Part of the fun of any die-cast or model car collection is in comparing the differences of similar cars made a couple years apart.
So when American-Excellence sent us the Le Mans-winning Ferraris from 1958 and 1960, both made by Ixo, the fun began. These are from the classic sports car era when road cars were lightly modified to race and when drivers like America’s Phil Hill were braving it with little more than an open-face helmet and racing gloves for protection.
The two 1/43 scale red racers are the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, No. 14, that Hill and Olivier Gendebien drove to a Le Mans victory in 1958 and the similar TR60, No. 11, that Gendebien and Paul Frere won with at Le Mans in 1960.
Phil Hill was America’s primo sports car racer in the late 1950s into the 1960s and the first U.S. driver to win the F1 World Championship, which he did with Ferrari in 1961. He and Belgian Gendebien frequently teamed up for endurance races and both were highly successful, witness Gendebien’s second Le Mans win in 1960 with Frere, another Belgian racer.
Hill would win Le Mans again in 1961 and 1962 with Gendebien as Ferrari was a dominant entrant at Le Mans. It posted overall wins from 1958 through 1965, with the exception of 1959 when Aston Martin won. Read more
I liked the high-value Hyundai Accent sedan a week ago, so it stands to reason I’d like its cousin, the sportier looking Kia Rio hatchback this week.
Accent no longer comes in a hatch, so if you prefer this body style, which I do, the Rio is your low-cost, high-value option for this lineup. Although it should be noted that Rio also comes in a sedan, like the Accent.
I drove a metallic gray Rio EX hatchback, the top level as opposed to the entry-level Accent SE I tested last week. The price difference is minor, but significant if you’re looking for low cost transportation. Yet the EX comes with more comfort and safety features than the base Accent did.
First, the car is a bit longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. That translates to a bit roomier and a handsome, yet sporty look.
Rio has the same engine as Accent, a 1.6-liter direct-injected I4 that creates 130 horsepower. No pocket rocket, the Rio still gets up to highway speeds fairly easily and much more readily when the Sport mode button is depressed on the console, just in front of the shift lever. Read more
Who doesn’t recognize, and like, the Michelin Man? He’s probably even more famous than the Pillsbury Dough Boy, although I’ve never heard Bibendum (Bib for short) giggle.
Well, IXO loves him too and has come up with an unusual Michelin tire truck, especially for the North American market. This is a French Saviem truck from 1970, something you’d see delivering tires to the local Michelin tire store, or maybe backed up to the garage area at a European racetrack.
In 1/43 scale it’s a showcase stopper in its yellow and blue trim and runs roughly 7.5 inches long. Our review copy was provided by American-Excellence, which handles IXO, BOS Models and NEO, among other brands.
Saviem’s history is interesting, and to be honest, it’s a truck maker I had never heard of until the sample arrived. Turns out that Saviem existed from 1955 to 1978 in France and the name is a mash-up of its original truck firms that were all merged at that point, by Renault after it has abandoned the commercial truck and bus business following World War II.
Need new wheels at a low price, but don’t want to look like you’re driving an econobox that could tip over in a heavy wind or snag a trophy at the ugliest car on the block contest?
Hyundai has an impressive answer for just such a buyer, it’s redesigned 2018 Accent sedan. This week I tested a “rental-car white” SE, the base model, with an automatic transmission. And get this, with delivery fee, the Accent was $16,985. That’s right, just under $17 grand and you have a new car with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
It has been a while since I tested an entry-level model and boy, was I pleasantly surprised. The Accent doesn’t feel cheap or look it. This is not bare bones by any means. Hyundai gave the Accent crisp body styling and a large grille to reflect the rest of the sharp-looking Hyundai lineup. Most entry-level cars appear squished, too narrow, and top-heavy. Or they simply are truncated and look out of proportion.
So, right off the bat, the Accent makes you feel you’re driving something a notch up from the price point where it starts. Read more
In the early years, a lot of competitors, and winners, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race were from France. Many of those makes are legendary, but many also are gone.
One that remains is Bugatti, now known as a super car maker of impeccable quality, speed and styling. Its pedigree is long and distinguished. That pedigree includes two Le Mans wins, one of only 11 car makers to score more than one win and one of just 24 brands to win at Le Mans. Porsche and Audi have each won more than a dozen times, but who’s counting?
Ixo now delivers a sharp 1/43 scale die-cast model of Bugatti’s 1937 Le Mans-winning Type 57G. Bugatti won with a similar car in 1939.
This car, and its drivers, make for a unique tale. Only three Type 57G Tanks were built and this one won Le Mans in 1937. It was driven by Jean-Pierre Wimille and Robert Benoist (more on them in a moment) and completed 243 laps, 7 more than the second place Delahaye 135CS. The Bugatti ran a 3.3-liter straight 8 while the Delahaye was powered by a 3.6-liter straight 6.
The team was owned by Roger Labric, making this an all French team. In fact, the top four finishers were all French, with a British Aston Martin coming home fifth to be the top finisher among non-French entries. Only 17 of the 48 entries were running at the end of 24 hours. Read more
You can build anything from Legos
I love building things with Lego’s larger Technic line because it lets me feel like a real engineer. With this line I can build things that move, like cars. I’d run crash tests, view the results on the video, maybe move some blocks around and try it again. It was fun but never as elaborate as what Germany’s Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club, their version of our AAA, did with their large-scale Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
A few years back at Road America, the Midwest’s finest road racing facility, I ran into racer Augie Pabst and his beautiful metallic blue Scarab Mk. II racer.
Pabst, an heir to the brewing fortune, had been a succesful sports car racer in the late 1950s and early 1960s and was running his Meister Brauser Scarab in vintage races.
I’m a racing nut, but I’d never seen a Scarab before, so I was intrigued by the long-nosed front-engine car that looks part futuristic racer and part late 1950s roadster. Now, Replicarz has gone and produced a superb 1/18-scale resin die-cast of one of three Scarab Mk. IIs that were made and raced. This one was driven by another Midwestern sports car expert, Jim Jeffords, and features Nickey Nouse, the Chicago-based Nickey Chevrolet mascot.
Lance Reventlow, son of Woolworth heiress Betty Hutton, was a California-based racer who owned Reventlow Automobiles Inc. He had cash! But had seen how the European automakers only sold year-old racers to outsiders, so decided to have the Scarabs designed and specially built for his team. He was looking for an advantage.
Scarab’s designers were Tom Barnes and Dick Troutman, both well-known race car builders. They created a space-frame chassis weighing 127 lbs. and plopped in a special-built Chevrolet 283 V8 built by Traco Engineering. Its 365 horsepower made the Scarab a beast that was hard to catch. Its first victory came at the 1958 Riverside International Grand Prix in California with noted sports car driver Chuck Daigh at the wheel. Reventlow also raced his Scarab. Read more
New Santa Fe a luxury sleigh ride …
Leading up to Christmas I spent a week luxuriating in Santa’s sleigh.
Say what? It was Hyundai’s Santa Fe? Well then, never mind!
Yet then again Hyundai’s mid-size SUV is certainly big enough to haul a lot of goodies to good girls and boys all over southeast Wisconsin. The Santa Fe is a luxurious ute that if it had sliding side doors could pass for a minivan. In the tested Limited Ultimate AWD trim it would haul six adults with its two second-row captain’s seats and twin fold-down third row seats.
If you opt for a bench seat in the second row, Santa Fe will seat seven, which matches most minivans. And the cargo space behind the second row for gear, suitcases and such is sizeable. Even with the third row in place there’s plenty of room for grocery bags and odds and ends.
The AWD makes the Santa Fe a champ in sloppy weather too, giving it even better footing than say a heard of reindeer.
Hyundai revamped this ute for 2017 and drastically improved its looks, moving it away from boxy minivan and old ute styling to a fresher, more muscular stance that gives it a bit of a BMW’s swagger.
Handling is among the best for mid-size crossovers and utes too. Santa Fe feels responsive and corners well with just a slight lean in fast tight turns. Steering feedback is on the heavy side in Normal drive mode, of which there are three, including Eco and Dynamic.
Punch the Drive Mode button for Dynamic and the wheel firms up even more, maybe more than most drivers would want to deal with. But it also allows the 6-speed automatic transmission to hold the lower gears longer in order to boost acceleration. So in this mode the Santa Fe jumps, not up onto house tops, but onto the freeway like an aggressive sport sedan. Read more
Lancia was a late-comer to Formula 1 racing after World War II, but it had the genius of engineer Vitorrio Jano as its secret weapon. He had created the successful Alfa Romeo 8C pre-war.
So in late 1954 Lancia’s beautiful and unusual D50 joined the F1 circuit for the last race of the season, the Spanish Grand Prix where 2-time world driving champ Alberto Ascari put it on the pole with the fastest time.
While setting a fast pace with a record lap, it wasn’t reliable and lasted only 9 laps. But what had captured the racing public’s interest and other designers’ attention was its design with two outrigged pannier gas tanks, its off-center engine mount and low seating position to better distribute weight.
Now CMC nails the design in 1/18 scale with another hand-built metal die-cast model consisting of 1,598 parts, and no, I didn’t count them all.
Gianni Lancia wanted to be a part of the F1 racing world so had Vano design the radical D50. Unfortunately it basically bankrupted his car manufacturing company by mid-1955 and he handed over the team to Enzo Ferrari. Read more
Sometimes the hardest reviews to write are those for vehicles I’ve really enjoyed, the ones that stand out among the 50+ vehicles I test in a year.
This week’s tester, the Volvo XC60 with the Inscription package shouldn’t be hard to ladle syrupy praise on. It’s just that great, comfortable and sporty just don’t seem thick enough.
I’ve driven plenty of Volvos through the years and many were fine, just often overpriced and not as comfortable or fun to drive as other makes. Well, the XC60 is fun, luxurious, nimble, exceedingly quiet and comfortable, and as stylish as any SUV or crossover today.
Price, well, that still is an issue to me, but more on that in a bit.
This Swedish-made crossover starts with a powerplant that boggles the mind, an engine, if you will, that seems outlandish in its design. First, it’s a 2.0-liter I4 much like you’d find in many small to mid-size utes and crossovers. Yes, it’s turbocharged to give it more power and keep its gas consumption at reasonable levels too.
Ah, but here’s the funky part, Volvo also supercharges its tiny 2.0-liter. What? Yes, it turbocharges and supercharges the four-banger to give this more kick than most crossovers, even the pricey luxury ones. The engine packs 316 horsepower and 295 ft.-lbs. of torque. If you consider this, because it has all-wheel-drive, a sport-utility vehicle, then by golly it delivers on the sport side. Read more
Mitsubishi continues to fly under the radar among the Japanese car makers in the U.S., with just a few models and those don’t change often.
But the Outlander Sport has been one of its success stories, as it spun off from the larger Outlander SUV a few years back. This is a small ute, or crossover, about a foot shorter in length than Outlander.
It’s handsome, easy to maneuver in a parking lot and an automotive bargain. But it’s no benchmark to be sure.
The body is tidy and looks a bit sportier than many mainline small utes. I tested a pretty metallic red almost top-level SEL with AWD. The later is a bit of a misnomer in that you must engage the 4-wheel-drive system while cars and wagons such as Subarus are AWD all the time. Still, that’s easy because there’s a big button on the console. Press it once and you go from 2WD to 4WD.
Price though is what sets it apart. You can easily pay $30-35 grand for a decent AWD crossover or small ute, but the SEL model starts at $26,835, including delivery. Even with its pricey Touring Package, a $2,000 option, the test vehicle checked in at just $29,110. That’s a certifiable bargain.
That AWD works fine once engaged, and the Outlander Sport SEL now comes with a bit horsier 2.4-liter I4 engine. This one has 168 horsepower compared with 148 in earlier models and lower cost trim levels. Read more
Hyundai’s Sonata is back on track to being a major challenger to the likes of Toyota’s Camry and others in the crowded mid-size sedan market.
