Requiem for a brand

Scion's first model, the xB, was axed last year. Now, the brand follows (Image: Toyota Canada)

Scion’s first model, the xB, was axed last year. Now, the brand follows. (Image: Toyota Canada)

The Grim Reaper came for Scion today.

Without being offered a cigarette or a blindfold, the youth-oriented brand was tossed into the dustbin of automotive history by parent company Toyota, ending its 13-year existence in the U.S. and six-year run in Canada.

Scion’s struggles were well known. After blasting into the marketplace on a wave of funkiness, the brand’s aging, increasingly confused models led to a sales freefall over the past several years.

Saviour no more: the 2016 Scion iM. (Image: Toyota Canada)

Saviour no more: the 2016 Scion iM. (Image: Toyota Canada)

The new 2016 models, regarded as the cars that would reverse the brand’s fortunes, caused a lot of head-scratching. The iM 5-door hatchback seemed more like a Corolla 5-door that escaped off the drawing board, while the iA sedan was simply a badge-engineered Mazda 2.

“What’s the point of these, and how are they related to the original Scions?” lamented several friends, a couple of whom are Scion xB owners.

“Why not just make them Toyotas, if there’s no vision left for the brand?”

Well, that’s exactly what Toyota did. Next year’s (remaining) models will wear a Toyota badge, except for the tC coupe, which is being killed off before that can happen.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Toyota is implying the entire foray into a new brand was just a marketing exercise for the parent company – a way of getting youngsters interested in the brand associated with your uncle’s Corolla, your dad’s Camry, and your grandmother’s Avalon.

“This is the next step to advancing the Toyota brand in Canada,” said Larry Hutchinson, President and CEO of Toyota Canada Inc, in the company’s official news release.

The Scion tC won't return as a Toyota model. (Image: Toyota Canada)

The Scion tC won’t return as a Toyota model. (Image: Toyota Canada)

“As a part of the team that established Scion in Canada, our goal was to make Toyota and our dealers stronger by learning how to better attract and engage young customers. This is exactly what we have accomplished and we look forward to expanding our product lineup with exciting product.”

After reading this, you could say that the Scion brand was a success after all!*

*I can see a glass half full, if forced to.

Back in the summer I wrote a post about the strange direction Scion seemed to be going in, and offered up some ideas on how to regain some interest, youthfulness, and, yes, funk to the brand.

Obviously, Toyota brass were not hanging on my every word.

And so, Scion prepares to take its place in the Hall of Former Marques, alongside Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Saab, Hummer, Mercury, Pontiac, Eagle, etc, etc. Now, let’s raise a glass in its honour.

However sad or ignominious the end, the people behind the brand deserve credit for taking a chance and heading in a new direction… albeit briefly.



Exiting the Chrysler Expressway

It's the long goodbye for the Dodge Dart as the model heads into the sunset.

It’s the long goodbye for the Dodge Dart as the model heads off into the sunset. (Image: FCA US LLC)

Just as General Motors is looking for a midsize sedan turnaround with its new Chevy Malibu, Fiat-Chrysler is looking to take its sole midsizer behind the barn.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne created waves last week when he announced the slow-selling Dodge Dart compact and Chrysler 200 midsize would have their futures cut short, as the company pursues a new truck-intensive sales strategy.

Apparently, the RAM and Jeep divisions are working overtime to get SUVs and trucks to a hungry public, while the Chrysler and Dodge divisions aren’t seeing anywhere near that demand. Pulling the plug on these two models will open up assembly line capacity that can be dedicated to more popular vehicles.

The curtains will close on the Chrysler 200 as parent FCA focuses on the Jeep and RAM brands.

The curtains will close on the Chrysler 200 as parent FCA focuses on the Jeep and RAM brands. (Image: FCA US LLC)

It seems the pragmatic thing for a company to do. I mean, buyers are increasingly choosing crossovers and SUVs over sedans, and you gotta go where the money is, but I can’t help but think…. huh?

The great, expansive (former) Chrysler Corporation – the creator of the (original) Dart, Valiant, Reliant, Aries and Neon – won’t have a compact car anywhere in its lineup? Or even a midsize?

The bottom end of Chrysler’s lineup has thinned in the past, but not to this degree.

