Archive for July, 2008

Resurrected Chevy Heads to Pebble Beach

Posted in: Chevy, General
31 Jul 2008

biscayne1.JPGIn just over two weeks, car lovers will flock to the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where they’ll ooooh and aaaaah over some of the finest creations ever to roll across the ground. And this year, it’s possible that no other car will have quite the allure as the reconstructed 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne.

The Biscayne was a concept car built by GM back in 1955 as part of the General Motors Motorama tour. This engine-revving caravan of concept cars traveled the U.S., inviting the public to get a glimpse of their automotive future. The problem was, most of these cars were never road-tested, and when the Motorama tour ended, GM ordered most of the cars destroyed to avoid legal problems.

Three years later, Chevrolet produced a different Biscayne, loosely modeled after the sleek dream car – but worlds away. The Biscayne that hit the road from 1958 until 1972 was designed specifically for low-cost, no-frills transportation, and was the least expensive car in Chevy’s lineup of full-size cars.

The original Biscayne might have been completely forgotten, were it not for Joe Bortz, who was a young boy when he spied the GM dream cars at the 1955 Chicago Auto Show. Unable to shake their memory, Bortz tracked down the remains of the Biscayne and the LaSalle Roadster at a Detroit-area junkyard, and has worked tirelessly to restore these concepts to their original greatness.

On August 17, the Biscayne makes its first public appearance since 1955 as part of the showings at Pebble Beach. Bortz, a self-proclaimed automotive archeologist, will have a few other pieces of history that he’s pieced together as well. Those cars join an exhibit of about a dozen dream cars that GM saved, and they’ll be part of a display celebrating GM’s centennial.

It seems fitting that the Biscayne, which was unceremoniously put out to pasture in the late ’50s, resurfaces now: In the Motorama tour, it was nicknamed the ‘Miracle Car’ because it drew the largest crowds of any of the concept cars. And with soaring gas prices, slowed sales and concerns over fuel efficiency, I can’t think of a time when the auto industry has needed a miracle any more than it does today.

Downsize Your Footprint While You Drive

Posted in: General
28 Jul 2008

paula-hair-blowing-in-porsche-low-res-4982.jpgFor many drivers, the pain at the pump has translated into less time behind the wheel. But for women who really love their cars and find driving a pleasure, not a chore, the rising price of gas becomes just one more aggravation to endure. It’s kind of like wearing high heels – it hurts a little, but the end results are worth it.

Of course, it’s not just the cost of gas that we’re conscious of; it’s also the impact our emissions have on the environment. So the best compromise is to find ways to cut back on that carbon footprint while enjoying time behind the wheel.

Traffic.com, which provides consumers with a variety of driving tips and real-time traffic solutions, reports that there are five simple steps you can take to reduce gas consumption this summer:

1. Check your tire pressure. Under-inflated tires can reduce your gas mileage by 3 percent – and they look tacky, too!

2. Lighten up! Removing 100 pounds of unnecessary weight can boost gas mileage by 2 percent. (If that means kicking your husband out of the front seat while you go out – so be it. Just tell him you’re helping save the planet, and he’ll understand.)

3. Avoid sitting in traffic. This one seems rather obvious – after all, none of us really want to spend our time sitting in traffic, do we? Avoid bottlenecked traffic by using car navigation systems that give you real-time traffic updates. (My recommendation is Dash, the first Internet-connected navigation system. But that’s just me.)

4. Keep those GPS maps updated. Remember: Quickest route + updated map = less time in stop-and-go traffic.

5. Finally, use the tools provided by the fine folks at Traffic.com. You can find drive time calculators and also have them send traffic updates to your cell phone or Blackberry.

One last suggestion from Traffic.com is to take the highway, which is usually what we prefer anyway. After all, cruising down the open road beats puttering down a side street any day.

Help Fido Fight Carsickness!

Posted in: General
25 Jul 2008

everyday-pets-stuff.JPGwillie-and-dixie-in-lambo.JPGAs an animal lover, few things compare to sharing the open road with my four-legged friends. And few things are worse than having those same four-legged friends lose their lunch in the car.

