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June 2012

Carspotters' Challenge #19--The Castle Walls of...Chicago???

This is the parking lot of the Brickyard Shopping Center in Chicago in 1977, as seen from the roof of one of the stores.  I feel a sudden compulsion to taunt passers-by in an outrageous French accent.

"Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!"See any cars that strike your fancy?

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photo obtained from the Station Wagon Forum's collection of vintage street scenes, contributed by member "yellerspirit.")

Car Lust Classic--Sterling 827 SLi ideas go, I thought the Sterling was a pretty inspired one. In the late 1980s Japanese cars were known primarily for their engineering and their reliability, not their flair or luxury. English cars excelled at sumptuous interior appointments and quirky charm. What better idea than to clothe reliable, well-engineered Honda mechanicals, in the form of the first-generation Acura Legend, with sophisticated English bodywork and an old-world wood and leather interior?

Unfortunately, the execution didn't really match the concept....

Click here to read the rest of the original post by Chris Hafner, and to leave your comments.

Plymouth Cricket

Extinction. It happened to the dinosaurs, the wooly mammoth, sabre-toothed tiger, trilobite, passenger pigeon, and the badge-engineered Plymouth Cricket. The Cricket's not just extinct, however, it's also all but absent from the fossil record, a car so obscure that many expert automotive paleontologists have never heard of it.

Have you seen this Mopar?And no, I'm not exaggerating. Just try to find an intact Plymouth Cricket, I dare you. Neither Craigslist nor any of the major car-trader websites lists a Cricket for sale anywhere in North America as of this writing. There is no Plymouth Cricket owners' club, either--Google the phrase "Plymouth Cricket Club" and you get plenty of information about a community athletic league in England, but nothing about the car.

Jalopnik called the Cricket "the amazing disappearing Mopar" and speculated that it may have been the worst car Chrysler ever sold. It wasn't; the Aspen and Volaré have it beat by a mile in that department. Any car that "aspires" to the title "Worst Ever" has to be memorably bad to even be in the running--but the Cricket isn't even remembered for its inadequacy. Our own Chris Hafner, who once famously wrote that "bad cars can be incredibly interesting," has never so much as mentioned the Cricket in passing in nearly five years of blogging. That should tell you something right there.

So, does the Cricket truly deserve its obscurity? Should we mourn its extinction, as we do that of the Carolina parakeet, or should we leave it to rest in peace at the bottom of the memory hole?

Continue reading "Plymouth Cricket" »

Car Lust Classic--Pontiac 6000STE

...not to be confused with the Ciera, or the Celebrity, or the....I have absolutely no idea what to make of the Pontiac 6000STE. At its heart, it is simply a Chevrolet Celebrity clone; which itself was an outgrowth of the much-maligned Chevrolet Citation. I have already described the misery inflicted upon my car enthusiast father by the 6000STE's A-body sibling, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera. I can't imagine a less promising foundation for a sports sedan than that.

And yet ... and yet, there was a period of time in the early 1980s when the 6000STE was regarded by the leading automotive journalists as the finest sports sedan in America....

Click here to read the rest of the original post by Chris Hafner, and to leave your comments.

June 25 Weekly Open Thread--Badge Engineering Week 2: Electric Boogaloo

We're sticking the badge for "Badge Engineering Week" on another line in the calendar and continuing the theme for another few days. This is the place for random discussions on any automotive subject, even those which aren't badge-engineered.

Sprinter1In one of our off-blog discussions, Chris Hafner reminded me of one of the all-time champions of badge-engineering, a vehicle which also qualifies as an Inappropriately Named Chrysler Product, the Sprinter delivery van.

What other vehicle could pass itself off as a Dodge, a Mercedes, and a Freightliner? Personally, I would have loved to see more Freightliner-Mercedes crossover. Perhaps a Superliner-branded Freightliner E63 AMG knockoff?

That suggests a question for the group: what's the most absurd, over-the-top, implausible exercise in badge engineering you can imagine, a car or truck that would make the Cimarron look rational in comparison? I'll go first: a Yugo GV with a hood ornament and vinyl landau roof treatment, badged as the "Oldsmobile Cutlass Croatia."

Finally, from our own Rob the SVX Audi Guy comes a link to a website devoted entirely to chrome badges. Where would badge engineering be without badges?

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

Carspotters' Challenge #18--"What'll it take to get you into one of these beauties today?"

Levittown, Pennsylvania, sometime in the front half of the 1960s. You can almost hear the little plastic flags flapping....

"Easy credit terms are available."--Cookie the Dog's Owner

(Photo from the Station Wagon Forum's collection of vintage street scenes, contributed by member "OrthmannJ.")

Car Lust Classic--"Cimarron, by Cadillac"

Unfortunately for GM, this was not an April Fool's Day joke.On May 21, 1981, one of the biggest "You've got to be kidding me!" moves in automotive history was made when General Motors' Cadillac Division rolled out this generic economy car to an unenthusiastic, not-so gullible press corps and public. Essentially a rebodied Chevrolet Cavalier, even today the Cimarron evinces grimaces from Cadillac faithful....

The Cimarron was virtually identical to GM's other J cars, but its Planet Bizarro pricing was roughly twice that of any of the other "J" cars that had the same equipment. During development, GM President Pete Estes had warned Cadillac General Manager Ed Kennard, "Ed, you don't have time to turn a "J" car into a Cadillac."...

Click here to read the rest of the original post by That Car Guy, and to leave your comments.

Car Lust Classic--Mercury Lynx

...not to be confused with the Escort...The Lynx was the Mercury version of the first-generation Escort. Introduced in the 1981 model year to replace the ill-starred Pinto, the gen 1 Escort was the first front-wheel drive car Ford built in North America....

The major difference between the Escort and Lynx was . . . well, not to put too fine a point on things, there was no major difference. There were only a few minor distinctions: the Lynx had a different grille, ribbed tail-lights, a name that fit into Lincoln-Mercury's "Sign of the Cat" theme, and a cooler ad campaign.

That's all. The Mercury Lynx was a product of el-cheapo badge-engineering....

Click here to read the rest of the original post, and to leave your comments.

Great (?) Moments in Badge Engineering

"Badge engineering" occurs when an automobile manufacturer sells what amounts to the same car under two different brand names.  It's not to be confused with "platform sharing," where two or more different cars share some or all of their basic engineering. To illustrate the distinction with an example: the first-generation Chrysler minivans shared the K-cars' platform, but a Plymouth Voyager was a completely The Reliant K, not to be confused with the Aries K...different vehicle from the Plymouth Reliant--that's platform sharing.  On the other hand, the Reliant and its Dodge Aries counterpart were identical in all but minor decorative touches--that's badge engineering.

Economically, it makes sense to use as many common components as possible across multiple product lines, and carmakers have been doing this ever since Benz & Company Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik started offering two model lines way back in eighteen-ninety-something. Platform sharing is so common we almost don't notice it anymore, and VW is taking the concept a step further by developing a "construction set" platform that all of its vehicles will eventually share. 

The problem arises when the manufacturer gets too focused on keeping costs down (or too lazy, take your pick) and shares more than drivetrain components or platforms between cars. Share too much, like, say, all of the outer body sheetmetal, and soon what are allegedly "different" cars become indistinguishable, whether viewed from twenty yards away or from the front left seat. We look down on the practice today as the bane of automotive variety, but the first recorded instance of automotive badge engineering was actually welcomed by consumers.

Continue reading "Great (?) Moments in Badge Engineering" »

June 18 Weekly Open Thread: "Introduction To 'Badge Engineering' Week(s)"

GM-FortuneCoverFinal-489x630Dear readers, here we go again with yet another Theme Week at Car Lust. This time, we set sail on a course of consumer disgust and corporate collapse... at least in many cases. But we had so much fun putting this theme week together, we might even go for two weeks.

In our next post, Cookie the Dog's Owner will give greater detail on what badge engineering is all about. But today's reading is a preview of what's in store for the week. We'll also dig into the Car Lust archives to show why badge engineering is usually not a good thing to do.

Just to the right here (it's kind of hard to read), that headline under the cars says, "GM Look-alikes: Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick, Pontiac." The first emotion I get after reading that is that half of those remarkable brands have now gone to that big auto assembly plant in the sky. And it goes without saying that the title, "Will Success Spoil General Motors?," was mildly ironic at best.

Those GM A-body cars may be the most iconic example(s) of badge engineering ever. Sure, there were slight differences between the brands, but it took some lookin' to find them. And though this may be a post on "twin" cars, that image makes the GM clones look more like a "litter."

Of course, we car nuts are not stoopid. We can easily see through this charade and can actually have some fun by exposing the knock-offs. So here's a few past examples of this corporate "trickery." Can you name all of them? If not, the answers are at the bottom in the image credits:

Continue reading "June 18 Weekly Open Thread: "Introduction To 'Badge Engineering' Week(s)"" »

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

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