The Truth About Cars » Sajeev Mehta http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:00:00 +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 » Sajeev Mehta http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Vellum Venom Vignette: 2013 Awards Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/vellum-venom-awards-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/vellum-venom-awards-edition/#comments Tue, 17 Dec 2013 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=682274 tesla

In a few days, TTAC’s editors will present their best and worst automotive picks of 2013. Today, Sajeev Mehta brings you his winners and losers in the field of design. Winners and losers below the jump.

Best Styled Car of 2013: Tesla Model S.  What happens when you have no rulebook, no badge engineered platform to start with?  Tesla’s impressive engineering and PR Buzz machine aren’t the only factors in the Model S’ shock and awe: it embodies the classic long hood and short deck proportioning that’s made so many cars so classically lovely.  It’s the same gospel spoken by everyone from Edsel Ford to Ettore Bugatti. The similarly styled Porsche Panamera only dreams of this low stance, subtle detailing and 1970s Italian concept car like flair in those hatchback hindquarters. Which proves that a clean sheet of vellum is a beautiful, beautiful place to start.

Worst Styled Car of 2013:  Not as easy, but the Honda Fit fits the bill. Not only is the second generation Fit a bloated redesign, the small Honda’s once quirky and cute details now suffer from gigantism. The biggest problem? Super excellent DLO FAIL, stealing defeat from the hands of victory: cars in this class justify a day light opening with a black plastic triangle (Sonic, Accent) with their low asking price.  Or be outstanding like the Ford Fiesta, using sheets of glass instead.  But no, the Honda Fit liked both ideas, having a huuuge DLO FAIL with both the plastic triangle and a rather large sheet of glass ahead of the front door. Congratulations, you’ve witnessed The Failing At Fail.

 Best Styled Truck of 2013: The RAM dodges Chevrolet’s cliché truck overstyling and Ford’s “Blue Collar Audi” design sensibilities for something…logical. Yes, the RAM is another modern truck that’s a caricature of its former self.  But in a world where cars jack themselves up to mimic CUVs, CUVs try to look like trucks and trucks imitate Peterbuilts, the RAM keeps some semblance of sensibility with subtle head/tail lights, logical hood/fender/bed flares and a gunsight grille that doesn’t try to be cool…because it’s been cool for almost 20 years.

 Worst Styled Truck of 2013: The Infiniti JX is one of the best examples of “overstyling” in modern automotive history. With every clumsy lump and flabby fold, the JX embodies everything wrong with the Crossover Utility Segment: trying too hard to evolve from the gritty blue-collar machines from whence they came, yet still remaining in the classic 2-box SUV design.  The ridiculous kink in the D-pillar’s quarter window says it all: you gotta know when to walk away from the vellum.

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The Time My Girlfriend Almost Bought An Aveo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-time-my-girlfriend-almost-bought-an-aveo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-time-my-girlfriend-almost-bought-an-aveo/#comments Mon, 30 Jul 2012 15:44:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454745

Back in April, Sajeev and Steve found some time to reply to my letter where I posed the impossible question. As gearheads, we all want something fun, fast, efficient, and cheap (well, most of us want cheap). Much like a traction circle, all these needs are in competition and in order to make good on one you need to sacrifice another. The ultimate gearhead car, unfortunately, does not exist and it never will.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t good, affordable vehicles out there which are fun to drive while ticking most of the boxes. And, this time, I actually followed the advice of someone else and couldn’t be happier.

For a number of weeks, my girlfriend and I scoured the classifieds, made calls, and generated lists of cars we wanted to check out. Initially, a Mazda Protege5 seemed to fit the bill. The interiors are still great to look at to this day, the engines torquey and fun, and the Protege5 is halfway between a proper wagon and a hatchback. She had laid down the law saying she wouldn’t be caught driving a wagon, so for me this was a solid win.

Once we started looking around to see what Protege5s were available, we were promptly disappointed. All were in various states of disrepair, from simple electronic accessories being broken to full on rust infestation and everything in between, the east coast climate was claiming Protege5s at a steady, rapid rate. Our dream econobox choice turned out not to be a valid choice at all.

After a few Mazdisasters, a personal friend of mine invited us to one of Canada’s largest GM dealerships to check out their used inventory. This particular dealership doesn’t keep any wholesale stock sitting around, so the price of entry is relatively steep on the used lot. “Just show me the cheapest cars you have,” I said, hoping there would be some unloved goldmine hidden behind the service bays, waiting for a new owner to care for and cherish her.

“Well, our most affordable option on the lot is a 2006 Chevy Aveo 5-door hatchback,” replied my friend who is relatively new to the car hawking business.

At this point, my internal monologue was unleashing a series of expletives cursing the Aveo’s existence, but on the outside I am telling my girlfriend to take it for a drive, hoping she will come to the realization the Aveo is the automotive equivalent of a polished turd. Even worse, this is someone else’s former polished turd.

I drove the first half of the predefined test route, bemoaned the underpowered 1.6L four-pot smushed together with the lazy 4-speed automatic, and tried to think happier thoughts,  such as getting repeatedly kicked in the groin by someone with a size 15 shoe. I felt dirty, like I had done something completely forbidden and totally frowned upon if anyone found out. I’d driven an Aveo.

Shortly, it was time for us to switch seats and for my significant other to take over for the rest of the journey back to the dealership. Though she didn’t show love or heaping praise for the Korean tin can, she didn’t hate it either. I found this strange. The engine to her was adequately powerful, amenities were few but simple and easy to use, and the steering was fairly light in her hands. On arrival back to the dealership she uttered three words which could have laid waste to my automotive reputation: “I like it.”

If I hadn’t have been there, I am sure the Aveo would have been sold that day.

Over the course of the next couple of hours, the salesperson and my girlfriend exchanged text messages about the red little Chevy while I frantically went dealership to dealership looking for an affordable alternative. And, out of nowhere, an oasis appeared. At a used car dealership sat a vehicle suggested by TTAC’s own Steve Lang, a 2008 Saturn Astra 5-door hatchback with a proper manual transmission.

Two years newer, slightly more mileage, and a hell of a lot more car than the Aveo, the Astra was priced slightly above our budget . When my girlfriend saw the price displayed on the other side of the windshield she winced at the thought of paying more than our budgeted allotment, but I was determined to show her this was the better choice.

The Astra was a victim of being in North America wearing the wrong badge at the wrong time. Saturn was about to get cut from the team and with the economic crisis commencing nobody wanted to pay the premium Saturn dealers were asking for the European built hatch. Fortunately for us, prices for Saturns have tanked since then and the parts and service network still exists. We took the Belgian C-car for a drive around the neighbourhood, my girlfriend fell in love with the car, and the rest is automotive history I can be proud of.

If there is a lesson in this, other than listening to your two knowledgeable TTAC suggestion machines, it’s there is always a better option to “settling”. Nobody deserves to drive an Aveo.

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Dr. Sajeev Mehta, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bronco http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/dr-sajeev-mehta-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-bronco/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/dr-sajeev-mehta-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-bronco/#comments Wed, 18 Jul 2012 13:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453146

“Hey Sajeev, it’s Mark. We’re up in Tomball looking at a ’95 Bronco. We could use some advice.”

Without sarcasm, a laugh, or any explanation, Sajeev replied with one word, “Run.”

 

Being a Canadian in Texas, where gas and well-used V8 SUVs are cheap, I was inclined to make very questionable choices which went against my ethos as a Canadian. Things like considering getting rid of a perfectly good Ranger and buying a mid-90s Malaise American SUV with unknown lineage. The Ranger, an amazing little truck that conveyed myself, two dogs, two motorcycles, and my other worldly possessions all the way from the east coast of Canada to Houston, had lots of life and could have had air conditioning bolted on to the 3.0L Vulcan V6 for a pitance.

But, sometimes when an idea is stuck in my head, all I need is similarly minded, common sense lacking friends to say “go for it”.

Kevin, a Z-car driving graphic designer who knew just as much about Broncos as I did at the time, drove me up to Tomball to check out what could have passed as an Al Cowlings Signature Edition Bronco. Very 90s, white grille and semi-removable top included. From a distance, it didn’t look all that bad. I thought Sajeev was a nut for telling me to run, yet when we ended the call I felt dejected. Then Kevin passed me his phone to talk to someone on the other end of the line.

“His name is Jim. Super smart guy. Loves Fords. Races Mustangs,” he blurted out while shoving his iPhone in the general direction of my face.

“Hey Jim, this is Kevin’s friend Mark. Tell me what you think of what I am about to get into,” I inquired, after I’d already partially given up on the purchase.

“Without seeing it, I can’t really say, but it’s probably good…”

It’s at this point my brain completely tuned out the rest of what Jim said. He could have warned “good at being a paperweight” or “good for low speed highway chases”. It didn’t matter at that point. I heard “good”. We are going with “good”. I can live with “good”.

The phone is hung up. The owner of the Bronco is met. The SUV is given the once-over test drive and the prospective buyer (me) ignores all the tell-tail signs of this being a disastrous transaction waiting to happen. By the end of the night, I was the proud new owner of a Ford Bronco XLT with a 5.8L V8, but drove home without the multi-ton monstrosity.

The next day, my roommate drove me back up to Tomball to complete the transaction. On arriving to the single family home on a cul-de-sac, his jaw dropped, eyes opened wide, and he uttered, “Oh my, Mark. You can’t be serious.”

To say the drive home was scary is a total understatement. The Bronco at highway speed felt like being attached to a looping roller coaster with bungie cords, my hands grabbing the wheel so hard that Klan members would be jealous of my knuckles. Keeping the aging Ford in its own lane was an exercise in futility. But, at least I had air conditioning…

As soon as my brain recognized the one good thing about the Bronco, my well air conditioned brow felt a massive blast of hot air. This is now officially the worst automotive purchase I have ever made.

After arriving home with the Bronco, it sat in the garage for a total of three months straight, except for a single trip to an auto journo meetup where it became the laughing stock of the evening. “Mark got rid of his crappy truck with no air for another crappy truck with no air,” and “Mark, you need a plate that reads ‘NO AC’ since you don’t have air and you aren’t Al Cowlings,” were the common commets of the evening.

However, almost everyone in my automotive circle of knowledge and skill helped with getting the Bronco back in running order. The V8 I thought I purchased was actually a V7, as one of the cylinders had a serious miss. All brakes and bearings, including the ones in the rear differential, were shot. Kevin, most of all, felt guilty for supporting me in the decision to take it home. Other than myself, he was the one who spent the most time working on it, which I still appreciate to this day. Sajeev, on the other hand, rightly never offered to help. He warned me.

We did get the Bronco into somewhat acceptable condition and I drove it for maybe a total of 500 miles before selling it. After all that work, money, getting gallons to the mile due to a seriously sick 351 powerplant, and other miscellaneous bullshit, I still miss the hell out of that truck. I’d have another one in a heartbeat, too. Maybe I’m cursed with some kind of defeatist mentality.

But, the moral of this story? I should have listened to Sajeev and got out of there quicker than parachute pants entering the 90s. But, if I had listened to him, I would never have developed the relationships with the people who helped me fix that truck, nor would I have learned as much as I did working on it. It’s all about what you want out of a car or truck. I got what I wanted.

After selling the Bronco, I asked Sajeev and Steve for advice on what to buy and followed on one of their suggestions. This time, I couldn’t be happier. More on that another time.

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Piston Slap: The Gassy Dart, the Bosch-eating Magnum http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/piston-slap-the-gassy-dart-the-bosch-eating-magnum/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/piston-slap-the-gassy-dart-the-bosch-eating-magnum/#comments Wed, 18 May 2011 22:38:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=395000

TTAC reader sportsuburbanGT writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Have a couple of questions: I have a 72 Dodge Dart that I am performing a 318 to 340 swap.  It’s taken longer than I planned (lack of time), I backed the car in the garage 2 years ago and now I am planning on firing it up in this April.  The question is the gas: I had about a half tank when I backed it in, and I put some Stabil in the tank, but I took the cap off to try a new cap and the tank smelled really awful.  I replaced the fuel filter, but should I drain the tank and refill with fresh gas, put some fresh gas in the tank to mix up what is in there, or pull the tank have it boiled out and refill.  I was driving the car up until March 2009, and I put that last half tank in there in March 2009.  I am in Long Island, NY so we have that crap gas till April.

My second question is on my (daily driver) 2005 Dodge Magnum RT, with 87k on it.  I replaced the O2 sensors (all 4) as preventative maintenance and now I keep getting a p0152 code.  It’s the code for the upstream right side O2 sensor.  I installed new Bosch sensors, but I received the first CEL right after I started it up after the new sensors were installed.  I replaced the right upstream with a new unit (Bosch), no code on start up.  The CEL came back after 4 days and 300 miles, stayed on for a day then went off for a day and came back this Sat and is still there.  I disconnected the neg. battery before I performed this work.  I replaced the sensors as preventative maintenance; I was under the impression they last for about 100k.  I also have the Mopar Performance long tube headers with a Borla exhaust on the car, they have been there since about 15k.  Is the Magnum eating O2 sensors, or are these Bosch sensors no good?

Great write ups, I have really enjoyed reading them, thanks in advance for any help.

