The Truth About Cars » Enthusiasm The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +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 » Enthusiasm Sunday Story: Shade Tree Redux Sun, 11 May 2014 12:00:06 +0000 800px-Catalina_Island,_La_Romana,_Dominican_Republic._A_typical_bungalow_nearby_cost_line,_shaded_with_palm_trees_(1)

Image courtesy of Mstyslav Chernov:

“Cool photo. Is that your grandpa or something?” Mark pointed to the sun-bleached black and white photo that hung on the wall of the garage. A smiling, grease-stained man in mechanic’s overalls stood proudly in front of a 1950s dirt-track racer. Sitting at his feet was a trophy.

Danny nodded. “Yup, that’s him. He’s my inspiration. He used to talk about building motors and fixing up cars underneath the old shade tree. You can see it there in the background.” Mark kept staring at the photo. Satisfaction, thought Mark. That was the only word that he could use to describe it. The pure, unbridled joy of winning a competition, based not only on one’s skill with a steering wheel and clutch, but with a screwdriver and a hammer too. Mark knew that feeling well; he loved winning as much as anybody and he built his own machines too.

This time, however, he needed some help. Danny was the best shade-tree mechanic in the city, and a good friend to boot. Mark knew Danny would be able to fix the reliability problems plaguing his machine, issues that he couldn’t seem to trace. He needed Danny’s skill in order to be ready for the weekend.

“Let’s take a look at what you brought me.” Mark gladly obliged. The candy-apple-red paint glimmered in the garage as Danny let out a low whistle.

“That’s one hell of a machine you’ve got there.” Mark’s pride swelled.

“Yeah, I did the whole finish myself. Two coats of primer, then three color coats, then gloss, then wet sanding, then I hit it with gloss again. Waxed it just to be safe.” Danny admired his reflection in the shine of the surface.

“If it looks so good, then what’s the problem?”

“I think it has a short, or a bad battery, or something. At high speeds it starts blowing fuses and just dies.”

“Well, that could be a lot of things. Let’s take a look.” They gently lifted the hood off and set it aside, careful not to scratch the finish. Danny scanned the chassis code. Using his wealth of knowledge about serial numbers and build orders, he noticed something right away.


“What is it?”

“See that code there? It’s a 24X97F. You have an early build.”

“Alright, so what?”

“They made a running change late in the year. They redesigned part of the voltage regulator so that the fuse wouldn’t blow when the system was running at max charge. The new part is a lot more reliable.” Mark nodded his head in understanding, but he was worried.

“Can we get it fixed in time? The tournament is this weekend!”

“Calm down, it’s an easy fix. I think I’ve got the part. We have to do a little soldering, but it’s no big deal.”

“Ah, great.” Before long, they’d yanked out the subassembly and had it in pieces on Danny’s workbench. After a good thirty minutes of rifling through various disheveled bins, they finally found the replacement part.

“Got it.” Danny held up the small clear baggie triumphantly. It was a thin piece of metal, barely an inch long.

“That’s it?” Mark was skeptical.

“Hey, I know what I’m talking about, alright? You stick to paint.” He was already plugging in the soldering iron. A couple dabs later, and the new part was secure. Danny proffered the bad bit to Mark.

“You see how burnt it looks in the middle? That’s because they cheaped out on the design. Stupid bean counters, they wound up fixing it anyway. Grandpa used to complain about them too.”

“Huh. Well, let’s get it put back together so I can check your work.” Thus began the laborious process of reassembly. After many more admonishments to not scratch the paint, Danny had successfully put the whole thing back together. A new fuse, and it was ready to fire up.

“Okay, let’s give it a whirl.” Mark’s machine turned over instantly, whirring lustily in the garage. Danny sat his biggest box fan in front of it, and they ran it flat out for a few minutes. It was solid as a rock. A few more checks, and Mark was satisfied. He was ready to stomp the competition yet again.

“Couldn’t have done it without you.”

“No problem, man. Good luck with Battlefield 4 this weekend.” They admired the freshly-repaired computer, glinting there on its stand. Danny looked back up at the photo of Grandpa on the wall. Sure, it wasn’t a car, but he figured the old man would have approved. He always admired mechanical skill of any type. They carried the machine outside and gently sat it in Mark’s car. The color of his lowered Prelude matched that of his computer.

“Now that it’s getting warm again, are you going to sign up for any more SCCA stuff?”

“Yeah, but I need to reset the suspension first.”

“Well, we can work on that next weekend.”

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Cars I’ve Loved And Hated by Michael Lamm Thu, 19 Dec 2013 10:00:48 +0000 Lamm_900-700x311

Micheal Lamm has worn a lot of hats in the automotive media world, including stints as editor and publisher at a number of respected publications (besides siring the man who gave the world the 24 Hrs of LeMons series). In addition to wearing a lot of hats, Mike has also owned a lot of cars including about 80 collectible and special interest automobiles over the past 62 years. Most of them he loved, others he grew to hate.


Last year Michael did a 15 part series for Hemmings called Cars I’ve Loved and Hated, which he graciously allowed me to excerpt at my own site. He’s a great writer who accurately conveys what it’s like to be a car enthusiast and I think he’s one of the good guys in the autojourno biz. A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Amazon or directly from Lamm), which Lamm wrote with retired GM designer, the late Dave Holls, is encyclopediac in scope and pretty much the standard reference on the topic.

With just a week to go before Christmas and you have loved ones who love cars, or if you forgot to get your Jewish car enthusiast friends anything for Chanukah, now passed, there’s good news. Lamm decided to publish of Cars I’ve Loved and Hated on CD with the 223 pages of text and 131 photographs laid out in book format by noted automotive artist Casey Shain and though it normally costs $14.95 plus $3 shipping, Mike’s having a holiday sale and if you order it now, you can get it for just $12.95 and he’ll throw in first class postage in the U.S. for free until Christmas day. For more information, visit or send your check (no credit cards accepted) to Mike at Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 9428 Hickory Ave., Stockton CA 95212. If you ask him, he’ll probably autograph it.

