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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Nissan Versa Shines We Love It! Road Test

By Miguel Caparros, Bob Sarda With Mike Thies
First Look
Expectations of testing the least expensive new car in America were running cold just coming out of the Infiniti M37. The retail price of the base model is $10,990, the black SV model we tested  looked good. Black cars can show every defect in the paint and body. Our example on close inspection revealed a flawless finish and all body panels lined up properly. It did not look cheap, to the contrary we have seen some high end models that (Click Here For The Intro Video)                             would be shamed by the exterior finish of  this car. At $14,990 it is still very affordable and a good value. Although it is listed as a subcompact there is nothing compact about the inside room. even with the seat adjusted for our tallest driver, 6'7" Mike Thies, I could still sit comfortably behind him.  No magic mirrors or trickery just sound engineering and planning. Most small cars and even some large ones have a very upright rear seat that pushes you forward. The Versa rear seat is slightly reclined and the tall height of the seat cushion to the floor make it a comfortable place to sit even for long periods of time. 
( Click Here For The Close Ups Videos)
The trunk does not scrimp at all on space either, taking our full mixture of suitcases, garment bag and a small duffle bag. enough for a family of 4 for a vacation. This car also has the largest glove box I have ever seen. You could put the baby in there (not recommended) a better use would be to carry a roasted chicken meal with all the fixings for four!
Click Here For The Road Test Part 1

The Engine is a 1.6 liter of 109 horsepower and it moves this car rather acceptably with a 0 to 60 time just under 10 seconds, our tester was equipped with the automatic CVT transmission that works great but does take a little getting used to. For those those drivers that enjoy the experience of shifting their own, a 5 speed transmission is standard equipment. Either way the fuel mileage is rated at 30 city 38 highway.
Click Here For Road Test Part 2 

Al four of us liked the driving and feel of this car. Doreen loved the way it felt, it reminded her of the first gen Scirroco she had in high school, peppy, agile and did exactly what you asked of it. She wished it was a 5 speed. Mike though it was to firm and jiggly, he did like the steering and how the brakes felt. I liked it! I was pleasantly surprised at how flat it cornered and how well it accelerated. 

Bob Sarda who had volunteered his 2007 Honda Aaccord to show just how big the Versa is, he wrote a whole chapter. 

Here it is in his own word

It was a stormy, rainy night, the night before I was tasked to drive the Versa.
On the day of my test run, the sky was Carolina Blue, the humidity was mid to late 60 ‘s percentile and the roads were clear, clean and freshly washed. One could not ask for better weather-a cool morning, temp in the upper 60’s.  Near perfect.

I did a thoughtful walk around the car. Not too big, not too small, and yet it just bearly made the cut in the sub-compact class.
 As I settled into the driver’s seat, I began to realize that this little car was very big inside. My co-captain who is not a small man by any stretch of the imagination, and yet, he is sitting in the suicide seat with plenty of leg and head room. And for him to have plenty of head room is saying a lot. ( I thing Bob Is calling me a fat head)
After the drive we checked out the trunk and the back seat room.  There is plenty of room in the trunk for 2 dead bodies and the back seat has more room and more comfortable seating than my V6 Honda Accord.
The Test Drive:
The car is quick and smooth. The ride is excellent for a sub-compact car. Heck! It is very good for a mid-size car. It carried us down the road at speeds that required you to double check the speedometer. You did not feel like you were merging onto the highway at 90 miles per hour. I had stomped the gas pedal on the on ramp to watch the tachometer and feel the constant velocity transmission work its magic.
It was smooth as glass and high revving as one would expect of a 4 banger.  It never approached the red line and before I merged into traffic, there I was, staring down at an impressive 90 mph. There was some pedal left and yet, I did not need any more.  I backed off the throttle. Mission accomplished.
I felt a little hollow. There is something empty about getting up to 90 and not feeling the rush of acceleration. The feeling of power, raw, hoary, stick- it- to- the- man HORSE POWER.
We need to accelerate to make a proper merge and the machine simply responded-“Compliance”.  Just a walk in the park to go 90 miles per hour. As if the machine  responded back to my wishes, “Should you require anything else, just press the accelerator or the brakes. This is what I do.” (Bob Just finished watching a Sci-Fi marathon) 

My first car was a 1947 Mercury, business coupe, flat head 8- 88 HP on a good day. When I got the car with 54,000 plus miles on it, it used a quart of oil every 9 gallons of gas or every 108 miles. I was 16 at the time and that car never saw 90 MPH.  I tried. Lord knows I tried. 60 MPH was an accomplishment and you felt like you were flying, cheating death, living on the edge, bare knuckle riding the wind, flirting with disaster. And  heaven help you if you came near a curve. Better get those horses under control and whoa back down to 45. Thanks Bob.

