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. Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:00:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Editorials http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/ New Startup Zirx Provides Concierge Services For Drivers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/new-startup-zirx-provides-concierge-services-drivers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/new-startup-zirx-provides-concierge-services-drivers/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=963002 This Saturday will be one of the most brutal shopping days of the year, as everyone will be trying to find that last-minute Christmas gift for their loved ones. The last thing anyone needs is to try to figure out where to park, wasting precious shopping minutes while circling the lot in their mythical brown […]

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ZIRX Xmas 2014

This Saturday will be one of the most brutal shopping days of the year, as everyone will be trying to find that last-minute Christmas gift for their loved ones. The last thing anyone needs is to try to figure out where to park, wasting precious shopping minutes while circling the lot in their mythical brown diesel manual RWD wagon.

For those in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle, there is a solution.

San Francisco-based startup Zirx provides shoppers — and anyone else who needs it — with an array of automotive concierge services, from charging your Tesla Model S or Nissan Leaf for $10 and $15 parking so you can get on with it, to $4/gallon refueling and $30 full-detail car washing service for your Dodge Charger Hellcat or Ford F-150 Platinum Edition. Overnight parking in monitored garages and oil changes are available, as well, and all prices include tips, so you can put that tipping calculator away.

Said services are initiated via an app on your iPhone or Android unit of choice, with a Zirx agent popping by within five to seven minutes. The agents work seven days a week in the downtown cores of the aforementioned cities, with hours of operation between 7 a.m. and midnight on most days, depending on the city. Your car is covered by a $2 million insurance policy split evenly between your car and its agent, with coverage in effect from the start of your requested service, to the time your car is returned.

Though Zirx is in just three cities, the concierge startup is looking at expanding to other locations. As for Windows and BlackBerry users, the app will come to their phones in the near-future.

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Editorial: Cuba And The Axis Of Emerging Markets http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/editorial-cuba-axis-emerging-markets/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/editorial-cuba-axis-emerging-markets/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 15:54:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=962978 A year ago, TTAC broke news of back channel overtures being made towards Iran on behalf of General Motors. A number of Chevrolet Camaro Convertibles made their way to Iran via a complicated logistics network and the importations were of dubious legality. But the event highlighted a sentiment in the auto industry that few are willing […]

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A year ago, TTAC broke news of back channel overtures being made towards Iran on behalf of General Motors. A number of Chevrolet Camaro Convertibles made their way to Iran via a complicated logistics network and the importations were of dubious legality. But the event highlighted a sentiment in the auto industry that few are willing to openly discuss: the BRIC countries, once the darlings of the emerging markets, have already been exhausted. The search for new markets is on, and that means places like Africa and Iran. And Cuba could be next.

While the French auto makers have established foot holds in Africa, Iran and Cuba represent two untapped markets for auto makers – the only challenge is navigating the complex political considerations that make international trade difficult.

Iran’s auto market is expected to grow to 1.5 million units by the end of the decade - nearly 50 percent greater than Australia’s, and slightly higher than Canada’s. The current sanctions in place against Iran will make it difficult for auto makers to set up shop in the country, but when they come to an end, there will be a groundswell of demand from a country that has a highly educated and relatively affluent population. Iran already has a booming domestic auto industry with long established ties to the French OEMs, but that shouldn’t stop foreign brands from attempting to compete.

Cuba, on the other hand, was on precisely nobody’s radar until the surprise announcement that America and Cuba would attempt to normalize trade relations with one another. But that development, coupled with rapidly changing laws on car ownership, could open up a whole new market in the United States’ backyard. And talk about pent up demand – some 60,000 cars dating back to 1959 or before are still on the roads, held together by MacGyver-esque engineering. To be fair, a trickle of new cars has come into the country, but they are largely restricted to taxi owners and, government agencies and rental car fleets.

The irony of Cuba and Iran’s status as potential emerging markets is lost on nobody, but any enthusiasm should be tempered. The process of economic liberalization will likely take years to fully unfold. But that doesn’t mean that auto makers should defer their preparations.

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Chart Of The Day: ExxonMobil Predicts Long Reign For The Internal Combustion Engine http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/chart-day-exxonmobil-predicts-long-reign-internal-combustion-engine/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/chart-day-exxonmobil-predicts-long-reign-internal-combustion-engine/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:38:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=962202 The next 25 years of automotive powertrain technology belongs to the internal combustion engine, according to oil & gas giant ExxonMobil. While many will dismiss this as the wishful thinking of an industrial dinosaur, it’s worth remembering that 25 years isn’t that long of a timeframe in the automotive world. As we speak, automakers are already […]

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The next 25 years of automotive powertrain technology belongs to the internal combustion engine, according to oil & gas giant ExxonMobil. While many will dismiss this as the wishful thinking of an industrial dinosaur, it’s worth remembering that 25 years isn’t that long of a timeframe in the automotive world.

As we speak, automakers are already planning for what products will be on the market within the next decade. As it stands now, they must meet increasingly stringent emissions targets in the United States and the European union by 2025, in the form of both CAFE and the next round of Euro regulations that call for a fleet average of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer (for comparison, a Toyota Prius emits about 100 grams per km).

One way of meeting this target is through the use of hybrid technology – a sector that ExxonMobil sees as making rapid, substantial gains over the years. At this point, every single OEM has some kind of hybrid technology that can be adapted to their volume models in a way that is efficient in terms of both packaging and cost. This is sure to be the case for plug-in hybrid technology as well.

The zero-emissions front is substantially more fraught. The battle between battery electric vehicles (BEV) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles has barely begun, but supporters of the two camps are already locked into a Betamax vs. VHS style conflict. As it stands, there is minimal infrastructure for both systems, and a combination of low oil prices and consumer skepticism is likely to stall its growth for the foreseeable future. And while BEVs technically have a head start on hydrogen, their market share is, in real terms, negligible.

In 2013, BEVs had a market share of just 0.28 percent, or about 260,000 units. Even the relatively scarce plug-in hybrid segment managed to best pure electrics, with 0.31 percent of the new car market. Only in Norway, where BEVs receive heavy subsidies in the form of tax breaks, have electric cars made any real headway, and even then, they have barely cracked 6 percent.

While tales of daring and disruption and averting cataclysmic climate change make for great headlines, the reality is that technological progress, especially in the automotive sector, moves at a much more gradual pace – otherwise, we’d likely have seen a major breakthrough in EV battery technology by now, one that would allow for significant range and negligible refueling times. Utopian visions of a fleet of silent, zero-emissions vehicles are just that. Instead, we are likely to see a proliferation of hybrid technology throughout new model lineups – and much of this will likely be driven by regulatory inputs, as a means of helping vehicles meet government mandated fuel economy targets, even if consumers don’t necessarily care.

Advances in the internal combustion engine are also on the horizon. Homogenous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI) engines, which allow for diesel-like combustion while running on gasoline, are expected to debut on Mazda cars by 2020. Mazda claims that they will provide a 30 percent fuel economy boost, while significantly lowering emissions. Between HCCI, increasingly cleaner diesel engines and incremental improvements to traditional engines, the ICE powertrains are likely to be ubiquitous due to their familiarity and what is sure to be a cost advantage. Barring any major, prolonged spike in energy prices or a wholesale shift in attitudes towards climate change and the environment, dollars and cents (not to mention sheer convenience) will remain the primary motivating factor in new car purchases. And that means that the internal combustion engine is well placed to continue its dominance through the next quarter century.

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Junkyard Find: 2001 Chevrolet Tracker ZR-2 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-2001-chevrolet-tracker-zr-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-2001-chevrolet-tracker-zr-2/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 14:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=961497 The second-gen Chevrolet Tracker, a badge-engineered version of the Suzuki Vitara and the descendent of the Geo Tracker Suzuki Sidekick sibling, was sold all over the world with many nameplates. It was never much of a big seller in the United States, so this ZR-2 is an unusual Junkyard Find. It will tow a semi! […]

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09 - 2001 Chevrolet Tracker Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe second-gen Chevrolet Tracker, a badge-engineered version of the Suzuki Vitara and the descendent of the Geo Tracker Suzuki Sidekick sibling, was sold all over the world with many nameplates. It was never much of a big seller in the United States, so this ZR-2 is an unusual Junkyard Find.

It will tow a semi! It’s like a (Suzuki) rock!
18 - 2001 Chevrolet Tracker Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRemember when the Culture Wars were all about flag-burning? Here’s an early-to-mid-2000s artifact of those days for you.
01 - 2001 Chevrolet Tracker Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe ZR-2 option package was all about off-roady stuff. I wonder if any base-model Tracker owner will grab all the skid plates and stuff off this one.
04 - 2001 Chevrolet Tracker Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe engine is gone.
15 - 2001 Chevrolet Tracker Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThere’s probably not so much demand for worn-out Florida State tire covers.

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Junkyard Find: 1965 Ford Thunderbird Landau http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1965-ford-thunderbird-landau/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1965-ford-thunderbird-landau/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 14:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=960825 A perfectly restored example of a 1964-66 Ford Thunderbird is worth plenty. A beat-up example, even a non-rusty California car, on the other hand… well, it’s one of those cases where you can start with a thousand-dollar car, apply 15 grand to get it into pretty nice shape, and end up with a car worth […]

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05 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinA perfectly restored example of a 1964-66 Ford Thunderbird is worth plenty. A beat-up example, even a non-rusty California car, on the other hand… well, it’s one of those cases where you can start with a thousand-dollar car, apply 15 grand to get it into pretty nice shape, and end up with a car worth $9,500. This cruel math is the reason that today’s Junkyard Find was spotted at a San Francisco Bay Area wrecking yard a few weeks back.
22 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe body is rough (though not rusty) and the interior smells like a mixture of mildew and Porta-Potty, but this car still has much to offer someone restoring a nicer T-Bird.
06 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNow this is a proper landau roof!
11 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMy ideal car interior would combine mid-60s Thunderbird and mid-80s Subaru XT controls. Throw in some early-90s Chrysler Whorehouse Red velour and it would be perfect.

01 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 1965 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Tesla’s Tanking U.S. Sales And The World Of Automakers Falsifying Sales Numbers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/teslas-tanking-u-s-sales-world-automakers-falsifying-sales-numbers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/teslas-tanking-u-s-sales-world-automakers-falsifying-sales-numbers/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=958665 The auto journo world is in a tizzy because electric automaker Tesla refuses to post its car sales numbers on a monthly basis and the numbers they do divulge are suspicious as they are without detail and they vary widely from actual registration numbers. Our friends at Jalopnik ranted about it last week, calling on Tesla to start […]

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Teslas in a row Courtesy ibtimes.com

Tesla’s first fleet deal? Around 100 Model S’s were sold to a Las Vegas startup taxi service.

The auto journo world is in a tizzy because electric automaker Tesla refuses to post its car sales numbers on a monthly basis and the numbers they do divulge are suspicious as they are without detail and they vary widely from actual registration numbers. Our friends at Jalopnik ranted about it last week, calling on Tesla to start reporting sales consistently. They based their story on a report by Seeking Alpha that deduced that Tesla may have as many as 12,000 unsold Model S’s, based on registration figures and the automaker’s quarterly financial reports.

We say congratulations, Elon Musk, you truly are the head of an American car company now, as reporting bogus sales numbers to the press is a normal part of an automaker’s modus operandi. Auto manufacturers claiming they sold more cars than they actually did is nothing new.  Sales numbers in the US are based on those deliveries reported by dealers, not when the automakers wholesale the vehicles to the retailers as some believe. Carmaker execs at times may be motivated to look good to their bosses or shareholders or to outsell a rival. They will then pressure, coerce and bribe dealers with one-time cash incentives to have them report bogus sales at month or year-end, often to the dealer themselves as loaner or demonstrator cars.  The vehicles are never driven and then sold as new, ideally as quickly as possible as their warranty clocks are ticking. Dealers who do not comply are thus put in an unfavorable price disadvantage with competing same-brand stores.

The Japanese automakers pioneered this practice during the high-demand, low supply days. At American Honda from the 1970s to the early 1990s, dealers reported every unsold car as sold at the end of each month or they risked losing precious future allocations. Those were the days when every Honda dealership employee “bought” a dozen cars a year and then the dealer would turn to the white pages of the phone book to find more “buyers.” It is not an urban car legend that a California Honda dealer once sold Accords to customers named “Mickey Mouse” and “Donald Duck.”

In December 2012 BMW North America, in their zeal to beat Mercedes-Benz in the US, reported 37,399 vehicles sold, an amazing 69% higher than their 2012 average monthly sales rate, thus claiming the US luxury brand crown. That December the industry rose 21% over the 2012 average due to it being the heaviest incentive month of the year and this no doubt contributed to the rise in Bimmer sales. However, BMW dealers that I spoke with in January 2013 complained that half of their inventory had been reported as sold in December.  BMW got tons of pub for beating Benz but few noticed that when actual registration numbers came out a few months later it was revealed that Mercedes-Benz outsold BMW for 2012. Incredibly, in one of the few occasions where the media sniffed out this practice, the Wall Street Journal had reported about BMW’s shady sales numbers just months before.

