Join 3,421 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

Can I Interest You In A Brand New 1987 Buick?
December 11, 2010 7:43 AM   Subscribe

A car dealership in CA has a brand new 1987 Buick GNX on the showroom floor. It's been there since 1987. GM only produced 587 of this model, and it is believed that this vehicle is the only new one left on the planet. The GNX was a hot rod; turbocharged, high horsepower, and could match any production vehicle available in the US, going 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds. The $29,389 stick price from 1987 equates to $54,771 today. Sorry Buick enthusiasts, the dealership says the car is not for sale.
posted by COD (85 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Six cylinders of turbocharged fury.

that's the equivalent to 3/4 of a can of whoop-ass
posted by pyramid termite at 7:51 AM on December 11, 2010 [15 favorites]


Buick enthusiasts?
posted by goethean at 7:52 AM on December 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


Do not want.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:52 AM on December 11, 2010


I have to say I always wanted a Buick Grand National back in the 80s that looked just like this (but with a smaller engine) even though today it looks kind of hideous.
posted by mathowie at 7:55 AM on December 11, 2010


pyramid termite: "that's the equivalent to 3/4 of a can of whoop-ass"

0-60 in 4.7 seconds. In 1987. From a domestic vehicle.

I assure you it was a full can of whoop-ass.

I am by no means a GM fan, but as a car guy I can admit these are very rare and sought after vehicles. To find one sitting on a dealership floor with 164 miles, most of which have been racked up by the dealership moving it into a bay to do maintenance. Amazing.

Great post. Thank you COD.
posted by Big_B at 7:57 AM on December 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


If that is the only one left on the planet, then why are there so many on youtube?
posted by honest knave at 8:00 AM on December 11, 2010


Read all the words.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:01 AM on December 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


Sweet.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:03 AM on December 11, 2010


It was as quick as a contemporary Porsche 911 Turbo, for about half the price.

Until the first corner, that is.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:07 AM on December 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


It is an ugly can of Whoop-Ass.
posted by everichon at 8:08 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


My girlfriend's father (today my father-in-law) had one, either an 86 or 87. I've felt the power of that beast from the passenger seat. He never let me drive it though.
posted by COD at 8:08 AM on December 11, 2010


It looks like somebody Pimped my Pop-Pop's Ride.
posted by entropone at 8:09 AM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Buick enthusiasts?
posted by goethean


Yep. It is no coincidence that they show this Hispanic looking kid salivating over it. My nephew runs a car club where they buy, remodel and soup up old Buicks. It is common to see refurbished Buicks at car shows. They could make a very nice profit on this car if they decided to sell.
posted by vacapinta at 8:12 AM on December 11, 2010


It's fast. And ugly. So while you can blow away more modern vehicles from the stop light, you'll hate yourself the entire time.

I think there's an auto industry metaphor in there somewhere but I'm too lazy this morning to dig it out.
posted by tommasz at 8:12 AM on December 11, 2010


Mint condition in box.
posted by about_time at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Only a V-6?

Our family had a blue, two-door 1981 V-8 Regal when I was a kid. Putting the pedal down would pour gasoline into the engine. It would just shoot off the starting line. For my brother and I it was the car we would get to drive only once in a while.

I loved that car. In high school my brother took tv and media production and he and his buddies made a 10-minute action short. They used the Regal with my parents' permission. The whole family sat down to watch the final product with the other people from the class in his group. In one scene the Regal is shown completely peeling out with a loud screech. My Mom got upset until my brother told her it was a sound effect. She totally bought it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:16 AM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


If that is the only one left on the planet...

It's the only NEW one on the planet. This planet, anyway...
posted by hermitosis at 8:22 AM on December 11, 2010


The numbers of people driving those wretched things (in their lesser "Grand National" form) in Maryland in the mid-eighties, as well as the Chevy variants, the idiotic 3rd gen Camaro, and fleets and fleets of Tauruses is pretty much what drove me to avoid American cars like the actual plague, and making me wonder what in the planet of festering infected rectal fissures was wrong with Americans that they would regard a pillowy, badly assembled, mushmouth-handling Buick as a remotely reasonable car.

I took the road less traveled, with vintage Saabs and absurd illegally imported Citroëns of various stripes, and it made all the difference. Bankrupted me, of course, but being a pompous lunatic costs money, you know. If I had it all to do over again, I would have skipped directly to motorcycles, saved myself a mountain of cash (assuming I didn't buy a Ural), and still would have never had to sit behind the wheel of a patriotic puffywuffywagon except, on rare occasions, as a rental.

Enthusiasm for a Buick...holy shit.

That sounds like being horny for a bundle board.

To each their own, I guess.
posted by sonascope at 8:27 AM on December 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


"If Darth Vader drove a car..."

If Darth Vader drove a car, you'd expect his garage to be empty...
posted by Namlit at 8:30 AM on December 11, 2010


Hey now, watch the remarks about 3rd Gen Camaros. When my father in law bought his GNX he gave his daughter his 84 Z-28 to take back to college. As boyfriend to said daughter, that gave me on demand access to the the car whenever I needed to borrow it.

Did I mention it had the T-Tops? I was 19 years old, I had a hot girlfriend, I had a mullet, and I got to drive around in her T-Top Camaro. I pretty much thought life would never get better than that.
posted by COD at 8:32 AM on December 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


I've seen this car somewhere before.
posted by jettloe at 8:41 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The craziest thing about those 3rd gen Camaros was that ridiculous motorized pull-down mechanism they had for the hatch, because apparently Americans couldn't design a hatchback well enough or educate their customers to not slam the thing every time they close it. This is a pretty common American problem, lousy latches, and it's why I was always yelling at my passengers that they did NOT need to slam the doors because the latches actually worked properly.

I had a roommate with an IROC-Z (with a bra, natch) that I was allowed to drive a few times. Yep, it was fast, sort of, but the problem arises when you want to (a) turn or (b) take a trip with limited gas money.

The only time I ever actually enjoyed it was after he wrecked it, rear-ending a woman while drunk driving us home from the DC gay bars, and that was pretty much because I'd gotten to see him beaten half to death by a short, round black woman in a choir robe who he'd angrily called "nigger" (he was from the Eastern Shore, where that sort of thing is more common) in a scene that played almost like a shot for shot remake of the Jean Hill bus scene from Polyester. Driving out of the city at five am, peering over the giant folded hood and listening to a racist gay guy from Crisfield whimpering about his loose teeth while the sky turned bright and beautiful, was a glorious trip, but I have to admit that I was just glad that stupid car was finally not just merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

Mind you, when my '72 Saab 96 died of oil starvation (ironically because the line that fed the accessory oil pressure gauge snapped, draining the crankcase) coming back from the very same gay bar at a similar hour in a later year, I knew I'd pretty much called in that bit of karma.
posted by sonascope at 8:56 AM on December 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Ironmouth: "Our family had a blue, two-door 1981 V-8 Regal when I was a kid."

We had one too - we used to pull a ski boat with it.
posted by Big_B at 9:04 AM on December 11, 2010


It's not that ugly. This is.
posted by blucevalo at 9:16 AM on December 11, 2010


Only a V-6?
Our family had a blue, two-door 1981 V-8 Regal when I was a kid.


Yeah, but I don't think that your family's V-8 could hit 60 MPH from a standstill in under five seconds.
Come on people, starting with the '80s, cars didn't have to have V-8s to have balls anymore. I would take a 1985-1/2 Mustang SVO any freaking day over a same year 5.0 Mustang. That's a four cylinder over an eight cylinder. OK, so it's a turbocharged four cylinder, but it still put out more horsepower and torque than the 5.0 V-8 did.

This reminds me of a recent find of one of the last BMW K75 bikes ever made that has only about 10 miles on the odometer. Apparently the tank got a dent on the showroom floor and had been sitting in the basement of the Beemer dealership since then.
posted by NoMich at 9:34 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ugly then, uglier now.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:36 AM on December 11, 2010


I have ridden in one of these, I've seen them on LA freeways - and I have also actually laid eyes and hands on that particular GNX at that particular Signal Hill dealership. It was very shiny and well taken care of. It was already a curious antique in the mid-90s, and it's definitely one of those "Only in LA" kind of destinations and moments. I went and saw it with some friends because we were bored, and driving around and looking at random crap is what you do in LA when you're bored.

Interesting to see that it's still around at the same dealership. I haven't thought about that car in years and years. I figured they would have sold it to a collector with deep pockets by now.

I have had more then one gearhead friend salivate just talking about that car. I mean that particular car at that particular dealership, how they wanted to buy it if they ever won the lottery. That particular vehicle is actually kind of legendary in LA. It's probably part of more than one person's semi-fictional zombie outbreak plan, like "Step 1: Steal GNX. Step 2: Drive to Walmart, get fuckton of guns and ammo. Step 3: Find kid with steel boomerang."

Yeah, yeah, it's a Buick. But it's more than a just a Buick. It's a particular moment of pure, crystallized madness in the American automotive industry, arguably the very last of the factory-stock American boat-like muscle cars released 20 years after the sun had set on that empire, during an age of minivans and econoboxes where imports like Honda and Nissan ruled the land. Seriously, releasing that particular hotrod of a junkmobile in 1987 was utter madness and folly.

Yeah, it doesn't look like much. That's part of the charm. Outside of the strangely menacing all black and cheap chrome color scheme, it just looks like a piece of crap Buick - and technically it is. But under the hood you have what amounts to the Interceptor from Mad Max freely available as a stock car, off the shelf and at a rather reasonable price.

You'd be right to scoff at the handling on one of these beasts. Like most American muscle cars they don't like curves, but they do love long straight roads. Which America and LA in particular has a whole lot of.

My own test ride in a GNX involved tearing around the half mile long blocks on the northwestern edge of Huntington Beach in the wee hours of the morning, not far from the edge of Long Beach and Signal Hill where the GNX in this post lives. In that neck of the woods, at that time of the night it's easy to line up a half dozen miles of straightaway and green lights without so much as a lane change or a turn.

The amount of straight-line acceleration even before the turbo kicks in is alarming, and when the turbo winds up the thing just takes off like a rocket sled, heaping more and more g-force on you and pinning your head and shoulders back against the seats. The engine sounds and feels like a ravenous, pissed off animal snarling and rattling around in a flimsy cage, like the engine is just waiting to tear the car to pieces and take off on its own.

Which is more than a metaphor. The actual chassis of the GNX is a piece of crap. Like the article says, it rattles like an old city bus on a washboard road.

Yet it will easily hit 120+ MPH in much less than a half-mile of straight, open road and it'll still have room in the turbo for more. The main limiting factors are road straightness and braking ability. Oh, and possible speed wobbles. And as heavy as it is, I bet it's fast enough to get catastrophically airborne under it's own power. The engine is that seriously overdone for that chassis.

For a stock 1987 Buick - 1987 easily being the nadir of American automotive innovation and quality - that's impressive. And a more than a little scary.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn if 1/3rd to 2/3rds of the 500 known GNXs ended up dead in Wile E. Coyote-like accidents, like plunging off a twisty Mulholland Drive, or augering into some desert cliffside at a 140 MPH, not far at all from the wreckage of countless military test aircraft from Edwards.

If we define "badass" as dangerously foolhardy, excessively powerful and ugly for it's own sake, the GNX is just that.
posted by loquacious at 9:38 AM on December 11, 2010 [36 favorites]


I assure you it was a full can of whoop-ass.

oh, it's certainly respectable

this reminds me of a story - a long time ago i had a vw 411 with a 4 cyl porsche engine - one night i was at a stoplight and some guy in a tricked out car - can't remember what, but it had header exhausts, etc etc - he looks at me with an expression of contempt and revs his car - he was going to show up my tinky little import car with a demonstration of detroit muscle - i revved my car, nodded at him and he laughed

the light turned green and i blew his doors off - he only started catching up to me when i got to 70 - alas, that little porsche engine didn't have anything past that

the expression on his face when we were stopped at the next light was priceless - he tried twice more, but he just could not push that car as fast as i could mine

beat by a volkswagon - one of life's little mysteries for him, i bet
posted by pyramid termite at 9:48 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe Darth Vader drove a GNX in the 80s, but now he rides in a Maybach Exelero.
posted by djb at 9:53 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Agreed, the chassis was godawful. Agreed, it desperately needed to have an extra pedal in the floor instead of being hindered by a TH200-R4 automatic. After 20,000 miles the doors would sag on the hinges to the point of needing to be picked up in order to close them. T-tops would leak buckets. The stock brakes were absolutely useless. You might as well have carried an anchor in the trunk to throw out when it was time to stop.

But holy Jeebus God did they GO when the turbo spooled up. Even the every-day plain old Grand National or T-Type version was much quicker than it had a right to be. 231 cubic inches, 3.8 Liters. 276 Horsepower, SAE Net. How's that for specific output from a cast-iron pushrod engine?

It was a harkening back to Buick's glory days of the late '60's, early 70's. It was, in that aspect, a great success...after all, when's the last "muscle car" you saw that could, in fact, turn or stop better than it could GO?

These cars were built and bought to do exactly one thing. Go Fast In A Straight Line. That's why so many of them wound up being drag cars. Autocrossing was quite out of the question.
posted by rhythim at 10:13 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Was it driven or only pushed to oil changes, etc.? Shouldn't it have hundreds maybe a thousand or two more miles on it to keep it top running order? Just asking.
posted by drogien at 10:18 AM on December 11, 2010


So, sonascope... do you mean that the Citroen Dyanne, possibly the worst car I have ever ridden in, is better than a "pillowy, badly assembled, mushmouth-handling Buick"?

Dude, either you have the world's only decent Dyanne, or you've just slagged off American cars better than any patriotic European car nut could.

I mean, it's a 2CV in a posh frock. I once had to tow one up a hill. A friend once took his mother's one apart and rebuilt it in the back garden for a laugh. It's like you're saying American cars are shi.... oh. Gotcha.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 10:49 AM on December 11, 2010


Yuck. A template for everything that went wrong with the American auto industry. Admittedly , I went through a Buick phase in the early 80s, but that was more in keeping with the true gestalt of American automobile design, and the conspicuous excess of the cars from that era.

That Electra 225 Convertible was a barge, and was really meant for going perfectly straight on American freeways, not the twisty mountain roads we had in B.C. at the time. The body sway on the Hope-Princeton "highway" was like a carnival ride; but with the huge 7 liter engine, on the rare and minuscule straightaways, it could pass everything but the gas-station. It had acres of Naugahyde, a trunk that could be slept in during the summer, and power everything. Those beasts were the epitome of American car design, just MORE of everything, except taste or common sense. We had a kind of Northern gonzo thing going on at the time, so it was fitting.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:50 AM on December 11, 2010


I would assume it was started up and driven over to the maintenance shop. If you did that 4-5 times a year I would think that would keep fluids moving and seals from drying out.
posted by Big_B at 10:52 AM on December 11, 2010


Out of interest, why is it that American car nuts (as seen from over here in Europeland) are so fanatical about how GM and Ford make the best damn XYZ in the world, evar!!!11 ?

Stumbleupon is being spammed with videos about some Ford ecotruck thing (which is hilarious in itself) but the commenters absolutely point blank refuse to accept that anything that's not another Ford or a GM could possibly be an alternative. Whenever someone mentions (for example) Toyota they react like you just slept with their granny.

Come to Europe and no-one much cares...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 10:55 AM on December 11, 2010


Dragster-level acceleration is neat and all, but give me an early 90s Nissan 300ZX over this 1940s-era tech pile of slag any day of the week. The 300ZX remains one of the coolest mass produced cars by a major automaker ever, in my opinion.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:06 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sodium - As a non-car fanatic American, I can only say that because of the way our country (and cities) are laid out, planned, and subsidized (cheap roads!), we end up spending a lot of time living and commuting in our cars. In one book I read (the Culture Code?), the author made the point that something like 60% of americans lose their virginities in cars, so cars are also deeply imprinted as sexual objects for us.

Never mind that the automobile industry is a major industry and employer in and of itself (historically a large part of the entire Rust Belt's growth was AROUND the automobile and its component parts - a SINGLE consumer product), so yeah, cars are a major status item for alot of people.

And to throw it back at you, that was the one striking thought I always had when in Europe was, do people actually not care what they look like in those Smart Cars, and Peugot's?!
posted by stratastar at 11:31 AM on December 11, 2010


It's not that ugly. This is.

Well you can get with this, or you can get with that
posted by bodaciousllama at 11:58 AM on December 11, 2010


The Dyane is almost certainly a bad car if you take it as a car. If you take it as a great big pile of crazy, made up of some astonishingly brilliant engineering (the interconnected leading/trailing suspension and the high-revving engine with no distributor) and some recklessly bad design (the lock striker plates on mine, which is the oldest one in North America, are plastic, and not good plastic, leading to a lot of sudden door openings during hard turns), it's a boatload of fun. I got mine because it was a 2CV I could afford (the originals are stratospherically expensive in the US, just like Isettas and Messerschmitts, because they've become pretentious toys for rich lawyers) and because it belongs to a major figure in White House security during the Nixon years and can be seen parked at the back in news footage of the time, and it was a complete and total wreck.

I found it in the overgrown parking lot behind an abandoned dental practice in Southern Maryland, and an Ailanthus had grown up into the engine compartment to the point of filling it entirely, sending out little tendrils through the grille and around the hood. I took it completely apart, replaced the pieces that had either fallen apart or wouldn't move, put it all back together, and had an insane amount of fun for the next five years. Handled great, in a HOLY SHIT I THINK THE DOOR HANDLES ARE MAKING SPARKS ON THE ROAD sort of way (my GSA was similar, but much faster), attracted eyeballs like a jiggly box of titties, and opened up like a sardine can for joyous open-air road trips.

I was not a particularly sophisticated mechanic, then, or notably patient, so I started driving it as soon as the tags were valid. This meant my windshield was held in solely by duct tape for several months, and I once had to make a quick stop in traffic that launched the windshield across the hood and onto the trunk lid of a beat-up Tempo. I hopped out, politely stopped the driver of the car in front of me, explaining that I needed to retrieve my windshield from her trunk lid before she departed the intersection, and taped the sucker back in (it didn't break, as it wasn't the original, but a homemade one installed by a previous owner). I couldn't drive through a beach town in summer without picking up six bodacious ladies, who all wanted to hang out of the top, whip their hair around, and scream "WOOOOOOOOO" everytime someone looked over.

I really need to go heterosexual, I'd think, given my access to half-naked women.

Cops ignored it, waving me through all sorts of illegal maneuvers with a laugh, a shrug, and the occasional "C'mon," capped with a louder laugh. Drove it on the beach, drove it on the sidewalk, drove it down the Watergate Steps in DC on a lark, parked it by putting the nose in and climbing out to drag the back into a space. It was mostly unbreakable, and when it broke, you could find items on the side of the road to patch it together. Like all three of my Citroëns, it never once stranded me, though I certainly had some adventures.

Fortunately, I love adventures.

We can only expect to live 76.8 years, give or take, and I'd much rather have to improvise a replacement oil drain plug on the side of the road than sit in the soul-emptying velour seats of a Buick with the air conditioner running while I'm literally hurtling towards my grim suburban death. Buicks make your lifeclock go red faster than anything this side of a Cadillac.

What gets me, when it comes to speed and cars is this—with one exception, no street-legal car will ever be as fast off the line as a Hayabusa, which nevertheless costs only slightly more than a Chevy Aveo, arguably the saddest little car on the market. Even better, you won't experience that thrill of speed in an interior redolent of Grandma's parlor. If speed's really what you need, strap an insanely-huge engine to your crotch and go for it.

If you actually like to drive, though, and that means more to you than just getting on the highway, driving on the highway, speeding for a while, getting off the highway, and parking, there's really nothing that came off of American drawing boards between 1970 or so and the last decade or thereabouts that'll do. I'm fully aware that this is a completely biased view, and may well be wrong, but I dunno. We make a decent large pickup truck in this country, but for twisty little country roads, you gotta go with something else from somewhere else.

Sold my Citroën DS a few months back and it was time, and the Dyane will be sold next year. Sigh.

