The unholy offspring of a Fiat buyout of Chrysler

March 31, 2009

The world is already buzzing at the possibility that Fiat will buy out Chrysler. In actuality, Fiat already owns 35-percent of Chrysler (bought with the payoff money it received from General Motors), but the chances of the company taking a full majority position are Slim Whitman-to-nun chucks.

It did get me thinking, though, about all the wonderful things a Fiat-Chrysler merger would bring……

  • Thousands of jobs for local mechanics: What do you get when you combine the member of the Big Three that always runs dead last in quality with the automaker that, if it weren’t for Land Rover, would usually be last in quality world-wide? Busy dealership service businesses in need of every available mechanic to keep up with demand.
  • Abarth Viper: If Abarth could turn a lowly Fiat 500 into a wicked firebreathing Zagato Double Bubble race-winner, just imagine what the Fiat-owned tuning company could do with a V10 with over ten-times the displacement! One question, though…I wonder how they’ll get that V10 to fit behind the Viper’s trunk?
  • Style to the style-challenged: When one considers that the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep product lines are riddled with more vehicles whacked with the world’s most effective ugly stick, it becomes clear that only the Italians are capable of visually un-f***ing the likes of the Caliber, Sebring, Commander, and Nitro.

  • Capturing the coveted “Retro” segment: The Big Three have been going toe-to-toe trying to capture what was perceived to be a huge market for retro vehicles. The 2005 Ford Mustang started the trend with lower sales than previous non-retro ponies. The Camaro and the Challenger, like the Challenger of 1970, hit the market in a terrible climate for such cars, which should provide little opportunity for success. What Fiat can provide to Chrysler dealers is a true retro car in its 500 – an undersized car totally unknown to the core demographic that will be totally modified, hence grossly compromised at huge cost to meet US regulations, requiring that it be sold at a price far higher than better and more reliable domestics, so in the end only that weird electrical engineer at the end of the street and that “unique” at the downtown librarian will buy ‘em. Sounds like the 1970s all over again.
  • The Hemi class at Concorso Italiano: It’s just a matter of time before a bunch of NASCAR-lovin’ gearheads file a class action lawsuit to get their SRT8s onto the show field at every major Italian concours in America.
  • The new Magnum-500: Then- a type of wheel found on Scat Pack Mopars. Now: buy a Fiat 500 and get a new, but still unsold 2007 Dodge Magnum wagon free.

  • Dodge Ferrari of Scranton: If Dodge is Chrysler’s performance division and Ferrari is Fiat’s, then it would make sense to combine (for the sake of economies of scale, of course) Dodge and Ferrari dealerships. Craftsman Truck guys to the left of ya, F1 zealots to the right!
  • And what should be the ace-in-the-hole to solidify a go-ahead for the merger deal: the ability to recreate for a new generation the greatest car in the history of the world: The 2011 Chrysler-Maserati TC.

  • Five Classics That Aren’t Nearly As Fun To Drive As People Think They Are

    March 19, 2009

    rr4

    I was reading a great article written by a fellow collector car journalist (who I know and respect greatly) about a vintage twelve-cylinder Ferrari. By the end of the profile, it was clear that the writer felt the car simply wasn’t as fun to drive as its reputation had people believe.

    It got me thinking…I feel the same way about plenty of other collector vehicles. So many classics are “good” or “pretty”, but just simply not really inspiring or engaging. Here are five cars that are perfect examples of collector cars that should be great to drive (based on reputation, looks, conventional wisdom), but in reality are only slightly more fun than having your throat swabbed for strep:

    1966-1990 Rolls-Royces
    Big, opulent… and more expensive than a year’s worth of Tara Reid’s bar tabs, Rolls-Royces have always been an acceptable choice of royalty, executives and rock stars. Hell, Keith Moon put his into a swimming pool, so if Moon-The-Loon owned one, they must be fun!?!?

    Actually, they’re not.

    All Rollers from a period spanning a quarter-century drive like a 1977 Buick with Jabba The Hut in the back seat and Mama Cass in the trunk. Steering is vague, sloppy and too slow. Overwhelmed by the weight, the suspension wallows and the brakes are inadequate. And after taking away the R-R logos and the radiator mascot, you’re left with a vehicle that has fewer usable luxury amenities than contemporary German luxo-cruisers.

    camaro1

    1967-1969 Chevrolet Camaros
    I can hear the hate email filling-up my inbox right now. The first-generation Camaros are sweet-looking cars (especially the redesigned 1969.) You can’t help but smile when you see a good Hugger Orange RS/SS Camaro with black-and-white hound’s-tooth interior. At one time I even owned a ’68 V8 Camaro.