After the death of the Dodge/Chrysler Neon (Dodge SX 2.0 in Canada) in 2005, the company’s compact shelf was left bare until the Fiat-based Dart appeared in 2013. The small and forgettable 5-door Dodge Caliber wagon/crossover entered the scene in 2007, so this gap could theoretically be narrowed to a single model year.

Following the end of the Dodge Stratus in 2006, the brand went the next two years without a midsize car before the Avenger name was resurrected in 2008. During that time, however, the midsize Chrysler Sebring was also being sold, along with the compact PT Cruiser retro wagon.

Weren’t the mid-to-late 2000s great?!

When the Dart and 200 stop rolling off the line, the only true passenger cars made by Chrysler will be the venerable 300, Charger and Challenger.

The compact and midsize slots might be filled again - if someone else builds 'em, (Image: FCA US LLC)

The compact and midsize slots might be filled again – if someone else builds ’em. (Image: FCA US LLC)

It’s hard to compete in the compact and midsize sedan categories, but GM and Ford manage reasonably well with models like the Cruze and Fushion. Sure, the Dart and 200 set few hearts on fire, but is the answer to pull out of the market altogether? Does anyone really expect gas prices to stay low forever?

According to the Detroit Free Press, the vanishing act might not be permanent – assuming FCA can line up a deal to have another automaker provide the vehicles. Yup, we could eventually see rebadged models filling in those gaps, not unlike the Mitsubishi-based Dodge Colt of the 1970s and 80s, or more recently, the Mazda 2-based Scion iM/Toyota Yaris.

The current Dart doesn’t hide its Fiat architecture very well, so it already feels like a rebadged import, albeit one that’s all in the family. If it returns with a different parent, things could get interesting. I never expected Mazda and Toyota to pair up for a swap job, so who knows what partner FCA might bring to the dance.

The big positive I’ve failed to mention is that we get a Jeep Wrangler pickup out of FCA’s new plan. I’ve been drooling over the possibility ever since the concept was shown a few years back, and now it’s a go.

Not only will the Wrangler get a pickup, but along with it will come a host of new drivetrains – diesel and hybrid included. A range-topping Grand Wagoneer is also part of the short-term plan.

Clearly it’s a great time to be Jeep. Not so much Chrysler or Dodge.



This Oldsmobile ad is too sexy

Introducing the 1981 Oldsmobile Innuendo... er, Omega.

Introducing the 1981 Oldsmobile Innuendo… er, Omega.

“When the action begins, you know that every move counts.”

What are you really angling at, Oldsmobile? Huh?

This is an 1981 ad for the lowly Oldsmobile Omega, sister car to the Pontiac Phoenix and Chevrolet Citation, and proud recipient of GM’s X-Body platform.

Or should I say, XXX-Body platform…

Okay, I get it – she’s a director or something. The vest should be a dead giveaway. You can put pens and stuff in those pockets.

Still, hats off to Oldsmobile for trying to add some sly sexiness to the unlamented Omega, seen here in Broughamified form.

You might want to sit down before looking at these.

You might want to sit down before looking at these.

Though the name was applied to a Nova-based sedan starting in 1973, the downsized 1980 Omega (and its sister cars) were “a big, f***ing deal,” to quote Joe Biden.

Front-wheel-drive, with a standard four-cylinder engine and optional V6, they rocketed to the top of must-buy lists against a backdrop of high gas prices and a relatively dismal economy.

‘Omega’ is the last letter in the Greek alphabet, and translates into ‘mega’ or ‘great’. Well, owners of the 1980-1984 Omega soon found themselves at the forefront of a great number of recalls.

The GM X-Body cars, like Chrysler’s Dodge-Aspen/Plymouth Volare twins four years earlier, could have benefited from more extensive pre-production quality testing. Besides a myriad of problems, buyers of the base X-Bodies were likely underwhelmed by the performance of the Iron Duke 2.5-litre four-cylinder.

The HOTTEST Omega offered, before the X-Bodies were scrapped.

The HOTTEST Omega offered, before the X-Bodies were scrapped.

Making roughly 90 horsepower, the iron block, iron head, overhead valve engine sounded powerful, but was based on ancient architecture. The optional 2.8-litre, aluminum head V6 was a far better bet, making 135 horsepower and good amounts of torque.

My earliest road trip memory, going back to 1986, featured the whole family climbing New Hampshire’s 6,288-foot Mount Washington in a V6-powered 1980 Pontiac Phoenix. That engine eventually evolved into the 3.1-litre, and was only retired in 2005.

