Why Now? An Introduction

The Beginnings

Kids obsess over things. My obsession was my small die-cast cars. Matchbox, Hot Wheels, and Majorette littered every available floor surface of my parent’s home growing up. I would spend hours creating parking lots where hundreds of cars would drive into their parking spot between the couch and the wall unit.

As I got older, my interests transformed into driving go-karts, watching motorsports on TV, and playing the latest racing video games (cue a plug for that section on this site). Demolition derbies, weekend getaways to Mosport and long road trips were the highlights of my year.

The Fateful Moment It All Changed

But it was the grade 11 Introduction to Consumer Studies business class where things escalated exponentially. We had some sort of assignment to do about consumerism that HAD to involve a magazine. I headed out to our local Shopper’s Drug Mart and perused the selves. That’s where I saw it. A shiny new 1996 Car and Driver Buyer’s Guide. Hell, this magazine had the word Buyer right in it! It’s perfect.

As mentioned, I always had an interest in cars, but up until now I hadn’t officially earned the endearing term car guy from my friends. A term hard earned by talking at nausea about Camaro’s with Corvette engines, twin-turbo Nissan Z-cars and how the Viper sucked (I had some sort of unhealthy hate for the first-generation Viper. I couldn’t explain it then, I can’t explain it now, but I’ve since seen the errors in my ways).

I took the copy of C&D home and started hacking it up so I could glue the pretty car pictures onto my assignment. See, in the mid-90’s we didn’t have these fancy-pants computers and the internet consisted of Library BBS chat rooms. We had to create a physical, real-life presentation, locked soundly between the metal grip of a three-ring binder.

After some hack and slash, I decided a little research was needed to complete my homework. I was getting a solid A in the course and I wasn’t about to slip up now (spoiler – I won the award for the highest mark in the course that year, narrowly beating out one of my best friends. He knows who he is…first place loser).

A few pages into reading these brief blurbs and specifications, two things happened. One – I was hooked on horsepower, 0-60, skidpad ratings and top speed. Two – my new dream in life was to one day write for this *checks cover* Car and Driver magazine (a dream I came closer to achieving then I ever thought humanly possible).

From here, it was game over for me. My life now revolved around cars and it would never stop. I subscribed to car magazines for decades and still have that original C&D Buyer’s guide. My summer job at the age of 19 was a dealership lot jockey. Every single form of employment I’ve had since that day is within the automotive industry.

But I Also Like to Write

Besides my unhealthy obsession towards automobiles, I developed this weird need for creative writing in my teenage years. Ask any of my high school English teachers, or even my mom, and I am the last person anyone ever expected to become anything close to resembling a writer. Yet, there I was, at lunch time, in-between classes, even during class, scribbling away at these multi-page cartoon comic strips about the fictional adventures of my friends. I enjoyed them so much (probably more so than my friends I kept gifting them to), I kept it up even after I left home for university. I would snail mail these large envelopes stuffed with pages of comics to my friend who would then force them on pass them along to my other friends back home. He ended up keeping every single one of these pieces of gold, and about a decade later, returned them to me.

After working various jobs throughout my 20s, I lucked into an automotive writing role and began a whirlwind adventure becoming a full-time writer. I won’t bore you, dear reader, with the details, but I got to drive some of the world’s greatest cars at fantastic locales and had plenty of great adventures along the way. Some of these exploits will find their way onto these pages in the future.

So back to the original question, why this blog now? Well, I was fortunate enough to land a fantastic job years ago that presented exciting new challenges, and most importantly, provided more stability for my young family. But with any addiction, I’ve never been able to kick the itch to write.

So here I am, starting a blog no one outside of immediate family will read (Hi Mom) as I expel random thoughts into the void.  I hope some will enjoy it as much as I will writing it.

Friday Fun : $2,500 Camping Challenge

For Friday Fun this week we present a simple challenge. Find a vehicle currently posted for sale that you would gladly take on a weekend camping trip. There are only two rules:

(1) The vehicle must be camped in. No exterior tents. All sleeping occurs in-car.

