By on August 9, 2016

Hyundai Tucson, Image: Hyundai

Here’s something to depress our older readers: There is an entire generation of drivers that has never known a world without Lexus. Note that I did not say “Lexus and Infiniti.” The majority of American drivers probably have no idea Infiniti exists.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. I was there at the start, working for a BMW dealer, and I can tell you that many people on the retail side of the business thought that Infiniti would prove to be just as successful as Lexus. Maybe more successful. All of the momentum seemed to be on Nissan’s side: They had the near-legendary Nissan Primera as Infiniti’s entry-level car, beloved of autowriters and cognoscenti everywhere. Toyota had a Camry with frameless windows. Infiniti had the mighty, dream-crushing Q45, which was as fast as a V12 Bimmer and styled from nose to tail in an original, tasteful, fake-wood-free fashion. Toyota had a store-brand copy of the S-Class.

It didn’t turn out that way, of course. We now live in a Lexus world. The brand is so strong that other brands, like Cadillac, obtain the bulk of their sales volume selling knockoff versions of the RX350. I don’t have access to hard numbers, but I would suspect that Lexus dealers are more profitable, per unit sold, than any other franchise south of, say, Porsche.

And where is Infiniti? Nowhere. Lost. Sinking. The reasons for the brand’s failure are too numerous to consider in a single article. But I’m going to discuss what I think might be the most important reason here, because it doesn’t just apply to Nissan’s boutique brand and it continues to affect everyone from Honda to Hyundai.

Quick question: What is the purpose of the grille on a modern automobile? We all know what the purpose of the grille used to be: it protected the radiator shell. The first few decades of gasoline-powered automobiles had their radiators in “shells” that were placed at the front of the car because that’s where the airflow is. Once cars began to be styled in earnest during the ’30s, the radiators were placed behind a metal grille that was meant to protect them from rocks and whatnot, but which also conferred a sense of brand identity on the vehicle. That was an “all-change” moment for automotive brands; of all the manufacturers that existed in the exposed-radiator-shell era, only Rolls-Royce retained their particular radiator shell shape as an identifying element.

Until the ’80s, the grille had a second and no less important job; it routed airflow towards the air cleaner on the top of the engine. Unless, of course, you were lucky or cool enough to have a through-hood intake, but that sort of thing was typically reserved for muscle cars and whatnot. So grilles were usually made as large as possible.

The arrival of the General Motors “J-car” in 1981 was significant for a number of reasons, but the one that interests me is it was the first mass market, non-speciality automobile to obtain all of its cooling and intake airflow from beneath the car. (I know that the B&B will probably come up with an earlier one; do your worst.) The J-car was engineered in a wind tunnel and it did not need a grille. So most of them didn’t have more than a token front intake. The interesting exception was the Cadillac Cimarron. It didn’t need a grille any more than the Cavalier did, being possessed of an utterly identical drivetrain, but it had a grille.

If you look at all the J-cars lined up next to each other, you will see that they have a visible air intake area sorted more or less by perceived brand prestige. The Cimarron is the only one with a conventional eggcrate grille, but the Skyhawk has a full-width intake beneath the headlights that is clearly meant to evoke a grille. It’s almost possible to read the minds of GM Design: in the future, mass-market cars won’t have a grille, but prestige cars will have a grille, because they are bought by older, more conservative customers.

Give GM credit for knowing at least half of the future. The other half was that even poor people felt that they deserved a grille. Why? It’s this simple: human beings are engineered by God or the blind watchmaker to recognize faces wherever possible. We have an absurd amount of mental processing power devoted solely to reading faces, most likely because accurately understanding the emotional state of a fellow cave-tribe member or enemy had a nontrivial bearing on survival. We see faces in cartoons, animals, natural rock formations, clouds, the moon, and the post-plastic-surgery Kenny Rogers. We can’t help it.

We need our cars to have faces. We are more likely to buy a car with a face that reflects our outlook on the world. A car with no face, or with a deformed-looking face, doesn’t excite our purchasing interest. No wonder, therefore, that pretty much all the J-cars had obvious grilles by 1986. The Cavalier, in particular, transitioned to an extremely conventional “face.”

You can argue, and I used to make this argument all the time, that the styling of the Lexus LS400 and the Infiniti Q45 reflected the different opinions that their automakers had of their customers. The Q45 was uniquely Japanese, hugely tasteful, with nary a single look back to the past. It had a wood-free interior because it was 1990 and real structural wood in dashboards hadn’t been necessary since before World War II. It had a blunt, low nose because that made it faster and quieter. And it had no grille because it didn’t need a grille. The LS400, by contrast, had a fakey-doo Benz grille because it was a fakey-doo Benz.

That’s all well and good, but it turned out that people really wanted a powerful face on their expensive luxury cars. So the Q45 got a grille in 1994. By then, it was too late. Infiniti had bet too heavily on the intelligence and sophistication of its customer base, a bet that, let’s be frank here, it would never make again.

Had the Q45 come with a grille from the beginning, what would have happened? Perhaps the outcome would have been the same; the ’92 ES300 was a “killer app” from the moment it appeared, and selling the G20 against it was tantamount to assisted suicide. But I think the race would have been much closer and a lot of people, if they had given the Q45 a chance, would have preferred it to the LS400. It was a better car to drive. No, it wasn’t built nearly as well, but if build quality mattered to luxury cars, BMW never would have gotten a foot in the door with the original 7 Series.

And that’s where we could have let the story end, were it not for the fact that there is, apparently, a consumer out there that is even more crass and taste-free and face-obsessed than the average American. This fellow, and millions like him, live in China. In China, err-body gotta have a grille. It’s why Audis went from being tasteful to gauche and it’s why every low-prestige maker from Buick to Kia now puts massive toothy grills on their cars. Without exception, every one of them is unnecessary garbage. Look how much grille a Santa Fe or Envision has; then look at a Challenger Hellcat. Which one needs more cooling? Which one appears to be getting more cooling? But not to worry; most of that grille surface is blanked off. Check the newest Honda Odyssey for an in-your-face demonstration of that.

The vehicle of the near future is, apparently, a jacked-up five-seater with the proportions of a telephone booth. Maybe I shouldn’t say “telephone booth.” Who knows what one of those is nowadays? The automobile to capture the dreams of the global lower-middle class might not have any redeeming qualities whatsoever, but it will have a massive grille. You can depend on that. And that, too, makes me feel both old and tired. Here’s something else most TTAC readers won’t recognize, even in parody form: I could have told you, Q45, the world was never made for one as beautiful as you.

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179 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: Triumph of the Grille...”


  • avatar
    LRSIII

    Don McLean. By the way, American Pie was recently re-issued on SACD for those of an audiophile persuasion.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    There is hope! Didn’t Tesla just do away with all its grilles?

  • avatar
    ccode81

    Rover 3500?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Very nice piece. The Q45/Infiniti failed for reasons beyond the grille but your argument is compelling.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I think the advertising was a big piece. Americans are very visual, and want to see product front and center. Rocks and trees and transcendence don’t cut it.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Yes, and dealer network, and Q45 transmission and electrical issues. I’d argue luxury buyers of 1990 possessed an intelligence two to three times of those today.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          So u thnk the GLC not 2 b real luxxury ?? yarite
          #real #lease #credit #biglogo

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            What *is* a real luxury vehicle these days?

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            -Big engine
            -“Independent” platform, no lower brand equivalent
            -Costly

            There aren’t very many.
            G-Wagen
            Phantom
            S-Class
            Range Rover

            That’s about it. I shall be flamed momentarily.

          • 0 avatar
            yamahog

            The Lexus GS and LS don’t have lower brand equivalents. Though the GS has platform mates badged as Toyotas in Japan.

            I think some of the Infinitis are in the same situation.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            You’re right, Corey, and they all cost six figures. And that’s my point. In the “middle” luxury market, there’s nothing that’s all that compelling anymore. It’s all CUVs now.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            @CoreyDL — Technically, the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport use the same aluminum architecture. The Discovery 5 may join them.

            And don’t forget about the Bentley Mulsanne. Though it’s chock-full of Audi electronics, it’s on a bespoke platform, and is also the only car to have Bentley’s heritage 6-and-3/4-liter twin-turbo pushrod V8.

            Also, the Cadillac CT6 is the only car on the Omega platform, although big engines are a no-go. And who knows how much of Omega is shared with Alpha. But Omega should also spawn a large crossover.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            @Kyree, Might have to take the Range Rover off that list then.

            Didn’t think the Mulsanne was on its own platform – I assumed that was a MQB or D2 A8 whatever under there.

          • 0 avatar

            Corey is right.
            We know most of the parts behind the scenes are the same….but….

            I want big motor. I want RWD, or AWD. The chassis should be mostly “not shared”. So, an Avalon would not be luxury, whereas a 5 series would be. Caddy did with the Sigma II chassis, but the new one shares with Camaro…still, I don’t want to see a common windshield or, like the X type Jag, half of the parts the same as my Mystique of the same era.

            I thought the Q50 I drove last summer was a very good car…better than a “manager special” 3 series…

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            We could arguably add the CT6 for the time being, as it’s got an individual platform. And in 3.6TT form would be powerful enough, I think.

            When they put a crossover on that platform though, this would go away.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            No, the Mulsanne is pretty much a continued form of the big pre-VW and pre-BMW Bentley / Rolls-Royce models. It would be nice if Bentley released coupe and cabriolet versions of the Mulsanne, in traditional Arnage / Brooklands / Azure format. They did do something called the Grand Convertible, but nothing has come of it.

            http://o.aolcdn.com/dims-global/dims3/GLOB/legacy_thumbnail/750×422/quality/95/http://www.blogcdn.com/slideshows/images/slides/312/527/5/S3125275/slug/l/01-bentley-grand-convertible-la-1.jpg

            The Mulsanne is delightfully old-world and quite unlike anything else on the road, including rival Rolls-Royce’s Phantom. It just feels more ceremonial.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            Corey, by your definition, the new Lincoln Continental qualifies. It’s platform is a larger version of the Fusion/Mondeo/MKZ, but it has no direct mainstream equivalent.

            But, you and others have already decided that its Lincoln-exclusive engine will be awful and unreliable, and it won’t drive 15 feet without needing replacement wheels and tires. Oh well. Maybe if they gave it a Japanese or European brand name, those things either wouldn’t be true or simply wouldn’t matter.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Please don’t misquote me, thanks.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Although I’m open to the Continental, John, I wouldn’t say that applies. A stretched variant of the CD4 platform is still…on the CD4 platform. Now, that’s a fine platform, mind you, but still…

            Now Ford does base the Chinese-market Taurus, which seems *way* better than the one we get here, on that same stretched CD4 structure…but, like I said, it’s not sold here.

            http://blog.caranddriver.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2016-Ford-Taurus-Chinese-spec-101.jpg

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          @28, and Lexus gave them a chance to show how smart they were by a) treating them like human beings at the dealership, b) selling them a car that was amazingly well built and durable, and would have decent resale. In other words, they offered real value.

        • 0 avatar
          bd2

          Also, Nissan tried to peg Infiniti as a lower-cost alternative to BMW whereas Toyota pegged Lexus as a lower-cost (and more reliable) alternative to Mercedes.

          Which do you think was the better strategy for all those American luxury buyers who preferred “comfort” and hassle-free transport?

          Also, not coincidental that the growth in Infiniti sales of late has come from the addition of more FWD models.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        This is a nice column, JB’s usual good work, but I think he knows it’s grossly oversimplified.

        It wasn’t just the advertising, either. That’s become an article of accepted wisdom, but it basically isn’t true.

        Speaking in my capacity as an old fart with a good memory, the situation – like most in real life – was more complicated than that.

        Toyota had built a very solid reputation for quality and was rapidly gaining proficiency in building legitimate RWD luxury cars, epitomized by the somewhat baroquely styled but mechanically very credible Toyota Cressida. It also had a burning hunger for legitimacy on the world stage. It had a powerful economic incentive to move upmarket because of the car import quotas, which incented building low-margin cars in the US and high-margin cars in the homeland (a practice all Japanese makers continue to this day). And Honda had made a convincing business case that hanging out a separate luxury-brand shingle in America could work with the startling success of its Acura Legend and Integra.

        Being the meticulous and risk-averse company it is, Toyota planned its invasion of the luxury beachhead in meticulous detail. Nothing was left to chance. Dealers could not join the network unless they signed very restrictive convenants guaranteeing, among other things, that they’d plug into the then-revolutionary Lexus satellite-linked parts locator network so customers would never be left waiting for a part.

        The cars themselves, as we know now, were far more than Merc imitators under the skin. They were focus-grouped to a fare-the-well, and yes, this resulted in shameless Mercedes-knockoff styling inside and out. But it also led to numerous functional differences. They incorporated unprecedented precision in their manufacturing, a hushed and smooth ride, and sybaritic new features like neon-look gauges and damped minor controls that, while dismissed by enthusiasts, proved immensely valuable in creating a perception of luxury and quality among buyers. Toyota sank billions into making absolutely, positively sure that Lexus could not possibly fail.

        Nissan, by contrast, had a good large sedan with a big engine. Upon seeing Toyota was about to join Honda in launching a luxury brand in America, they went me-too and rebadged a couple of their cars. However, the big car, renamed the Q45 for this market, wasn’t ready in time to launch when the Lexus LS400 was, nor for months afterward. To slow-build interest and sustain it, while creating a luxury aura around their artsy, non-Mercedes-looking and not particularly plush car, the ad agency chose the “rocks, trees, Zen” pre-release campaign.

        For all the reasons listed above, Lexus roared out of the gate and never looked back. Because history simplifies around the most obvious factor, it’s the “rocks, trees” ad — and to a lesser extent, the grille — that people remember. But the whole truth is that Toyota had a more thorough, longer-term, better funded effort based on a more intensive effort to ascertain and meet American tastes, from grille to taillights.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Good write-up. It should always be kept in mind that underneath it all, the Q45 was just a lightly modified Nissan President.

          • 0 avatar
            dukeisduke

            I like the Y34 M45, the hot rod version of the Q45.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I don’t particularly care for the styling, which I find discordant. But it -was- a unique product.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            Plus, the Q45 was sportier than the LS, but it wasn’t very sporty, and nobody (other than journalists) wanted a sporty luxury car in the first place.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Indeed, “sporty large car” is usually just a big mistake. So they read those complaints and made gen 2.

            Then gen 2 was too soft, and it was “a Japanese Buick.”

            So gen 3 they firmed it back up, but by then nobody was bothered, and it looked 90% similar to a damn Altima.

          • 0 avatar
            Hydromatic

            So the difference between the Q45 and the LS400 was that the former was a car made primarily with the Japanese market in mind and the latter was a car made primarily with the U.S. market in mind. No wonder the latter sold better in the U.S.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            “was that the former was a car made primarily with the Japanese market in mind”

            Not quite. The Q45 had the American market in mind, with severe limitations because it was an existing car. The initial President on which it was based had -only- the Japanese market in mind.

            The LS was designed for the American market from the get go.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            I agree with Duke, the first M45 was stunning and the big RWD Nissan/Infiniti I’d have.

        • 0 avatar
          Nick_515

          tonycd,

          thank you for bringing real value to this conversation.

        • 0 avatar
          Paul Alexander

          Great stuff tonycd!

        • 0 avatar
          DC Bruce

          I agree with all of what you said. But, I would add, that Nissan was slow to fill out the line below the flagship car. The Infiniti G20 had a coarse-sounding 4-cylinder engine (one reviewer who praised the way the car drove, said it had “the voice of Ethel Merman). The Infiniti M30 was a very obvious badge-engineered Maxima in the way that the Lexus ES 300 managed to avoid; and the Infiniti J30’s appearance was an acquired taste, unlike the first-generation Lexus GS300 and GS 400 which, were, if memory serves, designed by Giugiaro.

          Like you, I would agree with JB’s point that the lack of a grille hurt the launch of the Q45, but it was only the most noticeable way that Nissan attempted to re-write the definition of luxury automobile … unsuccessfully.

          By contrast, Lexus did re-write the definition of luxury automobile to include freedom from the need to keep a mechanic on retainer. Derivative though the styling of the original LS 400 may be (and hideous though the styling of the current models is), Toyota deserves credit for adding reliability to the definition of “luxury car.”

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            “Infiniti M30 was a very obvious badge-engineered Maxima”

            The M30 was a RWD coupe/convertible. You mean I30.

          • 0 avatar
            tonycd

            DC, I agree. The ES300 and the SC coupes were fully realized cars worthy of a luxury brand, and just as important, they carried recognizable family resemblance to the flagship (without which – take notes, modern carmakers – your top car cannot BE a flagship).

            Although, don’t forget that ES250 that Jack accurately disparaged as the “Camry with frameless windows.” For a short time, it was the LS’s only stablemate, and while a nice car in a loaded-Camry kind of way, it was an embarrassing excuse for “the rest of the line.”

          • 0 avatar
            bd2

            Nissan also tried to go with mostly a RWD-based lineup, including a higher priced, but sportier FX crossover compared to the cheaper, soccer-mom mobile RX.

            Hardly surprising what buyers chose in greater nos. (Infiniti later rectified this by adding the FWD JX crossover).

        • 0 avatar
          05lgt

          @tonycd, Jack wrote the well written and amusing about cars, you wrote the truth. Hats off to both of you.

      • 0 avatar

        If you are selling a car, and don’t have any pictures of the car, I’m going to wonder if you are hiding something.

        Just like online dating.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Even if the Q45 had been a runaway hit, there was never anything else all that compelling in the lineup until the G35 (which was a killer car).

      They never had anything like the Lexus ES (they tried with the I, but it was an obvious Maxima clone), and they gave Lexus something like a 15 year head start in the CUV market.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I agree on the differentiation issue, but the I30 was a good car – I swear.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Agreed, it was a good car…but then again, so was the Maxima it was *obviously* based on.

          They could have done themselves a huge favor and at least restyled it. I think that’s the biggest reason why the ES has succeeded – you can’t tell at a glance that it’s based on a Camry (or an Avalon, these days).

          And yet another reason why Infiniti has failed – obvious badge engineering. Lexus does it too, but it’s never obvious.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            You know you say that about badge engineering – but Infiniti has done this FAR less than Lexus has.

            G20
            G35
            FX
            QX
            M

            All independents with no Nissan equivalent in this market.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            And Lexus’ RWD sedans share nothing with domestic Toyotas either.

            But they stuff they do “badge engineer” – the RX, ES, NX, etc – looks absolutely nothing like the stuff at the Toyota store.

            They do a great job of differentiating their product. Infiniti is doing better with that now as well, but they’re playing catch up.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            @FreedMike

            That’s why it’s not badge-engineering. “Badge-engineering” isn’t using the same platform across multiple cars. That’s to be expected.

