2015 Ford Focus Electric: no gas, no problem?

Yes, the Ford Focus Electric literally turned heads when out on the town.

Yes, the Ford Focus Electric literally turned heads when out on the town.

Range anxiety is real, but so are an EV’s advantages

If you’re a good and honourable person, you’ve already read the review of the 2015 Ford Focus Titanium in these pages.

Imagine now, for a second, that the engine from that competent tester was stripped out and replaced by a 107 kWh electric motor, and the trunk partially filled with a 23 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Add in the Focus’ 5-door hatch body style, and that’s what you have here.

A 107 kWh electric motor generates 143 horsepower and gobs of torque.

A 107 kWh electric motor generates 143 horsepower and gobs of torque.

The Ford Focus Electric has been on the market since 2012, and represents one of the few all-electric models available today – certainly, a rarity in the North American scene.

This model does away with the range-extending on-board generators seen in more popular plug-ins, including those made by Ford (C-Max Energi, Fusion Energi), appealing instead to urban car buyers seeking a zero emission runabout.

A long weekend in the city seemed as good an opportunity as any to put the Focus Electric through its paces while keeping a few gallons of oil in the ground.

With an EPA-certified factory range of 76 miles (122 km), there was no doubt that range anxiety was going to join sunshine on the weekend’s forecast. More on that later.

Inside the cabin, the gasless Focus doesn't give away its special secret.

Inside the cabin, the gasless Focus doesn’t give away its special secret.

The test of the gas-powered Focus showed the compact to be a comfortable and put-together little vehicle with pleasant road manners.

Those qualities don’t disappear just because a battery has replaced the fuel tank – the Focus Electric, with its mid-level trim and gadgetry, performed (and coddled) just fine.

A rear-mounted battery adds about 300 kilograms to the vehicle’s curb weight, while the lack of internal combustion engine up front alters the weight distribution, moving it rearward.

You’d likely only feel the difference if you took the car on the track – the taught steering and compliant suspension does a good job at covering up any differences between the two.

The Focus Electric boasts 143 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. of torque from its powerplant, seamlessly applied through a 1-speed automatic transmission.

Patiently waiting its turn at the public hydro spigot.

Patiently waiting its turn at the public hydro spigot.

All that torque is available from a standstill – one of the great benefits of an electric motor – making the vehicle feel powerful and buttery smooth.

Electron-based power really shines when pulling a passing manoeuvre or merging, as the Focus Electric rockets to its desired speed with enough authority to push you back in your seat.

It’s tempting to drive the car in a manner that would wring the most fun out of this torquey motor, but hard acceleration comes at a price.

In this case, it gobbles up precious range from a limited supply.


White knuckles: living with a battery life indicator

Though the EPA says 122 km marks the end of the road, the Focus Electric showed a 148 and 155 km range, respectively, following two recharging breaks. That’s a little better, but nothing near the nearly 500 km range offered by more expensive EVs like the Tesla Model S.

That said, the price of a Focus Electric ($32,505 Canadian, before applicable rebates) undercuts a base Model S by more than half.

Everything you need to become a better EV driver is on display.

Everything you need to become a better EV driver is on display.

To make the most of the vehicle’s range, Ford employs an on-board ‘energy coach’ that monitors the braking, acceleration and cruising habits of the driver and rates them via an electronic display to the left of the speedometer.

The amount of power recaptured through coasting and regenerative braking is also displayed next to a thermometer-style battery life indicator.

While gas-powered vehicles shine on the highway when it comes to mileage, the manners of an EV are the complete opposite – highway trips sap range, while stoplight-to-stoplight motoring in the city sees plenty of juice returned to the battery.

It’s a shift in popular wisdom, but keeping to the busier streets helps the Focus Electric go the distance. With the battery indicator always counting down like sand through an hourglass, and with public charging stations still scarce, you’ll want to score high marks with the energy coach on an ongoing basis.

17-inch aluminum wheels lend a sporty look to the Ford Focus Electric.

17-inch aluminum wheels lend a sporty look to the Ford Focus Electric.

Range anxiety – that psychological affliction born of full-electric vehicles – creeps in during moments when the vehicle consumes more power than budgeted for a trip.

For example, on one 26 km trip from downtown to the suburbs by way of uncrowded parkways and open space, the Focus Electric consumed 44 km of range, despite gentle acceleration and a light foot at cruising speed.

