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. Thu, 11 Sep 2014 17:31:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 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/ Watch A Model T Get Assembled in Less Than Five Minutes and Two Historic Replicas Drive at the Old Car Festival http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/watch-model-t-get-assembled-less-five-minutes-two-historic-replicas-drive-old-car-festival/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/watch-model-t-get-assembled-less-five-minutes-two-historic-replicas-drive-old-car-festival/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 17:31:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=910618   Start the video, then click on the settings icon to select 2D or your choice of 3D formats. Every year, Greenfield Village hosts two large car shows, the Motor Muster for cars built from 1933 to 1976 and the Old Car Festival, for vehicles from the start of the motor age until the introduction […]

The post Watch A Model T Get Assembled in Less Than Five Minutes and Two Historic Replicas Drive at the Old Car Festival appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
 

Click here to view the embedded video.


Start the video, then click on the settings icon to select 2D or your choice of 3D formats.

Every year, Greenfield Village hosts two large car shows, the Motor Muster for cars built from 1933 to 1976 and the Old Car Festival, for vehicles from the start of the motor age until the introduction of the 1932 Ford. The Henry Ford institutions claim that the Old Car Festival is the longest running antique car show in America, having started in 1955. It’s a charming event, with many of the cars’ owners dressing in period clothing and since folks are encouraged to drive their cars around the Village (with traffic “cops” in period uniforms at the intersections) there’s a “back in time” look and feel to the event. There aren’t many places were you can see a parade of 90 year old cars drive through an authentic covered wooden bridge.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Start the video, then click on the settings icon to select 2D or your choice of 3D formats.

It’s a unique car event. Where else can you see a drag race between a 1909 air-cooled Franklin and a ninety year old Hupmobile?

In addition to races and field exercises on the Village parade grounds there are also demonstrations like the one put on by the Canadian Model T Assembly Team. As you can probably guess from their name, the team shows how Model Ts went together, using a 1927 chassis as an example. After some preparation laying out part was done, the clock started running and the team started putting the major assemblies together. It took them just under five minutes to everything put together and filled with fluids, ready to be crank started. Now admittedly, they didn’t mount a body, but still five minutes to assemble any kind of automotive rolling chassis is pretty impressive.

While the Model T is famous for Ford’s use of an assembly line to put it together at the Highland Park plant, the Canadian Model T Assembly Team’s process is a bit more like the “station assembly” process used a the previous Piquette Avenue factory.

Apparently, putting together a team to put together a Model T has become a bit of a thing with T enthusiasts. This group in Florida can do it in less than three minutes:

As mentioned, the Old Car Festival celebrates the earliest days of the automobile. The oldest vintage car that I saw on display, which was also driven around the Village, was a 1902 Columbus electric car. I spotted at least three curved dash Oldsmobiles puttering around and there were also a couple of original Ford Model As being driven. That was the first model produced by the Ford Motor Company when it was started up in 1903.

Two years earlier Henry Ford’s first attempt to start a car company, the Detroit Automobile Company, failed. Things were not going well for the entrepreneur. He had given up a good job as chief operating engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit to pursue his dream and instead it had the makings of a nightmare. He had a wife, Clara, and a son, Edsel. Ford himself was not a young man, already 38 years old, and he and Clara had to move in with her parents.

To gain credibility with the public but even more important, with potential investors, Henry decided to enter a motorcar race called a sweepstakes that was to be held at a Grosse Pointe horse racing track. With a team of associates including riding mechanic Edward “Spider” Huff who is said to have invented the ceramic spark plug insulator for the car using dental supplies, Ford built what he referred to as the Sweepstakes car. It’s two cylinder engine displaced over 500 cubic inches and was said to have a top speed of at least 70 mph. Though Ford would later hire professional drivers like Barney Oldfield to drive later racing specials like the 999, for the 10 laps around the one mile horse track Henry decided to take the wheel himself. Huff’s role wasn’t just to provide an extra pair of hands. He rode on the running board, shifting his weight like a sidehack rider to keep the Sweepstakes’ wheels on the ground.

download

Ford’s competition was Alexander Winton, then the most successful American automaker. Winton was an experienced racer, the best known race driver in the country. Ford had never raced a car before, nor would he ever race one again. The Winton automobile was faster and Winton took the lead but the Ford Sweepstakes was more reliable, passing to take the lead and hold it on the main straight, much to the pleasure of the local crowd.

100_03_L

While it’s tempting to say that it was a case of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday”, to begin with Ford didn’t then operate a car company so he would have had nothing to sell to potential customers. Also, the race took place on Oct. 10, 1901, a Thursday. Ford won $1,000. There are sources that say that he would later use some of that money to start Ford Motor Company in 1903, but in the short term it gave him sufficient credibility to find backers for his second venture, the Henry Ford Company. Though it was more successful than the Detroit Automobile Co., Ford would quickly butt heads with his investors and within months he was out of the company. Those investors brought in Henry Leland, Detroit’s most respected machinist and a supplier of engines and other components to Ransom Olds and other early automakers, to put a value on the assets, so they could be liquidated. Instead he convinced them that there were the makings of a going concern. That’s how Cadillac was started.

The original Sweepstakes car is in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum. For a long time it was thought by curators that it was a replica made for Henry Ford in the early 1930s but during a restoration it was proven to be the actual car.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Start the video, then click on the settings icon to select 2D or your choice of 3D formats.

The old saying said that behind every successful man there is a woman encouraging him to succeed. Had Bertha Benz not believed in her husband Karl’s invention, perhaps even more than he did, the automotive world might be a different place. Bertha (nee Ringer) was already a teenager when Henry Ford was born. As a young woman she invested money in her fiancé Karl Benz’s workshop. That money is said to have allowed him to develop what is widely considered to be the first practical automobile, a three wheeler known as the Patent Motorwagen, often called the Patentwagen.

Bertha was a savvy woman and a very smart wife as well. Without her husband’s knowledge (or at least that’s how the story goes) she took one of his newly built Patentwagens for a 66 mile trip to visit her mother, returning back home with no serious mechanical issues, or at least none that she couldn’t resolve. Though her purpose was ostensibly to take her sons to visit their grandmother, her real reasons were to prove to Karl that his invention had genuine commercial potential and to expose the vehicle to the public  so they could exploit that potential. She succeeded on both fronts.

patentwagen

Karl Benz’s 1896 patent drawings for the Motorwagen.

Apparently Bertha was a bit of a gear head. On the journey she repaired the brakes in a manner that some say invented brake linings, found a blacksmith to repair a broken chain, and used her hatpin to remove a blockage in the fuel line and her garter to insulate an exposed wire. The trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim took all the daylight hours, leaving at dawn and arriving at her destination in the evening. She sent Karl a telegram when she arrived in Pforzheim and she and the boys drove back the following day.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Start the video, then click on the settings icon to select 2D or your choice of 3D formats.

To celebrate the pioneering contributions of the Benzes and Henry Ford, replicas of the Sweepstakes car and the Patentwagen were driven past the reviewing stand. The Sweepstakes replica is one of two that Ford Motor Company had fabricated on the centennial of Henry’s race victory. It’s fairly accurate, though to keep oil from flying everywhere for the original car’s “total loss” oiling system, the engine has a sealed, recycling lubrication system. The Patentwagen is one of a run of a number of accurate replicas that John Bentley Engineering  of the UK started building to commemorate the first practical automobile’s centennial in 1986. Over the next decade they would go on to build about 100, in cooperation with Mercedes-Benz. That’s about four times as many Patent Motorwagens as Karl Benz made himself. This particular replica was assembled by Mercedes-Benz interns.

You can see a photo gallery of the Benz Patent Motorwagen at the Automotive Hall of Fame, which owns it, here. Photos of the original Ford Sweepstakes car, which is on display in the Racing in America exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum, can be seen here.

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

The post Watch A Model T Get Assembled in Less Than Five Minutes and Two Historic Replicas Drive at the Old Car Festival appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/watch-model-t-get-assembled-less-five-minutes-two-historic-replicas-drive-old-car-festival/feed/ 2
Junkyard Find: 1977 Mercury Comet Sedan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1977-mercury-comet-sedan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1977-mercury-comet-sedan/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 13:00:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=910282 With a Ford Maverick sedan as yesterday’s Junkyard Find, it seemed only right that we follow up with the Maverick’s Mercury sibling (which I photographed in the same junkyard, on the same day). Today’s Malaise Era Ford is rough but more complete than yesterday’s car, so let’s crank up >one of the few good pop […]

The post Junkyard Find: 1977 Mercury Comet Sedan appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
03 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWith a Ford Maverick sedan as yesterday’s Junkyard Find, it seemed only right that we follow up with the Maverick’s Mercury sibling (which I photographed in the same junkyard, on the same day). Today’s Malaise Era Ford is rough but more complete than yesterday’s car, so let’s crank up >one of the few good pop songs of 1977 and study this phenomenon.
06 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe ’77 Comet’s straight-six engine, which is a 200-cubic-inch unit making about 7 horsepower (actually 96) or an optional 250 (which made just 98 horses but quite a bit more torque than the 200), required patience on the part of the driver, especially with the AC on.
09 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Comet had a somewhat sportier-looking grille than the Maverick, and the base sticker price for the six-cylinder sedan reflected such upgrades by being 70 bucks higher than the Maverick’s.

The only economy car with a little cougar in it.

01 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1977 Mercury Comet Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

The post Junkyard Find: 1977 Mercury Comet Sedan appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1977-mercury-comet-sedan/feed/ 22
Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Coast to Coast 2014 – Washington DC http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/best-selling-cars-around-globe-coast-coast-2014-washington-dc/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/best-selling-cars-around-globe-coast-coast-2014-washington-dc/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 19:21:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=910202  Toyota Corolla in Washington DC (these are from Maryland for illustration purposes) After managing to drive through Manhattan and escape unscathed, we are now travelling 250 miles Southwest to the country’s capital city, Washington DC. But first, I’ll answer a few of the questions you asked in my first article: I did parallel park my 236 inch […]

The post Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Coast to Coast 2014 – Washington DC appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
1. Toyota Corolla Washington Toyota Corolla in Washington DC (these are from Maryland for illustration purposes)

After managing to drive through Manhattan and escape unscathed, we are now travelling 250 miles Southwest to the country’s capital city, Washington DC. But first, I’ll answer a few of the questions you asked in my first article:

  • I did parallel park my 236 inch long Ram pick-up in Manhattan on a crowded West Village street  and felt very proud.
  • With French being my mother tongue I never can get quite used to the American convention of calling my truck (or any vehicle) as a “she”. In French, a truck is a masculine word, so my Ram will be referred to as Albert from now on
  • As a lot of you have noticed, it is the Tradesman level, a trim that normally doesn’t get lent to the press.

Dodge Durango Lincoln MKZ WashingtonDodge Durango and Lincoln MKZ in Washington DC

The Ram 1500 crew cab 4×4 I am driving has a US$35,805 base price. Add-in the Tradesman package, including carpet flooring and satellite radio, 8-speed automatic transmission, 3.0-Liter V6 EcoDiesel engine and destination charge to arrive at US$40,495. Depending on the rebate you can negotiate with your dealer, you can potentially get that back down to the base price or below. A lot of you have rightly asked about fuel economy. A road trip across the US in a pick-up truck immediately conjures up images of an endless flow of dollar bills being sunk into overly thirsty fuel tanks. Not so here.

Ram 1500 WashingtonAlbert proudly posing before the Capitol in Washington DC

Aware of the lengthy trip I was embarking in, Chrysler smartly lent me an EcoDiesel, launched only last February and one of the main reasons behind the nameplate’s sales surge in 2014. Back in February the EcoDiesel trucks set a new Ram record with the initial allocation of 8,000 units filled by dealers in just 3 days. Over that period the EcoDiesel variants represented half of all Ram 1500 pick-up orders and overall Ram expects EcoDiesel models to account for 15% of 1500 Series orders this year. So my Albert is quite the popular new kid on the block.

VW Jetta WashingtonVW Jetta in Washington DC

The reason behind this success? The EcoDiesel delivers 28 mpg highway, currently the best fuel economy for a full-size pick-up truck, compared to 24 mpg for the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra and 23 mpg for the current Ford F-Series. The 4×4 variant I have gives up one mpg to sit at 27 mpg. Ford launched a challenge to Ram’s mpg crown with its new generation aluminium-built F-Series which will start deliveries in February 2015, however at an estimated 27 mpg for the all-new 2.7-Liter Ecoboost V6, it doesn’t quite match the RAM EcoDiesel yet.

Chevrolet Silverado WashingtonChevrolet Silverado in Washington DC

I won’t reset the mpg average at all during the entire trip, which should provide me with an all-trip average assuming Chrysler reset it before lending the truck to me. After 3 days and about 500 miles the mpg average stands at 25.3  mpg, keeping in mind there were 3 hours of virtual standstill in Manhattan – and therefore atrocious mpg – to begin with. So we are in line with a best-in-class score so far, and Albert is turning out to be not so thirsty after all.

Buick Enclave WashingtonBuick Enclave in Washington DC

Back to Washington DC, and this being a very small and touristy state, please bear in mind that my observations may not be limited to cars registered within Washington DC even though I tried to discard cars not registered here. As always this is not an exact science, rather a feel for the changing vehicle landscape as I traverse the country. State by state data published by Business Insider indicates that DC is the only State in the country to crown the Toyota Corolla as its favorite car. And as it was the case in New York City, I am pleased to announce that street observations match sales data which is always a great validation. The new generation Corolla has already taken charge of Washington traffic: I saw more of them in the few hours I was in the (relatively small) town than I saw in New York in 3 days!

Toyota Prius C WashingtonToyota Prius C in Washington DC

Overall my impression is that passenger cars are smaller than they were in New York City with less Toyota Camry and Honda Accord and more Nissan Sentra, Versa, Hyundai Elantra and VW Jetta – and of course Corolla as described above. Case in point: I saw my first two Toyota Prius C of the trip here. Hyundai also seems to be enjoying very strong sales here: I spotted a few new generation Sonatas. Nissan is as solid as it was in New York with numerous Altima spotted but less Maxima – in line with the smaller car preferences.

2002 Saturn Ion Washington2002 Saturn Ion in Washington DC

I would like to be able to tell you that I saw more pick-ups here but this is only marginally the case and we are still frankly in sedan and SUV territory. The Toyota RAV4 did come across more frequently, both as taxis and private cars. A couple of more Washington observations: the most popular and almost only Jeep seems to be the Wrangler, the current generation Buick Enclave is a success as is the Tesla Model S and the Washington region has a love for the defunct Saturn brand: whereas I had not picked one up yet during the trip before, I spotted three 2002 Saturn Ion in the space of a few blocks!

Next we will be driving through Virginia, North and South Carolina to Charleston. Stay tuned!

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia and writes a blog dedicated to tracking car sales around the globe: BestSellingCarsBlog

Chevrolet Suburban Impala WashingtonChevrolet Suburban and Impala in Washington DC 

Toyota RAV4 WashingtonToyota RAV4 in Washington DC

Ford Fusion WashingtonFord Fusion in Washington DC

Hyundai Sonata WashingtonHyundai Sonata in Washington DC

The post Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Coast to Coast 2014 – Washington DC appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/best-selling-cars-around-globe-coast-coast-2014-washington-dc/feed/ 36
Junkyard Find: 1973 Ford Maverick Sedan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1973-ford-maverick-sedan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1973-ford-maverick-sedan/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 13:00:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=909754 There was once a time when Mavericks (and their Mercury Comet siblings) were among the most often-seen vehicles on American streets. Being such a cheap and homely car (and built during one of Detroit’s build-quality low points), however, the Maverick just wasn’t loved enough for many examples to be spared from The Crusher when they […]

The post Junkyard Find: 1973 Ford Maverick Sedan appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
11 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThere was once a time when Mavericks (and their Mercury Comet siblings) were among the most often-seen vehicles on American streets. Being such a cheap and homely car (and built during one of Detroit’s build-quality low points), however, the Maverick just wasn’t loved enough for many examples to be spared from The Crusher when they got a little frayed around the edges. In this series so far, we’ve seen this ’75 Maverick two-door, this ’75 Comet sedan, and now today’s ’73 Maverick four-door.
07 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI shot this car in a San Francisco Bay Area wrecking yard, and thus it has little (if any) rust. It shows signs of having spent decades outdoors, so there’s plenty of vegetation stuck to the body and everything is well-bleached by the sun.
03 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNo air conditioning, but there is a rear defogger.
12 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSomeone grabbed the engine, which probably now lives in someone’s work truck.
06 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe vintage of the cassette tapes inside indicates that this car was parked for good in the middle 1980s.
16 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinToo bad nobody made a drag racer out of this car.

