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. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 05:18:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com 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 corvettemuseum1

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 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 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 Landscape

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 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 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 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 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 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 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): 25.5×12.0×17 (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 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, 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 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 “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 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, 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) 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. 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]

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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 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.

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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, 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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Requiem For The Last American Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/requiem-for-the-last-american-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/requiem-for-the-last-american-car/#comments Thu, 15 Sep 2011 20:12:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=411356

[Editor's note: Today, at 12:25 pm, the very last Panther-platform Crown Victoria rolled off the line at St. Thomas Assembly Plant. Ryan Paradis, a.k.a. "86er," has the honor of eulogizing the beloved beast in his first-ever contribution to TTAC] 

It has become beyond trite by this point to say that, with the end of the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car, an era comes to an end. And yet it is thus: the last of the body-on-frame, rear wheel drive and eight cylinder engine passenger cars, once a species unique to North America, have now reached the end of an 80 year span that commenced with the advent of the 1932 Ford V-8.

Having transported generations of Americans through some of the nation’s finest decades, full-size cars like the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Town Car are now an anomaly. While large V8-powered sedans made a comeback in the 21st century, the Ford Panther chassis was one of the very few full-size, rear-drive sedans that never left. And today we bid it farewell.

Let us be clear before we go any further: increasing CAFE standards will mean that, barring a phenomenal advancement in engine technology, all large cars in their current form will be phased out before long. New realities are coming that automakers will find impossible to avoid. At the same time, without vehicles like the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car, cars so steeped in our notions of a limitless frontier and freedom from tyranny (of the mobility and engine displacement varieties), we lose a potent symbol of the domestic industry’s raison d’être.

The Ford Panther chassis is a rolling respite from traffic anxiety disorder. If your only experience with one has been riding in a taxicab, or careening through city streets, you’ve been misled. Truth is, the Panther’s driving personality is far more sedate. While some cars vie for your down payment by touting driver involvement, the big Ford goes the other way, trumpeting maximum driver isolation. It regards the world around it as uncouth, bumpy and loud, and lovingly insulates you from the indignities of crumbling roads and the frenzied pace of traffic. Only when breezing along without a care in the world do these vehicles truly come into their own, not only transporting you to your destination in isolated comfort, but under the right conditions, even taking you into view of a past that is on the brink of being irrevocably lost.

Prodigious torque, smooth power delivery and the isolation of riding on (frame) rails will now become the sole purview of those who have signed the paperwork for a truck or traditional sport utility vehicle. Those loners, those holdovers clinging to a time that has passed them by, will now have to join that swollen cohort of automobile purchasers who have savored the qualities they continue to find rewarding, from a higher perch.

But I come not to praise the body-on-frame passenger car but to bury it. Aficionados of this type of automobile have had ample time through various stays of execution and luck to sample the last vestiges of what make North American motoring a unique island unto itself for the vast majority of the 20th century. Indeed, through various twists of fate, the body-on-frame passenger car has held on longer than it would seem it had the right to, and that in of itself is reason enough to observe its passing today with pride, solemnity and recognition of a notable landmark.

After today, the remaining holdover from a completely globalized design movement led by the world’s automakers remains the pickup and traditional sport utility vehicle. Can this segment, in particular pickups, remain the top sellers? Or will they too fall victim to changing tastes and new regulations that threaten their existence?

For now, the American Truck reigns supreme. Today, we honor what once was and observe the demise of the American Car. In truth, the Panther has no peer, no competitor. It is the last vestige of the American car. Let’s not kid ourselves; pretty much everything else is international in form and function.

A part of me hopes they put the last Crown Vic or Town Car in the Smithsonian, with an inscription on the plaque reading: “Once we built cars, and we were not ashamed.” But another part of me is OK with the notion that the passing of the last traditional American sedan will go mostly unnoticed. After all, it befits the nature of this car; going about its business day in and day out, stoic and laconic, its qualities unheralded except by those who came to rely on it for the past 33 years.

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Cars Only Bob Lutz Remembers: The 1983 Ford Ghia Barchetta Concept http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/cars-only-bob-lutz-remembers-the-1983-ford-ghia-barchetta-concept/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/cars-only-bob-lutz-remembers-the-1983-ford-ghia-barchetta-concept/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2011 18:13:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=410561

Bob Lutz admitted in his book Guts that he “possesses a certain duality of mind,” and he ain’t kidding. After all, how could someone spend a career in an industry built on “the industrial logic of scale” (to borrow a phrase from Sergio Marchionne) while trying to connect new vehicles with the lust centers of the human brain without developing a certain amount of creative schizophrenia? But, as anyone who has ever driven a Pontiac Solstice knows, sometimes compromises are made between the conflicting pulls of lust and practicality… and when those compromises must be made, Lutz tends to err on the side of lust. I confronted him about this tendency in our recent conversation, and rather than accept the criticism, he doubled down on his premise that lust-worthy design is more important than practicality. And he illustrated his point by telling the tale of a long-forgotten concept and its troubled path to production.

