Category: Wheels

On the shooting brake

First question: What is a shooting brake, you ask?

Ask BBC’s TopGear:

Aston once built a DB5 Shooting Brake. It looks good. More so, it has reminded us just how much we like shooting brakes, which are nearly as old as the car itself (though they’ve changed a bit since their inception in the early twentieth century). Originally conceived for hunting game, shooting brakes were described by Commercial Motor magazine as having “seats for eight persons as well as the driver, whilst four guns and a large supply of cartridges, provisions baskets and a good ‘bag’ can be carried” in 1908.

James and Tracy Bond could have used this had Tracy survived “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” to produce next-generation 007s.

Nowadays, they’ve morphed into a sort of cross between an estate and a coupe. Sports car panache. Estate car space. And, more often than not, a soupcon of knee-trembling suave.

Here are some of our favourites.

You know it’s British when “favourite” is spelled with a U and when “whilst” replaces “while.”

1972 Volvo 1800ES

The all-glass rear hatch earned it the nickname Schneewittchensarg (Snow White’s coffin) in Germany, but that didn’t stop Volvo using the outline as inspiration for the 480 and C30.

1968 Reliant Scimitar

Hey, did you know Princess Anne had one? Probably. But then again, who didn’t have one?

 

The Scimitar’s production run stretched from 1968 to 1990.

 

I believe “Scimitar” means “looks like a Ford (Mercury in the U.S.) Capri wagon.”

1999 BMW Z3M Coupe

 

Is it a Shooting Brake? Possibly, though a small one.

It remains one of the better driving things in the history of the automobile, and the divisive styling’s matured well. We’ll take two.

2011 Ferrari FF

Yep, it’s the GTC4Lusso’s forebear, complete with less clunky (though less history-inspired) name.

Basics? 6.3-litre V12, mad grinning face, Ferrari’s first ever four-wheel drive system, and up to 800 litres of luggage space. …

1992 Aston Martin Virage Shooting Brake

A mess of older Astons were transformed into shooting brakes by bodyfiller sculptors in the sixties, but this one’s the real deal.

Only four were made by the company’s Works Service and it cost £165,000 back in 1992. Equivalent to £290,000 in today’s money. Crikey.

Which is around $350,000.

2005 Audi Shooting Brake concept

Unveiled at the 2005 Tokyo motor show, this design study was based on the second-gen TT and had a 3.2-litre VR6 engine hiding behind the LEDs.

It didn’t make it to production, but as Audi’s range expands to fill every conceivable niche, it’s surely only a matter of time…

2013 Callaway AeroWagon

It costs £9,100 on top of a new Corvette, it doesn’t hold much more stuff, you don’t get more seats or headroom, and there’s no performance benefit.

But hot diggidy, we still want a poor man’s FF quite a lot.

1972 Ferrari 365 GTB 4 Shooting Brake

The thing about Ferraris these days is they’re far too common; any old millionaire can have one. Far better, then, to go for something like this – a one-off 1972 Ferrari 365 GTB 4 Shooting brake, one of the most outrageous ‘brakes ever built. Starting life as the 805th Daytona off the line, it was fully rebodied by Panther Westwards in Surrey, England and has more than whiff of hearse about it.

But who cares about looking like the world’s fastest funeral carriage when you have a 352bhp 4.4-litre V12 to wring out, and enough boot space to move house?

2016 Toyota GT86 Shooting Brake

“It is a fully functioning, driveable vehicle that has been put through its paces on Toyota test tracks,” explains Tetsuya Tada, GT86 chief engineer. “The GT86’s nicely weighted and direct steering ensures the car retains the coupe’s involving driving experience with a slightly more neutral feel in tight corners.”

2016 Ferrari GTC4Lusso

Yep, the same shape as the old FF. But lots is new. The styling has had a big update while there’s a gamut of new tech, including four-wheel steering, plus an additional 30bhp, and a 208mph top speed. Yikes.

New too is the V8 Lusso T, which does without all-wheel drive and has a turbo’d V8 instead of the big V12. It’s barely any slower and looks exactly the same, but promises to be a fair bit cheaper… Click here to read our review of the V12, and here for more information on the new V8.

 

Coming to a road course near you

I normally do not follow NASCAR particularly often beyond perhaps two races — the season-opening Daytona 500 and the Memorial Day-weekend Coca~Cola (formerly World) 600.

The former is sort of NASCAR’s Super Bowl even though it starts the NASCAR season. The first live 500 …

… included this finish …

… and this fight.

(CBS’ race analyst, by the way, was David Hobbs, who will be happy to sell you a Honda in Milwaukee.)

The Coca~Cola 600 became a family tradition when it moved to the Sunday evening of Memorial Day weekend, we started going to Glen Haven for its Fire Department catfish festival, and we started listening to the race on the radio.

Before that, I have been to Road America a few times since the first time in the early 1980s. Somewhere I have pretty good photos of the track, including cars that spun out in front of me. There is also a photo of me looking as if I’m attempting to break into a Ferrari (that may have been owned by a certain Wisconsin car dealer you may have heard of). There are probably no photos of the Three Mile Island-level sunburn I got that day. (I had to peel myself out of bed the next day.)

I went to a few Road America events during my days as editor of Marketplace Magazine. In one I stood near the start/finish line and watched Vic Edelbrock fire up a 1960s Corvette race car for one vintage practice race. Shortly before or afterward I walked past a tent where Carroll Shelby was signing autographs.

The last time I went was in 2010, when I parked my car in media parking, my Subaru Outback kind of pale in comparison with the Corvettes and Porsches parked there that apparently belonged to motorsports journalists. (I should have bought a Corvette, though I’m not sure at which previous point in my life it would have made financial sense to do that.)

For some reason I have been getting NASCAR emails. That turned out to be a good thing this one time, because the most recent email says:

NASCAR officials released the 2021 Cup Series schedule Wednesday, introducing three new tracks, expanding to six road courses and placing a dirt-track race on the calendar for the first time in more than 50 years.

Next year’s Cup Series remains at 36 point-paying races, starting as it did this year with the season-opening Daytona 500 (Feb. 14) and ending with the championship finale at Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 7). In between those bookends, there are new venues and schedule shuffles as part of the dramatic changes long hinted at by NASCAR officials.

Among the shifts for 2021 are these highlights …

— July 4: Road America, a historic 4.048-mile road circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, that last hosted the Cup Series in 1956.

NASCAR has been at Road America before, though not in its top level, since the aforementioned 1956 race.

Somewhere there is a video of a NASCAR truck race with three trucks going down the two-lane track before the one-lane turn. It’s a wild sight.

I may have to go cover this in July.

 

Our shiftless (and eventually driverless) days

David L. Scott:

My first car was a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air ragtop. I was 17 and it was one of the most beautiful vehicles I had ever seen. I treasured that car and six decades later it occasionally pops up in my dreams.

But it had two shortcomings: The engine was topped with a measly two-barrel carburetor (remember those?) and, more important, it was burdened with an automatic transmission. At the time no self-respecting high-school male wanted to drive an automatic—that was for parents and grandparents. I wanted a stick shift that would make me look cool. Plus, I could burn rubber in a manual, even with a two-barrel carburetor.

The baddest car in town was George Cameron’s black 1957 fuel-injected Chevy. This was a car only God himself could have placed on earth. In my boyhood home of Rushville, Ind., George spent weekend evenings cruising Main Street at a slow creep with no need to race the engine or squeal the tires. Everyone already knew this was the fastest car in the county. His Chevy sported a three-on-the-column stick shift.

