Jonny Lieberman

Cleanup driver for Team Black Metal V8olvo.

By on January 7, 2009

First of all, hats off to RF for both returning to car reviewing and getting it so right with his Lexus IS-F review . It’s really a world class car and one I would happily own. Even with the 8-speed paddle shifter, which, oddly, works real well on the freeway and allows the 0-60 mph in 4.2 second car to get over 20 mpg at 80 mph. That’s tall gearing for you. Long story short — LS-F equals awesome. But what about the cars it competes with. Some of you know how I feel about the Audi RS4. In a word, hot sex. I’ve been lucky enough to drive tons of killer metal and that hopped up Audi still holds a special place in my heart even if it only gets 11 mpg. But, ignoring Robert’s plea, we just can’t forget about the new BMW M3. By all accounts it’s the best car in the world. And if it isn’t, it’s in the top 5. But even with it’s 414 hp V8, the Mercedes C63 AMG eats the little Bimmer’s heart. 450 horse and 443 torques mean that the Merc can outrun just about anything. Except the Cadillac CTS-V (I said “just about”). With a totally ludicrous supercharged heart pumping out 556 hp and a rubber-roasting 551 lb-ft of twist, no car with 4-doors competes speed wise. And certainly not any under the $100,000 ceiling. But you know what? The 416 hp IS-F comes close. As does the 420 hp RS4. Oy vey. For the sake of consistency, I’ll go with the new RS4 which hasn’t been released yet. Nya-nya. You?

By on January 6, 2009

Pop top worm can time. Yesterday’s QOTD (essentially) poised the question how a big a boot in Detroit’s ass will it take to get American back to building the best cars in the world? And your answer was (for the most part) that we never built the best cars in the world. Insert sound of car screeching to a halt here! Say what? Are you telling me my childhood was a lie? All my old man’s stories about his dad’s Buick Roadmasters and Cadillac Eldorados — they were fibs? That article about Zora Arkus-Duntov and the Corvette Gran Sports that all of us have read in one form another ninety billion times — it’s a lie? Hell, the articles I’ve written about Shelby’s Cobras — not true? And, am I blind? Cause I got Ken Steacy’s book Brightwork about classic American car ornamentation as a Hanukkah gift and I realized that more thought used to go into a single hood ornament than Buick has put into its entire lineup over the past twenty years. See, Alfred Sloane had the formula figured out — Post-War Americans only wanted three things when it came to cars. 1) Styling 2) Automatic transmissions 3) High compression, high output engines (aka POWA!). Obviously GM had no trouble with two and three, and Sloan brought in coach builder Harley Earl to address number one. And he was, to a very large extent, right. Go ahead, look at a 1954 Pontiac Star Chief and tell me I’m wrong.

By on January 5, 2009

You’ve all heard that the Domestics might go belly up, right? I think Autoblog might have mentioned it at some point. Anyhow, over on Autofiends we’ve been working on a new little featurette called “Domestic Bliss.” What is it you ask? Well, it’s a look back at when the domestics were totally killer cool. When a Caddy was a mofo’n Caddy. And, to quote Ice-T’s old band Body Count, “Shit Ain’t Like That!!!!” But just maybe… You seen Fight Club? You know, the Brad Pitt, Ed Norton post-punk, post-slacker flick about the sexiest case of delusional schizophrenia ever? Well, one of my favorite parts is the very end when Mr. Durden and Marla Singer are standing hand in hand as the TRW building and all the other credit bureaus are blown up, sending everybody “back to zero” as the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind” blares over it all. Quite nice. I’m bringing this up because it would take the equivalent of a terrorist attack for GM to build anything like the Corvair in 2009. What a lateral move. My question? If Chapter 11 and the Great Depression 2.0 smashes Detroit, could America once again build the best cars in the world?

By on December 24, 2008

As some of you have no doubt read, my pal Jack Baruth is now dishing it out here at TTAC. And his Naughty and Nice Editorial got me thinking. Let’s close our eyes for a moment and pretend we’re four-years-old. Time to ask Santa for a present. Even if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, Hindu, or like me (Jewish, but raised by a militant atheist father who would light a big fire every Chrstimas Eve to “keep the nonsense out”), it’s not going to hurt you to believe in Santa for 45 seconds. You’ve been good enough. Santa owes you. So, let’s hear it. What do you want and deserve? Me? Anything with massaging front seats (threw my back out bowling). So I’ll just go ahead and say an AMG S65. Hard to go wrong with 12 cylinders and two turbochargers. And like seriously, why not? You?

