Tag Archives: Ford

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.

‘M’ is for ‘Mostly Forgotten’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greatest Generation… of vehicles

Canada marked the 70th anniversary of VE Day last week, and here in the capital the streets quickly filled up with vintage military rolling stock. Here’s a taste of what showed up for the celebration:

World War 2 era GMC CCKW-353 (aka 'Deuce-and-a-half')

World War 2 era GMC CCKW-353 (aka ‘Deuce-and-a-half’)

GMC CCKW-353 2.5 tonne

Tanks and aircraft get the lion’s share of the limelight when it comes to warfare, but troops couldn’t advance en masse without a convoy of study, rugged trucks.

In the European theatre of WW2, that truck was (more often not) the three-axle, 6×6 GMC CCKW-353, affectionately known as the Deuce-and-a-half due to its 2.5 tonne payload rating.

A few hundred thousand of these came in handy in the mid-1940s.

A few hundred thousand of these came in handy in the mid-1940s.

Powered by a smooth and reliable 270 c.i.d. inline six (making 91 hp and 216 lb-ft), this GMC saw the U.S. and Canada through WW2 and Korea.

Given the massive numbers of Allied troops pouring into Europe in the wake of D-Day, huge numbers of transports were required.

Between GM and GM of Canada, 800,000 examples were cranked out in every possible configuration.

The GMC provided a stable platform for carrying and towing, and besides its most common role as a troop carrier, saw use as a water and fuel tanker, surgical van, and mobile anti-aircraft gun installation.

Though replaced in official service in the early 1950s, CCKW-353s were a common sight on military bases well into the 1960s.

Volkswagen Type 166 Schwimmwagen ('floating car')

Volkswagen Type 166 Schwimmwagen (‘floating car’)

Volkswagen Type 166 Schwimmwagen

Count on the crafty Germans to come up with something as innovative as this.

After the Axis power decided that expansionism was the way to go, the German armed forces found themselves needing more than just tanks, trucks, and staff cars to get around. After all, there’s a lot of narrow roads and water in Holland.

"Faster? But Sir, we're already doing 5 knots!"

“Faster? But Sir, we’re already doing 5 knots!”

Enter the lowly People’s Car, which offered up its underpinnings and drivetrain for the VW Type 166 Schwimmwagen, a light, agile car that could double as a motorboat (thanks to a watertight body and a propeller mounted on a driveshaft extension).

And so, the most mass-produced amphibious car in history was born out of wartime necessity. Powered by a 1.1-litre flat four, a total of 14,265 of the bathtub-like vehicles rolled, then swam, off the assembly lines.

Yes, that paddle is there for a reason. The Schwimmwagen could make steady (but slow) forward progress in the water, but backing up required  basic canoe training. If lost, the shovel would suffice for maneuvering the tiny ship.

On dry land, a four-speed transmission and two-speed transfer case (with 4WD in 1st) helped the Schwimmwagen navigate roadways and mixed terrain.

While it provided next to no protection to occupants and was puny compared to other road-going machines of the era, a passenger-side 8-millimetre machine gun helped sooth the driver’s ego.

1941-45 Willys MB, aka 'Jeep'

1941-45 Ford GPW, aka ‘Jeep’ (note: nine grille slots, instead of seven for the Willys)

Jeep (Willys MB and Ford GPW)

We can all thank Hitler for unwittingly introducing the world to the Jeep – an iconic vehicle whose lineage continues to this day in the Wrangler.

With entry into WW2 seeming like a sure thing, the U.S. Army appealed to the auto industry for designs of a small, durable four-wheel-drive scout or reconnaissance car of light weight and adequate power.

A startan interior was just what the Army ordered. Not custom sheepskin shift boots on this restored example.

A startan interior was just what the Army ordered. Not custom sheepskin shift boots on this restored example.

Tiny, failing car company American Bantam submitted blueprints five days later, which impressed the military so much that they sent the designs to Ford and Willys-Overland for refinement, and ultimately production.

