by That Car Guy
The local TV ad said, "Come by and drive the New Chevy Camaro!" So today (7/16/09) I was in the area, and they had three brand new 2010 Camaros on the lot... all were already sold. There was a black one, a dark gray, and a yellow SS with black stripes. All were locked, so I could not get a good look inside. Of course, driving one was out of the question. And the real irony? They were going to 16-year-olds.
But I had a chance to look the cars over and talk to a salesman and two service writers. Already the stories were coming in... how they had just replaced a red passenger's side mirror (Another 16-year-old), how they had calls saying that the next Camaros were sold before they were even dropped off of the transport truck, and how people would pay anything just to have one.
I'm ashamed to admit I live in a wealthy county. Some people here have money, others think that because they live here, that they do. We've been here 48 years, and I'm ready to move and let these folks have the place... its real charm was ruined years ago.
This visit to the dealer was actually unplanned, so I didn't have a camera along. The salesman was more than happy to give me a brochure, so I got the images here from that. My favorite feature on the new car is the four optional gauges in the floor console. That makes a total of eight instruments... speedo, tach, fuel, temp, plus oil pressure, oil temp, volts, and tranny temp.
So I walked around the cars to look at how they were put together. Please remember that this is the same dealer that had (And still has) the Cobalt I wrote about a few months ago. All three cars were just about perfect... the body panels fit together nicely, all paint surfaces, including the bumpers, matched, and the paint was very smooth and even. Then I saw a window sticker that had been removed and left on top of the dashboard. The 'bottom line' price was just over $37,000.
That surprised me until I remembered that last summer's new muscle car, the Dodge Challenger, was about $40,000. The Camaros were much better looking and better detailed in their finish. I would have believed that the Challenger had already been repaired. I saw no rough paint or misaligned panels on the Camaros, as I had seen on the Mopar.
The grille still has not won me over. It seems to be a square peg in a round hole design. From the brochure pictures, I think the dash could have been more smooth. The illustration of all the car's deployed airbags looks more like a fine mattress store display that a car interior. Let's hope we never actually get to see them.
The muscle car war has heated up. Whether you like bow ties, ponies, or crosshairs, there may be no losers, just personal preferences. But if you see a new Camaro in Williamson County, Tennessee, please beware... a 16-year-old is probably behind the wheel.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
The photos here are from the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro brochure.
by That Car Guy
It was the dawn of the present-day SUVs, say around 1990. The Ford Explorer and Mazda Navajo were brand new. The huge Chevy Suburban and Blazer had been with us for some time, but their uses were still somewhat commercial, or they made great work vehicles. The word "craze" did not apply to those behemoths, but when SUVs became mid-sized, their sales took off like rockets!
At the same time, the Suzuki Samurai was on the outs because, like Mayberry's Otis Campbell, it had a reputation for being a little "tipsy". Yet there seemed to be a market for a compact SUV, especially for thrifty folks like yours truly.
Enter Daihatsu. The name "Daihatsu" is a combination of the first kanji for "Osaka", and the first kanji of the word "engine manufacture". When put together, they are pronounced "dai hatsu". With only two vehicles in its American lineup (1988-1992), Daihatsu struggled to keep up with the established brands. They only offered the compact Charade and Rocky. The Charade was a car, and a bit "plain" at best.
The Rocky was a small SUV that, had it been a bit more refined, could have been a big hit in our market. Comparing the Rocky to the more-familiar Samurai just seems natural here.
I had the pleasure of keeping a new Rocky for a few days as a test vehicle back then. In addition to highway driving, I took it off-road on some farms, but nothing real serious. My attitude was to return the vehicles in as good of shape as I received them, if not better. So forging streams and jumping dirt mounds was out of the question.
The Rocky had the tight, well-built feel of all Asian vehicles of the time. All the pieces fit together well. If I had not been in need of a pickup truck with an open bed to tote smelly fossil fuels around in, the Rocky would have been a good candidate for my next vehicle.
Its styling was pleasant enough. The character lines all flowed together, door hinges were concealed, and the wheel arches and large tires were macho enough to say "rugged", but without being a Jeep poseur. The design looks clean today.
Like the Samurai, all Rockys were 2-doors with manual transmissions and 4-wheel-drive. The Rocky had a 5-speed; the Samurai had a 4-speed. Air conditioning was extra. They were both also some sort of open/convertible-type vehicle; the one I drove featured a hinged hard top over the front passengers. A soft canvas top covered the back, and a rear hardtop was an option.
The Rocky was JUST big enough to live with. I enjoyed the Samurai (aka SJ-410) that we rented in The Bahamas, where there were no interstates and the fastest speed limit was 45. But back here in the states, a little more mass is needed to feel safe above 55. If you've ever caught a wind gust while in a high-profile vehicle, you know what I mean. At least the Rocky felt adequate on the highways of Middle Tennessee.
The low sides of the Rocky were its lack of power and poor interior design. With just 1.6 litres and 94 horsepower, doing burn-outs while leaving the drive-in were impossible. Zero to 60 times were "leisurely". Top speed? In one of these vehicles? Uh-uh, not while I'm in it.
I'm not a big guy, but my right knee almost became sore from bumping the obtrusive radio/HVAC control housing. To live with a Rocky, some form of padding there would have been necessary. The radio was way too low to safely reach while driving; most newer vehicles have reversed this placement of the radio and A/C controls.
verdict of the Rocky was that it was a glorified Samurai, and maybe a
bit better planted on the road. Today, a new Rocky-type vehicle could
be a success. Just give it some decent power, a few comfort goodies,
and please remove that awful knee-knocker.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
What better way to describe our own car lust than to share the cars we have? Though I don't exactly have the stable of exotic Italian stallions or Teutonic treasures we all dream about, here are my rides, at least for now:
2003 Ford F-150 XLT Super Crew: Just once in your life, do it. Bend the rules, break the piggy bank, let a dream happen. In my case, I wanted a new truck. Back in 2002, I had a 1994 Ranger, but it didn't have a back seat. In fact, I hadn't had a vehicle with a back seat for 16 years! So, when we started cashing in on some real estate investments, part of the deal was that I got to order a new truck or, as we call them, a Tennessee Cadillac.
It took me over a year to pick this one out. I wound up with more than I expected. The salesman, a family friend, found an unlisted trim package, the "Color and Chrome" as it was called, that was available in only a few states. In fact, when the ordered truck arrived, the package was missing. The computer did not allow that trim package to be sent to Tennessee.
So I waited another six weeks for the correct truck to be built. It arrived exactly a week before Christmas 2002, in the 100th year of Ford Motor Company production. That day was very cold, making the heated seat option even more welcome. The sunroof stayed shut, and I learned how the remote start key fobs worked. The only addition I've made to the interior is a real fake wood kit, which the relatively stark monochromatic interior desperately needed. The truck has 14,000 miles at this date.
I read somewhere that this truck was "A car on the outside, and a truck on the inside." I can't agree more. And the 2004 and up F-150s are "A truck on the outside and a car on the inside." Again, I agree completely.
2003 Madza Tribute LX-V6: Mom deserved a reward. She had lived a meager life, and deserved a comfortable and practical vehicle to carry groceries, potting soil, and her friends, occasionally on long trips. Right after I got the Super Crew, it was her turn. The Tempo had seen better days, time for a treat.
We looked at an Accord, but the seats were too low for her to comfortably get into and out. The trunk floor was too low for her to place things. It didn't take long for us to realize that she didn't need another car. A small SUV/crossover caught our eyes. They had one CR-V on the lot, but the folks at the dealer here in Franklin became a bit rude, even suggesting that I "Go look at their used car lot." The folks at Maserati/Bugatti/Lamborghini/Bentley St. Louis have been much nicer, and they even have a boutique.
I showed her a PT Cruiser, and she ran away. But she liked the practicality side of a crossover. So we drove over to the local Mazda dealer, and one test drive of the V-6 Tribute was all it took. Zoom Zoom!
She even let me pick the color, which is odd for a lady. The hue is called "Merlot", and that is her favorite bubbly. We've been very happy with the vehicle for over six years now.
But her health is slowing, and she hasn't driven for a couple of years. At 84, the doctor said no more. She's almost 86 now, and I'm sure she could drive it quite well into town. But there's that one chance that something might happen. When my time comes to give up the keys, I want a vehicle we all can go for a ride in, and I'll sit in the back. I've taken over the Tribute as a daily driver, and shuttle her around as needed.
2001 Mazda Miata SE: Well, this was my first post here at Car Lust, so there's not a lot of news. But since that was published, I've had the hood ding popped out, a new windshield installed, and driven it to St. Louis twice.
As another reviewer wrote, Mazda missed their chance with this 6-speed by not installing a proper top gear. Running at 70 miles per hour in top gear turns the engine at around 3500 rpm, which is a bit "buzzy" to be kind. A five-hour trip is more than enough in this roadster.
But the car shows no signs of trouble, even going on nine years old with under 45,000 miles on the odometer. A couple of small light bulbs went out, but so what? They work now. I hope to have this car for a very long time.
1990 Kawasaki EX500: This bike was named "Best Handling Bike of the Year" in 1990. The series later became named the Kawasaki "Ninja," with very few physical changes. New instruments, a rear disc brake, and some body panel changes and graphics were about it. The mechanical similarities makes parts availability a breeze.
I got it a little over a year ago, but haven't had near the saddle time I expected. But it's been fun to fiddle with. Swapping the amber side reflectors for flashing turn signal units was easy enough; they came off of a utility trailer and still have built-in reflectors.
The original color scheme was blue, white, and pink, so I ordered three rolls of reflective tape... red, white, and blue, and got the X-Acto knife out. Carefully trimming the new tape to size, I covered the factory tape stripes as close as I could, to maintain a near-factory look. Now the bike is easy to see at night, and hopefully a lot safer. This is virtually the same bike the bad guy rode in True Lies.