(2) The vehicle cannot cost more than $2,500.

So there you have it. Nice simple challenge. Let me know what you choose. See below for what I selected.

My Choice

If I’m going camping on the cheap, I’m at least going to do it comfortably. Here is a 1994 Ford Econoline Conversion van listed within the price limit. It features a fold down rear bed and television. What more could I ask for?

Winged Car Wednesday: Ferrari F40

What could I possibly say about this car that hasn’t already been said? The F40 is a Godfather of supercars. An ultimate expression of performance at all costs. The 2.9-liter turbocharged V8 redefining what a street-legal car was capable of.

Then entire car was sculpted to maximize engine cooling and downforce, accentuated by the tall, flat rear wing. To this day, few cars have had the same lasting impact as the Ferrari F40 has.

Find of the Day: 1982 Fiat X1/9

It’s not everyday one of these pop up for sale, especially in this condition. This 1982 Fiat X1/9 is in excellent shape and appears to have been well taken care of.

1982 was the final year for the X1/9 being produced by Fiat before production switched over to Bertone. As far as small mid-engine cars go, the X1/9 was built in fairly large numbers, but not a whole lot have survived. But this one has.

Find of the Day: 1993 Volvo 244

The Volvo 200 Series refused to quit and conform. It lasted in production for two decades, keeping true to its blocky rear-wheel drive origins. Many vehicles last five to seven years tops before a new generation is released, but not the stubborn 200 Series. It would not go quietly into the night.

But as hard as it tried to hang on, eventually the car line was discontinued after the 1993 model year. And here we have a pristine example from that final year, a 1993 Volvo 244 sedan. Showing just over 100,000 km on the odometer, the car appears to be in great shape inside and out. It is a final survivor from a car line that survived a long, long time.

Graded: Saturn’s

Welcome to Graded. Here we discuss legendary marques, models, or trim packages and affix a letter grade to a selection of vehicles falling under that topic. The grades mean nothing and are completely arbitrary. I fully encourage you to tell me what I got wrong and how you would grade them instead. Have some fun with it.

Saturn came and went in flash. The import-fighting brand from General Motors lasted just 21 model years in North America. Saturn would merely been able to buy a whiskey and coke at a bar before it was put out to pasture.

But just because its time on the market was short lived does not mean the brand failed to leave a lasting impression. In two short decades Saturn was able to create a small cult following that is still alive and well to this day. Below we take a look at nine stand-out vehicles during the company’s run, and of course affix an arbitrary grade to each one.

1991 Saturn SC
AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

The SC was one of the OG Saturn’s along with the SL. The compact Coupe was a wholly Saturn product, unlike a lot of the rebadged vehicles that would follow. I always liked the wedgy shape of the car, especially these early models with the pop-up headlights. The 123 hp engine also made the car fairly quick for its day.

1993 Saturn SW2
AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

Three years after the S Series debut, a third body-style was added to the family – a wagon. Like the SL and SC, the wagon could be had with the more powerful engine and a manual transmission. Any compact wagon is always welcome in my books and these were cool little haulers.

2001 Saturn SC2 Limited Edition
AutoLobotomy Grade: B

As a sort of final hurrah for the SC, a special edition was released in 2001 with the unoriginal name Limited Edition. It came with bright yellow and black paint and a two-tone black and yellow interior. Mechanically not a whole lot had changed with the SC over the past decade besides the car growing in size.

2001 Saturn LW300
AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

In 2000 Saturn decided to explain the brand’s lineup to include a mid-size car. Called the L Series, the car shared a platform with the Saab 9-3 and could be had a as a legitimate wagon. A guaranteed recipe for success, right? Sadly no. As cool as the wagon was, the car as a whole was painfully ordinary and sales never caught on.  