The story began, almost inevitably, when I asked Lutz if he had any regrets about the Solstice/Sky “Kappa” program. Did he ever second-guess himself on design decisions made in that program, I wondered. Was practicality unnecessarily sacrificed? Would more usability have had any effect on sales of the Solstice or Sky? After the briefest moment of reflection, Lutz answered with a fairly emphatic negative. But rather than leave it at a simple “no,” Lutz unfolded a parable about product development that began the year after I was born.

Do you remember, we did a two-seat Fiesta roadster at Ford of Europe one time? I forget what it was called… we didn’t call it a Speedster, but it was… I guess it was kind of like a Porsche Speedster. If you Google it… it had a unique body… I think we showed it at the Geneva show… 84 I think.

It was a really neat looking car with a very fast front end. It kind of reminds me of the BMW Z3 because the hood had to stay level for a while to clear the engine and then it dropped off sharply. It was a two-seat roadster with a very short back end… the wheels were all the way in the back. It was cute as all get-out… but the functionality was probably close to zero. No back seat, no trunk, nothing… just a very basic, low-cost, two-place roadster.

Lutz remembered the car, he just couldn’t remember the name. With a little Google wizardry and a lucky stumble across this blog item, I found the name: the Ford Ghia Barchetta. And he was only off by one year… apparently the Barchetta debuted in 1983. He was also right about the looks: in many ways it seems like the inspiration for Fiat’s wildly-successful (and gorgeous) front-drive Barchetta, which was built from 1995 until 2005 with only a brief pause. But now we’re getting sidetracked… back to our story, already in progress, with the first compromise made to the concept:

I wouldn’t let them change the engine placement. I said “if we have a chance of putting this into production,” (which I really badly wanted to do), “we have to keep the Fiesta underpinnings.”

So far, so good. But here’s where the story becomes a parable.

I needed some volume to make a viable program out of it, so I figured we could probably do eight or nine thousand of them in Europe, and we gave it to Ford NAO (North American Operations) and said “what can you do with it?”. They did some Supermarket parking lot surveys and they asked women coming out of the grocery store “what do you think of this?” They said “oh, it’s cute. What would it cost?”. “About eight thousand dollars.” “Oh, that’s a lot of money.” And then [the Ford NAO people] said “aaand, you can have this four-cylinder Mustang convertible for $7,800.” “Oooh,” they said, “well I’ll take that.” So they concluded there was no volume potential in the United States… and of course there was, they were just asking all the wrong people.

This encapsulates why Lutz deserves at least some grudging praise from even his toughest critics: lust is difficult to make a case for in the auto business. Simply trying to convince Ford’s US-market fiefdom that they would benefit from such an unusual vehicle in their lineup was an insurmountable task that he tackled anyway. As the romance and enthusiasm slowly drains away from the world of cars, very few executives risk their careers for exciting products that might not make immediate business sense. Sure, this risk-taking seems less laudable in the aftermath of the bailout, but it’s integral to the cultural power of the automobile. And, as the story continues, we’ll find that if you’re going to take a risk on a niche product, you better really take a risk on it.

Then Alex Troutman at [Ford Asia-Pacific] got interested in it for Asia-Pacific, and went and talked to Mazda. Mazda said “no, we don’t like that one because it’s front-wheel-drive, but we’re actually thinking of doing something like that with rear-wheel drive. And Alex said no, ours has got to be off a Ford architecture.

If Lutz had any regrets about not involving Ford in the creation of the Miata, he didn’t let them show. On the other hand, the missed opportunity had to sting at least a little. After all, if you’re taking a risk on an impractical two-seater, why not go all the way with RWD? And with the benefit of hindsight, involvement in a modern icon like the MX-5 would be a point of pride for any “product guy.”  But Lutz only had control over Ford of Europe, and by this point he had even lost control of the Barchetta project. It was about to become everything it wasn’t ever supposed to be.

