The Truth About Cars » History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 19 Oct 2014 11:58:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 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 » History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Piston Slap: Why So Uncool Minivan? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/piston-slap-uncool-minivan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/piston-slap-uncool-minivan/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 12:07:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=908561   Josh writes: What is the deal with minivans? I was thinking the other day that as an outdoor person, minivan’s are perfect. They have lots of room for people and gear, AWD (in some cases), lots of roof space, and better MPG’s than an SUV. But apparently I can’t own one because they’re not […]

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1972 Ford Carousel (photo courtesy: forum.chryslerminivan.net)

Josh writes:

What is the deal with minivans? I was thinking the other day that as an outdoor person, minivan’s are perfect. They have lots of room for people and gear, AWD (in some cases), lots of roof space, and better MPG’s than an SUV. But apparently I can’t own one because they’re not cool. I could get a wagon though. Isn’t a minivan just a super-sized wagon?

Will minivans ever be cool to own?

Sajeev answers:

What’s the deal with minivans? From public perception, CUV popularity, fleet usage, etc. the “uncool minivan” is indeed a sad reality.  But there is plenty to love here on TTAC, from the Farago era to something brilliantly Baruthian.  My second favorite rental vehicle was the 3.6L Pentastar Caravan: it was quick and comfortable with chassis/suspension/steering components ready to play. No surprise, my fav rental was a white 2011 Crown Vic. But I digress…

Isn’t a minivan just a super-sized wagon?  Not really, even if they (kinda) ended the station wagon era. Uncool minivans are a radical rethink: eschewing the traditional notions of the family wagon and the creepster’s van with the adoption of a modern front-wheel drive layout (Aerostar and Astro notwithstanding) for maximum utilization of a traditional two box design, while adding the styling of a family sedan/wagon for curb appeal. Supposedly the Chrysler minivan’s early concepts were lifted from Ford’s work in the early 1970s: possible since Lee Iacocca famously left FoMoCo after butting heads with Henry II far too many times, and took some design staffers with him…though that’s the subject of some controversy.

Will minivans ever be cool to own? Keep in mind the Minivan was and remains an enlightened design: that will attract people. Just like so many Pistonheads go nuts over vintage wagons these days (especially with wheels you’d expect on a restomod ’69 Camaro), the uncool minivan will come back to win our hearts.

Until then, who gives a crap what people think? Go buy one and brush off the haters, no matter what they say!

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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One Man, One Brand, Five Decades: The Bob McDorman Automotive Museum http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/one-man-one-brand-five-decades-the-bob-mcdorman-automotive-museum/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/one-man-one-brand-five-decades-the-bob-mcdorman-automotive-museum/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 12:00:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=869698 Our current age is one of multistate megadealers, Carmax, Ebay, and an ever-growing number of other depersonalized ways to buy a car. In these giddy times of direct sales experiments and apps for online vehicle purchases, it’s easy to forget that local franchise car dealers were pillars of American community life for decades. At the […]

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Our current age is one of multistate megadealers, Carmax, Ebay, and an ever-growing number of other depersonalized ways to buy a car. In these giddy times of direct sales experiments and apps for online vehicle purchases, it’s easy to forget that local franchise car dealers were pillars of American community life for decades. At the Bob McDorman Automotive Museum in central Ohio, however, the days when car dealers were more than just a place to buy a shiny new consumer product are alive and well.

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Located in the village of Canal Winchester, the Museum is a monument to the legacy of one of area’s most well-known Chevrolet dealers. Bob McDorman, 82 years young, began his career in car sales in 1953 when he was hired by a Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealer in London, Ohio. The first Corvette was also released that year, sparking McDorman’s lifelong fascination with America’s sports car. After he became a Chevrolet dealer in his own right in 1965, Corvettes formed the backbone of his own car collections. He was inducted into the National Corvette Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2012, in recognition of his contributions to both collecting and promoting the Corvette brand. McDorman has been in Canal Winchester since 1968, and his dealership is still a going concern.

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The word “collections” isn’t a typo. Over the years McDorman accumulated three successive collections of GM cars, Corvettes, and memorabilia, which were then auctioned off. McDorman describes the thrill of the chase as his favorite aspect of collecting; the Museum represents his fourth collection of cars. Some of them were sold new by McDorman and were tracked down many years later. Others were cars that McDorman previously owned, but bought back when he decided to open the Museum. The Museum is in the process of adding more memorabilia to the walls, including vintage Chevrolet signs and other automobilia. Many of the light-up signs aren’t hung yet, but will be in place within the next few months.

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The Museum isn’t enormous, but it has plenty of rarities and mint-condition originals. The 1957 Cameo you see above is one of one, the only truck produced in that color combination for that model year. My personal favorite is the 1960 Corvair Monza Club Coupe on display. A 10,000 mile unrestored original, the car is also one of McDorman’s favorites. There are several other mint 50s Chevrolets nearby. They might be the finest unrestored originals of their kind, including a delivery-mileage ’53 Corvette. McDorman states that the goal is to fill up the permanent display spots in the museum, while also having a few consignment cars for sale in the middle. McDorman sold a majority stake in his dealership to megadealer Jeff Wyler in 2011, and plans to retire fully in 2015 after fifty years with GM. Even so, he’ll keep his dealer’s license so that he can sell cars within the museum.

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Although there are plenty of fantastic cars in the museum, they aren’t the reason that you should go to it; McDorman himself is the most compelling part of the exhibit. He’s seated at the desk in the first picture, flanked by the third and last production 1978 Corvette Pace Cars. He plans to be there, ready to talk to any visitor, whenever the museum is open (usually Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 10 am to 5 pm). This is the part where I admit I was more than a little overawed; he’s had more than twice my lifetime worth of experience in the car biz and he’s still sharp as a knife. Even so, he has a genuine approachability and affable disposition that must account for some of the endless number of customer satisfaction and GM dealer awards that carpet the walls. As a kid I went every year to the massive car show he would throw on his huge lot on the outskirts of Columbus. He’d have a large part of his own collection on display, and street rodders and Corvette people would come from near and far to take it in. Now he entertains a steady stream of visitors in his own museum. How many car dealers can claim that level of community rapport? Even dealership skeptics like me should enjoy chatting with McDorman, who is a genuine enthusiast and still quite knowledgeable about industry goings-on. It’s an opportunity you simply won’t get in most other car museums. As an experiment in living history, the Museum excels.

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BMW’s Southern Strategy Pays Off For All Involved http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/bmws-southern-strategy-pays-off-for-all-involved/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/bmws-southern-strategy-pays-off-for-all-involved/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 11:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=865729 Twenty years ago, BMW began building vehicles at its first North American factory in Spartanburg, S.C., a move that has paid off well for the German automaker, both against its rivals Mercedes and Audi, and as an example for the industry as a whole. Bloomberg reports the factory is the largest exporter of U.S.-made vehicles […]

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BMW Spartanburg

Twenty years ago, BMW began building vehicles at its first North American factory in Spartanburg, S.C., a move that has paid off well for the German automaker, both against its rivals Mercedes and Audi, and as an example for the industry as a whole.

Bloomberg reports the factory is the largest exporter of U.S.-made vehicles to global markets outside of North America, besting the Detroit Three and the state of Michigan’s collective automotive production efforts as its capacity prepares to jump 50 percent to 450,000 annually as the latest member of the X Series, the full-size seven-passenger X7, comes into production.

The success of the Spartanburg facility is built upon lower labor costs — U.S. labor is 47 percent cheaper than German labor — its work flexibility, and its access to the port of Charleston, I-85 and GSP International Airport. An additional inland port in Greer, S.C., new production techniques — such as using robots and humans on the same assembly step — and massive export increases as the result of an upcoming free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union will likely add more fuel to the plant’s continued success.

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Audi “Shocked” by Study on Slave Labor During Nazi Era that Finds Auto Union ‘Morally Responsible’ for 4,500 Deaths http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/audi-shocked-by-study-on-slave-labor-during-nazi-era-that-finds-auto-union-morally-responsible-for-4500-deaths/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/audi-shocked-by-study-on-slave-labor-during-nazi-era-that-finds-auto-union-morally-responsible-for-4500-deaths/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 21:06:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=833114 A historical study commissioned by Audi to examine its corporate predecessors’ ties to the Nazi regime has revealed that Auto Union had exploited at least 20,000 slave laborers and held “moral responsibility” for the deaths of about 4,500 inmates of the Flossenbürg concentration camp who worked at a sub-camp operated for Audi in Leitmeritz, Bavaria. They […]

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Flossenbürg concentration camp, where slave laborers for Auto Union were imprisoned and executed.

Flossenburg concentration camp, where slave laborers for Auto Union were imprisoned and executed.

A historical study commissioned by Audi to examine its corporate predecessors’ ties to the Nazi regime has revealed that Auto Union had exploited at least 20,000 slave laborers and held “moral responsibility” for the deaths of about 4,500 inmates of the Flossenbürg concentration camp who worked at a sub-camp operated for Audi in Leitmeritz, Bavaria. They died and were murdered while slaving for the German automaker. Audi expressed “shock” at the news and said that it is going to be revising company publicity materials about one of its founders, Dr. Richard Bruhn, who was revealed by the study to have close ties to the Nazi leadership. The company also said that it will consider compensating victims. Bruhn, considered the “Father of the Auto Union” was found to have exploited slave labor on a massive scale while serving the Nazi war effort.

Audi told Siegel that it would be changing online profiles of Bruhn at the company’s German website and today the company told Germany’s The Local that it has contacted its operations in other countries asking them to revise their materials on Bruhn, which describe him as having “guided the company with great competence” before the war and securing a “high reputation” post-war which “made it possible to obtain the credit needed to re-establish the Auto Union”. Audi will also be revising displays at the Audi Forum’s “museum mobile” near the company’s headquarters in Ingolstadt and at the Horch museum in Zwickau. Not only is Audi making changes to reflect Bruhn’s less savory actions, Ingolstadt’s mayor, Christian Lösel, told journalists that the municipality was considering changing the names of streets like Bruhnstraße that currently honor the Auto Union founder.

Dr. Richard Bruhn, founder of the post war Auto Union company.

Dr. Richard Bruhn, founder of the Auto Union company.

The study said that Bruhn maintained the “closest ties” to the highest ranking Nazis and that after 1942 he was personally responsible for Auto Union’s use of thousands of forced laborers. Bruhn had plans to expand the use of slaves but that was obviated by German reversals on the battlefield. He was a member of the National Socialist party and given the title of “Wehrwirtschaftsfuehrer” (military industrial leader or, more formally, Leader of the Armament Economy). This quasi-military rank was given to the executives of companies that the regime considered important to arming Germany in the 1930s and later to the war effort. Günther Quandt, whose family today controls BMW, was given a similar honor by the Nazis.

