The Truth About Cars » ford taurus http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:58:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » ford taurus http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Why We May Not See The Next Ford Taurus, But China Will http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/why-we-may-not-see-the-next-for-taurus-but-china-will/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/why-we-may-not-see-the-next-for-taurus-but-china-will/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 19:22:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=776209 2010_Ford_Taurus_Limited_2_--_10-31-2009

According to some outlets, the 2016 Ford Taurus will be both quicker and lighter than the outgoing car. That’s news to us here at TTAC – last we heard, the Taurus wasn’t even slated for North America.

Reeports by Edmunds and other outlets are claiming that the next Taurus will ditch the heavy, antiquated Volvo-based platform in favor of Ford’s more modern CD architecture that underpins the Fusion, the upcoming Ford Edge and other models. This is technically true.

Back in the spring of 2013, our sources told us that a CD-based Taurus was under development, but promptly sent to the garbage dump after its design bombed its consumer clinics. Marketing brass at Ford decided to kill the Taurus, due to dissatisfaction with the way it looked, and the sales volumes the Taurus generated. Given the accuracy of our sources regarding the F-150 and its aluminum construction, as well as the 2015 Mustang, we are inclined to believe them.

Ironically, Taurus sales have grown by nearly 20 percent over the past two years, despite a shrinking full-size car market. But the long-term trend suggests that larger sedans (what’s considered mid-size, as well as full-size) will undergo a contraction in sales, as CUVs take a bigger bite out of the segment.

The full-size sedan market is heavily weighted towards fleet sales, and with the Fusion outselling the Taurus by a roughly 4:1 ratio, it’s understandable that Ford would not want to renew the Taurus for another model cycle. Other considerations, like the Taurus being a drag on Ford’s CAFE ratings (remember, large cars get punished under CAFE, whereas trucks don’t) and the stronger sales of the Explorer Police Interceptor may give the Taurus-killers some more ammo.

One place where the Taurus could survive is in China. Ford is already planning a large Lincoln flagship, codenamed GOBI. Based on the CD architecture and targeted at Chinese business consumers by emphasizing rear seat comfort and amenities, GOBI will replace what we know as the Lincoln MKS in both China and the United States. Our source thinks that a new Taurus, twinned with GOBI, could be a possibility for China – but its future in America is in doubt.

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Chart Of The Day: Full-Size Sedan Freefall http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/chart-of-the-day-full-size-sedan-freefall/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/chart-of-the-day-full-size-sedan-freefall/#comments Thu, 21 Mar 2013 15:43:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=481933

Recent talk of Chevrolet attempting to convert the 2014 Impala from 75 percent fleet sales to 70 percent retail sales seemed like an improbable figure. Judging the success of any new car is a crapshoot for most of us, but one thing is for sure; the full-size sedan segment as a whole, is declining.

Over the past half decade, the full-size segment as a whole has been in serious decline. The number of product offerings for sale has been cut in half, from 15 to 7. IHS Automotive, an independent research firm, reports that full-size car sales have declined by 42 percent since 2006.

From a peak of 311,128 units in 2007, Impala sales have nearly been cut in half – and the fleet mix numbers suggest that Chevrolet is only selling about 50,000 units at retail. At the other end of the spectrum, the Hyundai Azera is barely moving the needle, consistently selling below 10,000 unts over the past few years. Impala sales will undoubtedly decline with the introduction of the 2014 model – there’s no way that Chevrolet can sustain current volumes if they plan to sell 70 percent of cars to retail customers. But even with sales of 100,000 units, it would still be the segment leader – though the Dodge Charger would be nipping at its heels.

However, an almost-certain reduction in government fleet spending could put a dent in the sales of both models. Sources in D.C. tell us that this could be as much as a 20 percent cutback, or about 100,00-120,000 vehicles. The current Impala, along with the Chrysler LX cars and the Taurus, are darlings of government fleets, and stand to lose the most from this sort of reduction. Meanwhile, the same source tells us that Chrysler is ramping up promotion of its fleet program, with Ram trucks and the LX cars as its main focus.

For many potential large car buyers (whether retail, government or private fleets), a CUV is a much more attractive vehicle, with similar fuel economy and comparable interior volume. For consumers, a CUV is often more appealing to their emotional side, while daily rental fleets can charge more for than a comparable sedan. In other cases, the CUV has a similar footprint but also offers a third row of seats and more cargo room. It’s not a coincidence that some major police departments, like the California Highway Patrol, are opting for the Ford Explorer-based Police Interceptor rather than the Taurus variant.

Speaking of the Taurus, another rumor making the rounds right now is that the Taurus won’t be back after this generation. Poor margins and difficulties during the development process meant that the Taurus has been scrapped part way through the development process, and Ford is content with the Fusion acting as its flagship sedan. If this situation holds true, that leaves Chevrolet and Chrysler as the vanguards of the large American sedan.

Even though rear-drive sedans have fallen out of fashion with most of Detroit, Chrysler seems to have made a business case for the continuation of the rear-drive platform. With Alfa, Chrysler and possibly Maserati sharing the next generation large rear-drive platform, Chrysler and Fiat will have both economies of scale and some high margin luxury vehicles on the same platform.

Previously, Chrysler had little exposure to Europe, Asia and other markets where big engines and a big footprint are seen as negatives. This allowed them to go it alone with the LX chassis and their larger V6 and V8 engines, since their main focus was the United States. Without Fiat, it would have been tough to continue down this road, but now that they can spread the technology across multiple brands and price points, the future of at least one family of full-size sedans is secure.

Furthermore, Chrysler could be in a good position to absorb the rear-drive sedan segment in Australia if GM and Ford walk away from their offerings. The rear-drive Ford Falcon has become a victim of the One Ford policy  while the Holden Commodore will apparently adopt the front-drive Epsilon II platform for its next iteration. The 300C and its SRT8 version are gaining a bit of a following in Australia, which is also becoming one of the SRT brand’s hottest markets. Despite the declining sales of the Falcon and Commodore, it would be nothing short of amazing to see both GM and Ford cede that market to a relative upstart that had almost zero presence in Australia just a decade ago.

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Piston Slap: Mad Vulcan Powah? (Part II) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/piston-slap-mad-vulcan-powah-part-ii/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/piston-slap-mad-vulcan-powah-part-ii/#comments Thu, 27 Dec 2012 12:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=471547

TTAC commentator Felix Hoenikker writes:

Sajeev,
Thanks for the post. At the end of March, I bit the bullet and replaced the right cylinder head with a rebuilt one from Advance Auto. With my on line discount and a new head gasket, the total parts cost was under $200 plus a day’s labor.

