Belphegor

Welcome back to my blog, and to the introduction my new favorite word. 

“Belphegor” is a classic demon name, possibly based on the name of a Moabite god, Baal-Peor.  But don’t worry, there’s no demonology angle here.  The name seems to appeal to creative types across various cultures, and, of most interest here, to French pop culture creators, starting with the pulp writer Arthur Bernède  who in 1927 gave the name to a character he created to rival the success of the Phantom of the Opera and other classic French pulp characters. 

There were several Belphegor pulp novels, followed by silent and talkie films, and even some comics. And, most important to me, there was a black and white TV miniseries in 1965 that apparently was insanely popular, and which has become a long term cult classic. (At least to people who have a Region 3 DVD player and speak French– there doesn’t seem to be a subtitled version.)

(This site is a good place to start reading about Belphegor’s history in French pop culture:  http://www.coolfrenchcomics.com/belphegor.htm ) 

So Belphegor was very much on the minds of the people of France, when Citroen introduced their new line of trucks.  (You knew there had to be a car in here somewhere.)  In the Citroen catalog it was simply “Citroen 350”, but people immediately started calling it “Belphegor” after the ghostly TV character.

Imagine how I felt on Saturday afternoon, when I walked into a long, dark, half lit garage, and saw this:

http://lanemotormuseum.org/show_vehicle.php?veh=CITROENTYPE3501968

It’s one of these: http://www.citroen.mb.ca/cItROeNet/utilities/belphegor/belphegor-01.html 

in rough-but-more or less complete condition, undoubtably waiting to be restored.  And it is absolutely the coolest, funkiest truck I had ever seen, and joins the IH Travellall and the Hudson Big Boy as “trucks I would buy if I could even though I cannot drive a stick shift”.   But more than that, it spoke to me artistically.  When I saw its silhouette from a distance, before I knew what it was, I knew it belonged in Kekionga.  And now there is a story where there was only a blank line and a question mark before, in the overall series plan.  Bud is going to acquire a mysterious Belphegor, and it’s going to be … haunted.

I’ve pretty much decided to make mine a flatbed like the one I saw, or this one from Danish TV: http://www.ckc.dk/minebiler/rygaard/ 

Or “Gaston” belonging to a man named Adam in Los Angeles, the lucky pup: http://www.citroen.mb.ca/galleries/Adam/gaston/

I’m very excited about this new character and its story, which is going to be quite long and as spooky as I can make it.

Before I go off and do more research,  I have to give a monster shout out to the owners of the wonderful Belphegor, the Lane Auto Museum in Nashville.  http://lanemotormuseum.org/  If you like cars at all, you owe it to yourself to go to this link and click on “our cars”.  I’d never seen half the cars there in the metal, only in photographs, and there were things in their collection I never even knew existed.  Only the one pic of the Belphegor, I’m sorry to say, (boo!), but you can’t really blame them.  There are many, many vehicles on display and even more in storage, and to put multiple views of each on a website would take up more bandwidth than any not for profit could afford.

Enjoy what they can afford to share, and go there if you can.  I spent at least 4 hours staring, shooting and taking notes, and could easily have doubled that and not seen enough.  The building (a wonderful old mid-20th Century bread factory)  is well lit; the collection is barrier free so it’s a dream to photograph, and if you go around the back you can stand in the weeds and peek through the windows and see a storage area I would pay big bucks to tour. (Citroen DS 21 painted in an allover Stars and Stripes motif, anyone?  2CV rally car with 4 eyes? Something I’m pretty sure was a Goggomobile?) 

Anyway, wonderful old cars, and especially gorgeous French trucks with good backstories, make for a great weekend.  Long live Belphegor!

Sharkipede

Bonus track:

Two Three other interesting things that are called “Belphegor”:

1) an Austrian death metal band.  Their latest album is called “Bondage Goat Zombie”.  They seem to be quite popular, with lots of reviews and fansites, but I do not think they are quite my sort of thing.

