Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours Drifts Away For 2010

July 2, 2010

Doug and Genie Freedman, organizers of the Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours, just announced the event has been cancelled for 2010. The couple cited a lack of sponsorship dollars, making it financially impossible to continue.

And this is a shame, because the Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours was actually one of my favorite events during the Pebble Beach week. It was elegant, yet as snooty as southern potluck BBQ. The free-to-the-public two-day event at the beginning of the week showcased cars that were just as interesting and rare as those of the high ticket price events held later in the week. Plus the setting in downtown Carmel offered great eating and interesting shopping opportunities. Quite honestly, it was everything good and right about the car hobby…

Which, of course, didn’t make it immune from everything that has been wrong about this same hobby: the cold business side. From day one, Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours was in the crosshairs of the Pebble Beach Concours organizing company. One of the world’s most respected judges, who has decades of experience scoring cars on the fairway at Pebble Beach, told me that he had been issued an ultimatum by Pebble Beach Concours Chair Sandra Kasky Button: judge at Carmel and never judge at Pebble again.

Many in the classic car community scratched their heads over Pebble Beach’s perceived paranoia. After all, Carmel was a newcomer. It also was a free show that invited cars that would never be potential invitees to Pebble. It wasn’t competition in the collector car show sense. Why such a crazy reaction that simply brought additional people and money to the area?

Some of us hit the nail on the head when we proposed that it was all about advertising dollars. Sandra Kasky Button isn’t a monster or greedy — she’s an extremely smart and savvy businessperson, and a nice one, at that. Sandra knew that a recession would seriously shrink advertising dollars, and with the constant growth of shows and auctions during the weekend, Pebble couldn’t afford to sit on its hands. All the same, we hoped the Pebble people wouldn’t have been so proactive at trying to damage the event’s future. There were symbiotic benefits to be nurtured, had there been some attempt to cultivate such relationships.

Those of us who have attended Carmel-by-the-Sea to witness the great cars and people all hope the Freedmans can rustle-up more sponsorships for 2011 and organize the event’s triumphant return. While other’s advertising revenues might suffer just a bit, the world is no doubt a better place with the Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours in it.


Forget H1N1! How Computer Viruses Could Kill Cars (And Those In Them) In the Near Future

November 2, 2009

One evening recently my wife yelled for me from her home office. Unfortunately, a virus had infiltrated her notebook pc and had taken the whole system over.

Like other pediatricians, she has been working long hours due to the nasty spread of H1N1. Ironically, standing in the way of her dictating the huge stack of patient charts was an entirely different type of destructive virus.

As some loyal readers know, long before I was an automotive writer I was a tech geek. I was first exposed to computer viruses in the 1980s when my high school became the first in the world to get hit with a system-wide virus — the dreaded nVIR, which took down the school’s fledgling Mac network. After college, I ran the business and technical operations of an early internet provider, Cyberspace.com, which in 1995 provided me the opportunity of working in cooperation with the FBI Computer Crimes Division in an attempt (make that “failed attempt”) to apprehend one of the world’s most wanted hackers and phreakers (one who hacks telecommunications networks and phone systems). I also later worked for web, system management and security software companies.

Ridding computers of malware (the name for malicious software viruses, worms, adware, etc…) is very similar to fixing problems with a car. One simply tries to methodically isolate the symptoms and problems. It is generally a tedious process, but with a great sense of accomplishment when the system is returned to good working order. It’s not surprising that I take as much pride in ridding a computer of a virus as I do synchronizing a pair of SU carbs.

Just like with automotive technology, computer viruses have become far more advanced and complex. I marveled at this specific virus’ ability to lock out the Task Manager and Registry Editor functions, prevent .exe files from running, all while elegantly blocking any web site with any mention of the name of the top anti-virus software applications.

At roughly 1:30AM in the midst of running a scan my train of thought segued from tampering with computers to hacking cars. I chuckled as I remembered when my friends wired the brake light circuit of a guy’s Miata to the horn, so the horn blew every time he hit the brakes.

Then almost immediately I got a sinking feeling in my gut. It occurred to me that the day when an elegantly-designed, yet very malicious virus targeted towards cars and trucks is far closer than any analyst or auto manufacturer have seemingly acknowledged.

Hackers and virus designers utilize two elements to work their evil magic: a host (a vulnerable system) and access (the ability to remotely install software to said host system). As far as the former, cars have been developing as host systems since ECUs of electronic ignition and fuel injection systems replaced points and carburetion in the 1980s. When the 1997 C5 Corvette first appeared, it did so with more on board computers than the first NASA Space Shuttle.

Access to car-based computer management, however, has been lacking. Over the last twenty years automotive systems have essentially been closed systems with access available only via mechanics’ scanners. While scanners do have downloadable updates, the manufacturers ensure that these are also fundamentally closed systems.

The biggest gift to hackers in terms of access is the Internet. By web-enabling cars and trucks to upload and download data from the ‘Net, this can certainly provide the right mind with a key to create mass vehicular chaos.

Let’s face it — the worst thing that can happen to your home computer is that all the data is erased and a full reformat and reload of software is required. All one needs to do is have a creepy imagination (like I do) to see the infinite opportunities for wreaking far greater damage on daily life that viruses could have in the automotive world as compared to personal and business computing. Think of it like Hootie and The Blowfish versus The Beatles in terms of global impact.

New vehicles feature drive-by-wire throttle control, computer-managed variable ratio steering, software-driven transmission, data-processing for stability control (yaw, ABS braking and traction control), and of course on-the-fly manipulation of fuel, spark and air induction. If these systems were to be insecurely tied (even indirectly) to a seemingly innocuous web-enabled process – any or all systems could be hacked and reprogrammed with a virus created by a guy sitting in his parent’s basement with a couple computers and a stack of empty pizza and Mountain Dew bottles.

Imagine if your car had a virus that sporadically reversed the drive-by-wire gas pedal to make wide-open-throttle at the standard idle position. Maybe someone’s idea of “funny” would be to constantly vary the variable ratio steering or deploy all the airbags given a certain odometer reading. My nightmare, though, is that a hacker would write a virus to utilize throttle position data and stability control to simply speed a car up, apply one brake and disable all airbags to ensure a catastrophic collision.

How much web-enabling is enough to open the Box in Pandora’s Camaro? I have no idea. Since manufacturers are already touting in ads the ability for cars to send emails to dealers and text to owners when service is necessary, the window of opportunity seems to be opening. If I were a betting man, I’d guess that the moment one can browse the web or check email via a factory-installed navigation system, the games will be on.

I hope I’m wrong. Maybe the worst thing that will happen is that the nav system in all Dodge Chargers will instantly show all Hooters restaurants and adult theaters in the US. Of course, given that car’s demographic, this would probably be considered a well-appreciated benefit.

And don’t expect anti-virus software to help your car. Most system administrators will tell you that the consumer security software products like Norton are useless, because they are reactionary. They are even less valuable than a car alarm, because at least a car alarm annoys people into noticing a vehicle has been broken into before they throw rocks at the car in hopes of shutting off the noise. In the case of consumer anti-virus software, it just sits there eating RAM totally unaware that the system has been taken over.

As I recall in my discussions with the FBI Computer Crimes guru, the challenge is that there are lonely people spending twenty hours seven days per week trying to hack software, but in the best case scenarios, the engineers are only working eight to twelve hours Monday through Friday to prevent them. Maybe I’m a cynic, but I don’t trust that auto manufacturers right now are taking to heart the old precept: hope for the best, plan for the worst.


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.


The Battle Over Woodies

November 26, 2008

The 1941-1948 Chrysler Town & Country model line has become the Classic Car Club of America’s very own version of the abortion and gay marriage issues. Just like abortion and gay marriage, the T&C is a topic fueling crazy, non-sensible debates. By the way, it’s just a coincidence that they all have something to do with woodies.

