The Truth About Cars » Editorials http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 27 Apr 2015 21:34:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Editorials http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/ Dispatches do Brasil: Renault Re-Invents Itself in Latin America http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/dispatches-brasil-renault-re-invents-latin-america/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/dispatches-brasil-renault-re-invents-latin-america/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 16:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1053257 Among the first to come to Brazil when the market was opened up again in the 1990s – after a hiatus of almost 50 years when this country closed itself off to the world – Renault has seemingly reached a limit in Brazil. Its market participation has hovered around 6 percent for years. Now, hungry for […]

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Renault Logan

Renault Logan

Among the first to come to Brazil when the market was opened up again in the 1990s – after a hiatus of almost 50 years when this country closed itself off to the world – Renault has seemingly reached a limit in Brazil. Its market participation has hovered around 6 percent for years. Now, hungry for more, the French company is showing its new plans that will deeply affect their operations in Latin America at large and shake up their manufacturing base in South America, most especially Mercosur (namely Brazil and Argentina).

When their Ayrton Senna factory was opened in São José dos Pinhais in Paraná state, their line was in tune to what they produced in Europe. They offered the Clio, Kangoo, Mégane and Scénic. With an emphasis on safety, even the lowly Clio offered dual frontal airbags. At that time, the relative parity between the Brazilian real and American dollar allowed them to import systems such as the aforementioned airbags on the cheap. The minivan Scénic offered space for five, a large trunk, modular seating and became a favorite for families. The Mégane and Kangoo meanwhile suffered at the hands of more established competition and never made a dent in Volkswagen Golf, Fiat Stilo or Ford Focus sales. The Fiat Doblò passenger and commercial versions plus the Uno-based Fiat Fiorino conspired to keep the Kangoo down.

In the Brazilian market, reception was mixed. At the entry level, the Clio had lukewarm success. The majority of compact level car buyers are not exactly flush with money, so buying a new entry into that market was seen as a risky proposition. The Scénic and other minivans slowly, but surely, decimated the station wagons then available on the market. Together with Citroën minivans, Renault owned that market. As it became a favorite, the prices of this type of car rose above the rest of the competition and became expensive to buy.

Undeniably, Renault and other French makes suffered a perception problem. While most think their engines are robust and can take the pressure, suspension systems were and remain under suspicion in the eyes of Brazilian consumers. So, despite placing rather high in consumer satisfaction surveys, Renaults take a hit at re-sale time.

Brazilian Clio

Brazilian Clio

Over the years the American dollar and euro appreciated against the Brazilian real and growing sales plateaued. Renault’s reaction was to cheapen their offerings. Soon, the Clio lost its airbags, losing its appeal to the better off buyers that seemed to favor it over the VW Gol or Fiat Uno. When it was re-designed, it kept the previous car’s internal design. A new Scénic was launched in Europe, but citing cost complications, Renault chose to keep building the old one. Renault also tried to gain market penetration by locally building and selling a Mégane sedan and station wagon. Inevitably, Renault’s line became outmoded and nothing on offer in Europe was sold here.

Of course, errors in reading the market collaborated to their downfall. In the early 2000s, Renault was challenging Ford for fourth place in the Brazilian market. Ford reacted by launching the EcoSport and new Fiesta, new engines, and soon saw the distance between it and Renault grow. Besides the cheapening and non-updating of the line, beginner errors abounded. In Brazil, the Scénic was a solid middle class car, even higher middle class, and not the cheap and cheerful family transportation pod it was in Europe. As such, Brazilian dealers clamored for black and silver Scénics while the French continued offering it in purple, red and other colors the middle class rejected. The Clio, besides keeping the same interiors forever, never changed wheel cover designs or had new versions launched (tricks in which the traditional Brazilian Big Four – Fiat, GM, Volkswagen and Ford – are experts).

In the late 2000s, Renault re-made itself in Brazil. The Scénic was gone. The Kangoo was now only a commercial vehicle. The Clio soldiered on unmolested and seemingly only existed so Renault could keep a foot in the entry-level market. A solution was found though and it was the result of the deepening of the synergies and integration within the scope of the global Renault-Nissan Alliance.

Renault underwent the so-called “Dacia-lization” (Dacia being a Romanian company that Renault uses as its low-cost brand in Europe). The Logan, Sandero and eventually the Duster were launched. In spite of the insipid design, the cars used a Renault-Dacia version of a modern Nissan platform. The Logan family’s claim to fame and a space in the market was that it offered a lot of space for modest prices. Size-wise similar to Focus and Toyota Corolla type cars (sometimes even bigger, trunks tended to be larger), but priced similarly to smaller cars like Gol or Fiat Siena, they appealed to a more rational buyer. After a few years, with the launch of the Duster CUV, Renault was again encroaching on Ford and distancing itself from the Asian brands that were finally “acclimatizing” (by offering compact cars similar to market favorites) to Brazil and had been threatening Renault’s (by then traditional) fifth place in Brazilian sales rankings.

Nov-Ford-Ka-SEL-2015 (3)

As the 2000s became the 2010s, Renault was again under assault. Competition grew. Everybody copied their idea of a larger cars for more modest prices. Fiat launched a bigger Palio and a Grand Siena. Volkswagen do Brasil got into the compact sedan market again with its Voyage. Ford brought the new Fiesta and conjured up the highly competitive new Ka. GM came strong based off of its GM Korea know-how and re-invented themselves in Brazil, becoming the leader of in-car mobile electronics. Toyota got serious in Brazil and the Etios family has been gaining ground, horrible design notwithstanding, based on modern mechanics and a good ride. Hyundai’s HB20 has done the opposite: it has conquered image conscious consumers due to the success of it fluidic design language, in spite of the bad ride. All these companies and cars offered up new technologies and engines, bringing more fuel economy to buyers, extra gadgets and crept up on the Logan family’s cost benefit advantage.

Reacting, Renault has launched a re-designed Logan and Sandero. Though the new designs have been well-accepted and increased sales, this growth has been deemed insufficient. Both Hyundai and Toyota routinely sell more than Renault on a monthly basis and could soon take fifth place in overall sales. As such, Renault studied its South American operations and has cooked up a plan.

Renault Oroch Concept

Renault Oroch Concept

An “un-Dacia-lization” of sorts seems to be in place. Logan and Sandero production is being moved to Argentina. The company is investing heavily in their ancient Santa Isabela factory in that country. Duster production will be kept in Brazil and soon the Oroch pickup (based on the Duster and rumored to be a 1 ton pickup) will be launched. From what the press has been able to piece together, both Duster and Moroch will be produced off of the current platform and updates will be infrequent, following the age-old strategy of competing on price and, also, space. The Duster is larger than EcoSport and the recently launched Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V and Peugeot 2008. The Moroch will dwarf the current Fiat Strada (new, larger version of which has been seen tooling around the factory), VW Saveiro and the old-as-the-hills, barely competitive Chevrolet Montana.

The Moroch however is an indication of the deepening of the CUV event horizon presciently seen by our recently departed Derek Kreindler. Renault is going all-CUV-in. The Renault Captur, a current Clio-based mini CUV is a foregone conclusion. Renault is not even hiding it anymore and it has been seen around the factory in Paraná and on highway tests. This lends credence to the thesis Renault is re-inventing itself. The new Brazilian Clio, the same again as the Euro Clio, should also appear soon, albeit placed in a category above the current Brazilian Clio’s status. Suppliers also say Renault is quoting prices for a sedan version of the Clio (non-existent in Europe) and indicative of the soon to come demise of its midsize sedan offering, the Fluence. Informed journalists in Brazil have stated that the Espace, Renault’s large (and former) minivan, which has turned into a sort of a CUV, is slated to be introduced in Brazil in 2016 as a locally-produced offering.

The current Brazilian Clio is also on its last days. Though reports are conflicting, either a version of Nissan’s own low-cost brand Datsun Go will be built here in Brazil, or a version of the concept recently shown in world Auto Shows by Nissan called the Sway (supposedly an early version of a substitute for the March/Micra line), could gain a Renault badge and come strong in the lower echelons of the Brazilian market.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, besides the heavy modernizing investments at the local plant and the responsibility of building the Logan family, current cars will remain in production. And very interestingly, the new Frontier/Navara pickup that will used by Mercedes Benz to offer its own global midsize pickup (compact PU for Americans) will also gain a Renault badge for sale, initially, all over Latin America. Internally called the Raptur, this will be Renault’s first incursion into the traditional midsize pickup market. It is an important step and will allow Renault to compete in an important market spanning the entirety of Latin America. Coming soon (reports say early 2016) you could soon take your pick and buy your midsize pickup in your preferred flavor – Nissan, Mercedes or Renault – as they will all be built side-by-side at the Argentinian factory.

The next few years will be very important for Renault in Latin America. It will keep and modernize entry-level cars. It will continue offering competitively priced compact cars that offer a bit more and are the bulk of the Brazilian market. It will make new tries, with new product, to gain a presence in upper middle-class garages by “Euro-pizing” its Brazilian production. It will sell CUVs for all pockets. Pickups, small and large will further broaden Renault’s Latin American presence.

If this will be enough to keep Toyota and Hyundai at bay remains to be seen. However, it seems if they will be offering cars, CUVs and trucks, the market wants. Sounds like a plan.

Brazilian Clio Ayrton Senna Factory Hyundai HB20 Nissan Frontier Renault Oroch Concept Santa Isabela Factory Renault Logan Renault Captur European Clio Renault Fluence Renault Kangoo Express Toyota Etios

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Junkyard Find: 1983 Mazda RX-7 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1983-mazda-rx-7/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1983-mazda-rx-7/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1052833 First-generation RX-7s aren’t as common in self-service wrecking yards as they were five years ago, but it’s not hard to find a couple in a typical large yard in the Los Angeles or San Francisco areas. Most of the time I don’t photograph these cars, but we’ve seen this ’79, this ’79, this ’80, and […]

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12 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

First-generation RX-7s aren’t as common in self-service wrecking yards as they were five years ago, but it’s not hard to find a couple in a typical large yard in the Los Angeles or San Francisco areas. Most of the time I don’t photograph these cars, but we’ve seen this ’79, this ’79, this ’80, and this ’85 so far in this series, and now we’ve got today’s beat-looking but low-mile ’83 from Northern California.
03 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

Do you suppose this is the actual mileage, or did the speedometer cable break in 1991? It seems unlikely that the car has 1,068,798.3 miles on it.

01 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

While California’s tailpipe-emission limits in 1983 seemed incredibly strict by the standards of the other 49 states in 1983, these grams-per-mile numbers are filthy compared to current standards. For example: in 1983, your new California car could spew 0.7 grams of nitrogen oxides per mile; in 2015, the limit is 0.05 grams/mile.

14 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

I hope these “GS” emblems weren’t applied by Mazda. At least it has the beautiful rotareeeee.

The more you look, the more you like!

11 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1983 Mazda RX-7 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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America’s Truckers, Why Is Your Time and Fuel More Valuable Than Mine? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/americas-truckers-time-fuel-valuable-mine/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/americas-truckers-time-fuel-valuable-mine/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 15:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1047681 Long distance driving is something that I enjoy doing, but most of the time, my driving is restricted to within 50 miles of where I live, just outside of Detroit. In the past few months, though, I’ve been a bit of a highway child. I spent my birthday in December driving to Peoria to interview the […]

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Long distance driving is something that I enjoy doing, but most of the time, my driving is restricted to within 50 miles of where I live, just outside of Detroit. In the past few months, though, I’ve been a bit of a highway child.

I spent my birthday in December driving to Peoria to interview the farmer who owns Larry Shinoda’s personal Boss 302 prototype for a book that I’m doing for Car Tech Books on muscle car prototypes. In January and February I made a couple of trips down near Columbus to hang out and talk guitars with Jack Baruth. Speaking of guitars – also in Ohio – was a mint condition Pee Wee Les Paul that I wanted for my grandson’s future use.

Toyota loaned me a Highlander with all-wheel drive for the Chicago Auto. Lexus tossed me an IS 350 F Sport that I took to New York. The driving conditions ranged from the Super Bowl Sunday blizzard to sunny and dry coming back from NYC. The one constant condition: America’s over the road truck drivers seem to think that their time and fuel is more valuable than of people driving cars and light trucks.

I’m sure you’ve experienced it. You’re driving along on the Interstate; cruise control set at the speed limit or X many MPH over without calling undue attention in that jurisdiction. Up ahead in the right lane. You see a caravan of two or more semis going the speed limit for big trucks. You smoothly more over to the left. As you get ready to pass the trucks, one of them pulls out into your lane to pass, only instead the trucks do a 61 MPH vs 60 MPH drag race for however long it takes. Meanwhile, you have to slow from your cruising speed and cool your heels until it’s safe to pass the leapfrogging truck.

I first saw this described by my colleague Mr. Baruth. It just so happened I was on the phone with him (hands free) while getting delayed by one of these semi drag races on my way to Indiana.

Now that truck driver can see you in his or her mirrors and he has to know that you’re going to have to slow from your cruising speed if he tries to execute the pass. Apparently, him keeping to his schedule and using the minimal amount of fuel is more important than your schedule, your ability to maintain a constant speed and good fuel mileage. I believe truckers are violating one of the social conventions of driving. A certain amount of give and take is required so the this highway dance proceeds smoothly and safely. You let me merge and I let you merge.

If you have any real experience driving on the highway, you know how your own driving affects others. At one time or another, we’ve all been pinned in by a driver who doesn’t care about anything but their own speed. By the same token, some of us have yielded to the temptation of speeding up just enough to do the same to a driver we’ve decided is acting selfishly – after all, social conventions do need occasional enforcement. If you’re doing a socially acceptable cruising speed in the left lane, you shouldn’t have to slow down because someone in the right lane waits until the last possible second before pulling in front of you to make a pass. I believe in getting along to go along, but also in not being intimidated.

On one of my recent highway trips, a caravan of truckers was doing its leapfrog drag race. Car drivers were unable to even reach the speed limit. One particular truck driver doing did the big rid leapfrog more than once as he moved up in through the caravan. I’ll admit I yielded to the temptation mentioned above. When the opportunity presented itself, I made it very clear, but in a safe manner, that I could force him into driving how I wanted him to drive. It took me a couple of times before he got the message, but he did eventually get the message and backed off. Understand – I didn’t do anything like cut him off or in any way endanger either one of us or other drivers. I just used position and speed differential to make him stay where I wanted him to stay, not how he wanted to drive. I did the same thing he and his colleagues do to dominate smaller vehicles all the time.

I understand the importance of the trucking industry to American commerce. Truck drivers indeed move the goods upon which we rely in our modern lives. They aren’t, however, more important than anyone else on the road. Sharing the road goes both ways.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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No Fixed Abode: They Paved Manuals, and Put Up a Four-Door Coupe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/no-fixed-abode-paved-manuals-put-four-door-coupe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/no-fixed-abode-paved-manuals-put-four-door-coupe/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 12:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1051649 I come to bury Derek Kreindler, not to praise him. No, wait. I come to praise Derek, not to bury him. Scratch that. I come to agree with Derek, and to disagree with him. And to agree with him again. Wait a minute, it will make sense. One of the several admirable ways in which […]

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inteior

I come to bury Derek Kreindler, not to praise him.

No, wait.

I come to praise Derek, not to bury him.

Scratch that.

