by John T. Houlihan, 2018

Published by permission.

The following renderings are of the cars I have owned since 1965. I have included every car that I or my late ex-wife and I purchased, and was my daily transportation. I have included only those vehicles which were driven primarily by me.

Each vehicle represents a period of time in my life bringing up memories and feelings much the way old songs remind us of periods in our lives. Some are more significant than others, but each one has its place and holds meaning to me.

I have carefully rendered each car as accurately as possible given my ability and the medium used. I have tried to make each one as realistic and appealing. The order is as chronological as I can recall. The size (page spread) of the images represents more a preference of that rendering than of the vehicle itself.

The car renderings in this post were created on an iPad Pro, using an Apple pencil and Procreate software. There were no straight edges, sweeps, ellipse guides or circle templates used. Just a steady hand. The software is quite adaptable to color, shading and tone using a variety of “brushes” to achieve the exact effect needed to create a photo realistic image.

1950 Chevrolet Sedan

This was my first car. I needed a car in the summer of ’65 to take an English course at UMASS to make up credits so I could graduate with my U. of Notre Dame class of ’66 on time. This Chevy worked well especially considering the lack of TLC over its lifetime. It got me to class and to work plus trips on the Mass Pike occasionally to visit my future wife in Taunton, MA. This Chevy had valve issues and could barely get to 60 mph and hold that speed up a slight grade. Loved the car anyway. Bought it for $25; sold it for $25.

1963 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Convertible

I bought this car just before our wedding in July 1966. Kath wanted a ’65 Corvair Monza, probably a better choice because it was a bargain price being affected by Nader’s Unsafe At Any Speed which devastated Corvair sales for the rest of its run. This was a “real” Oldsmobile when they had their own engines, a 330 CID V8 driven through a Turbo Hydramatic transmission (sometimes referred to as a “slim jim” trans). Magnificent looking vehicle. I loved it.

1968 Pontiac Tempest Coupe

Possibly the most well resolved form on a GM car ever. The sculpture of this vehicle is awesome. This was my first new car purchase. I bought it just before the birth of my son Brian. I remember driving it with Kath to the South Macomb Community Hospital in late March of 1968 approaching 100 mph on 12 Mile Rd. Overhead Cam Six and automatic transmission—not a “loaded” vehicle, but quite serviceable and reliable. Loved it.

1963 Volkswagen Beetle

I bought this veicle as a second car for Kath. Ran OK considering it was evidently neglected. Bill Mitchell decreed that any designer caught driving one to the Tech Center would be FIRED! So I never did. Kath described this car as “all noises and smells.” Accurate.

1971 Camaro

I could not wait to buy this car. I saw an early version at the Tech Center, and also saw renderings in Chevy II studio, so I was pre-sold for a couple of years. The long dash-to-axle proportion and stunning front end graphics makes this a design for the ages. Still looks sleek and modern to me. 350 CID V8 and a Turbo Hydramatic kept this car going for a few years.

1969 Volkswagen Transporter

The quintessential hippy mobile of the late ’60s to early ’70s. I succumbed to the lure of the culture. Actually it was a pretty good vehicle. It had its issues, including poor heat in the winter and a gutless 1600cc flat four with under 60HP coupled to a 4-speed. Big side area caused he vehicle to perform involuntary lane changes on the New York thruway. Even so, I had a lot of fun with this VW.

1969 Chevy Nova

I bought this car to function as a “winter rat.” She ran surprisingly well mechanically, but not so great in snow and ice, so this was a short term solution to winter driving. She had the indestructible Chevy inline six with a two speed Power Glide transmission. I kept it for a year or so,

1974 Chevy Vega Kammback

I had a hand in the development of this car. The Kammback (wagon) was developed after a visit by Mr. Ed Cole (GM CEO) where I showed him a rendering of this XP-887 inspired by a Camaro wagon proposal I saw in Chevy II studio. Great handling vehicle, and I loved it despite all of the build and engineering flaws. (Read the whole amazing story on Dean’s Garage, How the Vega Kammback Came To Be).

1977 Volkswagen Rabbit

The Rabbit was Giugiaro designed and German built, a winning combination. I loved this car and it handled ice and snow very well with its front wheel drive (which took some getting used to). It had its quirks and problems, mostly electrical and CV joints, but it ran pretty well for several years. The packaging credit should go to Alec Issigonis who laid out the original Mini which VW and Ital Design copied.