Chrysler’s Town and Country ranks among the coolest of the blue-chip collectables – the best of the iconic wood-sided vehicles of the 1940s. To a vocal minority of the Classic Car Club of America, though, the T&C is a Trojan Horse used to overthrow the traditions of the club. Specifically, it was this motion recently passed by the club’s National Board, which was in direct opposition to decades of the Classification Committee (the group that decides the cars accepted by the club) voting to deny the model entry into the club:

Motion: That the Club recognize all Chrysler Town & Country automobiles from 1941 through 1948 as Full Classics. AS PART OF THIS MOTION, I move that the Board approve a POLICY EXCEPTION to the Classification Procedures reaffirmed 10-1-85 which states: ‘The CCCA policy regarding considering Classic status for production bodied cars is to accept only those production series in which the entire line of body styles may qualify. The Club DOES NOT ACCEPT INDIVIDUAL PRODUCTION BODY STYLES FROM WITHIN A PRODUCTION SERIES.’ This EXCEPTION to the aforementioned policy shall be specific only to the recognition of the Town & Country models specifically excluding Royals,Windsors, New Yorkers and Saratogas which are not Town & Country models.”

The CCCA
The Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) is one of the most visible and powerful car clubs in the nation. Its members are current and former board members, judges, organizers, and sponsors of the world’s best-known shows, such as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Their roster contains many famous names, as well as some of the wealthiest and best-known car collectors…although the majority of the names over the years have been of guys you’ve never heard of. At one time, you could even find my name in there, because early in my career the Pacific Northwest Region of CCCA gave me a membership in return for serving as Editor for its regional magazine. I count members of the CCCA as close friends, mentors and family. My father has served for years as the Secretary of the Pacific Northwest Region.

Some Ironic History
The club actually formed in 1952 after members of the Antique Automobile Club of America got fed-up with the AACA’s stance that cars from the 1930s and 1940s… even Packards and Cadillacs, were nothing more than used cars. The AACA had no use for these vehicles on the show field (except in an exhibition class called “Tow Vehicles”), so a group collected their toys and started a league of their own.

The CCCA compiled a list of acceptable cars that are allowed in official club activities (meaning shows like “Grand Classics”). The cars on this list are deemed “Full Classics”, which is even a registered trademark by the CCCA.

It is this list and its long-time exclusion of the Chrysler T&C that finally resulted in the nuclear action that had the Board circumventing the Classification Committee. Now members are threatening to quit in protest. Some have even gone on record saying they’re considering pursuing legal action.

There is a very important fact here: the CCCA doesn’t discriminate in membership — anyone can join, even those without a Full Classic.

Defining “Full Classic”?
CCCA defines Full Classics as “fine or unusual foreign or domestic motorcars built between the years of 1925 and 1948, but including cars built before 1925 that are virtually identical to 1925 Full Classics and distinguished for their representative fine design, high engineering standards and superior workmanship.” Generally speaking, the definition works to point out that the CCCA is for high-end cars rather than the mass-produced Ford, Chevy, Plymouth, Dodge…

The CCCA started with only cars from the “Classic Era”, which the club self-defined as 1925-1941. Essentially, they wanted a club for hand-built, expensive cars made prior to WWII like Duesenbergs, Rolls-Royces, Mercedes-Benzes, and the senior (higher-end) Packards and Caddies with custom bodies created by coachbuilders like LeBaron, Murphy, Dietrich, Darrin, Figoni et Falaschi, Brunn, and others.

The Exceptions to the Rules
Date:
Shortly after the CCCA’s creation, they absorbed the Lincoln Continental Club. Since the 1946-1948 MKI Continentals were fundamentally unchanged from the pre-war run of 1940-1942 Continentals (which were already kosher with the club,) the CCCA extended the post war Contis a nod as Full Classics. Similarly, within the past decade the CCCA also decided to allow some vehicles prior to ’25, provided an earlier car was identical to an already approved 1925 model.

