The Truth About Cars » Curbside Classic The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 » Curbside Classic Shanghai Motor Show, Curbside Classic Edition Fri, 22 Apr 2011 15:48:41 +0000

In Shanghai, you can see the latest cars, and the cars of the future with no future. You also can see a tiny bit of the past.

Citroen brought two classics.

The Traction Avant was popular with French gangsters, and also with the German Gestapo for the short years it could safely ride around Paris in a car. The car went into the annals as the Gangster Citroen.

This is a Citroen halftrack. In 1931, seven of them followed the Silk Road from Beirut to Beijing, a trip that took them a year and a half. Seven other halftracks left Tianjin on the Yellow Sea to meet them.

The expedition is lovingly documented at the show.

The competition at Renault brought one of their classics. I forgot to write down what it was and can’t look smart. Any ideas?

And a classic from America. The 1967 Camaro, Official Pace Car of the Indy 500.

]]> 7
The First Curbside Classic Mon, 25 Oct 2010 00:08:50 +0000

You might think I’ve been taking pictures of old cars on the streets forever. Not so, actually. I’ve been ogling them, but I always saved my film for family. Probably not completely coincidentally, I started CC about the same time our nest was emptying. But there was one single exception, and today I stumbled on it: a photo of a 1951 Mercury that lived on the street a few blocks from our house in Santa Monica. Its dark blue paint was oxidizing into a divine shade of purple, and one day in 1979 on our regular walk to the beach, I had the impulse: to immortalize this aging neighbor before it disappeared. Technically, this wasn’t really an exception, because Stephanie is in it. That part has changed, mostly.

She still appears from time to time, but much more discretely, as she usually manages very adroitly to keep out of the shots most of the time, regardless of the angle. It’s about the cars now, but she’s still my first Curbside Classic. Happy 33rd!

]]> 17
Curbside Classic Jr: The 1955 Ford Mini Me – 1956 Ford Consul Mk II Wed, 20 Oct 2010 20:14:55 +0000

Too many Cubside Classics shot, not enough time to write about them extensively.  So we’ll call it CC Jr.: heavy on the pics, light on the text.

The great import boom of the fifties involved everything from Europe; from Abarth to Zagato. And the Big Three got in on the act too, selling their European subsidiaries’ wares. The Opel Rekord sold particularly well, and they used to be easy to find, in California, anyway. And English Fords were mainly the smaller Anglia and the later Cortinas. But here’s a rare bird, a Consul, looking very much like a scaled down ’55 Ford.

The Consul was the four cylinder low-end version of the Zephyr, a gaudier and six-cylinder saloon, and related to the Zodiac (above) . Ford’s biggest offering in the UK.

The Zephyr and Zodiac would have been too expensive and competed unsuccessfully against the domestic big Fords, but the Consul filled the gap at the bottom until the Falcon arrived in 1960.

The Consul had a 1703 cc OHV four that generated 59 hp. According to a test by Motor, it had a top speed of 79 mph, and took 23 seconds for the 0-60 amble. Not too bad, actually, especially compared to the VW in the fifties. It’s not clear whether the column shifter now had four gears or still three; possibly either or.

More new Curbside Classics here

]]> 23 Curbside Classic: 1985 Winnebago 23mpg LeSharo Turbo Diesel RV Sun, 09 May 2010 15:24:12 +0000

Like cars, or even more so, the quest to find fuel efficiency in RVs has come and gone with the price of fuel. In the early eighties, when gas was around $4.00 in today’s dollars, the RV business crashed and desperately looked for a radical solution. One could say that the Winnebago LeSharo was the equivalent of the 1985 Cadillac DeVille: downsized to the extreme. Winnebago desperately searched for the solution, and found it in…France. LeSharo: the LeCar of RVs.

The LeSharo was one of those great ideas that ran aground on the realities of its Renault engine and transmission. Renault had just recently introduced its new FWD diesel Traffic van. Winnebago bit, and another Franco-American tie-up was created, and Renault shipped cabs complete with front drive train, and a rear axle to Winnebago, where the low and light (5,000 lb) 1983 LeSharo was born. The economy (20-23 mpg) was enticing; the Renault engine and transmission less so.

It may have worked ok in a small van delivering baguettes in Paris, but the 57 hp 2.1 L diesel four was overwhelmed by American standards. In 1984, a 75 hp turbocharged version was quickly rushed into service. But numerous and severe problems with both the engine and the four-speed manual transaxle necessitated abandoning it. By 1986, the diesel was out, and Renault’s 2.2 liter gas four (as used in their US cars) and a three-speed automatic transmission were in. mileage was more like 16-19 mpg. With the proper knowledgeable attention, they can be made to last reasonably well.

This combination was relatively more reliable, but lacked the diesel’s ultimate efficiency potential. The one I found here has the turbo-diesel stickers on the back, but since many were re-powered, its hard to say for sure. On the other hand, Eugene is the final destination of many old orphan diesels, so my guess it’s in the hands of a hard-core LeSharo TD fan. For those LeSharo lovers that are sick of the Renault issues, there is an outfit that does a regular business transplanting Chrysler 3.3 V6 minivan drive trains into these.

The LeSharo petered out in 1992, but was reincarnated in 1994 as the Rialta, now using a complete VW Eurovan front cab and drive train. The early versions used the 2.5 liter five, so it wasn’t exactly brimming with power either. Eventually, the VR6 engine was the definitive version. It appears to have gone out of production some time in the last few years, as Sprinter-based conversions and RVs offer real stand-up headroom and diesel economy.

]]> 14
Curbside Classic: 1982 Dodge Rampage Thu, 11 Mar 2010 15:48:44 +0000

The passenger car-based mini pickup niche is as old as as the Crosley Roadside, if not older yet. It’s also a highly ephemeral one, that seems to repeatedly draw car makers to it like moths to the flame. And the results are about the same: here today; gone tomorrow. 

If we exclude the quite compact early sixties Falcon Ranchero, then the mini-revival started with the 1978 Subaru Brat. Now that really was conceived of as more of an odd-ball 4WD SAV (sports activity vehicle) with its rear-facing seats (to get around the chicken tax) than even any pretense of serious load carrying potential. We’ll have one visit here soon. But it caught VW’s eye, or maybe they were already experimenting with Golf-based trucks when the little Brat appeared. In any case, VW thought there was potential in convincing American pickup drivers to squeeze their beef-fed bods into a half-Rabbit sized cab.

The resulting VW Rabbit pickup appeared in 1979, built at VW’s new Westmoreland PA  plant. It appeared at the right time, just before the second big energy crisis, and the diesel version is a true cult mobile (also coming to CC soon). But it never caught on with the real pickup crowd, and its body dies were were sent to (former) Yugoslavia, where it became the Caddy.And as of 2006, they were still being built in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Chrysler must have thought that VW was on to a hot new trend, and developed this Rampage to meet that great unmet demand. It’s based on the Horizon/Omni twins, which coincidentally were heavily influenced by the Rabbit/Golf to start with. But instead of using the Omnirizon sedan sheet metal, Chrysler decided to go the sporty direction, and use the front end of the coupe versions, the Dodge 024 (later Charger) and the Plymouth TC3 (later Turismo).

The Rampage appeared as a 1982 model, and a presumably reluctant Plymouth clone named Scamp made a one-year only appearance in 1983. And the wild Rampage lasted one year longer, through 1984. Rampages are not exactly common anymore, but the Scamp is a true rarity these days.

Even though it had the sport front end of the 024/Charger, the Rampage could be a practical little hauler, like this one. It was rated for 1145 lbs, making it a legitimate half-tonner. It sat on an extended wheelbase, with a heavier rear axle. Of course, a heavy load in a FWD truck has its inherent limitations. Power was the ubiquitous 2.2 liter K-car four, but the 1.7 VW four might have been available. There’s not a lot of detailed history readily available for these cars.

This Rampage looks like it’s found an appreciative long-term owner, who favors the practical side of its personality. I’ve never seen a Rampage with these “saddle bags” before. And it likes to hang around in this parking lot with the big boy pickups.

The other extreme side to the Rampages’ personality was the Shelby Rampage, which was actually not built by Chrysler, but by a dealership. All of 218 were built. Of course, the FWD car-based pickup refuses to die, and after Honda jumped in with their Ridgeline, Chrysler showed the Dodge Rampage concept in 2006. Not that there’s anything mini about these latest exercises.

More new Curbside Classics here

]]> 38
Curbside Classic Canadian Visitor Edition: 1966 (Vauxhall) Envoy Epic Tue, 23 Feb 2010 17:03:19 +0000

The Canadian car market has always been dominated by US makes. But the “special relationship” has also resulted in some curious efforts to maintain a sense of unique identity, or respond to the distinctive characteristics of the market.  We had our Plodges (mixed styling of the Dodge and Plymouth models), Beaumonts (sold at Pontiac dealerships with Chevrolet engines and Pontiac style trim), Meteors, Mercury trucks, Fargo trucks, etc. along with various European makes including Vauxhall. In addition to selling its models under the Vauxhall brand, GM’s British subsidiary also created the Envoy name just for Canada. The Vauxhalls where sold by Pontiac/Buick dealers, and so as not to be left out, the Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealers recieved the Envoy badged versions, like this Epic.

For a time Vauxhall was second in sales of imported sedans behind Volkswagen, as were their cousins Opel in the US. Sadly Vauxhalls of the 1960s were particularly enthusastic rusters even by the standards of the day, and that combined with limited parts supply after Vauxhall pulled out of Canada means there aren’t very many left in drivable condition. What examples do exist are various Vauxhalls and Envoys languishing in mostly rural settings. I’ve even come across a couple in scrapyards and storage yards but the more common finds seem to be the larger Victors.

What I’ve found here is a Envoy Epic, which is a badge engineered version of the Vauxhall Viva HA. But it’s more than that. While the normal Viva/Epic had to make do with a 44hp 1057cc four cylinder engine, this one has the name-worthy epic “hot” high compression engine with 60hp, as did the confusingly-named Viva 90. Less than 12,000 Viva SLs (in both Viva and Epic form) were produced, with an unspecified number (but undoubtly low) number of them the hot 90. That makes this one a rare survivor indeed, with both the 90 and SL equipment, plus being a Canadian variant. [You Yanks struggling to relate: think '69 Pontiac GTO The Judge with Ram Air IV. PN]

As for the engineering of the Viva/Epic, it was a highly conventional and straight forward RWD machine, as its role in life was to compete against the likes of the Austin A35, Morris Minor and Ford Anglia. Some pieces where shared with the very similar Opel Kadett A, but the engine, styling and interior was unique. The front suspension used a front transverse leaf spring just like the Opel, and not totally unlike a modern day Corvette uses at the rear. The front cross member easily unbolted with the rack and pinion steering rack and suspension as an entire unit, which made it popular with hot rodders. The rear had a solid rear axle with more leaf springs, but not transverse this time. The basic car came with drum brakes all around while the upper trim levels featured front disc brakes.

I mentioned the 60 hp engine and brakes of the 90, but there were a few other changes over the basic model besides the engine, as the moniker SL stood for Super Luxury. Some assorted extra body trim was part of that lofty definition, and most noticeable was the grill and rear tail light cluster, which featured triple round lights that were considered quite sporty for the day. [Yanks: now think Impala. ED]

Back to this particular example: I actually spotted it a couple years at a tow company storage yard, but now its moved to a muffler shop giving me hope that someone is preparing to get it back on the road. And it may not be the most stellar car, but the world’s automotive diversity is better for its continued existence.

PN’s note: This car happens to be for sale, along with a supercharged Chevy 4.3 motor. Be the envy of your friends with this Epic find!