These days, I'm driving a '90 Miata that some people call "slow" or "girly," but which corners so perfectly and so flat that I'm pushing harder into each turn, astonished at the sheer maniac joy of it, snatching gears with a stick that's as precise as a light switch, with the wind rifling my crew cut. I'd really been looking for a truck, but this one came along for $1200 from a friend who's giant moose of a lover couldn't ride in the thing without looking like a shriner, and it's got no miles and looks almost like new.

It's a car conceived in California, spec'd by Americans, engineered using economy car parts, and it's a million times better to drive (YMMV) than virtually anything they have bothered to build in the US for half a century. Why? Why can we only build absurd, aggressive looking cars with huge engines, slushy automatics, and suspensions borrowed from coal carts?

With luck, this is changing.

Suburbia failed. Freewayland failed. Cars designed for Freewayland and suburbia ought to fail, too, and become the laughable dinosaurs they are, chased away by the little mammalian autorodentia like the new Fiesta and Fit and the Mini and the Fiat 500 and the practicubes like the Element and Cube and Bb (Xb) and that Kia thing that's actually a perky little devil, IMHO. I get all butthurt about the big American cars because they've set the US agenda for virtually all of my adult life, and you just couldn't get anything alternative, except by bankrupting yourself with mechanical oddities. The euromakers all slunk off. The Civic got bigger and bigger and BIGGER. The CRX went away. Toyotas got bigger and bigger and BIGGER. Hatchbacks disappeared for quite a stretch, even.

In the meantime, I'm comfy in my girly car, exploring the old roads before they go away, or increasingly out and about via motorcycle and my nasty little Stella, which is the slowest and quirkiest little piece of 1940s shopping technology for Italian women that ever made me go "WHEEEEEEEE!"
posted by sonascope at 12:03 PM on December 11, 2010 [24 favorites]


that's the equivalent to 3/4 of a can of whoop-ass

Only a V-6?

I utterly fail to understand why there is such a strength of opinion that V8's are supposedly much better engines, or the only performance option - "Oh you want to go faster? Put a V8 in it!".

I mean, I know the comments here weren't exactly sneering, but that perspective is certainly out there. While I love V8's, they are hardly the be all and end all of performance viable engine configuration.
posted by Brockles at 12:10 PM on December 11, 2010


Out of interest, why is it that American car nuts (as seen from over here in Europeland) are so fanatical about how GM and Ford make the best damn XYZ in the world, evar!!!11 ?

Believe me, Toyota, VW and (God help 'em) British Leyland all have their share of fanatics as well.
Irrational car lust is not limited to American brands.
posted by madajb at 12:20 PM on December 11, 2010


I utterly fail to understand why there is such a strength of opinion that V8's are supposedly much better engines, or the only performance option - "Oh you want to go faster? Put a V8 in it!".

Because - generally speaking, at least for a long time, there was no replacement for displacement.

Anyway, I'm kind of surprised at some of the sneering about the car - you kind of had to be there, and be a car person to get into why this car is special. Or, putting it another way - if you don't "get it" about the car, that's totally cool. It wasn't made for you.

When Car And Driver tested that car, I believe, in the same issue, they were also testing the GMC Syclone and wrote a really nice piece about both cars.

The GNX piece was a pretty good story, and it made the Darth Vader reference, as well, in nearly exactly the same way. I remember that vividly.

The Syclone piece was a funny bit, tested against a Porsche, and I still remember realizing as a kid that auto journalism could be entertaining as well.

Thanks for the post. Brings back many memories.
posted by Thistledown at 12:21 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because - generally speaking, at least for a long time, there was no replacement for displacement.

This is the fallacy that produces the strength of opinion, not by any means an explanation for it. There were more powerful 4, 6 and 12 cylinder cars of equal (and often smaller) capacity than the V8's produced as 'power' engines in the US. A high capacity pushrod V8 may produce a lot of power, but it does so at a horrific fuel usage and weight disadvantage.

While you can get some great noise and power out of a V8, it really isn't all that special nor definitive as a power engine.
posted by Brockles at 12:34 PM on December 11, 2010


Why can we only build absurd, aggressive looking cars with huge engines, slushy automatics, and suspensions borrowed from coal carts?

Ahem. Been driving various iterations for twenty years now. All the fun of sports car but the ability to carry things and go anywhere. Rock solid, easily configured to carry your bikes and skis and kayaks and gear, along with a plethora of hard and soft top choices. Been around forever, so parts are plentiful cheap. I've owned a wide variety of European cars, VW Bugs, a series of Triumphs and MGBs, some BMWs and a Volvo, and loved them all; but you haven't really lived till you've removed the top and doors for a hot summer of city cruising and weekend back-roads fun in a Jeep. Nothing else like them.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:38 PM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oops. Forgot the "go anywhere" link.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:13 PM on December 11, 2010


When Car And Driver tested that car, I believe, in the same issue, they were also testing the GMC Syclone and wrote a really nice piece about both cars.

Is that the one they put up against the Ferrari in the quarter-mile?
posted by madajb at 3:04 PM on December 11, 2010


I thought everyone knew Darth Vader drives an Ariel Atom. And stormtroopers drive Lotus Exiges
posted by smcameron at 4:02 PM on December 11, 2010


"I pretty much thought life would never get better than that."

And?
posted by sneebler at 4:07 PM on December 11, 2010


stratastar: "In one book I read (the Culture Code?), the author made the point that something like 60% of americans lose their virginities in cars, so cars are also deeply imprinted as sexual objects for us."

Is there a lamer rationalization for American car culture, or am I missing something?
posted by sneebler at 4:12 PM on December 11, 2010


Yeah, stories of old virgin cars turning up, that always gets to me. I remember a story a few years ago, some old guy died and left his grocery store to his kids. They tore the building down to redevelop the property, and in the process, found a hidden room where pops had entombed a brand new 1968 Hemi Cuda convertible. Jackpot!
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:20 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


rhythim wrote: "But holy Jeebus God did they GO when the turbo spooled up. Even the every-day plain old Grand National or T-Type version was much quicker than it had a right to be. 231 cubic inches, 3.8 Liters. 276 Horsepower, SAE Net. How's that for specific output from a cast-iron pushrod engine?"

I have a soft spot for old Detroit, and it is impressive for the old technology in use, but let's keep in mind that a modern naturally aspirated V6 will easily develop over 250hp (or far more, with direct injection). Of course, with all the shit we put in our cars and stupid eco-friendly tall gears, the cars they're in often won't have the 0-60 time to match.

Also, new slushboxes are better than old slushboxes, but are still slushboxes on any vehicle I'll ever be able to afford. It has apparently, in the last few years, become possible to make a good automatic transmission.
posted by wierdo at 6:38 PM on December 11, 2010


that's the equivalent to 3/4 of a can of whoop-ass

Only a V-6?

You cylinder queens are so hilarious. I bet you'd rather own the XR8s Falcons that the XR6 turbos that crush them like bugs.

Come on people, starting with the '80s, cars didn't have to have V-8s to have balls anymore.

