbo-Jet 400 (otherwise known as the 402, which was simply a bored 396 – confused?) was available with this optional package from 1971-72.

Previous to 1970, the top motor for the non-Super Sport Chevelle was the 350, as the big block was reserved for the Super Sport (aside of the special COPO 427). But in 1970, things changed as the LS3 400 became available for any non-SS Chevelle. It was rated at 330 horses.

1967 and '66 Chevelle SS 396s were giving GTOs a run for their money in sales. Horsepower ranged from 325 to 375.

In 1960, Chevrolet introduced the Corvair to compete with the Volkswagen Beetle, but it evolved into a prototypical ponycar. The Corvair also had van and pickup variants. The latter is a Rampside, which had a ramp on the side - perfect for landscapers.

Chevrolet redesigned the Chevelle for 1973, hyping the 'Colonade' bodystyle. This 1974 Malibu Classic had no sporting pretensions but was available with a 454 with 235 net horsepower - a far cry from the 1970 LS6 which likely had 350 net horses.

The Chevy II and Nova was Chevrolet's compact car, built to compete against the VW when the Corvair proved to be too radical for some. That didn't stop hot rodders from creating some pretty radical cars like this '67.

Corvettes - especially late-model ones and going back to the C3, are popular at Carlisle, although if you really want to check out a great East Coast Vette show, Carlisle has one in August.

In 1993, the Camaro was chosen as pace car for Indy - under 700 were built. Approximately 1500 companion trucks were built as well.

Even Cobalts and 3rd-gen Novas get some love at Carlisle.

For the more utilitarian folks, there were a number of Chevys to pique your interest.

Chevrolet started the decade rather bland. By 1957, they had style and power - dig this panel delivery with a 283/270 with 2x4s.

Monte Carlos from all generations were there to accept your love.

Caprices and Impala SSs have a large following, no doubt due to the SBC . . . er, corporate motor. Were these the last of the true full-size American RWD cars?

But it’s the Camaro that is Chevrolet’s bread and butter. Having been discontinued 10 years ago, it experienced a rebirth in 2010 that has been so popular that it actually has outsold the Mustang.

This is where it started - 1967-69. The Royal Plum '67 is my favorite color. Triple white '69 SS is an usual combo for a muscle car.

The second-gen Camaro endured a long production run, resulting in plenty of varieties over the years.

And the new stuff? 'I can see them everywhere the street,' some may say. But so many people are personalizing them that it's like seeing a new car, one after the other.


What can be said about Pontiac? By far GM’s most interesting brand, it was run by John DeLorean in its heyday and was considered a maverick brand of sorts. In fact, the creation of the 1964 GTO was done under the radar because its equipment was in violation of GM’s rules. The 1965 GTO was an improvement in styling and power, and this Iris Mist example is about as good as it gets – convertible, Tri-Power, M21 four-speed, and 3.90 gears.

GM made Pontiac get rid of Tri-Power in 1967, but Ram Air made sure no one missed the triple carbs. The '66 on the right is Tiger Gold with a black painted top - quite rare.

Gold was one of the most popular colors for 1970, but you don't see many Judges in that color.

The GTO was given a clumsy facelift for 1971, but they have come into their own. The one on the left has the optional 455, and the one on the right has the Top Dog 455 HO.

The Honeycomb wheel debuted in 1971, which looks at home on this Trans Am. Trans Ams were only available with the 455 HO, which was superseded by the Super Duty 455 for 1973-74. The 455 disappeared for 1975, but came back for 1976 on this Trans Am.

This 1976 Firebird Formula has the W50 package which included two-tone paint. Only a few colors were available with this treatment. This one has a 400.

Bandit Trans Ams are hotter than ever. Think the remake of the movie is going to be popular?

You can see the differences among the 1967-69 Firebirds. Most noticeable between 1967-68 are the parking lights and vent windows (or lack thereof).

Despite all the groaning by purists, the GTO from a few years ago has its followers. Ditto the G8.

In 1971, Pontiac introduced the Nova-based Ventura II. There were no performance versions, but the sporty Sprint looked like it.

The Tempest was introduced in 1961 with some interesting features: a 4-cylinder motor that was actually half of Pontiac's famed 389 tied to a rear transaxle. This 1962 convertible, along with the likes of the Corvair and Toronado, is a great example of the engineering prowess of GM.

The Can Am was created in 1977 as a mid-size Trans Am of sorts, but when the spoiler machine broke, Pontiac stopped building them. Only about 1500 were built.

FWD Grand Prixs have a large following due to the easy horsepower from the supercharged Buick 3.8 V-6. On the other end of the spectrum, the G8 is popular due to its RWD and small block 'corporate' motor.

When Pontiac introduced a specially trimmed Catalina and called it the 1962 Grand Prix, it was a tasteful way to bring personal luxury with the Pontiac touch. Pontiac stylists outdid themselves for 1963, creating a clean cruiser with concave backlight and performance options up to the 421 HO putting out 370 horses. Is it any wonder that Pontiac was #3 in sales for most of the decade?

This 1962 Catalina convertible has the popular 8-lug wheels and 4-speed transmission. Do you think it's classier than this '60?