2) A scholarly journal of popular literature and media culture, published by Dalhousie University:  http://etc.dal.ca/belphegor/  This is my sort of thing, and it looks very interesting– there have been two issues entirely about comics.  I will be reading more of this when I have some spare time.

3) The Mielec M-15 “Belphegor” jet agricultural aircraft, based (though you have to squint a bit) on the classic Antonov An-2 cabin biplane.  Wikipedia claims the aircraft earned the nickname by its “strange looks and noisy engine”.  I can’t comment on the engine noise, but twin boom jet biplanes with a single engine mounted in a strut above the crew cabin are not exactly thick in the ground, so its looks must qualify, at the very least, as unusual.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M-15_Belphegor 

The Wikipedia notes that the nickname surfaced after the aircraft was shown at the Paris Air Show, so it’s possible it’s a French nickname and related to that of the “camion Belphegor”. 

M-15 Belphegor fun fact: the aircraft uses the same engine as the Yak-40 mini-trijet http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakovlev_Yak-40 , which many consider to be the first “regional jet”.

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Published in: on April 9, 2008 at 3:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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many, many Malibus, and other stuff.

I ‘ve wondered for a while just what was going on with the new Chevy Malibu.  “Chevy Malibu” and “interesting car” are not thoughts that usually cross paths in the mind of even the most dedicated car person.  (I will admit to having vaguely fond memories of a ’75 ‘Bu, but those are personal in nature, if you know what I mean.)

But this new Malibu is somewhat different.  It’s either General Motors’ last chance or the first promising sprout of a new crop of modern American cars that will mark that company’s revival, depending on what you read and your own opinions.  The buff books and general media seem to be in agreement that it’s at least a fair competitor to Camry and Accord, and that’s a bare minimum standard that GM hasn’t seemed able to meet in a long, long time. 

http://www.chevrolet.com/malibu/

This is going to be Chevy’s new bread and butter car; the car Americans whove gotten used to the style, ergonomics, amenities and sturdy reliability of the classic Japanese midsize sedan will actually buy in large numbers.  The time may be right for it.  It’s true that the old time domestic loyalists (the people who would never, ever drive a Japanese car) are dying out or have shed their loyalty over the intervening years, but at the same time the Japanese loyalists, disturbed by the constantly increasing size, complexity and price of the Hondas and Toyotas and the growing evidence of dents in the Japanese quality armor, are starting to turn to alternatives.  Maybe the new Malibu doesn’t have to take everything from the big two.  Maybe being directly competative to Hyundai’s Sonata will be enough.  It certainly would be a great place to start.

The Malibu is a distinctive looking car.  Smooth and high waisted, with a strong, blunt , shape, it looks much bigger than it is.  It’s not quite like anything else on the road, and it certainly doesn’t look very Japanese, except in overall proportions of wheelbase to overhangs.  The basic platform is comes from Europe, where it underlies the midsize Opel, and it’s shared with the Saturn Aura (which is an ugly car that needs a powerful dechroming ASAP) so I suppose it’s a European look.  But that doesn’t seem right either. 

Perhaps this is a new American look, which is something we’ve needed for a long, long time.  If so, it’s kind of a nifty one, strong and plain and tough.  I can see more cars in this style, particularly a revival of the station wagon. 

More new ‘Bu pics.  The two tone interior of the LTZ models is awesome.

http://image.automobilemag.com/f/future-cars/2008-chevrolet-malibu-is-today-teaser-day/1018762+w480+cr1+re0+ar1/2008-chevrolet-malibu-interior.jpg

http://files.windingroad.com/newsuploads/2007/08/08malibu008-600.jpg

But it looks more distinctive in person than it does in photographs, with the dark colors, particularly the dark blue, giving the most dramatic effect.