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Tank engines being assembled in an Auto Union factory, 1943.

The 500 page report, “Wartime Economy and Labour Deployment by Auto Union AG Chemnitz during World War II”, was authored by Martin Kukowski, who heads Audi’s own history department and Rudolf Boch, a University of Chemnitz historian, and published by Franz Steiner Verlag. The authors conclude that, “There can be no discussion about the closeness of Auto Union to [the Nazis].” Auto Union was “firmly ensnared in the National Socialist regime”. Bruhn was not the only Auto Union executive who was an enthusiastic Nazi. In early 1945, company managers were organizing plans to evacuate themselves to escape advancing Allied forces as they continued to use slave labor in their still operating factories.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Auto Union was created in Chemnitz, Germany in 1932 under the direction of Bruhn from the merger of four German automakers, Horch, Audi, DKW and Wanderer. Those four founding firms are symbolized by the four rings in Audi’s logo.

Auto Union was one of the companies that made the SDK FZ-11 half-track.

Auto Union was one of the companies that made the SdK FZ-11 half-track.

During the war Auto Union made military vehicles for the German war effort and was “ensnared to a scandalous degree in the complex of concentration camps,” according to Kukowski and Boch. At the end of the war, Bruhn was interned by the British occupation forces along with other German industrialists who helped the Nazis. Upon his release, in 1949 he started to get Auto Union going again. Bruhn, who died in 1964, revived the business group in Ingolstadt with funding provided by the United States’ Marshall Plan and started making DKWs. In the late 1950s, Daimler-Benz bought the company, eventually selling its shares to Volkswagen starting in the mid 1960s. After some corporate restructuring, in 1985 the Auto Union name was discontinued and VW renamed it Audi.

The authors determined that the Nazi SS built and operated seven forced labor camps specifically for Auto Union. Those camps enslaved over 3,700 prisoners, a quarter of them of Jewish descent.

Another 16,500 people were forced to work for Auto Union in the company’s factories in Zwickau and Chemnitz, in Saxony. Perhaps the strongest and most shocking charge against Auto Union and Bruhn is the authors’ claim  that Auto Union management carried “moral responsibility” for the deaths of 4,500 inmates at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria. They died while slaving for Auto Union at a forced labor camp in nearby Leitmeritz, the study said.

Conditions in the Zwickau concentration camp where many Auto Union workers were held, were “devastating” according to the historians. Prisoners lived in unheated barracks. The authors discovered that when workers at the Zwickau factory became disabled, they were shipped to the Flossenburg concentration camp where they were executed. Near the end of the war, nearly 700 Zwickau inmates were put on a forced march to Karlovy Vary in what is now the Czech Republic and barely half of them survived the death march.

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Auto Union made the chassis and running gear for the SdK FZ-222 armored vehicle.

Audi expressed shock and concern over the findings and in addition to revising how the company portrays Bruhn it said that it would look into granting compensation to any former forced laborers who are still alive. Bruhn’s name also graces a number of company projects such as pension plans. Audi board member and head of the company’s workers’ works council Peter Mosch told Wirtschaftswoche, “I’m very shocked by the scale of the involvement of the former Auto Union leadership in the system of forced and slave labour. I was not aware of the extent [of this involvement].” Audi had previously acknowledged some role in the exploitation of forced labor during the Nazi era and has paid millions of dollars into a compensation fund managed by the German government.

Audi follows Daimler, BMW and its corporate parent Volkswagen in commissioning a historical study into ties to the Nazis during 1933-45.

An extensive, five-part, German language series on the study and Audi’s history with the Nazi regime, including interviews with survivors of the forced labor, can be found at Wirtschaftswoche. This TTAC post only touches on the material covered in Kukowski and Boch’s study. Even if you don’t read German, Google’s translator works well enough to give you the gist of the material in the Wirtschaftswoche series and I encourage you to check it out.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. Thanks for reading – RJS

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British Pathe Helps Waste Our Time By Putting 85,000 Archived Newsreels Online http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/british-pathe-helps-waste-our-time-by-putting-85000-archived-newsreels-online/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/british-pathe-helps-waste-our-time-by-putting-85000-archived-newsreels-online/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:36:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=806554 One of the great things about the Internet is easy access to materials that earlier would have been stored away, inaccessible in some dusty archive or in the back stacks of a library. It’s always a joy when I find that another collection of original documents, historic photos, or films whose content has been digitized […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

One of the great things about the Internet is easy access to materials that earlier would have been stored away, inaccessible in some dusty archive or in the back stacks of a library. It’s always a joy when I find that another collection of original documents, historic photos, or films whose content has been digitized and placed online. I’ve even tried to do my part by putting the Andrew F. Johnson Project online. Sure, as someone who dabbles in automotive history, it’s useful to find appropriate illustrations for my work, but the attraction that online archives hold for me is more fundamental than just pragmatic. It’s the digital equivalent to finding a stash of old National Geographic or Life magazines in your grandma’s attic. I’ve spent hours immersed at collections like the Keystone Mast Collection of vintage stereo photos at the Online Archive of California, the Smithsonian’s online archive, and the online image archive at Wayne State University’s Walter Reuther Library. Now, British Pathé, the U.K. newsreel archive company, has uploaded its entire collection of more than 85,000 historic films in high resolution format to YouTube.

The archive’s films date back to 1896, with the most recent being produced in 1976, and they comprise about 3,500 hours of footage of major historical events, notable personages, fashion, travel, sports and culture as well as extensive footage from both World Wars. In addition to the finished, narrated newsreels, the archive also includes quite a bit of original footage, outtakes and rushes. Included in the archive are many films of interest to automobile enthusiasts. The archive is searchable so all you have to do is search for topics like “motor show“, “automobile“, “Jaguar“, “Lotus” or “Stirling Moss” and you’ll immediately have enough material to put off more productive work for just about as long as you wish. I’ve included a few examples after the break.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Warning: This video of the 1955 LeMans disaster includes scenes of death:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Disaster at National Corvette Museum: Can History Be Saved? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/disaster-at-national-corvette-museum-can-history-be-saved/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/disaster-at-national-corvette-museum-can-history-be-saved/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 17:12:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=740705 The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky suffered major sinkhole damage yesterday. Now the fate of several important Corvettes, and perhaps the museum itself, hangs in the balance. No one was hurt in the cave-in, which occurred overnight in the “Skydome” section of the museum. Eight Corvettes were sucked into the hole, including two […]

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The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky suffered major sinkhole damage yesterday. Now the fate of several important Corvettes, and perhaps the museum itself, hangs in the balance.

No one was hurt in the cave-in, which occurred overnight in the “Skydome” section of the museum. Eight Corvettes were sucked into the hole, including two on loan from GM: a ’93 ZR-1 convertible and an ’09 ZR1 hardtop. The remaining six are owned by the museum: a black ’62, the ’84 PPG Pace Car, the 1 Millionth Corvette (a white ’92 convertible), a ruby red ’93 40th Anniversary Edition, an ’01 Mallet Z06, and the 1.5 Millionth Corvette (a white ’09 convertible). Video from the site is pretty grim. The video below, taken from an aerial drone with a camera attached, is a fairly complete survey of the devastation:

Click here to view the embedded video.

The black ’62 and the ’09 ZR1 landed near the top of the pile, bruised but hopefully still intact. The ’93 40th Anniversary looks pretty trashed though, as does the 1 Millionth Corvette. Both have tumbled end over end at least once, with the 1 Millionth landing behind the slab on which the ’62 precariously lies. What looks like the ’84 Pace Car is almost completely buried, and the 1.5 Millionth Corvette appears to have been squished underneath the slab on which the ’09 ZR1 sits. The Mallet Z06 is nowhere to be seen.

From a historical perspective, the loss of the 1 Millionth and 1.5 Millionth Corvettes is the worst part of the accident. Both represent irreplaceable milestones in Corvette history, as does the ’84 Pace Car to a lesser extent. Time will tell if they can be resurrected, but for now the museum faces bigger worries. The Bowling Green Fire Department estimates the hole to be about forty feet across and up to thirty feet deep, based on the drone video. The Museum has stated that the Skydome is a separate unit from the other facilities, and that hopefully the structural damage can be contained. However, the nature of the disaster raises troubling questions about the viability of the rest of the Museum.

Bowling Green is only about ten miles away from Mammoth Cave National Park. Much of Kentucky lies in what is known as a karst region: an area where easily eroded limestone forms the bedrock. Acidic water and other weathering create natural caverns below the soil, which range widely in size. Some of them have formed tourist attractions like Mammoth Cave, but many others are undiscovered booby traps for human development. Once they collapse in, they are difficult to work around. The Museum’s sinkhole formed from the collapse of one of these caverns. Depending on the engineering report, the integrity of the entire site may be called into question. In any case, there will be tough times ahead for one of America’s best known auto museums.

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Maroon Velour, Coupes Galore, And An Important Four-Door for 1984 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/maroon-velour-coupes-galore-and-an-important-four-door-for-1984/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/maroon-velour-coupes-galore-and-an-important-four-door-for-1984/#comments Mon, 30 Dec 2013 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=688930 Haven’t you heard the exciting news? There’s a new Corvette out this year! Cadillac is building convertibles again! The VW Vanagon has a water-cooled engine! Oldsmobile is offering some kind of voice warning doohickey and the FIRENZA HAS NEW TRIM OPTIONS!1!!11! All with interest rates hovering just under 13%! It’s 1984, and I just can’t […]

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DSC_0405Haven’t you heard the exciting news? There’s a new Corvette out this year! Cadillac is building convertibles again! The VW Vanagon has a water-cooled engine! Oldsmobile is offering some kind of voice warning doohickey and the FIRENZA HAS NEW TRIM OPTIONS!1!!11! All with interest rates hovering just under 13%! It’s 1984, and I just can’t wait to check out the goods at the auto show.

 

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My mother volunteers at a local charity that provides needy families with household items. Her job involves separating and sorting useful donations from not-so-useful ones: broken glass, dead appliances, and in this case, old newspapers. She gifted me a piece of the long-defunct Columbus Citizen-Journal which previewed the upcoming attractions at the city’s 1984 auto show. I eagerly awaited page after page of achingly desirable machines, available for a pittance, indicative of a prosperity and degree of freedom that my Internet-addled generation could never hope to know.

