Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Random Car Wednesday: 1956 BMW Isetta 300

Ford's new Fiesta ST is a great little hot hatch. It's also one of the smaller cars on sale today. But compare it to a classic Mini, and suddenly it's not quite so tiny. But can you get even smaller? In a word, yes. Say hello to the BMW Isetta. The first thing you'll notice is that peculiar design. The entire front of the car is the door, and it's design is comparable to an egg. Safety was apparently not one of BMW's primary concerns when this car rolled off the line in 1956. How about some specifications? The motor is a 298cc single-cylinder, very similar to what you'd find in a Vespa. It produces a mere 13 horsepower. Not a car for people in a hurry, then. The transmission is a four-speed manual, and flat out it'll do 53 mph. So, to recap: it's not really that safe, and it's certainly not very quick. So why would you want one? The answer is because it's efficient. It's only 90 inches long and about 53 inches wide, so you can always find a parking space. It's curb weight is 794 pounds, which is extremely light by automotive standards. On top of all that, it will supposedly get 94 miles per gallon, which is significantly better than most vehicles built in its era. So it's designed as a small, practical city runabout. The 1950's equivalent of a Smart car. This particular Isetta is a 300 model, with the older bubble windows and a cabriolet roof. This means it's one of 50 built in that configuration, so it's fairly unique. It's also in great condition. Would it be wise to drive this car? Not on a regular basis, no. But it's so quaint, so perfectly peculiar, that you want to drive it, at least once. Maybe twice.

1956 BMW Isetta 300 Cabriolet

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Random Car Wednesday: Cadillac Allanté

Sometimes a car with all the right credentials can still manage to be a slow seller. Such was the case with today's RCW, the Cadillac Allanté. The late 1980's were a dark time for Cadillac, as evidenced by the mere existence of the Cimmaron. The manufacturer hoped to enter the premium sports car market and regain some popularity, so they began to develop a vehicle that would compete with the Mercedes-Benz SL and the Jaguar XJS. The ingredients seemed like the perfect storm. The luxurious interior would provide comfort and refinement. Power would be derived from a 4.1-liter V8, which would provide the front wheels with 170 horsepower to work with. On top of all that, the body was designed and built by legendary coachbuilder Pininfarina. The final result was a stylish sports convertible that mixed American power with European looks. However, sales were sluggish. The front wheel drive layout compromised handling, giving an edge to the Allanté's competitors. In the final year of production, the car got Cadillac's 4.6-liter Northstar V8, which upped horsepower to 295, a colossal improvement. This wasn't enough to save the car, though, and production ended after 1993. This particular car is a very pretty Northstar-powered example, and it looks very good. Blue was the most uncommon color choice for the Allanté, with most buyers opting for red or white. The Pininfarina badge is a cool feature, and the car does look fairly good, especially when compared to Cadillac's other models from this time period. It's a shame that this interesting machine never lived up to its potential. Done right, it could've been an extremely good car.

1993 Cadillac Allanté

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Need for Speed: Movie Review

This is not the best movie you will ever see. The plot is thin and predictable, the dialogue is cringe-worthy at times, and some scenes are just completely ridiculous. It's these same qualities, however, that make it enjoyable.

Let's start with a quick synopsis. Tobey Marshall, played by the very talented Aaron Paul, is a small-town street racer and owner of a small garage. After he gets framed for a crime he didn't commit by professional driver and all-around jerk Dino Brewster(Dominic Cooper), Marshall sets out across the country to enter a prestigious illegal street race in hopes of proving his innocence and beating Dino once and for all.

It really is that ridiculous. But that's almost a good thing in this case. It allows the action scenes to take center stage, and believe me, there are plenty. Huge jumps, unbelievable crashes, and copious amounts of handbrake turns. Better still, all of these stunts are real. The amount of CGI in this movie is all but zero. Every time you see a car flipping wildly out of control, that actually happened. This makes the action more intense, more thrilling, more oh-my-god-did-you-see-that, edge of your seat, ride of a lifetime enjoyable.

200+ mph through a forest on public roads. Yep, seems like a good idea.

The cast is also pretty respectable. Aaron Paul is well known from his role in Breaking Bad, and Dominic Cooper does a great job of making his character so perfectly dislikable. Scott Mescudi, Michael Keaton and Imogen Poots comprise the rest of the main cast, and they do a fairly good job. Dialogue isn't the focus of Need for Speed, but it could certainly be worse.

