Monday, September 26, 2016

2002 Cadillac Escalade - Storm The Castle

I still have a hard time getting my head around the notion of a luxury truck; the concept being foreign to me as chocolate covered bacon. Each on their own perfectly wonderful but when they're blended together something gets lost in translation. I look at a luxury car as a tuxedo and trucks as work appliances and never shall the two meet. After all, would you wear a tuxedo to work at a construction site? Apparently, I'm alone in that sentiment given that the instant full size luxury SUV's were available people of considerable means gobbled them up.

Well, let's not get carried away here. While luxury SUV sales are literally and figuratively big business for Ford and General Motors accounting for massive profits since the moment Ford cold cocked General Motors with the Lincoln Navigator in 1998, they've never sold tremendously well; they're just tremendously profitable. Little more than a new for 1997 Ford Expedition with Lincoln styling details and plusher leather, the first generation Lincoln Navigator had such an impact that in 1998, for the first time ever, Lincoln surpassed Cadillac in total number of vehicles sold. Cadillac still beat Lincoln in automobile sales but with the influx of the unique, trailblazing and most importantly trendsetting Navigator, Cadillac could no longer claim to be the best selling luxury nameplate in the United States. Again, we're not talking about a huge number of vehicles sold compared to say, U.S. sales of the Toyota Camry year in and year out, but when it comes to bragging rights and one upmanship, Lincoln suddenly had the upper hand.

With that, Cadillac, remarkably and admirably, wasted absolutely no time when not a year later they slapped "Escalade" on a GMC Yukon Denali. Even more obvious that it was really something else than the Navigator was, Cadillac was successful in wrenching back the sales crown from Lincoln even if the notion of a Cadillac truck, at the time, was laughably absurd. I still feel that way but again, I'm fairly alone with that sentiment. The subjectively more premium looking Navigator, by the way. still outsold Escalade.


"Escalade" is a fitting name for Cadillac's full sized luxury SUV since "escalade" is a military tactic from medieval times where an army attempts to broach an opponent fortified by a stone wall; think castle and a moat. After their first fore ray over the Navigator's formidable game changing walls, though, Cadillac delayed introducing a more compelling vehicle until model year 2002 as they tweaked and refined what ultimately would be a fatal salvo at the Navigator. Waiting also allowed GM to amortize whatever tooling costs putting "ESCALADE" on a Yukon were despite the fact that in 2000, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon rode on an updated chassis. Buyers could buy the next generation Escalade in 2000 by purchasing a loaded Denali, save thousands. and not even know they bought what was, in essence the next Escalade. wasn't a Cadullac.

Timing being everything and patience being a virtue, it was clear by January 2001, when Cadillac introduced this new 'Slade, that the luxury SUV market segment had significant long term profitability. So, if the 1998 Lincoln Navigator introduced the world to the concept of a full size luxury SUV then our 2002 Cadillac Escalade here truly defined it. While far more of a stylistic departure from the GMC Yukon Denali it's based on than the 1999 Escalde was, the 2002 Escalade was still a most capable vehicle, especially when equipped with four wheel drive like most SUV's sold here in northern Ohio are. Not that many people would take advantage of it's prodigious towing or off road prowess capabilities. Not that buyers of "lesser" full size SUV's equipped with four wheel drive do much of that either.

Ironically, the only thing that puts any damper on Escalade sales is Cadillac's other SUV, actually it's what's called a crossover or "CUV", the SRX. Dubbed "XT5" for 2017, since it's wildly successful reintroduction in 2010, the SRX has become Cadillac's best selling vehicle far outselling the Escalade. Offering similarly decadent levels of luxury in a far more manageable size, along with the white glove service that Cadillac has always been famous for, the XT5 is poised to do what Lincoln could never do and that's push the Escalade back over the wall.

