When GM suddenly decided it needed a convincing small car for the US market, Car Czar Bob Lutz scanned his European operations and fixed his once-steely gaze on the next gen Opel Astra. Unfortunately, GM’s bean counters confirmed what common sense suggested: labor costs, transportation costs, unfavorable exchange rates and competitive pricing preclude the possibility of profit. Maximum Bob was undeterred, claiming GM will build the “Saturn Astra” in the US if it succeeds (i.e. loses them lots of money). All of which raises an important question: does the Astra have what it takes to sell stateside?
Fewer vehicles capture the hearts and imagination of parents and children at this time of year more than Santa’s sleigh. Yet little is known of this iconic ride that makes the rounds every December. In fact, most people know more about Adam West’s valiant crime fighting Batmobile than they do Kris Kringle’s delivery truck. So, at the risk of being blacklisted for naughtiness, I ask in TTAC fashion whether Santa’s immortal sleigh is a timeless classic or an outdated dud.
It's hard to believe that The Morgan Motor Company is the last great– great?– English automobile maker. Here we have a company that still builds its cars out of wood, whose 19th century business practices were famously and shamelessly lampooned by an English TV business doctor (and peer), that makes roadsters that look genetically predisposed to leak, fall apart and short-out. And yet, while Rolls Royce, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Bentley all follow marching orders from foreign lands, there's still a British gentleman named Morgan running Morgan. What's more, their throughly modern motor car, the Aero 8, has been firing on all cylinders for six years, and you can buy one in the colonies. So, what say we take the old girl out for a spin…
When I asked Horacio Pagani how he can compete against Ferrari, Porsche and Mercedes, he said "It's better to be the head of a mouse rather than the tail of lion." It's a nice Italianate metaphor (especially for an Argentinean), but it's not strictly accurate. If the Pagani Zonda is a "mouse", then an F15 is a "plane". Plant your right foot in a C12S and the AMG-fettled Mercedes V12 barks, roars, howls and then screams like a wounded grizzly. Any lion with an ounce of self-preservation would run for his life.
And not make it ten yards. When thrashing the Zonda on the twisting two-lane highway above Modena, there was one long straight. For the first and only time, I was free to explore the mystery known as "third gear". Those of you who've driven a race car flat out might appreciate the resulting rush. I doubt it. On a track, you don't need to watch out for Italian truck drivers coming from the opposite direction (using the racing line). Flooring the Pagani Zonda on a public road hurts your brain, blows your mind AND loosens your bowels.
Bristol is one of Britain's most venerated carmakers. For over thirty-five years, Brits "in the know" have considered the obscure automaker's products to be the embodiment of English hand built quality and understated exclusivity. Unfortunately, motoring journalists need not apply. In fact, Bristol actively discourages any sort of publicity for its current cars. A test drive is "out of the question".
A few weeks before the end of my English adventure, I gave Bristol one last try. I immediately recognised the cut-glass accent on the other end of the phone: Tony Crook, former RAF pilot, racing driver and the undisputed Emperor of Bristol Motor Cars. Luckily, the octogenarian and self-professed "living legend" didn't recognise my voice. Mr. Crook agreed to a "five-minute chat".
OK, so you want a fast car. A really fast car. A car so absurdly rapid that you'd stop for the police because you're a law-abiding citizen-not because you have to. The only trouble is money. To buy anything monstrously quick with enough finesse to keep you on the road, you're going to have to pay mortgage money to the Germans or Italians. Sure, you could modify a Rice Burner, but that ain't cheap either, and a bit too Fast and Furious for style conscious Brits. Then check out the Ultima Can Am.
You want fast? In all my Ferrari-owning, Lambo-loving, Pagani pestering life, I have never driven a road car as searingly quick as the Ultima Can Am. Pop in the light but solid clutch, press the starter button, give her some revs, release the clutch and objects in front of you are suddenly closer than they appear. Wind it up to the 6000 rpm redline and you're issuing a direct challenge to your brain to compute information as fast as it's being received. This at the same time that the G-force is throwing you back into your seat, the wind is trying to tear your head off, and the engine is screaming, 'Look at me! I'm a RACE CAR!' Luckily, the Can Am's 18' tyres maintain a death grip on the tarmac- giving drivers freedom to pick bugs out of their teeth while recovering from endorphin overload.