The appreciation of cars, driving, and the car culture
In the olde days, auto shows were the highlight of the year. Exciting new models – and even better concepts cars (!) – were routine. Shiny new models were waiting for your close-up examination. And the big daddy of all the car shows in North America was the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in the month of January. Frozen cold Detroit, but inside Cobo Center was a warm oasis. We went to NAIAS for years and years, braving the cold, getting stuck parking in questionable lots blocks away, and hiking to the center. But then, with our parka checked in at the coat check, an entire day of *new* was before us. And our favorite manufacturer, Ford, even brought cutaway engines *and* their engineers to highlight their features – folks who liked talking about their accomplishments. This was the place to be, and every manufacturer was represented!
But… all good things decline and many come to an end. NAIAS no longer features every manufacturer, many are pulling out due to costs or strategy. Budgets are shrunk, Cobo Center has not improved, parking hasn’t changed. And discussions are being held to perhaps move the show to the late fall. This would tie it closer to the launch dates of new cars, but would also likely leave the show short of concepts since they would be a sales distraction for the launch of the new model year, rather than a force to carry visitors to the next year.
Whether NAIAS moves to a new date or not, much needs to change. Cobo Center itself is obsolete, falling apart, in need of expansion… but as usual in Detroit there are no funds. And the manufacturers need a joint pact to support the show, to pay the big expenses, and especially to exploit the show with “internet age” marketing. That doesn’t mean articles in print magazines 3 months later, it means real time podcasts, video blogs, live news reports, and live press introductions. And we’d strongly suggest to NAIAS to be far less stingy with their press credentials – the very word “credentials” as practiced by NAIAS is elitist and is in the internet age completely out-dated. Even a 5 year old can write a post post to Instagram and go viral – in this age accomplishing far more than a bunch of old school journalists. So NAIAS needs to move forward in the future, and leave the old assumptions and practices behind.
Meanwhile, here is our own report from 1998, a banner year with over 170,000 attendees. And one of our first DrivingEnthusiast.net blog posts ever!
As usual, the North American International Auto Show was enormous, packed full of people and cars, completely beyond the scope of any other show in North America. Attendance was projected to be well over 170,000. This is the biggest show in N.A., with over 60 new model introductions and dozens of current models. And of course this is where the greatest number of show cars and prototypes are shown. Nearly every manufacturer also brings cut-away engines to.
As we’ve said for the past three years, if you don’t attend this show some day, you are really missing a great experience. If you go next year, plan to spend about 8 hours if you want to see everything
Ford at NAIAS
Ford was well-represented, although if they had put a theme on the exhibit this year it would be “trucks”. The heavy duty F-series was shown in several different forms. For those of you who haven’t been watching, the new F-350 (through F-550 lines) come standard with a 5.4 SOHC and option up to a 6.8 SOHC V-10 and a turbo diesel. The F-350s don’t share chassis or styling with the F-150/250s, I believe they are the older chassis extensively re-done with state of the art engines, emissions, and a bit more modern styling (although with the largest ugliest grill of any Ford). They still use I-beam suspensions int he 4WD models, while the F-150/250s have gone on to a much more modern A-arm front suspension.
SVT was represented with both a black Cobra and SVT Contour, including cut-away engines from both. A representative was available to answer questions, but wouldn’t volunteer any information about any future models, including the alleged announcement later this month of the new SVT truck.
When questioned about the problems with the T-45, he clamed up but suggested that the new owners of the former B-W transmission division would be making some “adjustments”.
Ford also brought along cutaway engines from every other mod-motor they make, including the Triton and Zetec lines, along with representative engineers and assembly line workers to answer questions about them. We added considerably to my collection of cut-away mod-motor engine pictures.
