Sunday, July 19, 2009

America, Fuck Yeah! 2009 Syracuse Nationals


As far as car shows go, this weekend's Syracuse Nationals offer a distinctly different experience from June's Victor outing. For one thing, it genuinely is huge, with six thousand-plus cars (in non-numerical terms: more than one can realistically see in a day) arrayed upon the sprawling New York State Fairgrounds. For another, this is a hot rod show. Which means, one, you won't find a lotta furrin' autos here (I counted one exceptionally maintained P1800ES and two horrifyingly modded '70s Rollers on display and that was it), and two, you will find a whole lot of really, really, really bad taste.

The way it plays out, in fact, is that for every lovingly preserved example of American awesomeness on view you will find roughly one corresponding example of utterly worthless and contemptible automotive ineptitude that should've been carted off to the crusher decades ago. And for every tasteful and appealing application of contemporary technology and aesthetics to an older vehicle, you will find roughly two such applications so misguided and grotesque that you instinctively start looking around for the nearest bucket (yes, those are Prowler headlights; yes, on a '38 Chevy; no, God will not answer your cries of why? why?!?).



Contemporary custom coachbuilt Packard inspired by a period illustration the guy described to me in detail of a Packard streamliner racing a "Lionel standard gauge train" (I think he might have meant something else). Proportions a little stubby from the side, but interesting and well-executed.


Mammoth Buick seemed even bigger and more terrifying riding on massive blackwall tires; an absolute behemoth.


Most persuasive argument in defense of the screaming chicken I've ever seen.


Hey look! Another Amphicar! Er, scratch that ... AMPFICar. Kinda makes that Quattroporte look like a sweet deal.


Jury prize winner, Car Most Likely to Be Driven by Someone Who Will Rape You category. Actually this was my friend Herman's best in show: he plans to buy it and restore it to mechanical perfection while leaving the exterior untouched. Clearly the only thing to do here.


More ridiculously inappropriate wire wheels. Why do people do this?


Guy was asking $2200 for this straight six Suburban, claimed to be "mechanically 100%" (no indication whether that includes the canoe). How is this not sold in five minutes?


Seventies Olds Starfire. Astonishing that even one of these still exists, let alone in this kind of condition.


Conventional wisdom has it that the new Challenger "corrects" the original car's design flaws, that its proportions, overhangs, and overall stance are objectively superior to those of its predecessor. I call bullshit on this, and while I'm not crazy about the actual choice of wheels here or the particular paint treatment, this otherwise artfully presented example of the latter makes my case pretty forcefully I think.


"As always, some of the coolest cars on view were to be found in the parking lot." What?

Full slideshow:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In Bloom: Victor Car Show 2009


One thing about the long winters here in western New York is that the landscape turns into an automotive wasteland. Unless you're really into '90s shitbox beaters (the '80s ones all returned to the earth some time ago) or Outbacks, Quattros and X5s, for about five months there's precious little of interest to be seen on the roads. Right around the time you've forgotten that there ever was, spring arrives, and with it, the pleasant realization that among this region's many splendors are an intractable group of eccentrics who can't wait another day to bring the Daimler Dart out of storage, and so that's what you see sitting next to you at the intersection, idling loudly, top stowed, on a brilliant 40 degree morning in April.

By early summer the automotive ecosystem is as diverse and colorful as any in the world, and nowhere is this more evident than at the annual Sports Car and Vintage Auto Festival hosted jointly by the MG Car Club of Western New York and the Victor Lions Club in nearby Farmington. They boast that it's "the East Coast's largest one-day car show," which is really just a fancy way of saying that it's big but not that big, because, really, it's not. But in its all-inclusive and dizzingly random scope—where else are you going to see a 1923 Bentley, a pair of Renault Alpines, an Amphicar, a hundred-point body-off restoration '49 Hudson Commodore convertible, and a Ranchero-ized Lincoln Continental Mark IV all in the same place?—the Victor car show, as most people refer to it, is pretty hard to beat.

Some other highlights:


Lots of pretty Jags, but this sinister fixed head coupe might have been my personal best in show. So gorgeous, and so evil.


Sweet Lancia Fulvia driver.


Not generally a fan of '50s T-Birds, but this one, sans portholes and typical fat whitewalls, just looked awesome.


How much more charismatic is yesterday's baby Lambo Jalpa than today's generic, dime-a-dozen Gallardos?


And what could be more ghastly than a Mondial with wire wheels? Answer: a Mondial with chrome wire wheels!


My dream car, sitting there with a for sale sign right in the window. Super nice guy. He wanted six for it. (Cough.) Said he had a guy who could fix all the rust for a grand. (Cough, cough.) Riiiight. I'm going to buy a Quattroporte someday, but it won't be this one.