Sajeev answers:

I like your tastes in cars, this brand loyalty proves why some (Detroit) brands need not stray far from what made them so popular in the first place. Not that we all need Dodge Darts in lieu of a Toyota Prius, but that’s not the point…

The Dart: I really can’t decide between 100% fresh gas or diluted with fresh gas. It also depends on if you plan on a carburetor rebuild/upgrade in the future. I think it’s less work to buy a several fuel filters and replace as needed, carefully (low RPMs, please!) driving the car until the old stuff burns off.  But that’s because I absolutely loathe messing with gas tanks.  And, once again, you might need to re-jet the carb to compensate for the extra cubes, so who cares if you get junk from old fuel in there?

The Magnum: if the wiring does not look frayed/melted, get a new sensor, it should be warrantied at your parts store.  I have Kooks headers on my ’95 Mark VIII and I love my “non-factory” Bosch O2 sensors for a Ford truck. These have been very good to me for over 5 years and 40,000 miles. But others have complained on the forums, for reasons I can’t logically understand. But then again, I only have one sensor per exhaust bank.

sportsuburbanGT answers:

Thanks for the pointers.  I will replace the O2, I hope three times is a charm.  The wiring is mint, it is nit hitting or rubbing anything. I will also go for the fresh gas in the Dart a little of the summer blend 93 should do the trick.

That Mark sounds sweet.

Sajeev concludes:

Oops, I mis-read your comment.  If that’s your third O2 sensor, I’d look much, MUCH closer at the wiring harness.  It’s amazing what little contact it takes to melt those wires against a set of long tube headers, especially if you doubt the skill of the installation.  If the wiring checks and there’s no other trouble codes, consider the OEM-branded replacement sensor. I can’t imagine any other problem creeping up so quickly after installation of your first set of Bosch sensors.

And yes, its modifications like yours (ours?) make my Mark so much fun to drive, so difficult to sell in the face of more modern, far superior iron. I’m sure you know the feeling. Good luck to you.

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

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Super Piston Slap: Subaru’s Marketing of Fear http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/super-piston-slap-subarus-marketing-of-fear/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/super-piston-slap-subarus-marketing-of-fear/#comments Sun, 03 Apr 2011 19:48:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=389691

Dan writes:

Sajeev,

I don’t know if this adds up to material for one of your columns but here you go if you want it. I am shopping for a new WRX wagon.  These are pretty rare around here, hunted to extinction.  I’ve been checking around and the number in inventory at the typical dealership is between zero and two.  The local dealership wants to charge me MSRP, as well they might, but they have a new narrative to go with this: the factory was shut down in Fuji and there’s going to be a gap in deliveries.  Is this hooey?

Sajeev Answers:

How much do you want to bet that ride’s been sitting in inventory–waiting for someone gobsmacked by it’s allure–before the tsunami?  It’s possible, maybe even probable. And that is the “problem” with cars like the WRX, dealers know you want one. And they got you by the short hairs.

Much to my dismay, the Marketing to Fear is back in full force.  I’ve seen Japanese car dealers insist prices are going up, so buy NOW before the new inventory goes up in price.  And many a dealer with fuel efficient models run ads encouraging you to trade your gas guzzler and get a 35 to 40+MPG compact, before your trade-in value tanks and tiny cars skyrocket in demand. That’s so nice of them, what a great community service they’re offering!

That points to a bigger problem with dealer service: inconsistency. One person can ruin a decades long reputation for quality, transparency and honesty at a “good” dealership.  Employee turnover is high in this business for a reason. But perhaps my Texas centric thought is off base, so let’s get an International Man on the case.

Bertel Schmitt Answers:

Any real supply problems should start in the coming weeks, as no car carriers had left Japanese port after 3/14. But I guess they charge what they can, knowing that there won’t be any cars for quite some while.  Japan will lose at least a full month of production. Then, they’ll make the big sellers, the niche cars will fall by the wayside. Or not, it all depends on parts availability.

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

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Edsel: The Official Pace Car of 2011 Gator-O-Rama 24 Hours of LeMons http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/edsel-the-official-pace-car-of-2011-gator-o-rama-24-hours-of-lemons/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/edsel-the-official-pace-car-of-2011-gator-o-rama-24-hours-of-lemons/#comments Sun, 27 Feb 2011 07:21:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=385440

This faithful TTAC writer enjoys his break from reality to be a judge at the 24 Hours of LeMons. That said, a perk to having the great Murilee Martin on board is that my LeMons coverage now embellishes his: take a look at the ’58 Edsel Ranger pace car we “procured” from a race team.

One thing about the “rat rod” school of design is how great it makes an otherwise junky heap look in the hearts and minds of most bystanders.  An ugly flat black paint job on one of the ugliest cars known to man is a Reeses peanut butter cup of automotive design!  That said, the 1970s forged (yes really) Lincoln mag wheels and 390 V8 from a ’67 Ford Galaxie make the theme cooler than cool.  And the white shag carpet seemingly taken from Dirk Digler’s rumpus room?  Why not, it’s Rat Rod!

Also note the wicked body roll in turn one here at MSR Houston.  And yes, that’s during pace car laps!  Which begs the question, maybe we need more Rat Rod themed rides in Lemons?

'58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta '58 Edsel Ranger at the 24 Hours of LeMons. Picture courtesy Sajeev Mehta ]]>
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Ask The Best And Brightest: Can We Talk About Dexos1 And API Testing Standards? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/ask-the-best-and-brightest-can-we-talk-about-dexos1-and-api-testing-standards/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/ask-the-best-and-brightest-can-we-talk-about-dexos1-and-api-testing-standards/#comments Tue, 19 Oct 2010 12:14:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=369359

We smell a trademark fight

This Autoweek article gave me a college flashback: when UT Austin’s Petroleum Engineers offered me a scholarship, but the Mechanical Engineers said no dice.  Mostly because high tech, high mileage oil talk is rather boring.  Much like discussing a cutting edge, long-life coolant before the Dex-Cool fiasco. So let’s open a can of worms for the Best and Brightest, and hit the high points of General Motor’s Dexos1, a somewhat revolutionary engine oil with a distinct lack of testing from the American Petroleum Institute.  As per Autoweek, matters stand like this:

The main difference between Dexos1, which is a GM-licensed brand, and GF-5 oils is testing. To be certified as GF-5, the oil needs to pass a variety of chemistry and engine tests set by the American Petroleum Institute.

But GM’s testing for Dexos1 uses some tests mandated by the ACEA, the European automobile manufacturers association, in place of the American Petroleum Institute tests. For example, Dexos1 oil has to pass Mercedes-Benz’s sludge and fuel-economy tests and Opel’s test for the ability to work under foaming conditions, known as aeration.

I wonder if Dexos1 shall pass VW and Toyota’s sludge tests. I mean, those two gotta have some standards by now. But I digress.

GF-5-certified oils that do not undergo the same tests are subjected to the American Petroleum Institute’s equivalent to be certified.

