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. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 04:59:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Editorials http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/ Junkyard Find: 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Coupe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1980-volvo-262c-bertone-coupe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1980-volvo-262c-bertone-coupe/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 13:00:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=796986 08 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOnly 6,622 Volvo 262C Bertone Coupes were built during the Italo-Swedish machine’s 1978-1981 production run, and I’ve found two of them in California self-serve wrecking yards during the last year. We saw this silver ’79 (actually, all ’78 and ’79 262Cs were painted in Mystic Silver) last summer, and now there’s today’s find: a gold ’80. These cars were weird-looking and something of a puzzling marketing move by Volvo, but you’d think that their rarity would give them sufficient value to keep the survivors out of The Crusher‘s jaws. Nope!
02 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAssembled in Italy!
06 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe 262C-specific glass and trim pieces have been pulled, and there’s plenty of typical Northern California upper-body rust in places where weatherstripping failure can let water in. The lower body panels are good and solid.
05 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe can assume that some project 262C will benefit from these parts.
07 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIf I owned one of these cars, I’d ditch the unreliable Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 and replace it with a good old B230 (or something more interesting). In the case of this car, though, someone has grabbed the PRV.
13 - 1980 Volvo 262C Bertone Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinStill a few pieces worth taking left on this car. Let’s hope they get pulled before the car gets crushed.

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A Curmudgeon’s Guide To The 2014 New York Auto Show http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/a-curmudgeons-guide-to-the-2014-new-york-auto-show/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/a-curmudgeons-guide-to-the-2014-new-york-auto-show/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:28:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=796746 BMW-X4-03

The 2014 edition of the New York Auto Show kicks off tomorrow, with press days continuing into Thursday. TTAC will have live coverage of the show, but here’s a little preview of what you can expect to see starting Wednesday.

Acura TLX: The replacement for the TL and TSX has already been spied, and it’s not the drastic change in styling that many were hoping for.

Alfa Romeo 4C: Alfa’s newest sports car gets its American debut, along with federalization changes and a couple hundred pounds in extra weight.

BMW Concept X5 eDrive: BMW’s biggest SUV gets a plug-in hybrid concept to help people feel good about the polar bears.

BMW M4 Convertible (2015): The M4 for those who can afford the best in hair plug therapy.

BMW X4 (2015): Another incoherent addition to BMW’s lineup, this X3-based pseudo-coupe will add volume to the lineup, and little else.

Chevrolet Cruze: Chevrolet’s compact sedan gets a nose job in advance of its redesign.

Chevrolet Corvette: An all-new 8-speed automatic and a ragtop version of the Z06 will make purists cry, while fattening Chevrolet’s bottom line.

Dodge Challenger: Revised powertrains and styling for Dodge’s ponycar.

Dodge Charger: The Charger gets some slightly more modern styling.

Ford Focus: Ford’s Focus sedan and EV get the corporate grille.

Ford Transit Skyliner concept: A luxury van concept from Ford, sure to be of interest to 1970′s custom van enthusiasts.

Hyundai Sonata: The worst-kept secret of NY is the all-new Hyundai Sonata, which has been leaked several times over.

Kia Sedona: Kia’s oft-ignored minivan gets a new look in an attempt to capture some minivan market share. And it comes in brown.

Land Rover Discovery Vision concept: Land Rover shows off their entry-level Kardashian mobile.

Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG Coupe: Once known as the CL, the S63 coupe is likely the last word in Grand Touring, but still looks like a very large Honda Accord coupe.

Nissan Murano: The Murano is all-new for 2015, but the big news is the death of the CrossCabriolet, which somehow escaped the grasp of an army of product planners.

Nissan Versa Sedan: America’s cheapest car gets a few tweaks. It will be nasty.

Porsche Boxster/Cayman GTS: Another incremental change for Porsche’s lesser products. Enjoy them now, before they get 4-cylinder engines.

Ram Power Wagon: Just what you need to go down to Home Depot in.

Subaru Outback: No manual. Get over it.

Toyota Camry: Toyota tweaks its most important car, proving it will do literally anything to hang on to the #1 spot.

Volkswagen Golf SportWagen: Diesel. Manual. All-wheel drive. Brown?

Volkswagen Jetta: A few styling tweaks that you can look forward to on your next rental.

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Junkyard Find: 1963 Dodge Dart http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1963-dodge-dart/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1963-dodge-dart/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=796762 04 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFor the entire time I’ve been on this planet, Chrysler A-bodies have been a constant presence in American wrecking yards, and they’re still quite easy to find today, 33 years after the last Valiant Charger rolled off the assembly line in Australia. I don’t photograph every Dart and Valiant that I see in junkyards, but this series has included this ’61 Valiant, this ’64 Valiant wagon, this ’67 Valiant, this ’66 Dart, this ’68 Valiant Signet, this ’73 Valiant, this ’75 Duster, and this ’75 Dart, and today we’ll admire a non-rusty California Dart two-door that I saw back in December.
07 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe last official year of CONELRAD was 1963, and here we can see the official CONELRAD frequencies of 640 and 1240 kHz marked on this Dart’s fancy factory radio. How much was the optional AM radio in your new ’63 Dart? $169, which comes to $1,296 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Not only that, but you’d be hearing pretty much nothing but terrible hit singles and ugly news stories on that shockingly expensive staticblaster, back in ’63. Think about that the next time you’re enjoying your $300 Bluetooth-enabled aftermarket car stereo.
02 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car has the look of one that sat exposed to the elements for a decade or two. The biohazardous trunk contents include some icky-looking time-capsule stuff.
19 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe car was running as recently as 1987, when a student commuted in it to the stoniest junior college in California.
14 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIf the car had a hood (or at least an air cleaner) during its long-term abandonment, the engine innards might have stayed dry enough to remain unseized. Not that anyone is going to bother with rescuing a tired 170.
05 - 1963 Dodge Dart Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBeing a two-door gave this car a slight chance of being saved by an auction buyer and restored, but the late-60s Darts tend to be more highly prized. Some of its parts should live on in other A-bodies, though.

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A Primer On SLAB Culture http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/a-primer-on-slab-culture/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/a-primer-on-slab-culture/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:55:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=794826 title

This well-traveled Houstonian thinks his town is Pistonhead Nirvana, proven every month via fanboi scale and diversity at Cars and Coffee gatherings.  Or with every 1000+hp racer on at Texas2k, every shoestring budget’d LeMons racer and Art Car fanatic: it’s all here. Except there’s nothing like Houston’s SLAB culture.

A confession: I know automotive subcultures, no matter which socioeconomic population nurtures it, always raise the ire of outsiders. My response?  Every generalization about SLABs applies to anyone building a custom, race or show car. We are all the same, deal with it.   

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Like most automotive hobbies, the Houston SLAB scene starts with the belief that the factory’s work needs improvement.  While spec racers turn a depreciated hulk into a track beast, the SLAB rider takes a slice of unloved Americana, bringing it back to a time when Japanese cars were cheap rust buckets that’d never threaten General Motor’s existence! I mean, look at our grilles and look at theirs, right?

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A car that traces its roots back to the 1970s Pimp Rides is necessary to make a modern SLAB: Camcords need not apply. Any Blaxploitation movie gets you up to speed on Pimp Rides, but the Houston SLAB scene uses them as a springboard to something new.

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Depreciated American luxury cars are the norm: Cadillacs, Buicks and certain Oldsmobiles are preferred.  Lincolns/Panthers and Chryslers are cool too, even Jaguars and Quattroportes pull it off vis-à-vis distinctly luxurious proportions.  But don’t break your budget on the ride, GM’s W-body is one of the most common platforms for good reason, as costly modifications are necessary to pay homage to the Pimp Riders while advancing the game:

  • Massive stereos, some are IASCA worthy with a little tweaking.
  • Kitted out power popping trunks, slathered in custom vinyl and personalized phrases in neon/mirrors.
  • Wire wheels much like the Cragar units supplied as OEM for Cadillac in 1983 and 1984, except replacing the fragile tin content with 100% steel. Texan Wire Wheels sells them as “83s” and “84s”, seemingly cornering this niche market.
  • Vogue tires in new sizes for new cars, naturally.
  • Replacement steering wheels, usually with wood grain rims.
  • Candy Paint, just like any vintage rodder.
  • Reupholstered interiors, taking advantage of the latest trimmings on the market.
  • Aftermarket HID lights, custom LEDs, Lambo doors, flat panel TVs and anything else you’ll find in the custom car scene.
  • Oversized brand logos, like the tailgate emblem from an Escalade.
  • Lowered suspensions (often aftermarket Air Ride) for obvious curb appeal.

That stance is at the SLAB’s core: it’s a sweet American luxury sedan ridin’ close to the curb.  Close to the concrete, up against the “slab”…hence the name. Some suggest that SLAB is an acronym for Slow-Loud-And-Bangin’ but that definition seemingly came later.

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But the wheels make SLABs so eye-catching: references percolating through Houston’s music, Houston’s culture.  Originally a re-pop of those Cadillac rims from 1983 and 1984, some are fed pro-baseball grade growth hormones to extend the hub far beyond Cadillac’s factory specification.  Ordinary wires have “pokes” while insanity ensues when you go “super poke.”  While not sure of their origin, odds are that having more poke comes people’s need to out-do each other. Like everything else in this world!

IMG_1759Your taste in poke is subjective, but they are all known as swangas and elbows.

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Elbows are when the hub and spoke of your wheels “poke” out of your body just like your arm’s elbow when perched atop the door sill.  Makes sense, but Swangas?

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Again, not sure: it’s connected to the organized dance that multiple SLABs do on an open stretch of road.  It’s like watching racers warming up their tires during pace laps.  It’s infectious: even the cops do it.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Here’s what I saw at the first annual SLAB Parade, put on by the Houston Arts Alliance.  This cow town’s been good about supporting the art scene, especially our Art Cars and our screwed and chopped Rap artists.  While H-town Rap is a “thing” for the likes of Jay Z and Justin Timberlake, Detroit has yet to embrace Houston’s re-branding of their Camry prey/Rental Car fodder and their highline euro-wannabes. Aside from the Chrysler 300, of course.

So welcome to the Third Coast, the coast that actually likes American cars. How they were: with real names, impressive proportions and maybe even SLAB hugging overhangs, too. And the people who make them?  They are no different than other car nuts.

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No doubt, Houston is the best place to be a car fanatic, mostly thanks to our diverse population.  Love it or hate it, hopefully you enjoyed seeing this slice of Automotive Americana while I avoided the pitfalls of a milquetoast overview of an automotive sub-culture. Fingers crossed on that last part.

 

 

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QOTD: Special Feature, Special Weakness http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/qotd-special-feature-special-weakness/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/qotd-special-feature-special-weakness/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 04:04:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=797274 IMG_0244.JPG - Copy

On a busy freeway, a first-generation Scion xB putters along. Ahead, a confused medley of dump trucks, semis, and passenger cars performs the lane-change dance that we all know and loathe. For the driver and passenger of the toaster, things are about to get interesting- and infuriating.

The dump trucks are fully laden, and there’s already plenty of junk on the road. The xB has a well-worn bug deflector, one which has spared the windshield from an unfortunate contact many times already. But this time, it won’t get the job done. Suddenly, a car darts across lanes in the traffic ahead. It picks up a rock, an asphalt clod, or some other piece of detritus. The missile arcs backward at the perfect angle. It misses the deflector by millimeters, hitting dead on right below the driver’s wiper. THWACK. Time to call the insurance company.

This isn’t the first time. The toaster is already on windshield number two, which itself has seen the business end of a resin gun. Half a dozen or so years prior, it took a stone right at the top, where the glass joins the roof. That time, the trauma wasn’t immediately apparent. However, a single cold, clear day later, the glass was split from top to bottom. The nice man from the glass shop told us that xBs were a great revenue stream for his company. Now he’ll be back to collect another check.

But oh, the glory of driving a fish tank. A virtually unobstructed view from any angle, the tiny blind spots totally confound the current zero-visibility trend in styling. When dad first bought it, I hated it. It was a dork’s car through and through. But when I got my license and my own ride, I began to appreciate its virtues. Those vast expanses of glass were fantastic for a young, nervous driver. They made it easy to watch the road, and to negotiate the tight spots. Dad appreciated it for much the same reason. At the time, no other car on the road offered the same level of visibility, unless it was a convertible. That’s even truer today. Perhaps that’s why he’s held on to it for longer than any other car he’s owned. Even if that fishbowl feeling comes at a price.

xB, Wrangler, FJ, van, and pickup drivers know all about the hazards inherent in steep windshields. Even so, they accept it as part of the costs of ownership. Many drivers tolerate possible headaches in maintenance and repair to get the special features they really want. A sunroof is a good example, as are convertible tops more generally. Heated and power seats don’t always last the life of a vehicle, but for many in northern climes they verge on necessity. Premium wheels can look great, even if they aren’t always resistant to potholes. Material quality and careful engineering can help special features last longer without requiring repairs. But some, like steeply raked windshields, can’t overcome the basic limitations of their design.

What weaknesses are you willing to tolerate in the design of your vehicle, to get exactly what you want? Or is durability your sole criteria? Have you ever been seduced by a trick feature that turned out to be an expensive source of woe later?

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Bark’s Bites: I Care What People Think of My Car, and So Do You http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/barks-bites-i-care-what-people-think-of-my-car-and-so-do-you/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/barks-bites-i-care-what-people-think-of-my-car-and-so-do-you/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 13:29:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=794546 image

It’s just another day in the grand city of Lexington, Kentucky, a rose of a town in the middle of a commonwealth full of honest, hardworking, middle-class Americans. Lexington has a higher-than-average household income combined with a lower-than-average cost of living, making it a great place to be able to afford a nice car. It’s also home to over three hundred horse farms, which means one is just as likely to see an S Class rolling down Broadway as a King Ranch F-150 with a horse trailer attached to it. You won’t see many true exotics, but they love their Kentucky-built Corvettes, and some of the cleanest examples anywhere can be found here.

But on this day, there’s one car that draws more attention than any of them.

This yellow preening peacock of a ride causes random passersby to give the thumbs up, fellow drivers to ask questions at stoplights, and children to literally cheer and applaud. Depressed fortysomethings behind the wheel of CUVs and minivans costing as much or more look upon it with envy the color of bluegrass. Young women exiting fashion boutiques straighten their posture and crane their necks to get a glance at the driver. Import boy racers roll down their windows and ask to hear the engine roar.

It’s my 2013 Boss 302, and I love it.

My very first article on these virtual pages nearly two years ago dealt with my decision to trade in my Pontiac G8 GT on this very same car. The G8 was, in many ways, the dream car if one were to buy a car based on what the majority of TTAC commenters claim that they want—it was fast, capable, and virtually invisible. At best, people thought it was a BMW 5 Series, and at worst, people thought it was a larger G6. In the three plus years that I owned it, I got fewer than ten compliments on it from strangers.

Fast forward to today. It’s impossible to drive a School Bus Yellow Boss 302 and not have somebody comment on it. Trips to the grocery store are often delayed because I come back to my car to find admirers circling it. Stops at the local gas station are accompanied by longing looks from fellow petrol purchasers. Nearly every driver on the road of any car with any sporting intent wants to race at every stoplight. I had a parking lot attendant at the airport post photos of my car to Instagram. Admittedly, there are times when this is annoying.

However, given the choice between the two scenarios, I’ll take the latter every time. Although I may not want to admit it, I view my car as an extension of my own personality. It’s the second largest check I write every month—shouldn’t I be passionate about it? I take pride in the fact that I was able to buy my dream car at a relatively young age. When people compliment it, or notice it, is it so wrong to enjoy that?

The comments section of this and many other automotive blogs would seem to suggest so. “Who would buy a car based on what other people think?” is a refrain that is repeated again and again and again. Is it wise to buy a car based solely on the opinion of others, to opt for a model other than the one that you would personally prefer due to what amounts to grown-up peer pressure? Of course not. To do that would be to deny one’s own self worth.

But to pretend that we just don’t care? Come on. Be real. To act like we don’t care what the world thinks of our car is equivalent to walking out the door every day without making an attempt to match our shoes and our belts. Sure, kids and people who have no ambition do it, but grown-ups don’t. The vast majority of people in the business world dress in a way that signifies their position in life. I choose to wear Hart Schaffner Marx suits and sportscoats and Allen Edmonds shoes almost exclusively in the workplace. Why? Because it shows people around me that I am a (moderately) successful man with a sense of style. Why would I risk that professional image by walking out to the parking lot and getting into a 1996 Camry? To act as though I don’t realize my car is making a statement about me—well, that would just be an act of social unawareness.

Perhaps there’s a sense of jealousy or envy involved. If one can’t afford his or her dream car, or perhaps chooses to place other financial investments first, then maybe it’s easier to say that he or she just doesn’t care what people think rather than admit that he still lusts for that 3 series BMW that he mocks his coworker for leasing. Or to shout “DEPRECIATION” from the top of his lungs while secretly crunching numbers to see if he, too, can afford a new E class like his boss just bought.

Maybe you’re just so hipster that by buying a 1998 Impreza you’re actually caring desperately about what people think of your car—that you’re making a passive-aggressive statement with your attempted non-statement. Or, like the social coastal elite, you’re driving that hybrid so that you can humblebrag about your carbon footprint. Regardless of why you make the statement you make, you’re making a statement.

The two most recent car purchases by TTAC contributors were recounted in articles that both rank among the ten most commented posts in the site’s history. It’s truly amazing how much we seem to car about the purchases of others while simultaneously claiming that we don’t care about what others think of ours.

So I’ll admit it—I care what people think about my car. Will you?

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The Truth About Caroline: Ethics, Marketing, ROI, and the Sad State of (Non-Mommy) Blogging http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/the-truth-about-caroline-ethics-marketing-roi-and-the-sad-state-of-non-mommy-blogging/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/the-truth-about-caroline-ethics-marketing-roi-and-the-sad-state-of-non-mommy-blogging/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 15:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793978 caroline2

Let’s say you opened your e-mail one morning, and, lo and behold, you were offered an all-expenses paid trip to sunny San Diego. Airfare, luxury hotels, gourmet meals…sounds pretty fantastic, doesn’t it?

However, if you’re like most sensible adults, you’d probably assume that there was some sort of catch involved—after all, who’s going to spend around two grand to give you a vacation just because…well, just because?

Well, if you’re a mommyblogger named “Xenia,” you’d probably feel like it was Christmas morning. Or, at the very least, you’d tell the Internet that’s how you felt. How do I know this?

Because that’s exactly what happened. According to her blog at raisedbyculture.com, Xenia, who is, sadly, not a Warrior Princess, but simply a woman who “leads a blended family” and is a “unique social media influencer,” that’s exactly how she felt upon receiving an e-mail from Honda with just such an invitation. All she had to do to accept this swanky invitation was write some nice things on her blog about the newly reimagined Honda Fit.

How did Honda know that she would write nice things about the Fit? Because her blogs says she will.

From her “Review and Gifting policy” on her site:

In addition, If I like the product, I will happily write about it, however, if I do not like the product then chances are I will not feature nor write about it, adhering to “If you have nothing nice to say…

So, in other words, Honda was guaranteed that, in return for a four-figure vacay, Xenia would not write anything negative about the Fit. So much for journalistic integrity.

So why did Honda select Xenia to receive this boondoggle? It must be because she’s a well-regarded car reviewer, right?

Not so much. She has exactly one car review posted on her site. It’s of a 2014 Kia Sorento from September 13, 2013. In this review, she admits to being befuddled by an Engine Start/Stop button and posts three separate photos of the nav system. The review garnered eight comments, two +1s on Google Plus, and no Facebook shares.

However, she has tweeted an amazing 91,000-plus times, and somehow managed to write a post that compared her decision to take early maternity leave to unusually strong and soft toilet paper. Somebody at Honda must have found this to be a relevant comparison, because the invite went out, and Xenia happily accepted.

Xenia managed to tweet no fewer than thirteen times with the hashtag #FitForYou from the event, including the tweet at the top of this article where she mentions how baller the hotel, free gifts, and drinks are.

Then, yesterday, her review of the Fit hit her blog. The review contained such insights as “I’m not a professional car reviewer” but proclaimed that the Fit was “super techy” and “smooth.” As per her policy, there was nary a single comment that could interpreted as negative. The review garnered a total of three comments, including one from a friend that she met at the event.

I retweeted her link on Twitter yesterday, proclaiming my total lack of surprise about her positive review of the car. That led to this exchange (note: her bio used to say, “changing the way you think about #mommybloggers” before she edited it):

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As you can see at the end of our exchange, she resorted to tagging the TTAC account, hoping they would admonish me for calling attention to her sponsored content blog post. Also, she wants to make it very clear that she is NOT a mommyblogger, despite this list of mommyblogger networks to which she belongs and events which she has attended.

However, the issue here isn’t Xenia in particular, or mommybloggers in general. It’s the total misunderstanding that car manufacturers seem to have about digital marketing and the blogosphere. It would be hard to think of a worse way for Honda to spend the money they spent on this event. Even if Xenia and every one of her commenters had immediately purchased a Fit as a consequence of reading her review, Honda would still have wound up in the hole. What percentage of readers of her blog, or any non-automotive blog, are in-market car shoppers?

And at what point does it become unethical to accept plush hotels, swag, drinks in exchange for a review? If OEMs sent the cash equivalent of a junket and a car to a reviewer’s front door, we’d all be howling. Why is this sort of behavior any different?

I will be spending my own money to drive my own car to NYC next week and paying for my own hotel so that I can provide my own, independent observations to you about what I see at the New York International Auto Show. Somehow, I don’t think I will see Xenia there.

(Note: Many of the B&B took a shot at our own Jo Borras for his frothy review of the Fit published here the other day. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep the discussion open despite the fact that we are in this case open to some criticism ourselves, and the fact that we’ve covered this ground before— JB)

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Jet Age, Italian Style: Pinin Farina’s Lancia Aurelia PF200-C http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/jet-age-italian-style-pinin-farinas-lancia-aurelia-pf200-c/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/jet-age-italian-style-pinin-farinas-lancia-aurelia-pf200-c/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 13:30:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793930 Full gallery here.

Full gallery here.

Just as “mid century” furnishings have become marketable antiques, you can be sure that “jet age” artifacts will also soon become collectible, if they aren’t already so. They certainly are in the car community. The Concours of America featured jet age station wagons in 2012 and jet age convertibles last year. The influence of aircraft design on American automotive styling is well known, dating to before the actual jet age. Part of automotive lore is the fact that the 1948 Cadillac’s tail fins were inspired by the P-38 fighter, and before that Hudson used the Terraplane brand, no doubt a nod to aviation. However, airplane influenced automotive design really took off (sorry, had to do it) with the advent of high speed jet aircraft, culminating, I suppose, in the Chrysler Turbine car of the early 1960s. American designers weren’t the only car stylists to evoke the look of jet aircraft. Italian designers were almost more overt in borrowing shapes from what then were primarily military aircraft. Bertone’s B.A.T. series, shaped with the use of wind tunnels, perforce had to look a bit like aircraft, what with form following aerodynamic function, but with cars with names like Ghia’s limited series of coachbuilt Supersonic cars, it was clear that the influence was more than just functional. Battista “Pinin” Farina’s contribution to jet age styling was the Lancia Aurelia PF200.

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1956 Aston Martin DB2/4 Ghia Supersonic. Full gallery here.

Before Pinin Farina remade the family name into a portmanteau containing his own nickname, he made a name for himself as an automotive designer with the landmark 1948 Cisitalia 202. Car-writing convention dictates that I now tell you that the Cisitalia was so revolutionary and such an elegant design that it was chosen to be on permanent display in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (convention also dictates that I refer to that institution as MOMA). I think it’s more important to tell you that Pinin Farina’s design for the Cisitalia has been arguably the single most influential postwar car design, at least when it comes to performance cars. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that the 427 Shelby’s body is that of a mesomorphic, steroid enhanced Cisitalia.

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Cisitalia roadster. Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. Full gallery here.

When he decided to make a jet inspired car to show for the 1952 Turin Motor Show, Farina must have looked to contemporary military aircraft, because the round grille on what he dubbed the PF200 (need we guess what PF stood for?), accentuated by a wide chrome plated surround, looks like it was borrowed from a F86 Sabre. The pontoon front fenders also evoke aviation shapes and what jet age car would be complete without prominent tail fins? The PF200′s fins extend back past the rear deck of the car. If those weren’t enough styling cues from planes, particularly military ones, the fact that the twin set of triple exhaust tips that poke through the rear valence look like machine guns is probably not coincidental.

