Auto No-Show

 Travelled to the Nashville International Auto Show today. This was the first year I went to the Nashville show, previously having been to the Cleveland and Detroit shows, and was less than impressed. It was tiny, and felt more like it was put on by the local dealers than the manufacturers. Once you've been to Detroit, I guess nothing else compares, but Nashville is low man on the totem pole for sure.

 Toyota and Scion had the first level, a wide hallway in front of the main exhibit area. We checked out the Scions first, and they are impressive little cars. For the price they are top notch, and the tC is much more impressive in person than pictures suggest. The new Avalon was there, and it's not as boring as everyone has been saying, it's subdued instead of bland. There was no Celica or MR-S, which was a major disappointment. It's the last year for both, and it would have been nice to have said goodbye. The new Tacoma is much more impressive than the previous model, and the interior, even on the base model, is much improved.

 We moved onto the main floor, checking out the Nissan 350z on the way. The rest of Nissan's line up really didn't interest us, nor did Cadillac. Chevrolet gave us the opportunity to check out the SSR ( nice styling, so-so interior), the Corvette, the Aveo (nice, but why not just get a Scion?), and the Cobalt. There was a base and SS version available, and neither wowed me. The interior is drab, and the seats sre something you sit on, not in, even in the SS model. I was hoping for something a lot better, but GM still has not caught up to the imports.

 We took a close look at the Chrysler 300, and it's a winner. Bobby was most impressed by it, and it demonstrates that Chrysler can get it right when they really try. The DOdge M-80 concept truck was right next to the Chevrolet SSR, and I would chose it first. It's basically Dodge's version of a Jeep Wrangler pick-up. The SSR is a truck trying to be a sportscar, and it just doesn't work. Sat in a Neon SRT, and got out quickly. The car itself is nice, but the interior just feels like a domestic car from the eighties disguised as an import.

 Mitsubishi was barely there, with only a Lancer Evo MR, Eclipse Spyder, and Galant. The Evo was sweet, but I was really hoping to see the new Eclipse. We pased Hummer up, and went to the Saturn Ion Redline. I'll pass on that one. We gazed at the Lexus SC430, and sat in the RX330. Impressive, to say the least. Nobody gets the interior quite as right as Lexus, with Infiniti coming in a distant second.

 We skipped Buick since the three of us have a combined age less than the average Buick owner. Hyundai had a V6 Tiburon, which is world's better than the original Hyundai's. While not up to Toyota standards, they're trying harder than GM seems to be. Mazda occupied some time as we cexamined the 6 (great exterior, buta cheap looking interior), the 3 (almost as nice as the Toyota Matrix), and of course the RX-8, which is still fresh after al this time. Lincoln and Mercury were there, but nobody was really paying any attention. Acura did not have an NSX, and I've seen the RSX in person, so we went straight to the Mini's, which were gathering a lot on onlookers even though there wer only two there. BMW was there also, but we didn't bother.

 Ford had the best display there, with the new Fusion up on a turntable and a Mustang convertible to view (but not sit in). There was a crowd around the new Mustang, and seeing a GT up close is almost a religous experience. The Fusion was OK, and at least it's more interesting than the 500. Speaking of the 500, I don't recall seeing one there, maybe it was, but I didn't notice. Honda really didn'thave anything I wanted to see (no Civic Si?), so we went for the Pontiac GTO. This car should really sell better,even though the styling is ho-hum, the interior was better than most of the GM products.

 Mercedes was a no-show, and the GT was the only exotic there, no Ferrari, Lotus, or Maserati. Dodge didn't bring the Charger and GM left Saab in Sweden. The SCCA didn't bother to come, nor any other enthusiast organization, which was really disappointing.

 Overall a lackluster show, one can only hope next year is better. That, or I may be making a trip to Detroit again, the Nashville show just didn't satisfy at all.

The Great Experiment Is Over

 Pontiac has annouced the demise of the Sunfire in June, bringing to a close the worst example of badge engineering to date, although the Chevy Trailblazer, Isuzu Ascender, and Saab 9-7x is coming close.