01 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 19773 Ford Maverick Sedan- Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

The post Junkyard Find: 1973 Ford Maverick Sedan appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1973-ford-maverick-sedan/feed/ 59
Brazilian Truth Commission May Sue Auto Makers For Crimes Against Humanity http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/brazilian-truth-commission-may-sue-companies-crimes-humanity/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/brazilian-truth-commission-may-sue-companies-crimes-humanity/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 12:30:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=909674 João Paulo de Oliveira found it hard to find another job after he was fired by Rapistan, a Michigan-based conveyor belt maker, in 1980. He was detained or arrested another five times until the Brazilian military dictatorship, that had successfully realized a coup d’état in 1964, and returned power to civilians in 1985. Oliveira claims that […]

The post Brazilian Truth Commission May Sue Auto Makers For Crimes Against Humanity appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
200903211336

João Paulo de Oliveira found it hard to find another job after he was fired by Rapistan, a Michigan-based conveyor belt maker, in 1980. He was detained or arrested another five times until the Brazilian military dictatorship, that had successfully realized a coup d’état in 1964, and returned power to civilians in 1985. Oliveira claims that no other company would hire him after he lost his job, and hge was constantly threatened by police. His crime? Being a union member at a time the military considered strikes as subversive communist movements.

Oliveira declares that he and many other union members suspected that private companies, including many auto makers collaborated with the state’s repressive forces. Apparently, his suspicions have been borne out.

Last Monday, September 8th, the Truth Commission, an organization installed by the federal government as an attempt to investigate human rights violations during those dark years, called the press to clarify and give their position on the rumors and news that have been circulating for days about companies collaborating with the State in its repression of labor movements.

According to the Commission, recently unearthed documents confirm that almost 70 Brazilian and multinational companies acted as “information sources” on union members and workers who were suspected of leading strike movements and of belonging to left-wing organizations. These documents contain name and addresses of the suspects as well as the names of companies that monitored their workers “in order to collaborate with the censorship and repression system during the last years of the civil-military dictatorship” in Brazil.

Sebastião Neto, executive secretary of the work group in charge of investigating collaboration between civilians, companies and military claims that, “Volkswagen, according to the documents, functioned as a sort of intelligence central of that group”. That group included other companies like Brazilian Petrobras, Engesa, Confab and multinationals like Ford and Ericson. They collaborated by keeping tabs on who showed up at union meetings, and exchanged information on worker movements and their plans for strikes and demands on working conditions.

Perhaps the most damning document as it hurt people on a personal level, was one found in the public archive of the state of São Paulo, dated 1981. In it are the names and addresses of some 450 workers and union members and the names of at least 67 companies that gave the information.  Among the auto sector companies charged with giving names are Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Ford, Chrysler, Scania, Westinghouse, Rolls Royce, Toyota and Toshiba, among other Brazilian corporations.

Lawyer Rosa Cardoso, coordinator of the Commission affirms that, “what happened in Brazil were selective arrests based on information given by companies. Almost 40 percent of those who were dead and disappeared at the time were workers.” According to her, even though the companies were not directly involved in the disappearances, these companies may be accused of crimes against humanity. “Arbitrary and illegal arrests and in places where torture happened are also considered torture in international law”. Such was the case as these illegally detained workers didn’t even have arrest warrants expedited against them.

The lawyer affirms the Commission will present in its final report by December 16. It will include two chapters reporting the persecution of workers and the unions, and the relations between companies and the dictatorship. To help clarify this aspect, Cardoso promises a public hearing where representatives of the companies mentioned in the documents will be called upon to present their testimony.

Being accused as a sort of coordinator of the collaboration between military and companies, Volkswagen has declared that they will conduct their own investigation. According to them, Volkswagen is the only large-scale company in Brazil that, so far, has made a public commitment to “investigate any and all traces” of collaboration between its employees and the military regime. According to a release given to the press, Volkswagen claims they are, “internationally recognized as a company that treats seriously its corporate history”. In Brazil, Volkswagen claims, “the company will deal with this matter in the same way”.

Other companies so far have not commented or have downplayed their responsibility. According to this article, dated Friday, September 5, Mercedes Benz claims that the company “does not confirm” the alleged collaboration and is “non-partisan and zeals for the confidentiality of employees’ data”.  Ford has refused to comment. Toyota and Fiat, who now owns Chrysler through FCA, stated they have no registers of the “possible abuse” that occurred back in that time. Toyota, thorough its local Public Relations department wrote, “We would like to remind others that we are discussing something that happened over 30 years ago”.

Reviewing all the information available a cynic might think the Truth Commission is only interested in reparations. A more generous person might believe that people are interested in revisiting the past to point out mistakes and not repeat them in future. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle and it seems evident that at the time there was a struggle in Brazil between those who wanted to keep the status quo and those who would subvert it. Workers and unions probably helped the re-democratization of the country along, while many in the military and civil society believed such actions were fundamental in thwarting a Communist takeover. Companies may have helped the military out of fear or ideology. It is terrible that people got killed or hurt. In the end, relations between civil society, labor movements and government will be better understood because of the efforts of the Commission and hopefully mistakes, on both parts, will be avoided going forward.

The post Brazilian Truth Commission May Sue Auto Makers For Crimes Against Humanity appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/brazilian-truth-commission-may-sue-companies-crimes-humanity/feed/ 77
Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Coast to Coast 2014 – New York City http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/best-selling-cars-around-globe-coast-coast-2014-new-york-city/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/best-selling-cars-around-globe-coast-coast-2014-new-york-city/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 18:08:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=909234 Ford E-Series in Times Square, New York City – September 2014 You may remember my Trans-Siberian Railway series that took us from St Petersburg through to Mongolia. This time we are crossing the United States of America from the East to the West coast, departing in New York and arriving in Los Angeles. Last month the US new […]

The post Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Coast to Coast 2014 – New York City appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
3. Ford E-Series New York 1Ford E-Series in Times Square, New York City – September 2014

You may remember my Trans-Siberian Railway series that took us from St Petersburg through to Mongolia. This time we are crossing the United States of America from the East to the West coast, departing in New York and arriving in Los Angeles. Last month the US new light vehicle market rebounded back to levels not seen since January 2006, so what better timing than now to explore it in detail, observing specificities in the automotive landscape as we go through various cities, States and regions.

Full report below the jump…

2. Times Square New York 2Times Square, New York City – September 2014

RAM 1500

What will I drive during this trip? I wanted a quintessentially American vehicle that also made sense under a sales performance angle – let’s not forget my specialty is sales statistics – and the folks at Chrysler have been kind enough to lend me a RAM 1500 Tradesman 4×4 Crew Cab EcoDiesel for the trip. It will be a great opportunity to describe the ride from my perspective: someone living in Australia where pick-up trucks are also very popular but much smaller – and born and raised in France where roads are tiny and petrol is (almost) pricier than gold. The RAM Pick-up is the biggest gainer in the US Top 12 so far in 2014 with a 22% sales increase over the first 8 months of the year. We’ll try and find out whether this is justified. Regular impressions about my RAM 1500 will pepper these reports all the way to Los Angeles.

1. Toyota Camry Nissan NV200 New YorkToyota Camry and Nissan NV200 in Times Square, New York City – September 2014.

The starting point of this Coast to Coast Road Trip is New York City. Data published by JATO shows Honda at #1 here, followed by Toyota, Nissan, Ford and Hyundai. Model-wise, the Honda Accord leads the way, ahead of the Honda CR-V, Honda Civic, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Camry. A very non-American ranking indeed! And my observations in the streets of the crowded megapolis confirms these figures: the Honda Accord is definitely king, while the CR-V is so frequent that it becomes ‘transparent’: one at every corner across all generations. The Honda Pilot is also way more frequent in NYC than its national ranking should lead me to believe.

4. Nissan Sentra BrooklynNissan Sentra in Brookyn – September 2014

The Toyota Camry is one of the taxis of choice in NYC, if not the #1 taxi, so it is logical that it comes up high in the ranking, as it is also popular with private buyers. Note also the popularity of the Toyota Sienna with taxi companies. However the new generation Toyota Corolla is only as popular as the new Mazda3 – meaning, not very popular at all. And yes, Nissans are everywhere, especially and surprisingly the Maxima, but also the Altima, Sentra and Versa, as well as the new official New York taxi: the awkward-looking NV200.

Ford E-Series New York 2Ford E-Series in New York City – September 2014

In each city/State I visit I will nominate a few Heroes in Town, models that I was surprised to see a lot more often than their position in the US sales charts would indicate. The Hero in New York City is the Ford E-Series. This is an observation I remember already making the last time in was in town almost a decade ago. Pick-up trucks are not popular in New York, perhaps because of their big dimensions. Instead, vans like the E-Series and the Chevrolet Express/GMC Savanna rule the roost. Although based on the examples I saw, the E-150 looked as big as a F-150, let alone the E-250 and E-350! It would therefore have more to do with a usage habit, a little bit like vans are more popular than pick-up trucks in Europe, and also the fact that vans don’t need any modifications to lock and secure their load, left in the open and theft-prone bed of a pick-up truck.

3. Toyota Highlander New YorkToyota Highlander in New York City – September 2014

Other surprisingly frequent vehicles in New York include the new generation Toyota Highlander, seemingly way more popular than the previous gen, and already ramping up numbers in the taxi fleets. I also spotted a lot of Ford Fusion and Buick LaCrosse models, as well as an impressive amount of new generation Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon and quite a few Jeep Cherokee. There were also some minicars I potentially will only see here in the entire trips: the Smart Fortwo and Fiat 500 in good numbers and my first BMW i3 , spotted near Battery Park.

5. Ford F-250 New York 2There are still some pick-ups in New York: Ford F-250 in Brooklyn

11. Ford C-Max New YorkFord C-Max in New York City – September 2014

The Ford C-Max is starting to point its bonnet relatively frequently as a New York taxi, seemingly more popular than the Toyota Prius V.  One last New York specificity: the Lincoln brand is extremely strong: I spotted all generations of MKS and MKT with its trademark extravagant back lights in surprisingly high numbers.

8. MV-1 Minicab New York 2

9. MV-1 Minicab New YorkMV-1 Minicab in New York City – September 2014

Finally, an oddity: the MV-1, a vehicle I had never seen before. This is a wheelchair-accessible minicab produced by the Vehicle Production Group from October 2011 to February 2013 and by AM General, the company best known for having built the Humvee for the military, since March 2014. I did not see a flow of them but enough to pick my attention and wonder what the heck that car was – still a very exciting albeit rarer and rarer feeling!

RAM 1500 Pic 2

I took delivery of my RAM 1500 in Uptown Manhattan, Inwood to be precise. Coming from countries where such large vehicles are extremely rare and having had not many opportunities to install myself inside a typical American pick-up truck before, I won’t lie to you, it was a big shock when I hopped up onto the driving seat. Huge. Everywhere. Inside and out. It made me a little nervous when trying it out for the first time. If somebody happens to be double parked, then navigating New York’s streets becomes quite challenging.

6. Ford Fusion New YorkFord Fusion in New York City – September 2014

But surprise: only a couple of minutes after powering it on, it actually feels almost like driving a nimble little European car thanks to very responsive commands and efficient power steering. In a way, it’s simpler: the automatic gearbox has become a volume-like button placed just under your right hand. Fun. Now to remember not to actually use it to amp up the volume on the radio. The RAM 1500 (as any other rare pick-up here) does not feel in its element in New York though, high perched and way above the line of sight of most vehicles. New York is the kingdom of taxi drivers. Time to leave.

7. Lincoln MKS New YorkLincoln MKS

To say a worthwhile goodbye to this fascinating city, I thought I’d drive down the entire length of Manhattan from North to South via Broadway. Big mistake. If the first 60-odd blocks are surprisingly quiet and fast, it gets very messy below 100th street. Repeated and disrupting roadwork, endless one way streets making it excruciatingly difficult to get back on track once you get sidestepped, single lanes, the notorious metal panels on the ground that sound like the entire street has crumbled down a sink hole under you, traffic so slow you could almost manage a power nap without anyone noticing and pedestrians getting frantic if you dare to actually drive when your light is green. It all sounds iconic when you walk around taking tourist snaps, but when driving a 6 by 2.5m truck that hardly fits in one lane while not being able to see the cars below you, it’s definitely not.

Dodge RAM New YorkBlack RAM 1500 Express

Now to extricate oneself from the island via the ridiculously cramped two-lane Holland Tunnel (where are the 6-lane highways when we need them?) and off we go to Washington DC, a mere 3 hours drive from New York – the same duration it took me to get out of New York in the first place. A Baptism of fire for my valiant RAM.

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia and writes a blog dedicated to tracking car sales around the globe: BestSellingCarsBlog

5. Jeep Cherokee BrooklynJeep Cherokee in Brooklyn – September 2014

10. Honda Accord New YorkHonda Accord in Brooklyn – September 2014

12. Ford F-350 New YorkFord F-350 in New York City – September 2014

BMW i3 New YorkBMW i3

Dodge Dart New YorkDodge Dart

The post Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Coast to Coast 2014 – New York City appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/best-selling-cars-around-globe-coast-coast-2014-new-york-city/feed/ 77
Anatomy of An Extraordinary Car Museum http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/anatomy-extraordinary-car-museum/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/anatomy-extraordinary-car-museum/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 16:41:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=907433 A recent visit to the very impressive The LeMay- America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, led to the question– What makes a car museum extraordinary? Is it merely the sheer number of cars on display? The cars’ monetary value? Rarity and obscurity? Make the jump and tell us if you agree with our criteria. The […]

The post Anatomy of An Extraordinary Car Museum appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
dc8453cbb918b669

A recent visit to the very impressive The LeMay- America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, led to the question– What makes a car museum extraordinary? Is it merely the sheer number of cars on display? The cars’ monetary value? Rarity and obscurity? Make the jump and tell us if you agree with our criteria.

The Space

securedownload-1

The museum does not need to be designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but the collection should not be in a soulless warehouse either. The LeMay’s architecture is unique and simple, as photos from this design blog show. The shiny metal exterior evinces modernity and a mechanical element. The wood framed, airy, and expansive interior gives one an old aircraft hangar feel. Cleverly, like a parking structure, you can walk the gentle slope down and gawk at three floors of cars underground, with four rows of cars per floor. The footprint may be relatively small, but hundreds of cars are cleverly and efficiently displayed.

Honorable mention: Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California. Despite being in a large, nondescript, rectangular warehouse in a business park, the Mullin transformed the interior into a Parisian art deco salon.

Curation/Themes

securedownload-1

A large car collection is meaningless without proper curation. Just like with paintings and sculptures, each room should have themes, whether they are by the same artist or are from the same movement. The NASCAR display at the LeMay, for example, takes the audience back to its moonshine running roots, and starts with this old timer hauling illicit hooch. The alternative energy gallery has a century-old electric car, a Bonneville-prepped Jetta hybrid, and a University of Michigan solar-powered racer, among other things.

Honorable mention: Fountainhead Antique Car Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska. This gem of a collection in the middle of nowhere displays concours-winning pre-war cars along with exquisite period-correct clothing and photographs.

Interactivity

securedownload

Seeing is nice, but touching is better. There are lots of opportunities for visitors to interact with the displays at the LeMay. You can play with these slot cars, for example. You can even load the family up in a topless 1923 Buick and have a photo taken.

Honorable mention: National Automobile Museum in Mulhouse, France. This is the ultimate in interactivity. To experience what it is like to be in a rollover, visitors can get strapped in a compact car and roll!

Click here to view the embedded video.

Diversity

securedownload-2

Seeing 35 different variations of the Citroen DS or Ford Mustang on one floor is nice, but will get boring. Great museums like the LeMay mix it up to offer something interesting for every taste, whether you are a car enthusiast or not. The LeMay has British roadsters, historic NASCAR racers, this Owosso Pulse, and even the “car” in the Flintstones movie. So long as the cars are carefully curated and not a random hodgepodge, they make the museum experience that much better.

Honorable mention: Johann Puch Museum in Austria. You would expect a bunch of military vehicles, but what about a Chrysler 300 (AWD) wagon, a VW (AWD) Golf Country, and an Alfa Romeo (AWD) 164?

Quantity

securedownload

But when it comes down to it, the more, the merrier. The man behind the LeMay is rumored to have the largest private collection of cars in America. His collection is so deep, it even has this pristine 1983 Mercury Grand Marquis wagon.

Honorable Mention: Again, the National Automobile Museum in France. This collection was started by two industrialist brothers, who used their fortune to buy thousands of cars, many of them Bugattis. When their business inevitably failed and they fled the country, their employees discovered the secret collection.

Public Relations

Another hallmark of an extraordinary museum is how it interacts with local car enthusiasts. Does it have a speaker series? Does it co-host product unveils with manufacturers? Does it open its parking lot on weekends for car club meets? The LeMay does it all and is a prominent citizen in the Pacific Northwest car community.

Honorable mention: The Blackhawk Museum in the San Francisco Bay Area. This Smithsonian-affiliated venue hosts Cars & Coffee on weekends. It seems like it hosts a different car club (and the club members’ prized cars) every weekend. And it has a much heralded lecture series with knowledgeable speakers.

