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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Category: Automotive Industry

NY IMS 2014

Classic Velocity

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Manhattan, NYC. The Holiday Season. Motorcycles. Not a bad combination. With dates shifted around, the New York show is now in mid December. Manhattan is already a cool place to visit around the Holidays, so adding a motorcycle show makes it even better. The International Motorcycle Show (IMS) is usually a welcome winter break, since vintage iron is just a small piece of it, but it is always fun to see the latest and greatest.

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As you might expect, the NY show has more of an urban theme. It has a stunt show, some crazy street machines, external body armor, etc. However, it also has all of the major manufacturers, and some minor ones as well. Lots of them feel that vintage and retro sell, so there was actually some interesting stuff for the crew to look at and discuss. Some of the new retro machines customized to look 60 years old actually look good. Triumph, Ducati, and BMW had nice machines on display. There were many cafe racers around as well.

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We finally got to see a Motus in the flesh. It is a nice looking machine with quality components. The engine is of course the star as it is half a V8. Another interesting vendor was Motopeds, who had some interesting small bore machines. Polaris brought its new Slingshot 3 wheeler. KTM had the much anticipated 390 Duke. There was the normal array of accessory vendors, and Moto clothing. The show continues to be a good way to indulge your love of things on two wheels at a time of year when riding them is more limited. 

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Type 14

Classic Velocity

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Volkswagen Karmann Ghia was the dream of designer and builder Wilhelm Karmann. He had built the Volkswagen beetle cabriolet, and wanted to design a unique and stylish body for the VW beetle chassis. Wilhelm and his son, also called Wilhelm, approached Heinz Nordhoff in 1950 about the idea of a cabriolet sports car on the beetle chassis, but reportedly did not get much interest. Volkswagen was producing all the beetles that they could make, and a new car with a questionable future didn't make much sense. Karmann persisted, and eventually Nordhoff agreed to allow designs to be submitted to Wolfsburg. They were rebuffed there as well. Refusing to accept defeat, Karmann eventually made an Italian connection which made all of the difference.

Luigi Segre was Director at Carozzeria Ghia. After listening to Karmann's idea at the Turin show, he arranged to get a VW beetle from a connection in France. And here is where the story starts to get a little bit mysterious and bizarre. The origin of the design of the Karmann Ghia is disputed in many circles even today, but it is clear that there were a number of connections which must have had some influence. Major design duties were handed to a relatively new designer at Ghia who is said to have introduced some novel rounded and swoopy lines. Then, the French connection, Charles LaDouche, was involved with the production of a car called the Coupe D'Elegance, which was being produced by Ghia, and which predates The Karmann discussions, but which has some resemblance to The final Karmann Ghia. Lastly, LaDouche was a Chrysler agent in France, and both he, and Luigi Segre had prior conversations and idea discussions with Virgil Exner in the US. Exner was head of exterior design for Chrysler, but was famous for the Studebaker Champion styling. Many believe that the car looks a lot like a mini Studebaker. The nose has a dose of Porsche with the nacelles and the nostrils. Lastly, there was a significant and perhaps unprecedented level of secrecy that was maintained around the project. Not just in keeping things from Volkswagen, as Ghia seem to have gone out of their way to keep Karmann away from Turin where the Coupe D'Elegance was being built. Parts of models and prototype cars were shipped around locations in Europe and hidden from notice while development was taking place.

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In 1952, Wilheim senior died, but his son continued to bring the dream to fruition. After a lot of back and forth, and detail design by Karmann, the Coupe project was shown to Nordhoff in November 1953. He agreed to produce it, and the beetle chassis was widened and strengthened at the longitudinals to adapt to the new body style. This provided a very different interior than the beetle, and combined with a lower overall profile to accentuate the sports car styling. A front anti-roll bar improved handling, and the more powerful 1192 cc motor combined with a four speed synchromesh gearbox to provide some enhanced performance. The Ghia had a top speed of 77mph (compared to the Beetle's 66mph). The end result was that Volkswagen Type 143 was deemed to be the most beautiful Volkswagen ever produced. It was to be built at the Karmann factory in Osnabruck beginning in 1955. Because the Karmann factory did not have the large-scale mass production capabilities of the Volkswagen plant, many of the Karmann Ghia panels were in fact constructed from smaller component pieces and then put together. A number of interesting ideas such as the over-centered hinge, were employed as a result of working through production challenges.

Another twist developed at launch. Volkswagen was producing DKWs at full capacity, and had no place to store the new Ghia around the original launch date. The solution was to move the launch date forward, and ship cars directly to dealers. Brilliant ! Despite its looks and pretentions, the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia was no sports car. The early reviews pointed that out, and sales were initially slow. However, to a customer moving up from a Beetle, the car was indeed a lot more sporting. Sales grew rapidly, and eventually out-stripped production by 1956. This was true even in the US, where there was little to no initial advertising. A cabriolet followed in 1957, and the car went on to great success in the US and of course in Europe, selling over 400,000 units.

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NYAS 2013

Classic Velocity

The New York auto show is one of the big three annual auto shows in the country along with Los Angeles and Detroit. At these three shows, almost every manufacturer shows up, and many try to introduce something new. The New York show takes place on the verge of spring, in the hopes of enticing customers into showrooms and out onto the roads. Even with Winter still gripping the Northeast, it is worth the trip into the city to see what is coming to a dealer near you. It is particularly fun at classic velocity, to see the concept cars, and the ways in which the manufacturers are mining their past.

First, a couple of trends. Matte and Satin finishes are apparently the new thing to have on your supercar. Lamborghini, Mercedes, Audi (who may have started this trend), Porsche, Jaguar, all seem to have very high-end supercar models with these finishes. All I can say is that like caviar, it must be an acquired taste. The next is the significant decline of the electric vehicle, at least as evidenced at the show. This was all the rage a year or two ago, and this year much less so. The best evidence of this are the two areas set aside for the jeep experience, and the E experience. The jeep experience had a very long line all the time, while you could walk up and get right in a car at the E experience. To be fair, I must also note that almost every manufacturer now has a Hybrid offering in their lineup, so perhaps it is just that it has all transformed into the more mainstream Hybrid segment. The last trend of note was co-branding. It seemed like almost every manufacturer was offering models or treatments that were partnerships with other organizations. Marvel and DC comic characters were popular, there was a pin-striped NY Yankees Prius, a Hot Wheels Camaro, etc.

Returning to the concepts, my favorite of the show was probably the Subaru WRX concept. This car looked production ready, and featured impressive styling. The Hyundai HCD–14 concept was also an impressive vehicle from a styling perspective. This brand has really become competitive on the styling front with the top European manufacturers. I also really like BMW active touring concept. It looks like a three series wagon, but has roof features and a tailgate that are more reminiscent of an SUV or minivan. The Lexus concept took my prize for most bizarre, with the way that the front grill consumes the entire front of the car.

The compact car segment is a hotly contested space, which is a good thing to see. The offerings from Subaru, Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, and even BMW, continue to offer great packaging and features while keeping mileage relatively high, even in conventional internal combustion offerings. I made a point of sitting in all of them, and the space offered at least in the front of the passenger compartment was very impressive. They did not feel excessively cramped, and headroom was decent. The one area of the compacts that was not improved, was price. They are all creeping upwards. But not to worry, the subcompacts are now the size price of what compacts used to be.

NYIAS 2012

Classic Velocity

I am not sure why the New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) has the word "International" included. There is no New York Domestic Auto Show, and all of the shows across the country have a mix of domestic and foreign brands. Perhaps there is some esoteric criteria that triggers the term, similar to my regional airport which has international in its' name because a flight goes to Canada once in a while. In any case I digress before I begin. The NYIAS may trail Detroit and perhaps LA in unveilings, but it is a significant show. 

New cars are not really the focus of this blog, but I tend to visit the show to see what old things are new again, and what interesting directions are being set among the German automakers in particular. The electric theme remains strong with more cars available for a test drive indoors at the Javits center due to them having no exhaust. It also seems like everyone now has a hybrid model, while Toyota makes the Prius into multi-model brand of its own. But make no mistake, the good old internal combustion engine is what fills the majority of the show. Incrementally better fuel economy is appearing, and styling is actually getting better across all brands. There were no real oddballs making their debut in this year's show. 

So what was the sizzle you ask ? Well for me there were a few items worthy of note. First the BMW I Concept is a great looking sports car period. The fact that it is electric is secondary. Speaking of concepts, the Acura NSX Concept is another beautiful car. Please build it. If you would like to be a little more subtle, then I'd like to introduce you to the Mercedes E63 AMG Wagon. This is a gorgeous car with more than enough "go" to match the "show". Last, but not least the Terrafugia, which is a production flying car that you can buy today for a mere $300K. Now that is a vehicle that would be useful in getting around New York City.

 

Classic Velocity News April 2012

Classic Velocity

Ferdinand Porsche 1935-2012

Ferdinand Alexander Porsche died yesterday at age 76, which officially ends another great era for Porsche. F.A., or Butzi, as he was known, had a lot to live up to as the grandson of the founder, and the son of another great engineer. However, he quickly emerged as a talented designer. He is responsible for designing the iconic 911 which is still going strong as a design some 50 years later. He was also responsible for one of the most beautiful Porsches ever, the 904. There is no real way to compare the impact of his contributions with those before him, but he is certainly responsible for cars which propelled Porsche from a niche sports car producer to worldwide icon. In that respect, he continued to meet and perhaps exceed the expectations of a legendary family name. More info at NY Times

 

Volkswagen offers Factory Restoration of Buses

Volkswagen has opened a dedicated facility in the city of Hanover to provide factory restorations of another icon; the VW microbus. So you can now return your bus to the place it was built, and have a fully recorded and factory correct repair or restoration. Of course, VW is simply following in the footsteps of Mercedes Benz Classic and BMW Classic who already offer such services. I wonder what the bill would be for the basket case sitting in a field that I have my eye on...? More info at Hemmings

Audi F103

Classic Velocity

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The German automotive landscape of the 1960s was an interesting place to be. It seems as if everyone was almost part of, or owner of everyone else. There were many last minute deals which resulted in major changes to the course of global automotive history. Case in point was Daimler-Benz who purchased Auto Union in 1958 via an 87% stake. The following year in 1959 they increased that stake to 100%, and began their famous attempt to take over BMW as well (see the Halo and the Hail Mary). Imagine how things might be different today if Mercedes had owned both Audi and BMW! Of course that did not happen and in fact, Mercedes went on to sell Auto Union to Volkswagen in 1965, who have had it ever since.

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A few years after assuming ownership, Volkswagen quickly decided that it would revive the Audi brand from amount the many brands within Auto Union. That sounds like a stroke of brilliance today, but at the time it was pretty controversial as other brands such as DKW (see DKW 1000) and recently acquired NSU (see NSU TT) were deemed to be stronger. None the less, they launched the resurrected brand with a new platform dubbed them the Audi F103 series. It went on to include the Audi 60, 72, 75, 80, and super 90 in a run from 1966 to 1972.

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Ironically, the new Audis were based on the chassis from the DKW F102, with a new four stroke engine developed with Mercedes during their ownership tenure ! What was certainly new was the styling. The Audi brand had last been seen in the pre-war era, and the new car had its own form of distinctive styling. The F103 series was designed to be a compact executive sedan which by then was chasing the established BMW and Mercedes options in that segment. It was relatively low, relatively sleek, relatively luxurious, and relatively powerful when compared to other offerings from Auto Union. A premium brand had emerged.

