Friday, June 29, 2012

Photo of the week: Here's Lucy

Another busy week for cool retro images on the Palm Springs Automobilist Facebook Page. We somehow got onto the topic of the 1954 film "The Long Long Trailer, starring Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, a new brand new Mercury convertible and a ginormous New Moon trailer. The conversation recalled the magic substitution that was made during the mountain driving scene where the Mercury convertible was replaced with a more powerful Lincoln, and this still from the movie became our top image of the week.

Our second most popular image for the week comes from the archives of General Motors. This is the 1955 GMC L'Universelle, designed by GM legend Chuck Jordan for the 1955 Motorama. It was designed around a Pontiac V-8 engine, Hydra-Matic automatic transmission and special front wheel drive unit. A running chassis development prototype was built and evaluated and the project came very close to production approval, but alas it was not to be. It is shown here with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

Be sure and drop by our Facebook Page daily for retro images and lively banter. See you there!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Photo of the Week: Impala Sunset

The images keep flowing over at the Palm Springs Automobilist Facebook Page. This week's top photo was "Impala Sunset", a great twilight look at a '59 Impala Sport Sedan at Oval Beach in picturesque Saugatuck, Michigan. Surprisingly enough, it's one of my own photos (I'm known for leaving the lens cap on) but even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.

And sharing a similar theme, I decided to include the second place photo as well. It's a Life magazine picture from the early '60s that I call "Along the Banks of the Hardtop River" and shows a riverbank shored up with abandoned cars that we would just happen to DIE FOR today. A great period look at how quickly these majestic chariots were discarded.

Don't forget to visit us on Facebook for daily automotive history through images and interesting banter.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Photo of the Week: The Continental Awaits

This week's Photo of the Week was a runaway- with more than twice the views of the second place finisher, and to double the shock value, it's my own photo of my own car. I was trying to take a classic formal portrait, and had opened the rear door to get my camera bag, when I saw the reflection of the wheel cover in the door and really liked it. I call it "The Continental Awaits." 1964 Lincoln Continental in Princeton Gray with Light Silver Blue cloth and leather. Seems to say everything I like best about sixties style. A happy accident. I hope you enjoy and please stop by our Facebook Group where we have new images every day.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Behind The Wheel: 2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo- More Trick, Less Chick

I loved my 1983 GTI. I'd waited for months for it to arrive, stopping by the local VW dealer at least once a week to see when they were finally going to get one. When the little black screamer finally arrived, I quickly sold my late model Scirocco and ran over to claim it, not really bothering to worry how a college student would even pay for the damn thing. Oh, and car geek that I am, I even took pictures before they rolled it off the showroom floor. Black with red sport seats, sunroof and electronic stereo, six speed and sunroof. I had them add Autobahn driving lights and that was about it. It was fast- much faster than the Scirocco, and the Pirellis seemed to stick like glue. I was in Hot Hatch Heaven.

By the time the redesigned 1985 model came out, I was working for one of the big three. I got an '85, also in black, and hoped no one noticed. It was a risky plan. The '85 had more sophistication- a much better ride, power steering, and more subdued cabin materials, but it wasn't quite the same balls-out fun. I don't think I've ever had another new car that delighted me quite like the '83.

I wasn't thinking of my long lost GTIs when VW called to offer me a chance to drive the new Beetle Turbo. I was not much of a fan of the "New Beetle", finding it longer on promise than on substance and just too chicky for me. The bud vase was too gay even for me and the whole thing just seemed too cutesy- I don't care if the '73 Super Beetle had one giant gauge- I hated the damn thing. Besides, the interior was a sea of unhappy plastics. I'd driven them. but we hadn't bonded.

But the 2012 redesign intrigued me. I thought the lowered silhouette held promise and liked the sportier, more masculine styling. The body shaping is much more sophisticated and the frameless door glass added sophistication. The car feels much more sophisticated. It's as if the Beetle became a 356. I started thinking of my old GTI.

I turned the key and the comparison seemed more apt. The 20.T Turbo engine produces 200 HP and 207 lb/ft of torque- well above the measly 90 HP of the '83- but it had the same sound. The cloth sport seat interior looked familiar and felt like an favorite chair. And the shifter felt exactly the same- except that the Beetle has the sixth gear that my old GTI needed so badly. The dash was much more GTI than Beetle with a full complement of gauges including a tach and even a chronometer that I never used (and VW sure loves that oil temp gauge, don't they?) nestled in a handsome carbon fiber fascia.

My test car was interesting, both for what it had and what it didn't. It was a base Beetle Turbo with a six speed and the Bi-Xenon Headlamp and 19" wheel package ($1000) and that was it. It came with standard Turbo features- sport suspension, six speed manual, all season tires, alloy pedals, fog lamps, rear spoiler, sport seats, leather covered wheel and shifter- and nothing more. No Navigation, no satellite radio, no parking sensors or backup cameras or trip computers or automatic missile launchers. In short, just a well performing car. Including delivery charge, the car listed for just $25,165- the lowest priced car I've tested all summer. And just like my snarky '83- the most fun as well.

In short, I was charmed by the six speed Turbo well beyond my expectations. The Turbo 2.0 is smooth all through the range, the shifter is a delight, the ride is smooth and sure footed, the car corners in the best GTI tradition, it's handsomely tailored inside and out , the sport seats fit me perfectly, and doesn't need to have all the options to be a great deal of fun- in fact my base car with six speed and wheels might be just the ticket. Nothing is perfect, I still can't figure out how to open the hatch properly, and the lack of trip computer kept me from bothering to track the fuel economy, but I loved the car and was trying to think of a credible way to explain to VW that I'd misplaced it. All in all, it made me smile like I hadn't since 1983. It's more trick and way less chick. I can think of worse ways to spend twenty five grand.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Photo of the Week: Aunt Barbara's New Car

Photo of the week is a runaway favorite with a sweet story. It's had over 700 views in two days and brought greetings from as far as Italy. The photo is of my Aunt Barbara, Dad's older sister and a really cool lady. I remember her having many convertibles growing up including a brand new 1971 Super Beetle in Clementine (Bittersweet) and the first Dodge 400 convertible in town in saucy red with a white top.

