My virtual visit to the North American International Auto Show to visualize the event and live vicariously the moment.

 Ah the Detroit Auto Show.  Now here’s an auto show!  I grew up around this annual homage to the great automobile and have yet to be (completely) disappointed.  I was there as a kid during the bad years of the seventies and eighties when lust for carts was so low that outside vendors where there to show off the latest blender.  (True fact!)  I remember crawling all over the contractor/farm trucks in 79, being floored at the outrageously high sticker price of the 84 Corvette ($14,000), misspelling my own name when getting an autograph from Susan Napoli at the Yugo stand.  (Hey.  I was 15 and she was a Penthouse Pet.), and loving the fact that Detroit Piston star Isaiah Thomas was getting publicly crucified for promoting Toyota cars at the show.  (Bad form, old mate, bad form.)

I would’ve loved to have gone to this year’s show, but life just decided to throw other things my way.  Luckily, I can get all the good dirt and visual scenes right here on my computer by going to the NAIAS website.  No, II don’t get to jump in all the various production models, pop the hoods and crawl all around them; but I also don’t have to worry about crowds of people pushing to see the new Stingray or Silverado either.

And as for food, well I can half boil a hotdog here and eat it if I really want that experience again.

I was going to break down my favorites by type and style, but since not everything has been released or posted, I’ll just hit the highlights.

Let’s start big. No, not the Corvette Stingray.  Everybody and their grandmother has already talked about that.  I’m talking about the family truckster.  The rig that your tribe piles into and beats the crap out of both inside and out.  The one vehicle that get no respect.  The Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible.

Here is a full sized, two door convertible that will comfortably seat five with all their luggage.  Besides the comfy leather seats and pliant ride, this car will also make sure the kids aren’t late for soccer practice with its 202 miles per hour top speed.

Yeah.  202.

I don’t know about the 0 to 60 times or the quarter mile specs, but there’s gotta be something wonderfully delicious about blowing past a Ferrari on the freeway with your kid sticking his tongue out at them.  (Plus you finally get to find out at what speed that toy pinwheel finally spins off its stick.)

Next are the Ford Transit Connect, Transit Van, and Atlas concept truck.  I found the Transit Connect interesting since I wrote about the earlier edition as a good platform for a new camper van.  The new one should work every bit as well.

The Atlas concept did give a good blend of what the future light duty and heavy duty trucks will look like, but the main thing I found interesting was redesign of the tailgate step.  In its new design, it can act as a rear rack to allow work related items such as ladders to fit in a channel on the roof, a great idea; but what I see is a way to carry that long canoe or kayak so it isn’t sticking out the bed of your truck.  This item needs to be standard on all new trucks.

Finally the Stingray.  (You knew I wasn’t going to let this one go, right?)

This car screams excitement.  It’s destined to be the new obligatory poster on every teenager’s bedroom wall and in every college dorm.  It’s lithe.   It’s lean.  It’s powerful.  It’s a beautiful design in every way… but one.  The taillights suck! Call me a fuddy-duddy purist but Corvettes are supposed to have round taillights not square.  Every Corvette that had square taillights was designed wrong and these escapees from the Camaro definitely do not belong on a car of this caliber.  Everything else works though.

This year’s North American International Auto Show is making out to be a good one.  I wish I was there, but at least I can visit virtually.

Thoughts of: The next Campervan

I caught The Bus today.  Not in the usual fashion as you would expect. I didn’t have to stand on the street waiting for it to arrive, worry about exact change, or even concern myself with finding a seat once it came.  Nope I just rushed home and threw on the Documentary Channel after work.  You see, The Bus I’m referring to is a movie and not public transportation.

The Bus”, by Damon Ristua, is all about the Volkswagen Vans (Station Wagons) and Campers from the 50’s to the 90’s and the various owners that love them.  Along with the obligatory hippies and surfers, you also get some explorers and people who use there van as a work horse.