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Olds, Pontiac, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Ford, Dodge, and Honda products are all given the puff treatment here, alongside a plethora of ads. Curiously, no Buick, VW, Toyota, Subaru, or any other import marque is included in the paper’s formal writeups. Limited column space, perhaps? On the front page, there’s a marketshare breakdown for 1983: Ford had 17.1 percent, GM had 44.4 Chrysler had 10.3, and AMC 2.5. Imports made up a combined 25.7 percent, with the Japanese holding more than four-fifths of that total. In the whole American market, things have changed dramatically. In the Midwest? Maybe not so much. But hey, check out those conversion vans!

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 A four-cylinder, turbocharged Mustang! How oddly familiar. The EXP serves as a reminder that in the 80s, there was still a market for inexpensive 2-seater coupes. Will they ever come back? Considering that two-door coupes not called Camaro or Mustang barely exist anymore, I’m guessing no.

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Pontiac’s new “showpiece of engineering” won the sales race in the aforementioned market, but changing tastes ultimately doomed it. Perhaps the Solstice would have sold better under the Fiero nameplate.

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  The Civic lineup was all-new in 1984, with seven different models sold under the nameplate. You could get the gas-sipping CRX, the sporty Si hatch, a five-door wagon, and several others. The EPA rating of 67 on the highway for the CRX was undoubtedly optimistic, but real-world mileage still proved stellar. Before the pointless economy-car horsepower wars, you got 60 horsepower out of the 1.3 liter base engine in the Civic. If you were feeling adventurous, you could get the 1.5 liter with its awesome 76 horsepower. Slow? Yes. Tuned for actually saving gas? Absolutely. Tongues will wag and say that safety regs killed light, simple cars like the CRX, but in a world where the Fiat 500 and the Chevy Spark both exist, I’m not buying it. Size creep was already making its presence felt in the mid-80s. As the column points out, the 1984 Civic sedan was 5.2 inches longer than the ’83. Check out the Subaru ad too. In the current era of pseudo-premium everything, would any car company ever dare to describe their product as “inexpensive?”

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 The most important new car of the 1984 season was the Plymouth Voyager/Dodge Grand Caravan. Like it or not, this is the vehicle that truly spawned the SUV/CUV revolution. It showed millions of middle-class families that they could have the kind of voluminous, carry-all interior space previously considered the exclusive domain of commercial vehicles. Their relative cheapness and ease of use made consumers unwilling to tolerate the compromises inherent in traditional sedan-based wagons. True truck-based SUVs didn’t take off until the early 90s, but minivans paved the way long before huge fake dinosaurs were eating people out of Ford Explorers.

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 A BMW sold on its residual value? Your eyes do not deceive you. Exacting build quality, careful engineering, the latest in technological wizardry (Service warning lights! An MPG computer!) all help you “not only hold onto a significant portion of your wealth- the portion that you keep in the form of a car- but to enjoy yourself tremendously in the process.” Is this even on the same planet as the modern-day lease extravanganza? You needed the retained value if you were going to be paying 12.95% APR on a new car loan, though.

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 Here’s another bank ad. It might have been morning in America, but credit was still quite tight in 1984. 11.95% sounds like buy-here pay-here level financing today, but in the mid-eighties one needed to have great credit to get these kinds of rates. Apparently 60 month terms weren’t that uncommon thirty years ago.

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  There aren’t a lot of prices in these ads, but the few that are there are revealing. $9999 for a 1984 Marquis Brougham is $22,430 in today’s money, according to the handy Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. For that, you got a front-drive, midsize sedan powered by a  carbeurated 120 horsepower V6, an automatic transmission, and air conditioning. You also got one power seat (part of a split bench), steel wheels with covers, no cassette player, zero airbags,  and no ABS. Don’t forget the interest rate.

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Maybe used is more your style. Then as now, Budget has plenty of no doubt gently-driven rental cars to offer you. How about an ’83 Sentra for $15,227 in today’s dollars? Hey, at least it has a stereo, four wheels, and “air conditioning!” You could get a Citation for a little less. A V6, automatic ’83 Camaro or a Mercury Cougar would set you back $21,284. Deals! There are more than a few cars from 1984 that I wouldn’t mind owning. The G-body Cutlasses and Regals are still among the best designs of the latter half of the twentieth century. I’d love to have a Civic Si and a Prelude, as well as a Fiero and Shelby Charger. I will own another E30 some day. But 1980s new car prices stir no longing for times gone by in my heart.

 

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Piston Slap: Bennie Bucks on the Winter Beater? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/piston-slap-bennie-bucks-on-the-winter-beater/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/piston-slap-bennie-bucks-on-the-winter-beater/#comments Wed, 27 Nov 2013 13:16:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=662242 TTAC Commentator 28-Cars-Later writes: Sajeev, I’ve got a small conundrum for Piston Slap.  Winter is fast approaching and for those of us in the mid-Atlantic states this is a serious affair. My winter beater has been my trusty (but not rusty) ’98 Saturn SL/auto/164K, which in the spring started showing its age and developed transmission […]

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TTAC Commentator 28-Cars-Later writes:

Sajeev,

I’ve got a small conundrum for Piston Slap.  Winter is fast approaching and for those of us in the mid-Atlantic states this is a serious affair. My winter beater has been my trusty (but not rusty) ’98 Saturn SL/auto/164K, which in the spring started showing its age and developed transmission issues after seven years (and roughly 80K) of ownership. I’ve let her sit most of the summer save starting her up and driving her around the parking lot every 7-12 days but I’ve been trying to put off the inevitable investment of Bennie bucks. This evening I was offered an ’00 Subaru Outback/auto/186K to replace it for $2500 inc four new cheap tires and inspection.

The prospects of an actual [built in Japan] Japanese wagon are intriguing, the Subaru is 7/10 in terms of condition with some dings and several rust spots, it had no issue starting up and is throwing no codes. The catch is I have zero documentation on the car (was a recent trade) and personally I am leery of all AWD systems regardless of make and model, especially without documentation/receipts. Panning over the engine bay I noticed a newer alternator and a battery stickered 3/12 (with old acid all over the cradle) so somebody (sort of) attempted to take care of the car. Oil was a down 1/4 a quart, coolant was dirty but not caked on or anything, but the kicker was the trans fluid is getting to be brown. I figure whomever recently owned this attempted to take care of it to some degree, but neglected all of the fluid changes, which leads to me to suspect none of the Subie specific maint (diff fluid, sensors, etc) has been done either by this owner (and who knows about the head gaskets). I have two days to make up my mind on the Subie before he sends it to auction.

(NOTE: because of my time delay in publishing, this car is already bought or auctioned off – SM)

So I figure my choices are as such:

  1. Spend $1200-1400 to install a used transmission in my Saturn and risk more expensive stuff breaking down the line.
  2. Spend $2500 and buy the Subaru, which for my purposes will probably get me through at least this winter without fireworks, but risk later expensive Subie specific repairs, or total loss if something big breaks.
  3. Not spend any money, junk my Saturn, and just drive one of my other two cars in the winter that I currently baby to some degree.

Sajeev answers:

Well…I guess it kinda depends on your other two vehicles.

#2 is not a sure thing: with zero service history and tired fluids, expecting this Subaru to work all winter is a rather huge leap of faith.  Perhaps if it was something more robust (truck) with less unique parts that are painfully hard to reach, perhaps if it wasn’t a vehicle known for its fragility (bad head gaskets) especially when neglected/abused…

Install a junkyard transmission in the Saturn, coming from a yard that offers a warranty.  Or research to see if a local shop rebuilds these units with quality parts and labor (not always easy to find) for a fair price.  Why?  Because it’s almost always easier to keep the problems you know, not the gigantic rolling question mark that could be even more of a horrid money pit.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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The 1973 Oil Crisis: 40 Years Later http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/the-1973-oil-crisis-40-years-later/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/the-1973-oil-crisis-40-years-later/#comments Mon, 21 Oct 2013 16:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=630010 Forty years ago this month, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (consisting of OPEC’s Arab members plus Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) began an oil embargo that would last through March of 1974. The cause of the embargo: Intervention. During the Yom Kippur War between Egypt and Syria versus Israel, other Arab nations had lent […]

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Forty years ago this month, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (consisting of OPEC’s Arab members plus Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) began an oil embargo that would last through March of 1974.

The cause of the embargo: Intervention. During the Yom Kippur War between Egypt and Syria versus Israel, other Arab nations had lent their support to their brothers in northern Africa (as well as the Soviet Union, who supplied weapons). In turn, the United States helped their ally (who had gone on full nuclear alert) by supplying arms and other goods through President Richard Nixon’s authorization of Operation Nickle Grass. This prompted OAPEC to respond by beginning an oil embargo whose effects still linger to this day.

In the United States — the main target of the embargo –this led to long lines at the pumps during the weekdays (after a suggestion by Nixon that gas station owners voluntarily not sell fuel on Saturday night and Sunday; 90 percent complied with the suggestion), odd-even fuel rationing, three-color flag systems denoting availability (or lack thereof) of any fuel, and the passing of the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, better known as the act that would set the national speed limit at 55 mph for the next two decades.

Though the first oil crisis would end when OAPEC accepted the promise of a settlement negotiated between Syria and Israel through the United States, the effects of the five-month-long embargo would linger for the rest of the decade and beyond.

Prior to the embargo, the most popular cars sold were large and in charge with big V8s to pull them along the highway. After the shock, however, most motorists sought out smaller, more fuel efficient offerings from Europe and Japan. The shock also gave birth to compact trucks, such as the Chevrolet LUV and Toyota Hilux, and prompted the Big Three to offer their own import fighters prior to downsizing their entire lineup of cars by the end of the 1970s, and the switch to front-wheel drive that would come to dominate the 1980s.

The shock also affected motorsports, with the cancellation of both the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1974, and NASCAR reducing all race distances by 10 percent.

And of course, the 1973 oil crisis set off the movement to find as many energy sources as possible (and ways to conserve said energy) to reduce if not outright eliminate dependence on foreign oil, as any Albertan or North Dakotan could explain in detail today to anyone who will listen.

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Piston Slap: Modern Sleeper, Future Classic? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/piston-slap-modern-sleeper-future-classic/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/piston-slap-modern-sleeper-future-classic/#comments Tue, 25 Dec 2012 11:46:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=471473 TTAC Commentator Halftruth writes: Hey Sajeev, While watching the Mecum auto auctions recently, a beautiful Plymouth GTX came thru on the auction block. It got me thinking about the rash of brand-icide we’ve seen these past ten or so years. As they pass, others come in. So my question is, are the newbies up to the […]

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TTAC Commentator Halftruth writes:

Hey Sajeev,

While watching the Mecum auto auctions recently, a beautiful Plymouth GTX came thru on the auction block. It got me thinking about the rash of brand-icide we’ve seen these past ten or so years. As they pass, others come in.

