Friday, September 25, 2015

2006 Cadillac SRX - Go Figure

This black beauty sits in the parking lot behind the building my office is in here in Cleveland. For the life of me I can't understand why these didn't sell better than they did years ago. I always thought them to be great looking and driving vehicles.

Based on GM's mid size rear wheel drive "Sigma" platform, which also underpins the CTS, the original SRX was introduced in 2004 and won spots on Car and Driver's Five Best Trucks list in 2004, 2005 and 2006 and was nominated for the North American Truck of the Year Award award for 2004. No small feat for any "truck" maker let alone Cadillac.
Despite the accolades, Cadillac never sold more than 23,000 of these a year in any of its five year production run. I'll be the first to admit that I have a challenge with luxury trucks and SUV's like the QX56 but cross overs - which this most certainly is - I have no problem with since they are passenger vehicles first and foremost. A car, more or less, beefed up with some trucky accoutrements? That I like; trucks gussied up to be luxury cars I most certainly do not.
This particular example even has a vaunted Northstar V-8 making 320 horsepower. I spent some time in one of these V-8 smoothies in Dallas and, granted, it was the lighter RWD only model, it could really move. Quite fun. The base V-6 with 255 horsepower had moxie as well. Add the all wheel drive equipment which is all but a requirement up here snowy, frigid, Northeast Ohio and performance gets bogged down somewhat.
Much like trying to pick hit records, you can not factor in your own personal taste when it comes to what is or isn't going to work with anything in life let alone automobiles. While I found the original SRX very appealing and I find it's 2010 vintage replacement to be nothing more than a fancified Chevrolet Equinox, which it is, I, once again, am fairly alone in that regard. Sales of the new SRX have all but been consistently double of these SRX. Go figure.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Infiniti QX56 - Gourmet Meatloaf

The mere notion of full size, luxury sport utility vehicles wasn't a decade old when Nissan rolled out their F-Alpha pickup truck based Nissan Armada and Infiniti QX56 SUV's in 2004. Just like that, all other luxury SUV's else seemed if not outright tame at least restrained compared to the QX56.

The original QX' most distinctive styling touch, which it shared with the similar looking Armada, is its swoopy/hump roof that flows fairly seamlessly into a straight as a billiard table rear roof line. The recessed rear door handles helping add to the illusion that this is a pickup truck with pop up camper in the bed. Huh? Yeah. Can't make this stuff up. I'm not of the pickup truck persuasion but I find it hard to imagine that anyone who owns a pickup truck with a camper in the bed is proud of the way their mini motor home actually looks. If you can afford filet mignon, would you go for gourmet meatloaf instead?  
It's probably no surprise then that when Nissan updated the Armada and QX for 2010, the pickup truck and pop up camper lines on the QX went into the river. It stayed on the Armada, tough. That making as much sense on the Armada as it did on the QX but then again what do I know being from Long Island and all. Long Island, especially where I grew up a stone's throw from Kennedy airport, not exactly a bastion of pickup trucks not to mention pop up campers.
It might just be the Long Islander in me but even though I have had a Chevrolet Tahoe for years now and love the damn thing, luxury trucks and luxury SUV's still escape me. In my myopic New York City esque point of view, trucks should be for work or at least utility first and foremost. Ineed, the utility of my Tahoe is what I appreciate most about it. Tarting up an SUV into a luxury vehicle makes as much sense to me as a construction working wearing dress shoes to work.
I am fairly alone in my dismay of these things, apparently. Fancy tanks like this sell quite well and turn a healthy profit. Sales have been strong for the QX with the new QX56 outselling Infiniti's other SUVs, the crossovers EX and FX, as well as the Lexus GX and LX luxury SUV's.
The QX56 was renamed the "Q80" during Infiniti's bizarre model name change for 2015. The new name makes as much sense as a luxury SUV.


Friday, September 18, 2015

1976 Cadillac Coupe de Ville - Bigger Is Not Always Better

Forty years ago, what made a Cadillac a Cadillac? If nothing else, the size of one.
That said, it's hard to imagine this massive 1976 Cadillac would have gotten any larger had it not have been downsized along with all the other GM B and C bodies in 1977. The Cadillac this 1976 Coupe was based on, which was new in 1971, was already a formidable 225 inches long before the  government mandated "safety bumpers" were tastefully bolted on. Actually, GM did a nice job of being government compliant. At least with these full size cars. Those massive bumpers, which were added to the front in 1973 and the back in 1974, added a total of five additional inches to the car pushing overall length to a parking lot maneuver challenging 230 inches. To put that sheer length into perspective, if Cadillac's new sedan flagship due in 2016, the CT6 (gorgeous car, hideous name) is 204 inches long and looks massive at that, imagine a car that's just under two and half feet longer. In case you're wondering, the enormous new Escalade, which some would argue is Cadillac's flagship, is a tad shorter than the CT6, if you can believe that. This 1976 Cadillac Coupe de Ville was big.  Really big but back then, the size of a Cadillac was literally a big part of what made a Cadillac a Cadillac.

