Tag Archive | "american cars"

Americans Bow To The Eco-Pressure

The news that true petrolheads have been dreading has finally arrived. America, the final frontier of the legendary V8 engine, is finally turning its back on power derived through multi-pot normally aspirated engines and instead has begun to believe that small is good.

There was a time when red-blooded American males would sneer at what they described as ‘four bangers’ – cars with only half the cylinders required by petrolhead law, but the fact is the eco-sensibility being drummed into us all has finally had its effect.

Small fuel-efficient engines are now the motors of choice for 55.8% of new car buyers during the first half of this year. That’s a rise, albeit modest, on the figure for last year. It would appear that, although our cousins across the pond pay significantly less for fuel than we do, it is still beginning to hurt. Thanks to direct injection and turbo charging they have realised that they can still have performance but with better economy and smaller bills.

Cars with engines containing five, four and even three cylinder engines are increasingly in demand as people become more environmentally friendly. Small engines are starting to appear across the board – compacts, midsized vehicles and even small trucks. It isn’t entirely through choice though. The American Government – looking at the bigger picture presumably – are shortly to introduce the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations that will, by 2025, require a minimum consumption of 54.5mpg, thus sounding the death knell for big gas-guzzlers.

In 2008 there were just five brands consuming more than ninety percent of the small engine US market. Today, there are eleven. Also in 2008, ten badges did not even have any engines smaller than six cylinder in their model line-up. That number is now reduced to three.

Only one company, Smart, has a three cylinder engine on offer. This is about to change as more come on-stream including Ford’s terrific three cylinder, one litre EcoBoost motor. There’s a report that in the next few years mighty General Motors will follow suit as the technology develops.

They (the mysterious they) say that where America leads the rest will follow. The reverse is true here as US car buyers have resisted attempts to relinquish their V8’s in favour of the puny set-ups so readily accepted by Europeans and others. That’s all over now. The dice have rolled and the end of the true muscle car is nigh. Certainly it’s true that small engines can be equally as powerful but nothing else sounds like a V8 and now nothing will.

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Classic Cream Of The Drop Top Crop

It doesn’t matter how much a car enthusiast might protest to the contrary, they all secretly harbour a desire to own a classic American car. There is just something about them. It might be the sound of an old school V8. It might be because these vehicles remind us of the true golden age of motoring or it might simply be the perverse desire to own something that looks like Liberace’s piano.

Speed and muscle car power are all very well but for pure cruising pleasure the dream drive has to be a leisurely run down California’s Pacific Coast Highway whilst listening to the pet sounds of the Beach Boys. That’s the dream; cruising in our new style British weather through the exotic streets of Swindon or Sawbridgeworth is sadly the reality. Never mind. There are still some days when the sun does make an appearance which means the best Yank tank for true motoring escapism has to be a drop-top.

The beauty of American convertibles is that it doesn’t matter about the drivers age. Older drivers in smaller European or Japanese convertibles – and yes, it is unfair – look to some as if they are trying to recapture their youth. In an American classic they look just fine. Would that it were that easy, though.

With any classic car knowledge is all. It really is important that a potential buyer has done his or her homework. Some of these cars are relatively cheap to buy but are often, unsurprisingly, expensive to run. Mechanical integrity is obviously crucial but the real problem is likely to be the folding roof. Really careful inspection is vital as most period convertibles, even those from fifty plus years ago, mostly have power driven rag-tops. Operation should be smooth and take around thirty seconds. The material, inside and out, should be immaculate and fit properly as leaks are common.dash Classic Cream Of The Drop Top Crop

Otherwise, it’s business as usual. Condition is everything. This applies especially to the interior because, being a convertible, it will have had more exposure to the elements. A car that has been recently imported from a dry American State is likely to be rust free. A car that had been in the UK for a while, possibly isn’t. This is why the history is so vital. Has the car been stored properly when not in use and does the seller seem like the right stuff?

All the usual ifs and buts aside, owning an American classic is just like owning any classic car. There’s plenty about – some at surprisingly low prices – and there’s a big following in the UK, so good advice is on offer. Think about owning a vintage Ford Thunderbird or a Plymouth Fury! Cars with proper names. The magnificent Cadillac Eldorado (pictured). The Pontiac Catalina. Names redolent with the history of the automobile. Who wouldn’t feel just a bit special cruising the sunlit boulevards of Britain – elbow resting nonchalantly on the doorsill – in one of these timeless classics. Protest all you like; you know you want one. Yes you do.

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American Pickup

Across the world there is a mighty push to find alternative fuel sources for our cars. We are seeing more and more electric cars and even hydrogen is being considered as a potentially viable power source. Additionally we have some excellent hybrid vehicles and many manufacturers now produce highly efficient internal combustion engines of which Ford’s EcoBoost is an example.

None of this is troubling our friends across the ocean, however. Despite many of these alternatives being available, the really strong sellers in the auto market are, as ever, pickups trucks. The manufacturer who gets his new model pickup wrong will lose sales in a heartbeat. The rivalry between the big manufacturers is intense.

Many drivers are prepared to accept that they should buy versions with more frugal engines, like the tiny Chrysler 3.6L V6 found in the new Ram 1500 (formerly Dodge Ram – pictured). With stop/start technology and an eight-speed auto ‘box this will give an impressive 18mpg around town and 25mpg on the open road. Purists can still get a good ’ole Hemi V8 of either 4.7 or 5.7 litres. We very much like the idea of a 5.7L V8 offering fuel saving technology! With the big motor the figures are 14/20mpg. Imagine running that with our fuel prices.

Ford have applied their Ecoboost technology to a 3.5L V6 that is found in the new F150. With American preference for big V8’s the company thought this would be a minority seller. In fact, forty percent of orders are for this engine despite it carrying a one thousand dollar premium on the price tag. The eco-message must be slowly seeping through.

American pickups are not small. As is the trend generally with car manufacture, the vehicles are getting bigger. More importantly they have completely lost their agricultural reputation. The Ram 1500 is available Stateside with air suspension in a much lighter yet stronger frame. It comes with leather and all the usual mod-cons including on-board wi-fi. The cheap n’ tacky Chrysler interiors of old are long gone.

In general, the big manufacturers are ensuring that they cater for the modern motorists by making sure that there’s a greater emphasis on quality and refinement. These pickups have morphed into family cars as well as Tonka toy workhorses. They are now seen as much on the school run as they are out in the boondocks being driven by old guys with really tanned, gnarly forearms.

So despite rising fuel prices, concern for the environment and the rise of the hybrid, the good folks of the USA are not going to relinquish their right to drive what the heck they want without interference from others. Would that things were like that in Europe. So, if you are feeling butch and are flush with cash for petrol, why not buy an American pickup? Look in the right places and you can buy them new, or nearly new, relatively cheaply. They’ll be lefties of course but they are so big you won’t really care. The thought of rumbling up to the supermarket is almost too hard to resist.

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American Beauty

Ah, America! Land of the free and home of some the most iconic cars ever made. Anyone who has ever seen the exciting car chase in Bullit will never forget the noise and fury of the Dodge Charger and the Ford Mustang GT used in the 1968 film. From that day on small boys (and big boys) around the world wanted to be Steve McQueen.

What is also revealed in the film is that both cars, although set up for the purpose of filming a car chase, had all the handling characteristics of dodgems on a trampoline. This has always been the drawback of owning a Yank Tank – they are only designed to go in straight lines; which is fine if you live in the USA where corners are just an occasional annoyance.

Nevertheless, in a world of automotive Euro-boxes, appreciation of these leviathans of the road is on the increase as collectors discover – thanks to movies like Bullit and Gone in 60 Seconds and the prevalence of American Muscle in popular culture – that some of these cars are affordable, collectible and fun. Because they rely on brute force they are relatively unsophisticated and therefore easy to fix as well. Suddenly, classics from the USA are taking centre stage.

A new auction of three American Beauties – as well as a mouth-watering selection of British and European vintage and classic motors – will take place on the 1st September at the Historics at Brooklands sale near Weybridge in Surrey. After decades of being derided for the very reasons collectors now want them, prices of Mustangs and Corvettes amongst others, are starting to rise and in some cases double as drivers begin to realise that these cars come from the heyday of motoring. We will never see their like again.

In March 2011 all 56 classic cars used in filming the Captain America movie – at Shepperton Studios, incidentally – were successfully auctioned and this new sale capitalises on that. One example is a mint 1967 Pontiac Catalina ‘Wide-Track’ convertible with a 6.5L 400 engine and something called a Turbo Hydramatic auto ‘box. This model hailed from the dry zones of Texas so should be rust free. Be aware that it is also about the same size as Texas so, although it will swallow all your shopping, you may have a problem in the supermarket car park. Additionally there will be a 19 feet long Buick Limited Riviera Sedan and a restored Chevy Bel-Air to feast your eyes on.

Yes, classic American cars drink fuel and are not noted for immense stopping power, but they are either straightforward no-nonsense power plants or soft-as-air luxury cruisers. Best of all, they come from the days when driving was a pleasure. Re-capture that feeling. Buy a piece of American automotive history.

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