            Badge engineering is literally taking one car, putting different badges and maybe different front and rear fascias on it, and selling it under another brand. But since the bodyshell is the same, it’s very obvious that they are the same car, even if the powertrains are different. A good example would be the Yukon versus the Tahoe. They’re about the same. Or the Town and Country and Grand Caravan. Those two examples are really good because the interiors and powertrains are practically identical.

            And hell, Mercury lived and died (literally) by badge engineering.

            Or, for a Toyota example, the Toyota Harrier and the Lexus RX were originally direct clones of one another. Not to mention to the Land Cruiser Prado versus the GX and the Land Cruiser versus the LX (up to 2016, when the LX got a modified bodyshell).

            But badge engineering is *not* platform sharing. Badge engineering is when the primary difference between two vehicles *is* the badge.

            It’s a little less insulting to buyers of the nicer variant when the two products aren’t sold in the same showroom. For instance, no one who buys a GX knows about the Land Cruiser Prado that isn’t sold in the United States. They probably only know about the 4Runner, which is on the same basic platform, but looks completely different.

            And that’s another thing…a platform doesn’t mean all that much when the variants on it have different engines, different suspension, different bodies, different AWD hardware, and different tuning. The Volkswagen Touareg will join the Bentley Bentayga on Volkswagen’s latest 4×4 architecture, but I bet they won’t be anything alike. A platform, often times, is a group of dimensional constraints.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Lots of good points here. I would add another:

            Lexus clearly went after Mercedes, while Infiniti targeted BMW. Which made sense – you want to differentiate yourself, and what car enthusiast wouldn’t want a BMW with Japanese quality?

            Here’s the issue: By this time, even BMW realized there were limits to the enthusiast market. So while the ‘ultimate driving machine’ image remains a driver of prestige, the real market is in luxury.

            Which meant that Infiniti became a wanna-be in a shrinking market.

          • 0 avatar
            bd2

            Actually, the GS has shared its platforms and powertrains with the Crown Majesta.

            Until 2013, the RX was still sold in Japan as the Toyota Harrier.

            And yes, “badge-engineering” and “platform-sharing” are 2 quite different things.

            Incidentally, the Q70 and Q70L, sold in Japan as the Nissan Fuga and Cima are also available as rebadged Mitsubishis (Proudia and Dignity).

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            @bd2

            American market is our consideration here. That should have been quite obvious.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      When you look at the successful Japanese car companys you’ll see that they all had “gimmicks”, or “reasons”, reasons why you’d choose one over the other, understand these are all from the perspective of new cars in the 90’s:

      Honda: Reliable, economical (before their CRV days) and “sporty”
      if slow vs the competition.

      Toyota: Stone-Dead Reliable, comfy, solid build quality. Though modern examples lack that last quality.

      Mazda: Sporty like a Honda but cheaper, things picked up in the early 90’s when they decided to stylize their regular cars for once. Then you had the Miata of course.

      Subaru: AWD Standard, re-popularized the CUV after the AMC Eagle faded out. “Rugged” image without 19mpg

      Nissan: An interesting mix of “sporty” and “power”, a mix of Toyonda quality’s with maybe less reliability.

      Acura: Take a Honda, give it a plant with actual horsepower behind it, mark up the price, and there you go.

      Lexus: Take a Toyota, add sound deadening, mark up the price. Or make the LS400 which was a Mercedes without the image, but still with rather expensive parts.

      Mitsubishi: Cheap, cheap cheap cheap! And yet usually reliable, you brought one when you realized they made some of Chryslers few good engines for that time.

      Infiniti: So you want a Nissan thats more expensive, has 5 more hp, looks like a Pontiac, and less room inside? Cant forget the artsy minimalist ads either.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        No Infiniti cars were shared with Nissan in the US at that time. The Q45, M30, J30, G20 had no Nissan badge equivalents. They started that later, with the I30, but initially, they were unique on this land.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        I thought Mitsubishi’s gimmick was 4WD and turbos.

        I mean, anything 80s/90s Mitsu that I care about is 4WD and/or turbocharged…

  • avatar
    ajla

    “Toyota had a store-brand copy of the S-Class.”

    Scoreboard baby. Even with generic styling, the LS400 is one of the most significant cars of the last 30 years while the Q45 is a pretty footnote that appeals to the kind of people who would buy 6 VW products.

    Also, a whole grille article without even a mention of Oldsmobile?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Poor ol’ Aurora. The most Saab car Olds ever made.

      • 0 avatar
        dividebytube

        My old man still has a ’99 Aurora – over 120k miles on the clock – that’s been relatively trouble free. Convincing him to get rid of that car is tantamount to treason.

        After a recent car accident I had to borrow this Aurora for a few days. And had to put up with a number of calls and emails telling me to be careful with it. *rolls eyes*

        btw – It’s a good driving car, a little numb in the steering, but a nice highway cruiser.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I think they were known for electrical problems. And one of the two engines in the gen 2 was an avoid as well, but my knowledge of them is not great. Wonder if it had been a Buick if there would still be a version of it today.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            There was a second generation Aurora?

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Absolutely. Looked quite different.

            https://assets.blog.hemmings.com/wp-content/uploads//2013/05/74513-700×490.jpg

            http://auto-database.com/image/oldsmobile-aurora-2000-pics-135523.jpg

            Starting in 2000.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Yeah, forgot about that one. Thanks.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Which one, the “Shortstar”?

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Reading about them, they both sound like horrible ideas.

            -The 4.0L L47 Aurora-only V8 based on the Northstar (Shortstar), only used in this car.

            -Or the 3.5L V6 which was just further chopped from the Shortstar to make the Short North. Used for two years only, only in that vehicle.

            I mean, what the hell? I don’t think I’d touch either of these.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Nor would I.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            Corey, I believe the 3.5L was prevalent in the Intrigue as well, and stupidly replaced the 3.8L in said model.

            I knew a couple people who owned this 3.5L Intrigue. Apparently it was powerful and efficient, when not suffering electrical gremlings.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            You are correct on the 3.5 in Intrigue. So really, one must purchase the Intrigue which is pre-99 for a happy life.

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          I was reading the comments to see before commenting, and here it is. The Alero was grille-less, and was a nice looking car IMO.

          • 0 avatar
            salhany

            I owned a ’99 Intrigue with the Shortstar. It was my daily driver for about 5 years. Ran it up to 135,000 miles. I did not suffer any electrical gremlins with it, and found the 3.5 to be smoother and more suited to the car than the 3.8.

