Author Archives: Steph Willems

About Steph Willems

A Canadian man with a love for cars, likely born 50 years too late.

Inherit the Wind(sor)

1962 Chrysler Windsor, spotted in Ottawa, Ontario.

1962 Chrysler Windsor, spotted in Ottawa, Ontario.

Mid-November in Canada, Ottawa especially, is a dark, grey, chilly affair.

With skeletal tree limbs stripped of leaves and an icy wind blowing from the north, it’s a grim portent of the frigid winter that will soon arrive.

Trudging along the edge of Centretown, past the cold, grey abutments of the Queensway, I happened upon a happy sight today. There, waiting for its owner to come back from Loblaws, was a perfect beater from the 1960s.

With its faded, blotchy paint gleaming unevenly under the harsh security lights, this aged but upright beast would have looked at home in southern California with a 1980s-era Nick Nolte behind the wheel.

The Windsor became the base full-size Chrysler in Canada in 1962, though most of the attention went to high-end New Yorkers and 300s.

The Windsor became the base full-size Chrysler in Canada in 1962, though most of the attention went to high-end New Yorkers and 300s.

It was a forgotten Canadian classic – a 1962 Chrysler Windsor.

The lowest rung on the Chrysler ladder, the Windsor (manufactured in Windsor, Ontario) was the Canadian counterpart to the base-level Newport in the U.S.

The Windsor name dates back to 1939, where it appeared on lower-level Chryslers on both sides of the border. In 1951 it became the new base model, with models like the Saratoga and New Yorker positioned above it.

After 1961 (which was a weird time for Chrysler), the base model divorced itself and took up a different name depending on which country it was sold in. On the outside, the stripped-down ’62 Chrysler wore the same body and front end as the ’61, minus the tailfins that were quickly going out of style.

From the rear, these models are nearly indistinguishable from their Dodge Custom 880 brothers, which isn’t surprising considering they shared a platform. Note the very plain-Jane hubcaps adorning this supposedly high-end marque – not something you’d want people to see at the country club.

Though it came in many body styles, including a graceful 2-door hardtop, the stodgier pillared 4-door was the most common Windsor on the road. Underneath the hood is a big-block 361 cubic-inch V-8, good for a healthy 265 horsepower.

A 1962 Dodge Custom 880. Notice a resemblance?

A 1962 Dodge Custom 880. Notice a resemblance?

Putting the power down in this model was Chrysler’s legendary Torqueflite A-727 transmission, generally regarded as one of the best and toughest automatics ever made.

In 1962, Chrysler was still outfitting its automatics with push-button shifting, a gee-whiz feature still in vogue at the time. Though you can’t see it in this shot, the steering wheel is of the translucent, tortoiseshell variety.

Very Kennedy era. Or Diefenbaker, if you prefer.

The Windsor nameplate soldiered on in the Canadian market until 1966, after which the base full-size Chrysler made amends with its American counterpart and became the Newport once again, lasting until 1981.

Eventually, this Windsor’s owner came out to see who the guy drooling on his car was. The remarkably young owner told me this relic – sourced from a seller in rural southeast Ontario – was his daily driver, at least until the snow flies.

Over the course of the winter, he planned to work on his prize, hopefully making it a little nicer come spring. For sure, it’s a model worth investing in.

21st century yacht

Mating size with technology, the flagship 2016 Cadillac CT6 goes on sale in the spring. (Image: General Motors)

Mating size with technology, the flagship 2016 Cadillac CT6 goes on sale in the spring. (Image: General Motors)

Having not sat in it, driven it, or lived with it, I can only say … I like it.

Cadillac’s 2016 CT6 – the automaker’s new flagship due out next spring – pushes the right buttons for me.

Long, wide, slab-sided and luxurious, it seems to be the classy, mildly understated range-topper that Cadillac has been missing for years.

Also appealing are its numbers.

The CT6 undercuts much of its competition by $20,000. (Image: General Motors)

The CT6 undercuts much of its competition by $20,000. (Image: General Motors)

Price-wise, at $53.495 (U.S., excluding delivery) for a rear-wheel-drive base model, it undercuts most of its competition by around 20 grand.