Jim Wangers of Pontiac's ad agency felt the '67 Bonneville was the classiest full-size Pontiac from the era. Perhaps when it came out, it may have been true, but time has shown that collectors prefer the earlier cars.

The 1958 Bonneville came off much better than some of GM's other offerings.

When the Fiero came out in 1984, it disappointed purists with its commuter-like disposition. The V-6 Fiero GT changed that. Its styling was foreshadowed by the Indy Fiero.

Before there was Pontiac, there was Oakland. This is a '22, built four years before its companion Pontiac made its debut.


America’s oldest surviving automobile brand no longer survives, but the cars of Lansing have a proud history of pioneering developments, from the automatic transmission to the hardtop coupe and modern high compression V-8. In the twilight years, GM didn’t know how to position Oldsmobile in the modern marketplace, which is somewhat ironic considering only 20 years before Oldsmobile boasted one of the best-selling cars in America. Here’s some of Oldsmobile’s best . . . and some that you don’t see anymore.

When the 1958 Oldsmobile debuted, it was a behemoth that was nicknamed the “Chromesmobile.” It was so bad that GM went on an unprecedented crash course to redesign all their 1959 cars. The results were sleek, delicate designs that were a forceful volley to Chrysler’s Forward Look. The new Oldsmobile experienced a successful turn-around that made up for the past transgression.

This 1970 Olds 4-4-2 convertible has custom orange stripes. Two years later, Olds was still using the same body. The '72 is 1 of 499 Hurst/Olds hardtops built. Do you think it's flashier than the 1970 Rallye 350? Just over 3000 of those were built.

The Olds F-85 was introduced in 1961 as part of GM's 'senior compact' troika. A turbo 215 V-8 motor joined in 1962 as the Jetfire, which is almost as cool as this rat rod-ish wagon.

When was the last time you saw a a Calais with a HO Quad 4?

In 1988, Hurst created a body kit for late-model Cutlasses, creating a Hurst/Olds of sorts.

The 1968 4-4-2 was redesigned and could be optioned out with the W-36 vertical stripe, which was standard with the W-30 motor.

Show-car styling and top notch engineering were part of the 1966 Toronado.

Oldsmobile was one of the few companies to develop a high-winding small block motor for its mid-size cars. Called W-31, it was available on the F-85 or Cutlass S; just over 1000 were built in 1970.

The 1974 Cutlass Salon was Oldsmobile's answer to European-inspired sedans like the Pontiac Grand Am. The Cutlass would soon become America's favorite car.

“Standard of the World” was the tagline in the ads. And even before that, there was the famous “The Penalty of Leadership.” It may be a surprise to learn that Cadillac once was America’s second-favorite luxury brand, behind Packard. But with Harley Earl’s consistent designs, V-16 motors, and the most significant styling feature in the post-war era – fins – Cadillac meant you were somebody.

The LaSalle was created in 1927 to fill the gap between Buick and Cadillac. As Cadillac’s companion make, it always had style through its 1940 swan song. This 1934 LaSalle perfectly shows how Art Deco and streamlining were coming into fashion.


“When better cars are built, Buick will build them,” it was said. Buick was the car for dentists and lawyers. It was the sporty, luxurious car with class – look at this 1964 Wildcat for inspiration. Today? It’s a car for old people and the Chinese. GM’s has tried to reconfigure Buick’s image in America, especially since the brand received a stay of execution (unlike Pontiac), but what does Buick mean to you? Certainly not what it meant to millions of Americans 50 years ago.

Or 80+ years ago. Back then, a car's motor defined its segment, so cars like this unrestored 1928 Buick Model 29 Town Brougham came with a big 6-cylinder. Moving up a class would give you an 8-cyl. like a LaSalle.

When Buick was redesigned for 1959, its lineup was changed as well. New at the bottom was the LeSabre. Next up was the Invicta, and at the top was the Electra and Electra 225. In 1962, the Invicta was joined by a specially trimmed personal luxury hardtop called the Wildcat; this subseries ended up replacing the Invicta series for 1963, although a sole Invicta station wagon continued into 1963. This is a ’62 ragtop.

In 1967, the GS 340 joined the GS 400. Available only in white or platinum, all with red stripes and hood scoops, just over 3600 were built. Of the same year is this Sport Wagon, a Skylark wagon with a skylight roof and an extended wheelbase that was also shared with Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser.

The 1970 Buick GSX package was introduced mid-year for the GS 455. You could have any color you wanted as long as it was Apollo White or Saturn Yellow. Only 678 were built, most being yellow with the Stage 1 motor.

In 1971, the GS was shuffled a bit, now all motors grouped under one model. This 1972 GS convertible has the base 350; 852 were built with all engines.

Turbo Regals have been popular for ages already. Sure, there was the Grand National, but the turbo motor was available in other Regals including base, T-Type, Turbo T, and Limited variants.

