Category: Wheels

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 …

For a lively drive to work

Of the big four of car magazines when I started reading them — Road & Track, Car & Driver, Motor Trend and Automobile — R&T was the most Eurocentric and most skeptical of American cars.

I wonder, though, where R&T writers work when they came up with this list of 23 Sports Cars That Make Great Daily Drivers considering where I live (too close to the Great White North) and work (a place where the auto mechanics don’t seem to deal with anything foreign beyond Toyota, Honda and Subaru). The list includes:

McLaren GT

The GT is McLaren’s latest attempt at a grand-tourer, packing a handful of luxury features you’d normally wouldn’t see in something with its engine in the middle. There’s even room to pack a set of golf clubs in the back. Here’s one for sale on eBay now.

BMW Z4

The Z4 has always been a great choice for those looking for a comfortable luxury experience with the ability to drop the top. This newest one is no different. And with nearly 400 horsepower on tap in the six-cylinder model, you’ll be having a blast behind the wheel. This brand new one is painted in a lovely shade of blue, and you can own it.

Toyota Supra

While it wears a Toyota badge, the Supra is basically just a hardtop version of the BMW Z4. So it makes sense to see it on this list. It has all the same comfort features, plus a good amount of storage space out back thanks to the hatchback styling. Here’s one you can own today.

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

Aston’s newest production car is an even faster, more capable DB11. With stunning looks and a 715-horsepower twin-turbo V-12, it’ll have no problem getting out of its own way. It’s just as well-appointed inside as the DB11, meaning you won’t worry about spending a lot of time in the cabin. Here’s one with 70 miles on the clock for sale now.

Aston Martins are about as exotic as it gets in this list, and they’re British, with everything that implies. Still, it would give the driver a chance to channel his inner Bond, James Bond on his trip to the office.

Ferrari 812 Superfast
Though it may look (and sound) like a no-compromise supercar, the 812 Superfast is actually pretty livable day-to-day. It’s designed as a grand tourer, meant to carry two people along with all their luggage in relative comfort for great distances. Here’s one painted in blue with less than 800 miles on the clock that you can buy right now.

I have had two previous Ferrari experiences, as some readers know. The first was in September 1986, when upon arrival in Las Vegas I decided to try to win a Ferrari, and was one 7 away from becoming probably the youngest Ferrari owner in at least the U.S. Missing that seven meant I didn’t have to figure out (1) how to pay the taxes to take the car, (2) how to get the car back from Vegas to Madison, and (3) how I was going to deal with ownership of the second manual-transmission car I had ever driven as a college student in Madison, a town with both bad parking and perpetual winter.
Before that I saw a group of Ferraris on my first trip to Road America. There is a photo of myself somewhere acting like I’m trying to break into the car, which upon further reflection may have been owned by a prominent Wisconsin car dealer. (There is not, I believe, a photo of the sunburn I got that day that matched the Ferrari.)

Chevrolet Camaro SS

Though it retains the muscular profile from past Camaros, the newest version is pretty good at pulling off the daily commuter thing. Sure, visibility isn’t the best, but with a torquey V-8 and four seats, you won’t be wanting for much. This used one has low miles, and it can be yours today.

Maserati GranTurismo

The GranTurismo is great because unlike many other 2+2s, people in the rear two seats actually have somewhere to put their legs. Pair that extra space with the car’s magnificent V-8 soundtrack, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a daily driver. This used one can be yours for just under $30,000.

As with Ferraris, mechanic on retainer not included.

Lotus Evora GT
If our torture test of the Evora 400 taught us anything, it’s that Lotus sure knows how to build a versatile car. The latest version, the GT, brings more power and an even lighter curb weight. Here’s one you can own right now. …
Jaguar F-Type
The F-Type’s crackle-filled soundtrack and drop-dead gorgeous looks aren’t the only things it’s known for. It’s also luxurious inside, and plenty fast. Here’s one with the now-discontinued manual transmission on eBay for sale.

Porsche Cayman / Boxster

Can’t afford a 911? Looking for a great mid-engine experience? The Porsche Cayman or Boxster are the cars for you. They’re just as nice as the 911 inside, and whether you get a turbocharged 718 model or an older flat-six powered car, you’ll be having the time of your life behind the wheel. This low-mile GTS variant is painted in red, and you can own it.

Ford Mustang GT
The new Mustang makes a great all-rounder, with plenty of modern tech and comfort-minded features. We’d recommend going for the Performance Pack 1—it has enough capability for track use, and isn’t as hardcore as the more expensive Performance Pack 2. If you’re into special editions, this Bullitt Mustang is up for grabs right now.

Did someone say “Bullitt”?

Acura NSX

The entire R&T staff can attest to the NSX’s ability as a great daily driver. We had a long-term tester for more than 20,000 miles in 2017, and can confidently say you’ll have no issue commuting to work every day in one. Here’s one with 3000 miles on the clock you can own for tens of thousands off the original price.

