May 112013
 

Automotive companies have made waves in recent years with retro inspired styling.  All of the major American brands introduced one or multiple models that paid homage to styling from the 60s and 70s.  These cars give buyers from older generations a gateway into their pasts with modern versions of models from a simpler time, while also giving younger buyers a taste of the fast muscle car era.

What is interesting about the retro styling movement is that it’s limited to automobiles only.  Clearly there is an emotional attachment to our cars and the isolated nature of the automotive retro movement is proof of that.  The retro movement didn’t show up in any other form of consumer transportation, from motorcycles, to boats, and so on.  In fact, this retro styling movement did not show up in any other form of, well…anything.  Think about recent releases of other products in other industries.  From homes, to home appliances, to all forms of computers and electronics, to furniture, and so on, we didn’t see any real “throwback” trend.  The goods we were buying continued to get sleeker and more modern looking and feeling.

Now coming back to cars, I know some may say that perhaps the Chrysler PT Cruiser started the modern automotive retro styling movement.  I think they would be right.  After all, it was introduced in 2001.  But really, who cares about that awful throwback hearse anyway?!  That’s why this discussion is centered on the faster, flashier cars that better defined the retro styling movement.  This brings me to what is arguably the peak of this movement, and one of my favorites, the introduction of the 2005 Ford Mustang.

2005 Ford Mustang

Courtesy of Serious Wheels

This generation Ford Mustang ushered in an era of precise retro styling working in perfect harmony with current day technology.  It is really an automotive engineering marvel.  It closely replicated the styling of the late-1960s Mustang while adding a few aerodynamic cues, better fuel economy and better reliability.  This allowed the car to have mass appeal across generations of buyers and fans.  Men and women alike fell in love with this release of the Mustang.

That same year Chrysler released the 300 and the following year the Dodge brand released the Charger.  This was good for them because it helped boost sales within these brands, but was actually a little irrelevant considering the competition wasn’t promoting a retro styling movement in the full size sedan segment.  Think about it, did you see Cadillac taillight fins make a comeback?

It took until 2008 for another automaker to answer the call of the retro styled Mustang.  Dodge answered with the release of the Challenger, followed by GM finally reintroducing a retro styled Camaro in 2010.  All of these cars followed a similar retro styling philosophy to Ford with the Mustang.  Only issue here is that the Challenger and Camaro were three and five years too late, respectively.

Fast forward to the end of 2009 and we see that the Mustang was refreshed as a 2010 model, showing some curve while attempting to preserve the essence of the retro styling.  It is retro with a Euro-Japanese twist.  Clearly Ford starting transitioning out of the retro styling movement almost as quickly as it went in.

2015 Ford Mustang conceptualized

2015 Ford Mustang conceptualized, courtesy of Edmunds’ What’s Hot

The 2015 Ford Mustang has been conceptualized, and the departure from the retro styled late-1960s throwback is becoming even more evident.  Ford designers are taking the Mustang in a different direction, sleeker while keeping a strong presence.  It looks ready to go up against anything Europe has to throw at it, but the real question is whether the average buyer will be into it.  Regardless, if the Mustang defined the peak of the retro styling movement, then here in this case it is also marking the end.

This entry was first posted here on April 12, 2013.

Oct 192012
 

When I think retro styling, the 2005 Ford Mustang immediately comes to mind. It kicked off a new generation of coupes and sedans from the Chevrolet Camaro to the Dodge Charger. But if we really look back at the retro movement, another auto maker is responsible for really getting it started. This week’s Car of the Week pays tribute to that auto maker that comes from and is inspired by what’s going on across the pond. I give you this week’s Car of the Week:

2002 Mini Cooper

Why?

Retro Euro styling + BMW backing = Huge Success!! OK, enough with my math geek-ery, let’s talk about the car already. When the Mini Cooper was introduced, it was the hottest car going. And why not? It was retro sexy AND you could get it for under $17,000. Even 10 years later it still starts at under $20,000. Back then it turned so many heads that chiropractor billing was notably up in 2002! (OK, not really) If the price tag wasn’t enough, the base model got gas mileage in the upper 30′s. That may have not been as big a deal in 2002, but I’ll tell you I’m thinking about it these days with gas back at $4.00/gal. A pre-owned Mini Cooper is looking like a fun stylish daily driver for 2012.

About the Car

The 2002 Mini Cooper was available in one body style, the now iconic hatchback. Two engine configurations were available, a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder and a supercharged version that added approximately 50 hp. Three transmission configuration options were available, a 5-speed manual or a CVT automatic on the base model or a 6-speed manual on the supercharged model.

Whether you were looking for awesome fresh retro styling, utility or just some fun out-of-the-box, the Mini Cooper was, and continues to be an attractive (and affordable) option. I’m thinking about adding one to my “collection”. What about you?

Other Resources

Wikipedia: the original Mini (to be taken with a grain of salt, of course)
Wikipedia: Mini under BMW (to be taken with a grain of salt, of course)
Motoring Alliance: the friendly Mini Community 
Road & Track road test of the 2002 Mini Cooper
Motor Trend road test of the 2002 Mini Cooper

Chuck can be followed on Twitter @ChuckWhatTheF where he tweets about cars and other things “dudebros” are talking about.

Some photos in this article are freely sourced from Google. If you take issue with the usage of any image, please contact us and we will remove it.

Sep 242012
 
2006 Civic

Editor’s note: Not all car lovers are nuts-and-bolts people. Many don’t understand how most critical systems work. People for whom cars hold a sentimental or emotional value (“sentimentalists,” if you will), though, are an integral part of the automotive community. Far too many see the car as an expensive appliance and fail to appreciate the impact they have on our lives.  Sentimentalists provide that middle ground between car nerds (like, say, me) and the automotive philistines that carmakers seem to slowly be pandering to more and more. Here is one person’s story – an excellent example of why you don’t have to be a level-5 gearhead to love cars. –Chris

Full disclosure: this will not be a “car guy” post like you have seen before on this site, primarily for the following reasons:

#1: I’m not going to talk about things like tire size, horsepower, torque, steering, chassis, engines, or specs. Those posts are great, but I’ll leave those to the real experts.

#2: I’m not a guy.

I do, however, have a keen appreciation for and odd sentimental attachment to cars.

First, there’s something you have to understand about me. For my entire life, I’ve been developing these profoundly sentimental attachments. I blame this on all the hours I spent with my dad listening to music as a child. I’ve been heavily influenced by Cetera-era Chicago, Gilbert O’Sullivan, and countless other “mellow” soft rock artists. This was reinforced by my elementary school music teacher who made us sing the greatest hits from Chicago, The Carpenters, and, later, Ace of Base.

The music inspired not only a fierce sense of sentimentality, but a flair for the dramatic, as well. When I was seven my mom told me she was throwing my favorite stuffed animals (and best friends!) away because I didn’t clean my room. I “borrowed” her camera and spent a whole afternoon sobbing while carefully posing and photographing my stuffed animals so I could remember them forever.

She never threw them away. I still have them. It’s not weird. But I digress.

In 1986 my parents purchased a brand-spanking-new, red, shiny, luxurious, enviable… Chevy Astro. It was not even to be the boxiest of vehicles we would own. The van was great. So much cooler than my dad’s old Cutlass Ciera (don’t get jealous) or the Pontiac LeMans that would later replace it.

I loved that van, not for the piece of machinery that it was or any features it had (the only feature I was aware of, by the way, was one that I later learned was not even native to the vehicle: America’s History album on cassette, playing over and over and over again). I loved that car because of what it represented to me: childhood. It was family vacations to Ocean City, days spent at my grandma’s swimming pool with my cousins, and even bringing my newborn brother home from the hospital.

So in 1995 when my dad announced that we were trading in ye olde Astro for a brand-spanking-new model, a white, shiny, luxurious, enviable Ford Windstar (what-what?) … I threw a fit. I was twelve, and therefore probably just a tiny bit on the incredibly freakin’ dramatic side, but seriously. He was trying to destroy all of my happy childhood memories and I would never accept that Windstar as a new era for me.

For the first half of my teenage years, my bedroom walls were 100% covered, floor-to-ceiling, with pictures of Jonathan Taylor Thomas that had been carefully removed from Tiger Beat, Teen Beat, and Bop! magazines. The outside of my bedroom door, on the other hand, was adorned with a picture of a Ford Windstar that I had cut out of one of the dealership books we’d received. I used construction paper to cut out a big circle to enclose this image, and then placed a slash through it.

My friends thought I was super weird. I was just making a statement that all ‘tween girls make, though.

I am completely anti-Ford Windstar.

I never did accept that car. Not even years later when I sometimes practiced driving in it. I hated it with every fiber of my being and liked to frequently tell my dad how it was such a piece of crap. After it broke down on the way to Florida and the closest Ford garage refused to service it, he finally started listening to reason and agreeing with me. Clearly I was so knowledgeable.

Gosh. It was like he hadn’t even grown up as the car guy son of another car guy.

(For the record, my paternal grandfather died before I was born, but he was a successful used car salesman. He and my dad and my uncles used to go to car auctions and drive around in basically whatever car they wanted. So cars have been a thing for me pretty much since I was three and my dad invented a game for us called “guess the make and model of the next car that drives by our house.”)

Anyway, there’s no point in walking you through every vehicle my family has owned and my weirdo attitudes about them. Suffice it to say that we found our groove with Honda years ago, returning to that manufacturer after the 1992 Accord we had leased for a while was deemed to be one of the best cars we ever gave back.

2000 Honda Accord

Me with the 2000 Accord, heading to my Jr. Prom to dazzle people (and weird them out) with information about the Accord’s disc brakes.

I learned to drive in my dad’s 1996 Honda Civic. I named her Cyndi, and I loved the hell out of that car (even when her manifold was cracked and she sounded like a bar fly.) His next move was a blue 2000 Accord (which, given my fondness for the Grinch, I named Cyndi Blue-Who). I accompanied him on a warm May afternoon to pick it up at the dealership. He let me drive it off the lot and back to our house, and I drove my date and myself to my junior prom in it later that evening. While all of the other girls were talking about how many bobby-pins and gallons of hairspray they’d used or where their flowers had come from, I was the weirdo trying to tell people about the Accord’s disc brakes.

Like a race car, guys!

So anyway, fast forward to October 2005. I was driving around in a used 1991 Accord that, prior to my college graduation, my sister and I had shared (at least until my dad bought his box o’fun – a “sunset orange pearl” Element, and undoubtedly the boxiest vehicle we ever owned). Its name was Winslow and it smelled like old man pee (according to one friend, and the sentiment just sort of stuck).

I was just about two months into my first real-world job teaching ninth graders how to speak English “real good and stuff” and my crippling student loans hadn’t kicked in just yet. Plus, paying suburban rent every month actually made my checkbook cry. My dad and I had discussed how I wanted a new car and that hopefully I’d be able to afford one soon after I saw what my loans were going to be like. I’d even told him that I kind of liked the look of the upcoming 2006 Civic.

“That light blue color is really sharp,” I’d said, proving my coolness.

So I was sitting outside my friend’s apartment complex one Saturday afternoon that October, talking to Dave Coulier on the phone. (Yes, that Dave Coulier. Cut-it-out!) I’d be happy to tell you how it came to be that I was talking to this man of Full-House-and-Alanis-Morrissette fame on the phone, but leave a comment if you want to know. I should really try to stay on topic.