            By the time I sold it it did burn a little oil (1 quart every 2 months), and I had some other issues with it (primarily the electronic climate control system, which got replaced, plus the maddening tendency for the blower motor to get rusted out because water would back up from the rail drains). But the engine itself was pretty good.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            So you had no electrical gremlins except for your electrical gremlins.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            @Dave, the Alero coupe with the Getrag manual and the “Quad 4” (though they stopped calling it that) is a nice looking car and one I’d like to have.

            You can keep your Grand AM, I am not Batman and I don’t want his (rental?) car lol.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            I had a 2002 Alero coupe for 4 years until trans issues related to extreme cold weather and persistent rear wheel well rust made it not worth fixing.

            Black coupe, 2.2L 5 speed, sunroof, power windows/doors, remote entry, cloth seats, stereo with aux, cruise. I loved it. 4 wheel disks and independent suspension. Very comfortable and decent space efficiency.

            I think the Alero in all forms was a great little car. I wanted to like the Grand Am but it was all plastic ribs and questionable aesthetics.

            I liked my Alero quite a lot.

            Seriously though, they all rust in that same place, right in front of the rear wheel well at the rocker. Really makes their longevity suspect.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            Regarding the “quad 4”, the 99-01 models had the 2.4L twin cam, which was based on the original 2.3L quad 4, with some improvements such as balance shafts and not requiring a full teardown to replace the water pump. The 02-04 models had the 2.2L Ecotec, which made less raw, buzzy frantic power than the 2.4L, but was smoother. I’m partial to both, I’ve owned multiple models of both, but in the end I really respect the ECOTEC line of 4cyl engines.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      I was thinking the same thing about Ford Taurus, namely the first and second generation (and third to some degree) that had no grille. It was quite revolutionary for its time and segment, and became one of if not the most popular cars without a grille.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The LS430 was even more so of a copy of the S Class (the W140) – it so infuriated the head of Mercedes design that he publicly called out Toyota.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Dis article gets all up in my grille .
    .
    -Nate

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    Many people didn’t consider the Q45 to be tasteful or sophisticated looking because it had the same front end as a stale Taurus and giant chrome footballs for door-handles. It also struck out because Infiniti had the worst advertising campaign this side of ‘not your father’s Oldsmobile.’ What were they selling? Ferns? Fans? People didn’t want to be associated with that level of idiocy back then.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    “the post-plastic-surgery Kenny Rogers”

    ok, I literally laughed out loud at this. and I mean “literally” as in “it really happened.”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    This is proof positive that JB can author a very good article with commentary and not include a misogynistic, juvenile comment in it.

    Perhaps the only reason that Rolls-Royce survived the last 3 decades of the 20th century was its identifiable grill. There were little to no other reasons to purchase one.

    Citroen DS? Certainly the later models had no grill but then Citroen was always outside of the curve.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Hey, the Silver Seraph was a very dignified and stately vehicle.

      https://www.carsbase.com/photo/Rolls_Royce-Silver_Seraph_mp44_pic_82899.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        Eiriksmal

        Lawyer in my building drives his Seraph to work 3 times a week. The gas tank or a fuel line has a leak and is slowly eating through the asphalt where he usually parks. But, other than the smell, it’s still a regal vehicle.

        It’s all good ’cause it provides him opportunity to occasionally drives his Jaguar E-type 4.2 he’s owned for almost 40 years.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      the sole reason to purchase a Rolls or a Bentley is to advertise to the world that you can purchase a Rolls or a Bentley.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        That’s what really -all- cars are, once you’re above about the $25,000 level. 98 percent of people don’t need more than what you’d get at that price.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Which is why Rolls-Royce needs the grill. A Buick of that period offered a comparable ride and performance and about as much creature comfort and with far better reliability.

          But when Al Czervik pulls into the country club’s driveway, it is the R-R grill that lets everyone know that he has money to spare.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I need working air conditioning. Oh wait, I have it in all three of mine :D

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        As someone who formerly had access to a Corniche IV in Palm Beach, I disagree. There weren’t any other nice four-seat convertibles on the market at the time. The Sebrings were rental cars made out of surrender, and nothing else had a real back seat. Mind you I did wish that my employer hadn’t ordered the thing in triple white.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          @Todd, I will agree that during the period 1992-1995 convertibles were a rare breed, so the Corniche had little in they way of legitimate competition.

          • 0 avatar
            stevelovescars

            From 1992-1995 there were other 4-seat luxury convertibles. The Saab 900 and BMW 3-series were what we could today call “entry-level luxury” cars and the Mercedes 300CE and E320 Cabriolet were superior in any objective way than a Corniche at the higher end of the market (I’m a bit biased, I own a ’94 E320 Cab). They were still less money than the Rolls (the E320 was about $89k in 1994 money) but were far more advanced.

            I really liked the Q45 when it first came out. I was a “gopher” at a car magazine at the time so I drove them all. The thinking at the time was that Lexus was going after Mercedes and Infiniti was targeting sportier BMW intenders. But, the Lexus proved to be a much superior car in terms of refinement and quality and the rest of the Infiniti lineup was fairly weak. The Q45 was fun to drive and crazy fast in the day but the LS400 was just mind-blowing for the price. It was far less expensive than an E-class Mercedes with half the power and far less modern technology. The Merc didn’t even have cup holders, not to mention a twin-cam engine, buttery soft leather, a nearly silent interior, and the Lexus dealer network that really learned how to coddle customers.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I hope Johann reads your post and learns from the success of Lexus vs zee Germans circa 1990.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The Saab 900 was never a luxury car. The 3 series convertible was hardly a 4-seater. The Corniche back seat wasn’t just something you endured. I wouldn’t have minded a Mercedes E320 drophead, but I also don’t have my own investment bank. The real competition for the Corniche was the 280SE 3.5, but those were 25 years old at the time and I don’t think the guy had any interest in dealing with dependability issues. I don’t remember the Corniche or Bentley Brooklands ever needing anything, nor did the handful of Town Cars he kept. We did use a Lexus that ate power antenna masts and rear tires.

            The Corniche was a no-expense-spared Buick Riviera convertible. Everything that is fake on a GM car was real on the Corniche. Mercedes and BMW now builds cars that have more in common with planned obsolescence than they do with real luxury. Today’s captive Rolls and Bentleys are vulgar, phony, and gross. The ones made by Rolls-Royce Motors were just obsolete.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        You say this like it’s a bad thing.