Hyundai’s last generation Sonata wasn’t nearly as attractive as its predecessor. This one is a sharp looker with a distinctive nose and improved profile. That will snag buyers attention, but its new 8-speed automatic transmission and improved ride should seal the deal, along with price.
Always a high-value car, the 2018 Sonata has a lot going for it. Admittedly I tested the top-level Limited 2.0T that is heavy on sporty performance, and all the bells and whistles. But wait until you get a load of the price.
But first, the “Machine Gray” (metallic gray) Limited touts Hyundai’s strongest engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that delivers a peppy 245 horsepower and a 260 torque rating. As with many cars and crossovers today there are a number of drive modes for the driver to select.
There’s Eco, which garners the highest gas mileage at the cost of power, Comfort, which is the middle ground of handling, power and ride, and Sport, which firms the steering and pumps up the power. That was great for accelerating onto the highway or away from a crowded traffic light when a lane change was in order. Read more
There is now a 707 horsepower Jeep.
You read that right, and the first question most folks ask is, Why would Jeep do this?
The answer: Because they can.
There’s no reasonable or logical reason, except that Fiat/Chrysler, which is the overindulgent parent of Jeep and Dodge, has been playing up its youthful exuberance via high-powered vehicles for several years now. Yes, this has a Hemi in it!
First it was the Hellcat, both as a Dodge Challenger and Charger, using the same 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 that powers this Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. Then there’s the Demon, another Challenger with even more power and aimed directly at the drag strip crowd. But there’s little chance many folks will be buying a Jeep to race at the local drag strip, especially when the tested Trackhawk’s price tag nudged $91 grand.
Yet a few folks, and you know who they are, always need to have the biggest, well, engine on the block. They are the buyers that previously have snapped up the top-end sports cars and muscle cars of the past. Think Corvette envy.
The Hellcats, Demons and Trackhawks are shoving that with both hands to a new level, and doing so with in-your-face marketing. Read more
This week’s drive begs the question of style and performance vs. reputation and performance. How so?
The tested BMW X3 compact SUV is a direct competitor of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio I tested a week prior. Darn near the same dimensions, the Alfa is just an inch longer. Similar power too, the BWM having 20 more ponies under its hood.
The difference is in looks, styling if you will, and reputation. While Alfa has a performance reputation, the long-term reliability of its vehicles has historically been a bit sketchy. BMW boasts of being the ultimate driving machine, and generally has a stronger long-term reliability rating.
Face value though, that impression that hits you when you first see a vehicle, is all in the Alfa’s favor. It looks lean and fast and, well, a bit sexy if you can see that in a car. Its nose is distinctive, like no other. It turns heads. Read more
Even if Italian beauty were only skin deep, maybe that would be enough when it comes to cars and crossovers.
The new Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s first crossover or SUV, whichever you wish to label it, is a beauty. Its face is unique in today’s bland auto world with a rounded distinctive nose that immediately signals to car connoisseurs that this is an Alfa. And what the hay, a little Italian styling passion can be easy on the eyes.
Stelvio, named for a famed road in Italy’s Alps, also embodies the Alfa heritage for sporty performance. For years Alfas were major competitors and winners at European racetracks. Heck, Enzo Ferrari got his start managing Alfa’s race team pre-World War II.
Even in the tested base trim Stelvio performs more like the sport sedan it’s based on, the Giulia, than you’d expect in a modest-sized crossover. Like so many of today’s new vehicles, the Stelvio goes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 under its lean and long hood. That might sound small for an SUV, but this unit cranks a spritely 280 horsepower with a 306 torque rating.
There’s not a lot of rumble since it’s a turbo, but the Stelvio gallops up to highway speeds like a race horse that has just been spurred in the rump. There’s a bit of engine yowl from under the hood, but only a twinge to let you know you’re not driving a domestic.
Not surprisingly the Alfa prefers premium fuel’s higher octane to light the fire in its belly. Power kicks in quickly with no noticeable turbo lag and the sporty 8-speed ZF transmission seems beautifully suited to the turbo, providing smooth, efficient shifts. Read more