So to sum it up it gets 4 thumbs up from all of us. We like to get blind opinions we get random people for a quick look and ride and get their impressions, this is where we find out what people think of the car.  

We snatch random people at the mall. 
Beth a late 20s secretary having launch, loved the room in the car and she noticed that in this car she could face the baby seat to the rear without interfering with the front seat, something she cannot do in her Honda Civic. When asked what she would pay for this car, her answer was, giving that her 3 year old civic cost her $ 17,000 she would expect to pay 18,000 for the larger Versa. 

Bill an options broker in his late 40's has a new Acura SUV. He has an Au Pair that he has currently in a 4 year old Camry. He was impressed with the ruggedness of all the materials and the fact that it has all the latest safety gear to keep his kids safe as they are driven to the various soccer practice and ballet rehearsals that are part of their daily life. He was awe struck with the size of the trunk as the Camry is always jammed with all the gear that has to be moved around. Bill did a quick calculation in his mind when we told him the fuel mileage, he said that the savings in 3 years would permit him to get the BMW 5 series that he wants! He made us an on the spot offer of  $16,500 plus fees right now. We told him to head to his closest Nissan dealer as this one is not for sale. This is the first time we encounter people willing to pay more than the MSRP. They were all speechless when we told them the base price of $10,990 and the price of our second level SV model of $15,490. 

Italian Motor Cycles As Art

Story, Photos And Video By Miguel Caparros        Click Here For The Video
In August of 2011 the Museum Of Design Atlanta, MODA Chose for its Grand Opening to feature the art of the Italian motorcycles. Italians just have the design gene as part of their DNA. It has always been there and always very present in their industrial designs. It was not enough to just build great machinery but every nut, bolt and fin was seen as an opportunity to not just male a part useful but beautiful as well. Vittorio Jano at Alfa Romeo in the early 1930s, treated every part as a separate work of art.  From the Emblems to the cooling fins, every part is styled not only to enhance the function but also to please the eye. His influence even translated to the designs of Motorcycles. Though many in the past looked at Italian Motorcycles as too dainty and fragile when you study them up close and get to feel the precision on their ultra light parts you begin to understand part of the art follows function was taken to the extreme. I have tried to convey that up close feeling of many of the individual parts on the Motorcycles in the video,  and these stills taken from the video. Pause and take a close look, hope you enjoy it. We had the opportunity to come in the day before the public and take some up close video and photos with no one in the back ground..

Bimota was Created 1973 in  Rimini  Italy byBianchi, Morri and Tamburini. The company name is a combination from the first two letters of each of the three founders' surnames, i.e. Bianchi Morri Tamburini. All of them established in the Motorcycle industry. Initially Bimota was for formed to supply a superior chassis for the wonderful inline 4 cylinder motors made by the Japanese, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha. Powerful smooth engines supported by mediocre chassis and handling. 

By the time this 1997 500 Due was built Bimota was having thoughts of leaving the Japan made motors and built a revolutionary 2 cylinder 2 stroke engine that was powerful, lighter and clean enough to pass emission regulations. They also were hoping to go F 1 racing against the worlds Motorcycles best. By 2001 Bimota went into bankruptcy and the end of the dreams of racing for a world championship were a reality. In 2003 a run of 120, 500 Due were assembled as street bikes using carburetors instead of fuel injection, also running with reduced power. Today all the Due Bikes are considered very valuable collectors items.

Moto Morini Is a survivor, that is the company. Founded in 1937 by Alfonso Marini in Bologna Italy, they went through WWII, the departure of the Germans, the Allies Occupation, the internal revolution, hostile take overs, bankruptcy, financial collapse and  some how they are still there. In my eyes Moto Morini is the Champion of minimalism, There is not a part on these bikes that is not doing something. From the beautiful aluminum head and cylinder castings to the dainty rods that support the fairing. Even the carburetor velocity stack is perfectly proportioned.  In the small displacement classes they led and everyone else followed. They were racing, winning and selling 150 cc to 250cc motorcycles from 1948- the 1970's.
I hope you can enjoy the works of art as much as I do. Stop the video and study the smallest of details.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Racing From Havana To Miami

By Miguel Caparros 
Originally written June 30th 2011
Photos By Rogelio Caparros from the book "Grand Prix From Havana To Miami"
It is interesting how certain events can trigger memories and the angst of how to put them down on paper. The recent passing of Peter Faulk and the memories lately of Columbo and of his side kick, the Peugeot 403 Cabriolet has stirred nostalgia for what may be Karyn's and my favorite car brand of all time. 
My history with Peugeot goes back to my old mentor Claude Meder and Cuba when I was a boy. My father would take me everywhere with him. From the symphony to the chess club then to the shop that he was a partner in where all the exotic cars were sold and serviced. Then onto the errands to drop off a starter at the re-builders and always a stop at Claude Meder's shop where French was the first language. The shop was surrounded by every kind of French car you could imagine and some that were complete mysteries. 
Claude came to Cuba as a young man, a political refuge when the Germans occupied France during world war II. A master mechanic that apprenticed with Panhard and Renault in Paris. His knowledge of French cars was second to non. Among the Renault 4CV's the Citroen Traction Avant, a couple of Bugatti's, assorted Simca's and other French makes were the race cars. Claude was also a very accomplished race car driver and his successes in the most car crazy culture in the Americas permitted him to be the representative for Panhard, Renault and Peugeot. Race prepared versions of each of the manufacturers cars were present. A tiny 750 cc Renault 4CV, a not much larger Panhard Dyna, and the big dog of the bunch, the Peugeot 203, still small by American car standards. 
This was the time of over the road races all thru out Cuba, Mexico, Central America and Argentina. Cuba Was centrally located and was the home base for many of the manufactures team that actually raced what hey sold. Cuba had a very active series of over the road races as did Argentina and Mexico. To put it into perspective, these were full blown over the road rallies with mountain passes, paved roads, secondary dirt roads and high speed 2 lane highways where the fastest cars could reach over 180 miles per hour. Roads through the desserts that could barely be called roads. This is in the era of bias ply tires, drum brakes and no power steering. Seat belts, roll over protection and helmets were optional. My father told me of the Mexican leg of the Carrera Pan Americana road race of 1954, he shared a DC3 chase plane with Chris Economaki and some other journalist. They were using it as a camera platform and crossing a desert in the high plains. The DC3 was maintaining a cruise speed of 180 mph and the Mercedes SL's, Ferraris, Maseratis some of the Buicks and one Studebaker were going faster than the plane. 
Claude was a wizard of blue printing engines. He got the most out of the tiny engines the European cars had. What the Panhard and the Peugeot had over the big cars was handling, better brakes, lighter weight, and much less need to stop for fuel. But the secret weapon that no one took into consideration were the Michelin X radial tires. There was no such thing as a sprint race in over the road races. The short ones were 200 miles, the long ones a 1,000 or more. All these reasons where why the small displacement cars of 70 horsepower or less were sometimes threatening the over all winners. I actually got to see Claude driving the Panhard Dyna , another time the Peugeot 203 where he placed 5th overall, two places ahead of my fathers Austin Healy 100 LM. 
Now we can fast forward to the 1960's. I was working part of my summers as Claude's apprentice at his shop in Miami, I was also my fathers crew running the Renault R8 Gordini in road races and I served as navigator in rallies. When I turned 16, Claude used his influence for me to become a development driver for Renault. My first car at 16 was a Peugeot 403. Fathers 1966 Gordini was replace by a new Peugeot 404 in 1968. Then a 504 in 1970. The 68 404 was handed down to Karyn and I in 1973. That was the car she learned to drive a standard transmission on. Our first children were protected by the armor of the 404. In 1982 we sold the 404 with 250,000 miles and still driving and looking like new to a young couple that needed reliable transportation to get married in Texas. Although I drove for Renault I truly enjoyed racing in dad's 404, it was a very forgiving car that only had a top speed of 105 mph but could maintain 90+ no mater the terrain or weather. It felt as safe as a brick house. 
Although people always associated us with our businesses of exotic cars, Rolls Royce, Ferrari and Porsche, in the back ground was an ex rally car that served the family for 14 years when we wanted fun performance and inconspicuous transportation we had our trusty Peugeot 404.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

We drive the new Fiat 500 at Road Atlanta.

