Import Tuners, Hot Rods, Muscle Cars And “Getting It”

June 8, 2009

If I had a dollar for every collector car guy or hot rodder who communicated to me in some way their lack of understanding about import tuner cars and the kids who drive them, I’d be able to afford a thumping subwoofer and some neon lights for my ‘60 TR3. All too many car enthusiasts seem to look at the coffee-can exhaust crowd with one part confusion and another part disgust.

For those who grew up in the pre cell phone days, allow me to make this very simple for you: the kids you’re looking at driving slammed Civics with wings are just a younger version of you. You just haven’t made the connection yet.

So allow me to make the connection for you.

About ten years ago my father-in-law made some statement about not understanding why someone would do all that crazy garbage to a Honda. I simply asked him: “what was your first car?”

“A 1950 Ford” he replied.

“Did you buy it new?”

“No, it was my parents’ old car.” He explained.


“What was the first thing you did to it when it became ‘your car’?” I continued.

“I stripped off all that chrome. It’s what everyone did in those days.”

“And what did your parents think about that?”

“They asked me why I was ruining the car!”

After explaining that parents don’t give their kids hand-me-down ’50 Fords anymore…now it’s Accords, Civics, Corollas, Tiburons, Eclipses, Imprezas, and since there’s no chrome anymore to take off, personalization trends have swayed towards exhaust, wings, lenses, wheels…he “got it”.

“Getting it” doesn’t necessarily mean wanting it for yourself. It does, however, lead one to understand that spouting derogatory phrases at the guy with the stickers, aero kit and wing on the ten-year-old econobox is no different than your dad yelling at you for buying Cragars and glass-packs for Mom’s Impala…or your dad getting yelled-at by grandpa for unbolting the perfectly good fenders from the ’32 Ford and spending a week’s pay for and a weekend’s time installing that foolish Edelbrock intake and carb setup on its flathead.

At the end of the day, we’re all car people. We might express our love for the hobby in different ways based upon where, when and how we were exposed to cars, but at the core we’re far more similar than we usually realize.

And even if it isn’t your cup of tea, take solace in the notion that most of the drivers of cars you shake your head at today will be scolding their own kids for making similar counterproductive modifications to a hand-me-down family car in the future.


Pontiac to be taken out behind the woodshed in 2010

April 27, 2009

Bye bye Mr. Pontiac guy. Drove my Chevy to the levy, because nobody has driven a Pontiac since 1979…

Today GM announced its worst kept secret since the Corvette ZR1 – that it is killing Pontiac. I wonder, however, if you can really kill something that has been dead for years. The announcement has caused a steep decline in stock price of body cladding and steering wheel-mounted button suppliers, as well as caused panic among the lower quartile of automotive design soon-to-be graduates, who now will have one fewer opportunity for employment.

Just a number of months ago GM announced that Pontiac was destined to become a niche brand. Since Pontiac has offered no clear segment leaders…or any platform leaders, for that matter, the nameplate has been operating functionally as a niche brand since the Trans Am ceased to be an image and sales success (yet still lagging behind Camaro in total units) back in the “Smokey and the Bandit” era.

In all honesty, this a smart move that is a long time coming. With the exception of the GTO (1964-1972), Trans Am (1969-1979), Bonneville (1957-1959), and possibly the Catalina Sport Coupe 421ci (1961 until it was eclipsed by the GTO in ‘64), Pontiac really has never been a really impressive auto builder. Seeing that it started as a lower-priced alternative to Oakland, it was always too close to Chevy. Calling it the “performance division” was really nothing more than marketing spin.

As for the rest of GM’s death row: Hummer, Saturn, Saab, only time will tell if these will be purchased or just shut-down. Saturn dealers are dropping like flies, making it less desirable to companies like Fiat, which could use the distributors to sell their fuel-efficient cars if and when a deal with Chrysler falls through.

The so-called surviving brands, Chevy, Buick, Caddy, and GMC still have a long way to go. GMC could just as easily be killed, since most GMC are shared products with Chevy. Buick is only popular in China and in US retirement home parking lots, so it could eventually become a Far East-only brand.

