Sunday, February 22, 2015

Minneapolis Street Sighting: Ford Thunderbird LX

In 1955, the Ford Thunderbird came out as an arch-rival to Chevrolet's Corvette. But, in the years that followed, the Thunderbird would carve out an entirely new niche for itself--and Ford's future. With its first redesign in 1958, the Thunderbird established itself as a personal luxury coupe; not a sports car, and not quite Lincoln opulence--at a Ford price, to boot. From then on, the Thunderbird got bigger and bigger, and more and more luxurious until it finally encroached on Lincoln's turf.

When the Thunbderbird name is spoken, four cars distinctly come to mind: the first generation 1955-1957s, the1961-1963s, the much-loved TurboCoupe of the 1980s, and the final straw for the historic nameplate, the 2002 to 2005 cars.   Of course, the generation I left out was the 1977 to 1979 cars. Not because I don't like them, but hoards of other car enthusiasts don't care for them.

The generation that's been made subject of today's post is the M12 generation; introduced in 1988 to replace the "aerobird" that from 1983 to 1988, the 1989 car introduced was a much roomier, much sleeker (and often called bland), and pricier model than its predecessor. The 3.8 V6 was carried over, and the aging 5.0 was replaced with a 4.6 Modular V8 in this model run; to offset the loss of the enthusiast-favorite TurboCoupe, a SuperCoupe made its debut in 1989 and lasted until the 1995 model year; like the "aerobird"'s facelift in the 1987 mode year, the MN12 received a subtle facelift in 1994. The front bumper added two air intakes on either side of the front license plate mount, to freshen up the look (and to coincide with Ford's rounded styling theme that debuted on the 1994 Mustang). Aside from new wheels in for the Supercoupe and new wheels and colors across the board, nothing else was new.

Unfortunately, a slightly altered fascia did nothing to improve slagging sales, and Ford's personal luxury coupe were dropped after the 1997 model year. Did Ford ultimately clip this Bird's wings? No. Not quite.  In 2002, the Thunderbird would fly once again, this time spearheading the retro movement which took the automotive industry by storm in 2000, with such marketing gimmicks as the Chrysler PT Cruiser and, ultimately, the final iteration of the Thunderbird.

Being a twenty year car in the rustbelt is no easy task, especially for a vehicle whose residual value was fairly low from the time to rolled off the dealer lot. One one hand, you have owners who preserve their Birds and modify them with a plethora of performance mods culminating in fast-ass boats; the other hand deals with the multitudes of Ford's best luxury coupe that have fallen into the hands of people who view them merely as "transportation". As such, a large portion of these cars have been neglected and are now fairly scarce in unmodified condition.

This example was chosen, not for its supreme condition, but because it represents the typical color and wheel combination that I remember from my childhood. As I remember, this shade of green, called Light Evergreen Frost, adorned practically every single new Ford Thunderbird at Laird Noller. Well, okay, the Supercoupes weren't this color, but still. I've always liked this color, too, which is sort of odd considering it wasn't anything fancy, even in 1994.

Inside, the typical Ford interior hasn't shown its age very well; the seat  bolsters were incredibly torn and the dash was cracked in all the usual spaces; but rest assured  this has no bearing on vehicle comfort; I didn't get to talk to the owner, but he was surprised that I acknowledged his vehicle, and thanked me for shooting it; I think I made his day!

As always, I did have fun shooting this; pity about the surface rust though; at least it isn't in worse condition.  Once the rust starts, it never sleeps; I have a feeling this car might develop severe frame rot soon.  Shame, really.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Minneapolis Street Sighting: Kia Borrego

In the 1980s and 1990s, and even into the early 2000s, the big,body-on-frame-truck movement was going strong; in the 1980s, the Japanese saw a space in the marketplace in took it, with the Mitsubishi Montero, and Toyota 4Runner. By the 1990s, the movement would grow ever stronger, and the market swayed towards the luxurious end of the segment, with the popularity of vehicles such as the Range Rover, and Lexus' LX (Toyota Landcruiser), and even the posher versions of the Toyota 4Runner and Mitsubishi Montero. By the middle of the 2000s, the market waned considerably, and due to slow sales (and a relatively high asking price), the Montero was pulled from the US market; the Lexus LX also grew much bigger (and suffered a $24,000 price hike to boot) and would go on to compete with the Infiniti QX56 (Nissan Armada), and the 4Runner became less and less luxury oriented and went back its off-road roots.

With the Koreans upping their game considerably, the gap between car-based crossovers and luxo-utes like the Land-Rover LR3 was left wide-open; and Kia saw a chance to jump into what once was a thriving market.  Unfortunately, several factors ultimately culminated in a very slow-selling, often-discount five-door rig that probably had more chops than credit it was given. New, they listed for about $35,000 or so, but you can pick one up for about half that, even with the 4.6 V8. Reliability is typical Kia-strong, so if you can live without the prestigious badge on the grille, this ute makes sense.