It was one thing to report cars sold as loaners or demonstrators under the direction  of the factory; it is another to do report ghost sales when your dealership needs the incentive cash to stay afloat. We covered the story of a South Carolina Suzuki dealer who was convicted of fraud earlier this year for doing just that. It probably did not help his case that he was also convicted of a cornucopia of illegal advertising and finance practices.

As far as Tesla sales this year, here are the facts as near as we can determine: Automotive News has estimated Tesla’s reported sales in the US through October were 19,530 units. Actual registration numbers for the same period were 11,731 cars, a full 40% below the sales figures.  Further, these registration figures show Tesla off 22% from the same period in 2013.  Other sources have pegged the drop off at 26% this year.  This may explain why Tesla may be dabbling in the fleet market for the first time, as pictured above.

Elon Musk responded to these reports by saying they are selling every car they build and his team issued a response saying that don’t report monthly sales because, “the media tends to read all sorts of nonsense into deliveries.” They also pointed out that a car could be sold one month and not registered until the next. Why, yes, just like every other automaker.

 

Elon Musk Courtesy static1.businessinsider.com

If GM or Ford stopped reporting monthly sales and started spewing such drivel, the press would vilify them but the rules are different for Musk.  If he told the media that Tesla sold 200,000 cars one month, outsold all the other luxury carmakers combined and that he personally just got back from Mars, the slobbering press would not question him and resultant news stories would send Tesla stock into orbit.

Don’t get us wrong. We think that a new auto company selling 15,000 high dollar electric cars annually in the US through a unique, direct sales channel is an incredible accomplishment.

The Tesla Model S is one of the most innovative cars available today and Musk is one of this century’s greatest entrepreneurs, not to mention an amazing PR man. Who cares if can’t tell us the truth about how many cars his company sells?

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Editorial: Ford Is At Risk Of Missing The B-CUV Boat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/editorial-ford-risk-missing-b-cuv-boat/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/editorial-ford-risk-missing-b-cuv-boat/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:37:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=961441 Chevy Trax, Jeep Renegade. Honda HR-V. Mazda CX-3. Nissan Juke. Fiat 500X. There’s little doubt that the B-segment crossover is about to explode in North America. So, where is Ford in all of this? Ford markets the Ecosport in a number of world markets, from Brazil to Europe to India, as a smaller CUV that […]

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Chevy Trax, Jeep Renegade. Honda HR-V. Mazda CX-3. Nissan Juke. Fiat 500X. There’s little doubt that the B-segment crossover is about to explode in North America. So, where is Ford in all of this?

Ford markets the Ecosport in a number of world markets, from Brazil to Europe to India, as a smaller CUV that slots under the Kuga (which is our Escape in world markets). One would assume that given the “One Ford” program that is supposed to harmonize vehicles for sale across different markets, the Ecosport could quickly and easily be brought up to spec, both in terms of regulatory compliance and the level of content that North American buyers expect.

Only Ford planners know the real answer, but two immediate hurdles stand out. First off, the 1.0L 3-cylinder Ecoboost is the main powertrain in many markets. This may suffice in the BRIC countries and other markets where displacement-based taxation make big engines a burden, but North Americans would need something more powerful and more refined. The lack of an automatic option in our market doesn’t help either.

Ford would also have to find a suitable manufacturing location for the car. Since this is a fairly low-margin product, Mexico would likely be the only NAFTA country that would allow for profitable manufacturing of the Ecosport. Otherwise, it’s got to be imported from India, Brazil or Thailand, and that means shipping costs and potential tariffs, even though labor costs will be much lower.

The next-generation Fiesta is said to be coming from factories in Thailand, so perhaps that will give Ford a chance to bring the Ecosport over here. Given that the Escape is one of the top players in the compact SUV space, bringing over the Ecosport seems like the right move for Ford – assuming the numbers make sense.

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Junkyard Find: 1982 Subaru BRAT http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1982-subaru-brat-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1982-subaru-brat-2/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:00:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=960609 Ah, the Subaru BRAT. Just as you can’t find anyone who hates The Ramones, you can’t find anyone who wants to beat on the Subaru BRAT with a baseball bat. As perhaps the best-loved car that shows up in self-service wrecking yards with any regularity, the BRAT always inspires me to whip out my camera […]

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15 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin Ah, the Subaru BRAT. Just as you can’t find anyone who hates The Ramones, you can’t find anyone who wants to beat on the Subaru BRAT with a baseball bat. As perhaps the best-loved car that shows up in self-service wrecking yards with any regularity, the BRAT always inspires me to whip out my camera when I see a junked example. So far this series, we’ve admired this ’79, this ’79, this ’84, this ’82, and this Sawzall-ized ’86 crypto-BRAT.
04 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOnly 88,288 miles! I found this car in a well-stocked yard just north of Los Angeles, not too far from the ranch where Ronald Reagan drove his BRAT. Yes, Midwesterners, that means that you’re looking at a low-mile 32-year-old Japanese car without the slighest speck of rust on its body… and it’s going to be crushed, shredded, put in a container in Long Beach, and shipped to China to make Emgrand EC7s.
10 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt has the “Twin-Halo” roof option.
05 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinA time-capsule early-80s Radio Shack cassette deck, complete with the coveted auto-stop feature!
06 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHow many BRATs were made with factory air conditioning?
18 - 1982 Subaru BRAT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYou can see evidence of a camper shell on this one. Poor doomed BRAT.

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A Car So Personal Virgil Exner Named It After Himself, the Plymouth XNR http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/car-personal-virgil-exner-named-plymouth-xnr/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/car-personal-virgil-exner-named-plymouth-xnr/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=949705 In the late 1950s, when Chrysler executives asked Virgil Exner Sr to show them what could be done with a highly personalized future car for the popularly priced Plymouth brand, the Chrysler design chief took them at their word and came up with something so personal that he named it XNR, after himself. One of a […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

In the late 1950s, when Chrysler executives asked Virgil Exner Sr to show them what could be done with a highly personalized future car for the popularly priced Plymouth brand, the Chrysler design chief took them at their word and came up with something so personal that he named it XNR, after himself. One of a series of Chrysler Corp show cars built by Ghia in Italy, the XNR was based on the compact Valiant chassis. Unlike many of the other Exner-Ghia concepts that featured Mopar’s marquee motor, the Hemi, the XNR is powered by a souped up version of what would in time become venerable but what was then a new engine, the Slant Six. With its asymmetrical and quirky styling, the little speedster is quite an interesting car, but its provenance, which includes being both Exner’s and the Shah of Iran’s personal vehicles and surviving a Mideast civil war, is even more interesting.

As with Harley Earl’s Buick Y-Job and Bill Mitchell’s Stingray, two concept cars that were also their designer’s personal rides, Exner designed himself a sporty open car. Some call it a roadster but speedster seems more appropriate since as far as the sources indicate, it never had any kind of roof, hardtop or soft.

Sports cars are generally not as big as sedans so the XNR was fabricated on an altered Valiant chassis with a 106.5″ wheelbase and it’s torsion bar suspension up front.  The relatively high-revving Slant Six, in its original 170 cubic inch displacement, earned its name because it lays 30 degrees from upright. One of the XNR’s inspirations were the “lay-down” Watson Indy racers whose Offenhauser engines were also canted over. The Slant Six allowed for the XNR’s sleek hood. With a four barrel carburetor, the 170 CI engine was good for 250 horsepower and as assembled with a manual 3 speed transmission with a floor shifter, the XNR saw 146 mph on the Chrysler test track. Eager to see the 150 mph mark, Exner had engineer Dick Burke design and build a “shark nose” mouth for the front end with a shrouded radiator cooled by electric fans. The modified XNR reached 153 mph at the company proving grounds. The Slant Six’s 6 into 1 exhaust manifold was replaced by a custom cast header with two outlets, one for each of the visible side pipes, both of them mounted, again asymmetrically, on the driver’s side. In addition to the bigger carb and special tuned exhaust system, the Slant Six in the XNR was fitted with a Hyperpak tuned ram intake manifold, a ported cylinder head, special cam and special pistons.

Polarizing in its day and still a bit radical, the XNR has an asymmetrical design. A chrome bumper flush to the sheet metal surrounds a drilled grille inset with quad headlamps, a touch that seems to me to be inspired by trends in the custom car world at the time. An offset scoop, with its own matching drilled grille, dominates the hood and the lines of that scoop fair into the cowl and driver’s windshield and then flow elegantly into a single offset fin that Virgil Exner Jr. a successful car designer in his own right, said was inspired by the Jaguar D-Type. Nominally a two-seater, the passenger was protected by a flat, Brooklands style windshield. When not carrying two, that screen folded down and an aerodynamic and snug fitting steel tonneau was installed to cover the passenger seat. In keeping with the asymmetry theme, and perhaps as a nod towards aerodynamics, the passenger seat sits four inches lower than the driver’s seat. The shape of the wheel wells and winglet fenders would later show up on the production Valiant. Exner neatly tucked possibly aircraft-inspired running lights under the front winglets.

An elegant styling touch is the way the bladed rear bumper incorporates a vertical element that is integrated into the car’s monofin. That vertical element is mirrored by one that drops below the bumper line. The resulting star shape is eye catching to say the least.

After Exner and his team did sketches in 1958 and the following year, a 3/8ths scale clay model was sculpted in Detroit. That model and the modified Valiant unibody was shipped to Ghia in Turin. Ghia and Chrysler had a very successful relationship in the 1950s, with the Italian coachbuilder fabricating most of the company’s high profile concept cars. As was Ghia’s practice with those Chrysler “idea cars”, the XNR’s body was made of hand formed steel.

While Chrysler hype that the car might see production was typical of the day, the XNR was fully engineered and featured a complete black leather interior. While there was a small trunk lid in back, it was easier to access storage for luggage from behind the seats. Instrumentation reflected Exner’s passion for photography, with dial covers that mimic camera lenses.

Once built, the XNR was shipped to the United States where it went on the show circuit, appearing on Road & Track’s cover. Exner drove it as much as he could but after it was no longer needed as a show car prohibitive customs tariffs meant that it had to either be crushed or returned to Italy to Carrozzeria Ghia. “My dad wanted to buy it,” Exner Jr. says, “but if it had stayed in the U.S., it would have to have been destroyed.”

That’s where the story gets interesting. A man from Switzerland, variously identified by the sources as either a businessman or a butcher, bought the XNR from Ghia. He sold it to a man named Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, a Persian collector of rare automobiles better known as the Shah of Iran. The Shah was still ensconced on the Peacock Throne when he sold it to a Kuwaiti, as evidenced by a May 1969 issue of National Geographic magazine that had a photograph of the XNR representing Kuwait’s affluence. It was sold again in the early 1970s to a Lebanese collector. To protect the one of a kind vehicle, the owner hid it in an underground garage for the duration of the Lebanese Civil War that raged from 1975 to 1991.

Karim Edde is a personable Lebanese man who started collecting cars when he was just 15 years old, in 1977,  inheriting the hobby from his father. Trying to find classic sports during a civil war proved to be a challenge. By the ’80s Edde was paying local teenagers in Beirut “…go on their scooters to search the underground garages in the upscale areas—I was looking for Ferraris—and one day, they were all excited about a ‘weird’ car they’d found in a garage just 200 meters from my home. I recognized the XNR from a Swiss book I owned called Dream Cars.”

Though there was a war raging, Edde immediately bought the XNR. That presented him with another challenge: how to keep it safe during the conflict. “I hid the XNR in an underground warehouse,” he told RM Auctions, “that seemed safe at the time, but when the conflict became more global, I had to move it to a different location. In fact, the last two years of the war were so bad, I had to move the car many times to save it from destruction. We had no flat bed trucks, so we used long arm tow trucks to lift the car and put it on a truck and move it around. It was a delicate operation, but we had no choice, we had to move the car to safer locations. After the war ended, the car waited patiently for me to find a restorer that could bring back its past glory.”

Eventually, Edde decided on using RM’s restoration subsidiary in Ontario, Canada, which started work on a two year restoration in the spring of 2009. The car was finished in time for the 2011 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, where it won best in class.

Restoring a one-off car can be harder than doing a similar quality job on a production vehicle. Mario Van Raay, general manager of RM Restoration says, “When we received the XNR in 2008, the body shell was intact and, considering its history, in surprisingly good condition. Many original parts accompanied the XNR, but our greatest challenge was the re-creation of the missing components. Considering that this was a concept car, there was incredible attention to detail, right down to the fine leather interior, beautiful instrument cluster, and custom built hubcaps. Each hubcap was comprised of 35 individual metal pieces. We had to completely scratch-build those hubcaps. Because of the extensive information and many high quality photos available, we could not take any liberties when re-manufacturing all these components. They had to be exact.”