I’ve been watching for this car for months.  Then its debut date came.  I didn’t see one.  Drove by the Chevy dealer.  Didn’t see one. (Admittedly didn’t go in to see if there was one in the showroom, not really being in the mood for the hard sell.) One week passed, then two, then three.  Saw other new cars debuting about the same time.  No Malibus.  WTF?  Does everyone hate them 

Then one, with a temporary plate, in traffic.  Then, a few days later, another in the parking lot at the grocery store.  Then two in one weekend. Then the local dealer sets one up at the flea market, and I got to sit in it …nice.  Maybe there isn’t one at the dealership because people are buying them and immediately going on long vacations? 

Then, over the last two weeks, they’ve  seemed to explode: blunt nosed, bluff flanked Chevies everywhere you looked like a pod of pilot whales. (That’s what they look like!) Now, they are literally everywhere in town.  I saw four on one trip on Saturday.  It’s the oddest debut into the fleet that I’ve seen for a long time.

Hmm.

Anyway, it’s the end of the month and the best thing I can say for it is I got through it with no major damage.  Better next time, I hope.

Sharkipede

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 1:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Easter Eggs

Drove across the state over the weekend to see Mr. Shark’s family.  It’s mostly a country drive, rural US highway followed by state highway, and the good sightings tend toward fauna rather than cars.

In the case of this weekend, it was fowl all the way: saw many, many redtailed hawks, two red shouldered hawks, one of the little streaky ones that’s either a Cooper or a sharpshin, and five kestrels. 

There were a lot of buzzards (the Midwestern name for turkey vultures, if you speak a different dialect) flying around, as there always are this time of year.  My guess is that they are hunting for carcasses exposed by the melting snow cover, which is disgusting, but seems to suit them very well.  We were lucky enough to see one close up, as he or she was tearing up the remains of a skunk on the edge of a corn field.  It was good to see a buzzards ugly face again; they are some of my favorite birds.

And then to cap it off, at the edge of a field, on Sunday afternoon: wild turkeys, a big gobbler and one, possibly two hens.  What a trip.

So there were good birds, which is lucky but not surprising.  The big surprise was a car.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a Smart.  In the parking lot of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a brand new, temporary plated, Smart Fourtwo.  The replaceable body panels were a bright, beaten egg yellow and the fixed frame was shiny black.  This is a great color combination, and the result looks quite unlike any photographs, most of which seem to feature the car with a silver frame and red, blue or black panels.    Not that any Smart is a tough spot– it is completely unlike any other car licensed in the US or Europes, although there are some Japanese home market only cars that have similar configurations.  This little two place city car looks mighty strange among Indiana’s Easter morning fleet of pickups, utes, and American sedans, where a Lexus or Mitsubishi is a bit of an odd bird.  I have no idea of the heartland will take to this car, but it was quite the little Easter egg.

New Smart Fourtwo (first sighting of an innovative and signficant new car, plus one for the paint scheme), nine points.  There’s no way to predict the eventual point value of a Smart, but my guess will be it will settle at about six or seven.

Sharkipede

Published in: on March 25, 2008 at 4:36 am  Comments (2)  
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apropos of nothing, the manual transmission

I’m active on another forum with a lot of members from around the world.  Cars are not this forum’s speciality, but a car thread has popped up in their Off Topic forum, and a European member asked about the source of the US obsession with the automatic transmission.  How hard is it, this person asked, to drive a manual?

Here is my reply:

Pretty hard, I think, especially if you learned to drive after forty and still have to concentrate on keeping everything straight.

Seriously, that’s an extremely interesting question.  The major reason is that knowing how to drive a manual is not required to be licensed here, so why bother?!  But there’s more to it than that.

Part of the reason is that Americans are lazy.  Part of the reason is that in many parts of the States there is no public transportation at all, so almost everyone drives whether they are particularly interested or not.  (I think there is a self selecting factor at work in Europe, where it may not be quite so necessary to drive. So people there who drive are probably more interested in cars and driving than people in the States who may just drive because they have to to get to work or school. ) Part of the reason is that for a long time a manual tranny was cheaper than an auto in any given car, so having an automatic meant you were driving the more expensive model and was therefore a status symbol.

