The Truth About Cars » zephyr The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Jul 2014 04:01:57 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 » zephyr Piston Slap: Front Row Seating for Milanese Discomfort? Mon, 23 Jun 2014 11:05:17 +0000

TTAC Commentator BigOlds writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I have a bit of an odd one, I suspect: I currently drive a fullsize pickup, but I may be taking a new job, trading my 38 mile country drive for a 38 mile drive into the city, complete with undersized garage parking. The truck will severely limit the number of acceptable spaces, and generally be a pain in there. My solution is to take over the wife’s 2008 Milan (which has been truly flawless for 75,000 miles) and buy her something else. Naturally she’s thrilled with the idea, and this piles the tough commute onto something that is well this side of new. Win-win, right?

Well, the issue is that I can NOT get comfortable driving that car. My wife adores it, and as a passenger I am fine, but when I drive I feel like the seat isn’t deep enough, or maybe not tall enough, and the backs of my thighs get extremely uncomfortable. I don’t know if this is the lateral support reviewers always talk about, but it becomes unpleasant very quickly. I have tried adjusting the seat every which way, but to take another stab at explaining it, it’s like my knees are higher than my butt, so all the weight shifts to the back of my thighs, and the seat won’t go high enough off the floor to bring my thighs level.

Anyway, since the fiscally prudent thing is for me to drive this car, I would like a way to solve this issue. Otherwise, I will probably leave the Milan with my wife and find myself the cheapest commuter car I can.


Sajeev answers:

Oh my damn, Son! You done hit one of my hot buttons!

Thigh support became a thing for me back in ’03: when I drove my Mark VIII from Houston to Atlanta with almost no discomfort.  After that I was cognizant of my legs’ warning signs in many an auto show vehicle sit-down. A somewhat unfounded generalization?  Sure, so I’m certainly interested in the B&B’s opinion. 

Damn near every auto manufacturer was guilty of half-assed design at the beginning of the current millennium. And thigh support certainly took a back seat (get it?): everything from C5 Corvettes to Town Cars (but not other Panthers), the Mercedes E-class (not AMG) to the Camry sported shorter seats, thinner pads and much less support. All of which drove my right hip and both knees into spasms of discomfort.  The only brands I remember giving a free pass were Volvo, Saab and BMW.

What’s your solution? Get another car, leave the Milan with the wife. There’s no way you can enjoy the seats.  Adding more padding and/or longer cushions to cradle your thighs (then fitting new seat covers) is beyond foolish.  Swapping seats with another Ford is doable, except the seat mounts/tracks and airbag wiring could be a nightmare.  I wouldn’t even try those messaging wooden seat beads (the ones that Cab drivers supposedly rave about).

Whatever you buy, make sure you drive it for an afternoon before you pull the trigger. And never fear, as there are plenty of new cars with better seats: even the dirt cheap ones.  And, after spending a week with the new Fusion, there’s no doubt Ford fixed that seat too.

Send your queries to 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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Monday Mileage Champion: Where Few Caddys Fear To Tread Mon, 04 Mar 2013 20:32:35 +0000

I haven’t recommended a new Lincoln in well over 20 years now.

With rare exception, the brand never lives up to the hype of whatever a Lincoln was supposed to represent at various times in recent history. The ultimate luxury coupe that was the Mark VIII. The import fighting LS. The Lexus/Mercedes wanna-be that was the Lincoln Zephyr.  All of them were flops in the new car marketplace for a long list of good reasons.

Even the Lincoln SUV’s, then and now, seem to be little more than overpriced Fords with razor thin chrome accents. While the current alphabet soup of names makes it nearly impossible to recommend any new Lincoln without delving into a smartphone for confirmation that the MK-whatever is indeed an MK-whatever.

There is only one Lincoln truly worth it. The Town Car.  An old one. A well used one. But maybe not as used as this one.

The black 2006 Lincoln Town Car Signature in the first picture is from the Lone Star State and has 437,229 miles. Still runs. No announcements on the auction block. The same is true for this 2009 model from Hartford, Connecticut with 268,440 miles. 

