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Jan. 31 Weekly Open Thread

As we lurch through our ponderous and slow-moving AMC theme (which I guess is apt), I wanted to provide both a place for unrelated conversation and a few choice AMC listings spotted recently in Bring a Trailer, featured after the jump.

Can you imagine rallying in anything anywhere near as cool as this 1982 AMC SX/4 Pro Rally car? One of the comments calls it a "John Deere Quattro" which is so, so apt. The car's current condition isn't quite as attractive as this photo, but then again this photo is awfully nice--I'm tempted to make this my new desktop.

The only thing even remotely as cool as a rallying SX/4 would be this IMSA AMC Spirit. Oh, man, this thing is pretty--and judging by the comments, it has some interesting history as well.

--Chris H.

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I have a general question, something I've been thinking about recently but couldn't put my finger on until this weekend. Why do all the modern vehicles look so BIG? I know that with lots of midsized cars, SUVs, and trucks of the past 10 years or so, there was a tendency to take something that looked relatively lithe and make it look...well, bulkier. Case in point: compare an early model Nissan Xterra to the later models. The original look smaller, but to me, it looked more realistic and interesting. The later models look almost bloated. As a result, I'd love to get an early Xterra, but I wouldn't touch a later one with a 10-foot pole.

Another example is with hatchbacks. Take your standard "hot hatch" of today, like a Mazdaspeed3, and compare it to an example of an early hot hatch like a VW Scirocco. The Scirocco looks very sleek, while the Mazdaspeed looks tall and fat. This isn't universal; Hyundai's Accent hatchback doesn't look like it has been pumping iron.

Is this just me? You guys are much more tuned in to car design stuff, and so I'm curious to know if this is all intentional. I know, for example, that the 2010 Mustang was redesigned slightly to actually look SMALLER than the 2005-2009 models, even though it isn't a whit smaller in any dimension. But what's with designing these other models with steroids in mind? Do people really want all of these things to look bigger? Are the designers trying to make the vehicle look more powerful? (Personally, I don't like the bulkier look, and it's one reason most cars of the past decade just don't appeal to me.)

I'm digging the AMC Spirit racing liveries. Here's one more:

http://i307.photobucket.com/albums/nn307/tigerstrypes/Awesome%20Machines/AMC%20Machines/AMCInvadesGermanyHMM0206.jpg


I checked the website and BAM! there's a Kenny Roberts tribute bike.
Compare the tribute 1976 SX650 with the original 1975 Yamaha TZ750:

http://i307.photobucket.com/albums/nn307/tigerstrypes/Awesome%20Machines/Motorbikes/classjan_600.jpg

ALL HAIL KING KENNY!!!

@Chris M.: I'm not sure *why* it was done, but there definitely seems to have been a "big and beefy" fad in automotive design this past decade. The worst offender in that respect is the Dodge Caliber, which is the same size as the Neon it replaced, but deliberately made to look beefier, like it wants to be a Hummer when it grows up and it's been scoring illegal steroids from one of the seventh graders on the middle school playground to try to make that happen.

On the Mazda 3, I think the fender flares are just there to make it look "badass" compared to everything else in that market segment.

Chris Mallow, read this, including the comments. It' also really important to look at their pics:

http://jalopnik.com/5710652/how-cars-are-getting-fatter

One common thread to the "fattening" of these vehicles is a taller roof and trunk. Could this be a way to improve the aerodynamics?

@tygerstrypes: I am disappointed in myself; I follow Jalopnik but never saw that article. (Well, with their 50-posts-a-day mentality over there, I do miss quite a few, so I guess I shouldn't feel too badly.)

I do find it interesting that their take is that the look is related to safety concerns. I'm no engineer or designer, so I suppose there are parts of this discussion I can't fully appreciate. But the length doesn't necessarily bug me...that's not the part of this that catches my eye. Chuck hits it when he speaks of the taller roof and trunk. Basically, they're all getting taller, and they're all getting wider. They all look fat when you look at them...nothing looks sleek or low-slung any more. I wouldn't say that is a safety issue; the biggest side-impact safety improvements seem to be side airbags and door reinforcement. Are they getting wider to offset the CoG problems with making them taller?

As a both tall and wide man, I'm thankful for the extra room they've found in the modern car designs.

There's a reason they call me "big".

--Big Chris

I think the best example of the "bulky is better" contemporary design trend is the Toyota FJ Cruiser (not unlike the XTerra). And I like the design aesthetically, but it's not a very practical vehicle in any way.

For all its size it doesn't really offer tremendous capacity. The cargo capacity seats down is about 67 ft^3 -- compare to the Matrix, at 62 ft^3. Other comparisons between the two (FJ / Matrix in inches): Head room = 41 / 40; shoulder = 58 / 53; leg = 42 / 42 (I'm rounding numbers here). Biggest difference between the two seems to be that the FJ is so much wider. And the FJ only has a two-door version. Both (supposedly) seat five.

So it's a big, heavy vehicle, but not really for seating capacity or cargo room. I mean, a minivan, station wagon, or full-size SUV would outdo it on any of those fronts. Instead it's marketed as a sort of young / single / "sports" vehicle -- like a latter day muscle car, except all show (no go).

Which, ultimately, is what I don't like about this trend -- I like they way some of these designs look, but I want the vehicles to be more useful for their size and bulk. Give me an old Wagoneer instead.

