Category Archives: Musings

Thoughts on everything from the industry at large to the tiniest element of design.

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.

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.

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.


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.



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