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The first model was simply called the Audi, but was later renamed the Audi 72. The variants in the F103 series had a variety of engines and body styles. They included a sedan, a coupe, a fastback, and an estate (station wagon). The models were named however for their horsepower ratings. A later generation of the Audi 80 was called the Fox in the USA and Australia. Engines were all inline 4 cylinders with displacements from 1.5 liters on the Audi 60, to 1.8 liters on the 90. the cars had front wheel drive, and weighed 2100 to 2350 lbs, making them fairly good performers and handlers.

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The F103 was a strong seller with over 416,000 sold during the 7 years of production. It certainly launched the modern era of the Audi brand, and effectively transitioned Auto Union from two stroke to four. It is also credited in part with propping up an ailing Volkswagen as the Beetle began to taper off, and the Exchange rate made German products less favorable abroad. The highly successful Audi 100 followed, and VW began a long tradition of sharing platforms between the two Marques.

Blue Propeller, Red Propeller

Classic Velocity

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So much of the modern auto and motorcycle world evolved from the ashes of WWII, that it was almost like a reset of the industrial revolution. For much of the 1940s, all of the world's major producers were busy churning out military hardware or were busy having their infrastructure bombed into rubble, or some combination. Afterwards, they all spent a few years rebuilding physical, human, and knowledge resources. After all, military equipment is not known for it's design aesthetic or for handling prowess unless you are talking aircraft. Postwar, Germany was divided into sectors owned by each of the allied forces, and began a carefully controlled rebuilding of manufacturing capability. This tale is one of many critical historical forks in the road that took place in the postwar period...

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At the end of the war, BMW was limited like most manufacturers to producing appliances, and motorcycles of 250cc or less. They found themselves with plants in both the western sector and the eastern sector of Germany. The eastern plant was less damaged, and actually resumed production first.  Soon however, they both resumed operations producing products under the BMW name even though the eastern plant was now under the control of the Russian Autovelo. R35 motorcycles and then later the Type 321 and 327 cars were produced in low numbers at first, but picked up steam. Almost half of the production from the Eisenach plant in the east headed to the west, and BMW's Managing Director in the west, Kurt Donath, saw control slipping away. With greater production and assets, he was concerned that Autovelo could lay claim to the brand, and take control. This was reportedly not just speculation. He consulted the lawyers, relationships deteriorated with the Russians, a lawsuit was filed, and the eastern operation of BMW was legally dissolved.

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However, the story does not end there. Autovelo simply renamed the organization Eisenacher Motoren Werke, or EMW. Product did not really change, and even the logo simply changed to a red and white propeller rather than a blue and white one. Donath was not happy, but there was little he could do with the cold war now in full swing. EMW lost the right to any new R&D, but happily continued to stamp out the R35 motorcycle, and the 321 automobile. The Russians subsequently handed control to the East Germans, and EMW went on to compete in the 1953 German Formula 1 Grand Prix as a constructor. The next year however, operations ceased. With many EMW R35 bikes and some cars exported to the west, and since parts were identical, there are probably quite a few old BMWs with EMW parts in them and vice versa.

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It may just have been the quicker actions of Donath and the lawyers that resulted in BMW being in West Germany rather than East. It may just have been eastern block industrial philosophy that prevented EMW from eclipsing BMW as a brand in the postwar era. One never knows what might have been....Ironically, EMWs today are more rare due to their limited run, and have their own following among BMW enthusiasts. Of course, this was not the first time that BMW products made their way into Russian hands, but that is another story...

NYAS 2011

Classic Velocity

The New York Auto Show is more often than not an annual trip into Manhattan to spend time in the non-vintage world. 2011 was not different, or so I thought. It is always an interesting show, and more than a few world debut events usually take place. Like the New York International Motorcycle Show, it takes place at the Javits Center on the west side. However, this show takes up the whole center and all three floors. This year, the Jeep folks had their Jeep experience track setup outside. I did this a few years ago, and basically you get to ride along as a driver navigates an obstacle course demonstrating the trail worthiness of the Jeep vehicles. Fun if the line is short. It wasn't. In any case, the show begins even before you get into the building.

New and interesting this year was the electric vehicle experience. This involved a course inside the building on the lower level where you could try the Nissan Leaf, Chevy, Volt, and a few other electric vehicles on a football-field-sized track. No combustion, so it could take place indoors, a fun way to bring the point home, and what better venue than one of the world's largest cities choked with cars 24X7. I might have tried one if the line had been short. It wasn't. The lines were very short around any non-hybrid small car with excellent mileage. The Nissan Versa, Honda Civic, Toyota Yaris, etc were all quality little cars with mileage not far off from hybrids, and with conventional motors which I have learned must now be referred to as the ICE (internal combustion engine). At the other end of the scale, there was no shortage of very large and very expensive vehicles that got lousy gas mileage. Large SUVs and smaller high performance SUVs, and big luxury performance sedans were everywhere. Range Rover, and BMW, and Porsche, and Audi, and Lexus, and Cadillac, et al, have not forgotten those who are as comfortable with GPM as with MPG. 

If you are going to have poor mileage, then a race car is the way to go IMHO. One of the delightful surprises of this show was that Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull Formula One car from last year was on display almost close enough to touch. It was on one of those slow moving rotary displays, and it is just stunning in real life. I could not believe how disinterested the crowd was in this car ! It takes a lot to faze a New Yorker, but strolling past a car worth more than everything else in the place combined ??! I stood there for a long time mesmerized until I collapsed from dizziness. Once I woke up, I went on to find more race cars hiding amongst the displays. The BMW ALMS car of Hand-Muller-Werner-Auberlen, the Nissan zero emmission race car, A Ken Block WRC Ford Fiesta, the Bentley ice speed record car. Fascinating stuff that you could actually touch in most cases. It was a show inside a show.

