By on February 4, 2012


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Since this was published, I’ve had the chance to meet Alex Roy, read his book, and watch as he has made the move into traditional motorsports, including a grueling stint in the Baja 1000. I rather like the fellow now, but I’m leaving the original text of the article since I’m not a huge fan of revising the past — JB

Shall… we… play… a… game? How ’bout that old Sesame Street standard, “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other – One Of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong.” I’ll name four people, and you tell me which one “doesn’t belong”. Ready? Setta? GO!

  • Brock Yates
  • Alex Roy
  • Felipe Massa
  • Lawrence Pargo

Okay, time’s up. Which one doesn’t belong? That’s right – Felipe Massa, who is an actual race car driver. The other three are non-racers who have become semi-famous for jerking around on the freeway and endangering other drivers at triple-digit speeds.

Wait – you didn’t say Lawrence Pargo, did you? I mean, come on! Pargo’s right there with Yates and Roy, having recently been caught on a speed camera running a rented Hyundai Sonata down the road at a staggering one hundred and forty-seven miles per hour. In Pargo’s defense, it must be noted that his attorney told the court that he couldn’t possibly be guilty of the crime. It turns out that the lowly previous-generation Sonata, commonly considered to be a crapwagon suited only to “credit criminals”, elderly people, and minimum-wage healthcare workers such as Mr. Pargo himself… well, it can only do 137.

Consider if you will, dear reader, that when Sir William Lyons released his all-new sports car in 1948, he was so proud of its top speed – a speed that made it possibly the fastest standard production car in history to that point – that he simply named the car after that top speed! The XK-120! One hundred and twenty miles per hour! It was the stuff of legends. Fast-forward to the modern day, and Hyundai doesn’t even bother to name a 137-mph car something appropriately cool like “G6DB-137″. Instead, it’s simply the “Sonata”, staple of rental fleets everywhere, capable of blowing by top-end postwar sports cars as if they were bolted to the ground. This Pargo fellow was no race car driver; he isn’t even a wannabe racer like, ahem, certain other people named in the list above. He was just a young fellow who was late for work. It didn’t take him an ounce of skill to reach triple digits, didn’t cause him a moment’s worth of concern, didn’t require a Nomex suit or a competition license. With a simple shove of the drive-by-wire, traction-controlled accelerator pedal, he was running a rental car at the same speeds Stirling Moss reached in the Mercedes 300SLR.

How did this happen?

 

In our last episode, we discussed how the concept of “luxury” became utterly debased during the nineteen-seventies, eventually resulting in such oddities as the Buick Skylark Limited. The democratization of luxury features, trim, and nameplates had a number of far-reaching consequences for the industry, but perhaps the most significant of those consequences was the American public’s realization that “luxury” simply didn’t mean much anymore. No longer would it be possible to shock and depress one’s snooty neighbor by pulling a new Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight into the driveway; that bastard knew full well that his Caprice Classic matched or beat it, feature for feature. No longer did the gas-station attendant whistle with respect at the arrival of a Lincoln Continental; his Fairmont packed an equal velour punch and didn’t look that much different at a distance. Luxury as everyone had known it was all but dead.

And yet human nature will prevail. No drug, extreme sport, or disturbingly acrobatic sexual position has yet been invented that can compare with the raw thrill of putting one’s foot directly on the neck of one’s peers, so it stood to reason that people would figure out a way to indicate their economic status regardless of the domestic manufacturers’ puffy-seat promiscuity. There had to be a way to obviously spend more money, right? If a Cadillac wouldn’t show the Joneses who was running ahead in the rat race, perhaps something else would.

The answer wasn’t long in coming. By 1980, the efforts of import pioneer Max Hoffmann and his imitators had ensured that there were a few German-car dealerships in every major American city. The cars they sold were ruinously expensive, thanks to currency fluctuation, a variety of tariffs, and the obscene dealer markup required to make their sale profitable at relatively low volumes. They were also rather Spartan.

Spartan! That was a code word for “Although this Mercedes-Benz 200D costs more than a Skylark Limited perched on top of a Cadillac Fleetwood, you’re still gonna roll the windows up by hand.” The Europeans had different ideas of luxury, you see. Their idea of luxury could best be characterized as “owning a car”. Then as now, the standard of living for the average person in Europeland was quite a bit lower than for his American counterpart. It cost a German driver far more to own a four-cylinder diesel Mercedes than it cost Joe Sixpack to drive a Fleetwood d’Elegance – and thanks to all of the aforementioned economic factors, the same was true on this side of the pond.

The initial virtue of the Mercedes-Benz was simply that it cost more and everybody knew it. By putting a Benzo in one’s driveway, one was declaring that one had not only forgotten the vagaries of the now-discredited American luxury ladder, one had soared well above it on a refreshing wave of cold cash. The 220D, 300SE, or 450SL might be outstanding cars, but that was beside the point. The point was that they cost more. I cannot stress this enough. They were not necessarily “better”. The Cadillac deVille of 1975 was larger, roomier, faster, quieter, more comfortable, and probably more reliable than nearly any Mercedes-Benz available on these shores, but it mattered not, because the Benz was more prestigious due to its cost. By 1984 or thereabouts, there was only one genuine way to climb to the top of your neighborhood heap, and that was to drive a Benz. Period. For those unlucky shlubs who couldn’t afford the double-deVille price necessary to put a sixty-three horsepower, vinyl-interior, stick-shift 240D in their driveways, it was possible to still proclaim disdain for the American “tanks” by driving a Saab, a Volvo, or perhaps even an Audi – but Mercedes-Benz stood alone at the prestige pinnacle, and nobody doubted it.

Make that almost nobody. There was a small group of drivers, most of them devotees of David E. Davis, who believed that BMW made the best sedan in the world. They were generally Autobahn-obsessed wearers of string-back gloves, the sort of fellows who purchased vinyl bras for their cars and attended SCCA races as spectators. They were evangelists for the BMW brand, and they tended to be wealthy, influential people, so as the Seventies wore on, Bimmers became the car to have for successful young people who considered a Mercedes to be far too staid for their active lifestyles. And, of course, those proto-yuppies liked the idea of owning the Ultimate Driving Machine.

Let’s get something straight. No BMW was ever the “ultimate driving machine”, period. The famous four-cylinder 2002 was a great car, but it wouldn’t have stood a chance against a Porsche 911 or – whisper it – a Corvette Stingray. And yet driving a Bimmer was still a very different experience from the Mercury Monarchs and Buick Regals which had traditionally been the province of America’s middle class. They were frisky, nimble, different-looking, and, don’t forget, they were just as drab as Mercedes-Benzes on the inside. This drabness led to endless self-righteous drivel from American auto-rag writers regarding the unbelievable superiority of having a cheap, dark interior, because that’s what the Germans preferred, dontcha know. With benefit of hindsight, we now know that what the Germans really preferred was the blonde-wood bordello known as the 2001 BMW 745iL, but the fine people at Car and Driver didn’t have a functioning crystal ball and therefore didn’t know that the black-vinyl-and-silver-paint cockpits of their contemporary Bimmers just meant that the Krauts were marking time until the buttock-massaging twenty-one-way contrast-piping seat could be fully perfected.

As the famous “morning in America” took place in the early Eighties and our country emerged blinking into the sunlight of the post-Carter era, there appeared to be no limit to what Mercedes-Benz and BMW could accomplish in the United States. Eighty-horsepower two-door sedans containing less metal than a Chevy Citation but selling for more than a Cadillac deVille? Check! Thirteen-year-old two-seater convertibles with smog-strangled 3.8-liter V8s priced to compete with four-bedroom homes in the Chicago suburbs? Check! Bullying the wealthiest people in the United States into placing their privileged rumps on perforated vinyl seats, simply by calling it “MB-Tex” instead of “perforated vinyl”? Check! As a nation, we’d gone cuckoo for German Puffs. It seems difficult to believe today, but people actually paid good money for satin jackets which said “PORSCHE 924″ on the sleeves. Remember the Porsche 924? It was a twenty-four-hundred-pound vinyl-seat penalty box powered by, and I use that term loosely, the limp-wristed engine from a Euro-market VW commercial van! It was very possibly the most disappointing Porsche in history, and it still rated its own satin jacket!

From their palatial offices in downtown Detroit and elsewhere, the executives of the American automakers looked upon the complete crumbling of their velour-lined Fake Luxury empire with stunned disbelief. They’d spent decades convincing Americans that personal achievement was inextricably linked with chrome-plated plastic, pillowy seats, and singularly unconvincing wood trim, only to find that, while they were busy waging their own little inter-divisional wars, the public had gone crazy for cars with none of that stuff! The most miserable Buick Century “Custom” Aeroback sedan made the Mercedes-Benz 300D look like a taxicab, in part because the Mercedes-Benz 300D was a taxicab everywhere else in the world, and the customer didn’t care! He wanted black plastic! He wanted perforated vinyl! He wanted a weeble-wobble four-or-five-cylinder engine! A more enlightened generation of men would have inquired as to whether or not these preferences were a byproduct of something more significant, such as appreciation for German build quality or enthusiasm for the relatively taut way in which the European sedans went down the road, but these were not enlightened men. If Americans wanted black plastic instead of chrome, GM, Ford, and Chrysler would provide it to them. If the man in the street wanted a four-cylinder car that combined an excitingly aggressive airdam with a depressing inability to drive up a five-percent grade in any gear above second, they would receive that as well. Also, since the magazines kept bleating about “handling”, they would make the cars “handle”.

This last point was how the era of Rich Corinthian Swaybars began. Detroit had always been full of weekend racers who designed Landau tops during the week, but in the new era of Euro emulation these fellows were given carte blanche to cover their cars in black plastic and make ‘em “handle” around their test tracks. Lateral “G” figures began to displace mileage in the two-page Motor Trend ads. The Chevrolet Celebrity “Eurosport” – a car that bore, incidentally, perhaps the most humiliating nameplate in automotive history, being named after the general concept that another continent was better than this one – could generate .80G! The Pontiac 6000STE retaliated with .84G! The Dodge Shelby Lancer beats ‘em all with .88G! An entire generation of sad, square FWD econoboxes such as the GM A-bodies and Ford “Erica” cars, conceived to compete with the Japanese on the battlefields of cost, economy, and rear-passenger hiproom, now found itself dressed in blackout plastic, saddled with overstyled alloy wheels, and sent out to do battle on an imaginary American Autobahn. Each new car was given more aggressive suspension tuning. Oldsmobile introduced three levels of “FE” suspension, with the top “FE3″ level having spring and shock rates roughly equivalent to what you’d find on a Street Prepared-class SCCA racer nowadays. These cars hopped and skipped over bumps, transmitted every possible road imperfection directly to their owner’s fingers via their always-buzzing steering wheels, and rhythmically kidney-punched helpless children over freeway expansion joints. Even Cadillac got into the act, creating an Eldorado Touring Coupe which looked about as Euro as Euro Disneyland but which had the spring rate to cheerfully shake the dentures right out of its elderly owners’ mouths.


Turning heads, corners, and the occasional stomach — the ’84 Eurosport! Named after Europe! And, er, sport!

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Make no mistake, these black-plastic Euro-wannabes didn’t measure up to the real thing. A set of springs and shocks can’t make a FWD car engineered down to the lowest possible price handle like a 5-Series BMW, and painting chrome trim black doesn’t give a Ford Tempo the interior solidity of a W123 Mercedes-Benz. But to auto executives who had recently turned the Ford Granada into the Lincoln Versailles and the Chevy Impala into a Cadillac-alike, there seemed to be no reason to doubt that “Eurosport”, like luxury, was just skin deep.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, the European economy was finally recovering to the point where people could buy gasoline on a regular basis again, leading the almighty Germans to open up the taps on their powerplants. The 380SEL became the 500SEL and then the 560SEL. BMW introduced a three-hundred-horsepower twelve-cylinder engine in the 750iL and Mercedes-Benz retaliated with a four-hundred-horsepower twelve in the 600SEL. The 318i became the 325e, then the 325i, then the 328i. Power and speed was the order of the day, and woe betide the company whose entry-level sedan couldn’t outperform a 1984 Ferrari 308. It was no longer enough for a car to annihilate a laser-leveled skidpad somewhere on the GM proving grounds; it was now necessary that family sedans haul ass.

Our Japanese friends had been slow to pick up on the whole “handling” thing, their home-market being a place where cars crawled through day-long traffic jams and rarely reached triple digits on a kilometer-per-hour speedo, but as a nation of splendid engine builders they immediately saw that they could meet the Germans on level ground in the power wars. Camrys and Accords sprouted V6 engines from beneath newly bulging bonnets. Turbochargers appeared on the exhaust manifolds of everything from the mighty 300ZX to the three-cylinder Chevrolet (by Suzuki) Sprint. Nissan revealed the astounding Infiniti Q45, a 276-horse sedan capable of walking a 500SEL down any stretch of highway with power to spare.

The battle for ridiculous family-car power reached its climax in the killing fields of the mid-sized sedan market, where the Americans were weak and the Germans were disinterested at best. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Subaru and Mitsubishi engaged in an arms race to capture the loyalty of a very particular customer: the angry middle-aged man who was forced to drive a CamCord by his nagging wife but who insisted that it be a sporty CamCord. The glory from victory in this battle would shine its light over an entire sedan range, so the Japanese fought for each milestone like Marines coming up the beach at Iwo Jima. Who could be the first to provide two hundred horsepower in a mid-sized FWD-based sedan? It was Toyota, with the 1999 Camry. Who would reach 250 first? Subaru, with the 2005 Legacy GT. Who would provide a three-liter V6 before the others? Toyota, in the Camry V6. What about a 3.5 V6? Nissan, in their Altima 3.5SE.

What the Japanese could do, the Koreans could copy, so it didn’t take long for Hyundai to make sure their Sonata and Azera had more power than a top-of-the-line 7-Series BMW from the mid-Eighties, complete with “Sport Package” monster alloy wheels and oversized swaybars… which brings us back to Lawrence Pargo and his triple-digit freeway exploits. The world didn’t need a Chevrolet Caprice with dual power velour seats and fake wire wheels, and it certainly doesn’t need a Hyundai Sonata capable of blowing past a Jag XK120 in a straight line, but as we have seen, the American auto market has never concerned itself with what people really needed. Marketing and trend-awareness drive vehicle availability with all the relentless of young Mr. Parago’s late-night Sonata blast. What’s next? Just look for price premiums. An entry-level BMW sedan used to cost twice what a top-of-the-line Accord sold for; today, they’re priced about the same. The price premium nowadays is on a little hatchback which has about as much room as an old Chevy Citation but sells for Chrysler 300 money. That’s right – the next trend might just be called Pious Prius Pods.

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74 Comments on “Avoidable Contact: Rich Corinthian Swaybars...”


  • avatar
    mzr

    MB-Tex is vinyl, but it is a mutated super vinyl. I’ve never seen vinyl last as long as MB-Tex in Texas summers without window tint. I didn’t do anything to take care of it, either.

    • 0 avatar
      benzaholic

      Absofrikkinlutely. That stuff may just be vinyl, but it’s the crazy German engineering of selecting the best vinyl for car interiors.

    • 0 avatar
      photog02

      The sad part is that the Germanic vinyls are preferable (at least to the long term owner, which doesn’t exist in force any more for the prestige brands) to real leather. The Germans seem to have invested untold resources in perfecting vinyl, only to buy leather from the cheapest street corner they could find. The leather cracks before the warranty is up, no matter what treatments are applied.

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      Vinyl is Vinyl. Especially when it is 12 inches in diameter with a label in the middle.

  • avatar
    Alexdi

    > but as we have seen, the American auto market has never concerned itself with what people really needed.

    So much the better. The only thing my 300HP daily-driver needs is more power. And maybe another cupholder.

  • avatar
    msquare

    Just like the previous entry, full of valid points while missing on some.

    The “swaybar” wars are no different from the horsepower wars of the 1950′s and 1960′s. And the real origin of those was the 1932 Ford flathead V8, which made speed available to the common man. The 1949 Olds 88 took it to another level and the 1955 Chevy small-block completed the circle. It didn’t take much to make a Chevy smoke a Cadillac, even though Caddy had the more powerful engine in stock form. Something to do with weight.

    The rise of Mercedes and BMW, though, is right on the money. They achieved prestige on price alone, though ingenious marketing campaigns helped. Their staying power, though, hinged on their preservation of real luxury versus the fake kind Detroit was hawking. They were solidly built, meticulously finished and drove in a composed manner unknown to most Detroit iron in the 1970′s at least. Caddys were plusher, but the doors on a Benz thunked with solid authority. Caddys rattled like Chevy Biscaynes. And people found the stiff seats on a Benz to be more comfortable on long trips. Don’t forget the subtle countercultural influences spearheaded by Volkswagen’s ad campaign. Call it the establishment’s way of being hip.

    And for all the small buzzy engines they had, their real performance numbers were equal to or better than the V8-powered domestics, thanks in part to lighter weight and smaller size, thanks even more to the fuel injection systems they used to get past federal emissions standards that in many cases you couldn’t even get in Europe.

    When you think about it, it’s just another chapter in how the fake luxury trend let Detroit down.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    A great read, as usual. And just when Jack predicts the Pious Prius pods trend, Honda decides to bring out a hybrid superpod NSX.

    At least the Prius actually delivers fuel savings even if it doesn’t justify the cost. If past trends are any guide I guess actually delivering fuel savings with all that hybrid technology isn’t thought to be required. Just slap the badge on it, pay the premium, and take up your spot in the HOV lane and specially designated parking spaces. That would explain the Honda Civic hybrid, I guess.

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      Best way to save money with a Prius is to buy one used. At a slightly depreciated price point ( and with enough traffic jams ) the Prius actually delivers on fuel savings.
      The last reason left to buy a hybrid or electic car is the belief you are saving the planet, even if others will gladly use the fuel you spare.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Eh, 120mph makes the XK-120 the fastest production car in history? I don’t think so bub. The Duesenberg J of the late ’20s could touch 120mph. The supercharged SJ had 320hp. This was in the mid 1930s – three hundred twenty horsepower. They could run 0-60 in a little over 8 seconds, and they would blow right past an XK-120 (and that old Sonata) on the way to a top speed of 140mph.

    I don’t know if a top speed run of the ultra rare SSJ speedster was ever done, but they were pushing close to 400 horsepower. It would take the E39 M5 to catch that with a V8.

    Speed and power is not new. Everybody just forgot how to do it after the depression and WWII, and then in the ’70s and ’80s everybody forgot again. If Duesenberg were still around today, their cars would be even bigger and more expensive than the Mulsanne and the Brooklands, and they’d have Veyron engines in them.

    • 0 avatar
      OurChineseOverlords

      While you are absolutely correct that there were pre-war Duesenbergs that were faster (arguably along with a number of Alfa Romeos and Bugattis), but they were not as you contend, production cars. Duesenberg et al. build chassis and drivetrains, which then required a coachwork body (and yes by the end Duesenberg did build some bodies themselves), but they were always completely custom.

      Production cars were designed, built, and sold as a complete car; you could say “I want one of those” and get it complete from the dealer…essentially what we consider the car buying process of today.

      • 0 avatar
        Bryce

        Yes its not like you could buy a Duesenberg where you could get the Jag off the showroom floor and drive it to 120mph and it was a PRODUCTION car not a custom built one off

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I like both this and the previous article a lot Jack, don’t care about the haters. Ok, some of the actual facts may be wrong, but the actual point of the story is quite true. I have never seen Merc’s as anything but diesel Taxi’s myself, and although I’m a European I would much rather have a sparcely equipped big car than a over-engineered small car. (Ford, Opel and VW did offer some of these way up into the 90′s) and I can’t understand why Leather is more luxurious than cloth seats, (I grew up in cheap Fords from the 60′s with cold(in the winter) hard, sticky(in the summer) vinyl seats, only the more expensive models had cloth). And I don’t understand why a family sedan needs 300 horses, especially not a fwd sedan. The performance expected from a normal family car in the US today is bordering on ridiculous, and can’t be compared to the horsepower race of the 50′s and 60′s because of the sheer number of what would be considered insanely fast cars back then. Even my 02 Cr-V could easily outrun an average smallblock powered 60′s sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      A family sedan certainly doesn’t have any use for 300 horses. Or even 200.

      But having 200, better yet 250 lb-ft down low is nice. Which, thanks to the marvels of computer engineered heads and continuously variable valve timing, means a spectacular torque steering overkill top end whether you wanted it or not.

      Thanks to those same engineering marvels, an engine with an eminently reasonable paper horsepower figure actually consists of a buzzy miniature four with a hyperactive transmission.

      • 0 avatar
        Brian P

        Or a modern turbodiesel engine without the buzziness and hyperactiveness … another area in which the Germans have excelled.

      • 0 avatar
        GS650G

        I think 200 hp is just about right for a car with 4 people and their luggage. On a flat road at speeds of 65 all cars use a small fraction of total power but merging into traffic, climbing a big hill, or passing required certain amounts of torque and HP, and torque is more important in this regard.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @GS650G

        But how often do you travel 4up with luggage piled to the roof? Thus significantly less hp and torque is perfectly adequate the overwhelming majority of the time. Even 4up, a Volvo 945 is entirely adequate with 115hp. You won’t win any races, and a very relaxed driving style is called for, but it is adequate. It’s not like we drive at high speeds in this country.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    Ugh, you’ve forced me to start shopping for 560SEC again.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    >>The most miserable Buick Century “Custom” Aeroback sedan made the Mercedes-Benz 300D look like a taxicab, in part because the Mercedes-Benz 300D was a taxicab everywhere else in the world, and the customer didn’t care!

    Excellent point. My first experience inside a Benz was in a late 80′s Germany diesel taxi after a night of drinking with new platoon mates. I remember thinking, “THIS is a Mercedes? Meh.”

    More thrilling was driver’s style going down narrow town streets, accelerating through curves, shifting neatly. Definitely NOT a NY cab ride…

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I owned a 1986 Eurosport celebrity for 9 lovely years. It was not a Bemmer, but it took regular, was fun for me to drive, and it was attractive (a good Audi 5000 clone) plus the best wheels ever.

    The minus was that it started to rust within weeks after I bought it, it was not overly reliable, and it had no safety equipment such as ABS or airbags, although those were only available on high end vehicles at that time. The rust so pissed me off that I have not purchased another GM vehicle during the intervening 25 years.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      I had a Eurosport wagon done up like a preppy – navy blue with red pinstriping. I MISS wagons. Easy to put a lot of junk in the back – low liftover. Put racks up top and you don’t bust a gut getting long 2×4/6/8/10/12s and/or a 32′ extension ladder up there, unlike the full clean and jerk required on a conestoga height SUV/CUV. And you could space the racks further apart (excepting the Yukoburban-class) and not worry about exciting a harmonic response in the 2xs due to their overhang. The Eurosport went away after being smashed into twice and indifferently repaired. At least I didn’t need any personal repairs. It was a useful beast.

  • avatar
    rentonben

    And here I thought I was extra clever with my Oldsmobile Achieva* SCX. I was duped and didn’t even know it. My next car will of course have to be a Bristol if I want authenticity*.

    * Indicates a word to said with that weird NPR dialect that omits the ‘h’ sound.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    Regarding Pargo and the Hyundai, Car and Driver got one up to 144 mph on flat roads, so it was even faster than the quoted maximum above. No big deal in a modern sedan with 230-ish horsepower.

    http://www.caranddriver.com/news/the-147-mph-hyundai-sonata-car-news

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    MB/Bimmer weren’t the first to sell prestige on price alone – that would be Lexus.

    The Germans had to get the buyers to pretend to care about handling. The Coup de Ville and Park Ave. owners who moved “up” to a German luxury car had never pushed their Buicks and Caddys to the limits, and wouldn’t know how to do so if the thought ever occurred. But they had to pretend that they had paid a premium for these sporty characteristics.

    The build quality really was better, but it’s hard to believe guys who’s prior whips were Roadmasters and Sixty Specials were actually foregoing creature comfort for smaller panel gaps. They needed to display their wealth, and Caddys/Buicks just weren’t doing that anymore. Buyers had to pretend to care that each car was hand-crafted by Hans the car maker in his Bavarian workshop.