Powered by a Willys-sourced ‘Go Devil’ 2.2-litre four cylinder making 60 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque, the vehicle went into extensive production starting in 1945.

Because production was split between two companies, Willys designated their model the MB, while Ford called theirs the GPW. The only tell-tale difference between the two was the nine-slot grille on the Ford, versus the quintessential seven-slot grille on the Willys.

The Willys 'Go Devil' engine was chosen for the Jeep due to its small size and robust power.

The Willys ‘Go Devil’ engine was chosen for the Jeep due to its small size and robust power.

In all, Willys assembled over 359,000 of the do-anything runabouts before the end of the war, while Ford produced over 277,000.

Nowhere in official documents was the word ‘Jeep’ mentioned. There’s much speculation about how the car – and eventually the company – came to adopt the name; most of it centres around slang used by servicemen and a high-profile 1941 media event in Washington, DC.

Whatever the origin, the word ‘jeep’ became synonymous with small, rugged 4×4, sparking a worldwide movement that led to the creation of the Land Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser.

After the war, the popular civilian Jeep (CJ) found itself on quite a wild ownership ride, changing hands several times.

This 1947 Willys, found on a farm in the Yukon, was painstakingly restored to 1944 specs (including the installation of a WW2 Ford grille).

This 1947 Willys, found on a farm in the Yukon, was painstakingly restored to 1944 specs (including the installation of a WW2 Ford grille).

After Willys-Overland, the CJ was built by Kaiser-Jeep from 1953 onwards, followed by a long stint at American Motors Corporation (AMC), before being purchased by Chrysler Corporation in 1987.

The ride didn’t stop there, as Chrysler then embarked on its own ownership roller-coaster. From DaimlerChrysler AG, though the dismal Chrysler Group LLC years (which was followed by bankruptcy) and eventually to its current home in Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the Jeep division clearly has nine lives, and many new dads.

The fact that the division has remained in such demand over the decades – and created such a lifestyle around its products – should make the original designers of the Jeep proud.

2015 Ford Focus: new face, familiar ride

Ford wasn't prepared to let the Focus fade from the compact car scene. For 2015 it receives a major refresh.

Ford wasn’t prepared to let the Focus fade from the compact car scene. For 2015, it receives a significant refresh.

Subtle improvements keep restyled compact in the game

No car model wants to end up going the Marlon Brando route, lamenting “I coulda been a contender” to their friends over a beer.

That can happen when models are left to wither on the vine by an uncaring parent company. Like a retiree passed by a teenager on the highway, the model with the oldest hardware and least attention can soon find themselves in last place.

Ford’s perennially popular Focus has been a reliable seller for the company since its introduction in the late 1990s.

The current generation debuted for the 2012 model year, arriving in sedan and 5-door hatch form with an edgy European design that highlighted its global architecture, and packed with the latest technology aimed at safety and comfort.

However, the recent increase of standout compact offerings – including those from resurgent North American brands – saw the Focus run the risk of being overlooked in a crowded marketplace.

New year, new face: The Focus now shares front-end traits with its bigger brother Fusion.

About face: the Focus now shares front-end traits with its big brother, Fusion.


The refreshed 2015 Focus arrives with a new face and a longer list of available equipment. Incremental improvements have been made throughout the vehicle to keep the model fresh, but nothing radical simply for change’s sake.

Up front, a wide, horizontal slat grille with chrome accents brings the Focus’ design more in line with the larger Fusion.

Unlike some mid-cycle design tweaks, this significant makeover (which also includes the lower fascia, hood, taillights and trunklid) represents an improvement, not just a change. The cleaner lines and chrome, plus the new LED accent strips above the headlights (which double as daytime running lights), adds an upscale element to the Focus.

The Focus Titanium comes with an 8-inch screen to display SYNC information and the standard back-up camera.

The Focus Titanium comes with an 8-inch screen to display SYNC information and the standard back-up camera.

The standard engine remains a 2.0-litre direct injection four-cylinder, generating 160 horsepower and 146 foot-pounds of torque. A five-speed manual transmission comes standard, with Ford’s six-speed dual clutch PowerShift automatic optional on lower end models and standard on the top-line Titanium.

For 2015, economy-minded buyers can option their Focus with a 1.0-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder previously found only in the subcompact Fiesta. That tiny engine makes a respectable 123 horsepower and 125 foot-pounds of torque, and comes mated to a six-speed manual transmission.

Also available in the Focus lineup is the hot ST hatch, with a 2.0-litre EcoBoost making 252 horsepower, and the Focus Electric, an all-EV model. Diversity of options seems to be Ford’s game for its volume compact.

Inside the vehicle, minor but meaningful changes have been made to the dash layout and steering wheel to reduce the sense of clutter and enhance user friendliness. The parking brake has also been moved further aft, now located discreetly between the seats.

On the tech front, Ford offers a host of standard equipment in the Focus, including its SYNC infotainment system (featuring voice activation, hands-free calling, and USB and mobile device connectivity), and a rear-view camera. A number of additional high-tech features can be optioned.

A little more black, a little less busy. That's what Ford accomplished with the dash of the Focus during its makeover.

A little more black, a little less busy. That’s what Ford accomplished with the dash of the Focus during its makeover.


Driving impressions

Our Focus tester was a top-line Titanium model decked out with all the options Ford could muster.

Inside, the leather-trimmed seating looked stylish and matched the soft plastics of the dash. Though flat in appearance, the 8-way power driver’s seat (with lumbar support) proved extremely comfortable.

A nice touch in the cabin is the ambient nighttime lighting, which bathes door handles, map pockets, cup holders and foot wells in a soft, cool blue. Outside, parking lamps mounted in the side mirrors illuminate the ground beneath the front doors for entry and egress.

The 6-speed dual-clutch automatic unfortunately doesn't have its own gate for manual shifting. A shallow, thumb-actuated shifter is offered, but is easily ignored.

The 6-speed dual-clutch automatic unfortunately doesn’t have its own gate for manual shifting. A shallow, thumb-actuated shifter is offered, and is easily ignored.

Though it’s a feature that few buyers would demand in a compact, domestic sedan, it’s nevertheless a classy touch.

Our tester’s PowerShift automatic made good use of the standard 2.0-litre engine’s power, but the drivetrain was sometimes ‘buzzy’ at low speeds, as the tranny would hold on to lower gears in preparation for acceleration. Under normal or vigorous acceleration, shifts were quick and smooth – hallmarks of a dual clutch transmission.

Geared for economy (upshifts are enthusiastic, downshifts hesitant), the transmission, teamed with the high-compression engine, makes for great fuel economy.

The 2.0-litre/PowerShift combination is rated at 8.9 litres/100km in the city and 6.2 litres/100km on the highway, which translates into 31.7 mpg (Imp.) city and 45.6 mpg highway. The city numbers were easy to match in real life, and one two-hour drive on rural secondary highways returned a figure of 5.3 litres/100km (53.3 mpg).

Models with the five-speed manual are a little thirstier, going by factory mileage numbers, but would deliver a livelier driving experience.

In rural and urban driving, the Focus shone in the handling department. The optional 18-inch painted aluminum wheels on our tester (17-inchers come standard on Titanium models) came wrapped in low-profile rubber, which allowed the Focus to hold the road with authority.

Heavily weighted steering with no hint of play added to the sporty feel of the car.

Low profile tires can sometimes deliver a jarring ride in areas prone to road cracks and frost heaves, but the pliable suspension of the Focus soaked up the imperfections surprisingly well. A lack of body or suspension rattles made the Focus feel taught and put-together.

Active Park Assist and BLIS with cross-traffic alert are two two options you won't want to be without.

Active Park Assist and BLIS with cross-traffic alert are two two options you won’t want to be without.

Open roads are fun, but eventually everyone has to navigate a parking lot. The available safety features in the Focus helped tame parking paranoia, thanks to a rear-view camera (displayed on the Titanium’s 8-inch monitor) and Ford’s BLIS system.

The system alerts the driver to fixed obstacles around the vehicle, and monitors for approaching vehicles when the driver is backing out of a spot. This electronic nanny takes a car with already good rearward visibility and makes it almost clairvoyant.

If your parking spot of choice is of the parallel variety, available Active Park Assist allows the driver press a button and follow directions, as the Focus eventually takes over and parks itself (with some driver inputs). It works, but it’s creepy at first.

Other high-tech safety aids included blind spot warnings (via an amber LED light in the side mirrors), and lane departure warnings. Drift too close to the centre line or adjacent lane and the Focus will shake the steering wheel to grab your attention. Drift too close to the shoulder, and you could get a fatigue warning, complete with a chime and an illuminated warning in the gauge cluster.

Yes, the Ford Focus is spying on you, but it’s for your own good. And, presumably, you paid for it.

While the loaded Titanium model came in over $31,000 with all options and fees factored, a base S sedan begins at $16,799. Sure, you won’t be able to wow your friends with Knight Rider-like levels of gizmos, but the body and engine will be the same.

With the 2015 Focus, Ford has made meaningful improvements to an already competent vehicle. There are newer ‘all new’ compacts out there, but the Focus shouldn’t be overlooked just for that – especially when you consider the sum of its contents.

A comfortable yet sporty ride, laundry list of high-tech features and new face makes the Focus a worthy compact to consider.

A comfortable yet sporty ride, laundry list of high-tech features and new face makes the Focus a worthy compact to consider.

British Steel

Pre-1953 Ford Prefect, spotted in Kazabazua, Quebec.

Pre-1953 Ford Prefect, spotted in Kazabazua, Quebec.

When your average North American thinks of a British car, it’s usually an image of a Jaguar, Rover, Austin, Lotus or MG that pops into their head.

Not Ford.

Those classic English marques definitely made an impact on both sides of the pond, but Ford of Britain should get credit for dutifully cranking out staid and sensible vehicles for the driveway of the everyman.

It’s hard to imagine now, but for decades, Ford of Britain marketed their vehicles in the U.S. and Canada alongside their more familiar counterparts from Detroit. This was especially prevalent in the early postwar period and 1950s, as the British models undercut the American models in price by quite a bit.

The Prefect's 1.17-litre engine made a whopping 31 horsepower.

The Prefect’s 1.17-litre engine made a whopping 31 horsepower.

They also undercut them in power, comfort, and size.

The Ford Prefect was a big name among British cars. As an uplevel version of the Ford Popular and Ford Anglia (naming models wasn’t their strong suit), the Prefect was introduced in 1938 and continued in production – minus a three year gap to accommodate a pesky global conflict – until 1961.

Following World War 2, a devastated England geared up its factories, and, using existing dies, tools and plans, built and exported cars to save its financial life. Ford of Britain sales and service networks were set up in North America to handle the influx (Latin America and Australia being other big customers).

Per capita, the British Fords proved more popular in Canada than the U.S.

Ford of Britain workers are seen constructing Prefects in 1950.

Ford of Britain workers are seen constructing Prefects in 1950.

Whether it was the Commonwealth factor or the long-standing love affair with domestic vehicles south of the border, Canada’s sparse population soaked up 235,000 British Fords between 1948 and 1973.

In 1950 alone, a Baby Boom-era Canada bought up 14,804 British Fords, a good number of them Prefects.

Your author’s mother often recalled the Prefect of her Alberta youth, one of several British imports purchased by her budget-minded father (the others being an Austin and a Vauxhall).

Throughout the model’s run, the body received only one significant upgrade – in 1953, when the upright, pre-war look was ditched for something more contemporary.

The mechanics of the Prefect were as basic as you could get, and wouldn’t win you any races. The only powerplant available was a side-valve 1.17-litre four cylinder making 31 horsepower and 46 foot-pounds of torque, mated to a three-speed manual transmission.

Vintage North American ad for British Ford cars.

Vintage North American ad for British Ford cars.

Compared to the V8-powered American Fords of the same time period, the Prefect seemed to have more in common with the Model T (especially considering that it retained the capacity for crank-starting).