The SRX/XT5 being exactly what the Escalade is - a premium vehicle that people want in lieu of the fact, in many instances, that it's a Cadillac. Cadillac a brand that, unfortunately, continues to struggle even though what their cars are the equal or better of European brands. Who'd ever think that was possible. Their problems now have more to do with pricing than anything else since "Cadilllac" still doesn't have near the cache that "BMW", "Mercedes" or even "Audi" has. With Cadillac pricing on par with the German makes they're finding few buyers since those with the means to afford a prestige car are sticking with the imports. However, when it comes to prestige SUV's and CUV's Cadillac's got the market cornered. I still don't get it and me thinks I never well.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

2017 Linccoln MKZ - I Don't Like What They've Done To My Car

Rarely have I found a reboot of what I found to be a compelling design to be nearly as good as the original; whether that be a sedan, coupe, truck, Jeep or whatever. The 1966 Chevelle and 1969 Camaro being the rarest of examples of an update being an improvement. And then...they were gone. Anyway, I'm sure there are others but the point is there are very few updates that really make an improvement on the original. And while I respect the effort that went into updating the Lincoln MKZ for 2017, Lincoln missed the, ahem, "Mark" on it. That's a shame too since Lincoln did a really nice job with the ages old three box concept from 2013-2016.

It's not that the update is that seismic a change from the 2013-2016 MKZ and they did keep the old car's gorgeous profile mercifully in tack. But why did they ditch the beautiful flying of buttress of chrome for this boring front end? The changes are more subtle up here than you might think too; the fenders and lower fascias have undergone re sculpting as well. It might be tasteful but it has no where near the "What Is That? firepower power of the old car. Perhaps they went with this very conservative design believing that the flamboyance of the '13-'16's front end was a hindrance to sales? The new 2017 Continental has almost the same front end too; Lincoln again attempting to have common design thread through their lineup and both cars are as alluring to me as a 1988 Continental. Somewhat interesting in a clichéd luxury car way but ultimately forgettable. Hopefully they did some market research and found that buyers were actually put off by the old car's chrome fest of a front end. Man, was that hot. If they didn't, they've made a big mistake. Now the MKZ is just another soul less drone of a luxury appliance. Might as well be a leather trimmed refrigerator for all I care. Oh, Lincoln, I don't like what you've done to my car. 

So, what is an MKZ anyway? Well, it's still a gussied up Ford Fusion like it's always been since it debuted in 2006 replacing the "Zephyr" - which was also Fusion based. That's not a bad thing per se. The Fusion is a pretty happening appliance but it's a Ford. Lincoln's are supposed to have more going for them than clinical perfection; perfection is boring. If I wanted that, I'd just get a Fusion. No, I wouldn't since I wouldn
't be caught dead in a four door but you get my gist.

The model name "MKZ" is part of Lincoln's "MK" naming scheme they've had for over ten years now. "MK" being short for "Mark", like the Mark II-VIII's of yore. The Z in MK-Z stemming from the fact that this car started out as the Lincoln Zephyr. "Zephyr" harkening back to the days of Edsel Ford as if anyone cared. P.S. They didn't. 

What really gets me is how much of a premium Ford is charging for this car over the price of a Fusion. Does it really cost Ford that much more to make this car than a Lincoln? Of course not. Now, don't get me wrong, this car is no doubt an absolute blast to drive and will coddle you in supreme comfort but that same driving experience can be had in a Fusion for thousands upon thousands less. You want an even better bargain than that? Get a low mileage 2013-2016 MKZ at more than half of the original sticker price. Good luck, Lincoln. With this thing and the new Continental, which incidentally is replacing the Taurus based MK-S, you're going to need it.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

With Olds Cars It's Always Something

I expect nothing but trouble from our beautiful but oh-my-god so fragile 1977 Corvette but when our daily drivers starting acting up is when day to day life gets inconvenienced. It's been a tough month or so for "The Fleet".

The first problems crept up on the Monte Carlo before the boys left for school. What I thought was a transmission problem turned out to be a bad mass air flow sensor; when working on your car it is crucial to get a proper diagnosis of what's wrong otherwise you could spend hours upon hours chasing a problem that's not there. Happens all the time with the Corvette. As part of a $700 repair estimate from a hoity toity shop that also included a $225 transmission service and $150 diagnostic fee, they also wanted more than $300 to replace the MAFS. I had a small, local garage, that didn't serve espresso and toffee chip muffins, do the transmission service for $120 and although it took several three tries to get the right sensor to work, I was able to replace it ultimately and have the car run strong for $135. All in the net savings with going with a small, local garage for the transmission service and doing the MAFS myself was more than $300. I'm also not going back to that shop that charged me $150 for a diagnostic, that's just too much. Also, the shop owner got indignant when I declined further repairs citing, politely of course, he was charging too much. By the way, the transmission service was expensive but if you've ever serviced a transmission you know what a mess it can be. I figured that was money well spent not to have trans fluid all over my face not to mention my garage floor.

