Spark delivers uniquely shaped DeltaWing racer
Every once in a while a new shape surprises the racing world. In the late 1950s and early ‘60s it was the rear-engined F1 racer that eventually took the Indianapolis 500 by storm. In the 1970s it was the 6-wheeled Tyrrell F1 racer. Today it’s the DeltaWing.
This shiny silver racer features a triangular shape with two wheels close together in its needle-like nose and a wider rear-end complete with a vertical wing, so a delta wing shape. Spark Models now brings the shape to an eye-catching 1:43 diecast model that will stand out in any racecar collection.
DeltaWing, the racer, started on the drawing board of designer Ben Bowlby back in 2009 and originally was a proposed chassis for IndyCar, which was looking to revamp its racecar package. While it didn’t fly among the upper brass there, likely because it wasn’t a fully open-wheeled racer, it did gain support in the racing world.
Ostensibly the DeltaWing’s design is aimed at cutting drag so it is faster in a straight line and also more fuel efficient, plus reducing weight for better fuel economy. Its nose is thin with the front wheels creating just a 2-foot wide track, while the rear tires’ track is about 5 ½-feet wide. You’d think the car would be unsteady, but it’s not and turns crisply into turns.
Major IndyCar team owner Chip Ganassi funded the DeltaWing project and Dan Gurney’s noted All-American Racers built it to be entered as an experimental racer at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 2012. Nissan provided the engine, originally a 1.6-liter turbo I4. At LeMans it qualified 29th out of 50+ cars and was running well before being involved in an accident with another racer. Read more
Optima Hybrid a looker with spunk, yes a hybrid with spunk!
Optima is one of the best looking mid-size cars on the market, looks like a luxury sedan and rides and feels like an entry-level luxury sedan. It also is well equipped for its price, making it a high value front drive car that will carry five comfortably.
What pushed me well toward the “love it” end of my rating spectrum is the tested blue-gray’s hybrid system. Many hybrids are still lackluster when it comes to acceleration and refinement. Kia’s Optima Hybrid EX not only looks great it performs well.
I tested this for a week that included about a 500-mile round trip to Miami County, Ind., and several days of the usual area city driving. I could have gotten by with just one gas fill-up in that period as I averaged 39.5 mpg, basically confirming the EPA estimates. On the highway the trip computer boasted 41 mpg and range was listed at more than 600 miles.
That alone makes Optima a fine highway cruiser, but riding on a 110-inch wheelbase (2 inches shorter than last week’s Ford Fusion) Optima offers a pleasant ride with just a bit of rump bumping on severe bumps. You feel well insulated in the Kia, which features a luxury-quality quiet interior.
But performance is equally smooth and comfortable. Acceleration is decent in full Eco mode where the electric motor portion of the hybrid powerplant does most of the work. However, you can flick off the Eco mode with a touch of your right thumb and the gas engine does more work to give you better than average acceleration. This may be preferred when you’re in serious city traffic where acceleration may be needed to avoid a jam.
While a gas-powered Optima features a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a stout 192 horsepower, the hybrid system with the same sized gas engine plus electric assist ups that to 206 horses and 154 lb.-ft. of torque, a bit less than the gas-driven version, but still reasonable. Read more
Sports cars come and go, a sort of a flavor of the week mentality affects sports car buyers. Since the 1950s there have been MGs, Sunbeams, Triumphs and at the higher end, Corvettes and Porsches.
But occasionally a car maker captures lightning in a bottle, and it maintains some staying power, such as Mazda’s RX-7, which was made from 1978 to 2002 and its iconic Miata. Our topic here is the RX-7, which was famous for its unique twin-rotor Wankel rotary engine, its sporty looks and its pop-up headlights. Oh, and the RX-7 was modestly priced as sports cars go.
Certainly the RX-7 was popular enough to warrant someone like Autoart delivering a fine 1:18 scale, and so it does.
There were three distinct generations of the racy RX-7, the third beginning production in 1991 and known as the FD model for its Japanese VIN number designation. The FD was manufactured until RX-7 production ceased in 2002.
In 1999 Mazda cranked out one of its racier versions (not that they all weren’t fairly racy), the Spirit R Type A. This model boasted 276 horsepower and a torque rating of 231, put to good use by a 5-speed manual transmission. The Sprint R RX-7 weighed in at a svelte 2,469 lbs. and rode on 17-inch tires and was one of the models most frequently raced. Read more
Ford’s midsize sedan, Fusion, has been well received both because of its high-end somewhat sporty looks and its driving characteristics. Fusion may prove to be Ford’s biggest hit since the Taurus was new.
