Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hummer, the Moral Choice

In a recent survey, Hummer owners said their purchase was a "moral choice." While I'm not exactly sure what that means, I do think the Hummer backlash has gone too far. I would never own a Hummer, and find them largely repugnant. But I do admire their off-road capabilities and can appreciate why people own them.

A Hummer is a status symbol, just like a Toyota Prius. I know, the two vehicles are apples and oranges, but people buy them both to make a statement. You may argue the validity of that statement's content, but must accept that everyone has the right to choose what to drive. Otherwise, Prius owners will continue to egg Hummers and Hummer owners will continue to drive over Priuses.

To paraphrase Voltare, "I defend not what you drive, only your right to drive it."

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Solution for Commuter Hell

When I was in England last spring for a wedding, I couldn't help notice how easy it was to get around without a car. We stayed with family in Chiswick, on the west side of Greater London. By train, it was 30 minutes to Central London or an hour to Brighton on the English coast.

I am a certified car nut. I have motor oil in my veins. But I would gladly commute on a train if I could avoid the gridlocked hell known as the daily commute. The idea of walking to a train station, picking up a cup of coffee on the way, and then working on my laptop or reading while someone else delivers me to work sounds like heaven compared to a sea of brake lights.

This is not me trying to be green or environmental, just practical. I'd love to save my driving for when I could actually enjoy it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Civic Duty

My car was in the shop this week, thanks to a bad starter, so I had the chance to borrow a 2002 Honda Civic.

Driving a Civic is like dating an aerobics instructor. It's lean, well toned and light on it's feet. But it's also noisy and bounces around a lot.

It's still a nice car, but I'm looking forward to getting my Infiniti back.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

10 Cars for $10K - 80s Collectibles

The average car nut is usually forced to make a choice. Buy a reliable daily driver and a toy or one car to fit both requirements. The second route is straightforward. Instead of opting for a Camry, like most normal people, the car nut picks something like a Mini Cooper, Dodge Challenger, or BMW M3--all of which have a degree of practicality but can also induce face splitting grins on demand.

The other route is more difficult, requiring a balancing act and a very understanding spouse. Spend too much on the toy and you're likely to own a daily driver that will have you taking the bus. Spend too much on the daily driver and you're the owner of a toy that sits on blocks or lurks in boxes.

However, there are cars out there that make this balancing act easier and can be had for less than ten grand in good, if not excellent, condition. The following is a list of ten cars from the 1980s, a decade enthusiasts only recently began scavenging for collector cars. While this is by no means a complete list, each of these cars should appreciate in value and are fun to drive.

1. Alfa Romeo Spider - The car Dustin Hoffman drove in The Graduate was still in production when he did Rain Man. The 1980s version may lack the clean lines of the original but is less temperamental. The Pininfarina styling holds up well today and the driving experience is light and crisp, like a Pinot Grigio.

2. Audi Quattro - Before Audi became synonymous with unintended acceleration, it made a name for itself in the rally racing world with the Quattro. The turbo-charged all-wheel drive sports coupes were almost as fast as pure sports cars of that era and set the standard for cars like the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.

3. Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z - Think Camaro and the brain conjurs up an image of the mullet wearing high school bully who prowls the streets in a primer and Bondo Z-28 with Poison blaring from his Pioneer cassette deck. But the IROC, named for the International Race of Champions, offers Corvette like performance in a 2+2 coupe or convertible.

4. Chevrolet Corvette - Love or hate the Tron inspired digital gauges, the C4 Corvette offers clean looks and world class performance. Convertibles may be out of the $10 grand price range, but you can still pick up a well maintained coupe. Avoid the 1984-85 models which had the Crossfire fuel injection and rattle trap suspensions.

5. Ford Mustang - I couldn't put the Camaro on this list and leave off the Mustang. While I'm not crazy about the 1987-92 GT with its junky add-ons, you can't go wrong with any of the 5.0 liter cars or the turbocharged SVO.

6. Honda CRX - This car is a favorite of autocrossers everywhere. Light, quick and cheap, with bulletproof Civic drivetrains, this car is pure fun to drive. The only downside is that so many of them have been bastardized by the import tuner crowd.

7. Jaguar XJ-S - The Jag is a classic grand touring car with a smooth V12 engine and a cockpit like an olde English study. You can find good examples under $10K because the car has a reputation for being more temperamental and unreliable than Lindsey Lohan. Some of that reputation is deserved, but for my money, nothing in this price range touches it for looks and style.

8. Mazda RX-7 - Like the CRX, the RX-7 is light, quick, cheap to run and a blast to drive. It's also the only car on the planet powered by the turbine like Wankel rotary engine. Collectors prefer the looks of the first generation car, but the 1986-1992 models offer better performance and the lineup includes a roadster.

9. Porsche 944 - The 944 is brilliance masked by subtlety. You can have a mild mannered base model, or the outrageously quick Turbo or S2. All versions are equally competent as a track cars or daily drivers.

10. VW Rabbit GTI - The original hot hatch. Think Quattro-lite without the all-wheel drive and at a fraction of the price.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dead Head Sticker on a Benz

With apologies to Don Henly: Out on the road today, I saw a Dead Head sticker on a Mercedes Benz. It wasn't a Cadillac like the song, but a new Bluetec Diesel.

Summer is almost out of reach. Days are cooler. The kids are back in school and football season is starting. Soon the leaves will change and the crisp fall air of mornings will be greeted with frost.