As Falls the G20, So Falls the Chevrolet SS
Don’t look now, but there’s a major shortage affecting the automotive industry. Well, maybe that’s putting it a bit too strongly. There is a major shortage — but it primarily affects the automotive blogging industry, and the shortage in question is a shortage of history.
Here’s the problem in a nutshell: There are approximately one zillion car websites on the Internet, each of them trying to cook up 10 new stories a day to “increase engagement.” So how do you get those 10 stories? You can get a few of them from Automotive News and a few more from press releases, but that won’t fill the hopper all the way to the brim. To paraphrase the talking house in D.H. Lawrence’s sublime The Rocking-Horse Winner, “There must be more stories!” So you start looking for Wacky Car History Features to write. The problem is that this ground has been worn smooth by the grubby fingers of the second-tier blogger class. Everything you can think of has already been written up 10 times by drooling morons. The Mercedes 500E? The “Pasha” interior Porsches? The Mazda Cosmo? They’ve all been done to death. You’d better start looking at more esoteric stuff than that, like the Mitsuoka Viewt… oh shit, that’s been covered thirty times.
Eventually you give up and just start throwing darts at the Standard Catalog Of Imported Cars. Which brings us to Jason Torchinsky’s “Meh Car Monday” on the Infiniti G20. I think Torch is a great writer and a great person and a great dad, and to be fair the G20 piece is pretty well-balanced. The G20 has received much worse from far less talented writers; Doug DeMuro applied his genial disregard for the truth in the vague direction of the smallest Infiniti a few years back, claiming that it was just a Sentra. He was wrong, and Torch is careful to disavow that claim in his piece, but I’m a little troubled nevertheless.
Allow me to explain why the G20 was anything but “meh”, and why it’s important to remember that fact.
Let’s start with the fact that you’re not going to understand the G20 by looking at the stat sheet from a modern context. It was a 140-horse FWD sedan that weighed 2,745 pounds. In other words, it’s a 2017 Civic LX with a clogged air filter. And yeah, it looks awfully generic nowadays, just a three-box shape given some light sanding and a Kamm tail to go with its econocar face and flat surfaces.
Apply a little historical perspective, however, and things change. The mighty 5.0 Mustang of the era had 225 horsepower, so this was a solid two-thirds of that. Imagine a modern sedan with 295 horses and a stick shift. Now we’re getting somewhere. Then imagine a complicated multi-link front suspension that eliminated virtually all of the traditional FWD handling miseries paired with a simple but effective independent rear setup. It was a more sophisticated and costly arrangement than what you got in a BMW back then — or now, come to think of it. The G20’s suspension design would be an upgrade on the vast majority of modern cars.
The original G20 was a true joy to drive. Ask my brother; he had one as his college-years whip. Nissan sweated the details on the car because it was meant to compete heads-up with the Germans in the Euro market. Built in Japan to exacting tolerances, the G20 was probably the most bulletproof and long-lasting Nissan product of the Nineties — besides the trucks, of course. It was a special car and there was nothing “meh” about it. Go drive a BMW 318is in stock 1991 form, then drive an Infiniti G20, and tell me that you wouldn’t rather have the soapbar sedan from the funny-looking dealership with the misspelled name.
Admittedly, the story got worse as the years went on. The G20 got heavier without adding power. It acquired an odd-looking grille that resembled a molester mustache rendered in show chrome. And the price started to reflect the change in the yen/dollar ratio in a way that was guaranteed to kill any remaining showroom traffic. But we don’t judge Michael Jordan from his time with the Washington Wizards and we shouldn’t judge the G20 based on the final models.
I can see your eyes glazing over, so I’ll stop talking about the G20. The important thing is that you realize just how far from “meh” the car was. And it’s also important that you realize what a disservice we do to any historic, vintage, or just plain used car by looking at it from a disconnected modern context. The ’63 Chevy? Why, it was just a square body on an antiquated frame design! The Ferrari 308GTB? A sloppily-built sled that couldn’t beat an Corolla XSi through the quarter-mile! The ’84 Corvette? Have I got two words for you, buddy: PANEL GAPS!
It’s easy to see how quickly some recently-departed modern cars will get the blogger’s once-over. The Tesla Model S? Old battery tech with a fake grille! The Ferrari 458 Speciale? Didn’t even break into the 600-hp club! The Chevy SS? HELLO BORING CAR WITH BARELY ANY MORE POWER THAN A BENZ E43! It will happen faster and faster as the need to come up with 10 stories a day forces writers to mine ever-more-recent seams of history. In the long run, we’ll basically be in a Remembrances Of Love With Wilt Chamberlain situation. Hey, remember the Lincoln Nautilus? It seems like we first heard about it just last week — but it’s ripe for a retrospective piece followed by a takedown, an ironic reappraisal, and a sincere revival of appreciation!
Forget that old adage about “he who controls the past controls the present”… it’s more like he who needs to write about the past will eventually be forced to write about the present, and pronto!
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