A Daydreaming Designer ‘Four-Door-Ifys’ Some Of America’s Automotive Gems

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It’s a commonly known fact in the collector car world that if the top goes down, the price goes up. At the same time, the other rule of thumb is as the number of doors increases, the price of a car actually drops. Typically, a sedan will be worth significantly less than a coupe, and before wagons became cool you would almost need to pay people to take them off of your hands. However, that is not the case in every part of the world.

This fact became the topic of discussion a little while back on the platform that truly delves into the depths of automotive minutia: the Autopian Slack channel. Here, the website staff feverishly takes on topics like frunks and OEM wheels when admittedly we should be writing posts. Preparing a posting about an Australian Cars & Coffee that David had attended, he mused about how there is an acceptance and possibly even a preference for four doors down under:

Screenshot (143)

Was that a command? I couldn’t tell, and nobody responded, but I assumed I might be the one that had to take a look since a.) I do that sort of stupid Photoshop crap and b.) if boomer muscle car fans get mad about messing with their sacred cows they can type angry U AR GONNA GiT IT BOY GoBBLESS messages but I’m anonymous so good luck finding me.

Anyway, as David noted, in Australia four door muscle cars don’t just exist but they are highly revered. This respect came the hard way as well; sedans competed and emerged victorious in grueling races like Australia’s own Bathurst 1000 or the World Cup Rally.

That’s right- the Targa Florio stickers on that Leyland P76 below aren’t like LeMans logos on a Pontiac. A P76 competed in the 1974 World Cup Rally and won the Targa Florio section and placed 13th overall; this from a car with a trunk sized to accommodate a 44 gallon drum.

(Freaky Jason Detail Alert! The P76 is like most seventies Australian cars in that it has no separate backup lights; the amber rear turn signals illuminate simultaneously when you put it into reverse).

1974 Leyland P76 Targa Florio Sedan (21223837251)

source: wikimedia

The Bathurst 1000 is sort of like Australia’s Indy 500, if the Indianapolis track was four miles long, had 23 turns, and changed elevation nearly 600 feet. This intense race has very often been run in four door saloon cars, and the late Peter Brock won it nine times. Brock had a road version of the 1985 Holden Commodore VK HDT Group A he competed in, and this daily driver of his sold recently for $1.057 million Australian. However, even without celebrity history, the sale price of a car would likely still be stratospheric.

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source: Drive and Carsguide

Arguably the Holy Grail of these four doors is the Ford Falcon GT HO Phase III from 1971. It came about its notoriety from what is considered the most famous photo ever to appear in Wheels, the Australian car magazine. The journalist and photographer (in the back seat) had overslept; they needed to get the Phase III press car back to Melbourne, 200 miles away, in two hours.  They pulled into Ford HQ fifteen minutes early; that’s the needle of the speedometer on the right nudging past 140 miles an hour.

Screenshot (149)

source: whichcar

Despite looking a bit like the Falcon your Great Aunt Jane used to drive to Grace Methodist Church every Sunday, the GT HO was reportedly rock steady at that pace. Mad Max antics like that helped to push this thing into legend status. Legends don’t come cheap, and even without any celebrity provenance whatsoever an example sold not long ago for $1.3 million Australian.

Screenshot (146)

source: whichcar

Why are Americans so averse to hot sedans? Do four doors really mean mom-and-the-kids? Does the performance suffer that badly? The competition victories in Australia say no. What about appearance? I’m not going to lie and say that there isn’t a sleekness to two doors, but would adding four doors to some muscle car icons really kill them, or their fans? Let’s Photoshop a few and take a look at, say, a 1969 Charger and a 1969 GTO:

19ae464cf4c36ac04bf4881886a2c224

Pontiac Lemans 1969 Images 1

source: Favcars, Barrett Jackson, and The Bishop

Well, nobody died, right? I think neither of these look too bad. In fact, the mock GTO in the picture below is NOT a Photoshop but a Real Thing. The builder took some serious liberties with his creation but the end result is, to my eyes at least, pretty damn nice.

Bish 4door

 

source: Hot Rod

I’m all in for making four door versions of these famous cars, even today; it isn’t a difficult task to do since mechanical upgrades and front clips typically just bolt on regardless of the number of doors on the passenger compartment. Purists will scream but, if we can just throw build sheets and Marti reports out of the window for a moment, why can’t we make it easier for the whole family to enjoy the smell of burning tires?