Price, Production, Prestige:
Many of the cars added over the years were justified due to its as-new high price, tremendous prestige value and/or low production. Unfortunately, since one of the club’s earliest tenants was that acceptance was based on an entire model line, not just a single body style, serious exceptions prevailed. For instance, the club wanted to include the 1936 Auburn 852 Supercharged Speedster (a $2245 car in 1936…and a landmark vehicle in anyone’s book), but in doing so, they also accepted the model line’s $995 852 Brougham. This might not seem like a big deal, but the vastly superior, more desirable, higher-performing, sexy-looking $1115 1936 Packard One Twenty series has never been allowed Full Classic status (due to the fact that the One Twenty was too “highly produced” and far less expensive than so-called senior Packards).

Indeed, in the club’s formative years, they tried to set up a hard price standard. Unfortunately, the methodology might have been less than stellar. According to one account, the price was set at the most expensive new Cadillac 60-Special sedan, because, according to a Classification Committee member at the time: “every ni..er in town drives a Cadillac 62.” (The 62 was a less expensive car.) Of course, this is a half-century-old story, so there’s a chance that it is apocryphal.

Similarly, I once questioned a former national CCCA board member (and regional past-president) regarding the seemingly cloudy criteria and how the Buick Roadmaster (never given Full Classic status) seemed to fit them better than many on the list of blessed vehicles. The person in question responded “we don’t want to be the Mediocre Car Club”. The fact that the Roadmaster line was more expensive, powerful, luxurious and desirable in its day compared to vehicles on the Full Classic list (such as the Packard Super Clipper) was never addressed. When I pressed the point, he returned a one-line reply: “Some people just like to be contentious”.

Post-War cars with Pre-War Designs:
CCCA has always maintained that for post war cars to qualify as Full Classics, they must be nearly identical to pre-war models. Again, while the club has followed this for the most part (including not allowing 1948 Packards and Caddies other than the sans-tailfin Fleetwood), there have been enough inconsistencies to raise doubts. In particular, post-war Rolls-Royces and Bentleys were of new design, yet have long been considered Full Classics. The reasoning: CCCA’s Classification Committee was dominated for a period by a group of Rolls-Royce and Bentley owners.

The T&C Conundrum
With all these issues, it is no wonder that at some point the CCCA was in for some serious debates over many great cars. For decades, though, the largest point of contention has been the 1941-1948 Chrysler T&C, although other cars like the Imperial Airflows and 1934 LaSalle have also been the subject of some serious food fights.

Over the years members of the CCCA have petitioned the Classification Committee dozens of times to include the T&C. Each time the petitions have been voted on and denied. In fact, the Classification Committee was so sick of the argument that they decided to pass a motion to not even hear another T&C petition for something on the order of twenty years.

So what was the argument for? The T&C was a high-end car with hand built parts. Carrying a base price of over $2700 in 1946, eight-cylinder T&C sedans and convertibles competed with Full Classic Packard Super Clippers, yet carried far more prestige and were significantly more sought-after then and now. With their hand-formed wood, the T&C was considered far more stylish.

The T&C was built on the 1941 Windsor/New Yorker platform. While it met the CCCA’s pre-war issue, Windsors and New Yorkers were low-priced cars, hence they have never been close to gaining Full Classic status.

The Nuclear Option Goes BOOM
The CCCA National Board’s decision to circumvent the Classification Committee by passing a motion to grant 1941-1948 Chrysler Town and Country Full Classic status pissed off quite a number of people. In the weeks that followed, emails and newsgroup postings aired the dirty laundry. Threats of boycotts, quitting and calls for the Board Members’ heads were met with strong words of support, and even much stronger language from those who disagreed. Those loyal to the Classification Committee called foul for short-circuiting the process. Others claimed the decision was a coup by T&C owners acting in their own self interests. Still more supported the decision and the means to make it.

So What’s the Verdict? Was It the Right Decision?
After all this history and build-up, my bottom line might surprise you:


LIKE EVERY OTHER CAR CLUB AND HOBBY GROUP, THE CCCA IS STILL JUST A SOCIAL CLUB, KIDS…SO EVERYONE NEEDS TO RELAX, BECAUSE IT SIMPLY ISN’T THAT IMPORTANT.

The fact that this is such a big deal sheds a big spotlight on the more important issue: people take clubs way too seriously, and as such, these types of clubs are becoming less popular and important every year.

