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About Chris Hafner

Chris Hafner is a former automotive journalist turned full-time car addict. Without concerning himself with fairness, objectivity, or expertise, he nevertheless feels strongly about just about every car made. His tastes in cars are, to be charitable, quirky. Be cautious; if you would like to avoid hearing him drone on about Saabs for countless hours, it's best if you avoid eye contact and back away slowly.

Posts by Chris

Birth Year Fantasy Garage Challenge: Chris Hafner (1976)

Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Introduction
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Cookie the Dog's Owner (1961)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Tigerstrypes (1989)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Anthony Cagle (1962)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Chris Hafner (1976)

Spirit 76At first glance, it might seem foolish and misguided to assemble a $100K Fantasy Garage exclusively from cars available in my birth year of 1976. Compared to the classic 1950s and high-horsepower 1960s, the 1970s seem to be remembered by enthusiasts as the decade in which car enthusiasm cratered.

The first fuel crisis and emissions standards had sapped horsepower and drivability, leaving the fire-breathing muscle cars of the 1960s largely extinct by the early 1970s. Imports were still rare and out of the mainstream, the domestics were experimenting half-heartedly with downsizing, and the disco era manifested in the size and styling excess of the personal luxury land yachts.

This is a pretty dire picture, but I'd argue that there were still good cars made in 1976, and even those cars that weren't empirically good are at least interesting for a car enthusiast in 2015 who doesn't need to depend on them for daily transportation. In fact, the relative unpopularity of mid-to-late 1970s cars makes them much less expensive and more accessible than the more universally loved cars out there. Interesting and inexpensive? Sounds like a perfect formula for Car Lust.

I outlined the rules in the introduction, but I included a few personal rules. For example, I excluded any cars that I have already owned--which explains the absence of the Jeep Wagoneer, Cadillac Eldorado, Ford Gran Torino Wagon and Plymouth Valiant from my list. I also organized my choices into specific roles to curb my natural inclination to invest solely in land yachts and sports coupes. I chose average values from Hagerty and NADA in cases where actual listings weren't available; Hagerty's average value corresponds to something between Condition 2 (drivable show car) and Condition 3 (very nice driver), which perfectly fits my expectations for these cars. The eBay listings I chose were finished, above-reserve listings, in which the car actually sold.

In many cases I was faced with tough choices in a given category, but in the case of a tie I tried to break that tie in favor of the car more evocative of its time and most likely to put me in a 1976 mindset. Below I'm starting with my chosen daily driver and then working from most expensive choice to least.

Continue reading "Birth Year Fantasy Garage Challenge: Chris Hafner (1976)" »

Great Commercials--The Inexplicable Melancholy of the 2015 Nissan Super Bowl Ad

Here at Car Lust, we love talking about car commercials. Like vintage car magazines, commercials allow us to see cars through the lens of the times in which they were made. The results can be weird and wonderful; such as commercials including moonscapes and purposeful shifting, minivans with attitudea Citroen driving out of Grace Jones' mouth, gasoline-powered cell phones, a 1973 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham indistinguishable from the Apollo lunar module; a really awful mid-century salesman, Pontiac as a cultural touchstone, flowing yellow neck-sweaters, downright dangerous outbreaks of Dodge Feverfine Corinthian leather, and Joe Isuzu. These commercials are all hugely entertaining, and nearly all funny--either intentionally or not.

I'm almost convinced that the 2015 Nissan Super Bowl ad is a great commercial, but it certainly isn't funny. If anything, it's inexplicably maudlin given its subject matter. But it's also beautifully shot and executed, and perhaps most importantly, it has some truly sensational endurance racing imagery. The commercial itself is fascinating and memorable, warts and all. It is below; I break it down after the jump.


Continue reading "Great Commercials--The Inexplicable Melancholy of the 2015 Nissan Super Bowl Ad" »

Introduction: The $100,000 Birth Year Fantasy Garage Challenge

Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Introduction
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Cookie the Dog's Owner (1961)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Tigerstrypes (1989)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Anthony Cagle (1962)
Birth Year Fantasy Garage--Chris Hafner (1976)

It has been more than two years now since we staged our last used-car challenge, and I think it's high time we rectify that. For the uninitiated, these Challenges are used-car classifieds treasure hunts, usually with a specific budget or theme. For example, just over two years ago, we challenged our contributors and readers to assemble their ideal $100,000 Fantasy Garage. In previous years, we have run a $1,500 challenge, a $2,500 challenge, a $5K challenge,  a $25K challenge, and a challenge asking readers to choose between one do-anything car and multiple niche cars with a $20K price cap.

This time around, we're revisiting the $100K Fantasy Garage concept, but limiting each contestant to vehicles from their year of birth. For example, since I was born in 1976, my Birth Year Fantasy Garage can be made up only of 1976 model year vehicles.

I think this is an interesting concept, both because we tend to have a natural fondness for the year of our birth, and because many enthusiasts fell in love with cars that were new when they were old enough to notice and care about cars (say, in the teenage years). By that point, cars made in your birth year were likely ubiquitous but not considered particularly special. For example, my first loves as an enthusiast were cars made in the 1980s and early 1990s. It took a while for me to begin appreciating the cars that were made when I was.

Continue reading "Introduction: The $100,000 Birth Year Fantasy Garage Challenge" »

Feb. 23 Weekly Open Thread--The rarity of nice, original AMC Gremlins

7When was the last time you saw an AMC Gremlin on the road? And when you saw that Gremlin trundling around, what sort of shape was it in? Speaking personally, outside a car show context I haven't seen a Gremlin in at least a decade, and even back then the Gremlins I saw were hopelessly bedraggled--fade paint, missing glass, blowing smoke, and just generally neglected.

Unfortunately, owners tend not to care for cars they perceive as cheap and disposable, and so they tend not to survive in good condition. As a result, vintage economy and entry-level cars now seem rarer to me than their performance and luxury counterparts. I'd bet, for example, there are many more 1981 Chevrolet Corvettes still around than 1981 Chevrolet Citations, despite Chevrolet manufacturing more than 400K Citations that year compared to 40K Corvettes.

I go through all this to explain just how astonished and pleased I was to find this listing for a pristine 1972 AMC Gremlin that looks for all the world as if it just rolled off the assembly line in Kenosha. The Gremlin inspires strong emotions--for me, affection and even lust--but love it or hate it, it's hard to deny that an original Gremlin in this shape is a rare beast indeed and worth revering.

I'll include more photos after the jump, but since this is an Open Thread, feel free to discuss anything that's on your mind, or engage in your own musings about now-rare cars that were once ubiquitous.

Continue reading "Feb. 23 Weekly Open Thread--The rarity of nice, original AMC Gremlins" »

2015 Nissan Pathfinder: Perfect for Paths Already Found

Sunrise BeautyIn my one-week test of the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4X4, I found it a revelation--quick, quiet, smooth, spacious, surprisingly efficient, and thus completely unlike any previous Pathfinder 4X4. This doesn't mean I dislike previous Pathfinders--quite the opposite, actually--but it does mean the current generation is a more radical departure from its predecessors than one might expect. To explain why, we need to step back in time three decades.

When it debuted in 1985, the Nissan Pathfinder quickly established itself as a popular SUV in the classic mold. It shared its square-jawed good looks and toughness with Nissan's Hardbody pickup, and its rough-and-tumble go-anywhere capabilities lived up to its frontiersman name. It had everything you'd expect from a traditional off-roader: body-on-frame construction, rear-wheel drive, part-time 4WD with locking differentials, low-range for really ugly conditions, and, eventually, four doors to handle family hauler duties in a pinch.

Old PathfinderThis is what SUVs used to be; go-anywhere trucks suitable for both off-road fun and load-hauling utility, with some nascent ability to serve as a family passenger vehicle in a pinch. Blazer, Ramcharger, Trooper, Scout, Cherokee, Bronco, and Pathfinder--in both capabilities and name, these were the vehicular equivalents of a mountaineer setting off on an expedition into pristine but unknown wilderness.

As a case in point, a close friend of mine has owned a maroon first-generation Pathfinder for nearly 20 years now, and it has faithfully carried us to countless trailheads and snow camps, shrugging aside ice and mud, swallowing all of our gear, and towing trailers full of firewood and supplies. That Pathfinder has more than 300,000 miles on it and is still running strong in limited duty. Despite its four doors, however, it has never been a great around-town driver. Sure, it can carry people and cargo, but the compromises forced by its genuine toughness and off-road ability mean it's cramped, noisy, and jouncy compared to, say, a Nissan Maxima from the same time period. An early Pathfinder relegated to in-town duties is like Davy Crockett trying to hold down an office job.

Rear 34 ClosedBut just as civilization inevitably reaches the frontier, so too has it reached the Pathfinder. As of the 2013 redesign, the tough truck-like body-on-frame construction has given way to a car-like unibody construction. Rear-wheel-drive with part-time 4X4 has been replaced with front-wheel-drive and electronically selectable AWD. The off-road-friendly low range has been replaced by electronic ascent and descent modes. As a result, the new Pathfinder is less well-suited than its predecessors for actually finding paths, but much improved at hauling families comfortably along those paths once found and paved.

Continue reading "2015 Nissan Pathfinder: Perfect for Paths Already Found" »

$100,000 Fantasy Garage Challenge: Chris Hafner

Higher EducationWhen Cookie the Dog's Owner proposed the $100K Fantasy Garage challenge, I was immediately intrigued. Who among us has not dreamed about which cars we'd purchase if only we had the funds available? This challenge is a license to mentally catalog our old and new favorites, weigh pros and cons, and show our tastes and brand loyalties through the creation of a carefully curated collection.

The genius in this challenge is the $100K value limit. Without that, we wouldn't have anything to keep us tied to reality. After all, why add a Mazda to your list when you could add a Maybach? Why add a CRX when you could add an FXX? But the $100K limit, combined with the requirement to include one brand new car, is almost perfect. A cool hundred grand sounds like a lot of money, but it doesn't go as far as one might imagine. I could easily concoct a scenario in which two very nice but still fairly ordinary vehicles consume the whole budget, so turning this into a true fantasy garage requires some creativity.

I chose to put my own spin on this challenge by laying out a series of tasks that I want the cars in my garage to fulfill, and then picking the cars I thought would best fill those roles. This required a lot of revision, as I shifted resources from one bucket to the next, and leaves me without some of my all-time favorites (omitting the Porsche 928, E28 BMW M5, and GMC Typhoon was pretty painful). Overall, though, I'm pretty pleased with the results.

Since in some cases I'm linking off to listings on Craigslist and eBay there's a chance that those links will be dead fairly quickly. My apologies for that, but I'll try to capture some of the pertinent details in the text so that the story doesn't suffer too much.

Continue reading "$100,000 Fantasy Garage Challenge: Chris Hafner" »

5th Birthday Week--Cookie the Dog's Owner's Greatest Hits

As much fun as I've had over the last five years writing and reading about interesting cars and the irrational emotions they inspire, the even greater joy has come from getting to know the contributors and commenters who make these stories personal. Today I'm highlighting my favorite posts from Cookie the Dog's Owner, who aside from being a fantastically nice person, has been absolutely critical in keeping this blog running and lifting the quality of its writing. I have been fortunate enough to spend parts of my career among some of the world's best motorsports journalists and editors, and I can say that without question CTDO is one of the very best writers I've encountered, and has written an outsized proportion of this blog's very best content. His work is liberally sprinkled with dry wit, interesting research, and little jokes and comments that become apparent only when you hover your mouse over his hyperlinks.

It was too difficult to narrow down CTDO's best posts down to the top 10, so I made it (Alarm fur Cobra) 11.

Continue reading "5th Birthday Week--Cookie the Dog's Owner's Greatest Hits" »

July 30 Weekly Thread--Fantastically Pointless

Saab900Limo1I'm sure at least some of you have seen the 1985 Saab 900 Turbo limousine that has been making the rounds of the automotive blogosphere over the last few weeks, most prominently on Autoblog and Bring a Trailer. As a dyed-in-the-wool first-gen Saab 900 Turbo fanatic, this car leaves me sputtering and speechless, my mental wheels spinning helplessly while I try to sort out how I feel about it. Is it a heretical creation, a profane insult to the proud Saab 900 family that needs to be burned as an offering to the concept of Saabish purity? Or is it a cryptically compelling oddity that serves no discernable purpose but must be protected and treasured--like the automotive equivalent of a unicorn that recites baseball statistics in fluent Spanish?

Continue reading "July 30 Weekly Thread--Fantastically Pointless" »

Mille Bloglia: Car Lust Turns 1,000

(Before we get started, I want to give a big thank you to That Car Guy and Cookie the Dog's Owner for doing the majority of the work putting this 1,000-post anniversary piece together.)

MilleBlogliaChris Hafner:

I know that referencing the famous pre-1960s Mille Miglia (Thousand Miles) road race in the title of Car Lust's 1,000th post might seem a little bit over the top, but for me the title is apt. The last four years and 1,000 posts have represented an amazing journey from a quirky series of e-mails to an audience of my co-workers, to a blog that has attracted a great set of contributors, commenters, and readers. That transition obviously can't challenge Sir Stirling Moss' exploits in the Mille Miglia, but I'm as proud of what this blog has become over its last 1,000 posts as I am of anything I've done in my life.

Continue reading "Mille Bloglia: Car Lust Turns 1,000" »

Great (But Frustrating) Commercials: Nissan Leaf

I almost never watch commercials anymore. Most of my video is of the streaming variety, either through Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, or YouTube. When I do take advantage of broadcast or cable TV, it's usually captured on my Tivo, where I can fast-forward through commercials. On the rare occasion when I'm watching live TV (usually sports), I'm often with friends and don't pay much attention to commercial blather. In the vanishingly rare cases when I'm watching live TV and aren't talking during the commercials, I'm usually mentally tuned out because most commercials are either obvious or annoying or both. This explains why, in true Car Lust style, I just recently viewed and am just now writing up an advertisement that originally aired three months ago.

Over the weekend, this Nissan Leaf commercial caught me in one of those few moments when both my television and my brain were tuned in, and I thought it was stunningly well-executed. It was frustrating, for reasons I'll get into after the video and the jump, but very well-done.

Continue reading "Great (But Frustrating) Commercials: Nissan Leaf" »

May 9 Weekly Open Thread--A Brace of Alliances

Alliance1 Happy Monday, everybody--this is, as usual, the place for off-topic and random conversation.

This weekend, I discovered something remarkable, namely that what have to be the two nicest AMC/Renault Alliances remaining in the world are both for sale at the same time. Which, in turn, raises the question whether you find any Alliance, no matter how nice, even remotely desirable. Given that this is a crisply styled 1980s French car with an AMC affiliation and was available as a lumpy five-door, I think you can guess my answer.

Alliance No. 1 is a 1987 Alliance five-door that has 110,000 miles but that has been completely and lovingly restored to original. It's in staggeringly good condition, and would be a fantastic choice for the person who urgently wants to drive a brand new 1987 Alliance. If, you know, that person exists.

Alliance2 Actually, Alliance No. 2 would be an even better choice, given that it is still basically brand new--it's an Alliance convertible with only 340 miles. It truly is stunning, with its vintage hubcaps, pinstriping, and its lovely soft blue interior.

I always liked the Alliance a bit, particularly the GTA model, but it always lagged behind the Fuego for me during this era. But I would very happily drive either of these two cars.

If you found a car undesirable when it was new, would you feel differently if you saw a perfectly preserved example now?

--Chris H.

May 2 Weekly Open Thread

There is a lot going on in the outside world that dwarfs what's going on in the world of Car Lust, and we at Amazon are pretty busy as we move buildings. So I don't have any fantastic prompts for this week, but please do feel free to talk about whatever comes to mind.

--Chris H.

April 25 Weekly Open Thread

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

Here are a few prompts:

  • In some parts of the country (not necessarily Seattle) spring is well underway and the weather is improving. Have your driving or car ownership habits changed at all? Are you washing the car more often, giving it a spring wax, starting to work on it outside? Or are you still staring forlornly out the window waiting for sunny weather like we are?
  • Bring a Trailer is featuring two amazing Lancia Deltas--an Evo 2 Edizione Finale and a Martini 5. Which would you buy? Personally, I'd prefer the Edizione Finale to drive and the Martini 5 to stare at and drool.
  • During my convalescence, I watched an enormous amount of car-related TV. I'm not really talking about classic car-oriented shows like The Dukes of Hazzard or Magnum, P.I.--I'm thinking more of the non-fiction variety, like the Top Gear shows and a bunch of the auction-type shows you see on HD Theater. What do you watch, and why?

My list of favorite shows at the moment run something like this (with extra space to signify relative position):

  1. Top Gear UK
  2. ....
  3. ...
  4. Wheeler Dealer
  5. Top Gear US (but rising quickly)
  6. ...
  7. Chasing Classic Cars
  8. Mecum Auto Auction
  9. ...
  10. ...
  11. ...
  12. Motorweek

For whatever reason, I'm just not a Motorweek fan.

--Chris H.

April 18 Weekly Open Thread

Happy Monday, Car Lust readers! I'm happy to report that I am back at work and am once again able to participate in the various blog doings, although I am very far from full speed either physically or in terms of workload. Last week I concentrated on sifting through 10,000 unread e-mails, and this week I'm hoping to learn how to perform my new job. Hopefully soon I'll be able to get Project AMC back up and running as well.

For those who were curious, I sustained a tibial spine fracture and a tibial plateau fracture. Essentially, it was like blowing out my ACL--in injuries like mine the ACL normally goes, but in my case my ACL won the tug of war with its attachment point on the bone and pulled it out. This is worse in the short term--the surgery is more invasive than it is for an ACL, and I need to both heal the bone and go through a normal ACL rehab--but in the long term it's much better as bone heals more completely than ligament.

In terms of car lust, that means that I won't be driving my stick-shift Audi Coupe GT for another month or two, but I have begun to get behind the wheel of my automatic Gran Torino wagon--and let me tell you, the feeling of being on the road again is magical. It's obviously nice to be moving more quickly and easily than hobbling around on a brace and crutches, but there's something intoxicating about the freedom of movement that cars give us that's easy to forget when you're simply commuting to and from work every day.

This isn't all about me, though, and what I really want to do is turn the conversation to the cars for which we're currently lusting. I'll post a few of my examples, and I'd love to see some examples of cars that currently have you hot and bothered. What would you purchase if you had the money and garage space?

My current lustables come after the jump.

Continue reading "April 18 Weekly Open Thread" »

A Quick Administrative Note

If I can make a post that isn't about cars for a moment, I just want to give everybody a heads-up about changes behind the scenes at Car Lust.

The first change is that I've received a new job here at Amazon--I'm still with the Auto Parts & Accessories team, but my responsibilities have changed. As a result, day-to-day editorial management will move from me to our site editor team of Lisa Skow and Jon Dale. Of the two, you'll probably hear from Jon a bit more, as he'll be doing more of the day-to-day stuff. I'll still be around as a sort of editor emeritus--posting when I have the combination of time, opportunity, and motivation.

It would be easy to get freaked out about this, but please don't. First of all, the change makes perfect logical sense--I started the blog when I was a site editor, all of the other Amazon blogs are run by site editors, and so it's easy to argue this should have happened some time ago. For another, our excellent team of contributors is still here and is not going anwhere. And finally, I'm not going away--and in fact in the long term I'm hoping that being freed from the responsibility of writing, managing posts, and moderating comments, that I'll actually write more. As I'm sure you've all been aware, over the last year or two I just haven't had the time to generate content in the same quantity, and I've felt really guilty for the neglect. This is essentially giving Car Lust the day-to-day management it deserves and hopefully keeping the content coming more consistently than I was able to do.

The second major change is related to the fact that I fractured my tibia in two places while skiing over President's Day weekend. I've worked the last two weeks at home, but I've finally had surgery and need to take some leave to concentrate on healing and rehab. This means all of the changes I've described above will be a bit more dramatic while I'm on leave, which will be anywhere from 2-8 weeks (my doctor's maddeningly broad range for my return). This means that Project AMC will be paused while I'm out as well.

So please be patient as we try to keep things together and moving forward here on the Good Ship Car Lust--our typical 5-degree list and meandering course may worsen slightly for a while, but the long-term prognosis is good.

--Chris H.

Project AMC--AMC Pacer

Project AMC--The Introduction
Project AMC--AMC Gremlin
Project AMC--AMC Hornet and AMC Eagle
Project AMC--AMC Pacer

Neo-1976 AMC Pacer 1976 AMC Pacer--2010 Toyota Prius

The following is an excerpt from a diary kept by Motoring Magazine Road Test Editor Tom Kelly, dated March 1, 1976--the date on which the revitalized American Motors Corporation released its second-generation Pacer to the press for evaluation:

8 a.m.
For whatever reason, readers seem to enjoy my live-journaling of AMC launches, so I'm going to keep doing it--this time from Chicago for the relaunch of the AMC Pacer. Launching the new Pacer in a major city promises a more conventional debut than what AMC has given us for the Gremlin and Hornet/Eagle, which took place at Riverside Raceway and on Western Washington gravel roadways, respectively.

Looking back, it's interesting to note how blase I was for the last two launches. With the Gremlin launch, I was expecting something more along the lines of a death rattle from the reconstituted AMC. For the Hornet and Eagle launch, I was skeptical that AMC could possibly top the Gremlin. This time, I'd like to think I'm ready for any surprise AMC springs on me.

Ur-1976 AMC Pacer The first such surprise is that AMC is replacing the Pacer at all. The Gremlin and Hornet, yes, I understand--they badly needed replacement. But the Pacer first hit showrooms only about 12 months ago, and its styling, visibility, and space-efficiency were all considered radically futuristic. It certainly looks less radical next to the new AMC models, but it's easy to see bits of the Pacer in those aerodynamic and space-efficient cars as well. The Pacer has also been a sales success, selling about 150,000 units in its first year.

So why replace a car that is already notably futuristic and debuted only a year ago? I guess I'll find out soon.

Continue reading "Project AMC--AMC Pacer" »

Fantastic Fords

Bring a Trailer has been on a tear of awesomeness lately, and I'd like to highlight two rare 1980s Fords that have caught my eye recently.

1986 Ford RS200 Evo
This RS200 is an under-the-radar supercar, with 0-60 times of 3.0 seconds and roughly 600 horsepower coursing through its futuristic-for-the-1980s rally AWD system. We've talked about the Group B rally championship before, and while the on-track competition was incredible, I almost prefer the fire-breathing street vehicles that resulted. The RS200 was at the absolute apex of that group--faster than the Audi Sport Quattro, the Porsche 959, and the Ferrari GTO, and rarer and more mechanically interesting than any of that group as well.

I want an RS200 so badly, and this example is so perfect, that I'm trying to figure out what assets I could sell to be able to afford it. With home values at a low, I don't think I can scrape enough together.

1986 Ford Mustang SVO
Considerably less exotic but still highly lustworthy is this basically brand new Ford Mustang SVO. Anthony Cagle recently wrote a great piece on the SVO that I recommend checking out, but essentially this was the Mustang Pony car turned into a European-style sports coupe. The key was suspension work and a the same turbo 4-cylinder that powered the Merkur XR4Ti.

This car has only 4,500 miles on it and is as close as you'll get to the experience of driving a brand new SVO. This would be a perfect addition to the 1980s sports coupe wing of the Chris Hafner Memorial Museum of Bad And/Or Underappreciated Cars.

--Chris H.

Project AMC--AMC Hornet and AMC Eagle

Project AMC--The Introduction
Project AMC--AMC Gremlin
Project AMC--AMC Hornet and AMC Eagle
Project AMC--AMC Pacer

1976 AMC Hornet--2009 Subaru Impreza
1976 AMC Hornet Turbo--2009 Subaru Impreza WRX
1976 AMC Hornet Turbo X--2009 Subaru Impreza WRX STi

1976 AMC Eagle--2008 Subaru Forester
1976 AMC Eagle X--2008 Subaru Forester XT

The following is an excerpt from a diary kept by Motoring Magazine Road Test Editor Tom Kelly, dated Feb. 2, 1976--the date on which the revitalized American Motors Corporation released its second-generation Hornet and first-generation Eagle to the press for evaluation:

8 a.m.
Hornet Turbo 1It turns out that my diary from the AMC Gremlin press launch was a hit--it needed only minimal modification to serve as my preview piece in the latest issue of Motoring Magazine, and reader mail seems to indicate that they liked that sort of spontaneous perpsective. I'm going to try to do the same this time, but I'll take a more organized approach this time and document my thoughts in real time--writing a live journal, if you will.

AMC unveiled the Gremlin almost exactly a month ago, and the shock that I felt last month has now reverberated through TV, newspapers, and magazines to the rest of America. Gremlins are just now beginning to reach AMC dealerships throughout the country, and America is hip deep in Gremlin Fever. Not all of the reaction is positive, of course--the car's styling in particular has proven to be a shock to the system for a populace addicted to vinyl roofs and opera windows--but everybody is fascinated by the novelty of a car that performs like a supercar while sipping fuel like a Datsun. 

AMC dealers are awash with customers who are willing to pay full price and wait for a new Gremlin, which has to be a a pretty new and exciting experience for them. The Big Three are keeping publicly mum about the new Gremlin, but my sources indicate that those mammoth corporations are in a state of near pandemonium trying to understand how AMC pulled off this coup.

Ur-1976 AMC Hornet Wagon Probably the most exciting thing about the Gremlin is the much-needed sense of optimism it has given us. It has been a tough decade for America, with the OPEC embargo, the fall of Saigon, stagflation, and a steadily growing misery index--and it's fair to say that underneath our showy disco culture lay a steadily eroding foundation of self-confidence. But now, with the Gremlin, we Americans can point to a car that not only represents a painless way out of the gas and pollution crises, but a technical miracle that was designed and built right here in America. This amazing car wasn't built by the Soviet Union, West Germany, or even Japan--it was designed and built right here in the United States, by American Motors, no less.

Continue reading "Project AMC--AMC Hornet and AMC Eagle" »

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.

Continue reading "Jan. 31 Weekly Open Thread" »

Weird News from Ferrari

We'll get back to Project AMC shortly, but in the meantime I want to point out two recent doings at Ferrari--one unexpected but awesome, and the other ... well, just highly unexpected.

FerrariFF The unexpected but awesome news is that Ferrari is releasing a station wagon--actually, to be precise, a two-door wagon, or shooting brake. There are two other nice touches--it's all-wheel-drive and is named the FF, in perhaps unconscious tribute to the ahead-of-its-time Jensen Interceptor FF, which was itself an all-wheel-drive grand tourer with a rear hatch.

A V-12 powered, 650-horsepower, 208-mph, all-wheel-drive wagon is completely different than what we would expect from Ferrari, but to me it just sounds like a fantastic idea. As gorgeous as the 458 Italia is I think the FF might now just be my favorite car in the Ferrari lineup. I can't think of a better car with which to tour the Alps--and since that dream will likely never happen, I'll simply just hope that the FF helps reinforce the fact that wagons can be fun, exotic, and gorgeous.

F150 The other, even odder news, is that Ferrari's new Formula 1 car will be called the ... wait for it .... Ferrari F150. There are several reasons to explain why this makes sense--for one thing, Ferrari has a history of using names like F40 and F50, and apparently this name refers to the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy. I also understand that Americans are generally disinterested in F1 and that the rest of the world is generally disinterested in pickup trucks.

But even given all that, I'm surprised that Ferrari would so closely mimic the name of Ford's perenially best-selling F-150 pickup truck. Even the logos are somewhat similar. Perhaps it's a testament to Ford's marketing efforts, and it's probably just me--but there's no way I'll be able to hear about the Ferrari F150 without grinning and imagining it as a lowered, scarlet-red pickup truck with a few bales of Italian hay in the back.

All of this has me wondering if there's some multi-day Italian equivalent of April Fool's Day--I can find no other explanation for this highly welcome bout of wackiness.

--Chris H.

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

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