I come to agree with Derek, and to disagree with him. And to agree with him again. Wait a minute, it will make sense.

One of the several admirable ways in which my erstwhile boss and even more erstwhile employee diverged from conventional auto-journo thinking was his relentless focus on the real reasons behind automobile manufacturers’ product-planning decisions. Every time some writer for Social Justice Hooning And European Vacations trotted out the usual complaints about the lack of brown diesel-powered, stick-shifted, MB-Tex-interior, E30-sized station wagons, Derek would unleash hell on the poor fellow, pointing out that American consumers get the model mix they’re getting because it is the model mix for which they have voted, again and again, with their wallets. He never tired of forcibly redirecting the assignment of responsibility for today’s tepid dealership inventory from the OEMs to the buyers.

In doing this, he was breaking the fourth wall of automotive journalism a bit. Everybody in the business talks to the same product planners and has access to the same numbers, but nobody wants to annoy the reader by pointing out his culpability in the disappearance of enthusiast-focused automobiles. It’s a funny double standard. You’re allowed to injure the customer by pretending that the Porsche IMS issue and a hundred other similarly offensive quality problems don’t exist, you’re allowed to screw him over by puff-piecing junk product, but you’re not allowed to add insult to those injuries. Instead, the writer conspires with the reader after a fashion, by pretending to believe that the reader is ready to buy a brown diesel manual wagon the moment one appears. This gratifies the reader, who as a consumer of automotive media fancies himself to be quite different from the two million other people who took delivery of a CR-V-shaped nonentity-mobile in the past year. All those other people bought CR-V-esque things because they are idiots, but he did so because the hipster wagon of his dreams did not happen to be available. This mild conspiracy is widely held to benefit all parties involved and it leads to many people writing very complimentary things in the comments section – but Derek didn’t play that.

Young Mr. K’s refusal to give new-car buyers a pass on that matter, even if they were valued members of the B&B, was both admirable and charming. Yet as a grizzled old veteran of the showroom sales floor, I have to wonder if all of the blame for – say, the existence of the BMW X4 – can be placed directly on the shoulders of the American middle class. Could there be another reason that we, the *ahem* enlightened cognoscenti showing our black fleece in uneven and miniscule distribution among endless flocks of white sheep, cannot get the cars that we are truly ready to buy?

Or, to strip the veneer of genericity from the question – why the fuck did I have to buy a two-door car in order to get a manual transmission in a Honda Accord V6?

08accordex-l-v6_27.jpg

Let’s apply Derek’s reasoning to that question. Is it because nobody wants a V6 manual Accord sedan? I doubt that. Somebody wants it. I want it. I’ve talked to other people who bought a stick-shift coupe or an auto sedan because they couldn’t have the manual sedan they wanted. The problem is that we, the Would-Be Stick Sedan Buyers Of America (WBSSBOA), are not Honda customers. We think we are, and the auto-journo-industrial complex pretends that we are, and the TV ads pretend that we are, but we are not.

We are the customers of Honda dealerships. Honda dealerships, in turn, are the customers of Honda. When Honda sells a car to the floorplan bank of a dealership, son, that car is sold in Honda’s eyes and it doesn’t matter if it sits behind the detail shop for seven years before getting a temp tag on it. In practice, of course, dealerships almost always move the metal sooner than that, even when the metal is garbage. And in exchange for agreeing to borrow money to buy millions of dollars’ worth of inventory that they then have to sell using regional TV spots and newspaper ads and free popcorn and deceptive business practices and whatnot, the dealers get to tell Honda just how the fuck it’s gonna be. Their power is not absolute – note that you can now have A/C and/or a stereo factory-installed in a Honda, which breaks the heart of the scumbag dealers who loved the profit from those add-ons the way John Bonham loved alcohol – but it is formidable.

1995 Ford Explorer

Now let’s sit down for a moment so Uncle Jack can tell you a story. In 1995, I worked at a very small Ford dealership. We had room on our lot for fewer than 200 cars and trucks of all kinds, period, point blank. But you can bet your sweet bippy that at least ten of those trucks would be absolutely identical Explorer 4WD XLT 945A package trucks in Medium Willow Green. Why? Because we could sell every one we got. If an eleventh Explorer 4WD XLT 945A package truck in Medium Willow Green showed up and we didn’t have room for it, we’d make the service employees park down the street.

How many Explorer Eddie Bauer trucks did we have? Never more than two, and usually none. It was simple. The Bauers didn’t sell in volume significant enough to justify keeping one in stock. Ninety-five percent of the people who came on the lot looking for a Bauer could be moved to an XLT 945A. The reverse was not true, because the Bauer cost so much more to lease due to its lack of “top to bottom sticker discount”, a concept on which I shall perorate further some other time.

“But Jack,” you say, “why didn’t you keep five Willow Green XLTs in stock and five Bauers (or, G-d help me, Limiteds) in stock?” Good question. The answer is simple. We could never be assured of a constant allocation stream for Willow Green XLTs. So we needed to get every one we could get, even if it meant occasionally having fifteen in stock, because that way we didn’t ever face a situation where we sold six of them in a weekend (happened All. The. Time.) and had none left. Faced with a choice between the certainty of selling a Willow Green XLT and the possibility of selling a red Bauer, we chose the XLT, in bulk, constantly.

Every Ford model had the equivalent of the Willow Green XLT. For the Escort, it was the cheapo LX hatchback in Jade Green. For the Taurus, it was the GL sedan in silver. For the F-150, it was the XLT supercab in red. We could not afford to be out of stock on these items. Being out of stock on these items would lead to losing the customer to another dealer who had these items in stock.

As a result, our under-200-unit dealership lot, viewed from the air, had a very monocultural look to it. We really only sold about twenty different combinations of model and equipment. Everything else was a special order. If you special ordered, you could have that black Explorer Limited 2WD. But you’d wait. And this is America, where people don’t wait.

Skoda Showroom, UK

If you go to Europe, on the other hand, you’ll see that car showrooms are just that — showrooms. You look at the car they have, then you order the car you want. You are the customer. The dealership is the delivery method. This method is so radically different in all of its implications for the underlying business practices that I feel it should be repeated:

And swear I meant that there so much that they give that line a rewind

In Europe, You are the customer. The dealership is the delivery method.

In America, the dealer is the customer. And the dealer wants quick-turning inventory. He does not have a lot of space to store that inventory and he doesn’t have unlimited funds with which to purchase it. Therefore, it isn’t just important a potential in-stock unit have a buyer; it’s important it have a buyer right now.

Let’s say that Honda brought the V6 manual sedan back. And let’s say that they needed a minimum production run of 10,000 in order to make it worthwhile. That’s about eleven units for every Honda dealer in America. Can the dealers sell eleven manual V6 sedans each in a year? I bet they could. But they would rather have that spot for an automatic I-4 sedan, because that car is a guaranteed quick sale. They can sell that spot in the lot more than eleven times a year with an I-4 automatic EX. And here’s the thing: they can use that spot on their lot for an I-4 EX in another color, which keeps customers on their lot. Customers like seeing all the available colors of a car in stock. It helps sell cars that aren’t in that color, because it creates the illusion of choice. Towards that end, we always had one white XLT 945A next to the green ones – so people could look at it and then buy the green one. So the reason you can’t get a manual V6 sedan is simple: the dealer loses money keeping it in stock, even if/when it sells, compared to the potential for stocking more popular choices in that space.

Why can’t you special-order a V6 manual sedan? The same reason Honda wouldn’t sell me a brown V6 manual coupe, even if I paid extra and waited for it. Manufacturers are extremely allergic to small-batch production. Honda does not want to sell 2,000 special-order manual V6 sedans a year. It creates an entire extra model to EPA certify and put in the brochure and observe for recalls. It’s too much hassle. Similarly, they don’t want to sell 500 brown V6 manual coupes. Better to force that small buyer group into just a few colors.

“But Jack,” you’re saying, “you’re describing conditions that have been in place for thirty years. What’s changed?” Well, what’s changed is the model mix, particularly at manufacturers like BMW. It’s exploded. They used to make one 3 Series – the 320i – and it had two doors, no choice. Now they make so many variants of the Three that some of them are called Fours and others are called X3s and others are called X4s and cut-down ones are called X1 and 2 Series.

The BMW dealer of 1980 just needed space for a few 320i coupes. Today’s BMW dealer needs guaranteed in-stock inventory of no fewer than a dozen highly popular variants of the 3 Series. When the X4 debuted, your local BMW dealer needed to make room on its lot to stock, say, five X4s in silver with Premium and cold weather packages. Where’d that space come from? Did it come from high-profit stuff like the 760Li or M6 Gran Coupe?

Of course not. It came from oddballs, the 328i Sport manuals, the Z4s, the non-DCT M3s. The space came from inventory that doesn’t have a guaranteed turn. The same is true for the V6 manual Accord, which used to be available for sale even though it was low-volume. That space can be better used for the HR-V or a Pilot Touring or any of the dozen-plus other vehicles Honda didn’t sell in this country twenty years ago. Where do you think the space for the repugnant CLA comes from at your local Benz shop? Not from gloss-black S-Classes with basic option packages. Not from GLE350s or whatever they’re called now. It comes from manual SLK250s and C250 Sports.

Is there a fix for the situation? In the short term, absolutely not. In the long term, it is possible that local assembly and more flexible supply lines could reduce the wait time for new-vehicle orders to a window that the average American could accept. Say, one week. I think if BMW could deliver a 3-Series to its customers seven days after they specced it out, as many as half of those customers would choose a custom order. Too bad that scenario won’t come true until long after the last vestige of character has been entirely removed from all available automobiles. By the time Honda can just-in-time me a brown V6 manual Accord with cloth interior and 17″ wheels, it won’t be possible to make one.

In the meantime, what can you do? It’s simple. Buy something weird. Order something the dealer doesn’t have. A different color. An odd combination of options. A lime-green coupe with a brown interior. Vote with your wallet for something else. Doesn’t matter what it is. Because when you order a car from the factory and refuse to consent to taking a dealer-traded vehicle or the next-best thing they have in stock, you become something you’ve never been before.

You become an automaker’s customer.

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Attack Of The Orphaned Acuras http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/attack-orphaned-acuras/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/attack-orphaned-acuras/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 15:00:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1042906 My friend and fellow auto journo Tyson Hugie is the ultimate Acura fanboy. He owns a 2013 Acura ILX 6-speed with the personalized plate ILX, a 1994 Legend GS Sedan 6-speed and a 1992 NSX 5-speed which just hit 100,000 miles. He was honored by American Honda for passing 500,000 miles on his 1994 Legend […]

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My friend and fellow auto journo Tyson Hugie is the ultimate Acura fanboy. He owns a 2013 Acura ILX 6-speed with the personalized plate ILX, a 1994 Legend GS Sedan 6-speed and a 1992 NSX 5-speed which just hit 100,000 miles. He was honored by American Honda for passing 500,000 miles on his 1994 Legend LS Coupe 6-speed. And he is currently searching for a Vigor 5-speed in Arcadia Green.

Hugie clearly has a case of ADHD – Acura Definite Hyperactivity Disorder.

So naturally we had to take his orphaned Acuras along with the greatest discontinued Honda ever – a S2000 roadster, my 2008 with 32,000 miles – for a run up Tucson’s twisty Catalina Highway to Mount Lemmon and bemoan the demise of these late, great Honda cars. All in the name of automotive research, of course.

We were joined by the owner of a 144,000-mile 1993 NSX 5-speed and a group of Southwest auto writers credited at the bottom of this post. We tried in vain to find an example of the other great discontinued Acura, an Integra R or GSR. We recently wrote about this 1997 R in Phoenix, but it was in the process of being sold for $43,000, and every other one we spotted on Craigslist had aftermarket rear wings too tall for the low hanging trees on our drive. Apparently original 1990s Integras are as rare as original 1990s Legends.

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Kulikowski joked about us doing a running Le Mans start to see who could grab an NSX for first leg. I hopped in Hugie’s 1992 and was first struck by how low the car sits; I was actually looking up at the S2000. The mid-engine NSX is simply sensational to drive, with 270 horses over your shoulder, the precise Honda stick shift and near-neutral cornering. Said Jason, “The NSX was intimidating to me at first but in typical Honda tradition, the car instantly felt familiar and easy to drive. Everything feels raw and mechanical. This is a sensation you just can’t find anymore.”

Both NSXs had over 100,000 miles on their clocks but you could barely tell, a testament to Honda durability. They were rock solid with not a squeak or rattle to be heard. I doubt there are many 100K Ferraris to be found in such condition. Whether you fall into the “it can’t be an exotic because it is a Honda” camp or the “it is built by Honda so it is an exotic that will not break” group, most will agree that the NSX is one of the greatest sports car ever sold in America.

Acura Fanatic: Tyson Hugie's 4 Acuras have a combined 901,224 miles

Tyson’s Corner: Acura fanatic Hugie’s 4 Acuras have a combined 901,224 miles

I had one of the first Gen 2 Legend Coupes as a “demo” back in 1991 and I still remember what a sensation it was at the time. I doubt I will ever drive a 500,000+ mile car as strong as Hugie’s coupe. We only drove the car briefly due to a dying clutch. The suspension was also a little iffy but the silky 6-cylinder motor pulled as willingly as the sedan’s. Amazingly, this Legend has only been towed once – when its original fuel pump let go at 399,750 miles. The car has been through seven timing belts and Hugie’s goal is seven more.

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It is no surprise that everyone loved the S2000. I told the gang that below 6,000 RPM, the Honda is the World’s Crappiest Miata: rough-riding, loud and not much torque. At that point the VTEC kicks in (yo!) and the motor screams towards its 8,200 rpm redline. This may be Honda’s greatest engine ever: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 240 horsepower in the original AP1 version, 237 horsepower from 2.2 liters in this second-generation AP2, or 7 more than in the Legends’ engines.  All agreed the convertible was the best car for the serpentine and smooth Catalina Highway and the sunny 70 degree weather we enjoyed.

As for that lack of low-end umph: I did have a ride in high school that had less torque. I don’t remember the model but I remember it was made by Schwinn.

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We all agreed on the car that surprised us the most: the 147,000-mile Legend Sedan. The last flagship Acura sedan available with a manual transmission, it was quiet, quick and comfortable. Said Pawela, “The big glass greenhouse and low dash made for an excellent view out. When it came time to toss this big boy around some corners, I was amazed how composed and level the body remained.” Thanks to Acura’s designers and its stealthy Desert Mist Metallic paint, the sedan was also voted the car “Most Likely to be Ignored by the Highway Patrol.”

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Both Legends came standard with a cool now-discontinued feature: AN ACTUAL NAME rather than being an “Acura RTIGLX.” Stop me if you have heard this one before: if Acura had kept the name “Legend” and stuffed a V8 under its hood, the luxury car landscape would be vastly different today.

Our chase car was a new Lexus RC350 (which we all loved for its great seats alone), allowing us to put the cars in perspective. Said Lee, “Having the Lexus kind of gave a unique experience – here, you have all these cars designed to be “driving” cars; there was a certain connection between the driver and the car. As the driver you felt a sense of control; in fractions of a second you have to decide if you need more or less steer, adjust your throttle or your braking. Going between the NSX, S2000, and the Legend 4-Door and then back into the Lexus you can see a massive difference in how and what a car is suppose to do.”