A '70 to my dad's '69, but otherwise nearly identical to the car that is indelibly embedded as my earliest automotive memory. An absolutely awesome and bafflingly undercelebrated vehicle.


As always, some of the coolest cars on view were to be found in the parking lot.


See above! Full slideshow below.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dear Six Months From Now: This Is What A Pontiac Dealership Looked Like

A eulogy in photos to the division that gave this blog its name. Let the record reflect that the end was an ignominious one. Nevertheless, a world without Pontiac is a poorer world, if only infinitesimally so. Star Chief to Sunbird, Grand Prix to Grand Am, GTO to G8, Fiero to Solstice, Firebird to Firebird to Firebird Man. You will be missed.

Click on the pics for a closer look

Monday, July 13, 2009

Adventures In Incredulity: New Car Shoppin', 2009

Or, No Wonder All You Dumbass Motherfuckers Are Going Out of Business

It's one of those things the undeniability of which forces me to acknowledge, however grudgingly, the fact that my personal world view does not extend to the entire universe: Not everybody wants an old car. Not everybody wants an interesting car. Not everybody wants a two-thousand-dollar car they then have to spend two thousand dollars annually to keep on the road. Despite a veritable cosmos of ebaymotors awesomeness at their fingertips, many people want nothing more than a car that is economical, runs dependably, and provides them some small modicum of comfort.

What the fuck, right? It's weird. But my girlfriend Patricia is one of those people. And with her '98 Sentra having reached a state where it resembled less an automobile than just a heavy, noisy, somewhat portable oil sieve, she enlisted my aid in finding a car that would be something different than one I would buy for myself. I grilled her about her priorities, likes and dislikes, what she was looking to spend. One by one my candidates fell away. The QIII Maserati was out. Ditto the Milano. This wasn't fun at all.

Eventually we winnowed the field down to a few possibilities. She liked newish small Volvos. She liked the last-generation Mazda 3. And she could see herself in a Civic, even though she hates the idea of driving a "teacher car" (she's a teacher). Those are all great choices, I assured her. You can't go wrong with any of them. Let the shopping begin.

First stop: Dick Ide Honda Pontiac. We spot a brace of late-model Civics out front of the Pontiac showroom and wander over. Salesman approaches, is friendly, not pushy, offers to get keys if we want to test drive anything. We sample a couple of four-door Civics, both low-mileage trade-ins. It's the first time I've driven a new Honda in more than a decade, and it's hard not to be impressed. The Civic in its current U.S. four-door form is to my eye one of the most handsomely modern small cars on the road, futuristic in a way that is largely disguised by fundamentally pleasing proportions and smart detailing. Getting behind the wheel only reinforces the impression of otherworldliness hinted at by the exterior: it feels strangely perfect, as if delivered from some more advanced civilization. So refined in its manner, so seamless in its presentation, it seems less a conventional vehicle than some sort of sexless Marilyn Mansonesque automotive android. Patricia isn't thrilled exactly but likes it well enough and feels comfortable behind the wheel. This will be our fallback.

Next up: Mazdas. The guy at the dealer down the street explains apologetically that Mazda doesn't give their own dealers first shot at cars coming off lease and sends them instead to auction. So if we want a low-mileage, last-generation 3—which we do: Patricia isn't interested in spending another ten grand for a brand new car and doesn't like the new 3s' weird Jim Carrey grin anyway—our options are limited to ebaymotors and those sketchy Auctions Direct places. When we'd kinda like to, you know, actually drive the car first, and have a place to take it for warranty work when something goes wrong. Mazda 3 is out.

Onward. Local Volvo dealership has hardly any used models and none that we're interested in. Little mom-and-pop Volvo place out in the 'burbs though has a small lot full of possibilities, including one so understated that I didn't notice it until we were walking away: an '05 V70R. Three hundred horsepower, four wheel drive, gunmetal gray with a gorgeous orange leather interior, 70,000 miles, asking mid-teens—less than the Civics we were driving. Ummm...? Patricia loves it. Total wolf in sheep's clothing, the exact opposite of a teacher's car. I'm soft-selling, pointing out that the mileage is a little worrisome for something with this kind of power and complexity, at least as far as her priorities are concerned, but really I just want to drive the freaking thing. Only problem: nobody's around. I call the number listed on their web site. No answer. No voicemail. Well okay then.

I find something for us to test drive at a Mercury-Dodge-Jeep emporium instead, a late-model, low-mileage S40, asking high teens. I've driven these before and they're pleasant and competent, if unremarkable, cars. It takes a while for the smarmy salesguy to notice us nosing around the lot but eventually he does and I explain that we'd just like to take the Volvo for a spin. Instead he brings us inside and sits us down in his office and starts going through the rigamarole of what we're looking for, what kind of payment we can swing, etc., all the while apologizing and explaining that he's really a terrible salesman and doesn't really know that much about cars and has only been doing this for six months after getting laid off from his job in manufacturing. Nothing like the fine edge of desperate pathos to polish off your typically douchey car-shopping experience. After dutifully taking down what information we're willing to give him, he disappears to get plates and the keys. He will not return for twenty minutes.