 In 1982 GM released the J-Body platform, a front-drive compact platform meant to compete directly with the Japanese imports that were starting to erode GM's market share. In a not-so-brilliant move, GM decreed that each division would have it's own version, thus the Chevy Cavalier, Pontiac J200, Oldsmobile Firenza, Buick Skyhawk, and Cadillac Cimarron were born. Putting out five cars that were all basically the same under the skin had predictable results. Cadillac and Oldsmobile dropped their version after 1988, with Buick holding on for one more year.

 Chevy and Pontiac soldiered on, with the Arrowhead's version changing names three times, going from 2000 to Sunbird to Sunfire. Chevrolet just replaced the Cavalier with the Cobalt, but Pontiac has decided not to have it's own version. GM seems to have learned at least something from this debacle, finally, but leaving Pontiac without an entry-level model sure doesn't seem like a plan for success either. POntiac is apparently thinking of importing a model to fill the gap, but says there's nothing on the drawing board for at least 18 months.

 Pontiac is the performance oriented division, but apparently that performance is no longer for entry-level buyers. They'll have to get their performance itch scratched somewhere else.

The Real Driving Simulator

 I've got a new toy, the Logitech GT Force Pro wheel for my Playstation 2.

 This baby is $150.00, and at first I thought I was going to take it back. I tried it with Gran Turismo 3, and was disappointed. It seemed like it was a half-second off with the steering inputs. I'd corect my line, and end up fishtailing down half the track. When I play with a regular controller, I always use the third-person view where the camera is just behind you car. It allows you t o see what the vehicle is doing, and it works pretty well. I was trying the same thing with the wheel, and it wasn't working. We changed the settings, no dice. We watched the front wheels on the car as we drove around the track slowly, and they were following out steering inputs exactly. What the hell? Then it dawned on us!

 Gran Turismo 3 also has a first person view, where you're inside the cockpit. I've never used it much as it makes the car hard to control with a standard controller. But, with the Logitech wheel, it was a match made in a Lexus factory. The car was now magically controllable, and fishtailing was now part of history. The force feedback from the wheel, which always felt like it lagged behind what was happening onscreen, was now synched perfectly. It's the closest thing to real driving I've ever felt.

 It's so good it will make you wanna' slap your mama! If you own Gran Turismo 3 you owe it to yourself to have this wheel.

Japan Turismo

 Coming March 15th is the 4th installment in the Gran Turismo series. Destined to be a tour de force in the video game arena, the screen shots look stunning. The Japanese version contains 709 vehicles. And that's my only problem with the game.

 The list of cars is strongly biased towards Polyphony Digital's home merket, Japan. There's little attempt to localize a version with more US models, and there are quite a few cars that should be available, but aren't.

Acura: There's no Legend, the earliest Integra is a '91 (where's the first generation?), nor is the Vigor available.

Chevrolet: Beretta, Cavalier, Impala, Monte Carlo, and the NUMMI Nova.

Chrysler: Conquest, Le Baron, Sebring.

Dodge: Colt, Daytona, Omni GLH, Shadow, Stealth.

Eagle: Firts generation Talon.

Ford: Aspire, Escort GT, EXP, Festiva, Probe, Tempo.

Geo: Storm.

Isuzu: Impulse RS AWD, Stylus, I-Mark.

Mazda: MX-3, MX6.

Mercury: FWD Cougar.

Merkur: XR4Ti.

Mitsubishi: Cordia, Eclipse 1st gen.

Nissan: NX 2000, Pulsar, Sentra SE-R.

Pontiac: Fiero!!!!!!, Grand Am, Grand Prix, Firebird.

Toyota: Corolla AE92, Corolla FX-16, Paseo, Tercel.

Volkswagen: Corrado, Scirocco.

 That's 46 cars that are readily available to any enthusiast on a budget, and would be better choices for the US market instead of cars like the Daihatsu Move, Daihatsu Midget, Mazda Carol, and Mitsubishi Minica. And does there have to be over 50 versions of the Nissan Skyline? This is the fourth game, and still no Fiero?

 It's a great series, but I'm getting tired of being offered a bunch of Japan-only models when there are so many alternatives that could be added for he US market.

Lost Lustre?

 Mitsubishi has a new Eclipse coming out, and it will probably decide Mitsubishi's fate in the US auto market. Can a sports coupe really be that important? Let's go back in time for some perspective...