Sadly, the end of the manual transmission is near, and the unfortunate truth is few people will miss it. Most young adults don’t know how to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission, and they aren’t interested in learning. Many modern automatics offer better fuel efficiency and quicker acceleration than their manual counterparts. Porsche now delivers 75% of its 718 and 911 sports cars with automatic transmissions. The new C8 Corvette is only available with one. When the stick shift loses Porsche and Corvette buyers, you know it’s quickly heading for the rearview mirror.

But there is more bad news. In the future, cars won’t only be automatics; it appears they’ll increasingly be automated, electric vehicles. The satisfying throbbing of the exhaust and the pleasure of driving will also become victims of progress. Traveling in a personal vehicle will be as exciting as riding in an elevator with windows.

Despite impressive improvements in vehicle technology, my devotion for manually shifting gears, listening to the rumble of the exhaust, and maintaining a tight grip on the steering wheel through a sharp curve remains undiminished. Gripping the shifter knob allows a driver to become part of the vehicle rather than someone who is little more than a passenger. Manually accelerating through the gears and downshifting into a curve are two of motoring’s most satisfying experiences.

The sound, feel and thrill of driving are to be relished, not relegated to the trash heap and memories along with carburetors, fender skirts, steel wheels and hubcaps. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in a sports car with a manual transmission and you too will become a believer.

When eight was not enough

Readers know I have been, shall we say, skeptical about the C8 Corvette, a mid-engine design GM is unfamiliar with, which lacks a proper (manual) transmission and is grossly overpriced.

A quarter-century ago, though, GM had an idea for the Corvette that would have been bigger, in one sense, than anything in the C8. R&T (the upgraded Road & Track, or something) tells the story:

The original Dodge Viper was a game-changer. With its outrageous proportions and massive 8.0-liter V-10 engine, it outclassed pretty much anything else out of Detroit at the time. Except maybe this one-off V-12-powered Corvette.

Chevy built this experimental Corvette in the early Nineties as its answer to the Viper, and it’s a beast. Called the ZR-12, it uses the C4-generation ZR-1 as a base. The entire nose was stretched to accommodate the 600 cubic-inch V-12, built by Ryan Falconer Racing Engines. The all-aluminum engine was rated at 686 hp and 680 lb-ft of torque when new—far more than the then-new Viper’s output of 400 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque.

Of course, the ZR-12 never made it to production. The sole example languished at GM’s Heritage center for a number of years before being moved to the Corvette Museum, where it currently resides, according to LSX Magazine. The car used to have side-pipes and a different set of wheels, but has since been converted into a more subtle specification.

The DtRockstar1 YouTube channel was lucky enough to get insider access to the Museum while the ZR-12 was started and driven around, giving us a chance to listen to the unique engine note (above). Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t sound like your average Corvette.

This was far from GM’s first attempt at a V-12. Cadillac had one in the 1930s, along with a V-16. In World War II Rolls–Royce’s Merlin and the Allison V-1710 powered planes. Packard’s V-12 was placed (three each) in PT boats.

According to the always-accurate Wikipedia:

Each bank of a V12 engine essentially functions as a straight-six engine, which by itself has perfect primary and secondary engine balance. By using the correct V-angle, a V12 engine can therefore have perfect balance. The even firing order for a four-stroke V12 engine has an interval of 60 degrees, therefore a V12 engine can be perfectly balanced if a V-angle of 60 degrees, 120 degrees or 180 degrees is used. Many V12 engines use a V-angle of 60 degrees between the two banks of cylinders. …

At any given time, three of the cylinders in a V12 engine are in their power stroke, which increases the smoothness of the power delivery by eliminating gaps between power pulses.

The weirdest V-12, perhaps, was GMC’s, and I have seen an example of one reported by Driving.ca:

When you think of a V12 engine, your mind runs immediately to the high-tech, rev-happy, screamers made by Ferrari and Lamborghini. But did you know that between 1960 and 1965 GMC made a V12 of their own? And it was the size of two Ferrari 599 V12s combined.

It’s outrageous now to think of a gasoline-powered semi-truck but, in the 1960s when fuel was cheaper, a sizeable percentage of operators preferred gasoline power. Chevrolet offered a heavy-duty version of its famous 427 V8 to truck operators, but GMC knew they could do one better. They needed an engine with cubic inches, and lots of them. So they took the basic design from their 5.7L V6 and made a monstrous 11.5L V12.

This was not just two V6s bolted or welded together. The V12 had its own block, cam, a special oil pan that held 15L of oil, and a special crankshaft that weighed 82 kilograms. The engine was an absolute monolith. It was 1.3 metres long and weighed more than 680 kg fully assembled. Due to its inherent weight and girth, it wasn’t an engine you could simply bolt into a Chevy C10 pickup and drive around in. It was installed in full-on semi-trucks, and also as standalone power units for irrigation. It was never installed into a passenger car or truck by GMC, but many hot-rodders have shoved it into service for hot rods, and custom pickup-trucks.

For all its size and displacement, the V12 wasn’t a horsepower king, it was made for torque. It made just 275 hp at 2,400 rpm but produced a freight-train-like 625-lb.-ft. of torque at just 2,100 rpm. If those numbers aren’t enough for you, a Florida-based shop called Thunder V12 will happily sell you a rebuilt one in any specification from bone stock to tractor-pull stormer. Prices start at US$10,800 for a complete engine, so get your chequebook ready. Beat-up originals can be found on eBay for around $5,000, but buyer beware as no more spare parts are being made for these beasts.

The GMC V12 was made between 1960 and 1965 and, in that time, they made about 5,000 of them. Nobody’s sure quite how many are left but most guess that there can’t be any more than 1,500 in semi-serviceable condition. After the big V12 ran out of production the writing was on the wall for gasoline-powered trucks. At 11.5L it remains one of the largest gas engines that ever powered a road vehicle, and we’ll never see a dinosaur like it again.

Except that, according to Fox News:

Sure, you’ve got a V8 in your Chevy, but you could’ve had a V12.

At least now you can.

A new Australian outfit called V12LS has created a 12-cylinder version of the venerable General Motors LS1 V8 and is putting it on sale.

The company started out by taking two LS blocks, lopping off a couple of cylinders and melding them together to create a V12, but has now developed its own single cast block that is compatible with many LS parts. The last time GM made its own V12 was the GMC “twin six” truck engine in 1966.

V12LS is currently offering a 9.0-liter crate engine with an iron block good for 717 hp for $35,000, but is working on an aluminum version. Various kits in different states of dress run from $21,300 for a basic builder package to a dyno-tested turnkey engine for $46,200.

Those prices include shipping to the USA.

For that matter, while GMC was producing V-12s, Cadillac was contemplating a V-12 for its new front-drive Eldorado personal luxury car. Caddy never built a V-12 Eldorado, but Popular Mechanics reported in 1988 that since BMW was developing a V-12, other luxury carmakers would, including Cadillac.

Cadillac worked to develop a V-12 with Lotus for its Solitaire concept car, the two-door version of its Voyagé concept car.

The Voyagé (left), which looked similar to the 1991 Chevy Caprice, Buick Roadmaster and Cadillac Fleetwood, had a mere V-8, while the Solitaire had a proposed V-12 with 436 horsepower.

As an aficionado of big coupes, as you know, I would definitely drive that.

Not to be outdone, Cadillac proposed in 2003 the Sixteen, powered by, of course, a V-16.

Motor Trend drove one.