The Monte also has a bad driver's side wheel bearing; the wheel pulsates at speed and occasionally the idiots lights will bong at me telling me the ABS and traction control systems are on the blink again. The last time they did this the ABS harness on the passenger side was shot. That was a $400 repair I did for less that $40. The bearing replacement is a "I'll get to it before winter project" that will run me approximately $90. The Shop wants more than $400.

On to our 2006 Tahoe - recently my wife noticed an odd banging sound when she'd brake hard - turned out to be a bad driver's side tie rod. Again, eating $50 to get a diagnosis from a shop is money well spent for I had no idea what was wrong. I replaced it for less than $50, shop wanted more than $350. This was a scary project since it involved the steering rack but if you're careful, diligent and resourceful, especially if you don't have a lift, you can do this too. The best was that although every online expert recommended that I get an alignment as soon as possible after doing this job, it came back that the Tahoe's front end was within factory specifications for alignment. Take that computerized front end alignment equipment; I aligned our front end using a wooden ruler.

Next up on the broken down cavalcade of old car worries was this horrendous coolant leak from the Tahoe. We've had our Tahoe for over six years now and while it's been in general a marvelous appliance, when it acts up, it acts up big. And again, getting a proper diagnosis of what was wrong was crucial for I was almost certain that it was a head gasket issue. Or something equally not good since the coolant appeared to be leaking down the transmission dip stick shaft or worse, from the transmission itself.

However, I researched that head gasket issues are almost nonexistent on GM's most excellent LS series of engines. A $52 diagnostic charge at a chain garage revealed that it was a leaking heater core connector. That garage wanted a breath taking $260 to replace the connector. I think you know where this is going - I did the job last Sunday morning for a total of $21.

No sooner did I pat myself profusely on the back as I counted my substantial savings that I noticed a small puddle of gas underneath our 1996 Camaro, currently "off line" as the boys are at school. I've deduced that the connector for the fuel line to the fuel filter is leaking and I'm not looking forward to wrestling with what would appear to be the original filter and rusted fuel lines. GM's of this vintage notorious for bad brake and fuel lines. With old cars, it's always something.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

1988 Lincoln Town Car - Missing The Mark

Ah, the good old day when size really did matter and bigger really was better; or was at least construed as being so. However, at the risk of coming across ultimately hypocritical, Lincoln wisely marketed the size of their 1977 Continental directly at potential buyers who may have been put off by the new and substantially smaller 1977 Cadillacs. Marketers caring less about being contradictory, given how long it takes to design and engineer new automobiles, by the time this commercial was on the air Lincoln was far down the road on developing the smaller automobile that would replace it. Understand, though, that Lincoln, and Cadillac for that matter had little choice; there was no way that their two and half ton land yachts - no matter how much they improved their engines and transmissions - could come near ever stringent government mandated fuel economy requirements.

Based on the new for 1979 Ford "Panther" platform that it shared with the 1979 Ford LTD and Mercury Marquis, year to year Continental lost 14 inches bumper to bumper, more than an inch overall in width and almost one thousand pounds. What's more, the 1980 Lincoln Continental, our subject is a 1988 Town Car, was almost 40 % more fuel efficient than the car it replaced. Impressive. However, checking off all the boxes on what the government required didn't tell the entire story. 

Unlike the downsized Cadillacs, the new for 1980 Lincoln looked more like someone who took their weight loss regimen too far. While Cadillac was able to retain the elegant design ethos of what made a Cadillac a Cadillac, the new smaller Lincoln looked like exactly what it was - a shrunken version of what came before it. The awkward proportion of the 1980 Lincolns further underscoring the good job GM did on just about all of their down sized, full sized 1977 cars. Now, I'll never say that any of the 1977 GM's were better looking than their 1976 forebears, I will begrudgingly admit, again, that they did do a "good" job on the downsizing, but I will whole heartedly argue that Lincoln missed the, ahem, Mark, with these cars. I never danced a jig about the blocky, boxy 1979 Ford LTD or Mercury Marquis either.