 Mitsubishi's first entry into the US market was sold by Dodge as the Colt. A modest econobox, it sold well enough, and the originals are now considered classics by some. The first hint at what was coming in the future was the Plymouth Arrow, a hot-rod version of the Colt. It's the 70's, so take that hot-rod description with a grain of salt. It was no 'Bahn Burner, but it pointed the way for future Mitsu coupes.

 Mitsubishi's next model came to the US as the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Sapporo. It held it's own against the Celica's and 200SX's of the day, but most importantly it showed the Triple Diamond's pursuit of technology, with balance shafts in the engine and the MCA-Jet cylinder head (basically a Hemi). Again, it was a modest success, and lasted until 1983.

 1983 was also the year Mitsubishi started selling cars here under their own banner, and the Cordia was the Eclipse of it's time. Again, it was average for the sporty coupes of the day, and Mitsu's limited dealer network limited sales. Chrysler also opted not to sell a version of it, and it's one of the more obscure cars on the roads today.

 Stunning is not a strong enough adjective to describe the launch of the first Eclipse. The marketing was perfect (I still remember the commercials of a red Eclipse driving in front of a setting sun, gorgeous), and the car could be had as a simple NA four-banger up to a mind-numbing AWD turbo version, all at very competitive prices. There was nothing like it on the market, the magazines all praised it's excellence, and suddenly people were paying attention to Mitsubishi.

 It defined the brand, more than any car before it, and it's importance cannot be underestimated. If it would not have been a success, then cars like the 3000GT, Diamante, and today's Lancer Evolution would not be here. It's rare for a sporty coupe to be that successful, yet Mitsubihi did it. As time went by the lustre of Mitsubishi's Eclipse strated to fade as the car moved into the personal luxury coupe role, away from it's sporty roots.

 Now there's a new model arriving, and it's just as important as the first Eclipse. It will decide if Mitsubishi remains a player in the US market, or if the Triple Diamond fades away like Daihatsu, Daewoo, and Plymouth. It's a heavy burden for the attractive coupe, and history is not on it's side. Will the buying public welcome a new coupe enthusiastically? Will passion and excitement win out over practicality and frugalness? We certainly hope so. Mitsubishi is depending on it.

Ugly Today. Ugly Tomorrow?

 I recently went to Pull A Part, probably the best organized junkyard I have ever seen. Sitting among the Corollas and Civics was a Datsun 200SX, one of the ugliest Datsun's ever made. And yet, it looked beautiful to me.

 Time has mellowed the initial shock of the design, and it's grown on me. There's a spunkiness to the shape, a vehicle that doesn't give a damn if you think it's pretty. Compared to the Detroit iron of the time it throws a wrench in the whole "longer, lower, wider" style direction. While it will probably never be called a classic, it's earned a spot in my cars I lust over directory, which will likely be enough to get me committed. I don't care, just like the ugly 200SX.

 Now all this thought has gotten me thinking over some of today's "special" designs. Will they too become something I can appreciate? In 2020 will I be writing an ode to the much maligned Aztek? Food for thought.

Nothing To Do With Cars Or Motorcycles...

 but some pictures are just so wrong you have to share 'em.

Passion For 2

 I'm shopping for a motorcycle, and I've come to realize there's nothing new that really grabs me. Cruisers are nice, but are way too limited in their functionality. I want to ride, not cruise down Main Street. Sportbikes fall into the smae trap, beautiful to look at but difficult to blast across a couple of states in. I'm more into standards, your basic universal motorcycle that's a jack of all trades, master of none. Problem is, there's not a lot of choices out there. I've had to go into the past to find what I realy want.

 It's hard to explain my passion for standards. There's not the acres of chrome like a cruiser, or the sleek and sexy bodywork on a sportbike to dazzle the eye. The eye candy is nice, no doubt, but a standard goes deeper, touching the essence of riding. There's nothing hiding the mechanicals, it's all out in the open to admire. You can't avoid the machine, you become a part of it. It makes the experiance pure.

 Here's my choices so far, along with a short list of their plus and minuses.

 Honda CB-1

 Light and agile, with a 400cc engine, this would be a good bike for getting back into the sport, but cross-state cruising might be too much to ask of this little sweetheart.