It's only been recently that Cadillac's have not been "big" or relatively big compared at least to what else was on the road. While the new CT6 comes on board next year, Cadillac's "flagship" sedan at the moment, at just 196 inches long, is the relatively diminutive CTS. Before the CTS was crowned GM's top drawer sedan, the de Ville or "DTS" was the "big" Caddy and that car never got longer than 207 inches long. By the way, drive one and you'll come away with the feeling that it's the biggest thing ever made. Not even close. Pundits of large Cadillacs say that the last "real" Cadillac was the B body based Fleetwood Brougham that was discontinued after 1996. At 225 inches long, it was, at least in sheer size, more in tune with Cadillacs or yore than anything available today.
What's ironic is that despite the bulk, Cadillacs these big old Cadillacs never had any more leg, hip and shoulder room than even mid size cars of its vintage let alone other big cars. In fact, when the downsized Cadillacs came out in 1977, GM bragged that the new Cadillacs had more interior room than the cars they replaced.
Another part of the (old) Cadillac mystique was their big V-8 engines. The new CT6 won't even have a V-8 engine when launched next year. In 1949, Cadillac introduced an over head valve V-8 engine that was revolutionary and, save for Oldsmobile who also introduced an OHV engine that year, unique to Cadillac. Technological advancements in addition to luxury amenities were part of the allure of Cadillac after the war. However, by 1976 most if not everything available on a Cadillac was available on just about everything else GM offered. All that Cadillac could crow about was this 500 cubic inch engine being the largest V-8 engine in the world. Seeing that it was just a couple of years after the crippling gas crisis of 1973-74, again, bigger was not better. Also, there was no discernable increase in the car's ability to accelerate quickly given this large engine.

My late parents who were both born in the early 1920's and were of the "Greatest Generation", were of the notion that there was truly something special about a Cadillac. Shame that by the time this car was brand new, what made Cadillac Cadillac was a thing of the past. By 1976 Cadillacs sold on what they represented as opposed to being anything that was any better than a Chevrolet Impala.
Then again, I'm of the generation that has challenges with accepting that Cadillacs of today are the equal if not better of anything from Europe. If I had the money to spend on an expensive car I'd certainly look at a Cadillac but given that Cadillacs are just as expensive as a comparable Mercedes, I'd go Mercedes. Or BMW or Audi. Luckily for Cadillac, many millennials, aka tomorrow's buyers, have no such notions and think Cadillac in the same light as anything from Europe or Asia. Size of the car be damned.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass - Double Whammy

GM's 1981 reboot of their 1978 A body coupes transformed the formerly bizarre (Monte Carlo and Grand Prix)  to drab (Cutlass and Regal) mid size two door sedans into handsome (if not all very similar) looking automobiles. Even if the homogenization was deliberate, there were many parts interchangeable between the cars, GM hit the aesthetic jackpot. Even if it was very hard to tell a Cutlass from a Monte Carlo. The four door versions  of these cars soldiered on in their interminably boring 1978 interactions until the last one passed in oblivion after 1987. You think telling a Grand Prix from a Regal was hard, try telling a Cutlass sedan from Regal sedan.
For 1981, Cutlass got this new "jaw" out front and a svelte new tail as well. Subtle as the changes were, especially compared to the goofy Monte Carlo and to a lesser extent the Grand Prix, the Cutlass was transformed into a handsome automobile. Even in base "stripper" mode like our subject here.
Alas, while coupes sold very well in the 70's, by 1981 the plug was out of the tub. "Tastemakers" on the coasts had all but stopped buying American cars in general and coupes in particular and had moved onto more expensive makes and models from Europe and to some degree Asia. The Yuppie movement was taking over. Growing up in Nassau County, New York, I'd see some of these (rarely brand new) on the working class South Shore where I grew up  but I'd be hard pressed to believe anyone on the tonier North Shore would be seen in one. This car was the working class hero's ride.  
This car, unfortunately, has the double whammy of a 260 V-8 (at least it's not the Olds 350 diesel) and the infamous THM 200 or "Metric" transmission.  Metric transmissions burned up with freakish regularity leading to recalls and lawsuits and wouldn't you know it? This car's Metric is busted - thus the modest asking price of just $2800. Nothing a Chevy crate engine and a 700R4 couldn't cure, though. Anyone got an engine crane and tranny jack they can loan me?
Oldsmobile put these cars to pasture in 1989 and replaced them with the front wheel drive (no hump) GM-10 Cutlass. The GM-10 Cutlass actually debuted in 1988 but Olds put the word "Classic" on the last of these. Classic indeed. The rest, as they say, is history.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015