With a top speed of about 65 miles per hour (105 km/h), you wouldn’t want to try passing logging trucks in the Rocky Mountains in a Prefect. But, driving a Prefect was better than not driving at all, hence why British imports became popular with the cost-conscious.

Despite the number of vehicles sold here in the Great White North, British Fords are scarce. The Prefect at the centre of this post, spotted in a field near Kazabazua, Quebec, was a rare surprise.

While the model itself is far from the minds of modern-day Canadians (and Brits), the Prefect gained lasting recognition after a confused main character in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy adopted the car’s name in an effort to appear “inconspicuous” among locals.





After the gold rush

With dropping oil prices and an economy on the upswing, why not buy that new Mustang? (Image: Ford Motor Company)

With dropping oil prices and an economy on the upswing, why not buy that new Mustang? (Image: Ford Motor Company)

End-of-year sales figures are in, and it seems the people who didn’t buy a new car this year could all fit on a short-wheelbase bus.

2014 turned out to be a boffo year for the automotive industry, and for American manufacturers, too – automakers who just a half-decade ago were questioning whether they’d survive to see the 2010’s.

In Canada, overall sales were up 6% over last year’s totals, and rose an astonishing 16% in December. In the United States, sales also rose 6% in 2014, and 11% in the month of December.

In Canada, the top three companies turned out to be the Big Three, with Ford Motor Company on top with 15.8% of the market, while Fiat-Chrysler took 15.7% and General Motors snagging 13.5%.

In the U.S. of A, GM was on top of the corporate sales ladder with 17.8% of the year’s market share, followed by Ford (14.9%) and Toyota Motor Corporation (14.4%).

Buick made impressive sales gains in Canada in 2014, selling 31% more than the year before (Image: General Motors)

Buick made impressive sales gains in Canada in 2014, selling 31% more than the year before (Image: General Motors)

In terms of brands, Canadians were most partial to Ford, which saw sales rise by 39.5% for December (compared to Dec. ’13) and 2.7% for the year. Honda and Toyota took 2nd and 3rd place, with Chevrolet and RAM rounding out the top five.

South of the border, Americans also found themselves drawn to Ford the most (thought the annual tally dipped by 1.1% over last year), followed by Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

Other automakers also had strong showings this December compared to last. Buick saw Canadian sales rose 64.9%, finishing the year 31% higher than 2013. Chrysler sales shot up 86.9% in the Christmas month, though overall sales were down slightly (2.9%) for the year.

Even the Lincoln brand, which seemed (until recently) to be as endangered as GM and Chrysler were in 2008, saw positive sales gains. In Canada, the luxury brand saw a 61.4% boost in December, finishing the year 17.3% higher than last. In the U.S., Lincoln saw December sales rise 21.4% over 2013, with an annual total 15.6% higher.

Interest is being rekindled in that storied brand, it would seem.

Scion sales slid sharply in 2014 in both American and Canadian markets (Image: Toyota Motor Corporation)

Scion sales slid sharply in 2014 in both American and Canadian markets (Image: Toyota Motor Corporation)

In a game with winners and losers, there always has to be a downside – even with buyers running to dealerships en masse, cash in hand. This past month – and this past year – the loser was Scion, the Toyota offshoot that appears to be headed the same direction as the Lusitania.

With December sales down 30.7% in Canada and 11.7% in the U.S., drastic action will be needed to reverse this trend and keep the brand afloat. The annual sales loss for Scion works out to a drop of 20.4% in Canada and 15.1% in the U.S.


A sporty, 5-door hatch scheduled to be released in 2015 might change things, but I’d say more models are needed to bring the brand back to visibility.

Crystal ball types are predicting that it will be difficult for the industry to maintain this level of sales next year, which isn’t all that surprising. At some point, the amount of new cars already bought, and the amount of people who can’t afford them, will conspire to reach a sales plateau.

My not-too-brilliant prediction: with oil prices plunging, expect growth in the truck and SUV categories this coming year.