 Honda Hawk GT

 Similar to the CB-1, this is another standard from Hoinda, but with a 650cc V-twin powerplant. It has a stronger character, but it's tilted more towards the sportbike side of the equation than most standards, which might limit it.

 Kawasaki Zephyr 550

 I've owned this motorcycle, being the last bike I owned. It has good power and handling, but it lacks character.

 Suzuki GS500E

 Similar to the Kawasaki Zephyr, it shares it's strengths and weakness, lack of character, but it's a good bike nonetheless.

 Suzuki Bandit 400

 For a standard, this bike is sexy. It's gotta be red, the blue version just doesn't do it for me. Like the CB-1, it's a 400 cc again, so I'm not sure if it's got what it takes to go cross-country, but damn it looks good!

 Suzuki GSX1100G

 The largest bike on my list, the big "G" is also the only one with shaft drive, which reduces maintenance. It will definitely go the distance, and that's the problem. It's big. I really appreciate nimbleness, and that does not describe the "G".

 Triumph Speed Triple

 Slotting neatky between the Honda Hawk and the Suzuki "G", the Speed Triple is almost perfect. It's the right size, has a wonderful engine, but the riding position is aimed squarely at the sporting side. A few mods would probably help this out, like raise handlebars, but I'm not sure how effective that would be.

 If you have owned one of these bikes, or have one for sale near Nashville, TN, I'm definitely interested. Leave a somment and let me know what you think.


 If there's one thing GM doesn't do well, it's learn from history. There's an article on MSNBC about the fate of Saab, talking about the possibility of the marque disappearing. It's not very likely, and it would be a shame, but it illustrates my point. From the Cadillac Cimarron until today, GM just never see's the patterns.

 According to GM insiders, the company remains unclear what the Saab brand stands for. The typical customer is an academic - and, says one executive, "the question is, are there enough university professors to make the investments worthwhile?"

 Saab is easy to understand, if you're Swedish. When the rest of the world was using rear-drive platforms, there was Saab using front wheel drive. When the V8 was king, Saab was using a turbocharged four. Everyone put the ignition somewhere near the steering column, except Saab. Things are done differently at Saab, or at least they used to be.

 Saab has lost money in all but one of the past 10 years and GM has steadily reduced its autonomy over the past 18 months. Manufacturing, engineering and most design decisions are now controlled by GM Europe executives, based in Germany or Switzerland, reducing Saab's local management to controlling branding and marketing.

 Everything that made Saab what it was has been destroyed, "centralized" in GM's view to save money. A Saab is no longer a Saab, it's now a warmed over Opel or Subaru or (gulp) Chevrolet. The point in having different brands is to attract different customers. Taking one platform and using it for several marques has not worked in the past for GM ( a'la Cadillac Cimarron), why should it work today?

 Saturn used to be nearly autonomous in the GM world, but as that autonomy has diminished, so has the Saturn brand. Big suprise that the same thing has sappened with Saab. Everything GM has done has been in the name of saving money and better profits, but it's had the opposite effect.

 It's already over for Saab. Something unique in the automotive world is now gone, and it will never be back. It was nice knowing you Saab.

Run What You Brung

 There are so many fine automobiles to lust after. Exotics are the pinnacle, of course, cars most mortals will never even see in person. There are plenty of normal cars that can stir an enthusiat's blood, the new Mustang, Nissan's 350Z, Mitsu's Lancer Evo, and Chevy's Corvette, to name a few. So what's one to do if you own something like a Mitsubishi Precis?

 Drive it proudly, of course. Yes, it's a shoebox on wheels with an engine that feels like it's suffering an asthma attack, but it can also be a hell of a lot of fun.

 Sign up for the SCCA, do some autocrossing, and challenge yourself. The car itself really doesn't matter, the goal is to improve yourself. Having the latest and greatest in automotive tech does not make a btter driver, skill and determination do. Take that Mitsu Precis and go attack some corners!


 Finished watching the latest DVD release of Initial D. It's the story of a young driver dicovering the thrill of street racing, and the challenges he faces. It's actually a fairly technical look at the art of drifting, and every race highlights a new technique.

 Unfortunately they only come out every other month, with the next release scheduled in March. Volume 9 was released today, and is the final two episodes of the first season, along with the furst episode of the second season. Suggested retail is $19.99, but I've found that MediaPlay sells them for $14.99. Even if you're not into anime, it's a series aimed at automotive enthusiasts. You'll like it.