“Would you like to drive our 13.6-liter/1000-horsepower V-16 sedan?” asked GM’s Jeff Holland. Even though we knew there’d be extra-sticky driving rules and caveats regarding the $2 million concept’s mechanical polish, there was only one possible answer: “Duh.” Next thing we knew, we were piloting Caddy’s sexy showstopper around GM’s Milford, Michigan, Proving Ground. The Sixteen has been literally the biggest thing to roll onto the auto-show circuit this season. Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman of product development and chairman of GM North America, says it’s “a modern interpretation of everything that made Cadillac the standard of the world.” But is it merely a lavish reminder of a once-glorious past or a relevant vision of the future? Enough scene-setting. What’s it like to drive almost 19 feet and 16 cylinders of handbuilt concept car?

Remarkably sweet. Entering the Sixteen requires punching a button on the key fob or lightly squeezing a microswitch inside the top of the front door. There are no door handles to clutter the Sixteen’s lyrically curving body sides. Once inside, you’re surrounded by the rich scent of fine leather, glints from polished walnut and aluminum, and thick carpets–woven of silk, no less.

The driver’s leather bucket is large, soft, and gently contoured. It power-adjusts to a comfortable position, surprising given the lack of ergonomic work that usually goes into a turntable toy. Likewise, the leather and polished-wood steering wheel can be powered into a just-right spot, which lets you easily read the speedo/tachometer gauge in the center of the dash.

To start, step on the brake pedal and push a green button to the right of the wheel. You’ll hear a strange, aircraft-style starter whine, then the mammoth V-16 erupts in a raggedy roar that quickly settles down to a somewhat bumpy idle (virtually no tuning was done on the powertrain’s five engine mounts). As the engine starts, the instruments–including the clock–cycle and sweep their needles to calibrate themselves, emitting odd ticking and ratcheting clicks.

From inside the cabin, the engine’s sound is neither the jungle murmur of a Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG nor the near-silent thrum of a Bentley or Rolls. It’s slightly rowdy and clearly coming from something in large displacement, particularly as you blip the throttle. Asked if they’d done any exhaust tuning, one powertrain engineer shrugs and says, “Well, we had four mufflers, and we threw two away.”

Ease into the throttle, and the car moves with a quickness that belies its mass and size. The automatic transmission has four gears, but we feel only two shift surges during our drive. This huge sedan glides precisely, with a catlike balance that puts us at ease. The steering feels light, and the car drives smaller than it looks. Give it more gas, and the result is a Mississippi River’s worth of torque that surges the car forward. We back off to listen for crunching, grinding, or banging. Nothing–impressive for a machine whose primary purpose is to dazzle a show crowd. The Sixteen’s ride is a bit jiggly, which doesn’t say anything positive about the suspension, since the pavement is billiard-table smooth.

The brakes don’t feel up to the engine’s grunt. Despite six-piston calipers and 16-inch rotors, not much happens when the brake pedal is depressed. Perhaps that’s because the master cylinder is remote-mounted in the trunk and operated via a tangle of electronics. We remember that our GM support crew warned us about “green” brake pads.

There isn’t much turnaround room for us at the end of one particular Proving Ground road, but four-wheel steering comes to the rescue. Turning in opposite phase to the front wheels at low speeds, the rear wheels tighten the car’s long turning circle to approximately that of a midsize sedan.

The Sixteen isn’t as polished as a production car; understandable, as that’s not its mission. But it’s easily the most refined concept car we’ve driven, which further teases us about what sort of production potential it, or some of its componentry, might have. The car’s design represents an updated, and somewhat more elegant, variation on Cadillac’s crisp-edged design language; perhaps some of the Sixteen’s themes will show up on the upcoming Seville/STS and the next-generation DeVille.

Does anyone need 16 cylinders or 1000 horsepower? No. But the idea–like the engine itself–sounds simply wondrous.

Of course it does.

Back to the original premise: What about a V-12 Corvette?

Remember that this was right after Chevrolet debuted the King of the Road, a Corvette with a double-overhead-cam 32-valve-per-cylinder V-8 designed by Lotus and built by Mercury Marine in Stillwater, Okla.

Given GM’s history with the Northstar V-8 — an unfamiliar engine design (also DOHC, built for Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles) that became notorious for head gasket (actually head bolt) failures, which result in antifreeze in the cylinder walls and engine oil in the radiator, with really bad result (If you’re driving when it’s, say, 10 below zero and your car starts to overheat, that’s not good) — the thought GM could have successfully designed a V-12 that would have worked as designed for every Corvette is, well, optimistic. A V-12 designed by someone else, as the King of the Road V-8 was, might have made more sense.

Whether a V-12 Corvette could have performed better sales-wise than the King of the Road (whose sales slowed after the first year) is a better question. For years Corvettes have seemed to pale in comparison with more exotic Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches (even though they are powered by mere flat-sixes) in part because of interiors perceived to be subpar, despite the Corvette’s superior horsepower-per-dollar. (The mid-engine C8 is GM’s attempt to compete with more expensive supercars, though ironically the C8’s V-8 still uses pushrods, as every Corvette except for the first two years of the C1 and the King of the Road.)

It’s not clear that the wealthy snobs who apparently drive supercars would be interested in a V-12 Corvette any more than they were interested in the DOHC Corvette. People who appreciate American-made performance and value might have had a different opinion.

 

 

The vehicular hypocrite

The Detroit News reports about this ad:

In the course of “vetting” a vice presidential running mate, U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden might have accidentally spilled General Motors’ future product plans.

In an 80-second campaignspot posted on Biden’s Twitter account Wednesday, Biden surprises by not talking about politics but cars, and his love of the Corvette and the American car market. In it, he says, “They tell me” that GM is making an all-electric version of its iconic sports car that will go 200 mph.

Turns out there are plans. Someone familiar with Corvette production at its Bowling Green Assembly in Kentucky confirmed to the Free Press there is a plan for an all-electric version of the Corvette, but the timing and its maximum speed are unknown.

The electric version is likely at least two years or more out, the person said, noting it will follow GM’s performance versions of the car due to market over the next year. The person declined to be named because there was no authorization to speak to the media.

GM spokesman Jim Cain,when asked about an electric Corvette,said company policy is to decline to discuss future products.

But GM has said it will have an all-electric lineup across its brands one day, with Cadillac being the lead brand for that technology. Cadillac’s boss has said the brand lineup will be nearly all-electric by 2030. 

GM did not plant any tip about an all-electric variant of the Corvette in Biden’s ear, said Jeannine Ginivan, GM spokeswoman. 

“I don’t know who ‘they’ are who told him that, but we don’t have any news about any new electric Corvette,” Ginivan said, reiterating that GM does not discuss future product. “We are excited about the line of vehicles we have coming. We have the GMC Hummer electric pickup and tonight the Lyriq (SUV) reveal.”

And exactly who is going to be able to afford a $200,000 electric Corvette? Maybe Biden, who has, like many politicians, gotten curiously rich (at least $9 million in net worth) while he was in, then since he left, office. Not normal people, who should be reluctant to purchase one anyway given GM’s bad record with new tech:

Biden is a Corvette owner, as Fox News reports:

Joe Biden is looking to rev up his presidential campaign by getting behind the wheel of his 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray to ‘vette’ himself for office.

The presumptive Democratic nominee has released a new ad promoting American manufacturing that features the classic green convertible. …

Biden is the original owner of the car, which was a wedding gift from his father, who worked at a Chevrolet dealership. During his time as vice president, he often lamented that he wasn’t allowed to drive it due to security concerns.

