There is nothing better than driving someone else’s car. That is my new constant in life, developed after I was invited to test some of Ford’s newest cars. Although standard automobiles like the new Explorer and C-Max MPV were ready to go with keys in the cupholder, I was drawn toward the ST hatchbacks brought for sampling like I was caught in an Imperial tractor beam. After taking a second to adjust the leather Recaro seats and mirrors to fit my lanky 6’4″ body, I exited the parking lot in a brand new Focus ST with a route to the Long Beach, CA annex of Signal Hill laid out not on the Microsoft Sync nav system, but on good old fashioned paper. No traffic on the 405 and a tank full of gas that I didn’t have to pay for meant my right foot got more exercise than usual. After all, why grab a sporty car and not stretch its legs a little bit?
It was 8 o’clock at night before we left the southern edge of Los Angeles county with Las Vegas in our crosshair. Jeremy had been awake since 4:30 in the morning, and I had a full day of work under my belt. The deck was stacked against us after we ate a full meal of delicious Mexican food and blasted off toward the Great Emptiness of the Mojave Desert, valiantly fighting off Fatigue at every moment. At that hour, the eastward flow of homeward bound automobiles that radiates from Los Angeles had dissipated, and we realized that this would be the easiest Vegas trip we had ever taken. Previous trips had been hampered by seemingly ever-present traffic, inclement weather that threatened the closure of the Cajon Pass, time-consuming coordination with other cars in our caravan, and so on. We didn’t have to worry about anything other than the shadow of Fatigue to wear us down. With KCRW set firmly on the dial (and later, Deltron 3030’s eponymous debut album) we took off with the cruise control pegged at 80mph (stories of run-ins with overeager officers of the law prohibited me from pushing my GTI further). Our reason for traveling? The Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction held at the south tip of the Strip at Mandalay Bay, as well as the lure of cheap thrills promised by insistent Groupon emails. They were as good excuses as any to head to Vegas.
There are thousands of decisions that must be made from the initial design and concept of a car to the final production model, and nothing kills an enthusiast following faster than a terrible engine and drivetrain combination. Here are a few cars that could have been truly great if the motor under the hood wasn’t such a terrible failure. Swap the engine and transmission in these cars and create the ultimate badass ride:
Everything about the DeLorean is cool except for the anemic V6 under the hood. Gullwing doors. Headlights and taillights drawn by ruler. Distinctive wedge shape. The only thing that would make the DMC-12 more ’80s would be flip-up headlights. Its spotlight in Back to the Future made the DeLorean a cultural icon years after the company folded, and prices for the coupe have remained remarkably high. The only bad thing about the car is the legitimately terrible 130hp V6 that makes a mockery of the supercar-like stance of the vehicle. The 5-speed manual is vastly preferred to the 3-speed automatic, but neither combination can deliver a sub-10 second 0-60mph time. For car people, the funniest thing about BttF is the assumption that the DMC-12 shown in the film, with all the extra flux capacitors and assorted time travel additions, could even make it to 88 miles per hour. Dig a pit to Hell and send the 2.9L to its rightful place; Ford has a line of 240-300hp V6 engines and 6-speed manual transmissions to take its place. Throw in one of those bad boys and travel in time the proper way.
The Frankfurt Auto Show in Germany is one of the biggest automotive conventions of the year next to the displays in Detroit, Geneva, and Los Angeles, and I thought it more interesting to start coverage with a list of duds rather than the highlights. The Nissan Rogue, smart fourjoy, and Mansory La Revoluzione all compose the Bottom 3, but there were plenty of sweet performance-minded production and concept vehicles that debuted this week. Here are a few of the best cars premiered at the Frankfurt Auto Show:
Ferrari 458 Speciale
As sure as there is a new V8 Ferrari, so there too shall be a stripped out version for weekend racers. Like the F430 Scuderia before it, the Ferrari 458 Speciale jettisons superfluous luxuries like carpeted flooring and leather encrusted everything, swapping Alcantara for the touch surfaces and adding in a rather unfortunate faux e-brake upon which the transmission buttons are attached. The naturally aspirated 4.5L V8 gets a bump from an already potent 562hp to 596hp. Some exterior design elements, like the grille-mounted flaps at the front and triple exhaust pipes at the back have been erased or replaced. A new rear diffuser is added, and the intakes complementing the headlights have been enlarged. Like in the previous lightweight models, an unsubtle racing stripe marks the Speciale as the supercar unfit for GT work. The Speciale rockets to 60mph from standstill in under 3 seconds, and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires keep the 458 Speciale glued to the track. No release date has been set.
What is the most ridiculous street legal car in existence? The Pagani Huayra? The 267mph Bugatti Veyron Super Sport? How about the Formula Ford? All are completely unhinged in their own way, but the Commuter Cars Tango T600 is by far the most batshit crazy car ever conceived by someone older than 10. Imagine an electric microcar weighing 3,200lbs that is thin enough to legally share lanes with other drivers for the cost of a Maserati Gran Turismo. Doesn’t sound appealing? Here’s the kicker: the T600 is powered by an 805hp motor that sends an astronomical 3,000lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. It’s a smart fortwo designed by an amphetamine-addled Tim “The Toolman” Taylor. And if you are mentally unstable and have $200,000 to blow, you can order one right now. Oh, and set aside some cash for a mechanic, as the T600 ships only “nearly” assembled.
BMW is gearing up to launch its first major modern electric car later this year, and by now we know pretty much everything there is to know about the i3 city car. The body is made primarily of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic, which is bolted to an all-aluminum frame that houses the suspension, battery pack, and electric drivetrain. The materials, exotic at this price point, keep weight reasonably managed at a mere 2,700lbs. The battery pack itself is mounted at the rear and provides 170hp to the rear wheels; an optional 34hp 650cc BMW motorcycle gasoline engine will be available to recharge the battery. 0-60mph is achieved in 7.2 seconds thanks to the mix of low weight and decent power from the pack (and not to mention the instantaneous 184 lb-ft of torque). The power is all used up on the bottom end, however, as the i3 tops out at 93mph. You couldn’t use this for cross country driving anyway, as range is somewhat limited at only 100 miles during the most diligent driving. The gas engine doubles the effective range, but the car still comes quite shy of the freedom offered by a hybrid like the Toyota Prius. The price, which starts at $41,350 before accounting for state and federal incentives, rings in much higher than any of its EV and plug-in hybrid competition with the exception of the Tesla Model S midsize sedan. BMW will be facing a lot of challenges with the i3, all of which begs the question: can the i3 challenge the dominant hybrid sedans, or even make a dent in the slow-selling EV market?
A perfect sunny late-October day, 1954. The wide boulevards of the Catalan capital, Barcelona, have been tamed, bent to the will of Alberto Ascari and his new Lancia D50. The brand new Formula 1 car is on pole for its first ever race. As is expected of a Lancia, the car has some strikingly original engineering behind it. The first ever stressed engine – the jewel-like twin cam V8 used to aid chassis stiffness. The outboard pannier fuel tanks solve packaging and weight distribution issues. It looks like no other car on the grid, and in Ascari’s hands, it’s faster than all others as well. Before retiring with clutch failure on lap 9 he sets a fastest race lap that no one would eclipse the rest of the day. Quite a debut. The car would go on to win the World Championship rebadged as a Ferrari.
A monolithic grey winter’s sky hangs over the snow covered mountains above Monte Carlo. The branches droop heavily under last night’s snow. Off a sheer rock face bounces a raspy snarl, at first muted, but growing ever more present and manic. Swinging into view, its source: the tiny, front-wheel-drive Lancia Fulvia of Sandro Munari. Proving the inherent rightness of Lancia’s engineering, nine years after its debut the Fulvia is still here, defeating Porsche 911s, Alpine A110s, Datsun 240Zs and others.