Tuesday, September 27

Fear on Wheels: Why the Astro Van is the scariest car on the road

Freeway, surface street, I don't care. If I see an Chevy Astro Van (or GMC Safari for that matter) I'm running like hell. Here's 5 fantastic reasons why:

  1. They stopped making them in 1996, which makes the average price of one now days somewhere around $800. I inherently don't like or trust anyone who wants a seven passenger vehicle that costs this little. It's not that I don't trust broke folks. I AM broke folks. It's just that there's a whole lot of you in there and this brings me to my next point.
  2. The Astro and Safari ONLY came with tinted windows. You could be alone, you could be with a dozen of your buddies. I don't know and I don't trust that I don't know.
  3. A 25 year old American vehicle will have some mechanic problems. No, scratch that, it will have constant mechanical problems. Not to mention that if you spent 800 bucks on a truck, you're unlikely to be Mr. Maintenance. If this big lunch box on wheels breaks down in front of me on the freeway, I don't like my odds.
  4. It's fricken shady looking. End of. There's way more chance that, at this point in its life, the Astro has turned into the older son's shaggin' wagon or mobile stonatorium rather than shuttling kids around soccer practice. Together with all the pieces above, we can be sure that the driver of an Astro Van is up to no good.
  5. For all its crappiness, these vans are actually built on an S10 pickup chassis. That means 4.3L V6 made of indestructibleness, rear-wheel drive and enough heavy metal to drive through a wall. Compared to today's flimsy, plastic, cup-holder laden front-wheel drive vans - the Astro is an urban assault vehicle ready to flee from crime scenes or haul stolen goods across the country.
More than any old van, the Astro now represents sheer, people-carrying menace. If you see one, don't get close. There's nothing good going on inside.

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Wednesday, August 4

Small Businesses need small vans - yo, where are they?

If you found this, you're a van man. Most hits this site gets is for van-related stuff. I don't really care that much about vans, but my dad does. He drives one every weekday, full of heavy equipment, tools, van stuff. He drives a Sonoma, but he used to drive an Astro. Why do I care, Alex? Because if you want a small van in North America, you're essentially screwed. Most of the vans at your shopping disposal will be huge.

I know most van radios are tuned to Conservative talk radio and I know that people who listen to Conservative talk radio don't like Europe. And yet, in Europe your van can be as small or as big as you like. The most popular van remains the Ford Transport. Not the front-wheel drive Transport Express. In Europe, you can buy tiny hatchbacks that are all set to take your small amounts of stuff around town. The one pictured is a Fiat, but most of the Euro brands will sell you one of these.

But I have a whole lot of crap and also Europe is socialist, you say. Peel the Bush Chaney sticker off your pickup shell and have a look at all the van combination you could be enjoying with 5 different sizes of Renault Vans. I promise you someone will be desperate to buy that link. But at the moment, it goes to Renault's official van site. And it will make the American van driver drool.

Why can't you buy that many van combinations in America? Anybody's guess. Mine is that when SUVs became popular, van makers couldn't rely on Joe Plumber or my dad repairman for their profits. Vans like the Astros or the Ford Aerostar wanted to sell families expensive, cushy vans. Selling my dad a shell with a V6 and rear-wheel drive wasn't a money maker. So instead, they made you get a pickup or an SUV. Now, if you go around in a white box all day, your choices are almost none-existend. Huge Chevy Sonoma, huge Dodge Sprinter or Huge Ford 250-prison-van-thing.

Let's start a van petition in the comments!


Sunday, August 1

New Jaguar XJ falls victim to BMW 7-Series Syndrome

2011 Jaguar JK
There's something about a Jaguar. It's often the automobile of the world's most interesting man, or at least the Equalizer. They've always looked about the same and you've always assumed that the driver was the kind of guy to always wear a suit and often pack a gun. He carried a Zippo and a hip flask and women wanted him because they could never tame him. 
Citroen C6 pictureAnd then this thing came out. You can see images of the new 2010 Jaguar JK here (google images) and when you do, you won't like them. Not because the new JK isn't good looking, because it is, somewhat, pretty, but because it has nothing to do with Jaguars as you think of them. The new JK looks a lot like the latest, slopy-backed Audi A6 and even more, especially from the back, like the Citroen C6 pictured here. The man driving this new Jaguar JK could be an accountant, a dentist, a perpetrated of Medi-Cal fraud or even a woman! 
2011 Mercedes S-Class pictureThe story is similar to what happened to the BMW 7 Series. The older, squarer big sedan was understated, purposeful and single-minded - it was perfect as the star in The Transporter - a movie that's otherwise bad in every way. However, the new BMW 7 is like someone's drunk dad.  The icon of manly classiness that was the BMW 7 Series went way beyond loosening the bow-tie with its evening brandy - it bulged and rounded, like Elvis. Leaving it the same  sad shell of its former self. Now this has happened with Jags too. Like when dad gets drunk, it's unrecognizable, discomforting. and undeniably uncool.  So for all those who seek a car with mystery and an element of danger, along with a proper trunklid, the Mercedes S Class it is the best you're gonna do.


Monday, December 21

Why nobody cares about Saab's end except Swedes.

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Saab 92001 prototype 1942 backYou ever known anyone with a Saab. I'm special enough to have known a few Saab owners. They were never the sort of people that spent a lot of time choosing a car. Micheline Maynard at the NYTimes, makes an argument that Saabs were special and different and quirky. But I bet you anything the ones she's thinking of are from the 80s. The turbocharged, rugged euro hatchbacks that made a Saab special. And the cool picture here of the Saab prototype 92001, also jacked from NYT, is of from 1942 and sitting in a museum in Stockholm. Stockholm loves theirs Saabs like London loves its taxis and Jaguars or Germans think of their E-Class. It's what Sweden uses for Taxis and cop cars, along with, shocker, Volvos.

But hey, even though the key was in a fun place, Saabs always lacked a lifestyle to buy into, an aspirational element, an image. If I'm a young urban professional, I'll have a silver BMW. If I want a powerful, wild-man car, I'll pay the roughly 30K for a Mustang GT Convertible.Outdoorsy fun? Nissan Xterra. I'm boring and responsible: Lexus. For all the cars that could be had in Saab's price-range, all of them told the world just where you were at. 'I've got about 30 grand to spend on a car. My student life days are long behind me.'

Saab 9-5 wagonThe Saab never worked hard to establish who was supposed to buy one. OK, so we know Architects liked them and so did Seinfeld. Who else? People who liked grandma glasses around their $30 / £20K station wagon's headlights? At best, the newer Saabs look like 5-Series knockoffs. Just like Chevrolet, they lost their way and started looking like they were designed by committee - beige. So, sadly, we now loose another, if even slightly, unique car brand. But, just like Plymouth, Oldsmobile and Rover. We lost Saab long before its official death.

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