Caddy and Chevy are safe, because when inferior cars to Lexus, BMW, Toyota, and Honda are built, Chevy and Cadillac will build them…with “more horsepower” as the sole reason the company will cite for the products being better.

With three out of my last four new cars coming from GM (two Corvettes and an Oldsmobile Intrigue) one might accuse me of utilizing humor to hide my frustration.


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.


    The Best Vehicles in Which to Lose One’s Virginity

    February 9, 2009

    Nothing says 'I'm paying to lose my virginity' quite like doing it in the back of a Ford Escort (Picture courtesy of Ford)

    Ford Escort: Doing it in the back of this car screams: 'I'm paying someone to take my virginity' (Photo:FoMoCo)


    Cars and sex …it’s a combination as old as America and apple pie. And if I had somehow forgotten this due to not hearing yet in 2009 Meatloaf’s “Paradise By the Dashboard Light”, I was quickly reminded during a liquor-induced discussion at a recent get-together of preschool moms for their “Ladies’ Night”.

    Yes, thanks to being the one who a) shuttles my kids to and from school and b) is always exploring new ways of making jokes that crack-up parents during show and tell, I was invited by the moms of my daughter’s preschool classmates as they let their hair down and frequently raised their drink glasses up.

    Late in the night one of the moms disclosed that not only did she lose her virginity in a vehicle, but also the model name was so apropos for the event that it immediately became the anchor at number one as I started forming this — the “Four Wheel Drift List of the Best Vehicles in Which to Lose One’s Virginity.”

    BUT before the Top Ten, we all have to remember that not all people (well, make that not all girls) are willing to go all the way, so first I must disclose that the best car for a bunch of heavy-petting has to be the Ford Maverick Grabber.

    AND

    Not to forget those without a willing partner – the “ménage-a-moi” types. If you’re going to get caught in your car servicing yourself, a Ford Aspire is appropriate.

    Now, without further delay —

    The Best Vehicles in Which to Lose One’s Virginity

    10) Mercury Cyclone Spoiler: Because it’s only her first time once.

    9) Hillman Minx: Go in with a prude, come out with a Minx.

    8 ) Nissan Pathfinder: Perfect for two naked newbies fumbling about while following treasure trails.

    7) Ford Escort: Unfortunately, some people have to pay to play.

    6) Mercury Cougar: Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?

    5) Gilbern Invader: Invader? You don’t have to ask a guy twice!

    4) (Tied) Ford Probe, AMC Javelin, Dodge Lancer, Pontiac Torpedo, Bonnet Missile: Protect your Probe, Javelin, Lancer, Torpedo, or Missile with a clean cover before parking it in her garage.

    3) Swallow Sabre: Two words any guy would want to hear in the same sentence from a lady — Swallow and Sabre.

    2) Chrysler Conquest Tsi: If it’s that important initial Conquest, Tsi probably is an acronym for “Ten-Second Intercourse”.

    1) And finally, where a real-life preschool mom actually lost her virginity:

    in the truck bed of a Chevy LUV.


    The Seventh Annual Classically-Tough Trivia Quiz

    January 4, 2009

    “Sam Barer’s Sound Classics’ Classically-Tough Trivia Quiz” went live on my column found on CarDomain’s site. While the original article said the deadline is Jan 3rd, I’m keeping it open until I post the answers around January 9th.

    Here’s the quiz as posted on blogs.CarDomain.com:

    Sound Classics Classically-Tough Triva Quiz 2008

    Back in 2002 Sound Classics started an annual New Years tradition: “The Classically-Tough Trivia Quiz.” While it used to run primarily in Sound Classics’ newspaper outlets and only find its way online via enthusiastic readers, this year I’m proud to bring it directly to the CarDomain community.

    What sets The Classically-Tough Trivia Quiz apart from other tests of useless automotive factoid regurgitation is that just about everyone will find a couple questions no-brainers, a few hard and the rest more agonizing than the extra credit question on a graduate-level biochemistry final. Which questions fall into each category, however, changes based on your area of passion. Furthermore, the Sound Classics team goes to great lengths to make most of the questions unGoogleable.