It’s not just the CCCA, because it seems that almost every club has a small percentage of people who use the organization as a vehicle for a power trip. In this case, the issue isn’t even much ado about a stinking car, it’s about process, heritage, power, respect, and other things that have nothing to do with actually owning a collector vehicle.

Like many clubs for older cars (such as the Horseless Carriage Club, the Model A Club, and the AACA), CCCA is slowly turning into a dinner group with an aging and/or diminishing membership. Each year, fewer members bring out their Full Classics for events, choosing more modern machinery in which to drive to and from garage tours and meetings.

The Full Classics come out primarily for Grand Classics, which is where people within a region give inflated judging scores and trophies to their friends in hopes that all of the cars will increase in value. The public is generally not made aware of Grand Classics, because most CCCA regions fear that Joe Q. Public will somehow not respect the cars or misuse the identities of owners. Control is a big issue.

Conversely, almost every weekend Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche owners who have gotten to know each-other via Ferrarichat.com and other “online communities” park their six-figure exotics on the street while they have coffee and kibbutz, and often they’ll take impromptu drives into the hills. No club, by-laws, board of directors, security, judging, dues, or fear of being targeted…and if a lowly Fiat, MG Midget or Mustang shows up? All the better!

Indeed, it’s the new generation of car owners who are driving the car hobby. Whereas clubs used to be integral for collector car ownership, now web newsgroups and networking sites provide much more technical and historical support 24/7, as well as the coveted social interaction with other car nuts. Younger owners live in a world with Ebay parts availability and agreed-value insurance coverage — so driving expensive collector cars doesn’t scare them. And for those who came into success during Reagan, Clinton and Dubbya, beeing seen with an expensive car isn’t tacky or inappropriate.

Car enthusiasts understand that the cars are less important to the active club members who utilize organizations like CCCA as a substitute for the power-rush and social aspect of the business world left behind for retirement. Cars are the topic of conversation and the common bond, but actually interacting with the vehicles just ain’t what it used to be. The notable exceptions are those who make their money with the Full Classics – restorers, dealers and active-trading collectors. For those still in the prime of their careers in other professions, however, the last thing car enthusiasts need is another organization that feels like work.

Since people in CCCA are so passionate about including the T&C, AND the car still represents the basic ideals of the club, it makes absolutely no sense to deny the model from Full Classic status. It’s not even the least controversial car from a factual perspective! (Again, check out 1948 Rolls-Royces and Bentleys.) Most importantly, it could bring some fresh blood into the mix, but given the low rate of survival of the rust and rot magnets, CCCA shouldn’t even count on that too much.

It is similar to the pushback Bruce Meyer received for ages as he tried to get a class for significant hot rods on the field of Pebble Beach. A bunch of white-hairs feared the Concours would simply turn into a Goodguy’s rod meet, and that the Full Classics would be pushed aside. In the years since Meyer’s successful inclusion of the hot rods, this hasn’t even come close to happening.

The Question CCCA Needs To Ask Itself
Is it more important to keep the Full Classic list pure and enjoy the old country club-type politics of exclusion than it is to maintain current and maybe add younger members? There are plenty of purists who want to keep the CCCA what it is known to be: a group of well-educated, professionally successful, wealthy, white, Protestants with senior Packards and Cadillacs. From an actuarial perspective, in twenty years, a scary and overwhelming majority of the current CCCA membership will be dead or confined to a retirement home. The market, the public, and even those like me who are head-over-heels in love with cars of the so-called Classic Era will not give a moment’s thought whether a model was once considered a Full Classic by a club that will by then exist only in the pages of old publications and in the memories of people who ran the club into the ground by taking it all way too seriously, mistaking progress for attacks on traditions, and forgetting that passion for driving and enjoying cars is why most of us got into the hobby in the first place.


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.


Can cars be “pretty, but not good” or “ugly, but great”?

June 16, 2008

1962 Fiat

The 1962 Fiat 1200 Spider was beautiful. Unfortunately, it also was slower than evolution and less reliable than your bi-polar cousin

The old line goes: “a girl is either smart or pretty, but not both.” Of course, I stopped believing this when I met my wife. (Okay honey, you can stop reading now.)