Dave and I were discussing how I taught ninth grade English and my students called me The Hatchet. He informed me, ever so wisely, that Mary Kate and Ashley had been in ninth grade once. In the midst of this stimulating conversation, my cell phone beeped to inform me that my dad was on the other line.

“Well, Dave, this has been fun, but my dad’s calling me.” Happy trails, Dave. He was a really nice guy.

I answered the phone and my dad just launched right into it.

“Hi, Renee. Hey, I just wanted to let you know – I hope you can afford to make car payments because I just ordered your car for you. It’s an ’06 Civic, that light blue color. It’s going to be manufactured in early December and you’ll have it by Christmas.”

Le sigh. I was excited about my new car for sure. But I have this little problem with anxiety attacks (see: above story about stuffed animals) and so I freaked out for a while about making payments.

It was December 22, 2005 when I parked Winslow in the lot at the Honda dealership by my parents’ house. I thanked him for his years of service and told him to take it easy.

A number of formalities later, Ken, my dad’s Honda salesman of choice, walked me out onto the showroom floor and introduced me to my new car, Beverly. Cue up Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture. (No, seriously, click on that. It’s cued up to exactly what I heard in my head when I saw my beloved Beverly for the first time. Totally normal.)

2006 Civic

Almost seven years later, she still sings “Forever Your Girl” to me. (I have absolutely nothing to do with it.)

Bev and I have had our share of tough times – namely when I had to stand outside a very tall gate at 2 a.m. with $150 in exact change (aka, my whole savings account at the time) and wait for a guy named Donny in an F-350 to retrieve her from the tow company. Or when she just stopped on the highway and made me walk up a hill in heels in mid-June in Virginia.

I’ve never outgrown that sentimental attachment to my car. Sure, I look at other cars. I think about what I might like in the future, but I’m attached to mine, especially now that she’s paid off and actually mine. I know I can’t possibly be the only person who has conversations with my car. I might, however, be the only person who suspects her car is pals with the Transformer Bumblebee. When I’m in my car, I think. I work out problems. I talk to myself. I’m also totally obsessed with music, and Beverly, like Bumblebee, seems to have a knack for playing the perfect song at the perfect time. (Again, it’s not weird.)

Driving, for me, isn’t just a mode of transportation. It’s an enjoyable activity and it helps me clear my head. Sometimes I like finding myself in challenging driving situations. Sometimes I like getting lost and figuring my way out, even if I’ve made the trip more difficult than it really needs to be.

I might not be able to rattle off specs, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still enjoy and appreciate cars. It certainly doesn’t change my attachments to them, strange as they may be. This is my car story. What’s yours?

Renee is waiting for someone to write a song about her life so that she can just quote the lyrics in her author bios. In the mean time, connect with her on Twitter: @writingrenee.

Apr 202012
 

If you have been paying attention, you will notice that this is the first COTW that isn’t a carryover from my old site. For the past several weeks I have been allowing the older cars to run in review while I worked on other areas and got the new, official site up and running. Now, though, we can get back down to business. For my triumphant return to COTW I wanted to pick something that would be interesting to a large number of people; something that is both powerful and economical; something that in some way represents the future. Why, then, did I pick a truck? Read on.

This weeks (brand new!) car of the week:

2012 Ford F-150 EcoBoost

Why?

My Uncle recently bought one of these and several aspects piqued my curiosity. First, he is a boat owner and uses his truck to tow his baby to and from the arena. His past several trucks have been Dodge Rams, but Dodge’s recent aversion to leasing drove him to the Ford brand. Despite the fact that this F-150 is a V6, the torque numbers and tow ratings are pretty impressive. According to Ford, the EcoBoost engine makes 420 lb-ft. of torque at a startling 2500 rpm. Not bad for only 3.5 liters.