The restoration was aided immensely by access to Virgil Exner Sr’s archive of documentation for the XNR, provided by his son.

Edde put the XNR up for auction in 2012 (again through the RM organization) where it sold for $935,000 to Paul Gould, a New York investment banker. Gould also owns another Exner/Ghia concept car, the Dart Diablo. Both cars were on display at the 2014 Concours of America at St. John’s, which was honoring Virgil Exner Sr as the show’s “featured designer”. In addition to the two concepts an entire class at the concours was devoted to Exner era Mopars.

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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T.O. Punks The Journosaurs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/t-o-punks-journosaurs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/t-o-punks-journosaurs/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 16:45:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=960521 Hey! Remember that movie Drop Zone, with Wesley Snipes? No? Well, there’s a character in the movie who won’t speak to someone until he’s jumped out of a plane with them. After all, his reasoning presumably goes, you can’t know what someone’s made of until you skydive with them. Luckily, he ends up doing a […]

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trasvos

Hey! Remember that movie Drop Zone, with Wesley Snipes? No? Well, there’s a character in the movie who won’t speak to someone until he’s jumped out of a plane with them. After all, his reasoning presumably goes, you can’t know what someone’s made of until you skydive with them. Luckily, he ends up doing a very daring jump with Wesley Snipes and therefore he can talk to Wesley Snipes from then on.

I felt the same way about Jalopnik’s Travis Okulski. Until he and I drove the inaugural AER enduro, I didn’t know or care much about him. Over the course of two days, I saw his character as a racer: fast, careful, intelligent, conservative when necessary. I grew to really like him. Which is just one of the reasons I’m so pleased to read his latest editorial on The Site That Reports On Cars Almost As Often As They Raise Awareness On Gender And Race Issues.

For a few years now, there’s been a kind-of-secret Facebook group called “Automotive Industry”. When I was on Facebook — I’m not at the moment, due to some complaints from two “motorcycle industry professionals” that I was being too mean to them — I would occasionally read the group just to stay in touch with the more barnacle-encrusted veterans of the endless buffet out there. Trust me, it would confirm anyone’s worst stereotypes of autojournos. There’s endless whining about free cars and luxury hotels and having to walk between concourses. One moment that stands out in my memory was when a fellow who used to write for TTAC (okay, it was Lieberman, stop twisting my arm) complained that one of his first-class flights to Europe was ruined by some condensation that dripped on him from the air-conditioning equipment overhead. He was told, with much commiseration, that this is a common occurrence on certain 747 upper decks. When I read that, I thought “Thank G-d that I always fly Southwest ‘Wanna Get Away’, and therefore will always be safe from condensation, even if the planes occasionally develop holes in the fuselage.”

Still, it was worth reading, if only for the time that one of the members posted a rather bizarre manifesto about bringing real strength and length and girth to the business only to retract it afterwards and blame the whole episode on the fact that he’d recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor. You can’t make this stuff up.

Since leaving Facebook, I hadn’t thought much about “Automotive Industry”, but now Travis has blown the lid off the thing.

recowoyhwmtk3mpgn6me

Trust me, it gets even better after that.

While it would be tempting to point out that I’ve been beating this drum at TTAC and elsewhere for years, the truth is that I’m glad to see readers informed about the conditions and perks that inform the content they receive. It’s also important for me to keep thinking and writing about it. Since making the move to Road&Track, I’ve had the chance to experience a variety of things that simply aren’t available to online journalists, like, you know, renting an entire racetrack for a whole day for my personal use. Some “perks” are easy to justify: we couldn’t have written an article on comparing the McLaren 650S to the McLaren World Challenge GT car without, you know, driving both of those totally fucking awesome cars around a private racetrack. Others are tougher: some time ago I was at a press event and I ordered a rather extensive room service setup for two lady friends of mine at a hotel in Las Vegas. When I got home and looked at my credit card statements I realized that the bill hadn’t gone on the Amex that I gave the hotel but rather to the manufacturer’s overall tab, per the standing instructions for that event.

In my perfect world, cars would be delivered in competitive-set groups to Mid-Ohio and I’d personally test them back-to-back under controlled conditions before stopping by Wendy’s on the way home and sleeping in my own bed. Turns out that it’s actually cheaper for manufacturers to hold press events than to bring me cars at Mid-Ohio. Until that changes, we’ll continue to do our best to provide the most impartiality and integrity possible, even under conditions of mind-numbing luxury. We will not, however, demand free souvenirs. That’s for the folks at Autoblog to do.

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Forward Look Fargo (and Sweptside Dodge): Trucks With Fins http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/forward-look-fargo-sweptside-dodge-trucks-fins/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/forward-look-fargo-sweptside-dodge-trucks-fins/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 15:17:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=958945 By 1957, not only had Ford and Chevy brought modern styling to their traditional pickup truck lines but Ford had also introduced the Ranchero car based pickup and Chevy featured the Cameo Carrier, a conventional pickup that sported many automobile styling trends. Dodge’s trucks, in comparison, were starting to look a bit dowdy. The solution […]

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Full gallery here

Full gallery here

By 1957, not only had Ford and Chevy brought modern styling to their traditional pickup truck lines but Ford had also introduced the Ranchero car based pickup and Chevy featured the Cameo Carrier, a conventional pickup that sported many automobile styling trends. Dodge’s trucks, in comparison, were starting to look a bit dowdy. The solution was to create the Sweptside pickup, with tailfins that emulated Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner Sr’s “Forward Look”, which fully flowered in the ’57 model year. One could be forgiven for assuming that the Sweptside Dodge and the nearly identical Fargo trucks sold in Canada were the product of Exner’s design studio. That wasn’t the case. Supposedly “Ex” wasn’t even interested in restyling the  trucks. In fact the Sweptside pickups had nothing to do with Chrysler’s design team. They were the result of a parts-bin project of Joe Berr, the head of Dodge’s Special Equipment Group.

The Special Equipment Group was something akin to General Motor’s Central Office Production Order, or COPO system that resulted in some legendary limited production muscle cars. Dodge’s group was tasked with modifying production trucks for fleet customers or even individual customers, and the SEG had the power to make whatever changes in a vehicle it wanted to, even going over the heads of factory engineers. The only condition was that operator or passenger safety could not be compromised.

When Chrysler brass wanted Dodge, then ranked #5 in pickup sales with just 7% of the market, to sell a more stylish truck, Berr came up with a clever plan. He procured the finned quarter panels from a 1957 Dodge two door station wagon and had them welded to the fenders of  a cargo bed for the recently designed long wheelbase half ton pickup. The wagon’s rear bumper was also used, and they modified the truck tailgate so it wouldn’t interfere with the new fenders. Unique chrome trim was added to tie it all together and the result was spiffed up with a contemporary two tone paint job and whitewall tires.

When the prototypes were shown to Dodge dealers they demanded the Sweptside go into production but it never sold well. The conversions were essentially done by hand, not on an assembly line. For 1958, the feature was made available in Fargo trim. About 2,000 D100 Sweptside Dodges and Fargos were made during the 1957, 1958 and 1959 model years, though the number of Canadian models produced was miniscule, reportedly only 11 trucks. The Sweptsides were not particularly practical work trucks since the beds were narrower than on non Sweptside models. Production ended in January of 1959

The fins weren’t the only way the Forward Look was applied to pickups. The front fenders were reshaped to duplicate the hooded headlamps on the Forward Look cars and chrome trim was added to accentuate that look. The old fashioned two piece center hinged hood was replaced with a contemporary one piece hood. To go with the more modern look, Dodge trucks also offered an automatic transmission for the first time in 1957.

While conventional 1950s Dodge pickups are a relative bargain when compared to the escalating prices on ’50s Ford and Chevy trucks, that’s not true of the Sweptside models. Also, with only a couple thousand that were made, there are few survivors today. Sweptside enthusiasts estimate that about 165 still exist, about half of them 1957 models. Their rarity and visual distinction has made them very collectible so if you want a truck with fins, be prepared to peel off quite a few “fins” from your bankroll.

DM1002

If you love the Sweptside look but can’t afford a full size example, Danbury Mint made a model of the 1957 Dodge. They’re usually red and white, the most popular color combination on the 1957-59 Sweptline, but Danbury also issued them in green and white as well. You might also be able to find the Christmas tree ornament that Hallmark released a few years ago that features a Dodge Sweptline with a tree in the bed. The Hallmark truck is small enough that if you want to, you could display it in the bed of the Danbury edition. Then you’d have something really meta to put on the air cleaner at auto shows should you buy a real Sweptside.

$_35

These two trucks, both of them from the 1958 model year, were photographed at the Concours of America at St. John’s, as part of that show’s Jet Age Pickup Trucks class.

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

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Junkyard Find: 1991 Chrysler Imperial http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1991-chrysler-imperial/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1991-chrysler-imperial/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 14:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=958057 By 1991, Chrysler was using the K platform as the basis for everything from penny-pinching econoboxes to minivans to the once-majestic Imperial. One thing about the Whorehouse Red Interior Era (approximately 1983 through 1994), though, was that enough red velour and gold-plastic emblems could make even an Iacoccan front-wheel-drive first cousin to the Plymouth Reliant-K […]

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01 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBy 1991, Chrysler was using the K platform as the basis for everything from penny-pinching econoboxes to minivans to the once-majestic Imperial. One thing about the Whorehouse Red Interior Era (approximately 1983 through 1994), though, was that enough red velour and gold-plastic emblems could make even an Iacoccan front-wheel-drive first cousin to the Plymouth Reliant-K into a quasi-credible luxury sedan. Here’s a ’91 Chrysler Imperial that I found in California a couple of weeks ago.
18 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI see a fair number of these cars in wrecking yards, but only this ’92 has graced the pages of this series prior to today.
13 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIf the K-based Imperial (technically a Y-body) had evolved into an early-2000s luxury SUV, this Imperial Eagle emblem would have been enlarged to dinner-plate size and slapped on the tailgate.

01 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 1991 Chrysler Imperial Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Coast to Coast 2014: Final destination Los Angeles and Final Albert Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/coast-coast-2014-final-destination-los-angeles-final-albert-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/coast-coast-2014-final-destination-los-angeles-final-albert-review/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 16:13:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=958025 Albert made it to Hollywood * You can see all the USA Coast to Coast Reports here! * This is it! After 5.722 miles or 9.209 km Albert and I have made it across the United States of America from Coast to Coast and have arrived in Los Angeles. This is the final instalment in this Coast to […]

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Albert Hollywood 3Albert made it to Hollywood

You can see all the USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

This is it! After 5.722 miles or 9.209 km Albert and I have made it across the United States of America from Coast to Coast and have arrived in Los Angeles. This is the final instalment in this Coast to Coast series. It features Los Angeles car landscape and impressions, a final long-term review of Albert and my Top 10 highlights of the trip.

Los AngelesNearly there…

The drive from Palm Springs to Los Angeles is supposed to be a breezy 2 hours, which rapidly escalated to 4 hours due to a gigantic highway traffic jam before and upon entering I10. I know some of you suggested to take the Palms to Pines Hwy (74) straight to the Pacific Ocean for a much more enjoyable experience however we opted for the (supposedly) fastest way as we were running out of time and daylight for Santa Monica Pier snaps before returning Albert the day after. Well to tell you the truth I still wish we took the Palms to Pines option because we ended up taking as much time to reach Santa Monica Pier on the excruciatingly boring I10. Oh well, next time…

Albert Santa MonicaAlbert posing next to Santa Monica Pier

Move over Texas, California is where drivers are truly reckless, whooshing past on the right lane at over 100mph. To their credit though, Californian drivers ended up being very predictable in their recklessness, and provided you expect everyone will drive 20mph above every indicated speed limit, it is actually possible to weave through the traffic at high speed driving a full-size pickup truck, an object getting rarer and rare as we approach Los Angeles.

Santa Monica 1The Pacific Ocean at last

I won’t deny it, I got a little emotional when I spotted the Pacific Ocean for the first time approaching Santa Monica Pier. You don’t realize it, but the USA is a very large country and even though I took a much longer route than I could have (but also I believe much more interesting). Can’t help but think of the first Western pioneers travelling on horsecarts in constant danger of being attacked by hostile Native American tribes. Well done you guys. Or maybe I have it all romanced in my head, having watched too many Western movies.

Los Angeles 2Everyday traffic in Los Angeles CA

Back to reality in LA which is, I’d rather be honest for a minute, just one big fat and endless traffic jam. Take a wrong turn to a different interstate and by the time you turn around and find your way back in stalled traffic, even if you take the first exit humanely possible, you’ve just lost 45 minutes right there. For those of you readers who live in LA: I simply do not know how you do it.