Nissan GT-R

The R35-generation GT-R was one of the first of a new breed of sports cars, and includes a bunch of different features to make sure you’re comfortable behind the wheel. It even has four seats, so you can take the whole family along, if you desire. This 2013 model is painted in a deep blue color, and it’s for sale right now. …

Mercedes-AMG GT

AMG’s newest flagship is a hit among enthusiasts everywhere, and it’s easy to see why. The comfort and poise of a Mercedes combined with that fantastic 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 and stunning looks make for one hell of a car—one you can start up a drive to work in without any sort of fuss. Here’s a GT S model painted in red you can own today.

Honda S2000

While the S2000 is known mainly as a great sports car, it makes for a great daily too. That Honda reliability and great visibility mean an easy care-free drive to work, plus the fun of driving one of Honda’s greatest cars. This white one with relatively low miles is for sale right now.

Subaru BRZ / Scion FR-S / Toyota 86

The Subaru-Toyota sports car trio is a popular choice among enthusiasts looking for a fun ride they can also use everyday. With four seats, a sizable trunk, and a gas-sipping boxer-four, the BRZ, FR-S, and Toyota 86 check all the boxes necessary for a fun daily. This used one is listed for under $20,000.

Chevrolet Corvette

The Chevy Corvette is a beast of a car no matter what trim you get, but thanks to a big trunk, tons of convenience features, and solid GM reliability, it makes for a solid daily as well. Here’s one you can buy now.

Well, finally.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

There’s no arguing the versatility of the Mazda Miata. It’s one of the greatest sports cars on the planet, but also does well as a daily driver. The simplicity, good gas mileage, and small costs the Miata has to offer mean people will be commuting in them for years to come. This low-mile RF model is up for sale on eBay.

Audi R8
The R8 is for those looking for the daily-driving capabilities of a 911, but want something more exotic. The car’s Audi roots mean it’s a great place to spend time in, and that Lamborghini V-10 makes for a great substitute for your morning coffee. Here’s a used Plus model you can own today.

Porsche 911
There isn’t much the Porsche 911 can’t do. Any trim in the 911 range can be abused on the track, then turn around and bring you to work with no issue whatsoever. Visibility is great, as is interior comfort. If you need a fun daily, the 911 is the way to go. This one is brand new, and you can buy it now.

That was a suggestion of a former boss of mine. He, however, did not take up his own suggestion.

Corvettes aren’t supposed to be this kind of red

Motor Trend:

The all-new mid-engine C8 Corvette’s impressive $59,995 starting price is only good for the first year, as we reported back in August, and unless it goes up by $20,000, Chevrolet will continue to lose money on low-trim cars, a senior GM source tells MotorTrend.

We had a feeling the $59,995 starting price was too good to be true, and a GM source confirmed as much to us explaining the price would rise for the 2021 model year. This isn’t much of a surprise, as the base price of a C7 rose nearly $2,000 in its second year and by another $2,000 the following year. While we still don’t know how much the C8’s price will rise in 2021, a more senior GM official tells us it would have to go through the roof in order to cover GM’s cost.

According to our source, the original budget for the C8 project assumed a starting price of $79,995. This is certainly reasonable considering the enormous amount of work needed to redesign the car into a mid-engine configuration, but it’s a huge jump from the C7. In order to keep customers from revolting, Chevy is taking it on the chin and willingly losing money on every C8 it sells for less than $80,000. No doubt a factor in the C8’s laundry list of options and dress-up parts is the hope buyers will load up their cars with extras and turn their $60,000 Stingrays into $80,000-plus Stingrays. The C8 Stingray Z71 3LT we tested rang up at $88,305.

More critical are the base prices of upcoming performance variants including Z06 and ZR1. According to our source, the sweet spot for profit and volume is between $80,000 and $100,000. Once the car crests six figures, our source says, sales volume drops off precipitously. This will be a trick for Chevrolet, because the C7 Z06 starts at $82,990, which doesn’t leave the company much room for an increase without upsetting customers and breaking out of the sweet spot in price and volume. The C7 ZR1, meanwhile, already starts at $135,090, so Chevrolet has more discretion to price the C8 ZR1 knowing full well it will be a low-volume car.

Apparently GM has learned absolutely nothing from its bailout. (Which should never have happened; GM should have been allowed to go through the bankruptcy courts, as many companies have. A GM bankruptcy would not necessarily have meant the end of GM; the GM bailout ended up costing U.S. taxpayers $11.2 billion.)

Companies go under when they lose money on what they sell. Previous Corvettes made money for GM. This one won’t.

The Corvette, and American society

This weekend Chevrolet is bringing a 2020 Corvette to Road America in Elkhart Lake.
I’m not going. I have other plans. Although I’ve always enjoyed Road America since the first time I went there in the 1980s (where there are photos of me appearing to break into a Ferrari and I got one of the worst sunburns of my life), I prefer the July vintage event, during one of which I found this:

No, I didn’t buy it.

Chevrolet also released its dealer tour schedule. The C8 is going to make one appearance in Wisconsin, on Sept. 30. (Which, if you consult your 2019 calendar, is on a Monday.) It will make two in Illinois, and one in Iowa.

The color I would like …

… isn’t offered, of course.