GM’s stalwart 2.0-litre turbo, making 265 hp, powers the entry level CT6. Another $2,000 will get you a 335 hp V-6, plus all-wheel-drive. This option seems to be the real bargain of the lineup.

At the top of the heap is a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 making 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. That’s right – there will be no V8 lurking under the hood of the top-end Cadillac.

All engine choices will be paired with GM’s 8-speed automatic.

Room to stretch out. (mage: General Motors)

Room to stretch out. (mage: General Motors)

If these powertrains sound like they’re offered with efficiency in mind, that’s a safe bet. Mileage figures haven’t been announced yet, but it’s reasonable to expect them to be very competitive (and attractive to the EPA).

Underneath the CT6’s big body is GM’s new Omega platform, meant for full-size, RWD vehicles. Made with plenty of high-strength aluminum, the light chassis will be able to take credit for some of the vehicle’s fuel economy.

GM says the girthy CT6 will weight in under 3,700 pounds, which is less than the curb weight of the AWD version of the smaller CTS. Most luxury compact crossovers weight more.

Fuel-saving technology like this wasn’t a consideration back in the days when the only concern for Cadillac engineers was style and luxury. But, times change, and the penalties for not keeping up – especially for an automaker – are numerous, and severe.

From a distance, the CT6 seems like the bridging of two eras. Size, style and luxury hopping in bed with technology and economy to create a car that will satisfy a traditional Florida retiree, a budget-minded first time luxury shopper, and the EPA.

No doubt Cadillac is hoping for this response.

New York boardooms and Fort Lauderdale early bird dinners await! (Image: Geeral Motors)

New York boardooms and Fort Lauderdale early bird dinners await! (Image: Geeral Motors)

Earth tones

This young couple knows what colour floats their boat.

This young couple knows what colour floats their boat.

The 1970s are known for a lot of things – Watergate, the Oil Crisis, disco, leisure suits, ABBA – but it will also be known for a singular colour.


Yes, the crayon everyone ignores was the shade of choice in this heady, wide-lapelled decade. Its offshoots were there too – tan, beige, bronze, copper – rounding out a colour palate that went perfectly with sunflower yellow and olive green, seemingly the next most popular shades.

Proudly carrying the brown flag for GM was the Pontiac Catalina.

Proudly carrying the brown flag for GM was the Pontiac Catalina.

Definitely, you wanted a car that matched your wardrobe, kitchen, rec room, and drinking glasses. (Check out how far the indoor trend went here.)

As everyone knows, I have a distinct passion for land yachts of this era. Yes, show me a Baroque barge with a detuned engine and a landau roof, and I’ll start salivating like Pavlov’s dog.

So long, so heavy, so underperforming, so plush, and often, so BROWN. These are the cars that would be piloted by a bad guy’s henchmen as they shadowed Jim Rockford or Detective Kojak through the grimy streets of Gerald Ford-era America.

Gazing at one of these block-long wonders, you can almost smell the velour (or vinyl) seats, deep-pile carpet and fake wood veneer that lurks within, waiting to surprise a lucky driver with an explosion of tacky opulence.

Everything about them hinted at a decadent lifestyle of excitement and pleasure, slathered in brown (brown everywhere!), just like in this homoerotic, Japanese cologne commercial starring Charles Bronson:

Nothing lasts forever, as the saying goes, and as the decade drew to a close, so did the earth-toned excess. A new era of taste and sophistication was dawning – one that would bring pastel shirts and rayon blazers, neon bike shorts, turbocharged fours, cocaine-filled speedboats and minivans.

Every brown box checked.

The fuselage-bodied Chryslers and Lincoln-Mercury barges of the early 70s adopted the brown motif like it was going out of style. Which it was.

With hindsight being 20/20, maybe the gold/brown/orange/tan/beige/copper/bronze paint and polyester of the ’70s wasn’t the worst thing ever thrust on Western society.

While the earth tones era covered seemingly everything in a layer of mud, its important to remember that car colours regularly go through phases of popularity.

Who can forget the ‘champagne metallic’ (bright beige) cars of the mid-to-late 1990s?

And how about silver? At one point in the previous decade, nearly half of new vehicles hitting the road were silver.