The rebuilt head solved the coolant leak problem. I have over 2500 miles on the Taurus with the new head, and the CEL light has not come on once. Also, the #1 spark plug no longer has a brownish deposit as before. I examined the old head with a light and magnifying glass but could not find the source of the coolant leak into the cylinder. My older soon said he found info on one of the internet forums that Ford had a problem with porous head casting around the time the car was made. So, I’m assuming that was the problem with the cylinder head. The odd thing was how slowly the problem developed. It took over 60K for it to get bad enough for me to get a handle on it.

My next and final repair will be to replace the leaking heater core and AC evaporator before I hand the car over to #2 son.

Sajeev answers:

Wow, that’s pretty cheap for a reconditioned head!  Good for you!

Your query definitely made me scratch my head. (Get it?) Vulcan’s aren’t known for casting problems because of that Neanderthal choice of material (cast iron) but shit happens over the course of production.  Especially from the beancounted era of Jac Nasser’s reign in Dearborn. Guess I’m not surprised.

Another non-surprise: since this IS a Vulcan, it took 60,000 miles out of over 200,000 TOTAL miles for this to happen. Which says a lot about the Vulcan’s bulletproof nature, casting mistakes and Jac Nasser be damned. Most Vulcan owners wouldn’t own the car long enough to see this!

Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to hear that someone with such mechanical acumen still exists in today’s throwaway society.

 

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Piston Slap: Mad Vulcan Powah? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/piston-slap-mad-vulcan-powah/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/piston-slap-mad-vulcan-powah/#comments Wed, 26 Dec 2012 12:59:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=471485 TTAC commentator Felix Hoenikker (yes, really) writes:

Dear Sajeev,

As a fellow Panther owner, I am seeking advice on the disposition of another Ford product. My 24 year old son just bought a new to him car and returned my 2000 Ford Taurus with the 3L Vulcan overhead valve engine to me. At 206K it runs great, but has one issue. Combustion gases are entering the cooling system and periodically venting through the coolant de-gassing tank.

Also, the OBDII system will ocasionally flag cylinder one for a misfire. This must be a very short lived event because the engine runs smoothly even when the CEL light is on. Two years ago, I had the car diagnosed by a AAA club recommend mechanic. He tested the coolant and found the combusion gases in the degass tank. He concluded that the engine had a head gasket leak in the vicinity of cylinder one. I should also mention that periodically, the spark plug on the cylinder number one gets coated with a white mineral. None of the other spark plugs have this type of deposit. So we know that coolant is getting into this cylinder. The car uses about one pint of coolant per thousand miles. Since there are no leaks, I assume it all ends up in cylinder one. At around 10K miles, the spark plug fouls with minerals, and I replace it. It’s a bear to get at since it is on the firewall side of the engine.

In March of 2010, I bit the bullet and replaced both head gaskets and resurfaced the valves. While the engine ran as smooth as silk, this job did not fix the coolant leak into number one cylinder. I believe that the cylinder head has a very small leak in this piston even though I could not find any evidence of it when I replaced the cylinder head gasket. It could also be a warped head. I am considering replacing the cylinder head with a rebuilt one from Advance Auto since I plan to give this car to #2 son who is a feshman in college.

Before I invest a $200 and a whole days work, I want to ask you and the B&B if you agree with my diagnosis. Has anyone heard of a cracked block doing this? When I replaced the head gasket, the block was shinny and smooth with no evidence of a coolant leak between it and the head gasket.

Sajeev answers:

Fellow Panther owner?  I only got Foxes, Panthers are just the logical extension of my madness!  My avatar don’t lie, son! But I digress…

Normally your OBD-II code and PCV (i.e. combustion gases) problem are the same concern. A bad PCV valve, worn out vacuum lines, etc can cause a code, but having these gases wind up in the coolant without it turning milky with oil contamination?

Maybe it isn’t the head, maybe the coolant expansion tank has an air leak…maybe at the cap?  That makes more sense than needing to change the head, do machine work, etc on a Vulcan V6 that otherwise drives perfectly. Of course that doesn’t explain the spark plug issue…or was that resolved after the new gaskets and machine work? Now I’m seriously confused.

Confused by one of the most basic engines in modern history!  Oh boy.

The other concern: how the hell did your son overheat/abuse a Vulcan V6 to the point it warped the head/block?  This all-iron motor is about as bulletproof as it gets. Maybe the Taurus forums can help, because I’m drawing at straws.

Get your Vulcan On, Best and Brightest.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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SHO Powered Lotus Is All Go http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/sho-powered-lotus-is-all-go/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/sho-powered-lotus-is-all-go/#comments Thu, 08 Nov 2012 17:05:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=466277

In honor of Skyfall‘s opening tomorrow, we bring you one of the better Frankensteins we’ve seen in some time; a white Lotus Esprit, in the same hue as Roger Moore’s own ride in The Spy Who Loved Me, with a heart transplant from a Taurus SHO.

The later era BBS wheels are a little incongruous, but the swap itself appears to be nicely executed, and the gleaming chrome intake plumbing is a lot more attractive than the turbo 4 previously in there. The downside? Whether you use the Esprit’s Renault gearbox or the MTX from the Taurus, both choices aren’t exactly the last word in refinement or shift quality. Check it out over at Bring A Trailer.

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(VERY LATE) Monday Mileage Champion: 2002 Ford Taurus http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/very-late-monday-mileage-champion-2002-ford-taurus/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/very-late-monday-mileage-champion-2002-ford-taurus/#comments Wed, 31 Oct 2012 16:39:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=465491

Tauruses are the kudzu of cars here in the South.

You find them everywhere to the point that you never ever notice em’. At the Waffle House. At the Coke Museum. At Braves games, and most definitely at the heavily suburbanized neighborhoods of metro-Atlanta.

To be perfectly frank about it, Atlanta has always seemed to be a Taurus-tee type of place. Popular, affordable, a little bland, and just plain functional. Tough to hate. Tough to love. Such is the case of the Taurus.

We even had a Ford plant that built Tauruses by the hundreds of thousands year, after year, after seemingly endless year. 22 long years in all with many quality awards rightly given to the hometown team. This particular one you see above had well over 263,000 miles before the owner finally decided to use it as trade-in fodder.

Ford made the last generation of mid-sized Tauruses for eight long, fleet ridden model years.  In much of the United States you would see Impalas and Crown Vics of varying bare equipment levels take up the brunt of modern day government mules. But here in Georgia during the 2000′s it sometimes seemed like Taurus-land.

The auctions that liquidated these vehicles would offer three things with every Taurus that was liquidated by the local, city and state governments. White paint. Black antenna masts. V6 3.0 Engine. Ford offered the hammer of a 24 valve DOHC engine with 200 horsepower engine, or an over-head valve model whose origins dated all the way back to the era of Sony Walkmans and MS-DOS. 1986 to be exact.

The question(s) for today are the usual. Which engine is it? What price did it sell for at auction? Oh, I’ll even throw in third. What are your experiences with Tauruses… or Atlanta for that matter? If you were just passing through don’t worry about it. A lot of people do thanks to our super-sized airport.