The main stars, of course, are the cars. A modified Ford Mustang takes center stage throughout the majority of the film, and the Koenigsegg Agera R is used prominently as well. The final race includes a number of modern hypercars. There's a Veyron SS, a McLaren P1, a GTA Spano, a Sesto Elemento, and more. The film crew custom built replicas of these cars for the driving scenes so that they could smash and bash all of these extraordinarily expensive and exclusive machines. There's also some classic cars thrown in. A 1968 Torino plays a large role, as does a classic GTO. The "Big Oly" Bronco even makes an appearance.

This is going to be very expensive...

This is not a movie to take seriously. It's based on a videogame after all. All of the crazy stunts and cheesy dialogue feel like a subtle nod to the games that this movie honors. The ridiculous flips and absurd jumps seem to have been pulled directly out of Most Wanted. There are also plenty of references to classic gearhead films. We see the iconic Bullitt car chase playing at a drive-in theater, two characters swap seats while driving much like in Smokey and the Bandit, and there's a scene at a gas station that feels like a direct reference to American Graffiti. This movie was made for car-lovers.

Like I said, this is not the best movie you'll ever see. The plot is too thin, too absurd. It's more of a love note to the old-school B-movies of the 60's and 70's. It's fun, exciting, and full of automotive eye candy. A high-speed romp across the country. It leaves a little bit to be desired, sure. But go the theater, grab some popcorn and see it for yourself. It's a heck of a lot of fun, and you certainly won't regret it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Random Car Wednesday: Crown Supercoach

School buses typically aren't considered cool. If you had to ride one, you probably agree. However, today's RCW may just be an exception. Feast your eyes on the Crown Supercoach. Used as school transportation across the U.S. for many years, the Supercoach is the quintessential classic bus. The Airstream-esque looks and basic functionality made this a popular vehicle with school systems and transit lines, and as such the Supercoach had a very long production run. How long? Well, this design was introduced in 1948, and was produced non-stop without any major visual changes up until 1991, when Crown went out of business. That's about on par with the Volkswagen Beetle! The Supercoach was offered with single or tandem rear axles, and the body was built from aluminum to avoid rusting. This particular example is one of the earlier models, identifiable by the windshield design. Later models lacked the triangular sections in order to give better visibility. This bus also has many other modifications. The grey and red color scheme lends a rat rod-style look to the vehicle, and the oversized VW logo plastered on the front is a nice touch. I'm not sure what purpose this bus serves these days, as it's clearly not a school bus anymore, but the fact that it's being driven around is great. This is the kind of thing you don't see very often, so kudos to whoever is keeping this bus on the road. I suppose you could say it's become "too cool for school."

Crown Supercoach

Monday, March 10, 2014

Model A Mayhem

The Model A Club of America passed through town today, and many members stopped and had lunch. Seeing an opportunity, I grabbed my camera and snapped some photos of the different cars. None of these were trailer queens, by the way. They all drove into town under their own power as part of their cruise through the hill country.

Favorites? Well, I'm torn between the all-black pickup and the blue panel van. Even in a sea of Model As, those stood out. It was truly incredible to wander through town and see so many of these classic cars. It was almost as if I'd stepped back in time. I have so much admiration for the folks who drive these cars long-distance. They may lack the creature comforts of today's automobiles, but they make up for it in style and individuality. On top of that, seeing all of these cars parked around town had people stopping and pointing and smiling all day. That alone is worth more than anything a new car can offer.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Random Car Wednesday: 1977 Pontiac Can Am

I first saw this car a few months ago, and it popped up all over the place for a while before vanishing. Worse yet, it only showed itself when I didn't have my camera with me. Thankfully, it reappeared a few days ago and I was able to snap a picture. So now it's my great pleasure to introduce you to today's RCW, the 1977 Pontiac Can Am. Based on the LeMans platform, the Can Am was a sporty performance coupe with a number of interesting options. Each Can Am was painted Cameo White, and was quickly identified by the brightly-colored stripes. It was a very seventies look, and complemented Pontiac's other performance vehicle, the Firebird Trans Am. The Can Am also got the Firebird's shaker hood scoop, which rested atop the T/A 6.6 variant of Pontiac's 400-cubic-inch V8. The motor cranked out 200 horsepower, which wasn't half bad for its time. All in all, the Can Am was a very cool car, but it only lasted a very short time. It was introduced halfway through the 1977 model year, and was not continued for 1978. Total production is estimated to be about 1,377 units, which makes this a very uncommon machine. Naturally, getting to see this one was awesome, and hopefully it makes it to a car show or two before it goes back into hiding.

1977 Pontiac Can Am