Tuesday, February 28, 2006


AutoBlog has a piece on some German journalists that got to drive the Mazda Kabura concept. This is a car that I had no faith in going to production, but now from everything I'm reading online, it's closer to reality than I could have dreamed. Sized between the MX5(Miata) and RX8, it's rear wheel drive and aside from it's 3+1 seating is a great prospect for a new sports car.
Now only if someone at Ford has the stones to bring the Reflex to life!

The new Focus Cabriolet

This is a 1958 Ford Skyliner. I believe Ford was the first company to have a retractable hardtop convertible in 1957. Long before Lexus was even around. (An anonymous reader has corrected me, this is a 1959 Skyliner, not a 58)
And this is it's modern successor, the Focus Cabrio. Or for us in the US, the Volvo C70.
Top up or down, I think it's a very good looking car.
I'm not usually a fan of Brown cars, but I'd take this one, with a 2.0 TDCi and 6 spd manual.
Here's a 1989 European Escort Cabrio, another one we never got.
And the current Ford Street Ka drop top.
I think this is just a photoshop image, but it shows whata Mondeo Cabrio would look like.

Same again, but I found this on a Google image search listed as a Ford Capri Cabrio. No other information.

Why couldn't we get these European Ford drop tops??

Technical difficulties keep blog quiet for today.

OK, I"m having computer problems, and don't think much will be posted today. When I get them sorted out, I'll be back.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Robert Farago of The Truth about Cars, predicts the death of Manual shifting

Robert Farago over at The Truth about Cars web site, is saying that the days of the manual transmission are numbered. Well know he's right, but that doesn't make us happy about it. I think it was Cadilac in the late 30's that came out with the first automatic transmission, and by the 50's they were fairly common on American cars. I remember when I first saw a VW "semi-automatic" Beetle for the first time, I guess that was a step backwards. But manual transmissions have held on all this time, in trucks, performance vehicles and smaller economy cars. I remember learning on an automatic and then making the switch to manual shift. It requires a little more skill to drive a manual, but the benefits were always a feel or perception of better control, and of course more gears offering slightly better economy.
But automatics have come a long way from the 2 and 3 speed slushboxes of yesterday. I recall the first time I saw a 4 speed overdrive automatic, it bothered me that you couldn't access all the gears with the shifter. And today, there are even more gears. We went from 2 and 3 to 4 and now 5 and 6, with 7 speed automatics and of course there are CVT (Constant Variable Transmissions) that have an almost infinite number of ratios available with their two pulleys. Then you had "auto stick" and "manu-matic" sport modes and now Farago points to VW/BorgWarner's DSG paddle shift as the final nail in the clutch pedal's coffin.
Luckilly for those of us that like to shift for ourselves, and are lucky enough to find a manual transmission on a dealer's lot, we've got time. These transmissions are going to come first on top of the line and performance oriented models. I've never driven a 6 speed manual and don't want to miss out my chance, so I hope that it wil take time. Click on over and read Farago's article, he's got his finger on the pulse, while some of us have our heads in the sand.

Laforza, Italian built Ford powered SUV, that wanted to take some of the Range Rover thunder in the 90's

The Laforza, which is Italian for "the Force", an italian luxury SUV powered by Ford. There's not a lot of information available on these, as they are no longer on the market and only produced and imported in low numbers. The AutoProphet spotted one the other day and posted on his blog about it. Then he suggested I post on it, since he knows that I'll post on anything even remotely Ford related.
For federalization Laforza chose the Ford 5.0 L motor from the Mustang. That meant that owners would have a reliable and easily serviced powertrain, and one less worry. As I recall, they came out around 1989 and were aimed squarely at Range Rover owners and others who wanted a more luxurious SUV. You have to remember that back then none of the Luxury brands made SUVs.
Range Rover was the SUV for Beverly Hills or Scarsdale, the one to be seen in. I mean you surely didn't want to have a Suburban or a Bronco in the driveway next to your Porsche, did you?
And this Lambo was just for the super rich, with it's V-12 and military type suspension. I understand, and I may be wrong, but most of these went to the Middle East. I've only ever seen one on the road here in New York.
So this wasn't such a bad idea, beating Acura, Lexus, Lincoln and Cadilac to the punch. But I think they only lasted a few years, until the mid 90's. If you do a web search, most of what you wil find are ads for used ones. I can't find much, but click the header for an enthusiast site, and below for a company(?) site.

The AutoProphet weighs in on E85 and I was amused to see who commented on his post.

I know, you're thinking enough with the Ethanol and Bio Fuel alread. But it's an interesting subject and one I feel that Ford has so many options available. But actually I was reading the AutoProphet's blog today, and it looks like we were both tapping the keyboards at the same time Sunday, about similar subjects, Ethanol!! So click on over and read what an industry insider and Engineer has to say on the subject. AutoProphet points to how this is an issue that has created unusal alliances, such as Environmentalists, Conservatives and Big Business. But one thing that really amused me was who the first commentor on the post was; Commentor over at AutoProphet

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sunday thoughts on E85 and fuel conservation in general in respect to Ford and it's partners.

As usual for a Sunday, I was reading my car magazines (the few I still bother with) and watching my car shows, including Autoline Detroit on Speed channel. And this morning John McElroy had an interesting discusion with two execs from GM about their new marketing push on E85. The thrust of it, was that GM is pushing awareness of it's vehicles' ability to run on the E85 bio fuel blend, and discussed Brazil's success with their shift to the bio fuel blends. The commentators acknowledged that all of the domestic auto makers have been making Flex Fuel vehicles for years, with little fan fair. I've commented on it before, that many Fords over the years including some trucks have been flex fuel capable. And I've read over the last few months how Ford and now GM are working with suppliers to slowly create the infrastructure for the Ethanol blends. I know it's only a drop in the bucket now, but it's a start. So that got me thinking about Ford's partners and overseas operations.
In Europe Diesels are the biggest thrust by companies looking to improve the fuel efficiency of their vehicles and Ford and their partners have a very good range of engines and share technologies fairly well. So are Ford and partner vehicles in Europe also Flex Fuel capable? The Petrol V6 engines in many Ford and partner vehicles share DNA, so it shouldn't be overly expensive to make the switch if they aren't. What about the smaller engines? The already fuel efficient petrol I4 engines? And finally how about the big V8 and V12 engines from Jaguar and Aston Martin? Well they also share DNA with the lowly corporate 3.0 DOHC V6, so it theoretically should be easy to make the adjustments. Which from everything I've read on Ethanol, consist mainly of a sensor in the fuel system to read the fuel mixture and adjust programming for efficient combustion and probably a new fuel tank and lines. Ethanoll actually burns cleaner and has an octane advantage over Petrol, so it shouldn't affect performance even on these high priced models.
Now Australia may be a different story, but not really a problem. The Australian Ford powerplants are variations of the 4.0 I6 that is not shared with Europe or North America, and home grown versions of the Modular V8 seen in North America and select other markets globally. But again, if it's just a matter of a few hundred dollars per car to modify, and consisting of partial upgrade to fuel system and programming, it doesn't sound too dificult. I know Diesels are sold in Australia, but wonder what the market mix is between Petrol and Diesel? Also what is the Hybrid situation? Can someone from down under enlighten me? Ben ??
What about Mazda? The V6s Mazda use are also developments of the Ford 3.0, so the same modifications should be an easy move for them. And in the US market at least, E85 doesn't seem to be in the game plan for most Japanese marques. It could be a good marketing move for Mazda to make the switch and beat the other Japanese companies to the punch. Mazda doesn't seem to be whole heartedly onboard with Hybrid Electrics either, other than the Tribute which is going to be shut down soon. I've read that in Japan they are working on Hydrogen technologies, as everyone world wide seems to be, but what will their "Eco" card be? Could it be further development of the Turbo Direct Injection technology that we see in the MazdaSpeed6, and upcoming CX7 and MazdaSpeed3? Applying that technology to smaller displacement engines would allow a 1 liter engine to make the power a 2 liter engine traditionally makes, while still achieving greater gas milage, or so I've been told/read. Will Mazda blaze it's own path or jump on the E85 bandwagon, even just for the short term. I don't see how it could hurt.
And for all those that fear the loss of performance, DON'T, it should be right on par with what you have experienced from Gasoline only, maybe even slightly better. The Mustang's 4.0 SOHC V6, that it shares with the Ranger, also shares DNA with the 3.0 V6 (from the Ranger), and since the modifications are confined to fuel system and programming, should easily transfer.

