Last week we wrote about Santa Monica and its long-time connection to motor racing. This week, a look at the Detroit Three’s attempts to stay involved in high-performance.
First, in yet another sign of these perilous automotive times, General Motors has closed its High Performance Vehicle Operations unit (HPVO), which created such products as the V-Series Cadillacs, the Chevrolet Cobalt SS and the HHR SS small panel truck.
I don’t mind these kinds of high-po street cars; relatively few are sold and their environmental impact is negligible. Ferrari, for instance, sells about 4,000 cars a year, about the same as Rolls-Royce (and both are gas-guzzlers) and about 40,000 Corvettes are sold annually. All the hot cars in the world just don’t add up to a hill of beans when it comes to global warming and pollution, but their mpg figures are uniformly bad. Not very politically-correct, or smart, these days.
But maybe not all these cool GM cars are going away.
“The Cadillac CTS-V is a regular part of the CTS lineup, and that will stay for the foreseeable future,” says GM spokes-squid Vince Muniga, according to Inside Line.
“The CTS-V will continue through the life cycle of the product. If they are regular production cars, they will continue through the model run, whether it’s an SS Cobalt or an SS HHR.”
He would not give a timetable for when such vehicles would be eliminated or when the regular production run is scheduled to end.
HPVO was made up of approximately 60 engineers working out of GM’s Warren Tech Center, a place with security rivaling CIA headquarters. Muniga said none of them have been laid off. Instead, they have been placed “in other areas of the organization.”
That’s not great news. In the mid-1970s, Detroit was hit by a double-whammy. First was the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, when for the first time in history car makers were being told what mileage and emissions figures their cars and trucks must achieve. Second was the first of the oil embargoes, which killed new car sales. In answer to all this, many of the best tech people in Detroit were pulled-off all sorts of future projects and put to work developing the computers we now find in every car.
Those computers didn’t come easy; that’s one major reason Detroit cars of the 1970s and ‘80s were almost uniformly lousy, and it opened the door to the Euro and Japanese imports.
A cross-town rival to GM’s HPVO, Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations, was created in 1981 and developed the 1984 to 1986 2.3 liter turbo-charged 4 cylinder Mustang SVO, of which fewer than 10,000 were sold (car collectors not having unlimited cash, take note), as well as marketed performance parts through dealer networks, which is called Ford Racing Performance Parts, or FRPP.
In 1991, Ford morphed the group into something new, the Special Vehicle Team (SVT).
Some SVT-made vehicles include the $150,000 Ford GT built with Saleen Performance and sold from 2004 through 2007; 4,028 cars were produced, and just 3,596 sold, so there are some unsold GT’s floating around out there, probably kept in storage by about 700 Ford dealers.
Also, the 1999 through 2004 380-horsepower supercharged SVT Lightning F-series street truck, 2010 SVT Raptor F-series off-road truck and the race track-oriented 500-horsepower Shelby Cobra GT500 and GT500KR “King of the Road” with 540-horsepower, both seriously-upgraded versions of the Mustang.
Beginning in the 1950s, GM marketed performance parts, like their Super Duty Pontiac parts operations for NASCAR teams, through the factory and dealers. After Detroit car makers made a gentleman’s agreement, in response to government pressure, to ban factory participation in racing, they sold consumers and race teams products through some of their dealers (like the famous Royal Pontiac dealership in Royal Oak, Mich., and the CPO cars from Yenko Chevrolet in Pennsylvania).
Across town in Highland Park, Chrysler’s MOPAR performance division remains alive and, we hope, well. MOPAR (which stands for MOtor PARts — and didn’t you always wonder about that?) currently supports professional race teams in NHRA drag racing, World of Outlaws sprint cars, SCORE off-road racing, USAC sprint cars and midgets and SCCA’s sports car road racing and Formula Drift. Their consumer parts operation is also still open and more eager than ever for your business.
MOPAR might be one of Chrysler’s most valuable brand names. Don’t be surprised if it comes up for sale in the coming months.
Steve Parker has covered the world’s auto industry for over 35 years. He’s a two-time Emmy Award-winner who reported on cars for almost a decade at both KTLA/TV5 and KCBS/TV2. He is a consultant to the NBC-TV show Whipnotic and the show’s companion website, www.Whipnotic.com. He created, writes and moderates the only all-automotive blog on The Huffington Post at www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-parker. Contact Steve through his own automotive issues Web site at www.SteveParker.com.