Gift Shop

4202-Scarlet-front

The LeMay has a well stocked store. I bought my wife this seatbelt purse.

Honorable mention: National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada, where I bought a lifetime supply of car themed notepads.

What features and criteria do you look for in a great car museum?

Disclaimer: LeMay let me visit the museum for free ($16 value). I happily paid for my wife and our friends’ admissions (3 x $16). I also spent nearly $200 in the gift shop.

The post Anatomy of An Extraordinary Car Museum appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/anatomy-extraordinary-car-museum/feed/ 36
A Volkswagen With a Coat of Many Colors: 1996 Golf Harlequin http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volkswagen-coat-many-colors-1996-golf-harlequin/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volkswagen-coat-many-colors-1996-golf-harlequin/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 11:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904737 It’s not clear whether they were inspired by one of Doyle Dane Bernbach’s clever ads for the VW Beetle in the 1960s or by the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, but in the mid 1990s, Volkswagen decided to make some multicolored cars. TTAC previously looked at the Halequin Polo and […]

The post A Volkswagen With a Coat of Many Colors: 1996 Golf Harlequin appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_0606

Full gallery here.

It’s not clear whether they were inspired by one of Doyle Dane Bernbach’s clever ads for the VW Beetle in the 1960s or by the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, but in the mid 1990s, Volkswagen decided to make some multicolored cars. TTAC previously looked at the Halequin Polo and Golf and you can read more of the story at the link, but the short version is that in 1995 the German automaker decided to offer a colorful option for folks buying the Polo, VW’s hatchback slotted just below the Golf in Europe, *NAH. The car with body panels of different colors turned out to be a bit of a hit, with an initial production run of just 1,000 cars extended to 3,800 units. Probably because of that modest success, VW of America decided to introduce the Harlequin color schemes on the Mk III Golf for the following model year.

beetle_ad

I don’t know how many they planned to make. The Puebla, Mexico factory that assembled them turned out 264 Harlequins. Each car was first assembled in one of four base colors (including Pistachio Green, exclusive to the Harlequins) and then at the end of the line, panels were unbolted and swapped to different vehicles per a color chart prepared in Germany that made sure that no two adjacent panels would be the same color. Even when Germans are silly, they do it with precision.

With a total build of just 264 cars, Harlequin Golfs are rare. So rare, in fact, that our previous post on the topic used publicity photos and shots owners have posted online. They’re not cars you come across every day. When I spotted this Harlequin at the 2014 Vintage VW Show in Ypsilanti this summer, I knew it was special enough to photograph, but I had no idea that there were so few of them. A Wolfsburg Edition it’s not. I’m happy that I took the time because we can now show you some views of the car that you may have not seen before.

harlequin_ellis

This car was sold by Jim Ellis VW, in Atlanta, Georgia. Maybe it’s the same Pistachio Green Harlequin that’s second from the right in the photo above. According to the Harlequin Registry, the original owner flew from Michigan to Georgia to buy it.

That dealership had somehow been allocated an unusually large number of Harlequins. Perhaps VW thought it was a good idea to use them as promotional and courtesy vehicles during the Summer Olympics that year in Atlanta or perhaps it was a reward for Ellis having recently opened up another VW store, but either way Harlequin Golf didn’t turn out to be as popular in America as the Harlequin Polo was in Europe.

IMG_0598_r

Jim Ellis Volkswagen eventually had trouble moving the rather conspicuous cars and the dealer reportedly swapped around some panels (or, more likely, resprayed them), which explains the existence of at least one monochromatic Pistachio Green Harlequin in the Harlequin Registry.

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

 

The post A Volkswagen With a Coat of Many Colors: 1996 Golf Harlequin appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volkswagen-coat-many-colors-1996-golf-harlequin/feed/ 18
The Insider Handicapper’s Guide To 2014′s Performance Car Of The Year http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/insider-handicappers-guide-2014s-performance-car-year/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/insider-handicappers-guide-2014s-performance-car-year/#comments Sun, 07 Sep 2014 13:46:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=908474 You’re never as well-known as you think you are. When I helped the nice people at Road&Track select the C7 Corvette as their 2013 Performance Car Of The Year award, I had the amusing experience of being told that I was “on GM’s payroll” and a “shill for GM” by hundreds of people who were […]

The post The Insider Handicapper’s Guide To 2014′s Performance Car Of The Year appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
PCOTY-BestOf07-lg

You’re never as well-known as you think you are. When I helped the nice people at Road&Track select the C7 Corvette as their 2013 Performance Car Of The Year award, I had the amusing experience of being told that I was “on GM’s payroll” and a “shill for GM” by hundreds of people who were disappointed by our choice. In a perfect world, I could put all those people on a Staten Island ferry, put all the TTAC readers who claim I’m unfairly persecuting GM on another Staten Island ferry, and give each group a trigger that would blow the other boat up. Original idea, huh?

Anyway, it’s time for 2014′s PCOTY which means that I’ll be spending the next four days living my childhood dream of driving brilliant cars for free and possibly getting the magazine to pick up my Ketel One tab at dinner. Click the jump to get the list of all fifteen contenders, along with my early thoughts on each.

1. BMW M3. I drove the new M3 during photography for this article and I was impressed by the massive shove from the turbo six. The M3′s never been more like a Trans Am for the snob set, and I mean this in a very loving way. But the Trans Am rarely won driver’s-car comparisons.

2. Alfa Romeo 4C.. Probably the most eagerly awaited car of the past year, the American version of the 4C has added a few hundred pounds. Will the resulting power-to-weight ratio prove to be the Alfa’s Achilles heel?

3. Viper TA. Lightly revised for this year, the Viper TA was my favorite car in R&T’s “Z/28 Vs. The World” test. In fact, the Viper is pretty much my favorite car, period. Since my vote is just one vote out of fifteen drivers, however, the outcome of PCOTY 2014 probably won’t be up to me.

4. BMW M235i. Some people have higher hopes for this car than they do for the M3. It’s arguably closer to the classic idea of a performance Bimmer, in size and power. More satisfying? Maybe. But how long would you be satisfied waving the bigger car by on every back straight?

5. Subaru WRX STi. Ooh, this is one I have not driven — but my drive of a TTACer’s 2015 WRX has me feeling quite hopeful. Certain to get smoked at the Motown Mile track, but very likely to display depth of talent on the roads.

6. Camaro Z/28. It’s the STi on Opposite Day! But if any ponycar can win the thing, this is probably the one to do it…

7. Jaguar F-Type Coupe R. …unless the Jag is the ponycar to win it. Some of my fellow editors object to my calling the F-Type a ponycar. Duh, it sooooo obviously is.

8. Ferrari 458 Speciale. I thought the Ferrari F12berlinetta more or less ran away with the track portion of the comparison last year. Unfortunately, it didn’t hold up on the road. This eight-cylinder Ferrari is the other kind of Maranello sled. My grandfather would have identified it as a Dino. I’ll be curious to see how it compares to the Viper around the Motown Mile.

9. Dodge SRT Challenger Hellcat. My love for the Hellcat is already on the record. I think it might prove superior to the Z/28 and F-Type as a road-going proposition.

10. Ford Mustang GT. The unknown factor in the mix for sure, the 2015 Mustang won’t have the power of the Camaro but it’s a full development cycle ahead so on Ohio roads it might just shine the brightest of all.

11. MINI Cooper S. The Cooper JCW Works didn’t capture our hearts last year — the Fiesta ST was just more fun to drive for less than two-thirds of the cost. This year the MINI’s new from the ground up and the early reports are very encouraging. Remember that PCOTY is a subjective thing and that it’s not just a time trial.

12. Nissan GT-R NISMO. Can it smoke the Viper and the exotics around the Motown Mile? You’d be a fool to bet against it. My experience driving Switzer GT-Rs at full chat on twisty roads suggests that the NISMO might also have a chance off the track, as well. I’ve enjoyed each revision of the R35 more than its predecessor so this could be a contender.

13. Lexus RC-F. Our own Alex Dykes rated the IS350 pretty highly, an opinion shared by my son as well. The RC-F is the two-door version of that car with a 467-horsepower five-liter Toyota V8. This will be better than anyone expects, I think, and if it can’t match cars like the Z/28 around the track you just know it’s going to be better on the long freeway hauls.

14. Volkswagen GTI. Derek loves it! I love it! Great car! And, don’t forget, driving a slow car fast is better than driving a fast car slow. The question is whether driving a GTI at the ragged edge is better than driving a Viper at the ragged edge. Assuming you can get to either nowadays; today’s GTI would give the first-gen Viper RT/10 a hard time on some racetracks.

15. Porsche 911 GT3. If you must have a 991-generation Porsche, this is surely the one to have. Some editors already think it will crack the road-and-track, pun intended, equation better than the Ferrari or the Viper. I’ve already been warned that I’m allowed to “whine about the *&%#$ing Metzger motor thing” exactly once during the entire test, said whining being confined to my hotel room while I’m alone.

We’re not allowed to pick a winner until we’ve driven them all — but you, the reader, are under no such constraint. Place your bets below. The first three readers to accurately predict the winner will receive a TTAC Racing shirt in size XL, because that’s all I have left!

The post The Insider Handicapper’s Guide To 2014′s Performance Car Of The Year appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/insider-handicappers-guide-2014s-performance-car-year/feed/ 132
Can That Thing Schwimm? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/can-thing-schwimm/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/can-thing-schwimm/#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2014 04:25:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904713 Potential military applications of what became known as the Volkswagen Beetle were part of the earliest discussions that Ferdinand Porsche and Adolph Hitler had concerning the “people’s car” in the spring of 1934. However, it was only after what was then called the KdF-Wagen was approaching production in 1938 that Wehrmacht officials formally asked Dr. Porsche […]

The post Can That Thing Schwimm? appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_0555

Full gallery here.

Potential military applications of what became known as the Volkswagen Beetle were part of the earliest discussions that Ferdinand Porsche and Adolph Hitler had concerning the “people’s car” in the spring of 1934. However, it was only after what was then called the KdF-Wagen was approaching production in 1938 that Wehrmacht officials formally asked Dr. Porsche about designing a lightweight military transport vehicle, capable of both off and on road use in extreme conditions. The engineer and his design studio got to work quickly, producing a prototype based on the Type 1 in less than a month.

That prototype, though, proved that the vehicle would need a dedicated chassis as even a reinforced Beetle platform wasn’t up to the rigors of the military’s needs. Porsche had Trutz, a coachbuilding company with military experience, help with the body design and what became known as the Type 62 got the go-ahead for development when the two-wheel drive vehicle proved to be competitive off-road with existing Wehrmacht 4X4 trucks. A self-locking differential made by ZF and the Type 62′s light weight proved to be sufficient.

Pre-production models were battle tested during the German invasion of Poland in September of 1939. While commanders were generally pleased with the performance they told Porsche that the vehicle’s minimum speed of 8 mph was two fast to accompany marching soldiers and they wanted better off-road performance. Porsche satisfied both requests by implementing gear-reduction hubs in the rear axles. After the war those hubs made the Type II, what we know as the VW Bus, possible of carrying significant loads despite having only 36 hp. The self-locking differential was replaced with a limited slip device and a number of other changes were made so by the time what became known at the Kübelwagen was finalized it was given a new designation, Type 82.

VW Type 82 Kubelwagen

VW Type 82 Kubelwagen, Photo: Wikipedia

The name Kübelwagen means “bucket car” and actually isn’t a description of it’s rudimentary bodywork. It’s full name was “Kübelsitzwagen”, bucket seat car, the Wehrmacht’s term for cars with open or removable doors that needed bucket seats to keep the driver and passengers in the cars. Production of the Kübelwagen began as soon as the KdF-Stadt (later Wolfsburg) works were operational in early 1940 (beating the Type 1 to production by months) and the German jeeplet stayed in production for the duration of the war. Total production was just over 50,000 units.

Kubelwagen, Sicily 1943

Kubelwagen, Sicily 1943. Photo: Wikipedia

A number of variants, experimental and production, of the Type 82 were made, but the best known is the Type 166 Schwimmwagen, an amphibious vehicle that was driven on land with all four wheels and in water by a hinged propeller that dropped into place.

Kubelwagen on the eastern front.

Kubelwagen on the eastern front. Photo: Wikipedia

Since the flat platform chassis of the Type I and Kübelwagen were not exactly designed to glide through water, Erwin Komenda, Dr. Porsche’s body designer, came up with a patented unitized tub for the body, or rather hull. Mechanicals were based on the Type 87 4WD Command Car, a Kübelwagen with a Beetle body. When the Type 128 prototypes proved to be insufficiently stiff and not water tight, changes were made, including shortening the wheelbase to just 200 cm for better maneuverability. The production Schwimmwagen was named the Type 166 and eventually over 15,000 were made. While that production figure makes the Schwimmwagen the largest production amphibious vehicle ever made only 163 are listed as surviving today in the Schwimmwagen Registry and only about a dozen are in original condition.

1280px-VW_Schwimmwagen_Typ_166_-_Heck

Type 166 Schwimmwagen. Wikipedia photo.

Production Schwimmwagens had four wheel drive but only in first gear. There were ZR self-locking diffs on both the front and rear axles. In back, the Schwimmwagen used the same “portal gear” hubs that helped with getting the Kübelwagen going at low speeds and they also gave better ground clearance. A screw propeller, as mentioned, was hinged on the back of the Schwimmwagen, normally stored on the rear deck over the engine. When lowered into place, a coupling attached the prop drive to the engine’s crankshaft. There was no rear rudder, the front wheels provided steering on land and on sea they acted as rudders.

Years after British Major Ivan Hirst got the postwar Volkswagen company going, in the 1960s a number of governments in Europe started collaborating on a new military vehicle to be used by NATO called the Europa Jeep. Development stalled and the West German government decided it needed something in the meantime. When approached, though they had turned down the idea of building a military vehicle in the 1950s, by the late 1960s, VW managers recognized that such a car might make sense as a consumer vehicle in some of their markets. At the time, VW based dune buggies were popular in the U.S. and Mexican consumers living in rural areas wanted something a bit more rugged than the Beetle. The idea was to use as many off the shelf parts as possible.

The Karmann Ghia’s chassis was chosen because it was wider and stronger than that of the Type 1 Beetle, though it was further strengthened. Swing axles and the gear reduction boxes were contributed from the pre-1968 Type II transporter. For off-road travel there was over 8 inches of ground clearance, minimal overhangs front and back, and skid plates. Fenders bolted on and there were visible strengthening ribs all over the generally simple and flat body panels. Doors were interchangeable and removable, the windshield folded flat and the entire convertible roof could be removed for al fresca driving. An optional fiberglass hardtop was offered.

The inside was just as spartan as the outside. There was very little in the way of trim or upholstery. Vinyl covered bucket seats and lots of painted sheet metal. There were drain holes and perforated rubber mats so the interior could be hosed out if needed.

While there’s a great visual similarity between the Type 82 Kübelwagen and what became known as the Type 181, and while they were both used by the German military, they don’t really have that much in common, there are no shared parts.

Volkswagen-1975-Thing-ad-a1-722x1024

In addition to military sales, the Type 181 was marketed to the public in Germany as the “Kurierwagen”, in the UK as the “Trekker”, the “Safari” in Mexico, and the “Thing” in the States. I haven’t been able to determine exactly how it got the name but I suspect that the folks at Doyle Dane Bernbach, VW’s innovative and humorous U.S. ad agency, probably had something to do with it. After all, the same agency produced ads calling the Thing “ridiculous”. While production of the Type 181 continued into the 1980s, the last year for the Thing in the U.S. was 1975. One of the oddest of odd automotive ducks, the Thing wasn’t a great success in America and it wasn’t worth keeping it compliant with increasingly stringent federal motor vehicle safety standards.

The three VW Things pictured here were photographed at the 2014 Vintage VW Show, held in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The Type 166 Schwimmwagen is on display at the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy museum, in suburban St Clair Shores.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

The post Can That Thing Schwimm? appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/can-thing-schwimm/feed/ 24
No Fixed Abode: Stick it to ‘em. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/fixed-abode-stick-em/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/fixed-abode-stick-em/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 13:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=905905 “A little learning”, wrote the crippled poet from his infamous grotto, “is a dangerous thing.” Here’s an example. What effect does the choice of a manual transmission have on resale value? If, like me, you’ve bought and sold cars for more than twenty-five years now, your snap response will be “Manual transmissions sell for more.” […]

The post No Fixed Abode: Stick it to ‘em. appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
disco

“A little learning”, wrote the crippled poet from his infamous grotto, “is a dangerous thing.” Here’s an example. What effect does the choice of a manual transmission have on resale value? If, like me, you’ve bought and sold cars for more than twenty-five years now, your snap response will be “Manual transmissions sell for more.”

This being 2014, however, some kid with access to secondhand Manheim auction reports will strain his mousing finger with a detailed correction of that assertion, complete with dozens of copy-and-pasted sale records. You cannot argue with his data — it’s right there in black and white. Manual transmission cars are worth less. But you know he’s wrong somehow, because you’ve been in the trenches and you’ve worked deals yourself.

