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Bob Elton

By on February 2, 2005

 Enthusiasts born since 1975 may not believe it, but General Motors was once the world's automotive style leader. Under designer Harley Earl's direction, the General's products attained an unparalleled level of artistic achievement. Cars like the LaSalle, '55 Chevrolet and the early Corvettes embodied Earl's genius, and made the competitor's products look dated, clumsy and awkward.

By on January 17, 2005

The glamorous face of US diesels: Mercedes' E320 CDI's six-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel	That clatter you hear is the sound of new diesel engines for passenger cars, promising greater efficiency and better mileage. The smell accompanying that clatter represents a major step away from the clean air standards that contributed to the major reduction in air pollution in the US.

Diesels, even the newest and cleanest, are inherently dirty engines. Particulates and NOx compounds are the worst offenders, but diesel exhaust is laced with other carcinogens like benzene, ring compounds and aromatics. The distinctive smell of diesel exhaust is largely a function of aldehydes, another family of unpleasantly harmful compounds.

By on January 10, 2005

The supremely elegant 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II Convertible Here's an idea: revive the fabled "Mark" model designation, slap the badge on a Ford pickup truck, whack on a Lincoln grill, and call it good. Yes, that's right: the new Lincoln Mark LT is a pickup truck. It's also tangible proof that Lincoln-Mercury's marketing department has completely lost their way. Admittedly, it's been seven years since the Mark VIII rolled out of the company's Wixom plant– a lifetime in the halls of the glass house. But there's no getting around the fact that the new Lincoln Mark LT luxury pickup truck is the wrong name for the wrong vehicle for the wrong company.

By on January 4, 2005

The Avanti: Studebaker's astounding, world-class supercarBy all accounts, the Ford GT is a fantastic car. This website has joined the chorus of car magazines and enthusiasts singing the praises of the 500hp, mid-engined monster. Despite the Ford badge, reviews place the 'working man's supercar' in the same league as the Lamborghini Gallardo, Ferrari F430 and Porsche Turbo. It's a complete success.

Well, not quite. As a business and marketing proposition, The Ford GT has more in common with the ill-fated Studebaker Avanti than latter day Italian and German exotica. Although the GT and the Avanti bear few mechanical or visual similarities, their marketing mission– to draw people into showrooms and entice them into buying the more plebian products of the parent corporation– is identical. And that's not the half of it. The resemblance between the two supercars runs far deeper…

By on December 8, 2004

 

 

A 1932 Ford 'three window' Coupe, rebuilt with a TH350 automatic transmission replacing the old non-synchronous manual-- for good reason		My recent editorial "Death to the Stick Shift" questioned the safety of– and slavish affection for– manual transmissions. The main premise of my article was simple: it takes a higher level of driver attention to operate a manual transmission than an automatic.

This point was proven by my many critics, who argued that driving a stick shift prevents drivers from engaging in dangerous multi-tasking. This erstwhile advantage simply reinforces the assertion that a manual demands greater concentration (however subconscious). By the same token, it's disingenuous to assert that an automatic transmission is inherently dangerous because it allows drivers to talk on their cell, eat, drink or otherwise distract themselves. Inattentive drivers are a hazard, no matter what kind of car they drive.

By on November 23, 2004

Another stick shift car bites the dust (and gets a free shower) Check out the standard features on the latest automotive delicacy. Electronic engine controls? Check. Variable valve timing? Check. Throttle by wire? Anti-lock brakes? Speed-variable power steering? Electronic stability system? All-wheel drive? HID headlights? Air bags, front and side? Check, check and double check. Archaic system of transferring engine power to the wheels requiring the use of 2 feet, 3 pedals, both hands, visual, aural and fine motor coordination to operate the car? Yep, got that too.

Of course, the last feature is actually a traditional manual transmission and clutch. It seems that engineering progress has reached everywhere in the enthusiast's car except for the footwell. Today's manual clutch is the same antiquated system that's been around for the last 100 years, and it's a fundamentally unsafe way to control a car.

By on November 9, 2004

The Prius' Synergy Drive looks clean and tidy now, but those big old batteries will eventually pose an environmental riskThe Toyota Prius, Honda Accord hybrid and Ford Escape hybrid are a major hit. The buff books rave about them, the Greens bless them and retail customers can't get enough (literally). While the mileage, environmental and PC advantages of vehicles powered by a gas – electric powerplant seems obvious, how much of this hybrid mania is hype?

Buyers pay a large premium for a hybrid Escape or a Prius, presuming that the increased fuel mileage makes them a better environmental citizen. While there's no question that the Toyota, Honda and Ford hybrids are more fuel efficient than their conventionally powered equivalents, the difference is nowhere near as great as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) numbers suggest.

By on October 26, 2004

 1953 Studebaker Coupe In the summer of 2003, Ford celebrated their centennial. A hundred years in the car business is quite an achievement, considering the thousands of automobile companies that have come and gone since America started manufacturing cars. While analysts struggle to make sense of Ford's current financial problems, it's instructive to take a look at another automobile company, also started and run by a founding family, which also managed to last a hundred years. That company, of course, is Studebaker.

Fifty-two years ago, Studebaker celebrated their centennial. They were a solid number four in the automobile industry, leading second tier manufacturers like Nash and Packard by a decisive margin. The company enjoyed a reputation for design leadership, quality products and innovative engineering. Thanks to their early start in the transportation business, Studebaker dealers were thick on the ground. And of all the independent car companies, only Studebaker had a solid balance sheet. Surely this was a company with a bright future.

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