David Colborne, born in the absolute tail end of the Carter administration, seemed doomed to miss all of the fun and excitement of disco-era automobiles, of cars and trucks that a person could actually fix, and of motor vehicles that were interesting strictly because there was no way of knowing what they would do during their very first test drive. Then, through a strange twist of fate, he spent his high school years in the modular housing-filled valley in southern Nevada and received a first-hand education of both the fun and excitement of old anonymous cars and the proper uses of duct tape and bailing wire. Since then, he has adopted a approach to automotive fiscal conservatism that, thus far, has led him on a strange and obnoxious journey, flitting from one cheap vehicle to another, always trying desperately to avoid actually spending money on a car.
Like so many of the trials and tribulations inflicted upon my family by the accursed Malibu of Malebolge, it could not have died at a more inconvenient time. Though I'm a firm believer in hoping for the best and planning for the worst, there simply was no possible financial plan available to us that would allow us to buy two cars of reasonable quality only a year after the birth of our son. So we planned around a fairly reasonable hope--drive the Malibu into 2010, save up some money in the meantime, then get rid of the Malibu before it leaves somebody stranded at the side of the road.
It wasn't the most ill-conceived plan in the world, but it was pretty close.
A little more than a month ago, the Chevy Malibu that inspired sufficient feeling in me to write the venom-filled diatribe that started my Malibu-reliable and Malibu-regular guest writing career on Car Lust finally passed away. In a brazen bit of bluster, the Malibu decided that it was too cool to be a V-6 anymore. So, to more closely mimic its cooler European brethren, it shed a rocker arm and everything the rocker arm came in contact with and became a V-5. Naturally, the cool German cars with their natural inline 5s were not impressed and shunned the impostor auto without reservation; this led the poor, misguided Malibu to barely limp back home, saddened by the rejection and the rocker arm that was suicidally carving grooves throughout the remains of the engine block.
During the course of the Malibu's tortuous 140,000-mile journey, it experienced the following problems:
Proving definitively that my RSS feeder isn't the only lint brush picking up stray bits of miscellany from the Internet, Car & Driver unearthed the latest Flash game to come from the fine folks at Chery. Bear in mind that Chery is the Chinese automaker that failed to meet Bricklin's (yes, this Bricklin) and Chrysler's (yes, this Chrysler) demanding quality standards--obviously, these are detail-oriented folks at work.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you... Can Not Dull.
The "premise" of the game, and I use that phrase very loosely, is that there's a Chery van of some sort out to get you (I think it might be a Chery Riich--it would explain the "more agile movement") and you must dodge it. You, of course, will be represented by a series of random objects, such as a soccer ball, a football helmet, a couch, a cello, a vinyl record, fruit, a top hat (seriously), a nice optical mouse, or whatever else Chery has lying around in their clipart collection. When the more agile moving van hits you--and, believe me, it will--the game will then display, "CAN NOT DULL," after which you get to start dodging again.
Much to my gentle surprise, the game certainly did perform as advertised. Even after playing a few rounds, I can conclusively say that it can not, in fact, DULL. It might bore, it may disturb, and it most certainly will confuse and confound, but at no point did it ever DULL. In fact, I am so inspired by this game that I shall immediately, henceforth and forthwith, request that Chris change the tagline for Car Lust to "Can Not Dull", replacing the antiquated Web 1.0 "Interesting cars meet irrational emotion."
The picture came from ThereIFixedIt.com, truly one of the better lint-covered corners of the Internet.
On the rare and unfortunate occasion that one thinks of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, one usually tends to think of the slow, ponderous pace of the film, the drawn out periods showing nothing but blue clouds, the soundtrack periodically intruding with the mechanical whine of a power drill. Of course, all of this was meant to frame the riveting conflict between V'Ger the Nomadic Space Probe and the intrepid disco-tastic spandex-clad crew of the USS Enterprise.
But what was V'Ger? Of course, we had to sit through hour after interminable hour of slow-motion special effects and stilted dialog, revealing at the end of the movie that it was some hokey 20th century space probe called "Voyager 6," followed by a highly uncomfortable make-out scene involving a bald woman and a guy who would eventually play a reverend on TV--precisely the sort of predictable plot development you would expect out of a movie like this. But happily there's one quote that sums the whole thing up:
V'Ger is that which seeks the creator.
In all seriousness, though, what could be more ponderous and produce more blue smoke than Star Trek: The Motion Picture? Well, in the spirit of the original movie, let's take an extended, unnecessary, and highly unwelcome diversion, shall we?
As some of you have undoubtedly noticed by now, we are a little theme-happy here at Car Lust. The reason, of course, is quite simple: Laziness. See, the trouble with writing about random cars all of the time is that you eventually run out of cars to write about. By introducing themes, it helps us focus our energies on cars that we may have otherwise missed, cars that ordinarily wouldn't warrant a Car Lust of their own. Thus, you end up with themes like Inappropriately Named Chrysler Products, our slow and ponderous funeral dirge through Pontiac, Epic Fail Epoch, Saratoga-Class Week, Crackerjack Box Week, and so on. Without these themes, we'd almost never have an excuse to dig into the merits of GM's T-Series, which, frankly, would be inexcusable.
This brings us to our latest theme. Inspired by the ongoing success of the newest Star Trek movie, we here have decided to engage full speed ahead into Star Trek cars. Now, were other blogs to engage in a Star Trek-themed cavalcade through automotive history, they might be inclined to write about fast, futuristic cars, ones that make you wish you had inertial dampeners or some sort of electromagnetic shield in front of them to keep out stray micrometeorites. We, however, are not other blogs. No, when we write about Star Trek cars, we use the opportunity to engage in a pun-ishing exercise in automotive pun-ditry. Such is our way.
With that in mind, we shall choose a car that we feel best reflects each Star Trek movie and pun-p you full of automotive wisdom and wit. Why? Simple--logic. The needs of the punny outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.
You're the one.
You knew this was coming. Is it gutless? You betcha. Is it cheap? Of course--it's designed to be the cheapest production car on the planet. Does it prove, like so many before it, that necessity truly is the mother of invention? Absolutely.
So, Car Lust material? Well, yeah. I mean, c'mon - it even comes in hot pink! How lusty is that?
When GM's panopoly of brands was in full swing during the 1950s, the goal was to create a natural progression for customers to climb through to preserve brand loyalty. The theory, so it went, was that a young buyer would start with an inexpensive Chevrolet, then work up to a slightly sportier Pontiac, migrate to a more reserved Oldsmobile, follow that with a more luxurious Buick, then retire to a nice Cadillac. Owing to its early postwar success for GM, this model was adopted by both Ford and Chrysler--for Ford, it was supposed to be Ford to Mercury to Edsel to Lincoln, while Chrysler pushed a Plymouth to Dodge to DeSoto to Chrysler to Imperial progression.
As both Ford and Chrysler learned the hard way, maintaining a fine-grained approach to the market, with separate brands, bodies, engines, vehicles and dealers for each conceivable market segment, only makes sense when you're selling enough volume to make it worthwhile. For Ford, it didn't take long for Edsel to disappear. Chrysler's DeSoto, meanwhile, disintegrated by 1961, having been killed off by the same market economics that led to sales declines for Buick and Oldsmobile while rendering Ford's poorly executed efforts at establishing the Edsel brand moot. By 1970, GM, which controlled nearly 50 percent of the market by itself, appeared to be the only car company large enough to pull off such a strategy profitably.
When I first read David Drucker's piece on W124-series Benzes, my interest was definitely piqued. One of my first cars was a previous generation 300TD, a big maroon diesel belching beast that's probably still running around to this very day. Then I read this small piece of soul-wrenching blasphemy:
"Fairness requires that I present an opposing point of view, and as it happens, I have one. First: you can keep the Diesels. They’re slow, noisy, and hard to start. And the smoke is embarrassing. And second: the W123 wagon--the 300TD through the 1985 model--could be the most boring vehicle of its type since the first generation International Travelall. That it was burdened with a Diesel engine can only be ascribed to our government’s Draconian CAFE regulations. But regardless of motive, the Series 123 300TD was doubly cursed, and I don’t want one. And here in Scarsdale, where Mercedes-Benzes are fairly thick on the ground, neither does anybody else.