A partial trip back of 16 km, through denser parts of the city that required more braking action, saw just 3 km of range bleed off the battery indicator.

A driver who previously though “I’m about to be stranded!” would now think “I can drive all night on this charge.”

The car's charging plug lies behind the battery hump in the rear hatch.

The car’s charging plug lies behind the battery hump in the rear hatch.

Though seemingly fickle, this behaviour is par for the course for an EV – little changes on the road can make big differences in range, so it’s important to plan ahead and anticipate them.

Charging the Focus Electric is a breeze if you have a 240-volt connection at home, as a full charge takes about four hours. Otherwise, you’ll be spending the whole night plugged into a regular 120-volt wall outlet.

This driver took advantage of a couple of 240-volt civic and institutional plug-in sites to keep the Focus on the road, though a few top-ups were accomplished via 120-volt plugs. The plug, which connects to a nifty glowing charging port on the driver’s side front fender, stows away in the hatch area of the car.

The Focus Electric doesn't care about inflated gas prices.

The Focus Electric doesn’t care about inflated gas prices.

Because of the location of the battery behind the rear seats, cargo capacity inside that hatch is severely hampered in this model.

It’s hard to say whether that would be a deal breaker with some buyers, though in its defence, the car’s rear seats do fold down to make a flat cargo surface.

In terms of viability, the Focus Electric exists to fill certain niches. Whether serving as a second car or a primary urban runabout, the vehicle works so long as the buyer is prepared to live within its limitations.

In Canada, where gasoline prices seem perpetually higher than oil prices would dictate, it gives a driver some satisfaction to be able drive past the pumps without a care as to the price on the sign.

If your can live with its range limitations, The Focus Electric will keep you comfortable... and green.

If you can live with its range limitations, the Focus Electric will keep you comfortable… and green.

The diminutive Brit

Itsy-bitsy 1953-1956 Austin A30, spotted in Ottawa, Ontario.

Itsy-bitsy 1953-1956 Austin A30, spotted in Ottawa, Ontario.

During the Second World War, the British fielded the largest non-nuclear bomb of any military power in the conflict – the 22,000 pound ‘Grand Slam’ earthquake bomb.

You wouldn’t guess it by looking at postwar British cars.

While the mighty bombs carried aloft by Lancasters were meant to bring an invading power to its knees, the peacetime reality of a battered and bruised nation still dependent on food rationing called for economical living – especially with cars.

It's not the size on the outside that matters, apparently.

It’s not the size on the outside that matters, apparently.

Small, frugal and low on power, the vehicles produced in postwar Britain were Spartan but innovative.

The Austin A30, built to compete with the popular Morris Minor, adopted monocoque (unibody) architecture to go with its 803 cc engine.

The new manufacturing technique allowed the car to be lighter and sturdier, and able to be powered by a smaller engine.

Produced from 1952 to 1956, life with an A30 would have been quite different from an American car of the same vintage. Instead of the plush interior, powerful engine and modern convenience items that adorned iron rolling out of Detroit, this little Austin listed ‘passenger side sun visor’ and ‘heater’ amongst its optional equipment.

Kids seated in the back would have (not) enjoyed the hard metal shelf topped with PVC plastic that served as a rear bench seat. To indicate a turn, drivers operated a knob that controlled a small indicator arm that popped out of the B-pillar.

The Austin A30 handled this park without even a hint of sidewalk intrusion.

The Austin A30 handled this park without even a hint of sidewalk intrusion.

Fun times.

After a 2-door version and wagon joined the 4-door saloon body style in 1953, the progression of time saw the introduction of the more powerful A35 (34 hp) in 1956, which carried the compact Austin brand through to 1959 (in saloon form) and 1962 (in wagon form).

The author’s mother often spoke of the tiny Austin of her Edmonton childhood, purchased by her father as a first car for the family in the late 1950s.

A nightmare in the frigid Prairie winters (which rendered the turn indicators inoperable), the Austin also accomplished the regular feat of stalling after driving over a puddle. A bottle of carbon tetrachloride had to be carried at all times in order to dry out the points when this occurred.

If anyone’s wondering why any Canadian would have purchased such a car, just remember that British imports came to these shores prices awfully cheap.

Even if it’s cold and stalls a lot, owning an Austin A30 beats waiting for the bus or walking any day.


Bumps of misery

Sometimes, as in life, the dirt just won't come off...

Sometimes, as in life, the dirt just won’t come off…

See, it’s ‘pebbled’- rough, not smooth, mountainous, you follow? – and I’m at a loss to figure out why.

My car is a 1st Generation Chevy Cruze (2011-2015), a capable little vehicle with comfy front seats and impressive highway gas mileage, but one minor gripe is becoming very distracting.

The plastic surfaces on the interior – the dash, door panels, console – are impossible to keep clean. This is because you can’t get them clean to begin with.

Why? It’s pebbled.

Can you see where the paper towel was? Can you?!

Can you see where the paper towel was? Can you?!

While the overall appearance of the interior is pleasant (“Classy stuff,” people used to say of the tu-tone fabric inserts), the pebbled black plastic is a product straight out of Hell.

Not only does the millions of channels, grooves and valleys of this surface trap dirt and dust, but they help save it from being removed by cloth or towel.

And paper towels? Prepare to have those shredded as you attempt to Armour All that rough surface, thus adding white paper to the already dirty depressions in the now off-black plastic.

Yes, attempting to clean it actually makes it worse. It’s like trying to clean sandpaper.

Cleaning an interior in any other car I’ve owned has always been a breeze. Very pleasant, really. Paper towel + cleaner = all you needed.

A close-up of the culprit, bathed in a forgiving sunset glow.

A close-up of the culprit, bathed in a forgiving sunset glow.

Not so in this mass-produced vehicle. That gleaming, mirrored polish you see on other dashes, and on the labels of cleaning products? The one that sparkles and shines like a gangster’s shoes? Nowhere to be seen after all that effort and expense.

Flat plastic is boring, I know, but is pebbled plastic the answer to that problem? At least the former can be cleaned.

All of this boils down to a minor First World bitch and moan fest, to be sure, but the pointlessness of having such a surface in a car has gotten under my skin.

Who flicked the ‘Let’s Do This’ light that led to this situation?!!

*calming breath, calming breath…*

Owners of the 2016 Cruze likely won’t have to put up with this  madness, as it looks like the interior will do away with the pebbled dash.

I can only imagine how satisfying it would be to wipe one of those down.

Get HIGH with Hertz

Yes, please take me away!

Yes, please take me away!

If any rent-a-car ad will compel you to build a time machine, it’s this 1965 spot for Hertz.

Even a postmodern person would want to travel back to the Don Draper era after seeing this vision of ‘friendly skies’ air travel, monstrous open-topped cars and copious amounts of disposable income mixed with youthful vitality.

Hell, I’m already envisioning myself bitching about Lyndon Johnson while tuning a Hi-Fi set.

While the golden age of the West, air travel and car renting seems to be receding in the rear-view, at least we still have these whimsical reminders of that halcyon bygone age.

Down with the sickness

1981 Chrysler LeBaron Special - a stripper with a nice face.

1981 Chrysler LeBaron Special – a stripper with a nice face.

The so-called Malaise Era – the turbulent 10 years from (roughly) 1973 to 1983 – brought us many automotive gems.

Who can forget that heady time when a 460 cubic inch Lincoln V-8 (7.5 litres) managed to wheeze out a paltry 190 horsepower?

Or when automakers began crash-diving the displacement of their already detuned V8’s to satisfy federal regulators? (Ford’s 255 Windsor, GM’s 267 small-block)

What about those hackneyed attempts at downsizing that still flaunted all the trappings of big car luxury? (Landau tops, opera windows, retractable headlights, velour, velour, velour)

1981 Chrysler LeBaron Salon coupe, the Special's higher achieving sister.

1981 Chrysler LeBaron Salon coupe, the Special’s higher achieving sister.

In addition to smog-choked land yachts, the Malaise Era also brought us leisure suits, wide lapels, disco, and Three’s Company. Obviously, we owe it a debt of remembrance, if only to say ‘never again’.

Horsepower values reached their deepest trough in 1981, the same year gas prices and interest rates skyrocketed to their tallest postwar peak. No automaker was struggling more than Chrysler at that time, and besides the new K-car (which ultimately saved the company) malaise wasn’t hard to find in the showroom.

A great example of this is the 1981 Chrysler LeBaron Special – a Chrysler with all the trappings of a low-end Plymouth. To squeeze every last sale out of its lineup, Chrysler fielded a bare bones version of the M-body LeBaron (1980-1981), touting its value and affordable status.

With a venerable (but emissions strangled) 225 cubic inch Slant Six under the hood making a pulse-pounding 85 horsepower, the 3,368 pound sedan could rocket to 60 mph in 18.8 seconds, just slightly less than eternity. A trusty 3-speed Torqueflite automatic rounded out the drivetrain.

Clearly, the Special didn't give up a whole lot in looks compared to its high-end stablemates.

Clearly, the Special didn’t give up a whole lot in looks compared to its high-end stablemates.

Inside, luxurious vinyl bench seats whispered “cop car” or “fleet rental” into the driver’s ear, but the happy motorist was probably too busy enjoying his or her standard power brakes.

Outside the vehicle, the costly vinyl roof and wire wheel hubcaps seen on higher end versions were substituted for bare metal and pie plates.

Yes, this was indeed a base Dodge Diplomat with LeBaron front and rear fascias, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

The M-body LeBaron and its stripper base model didn’t last long, though. After ’81, the name was applied to a new front-wheel-drive, K-car based model, while the rear-drive M-body platform carried the upscale New Yorker model until 1989.

Longer, lower… lighter

Significant changes are coming in the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze (Image: General Motors)

Significant changes are in store for the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze (Image: General Motors)

2016 Chevy Cruze gains power, too


After selling eleventy billion Cruze models in North America since the fall of 2010, it was time for something new from Chevrolet.

Last week’s unveiling of the second-generation of the brand’s big-selling compact sedan showed that a commitment to space and economy is still top of mind amongst GM brass.

And how could it not be, with the Cruze being such a big name in the ever-competitive compact sedan market?

Interior of the 2016 Cruze (Image: General Motors)

Interior of the 2016 Cruze (Image: General Motors)

The 2016 Cruze gains all-new looks and dimensions, coming in an inch lower, 2.7 inches longer, and a whopping 250 pounds lighter than outgoing models.

The ‘more space, less weight’ approach was recently tried on the 2016 Malibu, and like that model, the stretch should aid rear seat legroom.

The weight loss, coupled with a slippery new body, will allow the car to achieve 40 MPG (U.S.) on the highway, according to GM estimates. Before, only the specialized (but popular) Eco model broke the 40 MPG barrier.

Under the hood, the base 1.8-litre four has been mothballed, replaced by a standard 1.4-litre direct-injection turbo four.

The new engine, which comes with start/stop technology sees horsepower bumped to 153, compared to 138 on older models. Torque sees a big boost – 177 lb-ft, versus the 148 cranked out by the previous 1.4-litre.

(As the owner of a current 1.4-litre Cruze, I can only imagine how well this power increase would improve the vehicle’s performance, especially in hilly terrain)

Specs provided by GM show a slight displacement increase over the previous 1.4-litre – 1399 cubic centimetres versus 1364.

The 2016 Cruze is seeking a competitive edge over its rivals (Image: General Motors)

The 2016 Cruze is seeking a competitive edge over its rivals (Image: General Motors)

A 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual will be available, while it looks like the triple-overdrive setup offered on the 1st Generation Eco models will be retired.

On the niceties front, the top-level LTZ will be replaced by a ‘Premiere’ trim line, while the addition of an ‘L’ version below the familiar LS and LT hints that Chevy might be pursuing a low entry level price.

A new diesel model will bow for 2017, the company claims.

The 2nd Generation Cruze is expected in dealerships in early 2016.

About face

The 2016 Scion iA, not to be confused with the Mazda 2 (Image: Toyota Motor Corporation)

The 2016 Scion iA, not to be confused with the Mazda 2 (Image: Toyota Motor Corporation)

Is Scion’s new direction the right one?


The sales woes of the Scion brand have been well documented as of late, including here on this humble blog.

Right now the struggling Toyota subsidiary is valiantly trying to reverse its falling fortunes, announcing three new models and chopping three of its worst sellers, the xB, xD, and iQ.

So far, two of those three company-savers have been unveiled, destined for 2016 showrooms. The iM is a small, sporty hatchback that would compete with the likes of the Honda Fit, while the familiar-looking iA subcompact sedan would compete with just about everyone.

The iA is a jarring thing, because it’s not really a Scion. Anyone keeping tabs on the industry will recognize the body shape and familiar flanks of the Mazda 2 sedan, albeit one with a strange (and huge) grille that serves to put design distance between it and the Mazda.

A third model has yet to be unveiled.

1978 Dodge Challenger (aka the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda), a product of desperate times.

1978 Dodge Challenger (aka the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda), a product of desperate times.

When the iA first rolled onto the scene, it was a head-scratcher. What’s going on here? A Toyota-owned car company getting Mazda to built a car for it? What gives?

Badge engineering is a frowned upon activity for carmakers, but at least that would keep it in the (corporate) family.

Trans-corporate badge swapping like this reeks of 1970s-80s desperation – the kind that saw Chrysler leap into bed with Mitsubishi in order to get some diversity in the merchandise it was offering.

“We don’t have the resources to compete, but never mind that – can I offer you a (Plymouth) Sapporo?”

As weird as those rebadged imports were, the Scion bed-hopping is even more unusual, because it’s going behind the bleachers with close competitors. Not just Mazda with the iA, but also Subaru with the FR-S.

But maybe I’m just not getting it. Subaru and Mazda both offer modern, competitive tech-laden cars that are known for their sporty handling and attitude. Toyota? Not so much, but that’s fine – car companies don’t have to make each marque all things to all people.

Having well-regarded underpinnings for new model makes sense, even if it comes from someone else.

Is it wrong to bash badge-swapping if the donor car is a good one?

Is it wrong to bash badge-swapping if the donor car is a good one?

The appeal grows when you consider the financial incentives of paying another company to provide you with a manufactured product, without the need to invest much of your own capital into design, tooling and production.

In Scion’s case, just like in Chrysler’s way back when, the idea is to move units and make money. That’s what a company needs to do to stay afloat.

I don’t disagree with this reality, nor Scion’s decision to target big-volume segments like compact hatches and sedans. What I do disagree with is the form the product is taking.

Scion was founded to serve as a youth-oriented, edgy brand that stood in stark contrast with its parent company and its competitors. Rebadged Mazda’s and hatchbacks that could so easily carry a Toyota badge are not distinct and don’t distinguish the brand. Buyers might be lured into one for value and versatility, but not for individuality.

In other words, Scion risks diluting the image it has built for itself, confusing its purpose for existing. What’s the point of a Scion brand if they’re not even Scions?


Bring in the versatile funk


Many posts ago, I let slip an idea I had for resurrecting the Scion brand. It seemed like a good fit at the time, and even though new products have been announced since then, I still feel like it would be worthwhile.

A car company like Scion wants economical and versatile cars, yes? And they want them to be fun, and quirky?

Everyone in 1970s car ads skied, it seems.

Everyone in 1970s car ads skied, it seems.

I propose a modern-day line of cars that draw from the spirit and intent of the lowly Fiat 124.

Yes, the little Italian workhorse that spawned so many different body styles – sedan, coupe, wagon, roadster – between 1966 and 1974.

Durable, boxy, but attainable, the four-cylinder-only lineup is still readily identifiable (and not just because it was copied by Lada from 1970 to 1988).

Not only would it likely appeal to the nostalgia-stricken and wannabe avante-garde hipsters alike, it could draw in those looking for a sporty RWD offering that doesn’t break the bank.

After all, it was a nimble thing, by all accounts. Boldride.com has a series of excellent Fiat 124 track photos, including one of a sedan lifting its wheel in a corner (isn’t that adorable?) while battling a 124 coupe.

Again with the skiing. This time, a 124 coupe.

Again with the skiing. This time, a 124 coupe.

It would be hard not to compare the concept of a modern day 124 with the original xB – the car that put Scion on the map. That model was a funky take on the lowly compact hatchback, and it initially sold like gangbusters.

It was also unique and instantly recognizable as a Scion, something a rebadged Mazda or Subaru is not.

I don’t expect to be paid handsomely by Scion for this helpful suggestion (I’m here, though – call me) – rather, I’m just putting the idea out there. You know, if it appeals to this writer, there must be at least several other weirdos who’d also like to see it happen.

The full model range of the Fiat 124. Something for everyone.

The full model range of the Fiat 124. Something for everyone.

Power in the front, party in the back

The Continental will officially replace the MKS in 2016 (Image: Ford Motor Company)

The Continental will officially replace the MKS in 2016 (Image: Ford Motor Company)

Continental goes front-drive, MKS taken behind barn


There’s going to be a death in the Lincoln family.