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Justification for Higher Education, the Erosion of the Enthusiast Market, and Wholesome Whoring Tue, 17 Sep 2013 16:10:49 +0000  


I still remember the day my parents bought me a copy of the iconic Justification for Higher Education poster.  I had been nagging them for a while, and when I finally got the poster, it took immediate pride of place in my childhood bedroom.  Having matured, I recognize now that the imagery depicts a lifestyle unlikely to be the preserve of the highly educated, but instead that of a lottery winner.  Didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter today; the now ratty old poster followed me to college and again to my grown-up domicile.

In retrospect it’s a bit strange that I had the poster in college; residing in the middle of nowhere with no meaningful income, afflicted by terrible weather, and living under the thumb of an overzealous local police force due to strained town-gown relations, it was a bit difficult for me to maintain my passionate appreciation for automobiles during my tenure in Lexington, Virginia.  About halfway through my collegiate career, the majority of which constituted pre-sinecure studies under the auspices of a liberal arts education, I had the opportunity to take an economics elective entitled “Economics of the Automotive Industry.”  Although the professor had an intimidating reputation – an uncanny resemblance to Larry Ellison, a brace of Ivy League degrees, a fearsome ability to decimate GPAs, and remarkable loquaciousness during office hours, ensuring that every visit did indeed last for hours – I decided to take the course anyway.

Besides, I probably already knew everything we’d cover anyway, right?  In a word, no.

I came into the course in the spring of 2009 with an essentially encyclopedic knowledge of every sliver of ink spilled over the past decade in any automotive publication available at Barnes & Noble, and most ones and zeros dedicated to the subject, as well.  I faced a sudden realization that this “knowledge” would be a hindrance rather than a leg up, and that I needed to start thinking critically and reading Automotive News instead of Evo if I wanted to do well in the course.

I learned, begrudgingly, that the car business is just that, a business.  Rather than altruistic benefactors pumping out titillating metal to thrill internet fanboi bench racers who are only occasional purchasers, automakers exist to provide a return on their owners’ invested capital, period.  In the wake of the financial crisis, the business case for vanity projects with a tenuous, at best, connection to the remainder of an OEM’s model line is still somewhat problematic.

In addition to the high visibility, high name recognition manufacturers, the industry – when broadly construed – has tentacles encompassing a major portion of the domestic economy, including suppliers and distributors, with far-reaching labor market consequences.  My classmates and I were forced to confront the conundrum of vertical coordination, the difficulties of product planning given exceptionally lengthy lead and development timelines – not to mention evolving regulatory, safety, and emissions targets – as well as the economies of scale characteristic of a global durable goods industry.

Consider all of these factors in light of dynamic exchange rates and the boom-bust business cycle, and it’s no wonder that automakers seem unconcerned about appeasing the peanut gallery of enthusiasts.  My parents paid lots of money for me to receive this wisdom, but you can acquire it relatively cheaply if you’re willing to learn some basic economics, read a little, and disavow your personal sacred cows – just like this guy; I suppose it may be somewhat difficult to, uh, justify this particular aspect of my education.

The traditionally “enthusiast” manufacturers face even more difficulties; they have the option to adapt, evolve, expand, and grow, with the caveat of potentially enraging the existing, enthusiastic customer base and exposing themselves to more mainstream competition, or they can opt toward stubborn stagnation, arresting forward progress while the proverbial doting family calls the hospice.

Although there are several successful practitioners, the former strategy is exemplified by – of course – Porsche; but for the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 986 Boxster and 996 911, as well as the Cayenne and Panamera, the company probably wouldn’t exist anymore.  The latter strategy is probably best exhibited by Lotus, whose slow-motion snuff film has recently been protracted once more.  Despite the best efforts of now-deposed CEO Dany Bahar to jump-start the company, broaden the product offerings, and make the Lotus badge a viable economic contender for the 21st century, alleged expense indiscretions left him persona non grata in Hethel.  Now all of his ambitious plans have been scrapped, and Lotus remains a paragon of purity, with plans to produce only sporting, enthusiast-oriented cars for the foreseeable future.  Any perceived moral victories will also be Pyrrhic; nothing fundamental about the company has changed, but the marketplace in which it competes has.

So what can Lotus do?  Can they sell out just a little bit and not compromise the brand’s ideals?  Perhaps Lotus can move toward survival by whoring itself wholesomely while not tarnishing its existing reputation.  The engineering arm of Lotus has enjoyed many associations over the years, some more favorable than others.  Tinkerers as diverse as Hennessey and Tesla have borrowed liberally from Lotus’s chassis cookie jar in recent years, and there is a long list of ordinary cars that sought to import a bit of cachet, touting “Handling by Lotus.”


To ensure its long-term survival, Lotus has to find a viable business plan somewhere between pinch-hitting for other sports car manufacturers and pimping its name out on  work-a-day sleds.  Best of luck.

A special thanks to Mike Smitka, one of my favorite collegiate professors, for forcing me to examine my hobby dispassionately and rationally.  I am fortunate to have had his guidance in conducting an atypical senior year project, as well as his continued input on my career and my passions as an alumnus.  His musings about the automotive industry and related topics can be found here.

David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University.  Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta.  A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.

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What Makes An Enthusiast These Days Sun, 28 Apr 2013 15:16:30 +0000

Though it was only 6 pm, it was already dark out. The fall sent shivers to the Southern Hemisphere, and I ventured out to procure bread for my family. I got to the bakery shop, facing a small dilemma. All the parking on the bakery´s side of the street was taken. I drove around the block and parked on the other side. It’s a narrow two-way street and buses pass all the time, making it difficult for two cars passing at once. I worried about somebody hitting my car or smashing my side mirror. So I thought about it a minute and left the lights on when I exited the car, hoping that would be enough to alert our modern-day semi-comatose drivers. And that my friends is what makes me an enthusiast.

In an era of ubiquitous radars, crushing insurance for anything slightly sporting and obnoxious rice racers and ultimate car douche-bags, enthusiasm is not what it once was. I believe that enthusiasm nowadays is evidenced by thinking of your car. Granting it half a second of our overstretched attention. When I go to the mall, I inevitably bore my wife by driving around for a while looking for that “safe” space. One that affords my car some room to escape dings and scratches. Parking as close as possible to a column is part of my strategy. The other is avoiding mommy mobiles as the fairer sex is not known for respecting the doors of the cars parked next to them.

