Category archives: Features

Fateful 5: Once popular, these cars may disappear in the next decade

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.

Multiple Choice: Lamborghini classic or contemporary?

Like the Concorso Italiano held each summer on the Monterey Peninsula, the inaugural Desert Concorso was a celebration of Italian cars (and music and more). While wandering around the driving range at the Shadow Mountain resort in Palm Desert, we were struck by the parking plan — a 1965 Lamborghini 350GT right next to a 2010 Lamborghini Murcielago 670SV (that’s SV for SuperVeloce, or super fast). Side by side, different generations of raging bulls. A classic European sports car next to contemporary European exotic. So, if you have to pick — and for the purposes of this Multiple Choice questions that’s precisely what you have to do — which of these Lambos do you covet the most?

5 delightful designs by American Motors

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.

The Interview: John Kraman

John Kraman | Photo courtesy Mecum Auctions
John Kraman | Photo courtesy Mecum Auctions

John Kraman was raised in automobile crazy Los Angeles during the 1960s and he never grew out of his obsession with cars. He has been the full-time consignment director for Mecum Auctions since 2006. Since 2008 he also has been a commentator and analyst for television coverage of Mecum auctions. His personal collection of cars includes a 1964 Pontiac GTO, a 2014 Mustang GT, a 2010 Corvette C6 and he is looking at Hemi and Six Pack Mopars. He enjoys riding motorcycles and handling guitar/vocals for the classic rock band Redline 7000.  Follow J.K. on Twitter at @CarKraman or watch John in action on NBC Sport’s coverage of the Mecum auctions. 

I know you love design. Name three cars, one from each decade (’50s, ’60s and ’70s) that you feel that embodies wonderful design.

There are many automobiles from the ’50s to ’70s that are considered landmark designs. However, a few truly define and represent pinnacle status for their time.

The ’50s saw a rapid evolution of both performance and design featuring lavish chrome and towering tail fins. I feel the 1959 Cadillac is the ultimate example of this era because of it’s almost comical proportions. Cutting edge and trendy when new, and almost immediately considered out of fashion after a few years, the 59′ Cad today is highly regarded as the icon of the Atomic Age.

In the 1960s, with the emerging Baby Boomers starting to drive, the debut of the Ford Mustang in April 1964 was nothing short of sensational. Here was the perfect design and price point for appeal to the youth market and was received with record sales. In fact over one million Mustangs were sold by 1966 and established a legend that continues in production today.

My favorite design from the 1970s is the Pontiac Trans Am. With engine performance on the decline Pontiac refined the handling/braking and wrapped it all in a wild package with spoilers, stripes, decals, and that giant “Screaming Chicken” hood graphic! Of course as the star of the hit movie, Smokey and The Bandit, the TA was exposed to a huge audience with sales peaking just under 100,000 sold in 1979.JK3

If money is no object, name three cars you would park in your dream garage.

Classic American Muscle is my No. 1 love! My 3 choices are all from 1969 and represent the wildest performance cars available at that time from the Big Detroit 3. First up I’d choose a Dodge Charger 500 (or Daytona) with the mighty 426 Hemi, then a 427 ZL1 COPO Camaro (only 69 built), and finally a Boss 429 Mustang.

Would you drive those dream cars or keep them parked?

All three would be kept tuned up and ready to rumble with a twist of the key. Drive them? Absolutely!

Auction myth or reality:  “When the top goes down does the price go up?”

Reality. Convertibles are regarded as the most valuable versions of vintage cars with only a few exceptions. The 1963 Corvette Split Window Coupe is worth more than the Convertible and the Mustang 2+2 Fastbacks from ’65-’66 are rapidly reaching the values of the Convertibles.

What do you feel makes the collector vehicle hobby such a “fraternity”? Does it transcend socioeconomic status?  In other words:  Will a rich car guy talk shop with the average Joe?

It seems to me that the fraternity exists between fans of the same brands! Not unlike sports rivalries, many enthusiasts are extremely loyal to their brands and do not discriminate for economic reasons. Try putting a Camaro and Mustang fan together for a discussion and see what happens!