Can't blame Ford for sticking with what worked though; after all the 1970's were very good to Lincoln. Faux Rolls Royce grills and all. Throughout the 1980's, they also stuck with nameplates that had at least some cache in the marketplace. When this car was first introduced in 1980 it was a "Continental"; the trunk hump Continental was the two door Mark VI. "Town Car" was a level of trim. Starting in 1982, this car became known as a Lincoln "Town Car" when the Continental, complete with a trunk hump, moved to Ford's "Fox" body platform and in essence, mercifully, put an end to the Versailles. Incidentally, if you translate "Town Car" to French you come up with "Sedan DeVille". Try as they might, Cadillac has always been, literally and figuratively, in Lincoln's cross hairs. Oh, and don't feel bad if you can't keep the nameplate swapping straight. I think that only someone who lived through the nonsense would be able to make hell or high water of what went on with Lincoln in the 1980's.

Based on that TV commercial from 1977, it would appear that Lincoln went back on its word when they came out with a smaller car in 1980 but that didn't effect sales. What did effect sales was the fact that Lincoln failed to acknowledge or just flat out ignored the influx of compelling luxury makes and models from Europe that young, affluent buyers found appealing. If you go back and look at the actors that were cast in that ad for the 1977 Continental, you'll notice that they're all not thirty or even forty somethings. Classy and elegant looking? Yes. Young and vibrant? No. Lincoln knew exactly who was buying their cars and they first and foremost made attempts to hold onto them. What they didn't do was make automobiles that were appealing to buyers who found German makes and models alluring. You could argue that they attempted to with these downsized cars that were better performing than the leviathans they replaced, but the proof is in sales. Younger buyers stayed far away from these cars.

Let's not convince our selves that Cadillac did much better in the 1980's than Lincoln did. While their designs were subjectively more handsome, what with the myriad of power train issues they had it's a miracle that they survived the decade let alone still be around today. Cadillac and Lincoln slugged it out throughout the 1980's like two old prize fighters whom were way, way past their prime and continued fighting even though people were clearly losing interest in them. In fairness, Lincoln did make a somewhat honest attempt at a "Euro fighter" with the 1982 Fox body Continental but the die had been cast; Lincoln was for old people.

Again, Cadillac's aren't exactly for spring chickens either. Any success over the last near forty years that America's two luxury car manufacturers have had has been with either sport utility vehicles or the darling of the show room floor these days, cross over sport utility vehicles. And, sorry to admit it, those vehicles are popular not because they're Lincolns or Cadillacs but because of what they are.

Where would Lincoln be today had instead of introducing dowdy sedans like this thing they introduced a smart handling luxury car like a BMW 733? We'll never know of course but one thing we do know is that this car certainly did help matters. Did Lincoln's long slow demise start with the 1980 Continental? No, but if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem. Note the Cadillac CTS in the upper left of this photograph seemingly poised to go off in a direction that this Town Car could never attempt to go in.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

1987 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Coupe - Meh

“Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been”
                                                                                 -Wayne Gretzky

With the exception of perhaps the 1955 Chevrolet, over the last sixty years, GM hasn't been very good at skating to where the automotive market was going and instead has given buyers a rehash of what was already available. In a vacuum this 1987 Oldsmobile Delta 88, part of GM's 1985 full size "C and H bodies", would have been heralded as an automotive watershed akin to the 1955 Chevrolet. Instead, they were just another car.
These cars were actually much bigger breaks from convention than the 1955 Chevrolet was but that mattered little to buyers who would cross shop since what this car brought to market was already at Toyota, Honda, Nissan and most damning, Ford stores, amongst others. Front wheel drive, rack and pinion steering, MacPherson struts, fuel injection were all becoming mainstream by the time these cars rolled into dealerships. Think of this car as that last family on the block that finally got a VCR when the market was already well on its way towards DVD players.

There can't be an honest to goodness "car guy" out there who could argue that this snappy little Delta 88 was not vastly superior to the underpowered barge it replaced. Now, when it comes to matters of subjectivity like design and styling, that's a different story. And I would agree that this car has none of the elan of previous models. It was then and certainly isn't now any better looking than a 1986 Ford Taurus. More than anything else this car's attributes underscore the short comings of what it replaced. Again, by the standards of 1977 this car would have been a crowning achievement. By the mid eighties they were "meh".

Sadly, and I say that as a fan, as good as these cars were they were just not as good as anything from Asia not to mention the wonder cars coming in from Europe and, again, the Ford Taurus. They may have been bigger than anything from over seas but they not nearly as well made and at least in regards to European makes and models, had none of the snob appeal; "look at me" being very important in the upper end of the market.