I also wash my car from time to time. I like to keep it neat and never leave anything in the trunk. I firmly believe a trunk is for the temporary transportation of objects and not an extra closet to store your excess junk ad infinitum. You wouldn’t believe my brother’s cars for example. Not only do they go dirty for weeks at a time, but pop his trunk and you’ll find old socks, tennis balls and rackets, stethoscopes, two-liter plastic soda bottles. The car of course has no feelings and is not offended, but such behavior is proof that he is not an enthusiast. It shows he doesn’t spare a thought to his cars.

I could go on (I get out of the car to watch over the gas attendant’s indifferent work instead of lazily sitting in the car), but my point is made. Modern enthusiasm is not about zero to 60 times, top speed or even engine size. It’s more about how the car fits into your life. How it makes you feel. Whether or not it gives you what you want from it. From sublime handling to icy perfection and boring, eternal reliability, whatever idiosyncratically rocks your boat.

In this vein, modern enthusiasm encompasses anything from the poster child of bland, the Toyota Corolla, to the epitome of cool, the Citroën 2CV. If you spare your car a half of second of thought throughout the situations you face going about your business, then my friend you are an enthusiast.

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I’m Glad They Built It, But I’d Never Buy It Fri, 12 Apr 2013 17:32:24 +0000

There are a lot of unappealing cars that most of us would never buy, and wish that automakers had never built. If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking of the Pontiac G5 right now. Or the G3. Or really any Pontiac made since about 1976. Except, of course, for the G8, which is automotive perfection according to their owners, who show them off in large numbers at cars and coffee events and do burnouts as they leave.

But how about a variation on the theme? What about cars that you’d never buy, but you’re glad were built? This question was inspired by a post on my blog where someone described the Buick Reatta this way. I don’t agree. To me, the Reatta belongs in the former category, somewhere between the Pontiac G6 and that awful Daewoo-based LeMans hatchback.

Instead, here are a few of my picks.

Buick Regal GS

I find the latest Regal GS absolutely gorgeous, reasonably priced, and surprisingly well-equipped. But what the hell do I know: I liked the old Regal GS. Yes, the one they sold from 1997 to 2004. Perhaps this invalidates all of my opinions for those of you who weren’t already skeptical after my post about Lincoln. The problem with the Regal GS – aside from the fact that it’s currently front-wheel drive – is obvious: it’s a freaking Buick. I wouldn’t buy it. But I’m pleased that GM had the balls to produce it.

Dodge Ram SRT-10

Unless I lived in one of those small towns where it’s a perfectly legitimate weekend night activity to cruise up and down Main Street, I would never buy a pickup. But there’s something hilariously cool about a full-size truck with an 8.3-liter V10 under the hood and an available six-speed manual transmission. I’m so glad Chrysler made this truck. I give a thumbs-up to the driver whenever I see one. (Which is usually returned with an offer to race, even if I’m standing on the sidewalk.) But I would never be caught dead in the driver’s seat.

Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

I absolutely love the SVT Raptor. I think it’s one of the coolest ideas in modern automotive history. In fact, I think car ideas should be measured on a scale of “Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet to Ford F-150 SVT Raptor.” Sto ‘n’ Go seating would be in Raptor territory, while the Murano CrossCab camp would include the Cadillac DTS and Maserati’s CambioCorsa transmission. But for as much as I love the Raptor, I think it projects a rather negative image, namely: if you vote Democrat, this truck will eat you.

Honda Insight (2000-2006)

The original Honda Insight is a tiny little car that can’t get out of its own way – and it certainly can’t get out of the way of people in SVT Raptors. But aren’t you glad these things exist? I love the original Insight, if only because it’s a stick shift hybrid that can do 80 miles per gallon. On a downhill. With a tailwind. Assuming the battery is still functioning. Yes, speed and size are the two things that would keep me from buying one. But I’m glad there are still a few people out there committed to keeping their original Insight on the road, no matter how many SVT Raptors get in their rearview mirrors.

Nissan Juke

The Juke is heinously ugly from virtually every angle. But it’s one of the few cars that manages to be so unattractive that it’s charming. I don’t think I’d buy a Juke for several reasons, the biggest of which is that it’s not particularly spry. But in the world of compact crossovers each styled to resemble slight variations on each other, the Juke is tremendously refreshing.

Porsche Cayenne manual

The fact that you can still get a Cayenne with a stick shift is Porsche’s greatest strength. That’s because it shows that somewhere beyond those thick German walls, someone still has a sense of humor. Someone still exists from the days of checkerboard seats and the murderous 930. Obviously, though, you could never actually buy a manual Cayenne, since the market is limited to about eleven rich Boston doctors with farms in New Hampshire, plus the occasional CarMax rep who grabs one at auction without realizing it’s a stick. (“Why’s this so cheap? I got a great deal! … Oh.”)

These are my choices, but now it’s your turn to announce some “cars I’d never buy, but I’m glad got built.” Or, you can just post angry comments about that Pontiac G8 remark. You know; whichever.

Doug DeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Mrs. McAleer Rows Her Own. Wed, 06 Jun 2012 17:06:46 +0000

As noted in a triumvirate of TTAC reviews, the Scion iQ is a fun little box that’s hobbled by a somewhat crappy CVT transmission – though, it should be noted, not to the “’Tis but a scratch” extent that the SMART is de-limbed by its godawful gearbox. The above text message was received from my wife after she drove one briefly.

Naturally, after telling her how disappointed I was in her total lack of ethics, I felt rather pleased. When I met Katie, she was a dedicated cyclist and transit-taker who hadn’t bothered to get her driver’s license until her early twenties. With a series of Acura mid-sizers rotating through Dad’s driveway, she regarded the car as either an appliance or a necessary evil.

And then, along come I with my idiotic fervour for the things. Sure, I gave up my first car for the engagement ring, but when we got married I bought a Ford Escort GT with a 5-speed and set out to teach my new wife how to drive it.

It wasn’t easy. There were frustrations and setbacks, tantrums and whining and sometimes I thought the tears would never stop coming.

She wasn’t that thrilled about it either.

I toyed briefly with the idea of pitching this article with a more instructional bent: “How to teach your spouse to drive stick.” But that opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms about the sexual politics of driving, perhaps a topic for another time.

What’s more, it’s not like I could get you past the first step anyway. I did have strong and persuasive arguments about the necessity of learning to drive a manual car – what if there was an emergency, like if I accidentally tripped and accidentally repeatedly fell on some beer and it accidentally repeatedly spilled into my mouth and I accidentally repeatedly swallowed it and became accidentally incapable of driving, accidentally? Very. Convincing.

But, like so many things in a successful marriage, convincing was less important than compromising. I would attempt to reduce the amount of commuting I did by car, and she would, in turn, endeavour to learn to work a clutch and a five-speed.

As we’ve covered, driving a manual transmission is not manly. It’s not always more efficient. In most cases though, it is more fun.

Certainly, it made the little Escort somewhat enjoyable. 1991 and newer ‘Scort GTs are fairly interesting cars to drive as they’ve got a Mazda BP powerplant and decently nippy handling characteristics. Add a stick and burlap-based interior fabrics and you’ve got the makings of a Great Little Beater(tm).

It’s important to have a car you don’t really care about for any kind of instruction. Gears will be ground. Starter motors will be durability tested with repeated stalling. You will be participating in the dance known as the “bunny-hop”. Acrid clouds of clutch smoke will hang over the proceedings.

The Escort was as ideally suited to this sort of abuse as a Labrador Retriever is to a toddler’s ear-pulling. The 1.8L engine had modest power, but reasonable torque off the line, the clutch engagement was forgiving and the shifter had fairly wide-spaced gears.

Better yet, we had a ideal setting to learn in. The Gulf Islands off the coast of B.C. are sparsely populated in the off-season and we used to spend a fair bit of time on Galiano Island, where we were married.

Without worrying about traffic holding up traffic, and with plenty of rolling hills to provide challenges once the basics were mastered, it provided as low-stress environment as you could hope for.

One trick I learned that might be of use is to actually get out of the car and coach while walking beside it. In the same way that it becomes strangely difficult to parallel-park when someone’s sitting in the car with you, removing the audience seems to help things go more smoothly.

My wife has three degrees, including a Medical Doctorate. She’s an accomplished musician and chorister and has sung at Carnegie Hall. She’s also a surprisingly fast long-distance trail-runner. Currently, she spends her time as a palliative care physician, balancing an encyclopaedia of medications with exacting fineness, freeing her patients to reclaim the balance of their lives from either pain or opiate fog; caring for the dying and their families with empathy and grace.

In light of these achievements it is colossally stupid of me to be overly proud of her ability to operate an anachronistic automotive control system. Oh baby, work that steering-wheel mounted manual spark advance.

But I am proud of her, and I must confess to always bumping up my admiration of any person when I learn that they drive a stick. Competence is just plain cool.

And, miracle of miracles, now she actually prefers self-rowers! What’s more, having been somewhat spoiled by the generous horsepower of our daily-driver WRX, she’s the first to turn up her nose at a press car for being too dull.

Picking up an Acura for review, the Honda rep urged me to sign out the new CR-V: “I know you’ve driven it already, but let your wife drive it. She’ll really enjoy it!” Not even close.

A modern car will do a lot for you. It’ll tell you if people are in your bind-spots, figure out how to stop you if you just slam on the brakes, keep you on the road with stability control and take the guesswork out of highway-driving with radar-guided cruise-control. Some will even handle the parking for you, and it won’t be too long before some are taking on at least a portion of the actual driving duties.

Every electronic nanny, every helpful gizmo or warning-light whatsit is one more step away from being a driver and one step closer to becoming a passenger. Introducing a stick-shift into the equation pushes the sliding scale back a little bit. It makes a dull car interesting. It can make someone who doesn’t care about cars understand why you do.

I always knew I’d teach my kids how to drive stick. My father taught me at a very young age, putting our Land Rover into low-range and letting me trundle around the back-forty at a walking pace.

We’re just a few months away from finding out whether our first will be a boy or a girl: it’ll be years and years before we get to the point where that particular lesson needs to be taught. But, when the time comes, it’s not a lesson I’ll be teaching alone.

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Dodge Brand Phase-Out Watch: There Will Be No Dodge Viper Tue, 27 Dec 2011 19:08:52 +0000

Once upon a time, the Dodge brand was brimming with pride. In the mid-to-late 1990s, Dodge had it all: affordable compacts, big front-drive cruisers, the hottest trucks on the market, and of course, the Viper. And when the times were good, all of those part melded into one brash, exciting, quintessentially American brand. From Neons and Intrepids, from Rams to Vipers, Dodge could do it all, as long as “it all” included a healthy dash of in-your-face attitude. But over the years, as Dodge’s shining moment faded into memory, the brand has managed to become both less viscerally appealing and less well-rounded. And when Fiat’s leadership stripped Dodge of the Ram “brand,” shucked its designs of their truckish cues, and repositioned Dodge as a more “youthful” and “refined” sporting brand, it seemed as if Dodge as we knew it was dying. Since hearing of Fiat’s plans to bring Alfa stateside, and with Dodge appearing to have lost out in brand alignment product battles, we’ve been wondering for some time now if Dodge isn’t headed out to pasture. Now there’s even more evidence that Dodge is being hollowed out en route to replacement with Alfa, as Automotive News [sub] reports

Absent from the redesigned SRT Viper will be the name Dodge… Viper has been linked to Dodge since the Dodge Viper RT/10 concept debuted in 1989. The first Dodge Viper SRT-10 went on sale in 1992, and over the years 28,056 Vipers were produced, according to Chrysler.

Not any more. Essentially, SRT becomes a brand with its own vehicle, in this case the SRT Viper.

That’s right, Dodge won’t have a Viper or a Ram (or, more prosaically, an Avenger or Caravan). Some might argue that, absent these components, the Dodge name doesn’t mean much of anything anymore. Certainly it doesn’t seem that Dodge can have a particularly bright future without any links to its last moment of glory.