Biden did manage to take the sports car for a spin for an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage just before the 2016 presidential election, but at a secure facility rather than on the road. Biden told Leno that he’d once driven it 160 mph, but his 327-cubic inch model had an official top speed closer to 130 mph.

In the new video, which appears to have been shot along the drive to his Wilmington, Del., estate, Biden says the car brings back memories of his father and his late son Beau.

He rhetorically asks, “How can American-made vehicles no longer be out there?”

According to the Automotive News Data Center, over 10 million vehicles were manufactured in the U.S. in 2019.

“I believe we can own the 21st-century market again by moving to electric vehicles,” Biden continued.

He then says that “they” tell me that they’re making an electric Corvette that can go 200 mph.

Chevrolet has not confirmed plans for such a vehicle, however Maryland-based Genovation sells a Corvette converted to run on electricity that holds the top speed record for street-legal electric cars at 210.2 mph.

The Genovation GXE costs $750,000, plus the price of the donor car it is based on.

I guess my $200,000 estimate is too low. My bad.

Biden’s ad didn’t tell you this, but Issues & Insights did:

Joe Biden’s $2 trillion climate change plan, released this week, was described by one liberal outlet as “the Green New Deal, minus the crazy.” We beg to differ. Just look at Biden’s plan to eliminate the internal combustion engine.

Biden says that on his first day in office, he will develop “rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100% of new sales for light- and medium-duty vehicles will be zero emissions.”

He hasn’t said exactly when he wants new cars to be all-electric, but House Democrats have already established a timetable. Their new climate change plan calls for mandating 100% “clean” vehicles by 2035.

Keep in mind that as of today, plug-in electrics account for 0.5% of cars on the road, and made up less than 2% of new vehicles sold in 2019. And that’s despite massive public subsidies that have cost taxpayers $5 billion in credits to — mostly wealthy — EV buyers.

Clearly, consumers are not that interested in plug-ins, which is why Biden and his fellow Democrats want to force electric cars on everyone in the name of climate change.

Aside from fuel economy mandates, Biden also wants to extend and expand the EV tax credit, pump federal money into charging stations, and create a new “cash for clunkers” program for those who trade in a gasoline-powered car for a plug-in.

The cost of all this? Who knows. Aside from the $2 trillion price tag that Biden put on his entire Green New Deal plan, he hasn’t broken down his EV mandate scheme. But Sen. Chuck Schumer has already proposed a cash-for-clunkers plan, which would cost $454 billion over a decade.

And for all this, the electric car mandate will have a negligible impact on CO2 emissions and zero impact on the climate.

For one thing, the CO2 advantage of electric cars is vastly oversold. These are not “zero emissions” vehicles. They simply change the source of the emissions from the car to power plants — most of them powered by coal and natural gas.

A study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute found that when you factor in CO2 emissions from electricity production, the average plug-in produces as much CO2 over its lifetime as a gas-powered car that gets 55 miles per gallon.

The CO2 advantage of electric cars diminishes even more when you consider the entire lifecycle of the vehicle, including the environmental impact of mining required to manufacture the batteries. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that CO2 emissions from manufacturing electric cars was 68% higher than gas-powered cars.

When you add it up, the impact on the climate is zero. A report from the Manhattan Institute notes that even if every car on the road were replaced with electric vehicles by 2050, “the resulting reduction in CO2 emissions would be less than 500 million tons per year.” That reduction, it says “will have no measurable impact on world climate.”

The rest of Biden’s environmental plan is equally untethered from reality. Take his proposal to have all the nation’s electricity produced by “clean” fuels by 2035.

Today, 20% of electricity comes from renewable sources. The Energy Information Administration says that based on current trends, that will increase to 32% by 2035 and 38% by 2050.

That’s a long way from 100%.

Plus, a fifth of today’s renewable energy comes from hydroelectric power, which has been declining as a source of energy in part because environmentalists hate dams. Another 43% comes from biomass, which environmentalists also consider dirty.

As the Natural Resources Defense Council put it, “biomass energy damages our climate and air, our forests, and our communities while the industry hides behind veils of misinformation.

That leaves solar and wind, which are massive land hogs. Proposed solar plants in Virginia would eat up 490 square miles of land — which would be like covering all of Los Angeles in solar panels. A single 50 turbine wind farm requires 23 square miles, notes Real Clear Investigations. Both energy sources are uneconomical without generous government subsidies.

Then there’s Biden’s promise that the entire U.S. economy will produce zero carbon emissions by 2050.

When the Heritage Foundation tried to calculate the economic impact of the carbon taxes needed to cut CO2 emissions by just more than half, it crashed their economic model.

The Green New Deal was never about saving the planet. It’s always been about the left’s desire to gain control of every aspect of our economy and our lives. Biden’s version might be a modestly watered-down version of the one proposed by socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but it’s hardly any less crazy.

Biden’s party believes people shouldn’t own vehicles, period, but should ride mass transit like good little communists, particularly since if Biden is elected president you will be poorer, not richer, in income and rights. So the electric Corvette convertible is a fantasy, and not just in Biden’s mind.

 

A brief history of the SUV, or, from Bronco to Bronco

Ford Motor Co.’s introduction of the Bronco, in two-door and four-door models plus the “Bronco Sport” (don’t call it an Escape), brings an opportunity for some vehicular history.

That’s after this amusing meme:

Image may contain: car, text that says 'We can't tell anyone about last night.. know! It would haunt us forever.. EVER BRON C ...9 months later'

John Leblanc provides the “begats” of the sports utility vehicle:

While everyone from teenagers to grandparents can be found behind the wheel of an SUV today, the first iterations of these functional vehicles were primarily sold to commercial users like the military, police and fire departments and forestry and mining companies. Chronologically, here 10 of those pioneering SUVs:

1935 Chevrolet Carryall Suburban

The original 1935 Chevrolet Suburban Carryall.

The granddaddy of today’s full-sized SUVs, Chevrolet introduced its Suburban Carryall in 1935, making it the longest model name in continuous use in the auto industry. Instead of getting the kids to hockey practice, the original was used primarily as a means to transport commuters to and from train stations. Just like today’s version, though, the original two-door-only Suburban was based on a contemporary Chevy half-ton pickup chassis, with an all-metal wagon body that could carry up to eight passengers.

1944 Willys Civilian Jeep

The Willys Jeep is one of the most iconic vehicles in history.

One of the most iconic vehicles in automotive history, what we know today as the Jeep Wrangler, was first sold to the public in 1944 as the Willys Civilian Jeep (or CJ) — a retail version of the Military Jeep used in the Second World War. Until the Wrangler (TJ in Canada) replaced it in 1987, the CJ-2 to CJ-8 Jeeps changed little in basic layout and functionality. Today, the Wrangler Unlimited remains the only new four-door convertible SUV you can buy.

1946 Willys Jeep Station Wagon

The Willys Jeep Station Wagon was one of the first vehicles to introduce 4WD to the masses.

While Chevy’s pioneering Suburban was perfectly adequate for well-groomed roads, the seven-passenger Jeep Station Wagon was one of the first SUVs to introduce four-wheel drive for customers in more remote or wintry locales. With more than 300,000 built, the Jeep Station Wagon was one of Willy’s most successful vehicles after the Second World War. It remained in production three years after the larger Jeep Wagoneer debuted in 1963.

1948 Land Rover Series I

The Land Rover Series 1 was directly inspired by the Willys Jeep CJ.