2004 Saturn Vue Red Line
AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

To help boost Saturn’s image, the brand began to Red Line all things in the mid-2000s. The first model to receive the Red Line branding was, strangely enough, a crossover – the Vue. Based on the V6 model, the Red Line included unique exterior styling, a 250 hp Honda V6 engine and revised suspension tuning. The vehicle was equally part gimmick and part ahead of its time as a performance crossover.  

2005 Saturn Ion Red Line
AutoLobotomy Grade: A

As Saturn’s first true performance vehicle, the Ion Red Line was a corporate cousin to the Chevrolet Cobalt SS and featured the same 2.0-liter supercharged engine making 205 hp. Being an Ion Coupe, the Red Line included the funky suicide rear half doors that allowed easy access to the rear seats. Although I was a Cobalt owner, I always liked these cars more for their bonus obscurity, minus the center-mounted tachometer.

2007 Saturn Sky Red Line
AutoLobotomy Grade: A+

A 260 horsepower turbocharged rear-wheel drive drop-top roadster. This was peak Saturn. Was it the best sports on the road in 2007? No. Was it the best performing Saturn ever made? Yes. I will also die on the hill that the Sky was the better looking car compared to the Pontiac Solstice.

2008 Saturn Astra XR
AutoLobotomy Grade: C+

As a replacement for the Ion, the Astra was a direct Import from Europe. Available as a three-door or a five-door, I preferred the looks of the three-door XR. Handling was quite good, but sadly we were stuck with just the 138 hp engine in North America. Vehicle pricing was also quite high for the class.  

2009 Saturn Aura XR
AutoLobotomy Grade: C

There was nothing all that remarkable about the Aura when it came out, but it was a fully competent and capable mid-size sedan. Sadly, so was most of its competition and the Aura struggled to stand out from the crowd, even with a version of Cadillac’s 3.6-liter V6 engine in the XR trim.

Friday Fun – Choices: Miata Alternatives

It has been a while, but welcome back to Choices. During this segment’s hiatus, we have evolved and simplified the series. We now pit three or four seemingly similar cars against one another and ask you a simple question. Which one would you theoretically keep as your favourite, and which one do you despise enough that it deserves nothing less than a fiery grave? It’s as simple as that; pick your favourite and pick your least favourite. Have fun with the choices below.

The Contestants

  • 1999 Toyota MR-S
  • 1998 BMW Z3 1.9i
  • 1999 Chevrolet Camaro

It is the turn of the millennium and you are looking for a fun, rear-wheel drive convertible. The obvious answer is to buy a Miata, but you are not an obvious person. No, you want to defy convention and try something a little less ordinary. The choices out there are slim, but after some research, a short list of three contestants has emerged.

First there is the 1999 Toyota MR-S (or MR2 Spider depending on where you live). It is the closest to the Miata in the sense that is a lightweight two seat convertible powered by a small four-cylinder engine. The main difference is that the engine is located behind the driver.

Next up is the 1998 BMW Z3 1.9i. This is the last year of the four-cylinder Z3 before six-cylinders fully took over. With a 138 hp engine and higher curb weight, it is like a one-size larger, swankier Miata.

The final choice is a bit more out of left field. It is a 1999 Chevrolet Camaro. It is a much larger car than the other two and features far more power – 200 hp from a big 3.8-liter V6. It also includes a backseat and far more usable trunk. What it lacks in handling it makes up for in comfort and straight-line performance.

My Choices

Since I’d be looking for a weekend summer toy, I’d keep the Toyota MR-S. It would be a blast to thrash around and is a throwback to the affordable mid-engine compact. Plus, the engine is quite reliable and should require minimal maintenance.

Of the list above, I would get rid of the BMW Z3 1.9i. I do quite like the Z3, but not with the 1.9-liter engine. There were plenty of six-cylinder choices that are not only more powerful, but smoother and offering a far better exhaust note. With the 1.9i I would always feel like I made the wrong Z3 choice.

Find of the Day – 1983 Nissan Stanza

Are you a fan of retro Japanese compact cars? Well, have we found a fantastic example for you – a 1983 Nissan Stanza.

