Sunday, May 24, 2015

When Buick Set the Pace at Indianapolis

This week, Buick Town Monday happens to correspond with Memorial Day weekend, so let's take a moment and remember some of Buick's role in this iconic American Experience. Buick was one of the first manufacturers to take part in racing at the Indy track, and won several events in 1909, two years before the first Indianapolis 500 of 1911. Many, many Buicks were also raced at Indianapolis including factory sponsored racing engines as recently as the 1980's.

But Buick has also served as the Official Pace Car at Indianapolis on no fewer than six different occasions, and created some very special cars to suit the role.

The first Buick Pace Car was a 1939 Roadmaster Series 80 Convertible Sedan. It used Buick's most powerful 320 cubic inch OHV straight eight engine in a slightly smaller chassis for high speed performance. Although nearly stock in appearance, The Roadmaster had no trouble maintaining the high speeds required of a Pace Car.

The next time Buick was selected as Pace Car was 1959. This was a great opportunity to showcase the all new 1959 Buick with its swept back fins. A white Electra 225 convertible with red bucket seats was specially prepared for the event. Following the race, the car itself was presented to race winner Rodger Ward.

The 1975 Buick Pace Car wrapped itself in the red, white and blue. A loaded Century Colonnade Coupe with 455 V8, bucket seats, and T-Tops was chosen and finished off with a patriotic red, white and blue flag-derived paint scheme which was very much in keeping with the Bicentennial mania that was sweeping the country. In addition, white Le Sabre convertibles were supplied for race executives and a fleet of replica Century coupes, with the same cosmetic treatment, were offered through Buick dealers.

Buick was the Pace Car again in 1976, but this time the technology was all new. The 1976 Century Pace Car featured the first Turbocharged V6 engine which was specially developed for this high speed application. This concept would lead to turbocharged V6 engines in the 1978 model year, and ultimately to the legendary Buick Grand National. It was finished in an aggressive color scheme of silver, red, and black, and again replicas were offered through Buick dealers, but they had conventional 350 V8 engines.

The Buick Regal was chosen as the 1981 Indianapolis Pace Car, again showing off Buick's V6 power. This time, a highly modified 4.1 litre V6, conventionally asperated, developed 281 horsepower and helped further establish the performance reputation of the Buick V6. The actual pace car had a Targa-style roof with an integral roll bar, and was finished in a unique color scheme of silver and dark maroon with bright red and orange trim.

Buick's most recent trip to Indianapolis was in 1983. That year a special Riviera Convertible was chosen to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Buick's personal luxury car. A special color scheme of two shades of tan, a leather and suede interior, a fuel injected turbocharged V-6 engine and even genuine wire wheels set the car off. A replica coupe called the Riviera XX was offered through Buick dealers, although only 500 were ever made.

So when you sit back and enjoy the 102nd anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, remember that Buick has been a important part of the Indianapolis story sine the very first days, and that Indianapolis has played a big part in the development of some very important Buicks.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Avenir: Buick is a Beauty, Too

The first car of my Mother's that I remember riding in was a Buick- a big, black 1961 Electra 225 Riviera four-door hardtop. It had a long hood, four portholes, a luxurious button tufted interior, a freestanding clock a'la George Nelson, and a fold down vanity mirror that said "Buick is a beauty, too," And a beauty it was indeed, as were so many large, powerful Buick sedans over the years.

So yesterday's announcement of the new Buick Avenir concept car definitely caught my eye. It's a big, expressive car, with a long hood, a hint of Buick's distinctive coke bottle side sculpturing, a vee-shaped rear deck that pays homage to tthe boattail Riviera, and a roomy interior. 

The name means "future" in French, and I certainly hope it's a glimpse into the future of Buick sedans. Unlike some concept cars like the Cadillac Sixteen, the package looks quite credible and could be built on the new large Omega platform that will also host the upcoming Cadillac CT6. 

It's powered by a direct-injected V6 engine with cylinder deactivation paired with an nine-speed automatic transmission and dual clutch all wheel drive, and rides on 21 inch wheels. Avenir makes use of high technology including a 4G-LTE wireless hotspot, fully reconfigurable glass-panel dash and rear seat video screens with individual USB ports, and while it all imparts a Buck Rogers feel, there's nothing that's too far out to bring to market today. It's loaded with features, but they're all doable.  And inside and out, it looks like a Buick- a big powerful Buick, albeit a contemporary adaptation of one.

In short, I love it! Now all it needs is a vanity mirror that says "Buick is a beauty, too..."

Avenir images courtesy of GM Company.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lincoln Makes Huge Announcement, is Immediately Overshadowed by a Jim Carrey Spoof

Lincoln made the news twice last week, which is pretty darn good for them, except that they were only planning on it once. Their big news came from newly appointed Chief Executive Mark Fields, who announced a much needed multi-billion dollar product investment in Lincoln which will include a new platform (to be shared with Ford, natch) for front, all, and- drum roll- rear wheel drive products.

It's welcome news indeed that any follower of the brand will be excited about- we've been screaming "Go Big or Go Home" for several years now to Mulally's tone-deaf ears and lamented his showrooms full of rebadged Fords, and now it looks like Mr. Fields and Mr. Ford have decided to go big.

But timing is a funny thing, as a couple days later, Jim Carrey lampooned Lincoln's hideously annoying ad campaign with a not-to-be-missed SNL spoof. Carrey did a dead-on impersonation of Magic Mike Star (and inexplicably, Lincoln spokesperson) Matthew Mc Conaughey. Carrey's blank stares and biting dialogue- "But you don't buy a Lincoln because it makes sense- you do it because you love it- or you're an Uber driver" laid waste to the tepid and tedious ad campaign and made millions of tongues wag for Lincoln. Perhaps the fine folk at Ford should include Mr, Carrey as part of the revitalization. Catch it below:

Saturday, October 25, 2014

It's Not a F@cking Lincoln

The Continental Mark II is an icon in the postwar industry- a Classic from the day it first saw the roads, with timeless styling, unmatched appointments, supreme build quality, movie-star status and remarkable roadability- especially for a car that was introduced in the middle of the fifth decade.

It was the crowning achievement of William Clay Ford, who oversaw the creation of an entire Continental Division to develop, produce, and market what he hoped would be an entire line of upscale cars to bear the proud Continental name. 

Yes, the proud Continental name.

In other words, It's not a f@cking Lincoln. 

Yes, I do understand that Ford Motor Company is more than a bit obtuse and inconsistent in the application of the Continental name, but that was AFTER the Mark II left the marketplace. And yes, the Continental was preceded by the Zephyr-based Lincoln Continental, but that car at its pinnacle sold for HALF of the Mark II's $10,000 price tag- from a branding point of view, the Continental carried a price tag twice as high, and the Lincoln name wasn't presigious enough. Continental had to be a cut above, and it was.

The Continental Division had its own President, its own Management Staff, even its own factory where Continental Mark IIs were produced by dedicated Continental Division employees. And the Continental name that it bore was registered as a separate make with the AMA in 1955.  It launched at the Paris Auto in October of 1955 with great plans, including a four-door companion to the called the Continental Berline. 

Alas, success was not on Continental's side. Faced with slumping sales in 1957, the Division was merged with Lincoln-Mercury who were then themselves joined by Edsel- although Continental remained a separate make through 1958. After 1958, Lincoln treated the Continental as an implied brand- the Mark IV of 1959 bore a Lincoln data plate but carried the Lincoln name nowhere else, and the 1960 Mark V had a Lincoln Continental Mark V script on the dash, both were sold alongside nearly identical Lincoln models. 