Can we finally be like our friends down in Oz and accept four doors as serious street machines? Think you’re too cool to drive a muscle sedan? Come back to me when you’ve won as many Bathursts as Brocky, mate.

 

 

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72 Responses

  1. I have a feeling that the very long bonnets (hoods) and massive rear overhangs of classic American cars make their four-door versions look especially frumpy – when viewed from the side, you have clean unbroken lines at the front and the back, while the front and rear doors looked squeezed together in the middle.

    Australian-market cars tended to have shorter overhangs which makes their proportions almost more European – when the original Ford Falcon was adapted for Australian production they took some length off the ute and wagon versions, allegedly to prevent scraping on rough dirt roads or steep driveways.

    If you look at a side view of the XY Falcon the proportions look more balanced than on an American sedan of the same era – or maybe it’s my bias creeping in. Would Americans look at that and think it’s oddly short and stumpy?

    https://assets.primecreative.com.au/s3/cougar-assets/momo-media/17157181/ford-falcon-xy-gtho-sideview.jpg

    1. I agree. I think American cars of the era at least appeared to have longer over-hangs than the Australian cars. To me, the Australian cars, even in 4 doors, tend to have more “pony car” proportions than the full size American “muscle cars”.

    2. Mikan- I’m not sure, but looking at the side view of an American market 1969 Falcon and the GT HO, they look pretty similar. Are you sure it isn’t the same? Again, I could be wrong.

      1. The Australian GM stuff has a real Pontiac vibe. The roofline you have looks very HK Kingswood at the C pillar and then the rear deck lid trailing away looks very later HQ Kingswood.

        There was also a Brougham for a couple of years which just had an extended c pillar to create a premium model with more second row space and no changes to the doors.

        Australian market was just too small to drive all the model types so even the coupes have carry over parts also not sure there was as much $$ in the middle class.

        All the racing was driven by win on Sunday sell on Monday mentality.

        The high priced sedans generally all have racing provenance and homologation efforts. Still big premium on 2 door models in Australia when you compare apples to apples. Whether it be a falcon coupe, early monaro, valiant charger, torana etc.

        The Leyland p76 is calling out for a deep dive review. Odd car, unfortunate story and some interesting tech for a locally made car at that time in Australia.

      2. When comparing Falcons to Falcons (at least for the sedan versions), they would have similar proportions – the Australian and US platforms were still very closely related at the time.

        I think the difference in context is that the Falcon and Holden sedans were considered the standard ‘full-size’ cars of the time in Australia (despite being ‘compacts’ in the US), so they set the design benchmark going forward and get seen as ‘normal’ by people here.

        Meanwhile, the common ‘full-size’ cars in the US were a size category larger and had the massive overhangs, which are what I thought look a bit off.

  2. The issue isn’t the number of doors, it is the design and usually the optional packages that go with them. these days it is really not a problem, most 4 door cars do not look like someone had to last minute tack on 4 doors and make room. 2 Door cars are designed with 2 doors usually, More Doors the same. And you can get a pretty sweet CTS-V 4 door or any number of German ticking time bombs with legit powerplants…up until they blow up of course. Even pickups these days are design with 4 door proportions in mind, a short bed 2 door actually looks like the proportions are wrong more often than not these days. Back in the day though, most of the time 4 doors meant a smaller or less sporty motor, the proportions were thrown out the window or the 4 door design was just ugly in comparison. Dodge did a slightly better job than most in the 60’s, a 1969 4 door Coronet was pretty attractive and not that far off from the charger above, but it had to be a police car to get the good engines.

    1. A counter-example I can think of from the late ’60s is the “fuselage” big Mopars – Plymouth Fury, Dodge Polara/Monaco, Chrysler Newport/New Yorker/T&C and Imperial from ’69-73. The 4-doors looked ok, the station wagons looked great, the hardtop coupe looked seriously awkward as though it had the roof meant for a smaller car grafted on. There was a 2-door post sedan with the same roofline as the 4-doors, only as a Fury or Dodge Polara, but it was so rare as to be practically irrelevant and was dropped early in the cycle.

      1. There were a few other notable 4 door options back then as well, I would take a pillarless 4 door over a 2 door in many of the larger full size cars for exactly the reason you mention.

    2. So, so true. I was working in GM’s Kansas City plant when they changed the Grand Prix from ’95 to ’97. The ’97 had changed its roof line from the previous version so it had the same profile whether it was 2 or 4 door. The take rate for the 4 door switched places with the 2 door (more 4 door buyers than anticipated) caused GM to reallocate staffing to cover the switch. Some companies leave the rear door high due to their station wagon option as the roof line needed to stay high all the way to the rear bumper – yes some companies do use the same rear doors in both sedans and station wagons, just squint a little harder to see the similarities.

  3. Yeah, I think 4-door cars were kind of a victim of 1960’s design limitations (in addition to reputation issues – dunno which came first, the bad rep or the design limitations). I just know that when I bought my ’68 Cutlass in 1995, I looked at a lot of 60’s muscle cars and even found a ’68 4-door that I considered buying as a parts car. I was pretty shocked back then at how different it looked for the 2-door version. The roofline was totally borked. At a time when sloping fastback roofs were all the rage, this just wasn’t possible on the 4-door versions, which ended up looking way too upright.

    1. Sid- you’re right. As I mentioned in the post, there is a sleekness to the coupes that the sedans can’t match.

      Because of proportions, fastback sedans really become hatchbacks, like the Saab 900 or Rover SD1 (both of those peg the cool meter if you ask me). Or today’s current crop of sedans that are fastbacks BUT substitute hatch doors for tiny trunk lids so loading cargo is akin to stuffing a mailbox.

      1. Yeah, you know this whole exercise lingered in my brain longer than it should have. I think another limitation of the 60’s and 70’s was the infatuation with pillarless coupes. On full size cars, GM and Ford went out of their way to engineer 4-door sedans that somehow had no B-pillar. In the 80’s and 90’s everyone finally gave up on that and now all the sedans have A, B and C (and sometimes D) pillars that are just blacked out.

        1. Sid- I think pillarless hardtops went away for a variety of reasons; the rollover standards that were threatened in the early seventies (and killed convertibles) but never happened, the buying public’s obsession then with having the ‘quietest car’ (they never got the weathersealing right on hardtops) and the fact that unibody cars would need additional reinforcement to work without the pillar. However, I think cost was the biggest driver..the fact that the 1978-1983 GM mid sized cars had fixed rear windows to take out a few bucks speaks volumes.

    1. And earlier GTOs as well, I vaguely remember seeing a 1966 wagon conversion too.
      With a little more work a Coronet to Charger conversion could possibly be assembled.
      Muscle cars in the ’60’s were grown upon the back of intermediates.
      No Photoshop needed.

      1. Early GTO’s were an option for the early 60’s Pontiac Tempest. It was the way for John Z. DeLorean to get around the GM brass to prove performance was popular. That and Bunkie Knudsen’s “Wide Track” campaign to differentiate Pontiac from Buick and Olds. The GTO option became so popular, it became its own model by the mid-60’s.

    2. I thought there was a simple grille / hood swap that would accomplish that (appearance-wise, at least).

      In the 90’s (possibly before, but I only know what I was around for), it seemed like any 60’s / 70’s GM that was still rust-free enough to paint could be easily turned into clone of a desired version of the car on the same chassis. I feel like that’s when people started to go nuts on the ‘numbers matching’ thing because there were so many clones around.

      1. Anoos- that is exactly what it is. I do understand it to some degree- my parents had to wait two months to get their new 1965 Mustang since my dad ordered front disc brakes so that explains why many of these features are so rare. There should be some kind of premium for the car having ‘the real thing’ and not Pinto discs stuck on it.

        But four doors are so much cheaper that nobody is going to care if you mess with it and turn it into something more desirable.

  4. I drove a 2004 Ford Crown Vic LX Sport (yes, thats really the model designation of a Crown Vic) for several years. Its essentially a Mercury Marauder without the DOHC Cobra engine (http://www.gdmjoe.com/gothvic/documents/lxsport/lxsport.html ). It definatly wasnt fast by today’s standards, but with a couple of Flowmasters under it, it sure sounded fast and looked sleek with the lack of Chrome accents and 17″ wheels. I’m all for 4 door muscle cars

    1. Had a ‘96 Impala for 20+ years. The wheels and the lack of chrome made it look tough in black. Sadly, the back seat was not as commodious as one might hope for, and the antediluvian chassis was not exactly sprightly.

    2. The wheels on that model were quite appropriate-for-what-it-was handsome IMO. I feel Adrian would agree it was a great example of Ford getting the body-wheel match just right.

    3. 8th–Note- it’s amazing that Iacocca supposedly fought with Henry Ford II to NOT release the Panther chassis (wanting instead to go with smaller, FWD cars like he did later at Chrysler), and initially the downsized Fords sold poorly during the 1979 energy crisis.

      Almost thirty years later… guess what was still around??

      1. Ford had actually planned to drop the Panthers after 1997, but GM announced the 1996 end of the B-bodies before Ford got their release out, so they reversed course and gave the Grand Marquis and Crown Victoria a hasty facelift for 1998 (with them now sharing the 1992 Grand Marquis’ body shell) and did an all-new Town Car body at the same time.

        GM’s loss was Ford’s gain

  5. Australian cars, especially from the ’60s and ’70s, always make me think of Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.” They’re American cars in a world where someone traveled back to the dinosaur age and stepped on a butterfly.

  6. If you want to see a 4 door “muscle” car that is very odd, check out the 1977 Dodge Aspen RT Sport-Wagon. It looks super cool and just needs a different power/drivetrain to be a real unique vehicle.

    1. blip downshift- I agree on that one! What is funny is that the Road Runner of this era looks a bit silly with its louvers and stripes (and just the name ‘Volare Road Runner’ sounds like a joke), but when they stuck the fender flares, spoiler, and wheels on the wagon it actually looked surprisingly good!

  7. Not all cars increase in value when the top goes down. The exceptions are 1) The top is too complex to economically maintain 2) removing the roof made the chassis flex into a noodly mess, 3) the convertible top looks like someone stuffed a too-large, baggy baseball cap on a kid, and 4) If it’s a sharp handling car, people would rather have something they can track, or at least toss around curvy roads.

    Regarding four-door cars, it took BMW, Audi, and the Lancia Integrale in the 80’s to start making four-door cars cool for actual driving. For that, I am grateful. I think a good sport sedan or hatchback is the ideal automobile design.

    1. TripleOne- it’s American classics we’re looking at…they made a four door Corvette (the Corvette America) and that was enough to let us know where the limits of four-door-ification could go

  8. Why buy a 4 door when i cant think of 4 people i would want riding with me? Plus a 4 door family muscle car? Talk about a mall crawler. The wife screaming slowdown, you are going to kill us all, its like getting to drive a Nascar car but only on pit row.

    1. Dave- yes, but it’s easier to sell a four door to the Internal Committee at home than a coupe. Also, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten off with a warning in my station wagon with baby seats in back; I know I would have received a ticket in something more outwardly sporting.

    1. The well-informed Pontiac buyer could order their new 1971 or ’72 LeMans sedan (or wagon!) with a GTO front end. It was option code T-41 and (apparently) cost less than $100. The GTO forums have documented a surprising number of survivors. Talk about a Holy Grail car …

  9. Related, it’s interesting how despite the loud gnashing of teeth over the current Charger’s 4-door setup when it first debuted, you don’t really hear that much complaining anymore.

    They’re as popular now with the contemporary version of the crowd that was drawn to the originals it seems.

  10. I am a little rusty here, but-

    The Chevy II and Impala, up to the mid-60s, could have the SS package ordered on all models- including 4 doors and wagons. Later, you could get the impala with a 427 and 4 speed with any body style but not the SS package.

    1. Jurassic- I do see a lot of SS branded non-2 doors at car shows and I’m guessing that only a small fraction (if any) are real. You know the joke…’there’s only 540 on the road out of 20 built’.

  11. As somebody who’s owned nothing but coupes for a decade, but who now has a new employer that refuses to pay mileage reimbursement on something with less than 4 doors (pickup trucks excluded), I now whole heartedly support this effort

  12. A bit off-topic, but is there somewhere we can submit suggestions for articles?

    I recently saw a Holden 215, and was reminded of its peculiar posterior lighting arrangement; It had only one central brake/taillight, as they weren’t required by law here until the late 50s, and GM was apparently tight-ass enough to test that regulation.
    This got me thinking;
    “What if cars were still only required to have one taillight (and perhaps headlight)?”
    Think of wacky 60s ford afterburners! alien looking citroëns, and what would the 80s heckblende-era have looked like if lights had never traversed as far as the corners of the automobile?

  13. Some Leyland P76 taillight trivia for Jason – those side marker lights on the rear quarters are not separate lights, they are an extension of the tail light housing that ‘peeps’ out of the die-cast cap panels that form the rear corners of the body, so you get side marker lights, side repeater indicators and side repeater reversing lights (due to the amber housings doubling as reverse lights) with only 2 bulbs total per corner. The same thing happens at the front, where the indicators and park lights are stacked above each other to form the outer ends of the grille, with similar side marker light provision.

    (Bonus trivia – less than 500 Targa Florios were built, and only 73 in Aspen Green as per the car in the picture)

  14. I have always thought that how the car was originally drawn by the designer was the key to whether it looks better as a coupe or a sedan. In American, (I believe) it was always the coupe that was pitched for production, and the sedan was then designed as an ‘afterthought’ adapting the coupe’s look until the middle of the front doors. Everything after that was a podge to make things work. In Europe, Australia, and Japan, generally the opposite was true. The coupe descended from its four-door father and often the coupe came out as the funny looking one.

    1. I am actually a little surprised the clamshell rear door thing never caught on. in many cases you could reduce the long front doors about 6 inches and then hing a small 10 inch wing door behind it to get better parking access without hurting the lines. I always thought the 50’s 2 doors looked like the rea doors were just not cut out. the 57 chevy had big rear windows on the 2 door for example. if it were not for the pillar at he back, I would not be able to see the rear doors from afar, and if they hid the rear door handle in the chrome trim it would be that much harder.

    2. Lokki- or, in some cases in Europe, the coupe was visually related and very similar but a totally different car. Some examples from long ago are the Peugeot 504 and Fiat 130 coupes.

    3. It’s a good point. I generally always prefer more-doors, but sometimes you can tell it those additional doors were squeezed in late in the design (like the E90 Corolla hatchback; looks really awkward in the five-door model)

  15. Four door muscle cars are just so much an Australian thing!

    Just saw the pretty good Samaritan movie with one of my sons the other night – a lot of tributes to Robocop in it, so I loved it.. – and I imediately thought the main bad guy car was something Australian beneith all that grey paint, but it was “just” a four door Gran Torino:
    https://pics.imcdb.org/5169/6.358.jpg

  16. The Charger needs the roof to start sloping over the second row of doors. It lost it’s swoopiness that makes a Charger look right.

    The GTO is great, though a bit of slope would help it as well.

    An AMC Hornet would look good with 4 doors.

      1. TheGuyInTheVan- that is exactly what it is. In fact, you might be able to actually construct one with existing parts.

        Tried a more sloping roof or side pillars in back but just not working since the trunk isn’t long enough. Ended up looking like a hatchback.

        Still, look at those Aussie cars- they don’t even pretend to be coupes.

        1. Don’t worry, I only had a minor cardiac event while reading this post. The doctor says as long as I cut back to two fast food meals per day I should be able to drive my Charger again by spring. Really though, while my (limited) expertise is in the 3rd generation Charger, it’s my understanding that you could put a 2nd gen Charger front clip on a same year Coronet 4 door, but might have a bit of work to do in order to make the doors match up to the fenders. I thought I’d read a magazine article a while back where someone had done this but I couldn’t find it, although I did find this on pintrest:
          https://www.pinterest.com/pin/366550857155626273/

      1. And the wagon was by far the biggest seller. It had a niche to itself, the only domestic compact 4-door wagon at a time when the “midsize” ones were getting HUGE.

        1. nlpnt- also, if you are referring to the Sportabout, that we really on the border between a hatchback and a wagon, though we would need to bust out Jason’s proportional rules for what is a wagon and what is not.

        2. I wanted a Hornet wagon a few decades ago, but they were heavy and under-powered: the 80s Subaru wagons were far more engaging to drive even tho fwd vs the Hornet’s rwd. Also, far fewer survived in reasonable shape even to my low expectations: I could-and did-drive a $200 Subaru wagon, whereas a $200 Hornet wagon was roached to the point that it wasn’t worth trying it as anything but emergency transport for a few months

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