Tag Archives: car spotting

Car Spot: Volkswagen Westfalia Camper

It’s all about the adventure

It’s summer here in Wisconsin and that means the campsites are jammed. Camping is a big deal here. I know because I used to work for a local retailer that specialized in camping gear. This week’s spot has all the gear needed on four wheels, the Volkswagen Westfalia Camper. Affectionately known as the Westy by its owners it has a cult following.

Volkswagen Westfalia Camper
Found this Westy at the golf course I work at during the summer.

Maybe part of the reason for that cult following is because it first sold in the 50’s when split-windshield Kombis were sent to Westfalia-Werke in Rheda-Wiedenbrück for conversion into the camper. Later Vanagons and Transporters were used in the conversion and sent to Dormobile, EZ Camper, ASI/Riviera, Holdsworth, Danbury Motorcaravans until production ended in 2003.

Volkswagen Westfalia Camper
Top part pops up for more space.

Westys were sold through VW dealers worldwide. They even had a cool Tourist Delivery Program. Customers could pick up their new van in Germany, drive it in Europe, then VW would ship it to the customer’s home. Many campers were purchased by American servicemen and sent home in the 1950s and 1960s.

Owner of this Westy enjoyed Wisconsin’s great state parks.

With a four-cylinder engine putting out maybe 90 horses and rear-wheel drive Westys don’t go fast but if you’re going camping, what’s the hurry anyway? They’re are iconic, but they aren’t the best vans ever made and certainly aren’t luxurious compared to what’s out there right now. Not being aerodynamic, they are loud, hard to drive, and have a rough ride. Passengers in the rear will feel a sway and on windy days, so will those in the front. Visibility is great and the radiant heat from the sunlight streaming into the van quickly heats it up. You don’t want to be riding in one on a hot day, because owners say that you’ll feel like you’re in a hot tin can rolling down the road. Air conditioning was available but few Westys come with it. Automatic transmission models are out there, but they are hard to find.

Volkswagen Westfalia Camper
This Westy was super-clean

Owners who have a Westy say its like entering a relationship, a very passionate one, like your first boyfriend or girlfriend in high school who was both super exciting and hard to read. You don’t have to be a hippie to love these old hippy vans, and that means if you own one, you get to meet all kinds of neat people who, despite differences, will assume you’re a decent person by virtue of ownership. I’m in. Sounds like fun.

Volkswagen Westfalia Camper
Owners who have a Westy say its like entering a relationship, a very passionate one.

What are they worth now? Not a lot. I found several for sale, mostly in the mid-20s all the way up to $55,000. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the camping season here in Wisconsin.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out this week’s spot. Check out my other spots and Mark’s new vehicle reviews. Come back next week for another one of my spots along with some of its history and have a great weekend.


Car Spot: Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet

A fun little drop top

Now that the weather has finally started to get decent here in Wisconsin I’m starting to see summer cars like this week’s car spot. This car just exudes fun! The Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet is the convertible version of the Volkswagen Golf, introduced in 1979. For younger readers, there was a time on American roads that convertibles were an everyday sight. They were fun and stylish. We had an 85 Chrysler LeBaron and it was a total blast. Living here in Wisconsin, where summer is sometimes short, I had that top down when it was 50 degrees out.

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet
Fount this spot at the apartment complex our daughter lives at. In the upper left you can see the 86 Kawasaki 900 Ninja I just bought nearby.

It was a tough act to follow when VW replaced the Beetle Convertible with the Rabbit Cabriolet. Hitting the U.S market as their totally new compact, affordable convertible built with safety in mind. With the slogan ‘Sun, Moon and Cabriolet’ Volkswagen introduced the Golf Cabriolet on the market at February 14, 1979. The same year that Michael Jackson released Off the Wall and ESPN debuted on cable. The roof that folded all the way back, making it a hit with teens and younger drivers looking for something fun.

Just add sun. VW print ad.

With uni-body construction, and reinforcements welded in, it was built entirely at the Karmann factory, from stamping to final assembly. VW supplied the engine, suspension, interior, etc. for Karmann to install. The Karmann badges exist on all Cabriolets to pay tribute to the company that built the cars, from top to bottom; therefore, there is no such thing as a “Karmann Edition”.

RELATED Spot: See the VW it replaced and how I became caretaker.

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet Karman logo
Karman logo located on the lower right front quarter.

For improved rollover protection, and structural integrity, it featured a permanently installed roll bar attached to the B-pillar sort of looking like the handle of a picnic basket. It was the first car in this class to have a permanently installed roll bar. Power came from h a naturally-aspirated Inline 4 cylinder engine producing 97 bhp at 5400 rpm transmitted to the road by the front wheel drive with a 5 speed Manual gearbox. It was a huge hit, overtaking the Beetle Cabriolet in sales with 388,522 units built becoming the most successful cabriolet of its time. The car went through three more generations before being discontinued in 2002, replaced by the Volkswagen New Beetle Cabriolet and the Volkswagen Eos.

RELATED Spot: Early 60s VW Convertible

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet
REd was the color of the day as it was parked by two red BMWs.

The Cabriolet was sold all over the world, and sold under several names and special editions, including Wolfsburg models in the United States. A total of 684,226 Golf Cabriolets were sold. And because of that, they are super affordable. A quick search found a bunch of them for under 5 grand. Cheap fun during the summer.

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet Houndstooth interior
Original rare Houndstooth interior.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out this spot. Go and browse my other unique spots and if you’re in the market for a new car, Mark’s reviews. Come back next week for another one of my spots along with some of its history and have a great weekend.

Car Spot: 56 Lincoln Continental Mark II Custom Bubbletop

Wildness from the George Barris Kustom Shop

The 50s were a crazy time for custom cars. Builders were known for going way over the top in their creations and this week’s car spot, seen at this year’s Chicago Auto Show, is no exception.

56 Lincoln Continental Mark II Custom Bubbletop
If you look closely you can see a 56 Continental. That gold color, wow!

Created by Lee Wells, who worked for Barris, and a client who wanted to create a no-expense spared dream car. Under the hood is a Hillbourn fuel injected 368 cubic inch Lincoln V-8 with braided lines and tons of chrome, four carbs, and finned valve covers finish off the engine bay. Inside was Icelandic sheepskin floor covering, walnut dash, buckets seats all around that swivel outward, a TV, stereo tape player, electric razor (that’s a first I think in a custom car), and drink decanters.

RELATED Spot: See our coverage of the show.

56 Lincoln Continental Mark II Custom Bubbletop interior
An interior that would make most luxury cars look cheap

The Bubbletop Continental was a hit on the show circuit for decades and still attracted a decent amount of traffic at the show. Our daughter, Meg, who walked by while I was editing thought this looked like something out of The Jetsons.

56 Lincoln Continental Mark II Custom Bubbletop rear
Can you see George Jetson driving this?

Thanks for stopping by and checking out this car spot. There are lots of others. We also have a ton of car reviews so if you’re looking for a certain car, chances are we’ve reviewed it. Stop back next Friday for another one of my spots along with some of its history. Have a great weekend.

Car Spot: 1992 Mini Cooper

If ever there was an iconic British car, this is it …

I was surprised when I started writing this article that fuel shortages are nothing new. It was one in 1956 that was the push British Motor Corp. needed to develop the Mini. Introduced in 1959, it was the car’s space-saving transverse engine and front-wheel drive layout – allowing 80% of the car’s floor pan to be used for passengers and luggage, that influenced a generation of car makers.

1992 Mini Cooper
Please do not touch but please take me home.

So Sir Leonard Lord of the Morris Co. issued his top engineer, Alec Issigonis, a challenge: design and build a small, fuel-efficient car capable of carrying four adults, within the economic reach of just about everyone. As fate would have it, the challenge of fitting so much function into such a small package inspired a couple of historic innovations.

RELATED Spot: Its upscale British cousin, the Bently S1

The car and company have gone through a few owners. Originally made by BMC, thata firm becamse part of British Motor Holdings in 1966. It then merged with Leyland Motors in 1968 to form British Leyland. In the 1980s British Leyland broke up, and in 1988 Rover Group, including Mini, was acquired by British Aerospace, yup the same company that makes jets. Mini models included the Morris Mini-Minor, the Austin Seven, the Countryman, Moke, 1275GT, and Clubman. Through a partnership with British racing legend John Cooper, a number of performance models were introduced. The original Mini continued in production until 2000.

RELATED Spot: Its more famous relative.

1992 Mini Cooper logo

More changes came in 1994 when the Rover Group was acquired by BMW with BMW retaining the Mini brand. Development of a modern successor to the Mini began in 1995 and an entirely new Mini was launched in 2001 by BMW.

1992 Mini Cooper interior
Rare right-hand drive model in the US.

It remains a cult classic today. I found this 1992 example for sale at a shop that specializes in classic cars. Not a lot of miles and with a price tag of $22 grand perhaps a bit on the high side since the most expensive ’92 I found on Bring a Trailer was $19,000. Still not a lot of money for a car that is a ton of fun and sure to get noticed at any Cars and Coffee event or summer car show.

1992 Mini Cooper rear
An iconic shape from the front and back,

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check back next week for another one of my spots along with some of the history of the vehicle. Tell your friends and have a great weekend.


#Mini Cooper


Car Spot: Rare 1979 VW Convertible

UPDATE: How I was the temporary Caretaker …

This is an update of a blog post I did a year ago in February. When you think about all the cars that were made since the history of cars, there’s one that just about guarantees a smile every time you see one, the VW Beetle. I’m talking about the original Type 1 Beatle, not the most recent version that just went out of production. The subject of one in this blog entry is a 1979 Convertible.

Mint 1979 VW Convertible

The one that got away

If you’re any kind of car geek like me, you remember your first car, or one you owned very early on and wish you had it again. Mine was a 1970 AMX in this case Dan Chaudoir’s was this Beatle. Like any good dad, put his family first so had to let one like this go to put bread on the table and sold it. Flash forward to last year and Dan lets me know that he’s looking for another ’79 convertible Florida Blue just like this one. I found several of them but none were really in great shape and the one was located in Finland. Go figure, drop-top in a cold climate. Not that Wisconsin isn’t. The hunt was on.

Related: This might have been Paul’s 1970 AMX

I had kind of forgotten about the search for a while when a got a call from Dan who had found one in Florida not in Florida Blue but in Nepal Orange. Of course, there’s a story behind this. He had found it originally on Bring A Trailer but it had been sold. He left his contact information with the seller in case things didn’t work out on the sale. You guessed it, he got the call because the sale fell through. So Dan does the deal and arranges for transportation from Jacksonville to Fort Meyers.

Dan’s VW in Door County

The Beetle led a very charmed life. It was part of a collection in a museum in South Carolina for 13 years and then sold to the collector that Dan bought it from. It had just over 12,000 miles. This bug is cherry and all original. The body has no dents or scratches and the paint looks like it just came off the showroom floor. The chrome and other brightwork are also in excellent shape. The interior has no rips or tears and the rubber isn’t even cracked.

A pristine interior

Mechanically it is sound. All U.S. Beetle Convertibles in 1979 featured a 1,584-cc horizontally opposed, OHV four-cylinder engine. With Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection, the air-cooled engine was rated at 48 horsepower at 4,200 rpm when new. The engine looks new. The four-speed manual is in great shape too. I remember Dan taking me for a ride in it and warning me of the neck-bending acceleration. I’m kidding. It goes 0-60 when it’s ready.

Like new engine.