Honda Insight Los AngelesHonda Insight in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles CA

Squeezing Albert through the tiny (one way?) uphill streets of Hollywood Hills in order to find the perfect spot for his selfie enabled me to discover how Hollywood stars, producers, filmmakers and reality TV personalities (can’t use the word star here) spend their money, but also how faithful they are to their first hybrid love. Proof: this first generation Honda Insight papp’ed above. As a reminder the Insight was the first hybrid car to go on sale in the US in December 1999 – 6 months before the Prius.

Toyota Corolla Los AngelesToyota Corolla in Hollywood Observatory, Los Angeles CA

Unsurprisingly, Los Angeles – and in particular the Hollywood area – is the kingdom of Toyota Prius. They are absolutely everywhere and seeing 3 of 4 in a row in traffic is a common occurrence. After all, it’s Hollywood actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom or Julia Roberts that essentially did all the advertising for this car, so nothing more logical than seeing it plastered at every street corner in Hollywood. The Prius family (also including the Prius c small hatchback and Prius v MPV) is logically the best-selling nameplate in California. True to form, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are also very common in Los Angeles as their respective California state rankings (#2 and #5) indicate. The full Californian Top 10 best-sellers were published here.

But let’s beat around the bush no more – I know a lot of you have been eagerly anticipating Albert’s final review.

So here goes…

Albert Hollywood 1

Albert great

The truck we all know as Albert by now is a Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 Model Year 2014. This is the lowest trim level in the Ram Pickup range. All-in-all and I will say this in all honesty, I have been extremely impressed with Albert. This was the first time I got to drive a full-size US pickup truck over a long distance and I was expecting a laborious drive at best. Turns out, the Ram 1500 combines features from a spacious passenger car, some of the convenience of an MPV, the off-road abilities of a crossover and the practicality of a pickup truck. The best of all worlds? Quite possibly so… Here is what I particularly liked about Albert.

30 mpg

FUEL ECONOMY

  • Reaching a 30 mpg average over thousands of miles – even for a short time after a particularly long highway drive – was in my view the most impressive feat Albert achieved during this Coast to Coast trip. The EcoDiesel 3.0L V6 engine is just perfect for this type of vehicle and trip, in fact it makes you wonder why other manufacturers haven’t launched diesel variants for their base full-size pickups yet.
  • Albert’s fuel economy gauge (below the average) updates in real time, and this is a great way to influence it once you digest what triggers it to go up and down as you drive (Essentially driving as smoothly as possible on the highway). Not rocket science but seeing the instant fuel economy vary second by second is a great way to keep you honest – in a less guilty way than the Prius does.
  • Albert’s final fuel economy over the entire trip stood at an excellent 26.2 mpg over almost 6.000 miles. Had I not spent hours stuck in traffic in both LA and New York it would have been even higher, but I guess that brings the ‘city’ mileage into the combined equation and keeps the average realistic. 26.2 mpg combined is outstanding for this type of vehicle and confirms the Ram really is the most fuel efficient full-size pickup around. These figures are actually markedly better than the official EPA fuel economy figures advertised for this specific 1500 EcoDiesel 4×4 model: 27 mpg highway, 22 mpg combined and 19 mpg city. It is also way better than the equivalent all-new 2015 Ford F-150 4WD models: the ecoboost 2.7L gets 23/18/20 mpg highway/city/combined and the 3.5L gets 23/17/19 mpg.

8. Albert New Mexico

HIGHWAY PERFORMANCE

  • This is one of the areas where I had the least expectations for Albert, in fact I was a little sceptical of how comfortable and/or enjoyable a full-size pickup ride would be on thousands of miles of highway, day in, day out. When I set out on this Coast to Coast trip a few of my automotive press colleagues raised eyebrows asking why oh why did I not opt for a sexier ride like a Ford Mustang. My motivation was simple: I wanted to cross the country in a quintessential American vehicle, and the Mustang ticks that box – granted, but one that defines America’s tastes in vehicles like no other. No other country in the world worships full-size pickups like the US and Canada do. In one word, what makes American consumers different to the rest of the world is those pickups. The Ram 1500 being the fastest-growing pickup in US sales in 2014, it was the perfect choice. I was prepared to sacrifice driving pleasure to experience what the majority of Americans do when they roll their full-size pickup truck around. And the truth is I didn’t have to sacrifice much, or anything for that matter.
  • The 3.0L EcoDiesel V6, on top of being very frugal, has also been set up to not let you down when you need it most. The best example of this happened on Californian highways before hitting standstill in downtown Los Angeles. After being stuck in a gigantic traffic jam on the highway, I had to reach LA before the last sunset of the trip to ensure optimal photo exposure. So for two hours I needed to weave through fast-moving yet heavy traffic as fast as physically possible, flirting with speed limits and changing lanes every 10 seconds or less to be sure to advance to the next inch of free highway space as effectively as possible. A good way to test Albert’s psycho driving skills.
  • Californian drivers, in their regimented recklessness, allow this to happen by keeping traffic fluid but most importantly I am happy to report that no other vehicle was able to link Palm Springs to Los Angeles faster than Albert on that stretch of road while keeping within the limits of the law. The engine and its 8-speed automatic transmission responds without delay when called upon to overtake suddenly, giving you torque when and where you need it. Very reassuring and to my view very satisfying for a vehicle of this weight.
  • Pushing Albert above 100mph in New Mexico did not transform the cabin into a whirring, shaking hell in the least. In fact Albert swallowed the increasing speed levels very stoically indeed. Engine noise is (somewhat disappointingly – I miss the gargling diesel sound) kept to a very low level at all speeds: driving at 60 or 110mph brings almost no difference. Certainly not what I expected from a diesel pickup. Pleasantly surprised.
  • When not in need of nervous driving, the Ram 1500 can easily slot itself into a very precise cruise control you can adjust to the mile and that returns to the pre-set figure once you have accelerated to pass a slower vehicle. A standard ‘set and forget’ system common on most vehicles today but a welcome addition to a set of features that made driving Albert on the highway for 6.000 miles a total breeze. Among them also: an ergonomic driver seat that left me with no back pain even after many stretches of 8-hour drive days in a row. You don’t know my back, but it’s still thanking Albert as we speak.

Albert Charleston

CITY DRIVING

  • Taking the wheel in Uptown Manhattan NY on the first day Albert was delivered to me was daunting. The width of the truck and the tiny, double-parked-to-the-brim one way streets did not seem to agree with each other in the least at the start. For the first couple of minutes only though. Very responsive commands and efficient power steering make Albert extremely manoeuvrable and very predictable in its movements.
  • So much so that once used to the enormous size of the vehicle, reverse parking becomes an effortless manoeuvre you could almost achieve with one thumb on the steering wheel (almost). Although I do consider myself a reverse parking ace thanks to very smart French driving school instructors in my youth, I have to admit I didn’t expect Albert to be more nimble than my mom’s good old tiny Peugeot 206. And it was.
  • Driving Albert in America (even in cities) gives it what you could call an unfair advantage as U.S. roads and streets are for the most part built to accommodate this type of pickup truck’s turning circle, however it does work. U can U turn in one go on a majority of roads.
  • Finally as a confirmation of the very low cabin noise review on the highway, you have to prick up your ears to hear the engine when stopped at a traffic light. Stepping out to snap pictures on a busy Manhattan street, it is impossible to guess whether the engine is running or not.

3. Albert Death Valley 1

SUSPENSION AND HARSH CONDITIONS DRIVING

  • A bout of late-night driving in a particularly weakly-lit suburban Dallas street resulted in Albert having a forced speed date with a sizeable middle-street sidewalk: after the initial surprise, the truck’s suspension absorbed the change of terrain admirably and forgave my mistake to the point where the passengers hardly noticed.
  • Admittedly I didn’t push Albert into truly harsh 4WD driving as Monument Valley’s unsealed and sometimes abrupt drive was as close as it came to being unleashed in the wild. Still, it did the job as a willing workhorse would: flawlessly.
  • Albert hardly noticed we ventured into Death Valley. It seemed he was made for this type of harsh climate, and the climb to Coffin Peak was not even sanctioned by heavy engine cooling panting at the end. Nup, silent. Content. Impressive.
  • Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to test Albert’s towing capabilities during this trip, however the next US trip will definitely correct this.

Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Albert gearbox

SPACIOUS, NO NONSENSE INTERIOR

  • At $35.805 base price and $40.495 for the model I have driven, Albert is a lot of truck for the money. Two tall adults could easily fit in the truck bed and sleep there for the night. But where I was clearly surprised to find that much space was inside. Albert is a Crew Cab meaning the equivalent of a large passenger car inside, with a truck bed stuck on the back of it. I wasn’t the only one impressed by interior space: showing Albert’s back row to a few moms along the trip raised more than a few eyebrows. Plenty of leg space both at the front and back added to Albert’s extensive width and a middle front seat folding back means you can fit 6 people quite comfortably in this base Ram.
  • Call me stupid but somehow I am used to having a trunk in which to hide my luggage when I drive. Seeing the open truck bed when I took Albert’s keys I had a half-second of horror thinking my photographer would throw a sizeable tantrum at having to leave his $5.000 photo equipment bags for all to see on the back seats at each of our stops. Not to worry: the back windows are heavily tinted so you can store your luggage there without anyone knowing.
  • The dashboard and commands are simple but sufficient and intuitive for the most part. They may not be complete as as we’ll see further down but this is a functional truck to operate smoothly for sure. You can see a more detailed review of Albert’s commands here.
  • There were some clever bonuses that just put a smile on my face every time I used them. Having started to drive at a time where discmans were all the rage (the CD version of a walkman – if you were born after 1990 just ignore this), I just sigh with contentment every time I step into a car with a USB port. Simple pleasures I know. The gearshift rotary dial on the central console (pictured above) replacing the traditional shift lever on the steering column both freed leg space and made me very happy, as well as the coin holder located inside the central container and keeping Albert in touch with its Tradesman label, roots and target market. Finally the cup holders are both tight and flexible enough to unscrew any bottle with one hand while driving. Very handy indeed.

Albert back Death Valley

Albert improve

Some of these improvement points come from the fact that Albert is the very base Tradesman model and therefore has been optioned-out to the max. Still, I would have expected the below features to be included.

HEADLIGHTS

The Ram 1500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 Spec sheet says one of the exterior features is Halogen Quad Headlamps. They are simply not strong enough and I found myself scrambling to action high beams while already being on high beams. Change the headlights if you buy one of Albert’s brothers.

COMMANDS

Although globally intuitive, there are a few missing elements in Albert’s commands. There are no volume and track rockers on the back of the wheel, which means you have to fiddle with the central console every time you want to change anything. It keeps your eyes away from the road for too long and could be fixed by actually adding a right control bar on the back of the wheel: at the moment there is only a left one. The GPS is also MIA, which is kind of a big deal when crossing the country. Luckily the Google Maps app of my iPhone was totally up to the task and the USB port kept it fully charged at all times.

HEAVY RAIN DRIVING

A caveat here is I drove Albert on arrival in Savannah GA in the worst stormy rain I ever got to drive in in my entire life (true story). Cars were literally stopped in the middle of the highway for lack of visibility, or driving off their lane without realising it. Heavy rain driving is my pet hate, and Albert’s wipers, even maxed out, were not fast enough to handle this type of weather which, based on the comments I got from the locals, seems to be rather frequent in that part of the country. High speed driving under heavy rain did not seem like a great idea either as the weight of the truck can mess with clean braking and the tail tends to wobble a little.

TRADESMAN LOOK

By this I mean Albert’s black front grille and bumper. I will confess I have spent the most part of the trip hesitating between liking this look and not liking it so much. And I still haven’t decided. It does make Albert appear rough around the edges and ready to rumble in a good way. Although I do love the chrome of his higher spec’ed brothers…

Albert Hollywood 2

10 highlights

I’ll finish this series by very subjectively selecting my 10 highlights of the trip, they are all linked to the corresponding reports, just in case you missed any of them. I hope you enjoyed the journey!

1. Elvis Presley museum in Memphis

2. Bourbon Street and jambalaya in New Orleans

3. Blue bird café in Nashville

4. Modern living in Palm Springs

5. Driving Albert through Manhattan

6. Majestic Monument Valley

7. Motel-ing it all through the trip

8. Art deco roadside stops along Route 66

9. Surviving Death Valley

10. Real America in Fort Worth – Texas

Stay tuned for more world travels!

The Photo Report continues below.

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia and runs a car sales statistics website and consultancy: BestSellingCars which just celebrated its 4th anniversary.

