Monday, September 29, 2014

1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass - Crash Diet

As much of a fan of GM's 1977 downsized full sized B bodies as I was, I've always been almost equally less enamored of their 1978 downsized midsized "A's" (known as G bodies after 1981). At least up until they were "refreshed" in 1981 and they regained some semblance of proportion. These first gen downsized A's always looked as though there were trying to be something that they used to be as opposed to being the best designed cars they possibly could be.

If you've ever known someone who lost too much weight then perhaps you might be able to empathize with my feelings towards the 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Malibu, Pontiac Grand Prix, Grand Am and LeMans and the Buick Century and Regal. Cadillac, mercifully, didn't get one of these.

The Cutlass being perhaps the least homely of an ugly lot of cars and that's saying a lot because this is an oddly proportioned, odd looking automobile. Especially with a that landau vinyl top.   
As much as they took out of their full sized B's, GM really took the proverbial sawzall to their mid size cars. Some cars, like some people, actually look better with what might be construed as too much meat on their bones.

Yes, the 1973 "colanades" were too big and needed some trimming but as then GM of Cadillac John Grettenberg said in a 1989 interview, "we overreacted (to downsizing) and as a result sterilized our cars".  


Hard to find fault with someone who's that candid.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

1963 Buick Riviera - She Walks In Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
   Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
   How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
   But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
   A heart whose love is innocent!

George Gordon Byron

1975 Buick Skyhawk - Good Luck With That

The Buick Skyhawk was a subcompact, four passenger, hatchback that was introduced in September 1974 for the 1975 model year. Buick sold it through 1980.  
How much is a car worth that's forty years old and in very good condition? What something costs is only as much as what someone would pay for something. It's debatable how much this car would ultimately retail for but the dealership in Florida where it's for sale is asking $6600 for it. Good luck with that.
This first-generation Skyhawk was based on the Chevrolet Vega and shares its wheelbase and width.] The Skyhawk was produced with H=body variants Chevrolet Monza, Oldsmobile Starfire, and  Pontiac Sunbird.
This would be an interesting driver for a kid who wouldn't have to go too far from home or campus in it. My concern would be getting it to campus in the first place and once there I'd be prepared to make many trips to campus to fix whatever broke. And that will happen a lot. Take it from someone who's been there, there are many cons with going with an old car as a daily driver. Having one that's at the dawn of 40 is really not a good idea. Our 19 year old Camaro our high school senior tools around in is all the hassle I can muster. Can you imagine something that's twice as old and ten times more unique? Unique, at least with regards to old cars, not a good thing.
This Skyhawk was a rear wheel drive car with a live rear axle. Throughout its production, the H-body Skyhawk would be offered only with the Buick-designed 3.8 liter (231 cid) V-6 using a 2-barrel carburetor that generated 110 bhp.
Mechanical parts for this car are a plenty since this Skyhawk is a Chevrolet Vega with the Buick 231 V-6. It's the exterior and interior bits and pieces that concern me. One little tap on the front bumper denting that gentle rubber strip and you're going to be in a hurt of trouble trying to find a replacement. There are no restoration websites out there that you can go to find a rub strip, fender or hatch back glass for a 1975 Buick Skyhawk. Better find a forum of fellow GM H body Skyhawk owners to help you out. Good luck with that too.
There is no such species of birds known as skyhawks. Best can be said is that the car is named after the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, a single seat carrier-capable attack aircraft that the U.S Navy and Marine Corp used beginning in 1956.
There in lies a big issue with that $6600 list price. After you've laid down what is in essence cheap Corvette money, you could get a decent looking, 1975 Corvette "driver" for similar money, you have a car that while simple to repair, is harder to find parts for than a '55 Desoto. I had a 1978 Dodge Magnum years ago and while mechanical parts were easy to find, I knew that if I had any sort of fender bender with it that I would have a devil of a time finding parts for it. Especially if my network of internet friends couldn't get the parts for me either. Then again, I spent a grand on the car initially so I didn't have that much "in it" to start. Starting at $6600 is a different story.
Buick stopped production of the H-body Skyhawk in 1979. The nameplate was switched to the GM J-body platform beginning in 1982 and remained in production through 1989.
It's not uncommon for people to think that Granny's mint old car, especially one with only 39,000 (undocumented) miles on it, is worth a small fortune but you have to be realistic. Maybe there is someone out there who has been longing for a Skyhawk after all these years to help them relive some high school memories or whatever. I know all too well what that's all about given my taste in old cars but you have to keep your shirt on. I'd low ball at $2500 and go no higher than $4000 for it. Happy shopping and good luck.