Curbside Classics will consider guest submissions for cars that are almost certainly not going to ever be found by myself, or are particular historical or cultural significance. Contact me at

]]> 44
Curbside Classic Outtake: 1986 Continental Fri, 12 Feb 2010 21:23:34 +0000

Our cavalcade of vintage Lincolns draws to a close (whew!) and the Lincoln file is exhausted, save for the finale. We’ve obviously plumbed the depths of Lincoln’s long decline, probably best typified by the Versailles. But hope was in the air, thanks to the remarkable Fox-body platform. The best example was the rather remarkable Mark VII coupe, which I didn’t do justice here yesterday, thanks to a sudden onset of late-afternoon chronic Lincoln-fatigue syndrome. My apologies. But even before the Mark VII arrived in 1984, there was a glimmer of hope already, in the Fox-bodied Continental sedan of 1982. One just had to squint (quite) a bit to see it.

It would be easy to jump on this Conti for its blatantly ripped-off bustle back trunk. The 1980 Seville shocked/horrified the world when it trotted out that long-forgotten affectation of old English Hooper-bodied Rollers. And it became the styling affectation de jeur. But, there was a big difference this time around. Whereas the Versailles was a pathetic cheap imitation of the fairly credible first Seville, the second Seville was a royal stinker pimp-mobile. It was a classic jumping-the-shark moment for Cadillac. And an opportunity for Lincoln.

So although this Continental can be faulted for its bustle tail, in just about every other way it was a much better car than the gen2 Seville. Relatively speaking, anyway. It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it was a big step in the right direction. Of course, it would have been hard to screw up a Fox-platform car. It intrinsically meant a fairly compact, reasonably light, tight, and intrinsically decent handling vehicle. Ford’s air suspension technology was put to good use here, like in the Mark VII.

Frankly, this is a four door Mark VII, four all intents and purposes. Too bad they didn’t make an LSC-type version: all blacked out and nice fat alloys and wheels, and a couple of big fat pipes out the back end. Now that would have been interesting.

]]> 47
Curbside Classic: 1985 Lincoln Town Car Wed, 10 Feb 2010 22:20:28 +0000

Thirty-two years is a long time. That’s how many years the Panther chassis-based Town Car will have been made when the last on rolls off the line in 2011. And to what can we credit this remarkable longevity? Brilliant engineering; or insightful marketing strategy? How about a big helping of GM’s boneheadedness mixed in with equal dashes of Ford cheapness and stubbornness. Sometimes you just get handed things handed to you on a platter. Although in the case of the Panther TC, it took a couple of years of anxiety before Ford realized what had been given them: the keys to the last traditional American car.

It was not a happy beginning though. After reluctantly abandoning the out sized Lincoln barges of 1979, having hung on years longer than GM, Ford bit the downsizing bullet. And it hurt. If ever GM’s styling prowess was put to a difficult and unasked-for task, it was the vast resizing of their large cars in 1977. And they pulled it off with remarkable results. It helped that their ’71-’76 cars had become inflated walruses, but the B-Bodies of 1977 maintained a sense of dignity, proportion and style, despite the radical pruning.

One would think that the extra couple of years Ford took for their grand liposuction would pay off. Not so; the 1979 LTD and Marquis looked boxy and ill-proportioned on their 114″ wheelbase, especially so the ungainly coupes. And the Lincoln, riding a slightly longer 117″ wb, suffered from the same maladies. The coupe versions in particular, both the Town Coupe and the truly pathetic Mark VI, were painful to look at, like a victim of horribly botched cosmetic surgery. Instead of starting with a clean sheet, it looked like a scissors and paste version of a bad photo-chop.

Sales went into free-fall. In 1981, less than 70k Lincolns were sold; one third of just a couple of years earlier. The ’81 recession didn’t help, but Lincoln jumped the shark with these. The Town Coupe was such a mess that it was euthanized within a couple of years, and the Mark VI slogged along a few years longer. Meanwhile GM was selling its handsome E-Body coupes in record numbers. But then came the great act of self-mutilation.

In 1985, GM launched its second bout of wholesale miniaturization, and this time they jumped the killer whale. The FWD Caddy DeVille was now barely bigger than a Chevy Citation. Yes, it was a miracle in terms of interior space utilization in relation to exterior length, but that was not the criteria that counted for much of anything at the golf club. And in that most painful chapter of GM’s self-destruction, it handed Ford the keys to Town Car immortality, success and big profits.

Everything is relative, and compared the the mini-Caddys, yesterday’s truncated Lincoln was suddenly today’s “traditional” land yacht. And there was a huge market of traditionalists wanting one. Sales exploded: in 1985 over 167k Lincolns found newly appreciative owners. In 1988, Lincoln actually outsold Cadillac, a feat that would have seemed absurd to contemplate a few years earlier. And the Town Car was the backbone of Lincoln’s resuscitation.

A gaggle of other Lincolns didn’t hurt, mostly. The T-Bird based Mark VII had a nice run, and actually provided a pleasant driving experience, in the LSC version. It epitomized Ford’s abilities to make do with what they had, but with some honest and genuine feeling (and results).  The FWD V6 Taurus-based Continental was the Mark VII’s polar opposite; Ford laid an egg with that, and its stink was all-too obvious, all too soon.

But Ford left the TC mostly alone, save for a couple of major restyles along the way. GM saw the error of its ways, and tried a rather embarrassing comeback with the Caprice-based ’93 Fleetwood. But that soon went away to make production room for more Suburbans and Escalades. It wasn’t a serious threat to the Town Car’s hegemony by then anyway, especially since fleets had long adopted it as their own. A simple and rugged RWD BOF car is what everyone from taxis, police and limo operators found to be the cheapest way to get the job done, and the Panthers were willing to oblige. Ford is keeping its TC line running through 2011 to give them a chance to stock up and prepare for the end, whatever that means. But the end is in sight, for the lucky and plucky Town Car. Note to Ford: send a Thank You card to GM before you turn off the lights on the TC line.