Maybe the problem isn’t with you, or the kid’s data. Maybe it’s a case of simply not understanding what that data means.

To explain why, I’ll reach back into the past, all the way to July of 2010, when I sold my lime-green Audi S5. Having owned the car for two years at that point, I was well aware of the fact that my color choice had made the car “resale poison”, because every fifteen-year-old in America had voiced that opinion on some car-related forum at some point. As far as I can tell, the reasoning behind that opinion was:

  • Most people who want an Audi S5 want it in a “German” color.
  • The only German colors are silver, black, grey, and white.
  • Therefore, in order to be worth anything on the secondary market, the car has to be one of those colors.

Let’s put aside for a minute the staggering historical ignorance in thinking that German cars have always been limited to non-colors. After all, the Porsches of the Sixties and the Audis of the Seventies came in colors from lime green to light tan and at no time was the integrity of the German people harmed in any way as a result. Trabants were always wacky colors and that was despite East Germany being pretty much a collection of unheated concrete buildings. The monochromization of the Fatherland’s automobiles didn’t start in earnest until it became possible to lease them cheaply and all the newbies wanted a silver BMW with the lowest possible payment. What can you do about that? It sucks and that’s why when you drive by your local Bimmer dealer the colorful Bavarias and 320is of yesteryear have been replaced by a line of grey blobs with BMW Financial’s preferred package of auction-friendly equipment.

Sorry about that. I got distracted. Back to the core issue. I believe that grey and silver Audis are more popular than Lime Green Audis. Were Audi to have to pick a single color for next year’s entire A4 production, I believe that silver would be a much better choice than Lime Green. Were I a fleet manager for a major corporation, I’d order my company’s fleet of Audis in silver and not Lime Green.

Yet the fact remains that I paid extra money to get my car in that color and — surprise! — when I sold it, I sold it for approximately six thousand dollars above the average retail sale of grey/silver/black Audi S5s with similar equipment. Can you reconcile these disparate statements of fact? Only if you understand that I am an individual, not a corporation or a dealership, and I sold my automobile to another individual.

I wasn’t buying Audis in bulk, nor was I selling them in bulk. I bought a single car and sold a single car. The color was worth more money to me and it was worth more money to him and that’s all that mattered. It wasn’t necessary for there to be ten thousand potential buyers for a Lime Green S5 out there. I only needed one. And to that single buyer, the desirability of having an S5 in something besides a non-color made it worth his time to pay significant additional money for it. He wasn’t even comparing the asking price of my car to the asking price of black S5s on dealer lots; he was comparing the asking price of my car to the asking price of having a new custom-color Audi built. Which made my car a bargain even at a price that exceeded the average.

With that example in mind, let’s talk about the resale value on cars with manual transmissions. Obviously, we’re discussing cars where there are multiple transmission choices, not the Viper or the Fiesta SFE. If you try to trade in a stick-shift car at the dealer, that dealer will tell you that they don’t want it, and he’ll point to the auction numbers. Yet if you sell it privately, you’ll get better offers for more money than you would with the same car as an automatic. What gives?

It’s important to remember that dealers and auto auctions — and every other entity involved with the sale of automobiles except private owners — depend on a fast turnover of inventory. Given a choice between selling 100 cars a year at a $5000 profit and selling 1000 cars a year at a $500 profit, a dealer will choose the latter every time. Volume is king and it always will be and there are no exceptions. Not even with the exotics. Turn and burn, that’s how it’s done.

The vast majority of buyers for new and used cars want an automatic transmission and will accept no other choice. Nine of the ten people who step on a lot, even if it’s a Ferrari lot, want the car to shift for them. Therefore, if you want to sell a car in a hurry you want the automatic. Even if the manual would sell for more money, it’s not worth holding the car in inventory longer to make more money on it. Dealers have a fixed amount of “floorplan” they can use and they want to use it on inventory that turns quickly, not high-profit-potential showroom Stegosaurs. A Honda dealer can sell ten automatic Accords in the time it takes to sell a manual-transmission one, so when it’s time for them to buy Accords — whether new, from Honda, or used, from an auction — they will buy automatics exclusively.

Since dealers are ninety-nine percent of the customer base at an auction, dealer preferences dictate what sells for good money. Fast-turning automobiles in high demand sell for good money, period point blank. No dealer wants to take a risk on an odd color or an unusual equipment group (think: Sebring convertibles with the expensive folding hardtop, stripped-out Explorer XL trims from the Nineties, loaded short-wheelbase S-Classes) or manual transmissions. They’d rather buy what sells easily and go home. Therefore, auction prices reflect dealer desires, not customer desires.

This disconnect between dealer and customer desires punishes the customer at every turn. It’s why Honda and Acura make you take a non-color with a stick-shift Accord or TSX: the dealers don’t want to stock a brown Accord V6 six-speed even if there’s a guy (YO!) willing to buy it. It’s why you see interesting combinations of colors and options in the order brochure but never at the dealers. It’s why the flotilla of individual options that marked the Detroit era of new cars has become a maze of packages and mandatory tie-ins, even when the car in question is manufactured in the same state as the selling dealers.

The dealers want the stuff that turns quickly. That means silver Camrys and red Ferraris and automatic convertible Corvettes and all-wheel-drive S-Classes. Your desires have nothing to do with it. They aren’t listening to you. They don’t care. While you’re busy displaying your autism spectrum disorder by lecturing the salesman about the actual cam lobe profile on a car you’re thinking about buying two jobs from now and for which you expect to pay invoice minus holdback, three families in used SUVs have come in and bought new SUVs and the store has grossed them front, back, used, and F&I. You mean nothing to a dealer. Period.

Eppur si muove, however. There are people out there who want a manual transmission and they really want it. They aren’t casual or uncaring buyers like the SUV families. What they want, they want. And you only need one of them to buy your used manual-transmission car. Best of all, the manufacturers are working night and day to make your stick-shifter a rare and desirable item. Even in this degraded era, this dark age, there are still drivers who want to shift for themselves. There is no surplus of cars for them. A friend of mine drove 2,150 miles this past weekend to get the Dodge truck he wanted. Drove all the way to Miami. Because there were two trucks that met his spec in the whole country, and Miami was closest. No prize for guessing that he wanted a manual.

When I bought my Accord, there were two Modern Steel V6 manuals available in the whole country. When I go to sell it, there won’t even be that many on the market. If you want it, then you’ll have to understand that you’re buying something that’s about as common as a Mickey Mantle card in an old Topps set. So take my advice: Call early. Bring cash. And leave your Manheim printouts at home.

The post No Fixed Abode: Stick it to ‘em. appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/fixed-abode-stick-em/feed/ 214
Junkyard Find: 1988 Merkur XR4Ti http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1988-merkur-xr4ti/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1988-merkur-xr4ti/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 13:00:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=905209 The Merkur XR4Ti (turbo-Pinto-engined Ford Sierra XR4i to you European types) wasn’t selling so well by the 1988 model year, but enough were built that I was able to find this example in a Northern California wrecking yard. In fact, this is just the second XR4Ti in this series, after this ’89 from two years […]

The post Junkyard Find: 1988 Merkur XR4Ti appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
09 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Merkur XR4Ti (turbo-Pinto-engined Ford Sierra XR4i to you European types) wasn’t selling so well by the 1988 model year, but enough were built that I was able to find this example in a Northern California wrecking yard. In fact, this is just the second XR4Ti in this series, after this ’89 from two years back.
122-UG-IMG_8386Quite a few of these cars compete in the 24 Hours of LeMons, in spite of their well-known proclivity for breaking down early and often under the strain of endurance racing.
05 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWithout the distinctive double spoiler, the ’88 and ’89 XR4Tis don’t stand out from the crowd quite as much as the earlier cars.

Perhaps this car would have sold better in the United States if the Argentina-market advertising had been used.
01 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1988 Merkur XR4Ti Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

The post Junkyard Find: 1988 Merkur XR4Ti appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1988-merkur-xr4ti/feed/ 64
2016 Mazda MX-5 Live Shots, Technical Details http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/2016-mazda-mx-5-live-shots-technical-details/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/2016-mazda-mx-5-live-shots-technical-details/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 11:31:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=906073 Mazda’s newest MX-5 appeared live at an event in California, and although Mazda was stingy with details, we managed to get a few. As mentioned in an earlier post, the new car, dubbed ND, should weigh an incredible 2280 lbs. It will also be 154 inches in length, 4 inches shorter than the current car. […]

The post 2016 Mazda MX-5 Live Shots, Technical Details appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_8057

Mazda’s newest MX-5 appeared live at an event in California, and although Mazda was stingy with details, we managed to get a few.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the new car, dubbed ND, should weigh an incredible 2280 lbs. It will also be 154 inches in length, 4 inches shorter than the current car. The base wheels will be 16″ with 195/50 Yokohama Advans while the larger wheels will use 205/40/17 Bridgestone RE050′s, the same grippy, 140 treadwear rated tires as used on the Ford Fiesta ST. Rims will have 4 bolts, leading to speculation that they will be 4×100 and able to use old Miata rims.

IMG_8043 IMG_8045 IMG_8049 IMG_8050 IMG_8051 IMG_8052 IMG_8053 IMG_8054 IMG_8055 IMG_8056 IMG_8057 IMG_8058 IMG_8060 IMG_8061 IMG_8062 IMG_8063 IMG_8064 IMG_8065 IMG_8066 IMG_8067 IMG_8068 IMG_8069 IMG_8070 IMG_8071 IMG_8072 IMG_8073 IMG_8074 IMG_8075

The post 2016 Mazda MX-5 Live Shots, Technical Details appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/2016-mazda-mx-5-live-shots-technical-details/feed/ 72
Preeminent Custom Car Builder Mike Alexander 1935-2014, R.I.P. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/preeminent-custom-car-builder-mike-alexander-1935-2014-r-p/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/preeminent-custom-car-builder-mike-alexander-1935-2014-r-p/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 11:30:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904329 Mike Alexander, the surviving member of Detroit’s preeminent custom car builders, the Alexander Brothers, passed away in July at the age of 80. Mike and his brother Larry made some of the most famous and influential customs of the 1960s and because of a new toy called Hot Wheels and a Beach Boys song & […]

The post Preeminent Custom Car Builder Mike Alexander 1935-2014, R.I.P. appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
mikeabros1

Mike Alexander, the surviving member of Detroit’s preeminent custom car builders, the Alexander Brothers, passed away in July at the age of 80. Mike and his brother Larry made some of the most famous and influential customs of the 1960s and because of a new toy called Hot Wheels and a Beach Boys song & album the “A Bros” ultimately affected American culture and how the world sees us. They were as important to the world of hot rods as Elvis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry were to rock and roll. I had the great privilege of interviewing Mike Alexander last year as part of a project I’m working on about the Dodge Deora show car, and then meet him in person at the 2013 Eyes On Design show, where I was in the right place at the right time to witness Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo hand Mike a blue ribbon for the Deora, which was on display as part of a group of Alexander Brothers’ cars at that show. Mechanical and fabricating geniuses, Mike and Larry were perhaps the most technically adept of all the builders during custom cars’ golden era.

Rather than rewrite someone else’s obituary of the man, the following has been excerpted and revised from my as yet unpublished book on the Dodge Deora.

Ever since Harley Earl came to Detroit from Los Angeles in 1927 to start GM’s “Art and Color Section”, those two cities have been the epicenters of automotive styling in North America. It was true in the 1920s and it’s still true today. The Lexus LF-LC, which is in development for production, was designed at Toyota’s Calty Design Research facility in Newport Beach, California, not far from LA. The Toyota Tundra pickup truck was designed at Toyota’s Calty Design Research facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just down the road from Detroit. What is true about production cars and trucks is also true about those who customize them. It’s tempting, with people like Dean Jeffries, Gene Winfield, George Barris, Bill Cushenberry and others having been located on the West Coast, to think of the custom scene as dominated by California car guys, and it’s undoubtedly true that a lot of car culture in many forms has come out of California, but it’s also true that the West Coast customizers eventually had to compete for magazine covers and premium displays at car shows with Motor City customizers and fabricators like the Alexander Brothers and Chuck Miller. Hot Rod magazine said that the Alexander brothers were as important to the automobile world as Elvis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry were to rock and roll (video below). Yeah, that important. In fact it can be argued that Larry and Mike Alexander created the most famous custom car ever [that wasn't in a tv show or movie], the Dodge Deora.

Larry (L) and Mike (R) Alexander working on the Deora.

Larry (L) and Mike (R) Alexander working on the Deora.

The story of the Deora goes back to 1964. In the early sixties, all three big Detroit automakers introduced cabover vans, the Dodge A100, the Ford Econoline, and the Chevy Sportvan / GMC Handi-Van (along with the Corvair vans which also had cabover driving positions). The Alexander brothers were intrigued by the possibilities of building a radical sport pickup out of one and they commissioned car designer Harry Bentley Bradley to draw what became the Deora.

The Alexanders were always on the lookout for design talent and they had spotted Bradley when he was still a student at the Pratt school of design. He had been a regular contributor to popular magazines that covered the custom scene like Rodding and Re-styling, Customs Illustrated, and Rod & Custom. After Pratt, Bradley got a job with GM design and came to Detroit in 1962, but he continued to do side work, eventually designing a total of 10 cars for the Alexander brothers. Of course that had to be kept secret from his bosses until he left GM in 1967, feeling somewhat stifled at GM Design. Bradley’s move from Detroit back to his native California to work at Mattel’s Hawthorne headquarters is probably another example of the Detroit-Los Angeles yang and yin.

The Alexanders’ plan was to use Bradley’s exciting drawings to entice one of the OEMs into ponying up a free truck for the project. The design, as radical, fresh and clean today as it was almost 50 years ago, worked because it was pretty much a clean slate approach. Bradley saw it more as a concept car than as a custom.

“What I wanted to do was get rid of that phone booth cab and integrate the upper (section of the body) with the lower. The finished truck would have no doors on either side. I didn’t want cutlines. We were always told at GM to play down cutlines. If cutlines were wonderful, Ferraris would have them running down their sides.”

Designer Harry Bentley Bradley’s original design for the Deora. The door was later split in two because the A pillars could not bear that much weight. The result, with a clamshell top and a center pivoted bottom, was much more dramatic.

This may distress Murilee Martin, but the A100 was not Bradley’s first choice, nor his second. The Alexander brothers didn’t care. They happened to approach Chrysler first. While Bradley thought the other two vans were better looking, considering what a radical custom the Deora is, I doubt the donor would have mattered. In any case, the plan worked. For the manufacturer’s cost of an A100 based pickup and about $10,000 in mid-1960s money, Dodge ended up getting publicity that still has residual value today. As it is, though it is mechanically 100% Dodge, the Alexanders actually used a few Ford and Corvair bits. The exhaust ports on the Deora’s sides are Mustang taillights turned sideways and the roof and front windshield are actually from the back of a Ford station wagon. Whether Dodge noticed or cared isn’t recorded. My guess is they knew, and laughed all the way to the bank, carrying the money Chrysler made from the production A100s that the Deora helped sell.

Harry Bradley’s 2001 account of the history of the Deora, though it was in 1967, not 1966 that the Deora won the Detroit Autorama’s Ridler Award

The Hot Wheels version of the Deora was not the only toy Deora sold. The AMT plastic model company was involved with the Deora project long before Mattel made their first little die-cast cars. Over the years the AMT brand has used the Deora molds to offer a wide variety of model kits based on the basic design.

In the AMT scale model of the Deora, the lower section of the door swings down, unlike the actual Deora’s door, which pivots in the middle. That was either a production neccesity or, more likely, the model’s design was set before the fabrication was finished on the car. AMT was involved with the Deora project very early on. Models of popular and award winning customs were and continue to be good sellers for model companies so designers have worked closely with model companies. It’s a symbiotic relationship and a major source of income for some custom designers. In fact, a number of the model kits for 1960s and 1970s era customs, besides the Deora, like Chuck Miller’s Fire Truck and Red Baron, have been reissued. In recent years, high dollar full size show car replicas of 1960s era model kits have also been made like Monogram’s Black Widow by Troy Ladd.

The Deora was no one-hit-wonder. Operating their own shop for over a decade by the time they won the prestigious Ridler Award with the Deora, the Alexander brothers also won Ridlers in 1965 with their ’56 Chevy based Venturian and in 1969 with their T-bucket pickup Top Banana. They had quickly developed a reputation with the Detroit custom and hot rod crowd but it took a while for the brothers to get some national attention. The custom and hot rod magazines were almost all based in California and more than a little bit West Coast centric in their views. Ironically, the Alexanders got their break with those magazines when George Barris’ XPAK 400 hovercraft car itself broke at the 1961 Detroit Autorama and Barris’ crew needed a competent local shop to fix the car.

Mike and Larry Alexander at their shop on Northwestern Hwy, one of two A Bros shops that had to close because of highway construction. Can you identify the car they’re working on?

Barris asked the show organizers which builders were the most competent mechanics and was told the A Bros.  The Alexanders fixed the “flying” car, George graciously put a good word in for them with the West Coast editors, and the Alexanders started getting some national press. Well, not completely graciously. According to Mike Alexander, Barris, true to form, told the editors that the A brothers were the East Coast division of Barris Industries. Whose car broke down and who fixed it should tell you something about the relative build quality at Barris Kustom City and Alexander Bros. Custom Shop.

Cars built by the Alexanders had exceptional build quality. In September of 1967, Rod & Custom editor Spence Murray test drove the Deora for a number of miles, more than the Alexanders had driven it to that point, and was impressed. “Our test drive went off without a hitch. Larry Alexander knew that (the) Deora would perform up to the standards of any mass-produced pickup truck, but I had to prove it to myself.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

The current owner of the restored Deora, Tom Abrams, who also owns Reliable Carriers, the specialty automotive transportation company, says that it’s a fully functional, perfectly operational vehicle, albeit with an awkward driving position.

The original Hot Wheels Deora from 1968

Having gotten their entre to the West Coast buff books, the Alexanders’ cars became popular. Besides having a different aesthetic sense than what was popular in California, the Alexanders also necessarily had to do things differently because of their location. In the late 1950s and early 1960s you could still find rust free ’32 Fords in arid Southern California but around Detroit (there it is again) the snowy winters and use of road salt meant that few old cars survived and many of the cars they worked on were badly rusted particularly along the lower edges.

1996 Hot Wheels Deora reissue

The Alexanders were more likely to use later model cars than their West Coast colleagues and do more radical reshaping of the sheet metal. The fact that the cars were rusted gave them a bit of freedom. If they had to make an entirely new panel, they might as well shape it to their desires, and not do a restoration. Their ’56 Chevy based Venturian is an example. Except for the windshield and doors, it’s very hard to see the Chevy underneath. By working on newer cars and doing older cars differently, Larry and Mike carved out their own niche and gained some measure of fame and success. While the name Alexander Brothers meant little outside of the custom car and modeling communities, the cars they were building were starting to percolate into the general public’s consciousness.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the Beach Boys’ song, Little Deuce Coupe, a tribute to the 1932 Ford that has gone on to inspire even more popularity for that iconic automobile. Well, the actual “Little Deuce Coupe” that inspired the song was a ’32 Ford three window coupe owned by Clarence “Chili” Catallo, who lived in Taylor, Michigan and bought the car for 75 bucks in 1955 as a teenager. He had an Oldsmobile V8 installed along with a GM Hydramatic transmission and had the Alexander brothers do the original bodywork and blue paint. They sectioned and channeled the body, created a custom fiberglass nose with four stacked headlights, rolled the rear pan, altered the frame, and covered the framework with polished-aluminum fins.

Click here to view the embedded video.

When he became a legal adult in 1958, Catallo took his car out west where he got a job as a janitor at George Barris’ shop, then located in Lynwood, California. Chili bartered his salary for work in the shop, which is where the car received a chopped top and a new paint job and became more of a show car than a drag racer. Competing on the West Coast car show circuit, Chili Catallo’s ’32 Ford with the unusual front end caught the attention of Hot Rod magazine and it was on the cover of the July 1961 issue. That brought it even more attention and two years later, when the Beach Boys released their Little Deuce Coupe album,  Catallo’s car was displayed prominently on the cover.

Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo about to award Mike Alexander (seated, signing autographs) another blue ribbon for the Deora at the 2013 Eyes On Design show.

Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo about to award Mike Alexander (seated, signing autographs) another blue ribbon for the Deora at the 2013 Eyes On Design show.

Album covers, magazine covers and awards, from 1963 to 1969, the Alexander brothers were on a roll, but despite the Alexanders’ fame and the success of their cars, making a living in the labor intensive custom car craft has never been easy, particularly if you pay more attention to quality than publicity. The pending expansion of Northwestern Hwy into an expressway meant they were soon going to have to move their shop a second time, highway construction having already forced a move from their original location on Schoolcraft. After winning three Ridler awards in five years, pretty much at the peak of the custom car game, both Alexander brothers decided to get straight jobs in the auto industry. Finding work wasn’t a problem. The Alexanders were highly respected in the industry at large, even outside custom and hot rod circles, having worked with OEMs on projects like the Deora.

Injection molds can last a long time.

In 1968 Larry Alexander went to work for Ford as a metal model maker in the body engineering department, shaping prototypes there until his retirement. Since model makers, even master MMMs, rarely get credit for the important contributions they make shaping and fine tuning car designs, I haven’t been able to yet determine which significant Fords he worked on, besides a coworkers reference to Alexander helping him with the clay model of a Fiesta subcompact. He was a modest man but his coworkers and superiors knew of his stature in the custom world and held him and his work in high regard. Larry, the older of the two brothers, passed away in 2010.

Mike Alexander kept the shop open until it was razed in 1969. When Henry Ford II hired GM executive Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen to be president of Ford Motor Company, Knudsen brought along some talent with him, including Corvette StingRay desginer Larry Shinoda. While at Ford Shinoda would design the Boss Mustangs. After the Alexander brothers closed their last shop, Shinoda hired Mike Alexander to be in charge of design at Kar Kraft, Ford’s fabrication shop for show cars and special runs. It should have been a good fit for Mike, but but by then not only had Knudsen been the target of Lee Iaccoca’s successful political infighting, resulting in The Deuce firing him in late 1969, but also Shinoda, who has been described as a bit of a character and non-conformist, had managed to wear out his welcome with the styling studio bosses and he was fired as well. With his two patrons axed, in 1970 Mike moved to American Sunroof (now ASC), where he ran the body shop operations for their newly established Custom Craft Division. To Cadillac and Lincoln dealers, ASC Custom Craft offered, “..a complete line of luxury customizing and classic automotive finery for the personalization of your customer’s cars. I am sure that you are finding that in recent years more and more car buyers are interested in adding to their cars these special touches of excitement and luxury.” Dealers could install the accessories or have Custom Craft do the installation at ASC’s Southgate, Michigan facility.

ASC Custom Craft brochure for el Deora and Cadillac Astro Estate Wagon conversions. Mike Alexander ran the ASC body shop that fabricated these conversions.

When ASC Custom Craft started up, available products included custom grilles, faux classic headlight shells and trim, custom hood ornaments, padded half landau roofs, landau irons, fender skirts, rear deck lids with continental kit styling, rear deck trim, color keyed wheelcovers, oval or diamond shaped rear windows, and a dash-mounted 3” television. In other words, Custom Craft made pimpmobiles. Now before you look askance, the song Be Thankful For What You Got, by William DeVaughn, with the lyric Diamond in the back, sunroof top, Diggin’ the scene with a gangsta lean, Gangster white walls, TV antenna in the back sold over 2 million copies in 1974 (though unlike the Alexander bros, DeVaughn in fact was a one hit wonder). The Superfly look was very popular with pimps, wannabes and drug dealers. Car dealers, on their part, have always tried to make a buck with add ons. While there aren’t many shops still doing the precise thing today, pimpmobiles do have their spiritual heirs. There is no shortage of custom and tuning shops today with more technical skill than aesthetic taste, and they will gladly bling out whatever you roll in.

Mike and Larry Alexander with their masterpiece, the Dodge Deora at the 1967 Detroit Autorama in Cobo Hall.

ASC Custom Craft even reprised the Deora name, well sort of. They offered a converted Cadillac which was called the elDeora (which further mangled the original’s botched Spanish) including making at least one stretched Eldorado version. If you think about how long the last truly full size Eldorados were, that must have been one eye-catching pimpmobile. If a stretched Eldo wasn’t a big enough Caddy for you and all of your working girls, Custom Craft also marketed the Fleetwood Talisman El Deora, which was an elongated version of Cadillac’s already stretched factory built Fleetwood limo. The brochure pictured above from the early 1970s (those are pre 1973 bumpers), offers the limousine with two, count them, two sunroofs, the elDeora DeVille (“beautiful, massive, and masculine”), the Eldorado based elDeora Coupe (“stunning individuality, taste”), the Astrella Two Door Wagon (Eldo based and “exquisite, practical”), and the Fleetwood based Astro Estate Four Door Wagon (“stunning, functional”).

After the Deora won the Ridler Award in early 1967, Chrysler leased it for two years to promote Dodge cars and trucks.

Many of the Cadillac based station wagons that come up for sale from time to time are Custom Craft products. For the original Deora, the Alexanders put the back end of a Ford wagon on the front a Dodge van. For the Cadillac wagons, ASC took the back half of full size GM station wagons and grafted them on to Cadillac front ends. Some designs were more successful than others, aesthetically and commercially, but the four door Fleetwood based cars looked good and sold fairly well. In the 1970s, ASC exported over 100 Fleetwood Brougham Astro Estate Wagons to Saudi Arabia.

The Alexander brothers could have used any of the Big 3′s cabover vans but Dodge gave them an A100 to work with. The folks at Dodge either didn’t notice or didn’t care about all the Ford parts on the finished Deora. Notice something familiar about those exhaust ports?

All of the stretched limousines and station wagon conversions made by ASC Custom Craft were done under the direct supervision of Mike Alexander. That you can still find some for sale over 40 years later and that they look good enough to pass for factory jobs are a testimony to the high standards that Mike and his brother Larry set. The same is true of all of their custom cars. They are built to concours quality and engineered well. I think that I still prefer the original Deora to an el Deora.

Mike Alexander, the shorter of the two Alexander brothers, demonstrates ingress.When they demonstrated how to get in and out of the car, it was usually Mike, who was shorter, who did the demonstration – there’s not a lot of headroom left in the Deora after the 22″ chop they did.At 57″, the Deora is more than half an inch lower than the 2013 Dodge Dart and the Dart isn’t built on a truck chassis.

I’d hate to end Mike Alexander’s tale with pimpmobiles and Cadillac station wagons used to shuttle around some sheiks’ harems. After the gaudy ASC conversions, Mike continued to influence the auto industry. While at ASC, Mike had a role in the development of the Buick GNX, the even higher performance version of the Buick Grand National. The GNX was unique from regular Grand Nationals. The GNX had very wide tires with different wheel diameters and offsets front and back. The back wheels were 16″, large for the day. For tire clearance purposes the GNX has significantly flared fenders. Those functional flares add to the car’s aggressive, almost malevolent look. The front fenders also have functional louvers to aid in brake cooling.

The Deora at the 1967 Detroit Autorama. Old time hot rodders will note the Gratiot Auto Supply banner on the wall.

ASC was contracted, along with McLaren Performance Technologies, to build the GNX at ASC’s Livonia, Michigan facility. Nearly finished cars were trucked from GM’s assembly plant in Pontiac to Livonia where the GNX bits were added including cutting the fenders and installing the louvers and flares. That was mostly hand work. Production of the 547 GNX cars took place in Livonia but according to Dave Roland, who was an important part of the team that developed the Buick Turbo V6 engines for the Grand National and the GNX, the Southgate ASC facility was involved with the build of the prototypes and some of the GNX parts. Roland said that many of the prototype GNX photos in his personal collection were shot at the Southgate facility. Mike Alexander was running the body shop at the Southgate facility when the GNX was prototyped at that facility.

Mike retired from ASC in 1995, though he continued to consult at Custom Craft, working on the retractable roof of the Cadillac Evoq show car in 1999. As a matter of fact, if your car has a retractable hardtop roof, you can probably thank Mike Alexander. While at ASC he became a bit of an expert on folding metal roof and was granted at least 19 patents on the topic.

By all accounts, Mike was a fine gentleman, a mensch. The automotive world is better because of him and he will be missed. Mike Alexander is survived by his wife Elaine and their three children. Rest in peace.

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

The post Preeminent Custom Car Builder Mike Alexander 1935-2014, R.I.P. appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/preeminent-custom-car-builder-mike-alexander-1935-2014-r-p/feed/ 10
Junkyard Find: 1988 Mercury Tracer Hatchback http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1988-mercury-tracer-hatchback/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1988-mercury-tracer-hatchback/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 13:00:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=905001 Here’s a rare one! We’re familiar with the 1990s Mercury Tracer that was a Mercury-badged Ford Escort (which was itself a Ford-badged Mazda), but the 1987-89 Tracer was a rebadged and left-hand-drive Ford Laser, a crypto-snazzy Australian version of the Mazda 323. They sold in very small quantities in the United States, and so it […]

The post Junkyard Find: 1988 Mercury Tracer Hatchback appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
09 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere’s a rare one! We’re familiar with the 1990s Mercury Tracer that was a Mercury-badged Ford Escort (which was itself a Ford-badged Mazda), but the 1987-89 Tracer was a rebadged and left-hand-drive Ford Laser, a crypto-snazzy Australian version of the Mazda 323. They sold in very small quantities in the United States, and so it took me a moment to identify this example that I spotted last week in a Denver self-service wrecking yard. As an excellent example of “rare ≠ valuable,” it seemed worthy of this series.
19 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNot even 65,000 miles on the clock. Perhaps it sat in a garage for most of its life, barely emerging onto the street.
14 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt was running in 2006, though, because there’s a Colorado State Parks pass from that year on the windshield.
04 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinVaguely sporty-looking yet late-80s generic.
16 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Mazda B engine, used in everything from Kia Rios to Mazda Miatas.

Just the car for a night of wrestling!

01 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1988 Mercury Tracer Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

The post Junkyard Find: 1988 Mercury Tracer Hatchback appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/junkyard-find-1988-mercury-tracer-hatchback/feed/ 79
Capsule Review: Ford Fiesta 1.0L Ecoboost http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-ford-fiesta-1-0l-ecoboost/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-ford-fiesta-1-0l-ecoboost/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 12:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904473 No alloy wheels. No automatic transmission. No fancy infotainment system. From the perspective of the Ford Fiesta 1.0L Ecoboost really doesn’t have a lot going for it – at least that’s what Kamil Kaluski thought when he tested a 4-door sedan earlier this summer. The three-cylinder Fiesta is certainly an odd duck. That’s part of […]

The post Capsule Review: Ford Fiesta 1.0L Ecoboost appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
photo-42-300x350

No alloy wheels. No automatic transmission. No fancy infotainment system. From the perspective of the Ford Fiesta 1.0L Ecoboost really doesn’t have a lot going for it – at least that’s what Kamil Kaluski thought when he tested a 4-door sedan earlier this summer. The three-cylinder Fiesta is certainly an odd duck. That’s part of its charm.

2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-rear-3q

Due to scheduling circumstances, we spent just 36 hours with the newest Fiesta, but it was enough to get a general idea of what this car is all about.

In late 2012, Ford held media previews for the 1.0L Fiesta with European-spec cars, but it took nearly 2 years for the car to hit showrooms in North America. In between those two events, we learned that a 1.0L Fiesta with the 6-speed Powershift automatic gearbox was canned by Ford for failing to meet NVH and driveability targets. Ford was similarly vague about sales targets, refusing to give an exact number for the 1.0L.

2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-transmission

Our powers of deduction indicate that a major product planning shift was required for the change to a manual-only 1.0L car. Cognizant of the fact that a three-pedal configuration would restrict sales of the car to a certain demographic, Ford was subsequently unable to amortize the cost of the engine’s certification over a greater volume of sales. The apparent solution was for the 1.0L to be a lower trim “SFE” package with the increased cost of the 1.0L engine offset by the lower equipment levels.

Aside from the missing automatic transmission, the 1.0L does not have alloy wheels or the revised Fiesta’s MyFord Touch system, which might be missed on a subcompact car that costs $18,285 (less a $750 dealer incentive that is available in many markets). The upshot for Ford? Bragging rights. At 43 mpg on the highway, the 1.0L Fiesta is the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid vehicle on the market. For enthusiasts, it gives them an interesting and quirky alternative to the usual slate of subcompacts.

2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-engine-2

The centerpiece of the SFE is the 1.0L Ecoboost, a turbocharged triple making 123 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque, a gain of three ponies and 13 lb-ft over the standard 1.6L naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. Even so, this isn’t any kind of performance oriented option package, though it does accelerate quicker than the lethargic 1.6L mill. While the Ecoboost engine in the Fiesta ST gives you the grunt to accelerate even when you’re one gear higher than you ought to be in, the SFE requires constantly shifting to maximize the tiny turbo mill’s low-end torque. Your reward is a reserve of real, usable shove that can be called upon to shoot through gaps in traffic, while merging and overtaking on the highway no longer you to cross your fingers and hope for the best. The 5-speed transmission is neither vague nor particularly engaging, with long throws and a shift quality typical of most transverse gearboxes. The abundance of torque at low rpms and the clutch’s high engagement point make it an ideal candidate for someone to learn how to drive a manual transmission on – whether that’s a friend, family member or someone buying their first stick shift car.