We got the beat(er)

1967 Ford Falcon, spotted in Savannah, Georgia. 1960s beaters are nonexistent in Canada, but live on in the Deep South.

1967 Ford Falcon, spotted in Savannah, Georgia. 1960s beaters are nonexistent in Canada, but live on in the Deep South.

The great thing about temperate winters (besides not getting frostbite, slipping on ice, or having to pray for vehicle ignition on cold mornings) is the lack of salt.

Road salt is to cars the way Father Karras was to the demon inside Linda Blair. It destroys them, dissolves them, and sends them back to nature in their elemental state – in this case, iron oxide (rust).

Because of this, you rarely see any classic cars operating as daily drivers in northern climes. In the south, it’s a different story – if you’ve got the patience and the cash, your road-going classic can also be your grocery getter.

There’s also more to choose from, thanks to the preservation qualities of a warm, dry climate.

The ’67 Ford Falcon isn’t anyone’s idea of a ‘classic’, but it is a historic vehicle that saw many buyers back in the day. And this example, parked under hanging moss on the sultry streets of Savannah, sure has seen some use since the Summer of Love.

The Falcon carried Ford's round taillight motif until 1967, but no further.

The Falcon carried Ford’s round taillight motif until 1967, but no further.

Dents and dings adorn the bumpers and body panels of this cream-coloured Falcon, with the rear fender displaying what is probably a do-it-yourself Bondo job.

It’s a beater, but unlike the rusty Civics and Cavaliers we see up in the Great White North, it’s got history and character backing it up. Think of the tumultuous events occurring in America in 1967 (few of them non-violent).

The deadly Detroit Riots took place that tension-filled summer, along with smaller riots in Buffalo, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Washington, DC. The Vietnam War escalated amid a growing anti-war movement, while America’s space program recorded its first deaths – the three-man crew of Apollo 1 lost in a launch pad fire.

In Georgia, Democrat Lester Maddox – a staunch segregationist – took office as the state’s governor. Despite his controversial views, the state soon embarked on an economic development strategy that included the hiring of African-Americans to public positions, as well reforming the state’s health care, education and prison systems.

Future Georgia governor Lester Maddox, seen here chasing black restaurant patrons with a gun, 1964.

Future Georgia governor Lester Maddox, seen here chasing black restaurant patrons with a gun, 1964.

Culturally, 1967 saw an explosion of counterculture that steadily progressed over the next few years. Jimi Hendrix and The Doors released their debut albums, and overseas The Beatles released what many consider one of the most influential albums of all time – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It, like the rest of their material, was hit-and-miss.*

*Says this Stones fan

The Ford Falcon was not new, or all that exciting, in 1967. It was, however, competent and – as always – offered good value to the car buyer.

The simple, unibody Falcon was born in 1960 amid the ‘compact craze’ that afflicted the American auto industry following the dismal sales year of 1958 and the subsequent success of the Rambler American.

Oddly, the architect of the Falcon – Ford Motor Company ‘Whiz Kid’ Robert McNamara – was also the architect of the Vietnam War (he served as U.S. Secretary of Defence from 1961 to 1968).

Former U.S. Secretary of Defence (and creator of the Ford Falcon) Robert McNamara on the cover of Time, 1963.

Former U.S. Secretary of Defence (and creator of the Ford Falcon) Robert McNamara on the cover of Time, 1963.

Designed to be roomy, easy to live with and easy on the pocketbook, the Falcon – though bland – outsold its competition handily. Powered by two economical and reliable straight-sixes (144 and 170 c.i.d.), it could be optioned with Ford’s smallest V-8 (260 c.i.d.) for more spirited performance.

The Falcon platform came in handy when then-exec Lee Iacocca was hunting for a cost-effective way to create an all-new sporty car to help shake up the company’s stodgy image. In 1964, the bones of the staid and sensible Falcon made way for the sexy and seductive Mustang.

The Falcon soon became available in a wide variety of body styles – sedan, coupe, convertible, and wagon – and served as the underpinnings of the Ranchero pickup.

More style and a longer list of engine options were on tap for 1964, in a bid to tap into the growing youth market. The third generation Falcon was introduced in 1966, this time based on a shortened Fairlane platform.

Ford Falcon - the vehicle of choice for Flower Children everywhere.

Ford Falcon – the vehicle of choice for Flower Children everywhere.

Signature round taillights continued to be used on the Falcon for ’66 and ’67, changing to a square setup from ’68 to the end of the model line in 1970.

Engine options for the third generation were many, ranging from the 144, 170 and 200 c.i.d. Thriftpower Six, to the 260, 289 and 302 c.i.d. Windsor V-8.

The Falcone name was retired from the American automotive landscape at the dawn of the 1970s, as Ford continued in the compact market with the Maverick and the Pinto. Overseas, the model name had longer legs – it continued in Argentina-built Fords until 1991, and is still in use in Australia.

An upmarket version of the Australian Falcon was sold from 1965 to 2008 under the equally familiar name Fairmont.

So, while this beater of a Georgia Falcon didn’t initially seem that significant, its history and the culture of its era say otherwise. For all we know, Lester Maddox or Jim Morrison once drove in it.



2016 Ford Explorer: a blast from the past? (Image: Ford)

2016 Ford Explorer: a blast from the past? (Image: Ford)

In November, Ford pulled the wraps off a facelifted 2016 Explorer at the L.A. Auto Show – an event that caused little fanfare.

After all, a mid-cycle update of an SUV unchanged since 2011 isn’t the sexiest thing, especially when there’s a MUSTANG OVER THERE!

Still, the Explorer is a storied nameplate, and a highly visible model for Ford. And changes can make a good vehicle better or worse than before.

I quite liked the look of the newly unibody Explorer when it was released in 2011. Exterior design elements were reminiscent of the Land Rover-Range Rover stable, and gave the utility vehicle a visual sense of luxury and class it didn’t have before.

Driving it revealed remarkably agile handling for such a heavy vehicle, with precise steering, a smooth powertrain, compliant suspension, and every creature comfort a motorist could want. All of this remains for 2016, save for some new engine choices, and a refreshed front end.

The front end is the problem.

Circa-2007 Ford Freestyle (Image: IFCAR/Wikimedia Commons)

Circa-2007 Ford Freestyle (Image: IFCAR/Wikimedia Commons)

Most mid-cycle styling refreshes serve to make an aging vehicle look newer, or at least ‘different’, lest the consumer grow bored. The 2016 Explorer’s new front end – featuring a normally inoffensive chrome mesh grille – actually makes the vehicle look older.

On the night of the reveal, I wasn’t the only commenter remarking on the new Explorer’s resemblance to the 2003-2009 Ford Freestyle (aka the Taurus X). And we all remember (if we brush the cobwebs away) what a forgettable vehicle that was.

In this instance, I think making the ‘safe choice’ for the restyle was the wrong choice. The Explorer’s body still looks good, and the grille was hardly the best part of the 2011-2015 models, but at least it ‘fit’.

The blacked-out grilles on the Explorer Sport looked the best, in my opinion, especially when coupled with those black rims. Outfitted with that trim, it resembled a police pursuit vehicle.

2015 Ford Explorer Sport. Now, isn't that better? (Image: Ford)

2015 Ford Explorer Sport. Now, isn’t that better? (Image: Ford)

Besides the throw-back grille, the 2016 Explorer brings the new 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine into the fold.

Available in the Lincoln MKC and Ford Mustang, the 2.3 (unlike the previous 2.0) will be offered in 4-wheel-drive models, including those with towing packages.

While the 3.5-litre V-6 remains the standard engine, a 3.5-litre Ecoboost now comes standard on Explorer Sport and Platinum models.

The 2016 Explorer goes on sale in mid-2015.

Green energy

Call me, please: 1971-72 Ford Mustang Mach 1, spotted in L' Ange-Gardien, Quebec.

Call me, please: 1971-72 Ford Mustang Mach 1 (L’ Ange-Gardien, Quebec).