Since the vehicle itself wasn't exactly a sales-success, drivers of the Borrego aren't likely to see themselves coming and going, as drivers of, say, a Ford Explorer would.  While this is a good trait, if drivers want to stand out, it could be a downfall, come repair time.  With not many examples to go around, parts supply is fairly limited, thus making crash repairs a hassle, both in time consumption, as well as cost.

Overall, a very nice actual truck-based-SUV in a sea of mini-me-too crossovers, and definitely a unique sighting, even if it doesn't qualify as a "classic" yet.  Only time will tell if this Korean ute is the next "must-have" collectible truck.

Outside, the finish is typical of that of a five year old vehicle, let alone a sport utility; no actual damage but orange peel aplenty, and several minor nicks and bruises, but nothing inherently serious.  It seems ass if 90% of the Borrego's production was finished in this orange hue (very similar to one used by Nissan as well), because all of the ones I've see have been this color, and for once, the cladding on the rockers and lower fascias is not a hindrance.

Since this is a fairly new vehicle, no further comments can be made about the interior quality, nor its condition, except that this is a fairly bottom-rung model without leather, and without the Kia UVO navigation system. Would it be a better spot if it were a fully-loaded model? Possibly. But the fact that a base-model of a not-well-known vehicle was bought is a novelty in itself.

As with all my sightings, I had fun shooting this particular truck; I'm not so sure I will get the chance to shoot another one in depth, so I might as well make use of this example.  Will I shoot another one? If I find one, yeah, I will.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Minneapolis Street Sighting: Chrysler TC by Maserati

During the 1980s, times for automakers were exceedingly tough--or so I'm told. Compact cars replaced larger vehicles as the nation's top selling cars, minivans were in full swing, and the "off-road family wagon" was started to blossom. What do all three of these categories have in common? Automaker Chrysler had a stake in all of them. What Chrysler didn't have (and really, this wasn't a problem, but you know, Chrysler was trying to invent niches) was a entry-level personal luxury coupe. And by entry-level, I mean gussied up economy car. Like the Cadillac Cimmaron.

Enter the TC by Maserati; wrapped around Chrysler's venerable K-structure, the TC was basically a rebodied LeBaron with more creature comforts (and a price to match). Outside, a more formal front clip, and a better looking rear fascia, and--oh, the Maserati logo. Not to say it was a bad car per-se, but as a marketing endeavor, it failed.  Inside, the treatment was much the same ; same basic structure but quite a bit more formal. Gone were the chintzy plastics, and in their place was a full accoutrement of leather,  and wood trim, topped off with a  rather nice-looking if not a bit uncharacteristic steering wheel.

Getting this interesting cross-breed vehicle down the road (not with very much gusto, though) were a pair of Chrysler turbo 2.2s (one actually built in the UK under Cosworth), and a torque-choked Mitsubishi 3.0 V6.  None of these engines offered very sprightly performance, considering the vehicle was a tad bit chunkier than the LeBaron of the time. Like many vehicles of the time, this little "grand tourer", was indeed available with a manual gearbox, and surprisingly was quite quick with the 2.2 turbo and a stick. Road and Track recorded a quite healthy 0-60 romp of just under seven seconds, and a blast through the quarter mile in a fairly respectable (even for today's standards) 15.5 at 87 MPH. To put that in perspective, those numbers fall in line with a last generation Nissan Sentra SE-R and the minivan-esque Honda Civic Si hatchback.  Not too shabby, I don't think.

 I shot one a few years ago, and this honestly could be the same car, a few years down the road; unlike the first one I blogged, this one does without the Maserati trident on the fenders, and it has lost a piece of taillamp trim. Other than those two niggles, this example is about as "mint" as I would expect to find in the winter. 

The paint is still glossy (Cabernet) all four Fondemental wheels are scuff-free, the hardtop appears to be not only closed fully, but also leak-free (which cannot be said for the last LeBaron hardtop I saw). The biggest surprise about this example (and with any 1980s-era Chrysler product) is the mere fact that it is rust-free, and I suspect that being labelled a Maserati has helped in that regard.

I didn't get a close look inside, as this was spotted in a residential area, and looking into cars would be considered suspicious, but from my memory, the seats had a fair amount of wear (especially the drivers' seat), and the dashpad shows considerable cracking and other wear. All in all, a relatively tidy interior, considering the car's age.