By on December 23, 2008

Oy, so many to choose from. There was that time just after high school where we drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco and then turned around and drove back. Probably drug related but who can remember that far back? Or there was the time we went from Seattle to Los Angeles (that same summer) in 22 hours. Maybe that doesn’t sound impressive, but the Chevy S10 couldn’t go much over 60 mph. Or there was the time we went from Sonoma County to Malibu in a 1961 Buick in 3 hours 45 minutes. Yes, that’s about 450 miles. And no, I have no clue how fast we were going because the speedo only went to 85 mph. But we did have to stop three times for gas. Pedal to metal, etc. Though, I’m thinking this Xmas might be my nuttiest drive. Because I’m flying back from Philly to LA, jumping in the WRX and driving straight through the night to Willows, CA for Arse-Freeze-Apalooza, the latest iteration of the 24 Hours of LeMons. That’s about nine hours of driving And if my calculations are correct, I get to start judging the cheatin’ bastids about 1 hour after I arrive. Joy. You?

By on December 22, 2008

Greetings from Pennsylvania! That’s right, I’ve left the warm (enough) confines of Southern California and journeyed east to meet the fiancee’s parents. It’s going fantastic, thanks for asking. Only thing is, they aren’t exactly what I’d call “car people.” Well, my future father in law’s OK enough. 2002 Jetta with a stick. Not a GLI with the VR6 but salty. Decent. Respectable. Her stepmother, however… Picture it: downtown Philadelphia, six people in the car. Me at the wheel because, “You drive cars (hic) for a living — you drive!” And after half a mile everyone starts noticing how poorly the car is riding. “These old streets are lousy in the winter.” Then it gets worse. “Well,” I say, “The Chevy Venture is one of the reasons why GM is circling the drain.” And when I park — yup — it’s a flat tire. And it’s 26 degrees out. And windy. And it takes 20 minutes to get the jack unstuck. So now there’s a mini-spare donut on the right front corner and the dash reads “AWD Disable.” But, we make it back, no sweat. The next morning (today!) we need to be in Quakertown and it’s 14 degrees and icy and the one tire shop has a “two hour plus” wait. We need to go, so we schlep 40 frosty miles in a hobbled minivan on one pretty alright tire. We live, but not my finest automotive hour. You?

By on December 18, 2008

Ah ha ha ha — I’m still having a ball. I love these X vs. Y QOTDs. Maybe it’s time for a new feature? Hmmm… Anyhow, there are a lot of people (er, were a lot of people) that purchase two-door sports coupes. So many in fact that Nissan’s on their 6th iteration of the Z and Ford’s Mustang is older than most people. Last week through, uh, fate, I was able to drive the 2010 versions of each car (Mustang review here ,370Z here). And as different as they are, man, are they the same. The Z makes do with “just” six cylinders yet weighs about 200 pounds less than the more powerful V8 ‘Stang. Therefore performance is nearly identical. In fact, so close that it just doesn’t matter. But surely the IRS Nissan has the edge over the live axle Mustang in the handling department, right? The 370Z might be able to provide flashier numbers on a skid pad, but on the street? The two cars feel equally capable. Looks? Take your pick — both cars are muscular, handsome, loaded with retro cues yet modern. Hamburger vs. Sushi? Depends on my mood — one has no inherent advantage over the other. 5-speed vs. 6-speed? I prefer 4-speeds. Interiors? Both are good, not great. So, how then? Here’s the thing — Nissan swore up and down that when they were developing the 370Z they didn’t bother to benchmark the Mustang. Porsche Cayman? Yes. BMW Z4? Yes. Audi TT? Yes. But while they were playing footsies with the Germans, Ford went ahead and developed the Bullitt, one of the greatest cars of the last 10 years. And the 2010 Mustang GT is a better Bullitt. So yeah, Mustang for me. You?

By on December 17, 2008

Question: How do you age a car ten years in seven? Answer: release the world beating GT-R. Sure, cars have advanced considerably since the 350Z debuted in 2002, but after riding around in one a coupe months back the truth became self-evident: this dog no longer hunts. In fact, it felt like a 4th Gen Camaro — all engine and odd squeaks. No one saw the writing on the wall as clearly as Nissan. Hence the brand spanking nouveau 370Z. But is it any good?

By on December 16, 2008

Yesterday was fun. For me at least. Seriously, as someone who thinks about cars all the live long day it is always fascinating to get inside other peoples’ heads and see how they perceive those lovable hunks of steel, cloth and plastic. So, doing Crown Vic vs. Camry was actually interesting and informative, not just petty and vindictive. Today we’re going to focus on two other cars that don’t interest me in the slightest. The first is the very worst new car I’ve ever driven and the second is by far and away the most boring. I ain’t kidding around here people — when Chrysler’s obituary is written, the Sebring should take center stage. Remember, it’s the car they released after the smash success of the 300C. Sad times. But at least the Sebring has a (optional) motor with some guts. The Corolla is like driving chloroform. Snore says I, big time snore. And so if I was forced to choose, I’d actually pick the Chrysler. While holding my nose, of course. You?

By on December 15, 2008

As a number of you saw, I drove and review the 2010 Ford Mustang GT. I really liked it. Good car, etc. Naturally, of course, I expected TTAC’s so called “Best and Brightest” to discuss the finer points of my review. After all, Ford has sold nine million Mustangs and I just called the new one the best ever. This after they put me up in a fancy-schmantz hotel and fed me great food and free booze. More scandalously, the new for 2010 Mustang still sports a (gasp) live rear end. And I loved it. Glowing review, etc. But, instead of focusing on the latest pony car from my friends at the Blue Oval, the conversation degenerated into, “My Crown Vic can out tow your Camry.” No, really — that’s what people were talking about. And you know, if that’s what the people want, that’s what we’re going to give ’em. In the blue corner, hailing from Georgetown, Kentucky and weighing in at 3,280 lbs, the sleeper from the far east, the barbiturate to my Viagra, sexless on wheels, Toyota Camry! And in the red corner, a car so great it’s no longer sold to the public (unless you live in Kuwait), featuring both Watt’s linkage and a four-speed automatic, the car that’s older than some of our readers, Ford Crown Vic! Let’s make this a fair fight. And then let’s never speak of either car again.

By on December 13, 2008

It’s easy to have mixed feelings about the 2005-2009 Mustang GT. It’s handsome, for the money you paid you got pretty good V8 power and it was fast enough. Where the (suddenly) last-gen Mustang falls down is the lowest bidder interior, questionable handling and non-track day brakes. “Listen baby I had a great time, but don’t lose any sleep sitting by the phone.” But hey, Ford’s prepped a (kinda) all new steed for 2010 and you can bet Mullally’s golden ‘chute that Mustang engineers have been hard at work addressing the above issues. Well, except for the brakes.

By on December 8, 2008

Sequels are tricky. With few exceptions they are worse than the originals. Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II are the only examples I can think of where the follow up exceeds the original. Rumor has it that Weekend at Bernie’s II is better than the first film, but I couldn’t tell you. And sometimes you have a part deux that misses the point. Like Terminator II. You know the one where the 12-year-old boy tells the ruthless cyborg from the future not to kill anyone. Hey look, as movie T2 is perfectly pleasant (though it does feature George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone”), but it’s nowhere as lean, mean, terrifying or fascinating as the original. I think you know where this is going.

By on November 14, 2008

You ever to try to find a good hamburger? It’s not so easy. Garbage fast food is all around us. And sure; if you want a good steak you just wander into any number of fancy-pants restaurants and pay (through the nose) for a juicy bone-in rib eye. But a juicy burger you actually enjoy eating? Not so much. Switching to an automotive metaphor, all many people want is simple, basic transportation. But like a good burger, have you looked? There’s a whole gaggle of nicotine-stained grifters eager to sell you a Ford Focus. And even more well-coifed grifters are hungry to show you the joys of entry level luxury. But what if you only want a good small car? Friends, let me tell you about the Volvo C30.

By on November 11, 2008

Think you got it rough?  Well, what if you built a sleek, energy efficient 181,000 square foot corporate headquarters for $68m and seven years later you had to lease it to Taco Bell for ten years? More specifically FoMoCo leased their former Premier Automotive Group (PAG) headquarters to Yum Brands, Inc., of Louisville, Ky. Yum was spun off from PepsiCo in 1997 and currently operates over 35,000 Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, A&W and Long John Silver “restaurants.” Annual revenues are more than $10 billion and their stock is trading at $25.87 per share. Meanwhile, Ford sold Aston Martin to some Kuwaiti investors, Jaguar and Land Rover went to Tata (in India) and is moving Volvo to… New Jersey! Meanwhile a share of Ford stock is worth $1.80 — still somehow cheaper than a gallon of gas. Ford still has about 125 employees in Irvine, California (including the guy that gives us Mustangs) and they’re being relocated next door to Ford’s 90,000 square-foot product development center. The sad news for car guys is that ever since Crystal Cove moved away from Newport Beach, it has taken place every Saturday morning in PAG’s parking lot. No word on whether or not Taco Bell will allow the tradition to continue. Man, the car biz is rough.

By on November 11, 2008

Tesla Motors recently closed it’s Michigan research facility and fired about a quarter of its workforce. The Silicon Valley start-up might be totally broke and searching for Uncle Sam’s teat, too. Let me rephrase that– they may not have enough cash to remain viable AND they’re looking for a federal bailout/hand out. As you also know (maybe, if you care), Henrik Fisker is set to build a hybrid luxury automobile called the Karma. [ED: not a hybrid between a Mercedes SL/BMW and an Aston, as previous.]  Tesla hired Fisker to design their WhiteElephant sedan, After the two decided to part company, Tesla sued Fisker for stealing trade secrets (as if). Fisker won the suit via binding arbitration. They savored the judge’s Tesla tongue-lashing, pocketed a nice chunk of cash for their troubles and publicized the Hell out of the outcome. Long story short, Tesla and Fisker hate each others’ start-up guts. And now Fisker’s announced it’s opening a 34,000-square-foot facility in Pontiac Michigan, good for about 200 employees, where Fisker is planning on building it’s gorgeous four-door Karma hybrid. Fisker says it will offer the Karma in the fourth quarter of 2009. Meanwhile Tesla’s still struggling to produce enough Roadsters to fulfil customers’ deposits. That’s gotta hurt.

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