 

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Junkyard Find: 1996 Ford Taurus SHO http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/junkyard-find-1996-ford-taurus-sho/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/junkyard-find-1996-ford-taurus-sho/#comments Wed, 10 Oct 2012 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=463266 The Ford Taurus has been among the most numerous of junkyard inmates for nearly 20 years now, and a sprinkling of Yamaha-engined SHO versions show up among the bread-and-butter commuter Taurii. However, the third-gen Taurus SHO, with its 235-horse V8, is much rarer than the earlier V6 SHOs; in fact, this weirdly purple car I found in Denver is the first V8 SHO I’ve seen in the junkyard for at least a few years.
The 1989-95 Taurus SHO was very quick, if fragile; we’ve even seen several SHOs win 24 Hours of LeMons races over the years. The V8 SHO was also quick, but engine problems fed most of these cars to The Crusher a long time ago. On top of that, you couldn’t get this car with a manual transmission, presumably because Ford didn’t have a non-slushbox transaxle that could survive behind the Cosworth/Yamaha V8.
Sure, it blew up early and often, but just look at that engine!
Ford took a big gamble with the oval-centric restyling of the 1996 Taurus, and it didn’t really pay off; it wasn’t long before the Taurus got the rectangular back window of the Sable and went through a general appearance de-radicalization program.
Should we miss the odd vehicle colors of the early-to-middle 1990s?

17 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1996 Ford Taurus SHO Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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How To: Invest In A Beater http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/how-to-invest-in-a-beater/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/how-to-invest-in-a-beater/#comments Wed, 22 Aug 2012 13:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=457458
Congratulations!!! And my condolences.

You have just bought yourself a vehicle that may be worth more dead than alive.

Did you follow my car buying advice? Of course not! You wanted cheap to the extreme and now you got it. Bald tires. Doors that may be lovably ‘scrunched’ just a little bit thanks to those pesky inanimate objects. But hey, at least the ashtray still works.

Now you just have to figure out what to do with it?

 

A beater will have any one, many, or all of the following issues.

  • Bad engine
  • Bad transmission
  • Bad steering and suspension mechanisms
  • Bad body damage
  • Bad frame damage
  • Bad electrical issues
  • Bad reputation
  • Let’s face it. It drinks. It smokes, and it hangs out with the bad boys.

The operative word in all this loathsome criticism is ‘bad’. Forget about the very concept of ‘good’ for now. Until you can get this beast rolling safely in the same general direction of the nearby traffic, don’t even think about your car as anything less than illegal roadside architecture.

Let’s take a recent example. This 1999 Taurus was recently traded into my dealership with 213,000 miles and the obligatory transmission fluid container in the trunk.

Ugly? You bet. But the beginning of the bad news here is a bit more obvious. The headlights have performed the late-90′s water seep and headlight shatter that is as common as kudzu here in the South.

So, do I invest in it?

The cost for the headlights is $75 on Ebay and about fifteen minutes worth of my time. I could go with a $30 junkyard version. But nice clear headlights that are devoid of plastic exfoliation are a better bet. Few things make an old crappy car from the Clinton era look like new than a pair of Chinese headlights and a full set of Malaysian floormats.  Throw in a $5 automated car wash from down the street, and you’re pretty much all set.

This is what we call in this business ‘the $99 upgrade’. It does wonders to nearly any beater.

 

 

What else did we forget? Inspecting the car of course. Get ready to take out the ‘bad’ checklist.

The body had all the dings, dents and bruises that you would normally expect from a 13 year old beater. All doors opened and closed fine. So body wise, we’re already ahead of the game.

I opened the driver’s door and….

Clean. Surprisingly clean.

Yes, there is also the obligatory Southern dashboard peel that seems to provide a nice contoured holder for all your papers and related knick-knacks. But any car that has soaked up the Georgian sun for 10+ years without the occasional protectant spray is gonna get a burned and warped dashboard.

A/C… works! You have no idea how important A/C is to the evolution of Southern life. Forget about all the politics and ‘the city too busy to hate’ propaganda. Air conditioning finally gave us Southerners a feeling of luxury that no Tara styled mansion, ceiling fan, or mint julep could ever provide. Thanks to A/C this beater car has no sweat stains or frayed fabrics.

The interior is clean overall. The A/C works as noted. Radio works as well as all the speakers. The trunk has no leaks. Turns out this was one of those ‘owned in the same family’ cars that gets traded in once the younger folks want something that is a bit more fun to drive.

Tires are mediocre, not great. The trunk has no leaks. What am I missing???

Everything else needed to drive it.

I opened up the creaky curvaceous hood and saw a few small things.

Like the battery. It isn’t the right one. Apparently one of their other cars must have bit the bullet in the past and they decided to put small battery #1 into car #2. I’ll brace that battery correctly should I decide to retail it.

The power steering hose is leaking. A standard feature in most older Fords.

No recent tune-up. Then again, the check engine light wasn’t on at initial start up and a quick hookup with an OBDII scanner revealed that no codes were pending.

A few pictures didn’t make it to this article. The coolant reservoir was empty. A lot of buyers will assume a head gasket issue once they see an empty reservoir. This may be the case here. But a quick splash of water pointed to a small crack in the container. Some Fords get it, and nearly every Mercedes I have ever seen from this era will have this as well. Another potential Ebay order.

I popped open the copious plastic covering the radiator and found a brand new one in there. But why the heck did they get a new radiator and use the old hoses? Cheap bastards! I’ll have to keep an eye for leaks.

Oil looks fine. It’s not new which is a good thing because a lot of ne’er do wells will put in new oil to try and hide the milky residue of a blown head gasket. The oil cap seems fine. I start it up and verify that the transmission fluid is just below the min mark. I put in about a quarter of a quart from the free container and go on a fifteen minute drive.

One tire needs to be replaced. The heat doesn’t work. The temp gauge doesn’t get to the right point as quickly as it should. I’ll want to put in new hoses and a thermostat when the time comes. After I drive it for 15 minutes and park, I look at the oil again to verify the lack of head gasket issues and take a glance underneath the car for leaks.

The underside is ‘frosty’ dry. Just a little bit of residue which is a shocker.

Other than a few cheap repairs, this old bull of a Taurus is still surprisingly decent. Except for one thing.

It has a transmission whine. Not even giving it new fluid via a hand-pumped Mityvac will remedy that. This process usually helps keep a bit of the grit in place while giving the car new blood. The transmission is shifting well. Perhaps some time spent at the prestigious Taurus Car Club of America will help remedy that potential issue.

So here comes the golden question…

Should we be driving this beater a lot, a little, or at all?

Unless you have a friend, cousin, or sister named Vinny who is in the transmission rebuild business, don’t bother with the frequent driving. The AX4N transmission is the best one ever put into a Taurus. But at 215k, this particular one has given all it can to God, country, and the prior owners.

