Monday, June 29, 2015

1971 Plymouth Barracuda Timing (and Image) Is Everything

Timing is everything. So is image. The Plymouth Barracuda suffered problems with both during it's 11 year model run from 1964-1974.  Despite all that and more aptly, because of it, today, the Barracuda is one of the most soft after of the "classic" muscle/pony cars.
The image problem it had was that the original Barracuda (above) was not able to shake the image that it was nothing more than a fancy Valiant. 
The Valiant was not only perceived as being an economy car but a fairly unhip one at that. Putting a sporty grill on the front, a fastback on the back and V-8 badges on the front fenders did little to convince buyers that, despite arguably the coolest name ever for a car, the Barracuda was little more than Granny's grocery getter in a leather jacket.
While still Valiant based, the 1967 redesign made for a very handsome automobile but this time timing was the culprit.
Big, bad General Motors entered the pony car fray in 1967 with not only the Chevrolet Camaro...
But the Pontiac Firebird.
Lastly but certainly not leastly, Ford had an updated Mustang out for 1967 as well. The pony car market, which didn't even exist four years prior, was suddenly very crowded. To to say nothing
about American Motor had to offer as well.  
Given a choice between the four of these cars I wish I could say I'd choose Barracuda but the truth is, knowing myself, I'd probably spring for the Firebird.
The 1970-1974 vintage Barracuda, our subject is a 1971 model, while shedding any vestige of "Valiant", suffered again from timing issues. While these cars are subjectively the greatest of all the pony cars, and I'm not alone in the sentiment, by 1970, the muscle car/pony car party was beginning to wane and in more ways than one. What's more, the image of the new Barracuda was decidedly more masculine than before; that's not good. Just like in radio and television programming, you have to get the ladies in order to win. There weren't too many women interested in a two ton black top ripper like this delicious 340 powered 'Cuda and the men had more than their fair share of options to pick from. That all added up to very disappointing sales for Barracuda.
Yes, there was a lesser model available but it sold slowly because if a woman wanted something sporty, she no doubt wanted a Camaro, Firebird or Mustang. There was no foreign competitor back then and this is at least 15 years before BMW made an inroads into the mindset of image conscious buyers.
The only ones left at the party to oogle over the Barracuda were the guys who really, really liked the car regardless of image. Or timing. Those diehards, myself one of them, love the car despite the shockingly cheap interior and underwhelming driving dynamics. I'm still such a fan of these cars that when I'm asked to pick one car to have above all others this is the one I'd choose.
These cars now amongst the most sought after of all the muscle car era automobiles. Asking price on this very nice 1971 'Cuda a cool $55,000. And somehow, it seems like a bargain even at that price.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

2005 Chevrolet Colorado - Pickup Man

I have never understood the appeal of pickup trucks. To me, using one as a daily driver makes as much sense as using a pogo stick as mode of transportation. Based on years and years of sales figures, I'm clearly in the minority when it comes to that sentiment; the heck do I know anyway growing up twenty minutes from Times Square anyway. Apparently, as Joe Diffie pointed out so succinctly more than twenty years ago, there's something women like about a pickup man. Big and, as is in the case of our subject today, small. Again, the appeal, both big and small, escapes me. Particularly the little guys like this.
Chevrolet's first foray into small pickup trucks was this rebadge of an Isuzu pickup they called, "LUV". If I had any pickup sense when I was a kid this horrible wreck violated it when I first saw one  years ago. "LUV", an acronym for "light utility vehicle" was Chevrolet's response to the growing popularity of small pickups sold in the United States by Datsun (now Nissan) and Toyota and was the first small pickup ever marketed and sold by one of the Big Three. Despite being as brutal riding as a farm wagon and slower than a ride on lawn mower it sold quite well particularly on the west coast. Chevrolet sold the LUV from 1972 through 1981.
Remarkably, after the ugly little LUV, Chevrolet produced something even homelier, the all new for 1982 Chevrolet S-10. The S-10 was the first compact pickup produced, marketed and sold by the Big Three and despite being only somewhat smoother riding and slightly more powerful than the LUV, sold surprisingly if not amazingly well. When I think of Joe Diffie's "Pickup Man", I don't think of women drawn to men who drive S-10's but again, Mr. Long Island here. What do I know about these things?
A refresh of sorts for 1994 put a somewhat modern spin on the sheet metal although underneath she's still the same ox cart simple doofus as before. Twenty plus years later I find it no less ugly than I did when it was new. These things ride and drive so crudely and bounce around so much you feel as though it has balloons for tires you'd think they designed that in. You could say they did since it's roughness was due to a lack of overall engineering. The 1994 vintage S-10 was sold through 2004.
Chevrolet not only changed the name of their compact pickup in 2005 they also introduced it on a new truck platform, the GMT355. With an improved front suspension and new 4 and 5 cylinder engines, (the five presumably fit better in the narrow engine space than a V-6 although GM did squeeze a V-8 in there in 2009 so who knows...) Chevrolet also went for it with aggressive new styling that even I find somewhat appealing. Somewhat. There something that women like about a man that drives a Chevrolet Colorado?
Must be the layer of crud on this well worn worker or the handsome contrast of the black rims with the red as to why I find this little guy, ha, little - still weighs two tons,  somewhat appealing. However, this little guy is only marginally more refined than the S-10 it replaced and the funky in line five giving no more performance than the V-6 it replaces. You'd think that a given seeing it has one less cylinder but in this modern world of overhead cams and fuel injection you'd hope at least for a performance upgrade. Nope. Not going to happen. Say hello to the 5300 V-8 in 2009 although I pity the fool who has to work on it.
Then again to each his own. The owner of this thing, the maintenance guy at the gym I go to, loves it and says its the best truck he's ever had. He likes the styling too although he wishes it resembled his father's first small truck more. When I pressed him for what that little truck was he told me it was "that little Chevrolet thing they sold back in the '70's."  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

