Baddest of Them All
If you had to pick the ultimate collector car from Ford or Chevy, what would it be?
Ford vs Chevy
It’s the oldest and most heated rivalry in America. The battle for sales supremacy. The battle for bragging rights. The war has been raging on every product front for almost 100 years now, with Chevrolet about to celebrate its 100th anniversary this November, some eight years after Ford.
These two companies have produced the bread and butter of the collector car market for decades. But if you had to choose just one car from the countless Model T’s, Model A’s, Bel Airs, Impalas, Thunderbirds, Corvettes, Mustangs, Cobras and Camaros, what would it be? Not just on merit, but pure desire.
There is only one way to decide this: a modified NCAA bracket style contest with similar models going up against each other. So we nominated 32 cars and seeded them in four divisions of eight cars each, with similar cars paired together. To advance, a car must beat its cross town rival. It will come down to a Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4 and overall champion — the baddest of them all.
To decide something as important as this, we needed the opinions of experts. So we created a panel that includes Automobile’s Jean Jennings, Car and Driver’s Eddie Alterman, Road & Track’s Matt DeLorenzo, AutoWeek’s Wes Raynal, Car and Driver’s Don Sherman, automotive historian Ken Gross, Hagerty Price Guide’s Dave Kinney, and Hagerty CEO McKeel Hagerty. In the first round, each judge is given a random two pairings. In the second round, each judge receives one pairing, and the third and final rounds are decided by a group vote.
Because similar cars are seeded together, we know some important cars are going to go down in a hurry. And sure enough, after the dust clears, cars like the ’57 Thunderbird, ’65 Impala SS, ’06 Ford GT, ’67 Camaro Z28, ’71 Ford Torino GT, ’69 Mustang Boss 302, ’71 Camaro SS 396, even a pair of mighty mid-year Corvettes — the ’63 Corvette Z06 and the ’67 L88 roadster — are sitting on the side of the road. Here are some of the voting highlights.
In choosing the Cobra 289 over the Z06, Don Sherman opines: “What’s to choose? Aluminum versus plastic body? Open roadster versus a coupe with next to no rear view? A 4:1 rarity ratio in favor of the Cobra? Even though I own a mid-year Corvette, simple logic forces me to pick the Cobra.”
In a tough draw, Eddie Alterman gives the nod to the ’69 Camaro Z28 over the ’69 Mustang Boss 302. “True, the Boss 302 took some of the wind out of the Z28’s sails in the ’69 Trans-Am season,” Alterman says. “But the Z28 was the T.A. icon, courtesy of Roger Penske, Mark Donohue and the trick of dropping the 283 crank into the 327 block to meet the series’ cubic-inch limit.”
McKeel Hagerty picks the Galaxie 500 Coupe over the Impala. “To me the roof lines and road stance scream muscle with style,” Hagerty says.
Jean Jennings chooses the 427 Cobra roadster over the L88 Corvette convertible, saying: “That Cobra speaks to me right in the ol’ rib cage. Makes me feel insane when I drive it.”
Dave Kinney’s pairing is between the ’59 Ford Galaxie Sunliner convertible and the bat-winged ’59 Impala. “For 59, I’d give it to the Chevy, but not by much as I like them both.”
Ken Gross gives the nod to the ’67 Mustang Fastback over the original 1967 Camaro Z28, explaining: “I like the restyled, meaner-looking Mustang GT here. The ’67 is better-looking than the original Mustang, and with the 390 option, and the Competition Handling Package, it had beaucoup punch plus some road agility.”
The Sweet 16
Sixteen cars are left. The vagaries of bracket competition mean that each new pairing won’t necessarily be Ford versus Chevy. That is the case as the 1915 Model T goes up against the hottest new Shelby Mustang, the GT500 KR, and beats it. Says Eddie Alterman: “While the Shelby might represent the terminus of usable Ford performance, the Model T saved us from looking at the back end of a horse, so there’s that.”
Don Sherman does equal damage to Chevy’s newest supercar, the 2009 Corvette ZR1, which does battle against the Chevelle LS6. “In the auto-biblical context, the Corvette is a Second Coming while the Chevelle is Exodus,” Sherman says. “The big-block, mid-size Chevy wins.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the second round is the unenviable decision made by Ken Gross in picking the ’59 Impala convertible over the ’55 Chevy. Says Gross: “The ’55 had the egg-crate grille, V-8, etc., but park a ’59 next to a ’55 today, and for me it’s no contest.”
Another tough pairing is drawn by Matt DeLorenzo, who is faced with the ’57 Chevy Bel Air versus the ’32 Ford V-8 Roadster. “I’d have to go with the ’32 Ford, a classic that has spawned many great hot rods.” Wes Raynal has the audacity to kick out the ’63 289 Cobra in favor of a ’69 Camaro Z28. “I’ve always wanted one,” Raynal says.
The Elite Eight
With some absolutely great cars out of the action, the drama continues in the Elite Eight, where survival depends on the support of a majority of judges, not just individual whims. The eight survivors include four Chevys — the ’59 Impala Convertible, ’57 Corvette Fuelie, ’69 Camaro Z28 and ’71 Chevelle LS6 — and four Fords — the ’32 Ford V-8 Roadster, ’66 427 Cobra, 1915 Model T and ’71 Mach 1 Mustang 429.
Going down hard are the Model T, Mustang, Z28 and LS6.
In choosing the Ford flathead V-8 over the Z28, Ken Gross remarks: “I’ve never met a real hot rodder who didn’t want a deuce roadster. The hoarse cough of that flathead starter, the rumble of the steel packs and the whine from the blower are a few of my favorite sounds. I like the ’69 Z28, but versus a deuce, for me it’s no contest.”
In defending his choice of the ’57 Corvette Fuelie over the LS6, Sherman says, “There were no LS6 Chevelles sold to the public, though 14 were allegedly built for some unspecified special purposes. No matter. The first Fuelie Corvette wins.”
The Final Four and Champion
And now there are four: the ’59 Impala convertible, the ’57 Corvette Fuelie, the ’32 Ford V-8 roadster and the ’66 427 Cobra. It’s Ford on Ford: Cobra vs ’32 roadster; and Chevy on Chevy: ’57 Fuelie vs. ’59 Impala.
While the Vette trounces the Impala by a vote of eight-zip, the Cobra ties the ’32 Roadster with four votes each. The honorable William Jeanes, former editor-in-chief of Car and Driver, is called in to tip the scales. “Imagine a hedgehog and a leopard sitting side by side,” says Jeanes. “That’s why the 427 Cobra whips the opposition.” We also compare cumulative votes for the Cobra vs. the ’32 and find that the Cobra wins on that basis as well.
So now it’s Cobra vs. Corvette for the baddest of them all. “The Cobra takes it all,” Hagerty says. “The 427 makes it the bad boy, badass, take-all-comers winner.”
Meanwhile, Eddie Alterman and Matt DeLorenzo opt for the Corvette.
“Cobra, Cobra, COBRA,” Kinney testifies. “The heavyweight champ.”
“The Corvette wins by default,” Sherman notes. “Sure the Cobra is quicker, rarer (if the real deal) and worth more to collectors. But the Corvette’s purity is intact. This is the car that kicked off Corvette’s road racing success. It proved that Corvette could sustain an enthusiastic clientele. There are no clones.”
So here we are: the baddest of them all goes to the badass 427 Cobra. Earning the last word here is Automobile’s Jennings: “The Cobra reminds me of myself — a real Rubens nude with a big motor.”
To see this article in its original format, view the pdf version of the Fall 2011 issue of Hagerty magazine