What’s funny about these phases is that in the early years of motoring, few cars were any colour other than black. Ford Model T ads of the early 20th century poked fun at this byproduct of assembly line manufacturing, declaring that a customer could have any colour they wanted, as long as it was black.

In the late 1950s, customers of nearly every manufacturer could order tri-coloured cars in dozens of combinations. Tu-tone colour combinations lasted until the 1980s, though were not nearly as popular by then.

'Elite' is right. No one would argue with that color.

‘Elite’ is right. No one would argue with that color.

Nowadays, it’s normal to see a car or crossover offered in just five colours – usually black, white, grey/silver, blue and red.

Why the consolidation? Ask a manufacturer. Dollars and cents. Too much choice affects the bottom line, as there will always be an unpopular option that can be jettisoned. ‘Close enough’ rules when car colours are concerned.

After all, it’s the car and all that technology and luxury underneath the paint you’re interested in, right? Why offer limitless paint colours when we can settle on an abbreviated palate that satisfies most people most of the time.

Heck, offering questionable colours could leave some cars sitting unsold on the lot!

So predictable are today’s colours that it’s nice to see someone offering choice, even if it’s something you or I wouldn’t go for. Hats off to Dodge for taking that plunge.

I give them four out of four ABBA’s for their bravery.


‘M’ is for ‘Mostly Forgotten’

1965 Mercury M-150 pickup, spotted near Arnprior, Ontario.

1965 Mercury M-150 pickup, spotted near Arnprior, Ontario.

Perched atop this pile of scrap in an Eastern Ontario junkyard is a little piece of Canadian automotive history.

No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks. That’s a Mercury half-ton pickup up there, slowly reverting back to nature now that its road-going days are long over.

A rarity nowadays, Mercury pickups used to be common in Canada. Sold between 1948 and 1968 – with surplus models trickling out until 1972 – the Mercury M-150 was a made-in-Canada solution for Ford of Canada’s problem.

It's not hard to see the Ford DNA in this Mercury pickup grille chart.

It’s not hard to see the Ford DNA in this Mercury pickup grille chart. (Via…)

The problem? Canadians liked buying Ford trucks, but not every postwar town had a Ford dealership. With distances being what they were (and still are, in most areas), that meant pickup buyers might be forced to visit their handy Dodge or GMC dealers instead.

The coverage problem was solved by making a rebadged Ford pickup that could be sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers.

The badge said Mercury, but underneath the familiar exterior the M-150 was all F-150.

Anyone looking for a unique collectible could do worse by finding a roadworthy (or restorable) M-150 to play with. Buy an F-150 and a Lincoln Blackwood to go with it and you’d have a FoMoCo trifecta!

Dieselgate: the prequel

Where there’s smoke, there’s scandal

Long before aging hippies and more respectable members of the general public fell victim to the Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal, there was the Oldsmobile diesel.

"Das problem"

“Das problem”

Born of high oil and gasoline prices at the tail end of the turbulent 1970s, GM’s diesel engine (in 4.3-litre and 5.7-litre guises) seemed the answer to many consumer demands – better mileage, more power, cheaper operating costs.

By the dawn of the 80s, diesels were slapped into nearly everything GM produced, from low-end Buicks to Cadillacs.

Sales peaked at 310,000 in 1981, representing 60% of the diesel market in North America – no small feat considering the amount of Mercedes, Volvo and, yes, Volkswagen diesels being imported at the time.

Just watch this breezy and glamorous promotional video for the 1980 diesel Oldsmobiles.

Seems like a dream come true, right?

Well, the dream of the 80s didn’t stay alive for long.

Customer frustration grew after people had lived with their diesel Oldsmobiles for a while. Poor performance, noise and unreliability emerged as the biggest complaints, and the engines were phased out of the GM lineup by 1985.

So derided were the rumbling power plants, that it created a stigma around diesel that continued in American to this day.

Earlier this year, that stigma seemed to be lessening. Volkswagen TDI models were still rolling steadily off lots in the U.S. and Canada, as they had been for years, while the light-duty 3.0-litre EcoDiesel was being lauded for its use in Ram pickups and the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Chevrolet’s popular Cruze had just become available with a powerful 2.0-litre turbodiesel that, though rare in the marketplace, was receiving positive press.

Then, the news came that a small European environmental group and a West Virginia University had exposed one of the biggest scandals of the modern automotive era (and there’s been quite a few lately).

Dieselgate is more than just news of a faulty part or a shady corporate cover-up – it comes across as the indictment of an entire fuel. One that powers an engine that can trace its roots back to 1890.

Time will tell how the technology survives this scandal, the eventual recalls, and multiple investigations by regulatory bodies on both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps oil burners will shrug off the black eye, though it’s possible that – in the face of stricter emissions requirements – automakers might just give up and go in a new direction.

Now, please enjoy this video of an early-80s Oldsmobile 98 diesel starting up.

Vivid failure: the art of the 1959 Edsel

The death row '59 Edsel shined... on paper, at least.

The death row ’59 Edsel shined… on paper, at least.

The enduring saga of the ill-fated Edsel is like a dog-eared copy of To Kill a Mockingbird – a cautionary lesson, wrapped in Americana, about the failures of man and the processes that are supposed to guide, protect and lend stability to society.

And everyone knows the ending.

The short-lived Ford Motor Company marque was one of the biggest marketing failures in corporate history, but the jokes and comparisons live on to this day.

And so does the advertising, spawned from the colourful brushes of commercial artists during the heady (and boozy) heyday of American ad men.

Only a year after the Edsel landed in the marketplace with a thud and a fizzle, its fate was sealed by a bean-counting exec named Robert McNamara – a man determined to chop off the dead weight that was threatening to pull down the entire company.

Before taking the Edsel behind the barn, McNamara, who went on to direct the Vietnam War as Secretary of Defence for presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, first chose to slash the ad budget for the simplified 1959 lineup.

Unlike the ungainly and controversial ’58s that debuted to a dumbfounded and unimpressed American public, the styling of the ’59 Edsel could at least be described as acceptable.

And even though their contracts would be short, the illustrators employed by the downsized advertising team did their best to make the ’59 Edsel look at home in America.

The results looked far better than the car’s future.



D S121358




Heat score

2006 Infiniti G35: a canvas waiting for cheese. (IFCAR/Wikimedia)

2006 Infiniti G35: a canvas waiting for cheese. (IFCAR/Wikimedia)

You know the car.

“Flashy, making a scene, flaunting conventions.” (To quote Mr. Bookman, the hard-boiled library detective from Seinfeld)

Yup, we’re talking about the guy who wants everyone on the block to take notice of his ride.

Aftermarket parts, a burpy exhaust, decals, tinting – the kind of car no father wants to see his daughter get into.

A total heat score.

15 years ago the ride du jour for such characters was a Civic or Accord (Honda remains popular for this, but not nearly as much). Good handling and a peppy engine formed the backbone, while coffee can mufflers, ill-fitting rims, painted mirrors and purple, bubbled tinting made up the rest of the beast.

A close runner-up, usually less obvious and tricked-out than its Honda brethren, was the early 90s Nissan Maxima.

A circa-2006 Infiniti G35 coupe. You'll hear it before you see it. (IFCAR/Wikimedia)

A circa-2006 Infiniti G35 coupe. You’ll hear it before you see it. (IFCAR/Wikimedia)

Since then, the scene has changed a bit and a new heat score has risen to the top (according to this writer’s completely non-scientific observations).

The Infiniti G35/G37, especially those made circa 2002-2010.

Once a fairly conservative intermediate luxury sedan/coupe, this V6-powered, rear-drive import is often seen with massive rims, a matte paint job, and an aftermarket exhaust that screams “Don’t pry in my business or we’ll both get in trouble.”

There’s nothing wrong with lavishing attention on used rear-drive imports with brawny engines – hell, who wouldn’t? – but the act of driving a car that gets you noticed while doing things you don’t want to be noticed doing… well, that seems counter-intuitive.

A former neighbour with a subtly done up early-2000s Accord taught me this lesson. If your otherwise plain ride is seen all over town making brief visits, but you’re not carrying a pizza box into the building, you’re more visible than you think.

Fellas: you can keep the G35 with the slammed suspension and 20-inch rims for social work, but for ‘business’ (whatever that might be, not trying to pry), maybe it would be a good idea to keep a 2008 Impala in reserve.

