Saturday, February 4, 2017

Five affordable hobby cars I've always wanted to own.

photo source:production cars .com.
The first generation Acura Legend coupe impressed me when it was  introduced. It was the first high level offering from a Japanese company.  The first Gen in many ways just seems like a bigger Accord, but the styling was sharper and more aggressive, with those fender blister flares, (very Audi Quatro like) and that beautiful airy greenhouse. These were powered by Honda's first V6 engine and while they were not viewed as true high performance machines, they were viewed as smooth, capable road machines. A manual transmission was available and was chosen by many buyers. Therefore it is still possible to find one listed for sale in the classifieds. The automatic transmission was not the car's strongest feature.

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The car's design appeals to me because of it's simplicity, clean detailing, and good taste. The interior is very Honda like, but that is not really a bad thing. Leather upholstery was available, but it's durability was very poor and most survivors look like someone kept their pet badger inside. The cloth interior isn't as plush, but it can hold up well.

While the build quality was good there were some long term reliability issues. Blown headgaskets are a common malady, and now that these cars are worth so little, many have been scrapped rather than repaired. I delved deep into this subject on various Acura forums and the consensus was that a malfunction of the crankcase breather system combined with a blocked EGR system and a ECM that could not compensate for these variables resulted in elevated combustion pressures due to detonation. Boom! The gasket could blow within seconds. The automatic transmission has a reputation of being rather fragile, but many cars have already had their's rebuilt, or ended up in the boneyard.

The second Gen is more athletic, with a burly Nissan Skyline kind of vibe. Performance and luxury were both increased. These cars are really quite plush inside. There were several performance levels available, both five and six speed manual transmissions were offered. I really believe that this is the car to get. Especially the type 2 six speed cars. I think the styling has held up, and the car has a powerful image to go along with the great name. These cars seem to have improved reliability over the first gen, but let's face it, these are getting to be old cars.

photo source:auto
I feel that stance and proportions are just right. I like the body colored metal panel around the tail lamps and the lack of chrome. LEGEND spelled out as individual letters is an awesome touch. again the leather upholstery is probably  on it's last legs. These cars are just the right size, able to transport up to four occupants and their luggage. 

photo source:pinterest

If I loved these cars so much, how come I haven't bought one? That's a good question, one I will revisit at the end of the post.

Toyota Supra second generation. The first generation of this car was more of a Japanese Monte Carlo. This car really hit it's stride, and in my opinion subsequent designs have never equaled this design. The design is a busy, kind of a squared off 70's look with a lot of Japanese market appeal fussiness, still for me the proportions are just right, and it's big enough to be a real four seat car, add in the hatchback and you've got a great useful classic.

Performance wise these never delivered on the promise of the DOHC design. Power output was pretty comparable to the contemporary Datsun 280 ZX. Like the 280 ZX the interior design reflects that 80's fussy Japanese futuristic (Godzilla?) vibe. The suspension was designed more for comfort than handling, as the trailing arm suspension was lifted from the Cressida sedan. The car is probably better suited as a GT, since the rear seat can handle a couple of passengers and a fair amount of luggage.

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I think these look better in a monochromatic respray as it blends bumpers, fender flares and hatch back into a more cohesive visual whole. These cars were never big sellers and they are not that common on the internet sales sites.

photo source: pinterest
Edsel Ford was a man of refinement and good taste. When he had his coachworks put together a customized version of a Lincoln Zephyr coupe, he created a car that caused a sensation among his Palm Beach Florida vacation community. This car started the movement to the luxury personal coupe. The long hood, short deck "Continental" design template influenced car design for the next forty years.

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As usual subsequent redesigns lost the elegant simplicity of the original design, with more added chrome and chunkier detailing. The design ended but was revisited with the sensational Mark II of the early 1950's. That particular car was a serious loss leader. There was never a way for Ford to recoup even their building expenses in  the sales price of that car. These early cars were never mass produced, and they could only add to the prestige of the Corporation, not the bottom line.

It was take a marketing genius like Lee Iaccoca to turn the high end personal car into a profit center for the Ford Company. The Mark III aka "The Chairman of the Board's Mustang", and like it, it was a sales success and set the tone for the rest of the lineage that followed.

The chrome grille, hidden headlights, and especially that simulated Continental spare tire, were strong classical cues. This car started the whole Brougham Era.  The Mark III was a modern classic in my eyes and I was sure that they would definitely be a hotly collectible and valued car, but it hasn't yet at this point.

Again the redesign got bigger and heavier. Since the Mark IV shared it's body with new enlarged Thunderbird, tooling costs were shared between them. This allowed for a higher profits that came from the increased production and sales. Now there was not a pretense of sportiness left with the T Bird. The Mark IV was a huge sales success.

The Mark V was a chiseled masterwork, especially in Bill Blass designer regalia. By this time the massive, opulent design was wearing out it's welcome. It was impossible to translate this baroque design language into a satisfyingly styled smaller automobile.

The downsized Mark VI was a disappointment. The effect was akin to dressing a sixth grader in a tuxedo, definitely not something to aspire to!

The Mark VII was a fresh new take on the personal coupe. It stopped lifting it's styling cues from the carriage trade and moved into the direction of the Autobahn. While it's styling does echo that of the new aero Thunderbird that debuted a couple of years earlier, the styling work was actually done before the release of the Thunderbird. The fuel injected Windsor gave pretty good performance, especially in the LSC, Luxury Sport Coupe. This model shared the high performance motor of the Mustang GT, although the increased weight of the Lincoln meant that the smaller Ford would be quicker. This would be taken care of by the time the Mark VIII debuted with the DOHC 32 valve version of the new 4.6 liter V8.

While this might look like a slightly bigger Thunderbird I find the overall effect is much more substantial and impressive. I will also admit that I still like the vestigial spare tire hump.

Mercedes Benz turbo diesel sedan. I have always been impressed by the Mercedes mystique. These products of the Seventies were at the pinnacle of their success and appeal. These cars hearken back to the day when the affluent buyer would buy a car for life. Buy one of these cars, or the gas powered 450 SEL, and that was it. Like the fine old Packard, or Pierce Arrow it was something that was maintained and treasured, and cherished for the rest of the owner's life. It became an heirloom, a part of the family. It made a statement about the success of the family, that didn't need to be restated every year, how gauche! Remember the Issotta Franchini in Sunset Boulevard?

Just the thing to drive out to your country home. photo source :pinterest

The 450 SEL was a fine car, a ground breaking design that eclipsed the future offerings from the American prestige makes, but the fuel economy was very poor, around twelve miles a gallon, and at the contemporary price of fuel, seemed awfully wasteful. The solution was to add the recently developed five cylinder diesel motor that had just had a turbo charger added, that was the wonder word of the Eighties. It actually delivered on the promise, performance was adequate, and fuel economy was greatly increased. I remember reading a magazine road test that reported that fuel economy could exceed 25 mpgs on the freeway (while driving at the mandated 55 mph speed limit, of course)

This was the more common setting for these cars. photo source:peach
That was impressive economy for the times, but by the time these had depreciated into my reach of affordability other cars offering much better performance with equal economy were available. My '94 Cadillac Seville STS would deliver that mileage as well as a top speed of 145 mph! Still I find myself attracted to these sedans. Actually any of the S class models of this period would be worth preserving.

The Porsche 944 was car that could deliver the fuel economy of a VW Rabbit with the handling and acceleration you would expect from a Porsche. This was delivered at a higher level with the later four valve and turbo charged engines. Four seats and a hatchback is a formula for a useful and practical hobby car. The 924 was a weak start, but there was steady improvement and development that resulted in the 944. The new motor and bodywork made for a car that needed no apologies. In fact, the 924S, which came equipped with the 944 motor makes for a pretty good sleeper.

Now, That, is one smooth car! photo source;pinterest

The flush front fascia is best shown in this shot. It makes the car look much more modern.
 photo source; elite auto report com.

While the Turbo has a smoother look, the standard model is pretty appealing. These cars have depreciated to the bottom of the curve and I would guess that they will start to go up soon. My biggest complaint is the ergonomics. The very low position of the steering wheel causes it to rub against my legs. There were changes made to the steering wheel as the model developed but it was still closer than I liked. It gave me the impression that I was too big for the car. Parts are probably more expensive than run of the mill Mustang and Camaro  parts, but as I have learned with my Jaguars, there are more affordable alternatives available.

Back in the day when the 924 was introduced and old 911s were a dime a dozen, I thought that this was going to be the way to Porsche's future. At this time I thought that the 911 was old hat, just a souped up VW bug that had surely reached the end of it's evolutionary time line. Now old 911s have increased in value, way out of my reach.

So, why didn't I buy these cars when I had the opportunity in the past? They were depreciating down to, or even below, my economic level. As in many things timing is everything.  At certain times I was able to buy  a brand new or late model car and I was tied up with added responsibilities and didn't have the time to fuss with an older car.

The Acura Legend was so appealing, but the problems with the motor and transmission put me off. Also at that time I was in the position to buy a much more expensive car and use it as the family car. So I made the move to a three year old Seville STS. I kept that car for ten years.

The Toyota Supra was an early Eighties model and at the time I was a Datsun Z fan. The Supra really didn't have a performance advantage over the Z and since I had a 2+2 model I already had a backseat for the kids. The Z also had a stronger enthusiast following. A few years later I decided to go with the '92 300ZX which was a much better performer than the early Supra. (Not a slight to the Supra, which by now, was of course much older).

photo source: bring a trailer .com.

It was much the same with the Mercedes. By the time I intersected with them I was looking for something different. My Seville was a terrific performer and while it might not have been better than a contemporary S class, it was heads and shoulders above the late 70s Mercedes Benz models.

The Porsche 944? Well no matter how impressive it was didn't really seem any better than that old 280Z of mine. And my legs haven't gotten any skinnier! 

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