I would consider this a short trip car. You need to drive seven miles or less to work and back? This type of car can be an interesting oddsmaker. So long as the fluids are kept clean and on level, this type of car can work well as the ‘airport’ car or ‘bus’ car if you live nearby one. But make sure you have a second family car for when the tranny does decides to go south.

It may take years for a beater to become crusher fodder at the local junkyard. Or instant death can happen on a hot summer day in the middle of outbound traffic. Beaters, cheap as they come, are like a free box of Gump chocolates that have been left in storage for an indeterminate amount of time. You may get a great deal.

Just make extra sure you don’t kill yourself in the process.

 

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TTAC Book Club – Car: A Drama of the American Workplace http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ttac-book-club-car-a-drama-of-the-american-workplace/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ttac-book-club-car-a-drama-of-the-american-workplace/#comments Fri, 27 Jul 2012 15:26:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454435

Last week, I polled TTAC readers on essential reading related to the car industry. Since most of the books are old, and don’t merit a formal review, I figured that opening the floor to discussion would better serve the readers, and myself, with regards to thinking about the book and the lessons contained within.

The first book up for discussion is “Car: A Drama of the American Workplace”. Mary Walton’s look at the development of the DN101 Taurus was so revealing that it set a precedent for Ford – never again would a journalist be granted such in-depth access. Car is a look at the triumphs and heartbreaks that go into the half-decade it takes to develop a car. How the various facets of the company interact, the clash of ideas that exist between engineering and design, the way that everything most conform to internal budgetary requirements, government mandates and qualitative targets set by the engineers. It’s astonishing that vehicles even get developed, given all the hoops that must be jumped through by all parties involved.

Personally, it left an indellible impression on my notion of a car review; it’s easy to criticize a choice of seat fabric or a funky instrument panel on a test drive. Knowing that millions of dollars, hundreds of hours and endless arguments were waged over that component, by people with much more experience and education than I, makes me feel unworthy at best, incompetent at worst. Automotive journalism is briefly touched on towards the end of the book, as Walton delves into the absurdity of the press trip circuit and how writers are coddled.

Some takeaways

1) A successful new car can be just as much a product of timing and luck as it is effort and engineering. The DN101 was critically praised and designed expressly to beat the Camry, yet it was a sales flop. Given the long lead times for new cars and rapid shifts in market tastes, is there a way for car companies to hedge against this (see: Honda, which offered a decontented Civic, when high-content compact cars suddenly became the new thing in the industry).

2) The level of care and attention paid to the most minute components is humbling. The knobs and buttons on the Taurus’ instrument panel went through focus groups, committees and redesigns all before making it to production. We would laugh at their poor quality now.

3) All the focus groups and research clinics were enthusiastic about the styling of the Taurus; in the end, it proved to be the most controversial aspect with buyers.

Please feel free to bring up other points/criticisms in the discussion. The floor is turned over to you, the readers. I am reading these books as a means of building context. All contributions are welcome.

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Review: 2012 Hyundai Azera (vs. LaCrosse and Taurus) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/review-2012-hyundai-azera-vs-lacrosse-and-taurus/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/review-2012-hyundai-azera-vs-lacrosse-and-taurus/#comments Tue, 29 May 2012 17:22:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=446613

Derek’s capsule review of the 2012 Hyundai Azera gave the car a resounding “meh”. My own impressions weren’t going to be quite so positive, but then something happened: I test drove the Buick LaCrosse and refreshed 2013 Ford Taurus. Suddenly a $37,000 Super Sonata didn’t seem such a bad way to go.

(N.B. Photos of the Lacrosse and Taurus are in the gallery below)

At first glance, the new Azera looks much like the LaCrosse. The current fashion in semi-premium semi-large front-wheel-drive sedans pairs a high, rounded front clip with a roofline that cleanly sweeps all the way from a point far ahead of the driver to one near the trailing edge of an even higher decklid. Despite rear fenders whose convolutions recall late 50s American iron, the Azera is the sleekest and most athletically proportioned of the bunch (LaCrosse, 2013 Avalon, 2013 ES, 2013 MKZ). The Taurus? Compared to the others, it’s a throwback to a different era when sedans were composed of three distinct boxes. The Azera also has a strong family resemblance to the Sonata (and even the Elantra), but looks appropriately larger and more expensive.

The Azera’s interior isn’t quite a match for that of a Lexus ES. Compared to the Buick and the Ford, though, the Azera is a clear step (or three) up. Everything inside the big Hyundai looks and feels tight and precise. The leather on the seats has a soft, luxurious hand. Inside the Ford, the materials and secondary controls look and feel clunky in comparison. The 2013 refresh adds MyFord Touch complete with reconfigurable instruments, but otherwise left the interior largely untouched. Ford of Europe clearly had no role in this one. Inside the Buick, the dash-to-door fits are abysmal and the material used to mold the doors and dash doesn’t look enough like leather to pull off the embedded stitching (at least not in the tested tan). The Buick’s faux timber is even less convincing. This interior impressed just a couple of years ago, but today a Hyundai outclasses it.

Functionally, the Azera doesn’t fare quite as well. The shift knob’s piano black plastic gets hot in the sun. The Benz-like seat-shaped seat controls are too far forward on the doors. The center stack employs buttons for key audio and HVAC functions that would be much easier to operate with knobs. (No, a gigantic volume control knob isn’t sufficient compensation.)

My least favorite aspect of the Hyundai: the view forward from the driver seat. The rake and position of the windshield yield a header that’s overly close for comfort. The instrument panel flows upward over an awkwardly executed ridge to the base of the windshield. The trailing edge of the hood is higher still, such that from the driver seat you see little beyond the undersides of its uplifted corners. Pulling into a parking space involves far too much guesswork. (Forward obstacle detection would be very helpful, but isn’t offered.) Trimming even an inch from the cowl height would work wonders. Yet the Azera’s windows only seem small until you drive one of the others. The Buick has an even deeper instrument panel and what must be the widest A-pillars in sedandom. The Ford, nine inches longer, three inches wider, and three inches taller, but with no more room in the front seat, feels like a massive bunker on wheels.

Unless you’re bothered by forward-positioned headrests (I am) the Azera’s front seats are comfortable and supportive. Those in the Buick and Ford feel smaller, less luxurious, and less tailored. The rear seat of the Azera, like that of the Buick, is ideal for tall people who have most of their height in their legs. Despite the Ford’s much larger exterior, it provides much less space for rear seat passengers to stretch out. But it does have the largest trunk, 20 cubic feet to the Azera’s 16. In this last area the LaCrosse is the clear loser even in V6 form. The eAssist’s 10-cube trunk could be a deal-killer.