]]> 57
Curbside Classic: 1977 Lincoln Town Car Wed, 10 Feb 2010 18:37:15 +0000

Here it is, the last of the species autosaurus giganticus. Never again would beasts of this size roam our freeways and driveways with their EPA stickers (10/12) still freshly removed. It was the end of an era; the giant American land cruiser became extinct when the last 1979 Town Car rolled off the lines. And that last roll took a while: two hundred thirty three and seven-tenths inches of steel, chrome, vinyl and deeply tufted leather. No less than the visionary Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome and the very un-Town Car like Dymaxion Car lamented (and lambasted) the passing of the last big Lincoln. Given that he was all of 5’2″ tall, that seems a bit odd. But really big cars were such a part of the American psyche, that when they were gone, it left a gaping hole. You don’t miss your water ’till the well runs dry.

I may have mixed feelings about some of the other big old Lincolns, but these last Town Cars, from ’77-’79, were such bold survivors like the last Wooly Mammoths that roamed the earth, that I can’t help but be in (shock and) awe. The transplanted fake Rolls Royce-like grille from the Mark IV only added to their outrageous rebellion against the grain of the times. Cadillac and the rest of GM had dramatically downsized in 1977. Chrysler’s increasingly irrelevant big cars were gone after 1978. But Lincoln held out, for even one more year after its stablemates, the big Fords and Mercuries, had jumped into the hot wash cycle.

Lincoln finally hit the big volume jackpot in the mid-late seventies. This 1977 Town Car is one of almost 200k Lincolns produced that year, about eight times what the classic ’61 Continental sold at. There was still a healthy gap between it and Cadillac, but nothing like earlier days. The Mark III coupe had been a fairly successful extension of the line, and the Mark IV was a really BIG hit. Well, it was the blow out, before the crash. Downsizing these slabby Lincolns did not go over well, as we’ll see in our next installment.

These cars epitomized the changes that had taken place in the US since the early sixties. The “Kennedy Lincolns” reflected the sense of understated style and artistic sensibility that Jackie embodied. The cars were powerful and optimistic, and projected the ideals of the time. By the late seventies, these Lincolns were a place to hide from a much more complicated and frankly uglier world. Of course these Town Cars did nothing to make the world any prettier or less ambivalent.

With their ostentatious fake grilles, opera windows and other affectations, and their gas guzzling ways in the face of rising gas prices and environmental concerns, they were a 5,000 lb bundle of contradictions. But riding in the back of one was anesthetizing balm; much better that then actually driving one.

Any semblance of performance had long gone the way of suicide doors. The standard engine in this ’77 was reduced to the 400 cubic inch (6.6 liters) mid-block V8, with a mere 179 (net) hp. In 1978, that shrunk further to 166 hp. At least the 460 was still optional. But in its final year in ’79, only the 400 with now 159 hp was on tap. No wonder Lincoln was playing up all the “Designer Series” variations.

Givenchy, Pucci, Bill Blass, and even Cartier versions of Town Cars and Marks drove up prices and profits in ways that would foreshadow the big luxo-SUVs to come. Some of the final ’79 “Collector Series” Lincolns cost over $22k, almost double what a base TC started at. Make hay while the sun shines; or: there’s a sucker born every minute. Both apply equally, as well as a few other choice aphorisms. Blinged-out Navigators and Escalades were barely a generation away.

But the eighties were the transitional decade before that started in earnest. And Lincoln’s first steps into that decade were not a walk in the park. Leaving behind the familiarity of big cars, and transitioning to smaller ones was something GM pulled off fairly well the first go-around. Meanwhile, it seemed like Ford was being dragged into it, and it showed. That must be the reason Ford made so much hay with the last few years of the big Lincolns; they obviously didn’t have a lot of confidence in the clays sitting in their advanced styling studios.

]]> 62
Curbside Classic Outtake: 1968 Lincoln Continental Tue, 09 Feb 2010 17:10:26 +0000

While I prepare the next full chapter of Lincoln’s (mostly downhill) roller-coaster ride, here’s a couple of shots of a 1968 Continental sedan. To my eye, the degradation of the original’s purity is now under way, although these ’66-’69 models still carry manage to convey a sense of dignity and exclusivity. That would change, all too soon.

Everything was now smoother and slightly rounded off, like a crisp bar of soap after the first couple of uses. The side windows have curved glass again, and the engine is bigger than ever: A 462 cubic inch version of the old MEL engine, then supplanted by the spanking new 460 V8. It all kind of works, sort of; like a middle aged woman wearing yesterday’s fashionable dress, let out here and there a bit. Looking at her is a mixed bag: you sadly remember her when she was young and fresh, and made a huge splash with her bold daring sense of style, yet you know those moments can’t be frozen in time. So you try to appreciate her before she loses even more of her assets, because you know it’s inevitable.

]]> 31
Bus Saturday Finale: Scenicruiser Design Inspiration Discovered Sat, 06 Feb 2010 21:58:31 +0000

The Greyhound Scenicruiser was iconic, and set off a rash of imitators world-wide. Based on a design of Raymond Loewy supposedly inspired on an earlier patent by Roland E. Gegoux, it was hailed as a stylistic and practical breakthrough. But it was anything but new or original, as this 1937 Kenworth bus illustrates quite well. It was used in the north west for a number of years. But was it original? Is anything?

Here’s an even earlier inbusnation of the hi-lo design, from 1929. It also plied the northwest, some ten years earlier. And just for fun, here’s another unique design from the ever creative north west; the Sail Bus:

Thanks for sharing Bus Saturday with me. What shall we do next Saturday?

]]> 27
Curbside Classic: 1992 Mitsubishi Eclipse Mon, 25 Jan 2010 20:34:28 +0000

You try finding an intact gen1 Eclipse; it took me months. And forget about it being a Turbo; they’ve all been riced, diced, sliced and mashed into oblivion. Was there ever more of a young guy car than this?  I’ll go out on a limb and say that the turbo AWD version of this and its Plymouth Laser and Eagle Talon DSM clones were the closest thing there was to a four-wheeler crotch rocket in their day. It may be a bit on the young side for Curbside Classics, but I figured I’d better grab this Eclipse now, because it may well be the last in town, and its driver is a young guy. High testosterone levels lead to drives of several types, but not generally the one that pertains to preservation. The Eclipse is the victim of its intended demographic.