I like these cars (and I think I am in the minority), and it was refreshing to see one still around that hasn't been pampered to the gills; would I want to find one in other than cabaret, of course. Will I ever find one in a shade other than cabaret? Doubtful.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Minneapolis Street Sighting: Hyundai Tiburon FX

For all automotive blogs, there is always one "first"; and this little sporty compact marks a somewhat significant first. Up until now, it never occurred to me that one day I would be writing about the Korean cars that I grew up with. But, in 2015, here we are.

 On the surface, writing about a Hyundai isn't a far fetched idea; after all, this is the company that made their name in the US with the diminutive Excel hatchback--and its sedan counterpart. Within years of introducing the Americas to their little hatchback, the company rolled out a sporty little hatchback, called the S'coupe in our market. For the rest of the world, the car was known as quite simply, "Coupe". Yep, Hyundai just added the letter "S" to the name and called it good. Good enough for us, anyway.

In 1997, the S'coupe was renamed the Tiburon for the US market, and with that name came a full reskin with styling that somehow looked dated as soon as it arrived, better powerplants, and the lack of a focused sport model. Oops.  A few years later, the first generation Tiburon was given a facelift, which arguably hindered the looks rather than helped them. Oh well, you live, you learn, I guess.

Like most Minnesota cars of this vintage (and I hate using the word "vintage" to describe a Tiburon, to be honest), this little coupe is rather used; dents, dings, doors that don't quite shut properly, and more scars than an open-heart patient. Not exactly standing the test of time very well, is it?

On the surface, this example is pretty beat up, but as I try to recall the last Tiburon of this era I came across...well, that's kind of hard; I hardly see these at all, so this example quite possibly be the best one I've ever seen--at least in recent memory. Even with pitted paint, faint evidence of surface rust (that's probably hiding more under the skin, and odd panel gaps, this particular car is quite clean.

All the wheels were remarkable curb-free, the badges were all in one piece,  including the oft-broken trunklid nameplate script. And inside, this little Korean coupe looked almost *new*. Okay, that was probably a stretch, but the interior didn't show nearly half the  beating the exterior had endured.

Was this a worthy subject? I think it was, mainly because the vehicle itself is either a) largely forgotten, even by sport-compact enthusiasts and b) likely close to one-of-a-kind at this point. I am honestly proud that I took time to stop and look.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Minneapolis Street Sighting: Saturn SW2

As I ring in 2015, a bit a late, I will continue to post up vehicles that have significance to me; as a child of the 1990s, I grew up in the age of reliable gas-misers that eventually rusted out; among the countess Corolla wagons, Protege 5s and Escort/Tracer wagons, there was one car that stood the test of time more than any other compact in its class--and it came from an unlikely source: GM.

You heard me right--GM. The company that gave the motoring public such disasters as the Daewoo-built Pontiac LeMans, the atrocious Oldsmobile Achieva, and that oft-ridiculed Pontiac Aztek also churned out what could be the most reliable compact people mover sold in the 'states under an American name. Saturn.

The Twin Cam badging on the rear liftgate identifies this car as an SW2, produced from 1993 to 1994 in its first-generation form. Power for this little load-lugger came from a 1.9L four-cylinder which produced a relatively healthy 124 horsepower and 138 ft lbs of torque; even though that's not very much, it was a higher rating than a comparable Toyota Corolla and Ford Escort; despite this, the Saturn wagon was still rated at over 30 MPG on the highway; a family member owned one, and easily got about 40 MPG on the higway, and hight 20s in the city; a quick check online reveals that many owners easily eclipsed the claimed mileage figures.

The main thing that made the Saturn line so revolutionary was the construction; bonded plastic panels insured easy repair in the event of a collision, but also reduced the risk of the most common ailment for vehicles in the rustbelt where I live: rust.  Due to the plastic construction, and relative ease of repair after an accident, I still see quite a few first-generation Saturns around town.

While I would usually write up about how preserved this particular vehicle is, there really isn't much that could render it "unpreserved"; the plastic panels don't rust-- buy the plastic does break in the winter. As you can see here, the plastic on this wagon has held up well. No cracks, or even small tears; I'd say this car was babied--possibly from the time it was purchased.

I know it sounds odd, but I've always liked the wheels/hubcaps on Saturns, and these are no exception; I like how they sit flush with the body, and don't protrude outward.  Another one of my favorite features of these early Saturns is the front clip. I dunnno, I just like the aesthetics of it all; the way the headlights are positioned, and the shape of the front bumper, and how it connects up to the hood, the whole thing kind of reminds me of a Z31, I guess. I've always liked these, and this is the first time I've tried to put in writing why.

I honestly want to find another wagon, and shoot it more. I had a bit of fun shooting this, and I'm glad I finally found a fully-stock SW versus one with cheapo hubcaps on it.

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?