    And I should probably mention that like in the previous six editions, this one features questions that are trickier than heel-toe downshifting a DeTomaso Pantera with clown shoes and a hook for a right hand.

    Forget cash or prizes, (c’mon the stuff other outlets award is simply regifted junk the auto manufacturers send to journalists in hopes of getting more positive coverage), the Classically-Tough Trivia Quiz is all about bragging rights. If you think you have the answers, email sc@apexstrategy.com by January 3rd. Readers with the top scores will be honored, lauded, glorified, praised, and made famous in a follow-up column.

    Now let the frustration begin –without further adieu: The Classically-Tough Trivia Quiz 2008.

    1. Name the first make and model of car certified by the US Government as compliant with 1975 model-year regulations contained in the Clean Air Act. What was the company’s name for the technology and why was it unique? (4 pts total)

    2. It was this brand of car that was most frequently advertised on the back cover of Road & Track from the magazine’s inception through 1960. (1 pt)

    3. Name all the Ferrari model name designations that corresponded to specific races. (1 pt each)

    4. It is the builder of high performance race-proven cars that started in 1898, ended in 1925… then started again in 2000. While its first car was Benz powered, its current cars feature Audi V8 and W12 powerplants. (1 pt)

    5. This model in its base form reached its heaviest in 1978 at 3,572 pounds and delivered its worst base power-to-weight ratio in 1975. (1 pt)

    6. Name the last year, production model and displacement of the final carbureted air-cooled six-cylinder Porsche. (1 pt)

    7. What serves to store engine vacuum on a Lotus Elan 1600 Series 1 for the purpose of raising the headlights? (1 pt)

    8. List every 1958 make/model that came with more factory-rated horsepower in the standard (non-optional) engine than an Edsel Citation. (1 pt each)

    9. This auto company contracted Yamaha and stylist Albrecht von Goertz in 1963 to create a two seat sports car. (1 pt)

    10. Which American automaker went the most consecutive number of years offering all its models with over 100 advertised horsepower? (1 pt)

    11. It’s the automaker which used a swastika as its emblem. (1 pt)

    12. This automaker tested cars on a track built on the roof of its five-story manufacturing plant. (1 pt)

    13. A car of this make always is the first to start the La Festa Mille Miglia? (1 pt)

    14. This brand in 1969 sold models named for three famous races (including one event and two separate race series) in which these specific cars had never participated. (1 pt)

    15. Before it was released as its own 1963 model, Buick used the Riviera name to denote this? (1 pt)

    16. This car was initially only available in 15 colors: Raven Black, Caspian Blue, Skylight Blue, Guardsman Blue, Poppy Red, Rangoon Red, Dynasty Green, Pagoda Green, Cascade Green, Chantilly Beige, Prairie Bronze, Sunlight Yellow, Vintage Burgundy, Wimbledon White, and Silversmoke Gray. (1 pt)

    17. In 1986, which American convertible offered the highest ratio of horsepower to cubic inches? (1 pt)

    18. Legendary automotive journalist Tom McCahill described this car in a 1951 road test with the following gems: “Cornered like a porpoise with heartburn”, styled “like a bride’s first cake: taken out of the oven too soon”, and “I didn’t know whether to spray it with an aerosol bomb or pat it on the flank.” (1 pt)

    19. Which company has offered in its production cars the most number of engines with different cylinder counts (meaning 4 cyl, 6 cyl, 8 cyl, 10 cyl…)? (1 pt)

    20. Everyone knows that Ferrucio Lamborghini’s meeting with Enzo Ferrari to complain about his Ferrari’s reliability sparked the formation of Lamborghini’s automotive business. James Ward Packard, however, had a similar less-than-helpful meeting six decades earlier to complain about the reliability issues of his personal car with the President of another auto manufacturer that also led to the formation of Packard’s own auto company. Name the car or company with which Packard took umbrage. (1 pt)

    21. The tie-breaker: Identify the car in the picture at the top of the post. (1 pt)

    Good luck…and have a happy 2009!