 There's been something dominating my thoughts recently...

 I had a dream yesterday I was riding a motorcycle down a twisty section of asphalt. Tilting into the corners, it was a feeling long absent from my life. I used to ride regularly, every sunday, seeing more of the stae of Tennessee than most residents. I've watched hang-gliders leap off a cliff, parked underneath a waterfall, followed several rivers along their meandering paths, and even rode a ferry across one. The one thing above all others a motorcycle grants is freedom.

 One of the best highlights was riding Deal's Gap, affectionately known as The Dragon. It's one of the most tangled pieces of asphalt on earth, and a biker's paradise. Here's a video of what "taming" the Dragon is like. It's been too long, I need a motorcycle.

Auto Show

 It's not the biggest, and there's never a true debut, but the Nashville Auto Show is as close as we get here. From the website, it seems Chrysler is the only manufacturer to show us some concept cars; the Chrysler Airflite, Dodge M-80, and Jeep Compass. If only Detroit was just a little bit closer! We'll also get to see the Ford Fusion and Toyota Avalon, yawn. At least Ford is bringing a GT.

 The show runs from January 27th - 30th, 2005, and show times are:
Thursday: 2:00 pm to 10:00 pm
Friday: 10:00 am to 10:00 pm
Saturday: 10:00 am to 10:00 pm
Sunday: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Tickets are only $7.00 for adults, $4.00 for seniors, and children are $2.00. If you're in the area, stop on by. Where else can you get this much automotive goodness for $7.00?

Edmunds Goes Enthusiast has always been a good resource when researching a vehicle purchase. The reviews have been Consumer Reports bland, but the info was always helpful, concise, and targeted to a broad audience. Now Edmunds shows it wild side with a new section called Inside Line. Aimed towards enthusiasts, it's a refreshing change. Some of the first columns are real gems, too.

 Scott Oldham has a column titled Buy That Cool Car Now, detailing why you shouldn't wait to buy the car of your dreams. Kevin Smith chimes in with Time To Imprint, another fine articles. These guys have motor oil running through their veins, car nuts to the core. Welcome to the enthusiast community, Edmunds. It's about time!

Saturn Sights

 An article about the uphill battle faced by Saturn. We're finally getting some peaks at the new Saturn models, namely the Aura concept and Sky convertible.

 It will be interesting to see how things go, especially with the Sky. It's a whole new direction for Saturn, and hopefully there will be a big dfifference between it and the upcoming Pontiac Solstice, but I'm not holding my breath. Two convertibles that are basically the same are going to cannibalize sales from each other, not from the competition. Like the article says, it's "Do or Die Time".

I Really Want To Like GM

 There is no automotive manufacturer that tries as hard as GM does, and continously comes up short. Recent history has given us the Oldsmobile Aurora, probably one of the best sedans to come from GM in a long time, showing the world that GM engineers have a passion for automobiles, and yet Oldsmobile followed the Aurora with several lackluster models, and Oldsmobile went the way of the Edsel.

 Pontiac brings out the GTO, and the brand that at one time couldn't help but add pounds of tacky body cladding to every model brings out a car that is styled so plain no one even notices it. A few days ago I was driving behind one, the rumble of the V8 from the exhaust way more entertaining than any music on the rasio, yet no one around seemed to know they were in the presence of greatness. Sales are dismal, and the GTO can't be long from extinction.

 Saturn was once a beacon for all the hopeful that GM could get it right, almost, but as Saturn's independance has eroded away, so has the brand. There's new product coming, we're told, that will revitalize the image, but time will tell.

 Something always get's in the way, preventing GM from breaking through it's malaise and becoming the manufacturer we all know it can be. Market share continues to decline, The full-size pickups and SUV's that are it's bread and butter are under assault from many directions, but I still hold out hope for the old guy. I really, really, want to like GM, but whatever it is that knocks down their greatest achievements needs to be removed, post haste. Time is not on GM's side.

New Year, New Design

 For the new year, there's now a new design. Not sure if I like it, and it might need some cross-browser tweaking, but it'll do for now.

Happy New Year

 Welcome to 2005!
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