Tuesday, February 20, 2018

1972 Oldsmobile 98 - Beam Us Up, Scotty

In 1988, to help promote their new "generation" of models, Oldsmobile began their famous advertising campaign toting that their cars were, "Not Your Father's Oldsmobile". A curious slogan seeing that for decades Oldsmobile had touted themselves as being General Motor's most innovative, engineering focused and forward thinking of their myriad divisions. Begged the question given that Oldsmobile had always been so progressive, what models were the 1980's ads referring to?

Well, that's an easy one. We don't have to look any farther than any Oldsmobile from the prior fifteen to twenty years that didn't have racing stripes or "4-4-2" badges all over them. Our subject is a "75th Anniversary", 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight in some sort of near military grade green. Looks like Dad wasn't a total square, though - at least it's a coupe.

Thirty years after Captain Kirk and his daughter pretended that a new Cutlass Supreme was a space -ship, both cars look ancient, don't they? Which one aged better? Taste being like armpits, surprise, we're going with our big ole' Ninety-Eight here. Green be damned. We say that not because you'd be hard pressed to find a 1988 Cutlass in the shape our Ninety-Eight is, but because given a choice between the two, which one would today's "know-it-all" twenty something's be drawn to? One guess.

Millenials love cool as much as any generation ever has and while cool is subjective and hard to define, it's timeless. A 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme? That's just old. A 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight? While it's even older, it exudes Clint Eastwood-Johnny Cash-Steve McQueen cool in buckets. And who knows better as to what cool is than kids today who have the ability to look at antiques in a vacuum without having their opinion clouded by context.

Derided when new for their wonton styling excess and vilified during the gas crunches, no series of cars epitomized American automotive glut than GM's enormous 1971 vintage full-size cars. Which, incidentally, came in two ginormous wheelbase lengths, extra long and "you've got to be kidding me" long. Our pristine subject being part of the latter. But of course. Go big or go home as we say.  

That extra girth giving just enough more rear seat leg room to create a remarkably spacious rear seating area. It also gave rear seat passengers a bit more room to wiggle themselves between the front seat backs and that hip breaking B pillar. If you've ever marveled at the condition of the rear seats on big coupes of this vintage, limited rear seat access is why that is.  

Oldsmobile was GM's middle division and skirted a precarious position between Buick and Pontiac.  Cadillac always had its own distinct image of high falutin prestige meanwhile Chevrolet was always the value leader. Our Ninety-Eight shares it's 121-inch wheelbase with the Buick Electra and all Cadillac's - so, for considerably less spent, owners could brag that what they had was just as good as a Cadillac. To some degree, it worked. GM sold a lot of these cars. Let's keep in mind, though, that back then there was no competition from imports for the type of buyer Oldsmobile targeted. 

Give credit where it's due; Oldsmobile didn't do well by default given that it had stiff competition from not only divisional rivals but makes and models from Ford and Chrysler. Unfortunately, where Oldsmobile ran aground was not adapting adequately to the new automobile market landscape that was on the very near horizon. In many ways, 1972 was the last of the good old days of form over function, thirty cent gas, hairstrand thin bumpers and nary a Lexus, Infiniti or "affordable" Mercedes Benz, Audi or BMW in sight.

Yes, this is your Father's Oldsmobile in all of its pre-safety bumper, pre-catalytic converter, 8 miles per gallon, 455 cubic inch Rocket V-8 glory. And, sorry Captain Kirk, to the contrary, it's much cooler than any Oldsmobile you and your daughter got to hawk. Beam us up, Scotty. We're going to 1972. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

RIP Honda Accord Coupe - The Times They Sure Are A Changin'

Where have I been? Not only did I not notice that Honda's Accord was all new for 2018 but they didn't bother to make a coupe version of it. Can't say I blame them. Given the sorry state of sedan sales these days in general, coupe sales were in even worse shape; Accord coupes amounted for a mere fraction of all Accord sales. Thankfully, we still have the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang to mill over. What's a coupe guy to do these days?

It's not like Honda made a handsome coupe out of the Accord sedan anyway. Look at this ugly beast. This car was so different looking from the very handsome Accord sedan it shares its name with I wonder why they even called it "Accord" in the first place. With the exception of the lovely 1998-2002 Accord coupes, the Accord  coupe has never been an especially attractive design so it's sort of ironic that it was one of the last "affordable" two door sedans on the market. This blue/grey aardvark is a 2016.
It was more a matter of function than form that the first Honda Accord sold here in 1976 was a two door "hatchback" or "three door" coupe. Back in the day, you paid more for a four door; more utility more expense. You weren't so much making a fashion statement with your two or three door Accord as much as you were spending your money very well on a bullet proof reliable, superbly built albeit not very special looking new car. For those of us smitten by the look of a coupe, no matter how well these cars were bolted together, they were not for us.
Accord bulked up for 1982 but the coupe was still an awkward looking plunger of a car. All Hondas back then were stead fast in their puritanical, utilitarian design so the two door Accord really wasn't anything different from the sedan except for being a little bit less expensive. Nothing flashy - just supremely well engineered, stoic, boring automobiles. As I've gotten older, I find something vastly appealing about such a stalwart approach to things like this, however, young me would never have even thought to buy anything like this. And I literally and sorely paid the price for such vanity. Oh, the flashy junk I drove back then.

Subsequent updates to the Accord brought more unsatisfying, utilitarian coupes that wouldn't look out of place in a communist block nation. The Honda Accord coupe for 1986 continued the blasé styling trend that helped mold and reinforce not only the model's image as a staid, forthright appliance, but Honda's as well. People who owned Honda's may have been pragmatic, intelligent human beings but they were not the first people you'd call to go out with on a Friday night when you really wanted to burn the house down. However, if you wanted Honda build quality in a somewhat appealing, bold and innovative package, starting in 1986, Honda would invite you into their Acura showrooms.

While Acura's designs were created in, surprise, American design studios, it took quite a while for any of Acura's design ethos to trickle down to Honda. While 1989 Accord's were certainly the best looking up to that point, they remained utterly forgettable looking. Utterly forgettable, fantastically built, stealthy, high performance little space ships. Every time I'd drive one I'd kick myself for not having one. Thing was, after I got out of one I'd quickly forget about it. After all, life's too short to be practical.

When shopping for a new car in late 1996, I seriously looked at a 1997 Accord coupe. But ultimately, I was put off by its lack of panache and elan. As sophomoric as this might sound, especially coming from a dyed in the wool "car person", that Accord just wasn't cool. Although I knew that it would probably be the best automobile I would ever own, instead of buying an Accord coupe I opted instead for a 1997 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. I never regretted that decision either.

Had these oh-so-sweet 1998-2002 Accord V-6 coupes been around when I was in the market would I have sprung for one instead? Hard to say. A loaded Accord was not cheap but with their jewel like build quality and finally some Acura styling mojo, these cars were an alluring proposition. Problem was, even by the late 1990's, two door sedans like this were fast becoming the world's best typewriter or VCR. The coupe market was shrinking because the sedans they were based on were priced almost the same. Not everyone buys a car with "how it looks" taking precedence over "how the hell are we going to get toddlers in and out of the backseat". Also, coupe buyers were only willing to pay so much of a stipend to make their fashion statement as coupes suddenly stickered for more than  sedans.

"Ok, so, let's attempt to distance the coupe from the sedan by offering styling that differentiates the two door more from the four door." Well, those marching orders for the 2003 reboot of the coupe resulted in a car that looked more like a large Civic coupe than a sports coupe version of the Accord sedan. Suddenly, the cork was out of the drain.

It's funny, from certain angles, the 2008 vintage Accord coupe was not a bad looking automobile and there certainly was no confusing this car with the four door its based on. It had the "reach" and presence of the late great Acura Legend coupes but it had one glaring and huge problem; dat ass. Some things you just simply can't unsee. Had Honda used the rear end from the sedan on these coupes instead of that thing, would it have increased sales? Who knows. Certainly wouldn't have hurt them.