Don't get me wrong, it's not as if I own stock in an Ethanol company, and I don't think E85 or Bio Diesel blends will be the magic cure. But they should be easy transitions, with major payoffs for the environement, economy and national security. It seems like such a win win situation.

(updates in red, to clarify which 3.0 V6) Both the Taurus and Ranger were offered as Flex Fuel vehicles, both with 3.0L V6 engines, but no means the same. The Ranger was the Cologne family V6.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Jalopnik points to Emunds blog on Free Trade

Today on Jalopnik, they point to an Edmunds.com blog post about Free Trade and the "Chicken Tax." Basically that's the 25% tarrif the US charges for all imported "light" trucks. Many people see this as proectionism. But while all of these sites talk about our tarrif on imported trucks, how many of them discuss the tarrifs on US products exported into foreign ports? This seems like a reapeat of yesterday, so check out my post from yesterday;
Free Trade vs Fair Trade

It's easy for people to call this tarrif wrong and say it's protectionism, but do they realize what US products face overseas? So keep the "Chicken Tax" and damn Free Trade, let's have some Fair Trade!

What does Ford get, what do I get from Racing?

Ford like many companies, has a strong pressence in motor sports. Spending huge amounts of money in sponsorship and development. But does Ford get it's bang for the buck? More importantly do I as a customer, benefit from the money Ford spends in various forms of motor sports each year?
It's historical fact that without racing there would be no Ford Motor Company. After all it was Henry Ford's sucess in 1902 that allowed him to raise the financing to start his third and sucessful attempt at an automobile manufacturing company.
Ford has been involved in racing either directly or indirectly ever since. In the ealry days, Stock Cars were "stock" cars, modified for racing, but based on production models. That's where the old saying "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday!" comes from. And Ford's endurance and quality was shown under the most abusive conditions.
It wasn't just in the United States that Ford raced, even in Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia and South America Ford powered cars ran in various "Stock Car" classes and rallies.
Not just the big V8 Fords either, in Europe and elsewhere, even the littlest Fords were burning up the tracks. This late 70's Ford Fiesta racing in Spain illustrates that fact.
And in many cases Ford was able to highlight developments in production models and bring that racing back to the people. Ford's relationship with companies like Cosworth and Lotus over the years led to improvements we see under our hoods today.
Even in open wheel classes, where you would think the least would translate to production models. This early 60's Ford Cosworth powered Lotus race car, helped develop overhead cam technology that is under Ford hoods today.
There are still racing series all over the world that are closer to "stock" than you would think, like the Australian Supercar Series. V8 Ford and Holden (GM) run head to head, and you can buy similar cars on dealer lots.
Even in the US there are still areas where you can see "door slammers" running around the tracks, and not just go fast turn left, these Trans Am Mustangs have to turn right and left and weave through a tough field of world class competitors that cost much more. These Mustangs can be considered rolling development labs also, as they run modified Modular V8s not so removed from what you can buy in dealerships.
Rally racing brings development in braking systems, fuel management systems, suspensions and proves them under extreme situations. The way racing is supposed to.

But what do these two have in common, what benefit as a customer do I get from a plastic body that hardly resembles the production car and rides on a complete tube chassis. The NASCAR Fusion is a "2 door" although they don't actually have doors, while the production model is only a 4 door. The racer is rear wheel drive, while production is front wheel drive. The racer has a 5.8L overhead valve V8, that hasn't been seen in a production model car or truck in a decade. That huge fosil of a V8 has a carburetor, which nobody has used on a production car in almost 20 years. So where is the development that usually accompanies racing? Can you buy a car like the one that races?

I'm not so ignorant to think that Ford doesn't get some benefit from NASCAR, but other than advertising and "brand recognition" where's the beef? I say NASCAR lost it's relevance in the early 80's, even as I recognize it's the hottest ticket in town. But I remember when I would watch Donnie Allison or David Pearson race their Ford Stock Cars, and they looked like cars I knew. The last NASCAR Stock Car I could recognize as a Ford, was the mid 80's T-Bird. I would prefer to see more Trans Am and SCCA racing or even an American racing series like they have in the UK, Germany and Australia, Grand Touring type racing. No carbs with restrictor plates, but real racing with real development.

There's nothing STOCK in stock car racing today, and that sucks.

TGIF, cause that means it's time for Carnival of Cars over at Mark Tapscott's page

Mark Tapscott of Behind the Wheel, does a weekly round up of the best of auomotive blogs, called the Carnival of Cars. I had heard of it, but started checking it out a few weeks ago. Now it's one of my reasons for loving Fridays, the other being Saturdays.

Click on over and see Mark's rundown on the best auto posts. I've been lucky enough to be featured a couple of times, I haven't even looked yet, but it's always an honor to be considered.

Love the smell of burning rubber! Aussie site gallery of Fords burning their hides

Just as Robert Duval's character in Apocolypse Now, loves the smell of Napalm in the morning, I love the smell of burning tire rubber. And last night while researching photos for a post, I found this gallery of Fords doing burnouts on an Australian auto enthiasts site. You may not recognize all of the cars, but they should have the familiar Blue Oval on them and they are burning those hides with style, so enjoy.

South African review of Focus ST, great read

A very cool review of the Ford Focus ST, you know the one we'll never get. Let's you know why car enthusiasts everywhere want one.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Reader submitted link to MotorTrend rumor on Crown Victoria

An Anonymous reader, left this link in a comment (that was not allowed, because it was Anonymous) and it's from MotorTrend, concerning a rumor that the Ford Crown Victoria will be replaced in 2008 by the redesigned Australian Ford Falcon. I hope and pray that this rumor has merrit, but I've got no confidence in MotorTrend magazine, especially their "FutureForecast" section. It's a one line entry and I've noticed it before. I think they just throw them up there and don't update them.
The Panther platform, which underpins the Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis/Town Car, has been around since 1979 with only minor changes. It's also been under fire in the press, because of some tragic fires involving Police Cruisers that have been hit by high speed cars. Sales have slumped also for these triplets, because they have not been updated in years. I had a 1992 Crown Victoria, and it was one of my favorite cars ever. With the 4.6 modular V8 and 4spd overdrive auto trans I acheived 25 mpg on the highway and about 15 mpg in a suburban loop, beating my V6 Ranger's 13/20 mpg. But in today's market you don't let your flagship models just stagnate.
I've said too many times to count that a new Panther replacement based on the Australian Falcon/Fairmont/LTD would be the answer, with it's IRS giving it modern road manners.
But I just don't have the faith in MotorTrend. Now if MPH had this rumor on their site, that would be something. Dave keeps on top of his site, and updates it daily, so I have a better feeling about the information I get over there. It doesn't hurt that Dave's one hell of car guy.

So, just a reminder, Anonymous posts will not be posted. I've made some allowances recently, but that's not the trend. Just sign off any comment with initials or a nickname, no need to register.

Links links, who's got the liinks?

I was checking the sites on my link list to the left, and on GarageGuy's site I found a couple of interesting links. Maybe I'll add them to the sidebar, let me know what you think?

Gear6 Is a Auto News website. I gave them a quick look and like what I see. It all seems to be original content, I'll track it for a few days and make sure.

MotorKen Is a site I found over at Gear 6, it seems to be a reader submission site, and allows people to rate stories posted there. I will track this one, to make sure it's not a Splog of a different color. But let me know what you think.

I'm thinking of removing some links from the sidebar, sites that had originally exchanged links with me, but seem to have removed my site from their links, or sites that seem to have shut down, no activity for several weeks or months.