    It would be Lexus that really sold luxury on the basis of price. Hey, all the underpinnings are Toyota, so you have nothing to worry about. Just pay more to show the world you can pay more.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      Actually, Cadillac, Rolls Royce and now Audi, all started out with getting a reputation for quality, Lexus just copied stuff that was done in the past, mixing what American buyers got from their Buicks and Caddys at the time(small,boting fwd fourbangers) with European perceived quality (panels lines, silence) and Japanese actual quality. As much as I hate them and think they have never built anything close to a good looking car, they are maybe one of the brands most deserving of their price.
      As for the ‘I can pay more’ stuff, that could be the sole reason why no really weatly people buys an American luxury car, they have been ‘bargains’ since 1965….

      • 0 avatar
        Dynamic88

        I’m not saying Lexus isn’t a good car, it’s just as good as a Toyota – and that’s the point.

        I agree with you about American luxury cars – they had come down so much that they no longer had any cache.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Cadillac Seville.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Having driven a few 60′s and 70′s American luxobarges, the limits were so ridiculously low that I think I could have reached them in a parking lot at walking pace. Handling? None. Steering feel? None. Brakes? Less than NONE. Build quality? None at all. I never even thought they rode particularly well, unless your idea of a good ride is a boat in swells. Who cares if that ’72 Caddy could top 120mph? It had niether the suspension nor the brakes to do it anywhere other than the American Midwest, where the roads go in a straight line for 20 miles at a stretch. Less than useful here in the Northeast. I finally ‘got’ American cars when I first traveled to the Midwest for work.

      My Grandfather, who has owned mainly barges and a couple early Subarus, was astounded 15 years ago or so when he realized we were trundling down the New Jersey Turnpike in my ’91 Volvo 245 at 90mph. He could not believe that the car was just running along quietly, not shaking, not weaving and bobbing around, just quietly thrumming along at 90. So I sped up to 100 or so for a while. :-) And this in a lowly Volvo 245, a car with no performance or sporting pretensions at all. A mighty 115hp. Just a properly built and engineered car. No faux luxury there, just substance.

      The lack of substance at any price is what doomed Detroit. Luckily, they seem to have discovered the concept, but now everyone seems to be whining that the cars cost more. You get what you pay for.

      • 0 avatar
        Bryce

        Yep thats the difference My Peugeot 406 at 100mph handled perfectly smooth quiet comfortable passengers didnt used to believe a diesel could purr along effortlessly at 100 plus no fuss at all and it could accelerate from that speed fairly well too flat out at 130 mph from a 2.1 litre turbo diesel

      • 0 avatar
        Patrickj

        I believe it was the winding parkways with 9 foot wide lanes out of New York City that gave the Europeans their entry into the U.S. car market.

        Once these roads had enough traffic to require the driver of a 72 Caddy to stay in a single lane, it was all over for big American cars in this wealthy market.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      “smaller panel gaps”

      Sorry guys, but 80′s European iron didn’t exactly have “small” panel gaps. Nowadays they’re still behind many mainstream brands. So if you really believe panel gaps=build quality, I think you need to reeducate yourselves.

      Even the Japanese… I saw last Friday a Murano with consistent 5mm gaps.

  • avatar
    JerseyDan

    BOOOOOOOOOO! How dare you! SHAME!!! You Sir are guilty of NOT mentioning the venerable Ford Taurus SHO with the might of TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY horsepower, From it’s V6 Screaming to high heavens.

    mentioning the Eurosport, and not mentioning the 1989 Taurus….Tsk…tsk.

  • avatar
    arbnpx

    The “power wars” and “interior styling luxury wars” among the German manufacturers opens up an interesting parallel to something I was looking at: how BMW’s focus change from the early 80′s to today has resulted in the power- and weight-increase in one specific car: the M3. Back in the E30 generation, the M3 was a small, fast, fun, expensive car. But as the years passed, with each generation, the focus changed, up to the current Bavarian Camaro E90 (not much of a joke there; the power and weight is up there with the 5th-generation Camaro).

    E30 M3: 2.3L I4, 192 HP, 176 lb-ft, 2865 lbs
    E36 M3: 3.0L I6, 240 HP, 224 lb-ft, 3219 lbs
    E46 M3: 3.2L I6, 333 HP, 262 lb-ft, 3415 lbs
    E92 M3: 4.0L V8, 414 HP, 295 lb-ft, 3704 lbs

    I looked at the stats of the E30 M3, and compared them to the preliminary stats of the Toyota 86: 2.0L boxer 4, 197 HP, 151 lb-ft, 2700-2800 lbs. Aside from being 25 lb-ft short on torque, the power and weight stats were very close to those of the E30 M3. I had also seen Mike Kojima at MotoIQ write a critique of the Scion FR-S suspension setup ( http://www.motoiq.com/magazine_articles/id/2313/a-tech-look-under-the-scion-fr-s.aspx ), and he noted that the front suspension geometry was ” reminiscent of the Nissan S Chassis and older BMW’s”. Very interesting.

    A week later, I see this blog entry from BMWBlog: http://www.bmwblog.com/2012/01/24/opposite-lock-why-the-e30s-true-successor-is-a-toyota/

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      This has paralled the whole industry though. ALL cars have gotten bigger, heavier, and faster across the board. My e91 3-series is bigger and heavier than my e28 5-series was, and much faster. The real successor to the earlier M3s is the 1M. Heck a 128i can probably match the original M3 on any track longer than an autocross. The original M3 was something of an aberation even for BMW though – it truly was a homologation special for racing, and was only minimally faster than a 325i in a straight line.

      If there is a successor to the Toyota FT86, I bet money it is bigger, heavier, and faster, just like each generation of Miata has been bigger, heavier, and faster. Manufacturers have to build what will sell – how many of the B&B have moaned that the FT86 is just “too small” and “too unsafe”? Like that guy who was going on and on about the VW Up! being some kind of deathtrap – that car is pretty much the size of an original VW Golf, and a heck of a lot safer.

    • 0 avatar
      windnsea00

      Just an interesting note, the Europeans were able to buy the E30 M3 with up to 238hp from the 2.5L, the 3.0 E36 M3 put out 286hp and lastly the 3.2 E36 M3 put out a potent 321hp.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    I’m honestly trying to discern whether he was upset about the democratization of advancements or the natural progression of technology? The truth about luxury is that it’s a fleeting concept more attached to exclusivity than any other rationale. As horsepower reaches its effective pinnacle (about 500-600HP) they’re going to have to move in a new direction, since mileage has been eaten up by these massive horsepower gains and added weight to vehicles (though I would argue the latter is neglible in the real world year-to-year) the next major advances in technology are most likely going to be in alternative fuel and thus mileage is a new commodity to be rationed out.

    I will say this though, mileage is going to a much bigger and faster move for democratization as the will to develop it speeds up and it finds its way into more reasonably priced cars. I look at the Tesla as a prime example of this. Their initial offerings were 6-figure sports cars, now they’re offering high-middle 5-figure sedans, within a decade we should be seeing vehicles coming into the 3-series price range offering similar features. These benefits are the best thing that can happen. Hopefully we’ll stay rationale and instead of trying to simply duplicate it on the surface we’ll go into it with a much more honest attempt.

  • avatar
    RGS920

    The first (main stream) mid size sedan to reach 200 HP was not the Toyota Camry. 1996 was the year Ford MoCo started selling the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable with the 3.0L Duratech V6 which put out 200 HP. In 1998 the Honda Accord brought out it’s own 3.0L with 200 HP. In 2000 the Chevy Impala had a 3.8L V6 predating the Altima by 2 years. Toyota never cracked the 200 HP mark until 2002 with it’s 3.3L V6 taken from the Solara.
    Of course, the creme de la creme of the (main stream) mid size sedan horse power war was the Nissan Altima which dominated the segment with 240-260 HP from it’s 3.5L for many years. This was the family car to own as it dominated all other mid size sedans on the work day commute.
    Personally, my favorite mid size sedan was the 2003 VW Passat W8 because it was the ultimate sleeper in this segment. But I don’t consider the Passat W8 main stream, otherwise you might as well include the Taurus SHO, Impala SS and Altima SE-R.
    Honestly, you could write a few articles on this aspect of our automotive history. Also it’s still going on. There has to be a limit to the amount of power/engine size you can give a mid size family sedan before it turns into a torque steer murder box. Time will only tell!

  • avatar
    mpresley

    “The famous four-cylinder 2002 was a great car, but it wouldn’t have stood a chance against a Porsche 911 or – whisper it – a Corvette Stingray.”

    Very lame. Let’s not conveniently overlook the fact that the 2002 was a sedan. You know, a car with a usable back seat and trunk. Unlike the others cited, you could carry a few passengers, maybe go grocery shopping, or do other family oriented tasks. In the context of the times, and as a driver’s car in the guise of a small family sedan, there was not much better.

    You must have had a bad week, Jack, since your writing is much more whiny than hitherto. And that’s saying a lot.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      When was the last time you sat in the back of one of these so called sedans? I for one will dispute that any small BMW had an actually usable back seat or trunk until at least the E36. But, it was cheaper than a Porsche 911. And would kill a much cheaper Kadett or Escort of it’s time (which actually had at least partial trunks and rear seats) in the twisties.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Very lame on your part. Let’s not overlook the fact that the F-550 can tow four times its own weight. I guess that makes the F-550 the Ultimate Driving Machine.

      I wrote these articles about four years ago.

      • 0 avatar
        mpresley

        Look, Jack. You’re the auto writer, and I shouldn’t have to explain this to you, but every automobile must be judged in context with its peers. Otherwise the comparison is rather meaningless.

        First thing to get out of the way: the “ultimate” affixed to BMW is simply an ad man’s slogan, which no one takes seriously. It’s like Ford (or is it GM?) saying quality is “job one.” What matters is not the commercial, but performance in class.

        An ultimate driving machine is many things to different people. Maybe it IS an “off the shelf” Porsche, or a high end Corvette, for exciting weekend jaunts, or an occasional run at the track. In the context of pure speed, handling, etc., we could cite an F1 or LMP car, drives that would, by the way, smoke your own examples of “ultimate” cars. For certain others, folks with highly specialized needs, it could be an M1 Abrams.

        However, back in the real world, within the context of a family sedan that you can haul groceries, take the family on a vacation with bags of luggage, and still have a lot of fun to drive, it is difficult to beat what is now the 3 Series (a car I don’t own, by the way). Its precursor, the 2002, was, in context, a credible choice for ultimate small compact sedan, back in the day. But never a Porsche or Stingray, as they were in a different class altogether. As a racer, you know this.

        And one more thing. Yes. For, say, hauling plywood, a Ford truck might even be the ultimate answer, although an F-250 would be more than enough for most reasonable people. Good grief!

      • 0 avatar
        Bryce

        That in the world of real trucks makes it kinda gutless remember real trucks pull multiple trailers they are not shiney turd F series wanker wagons

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The 2002 made its name in the US before it became an expensive car. It cost $2,850 in 1968, rising to $3,159 in 1970 with test cars equipped to $3,599.80 – When the dollar went into free-fall against the DM later, 2002s and 2002tiis became very expensive little sedans. They made their name when they were just alternative choices to domestic compacts though.

      Here is a link to the famous DED review: http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/1968-bmw-2002-review

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    As mentioned before my parents had a 1982 Celebrity with the famous Iron Duke. Whitewall tires and wire wheel covers with the softest possible suspension setting. When it came time to replace it they looked at a Eurosport exactally like the one pictured but with the Iron Duke again (now christened Tech-4). My father’s verdict? “Not enough of a step up from what I’m driving to consider it.” :P

    It’s replacement? A 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham – 307V8. It took him till the late 90s to surcumb to the “handling” bug with a 92 Pontiac Bonneville, it was his American BMW.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    It and its 1977 replacement also had fit and finish issues that the Mercedes-Benz did not have. Bob Lutz nailed it a few years ago when he said the Camry despite its dull styling looked much more expensive than it was because of its tight panel gaps and excellent fit and finish. Also, Cadillac made a conscious effort to increase sales in a big way in the early 1970s. The Mercedes was better screwed together and there were fewer of them thus, of course, it was more prestigious.

    “The Cadillac deVille of 1975 was larger, roomier, faster, quieter, more comfortable, and probably more reliable than nearly any Mercedes-Benz available on these shores, but it mattered not, because the Benz was more prestigious due to its cost.”

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Yes, by the mid 70s Cadillac was frustrated by the fact that top tier customers were spending twice what a DeVille cost to buy a 450SEL. Enter the Seville. Talk about Detroit cynicism. Take a Nova, stretch it slightly and Cadillac-ize it and charge like a Mercedes. I think they ended up canibalizing their big car customers rather than taking any of Mercedes share.