1967 Pontiac Grand Prix - Stab It And Steer

While the advancement in automobiles over the twenty or thirty years makes cars of this vintage  seem quite crude, by the time that I became of driving age in 1981, new cars had become so bad that I believed that "older" cars like this were considered to be superior to them. The whimsical design of this 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix only adding to the mystery of older cars for me.  
I've never been the biggest fan of these bulky, big Grand Prix' but I have to admit there is a certain elan to them that makes them oddly appealing. It could certainly have a place in my fantasy garage although I can't say that it would get that much use. There's a fine line between ugly and cool and this old beast really (fender) skirts it.
The nothing if sporty looking sporty interior hides a GM B body frame and everything good and bad that went along with that. Loosey goosey, over boosted steering, under boosted brakes and unsupportive seats. Note that lack of seat belts. Optional still in 1967. That's not two radios, incidentally, the one in the center of the dash controls HVAC.
The new for 1967 400 cubic inch V-8 with a nary an emissions control device at the ready. Stab it, hold on and steer best you could; this thing can move.
Unlike chocolate and peanut butter, some things do not go well together. Like sweet, alcoholic drinks, sexy cheerleaders at football games and a luxury car with sporting pretensions. Mag wheels with white walls and fender skirts? Seriously? Not to mention the wretchedness of vinyl tops. The color of this car screams "old man" as well.
The asking price for this well preserved "big GP" is near $15,000 and I find that money to be extraordinarily high for a car with very limited appeal. That's almost GTO money, not mint condition GTO but still GTO money,  for a car that many would scratch their head and go, "what is that?" If you're into collector cars that's one question you hear at car shows that really means, "nice car...hope you didn't spend too much on it."

Saturday, September 12, 2015

1978 Pontiac Grand Prix - What Did You Do To My Car?

Despite being widely heralded as being marvels of engineering, I was heart broken over GM's 1977 downsizing. As a wee little nipper growing up in the vast concrete and asphalt jungle of suburban New York, up til that time, I was raised to believe that full sized cars should be BIG no matter how difficult they were to drive. What did I know or care? I didn't have to drive them. So, you can only imagine how verklempt I was when the next wave of downsizing came out, the mid size A bodies in 1978. I thought them the saddest looking little cars I'd ever seen. The worst of them was the wretched, swoopy, cartoonish Chevrolet Monte Carlo but the Pontiac Grand Prix was a close second on the list of heart breakers. What did you guys do to my cars?
Didn't matter one iota to me that the 1978 Grand Prix was  far superior to the two ton land yacht that came before it. Handling, braking, ride, and even gas mileage all vastly improved. Well, gas mileage was a tad overrated even with a V-6 but at least you had a fighting chance now to get 20 miles per gallon. The biggest problem with these cars was that they clearly aped their larger forebears and that was a mistake.
In retrospect, you can't blame GM for designing cars that looked like 7/8 scale models of what came before them. After all, we are talking the 1970's and the personal luxury car was as formidable a market segment as cross over sport utility vehicles are today. At issue here was that some things don't look good in different scales. Take for instance the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. An interesting looking automobile that looks freakish because it should have been built, as was originally planned,   on an adaptation of GM's mid size A body frame as opposed to the full size B. The new for 1978 Grand Prix looks comically small because designer were ham strung by mandates to make the car look like a smaller 1977 Grand Prix rather than a clean sheet, original design.
Many of the disparate lines of the smaller Grand Prix, taken by themselves, are actually quite handsome.
They get lost in fussy detailing that ruins any design flow. The riduclous half vinyl roof only adding to the clumsiness.
At least the interior was cozy, comfortable and dare I say sporty. Especially with bucket seats, three spoke steering wheel and console shifter.
The rest of the car? Not so much. At least the 1981 freshening smoothed out the design overall but by then the market had begun it's long shift away from coupes. They've yet to come back.

Friday, September 11, 2015

1965 Cadillac - The Old Hat Act

This 1965 Cadillac is perfectly analogous to the seismic shift felt in Nashville a couple of years ago when "Bro Country" first exploded down there. Say what you will about "Bro", one thing for certain it makes everything that came before it sound old. Much like the 1963 Mercedes 600 made this grand dame an antique.