      • 0 avatar

        Indeed. The hotspots in the green leafy burbs have lots of Bentley, and Maserati also makes a big appearance. When all the neighbors drive an E class … you gotta stand out. Otherwise, Tesla. Your commute to the city isn’t too far anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      He really should have. Just to antagonize the SJW nazis who infested the TTAC comment board.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Grilles had little to do with it. That’s just styling. Lexus succeeded because it became something entirely new – a sensible luxurious car. Think about that. In the late ’80s, what luxury car “made sense”? Cadillacs, Lincolns, Audis and Jaguars were basically junk. Bimmers and Benzes were shop queens, and the shop time was horrifyingly expensive (replacing the exhaust on my mom’s ’75 450 sedan cost about $2,000, in 1986 bucks). Volvo made sense from a safety standpoint, but for the most part, everyone had caught up by the time Lexus came out.

    What *sense* did it make to buy a luxury car in the late ’80s? None whatsoever – it was a purely indulgent move. Lexus changed that and made it into a rational act. THAT was the killer app. All the sudden, buying a luxury car made perfect sense – a Lexus might not have been all that stylish, and it may not have handled like a German car, but it was exceptionally well built, it ran flawlessly, and it didn’t take a lot of money to maintain. The dealership experience was first rate at a time when buying a luxury car was little different than buying a Ford.

    It was the perfect car for all those folks who bought Toyotas and Hondas in the ’70s and early ’80s to step into when they started making money.

    As a result, Lexus buyers back then became somewhat evangelistic. The brand earned an incredible amount of loyalty up front, which Infiniti never did. The loyalty exists to this day.

    Infiniti never made “sense” from that standpoint, grille or not. Plus, they never made anything even remotely similar to the RX.

    (And, yes, the Q45 was a great driver…but what did Infiniti do as a follow up in the other segments of the market? Not all that much, really.)

    • 0 avatar
      Tosh

      In the late 80’s the only luxury car with any “sense” was the Acura Legend (ignoring for a moment the old-fashioned Cressida and Maxima). But anybody mildly car-savvy (like me) during that time was anticipating direct ignition, ABS, and airbags.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      But since those heydays when Lexus would sell 30-35k copies of the GS AND LS, they are now selling a fraction of what they used to sell when it comes to higher-end RWD sedans.

      Without the RX, ES and NX – they’d be Infiniti.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    I think the 1986-95 Taurus/Sable did OK against basically everything competing in that segment, without having a grille.

    Yes, every Lexus LS aped the styling of the S-Class (well, of the previous-gen S-Class, just to be safe…), and we made fun of them for it, and praised the Q45 for being tasteful and original.

    Current-gen Infinitis sport very tasteless and original styling…and we (justifiably) wish they would ape the Germans.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Infiniti also spent a lot of time trying to compete against the 3-series, making the G35/G37 competitive. And were caught rather out of position in the SUV/CUV world. It’s like proto-Cadillac today.

    Personally I wouldn’t mind a nice G37 with a stick.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, they succeeded with the G. But the market is moving away from sport sedans, unfortunately.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Actually, Infiniti had 2 crossovers (EX and FX) to the one for Lexus (RX).

      Problem was – Infiniti stuck with RWD with its crossovers whereas Lexus went with FWD for the RX (and now the NX).

      The RX vastly outsold the FX (despite the FX being much more appreciated by auto enthusiasts) since it was cheaper and had better packaging.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The grille-less Model 3 can be fitted with an aftermarket grille, when they both arrive:

    https://tesla3grilles.com/
    I *may* try the ‘grater’, if I actually take delivery of the car.

    My favorite grille-less car? The 1990 Passat:
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Volkswagen_Passat_sedan_B3.jpg

  • avatar
    kurtamaxxguy

    Sorry but the spreading Lexus Bass Mouth Grille Styling of late suggests to this reader a coming spike in automobile repair costs (and insurance premiums) when those grilles get shattered via parking lot or other minor collisions.

    One __can__ make an attractive front end incorporating some reasonable bumper protection, but the car manufacturers have mostly embraced the opposite.

  • avatar
    Paul Alexander

    Love a good Leni Reifenstahl reference.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      So did George Lucas. The “throne room” sequence in Episode IV was right out of “Triumph of the Will.”

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        And the Throne Room cue on the soundtrack was inspired by Dvorak’s New World Symphony, 4th mvmt. A lot of John Williams’s score for the original film was inspired by whatever they were using as temp tracks before he wrote anything–the Tatooine music was the introduction of Part II of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the opening Imperial attack was Mars from Holst’s Planets suite, and the main title may have been the prelude from Ivanhoe and/or Korngold’s score for Kings Row.

        • 0 avatar
          Paul Alexander

          Interesting, if slightly disturbing, Star Wars knowledge fellas! Too bad Leni was a Nazi sympathizer because it’s pretty amazing what she was able to do as a female filmmaker at the time. At least there’s Ida Lupino!

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Love the telephone booth reference.
    I noticed last month in England they’ve converted many of their rural/small town ones to defibrillator stations.

  • avatar
    Behind The Times

    Some craziness today from Lexus in Edmonton today (where I live) – they bought a number of parking stalls at Edmonton International Airport which are now “Lexus only” parking. As someone who flies often, I can say that the spots they bought are the best in the entire airport.

    As an owner of two, I will certainly be taking advantage of this, but I also acknowledge the obnoxiousness of it. However, it’s these small client-driven things that they do which keep us as customers. I recently talked my friend into buying a GX, and for his two small sons going to the Lexus dealership for service is the best thing in the world with the playground, dog on premises, treats, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Buying the best spots at the airport? That’s pretty smart.

      And Lexus has some of the best customer service in the industry. It’s (one reason) why I am considering one.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy67

      re: “… parking stalls at Edmonton International Airport which are now “Lexus only” parking …”

      How is that enforced?

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      My Lexus dealership doesn’t have any of that stuff. It just has the largest [email protected] cube farm I’ve ever seen, where 10 or more service writers at a time struggle to cope with the mad influx of RXes and ESes.

      They also put a small but noticeable scratch in one of my LS460 rims when rotating the tires. Will not go back, even with a free coupon.

  • avatar
    slance66

    This is all well and good, and perhaps a reason why the LS prevailed. But the reason Lexus has put Infiniti in the dust is mostly due to the RX350, especially compared with the utterly useless lineup Infiniti rolled out for years before the J35.

