Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Chevys - Double The Trouble

It's been said that good business planning is 9 parts execution for every one part of planning. Throw one part Craigslist into the mix and all that good planning goes out the window. It's also been said that no good deed goes unpunished.

The plan for our "old Camaro", the one on the left in the first photo up there with the blown head gaskets. was to try and sell some parts off it to off set the expense of replacing it. Either that or just scrap the damn thing. Craigslist to the rescue. While searching for dashboard bits and pieces for our "new Camaro" I stumbled upon this needle in a haystackThese are hard to find; GM only made them for 1995-2002 Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds. Lucky me.

What made the deal really interesting for me was that I had test driven the car that it came out of (above) when I was searching for a replacement for our "old Camaro". The guy who bought this car needed the front clip off it for his wrecked Camaro and was parting out the rest of it. Being able to personally vouch for a used engine your buying with no warranty is important. What's more the engine and the guy I'd buy it from had a friend who could install it for me.

$300 for the engine and $600 for the install. Such a deal. The chain repair shop I spoke with wanted $2,700 to do the swap. Sigh. I wish I had found this engine before I bought the other Camaro but...such is life.

Combine equal parts luck, diligence and dare I say stupidity and this is why I have two identical Chevrolet Camaros. Now, both our boys have cars and although it's expensive insuring four cars, five if you count the antique insurance on our 1977 Corvette, it's only for the summer. Our new plan is to hold onto the "old Camaro" until the end of the summer and sell it for as much as we can. Our younger son doesn't need a car where he goes to college and, kids today being kids today, he's ambivalent towards it anyway. As long as he has access to some sort of transportation he's fine.

Remember that saying about no good deed goes unpunished? The new engine isn't in our car a week when the SERVICE ENGINE SOON light comes on.

Turned out to be a bad coil pack. Simple fix. A week or so after that the SERVICE ENGINE SOON light came back on. This time the friendly gang down at Autozone couldn't pin point exactly what the problem was. They said it was either a vacuum leak, another cylinder misfire (engine runs fine), a bad O2 sensor or bad wiring for the O2 sensor. Great. Just great.

I dropped the car off at the chain repair shop and had them do a diagnostic on it and for $60 they told me it might be a bad O2 sensor, bad wiring or a failing powertrain control module (PCM); in other words the car's computer. They also gave me a repair estimate of just under $2,000 but that also included struts, shocks, tires and an passenger side outer tie rod. Not sure what I'm going to do about the SERVICE ENGINE SOON light; I can't sell this car for what I want for it with that thing on. Grrr. Needless to say I've got a lot of work to do if I'm going to sell the "old Camaro" for anywhere want we want to. 

Today I noticed dark stains on my driveway where out "new Camaro" (the one on the right) was sitting. It would appear that either the power steering pump or the lines for the pump are leaking. I should expect nothing less from one twenty one going on twenty two year old car. When you have two of them I should expect nothing less than double the trouble. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Buick Encore - Cute As A Button

Marti Barletta, the author of Marketing to Women, says that the best way to appeal to women is to make an emotional connection with them. Easier said than done, of course but here in 2017 it would appear manufacturers and marketers alike better appeal to women since they're the primary decision-makers for consumer goods in 85% of households. One vehicle type that has connected with women on an emotional level far deeper than any station wagon or mini van ever did are compact cross overs or "CUV's". In particular, Buick's tiny "cute ute" they call Encore. Our subject is a 2016.

I don't control my household's spending so it's understandable that I'm not the least bit interested in the Buick Encore. And my dislike of these over grown golf carts is more than just sheet metal deep. I mean, it's bad enough that GM has festooned my beloved "Buick" moniker on something that's little more than a tarted up Chevrolet Trax. The kicker is GM has the beans to charge "Buick money" for it. And, get this, the Encore is Buick's best selling vehicle. Quick. Somebody get me the keys to that 1970 Buick Electra convertible I fell in love with a while back. 

Let's not kid ourselves that Barletta's anecdotes about emotionally connecting with women is anything new. Since the dawn of time women have controlled the purse strings in households far and wide. It's just now men are more comfortable than ever saying, "I have to talk to my wife". What's she's going to say is "no" to the Camaro or Mustang and yes to one of these these little cross overs. These things have really found their market in the last 5 - 10 years and they've exploded in popularity. Regardless of inflated sticker prices, questionable styling and wonton driving dynamics. Why? Because they connect with women.

