Category: Capsule Reviews
Then something happened. America gradually got older… and bigger. Four door cars went from the plain-jane three square look of the 1980’s, to designs that evoked the priciest of exotics. Advances in steel fabrication and body stamping were just the beginning of what soon became a new era where four door cars completely dominated their two door sisters.
“Why deal with the inconvenience of a two door?” said a buying public knee-deep in aging baby boomers. Why indeed when you could have everything from a Camry to an SUV if you wanted the pretense of a sporty and powerful ride. Hatchbacks soon gave way to oversized coupes, which gave way to the reality that so-called ‘sporty’ designs were now available in every segment of the car market.
When Buick announced that it would not be rebadging the Opel Insignia OPC as the Buick Regal GS, and that instead of the OPC’s all wheel drive and turbocharged V6 we’d be getting a front-drive turbo four performance model, I was a bit skeptical. On paper, the proposed GS just didn’t seem different enough from the turbo model (which I liked well enough as-is) to elicit much initial enthusiasm. But this is why we drive cars instead of just comparing spec sheets: having spent some time alone with the GS, I’m happy to report that my skepticism was entirely unnecessary.
In the highly unlikely event that my father precedes me into the grave, I will have to come up with another way to describe him besides “the late Kevin Baruth”. The old man’s never been late for something in his life. Nor has he even been a terribly, shall we say, easy-going fellow. One of the medals he received in Vietnam was, if I recall correctly, for single-handedly halting the retreat of a disorganized Marine unit after the death of said unit’s commander and forcing them to turn around and advance towards the enemy. I have no trouble imagining how this might have happened; I’d rather shoot it out with a company of NVA regulars than contradict my father.
I mention all of the above for a reason. When I tell my friends that I learned how to drive in a black 1984 BMW 733i, they say, “That’s pretty cool.” When I explain further that it was the relatively rare manual-transmission variant, they say, “That’s even cooler.” It’s difficult to make them understand that it’s tough to learn how to drive in a stick-shift car, tougher to do it in a $36,000 ($77K in today’s money) BMW, and worse yet to do it with someone sitting next to you who might, just possibly, rip your head off at any moment.
I haven’t been to Italy, in 21 years. My cousins and I are having dinner together for the first time in 21 years. If I didn’t already know it, I’d have learned it now: males with Italian blood are obsessed with cars. My cousin Nicola even works for FIAT, in the seaside town of Termoli.
“Are there Fiats at Chrysler stores in Canada now?” he asks.
“Just the 500,” I inform.
“That’s not the real 500,” says Angelo, his younger brother. Two hours later, we’re in my Nonna’s garage. He pulls the tarp off a stunning, perfectly restored 1968 Fiat 595 SS Abarth. “Quest’è la vera Cinquecento!” he informs me.
“TWO HUNDRED BUCKS? Are you serious? That doesn’t sound like enough money.”
No, dear readers, I wouldn’t last ten minutes in the “World Series Of Poker”. I can’t bluff and I usually speak my mind before using that mind to think about the consequences of what I’m saying. In this case, however, it didn’t matter. The guy across the table from me at dinner was bound and determined to sell me his nine-year-old, good-condition, no-options-but-new-tires-all-’round, Plymouth Colt four-speed for the very reasonable price of two Benjamins.
How could I say no?
The Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC 5.0 isn’t a dream car, because it’s obscurity and touring car blueprint is a relative buzzkill. But this Bauhaus-worthy super coupe is a homologated racer much like it’s 300 SL forefather. I’ll skip the basics to focus on unit #1576: a grey market import from a USAF officer stationed in Germany. The current owner, Leif Skare, let me drive this meticulously kept, nearly stock (period correct 15” wheels and AMG front spoiler aside) SLC 5.0 before it heads back to Europe. Perhaps the SLC 5.0 is a dream car, when viewed in the right light. In the right place.
Raise your hand if you’ve actually flown a Goodyear blimp for a solid forty-five minutes and actually made it go where you were supposed to take it.
I thought so. I’m the only guy with his hand up. Sucks to be you, you non-blimp-flyin’-mothertrucker.