My friend Ron takes his King Charles Cavalier Spaniels, Willie and Dixie (pictured), with him almost everywhere he goes. It doesn’t matter if he’s driving his Lamborghini Gallardo or his Bentley Continental; those dogs can be found sitting proud in the front seat. While I don’t give my Boston Terriers quite the same globe-trotting experience, they still log plenty of miles in the car with me.

Fortunately, I’m blessed with a pair of pooches that are travel-friendly and don’t have problems with motion sickness. However, for those car-lovers whose hounds do have a hard time hitting the road, there’s a new, all-natural way to curb their carsickness.

Ease The Quease is part of a new line of organic products from dog expert Kathy Santo that helps fight motion sickness in dogs. The new line, called Everyday Pets, uses natural ingredients to soothe a variety of your canine’s woes. Made with certified organic herbs, Ease The Quease has such stomach-soothing ingredients as ginger root, St. Johns wort, anise seed, peppermint and spearmint. And unlike medications that can knock out your four-legged friend, these natural formulas won’t have any sedating side effects.

So if you want your little buddy to keep his cool (and his lunch) on those long drives, check out Kathy Santo’s products here. You’ll also find some great travel wipes, called Tidy Wipe-Ease, which provide quick clean-ups on the go. If you’ve got a doggie that goes wherever you go, these products belong in your travel box!

Dyson – The Next Big Name in Autos?

Posted in: Electric Cars, General
23 Jul 2008

dyson-vacuum.jpgWhen Dyson came on the scene with its superb line of wind-tunnel vacuums a few years ago, I had to have one. The selling points were just too strong: As the first bagless vacuum on the market, it was also easy to maneuver and completely allergy-friendly. Sold. It’s not as good as having someone clean my house for me, but it makes the task – dare I say it – more enjoyable. (Or at least less dreadful.)

Inventor James Dyson hasn’t just been resting on the millions he’s made as the King of Suction; now the brilliant Brit has a new idea that’s gaining traction. Dyson has announced that, for his next trick, he’ll build an electric car. He plans on creating a lightweight solar-powered motor based on those found in his fabulous vacuums. The battery would get its charge from solar panel on the car’s roof or could also be charged from panels on the garage’s roof.

Rather than try designing the body, Dyson is focusing on the motor and, according to the U.K. Daily Mail, will team up with an automaker such as Honda to build the perfect shell for his electric car. Best of all, Dyson is determined to shake the notion that electric cars are only good for city driving.

“An electric motor can go to very high speeds,” he promises. Given what the man can do with a vacuum cleaner, I’m hoping he can do the same with a car.

Can’t wait to drive down the road with the bumper sticker that reads, “My Other Dyson is a Vacuum Cleaner.”

Online Shopping Continues to Grow – But Not For Luxury Cars

Posted in: Exotic Cars, General
18 Jul 2008

Bentley in showroomMore and more wealthy Americans are turning to the web to get their shopping done, but when it comes to luxury cars, they’d rather hit the showroom floor.

That’s the final word from a study conducted by the Luxury Institute, which found that, while shopping online for luxury goods is way up, only about one-fourth of us are comfortable buying our cars that way. The study, which surveyed households with an average net worth of $2.9 million, provides some interesting insight into high-end shopping.

Luxury shoppers appear to be much more at ease buying real estate or big-ticket jewelry items online; nearly 40 percent are content to do so. And nearly two-thirds of people with annual incomes of $150,000 or more are OK with buying fashion apparel or finding wealth advisors online. But when it comes to cars – well, the showroom experience just can’t be beat. Maybe it’s that new car smell.

“These highly tactile, big-ticket luxury items are generally better experienced rather than simply presented on a website,” explains Milton Pedraza, Luxury Institute CEO. However, that doesn’t mean luxury players don’t need a presence on the web.

Nearly two-thirds of all high-end shoppers go directly to the web to get more information on their purchases before they buy. So while today’s consumers are reluctant to make online purchases beyond $10,000 (the average comfort threshold for online purchases was about $3,294), the overall shift toward more online activity is making its way to higher end purchases.