In the world of cars, an almost reverse belief exists: only pretty cars can be great. In fact, people sometimes go under the assumption that pretty cars can’t be bad, and ugly cars can’t be great. Let’s put this to rest: pretty, smart, great…none are dependent or mutually exclusive.

The list of pretty and great cars is long and distinguished. For every Jaguar D-Type, however, there is an XJS coupe – a beautiful car that for many reasons (including weight-challenged handling, torture-chamber ergonomics and reliability from hell) was anything but great.

Sometimes being considered pretty, but not great can be attributed more to being held to the same standard as the rest of the family. Case and point is the Mercedes 190SL, which while pretty, was a letdown next to the 300SL coupes and roadsters. In fairness, the 190SL was designed to be a cruiser, while the 300SLs were sports cars.

When I think of pretty cars that cannot classify as great, Fiat comes to mind. I recently saw a ’62 1200 Spider, almost identical to the ’61 my father bought new. (The dealer tried to sell him the alloy-bodied 300SL Gullwing originally owned by Lance Reventlow for about $4000 out of pocket, but in a decision of monumental stupidity, he instead saved a few bucks and went for a new Fiat.) The 1200 looks like a 250GT left too long on high-heat tumble, which is to say it is smaller, but just as beautiful. By any standard, though, the car was (and continues to be) far from great. Despite its fine handling, the car was brutally slow and terribly brittle in confounding ways, such as generator mounting brackets that wouldn’t stop breaking.

Fiat is also on the hook for the 124 Spider (and Spider 2000). Few cars of the Nixon-through-Reagan era were as pretty, but literally hundreds of vehicles were far greater. Fiat’s Lancia division also had pretty, but rather lame cars during the same time period. The Beta Zagato was among the best looking little cars of its late-seventies period, but unfortunately, it rusted faster than a nail on an ocean beach.

Trying to identify other cars that were great, but not pretty is a tough task, mostly due to cars being beautiful in the eyes of their beholders. Minis aren’t pretty, but are cute enough to miss this list. With sporting dynamics and tractor reliability, Triumph’s TR2 and TR3 were truly great cars, but the looks have always been polarizing. Some see British bulldog, while others see dumpy and drippy.

Some cars are just ugly enough to meet with little resistance. The Packard/Studebaker Hawk was uglier than Roger Clemens beanball. With the Studebaker Golden Hawk’s supercharged engine, lower weight and great appointments, it was a pretty great car… which was almost enough to offset that horrible catfish-looking face.

For some reason, when it comes to ugly-but-great, Volvo and Saab both pop into my head. Volvo’s mission for decades seemed to be producing cars like the Amazon, which were dreadful to look at, but couldn’t be stopped by any terrain. Similarly, Saab’s two-stroke-powered inverted bathtubs were simply amazing all-around vehicles.

It’s probably a tie for the two best examples of “ugly but great”. The first would be Tatra’s long-running line of air-cooled rear-mounted engine sedans. Some might say they were streamlined, but even this lover of the creative has always looked at Tatras with a grimace. Still, one would be hard-pressed to find more luxurious, capable executive cruisers in the days surrounding WWII.

Similar is the case for the other winner – the Chrysler Airflow. With mugs that only a mother (or mechanical engineer) could love, Chrysler’s Airflow line (including those with Imperial and DeSoto emblems) contained vehicles so ahead of the time that in terms of pure driving dynamics, there was little comparison to contemporary coupes and sedans. Speed records and safety tests proved the Airflow’s greatness, but alas, the ugliness doomed it. True, there are plenty of people who love them for their looks (my father included), but the overwhelming majority of folks (car enthusiast and non-car hobbyists alike) find the looks atrocious.

At least we won’t touch on the subject of “ugly and bad”. Otherwise, we’d be here all day discussing the Pontiac Aztek, Bricklin SV-1, Renault Alliance…


California Dreaming — Ferrari California, That Is!