Another nested show if you will, was the prototype/concept show. The New York show is apparently a good place to guage public opinion about just about anything, including cars. There were certainly some designs present intended to push the envelope. The SAAB concept was not my cup of tea, (truth be told, most modern designs are not) but it was striking. Mercedes had a very un-mercedes-like SUV kind of something, and there were many more. The only one I thought looked decent was the VW Microbus which has been on the circuit for a few years now and is rumored to be going into production.

Just in time to save me from all of this was the best surprise tucked away on a lower level. The Lemay museum exhibit which featured small and alternative propulsion cars form the past. There was an actual propeller driven Leyat, along with a Citroen 2CV, an NSU Wankel Spider, a Velorex Dakar, of course a few Isettas,  a Honda 600 coupe, and a Goggomobil TS 400. Each car had a placard which included the mileage. It was humorous to note that we had perfectly functional cars delivering 50+ MPG, 50+ years ago. The designs were interesting as well. I couldn't help wishing that some of the designers upstairs would spend some more time downstairs in this exhibit. It was not a large exhibit, but it was well worth the time if the line was short. It was.

NY International Motorcycle Show

Classic Velocity

The Moto EquinoxJust in time to break up the incessant east coast snowstorms, the New York International Motorcycle Show (NYIMS) took place from January 21st to 23rd at the Javits Center in NYC. Bitter cold, Ice and slush in the streets, a wind chill well below zero coming off the Hudson river, and NYC parking rates could not deter me or the multitudes from attending. At the same time , the New York Boat Show takes place, so cabin fever and garage fever are in sync. I have declared January 21st to be the Moto Equinox, a time when the earth's tilt is briefly at 24 degrees. While most humans simply compensate, it causes the brain of all gearheads in the north to become imbalanced and it triggers an acute hunter-gatherer reflex, when they should be hibernating. 

La Brea Tar PitsThe show is the two-wheeled equivalent of a winter cruise vacation. The food is extraordinary, what with overpriced pretzels and overpriced overcooked hotdogs in the New York tradition. It is complete with scenes of tropical tours, tanned faces, mesh jackets, and booth babes. Combined with the hunter-gatherer reflex, this is a dangerous mix, very similar in nature to the La Brea Tar Pits. Less than two minutes into the show area, and I was ensnared by a race-winning Honda dessert racer. After pulling myself free, I was captivated by a board track racer display which had a 1928 Harley, and a 1931 Indian. There was nothing for sale there, but I caught a scent and moved on to the Vin Moto display.

vintage cafe racermodern cafe racerThe show is also a good barometer of what is in style these days, and what is out. Compared to the last few years, there was far less of the ultra-blinged-out Hyabusas and ZX14s. They were there, but you would have to conclude walking around that they are more of a niche. The same was true for the custom choppers. They were everywhere a few years ago, and now they were also more of a niche at best. Perhaps the economy has just taken its toll on these high end machines. Then again, maybe not, because the Cafe Racer is in. It is the new thing. Besides TV shows and magazines, many booths had a one-off cafe racer style bike on display. They ranged from a vintage BSA, to a Guzzi, to any number of CB750-based creations. Cool and interesting stuff. The interesting thing about the Cafe Racer is that it is based in frugality. You used what you could scrounge up, and bits and pieces of different makes and models. Anything is fair game. Perfect for the times. But despite my bias toward them, you can't help but wonder if this is another passing fad.

Ducati DiavelBatman's baggerBut make no mistake, the NYIMS is about new bikes, not old. It is the place where manufacturers of bikes and accessories show off their latest wares and entice buyers, causing them to emit ooohhs and aahhs, which then attract others to the tar pits. Two kinds of motorcycle manufacturers were at the show; those who make cruisers of various kinds, and those who make almost all kinds of motorcycles. Harley-Davidson, Victory, and Indian (the new new Indian) are in the former camp. While Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Triumph, Yamaha, Ducati, and BMW are in the latter. Of those that make cruisers, the continuing trend is to try to make them more like the custom bikes mentioned earlier. I thought that Victory was impressive in showing bikes that looked like they were one-offs. Honda with the Fury was an honorable mention.

Triumph Tiger XCBMW Concept CIn the we-make-almost-everything group, there is an interesting split. The Japanese makers all have cruisers in their lineup, while the Europeans do not. What they all do have are impressive entries at the low end of the market. Even BMW and Ducati have bikes in the $7K-$8K range with spectacular mileage and utility. A true sign of the times, and an attempt to get young people into the brand early. Speaking of signs of the times, BMW had their Concept C scooter as the centerpiece display!! They also all have an Urban/Streetfighter bike which is powerful and devoid of bodywork. Ducati's Monster (and the very VMax-looking Diavel), Kawasaki's B-King, Triumph Speed Triple, etc. Another interesting split is in the Adventure bike category. The Europeans have had them for a while, and now the Japanese are coming after them. Everyone is gunning for the benchmark BMW GS in this category, and the competition is heating up with the new Triumph Tiger XC, the Ducati Multistrada, and the Yamaha Super Tenere.

All of this was fun to look at along with the miracle cleaning products and the stunt show. Some great apparel was on offer, and I stepped into the edge of the tar pit by purchasing some Rok Straps, and caressing some super bright LEDs from Twisted Throttle (they had no booth babes). It got so warm that I had to buy an overpriced ice cream.   

GS Challenger?

Classic Velocity

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It is rare that I am spending any significant time on a new car or motorcycle. Even more rare, if it is not German. However, yesterday I got to spend some time with the much-awaited Yamaha Super Tenere adventure bike. Since the Dakar starts today, I thought that a few posts surrounding that theme seem appropriate. The Yamaha Super Tenere (at least the model name) has been around for a while in the rest of the world in various displacements, but it is now coming to the USA in 2011, and is being hyped as a competitor to the BMW GS. Now anytime a Japanese maker launches a new challenge to a segment traditionally owned by someone else, lookout. Toyota and Nissan both made inroads into the once impenetrable US pickup truck market, The Mazda Miata is arguably a “better” small British sports car, Yamaha's Vmax reigned as the premier “muscle bike” for years, etc. It is worth paying attention.

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However, the main reason for my interest is that it is categorized as an “Adventure” bike, a category invented by BMW with the GS. Bmw is still the benchmark when you look at 1000cc and above in this segment, and they are also leaders in the lower displacements. Not that there are not already challengers in all of these segments. The KTM 990 even has the model name Adventure, just like the GS variant. The Triumph Tiger, and Ducati Multistrada, are also competitors in the broad sense, along with The Suzuki V-Strom and even the Kawasaki KLR650. However, many of them fill slightly different niches and I think that it can be successfully argued that people choosing to travel around the globe, or tackle the Dakar, or generally romp around in harsh terrain, gravitate in the majority toward the BMW and the KTM brands. But I digest...

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Tenere is a region of the south of the Sahara desert inhabited mostly by the Berber tribes. Oceans of sand is a good mental picture. You have to be made of hardy stock to thrive in this environment, a thought not lost on Yamaha when they chose the name some time ago. In the flesh, the bike looks good in Yamaha metallic blue. The front view reminded be of the Tiger and the Vstrom, perhaps because they both come in a similar blue, and have a small windshield. It is not a great looking bike IMHO, but then again I own a GS, so many would immediately disqualify me from any aesthetic commentary. Ergonomics from the waist down felt good, but it seemed like a longish reach to the bars for my 5'11 32" inseam frame. The seat had grippy material on top which I imagine would really help you to stay put. The cockpit controls and displays seem well laid out, and I liked the turn signal indicators to either side of the dash. Speaking of turn signals, the lights themselves were nicely proportioned being small and on short but flexible stalks. The bike certainly looks and feels smaller than the GS, and the numbers bear that out.

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The luggage (aluminum panniers) seems sturdy, but they are deep and narrow. The left pannier is “notched” to allow for the exhaust. It helps the bike look more svelte, but the high mileage and touring crowd will probably look to the aftermarket. The windshield seems relatively small with some adjustability. This is one of those things that you just can't judge until you put in some mileage. The same with the mirrors which look good and beefy. The bike also sounds pretty good with a mellow sound at idle and a muted but growing growl as the revs climb. Looking at the front of the engine, the crash plate will be a mandatory add-on. The oil filter is very exposed without it, and although it should make oil changes much easier than on the GS, it would be subject to road debris and the first minor scrape with a rock. A nice feature is the way that Yamaha has used a spoke wheel with a tubeless tire. BMW pushed the spokes to the outside of the lip of the rim, while Yamaha has them laced to a central spine (dual in the front) in the center of the wheel. The bike has comparable weight and power to the GS, is a 1200cc twin (parallel), and has shaft drive, so pretty competitive on that front.

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Overall, it seems like a good bike, given that it should be priced cheaper than the GS. I was hard pressed to find something that the bike did “better” than the GS (albeit without riding it), but that is the difficulty with being the challenger, you have to do better, not just match. There are lots of reviews out there on this machine, which suggest that it is not quite the GS-killer that was hyped in some forums. GS fans are legion, and mostly loyal, despite routinely taking their beloved machine to task. KTM fans are fanatics. I don't think that there will be a ton of conquest sales from BMW and KTM for this bike.

That said, I've always believed that competition improves the competitors. I came away from this encounter feeling like there is another competitor aiming at the benchmark GS. I don't personally think that this version will have a significant impact, but Yamaha are not rank amateurs trying to play in a space that is new to them. They have graced the top step of the Dakar Rally podium several times in the past. Everybody in this category had better stay sharp. And that's a good thing.  

Auto Revolution 2.0

Classic Velocity

The turn of the century must indeed be a magical time. So many of the significant events in history seem to have taken place around the close or the opening of a new century. This seems particularly true with respect to the advance of tools and equipment. Archeologists cite the first tools as being manufactured in 2.600,000 BC, the use of fire around 1.500.000 BC, the oldest arrowheads in 25,000BC, and the Bronze age began in 3,000 BC. Apparently, we like to spring things on the world around centuries and millennia ;-) And, that tradition continues if we look at the last turn of the century, and this turn of the millennia.

The first auto revolution brought motorcycles and cars into being around the 1880s, and continued into the early 1900s. There was a mind-boggling variety of ideas and formats that were all competing for dominance and the hearts and minds of the consumer. 1919 LeyatEverything was variable. The chassis, the number of wheels, the steering mechanism, the controls, the fuel, everything. In 1900, it is estimated that 28% of the cars on the road were electric vehicles ! In fact the famous Lohner Porsche of 1899 had an electric motor at each of the four wheels and a gasoline engine to drive the generator. 1899 Lohner PorscheEssentially, it was a 4 wheel drive hybrid. He recognized the superior efficiency of the electric motor and the relative cleanliness. It failed to take off because of the state of battery/generator technology at the time. Steam was also big. Petroleum-based fuels such as kerosene, and gasoline were fighting against these variants and winning mostly because the fuel was cheap and plentiful, despite them being considered noisy and dirty. Hybrids were everywhere with motorcycle-car combinations, mixed propulsion systems and renewable energy variations.

2010 Nissan LeafFast forward 100 years and we have the dawn of a new millenium. Computers and the Internet have revolutionized life, and transportation is no longer an adventurous pursuit. However, has the auto industry really progressed ? Sure, Google has a car driving itself around the US, but the car itself is not that special. It is a modified Toyota Prius. The current revolution (or the resumption of the old revolution) is fueled (pun intended) by the relative high price of petroleum-based fuels, and the relatively cheap price of electricity. Electric vehicles are just being (re)introduced. The latest versions have an electric motor at each wheel. 2012 Porsche 918They are expensive and not yet a good alternative because the battery technology is not quite good enough yet. Renewable energy alternatives are still experimental (eg: solar panel roofs) and are mostly used for supplemental systems. Diesel is the current “dirty” petroleum variant that is looking cleaner and more attractive. We are changing controls with paddle shifters and non-round steering wheels and headsup displays and even joysticks. Hybrids are everywhere and it is not clear which combination(s) will emerge victorious. Porsche has just introduced an all wheel drive hybrid supercar (the 918) that is redefining the segment.  