    Unfortunately, unless the owner does significant modifications, first-generation (as well as all second-gen F-body cars, for that matter) are really a let-down to drive. To be fair, the Camaro’s problems aren’t any different from those found on all other GM products (and most from Ford and Chrysler). Given the Camaro’s Trans Am series success and pony car performance image, one expects more.

    Cars with power steering provide zero feedback with skittishly-quick ratios, while the manual-steering boxes are slow and heavy. Brakes, either by optional discs or standard drums, are controlled with a numb, spongy pedal. Muncie manual transmissions require long throws that are less precise than Stevie Wonder’s skeet-shooting skills.

    The first-gen Camaro’s lack of fun factor becomes most apparent in twisties, certainly if one has driven some of the contemporary European sports and grand touring cars. Third-generation Corvettes are almost as bad, but at least the smaller bodies provide a heightened sense of speed and capability. The F-body’s size combined with its disconnected controls, bouncy suspension and front weight bias, mean it is best in the hands of stoplight bandits and other go-straight-fast types.

    Jaguar XJS
    A painfully gorgeous coupe – even when sitting next to the E-Type model it replaced, sadly the XJS is also painful to drive. With a luscious V12 and meaty tires, the XJS should have been a great GT car.

    It isn’t. There is less sensation via the steering wheel than profits in British Leyland bank accounts. Ergonomics were penned by a sadist, as it is one of the few cars ever made where a six-footer can simultaneously hit their head on the roof, knees on the wheel and dashboard, elbows on the door, and seatback on rear obstructions.

    Actually, the best part of an XJS is that it is so unreliable…so shoddily designed, that most journeys are cut short by some type of major electrical problem.

    Mercedes 450/500/560 SL
    Despite being an icon of the yuppies, the 1973-1989 Mercedes SL range just wasn’t (and still isn’t) that fun to pilot. Yes, I’m fully aware that Mercedes wanted this generation to be fabulous touring cars (not sports cars), but uncomfortable seats (not fully remedied until after the new millennium), a cramped cabin, ponderous steering and brakes, and Bosch fuel injection that either runs rich at idle or lean at high RPMs mean that the SL is a serious let-down for drivers.

    tr8web

    Triumph TR8
    Take a V8 and throw it in a British roadster? Sounds like a no-lose recipe, especially when the ingredients are a comfortable, nimble TR7 convertible and the bulletproof all-aluminum Rover (originally Buick) 215-ci unit. Too bad the car turned out as less than the sum of its parts.

    Collectors and enthusiasts call the relatively rare TR8 a “poor-man’s Cobra”, but as a former owner of both a TR7 and a TR8, I can assure everyone that the TR8 meets expectations like a QB taken in the first round by the Seattle Seahawks.

    The TR7’s Lotus-like handling make it a really fun car to drive hard. After quality improved and a full convertible came into production, all it needed was more power and better brakes to take America by storm.

    The TR8 seemed to accomplish this in theory (although initial TR8 prototypes were actually coupes). The aluminum 215 V8 not only weighed slightly less than the 7’s iron two-liter four cylinder, but also had a reputation for being able to produce tons of power when properly tuned. However, when the TR8 hit the shores, the extra cylinders delivered only an additional 47 hp (to 133 SAE Net hp). As delivered, the TR8 actually managed to weigh more than the TR7, courtesy of the parts associated with the new standard power steering and vacuum-assisted braking systems.

    On the road the TR8’s power steering feels a universe away from the responsive feel of the unassisted unit in the TR7. Even worse, TR8 power brakes are mushy as leftover Caesar salad, yet do nothing to reduce stopping distances. Finally, the changes in clutch and transmission parts and configuration to accommodate the additional torque make it harder to find gears.

    Triumph might have wanted to give us the best of Britain and America in one package, but the instead the TR8 seems nothing more than a TR7 put through a 1960’s Big-Three sensation filter.