It's a little earlier than that.

Come to Europe and no-one much cares...

I'm sorry, but the spectacle of nationalistic Americans clinging to the terrible US cars of the 70s and 80s is nothing compared to the Brits clinging to Austen Allegros and the numerous other horrors of the 70s, never mind the uneven-sides of the beautiful-but-flawed Jags of a similar period BECAUSE THEY'RE BRITISH.

And even *that* spectacle pales next to the poor, deluded, brainwashed bastards that kept buying Rovers in the 90s.
posted by rodgerd at 7:10 PM on December 11, 2010


Because - generally speaking, at least for a long time, there was no replacement for displacement.

This is the fallacy that produces the strength of opinion, not by any means an explanation for it. There were more powerful 4, 6 and 12 cylinder cars of equal (and often smaller) capacity than the V8's produced as 'power' engines in the US. A high capacity pushrod V8 may produce a lot of power, but it does so at a horrific fuel usage and weight disadvantage.


V8 is the perfect mass production engine though. You can't get the power out of a 4 cylinder, you couldn't in a 6 without rattling the chassis apart, and anything bigger than a V8 is too complicated/costly, or just won't fit.

(Especially in the time of carburetors. Try designing an intake that gets the air/fuel out of one carb into 10 cylinders.)

Here is why that thing was (and still IS) awesome:

In 1984 the Grand National returned in all black paint. The turbocharged 3.8 L became standard and was refined with sequential fuel injection, distributor-less computer controlled ignition, and boosted 200 hp (150 kW) at 4400 rpm and 300 lb·ft (407 N·m) of torque at 2400 rpm.


The lower the RPM that the peak torque hits, the more responsive and powerful the car feels. Especially if the torque curve is pretty flat across all RPMs. That's big-block, push your head back into the seat kind of power, or as close as you were going to get. It takes time for an engine to get up to the peak power RPMs, so the lower the RPMs peak power hits, the faster it goes fast.
posted by gjc at 7:42 PM on December 11, 2010


The new Mustang, the standard model V8, can match a BMW M5 on the track, and do it for half the cost, while looking twice as good doing it. The 6cyl model gets 30mpg and can put out more than 300hp on the dyno.

I think we're right on the cusp of the American Auto renaissance. Mullaly really, really understood what was wrong and how to fix it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:55 PM on December 11, 2010


Yeah, rodgerd. These obsessions can be confusing. I've never understood the allure of 70s Detroit metal myself, but the psychology of it does begin to make sense if you agree with the theory that collectors buy what they lusted after when they were adolescents.

As for me, I'm not sure whether the British sports-car, or the American land-yacht vehicle afflictions I developed was the more debilitating. The British cars were always breaking down, the electrical systems were a joke. I had not one, but two, electrical fires in Triumphs. Those American behemoths from the Sixties sucked fuel like Phantom jets on afterburner, and pretty much were the worst possible choice for B.C.'s twisty mountain roads, so from any kind of a practical standpoint, they were completely senseless. Testosterone is a crazy drug.
Old Joke ...
Q: Why do the English drink warm beer?
A: Because they have Lucas refrigerators.

posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:58 PM on December 11, 2010


This is the fallacy that produces the strength of opinion, not by any means an explanation for it. There were more powerful 4, 6 and 12 cylinder cars of equal (and often smaller) capacity than the V8's produced as 'power' engines in the US. A high capacity pushrod V8 may produce a lot of power, but it does so at a horrific fuel usage and weight disadvantage.

While you can get some great noise and power out of a V8, it really isn't all that special nor definitive as a power engine.


Of COURSE there were better motors. No one is disputing that.

But when the "fallacy" came into being, you have to remember what was accessible to your general, garden variety, shade-tree hot-rodder.

You're right, of course - but your response absolutely misses the point of how the myth came to be - which is what was FUN for people; extracting shitloads of horsepower out of relatively simple motors is FUN. Driving something really fucking fast, with a giant, loud motor that squeezes your eyeballs into your skull and causes involuntary shit-eating grins is FUN.
posted by Thistledown at 8:34 PM on December 11, 2010


Sorry to rain on your parade, slaphappy, but I will have to soundly chastise you if think that the Ford Mustang is any kind of model for modern vehicle design.

Sadly, some miscreants decided that it would be funny to stuff a flaming rag into the gas-tank of my beloved Jeep this summer. It was reduced to a pile of melted glass and rubber in front of my house at 3 am, and was a complete write-off. My "loss-of-use" insurance provided for a vehicle of "like quality and type". Since the Jeep Wrangler is a unique product, as discussed upthread ( 4X4, off-road, convertible) , I wound up with a brand-new Mustang GT convertible with 1500 km as the replacement vehicle while the claim was processed. As I commented to many friends and neighbors who asked when I suddenly showed up with it, "NO, I DID NOT BUY THIS, but MAN I haven't driven a car like this since I was in my twenties. And NO, I don't have a tiny penis!"

Anywaze ... the SOUND that thing makes is stupendous, (I suspect Auto-tune) and it can definitely get you from stoplight to stoplight quicker than almost anything else. Stepping on the gas is like having a giant fist of love slammed into your torso. That rubber-and-smoke thing which so riles the blue-hairs can occur while PARKING, if you're not real conscious of just how much sheer power lurks there. But ... I shit you not. This is seriously NOT where Detroit wants to go, yet again. The same mistakes keep cropping up with these "muscle" cars. Bad ergonomics. The sight-lines in that thing are vicious. You can't see over the nose or hood-scoop at all; its like driving a snow-plow or a submarine. The windshield is about the size of a Sopwith Camel , and the rear trunk, which might hold a case of beer, is at least two inches higher than the back seat. Atrocious instrument layout, and you can't actually clock the data, should you foolishly set the steering-wheel height and driver-distance correctly, but BY GOD you can choose six different colours for the display! Switches and inputs make no sense.Their functionality has been seriously compromised with multiple costly effects. (I'm talking glowing LED highlighting around all 4 cup-holders here) Anorexic kittens might sit in the "back seats" mewling for four point harnesses. At least other countries have the sense to call that area the "parcel shelf". Those 4 point point belts should come standard up front, because if you are gonna lick that toad, you at least want be in the "drivers seat" when the endorphins kick in.


posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:13 PM on December 11, 2010


Maybe Darth Vader drove a GNX in the 80s, but now he rides in a Maybach Exelero.

I thought everyone knew Darth Vader drives an Ariel Atom.


No, no, no. Darth Vader drives a 1933 Bugatti sc57 Atlantic Coupe.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:18 PM on December 11, 2010


Everyone knows that Darth Vader calls his parents to pick him up.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:20 PM on December 11, 2010


That's a fast car, but my god the '80s American cars were ugly. I was a teenager in those years, and even the muscle cars like this generally looked like suck. You could picture someone with frosted highlights and designer jeans driving around in that, not Steve McQueen.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:01 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Were there any American cars built in the 1980s that weren't butt-ugly? My parents had matching Saab 900s (aww!), which I still find to be quite handsome cars, even by today's standards. As far as I can tell, no American cars have withstood the test of time as well. There's even something endearing about the old boxy Volvos that the American cars fail to capture. The American cars of the 80s are just all so..... hearse-like.

Not a rhetorical question -- a genuine point of interest, and I'd love to be proven wrong!
posted by schmod at 12:29 AM on December 12, 2010


The engine is that seriously overdone for that chassis.

Speaking of insane cars ...

A friend in high school was the son of this engineer who worked at Sandia National Labs. Crazy smart and kind of a gear head, he's always tinkering around with one project or another. One time he decides to put a Mustang engine in a tiny convertible MG. I'm not enough of a gear head to tell you which engine it was, but it was ridiculously oversized for the car, with a big hole cut into the hood to let the thing stick out. My friend (at the age of 16) got to drive it a lot, which today seems like madness, but the dad was totally into this kind of thing anyway ...

Once we took it out after a huge snowstorm after getting high as possible, when the schools were all closed and us bored teenage delinquents with nothing better to do, the streets like sheets of ice. The feather-light tail end of the car spun out around the axis of the heavy engine in front pretty much every time my friend tapped on the breaks. It was like the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland. Luckily nobody else was so stupid as to want to drive around that day, so we pretty much had the streets to ourselves. We didn't do any damage but did slam it up against the curb a few times. Man, loved that car, but it was not built nor driven by sane people ... thank goodness ...
posted by krinklyfig at 12:30 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I pretty much thought life would never get better than that."

COD,

My name is schmod. And I'm here today to tell you..... It Gets Better.
posted by schmod at 12:30 AM on December 12, 2010


> Were there any American cars built in the 1980s that weren't butt-ugly?

I was pretty fond of the Cadillac Allante back in the late 80s (before I could drive, mind you). Of course, the Italian design house that also was responsible for Ferrari is owed most of the credit.

There's also the Pontiac Fiero GT (though not the lesser models which just look like butt), but beneath its creaking plastic skin lies a twisted pile of compromised fail.

But yeah, the 1980s were not exactly the golden age of US car design.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:41 AM on December 12, 2010


Were there any American cars built in the 1980s that weren't butt-ugly?

My first car was a Chevy Citation - that link is someone who defends the car, but knowing full well that everyone else pretty much hated them. IMO just about the ugliest car Chevy ever made. I will say this - it was front-wheel drive, handled well in snow and had a decent amount of power, plus the gas mileage was pretty good for those days, but it fell apart or failed quickly after a certain amount of time- both the important mechanical parts as well as the interior. I wrecked it in '88 when I snuck out one night during a period when I was supposed to be grounded, and never really missed the car but did miss the freedom it gave me at the time.

The Citation was the prime example of a turning point in the auto industry, when Detroit was caught a bit flat-footed by the compact imports and gas crisis which made them popular, meanwhile they had been perfecting the art of making cars which were anything but compact and efficient. It just didn't enter their minds that Americans would want cars like that- until we needed them. So I can understand how it was botched so badly for a while, but I do not have any nostalgia for the thing today, and it's not a surprise you just don't see those cars around anymore. They're all broken down and sold for scrap long ago.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:56 AM on December 12, 2010


sneebler - The point was actually made in the context of the Plymouth Prowler, that it strikes something in the heart of Americans that it doesn't in other cultures.
posted by stratastar at 1:28 AM on December 12, 2010


I was pretty fond of the Cadillac Allante back in the late 80s

Gah ... To me, that's the example of what was wrong with the designs of '80s cars, no matter who designed it. It wants to look like a sporty coupe, but the boxy angles and rectangle headlights make it look like a modernized stylistic extension of the '70s station wagon ... like it's having a midlife crisis and is trying too hard.

Well, it's not exactly like I drive a classic car or care that much to put money into it, but there was something about the designs that came out of the '80s which straddled a fine line between mediocrity and nostalgia, and always came out losing.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:40 AM on December 12, 2010


I've never understood the allure of 70s Detroit metal myself, but the psychology of it does begin to make sense if you agree with the theory that collectors buy what they lusted after when they were adolescents.

I never cared much until I hung around with a car guy for a while when I was in my 20s, who helped me appreciate the beauty of some of the classics. The thing is, after the '70s cars had to meet other standards than power and style, and I can't argue with that - after all, most of the changes are due to concerns about efficiency and safety. Even so, when all that mattered was power and style, they sure made some powerful, stylish cars. One other major reason for a lot of hobbyists is how simple cars were before they had to be more efficient and at the same time more safe, so modification and maintenance are easier. Of course, VW once made cars which were very simple for the average person to maintain, so it's not just cars made in the US nor muscle cars for that matter.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:56 AM on December 12, 2010


Back in '87, I briefly had a '76 Sunbird. It was, I thought, a pretty sharp-looking little car, a deft translation of the seventies Detroit idiom into a compact package intended to compete with the rising influx of cars from Europe and Japan. I'd coveted it, in a meager way, for years, when it was my next door neighbor's car, and it had a white vinyl mini-landau top and a white vinyl interior that just looked like every white vinyl sofa from every other porno film of the era.

My MGB-GT had died a painful, ignoble death, my Fiat 124 Sport Coupe had actually snapped in half at speed, my '72 Beetle had burned after countless disabling incidents with its stupid autostick gearbox, and my unfairly unloved Datsun 210 "sport" wagon (it was "sport" because all the plastic chrome parts had been overcoated with matte black) had gone on to greyer pastures. I'd been an American car skeptic, but I did kinda like that little Pontiac, and my dad bought it off my neighbor, complete with eleven years of meticulous documents covering a pampered life of careful maintenance.

It was…well, it was the worst car I'd ever owned, in terms of driving pleasure. The actual worst car I'd ever driven was a Chevy Chevette I borrowed from a coworker when my MG was recovering from yet another disaster, and felt so mushy, disconnected, and leaden in every movement that I ended up screaming almost the entire time I drove it.

The Sunbird was sharp, in lovely shape, and wallowed like a car three times its weight. It wallowed away from the line, despite (or because of) the immensely huge iron engine. It wallowed to a stop like a walrus on metal-wheeled clip-on rollerskates. Around the corners, it just…well, it's hard to describe the feeling of whuffalumpy, schlomping, waveracious incertitude without coining whole dictionaries of new words. I mean, how in the fucking planet of hell can you take a car with such compact dimensions and somehow simulate literally two tons of extra weight? I actually became fascinated with it, even in my increasing sense of shame for so hating a car that my neighbor had loved and pampered.