Well, that's about it for now, anyway. Oh, I'm still looking for a 1969 Lehmann-Peterson Executive Limousine. If anybody knows where I can find one, please let me know.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
by That Car Guy
Those words opened the original "Star Trek" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" TV shows, and also closed my favorite Star Trek movie, "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan." Whether spoken by James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, or Mr. Spock, they have an almost ethereal quality of their own.
Released on June 9, 1989, "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" was supposed to be the last film with the original cast, but fans' reaction to the production left quite a bit to be desired. It even left a black hole in many hearts, if I may be so bold.
I remember a late-night TV joke and others who said that their next movie should be called "Star Trek VI: The Apology". But STV:TFF is really a quite logical story, once the plot line is better understood. The movie was directed and co-written by that man with a life, William Shatner. <---- Please click! LOL
"Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" may be the least-liked film of the series, possibly because the audience did not mind-meld the connection between our friends on the USS Enterprise and what was happening down here on earth in the late 1980s, when the script was written. At the time, televangelists were falling from Grace faster than a lazy, fat, drunk hooker playing a stolen slot machine. A few even went to jail.
To parallel their plight, STV:TFF presented a fictional futuristic prophet whose message was also a bit far from the truth - Captain Kirk summed it up when he asked the "Almighty", "What does God need with a starship?" Or, for that matter, what does He need with a pickup truck?
"I know this ship like the back of my hand."
Certainly not a starship, the 2009 Nissan Frontier has no transporter, photon torpedoes, or invisible energy shields. But it does have two available engines: a 4-cylinder with 152 horsepower, or a V-6 with 261. Sorry, neither will get you up to warp speed, you'll just have to settle for one-quarter impulse power.
All Frontiers sold in America are made at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, where I used to work. To my chagrin, production started on the truck after I left, so I never saw one coming down the line. The first generation Frontiers were known to be very carlike, but the present truck is much more brutish. It has also grown into a mid-sized pickup, sharing the Nissan F-Alpha truck platform and many body components with the Nissan Pathfinder, also built in Smyrna.
"I don't want my pain taken away, I need my pain!"
The first modern 4-door pickup I ever sat in was a Frontier in 2000, before the Super Crew and Sport Trac were introduced. But I was disappointed then, and now, that the rear doors on the Frontier are really just ¾-doors, not quite the width of the front doors. To me, they look a bit truncated... abbreviated... even narrow. A Horta could never pass through these portals. I was hoping that this would have changed on the second generation, but it did not. Nissan has a few styling quirks, like the oddly-mounted outside rear door handles on the Pathfinder, that make their way from body style to body style. I guess this is one of them.
In STV:TFF, Mr. Spock surprised us with a half-brother, Sybok, brilliantly played by Laurence Luckinbill, who just happens to be married to Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball's daughter, Lucy Arnaz. Desi & Lucy owned Desilu, where the original "Star Trek" TV series was filmed.
I just read that the "God Planet" name, "Sha Ka Ree", was an abbreviated pronunciation of "Sean Connery", the first pick for Sybok's pointed ears. But he had been contracted to film "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", and was not available to play the Vulcan.
In reality, the Nissan Frontier has a half-brother, the Suzuki Equator. Both are built on the same assembly line in Smyrna, share the same backbone, heart, and DNA, yet differ somewhat by facial and body features. The Suzuki version, like the Frontier, comes as either an extended cab or crew cab model. These days, regular cab pickups seem to be dying faster than an Enterprise away team member wearing a red shirt.
"Maybe God is not out there, maybe He is in here... the human heart."
STV:TFF may not be us Trekkers' favorite Star Trek movie, but I'll never forget the campfire scene where Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, sipping on some 23rd Century black-labeled Tennessee whiskey, sings "Row, row, row your boat." Captain Kirk also joins in, reminding us again why he is a ♫Rocket Man♫ and not a singer. The group also asks why, after all the time they spend together in outer space, do they stick together while on vacation, and why don't they have families. Later, Kirk replies that they are a family.
Pavel Chekhov and Hikaru Sulu were also off in the woods together, perhaps spending some quality "family time" of their own, and got lost. I still wonder how they could communicate with Uhura via radio, but could not be tracked. Was there not/will there not be some form of GPS in the 23rd century? Mr. Scott should take a look at those communicators!
Some day, Nissan will replace the Frontier with another truck. When the last one rolls off the line, I hope the folks in Smyrna will set their phasers on "Fun" and have a party, banner, and pass out T-shirts to celebrate its success and retirement. Maybe the theme of the day will be to honor "The Final (Nissan) Frontier."
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
At separate times, I met Walter Koenig ("Chekhov") and James Doohan ("Scotty") right after this film was released. May both our favorite Star Fleet Engineer and Doctor rest in peace.
by That Car Guy
We all like to drive... that's why we're reading this post! But hey, what if we were to take the back seat for a while? Take some time off, let somebody else deal with the traffic. When that day comes for me, whether by choice or necessity, this is what I'd like to be driven around in.