Unlike the Phoenix and Citation, the Omega shunned the hatchback body style that seemed to be the most popular choice for Chevy and Pontiac buyers.

This was an Oldsmobile, after all – a mid-range marque – and hatchback cars were for entry-level buyers. Coupe and sedan only, please.

The vinyl landau roof, whitewalls and wire-spoke hubcaps gave this top-end Omega the exterior trappings of larger Oldsmobiles, but those can only bring so much panache to a maligned crop of cars. Still, it brought some satisfaction to this vest-wearing director, who is definitely going places in her career.

Bolt from the blue

The 2017 Chevy Bolt after its Detroit semi-introduction on Jan. 11.

The 2017 Chevy Bolt after its Detroit semi-debut on Jan. 11.

Is the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt the electric car that finally goes mainstream?

The Prius of pure EVs?

That seems to be the goal for General Motor’s all-electric five-door, which was piloted onto the stage by GM CEO Mary Barra herself during its quasi-debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this month.*

* (The Bolt was first revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas the previous week)

So far, pure EVs have sold in relatively limited numbers due to a combination of low driving range at the low end of the market and high cost at the top end. The painfully slow proliferation of charging infrastructure hasn’t helped a nervous public ditch their combustion-powered vehicles, either.

'More range, less cost' is GM's mantra with the Bolt.

‘More range, less cost’ is GM’s mantra with the Bolt.

The Bolt’s job is to eliminate range anxiety and do it at a price deemed ‘affordable’ for middle class car buyers. With an estimated range of 200 miles (320 kilometres), a price of $30,000 U.S. (after government incentives), and a spacious liftback body designed for family and cargo), GM feels it’s found a happy medium that will appeal to the maximum number of consumers.

Will it sell like umbrellas at Heathrow Airport? Time will tell, but the clock is ticking for any automaker looking to snatch the ‘Everyman EV’ crown.

When it hits dealer lots this fall, the Bolt has to make miles not just on the road, but on the gathering competition.

In the rear-view is the venerable Nissan LEAF, which received a modest range boost in 2016 (approximately 170 kilometres) ahead of a 2018 revamp that could see it surpass the Bolt in miles per charge.

Like the Nissan LEAF, the BWM i3 will also get a range boost in the near future.

Like the Nissan LEAF, the BWM i3 will also get a range boost in the near future.

BMW’s interestingly proportioned i3 gets a 50 percent range boost next year as well, pushing its outer limit to approximately 193 kilometres, minus the optional range-extender.

Somewhere out there in the ether, Tesla’s long-anticipated Model 3 is nearing a post-planning phase. While details of the entry-level Tesla are scarce, and price points and release date the subject of rumours, a more affordable Tesla with a range exceeding 200 miles should strike fear into the heart of any EV maker.

Still, the Model 3 doesn’t seem all that near, and Tesla currently seems quite preoccupied with working out the bugs with its fancy-doored Model X and delivering the luxury SUV to customers.

So it looks like the Bolt will have the high-range/low-cost market to itself for a little while, at least. Will lack of direct competition make the model shine on the sales sheet? Or will low oil prices, a diverse crop of plug-in hybrids, and lingering consumer nervousness around full-EV vehicles keep the Chevrolet Bolt in the sales slow lane?

We wait.

Room(iness) at the top: 2017 Lincoln Continental

The pride is back? The new Continental landed with a splash at the NAIAS.

The pride is back? The new Continental landed with a splash at the NAIAS.

With its flagship back, Lincoln gets a cherry on its sundae

It’s no secret this writer has expressed more than a passing interest in the Lincoln Continental since news broke in 2014 that the marque’s flagship was returning.

Well, as the overused phrase goes, “It’s 2016!” and the production-ready Continental is here.

Unveiled at the North American International Auto Show, the Continental is the first all-new model since the Ford Motor Company decided to resurrect the moribund Lincoln brand with a multi-billion-dollar injection of cash.

Remember that 1980s Chrysler slogan ‘The Pride is Back’? That seemed to be Lincoln’s mantra at NAIAS.

In case you were wondering what this was...

In case you were wondering what this was…

Massive lettering on a towering digital backdrop screamed announced the presence of the new range-topping sedan, which itself was parked atop a massive, gleaming white stage, flanked by two more Continentals. Incidently, they were painted red, white and blue.