If you ask me, I think that rear end is the least original part of the PF200, borrowing a lot from Harley Earl’s personal jet age show car, the LeSabre. Earl’s team may have returned the favor because the Oldsmobile Cutlass show car from 1954′s GM Motorama has a roofline that makes me think of the PF200 coupe, introduced a year earlier.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Pinin Farina used a Lancia Aurelia B52 chassis, one of the few chassis that coachbuilders could then buy from large Italian manufacturers without a body. Based on the production B20, it had a 2 liter V6 90 hp engine designed by Vittorio Jano, who designed successful engines for Alfa Romeo before the war and then after he left Lancia, he went on to Ferrari where he did the engine for the original Dino and where his work continues to influence every Ferrari engine made to this day. The B52 also had a four speed transmission, integrated with its clutch into a rear transaxle riding on a de Dion suspension. Front suspension is sliding pillar. Inside the grille are louvers that can be opened or closed to allow more air to flow through the radiator, a feature that actually dates to the classic era and can be found on prewar Packards and Rolls-Royces.

This particular PF200-C was on display at the 2013 Concours of America at St. John’s.  It’s been in owner William Borrusch’s possession since 1968 and it has undergone a complete “nut and bolt” restoration. Several body panels and the floorboards had to be refabricated due to corrosion, but it looks great now. There’s some question in my mind as to the car’s proper nomenclature. According to some sources, the PF200-C designation was for the coupes. However, the owner says that his Lancia is an Aurelia PF200-C and my guess is that he knows more about the car than those sources.

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

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Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Understanding The Indian Car Market http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/best-selling-cars-around-the-globe-understanding-the-indian-car-market/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/best-selling-cars-around-the-globe-understanding-the-indian-car-market/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 16:12:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793417 Datsun Go India March 2014. Picture courtesy of What Car? IndiaThe Datsun Go starts at US$5,340. Only in India is such low pricing possible at the moment.

A recent stay in India has enabled me to get a much better understanding of the Indian new car market and its dynamics which have very unique characteristics. Understanding India is essential in today’s worldwide automotive scene – a lot of the innovation taking place here will soon be applied to other developing markets (like Africa).

1. Why India matters

Ever wondered why so many India-exclusive new cars were unveiled at the Delhi Auto Show in February compared to the relative small size of its new car market (3 million units in 2013 vs. 21.9 million for China)? That’s because on top of the enormous growth potential, making and selling cars in India requires a very different set of skills. And the manufacturers that are getting good at it are taking a decisive advantage into succeeding in tomorrow’s developing markets, where cost-cutting will be the most important factor. Many of the techniques being learned in India will come in handy when developing cars for Africa, which is considered the final frontier for automotive growth.

To be successful in India, cars need a price tag so much lower than in most other markets, that new thinking is needed. An Indian trademarked way of innovating that is adapted to local conditions, constraints and revenue levels. The old way of creating low-cost was to engineer down from more sophisticated products by cutting cost through tried-and-tested platforms and economies of scale. The new way is to engineer up from scratch a product that is far cheaper, with a mix of bare bones elements and the latest tech features. Example: the $100 laptop. This process has been dubbed ‘frugal engineering‘ (achieving more with fewer resources) by Carlos Ghosn, or ‘bottom-up innovation’.

Datsun Go What Car March 2014bNo radio and CD player in the Datsun Go

2. Bottom-up innovation at play

Indian manufacturer Tata was the first to bring bottom-up innovation to the car industry with the Nano, ‘the cheapest car in the world’ at US$1,700 when unveiled in 2009. The Nano turned a lot of carmaking conventions on their head. It uses a modular design that theoretically enables a knowledgeable mechanic to assemble the car in a suitable workshop. It also includes numerous lighter components, from simple door handles and bulbs to the transmission and engine parts, enabling a more energy efficient engine. The Nano is one of the shortest four-passenger cars on the market, yet it allows for ample interior space.

These ‘ultra-low cost’ cars can end up being more user-friendly, if sophisticated. One great example: the new Datsun Go does not have a radio or CD player (even optional), only an auxillary port and a USB charging point, which means you can only listen to music stored on a portable device. On the one hand, not having a radio seems unnecessarily stingy. After all, even Tata kept it optional on the Nano. But nowadays, most music is stored not on physical media like CDs, but on digital devices. The lack of a radio is, arguably, a more user-friendly decision that also saves money.

Renault Duster India March 2014What Car India says the Renault Duster ‘doesn’t feel premium enough’ for the price. Wait what?

3. Low cost is premium

Car prices are on a drastically different scale in India:  they are not just a little cheaper, but in a different ball game altogether. That’s because salary levels cannot compare with Western countries. A young taxi driver earns around $150 per month which is considered a relatively good revenue. A Taj Mahal entry ticket is INR750 ($12) for tourists but INR20 ($0.35) for locals. And all prices are in line with this, including cars.

This way, models considered low cost in Europe are borderline premium in India. And this is where Renault’s strategy of selling Dacia models under the Renault brand in emerging markets takes its full meaning. Starting at US$15,200, the Renault Duster is not the cheapest SUV/MPV on sale in India, and local magazine What Car? says ‘it doesn’t feel premium enough’ for the price. The Duster failing in the value-for-money equation is something I never thought I would see printed anywhere. But in India it makes sense.

Maruti Alto 800 India March 2014. Picture courtesy Matt GasnierThe Maruti Alto 800 starts at US$4,740 in India.

For a better idea of Indian prices, consider this: a Tata Nano starts at US$2,890, the Maruti Alto 800 at $4,740, the Hyundai Eon at $5,400, the Maruti Celerio at $6,280, the Honda Amaze at $8,330 and the Honda City at $12,000 (though the City is considered a more premium, Japanese-made car). A very large proportion of new car sales are happening well below $10,000. As far as models sold across different continents, they typically sell for half the price in India than in France. The Maruti (Suzuki) Swift starts at $8,500 in India vs. $16,100 in France, the Nissan Micra at $8,800 vs. $16,000, VW Polo at $9,500 vs. $17,700 and Ford Ecosport at $12,200 vs. $28,800!

In other words, it is impossible to truly compete in the Indian market without manufacturing locally. If you want to undercut local behemoth Maruti by selling ‘more car for the money’, you have to come up with completely new ways of thinking a car – the Datsun Go being a great example. This price structure becomes relevant on the world scale when you take into account that most African countries have even lower average monthly revenues. Manufacturers that will manage to build and sell an attractive car for this type of money will have all chances to succeed in Africa when it booms, and it will.

Tata Nano used. Picture courtesy of What Car March 2014A daunting task…

4. A hate of used cars

In this context, with a starting price at launch of roughly US$1,700 in 2010, Tata was hoping to sell millions of Nanos in India and even expected it would single-handedly increase the total size of the local new car market by 65%. It didn’t happen. And while this situation has boggled me for a long time, interacting with Indian consumers and exploring local roads with my own eyes has started to bring a few explanations to light.

First and foremost, the long-term view about low-cost cars is that they compete with used cars in the mind (and wallet) of consumers. It’s a little less true now in Europe where Dacia has somewhat shaken off its ‘dirty’ low cost image, but it was the case for the first generation Logan. The thinking was that as long as one could buy a new car for the price of an equivalent used one – but this is not true in India.

Tata Nano India. Picture courtesy of caranddriverIndia sees trade-up from motorcycle to new car, bypassing used cars altogether.

For example, a comparo between a brand-new Skoda Superb and a 4-year-old Mercedes E-Class in this month’s issue of What Car? India gave the Superb as winner. The conclusion that they came to isn’t terrible difficult to understand, but their reasoning provides a lot of insight.

“Car buyers in India usually shy away from used cars. The second-hand car market is still a big fat grey area, there is the added scare of buying something that’s been abused. If the Mercedes requires major work, it could become exorbitant. Yes, Skoda has a poor reputation for service and parts are expensive here too. And ‘I drive a Skoda’ doesn’t have the ring of ‘I drive a Mercedes’. Still, our choice here is the Skoda.”

Buying an entry level car in India is more a choice between replacing a motorcycle/scooter or trading up to a new car. The ‘used car’ box is bypassed altogether, as there are still too many unknowns associated with it and the used car market is far from regulated. It has become a bit of a vicious circle with cars depreciating extremely fast.

So why did India not choose to trade up from motorcycle to brand new Nano?

Delhi Agra Expressway. Picture courtesy of automark-india.comThe Yamuna Expressway opened in 2012, cutting the Delhi-Agra travel time from 5 to 3 hours.

5. Interstate travel in style – What the Indian consumer really wants

In their assessment of the Datsun Go, What Car? India says

“it’s clear that Datsun tried to make it look anything but budget. The Go has a peppy engine, spacious interiors and is easy to drive. It seems like a lot of car for the money.” 

An observation that goes against most Western observers that qualify the Go as nothing more than a bland and cheap copy of the Nissan Micra. Not in India. There, it is robust, handy and stylish enough to earn the right to be taken on interstate travels with pride.

And that’s the key. What can an Indian family do with a car that it cannot with a motorcycle? For them, it’s the ability to make long-distance visits to their extended families. The family takes a central role in any Indian person’s life, and only 20% of the entire population of India lives in big cities – stressing the need for interstate travel between smaller towns. Along with cars, the local infrastructure is fast improving – the Delhi-Agra Yamuna Expressway I travelled on was only 2 years old.

 

Tata Nano driving speed. Picture courtesy What Car India March 2014“Can I push my Tata Nano hard?” The answer is no.

To understand the failure of the Tato Nano, you have to take a journey to India’s motorways, where cars like the Go can often be seen blazing along at 150 km/h, despite the official 100 km/h limit. It becomes a little more obvious the Nano is, paradoxically, not cut for India. A What Car? reader asks “Is it safe to drive the Nano at 80-100km/h?” The magazine responds

“the Nano is fundamentally a city car and isn’t designed for high speeds. Driving it close to its maximum speed (105km/h) isn’t advisable. For the same money, it’s best to pick up a slightly used car like a Maruti Alto which feels more secure at highway speeds”.

So the Nano is ‘the cheapest car in the world’, but one cannot get out of the city with it, which limits it to a 2nd or 3rd family car, and Indian families that can afford a 2nd or 3rd car would not be seen dead in a Nano. Not stylish, too frugal, not a ‘real’ car. The loop is looped. The Nano could only attract posh city-dwellers that don’t really need a car and to them it’s not attractive. Now I’m generalising a bit, but you get the idea.

Hyundai Grand i10 Maruti Swift. Picture courtesy of zigwheels.comMaruti Swift & Hyundai Grand i10. Maruti and Hyundai are in Datsun’s line of fire. Tough targets?

What next?

My stay in India came at an important time in the local car industry: when Nissan, reviving the Datsun brand to make it its entry offering, launched its first ‘ultra low cost’ model, the Datsun Go – but don’t go calling it ultra low cost in India – Carlos Ghosn did not mention the word ‘low-cost’ once when he unveiled the car last year. Initial sales figures will show very quickly whether this adventure has been worth all the ‘bottom-up innovation’ trouble. Datsun has already announced its next two Indian launches: in late 2014, the US$7,500 Go+ MPV will arrive and in 2015 the US$4,990 Redi-Go hatch. If successful, expect Datsun to start launching in Africa very soon, and the start of a fascinating new chapter in the history of world automobile will have been written.

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney and runs a website called BestSellingCarsBlog, dedicated to counting cars around the globe.

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Tesla Fires Back Against Accusations Brought By Lemon Law King http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/tesla-fires-back-against-accusations-brought-by-lemon-law-king/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/tesla-fires-back-against-accusations-brought-by-lemon-law-king/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 11:30:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793490 tesla-model-s-11

Tesla has fired back against the accusations brought in a lawsuit filed against the company earlier this week by a Wisconsin attorney and self-described “Lemon law King” Vince Megna. Mr. Megna’s client, a physician who took delivery of his Model S in March of last year, alleges that he has had repeated problems with the car’s doors and main fuse and that repeated attempts to remedy the problem have met with no success. He is asking that, after four attempts at resolving the issues, the company re-purchase the car under Wisconsin lemon laws intended to protect buyers if a product is faulty and cannot be repaired by the manufacturer.

Tesla’s response, published on their official blog and attributed to “The Tesla Motors Team,” claims factual inaccuracies in the attorney’s statements. The company writes that, although the customer filed an official buy-back request in November 2013, they have continued to work him to resolve his issues, many of which have “elusive” origins. They go on to say that their technicians were unable to replicate customer’s main complaints, problems with the door handles and the car’s main fuse, and that after replacing several of the parts in question without alleviating the situation they began to suspect the car was being tampered with. They noted that all the issues with the main fuse came shortly after the car’s front trunk, which gives access to the fuse, was opened and claim that the part has performed flawlessly since technicians applied a tamper-proof seal to the switch.

Tesla concludes their response by noting that the attorney in question also filed a Lemon Law suit against Volvo in February 2013 on behalf of the same customer and encourages the public to be aware of how opportunistic lawyers can take advantage of lemon laws.