2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-front-3q

The SFE’s handling characteristics involve a similar set of tradeoffs. The electric power steering is sharp, speedy and direct, though the chassis is marked by excessive bodyroll, a soft suspension and tires that are as sporting as the captain of the Mathletes. One can only wonder how the SFE would fare with some lighter alloys, halfway decent rubber and the Ford Racing Handling Pack. Even so, it’s hard not to be charmed by the off-beat three-cylinder thrum, pointy steering and a performance envelope that is entirely within the grasp of the average driver (and the limits of the law).

2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-interior-full

Lacking the MyFord Touch system available in other Fiestas, the SFE makes do with the basic SYNC system, which was tougher to master than one would expect. The regular SYNC unit is a maze of buttons, knobs and menus that never quite makes itself transparent. Previously, the MyFord Touch system was the lesser of two evils, but a series of improvements to its response time has made it the preferred choice on Blue Oval products. Unfortunately, the SFE doesn’t really give you a choice.

Understanding the value proposition for the 1.0L Fiesta is a bit puzzling. As Kamil noted, the lack of an automatic transmission or a rock-bottom sticker price will alienate the vast majority of North American subcompact buyers. But that may not be the best way to look at the three-cylinder Fiesta. Instead, think of it as a taste of the small-displacement economy cars that were once restricted to the other side of the Atlantic, and a test bed for future applications of boosted three-cylinder engines. The efficiency, character and quirkiness are just bonuses.

Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gasoline for this review. We didn’t use very much gas.

photo-42-300x350 2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-wheels 2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-transmission 2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-steering-wheel 2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-rear-hatch 2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-rear-3q 2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-interior-full 2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-interior 2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-headlights 2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-front-3q 2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-engine-2 2014-Ford-Fiesta-Ecoboost-engine-1

 

The post Capsule Review: Ford Fiesta 1.0L Ecoboost appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-ford-fiesta-1-0l-ecoboost/feed/ 114
Capsule Review: 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2015-subaru-outback-2-5i/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2015-subaru-outback-2-5i/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 12:10:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=902858 Of all the things that struck me during my week with the 2015 Subaru Outback at the end of August, it was the realization that this nameplate has been around for two decades which shocked me most. Is this because I’m getting old, that when I think something occurred recently, I find out it actually […]

The post Capsule Review: 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
2015 Subaru OutbackOf all the things that struck me during my week with the 2015 Subaru Outback at the end of August, it was the realization that this nameplate has been around for two decades which shocked me most.

Is this because I’m getting old, that when I think something occurred recently, I find out it actually happened 20 years ago? Subaru first showed North Americans a Legacy Outback at the New York Auto Show in 1994. In other words, there are people who have been driving for four years who never knew a world without the Subaru Outback.

Yet during this long period in which the Outback, and Subaru as a whole, became increasingly successful, there have never been any properly direct Outback rivals, at least none that have made real hay off the Outback’s format. And yes, by the Outback’s format, I really mean the AMC Eagle’s format.

True, you could argue that most modern crossovers have stolen their offense from the Outback’s playbook. But driving the Outback is different, and it continues to be perceived by the vast majority of actual Outback buyers as different, as a true crossover; a true mid-point, between car and SUV.

Audi’s A6 and A4 Allroads are all good and well, but they’re very rare cars. Volvo’s XC70 has lingered, but it too has become very uncommon in terms of new car sales. Don’t even say the words, “Honda Crosstour,” within range of my ears.

One then wonders what’s always been so different about the Outback.

To answer that question, we would need to examine multiple products from multiple periods over the the last two decades. So what about this new car? What makes this 2015 model great; what ensures further success for the fifth Outback?

2015 Subaru OutbackSubjectively speaking, it looks better than the outgoing car. Though strikingly similar in most ways, perhaps too similar from some angles, its face is cleaner and classier. Unfortunately, this specific tester, a 2.5i Touring version on loan from Subaru Canada, features alloy wheels that do a really good impression of cheap wheel covers.

It’s better built than previous Outbacks were. There’s no hint of fragility to this car, no after-bump jiggles and rattles, no door-closing thwacks where there ought to be, and are, thunks. It is more than vaguely Toyota-like, and given the relationship between the two companies, we shouldn’t be surprised.

Interior quality and workmanship has taken a big leap forward, particularly where it matters around the driver. The infotainment unit is now modern, which is to say it meets our low expectations for in-car systems but doesn’t rise to the level of convenience you’d find in the new Mazda 3 or the depth of services in Chrysler’s UConnect.

With each new Outback iteration, there’s been a moderate increase in space and comfort, progressively less of the knees-to-chest awkwardness for rear passengers and arguably better seats for front passengers. This remains true, but I’d like the front seats to feature side bolstering that wasn’t quite so far away from my sides. The headrests feature a welcome range of adjustability.

Cargo capacity is up slightly from 34.3 cubic feet to 35.3; from 71.3 to 73.3 cubic feet with the seats folded as overall length grew by six-tenths of an inch.

The Outback is still a smart car. The roof crossbars are embedded in the flush-mounted side rails until you need them. Combined city/highway fuel efficiency has increased from 26 mpg to 28, three miles more per gallon than the 2014 Honda CR-V, America’s best-selling SUV/crossover, is rated to achieve, and on par with the 2014 four-cylinder Toyota Camry, America’s most popular car. Pressing Subaru’s X-Mode button turns the Outback, already a tall-riding car with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, into a very capable mud-runner by remapping the transmission and all-wheel-drive system and traction control. It’s not a joke.

2015 Subaru Outback rearThe 2015 Outback’s on-road behaviour produces what may be the most convincing argument that the Outback has improved. Ride quality is superb, as the Outback isolates occupants from road imperfections while maintaining a nice amount of firmness. The Outback has become a very quiet highway cruiser, no vibration seeps through the pedals or wheel or shifter, and the boxer four-cylinder has been further refined to reduce unwanted boxer noises.

Say what you will about the character of older H-4 Subarus, they weren’t the engines you strapped on if you were going to meet the queen. This 2.5L is now smoother, and there is still a hint of flat-four warble if you call upon it.

Subaru has also made a slight return to its more enjoyable driving roots after a fourth-gen car that was all too boring to drive. This new Outback doesn’t have the the same amount of athleticism enjoyed by the third-generation Outback; nor is there any real interactivity here. But body roll is kept to a minimum in comparison with most small crossovers and the steering is sufficiently quick to make me think I’d hustle this car whenever the opportunity presented itself. I wouldn’t have said that about the last Outback, and I certainly wouldn’t say the same for the Toyota RAV4 or Nissan Rogue.

Hustling is perhaps a stretch for the overburdened 175-horsepower powerplant, of course. There’s a great deal more cooperation now between the engine and the continuously variable transmission, so much so that the car no longer feels slow unless you’re accelerating from rest up a steep hill. The CVT is rarely annoying, offering a distinct stepping sensation and paddles if you want to exert some control. In the Canadian market, consumers are still given the option of selecting a manual transmission. Oh joy, oh delight.

2015 Subaru Outback InteriorYes, you’ll want the 256-horsepower six-cylinder, but you might not want its fuel bill, 22 mpg overall, or the $3000 premium you’ll pay on top-trim Limited models to get that boxer six. (Limiteds start at $30,845 including destination, $3000 more than the Outback Premium, which is $2100 more than the base Outback. We averaged a somewhat disappointing 24 mpg in mostly urban driving in the four-cylinder.) And you won’t need the six-cylinder – base four-cylinder Outbacks weigh less than 3600 pounds. They can make do.

Positivity aside, I’ll admit I grew somewhat bored of the Outback before the week was up. I blame the black paint for masking the more stylish look of the cladding – it looks great in lighter shades. We also have frequent access to more thrilling machines on a regular basis. The Outback doesn’t thrill, nor does it aim to.

No, the Outback really is just a new take on the old-fashioned station wagon. Rather, a 20-year-old take. But I realized when the Outback left our driveway that a rugged, roomy, affordable, surprisingly efficient, all-weather midsize wagon is basically the perfect car for almost everybody I know, in the same way flimsy, massive, affordable, inefficient, rear-wheel-drive full-size wagons were basically the perfect car for almost everybody I never knew 35 or 40 years ago.

There are things Subaru could do better, from re-injecting more fun back into the chassis, crafting less American-waistline-oriented seats, designing a faster power liftgate that doesn’t leave me standing impatiently in a parking lot with a 30-pound bag of dog food, reining in the aggressive throttle tip-in, and providing 200 standard horsepower.

Yet the 2015 version makes the Outback a better car than it’s ever been. Subaru has worked to make it better despite the lack of pressure from rival automakers; despite the security of Subaru’s steadily growing North American sales volume.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. These Outback images were supplied by frequent GCBC photographer Steffani Cain.

The post Capsule Review: 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2015-subaru-outback-2-5i/feed/ 94
A Look At Europe’s Top Selling Brands By Country http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/look-europes-top-selling-brands-country/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/look-europes-top-selling-brands-country/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 11:30:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904657   From the Twitter account of Bob Flavin comes this map of Europe, overlayed with each country’s best-selling auto brand. Volkswagen, along with Skoda (and to a lesser extent, SEAT and Audi) are far and away the dominant force in Europe, with Fiat, Renault (and Dacia) trailing behind. Regionally, Audi is popular in wealthy enclaves […]

The post A Look At Europe’s Top Selling Brands By Country appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
BweQfPuCIAA4d7B

 

From the Twitter account of Bob Flavin comes this map of Europe, overlayed with each country’s best-selling auto brand.

Volkswagen, along with Skoda (and to a lesser extent, SEAT and Audi) are far and away the dominant force in Europe, with Fiat, Renault (and Dacia) trailing behind.

Regionally, Audi is popular in wealthy enclaves like Monaco, while Skoda dominates in Central Europe. Dacia is abundant in developing countries as diverse as Romania, Moldova, Morocco and Algeria while Fiat is tops not just in Italy, but Turkey and Serbia as well – countries where Fiat builds vehicles locally.

Popular brands in North America, like Ford, Toyota and Honda are much smaller players in the continent. While the Fiesta, Focus and other nameplates enjoy widespread success throughout Europe, Toyota and Honda are much smaller players. And most tellingly, none of the PSA nameplates (Peugeot and Citroen) are present. Or Hyundai/Kia, for that matter.

The post A Look At Europe’s Top Selling Brands By Country appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/look-europes-top-selling-brands-country/feed/ 29
Vellum Venom Vignette: My Brother’s Keeper http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/vellum-venom-vignette-brothers-keeper/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/vellum-venom-vignette-brothers-keeper/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 12:41:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904169 Reader Request: discuss the Lincoln Mark VIII, preferably the second generation’s modest restyle. He likely didn’t care for my reply, as it follows my disapproval of the Original Testarossa versus that rolling abortion that disrespectfully ended Ferrari’s most iconic series. Then I parked beside a 2000 Mercury Sable on a fine Houston evening. Allow me […]

The post Vellum Venom Vignette: My Brother’s Keeper appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
IMG_3381

Reader Request: discuss the Lincoln Mark VIII, preferably the second generation’s modest restyle. He likely didn’t care for my reply, as it follows my disapproval of the Original Testarossa versus that rolling abortion that disrespectfully ended Ferrari’s most iconic series.

Then I parked beside a 2000 Mercury Sable on a fine Houston evening.

1996_Mercury_Sable_004_3199

Allow me to explain with Lincoln-Mercury fanboi facts. The 1993 Lincoln Mark VIII was an avant-garde reinstatement of Lee Iaococca’s “Thunderbird designed by a guy named Vinnie” : blending delicious proportions of the 1989 Thunderbird, sculptural elements of the 1993 Ford Probe and the once-mandatory Continental DNA of the once-relevant Lincoln Brand.

The 1996 Sable, avoiding the ovoid pitfall of its Taurus sister ship, went four door Mark VIII: right down to the elegant roof and slender tail lights!

2004-mercury-sable-side_mesab043

Both the redesigned Mark VIII (1997) and the redesigned Sable (2000) took the original idea and milquetoasted it hopes of regaining lost sales. Neither worked, literally.

So let’s go back to the parking lot.

IMG_3383

These brothers couldn’t be more different, even if they are the same. How did the original coke-bottle remain appealing (if you like American luxury coupes) while its younger brother got married, had a family and multiple failed careers after 1999?

IMG_3332

When these two brothers meet their maker, bodies reincarnated into crap we buy at WalMart, their souls will uncomfortably meet in heaven. Those two kids lived unique lives, but they know there’s no escaping the genetic connection. Blood is always thicker than water.

And the Cain and Abel reference? That’s more for the bloodbath between the Testarossa and the 512M. That’s gonna get ugly: 512M ugly.

Thanks for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

 

 

 

 

The post Vellum Venom Vignette: My Brother’s Keeper appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/vellum-venom-vignette-brothers-keeper/feed/ 50
Capsule Review: 2015 VW Saveiro CD Highline (Double Cab – Brazilian Market) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/capsule-review-2015-vw-saveiro-cd-highline-double-cab-brazilian-market/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/capsule-review-2015-vw-saveiro-cd-highline-double-cab-brazilian-market/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 17:36:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904225 The car-based small pickup market was launched in Brazil by Fiat during the 1980s. Taking a 147 as its base, the Italians cut out the back seats, added a bed, beefed up the suspension and called it good. The market deemed it so, and soon, there was a whole new segment gracing Brazil’s roads, with […]

The post Capsule Review: 2015 VW Saveiro CD Highline (Double Cab – Brazilian Market) appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
volkswagen-saveiro-cross-avaliacao-2015-NA-41

The car-based small pickup market was launched in Brazil by Fiat during the 1980s. Taking a 147 as its base, the Italians cut out the back seats, added a bed, beefed up the suspension and called it good. The market deemed it so, and soon, there was a whole new segment gracing Brazil’s roads, with Fiat’s Strada dominating the segment. Since that time, nearly every challenger has been vanquished by the Strada’s unquestionable longevity – except for Volkswagen’s Saveiro.

According to VW do Brasil, the Saveiro is now the market leader in single and extended cab configurations. It has sold roughly 40,000 units up until the middle of the year while Fiat sold roughly twice that. Volkswagen says half of Strada sales were of the double cab line. So finally VW reacted and launched its own double cab (the Strada’s arrived in 2009).  Its take on this style of small pick up is different from Fiat’s. As of 10 months ago, the Strada now comes with three doors, which of course (in theory) helps entry. The Volkswagen offers just two. Getting in the car and reclining the seat, I wiggle my 6 foot, 220 lb  frame into the back seat.

Nice surprise. While the Strada seats just four, the Saveiro does it for five. There are three headrests and three point seat belts only for those who sit off to the sides. The middle passenger, besides fighting for space, has to make do with a lap belt. Space is larger than in the Strada, though I wouldn’t want to be there with two friends for more than short jaunts. The rear side windows open by popping out, while the back window is fixed. There are two cupholders and even an auxiliary jack and a compartment under the seats. Some thought was indeed put into it.

Getting into the front and sitting in the driver’s seat, the whole ambience is very typically Volkswagen. That means a sober, almost boring layout, hard but well assembled plastics, monotone decorations and lots of unmarked plastic covers where commands for optional equipment would be. All in all it is an ambience I don’t especially admire or find pleasure in being, while I can appreciate why others do. The seat is placed a little low, and the dashboard quite high leading to that sunken feeling that many nowadays equate with safety. What’s safer than driving a tank, right? As such, it’s good the Saveiro CD comes with parking sensors. That way you won’t smash the bed into anything.

Speaking of the bed, it has been reduced to 1.1 m in length and capacity is now 580L. The spare has been placed under the bed. Just to compare, the Strada has a volume 100L greater and can carry 50 more kilos (650 to the Saveiro’s 600). Though short, it is longer than the Strada’s and offers 10 tie-down points, a number its rival can’t touch.

The Saveiro Double Cab offers two engines. Both are 1.6L. One however has 8v while the other 16. The 16v is new and corrals 110 or 120 ponies (depending of fuel chosen, the first figure for Brazilian gasoline, the second for Brazilian ethanol) while the simpler mill makes do with 101 or 104 horsepower. While this output is relatively low, the multi-valve engine pulls well and vibrates less than the old one. Pulling power is steady and its capacity to rev higher makes it more comfortable to drive at high speeds on the highway. Top speed is 179 km/h, almost 10 more than the 8 valve unit. It has been on the market for a while now, and so far has not shown the same propensity of the old unit of going kaput at very low mileage. Keeping fingers crossed, one can hope Volkswagen do Brasil has finally figured out what kind of oil is needed to lubricate its 1.6 L motors.

Finally, and exclusively for its segment, the new engine also makes do without an auxiliary start up tank. In low temperatures, cars running on ethanol can have trouble firing. To avoid this, most cars here come with an extra tank you must fill with gasoline to aid firing. The new engine dispenses with this, aiding comfort and safety as there is no need for the extra tank, usually placed in the engine bay.