It would be great if a person could live vicariously through a parked car.

I mean, think of the boosted levels of personal satisfaction and contentment that could come from lifestyle redistribution. A society’s collective frown would be turned upside down!

Sailing... in your new Mach 1. This '72 ad looks like it should come with a Carly Simon record.

Sailing… in your new Mach 1. This ’72 ad looks like it should come with a Carly Simon record.

In the real world, however, I was forced to just stand there and drool as a spotless early-70s Mustang Mach 1 rested driverless on the roadside. Of course, it had to be a warm, sunny weekend, with nearby autumn-tinged roads – twisty ones, no less – beckoning nearby.

An unfortunate moment for yours truly, but a dream come true for the lucky owner. This fastback was a real gem, too – almost too flawless. As for power under the hood, that’s anyone’s guess, as the Mach 1 told few tales via its exterior.

’71 and ’72 Mach 1’s are visually identical, but the powertrain options differ greatly. The ’71 (a year sometimes viewed as ‘the last good year’ amongst horsepower enthusiasts) could be had in more flavours than Baskin Robbins, starting at a base 302 Windsor V-8 and moving up through FOUR 351 Clevelands before topping out with two 429s (Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet).

Sean Connery (the life of any party) in 'Diamonds Are Forever'.

Sean Connery (the life of any party) in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’.

The U.S. government let some of the air out of the high-compression fun in ’72, when the 429s were dropped in favour of just the base 302 and three 351s (in either 2-barrel, 4-barrel or 4-barrel High Output designations).

So wild was the ’71 Mach 1 that even Seam Connery got behind the wheel of one in the campy Bond flick Diamonds Are Forever, outwitting both bad guys and cops on the streets and alleyways of Las Vegas.

Solid, man.

While the Mach 1 soldiered on as a Mustang  trim level until 1978, the latter four years of its run saw the famous moniker applied to the unappreciated and wimpy Mustang II.

For Mach 1 enthusiasts, the name will always bring to mind the glory days of 1969-71, an era that was (at least for car lovers) a gas, gas, gas.

I am the resurrection

Will a $5 billion investment from Ford boost Lincoln's sagging fortunes? Time will tell.

Will a $5 billion investment from Ford boost Lincoln’s sagging fortunes? Time will tell.

There’s been no shortage of spilled ink when it comes to debating the (seemingly) age-old question, ‘What are we to do with Lincoln?’

The iconic 92-year-old brand, once the pinnacle of American luxury, has meandered along on a rudderless path for years, churning out forgettable vehicles while whispers of its impending demise grew ever louder.

Well, it seems that Ford is finally deciding to do something about the wayward marque. New CEO Mark Fields clearly believes in the ‘go big or go home’ mantra, and late last month announced plans to pump piles of money into the Lincoln Motor Company.

Like gasoline through the carb of a 460 V-8, this copious cash infusion is aimed at jump-starting the brand into renewed relevancy.

How much cash, exactly? At least $5 billion over the next five years, according to Reuters:


To compete, you need to offer a variety of things that people want, and do it as good or better than the other guys. Like any company with two brain cells to rub together, Lincoln knows this, and the 2014 MKC small crossover is a good example of a move in a more competitive direction.

But one new vehicle doesn’t save a company. The $5 billion will be allocated to freshening up the existing lineup while adding new goodies to the shelf.

The creation of a new, highly-configurable platform to underpin several new models is at the centre of the rebuilding plan. The platform will reportedly be able to accommodate drivetrains utilizing the front or rear wheels (or all of them).

Now that there’s fuel being added to the fire, it should be interesting to watch Lincoln attempt to rise from the ashes.

Lincoln Mk. III (1969-1971) spotted in Prince George, British Columbia.

Lincoln Mk. III (1969-1971) spotted in Prince George, British Columbia.

Whether it will attain past levels of glory remains to be seen, but I’ve got my fingers crossed – like always – for a new flagship Continental sedan, ideally with suicide doors.

I’m never backing down on that wish. And if that’s too much to ask, can we please get a personal luxury coupe?