Actually, this particular car was the "Nixon-mobile". This 1969 model is my favorite for one particular reason: It's the only 1960s Lincoln Continental that has a stand-up grille, rather than a horizontal one.
OK, keep the fender flags and decals, maybe tone down the sunroofs and opera windows a bit, but this car is about as close to passenger Nirvana as I can imagine. Sit back, kick your feet up, close the window separating you from "up there", and take it easy... you have left the driving to someone else.
The Lincoln Continental's body lines were stately in their own right, but the center addition only made them more pronounced. The car looks as if it was designed for the extension which, surprisingly, it was not.
Until these cars were built, most "factory" limousines got their extra length by adding space behind the rear doors. Cadillac (At least until 1986) and Packard secretly saved extensive stamping costs by simply using the rear quarter panels from their 2-door models, such as the Coupe deVille! Even Chrysler, in 1984, stretched its little K-Car into a limo, the Chrysler Executive, with this method. In 1959 and 1960, Lincoln offered a limousine, but it was not lengthened at all. Stretching the center of the car was a revolution that almost every limousine uses today.
In 1962, when wealthy George Lehmann was 23, he wanted a custom limousine made for his mother. By chance, he met auto craftsman Robert Peterson, who said, "No problem, 12 days". The result became a partnership that would last until 1970 and produce between 500 and 600 cars (The number varies by references). That's Mr. Lehmann on the left, Mr. Peterson on the right, on the South Lawn of The White House.
At first, Ford did not think the unibody structure of the Lincoln would survive the modification. But after 40,000 miles of harshly testing the prototypes, the limousine conversion turned out to be a much stronger car than what it was based on! The nod was given, and Lehmann-Peterson began building limousines to be sold and warranted by Ford. So, in 1963, Lehmann-Peterson, Inc. was born.
I recently saw a 1969 Lincoln Continental 4-door for sale, advertised at $7,500. But that's not good enough. These limousines evoke a feeling that not only are you physically at your destination, that you have arrived. In style.
The Lehmann-Peterson limousines are not to be confused with President John F. Kennedy's parade car, the X-100. This $200,000 "Midnight Blue" Lincoln was a 1961 model, owned by Ford Motor Company and leased to the government for $500 a year. It was built by Hess and Eisenhardt and had a clear plastic "bubble top" for bad weather. The car was built for comfort, not security.
The X-100 was damaged on November 22, 1963, in Dallas. Its windshield was cracked, some moldings were dented, and the interior was ruined.
So it was shipped back to Hess & Eisenhardt for repair and new modifications. A permanent roof was attached, metal armor and bullet-proof glass were installed, and the car was painted black. It was put back into service and used into the Nixon years. Presently, it is on display at The Henry Ford (museum) in Dearborn, Michigan.
Inside the Lehmann-Peterson limousines, space was plentiful. I would need a tape measure to prove this, but perhaps a Smart Car would fit inside these limos, between the dash and rear seat, if the roof was removed.
The builders faced two jump seats toward the rear seat and placed a cabinet between them, creating a "conversation" atmosphere. This would also allow the installation of a television, soda/drink fountain, stereo hi-fi entertainment system, maybe even an 8-Track tape player if you so desired (This was the 1960s after all).
Other luxury options included a telephone, footrests for all passengers, a manual or electric sliding glass divider behind the driver's seat, a two-inch roof height addition, blacked-out glass, and separate front and rear air conditioning systems. An umbrella for the passengers, located under the front seat within easy reach of the chauffeur, was standard equipment.
These were some of the advertised options. If a buyer wanted anything "custom" done, the sky was the limit. Literally.
In addition to American Presidents, notable Lehman-Peterson customers included the Pope, Jackie Gleason, Hugh Hefner, Spencer Tracy, The Supremes, The Rolling Stones, Sophia Loren, Jerry Lewis, actor Ronald Reagan, Aristotle Onassis, and this guy.
The Papal version was built in an unbelievably quick six days. It featured an elevated seat and lighting for the Pontiff, a cutaway roof with a "flying bridge" windshield, illuminated flag mounts for the fenders, a public address system, and oversized, retractable running boards on the sides and rear for security personnel. This car was made from an earlier limousine that had been used for testing, and would have never been offered for sale.
Elvis' manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker, gave The King this car. The story goes that he gave himself one as well.
These limos have been seen in many movies and TV shows, including "Thunderball", "Godfather III", "Green Acres", and "The Andy Griffith Show". There are also nice shots of the exclusive 1969 front-end in "The Jackson 5 Story", "Where The Buffalo Roam", and "Columbo". Watch the bloopers in "Thunderball" and "Green Acres" as the rear doors are opened with the windows up, then the windows disappear. Funny.
This 3-foot stretch is mild by present standards, but that's all right with me. Today's extremely long-stretch, dachshund-like limousines have more of a "Rent Me" or "Take Me To The Prom" look than the elegant, reserved, and tasteful proportions of these cars. "Top Gear" did a take on these superstretches, and their result was, as usual, "most proper and fitting".