Speaking of the person controlling my household's purse strings, she thinks the Encore is as cute as a button despite that it's a Buick. Which is really interesting since she hates "Buick" almost as much as "Cadillac" and she loves Cadillac's XT5/SRX too. So much for branding. Part of that appeal comes from the fact she's five foot one and has a difficulty maneuvering our massive 2006 Tahoe. Since the Encore offers the elevated driving position she likes without all the bulk, she could zip around in it and park it with the aplomb of six foot, six inch tall cowboy driving a four door Silverado.

Therein lies perhaps the Buick Encore's greatest asset, an elevated driving position that many people, not just women, want these days without all the girth of even a mid size cross over. And in my opinion the Encore offers little else. The front passenger compartment is so narrow, incidentally, that there isn't room for a passenger side arm rest. Any vestige of utility is semantic. There's actually less trunk space in the Encore than there is in a Chevrolet Cruze. Incidentally, the Encore is not based on the same platform the Cruze or Buick Verano are based on. It's built off the Chevrolet Sonic's chassis. Pretty inauspicious start to a vehicle that for 2017, it's been updated but looks very similar to our '16 subject, pushes $40,000 when new. Yes. 40G.

The Encore isn't much of a value either since for that kind of money you might as well just get a little Audi or BMW cross over. Which makes the success of the Buick Encore even more vexing. Those tonier makes and modes hold their value even better than the Encore does and come with considerably more cache. At least it has an elevated driving position. Oh, and it is as cute as a button. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Lincoln MKS - Get Off My Lawn

We've all heard that old saying about how much value a new car loses the instant it goes over a new car dealership's curb. Some, of course, more than others. According to autoblog.com, the 2017 champion of depreciation is the Fiat 500L - this ugly little lump losing just over $8,000 or nearly 35% of its initial value within the first year of ownership. Once more taste being like armpits; I for one have no idea why anyone would buy this thing but that's just little ole me.

Also on the list of new cars that will exaserbate buyers remorse losing more than 30% of their initial value in the first year of ownership are the Buick Regal, Chrysler 300, Cadillac CTS, Fiat 500 - that's two for Fiat on the list and three total if you count the 300, Jaguar XF, Lincoln MKZ, Nissan Maxima, Mercedes C250 - do I not know junk when I see it or not?, Kia Cadenza, Volvo S60 and last but not least rounding out this fat pack of expensive losers coming in at #2, the other Lincoln sedan that no one ever knew about, our subject today, the Lincoln MKS.

Rather than focus on what was wrong with the MKS, though, let's first focus on the positive about this thing which has been discontinued. Replaced by perhaps the most ridiculous Lincoln ever but we'll get to that in a moment. For the record, one of the reasons the MKS is on this list is because it's been discontinued; being what they call "orphaned" in the car biz has always been disastrous for resale in the first couple of years after a model has been axed. I don't buy new but I can somewhat understand why fashion conscious new car buyers might not want to be seen in outdated duds. 

Lincolns have long been little more than dressed up Fords or Mercurys much in the same way you could argue that Cadillacs have long been gussied up Oldsmobiles, Buicks or dare I even say Chevrolets. That's not so much the truth anymore with Cadilac save for the Impala/LaCrosse clone they call "XTS". Anyway, the MKS, which is a fancy Taurus, has all of the inherent attributes the Taurus has. It's stout of structure and has very impressive driving dynamics. The car is big, solid and safe; it's a rolling two ton bank vault. Then again, what car in this class isn't these days? And, subjectively, the MKS is better looking than the Taurus it's based on. 

On paper, the MKS handles, brakes and accelerates as well if not better than anything it was targeted against at first from Audi, Mercedes Benz and BMW. What's more, Lincoln crammed as much "tech" into the MKS as they could and kept the price point on a fully loaded model to a relatively "modest" $60,000. Let's not kid ourselves that $60G is not a lot of money for a car but when you compare it to those tonier German makes, to get what Lincoln offered in the MKS out of a Mercedes E class, you'd have to have spent considerably more.

And therein lies the biggest problem with the Lincoln MKS. Those that have the beans to drop that much on a car aren't or weren't buying it. They bought those German makes and what's more - they had no problem spending more to get them equipped like this "cheapo" Lincoln. Or they bought a Cadillac.

Another problem that Lincoln had with the MKS was that they offered the, again subjective, better looking MKZ for sale on the same dealership floor. Smaller, slightly less expensive and drop dead gorgeous, the MKZ offered something the MKS never did - styling that transcended what the vehicle was. In this case the fact that it was "just" a Lincoln. 

