Sunday, March 5
The Conversion Resurrection
- Drugs, prostitution, sports and the family.
- If the mob can stay cool, why can’t conversion vans?
Hearses start our as ordinary sedans. Chunks are hacked out of Towncars or Devilles with a blow torch, or at least a cutting wheel, some panels are then welded in to get that station wagon look. The landau top is glued on to hide the creases in the metal. Inside, little wood panels, and lots of padding give hearses that extra bit of class. No one spends a lot of time looking over the details inside - so detailing isn’t terribly important. It’s a bit like the inside of a coffin.
For the living, turning a vehicle into the ultimate resting place was once just a fantasy. But then someone thought to put a couch and a radio in the back of a van! Thus the conversion van was born. And it was good. Like in hearses - new carpet, panels and taller roof are attached to stock vehicles! The latest are also pimped out with a plasma TV, PS2 and a folding bed. It’s basically like having your own ambulance. It’s a crowd pleaser at tail-gate parties and it’ll keep the kids in stable condition all the way to the water park.
Tailgating (monster garage) is a big priority for American car and truck designers. Grilling, listening to the radio, cooling beer and assorted patriotic horseplay - all at the back of your car has motivated both car manufacturers and the aftermarket to help you make the party go smoother. It was an idea that prompted audio controls and power outlets in the back end of the Pontiac spAztec, there's even the Freedom Grill (pictured). Overall, more American folks use their pickups to kick off the game or the race than doing all the stuff in truck commercials.
Before kids, conversion vans are an old favourite of club crawlers. Having a mood-lit, dodge bedroom just a few feet from the club was a handy shortcut in the leisure suit years all the way up to Zima's glory days. But the conversion van has been eroding since 1990 and the industry’s concerned. Only Ford and GM are still in the factory conversion business and they’re not happy. Conversion vans are cheaper than the nicer SUVs.. While their club cache has totally fizzled away, you can still score some super dad points by financing the crap out of one.
Last year, GM has partnered up with some van converters to form the Conversion Van Marketing Association. Their big marketing coup? Well, in GM tradition - they’re slashing prices. You can now get over five grand off of one. Five grand! That’s a lot of road trip comfort for about the price of a Tahoe.
Conversion vans need a major make-over. It can’t just be about tailgaters and doin’ it - conversion vans have to become places people want to hang out. Someone has to prefer them to a limo, an H2 with TVs or an afterhours at someone’s apartment. Pictures of conversion vans are disturbing: gray cloth, fake wood panels and airplane aisle lights. What the vans need is to regain their self-esteem.
At least when people installed waterbeds and floor-to-ceiling shag in their vans decades ago, they were serious about making them cool places to be. Why not make today’s vans just as confident, with insides like a VIP room or a private club instead of a Howard Johnson room. Even if the average Nascar dad can’t cough up for a pimped out van - it’ll still help save an automotive tradition.
Saturday, March 4
- Better than hybrids or just for eurotrash?
It smells like ass, doesn’t cost that much and usually means very little acceleration. No, it’s not Taco Bell's steak quesadilla. It’s diesel power! While everyone and their mama, including the latest consumer reports announcement, is jumping onto the hybrid wagon - diesel is still seen as being just for trucks and buses. The truth is, when USA Today (the thinking man’s toilet paper) drove a Prius and a VW Jetta TDI from Detroit to D.C. - the Vdub got six more MPG than the Toyota, which got 38. That’s also 6 less than Consumer Reports got out of their Prius.
I have a hard time advocating that people drive diesels. Compared to the futurism and political cache of hybrids, diesels don’t seem to have a lot going for them. In city centers, hybrids are the way to go. Diesel smoke (proven to cause cancer) spewing from buses and slow-moving traffic produces a black cloud that hovers at street level. London cabs are all diesel - go smell that place. Hybrids, meanwhile spew nothing at those low speeds. It’s a better technology for taxis, police cars, meter maids and buses.
Fair enough, but at highway speeds, like on USA Today’s trip, and most other USA driving, diesels make tons more sense than the overhyped hybrids. Diesel fuel costs around 15% less and the extra cost of the car is often as little as 300 bucks (in the case of the Passat). This is compared to the $2,700 you’ll add to your Escape XLT Sport to get the Hybrid. Diesels are also not quite as slow as they used to be. There's diesel bimmers in europe that make close to 300 hp!
Compared to Ethanol, there aren’t diesel versions available for most cars sold in the US. Instead, cars like the Volkswagen Golf, Mercedes E type and BMW offer diesel engines in the States - a BMW X5 diesel's coming soon - meaning you’ve got little choice but to go German. If that ain’t your thing - you have a wide variety of massive, American trucks to choose from! Ford, GM and Dodge make awesome diesel trucks in both regular and dually variety! There’s also the Hummer H1 and the International RTX (both pictured) to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil!