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2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 4×4 Double Cab

Dominant Toyota Tacoma a stylish, muscular pickup tacoma2

Trucks are macho, always have been. But as our society becomes more confrontational and in-your-face attitudes more commonplace it’s only natural truck styling sheet metal follows suit.

Today’s Toyota Tacoma will go toe-to-toe with any pickup in the attitudinal Olympics. Its fenders bulge like a body builder’s abs and its hood bulges like pecs gone wild. Muscular doesn’t begin to describe it.

That’s to be expected from the new, restyled 2016 Tacoma, the leading mid-size pickup in the U.S. market, the pickup that has been kicking sand in the faces of its competition for years. Market reports say Tacoma owns more than half of the truck sales in its segment.

And now, as if it weren’t already dominant enough, Tacoma is marking its territory with increased horsepower, better gas mileage and a quieter interior. Take that Nissan Frontier, Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. Never mind that a few of those will tow more or still get better gas mileage, Tacoma is ready to rumble.

Let’s start with power, as that’s what most pickup owners are looking for, whether to tow, haul or simply impress their buddies and significant others.

tacoma1Tacoma features a 278-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that uses the Atkinson cycle, technology that burns fuel more efficiently than a standard V6. Several Mazda engines use the Atkinson design. Tacoma’s torque is 265 foot-pounds and tow capacity is 6,400 lbs.

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2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

Stylish Nissan Maxima breaks cookie-cutter sedan moldmaxima

Back in the automotive heydays, car stylists were intent on giving their cars distinctive grilles, fins, headlights, taillights, profiles, you name it. Today we must satisfy ourselves with whatever styling cues designers can muster in a cookie-cutter marketplace.

Happily, Nissan designers have fashioned a swanky looking 2016 Maxima that’s svelte in profile and features sculpted taillights similar to those on its sexy sports car, the 370Z. This is as close to pizazz in a sedan as I’ve seen in a sedan of late.

Nissan also blends sports sedan with luxury sedan, a strong mix that comes in an attractive price range of $32,125 to $40,685. My test car was a dark metallic red Platinum version, the model atop that price list. It was a dandy.

maxima4At its base, the mid-size Maxima is a stylish sedan that will haul five adults in comfort and not blend in with the car-pool lane crowd. Even the base S model features Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6 that creates 300 horsepower and a torque rating of 261. Throughout the five trim levels that engine is well paired with Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission that shifts smoothly and yet gives the sedan well above average oomph. Nissan uses D-step shift logic to simulate gear changes and it feels convincingly like a standard automatic, but smoother. Nissan and Subaru seem to have best mastered CVTs to this point.

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The sick minds of some car builders

Don’t read this on an empty stomach!

KLM, midwest airlines, airline Passengers, commercial airline seatsOr if you just happen to have an unused airline puke bag, have it handy. What? One of the other things I collect is airline memorabilia, like these seats from a KLM DC-9, which included three. Yup, I’m slowly collecting parts and should have a full airliner in about…..long story. One of my favorite Apps on my iPhone is Hemmings Motor News. On the top of the page they Hemmings-app-imagehave featured cars for sale along with stories about classic cars farther down. I love seeing mostly cars I will never own but lust over. That doesn’t cost a dime. I recently viewed two cars that stood out. Not that they were cool or collectible but because one was repulsive and the other is an “A” for effort but really? I’ll save the first one for last and build up to it.

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Die-cast: Autoart Willys Jeep

Detailed Willys Jeep drives Autoart into new marketWilly three quarter

Jeep became an automotive icon as the soldier’s best friend during World War II. Now that the brand is owned by Fiat Chrysler, some may have forgotten it was originally primarily built by Willys-Overland.

Autoart’s 1/18 scale version is of that early Jeep along with a U.S. Army trailer with fuel drum and other accessories. But a model of only the Jeep also is available.

The History

How the Jeep came to be is a lengthy tale, but here’s the short version. First government specs went out in 1940 calling for a 1,300-lb. vehicle with 80-inch wheelbase and an engine generating at least 85 ft.-lbs. of torque.

Out of 135 U.S. automakers, just Willys and American Bantam Car Co., sought the contract, Ford entering the fray later. The government ordered 1,500 from each of the three makers, but later settled on the Willys design while using Ford’s wide, low hood.

Willy EngineFord’s version was called the GP, but it’s said that nomenclature didn’t spur the Jeep name. Instead many say that mechanics coined the Jeep phrase and then it was repeated when the vehicle was introduced on the steps of the Capital in Washington, D.C. Newspapers picked it up and the Jeep name grew from there.

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2016 Subaru Forester Limited

Subaru Forester remains spunky, sure-footedforester

Subaru’s Forester remains one of my favorite small SUVs because of its handling, spunky power, smooth CVT, quiet interior and sure-footed AWD capability.

That doesn’t even get at its other attributes, like reasonable starting price, good gas mileage, comfortable interior, top-notch safety rating and its overall usefulness.

The Forester was redesigned for 2014 and just keeps getting better with little tweaks. The handsome metallic (Venetian) red test model was the mid-level Limited that includes leather seats, an automatic climate control system, and power hatch.

Like its stablemates (there are four trims, plus the XT models that include a gutsier 2.0-liter turbocharged engine), the Limited delivers good interior space with wide comfortable seats and one of the quieter small SUV interiors.

forester1The 2.5-liter boxer (horizontally-opposed) 4-cylinder engine is strong, delivering 170 horsepower and 174 ft.-lbs. of torque. While some small SUVs and crossovers may offer more pony power, few feel as spunky as this Subaru engine. Touch the gas pedal and the Forester jumps away from stoplights. In fact, it takes a couple days to get the feel of the pedal. You can startle yourself a bit the first few times you accelerate.

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A hidden auto museum gem

Almost like a big barn find

wisconsin automotive museum, kissel kar company, collector cars, cars built in wisconsin, wisconsin auto museumsIt’s winter as I write this blog post in Wisconsin. Gotta tell you that as I’ve gotten older I’ve grown more of a distaste of winter. It’s cold and snowing which means all the collector cars are taking their long winter naps. Not one wanting to hibernate, I grabbed my camera and my daughter and took a ride up to the Wisconsin Automotive Museum.

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Die-cast: Auto World’s 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne Coupe

Chevrolet Biscayne was a go-to car for yearsAMM1053_66Biscayne_1stPrepro-9

While Auto World’s new 1/18 scale Chevrolet Biscayne Coupe is a lot snazzier looking in its Aztec Bronze paint scheme, it reminds me of some of the Plain Jane Chevy’s my great uncle  and other relatives used on their Indiana farms.

Those were usually white, tan or black, but no matter the color, the Biscayne was the go-to car for utility, size and comfort back in the mid-1960s, especially in rural areas where value was, and is, highly, well, valued.

Naturally, Auto World delivers a decidedly spruced up version for collectors, who generally prefer a little pizzazz even on mainstream makes and models.AMM1053_66Biscayne_1stPrepro-1

The History

Biscayne came into Chevy’s lineup in 1958 as its entry-level full-size car and lasted until 1972, so the ’66 model was roughly halfway in its shelf life, and was the car’s third generation. Biscayne replaced the Chevy 210 and featured little chrome trim inside or out, while the Bel Air was a step up and Impala was next up the totem.

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2015 Ford Edge Titanium AWD

Ford Edge Titanium a top-flight crossoveredge

Ford’s Edge is a good looking crossover that puts Ford’s boxy Flex to shame in handling and looks , but won’t haul as many people. Edge is a top-flight mid-size crossover with a comfortable ride, good power and an excellent interior for five adults.

My test unit was the almost top-level Titanium model with all-wheel-drive, so started at $38,490, including delivery. Only the Edge Sport is more upscale, starting at $40,990 and packs a turbocharged V6.

I found the metallic gray (magnetic) test Edge’s turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost I4 to be sufficient. It delivers a healthy 245 horsepower and boasts a 270 torque rating. So it’ll get up and go. Besides you’re not gonna take a crossover to Union Grove’s dragstrip anyway.

Ford’s EcoBoost engine works well with the standard 6-speed automatic, runs smooth and quiet and when you tromp the accelerator to get on the highway it’ll jump up to 70 mph quickly. Edge also gets away from stoplights well in town, not feeling as heavy as it’s nearly 4,100 lbs.

edge2But the ride is what the family will like. Edge’s suspension is tuned to control rough Midwest roads and coddle passengers without making them feel they are floating along on a pillow. There’s little jostling and even railroad tracks don’t disturb the ride.

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Die-cast Auto World’s 1971 Chevy Monte Carlo SS 454

Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS454 a short-lived muscle carAMM1055_1971MonteCarlo_1stPrepro-7

I lived through the 1970s, in fact my first car was an early ‘70s Plymouth, but I can tell you that good-looking and quality cars of that era were few and far between.

But for Chevy, the 1971 Monte Carlo was a big seller, a full-size luxury coupe that was introduced a year earlier. This was before the oil crisis and all the downsizing of models that followed a couple years later.

Auto World now fills the Monte Carlo void for 1/18 scale model lovers and does it with a fine looking SS model in Rosewood Metallic, a dark, nearly maroon, red.

 

The HistoryAMM1055_1971MonteCarlo_1stPrepro-9

The Monte Carlo SS454 is a short-lived muscle car as Chevy decided its powerful engine and the sporty SS designation was sending mixed signals to the masses. And make no mistake, Chevy intended this to sell in quantity, even as a luxury model.

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2016 Dodge Charger SXT AWD

Dodge Charger AWD charger awd

Big people need cars too, and sometimes automotive interior designers forget that fact.

So hurrah for the Dodge Charger and its generous sized interior, a full-figured person’s dream machine. There’s head and legroom to spare, front and rear, plus Charger happens to be available in so many trim levels a person can pick and choose just the right power and goodies quotient to meet their needs, and pocketbook.

My test car was the SXT AWD model, which means it can hold its own on slippery streets. The SXT also is second on the trim level list to the base SE, so it’s not a complete budget buster. Oh, and Charger looks muscular and distinctive, not something many large sedans can claim. Dig the full-body-width taillight bar!

For the record a base SE lists at $28,990 including delivery. It comes with the same 3.6-liter VVT V6 as in the SXT, an engine with a generous 292 horsepower and 260 ft.-lb. torque rating. Moving up to an AWD version pushes that to $31,240, just about the average transaction price for a new vehicle these days.

charger awd2The tested dark metallic gray (Maximum Steel Metallic) with a hint of blue in it, was listed at $31,995 in AWD trim. If power and speeding tickets are to your liking, the super-duper top-end Charger is the SRT Hellcat with a 6.2-liter V8 that cranks a mind-bending 707 horsepower. It lists at $68,640, but compare that with the supercars that start north of $1 million and have lesser horsepower, and it’s a bargain. There are three other trim levels between SXT and Hellcat and yes, HEMI V8s are available.

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Die-cast: CMC’s 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO

cmc-Produktfoto

CMC creates Ferrari’s most beautiful, the 250 GTO

The term “icon” is bandied about nearly as much as politicians promise tax cuts, but if you’re a Ferrari lover of a certain age, the 1962 250 GTO is likely the first car you think of when you hear “Ferrari” mentioned.

I know, I raced an HO version on my old Aurora slot car track as a kid and fell in love with Ferrari’s long, lean, muscular GTO immediately. Models and more slots followed, but now CMC does us GTO lovers the favor of re-creating the 1962 model in museum quality die-cast and perfectly sized in 1/18 scale. Oh, Baby!

The History

GTO’s backstory is that Enzo Ferrari was worried in 1961 that Jaguar’s sleek new E-Type was going to eat Ferrari’s lunch. So he set Giotto Bizzarrini to designing the 250 GTO, based on the 250 SWB Competizione’s chassis and using its solid Columbo V12.

But this one would have larger valves and create about 300 horsepower, use a 5-speed gearbox, add a new rear axle and thin aluminum body panels. Plus Bizzarrini would work with the University of Milan’s wind tunnel to improve aerodynamics. It worked, as top speed was 170 mph with a 5.0-second 0-to-60 mph mark.

cmc-Produktfoto

CMC creates a stunning interior.

The emotional Ferrari fired Bizzarrini later in 1961 in one of his many firing binges, yet the car proved a success. Top-notch drivers Phil Hill and Oliver Gendebien finished first in class at Sebring and second overall in the car’s first race. The 250 GTO won the GT manufacturer’s title 1962-’64. Overall, just 39 were made.

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Die-cast: NEO’s 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Club Coupe

Cad1NEO’s Cadillac fastback exudes class, substance with extreme late-1940s styling

I’m a sucker for fastback coupes. That usually means cars like a mid-1960s Mustang or Barracuda. Yet here’s a new old one to consider, the 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Club Coupe.

This is a car with presence, class and substance. Incredibly, it also was fast and a sales standout for Cadillac as the brand fought to re-establish itself after World War II.

NEO has created a beauty in 1:18 scale resin that American Excellence supplied for our review.

The HistoryCad7

The Series 62 was launched in 1940 as an entry-level Caddy, but wrapped up production in 1942 as auto factories turned their efforts to war machines. The third generation Series 62 designed by GM’s noted Harley Earl went into production as a 1949 model, riding on a 126-inch wheelbase, measuring 214 inches long and touting GM’s new overhead-valve V8.

The engine was a big deal, replacing a lower powered and heavier L-head model. The new 5.4-liter, 331 cu.in. V8 delivered 10 more horses at 160 and this model weighing 200 lbs. less than the 1948. So impressed was Motor Trend, then in its infancy, that the Series 62 became the magazine’s first Car of the Year.

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2016 Acura RDX AWD Advance

Acura RDX couples luxury, power with AWD rdx

Smooth, quiet and useful, with a strong interior luxury quotient. That’s the new Acura RDX AWD Advance, the top-of-the-line model that should be making European makes nervous.

Why?

Well, it’s awfully nice and for substantially less cash than equally equipped German makes, such BMW, Mercedes and Audi. There’s still some panache to such nameplates, but folks looking for luxury and value will find both in the Acura.

This is an incredibly quiet and comfortable crossover vehicle that will carry five passengers. It’s handsome but certainly not a head turner. But the dark metallic blue of the test vehicle made this RDX stand out in a sea of gray/silver crossovers populating suburbia.

rdx2There’s much to like here, and little to loathe, or even think twice about.

Power is good from the 3.5-liter iVTEC V6 that creates 279 horsepower with a torque rating of 252 ft.-lbs. Plus there’s a sport mode that increases throttle response if you’re needing quick acceleration. Certainly the RDX will quickly get you to highway speeds for easy merges. However, and this was only a moderate concern, sometime there is a lag in acceleration once you are at speed and get on the gas quickly to pass, or when powering out of a turn. This is not uncommon in many of today’s vehicles, no matter their price.

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Die-cast: BoS-Models’ Chevrolet Corvette Corvair Concept

Corvette Corvair Concept sharp car at low costDSCF0143

Early Corvettes were stylish sports cars, not the big fire-breathing muscle rods they became by the 1970s and that they continue as today.

So a fastback model in 1954 would have been cooler than even Ford’s Thunderbird and shows General Motors had the right idea, if only in concept form. Funny too, they named it the Corvette Corvair, joining two names that Chevrolet would ultimately use.

