Monthly Archives: November 2015

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.

Inherit the Wind(sor)

1962 Chrysler Windsor, spotted in Ottawa, Ontario.

1962 Chrysler Windsor, spotted in Ottawa, Ontario.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A 1962 Dodge Custom 880. Notice a resemblance?

A 1962 Dodge Custom 880. Notice a resemblance?

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

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

Very Kennedy era. Or Diefenbaker, if you prefer.

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

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

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

21st century yacht

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

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

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

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

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

Also appealing are its numbers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Room to stretch out. (mage: General Motors)

Room to stretch out. (mage: General Motors)

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

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

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

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

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

No doubt Cadillac is hoping for this response.

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

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

Earth tones

This young couple knows what colour floats their boat.

This young couple knows what colour floats their boat.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every brown box checked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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