Ford displayed an experimental engineering car, based on a Contour with an extended-length and width body (demonstrating how the much more modern Contour chassis could easily replace the Taurus chassis). The EPA mileage rating is over 65, and it weighs 1/3rd less than the current Taurus. The display included a number of hands-on parts from the current Contour next to their corresponding and much lighter experimental parts. For example, a forged aluminum front control arm weighed considerably less than the current stamped-steel arm and a rotor made of aluminum weighed considerably less than it’s steel equivalent. The engine is a near-conventional 1.2 liter 4-valve, which uses direct injection and compression ignition for a *very* efficient burn. Like Ford’s other modern engines, the head bolts go completely through the engine block – providing exceptional sealing and NVH.
Aston Martin exhibited a prototype 6 liter DOHC V-12. A-M is owned 100% by Ford, and the engine shown is actually 100% a Ford engineering product. The engine is in fact just another member of the mod-motor family, and was previously shown in nearly identical form in the Indigo showcar two years ago. You may remember that Ford said they would produce this engine someday.
As a member of the modular design family, it is exceptionally easy to put it into production (same rods, pistons, valvetrain, and misc parts as the 3.0 liter Duratec). The engine itself was wearing the exact same intake system as it did previously (tumble-port heads and intake), had some slightly different 3-2-1 headers, and was followed up by a T-56 with a hydraulic shifter (don’t ask, it’s a little long to fit into the current Mustang). The use of this engine by A-M (if it happens, it is well known that their current engine is approaching the end of it’s viability) just goes to show how extensible the mod-motor family is. The prototype A-M will just hit 200 MPH with this engine – which certainly speaks well for Ford.
SVO had a very large display of parts and cars, including one of M.
Andretti’s CART racers, a NASCAR Taurus and T-Bird, and an off-road truck. I got my first hands-on look at the **very** trick 4.6 SOHC SVO intake and heads. If it wasn’t for the DOHC heads, I’d like to try out a set of these.
We can’t help but to wonder why SVO doesn’t just release a set of bolt-on DOHC heads. Perhaps they are waiting for next years tumble-port heads, which certainly make the earlier ones obsolete.
No Saleen this year – they must not have appreciated me crawling under their car last year to get a close look at the IRS and SLA suspension.
Mercury showed the new ’99 Cougar. The Cougar is a two-door hatchback based on the very well respected Mondeo chassis (known here as the Contour).
It was styled and designed in Europe, but will be built here at the Flat Rock plant. It will also be exported to Europe as the Ford Cougar.
If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s got styling that you are going to either love or hate. This is Ford’s first North American production use of a new school of styling known as “new edge”. The car is singularly angular, with very sharp creases and character lines. The only curves present are the wheel well openings, some details on the headlights and taillights, and a minor crease on the lower part of the door. It definitely isn’t for everyone, although again the car’s suspension and tuning is extremely competent. Like the Probe it replaces, under many circumstances this car will outhandle a Mustang. It is certainly built better and is much more up-to-date in many ways (such as the projector headlamps, for example).
Lincoln had a bevy of the new Town Cars present. The new model looks somewhat smaller, although it is only marginally so. Believe it or not (and read this month’s Automobile for more details), the suspension is actually competent.
I’m very glad that 1996’s Sentinel showcar wasn’t the basis for the new Town Car (as it was implied in 1996) – you may remember that I suggested in my report from the show in 1996 that the Sentinel looked like something a bunch of Mafiosi would jump out of. The Sentinel was Ford’s first public use of new-edge, and it was frankly bizarre as it was applied there.
No DEW-98 show cars or prototypes, unfortunately. Next year, the Lincoln LS-6 and LS-8 will already be in production. We’ll report back next year on that car, since it is planned to be the basis for the upcoming (finally) all-new Mustang.
Other Makes at NAIAS
Porsche had a huge display of the new 911, including an entire car on a large mechanical arm moving it up into the air and around to show off it’s parts. They also had a new 911 cut longitudinally, showing off it’s design and construction. Another display was a complete engine and rear suspension assembly (I have a complete set of photos of all of these details). The new car is *very* impressive, it wears it’s styling better than the Boxster, and in it’s early tests it certainly appears to be well worth the money (starts at $69k, I believe) – it is very competent. We’ve driven enough of the old ones, and the club We race with has crashed a few, so we are very much looking forward to seeing these on the track. There won’t be any Mustangs lapping it.