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Car Guys and Car Gals You Should Know About: Emile Mathis and His All-Aluminum 1946 VEL 333 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/car-guys-and-car-gals-you-should-know-about-emile-mathis-and-his-all-aluminum-1946-vel-333/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/car-guys-and-car-gals-you-should-know-about-emile-mathis-and-his-all-aluminum-1946-vel-333/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:00:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=785577 Retromobile2008_0236

For a man who once ran the fourth biggest car company in France, behind Citroën, Renault and Peugeot, an automobile manufacturer who produced motorcars designed by Ettore Bugatti and others in partnership with Henry Ford, Emile Mathis is relatively unknown today. Though he made many thousands of cars, ironically he’s better known today because of a car of his that never got to production.

emile mathis

Born in the Alsace region of German nationality in 1880, Emile Mathis was said to have built his first automobile by the turn of the 20th century. Having been formally trained in business, with his interest in cars it was probably natural for him to become a car dealer. The Auto-Mathis-Palace in Strasbourg sold, among others, brands like Fiat, De Dietrich, and Panhard-Levassor, making it one of the leading dealerships in the city. By 1904, he was manufacturing cars under the Hermes brand, building two models designed by Ettore Bugatti. He also had automobiles built with a license from Stoewer.

1904 Mathis Hermes

1904 Mathis Hermes

The first car that he sold under his own brand name, the 8/20 PS, went on sale in 1910 and by the start of World War One two small Mathis cars, the 1.3 liter Baby and the even smaller 1.1 liter Babylette had achieved some measure of success. It was after the war, though, that Mathis started making and selling cars in quantity. By 1927 Mathis was making more than 20,000 cars a year, making the firm the 4th largest automaker in France.

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Emile Mathis and one of his early automobiles

It seems that Emile Mathis was attracted to the United States and American cars. Though sales were strong through the end of the 1920s, with the start of the Depression they started to decline and Mathis looked west. Today, joint ventures between car companies on different continents are commonplace, but then it was a fairly novel idea.

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In 1930 Mathis made his first attempt to forge an alliance with an American automaker. He and William C. Durant made plans to form a partnership. By then Durant had been forced out at General Motors and had started building cars under his own brand. Mathis wanted the American entrepreneur to build cars for the European market in Durant’s Lansing, Michigan factory. They thought they’d be able to sell up to 100,000 cars a year but Durant couldn’t get the project funded and went out of business the following year.

mathis babylette

Staying in France, Mathis expanded his own firm’s lineup. 1932′s Mathis EMY 8 Deauville was a large, eight cylinder car that was likely modeled after the American Packards. In 1934, he introduced the EMY 4, a 1,445cc-powered car with a synchromesh transmission, hydraulic brakes and eventually fully independent suspension, giving him three different car lines and four different trucks. Though Mathis introduced advanced features like those on the EMY lines before his competitors, sales continued to deteriorate.

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Not giving up on his plan of a partnership with an American car company, in 1934 Mathis seemingly hit the jackpot when he negotiated an agreement with Henry Ford. Ford Motor Company wanted to expand production of the Ford Model Y designed for the European market and Mathis’ Strasbourg factory was underutilized. The joint venture with Ford was called SA Française Matford Strasbourg. Ford owned 60% and Mathis the rest. Ford invested a substantial amount of money in the plant which at first produced copies of British and American Fords but by 1936 it was assembling localized vehicles under the Matford Alsace brand. While Matfords are obviously mid to late 1930s Fords, they did have features that distinguished them from non-French Fords, including Mathis’ independent front suspension on some models.

1938 Matford

1938 Matford

Matfords were produced until 1939, but Mathis was both disappointed by lower than expected sales and not comfortable being second in the relationship to Henry Ford so in 1938 he sold his shares in the joint venture. Most of Henry Ford’s business associates eventually parted ways with him. To my knowledge, only a handful of high level Ford employees stayed with the man and his company for their entire careers. Few people maintained relationships with Henry Ford for very long. Mathis was no different.

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Again looking to America, after leaving Matford, Emile Mathis moved to the United States and started making marine engines using the Matam brand. After World War II broke out, he stayed in the U.S. for the duration of the war.

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Before the outbreak of hostilities, Emile Mathis had reasserted control of his factory in Strasbourg but as war approached the region was likely to be contested so he stayed an absentee landlord. Also, as a German Alsatian, Mathis had been drafted in the German army during WWI, but in 1916, while on a mission to Switzerland to buy truck, he deserted, taking the cash he was given for the trucks’ purchase. He also enlisted in the French army. Once Germany overran France in 1940, his return from America was mooted, and in any case since the Germans considered him to be a traitor and embezzler and had him on a wanted list he wasn’t going back to France under the Vichy government.

Mathis-in-1946-popular-science1

In 1946, Mathis returned to France to find his factory in Strasbourg had been mostly destroyed by Allied bombing as it was used by the Germans to make munitions and engines for military vehicles. Well, actually it wasn’t much of a surprise since he had supplied the Allies with the plans to the plants so they could more accurately bomb the production facilities. Before he could build cars he needed to rebuild the factory, which took two years and a substantial amount of money. Once his factory was rebuilt, he tried rebuilding his car company but he ended up being stymied by post war French governmental policies. A book should be written on how trying to structure the French automobile industry per the wishes of politicians and bureaucrats ended up killing off many French car companies. Those policies may also have indirectly led to the death of Emile Mathis himself.

Mathis-Moncoque

In addition to dealing with the policies enacted under what became known as the Pons Plan, Mathis had been out of the country for 7 years and had few connections with holdovers from the Vichy regime and other bureaucrats in positions of power when he returned to France. You can go over to Wikipedia and read about the Pons Plan (named after Paul Marie Pons, a senior French bureaucrat) in more detail but briefly, starting in 1946 the French government basically decided which of the 22 car and 28 truck manufacturers would survive. Since the government controlled permits and, more importantly, which companies got access to raw materials like steel that were in high demand in the postwar reconstruction period, even companies that didn’t go along with the Pons Plan had to comply with it. The net result in the French car industry was that the large manufacturers, Citroën, Renault, Peugeot and Simca were favored while the second tier and luxury car makers were starved of supplies. Engine displacement based taxes also negatively impacted French coachbuilders and luxury marques.

Mathis-Motor

Getting back to Mathis, with his factory rebuilt he needed a car to build in it, something suitable for a continent rebuilding after war. What he came up with was quite advanced from an engineering standpoint, and while it never got beyond prototype stage, with only 10 examples being built, it was novel enough to give Mathis a place in automotive history that his more successful pre-war endeavors have not quite secured. Considered the first all-aluminum car, it’s also, in a number of ways, very similar to a modern car planned by a new automotive startup.

Mathis-Engine Mathis-Engine

What Mathis came up with was the VEL 333. The name stood for Voiture Economique Légere, a light economical vehicle, that consumed three liters of fuel for every 100 kilometers (78.41 mpg), with three wheels and three seats. It had unibody architecture, with the aluminum monocoque being electrically welded. Though steel was in very short supply in 1946, aluminum was abundant. Demand for the metal from the aircraft industry had declined with the end of the war, plus there was ample surplus from planes being taken out of commission, and scrap from planes shot down in combat.

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The two door body was designed by noted aerodynamicist and designer Jean Andreau. Andreau also was an exponent of adding lightness, known for his slogan, “weight is the biggest enemy”. The three wheels were laid out in reverse trike fashion with two wheels up front and one in the back, packaged in a sporty looking and very modern envelope body. Passengers also sat two in the front with the rear passenger sitting sidesaddle. Power was supplied to the front wheels by a water cooled 707 cc horizontally opposed twin putting out 15 horsepower. It appears that the entire drivetrain and front suspension mounted to a subframe that bolted to the unibody. Top speed was said to be 70 mph, aided by the car’s aerodynamics. Total weight was only 386 kilograms (851 lbs) with the body itself weighing only 78 kg (172 lbs). The VEL 333 also had a novel twin radiator setup, with each cylinder having its own radiator (it’s not clear if each cylinder had its own water pump).

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Though he was unable to persuade the French government to let him produce the VEL 333, Mathis didn’t give up. In 1947 he introduced the Mathis 666, this time standing for six cylinders, six seats and a six-speed transmission, which may have been another first and in any case was an early application of such a multi-speed gear box. The engine was again a flat, horizontally opposed motor, displacing 2.2 liters and again Mathis used front wheel drive. It’s possible that the Mathis 666 was the first FWD car with a flat six, decades before Subaru would build one. The 666 had angular styling that still looks almost contemporary, and it featured a wraparound windscreen. Panoramic windshields were a big thing on show cars in the late ’40s and early 1950s. Fully independent suspension, which the 666 also featured, was less common then. A year later Mathis increased displacement to 2.8 liters and the car was shown at the Paris Auto Salon of 1949 but it was to no avail. It’s not clear how many 666 cars were made by Mathis, but a prototype has survived and has been exhibited at the big French old car show, Retromobile.

mathis 6663

For the 1949-1950 model year, Mathis published a 16 page sales brochure that reiterated Emile Mathis’ affection for the United States: “Fast, economical and silent! The Mathis six cyl. car combines the American qualities of endurance and acceleration with the French features of economy and elegance.” That brochure included three alternate body styles of the 666 that likely never got beyond the designers’ sketches, a berline sedan, a roadster with a body by Saoutchik, and the Mathis Dandy, a landau roofed open car by Henri Chapron.

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Emile Mathis’ final car was a Jeep-like vehicle that used the 2.8 liter engine from the 666, introduced in 1951 but just three were built. Emile Mathis kept his factory going by making engines for light aircraft and components for Renault but in 1954 he sold the Strasbourg factory to Citroën. In 1956 Mathis died after a fall from a hotel window. While some have suspected suicide motivated by desperation over not being able to revise his car company, by then he was 76 years old and elderly people do have falls. His death is still unexplained.

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Starting next year, Elio Motors says that it will start making and selling a reverse trike with an aerodynamic enclosed body and a sub 1.0 liter engine powering the front wheels that will get 84 mpg. In the case of the Elio, it’s  a tandem two-seater with a steel tube space frame, not a three seater with an aluminum unibody, still, the specifications aren’t too far apart from the VEL 333. I’m sure that the folks at Elio hope to have more success with their three-wheeler than Mathis did with their own.

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Though his postwar efforts to revive his car company did not end in success, Emile Mathis had an important role in the development of the French auto industry. Perhaps even more important was his role as a pioneer in how cars are made on a global scale. His cars were technologically advanced for their eras and his efforts to forge alliances with American automakers presaged the many international joint ventures in the car industry today.

Emile Mathis was a car guy you should know about.

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

616px-LogoMathis 800px-Mathis_Hermes 61-1904MathisHermes1 14mathis_Baydekarte 14mathis1_Molotok 11mathis1_SM 31americanmathis1_V 800px-Matford_1938 800px-Matford_1939 2852 1946_Mathis_VL_333_05 1946_Mathis_VL_333_04 1946_Mathis_VL_333_01 1946 Mathis VL333 46aa1ad9ea32221f8eb4326e8d7b600f XvwiKuavBWRQfbl6Aeq1rTl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9 1946 Mathis VL333 1946_Mathis_VL_333_05 2218625_m3w678h360q75v42114_Mathis_Andreau_VL333.jpg-G923KTQ26.1-ORG 9623472 bv000008 dreamcars_03_resized salon 1946 : moteur Mathis VL33 mathis 1947 cover mathis 1947 4cv mathis 1946 vl 333 Publicité Mathis V.L 333 1946 salon 1946 : Mathis chassis et coque en alliage duralinox mathis 666 Mathis-333-1946-rear mathis-333-1946-front mathis666_av mathis666 mathis1a mathis1 IOR9XBvPPk1VR930LohodDl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9 emile mathis dreamcars_03_resized bv000008 andreau 9623472 103584-500-0 mathis1 mathis1a mathis-333-1946-front salon 1946 : Mathis chassis et coque en alliage duralinox salon 1946 : moteur Mathis VL33 Publicité Mathis V.L 333 1946 mathis 1946 vl 333 mathis 1947 cover mathis 1949 16cv Mathis-Cylinders mathis-drawings Mathis-Drive Mathis-Engine Mathis-Fueling (1) Mathis-Fueling Mathis-in-1946-popular-science1 Mathis-Marque Mathis-Moncoque Mathis-Motor mathisVEL333_Bayfr Page8-333-1 Page8-666-moteur Page8-333-2 Page8-666-2 Page8-666-1 Page8-333-3 Retromobile2005_480 securedownload mathis babylette VL333_resized 46aa1ad9ea32221f8eb4326e8d7b600f 1938 Matford 800px-Matford_1939 1904 Mathis Hermes 14mathis1_Molotok 11mathis1_SM 103584-500-0 mathis babylette 14mathis_Baydekarte mathis baby Mathis-Engine xlg_auto_ideas VL333_resized securedownload Retromobile2008_0236 Retromobile2005_480 Page8-666-moteur Page8-666-2 Page8-666-1 Page8-333-3 Page8-333-2 Page8-333-1 mathisVEL333_Bayfr Mathis-Motor Mathis-Moncoque Mathis-in-1946-popular-science1 Mathis-Fueling Mathis-Fueling (1) Mathis-Drive mathis_roadster_cat_50 mathis_dandy_cat_50 mathis_666_cat_50 Mathis_666-1948 mathis babylette mathis 6661 mathis 6662 mathis 1949 16cv ]]>
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Junkyard Find: 1962 International Harvester C-120 Travelette http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1962-international-harvester-c-120-travelette/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1962-international-harvester-c-120-travelette/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 13:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791945 21 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThere was once a time when you could buy street vehicles made by a farm equipment manufacturer, and IHC products still show up in self-service wrecking yards today. In this series so far, we’ve seen this ’70 Scout, this ’71 Travelall, this ’71 Scout, this ’72 1010 pickup, this ’73 Scout, and this ’74 Scout. The crew-cab Travelette is a machine you won’t see every day, so I shot this ’62 that I spotted in a Northern California wrecking yard.
01 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBeing a California truck, there’s minimal rust here, but 52 years of hard work have worn everything out.
04 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere’s a good old Black Diamond 240-cubic-inch straight-six, rated at 141 horses in 1962. Yes, that’s not much more power than a 2014 Corolla gets; pickup drivers were tougher back when instant annihilation threatened.
14 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinTwo huge bench seats, and a custom shag-carpet headliner.
26 - 1963 International Harvester Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI’m a little puzzled by this bumper extension. Is this to protect the open tailgate when hauling extra-long loads?