It not until the utterly brilliant Lincoln Continental of 1961, an iconic car that was the first worthy successor to the Mark II, that the Lincoln and Continental names were successfully reunited. But that was four years after the last Continental Mark II (for which I have a copy of the invoice from Continental Division) left the dedicated Oakwood Boulevard facility. 

The classic Continental Mark II is many things- dashing, glamorous, prestigious, expensive, and exclusive. The Mark II represents the pinnacle of American automotive design of in the fall of 1955.

But it's not a f@cking Lincoln. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Remnants of an Aztek Civilization

Shimmering in Sunburst Orange

 It wasn't long after I arrived back in Flint for my annual trek that I began to notice them- Azteks. Azteks everywhere. Yes, Pontiac Azteks, those hideous little "Sports Activity Vehicles" that the grossly misinformed seem to love to include on their woefully misbegotten "Worst Cars" lists. Because while they're pretty hideous stylistically, they're actually very good and reliable transportation, and apparently very affordably priced and thusly very much in demand in Flint because the horrible little blobs are everywhere. Surprisingly plentiful is the Sunburst Orange, seen above, which is one of six orange ones I have spotted in the last week.

If course the greatest concentration was at the local discount big box retailer, who will go nameless. There were so many in the vicinity I couldn't capture them all, including a white one that a couple was using for amorous intentions- Sports Activity indeed, right Pontiac? I missed the red one peeking out of the slightly scary apartment complex and the claret red one at the bank, but made a stop at the muffler shop for the Walter White Memorial Edition in Light Driftwood. They're plentiful on Craigslist as well, with most offerings showing mileage well over 100,000 and some near the 200,000 mark.

So without further pause, enjoy the Remnants of an Aztek Civilization.

Smurfing it on the Freeway

Is the monochromatic white almost too fashionable?

Aztek on Aztek action at the Big Box Retailer.

Locking horns outside the Big Box.

Smurfing It. 

The one that wasn't being used for Amore...
The Walter White Memorial Edition

In a Patriotic Setting

Sad cousin, a neglected Rendezvous

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Cool Cool Trailer- Shasta Reissues the Iconic 1961 Airflyte

How many times have you been asked, if you could bring back one car from the past, what would it be? Of course, the question is moot, and with the stratospheric cost of tooling and all the safety regulations it simply could not be done. But it makes for some darn good dreaming.

Well recently a fellow named Mark Lucas had just such a dream- except as the President of Shasta RV, he’s in a position to do more than dream. He’d been watching the classic RV and camper craze and wondering the best way to step into the water himself, so he went out and bought a 1961 Airflyte 16’ trailer and brought in a few engineers to study it and and they came up with an idea- they decided to reissue it.

It’s the exact same iconic shape from 1961, complete with the trademark Shasta winglets on the sides. It’s exactly the same size and roughly the same layout as the original, with the same one-piece roof skin and while there are mechanical improvements and modern A/C, and there were updated safety regulations that had to be met, in spirit and execution it’s as darn close to the original as you can imagine. He calls it a “90% replica”- true to the original design, but 100% modern in technology and usable with no safety or reliability concerns that you might have with a real 1961 trailer. It's even got a replica of the magazine rack (remember those? ) with the Shasta logo.

They’re making a run of 1,941 (the year they went into business) of the special Airflytes as a commemorative edition to celebrate their 75th Anniversary- although they’re only seventy-four for 2015. But hey, don’t let math skills get in the way of the coolest idea I’ve heard all month. They come in three two tone schemes- Seafoam Green, Buttercup Yellow, and Matador Red. Expect pricing to come in around the $15,000-$17,000 range. Production begins in September.

Best of all, wouldn’t it look perfect behind a certain Cadillac? Hats off to Mark and the team at Shasta. This is the coolest thing I've heard of all summer.

Check out this cool video tour of the reissued Airflyte: 

Now if they'd do one in pink to match the Cadillac.

Info and Photo credits: Shasta RV, Retro Renovations and Mount Comfort RV.

Monday, July 21, 2014

2014 Cadillac ATS- Cadillac Earns an A

I was on the press drive to launch the original Cadillac CTS way back in 2002, and they described it to us as a 4-series- Cadillac was aiming at BMW, but somewhat generally as opposed to lining up a direct hit on either the 3- or 5-series. And while that strategy wouldn’t result in a victorious game of Battleship, the truth is that the original CTS was a nice car indeed with very pleasant road manners, and it quickly went on to become a success, and the far handsomer second generation even more so.

Today we reap the rewards of that strategy, because the new third generation CTS has moved up in size to more appropriately position itself as a 5-series competitor and taking up the task of the entry level sport sedan is the ATS. Yes, I hate their nomenclature too but at least it’s in ascending order, so we know that the ATS will be small- the smallest since the ill-fated Cimarron if our slide rule can be trusted. Small, and clearly positioned. The wheelbase is 1.3 inches shorter than a new 3-series, but every other dimension- length, width, height and track- is within an inch.

There are lot of choices with the new smallest Caddy. Base engine is a 202-hp, 2.5-liter four, next step up is a 272-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four, top of the range and the car I drove featured the 3.6-liter V6 with 321 ponies, all come standard with a six-speed automatic although a six-speed manual is available with the 2.0-liter turbo.

And the choices don’t stop there- there’s a plethora of packages available for ATS. All three engines are offered in base or Luxury trim levels, in addition the turbo and the 3.6 can be ordered in Performance and Premium levels, adding a whirlwind of luxury touches at an appropriately breathtaking price. My test car was full tilt (I don’t much care for second-class passage) and had a price tag to match- $48,620, or about fifteen G’s above the base model’s $33,990 (including freight). Sounds like a lot, but the ATS is stacked directly against the 3-series and priced within a few schekels of its German rival.

What did you get for all that dough? Plenty. In addition to the direct-injected 3.6 and six-speed automatic, my Premium package ATS came with 18” machined wheels and runflat tires, performance seats with multiple power controls- 12 way driver and 10-way passenger, plus lumbar, a memory seat, and a split rear folding seat. It also had the CUE interface with an 8” color display, navigation, Bose audio including bluetooth and Sirius XM, a head-up display, magnesium paddle shifters and alloy pedals, Intellibeam adaptive lighting and keyless go with remote start, among other goodies too numerous to mention. In other words, it was loaded to the gills.

There’s been a lot written praising the ATS’s road manners and I don’t disagree with the collective wisdom- this is one sweet handling car. The chassis is totally neutral and beautifully balanced- it doesn’t lose its composure when you push it and it’s just the most flingable car I’ve driven in months. if you covered up the badge you’d think you were driving a BMW. Add to that a remarkably compliant ride quality (are you listening, Infiniti?) and what you have is one serious sport sedan.

Likewise I have nothing but praise for the direct-injected 3.6. It’s smooth throughout the power range and while the six-speed always seems to be one gear ahead of where I want it to be, that’s where the slap shifters come in. Who ever thought that we would live in a world where Cadillacs were so utterly flingable?

And that leads us to what I really liked about the Cadillac- its sense of style. From the traditional Cadillac egg-crate grille to the blade tail lamps, the car was beautifully detailed inside and out with Cadillac cues and just exuded the joy of good design, Special praise goes to the lighting designers, who added touches like vertical parking lamps that outlined the fender blades, LED vertical taillamps, theater dimming on the interior LED lighting and even beautifully illuminated exterior door handles. All these little touches reminded me that I wasn’t just in a delightful small sport sedan, I was in a Cadillac.

To summarize, there was a lot I really liked about the ATS. The road manners were impeccable, the performance seats were extremely supportive and I loved car’s aesthetic statement. I’m not the biggest fan of the clunky CUE but all in all they’ve done themselves proud. Cadillac has earned an A for this one and I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re shopping for an upscale compact sport sedan.