Monday, October 9, 2017

2017 Ford Explorer - Transcendental

 
I had no idea what a big vehicle these "modern" Explorers are. I say modern because Ford has offered some sort of Explorer SUV since 1990 and up until 2010 they were always a mid size, truck based, body on frame SUV. That all changed for model year 2011 when Ford moved the nameplate to its Volvo sourced, car-based, cross-over utility platform. This new chassis enabled Ford to design a vehicle that's all but as big as my wife's 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe. Almost-as-big. It's a good a good half foot less tall, an inch less long and roughly an inch less wide. Still, the Explorer is huge; especially inside. It's cavernous. It's also, thanks to its cross-over platform, roughly 600 pounds lighter. 
 
 
V-8 loving me was disappointed to find the "base" 2.3 liter Ecoboost in line 4 under the hood of our subject here and not at least Ford's lusty 290 horsepower 3.5 liter DOHC V-6. Disappointed was I up until I started my elongated test drive. That loaf of bread they call "Ecoboost" hauls ass; this thing is freaking fast as hell. So fast, in fact, that I had a hard time staying under the speed limit. A quick check of the specs on the Ecoboost engine in our Explorer shows that it makes 280 horsepower and 310 foot pounds of torque. Oh, mommy. My Tahoe with it's mighty 5.3 liter "LS" V-8 makes 290 horsepower and 330 foot pounds.

 
Where the Ecoboost engine comes apart, in my opinion, compared to my Tahoe's V-8, is that acceleration is a furious, mad rush whereas the Tahoe's power is smooth and linear. Non jerking starts are at first an exercise in futility until you get used to it. Stab it as you would a non-turbo car and you run the risk of getting whiplash. It's fun at first but quickly gets annoying. Gas mileage estimate for the Ecoboost is a middling 22 mpg. I get about 17-18 with my Tahoe. So, the Explorer Ecoboost is fast and thirsty. This is progress? I shudder to think what kind of gas mileage the twin turbo, 365 horsepower V-6 gets. I had these same issues with the Ford Fusion Ecoboost my family and I rented a couple of years ago.

 
The interior, again, is cavernous, the fit and finish gorgeous. The trim was very tasteful for any vehicle let alone a base model. Ten, fifteen years ago this would have been an out of the park luxury automobile. Nowadays it's fairly run of the mill. If there's anything I'm missing out on driving older vehicles it's today's interiors. That and convenience features like blue tooth and a back up camera. Our Explorer here wasn't overly equipped with nanny's you don't need like lane change alerts and automatic braking. Some would knock that and site lower resale value. I just look at those bells and whistles as stuff that's going to break.



Despite its size and vast rear passenger and cargo areas behind the wheel the Explorer felt uncomfortably tight. The "dead pedal" is intrusive since it's part of the left wheel well. What? Yup. C'mon, Ford. You did so much right with this thing. Why fall down with that detail - men will be driving this thing too. My right leg kept hitting the steering column too but I'd say that was because I like the wheel cocked down low over my lap.

 
The biggest thing that the "modern" Ford Explorer has going for it is that it's transcendental - as much as it is an unabashed update of the dreaded family station wagon of yore it also somehow  co notates wealth and prestige. How these things have been able to that is beyond me. Perhaps, and this is where the generation gap widens, a lot of the old mom mobile image isn't as negatively construed as it once was. While my experience with my parents growing up was a bit of an extreme, seeing that we were at each other's throats constantly, today's (young) parents have an innate sense of family and have no issue with being seen as mommy's and daddy's. That's very nice.  My generation, which skirts the nebulous brick-a-brack between Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers had a somewhat more difficult time with it to say nothing of the Baby Boomer's who all but rejected any semblance of their parents.  Nowadays that's not so much the case. And you could do worse than to be seen as a mom or dad driving a modern Ford Explorer.


 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Cadillac XLR - A Perfectly Good Idea at The Time


I can't look at a 1959 Cadillac and see it for what it was supposed to be as opposed to what it's become. That being a stereotype of '50's cars and at best a subliminal symbol of America's boom years after World War II. What it was supposed to be is anyone's guess but the late Chuck Jordan, GM's Vice President of Design for General Motors from 1986-1992 and the chief engineer of the 1959 Cadillac, said that at the time it seemed like a "perfectly good idea."
 
 
 
Same could be said for the Cadillac XLR. A  badge engineered Cadillac Corvette? C'mon, GM. Really? Really.

 


The XLR will never be construed as being a stereotype of an automobile nor a subliminal anything. It is what it is or was; a drop dead gorgeous two passenger automobile that had some formidable performance chops. Especially when stuffed with a SUPERCHARGED V-8 like our little beast here has.