When Alex went back to the states, he got [the program] going again. It was carefully researched, so it was decided that front wheel drive is OK, but we don’t like the front end. So, OK, the front end got more conventional. Then, “it’s no good with no back seat. People won’t buy a car with no back seat.” Well, OK, we can add a back seat. And then, “oh, there’s no trunk space.” Alright, add a trunk. And so it became that misbegotten little Mercury [Capri], remember that? What a horrible thing. That started out as the Fiesta.

That started out as a beautiful, slick, highly desirable little roadster that would have done well. Functionalizing it wrecked it. And I’ll tell you what: Solstice owners had no problem with that top at all. When you’re into emotional cars, it’s about appearance and how cool is it… it’s the same thing as sports motorcycles. Not necessarily comfortable, not suitable to saddlebags… but they look like track bikes and they’re fun to ride.

I know that not all of TTAC’s B&B will agree wholesale with Lutz’s vision, but the tale of the Barchetta’s transformation into the Capri is instructive. When you have a successful design, and cardesign.ru cites Ford press releases saying the German “Barchetta Club” alone had 10k members at one point, you keep it as pure as possible or you don’t build it all. It’s easy to criticize Lutz as being too uncompromising, but in an intensely collaborative process like car development, the ability to say “no dammit, we aren’t going to compromise on this” is a rare thing. If the world were full of cars that are as practical as they are fun, his approach might be dismissible. Since that’s not the case, this is an object lesson in the trade-offs that create crap like the Capri out of a tiny jewel like the Barchetta.

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Cars Only Bob Lutz Remembers: The Dodge Dakota Convertible http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/cars-only-bob-lutz-remembers-the-dodge-dakota-convertible/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/cars-only-bob-lutz-remembers-the-dodge-dakota-convertible/#comments Tue, 06 Sep 2011 18:11:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=410416

Welcome to Bob Lutz week at TTAC! I spent several hours recently with the auto industry’s most notorious executive, and elements of that interview will be the basis for much of my writing this week. We’ll also be capping the whole thing off by voting on the 2010-2011 Lutzie award for most unfortunate quote by an auto exec. And rather than jumping right into the meat of the interview, I want to kick off Lutz week by looking at a few cars that came up in our meandering conversation. After all, these are not just vehicles… when Lutz brings them up in an interview, they become stories, little encapsulations of his philosophy or the state of the company that made them. Let’s start with a car that I literally had never heard of before he mentioned it almost in passing: the Dodge Dakota Convertible. Eat your heart out, Murano CrossCabriolet… the Dakota was the original “WTF-vertible.”

Given his reputation for over-the-top vehicles like the Viper and Volt, and his general fondness for drop-tops, you might think that the Dakota ‘vert was one of Bob Lutz’s “babies,” but if that were the case his enthusiasm for the truckvertible has waned considerably. And, the way he tells the story, the Dakota’s topless conversion was not a gut-call for a strong niche product, but the outgrowth of Chrysler’s brief infatuation with “brand management.” But let’s let Lutz tell the story himself, which opens sometime around 1988, when Hal Sperlich was forced out of the company and Lutz began taking over more responsibility:

Like many other companies at the time, Iacocca got himself talked into ‘brand management’ by a board member, a guy by the name of Paul Sticht who was with RJR Nabisco. And so we had the famous Jerry York running Dodge brand and they were going to dictate product priorities to us. Jeep was intelligent enough to just say ‘hey, we’re on the right track. We’ll do the V8 Grand Cherokee and all the other stuff that followed on.’ But Jerry York wanted to make a mark, so he wanted a a Dodge Shadow convertible, for which we didn’t have the money, and he wanted a Dakota pickup convertible. *laughs* There’s a few around. I think we sold like a thousand. Maybe.

I saw one the other day at an airport out in California. Slammed. I think the Dakota convertible had to be the leakiest convertible top of all time… we had it done by ASC down in Mexico. It would be fun to have one just because they’re so rare… but once Iacocca saw that brand management wasn’t working, I became the real President.

My initial curiosity about the story was based wholly in the fact that I hadn’t been aware of the existence of a convertible pickup other than the SSR. But, having reflected on the story, I realized that this anecdote actually shows an interesting side of Lutz’s character. Though best known as the father of all kinds of outlandish machinery, Lutz is not the kind of guy to champion anything that’s out of the automotive norm simply because of its unusualness. Though Lutz clearly likes the idea of a rare convertible pickup, his dismissive attitude towards the Dakota Convertible’s genesis says a lot about his  attitude towards new product development: in short, when an idea comes from “product guys” he tends to like it, but when it comes from “brand managers” he tends to be less supportive.

The problem with that attitude? By emphasizing problems in product conception rather than the product itself, Lutz opens himself to repeating mistakes that others have made, in the belief that a more product-oriented process (rather than a brand-oriented process) will have more success. The obvious example of this is the SSR truckvertible that Lutz championed into production at GM. Though it sold considerably more than a thousand units (estimated volume: 24,150 between 2003 and 2005), the SSR was still ultimately a flop. Would Lutz have pushed the SSR into production when he arrived at GM if the Dakota Convertible hadn’t been pushed on him by Jerry York’s Dodge “brand managers”? York and company certainly provided an easy scapegoat for one of the weirdest vehicles ever produced. And with the benefit of hindsight, it now seems fairly clear that drop-top pickups are a problematic proposition whether they come from “product guys” or “brand managers.”

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Not exactly a Lutz-mobile... though you might think it is. dakotaconvertible6 dakotaconvertible5 dakotaconvertible4 dakotaconvertible3 dakotaconvertible2 dakotaconvertible1 dakotaconvertible

 

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Quote Of The Day: “Don’t Blame Me For The Bailout” Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/quote-of-the-day-dont-blame-me-for-the-bailout-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/quote-of-the-day-dont-blame-me-for-the-bailout-edition/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2011 19:09:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=409298

The Detroit News reports that former Vice President Dick Cheney claims to have opposed the decision to bail out GM and Chrysler, writing in his forthcoming memoir:

“The president decided that he did not want to pull the plug on General Motors as we were headed out the door… Although I understood the reasoning, I would have preferred that the government not get involved and was disappointed — but not surprised — when the Obama administration significantly increased the government intervention in the automobile industry shortly after taking office.”

Cheney notes he had voted against the 1979 $1.5 billion loan guarantee for Chrysler Corp. in the House. “I had continued throughout my career to be philosophically opposed to bailing out specific companies or industries,” he wrote.

But lest you think the 1979 vote makes Cheney a model of consistency, consider his defense of the $700b TARP expenditure:

Providing sufficient support to avoid the collapse of our banking system was something only the federal government could do. But, all things considered, companies in the private sector should be judged in the marketplace. Having the government intervene was not, in my opinion, a good idea.

I’ve been thinking about the bailout era a lot recently, as GM’s stock slumps towards an inevitable and significant government loss in the near future. I’m sure that when the government finally writes off the $14b+ loss, a political knifefight will ensue with all sides seeking to justify their positions on the matter. But where will that get us? After all, both political parties bear some responsibility for the decision, and it’s impossible to say what would have happened without the bailout. And if politicians and partisans make the final chapter of the auto bailout about politics, they’ll have missed the entire point… and provide a smokescreen for the real culprits.

GM and Chrysler have to live with their outstanding moral (if not legal) debt to the American people, and all eyes should be on those companies rather than the posturing politicians. How these private firms relate to the taxpayers who bailed them out will be the defining issue of their post-bailout existence, and one that should be taken extremely seriously in Auburn Hills and the Renaissance Center. I’m not sure I can say exactly what they should do about it, but the first step is to not run from reality (as has already happened too often in the past). The final tallying of the bailout bill will be a defining moment for these two companies… let’s hope they realize it, and act accordingly.

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Chart Of The Day: The Toyota Camry Index http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/chart-of-the-day-the-toyota-camry-index/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/chart-of-the-day-the-toyota-camry-index/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2011 19:31:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=408412

As Camry-fest rolls on, we found an interesting little chart over at Edmunds Autoobserver, which shows that this latest Camry has the lowest inflation-adjusted MSRP in the model’s history. Amid all the talk of record-high transaction prices, Toyota obviously thinks MSRP still matters, as Autoobserver reports

The current-generation Camry has a theoretical build of 1,246 combinations. The 2012 Camry will be available in a startlingly meager 36 combinations, because consumers have told Toyota they want a simpler ordering process… There will be four trim packages from which to choose, and despite the significant improvements in the model, any 2012 Camry will be priced close to or less than a comparably-equipped 2011.

The 2011 Camry L, the base model produced in very low volume and sold almost exclusively to fleets, starts at $20,195. The new 2012 Camry L will start at $21,995 (plus $760 for destination), the core 2012 Camry LE package for comfort and value will be priced at $22,500. The sportier Camry SE, currently priced at $22,965, will start at $23,000. The premium trim package Camry XLE ($26,725 for MY 2011), will start at $24,725, a $2,000 reduction. Toyota notes that comparably equipped, prices for all trim levels have dropped.

So, even though you need fewer inflation-adjusted dollars than ever before to buy a base Camry, very few of those models will be built. Toyota may be talking value, but in this market you need to shout it…

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