My generic Datsun 210 wagon had, quite surprisingly, had a poise and zippiness on the road and the turns that wasn't far removed from my MG's moxie, and that was a car built for thrifty housewives. The Sunbird was a miracle of WTF engineering, on the other hand, the product of a not-loving god that really made me doubt that America could even produce a decent car at all. In the fifties, it'd been our crazy space-age exuberance, all about the look, and what a gorgeous, otherworldly look it was, with chrome twirls and curlicues and stacked-up lights and fins and swooping swage lines and colors like coral pink and charcoal grey crashing together over a gentle sea of turquoise. The machinery was shit, of course, leaf-sprung live axle shambling bobbing uncertainty, shoved forward by thousand pound engines barely removed from the Model T, but man, they looked good.

You lost that, mostly, in the slab-sided sixties, leaving the lovely lines to the demonstrated masters of the form, and the seventies turned into an era of motorized analogues for the horrendous hairstyles of the day, with coupes twenty feet long, marked by incomprehensible lines converging on dashboards that confirmed that cocaine had, in fact, reached Detroit. Like feathered shags and velvet pimp hats, they just went wild and stupid, or surrendered to the nursing home pudding aesthetic of the Nova and Aspen, but the machinery never got any better.

That's what gets me. It's not the testosterone, or the overstatement, or the crazy excess of things like the Grand National—it's that, despite our national ingenuity, our history of adventure, invention, and joyous stylistic mania, the technology is just garbage. It's not even simple—it's overcomplicated where it should be simple and absurdly primitive where it should be sophisticated. Our best in the eighties was just tragically half-assed and, unlike the British, who unsentimentally recognize that they produced a corn-filled river of brain-damaged glittering shit-slurry, with a few exceptions that prove the rule, we look back lovingly at our monstrosities.

Of course, I must agree with the notion that your adolescence has a lot to do with what you romanticize, and I'm not sure if I should own up to the fact that I still harbor a seething lust for a little list of eighties originals like the Subaru XT, the first gen CRX, and the VW Scirocco, though I think any one of those is pretty defensible as an objectively kick-ass car. My more fanciful lust objects, like the Renault Fuego and the 1st gen Isuzu Impulse, have been rightfully relegated to the role of silly fixations, because, under the sheetmetal, they just weren't special. Behind, say, the totally new wave asymmetrical dash of the XT, though, there's technology, and ideas, and something worthy of nostalgia (I'll concede that I'm in a small minority that believes this, however).

For all our cries of "U-S-A U-S-A #1 #1," we sure put a lot of big engines into Grandma's going-to-church cars, so maybe that is our national automotive character—overheated Grandmas in taxicabs, forever turning left.
posted by sonascope at 6:20 AM on December 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


"I pretty much thought life would never get better than that."

COD,

My name is schmod. And I'm here today to tell you..... It Gets Better.


That is what I thought at 19. I'm more than double that now, and I married the girl that owned the 84 Z-28. Life is much better.
posted by COD at 6:21 AM on December 12, 2010


The new Mustang, the standard model V8, can match a BMW M5 on the track

That is so hopelessly wrong that I can't tell if you're joking or not. Have you driven either? While US cars have been steadily closing the gap between their cars and properly engineered ones (ie European/Japanese/Asian... er. non-US ones) in terms of engines, they still lag significantly behind in the handling stakes. I have no idea why, but for some reason they just can't make a car that handles as well as a European equivalent.

There's hardly anything that can match an M5 on a track that is standard - save perhaps the Audi S5 or getting into non-comparables like Porsche and Ferrari and proper supercars. It is a phenomenally competent car and has remained the standard for ridiculous handling in a road car. The new wave of US revival sports models (Mustang, Camaro) are getting a lot better and closing fast, but they really, really aren't on par with arguably the best car in it's class (and some consider the most competent saloon car ever).
posted by Brockles at 8:00 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's hardly anything that can match an M5 on a track that is standard

Slip o' the fingers - I meant to say "BMW M3." The 2011 Boss may be a M5 killer, if it overachieves the same way the GT does.

But don't take my word for it...
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:36 AM on December 12, 2010


stratastar: "The point was actually made in the context of the Plymouth Prowler, that it strikes something in the heart of Americans that it doesn't in other cultures."

It must be because Americans are different from everybody else on account of all that exceptionalism in their diet.

"rub him down with gasoline
till his arms are long and mean."

-- Tom Waits
posted by sneebler at 9:46 AM on December 12, 2010


There's hardly anything that can match an M5 on a track that is standard - save perhaps the Audi S5 or getting into non-comparables like Porsche and Ferrari and proper supercars.

I don't think an S5 can touch the M5; perhaps you're thinking of an RS model?

Regardless, the M5 isn't king of the race track. At 4,000+ lbs, that's clearly not its primary purpose.
posted by ryanrs at 12:28 PM on December 12, 2010


Regardless, the M5 isn't king of the race track.

For a 4 seat or 4 door or saloon production car it is precisely that. It is also it's target marketing, too - a comfortable luxury saloon that is blisteringly fast on the windy stuff (ie tracks). A lot of teh development of the M5 was done at the Nurburgring. Obviously it's not 'king' of the race track because a proper race car even a fraction of the cost of the M5 would destroy it within half a lap. But comparing even approximately like for like, the M5 wears a crown and it ain't coming off any time soon.

(and yes, I meant the RS, but didn't try hard enough with my typing).
posted by Brockles at 4:48 PM on December 12, 2010


Friend of my father's had a GNX and it was far and away the fastest car I'd driven up until that point (I've since driven a car with more than 700hp at the rear wheels and though faster than the GNX I'm not ashamed to admit I don't know how much faster). It was surreal to see the rear of the car rise on heavy acceleration; something about a quirky frame setup.

Burhanistan writes "but give me an early 90s Nissan 300ZX over this 1940s-era tech pile of slag any day of the week."

The GNX and T-Type are hardly 40s tech. I've driven many cars from that era an there is no comparison at all. An 87 Buick GNX is more of an improvement over a '40 Buick than a 2010 Buick is over the 87. Radial tires, disk brakes, a ceramic turbo, overdrive automatic transmission, computer controlled ignition and sequential multi port fuel injection, alternators, 12V electricals etc. are vast improvements over a Buick from 1940.

schmod writes "Were there any American cars built in the 1980s that weren't butt-ugly?"

Eye of the beholder and all that but I love the look of my 84 Indy Fiero which is the same body (except for colour keyed mirrors and hood bulge) as the 85 GT. I actually prefer the BBQ grill deck of the 84s.
posted by Mitheral at 11:37 PM on December 12, 2010


The Fiero was pretty much it - the '87-'88 models especially presaged the elegant curves that would come to dominate the industry in the '90s. The Delorean had a lovely wedge design, but it was really a holdover from the '70s with tacky square headlights grafted onto the grill.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:07 AM on December 13, 2010


> The GNX and T-Type are hardly 40s tech. I've driven many cars from that era an there is no comparison at all.

