Monday, December 15, 2014

Minneapolis Street Sighting: Pontiac Grand Prix

As a child of the 1990s, GM's midsize cars, to me, were best represented by the GM10, or W-Body in enthusiast speak. Running from 1988-2008, this front-wheel-drive sedan served a rather impressive twenty year run before finally being killed off; the sole remaining W-Body car for 2015 is the previous-generation Chevrolet Impala, which is now the "Impala Limited". Smart. Gotta shill em out, somehow, I guess.

 In 1988, when this generation of Grand Prix debuted, it was heralded as being "futuristic" and "this look might, just might look good in ten years". Those predictions were wrong, because even after twenty five years, the original W Grand Prix sedan still looks good. Like the styling, the powertrain, too, stood the test of time. Was the 3.1 V6 and three-speed auto particularly advanced? No. But it worked. Even though these cars had severe rust problems, I still see multiple examples daily. Unfortunately, finding a clean one is hard.

I  know year-by-year differences, right down to the paint color and hubcaps, so I'm going to use my knowledge here; these hubcaps were discontinued in 1995, and the paint color was too. However, this particular car has the earlier split headlight fascia, rather than the lightbar that mimics the Mercury Sable, so I would go out on a limb, and say this car is a 1991 or 1992. Since there are no trim designations, I am calling this one a base car. The teal exterior, color coded interior and base hubcaps seem to imply that this Grand Prix was a bottom-feeder, and it might be owned by the original owner.

As I stated above, I do see example of these daily, but I never see spotless examples; this car was truly a sight to behold; I originally spotted this a couple years ago, and I assumed that it was probably dead by now. Nope! I ran into it recently and it still looks immaculate.

Not a spec of rust, no dings, and not even a faint mark of what might've been a deep gouge in the paint, this Grand Prix is as is close to new as I can expect to find; even he hubcaps show no signs of something as everyday as minute curb rash; I can't recall the last time I saw a complete set of these caps, much less in mint condition. (See what I did there?). My only gripe with this Grand Prix (and that can be said of all Minnesota cars) is the front license plate marring what otherwise is a very nice example of a once everyday family sedan.  almost amazing, really, but then again, since Pontiac is gone, maybe folks are clamoring onto these in hopes of a Barrett Jackson special in thirty years. Who knows?

I had fun shooting this Grand Prix, although the parking quarters limited the amount and quality of pictures, but I do hope to find another one again soon. Maybe I should try for a base coupe next time?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Minneapolis Street Sighting: Ford Tempo GL

For people growing up in the malaise-era, the Ford of choice for families was the ever-popular Fairmont and Granada and their Mercury twins, or for smaller families, maybe an Escort and its twin the Lynx; for the generation of kids who grew up at the end of the 1980s, the choices were totally different. Gone were the rear-wheel-drive, landau-roofed psuedoluxury cars that graced the same dealerships as the Fox Mustang, and the Bronco II, and its in place was a whole new family of Ford family sedans. This time, without rear-wheel-drive, landau roofs, and pillow seats.

While the Tempo did enter production in the fall of 1983 as a 1984 model, the generation(s) I am most familiar with bowed in 1987 as a 1988 model (like me.) This generation said hello to a new V6 engine, too, displacing three liters and churning out about 140 horsepower.  Meanwhile the base four banger huffed up power in the neighborhood of 105 wandering ponies.  Not exactly what I'd call "fast"; then again, the Tempo was never a sportscar despite Ford slapping on a set of sideskirts, a trunk spoiler and a front airdam and labelling as a sporty sedan.

This version pictured here is a 1992-1994 version, shown in Oxford White with blue velour interior, and it reminds me quite a bit of the cars I saw flanking the school parking lot when I was growing up. Living in a smaller city (okay, about 90,000 people without KU students) and having a Ford dealer as a main dealer made for quite a bit of Fords around, and because the Tempo was often the "deep discount buy", hoards and hoards of them were purchased new or as program cars, but alas, not many have survived.

In the rustbelt, Tempos are almost extinct, and about its its twin, the Mercury Topaz? Forget it. I haven't seen one in well over a few months. I think the last one I saw was probably in early fall. So, yeah, these cars are quite thin on the around. Then again, babies born when the last Tempo rolled down the southern Missouri assembly line would be in their second year of college. 