1971 Chevrolet Brookwood Wagon

I bought this car in Lubbock, Texas where I lived for the longest eight weeks of my life. The car (a true west Texas vehicle), however, was a good buy. It had cold A/C, a good running 400 CID small block V8, and tons of interior volume. The paint was burned and sanded off of the upper surfaces by the hot sun and constant grit-filled wind, but it had no rust. I kept this car for a few years and loved it.

1979 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser Wagon

I bought this car in Watertown, Connecticut early in the ’80s to replace the Chevy wagon. This was a “down-sized” B-body with a de-tuned 350 CID V8. Although the Olds was nearly a foot shorter than the Chevy, it had nearly the same interior volume. While not the speed monster that the Chevy was, the Olds ran reliability. I kept this wagon for a while, too.

1984 Corvette Coupe

This was my first Corvette. When the new C4s came out in the early ’80s, I was blown away. I simply HAD to have one. So I bought the car in 1985 from, as it turned out, an unscrupulous dealer. He could not produce the title because he had not paid his GMAC loan off. It took a lawyer, and a tough judge who threatened jail and over a year to resolve the situation and for me to be reimbursed. I had to hide the car in a friend’s barn to keep it from being repossessed by GMAC. The dealer eventually did time in jail because of unpaid sales tax on this very sale. Karma.

1962 Chevrolet Impala SS Convertible

This Chevy was my first “antique” car. It ran well and had a 327 CID V8 with a Power Glide two-speed transmission—pretty much a bullet proof combination. It had a tendency to overheat at idle for any extended period of time, but that’s typical of small block Chevys of the ’50s—’70s. Too bad it didn’t have a 409, but if it had, then I couldn’t have afforded to buy the car. This vehicle turned a lot of heads and I even drove in a parade or two.

1977 Peugeot 505 Liberte’ Wagon

This car was my first and only fling with French cars. There were good points. For example, it had a solid tank-like build, decent handling (especially when the cargo area was fully loaded), and it was comfortable to ride in. However, quality was a problem. I had to replace the head gasket in the first three months. The engine was so under powered that the car would slip out of cruise control on a slight grade on I-84. Not acceptable. Only kept this vehicle for two years.

1989 Mitsubishi Montero

My second SUV purchase, this one new, and this vehicle lived up to its reputation of being rugged, able to handle off-road conditions, and run reliably. It did all that and more. However, no vehicle is perfect and this one was a bit top heavy. The Montero fell off the wheels going around a corner in Vermont tipping over into a snow bank (well, could be I was driving too fast). But, after being tipped back upright on the wheels we drove off perfectly fine, only needing some minor body work and a new side mirror.

1990 Mazda Miata MX-5

One of the best cars ever. This Miata ran flawlessly for nearly six years until we parted ways in the late 90s. Totally fun to drive, while not a Corvette, could get up and go, especially around corners. Small car, however. The first time I ventured out on I-84 I was a bit nervous when I realized I was eyeball level with the wheel centers of the huge 18-wheel tractor trailers zooming by at 75+ mph.

1994 Chrysler Concorde

I leased this vehicle because I liked the styling and I was honoring a friend and ND classmate. He was a high ranking design chief at Chrysler who had a lot to do with the “Cab Forward concept” embodied in this car. It ran fine for two years then the brakes started to squeak and the A/C stopped working. Both problems were not fixed by the dealer after repeated visits. I had to haggle my way out of the lease three months early. Hey, it was summer and no A/C!

1982 Alfa Romeo Spyder Veloce

The Alfa was a true Italian roadster, designed by Pinninfarina in Cambiano Italy. It was fun and challenging to drive, but had “issues” as all Italian cars seem to have. The top was nearly impossible to latch closed; it needed care and practice to engage first (2,000 RPM minimum); and it had electronic problems—namely the fuel pump kill switch. The car stranded me in remote areas twice. Sayonara.

1985 Corvette (C4)

I finally got to keep and drive a Corvette. This one had the 4+3 manual transmission. Sort of hard to get used to. Of course the car was fast—its a Corvette. Suspension was a bit hard, but overall a very worthy ride. I had to sell it when I got the insurance bill after my daughter turned 16.

1996 Audi A6 Quattro

I drove this car from 1996 to 2003. A fine car in the winter and at any other time of year as well. It even pulled my antique Lyman runabout. Well made, good handling, and adequate power. However, as always, nothing is perfect. The two control modules (computers—engine and transmission) failed all at once on a nice day in 2003. The dealer said water from plugged drainage in the cowl area got into the computers and ruined them. They wanted over $10K to replace. No way. Sold for junk even though the rest of the car was in very good condition. Someone made $$ on parts.

2003 Mercedes Benz C240 Estate

It was after the demise of the Audi that I pursued yet another German car. It was between this and a 3-Series BMW. I thought this was the more prudent choice because it was more “adult.” I also thought I would be tempted to drive more aggressively in the BMW. Anyway, I only had this car for a little under two years when I was broadsided by an F-250 which totaled the Benz. It is a testimony to the structure of the vehicle that while it was caved in on the passenger side, and all the airbags went off, I suffered not a scratch. Safe car.

2005 Mercedes Benz C240 Estate 4Matic

Following the destruction of the first Mercedes, I acquired this one. Nice car, four wheel drive, and a wagon like the first one. However, within a year things started going wrong, mostly electrical. The malfunctioning transfer case which failed after I drove through a puddle was especially galling in that M-B America refused to cover the replacement under warranty. They said it was caused by abuse. Abuse, really? I drove in the rain through a puddle in the road!. Ultimately I sued them, We settled. No more Mercedes or any expensive German car. Never!

2010 Ford F-150 Extended Cab

I always did want a pickup truck. I looked over the range of selection, Chevy, GMC, Ford, and I even test drove a Honda Element, which turned out to be like driving the box a refrigerator came in. Ultimately the criteria for selecting the F-150 over the others was:

1. Ford didn’t take the government bailout money.
2. Great reputation for F-150s
3. Superior interior.

This 5.2 Liter V8 truck turned out to be the most reliable vehicle I’ve ever owned. Not one single thing went wrong in six years. My son actually pulled his 34-foot RV trailer to Maine and back with no problems at all. I kind of miss it.

1962 Austin Healey 3000 BT7

The quintessential British sports car. This one was somewhat rare with tri-carbs. Loved driving this car, when it ran right that is. The SU carbs needed rebuilding, and there were a myriad of other items needing work. So this project turned into a vast “money pit.” I put in a new stainless exhaust, replaced the rear suspension, installed a new gas tank, and added beautiful 72-spoke Dayton wire wheels, and installed correct Vredestein tires—on and on. Still, an awesome vehicle to take to shows and drive around on a nice day. Sold to a guy in California.

2016 Honda Civic Touring

I traded the F-150 in on this Honda Civic Touring. I wanted to downsize and get good fuel economy. I also wanted the nifty electronic options available on new cars. This one has “smart” cruise control with lane change warning and proximity alert. It also has a camera in the right outside mirror to allow viewing of the right side blind spot, very helpful. Gas mileage is exceptional from the rather small 1.5L inline 4 into a CVCC transmission. It’s turbocharged and puts out 174 horsepower, quite adequate. Gas mileage is amazing: 40+ on the highway.

1973 Volvo ES 1800

I went to the first Barrett-Jackson Auction in 2016 in the Northeast at Mohegan Sun Casino, and got caught up in the spirit and actually bought this car. Love the look, and it’s a wagon (or shooting brake if you will). It ran reasonably well after a few “adjustments.” I installed a new interior. Looked great at shows attracting a lot of attention. Kind of hard to drive with no power steering. The windows were beyond difficult to crank up and down. After a year or so I sold the car to a guy in Canada .

2017 Corvette Stingray

I always wanted to buy a Corvette new, not off the lot, but ordered as I wanted it to be. In late 2016 and early 2017 a series of events caused me to become acutely aware of my mortality, which caused me to go ahead and order this car. It’s breathtakingly powerful, having a 6.2 Liter V8 (naturally aspirated) producing 460 HP through a 7-speed manual transmission. Not really the high-end Grand Sport or Z06, but it has a few goodies making it a little fancier than stone basic. I ordered the L2 leather interior, Bose sound, Navigation, and even a carbon fiber trimmed instrument panel to make it nice. It is just the way I like it. Black Rose Metallic color finished the presentation in an understated elegant yet awesomely beautiful package.

17 Comments
  1. Joe gagan

    The most enjoyable article I have read/seen in years. Thank you, sir John. The renderings are fantastic.

  2. Jim Shook

    Amazing drawings!

  3. Lance

    John, thanks for your very fine narrative and superb artwork! You’ve driven a string of generally excellent choices. I enjoyed your brief bio of each car and the adventures that came with it. I’ve been collecting artwork, photos, and ads for the 17 rides I’ve owned during roughly the same timeframe as yours. You’ve inspired me to get on with the project in scrapbook and online format. Thanks again!

  4. Tony Miller

    Wonderful article. I have a similar history of thirty-some fairly interesting cars since 1956, and I wish that I could catalog them similarly, but I wouldn’t live long enough to do the renderings. Thanks for the entertainment!

  5. Ken Bowes

    John: Great description of the vehicles! When I think back to my own vehicles, the first was a 1970 Ford Maverick, purchased when I got my first job as a Package Designer…3 year before arrival at Art Center. Then found out Keith Teter had been involved in its design! Didn’t make me feel any better!

    Ken Bowes

  6. documentation. Malinowski

    Enjoyed the variety of autos and renderings doumentation.

  7. Jerry Malinowski

    Enjoyed the variety of autos and docentatation by renderings.

  8. Hi John,
    ‘Was a real treat to see your fine renderings and read your anecdotal accounts of all your automobiles. Wonderful! Great job, and thanks for sharing for all to see/appreciate!
    From our working days together w/you in Advanced Pontiac Studio, John M. Mellberg

  9. Gary Selke

    Great illustrations! you’re probably still a car designer at heart. It bothers me that there was a time in my life when we should have been closer as you would’ve been a good mentor, instead all I knew of you was that you sacrificed your shirt and tie for your boss. I wish you were closer to the R&D end of things, and not upper management.

  10. Bill Lawrence

    John,
    I lived in Lubbock for a year while working for Texas Instruments ID group. I think you were hired soon after I left.
    I sat in on your interview a was impressed with your presentation. Nice renderings and interesting cars.

  11. Stan Mott

    Ol’ Billy Mitchell apparently didn’t see my 1951 VW Beetle in the Tech Center parking lot in 1956 because all the maintenance engineers, and others, arrived early and got all the best parking spots. We stylists, “The backbone of the American design industry,” so said Mitchell, had to park way out beyond near the horizon and trudge through the mud, slush, sleet and snow to get to the back delivery entrance and go to work. Hope you’re reading this, Bill, wherever you are.

    You would have been freelancing years earlier if you could have gotten a decent parking spot.—Gary

  12. Stan Mott

    And I hope you just read Gary’s comment, Bill.

  13. Norman

    Re: the VW van, that’s “hippie mobile”. “Hippy” is a misuse by the Brits, probably because they yet again didn’t invent it! The Tempest/OHC6 was one of the most advanced sedan packages GM ever sold, but the testosterone sales of V8’s (or even V6’s) killed a fantastic motor. This was GM’s answer to the mighty Chrysler Slant 6, and it was a great one. Car and Driver actually swapped one into an XKE….

  14. David McIntosh

    What a fun read and great illustrations. We have in common the ’62 Chevy (my dad’s work car) and the Miata. I had wanted one from the first time I drove it at GM Design Center, and finally got a ’97, red with tan leather, lightly used, for my 60th birthday. It was really small, like you say, so I drove it on back roads just to feel the great handling and enjoy the 5-speed manual trans. Should never have sold it, but getting in/out could be a challenge now! Thanks for sharing these stories. I guess we car nuts have many different cars over the years.

  15. Norman

    Some VERY interesting choices. I was amused to see the puncturing of Audi/Mercedes invincibility, which was always BS and still is. Seeing someone actually buy a French car that wasn’t a Facel-Vega or Citroen…interesting. An Austin-Healey? I knew where that one was going; great when exactly right – terror all the rest of the time. And to end it with purchasing the hardtop version of my “A” car (a C7), was, well, strange. A very entertaining read, and as was said before, great artwork.

  16. Dennis F. Otto

    Very nice renderings/illustrations of your cars! However, a lil Volvo hard to steer? I guess my ’56 Chev and Novas, all with manual steering spoiled me 🙂

    To Ken: don’t feel bad about Keith and Maverick. One morning break at the “old” ACCD I was in line yakking about how much better my ’69 Nova 6 was than my sister-in-laws Maverick. Guess who was directly behind and below me (I was 6’4″then)? Oh yea, sure won points with him then and in 7th semester, too!

    Back to these fine renderings: still have your ’16 turbo Civic? GR8 cars aren’t they, excellent mileage plus quck and with proper tires…quite good handling. My new ’18 Accord 2.0turbo Touring even more so altho mileage is le$$. Regards….DFO

  17. FANTASTIC! Absolutely love all the drawing—man, so much better than photographs… sure wish I had some talent like that!
    Interesting choices in vehicles sometimes…. also interesting about problems with your Mercedes. Hmmm… But despite it all, great article that I have enjoyed more than once already.

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