Classic Car News » Rob Sass Your daily dose of steel, rubber and soul Sun, 25 Jun 2017 10:09:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Five of the oddest cars from Ford Motor Company Sun, 01 Jun 2014 09:35:20 +0000 Read More

Multi-national Ford Motor Company has — regardless of market — charted a fairly conservative path through the years. Unlike dedicated eccentrics SAAB, Citroën and even American Motors, it has produced few cars that could be fairly characterized as weird, but here are five from Ford (and its Lincoln and Mercury divisions) that still have us scratching our heads:

1982-85 Ford Escort EXP: The EXP (along with its twin the Mercury Lynx LN-7) was simply bizarre. It was supposed to be a sporty two-seater version of the Escort compact, but the styling was incomprehensible. It was touted by Ford as a modern, affordable and efficient version of the concept that brought the car world the classic two-seater 1955-57 Thunderbird. But where the T-Bird was graceful and elegant, the EXP was just odd, and the squinty, hungover look to the headlight treatment was particularly strange.
1963 Mercury Monterey Breezeway: The Monterey and its predecessor, the Turnpike Cruiser, were fairly standard 1950s and 1960s full-size Ford Motor Company products, but it was the backward-slanted rear roofline and a rear window that lowered for ventilation that added a truly strange look to the car, as well as providing ready ingress for exhaust fumes.
2002 Lincoln Blackwood: The Blackwood was a one-year-only Lincoln luxury pickup designed to compete with the Cadillac Escalade XLT. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the answer to a question that nobody was asking—a shortbed luxury pickup that was too nice to actually haul anything in. Less than 3,500 were made in that single year.
1959-67 Ford Anglia 105E: Famous as the flying car from the “Harry Potter” series, this English Ford sported a distinctly American feature — the bizarre, backward-slanted rear window that Lincolns and Mercurys had sported in the U.S.
1996-08 Ford Ka: Another odd duck Ford not seen in the U.S, the Ka was both an oddly named and strangely styled city car that measured just over 142” overall. Performance was largely theoretical as the Ka was powered by a derivative of the ancient four-cylinder that powered the Anglia. Handling was at least said to be entertaining.

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Five of the coolest nearly extinct cars from the ’70s and ’80s Thu, 29 May 2014 09:35:26 +0000 Read More

The attrition rate of cars from the mid-disco to late Reagan-era is huge. And while we’d love to see someone somewhere driving any one of the cars on this list, in truth, we can’t remember the last time we saw any of them.  Here are five of our favorite nearly extinct cars:

1971-77 Mercury Capri — Few people remember the 1980s Fox-body Mustang’s near-identical twin, the Mercury Capri. Fewer still can recall the Australian-built front-wheel-drive convertible Capri. This isn’t either of those cars— it’s not even the first to wear the Capri badge. It’s the German Ford mini-Mustang Capri. Sold in the U.S. through Mercury dealers and marketed as “The Sexy European” with an assortment of four- and six-cylinder engines, it was nice looking and great to drive—at least we’re assured of this from vintage road tests. One Capri recently offered on was the first that we’ve seen in ages.
Chrysler Conquest/Mitsubishi Starion — The Conquest was the captive import twin of the Mitsubishi Starion. In the hottest turbo spec with 197 HP, these cars would put the fear of God into Porsche 924/ 944 owners who had the privilege of paying almost twice as much for less performance. Where have they all gone?
1969-75 International Harvester Travelall — The Travelall was the Scout’s big brother, and while Scouts are still regularly seen (particularly in the summer with tops off), the Travelall has all but disappeared. In reality, it was one of the pioneers of the modern SUV and one of the first vehicles to offer anti-lock brakes. Sadly, it was completely overshadowed by the Jeep Wagoneer.
Chrysler Laser/ Dodge Daytona Z Turbo — The K-car platform saved Chrysler in the 1980s and underpinned nearly everything that they built, including the sporty Laser/Daytona twins. The car was nowhere near as bad as the foregoing would suggest; 2.2- and 2.5-liter turbo fours produced anywhere from 175 HP to 224 HP in their hottest states of tune. Carroll Shelby versions of the Daytona are somewhat collectible, assuming you can find one.
1975-81 Volkswagen Scirocco MKI — The Scirocco was the spiritual successor to the Karmann-Ghia. It followed the same formula of a pretty Italian body over more pedestrian underpinnings (in this case a body designed by Ital Design clothing Rabbit-derived mechanicals). No matter, it was a decent handler and quick enough for the day. Today, there are probably more Bentley Continentals on the road than MK I Sciroccos.
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Forgotten 90s greats Tue, 27 May 2014 09:25:46 +0000 Read More

The 1990s had a fair amount going for it, in terms of both pop culture and automobiles. And while you can argue the merits of Nirvana and Green Day over Duran Duran and White Snake all day, nearly every car on this list is a vast improvement over its 1980s counterpart. Here are five of our favorite forgotten 1990s cars:

1996-99 Pontiac Bonneville SSEi: GM’s H-body platform made for a more than competent front-wheel-drive full-size sedan. It took Pontiac to actually make it a driver’s car. The marketing slogan “We build excitement” was actually true in the case of the Bonneville SSEi, one of the few American sedans to sport a factory supercharger. Although both the SSE and SSEi were available with an Eaton supercharger that raised the output of the GM 3.8-liter V-6 to a massive 240hp, the latter had all of the options and trim. While the Ford Taurus SHO is remembered by nearly everyone, the Bonneville SSEi has sadly been purged from the puny ’90s vintage 1GB hard drives of all but the biggest fans of the era. In theory, less than five grand buys a great one, although we have to confess, our cursory search revealed no decent examples.
1990-95 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Convertible: Oldsmobile got a convertible version of the W-body, and it was somewhat rare with only around 25,000 built. And while front-wheel-drive and its inherent understeer aren’t exactly the first choice of many enthusiastic drivers, the Cutlass Supreme convertible did come with a high-output version of GM’s Quad Four and double overhead cam 3.4-liter V-6, and it was available for two years with a very rare Getrag five-speed manual transmission. Inexpensive four-seater American convertibles with decent performance are thin on the ground at this price point. Around five grand for a good one; a bit more for one with a manual transmission.
1993 Ford Mustang Cobra R SVT: The Cobra R may have been the ultimate Fox Body Mustang: It was a track day special with stiffer suspension, and power steering, A/C and rear seat were deleted to save weight. It sported about 30 more horsepower than the standard five-liter GT and was capable of near-13-second quarter-mile times out of the box. Sadly, it has been left in the dust by more recent Shelby and Boss 302s. Only the most dedicated Mustang fans remember the ’93 Cobra R, and for now, they’re a bargain.
1992-94 Porsche 968: Porsche devotees have only grudgingly accepted the concept of water cooling. Engines in the front are for those who simply must have a Cayenne or a Panamera. Sadly, this means that truly great sports cars and GTs like the 944 and 928 don’t get much love. Perhaps the saddest case of this prejudice is the 968. Barely remembered by anyone, it combined much of what was great about the 944 and the 928, and was likely the best front-engine sports car that Porsche produced. Built both in coupe and convertible form, these cars are rare and not particularly expensive — at least for now. At some point, the world is bound to catch on. With a small rear seat and the ability to carry more than a toothbrush, between this and a used Boxster, we think there’s no contest for about the same money.
1990-1999 Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR4: That this car wound up on a “forgotten” list is painful in and of itself. Perhaps it’s more a function of Mitsubishi’s status in the U.S. market than a commentary on the inherent goodness and cool factor of this car. Twin turbo with all-wheel-drive and four wheel steering with nearly 300hp, it’s essentially a well-built V-6 F-body Camaro or Firebird with all-weather capability. If you can’t deal with the stigma of driving a Japanese nameplate, the same car was sold in the U.S. as the Dodge Stealth.
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U-S-A! U-S-A! The most American classics of all time Sun, 25 May 2014 10:00:51 +0000 Read More

Automotive designers have cribbing from each other since the dawn of the automotive era. Often it’s less obvious to borrow from far away than from your own backyard. Witness the countless European-inspired American cars we’ve seen over the years (like the 1989-97 Ford Thunderbird, a virtual copy of the 1977 BMW 630 CSi).  Europe has been known to return the favor on occasion, too, as anyone who has ever seen an Opel GT (which looks for all the world like a 2/3-scale ’68 Corvette) can attest.  The cars on this list dispense with any of that “hands across the water” nonsense. They couldn’t have come from anywhere else — they’re as proudly American as it gets:

1970 Plymouth Hemi Superbird: As over-the-top as anything got in the golden age of the American muscle car, the wild, aerodynamic nose cone and 11-story rear wing were designed to ensure NASCAR domination back in the days when the race cars actually had to resemble something you could go into a showroom and buy. Add the massively powerful and virtually handmade 426-ci hemi V-8, and you’ve got another “only in America” classic.
Jeep CJ-5: The CJ-5 was actually a variant of the Korean War-era military Jeep. Far more suited to civilian use than the WWII-era Jeep, the CJ-5 was a hot seller for American Motors, which took over Jeep’s parentage from the old Kaiser Automotive Group. Its familiar face is in every “greatest generation” newsreel and our favorite WWII/Korea movies from “Patton” to “M*A*S*H.” Few things say “America” like a Jeep CJ.
1959 Cadillac Eldorado Seville: Not only was the name of this car over-the-top (combining two names that would do just fine on their own), but it marked the high-water point for the tailfin fad inspired by the WWII Lockheed P-38 Lightening fighter plane. These were the Empire State Building of tailfins, with twin rocket-like tail lamps embedded in them. Any ’59 Caddy is a simply stunning work of art from an era of unmatched American optimism.
1964 Pontiac GTO: The Goat (which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year) can reasonably lay claim to starting the muscle car craze. The idea was to stuff a gigantic 389-ci V-8 into the smallest body possible (the Pontiac Le Mans). And although the name was a direct theft from Ferrari, nothing else about the GTO could have come from anywhere else but America. With Pontiac gone for good, another revival seems unlikely. May it rest in peace.
Ford F-Series: America invented the pickup truck with the 1925 Ford Model T pickup. And although everyone from Toyota to VW has dabbled in them, the center of the pickup universe will always be in the U.S. Perhaps the most quintessentially American pickup is the 1948-52 Ford F-Series.
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Five classic Mustangs you can still afford Thu, 22 May 2014 10:35:51 +0000 Read More

With the big 50th anniversary of the Mustang, prices of the classic first version of the Mustang, the 1964½ (technically a 1965 model) through 1966, have been moving up. The best convertibles and fastbacks with the highest horsepower engines can bring well over $65,000 and there has been renewed interest in vintage Mustangs of all years.  All isn’t lost however for the Mustang collector on a budget.

Here are five of our favorite Mustangs that are still affordable:

1964½-66 Convertible (six cylinder): If you simply must have the first version of the Mustang in a convertible and have $25,000 or less to spend on a nice one, well then you’re likely to have to settle for the six-cylinder model instead of the 260 or 289 V-8. And the six of the ’60s was nothing like today’s 300-plus hp base V-6. Nope, the 200-cubic-inch straight-six was good for just 120 hp, so performance was leisurely at best. No matter; the six still looked great.
1964 ½-66 V-8 Coupe: If you’d really rather have a V-8, there’s still time to find one for less than $25,000. Granted, it won’t be a swoopy fastback or a drop-top, but the basic hardtop is still a pretty car. Don’t expect the highest horsepower versions of the Mustang 289-cubic-inch V-8 at this price point, but nice cars are still out there. For now anyway.
1971-1973 Mach I 302 Coupe: “Mach I” was one of the more audacious names of the Pony Car era, however in actual fact, its top speed was a bit shy of the speed of sound. But it had pumped up good looks and none other than Sean Connery as James Bond drove a ’71 Mach 1 in the movie “Diamonds are Forever.” As usual, the biggest engine version has sailed past affordability, but the 302 V-8 Mach Ican still be had for around $25,000 if you look hard enough.
1984-86 SVO: This selection will likely get the trolls’ attention: a four-cylinder Mustang on a list of collectible Mustangs. But the SVO wasn’t a Pinto-based Mustang II or your dental hygienist’s 88 hp four-banger Fox Body Mustang; the SVO sported a turbo 2.3-liter four that made as much horsepower as the 5.0-liter V-8 of the day, a biplane rear spoiler, unique front fascia, and hood complete with a totally cool NACA duct-style air scoop. It was faster and more expensive than the V-8. Fuel prices never climbed the way that the industry expected, and the 5.0-liter V-8 was further developed with new, more-efficient cylinder heads, and eventually fuel injection, giving it better gas mileage and much more horsepower with less complication and expense, so the sophisticated SVO disappeared after 1986.
1987-93 GT 5.0 Convertible: We like the 1989 model because it was the 25th anniversary year of the Mustang (which Ford barely noticed). The Fox Body Mustang might not have been the most glamorous body style ever, but it was one of the cars responsible for ending the “Malaise Era” of sluggish and dull American cars. With the 5.0-liter V-8 boosted to 225 hp, in 1987, the Mustang brought cheap V-8 performance back to the masses. Care for something a bit newer? We also love the 2008-09 Bullitt Edition Mustang and think it’s a future collectible.
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11 automotive tragedies from the big screen Tue, 20 May 2014 10:25:00 +0000 Read More

Bad things often happen to good cars in the movies.

Here’s a list of 11 scenes that still make car guys cringe with every viewing:

  1. 1970 Dodge Challenger (“Vanishing Point”): The ’70 Dodge Challenger (one of about five used for the film) meets a fiery end when the protagonist of the film (played by Barry Newman) drives it into a bulldozer being used as a police road block.
  2. 1967 Lamborghini Miura P400 (“The Italian Job”): The Miura is probably the most beautiful mid-engine sports cars of all time. And that’s what makes this scene so hard to watch. In the opening scene of the movie, mobsters destroy heist-plotter Roger Beckerman’s (Rossano Brazzi) Miura with a backhoe and push it over a cliff. A small consolation is the fact that an actual intact Miura wasn’t destroyed. Just body panels over an empty accident-bent chassis. Interestingly, when the producers went to clean up the mess the next day, the remains had disappeared. Neither the chassis tag nor any of the pieces have surfaced to this day.
  3. 1979 Porsche 930 (“Caddyshack”): This scene is an object lesson as to why you should never park your car with the sunroof open within a half-mile radius of where alcohol is being served:  Young Spalding Smails, suffering from a case of affluenza combined with Johnny Walker, staggers up to Dr. Beeper’s parked 930 and empties the contents of his upper GI tract into the open sunroof. The squishy sound-effect of Beeper sliding into the seat never fails to make one cringe.
  4. 1964 Aston DB5 Martin (“Skyfall”): In the rebooted James Bond world of Daniel Craig, Bond is seen to have won the DB5 in a card game in the movie Casino Royale. Its nose-mounted machine guns are put to good use in an attempt to repel an assault by the film’s villain, played by Javier Bardem.  Sadly, the car is strafed into Swiss cheese.  Happily, the car was actually a prop that was convincingly made to look like a real DB5.
  5. 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”): This scene is perhaps the most famous bit of classic car mayhem in all of moviedom.  In it, the Ferrari is seen placed on jack stands running in reverse in a hilariously stupid attempt to remove the miles that had been put on the car during the day’s class-cutting good fun in Chicago. In a fit of frustration directed at his misplaced-priorities jerk of a father, Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) accidentally kicks the car off the jack stands and it sails out of its glass enclosure into the woods below.  Happily, as with the Miura and the Aston, it wasn’t a real California Spyder.
  6. 1979 Porsche 928 (“Risky Business”): This scene reminds us all why we should use the hand brake. Those of us who are old enough to have seen this in theaters didn’t see this one coming: Tom Cruise is enjoying a night out with the typical “Pretty Woman”-like, non-drug addicted, non-inked, debutante-like (read nonexistent) hooker that Hollywood is so fond of (in this case played by Rebecca de Mornay), when de Mornay’s handbag strap pulls the gear shifter into neutral as she’s exiting the car. The Porsche rolls down a hill heading toward Lake Michigan with Cruise on the hood in a futile attempt to arrest the forward motion of the 3,800-pound 928. It ultimately comes to a stop at the edge of a wooden pier. Just as Cruise breathes a sigh of relief and starts to make his way to the driver’s door, the entire pier collapses, taking Cruise and the car for a swim in the lake.  Audiences everywhere gasped audibly. The scene at the dealership where the service manager enters the waiting rooms and asks, “Which one of you is the U-Boat commander?” is priceless.
  7. 1985 Corvette (“The Big Lebowski”): Like the entire plot of this Coen Brothers cult classic, the setup here is a bit convoluted. A 14-year-old kid named Larry Sellers has likely stolen Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski’s (Jeff Bridges’)  battered Ford Torino, possibly (but possibly not) containing a large sum in ransom money.  The Dude and his extremely anger management-challenged bowling buddy Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) head for little Larry’s house to try to interrogate the kid and recover the money. On the way in, they’re dismayed to find a red 1985 Corvette parked in front of the house, which they take as a sign that the kid has already started to blow the money.  When standard interrogation techniques prove fruitless, Walter moves on to the enhanced interrogation which includes taking a crowbar to the Corvette’s glass in full view of a very puzzled Larry. The Corvette turns out to be the neighbor’s car. He in turn freaks out and exacts rather uneven revenge on The Dude’s already dilapidated Torino.
  8. 1941 Lincoln Continental (“The Godfather”): You could always count on the hot temper of Sonny Corleone. The Barzini Family certainly did. They also knew that when Carlo, the abusive lowlife husband of Sonny’s sister Connie, would hit her, Sonny would respond by unleashing the Hiroshima of beatings on Carlo. The Barzinis (who wanted Sonny dead) of course also knew that the most direct route from Sonny’s fist to the jawbone of Carlo would take him through the toll booth at the Jones Beach Causeway on Long Island, where the Barzini’s hit men were waiting to go Bonnie and Clyde on Sonny with Thompson sub-machine guns.  The result was not pretty for either Sonny or the Lincoln. Neither were fit for an open casket funeral.
  9. 1957 Chevrolet 210 (“Used Cars”): This early Robert Zemeckis cult classic starred the great character actor Jack Warden in a dual role as twin brothers Roy L. Fuchs and Luke Fuchs.  And while Roy L. was just an amoral small-time used car dealer, his brother Luke was a classic evil schemer. Faced with the prospect of losing his prime real estate lot to a freeway onramp, Luke hatched a plot to get his brother’s lot. Knowing that Roy L. was both without a will, had no known offspring and had a bad ticker, he sent a stunt driver (played by the chubby dude who later played Switek on “Miami Vice”) to “test drive” Roy’s prized ’57 Chevy. Predictably, the insane ride had Roy L. immediately reaching for his nitroglycerin tablets which a sharp and well-timed turn of the wheel knocked out of his hands. Nearly every panel on the poor classic Chevy was smashed by the end of the ride. The “test driver” simply tosses the keys to a gasping, chest-clutching Fuchs and says, “I’ll think about it, old man.”
  10. 1979 Chevrolet Camaro  Z/28 (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”): The Camaro was owned by intimidating high school football prospect Charles Jefferson (played by the great Forrest Whitaker in one of his earliest roles). Jefferson’s little brother and surfer/stoner Jeff Spiccolli (Sean Penn) take the car cruising one night in the San Fernando Valley and wreck it. While surveying the horrific damage, Spiccolli pops the classic line, “My old man is a TV repairman, he has an awesome set of tools. I can fix it.” Ultimately, no repairs are undertaken. Rather, the damage is blamed on car thieves from a rival high school whom Ridgemont is playing in a big football game. An incensed rhino-like Jefferson is seen later delivering paralytic revenge hits in the subsequent game.
  11. 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280 SE convertible (“The Hangover”): Which part of this seems like a bad idea?  Future father -in-law entrusts his non-Car Guy future son-in-law with his treasured Mercedes convertible for a pre-wedding jaunt with friends. Granted, they were supposed to be headed to sedate California wine country, but they go to Vegas instead. The extreme body damage that the handsome Benz suffers is predictable for anyone who has seen “Animal House.” The damage done to the interior by Mike Tyson’s pet tiger? That’s novel.

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Five of the coolest station wagons ever Sun, 18 May 2014 10:35:34 +0000 Read More

Station wagons are officially endangered in the U.S., and other than the Dodge Magnum and Cadillac CTS wagon, Richard Nixon was president when the last really cool one was built in America. But a quick look at the cars on this list might make you re-think any preconceived notions that wagons were all “Mom Mobiles” for the pre-minivan generation.

1955-57 Chevrolet Nomad — The iconic Tri-Five Chevy, built from 1955-1957, was likely the post-war high-water mark for Chevrolet. It came in myriad body styles and was available with the first version of Chevrolet’s legendary small-block V-8. The two-door Nomad wagon gives even the convertible a serious run for its money in the cool department.
1959 Pontiac Safari — The 1950s were littered with cool station wagons with over-the-top styling. Our vote goes for the ’59 Pontiac Safari. That was the model year in which tail fins reached their absurd apex. The ’59 Safari actually had two sets of fins on the top and the bottom of the rear fenders, making it look like a Redstone ballistic missile – which was probably not an accident.
1964-65 Chevrolet Chevelle — Two-door wagons are totally impractical to the point of defeating the purpose of having a wagon in the first place, but they look cool. We love the first-generation Chevelle two-door wagon for its handy size, great looks and the fact that all of the performance parts from the two-door SS coupe will fit on the wagon, making it a great sleeper muscle car.
1968-72 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser — The Vista Cruiser and the Ford Country Squire are the cars that immediately come to mind when referring to the “back backseat,” and it was probably in one of these wagons where the classic slow-burn phrase “Don’t make me come back there” was first uttered by an agitated father. The Olds gets the nod in terms of cool, simply because we love the glass roof and GM’s spot-on styling work.
1971-73 Volvo 1800ES — Volvo of the 1960s and ‘70s wasn’t exactly a company synonymous with high style. Frumpy but practical 544s, Amazons and brick-like 240s were the stereotypical Volvos of the day. But the P1800 coupe was gorgeous, and for a few brief model years it was available as a very pretty two-door sports wagon. Nicknamed “Cinderella’s Coffin” by some for their long, flat roof lines and generous glass, these wagons are among the few truly collectible Volvos — and they run virtually forever.
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Pontiac GTO: One of the 5 cars Boomers miss most Thu, 15 May 2014 10:25:38 +0000 Read More

Baby boomers are in full nostalgia mode as they contemplate their lost youth. And as the last generation that really bought into America’s love affair with the automobile, it’s natural that some of that nostalgia is of the four-wheeled variety. Here are five of the cars that baby boomers miss the most:

Pontiac GTOPontiac GTO: It’s still hard for Widetrack fans to believe that the entire division is no more and for us. It was a virtual tossup between Nos. 1 and 2 as to the most missed car, but with the 50th anniversary of the GTO (and arguably the muscle car itself) coming up, we have to go with the Goat. Not the Australian Holden-in-disguise that we got from 2004-06, mind you, but the real 1964-72 bit of classic American muscle. May John Z. DeLorean rest in peace.
Pontiac Trans Am: With Pontiac and therefore the Firebird gone, it’s reasonably certain that the famous T/A is gone for good (at least from GM). We’re not sure if we miss the car or the most audacious hood decal of all time more, but we know we start humming “East Bound and Down” every time we see one. For people who just can’t accept that the Pontiac T/A is dead, performance car genius Ken Lingenfelter will sell you a fantasticTrans Am-inspired Camaro LTA.
Chevrolet El Camino: The half-car, half-pickup concept had real legs, lasting from the 1950s through the 1980s. We think it deserves another shot but GM seems to disagree, having on multiple occasions stubbornly refused to bring back the beloved El Camino.
MGB: MG was the sports car Americans loved first, with servicemen bringing back MG TCs after WWII. When it was introduced in 1962, few could have imagined that the MGB would be the last new MG sold in the U.S. Nonetheless, that’s how it played out. In 1980, with the British auto industry in a free fall, the quaint factory in Abingdon, England, was closed, and that was it for MGs in the U.S. A shame; even though woefully outdated, the car had little to no competition and could have gone on almost indefinitely, or at least until 1989, when the Mazda Miata was introduced. Those of a certain age still miss the little MGB on sunny days.
Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon: Nearly every boomer has a story about the Vista Cruiser, whether it’s a road trip from hell or just getting shuttled to school or Cub Scouts or Brownies in one. The Vista Cruiser, with its unique windows on the roof and the back, backseat where misbehaving siblings could easily be banished, was the official wagon of the wonder years for so many boomers.
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Cars that wouldn’t die: 6 cases of auto longevity Tue, 13 May 2014 10:25:47 +0000 Read More

In this age of ultra-short product lifecycles where a three-model-year run unchanged is an eternity, it’s tough to imagine the same basic design being produced for three separate decades or more. Here are six cars well known to most Americans that all had tortoise-like life spans:

11962-80 MGB: The MG was the sports car Americans loved first, with U.S. servicemen bringing back rakish MG TCs from the UK. The MGB was the first “modern” sports car from MG that included features like actual roll-up windows and (from 1967 on) a fully synchronized manual transmission. When it was introduced in 1962, few thought that it would be the last MG sold in the U.S. Sadly, that’s how it turned out.  After a titanic 18-year run, the B exited the world little changed from the way it entered. The engine and body shell were the same basic units that were being built during the Kennedy administration.
21954-83 Jeep CJ-5: The CJ-5 was actually a variant of the Korean War-era military Jeep. Far more suited to civilian use than the WWII-era Jeep, the CJ-5 was a hot seller for American Motors, which took over Jeep’s parentage from the old Kaiser automotive group. The CJ-5’s short wheelbase gave it a terribly choppy ride and made it rollover-prone in emergency situations. Nevertheless, it remained in production for an astonishing 30 years, and there is a fair amount of CJ DNA in today’s Wrangler. 
31949-80 Volkswagen Beetle: For a car that was a virtual orphan cast-off at the end of WWII, the Beetle wound up doing OK. The Allied occupying powers didn’t quite know what they should do with the car, which was commissioned by the Nazis to give loyal subjects mobility on the new Autobahn superhighways. As it turned out, invading Poland and plunging the world into a catastrophic war took precedence over the automobile business, and the Allies found the remnants of a new factory in a new town known as Wolfsburg. They elected to let the post-war Germans keep the funny little car, and the rest is history. Although the last Super Beetle Cabriolets were sold in the U.S. from 1980-81, production of the basic Beetle sedan continued in Mexico until 2006.
41964-89 Porsche 911 (air-cooled): The 911 celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, but to be fair, we cut this off in 1989, the last year for the original torsion-bar suspension, air-cooled 911. It’s simply amazing how little of the basic car changed over the course of 25 years, from the primitive heating system, to most of the glass, roof and doors, as well as the basic engine design. 911 fans seemed just fine with that as the car outlived its intended successor — the 928.
51968-82 C3 Corvette: Corvettes through their history had been on a somewhat fast and furious development pace ever since Zora Arkus-Duntov decided to show Chevy how to make it into a real V-8-powered sports car in 1955. The second generation, or C2, Corvette (which many argue was the best of the classic Corvettes) was only around from 1963-67. The car that replaced that version, however, hung around for 14 long years. To be fair, these were tough years for GM, which was getting hammered by imports and two fuel crises. There were several mid-engine design studies that came perilously close to replacing the C3, but it never happened, and the same basic design lasted from LBJ to Reagan.
61960-82 Checker Marathon: Who doesn’t miss the Checker Marathon? One of the few purpose-built taxi cabs ever sold in the U.S., they were infinitely nicer to ride in than the clapped-out Ford Crown Vics that seem to serve as cabs everywhere in the U.S. Similar in roominess to the classic London taxis still in service, with their handy fold-down jump seats, the Marathon also added a useful trunk to the mix.  Although the vast majority were used as cabs, ultra-practical eccentrics did from time to time buy Marathons as civilian transportation.  Twenty-two years wasn’t long enough.
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Biggest automotive disappointments of all time Sun, 11 May 2014 10:25:16 +0000 Read More

Some new cars sneak into the world under the radar with little baggage in the form of expectations (realistic or otherwise).  Others are so heavily touted or anticipated that even the best can sink under the weight of unrealistic pressures. Here are some that, in addition to being under the microscope when introduced, suffered from more glitches than the Obamacare website:


1990-93 Pontiac Trans Sport: GM perceived an unexploited niche for a minivan with some style, much like the European Renault Espace. The concept car was brilliant, with gullwing doors and a glass roof. Unfortunately, none of these features translated into the production model, whose awkward profile resembled a Black and Decker Dustbuster mini vacuum. The nickname “Dustbuster” stuck, and sales were modest. Buyers found them hard to see out of because of the huge distance between the steering wheel and the windshield.


1971-77 Chevrolet Vega: The Vega was supposed to be the small car that sent the new wave of Japanese imports back across the Pacific. Instead, it pushed a giant wave of buyers into Toyota and Datsun showrooms. The aluminum engine, which was prone to overheating and oil burning, and the hideously rust-prone bodies were often just the tip of the misery iceberg for Vega owners. Even the air in the tires seemed substandard.


1981 Cadillac DeVille V8-6-4: GM struggled to maintain a sense of traditional luxury under the weight of the first Corporate Average Fuel Economy (“CAFE”) regulations. And while the idea of a V-8 engine that turned off cylinders when they weren’t needed  had promise that would eventually be realized, the technology of the day wasn’t up to the task and the feeling of the cylinders shutting off and on was perceptible to the point of being nausea-inducing.  Cadillac introduced at least 13 new computer chips for the cylinder deactivation control system before giving up.


1972-75 Jensen-Healey: The Jensen-Healey was designed to be the successor to the much-loved Austin-Healey 3000, with input from the legendary Donald Healey.  Unfortunately, where the earlier car had a lovely and curvaceous style to it, the J-H was perceived as bland and derivative.  Also problematic was the new and untested Lotus twin-cam engine. Broken timing belts, oil leaks and low oil pressure issues ensured that warranty claims added up quickly, and the Jensen-Healey was gone after just four model years.


1989-93 Vector W8: Promoted heavily as America’s answer to supercars like the Lamborghini Diablo, the Vector was underfunded, underdeveloped and (some said) amateurishly styled. Tennis star Andre Agassi was an early and unhappy customer when his car failed spectacularly on his first day of ownership, by some accounts setting his garden on fire. Accusations and legal threats flew both ways, and in the end, just 17 cars were built before the whole venture collapsed. The original price was $455,000.


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5 forgotten ’80s classics Thu, 08 May 2014 10:25:23 +0000 Read More

Automotively speaking, the 1980s were certainly better than the mid-1970s in terms of quality and innovation. Still, few cars from the era have emerged as true collectibles. Here are five of our favorites that we think deserve more attention:

1.1988 Pontiac Fiero: The Fiero may have been one of the few instances in the 1980s when the product guys at Pontiac truly stuck it to the man. Hemmed in by bean counters, unimaginative Roger B. Smith-era GM brass and militantly pro-Corvette Chevy partisans who wanted to maintain their division’s monopoly on two-seater sports cars (the stillborn Pontiac Banshee sports car was still a recent memory), Pontiac got the Fiero produced not as a sports car but as a mid-engine, two-seater “commuter car.”  Sadly, with that designation came brake and suspension parts from GM underachievers like the Chevy Citation and Chevette. But like many of the other cars on the list, the last model year was what the designers wanted all along. 1988 Fieros are notoriously good sports cars with upgraded suspension to go with the good looks.
2.1987 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe: After an abysmal 1980-82 T-Bird that came off as a fancy Ford Fairmont, Ford once again got serious about its off-and-on halo car. Still based on the otherwise good Fox platform (like the Mustang), Ford came up with a sleek 2+2 coupe body that even the Japanese stole cues from.  From a performance standpoint, the Turbo coupe was the one to have, particularly from the last production year of 1987 when it gained an intercooler that boosted horsepower to 190. Coupled with a five-speed, the ’87 T-Bird Turbo Coupe was a sensational big GT that almost nobody remembers | Benn Piff
3.1986 Mercury Capri: Fewer people remember the Mustang’s near-identical twin the Mercury Capri. Those who do often argue that it was actually the better looking of the two, particularly in the last model years when the car gained a new and unique hatch design with a large glass window. Engine options largely followed those of the Mustang. ASC/McLaren Capri coupes and convertibles are rare and quite special.
4.1982-85 Buick Riviera Convertible: The Buick Riviera and Cadillac Eldorado from this period were actually very nice. Not quite fully downsized, they had great presence and finally became the size that they probably should have been all along. GM famously got out of the convertible business in 1976 with the Eldorado. Much to the chagrin of ’76 Eldo owners (some of whom resorted to legal action), these cars marked GM’s return to some semblance of top-down glamour.  While not a powerhouse, the V-8-powered Riviera convertible still looks great — on the odd occasion when you actually see one — and deserves far greater attention from the classic car world than it gets.
5.1988-91 Buick Reatta: The Reatta was the product of an era when Buick was actually making a play for people not in the market for their last car (see the Regal Grand National).  This thinking was quickly nipped in the bud, but the Reatta was too far along to kill when the wind changed at Buick. As a result, though, the Reatta never really realized its potential as a sporty car. Still, it was a bold move for Buick and was a clean and handsome design that came with some interesting technology for the time in the form an electronic dash with touchscreens. Convertibles are particularly rare | Mecum
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Boomers vs. Gen Xers: The cars Tue, 06 May 2014 10:25:06 +0000 Read More

Gen Xers are poised to inherit the classic car hobby. It’s already starting to happen. As I mentioned in “For Sale by Boomer” in the March issue of Car and Driver, the market for 1950s Americana is already starting to fall flat as the oldest boomers (now pushing 70) start to cash out. Gen Xers (those born from 1965-85) are starting to gain some disposable income, and guess what? They don’t want the cars of their dads. They want the stuff that was on their bedroom wall posters as kids. That places the cars built between 1976 and 1996 squarely in the cross-hairs of impending serious collectability. The dirty secret? In some cases, the Gen Xer cars are better.  Here are five of our favorite Boomer vs. Gen Xer compares:

1.1964 Pontiac GTO vs. 1976 Pontiac Trans Am: According to John Kraman, the consignment director for Mecum Auctions, “Smoky and the Bandit”-era black and gold T/As are white-hot — easier to move than the granddaddy of muscle cars, the 1964 Pontiac GTO. Makes sense; this being the 50th anniversary year of the GTO, the guys who bought them new that first year are all septuagenarians. Bandit T/As on the other hand are revered by Gen Xers who grew up watching Burt Reynolds’ toupee blowing in the T-top slip stream, humming “East Bound and Down.” To them, it matters little that most malaise-era T/As-- save for the 455-cubic-inch versions-- were toothless tigers compared to the GTO. They’re cool and that’s enough.
2.1965 VW Karmann Ghia vs. 1992 Volkswagen Corrado VR6: The Karmann Ghia is an extremely pretty car, but at the end of the day, it’s a Beetle in an Italian suit. The Corrado, on the other hand, is like a Scirocco that’s paid a visit to BALCO — it’s totally juiced. With a delicious narrow angle V-6 and very little torque steer, it may be one of the most desirable front-drivers ever built. Only the motorized-mouse passive restraint seatbelts detract. Unlike Barry Bonds, the VR6 enhancement of the Corrado won’t keep it out of the Hall of Fame of collectible cars. Find a good one now (if you can) | Ben Piff
3.1972 BMW 2002tii vs. 1988 BMW E30 M3: The BMW 2002 has deservedly acquired a big reputation as the seminal German sports sedan. The fuel-injected tii is nearly mythical. Fun cars, but they have non-existent ventilation and the phony wood dash appliqués are a bit chincy. In addition, the carbureted cars feel  a bit anemic today and 2002 4-speeds are unpleasant on the highway. The E30 M3, on the other hand, is more high-strung than a thorobred race horse and it only gets better the harder you thrash it. An E30 M3  with just 40,000 miles sold at the Russo and Steele auction in Monterey last year for $40,000. It seemed like a ton of money at the time. A half a year later, it sounds like a screaming deal.
4.1970 Datsun 240Z vs. 1992 Mazda RX-7: The 240Z was a phenomenal car when it came out in 1969 at a price of just over $3,500. It was well-built, reliable and did everything well. It was the comet that killed the dinosaurs for the Opel GTs and Triumph GT6s of the world. In actuality, though, its performance envelope wasn’t that astonishing: 0-60 in about 8.7 seconds and around 125 mph. Not that much better than an Austin-Healey 3000 MK III. By contrast, the third-generation RX-7 offered supercar performance and looks at a bargain price, much as the Jaguar E-Type had in 1961. Most have been thoroughly thrashed and run into the ground (like most 240Zs had). The kicker is that far fewer RX-7s made it to the U.S. A good one at under $20K is a steal.
5.1965 Toyota Land Cruiser vs. 1984 Toyota 4Runner: We love the FJ40 Land Cruiser and, in truth, with its near 30-year production life, it spans both the boomer and Gen-X eras. Insanely overrestored FJ40s are showing up at hoity-toity catalog auctions and bringing close to six figures. As a result, some of us are over the FJ40. Enter the first-generation Toyota 4Runner. Essentially just a Toyota Hilux pickup with a fiberglass shell, many came to the U.S. sans rear seats to skirt passenger-car import duties. There are probably fewer than 1,000 of these left with under 200,000 miles, no rust, and their original paint and tape stripes. We’ve already seen good ones break 20 grand.
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Love ’em or hate ’em? 5 controversial car designs Sun, 04 May 2014 10:25:28 +0000 Read More

The old phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” wasn’t coined in reference to cars, but it might as well have been. Some cars, like the 1963-67 Corvette Sting Ray and Jaguar E-Type, are almost universally admired, while others are passionately loved by some and loathed by others. Here are five of the most polarizing:

1.1963-64 Studebaker Avanti: The Avanti was a Hail Mary play to save the ailing Studebaker Corporation with a stunning European-style GT car. Ardent Avanti fans point to its fairly timeless styling, which was supervised by the great Raymond Loewy, and the fact that the car remained in production in one form or another for five decades. Non-fans find the grill-less front end and porthole-like headlights to be a non-starter. A recent uptick in prices may indicate that Avanti lovers will have the last laugh on this one.
2.1971-73 Buick Riviera: The Boattail Riviera was one of the last truly audacious GM creations, and William Mitchell pulled out all of the stops with a huge, dramatic design including a pointed boattail reminiscent of some great 1930s cars. Haters just find it huge and over-the-top. 
3.1980-85 Cadillac Seville: The slant back or bustle trunk Seville was —like the Boattail Riviera — in some ways a throwback to the 1930s-1950s, cribbing a trunk from Bentleys and Daimlers of the era. Some people will come to blows over the merits of this version of the Seville, while some find it to be a caricature; it’s best if these two groups aren’t sharing the same air space. Regardless, nobody sits on the fence about this car.
4.1965-69 Chevrolet Corvair: The first-generation Corvair, introduced in 1959, was a pleasing and clean design. But the second-generation was drop-dead gorgeous. No less an authority than David E. Davis, Jr., writing forCar and Driver, called it one of the most beautiful cars America had produced during the post-war era. But many bow-tie fans — used to fins and lots of chrome or the long hood, short rear deck look of the Camaro and Chevelle — found nothing to like about the Corvair. We tend to agree with the fans here. It’s a beautiful little car.
5.1955-75 Citroën DS: In its native France, the DS can do no wrong. The letters “D-S” in French sound remarkably like the French word for “goddess.” But then the French also think that Jerry Lewis is a god. To most Americans, the sci-fi style of the DS just comes off as whale-like and weird | Jamie Lantzy
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5 of the most influential classic designs Thu, 01 May 2014 10:25:22 +0000 Read More

Certain cars just won’t recede into the automotive fossil record. Designers (particularly those from their company of origin) keep going back to the well. And why not? It’s almost impossible to top the cars on this list:

1.1967 Toyota 2000 GT: The gorgeous Toyota 2000 GT sports car was a giant commercial flop when it was introduced. The status of Japanese cars in the U.S. market at the time was roughly the equivalent of Korean cars about 15 years ago, and a Japanese car that cost more than a Jaguar E-Type, a Corvette or a Porsche 911 found few takers. Just over 300 were built and the model’s failure continues to haunt Toyota. The roofline and greenhouse of the 1967 2000GT show up almost unaltered in the latest Toyota sports car concept, the FT-1. Incidentally, Toyota has probably had the last laugh here as the 2000 GT is now the only Japanese collectible car worth $1 million.
2.1967 Cadillac Eldorado: The ’67 Eldorado is one of the great overlooked post-war American classics. A Bill Mitchell design triumph, it’s an ageless design that wouldn’t look out of place in a showroom today, particularly since Cadillac continues to revisit the ’67 Eldo rear end, one of the greatest ¾-views of all time.
3.1954 Jeep CJ-5: The original Jeep CJ may well be the most knocked-off vehicle of all time, inspiring the likes of the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrol, Suzuki Samurai, etc., not to mention, of course, the current Jeep Wrangler.
4.Jaguar E-Type: The E-Type was one of the prime influences for the above-mentioned Toyota as well as the famous Datsun 240Z. Its extreme long hood, short rear deck design and covered headlight styling cues also continue to show up in Jaguar’s own products like the XK8 and the new F-Type. After all, it was by rival Enzo Ferrari’s own admission the most beautiful car in the world | Jesse Pilarski photo
5.1965 Ford Mustang Fastback: Long before Ford went retro with the 2005 Mustang, they knocked off their own design for the original pony car with the European Ford Capri. Toyota went one step further with the 1973 Celica Liftback, a virtual ¾-scale replica of the Mustang Fastback. Even upper-crust Aston Martin with its V8 Vantage model of the 1970s went to the Mustang well. The 2015 Mustang still sports design cues from the original 1965 Mustang fastback | Sicnag photo
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The most commonly replicated classic cars Tue, 29 Apr 2014 10:25:45 +0000 Read More

The classic car world is full of “coulda, shoulda, woulda” stories of people who had the opportunity to buy something when it was affordable only to see it sail out of reach. If you didn’t buy a Shelby Cobra during the Nixon administration for 10 grand, the only alternative for most people today is a replica. It’s all good fun unless someone tries to pass one off as the real deal. Here are five of the most common classic car counterfeits:

1.1967 Shelby Cobra 427: The Cobra might just be the most desirable sports car on the planet. Not coincidentally, it’s also the most replicated. With bulging, macho good looks; a big block Ford V-8; side pipes; shattering performance; and only around 300 originals made, it was a certainty from almost the beginning that supply and demand would never be equal. The originals have always commanded good money — by the late 1970s, they were approaching $50,000, and around that time, cottage industries sprang up everywhere to build Cobra replicas. Some were quite good while others bordered on undriveable. A lot depended on the skill (or lack thereof) of the builder. Even Carroll Shelby, the car’s original creator, got into the act. Some argue that the 1992 Dodge Viper was the ultimate tribute to the Cobra.  Fortunately, it’s really hard to pass off one of the replicas as the real deal; the Shelby Club maintains a registry of the real cars by serial number and history | Brian Snelson photo
2.1955 Porsche 550 Spyder: The 550 Spyder (of James Dean death car fame) and the more common bathtub-like Porsche 356 Speedster have a long history of being replicated. A Canadian company called Intermeccanica makes very high quality Speedster replicas, while Beck in the U.S. has a great reputation for making 550 Spyder replicas. Because the originals were alloy and steel, respectively, and the replicas are fiberglass, there’s no danger of one being passed off as the real thing. Real 550 Spyders are $4 million or so and Speedsters can bring more than $300,000. Replicas can be had for around $30,000, which combined with the fact that they’re quite fun to drive explains their appeal | Lothar Spurzem photo
3.1961 250 GT Ferrari California Spyder: Before Ferrari got serious about cracking down on violations of its intellectual property rights, its products were among the most commonly knocked-off cars on the planet. A very bogus California Spyder built by a company called Modena Industries shot to fame as the hero car in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” About 50 were built between 1987 and 1989, before Ferrari said “basta!” Real ones start at about $9 million | Torroid photo
4.Ferrari 308 GTS: After the “Ferris Bueller” car, the Ferrari with the most screen exposure was the red Ferrari 308 GTS that Tom Selleck drove on “Magnum P.I.” Conveniently, as the 308 reached the apex of its fame via the TV show, Pontiac came out with the mid-engine Fiero, whose space frame design combined with non-stressed removable plastic body panels made it the ideal platform for conversions designed to simulate far more expensive mid-engine exotics. The most famous (or perhaps infamous) of these was the MERA, a replica of the Ferrari 308. While the proportions were off and the interior screamed cheap, we suspect that most of the then 20-something barflies taken in by the guy with gold chains and a polyester Hawaiian shirt driving the bogus 308 never suspected a thing | Drygolin photo
5.1935 Auburn 851 Speedster: Other than a slew of neoclassics that vaguely replicate Mercedes-Benzes of the 1930s, pre-war cars are seldom faked. But the Iconic Indiana-built Auburn Speedster (along with its equally stunning sister the Cord 810/812) is an exception. We’ve lost count of how many companies have built replicas over the last 40 years are so. Like the Cobras, some are quite good and some exhibit the build quality of a Sochi hotel room. A replica Speedster was featured in the opening scene of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” | Michael Spiller photo
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Potential money pits: High-maintenance classics Sun, 27 Apr 2014 10:25:11 +0000 Read More

The miracle of depreciation has put a tempting array of classic exotics within reach for many of us. Be warned, though, that very often, the check you write for the purchase is just the first of many checks that you’ll write if you make a poor or unlucky choice. Keep in mind this maxim: The cheapest examples almost always wind up being the most expensive in the long run. Here are four that famously can be punishing on the wallet:

1.1966-80 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow:  At around the cost of a loaded Ford Focus for a nice one, it’s hard not to be tempted by the old money, English drawing room, upper crust looks of a vintage Rolls-Royce. But go in with your eyes open:  A simple brake service can exceed $1,000, with the special Rolls-Royce brake fluid going for $125 all by itself. Try to substitute something from your local auto parts store and you could be looking at $3,000 or more to repair the damage. Should the guy in the Excursion be less than deferential to your Roller when parallel parking? That famous Parthenon-like grille in front is about $2,500 used if you can find one. The hood ornament alone can cost more than $1,500 should anyone decide to make a souvenir out of yours. Ouch.
2.1975-85 Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS: At around $30,000, this lovely thing represents one of the lowest points of entry to the storied Ferrari brand. Fortunately, Thomas Magnum probably never had to foot the shop bill to maintain his employer’s 308. If he did, he’d likely have had to pawn the Hawaiian shirt and moustache. While Ferrari 308s have gained a reputation for being reasonably reliable cars as Italian exotics go, they are maintenance-intensive and things do break, particularly with the oldest now  approaching 40 years old. That lovely combination switch that operates the turn signals and pop-up headlights? They can cost close to a grand (and they do fail from time-to-time).  A belt service including the all-important timing belt needs to happen at least every five years or 30,000 miles. Ignore it and you could be on the line for a $15,000-plus engine rebuild.  At three to five grand to perform, it’s easy to see how people can tempt fate on this. And 308s without a documented recent belt service are all but sale-proof.
3.1968-72 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3: The 6.3 is the closest that Mercedes ever came to building a Detroit-style muscle car back in the day (albeit a four-door one). Sporting a huge 384 cubic-inch V-8 with fuel injection and over 300 hp, the 6.3 was capable of a sub-six second 0-60 run and a 14.2-second ¼-mile time. All of this came at a huge price, though, both in acquisition costs and maintenance. A complete rebuild of the air suspension system can cost more than $5,000, as can the wonderfully complex pre-computer, mechanical fuel-injection system. At least the parts are available. Unlike other manufacturers that tend to abandon their classic models, Mercedes-Benz through its dedicated Classic Center will happily supply any parts needed.
4.1961-74 Jaguar E-Type: The E-Type is actually nowhere near as chronically troublesome as its reputation would suggest. This gorgeous car still seems to take a punch on a regular basis (most recently in a plot arc of AMC’s “Mad Men,” where a suicide attempt was botched because the car wouldn’t start). It is, however, a fairly complex car that takes kindly neither to abuse nor fools with tools. Burn out the clutch in your E-Type and you may wish you hadn’t been born. The list of things that have to come off of or out of the car to do the job is longer than the Unibomber manifesto. The entire massive clam shell hood, headlight and front fender assembly known by the British term “bonnet” is just the tip of the iceberg. It has to come off simply to get at the engine and transmission, which also need to part company with the rest of the car — along with three grand or so of your kid’s college fund.
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Secrets of the Chevrolet El Camino Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:25:15 +0000 Read More

Lately, Chevy has been in the business of either resurrecting or actually doing justice to nameplates of the past (see the new Impala, SS and Camaro).  Still in the wilderness, however, is the much-loved El Camino. Part car, part pickup, hope springs eternal that it might make a comeback. But until then, here are some things most people don’t know about it:

  • President Clinton Owned One: The 42nd President of the United States drove a 1970 El Camino with a bed lined in Astroturf. Enough said.
  • GM Still Builds It: Well, sort of. GM’s Australian division, Holden (which gave us two of the last great cars to wear the Pontiac badge, the G8 and the final GTO), builds the very El Camino-like Holden Ute, which is badged as a Chevy in the Middle East. Rumors persist that if the El Camino name returns to the U.S. for 2015, it will be based on this car.
  • It Had a Forgotten Twin: The GMC division offered the El Camino’s identical twin from 1971-87 under two names, the Sprint and Caballero.

  • Ford beat Chevord beat to the Punch: Ford often seemed to have the better idea first (the Mustang beat the Camaro to market, the Bronco beat the Blazer, etc.), and so it was with the Ranchero, the first post-war coupe utility to hit the market in 1957. But it was the more flamboyant El Camino, which debuted two years later in 1959, that really captured the public’s imagination. It outlasted the Ranchero, too, staying on the market for eight more model years.
  • It Could Embarrass Some Real Performance Cars: For a few model years during the horsepower wars, Chevy offered the El Camino with some of the high-performance engine options from the muscle car Chevelle. This reached its zenith in 1970, when a select few people actually ordered an El Camino with the famous LS6 option, which consisted of a 450-hp, 454-ci engine.  Capable of quarter-mile times of around 13 seconds, LS6 El Caminos are highly sought after today by collectors of American muscle.
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5 of the coolest four-doors ever Tue, 22 Apr 2014 10:25:23 +0000 Read More

Four-door sedans don’t usually get the love from classic car fans the way coupes and convertibles do. We think it’s time that changed. Here are five of our favorite four doors ever:

1.1962 Lincoln Continental: The ’62 Continental may be the coolest sedan of all time. Oozing with “Mad Men” and Rat Pack swagger as well as “suicide” doors that open opposite to each other, the car still shows up with regularity in movies and on TV shows whenever something over-the-top cool is needed to haul around a large entourage, much as the Continental does on the show of the same name.  A ’58 Cadillac Brougham will scratch the same itch if you simply must go with GM | photo courtesy RM Auctions
2.1948 Tucker 48: At lot of people know the basics of the Tucker story from the Francis Ford Coppola film of the same name. Few people, though, have ever actually seen one of these rear-engine beasts in the flesh. Even today, they’re simply stunning and never fail to make you think about what might have been had Tucker succeeded in marketing a rear-engine, air-cooled sedan to the masses. Certainly far more people than just Porsche 911 drivers would have learned about the joys of terminal oversteer.
3.Aston Martin Lagonda: Where some of the other cars on this list are objectively and undeniably cool, the Lagonda is a bit of an acquired taste, even for the “Tron” generation.  Except for the tires, there isn’t a curve to be found anywhere on this origami exercise of a car. It’s a catapult and an arrestor wire short of being an aircraft carrier, and the all-LED screen dash is something to behold (when it’s working). But there is something undeniably cool about this 1970s super sedan that was once a fixture at places like the London Playboy Club and every OPEC meeting.
4.1994-96 Chevrolet Impala SS: Until the late and much-lamented Pontiac G8 came out, this was the last rear-wheel-drive GM sedan to lust after. The stock Caprice was a bit of an awkward exercise with its aero design and faired rear wheels.  Fat tires, cool alloy wheels and a properly radiused rear-wheel arch did wonders for the Impala SS, as did the 5.7-liter LT1 V-8 that made 260 hp in the SS.  The few good ones that remain are becoming sought-after collectibles.
5.1951-54 Hudson Hornet: Incredible early 1950s pre-fin styling? Check. NASCAR domination? Check. Steve McQueen ownership? Check. Enough said. The Hornet qualifies as the coolest American sedan of the early 1950s.
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6 of the best TV cop cars Sun, 20 Apr 2014 10:30:51 +0000 Read More

The cop show genre goes back to the pre-TV days of radio (where you had to imagine what black and white your favorite cop was driving).  Here are some of our favorite full-size, rear-wheel-drive American cop cars from 60 years of the best cop shows:

1.“Adam 12” (1972 AMC Matador): Although it was shot in the 1970s, in many ways, “Adam 12” was a throwback to 1950s cop shows in which gangs, heroin dealers and street snitches didn’t exist and officers Reed and Malloy played by Kent McCord and Martin Milner rarely drew their guns, let alone actually capped anyone. In seasons five through seven, they drove an AMC Matador. In actuality, the LAPD was always a strong supporter of underdog American Motors; they owned more than 500 Matador black and whites at one time.
2.“TJ Hooker” (1979 Dodge St. Regis): The post-“‘Star Trek’ the TV series” and pre-“‘Star Trek’ the Motion Picture” years saw William Shatner in a relatively forgettable cop show that starred perhaps the least believable cop of all time, Heather Locklear. For much of the show’s run, Shatner drove an equally forgettable Malaise-Era Mopar full-size sedan, the Dodge St.  Regis. It’s fascinating to see them on the show because few people can remember the last time they saw one on the road — they’re nearly extinct | CBS photo
3.“Hill Street Blues” (1976 Dodge Monaco): The opening title sequence of “Hill Street Blues” with a memorable Mike Post theme song and a gritty look featured several fishtailing Dodge Monacos hightailing it out of the precinct. The Monaco in police surplus trim also served as The Bluesmobile in the film “The Blues Brothers.”
4.“Southland” (1999 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor): No list of great cop cars would be complete without the classic Ford Crown Vic. The last full-size rear-wheel-drive Ford was produced from 1992-2011. It was the most widely used police car and taxi in the U.S. and Canada, and although they’re starting to give way to the Dodge Charger, they still show up in the rearview mirrors of speeders everywhere | photo courtesy Kevin Chant
5.“The Andy Griffith Show” (1963 Ford Galaxie): The Mayberry Police Department was fond of Fords. We’re partial to the ’63 300 Galaxie with the classic gumball-machine light on the roof. Over the years, fans of the show have built hundreds of loving replicas of Sheriff Andy’s cruiser.
6.“Highway Patrol” (1956 Buick Special): Perhaps the granddaddy of all TV cop shows, rough-hewn Broderick Crawford drove a huge assortment of Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Dodges through the 1955-59 run of the show. We particularly like the ’56 Buick Special | Photo courtesy Brian Snelson

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It’s worth what? 5 classics you’d never guess are so valuable Sun, 13 Apr 2014 10:20:48 +0000 Read More

Some classics wear their price tags on their sleeves. Look at a fuel-injected ’57 Chevy Bel Air, and it’s immediately apparent that it’s valuable merchandise. On the other hand, there are the sleepers of the classic car world, the cars that are worth a lot of money but it’s only obvious to those in-the-know. Your Accord-driving neighbor would, for example, never guess that the proceeds from a restored VW microbus could put his kid through college at a very good state school. Here are five you’d never suspect of being quite pricey:

1.Volkswagen “Samba” Microbus: There’s a simple rule of thumb with VW Microbuses: More windows equals more money. The 21- and 23-window versions of the venerable ’50s bus can bring money that would shock the hippies who ran them into the ground in the 1960s—around 70 grand for a nicely restored one. They’ve even been known to break $100,000 at the right auction.
2.Fiat Jolly: The Jolly was an open-top version of the classic Fiat 500 that was meant to be stowed onboard yachts and used as transport in places like Monaco and Positano. They have no doors, the seats are made of wicker and the tops are meant only to provide shade. Appallingly cute, the pint-sized Jolly can sell for upwards of $70,000.
3.Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser: The classic Jeep-like 1960-1984 Toyota Land Cruiser was one tough vehicle—so tough that they invited horrific abuse, which explains the dearth of clean examples. A nicely restored one sold at an auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., last January for $88,000. We’ve heard stories of $100,000-plus examples. In response to FJ40s getting so expensive, first-generation 4Runners are starting to increase in value. Don’t say we didn’t mention it.
4.Ford Bronco: The humble 1966-77 Ford Bronco was a product of the same team that brought us the classic 1964½ Mustang. Unlike the Mustang, which sat on Ford Falcon underpinnings, the first Bronco was a totally unique platform. The size and shape were just right, and collectors have latched onto them in droves. Totally stock, unrusted Broncos without cut fenders and flares are rare; it takes around $30,000 to get a nice one.
5.BMW Isetta: Prior to becoming known as the ultimate driving machine, BMW suffered from a case of bipolar disorder, selling the super-expensive V-8 507 roadster and the tiny egg-like Isetta microcar out of the same showrooms. It’s no shock that the gorgeous 507 roadster sells for a ton of money, but the fact that Isettas can pull more than $40,000 is surprising indeed.
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Homemade KITT: ‘Knight Rider’ replica car Thu, 10 Apr 2014 10:25:16 +0000 Read More


Chris Palmer needed five Pontiac Trans Ams, numerous visits to eBay, countless hours of work and the generosity of several friends to recreate the car that starred in the hit 1980s television show “Knight Rider.” And he wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again.

“It was totally worth it – more than worth it,” Palmer said of his KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) lookalike. “I love this car. Everybody seems to love this car.”

Palmer started with a 1991 Pontiac Trans Am, which had a better drivetrain but was nine years newer than the car used in the show. That decision necessitated the purchase of four more Trans Am models – two each from 1982 and 1983 – so he could swap out the panels and parts required to make it look like KITT. The ’91 also has a five-speed manual transmission, unlike KITT’s automatic, so Palmer chopped the gear shift and swapped out the knob to make it look authentic.

Palmer found KITT’s unique dash (complete with two video screens) and the car’s trademark front bumper on eBay, and everything operates and sounds as it did on the show. KITT’s Michigan vanity license plate reads KNI6HT.

The Detroit-area resident said his 3½-year project would not have been possible without the help of Sled Alley Hot Rods owner Matt Gurjack and co-worker Steve Jay; Lafata Auto Body owner Eric Lafata, who did the paint; and H&E Overlays owner Eric Thompson, who assisted with the dash installation and also made the gauge overlays. Palmer, president of the newly created Great Lakes Knights Car Club, which he and Thompson co-founded, hopes to build show-quality movie-replica cars for other fans. For now, he’s enjoying all the attention he’s getting from the ultimate KITT car.

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Gone in a flash: 5 of the quickest automotive flashes Tue, 08 Apr 2014 10:25:43 +0000 Read More

Hundred-year anniversaries in the automotive world are nearly as common as new reality TV shows (General Motors, Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo all turned 100 recently). The car companies on this list weren’t as fortunate. Here are some of our favorite flashes in a pan:

1.Davis (1947-48): The Davis Car Company was founded in 1947 in Van Nuys, Calif., by entrepreneur Gary Davis, who for reasons best known to himself decided that America was ready for a tiny three-wheeled car with just 47 hp. Like the next car company on our list, Davis also took advantage of a surplus WW2 defense plant as his base of operations. With the fast-developing freeway culture in Southern California (the car’s introduction coincided with the adoption of a comprehensive freeway plan for the region), there was little demand for an underpowered three-wheeler wholly unsuited for freeway use. The company collapsed in 1948 under the weight of unpaid employees and suppliers. The founder was later jailed for fraud.
2.Tucker (1948): The Tucker story is probably the least comical of the bunch. Preston Tucker conceived a car with some truly innovative safety and performance features. Its merits were considerable and it deserved to succeed. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Negative publicity — and, many say, a conspiracy among the legacy automakers — coupled with an SEC investigation put a quick end to Tucker. About 50 cars were built in an ex-defense plant in Chicago before Tucker folded in early 1949, and 1948 was the only model year for the car known as the Tucker 48. The whole sad saga was chronicled in the 1988 Francis Ford Coppola film “Tucker: A Man and His Dreams.” Today, most of the cars survive as cherished museum pieces and in private collections. Tuckers have brought as much as $2 million at classic car auctions.
3.Bricklin (1974-76): Malcolm Bricklin just can’t stay out of the automotive industry. An early investor in Subaru of North America, he sold his stake to finance his dream — a “safety” sports car bearing his name. Sports cars and safety have never gone hand in hand, and some would even argue that an element of danger is part of their raffish charm. Not surprisingly, there was little demand for a “safe” sports car offered in colors like Safety Orange, Safety Green, Safety White and Safety Suntan (an odd, fleshy beige color). Safety Red was the only conventional color. Bricklins were built by a largely inexperienced workforce in New Brunswick, Canada, from 1974-76. Poor quality control — the gullwing doors were famous for trapping occupants inside — and low demand sunk Bricklin, leaving the Canadian government to foot the bills. Little was learned from the debacle. (See: DeLorean.) Bricklin went on to bring to America the much-reviled Yugo.
4.DeLorean (1981-83): Ex-GM superstar John Z. DeLorean stole a page from the Bricklin playbook. Just five years later, he convinced another gullible government (this time, the UK Labour Party) to build a factory in another high unemployment area (troubled Belfast, Northern Ireland) to construct another gullwing-door sports car named after its founder. Its styling, the work of the great Giorgetto Giugiaro of famed Ital Design, was a far more professional job than the Bricklin, and the DeLorean DMC-12 had a number of striking features, including its high-end appliance-like stainless steel body panels and unique doors. Sadly, the Renault-Peugeot-Volvo V6 left the car woefully underpowered and at a price point that put it into competition with faster and more established cars. The whole enterprise sank under debts guaranteed by the British government, and DeLorean’s FBI sting operation/cocaine deal gave the affair far more of a comic opera quality than Bricklin’s demise.
5.ATS (1962-63): To say that Enzo Ferrari was imperious would be akin to calling Steve Jobs “somewhat clever.” When Ferrari’s wife began to meddle in his company, a number of key staffers could stand it no more and called it quits in what became known as “The Ferrari Mutiny.” They immediately started a new Italian sports car company known as ATS, the one and only product being the advanced and beautiful 2500 Coupe. Although ATS avoided the jinx of being named for the founder, the company still quickly foundered. The few surviving 2500 Coupes are worth about $1 million each.
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Fateful 5: Once popular, these cars may disappear in the next decade Sun, 06 Apr 2014 10:25:57 +0000 Read More

Pick any car on this list and, five years ago, they seemed to be everywhere. Today, they’re becoming rare sights indeed. And five to 10 years from now, they’ll mostly be gone. It’s the march of time intersecting with their generally disposable nature, these five are our picks for imminent extinction:

1.1995-2005 Chevrolet Cavalier: The last generation Chevy Cavalier seems certain to go the way of the two previous generations of Cavaliers and essentially retreat to the automotive fossil record. The third-generation Cavalier wasn’t exactly built like a new Cruze and the fact that they fold up like an Origami swan in a collision hasn’t helped much either. In fact, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has noted that the Cavalier boasts among the highest fatality rates of any car recorded.
2.1995-99 Dodge/Plymouth Neon: The Neon was a state-of-the-art small car when it was introduced in 1994. Car guy extraordinaire Bob Lutz, then with Chrysler, saw to that. Sadly, most first-generation Neons had a built-in expiration date in the form of a head gasket that would fail at around 60,000 miles. When the cars were younger, Dodge dealers helped out with the normally $900 expense, but nearly 20 years down the road, with the herd thinned by head-gasket failures and the few surviving cars regularly abused by “The Fast and the Furious” generation, extinction probably looms.
3.1997-2002 Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer: These were the bad old days for Ford small cars. Long before we got the stellar cars that Ford was peddling in Europe (like the current Focus and Fiesta), we got stuff like the Hermosillo, Mexico-built Escort and Mecury Tracer. The sedan and wagon were the epitome of appliances for people who didn’t care about cars. The peppy ZX2 coupe, was the only exception. Today, it seems like there’s a “do not resuscitate” order out on all third-generation Escorts — they’re disappearing fast.
4.1984-90 Plymouth Voyager/Dodge Caravan: The Voyager/Caravan was a category-creating milestone vehicle. And although the minivan seems to have been supplanted by the crossover as the vehicle of choice for family transport, the original Chrysler minivan deserves to be preserved. Sadly, just the opposite is happening. Between poor paint (which often peels off hoods in sheets), the resulting rust and the hand grenade-like Ultradrive transmissions, few of these classic box-like minivans remain.
5.1995-2000 Ford Contour: Although billed by Ford as a “one-world” design, the North American version was clearly inferior in most counts to the European version, the Ford Mondeo. Only the hot SVT versions stand a chance of long-term survival. Like the Cavalier, the Contour was slammed in the safety department by the IIHS.
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5 delightful designs by American Motors Thu, 03 Apr 2014 10:20:00 +0000 Read More

Last  year marked the 30th anniversary of the end of the American Motors Corporation as a truly American enterprise. In 1983, Renault of France bought a controlling interest in the company, bringing to an end some of the most stunning shoestring budget innovation that the American auto industry had ever seen. Here are five of our favorite oddball AMCs:

1.1954-62 Metropolitan: American Motors was among the first of the U.S. automakers to see the value in trying to compete with foreign companies who were beginning to send large numbers of small cars into the United States by the 1950s. The Metropolitan was a tiny VW Beetle fighter that came in hardtop and convertible body styles. A bit of a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” type of thing, it was built by Austin of England and sold under the Nash, Hudson and Metropolitan names in North America. Collectors like them today for their bright two-tone color schemes and their “almost too cute to function as a car” appearance.
2.1965-67 Marlin: The introduction of the Ford Mustang in April 1964 caught most of the competition flatfooted. Like its similarly fishy competition from Plymouth, the Barracuda, it had a bit of a makeshift appearance to it with a strange fastback grafted on to an existing design. It gave way to the much prettier (and far less weird) Javelin in 1968.
3.1975-80 Pacer: The Pacer may well be one of the strangest cars ever to come from a U.S. manufacturer. Built to house GM’s stillborn rotary engine, it made due mostly with AMC’s ancient 258 cid six. Seemingly almost as wide as it is long, the Pacer, due to an appearance in the film “Wayne’s World,” was briefly popular as a collectible “nerd car” along with the next car on the list.
4.1970-78 Gremlin: AMC had a wonderful history of talented designers making due with miniscule budgets, which often meant new models were slice-and-dice versions of older models. And so it was with the Gremlin, which was basically a truncated AMC Hornet. The advertising of the day even made light of this fact with a commercial in which a grizzled gas station attendant looked quizzically at a Gremlin and asked the owner, “Where’s the rest of your car, toots?”
5.1980-88 Eagle: The Eagle was perhaps AMC’s most brilliant mash-up of existing parts, marrying a drivetrain from its Jeep division with the AMC Concord wagon to create the first successful mass-produced four-wheel-drive passenger car. The Concord wagon-based cars still turn up in places like Colorado and Alaska in regular use. The Gremlin-based Kammback is particularly weird and nearly extinct.
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Secrets of the original Volkswagen Beetle Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:20:33 +0000 Read More


The original air-cooled VW Beetle lasted an incredible 58 years in production, during which time it was fundamentally unchanged. It’s a record that will likely never be approached, let alone broken. Although nearly everyone of a certain age has at least one Beetle story or fond memory, there are a few things still not generally known about the beloved car. Here are five of our favorites:

  1. The original classic Beetle didn’t leave production until 2003: Although it was last sold in the U.S. in 1979 (by which time the water-cooled Rabbit had replaced it), the original air-cooled Beetle was produced in Puebla, Mexico, until 2003. It’s essentially identical to the cars produced in Germany for export to the U.S. in the 1970s, but it is illegal to try to import a Mexican Beetle into the U.S. because they don’t comply with recent emissions and safety laws.
  2. It was conceived by an infamous dictator: The original Beetle was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler. Keen to put ordinary Germans on the newly constructed autobahn superhighways in their own cars, a subsidized savings plan involving a coupon booklet was devised. When a family filled their booklet, they were supposed to get their car. WWII intervened and all pre-war Beetle deliveries were limited to Nazi party officials. Private owners didn’t get their hands on a Beetle until after the war.
  3. Germans don’t remember it as fondly as we do: The connection with the dictator who brought ruin to their country as well as the fact that it serves as a reminder of the lean times before the West German economic miracle took hold means that post-war Germans don’t have the same warm and fuzzy feelings about the Beetle that American ex-hippies do.
  4. The Beetle will float: The Beetle may have been inexpensive, but it was never cheap. Gaps were tight and doors sealed well. Additionally, it was a unibody car with a very flat floor with few openings. All of this meant that the car would actually float for at least several minutes after hitting the water before turning into a small U-boat.
  5. Subject of groundbreaking ad campaign: The Beetle was the subject of one of the most influential ad campaigns of the 20th century. Most recently lampooned on the TV show “Mad Men,” it was among the first national campaigns to utilize irony and self-deprecating wit. A tiny black-and-white photo of a Beetle in a sea of white space with only the headline “Think Small” was the first of the ads introduced in 1959 by the agency Doyle Dane Bernbach.

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