Peter DeLorenzo let's fire with both barrels on "Free/Fair Trade"

I was reading Jalopnik this morning, and they point to an article by Peter DeLorenzo of the AutoExtermist where he let's loose on the inequity of Free Trade agreements. I think we'd all like to think of our world as a fair place, but it's not. The United States is basically an open market for anyone who wants to sell products. And with the load of new trade agreements over the last few years, you would assume that trade is "free" and "fair", but you would be very wrong.
Mr DeLorenzo isn't asking for protectionism, just a fair playing field. Nobody wants the government to "bail out" Ford or GM, but our trade policies put our own manufacturers at a great disadvantage. It's almost impossible for US manufacturers to sell their goods (not just cars) in many foreign markets because of their "protectionist" policies and high tarrifs on US goods.
I know many are going to say, that US manufacturers are saddled with high "legacy" costs, because of unwise negotiaions with the unions. And that American vehicles don't sell in these other markets because they aren't as good and are too big and clumsy compared with foreign products. But that's not entirely true and not the full picture. In many European countries healthcare is government paid. In other parts of the world, things like benefits and pensions are unknown words. And American quality is recognized as being on par with any other country on the planet and superior to some.
US companies doing business with China have to partner up with a local company in order to do business there, and they bear the bulk of investment in these risky ventures. We import far more Chinese goods than we export to China. Japan fairs no better. To buy a Ford Mustang in Japan it would cost you as much as a loaded Mercedes, after you factor in tarrifs and other charges. The same would be said for a Ford Focus, even though it shares the same platform as the Mazda3. It's not a level playing field for US products overseas, and our policies make it too easy for anyone to sell in the US.
It's not just trade policies that keep US products scarce in Japan, it's national pride. Why do Japanese cars not sweep the European market? Because Europeans realize what Americans don't, if you import everything, you export all your jobs. Manufacturing jobs have always been the step up the economic ladder for Americans, and if you take that away you doom many generations to poverty. Let's also remember that many countries like Japan and China manipulate their currency to keep that trade imbalance in place.

Read Jalopnik's post and then my past post on this subject here;

Jalopnik post on this

My July post on trade

I don't claim to know the answers, but found these two articles interesting.

Fiesta based Bronco for under $10k ??

AutoBlog writes today, that Ford may build the Bronco concept on the Fiesta platform in Mexico. It's going to be the current Fiesta platform, not the upcomming new platform, again to save money, like the Focus. According to AutoBlog Ford wants to be able to sell it for under $10,000.
The original Bronco, which the concept take quite a few cues from in it's retro design, was built from 1966-1977. Standard engine was an inline 6 and optional was a small V8. I always wanted one of these, but surviving examples aren't cheap or are in baskets in someone's garage.
Toyota is also reaching into the retro closet with it's new FJ Cruiser concept, but it's been taking steroids with the chassis being the new Tacoma and having the 4.0 V6 as it's only engine.
The AutoBlog article says that the Bronco will be built in Mexico along with a 5 door Fiesta based B-segment hatch that will also come to the US (also on the outgoing Fiesta mechanicals.) This is of course a smart move on Ford's part, if it's not exactly what I had hoped for. Like the Fusion/Milan/Zephyr triplets, building them in Mexico keeps production costs down and allows them to say "North American built" on the window sticker. I love the idea of a plant making B-segment product for the US market, and the Fiesta platform is rock solid.
But here's a question, will the new Bronco really look like this? I mean the Ford EcoSport is on the same chassis and is a softroader like the Rav4/CRV/Element and Tuscon.
I would prefer that both came to market, the EcoSport as a higher volume unit and the Bronco as a niche model.
But I'm sceptical of the under $10k part. I know its important to fight the upcomming Chinese, but can you make a capable softroader and keep the price that low? Maybe a 5 door hatch, but not the Bronco. And if it's that cheap, will the quality be as shoddy as the Chinese?
Hyundai has enough problems keeping the price of their Accent low enough, they wouldn't consider trying to put the Tuscon out that low. Overall I'm happy that Ford is stepping up to the plate and not abandoning the bottom of the market.
But what powertrains will come to the US? I'm sure any all wheel drive will be optional like the Hondas and others, meaning that an all wheel drive version will be closer to $15k, and rightfully so.

But will it have the offroad ability that it's forebearer had?

I'll wait for more details to make my final decision, but I would have preferred to see a new flexible plant built in the US, and offering several models from the "New Fiesta" platform.