Los Angeles street sceneColourful Los Angeles street scene

VW Beetle Los AngelesVW Beetle in Los Angeles CA

Nissan Sentra Los AngelesNissan Sentra in Los Angeles CA

Toyota Prius Los Angeles2 x Toyota Prius in Los Angeles CA

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Junkyard Find: 1976 Cadillac Sixty Special Fleetwood Brougham http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1976-cadillac-sixty-special-fleetwood-brougham/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1976-cadillac-sixty-special-fleetwood-brougham/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 14:00:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=957130 Once the price of crude oil quadrupled in 1973, even your Cadillac-buying demographic felt some pain when contemplating the thirst of a Fleetwood. Still, the biggest Cadillac (not intended for chauffeur operation) projected the sort of majesty that rich (if elderly) car shoppers sought during the Middle Malaise Era. I spotted this battered example of […]

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12 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOnce the price of crude oil quadrupled in 1973, even your Cadillac-buying demographic felt some pain when contemplating the thirst of a Fleetwood. Still, the biggest Cadillac (not intended for chauffeur operation) projected the sort of majesty that rich (if elderly) car shoppers sought during the Middle Malaise Era. I spotted this battered example of the breed yesterday in Northern California.
10 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhile the quarter-panels, floors, and fenders are rust-free, the areas of the hood where rainwater (or maybe ocean spray, if the car lived within a couple of blocks of the Pacific) collected picked up some rot.
06 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFisher and Fleetwood, working together.
01 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car would have been perfect for Spec Land Yacht racing.
09 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin500 cubic inches, 190 horsepower. Let’s not dwell on that.

01 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Vellum Venom Vignette: Less Is More with In Car Entertainment http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/vellum-venom-vignette-less-car-entertainment/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/vellum-venom-vignette-less-car-entertainment/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 13:02:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=956338   I’ve been accused of Automotive Hipsterism for bragging about my bare bones Ford truck instead of aspiring to expensive vehicles. It used to be different, back when top-drawer dashboards were more Malevich and less Pollock in design. Because good design embraces Less is More, while poor design over thinks the solution. Speaking of hipster, […]

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p0wnage. (photo courtesy: Facebook.com)

I’ve been accused of Automotive Hipsterism for bragging about my bare bones Ford truck instead of aspiring to expensive vehicles. It used to be different, back when top-drawer dashboards were more Malevich and less Pollock in design. Because good design embraces Less is More, while poor design over thinks the solution.

Speaking of hipster, witness the design backlash on Gillette’s Facebook page, especially the red box.

While automakers shall never receive such a public drubbing, In Car Entertainment (ICE) scope creep is an ergonomic nightmare. I reckon rising purchasing prices encourage a blank check for ICE overreach. People gladly buy the stuff, the technology is readily available, so why not include everything but the kitchen sink?

Because the added value is an ergonomic liability: we got problems when Audi’s handwriting recognition is an ICE-reality.

cnetcom

…two steps back. (photo courtesy: cnet.com)

The folks at Car Design Research highlight In Car Entertainment’s problem and offer a solution: via contrasting the new S63 AMG and two entry-level vehicles outside of America’s reach. Make note of the quote:

“Spend time in the cheapest cars available today, and what you realise is that much of the complexity and feature set added into expensive cars actually provides little functional or emotional benefit. It’s a five-percent ‘nice to have’ or ‘wow’ style feature, that looks impressive in the showroom but then you never use out on the road.”

 

Leveraging the Killer App. (photo courtesy: Car Design Research)

The “bottom up” notion that Car Design Research suggests is fine example of Less is More. Why spend hundreds for navigation thousands for a technology package that uploads Google directions when the FREE Google Maps App does more with less?

Not to mention every other smartphone app maker that’s years ahead of automaker’s tech, but let’s dig deeper into Google Maps:

  • turn by turn navigation
  • real-time traffic re-routing
  • points of interest
  • store contact information
  • hours of operation
  • customer reviews
  • a “see inside” virtual tour, finding the most romantic table before you pick up your date

Click here to view the embedded video.

Let’s also note that Google’s app is regularly updated for free, sans dealership visit or hardware upgrade. In Car Entertainment needs a reboot, and the smartphone is the source: witness Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The dashboard is the secondary display. So what’s stopping this from becoming an ICE reality?

Privacy, durability, usability, API availability, crash testing, litigation threats or IP concerns?  

You tell me, Best and Brightest: because Less is still More.

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Cadillac Exec: “No Petrolheads Need Apply” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/cadillac-exec-petrolheads-need-apply/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/cadillac-exec-petrolheads-need-apply/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=954809 It is not our intention to pile on poor Cadillac after our recent discussion, but comments made last week by the automaker’s marketing manager Ewe Ellinghaus must be noted. Speaking to Advertising Age, he repeated the new company mantra about the carmaker becoming a “the first luxury brand that happens to make cars,” and then added: “When I recruit new people, I don’t […]

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Casa-de-Cadillac-_Christmas-1955 Courtesy curbsideclassic.com

It is not our intention to pile on poor Cadillac after our recent discussion, but comments made last week by the automaker’s marketing manager Ewe Ellinghaus must be noted. Speaking to Advertising Age, he repeated the new company mantra about the carmaker becoming a “the first luxury brand that happens to make cars,” and then added:

“When I recruit new people, I don’t need petrolheads. We have more than enough petrolheads and we will still. I need people with experiences in other industries, but with luxury brands.”

We must assume that Ellinghaus, most recently with Montblanc pens and formerly with BMW, was using the European term equivalent to what we call a “car guy” or “car gal.” If so, Cadillac’s future is as bleak as the B&B thinks it is, and not just because of products.Ellinghaus and new Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen are assembling a team of perfectly-diverse and social-media savvy managers from non-automotive luxury companies who probably know all the right restaurants in their new home in New York City. That is fine but choosing not to hire proven car industry folks is just plain dumb. A car guy or gal is someone who has succeeded because they understand that sales only comes from great cars, great marketing and great dealers.  Bob Lutz is a car guy. Soichiro Honda was a car guy. Lee Iaccoca was a car guy. Ellinghaus says Cadillac has cars guys on staff but we can’t think of any; either way he insulted them all by saying, “we have more than enough petrolheads.”

Ford Motor Company has a true car guy on the rise by the name of Henry Ford III. The great-great grandson of the company’s founder actually spent a summer at Galpin Ford in Los Angeles selling cars to better understand the retail side of the business. We doubt you will ever see de Nysschen or Melody Lee, their “Director of Brand and Reputation Strategy” talking to Cadillac shoppers on a showroom floor, let alone ever setting foot in one of their retailers. Speaking of dealers, Cadillac needs a major overhaul of their dealer body, one that is lagging behind other luxury brands in customer handling. Whoever will be in charge of dealer relations needs to be a major car person, not Amber from Tiffany’s.

One issue not discussed by our commentariat in our last Caddy story was the impending move of their sales and marketing team from Detroit to Manhattan. One good thing about being in New York is the chance to hire managers away from the US headquarters of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Subaru in northern New Jersey. (Oh, wait, they are not hiring petrolheads.) Separating themselves geographically from the rest of GM might be a good idea, but they went the wrong direction: they should have gone west to car-crazy Los Angeles. Lee recently said that people in New York City are a “little bit ahead of everyone else,” another insult to GM’s Michigan workforce. That may be, but people in Los Angeles are ten steps ahead when it comes to knowing great cars.

At least Ford was visionary enough to open an Orange County, CA office in 1999 as headquarters for its former “Premier Auto Group” brands, Range Rover, Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Lincoln. Cadillac should have done the same. Ford was thus smack in the middle of the market where import luxury brands sell upwards of 20% of their cars and where Mercedes-Benz sells 50% of its AMG hot rods. Automotive trends start in Los Angeles, not New York.

Ford's old SOCAL luxury brand building; Caddy should have done the same

Ford’s former LA luxury brand building; Cadillac should have moved to SoCal rather than SoHo

Ford execs could walk downstairs on a Saturday morning and meet hundreds of knowledgeable car folks at the premiere “Cars and Coffee” gathering in the country. When the Caddy crew walks out of their Soho high-rise, what car folks will they be able to meet and greet other than limo and taxi drivers?

Cadillac has massive product issues and their sales are tanking this year. Industry insiders wonder how long de Nysschen and his crew will last at Caddy. We think his next move should be to Acura so he can say he worked for the trifecta of Muddled Brand Image, Nutty Nomenclature Automakers: Infiniti, Cadillac and Acura. At least he will be in Southern California, surrounded by petrolheads.

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Editorial: It’s Too Late For Oshawa http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/editorial-late-oshawa/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/editorial-late-oshawa/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 19:56:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=956938 Not long ago, Canada was, according to ex-GM CEO Dan Akerson, the most expensive place in the world to build a car. A strong Canadian dollar meant that the cars and crossovers built at GM’s plants in Oshawa and Ingersoll, Ontario, weren’t as profitable as those built in the US or Mexico, where labor costs […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

Not long ago, Canada was, according to ex-GM CEO Dan Akerson, the most expensive place in the world to build a car. A strong Canadian dollar meant that the cars and crossovers built at GM’s plants in Oshawa and Ingersoll, Ontario, weren’t as profitable as those built in the US or Mexico, where labor costs were significantly lower.

But  even a newly weakened Canadian dollar isn’t going to save Oshawa.

TTAC has been predicting the end of Oshawa for nearly two years, The Globe and Mail (Canada’s newspaper of record), has come around to this notion, citing similar logic as our previous reports – namely, that all of Oshawa’s product can be built at other factories, or is being moved away from Oshawa entirely.

While some products, like the Chevrolet Camaro, are being moved due to a change in architecture (the next-gen Camaro will be built in the same factory as its platform-mate, the Cadillac ATS), others are being moved due to labor costs (the popular Theta crossovers will be produced in Mexico and Tennessee) or contractual obligations (the next-generation Buick Regal is almost certainly being built at an under-utilized Opel factory in Germany). In the case of the W-Body Chevrolet Impala (sold as a fleet only vehicle) its lifespan is coming to an end, and with it, a dedicated assembly plant, the ancient Oshawa Consolidated Line, which has already been given one stay of execution.

The Oshawa Flex Line, on the other hand, is a modern assembly plant that can build everything from the Camaro to the new Impala to the Equinox CUV all on one line. But even that won’t be enough to save it from closing, not when every single product can be made cheaper in Mexico, in the Southern United States or at the UAW’s lower, two-tier wage scale. If it were not for the Vitality Commitment signed by GM, (which promised to maintain 16 percent of vehicle production in Canada in exchange for bailout funds), the plant would probably be closed by now.

Instead, the earliest GM can depart is 2016, and the plant’s closure will be a devastating blow to a town that is as invested in General Motors as Green Bay is the Packers. According to The Globe and Mail, 3,600 jobs would be lost from the Oshawa plants- good, full-time jobs that are badly needed in a region that is economically limping along after years of a rout in manufacturing.

But discussion of a moribund auto industry for Ontario is a bit of a stretch. Chrysler, Ford, Honda and Toyota have all made significant commitments to Canadian manufacturing in the same window of time that GM has continuously cut product from Oshawa. The weaker Canadian dollar and strong auto sales both in Canada and the United States will only help.

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TTAC Readers Call it: Town & Country Troubles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/ttac-readers-call-town-country-troubles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/ttac-readers-call-town-country-troubles/#comments Sat, 06 Dec 2014 20:28:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=955890 Way back on August 13, 2013, just two comments into the discussion in which I trumpeted to the world the selection of the Chrysler Town and Country S as the chariot of choice for the mid-size Kreutzer family, user “Infinitime” wrote: The only hesitation I have about buying a Caravan when the time comes, is […]

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front

Way back on August 13, 2013, just two comments into the discussion in which I trumpeted to the world the selection of the Chrysler Town and Country S as the chariot of choice for the mid-size Kreutzer family, user “Infinitime” wrote: The only hesitation I have about buying a Caravan when the time comes, is their propensity to use the most fragile components for the automatic transmission. Hopefully, the design of the new six-speed has finally addressed this concern. Well, here we are just a year and three months later and I am forced to acknowledge the wisdom of the best and the brightest and ponder, once again, why it is that transmissions always seem to grenade on rainy, crappy days.

Over the past few months I have been off pursuing a master’s degree and have been unable to contribute to our favorite website. Recent events, however, have demanded that I break my self-imposed hiatus to bring you news that, as several astute readers predicted, the transmission in my Town & Country did, in fact, give up the ghost with less than 12K easy miles on the clock. While checking on the repairs a couple of days later, I was shown the transmission oil pan and snapped a photo of what appears to be a dead sea-urchin. How that creature found its way into my transmission is a mystery at this point, but the effects of its arrival were catastrophic.

Transmission urchin

It started a few weeks ago. I noticed that the van hesitated when I was backing up a small slope. It went, but it acted almost like I had forgotten to release the emergency brake. After that we went on our merry way without any difficulties. Then, a day or two before the transmission decided to leave us stranded, I backed out of the garage, made a full stop, and shifted into drive. The transmission gave a mighty metallic thump and went into gear. I probably should have had it looked at then, but since there seemed to be no follow-on effects, we continued to drive the vehicle for another week.

The day the transmission died involved a trip to our local mall. We left home and made the 30 minute drive without trouble, but after a brief stop at Target we were greeted by a high pitched whine, similar to what your power steering pump might do when the fluid gets low, when I restarted the engine. We ran a couple of blocks up the street to have lunch and when we came back out the whine began again as we made our way out to the street. As we turned onto the main road the van struggled forward and then all momentum dropped off while the RPMs went up. After a couple of minutes of fiddling with the gear selector and revving the engine, I was able to get enough momentum to get us off the street and into a parking spot from which I called Chrysler roadside assistance.

If there is a good side to this story, it’s that Chrysler roadside assistance got us a tow truck in short order. Because there are five of us, including three in booster seats, we weren’t able to get a large taxi right away but, after making a few calls, I was able to summon a friend who could come and take the family home while I waited for the tow truck. After dropping me at home the driver, who told me he makes a lot of money hauling around late model Dodge and Chrysler minivans, took it to the dealer and left it on their lot.

T&C Back

Ten days later, after a full transmission rebuild, the van came home. Since its return, we’ve used it for errands around town and taken a couple of trips out onto faster roads in the country just to make sure things are normal. To my local Chrysler shop’s credit, the van seems like it runs better than ever and shifts so smoothly you can’t even feel the gear changes. Chrysler, of course, picked up the entire bill under their 5 year/100,000 mile warranty program but I am hoping that this is the last of it.

It’s no secret to regular readers that I am a Mopar guy. Over the past 25 years I have owned several used Dodge and Chrysler products and this van is the second Chrysler product I have purchased new. I can tell you from personal experience that the quality of Chrysler products has definitely climbed over the past two decades but this latest experience, especially when I consider the fact that TTAC’s readers expressed this exact concern at the time of my purchase, takes away some of my warm and fuzzies. I wrote when I purchased it that I intend to have this vehicle a long, long time and that it will likely follow me around the world and home again. Reliability is important to me and despite the fact that Chrysler’s quality is improving, it seems to me that they still have some work to do.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Leavenworth, Kansas 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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Generation Why: Forget It Pete, It’s Chinatown http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/forget-it-pete-its-chinatown/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/forget-it-pete-its-chinatown/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 17:07:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=954625 What an unfortunate time for Mercedes-Benz. Brazil and India are limping along economically, and the sub-$70 oil prices are surely going to limit the number of Rosneft bigwigs (and outright criminals…err, oligarchs) able to gallivant around in the latest crop of crossovers. At least China is still churning, right? Of all the luxury car makers […]

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1024px-Mercedes-Benz_G_63_AMG_2012

What an unfortunate time for Mercedes-Benz. Brazil and India are limping along economically, and the sub-$70 oil prices are surely going to limit the number of Rosneft bigwigs (and outright criminals…err, oligarchs) able to gallivant around in the latest crop of crossovers. At least China is still churning, right? Of all the luxury car makers in China, Mercedes-Benz owners are the wealthiest.

 Mercedes wasn’t the first to introduce the coupe-cum-crossover to the automotive world. That dubious honor goes to BMW, which introduced, in rapid succession, the X6, the 5-Series GT, the X4 and the 3-Series GT.

Mercedes, on the other hand, has been coasting on the success of the G-Wagen SUV, which, in a world of antiquated designs wrapped in high-dollar vestments and sold at outrageous markups, is the zenith of this formula: a 30+ year old military truck built for the Shah of Iran, flocked in faux-Chanel handbag upholstery and sold to the consorts of the one percent as this season’s must have mode of transportation.

The one and only time I have driven a G-Wagen was when I babysat the owner of a G63 AMG, a friend-of-a-friend who makes bi-monthly appearances at rehab facilities. We had stayed out far too late – or should I say, I stayed out far too late for somebody who hadn’t ingested cardiotoxic quantities of stimulants, and it was up to me to get my friend, and the G-Wagen home safely.

I drove the short distance back to his home, marveling at what a wretched nugget of dogshit the G-Wagen was. It was dynamically reprehensible: every application of the brakes, throttle or steering resulted in some kind of reciprocal pitching or yawing. Even though it packed a twin-turbo AMG V8 under the hood, there was no way you could ever use any of the power. The G63 is a bit like a side of beef that’s rotten and covered in toxic mold, but sold as dry aged steak – at least that’s the best analogy I came up with, while my friend hung his head out the window, cackling at girls in too short bandage dresses ala Heath Ledger’s Joker.

I’ll concede that for a tiny minority, it offers unparalleled off-road capabilities. But the world is no longer made for the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, or its cohort of rugged, body-on-frame SUVs like the Jeep Wrangler and Land Rover Defender. The ubiquitous axis of emissions and crash safety regulations imposing an increasing burden on automakers, who must go even further out of their way to achieve compliance in these areas for products that were engineered in the era of belted sanitary napkins.

At this point, OEMs have two options, both sufficiently expensive. They can invest in radical changes to the vehicle (no folding windscreen and aluminum body panels for the Wrangler) or the inevitable pussification of an iconic product (the rumored “lifestyle” Defender said to be debuting in the next year or two). Option A works best if you have sufficient volume that will allow your investment to scale. The Jeep Wrangler is a perfect candidate, since it has sufficient volume, cachet, pent-up global demand and the ability to withstand frequent redesigns, allowing Fiat Chrysler to amortize the costs of such a radical change.

Jaguar Land Rover, recognizing that the Defender’s current “it car status” stems from its position as a Veblen good for those who summer in Newport, East Hampton and other places that once posted signs proclaiming “No Dogs, No Jews”, is taking the other road. Since they will never build a few hundred thousand Defenders per year (capacity and market forces suggest as much), they’re stuck using whatever is laying around JLR’s garage- and you can bet that it’s not the current ladder-frame/aluminum panels setup that, while emulated by the Americans, doesn’t have a hope in hell of meeting the current regulatory regime.

And what about the G-Wagen? I have no idea. It might turn into a castrated version of itself, riding on the GL platform. It might linger on as a very expensive flagship, with Mercedes continuing to churn out small quantities for Arabians and Kardashians.

What I do know is this: Mercedes is re-jigging their entire SUV and CUV lineup to organize a heriarchy of nomenclature. The GLK will become the GLC, the GL will get a new moniker (presumably GLS) and buyers who might normally opt for a G-Wagen will be steered towards the GLE Coupe, M-B’s new X6 fighter.

The GLE Coupe resembles a cross between the new S-Class coupe and a growth of the Human Papilloma Virus. It is unspeakably vulgar, an aesthetic atrocity and we are going to see them everywhere within two years time. How do I know this? Because whenever I feel a conviction this strong and this negative about a new vehicle, the market tends to embrace it with open arms. I had similar feelings towards the Buick Encore, and look how that turned out.

In his latest column, Peter De Lorenzo chastises Mercedes-Benz for thinking that “…they will reach the Promised Land through volume, plain and simple.” I’m not sure what PDL thinks the promised land is for M-B, but I am confident that in the eyes of Dr. Z, it’s spelled “E-B-I-T-D-A”. We are in an era where the auto world is a mature market, where volume matters and greater economics of scale drive profits, and where the unrefined tastes of consumers both at home and abroad is now the focal point for brands that we enthusiasts once held in high esteem.

Forget it Pete, It’s Chinatown.

 

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Junkyard Find: 1972 Buick Skylark Sedan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1972-buick-skylark-sedan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1972-buick-skylark-sedan/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 14:00:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=953433 After seeing this ’72 Ford Econoline one-ton camper van on Tuesday and this ’72 Mercury Monterey coupe on Monday, how about another 1972 Junkyard Find? Here’s a ’72 Buick Skylark that I shot in a Denver yard, all the way back in 2010; I’d been saving these photos until I could come up with a […]

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DOTJ-72Skylark-03After seeing this ’72 Ford Econoline one-ton camper van on Tuesday and this ’72 Mercury Monterey coupe on Monday, how about another 1972 Junkyard Find? Here’s a ’72 Buick Skylark that I shot in a Denver yard, all the way back in 2010; I’d been saving these photos until I could come up with a whole week’s worth of GM A-body cars, but the A-bodies have become so valuable (and thus rare in cheap self-serve wrecking yards) that I’ve run out of patience. Welcome back to 1972 Junkyard Week™!
DOTJ-72Skylark-11Actually, I shot these photos immediately after moving to Denver to marry my long-distance girlfriend. Hey, that reminds me of a family legend I hear every time I’m around my in-laws, about the time my future wife, at age six, got carsick and barfed all over the interior of the brand-new ’71 Skylark coupe her father had just bought the day before (in her defense, she’d warned the grown-ups that she wasn’t feeling so good). So much for That New Car Smell!
DOTJ-72Skylark-02The Buick 350 was completely unrelated to the Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac 350s, but GM ensured many decades of parts-counter confusion by giving them all the same nominal displacement number and doing plenty of mix-and-match engine roulette later in the 1970s. The Buick and Olds 350s were the best for convenience-store-parking-lot burnouts, in my opinion.
DOTJ-72Skylark-07Yes, I bought this dealer emblem. I sent it to a Swedish lover of old Detroit cars (along with a few license plates) for garage decor a couple of months back.

DOTJ-72Skylark-01 DOTJ-72Skylark-02 DOTJ-72Skylark-03 DOTJ-72Skylark-04 DOTJ-72Skylark-05 DOTJ-72Skylark-06 DOTJ-72Skylark-07 DOTJ-72Skylark-08 DOTJ-72Skylark-09 DOTJ-72Skylark-10 DOTJ-72Skylark-11

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Coast to Coast 2014: Being Modern in Palm Springs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/coast-coast-2014-modern-palm-springs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/coast-coast-2014-modern-palm-springs/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 14:35:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=954777 Albert in West Cielo Drive, Palm Springs CA * You can see all the USA Coast to Coast Reports here! * After surviving Death Valley we now arrive at our last stop before reaching the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles: Palm Springs California, the mid-century architecture mecca of the world. The traditional Photo Report, car landscape study, Palm Springs […]

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1. Albert Palm Springs 1Albert in West Cielo Drive, Palm Springs CA

You can see all the USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

After surviving Death Valley we now arrive at our last stop before reaching the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles: Palm Springs California, the mid-century architecture mecca of the world. The traditional Photo Report, car landscape study, Palm Springs trivia and a guide to the unmissable architectural attractions in town are below.

2. Ford Thunderbird Palm SpringsThe Ford Thunderbird is the Hero in Town in Palm Springs CA

Before we go into some Palm Springs trivia and the reasons behind this small desert town’s popularity, I have to spend a bit of time on the Hero in Town: the 11th and last generation Ford Thunderbird, on sale from November 2011 to June 2005. I had seen a couple in New Orleans but apart from that the Thunderbird had been extremely discreet, in line with its poor sales during its short-lived career. That was before Palm Springs. Very noticeable notably in its vintage colours – turquoise, torch red and bright yellow – they are everywhere to be seen in town. Obviously not the most frequent car in the Palm Springs streets, but way more popular here than in all the cities I have visited so far in this Coast to Coast trip… combined.

As opposed to the 9 generations in between, the 11th generation Ford Thunderbird followed a then-recent trend for retro styling initiated by models such as the VW New Beetle, Chrysler PT Cruiser and Mini Cooper, and used design cues from the first generation Ford Thunderbird launched in 1955. In this context, its popularity in Palm Springs is more understandable, as it suits the mid-century architecture, furniture and car obsession in town.

1955 Ford ThunderbirdThe original 1955 Ford Thunderbird

Living in Palm Springs means you probably own a house designed in the fifties, with the corresponding vintage furniture you have accumulated throughout the years, so it only makes sense to own a car that takes its design cues from this era. It’s the second-best option to owning a car actually made in the fifties. Add to this the unusually low ratio of family with kids in Palm Springs (15% of households) and you have the perfect breeding ground for vintage-looking 2-seat coupés/cabriolets like the Ford Thunderbird.

3. Palm SpringsCasa Blanca Motel in Palm Springs CA

Though it was initially well received by the automotive press in its first year of existence, many publications changed their mind after a few years, with Car and Driver Magazine even making it one of the “10 Most Embarrassing Award Winners in Automotive History”. Ford expected sales of 25,000 units per year, but despite a great start in 2002 which saw dealers charging well over the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and 31,121 units produced, subsequent years did not reach half that figure. Forbes attributed this failure to lack of marketing: “Ford dealers have been successful selling $40,000 trucks but have little experience selling automobiles in the near-luxury price range. If there was a marketing effort by Ford Motor, I wasn’t aware of it. Naturally, sales didn’t meet expectations.” said Forbes writer Jerry Flint.

Ford Thunderbird production – last generation:

Year Production
2002 31,121
2003 14,506
2004 12,671
2005 9,220
Total 67,518

Source: Wikipedia

4. Albert Palm Springs 2Albert in Palm Springs CA

Now that we have cleared the cult status enjoyed by the 2002 Ford Thunderbird in Palm Springs, let’s get into some trivia. Palm Springs is a desert resort city located just 107 miles (172 kilometres) east of Los Angeles within the Coachella Valley in California. It is home to just 44,552 inhabitants and enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year. The city became a fashionable resort in the 1900s when health tourists arrived with conditions that required dry heat. Palm Springs was more comfortable in its microclimate because the area was covered in the shadow of Mount San Jacinto to the west and in the winter the mountains block cold winds from the San Gorgonio pass. In the 1920s, Hollywood movie stars, attracted by the hot dry, sunny weather and seclusion, started building homes and estates here.

5. Palm Springs House 1Palm Springs house in Monte Vista

After World War II, architectural modernists flourished with commissions from the stars, using the city to explore architectural innovations, new artistic venues, and an exotic back-to-the-land experiences. Inventive architects designed unique vacation houses, such as steel houses with prefabricated panels and folding roofs, a glass-and-steel house in a boulder-strewn landscape, and a carousel house that turned to avoid the sun’s glare. In 1946 Richard Neutra designed the Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann House. A modernist classic, this mostly glass residence incorporated the latest technological advances in building materials, using natural lighting and floating planes and flowing space for proportion and detail. Culver (2010) argues that Palm Springs architecture became the model for mass-produced suburban housing, especially in the Southwest. This “Desert Modern” style was a high-end architectural style featuring open-design plans, wall-to-wall carpeting, air-conditioning, swimming pools, and very large windows.

6. Dodge Challenger Palm SpringsDodge Challenger in Palm Springs CA

Although the home of dozens of striking mid-century houses, it’s relatively hard to find a reliable list of must-see architecture in Palm Springs online. The Palm Springs Modern Committee however sells (for a mere $5) an awesome map of Modern Palm Springs, featuring no less than 82 mid-century landmarks, their location, exact address, date of construction and corresponding architect. A goldmine, also available as an app on palmspringslife.com/psmodapp. I highly recommend it and can happily report I have spent a good 5 hours making sure none of the 82 landmarks went unchecked.

8. Albert Kaufmann House Palm SpringsAlbert reverse parking into the world-famous Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs CA

The highlights among these 82 landmarks are – very subjectively – with their construction date and architect:

  1. Franz Alexander House (1954 – Walter White), Palevsky Residence (1968 – Craig Ellwood), Edris House (1953, E. Stewart Williams) and pretty much all houses towards the up-end of West Cielo Drive. Breathtaking views from here and casually manicured desert gardens. To me, the essence of Palm Springs.
  2. Village Manor – Orbit In hotel (1955 – Herbert W. Burns)
  3. Kaufmann Desert House (1946 – Richard Neutra)
  4. Casa Blanca Motel (1970s renovation – Hugh Kaptur)
  5. Most houses around Monte Vista and Camino Sur in Palm Springs North
  6. House of Tomorrow / Robert & Helene Alexander Residence, Elvis Presley Residence 1966-1967 (1962 – William Krisel)
  7. City National Bank / Bank of America (1959 – Victor Gruen Associates)
  8. Coachella Valley Savings & Loan No. 3 / Chase Bank (1960 – E. Stewart Williams)
  9. Dinah Shore Residence (1964 – Donald Wexler) but would have been better to see inside the house – Google it for pics
  10. Frank Sinatra Residence (1947 – E. Stewart Williams) here again better inside than out – see Google for pics

One disappointment: Southridge Drive in Palm Springs South offers fantastic views down below on the city but no way to stop the car to take it all in as it is fiercely guarded. That means both the Steve McQueen Residence (1968 – Hugh Kaptur) and Bob Hope Residence (1978 – John Lautner) are off limits along with a couple of other landmarks.

Albert Elvis house Palm SpringsAlbert in front of the House of Tomorrow (Elvis Presley’s residence 1966-1967) in Palm Springs CA

9. Bank of America Palm Springs1959 Bank of America building in Palm Springs CA

7. Nissan Versa Palm SpringsNissan Versa and Chrysler 200 in Palm Springs CA

Now onto the Palm Springs car landscape. Apart from the surprising (but logical) frequency of 2002-2005 Ford Thunderbirds, Palm Springs is the first town in this Coast to Coast trip where the Toyota Prius is truly successful. Once again this is logical: we are in California where the Prius family tops the sales charts, and on top of it we are in a very wealthy town – which has proved to be a good pre-requisite for environmentally aware customers that want to show that even though they spend gallons of water on their golf course, they still care for the earth enough to drive a hybrid car. Hollywood stars were a big part of making the Prius mainstream, and they still have residences here. In fact, it seemed that as we were here on the weekend, every second person we spoke with lived in LA and only spent a weekend in their 2nd home in Palm Springs here and there. Such a hard life…

10. Nissan Sentra Palm SpringsNissan Sentra in Palm Springs CA

Even though the hispanic population in Palm Springs is only 25% vs. over 50% for most parts of California, Nissan still very strong here with the Versa fighting for the title of best-selling nameplate in Palm Springs, and the Sentra potentially inside the Top 5. A hypothetical ranking based on meticulous street observation of the most recent cars in town gives us:

1. Honda Accord

2. Nissan Versa

3. Toyota Prius

4. Honda Civic

5. Nissan Sentra

Beyond the absolute best-sellers, other observations on the Palm Springs car landscape include the particular popularity of GMC with the Sierra, Acadia and Enclave very successful, the rarity of Ford F-Series (in accordance with Californian sales charts) with only a couple of private F-150 spotted, the Audi A3 sedan already making its mark and a shiny-as-new 1987 Ford F-150 spotted in the centre of town. Most pickups are company cars used for road work (there is a lot of it in Palm Springs) and are the heavy duty variant, for example the Ford F-350 or Ram 2500 Tradesman, my very own Albert’s big bro.

8b. Albert Palm Springs Car Wash 1How much more perfect can this picture be?

Best-sellers in California – Full Year 2013:

Pos Model 2013
1 Toyota Prius (all models) 69,728
2 Honda Civic 66,982
3 Honda Accord 63,194
4 Toyota Camry 56,788
5 Toyota Corolla 52,167
6 Ford F-Series 41,671
7 Honda CR-V 31,850
8 Nissan Altima 31,029
9 Toyota Tacoma 28,182
10 BMW 3 Series 27,026

A quick reminder of the best-sellers in California last year, and this time (as opposed to Death Valley) we are getting a little closer in Palm Springs with the Prius, Accord, Camry and Corolla all very frequent. It would appear Nissan over-performs in Palm Springs as well, particularly the Versa and Sentra.

12. Albert Palm Springs 5Albert in front of the 1965 Tramway Gas Station, now Palm Springs Visitors Center

Let’s finish on a review of the Orbit In Hotel where I stayed while in Palm Springs, described by Time as “the place to stay” in Palm Springs and a “modernist heaven”. For once the critics have it right. A quintessential mid-century modern property set around a saline pool with all rooms sporting designer furniture by Eames, Noguchi, Jacobsen and many more, the Orbit In was actually relatively cheap for the luxury it offered (from $149 per night). Plus the owners, a lovely couple, were there almost the entire time making sure every one was happy. Once you pay for the room, everything is free including cocktails during the cocktail hour which ended up lasting 3 hours, breakfast, daytime sodas and snacks, wifi and cruiser bicycles to borrow. A typically American generosity that, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting to find in one of the poshest hotel in this uber-posh town. The cocktail (3) hour(s) brought all guests together to exchange travel stories and our Coast to Coast trip with Albert made them all envious. As they should be!

Next is the very last episode of this series, the arrival in Los Angeles and my final review of Albert. Stay tuned so you don’t miss it!

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia and runs a car sales statistics website and consultancy: BestSellingCars which just celebrated its 4th anniversary.

Many thanks to David Curry for the pictures in this article.

13. Orbit Inn HotelOrbit In hotel in Palm Springs CA

14. Ford F-150 Palm SpringsFord F-150 in Palm Springs CA

15. Albert Palm Springs 6Albert in Palm Springs CA

11. Hyundai Elantra Palm SpringsHyundai Elantra in Palm Springs CA

Chevrolet Impala Palm SpringsChevrolet Impala in Palm Springs CA

Garage Palm SpringsArguably the best-looking garage entrance in the world… (in West Cielo Drive)

Albert Palm Springs 3Albert in Palm Springs CA

Ford F-350 Palm SpringsFord F-350 in Palm Springs CA

Hummer Palm SpringsHummer in Palm Springs CA

Hyundai Sonata Palm SpringsHyundai Sonata in Palm Springs CA

Honda Accord Palm SpringsHonda Accord in Palm Springs CA

Albert Palm Springs Car Wash 2Albert getting a thorough cleanup in Palm Springs CA

Hyundai Elantra Palm Springs 2Hyundai Elantra in Palm Springs CA

Palm Springs Street scenePalm Springs street scene

Albert Palm Springs 4Albert in Palm Springs CA

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Junkyard Find: 1972 Ford Econoline 300 Camper Van http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1972-ford-econoline-300-camper-van/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1972-ford-econoline-300-camper-van/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 14:00:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=953217 After yesterday’s 1972 Mercury Junkyard Find, it makes sense— in some circles— to stick with model-year 1972 vehicles this week. With that in mind, here’s a very biohazardous second-gen Ford Econoline that I braved without benefit of a space suit. I’m pretty sure I didn’t catch hantavirus, scabies, or dioxin poisoning, but it’s still too […]

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24 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAfter yesterday’s 1972 Mercury Junkyard Find, it makes sense— in some circles— to stick with model-year 1972 vehicles this week. With that in mind, here’s a very biohazardous second-gen Ford Econoline that I braved without benefit of a space suit. I’m pretty sure I didn’t catch hantavirus, scabies, or dioxin poisoning, but it’s still too early to know for sure.
22 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis is the big, industrial-strength one-ton version of the early front-engined Econoline.
19 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBuilt in Long Beach by the now-long-defunct (as far as I know) Sierra Vans.
11 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe 1998 newspapers indicate a van that sat for quite a while.
07 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHowever, the 2005 calendar on the stove might mean more recent habitation. Perhaps the newspapers were serving as insulation. It’s a shame to see a perfectly good propane stove go to waste— a little scrubbing and it will be 19% less disgusting than it is now!
10 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRVs in junkyards manage to combine lots of sharp edges with the smell of human feces. Yucko! Since this is in California, chances are that dozens of black widows (and maybe a rattlesnake or two) await as well. Normally I’d stay far away from this thing, but journalists have to face danger now and then.
15 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn 1980, Ford stuck millions of these decals on the dashes of automatic-transmission-equipped vehicles, in hopes of warding off future lawsuits in the infamous “park-to-reverse” fiasco. If they’d been made to recall all the affected vehicles, it would have involved at least 23 million cars and trucks.

01 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 1972 Ford Econoline Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Bribery Overload at The 24 Hours of LeMons http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/bribery-overload-24-hours-lemons/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/bribery-overload-24-hours-lemons/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 12:54:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=954097   Though I’ve been a Judge at The 24 Hours of LeMons for over 5 years now, it wasn’t until a brush with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome that I decided to amp up my Mad Bribery Skills. Not just with cash, that’s horribly un-entertaining unless it involves getting busted F1 style.  So like any good criminal, let […]

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cashisking

 

Though I’ve been a Judge at The 24 Hours of LeMons for over 5 years now, it wasn’t until a brush with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome that I decided to amp up my Mad Bribery Skills.

Not just with cash, that’s horribly un-entertaining unless it involves getting busted F1 style.  So like any good criminal, let me boast about my bounty of ill-gotten booty in a tale that’s sure to please.

(photo courtesy: murileemartin.com)

Food and BEvERages are appreciated as 24 Hours of LeMons Bribes. After trying gourmet jellybeans in bizarre flavors, I was hoping these bribes would rock my world.

 

Capture2

They did: I’ve never marinated rotten meat in pumpkin spice and 90-weight gear oil, but these sodas taste like that. Sampling them didn’t trigger another attack of Stevens-Johnson, so it’s more of a character building exercise. Win.


IMG_3744

Oh yes!  A fine scotch for a fine man.  This Ron Burgundy themed team got me something good, including the fantastic jacket.  It made my Movember celebrations even more festive. Nicely done, gents!

IMG_3751

While not technically a bribe, one particularly horrible team running with a certain Mister Jack Baruth earned enough black flags in a short period to deserve to do my dirty work. The now three-year-old Ranger ticked over 24,000 miles, well past due for its first tire rotation…even if the tires look close to new.

While they did a better job than the average tire store jockey with an impact wrench–hammering away before “finishing up” with a pointless click of the torque wrench–and I was happy…and they were super detail oriented Porsche-like dudes…there was a problem.

And it wasn’t that Jack was MIA and not doing my bidding.  I was cool with that.

Capture

Judges don’t litigate, but you still wonder if this is legal trouble just waiting to happen.  But I did appreciate it, as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome ain’t no seasonal flu. So thanks for that!

On to more bribes…

IMG_3785Is this a malaise-y air cleaner from a 460 V8 powered Lincoln in my possession?  Oh yes.  Would you believe that a LeMons Judge gave it to me as a bribe to get my recovering self out of bed, into a robe and back to the race track?

Judge Phil actually packed this in his checked luggage.The plan is to use it for a factory looking dual snorkel intake on a modified 460 Lincoln Mark V in the Mehta fleet in lieu of the horrible aftermarket open air (hot air) intake. Fingers crossed on that plan, but an epic score for the Judge.

IMG_3824

Phil wasn’t done, here’s something straight from his Junkyard Find series. This FoMoCo pamphlet circa 1968 is full of oft-neglected common sense motoring tips and fantastic mid-century graphics. And unfolding it led to some holiday cheer at the Mehta dining table.

IMG_3821

Because, while you’re supposed to place this on your dashboard while looking for some petrol, it has other benefits.

More photos below.  All of which made this the most memorable time in Automotive Motorsports bribery since…well???

 

 

IMG_3824 IMG_3823 IMG_3822 IMG_3821 IMG_3820

 

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Ur-Turn: The Truth About Oil http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/ur-turn-truth-oil/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/ur-turn-truth-oil/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 16:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=954385 TTAC reader (and Pontiac G8/Holden conversion owner) David Obelcz gives us his thoughts on the current situation in the world of crude oil – and how that will affect car enthusiasts. Over the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, Saudi Arabia blocked a proposed production cut by OPEC, sending oil prices plummeting around the world. […]

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TTAC reader (and Pontiac G8/Holden conversion owner) David Obelcz gives us his thoughts on the current situation in the world of crude oil – and how that will affect car enthusiasts.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, Saudi Arabia blocked a proposed production cut by OPEC, sending oil prices plummeting around the world. As I write this the price of oil and gasoline futures are in collapse. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures are down over 10% to $66.15 a barrel on the near-month (January 2015) contract, Brent is at $70.15, and gasoline futures are down to $1.90.

To put this in some perspective, on January 3, 1986 a barrel of WTI was $26.00 – that would be $56.33 a barrel today, adjusting for inflation (remember this number, it will be important later). This was at the start of the 1986 oil crash, where the price for WTI would bottom out at $10.83 on July 23, 1986. Today as the Great Recession fades behind us, you can drive through the fringes of Phoenix, Las Vegas, or along the Treasure Coast of Florida and find grass growing through the cracks of subdivision roads for homes never built. In 1996 you could do the same in Houston, with blighted neighborhoods spotted with abandoned homes falling into ruin. The Gulf Coast economies were devastated, and it took Houston and the surrounding area more than a decade to recover financially. When prices crashed again in 1998, the Gulf Coast had a much more diversified economic base, so the blow wasn’t as hard.

As United States oil production skyrocketed post World War II, along with consumption, the easily tapped reserves coupled with swelling imports from the Middle East fueled the greatest economy in the world. In that era the big threat was all things Communism and nuclear annihilation. If we kept the Middle East countries rolling in cash for their oil, the United States could keep Soviet influence to a minimum. We drove GTOs, General Motors feared being declared a monopoly, men walked on the moon, and we watched the Indy 500 on our color TVs.

United States oil production peaked in 1970. Three years later in response to the Yom Kippur War, OPEC, along with Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia, declared an oil embargo that lasted from October of 1973 to March of 1974. The embargo caused the price of oil to quadruple, collapsed the United States stock market, plunged the country into its third worst recession in history, and planted the seeds that grew into today’s modern post-Soviet oil industry. In addition we got malaise era cars, an under 200 HP Corvette, the rise of the Japanese automakers, the 1979 Chrysler bailout, and Ford almost going bankrupt.

The 1979 energy crisis had an even bigger impact on today’s energy landscape. Although global oil production dropped just four-percent with the collapse of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s Iranian government, wide spread panic happened. In addition, President Jimmy Carter started the deregulation of oil prices in April of 1979. A year later the price of oil had almost tripled to $39.50 a barrel – that would be $114 today. History shows that the 1979 energy crisis was more manufactured, than the result of a true crisis in supply. With the damage done, there was another major recession.

The price of oil then started a near 20 year decline with peaks and valleys, including the 1986 oil shock valley, several peaks during the Iran/Iraq war when tankers were treated as military targets, followed by another oil price crash in 1998, then another price spike during the first Gulf War, and the latest price spike that happened before the Great Recession.

But something changed in 2005, United States total energy consumption peaked. A weak US dollar created a new normal in the price of a barrel of oil, and over the next decade Americans got use to the price at the pump.

In the 2007 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush made what is called the “Twenty in Ten Challenge,” to reduce United States gasoline consumption 20% in 10 years. The same year the Energy Independence and Security Act was passed. Five years later US energy use had plummeted from 25% of global consumption, to 20%.

Just seven years after George W. Bush issued the challenge in his State of the Union address, total US energy consumption has dropped 20%, US oil consumption has dropped 14%. Even with expanding job growth, growing GDP, and growing exports – it wasn’t all about the Great Recession. The gasoline consumption picture isn’t quite as rosy, but it is down 6% from 2007 to 2013.

These improvements in the United States are largely due to dramatically improving fleet fuel economy in light vehicles, heavy trucking, and aircraft. Secondarily, energy consumption is down due to big improvements in appliance efficiency. Air conditioning remains the number one consumption device for electricity in American homes – cable TV set top boxes are now number two.

The point of this long background is that in 2015 the rules of how the price of a barrel of oil impacts the United States economy has changed. In 2014 total OPEC imports are projected to be at 1985 levels, and less than 40% of total US imports. In October of 2013, the United States reached a major tipping point, producing more oil than it imports. Refined petroleum products has been the largest US net export in terms of dollars, since 2011. When I consulted for Conoco in the 90s there was a lot of talk about shale oil reserves, but how it was not cost effective to tap them. Fracking has changed that, and the United States is currently in an unprecedented oil boom. In North Dakota if you have a pulse, you can work 80 to 100 hours a week, make $17 an hour at Walmart, and yet, there still remains a serious labor shortage.

China is now the largest car economy in the world, and we are seeing the impact from this in the United States. From tax friendly (in China) engines under 1.5 liters in American cars and CUVs, to interior and exterior design and features made for Chinese consumers carried over into other markets. Our declining dependency on foreign oil, and our concurrent shrinking consumption is a blessing, and a curse.

At $70 a barrel, fracking operations profitability start to become problematic. We know from over 70 years of history, that if pricing reaches a point where a certain production source becomes too costly, these sources are turned off, supply tightens, price increases, profitable sources are turned back on. We’ve seen this cycle of boom and bust multiple times since 1972. For a lot of complex reasons, the price of oil does not follow a rational price curve during these peaks and valleys, and both are dangerous to the economy. In the Gulf of Mexico, oil producers are already stacking offshore rigs, because the cost of production at some deep water sites is too prohibitive at current market prices.

At $70 a barrel, most OPEC nations can’t fund their governmental operations effectively. When this happens, OPEC has historically dialed production back, raising prices, but that didn’t happen. Only Kuwait and Qatar are in the black. But what is of bigger concern is at $70 a barrel, crude from the Canadian Oil Sands is unprofitable along with United States ethanol, found in 10% quantities at a gas station near you.

There are those who will say that the market is being manipulated to put the squeeze on Russia, Iran and ISIS (or ISIL or IS if you prefer). However Russian oil operations are still profitable at $50 a barrel, and Iran’s oil operations are unprofitable at almost any oil price point that the global economy can sustain, and remain healthy (Iranian crude is very heavy, very sour, hard to refine, and not preferred by buyers).

The Russian economy is definitely being squeezed by the plunging global oil prices, with the Russian economy generating 60% of its revenue from energy sales, 50% of that from oil exports, there is little motivation for Russian leadership to cause too many problems in Ukraine, or declare a Western Europe embargo. For now, the fear of the full Stalin treatment has kept the Russian elite quiet in their public criticism of Putin’s actions, but sanctions are taking their toll.

Saudi Arabia tipped their economic hand yesterday. They’ve declared a war on the price of oil and are willing to put their $576 billion in cash reserves on the table to slow down North American oil production. Economists predict that Saudi Arabia can fight a two year financial war of attrition in an attempt to slow down advancing United States, Canadian, and Mexican production.

You must always remember, oil is a global commodity. American buyers (meaning you and me) are cheap and we actually enjoy lower prices than most of the globe (if you eliminate third world Hell holes and banana republics). But oil and gas companies are not charities, they answer to shareholders. Fracking operations can be profitable down to as low as $45 a barrel, for existing wells. There is the technicality – existing wells. At $70 a barrel it is questionable that new wells will be profitable, and fracking wells have a short production life. If the producers become convinced that this isn’t a seasonable valley, decisions will be made based upon the quarterly balance sheet, and new wells won’t be created. With Saudi Arabia declaring financial war, don’t be surprised if you see new fracking operations slow down.

Supply will tighten, jobs growth in North Dakota, which is unsustainable, will level off, and eventually the price will start to climb back. Employment in the Oil and Gas Sector has grown 40% nationally since 2007, representing the lion share of all private sector job growth in the United States economy since the Great Recession.

There is the double edged sword. If the price of oil drops to under $60 a barrel, and US production is curtailed, the typical improvement in the US economy from each American getting a boost in disposable income, could be blunted with the loss of jobs in our booming energy sector. Think 1986.

For now, China is quite content growling at its neighbors over oil rights in the South China Sea, and letting western interests secure their oil contracts in the Middle East. They will also happily slurp up every drop the United States chooses not to use either through fuel economy improvements, or economic decline.

A serious oil bump is coming (I won’t say crash – yet , but bump) – and that’s problematic for the United States in particular. The economies of North Dakota and Wyoming have “bubble economy,” written all over them, and the benefits of the booming US oil industry have rippled through all sectors of the US economy.

Keystone XL has taken on an additional sense of urgency for Canada, because Keystone XL is not about reducing American oil imports from the Middle East and Venezuela by 40% (Middle East imports are already in freefall and Chavez is dead) or creating  American jobs. It’s about Canada getting its relatively expensive tar sand oil to markets willing to pay the price in Asia and South America. If American purchases of their more expensive oil declines in favor of cheap OPEC crude, the Canadian economy and the companies surrounding the industry will get hurt. That is what Saudi Arabia is banking on. If Saudi Arabia can hurt the economy of Iran in the process, and slow down the growth of religious extremism outside their borders, even better.

The real reality is this. The price of gasoline at American pumps will never return to late 1990s levels. It is an economic impossibility because the overall cost structure for production won’t support those price points anymore. In inflation adjusted dollars, another 18% drop in WTI futures prices will put us square into 1986 oil crash price points. Economics 101 and the laws of supply and demand always take control.

Enjoy the cheap gas for now, eventually it will go back up and when it does, it will go up fast and hard under the wails of peak oil, drill baby drill, and those pesky Chinese are using up the supply. Oh, it will likely put the globe back into another recession.

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Junkyard Find: 1972 Mercury Monterey Coupe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1972-mercury-monterey-coupe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/junkyard-find-1972-mercury-monterey-coupe/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 14:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=953081 After seeing this ’72 Ford LTD Brougham coupe a few months back, it seems fitting that I’ve spotted the Mercury sibling to that car at the very same San Francisco Bay Area self-service wrecking yard. The images of this rust-free 42-year-old big Ford coupe should result in bitter tears flowing from Sajeev’s eyes, not to […]

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08 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAfter seeing this ’72 Ford LTD Brougham coupe a few months back, it seems fitting that I’ve spotted the Mercury sibling to that car at the very same San Francisco Bay Area self-service wrecking yard. The images of this rust-free 42-year-old big Ford coupe should result in bitter tears flowing from Sajeev’s eyes, not to mention much wailing and gnashing of teeth among Rust Belt Ford lovers who haven’t seen such an unoxidized Mercury since the start of the Ethio-Somali War. Here we go!
10 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinActually, this car isn’t quite as cherry as it looked at first glance, despite the straight bumpers and not-particularly-bashed bodywork.
06 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThat’s due to the engine fire that ruined the underhood area and much of the dash.
12 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinStill, compared to replacing rusted-out quarter-panels and floors, how hard could it be to fix this damage?
01 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin50 years in AAA! It’s a safe assumption that the original owner of this car drove it until it caught on fire.
05 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhy buy one of these instead of a same-year LTD? You got much more rococo with the Mercury!
14 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinLet’s hope that someone salvages those nice bumpers, grille, and taillights before The Crusher eats this car.

W.C. Fields was a popular counterculture figure of the late 1960s/early 1970s era, for reasons that probably made sense at the time.

I’ll bet the original owner of this car was a fan of the “Road Hogs” sequence of If I Had a Million.

01 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1972 Mercury Monterey Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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