Lincoln suffers from much of the same maladies that Cadillac suffers from only worse - Lincolns are for "old people" just like Cadillac but they're not even Cadillac. In this day and age of Cadillac consistently producing automobiles that better anything from Germany, still boggles the mind, and they too aren't selling in droves, what chance does a literal #2 have in a one horse luxury town? That's why Lincoln has thrown in the towel on attempting to be something it's not and has resorted to slapping a "hallowed nameplate" on its replacement for the MKS that they market as a rolling boudoir first and foremost. Is it selling any better than the MKS? Nope. But it least they're not comparing it to makes and models from Germany hoping that someone would not buy a BMW and buy a Lincoln instead. Only time will tell that if the Continental will make the impact on the low end of the high end market they hope it will. I, for one, am going to stand my ground on what I've said about that car from the get go. Lincoln should just stick to pushing out luxury cross overs since they're the only thing they make that sells. 

What I'm gonna do when the time comes is find a low mileage, Gramma driven Lincoln MKS for about the cost of a similarly aged vintage Taurus. And I wouldn't care that having one in my drive way pegs me as "old". If that's the case then so be it. What it really says is that this "old guy" knows value when he sees it. Our lovely and loaded 2013 example here has just 23,000 miles on it and has an asking price of under $24,000. Wow. New this thing sticker priced for $58,000. This would be a private sale so the asking price is lower than a dealership's but still, this is a lot of car for the money. Would you rather have a (hideous) new Malibu or a slightly used three year old Lincoln?  Try and find anything on a used car lot today that can offer the type of value a used Lincoln MKS can. I'd be curious to see what you come up with. And get off my lawn.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

1985 Toyota Celica - Some Things Never Change

Way back in 1985, my buddy Rich bought a brand new Toyota Celica to replace his well worn 1975 Chevrolet Laguna S-3. He offered me his Laguna for almost next to nothing and ironies of ironies, I've never regretted not buying it. What I do regret is never buying a third generation, 1982-1985 Toyota Celica. 

I wish our subject here was a hatchback like Rich's so it could be a perfect time machine right now but this nice rag top will have to suffice. At least it's red and has the same wheels as his did. Rich was over the moon excited about his new car although he was none too pleased with it's more than $11,000 sticker price. Tack on a grand or two more for the convertible option. Everything is relative and Rich's Celica was more than twice the money he paid for his Laguna when it was new. As much as the price of things have gone up recently, there was nothing like the runaway inflation of the late 1970's into the mid 1980's that all but doubled the price of a car. 

While I really liked Rich's Laguna to the point that I somewhat considered buying it, what I was more impressed with was how excellent the Celica was. Somewhat fussy of design inside and out like many Japanese designs were back then and can still be to this day, the beauty of the Celica was in how it performed. While lacking perhaps in the "off the line" oomph department, understandable given the car had only a four cylinder engine making less than 150 pound feet of torque, everything else about the car was absolutely spectacular. Smooth handling, tenacious braking and jewel like assembly. Why would anyone buy a Camaro when they could have a Celica? What's more, for a just a few grand more you could take care of the lack of power by ordering up to a six cylinder Celica Supra. 

Why didn't more people in the pony car market buy Celica's back then? Well, for starters, these cars were considerably more expensive than a comparably equipped Camaro, Firebird or Mustang. The styling wasn't for everyone either; I'm still torn over whether or not I really like these cars or if I've just grown used to them. The relative lack of beans under hood a sore subject too. Especially considering that GM started offering port fuel injection on their 60 degree V-6 that powered so many base model Camaros and Firebirds back in the day. The Supra option could took care of the power problem but that also meant you had to live with an even longer hood that accentuated the car's off putting styling. Yes, the Supra was a trim option on the Celica before they split the two into separate models. 

I have to tell you, though, even after driving one of these and being enthralled by it, if you gave me the choice between one of these, coupe please, or an IROC of the same vintage, I'm going with the flimsy and obnoxious IROC. I know, I know. Even if I knew then that that was the wrong decision to make. Truth be known, if I had the same choice today, I'd make the same decision. You can take the boy out of the South Shore but you can't take the South Shore out of the boy. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Datsun Sports Roadster - Ugly Duckling

It would be hard to impress on anyone that these cars were the impetus for the seminal Datsun Z-car that debuted 1970; but they were. Have to start somewhere, y'know?

Known as the "Fairlady" in Japan, Datsun's "Sports Roadsters" were never the lookers that the Triumphs, Alfas and MG's they emulated were. However, similar to the story of the ugly duckling, they performed just as well while featuring vastly superior construction. 