NSX in Mirror

Honda and Acura still sell mainstream cars with a sporty twist, but none like these. There is a revived S2000 and NSX on the horizon but they will feature turbos and hybrids, be bluetoothed and 27 air-bagged, and probably even have power steering which two of our testers lacked. In other words: the days of basic (read manual transmission and normally aspirated) unique, fun luxury and sports cars are dwindling due to the realities of today’s auto business. Build a screaming 4-cylinder convertible that only gets 18 mpg in town today? No way due to CAFE regulations. Put a stick shift in a luxury coupe? Who would buy it? Build an exotic mid-engine sports car? Sure, that will be $150,000 please – or more like $250,000 after Acura dealers are done ADMing the new NSX.

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The greatest compliment we can pay these classic vehicles is this: go check out the soaring prices being asked for clean, unmodified examples.

We plan to do Part Two this fall and it may take that long to find decent copies of an Integra GSR, CRX Si, CRX HF, and 4th generation Prelude. Or if Honda drops the CR-Z as they did recently with the Crosstour and Hugie finds his Vigor, we will find a Honda del Sol and take all four cars on another run – the Crappy Orphaned Hondas Tour…

Thanks to Tyson Hugie, James Lee, Jason Pawela, Peter Kulikowski, Kelvin Chang and photographer Beau MacDonnell for making this event happen!

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Junkyard Find: 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1997-oldsmobile-bravada/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1997-oldsmobile-bravada/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 13:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1050513 The Olds Bravada started out as an Oldsmobized Chevy Blazer and ended (along with Oldsmobile itself) as an Oldsmobated Chevy Trailblazer. They show up in Colorado junkyards in startlingly large numbers. Who bought Bravadas? For that matter, who bought Isuzu Ascenders? Anyway, because the idea of an Oldsmobile-badged midsize SUV made about as much sense […]

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13 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Olds Bravada started out as an Oldsmobized Chevy Blazer and ended (along with Oldsmobile itself) as an Oldsmobated Chevy Trailblazer. They show up in Colorado junkyards in startlingly large numbers. Who bought Bravadas? For that matter, who bought Isuzu Ascenders? Anyway, because the idea of an Oldsmobile-badged midsize SUV made about as much sense as an Oldsmobile-badged cruel-parody-of-a-luxury-car J-body and is thus sort of interesting, I’ve finally decided to do a Bravada Junkyard Find. We’ll return to the usual Pontiac-badged Daewoos soon enough.
06 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

Unlike its Blazer/Jimmy siblings, all Bravadas came with all-wheel-drive. SmartTrak is not to be confused with Versatrak.

09 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

The interior in this truck is fairly nice, but the different-color hood and left front fender didn’t do much for its real-world value. Next stop, junkyard!

Cash back and a 6-disc CD changer (just in time for the digital-media revolution of the early 21st century).

01 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Lincoln Is Already Coming Back http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/lincoln-already-coming-back/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/lincoln-already-coming-back/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 13:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1049449 I remember back when I first wrote on The Truth About Cars that Lincoln, noted creator of cars for airport limo drivers, would make a comeback. The comments broke down like this: a few of you agreed with me. The rest of you accused me of being either a paid shill for Lincoln or an […]

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I remember back when I first wrote on The Truth About Cars that Lincoln, noted creator of cars for airport limo drivers, would make a comeback. The comments broke down like this: a few of you agreed with me. The rest of you accused me of being either a paid shill for Lincoln or an idiot, which, in your minds, appeared to be approximately the same thing.

Well, here we are two years later, and Lincoln is already clawing its way back.

I say this because I recently spent time in the MKC, which is a small luxury crossover designed to rival everyone else’s small luxury crossover: the Mercedes GLK, the Lexus NX, the Acura RDX, the Infiniti QX50, and a wide range of other models with indecipherable acronym names that make heavy use of the letter “X.”

And you know what? The Lincoln MKC is pretty damn good.

Let’s go over the details. It’s starts at $34,000, which makes it cheaper than virtually all its rivals. It gets better mileage than most of them, too. Options include rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, an automated parallel parking system, and one of the best infotainment systems in the entire industry. Yes, I know MyFord Touch sucked when it came out, but that was five years ago – and if you haven’t driven a car equipped with it since then, you’re missing out.

You can choose between two engines: a 240-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 285-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder that offers more power than most rival V6s. There’s a standard backup camera. Standard voice control. Standard dual-zone automatic climate control. Standard keyless access with push-button start. Standard power front seats, which is something that Audi has been trying to figure out for the last two decades. In other words: on paper, this car is a worthy adversary for every single modern compact luxury crossover. It’s not some flag-waving also-ran.

And in practice?

In practice, it’s just as damn good. A few car journalists have knocked Lincoln interiors for offering a little too much cheap plastic, but I think these people need to spend time in other luxury SUVs. The Mercedes GLK interior looks like a factory for plastic. The RDX interior makes it seem like Acura is the largest consumer of plastic buttons outside the Target women’s department. Any objective person would say the MKC fits right in with these rivals.

And then there’s the driving experience. It’s quick. It’s comfortable. It’s plush. No, it’s no sports car, but let’s be honest: the MKC was never going to take down the BMW X3. Lincoln is going after the enormous “I want a luxurious luxury car” segment currently being abandoned by “Let’s Make It Look Crazy” Lexus, and they’re doing a damn good job.

All-New 2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

So then we move to Lincoln’s “other” new product: the MKZ. I’ve driven the MKZ. I like the MKZ. I find the MKZ to be one of the most attractive new cars on sale, giant taillight and all. If I were interested in a smooth, comfortable luxury car, I’d find my way over to the Lincoln dealer long before I ever set foot in Lexus of My Hometown. Largely because the Lexus dealer scares me, since it looks like all the SUVs are going to eat my extremities.

Now, I know I’m in the minority when it comes to the MKZ, primarily due to its polarizing exterior styling. But you have to agree that this car, too, looks pretty damn good on paper. Turbo 4-cylinder. Optional V6. Available hybrid model that costs nothing extra and does 40 mpg in combined driving. Cheaper than Lexus, and more equipment. For those of us who don’t think it looks like a beached whale, this is a pretty damn good car.

And I suspect Lincoln will continue coming out with these damn good cars over the next few years. This is, after all, the same company that brought Ford from a football-shaped Taurus with a pushrod engine to a handsome, desirable Fusion in just a decade. They can do it with Lincoln, too.

Now, I’m the first to admit that Lincoln’s turnaround will be a long and bumpy one – especially if they believe their flagship vehicle, the Navigator, can continue in its current form as a warmed-over Expedition with a ten-year-old chassis and a fraction of the features its rivals have.

And then there’s the brand’s name. Cadillac has been turning around for a decade now, and you’d still get a nasty look from any non-car enthusiast if you told them you were buying a Cadillac. “A Cadillac?” they would say. “For you? Or your grandfather?” And then they would laugh and laugh, as they walk out to their cool new BMW or Audi, which aren’t associated with old people, but rather sorority girls from the North Shore of Long Island.

So it’s a long road ahead, but I think Lincoln is going about it the right way: by delivering high-quality products packed with features, loaded with equipment, and equipped with some of the best engines on the market. This process won’t be done in two years, or even five years, but it’s headed in the right direction. Just like I said.

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Junkyard Find: Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-rolls-royce-silver-shadow/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-rolls-royce-silver-shadow/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 12:00:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1049033 Most of these Junkyard Finds come from big chain-owned self-service wrecking yards that have fast inventory turnover and plenty of fresh cars at all times. This means that I’m going to see lots of Volvo 240s in California, lots of old Subarus in Colorado, and millions of acre-feet of Tauruses and Sables everywhere. Oddball high-end […]

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01 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMost of these Junkyard Finds come from big chain-owned self-service wrecking yards that have fast inventory turnover and plenty of fresh cars at all times. This means that I’m going to see lots of Volvo 240s in California, lots of old Subarus in Colorado, and millions of acre-feet of Tauruses and Sables everywhere. Oddball high-end stuff shows up, too, like the occasional Maserati or every Jaguar XJ-S ever made, but you just aren’t going to see a Rolls-Royce in this type of yard… until now.
06 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Silver Shadow is the least valuable Rolls-Royce, and you can find project-grade examples for the price of a beater Tercel. But they’re still rare, and their parts tend to be worth enough that most won’t make it through the auction process that filters out semi-valuable cars before they go for the standing lowball offer from the U-Wrench-It bidder.


We’ve had a Silver Shadow in the 24 Hours of LeMons, of course; it was purchased for $1,000 and the champagne cooler or something was sold off to get the price under the 500-buck LeMons limit. Of course, keeping the thing running ended up costing plenty, because you just can’t find Rollers at the cheap self-service yards.
09 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI’m betting that this one showed up at this Los Angeles-area yard as a near-completely-stripped shell, probably after some Silver Shadow restorer grabbed all the good stuff. It’s possible, though, that it arrived with lots of bits still on it and got picked clean later.
04 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinGiven the absurd thickness of the steel used in these cars, the scrap value is likely to be fairly lucrative for the yard, once the employees decide that there’s nothing left to sell on this car.
02 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Silver Shadow was built for the 1965 through 1980 model years, the VIN tag was nowhere to be found on this one, and there aren’t many clues about its age. Side marker lights were required in the United States starting in 1968, and the holes for those lights are visible on this car, so I’m going to say it’s a 1968-80 model (it could be a Bentley T-series as well, though the yard labeled it as a Rolls-Royce). Can anybody narrow it down further from viewing photos of this hulk?

01 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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A Nine Year Quest, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Looking Cool and Love the Van http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/nine-year-quest-learned-stop-worrying-looking-cool-love-van/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/nine-year-quest-learned-stop-worrying-looking-cool-love-van/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 13:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1047201 (If you have some time this weekend, this contribution, from our reader Robert, will be worth that time — JB) “I will NEVER drive a minivan.” Thus ended the first hostile negotiation serious discussion with my wife about our next vehicle purchase. The story so far: It was the summer of 2005. Our family truckster […]

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(If you have some time this weekend, this contribution, from our reader Robert, will be worth that time — JB)

“I will NEVER drive a minivan.” Thus ended the first hostile negotiation serious discussion with my wife about our next vehicle purchase.

The story so far: It was the summer of 2005. Our family truckster (a 1995 Toyota 4Runner SR5) was doing a fine job hauling mom and the first born around town during the week, plus me, the dog, and the cubic yard of gear required to travel with a one year old child on our frequent weekend trips to the Texas hill country. Anything I wanted to bring had to survive on the roof.

The 4Runner had been a masterpiece of engineering, form, and function to us. But even with Toyota’s legendary reliability, after 10 years and 135k on the clock, her many trouble-free miles were running out. A starter here, a radiator there, and stranding my wife and infant son on the side of the road with electrical gremlins made its replacement eminent. Contemplating the addition of another child with our already tight space requirements made it a matter of practicality. Her preference for large SUVs and my deep seated frugality made it, um, interesting.

“A Sequoia or Armada will work.”

Gas had just hit an all time high of $2.50 a gallon. (Heh.) With her staying home to raise our son, the rising cost of gas, the nontrivial price premium big SUVs command over minivans, and our already meager budget – there was no way we could swing that. Round 1 was a draw.

One peaceful (read: not discussing the car situation) Saturday afternoon we were watching broadcast TV at home. (Cable? Those frills cost money! Nor caller ID, call waiting or smartphones. I had the neighbors convinced that “Suburban Amish” was a thing). This ad came on:

“Hm. If I ever did drive a minivan, it would have to be that one.” Did she just say that in her outside voice?

Truth be told I didn’t want to drive a minivan either, but the Quest really did seem to be something different, daring even with the swept back look and unconventional styling. Every other van out there just looked like a box; at least they were trying. I was already a Nissan fan, having put enough miles on 3 Hardbody trucks to make it all the way to the moon and most of the trip back. Finding out it shared much DNA with the Maxima, my top pick for “what would I drive if I didn’t need a truck” made it almost, dare I say it, kind of cool.

August 22, 2005: I’m rushing to get to work, but she stops me at the door and hands me an odd looking book with a frilly cloth cover, tied with a satin sash. I stare at it, dumbfounded. “Its a new baby book. We’re going to need it.” OH! SQUEEEEEEE!! We hold each other tightly in wordless celebration. I break the silence – “Thats great news! We’re buying a van today.” She looks at the ground and offers one last muted protest. “Sequoia?” “Baby, the Quest is the best.”

A quick search on AutoTrader found a used base model with the right miles for the right price. The only drawback – it was 90 minutes away in Angleton. I called the dealer to make sure they still had it and we hit the road. In keeping with the long standing tradition of auto dealers everywhere, of course the van wasn’t there. They assured me they had a similar one that I would like, they just needed to get it from their other store across town. Well, we did come all this way…

We grab lunch to kill time and return to find the other van really does exist. She approaches to inspect it… I watch from a safe distance. It’s actually much nicer than the one we originally came for, a well optioned 2005 grey on grey SL with heated leather seats, panoramic sunroof, 6 CD changer with Bose sound, and a power sliding door. It was fresh off a one year lease with all of 4,722 miles. She briefly looks around the driver’s seat, glances at the second row, up at all the sunroofs (there are 5), then looking not quite at the van but not quite at me either she gives half a nod to no one in particular. The signal. It’s a done deal. A few hours later we bid the 4Runner farewell and start the long drive home, full of optimism about our growing family and the adventures we will have in our new chariot.

Delivering the goods

This van is big. Vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big compared to the 4Runner. The greenhouse is enormous; visibility is almost completely unobstructed.

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Almost…The D pillars are pretty big, but the rear window is so wide you hardly notice they’re there. The third row headrests are visible in the rearview mirror but adjusting them all the way down helps a lot. The side mirrors are large which is a good thing; you’re going to need them when cutting through rush hour traffic. There is no trace of the vehicle visible out the front glass, which takes some getting used to if you’re accustomed to seeing the hood of your truck at all times.

The second row seats have more legroom than the front. The third row seats have almost as much as the second row, and you can walk right to them between the captain’s chairs. Seven Texas-sized adults can ride in comfort. Fold the third row down and you have an enormous cargo area that will swallow two 50” flatscreens in one bite, or a sheet of plywood if you don’t mind some of it hanging out the back. The second row seats move forward a few inches to make even more room.

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With the third row up there is a huge well in the floor behind the seat backs.

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Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5L VQ engine delivers MAD MAXIMA POWAH! It’s just silly how strong it is off the line. Per Wikipedia, the engine is good for 240 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque that will get you to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds. Practical application: if you need to cross ALL the lanes of FM1488 to get to the Whataburger thats only 100 feet up the road from the stoplight because somebody forgot to pee before you left the Renaissance Festival, you can do that with authority and a satisfying roar from the engine. Of course it helps if nobody else at the light knows they are racing. Stomp the throttle from a roll below 10 mph and the tires spin. 80 mph is effortless, and you’ll get there without even noticing if you’re not careful. Fortunately my unassuming mom mobile has been invisible to law enforcement; I hoon it around with impunity. EPA estimated mileage is 18-24 MPG, but I always got 19 in mixed driving.

The handling is surprisingly good for something this large and heavy (204.1 inches long, 77.6 inches wide, 70 inches tall, 5,732 lbs). My driving style varies from spirited to aggressive, but I’ve never been able to unsettle it more than just getting the back end to step out a few degrees on hard corner exits, and even that takes a lot of effort. The steering has very little play; small inputs are faithfully translated into minor course adjustments. On the highway it tracks straight with very little effort needed to keep it between the ditches. The disc brakes front and back have always felt adequate for normal driving; the whoa matches the go.

It’s certainly the most luxurious vehicle we’ve owned so far. The leather seats are comfortable on long road trips, although at 6’ I wish they would go back another inch. The heated front seats provide welcome relief for my chronic back pain; I run them year round. My only complaint is the two heater settings are “is this thing on?” and “the seat is melting”, forcing me to toggle between high and off to maintain a comfortable temperature. The multi panel sunroof cheers up the otherwise drab greyness of the interior. Kids love the airplane-style overhead lights and vents.

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The Details

In addition to the pleasing big ticket items above, the van is endowed with some extremely well conceived and executed features that are a joy to use.

There is a strip of grocery bag hangers on the back of the third row seats. This is a killer feature. There are other knobs that things can hang on or be tied to.

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There is a map holder molded into the steering column. This is extremely handy if you still use old school written directions like me.

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There is a large hook within the driver’s reach on the passenger seat base. Our salesman said it was a purse hanger. Well, It’s a handy place to anchor a grocery bag or really anything else you don’t want sliding around on the floor. And slide it will; there is no center console separating the driver and passenger footwells.

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The Bose speakers sounded great then, and they still sound great 9 years later. I feed it a steady diet of ’80s heavy metal turned up to 11 when it’s just the boys and I.

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Rounding out the family friendly bona fides, there are little storage bins and compartments everywhere. I keep them full of band aids, water bottles, gummy worms, kids’ allergy medicine, and Red Bull (for me of course).

Things that make you go hmmm

It also has some things that are just different for the sake of being different and make no damn sense at all.

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The speedometer sits in the middle of the dash above the center stack instead of directly in front of the driver. What. The. Hell? This foolishness easily doubles the amount of time it takes to glance down and across at the speedometer and back at the road. Backseat drivers love it. This conversation, in perpetuity: “You’re speeding.” (low grumble) “I like the way I’m driving better than the way you’re not.” Nissan abandoned this foolishness before the end of the model run, so make sure you get a 2007 or later if you like your road speed like you like your browser history – private.

The front cup holders feel like an afterthought. They’re too low to comfortably reach while driving; your beverage is sitting nearly on the floor. I have to bend a little to the side to reach them. They’re also fragile and easily stepped on by children. Mine haven’t closed properly for years.

Finally, the third row seat stowing procedure is complicated, strenuous, and a little dangerous:

Remove the third row headrests and store them in a bag that hangs in the back corner.
Remove the bag and put it…somewhere.
Fold the seat forward and down to the flat position.
Reach as far forward as you possibly can and pull with all your might on a nylon strap to lift the seat all the way back up and over until it drops into the well with enough force to crush a small child. I’m 6′, 245 lbs and I struggle with this. I can’t imagine the target demographic Quest driver has an easy time with this.
Hang the stupid bag back up.

Most of the time I just leave the headrests and bag at home and reinstall them when I have passengers. If I like them.

Heading out to the highway

Beauty is skin deep, but cheap parts and assembly are to the bone.

For our first 5 years of Questdom, the van was used as a light commuter for my wife and as our weekend road trip hauler. During that time it accumulated squeaks, leaks, and rattles in much the same way that Toyotas don’t. That must be what the SL badge on the back stands for, or possibly, Sticky Leather.

There are several plastic splash shields under the engine compartment. I can’t tell you how many because I’ve never seen them all at the same time, but I’ve counted at least four that pushed their eject button somewhere out on the Texas highways. I know the scraping sound they make so well that I can hear a Quest coming from blocks away. Sometimes they drop onto a tire and make a terrific burning smell as they melt and splatter molten plastic all over the brake rotor. The van sits very low, especially the nose, and the suspension bottoms easily which I’m sure exacerbates the problem. I used to replace them, but the van just drops them like a bad habit so I don’t bother anymore. It seems to get along just fine without them.

The liftgate button also likes to disappear – into the body moulding. The first several times I dutifully fished it back out and reinstalled, only to have it happen again after a few more pushes. Closing it manually is a safer bet anyway, because every time you use the button there is a good chance the liftgate will stop a few inches before closing and open right back up, beeping a warning like you did something wrong. It likes to pull the opposite trick too, raising a few inches, beeping, and then suddenly closing. When it does you will be tempted to grab the handle and try to pull it back up. Don’t, because when you miss the handle and instead rip the painted plastic cover off it is expensive to put it back on.

“Daddy, it’s raining on me.” The multi panel moonroofs leak during anything harder than a sprinkle. When I finally felt like doing something about it, the roof was already rusted through in places around the glass. Oops. The power sunroof is a chronic leaker as well, dripping water right onto my lap while driving. This can be temporarily remedied by standing up through the sunroof and cleaning the drain lines with a pipe cleaner; I keep a pair in the glove box at all times. The moisture gives the electronics a sense of adventure and mischief, opening the sunroof unbidden when you least expect it and then closing just as mysteriously a few minutes later. I keep waiting for this to happen inside a car wash. To round out the wet weather fun, the left sliding door rattles and squeaks constantly when it rains, but not when it’s dry, and never the right side. Figure that one out.

The moonroof panels have a nifty pull-out shade for when you want protection from the sun. In Houston we call that “daytime.” One day the shade went slack and we heard something round and heavy roll across the roof and down into the side of the body. It never retracted again. Dropping the roof just to estimate the real repair cost is north of $500 at the dealer.

Despite all the little issues, the core strengths of hauling lots of people and lots of stuff (sometimes both!) still shine through. Shortly after buying the Quest I got promoted, which meant I could afford TWICE THE DEBT!! Recently retired from motocross, I no longer needed a truck. I traded my beloved but ailing T100 4×4 on a gently used G35 sedan. The following weekend we realized a backyard playset would make the perfect gift for the first born’s second birthday. I had my doubts about the Quest’s ability to haul several hundred pounds of “some assembly required” backyard fun, but it didn’t break a sweat. Over the years it served quite well as a light truck and cargo hauler. We added a trailer hitch and took the in-laws on vacation with us to South Padre Island, hauling 4 adults, 2 children, and a 4×8 trailer with ease. Life with the van is good!

Victim of changes

August 12, 2012: I’m driving the van back to Houston from Angleton once again. All the hope and optimism from before is gone. Leaving the Brazoria County courthouse, I’m struck by the irony of the judge’s parting words. “I’m glad the two of you worked this out.” I assume he meant to show his gratitude for us settling outside of a trial. This is obviously some strange use of the phrase “worked this out” that I wasn’t previously aware of.

The children, and the Quest, are now my sole responsibility and mode of transportation.

Survival mode

Adapting to life as a single dad while maintaining a demanding career and preparing to move out of a rundown house, the Quest proved itself to be a welcome shelter from the world when I needed one.

I spent a lot of the first year completely exhausted. Fortunately, the Quest is easy to sleep in. The third row is wide enough to curl up on for a quick nap. Need some legroom? Lean the third row back, fold a second row seat down and put your feet up. Want to lay all the way down? Fold the third row and move the second row all the way up and stretch out. Missed a meal? A small Lunchable fits perfectly in the coin tray.

The Bose sound system has plenty of punch if you need a sustained cathartic blast of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Still need more stress relief? Flog the mighty 3.5L V6 with reckless abandon on your commute, and stuff it into a freeway turnaround so hard that the back end starts to kick out when you exit at twice the posted speed; even drivers of full sized domestic pickup trucks will give you wide berth.

The Quest continued serving light truck duty while preparing our old house for sale, which suffered from years of deferred maintenance. Tile, paint, fence boards, landscaping, no job was too big. The play set it had hauled home for us new in a box, it hauled once more to the dump after I methodically cut it down with a circular saw. Little pieces of my my sons’ childhood and innocence tumbled down into the landfill with it.

Alas, operating the van during this transitional period wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Days before its inspection was due the check engine light came on. The code indicated catalytic converter replacement, a several thousand dollar repair. I did not have two extra nickels to rub together, so I dumped the biggest bottle of fuel system cleaner I could find into a tank of super unleaded and whipped it like a rented mule for 300 miles. I reset the CEL, and it never came back on.

In the year that followed, I replaced the rear wheel bearings, one CV joint, and the odometer/fuel gauge. One unlucky morning I was attempting my Tokyo Drift freeway turnaround maneuver. At the point of the corner exit where I was expecting an upshift, the transmission slipped instead and the engine soared way past the redline. Before I could back off the throttle, it lost all power with a loud bang. CRAP! I pondered the very expensive options while I limped it to the nearest shop at its new top speed of 20 mph, the engine shaking like a wet dog. Slipped timing chain and bent valves? Did a catalytic converter finally collapse? I was relieved to find it had only popped off a vacuum line downwind from the mass air flow meter; a mercifully cheap fix. Still, there was no denying the van was getting expensive to operate and that I had kept it well past its expiration date.

New beginnings

In June 2013, the Quest brought the boys to see their new home for the first time where we would restart our life in Sugar Land. After years of chronic back pain I did not want my children riding dirt bikes, but my brother had other plans. Waiting for us in the garage was the 1991 Yamaha PW50 that all 3 of his boys learned to ride on, restored and ready for mine. How can I say no to that? We quickly outgrew the little Pee Wee, and got tired of sharing it. Fortunately the Quest is a damn good mini bike hauler.

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Dont try this with your RX 350! That’s a Honda CRF50 and CRF70, with the second row seats in place, and the liftgate will still close. You can even use the second row seat brackets to anchor tiedowns, and there’s room for plenty of gear and a ramp down the middle.

Like any addict, part of my mind is constantly whispering to me “Go ahead, Robert. You can ride just a little bit, it won’t hurt you.” Come to think of it, I do need something to follow the boys around on so I can coach them on proper riding techniques.

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450 KTM FTW!
A trailer with 3 dirt bikes and gear starts to stress the van a bit. Fuel economy drops to about 15 MPG. The low ground clearance makes hauling a trailer over rough ground a dangerous proposition; I’ve bottomed out the hitch several times. The modest grade of my driveway grinds metal into concrete every single time I back in or pull out, leaving glacial striations for future archaeologists to ponder. This is not the best application for the van, but you can get by with it.

Conclusion

I’ve gotten years of use and enjoyment out of this van, albeit tempered by the frustrations of the chronic problem areas and rapidly increasing operating costs. It was the right vehicle at the right time; it’s been the right vehicle for a long time now. I’m a proud member of the He-Man Minivan Lovers Club. I still stand by my decision to buy it, and given the same set of circumstances I’d buy it again. But circumstances change, and I will never be back at that place in my life. As good as it has been to own it, nothing lasts forever. Any day now it could need something that costs more than I could sell it for. If I loved it, I could afford repairs that make no financial sense, but I don’t love it. I respect it, it has been a faithful and dependable part of my life for 9 years now, but in my mind it will always be her car. I’m reminded of her every time I sit down and turn the key, and I’ve grown weary of that.

Is my quest, and my Quest, finally coming to an end? I think… yes, and soon.

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Junkyard Find: 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1990-chevrolet-cavalier-z24/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1990-chevrolet-cavalier-z24/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 13:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1043970 The Chevy Cavalier sold in enormous quantities during its 23-year production run, and so most of them stay in the background for me at wrecking yards, much like Chrysler Sebrings and Ford Tempos. But the Cavalier Z24, on the other hand— that’s an interesting Junkyard Find! The Z24 got the DOHC Quad 4 engine later […]

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04 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Chevy Cavalier sold in enormous quantities during its 23-year production run, and so most of them stay in the background for me at wrecking yards, much like Chrysler Sebrings and Ford Tempos. But the Cavalier Z24, on the other hand— that’s an interesting Junkyard Find!
07 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Z24 got the DOHC Quad 4 engine later on (as we see in this ’98 Cavalier Z24 Junkyard Find), but in 1990 the most potent Z24 engine was the 135-horsepower 3.1 liter V6.
01 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinEven though cannabis is now legal in Colorado (where I found this car), decor like this tends to raise the suspicions of members of the law enforcement community.
13 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThere are certain signs that let you know a car is on its final owner. Like, for example, these dashboard stickers.
10 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThe ’90 Cavalier Z24 listed at $11,505 (the out-the-door price tended to be lower, of course). The Acura Integra RS hatchback was a mere $445 more, however, and GM cannibalized a few Z24 sales with the $11,650 Geo Storm GSi.

Check out the headlight covers in the Mexican version of the ’94 Z24!

01 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Please Visit Your Local Public Off-Road Park http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/please-visit-local-public-off-road-park/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/please-visit-local-public-off-road-park/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 14:30:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1045306 Whenever you buy a performance car, there’s generally an intent to test its limits. There’s a winding country road by your house, but you likely will have to avoid cyclists, motorcyclists, residents mad about the broken speed limits and loud engine noise, as well as police officers ready to write a ticket. Highways are much […]

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Whenever you buy a performance car, there’s generally an intent to test its limits. There’s a winding country road by your house, but you likely will have to avoid cyclists, motorcyclists, residents mad about the broken speed limits and loud engine noise, as well as police officers ready to write a ticket. Highways are much rougher than they used to be (at least in California), so verifying the top speed of your Porsche down a freeway late at night might be a hairy proposition with the uneven road surfaces and random potholes. Consequently, your new performance car will be sitting in the garage most of the time, only taken out on days when the sun is shining and traffic is at a minimum. Eventually, a performance car owner will resolve to take his or her car to a track day and see what the car can do.

When you do attend a track day, there’s always a few procedures to go through, the first of which usually involves paying a third-party company hundreds of dollars for organizing the track day. Then, when the day to test your car’s limits comes, since the track is an hour away and the track instruction meeting is at 7:30 AM, you’ll have to wake up early. You might even have to spend two or three laps in a different car with a track instructor if it’s your first time at the track. There might be two or three track sessions during the day with a half-hour to an hour gap between them. You’ll have to be careful not to shatter the sound regulations (at Laguna Seca, it’s typically 92 dBa), which is shockingly easy to do in any V-8-powered Chrysler vehicle, or otherwise you’ll be forced to remove your car from the track.

Meanwhile across America, thousands of people have bought off-road ready vehicles with 4WD like the Land Cruiser, 4Runner, Xterra, LX570, GX460, G-Wagen, and any Land Rover vehicle which are capable of driving through some tough trails and tricky obstacles. Many of their owners probably bought them as prestige vehicles, or as a family, or for towing a boat or trailer. They’ll talk about the off-road prowess of their SUVs at parties, but their vehicles likely won’t see a dedicated off-road trail. Four-wheel-drive is most necessary to them for the winter skiing trips. Many of them are oblivious to the fact their state offers them the facilities to actually test out the capabilities of their 4WD vehicle.

And these parks with both off-road trails and off-road obstacles are very simple to access. There’s no dedicated classroom instruction. You can come into the park anytime you want, which means you can sleep in. The fee for entering the off-road park (in California) is $5. You’ll have photos on your phone to show what your “family vehicle” is capable of. There’s no such thing as a session where you can drive. The most instruction you’ll get around the park is following what the Jeep in front of you is doing and whatever off-roading tips are in the owners’ manual. Though there are sound ordinances at the SVRA, they’re not readily enforced. There is little to no supervision in the park. Most importantly, your 4×4 won’t be sitting in some shopping center’s parking lot during the weekend. You’ll be out having fun away from the sounds of cash registers and people complaining about Abercrombie and Fitch.

