There is something magical about the way liars make their way into groups of car people. The odds are, if you gather more than five “car guys” together, one of them is about to sling some serious BS. To inflate the claims of these vehicular storytellers, just add beer.
The claims vary from liar to liar. Some guys have driven 200 mph, while some get 50 mpg without trying. Others—the real scoundrels—own cars that were secretly built with one-off engines that no one was supposed to know about.
I share here my recollections of three fabulous automotive exaggerators and BS artists.
Firebird Guy (FG) was a regular customer at the service station I worked at back in high school. FG looked a little like Tom Petty’s homeless kid brother, but he was a friendly sort and was a welcome addition to the mélange of regulars who populated my workweek. FG, who stopped by the station mostly for cigarettes, was always updating me on the progress of his two project cars. It’s worth noting that his two project cars were his only cars, and that they both looked in need of a little TLC.
List three is all about car/SUV-based pickups. Maybe you’re seeing more of these around than I am, because my impression is that they’ve all but vanished. Like most rarely seen vehicles, unless you see one on a regular basis, you likely don’t see any of these oddities at all. Let us know if you spot one, and we’ll add your name to the Daily Drive Sharp-Eyed Reader List*.
1982-1984 Dodge Rampage/1983 Plymouth Scamp
I’ll just admit this up front: I think these are pretty cool. Based on the Dodge Omni 024 (which became the Charger for 1983) and clone Horizon TC3 (which became the Tourismo for 1983), the Rampage and Scamp are pretty transparently nothing more than pickup beds grafted onto the backs of sporty coupes. But that’s okay, because the resulting rides are arguably handsome enough. While the Rampage qualifies as rare, with only about 37,000 examples produced over three years, the Scamp is positively elusive. Just 2,000 or so copies of this last-ever Plymouth pickup were built.
Why is there a Chevy crossover you can’t buy? It’s a good story; bear with me. . . .
General Motors did itself some harm back when, selling too many of its bread-and-butter cars and crossovers into rental fleets.
The harm was that when these cars were done serving traveling salespeople, folks waiting for their wrecked cars to be repaired, and the occasional vacationer, they were dumped into the used-car market—typically in large numbers.
So in the case of, say, the previous-generation Impala, you’d have a quantity of used cars on the market that arrived there the traditional way (as a trade-in on a new car) and an additional quantity of cars arriving from rental fleets—which made for far too many used Impalas.
This inventory surplus drove down the resale value of Impalas, as there were more cars floating around than the public was willing to purchase.
GM ran into this problem most recently with the aforementioned Impala, but also with previous editions of the Malibu and the previous-generation Equinox. Of course, GM isn’t alone in this boat. Chrysler and Ford have found themselves dumping too many cars into fleet service—mostly to keep sales numbers appearing robust—and suffering the consequences. Mitsubishi moved most of its Galant stock into rental service.
I write a lot about the effects of the great American automotive downsizing that began in the late ’70s. Most of the cars shrunken at the time suffered from looking ill-proportioned or just from having changed too much too suddenly. Sure, this wasn’t always the case. Most folks paying attention at the time found the 1977 redesign of the Chevrolet Impala and Caprice to be an unmitigated success. Still, I would argue that, at best, most of the cars of the period could be described as inoffensive.
It was during this period, in the weak-kneed aftermath of the muscle era, that makers began focusing on bling and faux luxury, as there was no horsepower story to sell. As it turned out, combining downsized cars with baroque levels of bright trim and vinyl roofing proved unfortunate—at least to these eyes.
Unlike the previous ugly-car lists I’ve penned, here I am focusing on very specific versions of certain cars. Seems makers picked a few special trim levels on which to truly pile on the kludge. No doubt you have your own list of ugly rides from this era. Please feel free to let us know what they are.
I’ve written some about key events on my journey to becoming a car guy. One event was asking my father about the 307 badge on his Nova, and a decade or so later came my being hired to work at a service station. A somewhat less momentous—though still significant—incident fell in between those events, in the autumn of 1977.
I was on the bus to school when I saw it. Parked in the driveway of a house right next door to the school was a brand-new Impala coupe. The coincidence here was that I had just the day before read an article by Jim Mateja in the Chicago Tribune that focused on the coupe’s insanely cool folded-corner rear glass.
Jim’s article did not suggest that the glass treatment was cool; that was my own conclusion. But there was some discussion about the complications of forming such a piece of glass. The car itself was that tan/brown color that ended up on so many Impalas and Caprices of that generation, and was it landau-free.
I checked out that car every school day for the next two years. And because of that car, I started watching the roads for the rest of General Motors’ downsized—and arguably better-looking—large-car fleet.
We Americans like our pickups. In fact, we like them so much that we purchased about two million midsize and large examples last year. But, it seems, we’re pretty picky about who we buy our pickups from. We’re open to buying our big trucks from Chevrolet, Ford, and Ram, and we’re pretty happy with the midsize trucks from Nissan (Frontier) and Toyota (Tacoma), but after that, things get murkier. Toyota and Nissan, for example, sell large pickups, but neither maker has met with anything like the sales success of Chevy or Ford.
Still, despite resolute shopper loyalty, a number of brands have tried to break into the pickup market with their own entries, mostly with disappointing results. Here’s a look at five of those trucks, all of which Consumer Guide regarded as decent vehicles but which failed to find meaningful showroom success.
With a sticker price of $356,290 nicely equipped, the Rolls-Royce Ghost ought to be refined. And after just a few short miles behind the wheel, I was impressed by the car’s overall silkiness. But, while the ride is smooth to the point of mimicking large watercraft, it is the drivetrain polish that really got my attention.
Power, best described as ample, is delivered in a manner so subtle as to somewhat blunt the sensation of gathering speed. And, just as a hypermiler might learn to drive a hybrid vehicle for maximum efficiency, a Ghost driver is in a position to drive the car for maximum seamlessness. This is a challenge I accepted.
Turns out that Rolls, a property of BMW along with Mini, designed the 6.6-liter V12 that powers the Ghost for optimal torque, this in the name of reducing the number of shifts required of the transmission. In the search for torque, Rolls started with BMW’s excellent N74 6.0-liter V12.
I’m not suggesting that this is a problem; I am just sharing a fascinating tidbit: Of the 31 separate Toyota, Scion, and Lexus models for which Automotive News reports sales, four models alone account for more than half of that volume. Just four.
Toyota Motor Sales, USA sold nearly 2.1 million cars in the U.S. during calendar year 2012. Combining for a hefty 1.1 million of those sales are the Camry, Corolla (including Matrix), Prius (all versions), and RAV4.
|Toyota’s U.S. Sales, Calendar 2012|
|Combined 2012 sales||1,104,369|
What this means is open to interpretation. Three of these big-volume vehicles fall into what Ford recently began calling the “Super Segment,” specifically compact and midsize cars and compact crossovers. These segments have enjoyed the bulk of the post-recession auto-sales boom.
However, despite Ford’s success in these categories, we see that its Super Segment plus dedicated hybrid (SSPDH) performance trails Toyota’s by a wide margin:
|Ford’s U.S. Sales, Calendar 2012|
|Combined 2012 sales||761,502|
I’ve driven some pretty refined vehicles in my day. In an earlier blog post, I noted my affinity for the Mercedes S-Class. When it comes right down to it, I’ve grown intolerant of vehicles that make noise—or ride too harshly—while offering little real performance in exchange.
Around the office, I’m the guy who complains about engine quake at idle and road noise at speed. I appreciate precise and accurate shifters (Acura TL), quality AM radio reception, and smooth-opening center-console lids. In my opinion, cars cost way too much these days for anyone to put up with less than excellence. Still . . .
Being a man means answering to chromosomal urges that defy logic. So while I would like to spend most of my time driving fast luxury sedans, there’s a part of me, say 13 percent of me, that aches for something more fundamental—something more, dare I say it . . . honest.
For me, now, that honest ride would be a Jeep CJ-7.
According to Doug Bartusek, associate research director for the Council for the Research of Applied Plastic Stick-on Stuff (CRAPSS), after-market car modifications need not be expensive to purchase or difficult to install. According to Bartusek, “Most people don’t realize that all you need to significantly improve your car’s performance can be purchased at your local flea market or Speedway mini mart.”
Speaking to Consumer Guide at the Denny’s in Norridge, Illinois, where CRAPPS holds its nightly meetings, Bartusek explained the group’s mission: “The Council was formed by likeminded enthusiasts anxious to dispel the myth that adhesive-backed vehicle accessories are purely decorative.”
According to Bartusek, membership in the council is limited to regular Norridge Denny’s customers—as determined by assistant store manager Vaijay—who currently own at least one 1999-2005 Pontiac Grand Am, have owned at least one other Grand Am, and have spent at least $50 on adhesive-back automotive accessories in the past 12 months. CRAPSS currently has five active members, all of whom serve on the board of directors and hold a Denny’s Rewards Gold Card.
Hoping to learn about how adhesive-backed accessories can improve the performance of certain vehicles, we presented Doug with three examples of well-modified cars all spotted in the Chicago area in the past month. Here is what we learned: