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September 2010

1973-1979 Honda Civic

Is this the original Pregnant Roller Skate? Internet sources say no, pegging the VW Beetle as having earned that CB radio moniker among truckers. On the other hand, this was the first car I had heard referred to by that nickname back in the '70s and whenever I see one these days--rare though that is--that's what I think of it as. To be honest, back in the days of its introduction to the U.S., a lot of us probably saw the Civic and many of its Japanese subcompact brethren something like the dinosaurs viewed a diminutive little mammal in a certain Far Side cartoon: laughing their heads off while one of them noticed the first few snowflakes starting to fall. 1973_honda_civic_hatchback-pic-24154 Yeah, yeah we were wrong.

Then again, I still can't say I can work up a lot of enthusiasm for the car itself other than as an historically interesting object that started off one of the great success stories in American business. It was tiny, rusted out soon after driving it off the lot (at least in the Midwest), and had fairly unexceptional 0-60 times. Still, as the years have rolled by, I guess I've developed a certain fondness for the little bugger, maybe a bit like Austin Powers finally did with Mini Me by the third (otherwise best forgotten) movie in that series. Part of this has to do with my association here, delving into the forgotten cars of the past, but I am also part of the Civic owner base, at least by marriage if not blood: my Spousal Unit has driven a Civic for several years now, and I have come to view it as an absolutely brilliant car in its simplicity and functionality.

So, I write this missive as something of an ode to youthful folly and the wisdom of old(er) age. I won't go too far into the weeds on the particulars of the car itself, which would probably be boring anyway with such a straightforward little car, but simply give a few specs, a little history, and a couple of pictures to take you, gentle reader, back to those thrilling days of yesteryear when big cars were expensive, small cars were cheap, and the Little Car That Could foreshadowed an epic struggle pitting some Japanese upstarts against the titans of the U.S. auto industry.

Continue reading "1973-1979 Honda Civic" »

The "Strakermobile" from UFO

In my recent post on Cars Of The Future, circa 1970, I alluded to (and linked to a photo of) the car that appeared prominently in the British TV series UFO--and a couple of the commenters also mentioned it. The UFO car is an interesting story in itself, and it seems like a natural follow-up to my piece on cars that looked like UFOs.

For those of you who aren't old enough to have been there, UFO was a 26-episode series made in 1970, the first live-action TV series produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, who'd previously given the world the fanciful "Supermarionation" puppet shows Supercar, Fireball XL-5, and Thunderbirds. Set in the distant future year of 1980, UFO was the story of a top secret international agency with the wonderfully British name "Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation"--SHADO, for short--and its struggle to protect us from hostile aliens. SHADO had two missions: keep the aliens off the Earth, and, to prevent mass panic and social disorder, keep the people of Earth from finding out about the aliens.

Here's the title sequence, which should give you a feel for what it was like. The car appears at 0:09 or so.

Continue reading "The "Strakermobile" from UFO" »

Sept. 27 Weekly Open Thread

Take off your coat, pull up a chair, and join us here in the back of the Car Lust garage for some hot apple cider and good conversation.

Here's a trio of discussion-starters:

  • Ford is discontinuing its "Panther platform" large rear-wheel drive cars (Ford Crown Victoria & Police Interceptor, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car), and will close the plant that builds them about a year from now. The Panther is the oldest automotive platform still in use in North America, and the last to use traditional body-on-frame construction (other than trucks and SUVs). Over at The Truth About Cars, they marked this passage by declaring last week to be "Panther Appreciation Week." (Click that link and you should get a list of all their Panther Week articles.) Our own David Drucker has also written a pair of influential articles (1, 2) about the glories of his Panther-platform Mercury Grand Marquis.

  How about you--got any good Panther stories to tell?

  • This, on the other hand, is just plain wrong.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

Cars of Future Passed

1966 automobiles of the future I remember The Car Of The Future from when I was a kid.

The Car Of The Future of those days was usually a two-seater, most likely mid-engined, and probably powered by something wild like a turbine or a Wankel rotary or (for all I knew) a dilithium fusion reactor. It was low-slung, with a sharply-pointed nose and crisp aerodynamic lines and a dashboard straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Often as not, it did not have conventional doors; it would have gullwings or flip-up doors or maybe even the whole top half of the car would slide off like the canopy of a fighter plane.

You saw these futuremobiles at car shows, on the cover of magazines like Popular Mechanics, in a few SF movies and TV shows, and of course in the Hot Wheels catalog. (My personal favorite Hot Wheels toy was an open-top roadster interpretation of the future-car look.) Most of the full-sized ones were show cars, but a few were put into production. Those were all high-priced exotics--but it was only a matter of time before the design concepts and engineering from those Cars Of The Future trickled down and everything on the road looked like that. I just knew it was going to work out that way. In fact, I couldn't wait to grow up so I could drive one of these magnificent roadgoing spaceships.

With your indulgence, I'd like to set the WABAC machine to sometime around 1970 and take a closer look at some of those Cars Of The Future--and at the future that didn't quite happen.

Continue reading "Cars of Future Passed" »

Sept. 20 Weekly Open Thread

As usual, this is the place for the off-topic conversation that doesn't belong anywhere else.

I just returned from a one-week vacation, and am about to go into a week-long training, so I'm still trying to get caught up and make sense of things. Thanks for bearing with me!

--Chris H.