Lincoln Town Cars have long represented the Holy Grail for livery operators who must shuck off various executives and media grunts from the airports to their destinations.

The wandering Texan in the first pic managed to average over 70,000 miles a year in what must have been a near 24/7 livery operation. Not to be outdone, the Northern sibling averaged nearly 90,000 miles a year. That must have included an awful of airport and traffic related idling as well.

No matter. These Town Cars are custom designed for the road warriors throughout our fair land; especially those cost sensitive souls who must operate these fleets without fear of breakdowns in the middle of nowhere.

This is why, every year for well over ten years now, I see the exact same reality whenever I fly off to some media event in the USA. Lincoln Town Car. Chauffeur’s hat. A sign that may or may not have my name correct. Bingo. Another well isolated travel through the angry streets of airport traffic, to a place that requires my services for 48 hours or less.

After a few years of this I started to have a random thought about this livery business, “Why no Cadillacs?”

Well the answer to that question didn’t exactly have to bite me on the ass. I saw it every week. Cadillacs from the mid to late 90′s with Northstar engines that were about to blow out their last coolant ridden remnants out of their tailpipes at the dealer auto auctions. Professional car buyers stayed away from these things in droves and by the time the mid-2000′s rolled along, you could find countless number of 1990′s Cadillacs at the public auctions for well south of $2000.

It was these vehicles that nearly killed Cadillac. Specifically, any model that had the word Northstar somewhere on the rear deck lid or under the hood.   

Everyone likes to say that the Cadillacs of the 80′s were the ones that did them in. Wrong! Most Americans had no idea that the Cimmaron existed, or the Allante for that matter.  Cadillac may have offered some of the most frumpish designs of the era along with engines that weren’t exactly paragons of reliability. But the grapevine back then wasn’t nearly as well connected as was the case by the late 90′s.

Once the internet became a common tool, Cadillac was screwed. All you had to do was go to one of the well visited auto review sites and there, without the forces of corporate influenced censorship,  you would find a hailstorm of hatred from actual owners of the vehicles.

Now with all that being said, there is always an outlier to the bell curve when it comes to automotive longevity. The 500,000 mile Fiat. The 446,000 mile Dodge Neon. And now… the almost made it to 300,000 miles 1998 Cadillac Deville.

293,606 miles to be exact.

It’s sad to think about how much goodwill was lost by Cadillac for what should have been a testament to their engineering prowess. Those who love Panthers (a.k.a Sajeev) may laugh at the thought. But if Cadillac had offered a genuine contender to the Town Car in terms of reliability… and design… and ease of mechanical repair… and…

Well, you get the point. Thankfully the large old fart car has gone the way of the Camry. In fact, the Camry is now to the new affluent retirees what the Cadillacs and Lincolns used to be to the old ones. Some may lament about the loss of luxury bling but to be brutally blunt, I’m kinda glad that the luxury class went straight to the middle class.




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Curbside Classic: 1973 Continental Mark IV Thu, 11 Feb 2010 20:19:37 +0000

Ironically, the Continental Mark IV is the most “American” car ever. It’s the ultimate counterpart to that most continental/ European car ever, the VW Rabbit/Golf Mk  I that appeared about the same time. The Golf was a brilliant triumph of modern design: space efficiency, economy, light weight, visibility, sparkling performance and handling. And in Europe, the Golf became known as the “classless” car; one that didn’t make a statement about its owner. The Mark? Well, take all those qualities,  turn them upside down, inside out, and then toss them out the window.  Americans have long had ambivalence about “modern” anyway; it hinted at socialistic and intellectual influences that didn’t always sit so well. The most modern American car ever was the Corvair, and look how that turned out. Even the Kennedy Lincolns were a touch too modern. America was ripe for the first true post-modern car, and Ford was the obvious company to make it. 