So my question is, are the newbies up to the task? I know Olds, Pontiac and Plymouth kind of slid into oblivion after the glory days but will there be a newly minted brand that you think will have staying power and be a “classic”? Or perhaps an already existing one?

Sajeev answers:

History is a bizarre thing: when my 1988 Cougar was new, it was quite the head turner.  One person tangentially connected to our family was enamored with it.  But, 10 years ago, nobody understood why I was pumping thousands into its resto-modification treatment. Why not do it to a Fox Mustang? It’s easier! Why not get an LT-1 Camaro instead?  That’s a waaay better car, right?

But these days I drive the Cougar on the highway and necks snap to witness its sleek, quasi-aero 1980s monochrome red coachwork. Drunk guys at local bars yell out “COOOUGAR” when it rumbles out of the parking lot: as if somehow it knows Courtney Cox, etc. I like my damn car for my reasons…but I see how cars become moderately-desirable classics with inherent, unexpected future value.

Am I expecting the Cougar to be somewhat valuable 20 years from now?  No, and I don’t care either. Ferrari, Corvette, Lamborghini, Mustang, Ford GT, Camaro, Viper, etc.  They are the obvious future classics.

So here are some forgotten models from modern brands that I think will, unlike my Cougar, be hot auction fodder:

  1. Acura Integra: A fantastic machine in every respect, with a cult following.  Definitely a car that will shine on in the auctions of the future.  And if it’s a Type R?  LOOK OUT!
  2. Subaru WRX/Mitsubishi EVO:  these turbo-beasties will be great collector car fodder, and rare too!  How often do you see a 5+ year old model that’s clean, low mile, UNMODIFIED in the used car market right now?
  3. V-series Cadillacs:  they are the spiritual successor to the performance Pontiacs from the 60s and 70s. While an STS-V may be valuable like those Gran Prixs with the 8-lug wheels, the CTS-V is most certainly the next GTO Judge.
  4. Lexus Coupes, V8 sedans: See above, except change the Pontiac reference to Cadillac. The SC ad LS have a loyal following both in new and used car markets for their top drawer appointments and reputation for being the best of the best. That won’t change in the future, especially for the SC 300/400.
  5. Anything Hyundai Genesis: they look decent, are RWD, and have a chance to really make an impact to those displaced by Pontiac, Olds, Plymouth, Mercury, Lincoln, Cadillac, etc. Like Apple products’ mass appeal these days, they will get better as time marches on.
  6. Scion xB (first-gen) and FR-S: even if it doesn’t live up to the hype for you, these will be a hot commodity.
  7. Teslas, Fiskers:  these proto-mainstream hybrid playtoys for rich people point to a future when Hybrids are more than just a trim job on a Lexus, or a boring Prius.  Think about the star-crossed DeLorean’s appeal these days.
  8. Honda Civic CRX, Si: while all CRXs are cool, I’m referring only to the Si’s from 1990s. It’s hard to argue with their mass appeal and silly amounts of driving fun. Everyone loves them, and we never forgot their awesomeness.
  9. Any SRT/SVT product:  collectors tend to wet themselves at the sight of a bone-stock, low mile, HEMI from the 70s these days.  Expect the same from the SRT brand in the future. Ford’s SVT group will do the same, Focus and Contour aside.
  10. Toyota Supra, Mk IV: the positively heroic amounts of power made from tweaked Turbo Supras made this machine a God among men. Even clean non-turbo models fetch good money these days, and that will continue.
  11. 2013 Lincoln MKZ:  just kidding. The Kia Optima has a better chance at being a collector’s item!
  12. Nissan GT-R: this will be the matching numbers, L-88 Corvette for the next generation.
  13. Lexus LFA: see above, except change L-88 to ZL-l.
  14. Anything HUMMER: yes, it’s already a dead brand, but SUVs will do well in the collector car market of our future.  And there’s no better SUV statement than the Hummer H2 Alpha, especially in douchebag yellow.
  15. Any BMW M product:  Most every M3 will command a high dollar in tommorow’s import centric collector car market.  Who hasn’t loved driving one?  Who wouldn’t want one when they have more disposable income? My favorite will be the E39 M5.
  16. Anything AMG: see above.
  17. Anything AMG Black Series: see above, and multiply by 5.
  18. Porsche Boxster/Cayman:  they sell many more Porkers these days…which makes for a bigger following. Maybe not muscle car big, but you get the point. And with a more accessible market today comes a hotter collector market in the future.
  19. Mercury Marauder, anything Panther:  okay, this is total bullshit. But if I say “PANTHER LOVE” enough for the next 30 years…right???
Food for thought.  Have a great Christmas Day!

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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Hammer Time: Futuramic Oldsmobile! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/hammer-time-futuramic-oldsmobile/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/hammer-time-futuramic-oldsmobile/#comments Sat, 15 Dec 2012 19:56:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=468676 I have very little love for nostalgia because, to be frank, the auto auctions I visit every week are overflowing with it. As the Rivethead, Ben Hamper, was fond of saying, “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence until you start cutting that shit down.” For me that fecal threshing consists […]

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I have very little love for nostalgia because, to be frank, the auto auctions I visit every week are overflowing with it.

As the Rivethead, Ben Hamper, was fond of saying, “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence until you start cutting that shit down.”

For me that fecal threshing consists of repairs, recon work, and getting a car from yesteryear in the hands of someone who loves it far more than yours truly.

But I do have one tender spot in my heart when it comes to true automotive works of art.  Especially when they’re loaded with old school kitsch and delusional fantasies.

I recently found three original Oldsmobile dealer promos from the glory days of the late 60’s.

Now keep in mind we’re not talking about the type of retro art that makes most folks “oooohh” and “aaahhh” with wondrous amazement at one’s buying prowess. No, this was just typical kinda cool kitsch that I found at the nearby Blue Chicken Auction in Dallas, GA on a Friday night.

For some reason these classic Oldsmobile posters and hang-ups appealed to me in a way no Roger Smith era wall art ever could.

 

Elementary school arts and craft designs intermingled with the promise and potential of space age technology and powerful thrusts of American made glory. All for your joy Mr. Customer!

An outer circle, an inner circle, and a golden rocket taking us ever upwards to the glories of future Oldsmobiles.

There was one other thing I bought in that grouping which may have indeed given ol’ Roger a little inspiration for his demonic Saturn spawn.

That other, other, other import fighting division in GM’s seven headed monster that ended up cannibalizing itself.

“FUTURAMIC OLDSMOBILE!”

There is just something “awe shucks!” inspiring in that classical space age, paperboard, mega sized poster that spoke to me at the Blue Chicken Auction that evening. For once, I had to give in to my frugal nature. If for nothing else, than the sheer joy of owning what once was an American icon.

The bidding started at 5 dollars from yours truly.

About five seconds grinded by, the auctioneer was within a hair whisk of the hammer going down..  when all of a sudden…

6! Damn!

I popped back in at 7. A brief bidding war with the shadows came and went, and I soon became the new owner of all three Oldsmobile Futuramics for 11 dollars, times the money.

11 times three came to 33. Add the 7% buyers premium and 7% tax, and the final real total came to 37.55.

Did I get a good deal? Well, who knows. For now it is occupying my man cave next to the last known skinny picture of John Travolta and an old play called “Hair: the American Tribal Love Rock Musical.” The only two things I still have in my life which date all the way back to the Reagan era and my 16th birthday.

I can’t recall a time when I ever bought a piece of automotive art that didn’t have an engine attached to it. But the Futuramic Oldsmobile artwork just seemed so simple, so hokey, and so well aligned with the neighboring art at my office, that I just couldn’t resist the seduction of that moment.

Besides if I get the urge to drive my only Oldsmobile on the lot. The Cadillac of minivans no less. What better way to memorialize that experience than by leaving behind three more pieces of Oldsmobile history to keep the skinny Travolta and super-afro hallucinogenic man company.

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Tycho’s Illustrated History Of Chinese Cars: The Benz-like Vehicles Of Bamin Auto http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/tychos-illustrated-history-of-chinese-cars-the-benz-like-vehicles-of-bamin-auto/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/tychos-illustrated-history-of-chinese-cars-the-benz-like-vehicles-of-bamin-auto/#comments Fri, 12 Oct 2012 14:57:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=463562 The Chinese Army was a great admirer of Benzes, so much that they built their own. Bamin State Automobile Works, or Bamin Automobile for short, was based in Minhou in Fujian Province. The company was owned by the Chinese army, it was also called the ‘PLA 7427 Works’. Bamin Automobile started business in the late […]

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The Chinese Army was a great admirer of Benzes, so much that they built their own. Bamin State Automobile Works, or Bamin Automobile for short, was based in Minhou in Fujian Province. The company was owned by the Chinese army, it was also called the ‘PLA 7427 Works’. Bamin Automobile started business in the late 1980′s with a local licensed variant of the Beijing 212; the Bamin BM212A/BM213A.

The design of Bamins was very much inspired by the Mercedes-Benz W123 that was made from 1975 until 1975. But Bamin also liked heartier fare,as evidenced by the Bamin variant of the Russian-style Beijing BJ212:

The five-door variant was called Bamin BM212A, the three-door variant was called the BM213A. On this picture, a BM212A is parked next to an original Beijing BJ212. Bamin made quite a few changes. The soft top from the Beijing was replaced with a hard top and the front window was completely redesigned. Putting personal touches on Russian army jeeps was not enough for Bamin, they wanted more, and that’s when the Benz-like vehicles came in…

The vehicles looked a little jacked-up, and that is because they are based on… the very same BJ212 chassis! Bamin made two variants: a pickup truck and a wagon. They might look like sedans, but they were pickup trucks, made to look like the W123 Mercedes-Benz sedan. The names are even more confusing. The base versions of the pickup and wagon were both called Bamin BM2022A. The more luxurious version of the pickup was called Bamin 1020 KHA (first pic), the more luxurious version of the wagon was called Bamin BM6480. And then there was something in the middle, the vehicle on this photo, called the Bamin BM1020KH.

A Bamin BM2022A, seen by Dutch journalist Jan van der Made in 1994 in Chengdu.

This story would not have been possible without his picture and the incredible archive and memory of the Great Automotive Explorer Erik from ChineseCars.net who provided all the pictures of the old Bamins in this article.

Build quality was so so, but not that bad for the times. The Benz-Bamins and Bamin BM212A/BM213A were all powered by a locally produced variant of the engine that powered the Beijing BJ212; a 2.4 liter four-cylinder with 73hp and 172nm.