Right. So should we even care about API’s GF-5 test?  I think I know GM’s answer. And I can hear lawyers foaming at the mouth, formulating their (hyped) class-action lawsuits already. Conversely, everybody loves (GM’s awesome blend of) synchromesh much like our love of the TV show starring Ray Romano. Perhaps we won’t know the real truth without 5 years of real world testing under our collective belts.

Government regulations that call for lower exhaust emissions and higher fuel economy are the drivers behind the new generation of engine oil. GM’s powertrain fuel and lubrication engineers began working on Dexos1 in 2006. The goal was to set an oil specification that met the requirements of all GM vehicles and powertrains globally.

So why bother with regional oil certifications? As platforms consolidate globally, engineering standards should (could?) combine the extreme needs of all continents. Then again, according to my wrench-turning sources, the original Opel/Cadillac Catera’s heat-averse timing gear would beg to differ. One size fits all is a scary proposition.

Have at it, Best and Brightest. We want to hear your slickest comments.

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Between The Lines: Smarter Than Luxury? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/between-the-lines-smarter-than-luxury/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/between-the-lines-smarter-than-luxury/#comments Fri, 01 Oct 2010 13:05:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=367209

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Is going Between the Lines this time ‘round more like shooting fish in a barrel?  Let’s find out with the latest ad campaign from Lincoln, as covered by the Detroit Free Press:

Ford said today it is rolling out a new ad campaign for its Lincoln brand with the tagline “Smarter than Luxury,” and starring John Slattery, who portrays Roger Sterling in the TV series “Mad Men.”

There’s an ironic element there, considering the behind-the-scenes marketing dialogue seen on the TV show.  If the boffins at Lincoln chose “Smarter than Luxury” over everything else, I gotta know what they passed on.  Perhaps “Lincoln: Our Stuff Looks Like Poop Dung” was already under consideration for the Lincoln Log people.

“This campaign shows that Lincoln offers a heightened sense of style, craftsmanship and technology and we’re showing that off in a new way for this brand,” Matt VanDyke, Ford’s director of U.S. marketing communications said in a statement.”

While Lincoln’s progression from nothingness to somethingness is noteworthy, it should be noted that this campaign promises nothing to show Lincoln’s heightened sense of yadda-yadda-yadda. You know what would?  Giving the media a teaser of an ad that stacks Lincolns up against their competition in stylish but aloof advertisements, in a very Top Gear kinda way. Play a modern remake of Commander Cody’s Lincoln-esque hit in the background, and finish with anything but “Smarter than Luxury.” Surely that’d “heighten some senses” and show off the brand like a sonofagun.

Probably not, since I just made that up.  But it still sucks less than the phrase, “Smarter than Luxury.”

“We’re going to challenge people’s perceptions of luxury and show that we deliver more technology and luxury for an unexpected amount of content for the price,” VanDyke said.

To which a recently deposed Lincoln-Mercury dealer noted, “they are already ‘challenging people’s perceptions of luxury’ by selling and servicing Lincolns next to a Ford Focus.” After informing him that Lincoln is coming out with a small car based on said Ford, the Lincoln-Mercury dealer’s head exploded.

The launch of a print ad campaign will coincide with the TV ads…designed to evoke emotion and challenge customer perceptions of luxury.

That sounds rather challenging, if they use the phrase “Smarter than Luxury” in print.

The TV ads will feature the latest Lincoln vehicles, the 2011 Lincoln MKX crossover and the 2011 MKZ Hybrid sedan, along with Slattery.

In all seriousness, if Lincoln refrains from offering a great lease in this ad campaign, avoiding the endless cycle of incentive promotion and breaking rank with Cadillac to instead promote the product (a la BMW and others), this campaign will be a success.  That is when we shall know that Lincoln is, well, Smarter than Luxury.

PS: When this was posted, the presentation for the “Smarter Than Luxury” campaign by the Action Marketing Group could be downloaded here. The “download budget” button was wisely disabled.

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Review: The Rolls Royce Phantom http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/review-the-rolls-royce-phantom/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/review-the-rolls-royce-phantom/#comments Wed, 29 Sep 2010 19:35:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=367119

While TTAC gets scorn for lofty criticisms of mainstream vehicles, should we demand perfection in a $405,000 (as-tested) vehicle? Because the Phantom is inches away from yesteryear’s glory: the highest regarded, finest engineered luxury vehicle before anyone cared about luxury vehicle upstarts like Mercedes-Benz or Lexus.

That’s not to say the Phantom isn’t drop dead gorgeous. The suicide doors are dumbfoundingly awesome. That Hooper Coachwork inspired design is impossible to miss: clock the long hood and short deck. And an elegant swageline, strong and stoic at the front, gently falling earthward before the taillights. Which are suitably small, drawing your eyes to the beauty of finished metal instead of the overwrought lighting details of lesser vehicles.

And if you don’t roll a MegaCab Ram truck, you’re in a lesser vehicle. The majority of its linebacker-sized frontal area contains that wonderful Roller grille, making the Phantom damn near impossible to fault from the front. But the “headlights that look like foglights” need the boot: a counterintuitive move that–like four spoke wheels–is an Industrial Design deadly sin. When nighttime bystanders look at your ride funny in the valet lot, something needs to be fixed.

Nitpicking no doubt, especially in “light” (sorry) of what’s inside. The dash is old-school charming, vents are made of an actual metal substance and the wood-encased analog clock rotates to show a sat-nav screen in a distinctly James Bond manner. The floor mats are made from absolutely randy-feeling wool, but the carpet could use a dose of Rogaine for a thicker pile. That rug looks fine in the exquisitely finished trunk: kudos to the leather trimmed boots around the dog leg hinges and a pull-down button graphic portraying an actual Rolls-Royce, not a generic silhouette.

While the latest BMW-sourced, leather wrapped, i-Drive wheel hides behind a wood door, it’s black plastic container is worthy of a Dodge Caliber. Dude, didn’t I pay enough for leather, suede, aluminum or plumbing fixture-grade brass at this touch point?

And yes, you’ll use that somewhat-easy i-Drive system far more often than a BMW, because this is such a relaxing vehicle.

Seating for five is comfortable, with excellent visibility up front and bespoke privacy from the massive C-pillar. That’s dandy, just avoid the action-packed, extra-plush rear quarters in a Maybach, LS460L or even the Hyundai Equus: replacing British Charm (terrible food) with a lap dance (and a free buffet) is most appealing at this Caligula-ish price point. No matter, the Lexicon audio is respectable up front, absolutely amazing in the rear. And the rear power suicide doors (with integral umbrellas) are much like the retractable lady statue on the hood: a thing of beauty.

But the seating inferiority complex continues, as air conditioned seats are a welcome addition to every luxury vehicle in the current millennia. Rolls’ engineers made the finest HVAC out there, but do us a solid and introduce cool air via that legendary tuck-and-roll upholstery, please. Or perhaps I shouldn’t be a broke-ass car scribe, getting someone else do my errands. In a different car.

So let’s drive this gorgeous beast. The direct-injected, BMW-sourced V12 is a smashing success: lifting the Phantom’s nose from a standstill, accelerating to 60mph in 5.7 seconds like a crescendo from a philharmonic orchestra. It’s no bi-turbo Benz at speed, punching the air with a coffin nose hood in a distinctly freight train-like manner. Steering feel is acceptable by Toyota Camry standards, delightfully accurate for livery drivers of the Panther persuasion.

Braking is outstanding, though the pitch, roll, massive understeer and tall seating position encourage sane levels of steering transitions. Which explains the reverse tachometer (Power Reserve meter) and bearing-infused Rolls-Royce hubcaps to a tee: show some respect, lest the owner knock you down to a mere hack, hooning a yellow cab.

Ride quality is this Roller’s raison d’etre, and it shant disappoint. Until it does. With hard walled, run-flat tires stretched to a rubber band sidewall on a 21-inch wheel, the Phantom cannot provide the ride expected from its NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) material packed body, near silent powertrain and pin drop quiet highway ride. Cross an enormous bump and the Phantom glides like a cloud, but hit a sharp pavement joint or frost heaves and the Phantom “thuds” more than a gymnasium floor during basketball season. The Phantom is dying for a traditional wheel/tire option, perhaps with thick whitewalls to compensate for the extra sidewall: because Rolls-Royces aren’t purchased for handling prowess and sporty rims.

So the Phantom is a somewhat-flawed vehicle, but is it best in class? Yes. Nobody comes even close to its appeal. Once Rolls-Royce sweats the little stuff present in cheaper, more advanced alternatives and refines every last detail, the Phantom will be God among men.

Readers who follow TTAC on Facebook had the opportunity to ask questions about the Phantom. If you would like to ask questions of reviews in progress, check out our Facebook page. Fans, here are your answers:

Paul S: sounds like Rolls’ styling isn’t for you, but the Phantom is brand management so honest it makes me cry. Rob F: like a fancy restaurant used to impress a first date, like comparing a Panther Chassis’ ride to a Toyota Avalon, the “sheer crapulence of it all” (as you so eloquently put it) is why this car rules. Richard L: Donuts woulda been scary, had I found a parking lot big enough to try. Antoine P: buy a Maybach, RENNTECH it and enjoy the best in turbocharged luxury hoonability. Jonathan H: it’s odd for a man to wear a miniskirt, but the paparazzi won’t see your junk if you soberly exit the Roller.

Ingvar H: the cheapest one on (wholesale) Manheim Auctions is 120 large, I doubt a running Phantom goes for less than six-figures. Jim J: people seeking less conspicuous consumption aren’t in this rarified air. Brian J: Rolls-Royce “Bespoke” program can add that stuff–for a price–except for maybe the air conditioned seats mentioned above. Ronald B: a fellow Roller on the highway waved at me all gentleman-like, but stereotypical Phantom owners exist: someone who was obviously high on something said I should be “blazin’ up in that b****.”

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Piston Slap: The Snow, The Lease And The Tranny http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/piston-slap-the-snow-the-lease-and-the-tranny/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/piston-slap-the-snow-the-lease-and-the-tranny/#comments Mon, 12 Jul 2010 09:53:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=360687

TTAC Commentator Jenneil624 writes:

I lease a 2008 Mazda3 2.3L with an automatic transmission and 30K miles. I have had the car for two years and have been very satisfied. I am strongly considering buying the car at lease end. Here is the problem. After one year of ownership, I got stuck in some snow and needed to aggressively rock the car free. It took so long to free the car that the transmission temporarily failed.

I put it in reverse and just revs – no power to the wheels. Then I put it in drive – same result. I assumed that I overheated the transmission fluid and let it rest for two hours. I went back to the vehicle after it cooled down and it worked perfectly. It has worked perfectly since, with no noticeable damage. I recently brought the car to the dealer for an unrelated warranty repair and the service advisor recommended a transmission fluid change. He said the fluid looked dark and needed to be changed. He knew nothing of my snow escapade. My question is – Has the transmission been damaged badly enough that purchasing this car would be a mistake? Would a transmission fluid change be enough to mitigate the damage I caused? Do I buy the car at lease end or turn it in and run away?

Sajeev Answers:

I’m with you.  Because a transmission’s line (fluid) pressure greatly impacts operation, they tend to act funny when the fluid gets stupid hot. And I suspect that’s happened here.  Whether or not your romp in the snow actually damaged the soft/hard parts inside the Mazda’s transaxle is truly anybody’s guess.

But I’ll play devil’s advocate, saying the transaxle was driven a long time on toasted fluid. Assuming this is a three year lease (please tell me you didn’t lease a car for longer), my rough timeline says you’ve driven on burned fluid for well over a year.  If so, there could be permanent damage to items inside the unit. Maybe.

And, as discussed ad nauseam both here and any car forum, flushing old fluid can do more damage to a transmission’s soft parts (clutches, etc) than keeping the junky fluid around till death do us part.  While this isn’t terribly likely in your situation, it’s possible.

And now, the advice you won’t normally see on a car message board: If you’d like to keep this car for 10+ years, I’d let the lease expire. FWIW, there’s a good chance you can buy the same or better Mazda3 on the retail used car market for less money.  That’s the beauty of pre-recession leasing: residual values were so inflated that a car’s term value was far more than it’s actual market value.  And you don’t wanna play that game anyway.

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com


Piston Slap: The Snow, the Lease and the Line Pressure

TTAC Commentator Jenneil624 writes:

I lease a 2008 Mazda3 2.3L with an automatic transmission and 30K miles. I have had the car for two years and have been very satisfied. I am strongly considering buying the car at lease end. Here is the problem. After one year of ownership, I got stuck in some snow and needed to aggressively rock the car free. It took so long to free the car that the transmission temporarily failed.

I put it in reverse and just revs – no power to the wheels. Then I put it in drive – same result. I assumed that I overheated the transmission fluid and let it rest for two hours. I went back to the vehicle after it cooled down and it worked perfectly. It has worked perfectly since, with no noticeable damage. I recently brought the car to the dealer for an unrelated warranty repair and the service advisor recommended a transmission fluid change. He said the fluid looked dark and needed to be changed. He knew nothing of my snow escapade. My question is – Has the transmission been damaged badly enough that purchasing this car would be a mistake? Would a transmission fluid change be enough to mitigate the damage I caused? Do I buy the car at lease end or turn it in and run away?

Sajeev Answers:

I’m with you. Because a transmission’s line (fluid) pressure greatly impacts operation, they tend to act funny when the fluid gets stupid hot. And I suspect that’s happened here. Whether or not your romp in the snow actually damaged the soft/hard parts inside the Mazda’s transaxle is truly anybody’s guess.

But I’ll play devil’s advocate, saying the transaxle was driven a long time on toasted fluid. Assuming this is a three year lease (please tell me you didn’t lease a car for longer), my rough timeline says you’ve driven on burned fluid for well over a year. If so, there could be permanent damage to items inside the unit. Maybe.

And, as discussed ad nauseam both here and any car forum, flushing old fluid can do more damage to a transmission’s soft parts (clutches, etc) than keeping the junky fluid around till death do us part. While this isn’t terribly likely in your situation, it’s possible.

And now, the advice you won’t normally see on a car message board: If you’d like to keep this car for 10+ years, I’d let the lease expire. FWIW, there’s a good chance you can buy the same or better Mazda3 on the retail used car market for less money. That’s the beauty of pre-recession leasing: residual values were so inflated that a car’s term value was far more than it’s actual market value. And you don’t wanna play that game anyway.

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com

Snowjob. Picture courtesy automobilemag.com

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Piston Slap: Paradise By The Dashboard Light. Or Hell http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/piston-slap-paradise-by-the-dashboard-light-or-hell/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/piston-slap-paradise-by-the-dashboard-light-or-hell/#comments Mon, 12 Jul 2010 09:47:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=360683

Cindy writes:

I have a 2009 Honda Pilot that I love very much. I was wondering how far I could drive once the gas light comes on. Highway or city. Thanks!

Sajeev Answers:

I just love crazy questions like these; they are the most interesting to read on car forums. So let’s Piston Slap this one. Be it an “idiot light” or a terminal mileage calculation via trip computer, all vehicles have a low gas warning feature.  Since I had difficulty searching the Honda Pilot forums, I’ll go with a general statement: most low fuel systems activate with 1 or 2 gallons of gas left in the tank.

The (2WD) Honda pilot gets 17/23 MPG by the EPA’s estimate.  So you’d have somewhere between 34 and 46 miles before you’d run out of gas, if you believe the (dubious) general statement of the light coming on with two gallons left in the tank. Cut it in half if you think one gallon is all you have left. And cut it even more if you never achieve the EPA’s fuel consumption figures in your real world commute.

Yes, I know this is a dumb answer.  As I realized on a trip from Oklahoma City to Houston in my Lincoln Mark VIII, the only right thing do is to fill up the tank when the dashboard warning arrives. Otherwise, a host of potential problems can creep up, and leave you stranded or with not nearly enough fuel pressure to drive a safe speed on the road.

Make your dashboard happy, and you’ll stay happy: keep the tach in the black and the fuel light extinguished.

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com

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Review: 1958 Mercedes 300SL, Factory Restored http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/review-1958-mercedes-300sl-factory-restored/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/review-1958-mercedes-300sl-factory-restored/#comments Fri, 09 Jul 2010 11:05:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=360583

Germany 1958: Women are allowed to take a job without asking their husband for permission. Europe makes its first baby steps to an EU. Elvis Presley arrives as a GI in an army barracks in Friedberg. Mercedes is in its fourth year of the gullwinged 300SL, one of the finest automobiles of all times.

The last perhaps was car journo hyperbole, expected from someone who was just handed the keys to a sports car fully restored by the Mercedes Classic Center in Stuttgart. Juan Perón had one, Porfirio Rubirosa had one, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Zsa Zsa Gabor had one. Now Sajeev Mehta has one, if only for a day, and if only for the benefit of the readers of Thetruthaboutcars.

This $500,000-ish Mercedes barely escaped the clutches of a Russian mobster who found its shipping container in Europe, en route to Texas. Which further explains why I was neither impressed nor interested in the attention it garnered from bystanders. Unlike the feeling of driving any Lamborghini, the gawkers only took away from the 300SL experience. Because, after 52 years on the road, it’s such a remarkable piece of hardware that it embodies the best of old and new, and defies its age like no other.

Aside from its meager footprint, the 300SL’s style defies the boundaries set by a generation’s worth of design gimmicks: this body is to automobiles what The Great Pyramids are to architecture. While the current Mercedes SLS is a fine ornament in front of the blingy Luxor Hotel, it’s bulldog face, chunky B-pillar and gangsta-wannabe hoops cannot hold a candle to its forefather’s proportional perfection. Which is true for every modern day retro-mobile, so perhaps Old School Über Alles is the only way to fly.

The 300SL’s interior shows its age, only in the best way possible. Everything is beautiful: decadent leather (all original) that’s olfactory ostentatious. Ancillary controls move with a weighted precision not found in today’s plastic craptastic machines. Even the gauge cluster is suitably gorgeous. The SL might be perfect, if not for the gull wing specific doorsill’s compromising entry/exit strategies and a borderline cramped cabin. Safety features (as if) notwithstanding, six footers will survive, provided their BMI is on par with your average Yank from the 1950s. The 300SL isn’t a car for everyone, but certain cars shouldn’t be designed to be all things to all people.

Preach to the choir much? Clock my final complaints: the lack of power steering (paired with a 70’s vintage Nardi tiller) makes parking lot positioning difficult, while the manual drum brakes (discs were standard in 1961) are terrifying in emergency situations. I steered clear of cars with modern stoppers for good reason.

The 300SL’s direct injected motor also lacks the technology of modern GDI powertrains, to keep those revolutionary injectors closed when the motor kicks off: which gives new meaning to Sunday afternoon cruises to blow the carbon out. Clear the straight six’s throat and enjoy the refined powerband of a motor with a flat torque curve and seamless power delivery from idle to 6000 revs and beyond.

Get a few MPHs on the speedometer and the old SL’s honor is restored, with a quick ratio 4-speed manual putting the power down with grace and pace. The (factory re-issued) Dunlop’s tall sidewalls mask rough roads better than most new vehicles, but there’s plenty of steering feel at turn-in. Put another way, the 300SL truly shines once the fuel system knows its place.

And this SL has the power to keep up with modern metal. Handling at modest speeds brings excitement, more than any modern day sports car with the safety nannies turned off. Thanks to the somewhat unpredictable swing axle arrangement, the 300SL happily steers the rear wheels on uneven pavement. But as a Gentleman’s car, it only picks a fight if you throw the first punch. Treat it right, stay in the ideal gear and the rear pushes you out of a corner very hard. Without drama. Which is simply intoxicating.

From boulevardier to back road barnstormer, the 300SL’s true beauty are in its bones: my tester was a roadster, one of 1885 made, but you’d never know from behind the wheel. Chassis flex? Not a chance: torsional loads are dissipated faster than GM bonds in bankruptcy court, while cowl shake is completely non-existent.

Not to belabor the point, but there’s no late model vehicle with a chassis this tight, much less a comfy convertible with a hoon-worthy suspension. No matter how technology progresses, I doubt any Lexus performs this good after five decades, even with a few years of restoration. It possesses gadgets and safety bits, but the driving experience can’t be topped. Dare I admit it, the same applies for any modern Mercedes.

Which makes the 1958 Mercedes 300SL simply heartwarming: it stands the test of time, with engineering relevant to cars like the 2011 Hyundai Sonata. Even without A/C or an AM radio, the 300SL is such a disarming dance partner you simply fall in love. With every turn and any gear change, I was completely taken aback at the 300SL’s timely yet distinctive performance. Which begs the question: can our modern metal produce a car of this caliber for the year 2062? Just don’t bet on it.

(Thanks to Mr. David Duthu for the seat time in his vehicle)

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Piston Slap: The Ten Coolest Engineering Feats of The 24 Hours of LeMons Dallas (pt. 2) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/piston-slap-the-ten-coolest-engineering-feats-of-the-24-hours-of-lemons-dallas-pt-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/piston-slap-the-ten-coolest-engineering-feats-of-the-24-hours-of-lemons-dallas-pt-2/#comments Thu, 17 Jun 2010 16:46:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=359019

One has to be slightly off their rocker to make a LeMons racecar. But then again, you also have to possess self-awareness not seen in most other forms of motorsport. Simply put, this race series totally rocks. And without any further ado, here are the final five vehicles in TTAC’s Ten Coolest Engineering Feats of The 24 Hours of LeMons Dallas.

5. Rubber Mat cum Shift Boot (Team: Mid Drive Crisis, picture see above):  The Mid-Drive layout of this Mitsubishi Mirage has been profiled by Judge Phil on several occasions, but I can’t resist giving these guys more props.  So I’ll go with the little details: making a mid-drive gearshift layout is more than a little insane, but covering the shifter with a rubber mat sporting fake diamond texture is pure brilliance.  These folks sweated all the details, and the car was quite a looker.  So to speak. If only Mitsubishi made ‘em like this from the factory, talk about a reason to avoid buying a Civic or Corolla!

4. Taking up the Throttle Cable Slack (Team: Property Devaluation Racing II): This is zero-dollar engineering at it’s finest, something that you’d expect in a cheap (to buy) Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe.  I chatted with these folks about my personal Fox Body solution to this problem:  adding a barbed fitting (a $4 part at Home Depot) to the end of the throttle pedal (top). But that’s way too “up town” for a LeMons car: they put a hunk of metal on the pedal and finished it off with the intake plaque from a 5.0 Mustang.  On the face of it, that’s a brilliant move.  If you’re a smart-mouthed Fox Body know-it-all (like myself) that’s seen this particular (single year production, 1986 only) plaque sell for $40 on eBay, you cringe at the sight of those three screws on the pedal. Odds are they coulda got enough bread for another Fox Lemons car with the proceeds from selling that plaque.

3. Stupid Insane Cooling (Team: Live Oak Nudist Resort): Just like the E21 strut tower brace, those Nudists had a surprise under their, um, trunk lids for me. This time it was their super-cheating Taurus SHO: known for its insane power, a super aggressive exhaust note and the ability to launch out of a corner like it has a limited slip differential. So the extra engine and transaxle coolers, oil pumps and filter housings (using the surprisingly crappy Orange Cans of Death) is necessary considering the SHO’s less than durable transaxle. While this setup looks bad with the Optima battery making it worse, they hit the track un-penalized. The Nudists can bribe like no other: free meals for everyone is not unheard of. With their past goodwill in mind and the 1.75 liter bottle of Chivas Regal in my luggage, I had no problem giving them a clean bill of health.

2. Rotary-Powered Rib cooker (Team Sensory Assault): Aside from bribing the judges with the tools for two of LeMons’ most famous penalties (the “crappy driver” toilet and plastic dog house), these guys make some tasty ribs in the exhaust of their Mazda RX-7.  That’s right, the smoker on the driver’s side exhaust isn’t there for looks: it frickin’ works.  Some credit goes to the Mazda’s dashboard, which has gauges for the normal stuff (engine temp, oil temp, etc) and one meter for the temperature of the smoker.  This whip gives new life to any and all kitchen recipes, and the proof is in the pudding: the final product is customarily given to the LeMons crew. And it is downright delicious.

1. The SHO-Stang (Team: Blue Oval Cult): Even the biggest Ford hater has much respect for what people do with the Fox Body Mustang and the Yamaha motor in the Taurus SHO. So why not combine the two?  Cut a gigantic hole in the firewall, build a new one in the cabin (a la Econoline van) throw in the SHO motor with a Ranger transmission and call it a day.  This thing is completely, totally, unquestionably sick.  And more than a little slick: even the stock 5.0 Mustang fuel rails were retained in the SHO-transplant.  Considering four cylinder Mustangs can be competitive, the SHO-Stang has a future once the bugs get worked out.  But you’ll never hear a better sounding SHO: turn this motor north-south, run a Mustang exhaust to it and the angry-exotic nature of the Yamaha V6 truly shines.

And there you have it: the Ten Coolest Engineering Feats of The 24 Hours of LeMons.  With any luck, this won’t be my last time judging the wickedly wicked engineering, so set your faces to stunned in the meantime.  And make an effort to experience the madness in person, a LeMons event is just that: an event.

(Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com)

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TTAC does the 24 Hours of LeMons. And Dies. Again. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/ttac-does-the-24-hours-of-lemons-and-dies-again/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/ttac-does-the-24-hours-of-lemons-and-dies-again/#comments Sat, 21 Nov 2009 16:24:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=336325 When life gives you lemons...

The weekend of October 24-25 was the third running of the 24 Hours of LeMons at Motorsport Ranch in Houston, TX. TTAC was there for the insanity.  And it was the fourth time our LeMons race car, a 1972 Datsun 240Z hit the track.  I was an honorary “penalty” judge this time ’round (props to Autoblog’s Jonny Lieberman and LeMon’s Founder Jay Lamm for that), so I did the best I could for my teammates when they got black flagged. But I’m no crooked judge, Jonny said I was too nice to other teams, too. No matter, it wasn’t enough for us to come close to victory. Then again, the Datsun Z is the butt of many a LeMon’s joke. What’s up with that?


How could a little sports car with a fully independent suspension and a healthy six-pot motor perform so poorly? More to the point, perhaps you remember some of the “cheating” we did to our LeMon’s ringer: a milled down stock flywheel, 280ZX long block and disc brake upgrades and a smokin’ deal on a coil-over suspension at a Z-club silent auction. Everyone expected Z-cars to perform well in these races, but no matter who runs the Fairlady from the Land of The Rising Sun, it all ends in Epic Fail. And so it was this time: our car performed well the first day of racing, with the power to pull hard on damn near everyone in the straights too.  But the competition is even better than last year, and the Z’s temperature gauge was none to happy about it. By Day Two, the head gasket said sayonara. So we paused, re-thought our action plans and finally packed it up to plan for next February’s race.