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EGR-equipped Buick Regal Hits 40 MPG http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/egr-equipped-buick-regal-hits-40-mpg/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/egr-equipped-buick-regal-hits-40-mpg/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 10:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791809 EGR Buick Regal Gets 40 MPG

The current Buick Regal is an excellent car. I know, because I have one parked in my garage (it’s sweet). Still, it could be better- and the guys at the SouthWest Research Institute (SWRI) have figured out a way to enhance the mid-range Buick so that it produces fewer harmful carbon emissions and gets better fuel economy.

Can’t beat that!

Far from being pie-in-the-sky thinking, however, the motivation for building this 40 MPG ultra low-emission Buick Regal comes out of necessity. Namely the 2025 CAFE regulations that will force automobile manufacturers to achieve a 54.5 miles per gallon EPA rating across their product range. At the same time, the EPA is also expected to release new, more stringent emissions standards in a bid to improve air quality and save lives. Those two factors mean there is considerable industry focus on improving both emissions and fuel efficiency without incurring huge R&D costs- and the EGR system built into the SWRI team’s 2014 Buick Regal might play a big part in that.

EGR, for those not in the know, stands for exhaust gas recirculation. In the case of the Buick Regal tester, the 2.0 Liter engine was modified so that exhaust from one dedicated cylinder is run with a rich mixture of fuel and air to reform hydrocarbon fuel into carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The reformulated exhaust gas is then cooled and looped into a patented mixer where the exhaust gasses are mixed with fresh air before going into the engine intake. “By running one cylinder rich, the excess fuel is reformed into hydrogen and carbon monoxide,” added Chris Chadwell, manager of SWRI’s Spark Ignition Engine R&D section. “The in-cylinder reformation slightly reduces the carbon dioxide and water vapor while producing large volumes of carbon monoxide, which is a good fuel, and hydrogen, which is an outstanding fuel. That provides an octane boost and a flammability boost, and extends the EGR limit of the engine.”

It’s all pretty trick stuff, in other words- and it’s not that far away from being a production-ready piece. Let’s hope the next generation of Buick Regals- heck, let’s hope they build a new ROADMASTER!- has enough slick SWRI stuff on it to still be legal, then. In the meantime, you can check out an under hood shot of the SWRI EGR-equipped 2014 Buick Regal, below. Enjoy!

 

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Source | Photos: SWRI; Originally published on Gas 2.

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Editorial: Get Ready For Massive Recalls Driven By Modular Platforms http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/editorial-get-ready-for-massive-recalls-driven-by-modular-platforms/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/editorial-get-ready-for-massive-recalls-driven-by-modular-platforms/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:01:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791697 mqb6

Today’s recall announcement by Toyota estimated to span at least 6.4 million vehicles, serves as a nice distraction from the ongoing recall occurring at cross-town rival General Motors. The Best & Brightest are free to squabble about which faceless corporate entity with zero regard for their individual well-being is the superior one. The rest of us have bigger fish to fry.

At 6.4 million vehicles, this Toyota recall is massive. It won’t be the last one. In fact, I think that ten years from now, this will be a low number.

The big trend in the auto industry today is modular platforms, which allow an enormous range of vehicles to share components. Volkswagen’s MQB architecture is an oft-cited example of this, largely because it takes a holistic approach to modularity. Much like Lego bricks, different “modules” can be assembled to create different vehicles. MQB is capable of spawning everything from a B-segment Volkswagen Polo to a D-segment Volkswagen Passat to an Audi TT sports car to a Volkswagen Touran minivan. Only a small number of “hard points” like the dimension from the center line of the front wheel to the pedal box, or the engine mounts, are fixed.

Within these modules are a high level of common parts, designed to be used across the entire range of MQB vehicles. This can include everything from whole powertrains to braking systems to smaller components that could be shared across a range of small to mid-size vehicles – which is, in theory, a truly vast quantity. Other commentators have expressed worries that MQB will lead to components being mismatched to their application. An A/C system engineered for a Passat might be overkill on a Polo (or vice versa) from a utility or financial standpoint.

From a purchasing standpoint, MQB will allow Volkswagen to buy lots and lots of widgets, receiving a significant discount on the cost per widget. This will equal significant savings for VW (though just how much they’ll save seems to depend on who you ask) while leading to shorter assembly times and more standardized production of vehicles. In the event that demand for a given model changes, a factory could scale back production of a slower selling model to help meet demand for the more popular one. This gives Volkswagen unprecedented flexibility in the way that cars can be designed, engineered and manufactured.

It also leaves Volkswagen in a very vulnerable position. What happens if they get a bad batch of widgets from a supplier, or the widget in question was poorly engineered? What if a manufacturing process was poorly designed, and the widgets aren’t installed properly? With so many vehicles assembled with the same faulty part or process, the impact could be enormous: millions of vehicles requiring repair, a black eye for Volkswagen and, heaven forbid, human lives negatively impacted.

This kind of exposure to potential quality defects and mass recalls was dubbed a “Cascading Failure” in a prior article, but many readers with engineering backgrounds objected. Instead, we can call it a “platform level failure”, which is the key difference between the scenario outlined above, and the Toyota recall, which affects everything from the Yaris subcompact to the Land Cruiser SUV.

But in a future where every car maker will have to adopt some kind of modular architecture, the likelihood of these events occurring is almost certain. And those who have invested most in common vehicle architectures are at the greatest risk.

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Junkyard Find: 1979 Ford Thunderbird http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1979-ford-thunderbird/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1979-ford-thunderbird/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 13:00:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791097 10 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSajeev no doubt wept bitter tears when he saw the near-showroom-condition ’76 Continental Junkyard Find last week, and I’m going to keep those Malaise Era Ford tears flowing with another 1970s luxury FoMoCo product from the same California self-serve yard. This one isn’t quite as nice as the Lincoln, but just check out the metallic-green-and-white two-tone paint job!
07 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI could look up the horsepower numbers on the ’79 Thunderbird‘s 351M engine, but the figures would just make us all depressed. Let’s just say that this car had enough torque to get moving fairly well for its era (i.e., it would get smoked by a 3-cylinder Mirage today).
16 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis can’t possibly be a factory paint job, can it?
13 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOf course it has a landau vinyl roof!
04 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin85 MPH speedometer, according to 1979 regulations.
05 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe velour buckets are no longer as luxurious as they once were.


This ad for the similar ’77 Thunderbird shows the 85mph speedo in full effect, plus a very cocaineophile-looking driver. Radio comes as standard equipment!

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Analysis: Australia’s Free Trade Deals Are The Final Nail In The Coffin Of Its Auto Industry http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/analysis-australias-free-trade-deals-are-the-final-nail-in-the-coffin-of-its-auto-industry/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/analysis-australias-free-trade-deals-are-the-final-nail-in-the-coffin-of-its-auto-industry/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 15:35:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=790321 holden-plant

In the span of 24 hours, Australia inked two free trade agreements with both Japan and South Korea. Even though Holden, Ford and Toyota had already committed to ending auto manufacturing in Australia, it’s hard not to see the agreements as the last nail in the coffin of Australia’s once strong auto industry.

Although North American perception of Australia’s car market is one composed of big, rear-drive V8 sedans and Utes, that image is largely a construct in the minds of enthusiasts. The real picture is a lot less sexy.

Australia’s market is both unique and remarkably mundane. At around 1 million units annually, Australia’s new car market is a mere fraction of the United States – but it’s also far more competitive, with roughly 60 brands competing for a very small pie.

In past decades, the local auto manufacturing industry was heavily protected by tariffs, which encouraged a thriving domestic auto manufacturing industry. Holden and Ford ruled the roost, while Chrysler enjoyed a brief run of localized cars. Later on, companies like Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota joined the fray, establishing themselves as the favored Japanese brands.

But in 1983, the Button Plan radically changed the automotive landscape in Australia. The chief goal of the Button Plan was to consolidate the domestic auto industry by halving the number of model produced, while also looking to reduce tariffs and import quotas. The overall goal was to foster a more competitive, export-focused Australian car industry through increased competition.

In the immediate term, a number of badge engineered domestic models appeared in the showrooms of Japanese brands, but none sold particularly well. For a long time, traditional Australia vehicles like large sedans and Utes reigned supreme. But the past decade has seen a major shift in the automotive market, with rapidly changing tastes.

Much like their cousins in the United States, Australia’s traditional vehicles – large sedans and Utes – are facing a two-fronted war, and the outcome has all but been decided.

A report by Ward’s Auto shows that in 2003, large sedans (which ostensibly includes not just the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, but also front-drive entrants from Toyota and Mitsubishi) were the most popular cars in Australia, with 26 percent market share. A decade later, that number has fallen to just 7.6 percent.

Small cars and SUVs have overtaken the large car as the most popular segments in Australia. Rising fuel prices, shifting market tastes and a greater selection of small cars have helped propel vehicles like the Holden Cruze, Mazda3, Hyundai i30 to the top of the sales charts – to say nothing of the Toyota Corolla, which was Australia’s best-selling car in 2013.

At the other end of the spectrum, SUVs, crossovers and mid-size pickup trucks have eroded the large sedan’s domain as the family car of choice, with Ward’s reporting that one fifth of buyers are opting for mid-size or large SUVs. The Toyota HiLux was Australia’s best-selling truck in 2013, as sales of mid-size trucks (including Holden’s popular Colorado) helped dampen enthusiasm for Utes.

Beyond the lack of enthusiasm for traditional vehicles, the importance of Australian pedigree is on the wave. As Ward’s reports, the preference for Australian-made vehicles has declined substantially from over a quarter of new buyers in 2003, to roughly one eighth in 2013. Last year marked the first time that the three most popular brands in monthly sales rankings (Toyota, Mazda, Nissan) were all imports.

With a changing climate regarding imported vehicles, the FTAs with both Japan and South Korea will only reduce the cost of vehicles that Australian consumers are already gravitating to. While the FTA with Thailand arguably served as the catalyst for Australia’s major market shift towards Thai-built trucks and certain passenger cars, other factors, like a strong Australian dollar, high manufacturing costs and limited export demand for Australian cars (despite the protestations of enthusiasts across the internet) did their part in bringing about the inevitable end to Australia’s auto industry. The Japanese and South Korean FTAs won’t do any more harm to an industry on death row. But it’s impossible to ignore their symbolism in the wake of the Australian car industry’s annus horribilis.

 

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Smart Cars Damaged In Stupid Prank http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/smart-cars-damaged-in-stupid-prank/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/smart-cars-damaged-in-stupid-prank/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 13:33:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=790201

Photo courtesy of NBC Bay Area.com

San Francisco’s NBC affiliate is reporting on a new wave of vandalism sweeping the City by the Bay, car tipping. At least four Smart cars were flipped over Sunday night, by what one hooded-sweatshirt wearing witness described as a group of six to eight people wearing hooded sweatshirts. The case has drawn national attention, sparking the creation of a Facebook parody site, comments by the website totalfratmove.com, who called the car tippers “heroes,” and at least one cheekily written article on the website regarded by many as the seedy underbelly of the car blogging world, The Truth About Cars.

