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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.

Irrational Love – Wagon Racecars

Warning – another automotive nerd is about to go on a diatribe about the coolness of station wagons. Yes, this tired cliché is about to get one more installment. So then, please finish rolling your eyes and let’s get on with it.

Long before the Minivan, SUV or Crossover, it was Station Wagons that ruled the earth. These long box cars were the masters of utility. They could do it all, capable of carrying three rows of passengers, 4’ X 8’ sheets of plywood, or a month’s worth of groceries.

But every once in awhile someone gets the crazy notion that maybe a Station Wagon would make a fantastic racecar. Yes, the sensible shoes of the automotive world, in the heat of battle, burning rubber and swapping paint. It’s an idea so crazy, that it works.

Multi-Sport Athlete

Even in racing, Station Wagons can do it all. They have been participants in nearly every form of automotive competition from drifting to destruction derbies. For decades American rear-wheel drive wagons found their way onto drag strips, living life one quarter mile at a time. But that isn’t the only place they have flexed outright velocity – there are also fantastic land speed wagons.

Getting dirty seems to also be a specialty. If there is a motorsport that involves gravel, mud or snow, a wagon is surely ready and willing to go. Rally has seen its fair share of wagons, especially those coming from Subaru. But even longer, more grueling off-road races like famous Paris to Dakar rally has had wagons entered, like the Peugeot 505 shown below.

BTCC

The largest and most prominent showcase of competition wagons is easily the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). In 1994 Volvo decided to enter the famed series and created an absolute legend; the 850 Estate racecar. This is probably the most famous motorsports wagon in history. Who cares if it achieved no real success during its one season of competition, bettered in every way by the Swedish sedans that came after it? The Estate was a winner in my heart.   

Exactly 20 years later Honda brought along a wagon of sorts for competition in the BTCC. Ok, the Civic Tourer wasn’t a traditional station wagon, but it was close enough. Unlike the 850 Estate, the Civic Tourer achieved a bit of success during its one-year run, winning three rounds of the BTCC that year.

Two years later the longest-running wagon in BTCC history enter competition; the Subaru Levorg GT. For four years, the Levorg competed diligently, achieving high levels of success that culminated in the driver’s championship in 2017. Sadly, this rear-wheel drive wagon was withdrawn from competition this year, gone but never to be forgotten.

So that brings us to the future. What is going to be the next, great racing station wagon?

Find of the Day – 1996 Mitsubishi L400 Super Exceed Space Gear

The world needs more off-road vans, and thankfully, this Mitsubishi L400 Super Exceed Space Gear is here to save the day. Powered by a diesel engine, the four-by-four, right hand drive multi-passenger vehicle is lifted high off the ground and fitted with a multitude of off-road hardware, including a set of meaty BF Goodrich tires.

So if your entire family of six wants to travel deep, deep into the brush, here is your reasonably price ride. The middle and rear seats even fold to make a sizable rear bed should a nap be required on your travels.

Find of the Day – 1981 Lancia Zagato FI

For sale at the small sum of just $3,500 CAD is a 1981 Lancia Zagato. Those familiar with the front-wheel drive Lancia Beta will know that the Zagato was the convertible version of the car, featuring a removable targa panel and a fold down soft top rear portion.

The 1981 model is of special note as the 2.0-liter engine received fuel-injection and bumped power from 87 hp to 108 hp. The car for sale here may have wheels not to everyone’s liking, but that is an easy change to make.

Friday Fun – $2000 Moab Challenge

Alright folks, we are back with another Friday Fun Challenge. This week, we are heading to Moab, Utah (virtually) to tackle the 4-wheeling trails. But we aren’t heading there in shiny new, fully capable off-roaders. No, we need to make this interesting.

Your mission is to find a used vehicle currently for sale with an asking price no greater than $2,000 USD ($3,000 CAD or £1,500). It can be whatever you want, but it has to be for sale now and the listed price can’t be any higher than the amount of $2,000 USD.

So what’s it going to be? A big V8 brute? An off-road specialist? Something completely out of left field? Have at it and let us know!

My Pick

I am going to go with an agile, purpose built off-roader that offers a bit more comfort than a Jeep Wrangler. My pick is this diesel, right-hand drive JDM 1991 Mitsubishi Pajero. It has the less desirable automatic transmission, but does have ‘Super Select 4WD’. Plus, there are already hitches mounted front and rear to help drag the Mitsubishi out of the inevitable messes I’ll get myself stuck in.

Or, if I want to change the difficulty level to expert, maybe I’ll grab this 2001 Pontiac Aztek. It is all-wheel drive and all of those exterior stick-on pieces have to make it more capable, right?

TOCA 2 Touring Cars – Total Engrossment

TOCA 2: Touring Cars is one of those rare occurrences of the right game at the right time. Released at the tail end of 1998, it fully took advantage of the racing game frenzy that had been set off by Gran Turismo the year prior. But TOCA 2 was not a Gran Turismo copycat – far from it.

As a sequel to the original TOCA, the game was centered around the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC); specifically, the 1998 season. A storied racing series steeped in decades of history, BTCC was in one of its golden eras in the late 1990s, thanks to fierce competition between several manufacturer backed teams and a roster of legendary drivers.

With everything already going for it, Codemasters could have just mailed in the effort behind TOCA 2 and probably still had a sales success. But instead, the company crafted one of the greatest racing games of its time.

Realism Aplenty

Released for the original PlayStation and PC, the game included all the real cars, drivers, and tracks from the 1998 season (minus of course some privateer teams). Icons of the sport were in-game like Alain Menu, Jason Plato, and Rickard Rydell.

Each driver was assigned to their proper team and car. Those who grew up watching BTCC in the ‘90s will remember many of the cars fondly. Included was the Audi A4 with its classic grey paint job and giant angled red rings down the side. The Renault Laguna, winner of the 1997 championship, and Volvo S40, winner of the 1998 championship were also there. The manufacturer’s championship winning Nissan Primera as well as the Vauxhall Vectra, Ford Mondeo, Honda Accord, and Peugeot 406 rounded out the group.

The Main Championship mode took place on real life circuits like Silverstone, Thruxton, Oultan Park and Brands Hatch. It even followed the actual 1998 BTTC schedule as far as I can remember. This meant two races per weekend event and a one-lap qualifying shootout. Throughout the season points were collected for both the driver’s championship as well as the manufacturer’s championship.

More Than Just BTCC

But TOCA 2 was expanded to include other cars outside of the main BTCC entries. There were support series cars such as the Ford Fiesta and Formula Ford. They could each be raced through their own Support Car Championships. The Fiesta races were a great way to get familiar with the game’s dynamics in slower, more controllable cars while the Formula Fords required more precision to drive.

It was also possible to do challenges on various fantasy tracks piloting high-performance machinery like the AC Superblower, Jaguar XJ220, Lister Storm, and TVR Speed 12. It was a bit random to include these cars compared to the core purpose of this game, but maybe it was a way to broaden the overall appeal and add a little variety.

Great Gameplay

As mentioned, the actual racing action of TOCA 2 was fantastic for its era. The car reacted properly to a player’s inputs and driving the proper racing line around the track was necessary to achieve the greatest amount of success. It was still possible to overcook a corner and slide through it unscathed, but that usually slowed down overall progress. Weather conditions, such as fog and rain, existed and not only looked realistic but also affected vehicle performance.

And while on the topic of realism, the in-car view was quite detailed with a working steering wheel, side and rear-view mirrors, sponsor decals and a gauge cluster displaying speed, rpm, and the current gear. The damage modelling was equally advanced for its time. Whichever part of a car crashed was damaged, disfigured and/or fell off the car completely depending on the level of the impact. Not many games had a proper damaging model at this time, so it was a huge bonus for TOCA 2.

It was also just another part of the overall immersion that made this game such a hit. It really felt like I was behind the wheel of my Audi Sport UK A4, battling door hand to door handle with David Leslie, Tim Harvey and Derek Warwick. Trying hard to score maximum points without making costly mistakes. Each round I would eagerly check the championship standings to see how my team was doing; more interested in the manufacturer’s standings then my own individual standings. Although many games have since come along dedicated to a single racing series, few have captured the same magic that TOCA 2 created.

Winged Car Wednesday – BMW 3.0 CSL ‘Batmobile’

Racing homologation has given us some of the greatest cars of all-time. Here is one of them, the BMW 3.0 CSL. Built for competition in the European Touring Car Championship, the ultimate version of the car arrived in 1973 with a 203 hp 3.2-liter straight-six engine and all the aerodynamic bodywork one could ask for.

Up front there was a large air dam and fins running along the fenders. In the rear was the famous ‘Batmobile’ wing that actually came from the factory uninstalled, stored in the trunk since driving with it on public roads was a big no-no. But did that stop people from mounting it themselves? Thankfully not.   

Graded: Nissan Skyline

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.

Are you team Skyline or team Z car? I am team Skyline. When it comes to Nissan, these are the two most storied, recognizable names in the brand’s history. Although the Skyline has never been sold in some places, like North America, its legendary performance (and a certain movie franchise) made it world famous.

Starting in 1957 under the Prince automotive brand, the Skyline is still going strong, now in its thirteenth generation of existence. But the last three generations of skyline have been close siblings to the Infiniti G35, G37 and Q50. What we are going to focus on for this edition of Graded are the first ten generations of the Skyline; the more JDM versions. For each of these first ten generations, we have picked one of the best models produced.

1962 Prince Skyline Sport
AutoLobotomy Grade: D+

The original Prince Skyline was more luxury sedan than performance car. Even with the introduction of the more powerful Skyline Sport coupe in 1962, the car looked sportier than it actually was.