Showing less than 73,000 km on the odometer, the car is in fantastic shape inside and out. Bonus points for still rocking the stock cassette tape deck. But for me, it are those wheels that really make the car.

The price is very reasonable and some lucky shopper will own this soon I am certain.

Winged Car Wednesday – Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Today’s entry on Winged Car Wednesday may have one of the more ridiculous looking rear wings. But don’t be fooled by the Chevrolet Cobalt SS – it was still a serious compact performance vehicle.

Initially offered with a 2.0-liter supercharged four-cylinder engine, the Cobalt SS S/C made a healthy 205 hp when released in 2005. But it was the 2008 model year when things got serious. The Cobalt SS T/C replaced the supercharger with a turbocharger and now generated 260 hp. What’s more, the entire chassis/suspension was reworked for improved handling and response.

It all added up to a compact coupe that in 2008 would give more powerful all-wheel drive vehicles like the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO and Subaru WRX STI a run for their money on a racetrack, if not just outright beat them.

Find of the Day – 1985 Dodge 600 ES Convertible

Look up 1980s Posh in the dictionary and I think a picture of this car would be there. This 1985 Dodge 600 ES Convertible finished in white with a saddle brown interior is all ’80s class.

Despite a moderate amount of kilometers driven, the car is still in fantastic shape inside and out (although it looks like it already sold). As an one owner car, you can tell it was incredibly well cared for.

Would rolling up to a 1980s car show make the driver automatically the Queen/King of the show? I believe so.

Irrational Love – Front-Wheel Drive Pontiac Grand Prix’s

In 1988, I was a mere adolescent, too young to comprehend (or frankly care) about the current automotive landscape. But I have a feeling many Grand Prix faithful were appalled by the decision to switch Pontiac’s mid-size coupe from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive.

Although many probably predicted doom, gloom, and the end of the car line, the Grand Prix soldiered on for another two decades; right up until the Pontiac brand ceased to exist. But more than just survive, the Grand Prix thrived. Pontiac continued to produce high performance versions of the car over its final three generations.

Were these ground-breaking vehicles shaking the automotive industry to its core? No. But that has not stopped me from developing an unhealthy love and fascination for them; and I am certain I’m not the only one. So, let’s all take a closer look at four stand-out models.

1989 Grand Prix Turbo Coupe

For the 1989 model year, Pontiac teamed up with ASC/McLaren to produce a turbocharged version of the Grand Prix coupe. By boosting the 3.1-liter pushrod V6 engine, power surged to 205 hp and reduced the 0-60 mph to under 8 seconds. The rest of the car was upgraded as well to further improve performance, but the Turbo Grand Prix wasn’t exactly a BMW M5 killer.

1991 Grand Prix GTP

After two years of turbo power, a new 3.4-liter DOHC V6 engine making 210 hp was introduced in the Grand Prix GTP. Although it was down a bit on torque compared to the 3.1-liter turbo, it did come with an optional five-speed manual transmission – further enhancing driving appeal. There were also a few over-the-top NASCAR-inspired special editions.

1997 Grand Prix GTP

The new sixth-generation Grand Prix came dubbed as ‘Wide-Track’ by Pontiac – harkening back to the brand’s 1960s heritage. Both GTP coupes and sedans came equipped with a 240 hp supercharged 3.8-liter V6 engine which made this unsuspecting mid-size car quite quick in a straight line. Handling sadly did not match the engine’s prowess, but the car as a whole was fun to point and shoot on a long straight roadway.

2005 Grand Prix GXP

For the Grand Prix’s swan song, a special GXP trim level was included. This put V8 power back in the Grand Prix for the first time since 1987 – albeit powering the front wheels. Still, the 5.3-liter V8 made 303 hp and allowed the 3,600+lbs. car to reach 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds. The V8 wasn’t the car’s only party trick either. It had wider front tires than those in the rear to help offset the unfavorable front-wheel weight distribution, thus improving handling.