I just returned from the press launch of a certain, shall we say unexpected convertible. The kind of vehicle that makes you stop and wonder what’s being put in the water at a certain product planning department. Look for a review tomorrow, but in the meantime, as a kind of innoculation, consider this Subaru STI drop-top modified for Manchester Subaru. It’s one thing to chop the top off a car that doesn’t lend itself to convertible versions, but it’s quite another to add picnic basket-handle roll bars and then top it all off with a huge rear spoiler. It’s no Transvertible, but death is still too good for this little monster.
In his recent review of the Lexus LX570, Michale Karesh noted that he
struggled to make this 5,995-pound, technology-packed, luxurious SUV make sense.
Apparently he’s not the only one. From the looks of things, the Japanese tuning house Invader Technologies is having a hard time making the LX570 make sense… at least to anyone who’s not a drug-addled, mobbed-up Russian gangster. I suppose that, by post-Mansory tuning standards anyway, the Invader L60 isn’t exactly breaking new ground… still, I’m amazed by how freshly insulted my optical nerves feel.
The tuning house Gull Wing America have a huge thing for vintage Mercedes models, resulting in such bizarre creations as a re-interpreted W-121 and a retro-fied SLS. But for its latest project, GWA has taken on the most ambitious gullwing Mercedes ever, the “forgotten gullwing” known as the C111. Based on a tubular steel chassis, and sporting a 400 HP Mercedes V12, the “Ciento Once” is more of a re-interpretation than a strict replica. Still, it’s heartening to see such an influential yet forgotten car re-appear on the automotive scene, if only as a one-off prototype.Perhaps it will even inspire the the boys in Stuttgart to come up with their own “take two” on the great gullwing C111.
While Brabus digs deep for ideas to keep its tuning business relevant in the EV era, Nissan has a less sophisticated approach to electric car tuning: the bodykit. According to Nissan, the Nissan Leaf Aero Style Concept includes new wheels, skirts, mirrors, front bumper and LED daytime driving lights. Because, in the words of the firm’s press release:
Equipped with an aero body kit that accentuates Nissan LEAF’s distinctive silhouette and character lines, this concept car expresses an image of futuristic sport EV driving.
Emphasis on “image.” The rest of the EV tuning equation is still largely a mystery.
This is the B55, a silly one-off project by workers at Mercedes’ Rastatt plant that involved shoving an old “55” AMG engine into a new B-Class, running a driveshaft through the “sandwich floor” and hooking it up to an old E-Class wagon rear axle. The result: 383 HP, a 0-60 time in the 5 second range, and what Autocar terms “surprisingly mature dynamic properties.” Possibly even more surprisingly, the whole project was done without a lick of help from the nutters at AMG, and required no frame modifications. Best of all is how comfortingly old-school the project is: the days of turning an FWD compact car into a V8 RWD beast are rapidly drawing to a close. Need proof? For the next-generation of A/B-Class, AMG is going in a very different direction, creating an “A25 AMG” which will use a two liter turbocharged four-banger, putting around 300 HP through a dual-clutch transmission and Haldex AWD. This “STI by AMG” will doubtless be infinitely more practical, efficient and useable than the B55’s old-school V8/RWD setup… but more than a few gearheads will be sad to see these kinds of unhinged anachronisms ride off into the sunset.
Where did GMC get the idea to take a short-bed pickup, widen the track, fit some Fox shocks and generally beef it up to create a factory off-road “halo” truck? Oh right, from Ford. If you’re not convinced that Detroit still has at least one foot firmly stuck in the past, this halo niche-chasing behemoth should help clear up some of that doubt.
With electric cars becoming the new big thing among car lovers with more money than sense, it’s clear that the world’s many tuning houses will try to get in on the action sooner or later… but how? Brabus has offered tuning packages for the Tesla Roadster since shortly after the EV sportscar launched, but the treatment has always been basically skin-deep: wheels, spoilers, lighting, and best of all,
several simulated engine sounds including that of a typical V8 combustion engine, a racecar engine and two futuristic soundscapes named ‘Beam’ and ‘Warp.’
Which is all well and good, but it highlights a real problem: tuners simply can’t improve the performance of EVs without replacing the batteries or reprograming the entire car. For a company like Brabus that’s used to turning crazy-fast Benzes into super-crazy-fast ‘bahn burners, this has to be a frustrating state of affairs. So what’s a tuner to do? Instead of dialing up the power, the future of EV tuning may just be in making these already-green cars even greener.
Infiniti recently got into the in-house tuning game, by rolling out the Infiniti Performance Line as an answer to Lexus’s F line, Audi’s S line, BMW’s M line and Mercedes’ AMG-tuned hot rods. Nissan’s luxury brand may have been a bit late to the profit-puffing game of performance sub-branding, but better late than never, right? Maybe not. Now that Renault/Nissan and Daimler have hooked up to share engines and architectures, it seems that the alliance is considering making AMG power available to Nissan’s luxury brand. Citing “sources in Japan,” Autocar reports that
Infiniti’s hot models could carry ‘Powered by AMG’ badges as part of Nissan’s recent tie-up with the Daimler group…
One powerplant on the shortlist is Mercedes’ forthcoming turbocharged 3.5-litre V6. It would replace Nissan’s venerable 3.7-litre unit in Infiniti’s G range and could be tweaked to produce up to 400bhp.
Sources say the IPL version of the M, Infiniti’s 5-series rival, could end up using AMG’s 6.2-litre V8 — and be priced north of £60,000. That would allow the M IPL to undercut the E63 AMG but rival Jaguar’s XFR on price.
But will the exclusivity of Affalterbach-tuned Mercedes models be hurt by sharing engines with Infinitis? Would the damage be the same if Infinitis got the engines but not the badges? After all, the VQ V6 is hardly exclusive to the G Series, and a switch to a Mercedes engine could impact on everything from the Nissan Z to the Infiniti FX35… unless the Infiniti is willing to alter the IPL-spec G37 to be the only Mercedes-powered G. In short, the challenges of what Infinitis to offer with AMG engines are nearly as great as the challenges Mercedes will have to face by losing the exclusivity of its AMG engines. After all, it’s one thing to sell AMG engines to a supercar firm like Pagani, but an upstart Japanese luxury brand doesn’t offer the same brand-halo benefits. Should Daimler let this happen, or should the AMG badge and engines stay exclusive to tuned Mercedes models?
It is one thing to recognize the legendary status of Mr. Shelby and the original Cobras, including the 427 S/C, and quite another to assert that purchasers and potential
purchasers view Cobra continuations or replicas, sold primarily as kits, which employ the Cobra 427 S/C Design as coming from a single source. The fact that Cobra replicas, sold primarily as kits, which employ the 427 S/C Design, have been sold by numerous third parties for more than three decades, including between 2002 and 2009, precludes us from drawing that conclusion. Accordingly, we find applicant’s evidence based on media coverage of Mr. Shelby and all of the Cobras not probative of the issue of acquired distinctiveness.
That’s right, the Shelby Cobra has been officially copied to death, according to a recent ruling by the US Patent Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board [in PDF here]. The board’s finding was complex, as proving “distinctiveness” takes a lot of doing, but the upshot is that so many Cobra replicas have been built, consumers don’t actually think of the original (Shelby-designed) Cobras when they see one. Had Shelby sued every single kit car maker since day one, he’d have the legal rights to his design, but in the years since 1968, the term “Cobra” has come to mean more than the specific Shelby Cobra 289 or Shelby Cobra 427 S/C. In fact, a survey used to try to prove the distinctiveness of the Shelby designs in the eyes of consumers may have even used a photo of a 289 to illustrate a 427 S/C… even the guy running the survey wasn’t sure. The moral of Caroll Shelby’s legal battle to own the rights to anything resembling an original Cobra: never stop suing the kit car makers. Or, just be happy with the millions of dollars and legend status you’ve already accumulated.