By Miguel Caparros With John Montgomery
  After the buy out of Chrysler by Fiat, it was only a matter of time before we would once again see some mainstream cars from the giant Italian company in the US, besides the Ferrari's. That is correct the Fiat and Ferrari are made by the same company. This is another modern car that takes styling cues from its name from the 1960's Fiat 500.
Just like the new Beatle and the Mini Cooper there is nothing in common with the old and the new except a similar shape and profile. This is a completely modern car in every way and has some very advanced engine management technology directly developed for Ferrari's Formula 1 racing team. Many comparisons are being made with the Mini, although similar in size they are not in the same price category, the Fiat ranges in price from $15,500 for the base model and $19,000 for a fully loaded model like the one we drove. 
This car belongs to John Montgomery President of the Fiat Lancia Unlimited Club FLU, and a big thanks to Cynthia Meitle of CAR PR USA for Introducing me to John. He was on our radio show last week and since he was coming to The Mitty at Road Atlanta where I would be, we got together and he let me drive his car. 
John said it best "if you are a fugitive or in the witness protection program, don't buy this car". Every time we stopped, a crowd would gather around the car. They asked to sit in it and if John would let them drive it. John accommodated just about every one. If he had come to the Mitty with ten new cars to sell, they would have been all gone in the first hour. That is just how positive everyone, including me, feel about this little car. This car is cute, men like it and women adore it. I am not easily impressed but I must admit that the Fiat 500 exceeded my expectations by a very wide margin. At first glance I look at the fit of the panels and the smoothness and shine of the paint, it is better than most, and on par with cars that cost much more, like the MINI and the VW, much more expensive cars. Opening the wide door you are greeted by a very nice bucket seat with height and back adjustments and seat cushions wider than the European version to accommodate our larger butts and shoulders.(copy-write that as a possible brand for something) Once in the seat the room is very ample for my 6 foot 225lbs size 12 shoes. The ample width and height makes the car feel bigger, and that can be attributed to the large airy cabin. Instead of stretching out you sit as in a minivan, seats at a comfortable height like a dining room chair. That height transfers to the rear seat also. I initially sat in the backseat, behind my six foot tall assistant Jenifer, the space was adequate for medium distance for some one my size that says a lot! The truly incredible part is that it also has a usable trunk and when you fold down the rear seats you could carry some serious cargo! 
Getting into the drivers seat. First thing you notice is the complete integration of all the instruments,gauges, and control indicators in to the round digital display in front of the driver the washer wiper stalk on the right side of the column ha a button to page through the menu options from trip meters to fuel mileage monitors. The model we drove also had Cirrus satellite and blue tooth pairing and will completely integrate your phone and call list onto the vehicles hard drive. It is also voice activated and will read your text and email messages for you. All in a very unassuming clean look. The steering wheel is also trick, with controls for radio, climate controls, and phone functions.
So how does it drive. To say I am a believer puts it into perspective. The power with 3 adults and Johns luggage and literature in the trunk was very acceptable. The 1.4 litter engine puts out 101 horsepower and has a pleasing growl and is very smooth. The shifter for the 5 speed feels very, dare I say it, Ferrari like. The spring load on the shift gate was a little stiffer than I like and it may soften up as the car breaks in. Johns car is so fresh that it barely had 300 miles on it. The adjustable suspension has a normal and sport mode, normal is firm and not jarring at all, switch to the sport mode it also changes the engine mapping and firms the suspension up a little bit more, still comfortable. The handling on the roads was really pleasing and very sure footed.
There is so much more and so many details but this is a Digest. I like it, and with a starting price of $15,500 and fuel mileage in the high 30's to low 40's it is an economical drivers car that does not make you feel that you compromised in any way. It even has features such as the hill holder and an optional 6 speed automatic, standard 5 star crash rating with seven air bags. When Fiat gets more cars out we will do a longer term test and take it out and get the performance numbers on the track. Yes an Abarth Performance model is supposed to come in to the market with 170 horsepower. Check back on Teaser Link as I post more of the video we shot while driving John's car. 