Most cars in this class are motivated by 3.5- or 3.6-liter V6 engines. The 2011 Azera straddled the norm, offering both a 260-horsepower 3.3 and a 283-horsepower 3.8. For 2012 the 3.8 is reserved for the rear-wheel-drive Genesis, but the 3.3 gets direct injection, a bump to 293 horsepower, and a cover styled to make it appear longitudinally mounted (well to the right of center). Hyundai’s engines generally underperform their specs, but paired with a six-speed automatic the 3.3 feels sufficiently torquey off the line. Spurred over 4,000 rpm it moves the big sedan plenty quickly and sounds far more upscale than the Sonata’s turbo four in the process. The Buick and Ford V6s are about as quick, but the latter is far less refined in sound and feel. (I actually drove the Buick with eAssist this time around. It’s inexcusably sluggish for a $30,000+ car. Combine this with the tiny trunk, and I’m surprised they sell any.) My largest gripe with the Hyundai’s performance: power delivery sometimes included the sort of surges and lulls more often experienced with a boosted engine.

With the smallest engine and lowest curb weight, the Azera delivers the best fuel economy of the three: 20 city 29 highway vs. 17/27 for the Buick and 19/29 for the Taurus. The big Hyundai’s trip computer reported slightly better figures in my driving, low twenties in the suburbs and 31 on a highway run to the airport. Acceptable numbers, but not the company’s best effort.

Hyundai took its biggest risk with ride quality. The Azera’s suspension tuning, though not as aggressive as that of an Acura TL or Nissan Maxima, is considerably firmer and more tightly damped than that in the Buick and especially the Ford. On most roads the Hyundai’s ride feels smooth and composed, but on others it sounds thumpy and feels lumpy. The Technology Package’s lower profile 19-inch wheels probably don’t help. The suspension especially struggles with expansion joints and other lane-spanning road surface imperfections. The Azera’s steering is heavier than the systems in the Buick and Ford (but has a few degrees of off-putting on-center slack). Do these differences deliver a sportier driving experience? Relatively speaking, yes, but the end result feels close but not quite there. I’d rather drive the Azera than the LaCrosse or the Taurus, but it’s not fun the way a Maxima or TL can be. (Granted, the TL I tested had the unfair advantage of SH-AWD and the Maxima had a sport package.) Unlike the Buick, Ford, and Acura, the Azera is not available with all-wheel-drive.

Derek had a big issue with wind noise. Perhaps because my ears are older, I noticed only a little, in the vicinity of the windshield header at highway speeds. I noticed more road noise, but not much of this on most roads, either. There are quieter cars in the class, but the Hyundai is in the ballpark and generally oozes upscale sedan.

The tested car’s $36,875 list price included the $4,000 Technology Package (19-inch wheels, huge panoramic sunroof, Xenons, uprated audio, cooled front seats with memory and thigh extension for the driver, sunshades, cool blue interior ambient lighting, rear obstacle detection). Pretty steep for a front-wheel-drive Hyundai, yet very reasonable compared to competitors. Based on TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, a similarly loaded LaCrosse is about $3,700 more before adjusting for feature differences and about $2,400 more afterwards. The Taurus might seem out of place in this group, but it’s priced about even with the Buick. A Toyota Avalon is priced even higher. An Acura TL is about seven grand more than the Hyundai (after a $1,650 adjustment in the Azera’s favor for feature differences), and a Lexus ES 350 is about eight.

But what about the Sonata? Why pay a lot more for a couple more inches of wheelbase (all of which goes into rear legroom), a couple more cylinders, an upgraded interior, and snazzier styling? Well, you won’t pay a lot more, at least not if you can live without the Technology Package’s panoramic sunroof and high-watt audio system. A Sonata 2.0T Limited with nav undercuts the otherwise similarly equipped base Azera by a mere $1,705.

The new Hyundai Azera isn’t perfect. It would benefit from a lower cowl, less intrusive headrests, more polished powertrain programming, less on-center slack in its steering, and a less lumpy ride. But it mostly suffers from being so good in most ways that you wonder why it couldn’t be a little bit better. What direct competitor is actually better? Compared to the Buick LaCrosse and Ford Taurus, the Azera is superior in nearly every way. It’s not as sporty as an Acura TL or Nissan Maxima, but it seems more luxurious and upscale than either. It’s not quite as luxurious as a Lexus ES, but it’s also priced below a Toyota. If fact, it’s not priced much higher than a loaded Sonata. Anyone considering one of these cars should also check out the Azera.

Carol Moran-Charron of Art Moran Buick in Southfield, MI, provided the LaCrosse. She can be reached at 248-353-9000.

Frank Cianciolo of Avis Ford in Southfield, MI, provided the Taurus. He can be reached at 248-226-2555.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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Capsule Review: Ford Police Interceptor http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/capsule-review-ford-police-interceptor/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/capsule-review-ford-police-interceptor/#comments Tue, 29 May 2012 16:35:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=441779

Unlike most of the TTAC community, I am something of a Panther agnostic. To me, the venerable rear-drive Ford sedans are like cigarette ads in back issues of Car and Driver – a quaint relic of an era where “Occupy” was something you saw on the door of an airplane bathroom – because the Occupant was trying to suck down a Camel Light .

One generation above me may have fond memories of big, rear-drive V8 sedans with acres of rear leg room and questionable crash safety. For my cohort, the Pavolovian response that comes from the “doors open” warning chime is forever liked to another Ford fleet sedan – the Taurus- as well as the green-on-tan two-tone Explorer Eddie Bauer, chariot of choice for Baby Boomer “co-parents”. For that generation in need of a family car, The Taurus Wagon was an afterthought, since wagons carried with them the connotations of unhappy childhoods in parochial small towns devoid of health food stores, aerobics classes and people willing to engage in knee-jerk rejection of traditional values. Instead, the SUV was a clean sheet of paper, and it suggested that one was wealthy enough to have some kind of summer home that could only be accessed via the all-terrain prowess of the SUV, while wearing Eddie Bauer clothing.

What does my pseudo-sociological digression have to do with police cars? Not much. But I am going into this with an open mind. I’m not particularly wedded to the idea that a police car must be rear-drive, with body-on-frame construction and a V8 engine. I can confess that I’ve always wanted to drive at speed with lights and sirens blaring, and when Ford invited me to do just that, I accepted immediately.

Ford made two Police Interceptors available, a Taurus-based Police Interceptor and an Explorer-based Utility Interceptor. Both had all-wheel drive and the naturally aspirated V6 – the EcoBoost 3.5L engines were nowhere to be found. It ended up being a moot point, since we were only permitted to drive it on a cone-course “handling loop” in a medium-size parking lot. No driving on real roads, no putting it through our own paces.

Showing off the capabilities of the D3 platform on a mini-autocross is about as useful as letting Adele compete for Britain’s floor exercise squad, and even then, the slow speeds and sweeping corners made it difficult to glean much about the cars. Both felt relatively stable, with the Utility Interceptor feeling pretty well composed in light of its vehicular anti-Christ crossover nature. Steering on both cars felt fairly numb, likely a boon on the highway. Ultimately, this event is a carefully controlled way to give us a few thrills without revealing too much about the cars. There are PR and law enforcement types on hand, but a critical appraisal of the new PIs is going to happen right after a historic peace accord surfaces in the Middle East.

The most noticeable changes came just from sitting in the cars themselves. Even at 5’10 and 175 lbs, the civilian Taurus feels uncomfortable and cramped when sitting in the driver’s seat. The Police Interceptor does away with console-mounted gear lever and the absurdly high plastic console pieces that make knee and legroom as scarce as Manhattan real-estate. The cloth seats, with far less padding and bulk than the regular Taurus, free up plenty of room for our nation’s Finest to stretch out, or accommodate larger-sized bodies. If the civilian Taurus came with this configuration, complaints about a lack of space would evaporate, though asinine criticisms about a column shifter would likely deafen out the real world advantages of this setup. The real test would have been to requisition a Kevlar vest and gun belt, but nobody in the right mind was willing to lend me one for “evaluation purposes”, lest I take my “pretend cop” act a little too far.

The big problem with press events like this is that evaluating the car in such a specific environment really tells us little about the car. I decided to consult with resident Panther expert Sajeev Mehta for some additional (admittedly biased) context. Sajeev felt that the Tahoe, rather than the new generation PI, Charger or Caprice would end up becoming the next police vehicle, due to its simplicity and size. I think Sajeev is partially right – I suspect that the Utility Interceptor will find favor among a number of departments - and the California Highway Patrol is apparently one of them. The Taurus will likely make a fine detective’s car, but as Sajeev notes, “…In any place where pickup trucks are common (fly over states) there’s no f*****g chance this water’d down Volvo will ever catch them, when a nut is behind the wheel.” Chicago’s Police Department is buying a number of new Ford PI’s – coincidentally, this is where Ford is building the new PI – while some Canadian departments are buying them as well, ostensibly due to the AWD capabilities among other criteria.

Any law-enforcement readers of TTAC are invited to send in their thoughts to expand on my brief, stage-managed drive of the new Ford Interceptors. As far as I can tell, the Utility Interceptor might make a nice basic SUV in a few years, once they begin to be retired from police departments. But take a step back, and so far it looks like the void being left by the Crown Victoria hasn’t quite been filled yet, and may not be for some time.

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BRB Driving Police Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/brb-driving-police-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/brb-driving-police-cars/#comments Thu, 26 Apr 2012 14:02:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=441726

Today is a busy day. Bertel and Ed are off somewhere plotting their next round of skullduggery, Murilee is prowling the junkyards of Denver for the elusive 1991 Isuzu Impulse AWD, Jack is laid up in bed with an illness certainly caught from his child’s pre-school, Steve and Sajeev are collaborating on their next hit column and I am commiting a cardinal sin according to the Church of Panther…fraternizing with the enemy.

Ford has invited me to drive the newest Police Interceptor cars today – and while driving a police car has been a fantasy of mine since childhood, I’m sure some of you must be wondering how the newest versions stack up against the beloved Panther-based CVPI. Let me know in the comments. Ford probably won’t let us take the cars off the test course, but if they do, I’ll make sure to get video of me pulling up to my girlfriend’s workplace, sirens blaring, calling her name on the megaphone.

 

 

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Junkyard Find: Where Tired Tauruses Go To Die http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/junkyard-find-where-tired-tauruses-go-to-die/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/junkyard-find-where-tired-tauruses-go-to-die/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2011 19:00:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=419904 The Junkyard Find series is all about the interesting and uncommon stuff I find during my travels to wrecking yards in Colorado and California, but what kind of cars form the backdrop to the Peugeots, Merkurs, and ancient Detroit iron? The demographics of this population tend to shift over the decades; 20 years ago, the GM B body reigned supreme in the high-turnover self-service yards I tend to frequent, but there’s no doubt about the 21st Century’s current Junkyard King.
Lately, the Chrysler LH has been moving up in the junkyard ranks, perhaps even displacing the GM H Body for second place. California junkyards always have substantial numbers of Volvo 240s, as the brick-buying demographic transitions to the Prius, and the high cost of repairs to big Benzes means there’s always a long line of W126s before The Crusher’s hungry steel maw.
But the numbers of junked Ford Tauruses (and Mercury Sables) dwarfs everything else. I visited a large steel-company-owned self-service California yard a couple days back and started counting the Taurus/Sable population. The Ford section of this yard has about 300 vehicles, and 118 of them are Tauruses and Sables.
Obviously, this is mostly due to the vast sales figures for these cars over the last quarter-century; the Taurus was #1 in North American sales for most of the 1990s, and most junked Detroit cars are 10-15 years old these days.
But where are the junked Accords and Camrys? Granted, the typical junked Honda or Toyota is 20-25 years old in California (due to perceived-value assumptions of West Coast used-car buyers and resulting higher values for allegedly bulletproof Japanese iron) but we should be seeing the import sections of self-serve yards overflowing with early-90s Accords… and that’s just not happening. Right now, the VWs are jostling with the 626s, Tercels, early Infinitis, and a new influx of disposable late-90s Koreans in these yards, but you’re lucky if you can find more than a half-dozen Accords or Camrys (and don’t get me started about the near-zero availability of fifth-gen Civic parts in the cheap self-serve yards; every time I need something for my daily driver, I have to visit at least two yards to find it).
Taurus sales went downhill fast when so many Americans switched to trucks as daily drivers during the course of the 1990s and early 2000s, which means that we can expect to see the Taurus Junkyard Era start to wind down in another five years or so. The early, game-changing ’86s and ’87s are already rare enough that I notice them on the street. Maybe it’s time to find a clean ’86 and stash it away?

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And the Winner Is… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/and-the-winner-is-22/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/and-the-winner-is-22/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2011 08:22:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413309 There are some fast LeMons cars that suffer from a single glaring weakness that knocks them out of the running after maintaining a lead for hour after hour. For example, the Acura Integra and Honda Prelude and their fragile head gaskets, or the Toyota MR2′s chronic engine-cooling/oiling woes. The Ford Taurus SHO, however, is constructed entirely from weaknesses; the transmissions explode, the engines throw rods (when they aren’t too busy spinning bearings and/or burning valves), the brakes overheat, and the suspensions crumble like pretzel sticks in a trash compacter. Wheel bearings, electrical components, you name it. But when a well-driven SHO doesn’t fall apart, very few LeMons-priced cars can catch it on a race course.
That’s what happened with the SHOTime “Rat Patrol” ’92 Taurus SHO over the weekend of the 2011 Yeehaw It’s Texas 24 Hours of LeMons. The Rat Patrollers did everything right: no mechanical problems, quick pit stops, no black flags, super-smooth driving for hour after hour. In the end, the SHO kept the Blue Goose VW Rabbit at bay, taking the checkered flag with a two-lap lead over the very quick Volkswagen. The other two cars on the SHOTime “SHO Mafia” team came in fifth and twelfth (out of 59 entries), which annihilates the previous record for most total SHO laps without a nuked engine or scattered transmission in a LeMons race. Congratulations, SHOTime!
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Yeehaw It’s Texas LeMons Day One: Rabbit Breathing Down SHO’s Neck http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/yeehaw-its-texas-lemons-day-one-rabbit-breathing-down-shos-neck/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/yeehaw-its-texas-lemons-day-one-rabbit-breathing-down-shos-neck/#comments Sun, 02 Oct 2011 04:37:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413220 After a grueling all-day battle of thrown rods, car fires, and busted suspensions at MSR Houston, we never expected to see a Ford Taurus SHO with a Rat Patrol roof gunner on the same lap as a bar-sponsored ’84 Volkswagen Rabbit. That’s how things sorted out after the first race session of the fourth annual Yeehaw It’s Texas 24 Hours of LeMons.
There’s something of a SHO Mafia in Texas, for reasons that go beyond my understanding of geo-cultural factors, and so we’ve got three SHOs on Team SHOTime. One of them won two races in the ’10 season, but that car now sits in seventh. The leading “Rat Patrol” 1992 SHO hasn’t had a single black flag today, and (as far as I know) not a single mechanical problem as well.
It’s good to be the leader, but the SHOTime Rat Patrol guys can’t be feeling very comfortable with the perennially contending Blue Goose Rabbit a few seconds behind them.
The Blue Goose VW is one of those LeMons cars that everybody knows is going to take an overall win one of these races; it came within a couple of laps of the win at the North Dallas Hooptie and has been near the front of the pack at race after race. Right now, all the Geese need is the smallest stumble by the Taurus— say, a transmission scattered all over MSR’s Turn Six (a depressingly common SHO occurrence) or something as mundane as a slow refueling stop— and the VW will leap into the lead.
Thing is, the Blue Geese are themselves being sweated by the only 280ZX ever to have won a LeMons race, Team Z-Wrecks. This 29-year-old Datsun is a mere lap behind the Rat Patrol and the Blue Goose, and its best lap is quicker than both its competitors. No black flags, no mechanical problems.
As if the SHO guys weren’t already stressed enough about their escape-risk connecting rods and glass transmission, the BenzGay Mercedes-Benz 300E (winner of the Garrapatas Peligrosas 24 Hours of LeMons in June) cruises a mere three laps behind the Z-Wrecks car.
And, because you can’t have a LeMons race without a BMW 3 Series in the heart of the drama, the Hello Dead Kitty Racing E36 lurks a single lap back of the Benz (they’d be tied with the Z, were it not for the four BS laps handed out by the LeMons Supreme Court yesterday). That’s five cars within a five-lap spread, and a whole day of racing Sunday to sort things out.
Meanwhile, the toll on the competition’s running gear has been even harsher than usual. Toyota MR2s like to eat 4A engines, as was the case with this rod-throw victim. The team has a new (to them) engine on the way, and an all-night thrash should get them back on the track by the time the green flag waves tomorrow morning.
This Nissan Sentra SE-R engine suffered one of the most spectacular failures we’ve ever seen in a LeMons race, with a wayward connecting rod punching holes in both sides of the block and the oil pan, spraying oil all over the exhaust header and turning the engine compartment into a sea of fire. The driver got out of the car safely, the rescue crew put out the fire (including the infield grass fire that spread from the burning car), and the team is even now installing a replacement engine.
The MetroSexuals Suzuki Swift GT-engined Geo Metro (1,300 screaming CCs of twin-cam power!) suffered a catastrophic rear wheel hub failure, which resulted in a three-wheeled off-road adventure. End of the race? Not at all!
That’s because the MetroSexuals’ pit neighbor offered the hub assembly off his daily-driver Metro. That’s how they race, deep in the heart of Texas.

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An Illustrated History Of Automotive Aerodynamics – In Three Parts http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/02/an-illustrated-history-of-automotive-aerodynamics-in-three-parts/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/02/an-illustrated-history-of-automotive-aerodynamics-in-three-parts/#comments Sun, 14 Feb 2010 20:29:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=345269

[Note: A significantly expanded and updated version of this article can be found here]

That air presented the greatest obstacle to automotive speed and economy was understood intuitively, if not scientifically since the dawn of the automobile. Putting it into practice was quite another story. Engineers, racers and entrepreneurs were lured by the potential for the profound gains aerodynamics offered. The efforts to do so yielded some of the more remarkable cars ever made, even if they challenged the aesthetic assumptions of their times. We’ve finally arrived at the place where a highly aerodynamic car like the Prius is mainstream. But getting there was not without turbulence.

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Racers, particularly those chasing the coveted Land Speed Record (LSR), were generally the first to employ aerodynamic aids. The La Jamais Contente (The Never Satisfied) was the first automobile to break the 100kmh (62 mph) record, in 1899. Like all the first batch of LSR holders, it was an EV. The driver’s position seems to negate the aerodynamic aids, or maybe he was just posing, and more likely crouched down for the actual run.

The evolution of aerodynamics for LSR cars was remarkably rapid, as this Stanley Steamer Rocket of 1906 evidently shows. And the increase in speed was even more dramatic: the Rocket broke the 200km barrier, with a run of 205.44 kmh (127.66  mph). That would not be bettered until 1924, and not until 2009 for steam powered vehicles.

The first known attempt at streamlining a passenger car is this Alfa Romeo from 1914, built by the coach builder Castagna for the Italian Count Ricotti. Due to the very heavy bodywork, it turned out to not improve on the top speed of the open Alfa it was based on.

Undoubtedly, the real breakthrough aerodynamic passenger car was the German Rumpler “Tropfenwagen” (teardrop car) of 1921. Unlike the impractical and heavy Castagna Alfa, the Rumpler was as dramatically different (and influential) for its completely integrated and original design and engineering. It had a mid-engined W6 engine, and four wheel independent suspension using swing axles which Rumpler patented. The Tropfenwagen was tested in VW’s wind tunnel in 1979, and achieved a remarkable Coefficient of drag (Cd) of .28; a degree of slipperiness that VW’s Passat wouldn’t equal until 1988.

It’s important to remember that the Cd is a coefficient, and denotes the relative aerodynamic slipperiness of a body, regardless of its overall size. A brick of any size has a Cd of 1.0; a bullet about .295.  To arrive at the critical total aerodynamic drag that determines power required and efficiency, the frontal area (cross section of the vehicle looking straight on) is multiplied by the Cd. The Rumpler was relatively very aerodynamic, but it was also quite tall and boxy, which resulted in the one hundred or so production cars being used primarily as taxis. An ironic ending for Rumpler, but his ideas spawned imitations and extensions world-wide, and opened the whole field.