    The RX350 became the default luxury crossover for good reasons. It’s practical as hell. Smooth, comfortable for 5, holds a ton of stuff in back. It’s a fantastic station wagon. The Infiniti “F” cars ride like Corvettes, have crappy back seat room and almost no cargo room. The small one has a less usable back seat than a Mustang. Epic failures. Infiniti thought it was Porsche or maybe BMW, but news flash, both of their CUV offerings have lots of usable space. So an entire brand completely missed the hottest segment in the market for a decade.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The QX50 (formerly the EX) did get significantly roomier after Infiniti stretched it.

      Really, though, most of Infiniti’s cars are looking stale and are in need of a redesign.

  • avatar
    5280thinair

    Jack, I think this is one of your better opinion pieces of late. No attempts to bring sex, guitars, assaults on manliness, or any of the rest into it. It had a premise, stayed on topic, and as a result I read the thing through to the end.

    Not that occasional asides can’t add to an article, just not too much of them please.

    • 0 avatar
      Waftable Torque

      If several readers are bringing this up, it must be a real issue. I only come to TTAC to read Timothy’s articles, the rest I don’t bother clicking on unless Karesh, Lang, or McAleer grace these pages again.

      It’s interesting that the premise of the article is that the grill is chosen by the public as an aesthetic choice. Thus aesthetics is chosen over functionality. Public bad. I’m sure in a future article someone will write that 2-box SUV’s are chosen for functionality over the attractiveness of the 3-box sedan or coupe, especially the long-hood short deck variety. Thus functionality chosen over aesthetics. Public bad. Again.

      I’m sensing a pattern.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        “I only come to TTAC to read Timothy’s articles, the rest I don’t bother clicking on unless Karesh, Lang, or McAleer grace these pages again.”

        All three of those guys made up 90% of the shit they wrote about. The difference was that Brendan is up front about it.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The no-grille look was typical for sports coupes at the time. It wasn’t the norm for sedans, but it wasn’t particularly radical, either.

    Lexus had a far more successful launch, as well as a product that was better suited to the US market. Building it like a bank vault attracted a lot of attention, while Infiniti’s “rocks and trees” ad campaign did an excellent job of creating brand awareness but a miserable job of selling the car. (Data from the time found that consumers became well aware that there was something called Infiniti, they just couldn’t be bothered to find out what it was.)

    There wasn’t really room in the market for both of them. The better brand won.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I think Lexus winning out shows how the current lifestyle brand thinking that almost all luxury marks have will not be successful. It’s basically the approach that Infiniti failed with in the 90s. At the end of the day the product, and dealer experience win out. Not SoHo coffee shops.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The Manhattan cafe can be set up with about an hour’s worth of profits.

        TTAC failed to mention (presumably because it doesn’t know) that New York flagship cafes are all the rage in retail at the moment. It’s a bit trendy and it may not accomplish much but GM can afford it and it hurts nothing.

        In any case, I would say that Lexus did a better job of benchmarking the car. Even though the S-class and 7-series were both prime targets, TMC must have figured out that Mercedes was the gold standard for the American market — in order for the Japanese car to be taken seriously in the large luxury car segment, it was better to err on the side of sober and serious rather than sportiness.

        Infiniti chose the wrong target then, as Cadillac is now. At this point, few people really want a BMW from GM when they can get one directly from BMW. It’s wise for GM to recognize that the Germans set the standard, but that doesn’t mean that copying the Germans is the correct approach.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          I was referring to the cafe as more of an example of the mindset of the lifestyle brand thinking. The cafe might very well end up making a profit, but it won’t sell a car. If GM wants little businesses that make money instead of focusing on auto manufacturing, there is a plethora of businesses they can invest in. They need to sell high margin Cadillacs, and this won’t achieve that goal. Every luxury automaker that I’ve been involved with is trying to push the lifestyle brand narrative. They all say how Saks fifth avenue, and Ritz-Carlton are their real competition. This will lead them to the same place as Infiniti. People that saw the rocks and tree ads didn’t know that someone was trying to sell them a car. The same will be true with these lifestyle brands.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “They need to sell high margin Cadillacs, and this won’t achieve that goal.”

            Except for some folks at TTAC who like to freak out about such things, nobody is expecting a cafe to completely transform the business.

            It’s a tiny part of the marketing. You’re placing far more importance on it than the company that operates it. Marketing involves doing more than just one thing, and fixating on the cafe suggests a lack of understanding of how marketing works.

            The cafe is fine. The overall strategy of trying out-BMW BMW is not. The strategy isn’t problematic because of the cafe, but because most people would prefer an original BMW over a copy.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The modern grille has three purposes:

    1. On modern turbo high compression engines, it lets them breathe and cool off better.

    2. Something for the press to yack about, and it gives insecure stylists something to gloat over.

    3. To comfort customers that find grille-less cars weird, despite them being arguably more aerodynamically efficient.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Just yesterday, I telephoned my Mercury-Merkur dealer to tell them I was certainly not interested in a light bar Sable GS.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Heh the light bar Sable, that was a really weird way of filling the front end gap if different. I can see a modern car using LEDs for this.

        The Merkur Xrt4i is one of the few cars that would have benefited greatly from a grille, without it they’d run super hot, so its not unusual to see some examples with the front center piece missing.

        • 0 avatar

          Yup. The XR4Ti was never designed to be turbocharged. The grille-less nose was just fine with the Cologne V6 the XR4i rocked in Europe.

          When the Sierra was turbocharged, with a little help from Messrs Cosworth, a mesh grille was added to the blank panel between the headlamps.

          Incidentally, base model Sierras, together with higher trimmed diesel cars, all had a slatted grille from the start.

          It was hideous.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Was the slatted grille a weird way to save money on paint?

            I’ll give them credit for keeping the duel-spoliers, even if they cickened out with them on later years and went single.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          The police version of the first-gen Taurus had a dual exhaust system that allowed the strangled Essex 3.8 V6 to breathe just a bit more, boosting horsepower from 140 to 160. To cool that fearsomely powerful lump of iron, it had louvers punched into the solid plastic “grille.”

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Did you make the call from a telephone booth?

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Ryoku, I think all three miss the real point: With modern pedestrian impact standards, it disguises that the carmaker is now required to put a huge, blunt face of deformable plastic across the front of the car.