The idea behind it was for it to be a paradigm-shifting flagship for General Motors downtrodden luxury division. After all, Mercedes Benz has seemingly always had a high faluten two passenger sports coupe, or what some automobilia cognoscenti refer to as "two place" motor car, and such should be on the cover of the brochures of any luxury car maker's literature. Viewed in that context the XLR makes at least some sense and...it seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time. Argue all you want that Cadillac should have been focused on Lexus buyers and not Benz and BMW buyers but I digress. Those that make decisions at Cadillac have never been prone to modest ambitions.


 
In a vacuum this car was a stand-out and most people would be hard pressed to put 2+2 together and surmise it's a C5 Corvette in a tuxedo. It would be on my short list if it wasn't powered by Cadillac's infamous 4.6 liter Northstar V-8 configured for rear wheel drive duty. If I ever got my hands on one of these, and you can get a nice one for a relative song compared to what they stickered for new, I'd drop another ten grand or so on swapping the Northstar for an LS. Might be more than that but then again I'd then have a bullet proof automobile. Might have trouble getting that work order approved through the wife but that's what I'd like to do.

 
Despite it's good looks and prodigious performance capability, especially with the SUPERCHARGED "Northstar", the XLR tanked at the box office. I mean tanked. These things aren't unicorn rare but they're hard to come by.  Shame too since, again, this was one hell of an automobile.

 
 
There are several reasons for the XLR's failure. First and foremost, similar to what GM did with the Allante between 1986-1993, which was a hunk of junk compared to the XLR, they over priced it. A relative bargain, mind you, compared to what GM attempted to target it at but still, at $80,000 a copy this was one expensive Corvette. And a Corvette that, while being subjectively more handsome than a Corvette, doesn't perform as well as one. And powered by an engine with a dubious reputation for unreliability. Incidentally, someone explain to me why GM spent the dough to reconfigure their front wheel drive Northstar engine for this car when the Corvette was using the perfectly wonderful LS?  Would powering this with an LS V8 make it less of a Cadillac? What about the CTS-V? That had an LS. Another example of GM wackiness pre bankruptcy.


Secondly, most people are not car people who accept cars for what they are or are portending to be. If they're looking for some bling-bling in the garage, folks who can swing the payments on something like this are more often than not going to go for something that the neighbors are familiar with. Or would be so instantly enamored of when you tell them what you bought if they're not familiar with it. An example of that would be Jaguar's stupefying XF-S two seater. Oh my, they bought a Jaguar sports car.


If the neighbor's don't know what an XLR is, chances are they'd be none too impressed when you got them up to speed by telling them that it's a Cadillac. Hyundai has the same problem with their Genesis division. You'll get a smirk or two from the snobs next door when you roll up in one of those and tell them, "it's a really nice Hyundai".


You wouldn't have that problem if you just bought a Corvette. Or a Benz. Then again, you'd be spending more money on the Benz. On the other hand, you would have spent far less money on a Corvette and maybe had enough left over to buy a Prius. After all, we buy cars like this just to show off, right? And a Prius makes you look smart and rich at the same time. Win-win.

 
Life's too short to be concerned with bull shit stereotypes, subliminal messages and showing off. If you like this car, like I do, buy it for what it is or was at its most elemental and to hell with resale value and what the damn neighbors think - this is a really nice car. Now that's a perfectly good idea that will stand the test of time. Just find a mechanic willing to do an off beat engine swap.



 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

1973 Plymouth "Roadrunner" - Playing Dress Up


I don't usually don't blog about cars I've already blogged about but I do make exceptions. And this "Top Banana" or "Lemon Twist" 1973 "Roadrunner" is either a tribute car, facsimile, a fake or what is more commonly referred to as a clone.  In biology, clones are genetically identical and while this car and the car it portends to be are similar and do share a lot of genes, they're far from identical.  Clone cars rarely if ever are. Clones are little more than cars that are dressed up to appear to be more than what they originally were. This car's VIN will never make it a Roadrunner; it's at best a Satellite Sport. Why anyone would make a Roadrunner out of a Satellite is anyone's guess not to mention asking $19,000 for it but such is life. Yes, and good grief, nineteen grand. That's a lot of money for a clone of anything not to mention it being a 45 year old, non-GM muscle car of sorts. Shoot, this isn't even a Barracuda or Challenger. Here's the listing. At least they were upfront about it being a clone.
 