Monday, September 22, 2014

1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass - Midwestern and Proud Of It

The first Oldsmobile Cutlass was an experimental sports coupe designed in 1954. Its platform was quite similar to the later compact F-85, which was not introduced for seven more years.
One of the disadvantages of growing up in "Greater New Yorker" is that the area is a giant bubble isolated  from the rest of the country. I had a suspicion this was the case when I stilled lived there but many years post, "the move", (actually several) I realize that I was correct in that assumption. The rest of the country does things one way while New York does it their way. Do they do it better? That's a matter of opinion. I can tell you that New York is so different, particularly Manhattan, that it might as well be a city in another continent.

When the F-85 made its debut in 1961, "Cutlass" was the top of the line model.  

Case in point, while the rest of the U.S.A. was buying Oldsmobile Cutlass' in the 1970's and 1980's by the bushel full, making it the number one selling automobile in this country, you'd never know what a strong seller the car was if you lived in the New York City area. Trendsetters or taste makers in New York didn't drive something as bourgeois as an Oldsmobile; they drove Mercedes Benz, BMW's and the occasional Audi. If you are what you drive what did an Olds Cutlass say about you? That you were modest, pragmatic, Midwestern at heart and proud of it.

Disappointing sales of the compact F-85, along with the introduction of the mid size Ford Fairlane in 1962 prompted GM to enlarge the compacts for the 1964 model year.
Having lived most of the last ten years in the Midwest I can tell you that, for my family at least, life is a whole lot better here than in New York. Better cost of living, better schools, better housing, less congestion and depending on where you are, Cleveland not being one of them of course, better weather.

Oldsmobile dropped the Cutlass moniker after 1999. General Motors dropped Oldsmobile after 2004.
Friends ask if we'd ever consider a move back to New York and my wife and I are adamant that the situation would have to be pretty darn awesome to make us give up what we have here versus going back there. We have several friends who've made similar moves out of the New York bubble and feel as strongly about the Midwest as we do. Even if the quality of life here in the Midwest means rubbing elbows with people who drive what some New Yorkers would make out to be a less than sophisticated automobile. The trade off is worth it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

1966 Lincoln Continental - Don't Meet Your Idols

1966 was the first year for the Continental Coupe
Ken Taylor (named changed to protect the guilty) was the velvet tongued morning disc jockey at the little local radio near where I grew up. He was quite the big deal in my house growing up what with his announcing to my brothers if we had school on snowy days and what not. He was also the checkered jacket wearing, mustachioed man pictured in the newspaper coupons hawking whatever was for sale at the Hills super market around the corner from us. So when he came back to work at that station, the station that I was working at at the time as well, it was quite the big deal. My mother proclaiming that I had arrived at a certain pinnacle in my career. "Celebrity" has no bounds. It's also relative.
This handsome two door sedan helped Ford sell more than 50,000 Lincolns in 1966. Not enough to put a real dent in Cadillac but an impressive number
The problem was in person Ken was nothing like what I imagined him to be. I had assumed he'd be a cross between Burt Lancaster, Clark Gable and Robert DeNiro but what he was, instead was as ordinary a human being as one could get. That's not a bad thing, mind you, just disappointing at least with regards to my lofty expectations.
In 1956 and 1956, Continental was a separate division from Lincoln 
An automotive celebrity from my youth, the "Ken Taylor of Cars" that I could not wait to meet in person was the 1961-1969 Lincoln Continental coupe. While I never really warmed to the wild suicide doors of Elwood Engel's (the designer) iconic four door, the very rare coupes got my full attention. Throw me the keys, please. Let's stop for gas first.
The JFK "Death Car" was a 1961 Lincoln Continental
Originally offered only as a four door hardtop and a four door convertible, for 1966, Lincoln offered a two door version of the Continental. It did well helping to push Lincoln sales up considerably. Not enough to move Lincoln past Cadillac but enough to be impressive. With Cadillac in the midst of arguably its softest model lineup since World War II, if I was in the market back then for a luxury car I would, at least from a styling stand point, have a hard time deciding which car to buy. I know from a sheer appearance stand point I'd go with this car.
In addition to the first year a coupe was offered it was also the first year for an available tilting steering column and 8 track tape player
That is, sadly, until I actually test drove it and found that, much like Ken Taylor, the car nothing in reality what I'd hope it would be. The car, in fairness too, much worse than that humble old Ken. This car is a sluggish, wallowing, unresponsive brute with the worst brakes this side of a Model T. The Cadillac, while not nearly as striking, had the Lincoln beat hands down in just about every driving dynamic.  
1966 was the last year that Lincoln could brag that featured larger engines than Cadillac did. Lincoln's new for '66 462 V-8 best Cadillac's 429 V-8. Cadillac pulled ahead in 1967 with a 472 V-8 and never looked back.
Still, it gets me every time I see one. Magnificent. Perhaps just this once this one car would be different from all the others but no, this one is no different. The brakes in particular worse than most even. These great looking cars like that pleasant but blandly disappointing radio vet from years ago taught me a valuable lesson in life, don't meet your idols.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Volvo C70 T5 - The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

When I first became a (radio) program director I believed naively, that transforming what I felt was a stodgy, old sounding radio station into a vibrant, energetic, young, fun, hip sounding juke box would lead to a huge boost in the ratings. Without the benefit of any research nor anyone telling me to do so, I changed literally everything on the station making it sound very different from what it had been and what it had been known for.
While many at the station thought the station sounded great, the rub is that not only did ratings not improve, they got worse. It was a humbling if not humiliating experience since the last thing in the world I wanted was for things not only not to improve but to get worse. I righted the ship restoring most if not everything the radio station had been known for after my General Manager told me frankly, "The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions".
Volvo's move to more contemporary and arguably "hipper" designs  had similar effects. In the late '90's in a well intentioned attempt to increase sales, Volvo began introducing "sexy" or hip designs; suddenly boxy was out and curvaceous was in. In that light, the Swedish Automaker introduced the C70 and cars of similar ilk that made one remark, "that's a Volvo?" Volvo also abandoned its decades old marketing initiative of promoting how safe their vehicles where instead relying on the styling of their vehicles to sell cars.

The C70 had its fans but it came at the expense of Volvo's traditional customers. Just like what had happened to me at that radio station. Similarly styled sedans also followed leaving core fans, those who appreciated past Volvo attributes that emphasized safety along with Scandinavian styling with little choice. Volvo had become just another expensive aspirational automobile in a market that is nothing if not clogged with them. Sales of Volvos have shrunk over the last 10 years with only a cadre of conservatively designed cross over SUV's have kept the lights on.
Volvo built their reputation on manufacturing acceptably offbeat, stoic, solid, sensible and most importantly safe automobiles. In the '50s and '60s when Volvo first began pushing safety they found a lane, literally, all to themselves here in the United States since the Big Three believed safety unsellable. Safety, marketed correctly, does sell. Remember the 1990 Dudley Moore film, "Crazy People" and this ad campaign from that movie? When what you're known for becomes a pop culture reference point and it's not a negative why would you abandon it?  

In the near future Volvo will attempt a return to their glory days of yore with vehicles that are more Scandinavian in design and their marketing emphasis will be on safety and traditional Volvo attributes. Not unlike my returning that radio station to the sound that it was known for. Results where mixed when I did that by the way.

With regards to Volvo, does this mean a return to "Boxy But They're Good"? Volvo has even gone as far to say they want "zero deaths" in their cars by 2020. That ambitious goal enough to right the ship? Time will tell.




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

2014 Dodge Viper - Old Guys With Money

Chrysler made some minor headlines the other day when they announced that they were dropping the price on their slow selling Dodge Viper by $15,000. That means a new Viper still stickers for a shocking $85,000.

How slow is Viper selling? Dodge sold just 38 of them in August while Chevrolet sold 2,679 Corvettes. That's incredibly vexing for Chrysler in a market that has seen luxury sports car sales soar by 35% this year. What's more in a new car market that's the best its been in eight years, Chrysler sales over all are up an industry leading 14.3% through August and market share increasing a full percentage point. That's due largely to demand for its stable of trucks and sport-utility vehicles but still, that's impressive growth.

Why are Viper sales so bad? Several reasons the least of which has to do with the physical car; this Viper is awesome.

First, the market for high performance, two passenger cars is tiny and at least in the United States, Chevrolet literally owns the market with Corvette. What's more, Viper has to compete with this spectacular new Corvette that offers comparable performance for considerably less money. Even luxury car buyers appreciate value.

When Dodge came out with Viper in 1992, despite its overall lack of refinement, it was a stronger performing car than Corvette. It's then eye watering $50,000 price tag (Dodge claims the $15,000 price cut on the new Viper puts it in line, adjusted for inflation, with the '92 Dodge Viper) seemed somewhat acceptable given the high level of performance its 400 horsepower V-10 engine provided.  The 1992 Corvette ZR-1 developed similar power to Viper but as for the base Corvette versus a base Viper, Corvette couldn't compete.

That's not the case anymore. Even the base Corvette is now a world class sports car the equal to anything even a 10 cylinder Viper can muster. What's more, buyers of these cars, those stereotypical "old guys with money", unless they're car collectors, usually don't have room for more than one "sports car" and if they did it's debatable if they'd buy a Viper to go along with whatever else they've purchased.

If you're so inclined, get your game face on and go into your local Dodge dealer and make them offer. You might be surprised by the kind of deal you get.