That shouldn’t be surprising. Ford’s inner battle with modernity was as deep-seated as Ol’ Henry’s anti-semitism. The Fords were intrinsically a conservative bunch, and they knew how to convert that to sales. We covered the story of the Zephyr in Part 1 of this series, but here’s the recap: In the depth of the Depression, modernity (and socialism) flowered, and the radical Lincoln Zephyr prototype of 1934 turned the classic (conservative) car proportions on its head. With a wimpy, drooping “hood” (that was “empty”), and the engine hidden in its tail, it was profoundly European in layout and design; a bigger VW Beetle, right down to the styling cues. Oh, and before we forget, the Fords turned down an opportunity to buy the whole VW operation for peanuts right after the war.

Ford’s made sure that the production Zephyr ended up with a proper front engine and grille, but its short hood and long body were mighty modern nonetheless. But within a couple of years, Edsel fixed that, with his custom-made granddaddy Continental. Lengthen the hood, move the passenger compartment back, lower the whole thing, and presto! The classic car formula was reincarnated, and Ford never forgot the lesson. Mostly, anyway; they temporarily forgot about the “classic” grille.

In 1940, reviving the traditional radiator would have been all wrong. The first Continental still deftly balanced modern with traditional cues. And the Mark II of 1956 with a classic grille would have been scoffed at by the true elite that was expected to cough up the princely sum it cost. But by 1968, everything had changed; more correctly, it was in the process of changing. And Ford’s brilliance in the late fifties and the sixties lay in exploiting those changes.

The 1958 Thunderbird and the 1964 Mustang, which we included in our “Five Most Revolutionary Cars” series, were the first two hits of that winning streak that culminated in the big Marks. The T-Bird revived the long hood-short tail formula, and the Mustang made it affordable to everyone. Now it was time for the grand slam finale, and perhaps the boldest of the three. Slapping a “classical” grille on the front of the 1968 Mark III was an incredibly insightful and daring move, and one that set off an avalanche.

That fake shiny shell planted so proudly on the front of the longest hood (over six feet) in post-war history tackled two different challenges that Ford presciently saw. It was a response to the rapidly rising fortunes of Mercedes, whose traditional radiator shell was quickly becoming an icon. A less significant nod to Rolls Royce didn’t hurt either. But the real breakthrough was in tapping into the latent power of the most potent symbol that the target demographic of the Mark grew up with: the Duesenberg.

That ultimate expression of world-class design, technology and prestige was the most influential but least affordable icon of the classic era, and gave us the enduring expression “doozy”. For the boys and young men who struggled through the deprivations of the Depression, thanks to the post-war economic exceptionalism period, many were now of the right age to indulge that latent fantasy. Years of schlepping their bratty baby boomer kids in the station wagon were over, and for those whom the Mark spoke to, many answered; especially the Mark IV.

The Mark III may have popped the cork on the whole trend, but it still showed a hint of restraint. And like the Mark I was Edsel Ford’s baby, and the Mark II was William Clay Ford’s toy, the Mark III was Henry Ford II’s personal pet project. He approved all the final details, interior and exterior. The Mark III was a hit in its own right, handily equaling Cadillac’s knife-edge Eldorado, which had a decidedly more “modern” grille. But the Mark IV was a monster, unleashing a pent-up demand for relatively affordable ostentatious pretense the likes of which had never been seen before. It creamed the Eldorado in sales by almost two to one.

Bigger, longer, lower and heavier than the III, the IV actually had less interior space and its trunk was pathetically small. The accommodations were plush, but this nadir of space efficiency was remarkably cramped. The Golf offered a better seating position, not to mention the ability to see anything outside. Never mind; trying to make comparisons like that are utterly irrelevant.

There is a moderating and restraining influence of modernism. The Mark IV unleashed a back lash that presaged the whole rise of America’s conservative swing. Automotively speaking, that swing quickly got ugly: that fake classic grille unleashed the whole neo-classic hell that soon descended on the seventies, the Bugazzi being just one of the many monstrosities the Mark IV spawned. Not to mention fake grilles on the front everything from Granadas to K-cars.  Thank you Hank, for your brilliant insight into the true American psyche.

Is it too much of a stretch to correlate the big Marks with the rise of Ronald Reagan? The Mark II was the flashy high-paid actor in the fifties, chafing against the high tax rates that made the Mark II so unaffordable. The Mark III corresponded to his California governor years; that liberal and trendsetting state portending the coming national swing. And the Mark IV and V marked the conservative upswing that led to his election in 1980.