I wouldn't pay half that for this thing; after all $19G is 1973 Corvette money. You'd think for that much cash you could find a real Roadrunner in similar condition. Also, if you spent that much on a 1973 Corvette you'd never have to explain what a clone is and no one would ever question whether or not the car was legitimate. She sure is nice, though despite being a 1973 "Roadrunner" and not a more handsome 1971 or 1972 with its loop front bumper. I'm a 'Cuda guy myself but I can tell you that these larger B body MOPARS are better riding and handling cars.


The problem with restoring old cars is that it's all but impossible to get back what you've spent on them. It's almost always best to buy something restored rather than pay for restoring it yourself; just be careful not to over pay for someone else's hard work. I shudder to think what was spent on getting this car into better than original condition. For instance, a good engine rebuild alone would run you more than $3,000. And then you run the risk of running into a jerk like me who will take points off your resto job because under the hood it's not 110% factory correct. Regardless of whether or not a car is clone or not. Owner claims this engine is a 340 which is a bonus. The 340, which was a performance engine, was not offered on 1973 Satellite's.  

 
Despite the Autozone tach, there's nothing like a nice old car with an interior that looks as though it's factory fresh. Again, bucks were spent getting this interior up to snuff. If god and or the devil is in the details, it's the details that can sink a car's value no matter how nice the restoration. Check out the horizontal speedometer; on a Roadrunner? Roadrunners came with round gauges - this dash is all Satellite. Trust me. These things matter. Especially if the seller is asking all the money in the world for their car like this guy is. Clones are fine but don't charge "real money" for one. That steering wheel screams 1968 Barracuda too. It's nice, but not period or $19,000 asking price correct.

 
I'd be curious to see if this person is able to sell this car and get anywhere near the money they're asking for it. Then again, they might just have it up for sale to see what kind of nibbles they get. Y'know, we are getting to that time of year when people start to dump their old cars rather than pay for storage; maybe you can get it for a song. Good luck.  

 

The Plymouth Roadrunner started out in 1968 as part of a five model lineup in Plymouth's mid size line. Available originally only as a Satellite based two door sedan, with it's large and powerful standard engine and being  bereft of luxury accoutrements, it was intended to appeal to buyers who wanted the performance of a much more expensive Pontiac GTO without the bells and whistles. When Chrysler redesigned their mid size cars for 1971, all their two door mid size cars shared this unique (and quite handsome) body that was all but indistinguishable from the four door cars.

 

 


 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Chevrolet HHR - What the Hell, GM?


Amazing how my mind plays tricks on me. I could have sworn I had blogged already about a one of these but turns out I had only made reference to them in my blog about a Toyota FJ Cruiser.  Well, by golly, a vehicle this goofy looking deserves it's own blog entry so let's have it. Today we take a look at, in my opinion, a vehicle worse looking than Chrysler's "PT Cruiser". That's saying a lot considering how gawd awful the damn PT Cruiser was. Ladies and gentleman this is a Chevrolet HHR or Chevrolet "Heritage High Roof". Would a Chevy Cobalt wagon by any other name be as ridiculous? 


Introduced back in 2006, I know, you thought it was before that, who knows for sure if the suits at GM were gunning for the same buyer that would look at a PT. The auto industry, much like the music industry, is funny like that. You assume one thing and in you could be completely wrong. Although there were five model years between the launch of the PT and this thing, there stood a chance that Chrysler got wind that GM was doing a little retro car based trucklet and rushed something into production to get there first. Not that it matters but in the context of the time period that the two could have been sold next to each other in a gently used "previously owned" lot, the connection was invariably there. Ten years or more removed and that association wanes. 


Then again the story goes that the iconoclastic Bob Lutz locked the engineering team behind the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 in a room for a week and ordered them to brainstorm ideas to improve upon what they originally came up with. Amongst the soundproofing and space-age bushings they came up with, they also came up with this thing that was allegedly inspired by a 1949 Chevrolet Suburban panel truck. Hmmm, kay. If you guys say so. If they said it was inspired by a "2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser" I wouldn't be so incredulous. 


Despite similarities outwardly and underneath, both the PT and HHR were car-based, you'd never know it by looking at it but the HHR was a significantly larger than the PT. While its wheelbase is only a half inch longer, the HHR is almost seven and half inches longer. It's also wider and taller. However, despite the extra bulk, somehow the HHR has one cubic foot of cargo space less than the PT. The hell, GM? 


And, sorry, these things only make sense as adorable utility vehicles. Shoot, if I was a plumber or an electrician, an HHR panel van, that would be one of these without windows, would be my vehicle of choice rather than some scary looking mano y mano full-size truck or van. A tradesman who's non-threatening to women is a tradesman who's going to get a lot more phone calls. 