Loosely translated, this means “We’re here, we’re American, and we’re heading to China!”

Yes, for some time Ford has jealously eyed GM’s success in the Chinese market – a murky opportunity factory where the nouveau riche snap up any American car with a storied (and status) nameplate. Cadillac and Buick shouldn’t have all the fun, Ford no doubt thought, and what better car to do that than a new Continental?

The soon-to-be-late Lincoln MKS – the brand’s former flagship – sold like coldcakes and was as exciting as a bowl of plain rice at an orgy. Left to wither on the vine, the model’s planned second generation was scrapped by Ford CEO Mark Fields in 2014 in favour of a model with presence and name recognition – something that would bring more distinction (and hopefully sales) to the brand.

With vehicle sales rising for the past two model years, Lincoln is slowly but surely pulling out of its lengthy sales slump. With its crossover offerings already well fleshed out (and generally well regarded) getting back into the full-size sedan market was a needed and obvious next step in the brand’s turnaround.

The Continental's rear just might be its most flawless rear estate.

The Continental’s rear just might be its most flawless real estate.


 Last year’s Continental concept was a good indication of the shape of things to come.

Bentley-esque in profile, the concept and production model eschewed the gaudiness of the 70s and 80s, nor did it submit to a retro ‘60s design that would age quickly and make for awkward redesigns.

Many people, myself included, secretly wished for a pound-for-pound remake of the ’63 Continental, but it was not to be. Maybe Ford learned a lesson with its slow-selling retro styled Thunderbird of the previous decade.

Lincoln x Infinity makes for a gleaming mouth.

Lincoln x Infinity makes for a gleaming mouth.

The new Continental clearly aims to be a contemporary representative of the Lincoln brand, a rolling expression of the ‘quiet luxury’ that Lincoln literature speaks of.

The styling cues of the concept remain in a toned-down form. A high beltline with a delicate rear fender hump, wide rectangular(ish) grille gleaming with recessed chrome mesh, and chrome door handles integrated into the beltline trim stand out on the production model.

Rarely does something as pedestrian as door handles get top billing when it comes to a new model’s features, but the Continental’s ‘E-latch’ handles are something to see. Looking like they’re milled from solid chromed steel, the handles are truly unique, opening with a touch of a pad on the inside of the protruding handhold.

The doors fully latch by themselves even if only partially closed. A capacitor in each door controls the system, but as Paul Linden (Supervisor of Advanced Technologies at Ford) describes, they can be defeated manually a number of ways.

Reach out and touch me...

Reach out and touch me…

“Triple redundancies” protect an owner from being locked out, said Linden, by way of switches located on the inside of the door or via a small square panel located in the Continental badging on the door’s exterior. The system also unlocks doors automatically in the event of a serious crash.

Subtle branding exercises abound in the Continental’s front end brightwork. Surrounding the Lincoln logo in the center of the grille are hundreds of logo-shaped links, while the five projectors in each headlamp follow suit.

Out back, the branding exercise continues with truly large ‘Lincoln’ lettering stretching across the trunk lid, the width of which is enhanced by the full-width tail lamps we’ve come to expect from the company.

Filling out the fender holes are turbine-style 20-inch wheels that provide an appropriately large platform for the flagships’ rubber.

Admirers of the concept’s sleek, recessed rocker panels and metal accent trim wrapping around the lower body edge will have to live with normal rockers and far less shiny bits down low.

An uncluttered console with healthy doses of aluminum greet Continental drivers.

An uncluttered console with healthy doses of aluminum greet Continental drivers.

Looking in

The Continental’s interior reflects a mix of new and retro cues.

A healthy dose of bright aluminum mesh adorns the upper door panels, dash, steering wheel and console (both front and rear), surrounded by the leather one would expect from any luxury sedan.

Thin chrome strips ring the center infotainment screen and gauge cluster.

While there might be a little too much aluminum kicking around, the metal applied to the elegantly sparse front and rear consoles looks fantastic, and is probably the car’s biggest nod to the Kennedy era – that storybook time when the Continental was a design leader.

Take control (of the audio) in the Continental's comfy backseat.

Take control (of the audio) in the Continental’s comfy backseat.

Good news for the finicky – the vehicle’s leather-and-fabric seats are adjustable 30 different ways. Let’s hope they have a memory function. Front and rear, the seats are heated and cooled.