Readers know that I have been skeptical about this Corvette, largely because of its lack of manual transmission, which is a basic piece of any sports car. The rear/mid-engine placement of the engine is an application of technology from a company with historical difficulty in bringing new tech to the public that works as intended all the time.

It has been reported repeatedly that Zora Arkus-Duntov, stepfather of the Corvette (he didn’t create the Corvette, Harley Earl did, but Duntov wrote a detailed letter to GM chronicling everything wrong with the first Corvette, and so GM hired him), thought the Corvette should be mid-engine. (Which the Corvette actually has been for several years. A mid-engine car has its engine either behind the front wheels or ahead of the back wheels. Duntov sought a rear/mid-engine instead of a front/mid-engine.)

Well, with all due respect to Duntov, and not being an automotive engineer myself, I wonder how many rear/mid-engine cars he actually used on a daily basis, or got a dealer to fix, or tried to fix without having actual automotive engineering skills. Those people, not car engineers, are the owners of Corvettes.

Ate Up With Motor describes the C2 and C3 conflict between styling and engineering:

The design of the Sting Ray had been the source of many clashes between Bill Mitchell and Zora Arkus-Duntov. Duntov was contemptuous of the car’s nonfunctional styling gimmicks and poor aerodynamics; the C2 had low drag, but an alarming amount of high-speed lift. Duntov was only an engineer, however, while Mitchell was a vice president of one of GM’s most powerful departments. Although Mitchell never enjoyed the almost unquestionable clout of his predecessor, who had had the patronage of GM chairman Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s senior management was well aware that Mitchell’s work was responsible for a great deal of GM’s market domination. In a clash between Duntov and Mitchell, the victor was inevitable.

Duntov wanted the Corvette Sting Ray’s replacement, which originally was slated to appear for the 1967 model year, to be smaller, leaner, and more aerodynamic, ideally with a rear- or mid-mounted engine. Mitchell, for his part, loved to make cars look aerodynamic, but he wasn’t terribly concerned if they actually were or not.

Like Harley Earl before him, Mitchell was a believer in the formula of longer-lower-wider, and he felt sports cars should have long hoods. He was no fan of the rear-engine layout that Duntov wanted, which he thought would be ugly. Mitchell envisioned the third-generation Corvette more like the XP-755 show car, known as Mako Shark.

Contemporary automotive journalists sneered at the many gimmicks of the Mako Shark and its successor, the 1965 Mako Shark II, both of which were the work of stylist Larry Shinoda, designer of the Sting Ray. Duntov didn’t care much for it either, but public reaction was favorable and in short order, the Mako Shark was approved as the basis of the third-generation C3 Corvette.

As for Duntov’s desired mechanical changes, GM senior management had no stomach for an expensive revamp of the Sting Ray platform. With Corvette sales on the upswing, there seemed to be no reason to mess with success.

A repair guy figured out a problem about the engine’s location:

Automobile Magazine opines the C8’s worst and best  features:

Worst Things About the C8 Corvette

That silly line of buttons down the center console. In person, it’s not nearly as awkward or intrusive as we thought from the photos—it actually looks kind of slick. That is, until you look more closely at the plasticky, cheap-looking buttons that fill it: They’re straight from the corporate parts bin. We understand why, but we can’t say we like it.

No manual transmission option. Yes, we know hardly anyone would buy a manual version. Ain’t care.

The rear end in general. We’re no purists (no specific number of taillamps, or their shape, is essential, for example) but we know a hot mess when we see it. Our design editor feels the same way.

The forthcoming bench racing.The Corvette’s price-to-performance ratio is going to spawn a whole generation’s worth of “just get a Corvette instead of X” posts on every forum we read, and likewise letters to the Automobile editors.

The wait. We still have months and months before we drive it, and before it goes on sale.

Best Things About the C8 Corvette

It’s less than $60,000! That’s Supra money for what is likely to be McLaren 570S-like performance. Even if “less than” means “$59,999” and comes before destination charges, it’s still something special.

Zero to 60 mph takes less than three seconds with the Z51 package and performance exhaust.That’s the best kind of crazy. Did we mention the price for this level of performance?

The engine and transaxle are super, super low in the car. This will certainly aid in handling.

The fit and finish. While the cars at the unveil we attended were hand-built prototypes, the interior materials’ quality and fit and finish are definitely intended to answer 30 or more years of criticism of the Corvette’s cabin. It’s a shockingly nice place to be—as long as you don’t look too closely at those buttons. Also, it’s available with brown paint.

The small, square steering wheel looks like it will be a joy to use. Plus, it leaves enough room for drivers more than six feet tall and of a certain leg diameter to move around as we attempt to tame Chevy’s mid-engine beast.

I’m not sure I agree with at least three of those five points, two of which are contradictory. The chance someone will drive off with a C8 for less than $60,000 is zero, merely due to GM’s destination and other charges and dealer markups, which will be substantial. That doesn’t include one single option — such as the Z51 option, without which there is no claimed 0–60 time, which itself is a Chevy claim unproven by anyone not employed by GM. So you can have a sub-$60,000 Corvette (except you can’t), or you can go 0–60 in 2.8 seconds (though that remains to be seen), but not both.

