One Step Better

I remember that back in the late 1960s, Ford (Europe) came out with a little gem of a car which was, quite frankly, the coolest car on the block.  It was meant to be the European version of the Mustang, and to be honest, I actually preferred the Capri’s shape and styling:

Of course, most of the car reviewers sniffed and called it “Cortina’s cousin” (Cortina being Ford’s top-selling brand everywhere outside the U.S.), but the hell with them, because they knew nothing.

A buddy had one and I loved going out with him and our girlfriends of a weekend night, because the Capri not only looked cool, it was a joy to drive, with handling which rivaled the Fiats and Alfa Romeos of the time.  Even its little 1600cc four-banger had excellent performance, and was only constrained by its silly 4-speed gearbox (which was still silky-smooth, and its tiny stick-shift made gear changes quicker than any Alfa).  The Capri was, I think, the best-looking compact car of its class during the 1970s, bar none, and I wept bitter tears when Ford stopped making them.  (Hell, I wouldn’t mind one today.)

I don’t know if GM (Europe) copied the Capri or it was just coincidence, but in 1970 they released a similar model called the Manta under their Opel brand.  Here’s its first incarnation, the Manta A:

Of course, it never sold anything like the numbers of the Capri (over 1.9 million Capris, vs. fewer than 500,000 of the Manta A), but that’s not what I want to talk about here.

While the Capri was progressively “souped up” over its lifetime, the Manta wasn’t (except in the United States, where the imported models were often modified).  But what Opel did (and which Ford never did for the Capri) was to make a sporty GT version of the Manta.  Here it is:

Apart from the headlights, this is one seriously-pretty little car*.  I saw several of them back in South Africa, and let me tell you, they were crowd-stoppers.  (Many people scoffed at them, of course, calling them the “poor man’s Dino” but hell:  I was poor, couldn’t afford a Dino, and I would have bought a Manta GT in a flash if given the opportunity.)

Okay, this is yet another in the series of “Stuff That Kim Thinks Looked Better Back Then”, but I challenge you to find any modern-day GM (or Ford, for that matter) car that can compare with the Manta GT.  The front looks a lot like the Corvette Stingray of the the 1960s, of course, but in terms of size the Manta was a midget by comparison.

*Yes, I also know that the Manta GT looks something like the Renault Alpine A110 (also of the 1960s), but then again I think the Renault’s gorgeous too:


As Longtime Readers know well, I absolutely hate the modern (circa 1980?) trend of using wind tunnels to design cars.  Because aerodynamics have unbreakable rules, it stands to reason that if wind tunnels are the sine qua non of car design, then eventually all cars will look the same.

And so it is:

It’s not incredible that so many cars look so similar. It’s incredible that cars look different at all.

Well, they don’t  look different, not at all.

And it gets up my nose, because it’s all part of the Great Global Homogeneity Conspiracy.  (Okay, there is no conspiracy;  people form naturally into herds of one kind or another, so no conspiracy is really needed.)

All you need is for Government (the ultimate homogenizer) to mandate that all an auto manufacturer’s car models combined can only do x, and the rest is history.  In the case of the above, x is emissions, where Gummint has imposed its nonsensical CAFE restrictions (To Save Our Planet And Make The World A Better Place For Our Childrennnn!!!), so the manufacturers have to make cars as sleek as possible, lower wind resistance / drag, and because it’s therefore easier to lower fuel consumption by making cars teardrop-shaped, bring in the Almighty Wind Tunnel.

Here’s the part of the linked article which really gets up my nose:

Suzy Cody, GM’s head of vehicle performance for aerodynamics, says this technology is the bridge between design and engineering. “Look,” she says, “it doesn’t matter how great your aerodynamics are if only ten people buy the car. Design matters. And active aero helps enable design.” But what if, I posit, there’s a propulsion breakthrough? Right now, aerodynamics are tied to miles per gallon and electric range. What if we had batteries that were good for 600 miles of range and charged in ten minutes? Could we stop worrying about every crease in the bodywork? Could we just give those designers the flared fenders and not sweat it? In other words, would aero cease to be such a big deal? Cody, unsurprisingly, seemed aghast that I would suggest such a thing. “Even if you had a battery like that, good aero gives you other options. You could have a smaller battery, make the car cheaper, give it more passenger space, make it quieter. Aero will always be important.”

Silly me.  And here I was, thinking that for any manufacturer, what the customer wants would be more important, but no.  We have to let the Dilberts create the products — and when Engineering controls Marketing, you get bullshit statements like the above, and stupid shit like this:

“We can affect aero maybe 10 percent one way or the other—if the coefficient of drag is .30, maybe we can get it down to .27,” Karbon says. “And that might represent three-tenths of a mile per gallon in fuel economy, depending on the vehicle.”

Only an engineer (or a total dork, some overlap) can get excited by this.  It’s the same as the wankers who get rigid erections because their supercar beats a competitor to 60mph by 0.1 seconds, paying little heed that this means nothing, absolute nada in the real world (as does that breathtaking 0.3mpg saving in fuel consumption).

This obsession with aerodynamic perfection means that instead of getting great-looking cars like this:

…we get homo-cars [sic]  that look like this:

I know, I know;  y’all are going to mock me for loving old stuff more than the new stuff — Mr. Free Market in particular is going to be snorting into his whisky glass when he reads this — but the problem with the New Stuff (as manifested by the Toyota Prius above) is that it all looks the same.  Note, from the same manufacturer, the Yaris:

Or, changing brands from Toyota to Nissan, this:

…or even VW, once the owner of the most iconic of car shapes:

No.  Just… no.  It’s small wonder that if you said to me: “Kim, you have to buy a small car, and you could have any car you like,” there would be no doubt what I’d get:

Not aerodynamic, too small, completely pointless and with absolutely no safety features whatsoever.  It’s my (over-) reaction to enforced homogenization.  (And most annoyingly to the enviro-weenies, the Moke gets close to 50mpg.  So there.)

But here’s the thing:  I bet I could pull more chicks with the Mini-Moke than with any of the above-pictured sleek and efficient econoboxes.

And I’m not even interested in pulling chicks.  But you know what kind of chicks would prefer the Moke?  This  kind:

…while everyone knows what kind of chick gets pulled by a Prius:

Screw conformity, the hell with efficiency, and fuck aerodynamics:  I want a car that’s FUN and looks either splendid (like the Morgan Plus 4 at the top), eclectic (like the Moke), impressive (1954 Mercedes 300 SC), or flat-out gorgeous (hello, E-type).  No doubt I’ll soon be marked as an undesirable and hauled off to the gulag  for re-education just because when it comes to cars, I choose character and beauty over efficiency.

Just wait till they hear my opinion of those “efficient” automatic transmissions…

Total Gorgeousity

Last weekend, fiend Reader Mr. Lion jogged my memory about a certain car that I’ve always loved simply because it is so beautiful.  (Forget actually driving one:  they cost well over a million dollars, if  you could find someone willing to part with theirs.  Good luck.)

Anyway, here it is, the Ferrari 250 California Spyder, from 1958. 

Ferrari made several variations of the 250 over the years.  One of my favorites is the rather more conservative GTL Lusso:

Then there’s the (much) racier GTO:

I could go on, but there’s only so much one can stand, really.  Your favorite 250 models in Comments, if you like.

Automotive Turning Point – Part 2

As threatened promised yesterday, here’s a look at 1954’s passenger saloon cars, starting with the Mercedes 300 S:

An astonishing number of 300 models are still running today, because when the chairman of M-B laid out the criteria for the 300 (W188) model, his brief was that the car should be capable of running all day (12 hours, to be specific) at top (not cruising) speed, without ever breaking down.  So that’s how they made them.

Other European countries in 1954 were still making passenger saloons according to the older, pre-war styles, such as the French with their Citroen Traction Avant:

…and  Britain, with their crop of  Rolls-Royce Phantom IV and Silver Dawn models (in order):

By way of contrast, in 1954 the Italians were still making tiny family cars like the Lancia Aurelia B20:

…but to be fair, all the European manufacturers’ offerings outside the limousine-type were just as small.  Here’s BMW’s 502:

And the Mercedes 220a C:

Note too the British offerings in this segment of the market in 1954, like the Vauxhall Velox:

Rover’s P40:

…and the Wolseley 4-44 (4 cylinders, 44 horsepower — I yeah, I know)

But while Alfa Romeo’s 1900 Sprint was small, it was, as the saying goes, outrageously sexy (unlike the blimps above):

…but that’s Alfa Romeo all over, isn’t it?

France’s Renault Fregate was, well, regrettable:

And Renault’s 4CV wasn’t any better.

Which brings us across The Pond to the United States, where our idea of “compact” was, let’s say, a little more generous than that of the Europeans.  Here’s the Hudson Hornet (Hollywood) model, whose style was surprisingly dated in 1954 (and Hudson would disappear from the market soon after this):

…as was the Nash Metropolitan (likewise about to disappear from the scene):

The Oldsmobile 88 was more like the mid-Fifties U.S. ideal:

…and of course there’s the Chevy Bel-Air:

…and the Chrysler New Yorker:

Longtime Readers will of course know that the American Behemoth-style of car leaves me quite cold, and indeed if someone were to offer me a large car from my birth year in decent running order and in good shape, I’d go for this one ahead of all others.  It’s the 1954 Bentley R-model Continental:

For a smaller car, there’s only one option, the Fiat 8v Berlinetta (assuming I could actually fit into one, that is):

Vroom, vroom.  Vroom.

Automotive Turning Point – Part 1

In the year of my birth (1954), I think the automotive world began to change.  By then, the austerity forced on European countries by WWII had started to wane, and cars began to become more than just a means to get from A to B.  And in the United States, cars started to move away from the dome-shaped creations of the pre-war era, and reflected both the exploding population of the Baby Boom and the chrome-driven manifestation of the exploding economy.

(Please note that what follows is by no means a comprehensive list;  it’s simply a catalog of cars which caught my interest and / or fancy.)

Of course, there were a few cars which were on their last legs — stylistically speaking — and they would be replaced in the following two or three years.  But in 1954, a couple of models appeared on both sides of the Atlantic which I think triggered the sea change in design.  Here’s one example: Fiat.  Note the old-fashioned post-war styling of the 1954 500C Topolino, and the brilliant new design of the 8v Berlinetta, made in the same year:

Shades of the Ferrari 375 Mille Miglia:

And if ever there was a study in lifestyle contrast between Europe and the U.S.A., note the 1954 Fiat 110 and the Chrysler New Yorker, both family saloon cars:

Of course, the Germans caused a distinct ruckus with the 1954 Mercedes 300 Gullwing:

…which was a behemoth, in Euro terms, when compared to the petite Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider:

…but compared favorably to the British Daimler Conquest Drophead:

…and our old friend, the Jaguar XK120:

In fact, let’s spend the rest of this post looking at convertibles — why not? — so here we go, first with the 1954 Aston Martin DB2-4 Spider Bertone:

I think the iconic E-type was a direct copy of Bertone’s design, myself;  but I’ll let others argue about it.  The Bertone was accompanied by its stablemate, the 1954 Aston Martin DB2-4 Drophead Coupe:

…and the equally-lovely 1954 Alfa Romeo 1900 Sport Spider:

On a more modest scale, we have the 1954 Austin Healey 100-4:

…and the French 1954 Simca “Weekend” DV:

But when it came to open-top cars, the Brits and the French still sold more of the Citroën 2CV and the Morris Minor:

(I should point out that as a youngin, I was driven around in a Minor, my Mom’s car.)

Of course, there were the flashy numbers like the 1954 Morgan Plus 4 (which hadn’t changed since the 1930s, and has yet to change from this style to the present day):

…and the rather plain BMW 502 Cabriolet:

But no study of automotive styling of the 1954 model year would be complete without comparing the above to the American contingent, a sample of which appears below:

1954 Ford Crestliner:

1954 Packhard Caribbean (as I recall, one of the last of the Packhards before the company was bought out):

And of course, no study of this kind would be complete without the sine qua non of Murkin ’50s engineering, the Cadillac Eldorado:

The best (largest) that the Europeans could come up with was the admittedly fine Mercedes 300S Cabriolet:

And speaking of Cadillacs and Mercedes, I’ll be looking at family saloon cars in Part 2, tomorrow.

When Technology Sucks

I have frequently railed against modern technology on these here pages, and just as often been called a Luddite or Old Fart etc. for doing so. Here’s the latest little fad, and its downside, which came under my baleful gaze:

BMW has claimed it is powerless to prevent criminals hacking into its cars.
In emails to a customer seen by the Daily Mail, the German giant acknowledged its latest keyless models were vulnerable to thieves using gadgets widely available online.
However, it insisted it cannot accept any responsibility for this.
The Mail has highlighted a surge in thefts using ‘relay boxes’ to extend the signal from owners’ key fobs to steal vehicles outside their homes.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but isn’t this “remote / keyless start” thing basically for those who are just too lazy to insert a key into a lock and turning it? (And spare me the “soccer moms with armfuls of groceries” spiel, please.) If I’ve missed some lifesaving feature that this technology brings, let me know about it — but be warned that I’m going to be a tough sell. The way I see it, it’s a little frippery invented to “improve” a product that doesn’t need much improvement (see: electronic seat setting “memory”) and simply adds yet another cost / opportunity to break and incur horrendous repair costs.

Also, as the above article reveals, it makes it easier for car thieves to steal your car, all while BMW et al. shrug their corporate shoulders and ask Pontius to hand over the basin when he’s done.

My VW Tiguan does have an electronic unlocking fob, and I use it simply because the actual keyhole is buried beneath a plastic shield in the door handle; but if the little battery inside goes phut, I doubt I’ll ever replace it. I’ll just take off the shield and go back to using the car key to unlock the door, as invented by God Henry Ford.

As for this remote-starting gizmo, I’ll only ever buy a car with one if you can permanently disable the wretched thing without voiding your warranty; otherwise, it’s on to the next model, or if all of them include that little thieves’ helper in the future, something a little more to my taste; something (duh) older:

You see, back in 1968 Mercedes didn’t screw around with unnecessary crap; they just made simple, gorgeous sports cars like this 230 SL. Sure, an enterprising car thief could probably nick it, too; but he’d have to work a little harder than just by buying a $5 relay box from Amazon.