1982 Lincoln Continental Mark VI - Get The Hell Out of the Way

When this car was new, it was heralded as a massive improvement over what it replaced and derided at the same time for not being what it replaced.
The Mark VI was better in every way to the Mark V but Lincoln sold almost half the number of VI's compared to V's. Part of that that was a double dip recession the country was going through but it was also the fickle nature of luxury car buyers.
General Motors did a much better job than Ford did with downsizing their full size and "specialty" offerings (like the Cadillac Eldorado) by giving buyers automobiles that were more spiritually similar to what came before them than what Ford was to offer. Case in point the 1978 to 1979 Cadillac Eldorado.
GM's new for 1979 Cadillac Eldorado looked similar to what it replaced but was still unmistakably a Cadillac Eldorado.
Lincoln's new for 1980 Mark VI looked like a shrunken version of the car it replaced, the 1979 Mark V. Don't just take my word for it.
See for yourself.
Ford could ill afford to have Mark VI not be a success so they hedged their bets on giving the public exactly what they wanted. Or what they thought they wanted that being a smaller V. Rather than go where the market was going, Ford attempted to stay exactly where they were. Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way, Ford.  
While the 1980 Mark VI had many modern accouterments like fuel injection, a four speed automatic, exotic in a world of three speed automatics and even keyless entry, again, exotic, the bottom line was the car was hampered by what is most important to buyers of any car regardless of whether or not it is a luxury car or not.
It was ugly.
The failure that was the Mark VI was supplanted by the success that was the Mark VII in 1984. Again, and in fairness, in 1980 Ford did what they thought their very conservative customers wanted and unfortunately they paid dearly for it. Faced with literal extinction, it's amazing what Lincoln did with the '84 Mark VII. Do or die. Have to wonder where Lincoln would be today had they introduced what was the Mark VII as the VI in 1980.

