Picks and Pans Main: Video

updated 01/16/1989 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/16/1989 01:00AM

Okay, all you old sports-car buffs, rev up your VCRs and put your finger to the zinger; there's some armchair cruisin' to be done:

GREAT AMERICAN SPORTS CARS: CORVETTE, T-BIRD AND MUSTANG

In the lead as they pop into video view is the nation's first sports car, the Chevy Corvette, known to its fans as the American Ferrari. Like the car itself, the tape is loaded with details. Named after a World War II escort ship, the Corvette was designed to compete with fast, sleek European sports cars like the Jaguar. Because of an aluminum shortage in 1953, the year that the car was built, designers Harley Earl and Ed Cole tried out a new material: glass reinforced plastic, which became a permanent feature of the Vette. In addition to all the motoring minutiae, the writer-producer of these three 30-minute tapes, Sarah Legon, reels off significant production and sales figures as she reviews the history of each classic sports car. The year the original $3,000 Corvette was unveiled at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel, 180 models were sold. Legon also surveys all the major design changes. The trademark side indentation was not added until 1956, a flourish that boosted sales to 9,000 cars a year by 1958. Five years later the reshaped Vette appeared as the Sting Ray—the spelling changed from two words to one in 1969—with pop-up headlamps and recessed tail-lights. The car was an instant hit.

The T-Bird tape is also well-produced and crammed with desirable extras, including a short feature on Ford's 1903 Model A, which dropped in price from $850 to $300 following Henry Ford's invention of the assembly line. This tape is worth its purchase price for another segment—featuring the old, classically corny TV commercials, including a 1958 spot that has Dick Powell introducing a new T-Bird as the guest of honor at a formal party. Produced in 1954, the T-Bird, unlike the Corvette, was an "all-weather automobile" with a steel body and a hard top that popped off. In 1958 "purists were horrified" when Ford added a back seat. To this day, the 1962 sports roadster two-seater, designed for the driver who was willing to pay $5,500 for a "little bird," is one of the rarest and most valuable models. This video comes to a screeching halt with the 1966 model. (The producers say that after that year the T-Bird expanded to midsize and was no longer considered a sports car.)

Last and least is the Mustang tape, which is something of a lemon. Poorly written, it seems like not much more than a procession of current TV commercials. We are told, for instance, that the "1966 GT coupe comes with a high performance Special K engine," but we're not told what's so special. Designed with the Baby Boomer in mind, the car carried a $2,368 sticker when first displayed at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Two non-boomers, Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds, were among the first to place orders, and 100,000 cars were sold in the first four months. Details like these may hold the viewer's attention momentarily, but this tape seems to be running on empty. And one problem common to all three videos is the sound of the Beach Boys imitators, with their versions of I Get Around and Fun, Fun, Fun, which call to mind a high-school dance band more than the real thing. (Best, $19.99 each; 800-527-2189)

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