Sadly, we don’t know who designed these beauties, and neither do we know how many were made. The Chinese auto industry was a very colorful mess in those days with factories producing whatever they wanted without much regulations in place. In the late 1980′s, there were over 200 ‘car makers’ making cars in China, most didn’t make more than a a few hundred vehicles a year at best. These were the really crazy days that are basically forgotten by now, not only abroad but in China as well. We will make sure at least some vehicles will be remembered.

Production of the Bamin-Benzes ended sometime in the early 1990′s. As far as we know none survived but we might have to go to Fujian to be sure. At the time, most auto makers didn’t sell many cars outside their own province. This is also one of the reasons why knowledge about this period is so limited.

Bamin continued in the late 1990′s with the BM213A, a rather cool looking vehicle based yet again on the BJ212, which was by then renamed to BJ2022. The engine was still the same 2.4 four-cylinder.

The last Bamin ever made was the CJY6420E, based on the BM213A. A much rounder design with a Pajero-inspired front, but in the end it was still the good old BJ212 underneath, powered again by the same 2.4 four-cylinder. The CJY6420E continued all the way until the early 2000′s.

Bamin Automobile survived until 2010 when the company was declared bankrupt. Too bad! Bamin was a great example of the automotive dreamland China once was, but just like so many other small players, Bamin just didn’t have the cash to develop something really new. No government bailout for PLA Works 7427.

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Question: What Was the First Car You Remember Riding In? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/question-what-was-the-first-car-you-remember-riding-in/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/question-what-was-the-first-car-you-remember-riding-in/#comments Fri, 18 May 2012 16:32:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=445072 Mother’s Day last weekend got me to thinking about the first car ride I ever took: a cruise home from the hospital in my parents’ 1956 Olds 88. Thing is, that car got destroyed by a combination of Minnesota rust and Minnesota deer a few months later and I don’t remember it. My first identifiable […]

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Mother’s Day last weekend got me to thinking about the first car ride I ever took: a cruise home from the hospital in my parents’ 1956 Olds 88. Thing is, that car got destroyed by a combination of Minnesota rust and Minnesota deer a few months later and I don’t remember it. My first identifiable car memory involves crawling around on the slippery blue vinyl back seat (without benefit of baby seat or even seat belts) of my dad’s late-60s company car: a 1967 Ford Custom 500 sedan with three-on-the-floor and overdrive. What’s yours?
I recall the intoxicating deep vroom of the big Ford’s 289 and the vast space for squabbling with my sisters in the back seat and Vietnam War news on the AM radio, but most of all I remember being fascinated by the action of that tall Rat Fink-style floor shift. It made me want to drive! Some of the credit or blame for my current career path certainly belongs with this Dearborn product. Your turn now, and I’m really hoping we have some readers who grew up in the ex-USSR and have GAZ-21 Volga memories!

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Neil Armstrong’s 1967 Chevrolet Corvette 427 For Sale http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/neil-armstrongs-1967-chevrolet-corvette-427-for-sale/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/neil-armstrongs-1967-chevrolet-corvette-427-for-sale/#comments Wed, 02 May 2012 17:44:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=442487 As a teenager, I idolized Tom Wolfe after reading Bonfire of the Vanities. By the end of high school, I had read every single book read by him, and his too-brief description of the muscle cars of American astronauts in The Right Stuff instantly came back to me (along with the smells of my high […]

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As a teenager, I idolized Tom Wolfe after reading Bonfire of the Vanities. By the end of high school, I had read every single book read by him, and his too-brief description of the muscle cars of American astronauts in The Right Stuff instantly came back to me (along with the smells of my high school cafeteria) upon seeing this ad.

Wolfe recounts a story of the astronauts befriending car dealer and 1960 Indy 500 winner Jim Rathmann. Rathmann was also friends with Chevrolet head Ed Cole. The two of them made sure that the astronauts got behind the wheel of Cole’s products

Eventually, Gus and Gordo had Corvettes like Al Shepard’s; Wally moved up from an Austin-Healy to a Maserati; and Scott Carpenter got a Shelby Cobra, a true racing vehicle. Al was continually coming by Rathmann’s to have his gear ratios changed. Gus wanted flared fenders and magnesium wheels. The fever gripped them all, but Gus and Gordo especially. They were determined to show the champ, Rathmann, and each other that they could handle these things. Gus would go out rat-racing at night at the Cape, racing full-bore for the next curve, dealing with the oncoming headlights by psychokinesis, spinning off the shoulders and then scrambling back up on the highway for more of it. It made you cover up your eyes and chuckle at the same time. The boys were fearless in an automobile, they were determined to hang their hides right out over the edge—and they had no idea what mediocre drivers they actually were, at least by the standards of professional racing.

Like Gus Grissom and Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong evidently had a Corvette at some point in his life. This example, now owned by a private citizen who apparently bought it from a NASA employee after Armstrong’s use, isn’t in the best condition. British classic car fanciers would tout its “lovely patina” and “provenance”.

Just what type of restoration the car would need is up for debate. I’m of the opinion that cars should be driven and enjoyed, not garaged and gawked at, but it’s important to strike a balance between keeping the car’s history intact, and bringing it up to an appropriate condition.

Thanks to Bring a Trailer for the link

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When A Nissan Won The Daytona 24 Hours http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/when-a-nissan-won-the-daytona-24-hours/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/when-a-nissan-won-the-daytona-24-hours/#comments Sat, 18 Feb 2012 16:59:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=431479 The early 90s were tough times. Stock markets had crashed, real estate bubbles had popped, budgets were slashed.  The fabled  Daytona 24 hours endurance race survived (barely) with Rolex as a sponsor. In 1992, the field was down to 49 cars, one of them a newcomer from Japan, Number 23, fielded by Nissan’s Nismo (Nissan […]

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The early 90s were tough times. Stock markets had crashed, real estate bubbles had popped, budgets were slashed.  The fabled  Daytona 24 hours endurance race survived (barely) with Rolex as a sponsor.

In 1992, the field was down to 49 cars, one of them a newcomer from Japan, Number 23, fielded by Nissan’s Nismo (Nissan Motorsports International) factory team.

Nismo brought its prototype R91CP car, with Masahiro Hasemi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino, and Toshio Suzuki as drivers. Only Hasemi had U.S. driving experience.

After the second lap, number 23 took the lead, and never surrendered it. The only car that came close to being a challenge, the Porsche, broke down in the morning of the second day.

The team credited most of its wins not to engine or driving, but to its headlights. Technical Chief Kunihiko Kakimoto remembers:

“These HID headlights contributed greatly to the victory. We co-developed these with our supplier Ichikoh, which had very good technology. There were many competitors and other suppliers developing HID headlights, but Ichikoh had one of the best in terms of performance and reliability.”

After the race, Nissan was approached by second-placed Jaguar. They wanted to buy the HID headlights, and were ready to pay as much as Nissan wanted.

The Daytona beach nearly did cost Nissan the victory. Sand had clogged up the radiator and the engine was overheating. Washing off the sand did not do it. Nissan had so much of a lead time that someone could be dispatched to the store, detergent was bought, and the sand was removed.

When the checkered flag came down, Nissan No.23 was nine laps ahead of the Jaguar XJR-12, it had done a record 762 laps at an average speed of nearly 113 miles per hour and over 2,700 miles. Never again in the history of the Rolex 24 had a winning team completed as many laps.

R91CP Specifications

Overall length / width / height: 4,800/1,990/1,100mm

Wheelbase: 2,795mm

Tread (front/rear): 1,600/1,560mm

Curb weight: Over 930kg

Engine: VRH35Z (V8, DOHC), 3,496cc

Engine Max. power: Over 500kW (680PS)/7,200rpm

Engine Max. torque: Over 784Nm (80.0kgm)/5,200rpm

Engine Turbocharger: IHI twin turbo

Transmission: VGC (5-speed)

Suspension: Double wishbone (front & rear)

Brakes: 14in. carbon (front & rear)

Tires (wheels)(front): 25.5×12.0x17 (13Jx17)

Tires(wheels)(rear): 28.5×14.5×18 (15Jx18)

Tires by Goodyear

Nissan R91CP. Picture courtesy Nissan Nissan R91CP. Picture courtesy Nissan #23 Nissan R91CP in action during 1992 Rolex 24 at Daytona, FL. Picture courtesy Nissan Nissan R91CP. Picture courtesy Nissan #23 Nissan R91CP in the pits during 1992 Rolex 24 at Daytona, FL. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP.  Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP.  Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP.  Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP, rear view, displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP, cockpit,  displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP, cockpit,  displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP displayed at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP.  Picture courtesy Nissan R91CP, driver's side door raised, on display at Nissan Heritage Car Collection. Picture courtesy Nissan Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Return Of Sakura And Fuji: The Dogged Datsuns Run Again http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/return-of-sakura-and-fuji-the-dogged-datsuns-run-again/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/return-of-sakura-and-fuji-the-dogged-datsuns-run-again/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2011 17:10:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=423576 Remember Sakura and Fuji, the two tiny Datsun 210s that went to “The World’s Cruelest Rally” and came home with a trophy? This story has a sequel. In 1958, two Datsuns, named “Fujii” and “Sakura”  entered  the Mobilgas Trial, 10,000 miles all around Australia. Surprisingly, “Fuji” won its class title. “Sakura” finished fourth. Half a […]

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Remember Sakura and Fuji, the two tiny Datsun 210s that went to “The World’s Cruelest Rally” and came home with a trophy? This story has a sequel.

In 1958, two Datsuns, named “Fujii” and “Sakura”  entered  the Mobilgas Trial, 10,000 miles all around Australia. Surprisingly, “Fuji” won its class title. “Sakura” finished fourth.

Half a century later, the cars were found in a warehouse in Japan.  A team of Nissan  volunteers set out to restore the cars. The restoration took place at the Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, 28 miles southwest of Tokyo.

With the resources of Nissan’s engineering center, the restoration should go smoothly, you think? The team ran into the same problems any restorer has to contend with: Parts.

No car company stocks parts for cars made half a century ago.  Help came with James Haupt, usually based at Nissan Technical Center North America. He found some critical parts, for instance a very old ’50s British car speedometer that had been used in the original Datsuns.

“Sakura” was the easier job. “Fuji” had suffered significant wear and tear and was in bad shape. Finally, Fuji was like nw. Well, not quite: The dent in the front fender that came courtesy of a tree that was in the way during the 1958 race, was also faithfully restored.

Finally, in December, the cars were in running condition again. They were shown to 30,000 fans that cam to the annual Nismo Festival at Fuji Speedway. Half a century later, the cars that made Datsun famous and a country proud, were on  a racetrack again. This time, it was smooth and nicely paved, unlike the 10,000 miles of dust and dirt all around Australia.