It was an entertaining and honest movie showing the benefits of being able to fix and maintain the thing with a hammer and adjustable wrench, while showing the pitfalls of horrendous front end safety in a crash (think tin foil in front of your legs and the car that just braked late), potential engine fires, and general lack of power.

As I sat, watching the movie, one question kept screaming in my head.

Can there be another campervan?

In the light of today’s safety, emission, and fuel efficiency regulations, can you make a camper that has the same persona as the original VW?  More importantly, Can it be done affordably?

The first thing I’m going to throw out the window is the ability to work on it with basic hand tools.  With computers, various vacuum hoses, multiple fuse boxes, relays and sensors everywhere, there is no way an average person can work on any modern vehicle without schematics and computer programs designed specifically for that vehicle.  (And that’s not including hybrid or electric vehicles.)

The rest might work though.  I would not use the VW Routan for a base vehicle.  With a $27,000 M.S.R.P. starting price, that thing is way too expensive.  Besides, the Routan is secretly a rebadged Dodge Grand Caravan!  Dodge has a version that starts at roughly $21,000.  But even with the fantastic stow and go seating, there still are some problems with the Dodge.  The roof’s too low and it doesn’t seem to have the “personality” that the old bus has.  Is there one that does?

How about the Ford Transit Connect?

The Transit Connect has a high roofline to make moving around easier than a standard minivan.  In fact, the dimensions are fairly comparable.

  • Height:  VW 78”         Ford 79”
  • Width:   VW 71.2”     Ford 77”  (83.2” counting the mirrors)
  • Length:  VW 172.4”   Ford 180.6”

Ford has made it possible the most factory customizable vehicle out there.  You can choose how many windows you want.  There’s seating for two or five. And there are various factory and supplier options available.

You can start with a two seat, XL van for as low as $22,265 or move up to the five seat, XLT Premium Wagon for $24,040.  That’s roughly $3,000 to $5,000 less than the Routan.

Now we need a pop top to sleep in.  The VW campervan had theirs built in and while recreating that would cost a good amount of money, we can create a similar place by adding a specialized camping tent to the roof.  Multiple companies make them and they sell anywhere from $900 to $1,500 depending on make and model.  The $996 ( + 145 shipping in the lower 48) poly-cotton 2 person tent by Cartop Campers comes with a 2.75 inch foam mattress, and ladder. While it doesn’t give the headroom of the original “pop top” VW, it is larger and just as comfortable.

Next we need a good fridge.  I’d go with an ARB fridge.  Made to withstand the rigors of off road use while out in the elements, this fridge is compact and sturdy.  Perfect for the job at hand.

But what about storage?  The VW camper van had built in cabinets as well as a sink and stove.  How do you get that?  I’d go with one of Ford’s listed affiliate companies, Sortimo.

Sortimo makes all sorts of wonderful shelves, drawers, boxes, and other items that can be switched out and interchanged with each other.

Their Globelyst M. system has metal framework that secures the plastic accessories to make the cabinets system you want.

You could easily fit a propane stove in the shelf system and create your own pump sink system for water.  (I’d also wager that if enough people asked for it, they would make one to meet demand.)  A table is easy to toss in too.

About the hardest part would be the lay out.  VW put the passenger seats in the way back, over the engine.  This created an open floor plan to maximize efficiency.  The Ford Transit Connect has the dilemma of placing the passenger seats in the middle as well as having two sliding doors.  If you only want the front seats, there’s no problem for the passenger row, but I’d like to see an aftermarket company create a proper mounting kit that would let you relocate some if not all of those passenger seats to the very back of the van.  As for the problem of the second sliding door; just pick one not to use and place some Sortimo items in front of it.

All in all, when finished the new Camper Van should cost between $28,000 to $30,000.  Not cheap by any standards, but comparable with the starting price of a Ford E-Series Wagon or Super Duty Pickup.  Definitely do-able.

The VW camper was a great way to get generations of people off the couch and into the world around them.  The Ford Transit Sport could do the same.  Love beads not included.