Sadly, the last Accord coupe, while magnificent, was an evolutionary morphing of the 2008 model. Can you really tell any difference between this car and one that's 9 years older? I sure as hell can't. Visibility out the back of most sedans today is a joke and it's especially bad in coupes. Sorry. Was bad in coupes. About the only difference, aside from styling, between the Accord coupe and sedan was that you could get a pot whopping 278 horsepower, 3.5 liter V-6 with a six speed manual transmission on the coupe. Try finding one of those at a used car lot. Bet you a dollar you can't.

Not only is there no coupe version of the Accord for 2018, there's no V-6 engine available either. Honda eschewing the big motor for a pair of direct injected, turbocharged in line 4's. The times they sure are a changin' and while I applaud the seismic steps forward that the 2018 Accord is, I miss the old days of form over function. Perhaps that's one of many subliminal reasons why I hold onto my aging Monte Carlo and Camaros like I do.


Monday, February 12, 2018

1968 Chevrolet Bel Air - The World I Grew Up In

What amazes me about the explosion in popularity of cross over sport utility vehicles these days is that women, both young and old, are so enamored of them. Take Chevrolet's stunning new Traverse for instance. Strong enough for a man but made for a woman? Oh, absolutely. But why are these damn things so popular with women whereas the vehicle that's their direct spiritual predecessor, station wagons, are held in such low regard? It's because cross overs are a confluence of styling, driving position, and lastly and leastly, utility. Again, same could not be said for station wagons. Our subject is a 1968 Chevrolet Bel Air.
If station wagons offered the kind of driving position and the availability of four wheel or all wheel drive, would they have been as popular as cross overs are today? That's hard to say. At the end of the day, station wagons were little more than sedans with an extended greenhouse. No matter how handsome a job designers did with them, wagons like our Bel Air here could not escape what they were. Today's cross overs may share chassis and running gear with sedans but where it really counts, they're unique vehicles.
Station wagons were certainly not without merit, though. They could seat up to 9 passengers and with the middle passenger seat and the rear facing (good lord) third seat folded down, it made for a cavernous amount of cargo space. Lay the tailgate down flat and secure your load and you had even more room.

Unlike today's Swiss Army knife like cross overs, though, nothing screamed unhip "soccer mom mobile" or family car like station wagons of yore did. Lauded primarily for their versatility, what they could not do was convey any sort of elan that today's cross overs do. Young women in their twenties who have not an iota of subliminal nesting in them buy them as well as families do. In general, fifty years ago, most single, twenty something year old females wouldn't have been caught dead owning a station wagon - unless, for whatever reason, they had to.
Another thing that cross overs have been able to do is push sedans to the point of extinction. General Motors having made overtures that the current Chevrolet Impala will be the last and Ford hasn't announced that they have any plans for a replacement or update for the current Taurus and Fusion. Chrysler pulled the plug on their excellent "200" last year. At the rate they're going, we may all be forced to by cross overs because there won't be anything else left to buy.

Friday, February 9, 2018

1967 Pontiac Executive - Thunderstruck

If ever I was thunderstruck in my life it was a night in the spring of 1987. I had gone back to the radio station after hours and a blonde, tanned, statuesque and worst of all friendly as hell young woman was training on how to operate our studio equipment. Our eyes met through the studio glass and she smiled at me. With my heart racing and having been reduced to a shivering, stammering, sweating mess, I could barely utter a word as I was introduced to her. Somehow I managed to squeak out a confident sounding "hi, nice to meet you". She shook my hand firmly and with a flirtatious twinkle in her eye said back to me, "nice to meet, you". I don't think I breathed a word for the next ten minutes or so as I did whatever it was I went back to the station to do. Jill, as it turned out, was our new over night producer and despite the fact that we'd be working completely opposite hours, all of a sudden the job I had, which had deteriorated into a situation that I did not want to be in, improved to the point where I thought I could actually fathom coming to work each day and not be totally miserable. Leaving the station that night I noticed that she was driving a 1967 Pontiac Executive. The car sealed the deal. I was madly in love.
It wasn't so much that I liked her big old Pontiac, I've always thought GM's 1966 and 1967 full size cars ugly, although she looked adorable driving it, but it was so much different than just about anything else anyone was driving at the time. That, and the fact it was a coupe, said to me that she was a person who had discriminating taste and was a stickler for particular details; both attributes I find very alluring. The fact she was driving the car being happenstance since it was a hand-me-down  made no difference to me because when you're all of 23 years old and over the moon infatuated, your inner monologue tells you a love story that you not only can't get enough of but it's one that makes complete sense.