Chrysler Group insists that the branding shift has nothing, NOTHING, to do with any elimination of the Dodge brand. In the words of a Chrysler Group spokesman,

SRT is the high-performance end of the company. The whole brand philosophy and the branding separation between Dodge and SRT will evolve over time. This is kind of that first step establishing what SRT means to the company and what that car means to the brand.

The other side of the company’s argument: the Dodge brand has “baggage” in some global markets, and by branding it as an SRT, the Viper can have a unified global brand and be sold (theoretically) at Alfa and Maserati stores. On the downside, these kinds of sleight-of-brand moves don’t tend to fool anybody, and more to the point, how many consumers know anything about the SRT “brand”? But all that aside, the mere existence of an SRT brand seems to trade off directly with Dodge’s continued success. After all, without trucks or performance halos, what exactly is Dodge again? And with Dodge’s post-Fiat-takeover brand boss Ralph Gilles jumping from Dodge to SRT, it seems that the corporate winds are blowing the once-proud Dodge brand towards oblivion. Perhaps Alfa will ultimately prove to be the more compelling performance brand, but in the short term, Fiat-Chrysler seems to be trading in one potentially strong brand for two relative unknowns.

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Lotus Investors: Sell! Sell! Sell! Tue, 27 Dec 2011 16:53:02 +0000

Lotus is one of those brands that every auto enthusiast loved to lionize, despite (or possibly because of) the fact that it hasn’t made a profit for its owner, Proton, in 15 years. But now things are changing. Lotus itself is in the midst of a makeover, seeking to transition from niche sports- and track-car company to a Ferrari and Porsche-rivaling aspirational brand. Meanwhile, back in Malaysia, its owner, Proton, is undergoing a few changes itself. Having been founded as a state-backed business, Proton may soon be privatized, reports Bloomberg. And as a result, Protons private investors could push for a quick divestment of the firm’s Lotus holdings. One such investor, Gan Eng Peng of HwangDBS Investment Management, tells Bloomberg

It will make sense for them to sell it. Proton and Lotus are not a good fit. They are in different market segments, both in terms of geography and product.

Chinese automaker SAIC and Genii Capital have been rumored as possible buyers, although Proton denies all rumors that Lotus is for sale. The problem is that Lotus won’t be worth much until 2014, the brand’s earliest projected break-even date. And even then, Bloomberg’s analysis shows that Lotus’s highest possible value then still wouldn’t be enough to return Proton to profitability, in light of increased competition in its home market of Malaysia. But in the meantime, Proton has no (useful) synergies with Lotus, and as the automaker emerges from the warm embrace of government ownership into the harsh light of the global market, it seems that selling off Lotus may be unavoidable.

Which leads to an interesting question: which automaker seems most likely to buy up Lotus? My money is on VW, who might buy the brand for no other reason than to kill off Alfa, after Fiat refused to sell. Of course, then it might create branding challenges with Porsche, but Alfa would have done so anyway. Another possible buyer: Toyota, which supplied Lotus with engines for years. In any case, we can probably count GM out of the picture, after their abortive relationship with the British brand.

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Tiny (12cc) Hand-Machined V12 Is A Holiday Miracle Tue, 27 Dec 2011 15:25:08 +0000

Need an engineering project? Got 1,200 hours to kill with nothing to do? Take a tip from this heroically patient Spaniard, and hand-machine your own tiny (12 cc displacement) V12. This would be amazing feat of handwork even if it weren’t fully operational (using compressed air injection), but the fact that it works, runs and was made without a single CNC machine is nothing short of astounding.. If, as the book suggests, Shop Class is Soulcraft, this guy is like an engineering bodhisattva, inspiring us with his precision, patience and skill. In a world where not much is made by hand anymore, this achievement is worth taking a few minutes to marvel over… [Hat Tip: Dean Huston]

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Who Is The New Saab? Wed, 21 Dec 2011 01:22:04 +0000

To be clear, we aren’t talking about the next brand to linger on long past its kill-by date, pitting the brand loyalty of its fans against common sense for an agonizing eternity. No, now that Saab is dead and its warranty coverage has been suspended [per Automotive News [sub]], Saabophiles need an alternative. TTAC commenter Pig_Iron writes:

Now that SAAB is gone, who is the new SAAB? By that I mean, who makes the best winter handling front driver in coupe, sedan and wagon avail with man trans?

Your pal,


My answer: Buick’s Regal. It’s a rebadged Opel, available in several states of turbo tune, it’s got a distinctively European feel inside (firm seats, dark cockpit), and a fine-handling front-drive chassis. What more could you want from a Saab? On the other hand, what Saabista is going to buy from GM now that The General has cruelly slain mercifully euthanized their beloved brand [PDF on the definitive causes of death here]? So, if GM is out… possibly some kind of Volvo? An Audi? What say you, Best And Brightest?

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Scion FR-S: How To Say “Hachi-Roku” In American Thu, 01 Dec 2011 18:13:34 +0000

TTAC has long been bearish on the Scion brand, and in a lot of ways, Toyota’s global tri-branding strategy with its new “86″ sportscar (Toyota, Subaru and Scion versions are being sold) highlights how Toyota has lost its branding focus. On the other hand, the FR-S, Scion’s version of the 86, is by far the most compelling product that brand has offered… well, possibly ever (OK, since the Mk1 xB). If I were king of Toyota, I’d probably still kill off Scion and sell the 86 as a Celica in the US… after all, how much sense does it make to have two sporty coupes at Scion and none for the Toyota brand? But if Scion follows the FR-S up with a new truly compact pickup co-developed with Daihatsu, as has been rumored, I’d be willing to concede that Scion has a place in the market. After all, truly unique, funky vehicles justified Scion’s existence in the first place, before a watered-down second generation of products killed that positioning (and Scion’s sales). With the FR-S, Scion seems to be heading back towards focused and freaky niche confections… let’s hope it continues to return to those roots.
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Next-Gen M3 Kicks Up Its Heels, Cackles Tue, 22 Nov 2011 18:50:32 +0000

With engine management technologies creating ever-more refined, well-behaved engines, the snap-crackle-pop overrun at the beginning of this video is an increasingly rare throwback to the time when men were men and engines could blow up at any second. Sure, such playfulness will probably be managed out of existence by the time the F30 M3 hits dealerships, but it seems like a good omen for the M3′s return to six-cylinder power. In fact, it might even be possible that the backfire heard here has something to do with the electric turbocharger that’s rumored to give the new M3 lag-free turbo performance… but then you’d probably be a better judge of that than I.