For Sale - LeBron James' Mercedes S550 4Matic

LeBron James loves cars although I'd stop short of saying he's a "car guy" like Jay Leno since his taste in cars tends to lean towards modern and highly customized machinery. He's had a customized Ferrari F430 Spider, a Maybach 57S complete with KING OF OH vanity plates, a Bentley Continental GT, incidentally, he's said that was his favorite, a Dallas Cowboys silver and blue Dodge Challenger SRT, a Ferrari 599, a Rolls Royce Phantom (gift from Shaq when he played on the Cavaliers), a Mercedes Benz S63 AMG, a Range Rover HSE, a customized 1975 Chevrolet Caprice convertible, a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, a Camaro SS, a Porsche 911 Turbo S and this fairly humble looking 2015 Mercedes Benz S55 4Matic. It's for sale with nary 1000 miles on it at a Mercedes Benz dealership not far from my home here on  Cleveland's west side. 
The on line ads for  it make no mention if you'd get any documentation that this car was owned by "King James" but it is an interesting conversation starter.
There's also no indication that previous ownership has anything to do with the asking price of this car which is more than  $147,000. Wow. Almost 150G for something that takes you from point A to point B and back and each mile on its digital odometer drives its value down. New, these cars sticker for approximately $120,000 and with options quickly top $150,000. If you're concerned about how much and how quickly this will depreciate, as smart as you are, you probably should look elsewhere. Cars like this are for the super rich  and yes, they are different than you and me.
Leasing would be the way to go with this car since it's best to lease depreciating assets and buy appreciating ones but good luck leasing a used car even if it's been owned by "royalty". With an annual income of more than $70 million, I don't think the King cared one way or the other; Number 23 probably came in with a bank check for the full amount. Then again, this being at a Mercedes Benz dealership you might be able to work something out. No doubt this dealership is none too happy to have this car in its showroom regardless of who owned it previously.
That asking price of $147,000+ will buy you a used, again albeit with just 1000 miles on it and celebrity owned, 2015 Mercedes Benz S550 4Matic which many believe to be the best car in the world. The best car for the best player? Seems only fitting. For what amounts to maybe a half a game check for "The King" you get this  spectacularly handsome interior that comes complete with massaging seats, pillow soft head rests, a 449 horsepower, twin turbo, 4.7 liter V-8 and a perfume atomizer. Yes. A perfume atomizer. Spritz-spritz. Hmmm, smells like LeBron just opted out of his contract. 
The Mercedes S class, the spiritual successor to the late, great Maybach, borrows, amongst other things,  the Maybach's  TV monitors and snack trays. Hopefully this supple, light colored leather is stain resistant lest you have a panic attack for when the kids spill the Grey Poupon.
A major selling point of the S class is that you get a vastly superior automobile to a Rolls or Bentley and at a significant cost savings. Everything of course being relative. Again, with someone of LeBron's wealth I can't imagine cost matters but you never know. Perhaps this was used by his wife to travel incognito with their kids. LeBron, incidentally, married his high school sweetheart and say what you will about "The King", by all accounts he's a fantastic family man. 
You do have to wonder why it's been traded in but we'll never know that answer to that question. If you're interested shoot me an email and I'll hook you up with the dealership. Sorry, I can do little to get you tickets to the Cav's 2015-16 season opener. Ciao.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Pedal Car - Everyone Has a Rosebud

I saw "Citizen Kane" for the first time in a film class I was taking for what I thought was going to be an easy A in college. Silly me. Not only was the class tougher than I ever imagined it could be, I thought "Kane" was a waste of time. "What the hell was that?" I wrote at the top of my paper on the film. I got a C on the paper; I just didn't get it.
"Citizen Kane" is not a film that most people "get" the first time they see it. Especially these days when it's all but impossible to appreciate how innovative the film was since most films today borrow something from the film; either directly or as is most times the case, indirectly. More than twenty years later I saw it again and that time, through admittedly older and arguably wiser eyes and ears,  I did "get it" and continue to get it in different ways every time I've seen it since. Without the tip of a spear from a college film class at my throat, I've found myself mesmerized by Citizen Kane  on many levels the least of which being my respect for how a twenty four year old Orson Welles was able to craft such a seminal film at such a young age. Most importantly, I'm intrigued by how much I identify with, as many do, the story of Charles Foster Kane.

To summarize Citizen Kane as succinctly as possible, "Kane" is the story of newspaper reporters attempting to discover the meaning of, "Rosebud", Kane's final utterance. Simple as that may seem, part of the greatness of Kane is the simplicity of it. Kane is to films what a great cheese omelet is to eggs.
Literally or figuratively, everyone has a Rosebud. My Rosebud was a pedal car just like this. In this one passenger, one kidpower pedal car I was the Richard Petty of the sidewalks of Overlook Place. 
It wasn't perfect. More of a four wheel child's tricycle than even a four wheel child's bike, it made a pogo stick seem like real transportation.  The issue was the pedals and what amounted to a 1:1 posi-traction rear axle. A lack of gearing made that 1:1 axle exhausting especially on the up and down hills of the broken sidewalk paths of Overlook Place. What's more, without gearing to multiply force and without brakes, my pedal car, literally could only go as fast as my legs could pump the pedals. Stopping was easy, you didn't pedal you didn't move. Not very exciting. It did handle very well thanks to what amounted to rack and pinion steering although, as with rack and pinion units on real cars, it did have an enormous turning radius. U-turns on sidewalk slabs amounted to my getting out of it, picking it up and turning it around.
I had a number of accidents in my pedal car in attempts to make things more interesting. The worst was the time I had the brilliant idea to ride it down the smoothly paved but steep hill that led into the park behind my house. I picked up speed very quickly and the rapidly spinning pedals forced my feet off them. Thanks to that 1:1 "posi" there was no way for me to get my feet back on the pedals to brake without the pedals slamming into my shins. Doing a "Fred Flintstone" seemed like a sure way to break not only my legs but my ankles too. And of course, I'm realizing all of this as I'm rocketing down hill. To stop it, I had no choice but to crash into a tree. Nose bloodied, the steering wheel all but impaling my chest and my forehead bruised with the imprint of tree bark, I pulled myself out to examine  the damage. The tank like little car didn't have a scratch on it. I promptly pushed it back up the hill and did it again only this time I'd steer into a clearing and have gravity slow me down. Eventually.
I think of my pedal car often even to this day and all of the plans I had for it. A lawn mower engine driving the rear wheels and a set of small, balloon tires would trick the little car out making it the screamer I knew it always could be. There was still the problem of getting it to stop, though. Didn't matter; kids make plans and parents laugh. During a spring cleaning frenzy a couple of years after they gave it to me my pedal car went to the curb without my knowing.
My heart is still broken.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Jaguar XJ - The One Thousand Dollar, TWO Thousand Dollar Car.

Jaguar introduced the XJ in 1968 and  was the last Jaguar to have had the input of  Sir William Lyons, the company's founder.

My late friend Dan had a 1998 Jaguar XK8 that he whimsically referred to as his "One Thousand Dollar, TWO Thousand Dollar Car". He bought the car very well, so he thought, for only $2000. Despite having more than 200,000 miles on it it appeared to be in meticulous condition; but looks are deceiving. In reality it was falling apart and broke down often and what was worse, it was very expensive to repair. So expensive that he got accustomed to paying at least $1000 in repairs every time it broke down. Hence his nick name for the car. I can only imagine what an even older Jaguar would run him in repairs given that Dan's '98 XK8 was a paragon of engineering excellence and reliability compared to the rolling wrecks that came before it.

The Ford Motor Company had control of  Jaguar from 1989 through 2009. Despite having spent billions on the company to improve it, Ford never saw a profit from Jaguar and sold it at a significant loss to Tata in 2009.
It's a fairly recent development that Jaguars actually live up to their name (there isn't a cooler name for a car in the world) and their heirs ache. Credit for that and to the disappointment of many Jaguar lovers who bristle through their clenched jaws that their princely ride was saved by a bourgeois American automobile manufacturer, goes to the Ford Motor Company.

Ford replaced the storied XJ6 and XJ12 with the XJ8. The "8" in XJ8 denoting the Ford engineered "AJ8", 4.0 liter V-8 engine.
Ford bought controlling interest in Jaguar in 1989 and turned Jaguar's medieval operations into a world class manufacturing facility. Jaguar's factory in Coventry, England was so bad that Bill Hayden, the man Ford put in charge to run Jaguar after the 1989 merger, compared the plant to the Gorky Automobile plant in Russia. A factory so bad that workers routinely painted cars that had bird  crap on them from the birds trapped inside the plant. Jaguars might not have been that bad but workers got the point.

Ironically, Jaguars are indigenous to central and south America and are not found, outside of zoos, anywhere in England. Europe or Asia for that matter as well. Jaguars are the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Americas. 

Ford spent billions on trying to turn Jaguar around and in many ways they did. However, despite the money spent, Ford never made a dime on any Jaguar they sold while they had control of the company. In the midst of The Great Recession, Ford dumped Jaguar in 2009 to Tata, a large manufacturing conglomerate based in India.


This 2015 Jaguar XF is one big cat as well. Rare too. It's rarity, due in large part to it's high sticker price, helps to ensure it's exclusivity. 

Tara has spent lavishly on new designs with debatably mixed results. If you're a fan of the old XJ's like Dan's One Thousand Dollar, Two Thousand Dollar Jag, you might be on the fence about these new XJ's. I know I am. As nice as this car is, it's just not an XJ.

If you have your heart set on a 1997-2004 Jaguar XJ8, you can find them for sale for between $5000 and $20,000. The newer, low mileage cars naturally being more expensive. The older, more affordable models, despite what Ford was able to do, can still be quite problematic. 

Then again, there's nothing stopping you from buying a Jaguar like this for around $2000. Just remember, though how expensive they are to repair.