To put the nascent field of automotive aerodynamics in perspective, the typical two-box car of the twenties was more aerodynamic going backwards than forwards, as this ass-backwards car showed. That brings back memories of Bob Lutz stating that the Volt concept would have had better aerodynamics if they put it in the wind tunnel backwards.

Hungarian-born Paul Jaray used his experience working int the aeronautical field, and especially designing Zeppelins, to develop a specific formula for automotive aerodynamic design principles that lead to a patent, applied for in 1922 and issued in 1927.  His approach was influential, and numerous companies used Jaray licensed bodies during the streamliner craze that unfolded in the early thirties. His early designs tended to be very tall, and with questionable proportions and space utilization (below).

His designs eventually became more mainstream, and Mercedes, Opel, Maybach, and numerous other makes, primarily German, built special streamliner versions using Jaray bodies, like this Mercedes below:

The limitation of these cars is like the Castagna Alfa, they were re-bodied conventional cars with frames, front engines and RWD. Jaray only addressed the aerodynamics, not the complete vehicle like Rumpler had. It was a start, but others were taking up where Rumpler left off, like the English Burney, below:

Obviously more Rumpler influenced and less by Jaray, the 1930 English Burney featured a then-radical rear engine and also four wheel independent suspension.

One of the most influential and lasting designers of the whole era was Austrian Hans Ledwinka. After he took over as chief design engineer at the Czech firm Tatra in 1921, he developed the basis of a series of remarkable Tatra cars and eventually streamliners with platform frames, independent suspensions and rear air-cooled engines that Ferdinand Porsche cribbed from heavily in his design of the Volkswagen (VW made a substantial payment to Tatra in the 1960s to compensate them for this theft of IP).

The compact Tatra v570 of 1933 (above) is the forerunner of both the larger Tatras soon to come, and obviously of the Volkswagen. We’ll come back to Tatra later.

This Volkswagen prototype from 1934 (above) shows a very strong resemblance to the cribbed Tatra v570, with the benefit of some further refinement. Although the visual cues are not really as significant as they might appear to us now, because these were the leading-edge design elements of the time, and widely imitated or shared, on both side of the Atlantic.

As this 1934 prototype for an American rear-engined sedan by John Tjaarda shows, the Europeans weren’t working alone. This fairly radical design became tamed-down for the production 1936 front-engined Lincoln Zephyr, of which the less common but handsome coupe version is shown below:

Of course, Americans’ introduction to streamlining had come two years earlier  in 1934, with the stunning Chrysler Airflow (below). An essentially pragmatic approach, the Airflow also kept the traditional Body On Frame (BOF) front-engine RWD standard, but made some significant advances in terms vehicle design by pushing the engine further forward over the front wheels. This, combined with a wider body, dramatically improved interior space and accommodations. The Airflow had the same basic configuration as American cars from the late forties and early fifties. Progress is not always linear.

The failure of the practical Airflow can probably comes down to one thing: that overly flat waterfall grille. That was too much of  a break for the symbolism still engendered in the remnants of the classic car prow. The Zephyr had one, and it was a success, despite not being nearly as a good a car as the Airflow.

An even less pragmatic but remarkably practical and effective American vehicle was the Stout Scarab (above). Aviation engineer William B. Stout designed this extremely roomy mini-van precursor using  a unitized body structure and a rear Ford V8 engine. The first was built in 1932, and several more variations, a total of nine, were built in the mid thirties, but series production never got off the ground, due to an asking price almost four times higher than a Chrysler Imperial Airflow of the times, and even those weren’t selling so well just then.

A much more radical approaches to streamlining was Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion. The first of several prototypes also saw the light of day in 1933, in the midst of this fertile period on both side of the Atlantic. The Dymaxion also had a rear Ford V8, but with a tricycle carriage and rear wheel steering, which allowed it to turn on the length of its body.

Another lesser-know variation of the popular Ford V8 engined aerodynamic vehicles was this Dubonnet Ford of 1936, whose very slippery body allowed it to reach 108 mph. I appears to have  Isetta-type front doors for the front seat passengers. About as much crumple zone too.

Let’s jump back to Czechoslovakia and the fertile Tatra design studios. Here are some clays from about 1933 or so, showing the development of both the smaller VW-like v570 on the right, and the larger streamliners in the rear. The first of these, the T77, arrived in 1934 (below):

The T77 was measured to have a Cd of .212, a number that was not broken by a production car until GM’s EV-1 of 1995, which measured at .195.  A remarkable achievement, the long-tailed T77 was powered by a rear air-cooled V8, and began a long series of Tatras until the 1980′s along similar lines. My retrospective of Tatra is here.

Tatra became synonymous with the advanced streamliner of the pre-war era, enabling remarkably fast travel (100 mph) on the fledgling Autobahns of the Third Reich. Favored especially by Luftwaffe brass, they had a nasty habit of killing them, due to its wickedly-abrupt oversteer, thanks to the combination of rear V8 and swing axles. That earned it the nick name of “the Czech secret weapon”.  So many died at its hands, that supposedly Hitler forbade his best men to drive them. In many (other) ways, the Tatra 87 was the Porsche Panamera of its time.


To demonstrate just how far the aerodynamic envelope was pushed in this golden decade of streamlining, this 1939 Schlörwagen prototype was tested originally at Cd .186, and a model of it was retested by VW in the seventies with a Cd of .15. Either of these values put the “pillbug” at or near the top of the list of the most aerodynamic concept cars ever built, like the Ford Probe V of 1985, with a Cd of .137. Built on the chassis of the rear-engine Mercedes 170H, it was substantially faster as well as 20% to 40% more fuel efficient than its donor car. The Russians took the Schlörwagen as war booty and conducted tests as a propeller driven vehicle. It represents a state of aerodynamic efficiency in league with the most aerodynamic cars being considered today, such as the Aptera.

Its important to note that the rise of interest in aerodynamics in the 1930s arose out of the desire to reinvent the automobile from its horse and wagon origins and the assumptions that average driving speeds would be on the rise with modern roads. This made it a forward looking undertaking, as most drivers were plodding along at 35-45 mph outside of cities. But the first freeways were being built in Germany, and improvements in US roads, including the first parkways and freeways were taking place. It also explains the particularly strong interest and adoption of streamlining in Germany.

Note that I have not attempted to survey the influence of aerodynamics on the styling of cars in the latter thirties and up to WW II. Needless to say the influence was utterly profound, and gave us some of the most remarkable cars of the late classic era. But this had relatively more to do with style (and even affectation) than a genuine effort to push the envelope in terms of leading edge aerodynamics. Nevertheless, the benefits and beauty that resulted, like in this Bugatti Atlantique coupe are undeniable, but beyond our scope here.

Part 2: 1939 to 1955

Part 3: 1955 to the Present

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