How to make the used family sedan cool

Photo by Edmunds.com

They drone silently along, dutifully performing their tasks with little to no fanfare.  Filling our roads, they perform flawlessly with all the romance of a toaster.  They are the family sedan.

Emblazed in colors of grey, white, or beige, these four door sedans are the wallflowers of the car culture.  Steady, secure, reliable, they are always there but stand in the garage when the dance of the road calls.

When it comes time to sell them, they are often the last choice, relegated to the crowds of minivans and grandpa mobiles.

Clearly the family sedan is in desperate need of a cultural makeover, but what to do?  There’s no throaty V-8 or high revving turbo to bring out the gear heads.  The street racer/drifter crowds have already picked out the econohatches as the build material of choice.  Autocrosses often feature two seat sports cars.  What niche can the sturdy family sedan stand out in?

Can anyone say rally?

photo by autoconception.com

Rally racing is that wonderfully hyper sport where drivers hurl their cars along at blinding speeds while the navigator yells out what blind turn is coming up next.

 

photo by hemmings.com

 

Here is a chance for the family sedan to finally shine.  These empty logging and mining roads can provide the stage to flaunt the abilities of both driver and machine.

The buildup can be affordable, too.  Just rip out the rear seat, throw in a roll cage and safety fuel cell, wear the standard racing helmet and suit, and you are ready to go!  The cost of the cars themselves is relatively cheap.  I’ve seen an incredible variety of cars in the $1,000 to $2,000 range.  (To help insure an entry level into this sport once it explodes into the mainstream, a stock class would be institutionalized that would limit the upper purchase price of the car and also limit the modifications to standard oem size shocks, brakes, fog lights, and mud and snow tires.  No engine, transmission, or drive train modifications allowed.  (No turning a front wheel drive car into a four wheeled drive car now.)

 

All cars must be street legal.  You have to be able to show off your race creds on the way to work now.

The classes are simple:

Stock or modified.

Rear – Front – All wheel drive

Four cylinder or six

Station wagons can compete alongside sedans in their perspective class unless there are enough entered to form their own class.  (Roughly five or more)

The cars allowed into this new racing:

Honda Accord

Chevrolet Malibu

Toyota Camry

Ford Contour

Dodge Stratus

Mazda 626

Nissan Altima

Subaru Legacy   (The Outback models should be in their own class or up against anyone who finds a Volvo Crosstrek or Audi in that price range.  [Verifiable proof of price will be needed.])

Hyundai, Kia, Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac, any car within that general size is allowed to race.  (The first person to rally a Jaguar X type will become my personal hero.)

photo from road and track magazine

No longer are these cars chained to the dull daily driving on the timid tarmac.  They are now free to leap in the crisp air as they bound through countryside, singing their engines as loud as their mufflers allow.  (Well, at least until an errant rock or hard landing jettisons it.)

This class of rally car (AS for class A – Sedan) will pull the family sedan off the wall and into the spotlight.

Tell anyone who’s curious that it kicks.

Thoughts of: Hurray for the Hobbit car or a bright little Sunbeam

Sometimes you discover lost treasures when you least expect it.  A few hours ago I was going through various posts from fellow bloggers over at the Trifecta Challenge when I was stopped dead in my tracks.  Imogen Shepard, author of Diary of a “Sensitive Soul’ , wrote about her Chrysler Sunbeam and the tragedy of losing that faithful companion.

Her words and the picture of that little Sunbeam made me think of all the small cars that have entered or influenced our lives in one way or another.  I remember my mother’s first and only work car, a Chevrolet Chevette. About the size of the modern day VW Golf, this car was rear wheel drive and had a very nice two tone paint job that made it look more expensive than it really was.  GM soon replaced it with the “J-car” platform known as the Cavlaier, Sunbird, Firenza, Cimmaron, and Skylark.  Chrysler modified the Sunbeam for America and named it the Omni and the Horizon.  Available in four doors only, they reminded me of the VW Rabbit more that the sleeker Sunbeam.  Ford had the mega hit of the 80s with its Escort and Lynx.  Honda had the Civic.  Mazda had the 323. Toyota had the Corrola.  Nissan had the Sentra.  These were not the first small cars in our country but they marked a time when the small car made a large statement to the world.  It was also a way for manufacturers to reach their federally mandated CAFÉ standards.

There is an inherent magic in these little cars that is hard to find in larger automobiles.  Their set weights and dimensions give them a playfulness that reminds you of a puppy more than an inanimate object.  Aimed at a younger market, the designers are free to play around and add personality to these vehicles without harming any set reputation.  Commercials were created showcasing the fun and free lifestyle of owning them.  Given everything, is it any wonder why so many people formed such personal bonds with these light, little cars?