Many people believe the attacks on the Smart cars, which sell new beginning at around $13K, are a new form of class warfare in which the poor people still residing in the newly gentrified San Francisco neighborhoods take out their frustrations on the property of their wealthier, status seeking neighbors. Proof of these assertions are borne out by the fact that heavier luxury vehicles parked on the street near the damaged Smart cars were not overturned, causing this author to speculate that the larger cars could not be targeted because of rampant malnourishment among the lower classes. Others, however, think the incidents are just a stupid prank by stupid people who simply resent people with Smarts. Whatever the case, police are investigating and any suspects apprehended are likely to be charged with felony vandalism.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Junkyard Find: 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Electric Sport http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1988-chevrolet-sprint-electric-sport/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1988-chevrolet-sprint-electric-sport/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 13:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788522 12 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNow that it’s possible to buy electric cars that actually do what cars are supposed to do, we mustn’t forget the very lengthy era— say 1970 to just a few years ago— during which all manner of optimistic-yet-doomed companies converted various econoboxes into lead-acid-battery-based EVs. Every once in a while, I’ll spot the remains of such an EV at a junkyard; we saw a junked EVolve Electrics 1995 Geo Metro EV conversion last year, and now a different Denver yard has given us this ’88 Sprint “Electric Sport.”
06 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Sprint aka Cultus wasn’t a bad choice for an electric vehicle, being lightweight and cheap.
01 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinElectric motors are worth money, either as working motors or as sources of valuable scrap copper, so the one in this car is long gone.
18 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe remnants of the battery tray may be seen in the rear cargo area.
17 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSomeone grabbed the no-doubt-modified instrument cluster, too.
07 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBonus points to anyone who can track down the company that built the Electric Sport Sprint!

01 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Henry Ford: An Interpretation. Did He Make the World A Better Place, Or Not? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/henry-ford-an-interpretation-did-he-make-the-world-a-better-place-or-not/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/henry-ford-an-interpretation-did-he-make-the-world-a-better-place-or-not/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 12:30:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=789329 IMG_0076

Just like yesterday night, April 7th, it was raining in Detroit on the night of April 7,1947. There was extensive flooding on the Rouge River and 83 year old Henry Ford had spent part of the day at he beloved Greenfield Village, making sure that it was not damaged. The next day he was planning on touring Ford facilities in southeastern Michigan to see how the flood had affected his factories. After returning to Fair Lane, the estate that Henry and Clara built on the Rouge, the two had dinner by candlelight, as the flood had also knocked out the estate’s powerhouse. That must have been a disappointment to Henry, as his primary interest seems to have been power. Before his automotive ventures, Ford was chief operating engineer of the Edison Illuminating Co. of Detroit.

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At dinner, Henry and Clara discussed the 100 mile trip he was planning for the next day. As was his custom, he retired to his bedroom at 9 p.m. A little bit after 11, Henry called Clara to his bedside. He complained of a bad headache and said that his throat was dry. He was having a stroke, though Clara did not know that. She gave him a glass of water. Clara then sent her maid, Rosa Buhler, to wake Robert Rankin, the Fords’ chauffeur who had an apartment above the estate’s garage, to tell him to fetch a doctor. The phone lines were out from the flood and Rankin had to drive over to the Ford Engineering Laboratories, about a half mile from Fair Line find a working phone. Rankin called Dr. John Mateer of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

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Clara Ford also sent for two other people to come to Henry’s deathbead. Her grandson, Henry Ford II, and Evangeline Dahlinger. Henry the second lived at his parents’ estate on Lake Ste Claire, north of Grosse Pointe. It’s probably not coincidental that Edsel and Eleanor built their home about as far away from Fair Lane as they could and still be somewhere in the Detroit area. Henry alternately doted on Edsel and, afraid that he’d be the effete and soft son of a rich man, Ford would embarrass his son in front of others, supposedly to toughen him up.

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Henry was a bit more consistent with the way he treated Evangeline Dahlinger. Unlike Edsel and Eleanor, Evangeline, lived close by to Henry in a stately home just up the Rouge from Fair Lane, a home that Henry built for her and her husband Ray, Ford’s former driver. She first met Henry, 30 years her senior, when she got a job in 1909 as a 16 year old stenographer in Ford’s Highland Park factory. After the Dahlinger’s marriage, Ray was given the job of traveling the world scouting out locations for Ford factories. That made it convenient for Henry’s nocturnal cruises up the Rouge in the quiet little electric boat he had made for Clara. A private staircase led from the Dahlinger’s boat well to Mrs. Dahlinger’s separate bedroom.

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It’s said that the only time Clara ever stood up to Henry, an indomitable man if there ever was one, was after the death of their only son Edsel in 1943. Years earlier, after buying out his partners and investors following the huge success of the Model T, Henry distributed Ford stuck thusly: 49% for himself, 48% for Edsel, and the remaining 3% for Clara. After Edsel died in 1943 and Henry reasserted operational control of Ford Motor Company, Clara and Eleanor threatened Henry that they would sell the 51% of Ford that they owned if he would not abdicate and let his grandson and namesake run the company. Though she stood up for her grandson, Clara was more tolerant of her husband’s behavior when it came to Evangeline Dahlinger, Henry’s longtime mistress and likely mother of a second Ford son. By his death, Clara obviously had made her peace with the role Evangeline played in Henry’s life.

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After waking the chauffeur, the maid returned to Henry’s bedroom where she heard Clara say, “Henry, speak to me.” He seemed to have stopped breathing and Mrs. Ford asked Buhler, “What do you think of it?” Rosa replied, “I think Mr. Ford will be leaving us.” By the time Dr. Mateer got to Fair Lane, the man who put the world on wheels was dead.

Unlike the Egyptian style tomb, complete with sphinxes were the Dodge brothers’ widows interred them, Clara buried Henry in a simple grave in the still well-kept private cemetery that had been used by her adoptive family, the Aherns (also spelled O’Hern) since before William Ford, Henry’s father, immigrated from Ireland. It’s on the south side of Joy Road (named after another automotive pioneer, Henry Joy, who made Packard a great marque), just west of Greenfield Road. The oldest date on a stone there that I could find was 1821. Before her death Clara left an endowment for an Episcopal church to be built next to the small cemetery. It’s called St. Martha’s and it’s still consecrated, and maintained, though it looks inactive and I haven’t been able to determine if it ever functioned with a congregation. Clara looks to have been the last person buried there. Most people assume the wrought iron above and around Clara and Henry’s final resting places is not for decoration but rather to prevent vandalism. The truth, though, is that only a relative handful of people who drive by have any clue who’s buried there.

When I visited Ford’s grave site yesterday, at least one other person remembered the date. Someone had left some kind of makeshift memorial at the foot of Henry’s grave consisting of two cups each of two different liquids, and four small pieces of what looked like bread. I’m not sure of the significance but I didn’t want to disturb it. I’m not sure if any Ford family members came to pay their respects, or if any have been there in years. Eleanor and her children are said to have blamed Henry at least in part for Edsel’s death.

As if to put an exclamation point on the location she and Edsel chose for their home, though it was a certainty that Henry would rest with his ancestors, Eleanor decided to bury Edsel at Woodlawn Cemetery on Woodward, near the grave of his good friend Hudson chief Roy Chapin. None of Henry’s five grandchildren are buried with him.

Henry, who had some backwards notions regarding ethnicity and religion, might show some surprise at his current neighbors. Across the street from the cemetery there’s an Obama branded gas station whose owners have named it after the first black president of the United State. From Henry’s grave site you can also see the green dome and minaret of the mosque next door to the church. On the other hand, if Henry’s spinning, it’s more likely because one great grandkid married a Jew and another married a black man.

Edsel, chief thug Harry Bennett and production whiz Peter Martin were about the only people who worked closely with Ford and didn’t eventually come to a parting of the ways with the man. Perhaps Henry’s most significant talent was surrounding himself with some people who were not just exceptionally talented but that could also work with a megalomaniac and get him to see things their way. One of my favorite books about Henry Ford was written by Samuel Marquis, an Episcopal clergyman who was the Ford family pastor. Ford eventually put his pastor on his payroll, heading Ford’s Sociology Department, but that didn’t prevent Marquis from seeing the truth about his parishioner and boss. Eventually, after Ford felt that Marquis spoke out of turn concerning Ford business he fired him. Bitter from his dismissal, Marquis published a book, Henry Ford: An Interpretation. It’s a nuanced but almost unvarnished look at the man. That’s undoubtedly why the Ford company and family actively suppressed it for decades. I say almost unvarnished because Marquis is uncharacteristically reticent when it came to Ford’s Jew-hatred. Still, it was the only critical book about Ford written by a close associate of his that was published during Ford’s lifetime.

Henry Ford undoubtedly changed the world. Pastor Marquis had his own interpretation of the man’s life. What’s yours? Did Henry Ford make the world a better place, or would we all have been better off if he’d stayed at Edison instead of tinkering around with his Quadricycle?

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

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Duesenberg Model J Murphy Body Roadster – One of These Is Not Like the Other. Can You Spot the Fake? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/duesenberg-model-j-murphy-body-roadster-one-of-these-is-not-like-the-other-can-you-spot-the-fake/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/duesenberg-model-j-murphy-body-roadster-one-of-these-is-not-like-the-other-can-you-spot-the-fake/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788073 IMG_0272img_0175

One of these cars is not like the other. A while back I wrote about the replica Duesenberg Murphy Roadster that former GM designer Steve Pasteiner’s Advanced Automotive Technologies fabricated for someone who owned a real Duesenberg. The person who commissioned the replica wanted to be able to drive in that style without risking damage or deterioration to a seriously expensive classic car (though the replica undoubtedly cost into six figures to build). Before I provide a link to that post, though, I want you to agree not to link over there until you’ve finished reading this one because I’m going to give you a test.

It turns out that last summer, one of the judged classes of cars at the Concours of America was “Indianapolis Iron: Duesenberg, Marmon & Stutz”, celebrating cars from the classic era made by Indiana based firms (the Duesenberg brothers’ original shop was in Indianapolis but I believe that after E.L. Cord bought their company, production was moved to the Auburn factory in Auburn).

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After you’ve made your guess, you can see the full gallery here.

Now Duesenbergs are magnificent cars, worthy of the adulation bestowed upon them, in my not always humble opinion, and I never miss the opportunity to photograph the marque. Looking over my files, I’ve taken photos of at least a dozen Duesenbergs in a variety of body styles. Still, while the Murphy company’s roadster body was a popular one back in the day, I actually got to see AAT’s replica of one before I experienced a real one.

IMG_0271

After you’ve made your guess, you can see the full gallery here.

Fortunately, one of the cars representing Jim Nabor’s home state at the concours was indeed a Murphy bodied Duesenberg roadster, pictured here. Also pictured is Pasteiner’s pastiche and the reason why I asked you not to follow the link over to the post on the replica is that I want you to decide which one is real and which one is the fake. If you do make a guess, tell us your reasons for your decision. It shouldn’t be too hard, there are some tells that should give it away fairly quickly, but the AAT replica is very well done, so some readers might not get the correct answer. Either way, it’s a fun little game.

Oh, and here’s the link to that post about AAT’s Duesenberg replica, where you can find out more about the Model J and its history. No fair peeking, though.

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

IMG_0277 IMG_0273 IMG_0272 IMG_0271 IMG_0274 img_0175 img_0178 img_0157 img_0177 img_0174 ]]>
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Can Car Sharing Work In Suburbia? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/can-car-sharing-work-in-suburbia/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/can-car-sharing-work-in-suburbia/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 13:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=787705 car-share-parking-photo111

20 lawnmowers.

20 internet connections

20 videos of The Lion King.

Oh, and 60+ vehicles on one street.

I recently delved deep into one of the more challenging ideas of the modern age: car sharing in suburbia. It’s an idea that many non-enthusiasts and city dwellers love. But is it a good idea for suburbanites and the rest of us?

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If we’re talking about the traditional form of commercialized car sharing, such as Zipcar and RelayRides, then the answers for right now are,= “No! Nein! Nyet!”.

Most of these services cost anywhere from $30 To $100 a day, and at least $10 an hour. For most folks who have to take their vehicles to the supermarkets, restaurants, friend’s houses and all the other places that make up the modern day ‘to-do’ list of suburban life, these services are just not economically viable.