While no Continental owner is safe online, at least their car’s built-in rear seat window curtains will afford their passengers some privacy while in public.

And because every day is sunny when you’re in a Lincoln, a full-length sunroof is there for access to the sun, the moon and the stars.

A 19-speaker Revel audio system, complete with rear-seat controls, rounds out the list of the biggest creature comforts.

Five logos, all in a row. A small thing, but props on being different.

Five logos, all in a row. A small thing, but props on being different.


A new, brand-exclusive 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 will power the top-of-the-line Continental, with the existing 3.7-litre and 2.7-litre Ecoboost engines serving as lower-rung fare. The 3.0-litre will make 400 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds of torque.

Front-wheel-drive is nothing new for the Continental nameplate, and those wheels will once again be putting the power down. Torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive will be an option.

Ford’s trusty 6-speed automatic is the only transmission offering.

Blue trumps white when it comes to showing off the Continental's subtle lines.

Blue trumps white when it comes to showing off the Continental’s subtle lines.

The verdict

Clearly the result of a careful design process, the Continental nonetheless runs the risk of being seen as bland, or worse, a badge engineering job.

Purists have taken exception to the car’s front-wheel-drive architecture, especially given that it’s a modified version of the platform that underpins the very ordinary Ford Fusion. While its Cadillac competitor, the CT6, is rear-drive, remember that previous Caddies like the DTS and STS were front-drive.

A conversation with a friend turned up the criticism that the new Continental is “okay, but weak,” and is likely the result of the people at Lincoln “playing it safe.” The grille, he added, was underwhelming.

Fair enough – I worry the headlamps and lower fascia stray close to Ford territory, but overall I say it’s a good styling effort. Maybe a little restrained, but isn’t that what Lincoln is going for?

I’d also add that the new Continental’s subtle lines are somewhat dependent on lighting. Well-lit white Continentals seem to become nearly shapeless, while the dark blue models show off their curves much better.

Overall, Lincoln deserves kudos for its bold return to the ultra-lux sedan market and for returning a storied nameplate to dealerships. The automotive landscape is richer for it.

Don’t Vox me, bro

Maybe we should subsidize all bikes, while we're at it. Who's on board?

Maybe we should subsidize all bikes while we’re at it. Who’s on board?

I waited until the second day of the New Year to get annoyed by something because this was my New Year’s resolution.

So, it’s January 2, and I’m annoyed by a story I read after being linked to it via Twitter!*

*In many ways, 2015 hasn’t ended

The annoyance comes, not surprisingly, from the preachy news site Vox, an outlet where right-thinking Brooklynite millennials explain to the plebs the way things really are. Their entirely predictable take on every issue of the day has become known in more cynical circles as Voxsplaining.

I won’t link to the offending article (it can be looked up, if one so chooses), but it can be summarized as ‘Economists don’t like electric vehicle subsidies but I do because we collectively need to do something to save the planet.’

Economists almost all agree that such subsidies are “excessive and inefficient,” the article states, but the author argues there are nebulous benefits realized that we can’t measure but must be there. So the subsidies must continue apace.

And it goes on and on in the usual ‘Me vs. The World’ tone one comes to expect from someone convinced of their own righteous moral superiority.

Stop, I say. Just stop.

EV ownership can be promoted many ways, some better than others.

EV ownership can be promoted many ways, some better than others.

So very often in these debates, it comes down to one party claiming the other’s plan to solve XYZ problem is inefficient, and the other party claiming the first guy just doesn’t want to do anything about XYZ problem.

Because he doesn’t care, see.

For a good example, watch any two opposing politicians talk about any given issue.

In the old days, one would just accuse the other’s wife of running around town, leading to punches or maybe even a duel. Nowadays, we shame our opponents by climbing into a Care Bear furry suit.

Maximum benefit to society comes from infrastructure everyone can use.

Maximum benefit to society comes from infrastructure everyone can use.

The issue at hand – EV subsidies – doesn’t exist in a vacuum, though. It’s a ‘green’ issue, like green energy and green jobs and green taxation and the like.

When the first oddly proportioned EVs trickled onto the market as a novelty, some governments tossed cash at EV buyers so that they could claim they were helping more EVs ply the roadways, and aren’t we great stewards of the Earth?

It was but one way of addressing the need to lower emissions created by internal-combustion engines.

Then more and more EVs hit the market, many of them at the high end of the market, while in the background, gasoline-powered cars became more efficient and energy-saving programs for homes and businesses came and went. The EV subsidy exists as a single square in a patchwork quilt of programs with the same goal – saving the planet.

The problem is, once a program is put into effect, it becomes a sacred cow to some. After all, if it was created with the greatest and purest of intentions, why would anyone even consider altering it?

Well, for one thing, because this is a subsidy consisting of finite taxpayer money that could be put to better use while keeping the same goal in mind.

Build it and they will come. If it fits unobtrusively into a lifestyle, and can be fueled easily.

Build it and they will come. But only if it fits unobtrusively into a lifestyle, and can be fueled easily.

Ontario, like Quebec and some U.S. states, will fork over up to $8,500 to the buyer of a new EV. The program has been in effect for years, and exactly how much has been paid out through it remains a mystery. In a province of 13 million people, suffice it to say millions.

Should the affluent buyer of a 691-horsepower dual-motor Tesla P85D – a car that goes zero-to-100km/h in 3 seconds, retails for $120,000 and features a ‘Ludicrous Mode’ – receive $8,500 from taxpayers to fund his or her ultra-lux road rocket?

To phrase it another way, should the residents of a province with $300 billion in debt, monthly interest payments of $11.4 billion, a stagnant economy and serious health care challenges be throwing money at the wealthy for status-symbol cars?

Imagine it was electric. And you're helping your neighbour's dad finance it.

Imagine it was electric. And you’re helping your neighbour’s dad finance it.

Wealthy people who very likely can afford the P85D just fine, along with (probably) a boat and cottage for weekend down time?

A solid look at the current subsidy setup would make both fiscal conservatives and social democrats cringe.

Surely there’s a better way for a province obsessed with displaying its progressiveness at every turn to tout its green bona fides while supporting EV proliferation?

In its defense, the province recently pledged $20 million for the installation of public charging stations. Not only was it a good way to change the channel from the soon-to-be forgotten scandal of the day, it’s an altogether better use of public funds to spur EV ownership.

Rather than help a person who can already afford an EV buy one, this type of investment strengthens the infrastructure needed to make EV ownership practical for all potential buyers, and the EV industry as a whole sustainable.

Provincially-bought chargers would bolster the ranks of stations already installed by the likes of Tesla, Sun Valley Highway, local municipalities, privately-owned shopping malls, hotels and dealerships.

Subsidies directed to EV buyers should be redirected to this initiative. At the very least, a cap on vehicle price should be added to the subsidy program.

The Tesla Model X P90D. Rarified air for any EV buyer (Image: Tesla Motors)

The Tesla Model X P90D. Rarified air for any EV buyer (Image: Tesla Motors)

Governments are in the business of building and maintaining roads, something they eventually pull off reasonably well, with some caveats. They’re not in the business of creating what’s driving on them, nor are they good at picking winners when it comes to handing out big globs of corporate welfare (though that cash is always gladly accepted on the other end).

Better charging infrastructure is crucial at a time like this. EV numbers are rising – slowly, to be sure – but a new wave of cheaper electrics with far better range are poised to hit the streets in the next year or two.

Tesla showed the world that a long range, capable EV was possible, but vehicles like the Model S and fancy-doored X are still out of reach for most of the buying public. Models like the Chevy Bolt (due next year), as well as the next-generation Nissan LEAF and (conceptual) downmarket Tesla Model 3 would put EV ownership solidly in the hands of the middle class.

For a young or middle class buyer to choose an EV, it needs to be a purchase that won’t make them quickly regret it. That’s where infrastructure comes in.

Packards and Peirce-Arrows brought about technological advancements in the car industry 100 years ago, but it was the lowly (and wildly popular) Ford Model T that brought about the proliferation of fueling stations and new gasoline refining techniques in America.

A thirsty society needs – and demands – access to fuel, whether it be hydrocarbons or charged ions.

If public money is to be spent, this is where it should go.



Car crib

IMG_6460 - Copy

Sometimes you’re just walking past a place and need to snap a picture.

This past summer, a small mechanic’s shop on Ottawa’s Gladstone Avenue was open to the world on a hot summer afternoon. Who wouldn’t peer in?

The automotive fare might be on the boring side, but the look of this bay sure shows screams ‘hard-fought small business’, with distinctive hints of family and ‘labour of love’. There’s character here, and I hope small auto shops like this don’t disappear in the face of some sort of societal progress.

True grit

The French Connection (1971)

The French Connection (1971)

This holiday season I got the opportunity to once again indulge in one of my favourite Christmas movies – The French Connection.

Okay, so it’s not a Christmas movie per se, but there is a scene of Gene Hackman beating another man while dressed as Santa. That has to count for something.

The real reason this 1971 crime drama is at the top of my must-watch list isn’t the fleeting yuletide cheer, but the simple fact it’s one of the best – and grittiest – cop movies ever filmed.

And it’s a car lover’s paradise.

Can't you just taste the air?

Can’t you just taste the air?

With its main set piece being a grimy New York City in the cold, grey early winter, William Freidkin’s film perfectly illustrates the widespread decay of the 1970s American urban landscape.

You can feel the grittiness ooze from the screen. The raw exhaust notes emanating from the vast masses of rolling Detroit iron. The aching toes brought on by pounding the cold, cracked pavement in pursuit of ‘Frog One’. A landscape so far from the warm sun and a clean soaking of rain.

This isn’t the New York of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it’s the New York of Death Wish and Mean Streets.

*not a still from the New York City Tourism Bureau

*not a still from the New York City Tourism Bureau

Though it was critically acclaimed – winning Oscars for best picture, actor and director – the film is, as one Guardian writer recently stated, one of the most nihilistic to ever grace the silver screen. Hell, its promotional poster features the protagonist ‘Popeye’ Doyle triumphantly shooting a man in the back.

Gunning...for critical acclaim!

Gunning…for critical acclaim!

The film’s thrilling (and nearly suicidal) chase sequence between a 1971 Pontiac Lemans and an elevated commuter train took place on an open road, with no safety precautions and real vehicular casualties.

For all of this, it’s a certified a classic. A raw filmmaker’s film. And for a car lover, a treasure trove.

The rolling centerpiece is a 1970 Lincoln Continental Mk. III, a vehicle imported from France and shared between the characters of Alain Charnier, a well-to-do Frenchman with sketchy allegiances, and Henri Devereaux, an erudite French actor.

Despite being that perfect ’70s colour (dark brown), the Continental shines. The model reeks of class and distinction, its luxury contrasted by the unsavory backdrops through which it travels.

Of course, this would be the last decade that the Lincoln brand would be looked on as the pinnacle of American motoring luxury, and the Mk. III can arguably be seen as the last ‘great’ Lincoln.

In many ways, the car was metaphorically catching up to its movie surroundings.

1970 Continental Mk. III? Don't mind if I do...

1970 Continental Mk. III? Don’t mind if I do…

Gene Hackman’s ‘Popeye’ character gets no such luxury, however. His ride is a bare-bones 1968 Ford Custom, and his lifestyle as a hard-drinking narcotics officer is best summed up by the scene in which ‘Frog One’ and Frog Two’ are gorging themselves in a perversely luxurious a la carte restaurant, while he eats coffee and cold pizza on the frigid sidewalk outside.

Because so much of the action takes place on the street, where a vice cop is normally going to find himself, the audience gets a huge dose of early 70s rolling stock.

In pre-Oil Crisis America, the Big Three ruled the roadways. You’d be hard pressed to even spot a Volkwagen in this flick.

Ever run into a movie star before?

Ever run into a movie star before?

And don’t the vehicles seem indestructible? What is it about that era of cars that makes it seem an average sedan could jump from an overpass and still make it okay, just a little bit banged up?

Certainly, Doyle’s appropriated LeMans takes more than a few wrecking yard-worthy hits in its pursuit of the train, while still staying in the game. It’s a sequence that makes you realize modern car chases are terribly boring. Exploding plastic fascias and deploying airbags do not a good car chase make…

Because it’s a well-formulated detective movie, The French Connection builds slowly as the connections are realized. It’s so very, very worth it, yet I fear many people might overlook this film. And by ‘people’, I mean those of the Millennial generation, who generally believe that any movie worth making should have been made after 1995.

If you’re into films and into cars – or even just one of the two – you need to devote time to watching this movie.




They see me rollin’…

'nuff said...

’nuff said…

Sometimes you just want to shout at the world.

Loud and proud.

No matter what the circumstances.

“Here I am! This is me! And this – yes, you guessed it – is my Toyota Corolla!”