My experience with off-roading parks comes from California’s State Vehicular Recreation Areas where you can take your four-wheel-drive vehicles and “play” with them by driving on off-road trails and seeing if they can clear obstacles specifically built for those vehicles. The best part is all these activities are sanctioned by California, a state that has the most intense car emissions rules in the nation. Amazingly, California, a state where one has to go through a fairly comprehensive background check to buy a gun, thinks that anyone with a driver’s license is capable of climbing a 50 degree hill or driving through a pile of rocks in a four-wheel-drive vehicle with no ambulances or tow trucks in sight.

When I had a 4Runner TRD Pro as a test vehicle, taking it to my local SVRA would be one of the few ways I could test the truck’s capabilities. The park I took the 4Runner to, Hollister Hills, provided enough different obstacles that I could play with all the settings of the 4Runner’s Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control systems. I was able to go there on a weekday and a weekend without any problems. All the trails were clearly marked and contained their difficulty level. If I compare it to getting a Chevrolet SS as a test vehicle and taking it to Sonoma Raceway to test its capabilities, I have to take it strictly on a weekend through a third-party that has booked the track, and I will have to ensure I don’t break any local sound ordinances, which I know the SS is very much able to do.

At California SVRAs (though I’ve found it also corresponds to a few off-road parks in other states), the trail difficulty level more or less corresponds with ski slope difficulty level, with the green circle for easy trails, a blue square for more difficult trails, and a black diamond denoting the most difficult trails. Green trails can be traversed by most all-wheel-drive crossovers while blue trails can be driven on by any novice in a Jeep. Black diamonds are generally very steep and not much else. Hollister Hills had double and triple black diamond trails too, but those are strictly for dedicated off-road vehicles such as rock crawlers and very highly-modified Jeeps.

Though I’m most familiar with California, many other states have their own off-road vehicle parks. While some of them are privately-owned, their prices tend to be fairly reasonable (I’ve seen rates of $20 online), while many state parks have dedicated four-wheeling trails within them for whatever it costs to enter the park. Some parks may require a special sticker that allows a 4×4 into the park. Most of these states have similar policies to California’s off-road parks. Visiting and posting onto one of the many off-roading forums will give you an idea of the best local off-road parks to take your 4×4 to.

When it comes to safety at off-road parks, it helps to go with someone else who has a 4×4 so he or she can pull you out if you become stuck in an obstacle. If it’s your first time off-roading, check out your model-specific forum to see if any members are planning an off-road meetup. It also helps to have the number of a tow truck driver who can recover your vehicle from a trail if anything goes awry. As for speeds traveled around the park, unless the trail is fairly smooth and/or is a “green,” the highest speed you should go might be less than 15 mph. Since low range 4WD will likely be engaged, high speeds shouldn’t be an issue. Furthermore, since most modern SUVs come with hill descent control and some with hill ascent control, you should learn how to engage those systems and safely drive up or drive down some steep trails. Additionally, learn how and when to use the locking differentials if your vehicle comes with them. They can save you in slippery situations.

At the Hollister Hills SVRA, one aspect that astonished me was how few people there were with their four-wheel-drive vehicles on a Saturday. Though I went in February, it was just me, a small meetup of the local Nissan Xterra club, and a few people trying out their rock crawlers. Closer to the summer, there are generally more people, but somehow driving around the park is manageable and good etiquette between drivers actually exists. Compare this to a track day, where sometimes there’s that one car that won’t point you by, or the drivers who think they’re Ayrton Senna and attempt to pass you in the corners though they aren’t supposed to.

In the end, get anyone you possibly can to take advantage of where their taxes go, drive their 4×4 off-road, and explore multiple places across America where rental cars can’t go. Considering automakers are making and selling less 4×4 SUVs these days, with the Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer becoming Honda Pilot competitors and the focus on fuel economy, there might not be as many vehicles in the future that can go off the beaten path in the Rockies or Death Valley. Going four-wheeling is incredibly cheap compared to a track day, while being much more memorable because of the vistas you’ll come across. And best of all, you’ll definitely know you pushed the limits of your vehicle.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. He recently renewed his search for a P38 Range Rover in decent condition and currently feels Christopher Columbus probably had an easier time finding America.

 

 

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Junkyard Find: 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1986-chevrolet-spectrum/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1986-chevrolet-spectrum/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 13:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1042738 Even as GM was selling Suzuki Cultuses badged as Chevrolets and Daewoo LeManses badged as Pontiacs, your friendly Chevy showroom offered Isuzu Geminis with Chevrolet badges (a decade later, you could get an Opel Omega with Cadillac badges, but that’s another story). A few years back, we saw this 1989 Spectrum, which came with both […]

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10 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinEven as GM was selling Suzuki Cultuses badged as Chevrolets and Daewoo LeManses badged as Pontiacs, your friendly Chevy showroom offered Isuzu Geminis with Chevrolet badges (a decade later, you could get an Opel Omega with Cadillac badges, but that’s another story). A few years back, we saw this 1989 Spectrum, which came with both Chevrolet and Geo branding, but today’s Junkyard Find came from the era prior to GM’s creation of the soon-to-be-defunct Geo brand.
05 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThese cars were more or less invisible back in the 1980s, and they remain invisible today. This doesn’t stop Craigslist sellers from claiming to have Geo “barn finds,” of course.
04 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one sat outdoors for a long time before its final tow-truck ride.
16 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinJust 76,000 miles. If you’re the president of the Chevrolet Spectrum Owner’s Club and you’re reading this in 2057, understand that we early-21st-century Americans just didn’t understand how rare and valuable these cars really were. Sorry about that!
02 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinPower by Isuzu.

I was 20 years old when this ad came out. I don’t remember it, but I’m sure I would have been horrified by the idea of “Spectrumality.”

I’ll bet the media launch for this car was what press-car-killin’ car writer Jay Lamm refers to as a “tents and corn dogs affair.”

01 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin

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A Few Reasons an Electric Car Might Not Be For You http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/reasons-electric-car-might-not/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/reasons-electric-car-might-not/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 18:38:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1044146 When you live in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, owning or leasing an electric vehicle is fairly simple to justify. The state allows you to use HOV lanes with only one person aboard. Some cities allow you to park in metered parking spots for free. Charging your electric vehicle at the mall […]

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2015 Nissan Leaf white

When you live in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, owning or leasing an electric vehicle is fairly simple to justify. The state allows you to use HOV lanes with only one person aboard. Some cities allow you to park in metered parking spots for free. Charging your electric vehicle at the mall can be free. Some businesses might offer electric vehicle charging. There are additional rebates on top of the $7,500 federal tax credit for buying an electric car. Electric companies provide discounted power rates for electric car owners for charging in off-peak hours. Some counties offer rebates for installing 240V home charging systems for electric vehicles.

But sometimes, an electric vehicle may not be for you. Range anxiety is a big issue. Another large issue depends on where you live, either if you live in an apartment complex in Berkeley or a ranch in Killeen. It also depends on what you do for a living, whether you’re a high-tech worker in Silicon Valley or a homemaker in Kansas City. Some of the reasons below might not apply if you own a Tesla Model S, with its 200 mile range, a home charger, access to Superchargers, and its $60,000+ price. They also might not apply if the office is only 10 miles away and offers charging stations.

You live in an apartment complex.

Unless you live in one of those high-end condominium complexes that have garages in their underground parking garages for their residents, it’s difficult to own an electric vehicle when you live in the typical American apartment complex. Usually, a resident is allocated one spot in the carport and there are no other parking amenities. To install a 240V home charging station or using the charger that came with the car, it helps to have a dedicated power outlet nearby. You could plug in the charger to an extension cord leading from your apartment, but that would be unsafe. If you live fairly close to your workplace with charging facilities or have a nearby downtown with dedicated electric vehicle charging spots, having an electric vehicle is workable, but will require plenty of planning.

Your workplace doesn’t have (enough) charging stations.

This is big issue in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many of the large companies like Google and Facebook have many charging stations for their employees. It minimizes range anxiety for their employees, makes sure the employees can drive in the carpool so they spend less time in traffic, gets the company some good PR coverage for being environmentally friendly, and also nets the company a healthy tax break. Now, even if your office does have charging stations for the employees, there might not be enough of them, leading to what the San Jose Mercury News calls “charge rage.” Since some people need to charge their electric car is make sure they get home, they might unplug another car in order to charge theirs. This has led to company-wide e-mails on charging etiquette and people angry that their car was unplugged. So if you can’t guarantee that you can charge the car once you arrive at the office and you wouldn’t be able to get home on what was left, an electric vehicle might not be the best choice.

Your daily errands consist of driving over 70 miles.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent with at least two kids who aren’t old enough to drive, covering over 70 miles in one day is possible. Even though most electric vehicles have at least 80 miles of range on a full charge, it’s helpful to have 10 miles in reserve. If you need to drive two kids to different schools and many different activities (“I think doing fencing, robotics club, karate, and volunteering at the hospital should be enough to get into Harvard these days”), drop off dry cleaning, pick up groceries, maybe a doctor’s appointment, and a trip to the mall, you might be pushing the limits of your electric vehicle range. Since a new errand might come up at any time, unless there is an SAE Combo or a CHAdeMO fast charging station nearby (even if you live in the Bay Area, there usually isn’t), an electric car isn’t the best vehicle in spur-of-the-moment tasks come up and your daily driving is already straddling the daily range.

You live in a rural area.

If you live in Wyoming on a 1,000+ acre farm, an electric vehicle probably isn’t for you. The nearest shopping center might be 50 miles away. The local high school likely isn’t as local as most Americans might think. Macy’s might be an authentic travel destination. Using the Plugshare app, when I look for charging stations in Sturgis, South Dakota, only one station is available, and it’s a 120V outlet at a local hardware store. But Sturgis is a town of less than 10,000 people. Meanwhile, northeast of Sturgis, in Fargo, North Dakota, a place with a population of over 100,000 people, the Plugshare map shows only one public electric charging station in the entire city, and it’s at the Nissan dealership. So most rural areas might not be the best environment for electric vehicle ownership.

Your state doesn’t have electric vehicle incentives.

Most American states provide some sort of benefits to electric car buyers in the form of additional tax credits, use of the HOV lane with a single passenger, and/or sales tax exemptions. The websites of Plug In America and the National Conference of State Legislatures provide a good breakdown of electric vehicle benefits by state, with some state providing income tax credits as high as $5,000. However, if you live in states such as Wisconsin, Kansas, or New Mexico, there’s much fewer reasons to buy an electric car, as they offer no incentives for electric vehicle buyers. There are no HOV lane benefits or tax credits, two benefits that would really push people towards electric vehicles. As a result, buying a gas-powered vehicle makes more sense in those states.

You don’t own another, gas-powered car.

Sometimes you need a vehicle to travel 100 to 200 miles in one day. Short of a Tesla Model S, there are few other electric vehicles that can accomplish the task. In my opinion, most electric vehicles currently on the market are good second or third cars. For many people, an electric vehicle is a good alternative for 80% to 90% of the driving they do every year. However, that 10% of high car use occurs on road trips or round-trip drives to the nearest international airport. FIAT has tried to address the issue by offering 12 days per year of free rental car access with its 500e, which is 3% of the year. Therefore, having a gasoline-powered car as a back-up or recreational vehicle provides the certainty that you’ll can drive long distances when you absolutely need to.

You’re on edge whenever there’s 50 miles’ worth of gas remaining in your car.

These are the people most susceptible to range anxiety. At any given point, there must be at least 100 miles worth of range in their car no matter where they go. To them, whenever their car shows them the range is 50 miles, they immediately head for the nearest gas station. That’s usually because 50 of miles of range in a normal car means a reserve of 1 to 2.5 gallons of gas left in the tank, which means it’s time to fill up with both gas and regain some peace of mind. Even though there may be a charging station at their home, these people with range anxiety might panic and possibly suffer a nervous breakdown.

Ultimately, an electric vehicle might be not for you. Any of the above could force you to look at fuel-efficient gas-powered cars, hybrids, or plug-in hybrids, the last of which might be the best compromise. As long as you live in a single-family home with a garage and nearby shopping malls in a state that provides many electric vehicle benefits, have access to a gas-powered vehicle, and don’t drive over 70 miles per day, having an electric car can be very convenient. But if you live in an apartment in Iowa where the nearest McDonald’s is 40 miles away with no other cars to use, your new car shouldn’t be electric. In fact, you’d better have range anxiety in those circumstances.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. Though he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, he knows electric cars aren’t for everyone, something he learned the hard way when his Spark EV had 22 miles of range when delivered and couldn’t use it for a lunch date.

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Junkyard Find: 1993 Subaru Justy http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1993-subaru-justy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1993-subaru-justy/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 13:00:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1042570 I don’t use the Miserable Econoboxes tag as much as I should, but I’m using it here fore shore, because you’d be hard-pressed to find a more genuinely punitive commuter appliance than the wretched Subaru Justy (the two-wheel-drive version, that is; the four-wheel-drive Justy, particularly when dressed in a weird early-90s paint color, is a […]

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08 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinI don’t use the Miserable Econoboxes tag as much as I should, but I’m using it here fore shore, because you’d be hard-pressed to find a more genuinely punitive commuter appliance than the wretched Subaru Justy (the two-wheel-drive version, that is; the four-wheel-drive Justy, particularly when dressed in a weird early-90s paint color, is a lot of fun for mud/snow hoonage). As incredibly cheap, disposable subcompacts, just about all the 2WD Justys (Justies?) got scrapped at least a decade ago, so I don’t see many in wrecking yards now. Here’s one!
11 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinI know that there will be those who claim that they got 400,000 maintenance-free miles out of a Justy, and those who claim that some other miserable econobox (the Ford Festiva? Yugo GV? Pontiac (Daewoo) LeMans?) was worse, but it’s hard to argue with the Justy’s combination of washing-machine-box interior, three-cylinder engine, and not-quite-ready-for-real-world-use CVT transmission.
14 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinAt least this one has a proper 5-speed manual transmission.
05 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s hard to pin this down, but it is possible that the Justy was the last car sold new in the United States with a carburetor (another candidate is the early-90s LTD Police Interceptor with 351W engine). By 1993, though, even the lowly Justy (or at least this one) came with EFI.
13 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinNo way of telling how many miles are on the clock, since Subaru took a page from Detroit’s book and used a five-digit odometer in this car.
12 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinBad as the Justy was, you could get one for $7,463 in 1993. Yes, if you just had to drive a new car in 1993 and you were too skinflinty for the (still miserable but much better) $7,858 Toyota Tercel or the $7,995 Mazda 323, and for some reason the Suzuki Swift ($7,299), Geo Metro ($6,710), and Ford Festiva ($6,991) didn’t seem right, you could get a Justy. Even the ’93 Hyundai Excel— still pretty vile at that point but nowhere near as hateful as the earlier versions— could be purchased for just $6,899.
07 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinStill, bad as the Justy 2WD was, it was a car. That meant that it beat the hell out of public transportation, and it meant that a working stiff could get afford a shiny new commuter (with warranty) on a modest salary. I mention this because I’m still getting shit for having written that the ’14 Mitsubishi Mirage was perfectly tolerable by Miserable Econobox standards, while John Pearley Huffman believes it is worse than taking the bus (Jason Torchinsky, one of the only writers to agree with me that the Mirage wasn’t so bad, tore Mr. Huffman a new one over that). Terrible little entry-level econoboxes today are so much better than their counterparts 20 years ago that everybody who reviews one today should be forced to spend a week in a ’93 Justy prior to driving the new car.

