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Car Spot: Pontiac Fiero

A fun two-seater that died way before its time

The more of these car spots I do and looking at the history of each vehicle I’m finding a common theme with those built by General Motors, great idea and crappy execution. This 1988 Fiero GT I recently spotted is another example.

The Fiero was conceived as a small, two-seat sports car with an all-new suspension and a V6 engine. Keep in mind that at GM the Corvette was sacred and reluctant to invest into a second two-seater so the Fiero was pitched as a fuel-efficient four-cylinder commuter car that just happened to have two seats, rather than a muscle car. Think oil crisis. This car was fast-tracked by engineers and they brought back a running prototype in less than six months.

But that was the easy part. Think big, over-bloated, don’t pee in my sandbox corporate GM. It was given a 400 million budget, small by GM standards, but how that money got spent was where the roadblocks began. Engineers were split into two categories, the car guys who would create blueprints for the car, and manufacturing guys who would work out the fabrication and assembly issues. Blueprints traveled back and forth between the two engineering branches, resulting in a waste of time and money. The project manager had to literally sit the two teams of engineers down next to one another, allowing for no excuses as to why nothing was getting done. Here’s an idea. How about building a car like American Motors did creating a platform team where everybody is all on the same team. Chrysler started doing that when they bought AMC in 1987 and it works great.

Love the rear spoiler and Corvette tail lights.

As the car started coming together it was looking pretty cool, sort of like a Ferrari or Porsche. Nothing like a typical GM car. The plan was for a, high-performance, aluminum-block V6, but the cost of developing a new engine would be more than the production of the whole car itself. In typical GM style they were forced to settle for the already manufactured four-cylinder engine, the “Iron Duke,” nicknamed for its heavy iron block. It didn’t fit so they put a smaller oil pan making the engine run on less oil. This was just one of many issues. Another was weak connecting rods that would shatter, blowing pieces through the engine block and dumping oil on hot exhaust components. There were several Fieros that caught fire because of this. Like other GM cars, to save costs, it shared components. Here’s a great example. The front suspension was derived from the Chevette. The automotive media’s response was “meh” but the car sold well and initially GM couldn’t keep up with demand when it debuted in 1984

The word Fiero means “very proud”, “fierce”, “bold”, “haughty” “cruel”, “severe” in Italian, and “wild”, “fierce”, or “ferocious” in Spanish.

But it took four years for the car to look like its original design. Finally, in 1988, numerous changes were made to the Fiero to bring it in line with its original design. The suspension was completely redesigned suspension to finally click with the mid-engine layout and included new two-piece brake calipers and upgraded brake rotors, items cut originally by GM. While the engines saw improvements, the planned turbochargers never came, sales were declining, and the years of mismanagement led to the cancellation of the car after the 1988 model year.

The car is cheap fun. The later years with the V-6 cost the most but are still very affordable. According to Hagerty one in Fair condition is under two grand. The four cylinders should be avoided. One in Concours condition goes for under nine grand. They are not trending up much at all. Too bad. This is one of those GM stories that could have been.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots and have a great weekend.

Car Spot: VW Scirocco

One of VW’s wind cars

The Scirocco first landed in North America in 1974 and Volkswagon’s intent for the coupe, with its edgy design, was to replace its aging bubbly-looking Karmann Ghia. VW’s Golf couldn’t be that replacement because that was intended to succeed the Beetle platform. The Scirocco was meant to be a more sportier than the Golf with sharper body lines and more complex engineering designed to deliver a different driving experience.

VW gave the three-door, front-engine, front-wheel-drive, sport compact hatchback two shots here in the US. from 1974 to 1992 and then again from 2008 until 2017.

Despite having crappy power and a four-speed manual transmission the car actually sold well. When Volkswagen brought it back in the second-gen model, they put in more fun with a 16-valve, 1.8-liter four-cylinder from the GTI. In all, nearly 800,000 units were sold worldwide between the two generations. Despite that VW decided to pull the plug and discontinued it in favor of its successor, the Corrado.

This second-gen one I found on a recent trip to Appleton, WI was is in line for a restoration. I made a quick check to one of my favorite place to look at cars I will never own, BringATrailer, I found them quite reasonable. First-gens were the cheapest going for around $5,000-8,000 while the second-gens with the 16V and five-speed selling for as high as $32,000.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another car spot and a little bit of history. Have a great weekend.