MarkD, I agree with you about the FJ. It looks appealing from a distance, but I see no real outstanding function. Too small for real cargo and passengers, no external bed for pickup truck use... I guess it's just a suburban poseur... looks good in a high school parking lot, maybe.

Actually, I have to step in for the FJ here. It wasn't necessarily designed to be any of what you guys are thinking. (I know because I had one for a while.) It was, frankly, designed as something of a true throwback to the original FJs, both in looks and in function. It is a very good, highly-capable modern off-road non-pickup-truck vehicle, probably the one of very few remaining in today's world, now that the Land Rover/Range Rover as well as the Explorer (and other models of that ilk) have largely been neutered with "Terrain Management Systems". (And in that regard, with no disrespect intended, MarkD, the comparison to the Matrix is laughable...they're not designed as competitors.) I found the cargo capacity quite adequate for my needs, it had very good power and torque, and its ability to handle off-road conditions (as well as poor road conditions like the deep snow we often would get in Denver) was frankly outstanding. It is designed to come with front and center diff locks both available straight from the factory. It was also designed with a washable interior; no carpet was installed and the seats themselves were water-resistant. And in spite of its appearance, it was comfortable enough; I fit my family in it when needed. The only true competitor to the FJ is the Jeep Wrangler/Wrangler Unlimited, or maybe the Xterra. No one else has anything close any more, and we probably won't see anything new like it for quite some time, considering the big automakers seemingly have no interest in designing and building anything like that any more (and in one recent case, have flat-out said so). In fact, the only bad things I'd say about it was that rear visibility was pretty poor, but it met my needs and desires for everything else just as I expected. When I bought the FJ, I wanted exactly what it gave me (and because I am generally more trusting of something new from Toyota than something new from Chrysler). I used it for the purpose(s) for which it was designed. And it did just what I wanted. Yes, it probably could have been a little bit smaller, but its appearance pales in comparison to things like the Explorer or Tahoe (or even the newer model 4Runner or Pathfinder).

Chris M--

I don't disagree with what you're saying -- that's what originally got me interested in the FJ. I love the old Toyota FJ40s, the old Jeep CJs, and in general that class of vehicle. But whereas the CJ and FJ40 were simple, utilitarian, and pretty small, the new FJ is clearly bigger and less basic. So in the discussion on design trends in cars, I'm just noting how it's styled like its one of those vehicles, but it makes some big changes.

And I compared it to the Matrix because the Matrix is made by the same company, on a much smaller chasis, but still offers AWD, the same kind of washable interior, a "utilitarian" kind of pose (I'm not convinced that's true, but that's what Toyota claims for it), and I think more *practical* cargo and passenger space, in a more fuel efficient and cheaper vehicle.

But I also love the old 4wd Toyota Tercel station wagons, so that clues you in to my tastes.

Anyway, if the FJ had come in a spartan trim, a bit smaller and lighter, and at about $10k less, I would've loved it.

MarkD: I will definitely agree that it wasn't nearly as utilitarian as I personally prefer. Frankly, not having all that other crap that they put in cars these days is kind of appealing. (Of course, I loathe taking my vehicles to be repaired by others, because those "others" are so dadgum expensive and the added complications of today's automotive technologies just makes them more so....so that clues you in to MY tastes.) I'd much rather have a bunch of functional analog gauges with all sorts of esoteric mechanical information (trans temp, vacuum, etc.) than a big in-dash LCD screen that does everything but clean my house for me. But honestly, the FJ WAS probably what would be considered "spartan" by today's standards...not quite Hyundai Accent, but nowhere near Escalade or Explorer Eddie Bauer, either. By that standard, the Matrix probably fits, too.

After your explanation, I see where you're coming from on the Matrix. But then again, the Matrix is designed to stay on roads...whereas I had no intention of keeping the FJ on a regular paved road at all times, and it was designed so it didn't have to, if you didn't want to. It took me into some fairly rough country, and though some heavy snows. Just today, we had 10" of snow here in OKC. I wouldn't have hesitated to go out in the FJ...but when I tried in my 2004 Ford Freestar (FWD, like most modern minivans), I quickly bottomed out trying to get through a snow drift that had been left by the city plows and spent over an hour digging out. (For those of you now questioning my sanity, please note that I do IT for a large regional bank and was thus required to at least attempt to get in to the office, and it's only a 12-mile trip.) Given that as a Freestar owner, the Matrix would theoretically be right in my wheelhouse, so you'd think I'd be interested. But even with AWD, I'd have not tried today's conditions in one, and would likely have met the same fate as I did in the Freestar if I had tried.

I'll also agree with your fondness for the old Tercel 4WD, though it's not quite as high-clearance as I'd prefer. Of course, I also thought the AMC Eagle was cool, too...frankly, I have a real thing for high-clearance, 4WD vehicles of just about any size, and I just don't understand why the main automakers hate making them so much.

You're right, they don't look "big", they look "fat".
There's a difference.
As Americans continue to descend into fatslobness, this will be the esthetic, just as malevolent car faces were the aesthetic in the malevolent '90s.

It sure seems like the newer cars "I'm looking at you Camaccords" are way bigger than they need to be when compared to earlier small to midsized cars. Here is my latest "seen on the street" find.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDh1u3mfdHo

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