When the Lincoln Continental was redesigned for 1970, it lost the trademark aft rear-hinged doors, and its conversion to a limousine was "ungainly", to be kind. Only one was made by Lehmann-Peterson. At the same time, the company stopped building cars for unspecified reasons, but the most likely one was that new federal safety standards were in place. Since the limousines weren't built under Ford Motor Company's roof, Ford became concerned about liabilities. Lehmann-Peterson dissolved in 1970, another company used their name for a while, and they were featured briefly on The History Channel.
Maybe some day I'll find one of these cars. I don't mind doing an interior refurbishing, if necessary. And the 1969 grille will adapt to some earlier cars; no law says a 1967 Lincoln has to look like a 1967 Lincoln. Make mine black, please. I won't be travelling as a head of state or as the leader of a religion, but I hope to be in at least better style than these fine folks.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
The "Nixon-mobile" photo is from The Chicago Tribune, The White House and Elvis images are from "How Things Work", the two "X-100" limousines are from my collection, and the Lehmann-Peterson limousine interior photo is from ridedrive.com.
It's a shame we didn't make Saturn part of our "Epic Fail" Fortnight. The cars never were good; the first generation had "The Flaw" (NVH problems from a thrashy engine). The Ion was, well... the Ion. After that, all Saturns became rebadged GM stuff. So there never was a "Great" Saturn.
The car's name, "Saturn", came from the NASA rockets that were used to get us to the moon and win the Space Race. GM promised that "Saturn Corporation" (It was not a GM Division for years) would show the world the same success in making small cars that the rockets had in space exploration.
Tennessee is a "Right-to-work" state, meaning you don't have to belong to a union to work at an in-state business. But every line worker at Saturn was UAW. Nobody challenged this, as there was no victory to be had. Saturn said they were originally going to hire "Just misplaced GM workers" from plants that had already closed, but hordes of workers from still-open plants found their way to Tennessee, in lieu of locals that had expected jobs there.
Early on, a large discount retail store offered special discounts to Saturn employees. But a mining company there in Maury County had just closed, leaving hundreds without jobs. These people needed the discounts far worse they the well-paid GM folks, but they did not get it. To say this was a PR boondoggle would be an understatement.
There was an ABC News Special called "Revolution At Work", hosted by Forrest Sawyer. The program interviewed a Maury County official who said he would like to buy a Saturn, drive it to their front door, and burn it in front of them. The show went on to tell how transplanted families from the north would make fun of the locals, call then hicks, and jokingly imitated the way they talked.
One member of a Saturn family told me that we were lucky Saturn came here, because we had nothing before. I said yes, we had open spaces, less congestion, less crime, and nicer people. He thought that NFL and NHL teams made up for that.
Peter Jennings (Not the late newscaster) wrote a book called "A Walk Across America", published in 1979. He chose Spring Hill, Tennessee, as his favorite town in the country, and moved there. Before 1985, the town had just ONE red light. Saturn used this as part of their basis for choosing Spring Hill. But the arrival of Saturn immediately ruined the charm and character of the town. In fact, some residents even renamed the town "Springhill".
On April 4, 1997, Saturn began selling right-hand-drive cars in Japan. To make the cars fit a certain Japanese width standard, special clips were installed to hold the plastic panels closer to the body frame. But on February 16, 2001, Saturn stopped selling cars there, after only 4,324 had been delivered in almost 4 years.
Comparing Saturn to nearby Nissan would fill a book. When Nissan came here, they hired local people (95% of the line technicians were from Tennessee). Saturn said they would hire Tennesseans, but they were few and far between. One story was that Saturn hired out-of-staters for a year, then made them permanent employees, citing that "They were Tennesseans now". A few Tennesseans were given jobs in the cafeterias and other service areas.
Nissan has always been union-free, and is frequently the most-productive auto/truck plant in the country. The "GM Spring Hill Assembly Plant" is now at about 20% capacity, building only the Chevy Traverse. It was just announced that the plant will be closed for 9 weeks this summer due to an inventory glut.
I feel for the people that had to move from the north, relocate here, then get yanked around by Saturn's failure. I feel sorry for dealers that spent millions opening dealerships that never had decent cars to sell. But I don't feel sorry for the lack of direction that was given Saturn, or the people that moved to Spring Hill to capitalize on the plant. They are as much responsible for destroying rural Spring Hill as GM.
by That Car Guy
So it was not a surprise on April 24, 2009, when the news came. According to Wikipedia, "GM Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson said the Pontiac brand would be closed by 2010, calling it an “extremely personal decision.” In addition to speeding up decisions on Saturn, Saab, and Hummer, GM will be left with four brands – Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac."
Pontiac was GM's youth division. At one time, their slogan was "We Build Excitement", which was hardly what you would expect from a Sedan DeVille. When The Monkees needed a cool car, they got a Pontiac, fully customized by Dean Jeffries. And before David Hasselhoff began patrolling the beach, he drove KITT.
During the Muscle Car heyday, Pontiac was out front. John DeLorean had a huge part developing the trend with the original GTO. Nobody else could claim that a "Wide Track" would help your car's handling.