1965 Prince Skyline 2000GT-B
AutoLobotomy Grade: C

The second-generation Skyline received a major bump in performance. The S54 models could be equipped with a 123 hp engine and were regulars in various racing series, including the Japanese Grand Prix. Styling was a bit conservative though.

1969 Nissan Skyline GT-R
AutoLobotomy Grade: B

The original car that introduced the icon name – Skyline GT-R. Powered by a 2.0-liter straight six-cylinder engine making 160 hp, the GT-R was a no compromise sports car devoid of any unnecessary equipment. The coupe body also looked sophisticated and sporty.

1973 Nissan Skyline GT-R
AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

The fourth-generation Skyline continued with a GT-R model, using the same engine as the previous generation. I personally prefer this generation’s mini-muscle car styling, especially the blacked-out wheels and fender flares. It is my favourite classic Skyline.

1980 Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-ES
AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

With rising fuel prices and less interest in sports cars, the fifth-generation Skyline did not include a GT-R model. There was a turbocharged 143 hp engine available in the 2000 GT-EX and 2000 GT-ES, but this engine and vehicle set-up did not match the previous GT-R’s in terms of performance. The styling and paint options for the 1980 GT-ES were top notch though.  

1985 Nissan Skyline 2000 Turbo Intercooler RS-X
AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

Performance found its way back into the Skyline in a big way for the sixth-generation car thanks to the RS models, specifically the Turbo Intercooled RS-X model. Power was up to 202 hp and the car had fantastic ‘80s styling complete with a two-tone exterior. I irrationally love this car.

1987 Nissan Skyline GTS-R
AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

Take everything that made the 2000 Turbo Intercooler RS-X great and make it even better. That is basically what Nissan did with the homologation special 1987 Skyline GTS-R. It was a one-year only special model and is the ultimate RWD Skyline in my opinion.

1994 Nissan GT-R V-spec II
AutoLobotomy Grade: A

Now we enter the modern era GT-R, and honestly, these are all great. But arguably the pinnacle of the R32 Skyline was the GT-R V-spec II with its larger brakes and wider tires. The R32 cemented the Skyline GT-R into that of a legend.

1997 Nissan Skyline GT-R NISMO 400R
AutoLobotomy Grade: A++

Picking a favourite between the R32, R33, and R34 is all about personal taste and preference. For me, the R33 with its aerodynamic nose is my pick. Many special edition models of the Skyline GT-R were created for this generation, including the race-car-in-street-car-clothes 1995 Nissan Skyline NISMO GT-R LM. But my favourite Skyline is the 394 hp GT-R NISMO 400R. Just look at that thing.

2001 Nissan Skyline GT-R V-spec II N1
AutoLobotomy Grade: A+

With the R34, there are plenty of special editions to choose from, but the GT-R V-spec II with the N1 engine is arguably the best. With a blueprinted engine, carbon fibre hood and NACA ducts, the car is devoid of any unnecessary weight like air conditioning, a radio, or various trim pieces. This was a purpose-built machine.

Canadian Thanksgiving Special – Thankful for Ridiculous Motorsport Competitions

We’ve all seen demolition derbies and figure eight racing before, right? Usually, it’s big old American iron smashing it out on a tight course. Or more recently due to economics and availability, front-wheel drive compacts have become a favourite for the sport.

But what if a handful of Japanese and German luxury cars went wreck ’em racing? That is exactly what I stumbled upon recently. Thanks to Low Budget TV Productions (LBTV), I got to witness this Jalopy Figure 8 race from the 2018 Orange County Fair in California.

I wouldn’t exactly use the term Jalopy to describe the vehicles used in this race, or maybe that’s the joke. Just look at this field of cars spinning around in a tight dirt oval. There are two generations of Lexus GS300, multiple old Mercedes and both an Audi A6 and A4 Avant.

At one point, in the first heat, the race descends into an all out derby around the three and a half minute mark. Whatever this is, I love it. Enjoy the video below.

Find of the Day – Custom Chevy Powered Porsche 928

Here is something completely different. A 1980 Porsche 928 Euro-spec that has been thoroughly modified. For starters, there is a 350 cubic inch Chevy V8 engine up front, complete with air intake sprouting from the hood.

The taillights, rear spoiler and wheels have been reworked. Actually, it might be easier to list what is still stock as not much about this car is how it was when it left the factory floor.

If you’re looking for something unique and a definite one-off, here is your ride.

Find of the Day – Pristine 1999 Saturn SL2

Where are the Saturn fans at? Here is a nearly mint condition 1999 Saturn SL2 sedan selling for a very reasonable price. The interior and exterior appear to be well maintained, and the seller states the car was garage stored for most of its life.

Would this make for a great, nostalgic commuter car? Or a better future classic? Whoever puts up the first $3,400 gets to decide.