"It’s not that nobody in these parts needs a station wagon. (Everyone, everywhere, needs a station wagon; most folks just don’t know it yet.) No, Scarsdale has plenty of station wagons, just about every one of them a Volvo. My guess is that the locals see the 300TD as being about as exciting as yesterday’s yawn. Since station wagons themselves are perceived as being pretty dull, it’s only natural that the less boring ones get the nod. That staid old Volvo finds itself in that position indicates that some of the Turbo’s panache has rubbed off on the lesser models."
Mr. Drucker is absolutely correct that, on paper, the W123-series 300TD was about as exciting as waterlogged Melba toast. 0-60 times were best measured epochally and referenced apocryphally ("It may get to freeway speed before the next mass extinction!"). Driving one with its characteristic black plumes of diesel smoke emanating from the tailpipe in California and parts of New York may run afoul of public health regulations that prohibit second-hand smoke. It handles precisely how you would expect a heavy station wagon with an inscrutably byzantine pneumatic suspension system would handle.
None of that matters. That was never the point.
When I think about the Datsun B210, I like to think that, sometime before its introduction in 1973, various Nissan engineers were sitting there, staring at an unwieldy wedge-shaped piece of clay, and said to themselves, "Y'know, we could do that ... but we're going to need to paint it avocado green, burnt orange, turquoise, or pale white. Oh, and put on honeycomb hubcaps. It's the only way it'll come together." Then, they invited the marketing people out for drinks.
Unbeknownst to the marketing department, however, when the engineers were buying themselves drinks, they were just asking the bartender for glasses of water that only looked like sake. Once the marketing department was good and drunk, well, pictures were taken, and blackmail ws performed. The result was the fine piece of automotive history gracing our pages today, the Datsun B210. In an attempt to clear its inventory of this misbegotten son of drunken debauchery and engineering hubris, Nissan proceeded to grant it cut-rate pricing, with the seemingly vain and misguided hope that somebody somewhere might actually buy the danged thing.
Every car owner, sooner or later, reaches a point with their vehicles where they have to make a decision: Do you cough up thousands of dollars to keep your car going, or do you just take it out back, shoot it, and get a new one? When faced with this decision, a number of issues come into play:
Today, on my way to work, my 1993 Dodge Dakota made a noise from the transmission area that convinced me to pull over and get towed back home. After a little bit of troubleshooting, I figured out what the problem was--the overdrive was shot.
At first, I flirted with the idea of fixing the overdrive myself. I read the Chilton manual's procedure on removing the transmission. I searched online for the service manual for my Torqueflite-inspired A500 transmission, then pored over its 94 pages intently, searching for hope. It turns out that, on the A500, the main transmission is a separate unit from the overdrive module; consequently, the worst that I would have to do is replace the overdrive module.
Proving that there is no low that Car Lust will not reach, I'm proud to present the first verifiable bit of Car Lust-themed toilet humor:
If you don't get the joke, this will help.
One of the stranger facts in American automotive history is that, in 1976, Chrysler was able to sell the F-body Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volaré as "compact cars" with a straight face. To put these cars into a more modern perspective, the coupe version of the Aspen is 198.8 inches long. A brand new Chrysler 300C, on the other hand, is only 196.8 inches long--the "compact" Aspen is two inches longer than a modern full-size luxury car. That station wagon to the right, meanwhile, checks in at 201.2 inches, which is only an inch shorter than a base trim Escalade.
At the time, of course, none of this was unusual. A year later, GM would release the New Chevrolet, spearheaded by the "downsized" 212-inch long Caprice, and people would marvel at how small it was. Indeed, this collective hallucinatory perception of space-time would eventually lead to Disco Demolition Night and the War on Drugs.
Let's step in the Wayback Machine for a second. Pretend it's the mid '70s. Disco is popular, Saigon just fell, Nixon was pardoned, a peanut farmer from Georgia was just elected President of the United States, and gas prices are about to spike to the highest they'll get, inflation adjusted, for the next 30 years. To add insult to injury, let's briefly pretend that you're in charge of GM's product development during this time. Your customers are abandoning your large, profit-friendly cars faster than the Italians abandoned their lines during the Battle of Caporetto. As for the smaller, more fuel efficient Vega ... well, let's just say the Italian Navy was more successful against the British at night than the Vega's metallurgically suspect engine ever was against rust and engine wear. In short, you need the following
Fortunately, the solution is staring you in the face: Diesels! Diesel engines inherently provide superior fuel efficiency, less engine wear, and as an optional engine, you even get to charge extra! As if all of that wasn't enough, diesels are not subject to the sort of pollution-mitigation requirements that your gasoline engines have been laboring through. The only question is whether there's a market in the U.S. for diesels. Thankfully, the results are rather encouraging on that front--domestic sales of Mercedes-Benz's 240D and 300D are solid, and even the Peugeot 504 isn't being completely laughed out of the showroom.
So, in your capacity of head of GM product development in the late-1970s, you take the plunge. You order your minions to create a diesel engine suitable for installation in larger Chevrolets, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, and even Cadillacs. Certain in the wisdom of your decision, you step back into the Wayback Machine and fast-forward to the present day, secure in the knowledge that you've saved GM and Detroit from further erosion against the import hordes.
The Met was a strange car for a strange time. Going into the early 1950s, most American automakers were focused on making bigger, more powerful, more luxurious automobiles. This was a time of Oldsmobile "Rocket" V-8s and the beginnings of Chrysler's obsession with Hemis, a time of tail fins and insomnia-curing suspensions. Heck, even air raid sirens were getting bigger and more powerful. If there was ever a time for small and economical, the early '50s were about as far removed from that time as possible without stumbling into the exciting world of multi-dimensional physics.
Nash saw things a little differently.
There I was, reading The Truth About Cars instead of doing something work-related, when, lo and behold, they pushed out a capsule review of the 1977 Buick Nighthawk. I was immediately smitten; I fell head over heels.
The black paint. ... The gold hawk and the gigantic stripe on the side. ... The gold wheels. ... Those lines, evocative of a mutant offspring between a Datsun 240Z and an AMC Pacer... or was that an RX-7 crossbred with a Pinto? I couldn't decide, but it didn't matter. Is that a clam-like rear taillight? Why yes. Yes it is. Is it winking at me suggestively? Why yes. I think it is.
Then I was told about the paint.
Popular Mechanics recently released a list of 10 cars that they felt damaged GM's reputation. It's hard to argue about most of their choices, but since we've already established ourselves as a vanguard of poor taste and questionable automotive judgment, I felt it was important that we briefly review our feelings on some of these cars and remind everyone that, yet again, we have no taste or shame.
Car: 1993 Plymouth Voyager
Condition: Smiling menacingly
Description/Possible Motivation: Go ahead--underestimate the malice of a Voyager. It's a family car. It can't hurt you ... right?
Defining Overblown High-Testosterone Action Movie Quote
"I don't make things difficult. That's the way they get, all by themselves."
- Martin Riggs, Lethal Weapon
-- David C.
Let's just get one thing out of the way right here and now: This is a Car Lust. This isn't some halfhearted, tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, acerbic attempt at humor or irony (Chris Hafner: Already done!). I really, truly, honestly, and completely would drive a Yugo GV with pride if it were presented to me. Oh, and yes, I also know where the mental asylum is in my home town, but that's entirely unrelated.
In 1985, under the auspices of Malcolm Bricklin, the first Yugo GV ("Great Value") was imported into California at the low price of $3,990; according to the official CPI calculator, that works out to $8,124.10 in today's dollars. This puts it a full $2,000 less than a Chevy Aveo or even the most stripped out Kia. Buyers who picked up a Yugo were treated to a Fiat 127 redone with VW Rabbit-inspired styling, all built under the careful eye of the best, most talented workers that Zastava could muster. Thus, buyers were treated to an affordable, modern, stylish twist of an old tried-and-true design. This formula would be used again 10 years later to bring the Daewoo Lanos to our shores.
Today's Car Lust is the direct result of a little Internet link free-word association. It all started when I was reading Slashdot, where I found out that cows tend to point due north. At the bottom of this already strange article was a link to the Telegraph's special on the 100 ugliest cars of all time, which I felt preternaturally compelled to visit. Then, at No. 71, I saw this:
71 - Lightburn Zeta Sedan
Australian washing machine (and cement mixer) manufacturer turns its hand to cars. Fails.
No picture, no further explanation--just those two sentences. Just like that, I knew I absolutely had to look into this.