Car spot: AMC’s Javelin hit the mark

It took on the Big 3 and won

I’ll admit that I love American Motors cars. It seemed the company was always swinging for the fence with every new car. And they had to because they never had a big development budget.

Take for example the Javelin. Tardy to the pony car party in 1968. The Mustang started it all followed by the Camaro. Mopar had its Challenger and Barracuda. The first-gen Javelin did well and to prove it had performance chops, AMC took it racing in the Trans-Am series and it did well. Like its competition, you could buy one with a big V-8 and other performance goodies.

The second-gen debuted in 1971. Designed by Richard Teague, this was totally different than its predecessor. Longer, wider, and those hump bulges on each side of the hood. This was one of those designs that were hated or loved. I love it but blogging partner Mark Savage does not. To each his own. While it won the Trans-Am title, the pony cars’ days were numbered.

This second-gen 1974 I found on a trip up to Appleton, WI was the Javelin’s final year. Faced with tougher crash and emissions standards AMC decided to pull the plug. AMC estimated it would take $12 million in engineering and design work to revise the bumpers to meet the 1975 standards so that was it.

The first-gen Javelin sold just over 104,000 units, while the second-gen sold slightly less at just over 97,000 units. The most desirable in the first-gen would be the Mark Donohue and the same with the second-gen.

The plan I’m told for this car is to restore it and replace the 360 V8 in it with a 401. These cars are rapidly rising in collectibility. A 71 Pierre Cardin edition recently sold at a Mecum Auction for over $100,000. Not too long ago they were less than half that. Glad to see people appreciating these cars.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another car spot. And have a great weekend.

Car spot: Ok, this is a plane spot

It was the hotrod of private jets

Even at 68, I’m still a huge adrenaline junky. Not only do I love fast cars but also fast jets. Did I mention I’m a private pilot? I remember one day sitting in a lowly Cessna 152 with my instructor during my training. The plane was a great trainer, sturdy to handle my occasional hard landings and forgiving enough in the air to give me a break when I got too slow or heavy on the controls. If it was a car, it’d be the equivalent of a Toyota Yaris. The Cessna goes nowhere fast cruising at 111 knots or 123 mph. That would be fast for a car but slow for a plane.

I flew one just like this. Photo: Cessna.org

Ok, back to my training session. We were number two for takeoff behind a Learjet. Tower cleared the Learjet for takeoff and instructed us to taxi into position and hold meaning we line up on the runway and wait for the jet to clear the runway. My instructor said to me to watch that hotrod accelerate quickly and rocket into the sky over Central Illinois. I was mesmerized and even though that was about 35 years ago, I remember it vividly and I think of it every time I see this Learjet parked on the ramp abandoned at Crites Field located in Waukesha, WI about 10 minutes from my house.

Dergistered Learjet parked way away from the action at Crites Field.

The Learjet was the invention of Bill Lear. The first one took flight in 1963 and pretty much created the private jet market as we know it today. Before that, he was big into radio electronics inventing the 8-track tape player. Remember those? Now I’m really dating myself. The Learjet 23 could carry eight passengers at 560 mph and cost about $650,000 fully equipped, about $400,000 less than its competitors at the time.

The jet that defined Business Jet

This year Learjet, a Model 24e, manufactured in 1973, was parked and abandoned years ago by its owner. Most likely because its owners couldn’t afford the upgrades needed to keep it airworthy. According to the FAA, it has been deregistered. Owning a jet is not cheap. The purchase price is just the beginning of the huge money hole needed to own and operate a private jet. The engines need instructions and overhauls when reaching a certain amount of hours. All maintenance in airplanes is measured in hours, not miles. Smaller turbines can cost between $200,000 to $300,000 while the big ones can cost 3 million.

November 7 Echo Juliet is one lonely Learjet
So sad. I wish I could just take it home:)

What is this plane worth now? Almost nothing. I know the airport manager and he told me that they have stripped the avionics and other parts and sold them to raise money for special events. What’s its fate? The airport is planning on building hangars on this end of the runway so most likely it will be chopped up and end up in a dumpster. Yes, this really happens to old jets. I know this because of the time I worked at Midwest Express Airlines in Milwaukee, they had a DC-9 that they had retired and stripped, and that’s how that aircraft’s life ended. So this jet sits, for now, baking in the sun, like the Cessna 152, going nowhere fast.

Be sure to check back each Friday for another car spot, or plane spot, and have a great weekend.

Car Spot: Chevy SSR

A craft vehicle from Chevy that never took off

In the early 2000’s it seems that just about every manufacturer was into the retro movement. There was the Mini Cooper, new VW Bug, and PT Cruiser. One of Chevy’s entry was the SSR which stood for Super Sport Roadster.

Introduced in 2003 on New Year’s Eve, Chevy had big plans. It was built for speed and used GM’s 5.3 L 300 hp Vortec V8 making it go from 0-60 in 7.7 seconds with a 15.9 second quarter mile run at 86.4 mph. In 2005 the upped the hp to 390 by using the LS2 V8, the same engine found in the C6 Corvette. It was mated to a six-speed manual taking the 0-60 time down to 5.29 seconds. It also came with all the luxo items available at the time.

The manufacturing process was unusual to say the least. It rode on a GM368 platform specific to it, and featured a steel body retractable hardtop designed by Karmann and built by ASC. The front fenders, were made with deep draw stampings, a forming technique that had not been used in automotive stampings in decades. It sold for around 42 hundred bucks.

Despite heavy promotion, it was the 2003 Indy 500 Pace Car, it never sold well. On November 21, 2005, GM announced that it would close the Craft Center, where the vehicle was built, in mid-2006, and that was the end for the SSR. The final SSR, a unique black-on-silver model, was built on March 17, 2006. Total production was just 24,112.

Like the Cadillac Allante I shared a couple of weeks ago, the long term prospects for this GM oddball probably aren’t great. Giving it any juice right now is interest from retirement-age guys like me but the younger buyers, not so much. Even with a six-speed it’s not rare enough. So what are they going for now? According to the Hagerty Price Guide they are selling for slightly over their original sticker and the 2005 and 2006 LS2-powered SSR are the most desirable. It you’re looking for one of the 2,200 sold with a six-speed you’ll need to add, and in an extra 5 grand. I kind of like it because of its quirky design and how it stands out. I mean look, I saw this one in a grocery store parking lot next to the mundane SUVs and pick up trucks.

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots. Have a great weekend.

Car Spot: The much-maligned PT Cruiser

A car that could have been so much more …

Remember about 20 years ago when the car manufacturers were caught up in its nostalgia faze? That’s the period that gave us the new Mini Cooper, new VW Beetle, and Chrysler PT Cruiser. I know what you’re thinking. Either it was the coolest car or lamest car ever. That’s the way it rolled during its nine-year run from 2001-2010. But if you’re with the “lamest car ever” crowd I ask, how did it end up selling more than 1 million copies?

Clean PT Cruiser I spotted while on vacation in Fl

PT Cruiser was described as “segment busting” in the marketplace in its introduction where then Chrysler’s Dieter Zetsche (Remember: “Merger of Equals”) described it as a continuing example of the automaker’s innovation for new segments as well as “demonstrates that you can have head-turning style, practicality, and value all in one package.” The automotive press agreed. In 2001 Car and Driver named the PT Cruiser to its Ten Best list and the PT Cruiser also won the North American Car of the Year.

The interior packaging was noted for its high-roof, high h-point seating, and flexible cargo and passenger configurations—a multi-level cargo shelf as well as a fold, tumble, and removable rear seating. Chrysler designed the PT Cruiser to fit the NHTSA criteria for a light truck in order to bring the average fuel efficiency of the company’s truck fleet into compliance with CAFE standards. Engines included two four bangers, a six, turbo diesel, and turbo four. My mom had one of these and just loved it.

There were a bunch of updates and special editions available during the car’s, err truck’s, nine-year run. Among them, Classic edition, Limited edition, Touring edition, Couture edition, “Dream Cruiser”, “Street Cruiser”, “Pacific Coast Highway” edition”, and PT Cruiser GT. In fact, it was the ability to customize the PT Cruiser that made it so popular.

The non-GT Turbo (180 hp) edition models, introduced in 2004, were identified by a “2.4L Turbo” badge on the lower right-hand corner of the rear lift-gate like this one I found on a recent trip to Florida. The GT model, introduced in 2003, had a “2.4L Turbo High Output” badge on the right-hand corner of the lift-gate indicating the 215–230 hp engine version.

Car was originally going to be sold through Chrysler and Plymouth.

The car is a great example of a manufacturer simply forgetting about the car. Sales dropped off and the production run ended. But there is still a devout following for the car with owner groups all over the country. You can pick a GT up for under $3,000. Fun car for not a lot of money.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots and have a great weekend.

Car Spot: Cadillac Allanté

A Caddy with an Italian accent

I was a huge fan of the Dallas tv series that ran for 14 seasons beginning in 1978. One of the reasons was to watch bad guy J. R. Ewing played by Larry Hagman, screw his arch neminsis Cliff Barnes, played by Ken Kercheval. I remember well the car J. R. drove through parts of the series, a Cadillac Allanté.

With Mercedes and Jaguar chipping into Caddy sales in the 80s they were looking for something that would combine European design with a well-known coachbuilder and the Allanté was going to be it. I’m going to throw in a little bit of Nash history here because the Allanté utilized a similar international production arrangment as Nash did with its Nash-Healey in the early 50s where the bodies were built in Italy and final assembly was in the US.

Allanté in for service I saw on a recent trip to Florida.

But here’s where things get goofy. After the Allanté body was produced by Pininfarina in Italy, were then loaded on a specially equipted Boeing 747, flown 4,600 miles, 56 bodies at a time, landed at Coleman Young International Airport in Detroit and then trucked the final three miles to Cadillac’s then new Hamtramck Assembly Plant. The marketing guys came up with a name for this crazyness, the “Allanté Air Bridge”.

The car went head to head with the Mercedes-Benz SL and Jaguar XJS, and initially featured a slightly modified variant of the 4.1 L V8 used across Cadillac’s model line and later upped to 4.5 L in 1989, and upgraded to the 4.6 L L37 Northstar in its final year, 1993. It rode on a shortened the front-drive Eldorado frame.

The car was loaded with tech, especially for the time period, such as a Delco-GM/Bose Symphony Sound System, the industry’s first power retractable AM/FM/Cellular Telephone antenna, and a complex lamp-out module that substituted an adjacent lamp for a burned-out bulb in the exterior lighting system until the dead one could be replaced were all standard. There was just one option, a cellular telephone, installed in a lockable center console. The base price was $54,700 twice that of a standard Eldorado.

The first modern-era two-passenger roadster to wear the Cadillac name since the Cadillac Series 355 roadster body style of the mid-1930s was really too expensive to produce and there weren’t just that many takers, 21,430. The last Allanté built was flown from Turin, Italy on July 2, 1993, and completed at Detroit-Hamtramck 14 days later. This, to me, is another example of a big fail by GM and its history is full of them.

With such low numbers, you’d think that the Allanté might be a good investment as a collector car but you’d be wrong. A check on Hemmings and I found examples for around 10 grand all the way up to 60 grand. Still like many other examples I’ve shared in my spots, this one has a very loyal following.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots and have a great weekend.

Car Spot: Bugatti Veyron

A car for those with very deep pockets

A car that costs more than most homes and will go almost 400 miles per hour will always turn heads, whether it’s driving by or just parked. How many times have you said that if you won the lottery, you’d buy a Bugatti Veyron?

This is a car so many car folks lust for.

So let’s say you hit it big and have the $2 million to plop down to drive one home, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe that’s part of the reason you see them parked so much like this one a friend spotted while on vacation in Florida.

So the usual items that come with buying a car are oil changes, brakes, shocks, tires, and other maintenance items that come up. The cost of owning this ride can make your eyes water. Let’s start with the most basic item, oil and fluid changes. Bugatti recommends all fluids have to be changed each year and that costs a hefty $25,000.

Why? The car has 16 drainplugs and they are not easy to get at. A highly trained mechanic will have to take out the rear wheels and brakes, as well as the lining on the rear fenders along with the one underneath the back of the car.

But wait, there’s more! It will cost $6,400 to replace each individual turbocharger and around $9,000 in labor to replace a pair. An air cooler is $9,000, there are two of them. You would get off easy on the camshaft adjusters at about $800 per piece, but since the engine has to be taken apart, the labor costs are a killer at around $21,000.

How about tires? The car will do 0-60 in under three seconds and you know you’re going to do that often to impress your friends. Bugatti advises all Veyron owners getting new tires once every couple of years and a fresh set costs $38,000. We didn’t pay that much when we purchased our 2017 Jeep Compass.

Well as long as you’re getting new tires, you might as well get new wheels, right? They have to be replaced every 10,000 miles and that will set you back $50,000.  I’m not a math whiz but, you’d be looking at around $100,000 in maintenance costs in just a couple of years of ownership. But then again, how can you put a cost on fun?

Check back next Friday for another one of my car spots and have a great weekend.

Car Spot: Mopar madness

70’s classic muscle

The late 60s and early ’70s were great for car guys, and gals, because it was a great time to be into muscle cars. Every manufacturer had a solid foothold but I think Mopar did it best. Between its Dodge and Plymouth lines, you could really kick butt in any street race or at the drag strip. Mark and I went to a car show recently and found some cherry examples.

Based on Chrysler’s B body platform was the Dodge Super Bee. Originally produced from 68 to 71. This 69 1/2 is one of 51 Hemi Orange hardtops with the A12 package, four-speed manual, and bucket seats. The A12 option replaces the 383 4bbl with a 440 3-2bbl engine, including three 2bbl carburetors on top of an Edelbrock aluminum intake. A Hemi 4-speed transmission is standard with the 727 Hemi automatic being available as an option. The drive train upgrade also includes a 26-inch radiator with a 7-blade torque drive fan. Also included are the 9-3/4 Dana (410 gear ratio) rear end and four-wheel 11-inch drum brakes.

Right next to it was a 70 Super Bee. For the 1970 model, the Super Bee received a redesign and a new front end that consisted of a twin-looped front bumper that Dodge Public Relations referred to as “bumble bee wings”. 1970 was really the beginning of the end of the muscle car era as sales fell because of higher insurance rates for performance cars. Built at the St. Louis assembly plant, this came off the line loaded up with a 440 Hemi with three two-barrel carbs, bucket seats, 3.55 rear axle, Rallye Instruments, and more. The owner even has the original window sticker.

My favorite year for the Dodge Charger was 1970. This example was one of just 1,443 built with the four-speed as an RT. One item that you rarely see on one is a luggage rack.

The Dodge Aspen probably doesn’t come to mind when you mention Mopar Muscle but you could purchase one in 1977 that looked like this RT edition. The Aspen, along with its sibling Plymouth Volare replaced the Duster and Dart. This was a time when the manufacturers started to downsize reducing size and weight for improved fuel economy. Originally classified as compact cars, but were considered intermediate-sized cars by the end of their production run in 1980.

The R/T coupes were the performance trim levels. They came with E70x14 tires, “rallye” wheels, a grille blackout treatment, body striping, and identifying decals and medallions. A 360 V8 option was rated at a sad 170 hp. Not particularly quick in the quarter-mile, a Motor Trend test had them doing 17.4 seconds with a top speed of just 86 miles an hour. Yup, not fast and this was really the last shot at anything quick because their replacement was the K cars.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another car spot and have a great weekend.

Car Spot: 2nd gen Z28 Camaro

Iconic pony car took on the Mustang

The late 60s and early 70s were great times in the auto industry because it was all about American muscle. Ford had just launched the Mustang to kick off the pony car era and Chevy followed up with its answer, the Camaro. It first went on sale on September 29, 1966, for the 1967 model year. It was code-named Panther but in keeping with Chevy starting the name of every vehicle with the letter C, named Camaro. Automotive press asked Chevrolet product managers, “what is a Camaro?” and were told it was “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustang.

The Z28 was created at launch by Camaro to make them a force in SCCA’s Trans-AM series and that time from 69-72 was really its golden era.

RELATED: Read Paul’s post about racing Trans-Am on a budget.

This is a 1970-ish Z28 that I spotted in a garage while helping my daughter move into her new apartment. She actually saw the car first.

This is a second-gen Camaro that was totally different than the one it replaced. It featured a new Z28 engine that was essentially the same as a Corvette LT-1. But because in Chevy world the Corvette has to be the big dog the engine was rated at ten less horsepower (360 vs. 370), while torque ratings were the same (380 lb-ft). This one looks like a project that is close to completion, still missing the turn signals, front bumperettes, rear bumper, and tail lights. Definitely ready to race though with the wide-body flairs, spoiler, four-speed, and roll bars. I think it might make a great autocross car.

A quick check on Hemmings found these cars to be affordable selling for the mid-40s. Too bad the Camaro goes away in 2024 and be replaced by a four-door electric car. I call them toasters. What a wasted opportunity. Check back next Friday for another car spot and have a great weekend.

RELATED: Read Paul’s argument on why this rush to electric cars is crazy.