Some of these cars had amazing lives as well.  Dodge used some of their Neons in a celebrity challenge in the Grand Prix circuit.  Used three cylinder GEO Metros and Suzuki Swifts became Group-A style rally cars in the Colorado mountains.  Other small cars skipped the cones fantastic in multiple autocrosses on weekends all over the country.  These little cars did more road dancing than most muscle cars did.  They got fewer tickets doing it, too.

Today the torch has been passed on to cars with names of Fiesta, Dart, Sonic, Accent, 3 series, and Fit.  They are still nimble.  They are still small.  They are still fun.  That’s the best part of all.

So take a moment and revel in the fact that the hobbit of the car world are still around to enchant and enjoy.

And thanks to Imogen and her Sunbeam for inspiring me to write this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts of: Questions

On the way to Englewood Beach, my wife and I stopped at a McDonalds for a quick snack.  In the parking lot was an 80’s vintage Dodge Aries K-Car in fairly decent shape.  On the side window it said, “I’m cool” and there was a waxed mustache symbol on the back window.

A single thought hounded me that day.  “K-Cars are cool?”

I owned a K-Car back in the day.  In fact it was my very first car.  It was a 1983 Dodge Aries station wagon.  Silver with red interior.  To make it even more rare, it has a stick shift, not automatic.  That wagon was many things for me.  Freedom, privacy, adventure, transport, moving van, and mechanical school.  It was all that, but I have to admit that in my era it was never considered “cool”.  In fact, I can honestly say that I never had a girl look at it and say, “Nice ride!”

I also wore squarish, plastic framed glasses back then.  While they did have some “style” to them, like the K-Car, they were picked because of economy instead of fashion.

Same for my clothing.  I never bought $100 jeans.  Hell, I thought $25 Levis to be outrageous.  Rustler’s worked fine for me.

So I had to wonder, was I a Hipster before my time?

I did have one jazz album on cassette.  Vital Information – Global Beat if you must know.

Steve Smith, the drummer from Journey was a forming member of the band and I had to have everything that was musically related to Journey at the time.

Thinking about it, I believe that having a “Mullet” haircut probably disqualifies me from the group.  It is funny though to look back and see how many things I had are now considered trendy in a way.

I did have a 1968 VW Beetle.  These are cool on different levels.  Just the age alone now-days makes them classic.  Then there is the whole “Herbie” factor.  (One guy even begged his wife to stop and rent “The Love Bug” after seeing my car.)

Then there was the time I worked at Saturn.  (I sold the SL, SC, and L models; that’s small sedans, small coupes in 2000.) These seem to be hipster cars too now.

Flannel plaid shirts seem to always be in fashion and Journey has ridden its x-number wave of popularity.  (Steve Perry is working on a new album too!)

So the question remains: does this random act of convergence mean anything subliminally and should I even care?

I never tried to be trendy.  If anything I tried to present myself as independent.  I preferred trails in the parks and woods over the bars and cafés.  I always picked clothing on if I thought it looked nice, and not if it was in a magazine or opposite of it.

I will concede the haircut.  I got that because Steve Perry had one in the “Raised on Radio” era.  It just had to be done.

In the end, the answer seems to be, So what.

So what if some things I did might seem trendy now.  So what it they didn’t.  It didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now. The only thing that matters it that I enjoyed the time as I was in it.  A trend here and there adds to the spice of your life, but doesn’t rule it.  Do what you want and don’t worry about what other’s think.  Now or in the future.  Who knows what the next trend will be.  Maybe you’ll visit that old ghost from your past.  Go up to it and shake hands.  Then go right on and look to the future.  Because as well all know, that’s where the really great adventures lie.

Thoughts of: Faded passion

My latest issue of Four Wheeler came in the mail two days ago. (Not the issue pictured) I was genuinely excited to see it.  It sits next to my computer as I type this with over 95% of it unread.

There’s just nothing in it that interests me.  There should be.  In fact, I should’ve devoured this magazine the moment I got it because the main subject and supporting subjects are for full size trucks.

As an owner of a Chevy Silverado Z-71, I should be all over it.  But there it sits as I eye it with dispassion.

Dispassion is the defining point.  For roughly the last 6 or more issues, I have had less and less passion for this magazine.

That wasn’t always the case.

I started reading Four Wheeler when I was in seventh grade.  Back then I didn’t buy the magazine or subscribe.  My friend’s older brother had a subscription and I would just read his.  It was a great supplement to my auto enthusiast reading.

I read Car and Driver, Auto Week, Automobile, and Road and Track every day at school instead of eating lunch.  It was quieter and more nutritional.  With these magazines, I learned about 0 to 60 times, Lateral Gs, stopping distances, slalom times, and new mechanical technologies.  If you wanted to go fast on the track or on a deserted stretch of winding road, these were the rags to read.

Four Wheeler introduced me to the other side of the coin.  Technical four wheel driving.  Here you didn’t drive fast to reach the ragged edge, here you had to drive slow.  There were similarities to the driving styles.  In both racing and four wheeling there is a “line” you need to follow for maximum control, get loose and wrecking your vehicle is the least of your worries.  Control is everything.  Concentrate and observe.  Great lessons for any driver.

To be Honest, I might not have gotten hooked into the world of four wheeling if it hadn’t been for Car and Driver’s article about the Rubicon Run and the TV show, Simon and Simon.

But as exciting as it was to read about the racing or rock crawling, the stories that always got my attention were the adventures.  From driving out west in a modified Four Taurus station wagon (aka the Billy Wagon) to running the Al-Can Highway with a can of dog food for emergencies to traveling to Brazil in a pickup, the stories of high adventure showed me a world that I could dive deep into.  All it would take is a capable vehicle and money for gas.  My own personal USS Enterprise to explore strange and unknown places.  And that’s just Toledo.  Who knows what else it out there.

I wanted to see everything and I soon realized my options would be greater if I owned a truck.  A four wheel drive truck.

That’s what hooked me.

Four Wheeler did a lot to feed my addiction.  At the time Four Wheeler always had a story about exploration in another country, sometimes a second travel story as well.  All the technical mechanics stories were there to create a stronger vehicle for the adventure ahead.  The adventure was the main focus.  At least in my mind.

These last six issues have had little or no stories of exploration.  No high adventure to open the mind and get the imagination flowing.  No “What if?” or “I could be there!”  It’s all about the sport now.   Heavily modified, purpose built vehicles, designed and built for one objective.  They might as well be indy cars. I still enjoy the occasional race, but for the most part, I just don’t get into it anymore.  About the only motor sport I pay any attention to anymore is American LeMans series.  In these races you have three separate classes of cars on the same track at the same time running at different speeds.  At least there’s some realism there.  I can relate to that.  It’s like going down the freeway and trying to pass that Geo Metro that’s blocking the road.  These extreme four wheel drive rigs just don’t work for me.  I don’t care that you’ve got 42 inch tires and can fit over that boulder in the middle of the trail.  A regular person would just go around it or put dirt in front and behind it so as to get over the thing without damaging their ride.

I want to see the beautiful vistas and glorious natural skylines at the end of the two track, not another bunch of pictures of tube buggies hung up on rocks or rigs stuck in a pit of mud.  Get to the good stuff!

I guess I shouldn’t be too hard.  John Cappa is working hard to make Four Wheeler the best he knows how.  He came into the business through of road racing and challenges like Four Wheeler’s Top Truck Challenge.  It’s what he knows and is used to.  He also replaced an Editor in Chief who boasted of his liking to fire people and penchant for hiding out during big off-roading events that brought big names and products from manufacturers out to play.

That guy didn’t have the passion.  He liked writing and had a decent concept, but his heart wasn’t in it.

Cappa’s got his heart in it.  It’s just that his focus of passion is not what mine is.  So three months from now I will let my subscription end and end this era in my life.  From 1983 to 2012 I’ve read or owned Four Wheeler magazine.  For the most part, I’ve enjoyed it.  It was a fun ride.  It’s just not what I’m looking for anymore.

Good Luck to you guys.  I hope it works out.  Until then, I’ll be scouting around for another magazine to grab my attention and feed my passion.

Thoughts of: MPG cars

My friend, Eric was explaining to me that he would soon be paying off his truck and planned on keeping it while buying the Camaro he always dreamed of owning.

That got me thinking.  My truck is paid off, but I don’t relish filling up the gas tank.  It might not be a bad idea to look for an economy car to zip around with while keeping the truck for the heavy lifting.  Besides, the truck’s been through multiple hurricanes and countless heroics.  How do you just leave a buddy like that?

So I let my mouse do the scrolling and looked at the two latest economy fun cars.  The Ford Fiesta and the Chevy Sonic.  $18,000 M.S.R.P.?  Yikes!  Yeah, It’s been a long time since I priced out a car, but that’s only six grand less than what my truck was with V-8, four wheel drive, and off road package.  Yeesh!

My mind went back to Eric and his dream car.  Why couldn’t I do that in a fashion?  Why couldn’t I look for cars I wanted back in my high school days and pick out the ones that had good mileage?

That’s when the fun began.  There is nothing like going from site to site, hunting down the cars of your past to see if any survived with dignity.

Two came quickly to mind:

  • The Dodge Charger Shelby 2.2
  • The Cadillac Cimarron

I liked the Charger because everybody wanted either a Camaro or Mustang back then.  The Charger was Dodge’s competitor until they came out with the Daytona.  Truth be told, the Charger was a slug!  It was so slow that when Lee Iaccoca advertised the thing, he threw 0-50 stats on the page instead of the recognized 0-60 stats.  He avoided quarter mile statistics all together.

That didn’t matter to me.  I liked how it looked and I liked it was an underdog.  I always liked the underdog back then.  (Still do sometimes.)

The Cadillac Cimarron is the complete opposite.  The first time I saw one was on a used car lot.  It was small like me, but it seemed to have style.  Especially when compared to the Cavalier, Firenza, and J-2000/Sunbird that were built along side it.  (Buick had a version as well, but I can’t recall it’s name.)

The Cimarron was a huge flop for Cadillac.  It was their first small car and they had no idea who to market it to, or how to market it.  Instead of focusing on the BMW 3 series, like they should’ve;  Caddy turned it into a mini deville.  Then they threw on an outlandish $14,000 price tag on it when the average Chevy Cavalier was $8,500.  Another way to look at it, that car was created twenty four years ago, but priced only $4,000 less than today’s Fiesta or Sonic.

Then I went completely selfish and looked up the two seat Fiero.  A decent car killed when Pontiac threw in a 16 valve, turbocharged 4 cylinder in it that was faster than the Corvette of the time.

I also looked at the Jeep Wrangler and Suzuki Samurai.  The jeep gets horrible mileage unless you get the four cylinder version.  Then it’s gets bad mileage while being slow as tar.  The Samurai gets great mileage, but the suspension will put you on a first name basis with your local chiropractor.

Out of nostalgia for my car sales days, I looked for a Saturn SL-2 10th Anniversary edition.

While sifting through all this, I was amazed at what I found.  There is a 1986 Shelby Charger, a 1988 Cimarron, and a Fiero all with less than 40,000 original miles on them listed for ten grand or less.

So for 10K I can get a low mileage, vintage 80’s high school dream car that gets mid-thirties highway mpg to drive every day.  But should I do that?  These cars have become rare just through attrition.  They somehow survived the rigors of daily life for the average car.  Should I force that upon one when I could honestly be considered a collectors or future collector’s item?

But then again, will they ever be truly collector cars?  There might be a case for the Fiero since it was a sporty two seater, but for the other two, one was a tarted-up Cavalier and the other was a stretched two door Omni.  Does anyone besides me ever look back at these two cars and regret not buying one?

Of course, there is another option all together that avoids the entire debate.  A first gen Miata.

There’s still scads of these around with low miles and they are priced every bit as low as the others mentioned.  With so many out there I wouldn’t feel like I was destroying a piece of potential history and could still one of the cars I dreamed of when I was younger, albeit at an older age.

So which would you choose if you had 10K to plink down on any of the older cars listed.  Let me know what you pick and why in the response section.  In the meantime, I’ll try to decide which one would be my best choice.  I doubt if I’ll get one anytime soon, but it’s fun to kick around.

Ramblings on: Dreaming Big.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunlight streaked off the flat panels of stainless steel.

“Is that what I think it is?”  The lady standing next to me asked in an awed whisper.

“Yes.” I answered, “It’s a Delorian.”

“I want it!”  She replied, excitedly.  “It matches my kitchen appliances.”

I laughed while imagining the car as some sort of artistic island in the middle of a kitchen.  Stainless steel appliances surrounding it the proper triangle position with concrete counter-tops and white, modernistic cabinets completing the look.  With stainless pulls, of course.

Then I thought again of the car.  Here was one man’s dream come to life.  How often can a person say that?   True, the finished product was not the car he had dreamed of when he started; but John Z. Delorian took that dream and chose to run with it.  Along the way, he ran into the unyielding crash wall of reality.  The engine that wasn’t his first choice.  The recreating of the chassis from the original.  The use of stainless steel for the body instead of the polymers that he wanted.  Through all that, he still made the car.  It was a triumph.

Too bad, John Z. focused more on his presence than the company.  As much as he spent on Delorian Motor Company, he spent just as high a percentage on his office and lifestyle.  He wanted to start big.  He wanted to compete against the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini both in cars and presence.  If he had just focused on the cars, he might have made it.  Instead of going head to head with Ferrari, he could’ve slotted his car between Ferrari and Corvette.  This would’ve given him the entrance he needed for success.

There is another car company out there that shows how an exotic dream can be made into reality and survive the harsh world of reality.  The company is called Morgan and it is every bit the exotic that Delorian wanted his cars to be.  The way they achieved this is in direct opposite of Delorian.  Instead of exotic polymers and unique metals, Morgan has a frame made of wood and is clad in regular steel.  Instead of high tuned suspensions, the Morgan has tried and true technology.  Instead of gull wing doors and computers, there are needle dials and pull tabs.  But most of all, where Delorian focused on his image to bring in more money, Morgan focused on their cars.  They slowly evolve while the people who build them by hand sweat the details.

True the Morgan will never out run a Ferrari or Lambo; but it is the physical embodiment of a dream.  That alone should inspire us to follow ours.