Now BoS-Models has created a high-value 1:43 of this unusual concept as it first appeared in a bright Ruby Red paint scheme. And while I don’t usually dwell on price here, I’ve got to mention it’s just $38.95 and looks fabulous in its acrylic case.

The History

First, an explanation of the concept car that made its debut at the 1954 GM Motorama, a show in New York City. Chevrolet used the front-end of its new Corvette, but made it into a fastback coupe by grafting a sloping roof onto the sporty Vette. The tail here reflects the popular aircraft styling of the mid- to late-1950s.

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Die-cast: 1959 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer Convertible

NEO’s ‘Forward Look’ Dodge Lancer is Fin-tasticDSCF0133

I admit to having a soft spot in my car styling heart for the “Forward Look” Chrysler and Dodge models created by Virgil Exner in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.

These big-finned beauties featured dramatic taillights and oodles of chrome trim on their fronts, sides and backs. My Uncle Paul had a white 1959 Chrysler 300 that barely fit in his garage with fins taller than me.

So I’m a big fan of NEO’s 1:43 scale Dodge Custom Royal Lancer Convertible and its beautiful red and white paint scheme.

The History

Dodge offered the Royal and Custom Royal from 1955-59 and the NEO model depicts the top-level Custom Royal in its heyday and final year, featuring dual jet exhaust taillights under each chrome-laden fin. The convertible featured a “Wedge” big-block V8 that used a wedge-shaped combustion chamber along with 383 cubic inches of displacement. The serious performance buyers snagged Dodge’s Super D-500 V8 overhead valve engine, a $415 option, with a massive 345 horsepower.DSCF0135

Royals and Custom Royals were available in hardtop, sedan, convertible and station wagon body styles and a base four-door listed at $2,934 in 1959. The premium Custom Royal convertible sold for $3,422 and 984 were sold that model year. Chrysler touted the use of front torsion bars and its mighty engines, plus push-button automatic transmissions. For 1959 there was an elliptical steering wheel and swivel front bucket seats too.

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Die-cast: CMC 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C

CMC’s Alfa Romeo 6C another beautym-138-025

Alfa Romeo only recently returned to the U.S. market, but it has been wowing Italians, and other European drivers with the lively nature of its sports cars for 105 years. Enzo Ferrari worked for Alfa and raced them. In fact, early Ferrari teams drove Alfas as part of Scuderia Ferrari.

In the 1930s its racing cars were among the best in the world known for their engine technology and handsome styling as evidenced by CMC’s beautiful 6C 1750 GS here in 1:18 scale.

The History

Alfa’s naming convention was easy to understand, the 6C designation meaning the car had six cylinders, and Alfa’s was a straight 6, not a V. The first 6C was made in 1927. Vittorio Jano designed the new model to replace the older Alfa RL and RM models, basing the new 6C on Alfa’s P2 race car with a single overhead cam 1,487cc inline six creating 44 horsepower. In 1928 a double overhead cam version was launched and Alfa won the 1928 Mille Miglia, Italy’s legendary race over public roads.

cmc-Produktfoto

The 1750 model that CMC produces followed in 1929 and was produced until 1933 and featured a top speed of 95 mph along with a flexing chassis. The GS, or Gran Sport, and Super Sport models used Alfa’s double overhead cam engines and continued the company’s racing success, some generating as much as 102 hp. In 1930 Alfa’s 6C won the Mille Miglia for the second time and then the Spa 24-Hour endurance race. Ultimately 2,635 of the 6C were made, but just 257 of the sportier GS models from 1930 to 1933.

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2016 Honda Pilot Touring AWD

Restyled Honda Pilot roomier, improved overallhonda1

The Honda Pilot has been a reliable big box of a sport-utility vehicle for years, nothing fancy, but usual Honda quality and solid build.

For 2016 the Pilot is restyled and rounded to give it a smoother more refined look, one that might be confused with Buick’s Enclave. In fact, several folks asked me during my drive if this was a new Buick. Honda’s sales results will tell them if such confusion helps or hurts, but overall the look is an improvement.

That’s what you see on the surface, what’s inside and what’s changed makes the new Pilot more attractive both visually and functionally for large families needing space for their brood.

Overall the Pilot is 3.5 inches longer and rides on a 111-inch wheelbase that’s nearly two inches longer than the previous model. Pilot also has dropped 300 lbs.

honda2The result is a roomier interior with a third-row seat that isn’t as cramped, plus a vehicle with improved ride quality and handling ability. You wouldn’t call Pilot nimble, but the weight loss is noticeable and the steering has been tuned to feel more responsive giving the Pilot better road feel. Not much play in this wheel anymore.

Ride generally is fine, but still can be stiff over sharp road bumps of which we have plenty in southeast Wisconsin. I enjoyed my highway drives across town and the interior is extremely quiet.

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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club

Redesigned Mazda Miata still the perfect sport carmiata1

My generation may have been having fun, fun, fun till our daddy’s took our T-birds away, but since 1989 the fun, fun, fun has mostly been provided by Mazda’s Miata.

Lyrically it’s not the same at all, but the feeling continues to be the same and the nearly all new and slightly smaller 2016 MX-5 Miata continues the tune.

I’ve run out of superlatives for the car that was my first Zoomie Car of the Year Award winner back in 1990, just after the original hit the streets. Miata reinvented the fun, affordable two-seater. Back in the 1950s and ‘60s there were MGs, Sprites, Austin-Healeys and Triumphs. Today, as in 1989, there is only the Miata in the small roadster category, at least starting at less than $30 grand.

Mazda continues to keep the car simple and slips it back closer to its roots by downsizing it in every way, except driving excitement.

The Miata is a work of art, just like the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa.

The Miata is a work of art, just like the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa.

The new car rides on 1-inch less wheelbase, is 6 inches shorter in length, loses 0.5 cubic feet of trunk space and drops about 250 lbs. Even the engine’s horsepower is down a smidge to 155 horses.

The result is a superbly balanced sports car that remains light, peppy and easy to throw around curving country roads, or winding city streets.

I felt no discernable reduction in power from the 2.0-liter I4 because the new 6-speed manual is so well suited to it. Shifts are short and direct and the clutch light. I took this on an afternoon spin around the Holy Hill area over winding side roads and with the top down. What a joy, smelling the apples, barley and livestock as the car flitted through the early autumn sun.

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2016 Mazda6 Grand Touring

Move over Camry, Accord, the new Mazda6 is a gemmazda6b

After all these years reviewing cars (30+) I find it hard to understand why Mazda doesn’t sell a lot more cars.

Its midsize Mazda6 is another gem that is sporty looking, handles well, provides a comfortable ride with good power and delivers extremely good fuel economy. Sounds like a lot of checkmarks in the average buyer’s “want” boxes.

Yet Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, among others, outsell the Mazda6 regularly, and have for years. Could it just be buying habits that work against other sedans that easily challenge those top dogs? Could be. But if you’re looking for a midsize family car with more pizazz, then the Mazda6 should be dead center on your radar.

I drove a sharp looking Blue Reflex (light silvery blue) Grand Touring model. That’s top of the line, so it’s loaded with standard equipment, leather seats, etc., plus this one added the $2,180 GT technology package, a cargo mat and door sill trim plates to push a $30,195 base price up to $33,395, including an $820 delivery fee. That’s almost exactly the average selling price for a new vehicle these days.

mazda6cHere’s what you get and how it drives.

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2015 Ford Mustang I4 Premium

New Mustang flat out gorgeous, ride improvesmustang left

Fifty years in and Mustang is still behaving like a teenager with his first set of wheels and looking as sexy as ever.

The previous sizzling Mustang design was so reminiscent of the 1960s icon that some felt Ford had taken a step back, just to glom on to sales from us Baby Boomers. So what? But the 2015 model keeps Mustang’s styling heritage, a long hood, fastback styling a pony on the grille and tri-bar taillights. Wisely it also kept Mustang’s long-popular profile.

But indeed Mustang looks leaner and sleeker now from the front, a bit more youthful with its smoother sides. In back I like the way its tri-bar lights lean forward, but its rump has been broadened visually with accentuated wheel flares, shades of J Lo! The bet is the overall effect will still appeal to Boomers, but will increasingly lure younger buyers. Works with the Kardashians!

mustang1Looks may go a long way to broaden interest in the Mustang. The car is gorgeous, but its refinement also makes it less rough around the edges and that will help too. The big upgrade starts with a fully independent rear suspension, something racers and enthusiasts have been calling for to replace its older live rear axle. While Ford had gone a long way to perfect the live-axle’s ride, this is better.

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Recent Articles

12
Feb

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 4×4 Double Cab

Dominant Toyota Tacoma a stylish, muscular pickup tacoma2

Trucks are macho, always have been. But as our society becomes more confrontational and in-your-face attitudes more commonplace it’s only natural truck styling sheet metal follows suit.

Today’s Toyota Tacoma will go toe-to-toe with any pickup in the attitudinal Olympics. Its fenders bulge like a body builder’s abs and its hood bulges like pecs gone wild. Muscular doesn’t begin to describe it.

That’s to be expected from the new, restyled 2016 Tacoma, the leading mid-size pickup in the U.S. market, the pickup that has been kicking sand in the faces of its competition for years. Market reports say Tacoma owns more than half of the truck sales in its segment.

And now, as if it weren’t already dominant enough, Tacoma is marking its territory with increased horsepower, better gas mileage and a quieter interior. Take that Nissan Frontier, Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. Never mind that a few of those will tow more or still get better gas mileage, Tacoma is ready to rumble.

Let’s start with power, as that’s what most pickup owners are looking for, whether to tow, haul or simply impress their buddies and significant others.

tacoma1Tacoma features a 278-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that uses the Atkinson cycle, technology that burns fuel more efficiently than a standard V6. Several Mazda engines use the Atkinson design. Tacoma’s torque is 265 foot-pounds and tow capacity is 6,400 lbs. Read more

5
Feb

2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum

Stylish Nissan Maxima breaks cookie-cutter sedan moldmaxima

Back in the automotive heydays, car stylists were intent on giving their cars distinctive grilles, fins, headlights, taillights, profiles, you name it. Today we must satisfy ourselves with whatever styling cues designers can muster in a cookie-cutter marketplace.

Happily, Nissan designers have fashioned a swanky looking 2016 Maxima that’s svelte in profile and features sculpted taillights similar to those on its sexy sports car, the 370Z. This is as close to pizazz in a sedan as I’ve seen in a sedan of late.

Nissan also blends sports sedan with luxury sedan, a strong mix that comes in an attractive price range of $32,125 to $40,685. My test car was a dark metallic red Platinum version, the model atop that price list. It was a dandy.

maxima4At its base, the mid-size Maxima is a stylish sedan that will haul five adults in comfort and not blend in with the car-pool lane crowd. Even the base S model features Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6 that creates 300 horsepower and a torque rating of 261. Throughout the five trim levels that engine is well paired with Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission that shifts smoothly and yet gives the sedan well above average oomph. Nissan uses D-step shift logic to simulate gear changes and it feels convincingly like a standard automatic, but smoother. Nissan and Subaru seem to have best mastered CVTs to this point. Read more

5
Feb

The sick minds of some car builders

Don’t read this on an empty stomach!

KLM, midwest airlines, airline Passengers, commercial airline seatsOr if you just happen to have an unused airline puke bag, have it handy. What? One of the other things I collect is airline memorabilia, like these seats from a KLM DC-9, which included three. Yup, I’m slowly collecting parts and should have a full airliner in about…..long story. One of my favorite Apps on my iPhone is Hemmings Motor News. On the top of the page they Hemmings-app-imagehave featured cars for sale along with stories about classic cars farther down. I love seeing mostly cars I will never own but lust over. That doesn’t cost a dime. I recently viewed two cars that stood out. Not that they were cool or collectible but because one was repulsive and the other is an “A” for effort but really? I’ll save the first one for last and build up to it. Read more

30
Jan

Die-cast: Autoart Willys Jeep

Detailed Willys Jeep drives Autoart into new marketWilly three quarter

Jeep became an automotive icon as the soldier’s best friend during World War II. Now that the brand is owned by Fiat Chrysler, some may have forgotten it was originally primarily built by Willys-Overland.

Autoart’s 1/18 scale version is of that early Jeep along with a U.S. Army trailer with fuel drum and other accessories. But a model of only the Jeep also is available.

The History

How the Jeep came to be is a lengthy tale, but here’s the short version. First government specs went out in 1940 calling for a 1,300-lb. vehicle with 80-inch wheelbase and an engine generating at least 85 ft.-lbs. of torque.

Out of 135 U.S. automakers, just Willys and American Bantam Car Co., sought the contract, Ford entering the fray later. The government ordered 1,500 from each of the three makers, but later settled on the Willys design while using Ford’s wide, low hood.

Willy EngineFord’s version was called the GP, but it’s said that nomenclature didn’t spur the Jeep name. Instead many say that mechanics coined the Jeep phrase and then it was repeated when the vehicle was introduced on the steps of the Capital in Washington, D.C. Newspapers picked it up and the Jeep name grew from there. Read more

29
Jan

2016 Subaru Forester Limited

Subaru Forester remains spunky, sure-footedforester

Subaru’s Forester remains one of my favorite small SUVs because of its handling, spunky power, smooth CVT, quiet interior and sure-footed AWD capability.

That doesn’t even get at its other attributes, like reasonable starting price, good gas mileage, comfortable interior, top-notch safety rating and its overall usefulness.

The Forester was redesigned for 2014 and just keeps getting better with little tweaks. The handsome metallic (Venetian) red test model was the mid-level Limited that includes leather seats, an automatic climate control system, and power hatch.

Like its stablemates (there are four trims, plus the XT models that include a gutsier 2.0-liter turbocharged engine), the Limited delivers good interior space with wide comfortable seats and one of the quieter small SUV interiors.

forester1The 2.5-liter boxer (horizontally-opposed) 4-cylinder engine is strong, delivering 170 horsepower and 174 ft.-lbs. of torque. While some small SUVs and crossovers may offer more pony power, few feel as spunky as this Subaru engine. Touch the gas pedal and the Forester jumps away from stoplights. In fact, it takes a couple days to get the feel of the pedal. You can startle yourself a bit the first few times you accelerate. Read more

28
Jan

A hidden auto museum gem

Almost like a big barn find

wisconsin automotive museum, kissel kar company, collector cars, cars built in wisconsin, wisconsin auto museumsIt’s winter as I write this blog post in Wisconsin. Gotta tell you that as I’ve gotten older I’ve grown more of a distaste of winter. It’s cold and snowing which means all the collector cars are taking their long winter naps. Not one wanting to hibernate, I grabbed my camera and my daughter and took a ride up to the Wisconsin Automotive Museum. Read more

23
Jan

Die-cast: Auto World’s 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne Coupe

Chevrolet Biscayne was a go-to car for yearsAMM1053_66Biscayne_1stPrepro-9

While Auto World’s new 1/18 scale Chevrolet Biscayne Coupe is a lot snazzier looking in its Aztec Bronze paint scheme, it reminds me of some of the Plain Jane Chevy’s my great uncle  and other relatives used on their Indiana farms.

Those were usually white, tan or black, but no matter the color, the Biscayne was the go-to car for utility, size and comfort back in the mid-1960s, especially in rural areas where value was, and is, highly, well, valued.

Naturally, Auto World delivers a decidedly spruced up version for collectors, who generally prefer a little pizzazz even on mainstream makes and models.AMM1053_66Biscayne_1stPrepro-1

The History

Biscayne came into Chevy’s lineup in 1958 as its entry-level full-size car and lasted until 1972, so the ’66 model was roughly halfway in its shelf life, and was the car’s third generation. Biscayne replaced the Chevy 210 and featured little chrome trim inside or out, while the Bel Air was a step up and Impala was next up the totem. Read more

22
Jan

2015 Ford Edge Titanium AWD

Ford Edge Titanium a top-flight crossoveredge

Ford’s Edge is a good looking crossover that puts Ford’s boxy Flex to shame in handling and looks , but won’t haul as many people. Edge is a top-flight mid-size crossover with a comfortable ride, good power and an excellent interior for five adults.

My test unit was the almost top-level Titanium model with all-wheel-drive, so started at $38,490, including delivery. Only the Edge Sport is more upscale, starting at $40,990 and packs a turbocharged V6.

I found the metallic gray (magnetic) test Edge’s turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost I4 to be sufficient. It delivers a healthy 245 horsepower and boasts a 270 torque rating. So it’ll get up and go. Besides you’re not gonna take a crossover to Union Grove’s dragstrip anyway.

Ford’s EcoBoost engine works well with the standard 6-speed automatic, runs smooth and quiet and when you tromp the accelerator to get on the highway it’ll jump up to 70 mph quickly. Edge also gets away from stoplights well in town, not feeling as heavy as it’s nearly 4,100 lbs.

edge2But the ride is what the family will like. Edge’s suspension is tuned to control rough Midwest roads and coddle passengers without making them feel they are floating along on a pillow. There’s little jostling and even railroad tracks don’t disturb the ride. Read more

20
Jan

Load up the pickup and let’s go

Truck sales are booming

cheap gas, lower gas prices, pickup trucks, new truck sales, collector truck market, promo model trucks, diecast model trucksThanks in part to cheap gas (yup, that’s the price I payed yesterday in the Milwaukee area), all the major manufacturers of truck saw big sales gains to end the year. In December the Ford F series led the way of all vehicles producing 780,354 units leading to a 3.5% increase over last year. Chevy’s Silverado was second producing 600,544 units as sales increased  13.4%  while Ram produced 451,116 units for a 2.6% increase. The 4th vehicle on the list was the Toyota Camry a touch back from Ram (Source: WSJ).

Collecting Classic Trucks also following the trend

Right now they are the fastest growing segment among collectors according to analysis conducted by the Hagerty Valuation Team. Their values have more than doubled over the past five years in relationship to other vehicle segments. It’s a great starting point for collectors too. Prices range from about $15,000 for a driver to upwards of $45,000 for an over restored ’50s Chevrolet Cameo. Read more »

16
Jan

Die-cast: Replicarz’s 1926, 1929 Indy 500 winning Millers

Small scale Indy-winning Millers simply beautiful

The 1926 Indy 500-winning Miller

The 1926 Indy 500-winning Miller.

Back before hearing the word “Miller” made us think of beer, the name meant winning at the Indianapolis 500, and elsewhere on the nation’s numerous board tracks. That’s right, they used to make race track surfaces out of wood!

Millers were simple yet sleek racers that the best drivers, or their sponsors, bought to race at the highest levels throughout North America. Indy was, and is, the crown jewel, and Miller racers were the cars to beat in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Now, Replicarz has produced two Indy 500 winners in 1:43 scale and in the limited quantities of just 250 each. Due to be released shortly are the 1926 Miller Special driven by Frank Lockhart, and the 1929 Simplex Miller driven to victory by Ray Keech. Replicarz’s earlier gold Miller driven by three-time winner Louis Meyer, sold out. So snagging one of these early probably would be wise, as only 250 of each are to be made.

The 1929 Indianapolis 500-winning Miller.

The 1929 Indianapolis 500-winning Miller.

The History

Harry Miller was a noted engine maker and race car designer. Cars he designed won the Indy 500 nine times and three more times cars that were using his engines won the race. I’d say “think Roger Penske” as far as success, but Penske never designed cars or engines himself.

Millers, which were front-wheel-drive, were so dominant that they made up 83% of the Indianapolis fields from 1923 through 1928. Miller’s won 73 of 92 major U.S. auto races from 1922-29 and in 1929, 27 of the 33 racers in the Indy 500 were Millers.

After working with Ransom Olds (remember Oldsmobile?) early on and creating the first aluminum pistons and then the aluminum alloys used in engines, Miller became wealthy from a carburetor business he started. Read more »

14
Jan

2016 Fiat 500X Trekking FWD

Fiat 500X cute, but more useful than smaller cousinsfiat

Small crossovers are growing in popularity and car makers are falling all over themselves to deliver a robust selection of these little SUV-hatchback-wagons.

In essence they are mix of those three categories, offering more cargo room, AWD or 4-wheel-drive capability and hatches for easy cargo carrying and better looks.

