Posts from ‘Pontiac’
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.
Through their logos, many automakers have created a dazzling world of wonder. In logo land, you’ll discover roman gods, prancing horses, and mystical beasts—as well as religious themes such as the Holy Trinity and the Christian Crusades. It’s a universe of stars and planets, ships and rockets, diamonds and domination. One emblem, which is simply a crooked letter, symbolizes a trustworthy handshake.
Disappointingly, such companies as Volkswagen (whose symbol is VW) and Ford (Ford) have refused to join in the fun. But many of the other logos have fascinating meanings. Let’s explore. . . .
The Acura logo plays with our minds a little. Most observers think the logo is a stylized letter A, for Acura, just like Honda’s logo is a stylized H for Honda. But according to Honda (Acura’s parent company), the image is a caliper, a design instrument used for measuring thickness.
The Alfa Romeo badge pays tribute to its home city, Milan, Italy. It features the city’s coat of arms, which symbolizes Milan’s two ruling families during medieval times. On the left is a red cross, a Christian symbol of heraldry that represents the right of a person to bear arms. On the right, a serpent devours a human being, interpreted by some as a Muslim—that is, the enemy of the Christians during the Crusades.
Shortly after obtaining my driver’s license in the early 1970s, I rushed out and bought a ’64 Olds Cutlass coupe (for $50), at least in part so that I wouldn’t have to tool around in my Dad’s grandpa-green F85 sedan. Back then, driving a 4-door (or—heaven forbid—a station wagon) meant you were borrowing your parents’ car, and that was decidedly uncool. Absolutely no teenaged car guy I knew ever bought a 4-door with his own money.
Today, that’s no longer the case. Some of the hottest cars embraced by the younger generation are sedans (witness the Subaru WRX and Mitsu Evo), and there’s seemingly no stigma attached to having four convenient doors.
I’ve often wondered when that transformation took place. It was probably gradual, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it began with the BMW 530i introduced in 1975. In those dark and dismal days, this BMW made its mark by being a comparatively strong performer, and it quickly became the darling of the motoring mags. The fact that it was a sedan only added to its “Q-ship” mystique. And I begrudgingly had to admit that it was a pretty nice-looking car. At least for a (wince) 4-door.
Also check out Tom Appel’s “Senior-Year Lust: The 5 Coolest Vehicles of 1983” and Ed Piotrowski’s “Senior-Year Lust: The 5 Coolest Vehicles of 1998.”
By my senior year at Riverside-Brookfield High School outside of Chicago, the auto industry was facing some dark days. Not only was horsepower plummeting due to emissions standards, but it was the first year that federal regulations forced manufacturers to tack on huge, girder-like protruding bumpers both front and rear in order for their wares to (supposedly) withstand five-mph impacts without damage. And they looked just as attractive as they sound.
So 1974 was noteworthy as kind of a double groaner to those of us smitten by the intoxicating appeal of internal combustion. And I suffered a historically longer and substantially deeper smittening than anyone else I knew.
But there were some bright spots.
Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. I will not suggest that the cars here are the ugliest vehicles that retailed during the period being discussed, but they are certainly worthy of some serious design scorn. To me, ugly cars usually suffer from an overabundance of design elements—really, the visual equivalent of mixed metaphors. But most importantly, I just think the five cars here are nasty-looking. I realize that I am in the minority on the Celica, but I suspect that I have the people’s support when it comes to dissing the Taurus. Got your own list of ill-favored rides? Let’s hear it.
1996-1999 Ford Taurus
This sorry redesign (pictured above) marked the beginning of the Taurus’s slow decent into rental-darling hell. How Ford let the Taurus go from making car-design history to looking like an asthmatic catfish is beyond me, but buyers stayed away from these midsize sedans and wagons in droves. A deeply discounted (and deeply decontented) Model G variant was added midway through the ’96 model year, but as it turned out, making map pockets optional wasn’t effective tonic for cringe-worthy styling.
Also check out Tom’s 5 Ugly Vehicles, Part 1: 1995-2004.
One sure way to load your inbox with nasty emails is to publish a list of ugly cars. I caught the most flack for selecting the Toyota Celica as one of five nasty-looking rides for my 1995-2004 list. Please be sure to check that out.