    La Dolce Vita Automobili Will Compete With Concorso Italiano on August 14, 2009

    March 12, 2009

    La Dolce Vita Automobili will be held at Black Horse at the same time Concorso Italiano, which has announced that it will also return to the greener pastures of a fairway. Four Wheel Drift covered Concorso’s event in 2008, which was relocated to the concrete hell of the Marina Airport.

    While normally the Italian machine enthusiasts would love another event, it seems La Dolce Vita Automobili has created a big problem. In a week where it is was already impossible to attend all of the events due to conflicting schedules, La Dolce Vita ensures neither Italian car concours will be as good as Concorso two years ago.

    Owners of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Fiat, Alfa, Maserati, and other Italian cars are already trying to decide which event to attend. There’s no doubt that clubs and popular online chat communities like Ferrarichat.com will be forced to “pick sides”.

    The bottom line is that adding La Dolce to the schedule not only hurts Concorso, but also the Italian car enthusiast community. Don’t misinterpret our statement: if La Dolce can be the better Italian Concours for the Pebble Beach week, then they deserve to be the lone event, but there is no possible way for two Italian car shows to exist in the same metropolitan statistical area on the same day without the enthusiasts and collectors being hurt.

    So we suggest that the La Dolce team sit down with the new owners of Concorso and decide who will “buy out” the other…or at least figure out who will eventually run out of cash in a number of years…

    …because that will save us — the real car enthusiasts from getting only half the story when we are able to attend only one event each year until La Dolce or Concorso finally reschedules or dies.


    Concorso Italiano’s New Owner Hits A PR Home Run

    March 3, 2009

    Concorso Italiano 2008 was a disaster. We were there…and like others, we reported that while we loved the cars and people, the Marina Airport venue was a disaster of New Coke levels.

    The new owner of the Concorso Italiano just sent this email to press and past exhibitors. One thing is for certain: any owner who can hit a PR home run so quickly is very capable of ensuring there are many bright days ahead for the world’s best show for Italian vehicles!!!

    Dear Fellow Enthusiast,

    Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tom McDowell. I recently acquired the Concorso Italiano from Jack and Leslie Wadsworth. For many years, the Concorso has been a trend setting show with many traditional aspects that all have anticipated and enjoyed each year. From humble beginnings in the early 90s evolved a special camaraderie that most of you have shared. The founders, Frank and Janet Mandarano, brought in legendary Italian personalities who were honored to be part of the experience of being with you, their fans, in a one-on-one basis on a lush green lawn surrounded by the cars they had designed, raced, or engineered.

    I understand well, that great moment when Piero Ferrari, Sergio Pininfarina and Luigi Chinetti Jr. drove up on stage with Piero driving the 3-seat Ferrari Dino Concept and the three of them began discussing their fathers and their lives in their father’s business. The huge audience gathered in and around the overflowing bleachers. Their questions were answered – all in good humor – and the cacophony from the paparazzi cameras signaled this was something very special, and it was!

    We, the new Concorso owners, believe that holding the 2008 event at the Marina airport was an unfortunate decision. It will not happen again. We seek to quickly return the Concorso experience back to the one you have known in the past.

    I have now been the owner of CI for two weeks and have had time to speak with several past guests, and read the letters and press reports. Clearly, many of you take a more personal interest in this gathering of fellow enthusiasts and perhaps have a “protective” and/or somewhat “territorial” feeling about it. You may even feel cheated or let down.

    Like many of you, I am not pleased with this unwelcome turn of events and vow here and now to correct Concorso Italiano. It will be steered back to its core beginning-to a place we all enjoyed for the right reasons.

    SO AFTER ALL THE TALKING IS DONE WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?

    We plan to return Concorso to a beautiful golf course on the peninsula in 2009. A classic car should always be displayed on a green lawn. The venue will be agreed upon shortly. Our goals for the provision of a wonderful dining experience at a reasonable cost and the experience you all should expect, are at the forefront of our minds.

    That said, we would like to hear directly from you about your own expectations and special things you might like to see at this very special event. We want to know what you, the true enthusiasts, are thinking. Please email us at ci@concorso.com or call (425) 742-0632. We are most serious about making Concorso Italiano the first-rate experience for you, your families, and your friends that it has been in the past. We will be listening. And we plan to make the 2009 gathering one to remember.

    Very truly yours,
    Tom McDowell
    Mercer Island WA.