If that’s not the mentality at work here, I don’t know what else could explain the need to advertise the driving of one of the world’s most ubiquitous vehicles.

This ain't your grandma's Corolla. Although, nothing's stopping it.

This ain’t your grandma’s Corolla. Although, nothing’s stopping it.

A vehicle that has sold over 40 million copies, and comes with a 1.8-litre engine making 132 horsepower. And, just to be clear – it’s a previous generation of said vehicle.

The human psyche is a jungle.

I’m reminded of the recurring 1990s SNL skit with Will Ferrell playing the maladjusted dad who references his generic mid-size sedan during heated arguments with his family.

“I drive a Mitsubishi Gallant! This is serious stuff!”*

*Other vehicles included a Dodge Stratus

Given the enthusiasm needed to pull this off, I’m curious about what other braggy models I might encounter in my travels around the nation’s capitol.



If ‘Corolla’ is a thing, then why not?

Not-so-Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Bodacious econobox: the sizzling Geo Metro LSi.

Bodacious econobox: the sizzling Geo Metro LSi.

If there’s truth in advertising, then neon is appropriate for casual wear and underpowered econoboxes dressed up as sports cars are just plain radical, dude.

No doubt about it, fashion at the turn of the ’90s was truly atrocious, and definitely fueled a big part of the subsequent rise of grunge. These kids – possibly seniors at Bayside – clearly had no idea of the horror this ad would elicit from modern eyes.

But fashion isn’t why we’re here. No, it’s the small red thing next to them that’s worthy of a second look.

Too cool for school? Not according to this screen shot from Beverly Hills, 90210.

Too cool for school? Not according to this screen shot from Beverly Hills, 90210.

Gone, but hardly forgotten, the diminutive Geo Metro was the butt of many jokes during its 1990s heyday.

And no wonder. As low gas prices pushed engine displacements skyward and the love affair with the SUV blossomed across North America, the Geo Metro remained true to its original purpose – a cheap, fuel-efficient runabout with room for four unhappy adults.

The standard engine (minus a few specialty models)? A 55 horsepower 1.0-litre 3-cylinder, making a paltry 58 lb-foot of torque – barely enough to wring a dish cloth dry.

Remember that in those dark days before widespread turbocharging, direct injection and variable valve timing, most 4-cylinders – especially domestic ones – were rightfully viewed as sluggish underperformers, despite being twice the Metro’s displacement.

The 1992 Geo Metro appeared as the fictional 'Accountant' in this episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

The 1992 Geo Metro appeared as the fictional ‘Accountant’ in an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Also recall that by the end of the decade, Dodge and Ford were both offering V-10 engines in their full-size pickup and SUV lines. ‘Big’ was in.

Still, Geo, an economy-minded GM subsidiary formed through a partnership with Suzuki, cranked out spartan compacts for eight years before biting the dust after the 1997 model year.

Besides the Metro, the Prism sedan and shorter-lived Storm sport coupe filled out the now-hazy lineup.

In Canada, Geo’s Tracker mini-ute was quite popular, offered alongside its platform twin, the Suzuki Sidekick. That model continued production under the Chevrolet badge until 2004.

But it is the Metro that most people think of when they hear the word ‘Geo’.

While the lowly Metro, which was built under the Chevrolet badge until 2001, was rightfully considered the bottom of the automotive ladder in the 1990s, that doesn’t mean it was the worst thing on the road.

Endgame: the 2001 Chevy Metro.

Endgame: the 2001 Chevy Metro.

Sure, the car won’t accelerate beyond 149 km/h (in 5-speed guise), nor will it reach 100 km/h in under 16 seconds, but who buys a Metro to race?

Reviews posted on Edmunds show a car that returns exceptional mileage – into the upper 50 mpg (U.S.) range on some models – as well as better than average reliability.

So frugal was the little Metro that its popularity as a used car rose when the post-recession gas price spike began nailing drivers at the pumps.

Think of all the cool stuff you could buy with all that cash you’re saving!

And body styles? How a two and four-door hatchback, 4-door sedan, and a 2-seater convertible? Just try and get that kind of variety from a Lumina or Taurus…

Yes, the Geo Metro couldn’t register even a tremor on the automotive Arouse-o-Meter, but let’s give it some credit.

While Mr. and Mrs. Bigshot School Heroes are broken down on the side of the road in their used Integra, you can wheeze past them – alone – in your Geo Metro. Slow and steady wins the race.