While I know that Z-cars are doomed to mediocrity because E30 BMW’s, Toyota Corolla FX hatchbacks (yes, really) and Foxbody Mustangs have taken the checkered flag, Jay Lamm’s own words about the Z-car tells the sad truth: Datsuns are out of date and hopelessly uncompetitive against modern vehicles. That’s sounds like a challenge to me, and TTAC’s crew chief Troy Hogan knows it.  Rest assured, his (insane?) dedication to the Datsun brand means that one day a Z-car will come up a winner.

Eventually. But these events are fun for racers, brand loyal fanatics, and anyone who loved these cars (mostly 1980s and 1990s iron) when they were new.  And enjoy seeing them get a new lease on life, or a stay of execution.  And much like TTAC, the 24 Hours of LeMons is all about the product, stupid. Much like C/D, the BMW 3-series comes up a winner far too often.  But that’s not the point.

If you haven’t seen a 24 Hours of LeMons race, go to one of next year’s events. The series is growing every year, mostly because of word of mouth and an unbelievably low cost of entry, relative to SCCA and NASA sanctioned motor sport events.  Even if you don’t race, you’ll be hooked after one lap of $500 heaps making an absolute mess (mockery?) of your local road course.

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Piston Slap: Design Week: Crooked Shift Patterns http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/piston-slap-design-week-crooked-shift-patterns/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/piston-slap-design-week-crooked-shift-patterns/#comments Wed, 18 Nov 2009 15:28:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=335314 j-gate (courtesy caradvice.com.au)

TTAC Commentator Karl_Donina writes:

Hi, Sajeev. I want to know why it’s so fashionable for automakers to provide obnoxiously labyrinthine automatic shifter gates. It seems to have started with Jaguar’s innocuous J-shaped gates of the ’80s, but these days it seems to have become passé to provide a simple, easy-to-use linear gate — push button or hold lever to one side to move in a straight line out of park and through the gears, or back the other direction.  Now every shift, whether from 1 to 2 or N to R or whatever, requires inconsistent and annoying fore-aft and transverse movements. The gates on Subarus I’ve driven lately are ridiculous, as is the one in the Yaris I rented last week. And there are many more. Thanks for whatever enlightenment you can provide.

Sajeev answers:

Indeed, the Jaguar “J-Gate” shifter is a curiosity that adds to the brand’s charm.  Luckily, those gear “detents” also serve a purpose. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detent), a detent is a “device used to mechanically resist or arrest the rotation of a wheel, axle or spindle.”

In this case, detents save the expensive transmission/transaxle in your car. And the detents make holding a specific gear quite easy, if all ratios are covered on the shift pattern.  Imagine if the Lexus IS-F had a zig-zag pattern covering all eight gears…how cool would that be?

But all automatic shift levers have detents, and the last of the “linear” detent shifters use button-actuated lockouts to keep someone from accidently shifting into neutral, reverse or a lower gear.  And I suspect the deletion of that button saved the automakers (collectively) millions of dollars. Hence the detents became automotive gospel.

Bonus!  A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

Revisionist History Alert: the Etch-A-Sketch detents are a necessity with today’s plastic-craptastic interiors and glass-jaw transmissions.  Take my first car, a 1965 Ford Galaxie 500: it had RoboCop-amounts of metal in the shifter, connected to the unquestionably durable Ford C6 autobox.

When I moved the shifter one detent, I felt that sweet action in my finger bones.  It was cool, plus it took dedication to put the transmission in the wrong gear at the wrong time. While these metal parts burned me in the summer and caused wintertime shivering, it worked. And I never had to hear that awful racket from today’s plastic shifter detents.
Even if the good old days weren’t exactly good, it never hurts to look at our new designs with a critical eye from yesteryear.  So there it is.

[Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com]

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Piston Slap: Design Weak: Big Ass Wheels http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/piston-slap-design-weak-big-ass-wheels/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/piston-slap-design-weak-big-ass-wheels/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2009 22:26:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=334549 "13's are OK if you are going for stock or restored look but as you say 13" tires are getting harder to find and in my opinion just look too small. There are 14" wheels out there with 4 lug patterns that look good on a II but even 14" tires are getting limited in size. I now think 15's are the way to go and with the aluminum adapters converting 4 to 5 lug, just about any wheel can be made to fit the II. Tire choices in 15's are unlimited so the correct look can be had by doing your homework on backspacing and wheel width. A nice set of Cragar 5 spoke 15's would look awsome on the II or you could stager and put 14's on front and 15's on rear." (courtesy allfordmustangs.com)

Mike writes:

Sajeev, what ever happened to 14-inch wheels?  I mean, seriously, does the Caliber really need to be shod with 17-inchers? Why does my dad’s new half-ton pickup have 17-inch wheels? His old one had what used to be the industry standard 235-75R15. He about had a coronary when he found out new tires would be over $100 each. Perhaps if I put on my tinfoil hat, I’d say the tire companies are behind this. So really, does the average family sedan or minivan really need anything bigger that a 15-inch wheel/tire?

Sajeev replies:

Of course the Caliber doesn’t need 17-inch wheels: they can’t possibly fix Chrysler’s rolling abomination.  But let’s think about why every modern car has big wheels.

Speaking from an Engineering Standpoint: wheels over 15-inches provide space for bigger brake rotors (and calipers) and a shorter profile tire in the same tire diameter.  The benefits are better braking in extreme conditions, like mountain roads or any form of towing. Shorter profile tires provide more road feel and tread grip, completely changing a car’s “turn in” during the act of corner carving. In theory: most cars lose these benefits above 18” wheels, as more unsprung weight and rubber band tires make things worse.

Furthermore, modern cars/trucks are heavy, straddled with more gizmos, bigger (and taller) cabins and more rigid bodies. When you add more weight, you need more stopping power.

Speaking from a Design Standpoint: styling is a major factor in the mass-acceptance of larger wheels. By the 1980s, both the downsized American icons and Japanese entrants required a certain passenger volume without resorting to the bulk and shocking overhangs (front and rear) of previous decades. Which required a taller DLO (Day Light Opening) for more trunk space—among other things—and created a taller car in the process.  And, in general, taller cars naturally look better with “taller” wheels filling out their wells.

And big wheels were here to stay when Ford sold Explorer SUVs like buttered popcorn, making everyone ride tall in the saddle. Hence the need for taller profile wheels and bigger brakes merging with America’s insatiable need for sleek sheetmetal since the 1950s.

Maybe 15” wheels can make a comeback, but vehicles need to ditch their platform shoes and go on a serious diet.  I’m not holding my breath.

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