Of course, the big Marks met their demise just as Reagan took power. But perhaps the downsized and truncated Mark VI of 1980 is the fitting symbol of his presidency: big ideas always sound their best before they actually get put to the test. In any case, America’s love for big cars finally met its reality check in the early eighties oil shock, and suddenly Diesel Rabbits were selling for as much as Mark VIs. And the irony of calling these cars “Continentals” was greater than ever.

But that was just another temporary swing on the (oil) pendulum. The big Marks were history, but big Navigators soon took their place. Anyway, driving a flashy car was soon to be supplanted by the flashy house with its neo-faux-classical front “grille”, the McMansion. Borrowing that remarkably effective All-American prefix and evoking another famous Ronald, shall we  just sum it up and call the Mark IV the McDuesenberg?

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Curbside Classics Lincoln Fest: Doors To All Nine Parts Open Here Wed, 10 Feb 2010 02:30:51 +0000

The suicide doors of perception to Curbside Classic’s Lincoln week-long love/hate fest open here:

Part 1: A Brief History of Lincoln up to 1961

Part 2: 1965 Lincoln Continental

Part 3: 1968 Lincoln Continental

Part 4: 1970 Lincoln Continental Coupe

Part 5: 1977 Lincoln Town Car

Part 6: 1985 Lincoln Town Car

Part 7: 1973 Continental Mark IV

Part 8: 1989 Lincoln Mark VII

Part 9: 1977 Lincoln Versailles

Part 8: 1986 Continental

Part 9: Mark VIII and Finale

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Lincoln: A Brief History Up To 1961 Mon, 08 Feb 2010 19:43:25 +0000

In honor of our greatest president’s birthday this Friday, it’s going to be Lincoln Week at Curbside Classic. We’ll start with a brief history of the brand to set us up for the sixties, when our featured cars begin.

Cadillac and Lincoln shared an almost identical early biography. Both were founded by “Master of Precision” Henry Leland. And both were eventually sold off to their current corporate owners. Caddy was first, having been founded in 1902, and quickly establishing itself as the “Standard of the World”, which actually reflected Leland’s obsession with standardized precision parts that could be interchanged rather than some inflated PR claim. Caddy went to GM in 1909, and after WW I, Leland started Lincoln.

By 1922, Lincoln was in trouble and this time Ford came to the rescue. It particularly gave son Edsel Ford an opportunity to engage himself in something slightly out of Henry’s control-freak influence over the Model T and A. The Lincoln Models KB and KA were highly regarded during the classic era, with superb engineering, large V12 and V8 engines, and the finest custom coachwork. Except for a visual example here, we’re going to skip over the classic era because it was a dead end, and is largely irrelevant to the continuity of the brand, post WWII. That’s not in any way a reflection on these exquisite cars, but we can’t do them justice here.

The car we’ll start with is the Lincoln Zephyr of 1936. The Depression was killing the classic big cars, which created an opportunity for fresh thinking on a smaller and more affordable scale. The Zephyr was Lincoln’s counterpart to Chrysler’s Airflow; both of them arising out of the new obsession with streamlining everything from trains to toasters. The Zephyr had its origins in a series of radical rear-engine designs by John Tjaarda, using airplane-type stress analysis to prove the advantages of unit construction. The prototype that led to the Zephyr is below.

Tjaarda did his work in conjunction with Briggs, one of the major pressed-steel body builders of the day. Eager to find a client for their efforts, they ended up at Lincoln. But the radical rear-engine construction, which was remarkably similar to the Tatra 77/87 of the same vintage, was highly ambitious. Since the Tatra was a favorite of my childhood, it’s no wonder I transferred that to the Zephyr after our move to the USA, as there were still some around on the streets of Iowa in the early sixties. Interestingly, Briggs built almost the complete Zephyr for Ford at its own plant, leaving Lincoln to install the drive train and mechanicals. It was a foreshadowing of outsourcing to come.