Jill and I became very fast friends and despite my affection for her, I never conjured up the guts to officially ask her out. Even though she teased me constantly. One day she went so far as to stick a chocolate chip cookie into my mouth and then she rammed her tongue into my mouth to get it back. The smirk on her face as she chewed the cookie the stuff of personal, erotic legend. To young men who were "players", this sort of thing was just another day on the golf course. To me, it meant everything and something that certainly didn't happen everyday. I, of course, completely over thought what had just happened since she did it in front of a bunch of our co-workers; she must do this sort of thing to guys all the time. What's more, women in the office began hen pecking her to me. "What do you see in her?", they'd say. "She's a tramp and you could do a lot better,".
If women in the office had issues with Jill, Jill had issues with her big old Pontiac. She claimed it was too big, was unreliable and got terrible gas mileage. She let me drive it a couple of times and I found it akin to driving an empty barn. The driving position hearkened back to the days before power steering with the steering wheel, no tilt by the way, almost bolt upright for the driver to use their body weight to help turn it like in the days before power steering. The car's power steering was so over boosted that it made the handling of my 1975 Cordoba I had at the time felt nimble in comparison. 
You're not alone if you've never heard of the Pontiac Executive. It was Pontiac's mid level model slotted between top of the line Bonneville and the Catalina and was only made between 1967 and 1970. Less than 35,000 of them were made each year as most people opted for either the tonier, poor man's Cadillac that was the Bonneville or the stripper Catalina that had a tad more flair than an Impala. I drove Jill's car as often and I found it's 400 cubic inch V-8 engine, a Pontiac exclusive,  responsive but hardly provided "fast" acceleration. The worst thing about the car were the brakes. The pedal travel was alarmingly long and even when you felt as though the brakes were actually doing something, you had to stand on them so hard it felt as though you were going to go straight through the floor boards. That combined with single digit fuel economy and hideous sheet metal and Jill's Pontiac was a car that I could certainly do without.
Jill, on the other hand, I felt I could certainly not do without.  In retrospect, she laid more hints at my feet that she wanted to get to know me better than perhaps any other woman ever has in my entire life. And I did nothing about it. I blame my being somewhat shy and also that I knew that I wasn't the only guy she had the kind of relationship with her that I had. Relationships with women like Jill are fleeting at best and in many ways, I'm thankful for being chaste. I know she was a heartbreak just ready to happen. At the end of the day, I felt I couldn't trust her. Despite loving her madly.
I knew that I had subconsciously made the right decision not to purse our relationship further when one day she was telling me she was having difficulty, of all things, urinating. Looking back on her telling me that, it seems odd but such was how close we had become in a very short period of time. When I told her that my mother suffered from a urinary tract condition called cystitis and that she had similar symptoms to what she was experiencing, she told me her doctor said it was either cystitis or...VD. I was thunderstruck. Again.

What killed me about that conversation was that she didn't scoff at the notion that she could have a venereal disease. Did I think less of her for it? The right thing for me to say is no, of course not. But I don't think I looked at her the same way after that - certainly not in any romantic kind of way. She had broken my heart even before I had given a chance for her to really do so.
Not long after I left that station I asked someone how Jill was doing. They said she was doing just fine and that she was having a torrid fling with my replacement. They said she had gotten rid of the big old car she was driving too.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

1960 Valiant by Chrysler - Bump (or Was That A Hump) In the Road

Of all the automotive shapes of my early childhood, there wasn't any as memorable as the "Valiant by Chrysler" that the family in the duplex across the street from us had. If I thought that "a car" was a block long Cadillac or Buick imagine what I must have thought of something like our subject here. Their car was light blue. While mini me thought he could actually handle driving it, I was put off by it's unusual styling. That didn't mean that I didn't find its bulging flanks fascinating to look at. If only...
If only it didn't have a toilet seat festooned to its trunk lid. This unusual detail is called a "continental kit" and was meant to evoke "Great Gatsby" era cars with their ornate spare tire cases that flowed seamlessly into the overall design of the car. The entire effect was lost on me since I had no first person experience with such things and I've always felt that such styling frivolity, if anything, belonged on large luxury cars and not cars intended for the bourgeois. This thing made about as much sense to me as a mobile home with an ornate chandelier.
Then again, as with so many things in life, context. We have to understand that Chrysler sold these cars along side hoity toity Chrysler's and Imperial's. Again, for 1960, this was a "Valiant" and not yet a "Plymouth Valiant". With that in mind, the hump on the trunk was a styling doo-dad intended to gussie up the little car. Plymouth, incidentally, was never a fully independent division and was also lumped together in the same showroom as a loss leader; a "companion make" so to speak. So, instead of making a car more akin to the low cost Plymouth, Chrysler instead shot for the moon. Would not be the first nor last time a domestic automaker over thought how to make a peanut and jelly sandwich.   
It's hard to fathom now but up until 1959, Ford, GM and Chrysler made only one type of car, a big one, and they offered it various forms of trim. In 1959, in response to the growing popularity of  imports, which were tiny compared to leviathans Detroit was pushing out, to say nothing of the success that Rambler had with their small cars, GM introduced the first of what would be a quadrumvirate of sorts with their rear engine Corvair. In 1960, Ford went conventional with their Falcon that could best be described as a shrunken Galaxie. Meanwhile over at Chrysler, they went avant garde with their little Valiant here. While the Corvair and Falcon sold quite well, Chrysler's hump on the trunk became a literal bump in the road.  

Sales of the "Valiant by Chrysler" were so bad that Chrysler canceled plans for a separate Valiant division and began marketing the Valiant as a Plymouth in 1961. Which, again, made no sense given the car's pretentious, luxury car styling details. Would it have sold better as a Chrysler or Imperial? We'll never know.
The Valiant was such a cost drain for Chrysler that its poor sales also forced their hand in discontinuing their long suffering DeSoto brand halfway through the 1961 model year. Subsequently, Chrysler reorganized into two succinct automobile divisions, Chrylser-Imperial-Plymouth and Dodge. Whereas prior to the Valiant debacle, the plan was for Chrysler to have up to six separate divisions.  
Plymouth changed little on the Valiant for 1961 but they pulled the spare time hump off the trunk for 1962. While it didn't do the design of the rear of the car any favors.sales up ticked slightly. A complete overhaul of Valiant for 1963 resulted in a car whose shape was far more conventional albeit forgettable looking one that was all but forgettable.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

2009 Mercedes Benz CL 550 - High Heeled Sneakers

Stumbled across this little beauty the other day outside my gym up here on Cleveland's "West Side". This is a 2008 vintage Mercedes Benz CL550.

Coupes have been a tough putt for years and sadly, Mercedes Benz discontinued the CL after 2014 so all we have left to drool over are vestiges like our uber rare grand dame here.

A coupe off shoot of Mercedes mighty S class, Mercedes Benz built the CL from 1992-2014 for people that, presumably, prioritize style and fashion above everything else. "CL" is short for "Coupe Leicht" or "Coupe Luxusklasse".

I could care less about what people think; I just like the way a big, stylish coupe looks. Practicality be damned.

The Mercedes Benz CL started out in 1992 as a two door, shortened wheel base version of the four door S class. Think 1995-1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo vs. 1995-1999 Chevrolet Lumina. Might be sacrilegious to use a Monte Carlo anecdotally with regards to a Mercedes Benz but the analogy works. 

The block like, dare I say homely 1992 CL's gave way to one of the best looking and under appreciated designs of the early 00's, the drop dead gorgeous 1999-2006 CL's. With an eight inch shorter wheelbase and powered only by Mercedes Benz' most powerful engines, the only issue with those cars was that the Hirnhäute at Mercedes priced them much higher than the S class sedans they were based on. Suffice to say they sold like scheisse.

That didn't stop Mercedes Benz from updating the CL for 2008 with this car that while still very appealing, wasn't nearly the head turner the 1999 vintage CL was. What's more, subjectively, this car is less handsome than its stable mate, the CLS. In fairness, though, it's rare that a two door sedan that's little more than the four door its based to an improvement of the design.  Again, as good looking as this car is, it's the 1995 Camry two door to the '95 Camry four door. Wow. Two plebian analogies? The kid is two for two today.

Coupes have all but dried up these days because buyers who would have found them appealing years ago have flocked to infinitely more practical and stylish cross over sport utility vehicles. Those blasted vehicles combine the convenience and comfort of sneakers with the styling elan of stiletto heels. That said, though, stilettos will always be sexier than a pair of sneakers.


Monday, January 22, 2018

1974 Chevrolet Impala - Glasshouse Donk

When my family and I first moved to Cleveland back in 2010, I found a 1971 Cadillac Coupe deVille that I liked enough to buy but I didn't have buy in on it from my wife. The owner of the car dropped the price almost a thousand dollars in the course of our conversation and begged me to buy it because he couldn't bear to sell the car to someone who was going to turn it into a "Donk". A what? A "Donk" -  which is any old American car with ridiculously large wheels. Or in the case of our 1974 Impala coupe here, ree-donk-u-lously large wheels. What's more, this car is what is referred to as a "Glasshouse Donk".
Aficionados of "Donks" say that only 1971-1976 Chevrolet Impala and Caprices can be "Donks" although I recall when we lived in Dallas seeing just about any old full perimeter sedan with these huge wheels. They can range in size from 20 to more than 30 inches tall. The "smaller" rims, say, 20-22 inches are "Dubs" while anything bigger than that are called "Donks".

Now, I've been a big fan of General Motors huge 1971-1976 B body coupes for as long as I can remember but I've never heard of them referred to as "Glasshouses" but the term is appropriate given the amount of glass area these cars have. It's enormous. I understand that people who transform these cars into "Donks" apparently prefer the styling of the 1974-1976 "colonnade" coupes to the hard top 1971-1973 models which I much prefer. The "c pillars" on these cars is much thinner than on the hard tops and helps to open up the interior.
"Donks" usually have customized interiors like this although I have to wonder if the person who had this interior stitched up in the first place got anything off the cost because the upholsterer got the Chevy bow tie backwards on the door panel. Many "Donks" also come with customized sound systems with enough amps to power a movie theater. Or cruise ship. You can also see how airy the interior of these cars are from this photograph. They don't make 'em like this anymore but then again, if they did, kids today in the back seat wouldn't care since they'd have their heads in their phones instead of soaking in the scenery.
Our cheap "Glasshouse Donk" doesn't have any customizing under hood unless you count the "after market" yellow spark plug wires. Aside from that, this "350, 2 barrel" looks to be as bone stock as the day it left the factory. Although you'd think there was more under the hood given its custom "reverse cowl induction" hood. Ad claims the brakes need to be bled - I wonder what that's all about.
It's unusual to see a car like this all the way up here in Cleveland. Again, when we lived in Dallas these types of cars were everywhere but the weather down there even in winter time is far more conducive to these types of cars. Can only imagine how this thing would handle in a snow storm. Here's the link for the ad if you're so inclined. https://cleveland.craigslist.org/cto/d/1974-impala-glasshouse-donk/6467303858.html