  • avatar
    tedward

    How have I never seen these before? Awesome.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Nineteen eights V6′s are close to rivaling modern day Japanese V6′s in torque and punch off the line where it counts. I did drive the Eurosport before buying a new 1988 Beretta 2.8l V6 with 5-speed weighed 2680 lbs without spare tire and had close to 200 lbs of torque after ecu, intake, and exhaust. It would run 325i from highway speeds on up and ended up competing in SCCA ESP with Mustangs and Camaros.

    Though the 3.0 V6 made Toyota Camry what it is today in sales, oil sludge aside, the bigger 3.5l from both Honda, Toyota, and Nissan is getting passed by 2.0 turbos on mpg on much heavier cars. GM, Hyundai, Kia, BMW… All have 2.8 turbos with torque of the V6 and much better efficiency.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    I missed the whole Eurosport era because I was happily cruising the Interstates with my ’76 Buick Park Avenue Limited. It had the most comfortable seats, and rode like a dream. I may look for some old Park Avenue seats to install in my Regal, cut down about 12-18″ in width, of course. I’m dreaming again…
    @davekbc- JB is not ‘bub’. He deserves your respect. Or at least deference for his knowledge and talent.

  • avatar
    arbnpx

    No, the 1 series coupes are too heavy to be a “real successor” to the E30 M3. Shawn Molnar in the BMWBlog article:

    “I’ve spent a healthy amount of time behind the wheel of the understeering 1 series, and it lacks two of the core ingredients necessary to make it a worthy successor. The base 128i weighs 3,208 lbs, putting it a stout 200 lbs over the pivotal 3,000 lb tipping point that tends to exemplify a light weight sports car, and all other cars mentioned fall below this weight. The 1 series fails to include another ingredient: a limited-slip differential. What of the 1 series M Coupe? The car goes further astray as mechanical muscle adds considerable weight, the 1M registering 3,296 lbs on the scales. 431 lbs is a monumental amount of weight to be added to a sports car, and it permanently and irreversibly alters both the driving experience and the spirit of the car. I’ve driven the 1M in haste and while it delivers in all other departments, there is a spiritual element missing. In sports car rhetoric, that spiritual element is called, “lightness.” Further, it’s not a sports car for everyone, as hardly anyone can purchase it.”

    As for the Toyota 86 growing heavier in a second generation, I hope that it doesn’t happen, since the focus of the original’s design was to keep it lightweight, non-turbocharged, and not needing very sticky tires. To fall back on this would be to abandon the core concepts of the original project.

  • avatar

    I realize that Jack has made it clear facts are not as important in this series as his version of the myth, but here’s just a couple of facts (of many) to point out: The 1985 Mercedes 300E (W124) was at the time the fastest mass-production four door sedan. And a 1968 ’02 BMW listed for $2676; the cheapest Porsche 911 was $6190. Not much of a comparison.

    It may be easy and convenient to put down the 1600/2002′s influence and relative qualities in the years 1966 – 1970 or so from someone who was born years after they arrived. But if you lived then, and had the opportunity to appreciate them in the context of their times and what American cars were like then, the adulation bestowed on them was not unwarranted. You want to compare a $2700 BMW to an almost three times more expensive 911? How about a Nova SS? Sure, the Nova was faster in the 1/4 mile, as were many American cars at the time, but there were drivers then looking for something different, other than drum brakes slow dead steering, stiff leaf springs on solid axles and mushy shocks. And they found it, in the then very reasonably priced BMW. It really was a revelation, as my first ride in one in 1966 made all-too obvious.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Paul, in a single sentence you’ve taken me to task for supposedly ignoring the price difference between the 911 and 2002 and then claimed that the W124 should somehow be included in a discussion of mass-market family sedans.

      The 2002 was not the “Ultimate Driving Machine”. Never was. It was always slower than real performance cars. That was my core assertion. I’m not incorrect.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        All I get from this article is that the author really doesn’t like the BMW 2002. I did notice a remarkable lack of criticism of Porsche, though.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Since when is speed a necessary part of driving enjoyment? Or even a necessity for a sporting car? My Triumph Spitfire is slower than the slowest penalty box you can buy today (and most of what you could buy when it was new) but it is still 100% a sportscar.

        2002s drove better than anything else in their class, and better than an awful lot of things well above their class. It’s not that you are incorrect, it is that you are irrelavent.

        As David E. Davis Jr. said (more or less) “it is far more fun to drive a slow car quickly than a fast car slowly”, but as I recall, you never liked the man.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I completely agree with you krhodes1, although I don’t recall whether or not that was one of DED Jr’s quotes. The only problem with slow cars is the traffic calming monsters of So Cal make them dangerous by putting stop lights on freeway entrance ramps. 0-70 in under 10 seconds is pretty much a necessity for commuters here because of these (I can’t think of an appropriate term for them that will pass the censors).

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        As a 3rd generation cheap ass Ford guy(also a 3rd generation cheap ass going over to japanese cars for reliability, preferably Honda), I must say that a 2002 would never be an alternative to an Escort RS2000 or Lotus Cortina, or even a Kadett Rallye 1.9 SR ,if I were looking for a car in the late 60′s…(guessing you didn’t have that many alternatives in the US though, considering a lot of Americans think VW’s and Audis handle well…)
        BMW’s only turned into ‘ultimate driving machines’ for me after everyone else stopped making cars with the driving wheels in the right end of the car…they are still to expensive (with a decent engine) and unpractical to actually use as a family car though…

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @Zykotec

        Those were all purpose built sporting cars. The bog standard 2002 was just a German family sedan for the upper-middle class who could afford something nicer than a Beetle. It just happenned to be delightful to drive in comparison to pretty much everything in it’s price and/or size class in the US. The TI and TII’s turned up the wick a bit, but were still not homologation specials like the cars you are quoting. And non of them were sold in the States anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        @Krhodes
        well, no one in my family were upper middle-class(or ever will be, I hope) so luckily we have been able to shop for cars on other premises than their prestige, and you can’t disagree that ‘ultimate driving machine’ title is made up by an ad guy? About the other cars being purpose built or homologation specials, yes, but that surely makes them even more special, and fun, than an equally expensive car, that btw were made in other variances than 2002. (called the 02 series, the base engine was a 1500 to begin with. The same engine block would later power 1200 hp F-1 cars though…)

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        While the first of the M10 powered ‘New Class’ BMWs was a 1500, the 2 door wasn’t introduced until the smallest available engine was a 1600, with the first model introduced called the 1600/2.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      As a guy who shopped (and should have bought) a 1600 in 1973, I would have to agree with Paul. The hoopla about the BMW 1600/2002 was that the car would suck the doors off of any number of comparably priced British sportscars (TR-4, MGB) not off the much more expensive 911. Nor did anyone claim that it was faster in a straight line than any of the muscle cars of the era, but unlike those cars’ brakes, the brakes in the BMW were good for more than one stop from triple digit speeds and were less likely to throw the car into a spin from rear wheel lockup. You had to drive the muscle cars of the late 1960s to know how truly scary they were if you made any serious attempt to use their power on anything but a freeway in western Kansas.

      In terms of price, I recall dealers in Houston asking — and getting — about $3,000 for a new 1600 in 1973, with the 2002 about $400 more. Since Richard Nixon’s Treasury Secretary John Connolly move the dollar off of fixed exchange rates in the summer of 1971, (which depreciated it against the German Deutschmark), the BMW was probably much more price competitive before 1971.

      People at that time did not buy BMWs to impress their neighbors with how much money they were earning. Benzes, maybe, but not BMSs. They bought them because they offered a different driving experience.

      My father bought his first foreign car in 1970, a Volvo 4-door “S” sedan. It replaced a 1966 Chevrolet sedan with the small-block V-8. He liked the size of the car, the comfort of the seats, the security of the brakes and the general way it drove. My dad was never into impressing the neighbors with his income (because he didn’t have that much) through buying a flashy car.

      So, with all due respect, Jack: you hadda been there to understand!

  • avatar
    jnik

    Wow. Reading that made me feel like a lifelong churchgoer reading Christopher Hitchens for the first time. “Heresy!”, I thought at first glance. But then I realized how truthful it is.
    I can’t wait for the next installment.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    Very nice article/series. I get the feeling the details-details comments are a bit of a tangent from the mood of the story, though, but I’m glad I get it. I’m also glad I lived in that era of automotive history where cars, on whole, have more individuality than they do today. All automakers have their hits and misses, but I’ve always believed the high-end euro-brands as a whole were amazingly overrated for the money, even today.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    “the limp-wristed engine from a Euro-market VW commercial van”

    I believe the AMC Gremlin also used the same block for awhile.

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    Why? Because we don’t buy a car we NEED, we buy a car we WANT, although I doubt that any of us really know what we want, but are rather responding to what we see in the market, on TV, in the neighbor’s driveways.

    I grew up on Car and Driver and watched them go from non sequitur and semi-legitimate to a bunch of BMW and Honda peddling douchebags who would go down on their knees for the keys to a new Panamera as long as they don’t mention any of its flaws.

    What I learned from the tons of glossy, carefully prepared ad pieces fluffed up to be journalism is that a car needs to accelerate and handle well above all for it to be of any value. And that doesn’t matter if it’s a track only Porsche or the family Camcord. Hell, those retards applied the same ethos to Trucks and picked the Ridgeline over things that had a useful bed and could tow.

    I wholeheartedly agree that nearly ALL of the cars on sale today exist solely because car buyers and the car industry both seem to know what we want in a product and that idiocy feeds off itself. Family sedans that can do 130 flat out with no real efford just scare me… why is that even possible. Screw the how.

  • avatar
    photog02

    Quickest way to insult the largest number of internet car experts: Call the BMW 2002 anything but the most wonderful car in the world (or whatever marketing had told DED, jr. to say about it).

    Flame protection activated- I am the current loving owner of a 2002tii. My first car was a 2002. They are wonderful little sports sedans that are, amazingly enough, still a blast to drive. But they aren’t the chariot of the gods.

  • avatar
    Brunsworks

    Your facts are interesting, but I think your premises are flawed.

    For that mater, your facts aren’t altogether accurate. Pargo said he’d gotten the Sonata up to 128, not 137, and it’s also entirely possible for speed cameras to be even more wildly inaccurate than in his case. That’s just one of my arguments against them.

    Back to your premise, I also don’t understand your badmouthing of Brock Yates. How is he any less safe at speed than your typical high-speed driver? In fact, though I would be happy to see your comparative safety/crash data to the contrary, I would be willing to bet that his millions of miles behind the wheels of hundreds of different cars make him safer behind any given wheel than you. So using him as a “fake” racing driver to parallel “fake” luxury makes no sense. He’s not fake, just unsanctioned–which was part of the point of his Cannonball Runs.

    For that matter, I find myself stunned that you seem to overlook the fact that the definition of “luxury” is not absolute. It is certainly not necessarily limited to comforts that the common man cannot afford, as you assert in the previous piece and this one. And there is not just one kind of luxury. While the austere, somewhat stiff European suspensions of the 1970s and 1980s may not meet your definition any more than the plush “land yachts” suddenly failed to meet the definition of the American car-buying public, some people do find each concept luxurious in their own way, to say nothing of the other definitions.

    Consider, for instance, the Cadillac Escalade. While to me, THAT’S fake luxury, since all it really is is a tarted up Chevy Tahoe (and thus makes the line “I wouldn’t trade ol’ Leroy or my Chevrolet for your Escalade” in Big and Rich’s “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” unintentionally hilarious)…but to someone looking for a large plushly upholstered soft-roader, the Escalade may fill the bill, even though you can get nearly all the same options on the Tahoe for thousands less. More to the point, this would have been a better illustration for your “because it costs more” attitude about luxury.

    Certainly your reference to the stingy European sedans being perceived as luxurious doesn’t work as is; the reason the Big Three’s attempt to emulate that perception didn’t work wasn’t just that the cars didn’t handle as well, but the fact that parts tended to fall off. Now, I’m not going to pretend that the Celebrity Eurosport 3.8 was not volubly better than, say, a 1978 Nova, and especially not a 1976 Vega, but the big difference between a properly maintained 1986 Celebrity Eurosport and a properly maintained 1986 Mercedes 280 SL tends to be that the Mercedes might still be drivable, while the Celebrity will tend to be in a junkyard.


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