Sunday, November 29, 2015

1984 Chevrolet Corvette - Just A Car

When my wife and I were shopping for a Corvette a couple of years ago I was amazed at how relatively inexpensive 1984-1996 or "C-4" Corvettes were. Especially the earlier "C-4's like this '84 that had an absurd asking price of just $4995. Incidentally, "C" is for "Corvette" and the corresponding number denotes the car's "generation".
The values of C-4's are amazing considering what strong performers the cars are compared to the "flying dildo" "C-3's" of 1968-1982 infamy. So, if C-4's are so affordable and are such great performers then why are they so cheap?

When we were shopping for our Corvette, btw we ended up with a flying dildo, red on red 1977, I found this 1984 Corvette that save for a well worn interior, was in very good condition. What's more, I was very impressed with the car's performance. Fast with great brakes, strong handling and easy to drive,  this '84 was a great car especially for the asking price of around five grand. Certainly not chump change for a thirty year old used domestic but fairly little money for a Corvette. However, my older son scoffed at it. "Doesn't look like a Corvette", he told me.

On the same lot was a beat to death 1979 Corvette that my son couldn't take his eyes off of. "Dad! Now, that's a Corvette" he said. No matter how hard I tried to convince him of how superior the '84 was, he'd have none of it. "That blue (the '84) Corvette is just a car", he said over and over.

There's no arguing with a 16 year old of course but I could see his point. While that 1984 Corvette was a tremendous amount of car for the money it lacked the visceral appeal that even that beat up '79 had in droves. All of a sudden I was 16 again and looking at both of the cars I got exactly what my son was referring to. The '84 and therefore all "C-4's" just weren't cool enough; it was just another car.

The C-4's, especially the 1984-1991's, were also dogged by quality issues. They're problematic, complicated and expensive to repair. A bad car then is just a crappy old car now. If you're so inclined, get a 1992-1996 C-4. You'll pay more for one than a 1984-1991 C-4 in comparable condition but they're screwed together much better and they're holding their value.

Now, if I could just make my C-3 perform like a C-4 without ruining the way it looks, I'd have the perfect Corvette.

Friday, November 27, 2015

1979 Datsun 280 ZX - Not Porsche or a Corvette

In the 1970's, two gas shortages, rising insurance premiums, an endlessly sluggish economy and government mandated restrictions on emissions and safety sucked most of the fun out of  automobiles sold in the United States. While Porsche and the Chevrolet Corvette offered some glimmer of light, they were extreme in terms of performance and/or price. Datsun's Z cars of 1970-1978, however, were a wonderful combination of performance, comfort and price and offered something that neither Porsche and especially Corvette did not; meticulous build quality and reliability. The Datsun 240, 260 and original 280 Z's proved you could almost have it all and Datsun sold 40,000-60,000 of them a year consistently. That's about as many Corvettes as Chevrolet sold and far more cars than Porsche sold in the United States in a year back then. While the new for 1979 "ZX" was substantially less sporty than it's 1970-1978 forebears, build quality and reliability was as great as ever. However and surprisingly so, going on thirty seven years later, based on resale value, that fact makes little to no difference now.

Therein lies the rub with buying an old car whether for pleasure or as an investment - it's all about the car and what it represents. Datsun Z's were heralded for their reliability but chastised for Ferrari knock off styling. Corvettes were Corvettes and Porsches? Well, even us hard boiled Corvette fans have to admit that there is no substitute for Porsche. Anyway, buyers of old cars don't care or rarely care about how reliable or unreliable an old car was or is; it's not going to be used as a daily driver anyway so what's the difference. It's that ambivalence towards reliability that will drive up the value of late 1970's Corvettes, for example and being the owner of a '77 I sure hope so, while pristine Datsun 280ZX' like this one founder or remain stagnant. This mint 1979 ZX has an asking price of $10,000 - less than what a '79 Corvette would retail for in similar condition. It's a mystery as why that is too but the reality of the matter is - it's true; Datsun Z's don't hold their value.