Based on a the Datsun Bluebird sedan, the somewhat awkward looking roadsters began production as the "1000 Sports Roadster" in 1959. The "1000" denoting a 1.0 liter engine making all of 77 horsepower. 


Displacement was pushed out to 1.5 liters in 1963 and the car became known as the 1500 Sports Roadster. Subsequent increases in bore and stroke increased engine capacity to 1.6 liters in 1965 and eventually 2.0 liters in 1968. Our red one here is a 1966 model and the white one is a '65. Both have 1.6 liter engines. 


Given its staid if unflattering sheet metal and diminutive engines, it's easy to see why these cars would have been a tough sell east of the West Coast. Very unusual even now to see one of these this far east let alone two of them in the same garage
Hard to tell what's going on here with our "Sports Roadster" twins. I found them when I was searching for a cheap car to our replace our '96 Camaro that had eaten its head gaskets. I saved the photos from the Craigslist ad with a note to myself to contact the owner when I got around to blogging about them. Of course now the ad is gone and I'm left only with speculation. I wonder if someone bought these things? Seeing the head is off the red one's engine, we safe to assume the white one is or was the parts car?
Like most things in life, whatever story we can think of as to why this person has two very rare and unique automobiles is better than reality. Judging by the shape of the white car's interior I'm almost certain it was the donor vehicle. The owner listed these both for sale for $5,500.

Not that the interior of the red one is really that much better. I do like that machined dash board of the '66 better than the '65. That steering wheel is awesome too.
Years ago when I bought my 1978 Dodge Magnum it also came with a 1979 parts car. I quickly found out that since the Dodge Magnum wasn't a "catalog car" like a Corvette or Chevelle, parts were very hard to come by. If parts were rare for a Dodge Magnum I can only imagine how hard they are to find for a Datsun Sports Roadster.
The "Fairlady" name came about after the president of Nissan, Datsun's then parent company, Katsuji Kawamata, was impressed by a performance of "My Fair Lady" here in the U.S. "Fairlady" not being an "American" enough name for export to this country, they renamed these cars "Sports Roadster" for sale here. The last one left production just as the "Z-car" arrived during 1970. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

2009 Nissan Versa - Run Away Like There's No Tomorrow

Despite the fact that today's automobiles are for all intents and purposes "perfect", many miss making an emotional connection with their buyer. And by "perfect", I mean nothing more than the fact that they're reliable. Perhaps you're of the age that you have no idea just how unreliable an automobile can be; don't take it for granted how well cars are bolted together these days but it ironic how nonchalant we've become about it. Anyway, this absolutely charmless 2009 vintage Nissan Versa is case in point, front and center about just how appliance like cars have become and is the least stirring design nfor an automobile I've seen in a good long while that wasn't manufactured in a communist country.  It's recent updating hasn't done much to make it a more interesting dishwasher.

Is making an emotional connection paramount to successful sales? Apparently not based on the sales of Nissan's "family" of Versa's in these days of a bountiful economy. Nissan boasts that the Versa is the best selling vehicle in its market segment. Whether that be subcompact or compact I'm not quite sure since this thing is actually quite large. Then again, the Versa is the least expensive vehicle Nissan sells; never underestimate the appeal of something that is first and foremost inexpensive. I, for one, find this vehicle and ones similar to it like the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit, four wheels of soul crushing clinical depression. Old lady silver only compounding my malaise for it.


Then again, perhaps there is a method to the madness. Perhaps and just maybe the designers and product planners at Nissan have figured out what people who have absolutely no interest in making any sort of fashion statement and are content to blend into the woodwork want in a vehicle. For those who think that a Nissan Sentra is too flashy, may we interest you in a Versa? Oh, and if this thing makes you gloss over, check out the sedan version of it. At least this thing has some cross over visual appeal with it's wagon like bump out in back. Ladies, if your match.com date rolls up in this or something like it, run. I mean run away like there's no tomorrow. 

To make matters worse, by contemporay staandards, this Versa is not even a very good vehicle. Its handling is sloppy and its engine is underpowered. But wait, there's more - she's got a CVT too! So, she's homely, what little personality she does have gets on your nerves immediately but she's a cheap date? Oh, sign me up.

I get the "anti-statement" that something like this makes but in the long haul, it would seem that milque toast buyers are getting the short end of the deal since the Versa doesn't do anything particularly well. Was one of these better than a ten year old Buick when it was brand new? Well, only inasmuch as it was new and it being a Nissan you knew that it would stay bolted together. As for making you look forward to seeing it each morning and driving it? I think I'd rather have that ten year old Buick.