Sakura. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Fuji's dented fender was preserved. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Fuji gets fuel. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Fuji (front) and Sakura at the NISMO Festival. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Fuj  and Sakura just before the start of their parade lap during the NISMO Festival. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Fuji restoration. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Sakura and Fuji at the NISMO Festival. Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom Will it start? Picture courtesy Nissan Newsroom

 

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Saab: The Eulogy http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/saab-the-eulogy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/saab-the-eulogy/#comments Wed, 21 Dec 2011 22:48:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=422979 Brethren, we are once again gathered together to mourn the passing of another automobile company. Saab was of that rare breed of car that always had a band of devoted, aye, fanatical followers. In her prime, Saab could not fail to ignite the after-burners of anyone with a predilection to genuine character, speed, innovation, intelligence, […]

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Brethren, we are once again gathered together to mourn the passing of another automobile company. Saab was of that rare breed of car that always had a band of devoted, aye, fanatical followers. In her prime, Saab could not fail to ignite the after-burners of anyone with a predilection to genuine character, speed, innovation, intelligence, and even sexy good looks (at times). Not bad for a company that never once designed a clean-sheet new engine and borrowed more platforms than Heidi Klum. But when you’re small and from Sweden, resourcefulness is essential: Saab finagled an existence in this brutal industry far longer than might have been expected.  But now she joins an august group of other fallen automotive heroes in Valhalla: Borgward, Panhard, Tatra, Kaiser, Glas, TVR, Jowett, etc…better that then whoring herself to another rich benefactor. But Saab’s story is worth retelling.

Forget the “Born From Jets” tag line; it was propellers anyway. And in actuality, Saab was born out of necessity, as so much else at the end of the war. We built the factory, now what do we do? Do what everyone else was doing: build a car. And how? Easier said than done. Contrary to endless attempts to prove otherwise, there’s hardly anything in common between the two. So where to start?

How about with this? Saab wouldn’t be the only ones looking to DKW for inspiration. And what a brilliant car DKW’s F9 prototype was, especially in 1939. A highly aerodynamic body and a two stroke engine driving the front wheels. The car of the postwar future. What’s not to like?

Initially, the sixteen Saab aviation engineers (of which only two had a driver’s license) assigned to the task  came up with something a bit more radical and avaition-like, as in all the openings in the car being stressed members, like airplane hatches. Not practical. So they scoured junkyards, and bought some new cars, including a DKW. The more functional end result, the 92001, or Ursaab, certainly pays homage to the F9 as well as their relentless pursuit of an even lower coefficient of drag.

The prototype was powered by an actual DKW engine and transmission, a two-stroke twin producing 18 hp. With an (ac)claimed Cd of 0.30, the 92001 undoubtedly made the most of that modest power. Or at least looked like it. And rarely has an automobile company (save VW) had a more iconic birth-mobile.

And like the VW, it was hardly original. But what car is? Originality is largely overvalued anyway. As with any birth, what counts is  the harmonious convergence of genes. And although the Ursaab was more fetus than progeny, it embodied the qualities that would hence define (real) Saabs: feminine, creative, intelligent, feline, eccentric, distinctive, progressive.

No wonder Saabs came to be embraced by those attracted to its inherent qualities, to the extent of being stereotyped as a college professor’s car. As limited as any such generalization ever is, that expression did mean something more once than today. Or did it? Is the Prius a college professor’s car?

Maybe it’s easier to define Saab’s intrinsic personality by contrasting it to that other Swedish car company, Volvo. The two are almost perfect complements. Volvo dates back to 1927, and its cars have traditionally been, well, traditional. Firmly embraced by the more conservative set, there is a saying that captures its place in the Swedish mindset perfectly: Volvo, villa, vovve (Volvo, house, dog). No wonder Volvo came to be famous for their wagons, like the legendary Duett.

Volvo’s all-new car for the post war era, the PV444, may have adopted a bit of hump-backed aero-pretense, but it was fundamentally a brick compared to the Saab. And built like one too: tough, masculine, conventional in configuration and execution.  A solid and reliable burgher.

Of course, it was a bit different in the States, where Volvo was one of dozens of import brands, and also came to be associated with college professors as well as engineers and parents with kids in Waldorf schools. But that’s all relative; and even in the US, Saabs were always one or two steps to the quirky side of Volvo. And which company is still around, even if owned by the Chinese?

After a few years of refinement and the deft hand of the gifted industrial designer Sixten Sason, the Saab 92 entered production in 1949. The DKW engine gave way to Saab’s own interpretation of it: 746 cc, 25 hp, thermo-syphon cooling, and a three-speed transmission with column shift.  Top speed: 64 mph (105 kmh). Time to get there: indeterminate.

The nattering two-stroke spewed a plume of blue smoke on acceleration, and blubbered on over-run. A bit ironic then, that the stinky,smoky Saabs were so favored by the progressive set. But the idea of two stroke was enthralling to certain minds. Only seven moving engine parts! Just the thing to brag about over chianti while listening to a jazz combo. Smugness is born from (ram)jets: No moving parts at all!

But two-strokes are very receptive to tuning. By 1952, a Saab 92 (now with 35 hp) brought home the first of many victories at Monte Carlo, copping the Coupe des Dames there, with Greta Molander at the wheel. A delicate foreshadowing of greater things to come.

The skirts were really lifted for the Sonett I, Saabs first tentative foray into genuine sports cars. Developed in a barn by a few enthusiasts, the Sonett had a 57.5 hp version of Saab’s new three-cylinder two-stroke. Weighing some 1300 lbs, this was a brisk little barchetta good for 100 mph, nothing to sneeze at in 1955. Racing would have been its purpose in life, had the rules not suddenly changed. Although only a handful were built, it was not forgotten. How could it be?

The Saab was thoroughly re-engineered for 1955, now called 93. The new three-cylinder yielded 33 hp, still feeding through a three-speed, with over-run. The first Saab to be exported, it arrived in the US just as the great fifties import boom was really getting under way. Yes, these are what I used to see as a kid blowing smoke around the University of Iowa campus, confirming their stereotype.

And one of the kids in my grade school class rode in one of these. His Mom was at least as good looking as this one. Although the Type 95 had a perfectly functional rear-facing third seat despite its compact dimensions, I preferred to sit in the second seat, directly behind her. The back of her neck smelled much better than the exhaust sucked in from the open rear window.

The definitive first-generation Saab was the 96, built for some twenty years, until 1980. A more in-depth write-up can be found here, but  let’s just say Saab was doing a VW during all those years, with the biggest change coming in 1967, when impending emission regs killed the two-stroke once and for all. Ironic too, that an American-designed engine would be the only thing to fit under the hood in front of the axle line.

The little 60 degree V4 was originally intended for Ford’s VW fighter in the late fifties, the aborted Cardinal. The car and engine were shipped off to Cologne, Germany, where the V4 and its six cylinder offshoot powered millions of Euro-Fords, before finding its way back home into millions of Explorers and such. And of course Saab 96s, where it was embraced with welcome engine mounts. A number of other engines had been tried, but the Ford was right-sized and right-priced. Just not right-sounding, as it’s nigh-near impossible to make a V4 sound like its not missing a cylinder or two. But for the 96, it just was just another continuation of its eccentricities: from engine blubbering to engine stuttering.

Saab carved out an impressive corner in the world of racing by sticking mostly to rallying, if not all four wheels. The high-performance GT 850 Monte Carlo two-stroke, and the later V4s racked up repeat wins at Monte Carlo and elsewhere, especially in the hands of the legendary Erik Carlsson.

The Sonett re-emerged in 1966, this time as a coupe and production-ready, with the US as the prime intended market. Making room for the V4 only challenged its intrinsically compromised lines further. It was one of the most eccentric sports cars ever, at least from a mass-producer of automobiles. There were plenty of British limited-production plastic-bodied weirdos then, but who ever actually saw a Fairthorpe or Berkeley Sport? Sonetts, yes. Better to be inside it than the other way around.

The attempt to smooth out its bulbous nose on the Sonett III was somewhat successful. But with arrivals like the cheaper and infinitely more powerful and handsome Datsun 240Z, the Sonett’s few buyers were serious Saabistas, especially since it had all of 65 hp. A Karman Ghia without the Italian styling. But this was no damensportwagen; it was a gnarly little troll, and its buyers were certainly not needing for public expressions of their virility.

By the mid sixties, Saab was now twenty years old, and ready to make its mark in the automotive world. It was an ambitious act, and the most defining one. As well as the last truly all-new all-Saab. The 99 arrived in 1967, ready to take up battle with the likes of the small BMW, Alfa Romeo Giulia, and of course Volvo’s also-new 140 Series.

Despite reflecting a more rectilinear world-view of the times, the 99 still cut through the air with a very respectable Cd of 0.37. It was roomy, handled well, had fine brakes, was comfortable, offered excellent traction, and was powered by…well, nobody’s perfect (except BMW, of course).

The engineering firm Ricardo had assisted Saab in developing its own four stroke engine, but it was going to be too expensive to finalize and put into production. So Ricardo put Saab in touch with another client, Triumph, that was just about to put its own new SOHC “Slant Four” engine in production. Saab once again did the (seemingly) expedient thing, and had engines shipped from England. It won’t come as a surprise to hear that this didn’t work out so well. By 1972, Saab started building its own improved version of the engine, now known as the B engine.

As is fairly obvious, Saab 99 and 900 engines were mounted “backwards”, with the output and clutch at the front, then feeding power to the transaxle mounted underneath the engine, although with its own oil supply. Mustn’t be too conventional.

In 1974, Saab added a sloping rear hatchback to both its two and four door 99s, creating the combi coupé, or Wagon Back, in Americanese. This became a defining aspect to most Saabs hence, or it least it seems that way. And it was remarkably roomy back there, thanks to the low floor height. It was the closest Saab got to building an actual wagon in a long time. Meanwhile,Volvo was churning out wagons by the boatload.

 

During the seventies, when American cars lost their mojo, Saab’s was very well intact, and growing. The 99 started out reasonably powered by European standards of the time, but that was just a starting point. Increases in displacement, fuel injection, and the sporty EMS model countered the trend convincingly. But the real kicker was the 99 Turbo, which blew a fresh and stiff new breeze upon the automotive landscape. And made indelible impressions on those who ever got behind its wheel.

At a time when Detroit V8s were making as little as 110 hp, the two-liter turbo four packed all of 145 hp. Sounds ridiculous now, but in 1978, it was a revelation. Especially compared to the BMW 320i, which had all of 105 hp. It’s all relative, and the Saab Turbo helped spark the whole turbo revolution. Soon Dodge Caravans would be proudly sporting turbo badges. The Saab 99 Turbo was a prophet of the eighties, as malaise gave way to yuppiedom.

The short-nosed Turbo 99 had a brief life, and is hard to find in the wild anymore. Replaced in 1979 by the 900 series, which featured a longer sloping hood to help meet US front impact standards. The (original) 900 probably defines the “Classic” Saab better than any other. Certainly more so than the Vectra-based neo-900.

Convertibles, and higher performance models, along with an ever-greater refinement in technology, 16 valve heads, electronic engine controls, and minor body tweaks kept the 900 going all the way to 1993. A remarkable 25 year run for the definitive Saab.

Well before the 900’s protracted demise, Saab knew it had to be replaced. But the complexities and costs of developing a brand new car was too much, so Saab joined hands with Fiat on the Type Four platform, that would constitute the Saab 9000 of 1984, as well as the very similar Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema, and the better disguised Alfa 164. A competent and roomy car, it was a bit more challenged in taking on the deeply entrenched and successful mid-sized premium cars like the Mercedes E-Series and BMW 5-Series. Buyers in this class were not so readily moved by the inherent advantages of fwd and a hatchback. A sedan version soon followed, but obviously the fwd was here to stay.

The usual progression of styling tweaks and performance updates tried to keep the 9000 relevant and attractive. The reality was that the 9000 was not a hit, and Saab was in a pickle. The 900 was aging quickly, and the 9000 was not producing the profits necessary to even contemplate successor cars for either of them. Saab’s ambitious push into the premium sector was stalled, and the nose was pointing earthward, precariously so. Time to bail out, or be bailed out. Where are the parachutes?

That GM would be the one to buy Saab was not a good omen. It was obviously a case of Jaguar envy, after Ford snapped up that equally desperate automaker. Undoubtedly, GM would have preferred BMW, but it kept saying nein danke! Everyone was getting into the Euro premium car game, and never being one to be left out, GM bit where it could. Who would have thought?

Thinking didn’t appear to be the primary factor; more like fear of getting left behind. That’s one of the most powerful decision drivers ever, usually for the worse. And how exactly was GM going to successfully manage another weak brand? At the end of the worst decade of its existence, when its own market share was imploding? In the usual way, by platform sharing.

Ok, but execution is the key, and Saab’s (unfortunately named) neo 900, riding on an Opel Vectra platform, was quickly seen for what it was: the future of Saab, for better and for worse. Saab now had access to capital, technology, and GM’s euro-V6 engine, but quality and genuine Saab-ness were sorely missing.

After five years of GM’s involvement and sanitizing, Saab finally showed an operating profit for 1995. It was not to be a regularly recurring feature. Not that it kept GM from buying the rest of the company in 2000; they were too committed by then not to. Welcome to the growing GM orphanage!

GM’s versatile 2900 platform was duly enlarged a bit to accommodate the long-overdue 9000 replacement, the awkwardly named 9-5. Like the 900, soon to be called 9-3, these cars had their virtues and vices, lovers and haters. You can duke that out yourselves, but what can’t be argued is that they failed to save the brand, in more ways than one. GM had the answer to that problem too: brand extension, the formula that also worked so well at Saturn.

Have we almost forgotten (or repressed) the Saaburu? Graft a Saab nose on the Subaru WRX, and it’s…just about the best Saab made in ages! Here was the true successor to the spirit of the real old Saab. Too bad Subaru had co-opted that decades earlier. Subaru probably mopped up more ex-Saab and Volvo drivers than any other brand.

And as appealing as the 9-2x might have been with GM’s crazy discount prices at the time, the ruse was seen for what it was: another pathetic joke in GM badge-engineering’s comedy club. Also known as the Improv.

That was just the warm-up act. The headliner was the 9-7. An Saab born from truck frames and V8s. Probably the best SUV of its kind GM ever built; what more can be said? Poor Saab, now a sex change operation in its old age. What next?

Nothing. Our Eulogy ends here, because if the true Saab was still alive to some extent then, the 9-7 was the final straw. Everything that happened since are the twitches and jerks of a zombie. And we’ve been well inundated with the antics surrounding it.

Many may well have enjoyed a genuinely positive experience with their 9-5s and 9-3s and such, but the level of Saab fanaticism in these recent months is remarkable. It seems to be a reflection of the times: I’m entitled to have Saab, because I’ve pinned my self-identification to it. I’m owed Saab.

I’d have been much happier to see Saab go to its inevitable grave twenty years ago, without the GM years and recent histrionics. Death is never a pretty thing, car companies included. We might have spent the past twenty years arm-chairing endless “what -ifs” and “could-have” scenarios. But its hard to imagine anyone coming up with a more bizarre outcome.

So will we spend the next twenty years debating alternative outcomes? Not me. Saab was an iffy proposition from the get-go, and there’s really no room left in the market for what Saab once embodied. Others have long plucked its remaining useful attributes and made them their own.

If there really was to be a true Saab born from airplanes today, it might look something more like this. And we all know how that turned out. Everything has a season, and Saab’s is well over.

 Thanks to Ingvar Hallstrom for the insights

 Paul Niedermeyer is the Editor of Curbside Classic, where every car has a story

 

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That Took Guts: How A Funky Little Datsun Won The World’s Cruelest Rally http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/that-took-guts-how-a-funky-little-datsun-won-the-world%e2%80%99s-cruelest-rally/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/that-took-guts-how-a-funky-little-datsun-won-the-world%e2%80%99s-cruelest-rally/#comments Sun, 18 Dec 2011 15:18:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=422740 It was known as “The World’s Cruelest Rally:” The Mobilgas Trial, 10,000 miles all around Australia. In 1958, there were two entries, regarded as a joke by the burly Aussies: A pair of tiny Datsun 210s, named “Fuji” and “Sakura”. The suicidal idea was had by marketing manager Yutaka Katayama. Aged 102 years, he is […]

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It was known as “The World’s Cruelest Rally:” The Mobilgas Trial, 10,000 miles all around Australia. In 1958, there were two entries, regarded as a joke by the burly Aussies: A pair of tiny Datsun 210s, named “Fuji” and “Sakura”.

The suicidal idea was had by marketing manager Yutaka Katayama. Aged 102 years, he is still alive to tell the story:

“We didn’t think we would win – we would probably lose. But it wouldn’t matter if we won or lost, as long as we completed the race.”

“Fuji” and “Sakura” rounded Australia for 19 days. Only 36 out of 67 cars managed to complete the rally. Surprisingly, the two Datsuns were amongst the survivors.

Even more surprisingly “Fuji” won its class title. “Sakura” finished fourth.

Back home in Japan, the cars had to hit the road again. This time on a celebratory tour around Japan. The unexpected win helped pave the way for Nissan’s exports to the United States, led by Katayama as president of Nissan Motor Corp U.S.A.

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“America’s Car Museum” Rises In Tacoma http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/americas-car-museum-rises-in-tacoma/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/americas-car-museum-rises-in-tacoma/#comments Sat, 22 Oct 2011 19:10:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=415612 The LeMay Museum in Tacoma, WA won’t be completed until June, but the NY Times reports that it aims to become on of the premiere automotive museums in the country, rivaling collections like the Peterson and Harrah museums. And at 165,000 square feet, the building that is rising in Tacoma needs to be huge: though […]

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The LeMay Museum in Tacoma, WA won’t be completed until June, but the NY Times reports that it aims to become on of the premiere automotive museums in the country, rivaling collections like the Peterson and Harrah museums. And at 165,000 square feet, the building that is rising in Tacoma needs to be huge: though “only” 750 vehicles will be exhibited at a time when the building is done, the LeMay collection is far larger than that. Although even curator David Madeira isn’t sure how many vehicles actually belong to the collection.

“I don’t know,” Mr. Madeira said recently in an interview at The Times, when asked how many vehicles were in the possession of Harold LeMay, the garbage-disposal magnate whose collection of American automobiles would comprise the majority of the museum’s holdings. Mr. LeMay, who died in 2000, was prone to buying a barn or even a field containing old automobiles just to prevent their contents from landing in a junkyard. “He was not a connoisseur; he was a true collector,” Mr. Madeira said.

Once holding at least 3,500 vehicles, the collection has been cut to “north of a thousand” aimed at representing the sweep of American automotive history. And those will be joined by vehicles from the collection of watchmaker Nicolai Bulgari in order to create an automotive museum that founders hope lives up to the name “America’s Car Museum.” Since it’s right up I-5 from me, I’ll be sure to report on the collection and whether it reaches that lofty goal when it opens to the public next Summer.

 

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ZAP Still Alive, Alias Still Coming (Or Not) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/zap-still-alive/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/zap-still-alive/#comments Sat, 22 Oct 2011 18:52:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=415613 One of the earliest iterations of the “Low Speed Vehicle Today, World EV Domination Tomorrow” business model to emerge at the dawn of the electric car era was ZAP. But after being exposed on numerous occasions for its poor product quality, vaporware hype and stock manipulation (most infamously in this Wired story), ZAP disappeared from the EV […]

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One of the earliest iterations of the “Low Speed Vehicle Today, World EV Domination Tomorrow” business model to emerge at the dawn of the electric car era was ZAP. But after being exposed on numerous occasions for its poor product quality, vaporware hype and stock manipulation (most infamously in this Wired story), ZAP disappeared from the EV scene in the US (the company’s official (read: sanitized) history can be found here). Last we heard, ZAP was hyping a venture with the Korean optics firm Samyang, but it seems the firm has spending the last year or so putting down roots in the Chinese market. Having merged with Jonway, the Chinese maker of scooters, ATVs and a CUV that looks suspiciously like the Toyota RAV4, ZAP came back to the US for the Automotive X-Prize, which it contested in a ZAP Alias, the three-wheeled, $38k vehicle that has not been produced in volume although the company is still accepting deposits for it. The Alias failed to finish in the X-Prize, but ZAP says that revenue from Jonway is funding the vehicle’s continued development (including a four-wheeled version)… which was supposed to debut way back in 2009.