    Car Names That Can Never Be Used Again

    June 19, 2008

    Brand names are important in the world of marketing. Corporations spend millions of dollars annually attempting to find the perfect name for products.

    Some names are worth a fortune, due to high brand name recognition and positive image. Others are worth less than a pound of sand in the Sahara, thanks to being outdated, tainted, or just plain bad to begin with.

    The automotive industry has plenty of long-running strong brand names. From Suburban (the longest-running brand name), Corvette and Mustang, to 911, Beetle and Accord, there are plenty of valuable ones. For every strong name, however, there are two or three that can never be used again.

    Here is the Four Wheel Drift’s Top List of Unusable Car Brand and Model Names:

    Edsel — Reason: Bad from the get-go, Tainted: Let’s get something straight here: even in the original market research (it was the first car to use extensive focus group testing for development), the Edsel name scored abysmally low. Still, naming the car line after Henry Ford’s son was green-lighted. If that wasn’t bad enough the brand name would go on to be synonymous with failure. It will never be used again for cars…and if I were a member of the Ford family, I’d push to stop naming so many descendants Edsel, as well.

    Luckily, the Edsel name never tainted the brand’s models, which included the Ranger (later used for trucks), Corsair, Pacer, and Citation. It took AMC to ruin the Pacer name and Chevy to destroy Citation with their respective horrible little import-fighters.

    Pinto – Reason: Tainted: The Pinto was a good name attached to a pretty good car. A few exploding gas tanks, though, ruined it. In terms of brand recognition for a design flaw disaster, Pinto is second only to…

    Corvair – Reason: Tainted: Thanks to Ralph Nader’s Unsafe At Any Speed, the Corvair name will never be attached to another vehicle. Of course, this a moot point, since the likelihood of GM ever producing an air-cooled gas-burning car is less than those for me being drafted by the Boston Celtics this year.

    Midget – Reason: Offensive: Both MG and King Midget have used this name, which is now considered a slur towards dwarves. If the Chinese-owned MG wants to build a junior model to complement its MGF, it might consider the MG Little Person to be more politically correct.

    LaFemme – Reason: Bad from the get-go: In 1955 Dodge released a sub-model of its Custom Royal Lancer targeted to the growing group of female drivers. With a pink and white color scheme and a bunch of standard interior accessories like a cosmetic case, color-keyed raincoat and umbrella, the thing was inherently a marketing disaster. When Dodge picked the LaFemme name, that just solidified it as a major blunder of epic proportions. After production of less than 1000 units in ’55 and ’56 (which was lavender and white), the car and the name were killed forever. Now if you want a car targeted to women with feminine colors and accessories, you’ll have to buy a New Beetle.

    Actually, come to think of it, the Lancer wasn’t a really great name, unless your garage also includes a Ford Probe and a cabinet full of alcohol wipes and KY Jelly.

    Chevette and Vega – Reason: Tainted: The Vega was a great name for a fantastic concept. The car looked good, performed well, was pretty comfortable…too bad it was less reliable than Lindsay Lohan’s sobriety. Same was the case for the Chevette, except that the mini-Corvette name would never fly in a modern image-conscious society.

    Cimarron – Reason: Tainted: Actually, it was too goofy to begin with, often being called the “Cinnamon”, but Cadillac’s expensive version of the lowly Chevy Cavalier became the poster child for badge-engineering gone horribly wrong.

    Dictator – Reason: Offensive: In the pre-WWII era, Studebaker had one of the greatest lines of product names. Studie’s names made sense: Dictator, Commander and President. It’s amazing how just a decade later, Dictator became associated with Hitler, spelling the end of the name’s use.

    Wasp – Reason: Offensive: In the context of Hudson’s lineup, the Wasp made sense next to the Hornet. In a modern world the Wasp would be confused with the offensive acronym.

    JAP – Reason: Offensive: JAP made motorcycle engines that were used in Morgan’s three wheelers, which is how it is eligible for the automotive list. (Yes, we know that the Morgan trikes were also considered motorcycles to get around British automotive taxes.) As an acronym, it is offensive to Jewish women. It is more associated with a slur towards Japanese…and in a modern world, that’s not considered at all cool.