The financial equation can be even worse for rural folk, and for auto enthusiasts in particular who happen to live in suburbia. The thought of giving up our rolling treasures to the pirates of bad driving is a big-time no-no nadir.

But that doesn’t mean car sharing can’t work if you have the right long-term relationships in place, and the right types of vehicles that complement each other for occasional use. Let me offer a real world example.c4

 

My neighbors who live diagonally from me have a small truck: a 1996 Toyota Tacoma with over 250k. They are retirees, and most of their daily transportation involves no more than one or two people. When they have visitors, they also have a 10 year old Cadillac Seville.

However, that Caddy just doesn’t offer enough seats for grandkids, parents and gransparents. Nor do the midsized cars that arrive on their driveway.

So what do they do?

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Well, I just happen to have a 2003 Chrysler Town & Country minivan these days. Seven seats. Dual sliding doors, and about 125,000 miles.  I have known my neighbors for a very long time, and we have both seen how we drive and maintain our vehicles. At the same time, even though I’m a car dealer, I can’t keep small trucks on my car lot. They are expensive to buy these days at the auctions, and the rare affordable one tends to sell quickly once it’s front-line ready.

As for minivans? They have become the modern day unsellable car in my world. So whenever he has a need for a minivan, which is about once every couple of months, I give him the keys to my ride. And whenever I need to move a lawnmower, a refrigerator, or just recently, a $20 bench press and weight set from the world famous Blue Chicken Auction, I borrow his small truck.

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We’re not the only folks who do this in my neck of the woods. The neighbors who live down the street from me have a full-sized van with plenty of towing capacity for their irrigation business. They also have a trailer for their equipment and a tow dolly. What they don’t have is space to house everything without parking on the street and encouraging the local code enforcement dimwits to get on their case.

So I offer them free storage at the back of one of my shops, use the tow dolly or trailer if there is ever a need, and the local suburban Gestapo has one less target for their punitive fines and harassment.

The van, trailer and dolly are also used in that rare event when a neighbor needs to move a riding lawnmower, or when a car is laid down on the side of the road. We get the keys and move the heavy things to wherever they need to go. No need for AAA or a U-haul.

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The goal of this light version of car sharing isn’t to share one vehicle 100% of the time. It is to satisfy that occasional 1% need. So that you don’t wind up wasting money on a one-size-fits-all, high-cost vehicle.

 

Is this a better idea for suburbanites? The article here summarizes a lot of the benefits and pitfalls. But as the old acronym goes, YMMV.

So what do you think? Can car sharing work in suburbia…and would you be willing to do it?

Note: You can reach Steve Lang directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com

 

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Final Fight Of The 300 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/final-fight-of-the-300/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/final-fight-of-the-300/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 16:56:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=787817 300m2

At the big blue water tower, Interstate 90, known locally as the New York State Thruway, sweeps in from the east and turns sharply southward to skirt the city of Buffalo. The main interstate is joined there by I-290, one of the loop roads that comes in from the north, and although the roads are both heavily traveled, the intersection is not especially well thought out. The 290, three lanes wide, makes a clean split, the leftmost lane joining the eastbound lanes of the 90 while the rightmost lane heads up and over an overpass before joining the westbound lanes. The middle lane offers drivers the opportunity to turn either way but most people opt to take the west bound exit and, because the right most lane is eventually forced to merge into the left lane prior to actually joining the 90, most people tend to hang in the middle lane prior to the split and, during rush hour, traffic tends to slow. Naturally, wherever cars slow, dickheads want to use the open lane to pass and then merge at the last moment.

Headed south in the early morning hours, traffic was moving along fairly well and I, in my 300M, was in line with dozens of other cars in the center lane when the big blue water tower and the 290/90 split hove into view. As usual, traffic began to slow, but there were no brake lights. Gradually, our speed dropped from the posted limit to around 40 miles and hour and I, along with everyone else in-line, stayed to the right as the center lane divided, a bare car length between me and the driver ahead. Given the distance, my attention was focused up the road rather than my mirrors so I was shocked when, out of the corner of my eye, I detected something that simply should not have been there, a car on my left.

Photo courtesy of Buffalo Spree Magazine

I hadn’t seen him approach, but there was only one way the light blue Nissan Cube could have shown up there. He had run up the left most lane faster than those of us in line and then, instead of staying left and heading east towards Rochester, he had gone straight-on across the center lane split and was now on the left shoulder and moving a good ten mph faster than the rest of us. In a millisecond he swept past, narrowly missing the side of my prized old Chrysler and then, hard on the brakes, stuffed his little econo-box into the small space between my car and the one I had been following.

Generally, I’m not prone to road rage, but in the moments that followed I saw red. Instead of jumping on the brakes and opening the space between us I stayed right in position bare inches from the offending car’s back bumper. The road moved up and over a small bridge and, on the other side, headed down to the 90 where it became the rightmost lane. At that point, most of the fast cars will generally shift left and scoot away while those of us headed downtown will shift onto the exit for Route 33. To my surprise, instead of moving left and making his getaway, the Cube turned right and since I just happened to be headed the same way I did so too. We ran down the off ramp just inches apart and, as we joined the highway headed downtown, I bumped the big Chrysler into “autostick” mode.

Nissan Cube

As we hit the merge I bumped the 300 down a gear and mashed the gas. The engine spun up and the sound that came out of the back was glorious. I drove the car into the left lane fully expecting to outgun the little Cube and to give him a taste of his own medicine as he attempted to merge but, alas, he wasn’t there. As the Chrysler surged forward, so too did the little economy car and, foot by foot as both of us stayed hard on the gas, the Cube slipped smoothly away.

Looking back on it, I didn’t act very smart that day. Had the Cube caused an accident I might have been justified in being upset but once he had managed to stuff his car into the gap I should have backed off and let him go. Still, I learned something about how quickly technology has advanced and how smaller cars with better performing engines are more than a match for older, larger “performance” (if that’s the right word for a 300M) sedans. The best thing is, of course, that no one had to be hurt to learn that lesson.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Cain’s Segments: Q1 2014 Full-Size Truck Sales http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/cains-segments-q1-2014-full-size-truck-sales/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/cains-segments-q1-2014-full-size-truck-sales/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:16:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=787729 450x244x2014-Chevrolet-Silverado-1500-Exterior-006-450x244.jpg.pagespeed.ic.zAXX8qzO80

Year-over-year comparisons are a completely valid comparison tool, indeed a vital one, when analyzing the sales volume reported by automobile manufacturers. The auto industry is seasonal; cyclical at the best of times. The number of vehicles sold in say, January, bears little resemblance to the number of vehicles sold in May.

Studying the market share changes from one month to the next, rather than in a year-over-year fashion, is also a perfectly useful yardstick, even if certain automakers do uniquely prioritize certain seasons. And so we consider America’s March 2014 pickup truck sales figures, in which GM’s two full-size trucks suffered a market share decline in the full-size truck category from 32.1% in March 2013 to 31.9% in March 2014.

Yet much worse was the drop from February’s 35% (which itself was down from 39.1% in the previous February) to last month’s 31.9%. The market share owned by the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra in January 2014 was, at 33.3%, also superior to March’s tally, and also way down from the previous January’s 38.9%.

News that the Ram P/U – formerly known as the Dodge Ram – outsold the Silverado in March was greeted both by many a headline and a harsh rebuke from General Motors. Regardless of how you view the General Motors truck partnership, as a solitary unit with two faces or as two separate entities, GM’s twins outsold the Ram by 16,578 units in March.

Ram sales shot up 26% to 42,532 units, equal to 22.9% of the full-size truck category. Those gains undoubtedly ate into GM’s total, but the Ram and Toyota Tundra also worked together to steal some of Ford’s market share, as well.

Ford’s slower growth is more understandable and more acceptable given the state of their current truck. It’s about to be replaced. Meanwhile, Ford topped 70,000 F-Series sales for the fourth time in the last eleven months, no mean feat.

With 11,589 sales, Toyota topped the 10K mark for the fourth time in the last eight months. Toyota had done so only twice in the previous 31 months. At the current pace, Toyota could sell more than 130,000 Tundras in America for the first time since 2008. In fact, Toyota hadn’t sold this many Tundras in a single month since August of that year. Clearly Tundra volume remains low in comparison to Detroit’s big trucks, but that doesn’t make it a rarely seen vehicle. The Tundra ranked 41st among all new vehicle nameplates in Q1, up from 48th in the Q1 of 2013.

Purely on volume terms, Toyota’s 25% increase was moderate. 2319 more Tundras were sold in March 2014 than in March 2013; Chevy’s 7% March improvement equalled 2686 extra sales. 2014 marked the fifth consecutive year in which Silverado volume improved in the month of March. The problem for General Motors, from an outsider’s perspective, isn’t the Ram’s ability to grab the number two spot, nor is it the fact that Silverado growth was well below the segment’s average. GM points to transaction prices – and Chrysler’s incentives – as a sign of health, and one wouldn’t dare argue that making more money off more trucks is a bad thing.

Yet a strategy that consistently requires the Silverado and Sierra to eat an increasingly smaller portion of an increasingly larger pie is a scheme that’s not terribly worthy of applause in one of the most hotly-contested, highest-volume vehicle categories in the industry.

Truck
March
2014
March
2013
%
Change
3 mos.
2014
3 mos.
2013
%
Change
Ford F-Series
70,940 67,513 + 5.1% 173,358 168,843 + 5.4%
Ram P/U
42,532 33,831 + 25.7% 96,906 77,594 + 24.9%
Chevrolet Silverado
42,247 39,561 + 6.8% 107,757 116,649 - 7.6%
GMC Sierra
16,863 13,817 + 22.0% 42,213 40,796 + 3.5%
Toyota Tundra
11,589 9270 + 25.0% 27,402 23,580 + 16.2%
Nissan Titan
1314 2084 - 36.9% 3318 5112 - 35.1%
Total
185,485
166,076 + 11.7% 450,954 432,574 + 4.2%

 

Truck
March
2014
Share
March
2013
Share
3 mos.
2014
Share
3 mos.
2013
Share
Ford F-Series
38.2% 40.7% 38.4% 39.0%
Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra
31.9% 32.1% 33.3% 36.4%
Ram P/U
22.9% 20.4% 21.5% 17.9%
Toyota Tundra
6.2% 5.6% 6.1% 5.5%
Nissan Titan
0.7% 1.3% 0.7% 1.2%
Full-Size Share Of
Total Pickup Truck Market
89.8% 86.1% 88.8% 86.8%
Full-Size Pickup Share
Of Total Industry
12.1% 11.4% 12.0% 11.7%
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An Original Gulf Livery Car – 1968 & 1969 LeMans Winning Ford GT40 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/an-original-gulf-livery-car-1968-1969-lemans-winning-ford-gt40/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/an-original-gulf-livery-car-1968-1969-lemans-winning-ford-gt40/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 11:07:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=778369 IMG_0052

Full gallery here.

Today you can see the powder blue and marigold Gulf Oil racing colors on just about anything with wheels. A quick image search produces photos of bicycles, Mazda Miatas, DeLoreans, smart cars and even a Tata Nano wearing the livery. Gulf Oil itself has sponsored a number of widely varying race cars that have carried the paint scheme. With so many cars having worn Gulf’s iconic colors it’s easy to forget that there was a time when those colors were worn by a single racing team, running Ford GT40s. As it happens, though, the first Gulf livery GT40 that raced was actually painted a different shade of blue.

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The original Ford GT40 that wore Gulf corporate colors was raced by Gulf VP Grady Davis.

The original race car painted in Gulf Oil colors was a Ford GT40 (chassis #1049) that was raced at Daytona and Sebring in 1967 as an independent entry by Gulf Oil executive vice president Grady Davis. It carried Gulf’s corporate colors of dark blue and orange. In 1967, for the upcoming season the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale, the sporting arm of the FIA) reduced allowable engine displacement in Group 6 prototype endurance cars to 3.0 liters. That meant that the car that won LeMans in 1967, the Ford GT40 Mk IV with its 7 liter, 427 cubic inch engine, would not be able to defend its title. Having won at LeMans two years running, Henry Ford II had nothing else to prove and shuttered their endurance racing effort. John Wyer, who had an important role in the development of the GT40, realized that the platform could compete at LeMans as a Group 4 sports car, so J.W. Automotive Engineering took over management of the team and arranged for sponsorship from Gulf Oil, renaming the cars Mirages.

Three Mirages were built and they were painted in the now familiar powder blue, not Gulf’s indigo. The colors were specified by Davis, who thought the lighter color was more exciting. Gulf had earlier acquired the Wilshire Oil Company of California, whose corporate colors were powder blue and orange and Davis wanted to use those colors. He may have been on to something. The lighter blue and that shade of orange are considered “equiluminant” colors. The human eye has a hard time perceiving the edges of objects when the objects and their background colors have similar luminance. That makes the edges seem to vibrate which give this particular color combination a lot of visual pop. The final livery actually includes a dark blue hairline border around the orange, which reduces the optical illusion and any visual discomfort while maintaining most of the visual impact.

Graphic designer Wade Johnson has an interesting post about why the Gulf livery works so well on race cars, particularly endurance sports cars like those that race at LeMans:

For me, when I think about what is from a design perspective that makes Gulf racing cars work, it is a combination of things; First there is the intense color pallet which was different from any other at the time it was introduced. Then there are the classic sweeping lines of the Le Mans cars. Long low to the ground, sinuous sweeping arcs that visually scream speed. Then There is a consistent shape that is used across all the cars in the livery. Oh, and that three prong stripe that runs along the bottom edges of the car, gathers at the nose and sweeps backward to the rear of the car. The stripe might vary slightly in shape, but it is always recognizable across all of the cars throughout Gulf’s racing heritage starting in the mid 1960′s. No matter what car this color and graphic scheme is applied to, it always reads Gulf Racing. It is an unmistakable color and design combination even almost 40 years after being introduced.

Only one of the original three Mirages has survived. Of the other two, one was wrecked and destroyed and the other was rebuilt into GT40 #1074. A new Mirage tub was used to build #1075, and a standard GT40 Mk I tub was used to build up #1076. Two more cars were built up by JWAE as spares. The cars featured something relatively new then, carbon fiber reinforced body panels. Those panels were shaped slightly different than the GT40 Mk IIs, with a wider rear clamshell that could accommodate the deeply offset wide BRM magnesium wheels, painted in matching orange.

Cars #1074, 1075 and 1076 went on to great racing success, with #1075 doing the near impossible, back to back overall wins at LeMans using a car generally considered to be obsolete. It was the first time at LeMans that the same chassis had won twice. Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi drove 1075 to its first Le Mans win in 1968 and Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver won with it in 1969. In 1968, the same car won the BOAC International 500, the Spa 1000-kilometer race, and the Watkins Glen 6-hour endurance race, while in 1969 it also won the Sebring 12-hour race. Any one of those victories would give a race car unique provenance, but you’d be hard pressed to think of another single racing car with victories at so many marquee races. Though I agree with Johnson about how well the Gulf livery works visually, the fact that the car won so many important races, including the repeat at LeMans, is undoubtedly a factor in how iconic the livery has become.

Ford GT40s aren't the only shapes that look good in Gulf livery.

Ford GT40s aren’t the only shapes that look good in Gulf livery.

Ironically, it was because another LeMans winner, the GT40 Mk IV that won in 1967, was damaged that I was able to get these photographs. The ’68 & ’69 winner is currently on display in the Racing In America section of the Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America exhibit, apparently on loan. The GT40 Mk IV driven at victory by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt that’s normally in that spot in the museum is now at Gurney’s All American Racers shop in California where it is undergoing a “sensitive restoration” and preservation after getting damaged in transit for the Goodwood Revival. One assumes the intent is to preserve some of that car’s racing scars, like the less than concours level repairs to racing damage that you can see on #1075′s rocker panels.

If you’d like to read more about the Gulf livery Mirages and GT40s, there’s a website devoted to the five original cars and the Ford museum’s transportation curator, Matt Anderson has put together a history of chassis #1075. If you’d like to reproduce the Gulf racing livery on your own ride (or whatever else you think would look cool in those colors), the Llewellyn Rylands pigments are 3707 Zenith Blue, and 3957 Tangerine, with corresponding Dulux color codes of Powder Blue #P030-8013, and Marigold #P030-3393.

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

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The Truth About Caroline: Sonic BOOM! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/the-truth-about-caroline-sonic-boom/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/the-truth-about-caroline-sonic-boom/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 13:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=786569 image_3

We last saw our heroine (that’s me) after her foiled attempts to get somebody to take her seriously in her effort to buy a new subcompact car. So, it was back to the drawing board to find my dream car.

I loved the Spark, but the lack of power bothered me more than I really wanted to admit. The problem of my limited budget still existed, too. I wanted a car that was just like the Spark, only bigger, more powerful, and still available for about $13,000.

However, there was one small, teensy little problem—no such car exists.

Well, not as a new car, anyway. As many of you suggested, I sucked it up and decided that my best option was, in fact, to go pre-owned. I still wanted a warranty, though, or at least the balance of a manufacturer’s warranty. Obviously I was either going to have to get a very late model used car or go CPO.

The car savvy among you have probably already realized the car that I decided I wanted to check out next. If you haven’t, you now have ten seconds. Ready? GO!

Still here? Okay, so if you are, you undoubtedly came up with the same car that I did—the Chevrolet Sonic. The interior was virtually identical to the one in the Spark that I instantly connected with, but it was bigger and had more power. In other words, it was exactly what I wanted.

However, even as a pre-owned car, the Sonic can be difficult to find under $13K. Since the Sonic was launched as a 2012 model, there just aren’t any “old” models out there. I typed my parameters into AutoTrader.com; Chevrolet Sonic, automatic, less than 50K miles, 200 miles or less away. What I got back was pretty promising—43 total cars, including lots of 2012 LT models right around my price range. Unfortunately, the Sonic’s color palette isn’t as vibrant as the Spark’s, but I did find a few blues and oranges that seemed attractive enough. Unfortunately, a review of the CarFax or AutoCheck reports indicated that nearly every single one was previously a fleet (or rental) car, but I figured that at least that likely meant that the cars had been regularly maintained (yes, I know that this is totally “glass half full” thinking, but stick with me).

You might not know this, but AutoTrader.com is separated into a couple of different tiers. There are Premium listings, Featured listings, and Standard listings. Premium listings appear at the top of searches, and unless you get REALLY specific, they probably take up at least the first page of results, and likely a few more after that. Even if you sort of price or distance, the Premium cars still show up first.

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If you’re willing to dig just a little more, you’ll get to the Featured listings, and that’s where I found the listing that really caught my eye—at a Chevy dealer just about an hour away from me, there was a silver 2012 Sonic LTZ hatchback with 30K miles, full leather interior, heated seats, 17″ alloys, spoiler, rear wiper…pretty much every option with the exception of a sunroof. It had the 1.8 liter engine, which I was totally okay with (the turbo just seemed like another thing that could break). And the kicker? The dealer had it listed for UNDER $13K—just under, at $12,995. That didn’t really leave me any room for taxes, title, and doc fees, but I was hopeful that there might be just a little more negotiation room on the car.

As I was clicking through all of the photos on the listing, a chat window popped up on my laptop, indicating that Carolina from Scenic Chevrolet was available to chat with me. Carolina?!?! It had to be a sign, right? I clicked on the chat window and, sure enough, a few moments later, I was chatting with Carolina about the Sonic. I told her that I needed her absolutely lowest price on the car, since I would be coming from a pretty good distance. She assured me that she would get back to me soon with her best price, and asked me whether I preferred email, phone, or text. I told her that I preferred text.

About fifteen minutes later, I got this message:

“12,995 is the lowest price we can do on that car. Thank you for your interest.”

Huh? Wasn’t that the listed price? I replied, asking why they were unwilling to discount further. The reply came:

“We have already discounted the price by $3000.”

Possible, yes, but unlikely. Higher mileage 2012 LTZs were going from anywhere from $14-15K on AutoTrader. I’m sure that they had discounted the car from the original asking price, but not 3K.

I replied back:

“Tell your GM he has a buyer at 12K.”

Several minutes went by. Finally, a reply:

“Can we meet in the middle at 12,500?”

I thought about it. $12,500 was a pretty good price, but I figured that I could use that as a starting point in my negotations and go from there.

“For 12,500, I will come see the car. I will be there tomorrow.”

“Great. Ask for Kevin.”

So, the next day, I planned to go to a store that was slightly closer to me and check out Sonic LTZs, and if I liked them, I would drive the hour and fifteen minutes out to Scenic Chevrolet. Well…that was the plan, until I realized a couple of problems with it. First, I wasn’t able to find a 2012 LTZ 1.8 any closer. If I drove a newer model or one with a different engine, they might drive differently than the one I was interested in, so what would be the point? Secondly, used cars aren’t really commodities like new cars—this one would come with its own set of idiosyncrasies. Why drive a Sonic that wouldn’t be exactly like the one I could afford?

It was with that mindset that I made the decision to drive out to Scenic Chevrolet—and let me tell you, the drive was anything but scenic. Kevin texted me about an hour before I arrived to ensure that I was still coming to check out the car, and I assured him that I would be there. As a result, when I pulled into the dealership, I asked the receptionist for Kevin. A few moments later, a pleasant, genial looking man with a bucket of cleaning supplies walked toward me and shook my hand. Kevin had been detailing the Sonic in preparation for my arrival, and as we walked out of the showroom, I saw it sitting there.

Now, I know myself. I know that I get overly excited sometimes, and I didn’t really want to show how much I liked the car. My plan had been to object to the color in hopes of getting a slightly larger discount, and that objection was real. I much preferred the blue, red, or even orange to plain ol’ silver. Despite my plan, I am pretty sure that I failed in my attempt to hide my excitement. The silver really was quite attractive, and I had never had a car with so many options. The realization that this car could actually be mine was starting to hit home! As I got in the driver’s seat of the little American-assembled car (yes, Kevin seemed to think it was safe enough for me to drive it off the lot), I realized just how much it was exactly like my beloved Spark inside. Same dash, same gauges…just bigger!

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The real revelation came when we entered the divided highway and I mashed the acclerator pedal to the floor—something happened! No, it wasn’t a fast car, by any means, but it wasn’t perilously slow, either. In fact, I’d describe it as…peppy. Definitely Carolineish (feel free to beat your head against the wall, men!).

“How long have you had this car on the lot?” I asked him.

“Hmmm…I’m gonna guess at least thirty days.” I’m gonna guess at least sixty. Whatever the turn policy of this store was, the Sonic had to be getting close to it. This store was a truck store, plain and simple. Over half of their new inventory was trucks. They had no new Sparks, only two new Sonics, and one new Cruze.

The test drive route was one of the better ones I’ve been on. Kevin directed me toward some hilly county roads that showed off the lateral grip of the car as well as the suspension. The leather steering wheel felt comfortable in my hands, and the automatic transmission always seemed to know which gear was best for the job. If I hadn’t known I was driving a bow tie, I would have guessed it was a Fiesta or maybe a Civic. It felt well made and stable, secure in its footing.

When we returned to the store, I did a quick visual walkaround of the car. Bark M. gave me this car buying advice when I asked him—”Walk around the car with the salesman and point out everything that’s wrong with it. EVERYTHING. Scratches, scrapes, dings, worn tires, worn brake pads. That way, when you ask for a better price, you’re not just haggling—you’ve devalued the car because of the faults of it.”

So that’s what I did. I noticed several scratches and digs in both the front and rear bumpers. The right side Hankooks were brand new, but the left rear tire showed some wear, and the left front tire was incredibly worn, almost to the point where I suspected some alignment issues. I hadn’t noticed any pull at all when I drove it, so I suspected that it had been corrected during reconditioning. I pointed out each issue to Kevin, and he agreed with me on most of them. “And I still don’t like the color,” I offered weakly. I’m not sure he bought it.

We went back to his office, and I made him an offer—12,500 with new left side tires, or 12,000 as is. He went to the GM’s office, where they likely discussed the weather, or maybe the NCAA tournament, and he came back about five minutes later.

“12,400, as is.”

I stood up and shook his hand, thanked him for his time, and exited stage right. I think he was mildly surprised that I was willing to walk. I was a little surprised, too, but I felt like there was more money to be had.

On my incredibly monotonous drive back home, I caved a little. I texted Kevin back with another offer. “12,250, as is.”

His reply: “12,300 plus tax and doc fees. OTD price, $12973.”

“Done.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I came to own a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ with all the goodies. He takes his place alongside JB’s new Accord Coupe, Bark’s Boss, and whatever Ford product Sajeev is currently driving as our newest Long-Term Tester. You may refer to him by his new name (which gaming fans will surely understand) of “Tails.”

I definitely want to thank Kevin and his GM, Michael, and everybody at Scenic Chevrolet in Walhalla, SC, for making the buying experience as honest and painless as possible, and also for treating me with the respect that was so sorely lacking for a twenty something female elsewhere.

Stick with me as I drive Tails anywhere and everywhere this year. I look forward to sharing our adventures with you.

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