With regards to this type of car in particular, by the mid eighties coupes were passé. When all of these models were updated between 1989 and 1992, save for a larger Cadillac De Ville that debuted in 1989, due to a shifting market, the coupes were gone. And when Cadillac updated the De Ville for 1994, there was no two door model available. Two door sedans, or coupes, were vestiges of yesteryear any way - after all, the first automobiles that could carry more than two passengers only had two doors and to make a four door sedan required far more engineering, tooling and material costs. In a world that is ultimately pragmatic, the instant that two door cars became nothing more than fashion statements they were doomed.

Had GM come out with these cars in 1977 they would have been skating to where the puck was going as opposed to where it had been. As it will always do, the puck bounced away and instead of skating to where it's going, GM continues, even post bankruptcy, to skate to where it is.

Friday, September 2, 2016

1980 Chevrolet Camaro V6 - Point of Entry

Years ago, six cylinder Camaros were an economical point of entry for people who wanted a "sports car" to have one without the insurance premium and gas pump surcharges a V-8 powered car warranted. However, what you gave up in performance was substantial; six cylinder Camaros, all of them through at least the availability of the 135 horsepower "LB8" 2.8 liter V-6 in 1985, were woefully under powered. I've always looked at cars like our 1980 subject here, I have no idea what model year the woman in this photo is, as being a like a game that ends in a tie; like kissing your sister. What's the point?

As much as I love these "Generation II" or "Big Camaros", I always get a pang of dissapointment when I raise the hood on one and find a "six" under here. Up until 1980, that six in all Camaros was Chevrolet's almost as big as a V-8, 250 cubic inch in line six. For 1980, as part of Chevrolet's switch to V-6 engines in their passenger cars which began in 1978, Camaro became available for the first time with a V-6.

Chevrolet's switch to V-6 engines in passenger cars was predicated by a change in the design of their mid size automobiles. GM's new for 1978 "A bodies", which were honestly more like up sized compacts, had engine compartments that were not long enough to accommodate an in line six. So Chevrolet created a V-6 engine by removing cylinders 3 and 6 from their small block V-8. Why they simply didn't "buy" the V-6 engine Buick had already speaks volumes about the bizarre practices of the old General Motors. After all, Chevrolet had to endure the engineering and tooling costs of making their own engine; wouldn't it have been more efficient to use the Buick engine?


If there was any upside to the Chevrolet V-6 it was that many parts between it and the small block V-8 were interchangeable. That may have resulted in some "economies of scale" in the manufacturing process and junkyard applications years later. Those interchangeable parts included alve train components, bearings, piston assemblies, lubrication and cooling system components, some external accessories too. The Chevrolet V-6 would have a very long life after it left the passenger car realm. More on that below.

Ironies of ironies, the 1980-81 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Turbo did not use a turbocharged Chevrolet V-6 but rather Buick's turbocharged V-6.  Someone explain why Chevrolet would use a Buick engine in this car yet go through the vigorous process to create and entirely different base engine.

What's more, 1980-81 V-6 Camaros sold in California used the Buick V-6 not the Chevrolet V-6 since GM made only the Buick V-6 "California emissions compliant". The long and short of it these 1980-81 V-6 Camaros were not very powerful and ran fairly rough - especially the '81's when GM debuted their first electronic engine control systems. The fact that our subject here, which I found on ebay in New Jersey with an absurd "buy it now" price of $7,500, still has the engine it was born with, actually is a liability knowing all too well how poorly this car runs not to mention performs. Had this car gotten the small block transplant it desperately needs it might be worth what they're asking for it.

Then again you while you can fault this woman for posting for sale pictures on ebay with herself in the some of the photos, you can't fault her for believing that her car is worth a lot more than what it's really worth. The body is also not in the best of shape either. This is a $2,500 car at best awaiting a $5,000 engine and transmission swap. Then you've got a real ringer for $7,500. Here was the listing. It went unsold for a tick over $5,000. I'm sure she'll post it again.

In 1985, the Chevrolet 3.8 liter V-6 was replaced by a 262 cubic inch (4.3 liter) version of the engine. While the 4.3 did have applications in mid and full size rear wheel drive automobiles, the 4.3 gained its notoriety as the replacement for the Chevrolet in line six in truck applications. Remarkably, the 4.3 liter V-6 that was based on the original 229 cubic inch Chevrolet V-6, was produced through the 2014 model year.