Plenty of time to savor the all-pervasive stench of death that is the signature of a Chrysler dealership circa 2009. As a trio of proud Challengers stand sentinel out front, salesmen mill aimlessly about the showroom, muttering to each other and trying to look busy. "What's a 'Caliber'?" Patricia asks me, brow furrowed. Sigh. You don't want to know. Just as we're about to bail, salesguy comes back looking harried and realizes he also needs the keys to the car that's blocking in the Volvo. Another ten minutes. Now he doesn't have the right kind of screwdriver to put on the plates. At this point we've been here almost an hour and still haven't so much as sat in the car. At last this joker hops in the back with us and we're off.

The Volvo is exactly as I remembered it, pleasant and unremarkable. What is remarkable, however, is salesguy's insisting on making conversation throughout our drive, even though that conversation consists almost exclusively of him pointing out how little he knows but that he can definitely check up on my few, trivial questions once we get back (not that I actually care, or couldn't check on those questions later myself if I did). Patricia isn't particularly impressed with the car. Back at the dealer, despite our protests that we're not looking to buy today, he pleads with us to come back inside and look at numbers with him. It's like dealing with a special needs child. We play along.

The sticker is totally reasonable but still a little more than Patricia was looking to spend and we tell him so. This is when he busts out the line that I honestly thought had been retired with dot matrix printers: "What would it take to send you home in this car today?" Completely earnest. Wow. Really? I tell him we're not buying the car today, that we're not buying the car at all, that we only came because we were curious to drive it. He persists: "At what price would you consider buying the car?" This is ridiculous. Why am I having this conversation? I quote him a number thousands less than what they're asking, in the hopes of gently pointing out the absurdity of his question. He jumps up! "Let me talk to my manager!" Good Christ. Now it's just morbid fascination that's keeping us here. We stare in mute horror at a Dodge Avenger poster until he comes back.

Tight-lipped, shaking his head, he sets a piece of paper in front of me. It's a print out (not dot matrix) showing listings for four or five similar cars for sale regionally, each of them at prices ten to twenty percent over what they're asking for theirs. Scrawled across this in green hi-liter is the word MINE, which has been crossed out, and then, underneath, the words MY PRICE and, again, the exceptionally reasonable sticker, underlined several times for emphasis. I look at him sadly now. Part of me resents being bullied, but this is bullying of such a pathetic and ineffectual nature that I almost feel compelled to apologize for not being affected by it, and a larger part of me just feels pity. I pocket the paper and thank him for his time and tell him we have a lot to think about.

Over the next few days we do some cursory recon of the larger dealerships in town just to compare deals, during the course of which I discover that Patricia's anti–one-box bias ("I don't like cars that look like shoes") does not extend to the Honda Fit. Back to the Honda dealership then. They don't have any used ones, but a new Fit costs the same as the used Civics we'd been driving. It looks smart, with a huge and ridiculously reconfigurable interior, and suddenly this is a serious contender. The drive is a bit of a let-down, though: it feels merely like a very good small car, the Honda sheen of perfection marred by just the slightest hint of road noise, engine buzz, sluggishness. The Fit, alas, is no Civic, and the Civic, almost by default, is looking more and more like our winner.

That night a thought occurs to me, and I put the question to Patricia: "What do you think about Subarus?" She's game, and next day it's down to Van Bortel Subaru in Victor, America's Number Two Subaru Dealer, famously founded twenty-five years ago by a (gasp) woman, the eponymous Kitty. Our salesman is friendly and helpful and quickly fetches plates for the Impreza we're curious about. It's a last-gen four-door RS, low miles, cheap, and looks great in WRX Jr. fender flares; it's undeniably cool in a way that nothing else we've looked at has been (the V70R place still isn't answering its phone). It drives cool, too. It's quick, responsive, tossable, fun even. "It makes me feel like a guy," Patricia says. I'm filled with visions of four-wheel-driven drifts through the snow next winter. We're both into it. Like, a lot. Our enthusiasm is tempered, though, by an overall feeling of cheapness. The interior is flimsy and plasticky and the flipside of that responsiveness is a coarseness that doesn't feel all that different from Patricia's decade-old Sentra; indeed, it's all too easy for both of us to imagine what this car is going to feel like five or ten years from now.