May 27, 2008

The Ferrari California is the company’s first front-engine V8-powered car…and one of the most visually-pleasing designs in years (photos courtesy of Ferrari S.p.A.)

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone here at The Four Wheel Drift organization who isn’t a self-proclaimed Ferrari fan. Consequently, the recently officially announced Ferrari California has us all giddy — like the first time we got to second base with pretty girls.

“First time” is actually a good theme for the upcoming Ferrari California. The model will be Ferrari’s first front-engine V8 — ever. It will also be the company’s first series production front-engine 2+2 convertible.

Despite being Tifosi (the name given to Ferrari fanatics), we’ve also been quite outspoken over the years concerning the lack of really pretty cars coming from the house that Enzo built. Sure, we have liked the 360/430 series, but we’ve gone on record calling the 612 “ugly”, the 599 “questionable”, and the Enzo “without soul”. We’ve even referenced the lack of passion and risk-taking in the lines of cars of the 550 and 456 GT series. A couple of us went so far as to discuss our opinions at great length with the project manager at Pininfarina responsible for producing Jim Glickenhaus’ wild and alluring Enzo-based P4/5 custom…

…So we’d like to think our words got back to Ferrari and the Pininfarina groups that worked on the California, because this car is gorgeous! It’s not perfect, like a 246GT Dino, but it has the attitude, sex appeal and presence of a summer blockbuster’s leading lady without the shock-value or polarizing weirdness of a runway model.

The last time Ferrari delivered a 2+2 convertible was the Mondia of the 1980s and early ‘90s. With all due respect to my friend who just bought a 1989 Mondial T convertible, these were not the prettiest cars. Furthermore, heavy bodies and bulky luxury equipment made the Mondials a little too slow and ungainly in corners to excite purists.

This time around, the Ferrari California will certainly deliver performance with its style and extra seats. The 4.3-liter V8 utilizing direct injection will likely deliver 460 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. This will probably put the 0-60 time at 3.6 seconds – over twice as fast as the Mondial convertibles with the 3.0-liter quattrovalve V8. Helping acceleration will be an all-new dual-clutch paddle-shift gearbox, which was developed largely by reverse-engineering the hardware and software of the industry-leading Audi unit.

Acceleration is helped by a weight-saving all-aluminum body. The California also utilizes an automatic folding hardtop — a Pininfarina specialty. Ferrari has yet to release to us the photos of the car with the top up, but we can already see the tight lines with the top down. Speaking of tight, the rear seats will be best used for gym bags and briefcases. And to ensure that no Mondial-esque complaints are made about fat-guy-on-rollerskates-like handling, the new suspension and front-midship placement of the V8 engine will pay dividends in apex carving duties.

Original leaks had this pegged as an entry-level Ferrari called Dino. Using the California name was a smarter move, evoking the original 250 GT California Spyder, which first appeared in 1957. California Spyders were built by Scaglietti, initially on the long-wheelbase 250 GT platform using the standard three-liter V12 developing 240 hp. (Later cars switched to the shorter wheelbase chassis and some were fitted with higher-power engines.) Thanks to a recent $10M-plus auction sale for one example, the 250 GT California Spyder is now the most valuable car model in the world, and hence on of the most coveted classics on the planet.

Ferrari is choosing to cash-in on the model name’s always-strong-but-still-rising stock. Unlike the Ford GT, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, or Chevy Camaro, which were little more than old looks on modern technology, the new Ferrari California uses only subtle cues to remind of its ancestor. It is retro in spirit, but not in design or lines, an obvious key to success in the supercar market. The most important homage to the great 250 GT California is that this new Ferrari will be just like its dual-purpose grandfather: just as capable of being driven during the week to work as on the track during weekends.

Alas, we probably won’t be able to afford one, since it likely will be priced similarly to the current 430. The current 430 will get a modest price increase, holding true to initial reports that the California will indeed be the “entry-level Ferrari”.

Hopefully we’ll be able to steal a ride when one comes stateside. And we promise that there will be no “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”-like calamities when we take out the new Ferrari California for a first date.