The long-running, slow-selling MKS flagship (‘Sex Panther’, as the young folks call it) will go the way of Betamax in 2016, with that year being its final production run.

As difficult as this news is, the trip to the glue factory for the antiquated and invisible MKS has a silver lining, as it will herald the arrival of a new King – er, flagship.

RIP MKS, LOL (Cropped image: Ford Motor Company)

RIP MKS, LOL (Cropped image: Ford Motor Company)

The Lincoln Continental, teased last winter as the saviour of the Lincoln brand (and the first nail in the coffin of the company’s confusing alpha-numeric model names) will take residence at the top of the model lineup.

Big, bold and packed with luxury and yesteryear cues (if the prototype is anything to go by), the Continental would position Lincoln to better do battle with its luxury rivals.

While the vehicle’s power plant was always stated as being a brand-exclusive turbocharged 3.0-litre V6, the drive wheels remained a mystery until recently. Lincoln has confirmed that the new Continental will be (wait for it) front-wheel drive.

Yes, the flagship positioned to take on the Cadillac CT6, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BWM 7-Series, Lexus LS and Jaguar XJ (all rear-drive vehicles) will be front-wheel drive, with an AWD option.

This revelation could take some of the wind out of the sales of hardcore Lincoln aficionados who remember – probably not all that fondly – the previous front-drive Continental (1988-2002).

1991 Lincoln Continental (Image via)

1991 Lincoln Continental (Image via)

Does front-drive mean the Continental will be a dud? Don’t bank on it – after all, the stately design and interior drooled over by auto journos last winter doesn’t disappear just because the car’s torque is being funneled to the front wheels.

(It remains to be seen, however, whether the concept was nearly production-ready, or whether we’ll see a watering down of the design and furnishings in a production model)

All-wheel drive is also nothing to scoff at, especially if the torque is biased towards the rear, or even distributed evenly. This means your dream of hooning a new Continental in the snow could soon become a reality.

Still, the greatest Continentals of yesteryear were rear-drive, as are the big players in the modern luxury market.

On the domestic front, Cadillac’s recent reveal of a range-topping rear-drive CT8 sedan could make the Continental look wanting in comparison, especially given the angular, Elmiraj concept car-inspired design seen in renderings.

Like finding out whether that noise outside the window is a raccoon, the wind, or something much more sinister, only time will tell.

If the interior of a front-drive Continental looks like this, maybe people will be forgiving (Image: Ford Motor Company)

If the interior of a front-drive Continental looks like this, maybe people will be forgiving (Image: Ford Motor Company)


Bow before the Crown

The 1961 Imperial: rich, regal... Reichstag?

The 1961 Imperial: rich, regal… Reichstag?

There’s something vaguely disturbing about these ads for the 1961 Imperial.

Yes, I just said ‘Imperial’, because at the time, it was a top-end standalone marque of the Chrysler Corporation, not a model of the Chrysler division.

"The eagle won't let them touch this car, trust me."

“The eagle won’t let them touch this car, trust me.”

While all the signifiers of mid-century high society are present in the ad – a glamorous women dressed for a night out, minimalist background, GOLD EVERYWHERE – a strange undercurrent runs through these ads.

For some reason, I can’t view these ads without thinking of the Nuremburg Rallies and Nazi architect Albert Speer.

Maybe it’s the grandiose style of it all, but when you add all that glittering, finned excess to the somewhat menacing artwork, the minorities treated as a zoo exhibit, and the eagle, that (in my books) equals a passcode to a dangerous and powerful secret society.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these sedans parked outside an Eyes Wide Shut-style Illuminati sex party.


 Imperial: the rich uncle that keeps re-appearing


The Imperial name is firmly fixed to the Chrysler brand. After all, it was the ‘affordable luxury’ model that put the fledgling company on the map in 1926.

Since then, it has come and gone from the lineup, re-appearing most recently in the early 1990s as a luxury sedan positioned above the New Yorker. Previously, it had served as a problem-plagued flagship coupe (1981-83).

A monstrous and possibly demonic Imperial concept car was unveiled in 2006, though it came to nothing.

The ’61 model seen here came from (or grew out of) a revered era at Chrysler.

To better allow Chrysler to challenge Lincoln and Cadillac, Imperial was turned into its own range-topping marque in 1955, where it would stay until 1975.

Movie star and super-stud Gary Cooper chats up Jane Russell and her '57 Imperial.

Movie star and super-stud Gary Cooper chats up Jane Russell and her ’57 Imperial.

Just like with Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler, the low, finned ‘Forward Look’ styling of designer Virgil Exner was applied to Imperial in 1957, generating great acclaim, but by the turn of the new decade (after numerous tweaks and add-ons) it was looking awkward and dated.

The dawn of the 1960s was an all-around confusing time for Chrysler design, though Imperial at least didn’t have to contend with downsizing. That didn’t mean a large, long car couldn’t be made to look strange, however.

Virgil Exner, former Chrysler design head (Image via)

Virgil Exner, ex Chrysler design head (Image via)

1961 brought an edgy new front end for the Imperial, with odd freestanding headlights perched atop the bumper and recessed into a fender cut. Ahead of the rear axle, the look was cohesive and reasonably appealing, but the bat wing tailfins throw the whole design into confused disarray.

Seemingly out of good ideas, Virgil Exner was ousted from his position of head of design in 1962. His successor (Elwood Engel, formerly of Ford) brought Imperial away from the heights of outlandishness and towards a more conventional, simple design.

And so he did. Sharp lines and Lusitania-like length was the name of the game for the rest of the decade, before the ‘fuselage’ bodied Imperials bowed in 1969.

While the Kennedy Era was short-lived, it was memorable for both its experimentation and its focus on style and grace.

Some cars from this era – like the 1961 Continental – became timeless icons of tasteful American design. Others, such as this Imperial, can best be filed under ‘tired relics of 1950s excess’.

In its defence, at least it didn’t start a war.

Albert Speer's 'Cathedral of Light', Germany, 1937 (Image via)

Albert Speer’s ‘Cathedral of Light’, Germany, 1937 (Image via)


Britain sends an Envoy

1961 Envoy F-Series, spotted in Gatineau (Hull Sector), Quebec.

1961 Envoy F-Series, spotted in Gatineau (Hull Sector), Quebec.

When was the last time you saw someone driving an Envoy?

And no, I’m not talking about that innocuous SUV of the pre-bankruptcy GM era.

Canada’s mid-century love affair with cheap British imports is a well-known phenomenon, and this rare rolling artifact is another piece of that story.

The Vauxhall Victor F-Series was one of Britain’s most popular exports, with hundreds of thousands snapped up by cost-conscious buyers around the globe.

The model debuted in 1957 with distinctly American styling, but tell-tale British size. Powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder making 55 horsepower, the model wasn’t particularly fast, but by all accounts it was durable and reliable.

A three-speed column-mounted manual transmission put the power to the rear wheels.

The 'Longer, lower, wider' mantra of the 1950s doesn't seem to apply to the Envoy.

The ‘longer, lower, wider’ mantra of the 1950s doesn’t seem to apply to the Envoy.

In North America, Vauxhall Victors were sold through GM dealerships – Pontiac and Buick ones, to be exact – alongside their massive American brethren.

That left the other half of the GM stable (minus Cadillac) without a cheap import to sell.

Enter the Envoy.

Sold at Chevrolet and Oldsmobile dealers in Canada starting in 1959, the Envoy F-Series was a Vauxhall Victor with different options and better trim. Nowhere on the body is it mentioned that the vehicle is entirely a Vauxhall.

1960 Envoy ad. Notice the lack of colour on the car they call 'colourful'.

1960 Envoy ad. Notice the lack of colour on the car they call ‘colourful’.

Two-tone paint and interior fabrics showed that Britain was easing out of its postwar slump, and was now able to appreciate (and offer) nicer things.

Note: the aftermarket rims and mirror dice on this pristine example did not come from 1959. Not even close.

The Envoy, like the Victor, lasted in the Canadian market until 1970. The first generation, with its 1950s proportions, lasted until 1961, before Vauxhall adopted a modern, Ford Falcon-esque styling treatment.

This example wore vintage 1961 Quebec plates, marking it was the last year of the first generation, and a badge showing its sale at a Farnham, Quebec Chev-Olds dealer.

Once commonplace, these imports are now a distant memory for older Canadians. Though imports of Vauxhalls died off, overseas GM subsidiaries (Europe’s Vauxhall and Opel, Australia’s Holden) now share hardware and designs with many of their American counterparts.

Are those 13-inchers?

Are those 13-inchers?