Directly inspired by the Willy’s CJ, Britain’s Rover introduced the Land Rover Series I as a four-wheel-drive farm and utility vehicle four years after the Jeep went on sale. While the first models were two-door convertibles, in 1956 hardtop station wagon models with seating for up to 10 passengers debuted. The ancestor to today’s Defender (currently not sold in Canada), the Land Rover Series I through III were replaced in 1986 by the Ninety and One Ten models.

1953 International Harvester Travelall

Like the Land Rover Series 1, the International Harvester Travelall drew inspiration from another SUV before it – the Chevrolet Suburban.

Before 1952, IH station wagons built on the brand’s full-sized truck chassis used primarily wooden bodies crafted by outside companies. But with the introduction of the new R line of pickups, the all-steel-bodied Travelall was born. Like the first Chevy Suburban, the original two- or three-row Travelalls only had two passenger doors. A curbside third door was added in 1956 and a fourth in 1961 — a feature the Suburban wouldn’t gain until 1973. Looking to steal some sales away from Jeep, the Travelall added 4WD as an option in 1956.
The father of a friend of mine sold International pickup trucks, Scouts and Travealls until IH stopped building them. The coolest of them (that he brought home) may have been the Scout Traveler, a longer version of the second-generation Scout (more on that later) with four bucket seats.

1954 Toyota Land Cruiser

Once again, like the Land Rover Series 1, the Toyota Land Cruiser drew inspiration from the original Willys Jeep.

Like the Land Rover that preceded it, the original Toyota Land Cruiser was inspired by Jeep’s CJ. The first retail two-door Model BJ models were conceived as purely utilitarian 4WD vehicles for police and forest workers. In 1958, Toyota introduced a hardtop version and started selling the Land Cruiser in North America. In 1960, the iconic 40 Series (the model today’s FJ Cruiser was inspired by) went on sale. It promptly became Toyota’s best-selling model between 1961 and 1965 in the U.S.

1961 International Harvester Scout

The International Scout was introduced in 1961 and lasted until 1980.

In the 1950s, IH decided to give Jeep’s CJ some much-needed competition. Until Ford introduced its similar-in-concept Bronco in 1966, the CJ, Scout and Land Cruiser were the primary offerings in the small, two-door SUV market. Although it was originally conceived to have an all-plastic body, the original Scout was eventually built with more conventional (and less expensive) steel, and had many of the attributes of the CJ, like a fold down windshield.

The Scout Traveler is pictured. This is the original (and clearly very Jeep-like) Scout …

Picture 1 of 1

… and this is the Scout II in SUV …

… pickup (with hard- and soft-top options) …

1976 International Scout Terra Suntanner

… and off-road versions:

Rare 1978 International Scout SSII

1963 Jeep Wagoneer

The Jeep Wagoneer, introduced in 1963, is arguably the first luxury SUV.

While some will argue that modern luxury SUVs take their cue from the original 1970 Land Rover Range Rover, the first true luxury SUV was the 1963 Wagoneer. The Jeep station wagon essentially established today’s SUV template: 4WD, a lot of room for passengers and their cargo, and higher levels of creature comforts. Designed as a replacement for the aforementioned Jeep Station Wagon, the Wagoneer shared its platform with the Jeep Gladiator pickup. It carried six passengers comfortably, was offered in both two- and four-door models, and was the first 4WD SUV to offer an optional independent front suspension for improved ride comfort.

1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer

The Chevrolet K5 Blazer is one of the models to pave the way for two-door SUVs.

While the Jeep CJ and original Ford Bronco were the two best-selling two-door SUVs in the 1960s, the introduction of the full-sized K5 Blazer paved the way for the popularity of larger models. Based on the short wheelbase version of Chevy’s pickup, the Blazer offered more power, room, and luxury (air conditioning!) than its smaller rivals. The popularity of the original Blazer (and its GMC Jimmy platform-mate) forced Dodge to introduce its full-size Ramcharger SUV in 1974, and Ford to move its Bronco to its larger full-size truck chassis for 1978.

1984 Jeep Cherokee

You might argue the Ford Explorer started the modern SUV craze, but the Jeep Cherokee was the real pioneer of its era.

Historians will look at the introduction of the Ford Explorer in 1990 as the spark that set off the modern SUV craze. But the Cherokee that debuted six years earlier was the real pioneer of its era, paving the way for today’s more car-like crossover-utility vehicles. The midsize Cherokee was the first Jeep with a truck-like ladder-boxed chassis combined with a car-like monocoque unit. This allowed the Jeep to be more space-efficient than larger rivals like the Blazer and Bronco. The four-door Cherokee was especially influential, inspiring not only the ’90 Explorer, but also the forcing rivals like Nissan, General Motors and Toyota to add four-door models to their midsize SUV offerings.

Actually, before the Explorer was the Bronco II, based on the Ranger compact pickup, which debuted in the early 1980s with the Chevy S-10 Blazer (and GMC Jimmy), based on the S-10 (and S-15) compact pickup. The Explorer got two more doors as well, just as the two- and four-door small Cherokees. The big Jimmy became the Yukon in 1991, and the big Blazer became the Tahoe in 1994. Each gained two doors, and now you can’t buy a new two-door Tahoe or Jimmy.

As mentioned, the Bronco started as a Jeep CJ and Scout competitor. It was slightly larger and slightly less Spartan than the CJ.

1977 Ford Bronco for sale near Powell, Ohio 43065 - Classics on ...

The sales success of the larger Blazer …

1972 Chevrolet K5 Blazer CST 4x4 for sale on BaT Auctions - sold ...

… and companion GMC Jimmy …

… and Dodge Ramcharger …

… and Cherokee and Wagoneer …

1976 Jeep Cherokee Chief Widetrack | Canyon State Classics

… prompted Ford to do what GM and Chrysler had done and create a new Bronco based on a shortened half-ton pickup chassis.

1978 Ford Bronco NEC Auction

1978 Ford Bronco Ranger XLT 4x4 for sale on BaT Auctions - sold ...

The most famous Bronco of all belongs to O.J. Simpson:

 

I’ve written an explanation before about the popularity of SUVs vs. what car magazines want (hint: cars) and the naysaying of environmentalists and others. As cars decreased in size (and therefore capability), there were the truck-based SUVs, which provided the utility of the old-style big station wagons, as well as the safety of size. In an era where gas prices were relatively low, no one cared about gas mileage of less than 20 mpg.

The zenith of the big SUV was probably in the 1990s, when Ford replaced the two-door Bronco with the four-door Expedition, based on an F-150, and then added the even-bigger Excursion, based on the Super Duty pickup. I believe writer Dave Barry noted the Excursion and wrote that Chevy was going to come up with its own super-Suburban, the Subdivision. (The Excursion and its optional diesel engine is gone, replaced by the Expedition XL, with neither a diesel nor a V-8.)

Since then, it seems as if SUVs are about all you can buy, except that the big SUVs are less common, replaced by SUVs based on non-trucks. We have a Honda Pilot, which is based on the Odyssey van, which in turn is based on the Accord sedan. The CR-V small SUV is in turn based on the Civic. The current Blazer and GMC Acadia are “crossovers,” not trucks.

Two pieces of good news for enthusiasts is that the Bronco can be purchased with two doors instead of four, and a few models have standard seven-speed manual transmissions. The bad news is the stick is only available with the weaker four-cylinder engine. There is also no V-8 option. So it only partly matches a Rezvani Tank.