The fruit of the then fertile Diamond Star Motors (DSM) joint venture with Chrysler, the Eclipse and its Laser and Eagle buddies hit the scene in 1990, at the height of the market for small sporty coupes, and made quite a splash. The Turbo Eclipse made C/D’s Ten Best Cars list the first year out, and stayed on it every year through 1992. Based loosely on the Galant, the Eclipse trio benefited from Mitsubishi’s competition cars going well back into the seventies and the more definitive Lancer VR-4  of 1987 that led to the Evo series. The DSM trio didn’t get the unadulterated Evo engine tune (247 hp), but the 180-195 horses it did have was a good start, although I suspect very few of them ended up with those numbers.  How many Eclipses gave their life to the experiment of “lets see what happens when we raise the boost…now some more…and a just a little bit more… Oh, so that’s what happens!”

But it was a fun experiment while it lasted. And that includes for its maker too. The DSM trio were a popular seller, but its been a long slide downhill, especially after the end of the similar-sized gen2 version in 1999. The combination of growth, bloat and indifference makes it a very reasonable question to ask: Do they even make the Eclipse anymore? I assume so, but can’t be bothered to check to make sure. The Eclipse has been permanently eclipsed by Subaru WRX/STIs and of course the Lancer Evo, although their numbers are probably a small fraction of what the Eclipse and friends sold in their heyday.

I keep running across solid old (non-Eclipse) Mitsubishi cars, and the stats from the German reliability post we did recently remind me what a vibrant company it once was, and how well built their cars were. I don’t blame the lack of Eclipses, Talons and Lasers on the streets to Mitsubishi; we’ve covered that already here. Or were their US DSM-made cars not as good as the real Nipponese thing? If anyone would have told me as recently as when this car was made that Mitsu would be hanging by a thread now, I wouldn’t have believed it. But perhaps chasing the turbosterone demographic wasn’t such a hot idea after all.

]]> 51
Curbside Classics We’d Like To Find: Vintage Ad Scans As Temporary Substitutes Sat, 23 Jan 2010 20:45:48 +0000

My stash of old car magazines fell off the shelf in the craziness of re-arranging my office. It’s not very large, but time always stops when I open a C/D from 1963, 1967 or 1971. In just a few minutes, I encountered dozens of cars I’d like to find for CC. Some of them I’m sure I will eventually; others not too likely. A Glas 1700 GT? I had zero memory of that being imported to the US, and I tend to not forget obscurities like that. Here’s a few quick ones; if you like, we’ll do it again sometime.

The rest you’ll have to pick out from the gallery: (double click to blow up your selected pic) 71 roadrunner - still looking glas 1700 gt ad 63 corvette - nice copy writing 64 studebaker ad 67 barracuda 63 fiat 1200 ad 0800 71 comet gt ad 800 audi 100 ad 800 my beloved peugeot 404 64 gto ad800 71 toyota mk II ad 800 67 fiberfab Mercedes 6.3 ad 800 peugeot 304 ad 800

]]> 21
Curbside Classic: Potential ’66 F-100 Pickup Replacement Found – 1993 Toyota T-100 Fri, 15 Jan 2010 00:00:47 +0000 update on a classic format

I’ve given it some thought over the years, and there’s only one truck that I’ve seriously considered as a replacement for my F-100, and this is it. In fact, it’s almost a perfect update on the Ford, with the benefits of modern technology. Don’t laugh, but I’ll take mine with the 2.7 liter four cylinder. It’s got more horsepower (150) than the Ford (129), and a pretty healthy dose of torque. It’s not like I’m planning on pulling 10,000 pound trailers down the road. Oh wait; I actually have done that with the Ford…

no ladders necessary

As far as I’m concerned, Toyota made a giant blunder when they abandoned their T-100/gen1 Tundra platform for the current monstrosity. And I don’t just say that in hindsight. But then my perspective is not Texan, and I accept that different folks have different ideas about how massive trucks need to be. But here’s the ironic thing: these T-100 trucks are very popular around here with professional landscapers, who try real hard work them to death, but rarely succeed.

hold the leather and fake wood

The thing about big new trucks as I pointed out in my earlier post is that you pretty much have to use a trailer for hauling materials that some of us like to still put into beds. But landscapers (and others like me) like a low bed for placing materials, often need to back into tight spaces, or just don’t care to pull around a second bed on wheels. And the T-100 is old-school Toyota rugged and simple, has a full-sized bed and can fit three in the cab. And it gets up to 25 mpg with the four. Just the thing to keep operating and maintenance costs low. That explains why the resale value on these trucks are still holding up.

if and when the times come, this is it

Well, I doubt Toyota is going to bring back the T-100, but sooner or later someone’s going to see the hole in the market for a full size bed that’s reasonably low to the ground and married to a mid-sized cab big enough for a tall guy. A torquey  four cylinder, gas or diesel, and we’re good to go. Well, my old Ford isn’t exactly getting worried yet.

]]> 37
Curbside Classic: 1991 Alfa Romeo 164 Mon, 11 Jan 2010 19:23:33 +0000 quickly dissapearing from the streets

(Curbside Classics paid a quick visit to TTAC Command Central in Portland on Saturday, and came away with a few goodies to share from that CC Elysian Fields this week)

With the presumed return of Alfa to our shores, its easy to forget that it seems like just yesterday (to us oldsters) that Alfa was selling its handsome 164 sedan hereabouts until 1995. To the more youthful here, the 164 may have been something you ogled from the back of the family Caravan on the way to grade school. Regardless; it’s a quickly disappearing part of the street-scape, and has some fascinating history behind that tasty exterior.

CC P80 059 800

The 164 was the last new car developed by an independent Alfa Romeo before they were bought by Fiat. But that doesn’t mean Fiat wasn’t already a major player in the 164′s genesis by another means: the 164 was one of four cars developed on the joint “Type 4″ platform, which included the Fiat Croma, the Lancia Thema, and the Saab 9000. Even a grade schooler could see that the Fiat, Lancia and Saab were the chummy trio of the foursome. The doors from a Croma will install right on the Saab; etc. Obviously, the Alfa got special treatment; up to a point.

While the 164 certainly benefited from the  distinctive styling from the other three, courtesy of Pininfarina, it failed to make sure there was an exclusivity clause in its contract with the storied design house. The 164 and the concurrently Pinin designed Peugeot  605 show a remarkable degree of familial similarity, perhaps even more so when they’re not right together like in this picture.

pininfarina double-dipping

The 164 was a serious effort to move Alfa upscale, which had failed badly in its previous efforts to expand beyond its roots as sporty brand. Its prior effort, the Alfa 6, was about as successful in the larger sedan category as Fiat’s interesting but also unsuccessful 130. The Italians have never been able to crack the stranglehold of the German bigger sedans, even on their home turf. The “type 4″ platform cars were to be the big breakthrough.

I don’t have all the sales stats and contemporary reviews in front of me, but my recollection is that the Croma and Thema may have been, at best, only marginally successful for Fiat in holding off BMW, Audi and Mercedes’ inroads further. The Thema 8.32 was a wild variant, featuring a Ferrari -sourced V8 mounted transversely, and a very high-grade interior; an Italian version of the Taurus SHO (not the interior part, that is).

CC P80 061 800

I’m getting off topic again, as usual. The 164 and the Saab 9000 were probably the most successful of the four; the Saab’s fairly strong presence in the US being a major contributor. The 164 was taken quite seriously in Europe as a competitor in the executive saloon sector, and enjoyed a degree of success, both critically and commercially, that was unprecedented for a larger Alfa, at least since the days of the 2600 in the fifties and sixties.

CC P80 060 800

In Europe, the 164 came with a variety of engines; the twin-spark 2.0 fours, both normally aspirated and turbo; a small-bore 2.0 turbo V6 (primarily for markets with a heavy displacement tax); a 2.5 diesel; and the beautiful 3.0 V6 which solely powered the US versions: a 12 valve version until ’93; then a 24 valver until the end. The power ratings were pretty healthy for the times too: from 183  hp (12 valve) to 230 hp for the 24 valve S version. The 3.0 was a sweet sounding and fine running motor, and went a long way to dispel any lingering doubts about a FWD Alfa, at least in a sedan.

alfa V6

I can’t claim any seat time in one of these cars, but maybe some of you can add your experiences. And although the 164 doesn’t (or does it?) have “Italian Reliability Nightmare” written all over it, it may still be included in the fine print. Any 164 sob stories out there?

CC P80 057 800

More Curbside Classics are here

]]> 44
Illegal Alien Van Nabbed: JDM Toyota 4×4 HiAce Sun, 10 Jan 2010 21:22:20 +0000 CC 66 023 800

Running into this Japanese Domestic Market Toyota Hi-Ace in Eugene was about as unusual as the cold weather that week. It was a frosty December morning after an overnight low in the single digits; pretty uncommon hereabouts. Well, it did have British Columbia plates on it, so that helps explains it. But it’s right hand drive, and a long way from home.

CC 66 026 800

This is a larger vehicle than the smaller Toyota vans that were sold here in the eighties and have all ended up in Eugene. A separate CC feature on old Japanese vans is overdue.

CC 66 028 800

I couldn’t get a good shot, but this baby has a full transfer case and stout drivetrain that looks borrowed from an old Hi-Lux 4×4 pickup. If it had a diesel, this would really be something for a globe trotter.

CC 66 027 800

CC 66 022 800

]]> 16
Curbside Classic Truck Saturday: How GMC Uglified One Of The Most Handsome Trucks Ever Sat, 09 Jan 2010 17:23:50 +0000


Yesterday’s pursuit of ugliness is going to spill over a bit into today’s TTAT. I consider the late’55- ’56 Chevy’s face to be one of the finest ever in the history of trucks. It’s a terrific adaptation of the remarkably clean ’55 Chevy sedan. The classic egg crate grille is nicely balanced by the single headlights, and ornamentation is kept to a minimum. GMC has been in the business of trying to differentiate their otherwise almost identical trucks forever, usually to poor effect. The other day, I ran into what has to be the most egregious example of ruining a fine face. Brace yourselves:

after the GMC uglification studio got finished

I guess GMC’s 2010 Terrain comes by its ugly mug honestly.

More new Curbside Classics here

]]> 44
Curbside Classic CA Vacation Edition Final Post: 1966 Cadillac Coupe DeVille Sun, 03 Jan 2010 01:20:21 +0000 the most interesting angle for a not-so interesting year caddy

Here’s my quickie farewell California post: an always popular Caddy Coupe DeVille, vintage 1966. Once again, I’m going to be sparse with my words, and let the pictures do most of the talking. And of course, it’s regrettable that the formidable grille is hiding up against the garage door, but here’s a cheater picture of one.

CC SM 75 044 800

I’m going to admit that as much as all old Caddy’s have an undeniable presence and imposing character, the ’65 – ’66 models in my book are a bit weaker than some before and after. These look a bit uninspired; like “we need to do a new Caddy for ’65; so what are we going to cook up?” I find that the ’67 – ’68s to be a bit more interesting, with a bolder, more chiseled look. The ’65 – ’66s are a bit too bland, like a bar of soap after a few baths.

CC SM 75 046 800

Maybe Bill Mitchell’s gang was too busy with the ’67 Eldorado coupe that was on its way. Whatever; old Caddys are always fun in the just stop in your tracks on the street and gaze a while way. But I better not linger too long, because I’ll start thinking about all those interesting lines on the ’61s and 62s, and even up through the ’64s. Time to move along; see you on Monday!

More New Curbside Classics Here

]]> 22
Curbside Classic CA Vacation Sunday’s Posts On Saturday Edition: 1981 Dodge Challenger Sun, 03 Jan 2010 00:38:26 +0000 three vintage japenese mobiles in front of a vintage spanish-immobile

On Sunday, we hit the road back home to Eugene. I’ve shot more cars than I’ve had time to post, and we’ll come back to some of them soon, like on a coming President’s birthday (hint). I’m going to keep throwing up a few posts from my hangout at Peet’s in Half Moon Bay, until Stephanie is finished doing her thing. So let’s start (or end, depending) with this 1981 Dodge Challenger. And don’t overlook this triple CC: the Toyota van and a Mitsubishi/Dodge pickup in the driveway.

the un-challenger

Obviously, when folks think “Dodge Challenger”, they tend to think of the original and the current one. But in between was the gen2 Challenger, a rebadged Mitsubishi Galant Lancer sold as the Plymouth Sapporo and this Dodge Challenger from 1978 through 1983. And there were two versions of this car; the pre-’81, and the ’81 and on, like this one. I’ve got a cherry early version Sapporo in the can, but when I found this second series Challenger, it was show-and-tell time.

CC SM74 105 800

These Mitsu coupes were pretty garish in their first incarnations: padded half-vinyl roofs; bright landau bands, carriage lights, garish colors and over-stuffed interiors; they were trying way too hard to be down-sized Chrysler Cordobas or Dodge Miradas. But the second series, like this ’81, took a decidedly sportier turn: cleaner flanks, a “normal” roof, and lots of graphics to suggest a sporty demeanor. Did it work?

CC SM74 106 800

Now here’s an interesting thought: all three generations of Challengers came with “hemi” engines, although only the first two were true hemis. We all know about the legendary 426 hemi available in the ’70 and ’71 Challengers; in reality very few were actually built that way. And the current Chrysler “hemi” isn’t really a true hemi; its combustion chamber is best described as a modified pent roof, since a true hemispherical chamber runs too dirty for smog regs. But the Mitsu 2.6 four, like so many fours back then, had hemispherical heads; not that it resulted in anything too dramatic in terms of actual performance. But why didn’t they put big HEMI badges on this little puppy?

CC SM74 107 800

More new Curbside Classics here

]]> 18
Curbside Classic CA Vacation Edition: Triple ’67 El Caminos and Reclusive ’56 Nomad Sat, 02 Jan 2010 23:41:38 +0000 el camino and more goodies in the garage

I have a growing cache of Eugene El Caminos, and was going to break them out soon enough. But taking a stroll around San Mateo, I ran into three ’67s within a few blocks of each other, so let’s caminar down that long and fertile el camino of Chevy’s popular ute pickup, with this particularly popular year. And what’s that lurking in the garage? Let’s take a closer look:

is that a '39 Chevy and '56 Nomad in there?

Yes, this Chevy lover has a ’39 in progress, and a pristine ’56 Nomad in there, along with a cool pink slammed pedal-car. I tried to coax the Nomad out into the sun, but the wife’s Vanagon was getting serviced, so no such luck. The ’55 Nomad is my favorite of the three, and one of my all-time lust objects for American cars of that vintage.

CC SM74 046 800

We’ll save our Nomad ammo for a better day, and get back to the business pickups at hand. I’ve got a nice ’59 waiting for the beginning of the El Camino story, and a slew of later ones. But these ’67s are the last of the gen2 series that started with the very clean ’64s and ended up with the almost equally clean ’67s. Things got distinctly more “interesting” with the highly-styled ’68s and on, and we’ll see them soon too. But I suspect I’m not the only one who thinks that this generation may be the most palatable one of the whole family. As usually, that’s a highly subjective matter, and El Camino lovers are welcome to debate that point.

CC SM74 066 800

One thing is overwhelmingly clear: El Caminos are incredibly popular. I’m constantly amazed at how many there are on the streets, both here and in Oregon. The grossly outnumber the more pedestrian varieties of Malibus, and rival old Mustangs, Mercedes SLs, and old Caddys as the most popular “collector” cars that I see curbside. The number of last-gen El Caminos amazes me most of all; even in my neighborhood in Eugene, where old Chevies are not that common, there are several of those ’77 through ’87s around. I have a “hybrid” version of one of those to share with you soon. Obviously, all the benefits of Chevy interchangeability and parts availability make these very easy to keep running and modify to whatever degree one’s heart desires. And nothing like being able to haul engines and other junk yard parts in one’s hobby car to make the job easier!

CC SM74 082 800

]]> 12
Curbside Classic CA Vacation – Highly Un-Los Gatos Edition: 1977 Datsun 810 Sat, 02 Jan 2010 22:50:58 +0000 old-school los gatos Datsun 810

We lived in Los Gatos from 1987 to 1993. It was already becoming a high-priced enclave for Silicon Valley high fliers then, and now it’s utterly transformed. The Ford, Chevy and even the Honda dealers are now all shuttered, but the RR, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Bentley dealers are flourishing. Disneyland-esque mansions the size of hotels have replaced little ranchers. Driving back into to town after a wonderful hike in the hills with friends, I saw the ultimate extremes: a brand-new “reproduction” full-sized water-wheel “mill” on a dry, scrubby hillside, “turning” slowly while the pump-fed recirculating “stream” spilled from its “sluice” to “power” it. This thing was the size of a two or three-story house; a “lawn ornament” of grandiose proportions straight out of a theme park. Ok; I don’t have any problems with folks having lots of money; but do they have to spend it in such grotesque ways? But just a block away from our old house I found the perfect antidote to my nouveau riche nausea: a 1977 Datsun 810.

CC SM 77 017 800

Datsun was late to the game with six-cylinder sedans. Toyota had been selling their Buick-esque Crown since the mid-sixties. Finally, in 1977 Datsun sent this 810 our way, utilizing the Z-car’s 2.4 liter SOHC rated at 125 hp. It was essentially a federalized version of the Nissan Bluebird Maxima, and the subsequent generations reverted to the Maxima name to this day.

CC SM 77 020 800

These cars shared their platforms and quite a few other parts with the second-generation Datsun 280ZX, including their semi-trailing arm IRS. They were fairly straight-forward, traditional and pretty boring RWD sedans, similar to the Tokyo taxis that Nissan and Datsun built for decades; the Japanese Mercedes w123. To my memory, they never sold in significant numbers, but gave loyal Datsun buyers a way to move up the ladder without leaving the fold. And there definitely aren’t many around these days. Thank you, Datsun 810, for being there so that I could stop holding my nose for our brief time in Los Gatos.

More Curbside Classics here

]]> 12
Curbside Classic CA Vacation Edition: Super-Rare 1971 Opel Manta Fri, 01 Jan 2010 04:23:48 +0000 a manta washed ashore in Half Moon Bay

You never know what will wash ashore on the beaches of Half Moon Bay. Heading for the coffee/wifi cafe to send these dispatches, what do I find in the parking lot, but a pristine 1971 (or ’72) Manta. As you may remember, the best I could in Eugene was this ’74 in a carport that probably hadn’t been driven in some ten years.

CCSM 76 004 800

But this Opel is still taking its elderly driver on her errands. And it was a stick too. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is a one-owna’ Manta. Even has the after-market/dealer installed rubber side protection strip. Must avoid parking lot dings, and keep the old Manta looking good for another decade or two! Parts? Why there’s that Buick dealer in San Mateo…

]]> 44
Curbside Classic CA Vacation Edition: The Last Mitsubishi Cordia In The World? Thu, 31 Dec 2009 01:57:31 +0000 anybody remember me?

As is all-too obvious, I have a particular soft spot for older Japanese cars, especially the more obscure varieties. So when I walked into this Cordia, I just had to stop, shoot and write. I haven’t seen one since moving to Oregon, but there might well be some logical rationale behind that: the Cordia was almost surely was never sold there. Good luck finding any Cordia, or its Tredia sedan sibling, but if anywhere at all, its going to be here in California.

CC SM74 052 800

In our recent Colt/Champ CC, we covered the Mitsubishi-Chrysler tie-up. By the early eighties, Mitsubishi wanted more of the action than just wholesaling cars to Chrysler, and pissed off its partner by going into business in the US by itself. Since the Colt and Space Wagon were tied up by Chrysler, Mitsubishi began by sending a trio of the more stranger-named cars just about ever to hit these shores: Cordia, Tredia and Starion.

The Cordia name was explained as a combination of cordorite, a lustrous mineral, and diamonds, Mitsu’s logo. The Tredia was supposedly named after the three-diamonds logo. And the Starion? Urban legend has it that it was an “Engrished” version of the intended name “Stallion”. We’ll take on that whole story when I find a Starion. But let me start off the debate by asking: does Starion sound any less intentionally weird than Cordia or Tredia?

CC SM74 055 800

Anyway, Mitsubishi started out with a small dealer network, which was in California and…California. Well, actually, a few east coast markets were technically also part of the slow roll-out, but damn if I ever saw one of these Cordias out east. And if any were sold, they’ve obviously long since succumbed to the oxide god.

I can’t find out a lot of detail anymore about exactly which engines Mitsubishi installed in US-bound Cordias. Probably a 1.8 liter four. Were any turbos sent this way? Are there any early Mitsubishi fans out there? Does anyone care? But before this obscure box completely leaves our collective memories, it deserves its fifteen seconds of fame. Consider it done.

CC SM74 054 800

]]> 52
Curbside Classic CA Vacation Edition: 1960 Chevrolet Impala Wed, 30 Dec 2009 02:29:30 +0000 no blindspot

This 1960 Impala needs no words of commentary; it’s one of those profoundly visual and self-explanatory cars. For a frame of reference and background, I direct you to its predecessor’s 1959 Chevy Curbside Classic.San Mateo, circa 1960

no blind spots in the front either

toned down from the '59's batwings

CC SanMateo 020 800

how rear seats have changed

CC SanMateo 019 800

CC SanMateo 024 800

More New Curbside Classics Here

]]> 28
Curbside Classic CA Vacation Edition: Nissan Pulsar – gen2 & gen1 Wed, 30 Dec 2009 01:57:26 +0000 a convertibel and unforgettable rear end

How many show-car concepts over the decade have featured a “convertible” body, where the car could be transformed from one body style to another? In my memory, several; it’s an irresistible draw for designers. And how many have actually made it into production? The only one that come to my mind is this gen2 Nissan Pulsar. When I saw it and its gen1 predecessor two blocks away, it was my cue to take a look at this historically significant little car.

CC SM74 035 800

The Pulsar’s upper rear body section is removable, and can be replaced by the wagon-like Sportbak option, or left off entirely for a laundalet-like open rear seat. With the T-top opened also, an almost full-convertible feel was created. I remember seeing quite few of the Sportbak versions in its day, and its been a long time since I’ve seen one. I haven’t spotted a Pulsar at all in Eugene, but its still vivid in my memory; the gen2 version that is.

CC SM74 033 800

The most attractive young female employee at the tv station I was managing in 1986 bought one of the first Pulsars in LA in the fall of ’86. It was red like this one, and they were a perfect combination. The Pulsar was not only unique in its body configuration, but it was pretty aggressively styled too. A hot little number, both of them; sure got my pulse going.

CC SM74 022 800

That hardly applies to its gen1 predecessor. Built from ’83 to ’86, it was trying to be a bit adventuresome, but came off rather cliched in that Japanese school of hard-edged boxyness. The graphics package didn’t help either. No wonder it had long left my active memory banks.

CC SM74 023 800

These Pulsars sold in the US were Sentra based, and the only time that name was used here. In the rest of the world, Pulsars graced a variety of small FWD Nissan sedans, hatches and coupes.

More new Curbside Classics here

]]> 37