The Saveiro Highline comes with the 1.6 16v. I chose to drive it as I’m well acquainted with the 8v unit. It really helps the experience and makes the car that more enjoyable. Faster than ever, the little pickup has always been a handful to drive at high speeds with an empty bed. So much so that cars like these are known as caminito al cielo (road to heaven) in some South American markets. This time around VW has endowed the picape with stability control but only on the top-level Cross trim. Lower trim level buyers will have to be wary and drive with special care trying to make it around bends. While very sure-footed and planted in a straight line, the driver must not forget he is in a pickup and not a car. The bed will try to find the front of the car if the driver abuses it.

All double cab Saveiros come with disc brakes all around. Stopping power is of course enhanced, and emergency braking is done without drama. It helps that the Saveiro offers EBD throughout the Double Cab line. It’s very interesting how Brazilian cars are getting more equipped. Besides the mandatory airbags and ABS, the pickup comes with a hill holder function and special programming that allows VW to claim an off road traction launcher (depending on trim level). The Germans also claim their ABS and EBD have special programming offering better braking in muddy conditions. All of this was not present in the car I drove. For now, these are reserved for the pseudo-adventure Cross trim line.

The steering is precise as in most VW cars. In the city it’s not the lightest out there, but on the highway it beefs up nicely. Being a hydraulic unit, it offers more feedback than electric setups. The car comes with a manual 5-speed gearbox that remains among the best in Brazil. Its short and precise throws are better than the competitions and it can shift fast and true. Better yet, this time around the thumping noises of its engagement have been largely avoided.

I enjoyed this little truck. Pressure is now on Fiat to improve its Strada. Volkwagen pricing is in line with Fiat’s, but always offers just a bit more content. The drive is certainly modern and the use of an interdependent axle with longitudinal arms and springs in the back make it a less jumpy vehicle than the Strada. While the engine in the VW is smaller than the Strada’s 1.8, 16v, 132hp unit, it makes the car almost as fast and more economic, plus smoother than Fiat’s. Pulling power is aided by the hill holder function while the Strada has more torque. The Saveiro is now on par with the Strada and it will be interesting to be seen whether it will fulfill Volkswagen do Brasil’s prediction of taking over first place from the Strada. Though that will be a tough, uphill battle, the Saveiro now has what it takes.

 

The post Capsule Review: 2015 VW Saveiro CD Highline (Double Cab – Brazilian Market) appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/capsule-review-2015-vw-saveiro-cd-highline-double-cab-brazilian-market/feed/ 166
Bill Mitchell’s Swan Song: The Phantom http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/bill-mitchells-swan-song-phantom/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/bill-mitchells-swan-song-phantom/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:00:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=897690 Since it was the last design of consequence that General Motors design chief Bill Mitchell oversaw, Wayne Kady’s 1980 Cadillac Seville is thought by some to be the ultimate expression of Mitchell’s design philosophy. No doubt Mitchell was a fan of what he called the “London look”, and the ’80 Seville had that in spades: a classic […]

The post Bill Mitchell’s Swan Song: The Phantom appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
pontiac-phantom_02

Since it was the last design of consequence that General Motors design chief Bill Mitchell oversaw, Wayne Kady’s 1980 Cadillac Seville is thought by some to be the ultimate expression of Mitchell’s design philosophy. No doubt Mitchell was a fan of what he called the “London look”, and the ’80 Seville had that in spades: a classic vertical grille, a bustle shaped rear end, a raked C pillar and a long hood. When accused of borrowing the bustle-back from a contemporary Lincoln, Mitchell reportedly got indignant and said that he stole it from Rolls-Royce, not the cross-town competition in Dearborn. However, while Mitchell went to bat for the controversial Seville design over the objections of Cadillac management, the Seville was not the ultimate expression of his personal taste.

That ultimate expression can instead be seen in a car that never made it to production and in fact was treated a bit like a step-child by GM brass. While the Seville’s razor sharp edges are justifiably associated with Mitchell, something that distinguished GM cars in the 1960s from what Michael Lamm calls Harley Earl’s “Rubenesque” ethos of the mid to late 1950s, the fact is that Mitchell loved the sweeping and elegant look of cars from the late 1930s. The first two cars that he oversaw at GM were the 1938 Cadillac Sixty Special and the 1941 Cadillac. Neither of those cars has a single creased edge.

1980 Cadillac Seville

1980 Cadillac Seville

His favorite cars were the custom Silver Arrow Buick Rivieras that he had personalized for his own use, and while there are some of Mitchell’s sharp edges on the Rivieras, particularly the first generation car, in profile the Rivs, most noticeably the boat-tailed versions, evoke the sweeping lines of cars from decades earlier.

Mitchell’s ultimate statement as a car designer would be the 1977 Phantom, a large, fastback two-seat coupe built atop a Pontiac Grand Prix chassis. Though the Phantom has some sharp edges, its proportions, flowing lines and exposed wheel wells  go back to the era of those Cadillacs that Mitchell designed in the late 1930s. Though some have speculated that the Phantom ended up in Mitchell’s possession as some sort of severance payment upon his retirement, while GM designers were indeed known to use one-off concept and show cars as their personal drivers, the Phantom never had a drivetrain. It still exists, but perhaps in line with its history the Phantom is almost hidden away in the corner of a museum.

This 1967 rendering by Wayne Kady of a hypothetical V16 powered Cadillac prefigures both the 1980 Seville and Bill Mitchell's Phantom of 1977.

This 1967 rendering by Wayne Kady of a hypothetical V16 powered Cadillac prefigures both the 1980 Seville and Bill Mitchell’s Phantom of 1977.

By 1977, Mitchell was a bit of an anachronism, a man with a Mad Men mentality in an era while Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinam were raising women’s consciousness, someone who could order a half dozen hookers for lunch and send out an underling to the bank to get the Benjamins to pay them. GM’s design and engineering teams had just created what would be their last masterpieces for decades, the downsized 1977 fullsize sedans, the first American cars designed from scratch to deal with more expensive gasoline, the result of the 1973 oil crisis. The new Chevy Impala, for example, was 700 lbs lighter, smaller in every exterior dimension, yet had more interior room and more cargo capacity than the land yachts it replaced. Those cars would be GM’s high point for years, as they were almost immediately followed by the disastrous X-cars, the Chevy Citation and it’s badge engineered siblings.

Bill Mitchell was not a man for downsizing. Not a small man himself, for his last personal design Mitchell opted for something that was not smaller, lighter nor more space efficient. It was his idea of a modern classic and his hope for the direction that GM design would take after his retirement. However, by 1977, Mitchell had been with the company for four decades and many of his contemporaries (and advocates) were long gone.

A styling show was planned for the GM board at the proving grounds and Mitchell had the Phantom shipped out to Milford on the sly, hoping to surprise the board of directors as well as some of the GM executives like Howard Kehrl, executive vice president in charge of the product planning and technical staffs. Kehrl wasn’t as well known and certainly not as flamboyant as Mitchell, but the engineer had risen up through the ranks and by the late 1970s, with many of Mitchell’s allies retired, Kehrl held more power in the corporation. Having been on the receiving end of Mitchell’s legendary foul mouth, Kehrl was in no mood for one of Mitchell’s power plays. He spotted the Phantom being prepared for display and ordered it off the grounds immediately. Lo, how the mighty are fallen. Mitchell reportedly fumed, but the lion was roaring in winter. Later that year Mitchell retired from GM and opened up his own design studio in suburban Detroit. He died in 1988.

Pontiac_Phantom_01

By 1977, times had changed. In a 1979 interview he told Corvette historian Michael B. Antonick, “You know,  years ago when you went into an auto styling department, you found sweeps…racks of them. Now they design [cars] with a T-square and a triangle.”

Even the designers who had risen through GM’s design studios under Mitchell to positions of power themselves realized that times had passed the designer by. Jerry Hirschberg, who later would head Nissan design, is quoted by Michael Lamm as saying, “”As the years passed, Mitchell’s rather narrow biases and hardening vision limited GM styling. He was fighting old battles and withdrawing increasingly from a world that was being redefined by consumerism, Naderism and an emerging consciousness of the environment.”

198692

George Moon, a senior interior designer at GM reflected on Mitchell at the end of his career: “Bill Mitchell ruled over GM Design Staff during its most creative, most exciting years in corporate history. No matter his mood, his manner, his style—he gave the place a verve and an excitement it never had before or since. He brought out the best creative energies from all of us, and he oversaw the design of the greatest diversity of cars ever produced.

“Bill couldn’t have survived in today’s arena: too many rules, too many handcuffs, committees and bosses. Nor could today’s corporation tolerate Mitchell’s flamboyance, impertinences, ego and lifestyle. He was his own man, flawed and gifted, crude and creative. You had to love him or hate him, but no one in America could ignore him.”

1977-gm-phantom-concept-car

Mitchell seemed to have understood that times had passed him by. Even his internal code name for the Phantom, “Madame X” evoked a bygone era. Concerning the Phantom he later said, “Realizing that with the energy crisis and other considerations, the glamour car would not be around for long. I wanted to leave a memory at General Motors of the kind of cars I love”.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Start the video and click on the settings icon to select 2D or 3D formats

Though his power had ebbed, Mitchell was still a legend at General Motors. Perhaps out of consideration for Mitchell’s indelible role in GM history, unlike many concepts the Phantom wasn’t destroyed, and while it’s not in a place of honor in GM’s Heritage Center, the company’s private car museum, the automaker has either donated or loaned it to Flint’s Sloan Museum where you can see it in their Buick Gallery.

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

The post Bill Mitchell’s Swan Song: The Phantom appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/bill-mitchells-swan-song-phantom/feed/ 37
Volkswagen Shows Off CLA Competitor In Chengdu http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/volkswagen-shows-cla-competitor-chengdu/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/volkswagen-shows-cla-competitor-chengdu/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 16:50:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=903378 Volkswagen’s latest MQB-based vehicle is another challenge to Mercedes-Benz – the last time they threw down the gauntlet against Daimler, we ended up with the Phaeton. This should fare a bit better. Dubbed the “Lamando”, the vehicle in question is based on the MK7 Golf and its MQB chassis, and uses both the 1.4L and 2.0L […]

The post Volkswagen Shows Off CLA Competitor In Chengdu appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
Volkswagen-Lamando-01

Volkswagen’s latest MQB-based vehicle is another challenge to Mercedes-Benz – the last time they threw down the gauntlet against Daimler, we ended up with the Phaeton. This should fare a bit better.

Dubbed the “Lamando”, the vehicle in question is based on the MK7 Golf and its MQB chassis, and uses both the 1.4L and 2.0L TSI 4-cylinder engines, along with a 7-speed DSG gearbox. The Lamando will be built in China, for the Chinese market only, with a starting price of about $29,000. This puts it in direct competition with the Mercedes-Benz CLA.

Live shots of the car can be seen here.  Sales of the Americanized Jetta have slumped recently, despite a strong (but price-driven) introduction. A car like this would do a lot to add some pizzazz to Volkswagen’s compact sedan, and given its MQB bones, it could likely be built in Mexico easily. How about it, VW?

Volkswagen-Lamando-01 Volkswagen-Lamando-02 Volkswagen-Lamando-03 Volkswagen-Lamando-04 Volkswagen-Lamando-05 Volkswagen-Lamando-06

The post Volkswagen Shows Off CLA Competitor In Chengdu appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/volkswagen-shows-cla-competitor-chengdu/feed/ 34
Bark’s Bites: The Joys of Owning a Six Hundred Dollar Subaru http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/barks-bites-joys-owning-six-hundred-dollar-subaru/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/barks-bites-joys-owning-six-hundred-dollar-subaru/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:52:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=903058 “I have a couple older Subaru wagons (96-97) for sale in Morehead. Message me if you are interested.” Interested? Was I ever! As I stated in one of my more recent contributions to TTAC, I have been driving my Boss 302 as my daily driver ever since I bought it (with a brief interruption from […]

The post Bark’s Bites: The Joys of Owning a Six Hundred Dollar Subaru appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
969
“I have a couple older Subaru wagons (96-97) for sale in Morehead. Message me if you are interested.”

Interested? Was I ever!

As I stated in one of my more recent contributions to TTAC, I have been driving my Boss 302 as my daily driver ever since I bought it (with a brief interruption from a 1995 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency Elite that had more electrical glitches than one might have thought possible). Well, with winter approaching yet again, and my right rear wheel still showing the ill effects of my last attempt to drive the Boss in about a quarter inch of snow, I thought it might make sense to investigate when a friend of mine made the post seen above on Facebook back on June 27th.

Fearing I might already be too late, I started the following message chain (the names have been redacted to protect the quilty):

27/06/2014 16:46

Bark M.

Interested in the subies! What are the details?

.

27/06/2014 16:58

G. T.

Okay one is an outback 1997 with 262366 miles and is in fair to good condition KBB is @$1800 The other is a legacy L with 163654 miles it has two set of wheels and tires. It does need a catalytic converter and some minor electrical. KBB on that one is fair condition is $684. I am open for offers especially for the pair. They are old gals but have been great cars.

.

27/06/2014 17:01

Bark M.

Does the legacy run?

.

27/06/2014 17:01

G. T.

Yes it is also a manual and is quite fun to drive.

.

27/06/2014 17:02

Bark M.

Any head gasket issues with either (and I promise that’s my last question)?

.

27/06/2014 17:03

G. T.

Yes the outback had that problem and it was replaced. That is an issue with these engines.

.

27/06/2014 17:03

Bark M.

That’s why I asked

.

27/06/2014 17:04

G. T.

There were no xmas presents for the kids that year

.

27/06/2014 17:05

Bark M.

Hahaha I bet not. Do you think the legacy could run from Winchester to the Lexington airport and back reliably (I lied apparently about the questions)

.

27/06/2014 17:05

G. T.

Yes it could

.

27/06/2014 17:06

Bark M.

I will take it for six hundred then if you’re cool with that price.
.

07/06/2014 17:06

G. T.

sold

And just like that, I owned a 1996 Subaru Legacy L Wagon, AND it was a manual! Imagine my surprise when he rolled into my driveway to make the exchange and I discovered that it was AWD! My good pal had done his KBB valuation based on the car being FWD, which meant that he had undervalued it by about $600. Well, perhaps he had been a tad generous in estimating the vehicle condition as “Fair,” too. The interior was covered in dog fur, especially the cargo area. The front passenger floorboard looked as though a soda had been spilled on it in 2003 or so and had never been cleaned up. The smell of dog was pervasive, too. Nevertheless, I was more than happy to press the cash into his hand before he changed his mind, although due to it being Sunday, we had to wait until the following day to actually change the title into my name.

The next day, I met him at the UPS Store where we had the title notarized. I swiftly took it to my local title agency, where it took a mere two trips and 45 minutes to get the title switched into my name (turned out that they needed the old plates). After paying a whopping $36 in property tax, I was officially the owner of My First Subaru.

Thrilled to death with my purchase, I drove it happily to the grocery store to make use of the spacious cargo area. After loading up the back with a week’s worth of groceries for the fam, I got behind the wheel, turned the crank…and nothing. Tried again. Nothing. The starter appeared to be working fine, and the battery wasn’t dead, but the damned thing just wouldn’t go. Oh, well. Good thing I had already added it to my insurance policy and had enthusiastically said “YES” when asked if I wanted Roadside Assistance. After a quick call home and a rescue trip by the rest of the family, I transferred the contents of the cargo area to my Flex and was ready to leave the Subaru to sit in the parking lot of the grocery store and be towed off to the local garage. I thought I might try it one more time, though, since it had been sitting for a while.

Boom, started right up, no problem, but there was a horrible whining noise that sounded like a belt problem of some type. Now what to do? The tow truck was already on the way. I decided to let them tow it to the garage anyway and allow the mechanics there to give it a once over (especially since I had bought it sight unseen and had no discernible mechanical ability).

They kept it for about a week. They couldn’t duplicate the issue. Every day I called and asked, and every day they told me the same thing. No problems with the car—it starts right up every time. No belt noise. Weird, right?

Well, I decided that I should go get it. Sure enough, it started right up. I drove over to the local library to take the kids to pick out some new books. Had a wonderful time at the library, picked out about 20 books each. Went to the Subie to drive home…no dice. ARRGH. Waited about 15 minutes. Tried again. Started right up. Oh, well. Home we go.

Ever since then, it has been dead reliable. I have driven it as far away as Charlotte (about seven hours) with no issues whatsoever. The radio works, the AC works, the power windows work (well, the switch did snap off in my hand, but it still works), the windshield wipers work, the CLA works…it’s been perfect. The shifter is exciting, because there’s no relationship between the actual gears that makes any sense at all. The shift lever will move several inches in any direction when in gear, and often just falls down and to the left, so there’s no real way to know what gear the car is actually in without doing some RPM and MPH calculations. Fifth gear is impossible to find—I have a 50/50 shot of putting it in third, instead.

I have tried vacuuming it with three different vacuums (Dyson, Shop-Vac, and Car Wash Hose), but the dog hair appears to be here to stay. However, the good news is that I have found nearly a dollar in change in the various crevices of the interior, so my net purchase price is getting closer to $599 every time I drive it. Also, it has a “LADY VIKINGS SOCCER” sticker on the rear driver’s side window that probably has a street value of about $5.