Well, at age 82 most people wouldn't think of another new convertible, but then again most people aren't Aunt Barbara. Here she is with her great-nice Caitlyn and her brand new 2012 Camaro RS convertible. And yes, she insisted on the V8. I want to be  just like Aunt Barbara when I grow up. 

Don't forget to drop by the Palm Springs Automobilist on Facebook for cool photos and car fun every day. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Behind The Wheel: 2012 Buick Regal GS: Paint it Black

I joined Buick during the glory days of the Turbo 3.8 litre- the Grand National was announced the year I started with them. Every male under 30 and quite a few of the women at Home Office bought one (myself included) and proceeded to spend a Michigan winter going diagonally coping with the awesome power and serious lack of traction those black beauties provided. We loved them dearly, but they were hardly a balanced automobile.

The motoring press loved it as much as we did. Tony Assenza from Car and Driver Magazine road tested the legendary GNX in April of 1987 and wrote of it, "In a world of sleek shapes and refined manners, the GNX is an ax-wielding barbarian laying waste to everything in its path.”

Fast forward twenty five years to 2012. In my driveway is the 2012 Buick Regal GS. It's the singularly most powerful car Buick has produced since the Grand National-  but instead of a monster, it's a sleek shape with highly refined manners. Will I still like it?

Let's start with some background. I went to the press launch for the Regal back in 2010 and drove both the 2.4 conventionally aspirated 182 HP and the 2.0 Turbocharged 220 HP versions. I described the Epsilon based mid sized sedans as "well tailored and well mannered" and thought they were an excellent addition to the Buick line up. I found the 2.4 to be a bit sluggish and the 2.0 Turbo to have a very pleasing power band, but didn't think of either as an "ax-wielding barbarian."

The GS version is highly modified from the base model. The 2.0 Litre Turbo in the GS is the High Output Ecotec 2.0L Turbo and it's 270 HP exceeds the '87 Grand National's 245 rated HP and falls just short oif the  GNX's 274, but since both those engines were underrated, its probably about on a par with the Intercooled Grand National. It is offered with a 6 speed manual or 6 speed automatic transmissions. 

There are lots of unique touches. It has a deep skirted front fascia flanked by Bi-Xenon HIS headlamps and a unique rear one with dual exhaust ports. There are special rocker panels. a rear spoiler, and 19" twin spoke alloy wheels with Pirelli tires. Peek through the spokes and note the big Brembo calipers. Pirellis and Brembos- is this Heaven? No, this is Buick. 

The interior is offered in ebony leather only, with special touches such as a leather wrapped F1 style steering wheel, piano black dash trim. and leather trimmed sport seats. A Special GS Interactive Drive Control system offers standard, Sport and GS settings for the suspension. GM's Intellilink is standard, along with a pretty killer 336 watt Harmon Kardon Audio system with 9 speakers and XM Satellite radio. 

Options are few, and colors are limited. 20" polished wheels and performance tires, power sliding sunroof, GPS Navigation, and three extra cost colors out of the five available. Quicksilver and Smoky Gray are standard, White Diamond, Carbon Black Metallic and Crystal Red Tintcoat are optional. 

My test car was finished in the Crystal Red Tintcoat and features the meaty 20" wheel package. I found it to be quite a handsome and purposeful looking car and others seemed to agree. I found neighbors in the driveway admiring it, and found it to be a topic of conversation from the couple at the table next to mine when I parked it at an outdoor cafe. All good signs as far as I am concerned. 

But enough looking, time to see what happens when the rubber meets the road. Touch the starter button and the 2.0 Turbo comes to life. It's smooth, Buick V8 smooth and the exhaust note is quiet. Shift into drive and the car feels powerful, but doesn't play all of its cards. In fact, you could drive the GS in drive and your impression would be a smooth, well balanced sport sedan with a poised ride, excellent handling and crazy good brakes. You'd praise the engine torque, and would probably be a bit at odds with the six speed automatic- which seems to default at least one gear too high for the sporting driver- and no sport setting. That should be an easy enough fix for such a sporting ride. 

So to transform the GS, the driver need do three things- Select "GS" suspension mode, Turn off the Traction Control, and shift over to manual stick mode. The well balanced GS is now one crazy mother. Steering and ride are both tightened, and the Turbo soars up to redline without the slightest hesitation, I wish the manual stick was the tiniest bit quicker, and in all due respect to the six speed automatic, I'd go for the six speed manual in a heartbeat. But the car is now crazy fun, and sticks like glue to the tarmac. The Brembo brakes are killer and bring the GS down out of harm's way in no time flat. 

I have to say that the Regal GS is the most fun I've had behind the wheel of a Buick since the Grand National. And that becomes my challenge to Buick- As much as I like the GS and think it's a great sport sedan choice, how about giving us one to boost your street cred? Tweak the power up to 300 HP and paint  it Black. Not Metallic Black- not Nocture Firefrost. Paint it black. Black out all the trim and give us a Regal Grand National. It'll be more sophisticated than the old girl, for sure, with superior ride quality and suberb handling- but it'll be a Grand National, and we both need one.

You know you want to, Buick - Paint it Black.