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15
Mar

When Station Wagons roamed the plains like the buffalo

See if you can relate to this. Summer trips with the fam

american motors, amc, amc station wagons, amc cross country wagons, station wagonsIt’s the mid 70’s or 80’s when the whole family piled into the family wagon to go on vacation. It could have been west like I did with my family in our 1967 Rebel Cross Country wagon. Almost identical to this one I found in the classified sporting the same Strato Blue Metalic color. Yup, I have all kinds of stuff still rattling around in my brain. Mom, Dad, and my two younger sisters went to Yosemite to see Old Faithful and stuff like that and Read more »

12
Mar

Die-cast: NEO 1966 Pontiac GTO Convertible

Pontiac GTO Convertible = crisp, muscular model …

1966 Pontiac GTO

Great color scheme for a GTO!

Those of us of a certain age used to worship (or close to it) muscle cars in the 1960s, and many credit Pontiac with launching the idea of a muscular mid-size car that the masses could afford.

Pontiac’s first was the 1964 Tempest with the GTO package ($295) that added a 389 cu.in. V8 that delivered 325 horsepower with a 4-barrel carb.  Otherwise the hardtop and convertible Tempests were typical family cars.

Certainly there are a fair number of die-cast models of GTOs these days, but NEO has added the 1966 Convertible version to its growing America car collection in 1/43 scale. Our review model came from the good folks at American-Excellence. As with other NEO models in this scale, this one is expertly executed.

The History

In the mid-1960s there were a lot of hardtops and convertibles, not so much these days. But in 1966 Pontiac wisely made the GTO a separate model from the Tempest and was restyled to include a kicked-up rear fender line.1966 Pontiac GTO1966 Pontiac GTO

The car rode on a 115-inch wheelbase and was just over 206 inches long. Its lines accentuated its length to give it a lean yet muscular look that matched its performance persona.  It still packed the powerful V8 engine and a Ram Air package was available too. The hood scoop helped emphasize the car’s power. Read more »

10
Mar

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium

Hybrid Avalon comfy big sedan, easy on the gas …2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Sadly big comfortable sedans are about as popular these days as a new Nickelback album or The Dixie Chicks at a Texas veterans fundraiser.

Too bad because as passé as big sedans are, they can move a family of five in smooth, quiet comfort and also beat the exhaust pipes off a big SUV or Crossover for gas mileage. This week’s test car, a beautiful Parisian Night Pearl (dark metallic blue) Toyota Avalon Hybrid is a sparkling example.

The Avalon does basically everything well. Its ride is near perfect, comfortable and well controlled. This is no floaty boat as in olden days when sedans seemed to ooze down the highway. Avalon’s four-wheel independent suspension handles rough roads with ease. Yet the car is responsive enough to feel well connected to the road.

Steering is on the light side in the car’s normal setting, but switch it to Sport and steering effort is firmed enough to feel more like a luxury sport sedan without requiring six-pack abs.2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

That Sport setting, engaged via a button on the console, also brings to life the silky smooth 2.0-liter I4 that’s coupled with a hybrid system that powers an electric motor at low speeds when gas engines are at their least efficient. Like other hybrids that electric power comes from batteries that are juiced up by a regenerative braking system. Read more »

3
Mar

2017 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country

Volvo ‘s V60 Cross Country touts pizzazz, not smooth ride …2017 Volvo V60 Cross Country

Volvo’s V60 Cross Country wagon/crossover wisely borrows some styling pizzazz from the likes of Mazda, then goes about saturating the vehicle with its usual core competency, safety.

Pretty nice combo, but it ladles on enough luxury to push the V60 to luxury-level pricing, but without the ride to match.

You can look at the V60 competing on two ends of the wagon/crossover spectrum, starting with Subaru’s Outback, which is considerably less expensive, but has a nicer ride and at least as much off-road capability. Or you could look at the Volvo competing with the likes of BMW or Audi wagons and small crossovers, in which case the V60 is a bit less pricey at its base level, the T5 Drive E that starts just above $37,000.

The V60 Cross Country is fully a luxury crossover with the intent of being amenable to going off road. At 7.9 inches, its ground clearance is greater than the standard V60. The sharp looking metallic bronze test car though added a Platinum package, plus four others to go from a $41,700 base price to $50,130. I question how many buyers will be fording streams and straddling large boulders with such an investment.2017 Volvo V60 Cross Country

Certainly around town and on the highway the V60 Cross Country is a fun drive. Its peppy 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injection I4 kicks out 240 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Tromp the gas pedal and hold on, this will rock. There is one caveat though, the V60 suffers from major turbo lag at slower speeds when you get on and off the gas pedal frequently. My advice, try to plan ahead if you’ll need a burst of speed. Read more »

26
Feb

Die-cast: Replicarz’s 1964 Indy Smokey Yunick sidecar racer

PRE-RELEASE REVIEW:

Sidecar racer unique, weird, unsuccessful, but a cool die-cast model …Replicarz 1964 Smokey Yunick sidecar racer

The mid-1960s were a wild and revolutionary time for race car design and technology at the Indianapolis 500, the predominant race in the world at the time.

The era saw roadsters with their engines in the front replaced by racers, such as Lotuses, with engines in the rear. There were a variety of engines from Offenhausers to Fords to Chevys, plus some jet turbines that darned near won, twice.

Then there was the sidecar roadster created by master mechanic and designer, Smokey Yunick, who had already taken on the stock car world at Daytona and entered several cars over the years at Indianapolis, including a 1962 roadster with a giant wing over the hood and driven by 1960 winner Jim Rathmann.Replicarz 1964 Smokey Yunick sidecar racer

But by 1964, a pivotal and also disastrous year for Indy due to its worst and most terrifying crash that killed two drivers, Smokey had created what was commonly known as the sidecar racer, his Offset Roadster with sidecar. It carried his usual gold and black color scheme, and now Replicarz is creating it in 1/18 scale resin for us diecast collectors. Read more

24
Feb

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

New Hybrid Accord comfy family sedan with top-notch mpg …2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

            Honda’s Accord is a car that’s hard not to like. It’s comfortable, handles well and provides a first rate ride. There’s room for four or five adults and the trunk is sufficiently large. Sexy it ain’t.

Now add a hybrid power system and well, for many, yawning will ensue.

Honda though has tweaked its 2017 Accord to cut a few pounds, add a little overall length, which aids trunk space, and given it a 16-horsepower boost. Refinement defines the Accord, which has been around now for 40 years. Accord never has been about sexy, it has been about service. Owners get their money’s worth in fuel and design efficiency.

The new Accord hybrid punches up its pony power by 16, now at 212 horses, but still with a modest 129 ft.-lbs. of torque. The tested dark red Accord features a 2.0-liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder gas engine along with a hybrid electric system. Power is applied smoothly via the electronic CVT (continuously variable transmission), and the car is exceedingly quiet, inside and out.2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

But while the Accord cruises like a champ, it’s still fairly slow away from a stoplight and takes a while to wind up to highway speeds. There’s an Econ button to further slow the shifts to save fuel, but I left the test car in normal mode just for the small boost of power it provided. That said, there IS a Sport button on the console that actually gives the Accord more power away from a stop. You’ll want it engaged, a lot! Read more »

22
Feb

Die-cast: Automodello’s 1966 Ford Galaxie 500

Rare 7-Liter Hardtop beautiful in 1/24 scale …Automodello 1966 Galaxie 500 Hardtop

As a kid I saw a lot of Ford Galaxies around the neighborhood and some of my northern Indiana relatives who farmed had them and weren’t afraid to run them out in a cornfield if necessary.

But rarer was the Galaxie 500 7-Liter Hardtop, a luxury model that wasn’t afraid to lay a little rubber at a stoplight. That’s the cast resin model Automodello reproduces in popular 1/24 scale and paints up in a variety of historically accurate colors.

The History

While the Galaxie 500 debuted in 1965 it was the 1966 model that boasted a new 7-liter V8. This was Ford’s already powerful 390 V8 but enlarged to 428 cu.in. to create a real torque monster. Unlike the earlier 390 model this one could accommodate all the luxury options Ford packed onto its Galaxie 500 models to push them from standard family cars to luxury models.

So in addition to performance type power, the 1966 models had power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning. The 7-liter also could be coupled with an automatic transmission, something the earlier Ford 427 V8 designed for NASCAR use, could not.Automodello 1966 Galaxie 500 Hardtop

The new 7-liter model came only in hardtop and convertible models and sold well, about 11,000 units being made that year. By comparison, just 38 models were equipped with the horsier 427 V8 that year. Read more

17
Feb

2017 Volkswagen Passat V6 SEL Premium

New VW Passat hits for the cycle … 2017 Volkswagen Passat

            It may be a bit early in the calendar year to talk about hitting for the cycle, but the 2017 Volkswagen Passat does just that.

Rare is the mid-size car that delivers healthy power, refined handling and ride along with a quiet interior. Often a sedan with respectable power is noisy inside, or rides like a buckboard.

But the Passat is a pleasant blend that retains its sporty characteristics while delivering the “dreaded” practicality of room for five adults and their luggage, while also being a delight to drive and competitively priced. Its one drawback through the years (the car was redesigned for the 2016), has been reliability. The old model had issues. Time will tell if that monkey is off VW’s back for Passat, which is made in Tennessee.

From a driving standpoint I haven’t driven a more pleasurable mid-size car in ages. First, this pretty “Fortana Red” test car was the SEL Premium model with VW’s romping V6, a 3.6-liter number that creates a kickin’ 280 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled with a 6-speed automatic the power comes on in a hurry and gives the front-drive Passat major power.2017 Volkswagen Passat

Better yet, that power is smooth, not a burst as with the standard engine, a 1.8-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 170 horses. You’ll drink more gas with the V6, 20/28 mpg vs. 23/34 mpg for the I4. But I still got 23 mpg in a mix of driving that leaned more toward city speeds. Read more

16
Feb

2017 Chicago Auto Show

Cool new cars and fun stuff to do

Going to the Chicago Auto Show is one of our favorite trips of the year because we always have a great time. This year was no different. We captured some of it in the two videos below. If you’ve been thinking about going, and we recommend it, get a long little doggie, because it runs through February 20th.

10
Feb

2017 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD

New Nissan Pathfinder more civilized, comfy …2017 Nissan Pathfinder

My Navy son had a Nissan Pathfinder years ago and it was a true sport-utility truck, built on a truck chassis and able to go off-roading with the other utes of the day.

Pathfinder has been around now for 30 years, but those trucklike days are gone as more utes convert to crossover vehicles built on car platforms. That’s what the 2017 Pathfinder rides on. That makes for a more comfortable ride and more civilized vehicle.

The tested gold Pathfinder Platinum was the top-shelf model though, with a 4-wheel-drive system. Still, at nearly $45 grand I’m not sure I’d slop it through much mud and muck. That’s OK though, because precious few buyers ever took SUVs off-road, which has led us to the ever expanding crossover market. It makes sense to give drivers a vehicle more suited to 99.99% of their driving.2017 Nissan Pathfinder

Pathfinder’s new styling looks less boxy and trucky. It rides on a 114.2-inch wheelbase and feels as refined as any of its competitors, such models as Toyota’s Highlander, Honda’s Pilot or Hyundai’s Santa Fe. The interior is quiet and lathered in leather.

But it’s the Pathfinder’s power that’ll get your attention once you sit inside the roomy interior that will seat seven because of its third-row seat. Read more »

7
Feb

Die-cast: NEO’s 1933 Cadillac Fleetwood All-weather Pheaton

’33 Cadillac Fleetwood long on style …1933 Cadillac Fleetwood

There have been some fine luxury cars made in the United States, exemplary machines that set the auto world on its proverbial ear. Pierce-Arrow, Packard, Duesenberg, Auburn and Cadillac come to mind.

Only Cadillac is left, but that’s because GM kept it alive through the Great Depression when it was churning out some fantastic cars and engines in a weak market. One model sums up the strong Cadillac effort of that era, its V-16 powered Fleetwood All-Weather Phaeton.

Oh baby, this was a monster with a 149-inch wheelbase. That would make the current Cadillac Escalade SUV look like a mid-size vehicle as the Fleetwood base was 33 inches longer than an Escalade. Now NEO has created this elegant drop-top in 1/24 scale resin, and it’s a deep red beauty.1933 Cadillac Fleetwood

The History

The Fleetwood’s V-16 was new in 1930 and surprised the automotive world that thought the V-12 was the way to go. Caddy created an overhead valve 452 cu.in. V-16 that created 185 horsepower. It was linked it to a 3-speed synchromesh transmission, another Cadillac invention.  Cadillac kept pushing too, following in 1931 with a similar new V-12.

The massive car also featured four-wheel power-assisted brakes, a leaf spring for the front and rear suspension with a solid front axle and live rear axle. Read more »

3
Feb

2017 Infiniti Q60 Premium AWD

New Q60 emphasizes performance, but ride suffers …2017 Infiniti Q60

Driving similar cars back to back puts both into perspective, an unfortunate turn for the sporty Infiniti Q60.

I’d driven the Mercedes-Benz C300 coupe with 4Matic, its all-wheel-drive system, the week before I slipped behind the wheel of the new Q60, which replaces the fine G37 in Infiniti’s lineup.

The Benz and Infiniti are nearly identical in profile, length and wheelbase. But the Infiniti’s ride, no matter the Drive Mode, was inferior, and by that I mean harsh. The Infiniti felt like I was driving on square tires from time to time when the road surfaces turned crumbly. If you live in a southern clime, or California, where smooth blacktop is prevalent, this wouldn’t be an issue. In the Midwest it’s an issue.

Like the Mercedes, the Infiniti is strong on power and handling. This is a luxury sport coupe with the emphasis on sport, so it actually feels sportier than the Benz. It packs more punch with its 3.0-liter V6 with twin turbos. It’ll crank 300 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. It feels powerful from the get-go and will zip away from a stoplight with help from its 7-speed automatic that allows for rev-matching manual downshifts. The Infiniti is fun from a performance aspect.2017 Infiniti Q60

Handling likewise is fairly firm in all modes and precise so the driver feels in total control. There’s even an all-wheel-drive system on the Premium model I drove, or you can go with the standard rear-drive. This AWD system did not seem to keep the car from spinning its wheels under heavy power on wet pavement as well as the C300 though. Read more »

1
Feb

For the Rekord

Photo: WikiCommons

Photo: WikiCommons

Spellcheck went crazy with this

Lots of red lines below my copy when I wrote this blog entry about the Open Rekord. It kept wanting to change it to “Record”. You know me and odd ball cars. I was actually running through eBay looking at promo models when I came across a Record, oops, Rekord. More about the promo model in a minute but first I needed to find our more about the real deal since I’d never heard of the car. This car was no one-hit wonder as there were approximately ten million sold between 1953 and 1986. It was produced by GM’s Opel brand and was the second best-selling brand in Europe behind the Volkswagen Beetle. Check out the spot but brush up on your German. Read more »

29
Jan

Die-cast: Auto World’s 1957 Ford Thunderbird

1957 T-bird wonderful in white! …1957 Ford Thunderbird

Early Thunderbirds were a lovely blend of two-seater styling and boulevard cruiser with dandy hooded headlights and tiny jet-like fins on the tail.

This was Ford’s effort to Americanize the sports car market that the British car makers had created after World War II, and it worked. Thunderbirds were around for a long time, although sadly they morphed into giant near luxury hardtops eventually.

Thankfully Auto World sticks with the two-seat 1957 Thunderbird for its new 1/18 scale diecast for the recently ended holiday season. This is Auto World’s third Holiday Muscle Edition vehicle and is done appropriately in snowy white.1957 Ford Thunderbird

The History

Thunderbirds, or T-birds to most of us, debuted in 1955 and the last one was made in 2005, 11 iterations in all. The last, was a retro model reflecting the styling and two-seat configuration of the original. It did not approach the success of the original. Read more »

27
Jan

2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe 4Matic

Mercedes’ sporty C300 coupe a smoothie …2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 coupe

            Mercedes-Benz is on a roll. Not only has its Formula 1 racing team dominated for three straight years, now its street cars are back on top of their game.

A couple years ago I sort of fell for the C300 sedan and now, in the dead of winter I get to drive the C300 coupe with 4Matic, Mercedes’ all-wheel-drive system. Glad I had the extra grip as we had snow and slush and sloppy roads during the test.

This model features slimming sporty coupe lines that make it stand out among today’s usual humdrum car designs. And while it leans heavily toward sport, the luxury and pleasantness of the sedan are ever present.

The C coupe rides on the same smoothing 111.8-inch wheelbase and weighs a bit more than the sedan at 3,770 lbs. The car feels deliciously well balanced.2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 coupe

As in the sedan Mercedes delivers a scrumptious blend of sporty power, the eager 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that kicks out 241 horses, and comfort. All that starts with a silky 7-speed automatic transmission that easily harnesses the turbo’s 273 ft-lbs. of torque, and cushions the ride with independent suspension at all four corners.

Ride is absolutely stellar, controlled and easy on the occupants, but still responsive enough to be sporty. Cornering is smooth and as precise as you want it to be courtesy of Mercedes’ Agility Select system that allows the driver to toggle through four settings, from Eco, to Comfort to Sport to Sport+. Read more

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