Saturday, April 4, 2015

Minneapolis Street Sighting: Mercury Topaz GS

Continuing the parade of Ford's foray into the 1990s, we'll take a look at a vehicle that was much-less of a stellar-seller; the Mercury Topaz. Introduced in 1983 as a 1984 model-year vehicle, the Topaz shared most of its contents with the Ford Tempo. While the Ford Escort and Mercury Lynx duo and the Ford LTD/Crown Victoria and Mercury Marquis/Grand Marquis duo were merely rebadges, the Tempo and Topaz were more than simple fascia-swaps. In fact, the only body panels the two shared were the doors, and front fenders (on the later cars), as well as wheel choices.

When it debuted, the Tempo and Topaz duo was fairly competitive, offering a measley 2.3L  four churning out 100 fire-breathing horses. Okay, so it was actually 98 horsepower. Which was, well, shall we say "enough"; enough to propel the Topaz to 60 from a standstill in less than 11 seconds, and through thr quarter-mile in 18 seconds flat. No performance car  the Topaz was.  There was also the venerable 3.0L Vulcan V6, which was optional on these cars and produced a "staggering" 140 horsepower. This engine brought the 0-60 time down to a more reasonable 9.8 seconds and the quarter mile time was reduced to 16.6 seconds at 83 MPH versus 18 seconds at 72 MPH.  Despite being a fairly midsize vehicle, gas mileage at the time was not all that great; Motor Trend got a mind-numbing 19.4 MPG, with an original EPA sticker of 21 city, 26 highway; under the new figures, this translates to 18 city, 24 highway. Not awful, but not what I would consider "class-leading."

When I was a kid, these cars were fairly common; I knew several people with Tempos, and four or five families  with the upscale Mercury Topaz; as the years rolled on, like most Ford products, rust ate most of these alive at an alarming rate.  On the surface, though, this 1992 example looked pretty clean, aside from the road grime caking this thing.

Paint wasn't shiny (duh!) but no real damage aside from slightly crimped bumpers front and rear, and no evidence of any surface rust (yet!) tell me this Topaz was likely cared for until recently. Young kid inherited from grandma, perhaps? I've always liked the Ford/Mercury wheels of the 1990s, and for some reason, these wheels are no exception. Used on the Sable and Topaz, these are one of the more formal-looking wheels in the Ford lineup, and they still look good today.

While the Topaz is by far not the most exciting car, it still marks a time in Ford's history where they were still playing catch-up. But then again, in the 1990s, which domestic automaker wasn't playing catch-up?

I had fun shooting this little thing, and despite all of my hatred for these things as a kid, I am now starting to like them. If only a slight bit.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Minneapolis Street Sighting: Ford Explorer Sport

Beginning in the 1980s, a new class of vehicle would slowly replace the station wagon (and even the upcoming minivan)as the primary mode of transportation for families with and without children; in 1982 GM came out with "small wagons" based on the S-Series compact pickup; Ford followed suit with the Bronco II, but it wasn't until the arrival of the AMC-Jeep Cherokee that this emerging category quickly became a sales success.

Launched for 1990, the Explorer came in two bodystyles, the two-door and the four-door wagon. Shown here is the Sport model, which after 1991 became the name for all two-doors, and not just a trimline of  the two-door.
This generation lasted from its arrival as a 1990 until the 1995 model year, followed by two successors; unfortunately, the two-door Sport was dropped after 2003, while the "Sport" nomenclature would return for 2013 as a nicer-looking, and (yep, you guessed it) Sporty version of the now-crossover Explorer.

Judging by the wheels and facelift, this example is a 1992-1994 model, though the lack of actual year-specific options make it difficult to pare it down to an exact year. I do know that this truck is fairly well optioned, consisting of cast aluminum wheels versus standard wheels, rooftop luggage rack with crossbars, and a tow package.  From my peek inside, this truck also had a the standard 5 spd Mazda-made manual with lockout hubs, as opposed to the optional 5 spd Ford-built automatic and push-button 4x4.

I've written about these Explorers before; I quite like them, but they're getting thin on the ground here, much less in two-door form.  This particular truck is a resident of my neighborhood, but I've never given it the photoshoot treatment until now. From across the street, the thing looks great. Well, for a first-generation Explorer anyway.

Once its viewed close-up, however, the imperfections began to show themselves; the paint is not at all shiny, even when cleaned, and the rear bumper (like all Ford trucks) has more rust than paint at this point. Fortunately, all the badges are there, which isn't too hard since this thing was pretty much badgeless from the factory.  Unlike most Explorers of this vintage, surprisingly there is nary a hint of rocker-panel rust.

As I mentioned earlier, this truck had the 5 spd, and from what I recall, the interior is pretty clean; no cracked dash, and no rips in the seats, and best of all, it still had the original carpet dash-pad and rearview mirror cover with the Ford logo.

Aside from the rust, this is a well-preserved truck; like most Explorers, I dig this truck, and I am glad I shot this when I did. Since these photos were taken, its acquired some pretty nasty right side damage,, and a missing grille. I *almost* want to shoot again just because of the new damage, but doing so will make me a sad panda.

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.