Fusion melds, or should we say, fuses the looks of an Aston Martin or Jaguar’s upscale sporty nose with the tail and profile of a sleek Mazda6 to create a good-looking family sedan that can make any suburbanite proud of his or her nod to trendy car fashions. Gone is the look-alike (nose at least) mid-size sedan.
Add in that Ford has gone all in on hybrids, including this hot “sunset” (metallic deep orange) Fusion Energi SE, and you’ve got a trendy family hauler. It’s economical to drive, if not to buy. While a gasoline-only powered Fusion can be had in the mid-$20,000 price range, the Energi, a plug-in hybrid, starts at $35 grand and change. The tested SE lists at $38,700. Add in a $795 delivery charge and just two options and the test car hit $40,585.
I’ll make this point just once. You don’t buy a hybrid to save money, but to help the environment.
Sure, you’ll save each week on fillups. I got 45.2 mpg and shelled out just a bit more than $20 for 300+ miles of driving in a week. EPA estimates put the car at 43 mpg in all gasoline-powered mode and 88 when combining gas and electric, with a full plug-in charge at night. I didn’t plug in each night, but got about 20 miles of electrical charge for each plug in and registered 111 mpg in a day with the charge and driving about 10 miles beyond it. While the car is charged it shows you getting 999.9 mpg. Cool, while it lasts!
Like the Ford C-Max Energi I drove about a year ago, this one is easy to charge. Unload the special charging cable from the trunk, plug it into a regular 120-volt electrical outlet in a garage and then the cable’s pistol grip into the round outlet on the driver’s side front fender. A little cap rotates, after a tap, to reveal the outlet. About 7-8 hours later you have the 20-mile charge. Using a 220-volt outlet (like your dryer would use) will charge the vehicle in just a couple hours, Ford says. Read more
New MINI Hardtop maximizes motoring fun
Yet it delivers exactly that, simple motoring fun.
A new, larger MINI was reintroduced in 2002 by BMW, the former Mini was a British make. Now, a dozen model years later, its third and again larger (about 5 inches nose to tail) iteration, continues to be a cute boxy hardtop that is a blast to drive. This is especially true of the tested Volcanic Orange S version with a new 2.0-liter twin-turbo 4-cylinder engine.
That smooth running BMW-designed powerplant belts out 189 horsepower and features a torque rating of 207. It kicks you in the seat of the pants, especially when the car is set to Sport mode. The S model offers three driving settings, Eco that reduces power and saves fuel (MINI-malizing they call it), Mid (perfectly fine for nearly all driving) and Sport (booster rocket power).
You simply turn a ring on the base of the shift lever housing and once it hits Sport you know it. Power is instantaneous. The MINI zips forward like a race horse set free from a starting gate. Sport also firms up the suspension, which might be needed on the race track, but only further intensifies the rump thumping you already get in the MINI on the street. Despite the 2014 model’s wheelbase growing 1.1 inches, the ride is no smoother and the shock damping feels almost non-existent in the Sport setting.
The Mid setting eases shock stiffness some, as it does the horsepower and torque. But MINI still hustles away from stoplights quickly and power is near instant with the twin-turbo booster set at the Mid, default, level. Go Eco and you’ll feel the car ease away from a stop, but power is substantially reduced. This may work well in jammed city driving where you just crawl from stoplight to stoplight.
Handling is go-kart like responsive all the time, but extraordinarily quick in Sport mode. That’s what makes MINI so much fun, especially around town. You can flick the car into a tight curve or corner and zip out the other side like you’re an F1 racer on a quick practice lap. Steering is immediate and easy. Read more
Art Deco Alfa Romeo 8C delivers museum-quality look, details
The automotive Art Deco era, where sleek streamlined profiles and styling flare were at their peak left us an astounding number of quirky, yet beautiful cars.
European makers were at the forefront of such styling in the 1930s with the likes of Bugatti, Delahey and Alfa Romeo wowing the wealthy aristocracy of the day. One such beauty was the Alfa Romeo 8C, a sports coupe that seemed hell bent on performance.
Now CMC brings its prestigious moniker and die-cast model skills to the Alfa 8C 2900B Speciale Touring Coupe. It’s a recipe for a deliciously lavish 1:18 scale model.
Vittorio Jano was famous for his engines at Alfa Romeo before Enzo Ferarri lured him away to help create powerplants for the red racers that made Ferraris into an icon. But in the 1920s Jano created his first straight-eight cylinder engine for Alfa Romeo and then the P3 single-seater that was a constant winner in Formula 1 during the 1930s.
Yet in the 1930s racing was only a part of the Alfa story. The Italian car maker was cranking out beautiful road cars too, their bodies being built by the finest coachbuilders of the day and featuring radical sweeping designs. The 2900B Special Touring Coupe is but one.
The 2900 was designed first and foremost to compete in the Mille Miglia, the most important road race in Italy, winning in 1936 and ’37. In all Alfa won four Mille Miglia. But by the end of the decade the 2900 was also a fine coupe and roadster with a sexy body created by couch builder Carrozzeria Touring. Read more
Like its sister crossover, the Nissan Pathfinder, the upscale Infiniti QX60 is a roomy family hauler that’s easy on the derriere, quiet and comfortable and can, if needed, haul seven passengers due to its third row seat.
A couple years ago the Pathfinder switched from being a rough and tumble sport-utility truck to a crossover based on the Nissan Altima sedan platform. It, like the Infiniti, still offers all-wheel drive, but the upshot is the ride is much improved and the likelihood of you ever taking it into the brush always has been pretty slim.
The tested diamond slate (metallic dark gray) QX60 was a hybrid too, and came with AWD, so at least we know it’ll handle Wisconsin’s snow and slush just fine. The hybrid part means it costs a bit more, but should save you a few MPG overall. More on that later.
The QX comes in four models, the base QX, the QX50, QX60 and QX70, all of which designates the luxury level and accessories that come standard. The test vehicle started at $46,500, but was immersed in options so climbed to a lofty $60,780, including $995 delivery. That total is roughly double last week’s Dodge Journey crossover, also with AWD.
No denying this is a more luxurious crossover in look and feel. It features chrome around the windows and a snazzy little S accent shape on the back side window to give the QX a styling flair in profile. The nose comes to a slight beak like point up front too. I like its look, at least as well as any large crossover. Read more
Land Rover has pounded out rough-terrain handling trucks for years. Think of safaris and you think of Land Rovers, usually with a tire mounted on the hood and a rhino charging after it.
Today’s Land Rovers and Range Rovers are just as capable in the bush, but civilized enough to lug the queen around her estate, if need be. The tested Aintree (a town in England) Green Range Rover Supercharged LWB (long-wheelbase) is exceedingly long on the luxury, while still designed to dominate any terrain you throw at it, mud, slush, rocks and streams.
You might be surprised to find out that the tested Rover’s starting price is $105,300, plus an $895 delivery fee, which compared to the base price seems a bargain. Amazingly at six digits the Rover did not come with any running boards or power step-up and nary a third-row seat. Yet there were options that pushed this luxury land yacht to $122,900.
What’s an option once you hit $106 grand or so? Many apparently.
The lovely test ute added a vision assist pack that included a surround-view camera that allows you to view the truck’s perimeter. Cool! It also included automatic high-beam headlights and adaptive Xenon lights, plus a blind spot monitor with a closing vehicle sensing & reverse traffic detection system. That alerts you if you’re about to ram a stopped or suddenly slowed vehicle and also see out the back. Many luxury cars and trucks now have similar systems. The package also featured configurable mood lighting (Shagadelic baby!) and a leather steering wheel (again, something most $30 grand vehicles have, or offer). Price tag? A modest $1,760.
But there was so much more. Read more
Picture a blue open wheel racer with Elf sponsorship and you likely think of Jackie Stewart in a Tyrrell F1 car circa the early 1970s.
No wonder then that TSM Models created that car, the Tyrrell 006 in 1:18 scale to tempt Formula 1 and open wheel racing fans. This was the car that Stewart wheeled to his third and final F1 World Championship in 1973. Stewart won 6 F1 races in his final season and 27 overall, a record at the time he retired to become a TV commentator, author and business spokesperson.
Everyone knows Jackie Stewart and race fans of a certain age loved the look of the 1970s F1 racers, back when ground effects were new and took varying shapes. Here the front and rear wings are large, but look planned. In the late 1960s and early ‘70s the wings often looked odd or like they were thrown on just before the race to see IF they would help.
The giant air scoop right behind the driver’s head also gives the Tyrrell 006 a unique, futuristic look.