Ferrari, Acura, Saturn, and several other manufacturers showed race versions of their cars, complete with race seats, tires, stickers, and safety equipment. All of these manufacturers understand the value of racing.
Ford should have brought the SCCA class-wining Cobra.
We took a quick walk past the GM stands. I won’t dwell on the Monte Carlo “Intimidator” show car… a *very* good reason not to be a GM fan. The Monte Carlo was very typical of the “Intimidator” b******* bullyboy image, and GM claimed it was representative of the next model of that car. We hope they are right, because we’ll be laughing even harder then. If someday you happen to see one of these on the track, be glad you’re ahead of it as the driver is probably asleep.
VW had several new Beetles on display. We can all knock the styling, but technically & functionally this is a *very* competent car – nothing at all to be embarrassed about anymore (well, except the styling). It shares it’s platform with the next version of the Golf, which is a rebodied Audi A3 (which we don’t get in this country) – again, very very competent. At present, it comes with an economical 4-cyl, but it could even add the next GTI’s turbo’d engine. We have zero interest otherwise in the car, but given it’s high seating position, very competent suspension, and excellent outward visibility, this could be an excellent SCCA autocross car….?
No Ladas or Skodas this year, although Hyundai had several new models. ;-)
Chrysler – showed all of their new car lines, including engine displays of their new 2.7 DOHC and 3.2 SOHC engines. These two engines are brothers (in the same way as Ford’s mod family), and are Chrysler’s first representatives of their own line of modular engines. Next up is a 4.7 DOHC V-8 engine that will first be shown in a new Jeep. In fact, Jeep showed an interesting jeep two-door offroad “sports car” that contained this engine (although the engine itself wasn’t shown). A Prowler (purple) was also shown.
BMW – nearly every car shown was the same identical blue. Somebody vetoed this plan by leaving the worst key job I’ve ever seen on the door of the new M3 convertible. Speaking of which, BORING. It gets the pedestrian 4-door M3 suspension and seats. It’s very clear that this car is tremendously dated, and this is the last year it will be seen in it’s current form. The new 3-series 4-door is already out in Europe, but wasn’t shown here this year.
The Z07 was much more interesting – as you’ve seen in pictures this car is hot. BMW has announced they will build the car in the future.
Toyota – showed both a 6-speed Supra Turbo (with it’s more realistic sticker, the car is doing very well again and obviously Toyota is interested in keeping the car active) and a fleet of the new GS-300 and 400s – including the new GS-400 DOHC V-8 engine. This car simply rules!
Sports cars – this show is your only chance to sample nearly anything sold. No, you can’t get into the Ferraris or Aston Martin, but you can get into everything else and try it for size.
While in Detroit
No visit to Detroit is complete without our 2nd-favorite Ford activity: prototype “hunting” at Ford’s main campus and buildings. This year was the worst year we have ever had in terms of spotting future models. The only future/prototype/foreign models we saw was a Euro-Fiesta (nice looking) and a weird Sable (we believe), with an enormous front grill. At least it looked like that, we hope it wasn’t a new-edge Sable prototype.
BTW, there are certainly a lot of Ford enthusiast/employees around. we spotted several hopped up Mustangs, Cobras, and Saleens in the parking lot – despite the snow. And, the single greatest number of SHOs we have ever seen in a single city.
We also lucked out and came across the “Yankee Air Force” by accident at an airstrip outside of town. This is a group analogous to the Confederate Air Force, and we spent several hours walking through their hangar and talking to various people, including a person restoring a YOV-10A “Bronco”. If you like the “hardware” of race cars, don’t ever get into planes – there is so much more here that you’ll never be interested in cars again (and a plane hobby will eat your money alive!).