1979 was the last full year for the VW Beetle in the U.S. and VW built 1,156,455 vehicles in 1979 but only 10,681 were Super Beetle cabriolets sold in the U.S. Production. It listed at $6800 and today has become a fairly collectible car. According to Hagerty prices range from #4 Fair: $9900, #3 Good: $17,200, #2 Excellent: $44,500, and #1 Concours: $62,000. Hagerty defines Concours as “the best in the world. The visual image is of the best vehicle, in the right colors, driving onto the lawn at the finest Concours. Perfectly clean, the vehicle has been groomed down to the tire treads. Painted and chromed surfaces are mirror-like. Dust and dirt are banned, and the materials used are correct and superbly fitted. The one-word description for a #1 vehicle is “Concours.” With very little effort this big could fall into that category. Dan even kept the original tires although it rides on new ones now. This Florida Blue Convertible with just 94 miles (that is not a typo) sold for$65,625 on Hemmings.

Photo: Hemmings

How I became Caretaker

Dan took delivery of the car in mid-July and drove it around his summer home in Sturgeon Bay, WI but unfortunately did not get much time to enjoy it as he passed away in October of 2021.

Dan with the top down at his place in Florida

I’m not exactly why his wife Jody chose me to be the caretaker but am happy to do it. Maybe it’s because I Iove classic cars or maybe I’m the only one she knows that can drive a manual transmission.

Related: Read about the VW fleet in Oshkosh

I drove it down from Sturgeon Bay to Jody’s home in Grafton with my daughter Meg last Fall abiding by Dan’s wish, taking the scenic route, and not going over 60 mph. In some ways, this car is like Jeep Wranglers and older CJ’s because there was always a smile when I stopped for gas or was passed on the highway.

Grandpa meets one of the kids at a pit stop along the way home

Here’s the big update to the story. Jody decided that the bug should have a new home and it was just recently sold to a new owner in France. We’ve already said our goodbyes and hope to someday go visit the VW. Thanks for stopping by and check back next week for another spot along with some of its history. Have a great weekend.

Car Spot: Aston Martin V12 Vanquish

A James Bond car

I’m always on the lookout for my next good spot but the other day, out for a ride on my bike, I spot “The Spot” this Aston Martin Vanquish

Boy did I make a quick U-turn after seeing it drive by. I was lucky that traffic was light on Easter Sunday, and just by chance, the owner had to grab some paperwork at a local title loan place.

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish
Out for a drive on a nice day. The weather is warming up here in Wisconsin so I’ll see a lot more cars like this out now.

Pretty sure this is a V12 Vanquish and not an S version because it would have had the badging on the trunk just to the right of the license plate holder, or boots as they call it in England. This, I’m going to call it an icon car, was introduced in 2001 as the successor to the Aston Martin Vantage at the 2001 Geneva Motor Show and was produced from 2001 to 2007 as the flagship of the marque and was built to display the company’s vision for a future sports car.

RELATED Spot: See its cousin the Bentley S1

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish
Vanquish S logo would have appeared right by the Wisconsin license plate.

The naturally aspirated V12 engine produced 460 hp at 6,500 rpm. controlled by a drive-by-wire throttle and driven by a 6-speed automated manual transmission. With all that power, extra attention was taken to stopping it. The Vanquish featured 14.0-inch drilled and ventilated disc brakes with four-piston calipers, and ABS, with electronic brake distribution. Inside was full instrumentation, advanced electronics, and a choice of leather upholstery with metallic details.

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish brakes
4-piston calipers front and rear help stop the Vanquish.

The automotive media loved this car that was driven by James Bond in the 2002 film Die Another Day. In addition to delivering impressive figures including an acceleration of 0–60 mph in under 5 seconds and a top speed exceeding 190 mph. Road tests they loved its powertrain, chassis, advanced engineering, and design. The V12 Vanquish was described without caveat as “The ultimate Grand Tourer” by Road & Track magazine. Car and Driver described the V12 Vanquish as “worthy of the marque’s heritage and a serious alternative to the top Ferrari.” Wow, big, big words.

RELATED Spot: Not even close to being as cool, the Rolls Royce Cullinan

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish logo
I made sure that I didn’t leave any drool after taking this picture.

Of course with all this fun comes a price tag. A 2023 will set you back $173,086. And unlike cars like the Bentley Continental, which values drop like a rock later on, this car doesn’t. The lowest price one for sale I could find was a 2019 at just under 94 grand.

Thanks for stopping by and reading about this spot. Be sure to check out my others along with new car reviews Mark does. Check back next Friday for another spot and have a great weekend.

Car Spot: 1980 Briggs & Stratton Six-Wheel Hybrid Concept

Yup, the people known for making great small engines came up with this.

This spot is sort of special to me because Briggs & Stratton is located right here in Milwaukee, and has been manufacturing small engines since 1908. If you have a lawn tractor, chances are it has an engine they manufacture. It also turns out that one of my flying buddies, Mike Dorna, works as Manager-Rapid Prototyping Center there. So we were talking one night over some beers about hybrid cars and the conversation turned to Briggs & Stratton developing a hybrid way back in 1980, 17 years before the Toyota Prius hit the market.

Briggs & Stratton Hybrid still looks good today.

This was a strictly one-off concept designed to be a technology demonstrator. It was put together using Ford Pinto front end and Volkswagen Scirocco doors, along with custom panels created by Brooks Stevens who lived in Milwaukee and was also a designer of the 60s era Jeeps. If you squint, you can sort of see elements of a 1980s L-Body Dodge Charger.

Concept are designed by Brooks Stevens from Milwaukee. Briggs & Stratton photo
A perfect vehicle for the early adapters. Briggs & Stratton photo

The idea behind this unusual hybrid was to showcase a more efficient way of travel and, in style. In theory, the electric motor and its instant torque would be used to get the car up to speed, then the gasoline engine would be used to maintain highway speeds. The top speed was just over 60 mph, but in 1980 the U.S. national speed limit was 55 mph so, in theory, this car could easily run within the limits of the law.

RELATED VIDEO: Learn more about the car and see it drive

Engine compartment with electronics towards the rear.
Batteries in the rear. Disconnected since it’s not in use.

Briggs & Stratton built this six-wheeler concept, giving the 12 Globe Union 6-volt batteries their own driven axle. With this additional 72-volt system at the rear, the company’s parallel hybrid was capable of 68 mph on its combined power and they hired Richard Petty to prove it. The 6-volt lead-acid batteries would also grant Briggs & Stratton’s 3200-pound hybrid a pure electric range of at least 45 miles. and giving it a combined mileage of around 30 mpg. Think about that. Doesn’t seem like a lot but the majority of hybrids we test can only go 20 miles on more powerful and lighter batteries. It also featured disc brakes at the front to handle the mass, a Recaro interior and had the unmistakable sound of an air-cooled industrial flat-two.

An interior right out of the 80s complete with Recaro seats and manual transmission

The car toured the country, taken to events in a special trailer sharing with the public what Briggs & Stratton could do. The last time it was on the road was in March of 2020 when on the streets of California, Jay Leno and a Briggs & Stratton Engineering Technician achieved 60 mph. Keep in mind that this was with just an 18-horsepower air-cooled twin-cylinder Briggs engine under the hood. An electric motor is connected to the engine, which then connects to a four-speed manual transmission sending power to the first set of rear wheels. The second set was just there to handle the extra weight of the batteries.

Jay Leno with the Briggs & Stratton Hybrid. YouTube screenbgrab

The Briggs & Stratton Hybrid concept cost a quarter of a million dollars to build, and when it was unveiled in 1980 there was no clear path forward for the vehicle. The company had no plans to put it into production and is the only one of its kind but it displays a shocking amount of hybrid technology that was far ahead of its time. Today this one-time star sits quietly in the museum located at the company’s headquarters in Milwaukee along with Briggs & Stratton’s other historical accomplishments.

Almost looks like a fastback.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out our blog. Have a great Easter! Check back next week for another spot along with some of its history and have a super weekend.

Car Spot: Rolls-Royce Cullinan

How can an SUV be ugly and extremely expensive at the same time?

“From urban adventures to journeys into the wilderness” from the description on their website. Really? So you mean to tell me that I might see owners of this vehicle, which can cost close to half a million bucks, on the same trails as Jeeps, Broncos, and other SUVs? Not buying it.

Spotted this Cullinan while down at this year’s Chicago Auto Show.

In 2018, reluctantly followed Bentley and Lamborghini venturing into the SUV business with the Bentayga and the Urus which has become globally its best seller. A huge departure for the luxury British carmaker, which has a long history of producing luxurious passenger cars. It gets its name from the world’s largest uncut diamond. It sort of looks like a Rolls Royce Phantom that has been making too many stops at fast-food restaurants. It is a sure head-turner on the road but its enormous grille, flat sides, and boxy roofline won’t appeal to everyone. Yup, got that one right.

The Spirit of Ecstasy, also called Eleanor, Silver Lady, or Flying Lady adorns this Rolls-Royce.

The Cullinan comes with just one engine, a 6.75-liter V12 that produces 571hp and drives all four wheels through an automatic gearbox. This absolute beast of a vehicle can do 0-60mph in just 5.0sec. Its top speed is electronically limited to 155mph. It’s rated at 12 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway which isn’t that bad considering its size and engine.

RELATED Spot: 71 Rolls-Royce Corniche Convertible

Inside the spacious cabin is lined in box-grain leather, lambs-wool carpeting, beautiful wood trim, and milled aluminum accents. The vehicle’s liftgate configuration allows the brand to fit the cargo area with an optional Viewing Suite consisting of a pair of leather-wrapped seats and a small table that pop out of the floor. This is by far the most luxurious way to take in a polo match at the country estate. Yup, not seeing it at any off-road events.

Opulence doesn’t begin to describe this interior.

The Cullinan’s arrival in showrooms in 2019 quickly translated into an order bank that was full through July and showed no signs of stopping. So much so that it added workers at its lone production plant in Goodwood, England. This was Rolls-Royce’s best-selling model last year although the company won’t provide exact numbers for each model. Keep in mind that this is a high-profit vehicle so they don’t have to sell a lot of them. With a base price of $355,000, they can be optioned all the way up to 600 grand! This one was $460,000. Wow that’s about what our house is worth. Just for grins I had some fun with numbers. On a zero-interest 48-month loan, monthly payments would be $9,583! With no interest! Wowy wow wow!

It’s Rolls-Royce’s best-selling vehicle.

Thanks for stopping by and checking us out. Be sure to hop back next Friday for another one of my car spots along with some it its history. Have a great weekend.

This one at Chicago Auto Show, $468,750

Car Spot: The AMC Mighty Mite

The Jeep before they bought Jeep.

Being an AMC guy, I get a fair amount of abuse but I remind those abusing me of the innovative vehicles the company came out with in response to the market. One example is this week’s car spot, the Mighty Mite.

Found this example at the Russell Military Museum just south of Kenosha where the Mighty Mite was built. They also have lots of Jeeps built for military purposes.

So back to the response to the market thing. In the early 50s, the Marine Corps was looking for a lightweight Jeep-like vehicle and it had to fit in five main requisites. 1: weight not to exceed 1500 lbs. 2: High mobility and maneuverability. 3: Small, yet sufficient cargo and towing capacity for usual military duties. 4: Ease of maintenance and reliability. 5: Versatility to enable it to the various needs of the infantry. But they couldn’t find a manufacturer until, you guessed it, tiny AMC raised its hand in 1959 to say they could swing it.

That’s AMC president George Romney in the passenger seat in this press image.

So the reason for the weight limit is that helicopters of that era didn’t have great lifting ability. they wanted to be able to load a bunch of these vehicles along with the other stuff they would need on maneuvers. This, as it turns out, was way ahead of its time. The body was made out of aluminum, as are the axle center sections, transmission, and engine.

RELATED Spot: A classic CJ-7, the Mighty Mite’s big brother.

There were two wheelbase versions, 65 and 71 inches. The overall length is 6 inches longer at 113. The suspension is all independent and apparently balanced well enough to allow the removal of a rear wheel and it will still drive on the remaining 3 left. The brakes were inboard front and rear. Power is from an AMC all-aluminum air-cooled V4, 108 cubic inches producing 55 horsepower at 3,600 rpm and 90 lb-ft of torque at 2-3000 rpm. I could run on 80-octane gas.

RELATED Spot: The Mighty Mite’s great uncle, the M715.

55 hp baby and it would run on just about anything.

Ok, keep in mind this is the government we’re dealing with here and by the time the Mighty Mite started rolling off the Kenosha Assembly line helicopters started getting more powerful and the need for the Mighty Mite was gone. Somewhere between 4 and 5,000 were made when production ended in 1962. But, as it turns out, AMC wasn’t out of the military contract business for long because, in 1970, they bought Jeep Corporation.

They came down the same assembly line as these Ramblers did.

What are they worth now? You can grab these, if you can find one, pretty cheap for well under 20 grand. Of course, there are exceptions. This 1963 sold at an RM Sotheby’s auction in October 2020 for just over $47 grand.

Photo: RM Sotheby

Thanks for stopping by and checking us out. Come back next week for another car spot along with some of its history. Have a great weekend.

Car Spot: Chevy Cobalt SS

A supercharged rocket

Introduced as a 2005 model, the Cobalt was GM’s most ambitious attempt to go fender-to-fender with compact Asian imports. It had a tough act to follow replacing the Cavalier. Motor Trend loved it saying it was solidly built, suitably refined, and attractively priced, it’s an American car that can compete with its foreign rivals. Let’s put a pin in that and come back to it later because it’s the SS model that is a real hoot and this week’s car spot. Sure they gave it a huge rear wing but more important is that the SS is supercharged putting out 205 horsepower, quite a lot for a 2,800-pound compact.

Cobalt SS in the Paddock area at Road America waiting to compete in the Winter Autocross Event I was also in which was a total blast.

In Motor Trend testing, the Cobalt SS was the fastest regular-production front-drive car through the slalom they’d tested in three years, faster through the cones than the new Corvette Z51. The SS out-cornered the VW R32 on the skidpad, outgunned the MINI Cooper S 0-to-60 mph, and out-stopped the Subaru Impreza WRX 60-to-0 mph. I had a chance to ride along with the dad and daughter of this Cobalt SS at Road America’s Winter Autocross Series when I ran my 22 Jeep Compass in. This car is a little rocket and it was really cool to hear the whine of the Roots-type Eaton blower pumping 12 psi of boost.

I kept up with it on the shorter circuits but on the long ones it was no match for my Jeep.
It was a father and daughter driving. This is her first car. Photo: Road America

Now let’s get back to the 800-pound gorilla in the room, GM quality. In typical form with the company cutting corners, there were lots of recalls. It began in November 2004 with a small recall on the new-for-2005 Cobalt due to a headlight shield that could loosen and cause additional glare for oncoming traffic affecting just 1,378 vehicles. The numbers kept getting worse with several more recalls for a variety of issues. In March 2010, GM conducted its largest Cobalt recall to date, 905,000 examples of the 2005-2010 Cobalt and 2007-2009 G5 (its Pontiac cousin), for a bad power-steering system that could make the car harder to turn at low speeds.

RELATED Video: I ride along with the father/daughter team at the Road America Winter Autocross Event.

First big clue it’s an SS is its big spoiler

A guy that I used to work with has a SS and he told me that once you get past all the recalls, it was a pretty decent car and a blast to drive. America put up with all the headaches because GM sold over a million of them before production ended in 2001 and the Cobalt was replaced with the Chevy Cruze in 2010. Just 3,168 Cobalt SS Turbo coupes were ever made, and the sedan is much rarer with just 474 being produced. What are they worth now? You can pick up one of these pretty cheap, under $5,000. The daughter was telling me that they picked up this one with a salvage title and another one as a parts car.

Cobalt in action. Road America photo

Thanks for stopping by and checking us out. Be sure to check back next Friday for another car spot along with some of its history. Have a great weekend.