Such a smart boy!

01 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1993 Subaru Justy Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Vellum Venom: 2014 Rolls Royce Wraith http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/vellum-venom-2014-rolls-royce-wraith/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/vellum-venom-2014-rolls-royce-wraith/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1039961   While designing top-dollar luxury cars was a rare success during my year at CCS, it’s gotta be tough to get these into production.  Consider competition from lower-rung manufacturers, namely those parent companies owning the likes of Rolls Royce. How much shared engineering is forced upon them?  What financial (beancounting) and legal (pedestrian safety, carbon emission) […]

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While designing top-dollar luxury cars was a rare success during my year at CCS, it’s gotta be tough to get these into production.  Consider competition from lower-rung manufacturers, namely those parent companies owning the likes of Rolls Royce. How much shared engineering is forced upon them?  What financial (beancounting) and legal (pedestrian safety, carbon emission) design constraints are forced upon the uber-luxury Transportation Designer?

Design directives get muddy in any vehicle, yet weak design is intolerable at a $354,000 price tag.

2The (legendary?) Chrysler 300 became such a force that the Wraith seeks relevance from that aggressive face.  Not a bad thing: it worked for Chrysler, it’s a no brainer here.

4But that grille!  Old world craftsmanship never goes out of style, even if the individual “teeth” have more gaps than Cletus from The Simpsons.  Perhaps meant to fold away in an accident, let’s hope today’s grilles are more pleasant to get jabbed into your rib cage.

5Many vehicles from the 70s-80s sported safety-minded stand up grilles matching their 60s counterpart’s swagger. But they usually implemented energy-absorbing, spring-loaded grille teeth nestled behind a one piece grille shell.

Not so here,  perhaps safety takes a step forward…at the expense of elegance.

6Emblematic of success, far above your peers.

7Rolls Royce’s trap door for their signature hood ornament is fantastic: even looking cool when retracted, because you know what’s going down later.

8The “flying lady on a ball” is a fantastic piece of kit from a design and user-interface standpoint.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Perhaps a short video (shot incorrectly, rushing at dusk, sorry!) is in order.

8_video1 The chrome strip is frustrating afterthought.  Not long enough to reach the grille, the ending point seems arbitrary and…well…cheap.

8_video2Even worse at the tail: it’s the same class of fail seen in the concept-to-production of the third-gen Chrysler Sebring’s hood.

9The lighting cluster looks suitably upscale, though every car maker encrusts corporate logos/easter eggs on lighting pods.

12Step back: a cheap cut line, worthy of the Chrysler 300.  One of this era’s big design sins is making the front fascia into a bumper. Contrasted to making a lower bumper that’s a “shelf of protection” for the fascia due north.  The cut lines between fascia and body go higher, therefore far more visible.

And curb appeal goes down.

13Imagine if the fender flowed down to a point far south of the headlight.  Imagine the uncluttered, expensive look this provides.

Large fenders dipping below the lighting pods is commonplace for Aston Martins, ya know.

13_1Insurance constraints or whining about a dent in a big metal fender are the least of a Rolls Royce owner’s worries. They worry about the SEC, or other First World Problems.

13_2The bumper cut line wouldn’t be visible from this angle if the  bumper started at the slot below the headlights.  The Wraith walk-around experience deserves an uninterrupted fender free fall.

 

14For the love of all that’s holy, the correct cut line is presented as the fake, just a few inches south of the real one! Perhaps the taller bumper/shorter fender was a last-minute addition from the beancounters/lawyers?  

 

15But that’s more than a fake cut line, it’s a light.  Fantastic, even more reason to make the fender/bumper transition at this point.

16Every modern car needs a lower valence with big speed holes, helping visually reduce the bulk associated with the ridiculous height.

17Especially when $300+k ensures no solid castings with fake mesh textures.  Whew!

18The chrome grille lives in a painted shell, with another bizarre choice for the hood cut line. Pushing the cut line forward makes the hood more unwieldly to operate and extra vulnerable in an accident, but again, First World Problems.

18_2The Wraith’s grille shell is an awkward, cetacean tribute to its ancestors. A clumsy integration for modern pedestrian safety standards?

19A better way is to move that hood forward, extending the chrome strip too.  And since First World Problems are ‘fo real son, you just go right ahead and make the hood share the same cut line as the chrome grille.

20Can you visualize the two new proposed cut lines from this angle?

And if pedestrian safety regulations allow for a “shelf-like” bumper, shrink back the fender/headlight area to give a subtle homage to the exposed fenders of pre-war Rollers.  Kinda like the shelf you’ll see at the rear.

21Proper cut lines also mean an unobstructed view of the Wraith’s clever light/sensor assembly.  The chrome ring is a nice touch, but it sorely needs a chrome casing for the light.  It worked for the 2008 Chevy Malibu’s rear marker.

See? First World Problems!

22A timeless wheel design is mandatory on any Roller, these pre-war Bugatti-alike spokes do the trick.

23Branded performance brake calipers have jumped the shark when Rolls Royce does it.

24Rolls Royce’s hallmark self-aligning hubs make any shot a perfect one. And some know-it-all-fulla-crap AutoJourno can’t casually spin them by hand, either!

25The space behind the front wheel is thanks to a liberal “dash-to-axle” ratio.   It’s a perfect place to affix an emblem promoting a history of superior proportioning.

26Let’s marinate on this beauty.

27Like a BMW 7-series, the Wraith’s A-pillar extends deep into the hood: a sad reality of modern car design.
27_1You know what’s coming.

28DLO FAIL!

Yes, that’s a sheet of glass where cheaper cars opt for a solid plastic triangle.  But glass is an acceptable DLO FAIL alternative for cars like the $14,000 Nissan Versa Note…but for $340,000 more? Inexcusable bullshit.

28_1The problem worsens when opening the (excellently suicide-hinged) door.  Redesigning a firewall’s hard points for a Wraith can’t be that resource consuming, considering it lacks door hinges!

28_2Perhaps the classy umbrella demanded a door cut line in a certain place.  Perhaps DLO FAIL met its match: the umbrella conquers all.

28_3Truly a magnificent piece of product design (umbrella), integrated into a sad work of transportation design (firewall).

29Even worse, the door cut line is a whimsical curve worthy of a yacht, forcing your eye to naturally follow the curve up to triangular DLO FAIL.

29_1The Wraith’s side has sculptural elements. Note the steep grade on which the side view mirror bolts to the door.

30There’s a subtle character line that also reduces visual heft.

31The door handle is masterful metalwork: reassuring in touch, packed with modern keyless functionality.

32The extra metal spear not only lengthens the door handle’s appearance,  it houses a fancy LED puddle lamp.

33The spear forces your eyes down, south of the DLO FAIL.

34_alsonotechromeseamThe door’s cut line doesn’t meet the starting point of the quarter window.  Frustrating on the CTS-V coupe, far worse on a vehicle nearly four times more expensive.

NOTE: see the chrome’s break point atop the greenhouse. More on that later.

35Not having the window and door cut line match is beyond frustrating. Suicide Door Lincoln Continental it ain’t.

36Start the cut line there, make whatever changes are necessary south of that for a functional hinge.  Could the revised cut line look much worse?

37The chop-top school of thought is getting very, very old.

39Remember what I made you take note of? This break means the Wraith’s quarter window trim comes from two pieces. Inexcusable considering cheaper luxury cars like the 1993 Lincoln Mark VIII.

(Photo Courtesy: eBay.com)

If this relatively affordable luxury coupe made it with one piece, what’s the Wraith’s excuse?

40The beancounted quarter window trim, bizarre B-pillar cut line and played out chop-top: the Wraith’s greenhouse is like a greatest hits of poor vehicle design from the last decade.

41We expect ostentatiousness, not clumsy and chubby.  The flat-not-fastback roof, misaligned B-pillar, whimsical door cut line that missed the A-pillar by several inches: all sloppy in side profile.

41_1A less swoopy door starting at the beginning of the A-pillar loses the yacht like swage line, but that’s a good thing: it’s too “fast” considering the surroundings.

42The rear window has a false panel (or is it a spoiler?) giving the impression of hatchback functionality.

43The CHMSL in this false panel is a nice touch.

43_1Ditto this roof indentation: perhaps for rain water drainage, but definitely excellent for breaking up an otherwise huge swath of sheet metal.

44Here’s the actual cut line for the trunk, yes a conventional trunk. Perhaps it could use some of the door’s whimsical curvature.
46While the fuel filler door has a respectably located bend matching the body, it’s better seen south of the wheel arch, deeper into the quarter panel.
47Because it’s kinda bland here! Nothing wrong with an uninterrupted panel, but take the “clean design” hit to clean up the wheel arch. Priories!

48No, it’s not a 3rd Gen Hyundai Grandeur/XG350.

48_1The Wraith’s fantastic wheelbase and strong proportioning is marred by a smooshed roofline giving the appearance of a decadent automotive cockroach.

Perhaps this is an XG350 that met a very well-endowed cockroach.

49But there’s no Hyundai’s with a chrome frame this massive, with lighting elements so harmonically layered.  All elements compliment the chrome trim: nothing screams like so many OEM lenses in lesser vehicles trying hard to be cool.

50So the rear gets a proper bumper shelf and the front does not? This transition adds depth, texture and refinement: even if the cut line is unnecessarily north of the bumper shelf.

52A subtle crease in the Wraith’s trunk keeps it from appearing bloated, bubbly.

53The Wraith’s softened contours on the chrome trunk mustache needs the front grille’s sharp drop off for more bite.

54Add some tooth to the chrome’s bends (around the logo, at the drop off to the license plate) and it’d look like a Rolls and less like a Chrysler 300 emulating one.

55The massive rear bumper is another reason the flattened cockroach roof has gotta go.

Or perhaps the bumper needs to taper up (same height by the rear wheel, 1-2 inches higher from this angle) making a thinner and rounder posterior?

56A thinner bumper isn’t happening: Rollers need substance to make presence. This bad ass bumper is brand honest. It’s one of many great landings at a Frank Ghery designed airport.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely week!

 

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Junkyard Find: 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1976-chevrolet-monte-carlo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1976-chevrolet-monte-carlo/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 13:00:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1041017 Examples of the rear-wheel-drive Chevy Monte Carlo have held their value pretty well, especially the A-body-based 1970-1977 ones. Even a fairly rough one can be worth restoring, particularly in Southern California, and so I don’t see many of these cars during my travels to the wrecking yards of the Golden State. Here’s a very rough […]

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08 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinExamples of the rear-wheel-drive Chevy Monte Carlo have held their value pretty well, especially the A-body-based 1970-1977 ones. Even a fairly rough one can be worth restoring, particularly in Southern California, and so I don’t see many of these cars during my travels to the wrecking yards of the Golden State. Here’s a very rough ’76 that I spotted in Los Angeles while visiting Cheech & Chong movie locations in a ’15 Ford Transit van.
12 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinGood things never happen when you scrape off a vinyl top and then drive the car that way.
09 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThese cars make excellent lowriders, but to get this car into proper condition for nice paint and interior would have cost about three times the value of the finished result.
04 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinI’m not sure what the junkyard symbolism of the ace of clubs could be.

Endorsed by this Canadian yacht designer.

Yes, Canadians were crazy about the Malaise Monte.

Makes you look rich!

05 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Editorial: $3.5 Billion And Counting http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/editorial-3-5-billion-counting/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/editorial-3-5-billion-counting/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 15:02:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1039937 The final tally is in for the Canadian taxpayer. With the Canadian government unloading the last of its shares in General Motors, the estimated loss is said to be $3.5 billion. For the purposes of this column, the bailout of GM and Chrysler is settled, at least as far as debating whether it should have […]

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GM Oshawa. Photo courtesy unknown.

The final tally is in for the Canadian taxpayer. With the Canadian government unloading the last of its shares in General Motors, the estimated loss is said to be $3.5 billion.

For the purposes of this column, the bailout of GM and Chrysler is settled, at least as far as debating whether it should have been carried out or not. To paraphrase Sean Bean in Ronin, the automakers “got the swag, kept the money, job well done”. American cars have never been better, factories are still humming along, labor costs have come down and may be reduced even further. For the American auto industry, it’s hard to think of a better outcome.

North of the 49th parallel, things are not so rosy. Investment in the auto sector continues to slip away from the Great White North, with Mexico and the United States bleeding away production. While Ford, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota have made investments in their Canadian plants to help retool them for new product, there hasn’t been a new standalone plant built since before the bailout.

On the other hand, the biggest news in Canada’s auto manufacturing sector is the unabated ebbing away of product from GM’s Oshawa plant. Oshawa was once a flagship plant for GM – to this day, they are still known for producing some of GM’s highest quality products. But in recent years, new product that was once built at Oshawa has been awarded to GM plants in the United States, Mexico and even Germany. At the same time, no new products have been awarded to the plant.

While GM claims that it will take them until the end of 2016 to come to a decision on the plant’s fate, a closer analysis reveals a bleaker picture. Two major agreements are set to expire in 2016 – the agreement between Unifor (formerly the Canadian Auto Workers union) and GM, as well as the Vitality Commitment signed by GM (which binds GM to producing 16 percent of its output in Canada, as a condition of receiving bailout funds). Once these expire, GM will essentially have no obligations to Canada, save for two smaller plants in Ontario, which build the Theta crossovers and selected powertrains respectively.

Given these circumstances, it would be an opportune time to close Oshawa. The fallout for the town, which is literally dominated by General Motors (the company has its Canadian headquarters and an R&D center located there), would be nothing short of devastating. But in today’s corporate environment, these ties mean absolutely nothing. Canada’s car market is small enough that any anti-GM backlash would mean nothing. If GM can weather the storm following its shutdown of Holden’s Australian plants, it will survive this scenario.

But Australia didn’t help keep GM afloat in a time of acute need. Canada did. Closing Oshawa may be a financially prudent decision when viewed from the RenCen, but it would be an enormous middle finger to Canada. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to imagine any other scenario playing out.

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Junkyard Find: 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1988-pontiac-fiero-formula/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1988-pontiac-fiero-formula/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 13:00:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1039665 Ah, the Pontiac Fiero. So much potential, but ultimately a disappointment for The General. I see the occasional Fiero during my wrecking-yard wandering, but it takes a special one to inspire me to shoot photos. This screaming yellow ’86 Fiero GT was one, and today’s final-year-of-production ’88 Fiero Formula is another. GM saved money on […]

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12 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinAh, the Pontiac Fiero. So much potential, but ultimately a disappointment for The General. I see the occasional Fiero during my wrecking-yard wandering, but it takes a special one to inspire me to shoot photos. This screaming yellow ’86 Fiero GT was one, and today’s final-year-of-production ’88 Fiero Formula is another.
01 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinGM saved money on the original Fieros by using a parts-bin suspension (Chevy Citation in the rear, Chevette in the front) and the not-so-sporty Iron Duke four-cylinder pushrod engine, instead of the Fiero-only suspension penned by the engineers and the bespoke aluminum V6 of their dreams. By 1988, though, the Fiero finally got the suspension intended for it… just in time for the end of production.
20 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car looks to have been picked over by junkyard vultures, but it’s still possible to see that it has all sorts of options. Air conditioning!
06 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinIs it possible that we’re looking at a 419,807-mile car here? The off-centeredness of the odometer numerals may indicate mechanical troubles rather than an incredible number of miles.