 

Secrets of the original Volkswagen Beetle

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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.

Multiple Choice: 1957 Buick or 1957 Mercury?

Once again, you’re at an auction (in this case, it’s a Silver Auction) and you can afford to bring home only one of these classics. Your choice involves 1957 models from two of Detroit’s upscale brands — a two-tone green Buick Century and a red-and-white Mercury Turnpike Cruiser. Which one do you want, and why?

Secrets of the Camaro

1969 Camaro

One of America’s favorite pony cars, the Camaro has an interesting past with more than a few buried facts and secrets hiding just below the radar. Here are five of our favorites:

  1. The Camaro was almost called the Panther — It took a while for Chevrolet to come up with a final name for the Camaro. For quite some time it was referred to internally as the Chevrolet Panther. In end, Chevy’s preference for names beginning with a “C” won out, and the Panther name died as part of an elaborate PR campaign.
  2. The Camaro was actually a Canadian Import — Like William Shatner and Michael J. Fox, the seemingly All-American Camaro was actually stealth Canadian. From 1993-2002, the Camaro and its twin, the Pontiac Firebird, were built in St. Thérèse, Quebec, a Montreal suburb.
  3. “Camaro” means nothing — The name was actually a contrived moniker, much like “Camry” and “Corolla.” Although some claim that it is French slang for “friend,” neither the GM product people (nor most French-speakers, for that matter) are aware of this.
  4. “Outpaced” the Mustang — Although the Camaro came 2½ years after the Mustang and was often outsold by the Mustang, it has a healthy lead in the Indianapolis 500. The Camaro has been the official pace car at Indy six times, versus just three for the Mustang. Only the Corvette (12) has paced more 500s than the Camaro.
  5. Current Base V-6 Puts V-8s of old to shame — Amazing as it may seem, the 2013 base six-cylinder engine, at 323 hp, puts out more ponies than the most powerful small-block V-8 in the original car (295 hp). In fact, it probably makes nearly as much power as the fiercest big block V-8 of 1967, the 396 cubic inch, 375 hp. In modern “net horsepower” (measured with mufflers and accessories hooked up), the new six and the old big-block V-8 are probably just about even.

Last year, Hagerty’s employees finished a full restoration of a 1969 Camaro SS. To find out more about the restoration process or where the Camaro is now,  visit the Comeback Camaro page.

Future Classic: Tesla Roadster

 

Tesla Roadster | Tesla photos
Tesla Roadster | Tesla photos

Exotic styling. Limited production numbers. Breakthrough technology. Outstanding dynamic dexterity. Fun to drive. Bonus points if the top goes down or can be removed.

Each of those is an attribute that applies for separating mere used cars from desirable classic cars. And each of those attributes applies to our suggested Future Classic for this week. That car is the Tesla Roadster.

Exotic styling: Although they may share only 6 percent of their components, the Tesla Roadster was pretty much based on the Lotus Elise.

Limited production: Tesla reportedly built fewer than 2,500 of the electric-powered two-seat sports cars.

Electricity powers the Tesla Roadster
Electricity powers the Tesla Roadster

Breakthrough technology: Did you read that previous sentence? “Electric-powered.” At first, Tesla used AC Propulsion’s electric power train, but then it developed its own state-of-the-art system.

Outstanding dynamic dexterity: Try zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds, and that’s only in a straight line. With mid-rear “engine” architecture and rear-wheel drive, the Tesla Roadster can turn nicely as well.

Fun to drive: Duh, plus nearly 245 miles of range on a charge (well, depending on just how heavy you are with your right foot).

Bonus points: Yes, the top can be removed.

Automobile magazine reported that the Tesla Roadster “exploded off the line, pulling like a small jet plane… like driving a Lamborghini with a big V12 revved over 6,000 rpm at all times, waiting to pounce (but) without the noise, vibration, or misdemeanor arrest for disturbing the peace.”

_jl78196The magazine’s week long test concluded the Tesla Roadster was the coolest car the writer ever had driven.

“Why? Despite the flat-out sprints, the drag racing, the donuts, the top-speed runs, and dicing through traffic like there’s a jet pack strapped to the trunk, Pacific Gas and Electric—which generated power for the Tesla—released into the atmosphere the same amount of carbon dioxide as would a gasoline-powered car getting 99 mpg. And the Roadster didn’t break. It didn’t smoke, lock up, freeze, or experience flux-capacitor failure.

“Over the past ten decades, no company has been able to reinvent the car — not General Motors with the EV1, not Toyota with the Prius. And now, a bunch of dudes from Silicon Valley have created an electric car that really works — as both an environmental fix and a speed fix.”

A Future Classic, indeed.

 

Multiple Choice: ’47 Caddy or ’48 Lincoln?

Silver Auctions’ March sale at Fountain Hills, Ariz., included 191 vehicles. Among them were a couple of post-war American luxury cars. Given your choice, would you bid on the 1947 Cadillac Club Coupe (blue car) or 1948 Lincoln Continental (red car)? Which would you want in your garage? Tell us why via the “Share your comments” box below.

 

 

Mercedes showcases 120 years of history in racing

Alfred Vacheron’s Mercedes-powered car participates in the first automobile race, a reliability run from Paris to Rouen on July 22, 1894 | Mercedes-Benz Classic

Editor’s note: As part of the centennial of its historic 1-2-3 sweep of the 1914 French Grand Prix, Mercedes-Benz has provided the following summary of its 120-year history in auto racing competition and the accompanying photos:

From history’s first automobile race in 1894 to its various contemporary involvements in motor sports, victories by the racing and rally cars from Merceds-Benz are a testimony to innovative technology, the drivers’ will to win and efficient teamwork.

Outstanding moments in the brand’s racing history include:

  • participation in the world’s first car race in 1894,
  • the first Grand Prix victory of a Mercedes at the Nice Race Week in 1901,
  • the 1-2-3 finish of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in the Grand Prix of Lyon in 1914,
  • the age of the supercharged cars after 1922,
  • above all, the era of the Silver Arrows before and after the Second World War
1-2-3 sweep at the Nurburgring in 1952
1-2-3 sweep at the Nurburgring in 1952

These, as well as rally races and several record-setting speed runs, are the foundations of the current success in Formula 1, the DTM (German Touring Car Masters) and customer sport.

Use this link to see a gallery of 10 highlights of Mercedes’ early racing history.

“Involvement in motor sport cannot be seen in isolation from the work that is being done every day in laboratories, workshops and factory buildings,” Mercedes said in its 120 years of racing news release.

“There are close links between motor sport and first-class products in all other areas that work in both directions: knowledge gained from the development of competition vehicles is transferred to series production – and vice versa.

Many technical innovations that open up new avenues in automotive engineering have their roots in pioneering developments from motor sport engineers.”

— Mercedes-Benz

 

“The skills of the engineers acquired from working on the comprehensive product range of the global brand Mercedes-Benz and its predecessor companies provides inspiration for improving the racing cars. This direct exchange of technology and engineering know-how was particularly evident during the early decades of motor sport.

“In a broader context, this mutual exchange still applies today… Engineering expertise in motor sport pairs up with the passion for sporting competition. Customer preferences and markets are changing in the global environment and the company constantly adapts to these changes. Many technical innovations that open up new avenues in automotive engineering have their roots in pioneering developments from motor sport engineers…

“Without the backing of the team and the brand neither the best drivers nor the best racing cars can win. In motor sports every race therefore demonstrates anew that it is the collective input that makes the difference between success and failure. The team, the technology and the tactics must dovetail smoothly.

Stirling Moss and navigator Denis Jenkinson win the Mille Miglia in 1955
Stirling Moss and navigator Denis Jenkinson win the Mille Miglia in 1955

“Consequently the significance and fascination of the races does not end with the checkered flag: a brand that fully commits itself to motor sports and wins victories worldwide as Mercedes-Benz does promotes its products far beyond the confines of the racing circuit. This is zat Mercedes-Benz and was also appreciated by its predecessor brands: the Benz annual report of 1907/08 stated: “We consider the extra cost of racing an absolute necessity to defend the position befitting our make in international competition.”