Monday, September 8, 2014

1979 Pontiac Bonneville - The Problem With Pontiac

The 1979 Bonneville was Pontiac's top of the line model
In many ways this handsome old Pontiac was an antique even before it left the factory thirty five years ago and that's not in reference to its body on frame construction, lack of a satellite based navigation system or carbureted V-8 engine. No, it's in reference to the antiquated General Motors that manufactured, marketed and sold it. 
At it's most elemental, GM is a consortium of independent car companies
By 1979 GM was still holding fast to Alfred Sloan's brand ladder or "car for every purse and purpose" pricing strategy. Sloan, the CEO of General Motors from 1923-1946, was at the helm of GM as it grew into a position to become the largest corporation in the world. That pricing strategy purportedly graduated buyers from Chevrolet to Cadillac with each rung on the ladder being a step up in prestige. Pontiac was between Chevrolet and Oldsmobile in the pecking order of GM brands.
This Bonneville shares much mechanically with similar models from Chevrolet, Oldsmobile Buick and Cadillac  
The "Problem With Pontiac" and GM in general by the late 1970's was that GM had compressed that brand ladder to the point that there was little to differentiate a Pontiac from an Oldsmobile or Buick. Honestly, there really wasn't that much of a difference between a Chevrolet Caprice and a Cadillac deVille either. GM's models had compressed because it was cheaper to market different trim levels of the same automobile than develop automobiles that were truly different from each other.
General Motors closed Pontiac as part of its reorganization in 2008.
Imagine a radio company owning several stations within a city that were all similar to the point  of little differentiation besides what they called themselves. That would've been GM up until reorganization in 2008. With little more to market than antiquated preconceptions regarding prestige it's no wonder the GM we knew for so long went belly up.
Let's hope GM learned from its mistakes.

Monday, September 1, 2014

1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - Godfather Part 2 This Ain't

In film, a good sequel doesn't require the audience to be aware there was a "Part 1" let alone require of them to have seen Part 1 to appreciate it. Makes me wonder if I would have been as disappointed in the 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo had I not have been such an admirer of the car it was based on. Did the masses that bought these cars between 1978-1980 like it for what it was or for what it reminded them of?

The car it was based on, "Part 1",  was the iconic, much lauded and lamented, 1973-1977 Monte Carlo. Part of GM's "Colonnade" series of cars introduced for 1973, the 1973 Monte Carlo was the  most flamboyantly styled of the "Colannades" not to mention Chevrolets offered for sale in the 1970's. Its bulbous and exaggerated lines right up there with another '70's automotive icon, although it was introduced in 1968, the C3 Corvette.

With sales each year never less than 290,000 per year and more than 410,000 in its final year of production, those are tremendous numbers, you can't blame Chevrolet for scribing a 7/8 scale version of it when the corporate mandate came down to put all mid size cars on a diet for 1978.

Although only a foot shorter and an inch narrower than the 1973 - 1977 Monte Carlos, the 1978 Monte Carlo appears lilliputian in a side by side comparison. Like someone who's lost too much weight, it looks like somethings not quite right. Those tiny 14 inch wheels don't help either. Wouldn't you know it, though? Taste being like armpits, it sold extremely well.

The 1973 Monte Carlo, again, "Part 1", was an exaggeration of the original Monte Carlo which came out in 1970. The Monte Carlo being Chevrolet's answer to corporate cousin (more like sister or brother) Pontiac's Grand Prix which itself was an answer to the question, "what comes after muscle cars?" The answer was (and oxymoronic at that) personal luxury cars. Or cars that looked luxurious. After all, what's a luxury car above and beyond a conveyance that makes it owner appear to be successful? GM's stylists inspiration for the 1970 Monte Carlo's design?

The "Great Gatsby" or "classic" cars of the 1920s and 1930s. Seeing that 1973 was a mere 40 years or so hence, people in the late '60's and early '70's looked to Great Gatsby cars like the 1928 Rolls Royce as an example of automobilia at its finest. Not unlike the way we admire muscle cars of the 1960s as supreme examples of cars made now not being "what they used to be". Note the fenders, long hood and single, isolated headlamps.

As much as the '73 Monte drew from "classics", another example being this delightful 1932 Dusenburg Model J (note the fenders and how much of the car is in front of the windshield), like a gimmicky hit record, the "Great Gatsby" inspired Monte Carlo became a phenomena above and beyond its inspirational starting point.

The 1978 Monte Carlo owes much of its design to The Great Gatsby cars as well if only indirectly. However, by 1978 that concept had been all but forgotten and replaced by what the design had become itself. Like so many sequels, though it didn't live up to the original. Godfather Part 2 this ain't.
Chevrolet updated the Monte Carlo in 1981 with this much more restrained and cleaner styled model. By 1981 though, the market for personal luxury cars had already begun to shrink. The '70's were over, baby.