01 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Here’s Why an Electric Car Could Be the Best First Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/heres-electric-car-best-first-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/heres-electric-car-best-first-car/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 12:37:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1039377 Across the country, thousands of high school students will be completing their sophomore year of high school. Many of them are about to turn 16. Many of them want a car. Many of them have activities like after-school sports, community service, SAT test prep, chess club, and possibly even a job. Many of them have […]

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2015 Chevrolet Spark EV

Across the country, thousands of high school students will be completing their sophomore year of high school. Many of them are about to turn 16. Many of them want a car. Many of them have activities like after-school sports, community service, SAT test prep, chess club, and possibly even a job. Many of them have parents who have become tired of driving their kids everywhere and want to spend some time towards their own pursuits. Many of those parents are worried about the costs and responsibility of their kids having a car. Many of those parents are afraid at the places their children could go without their knowledge with a car.

Well, parents of America, I have a solution: Lease an electric vehicle for your teenage son or daughter. Most parents will either hand their kids down a car or buy them something brand-new. Usually, the new car is a Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, anything from Scion, and so on. Something safe, fuel-efficient, reasonably priced and something to take to college. A hand-me-down vehicle could be an old truck, old minivan, a 10+ year old car which gets very good fuel mileage, or maybe an old Volvo. But you have to pay for gas, insurance, maintenance (which gets seriously expensive on Volvos), as well as car payments if you buy a new car.

By the way, I stress the leasing part since some teenagers tend to move far away from their parents for college. Some of these campuses might not be car-friendly either, especially for undergraduate students. In cases like those, buying an electric vehicle probably won’t be the best option, since you might not want an extra car in the driveway that nobody is using.

Now, many of you might think it’s a bad idea to for a teenager to have a new electric car. It might be easy for them to sneak out of the house, for instance. Or it could be easy for them to sneak back into the house when it’s past curfew. It might be too expensive because you’re getting them a new car. You might believe on principle that a teenager shouldn’t have access to a new car. You might receive some criticism from your friends, neighbors, and coworkers for getting a teenager a new car. You also believe that range anxiety might not be the best thing for a teenager to handle.

However I, a 24-year-old car enthusiast whose first car was a MkV Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T (in hindsight, it shouldn’t have been), think an electric vehicle is an excellent starter car for a teenager. In that vein, I’ve come up with three reasons about why getting a teenager an electric car is a viable option.

  1. There’s actually a radius to where they can travel.

Most electric cars on the market have a range of 80 to 100 miles on a full charge. That isn’t very far, especially when traveling round-trip to the city from the suburbs. Now, as a parent, there might be range anxiety and you would hate your child to run out of battery in the middle of a busy road. But considering most electric vehicles have a range of at least 70 miles on a full charge, that’s more than enough range for a teenager’s typical day. Other than the usual drive to school and back, there’s still range for going to the mall, traveling to a friend’s house for a project, going to where they do community service, or drive to an after-school job.

For most parents, it minimizes the chances that their children will take unexpected “detours,” unless that particular destination has a quick charging station present. Some parents will complain that the “silence” of an electric vehicle will permit the kids to sneak out of the house, but unless their destination is within 15 miles round-trip, they may have some trouble getting to that full charge for the following morning. That range will also teach them responsibility when it comes to planning trips, since how they travel depends on whether they’ve charged it or not. At most, school will be 25 miles away (I actually know people who travel that far to get to high school), so the car has to be charged every night. (And in some states, electric vehicles get to travel in the HOV lane, so no more driving the school carpool!) It’ll be a bad day if he or she forgot to plug in the car. In addition, when going to activities that fall outside the daily routine, they’ll have to plan their trips and check whether there are places to charge nearby.

  1. The costs of ownership are reasonable.

Thankfully, there won’t be an extra car to add to the gasoline costs for the month. If the electric car is replacing a vehicle that could barely achieve 20 miles per gallon, leasing an electric vehicle could be more cost effective than handing down an old pickup. For example, the FIAT 500e, though available in California and Oregon only, has an advertised lease rate of $139 a month for 36 months with $1,999 down including the first lease payment and a 36,000 mile limit. Even a base model Nissan Leaf, which is more widely available, has a lease rate of $199 a month for 36 months with $2,399 due at signing including the first lease payment with a 36,000 mile limit. Without including taxes, insurance, maintenance and charging cost, that’s around $10,000 for three years of ownership of a car with a warranty and one that you can give back (with a $395 disposition fee).

Also, money is saved from all that gas you or your high school student doesn’t have to buy. Going on fueleconomy.gov, for most electric vehicles it costs under $1 to travel 25 miles. While the average 2015 vehicles gets 24 miles per gallon, on average, gas varies between $2 and $3.50, the $3+ mark being achieved thanks to California and Hawaii. The website estimates that most EV operators will spend between $500 and $600 on “fuel cost” for 15,000 miles per year.

Additionally, insurance costs tend to be less for an electric vehicle compared to a similarly priced gas vehicle. One study showed that on average driver’s saved $200 per year on insurance when they switched to electric. Considering how much a family’s car insurance shoots up when a teenage driver is added, the reduction in annual insurance premiums will be welcomed. Overall, if it comes to less than $5,000 a year to have your teenager driving, getting an electric vehicle might be a good car.

  1. Electric vehicles are safe.

No, I’m not thinking of the Tesla Model S and its exceptional crash test rating when I wrote the above. Electric vehicles like the Spark EV and Focus Electric are Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. The Leaf and 500e, which will undoubtedly be considered, don’t achieve that distinction due to their “Poor” rating in the small overlap front crash test. (But from 2013-2014 the Leaf was a Top Safety Pick before inclusion of the front overlap crash test.) However, electric vehicles are just as safe as normal new vehicles that are popular with teenagers such as the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Sonic, Audi A4, and the Scion xD or xB.

Compare that to a 10+ year-old hand-me-down Accord, Maxima, or Jeep, which probably don’t come close to 2015 safety standards. Moreover, when the speed question comes up, most electric vehicles have a difficult time staying above 80 miles per hour, and even then, staying at those speeds quickly depletes the battery. As a result, there’s an incentive to stay at reasonable speeds. Leasing an electric vehicle means you won’t take a big hit if the car is totaled, too. Most lease agreements should have gap insurance (and seriously, ensure you have the gap coverage when leasing the car) for making up the difference in value that the insurance company will pay out.

So there you have it. The answers to most of your concerns of giving a car to your teenager. They’ll probably stay within 50 miles of the house or face being stranded. After all, most teenagers don’t have to drive over 100 miles a day over 90% of the time. They’ll learn responsibility in planning their trips. It could be the most cost effective solution at a cost of under $5,000 a year. And most importantly for parents, they’ll be safe if they get into an accident. And while the only detriment is that they could sneak out of the house, you know they won’t get far. Sometimes range anxiety helps.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. If his first car had been electric, he’s fairly certain he would’ve created an autocross course from the streets in his neighborhood.  

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Junkyard Find: 1988 Chevrolet Nova Sedan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1988-chevrolet-nova-sedan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1988-chevrolet-nova-sedan/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 13:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1037009 For reasons that trolly shouters on both extremes of the American politico-socio-automotive spectrum know to be the truth, the exact same workers at the Fremont Assembly plant who couldn’t hammer together a decent-quality Buick Regal or GMC C/K— no matter how many Mickey’s Big Mouths they guzzled in some South Hayward parking lot before their […]

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10 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFor reasons that trolly shouters on both extremes of the American politico-socio-automotive spectrum know to be the truth, the exact same workers at the Fremont Assembly plant who couldn’t hammer together a decent-quality Buick Regal or GMC C/K— no matter how many Mickey’s Big Mouths they guzzled in some South Hayward parking lot before their shifts— suddenly became capable of building rebadged Corollas that were every bit as good as the ones made by their Japanese counterparts, once the plant became NUMMI (nowadays they build Teslas there). Of course, each of you knows that this is due to (insert damning indictment of those dupes who believe Wrong Things here) with a touch of (insert bilious tirade that sounds the alarm about Some Evil Conspiracy here), and to provide ammunition for your arguments I present this 1988 Chevrolet-badged AE82 Toyota Sprinter aka Corolla.
08 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThese cars are not uncommon in self-service wrecking yards nowadays, especially in California. In this series, we’ve seen this ’87 sedan and this ’87 hatchback, and now we’ve got today’s final-year-of-production (before it became the Geo Prizm) Nova, which I spotted in a Denver yard a few months back.
04 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin244,816 miles, which is impressive even by 2015 standards. Sure, they probably weren’t very exciting miles, but nobody bought a NUMMI Nova for adventure.
07 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe good old 4A engine family, which went into Coronas, Corollas, MR2s, Celicas, Sprinters, and so forth, all the way into the late 1990s. Some 4As made great power, but the 4A-LC was more about longevity and fuel economy.

Brought to you by Chevrolet and Toyota.

You can get an American car and a foreign car!

Of course, the Japanese version was much more sexy.

01 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1988 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Bark’s Bites: The Good, The Not-As-Good, and The Ugly: Part Three http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/barks-bites-good-not-good-ugly-part-three/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/barks-bites-good-not-good-ugly-part-three/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 11:30:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1033673 In today’s installment, we’ll examine the lineups of the big Japanese three: Nissan, Honda, and Toyota, as well as their luxury variants. I should have said this in the first installment, but never let it be said that I am above admitting mistakes, so let me say it now: I never had plans to comment […]

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camry xse

In today’s installment, we’ll examine the lineups of the big Japanese three: Nissan, Honda, and Toyota, as well as their luxury variants. I should have said this in the first installment, but never let it be said that I am above admitting mistakes, so let me say it now: I never had plans to comment on every single model from every single manufacturer—just the ones that stand out to me in some way, or ones that I have about which I might have a contrary opinion. If I don’t mention a model, it’s likely because I haven’t driven it, or I don’t have an opinion about it that is in any way meaningful or insightful.

Since we’ve already established the format in the first and second installments of this series, let’s just jump right into it, shall we?

NISSAN

The Good:

Nissan continues to own the B segment in the States with the Versa and Versa Note. It’s spacious (as people reminded me when I reviewed the Rogue Select recently), it’s inexpensive, gets good gas mileage, and it has a decent reliability record. What else do you expect at this price point?

The Leaf is really much better to drive than you’d expect, and I totally dig the quirky looks of it. Since I spend a fair amount of time in Atlanta, I’ve gotten pretty used to the idea of the Leaf, and I’d definitely consider leasing one if I lived there due to the massive tax subsidies available. If you don’t live somewhere that the Focus EV  or Spark EV is available, and you’re not prepared to go Full Tesla, then the Leaf is for you.

The Not-As-Good:

I’ve always loved the Z. There was a time, when the 370Z was launched in 2009, that only an idiot would consider anything but the Z in this price range. But this iteration is getting a bit long in the tooth, and the pony cars have caught and surpassed it. The version you really want is the Sport trim, and with an MSRP of around $34K, can you really make a case for it over a Mustang GT? I don’t think so.

The Altima isn’t bad. It’s competent. It’s adequate. I could go to thesaurus.com and find some other words to describe just how ambivalent I am about it, but I think you’ve got the point by now. It’s not as good as the Mazda6, the Fusion, the Accord, or the Camry, and it’s probably better than the Malibu and the Sonata. I think that means it fits here. I certainly never pick one on purpose on rental row, but I don’t get upset if it’s all that’s available.

The GT-R has served its purpose for Nissan, despite what our former EIC had to say about it all those years ago. It’s been a good halo car. It’s had a few refreshes over the years so that it doesn’t seem as old as it actually is. I just don’t dig it. It seems like it’s the dream car of teenagers and twentysomethings, but by the time they grow up enough to buy one, they’ve also grown up enough to move on to either the 991 or the Viper/Corvette. Nevertheless, it is a technological marvel, and Nissan should be commended for being the only Japanese automaker to currently have a genuine supercar in the lineup.

The Ugly:

I’m just gonna go ahead and leave INFINITI here. The brand needs a complete reboot—or a complete execution. They have exactly one car in the top 100 in 2015 YTD sales—the Q50 sneaks in at #96—and their naming convention is so odd that I have no problem admitting that I have no idea what car people are talking about anymore when they mention an Infiniti. It would have been nice of Johan de Nysschen to turn the lights out when he left.

The Rogue Select goes here, too. I haven’t driven a newer Rogue yet, so I’ll reserve judgment.

Sometimes I forget that Nissan makes the Sentra. I find it to be the least attractive, least compelling vehicle of anything in the C segment. Where the Altima is knocking on the door of the Camry for top-seller in its segment, the Sentra languishes behind not only the Corolla, but also the Civic, the Cruze, and the Focus. I can’t imagine why anybody buys this car.

HONDA

The Good:

The Accord…what can you say? It’s the Accord. It’s the Ohio State of cars—it might have its haters, but it’s consistently good every single year. It’s the last of it’s kind to keep offering a two-door variant. It’s a good car. I got nothin’ else.

The MDX/Pilot. I might be one of the few people who’s towed a race car with a Pilot across the country. It always demonstrated great gas mileage, a comfortable ride, enough storage space for eight wheels and tires and tools, and it was reliable as the sun. No complaints here.

The Fit—it’s #fitforyou! I think it’s too expensive for what it is, and I wouldn’t even consider buying one over something like, oh, I don’t know, a FIESTA ST, but it suits the needs of lots of people perfectly. In all seriousness, it really is pretty good. Why no performance variant though?

In the most competitive segment in today’s marketplace, Honda has a clear winner—the CR-V. It’s pretty hard to believe that it outsells both the Civic and the Accord, but it does. Welcome to 2015! The CR-V has a long tradition of being a reliable, smart decision—nobody will mock you at the PTA meeting for buying one. With the small CUV becoming the new mid-size sedan, it makes sense that the CR-V is as popular as it is.

The Not-As-Good:

What the hell has happened to the Civic? It’s too big, it’s too bloated, it’s too boring. I respect Honda’s decision to react quickly in regards to the Civic after the relative disaster of the 2012 Civic, but for those of us who remember what the Civic (specifically the SI) used to be, the modern Civic is just okay. I can guarantee you that Toretto’s gang wouldn’t be using Civics to rob semis anymore.

The Ugly:

The Crosstour. No, I mean, it’s literally ugly. I know it’s just an Accord, but what can I say—I’m superficial.

If there was ever a car that needed to be completely re-imagined, it’s the CR-Z. Poorly conceived, poorly designed, and poorly executed. It’s neither economical nor sporty—so what would you say ya do here, CR-Z?  It’s a travesty.

But, to me, the ugliest part about Honda is that the company has completely abandoned its enthusiast base. The company that used to make the Integra Type-R and the S2000 feels like just another appliance maker now. You can feel it when you’re in a Honda store, as I often am. There’s no passion, there’s no excitement. The showrooms feel like mausoleums. You know what Honda needs? A Fit SI. Get the kids excited about the brand again. Create some future Honda enthusiasts.