 

When vans were cool

I was young in the 1970s (weren’t we all), when I first started becoming interested in cars.

I was interested in other four-wheeled vehicles too, including custom vans. No, not this van …

… which is technically a minivan, (a depiction of) our 2001 Honda Odyssey. As an appliance, it was a marvel of function and design. As a driving experience, it was like driving a Honda Accord, because it was based on an Accord, also a marvel of design and function, though if you use a synonym you can spell “function” without “fun.”

For some reason (coronavirus boredom?) Automobile Magazine found a list of van-based movies, which was the genesis for this blog:

Sometimes bad can be good—especially when we are referring to vansploitation movies of the 1970s. Like the hot-rod and biker movies of the 1950s and 1960s, the 1970s was the golden age of movies about vans. But let us be clear: This genre of celluloid includes some of the cheesiest, most sexist, and dumbest plotlines in motion picture history—think “Smokey and the Bandit” meetsPorky’s”—but it also includes some of the coolest customized vans of all-time. Chances are you’ve probably never heard of or ever watched any of these silly vansploitation flicks, so know up front that the vans usually feature wild paint jobs with suggestive graphics, shag carpeting, CB radios, waterbeds, mirrors on the ceiling, refrigerators, toasters, and much more.

Here are four essential vansploitation movies to check out.

“Blue Summer” (1973)

Blue Summer

The earliest known vansploitation movie of the ’70s is “Blue Summer,” directed by Chuck Vincent—who is known mostly for directing a number of the era’s adult films. Basically, it is the story of two beer-swilling high-school graduates who meet female hitchhikers, a preacher, a righteous biker, and other crazy locals in their groovy Dodge van with flowers all around and a butterfly up front. The beat-up gray van is named “The Meat Wagon” by its owner, and you can guess that this one isn’t exactly for the kiddos.

“Supervan” (1977)

SuperVan
This vansploitation film features one of the coolest custom vans of all time. The star of “Supervan” is named “Vandora,” and it’s a solar-powered machine with lasers that was created by George Barris. The legendary “King of Kustomizers” used a Dodge Sportsman as the base for his futuristic ride, and he also appears as a judge in the movie. Poet and writer Charles Bukowski also makes a cameo and can be seen briefly during a wet t-shirt contest. You can skip the first 20 minutes of this movie because that’s when Vandora finally enters the scene. Far out, man.

“The Van” (1977)

The Van

“Bobby couldn’t make it … till he went Fun-Truckin’!” teases the poster for this classic pile of vansploitation. “The Van” is directed by Sam Grossman and is about a kid that spends all of his money on a customized bright yellow Dodge dubbed “The Straight Arrow.” It has a huge glass window with giant phallic arrow graphics on its sides—it’s not very subtle at all. Strangely, the theme song “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns is used throughout the movie’s terrible soundtrack. Go figure. Also as a bonus, funnyman Danny DeVito co-stars in a pre-“Taxi” type of role with a slight “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” character vibe.

“Van Nuys Blvd.” (1979)

Van Nuys Blvd
This one is the best of the vansploitation bunch, as “Van Nuys Blvd.” is the culmination of the vansploitation genre. It is still cheesy but also the easiest one of these movies to watch. It is directed by William Sachs and stars Bill Adler as a small-town hayseed who heads to the bright lights of Van Nuys, California, to cruise his Ford Econoline van on the now legendary boulevard. It also stars Cynthia Wood, a former Playboy Playmate of the Year who drives and races a bad ass Dodge Tradesman van of her own. This one is definitely the “American Graffiti” of vansploitation movies, and it is more than worth a look for its footage of the Southern California car-culture scene of its day.

The 1970s was the apotheosis of van movies because the 1970s was the apotheosis of custom vans. The vehicle originally on a truck chassis with a body designed for various commercial uses could be customized from front bumper to back bumper, outside and inside, for the owner’s needs, including sleeping. (Solo or otherwise.)

As with other vehicles of the day, vans could be mechanically improved by choices of wheels and tires, additions of sidepipes, or engine upgrades. None of that changed the reality of the van as large and heavy.

Owners could augment the interior with upgraded front seats, sunroofs, tables, mini-refrigerators wired into the van’s electrical system, beds, and (inevitably shag) carpeting.

Van exteriors, specifically the vast expanse between the front doors and the back doors, were a canvas for the creativity or interests (and budget) of the owner:

In this you could rock all night and party all day in Detroit Rock City.
The Denimachine was a promotion with Ford, Coca~Cola and Levis. I think I tried to win this. I didn’t win, and I may have been ineligible due to age anyway.
This is the Dodge Santana, which demonstrates one way tall people could customize their vans — extend their height.
For those who think vans are too high, one could chop them, as happened with ’40s and ’50s cars. And there was nothing stopping anyone — except their skills and wallets — from, say, adding a rear axle.)
If you had enough money, and were tall enough to get in, you could buy this Pathfinder four-wheel-drive conversion. Imagine driving that in high winds. (For that matter, imagine a four-wheel-drive Santana in high winds. Semis with empty trailers would be more stable.)
Remember Scooby-Doo’s Mystery Machine?
This GMC van was part of the 1980s TV series “The A-Team.”

Interestingly for a manufacturer that usually was the third of the Big Four (then Big Three), Dodge built the van that seemed to get the most praise from van magazines. And then Dodge looked at what people were doing to its vans and decided to help by introducing …

… the Street Van, with factory semi-customization.

Ford saw (or learned about that), and decided to produce …

… the Cruising Van, done one better (or worse) by …

… the Pinto-based Cruising Wagon, yet another Detroit-created vehicular answer in search of a question. (Or, if you will, the love child of a Cruising Van and a 1950s-vintage sedan delivery.)

Not to be outdone, Chevrolet showed up with …

… the Van Sport (not to be confused with the Sportvan, a van with seating for up to 12 and windows).

My idea was to make a lifesize version of this Hot Wheels van, with chrome (!) paint and flames:

Hot Wheels Redline Super Van Chrome w/ Flames

(The Hot Wheels car is on sale for $100, by the way. Ponder that one.)

The custom van was a fad of the ’70s, brought to us by the Baby Boomer generation that enjoyed unprecedented (until then) prosperity, health (for those who avoided the Vietnam War) and cheap gas prices.

 

The ultimate journalist vehicle (except for the price)

Some time ago I mused about what might be the ultimate vehicle for a journalist who needed to be able to do his work anywhere anytime.

And then, to my amazement, I found it. Hypebeast introduces:

Upgraded from its 2019 model, Rezvani has now created the world’s most powerful production SUV with the 2020 Rezvani Tank.

The SUV — which the company calls an “Extreme Utility Vehicle” — is now powered by a Dodge Demon 6.2L supercharged V8 engine, capable of producing 1,000 horsepower, along with 870 pound-feet of torque. With special FOX suspension, 16-inch 8-piston caliper brakes, and T6061 aircraft-grade aluminium design wheels, the on-demand four-wheel-drive vehicle excels in the off-road arena.

Rezvani’s military-inspired SUV also comes equipped with an array of mil-spec tech, including full ballistic armor, electromagnetic pulse protection, and thermal night vision. The top of the windshield is equipped with high intensity LEDs capable of turning night into day. As for the interior, Rezvani has kitted out the SUV with white leather panelling and seats that can be heated or cooled, a 7.9-inch central infotainment screen, and a Focal sound system.

Prices start at $155,000 USD for the 2020 Rezvani Tank, and orders are already being taken. Head over to the brand’s site to learn more now.

Or go to YouTube:

Choice of engines from standard V-6 (from Chrysler, 3.6 liters and 285 horsepower) to 1,000-horsepower V-8, plus a six-cylinder diesel option. And — be still my beating heart — a choice of an eight-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission.

This is not necessarily the largest vehicle out there; it’s about the same size as the largest Jeep Wrangler, a few inches shorter than a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a full foot shorter than a Honda Pilot. (More on that later.)

It seems a bit analogous to the Carbon Motors police car, which was supposed to revolutionize police vehicles as a purpose-built squad car, with BMW diesel engine, built-in emergency lights and radio, and other features. In part because of the bad timing of the Great Recession, only one of what was inevitably called the “RoboCop” car was built.

The Carbon prototype sold at auction for $74,000 in 2014.

Rezvani has managed to build more than one. Rezvani also has managed to generate positive PR from reviews, including:

  • TopGear: “The face may be aggressive, but it masks a vehicle that’s deeply likeable. The Rezvani Tank is ready for nuclear war.”
  • The Driver: “You could rule the roads like the evil genius that you’ve always wanted to be.”
  • Motor1: “For what you pay the Rezvani Tank offers a lot. It looks good, it’s powerful and with optional features you can’t get on any other SUV.”
  • Univision: “Rezvani ofrece el 4 x 4 más radical que merece una gran película de acción.” I mean, “Rezvani offers the most radical 4 x 4 deserving of a major action film.”

This screams for configuration, don’t you think? And to not suck too much money out of my employer, I’ll start with the $159,000 base version, instead of the Military Edition for another $100,000, or the TankX, which doubles the price to $349,000. (At these prices the Tank may cost more than what many weekly newspapers are worth at the moment.)

I chose red just for how it photographs. There is a Military Green, but it’s not particularly attractive. I could choose a custom color, for $5,000, which seems like a bargain compared with some of the other options (such as in the next paragraph).

Much as I like the idea of a 1,000-horsepower V-8 (the Dodge Demon), I’m not sure that’s worth $149,000. So instead I will economize and, for $40,000, take the SRT 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 and its mere 500 horsepower. (The transmission choice should be obvious.) I decided to splurge on the Sport Exhaust, for $1,750. To stop those 500 horsepower, I spent $5,600 on the Big Brake Kit with eight-piston calipers and 16-inch disc brake rotors.

Towing ability is important, so I added the Towing Package (Dana 60 rear end and tow hitch, for $8,500). Off-road ability may be important, so I added the 2.5 Fox shocks (two per wheel) and four-inch lift kit, for $3,500. On the front end, I chose the steel front bumper and winch, for $5,500. Between the two ends, I chose the Interior Lighting Package (interior and footwell lighting), for $2,500, and in case I have to shoot night photos when people may not want me to, I chose the Thermal Night Vision Package, for $6,500, along with side ($850) and Black Vue front and rear cameras ($500). (The Black Vue cameras record continuously to The Cloud, by the way.)

Again to show I’m not just trying to waste money, I got the Nappa leather seats ($3,500), but not the leather interior ($3,500 more), though I did get the heated seats ($500). And I went with the Premium audio system (four Audison speakers, five-channel amplifier, 10-inch subwoofer, for $4,500) instead of the Ultimate ($10,000 for six Focal speakers, a four-channel amp, two JKL Audio subwoofers and two custom amp racks). If you choose to spend $500 to match your instrument color to your vehicle, you get …

I think it only wise to get the center console safe ($950), dual battery ($2,500), auxiliary gas tank ($7,500), and, of course, electromagnetic pulse protection ($2,500), because it’s a jungle out there.

Total it up, and this can be mine for just $212,150, plus whatever sales tax is in California. I have to scrape up $35,000 for a deposit, and then pay the rest upon completion in 10 to 12 weeks.

So what’s wrong with this? (Besides the concept that a journalist could afford a $212,150 truck, that is.) For one thing, at Cherokee size the Tank seems, believe it or don’t, on the small side. The journalist needs room to, for instance, plug cameras into laptops to download or upload photos, or room to write on said laptop. Room is also needed for the public-service-band radio with which to monitor what police and firefighters are doing. I can’t tell from online views how much room there is. (Which made me think, when I first started this exercise, that the ideal base vehicle was a full-size pickup or SUV.)

It appears to lack comprehensive instrumentation, which should include a voltmeter and oil pressure gauge. A sunroof also might be useful, and that is not the Starry Night Headliner (for $6,250).

At $212,000 I’m not buying. (For one thing, Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots have shrunk in the coronavirus world.)

For those who don’t like the SUV idea, though, Rezvani does have an alternative …

… the Beast, a sports car powered by a Honda racing engine.

 

The “bargain” Corvettes

The phrase “bargain Corvette” might seem as much an oxymoron as “jumbo shrimp” or “(insert branch of armed services here) intelligence.”

And yet that phrase has crossed my online reading twice recently. First, in manufacturing chronological order, Scott Oldham:

Chevrolet had the stones to call it the most advanced production car on the planet. The TV commercial said the all-new 1984 Corvette was superb in its engineering and technology and defiant in its performance. Sure, the advertising was lame, but the car was extraordinary.

The C4 Corvette was among the fastest cars you could buy during President Ronald Reagan’s first term, and its handling and braking redefined street performance at the time. The media swooned, and sales erupted. Chevy sold more than 51,000 units the first year, making 1984 the Corvette’s second-highest-volume model year ever.

It was a car we were all waiting for. Yearning for. The C3 had been around since 1968, and its chassis dated to the split-window Sting Ray of 1963. Design sketches for the fourth generation of the “plastic fantastic” were drawn as early as 1978, and its first clay models were produced in ’79.

Despite rumors of a mid-engine design, Chevy stuck with the front-engine layout that had served America’s sports car well since 1953. Chevy also kept the transverse leaf spring suspension that debuted with the C2 in 1963. But there was an all-new structure, aluminum A-arms, and 16-inch 50-series Goodyear Gatorback tires so massive we couldn’t believe our eyes. A targa-style, removable roof panel was standard, as was the busy, ahead-of-its-time digital instrument panel.

The C4 debuted with the anemic 205-hp L83 V-8 carried over from 1982, complete with Cross-Fire injection. (There was no 1983 Corvette.) A retuned suspension and real power arrived in 1985, when the Corvette got the 230-hp L98 that shared its tuned port injection with the Camaro and Firebird. Now the Corvette could top 150 mph.

In 1986, after an 11-year hiatus, Chevy reintroduced a Corvette convertible. A year later, the L98’s output climbed to 240 horsepower, but the transmission options remained the odd Doug Nash “4+3” four-speed manual (with three overdrives) or the four-speed automatic. Quarter-mile times dipped into the high 13s.

In 1989, Chevy added 17-inch wheels and tires and replaced the Doug Nash 4+3 with a ZF six-speed manual. The following year, the C4 got a new cockpit-style interior with airbags and plenty of gray, hard plastic. Most of the digital gauges were gone, too. New exterior styling with more-rounded lines came in 1991, and in ’92 the L98 was replaced with the second-generation small-block, the LT1. That engine made 300 horsepower, and although its Optispark ignition proved delicate, aftermarket solutions are readily available.

This engine family peaked in 1996 with the 330-hp LT4, optional on all Corvettes equipped with the six-speed. It also powered the Collector Edition and Grand Sport models, both of which exceed the $15,000 mandate of this page. We haven’t even mentioned the 1990–95 ZR-1 or the twin-turbo Callaway models.

They’re spendy, too. But other C4s remain cheap. Of note are the 1985–89 cars that feature the L98 paired with the retro charm of the harder-edged exterior lines and original interior design. They offer heady performance for little money, and they’re old enough to be retro cool. C4 Corvette prices are flat, but they’re starting to tick up as Gen Xers begin to seek out the cars they wanted in high school. As always, buy the absolute best one your budget can afford.

Road & Track adds an owner interview:

I’ve always liked the compact look of the C4 Corvette. I finally bought one—a 1988 convertible—in 2009 and have put about 4000 miles on it since. It shares the garage with an ’87 Camaro I bought new and a trio of ’57 Chevys. The C4 had 62,000 miles on it, and the body and the interior were perfect. But it had been neglected mechanically, so I replaced the clutch and the radiator and rebuilt the pop-up headlight buckets. Now that it isn’t nickel-and-diming me anymore, it’s the perfect car to go out and cruise in on a nice day. I love the Doug Nash 4+3 transmission, with overdrive in second, third, and fourth gears. It’s like having a seven-speed. Compared to my Camaro, the Corvette is a whole different animal and outperforms it in every way.

 

I’m sitting in a 1984 C4. Not mine, unfortunately.

I have a few problems with the C4. Two would be right in front of me if I owned one:

1989 Corvette digital dash instrument cluster Rebuilt 85 86 87 88 1989 L@@K TPI

 

1990,1991,1992,1993,1994,1995,1996 Corvette Instrument Cluster Repair Service C4

The first photo is of the 1984–1990 C4 instrument cluster, known derisively as the “Star Wars” dashboard. That would bug me no end if I owned an early C4. The other problem is that, to no surprise, that cluster is known to die without warning. Chevy replaced it with the instrument cluster in the second photo, which for some reason still included a digital speedometer.

Since the second cluster was part of an interior redesign, no, you can’t swap one into the other. There are other alternatives …

… for a price, of course.

I’m not enamored with the original wheels either, which to me look like the wheel covers of my former 1975 Chevy Caprice.

They do look appropriate somehow for those interested in the last-generation Caprice. (These are actually the next wheel design, which looks better.)

Poor wheel aesthetics can be fixed, too, for a price.

The C4 lasted from the spring of 1983 (as a 1984 model) to 1996, when it was replaced by the C5. Which leads us to Jack Baruth:

It was the first modern Corvette to challenge the world’s best sports cars on truly level ground, the first Corvette to take a class victory at Le Mans, and the last Corvette to feature those oh-so-cool hidden headlamps. But the fifth-gen Vette (C5) came very close to not existing at all. According to Russ McLean, platform manager for the model, General Motors management made the decision to “sunset” America’s most iconic sports car in the Nineties. McLean and a group of rebels ignored the decision and continued development of the Corvette, much of it off the books and on their own time.

Eventually, the big wigs came back around to the idea of building the C5. Celebrated as world-class upon its debut, it would go on to win everywhere from the SCCA Solo Nationals in Topeka to the Mulsanne straight in France. Now caught in that uncomfortable middle ground between new-car smell and classic-car kudos, the C5 is arguably the greatest performance bargain on the market. It can still cut the mustard on a road course, at the drag strip, or at a Saturday night cruise-in.

If you’re looking for chrome trim, bronze-tinted T-tops, or ashy door handles that disappear into the horizontal surfaces, you won’t find them here, but much of the traditional Vette ownership experience persists, from the stubborn sag of the massive doors to the copious heat blasting from the transmission tunnel. At least there’s plenty of power. Fire up the V-8 and marvel at the lazy torque that can roll the car forward from a standstill in the (optional!) manual six-speed’s fourth gear.

The C5’s shoestring development shows through in the mismatched interior controls, the perishable nature of the interior trim, and the hilarious necessity of leaving a door open when you close the rear hatch, because there isn’t enough passive venting to let the air escape otherwise. But there’s plenty of smart engineering under the fiberglass skin. (Corvettes have always been known for having fiberglass body panels, but since 1973, General Motors has steadily increased the amount of plastic resin in what is now called sheet molding compound, or SMC, such that the h-generation Vette’s body panels used just 20 percent fiberglass.) Its hydroformed steel structure is four and a half times as stiff as the previous Corvette’s. Elsewhere, the use of aluminum, magnesium, and even balsa wood (in the door sections) cut weight. The aluminum LS1 V-8 was a clean-sheet design, sharing only bore spacing with earlier Chevy small-blocks. A few minutes at speed will dispel any doubts. Considering that some modern six-cylinders outpower a ’97 Corvette’s 345 hp, the C5 is no longer truly rapid by modern standards, but a well-driven example can still see off a challenge from today’s hot hatches, and a mint-condition Z06 is almost a match for a new Stingray.

We’ve most likely passed the bottom of the market for manual-transmission C5 Corvettes in good condition. Early coupes and convertibles with automatics can sometimes be had for 10 grand or even less, but expect to pay $15,000 and up for six-speed coupes and FRCs. The 405-hp Z06s sit at the top of the price spectrum, with transaction prices for clean 2004 Z06 variants often approaching $30,000. If you’re buying for the long term, don’t consider anything but a Z06. But if you’re looking for a daily driver, keep in mind that $5000 in upgrades to a coupe or convertible will enable it to leave a stock Z06 in the dust. …

The C5’s performance came as a surprise to many owners, so look carefully for crash damage and be sure that the car’s steel backbone is intact. Despite having plastic body panels, Corvettes can corrode underneath, which makes a full inspection worth your time. The first few years used fussy tire-pressure sensors and key fobs, so budget $500 or so to bring them up to 2001–2004 spec. If you aren’t sure about the condition of the clutch or transaxle, get it looked at before purchase, because they are labor-intensive to repair.

The LS1 and LS6 engines are renowned for durability and ease of tuning. Swapping the heads, cam, and intake can yield as much as 500 hp at the crank. There are also well-tested supercharger upgrades.

The C5 was raced extensively in the SCCA T1 class and elsewhere, so there are virtually limitless options for firming up the handling. If you’d rather improve the street usability of your Corvette, there are aftermarket solutions, from upgraded seats to complete interior swaps. For about $1000, you can replace a tired targa top with a tinted aftermarket variant that recalls the spirit of 1970s Vettes.

The C5 has one particular feature no Corvette afterward has — hidden headlights, which are for me a requirement. (The first Corvette I ever saw was a C3.) The C5 also fixed the C4’s bad-instrument-panel-design issue, though as you read fit and finish are a problem. (As with every GM car I have ever seen, including the two we own.)

Some people don’t like the C5s because of their (in their opinion) generic styling. The C4s look more like the C3, and I find it interesting how much the C6 looks like the C4. The C5s, however, have more horsepower than any C4 other than the ZR1, with its 32-valve V-8 built by Mercury Marine’s stern drive division.

The C4 and C5 eras also have cars available in my favorite color:

Whether a particular car is “affordable” depends on your definition of that word. It also recalls the aphorism that you get what you pay for.

Years ago I interviewed a classic car dealer, and he said that a lot of people wanted a Corvette from the year of their high school graduation. Corvette aficionados know that means I won’t own a Corvette. (For those who aren’t: I graduated in 1983. There is no 1983 Corvette because the 1984 Corvette, the first C4, came out in the spring of 1983.)

I suppose I could buy a 1988 Corvette to represent the year of my college graduation. Or I could buy a red 1999 Corvette to represent my two favorite Prince songs …