Back at the lot we wander idly toward a row of Legacies and I can't help but notice that the stickers are considerably lower than I would've guessed. We stop by a pretty blue one, an '07 with under 30,000 miles for about the same price as our now benchmark Civics. It's roomy where the Impreza felt cramped, plush where the Impreza felt cheap. It's loaded, with a sunroof even (one of the few non-reliability-related things on Patricia's wish list). We drive it. It feels great: the same revvy flat four as the Impreza but with just enough soundproofing that what gets through to the cabin provides a pleasant reminder, not an intrusive announcement, of the work being done at your right foot's behest; the ride is crisp but supple. It feels grown up. It also feels like a hell of a lot of car for the money. We go home to think it over, but Patricia is pretty much sold.

A couple odd things give us pause, though. When we come back from driving the Legacy, standing around talking to the salesman, we pop the hood, more out of a sense of ritual than anything else. I notice that a vacuum hose to the intake manifold has come loose and is just floating around in the engine compartment unmoored. Mechanic comes over from the garage and casually reattaches it, as if to say, you know, they all do that. A few minutes later, staring idly at the Impreza we'd driven, I notice something weird about the tires: they're unidirectionals, and while the V formed by the tread is pointing upwards, looking from the rear, on the left-hand tires, as it should be, on the right-hand tires it's pointing down. Thinking it must be an oversight, I check the front tires and they're the same. Not only that, but the Impreza next to it is wearing identical tires, and they're mounted exactly the same too! Hydroplane much, Van Bortel Subaru? We stop at the supermarket on the way home and there's a Forester parked across from us, left tires pointing frontwards, right tires pointing backwards, license plate frame proudly proclaiming—you guessed it—Van Bortel. These people don't understand how directional tires work. Not that this could be potentially dangerous or anything. Not that having water drawn under your tires at high speed rather than expelled from underneath them could result in any kind of life-threatening harm or anything.

So yeah, there's that, too.

Undaunted—the Legacy we'd driven did not have directional tires, as it happened—we go back the next day to do the deal. Given the drivable-but-just-barely state of the Sentra, Patricia's eager to get this done. We talk turkey with the salesguy and he explains that the way they do business is no-haggle so the sticker is pretty much the deal. Fair enough: it's about a grand cheaper than equivalent cars elsewhere already. He shuttles us to the loan guy who politely takes stock of Patricia's financials—essentially: solid paycheck, middling credit score, big chunk of cash to put down—and points out that as it's Friday afternoon before the 4th of July weekend he probably won't be able to get an answer until Monday. No problem. Nice to meet you, talk to you then.

Weekend comes and goes. No word from them through Monday afternoon. Finally Patricia gets the loan guy on the phone and it's clear from the conversation that he doesn't remember her. She reminds him and he says oh right, we're still working on that. No word for another couple hours. Astonished, I call the salesguy thinking maybe he can light a fire under loan guy's ass. After all, you'd think he'd have a stake in this, right? Instead he tells me their internet has been down all day, assures me that both loan guy and his loan-lady assistant are on the case, and rather patronizingly informs me that what's probably best right now is just a bit of patience on my part. Again, wow. Okay? I guess? Dick?

Another day goes by with no word from these people. The people to whom Patricia is trying to give her money in exchange for one of the cars they are presumably in business to sell. She calls again and this time talks to loan lady, who sounds exasperated and asks if there's any way she can put more down. I'm out of town by now and only hear about this later, over the phone, and I'm incredulous. Fuck those people! "I just want to go back to the Honda guy," she tells me, defeatedly. Go back to the Honda guy! She does, the next day. She drives a blue Civic, 20,000 miles, same price as the Subaru. It's not as fancy but it feels as if it came from outer space. They do the loan business. She's approved within the hour and can come pick up the car tomorrow. Unbelievable. Somebody in this monumentally fucked-up desperate pathetic hemorraging-money laying-off-workers shuttering-dealerships-left-and-right hanging-by-a-thread-in-the-worst-economic-climate-in-eighty-years business still actually wants to sell a car.


Nissan Cube Officially Awesome

Not like I'm gonna go out and buy one or anything, but I saw one on the street for the first time the other day and it made me smile. Anything that strikes this kind of blow for automotive heterogeneity gets my vote.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Spotted: Alfa Romeo Pepto Bismol Edition

"Right ... yeah, I'm in the Alfa Spider ... no, the pink one ... no, the pink one with flowers on it ...."

Click on the pic for a closer look

Spotted: Intense Rims

There is no denying the commitment of this Brooklyn 318ti driver. A commitment to rims that are fully intense. These rims bespeak full commitment. Indeed, there can be no ambivalence where these rims are concerned.

Click on the pic for a closer look

Friday, July 03, 2009

Spotted: Corvette Jungle Graveyard

Click on photo for full size

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

El Camino, El Ranchero, El... ¡Volvo!

Shame about the '90s rims (and crap pics) but there is no denying the genius at work here. And rare was the original Camino fortunate enough to benefit from a fully functional rear wiper. Bonus points for multiple P1800s and Swedish flag in background, too. If only it were a turbo....

Click on the pic to check out the auction