      Between this and the huge wheels required to disguise tank-like slab sides that can take a broadside from Grandma’s SUV, stylists today deserve our pity, not our derision.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    Of the vehicles I’ve owned, the Integra was my favorite. It had no grill and nice wide headlights with inboard fog lights. Still a good looking car, 26 years later.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    The M45 was an excellent car, reliable and unique in looks. The G coupe is what the Z should have been, instead of the sawed-off runt that it became. My wife has finally hit her sweet spot with an M35x that gives her complete security when behind the wheel. And, I have finally learned to not point out any shortcomings, instead reassuring her good sense and taste in buying that fine car. Only took 30 years to learn the proper technique. And as reward for being patient, I have been granted dispensation to get a 560 SEC as new project car. I guess that’s what they mean by win-win?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I can point out the flaws on the M35x. Rides a bit too harsh, Eagle RS-A as OEM tire, fuel economy, engine refinement, 5-speed is a bit dim witted sometimes, couple of interior plastics should be nicer.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        I was really interested in a CPO M35X until I test drove one and heard the idiotic boy racer exhaust note at highway speed. On a midsize luxury cruiser, that got old in about 10 seconds. The utter lack of an appropriate top gear for the highway didn’t help matters either.

        I once asked an M35X owner how he liked his car. He quickly replied that he liked it, but the gas milease was abysmal- under 20 even when cruising.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          The M35 RWD and M37 RWD/AWD fixed this with a 7-speed auto. It’s helpful for economy as well.

          Edit: RE: MPG

          That’s a bit hyperbolic to be sure. I drive 90% of my miles in 35-45 commuter driving with stop lights, and get between 18-19. If you’re mostly freeway you’ll see 21-23.

          Considering you’ll get the same sort of mileage out of something like an MDX though, it’s… not great. Lol. And when I drove an old MDX the other day I was surprised at the engine refinement.

          • 0 avatar
            tonycd

            The Honda J-Series was always a much smoother engine than the Nissan VQ, as well as a more economical one. It’s better in pretty much every way except for low-end punch and the need to replace the timing belt once or twice in the life of the car (which I think they did to keep the noise level down and the engine’s profile lower, not just for dealer profits as often charged here).

  • avatar
    theoldguard

    I hadn’t thought of the original Q45 in a long time. Looked it up and thought, “that still looks good.” I remember clearly when I saw it in 1990. I thought it was only “interesting.” Americans now hold the styling (if not sales) crown. When I first saw Chrysler 200, I thought, “that is classy looking car.” I still think that. I wish it had sold better. I dearly want American brands to make it. I grew up in those and don’t want to see them disappear. Whole family loved our Gen 1 Mazda 3. Then it took Ecstasy. I pointed out Gen 2 to family. “That car is high,” they all said. New Honda’s are getting Acura beaks and don’t look good. Look like chrome-plated parrot. Not hurting sales, though.

  • avatar

    Franklin was the most successful American manufacturer of air-cooled cars and for most of the brand’s history, their cars had round grilles, which fed the air-cooling fan and worked well as a brand identifier. Franklin was owned by Herbert Franklin, who backed engineer John Wilkinson, the technical whiz behind the brand and the air-cooled motors. In the mid 1920s, Herbert Franklin hired a former Rolls-Royce designer to give the brand a look more similar to other marques who proceeded to give the car a fake radiator grille. Wilkinson, who predated Colin Chapman as an advocate of light weight, didn’t like the faux grille nor the weight it added, so, the story goes, he quit.

    Franklins are technically interesting cars. They used wooden frame rails for the chassis and Wilkinson tapped the air-cooling system to provide a small measure of forced induction.

    Here’s a SAE history lecture on Wilkinson and the Franklin company:

  • avatar

    “Here’s something else most TTAC readers won’t recognize, even in parody form”

    Leni Riefenstahl

  • avatar
    SC5door

    On the LH cars, the Chrysler’s had a “traditional” grill while the Dodge did not; engineering made decisions for cooling to fit both designs that studio sent down to them.

    The Explorer uses a fairly large grill and for the most part, there’s a lot that’s blocked off. Police versions use a different version for better cooling and direction of airflow by using strategically placed foam on the back side of it.

    “The majority of American drivers probably have no idea Infiniti exists.”

    That’s because most Americans spell it with a “y”.

  • avatar
    Jimmy7

    1, Starry, Starry Night (not American Pie.)
    2. Chevy Corvair

  • avatar
    jimbo1126

    No grill on the Avanti. Corvair was rear engine.

  • avatar
    Delta88

    You beat me to it! Read the article and nearly all of the comments, all the while thinking “Avanti!”

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The Q45 was born squinty eyed, bland and looked nothing like a luxury cars at the time. By the late ’80s, the sharp/distinctive Maxima and Cressida were giving American and Euro luxury cars a run for their money and the LS400 was a natural step up from the Cressida, but the Q45 looked more like a Taurus fighter.

    The 2nd generation Q45 looked like it should’ve in 1990.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    The first gen RX-7, introduced for the 1979 model year, had no grille.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      The first RX-7 was a blatant copy of the 924, which also had no grille. neither did the 928, which was designed earlier but introduced later. None of these were mass-market cars, although they were common enough (if not on the streets, at least on TV).

      Lots of 1970s sports cars had tiny grilles or no grilles, like the 240z, TR-7, etc.

  • avatar

    Just got around to reading this. One of the things Jack mentioned – the concept of the “face” of the vehicle – connects with something I’ve been noticing of late, that being the “angry” looking appearance of many vehicles. It comes from the downward slant toward the middle of many of the headlights on current models. Most vehicles in the past seemed to have a more passive look/expression – (there are some semis which have a sort of smiley face). That musing lead to thinking about the connection to the state of society/culture at the present time. Is the “angry” front end of our vehicles a reflection of the general mood of the culture – frustrated, angry, pissed off, “I’m not going to take your guff” attitudes – or a contributing factor to that general mood? Perhaps I’m just carried away to this place by the political atmosphere of late. Thanks for the article, Jack. Got me thinking some more.

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  • el scotto: @SCE to Aux; I can think of three stand-alone Cadillac dealers. Lockhart Cadillac in Greenwood and Fishers...
  • Ol Shel: You should choose a car from a company that’s never had a recall, like: Nash, Duesenberg, Datsun,...
  • RHD: That’s a lot of money to put on the line for such a silly bet. Truth be told, ICE vehicles will be slowly...
  • DenverMike: The old fogeys say that. It assumes the grade coming up the mountain is the same one going down. Or...

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