In spite of its power, though, the truck is capable of fuel mileage as high as the low 20s on the highway and unlike the big V8 trucks, that mileage doesn’t drop off a cliff when you attach a load to the back. Ford’s boost management keeps the fuel consumption linear and manageable.

Finally, I just think it’s cool that there is a twin-turbo V6 in a truck. That may be sacrilege to some, but turbos have always provided a remarkably efficient way to make more power. It was only a matter of time before they became a true displacement alternative in the highly competitive gas-powered truck market.

About the Car

Ford debuted the EcoBoost concept in 2007, but it did not see production until the 2010 model year. That year it was used in the Ford Flex, several Lincoln models and, most notably, the Ford Taurus SHO. Ford used this last platform to tout its ability to make a high-performance sport sedan without using a large-displacement engine and without sacrificing fuel consumption. Models available with EcoBoost engines continue to increase each model year.

EcoBoost engines use a direct injection system that deposites fuel directly in to the combustion chamber. This enables very close control of the amount of fuel and the timing of injection. In combination with the additional air provided by the turbo system, this results in an extremely efficient mixture.

Although the V6 engine is the centerpiece of the program, Ford also builds several other EcoBoost engines, including a 1.3 liter 3-cylinder, a 1.6 liter 4-cylinder and a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder, available in various applications around the world. As manufacturers are forced to use turbochargers in order to make horsepower while meeting stringent fuel consumption guidelines, EcoBoost will take a more prominent role in Ford’s entire model line. Should be interesting to watch.

Other Resources

Ford F-150 home page
Wikipedia: Ford EcoBoost (to be taken with a grain of salt, of course)
Wikipedia: Ford F-series (to be taken with a grain of salt, of course)
Automobile Magazine F150 EcoBoost review

Some photos in this article were freely sourced from Google. If you take issue with usage of any image, please contact me and I will remove it.

Apr 042012
 

When it comes to cars, Americans love their tradition. Ours are some of the oldest carmakers in the world, with the rich histories of OldsmobilePontiacPlymouthAMCEagle and Mercury adding to the culture of their parent companies.

Hm.

Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a little; maybe we have killed off more car history in the last 25 years than we have created. The fact remains, though, that America is the source of some of the greatest continuing nameplates in automotive history – the Mustang and Camaro, the Chrysler 300 line, the Corvette, the Charger and Challenger; the list goes on for quite a while.

But it’s not just the American companies that have long-lived, historic nameplates. The Honda Civic has been around the U.S. market for 40 years (it was introduced in ’72 as a ’73 model). The Toyota Corolla, introduced in 1968, is even older. It is a similar story with regards to their larger siblings, the Accord and Camry. These cars have been with us for so long that the names, and the cars themselves, it seems, have become beloved.

Or have they?

Last year, Toyota put out a press release detailing its upcoming 2012 Corolla. Included with the usual self-congratulatory descriptions of the car’s features was the following line: “The Corolla’s design, created with input from styling studios in Turin, Italy, strikes a sporty profile.”

Predictably, that quote was greeted with something bordering on raucous guffaws by the automotive world. The folks at Jalopnik had a particularly tongue-in-cheek reaction that I found thoroughly amusing. All joking aside, though, this does raise an interesting question from a communication perspective: if these cars have come to a point where their makers are reaching this deep to make them appear to be something that they clearly are not, simply to make them interesting, might it be time for a reboot?

2012 and 1973 Civics

Let’s take a moment and reflect on what these cars were and what they have become. The 2012 Honda Civic is roughly the same size as a Honda Accord sold 20 years ago, and more than 10 inches longer and 600 lbs. heavier than a similar Civic of 1988 vintage. Those disparities only grow the farther back we go. Similarly, the Corolla has grown in size and weight to match the Camry of 20-odd years ago – some 600 lbs. heavier and 7 inches longer than the “same” Corolla was in ’88.

