Friday, April 20, 2012

Blaine and the 442 Apollo Show Car

Another week, another crazy show car from the GM Dustbin of History. Again an Olds 442, and once more a Blaine Jenkins creation. Last week he convinced us that "Olds Is Young" with the Mod Rod, a salute to octane boosted flower power. Now from the 1969 Auto Show season, we have the Apollo.

Apollo is done in a color scheme of metallic Fireball Red with black accent striping. Inside, it features a matching interior of red patent leather with black suede accents. Instead of seats it features Space age "Comfort lounges" inspired by the Apollo Moon Rocket, with separate floating headrests.

Once more a static display only, the Comfort Lounges were actually wooden mockups and by all reports ridiculously uncomfortable. And again static - they d not fold, recline, or adjust. But they looked great and the car put the "Rocket" back in Oldsmobile. Apollo is not believed to have survived.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ford Mustang: Happy Birthday, Hoss!

Quick entry today to say Happy Birthday to the Official Car of the baby Boom, the Timeless Ford Mustang, introduced on live TV (all three networks no less) at the New York World's Fair as a 1964 1/2 model on April 17, 1964. Mustang was a huge financial success for Ford, who should have sent a thank you card every day for proving that a small car with high interior content was a financially viable proposition with its sporty Corvair Monza.

Here's the World's Fair Introductory Spot:

 Mustang will forever be recalled for its ad campaign which was very "Sex and the Single Girl" in theme- showing how ordinary people could completely remake their lives with a trip to the Ford dealer and about $2368 in cash, plus tax, title and license.

Take a look at the vibrant and youthful ad campaign- great photography, bright colors, youthful models, glamorous costume and attention grabbing headlines- "Life was just one more diaper after another until Sarah got her new Mustang".... "Desmond was afraid to let the cat out until he got his Mustang."

Clearly, Ford was selling something more than a rebodied Falcon, and they definitely let the cat out with this one. Happy Birthday, Mustang!

Everyone got in on the act. Here's Martha and the Valdallas singing their way through River Rouge:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Blaine and the Mod Rod 442

I have coffee with my neighbor, retired GM designer Blaine Jenkins, a couple of times a week. Actually, neither of us drink coffee, but it takes too long to explain what a Diet Cherry 7-Up klatch is. So anyway, one of the things I like to do is find some obscure car that he created and quiz him about it.

So the other day I asked, "What was the Mod Rod?" His eyes lit up and he recalled- it was a 1968 442 convertible show car for Chicago. It was a light pearlescent yellow car with an matching interior, set off by this wild custom Pucci-esque fabric inserts of purple, silver, orange and yellow in the bucket seats and door panels. To set it off appropruately, the narrators wore outfits made of the same fabric with orange and purple skirts and orange go-go-boots. Red line tires and "Mod Rod" scripts completed the look.

The Mod Rod was displayed under an arch that proclaimed "Olds is Young." Obviously there was no production intent behind it, rather is was the stuffed shirts of General Motors were attempting to connect with the Flower Power generation. Alfred P. Sloan meets Peter Max. Mary Wells Lawrence would have been proud.

Incidentally, not only was there no production intent, the car was not driveable. The seats were wood mockups with no padding and further and lacked any mechanism for rear seat access, so the Mod Rod was merely a pretty face. Accented by an even prettier face in a matching dress.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mr. C for the Big S

Now here's a shock- Tom Bosley under the age of 30, long before he or his show jumped the shark.

He's pretty good looking in this 1956 Studebaker commercial, certainly handsomer than most of the cars. Still I'd rather have a Golden Hawk than the DeSoto Suburban he drove on Happy Days.

That red "Love Bandit" Ford convertible might be another story.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Christine In the Rear View Mirror

It's hard to believe that we're coming up on thirty years since the release of Christine- the John Carpenter film based on the Stephen King novel. You remember- the one that proves that woman has no scorn like a Plymouth's Fury. And it's time for me to make a startling confession- I was so upset by the film that I walked out halfway through.

First, before I even went  I was pretty upset over the needless destruction of so many 1958 Plymouths. The poor things rusted like crazy when new, so to scour the country for survivors and off twenty-three of them for a movie- any movie- goes way against my grain. But I decided to give the movie the benefit of the doubt.

I got through some of it. I think I started getting upset at the drive in scene- Arnie and Leigh are at the movies in the rain, and the wipers are going (wait- who actually watches the movie anyway?) and the left one sticks. Arnie gets out to unstick it and Christine locks the lock buttons and tries to kill Leigh. By strangling her. Not that Christine has any hands. Or any lock buttons either. Call it equal parts offputting and unrealistic.

Then Christine decides to extract revenge on a punk named Moochie, who was one of a gang of vandals that attacked and vandalized her.  He's hitchhiking home and his ride drops him off by a lonely freeway overpass. He starts walking and suddenly out of the darkness four headlamps illuminate. After an inordinate amount of time standing in the middle of the road, Christine chases him into an industrial park, traps him at the entrance to a loading dock which is slightly narrower than herself  (who has actually ever seen a loading dock narrower than a passenger car anyway- I ask you) and contorts herself in order to mow him down.

That's about where I left. I went out the back door of the theater. It was drizzling and I was reasonably freaked out. I was walking quickly toward my trusty Volkswagen GTI when, in the far corner of the parking lot, headlamps came on. I moved quickly to the VW, unlocked the door almost without stopping and jumped inside. I started the engine and turned on the wipers.

And the left one sticks.

At this point, I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that I won't be getting home alive. And I began to think about why the film upset me so much- I've always thought of cars as more than buckets of bolts, and that's why I've spent my life collecting and restoring them. I give them names. I rescue them from peril and find them caring homes. I guess I  tend to think they absorb a little of the energy that went into making them - the craftsmanship and loving attention- in a positive way.- I'm practically an Auto Rights Advocate. Cars have always been my friends- not demonically possessed random killers. I think it was that depiction that I found so disturbing.

Somehow, I made it all the way into my driveway without being killed by an errant flock of '58 Plymouths and the whole thing slowly faded into the background, until recently Christine popped up on my Netflix recommended list. This embarrassed me for two reasons- first that I still use Netflix, and second that I had been so upset by the movie originally.  I decided I better take another look- in the rear view mirror, as it were.

Perspective certainly changes in almost 30 years. Now I see Christine not as a demon, but more like a Mean Girl with tailfins. They certainly extract revenge when they feel wronged, don't they? And they're a bit on the touchy side, right? So she offed a few people- like the guy in the factory who dropped ashes on her seat- wouldn't Lindsay Lohan do the same thing? I mean, they had all done her harm, or at least thought about it, or in Arnie's case, he probably looked at her crossly at least once. Maybe Christine is no worse than Paris Hilton.

Okay, perhaps Paris Hilton never blew up a gasoline station and backed out, engulfed in flames, so that she could run over and kill someone who ticked her off. Maybe that's more Real Housewives of New Jersey. But you can see where I am coming from. Christine isn't that much different from any of us, really. Just a wee but more homocidal. Oh, and that whole immortal thing- whatever. I was cool with it. 

But there was one thing that really irked me. And what upset me this time? The fact that they try to pass off Christine as a Fury. Sorry, folks- Christine is a Belvedere. Second banana. The top-of-the-line1958 Fury only came in Buckskin Beige, with gold anodized side trim and a gold grille, gold and white interior and even gold wheel centers. And I get that Stephen King wanted Christine to be a Fury for the word play, but that doesn't make her one. It just makes Stephen King a better fiction writer than he is a researcher.

So while I'm not likely to go out and buy a '58 Belvedere and pretend its a Fury when it's really a Belvedere and was NEVER a Fury to begin with, I'm not upset by the movie. Except for the fake Fury. I mean, everyone knows the difference between a Belvedere and a Fury, And I'd gladly watch that movie again, if I could just find a way to pretend it's really a Fury.

(Oh, and there's a really cool site about finding all the Christine cars in a junkyard here)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

So Cal Drive: 2012 Buick LaCrosse with eAssist

2012 LaCrosse with eAssist at Covina Bowl
Recently I was in Los Angeles to photograph some historic architecture, and the folks at Reynolds suggested that I utilize the opportunity to get to drive the new 2012 LaCrosse with eAssist technology. I hadn't been behind the wheel of an eAssist Buick yet, so I jumped at the chance.

The car I drove was the 2012 LaCrosse in base level trim with no additional options. It featured the same basic 182 hp 2.4 litre 4 cylinder engine as last year, with a few changes to integrate the eAssist system. An electric motor capable of adding 15hp is added in place of the alternator, and is connected to a 115V battery pack in the trunk. This battery pack feeds the motor and is charged during regenerative braking- similar to a mild Hybrid car. It also uses slightly numerically lower gearing- 2.64:1 instead of last year's 3.23:1, a slightly smaller gas tank, special tires with lower rolling resistance, thermostatic shutters on the air dam (as seen on the Chevy Cruze ECO) and a new six speed automatic transmission.

In many ways the system acts like the mild hybrid it is derived from. Upon deceleration, the brakes charge the battery and the fuel cuts out- the car goes into "Auto Stop" mode and the engine shuts down. The electric motor pushes the car from a stop and the engine restarts- all of this is very similar to a mild Hybrid system.

Where eAssist differs mainly is philisophical - Mild Hybrids aren't intended to drive without the gasoline engine, but with eAssist, the electric motor offers assistance while driving (even at highway speeds) and cuts down on the amount of gasoline the that is used. How much less? EPA Fuel economy ratings for the 2012 LaCrosse with eAssist are 25 city/ 37 highway, compared to 19 city/ 30 highway for last year's four cylinder. In my combined driving of city landmarks such as Covina Bowl and the Northwoods Inn, combined with a rather congested freeway drive to Bob's Big Boy in Downey, the eAssist LaCrosse averaged just over 29 mpg- for a full sized roomy sedan with Buick comfort and safety.

How much attention from the driver is needed? As little as you care to give it. There's a fascinating display on the cluster that shows the power mode- engine, electric, or hybrid- and the state of the battery- but the car does everything seamlessly with no conscious effort from the driver. Those who exercise light brake pedal pressure will recharge the battery more quickly, but that is about it. If I covered the display, you'd just think you were driving a responsive family car that does really well on fuel economy.

And isn't that what you've always gotten from Buick?

2012 LaCrosse with eAssist at the historic Covina Bowl

2012 LaCrosse with eAssist at the historic Covina Bowl 
Power display in Auto Stop Mode

Fantastic original Covina Bowl signage

LaCrosse with eAssist at the classic Northwoods Inn

The Northwood Inn features western details

LaCrosse with eAssist at the classic Northwoods Inn 

Modern car, historic setting
Tasteful cloth trim in the 2012 LaCrosse

The instrument panels flows into the doors

Rear seat is comfortable with excellent leg room

Classic Buick Ventiports on the hood

Futuristic Projector Beam headlamps

Timeless Bob's Broiler in Downey- beautifully restored

Beautifully restored signage

LaCrosse with eAssist under the Drive-In 

LaCrosse with eAssist under the neon lights

Perfect destination for a road test- Bob's broiler

LaCrosse with eAssist under the lights at Bob's Broiler

Neon  reflections on LaCrosse's hood
(Test car provided by Reynolds Buick- cross posted on the Palm Springs Automobilist)