A very nice looking antique that still had its admirers but the rising tide of Mercedes Benz in the early to mid 1960's rang the bell that there was a new "Standard of the World".
Us fans of traditional country, or "The Old Hat Acts", hold vigil that sooner or later a new act will come along and re-center the country format back to its traditional core. Been going on three years now since what could best be described as being a traditional country song has been #1 on the charts. Much like pop music, the country universe tends to eat their old so there's not much hope one of the old acts will punch through and stay punched through. 
The big difference between record companies today and General Motors fifty years ago is that many of the "Bro" acts are on the same labels as many of the "Hat Acts" so it's not like labels are losing money because of "Bro". Unlike years ago when GM got their lunch eaten by the imports. That still happens today, I for one wouldn't spend Mercedes money on a new Cadillac for example but thankfully younger people feel differently. That notion, incidentally, being completely different than fifty years ago when Cadillac had an image so sterling that not even an automobile as vastly superior as the Mercedes 600 could dis way people from believing that Cadillac was the best car in the world.
This generation of Cadillac was the wrong car at the wrong time but who would have known it at the time? While certainly handsome, it did not offer anything revolutionary like Cadillacs of even just ten years prior had. With luxury accoutrements like air conditioning, power adjustable seats, power windows and fully automatic transmissions being available even on low rung Chevrolets, what were you really getting when you bought a Cadillac vs. a loaded Chevrolet Impala Caprice?
Aside from telling the world that you could over pay for something, not much. I for one would prefer it had the image of a traditional hat act with the goods of "Bro". Still waiting.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

1966 Dodge Charger - Poly Wanna Carburetor?

I have a sneaky suspicion the new Cleveland Clinic plant across the street from this impromptu junkyard (behind an auto body shop) has something to do with the disappearance of many of the glorious old bombs back here. That and the booming traffic in the area due to the new interchange for I-90 that opened up a couple of years ago has all of a sudden made land valuable. Through it all one of the more photogenic of the bombs remains though; the 1966 Dodge Charger that appears to be rammed into a tree or bush. There used to be three of these Chargers back here now this one is the only one that remains.
Regardless of the season, the big old boy delights. Although I'm not a fan of these fast back, '66-'67 Chargers, in its ever decaying state, there is something hauntingly romantic about it. 
This is a shot from inside the trunk forward into the passenger compartment. Some interior bits remain but most of it is gone.  I'd love to grab those door handles and repurpose them. That would involve me having to climb through here to get at them, though.
What tells us that this is a 1966 Charger is this 318 cubic inch "Poly" V-8 which was available only up to 1966. For 1967 the base engine on the Charger was  the vastly superior 318 "L-A" engine. The "Poly" name came about due to the polyspherical nature of its head design; it's not a wedge design like most other non-Hemi engines.
Note how small this carburetor is and that the bolt for the air cleaner is bent back towards the firewall. This car is bashed in from the front pretty good so perhaps the air cleaner got knocked out of position as well. Must have been some accident. By the way, there weren't many, if any, performance bolt on's for the Poly. You either swapped out the hole mill for something else or lived with it.
This massive and metal doo dad is on the trunk lid. It's bolted down to the trunk but what a weapon this thing becomes if it ever gets loose and fly's off the car. Not that that's going to happen with this thing.
The original Dodge Charger was Chrysler's attempt at a luxury/performance coupe slotted between the Ford Mustang and Thunderbird. It failed miserably and Chrysler redesigned the car for 1968. Never quite the seller they envisioned, Chrysler sold a mid size "Charger" of some sort through 1977. The name was resurrected for a series of front wheel drive K car based variants in the 1980's. The name came back again, seemingly for good, in 2005 when Dodge introduced the rear wheel drive, four door Dodge Charger.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

1976 Buick Electra - It Cuts The Grey Poupon

If today's cars are considered big if they're more than 15 feet long, what can you say about a car that's almost four feet longer? That they needed a fog horn to warn people they're coming through?

I remember driving my father's 1972 Cadillac, which was almost a foot less long than this car,  and being terrified by the size of it. I'm of average height and I had difficulty seeing the edge of the hood. I can only imagine what it must have been like for people less tall than I am to pilot one of these boats. Also, knowing there was even more of the car out over the hard to see edge of the hood, thanks to federally mandated 5 mph "safety bumpers", was really nerve wracking.
Seeing that there was even more of the car behind the driver than out in front made for harrowing parking lot maneuvers as well. I recall on several occasions my old man backing the Caddy into the tree that was across the street from our garage.
The absurdity of having to do a gymnastic routine to get back here into the rear seat cocoon was certainly not to every one's taste. I for one loved it. Then again, I love everything about this car. By the way, that strap on the B pillar is for rear seat passengers to haul themselves out of the back of the car with. Classy.
Still, forty years ago, if you were looking for a car that defined understated success much in the same way Lexus does today, there was nothing quite like a big Buick like this. Even if less of your money was better spent on a very similar Chevrolet Caprice or Pontiac Bonneville. Forget Mercury or anything from Ford. They just didn't cut the Grey Poupon.  
1976 was the last year for giant cars like this from General Motors. GM's now legendary downsizing began with their scaled full size cars in 1977 resulting in cars that were still very big but far more manageable than these behemoths. Sadly, while the dinosaurs were gone, these damn padded vinyl roofs, or landau tops, soldiered on for more than 15 years more.