So these are pretty clearly not the same cars that they were even two decades ago, let alone at their introduction. Why, then, do their makers continue to cling to the same old maddeningly incremental updates to the same old cars with the same old names? Why do they try to paint them as something they are not in order to make them look interesting?

Year after year the Civic, Corolla, Camry and Accord are all top-10 sellers in the American market. Is it the name that carries the weight? If so, why would automakers like Toyota feel the need to try to paint that name in an unreasonably flattering light?

Honestly, I think that Honda and Toyota don’t really know what they want cars like these to be anymore. In an effort to be everything to everyone, they have become, boring, soulless hulks, lacking the personality that once made their namesakes so interesting and attractive to car buyers.

I think it’s time to reconsider continuing model lines like these; time to toss out the old and tired and see where some new blood and new ideas lead you.

What do you think?

Mar 302012
 

This week’s COTW might not seem like one of my usual enthusiast-focused choices. I guess it’s not really, but auto enthusiasts, like sports enthusiasts, come in several varieties. Some like the raw appeal — the crack of the bat, the crunch of pads and helmets hitting each other; the roar of the engine, the feel of being pressed in to the seat. Others get more enjoyment from the statistics — following ERA, batting averages or QB ratings; tracking miles per gallon, getting the maximum mileage out of a set of tires or brakes.

This week’s car, I think, appeals more to the latter, although there is more to it than just bland numbers.

This week we will be looking at:

2012 Ford Focus Continue reading »

Mar 142012
 

The last time I wrote, I chose to take a bit of a nostalgic track, discussing three cars that, if I had my druthers, would not have died off in the ’90s. Evidently, I am not the only one who misses cars like the Honda Prelude either, since this month’s Automobile magazine features a bit on cars they want back. Right smack in the middle of the list was the Prelude. The hit counts also indicate that I may have hit a chord when focusing on that particular decade. Since I seem to be on a roll, I decided to milk this for a while.

For as great as the ’90s were as a transitional decade, successful transitions don’t happen without some… hiccups. The decade that gave us the Supra, the RX-7 and the 300ZX at their zenith, for instance, also gave us the dawn of the SUV craze. And for every Honda Civic or Nissan Maxima there seemed a spectral opposite from Ford or Chevy. Don’t get me wrong, though. Import manufacturers weren’t immune to making silly, ineffective or cheap cars either.

I guess the general gist I’m going for here is that though the ’90s were great in many ways, they also stunk in several others, automotively speaking. As a result, many names never made it to the next millennium. Here are three of the most egregious examples. Continue reading »

Mar 052012
 

The ’90s were an interesting time for me as an automotive enthusiast. It was in 1996 that I first developed a more-than-passing interest in cars. It was in 1998 that I got my license, and it was in 1999 that I first drove a car that I could call mine.

But the ’90s were also a formative decade for the auto industry. Gone were the old ways of the ’80s – slow, heavy, dubiously-styled cars encumbered by emissions controls that no one really understood. Yet to come were the huge technological leaps that would make cars more than just transportation, but mobile computers nearly capable of driving themselves. Continue reading »

Mar 052012
 

Every year around this time we find out what the best selling cars of the past year were and every year, we see the same thing. Americans, it seems, love two kinds of cars: big honking pickup trucks and bland, reliable sedans. America’s strange obsession with the pickup is fodder for another day, I think; it’s the cars that concern me right now. For the better part of 30 years, the Accord and Civic from Honda and the Camry and Corolla from Toyota have dominated the car segment of the top 1o. One would think that to achieve this, Honda and Toyota would have had to keep making these mainstays more intriguing to maintain public interest. Instead, they have steadily become more archetypal, more alike, more boring.

Nonetheless, Americans line up at dealers to spend anywhere from $15,000 to over $30,000 on these glorified appliances every year. I have to wonder, doesn’t anyone want to enjoy driving anymore? Surely there must be any number of cars out there that, for the same money would provide more fun, more class and more personality. I decided to look around and see what I could find. Continue reading »