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Never Mind The Growing Gap Between Oil Production And Consumption, Here’s The SLS Black Series Mon, 21 Nov 2011 22:04:03 +0000

Last Monday, we regaled you out with stories of Toyota coming to grips with the “new peak oil,” and other topics related to the growing gap (or lack thereof?) between global production and consumption oil. This week I’m feeling a little less apocalyptic, and little bit more indulgent. And really, why not celebrate those precious hydrocarbons while they’re still cheap and plentiful? This Mercedes SLS AMG Black Series may burn ‘em by the bushel, but it sure sounds good doing it. And though cars like the forthcoming 650 HP Shelby Mustang GT500 prove that performance is still alive in the 21st Century, high-revving, large-displacement, naturally-aspirated V8s like the AMG Black’s are going to be facing special challenges under future emissions standards. Which makes its gargling, chortling music all the sweeter to my ears…

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Mastretta MXT: Neither Lazy, Feckless Nor Flatulent Fri, 18 Nov 2011 17:36:18 +0000

The Mastretta MXT is not very well-known outside of Top Gear buffs who recall Jeremy Clarkson giving the MXT an incredibly hard time for its Mexican heritage. Of course we all know Jeremy is a shock jock more than a motor head these days, so his opinion aside the MXT slots in right behind the Doking as one the more interesting cars on display in Los Angeles. The MXT is the first sports car designed and built-in Mexico, but rather than trying to dethrone Corvette or Mustang, Mastretta is going for the niche market of small, light kit cars. Yes, kit cars. At least north of the border…

You see, the company doesn’t have the funds to make the MXT pass all the safety standards in the USA and we don’t have the legal exemptions available on our side of the pond to allow them to sell low volume specialty cars like they do in Europe. So, if you want one, the fibreglass shell and extruded aluminum chassis will arrive fully assembled with two seats and a radio, all you have to do is un-crate the Ford-sourced engine and transmission, drop them in the rear and crank a few bolts. Of course, I’d take the extra step of removing the fibreglass body and driving down the highway Ariel Atom style, but that’s just me. Shoppers wanting this hot tamale don’t have long to wait with production supposedly underway with shipments starting in the first quarter 2012. Pricing? A moving target that started at $55,000 USD and now is in the $60,000-$65,000 ballpark. Not pocket change, but neither is that Lotus. (But at least the Lotus will at least arrive fully assembled.)

IMG_5290 IMG_5291 IMG_5292 IMG_5293 IMG_5294 IMG_5295 IMG_5296 IMG_5297 IMG_5298 IMG_5299 IMG_5300 IMG_5301 IMG_5302 IMG_5303 IMG_5304 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 8
Can The Scorpion’s Sting Save Fiat’s Flopping 500? Wed, 16 Nov 2011 17:33:41 +0000 Fiat’s 500 may be flopping early in the game, but then, what do you expect from a car with barely 100 horsepower? Though I’m sure the Cinquecento is better with a stick shift, my brief time in an autobox version left me feeling that Fiat’s italophile morsel could use considerably more brio. Well, consider the problem solved, as the 160 HP Abarth version has finally been shown in US-market spec, and sales should start sometime early next year. And based on European reactions to the Abarth, it should be a little firecracker. So, enthusiasm solved… now Fiat just needs to do something about its high prices, uninspiring fuel economy and wretched marketing. Then everything will be just fine… although I still wouldn’t hold my breath for 50k units per year.

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Saabistas Occupy GM’s Facebook Page Wed, 16 Nov 2011 17:07:38 +0000

Say what you want about Saab fans, the guys have some dedication. At a time when most have finally accepted the fact that Saab is at the end of the line, Saab’s hard-core “dead-enders” are taking up their social media arms to rescue their beloved brand. After all they have a perfect opportunity: after months of wading through a quagmire, uncertain whether to support Victor Muller, Vladimir Antonov, or one of Saab’s Chinese suitors, all Saab fans can now rally against their old enemy, GM. Long blamed for Saab’s decline despite the fact that the brand’s peak sales came under its ownership, GM has long been the bête noire for Saabistas. And with GM now taking the wheel of Saab’s fate, Saab’s rabid fans have taken over GM’s Facebook wall, posting images of their favorite Saabs and demanding The General “let Saab go.” Will it be enough to convince GM to go against its carefully-crafted Chinese relationships and interests by giving Saab carte blanche to ship its technology wherever its new Chinese masters want? Don’t count on it. But for the moment GM has to sit through the online equivalent of an “Occupy” protest.

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Drivelapse USA: The Great American Road Trip In Five Minutes, Fifteen Seconds Wed, 16 Nov 2011 00:40:54 +0000

Americans may no longer be as completely obsessed with road travel as they once were, but for first-time visitors to the USA, a round-the-nation roadtrip is always the ultimate fantasy. And really, what better way is there to appreciate the great expanse and diversity of this great nation than by car? Luckily for those of us without the time, money or reliable transportation to discover America by highway, we can now get a taste of the magic in an internet-attention-span-friendly morsel: five minutes, fifteen seconds. Someone named Bryan DeFrees condensed a 12,225 mile-long road trip in a giant loop across the US into this film, making one of life’s epic adventures available from your desk or smartphone. Warning: Video may cause sudden desire to “hit the road”…

[via: Laughing Squid]

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Occupy Aging Foreign Cars: Fight The 25-Year Import-Ban! Tue, 15 Nov 2011 21:37:20 +0000

Though we owe Jalopnik a few well-deserved raspberries for this week’s inane tease-n-reveal of some wildly overhyped and under-delivering “renderings” of the 2014 C7 Corvette (look it up if you must), we’ve actually got to tip our hats to the Gawker site for finding a truly relevant petition at the White House website. The petition’s goal?

Stop using Homeland Security funds to seize imported vehicles, and change the DOT/EPA exemption to 15 years.