Driving Bill Harrah's Personal Ferrari Powered Grand Wagoneer

Intro and Photos by Steve Natale Story by Miguel Caparros.
While visiting the National Automobile Museum (Harrah Collection) recently, I saw many amazing historic and classic cars on display, but could not help with being infatuated with Bill Harrah’s personal “driver”. A 1977 Jeep Wagoneer, fitted with a 12 cylinder Ferrari engine. The “Jerrari” reflects the personality and creativity of the man who owned it, Bill Harrah. I mentioned the car to Miguel Caparros, and he shared his personal experience of driving this very special car years ago…….
The first time I read about the Jerrari was in Road & Track's Ron Wakefield's article August of 1971 issue.   I just had gotten back home to Plymouth New Hampshire from an all expences paid vacation by my former employer, the US Army. I had a lot of reading to catch up on so I startred with the latest issue of Road & Track Magzine. I saw something that seemed so wrong. There was a photo of this Jeep Wagoneer with a Ferrariesque nose and grill. Now at the time I thought what a waste of a perfectly good Ferrari in retrospect,  If I had Bill Harrah's finnacial depth I would have created outrageous stuff too. When we moved to California I had a list of things to do #3 was the Harrah collection in Sparks Nevada. In 1983 my friend Bill Duryea and I drove up to Reno from San Francisco,  I wanted to see the collection before it was broken up.  After Bill Harrah's death there was wrangling about the collection going on with the Holiday Inn who bought the Harrah hotels and the car collection. It was just business, They saw the sale of the collection as a way to recuperate money. 
I seem to have a talent for worming my way into places and meet the people that actually get things done. On this day I ran into one of Mr Harrha's son who was working on something of his own. I started to talk about the Jerrari, referring to the original 1968 Jeep Wagoneer with the Ferrari nose grafted on to the front that I had read about in 1971. He told me that car was gone and Mr Harrah had the work shop crew built another with a 1977 Grand Wagoneer. Bill and I were led over to where this very normal looking Wagoneer stood.
 At that point we were picked up by one of the shop mechanics and Mr Harah's son left us in some very capeable hands, as this was one of the original fabricators for Bill Harrah. He went into detail as to the problems and fabrication that had to be done to attach the Ferrari engine to the Jeep 4 wheel drive, and the unconventional dual radiators needed as the engine was much longer that the AMC V8 that was originally fitted. After chatting for a while I just had to ask, “Can we go for a ride?” The answer was sure "if you drive and buy lunch". Done! We headed out of the shop and besides the usual Ferrari noises from the engine compartment and a dash full of Stewart Warner gauges, it just felt like any other Jeep. We caught I 80 east bound towards Fernly, ant it climbed up the like no jeep I ever drove. I was able to hold 90 during the climb with out effort. We passed Fernly in no time and were now in the Plateu that leads to Bonniville, No speed limit from here, foot to the floor and I let the Jerrari strech its legs. At 140 you can cover ground like a private plane, Elko was cumming up fast. My new  found friend knew of a restaurant in Elko he wanted to eat at. The food and the altitude were taking a toll on my clarity so Bill drove back to Fernly foot plastered to the floor and hitting 150 on some down hill streches. We did go by a Nevada Trooper that turned on his lights and just as quickly turned them off, he either knew who's Jeep this was or figured by the time he got the cruiser up to speed he would never be able to catch the Wagoneer that had set off his radar at 150 +.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Mustang Sports wagon.

by Miguel Caparros 
This article was prompted by a posting from Sam Fiorani, another automotive historical journalist on his website, Automotive Travel about the sale of a recently built 1965 Ford Mustang Station Wagon. I remember my initial fascination with the cover and article from Car and Driver magazine 1966 October issue. The car was never officially connected to Ford, but it was commissioned by the account executive Barney Clark of J.Walter Thompson, Ford's advertising agency. The conversion from a GT coupe was done in Italy by the coach works of Intermechanica. Originally sports wagons were know as shooting brakes in England. Wealthy sportsmen would commission local coach builder to build a two door sporty wagon with tailgate from which they could load hunting dogs and guns for some game shooting. Later Volvo actually was the first to take the concept of the sports wagon into major production in 1971 with the P1800 ES.
When JWT was done with the car, it was locally sold in New York, where it became a very special daily driver. It was last seen and photographed in a Levittown neighborhood on Long Island.

The Red car with the Gold Shelby Stripes is the one in Sam's story. This car had a no expenses job done to it and a modern drive train to make it as useable as any new car.
It is surprising how many individuals have taken it upon themselves to make Mustang wagon conversions. With out really digging to deep, I found 7.  

The Blue 65 has a very pleasing look due to the the slender B and C pillars and the well cut and fitted rear side windows. A white Shelby GT350 sparks the thought, if you are going to build a wagon version might as well make it something truly remarkable. 

A pewter 67 looks real good and classy.

Here is another rendition of a second generation Mustang, this one looks like a 68. Take a close look at this red conversion. The amount of work that it took to graft the top and tailgate from what looks from the photo to be the rear pillars from a 1965 Ford Country Squire. In 65 Ford came up with a system of scooping air from the pillar and directing it across the rear glass to help keep the rear window cleaner.

Here is another red one that seems to have taken its roof, side windows and hatch from the AMC Hornet wagon.
I am certain with the exception of the Intermechanica build, the others used existing production car parts. The rear fender kick up of the Mustang adds complication for using sheet metal and glass from existing cars. If I was asked to do such a conversion I would look at several different donors for the rear would be; the Ford Fairmont Wagon, Pinto Wagon, AMC Hornet wagon, and the Chevy Vega wagon.
If some one offers to sell you their original Prototype 65 Mustang wagon, walk away, Ford never ever made a prototype wagon. The closest they came to it was this mock up from 1966 but the front looks like the 67 and the rear looks like a Gremlin.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Austin Healey 100/6 Modified

So! I got this thing about the big Healey This write up is about this other Healey Click here to see it. If you compare you the hood on this Healey you will notice that it has a crease in the hood. The crease was put in by the Jensen workers to stiffen the hood from flexing. eventually a 3rd under hood brace was installed that negated the crease. These creased hoods were installed in the 100 6 and the early 3000, until the supply was exhausted. Personally I like it!

The 100/6 replaced the 100/4 in 1957. The six was a better car in every way. A smoother, beautiful sounding six replacing the tractor derived four. A much better shifting transmission, disc brakes as standard, the 2 inches of additional wheel base to accommodate the longer engine mad for a more comfortable car all around. Also the additional length made the car look more powerful. The car still retained the side curtains and 2 seats with a 4 seat version being added to the line up. Later the 3000 would eventually become a Gentleman's Express tourer. One thing I truly loved about the 100/4 was the fold down windscreen, from the six on they were conventional fixed windshields. In 1956 my father came home with a stray that followed him from Sebring Florida. It was a Austin Healey BN2 100 S factory race car, alloy body, Reno red in color. For all intents and purpose a race car on the street. The S was by far the rarest of all Healey's, 50 made and an additional 5 were made with the aluminum head, no overdrive and disc brakes. This one was one of the 5. From mid 1956 to 1958 this was my fathers primary race car.

In 1958 my sister turned 15, old enough to drive. Rosa thought it would be real cool to drive to school in the very unique sports car. I do not remember Rosa at least getting familiar with driving in the family car, at that point, a 1957 Chevrolet Belair 4 door hardtop. No, she confirmed that dad wanted her to learn on the Healey. I was taken along with dad and Rosa, I sat in the area behind the seats. We drove out into the country where there was a lovely 2 lane road, no trees or utility poles to hit, grassy expanses with cows and bulls grazing. Straight in both directions not a soul was in sight. Rosa and dad exchange seats and dad started to explain the procedure for pushing down the clutch, selecting first gear, then gently pushing down on the gas pedal while letting up the clutch. In reality the way it happened was, she pushed on the gas not realizing how quickly the engine would respond, my father was warning her to let up on the accelerator she slid her foot off the clutch. The momentum created by the action caused her foot to push the accelerator al the way to the floor. Both my father and I were shoved back, he pinned against the seat and I smacked my head against the rear cowl. Rosa was frozen into inaction. The spinning tires were forcing the car forward under full throttle and it started to veer onto the grassy shoulder heading towards the pasture fence and a bull. Dad was able to overcome the g forces and was able to reach the ignition switch just in time before our collision with the fence and the curious bull. She eventually did learn that day, but the reality of driving a race car to school quickly got to be too much. Dad let Rosa drive the 57 Chevy to School!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Road Test. Infiniti M37

By Miguel Caparros with Bob Sarda, Doreen Caparros, and Mike Thies
For all the stills from this shoot Click Here   Subscribe to my blog and get notified of new postings.

Our family is not like most because of how I have made my living for most of my life. With the exception of a couple of short departures, I have been very involved in the Auto Industry. That said, like most we have needed family cars to take the kids to school, Scouting events, food shopping all the normal things everyone else does. Our first family car was a 1968 Peugeot 404, it that was a hand me down from my father, we loved that car. As our fortunes rose and fell it affected what we had for a family car. We eventually settled with what can be best described as sports sedans.  From a modified (turbo) 1979 Bentley to Jetta GLI We have had them all. Mostly we had Audi Turbos, 5 series BMW’s, big 450 Mercedes and currently a Chrysler 300M. So you would figure that we would be perfect candidates for the Infiniti M37.

At first glance.
I had a looked at this car before and had not considered it my kind of car.  I like low and wide and the M37 struck me as tall and narrow. The fit and finish are on par with other cars in its price range and the list of equipment and options is impressive.  More impressive are some innovative safety related features that we will look at later in detail. The pewter exterior color is complimented by some very nicely finished off white leather, flowing lines throughout with sculptured metal and wood accents top off the look of the interior.

Driving it.
This is a push button start car with a proximity sensor built into the remote control. I constantly lived with the fear of leaving the remote control sensor on the roof and having to try and find where it fell after I drove off.  As a test of my paranoia, Bob stayed in the car with the engine running while I walked away with the sensor. At about 100 feet I was thinking this could be a problem, I went back when Bob honked at me. Apparently there is

a flashing warning light in the panel that came on when I was 30 feet away. My key fob fear has not been satisfied. With the key fob safely on your person, step on the brake pedal,  press the start button once. On the center console is a knob marked snow, Eco, dot (standard mode) and sport, trust me just leave it on sport, unless you have snow. After a short delay the engine will start and you are ready to go. Not quite, we have all learned to adjust our seats and mirrors before we go and then make minor adjustments as needed. If you have above average size hands for a man, there is no way you can adjust the seat once the door is closed.  Two possibilities here are, first that the manufacturer put in wider seat for the larger Americans. My English friend told me he has the same problem with the right hand drive car there. The other is as I first suspected the car is narrower than most on the inside.  Doreen who has long slender hands found it uncomfortable to reach the switches, at least she could, but the contortions while driving could distract her from the task at hand (pun intended).