Project: 2001 Dodge Caravan headlight lens restoration

On a steamy July night I decided it was time to fix the headlight lenses on my 2001 Dodge Caravan. As you will see in the videos, over time they have gotten very dingy and yellowed. My solution to the problem was to use 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System which is available through our hosts here on and for my final step I used Meguiar's #10 Clear Plastic Polish.

I used the Meguiar's #10 because I have that on hand from polishing the windshield on my motorcycle. Another final step option is Meguiar's PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner and Polish which might have a wider application of uses, but I didn't have any on hand.

The 3M system is awesome in that it uses a drill to do all the work. I had previously attempted this project on my wife's car by hand with other products (a hand sanding kit with multiple grits and polishing compound) and halfway through the first lens my arms were shot, and the lens was only about 20% better, not nearly totally clear like they are with this 3M setup.

The first video is an overview of the project. You'll see in it that it was about 95F and 75% humidity on the night I chose to do this project. And my garage is NOT air conditioned.

The second video shows the stage by stage progress as I clean the second lens. I am very satisfied with the final product, and will soon be doing this for my wife's 1996 Honda Civic.

--Big Chris

Auditioning for Top Gear USA

Frequent readers of this space know that we at Car Lust are huge fans of the UK-based but internationally recognized automotive show Top Gear. It's one of those rare shows that is so compelling, so funny, and on occasion even so touching, that it transcends its subject. My wife, for example, has an implacable lifetime immunity to the car lust virus, but even she enjoys watching Top Gear just to see where the blokes will be going and in what kind of madness they will be engaging. It's exactly the kind of show that we at Car Lust would make if we had the money and the talent to do so. In fact, I'm guessing that James May and I are both drones serving the same slow-driving, bad-car-loving hive mind.

Given all this, you'd think that we would be excited about the official announcement that the oft-rumored American version of Top Gear is going forward. Just just imagine a show in which the winning Top Gear formula of irreverence and a uniquely honest brand of automotive commentary was applied towards American vehicles. That sounds like a dream come true, doesn't it?

It's an interesting idea, but like many of the commenters on the Top Gear bog, I'm worried. I'm wary that Americanizing Top Gear will flatten out the simultaneously dry and over-the-top humor that makes Top Gear so special; that the wry insights will be dumbed down to match the perceived tastes of the American audience, and that the chemistry between the new presenters will be rather more forced than the effortless interplay that makes the original Top Gear so much fun.

I am open-minded about the idea of an American Top Gear, and I understand that it's unfair to expect it to be exactly the same as its legendary big brother. Clearly there's some potential here; the challenge featured in the first trailer appears to include such Car Lust fodder as a Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe and a massive Cadillac De Ville Coupe. If matched up with the right set of presenters, an American Top Gear could avoid the pitfalls I mentioned above and wind up as a pretty neat show.

Continue reading "Auditioning for Top Gear USA" »

Sept. 14 Weekly Open Thread

As always, this is the place for the conversation that doesn't belong anywhere else. Not that there's been really anywhere else to post any comments around here, on-topic or off. That will change this week, I promise--we will have some actual new content for you to read.

Last week, both my 2003 Honda Acccord and 1986 Audi Coupe GT had to go in for service on the same day; the Accord for a surprisingly expensive oxygen sensor ($275), and the Coupe GT for an almost-but-not-quite overheating condition. The O2 sensor cost would have caught me by surprise but for the fact that I had to replace the O2 sensor in the other cylinder bank a few months ago for a similar price. Call me naive if you wish, but I'm used to the $25 oxygen sensors I've been used to in older cars. Combined with the $500-$700 stereo head unit that had to be replaced a few years ago, and the $5,000 estimate for replacement of the bad automatic transmission assembly, I'm a bit shocked at the price of components for the Accord.

Does anybody have any similar stories to share about expensive parts you had to replace that don't seem as if they should have been quite that expensive?

--Chris H.

Sept. 6 Weekly Open Thread

As always, this is the place for the conversation that doesn't belong anywhere else.

--Chris H.

The King Midgets

King Midget exploded view Do you want to build your own car someday? I do. Maybe that's a dream of most of us Car Lusters. After all, what's more mechanically personal than building your own ride?

I don't want a big, complicated kit car kit ... a friend of mine has one that has sat in pieces in a warehouse for a time frame that is now measured in decades. And it would have been a grand thing--a replica of a 1930s Mercedes--if he had ever finished it.

I'd like to build something that takes just a little more time to assemble than a model car, doesn't require glue, and actually runs. Something that I would actually build in whatever color and trim I want, and something that I would complete. And it would have to be street legal so I could enjoy the car.

Kngmidget continental So what fits this bill? How about a kit car from the 1940s or 50s ... maybe a King Midget! Long before the Smart Car or the Miata hit our highways, these pint-sized cars roamed the roads. Of course, that's also long before we had interstate highways.

And, one of the best things about starting a King Midget assembly project is that about by the time you're bored with it, you're done.

OK, I don't have computer-controlled robots to spot-weld the thing. No Hayden-Schweitzer paint system or bake ovens. Coming down the final assembly line? Sorry, I don't have an assembly line at all. If I'm lucky, I'll have enough 4x4 wood post scraps and concrete cinder blocks to set the thing on while I'm building it. Out in the yard, of course.

Continue reading "The King Midgets" »

Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

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