The Department of Homeland Security spends a shockingly disproportionate amount of its budget not on security initiatives, but on customs seizures. In particular, importers of grey-market vehicles have been targeted by monies taxpayers have intended to be used to secure our country against terrorism and terrorist activity. We call upon the Executive Branch to immediately cease this wasteful activity, and furthermore to change the DOT/EPA exemption time on grey-market vehicles from 25 years to 15 years (to match the vehicle regulations of Canada), recognizing that the 25-year rule was enacted due to support from special interests such as Mercedes Benz North America.

This is the kind of cause that we can absolutely get behind. In fact, if TTAC and Jalopnik combined can’t get under 22,000 readers to sign it… well, it will be Jalopnik’s fault. They’re a much bigger site. Seriously though, please sign this. There’s no guarantee that this will change anything, but as long as future generations can grow believing that they too might be able to someday import some awesomely clapped-out foreign jalopy that will demand all of their spare time and money just to stay running, well… the world just might become a better place.

Done signing the petition? Why not tell us what 15 year-old car you would import if you could?

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Alaska Appeals Court Upholds Burnouts Tue, 15 Nov 2011 15:24:12 +0000

Drivers cannot be pulled over if they peel out from an intersection with a bit of tire squeal, Alaska’s second-highest court ruled Thursday. In countries like Australia, a similar chirp of the tires could lead to the impounding of the vehicle under “anti-hoon” laws that generate millions in revenue. A three-judge panel in The Last Frontier was more forgiving when considering the fate of Vernon Burnett who was pulled over after midnight on September 20, 2009.

Alaska State Trooper Lucas Altepeter saw Burnett’s truck stop, then spin its tires one-third of the way through the intersection while turning left in the city of Bethel. Burnett made no driving errors, but Trooper Altepeter decided to stop him anyway, as he had “never seen somebody accidentally lose traction and spin their tires as fast and as far as this particular vehicle did.” The trooper believed he could write a citation for the tire spinning alone. A district court judge agreed, saying the the spinning was sufficient proof of negligent driving. The appellate court sided with Burnett.

“Under (state law), a person commits the offense of negligent driving if they drive in a manner that creates an unjustifiable risk of harm to a person or to property, and if their conduct actually endangers a person or property,” Judge David Mannheimer wrote for the court. “Altepeter did not assert that Burnett’s driving endangered Burnett or anyone else, or that Burnett’s driving put property at risk.”

Prosecutors countered that spinning tires represented a potential threat to everyone on the road, and that the trooper had reasonable suspicion to effect a traffic stop, or issue a safety warning to the driver. The three-judge panel found this line of argument unpersuasive.

“A person can not be convicted of negligent driving for creating a theoretical or speculative danger,” Mannheimer wrote. “The statute requires proof of actual endangerment.”

The appellate court also rejected the safety warning concept as there was no evidence Burnett was pulled over because he needed assistance or because intervention was needed to protect the public. The last ditch effort of prosecutors was the claim that a peel out gives rise to the reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. No testimony was given to back up this claim. Similar claims have also been rejected in cases before the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

“Because we conclude that the traffic stop of Burnett’s vehicle was unlawful, the evidence obtained as a result of this traffic stop must be suppressed,” Mannheimer concluded. “And because the primary evidence of Burnett’s impairment was obtained as a result of this traffic stop, Burnett’s conviction for driving under the influence is reversed.”

A copy of the decision is available in a 275k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Burnett v. Alaska (Court of Appeals, State of Alaska, 11/10/2011)


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Racing Dogma: An Interview With Garth Stein, Author Of “The Art Of Racing In The Rain” Tue, 08 Nov 2011 21:22:23 +0000

Garth Stein is a better driver than you. Really. In 2003, he won the SCCA Northwest points championship in his Spec Miata before a crash while driving in the rain, no less, ended those Senna dreams. The novel that sprang from those experiences is a lot like his little Miata: a bit cutesy on the outside but equipped with such a perfect balance of heart and engineering that you can’t help but go back for more. Maybe that’s why it’s been on the New York Times best-seller list for over 120 weeks and Patrick Dempsey, more race car driver than actor now, has picked it up for the big screen.

I should mention that the story is written from the perspective of a dog. But, so was White Fang and The Call of the Wild and I dare you to tell the old oyster pirate Jack London he wrote a kids books. Driven by his desire to be more than a dog, Enzo, the puppy protagonist in Racing in the Rain, is the perfect vehicle for Stein to explore racing, philosophy and humanity. Stein explains that Mongolians believe good dogs will be reincarnated as men when they’re ready. Enzo’s owner and semi-professional racing driver, Denny Swift, serves as a model human, whose skill at navigating obstacles on the racetrack translates well into real life where he battles for custody of his daughter, a dying wife and trumped-up rape charges. Denny’s racing mantras, like “the car goes where the eyes go,” and the intense, accurate driving scenes help the reader to learn along with Enzo that lessons learned from racing–courage and balance, for example–are just as applicable to life.

Stein’s writing is fresh, darkly comic and devoid of cynicism. His deep appreciation of cars and racing culture makes this a perfect choice for racing enthusiasts and car guys. More importantly, wives and girlfriends of car guys will gain a deeper understanding of what makes their significant other tick while enjoying a heartstring-tugging, Marley and Me meets Le Mans, high-revving good read.

Garth Stein pitted long enough to chat about the novel:

TTAC: A dog named Enzo?

Stein: I think that car people will get the connection, it may be a bit overdone if I had to explain Enzo Ferrari. When I first started writing the book, Enzo was Juan Pablo, after Juan Pablo Montoya, but clearly Enzo is the better name for a dog.

TTAC: Any stories about racing in the rain?

Stein: Only that I crashed my last race car during a downpour. If you’re in a race in the Northwest, you really need to be comfortable on a wet track, so that title, The Art of Racing in the Rain came from Don Kitch, Jr. who runs a race school out of Seattle.

TTAC: Have you raced at all the tracks mentioned in the book?

Stein: No, in fact, I met one of the owners of Thunderhill at a reading I did in Sacramento and he said, “Boy that was just great, you really know the track well.” I kind of bluffed because I’ve never driven Thunderhill. Basically, I studied some in-car camera footage from a buddy of mine who’s raced there several times and another friend lent me his track notes and I wrote the scene. I’ve always wanted to race there. A dream of mine is to race the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. I kind of had to bluff my way through that, and I guess it worked.

TTAC: What has Enzo learned that readers haven’t yet?

Stein: The whole Enzo philosophy, which is, “that which you manifest is before you,” means we have to take control of our destiny. If we allow other people to dictate where we are, we are no longer in control of what we’re doing. If we maintain control, at least we can pull out of the spins in life.

TTAC: Ayrton Senna plays a large role in Enzo’s spiritual development. Any insight there?

Stein: Senna was a very religious man, but this book was more of a universal spiritualism rather than a specific religion. People ask me if I’ve studied Zen Buddhism, the answer is no. When I was racing, my buddies and I would goof around that we could apply the same rules that we used on the racetrack to life. You know, “Don’t worry about something that’s already happened, you can’t change it. Only worry about the things in front of you that you can change.” If we do that in our daily lives, then we’ll be good fathers, husbands, etc. Really, that’s where Enzo came from.

TTAC: I see “Go Enzo” stickers plastered on race cars now.

Stein: It’s very popular with the racing crowd because I think a lot of club racers feel somewhat misunderstood by their friends and family. You know, “Why would you spend all of this time, energy and money to make this sport?” And I think this gives them a voice. You know, “Here, read this book. You’ll understand why.”

TTAC: How did your wife take it?

Stein: She laughed when she read the book. She said, “Oh, now I understand why you were doing all that racing; you were doing research.” Which is totally not the case. I was doing it for four years and then I wrote the book.

TTAC: You still racing?

Stein: I’m not racing currently, though I certainly enjoy it and hanging out with the racers. Talking shop and stuff like that. I was just at the Grand-Am Awards ceremony last month and I got to present an award to professional racers and team owners. It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, racing’s fun. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of the green flag.

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New Opel Boss Cures Euro-Depression With Hints At “A Proper Opel GT” Mon, 07 Nov 2011 17:27:18 +0000

Reuters reports that GM Europe President Nick Reilly is retiring just as his successor predicts a slowdown the European auto market in the turmoil of the Euro crisis. Replacing Reilly is Opel’s CEO, Karl-Friedrich Stracke, who just last week told Automotive News [sub]

We expect that the automobile market in Europe will experience a painful cooling, and we expect a significant shrinking of the market.

And as if slow sales projections weren’t bad enough, Opel also faces a tough union boss in Klaus Franz, who is pushing for ever more production or not just Opels but Chevies as well, in the Euro zone according to AN [sub]. But despite the challenges facing Stracke, he’s still got a song in his heart… in the tune of GT. Though GM has no lightweight rear-drive platform to draw on, and in spite of all the gathering storm clouds, Stracke tells Auto Motor und Sport that

I can well imagine a car like the Manta, but with new technology and a new design. I could also very well imagine a proper Opel GT which recalls our classic model of 1968.

Ludicrous teasing? Possibly. An understandable escape from the depressing reality of mid-debt-crisis Europe? Definitely. I mean, what would you rather imagine, a cascading collapse of confidence in sovereign debt, or the scenario depicted above? Yeah, that’s what we thought…

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The Case For The FT-86 In One Picture Sat, 05 Nov 2011 16:53:41 +0000 Tired of being teased? Can’t wait for the FT-86 to get here already? This picture won’t help…


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FT-86: The Specs Mon, 31 Oct 2011 15:08:37 +0000 We’ve already seen what Toyota’s forthcoming FT-86 looks like (basically), and now that the spec sheet has been leaked [via] there’s really not much more suspense left around the new rear-drive sports coupe. In case you don’t read Japanese, here are the basics:

HP: 147kw (200ps) / 200hp @7000rpm
Torque: 205nm (151 lb/ft) @ 6600rpm
Weight: 1210kg (2662 pounds)

Of course, that’s for a low-spec, manual transmission version, which rides on 16 inch wheels. Top-spec versions with an automatic transmission will weigh as much as 2,755 lbs. Toys for the top-spec version include LED headlights, leather steering wheel, 6 speakers audio and sport pedals… but then, this is all JDM spec anyway. Since the FT-86 will be coming to the US as a Scion, it’s tough to predict how the spec sheet will be structured. Still, the basics are there… and they look tempting (and in line with what the car’s chief engineer has told us). Now we just need to drive the thing!


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“I Should Call Aston Martin And Ask Them Not To Put This Button In My Next Car” Sun, 30 Oct 2011 16:29:03 +0000

Here’s hoping your weekend motoring has been a little bit safer than surfboard designer Roberto Ricci’s…

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: The FT-86 Mystery Edition Thu, 27 Oct 2011 13:33:48 +0000 The autoblogosphere is agog this morning over what appears to be yet another leak of a Toyota JDM catalog, this time of the highly anticipated Toyota FT-86 sports coupe. But is this what Toyota’s lightweight, rear-drive sportscar will actually look like? Not exactly:the image above is clearly labeled as a Modelista version, which means it’s been visually tweaked by Toyota’s in-house tuner. On the other hand, if you pull off the Modelista bits, specifically the front fascia and ground effects kit, you’ll find that this model more closely resembles the FT-86 Concept than the FT-86 II Concept, most notably in its proportions. With a more compact, cab-forward look, these images show a car that shares the first Concept’s basic shape with just a hint of the II Concept’s wild wheel arches and sweeping character lines. That comports with what the FT-86′s chief engineer told TTAC in a recent exclusive interview, when he said the initial Concept was “kind of close” and the II Concept was “not close at all.” Another clue that this is the real thing (or close to it): ft86club shows that the interior appears to be similar to mules that were caught testing.

Finally, there’s one key issue with this FT-86 image leak that must be considered: when this car comes stateside, it will be as a Scion FR-S, not a Toyota. Which means it could well be visually tweaked even further for our market, as it transitions to Toyota’s youth brand. In any case, the mystery won’t last long: TTAC’s Bertel Schmitt will be on hand for the FT-86 (and Subaru BRZ) reveal at the upcoming Tokyo Auto Show. Until then, speculate away!

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