So does that mean it’s only a matter of time before you’ll buy that new Aston Martin online? Time will tell. As Pedraza noted, it’s hard to truly get the “wow” effect from a web site; nothing beats walking into the showroom and driving off with a brand new steering wheel in your hands. This could be one experience that even technology can’t replicate – or replace.

Inside Mercedes’ Final McLaren

Posted in: General, Mercedes
14 Jul 2008

sp-in-mclaren-looking-over-shoulder-low-res-4825.jpgThere’s no doubt that the Mercedes SLR McLaren (pictured at top right of this page) is a stunning piece of machinery. With the fastest automatic transmission in the world and 5.4 litre supercharged V8, it has enjoyed a storied ride since production began in 2003.

Last year, Mercedes announced it would halt production of the SLR (which stands for Sport, Light, Racing) and now we’ve gotten a glimpse of the final Mercedes McLaren, which is slated to roll off the line early in ’09.

This weekend, the German publication Auto Motor und Sport offered a full report of the final venture between Mercedes and McLaren. Only 75 units will be produced for the final SLR run, and the photos show us that this new incarnation is a dramatic departure from the stylish gull-winged McLaren we’ve come to know and love.

03_mercedes_benz_slr_mclaren_speedster_1s.jpgInstead, the final SLR will borrow inspiration from Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s 1955 300 SLR, which had an open-air construction … that means no roof or even a windshield. (Yes, ladies, this car is going to be hell on the hairdo.) Instead of a windshield, a small wind deflector will help divert some of that airflow, which suddenly makes a helmet seem like a good idea. Especially given this car’s ability to go from zero to 186 mph in 26 seconds.

Adding to its Spartan appeal, this last SLR also is leaving out touches like air conditioning and power windows, and the carbon plastic body will further reduce the overall weight of the vehicle. Removing the extras have given the car an eight mile an hour advantage over the more luxurious 722 Edition; the final SLR will be able to hit a top speed of 217.5 mph, compared to the paltry 209 mph of the 722.

If you can read German and want to get more details, you can read the entire Auto Motor und Sport story here. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go back to looking for a car with air conditioning. And visors. With vanity mirrors. Call me picky, but for $450,000, I really expect a windshield!

Escalade Limo Escalates Luxury Ride

Posted in: Cadillac, General
11 Jul 2008

becker_strut_escaladeesv.JPGWhen you absolutely, positively have to get there in style, a limo is usually the best way to go. But how do you stand out from all the other stretches in the crowd?

Becker Automotive Designs, Inc. has answered that question by teaming up with auto customizer STRUT to create the special-edition Cadillac Escalade ESV. And this one definitely goes all out to prove that it’s not where you’re going that’s important; it’s how you get there.

The amenities inside are pretty impressive, even by Cadillac standards. Completely customized from floor to ceiling, this lush leather interior is definitely made to ensure that you enjoy the ride. Spacious captain’s chairs let you lean back and put your feet up in rich, comfortable style.

esv-interior-3.JPGThe iPod-ready audio/video system offers satellite HDTV, DVD and digital surround sound that will likely remind you it’s time to upgrade your home theater system. And all things electronic are under your control with a custom Crestron touchscreen that Becker designed using its proprietary software.

If you’re one of those all work, no play types, you’re in luck, too – it’s just as ready for work as you are. The onboard computer system has a broadband Internet connection and full printer/scanner functions. Let’s just say it beats the heck out of lugging a laptop along.

Outside, the Escalade ESV is every bit as elegant as one would expect, with STRUT’s custom jewelry collection providing accents that include a woven diamond-mesh front grille and side vents, along with the STRUT shield and Icon Wheels.

If you want to add one to your fleet, that can be done for $125,000-$225,000. Talk about business class!

Less Pain at the Pump

10 Jul 2008

It’s almost impossible to remember the last time I watched a newscast that didn’t include2009 Ford Escape Hybrid a report on the rising price of gas. As the numbers break the $4 a gallon mark, even those who can afford the $100 tank of gas are rethinking their choices.