Quick look: BMW i3

Wait - this isn't a normal BMW....

Wait – this isn’t a normal BMW….

Light, peppy extended-range EV has innovation in spades

Despite plenty of hype to the contrary, the automotive world is a lot more ‘evolution’ than ‘revolution’, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The jump from Model T to Tesla Model S wasn’t achieved in a single bound.

In the electric vehicle world, the latest step forward is the quirky BMW i3 – a space efficient hatch that offers drivers an all-EV lifestyle or a range-extended experience. It began trickling into North American driveways as a pure EV last summer, with the more versatile range-extended model introduced this year.

Like screens? The futuristic BMW i3 has screens aplenty.

Like screens? The futuristic BMW i3 has screens aplenty.

The i3 isn’t going to be mistaken for anything else on the road. Short and tall, the four-seat EV features clamshell doors (with a dropped-down rear window), a glazed rear fascia, a spartan-but-high-tech interior, and extensive use of carbon fiber.

The dash, positioned low for visibility with two display screens rising from it, is topped with untreated eucalyptus wood and ringed (in this model) with dark brown leather – mixing classic luxury cues with the ultramodern.

While most EVs keep their interiors pretty conventional, BMW ventured way outside the box with the interior of this box.

Powering the i3 is an electric motor making 170 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque, drawing from a battery with an EPA-certified range of 130 km. The manufacturer gives a range of 130-160 km, depending on driving style and terrain.

Mirror, mirror... The BMW i3 won't be mistaken for anything ordinary.

Mirror, mirror… The BMW i3 won’t be mistaken for anything ordinary.

A range-extended option exists for the i3, which, for a few thousand dollars more, adds a 647cc two-cylinder generator and tiny 7.2-litre gas tank, pushing the vehicle’s range to approximately 240 km.

The first thing a driver notices upon entering the cabin is a lack of full (to the firewall) console, as well as the lack of obvious shifter.

A small, between-the-seats console exists to accommodate the infotainment dial, armrest and electric parking brake, but a driver and passenger could play footsies with all that open floor space.

Protruding from the right of the steering column is a small, fob-like shifter actuated via a toggle on the end. In what first seems like an awkward placing, the pushbutton ignition and ‘park’ button is also located on this abbreviated stalk.

Shifty: a steering column-mounted gearshift uses a button to actuate 'Park'.

Shifty: a steering column-mounted gearshift uses a button to actuate ‘Park’.

In the back, rear seat passengers will be faced with a slightly upright seatback but ample leg and headroom.

The 6’4″ writer of this post could pass his hand between his scalp and the headliner while sitting on the flat but comfortable leather-bound bench seat.

Occupants of the i3 will quickly notice the surfaces not covered by leather or wood.

Looking like plain fiberglass, the interior boats widespread use of light and strong carbon fiber-reinforced plastic.

Not only does it contribute to the car’s stiff bodyshell, it allows the i3 to shed the weight that other EVs seem to pile on.

Starting at a curb weight of 2,635 pounds (barely more than the company’s Z4 roadster), the i3 weighs hundreds of pounds less than most modern compact cars, not to mention their heavier EV and hybrid brethren.

Interior room, comfort and visibility is the by-product of the i3's boxy shape.

Interior room, comfort and visibility is the by-product of the i3’s boxy shape.

Driving impressions

That light weight and stiff structure lends to impressive acceleration and cornering.

BMW states the i3 will go 0-to-60 mph (0 – 96 km/h) in 7.2 seconds, which is quite quick. Electric motors carry with them two distinct benefits: instant torque and seamless acceleration from a typical one-speed automatic transmission.

Lightweight carbon fiber-reinforced body panels are found throughout the interior.

Lightweight carbon fiber-reinforced body panels are found throughout the interior.

The i3 leaps ahead when the stiff accelerator pedal is pushed, and decelerates rapidly when released, thanks to heavy regenerative braking.

In fact, so heavy is the engine braking effect that the brake pedal gets little use when the car isn’t at rest.

The i3 rides atop distinctive 155/70 R19 tires. They’re tall, but they’re also skinny.

The duration of this test was disappointingly brief, so highway handling characteristics and range details couldn’t be fleshed out.

Would the BMW wander or feel skittish on the highway? What about high-speed wind and road noise? Buffeting? These useful observations will have to wait until a longer road test.

Present meets future: carbon fiber mingles with wood and leather in the i3's dash.

Present meets future: carbon fiber mingles with wood and leather in the i3’s dash.

Starting at $44,950 (before applicable government incentives) for the base EV model, the i3 with range extender will likely be the most popular model going forward.

After all, the ability to gas up in certain situations turns what would be a pleasant commuter vehicle into something capable of longer, out-of-town weekend jaunts.

It’s hard to beat the piece of mind that comes with knowing that once one fuel runs out, another will take over to help get you home.

Vehicles like the BMW i3 are still niche products, but improvements are occurring all the time in this field.

While pricier than plug-ins and EVs from Ford, GM, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Smart, the i3 takes the less-travelled middle road – slotting itself between the Tesla Model S at the top of the range, and those battling for the bottom.

Remember, this is still a BMW.

Rear clamshell doors greatly aid access to the rear seat, which surprises with its relative roominess.

Rear clamshell doors greatly aid access to the rear seat, which surprises with its relative roominess.

Handyman’s special

Behold, 6.75-litres of pure British luxury.

Behold, 6.75-litres of pure British luxury.

Submitted for your enjoyment, an under-the-hood look at the 1975 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.

There’s plenty of space under there for a hand holding a wrench, isn’t there?

This hefty 6.75-litre V8, which powered the Silver Shadow from 1970 until the model’s demise in 1980, only cranked out 189 horsepower (it was the 70s…). However, piles of torque were on tap to get this British beast moving briskly, smoothly applied through a GM-sourced Turbo-Hydramatic 400 transmission.

That’s the same transmission that can be found in a Trans-Am, but we won’t talk about that unrefined plebe-mobile.

British luxury vehicles of the 70s and 80s had a reputation for frying wires and hoses, and given the amount of piping hot hardware under this bonnet, I’m wondering if a Silver Shadow owner needs priority parking at his local tweed-clad mechanic.


Battle for the bottom

Nissan Micra, kingmaker? (Image: Nissan Motor Co.)

Nissan Micra, kingmaker? (Image: Nissan Motor Co.)

Who’s winning in the bargain-basement price field?


For well over a year now, lucky Canadians have basked in the joy that comes from knowing they’re able to purchase the two cheapest cars offered in North America.

Both the Nissan Micra and Mitsubishi Mirage come with window stickers reading ‘$9,998’, making the diminutive imports the cheapest way (by far) to get into a new car.

Canada gets an added bonus with the Micra, which isn’t yet available in the United States. We’re special!!

The Micra, which landed in dealerships in the spring of 2014, trades as much on its quirky, fun-to-drive rep as it does its low starting price. The Mirage, which appeared on these shores in late 2013, offers better fuel economy (and a lot less power from its standard 3-cylinder) but less distinctive styling.

In a two-way race, there can only be one winner, so which subcompact hatch are Canadians lusting after the most?

"Hey, is that the 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage ES??" (Image; Mitsubishi Motors)

“Hey, is that the 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage ES??” (Image; Mitsubishi Motors)

Numbers don’t lie, and the Micra is the clear winner (though a corner of west Quebec this writer lives near seems to have an affinity for the Mirage, especially those in gross, retina-burning colours).

The Mirage posted 4,048 sales in 2014 and 2,137 so far this year (ending in July). Its best sales month ever was April of last year, which happened to be when gas prices were nearing their highest spike.

Lately, it seems like sales could be tapering off, though it’s hard to say if that’s a sustained trend.

The mighty Micra, on the other hand, posted 7,815 purchases in its abbreviated 2014 sales year, with year-to-date sales running at a healthy (in contrast) 7,151 units.

If it was ever really a consideration, the recent dip in gas prices would be more incentive to go with the cheap car that has the most horsepower – Micra’s gain.

In Quebec, which seemingly values cheap imports more than other provinces, the Micra has the added boost of starring in its own racing circuit, the Nissan Micra Cup.

Now, who can resist that allure?