If all of this sounds familiar, it is because we just spent about 100 years going around a giant traffic circle (roundabout). Maybe next century...

The Porsche Parts Palace

Classic Velocity

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Porsche North America decided that it needed to add a distribution center in the northeast to complement Atlanta GA, and Ontario CA. Citing good access to major arteries, and easy reach to the Washington DC to Boston corridor, they selected Easton, PA as the site. They built a 130,000 ft2 warehouse in an industrial park which is also home to an even larger BMW warehouse. It is also a regional training center. Although I missed the grand opening last fall, the PCA club held their monthly meeting in May at the new facility. A few of us attended mostly to see the warehouse.

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I was expecting a nondescript building with no markings, but I was wrong. It was a big box, but the entrance had the logo and styling of a Porsche dealership. By the time I arrived, about 30 cars were already present, and more were arriving. Mostly newer cars, but there was a lovely 914 and a beautiful early 356. The action, however was inside. After the meeting formalities, the tour began.

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The building is only 8 months old, so you would expect it to be clean. But you would think they had just moved in that day. You could see our face in the warehouse floors, and I thought we should have been wearing surgical scrubs and booties. A member of the group immediately asked if they spent the day cleaning up to make a good impression for us. They said no, it always looks like this. I believe them. In fact, it is so clean and neat that it is boring. Aisles and aisles of small parts, followed by aisles and aisles of pallet racks. There are very few places where you can see identifiable parts since almost everything is properly packaged. The most interesting area was where returned engines were located. There you could peer into the crates and see full engines returned under warranty. You know there had to be some great stories associated with damaged Porsche engines! Sadly, we were informed that the parts for older cars were mostly in Germany, with some stock in Atlanta.

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The training center was more interesting. It is just as clean, but it is filled with every variant of new Porsche. A Panamera Turbo in blue was the best looking version of that car that I have seen. It was there next to a 911 turbo cabriolet, a Cayman S, A few Cayennes, etc. The engine and transmission training areas were equally spotless even though there were engines and trannys on the stands. The dual clutch PDK transmission was particularly interesting as the training manager explained its inner workings. Training is constant, and the manager had just returned from Germany where they were trained on the new hybrid systems.

An interesting evening, but as we walked out through the parking lot and viewed the impressive array of cars, the old ones still looked the best and required very little training or equipment from their owners to stay that way.

Small is Big

Classic Velocity

The annual pilgrimage to either the Philadelphia or new York auto show is always revealing in one way or another. This year we had to be in NYC for other reasons, so it was the NY International Auto Show. Like LA and Detroit, the NY show usually has some world premier or major announcement tied to it. I missed whatever that was, but the unofficial theme was evident; Small is Big, and perhaps more so because this is NYC. If you can't make a case for small cars here, then give up and try Limousines.
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It seems that everybody has a "City Car". The Swiss Smart Car may have started the movement (or re-started the movement - remember the Isetta?), but now all kinds of manufacturers are in on it. Two seats, plus some space for a few bags of groceries. The length of a motorcycle, and able to park head-in at the curb without sticking out too far into traffic. Scion had one, as did Nissan, and the Toyota Yaris probably qualifies in this category as well.
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It seems that everybody has an Electric Vehicle (EV). Smart is introducing one, Nissan has the Leaf on tap for later this year, Hyundai has one, Mitsubishi has the Miev. They are all very small, they all get fully charged in a short period of time, they all have a range equal to the average american commute (although interestingly the numbers are all different), and they are all intelligent, so they charge when juice is cheapest if you want.
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It seems that everybody has a small Hybrid. The Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight are most famous, but the Chevy Volt is on deck, Ford is moving its hybrid technology in the Fusion downscale to the Focus, the Kia Ray is a stunning small hybrid concept, the Fiat 500 already has a hybrid on deck, and may be introducing that technology into even the Chrysler/Dodge world. Of course, there were plenty of bigger vehicles with hybrid power on hand as well.
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It seems that everybody has a small High MPG vehicle. This should get even more interesting with new government fuel economy targets to meet, but if this show was any evidence, the message has been received. European manufacturers are bringing their cool small cars here (eg: Fiesta, BMW 1-series), Asian manufacturers are bringing their microcars here as fast as they can pass the US safety hurdles. And, US manufacturers are producing small cars.
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It seems that everybody has a small Micro-SUV.
Scion and Kia and Nissan have small funky-looking youth-oriented funmobiles, but they are joined by more conventional looking options like the Mazda 5, the Honda Fit, the Mini Wagon, etc. Europe has a ton of these that we don't get here, and hopefully that will change.
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It seems that everybody has a small performance car. The Subaru WRX STI and the Mitsubishi Evo are both legendary giant killers, but the BMW 1 Series, and the new compact Lexus CT200h (yes Virginia, its a hybrid) have a mix of luxury and performance that is impressive. You can add the unique Volvo C130 to the club as well.
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As a fan of small cars, this was an encouraging show. There seemed to be some innovative rethinking of features and functions, some attractive styling, luxurious appointments, and some deceptively spacious interiors all within compact exteriors. Perhaps after all this time, good things will come in small packages in the USA..... 

A Visit To The Petersen

Classic Velocity

The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles is a much celebrated place. It claims to be at the epicenter of the US car culture due to its location in southern california. On the one hand it is hard to argue that, given the sheer number of vehicles on the road in and around SoCal. Even getting to the museum on the weekend via I-5 and I-10 was a disaster. Six lanes each way choked with traffic for miles. On the other hand, this is probably the worst place to have a cool car. I passed many convertibles hastily putting up their hydraulically and electrically operated tops so as not to be sucking smog. I passed Bentleys at 12 MPH, and a neon green Lambo, and an Ariel Atom at 20 MPH. I found myself feeling sorry for these guys! This is a good place to have a Rolls Royce and a chauffeur. Or a motorcycle. Everytime I visit California, I wonder why all states don’t allow lane splitting (or filtering as the British call it). I watched with envy as sportbikes and scooters moved along as we sat motionless or we crawled along at 10 MPH. I eventually got off and made my way over to the museum.

As one might expect, the museum has a heavy emphasis on the Hot Rod culture from the postwar to today. I lost count of how many ‘32 Fords were present, but it was quite a few. Bruce Meyer, Chip Foose, George Barris, and Boyd Coddington are all well represented, and the spartan elegance of some of them was impressive. There were also a lot of ex Steve McQueen vehicles and memorabilia. His 1927 Indian, his Jaguar XKSS, his Winton, his V8 VW bug, to name a few. However, what makes the museum impressive is the way it is broken up into smaller areas which each possess a theme or tell a story. The alternative fuels section once again outlined how long we have been dabbling in other forms of motivation for cars and trucks. I was surprised by a couple of 70s and 80s attempts that I knew nothing about. A stretched Chevy Vega steam car ??!! My brother had a Chevy Vega, and it also produced steam due to the engine design !! There were a couple of exquisite low riders on display, and in the vintage gas station area it was interesting to see how the pumps have evolved. The Indy 500 area documented all of the winners through the 1980s of that race, and I was surprised by how involved McLaren was in that race at one time. There was a great example of an Austin 7, around the corner from a 1959 Cadillac. Talk about David and Goliath!

The motorcycle area was small, but excellent. They have clearly gathered interesting bikes rather than just examples of popular collector items. A 1904 FN with beautiful craftsmanship on the engine, a 1955 Matchless, a Jawa dirt tracker, a Gurney Alligator,  There were also some interesting vehicles that did not make it like the 1947 Jordan motorcycle, and the 1947 Gregory compact car. I guess 1947 was a tough year for alternative ideas. In fact, there was a whole section entitled “What were they thinking” which was pretty interesting. Last but not least, a museum in this location has to have movie cars, and the Petersen had cars from the great race, the gumball rally, Herbie the love bug, Speed Racer, and the Green Hornet. I’ll take the Mercedes 300SL and the Ferrari Daytona from the Gumball Rally, thank you.  



Lessons on Listening

Classic Velocity

What with electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, new models, and refreshed models, there seems to be a particularly rich feast of fresh automotive meat available at this time. If you enjoy both 2 wheels and 4, then it is probable that you have already contracted a severe case of virtual whiplash or non-virtual carpal tunnel syndrome. It is always interesting to see how the designers and engineers have interpreted the feedback and input and focus group reports from the past as translated by their sales and marketing folks. Then there are accountants and operations managers and lawyers further diluting the purity of the feedback. That said, the current suite of products is them playing back what they heard us say we want, and some companies get it very right, while others seem to get it very wrong (IMHO). What follows then are a few exemplary examples from the exemplified camps :
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Ferrari Italia. Right. These guys get it right with few exceptions. I'm not sure how you keep making cars of such beauty and performance, but Ferrari is one of the few manufacturers whose new offerings rival their old in desirability. Everyone seems to want in to the supercar space, but Ferrari remains true to their heritage, and you don't need the prancing horse to know what kind of car this is. You can put this latest one on display in the museum right now and avoid the wait. Oh, and by the way, that can be an industrial art museum, a fine art museum, an automotive museum, or a peep show.
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Porsche Panamera. Wrong. As a fan of the marque, I recognize that Porsche design is not everybody's cup of tea. Its the performance. However, the iconic shape of the 911 is iconic for a reason. The panamera is a distortion that gives the supermodel a hunchback and buckteeth. I disliked the Cayenne, but at least it didn't mess up a silhouette with 50 years of success. I'm ready to predict lousy response, and for it to be confined it to the bell tower of sales, but I was wrong about the Cayenne, so I won't.
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BMW S1000RR. Right. This is how to make a crazy-looking, form follows function, teutonic missile, in a new market segment that you are entering (listening Porsche?). Visit my earlier blog post to read more, but you need one of these. Even if you don't, you do.
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Mercedes SLS Gullwing. Wrong. It's not that you can't capitalize on an icon from your past (see porsche 911, new Mini, new Beetle, new Challenger), it's just that you have to get it right if you do. The examples in the parentheses pay more than a little homage to the exterior of the icons they are renewing. Besides the way the doors open, and the reported ingress/egress difficulties, the SLS pays more homage to the predecessor SLR.  This might be a better car if they made conventional doors and dropped the whole Gullwing thing. 
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Ford Fiesta. Right. Finally, Ford figures out (or remembers) that it is a good idea to bring the european (or Indian) goodness that they have to the US. This is no cheap econobox like the Fiesta a family member had in the early 1980s, but an example of good things in small packages. The US is not going to become a small car nation anytime soon, but cars like this will begin to change thinking. Bravo.
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Lexus LFA. Wrongo. A $400K 350Z ? Really Lexus ? Wow. It is hard to believe that a car this anticipated, this expensive, and with Toyota behind it, would come out looking like a boy racer option from Gran Turismo. You would think that the years of F1 experience, and the proven track record of delivering what the market wants would at least produce a benchmark supercar.  
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Triumph Speed Triple. Righto. Minimal visual changes, more power. The original bad boy is still a bad boy. The rest of the Triumph range for 2010 is not bad either. Thruxton, Thunderbird, Bonneville, Tiger, etc. These guys listen well.

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Indian. Wrong. Full points for having another go at this, and I hope I'm wrong, but the 107th attempt to revive the Indian brand does not have history on its side or even a favorable economy. $30K cruisers are a tough sell these days, ask Harley Davidson. Victory has carved out a niche, but entry into the US V-twin space is a difficult proposition even when times are good.

And now for something a little different..

Classic Velocity

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As you may have already figured out, I like vehicles and manufacturers which tend not to worship at the cookie-cutter  temple. This is true even when I really don’t care for their designs or their products. I lamented the passing of Buell, and I applaud Citroen which certainly marches to a different drummer (although their WRC cars are fantastic if conventional looking). This brings me to today’s topic which is superbikes. The two hottest bikes to enter dealerships going into 2010 are not Japanese, but European. They shake up the industry, and offer a unique take on a very mature market segment. And, they are from two of my favorite marques, Aprilia and BMW.  

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The Aprilia RSV4 is from the small Italian manufacturer that is known for going its own way. The RSV Mille of the 1990s and the RSVR (which inhabited the garage for a while) were aimed at those who wanted something different. The new bike’s styling could be described as derivative from the RSVR, with its elegant but minimal tail section, and hornet-looking face. The engine, however, is derivative of a WSBK competitor. The V4 configuration is compact, unique in sound, and combines with the chassis to create stellar reviews from almost all who have ridden the thing.  The V4 is not the choice of most manufacturers (Honda has the long running VFR), but that may change. This will be a hot ticket on track and off.

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It can be argued that the BMW S1000RR is another homologation special. It is BMW’s first true Superbike, and it proves that they have simply been choosing over time not to enter this segment. Performance is staggering at 193hp, and initial reviews are almost universally positive.  The styling is well, pure BMW. Function over form, which dictates an asymmetrical face that only an engineer could love, and asymmetrical sides of the bike as well. There will be no mistaking this bike for anything else, particularly in neon lime green !

Having now seen both of these in the flesh. I say bravo to Aprilia and BMW. They have met the challenge of building a competitive bike in one of the toughest segments, and they have done it with character and style. Bravo.

Shouldn't we be further ahead by now ?

Classic Velocity

A visit to the Larz Anderson Automotive Museum

Being in Boston with a few hours to spare, I went to visit the  Larz Anderson Museum. Larz was a very wealthy guy inthe early 1900s, and was a car guy when cars were just invented. 1912 CadillacHe had some of the first cars running around the USA, and paid some princely sums of money at the time for some coachbuilt beauties. He was also partial to French machines as they were generally ahead of the world in the budding automobile industry.1898 Winton

On a weekday morning, I had the museum virtually to myself so I had time to consider the exhibits. It is not a big museum, so you don't need to plan a day (or even half) for the visit. Upstairs were some examples of postwar american iron. It reminded me of how huge the behemoths of the 40s through 60s were. Today's SUVs may be taller, but not longer or wider ! The Indy 500 Racer was fascinating. 1914 Electric Van200+mph in 1976 using aerodynamics, points out that IMHO we haven't really made 1976 Penskemuch progress in racing other than in safety. Last weekend, the F1 race in Abu Dhabi had speeds on one of the longest straights in F1 at just over 200 mph. Leaf springs seen on the pre-1900 Winton are still used on some new vehicles today. 

Downstairs was more fascinating. The turn of the century cars (19th to 20th, that is) cars in this small museum were again indicative of how little progress we have made, and how much of our Slicks Circa 1912current thinking is simply recycled stuff from long ago. An electric work vehicle, innovative cooling systems, aerodynamics, hybrid propulsion, fuel rails, leaf spring suspension, racing slicks, variable timing, etc were all in evidence on cars made before 1910 ! 

Another revelation was a poster which showed a listing of the US auto manufacturers no longer around. There are hundreds, and most are names I have never seen before. In the current environment when we rescue ailing manufacturer's, it was interesting to be reminded of a time when innovation and survival of the fittest was perhaps at its' zenith in the automotive world.

1911 RenualtI am hardly a proponent of technology applied for its own sake, after all, in most cases I prefer 40 year old vehicles to the current ones. However, when you look back at where we were 30, 50, 100 years ago, it seems we should at least have the stuff from the Jetsons by now......

Finally, the parts and training I need, close to home

Classic Velocity

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Porsche NA has opened up a new parts and training facility for the northeast just up the road in eastern PA. They tout it as the ideal location, and I agree. Here are some of my expectations.Porsche 911S Oil Cooler

  1. With this kind of proximity, I should be able to find the odd GT2 wing or ceramic brake rotor that has fallen off one of the delivery trucks, and use it to fund the ground up restoration of the Targa.
  2. I should be able to stop by after work some evenings and sit in on the training sessions happening at the facility. These are high performance driving training sessions, yes ?
  3. I should be able to pick up my vintage parts at such a discount, that the Hershey swap meet will no longer have any appeal.
  4. I could borrow tools and perhaps use an empty bay on the weekends.
  5. They could use the 914 as a test mule for the upcoming triple clutch gearbox. I don't want this to be take, take, take, with no give.

Read the full news story here

Buell Bows Out

Classic Velocity

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I have never had any interest in owning a Buell, and would probably sell immediately if I won one in a raffle. However, I do regret the loss of an option that demonstrated different styling, engineering, and ideas. I applaud the unique thinking and the maverick tendencies that give rise to something different. They lead to a richer and more diverse landscape where the buyer is more likely to find something that appeals to his/her unique sensibilities. Rather than everybody putting around on cookie cutter cruisers, the vehicular consumer has a rich palette of options. In this spirit, I lament the exit of Buell, as I did AMC, and other unique vehicle manufacturers. I hope others emerge to take their place.

Some ideas rise to stardom and are copied by others, while some remain singature oddities destined for cultural footnotes. They are all subjected to the rigorous testing of the marketplace, but the marketplace is fickle, and a tad insane at times. It is a fine line between a Citroen DS and an AMC Pacer....