The one-two punch of environmental awareness and soaring gas prices has led GM to shun its behemouth Hummer and has made the used SUV market a bargain for anyone who doesn’t mind making up for it at the gas pump.

So now, some good news: GM has turned its attention to the Volt, its plug-in hybrid, with production set for 2010. For those who don’t want to wait, CarandDriver.com has released its list of the 10 most fuel-efficient vehicles in the U.S.

It’s no surprise to find the Toyota Prius at the top of that list. The highly praised Prius has become a celebrity in its own right and the symbol for all things green. With 48 mpg/highway and 45 mpg in the city, no other car can touch this one. Yet.

Following on its heels are the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid (45/highway, 40/city); the tiny Smart Fortwo (41/highway, 33/city); the 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid (35/highway, 33/city); and the 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid (34/highway, 33/city).

Rounding out the top 10 list are the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid, the ’08 Toyota Yaris, the ’08 Mini Cooper and the 2008 Honda Fit. See the whole story here.

Keep It Clean – But Conserve Water

Posted in: General
08 Jul 2008

waterless-on-benz-low-res-5620.JPGThose of us who are concerned about the environment face some sizeable challenges when it comes to our love of cars. Let’s put aside the whole gas-guzzling issue for a moment, and look at something we used to take for granted – keeping our cars clean.

Yes, we all want that fresh-from-the-factory look when we’re driving down the street. A clean, shiny car – regardless of its make or model – simply looks and feels better than a dirty one. At the same time, however, there’s been a lot of attention given to our evaporating natural resource, water, and so hosing down the sports car can certainly inflict some feelings of guilt.

Before the month is over, it could go beyond guilt, as nearly two dozen states are considering water convservation plans for the rest of the summer.

Fortunately, there’s a fairly simple solution on the market right now. Detail Magic, which makes a nice line of automotive detailing products, has introduced a Waterless Car Wash and Wax that lets you keep your car sparkling clean without spilling so much as a single drop of water.

Although it’s not going to let you scrub up your Land Rover after a muddy romp through the swamp, it’s the solution you’ve been looking for to keep your car in mint condition between washings. All you do is shake it, spray it and then wipe down your car. It’s like cleaning your kitchen – only a lot faster! – and the planet will thank you.

What If Your Hybrid Needs Repairs?

Posted in: General, Hybrid cars
02 Jul 2008

2007-toyota-prius.jpgHybrids have become some of the hottest property around, thanks to that one-two punch of environmental consciousness and skyrocketing gas prices. In fact, according to Automotive News, sales of the Toyota Prius are up nearly 4 percent from last year and a year-old Prius is now worth more than it was when it was new.

That’s good news for owners – and for the environment – but this new ownership comes with some new questions. Like – Where do you get it fixed if you are far from your home dealership?

The answer, according to Angie Hicks – namesake and founder of Angie’s List, a service company rating site – is getting easier to find.

“Right now the easiest way to ensure you get a hybrid-certified mechanic is to use the service department of a dealership that sells new hybrid vehicles,” recommends Hicks. “Mechanics at those dealerships are required to undergo extensive hybrid training that some independent mechanics may not have gotten yet.”

However, with hybrids heating up the market, more repair shops are sending their mechanics back to school to learn the tricks of this new trade. She advises to simply ask for proof that the mechanic is certified to work on a hybrid before handing him the keys.

The best plan, of course, is to find a certified mechanic before you need one. Developing a long-term relationship with your mechanic is always a good idea, so plan ahead and start cultivating this before you need one. Some of Hicks’ tips for hybrid auto repair also include:

– Never work on the electrical system yourself.

– Be timely with the tire rotations, as the torque of a hybrid engines can wear out tires faster than on a traditional gasoline engine.

– Keep your routine – maintenance, that is. Staying current on your regular maintenance schedule extends the life of your hybrid in addition to preserving its resale value.

As if lower gas bills and environmental do-goodism weren’t enough, Hicks found another piece of good news for hybrid owners: Maintenance and repair costs are less than maintenance of traditional vehicles, thanks to fewer components that require regular maintenance. So you aren’t just driving green – you’re saving green!