The engine has the Nissan 370 Z howl and with good reason it shares most of the drive train with the Z so it has a pedigree of sporty character. The ride is firm but not jarring, as a matter of fact we all love the ride and handling of this car. Unless you want one of these as your track toy, do not get the sport package. It is much too harsh and stiff for every day driving and your passengers will not like you. The standard suspension and Michelin tires are the perfect combination for spirited driving and comfort. The 7 speed auto/manual shift transmission has the perfect combination of refinement and bad boy, as it blips the throttle on down shifts.  There is a very noticeable lag in action when using the transmission in manual mode The car is certainly a Jekyll and Hyde and the driver’s controls which one comes out to play, sometimes.

The dash is dominated by a very large screen that is the center for all of the controls and adjustments for most of the electronics. The premium sound system is fantastic, but the controls are not intuitive.  You can resort to the two traditional knobs on the radio fascia. Directly in front of the driver is the gauge and information pod that is easy to read and understand. The steering wheel pad bristles with switches to control the sound system, intelligent cruise controls (more on this later), Bluethooth hands free phone system and the menu control for the navigation system. Staying within reach of the heated steering wheel, on the right stalk are the wiper washer controls with rain sensing, on the left the headlight, turn signal and fog lamp stalk. Jutting out just below that is the joy stick to control the steering wheel position. The seats are heated and cooled. 
We do not mean to overwhelm you, but this and other cars in its class do bristle with technology and one of the choices as the driver you need to make is what to turn on and turn off.  The driveway is the place to become familiar with all of this equipment, not while you are driving.  Infiniti has included 6 books in a very nice leather pouch and it is strapped in the right side of the trunk. Do read quick reference guide, for more details the owners manual and the navigation systems manual. 

Many want to compare this car to a BMW, Lexus and even the Mercedes, it is not a direct competitor to those cars in my opinion. This car is more attractive to an insurance company executive in his late 50's than a 35 year old dot "commer" that cashed in his first stock split and wanted something flashy and fast. Fast it is we got a 0-60 of 5.3 seconds, as my wife Karyn phrased it, " its quick but not Holy Crap quick".  We just broke into 13.9 in the 1/4 mile just hit 100 mph. In normal fast street driving the car has good balance but the tall height and tall driving position makes it feel very "tippy".  We did not do the performance testing on this car, about 3 months ago we had a rental and took it out to our secret airport runway where we pushed the limits. The limits is where this car really falls down. All the electronics that are there to help you in daily life just get in the way of going fast and having fun. It pushes going into the turn, the stability management tries to pull you, by applying the brakes on the opposite side and it is just overwhelmed. Even with the traction control in the off position I could feel the intrusions of the electronics while trying to hold a drift. If you want a track car, this is not it.

When it comes to styling this car is a success or a failure depending on your point of view.  Mike Thies, our Senior tester (also our tallest at 6'7") found the soft flowing lines pleasing and the interior both calming and a little busy. Mike likes white cars, Vanilla ice cream with Chocolate chips can sometimes be too exciting for him.  Doreen Caparros, our Technical Editor and by far the youngest member of the team, felt "there is nothing to set this car apart from so many mainly Asian mid size sedans. Her first impression, "is it a cross over?".  I personally have never found the Humps and Curves school of styling very attractive or pleasing to my eyes.  Bob Sarda our resident comic likes his wife's Honda Accord better, ouch !

The interior was a mixed bag, "Mikey likes it!" The truth be told, he fits better in this car than any other he has driven, The seat rearward movement and the tall roof affords him comfort that he never thought he would ever have. His position negates the use of the left rear seat.  The fact that Mike had to push the seat all the way back away from the door panel. did allow him to reach the seat controls. Doreen initially liked the contrast of the chrome wood and leather, that, slowly eroded during the week we had the car.  As soon as she got in she could not find enough lumbar support from the seat back. Little things can pick away at you, in this instance it was the hinge from the floor accelerator pedal. It interferes with her heals forcing her to either remove the shoe or or twist her leg, that gets tiring fast.  She liked the size of the central video screen but was not convinced that having three different ways to access the functions is the way to go. She also feels in this price range it should have the connectivity of the Ford Microsoft system and this interface is very limiting. ( I think she has a Microsoft tattoo somewhere on her person.) Another thing that bothered her was the lack of the estimate arrival time of arrival on the navigation screen. The only place we could find it was in map view and no where else.  I was able to find a comfortable position thanks to all the adjustments in the seat and the electrically controlled tilt and telescopic steering column. But my mental comfort zone found me driving very slowly. I can not explain it.