Pontiac's most memorable cars might be the Bonneville, Firebird (And Trans Am), Fiero, Grand Prix, GTO (All of them), and the original LeMans. Other notables include the Catalina, Trans Sport (The best name ever on a people carrier), G8, and "The Judge"; they all can't be named here. From Native American headdress hood ornaments to screaming chicken decals on the hood, Pontiac always made a bold statement about style and performance.
Of course, there were a few duds. But these were usually just other terrible, rebadged GM cars like the Vega-clone Astre, Chevette-knock-off T1000, Cobalt-derived G5, and (Dare I say it) the Korean-built LeMans.The Aztek created emotions of its own doing.
Maybe the saddest part of this is that Pontiac was on the edge of a rebirth. Bob Lutz' Solstice was making new ground with a coupe version that had just been recently introduced.
The G8 is a highly-respected performance sedan, and a utility coupe version (The G8 ST, shown here) was almost in the showrooms. But time was not on Pontiac's side. Again, a case of too little, too late.
If history had repeated itself, Pontiac would have sold a version of the upcoming Chevy Cruze and other small front-wheel-drive cars. When this economic slowdown is behind us, who will make the fuel-efficient cars that we will need?
I had a few Pontiacs through the years... a 1970 Firebird while in college, the disastrous T1000, and a red Fiero 2M4 during the "Road Test Magazine" years. I miss the Firebird and Fiero.
Car names like Chief, J2000, Montana, SD-455, Tempest, and Ventura will be gone for a while, if not forever. But Pontiac's legacy will be with us in our driveways, on used car lots, and in museums for a very long time. Right now, I can't help but wonder where the last Pontiac will go.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Wikipedia, Google Images, and Chevrolet provided the materials for this post.
by That Car Guy
Writing Car Lust posts are a privilege, especially when they bring back memories of vehicles I have either personally owned or that have been in the family. Such is the case of a 1973 terracotta-colored MGB that my sister had for a few years until her family outgrew the car, which didn't take a lot of outgrowing to do.
What attracted us to the MGB was that, as small as it was, the car was larger than a Triumph Spitfire or MG Midget. I wanted a Spitfire at the time, but this wasn't going to be my car. I believe this is the only picture of "our" MG that we have left. That's Snoopy right behind it, and my first car, a 1972 Vega :( .
My favorite excentricity of the MGB was that it had three windshield wipers. The "windscreen" was low and wide, and two wipers just weren't up to the job. Only American MGBs had three wipers; all others had two. One night I got caught in a thunderstorm in the canvas-roofed car, and those wipers gave their all to let me see. I was minoring in Aerospace Technology at the time, and driving the roadster was not unlike flying a Cessna 150, except that no pilot is stupid enough to fly a 150 in a thunderstorm.
The best memories I have of the car are during the week I got to take it off to college. People actually lined up to get a ride around the block in it! Oh, if I could go back and do that day again, with the little honeys that waited for a ride in that car...
I'm getting ahead of myself. The MGB Mark I (1962-1967) was very advanced at its introduction. One of the first cars to have crumple zones for crash safety, it was also a unibody to save weight, unlike the Triumph TR6 and Spitfire.
Powered by a 1798cc B-Series I-4 engine with 95 horsepower, it was carried over from the MGA, but enlarged. The MGB made a then-respectable 0-60 time of 11 seconds. This 3-bearing engine was upgraded to 5 main bearings in May, 1964.
But this roadster was first and foremost known for its great handling. Maybe it's a coincidence, but the MGB's 91-inch wheelbase is virtually identical to a 2009 Miata's. A rare MGB option was a small rear seat for the kids.
The MGB Mark II (1967-1972) got a 4-speed synchromeshed gearbox (An automatic was an option in the UK), a new rear axle, and an alternator, replacing a dynamo, or generator. The floorpan and driveshaft tunnel sheet metal were new, producing a flatter floor. For the US market, a padded dash, nicknamed the "Abingdon pillow", was introduced.
The MGB Mark III (1972-1980) was built with a new fascia and a better heater. At no time during MGB production were any major exterior body panels changed significantly. The addition of rear back-up lights in March, 1967, was a welcomed stamping improvement.
I remember that "our" car had two batteries just behind the seats. Each was a 6-volt, connected to make 12 volts, and were placed on each side of the driveshaft tunnel. These helped balance the car. In 1974, MG builders went to a single battery, which produced more amperes, or cranking power.
Most of the MGBs made were sold in the United States. But like the Spitfire and Midget, the 1974 MGB became a victim of US bumper and emissions laws. Same story, different car... raise the thing, add large "rubber" bumpers, and choke the power in return for cleaner air.
Limited Edition MGBs were built to signify the end of the car's 18-year run. They were all black with silver lower body stripes and tan interiors. Limited Edition equipment included a front air dam, 5-spoke alloy wheels, a 3-spoke leather-covered steering wheel, special "MG" badges on the wheels and steering wheel, and a "Limited Edition" plaque on the glove box. 6,668 were made in 1979 and 1980.
Some call the hardtop MGB GT a shooting brake. I can see this. Designed by Pinin Farina, launched in October, 1965, and built until 1980 (Though export to the Colonies here stopped in 1974), the car gave you a tiny back seat and a bit more luggage space accessible through its rear hatch.
The engines and driveline were the same as the MGB. But the springs were stiffened, and anti-roll bars were added due to a bit of top-heaviness. The MGB GT was 5 miles per hour faster than its roadster sibling due to much better aerodynamics. Some folks even thought they handled better than the roadster, having the stiffer body due to the solid roof.
The MGB GT V8 was a monster! Made from 1973-1976 and only with right-hand drive, they were never brought to America by MG. Using Rover's 3528cc V-8 that was also used in the Buick Special and Oldsmobile F-85, this was the lightest V-8 in mass production. Having all-aluminium block and heads, at 318 pounds, it actually weighed 40 pounds less than the iron MG 4-cylinder.
These cars would do 0-60 in 8 seconds and top out at 125 miles per hour! The press loved the GT V-8, but British Leyland became concerned that the car would overshadow their Triumph Stag, and production was halted. 2,591 MGB GT V8s were made.
In 1967, the MGC was released. It was available as either the open roadster or GT coupe. Sold through 1970, the MGC had a 2912cc straight-6, producing 145 horsepower. A 4-speed manual with overdrive was standard, and a 3-speed automatic was optional.
Changes were made to the engine bay and floorpan for the 209-pound increased weight and engine size. The hood had unique bulges for the relocated radiator and carburetors.
With a top speed of 120 miles per hour and a 0-60 time of 10 seconds, these cars were no slouch for their time! But originally their handling was in question, caused by the heavy, off-weighted front end. Later, tire and suspension tweaks made its driving up to par.
The last MGB and MGB GT were built on October 22, 1980. They were shipped to British Leyland's Heritage collection at Gaydon, England, now called the Heritage Motor Centre.
Using only about 5% of the original MGB parts, it was offered in roadster and coupé forms. The underbody stampings of the original car were retained, as were the trunk lid and doors (Minus the vent windows). But all-new body panels were formed to create this proud steed over the original MGB British Motor Heritage body shell.
Bits and pieces of other cars made their way to this MG. Headlights from a Porsche 911, door handles from a Jaguar XJS, and CDO instruments from a TVR blended in quite nicely.
The Rover 3950cc V-8, with 190 horsepower and a 5-speed stick, rocketed this car from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds. Top speed was 135 miles per hour.
Rear drum and front disc brakes were used, as well as a live rear axle. Front coil and rear elliptic springs with dual roll bars kept the RV8 well-planted in the curves.
One might think the RV8 could pass as a little Bentley! All interiors were Stone Beige colored, with rich Connelly leather, Burr Elm veneer woodwork, and thick cut pile carpeting, even in the trunk. Ten body colors were offered. All MG RV8s were built as right-hand-drive, but one left-hand-drive RV8 is known to exist.
Only 2,000 examples of the MG RV8 were made between 1993 and 1995. They were not sold as new in North America, but three are known to have snuck in. The Japanese market loved these cars- 330 RV8s were sold in Great Britain, 1,579 went to Japan. Being right-hand-drive, they were tailor-made for Japanese roads.
This brought total MGB Series production to 525,836 cars. It was the most popular sports car of all time until passed by the Mazda Miata. Other MGs followed, including the MG F and TF, but these probably deserve a post of their own.
Driving "our" MGB was always a pleasure. In a lot of slight curves, you didn't turn the steering wheel so much as you put pressure on it towards the corner. We didn't have the reliability problems a lot of sports cars had back then, but it was only three years old when we got it. I remember the car had some kind of radio; convertibles and audio systems do not mix. Raising and lowering the ragtop was a bit of a chore, as levers and snaps were everywhere.
Sis sold the MGB and bought a '73 Olds Cutlass as her family car, the perfect vehicle for them at the time. But at least I will always remember that day on campus when all the darlings were lined up to go for a ride...
The black & white MGB photo is from my scrapbook. The interior photo is thanks to mzaff.com. The MGB GT image is from Sjoerdwm flickr. The MGC photo is from Wikipedia. MGRV8.com provided the MGRV8 photo. Cartype.com supplied the MG logo. British Motor Heritage supplied inspiration as well.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
by That Car Guy
This is the car I wanted 30+ years ago, so much that I still have this brochure I got from the dealer when it was new. I was 19, full of vinegar (And other things), and needed an "image" car. The Mustang II I had was fun, but I wanted something more sophistimacated and sexy. Still crazy after all these years, I finally got a 2001 Miata a while back, the closest thing to a Spitfire I could find that might run a while before needing any major service or ruining my bank account. Somehow, both of my dream roadsters turned out to be British Racing Green with tan interiors and real wood steering wheels. Brooklands Green is shown in the 1977 brochure here.
Why a Spitfire? What made it different from, say, an MGB, Triumph TR6, MG Midget, or a Fiat X-19? Well, for me, three things: 1) It had a full independent suspension, the only Brit car of this class to do so. Also, a perfect 50/50 front/rear weight ratio for great balance. 2) The bonnet and wings rose together, giving full access for engine, chassis, and electrical service, which was usually a bit too often. 3) The car also had real wood on the dash, quite unique in a car like this. I live in a rural area with small, twisty roads, and a muscle car would be as out of place here as a stretched Escalade limousine in downtown Tokyo.
The car was designed by Giovanni Michelotti and introduced in 1962 to compete with the Austin-Healey Sprite. The $2,199 Triumph Spitfire 4 Mark I (1962-1965) had an 1147cc engine, cranking out 63 horsepower. All Spitfires were 4-speeds, overdrive was first offered in 1964, and the car had front disc brakes from Day One! The Spitfire Mark II (1965-1967) had the same engine, but was upped to 67 ponies with a new camshaft.
The Spitfire Mark III (1967-1970) brought the 1296cc powerplant from the Triumph Herald and 1300 saloons, and the Spitfire Mark IV (1970-1974) kept this engine. Horsepower figures vary (48 to 75) from year to year and country to country. The Mark IV received all-new body panels, also designed by Mr. Michelotti.
The Spitfire 1500 (1974-1980) had a 1493cc mill with a desperate 57 horses. It sold, base price, for $5,995 in its last year (A 1980 Pontiac Firebird was $5,992). These were the heaviest Spitfires... 1,875 pounds, including federally-mandated 5 MPH crash bumpers and reinforcements.
All these cars had the 83-inch wheelbase, and initially had center-mounted gauges to easily facilitate either left- or right-hand-drive. Thankfully, the dash evolved into the pleasant "Federal" (USA) form shown here in 1969. Interior options and comforts were few. Radios, map lights, removable hardtop, tonneau cover, even wire wheels were offered for a while. Air conditioning? No way.
What amazes me about the Miata is that it has things unheard of on these now-vintage Triumphs... cruise control, power windows, power door locks, remote this-and-that, just to name a few, not to mention the respected Japanese reliability. The 2001 and later Miatas also have almost twice the power of any stock Spitfire.
There were three generations of "hardtop" Spitfires (Top to bottom): the GT6, GT6 MK2, and GT6 MK3. Introduced in 1966, the cars had the 2.0-litre 95-hp 6-cylinder from the Triumph Vitesse to power the extra weight of the hardtop.
It was called "The poor man's E-Type" since the GT6 also had a hatch. A small rear seat was optional, it had a longer and taller hood for the larger engine, and the doors had vent windows and square glass corners. Inside, the cars had a real wood dash, instruments, and a heater, all standard.
In 1969, the GT6 MK2 (Called the GT6 Plus in America) had 104 horsepower, a raised front bumper, new dash, a 2-speed heater fan, and a black headliner. Engine cooling vents appeared in the sides of the hood. I have to wonder why this engine wasn't in the lighter, topless Spitfire... it would have been a screamer!
A year later, the GT6 MK3 produced an all-new body shell with a new front face, flush door handles, and a new taillight treatment. This model was also designed by Mr. Michelotti, and similar to the Triumph Stag, which he also designed. Slippery vinyl seat covers were replaced with a classy cloth, and wire wheels were no longer offered. In 1973 the car received power brakes; this was the last year for the GT6 series. 0-60 took 10.1 seconds. In all, 41,253 GT6s were made.
The last Spitfire 1500 was built in August, 1980, even though the 1500 series was their best seller - 95,829 were made, compared to 45,763 for the original Mark I. Sadly, like the MGB and others, efforts to meet bumper and emissions requirements hurt both handling and power.
The car was raised by using taller springs to lift the body to bumper height standards. Buh-bye, low center of gravity. The engine was detuned for cleaner emissions with a lower 7.5:1 compression ratio, a single-barrel carburetor, EGR, and a catalytic converter. Only 53 horses stayed, and the car went from 0-60 in 14.3 seconds. Hang on now! The '79 and '80 models had full black bumpers that increased the car's length by 8.5 inches.
But these changes are not what killed the 1500. After the GT6 was cancelled in 1973, the Spitfire continued, but didn't share any pieces with any other car. This was not cost-effective. British Leyland became cash-strapped, so they decided to save money by dropping the car altogether. 314,342 Spitfires had been made from 1962 to 1980.
So how close does a Miata come to a Spitfire? Well, according to "How Things Work", Mazda used a Spitfire body over the Miata's chassis during development.
I guess, even after 30+ years, you can still come home.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
P.S. If you click these images, they become larger. Details are a lot easier to see, especially in the brochure photos.
The Spitfire brochure is a survivor from the 1970s. The second image is from stormbear+flickr.com. The interior photo is from TriumphSpitfire.com, and the Triumph GT6 photo is from 2000GT.net. Wikipedia provided some of the Spitfire and GT6 history here. "How Stuff Works" gave other Spitfire info.