But the main reason is the self fulfilling prophecy.  As individual states stopped demanding people drive a stick to get a license, and automatics became more and more common, there were fewer and fewer people who could drive a stick, and fewer and fewer problems arising from not being able to do so.  Many, if not most models are now available only with an auto, so there is even less opportunity (or incentive) to learn to drive a manual.

Now cars with manuals are so rare that people are actually discouraged from buying them because they have lower resale values *because so few people can drive them*.  And as Mohan says above, finding a manual equipped car even in a line that offers one isn’t easy.  It’s what you call a “feedback loop”. 

(On the other hand few thieves can drive them either, so if you have a manual car, you are very safe from having your car stolen.)

So the manual transmission in the US is the increasingly rare choice of  sportsmen and sportswomen, driving purists, traditionalists, and those who learned to drive somewhere else.

Opinions? Arguements?  And the big question:  can you drive a stick?  If so, do you have a manual tranny in your own daily driver?  Where, when, and why did you learn?  Did you grow up in the time before the proliferation of the automatic, or are you a driving purist?  If you can’t drive a stick, do you wish you could?

Sharkipede

Published in: on March 9, 2008 at 11:33 pm  Comments (10)  
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Auto Show 4: Awards Time

I have a couple more little Auto Show stories to tell, but since work and the dreaded real life  seem to be rearing their ugly heads at the same time, I thought I’d get on with the Awards!  (Everybody likes Awards, right?)

These are presented in no particular order, over the next day or two …

Best Concept: Honda CR-Z: a revival of the classic CRX. For anyone who doesn’t remember, the CRX was a variation on the Civic with a lightweight, two seater coupe body and a sporty suspension.  Different engines were offered, so a CRX could be an HF model, offering 50 mpg economy and a still-entertaining driving experience or a CRX Si, a full on sports coupe that was once of the first darlings of the early tuner movement.  CRXs were great cars.  There were several times we almost bought one, and I’m sure our lives would have been better if we had.  Heck, an old one in the driveway today would make a great beater commuter.

 So the revival of the CRX is good news.  Time marches on, and this concept is a hybrid.  I love the idea of a sporty small hybrid that is lightfooted in its use of resources as well as in its handling.   And while a two seat car, by definition, has a limited market, there really are a lot of people who could use one, particularly those who live alone, particularly in urban areas, and families and couples who have a larger car for group use and need a commuter ride for one.  Think seriously for a moment.  If you don’t have kids and don’t carpool (oh, and don’t have dogs …), how long has it been since anyone has actually ridden in your back seat?  I drive a sedan that seats four comfortably, and I know it’s been almost a year for me, although the dogs do ride back there fairly often.   Yes, one back seat in the family fleet is probably a necessity, but with reasonable planning, you could probably eliminate some of the others.  Two seat cars are intimate, and romantic, and fun, and when they are lightweight hybrids like this one, they can be fun with a clean conscience.

I’ll admit that some of the design details on this concept are a little funky, particularly the nose, but some of that can be attributed to “Auto Show over-the-topness”.  With a good eye, it’s fairly easy to subtract the drama and see the essential Honda goodness that is a CRX.  Check out that silhouette!  And the rear end is very cool, though I hope they separate the twin exhausts in the production model.

http://automobiles.honda.com/cr-z/

http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/honda/honda-cr+z-hybrid-concept-car-too-awesome-to-be-a-honda-308956.php

And it does seem like there will be a production model.  Rumor has it that CR-Z is a go, and it can’t happen soon enough for me.  Just lose the hyphen, Honda.