The Special Features
As I mentioned this car has the usual list of safety equipment that you would expect in this price class. These systems are there for the average driver to keep them safer.  Adaptive Cruise Control. In layman's terms It has forward facing sonar and vision to help Inform you if you stray out of lane, If you catch up to another car while on cruise control it will automatically adjust the speed and keep behind the leading car at a safe distance.  The ability to see ahead and the computer figuring trajectories super fast, allows the system to automatically stop the car in the event the driver is distracted or incapacitated. The front sensor array can see when you cross over the lines on the left  or right of the car and provides an audible warning. If the lane intrusion happens when another car is in imminent position of hitting you It will apply the brakes on the opposite side to guide your car out of harms way. Mike thought the line sensors were to sensitive, as there is  no way he could have crossed the lines that often. Bob was the only one brave enough to test the automatic braking. If you approach eminent contact with a car stopped in front of you, after giving you warning it will stop the car for you.

In Conclusion
I kept the MSRP away from the staff on this car, they all had a vague idea of the price ranging from the mid 40's to mid 50's. After a week of living with the car and disclosing its near $60,000 price tag the results were not that surprising. Not one of us would buy this car. Although price was an issue it was not the only one. Exterior styling was one of the major complains. It does not have the presence or the identity of a car in this price range. That is the Cross Inifiniti has to carry. I thought the 2004 M Infiniti had better presence for a luxury car although the grill is not to my liking. The 2005 infiniti was beginning to appeal to the younger set with its BMW like performance. I am sorry to say the latest incarnation of the M car has lost  the momentum in attracting a wide cross section of buyers.  We are all in agreement that if we were after a performance luxury sedan we would consider a BMW 5 series or even the new 3 series. The Lexus would also be at the top of our list along with the Audi and Mercedes. Add on to that list the SRT brothers from Dodge and Chrysler, Cadillac would also have to be considered as well, and dare I say it Hyundai! There are many flavors to choose from in this ice cream store, The fun is in the tasting.

Friday, June 8, 2012

That Dodge Dart Is Here.

The new 2013 Dodge Dart should be arriving July. That said,the 2013 Dodge Dart is the first Chrysler Group vehicle built on Fiat Group architecture. In this case it is an Alfa Romeo widened platform and is already being built here in the USA. The Alfa DNA translates into fantastic ride and handling capabilities. Depending on the options and packages the price will be from $15,995 to $22,500. The great thing is even the base car is well equipped.

There are plenty of engine and transmission variations. The 2.0-liter Tigershark engine is standard on the Dart SE, SXT, Rallye and Limited models. The preliminary performance ratings for the 2.0-liter Tigershark engine are 160 bhp (119kW) at 6,400 rpm and 145 lb.-ft. (196 Nm) of peak torque at 4,800 rpm.
Speed crazy people like me may opt for the the added performance and a dramatic torque increase, available with a 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbocharged Intercooled engine. The preliminary ratings for the Dart 1.4 MultiAir Turbo engine are 160 bhp (118 kW) at 5,500 rpm and 184 lb.-ft. (249 Nm) of torque from 2,500 through 4,000 rpm. The aftermarket already has 100 ways to increase power with this engine and void the warranty. This is the same engine as in the Fiat 500 Abarth. 250 should possible, do it at your own risk
Largest of the trio of engines available is the new 2.4-liter Tigershark engine with MultiAir® 2, is the third Chrysler Group engine to feature MultiAir technology. The preliminary ratings for the 2.4-liter TIgershark with MultiAir 2 are 184 horsepower (137 kW) at 6,250 rpm and 171 lb.-ft. (232 Nm) of torque at 4,800 rpm. The engine is slated for availability in the third quarter of 2012. Found my engine!
Transmission choices are wonderful as they are all 6 speeds. They are a new six-speed DDCT, six-speed manual and a new six-speed automatic.

C635 Six-speed Manual Transmission
Standard on all three engines is the six-speed C635 manual transmission. This state-of-the-art gearbox is designed and built by Fiat Powertrain. Compact and lightweight, the transmission is designed to withstand maximum torque values up to 350 Nm.

C635 Dual Dry Clutch Six-speed Automatic Transmission
Improved performance and fuel efficiency are just two attributes of Chrysler Group's new C635 DDCT. The new DDCT will be available exclusively on 2013 Dodge Dart models equipped with the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbocharged engine.

6F24 Six-speed Automatic Transmission
Small and compact, the new Powertech six-speed automatic transmission is fully electronic and is designed for increased fuel efficiency. Torque capacity for the new transmission is 250 Nm.

With a 5.4 gear spread, gear changes are nearly imperceptible at all speeds and optimum shift quality is provided throughout the rpm range, including launch, acceleration and passing at highway speeds. Autostick is standard.
  I am holding out for the SRT Turbo. Oops ignore
that statement.