Remarkably, the HHR made it through GM's 2008-2009 reorganization and kept on truckin' all the way to the end of the 2011 model year. The Chrysler PT Cruiser met the crusher after 2010. Bob Lutz, whom I think I have great respect for although I shudder to think what it must have been like to work with him or for, while still with us here in the land of the living, did not survive GM's great purge. 






Tuesday, September 19, 2017

1968 Pontiac GTO - Fine Line


My wife and I have recently gotten into antique hunting and I've come to the conclusion that there's a fine line between what is an "antique" and what is, in reality, little more than junk. Our sad hulk here case in point; with an asking price of $2,900 someone thinks this is one hell of an antique. You almost can't blame them seeing that it's what's left of a once proud Motor Trend Car of the Year from 1968, a Pontiac GTO. Bring a trailer and get ready to drop in an engine. And a whole lot more.


Authenticity is everything in the collector car world and the "242" right there validates the seller's claim that this was, when it was born at least, a god's green earth, rubber nosed, GTO. Without this VIN prefix I highly doubt that this car would still be in one piece. Such as it is.


Who knows why this wreck is in the shape that it's in. Looks like it's been sitting for a long time. in blazing hot, fairly humid Texarkana Arkansas. Now, most if not all of the parts of this interior are available on line but it's going to cost you. I'd budget at least $3,000 for the interior resto. Don't forget the $2900 you spent on this antique in the first place and you can begin to see how this will add up. Quickly.  


Spend a good $100 or so on good brushes to scrub away the years of grime. Bet this interior smells like granny's basement too months after the water heater busted open. Take everything out and scrub, scrub, scrub away. Better yet, get a power washer.


That is, if the floor pan can withstand it. This here is what concerns me the most about this car. She's a Texas car so you'd think she'd be somewhat immune to rust but we are talking about a 50 year old GM product here; rust gets 'em all regardless of location. This floor pan has to go and good luck finding a reputable metal shop that will weld in new floor pans for you without raking you over the coals. They're out there but boy are you going to pay. I estimate $2,000 to fix that. I'm at almost $8,000 and counting. 


Oh, great. Trunk floor is rotted out too. You might be looking at closer to $3,000 if not $4,000 seeing that you might want to have all of the floor pans redone. When restoring an old car, just like an old house, always best to estimate higher. Set aside $5,000 for the floor pan project. I'm at $11,000 so far and we haven't even talked powertrain or body work yet. 


There were no pictures of under the hood and that's telling - what don't they want us to see? Obviously, there's no engine seeing how high up the front end is and that right front tire being cocked at an odd angle tells me there's front end work to be done. Let's assume there's no engine or transmission. We going with an LS swap or crate engine? We're looking at $6,000. At least. Ka-ching. We're pushing twenty large. A really good paint job could run you another 10. 


So, all in, to be on the high side you're looking at around $40,000 into this car. And then what do you have? A non-numbers matching "GTO" mutt of sorts that few collectors will be interested in since aside from perhaps looking real nice, it would have about as much cache as a clone - that's a non GTO that's dressed up to look like one. Those cars are increasingly popular as the real mccoys are getting harder and harder to find but they are what they are. And they certainly don't go for the kind of money that it would take to make investing in this car worthwhile. 


Which takes us all the way back to the beginning and the fine line between what is an antique and what is junk. Sorry. This is just junk. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

1977 Chrysler Cordoba - Two Birds With One Stone


I'm probably the only man on earth who would seriously consider trading in a Chevrolet Corvette for a Chrysler Cordoba.


I stumbled upon our 1977 black beauty here the other day during yet another "cheap car" search on cars. com. The search this time was to find a replacement for my aging and increasingly problematic 2002 Monte Carlo; with my  price ceiling of $10,000 the pickings are dishearteningly slim. No, dear, I am not driving a 2015 Kia Forte. I sort on "oldest" after I get bored and things always get more interesting.
 
 
At $6,000 the asking price is relatively steep for this example of the only bastion of success during the 1970s Chrysler had but she looks to be as perfect as she gets.
 
 
So perfect in fact, and pictures can be deceiving, that it occurred to me that I might have a hard time keeping her in the immaculate shape that she's in right now. Am I worthy of such a nice car? Yes. This is Corinthian leather.
 
 
However, if a car looks this good in pictures taken by someone who clearly doesn't have a photographer's eye let alone having a clue as to what lighting is all about, she might be as good as she looks. If this was a Chevrolet Monte Carlo or Pontiac Grand Prix of the same vintage the asking price would surely be double. Especially as fully loaded as this lady is.
 