Here, I step backwards a decade to the era of sharply creased edges and faux aerodynamics. Normally, I wouldn’t drag exotic or limited-production vehicles into something like this, but there’s one pricey ride from the early to mid-’80s that really stands out as aesthetically challenged.
Note: I am aware that some of these rides don’t fit all that neatly into the 1985-1994 envelope, yet, when I look back, that’s when I best picture them.
Got your own list of eyesores from this era? Let’s hear ’em.
Aston Martin Lagonda
Sometimes I love this car; usually, though, I just hate it. Credit Aston Martin for taking a chance on something daring. Auction prices would suggest that this strange door-stop design has not warmed the cockles of car collectors, which means that if you want to buy a really ugly, more-or-less exotic used car, you can do so on the cheap. Be aware, however, that the car’s infamous electronic instrument panel—replaced in later models with a more conventional setup—is impossible to keep working.
I probably remember 1979 better than I recall any other year of my youth. My last year of grade school (and first year of high school), ’79 was the year I managed to fall out of a tree and badly injure myself, the year I had to make clear to my mother I wanted no part of being a priest, and the year I discovered legs. As it turned out, the last two items were not entirely unrelated. Where are you now, Lauren Tewes?
An interesting part of being young at the time was the automotive bubble we would-be gearheads lived in. We more or less understood that the new cars of the era sucked, but those were the cars we knew and—despite OPEC, the EPA, and DOT—occasionally loved.
My buddies and I argued often about what was cool at the time, and what wasn’t. Interestingly, only one guy among us had any Corvette love. Maybe it was the price, or the relative rarity, but Corvettes didn’t click for most of my friends. Nor did Mustangs, though I suspect that was just because of the small sample size of my immediate clique. Toss in a few more guys and I expect some Mustang fawning would have registered.
The 2012 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals was held in Rosemont, Illinois, on November 16 and 17. Being a longtime muscle car fan, I was very impressed with the incredible array of rare and historic gems that were at this show. I was blown away looking at the pristine examples of factory muscle, the rarest-of-the-rare dealer-built supercars, and historic road and drag racers. I’m especially fond of the newfound popularity of “day two” cars, which have emerged over the last few years. These cars are preserved or restored to specifications in which they would have been seen during stoplight brawls on Main Street or in all-out drag strip attire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I grew up in the 1970s, so my earliest memories of “cool” cars are clouded by the realities of the day. Yes, I fondly recall the Road Runners, AMXs, and Z/28s of my youth. But remember, these were the 1977 versions of those legendary nameplates that were largely reduced to wearing tape stripes and white-letter tires.
One car from that era stood out from the others, though, even to an eight-year-old. That car is the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am—specifically, the 1977 & 1978 black-and-gold “Special Edition” Trans Am that was immortalized in the motion picture Smokey and the Bandit.
Of course, having just recently broken free of training wheels, I didn’t see that movie until it aired on TV. Only much later did I learn that most of Jackie Gleason’s best lines had been edited out. My Trans Am memories were shaped more by the Hot Wheels “Hot Bird” and these two model kits from MPC and Monogram. If you built model cars at the time, you probably had one or the other of them. I had both.
Not to speak ill of the dead, but it seems that General Motors is doing just fine without Pontiac and Saturn, and it doesn’t look like Ford misses Mercury very much. In our hearts, we knew that the clock was ticking for all three of those marques, but it took the fallout of an economic catastrophe to really nail the coffins shut.
But from death comes life, and if life to you is a good deal on a used car, then look no further than the five we’ve got listed here. It seems that picking over the carcasses of the fallen can lead to ghoulishly good bargains—that is, of course, if you don’t mind the term “dead brand.”
2011 Mercury Milan Premier V6
Carmax Price Range: $15,599-$17,500
Even in life, Milan was a ghost. While everyone talked about (and purchased) the likable Ford Fusion, the mechanically identical Milan went unnoticed. And that’s a shame, because Milan was arguably better looking on the outside and subtly classier on the inside.
And the dead-brand impact on pricing? It seems that used Milans trade for slightly less than comparable same-year Fusions, despite Milan’s nominally enhanced standard equipment list and slightly more upscale trim. It’s a ghostly good deal.