The final production Zephyr was only radical in its semi-unit construction. The streamlined styling was toned down enough to make it palatable to conservative buyers, unlike the doomed Airflow. And under the skin, the Zephyr was anything but radical, using the same transverse leaf spring suspension as the Model T, and its engine was essentially a 12 cylinder version of the Ford flathead V8, but suffered even more severely of that design’s inherent thermal deficiencies. The small V12 developed a bad rep, and many were later swapped out. But it didn’t keep the Zephyr from being a commercial success, at a critical time as the big Lincolns fell out of favor.

Now we get to the real beginning of the Lincoln Continental DNA. Edsel Ford commissioned a special one-off convertible for him to use during his winter vacation in Florida in the winter of ’38-’39. Edsel laid out the basic shape and design, and it was executed by Bob Gregoire. With the idea of capturing a decidedly European flavor, the “Special Lincoln-Zephyr”  became known as the Continental. And everyone who saw it wanted one. So in 1940, the Continental cabriolet was put in production. As is readily apparent, its design cues have been rehashed by Lincoln ever since, most notoriously again right now, with the baleen-mouthed new Lincolns aping the original Continental grille, in a highly exaggerated and garish way.

The handsome (if not exactly brilliant) Continental survived for ten years, right through 1948, but not without losing its delicate face to a heavier and somewhat overpowering mug for the bulk of its ten year run. I had a notorious slumlord in Iowa City in the early seventies, Henry Black, who’s only car was exactly like one of the later ones as shown below. I have vivid memories of riding in it with him to the hardware store (I was briefly an indentured servant of his). It suited his personality perfectly, and he undoubtedly drove it until he couldn’t drive anymore, although I doubt legalities had anything to do with that.

I rather prefer the more delicate original, but isn’t this 1948 Continental Mark I a perfect foreshadowing of Marks to come? Moving right along, we’re going to have to skip the plebian Lincolns of the fifties, which had some interesting moments, but for the most part lived deep in the shadows of Cadillac’s exuberant fins for the whole decade. Even the Imperials from 1955 on were much more interesting. Here’s a quick glimpse of what we’re missing.

Instead, lets give the remarkable Continental of 1956 some time. Technically, Continentals from 1956 through 1958 weren’t actually Lincolns at all, because the Continental division was given brief autonomy in Ford’s ambitious but disastrous attempt to go mano-a-mano with GM, by having five separate divisions: Ford, Mercury, Edsel, Lincoln, and Continental. Well, that sure didn’t work out so well, and not only did Edsel and Continental bite the dust, but even Lincoln was almost killed. More on that later.

The Mark II was a very ambitious attempt to recreate the Continental mystique and compete with the most expensive European luxury brands. Priced at $10k ($80k adjusted), its then very lofty price was more than twice what a Coupe DeVille went for. Extreme quality measures and small-scale production meant that each Mark II was built at a hefty loss.

Stylistically, it’s a mixed bag. If it didn’t have the fake grafted-on “continental” rear spare tire cover stamped into its trunk lid, it’s just remotely possible that we might have been spared decades of that over-worn cliche. That alone spoils it for me. But it certainly manages to convey an air of exclusivity, in an authentic way that its legions of Mark successors never could.

Meanwhile, the big Lincoln introduced in 1958 was another ambitious and expensive bust. The ’58-’60 Lincolns were far bigger than anything Americans had ever laid their eyes on, since the Depression, in any case. A vast and rather bizarre land-yacht, it also had by far the biggest engine (430 cubic inches) of the times. It did feature unibody construction, although that didn’t keep them from weighing less than some 5,000 lbs. Arriving right in time for the nasty recession of 1958 doomed them, and they only widened the gap to the far distant best selling Cadillac. As a child, I found these Lincolns to be awe inspiring on some primeval level that included fear of such an utterly incomprehensible and alien device, which was reinforced by their scarcity on the streets.

So that takes us to the dawn of the sixties, with Lincoln in danger of being axed altogether. As is so often the case in actual life as with our automotive expressions of it, near-death has the remarkable ability to draw out new levels of risk-taking and creativity. That was certainly the case with Lincoln, as we’ll see in our next Curbside Classic.

More new Curbside Classics here

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