Case in point regarding the ambivalence towards these cars, several years ago, Nissan, Datsun's parent company, attempted to sell factory refurbished old Z's in Nissan showrooms. That went over about as well as selling coffee at the beach in summertime. Again, why?

Might be...because at the end of the day, the Datsun Z, as good a car as it was, just never had the appeal of America's sports car, the Corvette. Especially the ridiculous C3's like my piece of crap, always breaking down, can't handle to save it's life, '77 that I adore. Sorry, beat me at the track all day long, Z car, never break down on your owner and be perfect at everything, I've got you beat where it counts every time.

You're also not a Porsche.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Red Camaro - Nope. Still Red.

I've never been crazy about the handling of our 1996 Camaro. The ride is pleasant but the handling always felt a little loosey goosey, as if it wasn't all there. What I thought was a supple, compliant ride at first, especially compared to my punishing Z28, grew tiresome since a car that doesn't handle well is a chore to drive.

Turns out the handling really wasn't all there because the front sway bar, or stabilizer or whatever you call this thing was broken and here on the passenger side, it wasn't even connected to the car. I bought a set of links about a year ago in a well intentioned attempt to bolt thing back on but it did little to help since half of the link on the bar was broke off on this side. I don't know if the old link broke off when the sway bar snapped or someone removed it; not that it mattered. I knew the sway bar had to go.

OEM sway bars for our car are hard to find and they're expensive. The parts counter at the local Chevrolet dealership wanted $300+ for it (if they could find it) and online they usually come part of a kit that runs almost $500. Rick's Camaro's offers complete with fresh links and bushings for $200. Still, I thought that was still kind of a lot of money.

Luckily, I have a yard here in Cleveland that is wonderful to do business with. No matter what I've needed over the last couple of years they've been able to get for me or, there's been times they've been quite candid in telling when I should forego used parts and go with new. Candor is part of great customer service.

It took them about a week to find this rusty old thing that they told me does have a minor hairline crack in the right side. Not uncommon with these things since they're hollow, brittle and old. I rolled the dice and took it home.

Removal and installation was pretty straight forward. I also bought a set of new links and bushings for both sides. I torqued everything down to 75 foot pounds and took the car out for extended spin.

Right from the getgo I could tell my efforts were successful. Not only did the car ride taughter, the handling was nimble, crisp. Well, nimbler and crisper. There's no confusing the handling of our red Camaro in the best of circumstances with that of a new Corvette.

I came home after the test drive proudly crowing to my wife that my Sunday afternoon flat on my back removing and replacing the sway bar was a huge success. Again, straight forward work but fairly time consuming. Add in the time that I spend shopping for the sway bar and buying a couple of special sockets for the job and this whole thing took me a substantial six hours or so to complete. All worth it in my humble opinion since I found the car to be so much more fun to drive.

Later in the week I asked my son if he noticed anything different about the car after he drove it for several days. "Nope," he said, "still red".

Monday, November 23, 2015

1983 Oldsmobile Delta 88 - Little Too Late

GM did a great job on their 1980 refresh of their legendary 1977 full size cars. The best of the best being what they did to Oldsmobile's entry level full size car, the Delta 88.

Whether or not the tapered front end actually made the car any more aerodynamic is any one's guess but the slightly sloping hood and uplifted tail made the car handsomely wedge like. The 1977-79 models always looked frumpy to me.

Little too late, though. By 1980 these downsized big cars were already being derided for being too big and thirsty. Thanks to a double if not triple dip (bad) economy and the second gas crisis in ten yearss, Americans wanted smaller, more fuel efficient cars. Full size car sales slowed to a crawl.

This big brown beauty, with purportedly just 16,000 miles on the clock, is for sale for a mere $2,300 in Mahopac, New York. New York's scenic Hudson Valley. Note the lack of overdrive - this car might have the Buick V-6 and the dreadful Metric transmission. That would be a deal killer for me.

Judging by the condition of these vinyl seats, I tend to believe that the mileage is true.Good thing this old man's got a power driver's seat. These seats are usually very soft and you sink down very low in them. The power seat at least gives you the ability to see over the very high dashboard.

Be careful not to overpay for an old car with low mileage. Even if grand dad's prize possession hasn't moved from the garage in twenty plus years there's still plenty of work that needs to be done. Anything rubber, for instance, is probably prime for replacement. Hoses, belts, tires; they all gotta go. Then there's the issue of the possible V-6. Call ahead before heading up.

 Still, $2,300 for this old man is a really good deal. Good luck!

Here's the listing.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Future of Car Sales In North America - Say Goodbye to "The Car".

This is a picture of ten vehicles parked outside the gym I go to in Westlake, Ohio, a western suburb of Cleveland. This seemingly harmless swath of transportation appliances represents the seismic shift in consumer tastes in "automoibles" over the last ten years.
Look closely and you will notice that 7 of them are vehicles that could not be categorized as "cars".

1960 Ford Thunderbird - They Sure Don't Make Them Like This Anymore

When Chevrolet discontinued the Monte Carlo after 2007, they didn't just pull the chord on a nameplate - they pulled the plug on the last bastion of a market segment that Ford began almost by accident in 1958 with the four passenger Thunderbird. 

As high falutin and expensive as Ford's 1955 avaunt garde response to Chevrolet's 1953 Corvette was, it actually out sold Corvette by a very wide margin. Ford's think tank figured, "if a two passenger Thunderbird sold that well, imagine if it could carry four".

Snap your fingers and just like that, the four passenger Thunderbird was born - and it sold in droves. Ford sold more than four times as many 1958 Thunderbirds as they did the two passenger 1957's.

Ford tinkered with the design of the Thunderbird constantly throughout the 1960's arguably losing the car's focus. Meanwhile GM's response to the Thunderbird, the 1963 Buick Riviera, a car that  didn't sell nearly as well as Thunderbird but was targeted directly at the buyer originally targeted by Ford with the Thunderbird paved the way for all future personal luxury cars. Including the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado, 1967 Cadillac Eldorado, 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix and 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. All of a sudden the teacher was chasing the student. 

Will the personal luxury car market ever return? Argue all you want about the Cadillac ATS and some very expensive offerings from Europe right now being personal luxury cars but I don't put them in that category that once was chock full of  Monte Carlos, Grand Prix's and Cordobas; they're all way too expensive to sell in mass quantities. 

All that's left are aging hulks like this that sadly, from the looks of it, no one wants. They sure don't make 'em like this anymore.

1985 Buick - All She Sees Is An Old Man's Car

If I had my way, this car would be my next car. With less than 40,000 miles on it and with an asking price of $5400, how could I go wrong? Here's the best part - I can't. 

The only obstacle to my driving a thirty year old car as a daily driver is my wife. I don't even need to show her this car to know that she would hate everything about it. The color, what it is, how old it is. What would the neighbors think? It goes on and on. 

About the only thing in its favor is I could get this car done for at most $10,000 - and have a customized car that I really enjoy. In these days of soul crushing and bank account demolishing college tuition bills, we need to conserve as much as we can. Didn't say we couldn't have fun, though.


What she doesn't see is what I see and what this car could be given a little effort. Swapping out this asthmatic Oldsmobile 307 and replacing it with a modern LS engine, complete with transmission from a donor SUV, a Detroit Locker posi rear, and suspension upgrades and this car could be the ultimate sleeper. 

While this is a long, laborious project with no doubt some pitfalls - don't think there are too many DIY videos on youtube about swapping powertrains from junker Tahoes and Suburbans into old Buick LeSabres - but in the end it would be worth it. To me at least.

My wife, well. All she sees is  big old man's Buick. She's right in a lot of ways but again, she doesn't see what I see. Oh well.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

1986 Pontiac Bonneville - The Ugly Sister


Back in the 1980's, Pontiac marketed this car as a "four door Grand Prix". Funny what an extra pair of doors will do to what was a fairly attractive design. Kind of like your girlfriend's sister - similar looking but something's not quite right. 

GM did a lot wrong in the 1980's and a lot of that wrong started in 1978 with their underwhelming downsized intermediates or what was known as "A bodies" until 1982. While GM's full size or B body downsize of 1977 is generally regarded as being a success, there was far less positive press generated by the "A's". 

The coupes were overt, baroque and bland and adding a couple of doors out back and reducing the rake on the windshield made them even more awful looking. The sedans could best be described as being bizarre or boring. This lumpy, gray, 1986 Pontiac Bonneville being the latter. Or the former. Take your pick. 

Through the hindsight of almost forty years, it's easy to see just how inept these cars were at just about everything. Did a designer with any sense of proportion have anything to do with designing the exterior of these cars? The interiors were worse; a horror show of ergonomics and aesthetics. Have to wonder why anyone would buy this car in particular and a GM A or G body in general. But they did. In droves at first. 

This hopelessly drab little car can't even be saved by a small block Chevy, albeit in 305 cubic inch or "5.0 liter" guise. At least it wasn't the 3.8 liter V-6 with a 2 barrel carburetor. 

The real story behind this car is how such a bland, non descript lump like this survived all these years. Then again, this car is so dull that even the most fantastic of stories surrounding it would seem uninteresting. 

The A bodies were known as G bodies after 1982. 1986 was the last year for the G body Bonneville, GM replacing it with the front wheel drive H body Bonneville for 1987. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Smart ForTwo Not ForMe

Mrs. Connolly and I are in the process of getting rid of our embarrassingly high cable service (blog coming) and we are all but certain our life will not change one bit. Actually, it will change for the better since we'll be saving over $160 a month. Saving money is great but you have to be reasonable about it. Make sure you're really saving as much money as you think you are while not skimping on your lifestyle past the point of reason as one would with a "Smart ForTwo". 

Aside from the fact I find this two passenger appliance homely as hell,  it's not as green nor as easy on the green (money) as you would think it is. First off, at approximately $20,000 it's expensive for what it is; a two passenger "City Car" that can travel at highway speed although, even here in Cleveland, you don't see many of these on the highways. Secondly, its 89 horsepower, Mitsubishi built, gasoline, three cylinder engine, gets about 32 miles per gallon on average in mixed driving. Certainly stellar compared to my 10 year old Chevy Tahoe but that's only about 10 mpg more than my 2002 Monte Carlo gets. Which, by the way, seats four luxuriously. 5 in a pinch. When my wife worked for a candy company a couple of years ago they gave her a 4 cylinder Toyota Camry that got 31 miles per gallon. Point of this car, then?

That three cylinder engine lives out here above the rear transaxle sucking up precious storage space. There's no storage space up front either because that's where the car's cooling system is. There's an electric model available too but the guts for that will be in the same places and at considerably higher cost. Sorry, explain to me the point of spending extra money to "save money". The environment? Please. What they call PZEV or "practically zero emissions vehicles" put out exhaust at the tailpipe that's arguably cleaner than what's going into the intake manifold. Again, the point of this car?

I treat these things like they're a Ford Pinto whenever I see them on the roads - I get away from them quickly lest I tap their bumper and kill everyone, alright, two passengers at the most, on board. Granted, I feel the same way about Mini Coopers and Fiat 500s but the Smart ForTwo's stoke the coals of my paranoia even more. There's also the issue of it's cute or homely as a button, sporty golf cart styling. That's subjective of course but the real issue is I don't know how anyone driving or riding in one of these could feel even remotely safe.

Remarkably, crash test results for the Smart ForTwo are not horrendous. Granted, you wouldn't want a tractor trailer plowing into you but then again you wouldn't want one plowing into you no matter what you were driving. Still, I wouldn't feel safe in one of these. I've spent time in a Mini Cooper as well and while I found their structure to be amazing and they handle as well as anything I've ever driven, I still felt vulnerable.

Expensive, not that thrity, too tiny, homely and impractical. Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln? Ok. Apparently it handles nicely, has good brakes and you can make a U-turn in your driveway.

Sorry. Smart ForTwo not ForMe.