As with all cars in the rustbelt, this poor Temp is looking rather worse for wear, but then again, what Tempo isn't? The fact that this mediocre Ford four door has survived more than ten years in the midwest' harshest automotive climate is a testament to its quality. Okay, maybe not, since I explained above that these things don't really exist here anymore.

Per usual, my assessment is, well, hey, it survived. Oxford White doesn't really have any "shine" to it, so I can't lambast that, and normally I would lambast dents and rust, but here, it seems to "fit." Because the Tempo is a bad car? No; its just that, like Escorts and Taurus' of years past, these Tempos were bought new for fairly cheap, and this was the last "basic" four-door family Ford you could buy.  So being a bit beat-up just means it was used it should be; a family hauler-- or a daily runabout, and not much else.

Do I wish I could've shot a better example? Maybe, maybe not. I like this particular car, because it reminds me so much of my childhood; the parents of a school bully had one, as did an elementary school art teacher. Both white and both probably GLs. I wonder if they were former rental cars?

I have always liked the Tempo, and I have been reluctant to show it; until now. Hopefully I can find and shoot a better one. Someday.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Minneapolis Street Sighting: Suzuki Kizashi

As a kid growing up, I noticed all of the Japanese "orphan" brands, and quickly became a fan of most of them; I loved Mazda (and still do), Nissan had a place in my heart, Honda was awesome but made mostly boring cars where I was growing up, and obviously so did Toyota (aside from enthusiast favorites of course.) But there were two brands that quickly gained my respect, and always left me continually curious. Those two brands were Suzuki and Isuzu. And as I got older, I learned that both would share quite a bit in common.  More on that later.

When I was  a child, Suzuki, sold mostly SUVs, but here and there the company did sell cars; not many, though, as Suzuki was (and is) mostly known for producting cheap runabout, durable vehicles like the Sidekick/Vitara and the Samurai.  The firm also produced cars, too, and unfortunately those are mostly forgotten--and seldom seen.

In the 1990s, the Swift 3 door and 4 door held down the minicompact spot in the lineup (as well as being cloned into the Geo Metro), and the later on, and Esteem was added. That little car was replaced by the Aerio sedan and hatchback. Fast forward to 2007 and the Suzuki car lineup had been dwindled to one--enter the SX4. It came (like the Aerio) as a four-door sedan, and a five-door hatchback/SUV with available AWD for snow climates and wet roads. All the while, Suzuki still gave the US its Vitara SUV as well.

But, dealer networking (and the GM empire) was not kind to Suzuki. Dwindling sales figures and sparse availablity hindered the automakers chances even more; but the struggling Japanese firm wasn't ready to bow out of the United States just yet. They wanted to prove that building a midsize car wasn't completely out of their Forte. (Sorry, Kia).

The Kizashi came out in the fall of 2009 as a 2010 model, and from the start, sales were slow; unfortunately the cause for slow sales is the result of a variety of factors. Due to slow sales projections, Suzuki's dealer network was already compromised as it is, and during the later part of the 2000s, GM was in turmoil. The company treated Suzuki as a has-ran, and as a result, Suzuki didn't have the budget it needed to run successful ad campaigns. This, combined with an ever-shrinking dealer network could only mean one thing.

Add to this mess, the vehicle wasn't quite midsize, and it wasn't quite compact either. That spells success, if the market is indeed a European country. However, Americans wouldn't buy into this new category, much less so at a price that was deemed "too high" from the getgo.  For $18,999 ("NEW MIDSIZE SEDAN STARTING UNDER $19,000" was the headline that was fixed to full-page ads for these), consumers could enter the cabin of a base model, but options pushed the price closer to $28,000. Not exactly the kind of cash consumers were willing to part with for a brand not very many people know about.

Besides having a crap dealer network, and the peculiar sizing of the vehicle, the amenities weren't bad; sure, it lacked a V6, but the Kizashi had something many non-premium sedans lacked: all wheel drive. This means that in wintry climates, the car is the go-to family sedan for families on a budget.  I only see the top-spec models out driving, but I have seen one base model with hubcaps. I wonder if that model had the six-speed stick?

Moot point, because the only base model I saw was given a nice facelift courtesy of a row of plastic newspaper boxes. Sadly, the Kizashi name fits both that particular car, and the whole Kizashi lineup in general; according to Wikipedia, the name "kizashi" translates to either "sign of things to come" or "omen". Truth be told, the Kizashi was a sign of things to come--just not for the US market. The name also fits as "omen" because, due to slow sales, this marked Suzuki's last real endeavor into the US car market.