As for the steering wheels worked better in a non-round shape, all cars would have non-round steering wheels. The bottom of the steering wheel was squared off on C6s and C7s, and though I don’t like the look, that might be said to have a function. (Except that I have driven legs-only with round steering wheels for years without mishap.)

About the C8’s looks, Robert Cumberford writes:

I was working hard in 1955 on a C2 planned for 1958, but its advanced rear-transaxle chassis finally achieved production only with the 1997 C5. That layout did reach production in 1977—outside General Motors—with the Porsche 928, created in part by Anatole Lapine, who’d worked with me on the stillborn ’50s C2. I know little about behind-the-scenes projects that might have occurred during the 40 years between my departure from GM in 1957 and the arrival of the C5 but I suspect that there were a lot of exciting and highly feasible—but not fundable—projects. I do know that Zora Arkus-Duntov advocated for mid-engine Corvettes at least 60 years ago, and that he built a mid-engine CERV research single-seater in the Fifties with its small block V-8 behind the driver. So this car has come to market extremely late.

Some 1970s mid-engine GM concept cars were built to show off the Wankel rotary engines GM might have built, but they were not specifically Corvette prototypes in name. Which is too bad, because they were better-looking than this actual C8. I am deeply sorry to be severely disappointed by the styling of the C8. I hoped for something really new and exciting, not a boringly generic supercar, mostly indistinguishable from the many and varied unimaginative devices that show up regularly at the Geneva auto show. Its styling is confused—and downright messy in fact. I count a dozen horizontal lines, not to mention four convoluted taillights; four nice rectangular exhaust tips; plus varied slots, vents, grilles, indented surfaces, and wing elements . . . just across the rear fascia. The front is no better, and the profile with its short, stumpy nose is equally surprising. Maybe it’s all meant to look purposeful, but to me it seems just a careless, cluttered graphic composition, not worthy of Corvette history and what we expect of this technically brilliant descendant of the Jaguar-inspired elegant original C1 from 1953.

I have no doubt that this will be a very good car, with truly world class performance coupled with American-style daily usefulness and (perhaps) easy servicing—dry-sump engines are not typical dealer shop fare. But I’d have liked to see some traces of the Astrovette or the four-rotor mid-engine concept from the Bill Mitchell era.

That would be one of these:

XP-819 (shown in front of a C2) was a rear-engine prototype, with the engine behind the rear wheels, instead of in front, as with the C8. The past several Corvettes have been technically front/mid-engine, with the engine in front but behind the front wheels, for better weight distribution.
XP-880, also known as the Astro II.
XP-882.
The AeroVette started with a four-rotor Wankel rotary engine, then went to a 400 V-8, both mounted behind the driver’s seat. Those are hinged gullwing doors, an idea whose time never came at GM.
The red car is the Corvette Indy, which begat CERV III.

Compare and contrast previous Corvettes to the C8 in this magnificent illustration by Paco Ibarra:

The problem with nearly every rear/mid-engine car I have ever seen is there is usually more car behind the B-pillar (behind the door) than in front of the A-pillar (ahead of the door), which makes it look imbalanced in the wrong direction. As it is, nothing about this C8 screams Corvette to me; it looks like a teenage kid’s dream of a midengine car that could be made by anybody.

Another point made elsewhere is that GM is coming out with an exotic car supposed to make people forget about Ferraris and Porsches and Lamborghinis (oh my!), and yet it has the same engine the C7 has — a naturally aspirated overhead two-valve V-8. It is a very good overhead-valve V-8, and it wouldn’t stop me from buying a Corvette, but it seems illogical to feel the need to make it mid-engine with an exotic dual-clutch transmission without, say, a four-valve overhead-cam V-8 similar to the “King of the Road” C4. Anyone snobbish enough to turn up his nose over a front-engine Corvette isn’t going to be more convinced by a mid-20th century engine design that lacks the exotica of whatever Ferrari is sticking under its hoods now. (Or an exotic transmission installed in part because of the laziness or inabiliity of potential buyers to shift and use a clutch.)

You might say that the C7 engine is terrific, and it is. You might also point out my previous point about unproven GM tech. But the supposed point here is to make the Corvette appeal to those who wouldn’t buy Corvettes previously because they’re not supercarish enough (independent of the most important consideration, performance vs. price), and on that important point it fails because it’s not a Chevrolet, not a Corvette, and not a car with a 21st-century engine made of unobtainium. And in the process, GM alienated all the Corvette fans who wanted a better iteration of the previous formula (front-mid-engine, rear-drive, available manual transmission) that is one of the few profitable cars GM makes.

The worst thing about the C8 actually has nothing to do with the car, and has everything to do with people’s reactions to the car. One expects GM to shift the hype machine into overdrive. But one would hope adults would be at least somewhat resistant to the hype machine, particularly journalists. The aforementioned writing is all I could find from the auto enthusiast publications remotely critical of the C8.

In 1968 Car & Driver tested the first C3 Corvette and pronounced it undrivable because it was put together so poorly. Even after GM figured out how to put it together correctly, auto magazines pointed out correctly that the C3 was simultaneously a bigger car with less passenger and luggage space. Road & Track was particularly critical about the Corvette for decades, perhaps concluding it should have been more like a Jaguar E-Type (while ignoring British cars’ hideous quality reputations). Dissing the home team product wasn’t necessarily easy to do given GM’s advertising dollars. Now apparently they’re all sellouts.

The bigger issue, though, is that reaction to this new Corvette mirrors everything else in the sewer of our public discourse, on politics, sports teams, music preferences, what you watch (or don’t) on TV including iterations of “Star Trek,” food choices and everywhere else. We are supposed to believe, according to its uncritical fanboys, that the C8 is better than sex, chocolate chip cookies, sunny summer days and puppies, and how dare anyone express a contrary opinion.

I have read accusations that those who are not unalloyed fans of the C8 are Neanderthals stuck in the last century who can’t afford to buy one anyway, because insulting someone for their different opinion is so effective in changing opinions. (Not.) Someone actually bothered to create a Corvette owner stereotype that skipped past the usual midlife crisis trope to specifically include not gold chains and bad combovers, but jean shorts and white New Balance shoes.

No, this is not me. I own neither white New Balances nor “jorts” nor this Corvette.
This is me, but sadly not my Corvette either.
This is also me, but also not my Corvette.

Certainly, except possibly for the C2, every generation has been controversial for those who believe no Corvette but their favorite is really a Corvette. The C3 was way out there in appearance compared with the C2. The C4 had two horrible-looking instrument panels and was hard to get into and out of. The C5 looked blah. The C6 dumped the hidden headlights. The C7 got rid of a bunch of gauges and looked like a rearward-stretched C6.

For at least the last three generations (plus the King of the Hill C4) the Corvette has, however, been the best performance bargain on the planet, regardless of whether front-engine and rear-drive is the apotheosis of vehicular technology. GM, which has proven less than competent at big technological risks, has taken another one by selling its halo car — which has made money for GM for decades, unlike most of its current cars — with technology GM hasn’t used before and inadequately tested before it hits the market next year (there is no substitute for the real world) in a quest for buyers who don’t own Corvettes because they lack, in their misguided opinions, panache.

GM’s claim that they’re almost sold out needs a reminder that GM has not sold a single C8 Corvette. Not one. (I am highly skeptical of all the online claims of people ordering them. I could state that I own one of every generation Corvette, and no one reading this could prove otherwise.) And until they’re actually on the road, none of GM’s claims about the Corvette have proof.

GM has traditionally been one of the poorer run megacorporations for decades. (The conditions that resulted in the GM bailout far predated the Great Recession.) So maybe I shouldn’t suggest that GM could have kept building the C7, or updated it, while also selling the C8 as the Corvette Zora or something like that. The C7 makes money for GM. There is no guarantee the C8 will, and if it goes away, so will Corvette.

 

A purpose of driving

My position on cars and driving has always been that driving represents transportation freedom — the ability to go where you want to go when you want to go.

That cannot be said about any other form of transportation, including airplanes, trains and mass transit.

There is another thing about driving, though, noted in The Shop:

Countless millions of Americans find relief from their over-connected, stressed-out lives in the simple pleasures of yoga and meditation.

Then there are car lovers.

“What I remember most are those precious times I fired up my car with no particular place to go and no precise timetable, owing my punctuality to no one and my presence only to myself,” auto journalist Jack Baruth writes in a new book on the relationship many Americans feel between the cars they love and their peace of mind.

The book, titled Never Stop Driving: A Better Life Behind the Wheel, features essays and musings on the driving life by some of the nation’s leading automotive journalists and an array of celebrity car fans, including Jay Leno, Mario Andretti, Patrick Dempsey and others.

Why this book now?

“The book is essentially a love letter to the art and act of driving,” said Larry Webster, the editor and lead author of the book. “With driverless cars on the horizon, it’s worth celebrating the fact that, for many people, there are enormous benefits to simply taking a drive in the country or getting dirty under the hood.”

Packed with photos that complement the writing, Never Stop Driving: A Better Life Behind the Wheel is available through The Shop by Hagerty and via retailers nationwide. All proceeds from books purchased through The Shop by Hagerty will fund driver’s education scholarships for young drivers through Hagerty’s License to the Future initiative.

The company’s stated ongoing mission is to Save Driving in the coming age of autonomy and make sure that people who choose to continue to drive themselves always have a share of the road.

“People who love cars aren’t against driverless cars—far from it. They’re going to do a lot of good for society,” Webster said. “But we do want to protect something that also means a lot, and that’s driving yourself when you want to. I hope we never lose that. That’s what the Save Driving campaign is all about.”

What’s on the book cover?

A red Corvette, of course.

 

Here comes the last Corvette

Tonight at 10 p.m. Central time …

… the eighth-generation Corvette gets revealed.

This is destined to be the final Corvette for one of two reasons. It is impossible for GM — the developer of such great leaps forward in automotive technology as the Chevrolet Vega (with melting aluminum engine) and Citation (prominent on the lists of the Worst Cars of All Time), Computer Command Control, V-8-6-4 engine and other examples of Not Ready for Prime Time Tech — to get this right right away, particularly when the rumored all-wheel-drive version comes out, since GM has never manufactured a rear/mid-engine all-wheel-drive vehicle.

The other reason is its price. Either the Corvette is going to be an order of magnitude more expensive than any previous Corvette, or GM won’t make money on it. GM has made money on its Corvettes for decades, but that may end now. Either way, when GM fails to make its profit expectations on this car, that certainly will kill the Corvette.

About that, Raphael Orlove writes:

I’ll start with a little digression. Back in 2007, another gigantic corporate megalith debuted a new generation of one of its classic sports car nameplates. It was controversial in its engine layout, its styling, its size, its weight, everything. But over the years people came to understand it as a legendary vehicle. I’m talking about the R35 Nissan GT-R.

What made that car such an icon was that it offered supercar performance for decidedly not-supercar prices. As we noted a few years ago, at $69,850 was about $30,000 less than a Corvette ZR-1, but not slower.

The thing is, the GT-R has grown increasingly expensive over the years and now is not just as fast as a six-figure car, but priced as a six-figure car. If you want one, you need to drop more than $100,000 for it, at which point it’s not really moving any narrative forward. It’s just a fast car that’s expensive, just like all the other ones, only it has a V6 for some reason. There’s nothing special about it.

The point is, dynamics unchanged, the price is what made the GT-R once iconic and now normal.

The same situation presents itself with the mid-engine Corvette. As anyone who has driven a C7 (or any other modern Corvette) could tell you, the way the car drives is just about faultless. It has tons of power, even in base form. The handling is great. The ride, particularly once you get into the magnetic shocks era, is outstanding. These are usable, practical, exploitable performance cars. They have been for years. There is no reason to doubt that the C8 will be, like the C7 before it, a great driving car.

But if it costs $100,000 or more, there’s no real point to it existing. What’s the point of GM, basically, making a non-turbo McLaren of a few years ago? It’s not new thematically, other than being made by GM. There’s nothing there to prove. There’s nothing meaningful going on there.

But if the car costs what a regular front-engine Corvette does now or even just above it, say, at around an R35-esque $70,000 mark, things are different. Then GM is advancing the sports car narrative. It’s then offering an exotic car platform at a non-exotic price. It’s democratizing a mid-engine powerhouse, and it’s not coming from some low-volume manufacturer. This is Corvette, not DeTomaso Panteras being sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers.

So while everyone else sweats 0-60 times and power-to-weight figures, keep your eye focused on the MSRP. That’s the only thing here that could make a good car great.

The childlike faith in GM management is pretty disgusting to read. GM seems to believe that one of the great performance bargains in the entire world is not sufficiently exotic enough for buyers interested in Ferraris, Porsches or other overpriced yet unreliable supercars. GM is also catering to the lazy by not equipping this Corvette with a manual transmission. I’m surprised GM didn’t throw in a V-6 instead of a V-8. And, according to Jalopnik

… a square steering wheel.

Not that this matters, since I won’t be buying one of these. In fact, thanks to my career choice and having children, I most likely won’t ever own a Corvette. As someone once put it, life’s a bitch, then you die.

The Corvette SUV returns

Two years ago the Detroit News asked the question of whether Chevrolet should build a Corvette SUV.

No, not this:

Something that would look more like a Porsche Cayenne:

Car & Driver returns to the subject:

In a recent interview with Automotive News, iconoclastic auto-industry figure and former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz was asked about a number of topics, including Carlos Ghosn, Fiat Chrysler’s desire for a merger, and the Trump administration. But the most intriguing tidbit came when Lutz was asked about the mid-engined C8 Corvette and brought up what he would do with the Corvette brand if he still worked at General Motors.

“[If I were still at GM], what I would do is develop a dedicated architecture, super lightweight, super powerful, Porsche Cayenne–like, only much better and a little bigger, medium-volume Corvette SUV. Target worldwide 20,000 to 30,000 units, and price it starting at $100,000. Gorgeous interior. No V-6 powertrain. No low-end version. It has to be the stellar premium sport-utility made in the United States, and the Corvette brand could pull that off.”

Now, we don’t have any reason to think that a Corvette SUV is something that Chevy is even considering, and neither does Bob Lutz, seemingly. But what he said got us thinking: What if Chevy actually did make a Corvette SUV? It’s not such a preposterous idea even if there’s no basis for it, and we also think it’s a no-brainer for Chevy to expand the Corvette brand beyond just the titular model.

Porsche was a pioneer of the super-sporty SUV with the Cayenne, and since that model’s inception, tons of high-end manufacturers have all gotten into the fast-SUV game, tying in the models with their existing sports cars. But Chevy, which has a history of both iconic SUVs and iconic sports cars, has never even shown a concept imagining what a sporty SUV from the bow-tie brand could look like. So we took a shot at imagining it ourselves.

While we do like Lutz’s idea of an expensive Corvette SUV with no low-end version, we think it’s a bit unrealistic. To better compete with the Cayenne, an entry-level Corvette SUV should have a starting price point of around $70,000 and a twin-turbo V-6. But it would need at least a couple different V-8 engine options, and there would have to be high-performance variants. Chevy could easily position a Corvette SUV as the sportiest and most road-oriented of all the high-end SUVs, which would set it apart from the competition.

It would probably need to ride on its own unique platform, as GM doesn’t really have anything that would be a perfect match. The Alpha platform that underpins the Camaro or the Omega platform that underpins the Cadillac CT6 could be possibilities, but neither are really fit for something that would be as sporty and crossover-like as a Corvette SUV would be. Unless Chevy would just say “screw it,” not offer all-wheel drive or any semblance of off-road ability, and build the SUV off the current front-engined C7 Corvette‘s platform.

The styling should be aggressive and tie into the regular Corvette, which would likely mean a coupe-like roofline and a low stance. The interior would need to be luxurious, as buyers in this space expect more from their cars than the middling materials and finishes of the current Corvette. Seating for four adults and at least a modicum of cargo space are a must—Corvette owners need to be able to carry golf clubs around, after all—but it probably wouldn’t have a targa top like the regular Corvette.

The only thing left for us to imagine is the name. Would it be Corvette Activ? Corvette Xtreme? Corvette TourX? Corvette Bison? Corvette Trail Boss? Corvette High Country? Corvette Z71? Corvette Trans Sport? GM has so many good off-road-y names to choose from.

And hey, there’s precedent for us thinking this is a good idea. In 1976, we drove a C3 Corvette to Alaska, and then we re-created the journey in 2007 with a C6. Just imagine how much easier that would be with a Corvette SUV!

I’m somewhat surprised Chevy isn’t considering this, given that it’s going to break its mold by introducing the not-necessary mid-engine no-manual-transmission eighth-generation Corvette at the end of this month. Chevy is already ruining the Corvette, so it might as well go further, right?
This might be the point at which GM should have spun off Corvette from Chevy and into its own division. That would have allowed the Corvette division to have the current front-engine rear-drive Corvette and the next mid-engine model, and priced the latter higher than what is expected. Selling a completely new-tech Corvette for slightly more than the current Corvette means that (1) GM is going to lose money on the C8, or (2) GM cut costs and therefore failed to address the principal complaint about Corvettes, their interior.

An SUV would fit just fine into a Corvette division, as would a four-seater (Camaro). Each could again be priced higher than people expect from a Chevrolet.

 

Transportation taxation without representation

Dan O’Donnell:

In something of a surprise, the Republican-led Wisconsin Legislature has rejected Governor Evers’ effort to raise the state’s 32.9 cent per-gallon tax on gasoline in an effort to close a projected $1.1 billion budget shortfall.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has long been open to the possibility of raising the gas tax, told a group of conservatives last week that “an increase…to fund Wisconsin’s transportation projects is off the table,” the MacIver News Service reported exclusively.

This about-face has left Evers scrambling, as he believed that his proposed eight cent per gallon hike was a potential opening for negotiation with an eye toward a compromise at four or five cents per gallon.

Not a chance, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelon Friday.  In a news release later that afternoon, Vos agreed that any increase at all would be “tough to get done.”

As well it should be. Raising the gas tax is a short-sighted solution to a long-term problem. So naturally, Illinois is diving in headfirst.

On July 1, Illinois’ gas tax will double from 19 cents per gallon to 38 cents. That, combined with the 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax, means drivers in Illinois will pay 56 cents in tax on every gallon of gas they purchase—a total of $10.08 every time they fill up an 18-gallon tank.

Assuming that the average driver fills up once a week, he or she will pay $524.16 just in gasoline taxes each year. Illinois’ new tax comprises $177.84 of that; a whopping 34 percent.

Such a dramatic increase in the middle of the summer vacation season will have an immediate impact on driving habits. Generally speaking, when gas prices are higher, people drive less—especially those for whom the added price is a more significant factor.

Gas taxes are among the most regressive in America, as they have a disproportionate impact on those who earn lower incomes (and, not coincidentally, tend to drive older, less fuel-efficient vehicles).  Someone earning $200,000 isn’t likely to notice or care much about having to pay $13.68 more per month in Illinois gas taxes. Someone earning $20,000 certainly will, and they will modify their driving habits accordingly.

An even more significant concern for Illinois—or any state dependent upon a gas tax to fund transportation infrastructure—is the American consumer’s long-term driving habits.Ride-sharing has made private car ownership much less of a necessity in cities like Chicago, while car companies themselves are clearly preparing for a future without gasoline.

By January of 2018, the world’s automotive manufacturers had already spent upwards of $90 billion researching and developing electric vehicles.

“We’re all in,” Ford Motor Company CEO Bill Ford, Jr. told Reuters after spending an estimated $11 billion on electric.

Just two months ago, General Motors—the country’s largest carmaker—announced a $424 million investment in production of a new electric-powered Chevrolet.Earlier in the year, Steve Carlisle, president of GM’s Cadillac brand, said the company was going “all in” on electric vehicles.

“[By the] early to middle part of the next decade, all transportation will be electric,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.“Once you say that’s the way the world is going to be, it comes down to, ‘So how do we get there?’”

Even online retail giant Amazon, which has been at the forefront of global technological trends for more than a decade, is betting big on electric vehicle technology with an estimated $700 million investment in a company that has been developing an all-electric pickup truck and SUV.

Once this technology is widely available and, crucially, affordable—perhaps in as little as five years—gas tax revenues will plummet, leaving states dependent on them scrambling to plug even greater budget deficits than those they face today.

Wisconsin, then, would be (as per usual) wise not to follow Illinois down this road.Governor Evers believes that an initial eight-cent gas tax hike coupled with a yearly increase of another cent to tie the tax more closely to the rate of inflation could bring in several hundred million dollars in revenue per year, but this estimate just isn’t based in reality.

The easiest way to reduce public consumption of a product is to tax it, and the quickest way to convince consumers to make the leap to an electric vehicle is to make the price of keeping their old gas guzzler too great to justify.

If, as the automotive industry predicts, electric vehicles will dominate the roads in just a few short years, increased dependence on a steadily rising gas tax would leave Wisconsin with a new and even more pressing problem: What can it do when the product it has been taxing no longer exists?

Benjamin Yount reports on a worse alternative than raising the gas tax:

Republican lawmakers in Madison are facing more questions from the right over their plan to possibly create a per-mile fee for drivers in the state.

Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin is the latest to voice opposition to a study included in the Republican’s proposed transportation budget that is ostensibly aimed at the feasibility of a mileage fee.

Eric Bott, AFP’s state director in Wisconsin, says the study is really the first step toward a new tax on drivers.

“This so-called ‘study’ approved by [the Joint Finance Committee] would also give the Committee the complete authority to institute a per mileage fee program without any additional oversight from the entirety of the legislature or the executive branch,” Bott wrote in an open letter to lawmakers. “The language does not limit what the fee could be or how much tracking the government can do of your driving.”

Republicans on the state’s budget writing panel, the Joint Finance Committee, last week voted to include $2.5 million for a study on a mileage fee.

But the proposal they agreed to goes well beyond just a study.

JFC members gave themselves the power to decide if a per-mile fee is needed, what those fees would cost, and whether those fees need to increase at any time.

JFC members would be the only ones to vote on the fees, the full State Assembly and State Senate would not have to act.

“A mere 16 members of a legislative committee would determine if the government can track your mileage and charge you a yet-to-be-determined fee – an unprecedented authority for a legislative committee,” Bott’s letter said.

In reality, 16 lawmakers wouldn’t need to vote to raise the fees, just a majority of the Joint Finance Committee would have to agree to raise the fees.

“Under the proposal, nine votes is all it would take for government to start tracking how we drive and assessing a massive new tax. That’s not democracy as we know it,” Bott said. “Our system of democracy and our state constitution require politicians to vote on tax increases. This is an attempt to shirk that responsibility.”

There is no guess as to how much a per-mile fee on drivers would cost. Though Republicans are looking to raise nearly $500 million more for roads in the new state budget. Much of that money would come from increases in license plate fees, a new hybrid car fee, and an increase in the cost to transfer a car title.

It’s parts of a nearly $2 billion construction plan to build and fix roads across the state.

“The transportation budget passed by JFC includes other revenue increases, paid for by hardworking Wisconsinites. The increases in title fees and annual registration fees can and should be enough,” Bott wrote in his letter. “We need to focus on sustainable transportation funding, which includes many of the reforms to the Department introduced by your colleagues, not an invasive and costly per mile fee.”

Bottom line, Bott said, is that taxpayers deserve better than a shadowy process that could end up costing them for years and years to come.

“The policy included in the June 6th transportation omnibus motion that gives the Joint Committee on Finance unilateral authority to impose a per mile fee on Wisconsinites is a dangerous precedent to set for our democracy, our privacy and our pocketbooks,” Bott added.

It is a gross violation of our rights to give anyone or any group the ability to unilaterally set taxes without a vote by the Legislature. One has to wonder who in the GOP thinks this is a good idea.

The crazy thing about a mileage tax is that out-of-state drivers wouldn’t pay anything (similar to increasing registration fees), but Wisconsin drivers would be taxed on their travel outside the state. At least the gas tax is paid by out-of-state drivers, although this state’s gas tax is already higher than the natural average. Any tax increase that affects products shipped by truck will become more expensive to ship, which will raise the price of that product. A mileage tax certainly looks like an attempt to get people to travel less, which is a strange attitude for a state in which tourism is one of its top three industries.

Automatic indexing of a tax is similarly taxation without representation. Every tax increase should be voted on by the Legislature. (Actually, I would prefer statewide referenda on tax increases, but that requires a change in the Constitution.)

I remain unconvinced that any tax or fee increase is necessary. Spending prioritization certainly is necessary. The state Department of Transportation has convinced no one except the road-building lobby (i.e. the Wisconsin Transportation Development Association) that it has initiated any kind of spending or other reform to make road projects cost less. Until then, the DOT does not need more money.