The Car Corral

Carlisle is also about finding the car of your dreams. The variety of cars ran the gamut, from a 1967 GS 400 with that funky “Star Wars” air cleaner, an LT-1 Corvette, a very rare 1990 Pontiac 6000 SE with AWD, 1985 Olds Calais 500 Pace Car, and a 1968 Impala Custom with a bench seat/4-speed combo.

Sometimes green doesn't age well to contemporary eyes, but when it's complemented by white trim, like this 1969 Camaro Z/28-RS, it can be quite ravishing.

The Indoor Displays
At Carlisle there are two indoor displays. One had no specific theme other than being the creme de la creme. The other was a special display of W-block Chevys.

This 1970 SS 454 Chevelle was upgraded to a new-gen 454 and Tremec 5-speed. This '68 Camaro received similar neo upgrades.

This 1955 pickup had a unique theme along with a 350 and Tremec 5-speed.

The Nova Super Sport was introduced in 1963. It was only available with a 6-cylinder.

Out of all the 409s built, the 1962 Bel Air 'bubbletop' tends to be the one that everyone wants. The Impala had a mock convertible top roofline, which is fine'n dandy but the sleekness of this top is preferred.

What's a Ford doing here? This '41 is stuffed with a 454 roller motor.

Here are two W-Machines - a 1970 Cutlass S with the W-31 350, and a 1968 4-4-2 with the W-30 400. Notice the scoops under the bumpers.

This 1940 Oldsmobile Series 60 was the first car off the assembly line with the brand-new Hydra-Matic automatic transmission.

Not many Pontiac customs were at Carlisle, but this '54 Chieftain was a late-model GTO underneath.

This 1970-1/2 Camaro RS was a pilot car that came off the Norwood assembly line in November, 1969, three months before they were released to the public. Compare it to this 1969 Z/28 and you'll see how the public was oohing and aahing the new models, but collectors seem to have a different opinion.

The W-block exhibit featured 348 and 409 Chevys. The motor was first introduced in 1961 but under 150 were built; in 1962, it went up in horsepower and availability. By 1965, it was long in the tooth, and it was replaced midyear with the 396. The ’65 on the right is a rare Biscayne, as most 409s were put in Super Sports.

This 1930 hot rod has a '63 409 with six Strombergs and a 5-speed tranny.

409s aren't exactly common, but here's a 4-door Impala with the 2x4 version of the 409 putting out an even 409 horses. If that's not unique enough, the tranny is a 3-on-the-tree.

In 1963 Chevrolet built 57 Z-11 Impalas with a 427. It wasn't the Mark IV big block that came out in '66, mind you - it was still a W-block motor. Note the cowl induction.

Hayden Proffitt built this Nova with a 409, a motor not originally available on the Nova.

Old wagons are cool, but how many '59s have you seen with a tri-carbed 348 and a 4-speed?

The Mock Dealership

For the past few years, the old John Deere dealership has been used for creative retro displays. If you’re a fan of Supercars – cars modified by dealerships like Yenko and Baldwin-Motion – then you’ll dig the stuff within, which also had some “normal” factory issues intermixed.

Which 1969 Camaro do you prefer?.

View from the inside. Note the 1971 Olds 4-4-2 W-30.

The green Chevelle is a Baldwin-Motion car. 1969 Vette was a L71 427 car.

This 1969 Ram Air IV GTO was special-ordered in Barrier Blue, a 1966 color. Rather than have the dealer paint the Endura nose to match, he kept it in primer. Here it sits in Day 2 condition.

Out back, another scene of Chevys.

Two Yenko Novas - one a Deuce, the other a Yenko/SC. Maroon '68 towering above is an SS L78 with M22 tranny.

Rare 1967 Malibu with L79 327/325.

There was neat stuff outside as much as inside. The mag wheelcovers on the '67 Chevelle are rad.

The Burnout Contest

There's no glory in ruining your tires, but there is glory in winning the contest and being rewarded with replacement rubber.

On the stage, behind the burnouts were two Camaro give-aways.

Meanwhile, out back, the women are getting antsy as they prepare for the Miss Carlisle contest.

The Swap Meet

Carlisle Event’s origins are with automotive flea markets. They, along with Hershey, have made central Pennsylvania the headquarters for finding that elusive part. Vendors also have a strong presence at Carlisle, demonstrating to hobbyists how their items can improve your ride, especially with the trend towards restification.

Need some Chevy parts? Power Pack heads? 2x4 for your 265?

Oldsmobile fans were not left out in the swap meet either. The W-25 breather goes for beaucoup bucks.

Popular muscle car-era parts has been joined by 1980-90s stuff.

For restoration or restification, you're bound to find your wheel and tire combo at Carlisle.

If you need a seat to go with your belts, perhaps there's a match made in Carlisle.

Plenty of fun stuff at Carlisle, including a rear end that's Tonka Tough!

This 1968 Buick Skylark convertible was waiting for someone to buy and restore her.

If you like the looks of this show, there are more Carlisle events throughout the summer – stay tuned for the Mopar show and more!


About the author

Diego Rosenberg

Diego is an automotive historian with experience working in Detroit as well as the classic car hobby. He is a published automotive writer in print and online and has a network of like-minded aficionados to depend on for information that's not in the public domain.
Read My Articles

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