The best thing about the car, though, was pointed out to me by my good friend, Ryan, when he rode in it for the first time. “Man, I miss being in old cars,” he opined as I struggled to find third gear. “My car is a 2012, which is great, but it has no character, no personality. This thing has character.”

There’s no question about that. I fall in love with it a little more every time I pick it over the 444 HP beast nestled safely in the garage behind it. The little Subaru sits outside, parked in the grass next to my driveway, with nary a complaint. It goes when I call upon it. It sits inconspicously in the airport parking lot. It gladly takes my luggage in its vast interior and welcomes me home cheerfully with a slight whine of a yet-to-be-determined belt when I start it up. It’s like a previously neglected golden retriever—it just wants me to love it.

And I do.

The post Bark’s Bites: The Joys of Owning a Six Hundred Dollar Subaru appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/barks-bites-joys-owning-six-hundred-dollar-subaru/feed/ 65
Junkyard Find: 1971 BMW 1602 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/junkyard-find-1971-bmw-1602/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/junkyard-find-1971-bmw-1602/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=902930 Flawless examples of the BMW New Class are worth plenty, but ratty project cars are another story; the flow of 1602s and 2002s into self-service wrecking yards continues unabated. So far in this series, we’ve seen this ’73, this ’73, this ’74, and now today’s find, a no-rust California 1602. Now, before you Rust Belt […]

The post Junkyard Find: 1971 BMW 1602 appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
12 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinFlawless examples of the BMW New Class are worth plenty, but ratty project cars are another story; the flow of 1602s and 2002s into self-service wrecking yards continues unabated. So far in this series, we’ve seen this ’73, this ’73, this ’74, and now today’s find, a no-rust California 1602. Now, before you Rust Belt BMW fanatics start emailing me about this car, be aware that I shot these photos last October, which means that this car got crushed, shredded, and melted down at least six months ago.
09 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s rough, and there’s probably hidden rust due to leaky weatherstripping and long, rainy California winters, but this car wouldn’t have been a terribly difficult restoration project. However, it would have cost $12,000 to make this into a $7,000 car, hence the junkyard trip.
14 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinHere’s a 2000 San Francisco residential parking permit, without which your car will be ticketed, towed, auctioned off, and (probably) crushed in the most ruthless parking environment I’ve ever experienced. This Area S permit worked in parts of the Mission District, Noe Valley, and the Castro, all areas in which my ’65 Impala spent a lot of time.
02 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinThe interior had been picked over pretty well at the time I photographed this car, and I’ll wager that the instrument cluster didn’t go to The Crusher.
04 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee MartinI had one of these cool-looking hazard-light switches in my ’58 Beetle, way back in my earliest junkyard-crawling days.

02 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1971 BMW 2002 Down on the Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin

The post Junkyard Find: 1971 BMW 1602 appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/junkyard-find-1971-bmw-1602/feed/ 29
Exclusive Capsule Review: Elio Motors P4 Prototype http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/exclusive-capsule-review-elio-motors-p4-prototype/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/exclusive-capsule-review-elio-motors-p4-prototype/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=900778 Click on the settings icon to watch in 2D or your choice of 3D formats. It seems that most of the media coverage of automotive startup Elio Motors and their proposed $6,800, 84 mpg reverse trike can be sorted into two groups: general media outlets that have taken a bit of a credulous gee whiz […]

The post Exclusive Capsule Review: Elio Motors P4 Prototype appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>

Click here to view the embedded video.


Click on the settings icon to watch in 2D or your choice of 3D formats.

It seems that most of the media coverage of automotive startup Elio Motors and their proposed $6,800, 84 mpg reverse trike can be sorted into two groups: general media outlets that have taken a bit of a credulous gee whiz attitude, and automotive folks who have cast a more skeptical eye on the enterprise. I’m as skeptical and as cynical as the next guy but unlike many in the automotive community I actually think that Paul Elio and his team have a decent chance of at least getting their vehicle to production. Also unlike most of the critics, I’ve actually taken the time to talk with members of Elio managment along with one of their major backers and I’ve spent time with their prototypes. Perhaps because I’ve tried to give the project an even break the people at Elio have been pretty forthcoming with me and now they’ve let TTAC be the first automotive publication to have an extended and unsupervised test drive of their latest prototype. They figuratively tossed me the keys and literally said, “bring it back when you’re done.” That takes some confidence.

Click here to view the embedded video.

I was free to drive it as long as I wanted and I ended up spending more time with the Elio prototype than I would have with a car at a typical media ride & drive. There were some restrictions, however. When I asked about speeds, I was told to try and keep it under 45 mph, avoid some of Michigan’s deeper crevices and potholes in our roads, and to make sure that I could always see the cycle fenders over the front tires, so I wouldn’t run into curbs. Other than that, I could drive it as I saw fit. I first headed to a nearby industrial park to shoot video of the trike coming and going. The cul de sacs also made nice impromptu skid pads to check cornering grip. Then I cruised up a 45 mph county road to see how I felt driving the Elio in traffic. Finally I ducked into a residential subdivision whose winding roads let me check how tossable the trike was.

As with the previous prototypes, the latest Elio, P4, is powered by a Suzuki G10 carburetted three cylinder engine out of a Geo Metro. The Metro’s automatic transmission is also used. The production Elio will use a proprietary 0.9 liter triple, designed by IAV, that will put out the same 55 horsepower that the Suzuki engine had when it left the factory more than 90,000 miles ago. Those were likely not easy miles because the engine was tired. Still it motivated the trike just fine for a commuter car. While the power ratings of the prototype’s engine and Elio’s production motor are equal, I was told that Elio’s triple will have significantly more torque than the G10. Elio’s engine will also weigh less than the Suzuki powerplant in the prototype, which should help lighten up the steering at low speeds.

The Elio engine has an aluminum cylinder block and head and is an undersquare design with a stroke longer than the cylinder bore. Induction is via multi-port sequential fuel injection, a bit of a surprise at a time when many engine manufacturers are embracing direct injection. Elio Motors has spent a good deal of their marketing emphasizing the car’s $6,800 price. Using proven, if not cutting edge, technologies is one way of keeping costs down. Another way of keeping costs down, at least for consumers, is the use of conventional 5W-20 motor oil with standard 3,000 mile change intervals. No synthetic oil required and no premium high octane fuel either. To reduce maintenance costs and increase durability, the single overhead cam engine will have a metal timing chain running that camshaft, not a rubber belt.

As it stands today, they’re aiming at 55 horsepower but the final power rating will be contingent on that 84 mpg (highway) target. In the current configuration they can increase power by about 10% if needed.

A number of companies use the Woodward Dream Cruise to gauge consumer reaction to concept and production cars and this year was no exception, with journalists and celebrities running Hellcat Challengers up and down the famous cruising boulevard. Elio has been drumming up interest in their three-wheeler by taking it on an extended road tour, displaying it at events with large crowds. With a million or so people walking up and down Woodward as they watch the movable automotive feast go by, it’s not surprising that Elio brought their road tour to the WDC, though their car has one less wheel and about 652 horsepower less than the Hellcat. Of course, Elio is going after a different market segment.

The publicity seems to be working. At the Dream Cruise display there was a constant stream of people checking it out, seeing if they could fit. I convinced a rather large man to climb into the back seat and once he got back there he fit just fine. Another girthy guy needed no convincing to try both tandem positions. He’d driven the 100 miles or so from Toledo just to see if the car fit him before putting down his reservation money. He was very happy with what he saw. With about 29,000 reservations in at this point, Jerome Vassallo, Elio’s vice president of retail operations, told me that a growing number of people who show up at their road show stops are already familiar with the trike or even have put down money to reserve one.

Vassallo also updated me on Elio’s retail plans. Since they will be selling directly from factory owned stores in about 60 major U.S. markets, they understand that they may be subject to the same obstacles that Tesla’s factory outlets have faced due to state franchise laws and opposition by dealer groups. They’re hoping, however, to  use the trike’s legal status as a motorcycle to piggyback on the exemptions given to factory owned Harley Davidson and Suzuki dealerships.

IMG_0182

Mockup of Elio’s three cylinder engine, designed by IAV. Full gallery here.

Like I said, the PR seems to be getting the word around. While we were shooting video in an industrial park near lunch time, a couple of people walked over to ask us about it and mentioned Elio by name.

What’s it like to drive? Pretty much like any other small front wheel drive car. At first you feel like you’re driving a cross between a small airplane and an open wheel track car, but fairly soon you start to feel like you’re just driving another car. Well, till you again notice people craning their necks and checking what you’re driving in their mirrors. From the outside it looks like nothing else on the road but from the inside it looks very automotive. Yes the fuselage is narrow, but the cockpit is fairly roomy for one person, and there’s even more hip room for the rear passenger than for the driver. I’m not a skinny guy but I had plenty of room.

The car itself is skinny, you can hold both hands out both side windows at the same time, but the cockpit has a Goldilocks feel to it. If the car was wider, visibility to the rear might be an issue since there is no rear window, just a hatch for putting in groceries or a bag of golf clubs. There’s no rear view mirror mounted on the windshield, unneeded because it would just give you a view of your own face. The small side mirrors, which will likely be significantly enlarged on the production version, gave me an adequate view of traffic behind me.

As I said, it handles pretty much like you’d expect a small FWD vehicle to drive. If they didn’t know it had three wheels, most drivers probably couldn’t tell from the driver’s seat. I tried to hang the rear wheel out and get the trike to drift like a Morgan 3 Wheeler can but between the tired Suzuki 3 cyl and the fairly decent contact patch (much fatter tires than on the Morgan 3 wheeler) the back end stayed firmly in place. It understeers, but with a bit more power you might be able to get the vehicle to rotate quicker. Since the Elio trike has a classic double wishbone front suspension with coilover shock/spring units (and a trick pull rod to get the dampers out of the air flow) it can probably be adjusted for more aggressive handling. When cornering hard I didn’t notice much body roll – don’t worry about the inherent instability of three wheelers and their tendency to lift the inner wheel in a turn. Not gonna happen here. To begin with, reverse trikes are more stable than three-wheelers with one wheel in front, and as long as weight is sufficiently biased to the front tires, both of them should stay on the ground.

Steering wasn’t as quick and there was less feel than I expected from manual steering in a 1,200 lb vehicle. I was told that the production trike will have a different steering rack than the prototype. To help with the steering effort, the steering wheel is relatively large. That gives you more leverage over the  non-power-assisted steering. I understand the need for keeping weight down but I’m not sure how many Americans will go for the non-power steering.  Unless the weight penalty would keep the trike from the 84 mpg goal, I’d go with a smaller steering wheel, a quicker rack & pinion ratio and some kind of power assist. It’s not so hard to steer that you can’t almost palm the wheel when parking, but it takes much more effort at low speeds than most drivers are used to. Once going, though, the steering lightens up and I was able to place the Elio trike precisely on the road. I never felt like there was a shortage of grip. The ride wasn’t plush but it wasn’t uncomfortably firm either, again, about what you’d expect in a small car. Suspension movements seemed well controlled.

Mr. Elio told me that there were three basic design objectives: a 0-60 time of 10 seconds, 84 miles per gallon on the highway, and a top speed of at least 100 mph. I’d be interested to feel how the Elio trike handles at speeds higher than 45 mph.

I’ve said that if the Elio trike does go on sale, it could be embraced by car enthusiasts as a poor man’s Morgan 3 Wheeler, which starts at around $45K. If they meet their price point the Elio will also be about a third of the price of the new Polaris Slingshot reverse trike. With a 2.4 liter GM Ecotec engine, and extreme styling, the Slingshot is more explicitly targeted at the go-fast crowd. Having driven the prototype Elio trike I can now say that it does have enthusiast potential, even if it isn’t quite sporting right now. Once they’re up and running, more powerful versions of the Elio are likely. The engine has been designed by IAV with a turbocharger in mind. Paul Elio told me that Comau, which is providing the machinery and automation for the assembly lines at the Shreveport plant, has left a spot on the line empty for the time being so that a turbo installation station can be added later.

It’s indeed a prototype. Some parts are handmade and show signs of wear from not fitting perfectly. The hinges on the cargo hatch interfered with the rubber weatherstripping. At first I thought the A/C controls, by Vintage Air, were dummies, but under the hood there were A/C components so I fiddled with the knobs and eventually got some tepid air to blow through the two eyeball vents on the dashboard. The prototype had one of Continental VDO’s Flexible Smartphone Docking Stations mounted on the dashboard. That’s how Elio is going to offer in-car infotainment. Below the FSDS is a USB port and a 12 volt power tap. There’s also a 12 volt receptacle in the back for the passenger’s use. That passenger will feel less claustrophobic than in the previous prototype as the profile of the rear side windows has been modified.

You can’t judge build quality or possible durability from a prototype. There were a few rattles and clunks, but in general it didn’t feel flimsy.  Still, other than the drivetrain and steering rack, the prototype is close to how they want the production vehicle to be so an extended test drive will yield usable data.

Company founder Paul Elio says that he first dreamed of starting a car company when he was eight years old.

Company founder Paul Elio says that he first dreamed of starting a car company when he was eight years old.

Paul Elio said that production will start in the second half of 2015. With Job One only a year or so out, the design has got to be close to being finalized as tooling and supplier contracts have to be in place by then. Elio said that he expects production will start in Q3 or Q5 of 2015. When I asked him if there was anything that would keep them from going into production, Elio told me, “Funding”. When I later asked him to clarify he said that it was a matter of getting their investors to participate in another round of funding. He stressed how they were happy with their existing investors, who themselves are happy about the reservations. Nearly half of the projected 60,000 first year units are already theoretically spoken for. Elio also said that at this time they aren’t looking for more investors.

Click here to view the embedded video.

As for progress, Elio told me that castings for the first Elio engine have been delivered. It will take four to eight weeks for them to be machined and then a few more weeks for assembly. Assuming that all goes well, they will then build about 30 complete validation cars. Five will be used for crashworthiness and other destructive testing, the other 25 will undergo road testing and will also be used as press demonstrators.

They’re aiming for a 0-60 mph time of around 10 seconds. I didn’t use a stopwatch, but based on the fact that the rather tired (90,000 miles +) Suzuki triple was originally rated right around the 55 hp that Elio’s proprietary IAV designed 0.9 liter engine is supposed to put out, from the prototype’s performance I’d say that they should meet their target. While it’s not fast, I didn’t feel unsafe in traffic.

Concerning safety, since three-wheelers are considered motorcycles as far as federal law is concerned, the Elio trike won’t have to meet the automotive part of the FMVSS, so Elio will likely not submit it for NHTSA crash testing. Paul Elio said that they likely will have the trike privately tested instead and then make the results public. While the Elio will feature air bags and has Barenyi style crush zones front and back, I suspect that most of what protection passengers will receive will come from the fact that the main structure of the vehicle is essentially a full roll cage.

That brings me to a topic that when I brought it up, Jerome Vassallo laughed heartily. If, as Jack Baruth reported after driving Alex Roy’s Morgan, the Brit trike has almost magical powers to attract women, the Elio trike might be a big more like a guarantor of celibacy for young men who drive it. While I was able to talk a fat man into the back seat, I’m not so sure many young women would climb back there and ride tandem with a date, talking to the back of his head. It may be legally a motorcycle and the prototype may have a Suzuki engine but it’s from being a sexy Hayabusa.

Speaking of women, I’d be interested to see some of the results of Elio’s market research and how women perceive the little three wheeled car. One reason why SUVs and now CUVs have been popular with female consumers is the high driving position and the perceived feeling of safety driving a substantial vehicle. At the Dream Cruise showing, while I was there a number of women stopped to look at the car and ask the baseball jersey wearing Elio reps questions, but I did overhear one woman expressing concerns about the Elio’s safety in a crash. Perhaps I’m wrong about the celibacy thing since none of the women seemed repelled by the trike. Their questions were practical, not about styling. Maybe they think it’s is kind of cute. To my eyes it looks more modern than dorky, more Lotus Seven than Aptera.

Elio’s confidence in the car was well placed. I’m not damning it with faint praise when I say that it’s a real automobile, albeit of the three wheeled variety. The prototype may drive like a regular car but building four prototypes is a far piece from churning out 60,000 cars. Between now and the third quarter of 2015 a lot of things could happen but I’m optimistic. It takes a lot of confidence to just hand someone the keys to a prototype, particularly when that someone is associated with a publication known for steely eyed skepticism. When I first became aware of Elio and their trike though I understood why those who said it was vaporware said so, my own initial reaction was, “it’s not rocket science, they could very well succeed.” Now that I’ve driven their latest prototype I’m even more convinced about their chances for success.

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

The post Exclusive Capsule Review: Elio Motors P4 Prototype appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/exclusive-capsule-review-elio-motors-p4-prototype/feed/ 147