TSM’s Tyrrell is the car Stewart drove to victory in the 1973 Belgian Grand Prix, the No. 5 with just the Elf, Ford, Motorcraft (a Ford auto parts brand) and Goodyear sponsorship decals, plus the Team Tyrrell logo. At that, the car is beautiful in its simplicity, even though its shape is interesting, to say the least. Read more
Resin Continental Mark III a rare offering
Rarity plays a big role in full-size vintage auto prices.
This is true too for diecast models, which is what makes Automodello’s new 1:24 Lincoln Continental Mark III a hit, even at its strong $299 asking price. This is a car for baby boomers who favor the classics over muscle cars. (I know that’s heresy.)
This is rare in that I’ve never seen a 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III in cast resin and in 1:24 scale. On that front Automodello has created a stunningly accurate and beautiful body with crisp accent and trim lines that reflect the Continental’s long, lean elegance.
The Mark III was a Lee Iacocca idea that legend has it came from his desire to see a Thunderbird of the day equipped with a big Rolls Royce grille. That pretty well sums up the Mark III’s appearance.
But it was 300 lbs. heavier than the T-bird, yet packed 365 horsepower coming from a new 460 cu.in. V8. That engine was created to help Lincoln challenge Cadillac’s Eldorado, along with the likes of Oldsmobile’s Toronado and Buick’s Riviera. Read more
Cadillac is beyond just being back, it’s now about kickin’ butt and takin’ numbers.
First, unlike most sporty luxury brands, Cadillacs now exude style. The new CTS is the beauty queen of luxury sport sedans leaving others only to compete for Miss Congeniality.
CTS’s well chiseled profile with long, wide hood and big mouthy grille give it some panache. But those vertical taillights that carry over from previous models, some dating back to the 1960s, plus the big headlights that extend back into the slender fenders give it an athletic presence – think pro athlete in a fitted Ralph Lauren suit.
Beyond the edgy styling that catches a potential buyer’s eye, Cadillac continues to deliver performance and luxury in equal doses.
The tested CTS Vsport, the top-level model, now boasts a 420-horse twin-turbo V6. The 3.6-liter unit earns a torque rating of 430 that reportedly pushes the rear-drive sedan to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. Power is readily available and smoothly delivered with Caddy’s first 8-speed automatic, which offers a manual mode and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
Ride is comfortable too with GM’s magnetic ride control and a performance suspension that provides a firm, well-controlled ride. Plus CTS offers four driving modes, selected via a switch on the console between the front seats. Touring is for everyday driving and smoothes the ride while offering responsive steering. This would do for most of us 90-95% of the time. Read more
When it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Mazda’s designers and brain trust have shown great wisdom to follow that axiom with the Miata sports car.
For 25 years now the MX-5 Miata has made its mark by NOT changing much. There have been tiny body styling tweaks and interior tucks and thankfully the horsepower grew from 116 originally to 167 today. But Miata has remained true to its original design and purpose, being a lightweight, superb handling sports car with enough pep to put a perpetual smile on a driver’s face.
Soon Mazda will unveil a new Miata, and we’ll hope the designers still don’t break what isn’t broken. But for now we can relish in the fun and modest price tag the current model embodies.
Two years have passed since I last drove a Miata and reading back over that review I couldn’t find anything I’d disagree with from the most current drive. Here’s my latest synopsis.
The “true red” test car was the mid-level Club model with a black power hardtop. That means it’s a convertible, but the hardtop keeps it quieter inside than the standard cloth top. Naturally you pay more, but Miata is still a value-minded roadster. The base Sport model with soft top lists at $24,515 with delivery and the tested Club with hardtop was $29,460, with delivery. Moving up to the Grand Touring hardtop pushes the sticker to $31,345. Read more
Toyota better be careful. It might be cutting into its Lexus sales with its latest Highlander.
Who needs a Lexus when Toyota’s Highlander is so darned luxurious?
First, the styling is sharp for a sport-ute. Everything from the hood creasing to the elongated swept-back lights to the profile make the Highlander look like it’s in motion, even as it sits, all 4,861 lbs. of it, in the driveway. Mine was a handsome silver model, the top-level Limited Platinum version with hybrid power system and all-wheel drive.
Price of admission? $51,761 as delivered, with a base price of $49,790 and an $860 delivery fee, plus a few options. A Lexus will cost you more.
Yet Highlander is pretty much state of the art luxury as it arrives in Limited Platinum trim.
Seats are leather and powered, with both front and second row seats heated. Front seats are cooled too, with three settings, and the thick leather steering wheel is heated to take winter’s chill away quickly. There’s a power rear hatch (more about that later), and a power panoramic sunroof and shade. Read more