 
Introduced for model year 1975, the Chrysler Cordoba was the very rare "right place, right time" automobile for Chrysler. With the personal luxury car boom in full bloom, Chrysler hit the jackpot with a combination of styling, value and marketing. The Cordoba, incidentally, was intended at first to be a Plymouth and go tail light to taillight with the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. At the last moment it was moved up market to Chrysler.
 
 
Spurred by commercials featuring the impossibly cool Ricardo Montalban, who was a relative unknown in late 1974 when the first commercials were filmed, 1975 Chrysler Cordoba sales were so good that they accounted for nearly 60 % of all Chrysler's sold that year. Sales of 1976 Cordoba's were still good although they weren't as good as 1975's. By 1977 sales began to taper off. Blame Chevrolet for announcing that 1977 was the last year for the "big Monte Carlo" as Monte Carlo sales went through the roof. Those numbers had to come out of somewhere.
 
 
Fans of the model will tell you that Chrysler mucked it up with their 1978 restyle although it was for all intents and purposes the same car as what came before it. While most casual observers probably couldn't tell the difference between a 1977 and 1978 Cordoba, numbers don't lie; sales really dropped off for the updated Cordoba's. Could Chrysler have wooed disenfranchised "small Monte Carlo" buyers had they not futzed with the Cordoba for 1978? After all, the Cordoba's styling was nothing if not derivative although, subjective as it is, the 1975-1977 Cordoba was a better looking 1973-1977 Monte Carlo than the Monte was.
 
 
No, I wouldn't want this as a daily driver but as a replacement for another one of my old Chevy's, that being my Chevrolet Corvette this might/would/could fit the bill quite nicely. Negotiate the price of this down and then ask for at least $5,000 for the Corvette and I could, in theory, kill two birds with one stone. I'll mop up my 20 year old son's heart break later. After all, he's not the one who's looking at spending winter months on his back in the garage attempting to prop up the old plastic beast.
 
 
I'd be rid of that albatross that is my Corvette and I'd have an old car that I really love and is very special to me. Again, I have to be the only person that would trade a Corvette for a Cordoba. 
 

 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

1958 Chevrolet Impala - Keeping The Faith

 
There's rumor and speculation out there that the current Chevrolet Impala, a most excellent but not very attractive automobile and certainly not compelling enough to sway the current away from cross overs, will be the last Impala. Unless, of course, in the coming years Chevrolet festoons "Impala" on a cross over, we'll probably never see the nameplate again. Never say never. Anyway, if what we have now is the last Impala, what was the first Impala? Low and behold we have one for you today resplendent in "never garaged" patina.
 
 
The 1958 Chevrolet Impala rode on GM's new X frame full size chassis design that Cadillac had debuted the year before. The new chassis allowed designers to set the body of the car lower on the frame because with it's literal "X" design, the body was not impeded by frame rails running up and down the sides of the frame. Being unencumbered by side rails, designers had a huge blank canvas upon which they did what would appear to be anything their hearts desired.
 
 
Prior to the "X" frame, GM cars rode on a "ladder frame". With the "X" frame above, there were no side rails on the frame like we'd find on a ladder frame. My red arrows highlight reinforcing rails on the body of the car. Despite what would appear to be an automobile of significant girth, imagine how this car would fare in a side impact collision.
 
 
Or any impact for that matter. The GM "X" frame was made famous once again back in 2009 when it was crashed into a Chevrolet Malibu. While this exercise was done to showcase how safe modern cars were, it also pointed out just how deadly cars were back in the day. The 1959 "X frame" Impala was destroyed. Relax. It was a '59 Impala sedan. No one cared. I mean, no one cared about the car. I think all of us were aghast at just how flimsy a car that '59 Impala was. Chevrolet used the "X frame" through 1964. Drive carefully if you've got one.
 
 
Sorry. I didn't start out this blog with the intention of getting on a high horse about the advancement of vehicle safety over the years. Trist me, I'm not that guy. However, it is worth noting that before the advent of "safety", vehicle design ruled the roost. Many things we take for granted for today, for instance,  seat belts, weren't even an option on cars in the '50's let alone on our Impala here.
  
 
Although this big old bear will collapse like an empty refrigerator box in a crash and no doubt is singularly responsible for burning a hole in the ozone, she still is a fine looking automobile no matter what shape her sheet metal is in. Her interior too. Good lord. When people say that today's Impala is "not worthy" of the nameplate, chances are when they think of Impala's they deem worth of the nameplate they're thinking of "X frame" Impala's like our '58 here. Just keep in mind that the good old days weren't always good. Or safe.