Sharkipede 

Published in: on February 21, 2008 at 4:55 am  Comments (3)  
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Auto Show 3: a very scary car

I saw a lot of cars at the Auto Show, and very few of them surprised me very much.  Part of this is a matter of too much information:  I read Auto Week and Ward’s Auto World and four buff books a month,  listen to Car Talk and watch Motor Week and visit Jalopnik and other car sites regularly.  I’ve seen pictures of almost every new car long before it comes out, often many pictures, and I’m pretty good at translating them in my head to picture the car itself.  Granted, all  cars usually look better in the metal than on the page …(if they don’t there’s a huge problem), but it’s something you get used to.  Very little totally blindsides me.

But sometimes words and pictures, or even the imagination, are not enough.   Usually, that’s a bad thing– a car that is good on paper, and even looks pretty, is lousy to sit in, much less drive.  This is why it’s so good to go to the Auto Show– you don’t get to drive, but sitting in a car tells you a lot.

In this case, it told me a LOT, and none of it was good.  Not good, that is for the US auto industry, and possibly not for the Japanese as well.  The car itself is bodacious.  If it runs and drives as well as it “sits”, everyone else needs to be afraid.  Very afraid.  Maybe not Mercedes and BMW and Bentley and Porsche, not to mention Ferrari and Lamborghini.  Anybody building anything truly sporting, and or truly prestigious is safe (for now). 

But if I were GM, contemplating the future of Buick (and maybe even Cadillac) or Ford, contemplating the future of Mercury and Lincoln,  I would be shaking in my polished shoes.  If I were Chrysler, I would be hiding under the bed.  If I were in the home islands, making marketing plans for Lexus, Infiniti, or Acura, I would be feeling distinctly nervous.

The country is South Korea. The company is Hyundai. The car is a medium-large, rather luxurious, V8 powered, rear drive sedan.  Its name is Genesis. 

http://www.hyundaigenesis.com/  Look at this website now, please, particularly if you have broadband.  It’s got many nifty pics and and says more than I can say here, except to add that the car looks much, much nicer in person.  The hood and front fender treatment is particularly elegant– there is a lovely suggestion of a real fender.

Genesis made its debut in Detroit a few weeks ago, and it was one of the cars I particularly wanted to see.  I expected to admire it (if I found it admirable) from a distance, rotating on a turntable behind a little railing.  Hyundai is to be commended for having not one, but three of them sitting on the floor, to be given a certificate of merit for allowing people to sit in them, and to be awarded a gold medal for having one of them “live” so that visitors could adjust the seats and steering wheel to take a driving position.  This is the kind of thing that makes one think that Hyundai might be interested in selling some cars to people.  They even had a full sized model of theit new Tau V-8 engine on display for the edification of tech heads. 

This is a pretty, pretty car, solid and chunky, and everything about it, inside and out, seems to be of a piece.  I don’t know anything about Hyundai’s design department, but it seems like the people who did the exterior were actually talking to the people who did the interior.   There seems to have been a unifing idea. 

All the details seem right– clean paint, decent quality plastics, nice leather that smells just great.  Chocolate brown leather, the color of a Hershey bar, in one case, in a car painted a lush wine red… this is a car that rewards color, and I was sorry to see the other cars on display were silver over very dark grey leather.   But it still looked good.

Ergonomically, it’s sweet.  I’m normally confused in an all electronic cabin, and I found, and used all the controls easily.  It took me only a few moments to find an excellent driving position, and I automatically crammed down the brake and reached for the controller to put it into drive. I was gonna take that sucker for a spin.  I’ve only done that a few times, ever, in a show room or at an Auto Show, and I consider it a very good sign.

Designwise, it’s clean and strong looking, but hardly a creative breakthrough.  Hints of Toyota/Lexus, Mazda, and Mercedes, even Maybach, abound.  Not that any of that is bad– those are handsome cars, and so is this one.  They are also cars that sell well, and have pleasant associations of quality, luxury, good road manners, prestige, and style.  This puts Genesis right where it needs to be to compete with these cars using Hyundai’s traditional marketing scheme of “an equivalent car, with a better warranty, for much less money.”  This has sucessfully put Camry/Accord customers into Sonatas, and small Buick customers into Azeras.  Will it put Acura/Lexus/Lincoln/big Buick etc. etc. customers into Genesis?  Don’t know, obviously,  but my guess would be, oh yes, it certainly will.

Had a long talk with a product rep from Hyundai about this, and we came to two conclusions.  1) Unless there is a major quality problem that results in the engine falling out in the first two months of ownership or something, the big H has a real winner here. 2) Hyundai has come a long way, not just from the hideous Excel, but from the early cars of their second coming, like that fondly remembered first generation Accent with tinfoil doors and a strong smell reminiscent of a Samsung VCR when you first plug it in.

We sat in a current Accent.  It’s a very nice car, a strong competitor in every way to a Fit.  The new Elantra is very pretty, and I’d take one over a Corolla, a Civic or a Focus. I know three families right now who are strongly considering a Sonata.

Does the idea of Genesis really seem so crazy?  Not to me.  Not when not one of the big three can sell me a modern V-8, rear drive sedan with a Chrysler, Lincoln, Mercury, Buick or Oldsmobile nameplate, and GM has to outsource the new Pontiac G8 to Australia. 

I’m waiting for the final color chart, but I know I want the chocolate brown leather in mine.

Sharkipede 

Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 12:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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Auto Show 2: the world is a carousel of color! (well, maybe.)

This blog is called “No Silver Cars” for a reason. It’s not that silver is a bad color for cars.  Lots of them look all right that way.  And, of course, silver is the German racing color, and is therefore a highly appropriate paint scheme for your Porsches, your Audis, your BMWs, and so on.  That’s fine.   I’m not coming down hard on you for driving a silver car if that’s what you actually like, and I’ve got nothing but sympathy if you are driving a car in a color you’d never pick off a chart, because you got a good deal on it and beggars can’t be choosers. (Do you really think that I would have chosen “Sell Me Now Beige” for my own car if I’d had a plethora of choices??  No.  Red one for me, or maroon, or dark green, or white … ) 

What the Sharkipede is against is a whole fleet of cars, of every size, body style, price class and country of origin, all painted silver.  Look around– it came perilously close to happening, and we are still at risk.  There was a time within the last five years when almost 50% of all new cars were painted silver, and if you include all the shades of grey, it was more than half.  Add black and white, and it’s more than 3 out of 4.  This is, in my opinion, not good.  The Sharkipede  personally likes cars that are painted a color, and prefers that the fleet display a modicum of variety.

So every year at the Auto Show I look for signs that world of automotive color is coming back to life, and this year was on the promising side.  Chrysler, especially, was showing bright blues, and overall silver blues, powder blues and silver greens continued to lift their heads and look around. I was disappointed not to see more of the chocolate browns I so enjoyed last year (Honda?  Nissan?), except, of course, for Mini’s splendid new “Hot Chocolate”, a warm cocoa brown available only on the new Clubman, which will be mentioned again in these reports.

I was also quite interested in some new French greys and warm dark umber greys, like Cadillac’s gorgeous “Double Espresso” or Lexus’ “Truffle Mica”.

Most of the color growth this year seemed to be in the oranges and orangey reds, which seemed to be moving away from coppers to include some orange toned dark reds that recalled the GM “Firethorns” of the seventies.  Those were some pretty colors on a car, not that the cars themselves were that great.  Though I do have some fond memories of a ’75 Malibu Classic sedan, Firethorn red over matching velour …

Some of the oranges I liked were GM’s “Brazen”, a rich dark orange with only a slight metal flake (seen on a Pontiac Solstice roadster), and Mitsubishi’s “Sunset Pearlescent”.

The Firethorn type dark reds included Nissan’s “Sonoma Sunset”, and Honda’s “Habanero Red”, plus Mazda’s “Redfire”.

The winner for Best Color, however, was Honda for its “Blackberry Pearl”, shown on a Fit Sport.  This is a dark, metallic ultramarine blue with a purple cast to it, a very rich, expressive color. It is bold, but subtle–  lovely on the little car and potentially superb on a large, luxurious one.  Accord cries out for this, as does a hypothetical full sized Honda or Acura.  

Creative, poetic, or silly color names are always a favorite here, and this year there were a few good ones, especially treasured since it’s so hard to come up with a creative name for silver.  I’ve already mentioned “Truffle Mica”, but let’s add Lincoln’s “Dune Pearl” (a nondescript pale gold, but a pretty name), Lexus’ “Noble Spinel Metallic” (a dark wine red), and Mitsubishi’s “Optimist Green”, a light grey green.

This year’s best colors all have rather mundane names:  Hot Chocolate, Black Cherry, Blackberry Pearl, but they are strong, vivid car colors, and that can only be good. 

Now I wonder why I’m hungry all of a sudden …

Sharkipede

Published in: on February 15, 2008 at 9:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Auto Show Reports begin

I’m back from the Auto Show!  I’ve actually been back for a little while, but I was totally car-ed out there for a bit.  I know, hard to imagine, isn’t it?  But the Auto Show is hard to imagine if you’ve never been there.  Biggest Auto Show in the country, Chicago is, and the longest running.  We spent more time on the floor this year, seven hours, than ever before and there are still some little thoughts about things we missed nagging at me .

Sorry, Nissan. I meant to sit in a Rogue, really I did, and I don’t know how I spaced it.  We still really like your Versa small car, though, particularly the hatchback.

Since it’s already rather late, I thought I’d start with some general impressions, and get to the detail stuff, and the awards, later in the week.  (I’m going to try to do daily posts until I get to everything, so please stay tuned.)

This was a big show.  I think there were more cars, and more cars that I sort of liked, this year than ever before.  It was a global show– the most hopeful car from GM was Australian, and the best Buick was Chinese.  Korea has a luxury car that could change everything, and Germany left their most interesting prospect at home.  Japan hangs fire and sticks to its strengths, but we are getting a Skyline, even though they aren’t calling it that.

This year’s show seemed less conspicuously “green”, with less emphasis on emerging technologies and more on conventional cars and trucks that get better mileage and emit fewer pollutants.

Colorwise, things continue to display modest improvements.  Silver has been displaced fleetwide by white, and oranges and orange reds seem to be gaining ground as are silver greens and blues, baby blues, and some odd but pleasing shades of umber and French grey.  And several manufacturers are showing production cars in classic shades of black cherry, which delight me.  Interiors continue to be quite dull, but some brown leather surfaces add a little interest, as do a few black and brown two tone interiors.  The award for “Car with an interior that actually matches the exterior paint (black, white, and grey don’t count)” went begging this year: no qualifying car was sighted, though Mercedes Benz came close with a very pretty CLK coupe, finished in cream over cream leather.  It was decided that this was close, but no cigar.  Has to be an actual color.  Sorry.

Otherwise:

Chrysler is counting on a muscle car to save it.  Challenger is a beauty, much prettier in the metal than in pictures, and the interior is an object lesson in elegant retro, but is it enough?  The production vehicles are pretty crummy.

GM is in product crisis. Dull, dull, dull.  The Malibu is OK, but one midsize sedan with a name that carries a horrible reputation as the nation’s premier rentacar does not a giant conglomerate make.  And the V8 powered, rear drive, full sized sedan is the premier American car.  Cars like that made GM, in every division.  Why then, is the only one that isn’t badged as a Cadillac a rebadged Holden Commodore from Australia?  Nothing against Holdens, which I’ve always thought were very cool, or against the great nation of Australia, but when you have to outsource your Pontiac Bonneville (or G8, as they insist on calling it, which only makes it much, much worse …) to an island in the South Pacific, then it may be time to put a fork in it.

Especially when something very attractive is threatening from a direction some find …unexpected.  It was a long time since the best Buick at the Auto Show was found at the Buick stand.  The Toyota Avalon held the title for a while, with the Hyundai Azera snapping along at its heels.  But those are Centuries, or Regals at best.  Midsize, front drive cars, powered by V-6 motors. 

I have seen the Roadmaster.  And it blows them all away.  Maybe.

More to come.

Sharkipede

Published in: on February 14, 2008 at 7:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Chicago Auto Show is coming!

Run for the hills!

It’s not that bad.  Actually it’s great.  Huge and crowded.  Lotsa new cars.  Corporate reps you can annoy with your personal opinions.  Expensive disgusting food.  Freebies and giveaways.

We’ll probably be going early next week, and I hope to post a full set of reports afterwards.  But before we go, I thought I’d ask if there is anything specific anyone would like me to look at ? 

Are you curious about a particular car?  Want a recommendation in a particular class (small car under $15 K, big pickup for work? silly little SUV thing that’s really just a station wagon on stilts?) or an award for best concept?  Let my Auto Show be your Auto Show.

You can make your request in a comment, or email it to sharkipede-at-yahoodotcom, or to the regular email if you normally use that. 

I’ve got churros to eat and cars to sit in!

Sharkipede

Published in: on February 8, 2008 at 2:08 am  Comments (3)  
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Starting the year off right

It’s nice when your belongings, old and new, start the year off right by behaving themselves.

The weather has been ghastly here at Sharkipede World Headquarters, some of the worst winter we’ve seen in several years, with heavy snow earlier in the week followed by below zero temperatures over the last two days.  It’s certainly the coldest and snowiest it’s been since I learned to drive, and I’ve been doing a little dogsitting over the holiday.

So I’ve been doing some winter driving, and Junior has been coming up aces.

For those of you who may be newcomers to NSC, Junior is my 1997 Buick Century Limited,  just exactly like this,  Sandhurst beige over matching leather:

http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/1997-to-2005-buick-century-5.htm?photo=2
Junior is possibly the most boring car in the known universe.  This model, in this color, is a favorite of local retirees and serves admirably as a “stealth car”.  Even I have trouble finding it in crowded parking lots.

But Junior is 100% reliable in all local weather (so far), with a nuclear powered heater and defroster, and plenty of room in the footwell for driving in snow boots.   Nothing like good old fashioned American iron.  Icontinue to be quite glad I made a conservative choice and did not indulge my taste for “interesting” cars that probably don’t start and run in single digit temps.

There are a lot of these nice cars around used at moderate prices, and they are well regarded by consumer organizations.  Smooth, comfortable, and quite peppy, but inclined to gasket problems (mine have all been replaced) and not exactly fuel economy champs.  But if you don’t drive a lot of miles,  you might want to consider one.  And no one will see you coming.

On the other hand, interesting computers are hard to resist, particularly when they too seem to work reliably.   I got a wonderful Christmas present this year– an Eee PC from ASUS, and it’s a terrific little item.

http://www.asus.com/products.aspx?l1=24&l2=0&l3=0&l4=0&model=1907&modelmenu=1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASUS_Eee_PC

(Mine’s black and I think it looks way cooler than the white one shown in the official pictures.)

I’d been wanting one of these for a while, being amazed by its small size and light weight and intrigued by the idea of using a computer with open source software.  So far  it’s been more fun than I could have imagined.  The Open Office word processor seems to be 100% compatible with Word on my Home Base PC, and the included graphics programs are really powerful and lots of fun to use.  I can see myself making a whole comic on my Eee PC quite soon.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone else out there who is messing around with an Eee, particularly anyone who is using the Linux graphics software to make comics.

And anyone else, of course.  Don’t be worried if your comments don’t show up right away.  The default here at WordPress seems to be that comments are moderated by the blogholder, and I’m going to leave it that way for now.  Don’t worry, though.  I won’t censor you, my loyal readers!

Sharkipede

Published in: on January 4, 2008 at 8:44 am  Comments (1)  
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