Mercedes’ anniversary news release notes that auto racing was born 120 years ago in France, and that the “System Daimler” – a two-cylinder V-engine built in France under license from Gottlieb Daimler’s original plans – powered the victorious automobiles from Peugeot and Panhard & Levassor. Vehicles powered by Daimler engines took the top positions in the world’s first races from Paris to Rouen (1894) and Paris–Bordeaux–Paris (1895).

Soon, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) and Benz & Cie. were involved in racing, with the first Mercedes winning at the Nice Race Weeks in 1901-1903 and that the 200-hp Benz racing car — the famed “Blitzen Benz” (Lightning Benz) was the first automobile to break the 200 km/h (125-mph) speed barrier, which it did in 1909.

DMG won the Grand Prix in Dieppe in 1908, with a pair of cars from Benz finishing second and third (the companies were rivals at this point, but later would merge). DMG also posted the first 1-2-3 sweep of a race in 1914 in the French Grand Prix at Lyon.

The amalgamation of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie. in 1926 to form Daimler Benz AG also merged the successful motor sport activities of the two brands. This era of the late 1920s was dominated by the supercharged Mercedes-Benz sports cars, which won all major events.

The S-Series cars were known as the “White Elephants.” Next came the famed Silver Arrows, with Rudolf Caracciola driving a short-wheelbase SSK to victory in the Mille Miglia in 1931.

The era of the Silver Arrows lasted from the 1930s to 1955, interrupted by the Second World War. Brand historians use the name Silver Arrows to refer to a whole family of racing cars, record-breaking vehicles and racing sports cars .

Before the war Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows dominated the European Grands Prix. In 1952, the brand returned to motor sport with the 300 SL racing sports car. Formula One championships were produced in 1954 and 1955 and the sports car world championship was added in 1955.

Juan Manuel Fangio wins the 1955 Belgian Grand Prix
Juan Manuel Fangio wins the 1955 Belgian Grand Prix

To focus on the development of new passenger cars, the Stuttgart-based brand withdrew from motor sport for several years. However, private teams, with support from Mercedes-Benz, continued racing and had a strong presence on the international victory podiums. A range of different vehicles made their mark in various competitions: in the early 1960s, the “Tailfin” saloons and the 230 SL dominated international rallying. The G-Model won the Paris–Dakar rally in 1983. Heavy-duty commercial vehicles from Mercedes-Benz were equally successful at rally races, endurance runs, and in the European Truck Racing Championship.

In addition to these racing cars and racing sports cars, the company produced record-breaking vehicles. Some were based on research vehicles, such as the C 111 (C 111–II D of 1976 to C 111–IV of 1979). Others were derived from production vehicles, such as the 1983 Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16, which set three world records and nine best-in-class records in Nardò in southern Italy.

In the late 1980s, Mercedes-Benz returned to circuit motor sport and won two Group C racing sports car world championships. At the same time, the brand also competed in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) and later in the International Touring Car Championship (ITC). Between 1986 and 1996 Mercedes-Benz won three championships and was runner-up four times.

Since 2000, Mercedes-Benz has competed in the reorganized DTM, racing to overall victory in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2006. In 2003, the team claimed the first three places, with Bernd Schneider as the overall champion. Mercedes-Benz repeated this triumph in the 2010 season with Paul di Resta as the winner.

Jochen Mass, Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens win at Le Mans in 1989
Jochen Mass, Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens win at Le Mans in 1989

After celebrating major victories in Group C racing and in the DTM in the early 1990s, Mercedes-Benz returned to Formula 1 in 1994 – at first via the teams Sauber-Mercedes (1994) and McLaren-Mercedes (since 1995). During this period world championship titles were won by Mika Häkkinen twice (1998 and 1999) and Lewis Hamilton once (2008) and Team West-McLaren-Mercedes won a constructors’ title (1998). Mercedes-Benz also finished as the runner-up 10 times.

A new era dawned in 2010: Mercedes-Benz returned to Formula 1 with its own works team.