Now Consumer Reports says the firm is focusing on selling electric RAV4 knockoffs produced by Jonway as it continues to work on the Alias. But the firm seems to have burnt too many bridges in the US, as it says it will focus on selling the EVs in China and other world markets… despite the fact that developing market EV sales are going nowhere.  But ZAP has left something of a legacy in the US: Senator Mitch McConnell, a critic of government loans for Solyndra, apparently pushed for a quarter-billion dollar federal loan to ZAP, opening him to charges of hypocrisy. Now, as ever, ZAP remains a fascinating fixture at the margins of the EV scene. And though it’s an interesting company to watch, it’s best when viewed from a safe distance…

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The SUV That Might Have Been: The Marmon-Herrington Rhino http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/the-suv-that-might-have-been-the-marmon-herrington-rhino/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/the-suv-that-might-have-been-the-marmon-herrington-rhino/#comments Sun, 16 Oct 2011 18:23:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=414953 Axle and transfer case-maker Marmon-Herrington is still around, supplying OEMs and the aftermarket alike with up-rated drivetrain components. But back in the ’40s and ’50s, the firm designed its own vehicles as well, from an air-droppable tank, to a South African armored car, to monocoque electric trolley buses. Its predecessor company, Marmon Motor Car Company, […]

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Axle and transfer case-maker Marmon-Herrington is still around, supplying OEMs and the aftermarket alike with up-rated drivetrain components. But back in the ’40s and ’50s, the firm designed its own vehicles as well, from an air-droppable tank, to a South African armored car, to monocoque electric trolley buses. Its predecessor company, Marmon Motor Car Company, even built the first car to win the Indy 500, the Marmon Wasp. Sadly this beast, an experimental amphibious off-road (on-marsh) vehicle called the Rhino (more here), was never produced. Otherwise, the Marmon name might have been exhumed during the ’90s SUV boom by a bespoke coachbuilding firm, offering specially-bodied medium-duty truck chassis bearing the brand name that won the first Indy 500 and parachuted into Nazi Germany. Imagine the possibilities…

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Martin Winterkorn Less Impressed By New (European) Honda Civic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/martin-winterkorn-less-impressed-by-new-european-honda-civic/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/martin-winterkorn-less-impressed-by-new-european-honda-civic/#comments Thu, 06 Oct 2011 17:37:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413872 Remember the video of Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn testing the quality of the new Hyundai i30? Thanks to Autobild, we’ve found a companion video from the Frankfurt Show, in which Winterkorn, along with VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech, gives the once-over to the new European-market Honda Civic. According to Autobild, Piech kept his nickname “Fugen-Ferdi” (Gap-Ferdi) […]

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Remember the video of Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn testing the quality of the new Hyundai i30? Thanks to Autobild, we’ve found a companion video from the Frankfurt Show, in which Winterkorn, along with VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech, gives the once-over to the new European-market Honda Civic. According to Autobild, Piech kept his nickname “Fugen-Ferdi” (Gap-Ferdi) relevant by checking the new Civic’s panel gaps. And, in contrast to the Hyundai video, the intelligible portions of Winterkorn’s commentary were less than entirely complimentary. The German magazine reports

A member of the VW entourage says that “(Honda) has had good role models.” But the big boss played down the praise for VW with a smile, and responded generously “they were once a role model for us.”

Note the use of the past tense, then contrast with Winterkorn’s reaction to the Hyundai. In just two videos you can see the balance of automotive power shifting…

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: This Modern Unimog Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-this-modern-unimog-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-this-modern-unimog-edition/#comments Wed, 05 Oct 2011 16:30:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413598 How much do things change in 60 years? Sometimes the best answer to that kind of question is a picture. Here you can see an original Unimog (right), built sometime between the start of production in 1948 and 1951, when Mercedes bought the operation in order to expand it enough to keep up with demand. […]

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How much do things change in 60 years? Sometimes the best answer to that kind of question is a picture. Here you can see an original Unimog (right), built sometime between the start of production in 1948 and 1951, when Mercedes bought the operation in order to expand it enough to keep up with demand. On the left is a “60th Anniversary” Unimog design concept, celebrating not the actual birth of the Unimog, but its purchase by Mercedes. Needless to say, the contrast between the two is… breathtaking. And if you’re curious about the evolution of this hugely influential vehicle, if you can’t help wondering how it grew from a (relatively) tiny, spartan utility vehicle to a garish, Mercedes-starred behemoth, be sure to check out Bertel’s illustrated history of the Unimog. It makes you wonder what the next 60 years have in store for vehicles like this… [images courtesy: Autobild]

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail unimogs4 unimogs3 unimogs2 unimogs1 How to meet your future self... (courtesy: Autobild)

 

 

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“Show Me Your Tatras”: An Argument For Automotive Preservation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/show-me-your-tatras-an-argument-for-automotive-preservation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/show-me-your-tatras-an-argument-for-automotive-preservation/#comments Sat, 17 Sep 2011 23:36:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=411527 The question of automotive preservation jogged an unblogged memory loose today, from earlier in this chaotic summer when I was in Wolfsburg, Germany. I was touring the Zeithaus, or “House of Time,” in Volkswagen’s sprawling Autostadt, taking in the remarkably well-curated exhibit of some of the most influential and important cars of all time. Unlike the GM Heritage […]

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The question of automotive preservation jogged an unblogged memory loose today, from earlier in this chaotic summer when I was in Wolfsburg, Germany. I was touring the Zeithaus, or “House of Time,” in Volkswagen’s sprawling Autostadt, taking in the remarkably well-curated exhibit of some of the most influential and important cars of all time. Unlike the GM Heritage Center, for example, the Zeithaus is not reserved for VWs alone, but includes fine examples of undeniably iconic cars from various marques. Organizing VW’s official museum in this way gives the brand a sense of sophistication, sending the message that VW knows quality even when it’s not the one producing it. And the Zeithaus’s curators use this well, offering up such flattering (if ultimately apt) comparisons as an Audi A2 poised alongside a Citroen DS.

But as we reached the area showing the roots of the Volkswagen Beetle, full of KdF cars and early Beetle prototypes, I realized something was missing. If Volkswagen were sophisticated enough to give credit where credit is due to, say, Citroen for the DS, surely there would be at least one Tatra in the joint. After all, Ferdinand Porsche has admitted to at least being inspired by Hans Ledwinka’s Tatra designs. And even if he hadn’t admitted a thing, it’s tough to deny that the Beetle design wasn’t on some level influenced by the contemporary Tatra V570. So I asked my guide, a slick young Dutchman who had probably spent half his life with the company: “are there any Tatras in the Zeithaus? Where are they?”

My guide gave me a peculiar Dutch look that didn’t betray a thing. “Tatras?” he asked. “What’s a Tatra?”

I bring this up not to shame Volkswagen, let alone my otherwise highly competent guide. After all, there’s no shame in admitting that one, or one’s company, owes some kind of intellectual debt to an inspired predecessor… but it can be difficult. My point, rather, is that history is delicate… and always written by the victors. One reason I’m less than entirely enthused about creating a National Register for historic automobiles is that many of the most important automobiles in history are well preserved. And yet the majority of preservation is done by automakers themselves, which have the resources to create whole museums depicting the evolution of the automobile… and the motivation to curate them selectively. Sure, a handful of influential automotive museums exist, but they tend to focus on assembling the most rare and beautiful vehicles ever made, rather than faithfully depicting the evolution of the automobile.

Does any of this warrant hyperventilation on a weekend evening in September? Of course not. But it’s worth considering. Just as placing a Tatra or two in the Zeithaus would be worth considering for Volkswagen’s curators. After all, history is like a rambunctious child: difficult to sanitize and resentful at the mere attempt.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail The Beginning... according to Volkswagen. IMG_0368 IMG_0367

 

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Are You Ready For: A National Register Of Historic Vehicles? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/are-you-ready-for-a-national-register-of-historic-vehicles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/are-you-ready-for-a-national-register-of-historic-vehicles/#comments Sat, 17 Sep 2011 17:55:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=411520 You may not have heard of the Historical Vehicle Association before, but it’s a 30,000-member advocacy group that actually emerged from a special insurance plan for historic cars offered by Hagerty Insurance. Now ratified by the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens, the HVA offers commissions on History, Skills and Trades, Technical Issues and Legislative Affairs, […]

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You may not have heard of the Historical Vehicle Association before, but it’s a 30,000-member advocacy group that actually emerged from a special insurance plan for historic cars offered by Hagerty Insurance. Now ratified by the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens, the HVA offers commissions on History, Skills and Trades, Technical Issues and Legislative Affairs, as it seeks to fulfill its mission of “Keeping Yesterday’s Vehicles on Tomorrow’s Roads.” One of its more laudable legislative tasks of late has been raising awareness about the damage caused by ethanol-blended gasoline and seeking to ban mandatory blending. But now it’s got another goal, as reported by Automotive News [sub]

The federal government has national registries for historic buildings, boats, airplanes, railways — you name it. But not for cars. And the Historic Vehicle Association is trying to change that…

A concern among enthusiasts is that government initiatives — such as the 2009 federal cash-for-clunkers incentive — could send many vintage cars to the crusher. Legislation might prevent cars from being destroyed. Or it could allow gas guzzlers to remain on the road if other laws preclude them.

As it so happens, my significant other is an Architectural Historian who spends her days evaluating buildings that could be impacted by federally-funded projects… so I hear about this issue (in terms of the Register of Historic Places) more often than you can even imagine. And it’s not as simple as it might seem…

If my lovely life partner deems a building that’s in the way of a federally-funded project eligible for listing on the National Register, the project must seek to limit or mitigate its impact on it. Federal law requires that federally-funded projects determine the eligibility of buildings in their area of impact, but the level of protection offered to eligible buildings is actually relatively low. If the building in question is listed on the register, which can only be done voluntarily by the owner, it receives full protection. This matters for buildings, which are difficult to move and can be part of a historic district or landscape.

Though it’s possible that future legislation could seek to ban gas-guzzling historic vehicles from the road, in which case a National Register could offer effective protection, the basic protections for a car are a lot less necessary than for a structure (which can not easily be moved or stored). In short, if someone chooses to destroy their mint-condition Packard in the next Cash-for-Clunkers program, there’s nothing in the National Register model to stop them… the system supports, rather than trumps, property rights.

In other words, I don’t have a problem with people being able to register a vehicle for historic protection, but let’s not pretend that it will offer more protection than the owner’s property rights already do. And it does open a can of worms in regards to drawing the line between historic and non-historic vehicles (although most “truly historic” cars are already in museums). If legislation comes forward to ban certain cars from the road, I’m all for fighting it outright… but I’m not convinced that a National Register of Historic Cars is the way to do that. This feels more like a way for owners of Concours-level cars to feel even snootier about their garage queen.

But, as it turns out, there’s no need for a separate register. The NYT reports

Carmel Roberts, director of government relations for the [HVA], said in a telephone interview this week that the association was not pushing for any such legislation. Instead, she said that the association merely encouraged owners to list their vehicles on the National Register, the country’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.

Automobiles are already designated as structures in a National Register bulletin outlining the application process to have artifacts or structures listed, Ms. Roberts said. Little, however, has been done to explore the potential of the National Register as it related to automobiles.

“We’re just at the talking phase,” Ms. Roberts said.

 

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