Fiat joins the parade with its 500X using cute styling from its tiny Fiat 500, raising the vehicle some and stretching its wheelbase, just not quite as much as its 500L (as in longer wheelbase), and offering AWD in its various trim levels.

fiat1I drove an orange (yes, orange) Fiat 500X Trekking right up through our first snow this winter. The Trekking is up two levels from the base Pop model and starts at $23,200, so is value priced. This one was front-wheel-drive, but as with the other 500X models, comes with Dynamic Control Selector that allows you to engage a traction system, or go sporty when pavement is dry.

At this price point, DCS is a rare treat and indeed, using Sport mode allowed the Fiat’s 2.4-liter MultiAir 4-cylinder engine to kick up its heels a bit. The engine makes 180 horsepower with 175 ft.-lbs. of torque, so has plenty of energy to get the slightly less than 3,000-lb. car moving. But Sport mode lets the somewhat unrefined feeling 9-speed automatic transmission shift more quickly, giving the car more kick from a standing start. It also firms the steering for a sportier feel. Read more »

9
Jan

Die-cast: Auto World’s 1969 Chevy Camaro SS

Eye-catching paint job and high value for this Camaro SSAW24004_1969Camaro_1stPrepro-1

I learned to drive a stick shift on my Uncle Wink’s 1967 Camaro SS, so I’ll forever have a soft spot for 1960s Camaros. Auto World seems to too, creating numerous muscular 1960s die-cast Camaros in various scales.

Serious model car builders love their muscle in 1/24 scale and Auto World now delivers a handsome 1969 Camaro SS in bright orange in that scale. This isn’t as detailed as Auto World’s fine American Muscle series in 1/18 scale, but the body is well shaped and the car has the aggressive Camaro stance. Pricing is value minded too and there’s a lot to like about that.

The History:

Chevy’s Camaro was launched in fall of 1966 to compete with Ford’s exceedingly popular Mustang. Camaro and Mustang were affordable sports cars, which we later decided were muscle, or pony cars.AW24004_1969Camaro_1stPrepro-2

Read more »

7
Jan

2016 Dodge Journey Crossroad Plus AWD

Value-minded Dodge Journey keeps improving journey1

Dodge’s Journey is a good example of a carmaker not being satisfied with its work, with its own status quo.

How so? To look at the Journey you’d think it’s long in the tooth. On its face, that’s true. Journey joined the Dodge lineup 7 years ago and looks pretty much as it did then, when it was one of the first mid-size crossovers on the market, a blend of minivan and sport-utility vehicle.

But Dodge has kept improving the Journey year after year to keep it relevant as a low-cost option for folks needing to haul up to seven people along with their stuff, plus providing enough power and all-wheel-drive security to get them where they want to go.

This year, for example, Dodge has broadened Journey’s lineup of 10 models in 5 trims to include the Crossroad Plus model with leather seats and Dodge’s large 8.4-inch nav/radio screen. I tested a bright red Journey Crossroad Plus with AWD that started at $29,595 and after options ended up at $34,360. That’s at the lower end of pricing for mid-size crossovers with AWD. Read more »

2
Jan

Die-cast: BoS-Models’ 1951 Studebaker Champion

Small bullet nose Studebaker Champion  provides high value DSCF0007

I’m an Indiana boy at heart and that means Studebaker has always been near the top of my favorite U.S. car makes list.

The South Bend, Ind.-based company ceased production in the mid-1960s, but many of its cars were styling successes. Certainly in 1951 when this 1951 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe was roaring up and down U.S. 31 the car’s bullet nose and wraparound rear window were standout features that quickly identified it as a Studebaker. It certainly got folks attention, although some joked that you couldn’t tell if the car was coming or going.DSCF0004

Here Best of Show-Models (BoS) produces a fine 1/43 scale version at a high-value price, making it an easy addition to your collection of 1950s cars and trucks.

The History

Studebaker, which had been making wagons and carriages for a century already in 1951,quickly took to the lean aircraft styling that was gaining popularity after World War II. The result was the sleek rounded fenders of the Champion with similarly pointed nose and tail styling, plus a wraparound rear window that gave it an airy, bright interior. It also gave the driver excellent rear visibility. Read more »

31
Dec

Die-cast Auto World’s 1971 Chevy Monte Carlo SS 454

Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS454 a short-lived muscle carAMM1055_1971MonteCarlo_1stPrepro-7

I lived through the 1970s, in fact my first car was an early ‘70s Plymouth, but I can tell you that good-looking and quality cars of that era were few and far between.

But for Chevy, the 1971 Monte Carlo was a big seller, a full-size luxury coupe that was introduced a year earlier. This was before the oil crisis and all the downsizing of models that followed a couple years later.

Auto World now fills the Monte Carlo void for 1/18 scale model lovers and does it with a fine looking SS model in Rosewood Metallic, a dark, nearly maroon, red.

 

The HistoryAMM1055_1971MonteCarlo_1stPrepro-9

The Monte Carlo SS454 is a short-lived muscle car as Chevy decided its powerful engine and the sporty SS designation was sending mixed signals to the masses. And make no mistake, Chevy intended this to sell in quantity, even as a luxury model. Read more

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