TOYOTA

The Good:

Maybe there’s something in the water around here, because I used to hate the Camry and everything that it stood for. After a few dozen track laps in a four-cylinder SE, I kinda like it. Of all the mid-sizers, the Camry is definitely to most rewarding to drive. It wouldn’t be my first pick in the segment, but it would definitely be in my top three. That’s good enough to get it up here.

The IS350 is the one car that has a legitimate potential claim to the throne that the 3-Series has owned for decades. I was fortunate enough to drive the F-Sport variant from San Diego to Beverly Hills last October, and it’s hard to think of a car that I would have rather made the trip in. If you don’t like the new 3-Series, the IS might just be for you.

Do you know how you  know you’ve made it as a mom at my son’s school? You have a Swagger Wagon. The Sienna is the top choice of non-working women everywhere. Unfortunately, it can slide into the high $30K range pretty quickly once you start optioning it up into AWD V6 trim.

I struggle with where I should place the RX. It’s been wildly successful (has any platform ever made into as many top sellers as the Camry?). It’s overpriced. It’s largely loved by people who hate cars. But…it’s virtually unkillable. I see RX 300s everywhere, still effortlessly plugging along, well into six figures of life. By that measurement, it belongs in the “Good” category.

The Not-As-Good

The Corolla…well, it’s just a Corolla. I personally can’t get excited about it, but is it a good car? It’s not a bad one. That means it goes here.

I got the chance to go to the launch of the Highlander last year, and it’s pretty Highlanderish. I said this at the time: “This new Highlander will do nothing to keep satisfied Highlander drivers from buying another one, and will do a lot to convince happy owners of competitors to take a look. That is, assuming, they can get past that ugly grille.” That’s still true. It’s not great. It’s not terrible. It goes here.

The Avalon is boring, yes, but in the segment of full-sized FWD sedans, you could do worse…well, you couldn’t do much worse. But you could buy a Taurus. That would be worse.

The Ugly:

The Yaris just needs to be discontinued—it’s not competitive in any way, shape, or form. It’s truly amazing to see how well the Camry and Corolla sell, and yet the Yaris just languishes. It goes to show that the Toyota name only goes so far.

Guess what? I don’t like the FR-S, either. But this gives me a great opportunity to reply to those who questioned my placement of the BRZ in the “Ugly” category.

  • The BRZ/FR-S has plenty of competitors, most obviously the EcoBoost Mustang, the MX-5, GTI, Focus ST, WRX…pretty much any performance-oriented vehicle under $30k is a real-world competitor of the Toyaburu twins. It doesn’t have to be a rear-wheel drive coupe to be cross-shopped with them.
  • Yes, I think the BRZ is underpowered, but that’s not my main complaint with it. Remember, I owned an RX-8. I am the proud lessee of a Fiesta ST. Cars can still be low-powered and fun—this just isn’t one of them.
  • Between the two models, they’ll be lucky to sell 20k of them this year. It’s not destined to be with us for much longer.

That being said, it’s a commendable effort. All they needed to do to make it good was offer an F Sport FR-S, or something. I’m hardly the first person on the internet to suggest a turbocharged version. Just a mild boost in power—maybe 260 HP—would be perfect.

N/A:

I’d really love to tell you what I think about the RC, but I haven’t driven one. Sad face.

 

All righty—one more installment to go. We’ll cover the Big Three next. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Junkyard Find: 1968 Saab 95 Station Wagon http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1968-saab-95-station-wagon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/junkyard-find-1968-saab-95-station-wagon/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 13:00:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1033705 The Saab 96 (and its station-wagon sibling, the 95) is one of those iconic cars that just about everybody claims to love, but few are willing to rescue. Most of the 96s in the country passed through the junkyard gates and into the recycled-metal continuum a couple of decades back, with only the nicest examples […]

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20 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Saab 96 (and its station-wagon sibling, the 95) is one of those iconic cars that just about everybody claims to love, but few are willing to rescue. Most of the 96s in the country passed through the junkyard gates and into the recycled-metal continuum a couple of decades back, with only the nicest examples deemed worthy of saving, but a few have hung on in side yards and cornfields long enough to show up in wrecking yards now. We saw this ’68 sedan in California last year, and now there’s this ’68 wagon in Denver.
19 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one has the Ford Taunus V4, rather than the three-cylinder Saab two-stroke so beloved by those who have never driven a car powered by one (to be fair, I know some two-stroke Saab owners who do love driving their cars).
12 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThe gauges have that cool Saab airplane logo.
14 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinFour-on-the-tree diagram and cold-starting instructions are found on this dash sticker.
05 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinNo obvious signs of rust-through, and the interior isn’t too horrifying. After several months in this yard, still not many pieces have been plucked from this old Swede.

01 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 1968 Saab 96 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Junkyard Find: 1976 Buick Electra Limited Coupe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/junkyard-find-1976-buick-electra-limited-coupe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/junkyard-find-1976-buick-electra-limited-coupe/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 13:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1031729 The General shrank the Buick Electra for the 1977 model year and then ditched the model entirely in 1990, so the ’76 was the last of the proper single-digit-fuel-economy Electras. These comfy gerontocrusiers used to be everywhere on American roads, even in the dark days after gas prices went crazy, and you still see them […]

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09 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe General shrank the Buick Electra for the 1977 model year and then ditched the model entirely in 1990, so the ’76 was the last of the proper single-digit-fuel-economy Electras. These comfy gerontocrusiers used to be everywhere on American roads, even in the dark days after gas prices went crazy, and you still see them in wrecking yards today, but for some reason I’ve photographed just one prior to today’s Junkyard Find.
15 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSir Mix-a-Lot immortalized the beat-up Electra as the iconic hooptie 26 years ago (not long before I photographed this ’73 on a Stockton highway).
07 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe 455-cubic-inch V8 was down to a mere 205 horsepower in 1976 (27 more than the base four-cylinder engine in the 2015 Camry), but it still had (and needed) a fairly healthy 345 lb-ft of torque.
17 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI have never seen one of these “digital” GM dash clocks with the scrolling seconds reel that worked, not even when they were new.
05 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAM, FM, 8-track— just the thing for your Gary Wright tapes (although your typical Buick buyer in 1976 most likely listened to something more like this tape).
03 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBuick stuck with the black-on-silver gauge schtick for quite a few years after this.

01 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 1976 Buick Electra Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Whatizit? Shoulda Known Myron Vernis Had Something to do With It http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/whatizit-shoulda-known-myron-vernis-something/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/whatizit-shoulda-known-myron-vernis-something/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1028081 But of course! While researching this post I discovered that a previous owner of its subject is actually someone that I know, Myron Vernis. I featured his Mazda Cosmo and Toyota Sports 800 in a post on last year’s Eyes On Design show. Myron owns what has to be the world’s finest collection of oddball cars so […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

But of course! While researching this post I discovered that a previous owner of its subject is actually someone that I know, Myron Vernis. I featured his Mazda Cosmo and Toyota Sports 800 in a post on last year’s Eyes On Design show. Myron owns what has to be the world’s finest collection of oddball cars so the fact that this literally unique vehicle ended up in his hands came as no surprise.

The research that ended up  with a phone call from Vernis started with a post by Jason Torchinsky over at Jalopnik, the second in a series of articles asking readers to identify relatively obscure motor vehicles simply from a photo of the drivetrain. Like many of Torch’s ideas, it’s clever and I’m not saying that just because we tend to write about similar topics. Well, maybe a little, but he’s one of the writers over there whose stuff I try not to miss.

A lot of manufacturer’s engines have ended up in smaller companies’ products so there is some challenge to the game. So far his two photographic riddles have involved the 1951 Tempo Matador commercial van and the Zamboni ice resurfacing machine. Both of those vehicles happen to be powered by air-cooled VW Beetle engines.

That reminded me of another unusual car with an air-cooled flat four, one that I’d personally photographed at the Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti a few years back. At first I was just going to email Torchinsky a photo to suggest that he’d really stump his audience with it, since this is a one of of a kind car. Then I thought to myself, why should I give Jason content for free when I can get paid for it here not entertain some of own readers here at TTAC instead of helping another site’s traffic?

So what do you think it is? The answer is after the next break.

Photo courtesy of Myron Vernis. Photo credit: Wolfgang Blaube

Photo courtesy of Myron Vernis. Photo credit: Wolfgang Blaube

It’s a Gregory, a one-off project of Ben F. Gregory, an American pioneer in front wheel drive automobiles and the creator of the Vietnam War era M-422 Mighty Mite four wheel drive mini-truck. Small and of light weight so it could be transported and dropped by aircraft, 5,000 of the aluminum intensive M-422s were made by American Motors for the U.S. Marines. Ben seems to have been a bit of a character as well.

Benjamin F. Gregory was born in Missouri in 1890 and lived most of his life in the Kansas City area where he operated one of America’s first commercial air services along with a flight training school. He took his first flight in 1913 but didn’t really gain an interest in aviation for a few years.

gregoryad

After his discharge from the Army following World War One, he began a lifelong interest in automotive design, particularly front wheel drive. Per Griff Borgeson’s The Golden Age of the American Racing Car, between 1918 and 1922 Gregory assembled ten or so front-wheel-drive automobiles, approximately contemporaneously with the development of the Citroen Traction Avant in Europe and a year or so before the first of racing pioneer Harry Miller’s FWD race cars. Apparently Gregory paid for those experimental front drive cars by barnstorming a track racer powered by a Hispano-Suiza airplane engine.

Ben sdfa

Ben Gregory and his eponymous sports car

Attending an American Legion air show in 1920 got him interested in flying again, not as a just as a hobby, but as a business. By 1921 he was flying a three seater plane, offering passengers a seven minute flight for $5. That was a lot of money in the 1920s but then flying was a very novel experience then. He flew more than a half million passengers,  using the slogan, “Fly With Ben”.

In 1930, Gregory upgraded to the first of what would be five Ford trimotors, with a top speed of 90 mph and capable of carrying 13 passengers. I don’t know if the “mile high club” existed back then, but Gregory did perform marriage ceremonies, as captain of the ship, for at least 90 couples while aloft. Ever the promoter, Gregory mounted $15,000 worth of lights and smoke machines to do nighttime meteorite imitations, and nicknamed the plane “The Ship From Mars”.

He had a bit of luck, too, surviving seven plane crashes, including three of his Trimotors. He was too old to be a military pilot during World War II, but he contributed to the war effort flying commercially until a serious crash put him out of commercial aviation. He continued to fly as a hobby, though.

Returning to his passion for automobiles and inspired by the wartime jeep, Gregory, in 1946, started work on what became the M422 Mighty Mite, a lighter, smaller version of the same concept. He incorporated MARCO, the Mid-America Research Corporation and hired a number of the engineers who worked for Bantam designing the original jeep. MARCO debuted the MM100 in 1950. It had an aluminum body, sat on a tiney 64.5 inch wheelbase and it was powered by a 52 hp, 1.5 liter flat four made by Porsche. It had a novel suspension, independent all around, using swing arms and cantilevered quarter elliptical springs at each corner. Both front and rear ends had differentials with aluminum cases as well as inboard brakes.

Helicopters came into their own during the Korean War and the Marine Corps was interested in a jeep-like vehicle that was light enough to be airlifted into battle by the rotary wing aircraft. The USMC was impressed with how well the MM100 performed in their tests and they wanted to go forward with the project, but only if the Porsche engine was replaced with something sourced in America. In 1954, Gregory turned turn the fledgling American Motors, which was working on it’s own air-cooled V4. AMC started building what was called the M422 in 1960. However, the production run was short, some say less than 4,000 and no more than 5,000 were built. What happened is that in the ten years between concept and production, helicopters got stronger and could carry a standard jeep.

In the mid 1950s, Gregory devoted himself to building a front wheel drive sports roadster with a tube space frame and a hand formed aluminum body. Road & Track tested it in 1956. Though at first glance you might think that’s air-cooled flat four is from a VW, but if you look closely it’s actually a Porsche engine, capable of 70 horsepower, roughly double the power output of a Vee Dub motor of that time. I’m guessing that the Porsche motor was left over from the MM100 project. That engine sits in front of the front axle, facing in the opposite direction that it would have been in a bathtub Porsche. A transaxle sits behind the engine and drives the front wheels. R&T reported that the 1,925 lb roadster could approach 100 mph. The steering geometry featured center point steering with a vertical pivot. Rzeppa constant velocity joints at the wheel end of the equal length drive axles were housed inside oversized wheel bearings.

Full gallery here

Myron Vernis at the wheel of the Gregory. Full gallery here

Initial plans were to build and sell 20 of the roadsters at a price of $5,000, a considerable sum of money in the mid 1950s. To compare, a 1956 Corvette had a MSRP of $3,120. It’s not clear if the high price was a factor but Gregory never put his car into production. He did, however, drive it regularly for the rest of his life, putting over 300,000 miles on it. After he died in 1974, his widow gave the sports car to his friend John Burnham of Colorado, who raced it and then sold it. When Bob Chinnery saw that the Gregory was part of a collection that was being liquidated he knew that he had to buy it. A former drag racer, he had a small collection of motorcycles and race cars. He knew about the car because Bob Gregory once approached him at his race shop, pointed to Chinnery’s Jaguar XK120 and asked him if he wanted a ride in a “real sports car”. They ended up becoming good friends.

Chinnery planned to restore the car, still in almost completely original condition, but passed away before that could be done. Myron Vernis bought the car from Chinnery’s estate. He told me that it drove well, and had no torque steer because of the equal length half shafts, but that it did steer a little oddly because of the center pivot steering.

When I photographed the car at the 2011 Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti, Michigan, it was in Vernis’ collection, but he’s since sold it to the Lane Museum, which says something about the Myron’s taste and eye as a collector.

Speaking of his collection, I suppose that the next car scheduled to join it could be described as mainstream. When I told him I’m in the middle of writing a review of Dodge’s Scat Pack Challenger, Vernis replied, “Oh, I ordered a Hellcat Charger,” rather matter of factly. Well, not quite so matter of factly. I could hear him grin over the phone. Myron has a sly grin that gives me the impression that he knows how it all works. “I wanted the Charger because it has four doors,” he explained. What could be more mainstream than a four door Dodge?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Junkyard Find: 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/junkyard-find-1989-buick-lesabre-estate-wagon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/junkyard-find-1989-buick-lesabre-estate-wagon/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 13:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1029577 The traditional full-size Detroit station wagon was in trouble by the end of the 1980s, thanks to the rise of the minivan. Increasingly car-like SUVs would kick the other leg out from under big rear-drive wagon sales during the 1990s, and so this great big GM B-platform wagon is one of the last of its […]

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02 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe traditional full-size Detroit station wagon was in trouble by the end of the 1980s, thanks to the rise of the minivan. Increasingly car-like SUVs would kick the other leg out from under big rear-drive wagon sales during the 1990s, and so this great big GM B-platform wagon is one of the last of its type. Look, it’s even a woodie!
04 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Buick Estate name goes way back in GM history. The version we’re looking at in this Northern California wrecking yard is from the final generation of the Estate Wagon, built on the downsized B platform for the 1977 through 1990 model years (after that, you could get a Roadmaster Estate).
09 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe “wood” on this car isn’t particularly convincing.
11 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe cassette deck came with auto-reverse, still a futuristic technology in the eyes of Buick customers in 1989.
14 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe non-wagon LeSabre had gone to the front-drive H-body platform by this time, which must have been a bit confusing for Buick shoppers.

02 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1989 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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