To keep this from being Blimplopnik or whatever they’re calling Mr. Wert’s Wild Ride nowadays, I’m going to bring you content never seen before: blimp review emulation. Follow along as I review the Goodyear blimp, one paragraph at a time, in the style of each of our most famous contributors. This will be no worse than the Dune continuation books, I promise.
The navicular, or scaphoid, bone, is a little bone in your wrist. About fifteen years ago, I broke both of mine during practice for a BMX National. Since my father was flying in to see me race that day, and since I didn’t want him to travel a long way for nothing, I wrapped duct tape around both my wrists and went out for the first heat anyway. When I landed the first jump, a modest fifteen-foot gap with a steep face to the landing, I nearly vomited from the intensity of the pain. Needless to say, things went downhill from there and as a result I’ve had trouble with my wrists ever since.
In the song “Twilight Zone”, Golden Earring sang, “You will come to know / when the bullet hits the bone.” I have come to know when I’m about to re-break one or both of my wrists. As I went flying through the air at fifty kilometers per hour, a tumbling snowmobile behind me and a hard sheet of ice ahead, I knew what was about to happen…
One hundred miles per hour. The once-fabled “ton” which my 1990 Volkswagen Fox struggled to indicate on its outrageously optimistic speedometer is now a commonplace, ho-hum event. Many modern cars will get there in ten or eleven seconds. Even heavy-duty pickups have no trouble pushing their Maximum Overdrive front fascias into the triple digits nowadays — and everything from the Fiesta to the F-450 feels rock-solid at that speed.
The magic, thrill, and terror are all gone from the one after ninety-nine… but if you want to bring it all back, and then some, it’s as close as a trip to your local Can-Am dealer. Driving the Spyder three-wheeler at that speed is, frankly, terrifying.
In my Nissan Frontier Capsule Review, I briefly mentioned the fact that I’d had a Saab 9-3 prior to said Frontier. Well, as it turned out, I ended up having the Saab after the Frontier, as well. Before I could take possession of said little turbocharged hatchback for the second time and send it back to the lease company where it belonged, however, I had to beg, threaten, and — depending on your definition of the word — perhaps steal.
“I have something to tell you, but you cannot, I repeat, must not do anything about it.”
“Is it something I want to hear?”
“Yes, it is. But you have to swear.”
“Okay. I swear. Now tell me.”
“Maro is getting a divorce.” Oh. Maro. I remember you, swinging your legs, your perfect profile and staggeringly voluptuous figure backlit by the sun, and I remember you seated next to me, so long ago, in that little gold Nissan truck. Do you remember me?
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While at the LA Auto Show in November, TTAC was invited by Volvo to sample the Volvo C30 electric concept car. More a pre-production than concept, the C30 electric will supposedly hit the streets as a 2012 model-year car. So what does the Chinese-Swedish brand, known more for safety than drivetrain innovations, have in store for the electric market? I’m happy to report that the answer is: nothing out of the ordinary.
“Hurry up,” the woman at the counter said, “because when you get back they are waiting to take it to the auction.” The odometer read just over forty-nine thousand, eight hundred miles. It would have been temptingly romantic to think of this as a last ride on a trusty horse before it went to the knacker’s, but let’s get real: forty-nine K on an Accord is just getting started. As John Mayer once sang, it might be a quarter-life crisis. Let’s get rolling.
We’re coming to the end of KOREA! WEEK! and we still haven’t answered the question: When did Hyundai start becoming a serious player in this market? When did the image change from Deadly Sin to default-choice affordable car? One can go back as far as the second-generation Excel, which cracked the reliability equation while still being rust-prone as all get out. Alternately, perhaps it wasn’t until the arrival of the current Sonata that the brand became worthy of being chosen by the frozen Middle American masses.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, and I’d suggest that the car you see above was the true turning point. The first-generation Elantra (Lantra to the Cammy Corrigan crowd) was pleasant enough, but it didn’t even pretend to compete with Civics and Corollas. Hyundai was assumed to know its place, and that place was among the credit criminals, desperately poor, and the hopelessly stupid. Ten years ago, however, the Elantra woke up and decided that nobody was going to put it in a corner.
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