Well, obviously I was exaggerating. But, radial tires, EFI, and other components that almost all cars had by then, the GNX was still a body on ladder frame design (like a pickup truck), had a live rear axle, and had a pushrod engine.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:32 AM on December 13, 2010


This is a little weird, but I once made stencil graffiti of a 1987 Buick GNX.
posted by skintension at 3:09 PM on December 13, 2010


Body-on-frame and live axle and even pushrod engine designs aren't obsolete. There is newer tech competing, but the largest gains are in production costs - engineering and manufacturing - rather than pure performance. There are body-on-frame (or even bodiless frame, see the Ariel Atom) cars that are at the top of the game, the 2011 Mustang still uses a live axle and can go toe-to-toe with Europe's finest, and the LS-series V8s are pushrod designs.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:15 AM on December 14, 2010


Body-on-frame and live axle and even pushrod engine designs aren't obsolete.

Yes, they absolutely are. Some companies stubbornly continuing to use Windows 95 or VCR's doesn't stop that being obsolete. It's old and inferior technology.

the largest gains are in production costs - engineering and manufacturing - rather than pure performance.

That is absolutely wrong. All of the examples you state are vastly inferior in terms of performance and efficiency (in the case of the engine).

the LS-series V8s are pushrod designs.

...and are well behind the rest of the industry in terms of specific power and efficiency. They have excellent reliability, but cannot (bhp for cc or mpg-wise) compete with a modern engine design.

There are body-on-frame (or even bodiless frame, see the Ariel Atom)

A frame car is not comparable to a body on frame car. A frame car is a monocoque chassis using tubes rather than sheet metal. The Atom is a tube version of a modern production car, not a 'bodiless frame'. Steel sheet monocoque construction is where the production cost savings were made over a tube frame car. The rest of the world (except Aston Martin, Rolls Royce and Bentley) dropped body on frame around the 1960's. There is not one body on frame car that can compete with a steel tube or sheet monocoque chassis. Not even close.

2011 Mustang still uses a live axle and can go toe-to-toe with Europe's finest

This is not true. The dynamics and suspension control required from a suspension system is outside the realms of live axle ability. It is clunky, heavy and outdated horse and cart technology. Unsprung weight is appalling with a live axle and this is one of the keys to ride quality and suspension control.

The article linked above (M3 versus Mustang) has created significant discussion offline between myself (professional race engineer) and a couple of my long time friends (head of department for ride and handling of extremely successful automotive consultancy and other professional automotive consultants) and all have agreed that the article is not only misleading, but that the cars are not directly comparable. The Mustang has a 25% larger engine than the M3 in terms of capacity, yet only just matches it for power. That extra capacity gives it significantly more torque than the M3, yet on a power track like Willow Springs, it only just manages to keep within a tenth of a second of an M3 and the verdict from the professional driver? The M3 does it with poise and control, and the Mustang is a wild ride to get that lap time. With the extra capacity and torque, the Mustang should be faster than the M3 at that track, yet it is slower on a track that should suit it. Take both of them to a more demanding track (maybe Infineon or Laguna) an the M3 will be much faster. Yes, the Mustang has made massive improvements in recent years, but continuing to develop live axle suspension is purely to save development costs and is polishing a turd. Yes, you may get a wild riding shiny turd at the end of it, but it's still a piece of shit. The live axle has ben up against it's limitations for more than 20 years, and if the US auto industry had more capital for development and weren't so stubborn, they'd have dropped it years ago. They'd rather (or need to) churn out cheap cars that sell well domestically, but that will have to reconsider now that European cars are more acceptable to US buyers.

Body on frame is excellent for production commercial vehicles. It is godawful for anything that requires any sort of vehicle handling (either performance or safety related). Live axles are also not at all suitable for anything other than straight line power delivery - as soon as you require handling ability, you are starting with one hand behind your back as you don't even have independent rear suspension movement and a huge unsprung lump to try and control.
posted by Brockles at 5:02 AM on December 14, 2010


Burhanistan writes "obviously I was exaggerating. But, radial tires, EFI, and other components that almost all cars had by then, the GNX was still a body on ladder frame design (like a pickup truck), had a live rear axle, and had a pushrod engine."

Sure those things were pretty well the norm in the late 80s but the point was they weren't in the 40s. The GNX wasn't all that innovative for it's time (it was the synergy that made it great) but it was ridiculously better in pretty well all ways (except maybe eye of the beholder stuff like styling) than pretty much any 40s production car.

Also most things automotive are pretty old, at least as far as first appearance in a production vehicle goes. DOHCs are 1920s tech. Electronic multiport fuel injection is 1950s tech. All wheel computerized ABS is 1970s ('71 specifically) tech. Airbags are 60s tech. Marketing or lack of material science held them back until they became affordable. The same forces that have live axles in new Mustangs.
posted by Mitheral at 8:49 PM on December 14, 2010


The GNX wasn't all that innovative for it's time (it was the synergy that made it great)

I think the point was (or perhaps 'also could be', even if it wasn't Burhanistan's) is that the GNX was as much the antithesis of innovative, just like the rest of the US auto industry at the time. It was perhaps at the peak of it's backwardness at that stage, and used much, much older tech than the rest of the industry.

It's interesting you mention airbags, actually, as that was around the last time the US auto industry pushed something groundbreaking into automotive use. Air con into cars was another. They then, for some reason, seemed to just stagnate and ignore all the rest of the development until the heavy catch-up curve they are still in at present. Fine tuning production of predominately static technology to extremely profitable levels at the expense of development doesn't allow you to keep up with the pace of progress.

Like a lot of special editions and fast models, the US versions seem to be the kind of thing that a 5-10 man development team (or production backed race shop of similar size) could produce by tweaking and dropping components in. There's very little actual development progression until recent years.
posted by Brockles at 6:49 AM on December 15, 2010


> I think the point was (or perhaps 'also could be', even if it wasn't Burhanistan's) is that the GNX was as much the antithesis of innovative, just like the rest of the US auto industry at the time. It was perhaps at the peak of it's backwardness at that stage, and used much, much older tech than the rest of the industry.

Exactly. The GNX was basically someone's pet project. Cram some off the shelf upgraded components into a bread and butter design with minimal engineering and no real design upgrades that could trickle down to the rest of the product line. Sure, you get something that has monster power and looks mean, but the overall feel of driving it is nothing compared to what the Germans and Japanese were putting out at the time.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:55 AM on December 15, 2010


Why can we only build absurd, aggressive looking cars with huge engines, slushy automatics, and suspensions borrowed from coal carts? With luck, this is changing.

It definitely is, if my Camaro is any indication-- it honestly might corner better than the Tiburon I had before it in spite of the giant increase in size and weight.

Then again, it was designed by Australians.
posted by yerfatma at 6:19 AM on December 17, 2010


« Older After a 25,000 vote campaign on facebook, Brian Bl...  |  Blah Blah Blah.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments