Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Highway To Heaven.

A little automotive joke to end the year...
A car fan dies, and before getting to Heaven, finds himself in a line at the Pearly Gates. He sees the people in front of him being handed car keys. When he gets to the counter, Saint Peter looks at a list and hands him a set of keys and says "Ford Escort".
"Why do I get such a cheap old car?" he asks.
"Because you cheated on your wife ten times" was the response.
"But why does that man over there get a Mercedes Benz?" he asks.
"Because he only cheated five times."
"And the guy with the Ferrari?"
"He never cheated on his wife" replied Saint Peter.
A short while later the man is driving down the Highway to Heaven in his Escort and is passed by the man in the Mercedes. Shortly after the Ferrari driver whizzes by. A few kilometers later the man sees the Ferrari pulled off to the side of the road and the driver leaning over the steering wheel, crying. The man pulls over and walks up and taps on the window. The Ferrari driver opens the window and the man says "Why are you crying? You're driving a Ferrari!"
Sobbing, he replies "Because I just saw my wife drive by in a Lada!"
Happy New Years everyone!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Snow Day!

While most car fans are happy when the roads stay dry and clear all year round, as a Canadian who grew up with a white Christmas every year, I sure wouldn't mind a few flakes. Winter just isn't the same without a bit of snow, but with 10 degree weather and sun in Paris today, I think I'm going to have to accept that it's just not going to happen.
But that's okay, because I was taking a peek at a bunch of old photos and came across a few of my cars in various winter scenes. For some reason I like seeing a car in the snow, and I'm always sure to grab a photo. Since I didn't have a white Christmas this year, I'll have to enjoy the old photos of past cars playing in the snow!

There's the Fiat Multipla rental I had when I first arrived in France years ago... for those that don't know the Multipla, all I can say is that it's better that you CAN'T see what it looks like as it's a pretty hideous beast! This picture was taken in the Swiss Alps after a trip to the Geneva Auto Show in 2006. It started to snow the Saturday afternoon, and I drove until I couldn't drive any further and stayed overnight in a great old hotel in the mountains. This is what I discovered the next day!
Here is a picture of my Daewoo Nubira, this time on the French side of the Alps. I took it near Albertville on a ski trip, in 2007 or 2008. I pulled off the winding road to snap some pictures of the beautiful scenery, and then turned the camera on the Nubira. It was not much more attractive than the Multipla, but I have a soft spot for unattractive misfit cars it would seem!
Two years later a different car, a different mountain range. It was after a trip with two family members into the Pyrenees mountains for another ski trip... over 1000 kms and 12 hours with two very jetlagged people who couldn't believe I was going to force them to go so far in so little car! But we made it and had a wonderful roadtrip thanks to the always-entertaining Peugeot 104 Style Z coupe!
And the last, my lovely Citroen GSA parked quietly in front of the house after a rather big snowfall just before Christmas 2011. The GSA was a formidable snow machine, especially when it got deep and the hydraulic suspension was set to 'high' mode. I recall searching out snowdrifts to blast through that day...
Even if I didn't get snow for Christmas it's fun to see these pictures again and remember the fun I've had in the snow with my various gone but not forgotten cars!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Kid Toys For Big Boys.

Talk about the perfect ride for the old and young car fan in all of us... it's a full-size, fully-functional Lego car! For as long as I have been a car fan I have also been a Lego fan, and spent hours of my childhood building cars out of my coloured bricks. I never had quite enough Lego to do what these guys did though:

The creators built this car out of more than 500,000 pieces of Lego. And as if that isn't cool enough, the car runs on compressed air! It may not yet be ready for high-speed use, and I cringe at the thoughts of the crash-test results, but it's a very impressive engineering exercise. Several companies are currently investigating the potential of compressed air as a future source of energy for cars, so this isn't JUST a toy.

Check out the following website for plenty of pictures and more details on the project:

Well done guys, the adult car fan and child Lego fan in me thank you for creating something they can both enjoy! And with Christmas only a few days away, those still scratching their heads over what to get me just got a little hint...

Friday, December 20, 2013

What Would I Buy Today?

It has been ages since I looked up old cars for sale. It used to be that I would look several times per week on a website called "Leboncoin" (translated into English it means 'The Good Corner'). This website is THE go-to place in France for used car listings. The site isn't specifically automotive; you can sell anything you like, but their car, motorcycle and related equipment sections are very popular and very well set up to make searching easy.

This morning, the first morning of my Christmas vacaction, I got thinking about how I hadn't been back to Leboncoin for a while, so I thought I'd do a search for something fun. Despite my never-ending desire to buy another old car, it really isn't an option right now, but I figured it would be fun to take a peek and see what, if I really was buying something today, I would pick.
Didn't take very long. The website is well organised, and it is easy to search either by keyword (name, make, model, etc), or by many of the drop-down lists (age, price, location, engine type, etc). An expert of the site, I know exactly what I'm looking for... I limit the age to 1990 and older and pick vehicles in my region... and even if it's fantasy time, I also have a realistic side, so I stick a 2500 euro cap on it.

(EDIT: The link no longer works; it would seem the car was sold)
Four pages of cars. I scan through quickly, as I go with my gut and want something that catches my eye. And one car does. It's a 1989 Peugeot 505. A long low sedan, it was Peugeot's last RWD car and produced from 1979 until 1992. To my eyes it has a profile as attractive as that of a Jaguar XJ of the 80's and 90's, with the cabin set far back on the chassis and a long hood and trunk that taper gently before dropping off abruptly.
This version, the SX model, is equipped with a 2.5L diesel engine and 5-speed manual transmission. Far from the sporty, powerful GTD version with its turbocharged 2.5L engine, this pedestrian example is more of a casual weekend touring car suited for lazy drives through the countryside. Still, it appears to be very clean, at least on the outside, and with only 153,000 kms (barely broken in for an 80's French diesel!), it most certainly has many good years ahead of it.

And while I am quite fascinated by this car, I saw a few others that also caught my attention... I think I need to drop by 'The Good Corner' more often!

EDIT: A friend with a great automotive website I've already mentioned (www.testdrivejunkie.com) just posted a picture of a great 505 Turbo ad on his Facebook page... glad to see I'm not the only one who likes these cars!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Euro Ford To Get Excited About.

Big news for sports car fans, Ford is FINALLY bringing their iconic Mustang to Europe! No more back-door importers cutting holes to jam in side marker lights, or swapping in coloured turn signals, or riveting licence plates into spaces never designed for them. Ford has redesigned their 6th generation, 2014 Mustang as a true world car, with Europe in mind from the beginning.
Varying automobile standards around the globe (such as crash tests, headlight and taillight specifications, and safety equipment, for example) have made it difficult for an automobile manufacturer to design a car for one market and later try and introduce it in another. A car well suited to the US, for example, won't necessarily cut it in Asia, just as a car certified in Europe might not pass the test for South America.

This was the case with the current Mustang. As with every previous Mustang, the US domestic market was all that mattered when it was designed. That car was and still is a success, but when it came time to plan the 2014 version, Ford had bigger ambitions. Having a car dependant on the US market is a dangerous proposition... if that one market shrinks, there is no way to boost sales elsewhere to compensate.
Starting next year Ford will be playing in a much larger sandbox. Europe's weak economy is certainly not an automaker's golden ticket, but a car as unique and legendary as the Mustang will certainly be able to gallop its way into the market. Studies have shown that the Mustang nameplate is one of Fords best-known names even in countries where it has never officially been sold. That's a huge plus for an automaker, as getting a new car onto the radar of new car buyers is a huge, costly struggle.

For as long as it has existed, the Mustang has found its way to Europe by way of import companies or private citizens who have imported the cars on their own (such as American military stationed on bases in Europe). This is a very pricey option, however, and results in a very expensive Mustang.
The other sticking point until now has been the engine displacement. Some would argue that the only true Mustang is the one with a 5.0L V8, but an engine of that size is hugely taxed by European governments keen on pushing people into low-displacement, economical cars. When the average car engine is somewhere below 2.0L, the tax rate on a 4.6L V6 or 5.0L V8 is prohibitive.

It seems that Ford was really willing to do what it takes to help the Mustang succeed in Europe, as they have included a 4-cylinder option for the first time in over 20 years. This 2.3L Ecoboost turbo engine will put out more than 300hp, so while the reduced displacement will help tax and insurance rates, the power is still there to make this one respectable ponycar.

Looks are subjective, but I think that this new 'Stang is a knockout. It's got the creases and bulges to prove it's a sports car, and the clean, sleek profile to help it fit into parking lots filled with BMW and Mercedes and Audi coupes, the go-to brands for Europeans looking for a sporty ride.
I really think that Ford has something hot on their hands. In the very least it will continue the success it has always known in the US... but it will also be a truly unique, stand-out option in Europe, and I suspect that it will redefine the sports car market there over the next few years.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Car Guy With Heart.

And here I thought that I was the biggest car fan around! Turns out I'm not, not by a longshot. A certain Cort Stevens, who I have not yet had the pleasure to meet but have exchanged with for years, outdoes me big time. He is the creator of one of my favourite Facebook pages, 'Old Cars, Strong Hearts'. Cort himself posts plenty of photos and stories, but he also lets page members post their pictures of old cars and advertisements and toys, and even shares ads for cars and parts for sale.

I get a real kick out of the mix of automotive wonders he posts, from old American classics to quirky Japanese sports cars to unidentifiable European oddballs. If it's car-related it's allowed, and as a result you never know what you're going to find. There are great sites out there for specific types of cars, but none are quite as good at showing such a broad range that will appeal to your typical old car fan.
When I first got to know Cort he was a massive Chevrolet Monte Carlo fan, and had owned many of these legendary RWD coupes. 'Monte Carlo' may evoke images of a rich, sunny gambling paradise to Europeans, but a tried and true North American gearhead knows that it's the name of a large traditional sports coupe from the 1970's and 1980's.  While he still has a Monte, these days he is more of a Chevrolet Caprice Classic fan, with a 1979 sitting alongside a 1989 in his garage. The Caprice is a legend in its own right, and is the kind of roomy RWD landbarge cruisemobile that is no longer built.

(As an aside, I personally have a troubled history with the Caprice... it was my dad's 1988 Caprice Classic station wagon, kitchen-appliance white with a burgundy interior... sitting in the rearward facing third row of seats, watching the road roll out from underneath the rear window and trying not to throw up... but I digress...)

For those that don't eat, breath and sleep cars, Cort likes to share his vast musical knowledge too. He regularly provides 'CD Showcases', with links to great old songs that one can easily imagine blasting while out on a roadtrip. Many of the songs are well known, but quite a few are true hidden gems that I only discovered thanks to the 'Old Cars, Strong Hearts' page.

Ah yes, the heart. This is the part that makes this online group even more special. I don't know all of the details, and wouldn't dare try to tell his story, but Cort is quite open about the fact that he has been through multiple heart surgeries. He recently posted a story on his 'OC,SH' page about a fellow heart-surgery friend who passed away last week. It was a touching tribute that spoke of their meeting as Cort enjoyed the experience of a lifetime, a "Coast-to-Coast" roadtrip across the US in 2011. What better way for someone who loves cars, and music, and people to spend their time than driving across the country in a car he loves, music blaring, meeting dozens of people who share his passions and trials and joys?
Cort, if ever you want to get some attention, ship your shiniest Caprice over here and organise a European roadtrip! I guarantee that you'll turn some heads, and I'd be more than happy to join you for the ride. I'll drive and you can be DJ! And that's at the heart of being a 'car guy', right?